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Source: FBI Helped Foil Nuclear Smuggling Plot; Big News in Polls for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump; New Emotional Ad Urges Joe Biden to Run; Ben Carson's Controversial Comments on Oregon Mass Shooting; Russia on Move in Syria from Land, Air, Sea. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 7, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: That's going to do it for me today. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Ana Cabrera.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN: CNN ANCHOR: Is ISIS trying to build a nuclear bomb? A sting operation targeting gangsters raises new fears now about radioactive material being smuggled to extremists.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Russia striking from the air and now the sea. Can Russian ground combat troops be far behind? In one of the most combustible places on earth, is the U.S. out of options?

BOLDUAN: You can't win the White House without winning two of these three states. Despite their critics, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are rocking their rivals.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BOLDUAN: And I'm Kate Bolduan.

Our breaking news AT THIS HOUR, it is one of the worst fears in the battle against terror, the idea that some of Russia's huge stores of radioactive and nuclear material could end up in the hands of terrorists, bad actors like ISIS. Well, this morning, we're learning there was just such a plot. A U.S. law enforcement official confirming that the FBI, FBI agents, helped stop a potential sale. It happened in the former Soviet nation of Moldova.

BERMAN: Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, has been working his sources.

Evan, you've been on the phone. What are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This was an operation done by Moldovan authorities. The biggest concern for the FBI and for U.S. intelligence has been that you have all of these smugglers in that region, in Moldova and the Russian-controlled region, where you can pretty much buy anything. That includes radioactive material, uranium, things that could be used to make a dirty bomb. And what this operation entailed was simply targeting some of those smugglers to get them to believe that they were dealing with potential extremist groups like ISIS and whether they wanted to sell this material to them. And unfortunately, that's what they were trying to do. So the Moldovan authorities were able to arrest several of these people in the last couple of years. But the concern remains because these are smugglers that they know about. What about the ones that they don't know?

BERMAN: I have a question, Evan. Could this be going on, these smugglers who are trying to get their hands on this material, could it be going on without Russian intelligence knowing about it?

PEREZ: You know, that's one of the big concerns here because it all depends on which part of Russian intelligence you're talking about. I mean, are there people who are helping some of this traffic behind the scenes without the knowledge of anybody in Moscow? There's so much corruption in that part of the world that that is the big concern there.

BOLDUAN: What more is the FBI saying? I mean, this is an ongoing threat, an ongoing concern.

PEREZ: Right.

BOLDUAN: What more are they saying?

PEREZ: This is why they're there. This is why other U.S. agencies are there trying to work with the Moldovan authorities because they know that this is an open marketplace for a lot of bad stuff. And again, you have a lot of these groups that are willing to buy any of this stuff to try to do harm to Americans or Europeans or even to use it on the battlefield.

BERMAN: For decades, this has been one of the worst fears.

BOLDUAN: Especially post-9/11.

BERMAN: That region could end up with bad people. And now with ISIS on the run, even more so.

Evan Perez, thanks so much for being with us.

BOLDUAN: Good result this time, at least.

BERMAN: New this morning, the polling fury of the front-runners. Big news for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the swingiest of swing states, Ohio --

BOLDUAN: So swingy.

BERMAN: --Pennsylvania, Florida.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump solidly on top, with Ben Carson running second. And look which Floridians are flailing in Florida. BOLDUAN: I can't match that. There's no apparent home field

advantage for Senator Marco Rubio or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In fact, Bush is losing ground there in this latest poll.

And for the Democrats, with less than a week to go before their big first debate right here on CNN, Hillary Clinton has a big lead, even if Joe Biden gets in the race.

Let's focus in on the key swing state of Florida. We'll be speaking about that with Adam Smith, the political editor of "The Tampa Bay Times."

Also joining us is CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, before we narrow in on Florida, the big picture here, big, big day for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns. No candidate has won the White House without winning at least two of these three states, at least since 1960. So what are the campaigns seeing in these numbers today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate and John, no question, those are the key states. And no candidate has won the White House with them. So a lot of similarities at least in the numbers between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They both share the same fact that they are leading in the polls, but they also share a bit of challenges in bad news, that their unfavorable ratings also are high in each of those three battleground states.

Let's take a closer look at some of these numbers right now. You'll see Hillary Clinton, first of all, in Florida, Ohio and in Pennsylvania, slightly higher than 50 percent unfavorable ratings in all three of those states. Now, if you look at Joe Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, who is thinking still about jumping into this race, he is about the reverse of Hillary Clinton. He is essentially higher in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. His favorability ratings are above 50 percent in each one of those three states.

