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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New O.J. Simpson Evidence?; Stopping Trump; Romney Denies Interest in Running for President. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 4, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:11]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: So, you know that thing about torturing terrorists and killing their families? Today, Donald Trump says, never mind.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A desperate all-out effort to stop Donald Trump continues today on the campaign trail after the GOP race dives to an even lower level of locker room humor.

He called Donald Trump a danger to America's future, so could Mitt Romney be the man to save his party from Trump? The answer, a brand- new interview with the 2012 runner-up.

Plus, from the bloody glove to a buried knife? The shocking news today about what was found on O.J. Simpson's estate. Will this rewrite the case years later?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, filling in today for Jake Tapper.

Republican Party leaders split over how and whether to stop Donald Trump, even as his GOP rivals all pledged to support him if he becomes the nominee. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders vowing to keep up his criticism of Hillary Clinton. Could this jam-packed next week turn out to be a turning point in the race?

Tomorrow, the battle for delegates continues. Sunday, Democrats face off in Flint, Michigan, for a CNN debate, and on Tuesday another Super Tuesday with a closely watched fight in Michigan, and in less than week, a Republican debate hosted by CNN in the key state of Florida.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is covering Donald Trump in New Orleans today.

Sara, Donald Trump just made some last-minute changes to his schedule?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. He's going to be skipping a major conservative gathering, instead focusing, spending more time on these states that are coming up on Saturday.

In case you thought the level of political discourse was going to rise after last night's wild debate, don't get your hopes up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Today, Donald Trump still making the case that size matters.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When little Marco spews his crap about the size of my hands, which are big, so I looked at him, I said, Marco.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: No, I just wanted to say -- look at that. Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards.

MURRAY: Which might be true if he were talking about the size of his delegate count. But, of course, he's talking about his hands again.

TRUMP: Little hands. Little hands.

MURRAY: Fresh on the heels of a surreal and at times vulgar debate.

TRUMP: He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem.

MURRAY: That appeared to leave John Kasich looking on in disbelief.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never tried to go and get into these kind of scrums that we're seeing here on the stage. And people say everywhere I go, you seem to be the adult on the stage.

MURRAY: Candidates today are showing only passing concern that voters might come away revolted.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nothing surprises us anymore. This man is -- as I told you, he's injected a level of vulgarity into the political discourse that we have never seen.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to defy political convention, bailing on CPAC, a prominent conservative confab this weekend, in favor of holding his own political rally.

In the hours after the debate, Trump flip-flopping once again on immigration, withdrawing his support of high-skilled visas. And after proclaiming his support for harsh torture techniques and advocating for targeting terrorist families, a violation of international law, Trump appears to be backing off that stance, saying in a statement that if elected, he will abide by the Geneva Convention.

TRUMP: They're not going to confuse me, believe me. You look at the Middle East, they're chopping off heads.

MURRAY: All as the Trump alternatives slam the Donald's brand of conservatism.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When a politician tells you he's going to be flexible, that means he's getting ready to stick it to you.

RUBIO: He really doesn't belong at a conservative gathering. Donald Trump is not a conservative.

MURRAY: The anti-Trump crowd continuing to splinter, struggling to craft a path to 1,237 delegates, to wrench the nomination from Trump's grasp.

RUBIO: His road to that number is hard, Ted Cruz's is hard, mine is hard. But we will see how this plays out.

MURRAY: As Ted Cruz warns, a contested convention spells disaster.

CRUZ: A brokered convention is the pipe dream of the Washington establishment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, there is one less Republican who is competing for those delegates now. That's Dr. Ben Carson, who said he was skipping this last debate after not seeing a political path forward, today, he announced that he's going to lead a vote -- or a group that's focused on getting the Christian vote out come November -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray in New Orleans.

[16:05:10]

Joining me to talk about the debate and Super Saturday and the race fort nomination, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, Democratic strategist Mitch Stewart and conservative columnist and Donald Trump supporter Adriana Cohen.

Ana, I wonder if I could begin with you. And I just want you to listen last night to Marco Rubio, to Ted Cruz and to John Kasich, to their pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will support the Republican nominee.

QUESTION: Mr. Trump, yes or no.

QUESTION: Senator Cruz, yes or no, you will support Donald Trump if Senator Cruz, yes or no, you will support Donald Trump is he's the

nominee?

CRUZ: Yes, because I gave my word that I would. KASICH: If he ends up as the nominee, sometimes he makes it a little

bit hard, but, you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Ana, did we just hear the death of the never Trump movement in those statements?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No.

