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Trump: GOP Delegate System 'Rigged, Crooked'; Cruz Expects to Win in Contested Convention; Clinton-Sanders Battle Heats Up Ahead of Debate; Sanders Questions Clinton's Judgment Ahead of Debate; Top Official at Spy Agency Defects from North Korea. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 11, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:03] JAKE TAPPER: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper turning you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: rigged system? Donald Trump returning to the campaign trail. After several days off, he's now lashing out at the GOP, calling the delegate selection process rigged and comparing himself to Bernie Sanders. We're standing by to hear what Trump will say next at a rally that's about to get under way.

Gestapo tactics. Trump's convention manager goes even further than his boss, accusing Ted Cruz of using Gestapo tactics to win all of Colorado's delegates. John Kasich says Cruz used strong-arm tactics in Michigan. Is Cruz playing by the rules? And what strategies are all of the GOP campaigns using right now in New York?

Supporting vigilantes. Fresh fighting on the Democratic side, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hitting each other over experience, qualifications and judgment. Now Clinton is attacking Sanders' immigration record, saying he was reporting vigilantes instead of voting for immigration reform. Is the new harsh tone working out there on the campaign trail? And can Sanders overcome Hillary Clinton's lead in New York?

And un-burden. A top espionage official defects from the Kim Jong-un regime, leaving the spy agency that's behind numerous kidnappings, assassinations and the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. Will he reveal some of North Korea's most closely guarded secrets?

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

We're following the race for the White House and a bitter back-and- forth between the Trump and Cruz campaigns. Donald Trump's convention manager now accusing Ted Cruz of using, quote, "Gestapo tactics" to win all 34 delegates in the Colorado primary; and Trump himself is calling the system rigged and crooked. We'll be listening to hear what else he has to say at a rally tonight in New York, where the primary is now just eight days away.

We're also following what could be a devastating breach for North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. We're just learning that a top intelligence officer from the country's notorious spy agency defected, and he's now in South Korea's hands, possibly revealing details of kidnappings, assassinations and cyber-attacks carried out by the Kim Jong-un regime.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by with fast-moving developments on these fast-moving stories.

Let's begin with our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray. She's in Albany, New York, with the Trump campaign for us.

Sara, Trump is holding a rally there in a little while. Is he expected to keep hammering away at this idea that the Republican Party's nomination process is rigged?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's certainly what we will be listening for. Donald Trump has touted himself as this fantastic manager, negotiator, the kind of guy who will surround himself with smart people if he's elected. Now that he's getting out-organized on the ground by Ted Cruz in a number of states, he is protesting and, in true Trump style, he is doing it very loudly.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because nobody knows the system better than me.

MURRAY (voice-over): From immigration to campaign finance to his own bankruptcies, Donald Trump has always said he knows how to work the system. And he'll work it from the White House.

TRUMP: And one of the things I always say, I know the best negotiators.

MURRAY: But up against the complex process of wrangling delegates, Trump is coming up short and crying foul.

TRUMP: What we have going is a movement. So what they're trying to do is subvert the movement with crooked shenanigans, all right? And we're just not going to let it happen.

MURRAY: Even warning the Republican Party that voters might revolt.

TRUMP: And I say this to the RNC, and I say it to the Republican Party: You're going to have a big problem, folks, because there are people that don't like what's going on.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: God bless the great state of Colorado.

TRUMP: After being shut out of the delegate chase by Ted Cruz in Colorado this weekend, Trump's new convention manager is likening Cruz's campaign tactics to those of Nazi Germany's secret police.

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CONVENTION MANAGER: You go to these county convention and you see the tactic -- Gestapo tactics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gestapo tactics? That's a strong word.

MURRAY: Today Cruz swatted back.

CRUZ: Donald has been yelling and screaming, a lot of whining, and the latest thing he's seized upon is, when people vote against him, they're stealing the election. It's a really odd notion. What is this democracy of which you speak?

MURRAY: The Texas senator feeling increasingly confident and arguing, if the convention goes beyond one ballot, he'll emerge victorious.

