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THE SITUATION ROOM
Rudy Giuliani Under Fire; Terrorist Manhunt; Pentagon Reveals Plan to Retake ISIS Stronghold; Giuliani Declares: 'This Isn't Racism
Aired February 20, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are the war plans real or are they a ploy to trick the terrorists?
On the run -- a massive manhunt for three schoolgirls who police fear may have gone to join ISIS forces. How were they recruited?
Rudy, America's mayor, forced to declare he's a not a racist, even as he fuels controversy he started with new remarks. What is Rudy Giuliani saying now about President Obama and his family?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now, remarkable new details of what may be the largest single military offensive against ISIS so far. The Pentagon itself is revealing plans to drive terrorist fighters from Iraq's second largest city in the coming months. But there is deep concern about the role U.S. personnel will play in the military offensive and growing worries about among U.S. allies about the possible fallout.
We're covering all of that this hour and a lot more with the former NATO supreme allied commander. General George Joulwan, he is standing by, along with our correspondents and our guests.
But let's begin over at Pentagon. Our correspondent Barbara Starr is getting new information.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
It's now clear that the Iraqi forces will indeed need U.S. military training, advice and assistance. But the question is, how far will that U.S. assistance really go?
STARR (voice-over): Iraqi forces fled Mosul last June when ISIS overran the city. For months, ISIS militants have shown the world their iron grip of terror on Iraq's second largest city.
But now, with the help of U.S. trainers and advisers, Iraqi forces are going to try to take the city back. The war plan, according to a U.S. military official, in late April or May, 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi forces begin to converge on Mosul. Peshmerga forces will cut off escape routes north and west of the
city. The unknown, whether President Obama will order a small number of U.S. troops on the ground to help Iraqis find ISIS targets in the densely populated city and questions about why the Pentagon was signaling the coming battle at all.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: I certainly think it's a roll of the dice. Look, obviously, signaling your intentions to the enemy is unorthodox way of approaching this.
STARR: A U.S. official insists, no, that ISIS knows the coalition is aiming for Mosul.
JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There are also a lot of civilians up there who don't want to get caught in this fight. So allowing some time for those who want to get out of there, this can help the Iraqis prevent collateral damage against civilians inside Mosul by giving them a head start.
STARR: But as ISIS fighters continue their training, what about Iraqi forces? This time, will they fight?
REESE: They can handle things at small unit levels, but when you're bringing 25,000 forces into a city, that's a division size operation. And I'm just not sure they have the leadership ability to control that type of operation.
HIMES: The Iraqi army has not exactly distinguished itself in the last year as a fighting force. And, remember, we did this once before. The finest fighting force in the world, the United States Marine Corps, had a rough time retaking the city of Fallujah in Iraq.
STARR: The U.S. military insists it did not divulge any information in detail, no tactical details about the upcoming battle, nothing it says that could help ISIS on the ground -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
At least one Kurdish military commander though is seriously questioning the entire operation.
Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman spoke with him in Northern Iraq. Ben is joining us now from Irbil.
What did he tell you, Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was Sirwan Barzani, Wolf, who is one of the commanders of the front lines of the Kurdish forces.
When I asked him about these reports coming out of the U.S. about an impending offensive to take Mosul in April and May, he scoffed at it. He said, it's unrealistic. It's impossible. The reason he said that was because it's going to involve, in theory, the Iraqi army. He said that the Iraqi army simply isn't up to the job.
Of course, we saw how poorly they performed in Mosul last June, basically leaving almost all of their heavy weaponry behind to be left to ISIS. And, of course, this Kurdish commander also pointed out that even the United States had a hard time controlling Mosul.
And the difference now is, of course, is that ISIS has the sort of weaponry that the insurgency, the American forces had to face in Mosul never had and never could have dreamt of having -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good points, Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in Irbil.
Be careful over there.
We are following the search for three missing schoolgirls believed to be heading toward Syria right now. Police fear they may have been recruited by ISIS.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this part of the story for us.
What are you finding out, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior British diplomat telling me that the recruitment of women and girls by ISIS is a clear and disturbing trend and warns that the girls involved in this case are now at risk of sexual and other exploitation.
