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Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Explosion in China; GOP Stumbles; Carson Defends His Research on Aborted Fetal Tissue.. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired August 13, 2015 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: catastrophic blasts. We now have new video that captures the hellish moments as a series of explosions rip through a chemical warehouse. Tonight, the death toll is climbing and millions of survivors may be at risk from toxic fumes.

Al Qaeda's pledge. Its mysterious leader is vowing support for another dangerous group with American blood on its hands. What is Osama bin Laden's heir trying to prove? I will ask the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

And GOP stumbles. Jeb Bush revisits his brother's invasion of Iraq and raises more questions about where he stands. Some of Donald Trump's tough rivals are feeling new heat tonight. Why does he never seem to get burned?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It looked like the end the world, explosion after explosion and massive fireballs shooting into the sky. Tonight, new images from a disaster that's still unfolding. Dozens are missing in the rubble in a major port city in China. At least 50 are confirmed dead and hundreds injured. Millions of others may be at risk from toxic fumes spewing from the blast site where hazardous chemical materials were stored.

With the cause still clear, some safety experts warn there could be another explosion. We have correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by as we cover all the news breaking right now.

First to CNN's Will Ripley. He's live near the explosion site -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, right now a chemical and biological incident response team is on the ground in Tianjin and they want to know, one, which chemical mix, which toxic chemical mix was able to cause an explosion so powerful it could cause damage like this, craters in the ground, blowing apart thousands of cars, cars that set on fire because an explosion that happened more than a mile away from where I am right now.


RIPLEY (voice-over): You can feel the raw power and sheer terror on this newly released cell phone video, a series of catastrophic explosions ripping through warehouses, unleashing hazardous chemicals.

New daytime images reveal the fiery devastation at the blast site in this Chinese port city of more than 13 million people, huge clouds of choking toxic smoke billowing into the sky. Experts say one of the explosions was as strong as a small earthquake. This surveillance video, obtained by ABC News shows a man standing near the entrance of a building as a wall caves in on top of him. Buildings shook more than two miles away from the source of the blasts, a waterfront industrial district in Tianjin, about two hours south of Beijing.

Dozens are dead, including 12 firefighters and more than 500 people injured. As you walk past smashed buildings and the charred wreckage of cars, you can still smell chemicals. It's not clear exactly where hazardous materials were released into the air, but the environmental group Greenpeace is warning of a major health risk for residents who are already in shock.

The desperation here evident while I was reporting live outside a hospital. Distraught survivors and security officers demanded to see the pictures on my phone. Police didn't try to stop them, this city overwhelmed by disaster and loss.


RIPLEY: Thousands of residents here are waking up in shelters this morning set up at 10 different schools around the city. Some of them don't have clothes or food, and so that's being handed out as well. And in just a couple of hours, we could learn whether it will be safe for that biological and chemical response team to go to the blast zone which is just beyond those buildings back there.

Yesterday, we saw a large black smoke plume. Today, we see occasional smoke, Pam, but nothing like what we saw yesterday, a sign that perhaps this wicked fire is finally starting to burn itself out with the investigation just getting started here -- Pam.

BROWN: Will Ripley, thank you so much.

And tonight there are signs of a dangerous new alliance that could strengthen terrorists committed to slaughtering Americans. The elusive leader of al Qaeda is apparently sending a message of support to a powerful new force in Afghanistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here with all the details -- Barbara.


You know, the world has not heard from Ayman al-Zawahri, head of al Qaeda, in months. But now that has changed. In a new video posted online, Zawahri pledges his allegiance to the Taliban, often thought of as a secondary group to al Qaeda. Why might Zawahri be taking that step?


Well, in Afghanistan now, where the Taliban still are launching massive attacks in Kabul, there is apparently an effort by al Qaeda to try and reestablish that alliance with the Taliban, keep the Taliban potentially out of any peace talks. Al Qaeda often now trying to reassert its public presence and its profile, because they are in a battle for struggle for the control, shall we say, of the global jihadist movement. ISIS is really on the rise.

