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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Polls Shows Trump Leading, Cruz Surging; Press Briefing on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Case; How Will Bergdahl's Podcast Affect Case; Driver Went from Helping At-Risk Kids to Vegas Strip Rampage. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 22, 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: Your parents are very generous. I've got to talk to my mom. I'm mad.

Thanks, Andy. Always a pleasure.

Thanks for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

(HEADLINES)

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman.

Brand-new national poll numbers that paint a picture of the national race and a picture that might leave a Trump troubled and a Cruz crooning. In this new Quinnipiac poll, Trump is still on top with 28 percent but Cruz is surging, now just four points behind the front- runner. Everyone else, way back.

BOLDUAN: That's right, my friend, Rubio down to 12 percent, Carson at 10 percent, Christie breaking into the top five at 6 percent and Jeb Bush with 4 percent.

Senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is taking a closer look at all these numbers.

So, Joe, what does it all mean?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it's one poll. It is a national poll. It still shows Donald Trump leading and also shows the Cruz campaign is running strong right now. Polls show the lead has stretched to new heights, with some saying more than 40 percent of Republicans support him. Quinnipiac's national polling has consistently showed lower support for Donald Trump than other national phone polls. That seems to be the case in this one.

This poll was taken after CNN's debate in Las Vegas on December 15th. Also we should say that Ted Cruz has been moving up in Iowa and has actually overtaken Trump there. There's some evidence in an early voting state that would tend to corroborate what this national poll says. Despite the fact Trump is a front-runner, 50 percent of American respondents telling Quinnipiac they would be embarrassed to have Trump as the face of the U.S. Also note that Trump appears to be doing poorly in head-to-head match-ups. Clinton, for example, beating him by seven points, Bernie Sanders by 13. So, a lot to digest there.

You're right, it doesn't look as good right now in this poll for Donald Trump has some of the others have shown.

BOLDUAN: Trump is still up. Ted Cruz, though, not unhappy about these poll numbers out today.

Joe Johns, thanks.

Let's discuss this. As Joe said, there's a lot to dissect so let's do that. Former communication director for the RNC, Doug Heye, in joining us; as well as CNN political director, David Chalian; chief political correspondent at USA Radio Network and a Trump supporter, Scottie Nell Hughes; and Democratic strategic and CNN political commentator, Donna Brazile.

Everybody is here. The gang is back together.

Doug Heye, let's take a look at the top line. Ted Cruz 24 percent, nipping at Donald Trump's heels. Should Donald Trump be shaking in his boots?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot of us thought that for a long time and it hasn't come to fruition. This is obviously good news for Cruz that he's doing well nationally. As Joe alluded to, the good thing is he's doing well in Iowa. The difference, Ted Cruz is organized on the ground in Iowa. He's going to be able to do really well. It's hard to see how Trump is able to translate noise into action. And noise into organization. But if we've learned anything, Kate, from the past six months, it's when Donald Trump has suffered from tough questions or bad poll numbers, he creates another outrage de jour. Get ready.

BERMAN: David Chalian, I asked if Trump may be troubled, mostly because it was an alliteration.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: The bottom line is, he's not fading. Ted Cruz may be shrinking in the margin, but Donald Trump is right around 27 or 28 percent in this poll. That is a formidable number. That is a number not to be trifled with. That is a number that doesn't seem to go away no matter what.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No matter what. Even if he were to lose Iowa to Cruz, they are very loyal supporters and I don't think Donald Trump collapses. It is a real number. Not only did he have a good debate performance, which we discussed last week. Now I think this pivot to taking on Hillary Clinton, this is exactly what Republican voters want to see. Not just Donald Trump supporters. More broad Republican voters want to see their front-runner showing how you take the fight to their collective enemy. That's what he's doing right now.

[11:05:25] BOLDUAN: The other candidates would love to be focusing on Hillary Clinton but they have other concerns. Jeb Bush needs to take care of Donald Trump first.

A very important point brought on by Doug -- and I compliment you very sparingly, Doug, that's the only one you get today.

(LAUGHTER)

Scottie, he says the outrage du jour. It seems it already happened before these poll numbers came out for Donald Trump.

Here is what he said about Hillary Clinton last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I'm watching the debate and she disappeared. I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it. It's too disgusting.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Don't say it. It's disgusting. She was going to beat Obama. I don't know who would be worse. I don't know. How does it get worse? But she was going to beat, she was favored to win, and she got -- she lost, she lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: He said it quietly as if he knew what he was saying was not appropriate to be saying. But maybe it is appropriate in your view, Scottie. What is your take, are you OK with your candidate saying that about Hillary Clinton or any candidate?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, USA RADIO NETWORK: Let me just say it's not the choice of words I would use, but to be honest with you, right now we're in a very good place. You've got Donald Trump, number one. Ted Cruz, number two. The conservatives are leading the GOP, something we've been screaming we would. It doesn't matter across the board.

