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Russia Fears; Hillary vs Bernie; Trump at War With Republican Party; Interview with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Fiery New Phase in Democratic Race After CNN Debate; U.S. Admiral: Russia Sub Activity at Cold War Level; U.S. Fears Confrontation after Russian Jets Buzz Navy Ship. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 15, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: failing wannabes. Donald Trump rips into his former apprentices calling them dishonest and disloyal after six of them, six stars from his reality show, say he's not ready to be president.

We're standing by to hear directly from Donald Trump. He's going to be speaking at a rally in Hartford, Connecticut. Will he heed calls to bring down the temperature of his campaign?

Fighting words. A bitter turn in the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ripping into each other at the Democratic debate, their most contentious face-off so far. Did their attacks and body blows do more harm to their opponent or themselves?

And Russian aggression. In an exclusive interview with a top U.S. military commander, sounding off the alarm over Russian attack submarines growing in number and more stealth than ever and Russian fighter jets buzzing a U.S. ship coming dangerously close to disaster. What's behind all of Vladimir Putin's saber-rattling?

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

We're following the race for the White House right now. And Donald Trump is locked in a new battle tonight with this time six of his former "Apprentice" contestants speaking out against his campaign. Their message to Trump, you're fired.

They're accusing him of stoking fear, racism and divisiveness, Trump in turn calling them six failing wannabes. We're standing by to hear from Donald Trump. He's getting ready to speak at a rally in Connecticut, which holds its primary a week from Tuesday.

We're also following the U.S. military's growing concern over Russian military aggression, including some dangerous moves by Russian fighter jets buzzing an American Navy ship in the Baltic Sea. And now, in an exclusive interview, a top U.S. military commander is sounding alarm over a large deployment of sophisticated new Russian submarines, a level of activity unseen since the end of the Cold War. We're covering all of this, much more with our guests, including Trump

campaign national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen has more on the GOP race and Trump's escalating attacks on his party and his rivals.

Sunlen, Trump is clearly not holding back. What is the latest?


Tonight, Donald Trump continues to take aim over the rules of the delegate process. And in doing so, he's also notably ramping up his attacks on Ted Cruz, really trying to connect his rival to the party insiders and the process he's railing against.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who the hell wants to talk about politics all the time, right?

SERFATY (voice-over): But Donald Trump is talking politics today, intensifying his aggressive criticism of the RNC and the GOP's nominating rules, out with a scathing op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" blasting the system for what he calls a flagrant abuse of the rules.

The GOP front-runner also tearing into his rival, Ted Cruz, tying him to party insiders he alleges are stacking the deck against him, writing -- quote -- "The great irony of this campaign is that the Washington cartel that Mr. Cruz rails against is the very group he's relying upon in his voter nullification scheme."

The chairman of the Republican National Committee pushing back today in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Delegates on the floor choose the nominee of the party after being empowered by the voters. This is a very normal system that we have been using for many years.

SERFATY: The RNC also firing back by throwing down the rule book, blasting out a pointed memo, noting that the rules were set last October, writing -- quote -- "It ultimately falls on the campaigns to be up to speed on these delegate rules."

SERFATY: Trump today isn't backing down.

TRUMP: The Republican system is rigged. I would have done great in Colorado. And then they said, we didn't change the system. He knew the rules.

SERFATY: And looking ahead to his home state's primary Tuesday.

TRUMP: I think we're going to close it out before the convention, to be honest with you. We have a great -- so important is for you to get out and vote.

SERFATY: Picking up the endorsement of "The New York Post" editorial board today and receiving the warmest reception of the three Republican contenders at a black-tie event in Manhattan.

TRUMP: You know, I talked tonight about New York values that we all, many of us, that we all know so well.


SERFATY: Ted Cruz, moments later on the same stage, finding a less receptive audience, but a group of Trump's former "Apprentice" stars...

KWAME JACKSON, FORMER "APPRENTICE" CONTESTANT: I think America is often beguiled by a billionaire because he's shiny.

SERFATY: ... teaming up today to denounce Trump.

TARA DOWDELL, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Donald Trump is validating people's hate and bigotry in a way that I truly believe has the potential to tear this country apart.

SERFATY: Meantime, Ted Cruz back campaigning on Trump's home turf today, brushing off Trump's allegations.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it is not surprising when a candidate loses 11 elections in a row he's unhappy about it, and so he complains. And that's fine.

