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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump Boycotting Debate Over "Childish" FOX Statement; Trump Campaign Manager Talks About Skipping Debate; Cruz Looks For Iowa Boost After Trump Exits Debate; Sanders, Clinton in Iowa Dead Heat; U.S. Scrambling to Contain Virus Targeting Newborns. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 27, 2016 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll continue to follow all the news. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to all. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the Republican frontrunners both speaking live in just a few moments. The now bitter rivals are in two crucial states tonight. Trump in South Carolina. Cruz is in Iowa.
It's the first time we'll hear from Trump directly since his bombshell announcement he is skipping tomorrow night's GOP debate. Now Trump has just announced he is staging his own event.
He is going to honor veterans. His rally will be at the exact same time in the exact same town as the debate itself. Trump is angry and he is not backing down.
Just tweeting moments ago that Fox is to blame for his missing the debate. His tweet, "It was the childishly written and taunting PR statement by Fox that made me not do the debate more so than lightweight reporter, Megyn Kelly."
Now we are going to have much more on that in a moment. Trump's campaign manager will be OUTFRONT. The stakes, of course, couldn't be higher with the race in Iowa a dead heat between Trump and Cruz.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta is in Gilbert, South Carolina, where Trump will be speaking live at any moment. Jim, Trump is going full speed ahead with this competing event tomorrow night.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sounds like it, Erin. Donald Trump's campaign has made it official, as you said, issuing a press release this evening that the GOP frontrunner will be offering his own counter programming to tomorrow's Fox News debate.
Instead of debating his rivals, Trump will appear with veterans groups at a separate event across town in Des Moines. He is here in South Carolina. He'll be out on stage in a few moments where he's likely to fire back in his war of words with Fox News. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a high stakes game of political chicken just days before the Iowa caucuses. Donald Trump is showing no signs of backing down from his threat to skip the Fox News Republican debate tomorrow.
TRUMP: So let them have their debate and let's see how they do with the ratings.
ACOSTA: Asked earlier today whether the GOP frontrunner was keeping the door open just a crack, Trump's campaign manager all but slammed it shut. Trump's main rival in Iowa, Ted Cruz pounced.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, Donald is fragile soul.
ACOSTA: Launching a ducking Donald page on his campaign website, if Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly, Cruz crowed, let's debate one on one. Cruz is also selling a new hat that reads "Make Trump debate again."
CRUZ: You know, if she asks him mean questions, I mean, his hair might stand on end.
ACOSTA: Trump fired back on Twitter. Can we do it in Canada? But other GOP contenders also see an opening. Jeb Bush told CNN's Gloria Borger, Trump's complaints show weakness.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a little weird. Life is unfair. You've got to make tough decisions. You have to challenge things. You have to deal with foreign leaders that don't agree with you. You can't take your toys and go home.
ACOSTA: Trump blames it all on Fox News for putting out a sarcastic statement suggesting the real estate tycoon was afraid of moderator, Megyn Kelly.
TRUMP: When they sent out the wise guy press releases a little while ago done by some PR person along with Roger Ailes, I said bye-bye.
ACOSTA: Trump lashed out on Twitter, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct." Fox accused the Trump campaign are trying to threaten Kelly saying in a statement, "We can't give in to terrorization towards any of our employees."
TRUMP: In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.
ACOSTA: It's all a risky move for Trump as a new anti-Trump PAC is airing ads attacking him. Critics are recalling the time he slammed Republicans for skipping a debate during the 2012 cycle when he complimented Kelly on her moderating skills.
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Do you think I'm a better moderator than I am? TRUMP: No, I could never beat you. That wouldn't even be close. You have done a great job, by the way, and I mean it.
ACOSTA: Now it's worth pointing out, Donald Trump is finding an ally in Rush Limbaugh who said on his radio show today that Fox News is acting like it has been jilted at the altar.
And once again Trump has found a new way to dominate the coverage in this race with the GOP nomination and talking to people in this conservative crowd, Erin, it is clear many here will be watching Trump tomorrow night, not Fox News.
And I did ask a senior Trump campaign official, is there any way he could do both events tomorrow night? Officials said flatly they're happening at the same time. It sounds like he's out -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Jim Acosta. So let's go OUTFRONT to Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Corey, good to have you with us.
[19:05:04]So your candidate first in all the national polls, neck-and- neck in Iowa, neck-and-neck in Iowa. You are obviously taking a risk by closing the door completely to appearing tomorrow night. Why take that risk?
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, It's not neck and neck in Iowa. The poll that came out today has Donald Trump winning 30 to 23 over his closest competitor. But it's not just the risk, it's about the issue of fairness.
