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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman John Garamendi; American Troops Killed in Afghanistan; Trump Demands Apology; Fiorina's Husband Opens Up About His Supporting Role; Graham Reveals to CNN Why He's Quitting GOP Race. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 21, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Is he blaming the messenger?
And front-runners at war. Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of lying and demands an apology for her claim that ISIS is using him as a recruiting tool. A top Clinton spokesman standing by to join us live, he will respond.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, new American blood on the battlefield. A U.S. official confirms six U.S. service members killed by a suicide bomber while they were on patrol in Afghanistan. Three other Americans were wounded. The Taliban is claiming responsibility for the attack on coalition forces near the Bagram air base.
Also tonight, President Obama's newest defense of the ISIS strategy is raising eyebrows. In a TV and radio interview, he suggests any lack of confidence in his policy is due in large part to weak communications by the White House and he criticizes the news media, accusing news outlets of stoking terror fears for ratings.
The debate over how to defeat ISIS stirring new hostility right now in the presidential race, Donald Trump demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton right now, claiming she lied to the American people when she said ISIS is using him as a recruiting tool.
We have our correspondents, analysts, and newsmakers standing by to cover all the news that is breaking right now, including a top Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee, John Garamendi.
Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are you learning about the suicide attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: All indications tonight, Wolf, are that it was a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who came within range of a number of U.S. troops, six killed when he detonated the bomb in their midst, two other American troops injured, also a translator believed to be an Afghan.
It's one of the deadliest attacks. They were on a mission outside of Bagram Air Base, the Taliban taking responsibility. Afghanistan certainly a place where the Taliban certainly still can wreak havoc. There have been attacks in the north, in Kabul, the capital, and a number of attacks in Southern Afghanistan's Helmand province as well, a typical stronghold of the Taliban.
The Afghans doing their best, by all accounts. They don't run away from a fight to any large extent, but they certainly are struggling to hold on to territory, Wolf.
Barbara, you also some have new reporting on a military offensive against ISIS.
In Iraq, you know, there is one city that has captured everyone's attention for the last seventh months since Iraqi forces ran from the first fight.
STARR (voice-over): All eyes are now on Ramadi. Iraqi officials say their troops are launching a major offensive to retake the city center. Residents have been warned to leave in advance of expected heavy fighting. Ten thousand Iraqi troops surround the city and are already fighting in outer neighborhoods. But now, they are moving towards the center where officials believe up to 500 ISIS fighters are dug in.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's going to be very difficult because ISIS has defended that city, placed roadside bombs, house-born explosives. It's going to be booby-trapped.
STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military's will to fight in an exclusive CNN interview after Ramadi fell. This time, he's offering Iraq Apache helicopters and U.S. advisers.
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We do want to help you build on your success in Ramadi.
STARR: But so far, Prime Minister Abadi has turned him down.
There's real doubt Iraqi forces will be able to hold onto Ramadi, even if they get it back.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The military person in me says that their ability to take and hold Ramadi is questionable at best.
STARR: Ramadi is a badly need success for the U.S. effort. A senior military official tells CNN the Pentagon has been told by the White House to better communicate to the public about the war against ISIS.
The president hinting in an interview with NPR. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We haven't, you know,
on a regular basis, I think, described all the work that we've been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL.
STARR: But also taking a swipe.
OBAMA: If you've been watching television for the last month, all you've been seeing, all you've been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you.
STARR: So, has the ISIS war not been reported accurately?
OBAMA: Look, the media is pursuing ratings --
STARR: Or does there need to be more success?
LEIGHTON: The White House always touts the amount of territory that has been retaken by anti-ISIS forces. That's good, but it needs to be even better.
STARR: So, what are we really talking about here, Wolf?
Look, the White House wants to see, in its words, better communication of the message, but many people will tell you if you want a better message, you have to have better substance, you have to have substantive victories, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Barbara, thank you very much.
Also tonight, new fuel for concerns about a potentially paralyzing cyber-attack on America's infrastructure. A new report reveals Iranian hackers were able to break into the computer system controlling a dam near New York City.
CNN's Rene Marsh is digging into that.
What are officials telling you about the breach, Rene?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a sobering thought, hackers in Iraq gaining access to a computer system that controls the floodgates of a New York dam. Tonight, concern from the mayor of the village where that dam is located that this was only a dry run for a cyber-attack on a much larger target.
