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2016 Campaign Gets Down and Dirty; Trump, Clinton Step Up Attacks; Conflicting Accounts of Airliner's Final Moments; Conflicting Accounts of Airliners' Final Moments; Iraqi Military Battling to Retake City of Fallujah. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 24, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, dirty tricks. Donald Trump goes after Hillary Clinton and her husband on scandals and allegations dating back a quarter century. Is that a risky strategy? I'll ask his campaign spokeswoman.

Focus on explosion. Sharply differing accounts of the final moments of EgyptAir Flight 804. Did the airline swerve and plunge before it vanished from radar. And is there forensic evidence of an explosion?

Behind battle lines. An inside look at U.S. military inside Iraq as the Iraqi army fights to retake a key city from ISIS. Are U.S. installations in Baghdad's so-called Green Zone increasingly vulnerable. Exclusive reporting from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

And Cosby on trial. He was an iconic comedian, a television patriarch. Now a judge rules that Bill Cosby will stand trial on sex assault charges in a decade-old case, one of dozens of allegations against him.

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

They are weeks away from the respective conventions. Nobody's been nominated yet, but the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns are already at war. And it's already getting pretty nasty. In speeches, interviews and especially campaign ads, Trump is slinging mud and digging up decades-old unsubstantiated allegations, accusations against Bill Clinton, and even rehashing a conspiracy theory about a suicide of a friend of the Clintons. The Trump camp suggests this is retaliation for pro-Clinton ads which attack Trump's treatment of women.

Clinton's campaign is hammering Trump on his business dealings, especially during the housing collapse.

And amid an urgent search for wreckage and the all-important black boxes from EgyptAir Flight 804, there are now conflicting accounts of the plane's final moments.

Initial reports from Greek authorities said the airliner swerved sharply before it disappeared from radar. But an Egyptian official now says the plane did not swerve or lose altitude before vanishing. As far as an explosion on board, an official says it's too soon to determine that based on examinations of remains.

I'll talk to the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson. She's standing by live. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

It's not even officially under way, but the campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is already getting dirty. We begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, this looks like it will be a no-holds-barred fight.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is down and dirty early, Wolf. Donald Trump will hold a rally here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, later on this evening.

But, really, Donald Trump is running two campaigns these days: one to organize and rally the GOP behind him. The other to tear down the Clintons early and often. But Donald Trump says it's all in the name of self-defense.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Advisers to Donald Trump say, "Why not?" If the Clinton machine is attacking the presumptive GOP nominee on his past treatment of women, Trump is going to hit back hard. It's a line of attack that's been in the making for weeks.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, have you ever read what Hillary Clinton did to the women that Bill Clinton had affairs with? And they're going after me with women? Give me a break, folks!

ACOSTA: In just the past week, Trump went further, drudging up old, unproven allegations that former President Bill Clinton had once sexually assaulted a woman, claims Clinton's attorneys have vehemently denied.

BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Vincent Foster Jr. committed suicide last month.

ACOSTA: And Trump has resurrected the story of Vincent Foster, a friend of the Clintons who investigators concluded committed suicide in the early '90s. But unfounded conspiracy theories that Foster was murdered have lingered. Trump told "The Washington Post" in an interview on Monday, "It's one thing with her, whether it's Whitewater, or whether it's Vince Foster or whether it's Benghazi, it's always a mess with Hillary."

TRUMP (via phone): Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely.

ACOSTA: Trump's advisors say it's all payback for attacks like this pro-Clinton super PAC ad going after the real-estate tycoon's past dealings with women.

MICHAEL COHEN, EVP, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: What he's doing is he's exposing not just Bill Clinton for what he was, what he had done, but it's the same as it relates to Hillary. She attacked Mr. Trump as being a sexist misogynist. That's inaccurate. Donald Trump is not any of those things.

ACOSTA: But Trump has defended against the same character assaults in the past. Consider what he told Wolf eight years ago.

TRUMP: Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant and tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. And yet Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.

[17:05:10] ACOSTA: The Clintons have been down this road before. The former president saw his approval numbers soar after the public determined his GOP adversaries overreached during the '90s. History, he says, is repeating itself.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You think the stuff they said about her is bad? They accused me of murder. Our memories are short. It's what they do.

ACOSTA: But Hillary Clinton made it clear to CNN's Chris Cuomo, she won't engage.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that that's exactly what he is fishing for and, you know, I'm not going to be responding.

ACOSTA: Instead, her campaign is now hitting Trump on his business record, like his web video featuring his past comments on that housing collapse during the financial crisis.

TRUMP: If there is a bubble bust, as they call it, you know, you can make a lot of money.


