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Newest Polls on the Race for 2016; Houthi Rebels Free American Detainee; Russian Fighter Jet Buzzes U.S. Navy Ship; Bruce Jenner Becomes Caitlyn; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 2, 2015 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:01] CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Rubio has probably got the best chance amongst the so-called, you know, new faces to kind of standout at the end, I think.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And just talking about --


COSTELLO: Go ahead.

FERGUSON: Let me say this. I think the GOP primary is going to be concluded in the opposite of what he just described. Most voters are loving the fact that there are robust candidates and they feel like that this is the best GOP field we've had in now more than two election cycles. The GOP individuals I've talked to and voters, they love having this many options this early on and seeing a great debate.

I mean, look at Hillary Clinton's number. Yes, she's got this thing wrapped up in the primary right now, but the reality is, a lot of people aren't inspired by her, and I think Jeb Bush and I think Hillary both have -- the biggest issue on their plate is, how do we get away from our last name? Our last name helped us get there, but there are people that are fatigued and tired of the Clinton last name and the Bush last name, and how do we reinvent ourselves. I think that's the biggest obstacle they've got to overcome.

COSTELLO: Yes, and going back to the Democratic primary for just a second, Chris. I think Ben is right. I think that many Democrats want a challenger in there, a worthy challenger to Hillary Clinton, because they think it's -- it'll be better for the party. They can make up a better choice. It'll challenge Hillary Clinton. And that's a good thing.

KOFINIS: Well, you know, listen, you know I like competitive primaries. It just hasn't shaped up that way. I mean, there are obviously candidates that jumped in, like, you know, Governor O'Malley and Bernie Sanders. They're just not I think at the level of a Hillary Clinton. It's just one of those quirks in the Democratic race. We had incredibly competitive primary back in 2008.

I don't necessarily believe that just because you have a competitive primary, somehow that translates to being a stronger general election candidate. Can and cannot. It just depends because it ends up being this, you know, relative choice between whoever the two candidates are on either side. I think the challenge the Republicans have is not that its competitive primary, it's if you spend the next X number of months just beating each other up, it doesn't help you in the long run and that I think is going to be the biggest problem the Republicans have.

FERGUSON: And see, I don't think the Republican candidates are going to do near as much of that --


KOFINIS: They're going to. You watch.

FERGUSON: And the reason why --

COSTELLO: Did you hear Lindsey Graham?

FERGUSON: Hold on. Hold on. The reason why is this. The reason -- well, Lindsey Graham is at 1 percent so when you're at 1 percent, you throw knockout punches all day long, hoping that you land one of them before you get knocked out.

KOFINIS: Yes, but, Ben --

FERGUSON: Or get tired from throwing them. But my point is this. I think what you're going to see here is you're going to see the Republicans consistently go after one person, that is Hillary Clinton because she has no one that's really fighting against her. That's obviously hurt her in the polls over the last month.

KOFINIS: But that's -- that's not what's going to happen, Ben.

FERGUSON: Every single one of the guys on stage today.


FERGUSON: Hold on. Every guy that's on stage today in Florida, they're all going to attack Hillary Clinton long before they attack one another.


FERGUSON: I promise you. Watch and see.

KOFINIS: You've got to --

COSTELLO: All right. We will be watching.

KOFINIS: Listen, I --

COSTELLO: I've got to leave it leave there, guys. I've got to leave it there.

Ben Ferguson, Chris Kofinis, thanks to both of you. I appreciate it. Still to come in the NEWSROOM, new details on how a meeting between

White House officials and Houthi rebels helped freed this American who was kidnapped in Yemen.


[09:37:17] COSTELLO: One of at least four Americans held in Yemen has been freed by Houthi rebels. The State Department confirms that Casey Coombs, a freelance journalist, is now in Oman after being detained in Yemen about -- about two weeks ago.

We've also just learned that the White House -- White House officials met with Shiite militia groups last week to push for his release.

CNN's Elise Labott joins me now with more. Good morning.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Carol, this is really a big development. This is the first time that senior -- -any U.S. officials really have talked directly to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Previously they were doing it through intermediaries. We understand last week Assistant Secretary Anne Patterson and the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Matthew Tueller, met with Houthi rebels in Oman.

Now Oman's leader, Sultan Qaboos, arranged that meeting. And not only were they pushing for the release of Americans but more broadly trying to get a political process going in Yemen. As you know, the conflict between Houthi rebels and rebels loyal to the ousted President Hadi have been fighting. It's drawn in Saudi Arabia who's been launching airstrikes against the Houthis. They charged Iran with aiding the Houthis.

So it's become more of this regional conflict and now the U.S. has been trying for some time to open up this line of communication and sat down with these Houthi rebels and said, listen, you need to get a permanent ceasefire in place and you need to start some political process to end the violence. It's really a dramatic humanitarian crisis there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And so going back to the hostage drama, there's a new video out and this video features a French woman named Isabelle Prime. She was abducted in Yemen. And in that video the 30-year-old World Bank consultant says, quote, "Please bring me to France fast because I'm really, really tired, I tried to kill myself several times."

