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N.Y. Crucial in Presidential Races; Obama to Veto 9/11 Bill Amid Saudi Threat; Deadly Bomb Explosions in Kabul. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 19, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Basically, so far, you sent money to the Democratic candidates that endorsed Bernie Sanders. That's the criticism. You've heard that.

BEN JEALOUS, FORMER PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Well, I mean, what we've also seen with all of these super delegates is most of the Democratic folks who are in office and super delegates pledge to her before this race even started. And so there's a bit of that on both sides but again, we raise money week to week. $27 is the average contribution so we won our campaign very differently. As you see us, quite frankly, should we win and we come out, of course, we'll be raising and the candidates will feel much better about the sources of the funds because they won't be coming from $350,000 per couple fundraisers. They'll be coming from the very people who those folks will be representing en masse in office. The people of this country have so far made seven million individual contributions to his campaign.

BLITZER: Ben Jealous, thank you very much for joining us.

JEALOUS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, a shake-up inside Donald Trump's campaign on the day of the New York primary. So what's behind the changes? And will it help him or hurt him moving forward?


[13:35:23] BLITZER: Many of the polls across New York State have been open since 6:00 this morning. That's been decades since the New York played such an important role in the race for the Republican nomination, and it's also a crucial test for the Democrats this time as well.

Miguel Marquez is in a polling station in Lancaster, New York, not far from Buffalo.

Miguel, Upstate New York in particular is a key part of the race for the Republican presidential candidates. What are they expecting?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's heavy today. In a typical primary, they've got about 35 percent of the eligible electorate turning out. As of this morning, they had 15 percent turn out. When they get busy this afternoon, as people get out of work and it will get much busier. We're in Lancaster outside of Buffalo, a place you know well, they've had hundreds of people come here so far today. It's a bit of a lull now because it's lunch hour but they cycle them through very, very quickly. They are fast here in Buffalo. To their various voting districts there and to the privacy screen so that they can actually vote.

We're seeing high interest because there's three New Yorkers in this race. Donald Trump has great ties to Buffalo. He was here last night. He has ties to the real estate community here. Hillary Clinton started her Senate campaign here in 1999. Has very strong ties here. And Bernie Sanders has been here several times as well, upstate. The state's largest city playing a huge role in this election and the vote clearly getting out -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Miguel. Enjoy Buffalo.

Let's talk about what's going on with our political panel. Joining us, Angela Rye, a CNN political commentator and the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus; Amanda Carpenter, the former communications director for the Ted Cruz campaign and the political commentator; and Scottie Nell Hughes, chief political commentator with the USA Radio Network. She's a Donald Trump supporter.

Amanda, who has the most to gain tonight?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think Donald Trump. Not just because he's probably going to win New York but what I'm looking for is how he handles his win. All over the air waves in the run-up to the primary, his surrogates and members of his campaign has been accusing other people of fraud and even bribery and dirty tricks, all this kind of stuff. So Donald Trump coming after a win. What does he do with that momentum going into the states? As he rises to the level of being a candidate that will finally campaign on the issues or is he only going to make this about smearing others and if he does too that, I think he will continue to repel delegates from coming over to him because no one has seen him able to rise to talking about the issues and going into a general election against Hillary Clinton where we saw Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders really get into debating over a minimum wage and financial services industry and can't put Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in that environment.

BLITZER: Scottie, what do you make of the reports that there's a shake-up inside the Trump campaign he's moving to a new level? Older campaign staffers are moving up and new ones coming?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, USA RADIO NETWORK: I think this is called growth. These are natural growing pains as we get ready to go into a convention. I do think Mr. Trump because he is reflective of the popular vote is still going to make that magic number and there's a good chance we're not going to have a brokered convention and after July, he will definitely be our nominee. But just in case, this is kind of like an insurance policy. Wolf, you get a team in place and people exactly where they I think Mr. Trump is very optimistic hoping the people's vote would actually matter and we continue to not have these delegate shenanigans and Kasich already boasting that he has the majority of the delegates in Indiana and the primary hasn't happened yet. These shenanigans would not necessarily shape the Republican Party with the effect it is today but it's coming out some of the state primaries and the state parties have their own way of thinking that might not necessarily be reflective of the people who vote as Republicans in the state.

BLITZER: Angela, I know you speak to Democratic Party insiders behind the scenes. Who would face the biggest or represent the biggest challenge to the Democratic nominee whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Among the three remaining Republicans.