I disagree, Doug. I don't think you'll see a brouhaha out of Mr. Trump on this. Why? Because he respects Senator Cruz. We've seen what some might term as a bromance between the two but basically they agree on the same things. Their people believe in the same thing. I don't think you'll see this brouhaha.

I think if anything we'll see a real debate amongst conservatives about who would be the better candidate, which will be respectful.

As for the language Mr. Trump uses, listen, he graduated from one of the best business schools, Wharton School of Business. If he wanted to talk academia, he could. But his conversation is to blue-collar workers, the heart beat of America. And he uses language they sometimes use. BERMAN: I don't think they taught on that at Wharton.

To be clear, he wasn't using that language about Ted Cruz. He was using it about Hillary Clinton.

Donna, we have a response now from the Clinton campaign. Jennifer put out a tweet -- she claims she's not responding but a non-response response. She says, "We're not responding to Trump but everyone who understands the humiliation this degrading language inflicting on all women should, #imwithher."

The Clinton campaign not responding directly. I don't think they mind in a way, this discussion right now, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, to the extent secretary Clinton or her staff or senior people need to respond to Donald Trump, let me say this, he buys by the gallon. There's one thing we know about Donald Trump and we've seen it throughout the years that he's willing to insult anyone, everyone, in fact, in order to make his point. I don't know if he's really rallying blue-collar workers or they're just animated with the fact that he's quite entertaining. The fact is, and everyone knows this, 40 days from now, people have to actually get out of their homes and go to a community center or church basement or labor union hall and they have to stand up and declare their support. That's what matters. Can Donald Trump get his supporters out on a cold, wintry day? I hope it will be cold by February 1st. But that's where the rubber meets the road.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: But, but, Donna, why wouldn't the Hillary Clinton campaign respond to this? What's the thinking here?

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Because, look --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You can yell at me. Are they afraid to respond and come after him?

BRAZILE: Seriously? Democrat afraid of Donald Trump? We don't play that on our side. We're not afraid of anyone, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Carson and all the rest of them. I don't think that's the issue. The issue is Hillary has to also focus on winning the Democratic primary, assuring she can get voters out to the caucus on February 1st and again to get voters to go out on February 9th in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Nevada. It's about, you know, accruing delegate delegates, as David knows. Unless you can get out there and get people to stand up for their caucus or go out on a wintry day in New Hampshire, this is all entertainment.

Before Christmas, what I enjoyed about the Donald Trump rally last night, to the extent I watched a few minutes, they had nice Christmas music. Thank god we got something other than his voice. (CROSSTALK)

[11:10:08] BERMAN: Doug --

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: Let me just point out, make no --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Hang on a second, Scottie.

I want to ask Doug a question right now about what some people are saying is a conspiracy theory.

My favorite theory in the race is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are helping no one more than each other, that this new feud between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton really is terrific for both of them. You heard David Chalian say, for Donald Trump, it elevates him above the rest of the Republican field. He says, I'm taking on Hillary. And for Hillary engaging Donald Trump allows Donald to say, look, Hillary hates me, which means I must be the best Republican, which means she could face him in the general election.

HEYE: I don't buy much into conspiracy theories. I certainly don't think this is. But Hillary Clinton's team will tell you that they love taking on Donald Trump. Donald Trump is somebody who said Hillary Clinton would be a great secretary of state. He has been fantastic to Hillary Clinton as a candidate. They would have maybe not a bromance but something to where they're each building each other up is exactly the conversation either one of them wants to have.

BOLDUAN: What do you --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Another invitation to the wedding, maybe, huh?

BOLDUAN: Hold on one second, Donna.

(LAUGHTER)

David, let me bring you in on this one. This is a number I find quite fascinating. When asked in the Quinnipiac poll, how do you feel if Donald Trump were president, this is the number Donald Trump moved away on. 50 percent of those asked said they would be embarrassed if he were president.

CHALIAN: Here's the note of caution I have on that question. Obviously, that's not a good number.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: No one wants to wake up and find out half the country would be embarrassed. Remember way back in June when he announced for president? A huge slew of Republicans said they would never consider Donald Trump to be the nominee. His unfavorable and favorable numbers were completely upside down with Republicans. He's turned them around. He's focused on the Republican nomination race right now. I bet if Donald Trump makes it to be the nominee of the party, he'll turn those numbers around when he focuses on the general election.

BERMAN: We should note only 20 percent of Republicans say they're embarrassed by Trump. That's the group that matters right now.

BOLDUAN: That's what we offer you here AT THIS HOUR.

HUGHES: 59 percent --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Scottie.

