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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Obama Comments on Donald Trump; Will Benghazi Be Raised at the Debate?; Russia Says It Has Foiled ISIS Plot in Moscow; Looking Towards Tomorrow's Democratic Primary Debate. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 12, 2015 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:02] JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: People want jobs. We've got almost 95 million people out of the workplace and they're not being counted.

So, I think when somebody like Donald Trump's, you know, is on the scene here, they do respond. And I think they will respond.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Guys, take a look at this. President Obama, he in his "60 Minutes" interview last night, he was asked about Mr. Trump and asked to weigh in. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He knows how to get attention. He's, you know, the classic reality TV character. And at this early stages, it's not surprising that he's gotten a lot of attention.

STEVE KROFT, CBS HOST: Do you think he's running out of steam? I mean, do you think he's going to disappear?

OBAMA: You know, I'll leave it up to the pundits to make that determination. I don't think he'll end up being President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now that kind of unendorsement/endorsement from President Obama can only help Donald Trump among Republican primary voters.

LORD: That's right.

BOLDUAN: For sure. I mean, that obviously is part of it. But, Amanda, I mean, is that the concern, though, among Republicans? Maybe more mainstream Republicans, if you will. He has momentum right now. He could nab the nomination. But then Republicans think he's then handing the White House to the Democrats.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, here's the thing, I actually agree with much of what President Obama had to say in his assessment --

BOLDUAN: Be careful, Amanda. CARPENTER: -- which is the first time I've been able to say that in a

long time. But my critique and my concern about Donald Trump comes from the conservative side. I view him as an opportunist of the highest form. I'm very concerned that he has a very transactional approach to politics. If you listen to his speeches, he essentially says, well, I gave this person money and they did this. I think that's a sign of someone who would be very persuadable to corruption. I don't think that's the direction that the Republican Party wants to go.

So I want to see him put more flesh on -- more meat on the bones for his economic plans. His tax plan was pretty good. But he talks about doing big things -- he's been talking about his plan for veterans for the longest time and still hasn't proposed it. You know, confidence and bluster will get you a long way, especially on Wall Street, especially in real estate; we have yet to see how long that will get him in politics.

BOLDUAN: But he is continuing to turn out the crowds, that is for sure. We will be watching --

LORD: (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: -- one place he won't be, is going to be on that debate stage tomorrow night. But we will all be watching, even though I think he said this morning he might watch a couple minutes and then he's going to go to sleep. So I guess there's going to be one person who might not be watching that debate. But he'll have something to say about it, that's for sure.

Amanda, it's great to see you. Jeffrey, you too. Thank you guys so much.

LORD: Thanks, Kate.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, let's head over to Las Vegas now, get back to John. Hey, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump will be watching the first Democratic debate, no doubt about that, Kate.

Really, the specter of Benghazi has been looming over this campaign, looming over Hillary Clinton from the beginning. Now, a new claim from the inside that the House committee investigating Benghazi is looking to tarnish Clinton, not get to the truth. So, what does that mean for the contest here, the CNN Democratic debate? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:37:25] BERMAN: Back here in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Democratic debate eve, so go hang your stockings by the mantel. Because tomorrow the candidates will go head to head for the very first time at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel right behind me. Brand new polls show Hillary Clinton with healthy leads here in Nevada and in South Carolina, key early voting states.

One issue that has swirled around Hillary Clinton from the beginning of this campaign -- Benghazi. And then the use of her personal e-mail for national business. Now, an investigator who worked for the congressional panel investigating the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, a man who was fired, this man tells CNN that the committee is more focused on tarnishing Hillary Clinton than getting the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. BRAD PODLISKA, FORMER BENGHAZI COMMITTEE INVESTIGATOR: I have a conscience. There's wrongdoing here and I think it needs to stop. And I do not want the investigation to end; I want it to be refocused back to its original purpose. The victims' families are owed the truth. Hillary Clinton has a lot of explaining to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: But the chairman of the committee defends the panel's work, denies these allegations. Question here in Las Vegas, what does it mean for the campaign? What does it mean for the debate here tomorrow night?

