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Trump Calls into Question Cruz's Canadian Birth; North Korea Claims Detonation of H-Bomb; Interview with Ben Carson's Former Campaign Manager. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 6, 2016 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:43] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.


New this morning, or maybe what's old is new once again, the birther question has re-entered the presidential race. Donald Trump is calling into question Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president because Ted Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and an American mother. In an interview with "The Washington Post," Trump says that should make GOP voters think twice about voting for Cruz. He's quoted as saying this, "Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question, do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years? That'd be a big problem."

Trump said this to New Hampshire affiliate, NH1.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: People are worried that if he weren't born in this country -- which he wasn't, he was born in Canada, and he actually had a Canadian passport along with a U.S. passport until just recently. I mean, like within the last couple of years. So I don't know what it all means.


BERMAN: So what does Ted Cruz have to say about all this? Well, he literally says these charges have jumped the shark. And he literally tweeted a link to this YouTube video of Fonzie jumping the shark on "Happy Days." Thank goodness he made it.

Cruz has a live event in just a few minutes in Iowa. Will he push this response even further? Perhaps another reference to pop culture?

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on the trail with Cruz in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Sunlen, what do we expect?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT; John, right now, as you referenced, Ted Cruz really is trying to laugh this off, trying to have a little fun with it. Defuse the situation by using humor, something that he typically tries to do, especially with Donald Trump. He really doesn't want to get bogged down into the mix with Donald Trump, especially over something like this. So as we saw last night, Ted Cruz almost immediately tweeted that response to that TV clip from "Happy Days" and that famous scene with Fonzie jumping a shark, widely seen as a metaphor for when that show took a turn and went downhill. That's as far as Ted Cruz really has specifically responded to this. But last night, he was certainly pressed by reporters here in Iowa about this situation. He said, look, other Republicans in the race will try to throw rocks and sling insults, but I'm really not going to get engaged in that.

Here's more of what he said last night.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I tweeted out a response to Donald Trump's raising questions about my natural-born citizenship. It was a link to Fonzie jumping the shark. And I think I'm going to let my response stick with that tweet.


SERFATY: So very clear that Ted Cruz does not want to touch this right now. He does not want to engage with Donald Trump and mix it up over this. But with Trump really double down in a series of interviews this morning where he repeated this claim, repeated these questions about his citizenship, it's very clear that Ted Cruz will continue to get questions here throughout his bus tour here in Iowa -- John?

BERMAN: Indeed, he will.

Sunlen Serfaty, in Iowa, thanks so much.

Want to discuss this further with CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter; and Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Obama.

Amanda, let me start with you.

Ted Cruz, you didn't hear it there, but Ted Cruz says this is a media creation. The media is focused on these things, but no one else is. That's not really true. Donald Trump is saying this stuff, but he's now saying it repeatedly. The question to you is, why -- go ahead.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump is the only one saying it. I mean, listen. This is a silly attack that deserves a silly response that he got with the video of the Fonz jumping the shark. The thing that boggles my mind is that everyone seems to forget that Donald Trump is the biggest, most well-known birther in America, and it started with Barack Obama. The fact that he's repeating this silly conspiracy theory against Ted Cruz shows how out of step Donald Trump is.

And, Dan, I mean --


BOLDUAN: I don't think Dan's forgotten it.


BOLDUAN: I don't think Dan's forgotten it at all.

You were there when this happened, Dan. Trump started this with President Obama. It didn't necessarily hurt him, but it did lead to Obama rolling out his birth certificate. So do you think this is the right response for Cruz? How should Cruz be taking this on?

[11:04:56] DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, well, look. Let me say to start that I think this is silly. It's stupid. I think it's unfortunate. I thought that when Donald Trump said it about President Obama. I feel the same way about him saying it about Ted Cruz. The advice I would give to the Cruz campaign, not that they're looking for it, is respond to this and respond aggressively because we didn't respond at first. We thought it was a media creation. We didn't pay attention. And by the end, a non-significant portion of Republican voters thought President Obama was ineligible to be president, that he was part of some conspiracy theory. So these things tend to take off in our digital social media stage and they've got to be prepared for it. I think the "jumping the shark" response is funny and good to start with, but he's going to have to do a lot more because I don't think Trump's going to let this go.

BERMAN: I saw Ann Coulter --


BERMAN: Hang on a minute.

Ann Coulter put out a tweet where she clearly thinks that these questions are legitimate about whether Cruz is eligible to run for president. It is interesting to hear Dan say this because the White House went through this. President Obama went through this. And ultimately, he had to release his birth certificate to quiet the thing down. So might this leave a mark, Amanda?