Listen, the never Trump movement is not going to die until and unless Donald Trump is the nominee as far as the Republican side goes on. I don't think the never Trump movement is ever going to die, even if he is the nominee, because, you know, those guys signed a pledge.

They have got to keep their word. They signed a public pledge. But a lot of other Republicans have not signed that pledge and are really wrestling with this issue. For me, I can tell you, I'm not ready to cross that bridge until I absolutely have to, led by people just pulling and screaming at me. It's not an easy choice for Republicans.

SCIUTTO: So who's the alternative if it's not one of them? Who's the realistic alternative?

NAVARRO: I'm not sure that there's a reality-based alternative.

I think there's a lot of wishful thinking going on and I think there's a lot of things that have to happen between now and the convention to figure out what the alternative is. March 15 is a crucial date to realize whether Marco Rubio and John Kasich have any sort of foot to stand on to continue going on.

SCIUTTO: Or to survive the election without Donald Trump hitting that key 50 percent marker.

Adriana, last night, Donald Trump, he said he has flexibility to change his position. Today, he reversed really what was a controversial stance on torture. He said he would not order the military to break international law when interrogating terrorists.

Is that what he meant? Because that's a very remarkable position to have a less than a 24-hour flip-flop on. This is a key constitutional issue, the relationship between the commander in chief and the armed forces.

ADRIANA COHEN, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: Right. I think it was a smart move for Donald Trump to backtrack a little bit...

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: He didn't backtrack a little bit. He completely reversed his position in a handful of hours.

COHEN: That's right. And I think he did the right move because no one should be breaking

the law. And the commander in chief should not be instructing military to do so. So he did the right thing by saying, no, he's not going to force anyone to break the law. I think that was a smart move.

But I think what Donald Trump was trying to say in the debate in essence is that terrorist groups like ISIS are committing horrendous ultra-violent acts with beheading and more, and that we need to be tough on, when we capture terrorists, let's say, in Gitmo, extracting important intelligence so that we can protect lives here at home.

And so he has said he supports water-boarding and tough measures to extract this information for national security purposes, but, again, of course, he does not want to break the law doing so.

SCIUTTO: Although last night, to be fair, last night he said he was willing to break the law, in effect implying that a strong leader would do just that.

COHEN: I think what he was trying to say is that national security is obviously critically important for all of us and our country and he wants to take tough measures to keep America safe.

However, yes, it's wrong to break laws. We cannot do that. We cannot break longstanding treaties that exist when it comes to torture and extracting information from prisoners, so I'm glad that he corrected it. He self-corrected today and then he's just going to move forward to Super Saturday tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: OK, Mitch, the Democrats. Jim Webb, who ran of course for the Democratic nomination, Democratic senator, he said today that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton, but, interestingly, he left open the possibility that he would support Donald Trump. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you vote for Hillary Clinton?

JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: No, I would not vote for Hillary Clinton.

QUESTION: Would you vote for Donald Trump?

WEBB: I'm not -- I'm not sure yet. I don't know who I'm going to vote for.

If you're voting for Donald Trump, you may get something very good or very bad. If you're voting for Hillary Clinton, you're going to be getting the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So to have a Democratic senator, former Democratic presidential candidate swear off the presumptive Democratic nominee, but also leave the door open to a Republican candidate who many Republicans have sworn off, what does this say about the state of this race?

MITCH STEWART, HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Yes.

So, I was actually the state director for then Senator Obama in 2008 in Virginia and I had a chance to work with Senator Webb a little bit. And I have never met a politician who hates politics more than he does.

[16:10:05]

And, you remember, he was a Republican for a while and then he was a Democrat. And then most recently, he was an independent, or at least flirted with being an independent. And so I don't take too much into this. I don't think he has a movement behind him that represents any sort of significant number of votes.

What I'm -- in comparison to what you're seeing with the never Trump movement. There are people who are literally going to leave the Republican Party or have vowed not to support or vote for him. You're not seeing that with Secretary Clinton on the Democratic side.

SCIUTTO: Mitch and Adriana, we're going to have to leave that there. Thanks for joining us today.

Mitt Romney trying to deliver a knockout punch to Donald Trump, but could he be preparing to become the Republican nominee in a possibly contested convention? We are going to ask him that question right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And sticking with our politics lead: the GOP still reeling from Mitt Romney's bombshell speech yesterday slamming Donald Trump as a phony and a fraud, and imploring GOP voters to nominate anybody but the current and seemingly unassailable Republican front-runner.

