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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Lindsey Graham Drops Out of Presidential Race; Clinton Slammed for Untrue Trump/ISIS Comment; Obama Says Media Fueling Fears of ISIS; "Affluenza" Teen, His Mother on Run. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 21, 2015 - 11:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:30:45] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, my campaign, I'm going to suspend my campaign. I'm not going to suspend my desire to help the country. I'll probably go back to Iraq and Afghanistan and get another update. 36 trips has informed me. But the one thing I feel really good about is I did it with a smile on my face. I talked about things that are important to me, and somebody better fix one day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That is the now former presidential candidate, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. He spoke exclusively with Kate Bolduan to announce that he is dropping out of the presidential race.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, with Graham out, that makes 12 Republican candidates left vying for the nomination.

BERMAN: 13, if you count Jim Gilmore.

BOLDUAN: That's right. Thank you.

Here to discuss what it means for the state of the race. He's always the fact-checker. Coming up here, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, Brad Woodhouse; CNN political commentator, former Reagan White House political director, Jeffrey Lord; GOP strategist to Mitt Romney's campaign, Kevin Madden; and CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter.

Great to see all of you.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: First, Kevin, to you.

With Graham out, and Jeff Zeleny and Dana were talking about this previously, talk to me about the endorsement. Graham said to me, he's not thinking about it yet. He even said off camera, he may not endorse, but what if he does endorse, he's looking for the best candidate who will be the best commander in chief and one who will win. KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First, Kate, that was an

amazing interview. Congratulations on getting it.

BOLDUAN: Thanks.

MADDEN: Look, Lindsey Graham endorsement, he doesn't actually have a big bloc of voters that is going to move en masse to one candidate as a result of getting out of this race or via an endorsement. But what he can offer is, look, running for president as much as it's a test of organization and money and message, it's a test of character. And I think everybody recognizes that Lindsey Graham passed that character test with flying colors. As a result, an endorsement from Lindsey Graham could send a big message where this party goes on the issue of national security. Someone like Lindsey Graham putting his faith and trust in a candidate to offer a much more robust, a much more advanced national security informed foreign policy platform very well could have voters that up until the last few day before they go to the caucuses or the polls, taking a look at all the candidates one last time. That could be the difference in their decision-making.

BERMAN: You know, Amanda, Kevin points out that Lindsey Graham didn't have a lot of voters, but he had one and his name is John McCain, who has won the New Hampshire primary twice, in 2000 and 2008. You know, so McCain's support up for grabs right now. Is that something that will be sought after, do you think, in this field? Your former boss, Ted Cruz, he's not getting it. I'll tell you that right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: How much does it matter?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's the thing, I think Kevin is right, Lindsey Graham has a lot of credibility but one admission he made in that interview shocked me. He said, my wing of the party has collapsed. I think it's entirely true. There's far less appetite for the pejorative, to say, Neo-Con, very aggressive national security stance. I don't think he has as much support to go around. I think Lindsey Graham is far more interested in sort of being an anti-endorsement rather than an endorser. I've always believed he got into the race really to undermine people like Rand Paul. If you notice him in the undercard debate, he really focuses his sights on Ted Cruz. I think he's going to have a larger role in playing attack dog rather than surrogate for a particular candidate.

BOLDUAN: And he did acknowledge at one point of the interview, maybe it was off camera, that's one thing he's very proud of is that he's moved the conversation from what he said was the wrong direction and speaking about isolationism amongst his party. That's what he's priding himself on, moving that conversation of foreign policy back to where he thinks it should be.

Jeffrey Lord, the man you are supportive of, could you -- what was your reaction when you heard Lindsey Graham playing nice, kind of, with Donald Trump, in this interview?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was struck by that immediately, Kate. That was a terrific interview. Very, very well done. I just -- it was -- it was intriguing. It was intriguing to me. You know, we get so involved in these primary situations where candidates have the job of beating the other guy over the head. What inevitably happens, as I've been saying for months, is that eventually, as they all have to come together behind one person, if that person turns out to be Donald Trump. I, in fact, think Donald Trump has a lot of respect for Lindsey Graham. But you do have to go through this, you do have to define differences, you do have to get into these fights, as it were, and win folks to your side. But he was very respectful to Donald Trump when he got out of the race. And I think he's a very important person, if there is a Trump administration, might play a role in it.

[11:35:51] BOLDUAN: Notice, he did not answer the question when I did ask him if he would accept a cabinet position in a Trump administration.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: You asked him if he would support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. He said yes.

BOLDUAN: And Jeb Bush would not answer that question.

BERMAN: Jeb Bush won't answer that question.

I want to focus on Donald Trump because there's a new sort of debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It had to do with what Hillary Clinton said at the debate. What Hillary Clinton said that wasn't true at the debate Saturday night. Let's listen to that quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter. They are going to people, showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims --

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: -- in order to recruit more radical jihadists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All the fact-checkers on earth have gone through that. Turns out it there's no video, no proof ISIS is showing videos of Donald Trump to anybody. And Donald Trump today is demanding an apology. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: And you know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go --

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (voice-over): I will demand an apology from Hillary. She should apologize. She lies about e-mails, she lies about Whitewater, she lies about everything. She will be a disaster as president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Brad --

(LAUGHTER)

-- doesn't Donald Trump deserve an apology? Hillary Clinton said something there's no proof of.