ACOSTA: Now, Donald Trump has just, the last few minutes, released a statement on those comments that he made back in the mid-2000s on the housing crisis. And it says, quote, "I am a businessman, and I've made a lot of money in down markets, in such cases as much as I've made when markets are good. Frankly, this is the kind of thinking our country needs." That just in a statement a few moments ago, released by Donald Trump.

Now we should point out, as for this rally later on this evening Wolf, Wolf, here in Albuquerque, he is not going to have the top Republican in the state, Governor Susana Martinez, by his side. She told reporters here in New Mexico that she is too busy to be at this rally later on this evening.

You'll recall, she has had some critical comments about Trump's comments on immigration in the past. And one thing we should also note, Wolf, Donald Trump is holding his first joint fund-raiser with the RNC here in New Mexico, here in Albuquerque, later on this evening. That's an hour before the rally starts. So much for Donald Trump's past comments about how he's running a

self-funded campaign. That is no longer the case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly, no longer the case. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's get some more perspective why Donald Trump is dredging up these old scandals, these conspiracy theories. I want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, why is Trump doing this? Why now?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, Jim hit the nail on the head. I am told from Trump sources that it was, in many ways, Trump being Trump, reacting the way he has time and time again when people go after him.

In this particular case, he was reacting to one of the pro-Clinton super PACs, using some of his words against him, some of the things he has said about women, derogatory language. So that is why he has gone sort of full bore on this issue.

But having said that, despite the fact that he really has gone with his gut, Trump sources who I talked to say that they think that this actually could really resonate with a sector of voters, particularly younger voters, particularly younger female voters, Wolf, who didn't live through the 1990s, didn't live through the Clinton administration, who might hear this and say, "I don't really know about this very much." Google it and say, "Oh, wow."

So they are hoping, inside Trump world, that they can sow seeds of doubt with those voters in particular for whom much of this is actually quite new.

BLITZER: He's dredging up all these old allegations about her husband's behavior. He does say that Hillary Clinton was an enabler.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: So what's the Clinton campaign's strategy in dealing with this?

BASH: Well, you know, Hillary Clinton has said that she is not going to kind of go down into the gutter on this. People who I talked to who are familiar with her strategy say that they do not want her to take the bait, that they want her to continue to go after him on a more issues-based level.

You heard Jim reporting about the idea that she's going after him for his business practices. Now that is going back in time, no question about it, but it's more about kind of his version of his records, since he's never been a politician, not so much on personal issues.

But you know, Wolf, I have to say that I've spoken to other Democrats who very much want Hillary Clinton to win who say that perhaps she's missing an opportunity here, that, yes, she has thick skin, and this is how she has kind of learned to cope with the publicity around all of this, and has for decades.

But she's missing an opportunity to show her human side, that she's not just somebody running for president and trying to kind of stay on the issues. But she is a woman who had maybe her heart broken. And this was a very tough thing for her to deal with, and maybe expressing that would make her feel a little bit -- appear a little bit more empathetic.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, stick around. You'll be coming back. Thanks very much.

Joining us now is Katrina Pierson. She's the national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.

Katrina, thanks very much for joining us.

So Donald Trump, presumptive Republican nominee, why is he dredging up all of these old allegations instead of dealing with the most important domestic policy issues, the national security issues? Why does he need to bring back stuff that happened 25 years ago?

KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, Mr. Trump isn't drudging up, really, anything, Wolf. These are issues. A lot of the reporting is talking about the latest Instagram ad, for that matter. Hillary Clinton, who is running on women's issues, who's running and calling, frankly, Donald Trump a sexist and a misogynist, and he's simply responding to that.

BLITZER: But don't you think as a presumptive nominee, other surrogates of his, supporters of his, shouldn't he be above the level, for example, bringing up all these sordid allegations? Isn't that beneath the Republican presumptive nominee?

PIERSON: I think that's the political way to do things. Hillary Clinton will go in front of the cameras, and she'll say, "I'm not going to respond in kind. I'm just going to talk about the issues." And then she's going to stick her super PACs on the Trump campaign and his staff. But that's not how it's going to work with the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: He's got a super PAC now, too.

PIERSON: He's going to defend himself.

BLITZER: He's got a super PAC now, though he didn't during the primaries.

PIERSON: He didn't.

BLITZER: But how he's got a super PAC. Is the super PAC going to do that now?

PIERSON: Well, he's definitely doing a joint effort -- he's doing a joint effort -- we see this -- you're asking me the question, because Donald Trump is the one defending himself. Super PACs will get out there, as well. But Mr. Trump will defend himself. And this is something we have not

seen on the Republican side as a presidential nominee in a very long time.