London police believe the three British schoolgirls were caught on surveillance tapes at London's Gatwick Airport, that they were attempting to travel to Syria to join jihad. Police say their parents are mystified by this. The teenage girls flew to Istanbul, Turkey. That's the same airport that Hayat Boumeddiene used to enter Syria right before her husband, Amedy Coulibaly, carried out that deadly shooting on a Paris kosher market.
Turkey, the key transit point into Syria for recruits to ISIS and other extremist groups, and Turkish and European authorities are still struggling to stem the flow. Remember ISIS has also managed to recruit young American women as well. In October, three teenage girls from Colorado were intercepted in Germany on their way to Syria. Another American, Shannon Conley, was sentenced to four years in prison after confessing that she was wanted to become an ISIS bride.
Wolf, so it's a growing problem. They are specifically targeting young women. As many as one in six ISIS foreign recruits are young women today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's pretty shocking when you think about it. You are also getting some new information, Jim, on new concerns involving this upcoming Mosul military operation.
SCIUTTO: That's right. We heard from Ben Wedeman the concerns from Kurdish allies in the fight. A senior Arab official tells me that Arab coalition partners are concerned that the Mosul operation will be largely led by Shia-dominated forces, which as a result will alienate local Sunnis and fuel instability after the operation.
I asked Ben Rhodes shortly after you interviewed him, Wolf, if the administration shares any of these concerns. He said no because the U.S. is working with what he says were multi-sectarian units. But I can tell you that there are close Arab partners in the coalition -- we know how important they are to the coalition -- who don't share that confidence.
They are concerned that the Iraqi prime minister, al-Abadi, has still not made the forces truly representative of all of Iraq's groups. That's going to be a problem with the operation.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of Shiite militias there as well, not necessarily part of the regular Iraqi army.
Let's get some more on all of this now.
Joining us, the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General George Joulwan.
General, thanks very much for joining us.
One of the friendly -- and it's a very friendly country, the United Arab Emirates -- they are specifically concerned that the Shia- dominated force may go in, take Mosul. But they are worried about what happens next, because a lot of the Shiite militias, and they're one of the most powerful military units in Iraq right now, they are obviously backed by Iran, closely aligned with Iran. Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces are there with them.
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It's a concern.
But a greater concern, as far as I'm concerned, is that whatever you commit to Mosul must be successful. You have got to have a win here. What is it going to take to get a win? If that includes some of the better Iraqi Shiite units, fine. I was in Mosul, and I saw an Iraqi division commander, happened to be a Sunni, with a very goody division. That was in 2007.
BLITZER: Yes, but the United States was in Iraq at that time. They were closely working with the Iraqi military units. It was basically a different world at that point in 2007. I was in Mosul in 2005. It was a whole different world than it is now.
JOULWAN: Well, but I think the challenge is going to be how do you create the condition for success? That includes the force structure you are going to use. I would think the Peshmerga should be included in what we're doing, because I think they are some of the best fighters we have in Iraq.
BLITZER: But they are really not well-armed right now. The U.S. is still trying to provide arms to them through the central government in Baghdad, hoping it will eventually reach the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. But they are complaining that they have artillery pieces from World War II. JOULWAN: Then that's a hit on us. If we cannot dictate what
arms should go to the best fighting force we have in Iraq at this crucial time, then something is wrong. I think what we need to do is create these conditions and a well-armed, well-led force to include the Peshmerga, as well as Sunni, as well as Shia, is absolutely critical for success.
BLITZER: The Peshmerga are the most pro-U.S. forces there.
JOULWAN: And they will fight.
BLITZER: And it's surprising that the U.S. doesn't directly provide weapons to them. They still go through Baghdad where maybe some of the weapons eventually reach them. They are bitterly upset about this.
Mosul, you were there, it's a city of nearly two million people. ISIS, they have -- they are well-armed right now, but supposedly, they are planting IEDs, improvised explosive devices. They're booby- trapping buildings and roads. This could be a really bloody battle if the Iraqi army goes in there and tries to liberate the city.
JOULWAN: That's why the intelligence preparation for this operation is essential.