Al Qaeda to some extent finds themselves old, aging jihadis looking to still be relevant. Still very concerning, obviously, that Zawahri has reemerged. He, of course, was at the right hand of Osama bin Laden during the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. has not been able to get to him. That is still very much an unfinished piece of business for the Obama administration -- Pamela.

BROWN: Thank you, Barbara. We appreciate it.

And now to the war against ISIS. The U.S.-led coalition has unleashed 24 new airstrikes against terrorist targets in Iraq and Syria. Tonight, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to be feeling the pressure from the ISIS onslaught and years of civil war within his country.

A senior Syrian official now tells CNN that the Assad regime is ready to talk peace.

CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen has exclusive reporting from the Syrian capital -- Frederik.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Pamela, there's been a notable uptick in violence here in the Syrian capital of Damascus over the past couple of days. A lot more artillery firing than we have seen before, also a lot of airstrikes going on as well, but there's also been a bunch of diplomatic activity.

One of the things that happened is that Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was here in Damascus, and he met with Bashar al-Assad. He also met with Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad. And I also had the chance to speak to Mekdad.

Now, he wouldn't give any of the details of a proposed peace plan that Javad Zarif apparently put forward, but he did say that, in principle, the Assad regime is willing to talk to opposition groups.


FAISAL AL MEKDAD, SYRIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, the Syrian government is ready to sit with the opposition, but with the real opposition, not with armed groups. We are ready to sit with all kinds of opposition, but not with terrorist groups, not with ISIS, not with Jabhat al-Nusra.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLEITGEN: Now, Pamela, of course, one of the things that many

members of the opposition are saying is that they want Bashar al-Assad to step down before starting any sort of talks with the Syrian government. However, the deputy foreign minister dispelled any sort of notion that Assad would be stepping down any time soon. He called that condition "outrageous."

And one of the things he also did is he also criticized the United States now starting air raids from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey against ISIS. He says he believes that six additional aircraft fighting ISIS will not make any sort of difference on the battlefield and once again called for the U.S. to work together with the Syrian regime to combat the extremist group -- Pamela.

BROWN: Frederik Pleitgen, thank so much.

And let's talk more about terrorist threats in the Middle East and around the world.

Joining me now, the top Democrat on the house Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here with us.


BROWN: My first question to you is about what we just heard about, this new alliance, this announcement from Ayman al-Zawahri about the new Taliban leader. Do you think the U.S. has any actionable intelligence about where he may be?

SCHIFF: We're trying to, first of all, verify the authenticity of that tape.

But I don't have any reason to question that that's him and that's his message. It makes sense for Zawahri both to show himself, but also to align himself again with the Taliban. Particularly after Mullah Omar was revealed to have been dead for a couple of years, the fact that Zawahri is not seen or heard of very often may have people calling into question whether he's really leading the organization, whether al Qaeda can really compete with ISIS, which seems to have the momentum in terms of the terrorist world.

And aligning once again with the Taliban that has given al Qaeda sanctuary makes sense I think for Zawahri and for al Qaeda to avoid a splintering of the Taliban. The Taliban are fighting among themselves over succession right now. And in that fight, they have the risk of losing territory and personnel to ISIS.

So it makes sense for Zawahri to do that, and it doesn't surprise me that he has.

BROWN: Do you think that Zawahri's concerned about the split and how that could impact al Qaeda?

SCHIFF: Absolutely. Well, concerned for a couple reasons, concerned because if the

Taliban disintegrates over internal conflicts, that might mean that it's less of a sanctuary, they provide less of a sanctuary to al Qaeda. It also means that they may lose their members to ISIS.


And al Qaeda is really at war with ISIS in terms of the jihadi battlefield. ISIS has been on the ascendancy. Al Qaeda looks very much like a relic of the past, and Zawahri himself looks like a relic of the past. They're very much I think concerned with the stability and the long-term prospects for the Taliban.

BROWN: Zawahri has been in the shadows for quite some time. In fact, I think the last time we heard from him was last September. Why did he decide to surface after this long period of silence, do you think?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it really has raised questions within al Qaeda about the fact that Zawahri is heard from so seldom.

