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THE SITUATION ROOM
Protesting Trump; Confederate Flag Coming Down in South Carolina; Interview With Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke; George W. Bush Slammed Over Speaking Fee for Veterans. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired July 9, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The governor just gave the final approval. How will this affect the national debate over race and symbols of hate?
Protesting Trump. Amid growing outrage about his views on immigration, is the billionaire presidential candidate being scolded by the Republican Party chief? We're hearing conflicting accounts about that private phone call.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, we're learning in new detail how close the United States came to a terror attack around July 4 amid massive security across the nation. The FBI director is now revealing that his agency made more than 10 ISIS-related arrests during the last several weeks, disrupting imminent plots to kill Americans.
Also tonight, the brand-new leader of al Qaeda's most dangerous branch is calling for attacks against the U.S. and declaring war against the West, this after we heard a top senator warn right here in THE SITUATION ROOM that a terrorist slaughter like the recent beach attack in Tunisia is all but certain to happen here in the U.S., possibly very soon.
I will talk with a former U.S. Navy SEAL who now serves on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ryan Zinke, and our correspondents and analysts also are standing by as we cover all the news breaking now.
First to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, you remember the terror alert that went out before the July 4 weekend, hearing from law enforcement now one of the reasons behind that.
U.S. officials telling us that law enforcement foiled several terror plots in the last four weeks, including attacks timed to the July 4 holiday. The FBI has as you said made more than 10 ISIS- related arrests during that time, some of those arrests tied to attacks tied to July 4. And even though the holiday is past, and I want to make this clear, when I speak to U.S. counterterror and law enforcement officials, they say the threat today even after the holiday remains very high.
Brianna, and they're pointing their finger primarily at ISIS and how ISIS is having great success radicalizing people here in the U.S.
KEILAR: And there's also a new threatening video message that's been released from the new AQAP leader, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Tell us about this.
SCIUTTO: And this relates to the other terror group that the U.S. sees as the primary threat to the U.S. homeland, and this is AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We heard today the first speech from Abu Hureira al-Sanaani. He's succeeded Abu Basir al- Wuhayshi, who you may remember was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month.
He praised Wuhayshi. He declared his allegiance, AQAP's allegiance, once again to core al Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al- Zawahri. He of course succeeded Osama bin Laden after he was killed. But crucially as well he called for attacks on the U.S. saying -- quote -- "That all of its policies and administrations are built on terrorism. The enemy can no longer hide its weakness."
I think, Brianna, you can safely say there's been some competition going on here between ISIS and AQAP, both showing that they are attacking America, both encouraging their supporters to attack America in any way they can, particularly as you have some sympathizers out there even leaving a group like AQAP to join ISIS. They both have to show their relevance.
KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.
Tonight, a powerful new warning that the biggest threat to this nation's security comes from Russia, not from ISIS, as President Vladimir Putin becomes more dangerous and aggressive.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr with that for us
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Brianna.
While the number of U.S. threats is rising, the number of U.S. troops available to deal with those threats is declining.
STARR (voice-over): Dire warnings from the Marine Corps general slated to become President Obama's top military adviser.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, COMMANDANT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security. If you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming.
STARR: Marine Corps General Dunford believes the U.S. should provide weapons to Ukrainian forces.
DUNFORD: And frankly, without that kind of support, they're not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression.
STARR: He listed China, North Korea, and ISIS as the next biggest threats to U.S. security and he had this warning about Iran.
DUNFORD: Iran will continue to be a maligned force and influence across the region. And if confirmed as the chairman, I will make sure that our leadership has a full range of military options to deal with Iranian activity.
STARR: His confirmation hearing to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman came on the very day the Army announced its cutting its force by 40,000 troops, going from 490,000 to 450,000 troops in the next two years.
Military bases and communities across the country affected, Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Hood, Texas, suffering the biggest impact.
BRIG. GEN. RANDY GEORGE, U.S. ARMY: Unfortunately, under sequestration and automatic budget cuts, today's announcement may not be the last.
STARR: But muted reaction from many in Congress, the cuts largely a result of congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration. Some analysts say with no large land wars for the Army on its horizon, it is time to cut and save money, though local communities could pay a price.
