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Al Gore for President?; Secretary of State John Kerry Speaks Out; Interview With Congressman Peter King. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired August 14, 2015 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Chemical attack. We have new confirmation that ISIS used a mustard agent as a weapon. I will ask an intelligence insider, Congressman Peter King what he knows about the investigation.

And raising hope. With the U.S. flag now flying in Cuba, will the Castro regime allow more freedom? Stand by for a new CNN interview with Secretary of State John Kerry about his historic trip to Havana and whether he's rewarding bad behavior.

And a blast from the past? In a presidential race that already has a Bush and Clinton, is Al Gore thinking of jumping into the mix?

We 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.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROWN: Breaking news tonight about ISIS and its use of banned and dangerous chemical weapons. Multiple U.S. officials now confirming to CNN that the terror group unleashed a mustard agent during a recent attack in Syria. Stand by for more details on that.

And also tonight, CNN has learned that American hostage Kayla Mueller was sexually abused during her time in captivity by the top leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Sources tell me tonight that al-Baghdadi was personally involved in arranging for Mueller to be held in the home of a senior ISIS leader after she was captured.

I will ask Congressman Peter King about that. He's a leading member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and analysts also are standing by as we cover all the news.

But I want to start with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He is here and been digging on the Kayla Mueller story.

Jim, we now have confirmation from Kayla Mueller's family of her sexual abuse by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In fact, a family spokesman says: "We were told Kayla was tortured, that she was the property of al-Baghdadi. We were told that in June by the government."

And, Jim, I'm told that the information about Mueller's sexual abuse by provided to the U.S. government by two Yazidi girls who were held in the same compound. What else do you know?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right now, we're learning this, as you say from, those two Yazidi girls, also the interrogations Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Abu Sayyaf, killed in that strike just a few weeks ago.

Significant, of course, mostly for her family, just horrible news to come out, be confirmed on what would have been Kayla's 27th birthday. Significant as well because it shows the lengths to which the leader of ISIS will go just to strike fear and just carry out atrocities like this.

But I think it's also significant, Pamela, about the movements of the leader of ISIS, that he felt he had the freedom to move from what is perceived to be ISIS' safe zone in Raqqa to this place in Eastern Syria, where we knew the compound was where Kayla Mueller was held. The fact that he felt he had the freedom to make that movement is significant, because of course the storyline had been, because of pressure from the U.S.-led air campaign, that that kind of movement, that that greatly restricted that kind of movement by not only ISIS leaders, but also ISIS fighters.

BROWN: Right. And on that note, how much travel doing we think he was doing, going to Abu Sayyaf's home? Is he more exposed than perhaps thought?

SCIUTTO: Well, if he was able to go there repeatedly, then he was able to do more traveling, certainly more traveling than we thought possible, and that we have heard would have been possible, particularly for senior leadership, because we know that Baghdadi has been a number one target of the U.S.-led air campaign.

They're working every day, as they were working every day to track the movements of Abu Sayyaf before they successfully killed him in an airstrike. They're certainly devoting resources to track the movements of Baghdadi. So, if he was able to do this -- and, granted, this was a different time. U.S. assets, coalition assets have gotten better on the ground, more presence in the air, seemingly better intelligence on the ground based on some of the strikes we have seen since then.

But, regardless, he's been a target since the start of this campaign. The fact that he was able to do those movements, if they turn out to be true, this of course based on that testimony of those Yazidi prisoners also held hostage there, held as sex slaves, and the wife of Abu Sayyaf, but still significant that he was able to, it looks like he was able to, to make these movements.

BROWN: Jim, from the sources you have been speaking with, how much credence are U.S. officials putting into this testimony from these two hostage Yazidi girls?

SCIUTTO: Well, the new -- well, the Yazidi girls, they're putting a fair amount of credence.

But as with any intelligence, of course, they're matching that to other sources. One of those other sources is Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Abu Sayyaf. She was not just a bystander, in the U.S. view. It's the view of U.S. government, U.S. intelligence, U.S. military that she had a senior role in ISIS organization as well. They are treating what she says about the activities, the personal activities of Abu Sayyaf, who was holding Kayla there in effect as an ISIS sex slave, and helping the leader of ISIS, Abu -- Mr. Baghdadi, to come there, they are treating her as knowledgeable and therefore treating that testimony as credible.