We have the means to be able to really understand even where the IEDs have been planted. All of that can be done. As you lay all this out, where the enemy forces are, what is the maneuver we're going to make, how do you marry maneuver with airstrikes is going to be critical.
BLITZER: Yes, but the U.S. doesn't have that kind of intelligence on what's going on in Mosul right now. I suspect the Iraqi military doesn't either. Do you trust the Iraqi military given their horrible performance in simply abandoning their positions last June and letting a few thousand ISIS forces come in from Syria and take over that city?
JOULWAN: If we have put so much credibility on the line here with taking Mosul, we have to trust the Iraqi military. We have got to get them to the standard where we feel confident that they can accomplish...
BLITZER: But you don't believe this can be done without U.S. combat troops on the ground, do you?
JOULWAN: I think we need advisers on the ground. I think we need to have special forces involved to make sure that the airstrikes are going where they can do the most damage and facilitate the maneuver.
BLITZER: All right, General, I want you to stand by. There's much more to discuss. This potentially could be a pivotal moment in all of this war against ISIS. Much more with the former NATO supreme allied commander right after this.
BLITZER: Breaking now: the Pentagon revealing details of a planned spring offensive against ISIS designed to recapture Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, from the terrorists.
We're back with the former NATO supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan.
Bottom line, as far as the operation against Mosul is concerned, was it a blunder, was it a mistake for the military yesterday, the Pentagon yesterday to basically spill all the beans, it's going to take place in April or May, 25,000 troops, get ready, here we are coming to alert the enemy what's going on?
JOULWAN: The operational security side of that, I think it was a mistake.
However, if they're looking at a way to get inside the head of ISIS here to make them do some things that may weaken what they have around Mosul, maybe. But I think what you need to be able to do is have a plan. I used to say, if you are going to fire the bullet, hit the target.
And so if we're going to make this move, I should say Iraq is going to make this move, they have got to secure and retain control of Mosul.
BLITZER: You have often told me, General, because we have had these conversations many times over the years, if you are going into war, if you are going into battle, you have to have clarity of mission and you have to have overwhelming force. You have to be guaranteed quick victory. I don't see any of that right now.
JOULWAN: Well, I think it's to be developed here. I have great confidence in these young commanders that I used to have. They are now running the show here.
BLITZER: The U.S. military Central Command, you're talking about them.
BLITZER: But their hands are tied behind their backs, aren't they, if they can't -- they would probably -- we could go into Mosul and liberate that city. But you can't trust the Iraqi military to do it.
JOULWAN: Wolf, they owe it to the president of the United States and to the American people to give clear military advice to the president and the National Command Authority.
They need to say, if we're going to do this, this is what we need for success. They need to stand up and be counted. Whether it's Iraqi or Peshmerga or U.S. forces, they need to create these conditions for success.
BLITZER: But you know the American public doesn't want to get involved in another ground war 10 years in Iraq, 10 years in Afghanistan, thousands of casualties. The U.S. doesn't want to do that again.
JOULWAN: I have been through a smaller version of that in Bosnia. There was no support back here in the Congress, the military, the White House, anywhere to go into Bosnia.
When we went into Bosnia, I came back and I briefed Clinton, President Clinton, in the Oval Office, this is the conditions I need for success. He stood up and said, I approve.
That's the sort of contact the commanders need to have with the president.
BLITZER: I want to keep your hat on as the former NATO supreme allied commander. I want to put some video up. I will show you some video. This is Russian Defense Ministry TV video.
Look at this. These are British Royal Air Force jets intercepting a pair of Russian bombers as they flew over international waters just off England's coast. NATO has scrambled fighter jets more than 400 times this year alone to intercept Russian military flights close to the NATO countries. What's going on here?
JOULWAN: This is Putin's attempt to intimidate NATO and NATO countries and particularly the United States. We no longer have a deterrent strategy in Europe. We have pulled all our forces out.
We -- as I understand it, not one permanently stationed U.S. tank in Europe anymore. I had 500 in my corps. The deterrent factor isn't there. And so I think what is happening, Putin recognizes that and he is going to reestablish, if he can, what was the former Soviet Union.
BLITZER: You think he wants to try to do that, that he wants to go back to bad old days of the Cold War?