TODD HARRISON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's hard to justify the force size that we had at the peak of Iraq and Afghanistan, given the deployments and the commitments that we have today. That also means that there's going to be fewer people at the grocery stores, fewer teachers at the school. And so the economic impacts will expand out from the base.
STARR: Even as the outgoing chairman warned the U.S. is entering a time of what he calls perpetual war.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: The global security environment is as uncertain as I have ever seen it. The world is rapidly changing everywhere and we're seeing significant shifts in an already-complex strategic landscape.
STARR: Now, on the day that 40,000 U.S. Army troops were told they were no longer needed, where was the secretary of defense? Ash Carter was in Sun Valley, Idaho, today talking to top executives at high-tech and entertainment companies to talk to them about their vision of the future as they see it. Tomorrow, he will be back on the trail at Fort Bragg talking to Army soldiers about what is happening to them -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.
And joining me to now talk more about this, we have Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a veteran U.S. Navy SEAL, so he brings a really interesting dual perspective to this.
I want to talk to you, Congressman, about the Russian threat. But first I want to ask you what we learned from the FBI director yesterday, that there have been several threats that have been thwarted here in the past weeks. Have you been briefed on these? What can you tell us?
REP. RYAN ZINKE (R), MONTANA: Well, it's troubling. I have to commend the FBI and law enforcement officials. They did a great job out there protecting.
What could have been a devastating holiday turned out to be good. But it just goes to show, look at the threat we face. Our foreign policy and our military policy is make sure that we fight on foreign shores and not shores here. And you're looking at it. It's a failure of this president, I think, to take the offensive and fight on foreign shores, rather than here.
And when we don't act as a country, when we don't lead, there is no country, no nation on the earth that can stand in our place.
KEILAR: We heard from Senator Risch yesterday something very alarming. He told me in his estimation that at some point one of these plots will be successfully carried out here in the U.S. Do you agree with that?
ZINKE: Well, unfortunately, I do. But there's action we can take.
We need to secure our southern border. Clearly, the southern border is now a nexus between immigration and national security. It's a sieve. We have known it has -- and, look, we're a great nation are. We built the Panama Canal in the 19th century. We're up for a fence in the 21st. There's a lot of things we can and should be doing now.
KEILAR: We heard from the new leader of AQAP today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Abu Hureira al-Sanaani, and he gave his first speech since he succeeded al-Wuhayshi, who was taken out by the U.S. in a drone strike, as the head of this organization. He's the new AQAP leader. What do you know about this guy? What concerns you about him?
ZINKE: He's dangerous. He's an ideologue. Clearly, ISIS has an agenda of evil. You're not going to reform ISIS.
And, quite frankly, our policy of air operations alone and very limited strikes, it is not going to work, it hasn't worked. It's not just me. It's General Abizaid, General Conway, those that I fought in Fallujah with. We all agree. We all assess. I think the way ahead is make sure we arm the Kurds.
We look at Syria and have a policy in Syria, probably root out ISIS in the Syrian desert and then Iran. As long as Iran has the influence they do within the territory of Iraq, the Sunnis are not going to invest in a centralized government and Iraq will continue to move in a three-state nation.
KEILAR: You just told us that you see the southern border, the security of the southern border, to be essential. You say it's the nexus of national security and immigration. Do you have any evidence that terrorists are trying to come in through Mexico?
ZINKE: There's been cases of individuals dressed as bin Laden come across in full daylight and make their way up to the I-10.
I have been at the border. I can tell you it is a sieve. And it needs to be corrected. In the last six months or so, there has been over 60 nations represented. It's not, as a lot of the people look at it, this is a South American problem, Hispanic problem. It's not.
KEILAR: Is that recent? Is that recent, what has happened? And do you think terrorists are coming across the border?
ZINKE: I absolutely do. If I was a terrorist...
KEILAR: Do you have evidence of it?
ZINKE: Well, certainly, from the number of people that -- and the nations represented in the last six months, yes, there's evidence that it's multinational. And look, from a perspective...
KEILAR: But I'm just -- I'm trying to get a handle on this, because there's a difference of it being a vulnerability, which I think a lot of people might look at and say there's a possibility, but is it happening? Are you seeing ISIS-inspired people, ISIS, al Qaeda? What do you know of someone coming across the border?
