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THE SITUATION ROOM

Flight Hijacker in Custody; Candidates Prepare for CNN Town Hall; Trump Defends Campaign Manager in Assault Case; Dems Respond to Charge Against Trump's Campaign Chief; Arline Hijacker in Custody, Hostages Free. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 29, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know it's probably not even politically good for me to do, but when somebody is maligned so unfairly as that, I will stick by.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In the arena. Trump is ramping up the battle for Wisconsin right now, exactly one week before that state's pivotal primary. Right now, he and his GOP rivals, they're preparing to make their pitches at a CNN town hall event.

And hijacked, the harrowing hours that airline passengers and crew members were held hostage before their frantic escape, with one person fleeing through the cockpit window. Tonight, we have new details on the motive and fresh questions about airport security.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news tonight.

Donald Trump strongly defending his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who now stands charged with simple battery against a reporter. We heard Trump just a little while ago say Lewandowski is being treated very unfairly.

And the GOP presidential front-runner is disputing reporter Michelle Fields' account of what happened. Police in Florida released new video of the incident at a campaign event this month. Fields says Lewandowski yanked her left arm after she asked Trump a question, leaving her bruised. Trump says Fields grabbed him and Lewandowski simply was trying to block her.

The Trump camp says Lewandowski is absolutely innocent and will be exonerated. But Trump's opponents say it's an example of abusive behavior that's part of the culture of his campaign. Right now, we're standing by for a Trump rally in Wisconsin right in

the midst of this latest new controversy. I will talk about all of this with Trump supporter Omarosa Manigault. She's joining us live, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover the breaking news.

Up first, CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's in Wisconsin. She's covering the Republican race for the White House right now.

Sunlen, Trump spoke at length to reporters about the charge against Lewandowski. Update our viewers.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And with reporters, Donald Trump making it very clear that he is standing by his campaign manager, calling him tonight a fine person and casting his role as what he describes more of an intermediary in this controversial incident.

And Trump tonight making new charges, saying this reporter put her hands on him as he tried to leave the room and ask him a question, and even alleging that he will potentially bring charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump tonight jumping to his campaign manager's defense.

TRUMP: I'm sticking up for a person, because I'm not going to let a person's life be destroyed over somebody that we have on tape.

SERFATY: Trump offering his support following the arrest of Corey Lewandowski on charges of simple battery stemming from a March 8 incident where he grabbed the arm of reporter Michelle Fields. The moment in question was captured on newly released police video.

Fields, wearing a light-colored jacket, is seen in the clip approaching Trump, but appears to be pulled from behind by Lewandowski. Trump today calling the charges unfair, saying Lewandowski is being maligned.

TRUMP: I told him, I said, you should never settle this case. You should go all the way. I think they have really hurt a very good person. And I know it would be very easy for me to discard people. I don't discard people. I stay with people.

SERFATY: The Trump campaign also issuing a statement saying -- quote -- "Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court. He's completely confident that he will be exonerated."

Trump's rivals are not holding back, Ted Cruz denouncing the alleged violence.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a very sad development. And this is the consequence of the culture of the Trump campaign, the abusive culture. When you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, on attacks, and now physical violence, that has no place in a political campaign and has no place in our democracy.

SERFATY: Trying to cast it as a pattern with Trump's campaign.

CRUZ: It is a really unfortunate development. But I do think it helps clarify for the voters what the Trump campaign is all about.

SERFATY: And John Kasich says that's a pattern his campaign wouldn't stand for.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it was me, if I was in the circumstance, I would take some sort of action, either suspension or firing.

SERFATY: Fields filed a police report three days after the incident.

Released today, it reveals that she told police that -- quote -- "She felt someone yank her left arm. She fell back, but caught herself from falling."

The report also noted that Fields showed police her left forearm, which revealed bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks indicating a grabbing injury. Fields posted a photo of the apparent injury in a tweet two days after it allegedly occurred. She also spoke about the incident in TV interviews.

[18:05:10]

MICHELLE FIELDS, REPORTER: Obviously, one wants to be touched and violated like that. I would just ask him to just put himself in my shoes and imagine if I was his daughter.

SERFATY: Lewandowski vehemently denied the accusations when Fields first leveled them, tweeting at Fields -- quote -- "I never touched you. As a matter of fact, I have never even met you," and attacking her credibility, calling Fields an attention-seeker who is totally delusional.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And Corey Lewandowski turned himself in this morning in Jupiter, Florida, the Trump campaign denying he was arrested. He has been released and his court date is set for May 4, of course, all of this unfolding just one week, Wolf, before the crucial Wisconsin primary.