MARSH (voice-over): Iranian hackers infiltrated computer software that control the floodgates of this Rye, New York, dam just 20 miles outside of New York City. A former U.S. official familiar with the investigation revealed the classified details from 2013 first reported by "The Wall Street Journal."
Paul Rosenberg is mayor of the village of Rye Brook.
PAUL ROSENBERG, MAYOR OF RYE BROOK, NEW YORK: What it says to me is they're looking at everything. Was this a dress rehearsal for something larger? It also makes me concerned about the security of our infrastructure that is significantly more critical than the Bowman Avenue Dam.
MARSH: Investigators believe the intruders were just probing to see what they could get into, but no damage was done. Hacking of dam controls have long been a homeland security concern. In 2013 hackers penetrated a sensitive database of U.S. dams maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Asked about the breach involving the dam in Rye, New York, the Department of Homeland Security told CNN by e-mail it has no comment on the alleged incident.
MICHAEL DECESARE, CEO, FORESCOUT TECHNOLOGIES: Obviously, it's fairly scary for us as a nation to imagine that somebody sitting on the other side of the world could hit a keystroke and all a sudden water could start flooding through a dam.
MARSH: Just last week, CNN broke news of a major breach at computer company Juniper Networks. The company sells equipment and routers to the Defense Department, Justice Department, FBI and Treasury Department.
U.S. officials worry that hackers working for a foreign government were able to spy on the encrypted communications of the U.S. government and private companies for the past three years. Other critical infrastructure, like the nation's power grid, also constantly under siege.
ROSENBERG: It makes me wonder about what would be potentially next. And that makes me concerned.
MARSH: A more modernized grid system using digital technology means more access points for intruders.
MARSH: Well, DHS says in a statement it continues to work with federal agencies and the private sector to strengthen the nation's cyber-security.
We know the government has a 24/7 hub for sharing cyber-security information, but with infrastructure becoming so interconnected, many people on the front lines say it's almost impossible to prevent all breaches. At this point, it's a matter of reducing how many breaches there are, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very disturbing information, Rene. Thank you very much for that report.
Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Sure.
BLITZER: I want to talk to you about these concerns over this Iranian pact.
But, first, six American troops killed today in Afghanistan, three more seriously injured, the largest number of American casualties in Afghanistan in well over a year, what does this say about the current fight there?
GARAMENDI: Well, it says it continues to be extraordinary dangerous. We have known this. This is not a new situation, but this is a continuation of the last decade, plus a couple of years.
It is a dangerous, dangerous place and we're there for apparently the long haul. I think there is some good news also, and that is that there appears to be renewed efforts on the part of Pakistan to bring together some sort of a peace discussion between the Taliban and the current government.
I think that's a very, very important avenue, and it needs to be really seriously pursued. Otherwise, we are going to continue to see these attacks on American soldiers. And it is deadly, no doubt about it. And my heart goes out and sympathy goes out to the families who have lost their loved ones here on the eve of Christmas.
BLITZER: Yes, the Taliban claimed responsibility for this suicide attack, killing these six American troops in Afghanistan today.
You have also suggested, Congressman, that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has cost the U.S. obviously a lot in blood and treasure, without really strengthening U.S. national security. There are still about 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan right now. They are supposed to come home by the end of next year. But do you see any way that can really happen?
GARAMENDI: I don't think so, not until there is some sort of a peace agreement between the central government and the Taliban.
When that settles down, if it is at all possible, then I believe there may be an opportunity. But I suspect we're going to see special forces and a limited number of Americans in Afghanistan for some time, not what we want, but it may be what is going to have to happen.
BLITZER: But it's not just the Taliban anymore. The Pentagon now estimating there could be at least 1,000, maybe 3,000 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan right now, and they suggest that number could go way up in the not-too-distant future. You would have U.S. NATO troops fighting the Taliban, fighting what is left of al Qaeda and now facing yet another threat, ISIS. This is big time.
GARAMENDI: Well, it is certainly is. But I think most of those ISIS fighters are disaffected al Qaeda or
maybe Taliban that decided to join up with ISIS in some way or another. I suspect most of them are local, from the area, and have decided that ISIS is the new hot thing to be part of.
But, nonetheless, it is a very dangerous place. And the -- as I have said a couple of times here, we're going to have to find some sort of a political settlement there and certainly we have to find a political settlement in Syria. And I noted that very successful progress was made in the most recent discussions at the U.N. in New York over the last couple of days.