ZINKE: Well, unfortunately, the time we know when a terrorist attack will occur from our southern border will be too late. I think it's a risk.
I think the assessment from the experts, it is a risk. In my experience, given how large the border is and given how many people are coming across the border, I mean, look, if a child can come across the border, and we know there's hundreds of thousands of children that have, then what makes you think that ISIS and terrorists can't? And weapons of mass destruction...
KEILAR: I'm not saying that they can't. I just want to be able to be sure if you're saying that they are or if they could.
ZINKE: Well, unfortunately, I believe the probability is the case where they are.
KEILAR: OK. OK.
All right, we want to talk to you more, Congressman Zinke, about Russia.
We are going to take a quick break and then we will be right back to talk about how big of a threat Russia is -- back in a moment.
KEILAR: I'm back now with House Armed Services Committee member and former U.S. Navy SEAL Congressman Ryan Zinke.
And we're talking about threats to America's security.
Congressman, I know you were listening to General Joseph Dunford's testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's the nominee to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And in his confirmation hearing, he was saying that Russia, this is a quote, "presents the greatest threat to our national security."
That was something that I think a lot of people were surprised to have -- to hear him say. Do you agree with that?
ZINKE: Well, certainly, it's time to send in the Marines. And I respect the general greatly.
I think, with Russia, though, Putin is shrewd, he's smart, and you can't negotiate with Russia from weakness. But I think the soft underbelly of Russia is, what's driving their ability to be aggressive is their energy. If you take the energy out of their economy, Russia is not so strong.
And all of a sudden, U.S., we have liquid natural gas potential, we have an enormous amount of petroleum. We can, in the words of Reagan, challenge Russia and put Russia in a box by the free market export of crude and particularly liquid natural gas into Eastern Europe. I think that's a check.
We're not going to put a carrier battle group in the Black Sea, but certainly I think we can check their aggressiveness with good old- fashioned free market.
KEILAR: OK. So, when he was listing potential threats, he said Russia, then China, North Korea and ISIS. Are you saying that you might rearrange that? ZINKE: Well, certainly, I think Russia is -- the nation-states,
I think Russia is among the top four. I think we can debate who's number one. Certainly, Russia is a threat, as long as they have the means to be aggressive.
And that means, with the Russian economy, they're a one-trick pony. They're about energy. And the U.S., we need to advance our ability to export crude and export liquid natural gas. I think that would check a lot of Russia's aggressiveness. Again, Putin is a very shrewd and cunning leader. And it takes great strength to stand up to such a leader and we need to do our part and show the free world that we're going to stand.
KEILAR: The secretary of defense yesterday, as we turn now to Syria to talk about this, he said this week 60 Syrian fighters have been trained as part of U.S. efforts to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, because obviously U.S. troops aren't going in there. It's a $500 million program for 60 fighters. What do you think about that?
ZINKE: Dismal failure.
You look at Syria, one is, what's our policy in Syria? Are we going to support a regime change? Are we not? Are we going to cede the Syrian desert to ISIS, as we're presently doing? And if you're an ally of us, do you have the confidence we're going to be there? Am I shocked that there's 60? No, I'm not shocked. I'm disappointed.
But take it from a perspective of an individual that wants to be trained by the U.S. If they know that -- if we're not going to stand with them, and you're going to be targeted, your family's going to be killed because we're not going to be there for you, then why would you be trained by the U.S.?
So I think our policy needs to change and we do need to remove ISIS from the Syrian desert, we need to engage the Syrian Free Army much more than we're doing. But it is right now -- 60 individuals is a dismal failure and it will never bring the ball to the field.
KEILAR: Before I let you go, since you are the first Navy SEAL elected to Congress, I want to get your perspective on the plans of the Army to cut 40,000 troops over the next couple of years.
ZINKE: You know, I think our active-duty force needs to remain what it is today.
If we're going to cut, let's cut the bureaucracy. We have over 700,000 DOD employees. You don't have to fire anybody, but you can atrophy, you can do hiring freezes, you can look at our acquisition process.
There's a lot of areas within DOD that I think you can reform quickly. But the active-duty strength, I think it's necessary, considering what we face, nation-states, as well as an uncertain future.