BLITZER: Very dramatic. All right, Sunlen, thank you.

The charge against Corey Lewandowski is creating a lot more controversy for the Trump campaign, as the Republicans face Wisconsin voters in a CNN town hall later tonight.

Our political reporter Sara Murray is at the event site for us in Milwaukee right now.

Sara, so, how will the campaign navigate all of this tonight?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Donald Trump is going to have to come out here and he's going to have to deal with this issue. And I think in this gaggle that he held with reporters earlier, he gave us kind of a preview of how he was going to do this. He sort of started to turn some of the blame around on Michelle Fields and suggests that maybe she was even overblowing this incident, saying that it was impossible to say where those bruises on her arms may have come from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When people see that tape and they take a look at that tape and they take a look at her initial statement, before she knew that she was on tape -- take a look at that, you have to see it -- you take a look at her initial statement, it sounded like she got thrown out of a building. You take a look at that and you -- and then -- excuse me?

QUESTION: She did get bruises on her arm.

TRUMP: I don't know if they were bruises from that. Why? Who said they bruises from that? How do you know those bruises weren't there before?

QUESTION: That's what the police...

TRUMP: I don't know what the police said. How do you know those bruises weren't there before? I'm not a lawyer. But she said she had a bruise on her arm. I mean, to me, you know, if you're going to get squeezed, wouldn't you think that she would have yelled out a scream or something if she has bruises on her arm?

She -- take a look at her -- take a look at her facial expression. Her facial expression doesn't even change. So, you know, you say bruises on her arm. How did they get there? Who put them there? I don't know that he put them there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, as usual, when Donald Trump encounters controversy, he's not backing down from it. Wolf, his challenge here tonight is going to be to pivot from that to some of the other issues that voters here in Wisconsin want to talk about, some of the questions that they have for him.

Right now, he is locked in a tight race here with Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz may even have the upper hand. And so if he's hoping to sway people tonight, he is going to have to set them at ease about this controversy and also field their other questions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of questions out there. All right, Sara, thanks very much.

Donald Trump has just started speaking at this rally in Janesville, Wisconsin.

And you know what? I want to listen in briefly, hear what he has to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TRUMP: Right? And I said I can't believe it. Then I have millions of votes more. He says, I'm the only one that can outvote him. And I'm saying, but I have, like, millions of votes more.

I will tell you something so important. There is something happening. It's like a movement. It's incredible. It's a movement. And we're part of the movement. It's not me. I'm a messenger, to be honest. I'm a messenger, and this is something that's so special and so amazing.

And it's on the cover of "TIME" magazine. It's on the cover of every newspaper. It's something that has never -- that has maybe never happened, and they're saying it's a phenomena. Sometimes, they say I'm a phenomena. I'm not. The message is what we want. We want jobs. We want jobs. We want trade deals that are smart deals, not stupid deals.

And, you know, Wisconsin -- I wrote down some notes. And, look, I didn't think -- I thought I had a -- it's one of those things. Look, I wrote down some notes. And it's like -- it's like devastating.

So Walker came out today. I wrote down notes about Wisconsin.

(BOOING)

TRUMP: Look, he certainly can't endorse me after what I did to him in the race, right?

But look at this. By the summer of 2015, Wisconsin was facing a $2.2 billion two-year budget deficit. That's terrible. By the way, these are out of books. All right, this isn't Trump. This is out of books. Total state debt is $45 billion. Now, maybe somebody is going to tell me that is wrong. But, again, these are -- $45 billion, very high, one of the higher ones -- 20,000 fewer people in labor force in Wisconsin than seven years ago, even though population has grown by 100,000.

So, your population is higher and -- now, I wouldn't have done this, but when he endorsed Cruz, what am I going to do? Am I going to say he's doing a great job? He's not doing a great job. He comes in, in his motorcycle jacket, a big Harley. I love Harleys. Right?

[18:10:01]

TRUMP: But the motorcycle guys like Trump. They really like Trump.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And he doesn't look like a motorcycle guy to me. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Unemployment rate, well, they say that can't be possible.

Unemployment rate, they have down 20 percent? That can't be possible. What? Is it 20 percent? Effective or regular? I mean, just effective unemployment rate, 20 percent.

Hey, this is out of the big book -- 800,000 food stamp recipients. Middle class hit very, very hard due to loss of manufacturing jobs. These are the stats, right? You know about this, right?