BROWN: So disturbing. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

And we have more now on ISIS and the breaking news tonight, new confirmation that the terror group recently launched a chemical attack.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging on that -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, if ISIS indeed has a chemical weapon, the big question tonight, where did they get it?


STARR (voice-over): The patients came to this Northern Iraqi hospital with blistered skin and respiratory distress. The Kurds say ISIS fired mortars at them containing a chemical agent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Thirty-eight rounds exploded. Seven did not.

STARR: The U.S. is investigating and will test samples to find out if it was mustard agent, a chemical weapon U.S. officials now tell CNN ISIS possesses in small quantities.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: It's a game changer, because what it means is the introduction of chemical weapons. When you do that, you have a real issue with protecting troops, you have a real issue with ensuring the safety of civilians that might be in the battle zone.

STARR: Samples from an attack a few weeks ago near Hasakah, Syria, confirmed mustard agent was used near ISIS there, U.S. officials say.

Now two attacks this week near Makhmour in Kurdish Northern Iraq are being closely looked at. Officials hope more testing will tell them if mustard or possibly chlorine, an agent the Kurds say ISIS has used against them before, was used again. Kurdish fighters have proven capable against ISIS, but a chemical weapon would make their task more difficult.

LEIGHTON: They are much more exposed, much more at risk. So this is, for them, very dangerous and could really hurt their ability to fight.

STARR: The question now, from where could ISIS have obtained the mustard agent? Old weapons from Saddam Hussein in Iraq? A secret stockpile from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that was somehow not destroyed in 2014 under an international agreement? Or did ISIS manufacture the agent on its own?

President Obama once threatened military action if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

STARR: Now that it's ISIS, what will the Obama administration do?

LEIGHTON: I think it's very important for us to send a signal not only to the Kurds, but to ISIS as well, that we are going to support the Kurds in any way that we conceivably can.


STARR: Now, some activist groups in the area are disputing some of the details the U.S. is offering, but it really just underscores the sensitivity and the urgency of this situation. Officials say they need to figure out exactly what happened and what ISIS has in its inventory now -- Pamela.

BROWN: A lot of looming questions there. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

And I want to bring in Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He is a leading member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.

Congressman, I want to talk to you about ISIS using mustard agent as a weapon, as we heard Barbara Starr report. But, first, can you confirm that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sexually abused Kayla Mueller?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Pamela, what I can tell you is that there were reports throughout the spring that she had been subject to sexual abuse by ISIS leaders. There was also reports that al-Baghdadi was interested in her.

So this is -- these reports, while I can't confirm them, are very consistent with what we have been hearing over the last six months. And, again, if it did happen, it's absolutely terrible.

BROWN: It's horrific. When you say reports, are you talking about what we're hearing

from -- that these two Yazidi girls who apparently were the ones who said this was going on?

KING: No, this was back several months ago, and just different people that you would talk to who were familiar said that they had heard that she had been subjected to sexual abuse.

Baghdadi's name was not mentioned in particular in any conversation I recall having, other than the fact that he supposedly had an interest in her. But, again, these are not classified information I was given. This was conversation among people who had a familiarity with the issue. And, again, it was never 100 percent confirmed. But it was just the reports that are out there that she was subject in a way, almost like a sexual slave.

BROWN: So disturbing.

And knowing what we know about how ISIS treats American hostages, what does this development tell you about how prized Western hostages are and the length that ISIS may go to do capture more?

KING: Yes, they realize, first of all, the impact that it has on us as a people, as a civilization. And it also helps them to recruit, because as brutal and as horrific as we think it is, yet that enables ISIS to recruit followers to them.


So, no, that's why it's -- anyone should never put themselves in harm's way, not just what it could cause them, but the damage it can cause to the -- again, the entire Western civilization, because ISIS wants these hostages and they want to be able to carry out horrific acts, whether it's sexual abuse, whether it's decapitation, or both, or just, again, the terrible torment that they can cause to so many good people, their families, and, again, really all of the Western world.

