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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Barack Obama at Town Hall on Guns; Man Killed in France for Threatening Attack; Iran: Saudis Bomb Yemen Embassy; Dow Experience Worse Trading Day; Trump, McCain Say Unsure Cruz Eligible for President; Marco Ad Professes His Christian Values. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 7, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman in New York.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kate Bolduan, live in Fairfax, Virginia, at George Mason University where just hours from now President Obama will face critics and supporters of his executive action on guns during a town hall right here on CNN.

New this morning, both the Gun Owners of America and the NRA have declined CNN's invitation to take part in this. We should note, despite that, there will be many NRA members and gun rights advocates in the audience tonight. We'll speak with both sides of this impassioned debate.

First, back to New York with John. Lots going on.

BERMAN: We have breaking news, Kate, out of Paris where on the one- year anniversary of the attack on the magazine "Charlie Hebdo" that left 12 people dead. A new possible terror attack has been thwarted. French officials say a man wielding a meat cleaver and shouting, "Allah Akbar," approached a police station before being shot and killed by officers. The man was apparently wearing a pouch that seemed to be filled with fake explosives. Just moments ago, we learned he was carrying a piece of paper with the ISIS flag. That, and a note written in Arabic claiming responsibility for the attack.

Want to get straight to CNN's Atika Shubert live at the scene.

A lot of new information, Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of new information, but still a lot we don't know at this point. We also have some conflicting reports. Police say that he was armed with a butcher's knife and he approached the police station and he was shot immediately by police on the scene. They feared that the bulky vest he was wearing may have had explosives. They sent in a remote-control device to check. They now say it was a fake explosives vest. An eyewitness we spoke to also said she saw the incident. That he walked towards the police station and that he didn't have anything in his hands, but that he did appear to have cables or strings coming out of his sleeves. When police shouted at him to get back, he continued to move forward. That's when he was shot. According to this eyewitness, three times. So, we do have some conflicting reports here. We're still trying to get further details from police. They say they have not been able to identify the man yet or whether he was in contact with any other terror suspects or groups. It's important to note, John, they have not classified this as a terrorist attack yet. They've simply called it an aggression. They're trying to get more details before they define it any further.

BERMAN: Atika Shubert at the scene of the incident, whatever you want to call, it however you look at it, it was certainly unnerving given the one-year anniversary of the "Charlie Hebdo" attack at the same time of day of those attacks.

Want to bring in CNN terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank, also in Paris.

Paul, what do you make of this?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: John, they're investigating all of it at this point, clearly. But it does seem to be probably an ISIS-inspired attempt attack on a police station. ISIS called for exactly those kinds of attacks. It took place at exactly the same time as the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks. 11:30 in the morning here in Paris. Obviously, that has a lot of symbolism. There was a lot of anger amongst Islamist extremists because of the cartoons produced by "Charlie Hebdo." A lot of excitement in that same radical community because of those attacks. So, this could be a copycat one year on, inspired by ISIS to launch an attack on police on the one-year anniversary.

BERMAN: These copycat attacks are the very thing so many officials across Europe are worried about right now. Paul, there is also new information, so many threads coming in on the various investigations in the most recent Paris attack.

CRUICKSHANK: That's right. I got a briefing from a senior Belgium counterterror official on Monday. They told me there are two operatives still at large who played a senior role in the conspiracy of the Paris attacks, a more senior role than Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader in Paris behind the attack. That they were in communication with the attackers before, during and after the attack, giving orders to the attackers here on the 4th of December, Belgian authorities put out their pictures. They wanted to find them, but they had not identified them at that point. I'm told they are now very close to identifying them. Of course, it will be a very different question whether they'll be able to apprehend these two men who are considered armed and dangerous and may be planning possibly, one has to fear, more terrorist attacks in Europe. So, this conspiracy just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Ultimately tied back to ISIS in Syria believed to be tied back to the top leadership of the terrorist group there.

[11:05:36] BERMAN: The investigation continues and they keep pulling on these threads. It gets bigger and bigger.