It goes on and on. Wisconsin has lost 15,000 net jobs to Mexico since NAFTA. Now, just so you understand, Kasich is running also. We forget about him. He voted for NAFTA. Both of them want TPP. TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, both of them want Trans-Pacific. That will make NAFTA look like a baby. And Wisconsin will be hit so hard.

You a motorcycle guy? I will bet. Right? Am I right? Do they love Trump? I don't even know why. I'm not big with the motorcycles. But the motorcycle guys love Trump.

Oh, look, I love the disabled veterans and the veterans. We're going to take care of our veterans. You know that, right? We're going to take care of our veterans.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: What is it about Trump that they like? I'm serious. We went to Hilton Head, we went to different places, and there were hundreds, hundreds of bikers out here. Beautiful bikes. Lots of Harleys, right? Lots of Harleys, but made in America, but beautiful, beautiful bikes.

What is it with the motor -- why do they like me? Tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Who said that? Who is that? I love it.

I don't know what it is, but they like me. I feel good with them. I feel safe. I got out, I took a picture. Secret Service went crazy. I said, these are great people. Don't worry about it.

But, listen, I appreciate it, fellows. I appreciate it. I know. Just keep you free. You're right. We're going to keep you free. I'm going to keep you free, because we're getting rid of ISIS. We're going have good borders. We're going to have borders again. We're going to have borders again.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to keep monitoring Donald Trump. Looks like he's getting into his stump speech right now. We will monitor what he's saying.

Let's take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:00]

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're joined now by Donald Trump supporter Omarosa Manigault. We're talking about the breaking news, the charge of simple battery filed against Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

Omarosa, thanks very much for joining us.

What's your take...

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Good to be here.

BLITZER: ... on Corey Lewandowski's being charged?

MANIGAULT: You know, because it's a legal case, I certainly can't comment.

What I will say about it, as it affects the campaign, is, if it does distract from the campaign, from the mission that Donald Trump has, then Donald Trump will have to deal with it. I listened very closely when you just showed the remarks that Donald made about being loyal, about standing by Corey. And so we will wait and see.

Donald Trump is very loyal. But if Corey becomes a liability, just like Donald did back in August, he's going to have to clean house.

BLITZER: He has got that famous catchphrase. You're familiar with it. You once heard it yourself. "You're fired."

MANIGAULT: I did.

BLITZER: Let's listen to what he had to say about discarding people earlier, just a couple hours or so ago, when he landed in Wisconsin.

MANIGAULT: Please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know it would be very easy for me to discard people.

I don't discard people. I stay with people. That's why I stay with the country. That's why I stay with a lot of people that are treated unfairly. And that's one of the reasons I'm the front-runner by a lot.

If you look at that tape, he was very, very seriously maligned. And I think it's very unfair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does it concern you at all that this could undermine his campaign, potentially harm his presidential candidacy? MANIGAULT: It does. It concerns me greatly, because we're talking

about Corey, instead of talking about what's happening in Wisconsin, and what's happening with the economy, what's happening with jobs.

I mean, Donald Trump was leading by a great margin up until these recent events. I will tell you that, if he loses Wisconsin, I can guarantee that you don't have to worry about Corey any longer, because he will become a liability and Donald Trump will get rid of him.

BLITZER: Get rid of Corey Lewandowski?

MANIGAULT: Yes.

BLITZER: He will blame Corey Lewandowski if he loses Wisconsin? Is that what you're saying?

MANIGAULT: Absolutely.

Wisconsin will be the test for Corey. If he's distracting away from what's important -- Donald Trump has a town hall this evening right here on CNN. He should be preparing for that and focusing on that, instead of his energy on Corey. It's just -- it's incredible to me that that's what we're discussing today, instead of really focusing on the voters there in Wisconsin.

BLITZER: Because most traditional presidential candidates -- and you're a branding expert -- I'm sure you will agree -- under circumstances like this, the campaign manager is charged potentially with a crime, even though he's innocent until proven guilty, they would say at least take a leave of absence for the time being, deal with this, you're a distraction to the campaign.

Not Donald Trump. He's not a traditional candidate.

MANIGAULT: He's not a traditional candidate.

And I will tell you, from just a personal standpoint, he's incredible, loyal. He's a great -- incredibly loyal and a very great friend to have. But in this case, when we're so close, I mean, we're so close to seeing him become the Republican nominee, anything can tip the scales.