What do you make of this?

LABOTT: Well, U.S. officials say they are not really sure if they're considering these people hostages or being kidnapped. There is no indication that they are being harmed or tortured in any way. Officials tell me they don't see this as the same situation as ISIS, where you've seen those dramatic videos of beheadings, of Americans and other Westerners. Clearly it's uncomfortable to be captive in one place, and also in Yemen with that situation there, clearly it's a dreadful situation.

But the U.S. doesn't really have a handle on what the motives are but the Houthis were hold these people because they haven't made any demands. At first they thought maybe they were trying to get some access or some leverage on political negotiations but since they haven't made any demands they don't really know what they want. They can't get them free but clearly this Casey Coombs, him getting out is a signal that the Houthis are willing to talk -- Carol.

[09:40:09] COSTELLO: All right. Elise Labott, reporting live for us this morning. Thank you.

Supersonic Russian fighter jets buzzed an American Navy ship near contested waters off the coast of Crimea. Scary stuff, right. But the U.S. Navy wants you to see exactly what happened.

OK. So that video being shot from a U.S. Navy ship called "The Ross." Washington says this was a routine encounter, that the planes were not armed. And the USS Ross did not change course because of this flyby.

But Russian media is telling a whole different story. It says the jets were scrambled to intercept the U.S. warships saying, quote, "The crew of the ship acted provocatively and aggressively, which concerned the operators of monitoring stations and ships of the Black Sea Fleet." And Russian media goes on to say the flyby forced the Ross to turn and run back into international waters.

I want to bring in former USS Cole commander, Kirk Lippold, to talk about this.

Good morning, sir.


COSTELLO: So, because I'm glad you're here. Is it unusual for the U.S. Navy to release such video?

LIPPOLD: It is unusual for them to release these types of videos. Normally when you have these incidents occur, like it occurred to me when I was operating up there on a Navy cruiser in 1987, you do record them for specifically this reason so that you can document what the real conditions were when the Russians, back then the Soviet Union, made these flyovers.

COSTELLO: So what does it look like to you? What actually happened?

LIPPOLD: Well, I think what actually happened is exactly like the U.S. said, the USS Ross was conducting routine operations in international waters, well clear of the Crimean Peninsula, and Russian territorial waters. It maintained course, it maintained speed. They detected that aircraft or the all aircraft, the Su-24 Fencers long before they ever got to them, they watched them the entire way, they monitored not only the radio communications but electronic commissions as well.

They knew that they were probably not armed and it was confirmed by the video when they did the flyby that the pylons did not have any weapons so they didn't represent a threat and what the Russians are in fact putting out there in the news is laughable at best. (LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Laughable at best. Because what are they trying to prove exactly?

LIPPOLD: I think this is purely domestic consumption for Putin to try and bolster his image with the Russian people again. It is going to have no effect on our operating up there. We're going to continue to operate in the Black Sea especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula takeover.

So it's really a signal that we're saying that hey, we can operate in your backyard, we're going to continue to do under international law, and we want you to be aware that we have a lot of people in that Black Sea area, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, that really want to see us there as a stabilizing force to ensure that the Russians understand they don't have a free hand completely operating there.

COSTELLO: So just my last question because you experienced something similar. So when you're onboard that warship and you're looking at this Russian jet, kind of straight thing, what goes through your mind? Are you saying things like, oh, those Russians, or do you really take it as a threat because you don't know?

LIPPOLD: Well, what you do, Carol, is you very closely monitor both the electronics and the communications that are coming off of those aircraft back to their home bases, what they are being told and how they're being told to maneuver, what the profiles of the aircraft are, altitudes they're operating on, how close they're coming, to see if there are any indicators of hostile intent or potentially a hostile act that you would have to react to and shoot them down.

Clearly I would have no doubt that the USS Ross was well armed and ready should an aggressive action occur, that they would be able to defend themselves appropriately but thankfully that did not happen.

COSTELLO: I believe so. Commander Lippold, thank you so much for your insight. I appreciate it.

LIPPOLD: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: I'll be right back.



COSTELLO: It's all over the newsstands, the "New York Post" and the "New York Daily News." "Call me Caitlyn." Right now most of you have seen this "Vanity Fair" cover and the world debut of Caitlyn Jenner.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": I think the most shocking thing is it's only June and she's already in bathing suit shape. CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": This is historic because Caitlyn's the

first woman from that family to appear on a magazine cover totally clothed. That has never -- she's actually covered up and tastefully dressed.


COSTELLO: Seriously, though, true to form, Jenner is breaking records, becoming the fastest Twitter account to reach one million followers. Her response? "Another Jenner world record and at 65 who would have thought? Humbled and honored to have reached one million followers in four hours. Thank you for your support."