BLITZER: Yes, I wouldn't get overly carried away by those diplomatic efforts, because they have totally failed over these past several years.
But, Congressman, stand by for a moment. We have a lot more to talk about, including this latest revelation of an alleged Iranian hack against a dam right outside of New York City.
BLITZER: We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with a leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman John Garamendi of California.
Congressman, we're learning about this previously undisclosed attack on a computer system of a dam right outside New York City. The report suggesting it was done by Iranian hackers back in 2013. You heard our Rene Marsh's report on this.
Does this just underscore this new threat the U.S. infrastructure is facing from other countries?
GARAMENDI: Well, this is a major, major concern all across this nation.
Our infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers, wherever they may be coming from, even perhaps some high schools in the United States. But, yes, this is a major concern. And, frankly, I think we need to organize our government in such a way as to provide the best opportunity to stop these foreign attacks.
And, frankly, these are attacks on our nation. Maybe it's one dam here or electrical grid there, but these are foreign attacks. And I think it ought to be the responsibility of the Department of Defense to defend this nation against these kinds of cyber-attacks, wherever they may be coming from.
And that's going to take a reorganization and a new thought about how best to go about it. And for the countries out there, Wolf, why would you spend millions upon millions of dollars building an airplane or a rocket when you can just seriously damage America with a hack? It's a real problem.
BLITZER: So what does the U.S. do, engage in counter-cyber-warfare, if you will?
GARAMENDI: Yes, absolutely.
We have to be, first of all, defensive, set up our defenses to understand where these are coming from, where our vulnerabilities are, and set in place the firewalls, the defensive systems against that, and then understand where the attack is coming from. Not always easily done, but we need to make it very, very clear that if you're attacking the critical infrastructure of this nation, whether its a dam or Wall Street or the financial institutions, you're attacking America and we will consider that to be very serious, and you can expect a counterpunch.
BLITZER: You heard the mayor of this town where this dam is outside of New York in Rye, in Westchester County, suggest this could have been a dress rehearsal, if you will, to see how far they could go and get ready for a much bigger attack down the road. Do you buy that?
GARAMENDI: Yes, I do.
And we know that we have seen many intrusions, some of them coming from China. Wow, what happened? How did they get into the database for all government workers? How did that happen? Did it come from China? Indications are that it did. Maybe we didn't hammer them hard enough.
But this has got to be defended, and this is a very, very serious problem. And as I said a moment ago, why would you do a standard military attack, when you can, conceptionally, do much greater harm using cyber-warfare?
BLITZER: The cyber-attacks, they are coming from individuals, whether in China or Russia, Iran, North Korea, for that matter, but is it always true these are really government-sponsored, government- initiated attacks?
GARAMENDI: I think there is plenty of evidence to indicate exactly that.
They try to hide it, but I think it is organized. I think it is coming from perhaps rogue individuals, but I think, clearly, we have seen evidence that it is coming from at least some parts of governments around out there. You mentioned China, North Korea. There is evidence that, yes, those governments are sponsoring these attacks.
And we need to make it very clear to them that that is not acceptable and they can expect some sort of counterpunch.
BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying, Congressman, right now, you don't think the U.S. government, the administration, whether the Defense Department, the intelligence community, the FBI, they are not at full speed on this yet; they have a ways to go?
GARAMENDI: I think we need to organize ourselves in the very best possible way.
If it is a cyber-attack coming from outside the United States, then it is the role, in my view, of the Department of Defense to defend this nation. And that's a very -- we do it for, I don't know, incoming ballistic missiles. We have spent the better part of almost 60 years now figuring out how to defend ourselves from attacks in the standard military sense of the word, a missile, an airplane, a bomb of some sort.
But this is a new era in which serious damage can be done, including the loss of life, maybe dozens, if not even more lives lost in some sort of cyber-attack, and so we need to organize ourselves. And all of those agencies that you just described, yes, they are doing -- they're doing a very good job, because even though we have seen data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management at the federal government, and you cited Juniper systems a moment ago -- those are serious.
And we need to understand this is the most likely way in which some rogue group, perhaps Taliban or ISIS or some other group of that sort, or some nation that is out there playing around trying to figure out where our vulnerabilities are, so, if the time comes, they would use it.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
GARAMENDI: Sure. Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead...
GARAMENDI: And happy holidays.
BLITZER: And merry Christmas to you. Thank you.
