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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Carson Surging Ahead of Trump in National Polls; Hillary Clinton Has Big Lead Suddenly in Iowa; New Details on Officer Who Slammed Female Student in S.C.; Obama Considers U.S. Boots on the Ground in Syria. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 27, 2015 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new Republican front-runner, folks. For the first time in months, Donald Trump is pushed from the top spot nationwide. And for a man who loves to quote the polls, what does he say now?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Classroom takedown. New details about the past of the officer who tackled a female student to the ground. Did he go too far? We'll talk about the video that has sparked a debate across this country.

BOLDUAN: And the president, who wanted to bring an end to two wars, now considering moving more American troops to the front lines in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

Big political news this morning, or "huge" in Donald Trump language. So, what happens when a candidate who calls himself a winner is no longer winning? For the first time in a long time, it is happening. A brand-new poll from CBS News and "The New York Times" shows Ben Carson surging ahead of Donald Trump. Carson now has a four-point lead nationwide.

BERMAN: Yes, folks, that's within the sampling error. But, yes, it's also the first time in a major national poll that Carson has topped Trump. And another yes for you, it all happens on the eve of the next Republican presidential debate.

Let's bring in CNN's political director, David Chalian, for more on this.

David, what's behind the change?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: If you look across every demographic group in this poll, guys, you will see the trend that you see overall nationally, which is Carson is besting Trump with group after group after group. Let's look at some key groups. First, women voters. Among women

voters, you can see Carson beats Trump 27 percent to 19 percent. If you look where that came from in October of 2011, Carson is up and Trump is down six points. If you take a look at evangelical voters, they are a key sect inside the Republican nominating electorate, especially states like Iowa, 35 percent to 13 percent. They were tied last month when we saw this poll previously last month.

I will also say, guys, more than half the Republican electorate in this poll says they are paying a lot of attention to this race right now. I think what we're also starting to see here is that voters are dialing in, in a more serious way than just sort of glancing at the headlines, as they did in the summer and beginning of the fall.

BERMAN: David, some of my favorite strategists like to say, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Another way of saying, there is a long way to go. And this poll does suggest there's a lot of room for change.

CHALIAN: There is, because, as you know, only 28 percent of the electorate in this poll says they're locked into their choice. Some 71 percent, I think, say they are still open to change. But, John, if you look at how Trump supporters answer that question, 54 percent of Trump supporters are locked in. He has a much more ardent and committed group of voters. His problem is, now, it's a shrinking share of the overall total.

BOLDUAN: But it all can change, oh, so quickly, as we saw this with one.

Thank you so much, David. Great to see you.

CHALIAN: Sure.

BOLDUAN: With us now is Republican strategist, Brett O'Donnell, and CNN -- you want to hold my hands? -- and CNN political commentator, Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile.

Clearly, this table is not big enough.

(CROSSTALK)

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was a high-five.

BOLDUAN: That was a high five. Thank you, Donna. Thank you for that save.

Donna, Ben Carson on top. Donald Trump, this morning, asked about the polls, he says, I don't get it, I'm a little bit surprised. Are you?

BRAZILE: No, I'm not. Look, I was out in Des Moines at the state fair. Ben Carson is meeting people. He's out there. They like him. They like what he's saying. He's talking loud and saying something about himself, his values. Donald Trump is talking loud and saying nothing. So, I think the poll numbers reflect not just his likability, they trust him. At end of the day, this might not matter in another month because I believe Republicans are still shopping around for the best candidate. And I don't know if -- if Trump is the person or Carson's the person, but what I do know is that Ben Carson is very well liked.

BERMAN: It's interesting. Ann Selzer, from "The Des Moines Register" poll, says all the controversial stuff that Ben Carson has said, he's not winning in spite of it. He's winning because of it.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BERMAN: Brett O'Donnell, tomorrow night, a huge night for Donald Trump language, particularly Ben Carson, now that he's a front-runner in a poll, he'll be front and center next to Donald Trump in this debate. What kind of questions do you think he will face? Will he be under the spotlight more? How will he handle it?

BRETT O'DONNELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think he will be under the spotlight now. Trump has shown he would go after Carson, so I fully expect tomorrow night Trump to go after Carson. It will be interesting to see how he responds to those attacks. I also think it's funny that the two front-runners right now in our party have been potentially the worst two debaters over the past couple of debates. So, it will be interesting to see whether or not they can transfer that support into better debate performances, particularly for Ben Carson, who's been very meek and mellow in the debates.