Now on to Donald Trump. Look at his numbers. His unfavorable numbers, higher in all of those three states, the highest of any of these candidates so far. So that is the challenge for his campaign going forward. Nearly six in 10 voters do not have a favorable rating of his candidacy.

But, look, at this point, these candidates still need to go through the early voting states of Iowa where I'm here right thousand. Hillary Clinton will be taking the stage behind me in just a few minutes. They still need to go through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina before they get to those three battleground states that we're talking about in these polls.

[11:05:46] BERMAN: So, Jeff, we're less than one week away from the big Democratic debate right here on CNN next Tuesday night. Bernie Sanders running ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Very close in Iowa. But according to these new polls, that momentum doesn't last much longer on the calendar. ZELENY: It doesn't last in these general election states right now,

but it's important to remember that in a presidential primary process, things happen in order. Things happen in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. So what these general election battleground states basically show are national numbers here. But they are essentially irrelevant. The Clinton campaign realizes that. The Trump campaign realizes that. Bernie Sanders is coming so strong in New Hampshire and even here in Iowa. So that is what the Clinton campaign is focused on squarely. How does she show that she is liberal enough, progressive enough? And she's already distancing herself from President Obama and this administration on several issues, on trade, on the Keystone Pipeline. We'll see her doing even more of that over the coming weeks and in the debate to reach out to those Democratic primary voters, those liberal voters who make all the difference in this stage of the race.

BOLDUAN: A lot more to talk about that. She's going to be taking the stage behind you in Iowa, as you said, Jeff.

Great to see you, Jeff Zeleny.

Let's bring in Adam Smith and focus in on the swing state of Florida.

This is your wheelhouse, as Donald Trump likes to say about every other issue. This is your wheelhouse, Adam. Let's look at the poll numbers. Let's focus in on Republicans here especially. When you look in Florida, Trump is at 28 percent. Carson's at 16 percent. Then you see that Marco Rubio, your home state Senator, 14 percent, and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, sitting at 12 percent. What is behind these poll numbers? What is the talk on the ground? Why aren't your home state guys registering?

ADAM SMITH, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES: You know, I think one of the things that makes states like Florida and Ohio such great bellwether states is because they really are amazing microcosms of the country as a whole. So if you have a political trend that's happening across the country, and right now the trend is Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, low energy, not a candidate for the future, that shows up in a state like Florida, and especially in Florida in the case of Jeb Bush, our population changes so much. He has not been on the ballot since 2002. And so that's millions of voters that have never voted for Bush and never were even around when he was governing and see him as sort of the tired candidate of yesterday that for better or worse, he's widely perceived as outside of Florida.

BERMAN: You know, Florida just changed. The Republican Party there just changed election rules. It's now winner take all on March 15th, the primary there. I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying there is no path to the White House for Bush or Rubio that doesn't include the state of Florida. And I don't think they can survive with each other for that much longer either. They seem to be catching on to that as well because Jeb Bush with a new line of attack on Rubio on the stump about his voting record or lack thereof in some cases in the Senate. I want you to listen to what Jeb said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should cut the pay of elected officials that don't show up to work. I don't know about you, but this idea --


BUSH: This idea that somehow voting isn't important, I mean, what are they supposed to do? They should go to the committee hearings. They should vote.


BOLDUAN: Now, Adam, when you se this, you know both these guys. They have been friends in the past. It's got to be awkward for them. Jeb Bush has said it's awkward. But he needs to go after Marco Rubio, doesn't he?

SMITH: Yeah, of course they do. They're both really going after each other. Marco Rubio on the stump always says we don't need candidates of yesterday. There shouldn't be a line for who's next to run for president. And so it's getting to be more and more hollow when they keep saying, oh, Jeb is a great friend of mine, and Marco's one of my greatest friends, because clearly they are on a collision course. And what's ironic here in terms of Florida's primary, it's going to be March 15th. That's fairly late. The legislature, controlled by Republicans, set it up thinking that it was going to be a gift to Jeb Bush, that once Jeb -- at that time, it looked like Jeb Bush was going to run, Marco wasn't. They figured all those delegates would go to Jeb Bush. That is not a given at all anymore.

[11:10:04] BOLDUAN: 99 delegates at stake. March 15th is that primary. John thinks it's -- he firmly believes if Bush doesn't win Florida, he's out of the race. What do you think? Do you think Bush can survive if he doesn't take Florida?

SMITH: No. And I will tell you what the Bush Sr campaign people say, is there a chance -- what happens if you don't win Florida? It's all over, right? And the response is pause, pause, pause, we will win Florida. So clearly, they view that as well.