Let's talk about this with CNN political commentators Van Jones and Kevin Madden. Kevin was the top adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign; Van was an adviser to President Obama in the White House.

Van, when you get this charge from someone inside the committee on top of what Kevin McCarthy said a few weeks ago where a lot of people thought what he was saying was the committee is politicized, it was out to get Hillary Clinton, does that reduce the chances that this will be a subject in the debate here tomorrow night? What role will Benghazi, what role will these e-mails play here?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, this is three strikes and you're out for this committee. OK, you have McCarthy coming out basically saying it's a partisan thing. Then less covered but much more disturbing, you have these strategic leaks coming out, you know, Sheryl Mills, et cetera, even Elijah Cummings, who is a Democrat but tried to go along with this thing, he says that you're going too far. And now you've got somebody who's a part of the deal, is coming out saying, it's partisan.

So the committee, it's hree strikes and you're out on that. I think if I'm a Democrat going against Hillary Clinton, I stay away from this. I don't want to touch this. Up until now, you might have said, well, this whole issue makes her less electable, it goes to her trustworthiness. But now it's rally around Hillary Clinton in the face of a partisan attack.

BERMAN: Now, Trey Gowdy, by the way, disagrees with you. He still says the panel has good work to do.

[11:40:00] A lot of Republicans say they're going to do their work. It isn't politicized. It's not out to get Hillary Clinton. They have her testifying on October 22nd. And on that note, Kevin Madden, President Obama on "60 Minutes" last

night, he was asked by Steve Kroft about the e-mails, about Benghazi, and about how Hillary Clinton should approach it. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: She made a mistake. She's acknowledged it. I do think that the way it's been ginned up is, in part, because of politics. It is important for her to answer these questions to the satisfaction of the American public and they can make their own judgment. I can tell you that this is not a situation in which America's national security was endangered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now President Obama doesn't often give political advice to political candidates, but right there he did something very interesting, Kevin. It seemed to me he set an achievable bar for Hillary Clinton over the next several weeks, what she has to do. No. 1, answer questions before that committee. No. 2, admit it was a mistake, maybe here on this debate stage behind us. And, No. 3, convince Americans and Democrats think this whole thing is ginned up for political reasons.

Is that the avenue, is that the right path for Hillary Clinton to get through this?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he certainly set manageable expectations I think for Hillary Clinton. I still think this was -- the ultimately -- the decisions or the ultimate decisions about this don't rest with President Obama. They do rest with the American public.

BERMAN: And the FBI, for that matter.

MADDEN: And that was my next point, which is that there are investigators that are going to decide what the right bar of measurement should be. And I think those are very tough, because the one thing that I would say is the reason it becomes an issue for Hillary Clinton politically is that there are Democrats who believe this is a partisan witch hunt. Usually when you're arguing about the partisanship of politics, you're losing the politics. But Republicans have also been partisan in that they believe something went wrong here.

I think the bigger swath of the American electorate that still has yet to make up their mind has been very harsh in their judgment of Hillary Clinton, because every answer that she's given has been subsequently been disproved by what she said about her e-mails. So I think that becomes a continuing problem, is if Hillary Clinton, her tendency to obstruct, or her tendency not to be very clear about her answers with this -- with these, or they are refuted by -- or the answers don't match up, that's where it becomes a political problem for Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: You said a consistent thread, a consistent explanation this week tomorrow night and also next week before the committee.

And, Van, you touched on this a little bit. It's unlikely that these candidates are going to go after the specifics of e-mail or the specifics of Benghazi, but one thing, one argument, they may want to make somehow vaguely is that Hillary Clinton carries with her something that will make her less electable than me in the general election. They may make some feints there, no?