And, as I mentioned, I think particularly coming after it was revealed that Mullah Omar had been dead two years, I think that al Qaeda is worried that if its leadership doesn't show itself, its members are going to start questioning whether the leadership is really operational enough or whether they need to look for either new or different leadership or go to the rival terrorist power, that being ISIS.

So I think that's why Zawahri finds it necessary to take the risk. And there is a risk when they reveal themselves. But doing so, I think, was very important to them at this key time.

BROWN: Zawahri clearly feels threatened by ISIS. And there is a sense that perhaps he's losing power. But this is someone who played a key role in 9/11. Why hasn't the United States been able to get to him? Is he even a priority to capture?

SCHIFF: Well, he's absolutely a priority to take off the battlefield.

He's, as Barbara mentioned, a big part of the unfinished business in terms of going after and eliminating that leadership that was responsible for 9/11. So, we have never lost focus, I think, on the imperative of finding him and going after him. And, you know, I think he has seen just about everyone around him over the years, these other high-value al Qaeda targets, taken off the battlefield one by one.

But, no, we won't rest until we can remove him as well from the long history of these deplorable figures involved with 9/11.

BROWN: And we're just getting in some breaking news on ISIS.

Stand by, Congressman Schiff. We're going to take a quick break and we will be right back.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROWN: We're back with Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, please stand by, because we are getting some breaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. is investigating credible reports that ISIS terrorists recently used an outlawed chemical weapon.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is here, along with our chief national security correspond, Jim Sciutto.

First to you, Barbara. What are you learning?

STARR: Good evening.

CNN's entire national security team bringing this information to THE SITUATION ROOM. Tonight, U.S. officials, multiple U.S. officials are telling CNN the Obama administration is investigating credible reports that ISIS in Syria and Iraq is in possession of mustard gas, a chemical weapon.

What they are investigating is that the latest use of this may have been earlier this week in a town, a Kurdish town in Northern Iraq. There are reports, credible reports, people there fell ill with symptoms that are very much identified with mustard gas.

The belief broader than this one attack in this town in Northern Iraq is that ISIS may have come into possession of mustard gas at some time before the attack earlier this week. Now, any question of chemical weapons in the Middle East obviously very politically fraught.

A lot of history there. What officials are telling us is they are investigating it, they believe the reports are credible, they will not tell us the exact intelligence that leads them to believe the reports are credible, but they also are saying mustard gas. Low concentrations.

It is kind of an initial sense that they have of it. Nobody has been killed by it. Actually, mustard gas is not all that lethal. How could ISIS have gotten mustard gas, though? It's very serious that they would have it. There are three basic options, mustard gas from Syria not declared by Bashar al-Assad when he was supposed to give up all his chemical weapons, hidden stockpiles that ISIS came across, old stockpiles in Iraq, or, even perhaps more troubling, has ISIS figured out how to make mustard gas on its own and fill rocket or artillery shells with it and then use it on the battlefield?

All of this being investigated by the U.S. at this hour -- Pamela. BROWN: And I'm going to bring in my colleague Jim Sciutto now,

because you have been talking to your sources in the intelligence community. How are they reacting to this new report?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Enormous concern, because no matter how ISIS got this, if it is confirmed that this is indeed mustard gas, it's not a good thing, as Barbara was just referencing there.


If they have developed the ability to make it themselves, that's, of course, enormously concerning. But even if they didn't, it's been of great concern for some time. This is basically a treasure trove of weapons, Iraq and Syria. A great deal of effort was expended during the Syrian chemical weapons deal. You remember when the U.S. decided not to pursue military action after the government of Assad used those weapons.

The presumption had been, the claim had been, in fact, that they'd cleared Syria of these chemical weapons stashes. Is it possible that there were stashes that the U.S. and the West does not know about? That's possible. Did ISIS come into possession of them before that chemical weapons accord took place? Or did they find them in Iraq? All these scenarios are not good.

Chlorine gas had been used before, but mustard gas is more complicated to use. And that would be a step up in terms of capability. Again, these are questions being determined right now. But they are considering these reports credible. And, really, if they do confirm them, however ISIS got their hands on them, this would be a significant development.

BROWN: Do we know exactly how it was administered, how many people it impacted potentially?