[11:05:23] BERMAN: But, Brett, you know, maybe -- you say they were poor in the debate performance. You're a debate coach. In traditional, Oxford-style point scoring, maybe they didn't score the most points, but people watching the debates sure like what they're seeing in terms of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

O'DONNELL: Well, I think if you take a look at who they're saying wins the debate, certainly those two are not the ones they're picking as the winners, but necessity like Carson. I mean, Carson is very likeable. I think Donna is extremely -- she's right about that. That people do like Carson. The question is, will they stick with him and do they see him as their president? People vote for three reasons. They vote because you're competent, they vote because you share their values, and they vote because they like you. They like Carson. Trump was a protest vote. Now the debates give voters a chance to see whether or not Carson's really competent. Remember, the latest poll that's out says that only 19 percent of people are locked in for Ben Carson. So, they're trying him out. I think the debate's a chance for them to really see what he's all about.

BOLDUAN: You know who else likes that 19 percent number? The other folks who are lower down on that top line.

BRAZILE: The 1 percent.

BOLDUAN: Jeb Bush being one of them. He's at 7 percent, tied with Carly Fiorina on this -- in this new poll that's just out from CBS and "The New York Times."

And, Donna, an interesting bit that's come out about the Bush campaign. A lot of story line and narrative has been the Bush campaign is struggling. He was seen as the front-runner. He's at 7 percent right now. They pulled together, a family, donor gathering to basically say, calm down, it's all OK. One of the most important things that came out, I thought, was when the campaign laid out their strategy --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I thought, too.

BOLDUAN: You thought so, too?

BERMAN: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Oh, goody.

(LAUGHTER)

Chief target, Marco Rubio --

BRAZILE: Rubio.

BOLDUAN: -- calling him the GOP-Obama. Let' throw up what they had on their Power Point presentation. They wrote "Rubio and President Obama have strikingly similar profiles, first-term Senators, lawyers and university lecturers, served in part-time state legislatures for eight years, had few legislative accomplishments, and haven't shown much interest in the process of advancing legislation and getting results."

Think that's a smart strategy?

BRAZILE: No. I understand Jeb Bush has to move some of these candidates out of the, quote/unquote, "establishment lane" so that he can take on some of the opponents in the, quote/unquote, "outsider lane." Marco Rubio has his own difficulties and challenges, including the fact that he just said he didn't like his job, which, by the way, I mean, you get paid $170,000, you get all of the federal holidays off, what's not to like about being a United States Senator? But that aside, I think Jeb Bush has to restructure his campaign. He needs a stronger message. He needs to come across as somebody who really wants the job. Not because of his last name, but because he has ideas and he understands how to make this country grow and more prosperous and secure in the future. Jeb Bush has run a campaign pretty much like the old-style campaign. I'm the incumbent, i'm the front-runner, I have name recognition. Then here comes Donald Trump, I'm great, I'm fantastic, I'm huge. Jeb Bush must demonstrate tomorrow night that he has a campaign about the future and not just relying on his last name. If he's able to do that, who knows?

BERMAN: Brett, I want to ask you quickly a question about the Democrats. We'll give Donna a break on the Democrats.

(LAUGHTER)

A brand-new poll out from Monmouth University from Iowa that shows Hillary Clinton with a really big lead, all of a sudden, in Iowa among likely voters. Donna Brazile just went wow here off-camera. I wish we could have captured that. 41-point lead for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders right now. This follows the week where she testified on Benghazi, a week and a half after the debate, a week after Joe Biden drops out, or doesn't get in. What do you think, Brett?

O'DONNELL: I think Hillary is definitely consolidating her support. The poll says that her support is more locked in than Bernie Sanders' support is. I think that's coming off a good debate performance, a good performance in front of the Benghazi Committee as far as Democrat supporters are concerned. She did what she had to do, answer the questions and look good. But I think that she's still behind in New Hampshire. That's more of a Bernie Sanders' crowd anyway. And so, I still think there is a fight left to be had, but she's definitely consolidating her support in Iowa. Whether or not she can keep that up remains to be seen. There are debates to be held yet. I think the Biden dropout helped her enormously. And so we'll see whether or not she can stand up to the test. There are some challenges left ahead of her. There's still an FBI investigation as to what she did with her server and the e-mail account. So, I do think there are still challenges ahead but she certainly consolidating her support.

[11:10:16] BOLDUAN: All right, Brett O'Donnell, Donna Brazile, great to have you with us.

We can hold hands.