SERFATY: And having a laugh on the late-night couch at Trump's expense.

CRUZ: Well, Donald, last year, the Colorado state GOP, they voted to cancel their statewide primary and instead to hold district conventions to elect their 34 delegates. We have known this all along and I won those elections fair and square.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": You know what I think? I think the people of Colorado did vote, but they were so high, they completely forgot. And let's face it, anyone that high definitely voted for me, so basically I won Colorado.



SERFATY: And Donald Trump today responded to those former "Apprentice" contestants of his who came out against him today, in part saying -- quote -- "They just want to get back into the limelight, like they had when they were with Trump. Total dishonesty and disloyalty."

So, absolutely no mincing of words there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Sunlen Serfaty, reporting for us from Rochester, New York.

As we stand by for that Trump rally, that rally going to be taking place in Connecticut, let's go to our national correspondent, Jason Carroll.

Jason, you're in Plattsburgh, New York, where Trump held a rally just a little while ago. What happened there?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's something you may not have heard before, Donald Trump actually agreeing with Bernie Sanders, at least when it comes to how delegates are allocated in this system. That's what he told the crowd here a little earlier this afternoon.

He explained that when you look at what's happened with Bernie Sanders, he said: I feel sorry for the man. He keeps winning one state after another and yet Hillary Clinton leads in the delegate count. Here's how he explained himself.


TRUMP: I hear Bernie. He wins. He wins. He wins. He keeps winning. He keeps winning week after week. Bernie is winning. Winning. And then I listen to the pundits. And tonight Bernie Sanders won again for the seventh or eighth or ninth time in a row, but he's got no -- OK, and you know what? That's OK, because I feel sorry for him in a way. He wins and then you listen to the pundits, but he can't win.

You know why? Because it's a rigged system, folks.


CARROLL: And Trump's also said, as bad as it may be for the Democrats on their side, he said it's even worse for the Republicans. You heard him there saying once again, as he's said before, he believes the system is rigged.

Wolf, when I spoke to a number of people here who came out to this rally about that, what they thought about that, they thought, yes, they believe, as Trump does, that the system is rigged. But, as many of them told me, they feel as though, if you're going to change the rules, don't do it during the election. Do it after the election.

Most of them telling me at this point, they want to hear about -- more about the issues rather than what it takes to get a candidate nominated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jason, thank you, Jason Carroll reporting from Plattsburgh, New York.

Let's get more on all of this.

Joining us, the national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, thanks very much for much for joining us.


BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Trump ripped into the Republican National Committee today in this op-ed he wrote in "The Wall Street Journal." Is the Trump campaign right now at war with the RNC?

PIERSON: No, I don't think we're at war with the RNC.

We are actually exposing these -- quote, unquote -- "rules" everyone is talking about. And I think a lot of Americans who have for a very long time felt like the system is rigged, now they know exactly how the system is rigged.

Even though Reince Priebus says that these delegates are elected by the voters, that's simply not true. These delegates are selected by a system that the party puts in place that allows those political operatives for that party to make those decisions.

BLITZER: It sounds though to a lot of observers, and you have heard this, Katrina, that it sounds as if Donald Trump wasn't familiar with the rules going into his race for the White House.

PIERSON: Well, see, that's not the case at all.

Like I said previously, we could have had 1,000 paid staff on the ground in Colorado, and it wouldn't have made a difference. They had already decided to use pro-Trump supporters as a filter. They are doing it in Indiana. They're doing it all over the country now because it's working.

And the party itself tweeted that they stopped Donald Trump in Colorado. So, even knowing the rules, you can't be the only one playing by those rules. Rules are there for a reason, put in place by the party, but we're only able to talk about it now because we can point to something that is indicative of how that system is manipulated.

BLITZER: I spoke with the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus today. And he said your campaign, Donald Trump, in making these allegations that the system is rigged, just plain wrong.


He says the rules were not changed. These rules have been in place for a long time.

Which specific rule is at the center of your anger?

PIERSON: Well, this particular topic came up from Colorado.

Colorado did, in fact, change their delegate selection process back in August. Mr. Trump entered the race in June, and we all know we had a full-blown Trump summer. And then they changed their rules in August. And now we have the outcome that we have. So, specifically in Colorado -- we're going to wait and see what happens in Indiana moving forward.