Donald Trump is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton. He says an attack she leveled against him is a lie. Will Hillary Clinton give him what he wants? The press secretary for Hillary Clinton's campaign is standing by live. We will talk about this new controversy and the insults that are now flying between the front-runners.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting a little bit of an ugly preview of what the 2016 general election could look like if the front-runners, the current front-runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, wind up as their parties' nominees. Trump is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton for her debate
claim that ISIS is using him as a recruitment tool. And he's taking their feud even further, accusing Hillary Clinton of lying, in his words, like crazy.
Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who is working the story for us.
Trump and Clinton, they are increasingly stepping up the rhetoric, shall we say.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf. They certainly are.
Both of the parties' front-runners are increasingly looking beyond their own rivals to what could be a general election match. Now, that is premature, for sure, but the truth is, it's good politics for both of them and it's a sure way to fire up their respective supporters.
But this back and forth over a video is yet another example of how this presidential campaign is keeping the fact-checkers in business.
ZELENY (voice-over): Never mind their primary fights. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a new brawl of their own tonight. He's demanding an apology for this.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don't fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter.
ZELENY: At the weekend Democratic debate, Clinton said Trump's plan to block Muslims from entering the U.S. has emboldened ISIS fighters.
CLINTON: They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So, I want to explain why this is not in America's interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.
ZELENY: But there's no evidence to back up her assertion Trump's rhetoric has been a recruiting tool for ISIS. So far, ISIS recruiters have used American presidents, her husband, President Bush and President Obama in recruiting videos. The accusation set Trump off. He fired back on Twitter: "It's the Democrats' total weakness and incompetence that gave rise to ISIS, not a tape of Donald Trump. That was an admitted Hillary lie."
On "The Today Show," he demanded an apology.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She should apologize. She lies about e-mails, she lies about Whitewater, she lies about everything. ZELENY: President Obama unleashed his own criticism of Trump, telling
NPR the billionaire was exploiting the fears of white men and blue- collar workers.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. And I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that.
ZELENY: The skirmish between Trump and Clinton came as the GOP field got a little smaller. Senator Lindsey Graham left the race, telling CNN's Kate Bolduan he would get behind one of his rivals.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have hit a wall here. My campaign has come to a point where I need to think about getting out and helping somebody else.
ZELENY: Today in New Hampshire, the campaign trail was filled with Republicans who could use help in their battle to be an alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I want everybody's support, anyone I can get to jump on board.
ZELENY: Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich all trying to squeeze in last-minute campaigning before Christmas.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everyone here in New Hampshire is just so incredibly warm and welcoming.
ZELENY: Speaking of Christmas, the Clinton campaign tried to change the subject with a little help from the Grinch.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But the Grinches in GOPville, it seems they do not. Together, they shout with great Grinchy zeal that on health care their plan is...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeal.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Repeal.
ZELENY: Now, Trump and Clinton are both trying to reach out to voters right before the holidays. Trump is in Michigan tonight. Clinton is in Iowa tomorrow.
But don't look for any apologies. Spokesman Brian Fallon says, "Hell no. Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps ISIS recruit more terrorists" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, stand by. I want to get some reaction now from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The press secretary, Brian Fallon, is joining us.
You want to revise and amend sort of the Hillary Clinton statement about the video that's out there showing Donald Trump's comments that ISIS is supposedly using to recruit personnel, to recruit supporters?
* BLITZER: All right, Jeff, stand by. I want reaction now from the Hillary Clinton campaign. The press secretary, Brian Fallon, is joining us. You want to revise and amend sort of the Hillary Clinton statement about the video that's out there showing Donald Trump's comments that ISIS is supposedly using to recruit personnel, to recruit supporters?
BRIAN FALLON, PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: No, it is ridiculous for Donald Trump to expect an apology from Hillary Clinton for rightfully calling him out on the effect his hateful rhetoric is having across the Middle East, and potentially even here at home, among Muslim Americans who are vulnerable to radicalization messages and propaganda that is being put out there on the Internet by ISIS.
It is a confirmed fact, Wolf, that the footage of Donald Trump making those hateful comments earlier this month was played all across the Middle East on Arabic-speaking news networks. It is a fact that ISIS sympathizers on Twitter and social media have been pointing to those same comments. And it is a fact that expert after expert has told us that Trump's hateful comments only plays into the hands of a terrorist narrative that tries to suggest that the United States is at war with Muslims, writ large.
