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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump at Event, Suing Cruz; Rubio Campaign Accuses Cruz in Photoshopgate; S.C. Governor Endorses Marco Rubio; Barbara Bush Campaigns with Jeb; Cruz Threatens to Depose Trump; Hillary Clinton: America Not Ready for Female President. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 18, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[11:00:00] JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sending a letter with a Charlie Brown stamp. Maybe that's a clue. Maybe Charlie Brown did it.

CARTOON CHARACTER: Good grief.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate is off.

It is time to buckle in and lawyer up. We are in the midst of one of the most jam-packed 24 hours of South Carolina primary in the history of South Carolina primaries. What you're looking at there is a hall on Kiawah Island where any moment now Donald Trump will take the stage. Who will he threaten to sue today? Moments ago, Marco Rubio took the stage with his new best friend, Indian-American Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, and that is about as good of a friend you can have in South Carolina. Unless you're Jeb Bush, in which case your best friend is mom. She joins him for an event to make sure there are more Bush events after Saturday. And in just a few moments, Ted Cruz takes the stage where it is possible he will once again threaten to depose Donald Trump, or if he is feeling particularly vicious, he might threaten to sing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: As if that's not enough, wait, there's more. Why is the Rubio campaign saying that Marco Rubio doesn't even own the tie seen in this picture? More on that new development in just a moment.

Let's go first to the Trump event that will start any minute. Our M.J. Lee is there.

M.J., take it away

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, John. We're waiting for Donald Trump to take the stage here at a golf resort in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Trump has really been crisscrossing the state over the last week or so campaigning hard trying to win this state. He and Ted Cruz have one victory under their belts. They both badly want to win this state. They understand that if they are able to come off at the top in South Carolina then they head into March 1st where about a dozen or so states will hold their GOP primary contests, and they know this win is so critically important.

And just two days away from the primary here on Saturday, things are getting very nasty here. Ted Cruz has been accused by at least two candidates of lying, and Donald Trump, of course, hitting him very hard, asking him to even take down one of the ads. His lawyer sending a "cease and desist" letter. An ad that features Donald Trump referring to himself has being pro choice.

We know there's going to be a round two of the CNN town hall tonight where John Kasich, Donald Trump, and Jeb Bush will participate in our town hall in Columbia. We know that Trump and Bush have also had their share of fighting, so that will be a fascinating dynamic to see, and see all the punches that get thrown tonight here in South Carolina -- John?

BERMAN: All right. M.J. Lee for us on Kiawah Island.

Donald Trump to speak there any moment. It looks like a packed room. Who knows what he'll decide to say today.

M.J. Lee, thanks very much.

She just noted that Donald Trump has been accusing Cruz of being a liar. Now the Rubio campaign is accusing Ted Cruz of something even worse than being a liar, being a Photoshopper. Look at this picture. The Rubio campaign passing this out at events over the last few minutes saying it comes from a Cruz website. It's a picture posted, and it shows Marco Rubio shaking hands with President Obama. But wait, what is wrong with this picture? You'll notice they're shaking left hands. Who does that? The Rubio campaign also says Marco Rubio doesn't own that suit. He doesn't own that tie. He doesn't own that watch. This must be campaign dirty tricks.

Phil Mattingly in Greenville, South Carolina, chasing the Rubio campaign with this important development -- Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, a top Rubio advisory, Todd Harris, saying this is another example of a culture of deception that comes from the top down of the Cruz campaign. If you want to know how much the Rubio campaign wants people to pay attention of this, they printed out a screen shot from this website. This website is paid for by the Cruz campaign. It really lays out a series of attacks on Rubio's record in the U.S. Senate. Most notably, according to the Rubio campaign, was this fake, as they say, picture. The watch, as you said, John, the tie, the suit, all fake, the left-handed handshake, pretty awkward. It fits into the narrative that the Rubio campaign has been pushing very hard over the last four or five days. They're more than willing to have a fight on trustworthiness with Cruz and his campaign.

Now, Ted Cruz spokesman, Rick Tyler, told our colleague, John, Sunlen Serfaty, tht he believed that the picture was probably real. He hadn't seen any evidence otherwise. But more than that, he believed this was an effort by the Rubio campaign to smear Cruz. He called it pathetic at this stage in the race to do this.

One thing for certain, the Rubio campaign is going to continue to go after Cruz on this. They're holding a conference call with some of their surrogates and reporters in about 15 minutes, John, to continue to discuss this.

