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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
GOP Candidates Get Nasty in S.C.; Trump Hammers Bush, Cruz; Bush Says "Donald Fears Me;" 3 Americans Kidnapped in Iraq Freed; Bush/Trump Spar in S.C. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired February 16, 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] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate is off today.
Welcome to the "I know you are, but what am I" chapter of the 2016 race. Donald Trump says Ted Cruz, you're a liar and I'm going to sue you. Ted Cruz says, you're a liberal and have lost it. Marco Rubio says, Cruz you're a liar. Jeb Bush says Trump, you sound like Michael Moore and my brother can beat you up. He didn't say that last part exactly, but everything else, pretty much verbatim. And it's just beginning. Four days to go until the blood bath formally known as the South Carolina primary.
CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joins us live from Augusta (ph) in South Carolina where he's been chasing the Trump campaign -- Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, we've heard everything but I'm rubber and you're glue, right? That's essentially where we are in South Carolina right now. It's a battle, a pro wrestling-style battle royale. And given Donald Trump's history with pro wrestling, this might gave him the advantage. He's not only going after the Bush family, he's been going after Cruz, really hammering him hard earlier this morning on "Good Morning, America" in a phone interview. Let's listen to that. He once again called Cruz a liar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (voice-over): I've dealt with many people over my lifetime and been successful and dealt with some people a lot tougher than him, but I've never dealt with anybody that lied like him. Even Marco Rubio, the other day, he called him a liar. I've never heard from a politician where they called each other liars. But Ted Cruz is a liar. He out and out lies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: The reason why Donald Trump is saying that is he's saying that Cruz has been mischaracterizing his position on Obamacare and the Second Amendment. Donald Trump is going to do what Donald Trump does, and that is fire back and fire back with guns blazing.
We also want to point out that the billionaire businessman put up an op-ed in "USA Today" this morning talking about basically his policy when it comes to dealing with terrorists. He's coming out in favor of using enhanced interrogation techniques like those used at Guantanamo during the Bush administration. Donald Trump saying in this op-ed, "Though the effectiveness of many of these methods may be in dispute, nothing should be taken off the table when American lives are at stake. The enemy is cutting the heads off Christians and drowning them in cages. And yet, we are too politically correct to respond in kind."
Those words from Donald Trump.
And on a related note, he got into a scuffle with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Yesterday, he suggested she was not being tough enough on the refugees, whether they should be allowed to come to the United States, and on whether Gitmo detainees should be moved to the United States. Governor Haley's office -- I'm not sure if we talked about this a whole lot -- hit back at Trump hard saying he should know the facts first before commenting on the issues. That was reported in "The State" newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. She's been sitting on the fence, not really endorsing anybody at this point. She met with the Bushes yesterday down at that event that Jeb Bush with George W. Bush had yesterday. That might be an interesting dynamic over the coming days as we get closer to the primary -- John?
BERMAN: She hasn't endorsed but she's firmly in the not endorsing Trump camp. She's made that clear.
ACOSTA: Seems that way.
BERMAN: Jim Acosta in North Augusta, South Carolina. Thank you so much.
One other thing is certain, Jeb Bush just picked up a W. in South Carolina. Get it? His brother, George. George W. Bush made a dramatic return to the campaign trail for his brother. The Bush campaign clearly hopes that one W. leads to another when votes are counted on Saturday.
As for Donald Trump -- as for Jeb Bush, I should say, he feels like he has Donald Trump all figured out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I think he is a master at manipulation, and I find it amusing on one level that he constantly attacks me. I'm his primary target, and I'm doing so poor in the polls, according to everybody. Why is that? Why is he going after me every day? It's because he fears me. I'm the only guy standing up to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: He fears me.
Let's bring in Athena Jones. She's in Columbia in South Carolina with the Bush campaign -- Athena? [11:04:41] ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. You can see
this event is just getting underway. You talked about the event last night, a dramatic return to the political stage for George W. Bush. It was the kind of crowd we haven't seen at Jeb Bush events. Much larger crowd and much more of a rally feel than we're used to seeing. That proves his brother is a draw. He's popular in this state. Of course, this state handed primary victories to both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. The Bush campaign is hoping W. will be an asset.