So the only person that should be apologizing in the aftermath of Saturday night's debate is Donald Trump himself to the millions of Muslim American who are our friends, neighbors, loved ones and some of them fighting in our armed forces against ISIS. He owes them an apology.
BLITZER: Because the...
FALLON: If he thinks (ph) Hillary Clinton should apologize to him, he's going to be waiting a good long while.
BLITZER: But the specific words she said was that ISIS itself was going to individuals showing the video. We've been trying to find any examples of that. We haven't been able to come up with specific examples of ISIS video using Donald Trump's language.
FALLON: Wolf, it is a fact that, in the aftermath of him making those hateful comments and proposing that the United States bar entry to all Muslims, based on a religious litmus test, that those comments have been played across the Middle East on television and, if we think that ISIS is not pointing to those comments to help recruit, then we're fooling ourselves. And in fact, we've seen instances of those same Donald Trump comments being cited by ISIS -- known ISIS sympathizers on Twitter. And so I think that rather than engaging in this parsing that Donald
Trump is trying to do, I think we need to be more forthright in criticizing and calling out Donald Trump.
You know, if the other Republicans running against him will not take him on, Hillary Clinton will. And as recently as last week, Jeb Bush was suggesting the he would be finally standing up to Donald Trump and what do we see today? Today he's standing with him, defending his hateful rhetoric against Muslim-Americans.
So she's not -- Hillary Clinton is not wired the same way as these Republicans, who refused to stand up to Donald Trump. He thinks he's used to getting away with bullying debate moderators and his fellow Republican candidates, and Hillary Clinton is not going to back down in the face of his bullying.
BLITZER: Because as you know, he was widely criticized when he suggested he saw on television right after 9/11, thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering and applauding. We went back. We looked for that video. We couldn't find any video. We saw some newspaper accounts, a "Washington Post" account saying there were some people applauding. We couldn't find any video.
He was held accountable for his words, and the argument is Hillary Clinton, as you know, should be held accountable for her precise words, as well. To that you say?
FALLON: Sure she should, but what she said about the effect that Donald Trump's comments is having in inspiring terrorism and providing a tool to ISIS that wants to try to misconstrue this struggle that we're engaged as the United States is over there, trying to fight ISIS through the air in Syria, and this struggle is once -- one that's being waged against Islam generally, when Donald Trump goes around and makes the types of comments he does. He's playing right into their hands and for Hillary Clinton to point that out is exactly what we need to see from more leaders that are campaigning for president in 2015.
BLITZER: As you know, Hillary Clinton is also being slammed by her Republican opponents after saying at Saturday night's debate that the U.S., in her words, is finally where we need to be in the fight against ISIS. Governor Christie called that happy talk. In the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, is Hillary Clinton vulnerable for, in effect, saying that, seemingly backing the president's strategy?
FALLON: No. What she said was very clear. She was pointing out that, rather than give into the theory of some that we can only do one of two things, that being that we can only take on either ISIS or seek to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria.
She was pointing to the fact that the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed the day before that debate signaled that the world community was finally on board with saying that we need a political transition with the Assad regime in Syria at the same time that we work to counter ISIS. That's the point she was making. And for Republicans to try to misconstrue those comments, what's --
what that is evidence of is that we have a bunch of Republicans running for president who, to be honest, are poseurs on the issue of national security and foreign policy, who could only dream to have the credentials and record and experience and judgment that Hillary Clinton has shown.
[18:30:15] She's the one that's laid out a plan to keep this country safe and guard against the threat of domestic radicalization here at home, and I think a lot of them are trying to get an upper hand in their primary by suggesting that they could be the ones to take her on. None of them are a match for her record and judgement on these issues.
BLITZER: Let's leave this interview, Brian, on a much happier note. Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, expecting another child. The announcement coming in today. I assume you've spoken to the candidate, Hillary Clinton, maybe the president, as well. Their reaction? They must be excited.
FALLON: I think it's fair to say she's over the moon. She's already a very proud grandparent now. To have grandchild No. 2 on the way is a very exciting thing. I think they have one more extra blessing to count at the holidays later this week, and you know, obviously, it will be a very exciting and busy 2016 for Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Certainly will be. Please pass along our best wishes to Chelsea and Marc, as well. We're excited for them.
FALLON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Fallon, the press secretary for the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Jeff Zeleny is still with us. Also with us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. All right, guys, stand by for a moment. There's a lot to assess from what we just heard. Political buzz out there is intense. Much more when we come back.