CARPENTER: Well, I think the legal evidence is on Cruz's side, if anyone wants to look for it. There was an article I recommend that was written by two former solicitors general for both Barack Obama and president in "The Harvard Law Review" that clearly explains in a legal way why Ted Cruz is a natural-born U.S. citizen. You know, his mother was an American citizen, just because he was born in a Canadian hospital does not mean he's ineligible to become president. You know, the lawyers are on his side, if we want to go through this exercise, I think Ted Cruz would feel very confident stacking his lawyers against any lawyers that Donald Trump may produce.


So we can go through this. That would be a debate I'd like to see on TV if you want to book it.

BOLDUAN: Let's do it!


So, Dan, when it comes down to it, if in the crude political sense, this is about a voter base, that they're both trying to attract. Do you actually think that this could stick to a point where it could turn Ted Cruz voters to Donald Trump?

PFEIFFER: Well, it could raise questions for sure if it's not responded to correctly. Look, let me just state I think Ted Cruz is eligible for president. This is an absurd thing, but you'll have to respond to it. I was at a dinner this weekend and found myself in the very awkward position of arguing that Ted Cruz was eligible to be president of the United States because they had heard this rumor and were convinced that he was Canadian. It tends to stick. People see this in their Facebook feeds and on Twitter. In a close race, this could make a difference if it's not handled correctly.

BERMAN: The Constitution says you have to be a natural-born citizen. Just to be clear, almost every constitutional scholar you speak to says that means if you are born to an American parent. Ted Cruz's mother is American. She's from the United States. They were in Canada when Ted Cruz was born. But most people you talk to do say, you know, Ted Cruz has no eligibility issues. Let's say that right there.

Amanda, I want to talk to you, move beyond this just a little bit because Ted Cruz has yet to respond to anything Donald Trump has said. And Trump has poked him a little bit. He's prodded a little bit ever since the Republican debate we were all at in Las Vegas. He's starting to do it, and Ted Cruz has held back. There are two more Republican debates before Iowa, less than four weeks to go. Does Cruz at some point need to take some kind of stand against Donald Trump?

CARPENTER: Well, here's the thing. Everyone wants Ted Cruz to take on Donald Trump. There's all kinds of establishment-type figures who are so angry that Ted Cruz isn't taking on Donald Trump. Well, Ted Cruz is the only one who's figured out, I think, how to handle Donald Trump. And that is that you don't engage. You don't get in the mud with Donald Trump. And you keep focus on your own priorities. Marco Rubio, I think, is also playing this pretty well, though Trump hasn't gone at him as hard. And so the thing is, I think candidates who want to win the GOP primary need to have their sights set on something much bigger than Donald Trump. The candidates who understand this are performing much better than the other candidates who took on Donald Trump and aren't even running anymore. When you look at Rick Perry, Governor Walker, you know, Rand Paul is still struggling along. That playbook does not work. Even though, you know, the media wants to see a fight. There's a lot of people that want to see a fight. That's not a winning strategy.

BOLDUAN: Dan, I was reminded that not only we talk about the birther issue with Barack Obama that came up in '08, in '08 John McCain faced questions as well. And to that point, in 2008, the Senate actually passed unanimously a resolution stating that John McCain was a natural-born citizen. Ted Cruz, also a Senator. Do you think that's going to happen this time?

PFEIFFER: I think this may be the point where Ted Cruz says poor relationships with Senate colleagues may come back to haunt him. But 2008 was a very different world. President Obama was clear that McCain was eligible. Everyone came and said it. It's a much different environment. Trump's involved. I think he'll keep trying to push this. I think Amanda is right, that there -- it is not in Ted Cruz's strategic interest to get in the mud with Trump. That's not worked well for anyone. Cruz's success depends in part on being Trump voters' second choice, if Trump doesn't make it out of Iowa or whatever else. But I think responding to this in a very factual, aggressive way and arming surrogates with the right information and being out there and doing it very quickly I think is critical to surviving this. I think this is the first real test of the Cruz candidacy to date, which has gone very well for him so far.

[11:10:27] BERMAN: We will hear from Ted Cruz in about 20 minutes. Maybe he'll move from "Happy Days" to "Laverne & Shirley."

BOLDUAN: We will see.


And I will say, Amanda, good composure. Clearly someone from some campaign is trying to sabotage your live shot right there.

BERMAN: They're walking in front.

BOLDUAN: Walking in front of you.

Great to see you both. Thank you.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Donald Trump, we should say, will join CNN's Wolf Blitzer today. Will he discuss this Canada issue? My hunch is, you bet. Tune into "The Situation Room," 5:00 eastern to find out only on CNN.

All right. We have breaking news elsewhere today. North Korea claims it successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb for the first time. How dangerous is this, and does Kim Jong-Un's upcoming birthday have anything to do with it?

BOLDUAN: And the first live TV interview on camera with Ben Carson's former campaign manager, just six days after he abruptly quit. His thoughts on Trump, the mudslinging, and his former boss.