But they definitely did change their rules in August.

BLITZER: But you keep saying the game is rigged against Donald Trump. The RNC, as I just said, they say that's not true.

But Trump is really doing well right now. He's got the most delegates. He's got the most popular vote. In a state like Florida, what, did he get, about 40 percent. But it was winner take all. He got 100 percent of the delegates. He likes those rules, right?

PIERSON: Well, the rules in general, Wolf, are actually rigged against an outsider candidate.

It just failed in the attempt to stop Donald Trump because Donald Trump is not your typical candidate out there. He came in with 100 percent name recognition. People all over the country already knew who he was and he has enough money to be competitive. Any other candidate would have been taken out by now by being defined by the political consultant class and super PAC ads.

But Mr. Trump has actually been able to fight the system successfully so far.

BLITZER: As you know, "The New York Post" formally endorsed Donald Trump today, ahead of Tuesday's primary in New York.

But the endorsement also included these sentences -- quote -- "Should he win the nomination, we expect Trump to pivot, not just on the issues, but in his manner. The post-pivot Trump needs to be more presidential, better informed on policy, more disciplined and less thin-skinned."

Is that good advice? You think that is going to happen?

PIERSON: Well, I think that's what we have been hearing for quite some time.

Mr. Trump has even said that when it's time to change his manner, he will. When you are being attacked by 16 other people, super PACs, lobbyists, special interest consultants, and the media, you're not going to be that person that the majority of the public has been conditioning to hear from in the political realm, particularly being a new politician, which "The Post" also points out, that he's a rookie at this. And he's navigating that process.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Katrina, because we have more to discuss.

We're also standing by, Donald Trump getting ready for a rally in Hartford, Connecticut. These are live pictures coming in right now.

Much more of our special coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will be right back.


BLITZER: New target of Donald Trump's wrath tonight, six former contestants from his reality show "The Apprentice" who have now come out publicly against his presidential campaign.

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

Katrina, they really say that he is trying to tear the country apart. They were bitter, very angry in their denunciation of Donald Trump, to which the campaign put out a statement, saying: "Ask how successful they have been since they left, six failing wannabes out of hundreds of contestants. So sad."

You heard some of their comments earlier this hour, Katrina.

Is that the best response? You think that's appropriate, the campaign's response to what we heard from him?

PIERSON: Well, look, we're talking about people who were given an opportunity of a lifetime. And some were successful because of the show.

One actually won one of the seasons, and then they come out for their own personal gain, as Mr. Trump said. They just wanted to be in the limelight. Otherwise, they wouldn't have held a press conference. And, in fact, they say it's not Donald Trump himself. It's the campaign, Wolf. And guess what?

They know nothing about the campaign. So to sit there and hold a press conference to criticize the campaign and not Mr. Trump himself, saying things like racist, xenophobic, sexist, you name it, and the people saying it were black and women -- I mean, the irony here is just disgusting. Not only is it disloyal, but it's completely classless.

BLITZER: Well, was the statement presidential, if you will, six failing wannabes, stuff like that?

PIERSON: Well, he was giving his honest assessment of what was happening here. That's exactly what happened.

Again, we are not a politically correct campaign. Mr. Trump calls it like he sees it. And this was an opportunity for these individuals to get back into the limelight for whatever reason. But a lot of people have figured out, if you want to get on TV, just go after Mr. Trump.

BLITZER: Trump campaign, they seem to be confident that Donald Trump will win New York next Tuesday, win several other states a week from Tuesday, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut.

Do you think he's going to get to that magic number of 1,237 before the convention, have enough delegates, pledged delegates wrapped up, so there won't be any fight on the convention floor?

PIERSON: Absolutely, Wolf.

We're going to get enough on the first ballot to clinch the nomination before having to go to any other ballots. We're very confident that we will get over 1,237 by the time we get to California. We're very happy to be doing so well in New York and some of the other states coming up. The brand-new national poll just came out with Mr. Trump 18 points up from the others.

So, we're really excited. Mr. Trump has committed to making America great again. He wants to get his vision out there. And he's the only candidate in the race that can do that. He's personally invested in this country, the success or failure. Mr. Trump wants to take personal responsibility for that, and no other candidate can say the same. Mr. Trump is the only one not on the government payroll, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, if you're going to get to 1,237, you're going to get to that magic number, I guess the rules are OK from the Republican Party standpoint, right, from your perspective.