BLITZER: But these aren't really defending yourself. These are attacks against Bill Clinton when he was president of the United States going back to the early 1990s. That's not necessarily defending himself. That's attack -- that's attacking him.

PIERSON: These are attacks against Hillary Clinton and her behavior and her response during Bill Clinton, as someone in elected office, who did things with a young woman while in office. These are very important things.

This is the same person we're talking about putting back into the White House. He was impeached, by the way.

BLITZER: Does he need -- Donald Trump -- to revive unfounded conspiracy theories at this point in his campaign? Why is he doing that?

PIERSON: Well, he simply was asked a question and responded. I believe we're talking about this suspicious death of Foster. He said he didn't know enough about it to make a judgment. Other people had questions.

BLITZER: You're talking -- you're talking about -- you're talking...

PIERSON: Hold on, Wolf. There were five federal investigations launched. So obviously, somebody thought something somewhere. Mr. Trump simply said, "I'm not going to bring that up, because I don't know enough about it."

BLITZER: You're talking about the Vince Foster suicide. He was the White House counsel in 1993 when he killed himself. There were five separate investigations. All of them concluded. He was depressed. He was taking antidepressants. He put a gun in his mouth and killed himself. Even Ken Starr concluded all of that.

So why is he even raising the possibility that all of those congressional investigations, federal investigations, park police investigations, going back to 1993 when this occurred, why is he reviving that?

PIERSON: He didn't.

BLITZER: Yes, he did. In "the Washington Post" he said -- he's the one...

PIERSON: No. He just said, "I don't know enough."

BLITZER: He's the one who spoke about the Vince Foster. He's the one who raised the Vince Foster issue.

PIERSON: Then he said, "Look, I don't know enough about it to make a judgment on that." So it wasn't... BLITZER: But you have a -- you accept all of these investigations,

right? Including CNN's investigation back in 1994.

I was the White House correspondent for CNN in 1993, 1990 -- I remember all of that very vividly. It was a sad, sad moment for everyone involved, especially Vince Foster's family.

And now, for the Republican presidential presumptive nominee to revive all of that at this stage, that seems beneath Donald Trump.

PIERSON: No, he made an observation. He says, "I don't know enough about that to make an observation. However -- however..."

BLITZER: Does Donald Trump believe he committed suicide?

PIERSON: He said he didn't know enough about the information. I'm sure he will learn enough about the information if he's asked again. But he simply said he didn't know to make that judgment.

BLITZER: Because there were -- you yourself said there were five investigations.

PIERSON: Exactly.

BLITZER: All of which concluded he committed suicide.

PIERSON: But you can also look at "The Daily Mail" in 2008.

BLITZER: What else does he need to know besides -- besides unsubstantiated rumors out there on the Internet. If Ken Starr, who was the prosecutor in this particular case, if he concluded it was suicide, if there was all these other investigations, the park police in 1993, the independent counsel of Robert Fiske investigated, two congressional reviews in 1994 and 1995, 1994 CNN did a lengthy review. Everyone concluded it was suicide.

PIERSON: Yes, you're right.

BLITZER: So Donald Trump should know that, right?

PIERSON: We should believe everything the media and the government says. Mr. Trump simply said he did not have enough information to make that judgement.

BLITZER: So you believe in that -- you believe in that conspiracy theory?

PIERSON: I haven't read enough about it. I have the same response Mr. Trump has. I don't know enough about it to draw a conclusion.

BLITZER: So -- but why are you raising this?

PIERSON: Well, he was asked a question, and he simply stated, "I don't know enough to make that judgment. And I don't think it's fair to bring it up." BLITZER: But you would think, you would think, with all due respect,

on a sensitive subject like this, before you come on the air and start saying, "I don't know enough about it," you would have done some research and learned something about it.

PIERSON: Well, no, because when you're in an interview, and you know this, someone's asking you a question. Mr. Trump's not a politician. He's not going to try to skirt around the answer. He's not going to pretend to know the answer. He's simply going to have a conversation with you, and that's how this came up. And then he said, "I don't know enough to make my own judgement about that."

[17:15:05] BLITZER: You think this is going to help him politically?

PIERSON: I think Mr. Trump is being honest. When he's out there talking to people, he's being honest. When he's sitting down with the media, whether it's "The Washington Post" or with yourself, he's just being honest, and people do respect that.

BLITZER: Let me play something for you. This is an interview I did with Donald Trump. This was back in 2007, 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running for president of the United States against then-Senator Barack Obama. This is an interview September 24, 2007. Listen to what he said to me.


TRUMP: I know her very well. She's very talented, and she has a husband that I also like very much. I think she's going to get the nomination rather easily.

Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant, and they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.


BLITZER: Which was nonsense, the effort to impeach. That's what he said then. Now he's flip-flopped on this issue, right?

PIERSON: Well, as a private citizen, when talking about someone you know, and you were a friend with, that's something you would say.

BLITZER: At that time, he said it was nonsense, the whole impeachment process. He said -- in that same interview, you know else what else he said? He said the then-president of the United States, George W. Bush, he should be impeached for getting the U.S. involved in the war in Iraq.

PIERSON: But again, you and I both know, as a private citizen, you're not privy to a lot of the information that you might be as a journalist or as someone might be as a sitting politician.

BLITZER: All of the information we knew then in 2007. We've known that. We've known what happened in 1993, in '94, '95, '98. PIERSON: You don't know what Mr. Trump knew at that time. You can

project that onto him, but not everybody sits down and watches cable news 24/7 either. Mr. Trump was very busy building an empire.

BLITZER: In 2007, when I interviewed him, he said they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. Does he still believe that? That it was nonsense to try to impeach the then-president of the United States.

PIERSON: No. He actually -- he actually brings that up and mentions that Bill Clinton was impeached, because that's extremely important; because this is the same individual that we're talking about putting back into the White House.

BLITZER: So what is his position now? Was it appropriate to impeach him?

PIERSON: Well, back then, again, according to the information that he had at the time and as a friend, as a private citizen, he thought it was nonsense. At this point in time, yes, he lied. Everybody knows that.

BLITZER: But everybody -- in 2007, when he said that, we all knew what happened during the impeachment process. We all knew what happened...

PIERSON: But again, he was also a friend and a private citizen, just defending a friend.

BLITZER: It seems to me that in 2007, he knew what happened in 1998, 1999, during the impeachment process, right? The whole world was watching it live on TV. I was on the North Lawn of the White House reporting all of that stuff, so I remember it very vividly. It's not as if anything new came out between 1998, 1999, and 2007.

PIERSON: But the fact remains that he was a private citizen, as well as a friend, just defending a friend. That doesn't change, no matter what happened either prior to '97 or after. Today he acknowledges that, yes, this was definitely a problem, and now we're looking at putting the same man back into the White House.

BLITZER: So the point is, the information doesn't change if you're a private citizen, saying something in 2000 -- wait a second.

PIERSON: But the way he responds to it does.

BLITZER: Wait a second. What do you mean, the way he responded?

PIERSON: If you're a friend...

BLITZER: Did he not mean it? Did he not mean it in 2007 when he said impeachment was nonsense?

PIERSON: They were friends, Wolf. Absolutely.

BLITZER: So he now means it wasn't nonsense, is that what you're saying? That because he's a politician now, he says something different than what he said when he was a private citizen?

PIERSON: He's being honest. He's being honest.

BLITZER: When was he being honest, in 2007 when he said it was nonsense? Or is he being honest now?

PIERSON: When you're being a friend and a private citizen, you defend your friend. That's what he did.

Today it is a problem, because Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath, for doing things inappropriately with an intern at the White House. This is the same person we're going to put in the White House again? I don't think so. The criticism is there, because it's very simple. At that time, he was...

BLITZER: At which time?

PIERSON: At the beginning, he was a friend defending his friend. This is different. Now he's talking about we have to look at this, mainly because you have Hillary Clinton, who's going to turn everything over back to her husband. This is what she's campaigning on.

BLITZER: Well, she's not campaigning on that. She's saying he will have a role in helping her decide economic -- economic issues.

PIERSON: She said she's going to turn over the economy to her husband.

BLITZER: No, no, no. She said he's going to play a role in that.

And during the eight year of the Clinton administration, once again I covered those eight years, the economy was pretty good.

PIERSON: Thank you, House Speaker Gingrich for that, yes.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich played a very important role, as well. There was bipartisan cooperation on a whole host of issues.

PIERSON: After Bill Clinton, he chose (ph) economic reform and shut the government down.

BLITZER: Can you stick around?

PIERSON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We've got more to discuss. Katrina Pierson is here. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: The 2016 presidential campaign takes an increasingly personal and nasty tone. Today Hillary Clinton is accusing Donald Trump of actually hoping for the housing market crash so he could make some money for himself.

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

This is the ad that the Hillary Clinton campaign put out, a little clip of it. Listen to this.


TRUMP (via phone): I sort of hope that happens, because then people like me would go in and buy. If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know, you can make a lot of money.

GRAPHIC: If Donald wins, you lose.


BLITZER: You want to respond to that, because a lot of people lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, lost a lot of money as a result of that housing bubble burst.