You know, Fox News decided to put out a statement, which was completely inappropriate. They want to taunt Mr. Trump about, you know, Vladimir Putin and dismembering the cabinet and listening to his Twitter followers.
You know, I don't think that's worthy of a top tier presidential candidate to have to go through. It's really on Fox News. That's really what it comes to and so Mr. Trump has been the clear winner of the last six debates.
He's won every national poll during those six debates whether it's the Drudge Report or Time or Slate. They've all said he's been the winner. He was the clear winner of the last debate. It's very simple.
He's able and willing to debate, but he's not going to do it if the network itself is not going to be fair. Let's just remember when CNBC had moderators on who were unfair to the candidates.
The Republican National Committee sanctioned them by removing NBC moving forward and giving CNN that debate instead because fairness is important in allowing the candidates to talk to the people directly and not having personal attacks is what a debate should be about. BURNETT: All right, so the statement from Fox, just for those who aren't aware, included in part saying, we learned from a secret back channel the Ayatollah, Putin, both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him when he's president.
And they went on to make a joke saying like it's he'll ask his Twitter followers whether he should up at those meetings. So it has been escalating nastily.
You have said, though, Corey, that Mr. Trump will not change his mind. That this is done. He will not be there tomorrow night. Has Fox News had Roger Ailes spoken to you or Mr. Trump since last night?
LEWANDOWSKI: I've had no conversation with Mr. Ailes and so the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump has had no conversation with Mr. Ailes. As you know, we just put out a statement that says Mr. Trump is going to be at Drake University tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
We're going to raise money for the veterans of our great country that are treated like third-rate citizens. So we've got a full program. You know, we have hundreds of media credentialed people who are going to be there to hopefully cover Mr. Trump's event.
We'll take care of our veterans because our country isn't doing that. The VA is a disaster. It's time to put those people first. So that's what we'll be doing tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern as opposed to participating in the Fox News debate.
BURNETT: Is that going to be broadcast on networks? Is that going to be something people can watch? What are your plans on that front?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, you know, it's open to the media. Obviously as all of Mr. Trump's speeches are, if the networks choose to come and cover that, we obviously would welcome that opportunity. It's open.
If they want to live stream that, they're welcome to do that as they do that for many of his speeches. I hope they will do that because I think the American people are going to look at that Fox News debate with a series of career politicians on that stage.
And say you know what, this is not what we want. We want a leader. We want someone who is going to fix this and so why bother watching a debate which is politicians who are all talk no action. We'd rather watch a real leader in Donald Trump and what he's going to talk about.
BURNETT: So "New York" magazine today reported Trump was not taking Ailes' calls after announcing the boycott. Trump advisers are privately telling people that he will only deal with Rupert Murdoch to resolve the dispute.
Rupert Murdoch, of course, is Ailes' boss, the head of Fox News Corporation. Is this true? That this would now come down to Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump?
LEWANDOWSKI: I don't think so. I don't know of any conversation that took place between Mr. Trump and Rupert Murdoch or for that matter between Mr. Trump and Mr. Ailes.
You know, we've been clear in our statements. Mr. Trump has been crystal clear the he's not going to participate in the debate. We set up our own event at Drake University.
So we hope that people come and watch that. I think we'll have a much better viewership than what you'll see on the Fox News debate tomorrow night.
BURNETT: So obviously you have said this is about Fox News and being treated fairly and it's not about Megyn Kelly specifically. So can you explain, Corey, so everyone can understand, why Mr. Trump is appearing in a Fox interview tonight?
LEWANDOWSKI: It's not specifically about Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump has appeared on Fox, you know, multiple times, hundreds of times potentially since the course of this campaign has begun. He's answered every single tough question that's every moderator including yourself has been brought to him and he's won every debate. He's not at war with Fox.
This is about being treated fair on the debate stage. I don't think based on the information that they put out during the last statement that he could be treated fairly on that debate stage.
It's my obligation to Mr. Trump to ensure that he has an opportunity to talk directly to the American people. That's why we'll take that tomorrow night at Drake University.
BURNETT: I guess I'm just trying to understand, though. You're saying this is about Fox News. He's just tweeting out, right. It's about this PR statement that they put out, you know, insulting him and how we would be as a world leader. But he still is going on Fox News tonight, right? It does seem a little bit confusing, you can see, right?
LEWANDOWSKI: It's not confusing at all. Obviously, you know, Fox News is comprises of a whole series of anchors and the event that he's doing tonight.
[19:10:05]The interview he's doing tonight with Bill O'Reilly was long scheduled before this took place. He held to our commitment. They held to their commitment. So we did that as an obligation because we had made that promise.