BERMAN: The answer there might be in the pause, pause, pause.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Pause, pause, that's your answer.

BERMAN: Adam Smith, great to have you with us. Really appreciate it.

We know you will be watching next Tuesday. The first Democratic presidential debate is now less than one week away. Feel the emotion. Smell the energy. Tuesday, only on CNN.


BOLDUAN: Smell it?

BERMAN: We're going to head out there starting our live coverage on Monday. BOLDUAN: What is the scent of energy?

BERMAN: I'll show you in a second. All right.


BERMAN: Why is Donald Trump being so nice now to Ben Carson? He is defending his rivals' remarks about what Carson says he would do in the face of the mass shooter.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, even war has rules. Right now, the group that lost doctors and patients in the American strike on a hospital, they are pushing back against the U.S. Hear what they're demanding now.

And Russia's war in Syria just took a dangerous new turn. More bombs. This time, they're not just coming from the air. More on that ahead.


[11:15:43] BOLDUAN: New poll numbers are in, and they show that Hillary Clinton in a commanding lead as far as the Democratic primary goes. That, of course, is right ahead of the CNN debate next week. But the Draft Biden movement is also getting ready to launch a powerful new ad focusing in on Vice President Biden's life, tragedies and triumphs, even before, obviously, he's jumped in.

BERMAN: Yeah, an adviser to the group says the ad is not meant to nudge Biden into the race, but it's meant to share his story, his emotional story, with the nation. And it does that a lot. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My wife and three children were Christmas shopping. A tractor trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter. And they weren't sure that my sons would live. The incredible bond I have with my children is a gift I'm not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through. But by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption.


BERMAN: Let's go into this with CNN political commentator, Republican consultant, Margaret Hoover; and CNN political analyst and editor-in- chief of "The Daily Beast," John Avlon.

Margaret, what do you think it's like to be Hillary Clinton today? She's got these new poll numbers in swing states which are strong numbers. She's got to be happy with that. Meanwhile, they've got a new ad, a really emotional ad coming out from the draft Biden people. You have Biden with a family confab this weekend deciding whether to get in the race.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you're Hillary Clinton, things are going as well. It's fine to have Biden have a day in the spotlight with this ad. The challenge for Biden is going to be that his numbers will likely soften once he gets into the race. (CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: She had a 68 percent approval rating when she left the State Department, and now, you know, she suffered for a while and has made a big comeback thanks frankly to major missteps by Republicans and the House of Representatives, ergo, a fat Christmas present from Kevin McCarthy on the Benghazi committee hearings. Hillary Clinton always does best when she is victimized by Republican overreach, and that's what's happened.

BOLDUAN: As you look into these numbers in the swing states, in Florida, Clinton's over 20 points ahead of Sanders. She's at 43 percent. Ohio, 40 percent. And 36 percent in Pennsylvania.

John, when you also, though, look at the unfavorables that come right along with these numbers, she has very high unfavorable ratings, 51 percent in Florida, 56 percent in Ohio, 54 percent in Pennsylvania. How do you square these two things? She has such a commanding lead with Democratic primary voters but also seen unfavorably. How does that shake out?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's fascinating because you see the ability of voters to keep two opposing things in their mind at the same time, and still Hillary Clinton seems to come out on top of the equation. Look, she's been in the public eye in an often- polarizing controversial figure for more than 20 years. And the e- mail server scandal has taken a real toll on her, make no mistake. But the reality is especially within the Democratic field, only Hillary Clinton is actively competing for the center, which is 50 percent of Democrats. So while Bernie Sanders can rally the activist base around him and get a lot of enthusiasm, when it comes to actually winning swing voters in swing states, Hillary Clinton's born on third base because that's her brand. That's the credibility she brings to the campaign. So it makes sense that she'd be doing so well.

BERMAN: Unless and until what happened Saturday when Scranton-born Joe Biden jumps into the race or not. That will be up for grabs right there.

HOOVER: Not clear, though, that he's going to go for the centrist Democratic play. There are rumors of Elizabeth Warren vice presidency. There's this question about whether he is the more authentic center/left candidate that would galvanize support and energy in a way that Sanders may not be this viable Democratic contender.

I want to shift gears to Ben Carson.


BERMAN: I'm going to do it. I'm shifting gears to Ben Carson.


AVLON: Do it. Go ahead. Your show. [11:20:00] BERMAN: He's been in the news since yesterday morning

when he was talking about the mass shootings in Oregon. And what Carson said that he would have done, he said he would have tried to tackle the shooter. He says he would not just have sat there and waited to die. He said it yesterday morning. He's been asked about it repeatedly. I want to show you what he said about it this morning.