Paul Cruickshank, in Paris, thanks so much.

Kate?

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John.

Also new this morning, Iran making bold claims against Saudi Arabia. Tehran accusing the Saudis of bombing its embassy in Yemen. This is to ban its citizens from making pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites for Muslims, possibly ratcheting up tensions between these two nations even further.

Let's get over to CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, in Beirut with more details.

Nick, what more are you learning about what actually happened here?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key thing we're missing at this stage, Kate, is actually proof that the Iranian embassy and Sanaa was actually struck by Saudi jets. The Iranian foreign ministry says that is the case and guards of the embassy were, in fact, injured during that strike. The Saudi coalition says, well, you know, we're investigating that but we don't have any credible evidence. We're not getting a lot of that from the ground ourselves at this stage. But, frankly, the facts of the matter, sadly at this time, regardless, of course, of the impact it has on those injured aren't quite what's so important. What this really does is inject the reality of potential actual conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now, their rivalry, their proxy war, has been behind so much of the instability in the Middle East for the past years or so. It's right at the heart of the Syrian conflict and it's at the heart of what's happening in Yemen where a group called the Houthies, backed by Iran, and Saudi Arabia's government with jets trying to dislodge them on their side, too. This particular attack f it did occur, unclear really quite what level of damage happened. Takes what we saw in the past few days, where the execution by Saudi Arabia of a pro-Iranian Shia activist outraged Iran, and commercial ties shattered. The fact we now see the potential of some real actual conflict, bombs being dropped by one side on the other, takes us from the rhetoric to a whole new stage, potentially. We don't know the exact facts of the matter. We do know we have an escalation now in the rhetoric at a time where the Middle East is torn apart by the rivalry between these two nations, which is the foundation of so many of the conflicts across the whole Middle East right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And as you point out, a lot is still not known about what happened here. The fact this comes after the violent protests at the embassy in Tehran, are there concerns this air strike, if it is true, that it could be a revenge strike?

PATON WALSH: Very hard to tell quite what the motivation would have been behind that. We're not quite sure what necessarily was -- whether or not that was a deliberate target at the stage the Iranians claim it was. The problem really comes down to the public arena in which this rivalry is playing out. The seeming need for each side to escalate their response one tit/tat for the other. The Saudis have done good getting Gulf States to cut ties are Iran, pressuring Iran. President Rouhani made it clear he condemns the attack in Iran.

The question moving forward, does this eventually calm down because both sides see it not really benefiting them taking this to a more open conflict where they go back to the posturing and proxy wars of previous years, or are we entering a new chapter here, regardless of the fact we still don't know what happened to the Saudi embassy in the capital of Sanaa -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut. Thanks so much.

John?

BERMAN: Kate, thanks so much.

Happening right now, ugliness on Wall Street. But really just moderate ugliness. The Dow is off to its worst trading year, beginning at least, in eight years. Take a look at the board right now. The Dow is down 144 points. Nerves frayed right now after China had a retched day. The markets in China close after a few minutes of being open, shut down completely. They lost 7 percent before they shut down trading.

Joining me now, CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, to explain what is going on.

Romans, we wake up together, in a matter of speaking, on "Early Start." And this morning, we woke up and the Chinese market had shut down. We were nervous that today was something to be awful on Wall Street.

[11:10:19] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They traded for 30 minutes. The joke was, before anybody could get a cup of coffee drank in China, the markets were closed. The Chinese government closed the markets. They have circuit breakers, like a shock absorber, it's a new phenomenon there, when there's a lot of selling, they shut the markets. It makes it worse. People lining up to sell again when they op. This is what happened in Shanghai. Down 7 percent and closed. Europe opening and it looked ugly. Look, Europe was lower. Then the U.S. coming in and it looked ugly. The U.S. market was down some 350 points right at the open. But now, look, it's cut those losses in half. I think this is encouraging. You've had 500 points of loss for the Dow this week alone. That's horrible. That's retched. Another 150 points right now. But it was much worse.