[18:20:00]

And this might be that issue. So we have to watch it very closely. If it affects him, I don't know, he may be hearing those famous words.

BLITZER: What would you advise Corey Lewandowski to be doing? He's obviously staying on as the campaign manager. That's what Trump wants.

But do you think he should take a lower profile, shouldn't be, for example, walking around at these campaign rallies with him, getting involved in dealing with reporters?

MANIGAULT: Corey is a very experienced political operative. I can offer him this. It all comes down to optics and how it looks to the folks on the outside.

Whether he's right or wrong, whether he did or didn't, that's not what's important. The optics of this does not look good and it does not reflect well on Donald Trump's campaign.

BLITZER: Omarosa, thanks very much for joining us.

MANIGAULT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And don't miss CNN's town hall later tonight, the three Republican presidential candidates there in Wisconsin. Please join the moderator, Anderson Cooper, tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Just ahead, more on this new controversy hanging over the Donald Trump campaign. Will the GOP front-runner back down in his defense of Corey Lewandowski if there's any political fallout?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Very, very sad day in this country when a man can be destroyed over something like that. And you just look at that tape throughout the whole process, and you see how unfair it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:59]

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.

Donald Trump now says he's advising his campaign manager not to settle the new misdemeanor charge he faces. Corey Lewandowski now is formally accused of simple battery against a reporter in an incident at a Trump campaign event back on March 8.

Trump spoke to reporters about the allegations after he landed in Wisconsin for a campaign rally.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has been traveling with Donald Trump. He's in Janesville, Wisconsin, for us right now.

Jim, Trump clearly is not bowing to pressure to fire Lewandowski, is he?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Donald Trump is speaking behind me right now. He began this rally going right after Ted Cruz, going right after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who endorsed Cruz earlier today.

But Donald Trump is standing by his embattled campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who's traveling, we should mention, with the GOP front- runner today on his trip to Wisconsin. Earlier today, it was announced that police in Florida have charged Lewandowski with simple battery after he was caught on a security camera grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign event earlier this month.

The Trump campaign and Lewandowski's lawyers say he's innocent. And Trump himself defended Lewandowski at an impromptu news conference earlier this afternoon with a small group of reporters as he landed here in Wisconsin. Trump called Lewandowski a fine man. Here's more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This says nothing about the campaign. I think if you look at it, he was trying to block her. That's the way I would view it. And she's grabbing me and asking questions. She's not even supposed to ask questions.

You know, the press conference lasted for a long time, like 45 minutes. And I was leaving, and she runs up. And you can see -- in fact, there are pictures where she's grabbing. I could show you some. I actually have some in the other room. But there are pictures where she's grabbing my arm.

And I'm going like this, trying to get her off. I think it's a disgrace that something like that could take place -- and I'm shocked by it -- and I will stick by people. And I know it's probably not even politically good for me to do, but when somebody is maligned so unfairly as that, I will stick by him.

QUESTION: So, you're going to stick by Corey, but will his role change at all in the campaign as his case unfolds?

TRUMP: Well, I hope not. I think it's really unfair. It's a very unfair thing to a person.

I was watching some of the television coverage, and a lot of people were on television saying, how could somebody be charged for that? I mean, they see it. I'm -- again, I'm the one that gave the tapes. Nobody else gave the tapes. The tapes were from me.

And they see it and they see what took place. And it's so minor. And if you look at her initial statements, before she knew that we had tapes of her, she was talking about being pulled down, or dragged down, or something to that effect. And, all of a sudden, when she saw that there were tapes, she changed her tone a little bit.

I think it's a very, very sad thing. And I think it's very unfair to a good person. He's got a family. He's got four beautiful children. I think it's very, very unfair to a man with a wonderful family back in New Hampshire who gets, what, a criminal situation over that?

In fact, some of the reporters are saying -- a number of them tweeted, but some of them said, wow, that was minor, compared -- you get pushed around, you get shoved. And she was grabbing me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the Trump campaign insists Lewandowski was not arrested, but the Jupiter Police Department in Florida says technically he was, as he came to receive a notice to appear in court.

We should mention there was no mug shot taken of Lewandowski. And asked whether Lewandowski will stay on as campaign manager, Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks told me, yes.

As for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, both of their campaigns, of course, have seized on these charges, Wolf, saying that they're reflective of the candidate at the top of this campaign. But no question about it, Lewandowski at this point is breaking that old campaign rule that the staff should not be the story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, he is the story right now. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's bring in chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's a senior editor for "The Atlantic." And "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.