In this, I absolutely agree with the chairman to come is, is that we face an uncertain world and our force structure needs to be adaptable and to a point where we can address our national security.
KEILAR: Congressman Zinke, thanks so much for talking with us.
ZINKE: Thank you. Been a pleasure.
Just ahead, the countdown to change in South Carolina. The Confederate Flag is about to be taken down. But will it help heal racial tensions after that deadly shooting in an African-American church?
And what did the Republican Party chairman really say to Donald Trump? We're digging a little deeper into this and the dueling accounts of their private phone call. Was Trump scolded or was he praised?
KEILAR: Right now, South Carolina is just hours away from finally removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the state House, rejecting a Southern relic that's widely seen as a symbol of racism.
Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill a short while ago authorizing the flag to come down at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. The South Carolina state legislature gave its final approval to the historic move this morning and this marked the end of a long and painful debate that exploded after the massacre at an African-American church in Charleston.
One lawmaker's remarks captured the raw emotion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNY HORNE (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Joining me now, former South Carolina state Representative and CNN contributor Bakari Sellers.
I want to talk to you first, Bakari, about just how significant this moment is. How did you feel today as this bill was being signed? How do you feel in the aftermath of this?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Today is definitely a great day in South Carolina.
I'm overjoyed. There's been so much blood shed, so many voices have been lifted up so we can have this moment. I'm 30 years old, but I can honestly say that today we actually had a civil rights achievement. Now it's time for us to move forward. It's much more to be done in South Carolina than just removing the flag.
This journey is just beginning.
KEILAR: I want to know what you think the next steps are, because it occurs to me as I see the flag there behind you that between now and 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, there will be people coming by taking photos of that, many of them will be mourning that this flag is going. So thinking of that, what else do you think needs to be done?
SELLERS: Well, before I get to that, for me, the feeling is so amazing, because I think about the fact that I don't have children yet, but when I do, they will be able to grow up in a South Carolina where the Confederate Flag does not fly in front of the state House.
That's an awesome feeling. But if we can come together black, white, Democrat, and Republican, to take the Confederate Flag down in South Carolina, I'm going with imagine what we can do next, imagine how we can make sure that every child regardless of their zip code is educated, imagine how we can make that health care is affordable and accessible to everyone.
Imagine if everyone who did what they were supposed to do had what is called economic opportunity. The world is our oyster and I think what we did here in South Carolina, the world should be proud of.
KEILAR: This is going to move on, this movement of trying to take down flags, to Mississippi, for instance. What do you think needs to happen with other flags who borrow their design from the Confederacy? You can see very clearly Mississippi does, but some of the others do as well.
SELLERS: Well, first of all, I have to say I understand the argument about heritage. But for me, I also have to understand my heritage.
I understand that the war was fought for slavery. I understand that the war was fought, that so many of my ancestors were robbed of their religion and left in shackles, so that we would have this South that we have today.
And that's what that flag means to so many of us. That flag means February 1, 1960, when these kids sat in at A&T University, those kids from A&T University sat in at Woolworth's so we could remedy ourselves of segregation.
These things are our history. That flag represents so much hate. And I'm glad that it's coming down and I hope it comes down in Mississippi. I hope it's down in Georgia, and Alabama, and everywhere else. And then we can heal and move forward.
KEILAR: And I know we will be talking to you, Bakari, in the days to come. And next time we speak, I imagine that backdrop behind you will look very different. Thanks for talking with us.
SELLERS: I'm happy. Thank you so much.
KEILAR: I know you are. Thank you.
Just ahead, the GOP struggles to rein in Donald Trump amid growing backlash from his remarks about Mexican immigrants.
And while Hillary and Jeb battle it out on the campaign trail, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are coming together tonight. We will show you what they're up to.
KEILAR: Donald Trump is facing fresh fallout from his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants.
[18:34:32] Protesters, and that includes politicians, demonstrated at the site where Trump is building a new hotel in Washington, D.C. And they blasted the candidate's description of some members cans as rapists and killers. They called for his name to be removed from the building.
But Trump is not backing down, even as he faces pressure from within the Republican Party. Listen to what he told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Illegal immigrants coming in are causing tremendous problems. In terms of crime, in terms of murder, in terms of rape, in terms of lots of other things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has more on Trump's troubles.