PIERSON: Actually, no. No, that's the beauty of the whole thing.

We have exposed the system for what it is. And the Democrats are exposing their own. When Mr. Trump wins, he will have beat the system. And that's going to be victory at a whole 'nother level.

BLITZER: Katrina Pierson, thanks very much.

PIERSON: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the Democrats' uncivil turn, some are calling it. It's gloves off for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as they come out of the CNN presidential debate.

Plus, the growing threat of Russian submarines now perhaps at a Cold War level, a top U.S. military commander revealing disturbing new details in an exclusive interview.



BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have opened up a fiery new phase in their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

With only four days before the New York primary, they each adopted a rather contentious and testy new tone that was on full display in the CNN presidential debate.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us now.

Jeff, no more niceties between these two Democratic candidates.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No niceties at all, Wolf. From guns to trade to financial reform to foreign policy, the

differences and distinctions between these two candidates came out loud and clear, but mainly loud. The reason why is, there are four days until the New York primary and this race is getting much shorter.


ZELENY (voice-over): A day after the contentious Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton went their separate ways, Sanders flying to Rome for a Vatican conference on economic and social justice. There was no meeting with Pope Francis, but a chance for Sanders to speak on the world stage.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable.

ZELENY: For Clinton, a quick visit to Harlem.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I now know where to come when I want a good game of dominoes.


ZELENY: Before heading to Hollywood for a weekend of star-studded fund-raising with George Clooney.

But, tonight deep, divisions are hanging over the Democratic race after their brawl in Brooklyn.

SANDERS: I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.


SANDERS: That's just not accurate.

CLINTON: I have stood on the debate stage with Senator Sanders.

ZELENY: Their voices rising, CNN's Wolf Blitzer had to play referee.

BLITZER: If you're both screaming at each other, the viewers won't be able to hear either of you.

ZELENY: A fierce fight over a $15 minimum wage to a sarcastic clash over the influence of big banks.

SANDERS: When millions of people lost their jobs and their homes and their life savings, the obvious response to that is that you got a bunch of fraudulent operators and that they have got to be broken up.

CLINTON: It may be inconvenient, but it's always important to get the facts straight. I stood up against the behaviors of the banks when I was a senator. I called them out on their mortgage behavior.

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness. They must have been really crushed by this. And was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements behind them?

ZELENY: On the debate stage, Clinton expressing regret for the 1994 crime bill her husband signed into law.

CLINTON: My husband has apologized. He was the president who actually signed it. I'm sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people's lives.

ZELENY: After the debate, we asked Sanders, who actually voted for the bill, whether he had any regrets.

SANDERS: In retrospect, it was a vote that led to a lot of awful things. There were good -- but here's the difficult -- you can't say in retrospect, if I had voted the other way.

I would had Secretary Clinton saying, Bernie Sanders, you had an opportunity to vote against to ban assault weapons. You didn't do that.

ZELENY: From start to finish, the tone was unmistakably sharper from early on in the race, when Sanders game to Clinton's aid.

SANDERS: The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.

CLINTON: Thank you. Me too, me too.


ZELENY: From e-mails to taxes, Wolf, one promise Senator Sanders made to you last night on that stage was, he said he would release his tax returns, at least from last year, some time today.

Well, at this hour, we have still not received those. I just talked to campaign manager Jeff Weaver a few moments ago. And he said they will still be coming some time this evening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it sort of deliberate? Are they waiting until, I guess, late on a Friday afternoon, early evening? Is that the theory? Is that the suspicion out there?

ZELENY: It sure seems like that, Wolf. It's already about 6:30 here in the East.

We all see Friday evening, you know, news releases over our years in this business. So that's what it looks like. The Sanders campaign says they're just trying to get everything in order here, but it's hard to imagine what is taking them so long to release these taxes throughout the day today, not to mention the weeks before this -- Wolf. BLITZER: You're right. That's what a lot of times, when they want to

release information and try to get minimum publicity, they do it very, very late on a Friday.

All right, thanks very much for that.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's strongly backing Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so, you heard that heated exchange the two candidates had last night on the issue of raising the nation's minimum wage.