In the crowd last night, I talked to people who said they were there because W. was there and they'd be giving Jeb a listen. The real draw last night was W. He made the case his younger brother has what it takes to be commander-in-chief, but he made references to Donald Trump, saying that strength is not bluster and theatrics, and saying that the loudest voice in the room is not always the strongest voice in the room. He also talked about the fact that a lot of voters are angry, but that he don't need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and enflames that frustration.
The bottom line here, as you said, John, is that after finishing sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush needs a strong finish here. Even though there's been a lot of talk about this war of words with Donald Trump, a lot of back and forth about why Donald Trump is worried about Jeb Bush, and a lot of criticism from Trump about Bush and also about his brother, W.'s administration, the Bush campaign is keeping the focus on folks like Rubio and Kasich. They argue if you talk to Bush aides that Bush just has to do best among the "electable candidates," in their words. And in their view, that doesn't include Trump or Cruz. But that does mean he needs to beat the others.
BERMAN: I always wonder what electable means when you come in fourth in New Hampshire and sixth in Iowa.
Athena Jones chasing the Bush campaign for us in South Carolina. Thank you so much.
One programming note. We have a unique two-night event on CNN. Tomorrow and Thursday night, 8:00 p.m. both nights, all six Republican presidential candidates will appear in a town meeting, two separate town meetings, answering questions from the sloe voters of South Carolina. Moderated by Anderson Cooper seen only on CNN. Tomorrow night, you have Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz. Thursday night, it's John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and I forget what else because I'm bad at math. 8:00 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday only on CNN.
President Obama holds a news conference in just a few hours. Does he have news about his Supreme Court pick? And does he have the stomach for a political brawl during the last 11 months of his presidency?
Plus, brand new questions this morning about why there was no autopsy on Justice Scalia. Is this just a conspiracy theory, or, as one homicide detective describes it, is it fishy?
And happening now, Hillary Clinton meeting with a group of civil rights leaders in Harlem. Minority votes could be so crucial in South Carolina. We're going to speak with someone inside that meeting. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[11:11:57] BERMAN: We have some breaking news just in out of Iraq. Three Americans who were kidnapped at gunpoint last month have been set free. They were taken by an armed group in Baghdad.
CNN pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been following this and has the new information -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We are getting word now that these three Americans have been released. This word coming from both Iraqi security officials and a U.S. official here in Washington.
The details are very sketchy. They are in the process of being turned over the Americans. Contractors said to be two Iraqi Americans, one Egyptian American, kidnapped last month at a building in southern Baghdad, a neighborhood that was known to be partly controlled, at least at that time, by some Iranian-backed Shia militias that moved around in that neighborhood. There was a lot of concerned that the kidnappers were Iranian-backed Shia militias. A lot of concern about their fate. Not clear yet what operations may have taken place to get these three contractors free but they are. And it goes to the point that Iraqi security forces were able to locate them, were able somehow to get them out of there.
They now, being turned over to American authorities, and we will see what the next steps there, whether they return state side, stay in Iraq, not just clear at this point. This situation, this story, still unfolding -- John?
BERMAN: Good news for the contractors. Good news for their families as well.
Barbara Starr, thank you for bringing us the news. Appreciate it.
STARR: You're welcome.
BERMAN: In just a few hours, President Obama holds a news conference. This is his first chance to speak in public at length about his plans to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. CNN learned the process has moved quickly. And he could narrow the list of candidates within days. This, even as there's near unanimous feelings that no matter who it is, it will go nowhere.
Joining us to discuss what might happen next, White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski -- Michelle?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Yeah, surely, the president is going to be asked about this. If he chooses to go there, we could know more about where exactly he is in the process. And that's been a question. I mean, this fight started hours after Scalia's death with Republicans putting out these statements. But what we know in the time line, at least, is that the White House
team has begun the process. Not necessarily vetting at this point, but starting to lay things out for where this is going to be. You know President Obama has chosen two Supreme Court justices in the past. It's highly likely that people who were on the short list before are going to be on the short list now. That will save some time, at least in the process.
We also know that already there's been some White House outreach. Very preliminary, we're told, to congressional offices from the White House, both Democrats and Republicans. Where that's going to go, ultimately, though, remains to be seen.