And Dana, give us a sense of what you're finding out from your sources about this call between Donald Trump and Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus. Because you talk to one side or the other side, and these are completely different stories that we're getting.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that way, Brianna. What I am told is that the Republican Party chair, Reince Priebus, was returning a call to Donald Trump yesterday afternoon.
It wasn't a call that was unsolicited to chastise the billionaire. It was simply a call that he needed to return and that it was a wide-ranging conversation. And at the end, I am told, that Priebus said basically, look, I have spent a lot of time trying to help Republicans reach out to the Hispanic community. And he has. He's spent a lot of time doing that, even did an autopsy at the Republican National Committee to try to figure out how to reach out to Hispanics. And I'm told that he basically made clear to Trump that he's
concerned about his tone. But to be clear, my source never said that he chastised him, never said that he really went after him in any way, shape or form, but that he did make his concerns clear when it comes to his responsibility, he thinks, for the party.
KEILAR: And he took away from it that it was a congratulations. So certainly, that wasn't the only thing they talked about. But it's interesting what they each may have zeroed in on.
Donald Trump recently responded directly to CNN about your reporting. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP (via phone): He did say, you know, "You could keep it down a little bit, but you can't change your personality, and I understand that." But it was really a nice call, a congratulatory call. And it was just a short call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: What do you think? Is it also a possibility that, you know, you sort of maybe want to be positive with someone to also deliver a message of constructive criticism?
BASH: Absolutely. A couple of things. One is one is, I'm here in Wisconsin. That is where Reince Priebus is from. And people here in the Midwest tend to speak in niceties. And people in New York don't. And I can say that as somebody who's from New Jersey, right across the river.
So somebody, a Republican here I was talking to today, said, you know, maybe Trump just didn't understand the language that Priebus was speaking. Because he was maybe being too nice for Trump to get it.
But clearly, he wasn't harsh. And there's the context of this, is that No. 1, Priebus and Trump have known each other for a while. Trump has been a donor. And also, Mr. Priebus is the Republican Party chair so he does have to walk a very fine line. He is neutral in this Republican primary race. So he really has to be careful in picking up the phone and calling any of the candidates saying, "Please do something differently." Because that really isn't technically his role.
Although in this particular case, because he has been so forthright in trying to change the way Republicans are perceived in the Hispanic community, especially since the 2012 election when Mitt Romney only won 27 percent of that vote, this particular issue might be a little bit different for him.
KEILAR: Dana, stand by for us as we bring in CNN political reporter Sarah Murray; CNN's political director David Chalian; and CNN senior digital correspondent Chris Mooney; along with former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Rudy Fernandez. So Rudy, it sounds like, I don't know. Maybe it is a cultural
difference, I don't know. But it sounds like maybe Reince Priebus didn't really get this point of toning it down across to Donald Trump. But do you think Republicans should be worried about Donald Trump?
RUDY FERNANDEZ, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Look, I know Chairman Priebus and he's a nice Midwesterner. He's a gentleman. But make no mistake about it: I worked at the RNC. I was part of the Bush team in 2004 that helped President Bush get 44 percent of the vote.
And I guarantee that the RNC's concerned about the Hispanic vote, about being perceived as anti-immigrant. And they realize that to get anything less than 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016 would be to deliver the keys to the White House to Hillary Clinton.
So there's concern by Chairman Priebus; there's concern by senior staff. And candidates who are serious candidates, candidates for the presidency, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, are going to be quick to denounce the inflammatory. And frankly the statement by Donald Trump is something that appeals to the far, to the extremists, and to bigots, that the few bigots that we have left in the party. And there's no room for it. So that's what you saw Jeb Bush criticize so sharply the comments by Trump.
KEILAR: You're saying that there are a few bigots who are attracted to this language that Donald Trump is using. But isn't it also -- I wonder, looking at Republicans as they seem to try to navigate exactly how to handle this, they're also aware of the fact that maybe it isn't just a few. They're also aware of the fact that maybe this isn't just a few. Maybe this is a chunk of the Republican base that is so important in this primary season.