Is it smart, Gloria, for Donald Trump right now to stick by his man, if you will?

[18:30:05] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think Donald Trump, when backed against the wall like this, defended somebody he believes who has been very loyal to him; and it doesn't matter whether it's smart or not, Wolf. It's what Donald Trump wants to do.

I think politically, the conventional wisdom would be throw this guy under the bus. You don't need this kind of discussion before the Wisconsin primary, which is going to be a very tough fight for you. And I think Trump sort of figures, you know, Corey got him to where he is and he's going to stick with him. That could change but right now he's going to stick with him.

And, you know, by the way, the whole context of this is within this question about the Melania/Heidi Cruz dispute, questions like that. And so I think this is not going to help him with women one whit, but that doesn't seem to bother Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, because Lewandowski, as you know, David, he initially denied touching the reporter, Michelle Fields. He called her delusional. And clearly, he touched her, we can see on the video. There was some touching that was going on. That's why the police formally charged him with battery, if you will.

But in the end is it going to make much of a difference, you think, in the short term, one week from today, Wisconsin?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": I mean, we'll find out when Wisconsin voters vote next week, Wolf.

But I think, right, the Trump campaign would have been on a lot firmer ground if they had tried to come up with a story earlier on where they had said, "OK, this incident was exaggerated, or it's not as Michelle Fields says it happened." But their statement initially was that it was entirely false. As you said, Lewandowski tweeted that she was delusional.

And now it comes out again. Forget about the criminal liability. At least something happened based on that video. It backs up Michelle Fields, at least in part. It backs up my "Washington Post" colleague, Ben Terrace, who was a witness, who wrote about it and reported it out.

So the idea that Trump's initial response -- the Trump campaign's initial response was just to deny, I think, was maybe politically damaging.

BLITZER: And the Jupiter Police Department, in their formal complaint, their charge, they concluded, "Based on the above-described investigation, probable cause exists to charge Corey Lewandowsky with one count of simple battery, in that he did intentionally touch Michelle Fields against the will of Michelle Fields."

Normally, Ron Brownstein, you and I have covered a lot of these campaigns.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: When a campaign manager or somebody on the staff gets into trouble, you know what? They take a leave of absence...

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... because the candidate doesn't want to be burdened by that. But not Donald Trump.

BROWNSTEIN: No, this is -- this is really, I think, the Trump treadmill. I mean, throughout the campaign, whenever he gets into trouble, or has a backlash against his remarks, he always feels he has to double down. It is what he feels he has to do, I think, to satisfy a base that is attracted to him, largely because he does violate normal political norms. Because he says things in public that other candidates won't say. And it has worked for him in the sense of building an extraordinarily strong connection with a piece of the Republican coalition.

But there is unquestionably a price. And when you look at his vote within the primary, among, for example, college-educated Republicans, much lower than his vote among non-college. But even more when you look toward the general election and the kinds of numbers he is facing in terms of unfavorables today among three groups in particular: millennials, minorities, college-educated white women, historically high numbers.

And again, this is the kind of treadmill that he's on. He is reinforcing his hold on his piece of the party, but he's also deepening, I think, his distance with other elements of the electorate.

BLITZER: Dana, as you know, Ted Cruz was very critical of Donald Trump following the news of the charge against Corey Lewandowski today. But just last week, Cruz stood firmly when I asked him about his commitment to support Trump if Trump winds up being the nominee. Listen to this exchange I had with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very quick yes or no. If Trump is the nominee, will you support him?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said many times, yes, that's a commitment I made. And as we started on moving the embassy to Jerusalem, when I say I'm going to do something, I do exactly what I say.

But let me be clear: Trump is not going it be the nominee, because that hands the general election to Hillary. We're going to beat Trump. And what we are seeing, our campaign is the only one that has beaten him now nine times all over the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Since that in recent days, as you know, Dana, he seems to be backing away somewhat from that commitment to support Trump, should he be the nominee. Are you sensing that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A little bit. I think that it's probably most fair to say that it's harder for him to say that in the wake, in the days and hours after his -- his opponent has said what he has said and the back and forth has been going on about his wife.

When push comes to shove, if Donald Trump is the nominee, it's hard to imagine Ted Cruz saying, "No, I'm not going to support him. I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton." Or even somebody who is a public servant saying that "I'm going to, you know, sit on my hands and not vote."