CRUZ: If we go into a contested convention, we're going to have a ton of delegates. And let me tell you, in that scenario, I think we will go in with an overwhelming advantage.

[17:05:06] MURRAY: Today Cruz jokingly wondering how Trump had even made it this far.

CRUZ (via phone): A lot of people have speculated that, when he launched the campaign, it was -- it was on a lark, and that he suddenly found himself surprised that, you know, his brand of reality television attracted a lot of attention.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, Trump is facing blowback from Boston after "The Globe's" editorial board published this faux front page, declaring "Deportations to begin under president Trump." Sunday night, Trump shot back.

TRUMP: The whole front page is a make-believe story, which is really no different from the whole paper for the whole thing.


MURRAY: Now, Wolf, we know the Trump campaign wants to avoid a contested convention. They want to show up in Cleveland with 1,237 delegates, but there are a number of contests coming up where these unbound delegates are going to be at play once again. And we will see if Donald Trump can get a little bit more organized with the help of his new convention manager -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara. Thanks very much.

Sara is in Albany, New York. Let's get some more on the Cruz campaign right now. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us from Irvine in California. Sunlen, it's going to be an all-out battle between Cruz and Trump, certainly, when California holds its primary in early June.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And Ted Cruz holding his first rally here in California, already looking ahead to June 7, as you noted -- noted. That is the last primary on the nominating schedule.

And Ted Cruz really today making a big point to play up how pivotal he sees California, telling the voters here, this crowd, saying that they could decide the nomination and potentially lead the way towards a path forward and, really, make a big point of sending a message to the nation beyond California. So interesting comments from Ted Cruz today.

He also, of course, did launch into a long and mocking critique of Donald Trump's complaints over the rules of the delegate nomination process, to make a point over his own campaign's strength. Here is more of what he had to say here today.


CRUZ: Now, in response, Donald has been yelling and screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whining, not winning.

CRUZ: A lot of whining. I'm sure some cursing. And some late-night fevered tweeting. All the characteristics, I would note, we would want of a commander in chief.

And the latest thing he seized upon is when people vote against him, they're stealing the election. It's a really odd notion. "What is this democracy of which you speak? Wait, wait, you mean voters get to vote? No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no."


SERFATY: And to that point, the Cruz campaign across the board really did seem to be playing up their organizational strength, not only here in California but across the country, touting from the stage a series of statewide endorsements here in California.

Also, you heard Senator Cruz there talking about it and the co-chair of his campaign from the stage here just a short while ago, saying that they are the only campaign that's already prepared, that's already organized for the state to be one that greatly matters now in this nominating process, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty reporting for us.

So let's get some more on all of this. The national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson, is joining us. Katrina, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You just heard, in Sunlen's piece, the Cruz campaign is openly saying that a contested convention is their best shot of winning this nomination. Is your campaign confident you can get to 1,237 before Cleveland?

PIERSON: We are absolutely confident, Wolf, that we will get to 1,237 by California. You know, it's interesting that the Cruz campaign is laughing and joking. Meanwhile you have millions of Republican voters right now who are tearing up their registrations as we speak. And I really want to clear up something with regard to the voters

voting. That is not what is happening, because the problem is when Donald Trump wins a state, the voters have voted, but yet the party system comes in on the back end, on the delegate selection process, to award delegates to other people. That's the problem.

BLITZER: Katrina, I saw a video of one guy ripping up his Republican registration. I haven't seen millions of Republicans doing it. Where do you get that number?

PIERSON: There are millions of Republicans right now who are saying this is not going to work. We have voters in Louisiana. You have voters in Tennessee who all are experiencing this right now, and many of them are threatening to leave the party. And that's not bringing the party together.

And back to Colorado, we're talking about the rules. Of course Mr. Trump knows the rules. The campaign knows the rules. However, they changed the rules in Colorado this past August after Mr. Trump came out, was on top and was not fading as everyone thought. They decided to scrap the election. That's not a democratic process. There was no election in Colorado.