JOULWAN: I think he sees a very weak U.S., a very weak NATO. And he will push as far as he can until he meets full stop, when someone really says, if you go any more, this is what's going to happen.
Whether we can even do an Article 5, which is the NATO attack on all, on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where a lot of Russians also are there, I'm not sure. When they tell me that, I say, with what?
BLITZER: Article 5 of the NATO charter says if one NATO country is attacked, all NATO countries are attacked. What you are saying is, you are not convinced that Article 5 of the NATO charter can be honored?
(CROSSTALK) JOULWAN: Well, we could honor it with words. Whether we could
honor it with the force structure that's going to be need to back that up -- and that's what I think Putin understands.
He knows that we have weakened ourselves after the wall came down, et cetera, et cetera, where you had 350,000 troops. I think we have 50,000 left there, U.S. forces. It's no longer a deterrent strategy that we're facing here. We don't have the forces to do it.
BLITZER: And Ukraine is a disaster. You don't believe the cease-fire will hold. The Russians are not going to pull out?
JOULWAN: They have taken Crimea. They have taken much of that eastern part of Ukraine. And I think they are going to keep nibbling away, and not just in Ukraine, but elsewhere.
BLITZER: You think Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania -- these are NATO allies -- they're in danger too?
JOULWAN: They have a large Russian population in all three countries. I used to be there, operational maneuver group in the Cold War, was stationed in those three countries.
BLITZER: General George Joulwan, thanks very much for joining us.
JOULWAN: OK, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very worrisome stuff. Appreciate it very much.
JOULWAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to much more on the major anti- ISIS offensive the Pentagon is now preparing and why the U.S. is publicly announcing its plans months beforehand.
Plus, the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani refusing to apologize for his controversial comments, instead tripling down in new remarks. We are going to tell you what he is saying now. He is not backing away from his assertion that the president of the United States does not love America.
BLITZER: Breaking now, remarkable new details from the Pentagon itself of the upcoming offensive to drive ISIS forces from Mosul. That's Iraq's second largest city, a city of nearly two million people.
There are serious questions about the role U.S. forces will play, and why the Pentagon is tipping its hand right now potentially to ISIS.
Let's get some more.
Joining us our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, our military analyst retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and our intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer.
Phil, are you surprised the U.S. is broadcasting the Mosul offensive, the operational plans, if you will, how many troops will be involved, when they will go in? Is there potentially some strategic reason, psy-ops or whatever, to do this? Because it's pretty surprising.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm not surprised at all. I can't figure out what this debate is, Wolf.
I don't have much hair left, but what I have, I'm pulling out. Here's the deal. The second largest city in Iraq is in the ISIS heartland. The military, Iraqi military was surprised last summer. ISIS no longer has the opportunity of surprise. The Iraqi military has airpower superiority provided by the United States, superior intelligence, superior manpower.
We're sitting here saying it's a surprise they are eventually going to try to retake Mosul? I don't get why we're thinking this is a huge surprise. This has been in debate for months now.
I do think, as you are suggesting, there might even be an advantage here in talking about this target. I think the ISIS guys believe they are ordained by God to succeed. I believe a lot of them, especially untrained recruits, might show up in a place like Mosul to say, you want to fight, bring it on, we will show up, we will take the fight to Mosul.
And they might provide an opportunity for the Iraqi military. The only question is going to be very simple -- and General Hertling can pick this up -- does the Iraqi military have the will and capability to win the fight? It's not whether we have the element of surprise. That was lost months ago.
BLITZER: What do you think, General Hertling?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I agree completely with Phil, Wolf.
First of all, a couple things. We are not in a vacuum over there. The Iraqi forces are in the Nineveh province, which surrounds Mosul. You also have extremely militant and fiercely independent Sunni tribes in that region. We can't look at the announcement from a Western lens that we're violating op-sec.
I did an operation with Iraqi army forces in 2008 where we went in from Mosul. And was furious that they gave up the operational security and announced that they were going in. What I realized was, they were actually trying to get support from people inside the city, in the (INAUDIBLE) and also the other people, the citizens of Nineveh province.