BERMAN: It's not good but it could be much worse. As you look at the Dow 30, some bright spots.

ROMANS: Some are turning higher. I think this is showing you it's not just indiscriminate selling across the boards. That's what we saw 12 hours ago around the world. A fear trade, John. Buying gold, buying bonds, selling stocks, risk-off, they call, it the market pros call, it because they're so concerned about China's market mayhem. Also concerned about China's economy. Slow in growth there. What that's going to mean for the U.S. You look within the U.S., you still have some pretty decent fundamentals. You got car sales at record high last year, probably a record high this year. A jobs report tomorrow that could show wage growth and could show decent job growth.

BERMAN: Signs today that maybe the U.S. can weather the storm taking place.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Great to have you here.

In the race for president, happy birther day. Surprising political leaders now coming to the party, questioning whether Ted Cruz is eligible to be president.

Plus, a surprising new ad from Marco Rubio. What it is revealing and, more importantly, why.

BOLDUAN: And much more from here in Virginia at George Mason University as the NRA turns down an invitation to attend tonight's town hall with President Obama.

Donald Trump at the very same time says it's Hillary Clinton that wants to take everyone's guns away. I'll speak with both sides of this fiery debate.

This is CNN special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:00] BERMAN: New this morning, unlikely voices with unlikely opinions on the question of whether Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother, is eligible to be president. Almost all legal scholars say, yes, certainly. But now Senator John McCain, who faced a similar issue during his 2008 bid, says he is not so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: What came up in my race because I was born in Panama, but I was born in the Canal Zone, which is a territory. It's a U.S. military base. That's different from being born on foreign soil. So I think there is a question. I am not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into. I don't think it's illegitimate to look into it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The flames on this issue, if you will, have been fanned all week by Donald Trump, who now tells Wolf Blitzer that Cruz should go before a judge to settle this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: He should ask for a declaratory judgment because that will clear it all up. This would clear it up. You go into court, you ask for a declaratory judgment. The judge would rule. Once the judge rules he's OK, then the Democrats can't bring a lawsuit later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I want to go to CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She is with the Cruz campaign in Storm Lake, Iowa. A lovely snow-filled Storm Lake, Iowa.

Dana, you've been on the bus and Ted Cruz has sort of moved beyond the Fonz, at least a little bit here, and started to direct this more directly.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's jumped beyond jumping the shark, if you will. I have to say just kind of for a moment here, I'm old enough to remember being here way, way back in 2008 when John McCain was being questioned about whether or not he would be eligible to be president of the United States because he was born in panama. You heard him kind of explaining the differences. That it was a military installation, so on and so forth. But I think it just kind of goes to show the way things look depends on where you sit. And John McCain and Ted Cruz have not always seen eye to eye on everything. You're right. Ted Cruz is now getting into the nitty gritty about what exactly it would mean if he is president, particularly given the fact that he has a legal background.

I asked him about these issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Speaking of the Constitution, you may have heard that Donald Trump is bringing up the fact that you were born in Canada, and saying that if you're the Republican nominee, it could be held up in the court for two years. You're a Constitutional scholar. You've argued before the Supreme Court. Why do you think on the legal basis he's wrong?

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, look, the legal issue is straightforward. The son of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural born citizen.

BASH: It's never been tested. You know full well because you've done it on other issues.

CRUZ: The laws of the Constitution of the United States are straightforward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad as a natural born citizen. Many members of the first Congress were framers at the Constitutional conference. At end of the day, this is a nonissue. My response as we were talking a minute ago, I tweeted a link to a video of Fonzie jumping a shark. I'm not going to engage in this. The reason is simple, there are far too many serious issues facing this country. Last night, North Korea claims to have tested a hydrogen bomb. What the American people are looking for is who's prepared to be commander-in-chief? Who has the seriousness, who has the judgment, who has the knowledge, who has the clarity of vision, who has the strength --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Let me button this up. Just on the issue of the passport.

CRUZ: What passport?