[17:10:11] BLITZER: But the Cruz campaign, they were on the scene. They were doing what they were doing to play by the rules in Colorado. Did the -- did the Trump campaign miss an opportunity?

PIERSON: The Trump campaign had paid staff on the ground in Colorado, but here's what people miss about the, quote unquote, "system." Thirty-eight hundred people competing for essentially less than 40 spots. It wouldn't have mattered if Trump would have had a thousand people on the ground, because the state party already decides who they want the delegates to be.

So yes, a Trump supporter may get elected at the county level, but as this pyramid system replaces itself throughout the multiple elections that they have, they eventually get their own people, which is exactly why Politico reported the same thing is already happening in Indiana, a state that has not voted yet.

BLITZER: But you know that there were a lot of complaints that the Trump people who were on the Colorado, they missed deadlines, they misspelled names. They didn't really know what they were doing. That's a huge embarrassment, isn't it?

PIERSON: Well, there's been a lot of reports, and that's why I'm refuting a lot of them now, because if you were on the ground, you could see there were pictures of ballots people have posted now on their social media accounts, showing how their delegate number was left off and others were printed twice.

So not only were Trump delegates left off the ballots; their credentials were conveniently lost and then found after the fact. So there are some shenanigans going on even when you are following the rules. BLITZER: But the point is, Katrina, that Donald Trump is the author

of "The Art of the Deal." He knows how to make deals. He knows how the systems work. Shouldn't he and his team have been better prepared for what happened in Colorado and presumably could happen elsewhere?

PIERSON: Wolf, to my point, it wouldn't have mattered how many people we had on the ground if the rules aren't being followed by everyone.

When the system is rigged and was rigged in this case from August in the state of Colorado, even when you're following the rules and you are making deadlines, if the county party says -- or the state party says, "We don't have your paperwork," even though you filed it and they find it after the fact, don't you think that's a little suspect? This is what we're running into.

BLITZER: Are you going to file a complaint now?

PIERSON: There are complaints filed -- that are going to be filed, and I believe Mr. Manafort already alluded to that.

BLITZER: Will your campaign be able to effectively work for delegates if it does come down to a contested convention? Because everyone seems to believe that the Cruz campaign is so much more better organized, more experienced people with a lot -- a lot better ground game, as they say.

PIERSON: Well, the senator has been running for president for a couple of years now, so he should be organized.

But as far as this magical ground game, what is the excuse for losing seven states that he was supposed to win to Donald Trump? Donald Trump has won 21 states. Ted Cruz hasn't even won ten. So, so much for that ground game. We're very confident we are going to achieve those delegates by California.

BLITZER: Your convention manager, Paul Manafort, accused Ted Cruz's campaign -- he used these words -- of engaging in, quote, "Gestapo tactics" after the clean sweep of the delegates on Saturday in Colorado. Is that characterization, Gestapo tactics, really appropriate?

PIERSON: Well, you know, it's not just our convention manager. I mean, even Kasich's people were talking about some of the tactics that were being used in Michigan, for example. They used the word "strong arm," which essentially is the same thing.

There are a lot of delegates that are receiving, let's just say, interesting phone calls from people that might sound intimidating. So we're going to find out, aren't we?

BLITZER: Is it appropriate to use the word "Gestapo"? Because I assume you know what the Gestapo did.

PIERSON: Well, it is a word to define exactly the type of malice that is involved with going after some of these delegates in a very hostile and intimidating way. BLITZER: Katrina, you know what the Gestapo during World War II.

That word should not be used to talk about the tactics that -- that the Cruz campaign engaged. That was inappropriate, right?

PIERSON: Well, again, you're talking about a campaign that doesn't really care much for political correctness. And if it's a term that just simply describes how...

BLITZER: But it's inappropriate -- you don't use the word "Gestapo" to talk about a political campaign in the United States. That gives the Gestapo too much credit, right? Don't you wish you could have taken that back?