So they want the support to show that the Iraqi government is actually doing something. And one more thing that my friend Phil said, you know, we're talking about between 2,000 and 3,000 ISIS fighters estimated inside the city. We're putting up about 25,000 Iraqi forces, with additional Peshmerga, with airpower and artillery against that force. Let's go after it.
The only thing that concerns me is they've been there a while, and there are going to be IEDs. There's going to be vehicle-born IEDs, and they've planted IEDs in each of the houses that they're occupying, which will take a lot of casualties within the Iraqi security force.
BLITZER: And Bob Baer, that has been raised now over the past 24 hours. Repeatedly, people have said to me here in Washington, you know what? The U.S. has now told them when these guys are coming, the Iraqis, the Peshmerga, backed by the United States. They have a lot of IEDs. They've got a lot of booby traps that they're going to -- this is a big city. There will be house to house fighting. They there are going to be a lot of civilian casualties once this operation begins. That's a huge fear.
BAER: Well, Wolf, I'd like to pick up -- that is a fear. I'd like to pick up what you said before in the last segment. And that is the local population. There are about two million Sunni Arab tribesmen in al Anbar provinces and the rest of it. We have no connection with them. They have told me indirectly -- I emphasize indirectly -- that if Shia militias, if Baghdad uses Shia militias to go into Anbar province -- with or without ISIS -- they'll resist.
And I don't know what the Iraqi government is going to do. But so many of the arms we gave to the Iraqi army have ended up with militias, including Abrams tanks. And if they intend to drive those into Fallujah and Ramadi, they're going to get some serious resistance. It's not going to be just from ISIS.
BLITZER: But isn't most, Bob -- isn't most of the Iraqi military, the regular Iraqi military Shia?
BAER: Exactly. They are Shia. And you're not going to find any so-called loyalists Sunnis fighting with the Shia. These are Hezbollah and in a group that executed five American soldiers in 2007, Parbala (ph). They are at the forefront of this offensive so far. The Sunni Arabs, they are a distinct, you know, sectarian group, will fight the Shia Arabs. There's just no doubt in my mind.
So this has to be done very carefully going into Mosul. If they do it the wrong way, it could go very wrong.
BLITZER: Peter, take us inside these ISIS terrorists, the leadership there. They've now heard. They watch television, obviously. They know what's going on. The USA -- this military operation is going to take place in March or April. In the spring sometime. What's their reaction? What are they saying now as they hear this?
BERGEN: I think they will say -- they will say, bring it on, to quote a phrase that was used in the past. Of course, from a military point of view, which is full force, I think there's a big advantage to the civilians to leave. If you think about that many civilians, you want them to leave. And you do want to signal that a military operation is going to happen.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, let me ask you about this 19-year-old Minnesota young man. He was just charged trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS, a Somali-American. Here's the question. How powerful is this new recruitment machine that ISIS has? They're able to lure young Americans to leave Minnesota, get to Turkey, try to cross the border and join forces with ISIS in Syria.
MUDD: Wolf, this is the most discouraging story I've heard this week. But it's not because of the power of ISIS propaganda. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to join the jihadi world, when I was working at CIA, and I worked on the campaign to help some of the former jihadis fight the Soviet Union, you would have gone to a place like Afghanistan. Ten years ago, you might still -- 12 years ago, you might have gone to a place like Somalia, where a Somali kid from Minneapolis would have gone. We lost our first American suicide bomber from Minneapolis. He blew himself up in Somalia.
Now fast forward another ten years. It's 2015. Where does that kid go? He doesn't go to Afghanistan. He doesn't go to Somalia. He goes to Iraq. What this tells me is it's not just about ISIS. It's about the endurance of the jihadi message in the midst of this fight within Islam about where the heart of Islam lies. It's not about ISIS today. It's about will it be Nigeria tomorrow? Will it be Jordan? I don't know. But I'm afraid what this suggests is that we're in this fight not for a couple years but for decades, because like it or not, we've been here for decades already.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen, what does it say to you?
BERGEN: Well, you know, the Somali-Americans that went to Somalia come from a neighborhood in Minneapolis where you see the Riverside neighborhood. It's one of the poorest neighborhoods in the states.