BRAZILE: High five.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Good, I love it. I'll hold your hand any time. You, too, Brett.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: It's about 10 minutes after the hour right now. There is anger in South Carolina this morning after a stunning new video. It shows a resource officer throwing a female student to the ground. We have new information about the officer's past and what the girl apparently refused to do.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead for us, the first plan apparently isn't working, so President Obama is reportedly considering sending more troops to the front lines to come face-to-face with ISIS terrorists.

And pills, a prince and a private jet sparking one of the biggest drug busts in one airport's history. Why this operation could also be helping to fuel a war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:14] BOLDUAN: New details this morning about the South Carolina officer seen body-slamming a female student and throwing her across a classroom. This is an arrest that was caught on video. We now have two different angles of what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN FIELDS, DEPUTY, RICHLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Are you going to come with me? Or am I going to make you?

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

Keep your hands behind your back. Keep your hands --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The officer in the video is Richland County sheriff's deputy, Ben Fields. He was on duty at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. Obviously, this all happened.

National correspondent, Jason Carroll, is joining us now. He's been looking into more and more of the details.

There is still a lot unknown about this, but what more are we learning right now, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No matter what angle you look at it, it's disturbing, no matter what angle, but what is clear at this point the sheriff's deputy you mentioned, Deputy Ben Fields, he is on administrative duty.

And all of this unfolding yesterday in a math classroom there at Sun Valley -- Spring Valley High School. Apparently, the student, whether she chose not to get off her cell phone or was it another reason -- still waiting for confirmation from that from the sheriff's department -- but for whatever reason, at one point she refused to leave the classroom. The teacher asked her to leave, she refused. The administrator called to class. That person then asked her to leave, she apparently refused. That's why you had the SRO, the school resource officer, in this case, Ben Fields, the sheriff's deputy, called to the school to try to take care of the situation.

The question now, when you're looking at that video, did he use a reasonable amount of force? Did he do what he needed to do to de- escalate the situation? These are some of the questions that are now going to be asked during this investigation.

BERMAN: What more are we learning about the officer himself, Jason? I understand there were lawsuits, but also this officer had been awarded in the past for his actions.

CARROLL: As part of this investigation they'll be looking at the good, bad and ugly. Some of the good, as you say, this officer was, in fact, last year awarded something called the Culture of Excellence Award for being a role model there in the community. So, clearly he definitely has some supporters there in the community and at the school itself, which is odd because when you look at social media, there are a number of students who went to Twitter to say this was a man who always had a reputation of using too much force in handling some of the students. When you mention lawsuits, back in 2007, a couple claimed this very same deputy used excessive force when responding to a noise complaint. One of them, the man saying that he slammed him, he kicked him to the ground, but a jury found in favor of the sheriff's deputy. Then again, in 2013, a student claimed he falsely accused the student of being a member of a gang. That case is still pending.

Once again, as this investigation continues, they're going to be looking at all aspects of this officer's past.

BOLDUAN: They sure are.

Jason Carroll. Thanks so much, Jason.

So, the teenager involved, she was not injured during this arrest. She was released from jail to her family afterwards.

BERMAN: We also learned Officer Fields arrested a second teenager, a teenager who spoke up for her classmate during this whole incident.

We want to talk about more of this with criminal attorney, Eric Guster; CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.

Eric, you watched the video. What do you see?

ERIC GUSTER, CRIMINAL & CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY: I see an assault on the student. There is no justification for what that SRO did to this young lady. Regardless of -- I've understood that they've asked her to leave, they asked her several times to leave, however, when you watch this video, you see this officer not trying to calm the situation, not trying to de-escalate it. He did a WWE move where he dragged this young lady, threw her across the room. There was no justification for it. The only justification that he could have is if she had a gun or something. That's the only thing he could justify that type of action for.

What we're seeing so much in these schools is the criminalization of minor offenses. This girl was taken to jail for this. This is something where -- this is an administrative action that should have been handled by the school, a suspension or detention or something like that, not an arrest.

BOLDUAN: Paul, what do you think? What Eric's saying is it doesn't even matter to him what precipitated this event because what he did was bad enough.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think clearly you've got excessive force being used here. Of course, people are going to say, well, a teacher asked her to leave, and then an administrator came in and she refused, so they called security, so what was he supposed to do? He had to get her out of the classroom. I think what he was to do is maybe even call in somebody else to assist him if she was refusing to leave the classroom.

I looked at the National Education Standards on this to see how teachers handle this situation. Make no mistake --

(CROSSTALK)

[11:20:24] BERMAN: How teachers, not resource officers.