PIERSON: Well, where was all this hostility concern when Mr. Trump was being called Hitler? So yes. I think this is just another situation where it is a word to determine just how hostile that this has gone on in these states for these delegates. And I think it was a word that just lets everyone knowing exactly what he was talking about.

BLITZER: So you don't want to back away from the word -- you don't want to back away from that word, Gestapo?

PIERSON: No. And the Kasich campaign also talked about strong-arm tactics.

BLITZER: Strong-arm tactics is one thing but the Gestapo, you know what they did. You know the millions of people, especially Jews, who were murdered.

PIERSON: Yes. He was talking about exactly the same thing, the strong-arm tactics that the Cruz campaign has been using, the intimidation; and a lot of people feel a little hurt by that.

[17:15:07] BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Katrina, I want to continue this conversation.

PIERSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a lot more to discuss.

Much more with Katrina Pierson, right after this.


BLITZER: Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump -- candidate Donald Trump is lashing out at the Republican delegate system, calling it crooked and rigged. As Ted Cruz closes in on Trump and the party possibly -- possibly -- faces a contested convention.

We're back with the national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, I assume you saw that "Washington Post" story over the weekend that did a long analysis of Donald Trump's charitable donations over the years. Their analysis found that, although Donald Trump has donated gifts, he's never really contributed any of his own personal money. I assume you saw that story. Your reaction?

[17:20:09] PIERSON: Well, there is personal money; and there are gifts. And there's time, and there's property. There are a lot of ways to be charitable over the years.

And when you consider everyone in the race, Mr. Trump -- the Trump family in general has been more generous when it comes to charity and gifts than everyone combined.

BLITZER: Because I remember in January when Mr. Trump skipped that FOX News debate, held a rally instead to raise money for various veterans charities. He said that night he would contribute $1 million of his own money. Has he done that?

PIERSON: Yes. In fact more than half that money has been put out to the 22 -- not even just the 22 organizations that were on the list but to even more. I mean, by the end...

BLITZER: But specifically, did he write a check specifically for a million dollars of his own money? I know that many other people contributed funds to help veterans.


BLITZER: But I wonder if he already contributed that $1 million out of his own personal account?

PIERSON: Yes. That money is in the bucket, and it's not to one organization. It was separated between all the other groups.

BLITZER: He also made this past weekend, he visited the 9/11 Museum in New York, and he donated $100,000 to the museum. I assume that's $100,000 in cash, not in gifts, right?

PIERSON: I haven't seen the form, but I'm assuming it is in cash, yes.

BLITZER: And so that's another -- I guess the question is, knowing that that "Washington Post" story was coming out, there has been some speculation that's why he decided to make the $100,000 contribution in cash, if you will. Is there a connection, as far as you know?

PIERSON: No, not at all. Mr. Trump has been very charitable over the years. There is plenty of proof for that before, Wolf, before he became a presidential candidate seeking votes. Mr. Trump has been doing things for people his whole life, including his whole family.

We have a family that has dedicated themselves to charity through time, gifts and money and even building wings for hospitals for children with cancer. So this question that Trump isn't charitable is just false on its face.

BLITZER: Well, he's charitable, and he's given away a lot gifts, they say, but...

PIERSON: Compare that to the other candidates, though. Compare that to the other candidates.

BLITZER: Well, he has a lot more money. He has a lot more money than the other candidates. He's a billionaire.

PIERSON: He's also known for being extremely charitable to people that -- and he's not even seeking public attention for. Mr. Trump doesn't even talk about the tens of thousands of dollars he's given to people, individuals just for being a good person and doing the right thing. You never hear those stories.

BLITZER: All right. One final question, Katrina, before I let you go. The fact that two of his kids who are old enough to vote, obviously, they didn't register in time as Republicans in order to meet the deadline to vote a week from tomorrow, what happened here?

PIERSON: You know, I'm not quite sure. But I do know that when you're running a multi-billion-dollar company and raising a family, you do kind of forget those things. And that's just what happened. There's a lot to keep up with there.