HUGHES: OK. I've been nice. I've been polite.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I'm sorry. I have to interrupt, because I think we're getting a news conference from Ft. Bragg right now on this hearing, this initial court appearance by Bowe Bergdahl. The news conference happening right now to tell us what happened. Let's listen in.

COL. DANIEL KING, DIRECTOR, ARMY PUBLIC AFFAIRS, U.S. ARMY FORCES COMMAND: -- ongoing legal proceeding. I will not be taking your questions at this time.

Today Army Judge Colonel Christopher T. Fredrickson convened an Article 39-A arraignment hearing, December 22nd, on Ft. Bragg in the case of U.S. Army versus Sergeant Robert B. Bergdahl. The military judge discussed the rights held by the accused, inquired on the record regarding current military counsel and civilian counsel. Sergeant Bergdahl indicated he was satisfied with his defense counsel. The judge explained Sergeant Bergdahl's right to be tried before a panel or a military judge. The judge also inquired if Sergeant Bergdahl wished to enter any motions or a plea at this time. Sergeant Bergdahl deferred all of these decisions to a later hearing. Colonel Frederickson also announced that Army Judge Colonel Jeffrey R. Nance has been detailed for all further judicial hearings in this case. And the next date for hearing will be January 12, 2016, here on Ft. Bragg.

This concludes our statement. Thank you.

BERMAN: That was Colonel Daniel King, of Army Public Affairs, talking about the initial court appearance by Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl on these charges of desertion and also putting his colleagues in danger right now. It happened a little more than an hour ago.

BOLDUAN: Let's get over to Nick Valencia. He was in the courtroom during this appearance. He's on the phone with us now.

Nick, tell us a little more about what we've learned here from the colonel, what you saw and heard in the courtroom. [11:14:21] NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Good

morning, Kate. It was a relatively brief arraignment. We expected it to be very expeditious and that's what we got. It was ten minutes in total the arraignment lasted. Bergdahl walked in with his eyes downcast. His head was shaved so short you can see a small scar on the right side of his head. Also interestingly enough, there were some hash marks on his right sleeve, which we're told by a military source represents each six months that a soldier is deployed in an active war zone. I mentioned he was dressed in his military attire, clean-shaven. He said nothing. Just had a few whispers with his co- counsel, defense counsel, as he waited for the judge.

Once the judge got into the courtroom, about 10:01, the arraignment was very fast. The judge asked him a series of questions to which Bergdahl responded, "Sir, yes, sir." He deferred to enter his plea. He deferred, as you heard the colonel say, whether or not he wanted a judge -- a trial, I should say, by a judge or a trial by a jury of his peers.

Part of this entire controversy is the type of court-martial is he facing, preliminary hearing. The presiding officer recommended a special court-martial that would have carried a maximum one year in custody but top brass at the Army had a different idea. They decided not to follow the recommendation and they pursued these charges against him. One is desertion and the other is misbehavior in front of the enemy, which could carry a life in prison sentence.

Interestingly enough and curiously enough, comes after a new audio was released in a popular podcast called "Serial" where we hear Bergdahl in his own words why he decided to leave that day. That's caused a lot of chatter. Not just across the country and news rooms but with military sources we've spoken to. It's no secret a lot of his platoon members were deeply furious at the fact that Bergdahl walked off his base. They felt they were -- you know, can only count on the person to their left, to the right, and Bergdahl left them. There's been a lot said among those in his troops, especially in those podcasts.

Bergdahl's next hearing is expected to be on January 12, 2016, here in Ft. Bragg as well. And we heard in this courtroom that he does not have to physically be in this hearing. That government motion hearing will be the next thing for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in this series of dramatic events that have happened since his release since Taliban captivity where he spent five years -- Kate?

BERMAN: Nick Valencia for us who was in the courtroom right now, who is at Ft. Bragg, reporting on this initial court appearance by Bowe Bergdahl.

Again, one of the key questions is how will this podcast, where we hear Bowe Bergdahl's voice for the first time since this incident took place, how will that factor into these court proceedings? We're going to ask an Army lawyer coming up next.

BOLDUAN: Much more on that ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:20:33] BERMAN: Just minutes ago, U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl appeared at a military court facing charges of desertion and endangering his fellow soldiers. These charges stem from his disappearance from his base in Afghanistan in 2009. He left his post, he was captured by the Taliban, he was held for five years, and you will remember, he was released in that controversial exchange for Taliban detainees last year.

BOLDUAN: Joining us now to discuss is Tom, a major in the JAG Corp of the Army National Guard.

Tom, thanks for joining us.

As we just heard, his next court appearance is January 12th. Where are we in this case?