PIERSON: Well, you know, a lot -- a good business man knows how to win when the markets are down and when they're up. And that's frankly, the kind of thinking we need at the top of the country. Someone who has been successful all around, and he was just stating the facts.

[17:25:05] And I think it's really important to note that difference there when you have someone like Hillary Clinton who has not been...

BLITZER: But it's one thing to say -- it's one thing to say you can make money in a down market. It's another thing to say, "I sort of hope that happens."

PIERSON: Well, again, he's just saying, "If this type of thing happens, people like me will make money. We'll go in and buy."

BLITZER: That's understandable. But you don't necessarily hope the economy goes down.

PIERSON: Well, he didn't say he hoped the economy...

BLITZER: He said, "I sort of hope that happens." Referring to the housing bubble.

PIERSON: He didn't -- not the economy. It was the housing bubble not the entire economy. So let's be sure...

BLITZER: Well, that's a big part of the economy.

PIERSON: Let's make sure we have that.

BLITZER: That's a big part of the economy.

PIERSON: Health care is a big part of the economy, too. Hillary Clinton supports Obamacare, which is killing the economy.

BLITZER: The housing -- here's another thing that Hillary Clinton said today about Donald Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: And he has experience in bankruptcy. Right? So you know, I don't know if that's one of the qualifications for running for president. But I kind of doubt it. He's bankrupted companies. I said yesterday, I don't know how you lose money running casinos.


BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Hillary Clinton?

PIERSON: Absolutely, Wolf. This is a perfect example of how disconnected Hillary Clinton is from the working class. Eighty percent of small businesses fail. And to make those charges on four to five out of 500 companies that Mr. Trump has participated in, I think really goes to show she has no idea what she's talking about when it comes to creating jobs, when it comes to growing the economy, or even listening to the working man.

This is a perfect example of that, because even though Mr. Trump has tried so many different things, by the way, creating so many different jobs, he's been tremendously successful in 500 entities and she's pointing out the smaller ones that failed, which millions of Americans have also tried.

BLITZER: Some of those failures were -- some of those casinos, there were a lot of jobs lost as a result of the bankruptcy.

PIERSON: How many job has Hillary Clinton created?

BLITZER: That's another story.

PIERSON: Exactly.

BLITZER: She's not in the business world as Donald Trump has been.

It's not just Hillary Clinton. It's Bernie Sanders, who's really now escalating his rhetoric against Donald Trump. Listen to this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people will not support a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African-Americans and veterans.


BLITZER: Who do you fear more? Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?

PIERSON: I fear neither of them, actually.

You know, Bernie Sanders, he has these great ideas. He's romanticized Europe and socialism, not realizing that they've been able to do that because of unfair trade. And now that the sub-Saharan African people are taking back their own jobs, that's why Europe is failing today. But Bernie seems to have missed that one little piece of his puzzle.

But at the same time, those are all lies. Donald Trump hasn't insulted any particular group. He stated the facts. Just because you don't like the facts doesn't make them an insult. I never heard him say anything about African-Americans.

BLITZER: We're out of time. We can continue this conversation down the road. Katrina, thanks for coming in. Katrina Pierson from the Donald Trump campaign.

Coming up, the latest and now conflicting reports on the last minutes of the doomed Egyptian airliner. Are authorities any closer to figuring out what really happened?


BLITZER: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are getting more personal in their back and forth attacks. Just how nasty will the presidential campaign be by November?

[17:33:07] Joining us now, our senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson; our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza -- he's the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent; and our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's in California covering Hillary Clinton's campaign right now.

Gloria, these new attacks going back and forth, how much nastier can it actually get?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're going to see, Wolf. You know, this is going to be a scorched earth kind of campaign. It hasn't even started yet, and it's already -- and it's already started.

I mean, look, the Trump people would argued -- and you just heard it before in your previous interview -- that Hillary Clinton has attacked Donald Trump on his qualifications and his temperament and that he's counterpunching.

But what he's counterpunching on, I think it's risky. I'm not saying it won't work for him with his base of support, but it's risky, because it could alienate women voters. He's on the record having supported Bill Clinton at this particular time. And you know, he's somebody who criticizes press for scrutinizing him 25 years ago.

So I think these are all things that could -- that could come back and hurt him on this line of attack. However -- however, what he is also doing is reminding younger voters who didn't -- don't remember the '90s, that this all occurred, and they don't have Clinton fatigue.

BLITZER: Some experts, Nia, think this is going backfire on Donald Trump.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, because we sort of -- I mean, if you grew up in the '90s, you covered some of this stuff. It didn't work then. On the idea that it will work now, we'll have to see.