BRAD WOODHOUSE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't get to talk about Lindsey Graham? Come on, guys.

BOLDUAN: Sure you can.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODHOUSE: No, look, I think Donald Trump will wait for hell to freeze over before Hillary Clinton will apologize to him. Look, I think this debate is kind of ludicrous. We know all over social media Donald Trump's slamming of Muslims is prevalent. In those social media posts are videos. Is there a specific video produced by a studio? I mean, this is -- this is kind of silly. Look, Donald Trump enjoys this fight. This is the type of thing he wants to engage in. He said ban all Muslims because he wanted to be on the front page of the papers and he wanted to be the most dominant conversation in the Republican field. And incidentally, back to the previous conversation, I think that this is actually a big day for Donald Trump. This exhibit is exhibit number one that the establishment of the Republican Party is in decline, as Lindsey Graham said. It's collapsed. It's --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: But real quick, Brad.

WOODHOUSE: This is a Trump/Cruz Party.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Lindsey Graham said if Hillary became president, though he doesn't want her to, he would offer his help to Hillary Clinton to fight ISIS. Would she accept that help?

WOODHOUSE: Well, I think she would. I think the record is they had a pretty good relationship in the Senate. I think -- look, I think Hillary Clinton, when she does become president, will rely on a lot of people for advice. There's no doubt that Lindsey Graham, he served in the military, that he has a lot of experience. I don't agree with a lot of his solutions or policy, but I think she'll listen to a lot of people, including Lindsey Graham. I don't think she'll be listening to Donald Trump, though.

BOLDUAN: We'll think about that.

BERMAN: We'll wait and see. BOLDUAN: We'll wait and see.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We'll do a "time will tell" on that one.

Great to see you all. Thanks so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

Coming up for us, President Obama identifying a new weakness in his fight against ISIS, and it has nothing to do with his military strategy. Why the commander-in-chief says growing fears about the terror group's threat could largely be a perception problem.

[11:39:18] BERMAN: Plus, the search for the teenager who avoided jail after killing four people in a drunk-driving crash. His defense was he was too spoiled to know right from wrong. We'll have the very latest. There's new information on the hunt for the so-called "affluenza" teen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: New this morning, President Obama says his administration's strategy to fight ISIS is working. It is the media coverage, he says, that is making Americans so concerned about ISIS. In an interview with NPR, the president says, yes, ISIS has to be taken seriously but it is not capable, ISIS is not capable, he says, of destroying the United States.

BOLDUAN: The president did acknowledge in the interview that his administration hasn't done a good enough job of communicating with the American people about his strategy to fight -- in their fight against ISIS. But he also does point to media coverage fueling fears. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you've been watching television for the last month, all you've been seeing, all you've been hearing about it is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you. So I understand why people are concerned about it. Look, the media is pursuing ratings. This is a legitimate news story. I think that it's up to the media to make a determination about how they want to cover things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining us now to discuss the president's interview and the revelations he kind of brought forth there is CNN counterterrorism analyst, former CIA official, Phil Mudd.

Great to see you, Phil.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Take us into the halls of the CIA, into the halls of the FBI. When you hear this from the president, this is an interview, of course, after the attacks in Paris, after the attacks in San Bernardino, is there really a belief that the media is over-blowing the threat?

MUDD: I think when you look at professionals, many professionals would say that. They would say, look, if you consider the variety of problems America faces, this doesn't fit into the top five. I don't think anybody at the FBI or CIA is sitting there criticizing the media. If you analytically look at the problem, you can't compare drugs in high school has a greater impact than American child and terrorism. Terrorism won't kill many children in America this year. Drugs will. We don't talk about these other issues.

BERMAN: I do understand that comparison. But when you see Paris, 130 people killed there. You see a terror attack in the United States, deadliest terror attack since September 11th, I'm not sure what the media is supposed to focus on. I do wonder sometimes, just because it's not an existential threat, no, ISIS will not conquer America, it does not mean it's not a threat.

[11:45:29] MUDD: No, John, I agree with you. I don't have any problem with the media covering this. After all, when the president talks about the media looking for ratings, what is a political campaign? That is politicians in the midst of this campaign right now saying what resonates with the American people. That's not the choice of the media. That's the choice of the people that say, what am I interested in, therefore, politicians are going to react. So, I don't see this as a unique issue for the media to face. I would also say there is a substantial problem that threatens America that comes from Syria. It's hit Paris. It's hit California. The question is, how do you rank that? I think the president is trying to say, there are other issues we have to talk about. The question is if you look at the political atmosphere right now. People want to talk about what the media is covering.

BOLDUAN: One thing the president said in this interview and said previously, most recently saying that he doesn't believe there's a legitimate criticism of the administration's response and communicating their plan against is to the American people. Also saying he acknowledges the administration, he's been slow to respond to public fears. What do you think coming from the White House and the trickle effect on down, what's the best way to communicate those fears going forward?