[18:30:01] Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am sure a lot of people are very surprises to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.

CLINTON: Now wait a minute. Wait a minute.

SANDERS: That's just not accurate.

CLINTON: I have stood on the debate stage with Senator Sanders eight prior times.

SANDERS: Excuse me --

CLINTON: I have said the exact same thing.


BLITZER: Secretary, Senator, please. Secretary -- secretary, the viewers --

CLINTON: If we can raise to $15 in New York or Los Angeles or Seattle, let's do it.


BLITZER: All right. So, back she wanted it $12, raising the minimum wage nationally, it's about $7.25 right now. Has she changed her position? She wants a mandatory $15 minimum wage nationwide?

JEFFRIES: Not at all. I think she clarified yesterday that she continues to support legislation that has been put forth by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, that would raise the minimum wage at the federal level from $7.25 to $12. But simultaneously, she's indicated, on a state by state basis, there are areas where a state should move to $15 an hour faster than other states, such as New York.

And so, Wolf, she consistently stood with Governor Andrew Cuomo and SEIU 1199 and 32BJ the entire coalition around the fight for 15 that actually successfully led to a New York state budget that will raise the minimum wage here in New York to $15 an hour.

So, I thought she was very consistent. Senator Sanders continues to try to obfuscate issues and put forward ideological purity that is unfortunate.

BLITZER: She also suggested, an issue close to your heart, you are a New Yorker. A lot of guns that are used in violent crimes wind up coming from Vermont where gun laws are obviously a lot less strict than they are in New York. When you heard her say that, we did the fact checks. You read all the fact checks, and very few of those guns that are shown to be involved in criminal activity in New York actually do come from Vermont.

JEFFRIES: Well, this was a very important issue because the views of Senator Clinton are very different than Bernie Sanders who is out of touch with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who embrace the strong gun control laws we have here throughout the state. The problem that we confront is that the overwhelming majority of guns that are used to commit crimes in New York City actually come from a variety of different states, such as Pennsylvania. Many of the states in the Deep South, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, but some guns do come from Vermont.

BLITZER: But it's a very small number. We did all the checking, Congressman. She was implicitly suggesting Vermont and Senator Sanders, the senator from Vermont, were to blame. Was that's a mistake?

JEFFRIES: No, no, no, actually, I think what she was saying is that we need national gun control activity and action by congress, in order to address a problem that results in states like New York being hurt by the fact that we have other states such as Pennsylvania and Vermont and states in the Deep South that have lax laws.

The majority of weapons that are used for instance, Wolf, to commit crimes on the south side of Chicago come from the neighboring states of Indiana and Wisconsin. In South Central Los Angeles, things have gotten a lot better because the overwhelming majority of guns in L.A. actually come from the neighboring state of Arizona.

And so, we've got gun violence problems all across inner city America, including here in New York City and many neighborhoods that I represent. Senator Sanders on issue after issue has consistently opposed a national solution voting five times against background checks, voting twice against holding gun manufacturers liable for their actions in flooding the market with a whole host of guns they know or should know will wind up in the hands of people that will do us harm. Voting to allow guns on Amtrak which could prevent for the interstate transportation of these type of weapons.

Secretary Clinton understands that we need a national solution, and I think the point she w making is that through his actions, Senator Bernie Sanders, perhaps because he thought he was representing the interests of his constituents in Vermont, has opposed that approach time and time again.

BLITZER: Last night, Senator Sanders also said that Hillary Clinton's use of the term super predators to describe some young gang members in the 1990s was racist. What was your reaction when you heard that?

JEFFRIES: I thought that was unnecessarily inflammatory. Desperate candidates do desperate things. And here's the scenario: Senator Sanders came into that debate down 2.5 million votes to Secretary Clinton and down more than 200 pledge delegates.

[18:35:00] He needed a knockout blow and he barely laid a glove on her. He tried time and time again, but he continued to just sort of bring up talking points and then raise inflammatory statements such as accusing her of using a racist term.

Hillary Clinton doesn't have a racist bone in her body. She's acknowledged she made a mistake in using that term that could be interpreted as offensive to many, and she's apologized for it and indicated she'll never use it again.

BLITZER: She says that she will not release the transcripts of the speeches she gave to some of the Wall Street companies like Goldman Sachs unless the same standard is set for everyone, including the Republican presidential candidates. She says this is a matter of principle.