Even if you look at some of Hillary Clinton's approval ratings during a lot of these scandal, she actually saw something of a bounce, because people sympathized with her plight when they were going through all of those troubles with her husband and Monica Lewinsky.

It's surprising that we're bringing up Vince Foster at this point, that it's gone this way so quickly. I mean, it's sort of like where else does he go from here?

And in terms of younger voters, you know, I mean, they will Google this stuff. And they will see there's -- a lot of this stuff is conspiracy theories that have been unproven, and they're just flat-out false.

And so I think Hillary Clinton, obviously, not wanting to engage, because she thinks this is -- this isn't where she needs to be in terms of the...

BLITZER: How much lower can they go right now, bringing up the whole Vince Foster case? I remember covering it, and there were so many investigations. Everyone, including the Republicans, all concluded he killed himself.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, this -- not to put too fine a point on it, this is -- these are insane conspiracy theories from the fever swamps of the far, far right that have been out there for decades. And I think this is a real testing point for other Republicans in the party.

The last three weeks have shown a lot of elected officials jump on the Trump train. Michael Gerson, a conservative writer for "The Washington Post," who worked for George W. Bush who does not support Trump, has said, "Look, you buy into Trump, you own everything." And this is what those conservatives who are a little worried about Trump are talking about.

If you're an elected official, you're going come on THE SITUATION ROOM, and you're going to ask him about Vince Foster. You think these guys in the Senate and governors want to talk about Vince Foster, who you know, as sympathy to his family, he suffered from depression, committed suicide, probably one of the most investigated suicides in American history. Everyone that looked at it declared it a suicide. This idea it was a murder is completely insane.

So I don't know if this is some strategic genius behind this. With Trump, you know, he just sort of -- he stumbles into things that tend to work. So politically, will this work for him? I don't think so. I doubt it.

BLITZER: Let me get Jeff Zeleny in. On the Democratic side, Jeff, Bernie Sanders says the Democratic convention in Philadelphia could get messy, and he's not backing down from saying he's staying in this race until the convention, irrespective of what happens in California two weeks from today or the District of Columbia a week later, the final contest. How could all of this play out? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the campaign

is already messy, so it's not surprising the convention would be messy, as well.

He did go back to clarify that, saying that, look, he's not talking about violence. He's not talking about any misbehaving there.

But it is just a reflection of the reality here of how raw these feelings are inside this Democratic Party.

Wolf, he is trying to finish strong, go across these final two-plus weeks here strong, with a lot of wins, a lot of delegates. If he would happen to win here in California, where there are 475 overall delegates at stake on the Democratic side, that would give him a lot more of a bigger, more compelling argument here.

If he does not win, though, if he does not win in New Jersey, also on June 7, some other states, Democrats are going to tell him to take a seat, move to the side here; it is time to get on with things here.

So Bernie Sanders, to keep making this argument, to actually get to Philadelphia, and even, you know, continue the fight that he's had, has to win here at the end.

At the end of the day, here, though, this race is effectively over. They are putting ads up on the air here in California. But for the first time, the Sanders campaign is all about out of money, Wolf. They have set one fund-raising record after another, but they only have about $5 or $6 million in the bank. It costs that much a week here to advertise, if you really want to break through.

So the Sanders campaign is hoping for a win. They're campaigning aggressively. We'll see if they get one. But we know where this race is heading.

BLITZER: Gloria, quickly, you're getting some new reporting on the strategy from the Sanders campaign heading towards the convention.

BORGER: Right. And it's along the lines of what Jeff is saying. Look, they want to get as close to 50/50 in pledged delegates as they possibly can heading into the convention, because it gives them leverage.

But what they're going to do is, you know, they've got now five seats on the -- on the platform committee, and they're going to push these issues in the platform committee. And if they don't get what they want, they're going to write minority reports, I'm told, and they're going to bring it to the floor of the convention.

And so I was told by a senior Sanders adviser, "OK, if we don't agree with Hillary Clinton beforehand that you want to raise minimum wage to $15, we'll take it to a vote on the floor." They're hoping -- and they think they'll win -- they're hoping it could be worked out with Hillary Clinton beforehand. But they're ready to take these things to votes if they have to.

BLITZER: It could get messy on the floor of the convention.


BORGER: They could have a voice vote and maybe a dispute the voice vote, if you recall what happened...


BORGER: ... not that long ago.

All right, guys. Stand by. Much more coming up.

Also, the latest developments in the EgyptAir crash mystery. There are now some conflicting reports on the plane's last minutes in the air.