BASH: Donald Trump is suggesting -- saying that you had a Canadian passport.

CRUZ: It's not true.

BASH: False, never had one in your entire life?

CRUZ: Yes.

BASH: You asked your mother, your dad, you never had one?

CRUZ: Yes, I'm sure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: So, John, he's trying to put this to bed as much as he can. Good luck to him because Donald Trump is continuing to throw ideas out, either as we heard from Wolf Blitzer's interview last night, like if he should go to a federal judge and ask a federal judge to end this for once and for all. I'm sure Ted Cruz will not be that successful in moving past these questions.

[11:20:27] BERMAN: It's not just Donald Trump now. It's John McCain asking these open questions as well.

Dana Bash, in Iowa, thank you, Dana.

Want to talk more about the legal challenge to Cruz that Donald Trump is asking about.

George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, joins us right now.

Professor, Donald Trump says Ted Cruz should get a declaratory statement from a federal judge. What is such a thing and how would that work?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Mr. Trump was referring to the Declaratory Judgment Act. In order to use that act, which is an act where a court can declare a federal law or policy to be unconstitutional, you need standing. You need to be able to show that this is a case or controversy under what's called Article III of the Constitution. I actually litigate a lot under that act and I doubt a court would actually do what Mr. Trump suggested. You can't just walk into a court and ask for a judgment, like some type of legal Slurpy. They don't just serve up that type of advice. They're particularly worried about anything that is a political question, but also they don't want to give what's called an advisory opinion, that is, to give an opinion in a case that isn't rite ripe for review or where there isn't Article III standing.

BERMAN: You brought up Slurpies. Let me bring up Article II, Article II, Section 1, Clause 5. This is the article that talks about presidential eligibility and it says this, "No person except a natural-born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution shall be eligible to the office of president." This is what this is all about. The words natural-born citizen against, most legal scholars say, Cruz is almost certainly eligible but it's never been decided or litigated or ruled on by the Supreme Court.

TURLEY: That's right. In fairness to Mr. Trump, it is true that this has never been clearly answered by the Supreme Court. And we are living at a time when we're seeing many immigration questions, such as children born to undocumented persons, are still open and contentious questions. So, that part of it is certainly true in fairness to Mr. Cruz, the historical records and the statutory record does, in fact, favor him rather significantly in his interpretation. And Mr. Cruz is very knowledgeable about the Constitution. I've had conversations with him in the past. And he is certainly knowledgeable about that history. In 1790, it was clear that the Congress adopted a definition that supported Mr. Cruz's claim. Moreover, the English common law that existed at the time the Constitution was written also clearly supported this definition. And much of what the framers did, they did on the back -- on the sort of foundation of the English common law, which they're very familiar with.

BERMAN: Ted Cruz knows that, as you said. This is a man who's argued before the Supreme Court. He knows what he's talking about here, almost definitely many legal scholars agree.

Jonathan Turley, appreciate you being with us. Appreciate it.

TURLEY: Thank you.

I want to talk about this more. Want to bring in Republican strategist, Mercedes Schlapp; and Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist whose firm advised Democratic candidate and the DNC.

Mercedes, I want to talk about John McCain. Because John McCain when asked about Ted Cruz, is he eligible, could have easily said yes and moved on. But he didn't. He said the questions are legitimate. What's going on there?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that John McCain has a disdain for Ted Cruz. It's very clear that that has never been what you would call a loving relationship in any way in the Senate. It was John McCain who came out and spoke about the Tea Partiers and Senator Ted Cruz calling them whacko birds. This goes beyond -- it's more of a personal hit. I think it's the fact that John McCain wants to keep this question of Ted Cruz's eligibility in the news, in the media. And, again, it's an interesting political battle to watch. It's more of a political issue than legal issue at this point.

BERMAN: It's not just John McCain or Donald Trump. Rand Paul is doing it, too.