[18:40:28] BLITZER: We're back with our CNN political team and CNN's exclusive interview with the new drop-out from the Republican presidential race. We're talking about Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He revealed his decision to CNN anchor Kate Bolduan, who's joining us now.
Kate, Lindsey Graham explained to you why he decided to call it quits.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: He did. He basically said he didn't see a path, and he said they'd run out of time for him to make any move. I mean, he even said at one point that he thinks he's saying his lane of the party collapsing, but at least in part, Wolf, he also blames the new debate structure that we've seen this cycle, this two-tiered system, the undercard debate, the main-stage debate. He blames that in part. Listen here.
SEN. LINDSEY (R-SC), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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. Thirty-six trips has informed me.
But the one thing I feel really good about is that I did it with a smile on my face, and I talked about things that are important to me and somebody better fix one day.
BOLDUAN: Why are you getting out of the race?
GRAHAM: Well, because I hit a wall here. You know, my campaign has come to a point where I need to think about getting out and helping somebody else. Here is what I predict, again. I think the nominee of our party is going to adopt my plan when it comes time to articulate how to destroy ISIL.
BOLDUAN: Can't you do more in pushing that conversation by being in the race than by leaving it, though?
GRAHAM: To be a viable candidate you've got to have finances, and you've got to get on the big stage.
BOLDUAN: What's the final straw, though?
GRAHAM: My biggest problem is that a lot of people like what I say, but not many people hear it. This whole process started in a kind of strange way. You couldn't get on the main stage unless you polled at a certain level. Well, if you've never run before, that's pretty hard. If you don't come from a political family, that's pretty hard. If you come from a small state versus a large state, that's pretty hard. If you've got a lot of money, you're going to do better.
So here's what I would advise the Republican Party to do in the future: never do this again. The bottom line is people are coming my way, in terms of more robust foreign policy, Jeb and Rubio, Marco are very much in sync with where I'm at. I think Kasich and Christie and, you know, Donald Trump talks tough, and he's trying to act tough. And, you know, if he gets to be the nominee, I'll give him my two cents' worth about a plan that I think can keep the country safe.
And I'll make another prediction. I think Hillary Clinton is going to adopt most of this before it's over with.
BOLDUAN: And you hear him mention Donald Trump there. I mean, you all know, Wolf, there is no love lost between these two men. I mean, Lindsey Graham once said that he'd rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with him. That's why it's also so interesting what parting words Lindsey Graham offered for the front runner. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: We're at war. A lot of men and women are at risk overseas. Watch what you say over here. You're doing really well. I'm impressed with your campaign. The only way we can win as Republicans, put a coalition together. You need to start thinking about policies that will actually work. You may wind up being the nominee of the party. The Republican Party future may be in your hands, but the future of the country will be in your hands if you're president of the United States.
This is not a game show. This is not a reality show. The reason I know that is I've been over there enough to know what it costs to defend this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: A different tone towards Donald Trump than we've heard from Lindsey Graham in the past. And he did not, when I asked him, rule out serving in a Trump administration if it came to that, and when I asked if it comes down to Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, he said he would support the Republican nominee. He would support Donald Trump further than we've heard other Republican candidates go, like Jeb Bush to my colleague, John Berman.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks very much for that. Excellent work, as usual.
Jeff Zeleny, you heard Kate's interview. Lindsey Graham also suggesting that maybe the wing of his party that he supports has collapsed.
ZELENY: Well, it certainly looks like it has collapsed, at least for the moment. I mean, we've never seen, in all the presidential campaigns that we've covered, we have not seen by this point the establishment figure not rising.
It's one thing for the summer months to sort of be the moment for the outsider but by now, things were supposed to be different. And they're not different, and there is no sign that they're going to be different. The outsiders are ruling this election cycle. That's why someone like Lindsey Graham, who's been in Washington for nearly 20 years, more experienced than most anyone else, is just not the candidate for this moment.
So it has. That raises the big question what is the future of the Republican Party? Is there potentially a moment for a third party being the old Republican Party here? A lot of chatter on that in some, you know, in some Washington salons and things during this holiday season.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the question is, what part of his party are we talking about? Are we talking about on foreign policy where obviously he's incredibly aggressive, very hawkish and from the debates that we had last week, you can see that, obviously, he's in the interventionist part of the Republican Party, very different from Donald Trump, from Ted Cruz and others who want to pull back a bit.