When we make a promise, we keep it except when people Mr. Trump unfairly so instead of participating in the debate tomorrow, we'll do our own event. We'll raise money for veterans who so needily deserve it.
BURNETT: So Fox News mentioned you also, Corey, directly in their statement about Trump's decision. In part they wrote today in their statement, I'll quote them about you and a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive.
Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a, quote, "rough couple of days after that last debate" and he would, quote, "hate to have her go through that again."
Lewandowski was warned not to let any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can't give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees." Did you make threats?
LEWANDOWSKI: Look, not only did I not make threats, but the conversation with the Fox News executive, his daughter works for the Rubio campaign. He's one of the executives on Fox that write the debate questions.
So, you know, maybe he has his own ulterior motives. I'm not sure, but his daughter is a senior executive on the Rubio campaign. Maybe he should disclose that before he's writing the debate questions for Fox.
There were no threats made. The bottom line is this isn't about me. It's not about Megyn Kelly. It's about the way that Fox News, you know, put out a statement about Mr. Trump, which is wholly inaccurate and unfair.
And it's very difficult to treat someone fairly when you're the GOP frontrunner and you put out a statement like that.
BURNETT: So you're saying this is Fox News, that they have someone who is dealing with all of the negotiations, actually supporting and advising Marco Rubio?
LEWANDOWSKI: No, what I said was that Fox News executive, who oversees the debate process, their daughter is a senior executive on the Marco Rubio campaign, is what I said.
BURNETT: Their daughter, OK. Ted Cruz is obviously going to be there tomorrow night. Now this could be a make or break moment for him. He could break out because he doesn't have Donald Trump to fight.
It might not work that way, but it might. He's challenging Donald Trump to a one on one debate. I know Donald Trump tweeted today, OK, in Canada, obviously making a joke of it.
But is this a challenge that he would ever accept if it continues to be Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in this race?
LEWANDOWSKI: Of course. Look, at the end of this race it's going to come down to two candidates for the Republican nomination at some point. If Ted Cruz is fortunate enough to be that second candidate, we'll be happy to debate him one on one at any debate stage that is available to us under the rules of the Republican National Committee.
So if Ted Cruz is the last man standing next to Donald Trump, we'll be happy to debate him. You know, what this comes down to is Ted Cruz's campaign has been desperate and has been falling apart in the state of Iowa.
He's talked about how great his ground game is and how many people he has on the ground and his poll numbers continue to drop because people are starting to question if he has the legal right to run for president of the United States.
You know, potentially, he should go and get a declaratory judgment from the courts to make sure that that question is put aside before people start voting on Monday in the caucuses.
BURNETT: One final question for you, Corey. Mr. Trump tweeted today one other thing about the moderator, Megyn Kelly. Let me just quote the tweet.
He wrote, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct instead I only call her a lightweight reporter.
Of course, Mr. Trump has twice retweeted messages in which others called Kelly a bimbo. He was heavily criticized at that time for not sounding presidential at the least. Why use that language? Why put the word bimbo anywhere near this tweet?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, he didn't use that language. He said he wasn't going to use that language. And so you know, the tweets speak for themselves, but he said he wasn't going to do that.
His opinion is that Megyn Kelly is a lightweight. He's entitled to that opinion, of course. His tweets always speak for themselves and I know you'd carry them all the time live. And so we'll let them stand.
BURNETT: Right. Corey, I have to say, though, I mean, if you're not going to call someone a bimbo, you don't write I refuse to call them a bimbo. You just don't do it.
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I guess that's a matter of opinion and what he said was very clearly that he believes she is a lightweight reporter. He said that very clearly and that's his opinion.
BURNETT: All right, Corey, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us. Corey Lewandowski as we said the campaign manager for Donald Trump.
OUTFRONT next with no Trump on the debate stage, is Cruz the new top target? Plus the love-hate relationship between Trump and Fox. The back story on that coming up, and President Obama meeting with Bernie Sanders behind closed doors today. His message to the man who is running neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton.
BURNETT: You're looking at live pictures out of West Des Moines, Iowa. Ted Cruz being introduced at a campaign rally there. Five days to go until the caucuses.
He, of course, has been slamming Donald Trump for skipping tomorrow night's crucial debate and challenging Trump to a one-on-one faceoff.
OUTFRONT now from West Des Moines is Phil Mattingly with Ted Cruz. Phil, does Ted Cruz's campaign have a plan, a real specific plan at this point, to turn this whole debate debacle into an advantage for Cruz?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do, Erin. It's flooding the zone. There's a real recognition inside the campaign that Donald Trump is more or less in this most crucial period for the Iowa caucuses, sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.