BLITZER: Katrina Pierson, thanks very much for joining us.

PIERSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And stay with CNN all this week as the Republican presidential candidates, their wives, their children, they will take questions from New York voters in three town halls over three remarkable evenings. Tonight John Kasich and his family. Tomorrow night Donald Trump and his family. Wednesday night, Ted Cruz and his wife, all starting 9 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Much more right after this.


BLITZER: He was off the campaign trail for a few days, but now Donald Trump is back and lashing out at the Republican delegate system and rival Ted Cruz, who took all 34 delegates at the Colorado Republican state convention.

Let's dig a little deeper with our CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our CNN Politics executive editor, Mark Preston; and our CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro.

Dana, a new poll just out, "Wall Street Journal"/NBC new -- News poll, shows Trump still holding an incredible important, impressive lead in New York state. He's at 54 percent. Kasich is at 21 percent. Cruz is in third place at 18 percent.

Could Trump realistically walk away a week from tomorrow with all 95 of New York's Republican delegates?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? I'm going to say at this point no because of the complicated way that New York administers its delegates. There are pockets of New York, congressional districts, where either

John Kasich or Ted Cruz could very well walk away with three of the delegates. And that is the strategy.

I was up in New York last week on the campaign trail with Ted Cruz, for example. He was in upstate New York, working very hard in an area where there is no way that -- that a Democrat could win, for example, or even that Donald Trump is that popular right now.

So if Donald Trump does that it's -- you know, it's almost game over but it's hard to see him pulling that off.

BLITZER: Yes. Donald Trump gets 50 percent plus one, he'll get 18 of those 95 delegates...

BASH: And then the rest...

BLITZER: ... and then three delegates for each of the 27 congressional districts.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: But I think you need at least 20 percent of the vote to be eligible to win those congressional districts. That's why if these numbers hold out and Cruz is below 20 percent, he might not be eligible to get even one delegate.

BASH: That is true. But in this poll -- in this poll, he's below 20 percent statewide. And so I'd be interested to see if they did break it down per congressional district. I'm not sure if they got that granular.

BLITZER: Mark, the Cruz campaign swept all 34 of Colorado's delegates this weekend. Does that show that the Cruz campaign isn't yet ready -- isn't prepared for a fight at a possible contested convention?

[17:30:12] MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, Wolf, I think it's fair to say that the Trump campaign wasn't prepared for the situation that they're in right now. In many ways, they built the second story of a house without digging out the foundation first. And what we've seen with the Cruz campaign is they've methodically gone along and followed the Republican National Committee nominating rules.

It's as if the Trump campaign didn't know that those rules existed or they thought that Donald Trump was just going to sweep in and pick up the 1,237 delegates.

Now, either way, they are in a situation right now where they now need to win 57 percent of the remaining delegates in order to win the nomination. Is that possible? Maybe, but it's unlikely. And I think we're going to go into a contested convention. And that's why it's so important that Ted Cruz has been out and his campaign has been out, really trying to win over these delegates, specifically when it comes to a second ballot out in Cleveland that we expect would happen in July.

BLITZER: What does the Trump campaign, Mark, need to do going forward to make sure it does a better job fighting for those delegates?

PRESTON: They need to get people into these states right now when they have these mini state conventions and district conventions that are happening right now, where they actually choose their loyalty towards a candidate. And that's what they have not been doing.

What we saw happen in Colorado this past weekend is exactly what happened, and the Cruz campaign was able to get their people on the slate in order to use them when it comes to -- you know, comes to July.

But they have brought on a very well-respected hand to try to do that, a delegate wrangler in many respects, Paul Manafort, so we'll just see how this plays out right now. But I think we are in for a political knife fight as we head into Cleveland.

BLITZER: Ana, as you know, Ted Cruz, he's now openly saying his best chance of winning the nomination is at a contested convention, if it goes beyond the first round of votes into a second or third round.