SCIUTTO: This is what they're investigating right now. They do believe that it was a shell that was used to deliver this. That takes some skill as well to operate that shell, to use it correctly. So that's something that they're trying to determine right now.

But if it is determined that -- that would be a worrisome development. In terms of, as Barbara said, no one was killed, but they did have symptoms, respiratory symptoms, that did not indicate chlorine gas, which is severe in its own right, but mustard gas also severe, but those symptoms specific enough that they made the conclusion -- not the conclusion, rather -- they made the supposition at this point that it was something more significant.

BROWN: OK, Jim, stand by, because I want to bring in Congressman Schiff to get your reaction.

Congressman, how concerning is this to you?

SCHIFF: It's very concerning. And for really the whole length of this conflict, we have been

following closely any allegations of the use of chemical weapons. You know, I think it is fairly easy to conclude with respect to the regime that the regime did use chemical weapons, that in fact they continue to use chlorine weapons. Some of these chlorine barrel bombs are dropped from the air.

And the regime is the only one that has that air capability. But in terms of ISIS, there have been public reports of ISIS using chlorine in the past. This would be a new and worrying report if it's accurate. I have no doubt that if ISIS could get their hands on this stuff, they would use it. No level of violence is too great for this group. They glorify in the terror that it creates and the image of their brutality.

So, if they get it, they will use it. They also have a lot of former Baathist officers that give them some sophistication. And it may be also in the area of chemical weapons. I think, if they do possess these kind of weapons, and I can't go into specifics, but if they did, my guess is they're more likely to have gotten them as old weapons left over in Iraq from the old WMD program there than they were likely to obtain them in Syria in some kind of a hidden cache of the regime's.

But, again, we're obviously going to explore any of these reports and continue to do all we can to get to the bottom of them.

BROWN: I want to bring in Jim Sciutto -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Schiff, I wonder if I can ask you this, because it's been the contention of the administration that the air campaign, the ground forces that are allied with the U.S. and the coalition on the ground, the Kurds, the Iraqi security forces, are putting ISIS under pressure, keeping it, in effect, from expanding its ability.

This would seem to indicate that they are expanding their ability, that they have gotten their hands on something that makes them more threatening to those forces. I just wonder from your perspective how much this undermines the administration's claim that they were being successful in putting pressure on ISIS, that ISIS is getting weaker, rather than stronger, as a result of the coalition campaign?

SCHIFF: Well, I think the administration is correct when they say that ISIS is under greater pressure than ever. But that doesn't mean that they're not still a very potent force. And they are and they're capable of taking over new towns and they have. And they're also capable of exploring new weapons if they can get their hands on them.

But I don't think that that means that the trajectory of the conflict is different than what the administration is saying. Even if they lay their hands on chlorine or remnants of Saddam's chemical weapons program, I don't think that's a game-changer, as much as it as new horrific element to this already horrific conflict. So, I do think ISIS is feeling the pressure, and I think

particularly with Turkey now taking some real steps to try to close down that border to infiltration of new ISIS fighters, that may help stem the flow of people into the conflict. And obviously there's new pressure from the air and I think a new capability on the ground certainly with the Kurdish fighters. It doesn't surprise me that ISIS really wants to go after the Kurds.

BROWN: Congressman, is this a red line? Do you think the administration needs to change its strategy as a result of this?

SCHIFF: I don't think so.


And it's heartbreaking, because this conflict has already claimed so many lives and we all want to see it come to an end and we obviously want to see a quick end to the threat ISIS poses. But the reality is, I don't think we can get too far out ahead of the changes that the Iraqi government has to make to bring the Sunnis into the fold, because, again, we can send in a lot more troops, and we can send in spotters, and we can do a lot of things that some people are calling for during the presidential campaign.

And we can win some of the battles. But we have seen they don't stay won if the political problems aren't solved. And right now, those political problems are still as bad as ever. And I just don't want to see us trading American lives for Iraqis who aren't willing to make the political compromises they need to.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, Congressman Schiff, you mentioned American lives there. You heard the outgoing Army chief of staff yesterday saying that he would recommend U.S. forces on the ground there, perhaps as spotters for airstrikes, forward -deployed advisers to Iraqi forces. If ISIS has chemical weapons, that would put U.S. forces certainly in greater danger. Does that -- you say it's not a game-changer in terms of the battlefield on the ground. But could this be a game-changer in terms of putting U.S. troops into greater harm's way to fight ISIS?