But the other question is, whether it's the domestic issues. I mean, he is a lot more moderate than a lot of people who are doing well -- on immigration, on climate change, on issues like that. So I think it's because there's such a scramble on issues at home and issues internationally that has everything just up in the air when it comes to the party and the process.
BLITZER: You know, Donald Trump -- Jeffrey, I was going to let you weigh in, but think about this for a moment, too. Donald Trump says whoever he attacks, they eventually will drop out whether former Texas Governor Rick Perry or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, and now, Lindsey Graham, all of whom have something really in common was they were bitterly opposed to Donald Trump and they are out of it now.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's been bit early opposed to everyone except Ted Cruz and so we'll see if he gets rid of all of them.
Just one more point about Lindsey Graham. He was the only candidate in the Republican presidential race who believed that manmade climate change was a serious problem that needed to be addressed. That issue got no traction at all like his campaign as a whole, but I also think it's indicative of where the Republican Party is on that issue, where they are united -- different from every other conservative party in the world in denying that it's a problem that needs to be addressed by the home country.
BLITZER: He also supported comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants here in United States, but he's no longer a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Dana, what's your reaction from what we heard from Brian Fallon, the spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's campaign saying, hell no, Hillary Clinton is not going to apologize to Donald Trump?
BASH: Well, look, because the conversation is now about whether or not she's going to apologize to Donald Trump. It's not more about kind of where we were 24 hours ago before Trump demanded the apology, which is journalist pressing are saying this just isn't right and it -- you can't back this up with any proof, so what's the deal?
So any time that the Clinton campaign or anybody on the Democratic side can get into a head-to-head fight with Donald Trump, it's just, you know, a political jackpot. That's why you heard -- you can all most see Brian Fallon smiling a little bit because there is nothing better for Hillary Clinton right now in the primary process.
BLITZER: And there is nothing better for Donald Trump to be going to war with Hillary Clinton among conservative Republicans, nothing better for liberal Democrats to see Hillary Clinton going to war --
ZELENY: It's good for business for both of them and gets Republicans out there that may not love Donald Trump. They certainly don't like Hillary Clinton, at least most of them. So, it's a good business for both of them.
But Dana is right about the substance of this. I think had Secretary Clinton not said videos, had she said he is inspiring, you know, some recruitment, that would have been accurate, but she was not precise.
ZELENY: Her campaign is, you know, trying to fight back for saying hell no, but they are wrong on the point about the videos. Might there be in the future? We'll have to see. But as of now, our fact checkers have found none.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, it's a win, win for the two front runners right now and if you take a look at some of the other Republican candidates, let's say, Ted Cruz, could this be a loss for him?
TOOBIN: A loss for Ted Cruz? Look, I think --
BLITZER: With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton going back and forth?
TOOBIN: You know, I don't think this is more than a one-day story. And Ted Cruz is not going away. He is running clearly I think the most effective campaign exempt for Donald Trump's.
He's out there in the -- not in the first four states. He's the only candidate who's really doing a lot of campaigning in the South, which has a lot of primaries coming up right after the first four primaries.
I think everything is coming up roses for Ted Cruz these days. So, you know, one day of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fighting each other is not going to make any difference.
BLITZER: Might not just be, Dana, one day, though, they could go at it for awhile since it's good for respective campaigns.
BASH: It's good for their campaigns and it makes good copy. I mean, let's just be honest -- we're talking about it because it's interesting.
[18:50:01] And so, yes, there is no question that they both have an interest in keeping this going and I think kind of it might be the opposite for somebody like Ted Cruz, as long as this side show is happening right now, if he can kind of stay under the radar, do the southern state swing, which he's doing right now, get back to Iowa after the holidays and do what he needs to do in that first caucus state.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. Much more news coming up. We'll take a quick break and we'll be right back.
BLITZER: For the first time in U.S. history, the first spouse could be a man, depending on how the 2016 presidential election turns out. Bill Clinton isn't the only contender for that job.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash, she sat down with Carly Fiorina's husband, Frank.
He's embracing that potential role, isn't he?
BASH: You know, look, no offense to your gender, but it does take as certain kind of man to be comfortable sitting in the spotlight to a woman and to his wife in particular. But, you know, Frank Fiorina, he has actually done this for decades, a surprisingly modern version of the traditional husband.
[18:55:00] FRANK FIORINA, HUSBAND OF CARLY F. FIORINA: Morning, girls. How are we doing?