You know, a lot of these candidates, when they have been asked along the way, "Well, will you support the nominee?" and they say, "Well, it's not going to happen because I'm going to be the nominee." You know, that's their -- that's their message; that's their rhetoric; that's their line. They have to say that. They're in this way deep.

[18:35:27] I think in Ted Cruz's case, he genuinely believes that, especially now that he and Donald Trump are the two viable candidates; and he firmly believes that at the end of the day, the Republican electorate and maybe, more importantly, the Republican delegates at the convention in Cleveland won't make Donald Trump the nominee.

BLITZER: And Gloria, I know you've been talking to your sources about this possibility of a contested convention in July, a Republican convention in Cleveland.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hearing?

BORGER: Well, I've been talking to some of the other campaigns. The two other campaigns who are going up against -- against Trump, and, look, they believe that what we're seeing today and this question about women supporters and his overall 74 percent unfavorable rating among women will convince delegates, they're hoping -- will convince delegates that on a second ballot they ought to go the other way.

And the difference, as one adviser to Kasich said to me, the difference between the electorate in Republican primaries, who don't care about electability at all -- we saw that in our exit polls -- the difference between the people at the convention and those people is that the people at the convention are state party officials, and they care about winning, and they care about the down-ballot races.

So when it comes to a second ballot, they're going to be more likely -- or so the hope goes of these other campaigns -- they're going to be more likely to vote for somebody else other than Trump, because they really want to win. They don't just want to make a point or send a message, and so that's their hope.

And we also heard today that Marco Rubio is hanging onto his delegates and so that, again, you know, adds more fuel to the sort of anti- Trump...

BLITZER: That's why the Trump people say it's so important they get the 1,237 guaranteed on that first ballot.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Or they don't have to worry about what happens on the second, or third or fourth ballot in Cleveland.

All right. Everybody stand by. We're only about an hour and 20 minutes or so away from the CNN Republican presidential town hall event in Wisconsin with all three GOP candidates. It begins at 8 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:06] BLITZER: We're back with our political team and the breaking news we're following of the simple battery charge against Donald Trump's campaign manager.

Meanwhile, top aides to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they are speaking about that, as well, as the Democrats charge into battle for the next two presidential contests.

Let's go to CNN's national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne, tough criticism from Trump's opponents in both parties tonight.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right. For Trump's critics, this is low-hanging fruit. The Clinton and Sanders campaigns, they have pounced on Trump's own behavior at his press conferences for allegedly inciting violence, encouraging it from the lectern and linking the brawls to having a good time.

They say that he is ultimately responsible for creating this culture that has led to his campaign manager's troubles. And it comes at a critically competitive juncture for the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton going toe to toe in battleground Wisconsin.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have won six out of the last seven elections, often by landslide victories. That's called momentum.

MALVEAUX: Sanders is hoping to complicate Clinton's path to the Democratic nomination with a win in the Badger State next week. The rivals drawing sharp contrasts today on issues. Clinton going after Sanders' record on gun rights at a community forum in Milwaukee.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact that gun makers and sellers are immune from liability because of a law I voted against, President Obama voted against when he was in the Senate, my opponent voted for.

MALVEAUX: Sanders is calling out Clinton for her high-dollar fund- raisers.

SANDERS: One of the reasons that we can speak to hundreds of thousands of people around this country is I'm not wasting my time going into rich people's homes, begging them for their campaign contributions.

MALVEAUX: The back and forth comes as the campaigns continue to disagree about adding another debate. Sanders' campaign wants one in New York before the state's April 19th primary.

JEFF WEAVER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: New York is a pivotal state in this contest. The secretary was elected U.S. Senator there twice, and what their response was about having a debate in New York was it's a nonstarter.

MALVEAUX: The Clinton team isn't biting, yet.

CLINTON: I think our campaigns are talking about that.

MALVEAUX: One thing the two campaigns can agree on, the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's campaign manager. Both camps seizing on the news about Corey Lewandowski to blast the Republican front-runner.

CLINTON: I think that every candidate has to be responsible for what happens in their campaign, and ultimately, the responsibility is Mr. Trump's.

WEAVER: Senator Sanders has been very up front about condemning the kind of what I would call thuggery that happens at many of these Trump events.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Both Sanders and Clinton are also focused on the daunting obstacles in the upcoming big contests. We're talking about Clinton, who lost the Wisconsin primary by double digits to Obama in 2008 and, according to recent polls, Sanders is falling behind 20 points to Clinton in New York -- Wolf.

[18:45:11] BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our analysts.