But a lot of people out there think maybe she has something to hide.

Do you think she should release those transcripts?

JEFFRIES: Listen, I don't think she has anything to hide and the standard she put forward is exactly the correct one. She shouldn't be held to any standard that is above and beyond that that's being applied to every other candidate.

Hillary Clinton has been subject to a right wing attack machine for more than 40 years and she's withstood it. And so, time and again, people hurl allegations at her. But the fundamental point that came out of the debate last night is that Senator Sanders couldn't point to a single instance in the entirety of Hillary Clinton's career where she had done anything officially or unofficially that would further the efforts of the big banks that he claims she's in the pocket of because of some super PAC dynamics.

That makes no sense. And, in fact, Wolf, what we do know is that in 2005 after George W. Bush won re-election, Wall Street wanted to privatize Social Security, which was a big initiative by George Bush in his second term, and Hillary Clinton in the Senate helped lead the charge against it.

BLITZER: If she's running as the Democratic nominee, let's say she's running against Cruz, Senator Cruz, or Donald Trump or John Kasich for that matter and they agree to release the transcripts of their speeches, what you are saying is she will release hers?

JEFFRIES: I think that's what she said from the debate stage yesterday and I certainly take her at her word.

BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks very much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's breaking news we're following. A magnitudes 7 earthquake rocking Japan in the middle of the night. We have details.


[18:42:10] BLITZER: We have breaking news. At least one person is now confirmed dead after a major earthquake in Japan. The nation was already scrambling to recover from a tremor that killed nine people earlier in the week. Experts are predicting devastating damage from this latest quake which was about 30 times stronger than the previous one. This latest quake, a magnitude 7. We'll have more on this story coming up.

But let's turn back to politics right now. We're standing by to hear from Donald Trump at a rally in Hartford, Connecticut. Protesters there, they've already started to gather outside the event.

On the Democratic side, meantime, sharp attacks, pointed accusations and deep divisions made for the most contentious contest yet between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the CNN presidential debate in Brooklyn.

Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is back with us, along with our political reporter Sara Murray.

Jeff, how are the Clinton campaign and Sanders campaign for that matter feeling about the debate last night?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let's start with the Clinton campaign. They believe it was a moment for Secretary Clinton to keep raising some of those questions that she really has been throughout the course of this New York campaign about whether Senator Sanders is actually prepared for the presidency, if his ideas are well thought through. In fact, they went up with an advertisement today that's going to be airing on television here, echoing some of those same themes, that we saw in "The Daily News" editorial a couple of days ago. They really believe they were able to show that Secretary Clinton is more in command of this.

But, of course, not surprisingly, if you talk to the Sanders campaign, they believe that Bernie Sanders, one, energized his existing supporters and, two, urged other people who may be having lingering doubts about the Clinton campaign to at least give him a shot.

But, Wolf, I have to say, I mean, after watching nine of these debates now, yes, it was the most contentious, but I think it just hardened both sides. This race is frozen in place at least in terms of the moment, but it's frozen in place in a time when the Clinton campaign is leading in delegates. So, that is the challenge for the Sanders campaign to sort of break free of that. And they need a big win here in New York to do that. I'm not sure that debate performance is going to guarantee that.

BLITZER: The latest polls show that he's way behind Hillary Clinton in New York state.

ZELENY: Right.

BLITZER: That primary is Tuesday.

Sara, as you know, Donald Trump wrote an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" ripping into the Republican Party for in his words, rigging the delegate system, the Cruz campaign for being disingenuous. Is the campaign starting to worry about what happens on the convention floor if it's contested, the Trump campaign?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, the campaign is still saying they are going to get to the number they need on the first ballot. But, yes, of course, they are behind the scenes worries if this goes to a second ballot, it gets more difficult.

But I actually think if you look at this op-ed that Trump wrote for "The Wall Street Journal," it lays out his case against the system in a way much more eloquent than we hear from him at his campaign events, where he sounds a little bit more like he's whining, that it's unfair to him or that it's stacked against him.

[18:45:13] It's designed to benefit Ted Cruz.

If you look at that op-ed, what he's really saying is, this is a system that's leaving out so many voter voices and so many of these people want to be involved in the process and we're disenfranchising them. And that is a much more coherent message and he gets really to the core of his campaign and his argument that he is bringing new people into the process and also bringing people into the process who maybe haven't been involved in a decade or so.