And so there are some disaffected young men who are going to buy into this message. I don't think the Somali-American community has magically sort of prospered in the last several years. So they're appealing to these kids who don't have much of a future. But it's not just them. We've seen kids from Chicago, from Colorado, other places around the country.
For them it's about the romance of wanting something that they consider to be heroic.
BLITZER: It's a sad, sad situation.
Guys, stand by. We're going to get more on what's going on, the breaking news we're following.
By the way, to find out more about the escalating battle against ISIS, specifically, what you can do to help protect Iraqi children affected by all this violence, visit CNN.com/Impact. Just ahead, we've got much more on the all-important offensive
against ISIS now being planned, including what role U.S. troops might play.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani refusing to apologize as the criticism grows. You're going to find out what America's mayor, as he used to be called, is saying and how other Republicans are reacting.
BLITZER: He sparked a huge controversy by saying President Obama does not love America. And now the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, is adding fuel to the fire. Far from backing down, he's actually tripling down with new remarks.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working the story for us. So Jim, what is the very latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama did not directly respond to Rudy Giuliani's comments today, though, he did talk about his love for country. The White House, on the other hand, definitely weighed in.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In a speech to Democrats today, President Obama was feeling the love for America.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's about making this nation we love more perfect.
ACOSTA: The comment came as the White House slapped back at Rudy Giuliani after the former New York City mayor questioned the president's love for his country. White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested Giuliani had damaged his image as the man dubbed "America's mayor" after the attacks on 9/11.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that it's sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature and admiration tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly. And the truth is, I don't take any joy or vindication or satisfaction from that. I think really the only thing that I feel is, I feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani today.
ACOSTA: Giuliani touched off a firestorm when he said earlier this week, "I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you, and he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country." The ex-mayor hasn't apologized.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I don't feel this love of America. I believe his initial approach is to criticize this country and then afterwards to say a few nice things about us.
ACOSTA: Giuliani defended the remark to CNN, saying it has nothing to do with brace, adding the president was brought up by a white mother and white grandparents. And because he made the comments at a private event, the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, potential presidential contender, other possible candidates are on the spot.
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: If they disagree with what Giuliani said, the activists are going to say, "No guts. I want a candidate with guts."
ACOSTA: While Walker is trying to dodge the issue...
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I love America. That's the only person I can comment on is what I think. And I think America is a great, exceptional country.
ACOSTA: Others are seeking distance.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (D), FLORIDA: Democrats aren't asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing. So I don't know why I should answer every time a Republican does. Suffice it to say I believe the president loves America, but I think his ideas are bad.
ACOSTA: But it's a line of attack the president has heard before.
SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America.
ACOSTA: Mr. Obama answered the charge repeatedly back in 2008.
OBAMA: Let me be clear. I will let no one question my love of this country.
ACOSTA: Now as for that line from the president about loving his country from earlier today, a White House official said that remark was already in the speech text days before Giuliani's comments. We should point out Republicans here in Washington, some of them, Wolf, are furious with Giuliani as one top GOP source told me, this was not helpful -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It wasn't. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.
Let's dig deeper. Joining us, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger; our political director David Chalian; and our CNN anchor, Don Lemon. Gloria, why does Rudy Giuliani keep digging in on this instead of acknowledging, "You know what? Maybe I misspoke. I apologize. Let's move on"?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you know Rudy Giuliani's personality is to kind of forge right ahead. And when you look at this, it seems to me that there's some kind of struggle for relevancy going on. Rudy Giuliani is not running for president. He was at a Scott Walker event. And maybe he was throwing out some red meat to conservatives there behind closed doors. We heard that happen once before with Mitt Romney and the 47 percent during the last campaign.
But I think the problem here really is for the Republican Party, because you saw, as Jim Acosta said, that Scott Walker walked away from it. You have Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham disowning it.
But this is not the conversation Republicans want to be having right now. They want to have a big tent. They want to change the public perception of the Republican Party as welcoming all demographics. And this kind of a statement just in the middle of this rebranding of the Republican Party hurts every single would-be candidate. Because they have to take a stand on Rudy Giuliani.