Also, the friend of the San Bernardino couple, the attackers in court very soon. But as he makes his plea, federal authorities still want to know what happened during a mystery 18 minutes after the terror attack. Are there more conspirators out there?


[11:15:00] BERMAN: Breaking news this morning. All around the world, people waking up to the claim from North Korea, that it exploded its first hydrogen bomb. Potentially, much more dangerous and powerful than the previous test the world knew about. The announcement came shortly after what felt like an earthquake in the region, seismic activity centered in an area where Pyongyang has conducted previous underground nuclear tests.

BOLDUAN: If this latest detonation proves to indeed be a hydrogen bomb, it would mark a huge unexpected advance in North Korea's nuclear capability and a major threat to world security.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is in Hong Kong with much more.

So, Ivan, what more are you learning about what happened and what folks know about it so far?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the world found out that something happened when the earth shook in North Korea to a magnitude of 5.1 magnitude this morning. And within about an hour or so, North Korea began announcing that it had carried out what it said was a hydrogen bomb test with a very triumphalist note, describing this as a, quote, "H-bomb of justice," and saying that it was a measure of self-defense against what it claimed was a campaign of threats coming from the U.S. and its allies in the region.

State tv put out pictures of what it said was the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, signing the letter the order to carry out this test last December on December 15th, and saying that this would be a great way to start 2016 before going into a convention for the only political party in North Korea that's scheduled to take place in May. This is also just two days before the birthday of Kim Jong-Un that this was carried out.

The reaction from around the world has been of condemnation, not just from the U.S. and its allies like Japan and South Korea, but also from Russia as well as from China which has previously been an ally and an economic partner of North Korea -- Kate and John?

BOLDUAN: Ivan Watson, in Hong Kong for us, thank you so much.

Let's talk much more about this threat. We're joined now by Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World"; and Balbina Hwang, formerly a top state official on East Asian and Pacific affairs now with Georgetown University.

Thank you both for being here.

Gordon, if this is a hydrogen bomb, why is that so significant?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR: Hydrogen bomb is much more powerful than an atomic one. But I don't think this was a hydrogen bomb. You've got to remember that the kiloton is six for this detonation. That's exactly the same as the detonation in 2013, the previous one. And so they may have added a hydrogen isotope to boost its output, but I don't think it was actually a hydrogen weapon as we think of it in those terms. BERMAN: Balbina, the significance and the symbolism here clearly very

important. North Korea wants the world to think it now has a hydrogen bomb. Why is Kim Jong-Un doing this?

BALBINA HWANG, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY & FORMER STATE OFFICIAL ON EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: That's exactly correct. And frankly, I'm less concerned about what North Korea's actual capabilities are because frankly we will not know and may never know exactly what type of weapon it is. But it's more important because it shows North Korea's devoted intention to continue to pursue nuclear weapons programs and diversify them as much as possible in violation and against international wishes.

BOLDUAN: Gordon, Ivan Watson noted this in his report that often in the past, often what North Korea at least part of its intention is to get international attention when it does things, when it makes provocative actions like this. It is Kim Jong-Un's birthday in two days. Do you think that has something to do with this?

CHANG: First of all, Kim Jong-Un has not consolidated political control despite being in power for four years. I think this is good regime politics. It helps him with regard to other people in Pyongyang. There's this issue of the regime versus the people in North Korea. You know, the economy there is not terrible, growing at maybe 1 percent. But nonetheless, there is dissatisfaction. And so this is also good politics for the regime, bolstering its legitimacy in North Korea. When lashing out, that's something that they say oh, it's really fine if you're in the regime.

BERMAN: Balbina, what does the world do about this? Just because about every nation is coming out against this. The United States is, also China which has got a complicated relationship with North Korea to say the least.

HWANG: That's exactly right. Now, first, I don't agree with this view that North Korea does this to get attention from the world. I think North Korea is primarily driven by domestic reasons. But the most important is that North Korea consistently, since the founding of its republic in 1948, has essentially felt insecure. It is obsessed with the regime survival. The reality is that the United Nations Security Council, we already have at least 12 sanctions and resolutions in place in response to North Korea's pursuit of WMD. Certainly another one is important, symbolically, but it probably will not have any practical effect.

[11:20:16] BOLDUAN: Do you think that the world will find out, Gordon, what happened here? Or do you think, as Balbina thinks, we may never find out exactly what was detonated, what was tested?

CHANG: I think she's right. The 2013 detonation, we sent our sniffer planes up and down the coast of North Korea for weeks. We wanted to find out whether it was a plutonium or a uranium core bomb. We didn't find out. And we've got to remember that this device that was set off today, that was ten kilometers underground, according to the U.S. Geological survey. And that means that there's a lot of dirt that's going to trap the radioactivity. So we may not find out. BERMAN: So, Balbina, when we've been talking about nuclear weapons,

the discussion has been about Iran. Clearly there's still a lot of concern. Does what apparently happen in North Korea affect how the United States should look at Iran now?