FERNANDEZ: Listen, there's a roadmap for how to win, as a Republican candidate. And that roadmap was highlighted by people like President Reagan. President Reagan was someone that always talked in terms of optimism and a positive vision for the country. He talked about a shining city on a hill. He would be turning over in his grave when he hears some people that claim to be conservatives defend Donald Trump.
You can't appeal to hate. You can't appeal to people's fears. We've got to be campaigning for the presidency to win the White House in 2016 from a place of -- having an optimistic vision for the country.
And that's what you see Jeb Bush trying to do. There are others. Marco Rubio is a very positive candidate. I hope that Scott Walker rectifies some of his comments as it relates to immigration and paint a more positive tone. Because that's what it will take.
If we're seen as anti-immigrant, if we're seen as grouping all Mexican-Americans and Hispanics all in one bucket because of a few isolated incidents, unfortunate incidents, but isolated incidents, we're going to -- listen, we're going to wish that we had the 27 percent that Romney received in 2012. KEILAR: Wow. Chris, you hear what Rudy says right there. And I
know you've done a lot of reporting on GOP outrage to the Latino community. This is very important to the party.
CHRIS CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It absolutely is. And they've been putting the resources behind it for the past several years, proving that point. Not just within the Republican Party, who has recruited presidential candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, even Rick Perry, who are very good at talking to Latino voters. But also the outside groups. The Koch groups like Libre Initiative and also the Hispanic Leadership Fund have been doing this full-time.
And I've talked to them this week, and they said that this is just killing them. They've worked so hard to try to convince Latinos to embrace free market ideas for the principles of the conservative ideology in the Republican Party. And this just tears a lot of that down very quickly.
KEILAR: And we've seen, Sara, in our interview on Tuesday it gave Hillary Clinton this opening to lump all Republicans in with Donald Trump. And then you saw Jeb Bush fire back right away. And they've been in this sort of back and forth. That tells you how big this is going to be in 2016.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think the reality is we're now seeing the incoming attacks from Democrats on this issue. We saw the Democratic National Committee put out their own video on this issue, doing the same thing, painting all Republicans as just sort of mini versions of Donald Trump when it comes to these kind of comments that a lot of people perceive as very hateful. And that is a huge risk to the Republican Party.
If people who are thinking of voting for Republicans tune in now and this is what they think the Republican Party stands for, that turns those voters off immediately.
CHALIAN: This has no -- Reince Priebus and Hillary Clinton completely agree. Because Reince Priebus is making a phone call to Donald Trump and saying, "Hey, can we try to knock that off a little bit. I'm a little concerned."
Well, Hillary Clinton is injecting it right into the conversation, because it serves a dual purpose for her. She gets to expose what is internal divide inside the Republican Party, especially during the nominating season. And she gets to excite support among the Obama coalition voters that she needs to desperately recreate, the folks that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. She needs those folks.
She just tweeted in Spanish in the last hour. Brianna, she tweeted that Donald Trump is not the only one with retrograde ideas about immigration. I don't know if their translation is accurate...
KEILAR: But she did it -- she did it in English and she did it in Spanish. CHALIAN: Exactly. So she's clearly trying to make sure to
continue to hang Donald Trump around the necks of the entire Republican field.
KEILAR: And Rudy, to be clear, do you see one of the vulnerabilities here for Republicans is that when you look at immigration, Donald Trump obviously has one view on one end of the spectrum. And you see Republicans along this spectrum. But they're not united.
And so there is this division that can be exploited. Lindsey Graham is for a path to citizenship. But you see Jeb Bush, who is for some sort of recognized status, but not a path to citizenship.
FERNANDEZ: Listen, I spent 20 years fighting for Republican candidates and campaigning for Republican candidates. And polling and data in elections today is very important. There was a poll recently, I think it was released two years ago, by the Partnership for the American Economy, a right of center group that supports comprehensive immigration reform.
And that poll shows you that to follow the Trump line gains you -- gains you maybe one out of five voters, Republican voters in South Carolina, in New Hampshire, and 1 of 5 caucus goers in Iowa that are going to be Republicans. But it costs you twice as much come the general election.