BLITZER: What about that, David? Because all of these Republican potential candidates, there might be a dozen, two dozen, you know they're going to be asked to react. Do you agree with Giuliani or not? What should they say if they're smart?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Gloria is exactly right. It's not a conversation they want to have. But, Wolf, you are correct that it's a conversation they are going to have, because they are going to get this question.
I think Marco Rubio probably was pitch-perfect right there in that clip we saw in Jim Acosta's piece, because he is able to say, hey, I'm sure the president loves America, his policies are terrible for the country. He gets his message out there without attaching himself to what were clearly over the line remarks from Rudy Giuliani.
BLITZER: Don Lemon, when Giuliani says his remarks weren't racist because he says that Obama had a white mother, white grandparents, you say?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I say, I'm not racist because I have a black friend or a white friend. That's sort of the same thing.
But I have to tell you, Wolf, I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed on three levels, as a New Yorker. I'm embarrassed as an American. I'm embarrassed as an African-American.
As a New Yorker, I'm embarrassed because we live in, I believe, the greatest city in the world. Mayor Giuliani was the mayor of that city and thus became the mayor of America after 9/11. I covered as a field producer, Mayor Giuliani's first day in office. There was so much promise. He had -- you know, he had trouble in the middle. Then he redeemed himself at 9/11 and became America's mayor.
As an American, I'm embarrassed because no one runs for president who does not like this country. There are better and more lucrative things to do, easier things to do than run for president and run the country.
As an African-American, I'm embarrassed because people -- African-Americans are people of color and are often cited as other. And what Rudy is doing is citing the president as other. It is a dog whistle to certain people in the party and to certain types of people, whether he wants to claim that racism or not.
BORGER: And, you know, these candidates, whether they are declared or not, and they are undeclared are still in the NFL right now and they have to realize that. This takes me back to 2008. Remember when John McCain was asked at a town hall about Barack Obama being an Arab or people were screaming out the words terrorist?
And John McCain said at that time to the town hall, which was really getting going on Obama, he said, no, man, he is a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with. There was no challenge to his love of country.
LEMON: Don, I just want to you weigh in because he also went one step, Rudy Giuliani, referring to Barack Obama's grandparents who were white, referring to his mother who was white. He suggested the grandparents and mother may have been socialists or anti-colonialists, whatever that means. Maybe that was a big movement in Kansas or whatever where they were from.
But that was -- that was pretty weird, too, wasn't it?
LEMON: It is. It makes me wonder what's going on with Rudy Giuliani who is a bright man. I think the initial comment he thought he was in a roomful of people and that there weren't reporters and it wouldn't get out. So, the same as Romney's 47 percent comment.
It's really sad to dig in deeper to try to make an excuse for what he said. There's no excuse for what he said. We're all Americans. We all love our country.
And guess what? Part of loving your country is being able to criticize your country openly. That's what America is all about. We have that freedom.
So, you can love your country even -- and criticize your country at the same time. I don't know what's behind those comments but I think it's very weird. And I also, Gloria, I think where you are going, I agree with you, Gloria. I was disappointed in Scott Walker because Scott Walker had a chance to step up and say, listen, I don't know why Rudy made those comments. They're offensive.
I think that Marco Rubio's response was exactly right. It was almost a perfect response.
BLITZER: And we have invited Rudy Giuliani to join us here on CNN. So far, he has declined. But he has an invitation. We'd love him. I want all of you to stand by, because this is just coming in, another story we're following. Take a look at this.
A major fire burning on several floors of one of the tallest apartment buildings in the world, the 79-floor Torch Tower in the United Arab Emirates. This is in Dubai. Look at this.
Reports say the fire started under 50th floor. Dubai civil defense officials tell CNN it's unclear how many people are in the building. No deaths are reported so far. Let's hope it stays like that. They also don't know what caused the fire which started at 2:00 a.m. local time. We're going to stay on top of this story. But an awful fire in Dubai right now.
We'll take a quick break. More news right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now. Possible 2016 candidate for the Republican nomination saying he thinks the fight against ISIS will, in fact, require American boots on the ground. We're talking about the Ohio governor, John Kasich.
We're back with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
You sat down with Kasich this week. He said this is what happens when you raise the possibility of American combat forces going in on the ground. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: At some point in dealing with ISIS, you mark my words, whether John Kasich, you ever hear from me again, at some point, it will require boots on the ground from the world to be able deal with this problem. And I would rather deal with it sooner than later.