[13:40:46] ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Wolf, I think that's quite a toss-up. I think folks don't like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. I think the reality of the situation is Ted Cruz the starting to seem more reasonable because of how far Donald Trump has been but most of us know that Ted Cruz's policies aren't that much different from Donald Trump's policies. The main difference is that there's a little bit more meat and substance which from my vantage point makes it a little more scary. So the reality of it is either one I'd say, you're picking your poison.

BLITZER: Amanda, you've taken a look closely at the numbers. Ted Cruz, let's say he comes in third today. The polls suggest he might and doesn't do well in the next five states and in Pennsylvania and some of the other states that are coming a week from today. What will happen? He won't be able to mathematically, like John Kasich, not yet to that magic number on the first ballot. What happens then?

CARPENTER: Here's the thing. All Ted Cruz has to do is stop Donald Trump from get 1237. Next week will be hard contests for the Cruz campaign. They need to eek out delegates in places like Maryland and Delaware and continue to add and wait for the calendar to turn back their way when they go to Indiana, California, Washington, Oregon to comply with the mail-in ballot and favors campaigns that are more organized. If they can survive the next two weeks, then play well in the final contest going into the convention, momentum will be on their side when it counts the most.

BLITZER: Scottie, I want you to react.

HUGHES: This is interesting how many times you use the word survive and that's never a good word with the campaign. And when two campaigns look to cause chaos within a party that will divide, you can actually see what their goal is. We have to go up against a great machine on the Democratic side, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. In the end, I hate tell my buddy, Amanda, it doesn't matter about these delegates counts that we have to deal with in the primary. It matters about getting people motivated to the polls. But right now, Mr. Trump has a larger popular vote and every time delegates aren't necessarily, you don't pull the same shenanigans in November.


BLITZER: Very quickly. Go ahead, Amanda, very quickly.

CARPENTER: One quick point. The field organization does matter a lot. I agree with you, Scottie. And Ted Cruz is the only person that's built a national campaign with field activism in every state that can go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton.


HUGHES: Congratulations. He's a politician.

CARPENTER: -- and he hasn't done that yet and he won't be able to do it now.

HUGHES: That's why you have the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys because there's more coming up. It will likely be on another story we're following right now.

President Obama's final visit to Saudi Arabia as the president of the United States. This will be the fourth time he's visited Saudi Arabia since taking office. But it might be far from a fond farewell. Tensions between the gulf state and the U.S. are causing some international and domestic problems for the president. We're going to tell you what's going on, set the stage when we come back.


[13:41:39] BLITZER: John Kasich is campaigning at a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is the day the New York primary. A week from today, another very important primary that would be in Pennsylvania. Kasich campaigning there.

Today is also a very busy day over at the White House here in Washington. President Obama's preparing for the trip to Saudi Arabia, scheduled to leave later this afternoon. Tensions between the U.S. and the Saudis have been building over a bipartisan bill to let families here in the United States of 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia. The government atop officials there the president explained why the White House is threatening to veto that legislation.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we open up the possibility that individuals in the United States can routinely start suing other governments, we are opening up the United States to be continually sued by individuals in other countries.


BLITZER: But as our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, tells us, that isn't the only issue straining the U.S./Saudi relationship.


OBAMA: I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): 2009, and just in office, President Obama came to Egypt.

OBAMA: We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.

ROBERTSON: Talks of reshaping U.S. relations with Middle East nations.


ROBERTSON: The crowds loved him.


ROBERTSON: Less than two years later --


ROBERTSON: -- the same city, his host, President Mubarak, overthrown in the Arab Spring uprising. How Obama responded to the fall of his allies, set the tone of his relationship with the region next.

NAWAF OBAID, SAUDI STRATEGIC ADVISOR: It wasn't so much how they failed but how the U.S. went by it. That's really the beginning of this schism.

ROBERTSON: A schism that crew to rupture, with the U.S./Iranian nuclear deal. The Saudis were furious.

FAWAZ GERGES, EMIRATES CHAIR IN CONTEMPORARY & MIDDLE EAST STUDIES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: They believe that Barack Obama sold him at the altar of Iran, their arch enemy.


ROBERTSON: In response, Saudi Arabia has ramped up its armed forces --



ROBERTSON: -- overtaking Russia, to become the world's third-largest defense and security spender, and last year, formed a 34-nation Sunni Muslim coalition to follow Saudis' lead.

GERGES: As a result of the mistrust of Barack Obama, the Saudis have a more muscular foreign policy. They are on the attack in Yemen and other places. And they're trying to counterbalance Iran in the region. The Americans have lost control.

ROBERTSON: Where they needed control the most, solving Syria. Saudi's new king is a very impatient ally. He wants Assad gone now and Iran's influence removed.