What you've seen is a full court press by his campaign today. So not only attack Donald Trump, but hit every aspect of how Donald Trump is working.
They've had them create web sites ducking Donald comparing him to Scrooge McDuck. They're selling hats "Make Trump debate again."
So not only are they raising money, building the political list, but most importantly, Erin, they are trying to keep themselves in the bloodstream and that's extremely important obviously with just a few days left before voters hit those caucuses.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Phil. As we said live with Ted Cruz tonight. Ted Cruz is going to be speaking momentarily as is Donald Trump. We'll be taking those live as they address this crucial issue.
This is the first time Donald Trump has publicly come out and addressed this issue himself since last night's bombshell announcement.
OUTFRONT now, the former Reagan White House political director, Jeffrey Lord, the author of "What America Needs, The Case for Trump," and the senior communications adviser for Ted Cruz's campaign, Alice Stewart.
So Alice, let me start with you. If Donald Trump is not there tomorrow night and at this point, it is categorical that he won't because he's announced an event for wounded warriors at the same time in the same city.
This is a done deal. Does Ted Cruz lose his last chance to Trump down directly before the caucuses?
ALICE STEWART, SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: No. We'll have the opportunity to do that tomorrow night. It's just that Donald Trump won't be here. What I find ironic in all of this, Erin, is the fact that Donald Trump, someone who several times relied on student deferments to dodge Vietnam is now hiding behind veterans to dodge a debate.
[19:20:02]And it's all simply because he is afraid of a female moderator that's going to ask him some tough questions. And the bad thing is he thinks this is all about ratings and has touted the fact, this is going to hurt Fox's ratings.
The reality is this is about respect for the process, respect for the people of Iowa, and the American people who have relied on this last important debate before the caucus as an opportunity to see the candidates on stage together, showing their contrast on the issues and pleading their case.
He is depriving them of that opportunity. If he's afraid of a moderator on the debate, he's not going to hold his own when it comes to foreign policy and talking about real serious issues with our national security.
BURNETT: So Jess, Ted Cruz has stepped it up in terms of challenging Trump. He said he wants to debate him before the caucuses. Trump's campaign manager told me Cruz is doing that because he's desperate. Here's how he put it just a moment ago on the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWANDOWSKI: If Ted Cruz is the last man standing next to Donald Trump, we'll be happy to debate him. You know, what this comes down to is Ted Cruz's campaign has been desperate. It's been falling apart in the state of Iowa.
He's talked about how great his ground game is and how many people he has on the ground and his poll numbers continue to drop because people are starting to question if he even has the legal right to run for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Earlier, Trump responded by making sure he would do the debate and do it Canada. You know, Jeff, should he take it more seriously and not dismiss Ted Cruz who he is running neck-and-neck with in Iowa?
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think he's dismissing Ted Cruz. I think he's got a good ground game out there. He's on the attack. This is what you do in presidential primaries. This is completely normal, believe it or not.
So I don't think there's anything new about this. He is going to go after Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is going to go after him. Rush Limbaugh had a great explanation for this today.
Donald Trump has been acting outside the bounds of the normal political formulas and it baffles and frustrates and angers all sorts of establishment folks. They don't know really quite how to deal with it.
I think Senator Cruz who is a very smart guy and I like him a lot is left here trying to figure out what to do. He's grabbing the first thing he can think of here, which is challenging that debate, but I'm not sure --
BURNETT: Jeff, at some point -- it might look empty and it might be lonely, but it could be the biggest mistake that he makes. It could cost him Iowa like you've compared Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan so many times, right, because you worked with Ronald Reagan.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan skipped a debate before the Iowa caucuses. He lost Iowa. Could this be the mistake that could cost Trump Iowa? Do you entertain that possibility?
LORD: Sure, I mean, is it a risk? Sure, it's a risk. I was listening to some of the CNN commentary where various Trump supporters were interviewed.
One young man said they like Donald Trump because he takes action. Another said because he's not politically correct. In walking away from this debate, he is taking action. He's showing, not speaking, not talking.
He is illustrating what leadership is all about, just as Ronald Reagan did when he walked away from the table with Gorbachev. He's also fighting political correctness by saying flat out I'm not doing this just to be politically correct. I'm sorry.
STEWART: Erin, I will say this. I agree with Jeffrey 100 percent on the fact that Donald is showing quite a bit by running and hiding from this. He is showing to the American people and the people here in Iowa that he will make a commitment and then dodge it and run the other way.