JONES: Well, listen, I think there's this sort of subtle thing about trustworthiness, about character. They're all going to try to go with that. But I see it differently than Kevin. I think that, first of all, there have been seven investigations. This is not the first investigation. In even investigations they haven't found anything. Then, you know --

MADDEN: But the actual -- the fact they found the e-mail server was part of the investigation. That was not known before.

JONES: Fine, but my point is simply this, first of all, there have been numerous investigations. Second of all, she has cooperated with the e-mails. I think a lot of people look at this and they say, hold on a second, don't actually -- I think that she made a mistake. She said she made a mistake. Obama said she made a mistake. But I think that nobody watching this feels that she's being given a fair hearing and a fair treatment by this committee.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: And just to be clear, she was forced to comply with some of the requests about the e-mails. Not -- she didn't -- she did not volunteer --

BERMAN: Two more key markers over the next nine days. Tomorrow night here, the Democratic debate, then October 22nd on Capitol Hill. Van Jones, Kevin Madden, thanks so much for being with us. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John. And in just hours, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, they will be battling it out on stage there in Las Vegas.

Ahead, the X factor in that debate. Who will challenge Hillary Clinton about the e-mail controversy and her reversal on the trade deal that she once called the gold standard in trade agreements?

Plus, we have some breaking news that's just coming in. We're getting word from Russia that the security service there has foiled a planned ISIS terror attack in Moscow. We're going to have many more details on that just coming in ahead.

[11:44:20]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news coming out of Russia. Russia's security service says it has foiled a potential ISIS attack on Moscow. Two suspects, according to the Russians, have been arrested. They reportedly trained in ISIS camps in Syria. An explosive device was found in a Moscow apartment along with scales for weighing explosive materials, mobile communications equipment, and instruction manuals for making improvised explosive devices. Again, they trained, according to the Russians, in ISIS camps in Syria. We'll have much more details on that throughout the day.

But keeping our focus on Syria right now, the U.S. military is now taking a very new approach to try and turn the tide there in that bloody civil war -- a secret mission to supply Syrian rebels. A fleet of U.S. military cargo planes have dropped 50 tons of ammunition to U.S.-backed rebel groups in the northern part of the country.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, she broke this story. She's joining me now for the very latest. So Barbara, what more are you learning about this mission and are there more to come?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDNET: Probably more to come, because this is really just the first step in this sort of urgent overhaul of the U.S. effort to equip the Syrian rebels that are fighting ISIS, especially in northern and eastern Syria. Overnight, we got word that four C-17 aircraft, U.S. Air Force, moved into the skies over that area of Syria, backed up by fighter escorts in the sky, and air dropped 50 tons of ammunition to the rebels and more than 100 pallets hitting the ground.

[11:50:16] The word is that the rebels were able to recover everything dropped. This is ammunition, hand grenades, small arms types of things that these rebel groups desperately had needed for weeks. They had said they were running out of ammunition. The U.S. was deciding whether it wanted to support them in this way. And last week, President Obama approved the plan.

So expect to see more of this. This is a coalition of about 5,000 Arab tribes, militias, along with some Kurdish groups up in this region, that have been having a lot of success, the U.S. believes, in battling ISIS. They needed ammunition. They needed some supplies. And this, the U.S. feels, will be a major effort to try and get them to have even more success against ISIS. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And, Barbara, this of course comes just on the heels of the military program that was attempting to arm and train Syrian rebels. It was absolutely scrapped, as it was pretty much just seen across the board as a huge failure and acknowledged as much. 5,000 was the goal that they wanted to train. They basically got none of that.

President Obama was asked about this failure last night in his interview with "60 Minutes". Here's what he said. I want to ask you about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There's no doubt that it did not work. And one of the challenges that I've had throughout this heartbreaking situation inside of Syria is that you'll have people insist that, you know, all you have to do is send in a few truckloads full of arms and people are ready to fight. Then when you start a train and equip program and it doesn't work, then people say, well, why didn't it work? Or if it had just started three months earlier, it would have worked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So, Barbara, what are you hearing from inside the Pentagon and your sources then? That program clearly did not work. How is this going to be different?