So, I think it sort of takes this argument the next step further and does it in a far more eloquent way than we normally hear from Trump.

TRUMP: Sorry, we're going to show our viewers some live pictures. He's getting ready, Trump, to speak at the rally in Hartford, Connecticut. You see protesters outside the event.

This is sort of becoming common. You've been covering Trump for months. He gets ready for a big rally. Thousands of people are inside. But outside, there are protesters.

MURRAY: Yes, I think that's absolutely right. I think when you see the protesters inside, those have been the most volatile situations. That's when we've been a little bit more worried about sort of violence sparking. But I do think it is the new reality for Donald Trump.

Look, he is leading in the Republican primary, but among the broader electorate, he's still very divisive. He still has high very unfavorability ratings. And a lot of the things he said, whether they are about Hispanics, whether they're about Muslims, whether they are about women have deeply offended a number of people, and I think this is just going to be par for the course of his campaign going forward, especially if you're in a major city.

TRUMP: Jeff, as you know, the polls show Hillary Clinton way ahead of Bernie Sanders in New York. The primary on Tuesday. Trump way ahead of his rivals, the primary -- Republican primary on Tuesday. How important is this "New York Post" endorsement of Donald Trump today?

ZELENY: I think it's an important endorsement. I mean, Donald Trump has been living his life in the New York tabloids for decades, Wolf. So, not being endorsed by "The New York post," that would be sort of a slap against him.

But, you know, if there's one state where voters know Donald Trump, where Republican voters know Donald Trump, it is here in New York. There is no ambiguity. There's no definition needed here. So, I think "The Post" editorial would have been a bigger deal had he not gotten it, as opposed to him getting it.

But, look, you always want an endorsement. "The Daily News" did not endorse him. They endorsed John Kasich. You always want a newspaper like "The Post" behind you.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure Trump is happy about that.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Up next, stealth attack submarines posing a growing threat to the U.S. and NATO. We're learning disturbing details in an exclusive interview with a top U.S. military commander.


[18:52:06] BLITZER: A top American naval commander now sounding the alarm over the growing number of sophisticated new attack submarines being deployed by Russia. He spoke exclusively to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, the subs are part of Russia's apparently increasingly aggressive military posture.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And the commander of U.S. naval forcers in Europe expressing deep concern not only about Russian sub activity, but the technology, also the strategy. The U.S. seeing this rapid expansion is aimed directly at the U.S. and NATO.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Russia is deploying its ballistic missile and attack submarines in numbers, range and aggression not seen in two decades. In an exclusive interview, the commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe tells CNN the buildup is part of an alarming strategic view.

ADMIRAL MARK FERGUSON, COMMANDER, U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE: They're very clear that NATO is viewed as an existential threat to Russia. Our military capability they view in a very visceral way as a threat to Russia.

SCIUTTO: Adding to U.S. concern, Russia is deploying new submarines that are harder for U.S. naval forces to track and detect. Following years and billions of dollars in investment, they are quieter, better armed and have a greater range of operation.

FERGUSON: The submarines that we're seeing are much more stealthy, they're acoustically quieter. We're seeing them have more advanced weapons systems, missile systems that can attack land at long ranges.

SCIUTTO: The increased Russian sub activity is backed by a much broader military expansion. Russia is adding or upgrading some 12 naval bases across the Arctic Circle, expanding its capability to send subs in numbers through the crucial Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap in the Atlantic, and closer to U.S. and NATO territorial waters.

Moscow has newly stationed six submarines in the Black Sea, giving Russia new capability into the Mediterranean. The U.S. believes the new activity is designed to deny NATO, including the U.S., the ability to operate within Russia's so-called near abroad.

FERGUSON: What we see in these operations, it's -- one, it's focused on protecting the maritime flanks of Russia but also denying NATO the ability to operate within the maritime flanks as well. And I'm speaking of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and areas in far north Atlantic, around Norway.

SCIUTTO: Increasingly alarmed by Russia's new sub deployments, the U.S. and its allies are launching new training exercises in anti-sub warfare, and deploying new systems, including the P-8 Poseidon.

CNN got an exclusive trip on the Navy's most advanced sub hunter last May.