SCHIFF: It could put our troops at greater risk.

You know, we have, I think, good precautions that we can take if we're concerned about access of ISIS to chemical weapons. But I think the greater risk is that really putting Americans in harm's way, regardless of whether they possess these chemical weapons, risking the capture of American special forces, risking the spectacle that we saw that the Jordanian people had to suffer when their pilot was burned alive.

You can imagine how the conflict would escalate if that were to happen to an American. So, I think the president, quite rightly, has been resisting this being drawn in, particularly when we don't see the Iraqis making the kind of political changes they need to make.

It does add some additional risk, but, frankly, Jim, I think the risk is already very considerable for American forces.

BROWN: Congressman Schiff, thank you so much.

Jim Sciutto, we appreciate it.

And just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're learning more about Joe Biden's outreach to supporters and advisers as he mulls a run for president. Is he close to making a decision?

And find out how Donald Trump reacted when one of his opponents mocked him. Does this sound like Trump to you?


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason I tell women they're ugly is because I'm so good-looking.



BROWN: Some head-turning comments tonight in the Republican presidential race. And this time it isn't Donald Trump that is raising eyebrows. It's Jeb Bush. He's revisiting some hot-button issues closely connected with his brother's presidency.

[18:32:35] Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here with more on the 2016 race -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, you know, it's always been clear that Jeb Bush would have to work very hard to try to make voters see that he's different from his brother. In fact, it's not just political, that struggle; it's also personal. George W. Bush is, of course, his brother, his family, and it makes it very hard for him to do so. That was clear today.

But Jeb said that George made this country safer, and he's not just saying that because he's a Bush.


BASH (voice-over): The question to Jeb Bush: if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in the first place, would ISIS be a problem now?

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who knows? I mean, that's just such a complicated hypothetical. Who knows? I can't answer that. I'll tell you, though, that taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal.

BASH: The last time Bush was asked a hypothetical -- knowing what we know now would he have gone to war in Iraq -- it took him five days to give the right political answer -- no.

BUSH: Knowing what we know now, what would you have done? I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq. BASH: On this new remark about taking out Saddam Hussein, Bush

advisers immediately pushed back on any notion he fumbled, noting that President Obama, who opposed the Iraq war from the start, has said similar.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the fact that Saddam Hussein is gone is a good thing.

BASH: Today Bush had a new take on all these hypotheticals.

BUSH: If you think about all the variables that could have happened had we not invaded then, we might have invaded later, who knows? I mean, that's -- then you're in "Back to the Future." You might as well make a movie out of it.

BASH: He was reluctant to stake out a firm position on torture for terror suspects, another controversy from his brother's administration. Something President Obama stopped immediately after taking office.

BUSH: When you're president, your words matter. And I'm cautious about making commitments without having all the facts, because this is a serious undertaking. I do think, in general, that torture is not appropriate. It's not as effective. And the change of policy that my brother did and then was put into executive order form by the president, was the proper thing to do.

BASH: One of Bush's competitors climbing in the Iowa polls, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is now in the line of fire from a fellow doctor, accusing him of using tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research, something he told CNN is unnecessary.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Virtually everything that can be attributed to progress by using fetal tissue can also use other types of tissue.

[18:35:11] BASH: Today in New Hampshire, Carson defended his research as different.

CARSON: Tissue specimens, tissue banks, are maintained everywhere. And it would be irresponsible to throw the tissue away.


BASH: And as for Donald Trump, the reality show that made him really, really famous is going to continue but without Donald Trump. That, of course, is "The Apprentice." The news came and gave us several headlines. Of course, they couldn't resist, saying that Trump was fired.

Trump fired back on Twitter saying, "I left 'The Apprentice' to run for president." And Pamela, he said, "'The Apprentice' did not leave me."

BROWN: Of course he had to get the last word.

BASH: Of course.