And, Hillary, so, too, is Josh Earnest from the podium in the White House briefing room. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It would be quite ironic if after seven or eight years of drama around the president's birth certificate, if Republican primary voters were to chose Senator Cruz as their nominee, somebody who actually wasn't born in the United States and only 18 months ago renounced his Canadian citizenship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:25:11] BERMAN: You know, I know what he's doing there. But wouldn't the high road to be, yes, he can run for president and move on.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Josh Earnest is given a few slap-arounds given what the president has gone through over the years. Let's look at the bigger picture because I think what we're experiencing with John McCain, and I think we're going to start to see it more with other more mainstream Republicans is that they are starting to look at their two alternatives in this primary as being Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and they're panicking. They need to find as many issues as they can to sort of keep these guys in lower numbers. And, you know, when the alternative to Donald Trump becomes Ted Cruz, you have, you know, 50 Republican Senators who can't stand the guy, all huddling and figuring out, how do we keep that guy out of it, too? So, I think we're seeing just the beginning of what's going to be a Republican primary internecine war.

BERMAN: Marco Rubio today released a pretty stark television ad. I want to play just a part of it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. The struggle on a daily basis is as a Christian is to remind ourselves of this. The purpose of our life is to cooperate with god's plan. To those who much is given, much is expected. We'll be asked to account for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, this is Marco Rubio now in an ad basically professing his faith, professing his Christian values.

This is not something he runs on as much as some of the other candidates, Mercedes, so the question is, why? What is he aiming at here?

SCHLAPP: For Senator Rubio his faith is an important part of his life. With that being said, obviously, politically we're looking at evangelical voters. Very key in states like Iowa, very key in southern states like South Carolina, for example. So, he needs to make inroads with these evangelical Christians. Why, John? Because right now, Ted Cruz is doing very well with the evangelical voters, especially in Iowa and in South Carolina. And actually Trump is doing fairly well with that group. Again, I think this is a play for Marco Rubio for individuals in those states, evangelical Christians, to see that side of Marco Rubio, which he clearly has stayed away from recently.

BERMAN: He may not need to win that group but can peel them off.

One last question on Joe Biden. He did an interview where he essentially says every day he regrets the fact he didn't run for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I regret it every day, but it was the right decision for my family and for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, you know, it's interesting to hear that. He says he regrets it every day but he stands by his decision. Leave that aside. But it did make me think about this in Joe Biden. Don't you think there will be a time this month, next month, beyond that, where Joe Biden will say something that will complicate things in the Democratic primary, specifically for Hillary Clinton?

ROSEN: Well, look, they're very good friends. And I'm sure that making the decision not to run for president was an acknowledgment he was going to end up supporting Hillary in the primary and the general election. I have no doubt about that. Look, you know, great public servant who had a lot to offer. I do believe he's wistful looking at the action that's going on and thinking that he had something to offer here. But he made that decision. I think Democrats are happy with our choices. And we'll move on.

Can I say on the Marco Rubio thing really quickly which is that Marco Rubio is running for president of the United States, secular country, not for pope. While this might help him in a Democratic primary move him up towards Ted Cruz with evangelicals, the problem Republicans will continue to have is that the more they are fighting for a very small segment of voters in the Republican primary, the more they're distancing themselves from the general election.

SCHLAPP: There's plenty of faithful people, people of faith --

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: It's not about not having faith.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: It's OK to talk about your faith. Absolutely OK to talk about what you believe. ROSEN: It's not about not having faith. It's about talking about

America as a purely Christian country, which, of course, it's not. So, that's -- you know, that's where we're going to find differences when we get into a general election, you're going to have --

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: At this point, he needs to talk to the GOP voters.

ROSEN: That's my point.

SCHLAPP: And part of that voter base, are the evangelical Christians, which includes Libertarians and other segments of the population.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: That's exactly my point.

SCHLAPP: Why not if you have your faith, be able to talk about it in public? It's a free country where we're able to do that. That's the beauty of America.

ROSEN: You should --

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: Whether you're Christian or Muslim or Jewish.

ROSEN: You should talk about it from your own perspective.

SCHLAPP: Hilary, it's one ad. It's one political ad.