BASH (voice-over): Inside Carly Fiorina's headquarters, a visit with young campaign aides and a thank you.
F. FIORINA: We really appreciate it.
BASH: This is Frank Fiorina's role these days, a supportive husband who does whatever he can to help his wife's presidential bid.
(on camera): You are Mr. Carly Fiorina.
F. FIORINA: I was always proud to be. Always proud to be.
BASH (voice-over): Taking a back seat to his wife is hardly new for him. He predicted it when he met Carly more than 30 years ago when they were both working at AT&T.
F. FIORINA: I was a higher level than her, but there was no doubt that she was going to surpass me in the ranks at AT&T, rightfully so, and she'd be chairman some day.
BASH (on camera): Did you tell her that?
F. FIORINA: I did tell her that. And I'm not even quite sure why. At the time, it was a mixture of a great line and the truth.
BASH (voice-over): It wasn't AT&T but Carly did eventually become a CEO of a Hewlett-Packard, and Frank decided to quit his job to support her.
(on camera): You retired at age 48 at the peak of your career to be Carly's husband.
F. FIORINA: That's true. And it was quite controversial, believe me. I knew it was the right thing to do.
BASH (voice-over): But playing the supporting role isn't always easy.
F. FIORINA: When you think about a person that's that smart and that hardworking and that focused, it's hard to keep up sometimes.
BASH: They've never had children of their own but Carly bonded with his then young daughters like none of his other daughters had.
F. FIORINA: It was just like a Disney movie. I mean, they would play havoc with my dates and when I finally got to bring Carly home, it was pretty clear to me that the three of them loved each other.
BASH: In 2009, one of Frank's daughter Lori died of a drug overdose, the same year Carly was diagnosed with breast cancer.
F. FIORINA: It was a bad year. I kept saying, this is going to end badly. She was too smart, too educated. She would never admit that she had a problem.
BASH: He wears a bracelet made from a necklace that she wore the day she died.
F. FIORINA: It was a necklace that Carly bought her. I know it looks silly but I wear it all the time.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband and I lost one of our daughters to addiction.
BASH: Carly often talks in the campaign trail about the loss of her stepdaughter and the need to fight addiction.
C. FIORINA: My husband frank has been here.
BASH: She also talks about how Frank started out as an AT&T technician and tow truck driver, keeps her grounded.
C. FIORINA: OK. Why would I want to be president? My husband asked me that occasionally.
BASH: Do you like politics?
F. FIORINA: Frankly, not particularly. Politics is so different than business. And, of course, I've spent my whole life in business and working.
BASH: He's often with Carly on the trail, but mostly keeps his opinions to himself.
F. FIORINA: I'm very cautious about when I give her advice. Very cautious.
BASH (on camera): Why?
F. FIORINA: Because she has so many people giving her advice. So I really try to pick my targets. If there's something I really feel she's being misled about, I speak up.
BASH (voice-over): Like most political spouses, he takes attacks on his wife harder than she does.
(on camera): When you hear a criticism of your wife, what do you want to do?
F. FIORINA: I'm an Italian boy from Pittsburgh. So I don't need to quite explain what i'd really like to do. But it just infuriates me.
BASH (voice-over): And when Donald Trump made fun of his wife's face --
F. FIORINA: I almost thought it was humorous. I mean, out of all the people on the stage, it would be hard to say Carly -- there was anything wrong with Carly's face, I would say.
BASH (on camera): Do you think that she's treated differently because she's a woman?
F. FIORINA: Carly won't say this, but I will. I've watched for 34 years how she's been treated differently in everything she's done in life, everything.
BASH (voice-over): Still, Frank's prediction about Carly's business success came true. They are both hoping he was also prophetic about politics.
F. FIORINA: At least 18, 20 years ago I said she was going to be president some day, but I wasn't encouraging her to do that. I was just stating the obvious. That's all.
BASH: Remember that moment at CNN's debate when Carly Fiorina said she had been called every "B" word in the book, her husband told me one story, when she got her first management job at AT&T, her boss introduced her to her team, Wolf, as their token bimbo. As he told me the story, Frank Fiorina said, can you imagine that? Token bimbo.
BLITZER: Wow. Good report. That's very much. Let's see if there's a spouse, a first spouse --
BASH: By the way, he wants to be called the "First Frank", if he is the first spouse. That's what he wants to be called.
BLITZER: Dana, good work. Thanks very much.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.
Thanks very much for watching.
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