And that's -- it's a losing game. If you try to build a winning coalition, as Trump is trying to do, by trying to win Iowa or win New Hampshire, I assume he's in it to win it, by appealing to that extreme right, you've put yourself in a position where you're going to be toast in the general. And the reality is that there's a path. The good news is that, while one out of five people agree with Trump in Iowa, that means that four out of five are reasonable people, reasonable Republicans on immigration, and are open to a Jeb Bush position on immigration that wants to increase border security, wants to deal with the undocumented here in a fair and responsible way, wants to increase and modernize our legal immigration system.
So, that's good news. And you've got to focus on those four out of five that agree with you, that will allow you to stake a position that's defendable come the general election.
KEILAR: Dana, Rudy talks about this difficulty of navigating the primary versus the general. And he says it's pretty clear what you have to do. It doesn't seem that clear to these candidates.
BASH: It doesn't seem that clear. Jeb Bush now famously said he was going to try to win the primary by winning the general -- meaning, you know, kind of appeal to the masses and not just the right, as traditionally you have seen or the past couple of cycles Republicans try to do at their peril. Donald Trump is doing the opposite. He is trying to appeal to what -- who knows what the real percentage is. The part of the Republican Party that really this message resonates with, and it does exist. What I'm hearing from my Republican sources that are more, for
lack of a better way to say it, the establishment, more with the Republican National Committee, is that there's some -- I'm talking about people who are from around the country, not in Washington. There is some concern that the more you kind of push Donald Trump and the more you kind of get into a public war with him, that at the end of the day, assuming he doesn't get the Republican nomination, he is such a wild card that he could go off and be the Ross Perot of 2016. That he could run on his own, which historically has meant taking votes from the Republican nominee and ultimately delivering the White House to the Democrat.
There is already concern about that, because it is so hard to navigate. Never mind the Republican electorate. But right now, Donald Trump.
KEILAR: Yes, and Hillary Clinton remembers that all too well, doesn't she?
All right. Dana, stand by with the rest of our panel.
Up next: we will show you what's bringing former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush together tonight, as President Bush faces backlash for charging a group of veterans for a speech.
[18:51:54] KEILAR: Former President George W. Bush is facing some sharp criticism for charging a veterans group $100,000 for a speech at a fund-raiser. This is a group called Helping A Hero. It assists women and men who have lost limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny has more -- Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Brianna.
President Bush has done such a careful job tending to the public image since he left office. He's intentionally stayed out of politics. And he's devoted countless hours to helping military veterans. Now, some of those hours are coming into question.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I would rather be with the men and women of the United States military than with anybody else.
ZELENY (voice-over): Since leaving office, President George W. Bush has made a mission of helping veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He's also made money. Tonight, he is under fire for charging a six-figure fee to headline a fund-raising gala for wounded veterans. He collected $100,000 from a 2012 appearance for the Texas charity Helping a Hero. Eddie Wright, a marine who served on the board of the charity
told CNN's Brooke Baldwin today the president's speaking fee was out of line.
SGT. EDDIE WRIGHT, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET): In fact, President Bush was down there helping U.S. raise money, that's terrific. But as commander in chief, you've go to put things as priority before money.
ZELENY: The payment first reported by ABC News stirred new controversy for Bush, whose biggest legacy is fighting the war on terror and leaving the country into two of its longest and deadliest conflicts.
The charity defended the fee, saying President Bush helped raise $2.5 million. In a statement the group's president said, "The event raised unprecedented funds that are putting our nation's heroes into specially adapted hopes throughout the United States."
But the explanation didn't sit well with Wright, who lost both hands in a 2004 rocket attack in Fallujah.
WRIGHT: That's a moot point. The point here is that a leader should not charge to speak on behalf of the men that he sent into combat at any level, let alone the commander in chief.
ZELENY: The payment was at odd's with the president's public image. He has dedicated countless hours helping military veterans, through Wounded Warrior bicycle rides.
BUSH: Riding with the vets.
ZELENY: And other charities.
CNN reached out to several veterans groups, all declined to speak on camera. But some said the speaking fee raised eyebrows.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted Bush saying, "Jeb's brother George insisted on a $100,000 fee and $20,000 for a private jet to speak at a charity for severely wounded vets. Not nice."
(on camera): Now, a spokesman for former President Bush did not return our calls today. Some of his former aides told me they were surprised by his decision to accept those speaking fees.
Now, he is making a rare joint appearance here at his presidential library with President Clinton here later tonight -- Brianna.