Say one thing and do something completely the opposite. He's very calculated. This was planned long ago because we have known from the very beginning that Megyn Kelly was going to host this debate.
He knew long ago he was going to dodge this Republican debate. If he was going to do that, he should have participated in CNN's Democratic town hall over the weekend. He's been a Democrat longer than he's been a Republican.
However, he's decided that he wants to go this route and what we are going to do tomorrow night is how the contrast that Ted Cruz has been a consistent conservative. He has been strong on the issues his entire life as opposed to Donald Trump who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats over the years.
He has supported abortion. He has supported gay marriage. He is certainly much more of a Democrat than he is a Republican. He didn't want to go up on the stage tomorrow night and have Ted Cruz point it out a few days before the caucuses.
BURNETT: All right, thanks very much to both of you. I'd say the one thing I don't understand, if Donald Trump is willing to debate right after the whole Muslim issue, you would think he would be willing to debate now if it is a point of fear.
He has taken the stage, though, we think he may address this at his rally in South Carolina. This is Donald Trump live. If he does, we're going to jump in on that, obviously something of interest and importance to many now.
OUTFRONT next, as we watch Donald Trump and Fox News, the rift in their relationship now seismic, the inside story on this unprecedented battle. And Bernie Sanders meeting privately with President Obama after the president basically endorses his rival. What did Obama tell Sanders? That's coming up.
BURNETT: Breaking news, Donald Trump speaking at a rally in South Carolina live at this moment for the first time publicly expected to address the fallout after he shocked everyone by pulling out of tomorrow night's Republican debate.
Tonight, Trump's campaign manager just telling me OUTFRONT that Trump has not spoken to anyone at Fox News about his decision to not attend the debate, so how did it all start? Brian Stelter is OUTFRONT.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hamilton and Burr, the Hatfields and the McCoys, to the list of history's most famous feuds add Donald Trump and Fox News?
It could have been a match in media heaven. Trump and Fox News boss, Roger Ailes, are old friends. Both are successful conservative businessmen who know how to put on a show.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK.
STELTER: But their relationship is torture and now at a breaking point with Trump boycotting Fox's debate. This fight unprecedented for a TV news network.
[19:30:03] TRUMP: I don't know what games Roger Ailes is playing.
STELTER: For years, Ailes helped build Trump up and Trump brought Ailes big ratings. But now, the two men are at loggerheads with some even comparing this to a monster movie. Trump as Frankenstein.
Megyn Kelly is caught in the controversy, as she prepped to moderate a Trump-free debate.
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The debate will go on with or without Mr. Trump.
STELTER: She famously clashed with Trump at the first debate of the season, causing Trump to threaten a FOX boycott and insult Kelly personally
TRUMP: She gets out and she starts asking all sorts of ridiculous questions. And, you know, you could say there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.
STELTER: Ailes was furious. And FOX said Trump doesn't seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.
Later, Ailes and Trump struck a tenuous truce, then broke it, and then got back together again.
And maybe they'll make up this time, too. But right now, feelings are raw and Trump is the butt of jokes.
JOY BEHAR, THE VIEW: This is the first gorgeous blond that he can't wrap around his finger.
STELTER: People are now choosing sides with influential conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh siding with Trump, saying FOX is acting jilted.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: Donald Trump knows that by not showing up, he's owning the entire event. Some guy not even present will end up owning the entire event.
STELTER: So, who needs whom more? FOX or Trump? Thursday's ratings might start to answer that key question.
STELTER: Roger Ailes used to having all the power but, Erin, this is a situation where it seems Trump is winning. FOX News seems to be on the defensive in some ways. It's a PR nightmare for them and it's not getting to end any time soon here.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: No, it isn't.
All right. Thank you very much, Brian.
I mean, this is a fascinating story. And OUTFRONT now, our senior political analyst David Gergen, along with our political commentator Ben Ferguson.
Now, David, you're got this back and forth going on which ends with Trump saying bye-bye, literally. Could this hurt his stand with Iowans, right? Everyone keeps saying, oh, they're finicky, they want to be paid close attention to in the final moments. They need this debate.
Is that true? Are they going to say, you know what, we're not going to vote for this guy because he didn't show up at the debate?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a risk, but I don't think it's a large risk. You go back to early American history, back to the revolution. There was a famous flag, as you recall, with a rattlesnake and had the words "Don't Tread on Me." "Don't Treat on Me".
And there's something about that and the spirit of what Donald Trump has done here in my judgment. I'm critical of him on other issues. I'm concerned about what kind of president he'd be. On this particular issue, I don't think he would have dodged the debate if Megyn Kelly was the only issue.