[17:44:17] BLITZER: There are now sharply differing versions of the last minutes of EgyptAir Flight 804 over the Mediterranean, even as an urgent search has stepped up for the plane's crucial black boxes, which could provide answers as to what really happened.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into all of this. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Egyptian officials are disputing accounts by Greek authorities over what happened to the plane. Egyptian officials are contradicting each other over whether there was an explosion on board, conflicting accounts regarding two critical parts of this investigation as authorities raced to find the fuselage and the black boxes.


TODD (voice-over): Conflicting accounts of the final moments of EgyptAir Flight 804, deepening the mystery tonight over the plane's fate. Still unknown: whether there was an explosion on board.

[17:45:02] The initial answer may come from the bodies. An official at the Cairo morgue tells CNN more than 15 bags of human remains have been delivered to the morgue. The official says those remains are small in size.

EgyptAir's vice chairman is refuting remarks from some Egyptian officials that small body parts indicate there was an explosion on board.

AHMED ADEL, EGYPTAIR VICE CHAIRMAN: In any high velocity it leads to defragmentations and this is not indicative of what caused the accident. So as of now this is all speculations.

TODD: Veteran investigators tell CNN body recovery is critical. A detailed examination of the bodies could reveal important clues.

DAVID GLEAVE, AVIATION SAFETY INVESTIGATOR: You would x-ray the bodies to look for fragments of bomb blasts and things like that, that may give the information.

TODD: Egyptian officials say relatives of those on board have been giving DNA samples to help match what's been found to possible victims.

So far only small pieces of debris have been recovered, pieces of sets, luggage, life vests, personal belongings. No major parts of the fuselage have been located.

Another point of contention tonight, did EgyptAir Flight 804 make a dramatic swerve before it vanished? Shortly after the crash, the Greek Defense minister said radar indicated the plane swerved 90 degrees left, then 360 degrees right before it plummeted. But a top Egyptian aviation official now denies that saying the aircraft did not swerve or make a precipitous drop in altitude before it disappeared.

A veteran controller and radar expert says, it's possible neither official is wrong. That they're saying simply what their own respective radars picked up. He says because the plane had just flown over Greece before it vanished, Greek controllers may have gotten a more detailed picture of its track.

ALAN BELL, FORMER MILITARY PILOT AND CONTROLLER: The Greeks had potentially multiple surveillance radars tracking the airplane, and the plane that just flown over their airspace, and still in relatively close proximity. So they would have been able to have a higher resolution on what the airplane was doing.


TODD: Now the Egyptian radars, Alan Bell says, may have been much further away when the EgyptAir flight came into their airspace. They only tracked it for about a minute before it disappeared -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us, thank you.

Let's bring in our experts, the former FBI assistant director, our senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, our aviation analyst Peter Goelz, a former NTSB managing director, and our CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.

Peter, in 1999, you worked -- you investigated the EgyptAir crash off the coast of Nantucket, you worked with the Egyptians, there's conflicting information coming out now between Greek investigators, Egyptian investigators. What do you make of that? Who do you -- who do you tend to believe?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, this is -- this unusual. Usually the fog of war, as they say in these kinds of accidents, occurs during the first couple of days. We're now almost five, six days into this and it seems to be getting worse. And I think it -- I think right now the Egyptians have got to take a deep breath and take control of this investigation and take control of the information flow. They haven't yet. And they been contradicting each other and it's not helpful. BLITZER: There's also conflicting claims about the human remains,

Tom, that have been found, whether -- can you determine from these human remains that may have been floating on the Mediterranean whether the result was some sort of explosion, a weaponized explosion, or some sort of mechanical problem?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, if you had a passenger, Wolf, that was holding a laptop and that laptop had the explosive and it went off and blew him apart, yes, from him or her at that point. But for the most part, you probably would not be able to. And secondly, not to be gruesome, I've seen hundreds of human remains from explosions, and you normally can't. They're just blown apart, there's pieces you try to put it together.

And I think right now their main focus is trying to identify who the pieces were, who they belong to. Now it was reported they had 63 pieces from human remains. Are those pieces from one person, 10 people, or 63 different people? When they get those matches they can go to the manifest of the flight and try to put together where people were sitting to end up in that condition. So there's a lot that can be learned in the long run. But it's too soon for that right now.

BLITZER: Miles, so far no parts of the fuselage have been located. How important is finding that? Obviously finding the black boxes will be critical.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it's kind of related, Wolf. The pieces themselves that they find float in the ocean will in fact carry their own evidence in some cases. How did they fail? Did they fail in a way that reveals an explosion? Were they bent outward? Is there residue of explosive material on it? Did they actually fail on the way down as the aircraft exceed its aerodynamic capabilities sort of gives the effect of kind of bending a paperclip back and forth? Or was it kind of impact that would reflect it striking the water? All of that is evidence that can do into the puzzle as it were.