Dana, what's your reaction, first of all, to what both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had to say about Donald Trump and his latest problems involving his campaign manager?

BASH: Not surprising. You know, it's sort of shooting political fish in a barrel. I mean, this is sort of easy for Democrats to go after Donald Trump on this because it's something Republicans can go after and are going after him on. I think that the bigger question is going to be how, you know, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, if they can continue to use this or if it even matters?

The other question is whether or not, you know, if you look at it, Bernie Sanders is really hoping to win where I am in Wisconsin, to continue to do well, to give Hillary Clinton more of a run for her money than she wants to have or is willing to admit that she has right now and whether you see these things with Trump and it reminds Democrats, broadly, that a Trump opponent could really activate the Democratic base even if it is, especially if it is a Hillary Clinton -- even if there isn't the energy there right now in the primary process for Hillary Clinton as there is for Bernie Sanders?

BLITZER: I'm following on the issue of debates, Gloria, what are the chances that Hillary Clinton and the campaign will reconsider and accept the challenge that clearly the Bernie Sanders campaign has delivered to them to go ahead, to have a debate in New York state before the primary there?

BORGER: It depends on what the delegate count is, Wolf.

BLITZER: It depends on what happens in Wisconsin?

BORGRE: Yes, exactly. It really depends if she's ahead and by how much.

When you're ahead, you kind of get to set the agenda and decide whether you want to have another debate or whether you don't want to have another debate. I think part of the strategy in the Sanders campaign is push for these debates no matter what, make Hillary Clinton look unavailable, make her look like she's just running as a presumptive nominee when she isn't a presumptive nominee. And put that on her.

BLITZER: You know what, Donald Trump is now speaking about Corey Lewandowski. His campaign manager. I briefly want to listen.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With a whole big gang of people, people pushing left and right, left and right. All of a sudden, she bolts into the picture. She grabs me or hits me on the arm. In fact, I'm like this with my arm up. And then he goes by and I'm -- I mean, maybe he touched her a little bit. But I didn't -- it was almost like he was trying to keep her off me, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- so she wouldn't fall.

TRUMP: Like he was helping her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: Did you see her fall to the ground?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

TRUMP: OK. Because she talked about falling -- now, after -- I must tell you, her statement changed big league because she said, go to the ground, you know all this. I could read it to you. Does anybody want to hear it? I mean, I want to be accurate because I like the press.

So before she knew she was on tape, she said, "I was jolted backwards." was she jolted backwards? I mean, if she was, her face stayed the same. "I was jolted backwards. Someone grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. Campaign managers aren't supposed to forcefully throw reporters to the ground."

Except she never went to the ground. She never even came -- she never even flinched. She didn't -- you know, if somebody grabs you, even one of the guys, even the bikers, if somebody grabs even a biker or punches you a little bit, you go, whoa, right?

I mean, the toughest guy, the toughest woman. Look at her face. Zero.

They're going to destroy a man's life? And then I have Cruz saying, "Oh, that was a terrible thing, that was a terrible thing." Let me tell you something, folks -- If I win, if I lose, I didn't need to do this. I'm doing this because I just had a beautiful grandchild, with Ivanka.

(CHEERS)

Ivanka and Jared. Beautiful. Beautiful grandchild. I'm very proud. It's my eighth.

I'm doing this all for them. I didn't need to do this. This is not so easy. And I had no idea, you know, maybe none of us did. You know, I had no idea the message was going to get across. It's a message of competence, you know? It's a message -- it really is.

It's a message of common sense and a message of competence and I had no idea that we'd have millions of more votes than we had when we had that stiff Mitt Romney, a total stiff running, who, by the way, he's a dope. He's not a smart person. I'll fell you right now.

Let me tell you about Mitt Romney. That was an election he should have won and he lost. He should just go away and let the big boys do it now, because you know what --

BLITZER: You get the point of what Donald Trump is saying.

But, getting back, David, to what he said about Corey Lewandowski, basically suggesting that it was no big deal.

[18:50:06] And the fact that she's filing these charge, the police have accepted her explanation of what happened. He says this is a disgrace basically.

SWERDLICK: Yes, if there is a potential problem for the Trump campaign, I see it as this, like Gloria said earlier. It's very on brand for Trump to have initially denied everything and stood by his guy. He's my guy. I'm not backing down.

What's not on brand for Trump is the equivocating that he's to doing now and a statement that he gave earlier. Oh, was her arm really bruised. Oh, did her head really snap back, did she fall? He's supposed to be the, I tell it like it is, guy, and not the "I'm parsing out all the facts of the case" guy, and I think that could be a problem.