[11:05:29] BERMAN: A conference call to discuss a Photoshopped photo on a campaign website? It must be South Carolina.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Joining me to discuss this -- I can't believe we're discussing this -- CNN political commentators, Amanda Carpenter and Jeffrey Lord. Amanda is the former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Jeffrey the former Reagan White House political director and a Trump supporter. Also joining us, Jackie Kucinich, senior politics editor for "The Daily Beast"; and Republican strategist, Josh Holmes.

I have make Amanda answer since you're a Cruz supporter and former staffer.

(LAUGHTER)

At long last, have you no shame? No, I'm a little confused here about the egregious level of the crime. Rubio is saying there's a Photoshopped picture on a Cruz website. I think that kind of thing happens in campaigns. But what is really going on here?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For the record, I would like to see the race come down to Cruz and Rubio. That's better than Trump.

But what is going on is that Rubio is desperate to jump on this liar, liar line of attack that they're grasping at straws to make this thing come true. They're jumping into Photoshop. That doesn't look real to me. I this most people can tell that. A few days ago, they were talking about a Facebook profile that mysterious popped up saying that Trey Gowdy flipped his endorsement from Rubio to Cruz. Flat-out not true. Cruz disavowed it. The Rubio campaign can't prove that Cruz is tied to it but they want to hold him responsible. They're really reaching. I think it's unbecoming to Rubio, who I think is normally a stand-up guy. BERMAN: Josh, I want you to be an independent arbitrator, if you can.

They're going to hold a conference call on this. Look, it does look like the kind of trick and stuff that goes on in a campaign, particularly the kind of stuff in South Carolina days before primary elections there. The fliers in South Carolina end up in your windshield wiper, they're famous for god knows what they might say. But what's the use for the Rubio campaign to harp on this as much as they are over the last few minutes and will do over the next few hours.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: John, it's a narrative. We've dealt with this for almost a month. If candidates from Trump to Cruz and Rubio, all saying that not only is Cruz not telling the truth about this, but it's false. Everything from the Ben Carson last- minute turnout calls in Iowa to various allegations against Donald Trump, some of which, by the way, are accurate, to now this, and other things about Marco Rubio that were highlighted in the debate last Saturday. This, in and of itself, isn't probably a big deal, but you heard Rick Tyler, the spokesman for the Cruz campaign, say it's probably right. He's shaking left hands in the wrong suit with a bad tie. I mean, it's just not right. Right?

(LAUGHTER)

Why would you try to represent that it is? And that's the underlying problem that they've got here.

BERMAN: He doesn't even own the tie. That's one of the famous offenses of all time.

(LAUGHTER)

Jeffrey, I was convinced this is a dirty trick by Josh. Your guy, Donald Trump, has been attacking Cruz a lot for being a liar. That's the word he uses a lot. Do you think this has the potential to stick on Cruz, or do you think that every time Cruz talks about this when it comes to Donald Trump, it brings up the abortion issue which Cruz wants to draw lines on, or dealing with Rubio brings up other things like immigration and trade? There's a difference between Cruz and Rubio, you can see if you talk about it.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If only Donald Trump were saying this, I'm not sure what the impact would be. When you get, as Josh was saying, Trump, Rubio and Ben Carson saying some version of the same thing, that can have an impact on it. A FOX poll just came out a few minutes ago that shows Donald Trump up 13 points in South Carolina over Ted Cruz. You know, you're seeing, I think, a sort of desperation attitude in the Cruz campaign. They're that far behind. There's less than 48 hours to go until people start voting or just about 48 hours until they start voting. So everything, including the kitchen sink, is coming out here, and frankly, I don't think we've seen the last of this.

BERMAN: I want to move on, Jackie, if I can from Photoshopgate for a moment, although, I am eager to come back to it.

(LAUGHTER)

I want to talk about what is also a very important campaign event this morning that has to do with Rubio. That's Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, endorsing Rubio yesterday, now two days before the primary. She's done an ad for him and she's really campaigning hard for him.

On stage, just a short time ago, she noted sort of the historic nature of the image and the remarkable picture that they are together on stage. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:10:18] NIKKI HALEY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: Take a picture of this, because the new group of conservatives that's taken over America looks like a Benatine (ph) commercials.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I didn't know Benatine (ph) still did commercials. But I get the point she's making.

(LAUGHTER)

You have an African-American Senator, Tim Scott, on stage with an Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley, with a Cuban-American Senator, Marco Rubio, with Trey Gowdy, who is a white guy, which we've seen in politics for a long time. It's a diverse group of really young Republicans who I think a lot of conservatives hope have a really bright future, Jackie.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: That's right. This endorsement will help Rubio with some of the establishment Republicans, Nikki Haley is extremely popular in that state.