Just yesterday, in fact, the White House slammed Republicans for what the White House has seen as continued obstructionism on a number of points. The White House has tried to get people confirmed for other offices and has had a tough time and, in some cases, record delays.
But when we asked the White House about this, what do they think about some of these statements the Republicans have been putting out, does the White House think there's any chance that any nominee will go anywhere, the White House, even though it avoided getting into the politics for a couple of days, yesterday, it had a prepared statement ready with past examples of problems that the White House sees Republicans as causing. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:15:45] ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is a Republican Congress that has a lot of practice saying no. But I also want to point out this is not the first time that Republicans have come out with a lot of bluster only to have reality sink in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: The White House has indicated the process itself, before we hear the name of the president's nominee, could take up to a month. That's what it's taken both times in the past -- John?
BERMAN: All right. Michelle Kosinski, you will be at the news conference later today. Thank you for being with us.
I want to discuss with this CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, it's safe to say at this point it doesn't look like President Obama will get a nominee on the Supreme Court before the end of the term. If the Senate doesn't want it to happen, it won't happen. Nevertheless, what do you expect to see or what will you be looking for with the president when he takes that microphone later today and talks and answers questions about the Supreme Court?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think he will express confidence that his nominee will be approved. He can only -- there's no other way to behave if you're the president. I'm going to be interested to see if he's going to talk at all about
the universe of people he's considering. Will it be only sitting judges who are common source but not the only source of nominees? Will he talk about elected officials, Senators, governors? Any sense of how -- who he's going to pick, and how he might deal with the -- essentially unified Republican opposition to even giving this person a hearing.
BERMAN: And how hard he's willing to fight and how uncomfortable he's willing to try to make those standing in his way in the Senate. I suppose that's an open question.
TOOBIN: It's an open question, but an even more open question is what can he do about it if he wants to make life uncomfortable for them? He can complain, but the Senate majority is the Senate majority. If Mitch McConnell doesn't want to hold a vote, he's not.
BERMAN: His pick. Could he not pick somebody who he says, look at this person who may be a minority or represent unrepresented groups on the Supreme Court or be a revolution pick if you only held a hearing and voted on them? Might that put Republicans in an uncomfortable position?
TOOBIN: Maybe. A little.
I mean, I really think this seat is too important to give a five- Democrat majority on the Supreme Court. He could pick a combination of John Marshal, Oliver Wendell Holmes. This person is not being a vote or is not getting confirmed by this Senate.
BERMAN: A lot of skeletons that we don't begin to know about.
TOOBIN: That's true.
BERMAN: Jeffrey, I don't want to make light of the situation, but there's a big television event this evening.
TOOBIN: Yes, there is.
BERMAN: There's a story on another network called "American Crime Story," about the O.J. Simpson case. You wrote the book on it. Tonight is episode three, and this is the only episode where there is someone playing you in the show.
TOOBIN: Actually, Chris Connor, a wonderful actor. He's in several different episodes, but this is his big star turn. Because this is the episode that talks about a story I wrote for the "New Yorker" which was the playing of the race card, where Robert Shapiro, played by John Travolta in the series, tells me they're planning to accuse Mark Furman, the detective, of being a racist who planted the glove at O.J.'s house. It's the beginning of the racial element of the case. And -- I happen to be on the set when John Travolta and Chris Connor acted out the scenes. I have to say it was surreal and kind of great.
BERMAN: Did you get approval rights? Could you have rejected the actor?
TOOBIN: No. And the good news is he's better looking than I am, so people will think I'm better looking than I am.
BERMAN: Do you know who plays me?
BERMAN: Brad Pitt.
BERMAN: He always plays me.
BERMAN: But he's not tall enough, so they have to film him differently to make him taller.
TOOBIN: That's true.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin --
TOOBIN: You know what you can say? It's on the FX Network. You're allowed to see it even on CNN.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin's magnum opus on the O.J. Simpson case. Do not miss it, "American Crime Story."
Jeffrey, thanks for being with us.
TOOBIN: All right.
[11:19:43] BERMAN: Appreciate it.