But he's still lacking a lot of crucial support among Republican senators, large part of the Republican base or establishment, whatever you want to call it. What will he need to do to have the party unite behind him?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Wolf, I have two good friends who ran for president and had a fair share of Republican senators and congress people backing them. And now they're back in Miami sitting there watching this race develop.

So I don't think Ted Cruz needs to worry right now or really spend much of his energy courting these Republican senators or Republican elected officials.

I do think he does need a lot of the donors. He does need to attract more money. He is going to be running against a guy who is a self- funding billionaire. He needs to be able to fund his machine. He has got an expensive machine. He's got very good ground operations, very good data mining operations and organization. All of that costs money.

I think Ted Cruz needs to show, No. 1, that he can win. No. 2, that he's got the organization. But he also needs to show more dimensions to himself. A softer side. We all know he's capable of causing obstruction.

Now we also need to know that he's capable of making a deal, that he's capable of getting things done, that he's more than just a guy who can filibuster on the floor of the Senate. I want to know that he's going to have an agenda, a positive vision for the country. That's what I want to hear from him.

BLITZER; It's interesting, Dana, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff says he's going to write out a letter, a memorandum to all men and women of the United States military to stay out of politics this time around. That sounds a little extraordinary. I assume it's reacting to some of the controversial statements we've heard from some of these candidates?

BASH: Well, Barbara Starr, our correspondent at the Pentagon, said exactly that.

But it's not just that the candidates are making controversial statements. It's that men and women who are in the armed forces when they're on TV, when they're doing interviews, they're being asked about it.

Now, I don't think that that historically, probably, is that unusual. Maybe what is unusual is that this election year, it just -- there's such passion. You know, it's always a big deal whomever the commander in chief is for the armed forces, but you know from your time at the Pentagon and at the White House and on the campaign trail, Wolf, there is a rule that, when you're in uniform, you don't engage.

But it's not so easy if you are doing an interview and you're being asked about what's going on, on the campaign trail. And it is extraordinary that the -- that the chairman of the joint chiefs is going to write this, but clearly thinks it's necessary.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. There's a lot more coming up, including some pretty dramatic developments happening on the Democratic side in this race for the White House. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:39:22] BLITZER: With the New York primary just eight days away, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are sharpening their attacks. They're taking swipes at each other on everything from their records to their experience to their judgment.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is covering the Democratic race for us.

Jason, we're seeing a big increase in some negative rhetoric. What's the latest?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's something that might be expected, given how critically important this state is to both candidates. Clinton says, Wolf, that she's got the numbers going forward. Sanders says he has the momentum, something that Clinton, he says, does not of, and that's not the only thing he's saying about Clinton.


CARROLL (voice-over): Hillary Clinton says she's ready for Thursday's debate on CNN, but she cast doubt about whether Bernie Sanders is.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have noticed that, under the bright spotlight and scrutiny here in New York, Senator Sanders has had trouble answering questions.

CARROLL: And hitting her opponent on his immigration record. CLINTON: I think our records are very clear. I started co-sponsoring

the dream act back in 2002 or '03 and I consistently did that. Senator Sanders by contrast was supporting vigilantes, the so-called Minutemen on the border.

CARROLL: On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Sanders turning from Clinton's qualifications to her judgment.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have my doubts about what kind of president she would make.

CARROLL: But Clinton not responding in kind.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have doubts about what kind of president he might be?

CLINTON: No, I don't. I don't have anything negative to say about him.

CARROLL: Despite polls showing Clinton with a commanding lead in the Empire State, Sanders telling New York voters today he can win with their help.

SANDERS: If we can win here in New York state, I believe we are on our way to the White House.

CARROLL: Sanders taking his fight to the airways with a new ad, voiced by actress Susan Sarandon. It's focused on fracking, a key issue for upstate New York voters.

SUSAN SANDERS, ACTRESS: Bernie Sanders is the only candidate for president that opposes fracking everywhere.

CARROLL: His campaign also charging a super PAC backing Clinton is partially funded by fossil fuel lobbyists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bernie, he can't be bought by them, because he's funded by you.