BROWN: Of course. Dana, stay with us. I want to bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny; CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson; and CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston.

Nia, I'm going to start with you. We just heard in Dana's report about Ben Carson and the new controversy surrounding him. Is he a hypocrite?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the voters, particularly in Iowa, will have to decide. Those are the voters that are very much energized and excited about Ben Carson. They see him as a fellow traveler, a fellow social conservative. They very much were energized and happy to see him in the debate.

They felt like he did -- he has been making a big deal about Planned Parenthood. He has come out to say that they shouldn't use the fetal tissue, that fetal tissue, in fact, shouldn't be used at all. It isn't -- isn't very helpful in terms of academic research.

And then he has this paper from 1992 where he clearly used it. And so far he doesn't seem willing to say that we should have a ban on using this. So I think he's going to have some explaining to do to those folks, particularly in Iowa, who very much think this is an issue, abortion, and the use of fetal tissue.

His explanation, Dana, is very scientific.

BASH: Very scientific. Look, he's really, really smart. He is a pediatric neurosurgeon. He is a scientist. He understands things that most people who are not trained in this way, never mind have the smarts but just don't have the training, understand. So he tends to speak -- he actually in general can relate to people in a way that you wouldn't think somebody like that would be able to.

In this particular issue, because you're talking about his field, he gets really, really into the -- into the weeds in a way that many laypeople might not be able to understand, especially when they're talking about something so emotional as abortion.

BROWN: And he was not invited to the Red State conference last weekend, Mark. That is something that Erick Erickson, that the organizer, said was a mistake. Tell us more on that.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Right. So that was the controversy that wasn't covered because of Donald Trump, who has taken every bit of oxygen out of this Republican race for many other candidates.

So on Thursday night, right before the debate, there was a big gathering at Red State. He was asked why he didn't invite Ben Carson. At the time Erick Erickson said, "I didn't invite him. Next question?" and then moved on. Now, what happened, of course, was Trump took over that whole

conference by being disinvited. And what we'd seen, though, afterwards in -- just in the past 24 hours now, Erick Erickson has written a blog post saying, "I don't regret not inviting Donald Trump or disinviting him, but I regret not bringing Ben Carson there."

And the reason being is a lot of those folks at Red State are social conservatives. They were his audience. Erick Erickson said he didn't invite him at the time because he didn't think he was a real candidate. After that debate performance and what we've seen from our own Iowa poll, Erick Erickson says he's going to give him another chance. He regrets it.

BROWN: And you said Trump is taking away all the oxygen. I think what we're seeing here, Dana, is some Republicans finding if they hit back against Trump. Maybe they'll get some of the oxygen back. And we're seeing that with Rand Paul. Let's listen to what he had to say about Trump.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have now people up there who say such profound things as, "You're stupid," "You're fired," "You're a pig," "You look terrible," "You only have half a brain." And then when you respond with an argument, it's like, "You're stupid."


BROWN: Jeff Zeleny, you're over there on the ground in Iowa. Does this kind of reaction from Trump's competitors have any impact on Trump's popularity?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, it's really interesting. I'm at the Iowa State Fair, the first day of the state fair, where virtually every Republican and Democratic presidential candidate will come over the next week and a half or so.

And I can tell you that the Republican regulars, the ones who go to the Iowa caucuses, who have in the past, the establishment, and others, pretty much to a person, that they are offended by some of the things that Trump is saying. But also intrigued.

I'll tell you, just driving around a little bit in Iowa today and talking with voters, we see some Trump signs, for one. But also some intrigue in him. So it's unclear if any of these attacks on him from fellow Republican candidates are going to stick, because he is attracting a different type of person.

So Donald Trump will be here in Iowa at the state fair on Saturday. That will be a chance for him to take his message directly to voters.

[18:40:07] He'd been campaigning a lot in non-primary states. He'll be in New Hampshire on Friday, in Iowa on Saturday. So voters are still taking their measure of him, Pamela. Two-thirds of Iowa caucus goers who are Republicans in this state say they have not yet made up their minds. A very, very, very important thing to keep in mind here as we go forward over these next six months.