Some are suggesting the 2012 presidential nominee may be nominating himself as the wise alternative to Trump at a much-talked-about, but far from confirmed, contested convention this summer.

[16:15:10] Today, he sat down with our very own Gloria Borger, and Gloria joining me now live.

So, is Governor Romney selling himself as the wise alternative?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no, he isn't, Jim. You know, when I pressed Governor Romney about whether he would allow his name to be put into nomination at this so-called contested convention, he said he wouldn't even go there with me.

But I started the interview by asking him why he hasn't endorsed anyone else and why it took him so long to speak out against Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wanted to remain as a neutral umpire, if you will, calling balls and strikes and some fouls. I've done that along the way. But over the last several weeks, some of the things Donald Trump has said and done, both on policy, as well as temperamental things have suggested to me I just couldn't wait any longer.

BORGER: Do you think it's too late, though?

ROMNEY: You know, I don't know what impact these things have politically, but I do know that when my grandkids say, "What did you do to stop Donald Trump", I wanted to be able to say something. I wasn't going to sit to the sidelines to the very end.

BORGER: You could potentially drive his supporters into his arms even more by doing this because you're the symbol of the Republican establishment.

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I spent my life in business. I didn't get involved in politics until quite late in life. I think everybody that someone is opposed to, becomes establishment.

The term anti-establishment is a very popular term. So I don't call myself establishment. I don't think others do either that want to have the support of fellow Republicans. They may say they're mainstream and they're conservative, but Donald Trump is not Republican in any sense of the word.

BORGER: At the debate, the other candidates said that they would support Trump if he became the nominee. Is there any circumstance under which you would?

ROMNEY: Well, I can't imagine supporting Donald Trump for president or Hillary Clinton for president, either one. I'll hopefully be able to find a conservative on the ballot who I can vote for.

BORGER: Did party leaders looking back, and I guess yourself included, misread their own voters in the Republican base by betting on the fact that perhaps Donald Trump would simply implode of his own free will?

ROMNEY: Oh, I don't know about other people. I certainly paid attention to Donald Trump. I didn't expect him to do so well.

BORGER: Right.

ROMNEY: But he has tapped into an anger which is very much understood. What he's done with that anger, however, is not to build it into resolve and high purpose, but instead to take it down a very dark alley. And that, I think, is unfortunate. I don't think you can write off any candidate and I thought Jeb Bush would do better than he did. I like Jeb a lot, thought he would be able to gain a lot of momentum but that didn't happen.

Donald Trump has. At this stage we say, all right, he could easily become the nominee, probably most likely to be the Republican nominee at this point. But I think there's a better choice out there.

BORGER: Who is it?

ROMNEY: Well, Marco Rubio is the right person in Florida. John Kasich is the right person in Ohio.

BORGER: Here we go.

ROMNEY: And Ted Cruz is right anywhere where he's leading right now or where he's closest to Donald Trump.

BORGER: When are you going to choose one?

ROMNEY: Well, it depends in part on how the process continues. I expect after March 15th it may be clearer who is going to be the, if you will, the person who opposes Donald Trump most effectively. And so, I would anticipate endorsing at that time. But let's say all three are doing about the same.

BORGER: Right, then what?

ROMNEY: Then I'd probably again encourage who's ever doing best in a particular state to get the support there and do that state by state and that would lead to an open convention where you'd see the delegates selected make the final decision.

BORGER: So this contested convention, is this a scenario that you're actively looking at?

ROMNEY: Oh, I think it's a realistic scenario. A lot of people have thought that for some time.

BORGER: Likely? Likely?

ROMNEY: I think it's more likely than not that we will have a nominee before the convention that's Donald Trump. I think he has a much stronger shot of getting the 1,237 delegates than not.

But, you know, the debate last night was not good for Donald Trump. He showed that he cracks under pressure. And I think -- I think that may begin to open the door for some people who are looking for a different path.

BORGER: Are you referring to a contested convention which has a first ballot, then people are unbound after that, second ballot? What are you talking about within the normal bounds there?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm going to begin by campaigning for people who I believe in and encouraging people to vote for folks who I think would be a better nominee than Donald Trump. But at a convention, sure, I'd be one of the people encouraging delegates to get behind someone who I thought could win in November.

BORGER: If there is a contested convention, would you allow your name to be put into nomination? ROMNEY: That's not going to happen. What's going to happen in a

contested convention is the people who are running for president and who have delegates will be able to battle with one another.

[16:20:06] BORGER: But would you allow it?

