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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Tops Polls Ahead of Debate; Ted Cruz on the Rise; Obama at Pentagon Discussing ISIS Strategy; Red Flags Missed on San Bernardino Shooters. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 14, 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: No one can, really.

(CROSSTALK)

Frank, thanks so much.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Behind me is the Venetian Hotel. Inside that building, the theater, the battleground for the final Republican presidential debate of 2015 and it's only right here on CNN. I have to say, the stakes could not be higher. A brand new poll from "Wall Street Journal" shows Donald Trump on top, 27 percent. That's his best showing in that poll. Ted Cruz rising, vaulting to second place, at 22 percent, his best showing in that poll. Marco Rubio at 15 percent. Ben Carson fading fast, now in fourth place at 11 percent. What does it mean?

We're joined by CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson in Las Vegas.

I say the last debate of 2015, but I think, more importantly, it is the first debate since what happened in Paris, since what happened in San Bernardino. The focus here will be national security.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. These candidates have been champing at the bit to go face-to-face. They've been doing it on Twitter, in television ads, in video, in rapid-response e-mails they send out to their supporters. But, again, tonight they'll be toe to toe and able to really dig in on some of these issues.

What's important here, we have this election where some people are running TV campaigns, particularly people like Marco Rubio, not in the states a lot, in New Hampshire, in Iowa, so it becomes even more important to those kinds of candidates who are really looking to promote their message on television? I talked to some supporters in New Hampshire. They're looking to see, what is Jeb Bush going to do this time? We've seen him not able to break through in these debates. They're going to see what he --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: After this, two weeks until Christmas, until New Year's. Things die down, go dark a little bit. Might be the best chance to send that message. Along those lines, do you expect more heat than we've seen? Do you think people need to leave it all out there on that stage?

HENDERSON: I think they do. It's the last debate and also the setup for the next crucial period we're going into, this sprint to Iowa, this sprint then to New Hampshire and, of course, South Carolina and Nevada. They have to be memorable. It's funny, in talking to the campaigns, they all downplay the boxing match aura of this. But again, I think when it comes down to it, have you to see who's going to be able to actually punch through. It's funny, because they've been doing it offstage. It's hard for them to then pull their punches once they get on stage, even though we've seen that happen before. Donald Trump, for instance, would go after Ben Carson before these debates. Then when he got on stage, he was shy about doing it. We'll see who will be doing it tonight.

BERMAN: It will be a new look on that stage on Tuesday.

Nia, thanks so much.

With much more on the stage and where they'll all be, let's go back to Kate in New York -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John.

I'll be joining John in Las Vegas ahead of the big debate.

Right now, let's go inside the debate hall where final preparations are under way.

CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, is there.

Maeve, Donald Trump will be center stage once again. Walk us through which is really in there, the first thing you see, it's a beautiful, beautiful hall.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely beautiful hall here at the Venetian Theater, the famed "Phantom of the Opera" theater. We'll see what happens with the chandeliers during tomorrow night's debate.

But we do have Donald Trump, obviously, at center stage. Take a look at the lineup we've got here. You've got Donald Trump at the center and then Ted Cruz right next to him, so there's definitely an opportunity for fireworks between the two of them, even though Ted Cruz has been playing nice. Others on the stage are Chris Christie, who is actually holding on after a strong performance in New Hampshire, moving up. Kasich and Fiorina, who are going to be in the main debate. And then earlier, it will be the undercard debate with four of the candidates who are still struggling to make it up in the polls. So, it should be a really fascinating evening. Lots of fireworks here in Vegas.

BOLDUAN: Lots of fireworks, lots at stake, as John has been laying out.

Maeve, thanks.

Let's head back to John outside that theater.

BERMAN: Thanks, Kate.

One of the big stories here, as you were saying, who will be at the center of the stage? Yes, Donald Trump. But for the first time, Ted Cruz right next to him, rising in the polls, vaulting ahead of Donald Trump in Iowa. So, how will these two candidates deal with each other? Well, we're getting a small taste.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he's qualified to be president.

UNIDENTIFIED FOX CORRESPONDENT: Why not?

TRUMP: Because I don't think he has the right temperament. I don't think he has the right judgment.

UNIDENTIFIED FOX CORRESPONDENT: What's wrong with his temperament?

TRUMP: You look at the way he's dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac. You'll never get things done that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:05:26] BERMAN: This is how Ted Cruz responded. He tweeted, "In honor of my friend, @realDonaldTrump, and good-hearted maniacs everywhere --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Flashdance," we'll let it sink in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Ted Cruz knowing his pop culture, more importantly, knowing his "Flashdance," what a feeling, let's bring in national syndicated radio talk show hosts, Michael Medved, of "The Michael Medved Show"; and Dennis Prager, host of "The Dennis Prager Show," both with Salem Radio Network, which is partnering with CNN for this debate. You can listen to the debate on the Salem Radio Network.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us. I'm glad you're here.