When FOX issued an extraordinary, snarky and insulting statement about Trump, he said, "I'm out of here. Bye-bye." You know, and he stood up to the media. That really happens with America. I think it drives home the point that Donald Trump is running as a guy who is not going to be owned by anybody and he's willing to stand up to people and walk away.
I also thought frankly he was smart to schedule this thing on the veterans. He's been arguing for a long time for all this high ratings, the people sponsoring ought to take their advertising revenue and give it to veterans. Now, he's doing it himself. I think people like that kind of thing.
So, there's a risk, Erin, but I don't think it's a big risk.
BURNETT: So, Ben, hold on, before you jump, I just want to read this statement that David's referring to as extraordinary. This is what FOX News said that Donald Trump said prompted him to back out.
They said, quote, "We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president." And it continued to say, "Oh, so Donald Trump will just go to his Twitter followers and ask them whether he should show up at meetings."
It is pretty extraordinary that a news organization would say something that is frankly so un-journalistic and unprofessional. How should Trump have responded to that? OK, sure, I'll show up at your debate.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I'll say this -- welcome to the big leagues, Donald Trump. You know, Donald is a pretty nasty guy, and he got a little bit in that press release of what he dishes out every single day.
But the bigger issue is what is he going to do if he actually is the president and somebody asks him a tough president. Let's remember, Megyn's question was only quoting Donald Trump's own words. If you want to be mad at somebody, be mad at yourself for saying sexist remarks about women. Don't tweet them out. Don't call women bimbos. Don't say they're bleeding out of wherever.
That's why he's not showing up tomorrow night is because of his own words that he got mad were thrown back in his own face as a presidential candidate.
Here's the other thing -- I think he overplayed the veterans here. I had multiple veterans furious today that called into my radio show saying, if you want to go to war with FOX News, fine. But don't use our tragedy, don't use our limbs that were blown off in Iraq and Afghanistan, don't use me sitting in a wheelchair being a quadriplegic or paraplegic to your advantage politically.
They were very turned off by this move because they do not feel this is genuine. [19:35:04] They feel like this is the lowest form of political move by
Donald Trump trying to claim, I'm going to stand up for the veterans when in reality, he doesn't want to show up for a debate. And the veterans who fought for this country that called in today, they were livid with Donald Trump for using their tragedies --
BURNETT: That's fascinating.
FERGUSON: -- their disabilities, to his political advantage. I think that was a really sick and perverted move by Donald Trump to do that and I agree with the veterans that called in.
BURNETT: So, this adds a whole new layer to it and it's a fascinating one, and it could be a negative one. One that could be a positive one is winning over some of the most influential conservatives in the country, talk radio show hosts. They have not been big fans of Donald Trump thus far.
Rush Limbaugh had this to say about Trump's decision today, though.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I've got news for you: he is controlling the media, and it is his objective. He is controlling the media. He controls the media when he's not on it. He controls the media when he is on it. He controls the media when he's asleep.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: And, David, is this something that you think will be a good thing for Trump? Even though it is FOX News traditionally the voice of conservatives? Americans will say, good, tell them to go take a hike, too?
GERGEN: Look, I think what Americans are looking for now who are scared and anxious about the future is somebody who is strong and decisive and somebody who is willing to stand up to vested interests in this country and say sometimes you get it wrong. And, you know, if you want to insult me, I'm not going to walk into some setup on your debate where you're going to -- this statement that they issued, the extraordinary statement they issued signaled that he was going to be very likely walking into a setup.
And why should he say, hey, wait a minute, you go over the line, I'm not playing?
GERGEN: Listen, hold on. Perhaps you're a decorated veteran. I don't know. I am a veteran. I work with veterans organizations.
I can tell you, they appreciate for the most part. I don't know who called into your show, but I can tell you, the veterans I know appreciate the fact that someone's been willing to say, I'll raise some money. Let's go out and do this, let's make this a cause. FERGUSON: Do it on another day is their point, as one veteran said to
me, if he really believes in this as much as he claims he does, then why didn't he do it yesterday or the day after? Don't use our tragedies for your political gains on the night -- hold on, but he can do an event, David, any time he wants to do an event. He has a private jet to do it whenever he wants to do it. The fact that he uses veterans and their tragedy of war on a night because he doesn't want to show up for debate, that is their issues with him.
If he wants to do it, David, that's a long campaign. He could do it any other night he wants to do it.
BURNETT: Final word, David. Listen. He's been urging FOX and other networks to take some of the extra revenue they're getting off these large debate audiences, which he is the big magnet drawing in, urging, he's been urging them for a long time, to do something for the veterans. Now, he's going to do it for himself.