CALLAN: Not resource officers, but it starts out with the teachers. And most of the standards say you can only use reasonable force that's necessary to protect the student from hurting herself or others. I don't see a student here who's about to hurt herself or others, and I think ultimately excessive force.

BERMAN: We see no physical movement whatsoever by that student there.

Eric, the discussion about resource officers, it's a complicated one, right? Because we want our kids to be safe.

BOLDUAN: Right. We want them there.

BERMAN: And they do a lot inside these schools to help keep them safe and to watch things going on. It also creates situations like this, where teachers, perhaps, aren't doing the discipline, for lack of a better word, or keeping the order that traditionally we expect them to.

GUSTER: That is what's happening. This is the beginning of the -- this is an example of the school-to-prison pipeline that we talk about all the time. This young lady, who was disruptive in school, disruptive being quiet, and not had her cell phone --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: We don't know that. We don't fully know what happened.

GUSTER: From everything I've read and every indication of what we've read, she didn't put up her cell phone in time. And then this escalated to an officer arresting her. This should be an administrative type of situation where the teacher handles, it the principal handles it, not dragging this young lady and giving her a juvenile record.

BOLDUAN: What do you think happens now?

CALLAN: Obviously, I think you'll probably see a lawsuit. We've already seen the sheriff's officer suspended. I think have you to put the whole thing in context. I remember going to a Catholic, you know, high school and being punched in the face by a Bavarian brother -- excuse me to the brothers. And a lot of people will tell you they remember stories about being hit by rulers by nuns. A lot of discipline was used in the past with students. But we've changed. Times have changed. We don't treat children this way. The resource officers and the police have to adjust to the new set of rules, and the teachers as well.

BERMAN: Paul Callan and Eric Guster, thanks for the discussion. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. BERMAN: So is President Obama considering putting U.S. troops on the

ground inside Syria? New information on that. And why presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, calls it a "half-ass strategy." The Senator will join us live ahead. BOLDUAN: Plus, tomorrow could be the day that Paul Ryan is nominated

to the most powerful position in America. But the outgoing speaker, the man on your right, John Boehner, is offering a parting gift that's riling up some Republicans once again.

BERMAN: They're riled.

BOLDUAN: Riled.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:06] BERMAN: New this morning, what could be a major change in the U.S. battle against ISIS. American troops inside Syria. "The Washington Post" reports this morning that the president is reviewing proposals that would, for the first time, put Special Operation forces on the ground in Syria, a move that -- and also move U.S. advisers in Iraq closer to the front lines.

BOLDUAN: Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, from Washington; and senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, from Iraq for much more on this.

Barbara, first to you.

What is the latest that you're hearing about the options that the president is weighing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. Defense officials are telling CNN that, yes, there are a package of options, recommendations, if you will, that certainly the White House is well aware of. I think the key question is now is how serious, how fast. And, of course, the president would have to approve all this. It would be a major change if all of these recommendations were to be accepted by the White House. That has not happened.

What appears to be happening is the Pentagon putting together a series of ideas because President Obama clearly wants to get things moving. This is a very beleaguered campaign in both Syria and Iraq against ISIS. With the Russians there now, it's becoming more complicated. The U.S., many military officials feel, needs to move faster. So, there are these ideas out here.

But, look, if you are going to increase the U.S. presence, if you are going to have U.S. troops go outside the wire, as they say, outside of their protected bases, go into the field with either Iraqi or Syrian troops, you are going to increase the risk and you are coming much closer to that line of actual combat missions. We saw that last week with the death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, when he was killed, when Army Delta Forces accompanied Kurdish forces on a raid in northern Iraq and ran into trouble and the Delta team had to come in and help them out. Master Sergeant Wheeler losing his life in that operation. So, it's becoming very clear any step forward is clearly going to

raise the risk for American troops. That is something President Obama is going to have to make a decision about.

BERMAN: So, Clarissa, you have just spent time inside Syria with some of the Kurdish troops there. The force is really at the tip of the sphere in the battle against ISIS on the ground. How much of a difference would an increased U.S. presence be? I suppose the most extreme difference would be U.S. boots on the ground. That may not be the most likely scenario, but how much more U.S. assistance would help those forces that you were with?

[11:29:49] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kurdish YPG fighters we were with say they absolutely need more support from the U.S. But they would like to see that support coming in the form of heavier weapons, armor-piercing weapons. Right now, they are lightly armed, poorly equipped. They've already benefitted enormously from U.S. and coalition air support.