Again, President Obama will hold that news conference not about the book, but about the Supreme Court, among other things. That's at 4:30 eastern time. There's no doubt he will talk about the nomination process and we'll wring that to you live here on CNN.
All right. Brand new this morning, an all-out war in the Republican race for president. Trump versus Bush. Trump versus Cruz. Insults from liar to basket case being thrown around. How will this play the next four days in South Carolina? Is this even as bad as it's going to get there?
Plus, Adele makes giant, epic news. Apparently, something went wrong during her Grammy performance. She explains what, why, and what she intends to do about it.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:25:08] BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures right there. That is Jeb Bush, the wee little Jeb Bush speaking in Columbia, South Carolina. This his first rally after he appeared on stage with George W. Bush last night. This, as he says Donald Trump fears him. This, as Trump calls Cruz a liar. This as Rubio calls Cruz a liar. This is South Carolina 2016 with just four days to go before the primary.
With me is the former Ben Carson chief campaign, chief, Barry Bennett, who is giving some advice to the Trump campaign; and Bob Beckel, Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator; and Jackie Kucinich, senior politics editor for "The Daily Beast."
I want to start with the state of the race right now in South Carolina and what's at stake. I don't think the lines have been more clear.
Let me play two pieces of sound. Let's play Donald Trump first, talking as he has been about George W. Bush, talking as he had been about September 11th and who did or did not keep America safe in fact let's listen, I hope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He kept the country safe after -- what does that mean, after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building. The worst attack ever in this country? It was during his presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. That is Donald Trump.
Now let's listen to George W. Bush who made a completely different case, I think to a completely different audience last night campaigning for his brother, Jeb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strength is not empty rhetoric. It is not bluster. It is not theatrics. Real strength, strength of purpose, comes from integrity and character. And in my experience, the strongest person usually isn't the loudest one in the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: I wonder who he's talking about there, the strongest isn't the loudest person in the room. I don't wonder. It's clear it's Donald Trump.
Barry Bennett, when you look at the South Carolina race, I think it's more than personal. There's a dividing line where Jeb Bush is saying, I'm staking out the establishment. There is the establishment. And Donald Trump is saying more loudly and clearly than ever, I am not the establishment. I don't want them. And I don't need them. Is that what's going on right now in South Carolina?
BARRY BENNETT, FORMER BEN CARSON CAMPAIGN MANAGER & TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: That's pretty much the divide for the whole campaign. I mean, South Carolina as we get closer and closer, it's going to get ramped up and ramped up. But the establishment lane, Rubio and Bush and Kasich are fighting it out. And Cruz and Trump are going after it in the non-establishment lane.
BERMAN: Are there enough, Barry? You've looked at South Carolina. Ben Carson's campaign, you were all over the country. Is there enough anti-establishment votes? Are there enough Independent votes in it was Republican voters who made the difference. Do you think there are enough independents now?
BENNETT: Yeah. You look at the latest polling, Trump was getting 44 percent of the vote. They may not be Independents, but they are angry at Washington, and they want to have Washington turned inside out. They think Donald Trump will do that.
BERMAN: And, Bob Beckel, do you think there are people there who don't care that George W. Bush kept America safe after September 11th as the Bush campaign claims and many in the Republican Party and many in America feel? Do you think there are enough people who are willing to look beyond it and go against the establishment?
BOB BECKEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe. After that performance on Saturday night, Trump, I thought, I mean, that was a kind of performance that would kill most politicians, but at least the initial polling is it doesn't hurt him that much by taking on George Bush and 9/11. And I -- I'm a little bit surprised by that, but we'll have to wait and see another day's worth of polling.
As for the stakes, this is going to end up being, I assume Cruz will be in the mix. That means somebody is going to be a third ticket. After that, they're out of there. After that, the donations come and say we've done what we can. So I think only three survive South Carolina.
BERMAN: Jackie, on the Republican side, this is a race that's set up to say you choose what kind of party you want to have going forward and beyond that. There's a remarkable dynamic. You have a former president, George W. Bush, standing up and supporting the establishment against an insurgent in the race, and then Bill Clinton trying to keep an insurgent out of the Democratic race. The stakes are high here not just for the candidates but for the future of the parties.
JACKIE KUCINICH, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, yeah, absolutely.