OBAID: That is going to change if there's a new president that is more amenable to Saudi interest? I don't think so. The ship has sailed.

ROBERTSON: But for all the strains, both sides need each other. Saudi Arabia needs U.S. weapons. Obama wants regional stability. This time in Riyadh will not be about divorce but easing the estrangement.


[13:50:07] BLITZER: Nic Robertson joining us now live from Riyadh.

Will the trip repair that relationship, which, as you correctly point out, has been strained?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think the best to hope to do is kind of sort of give the Saudis and the Gulf States something of what they want which is a missile defense shield against ballistic missiles of Iran, try to give the United States something it wants, a stronger partner on the Syria issue, the peace talking there breaking down and a stronger partner tackling and fighting ISIS in the future but what, you know, this issue of stability in the region, trying to get that at a time when the Saudis feel they're being let down is tough. They feel they're alone and following their agenda. We have seen what they've done in Lebanon, cutting funding there. The crown prince in Jordan, a day later, the government shuts down the Muslim Brotherhood offices, talks about executing more than 20 prisoners. And in the past couple of days, closed down its diplomatic mission in Teheran. Saudi Arabia is exerting a very strong influence and expectations on the allies in the region -- Wolf?

BLITZER: They pay lip service to the Iran nuclear deal but, as you point out, behind the scene, they're very angry about it. Thanks very much.

Nic Robertson, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for us.

Up next, dozens dead and hundreds injured in a terror attack in Afghanistan. We'll have a live report after this.


[13:55:46] BLITZER: Yet another deadly day in Afghanistan's capitol. A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle filled with explosives in Kabul and a private parking lot. It blew off the back wall of a building. A second attacker entered the building and later died in a gun battle with security forces. In all, 28 people died. More than 300 injured in the bombing. The U.S. State Department condemned the attack saying, quote, "This incident underscores the harm Taliban and other violent extremists continue to inflict on the Afghan people. Attacks like these only deepen our support for people and government of Afghanistan and their efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan."

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is joining us.

Nick, you recently returned from Kabul and reported extensively from the region. It looks like it is going from bad to worse.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's was always a great fear, Wolf, as soon as we saw NATO and U.S. troops leave combat role Afghan security forces weren't ready for the job of holding back the Taliban. Now a decade-long practice insurgency. This wasn't any old building. It was a government service of bodyguards to look after Afghan VIPs targeted. Typical at the tactic of the Taliban, one attacker and a huge truck of explosives, so much it shook the capitol and blew off the back wall and caused dozens of casualties, death toll as high as 30. It may rise, including women and children. In the parking lot behind the building, the back wall is blown off. Then a secondary attacker went inside and did seem to take a number of hours until Afghan security forces at the heart of their infrastructure were able to kill that second attacker.

Bear in mind the number of injured quite staggering really, 327, according to health ministry. And one of the first counts and it may suggest it further rises. Most deadly attack since 2011 by some accounts when a mosque was hit killing over 60.

But also remember, Wolf, John Kerry's recent visit, U.S. secretary of state, well, that, too, was marked by some degree of violence. He left or was at the airport when four rockets landed near the U.S. embassy. The Taliban keen to show they can penetrate the ring of steel. It's designed to show fear, show that while they have greater reach and capability in the provinces around Kabul, taking territory particularly in Helmand, the capitol is not impregnable to them at all. They can't hold ground there but they can make residents feel deeply concerned. And of course, today, a substantial loss of life. Many injured and more terrified -- Wolf?

BLITZER: As you know, Nick -- you were just there reporting from Kabul in Afghanistan -- the Afghan military, spent billions and billions of dollars training them, arming them. What is the status of that military right now? They seem to be losing lots of ground to the Taliban.

PATON WALSH: There were so many constant assurances, Wolf, by U.S. and NATO officials when they were there that the Afghan military security forces would hold ground, and now saying they faced some set backs, didn't have the backup of troops there. There's a desire for air power in there to help them out. But one simple fact nobody can avoid, last year, the deadliest on record. 5,500 Afghan soldiers, police and other security personnel killed in one year alone and a staggering total of 9,000 injured, as well. That is, many say, why they're facing setbacks. Now that certainly taking a toll on the training program. The U.S. admit that themselves. U.S. official also admit that about two-thirds of people not turning up or being lost in Afghan security personnel numbers down to absenteeism, desertion, if you will. There's a crisis in morale as well as a crisis in security and that was seen in the streets of Kabul today -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly, true.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for your excellent, excellent reporting.

That it's for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

The news continues next on CNN.