It also was a blow to poor Jeb Bush. A lot of times you have governors who support governors. It's a little bit of club, I guess, but that didn't happen this time. And his campaign has been struggling over the last couple states. And you saw it on his face when he heard about this. This is another blow to the Bush campaign that really needs at least a third place finish in South Carolina.

BERMAN: You might say Madeleine Albright might say there's a special place in hell for governors who don't support other governors.

(LAUGHTER)

You get a sense this was a blow to the Bush campaign. Jeb Bush campaigning later today. Barbara Bush will be out there. They're fighting this through until Saturday night when the polls close.

We're waiting for Donald Trump to take the stage in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Josh, Jeffrey just mentioned a new FOX News poll that has Trump up 13 points. CNN has a new poll of polls where we average all the polls on earth in one state in South Carolina to give you a sense of the image there. Up 16 points. Donald Trump is up 16 points right now in South Carolina. Cruz in second. Rubio in third. Bush there in fourth. Josh, if Donald Trump can hang on and win by double digits on Saturday, and it's less than two days away until voters go, what does that do to this race going forward?

HOLMES: I think it means that this field is going to have to winnow quickly. You basically have Kasich and Bush and Rubio going after the same voter. If you were to total up in that poll their numbers, it looks like a three-way race between Trump, Rubio, and Cruz.

That being said, this is a big state for Bush, and you correctly noted he's going to have to have a very good performance here in order to justify going on.

But I think what it means for the race, ultimately, if you look at the March 1st states, which are likely to be very good states for Donald Trump and probably Cruz, in that mid March area, if this field isn't winnowed down to maybe three accounted candidates, Trump will run away with this. We'll have to see. But it seems to me these candidates will have to work out if they can be viable if they have a poor performance in South Carolina.

BERMAN: All right. Josh, Jeffrey, Amanda, Jackie --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Hand on, hang on. Save that thought. I have so much more that I want to ask each of you, particularly about who may lead the race if the field winnows.

I also want to see Donald Trump who is about the take the stage on Kiawah Island. How will he respond to the attacks from Cruz who threatens to depose him? We're moments away. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:33] BERMAN: Happening now, live pictures from South Carolina. Donald Trump about to hold a rally in that state. The polls have him up double digits in South Carolina right now. What will he say? How will he choose to spend the next 48 hours? Will he coast until the closing of the polls on Saturday or will he try to shake things up again as he's tried to do again and again in this race?

Meanwhile, just in to CNN, a new development in Photoshopgate. This is a picture that is on a website put up by the Cruz campaign. It shows Marco Rubio shaking President Obama's hand. Now, there's a lot that the Rubio people will point out that is wrong with this picture. Number two, they're shaking left hands. Number two, Marco Rubio doesn't own that suit or tie or watch. Three, they say it never happened. They say it's Photoshopped.

And this just in, the Cruz campaign in not denying that it is Photoshopped. They say, "If Rubio has a better picture of him shaking hands with Barack Obama, I'm happy to swap it out." They also say two days before the presidential primary if this is what they want to talk about, game on, essentially. They also point out every photo they use of Cruz is Photoshopped. This is what the campaign has become between Rubio and Cruz less than two days before the voting begins.

Let me bring back the panel. Joining us again, Amanda Carpenter and Jeffrey Lord. Again, Amanda, the former communications director for Cruz. Jeffrey is a former Reagan White House political director and a Trump supporter, who seems tickled --

(LAUGHTER)

-- by this entire argument about this picture. Also joining us, Jackie Kucinich, the senior politics editor for "The Daily Beast"; and Republican strategist, Josh Holmes.

I actually don't want to talk more about this flier. I think we've done it justice.

But, Jackie, I want to give you the last word on that remarkable back and forth over the last 30 minutes. Rubio campaign coming forward, the Cruz admitting it's Photoshopped. Does this have any impact after noon today?

KUCINICH: I have to say, this is weak for South Carolina. When it comes to dirty tricks in this state --

(LAUGHTER)

-- I kind of expect a little more than some Photoshops. I mean, I just got to say, C-plus, guys.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: At least give him a tattoo or something.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: If you're going to Photoshop, you have to go big. We'll leave that there. Unless there are more developments. There may be a Rubio conference call, and if that happens, we'll go there.

Amanda, I want to talk now about the state of the race as a whole. Right now, you have six candidates going into South Carolina, including Ben Carson, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. After South Carolina, what happens to the field?