CARROLL: Looking ahead, Clinton sees the path to the nomination and says her team isn't making plans for a contested convention.

CLINTON: I intend to have the number of delegates that are required to be nominated.

CARROLL: Clinton is out with a new ad, too, focused on Donald Trump.

CLINTON: Donald Trump says we can solve America's problems by turning against each other. It's wrong, and it goes against everything New York and America stand for.

CARROLL: Telling reporters today she can take on Trump while still fighting Sanders.

CLINTON: I think I can both walk and chew gum at the same time.

CARROLL: And that she wants to draw the starkest distinction between herself and Trump.

CLINTON: Trump's rhetoric, his divisiveness, his incitement of aggressive behavior, even violence, is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be called out.


CARROLL: And, Wolf, Sanders saying that he feels pretty good when it comes to New York, Pennsylvania and California. I mentioned that to some of his supporters out here. They acknowledge that, if they want to take their political revolution forward, they're going to have to do much better than pretty good come primary day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll in beautiful Buffalo, New York. Say hello to all those great Buffalonians out there. Jason, thank you very much.

President Obama, he stood by Hillary Clinton regarding the use of her private e-mail server. Listen to what he said on FOX News.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I continue to believe that she has not jeopardized America's national security.

Now, what I've also said is that -- and she's acknowledged -- that there's a carelessness in managing e-mails that she has owned and she recognizes.

But I also think it is important to keep this in perspective. This is somebody who served her country for four years as secretary of state and did an outstanding job and no one has suggested that, in some ways, as a consequence of how she handled e-mails that that detracted from her excellent ability to carry out her duties.


BLITZER: Mark Preston, how unusual is it for a sitting president to offer such strong support for a presidential candidate? And there are some suggesting he should have stayed out of the whole issue of the current FBI investigation into her private e-mail server.

PRESTON: Well, Wolf, I think it would be difficult for President Obama not to weigh in at all. Obviously, this is a very big issue or has become a very big issue not only politically but how the State Department and going forward and how they handle classified information.

We shouldn't be surprised, though, that he would come out and defend Hillary Clinton. He has always been by her side. And interestingly enough, we don't even hear Bernie Sanders very much making an issue of this.

The question is, as we head forward and if she becomes the Democratic nominee, how much will we hear Republicans banging this drum heading into November? I suspect we'll hear it a lot.

BLITZER: I suspect you're absolutely right.

Dana, as -- Hillary Clinton seems to be addressing herself now, increasingly, toward a general election, maybe against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, but is that premature right now?

BASH: You know, it's a very deliberate strategy. The fact that as Jason pointed out in his piece that she's talking about it on the stump.

[17:45:01] She's got a new ad, focusing on Donald Trump. She is trying to make the primary go away. Even though it is very much still alive. And she's trying to signal to Democratic voters, to the base, look, guys, we need to focus on the Republican Party because -- and on the general election because it's coming up before we know it. But good luck with that. You know, the new poll that you talked about today out has her winning right now in New York but not by as much as you would think given the fact that she represented the state in the Senate for two terms.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, let me get back to you. Talk about this NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" poll that just literally came out a few minutes ago. Take a look at these numbers. It has Hillary Clinton at 55 percent, Bernie Sanders at 41 percent. Is that big enough a lead that she can start focusing on a general election let's say against Trump?

PRESTON: I think in many ways that is a smart strategy for her to try to put her focus elsewhere as opposed to getting into a battle with Bernie Sanders on every policy issue. And the reason why I say that is because she doesn't want to seem like she is fighting Bernie Sanders on issues that could upset his base. She's going to need these voters to be by her side come September, October and especially in November.

So when Hillary Clinton says she's focusing on Trump I think some people might say look, she's being disrespectful to Bernie Sanders, but in some ways it's probably a good way of deflecting what could possibly be a worse scenario and that is going head-to-head and perhaps as we've seen over the past 24, 48 hours, these very personal fights that are starting to erupt.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

All right, guys, stand by. I want to remind our viewers to please join us Thursday when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will face off for the final time before the critical New York primary. I'll be moderating CNN's Democratic presidential debate live from Brooklyn Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Dana Bash will be joining me in the questioning as will Errol Louis. It's going to be an exciting, important, potentially historic debate.