BLITZER: Let me get a different subject out there. Ron Brownstein, as you know, Judge Merrick Garland, he is now being considered, supposedly, for the United States Supreme Court. He met with his first Republican senator today. They had a formal meeting, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who happens to be up for reelection in Illinois.

Listen to what Kirk said to his fellow Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK KIRK (R), ILLINOIS: We need for rational adult open-minded consideration of the constitutional process which Judge Garland's part of it. He's duly nominated by the elected president of the United States to fill a vacancy which we know exists on the court. We need the open-minded, rational people to keep an open mind and make sure the process works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are we seeing or beginning to see the first cracks in the Republican wall there?

BROWNSTEIN: I think we've seen the cracks already. Real quick, to bottom up the previous point, Wisconsin is a state Donald Trump should win, 57 percent non-college, only 35 percent evangelical. If he doesn't, I think it will be a signal of something shifting.

On this, I think, look, I've said before, on CNN, I think that if Donald Trump is the nominee, or Ted Cruz is the nominee and they don't look more competitive in September, particularly trump than he does today against the Democrats, I think you'll see a lot of pressure among Republicans to try to confirm Judge Garland before the election, because I think they will believe that they will get a younger, more liberal nominee after the election.

The problem is, the question will be whether that will be on offer from the Democrats. If they are ahead in September and October, I think it's going to be an interesting choice whether they would accept that or believe they could get something even more emphatic on the Supreme Court after November.

BLITZER: All right. Good point. Thanks very much.

Everyone, stand by.

Bernie Sanders will be a special guest on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT". That comes up right at the top of the hour, right after THE SITUATION ROOM. Stick around.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:00] BLITZER: Terrifying scenes on the tarmac from an airline hijacking and hostage crisis. Tonight, the accused hijacker is in custody and the passengers and crew of the EgyptAir jet, they are safe. One person escaped by climbing out of the cockpit window. The ordeal renewing questions, though, about airport security, particularly in Egypt.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us right now.

Rene, I understand there were Americans onboard also as well.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I can tell you, there were eight Americans onboard. Almost immediately, TSA and other U.S. agencies began running passengers' names from the flight manifests to determine who was onboard and who may be a threat.

Tonight, CNN has learned the hijacker was a 58-year-old man with a criminal record that includes fraud, fake identity, theft, and drug charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): This is the man accused of hijacking an EgyptAir passenger plane, around his waist is what he claimed was a suicide belt. The Egyptian hijacker was caught on surveillance camera inside Egypt's Alexandria airport. He walks through a metal detector and airport security pats him down before he's cleared to board Flight 181 to Cairo.

Forty-five minutes after takeoff, Egyptian national Seif al-Din Mustafa takes the 69 people onboard hostage, and warns he's wearing an explosive suicide belt.

FARAH AL-DIBANY, EGYPTAIR FLIGHT 181 PASSENGER: One of the cabin crew told us that actually we've been hijacked. But that was it. She didn't even say if he was armed or not or who the guy is.

MARSH: The hijacker forces the plane to divert to Cyprus.

TIM CLEMENTE, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT: Most flight crews have been trained not to give over the aircraft. The flight crews are to make a safe landing somewhere so a proper tactical intervention can take place, or a negotiation to dissuade this individual from killing anyone.

MARSH: About an hour after landing safely, women, children shall and Egyptians onboard are released. But foreigners forced to stay. Eventually three more passengers run to safety. One person escapes through the cockpit window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In any case, it's not something which has to do with terrorism.

MARSH: The hijacker's suicide belt turned out to be fake. Made of what looked like cell phone cases according to authorities in Cyprus. They say the hijacker was distraught over issues involving his ex- wife.

CLEMENTE: Obviously, you would like to think even a mockup of a suicide vest could be picked up by security personnel at any airport in the world.

MARSH: The hijacking renews concerns over Egypt's airport security. In October, a Russian jetliner was blown out of the sky, killing all 224 people onboard. A bomb was smuggled onto the plane at Egypt's Sharm-el-Sheikh airport. Egypt insists it's beefed up security since then.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Here in the U.S., after September 11th when four aircraft were hijacked, additional layers of security were added, including pilots trained to carry guns, reinforced cockpit doors. The Federal Air Marshal program ramped up and, of course, Wolf, the TSA was formed.

BLITZER: All right. Rene, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thank you.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.