GERGEN: I'm sure he will. But he's been supportive of veterans.
FERGUSON: He hasn't done it yet.
GERGEN: He's holding an event to try to put emphasis on veterans. I don't think that's exploitation. And it's off the main point, too, and that is somebody needs to stand up. I think American voters are looking for somebody who is tough enough who can take it, and stand up instead of meekly go along with whatever is handed out by the media. I'm not playing by those rules.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I hit pause on that, but a fascinating conversation.
OUTFRONT next, Bernie Sanders surging in the polls. Hillary Clinton pressuring him to add another debate, while we're live at a Sanders campaign in Iowa.
And a virus linked to horrible birth defects is spreading. Pandemic levels now popping up across the United States even. My guest, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
[19:42:50] BURNETT: In Washington today, Senator Bernie Sanders met privately with President Obama at the White House. The meeting coming just five days before the Iowa caucuses where polls show Sanders and Clinton locked in a dead heat, and, of course, the president basically endorsed Hillary Clinton. So, what happened?
Brianna Keilar is OUTFRONT with the Democratic campaign in Mason City, Iowa, where both Sanders and former President Bill Clinton are live tonight in dueling rallies.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bernie Sanders off the campaign trail this morning for an Oval Office meeting with President Obama.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got to do a lot better to protect the middle class and working families, but it's also important to remember how far we have come in the last seven years under the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden.
KEILAR: Sanders aligning himself with Obama just days after the president talked of Hillary Clinton to "Politico".
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She can govern and she can start here day one more experienced than any non-vice president has ever been, who aspires to this office.
KEILAR: Sanders insists he doesn't think the president is playing favorites.
SANDERS: I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even handed in the process, and I expect they will continue to be that way.
KEILAR: Just days away from the first in the nation nominating contest in Iowa, Sanders took a detour to Minnesota with an eye on the Super Tuesday contest in early March.
SANDERS: My God, what a turnout.
KEILAR: Fifteen thousand people at his rally in St. Paul, several thousand coming out to see him in Duluth.
SANDERS: Our campaign has the energy. You see it here tonight.
KEILAR: In Iowa, he's neck and neck with Clinton. In New Hampshire, next door to his home state of Vermont, he's beating her handily in the polls. Now, Clinton looking for a game changer in the Granite State is hoping the Democratic Party will sign off on an unsanctioned debate now in the works.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like the chairman of the party and the campaign to agree we can debate in New Hampshire next week. That is what I'm hoping will happen.
KEILAR: The Sanders campaign has yet to agree to participate in the extra debate. Clinton took aim at Sanders saying he can't deliver on his promises, like his call of Medicare for all Americans.
CLINTON: He has a different idea. I fear it would lead to gridlock, not action. It would throw us into a contentious national debate that would not move us forward, and I don't think the people I have met in Iowa can wait. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KEILAR: Hillary Clinton began her day in Iowa, but this evening, she is fundraising on the East Coast with some help from Jon Bon Jovi. Bernie Sanders trying to draw some contrast there with this tweet. He said, "Bernie Sanders speaking tonight in Mason City, Iowa. Hillary Clinton at investment firm fundraiser in Philadelphia."
She is at a multibillion dollar firm, Erin. She did, though, hand the baton to her husband Bill Clinton tonight. He's actually her in Mason City as well across town, holding his fundraiser for his wife.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Brianna.
And next, fear spreading over a deadly virus that's especially dangerous to pregnant women, a pandemic now. We'll tell you about the Zika virus.
[19:50:00] BURNETT: Tonight, U.S. officials confirming new cases in America of a rapidly spreading virus that has been linked to horrible birth defects, including brain damage in newborns. It's called the Zika virus, and CNN is learning tonight that Minnesota has now confirmed a case there. And as you can see, nine states now, at least, have had incidents of this virus in recent days. It's pretty terrifying in each case, the person believed to have contacted it after traveling to a popular vacation destination in Latin America or the Caribbean.
That is why the CDC is now urging pregnant women to consider avoiding these countries. Thousands of people have been affected in them. In Brazil, they even recommended that people not have babies for the next couple of years. Just to give you a sense of the terrifying scale of this in some places.
Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is OUTFRONT.
Sanjay, you have covered a lot of outbreaks. This one, though, is particularly concerning. Why?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's just this influence on pregnant women, you know, these moms-to-be. You hear a lot of different types of pathogens. You and I have spent a lot of time talking about Ebola, obviously, very frightening.
But I've never seen in all the times I've been covering these outbreaks something that so indiscriminately affects pregnant women and causes this condition that you mentioned, microcephaly. And just to give context, Erin, in Brazil, for example, there were 140 or so babies born with this condition in 2014.