Coming up, a top official defects from North Korea and its notorious spy agency. Will he reveal some of Kim Jong-Un's most closely held secrets?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:51:45] BLITZER: A high-level defection from North Korea could shed some new light on the country's notorious spy agency.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

So, Brian, the North Korean official is now in the hands of South Korea. What do we know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. Tonight South Korean officials are debriefing this man who they say was a top North Korean intelligence officer who had made it across the border.

Now given this man's stature and the notorious secretive unit he came from, he could be a gold mine of intelligence and could even help the South Koreans head off an attack.


TODD (voice-over): Experts say if true, the high-profile defection is a devastating breach for Kim Jong-Un and a huge coup for Western intelligence officials. The North Korean officer's name hasn't been released but a South Korean official tells CNN he was a senior colonel in a notorious secretive branch of Kim's regime, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, or RGB.

BRUCE KINGNER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: It is a particularly nasty organization. It's not only involved in gathering intelligence through infiltrating agents into South Korea but it's involved in all of the terrorist kind of operations that North Korea is involved in. They've conducted kidnappings, assassinations.

TODD: Sources say the RGB also led North Korea's only direct attack on American soil, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment in the fall of 2014. An attack allegedly carried out by the Reconnaissance General Bureau's large stable of cyberwarriors including those working for a unit called Bureau 121.

North Korea has denied involvement, but analysts say that hack, along with the RGB's secret raids across South Korea's border are two of the programs this top colonel is likely being questioned about.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER, FORMER SENIOR U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: They've done midget submarines, sent infiltrators in, assets, what we call agents. And so one of the things they're going to go through and they'll debrief him on are what assets are now in place in South Korea. What are their tasks? Where are they?

TODD: Tonight South Korea is not saying how the colonel made it across the border last year or why he chose to defect. Kim's alleged bloody purges of deputies he deems to be traitors have instilled fear in North Koreans at all levels. Just last week 13 North Korean restaurant workers made their way to South Korea from an unnamed country in Asia.

(On camera): How dangerous is it to defect for anyone? From this colonel on down to the restaurant workers? KINGNER: It's extremely dangerous. If he has a family, they very

well may be in a gulag right now. They may be being tortured. We know that often diplomats when they're stationed overseas are forced to leave behind an anchor child it's called. One of your children has to remain back in North Korea as a hostage.

TODD (voice-over): One former North Korean spy who defected to the U.S. when Kim Jong-Un's father was still in power told us she never felt safe from the regime, even after she left.

MA YOUNG AO, FORMER NORTH KOREAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER (Through Translator): Yes, I have to look over my shoulder. I do feel it's unsafe. However, I don't regret what I do. I feel it's what I have to do.


TODD: Now that North Korean defector told us she lost her entire family when she defected and North Korean agents inside the U.S. once threatened to kill her. Analysts say the colonel who recently defected will likely be targeted by North Korean assassins and the South Koreans are going to have a huge challenge keeping him safe -- Wolf.

[17:55:01] BLITZER: And Brian, you were just told a harrowing story about another North Korean defector? What did you learn?

TODD: Incredible story, Wolf. This former U.S. military intelligence officer Tony Shaffer who we spoke with, he once handled North Korean defectors and he told us that once in an intelligence briefing he was told that when a North Korean diplomat once defected overseas, agents from the regime immediately killed that man's family at the diplomatic residence and Tony Shaffer says they buried them in the backyard of that residence.

Any defection seen as a betrayal and they go after them very severely, Wolf.

BLITZER: They clearly do. All right, Brian. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump about to hold a rally in New York. He's been slamming Ted Cruz and the GOP delegate system. What will he say tonight? We're going there. Stay with us.