MUDD: There's got to be consistency over time combined with the sort of caution that the president talked about in the last day or two in this interview. The consistency has to be simple. The president talks in high-end terms. The message you see on the campaign trail is bomb them more. How do you get the president's message, which is, we've been at this for 15 years. We can't get ahead of our local partners in places like Iraq. We can't move into Syria without a long-term plan to govern cities that a coalition force takes over. How do you take that message, which is a cautious message, but I'd agree with the president. He's been fairly aggressive on some fronts. For example, bombing in Yemen and Somalia and make it into a sound- bite package that appeals to the American people. I don't think the White House, as the president said, has been able to bridge that gap.

BOLDUAN: Phil Mudd, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us still, he escaped jail time only getting probation after killing four people in a drunk-driving crash. His defense then was that he was too spoiled to know the difference from right from wrong. Well, now the so-called "affluenza" teen is on the run. His mother could also be in very big trouble as well. An update ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:00] BOLDUAN: Bloodshed on the Las Vegas Strip, and woman drove into crowds of people several times, killing one person and injuring at least 37 others. It happened last night near the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. Police say they are treating it as an intentional act but they have ruled out terrorism.

A witness described the chaotic scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN COCHRANE, WITNESS: You could not see through the crashed windows, and it was just busting through people, and it was thudding, and I would say that the sound of 30 maybe, and it might have been going faster, but it seemed like it was going pretty fast. People were flying, and like this child that I saw literally hit and the sound I will never forget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Authorities say that the driver, in her 20s, is undergoing testing for alcohol and drugs. A 3-year-old child was in her car at the time, and that child was unharmed. That portion of the strip was shutdown overnight understandably for the investigation.

BERMAN: Police in Texas authorities are asking the public in their search for the "affluenza" teen, Ethan Couch, and his mother. Officials just announced they are searching for a black truck in connection with the disappearance. Could was on probation for killing four people while drunk driving when he was 16. His defense was that he did not know right from wrong because his parents didn't set boundaries, what some analysts have called "affluenza." Instead of time in prison, he was sentenced to probation and long-term mental health treatment. And now he is 18 and believed to be on the run with his mother.

Joining us now with the latest, Alina Machado.

Alina, what are the officials saying?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the big question is where is Ethan Couch and the mother? The Texas authorities are releasing pictures of a dark-colored Ford F-150, and they say that the truck belongs to Ethan Couch's mother. And even though they are not sure that Ethan is using the truck to get around, it is one of the things on the list they want to cross out.

Also, new this morning, his mother, Tonya Couch, is now listed as a missing person, and her picture has been released along with the pictures of the missing truck.

And the sheriff in Tarrant County, Texas, was asked if she is a suspect, and here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEE ANDERSON, SHERIFF, TARRANT COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: to be honest, at this point, we can't even prove they are together, and we certainly have every reason to believe that. But as I have said previously, and I will continue to say, if we can find out that she helped him at all, I assure you we will file criminal cases against her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACHADO: Now, the sheriff would not elaborate on what those charges could be, but we know they are actively searching for both Ethan Couch and his mother. The U.S. Marshals office and the FBI are also involved in the search. And there is a $5,000 reward being offered in this case -- John?

BERMAN: Alina, any sense, because there is a confusion, of how long exactly they have been on the run.

MACHADO: Well, what we know is that a warrant was issued for his arrest on December 11th, and this happened after the probation officer could not reach him, and then he disappeared after a video surfaced on social media showing the 18-year-old at a party playing a beer pong, even though he had been instructed to stay away from alcohol. Remember, he was found guilty of driving drunk and killing four people, and the victims' families were outraged by the probation sentence, but they are not necessarily in shock that he is on the run now.

BOLDUAN: And the sheriff is not sure how much of a lead they may have had.

BERMAN: It could be a few weeks.

BOLDUAN: Alina, thank you so much.

Also this. A federal judge is going to decide if the friend who gave two assault rifles to the San Bernardino attackers will get bail. Today, there is a hearing for Enrique Marquez in California. He is accused of buying the rifles used in the attacks. He's charged with several counts now, including conspiracy to provide materiel support to terrorists. The FBI says this, that Marquez and Syed Rezwan Farook plotted to shoot at a community college and throw pipe bombs into rush-hour traffic. This was back in 2011, 2012, but they decided not to go through it. [11:55:13] BERMAN: And detailed threat of violence prompted

authorities to close the entire school district in Nashua, New Hampshire, 12 elementary schools, and three middle schools, and two high schools. The exact nature of the threat has not been described but officials do say it was specific.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. KERRY BAXTER, NASHUA POLICE DEPARTMENT: It was a threat that was received via e-mail that had specific directions to the two Nashua high schools with violence specific, which is why we are taking it seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: This happened in Nashua, New Hampshire. The state governor's says they are working with the local authorities and the FBI to determine if the threat is credible. Schools are expected to be open tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, new details on the suicide attack that killed American troops in Afghanistan.

BERMAN: The explosion hit a patrol near a U.S. air base. The number of Americans killed at this point is still unknown. We have new details coming in, just ahead.

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