CAITLYN JENNER, FORMERLY BRUCE JENNER: Bruce always had to tell a lie. He was always living that lie. Caitlyn doesn't have any secrets. As soon as the "Vanity Fair" cover comes out, I'm free.


COSTELLO: She's free. My next guest, though, says he felt that same freedom but today he calls his decision to transition to a woman the biggest mistake of his life.

Walt Heyer spent eight years living life as a woman. He is now back to living life as a man, working as an author and contributor at the conservative blog

Walt, thank you so much for being with me this morning. I appreciate it.


COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. So when you look at the cover -- when you look at Caitlyn Jenner, what goes through your mind with your experience?

[09:50:06] HEYER: Well, you know, this is really the most exciting time in a transgender's life. I mean, this is the -- this is the debut, all the things that you had hoped and thought about are coming about for Jenner and so this is the time to live it up and enjoy it. I just know from the e-mails that I get to my Web site and from my own personal experience, this doesn't always last. It's sort of like, you know, going down to the bar and you're having a good time and you drink it up good and then, you know, you wake up with a hangover.

COSTELLO: Well, I will say we looked for studies to find some percentage of people who did change their mind like you did. We found a recent Swedish study that found only 2.2 percent of transgender male and females suffered from sex change regret. But that doesn't make your experience any less important. So tell me what happened in your life.

HEYER: Yes. You know, you come to this point where you're -- I started out as a transgender child at a young age. And went through life struggling with gender identity disorder and, you know, got married, had children. My life really has a lot of mirrors that reflect the same life as Jenner is having. I just transitioned at the age of 42 after going through a divorce and so, you know, what I realized was after living that way for years and studying psychology that no one actually changes gender.

The surgeons can make it look like you changed genders but the fact of the matter is it's all cosmetic surgery. There's really no actual gender change. And so when you come to that realization then all of a sudden you feel -- I did, I felt like I had been duped, tricked, and it wasn't really real. I wasn't really a woman. I looked like one.

COSTELLO: Of course Caitlyn Jenner probably would not agree with you because she is feeling free. Is it because times are different now than when you went through the change? Are people more accepting and perhaps Caitlyn Jenner's experience will be better than yours was?

HEYER: Well, I said all the very same things that Caitlin is saying. I felt like I was free. I felt like the world was lifted from my shoulders. It was very exciting. I ended up having a good career and job, and so I don't think that times have changed all that much. I do think that when we look at regret, one of the things that we don't talk about much is the fact that 41 percent of transgenders will attempt suicide and those 41 percent should actually be included in the ones who regret changing genders.

People who are happy about what they do won't attempt suicide. 41 percent of them do. So I would suggest that --

COSTELLO: Well -- no, no, I will say that for all the support that Caitlyn Jenner is finding today, there's still a lot of people who don't support her choice, right?

Erick Erickson, I'm going to read you something that he posted on his blog Red State this morning. He said, "When a 65-year-old former Olympian tells you that he's decided after all of these years that he is a she and his new name is going to be one fashionable amongst 17- year-old girl and his own son's girlfriend, your first reaction should be not to congratulate the man on finally finding his authentic self but steering him into therapy."

So I would suppose when you hear things like that and you're going through this difficult time, that can really hurt. And it can cause you to be in severe pain.

HEYER: You know, I don't know about Bruce. I know that, you know, when you're going through this like I did in my life, nothing that anybody could say caused me any pain. People would say anything they wanted. But I was in such a state of euphoria and excitement that nothing really affected me. It was my own realization that I had not really changed genders and when all of the adoration and all the excitement had worn off after eight years and you look back and start looking at the old pictures and realize, wow, this is really not all that good. And, you know, you just come to -- you have to come to that place on

your own. I don't think things that people say really had any effect on me. People said some pretty horrible things and people still say horrible things about me because I went back. So you know, you have to kind of be pretty thick skinned and not worry about what other people say. I don't think Bruce really gives a rift about what people say about him.

[09:55:07] COSTELLO: I hope not. Walt Heyer, thank you so much for your insight. I really appreciate it.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.


COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, cruise ship catastrophe.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can just imagine the horrible scenes here on the Yangtze River.

COSTELLO: Hundreds of people trapped in the hull of a capsized ship. So far only a lucky few have been saved. Now rescuers tapping on the hull hoping someone, anyone taps back.

Also speed bumps on the race to the White House. Brand new CNN polls out this morning. Clinton loses ground as the GOP contenders tried to separate themselves from the pack.

Plus, call her Caitlyn.

BRUCE JENNER, FORMER OLYMPIC MEDALIST: Caitlyn doesn't have any secrets.

COSTELLO: She's left Bruce Jenner behind in a glamorous new magazine cover.

JENNER: As soon as the "Vanity Fair" cover comes out, I'm free.

COSTELLO: Let's talk.