HWANG: Certainly there is a relationship. Now, in the 2013 test and earlier missile tests that North Korea has conducted, there has been the presence of Iranian scientists and other government officials. And we know the two countries are cooperating in missile development and so on. So the concern here is whether or not Iran is continuing to receive assistance and help from North Korea. This is why the focus should not be on, you know, necessarily punishing North Korea or condemning or trying to prevent future detonations, but actually nonproliferation, which is the real threat to the international community.

BOLDUAN: We do know the National Security Council spokesperson put out a statement, and part of it says, "We have consistently made clear we will not accept it as a nuclear state." But what more can the United States do?

BERMAN: If we won't accept it, what does that mean? It already is a nuclear state?

BOLDUAN: Exactly. What will they do and what will the response be?

Gordon Chang, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Balbina Hwang, thank you.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he is fighting back. The rising GOP candidate has a new warning for his conservative critics, mainly his rival, Marco Rubio.

BERMAN: Plus, what do you get for the billionaire who has everything? How about an A.R.-15 rifle? The New Hampshire man who just gave Donald Trump a gun. Why he did it and what this gun dealers says about the president's new gun actions.


[11:26:04] BOLDUAN: It is "T" minus four weeks to the Iowa caucuses. Amid the mudslinging, today Chris Christie is putting out a very different message. Hours after telling "The Washington Post" that Rubio, quote, "can't slime his way to the White House," Christie switched gears with this new TV ad to run in New Hampshire.



CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do not be fooled. Any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in January of 2017, taking the oath of office as president of the United States. This country cannot afford that outcome. And thus, we Republicans have a duty, I believe, a profound, moral duty, to work together.


CHRISTIE: I'm Chris Christie, and I approve this message.


BERMAN: So it's not clear the "let's all work together" message has reached Donald Trump. He is now raising questions about the eligibility of Ted Cruz to be president because Ted Cruz was born in Canada. The question now is, what does all of this look like from the inside of the fray?

Let's get a unique perspective now from Barry Bennett who, until last week, was Ben Carson's campaign manager.

Barry, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: So, look, Donald Trump is raising these questions. He's not out and out saying that Ted Cruz should be president, but look, he's raising the issue. He's bringing it up. Apparently over the last 24 hours just about whenever he can. So from your perspective, from seeing this from the inside, why do you think he's doing this, and do you think it will work?

BENNETT: Well, you know, I think that it's a legitimate issue, first of all. And if you, as Republicans, if you believe that the Democrats or Hillary Clinton and her supporters are not going to bring this up in the fall, you're foolish. Of course they will. So, you know, it's good to throw it out on the table. Let Ted Cruz practice his responses, you know, let's get -- we need more practice, showing our flaws as a party. But, you know, as we get closer and closer to Iowa, it's game day, right? This is the real thing. People are starting to go after one another. You know, there's a lot of jockeying, it seems, for fourth, fifth and sixth place which is kind of silly. Calling each other names and spending all their money going after each other, that seems silly to me. Donald Trump is sitting there at above 30 in most of the polls. And unless something, you know, horrific or tragic comes along when the establishment has been waiting on now for ten months, he's going to be our nominee. And we need to start thinking about that.

BOLDUAN: And so, Barry, you truck about, you say it's game on. You know, we're heading into the Iowa caucuses. You've got basically Trump and Ted Cruz now on one side. And then you've got the rest of the folks on the other side of the primary right now, and these guys are killing each other on the trail and on the airwaves. It makes me wonder, from your perspective -- you've been on the inside, just recently now on the outside -- who are you most impressed with?

BENNETT: Well, I mean, if you look at what's really happening out there, I mean, all you've got to do is compare the size of everyone's rallies. And that's really a demonstration of grass-roots support, right? Donald Trump is having 10,000, 12,000 people show up at rallies. A lot of these guys are having five or six people show up at their events in Iowa. There's just not a comparison. You know, the establishment can fret about it all they want, but this is the new reality.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, you know, this is coming from a guy until a week ago was Ben Carson's campaign manager. Barry, you just said that unless something radical changes, Donald Trump will be the nominee.

BENNETT: Yeah. I mean, he's sitting in a polling position -- I mean, you know, people are getting kicked off to the next debate. Some people will be kicked off to the junior table. And nobody is moving up beyond 11 percent or 12 percent, and Donald Trump stays at 30, 32, 34, 35 percent. And Chris Christie is attacking Marco Rubio. It's kind of an offense. And they're all leaving Donald Trump alone. And he's got the support out there right now. And unless something cataclysmic happens, he's going to win.

BOLDUAN: You know it's so interesting, Barry, hearing you say that no one's taking on Donald Trump. That was absolutely the strategy of Ben Carson.