I'm glad you're here because every day you hear the people who are supporting these candidates. You hear what's going on at the grassroots level and what's driving the rise and fall of candidates like this.

And the story right now, Dennis, is Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz vaulting in front of Donald Trump in Iowa, rising nationally. Why?

DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO HOST, "THE DENNIS PRAGER SHOW, SALEM RADIO NETWORK: He's rising in large measure because Trump has a fixed maximum.

BERMAN: A ceiling.

PRAGER: Yes, there is a ceiling. If he's at 27 percent, and we don't know because polling these days is simply less scientific. A lot of people don't answer their phone. We really don't know. Let's say this 27 percent. That means 73 percent of Republicans won't vote for him. It's not a matter of that with Cruz or anybody else. Whoever doesn't support Cruz now will vote for Cruz, will vote for Rubio, so on. That's the situation, as my listeners and I see it.

BERMAN: They tell you it's only going to go so far.

Michael?

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO HOST, "THE DENNIS PRAGER SHOW, SALEM RADIO NETWORK: I would say the other factor Ted Cruz has in Iowa is he's an evangelical Christian. Last winner in Iowa was Rick Santorum with strong evangelical support, even though he was Catholic. And before that, Mike Huckabee with strong evangelical support. Ted Cruz was just endorsed by Bob Vanderplants (ph), one of the leaders of Iowa evangelicals. If he can hold onto that, and supposedly the majority of people who attend the Iowa caucuses, he's a much better fit with those voters than is Donald Trump. The one play here is going to probably be a play for third place. And I think that Rubio has to score third or a close fourth to keep his campaign momentum going to states like this one, Nevada, where Marco Rubio is very strong and running very powerful.

PRAGER: Rubio was very popular. This I will say. Rubio is not everyone's first choice. But he seems to be everyone's second choice, from Trump supporters to Cruz supporters to anyone else. So he's someone to watch.

BERMAN: The problem for Marco Rubio, though, he has to win somewhere. At some point, he's got to win a state. When you look at the calendar, and you watch it play out, it's hard to see where that first state is. It might be March 15th after there have been six, seven, eight, nine, 10 states voting. The debate, largely focus on which candidate can keep us safe. Along the lines of what we were discussing, what do people listening to your shows, what will they be watching for on this stage? MEDVED: I think part of what they'll be watching for is who can work

with other people. For national security, have you to be a leader of the world, not just a leader of the United States. Have you to unite people here in the United States, which is why I think that ultimately Trump and perhaps Ted Cruz will be in trouble with national security debates. One of the things someone will say tomorrow night is, look, we have arguments among ourselves but we have to come together to make America saver, the world safer. Another attack in Paris this morning on a kindergarten, another attack in Jerusalem yesterday, and with all of this going on, it seems to me this is a terrific time for people to focus on the importance of unity and common purpose.

PRAGER: There is a sleeper issue, and that is Ted Cruz did vote against -- did vote for limiting NSA's ability to mine data. Marco Rubio voted for the NSA ability.

BERMAN: He's already going after Ted Cruz.

PRAGER: Yes. That is going to be an issue.

I have to say, he laughed -- I have to suppress my laugher. When Donald Trump said, that anyone else does not have --

(LAUGHTER)

That's one of the corkers of the 21st century.

[11:10:13]But you say Donald Trump has a ceiling. The fact of the matter is the ceiling is going up. He hasn't sunk in any poll. The "Wall Street Journal" he's higher. The "Des Moines Register" poll, he's up two points. He's doing fine.

PRAGER: And the truth is, with each attack, he'll do a little better.

BERMAN: And the truth is, when you ask these people in Iowa, who do you most trust to handle issues like foreign policy, they're saying Donald Trump. They're not saying, we want someone to build alliances. They're saying, we want someone strong.

MEDVED: Partially because the focus on national security is relatively new. I have callers all the time who say they like the fact that Donald Trump is unpredictable. And that's one of the things about this debate. Donald Trump could go very aggressively against Cruz and Rubio.

BERMAN: Do you think he will?

MEDVED: No. I think he's probably going to be Mr. Statesman as he was in the second debate. And try to put forward this nice guy/character.

PRAGER: Presidential.