BROWN: And that could be a good thing for Vice President Joe Biden if he decides to enter the race. We're going to talk about that right after this break with our panel. Stick around.


[18:45:09] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Our political team is standing by and we're talking about the 2016 race. Tonight, we're learning more about a possible presidential run by Vice President Joe Biden. He's privately reaching out to supporters and advisers while publicly keeping Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates guessing.

Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is looking into that -- Michelle.


Right, this as been one of the big mysteries of this race. Is Joe Biden running or not? And that's because by all accounts he's still working on that decision. And this week, while he's been on vacation with his family, on this tiny island off South Carolina, we know he has been reaching out to those close to him about that possibility.

But some Democrats are wondering too if it might not be too late or whether this is really a good idea.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden is calling close supporters and advisers this week, still considering jumping in the race for 2016.


KOSINSKI: Hillary Clinton says she'll respect whatever decision Biden makes. Though her supporters have sent some signals to think twice.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem is that Joe Biden is a very good guy and probably has no appeal whatsoever to people under 35.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think he's going to run?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO), HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: I can't tell. But I'm worried if he does and doesn't do well, it will be hurtful to him and we all care about him deeply.

KOSINSKI: Donald Trump is already treating him as an opponent, with a slam. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'd match up

great. I'm a job producer. I've had a great record. I haven't been involved in plagiarism.

KOSINSKI: A reference to Biden's issues back in law school, as well as during his 1988 campaign, accused of using someone else's line in a speech.

Here's Jon Stewart recently.

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: The reason Loose Lips McGee (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up his 2008 presidential run is now the reason he's a viable candidate?


KOSINSKI: However often Biden may make funny headlines his decades of experience, nearly 40 years as a well-respected senator, have garnered him plenty of supporters who would like him to go for it, may be hit that middle ground of Democrats frustrated with Clinton's e-mail problems but not liberal enough to back the independent Bernie Sanders.

The latest CNN/ORC poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers places Biden third at 12 percent. If he doesn't run, Clinton benefits the most.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do trust Hillary, but I trust Joe more.

KOSINSKI: But for Biden, this is more than political. His son Beau, who just died in May, had urged his father to take this chance and run with it. The 72-year-old has had to mull this over in the midst of grieving and working. Now this week, away from Washington, of thinking and discussing could be his deciding factor.


KOSINSKI: So, he doesn't have a super PAC. He doesn't have this massive political operation that's been in place like Hillary Clinton's for a long time. But that doesn't mean that this won't happen -- Pamela.

BROWN: Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much.

I want to bring our political team back starting with Jeff Zeleny on the ground in Iowa.

Jeff, you spoke with Governor Martin O'Malley today about his thoughts on Vice President Biden running. Let's take a listen.


MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Vice President Biden is a tremendous public servant for our country. And I would welcome his entrance into this race. I think that the more voices for progress that people in our party hear from, I think the better our party will do. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Is he eating a pork chop, Jeff? What was that?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I mean -- Pamela, what Martin O'Malley was saying there, he was eating a pork chop, you're right, as we were talking there. It's like I caught him mid-mouth.

But he was saying, look, of course, he wants him to come into this race, you know, for a couple of reasons. One, it would be good politically for someone to sort of break up the field. For two, it would be sort of strong for Martin O'Malley. He believes someone to challenge Secretary Clinton would be good.

But Martin O'Malley believes that voters are willing to give other candidates a look here. He says it's more wide open than people may believe back in Washington. So, we'll find out. But he did welcome him into the race with open arms today.

BROWN: And, Nia, you've been talking to sources, what are you hearing about that?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I talked to people in South Carolina, where he is now, he's got long- time ties down there to folks in the African-American community and more broadly in that state. They say, A, he's in mourning right now, obviously. But also, that he's got a day job. He's thinking about that. These are all the thing he's weighing as he goes forward.

But in a state like South Carolina, he got 17, 20 folks to endorse him in that 2008 race, but guess what? He never made it to South Carolina because he only got 1 percent in Iowa and dropped out before that primary. And that sort of -- I mean, that's no small thing that he wasn't very successful in 2008.

BROWN: (INAUDIBLE) if he can jump in this late, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's possible. I would say at this point, not probable.