STARR: Well, you know, the hope is it will be different because these people are already fighting ISIS. One of the big problems that the U.S. has had is many of these rebels that they were trying to bring into this, they didn't want to fight ISIS so much. They see Bashar al Assad as the main enemy of the people of Syria, or at least their most immediate enemy, because of the barrel bombing and the atrocities they -- the world believes have been committed by Assad's government. The U.S. wanted them to promise not to fight Assad, only to fight ISIS. That didn't go over so well with a lot of these folks. Now, the hope is they've isolated a group of rebels that are already in the fight against ISIS, and the hope is they'll stay with it this time.

BOLDUAN: Barbara, great reporting. Thanks so much. Great to see you.

STARR: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Now let's over -- let's head back over from here to Las Vegas. And John Berman. Hey, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kate, the big debate tomorrow night. Expect the unexpected. What will be the big surprises? What are the key stumbling blocks for these candidates? We'll discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:57:33] BERMAN: This is Las Vegas, Nevada, the site of the very first Democratic presidential debate, the very first time front-runner Hillary Clinton will do battle with Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee on the same stage. Who needs to make the biggest splash? What will be the biggest surprise?

I'm joined by CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of the "National Journal". And, Ron, you have sort of a checklist of the biggest possible land mines and biggest opportunities starting with Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BERMAN: What the other candidates should or should not do about it.

BROWNSTEIN: All of the X factors in this debate, John, will be where and when the candidates choose to engage with each other. And, by far, the biggest one, the elephant in the room, maybe the donkey in the room, is whether the other candidates choose to raise Hillary Clinton's e-mails in any way, in particular to question her strength and viability as a general election nominee.

BERMAN: Which candidate most likely to do it, do you think? BROWNSTEIN: I don't think any of them are likely to do it, but I think O'Malley might be the most likely.

BERMAN: So none of the above, but Martin O'Malley if anybody.

No. 2., not so much Hillary Clinton, but has to do with Bernie Sanders, his record, the one area where progressives may not like him as much.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And I think Hillary -- another key, again, if the key is how the candidates choose to engage with each other, does Hillary Clinton raise Bernie Sanders' record on gun control? It's only one of the areas where she can flank him and come at him from the left.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE). Bernie Sanders who is leading in the polls in New Hampshire, running strong everywhere else, still not a lot of exposure to the nation as a whole. There may be people who don't know that he has a more nuanced record.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, and coming from Vermont, voted against the Brady Bill in the '90s. Much as she has moved on some other issues, he is now moving to reposition himself in the center of an evolving Democratic coalition on this issue. But, again, it's one of the few opportunities she will have to question his credentials from the left.

BERMAN: Now, you talked about moving. Hillary Clinton has done some moving of her own to the left on almost every issue.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BERMAN: Some people call it flip-flopping, depending on what the issue is. Other moving here. How will that play in?

BROWNSTEIN: I think that is -- I think that is the third big X factor. Do the other candidates go after Hillary Clinton on the argument she is repositioning herself, flip-flopping for political advantage on thing like the Transpacific Partnership and some of the other issues that she's moved in. That is, I think, much safer ground for them than the e-mails where they might be seen as advancing the Republican cause, so I would suspect that we're going to hear quite a bit of that tonight.

BERMAN: Even though, on almost of all of those issues, she's moved closer to wjat the Democratic electorate and the people in that room might care about.

BROWNSTEIN: Which is what voters usually want.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, great to have you here with me in Las Vegas.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Appreciate you being here.

That is all for us AT THIS HOUR today. [12:00:00] But tomorrow we will continue our special coverage of the

Democratic debate, the first Democratic debate, live from Las Vegas. Ms. Kate Bolduan joins me here. Kate?

BOLDUAN: As long as the planes fly on time, John. Thanks so much for joining us, everybody.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.