[11:20:11] CARPENTER: Well, we'll have to see. Right now it seems like Rubio is playing more to knock Bush out of the field than to take down Donald Trump. I think that's a problem. I think too many people in the party now are playing for a Miss Congeniality prize to Donald Trump. We have a problem. If we continue to have a big field that allows Donald Trump to run the table, we're going to be regretting it later this year. We'll see what happens tonight. I'm very curious to see what happens in the town hall. I think this may be Jeb Bush's last public presidential appearance. It'll be interesting to see how he uses that time. This may be his swan song.

BERMAN: Let's not count Jeb Bush out completely, Josh Holmes. He finished strong in New Hampshire and did better than he initially hoped to. He's been competing hard in South Carolina. But there are people and others out there who say he is in trouble. But talk about the size of the field in general. Even if Jeb Bush does go, John Kasich isn't going to drop out. He's not going anywhere until Ohio, which votes on March 15th. That means you have at least four or five candidates in this field through a huge number of primaries with a huge number of delegates at stake. And doesn't Kasich still pull votes from Rubio and doesn't that dash the hopes of the establishment?

HOLMES: Look, to your point, I don't know how this is going to go down in South Carolina. You've seen a strong week from Governor Bush. He may end up with a much stronger performance than everybody is predicting. Certainly his brother is popular there. His family has as good name recognition and as high favorability in South Carolina than anywhere in the country. So I think he -- he has the opportunity to do OK here. I wouldn't count him out quite yet.

But going forward, you're right. Governor Kasich, if he's committed to following this through all the way to Ohio, yeah, he's going to pull votes off of about everybody. The issue is a matter of resources. Two and a half weeks is a long time away. It costs a lot of money to try to compete in these states. These are not retail states like Iowa and New Hampshire where you get points for showing up in diners and making your way through handshakes all day and night. You have to run serious television advertising to be competitive. From the delegate point of view, if you get nothing until do you get to the middle of March, you have to start looking at that and seeing how you'll get over the top. That's the great challenge for the Kasich campaign.

BERMAN: Good questions, good points.

Jeffrey Lord, I want to talk about how Donald Trump sees this situation right now as he assesses the field. One person that he really still hasn't taken on head to head is Marco Rubio. He makes some side comments about sweating and drinking a lot of water. He hasn't taken him out, not nearly as much as he could, and not nearly as much as you would think he would, given the division on issues, particularly immigration.

LORD: I think what Donald Trump is probably doing is letting Marco Rubio go after Ted Cruz. What's really happening here with Cruz and Rubio is the battle for second place if these polls are accurate. Only one of them I think is going to be able to survive that battle, whether it's in South Carolina or down the road here. I think either of those are the -- going to emerge as the one candidate opposing Donald Trump.

It's very interesting with Governor Kasich. Our CNN colleague, Michael Smerconish, observed to me the other night that we're all for getting the human factor of ego here. And everything Amanda is saying makes sense from an establishment point of view or a "let's beat Donald Trump" point of view that you have to whittle it down to one candidate. But you get the ego in there and you get like a kids game. No, you get out. No, I'm not getting out. You get out. I think that's where we're headed here.

BERMAN: I've seen John Kasich on the Trump in New Hampshire and beyond. He's loving the campaign right now. He loves running for president. I think that factors in.

Amanda, Jeffrey, Jackie, Josh, stand by.

We're awaiting Donald Trump to take the stage in South Carolina, Kiawah Island. We'll bring that to you as soon as it happens. There looks to be action in the room. So we might be headed back there shortly.

In the meantime, the fight for the Supreme Court. Is the opposition to the president making a pick racist not towards the nominee but towards the president? Some voters say yes.

"And the United States may not be ready for a female president." That, from the only woman running for president. Hillary Clinton's curious admission. That's ahead.

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[11:24:16] BERMAN: "America may not be ready for a female president." That is according to Hillary Clinton. Sort of. She said in a new "Vogue" interview, quote, "People are very convinced they want to vote for the right person, and then you get little hints that maybe they're not as comfortable with a woman being in an executive position."

This claim as she faces an excruciatingly close nomination battle now in Nevada where Clinton is now essentially in a tie with Bernie Sanders.

Joining me, Amanda Carpenter, CNN political commentator, a former communications director for Cruz who has been here with me the whole show; and Hilary Rosen, Democratic strategist whose firm advises Democratic candidate in the DNC.

Hilary, let me start with you.

What do you think Hillary Clinton means here, and is it a surprising statement?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, my god, a little bit of honesty from a candidate. Could you imagine?

Look, I think it's obvious.