[17:50:04] However, perhaps the most important thing is, they are kind of bread crumbs to the main wreckage site itself. If you know where you find the floating wreckage, consider the drift patterns it will take you to the spot in theory where the wreckage is beneath the sea and where the real answers lie in those black boxes.

We still don't know that they know exactly where they are. Haven't heard any reports of hearing any pinging just yet.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Peter. If they do find the black boxes, they are actually orange, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, will the U.S. investigators have access to the information there? They belong to the Egyptians, I understand.

GOELZ: The U.S. will probably not have access to them right away. The Egyptians will probably ask the French, perhaps the British, all three of them together will access and download the information. The U.S. will most likely not be at that session in the beginning. They may get access to the data later in the investigation. BLITZER: And still no claim of responsibility, Tom, from anyone,


FUENTES: None. None that I'm aware.

BLITZER: We'll see if that changes.

All right, guys, so stand by.

The Iraqi military is trying to recapture a major city. The city of Fallujah from ISIS. But are U.S. installations in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital vulnerable to attack.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been traveling with the head of U.S. military's Central Command. She got an inside look at American military operations inside Iraq right now. Barbara is joining us from Amman, Jordan.

Are Iraqi forces bottom line, Barbara, up to the job?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends, Wolf, what the job is. Right now they are very busy defending Baghdad, trying to attack Falluja, getting ready for an attack against Mosul, the ISIS stronghold. You have troops, militias over in Syria, also trying to fight ISIS.

A lot going on. The question for General Votel is, can all of these forces that the U.S. is training and equipping really get the job done?


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi forces moving in on Falluja trying to take back a crucial city in Anbar Province from ISIS' grip. Fears ISIS could use civilians as human shields.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): We have secured safe outlets to let displaced families get out of the city. About 55 families got out since last night.

STARR: But thousands remain trapped complicating the battle. The top U.S. commander running the war against ISIS is watching carefully for the stress on the Iraqi military as it struggles on multiple fronts including Falluja.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: They're having to make decisions in terms of where the forces are going, where the priorities are.

STARR: Trouble also brewing in Bagdad even after 13 years of fighting. Suicide attacks are a constant problem raising serious questions about the U.S. security posture inside the green zone where the U.S. embassy and military headquarters are located.

VOTEL: I do think we have the right security forces on the ground from a U.S. perspective to take care of ourselves there. STARR: CNN was the only network with General Joseph Votel, the U.S.

commander in charge of the war against ISIS, as he traveled in Iraq getting the latest assessments on security and the readiness of Iraqi forces.

(On camera): This base about one hour north of Baghdad is one of the front lines in the effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces but they have at least temporarily seen some Iraqi forces being called back to Baghdad for a few weeks to deal with the security situations there in the wake of the rising attacks by ISIS.

(Voice-over): Votel is trying to strike a balance and convince Iraq's military to make sure to station enough troops around the country rather than flood Baghdad with security forces falling into ISIS' trap and removing troops from the battlefield.

VOTEL: They are attempting to create chaos in the capital. They're attempting to divert attention away from other areas where there are -- where the coalition forces and the Iraqis are having success.

STARR: This U.S. military warehouse in Kuwait brimming with more than 25,000 weapons for those Iraqi forces. Everything is being shipped out as more Iraqis show up for the U.S.-led training.

Getting ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, remains the ultimate goal, and if Iraqi forces can focus on that, it is here at the rarely seen coalition operation center in Baghdad that the attack will be tracked.

(On camera): When the fight from Mosul begins you want to make sure there's no unexpected fighting as a result down here in Central --

BRIG. GEN. WILLIAM MULLEN JR., U.S. MARINE CORPS: Yes. We can't allow this to destabilize down here because it all feeds into Baghdad.


STARR: And tonight of course everyone now watching Raqqa, Syria where local groups in the north there are saying they're making their move against Raqqa. Those are the troops the U.S. also is trying to train and equip -- Wolf.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Very quickly, Barbara. U.S. backed groups in Syria, they've also launched an offensive to try to retake some territory from ISIS. So you saw some of these fighters training inside Syria. What's the latest? What can you tell us?

STARR: Well, we were with them just a few days ago as they get training. They are young, they are inexperienced, they are highly motivated. They're announcing that they're making their move. I don't think anybody thinks they're going to go all the way to Raqqa, that's a very tall order, but clearly they are getting ready to try and extend their reach and move through some of those towns and villages, Kurdish and Arab, in northern Syria where ISIS still it trying to boot them out, trying to push that front line out there -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Barbara Starr, doing exclusive reporting for us.

Thank you very much.

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