BEN CARSON, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: From the indications that I got, they did not rush the shooter. A shooter can only shoot one person at a time. He cannot shoot a whole group of people. So the idea is overwhelm him so that not everybody gets killed.


BOLDUAN: Carson said what he said. A lot of people, John, say it's insensitive. On the other hand, Carson and his supporters suggest, you know, he doesn't speak in political correct terms. He says when he's thinking. He says what a lot of people are thinking is the argument, John.

AVLON: This has nothing to do with political correctness or it's defiance by conservatives. This has to do with ignorance about the specifics of the situation on the part of Ben Carson. There was somebody who rushed the gunman, an Army veteran, who was written about extensively on "The Daily Beast" and others, who took shots intended for other people. And while "let's roll" is incredibly important in terms of rally against and confronting evil, it ignores the specifics of the incident where somebody did exactly what Carson did and there were nine dead. Let's get out of the fantasy world and deal with facts.

BOLDUAN: He was asked about that this morning. He says that example, the fact that there was someone who did stand up to the shooter, he says that furthers his point, Margaret. He says that's what I would have done and that's an example that furthers the point. That's how he explains it. What is your take, though? Is he being insensitive, or is he being blunt, unpolished and candid, and especially when you see that he's made similar kind of comments that have come under fire in the past on a different topic, but he's still number two in every primary poll.

HOOVER: And Ben Carson is a candidate for the presidency who has never run for anything before, so he isn't polished. He doesn't know when he's about to step in it. You know, look, it's an unfortunate comment. There was actually a hero of that day. And to undermine or take away from that by saying, oh, I would have done that, too, where were the heroes? He had an opportunity to make a policy point about gun control. He had an opportunity to say what his stand would be. Rather than, Ben Carson always tends to go biographical. Here's what I would have done. Here's what I, the neurosurgeon, who separated Siamese twins, would have done. That's fine. Your candidacy is based on a biography, but it's about larger policy now for Ben Carson.

BERMAN: I'll leave you with this. There is one person out there defending him, the man competing against him for the White House, Donald Trump sent out a tweet that said, "Carson was speaking in general terms as to what he would do if confronted with a gunman and was not criticizing. Not fair." So Donald Trump --

BOLDUAN: I would love to hear from the families and what they think about it.

AVLON: That great arbiter of fairness.

BOLDUAN: Good point. I would think the arbiter of fairness on this would be the victims' families.

BERMAN: Margaret, John, great to have you with us. Really appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.


BERMAN: Controversial political warrior, Dick Morris, he knows how to shake things up. Wait until you hear what he says about Jeb Bush and the race for House speaker. All that, and Hillary Clinton. He joins us. And he might not make any new friends this morning.


[11:27:40] BERMAN: This morning, new violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. A 35-year-old Israeli man was stabbed in Jerusalem by an Arab woman. Officials say he was wounded but managed to shoot the suspect who is now in the hospital.

BOLDUAN: And in another town south of Tel Aviv, a Palestinian suspect stabbed an Israeli soldier, but police killed that suspect. Tensions there are extremely high throughout the country, really, after a 13- year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed Monday. And Israeli officials announced strict security measures to try and curb the violence there.

BERMAN: New this morning, Russia launching a fresh round of airstrikes in Syria, causing huge concern from the Pentagon to the European Union. Moscow claims the bombings are targeting ISIS, but the strikes seem to be mainly hitting anti-government forces, including some CIA-backed groups.

BOLDUAN: The U.S. fears, of course, that Russia's real motive is to protect its ally, Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

The defense secretary now saying that the U.S. is not ready, in new comments to reporters, they are not ready to cooperate with Russia, calling Russia's strategy there flawed.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She is in Istanbul. And CNN's global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier, joining us from Washington.

Arwa, first to you. In Syria, Russia is now not just striking from the air but also from the sea. What is happening there today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. Strikes happening from naval ships from the Caspian Sea, targeting, according to Russia itself, 11 targets inside Syria. That has added to the airstrikes that happened taking place in various other ground artillery strikes as well. Turkey joining in that chorus of voices, saying that Russia most certainly is not simply targeting ISIS, but is, in fact, going after anti-Assad rebel groups. According to Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, he said that only two of Russia's air raids actually struck ISIS positions. And according to a number of opposition activists, rebel leaders on the ground in areas like Hama and Idlib that were the main epicenters of the most recent strikes, these then led to some of the fiercest fighting that these various different areas have seen in months. Great concerns now amongst the opposition to Bashar al Assad that these strikes are going to allow regime forces to push forward into areas that they would not otherwise be controlling.