You know, I think what Claire McCaskill said in Michelle's piece was really right on what I'm hearing from Democratic sources, that they like him so much, they don't -- they want him to go into the sunset nicely and not have a potentially bad campaign at the end.

[18:50:08] But, personally, one thing I have been told to remember is that his son -- not only did his son just died, he died with two small children that Joe Biden feels like he needs to be not just a grandfather to but a father to.

BROWN: Understandably.


mean, there's a role for Joe Biden to post-Obama/Biden presidency. He could be somebody who could travel the world, could be the unofficial official ambassador on behalf of the White House. He doesn't have to be the secretary of state in that case. We saw George Mitchell do that when he left the Senate.

There is a role for Joe Biden. The question is, does he get into the race? I agree, you know, with Dana. I don't think so.

BROWN: That's the looming question.

Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, new video of the earth shaking explosions that killed dozens of people and injured hundreds. What fuelled these massive fireballs?


[18:55:36] BROWN: Well, tonight, the finale of CNN's original series "THE SEVENTIES." It's going to happen and it's going to focus on the music of the era, from the Beatles going solo, to disco, and the birth of hip hop. With us now, a music legend who had some of his biggest hits in the '70s, Smokey Robinson joins us.

You are being honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for your amazing work. As you look back at your life's work, what stands out to you the most?

SMOKEY ROBINSON, MUSIC LEGEND: This moment right now, and I really mean that. You know, I really mean that, because like you said, it has been a long time for me. I mean, a few decades. Here I am today and you are interviewing me and you are interested in what I'm doing or what I'm being or what I'm about to do, and all that. So, that's very important to me. That's very precious. So, I say right now.

BROWN: Wow. That's quite an honor for us. It's not just me. It's so many people, because you have had such an incredible career.

Part of that is highlighted in the season finale of CNN's "THE SEVENTIES." So, I want to take a look at a very dramatic time in music history. Let's watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the world's largest anti-disco rally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During a doubleheader with the White Sox, they had a disco demolition night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We took all disco records that you brought tonight, we got them in a giant box, and we're going to blow them up real good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It turned into a mini-riot. People started fires. They were ripping things up. It got really out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to say disco did not suck. Disco was a revolutionary force.


BROWN: So, watching scenes like that, Mr. Robinson, what are your thoughts?

ROBINSON: Well, just the fact that it was really a fascinating time. I mean, there were so many different genres of music that became really topic seemingly at the same time. And disco was very popular. I mean, it was the craze for a long time.

So, I think that -- you know, all the old music started then. Then it was go-go and then disco and all the O's started to happen. They were basically like the same thing. Young people just getting together.

I think dancing helped all those musics, because the discos and the go-go places and all those places like that where people could go and dance became very, very popular in those days. So, I think that dancing helped the music and the music helped the dancing.

BROWN: That's a good way to look at it. What was it like to be at the center of all of that for you?

ROBINSON: Well, it was beautiful for me because I was living my love. You see, I love my job. I love what I do. I feel very blessed to be able to live my life earning a living making music.

So, it was wonderful for me. I mean, I played at a lot of disco clubs and a lot of go-go clubs and places like that. So, it was a great time.

BROWN: Your music is still popular to this day. It is being honored. You accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards. What did that moment mean to you?

ROBINSON: Well, it was very special, of course, because bet has been a longtime -- I've had a long time relationship with BET and with Debra Lee. It was beautiful to get an award from them. I mean, it just -- it was like going to your home and you get there and your family is there waiting for you to give you an award. I don't -- I really don't do this to get awards. So any award that I get is like icing on the cake for me, because I just do it because I really love it and I'm very blessed and very fortunate to be able to do it and earn a living. So, an award is like -- that's like icing.

BROWN: So, big congratulations to you. Smokey Robinson, thank you for coming on to talk with us.

ROBINSON: Thank you very much.

BROWN: So, put on your dancing shoes and listen to some of the greatest music of "THE SEVENTIES". CNN's original series airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

And remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Just tweet the show @CNNsitroom. And be sure to join us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thank you very much for watching. I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.