[18:55:00] KEILAR: Jeff, thanks so much.
I want to dig deeper on this now with our panel.
David, put this into context for us, because speaking fees get a number of candidates, political figures in trouble. When you leave the White House or you leave the White House, our you leave a high level government position, for instance, like Hillary Clinton, there was a lot of money to be made at some of these events.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They are usually surrounded by people who vet these events, right? There is a lot of money to be made. I don't think there are many people that can get the kind of price tag filled by these groups than former presidents, right? I mean, they demand some of the highest speaking fees. Bill Clinton has made a fortune.
KEILAR: In fact, 100 grand almost strikes me on the lower side for some of these fees.
CHALIAN: For some of them.
KEILAR: Amazing and eye-popping, right?
CHALIAN: But they have a team of people that vet these speeches, who they're going to speak to, what it is, what the group so that they avoid a controversy like this. Why this cuts so deep for George W. Bush is what Jeff got at in this piece. This is, his legacy are these wars, these people that he sent into battle where so much blood and treasure was spent. The fact that this is sort of being criticized by people who thought those battles, that just cuts against the entire Bush brand. That's why it's such a bad headline for him.
KEILAR: Rudy, you were special assistant to president Bush. What do you think he was thinking?
FERNANDEZ: Listen, I know President Bush cares very deeply about the wounded warriors. He is a very sensitive man. I have seen him cry on several occasions when he thinks about the many sacrifices made by men and women that fought in those wars.
And I would not be surprised if this is not the end of the story. We would feel differently if tomorrow he turns around and donates that $100,000 fee to a charity that cares about wounded warriors.
So, this may not be the end of the story. He has the right sentiments in his heart. I tell you, he cares very passionately about those wounded warriors.
KEILAR: But if he took it from --
FERNANDEZ: One other thing. Trump has zero credibility. This is a guy --
KEILAR: I hear you on the tweet.
FERNANDEZ: That criticizes U.S. policy towards Mexico yet has his --
KEILAR: I hear you on the tweet. But if you are saying he -- you are saying George Bush may donate this to an organization that benefits vets. He took it from an organization that benefits vets, that builds homes for wounded warriors who have lost limbs. Here is my -- let me ask you -- let me ask you this.
FERNANDEZ: Let me finish. Not knowing details and how why he took it, it's sort of difficult to comment. This is part of the story.
If tomorrow he turns around and donates it, you and I will feel differently about the donation. So, that's my point.
KEILAR: My question is, do you think this is out of -- this story line, is this out of character do you think for President Bush?
FERNANDEZ: Yes. It's out of character. This is a guy has spent countless hours with our wounded warriors. This is not the only instance he helped the wounded warriors charity. He is famous for hosting a famous race, a bicycle race at the ranch every year where he pays for hundreds of wounded warriors to come and participate in this bike race and to run with him. He has spent countless hours his post- presidency spending time with the wounded warriors.
So, yes, it is out of character.
KEILAR: And he is not the only one gotten into trouble for something like this. Hillary Clinton accepted a $225,000 speaking fee in October from UNLV, a public institution of higher learning. And now, she's campaigning on more affordable college. So, that's something that she's getting hit for for some hypocrisy there.
I want to talk about Jeb Bush. I think some of this actually may sort of be percolating because he is running.
Let's talk about something that he said. He is getting a lot of criticism because he suggested that Americans need to work longer hours. What happened here?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. So, Jeb Bush would be happier paying attention to Donald Trump, because this remark didn't get as much coverage as it would have. He was talking about needing to speed up economic growth and improve economic growth. People need to work longer hours, so they can increase productivity and make more money.
He clarified the comments and said what he meant to say was -- he was talking about the 6.5 million people who are currently working part-time and want to work full-time. Fine. That's a decent argument to make. Probably not the best way to make that argument, especially when people feel like they are working harder, where productivity has been going up and wages have not kept up.
KEILAR: All right. Sara Murray, Chris Moody, David Chalian, great conversation. I'm sorry, I didn't fit you in there at the end, Chris Moody. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Rudy Fernandez, thanks as well to you.
And be sure to join us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live or you can DVR the show. You don't want to miss a moment, right?
Thanks so much for watching us. I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.