ROMNEY: I'm not going to even go there.

BORGER: I have to say that you were someone who sought his endorsement in 2012, I don't have to remind you about that, and you tweeted that you sort of regretted that and that you said that four years ago, quote, "The things he says now about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would not have accepted his endorsement."

When he endorsed you, he was kind of the godfather of the Obama birther movement. Wasn't he? I mean, wasn't that bad enough?

ROMNEY: Well, no, I think that's very different than calling Mexicans rapists, than saying Muslims will not be allowed into the country as immigrants, that mocking a disabled reporter, that -- going after women and saying, oh, she asks tough questions because she was in her menstrual cycle. I mean, this is highly offensive.

BORGER: Well, the birther thing was offensive.

ROMNEY: He had a belief President Obama wasn't born in this country. I said I disagreed with him. There are political views about one another where we're going to disagree.

But what he has said during this campaign, that George W. Bush is a liar, that John McCain isn't a her hero? He said some things that are completely, totally outrageous.

BORGER: Well, I think Obama would think it was offensive that Trump was saying he wasn't born here.

ROMNEY: You know, the funny thing about Donald Trump's whole birther thing and I said this to him, it would have made no difference. Barack Obama's mother was American. It was a whole ridiculous thing that Donald Trump was pursuing and is -- I think characteristic of what you see now.

I mean last night when he said, look, he's not just for waterboarding, which is illegal, but he wants to do more than waterboarding, which is torture and he's going to tell the troops to do it and they're going to do it. Well, the troops then would be guilty of crimes. And he would be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Really? Is that where we're going to go in this country? It's absolutely -- he's saying things which get people excited but which are detached from reality.

BORGER: CNN has done a report which says that he is now going to, for a general election should he become the nominee, start raising money.

ROMNEY: It's amazing, isn't it? All during the primary he has criticized his opponents by saying, oh, they're raising money from folks and they're going to have to respond to and report to those folks. He's self-funding.

Now we learned, no, he's not planning on self-funding. He's only been loaning money to his campaign which he can get back if he's the general nominee -- general election nominee. It's a form of hypocrisy that I think people will find shocking.

BORGER: Do you regret that you didn't run?

ROMNEY: No, as I looked at the stage last night and I spoke with my wife. She's on other side of the country. We talked by phone.

She said aren't you glad that you're not up there with the kinds of things that are being said? It's so degrading, so demeaning.

Mr. Trump has taken this campaign in a very deep gutter and I hope somehow we're able to come out of that gutter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: And after last night's debate, I think a lot of Republicans feel the same way, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It got a little deeper in that gutter last night.

BORGER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Gloria Borger, great interview.

BORGER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're just moments away from the release of brand new poll numbers on the race for the White House. The question, is America ready for a female president?

Plus, a bombshell in the O.J. Simpson murder case more than 20 years later. The LAPD now testing a knife that was reportedly buried on O.J.'s property. Wait until you hear who's actually had the knife for decades.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:59] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: This breaking news just into CNN, we've gotten new insight into Americans' views on electing a female president. A new CNN/ORC poll found that a large majority of Americans say the United States is ready for a woman to run the White House. That is an increase from June, 2008, when you remember that Hillary Clinton dropped out of the race after winning almost 18 million votes in the Democratic primary.

However, and this is key, our poll also found voters don't all see this as an urgent issue. Just 31 percent of Americans believe that it is important for the U.S. to elect a woman in their lifetimes. Next up, one of the campaign spouses most involved behind the scenes

in this race is also one you probably haven't heard much from yet until now.

Joining me now is Jane Sanders. She is wife of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Jane Sanders, thanks very much for joining me today.

JANE SANDERS, WIFE OF SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, Jane, first off I want to get your reaction to this new poll. Just to you personally, do you find it important to see a woman elected president in your lifetime?

SANDERS: I think it shouldn't be a question. I mean, women are just as qualified as men and I'm glad to see that the American electorate is seeing that. It really doesn't come down to gender. It comes down to qualifications, experience and judgment.

So I think -- I think it's crazy that anybody thought they weren't ready to elect a woman president.

SCIUTTO: Right, fair.

Hillary Clinton, of course, the person challenging your husband for the nomination, she just spoke in Detroit and she appeared to take him on very directly. Have a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone running for president owes it to you to come up with real ideas, not an ideology, not an old set of talking points, but a credible strategy designed for the world we live in now. And that's exactly what I'm here today to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: It seems pretty clear that she's directing that criticism at your husband.