MEDVED: It depends on who he's running against. Ben Carson wince the nice guy vote, but at a time of terrorism, that's not enough for people. Trump will show, yes, I'm unpredictable, I'm tough, I can be really, really tough, but I also somebody who says, let's come together to defend America.

BERMAN: Donald Trump, unifier.

(LAUGHTER)

Michael Medved, Dennis Prager --

MEDVED: We can only hope.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: -- great to have you here with us in Las Vegas, with the Salem Radio Network.

You can watch the last GOP debate of 2015 only on CNN. It all begins tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. eastern time, the main stage debate at 8:00 p.m., and it's all right here in Las Vegas.

Just ahead for us, we'll speak to a debate coach for one of the candidates who will be on this stage. How do you prepare for such a high-stakes moment? What is going on behind closed doors? It is make-or-break for so many of these candidates.

BOLDUAN: Plus right now, President Obama is at the Pentagon this morning to review America's strategy against ISIS. Very soon he's expected to speak live after meeting with his national security advisers. We will bring that to you. And did the ringleader of the Paris terror attack direct the massacre

at the Bataclan Theater in real time? Hear what a witness says they saw.

This is CNN special live coverage of the GOP national security debate, the face-off in Las Vegas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:53] BOLDUAN: Right now, President Obama is at the Pentagon meeting with his top national security advisers reviewing United States' strategy against ISIS. This is new video just in that you're looking at right now, the president sitting down in that meeting just moments ago. You see Ash Carter right next to him there.

CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining me from the Pentagon with the very latest.

Jim, the president has this meeting with advisers and then coming to the briefing room to speak to reporters. What are you expecting?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is basically an update on the war fighting ISIS. Kate, he's brought his entire team because it's not just the president, the vice president. You have Secretary of State John Kerry joining by video conference, his entire national security team, commanders from the region as well. Last time he was here was in July. The situation on the ground has changed significantly from that time. Perhaps not significantly enough, which has led to the many questions about whether there's a necessity to change the strategy not in an enormous amount expected today. There's no announcement expected today of a new strategy or new

measures. This is more an update.

And I'll tell you this, Kate, you listen to the assessments on the ground that come out of the White House versus what come out of here in the Pentagon or what you hear on the Hill when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter goes on the hill, the chairman of Joint Chiefs, the briefings from the commanders tend to be more -- I don't want to say dire, but more, perhaps, negative than you'll often hear from the White House, so it may be the president could be getting a fair amount of affirm in that briefing room. We don't know if he'll answer questions. He'll make a statement. And if you shout some questions, he might answer. You've been there before, Kate, but you can guess what those questions will be. Will there be a change? We aren't expecting any change in strategy. This is more an update from commanders.

BOLDUAN: Jim, last time you were on, last week, we have also heard conflicting statements, conflicting viewpoints from the president, the White House, and his top advisers, from Ash Carter when he was testifying on Capitol Hill, from James Comey when he was testifying on Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

BOLDUAN: It can't be forgotten, as well, as no matter what, whatever the president says following this meeting, you're going to be at that briefing, it's very likely to be a topic and be asked about in tomorrow's debate, right?

SCIUTTO: No question. You remember that word "contained," right? It was a month ago to the date -- is today the 13th? It was a month ago to the day, the day of the Paris attacks when the president used that phrase, "ISIS contained on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria." Since then we've seen the chairman of the Joint Chief, Joseph Dunsford, and his defense secretary answer no to that question when asked, is it contained on the battlefield. That might be a great deal of the briefing you hear on the ground. There's a lot of debate abut, when you ask that question, contained, is it contained in some parts of the question? Certainly, we've seen ISIS's ability to project power beyond the battlefield, in Paris and sadly in San Bernardino as well. So the strategy becomes not just a war-fighting strategy on the ground but counterterrorism strategy far from the borders of Iraq and Syria.

BOLDUAN: Jim Sciutto is there. That briefing statement, we'll see if he takes questions from the president happening very soon. Jim's there for us.

Great to see you, Jim. Thank you.

As Jim was mentioning, San Bernardino, a red flag that might have prevented the San Bernardino massacre was missed years before. We now know the visa screening process for Tashfeen Malik did not include a review of her social media accounts, which, according to "The New York Times," reveal she talked openly about violent jihad, about how she supported it and the fact she wanted to take part in it. What else was missed?

Let's get over to Evan Perez, checking with his law enforcement sources on this.

Evan, what are you hearing?

[11:19:52] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, one of the things that has now started is a check on social media for visa applicants. Something the U.S. government started doing a few months ago. That change came way, way too late to be able to catch what Tashfeen Malik was saying on social media.