But you don't just go running over there. You've got to have a battle plan, you've got to figure out exactly what you're going to do. But I would never suggest that we should engage in nation-building or trying to convert all these people to our way of life. We need stability and we need to stop this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because he's pretty blunt there, isn't he?
BORGER: Well, he is. You know, his main point is that the U.S. needs to do this in concert with other countries. We have heard the phrase of the coalition of the willing before, Wolf. And I think that's exactly what Kasich is talking about.
And he said to me, look, people rule out boots on the ground. That is politicians rule out boots on the ground because they're sticking their finger in the air and looking at public opinion, which is very war-weary. And he said, you know, we get elected to lead and sometimes we have to lead in an unpopular direction.
BLTIZER: And you also spoke to him about the critically important state, his home state of Ohio. I believe no Republican has ever been elected president of the United States without winning Ohio. He said this to you. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASICH: If somebody comes into Ohio and they're extreme, they're not going to win. I mean, we don't operate that way in Ohio.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: You know, John Kasich won with 64 percent of the vote. He was re-elected. He won with 60 percent of women and 26 percent of African-American.
BLITZER: His re-election?
BORGER: His re-election.
And his point to me was the people in Ohio aren't going to go for partisanship on one side or the other. And so, he was kind of a shot across the bow to other Republican potential presidential candidates saying you know what, if you run to the right during the primaries you're not going to win Ohio and if you don't win Ohio, you're not going to win the presidency.
BLITZER: President Obama carried Ohio both times.
BLITZER: David Chalian, here is what a lot of Democrats say they are worried about if Jeb Bush gets the Republican nomination, he's very popular in Florida. That's a critical battleground state. If he were to pick Kasich as his running, he's popular in Ohio. Hillary Clinton, let's say, she's the Democratic nominee, she carries New York and California, the Republicans take Texas. Then it comes down to Florida and Ohio and the Republicans potentially could win, right?
CHALIAN: Well, you can't win the presidency these days pretty much if you don't have Florida and Ohio in your corner. So, that would be a really powerful ticket. As you know, Wolf, governors, former governors, current governors, tend to make good presidential candidates or vice presidential candidates, as the case maybe with Kasich here in the scenario you're painting.
And having Jeb Bush and John Kasich would certainly be powerful. I'm not sure that's where we'll end up and I'm not sure John Kasich really wants to be anybody's number two. But Gloria might be able to speak to that.
BORGER: You know, I did ask him about it. What he said was kind of hilarious. He said, you know, I don't know what vice presidents do other than stop traffic. He was in South Carolina the same day Joe Biden was in South Carolina and he got caught in a traffic jam caused by Joe Biden.
So, he didn't seem particularly interested. Of course, they never do. But we should also say there's Senator Rob Portman of Ohio who might be attracted to any Republican on the top of the ticket, I think.
BIDEN: But, David, you know this -- a lot of people say, a lot of potential presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans they often say, oh, they're not interested in being vice president but when it comes down to number two they're anxious to become the vice president of the United States. You know that, right?
CHALIAN: It's a hard thing to say no when your party nominee asks you to serve your country.
BLITZER: Let's talk about something totally, totally different. It's pretty strange. The White House in a bunch of press releases misspelling the word February. It's getting a little business out there. You can see there, missing one of the R's there. I guess it's just a typo but it's happened a few times.
BORGER: Yes, I think maybe spell check is not exactly working at the White House, Wolf. I think somebody's going to get in a bit of trouble at that. There was that BuzzFeed video in which the president was making fun of himself saying the word February which has an R.
BLITZER: Maybe he knew something when he was doing that when he was making fun.
BORGER: I don't think he writes the press leases.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's not right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February -- man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February 15th. February 15.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very cute. Very cute.
You know what? We all have spelling mistakes sometimes even the White House has a spelling mistake.
Gloria, by the way, is going to have a lot more of her interview with John Kasich this Sunday, "STATE OF THE UNION", she's hosting 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern right here on CNN.
David Chalian, thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Have a great weekend.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.