(on camera): These are sonar buoys dropped into the water to track submarines. The plane can be equipped with torpedoes to destroy those submarines.

[18:55:02] (voice-over): Russia's growing military activity extends above the surface as well. A Russian fighter jet's fly-by of the USS Donald Cook this week coming within 30 feet laterally and 100 feet vertically is behavior that U.S. naval commanders have not witnessed since the Cold War.

FERGUSON: We had issued radio calls in both English and Russian. And the aircraft didn't respond, and proceeded on a course directly at the ship. So, while we've seen these interactions before, this one was different because of the proximity to the ship, the altitude and the flight path that it took.


SCIUTTO: I also spoke with the former supreme allied commander. He says the U.S. Navy sometimes loses track of these Russian subs due to the numbers and increased technology. He also says that while U.S. subs are better than Russian subs, not better by much, Wolf, and it's going to take a big investment to keep U.S. strategic advantage.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on those Russian warplanes that came dangerously close to a U.S. Navy warship.

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

Very disturbing encounter, Brian. What do we know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Disturbing, dangerous, provocative, and, Wolf, U.S. officials are still fuming about it tonight. A former navy strike group commander told us the current commander of that navy destroyer had to make a split-second decision to avoid a full scale confrontation.


TODD (voice-over): Some call these moves striping runs without the firing. Tonight, U.S. official still furious over the buzzing of an American navy ship by Russian combat jets. America's top diplomat calling the incident in the Baltic Sea reckless, provocative.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Under the rules of engagement, that could have been a shoot down. So, people need to understand this is serious business, and the United States is not going to be intimidated.

TODD: In wave after wave, Russian ships buzzed the USS Donald Cook, at certain points coming within 30 feet of the ship.

(on camera): No margin for error, right?

REAR ADM. TERENCE MCKNIGHT (RET.), FORMER STRIKE GROUP COMMANDER: That's correct. I mean, you are talking feet. We're not talking yards, or miles. We're talking feet. And, basically, if this pilot sneezed or looked at different, and the plane went another way, bang, it could have hit the ship.

TODD (voice-over): The Russian jets were not armed. Russian officials are defending their actions tonight, saying these fly-byes were in accordance with international rules.

But analysts say we're in a very dangerous period.

OLGA OLIKER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's absolutely the worst it's been since the end of the Cold War.

TODD: The USS Cook was operating in international wars, but only about 70 miles off the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, where the Russians have military ports. That, plus the capabilities of the American Aegis destroyer likely got under Vladimir Putin's skin.

MCKNIGHT: This ship has the most advanced radar capability in the fleet of the United States Navy. It can not only detect missiles, but it also can shoot down missiles. And this is probably what irritated the Russians, not only that was operating out in the sea, but also close to their shores.

TODD: Putin is being as aggressive as ever, using his ramped up military to threaten his neighbors, provoke the U.S., push every envelope, all with the clear message, we must be respected.

OLIKER: Putin's narrative is one of strength, right? So, at home, he got us off our knees. Internationally, it's, we are capable of standing up to the United States and other countries to assert our interests.


TODD: Now, the danger tonight that U.S. officials are worried about, a miscalculation or even a slight mistake by a Russian pilot or a submarine commander provoking a confrontation. And there is a concern about an intelligence breach tonight.

Now, during those fly-byes, this Russian helicopter also came very close to the USS cook. It was probably taking high res pictures of the radar, the weaponry and communications on board to give to Russian commanders and to give to Russian defense contractors -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe that's why they were flying those jets so close.

Brian, this was also a clear sign of aggression toward a key U.S. ally, right?

TODD: That's right. A U.S. official told us the USS Cook did have a Polish helicopter on board as part of its routine training exercise at the time of those fly-bys. This official said it's very likely the Russians were sending a message to the Polish forces as well.

BLITZER: Polish forces, Poland a key NATO ally right now.

So, there's obviously, Brian, based on everything you're hearing, a much higher state of concern.

TODD: Absolutely. A cat and mouse game is continuing in that region, especially in the Baltic Sea, Wolf. Putin is very concerned. He's not afraid, but he's really -- he's always feeling threatened when NATO expands east. And when these maneuvers take place especially in the Baltic Sea, he gets very, very upset.

BLITZER: Those waters in the Baltic Sea where the U.S. warship was moving international waters. All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.