But a couple things we also need to keep in mind as we talk about this, is that she was using an account that was not in her name. She had a pseudonym for her account. It's not clear if they had checked her name on Facebook that they would have even seen any of this. And the other thing that happened is she had a privacy setting so that the public could not read her postings on Facebook. That probably would have prevented anybody who's doing a background check on her to see those postings.

That said, it is a very important question now that both the Homeland Security Department and State Department are going to have to answer, which is how do you make sure people who are applying for these visas aren't jihadi sympathizers, aren't people coming here planning to do bad things, as the investigators have already sort of concluded happened with this woman.

BOLDUAN: Difficult to screen at all, of course, making the process even more cumbersome but no less important to make sure it's in place.

PEREZ: Absolutely.

Evan, thank you so much. Evan is talking to his sources.

Let's talk much more about this now with our counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd.

You heard just right there from Evan Perez, this seems to be exactly, Phil, what people are afraid of, the screening process isn't keeping people out. Evan saying, through the screening process, they're checking now social media accounts but that only started a few months ago? I'm sure that prices a lot of people.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It does. You have to look -- this sounds simple from the outside. You have to look at how complex this was. As recently as 15 years ago, the government only had to check its own databases. If you were a bad guy coming into Washington or New York, the only people who might have negative information would be the U.S. government who might have acquired it, for example, from terrorist communications. Now you've got to say the government doesn't own Instagram. They don't own e-mail. A lot of that is going dark. They don't own Facebook. So, how is the government not only going to absorb all of this information when it's encrypted, but they have to automate the checks of that information, tens of millions of people potentially applying for visas in the United States over the course of years. You cannot have a U.S. Government official, Kate, keying in numbers saying, is this person out there on Facebook and spending an hour and a half validating? I think we have to have a partnership with Silicon Valley that says, how do you automate checks when someone applies at a visa line. And how do you determine if someone is using a fake name.

BOLDUAN: It shows how impossible it is, but it's still so important. You think there has to be some way to make the two things work. Even though there is so many -- there are so many people applying for visas. Yes, they may be using fake names. By chance, Tashfeen Malik, they're pledging allegiance to jihad on social media right before they come in, there has to be a way to stop it, or why even have the screening process in the first place?

MUDD: I think there will be a way. There will be a couple steps that will be debated. Some will say, how do we deal with this exPLOsion of data. The questions to answer, number one, how can we guarantee he we can look at the data if it's encrypted? There's a debate between the private sector and the government right now about whether the government can even have access to data that includes e-mail communications. The second, as I mentioned, is volume. How do we have an automated process, for example, when someone applies online for a visa, and they include their e-mail address, phone and name, instead of having an officer actually check on that name? How is there a process that takes that name, e-mail and phone and explodes it out to all social media and says, this person has a presence we should be concerned about? For example, if you have an Instagram photo, how do you see that?

BOLDUAN: Right. Exactly. This is a debate happening in real time as the threat is also in real time.

MUDD: Right.

BOLDUAN: We also have news out of Paris that I want your take on, in this terror investigation. "CTC Sentinel" is reporting the ringleader was actually pulling the strings, if you will, of the Paris attack operation, directing it in real time on the phone with the attackers, and even nearby the site of the theater attack. Have you ever heard of something like that before?

MUDD: I remember when we had that attack in India, the Jewish cited, some appeared to be directed from cell phone from Pakistan. The interesting thing is not only do you have an attack directed on the ground, but this is going to raise questions about encryption. In that case in Garland, Texas, the FBI director just testified that 100- plus messages from the Garland guys who were killed when they tried to shoot up an event were encrypted and the FBI still can't read them. If you have people directing attacks on site from a place like Paris using encrypted applications, even if the government is up on them, how do they know what's happening? I think we're dealing with the first chapter, Kate, in this book about how government works with the private sector to get access to all these tons of data out there.

[11:25:19] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Remember, Intel services of France, they didn't even know this ringleader was back in the country, let alone blocks from the site of the attack.

Phil, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.

MUDD: Thanks. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

You can be sure all of the things we're discussing here will be front and center at the national security debate, this CNN debate in Las Vegas.

Let's get back there with John.

Hey, John.

BERMAN: Absolutely central to the discussion here.

One day away from this year's final face-off for the Republican candidates. 30 hours, 34 minutes, 20 seconds, so much to discuss here after the attacks in Paris and the attacks in San Bernardino. Who has the most to gain? Who has the most to lose? That's ahead.

Plus, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz surging with Republican voters, but a new poll shows they trail Hillary Clinton. There is one candidate who does lead Clinton. Which one is it?

We're live from Las Vegas. Our special coverage of the Republican here on CNN continues after this.

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