MAJ. THOMAS KENNIFF, ATTORNEY, RAISER & KENNIFF, P.C. & FORMER JAG CORP, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: It's just the beginning. Today was the arraignment. The arraignment is the beginning of the criminal case. It's similar to how it is in the civilian criminal justice system as it is in the military system. So today is basically his first appearance before the court.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: A lot of folks say, we've been hearing about this for a long time, it feels like it's been going on a long time.

KENNIFF: It's really a function of procedurally the way the military criminal justice system works. First, there's the decision to prefer charges, the open-end investigation. There's something called an Article 32 hearing akin to what a preliminary hearing would be in the civilian justice system. After that, the Article 32 hearing officer make recommendations to the commanding general who is the one who decides what will happen to the soldier, what charges will be brought.

What's interesting is you had the Article 32 hearing officer actually recommend something less than a general court-martial.

(CROSSTALK)

KENNIFF: They recommended a special court-martial, akin to a civilian misdemeanor trial. The commanding general in this case overrode that decision and said, no, we want this soldier going forward, we want a full-blown court-martial, and he's facing a potential life sentence.

BERMAN: There's so much unusual about this case. The high-profile nature, the fact he was a prisoner for five years. The fact the original investigating officer was overruled by the commanding officer. And then there is also this "Serial" podcast, this long interview, with Bowe Bergdahl.

BOLDUAN: 25 hours.

BERMAN: That just started airing last week before this announcement. How will that play into this proceeding? KENNIFF: It's going to give his defense attorneys agitation, for one.

(LAUGHTER)

Probably is doing so already.

The reality is that could play heavily in these proceedings. Everything is he saying during the course of these 25 hours or what have you with the podcasts are arguably admissions of the party opponent. Extra judicial statements that are exceptions to the hearsay rule. Long story short is they can use his words against him in this trial, same way as if he were speaking to military investigators during an interrogation. Inevitably, having listened to all 25 hours, inevitably, he's saying things that will be construed as admissions that are going to hurt him and be introduced by the prosecution during the course of this court-martial.

BOLDUAN: So many unusual things. Just getting under way and he could face potentially life in prison.

Tom, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

KENNIFF: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Coming up for us, new details on the mother who had her 3-year-old in the car with her when she rammed into crowds of people on the Las Vegas Strip. Just a few years ago, though, she was in an inspirational video talking about how her life had been turned around. This was about troubled kids turning their lives around. What sparked this very dark turn?

BERMAN: Plus, the fight to retake a key city from ISIS. The Iraqi forces claim they are moving in and dropping bombs. This, amid reports the terror group is using human -- civilians as human shields. We have new information on the operation to reclaim Ramadi.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:41] BOLDUAN: She mowed down dozens of people with her car on the Las Vegas Strip. Investigators say it was no accident. One person is dead, 37 others injured. But long before that horrific scene, 24-year-old Lakeisha Holloway was something of a poster child for turning around her life. In 2012, she shared her life in a video that helps at-risk kids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAKEISHA HOLLOWAY, CHARGED WITH MOWING DOWN PEOPLE ON LAS VEGAS STRIP: I'm not the same scared girl I used to be. I'm a mature woman who has broken many generational cycles that those before me hadn't. Being homeless and on my own taught me how to stand on my own two feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: How do we get from this video to what we saw in Las Vegas this week?

CNN's Ryan Young is there.

Ryan, what happened?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kate, I can honestly tell you, after just getting off the phone with a family spokesperson, they have the same question. They want to know exactly what happened and how this could possibly happen.

We actually talked to a doctor who was out here that night and saw the people as they were being hit, talked about the rush to get over there to try to help them out and the long time it took for emergency crews to arrive because how packed the strip was. From what we're being told, they believe this woman was driving from Washington State, maybe to Texas, to catch up with the father of her child. At some point, she tried to get some sleep. Several security guards had kicked her out of several different parking lots. She then turned to the Las Vegas Strip and, for whatever reason, started aiming at people on the sidewalks. We know one of the bodies that were flown in the air, actually broke that windshield out. People started banging on the windows to stop her from doing what was going on. That child was sitting next to her during the whole time. Eventually, she went up the strip and told the security guard exactly what she did.

So far, the sheriff's department says they don't believe she was under the influence of alcohol, but so many people have questions about what would drive this woman to do that, especially those out on the strip that evening. You had one person who was killed, three others who are still in critical condition and two others in serious condition.

A lot of people have questions about how this woman's state of mind got to this point. Talking to that family spokesperson, he said she was employed. She loved her child. She had a family that was supporting her all the time. And there weren't signs that something like this would happen. There's a lot of questions right now.

[11:30:05] BERMAN: Ryan Young, for us in Las Vegas, thanks so much.

Coming up, new details on the suicide attack that killed six U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Officials revealing that one of the victims --