In just the last three or four months, there's been over 4,200 children born with this, 51 have died.
So, the numbers have just gone up tremendously, and I can't imagine, Erin, what it must be like to be told, look, you just shouldn't get pregnant for the next couple years. I just never heard anything like that.
BURNETT: I mean, it's shocking. And what exactly -- when these babies are born with this, what is it doing to them?
GUPTA: Well, it's a viral infection. And what they have found is that the virus itself was found in the brains of some of these babies who have died. They have found it in the amniotic fluid of women who became infected with Zika virus while pregnant. So, exactly, you know how this virus causes these particular neuro-defects is unclear still. They're trying to unravel that.
But it seems pretty clear that there is an association between the infection and this birth defect.
BURNETT: So, the babies have smaller heads that are born with this? I mean, is it a life-long sort of birth defect? I mean, what can you tell us?
GUPTA: I think the best way to describe it is that at the time the baby is developing in utero, this virus sort of interferes with the development of the brain and the skull. So, when the child is born, you see a small skull, a small head with respect to the rest of the body. And obviously a small brain inside.
And, yes, it often is a life-long problem. I mean, again, 51 of these children have died. Oftentimes, they have intellectual and cognitive delays as a result of this, so, it is a significant problem, no question about it.
BURNETT: And now you know, as you talk about in Brazil, they're saying not to have babies for the next couple of years. It is stunning.
Besides birth defects, though, have there been cases of this being spread from human to human, especially as we now see this cropping up in states around the United States?
GUPTA: Well, so the way this spreads -- let's be really clear on this. What we know so far, a mosquito known as the Aedes aegypti, you don't need to remember that name, but that's the type of mosquito, bites somebody who has the infection, leaves that person, goes and bites somebody else. That may sound really obvious, but that is how it's spread. So, you can keep that in mind. That is most typical.
There had been -- it doesn't spread like the flu or a cold, for example. There have been a couple of case reports where it has spread through potentially spread through sex, as well. It's unclear that that can happen. Malaria, for example, which is a mosquito-borne virus, does not spread that way. But it does spread human to human in terms of mom to child. Again, through pregnancy, even at the time of labor. We know that to happen.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much. I know you're going to be covering this a lot, a lot more as the days go on. Thank you.
GUPTA: Absolutely. You got it. Thank you.
BURNETT: Next, lead poisoning in America, the governor of Michigan admitting he has no idea how many children could be poisoned in Flint. An exclusive interview, next.
[19:57:52] BURNETT: And now, the massive public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. Beleaguered Governor Rick Snyder just appointed a committee to investigate the toxic water supply. But what will that do? I mean, in Flint, in an effort to save money, officials switched the water source. First, it was Lake Huron and then they switched it to the Flint River.
What that meant was poisoned water was being pumped into homes across the city. Now, lead poisoning levels among children in Flint are double what they were before the change, and no one knows how many children could be poisoned.
Poppy Harlow spoke exclusively with Governor Rick Snyder today who said the state literally doesn't know how many children are at risk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: That's the problem here is, we know the ones that have higher levels to do appropriate follow-up care. It's really we need to establish the right medical protocols, the public health pieces, the educational process things. To watch these kids for years that didn't have higher blood levels in terms of a blood test, because they could be affected.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, there -- you're saying there's 100 children as of now that have tested for these high levels of lead, but because it's harder to test for it after an extended period of time, there maybe many, many more.
SNYDER: There could be many more and we're assuming that.
HARLOW: You're assuming many more?
HARLOW: So, say, we're sitting back here in five years, will those lead pipes be replaced?
SNYDER: Well, I hope -- a lot of work has been done on that topic. It's too soon to tell because I can't tell you how many pipes and where they are. But as a practical matter, we should be working on that very clearly.
HARLOW: Isn't that the safest thing, Governor, I mean, given what they've been through?
SNYDER: It's the safest thing. It's a question of how to work through it in robust fashion, to make sure we're getting all the resources because I view this lead infrastructure, the water system --
HARLOW: What would stand in the way other than money? What would stand in the way of replacing them?
SNYDER: Well, we've got a statewide issue, too, in terms of lead pipes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And you can see Poppy's entire exclusive interview with Governor Snyder. That is at the top of the hour with Anderson Cooper.
And thank you so much for joining us. Be sure to set your DVR to record OUTFRONT so you can watch our show at any time, any place. I'll be back here tomorrow, same time. Obviously, there's going to be a lot to talk about with all the fracas going on with Donald Trump.
"AC360" starts right now.