BROWN: But, Congressman, is this a huge intelligence failure that we weren't able to rescue her or track him down, considering that al-Baghdadi, according to what these two Yazidi girls said, was going to the home and sexually abusing Kayla Mueller repeatedly? Is this an intelligence failure?

KING: Well, if that is all true, then it certainly shows we do have gaps in intelligence.

I don't know if I would necessarily blame the intelligence community, per se. The fact is, by the president's really pulling back on military force and boots on the ground, if you will, in that part of the world, we have nowhere near the intelligence assets that we should have. And, again, by not having people on the ground, by not having sources that we would have otherwise, that's why we do have these gaps in intelligence.

So, yes, I would say it is an intelligence gap, but I wouldn't necessarily blame it on the intelligence community. I would say it's because of the reduction of our presence certainly at that time, when this was occurring.

BROWN: And just to remind our viewers, Kayla Mueller was doing humanitarian work in Syria at a refugee camp. She was an incredible young woman.

And I want to move on now and talk about some other news that we have been covering today and, of course, the fact that chemical weapons were used by ISIS. Apparently, the U.S. has tested this and apparently it is true that it used mustard gas against Kurdish fighters. Can you confirm there have been others?

KING: No, first of all, I can't confirm this. I'm not doubting it.

I'm just saying until I'm actually told what the results of those tests are and how the tests were conducted, I think I -- it would be irresponsible of me to say that they definitely used them. I wouldn't be surprised if they used them. My concern would be, first of all, how this changes the game as far as giving ISIS more power, but also where they got them from.

Were these left over from Syria? Are they able to do it on their own? Are they somehow left over from Iraq? Where they got them is very significant, because if this is a one-off, happens two or three times, that's one thing. But if they're actually equipped and are able to use chemical agents, that definitely changes the war on the ground.

BROWN: Because I know there was concern, Congressman, that Syria, the Assad regime was hiding cache -- a stockpile, essentially, of chemical weapons.

KING: Right.

BROWN: Do you have any sense that this mustard gas could have come from that?

KING: I would say probably the most logical hypothesis, if all this is true, is that there was mustard gas that was being stored by Syria, either intentionally or unintentionally had not been turned over. And as ISIS was going through Syria and making the grounds they have made that they came upon this.

Either that, or someone in the Syrian government who actually could be, again, a spy or agent for ISIS could have made them aware of it. Again, we don't have very much intelligence on the ground at all in Syria, so we're really playing catchup there.

BROWN: Congressman King, stand by. We have a lot more discuss right after this quick break.

KING: Sure.


BROWN: We're back with Congressman Peter King.

Stand by. We have a new interview with Secretary of State John Kerry. He's in Cuba, where the American flag is flying and the U.S. Embassy is open for the first time in a half-century. It's a historic step in restoring relations between Havana and Washington.

CNN global affairs consider Elise Labott joins us live from Havana, where she sat down with Secretary Kerry just a short while ago -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, it was a real historic day steeped in symbolism. Not only did the national anthem play as Secretary Kerry raised that flag over the U.S. Embassy. Later, he took a walk in Old Havana and then visited the home of Ernest Hemingway, the American writer who lived here, a real symbol of the culture that U.S. and Cuban people share.

But it's a long road ahead back from 50 years of acrimony between Cuba and the United States, particularly on the issue of human rights. Now, Secretary Kerry said that -- he said this increased engagement with the Cuban government would lead to an improved human rights record.

But eight months in, you see that dissidents have been increasingly being arrested and detained, lack of freedoms for Cubans on the island. Secretary Kerry chalked that up to old habits die hard. But I pressed him about whether it's just business as usual for the Cubans. Take a listen.


LABOTT: If eight months isn't long enough, how long is it until you will have a measurable amount of success?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the announcement was made eight months ago that we were going to move towards this policy. But we have to negotiate for many of those months on the actual process itself.

I don't think we're -- we're not even yet -- today, we have raised flags and we have opened embassies. You have got to give this a moment. If they challenge their own citizens on the issue of human rights, you will hear us loudly and clearly taking them on with respect to that.


LABOTT (voice-over): But the most pressing issue for Secretary Kerry and the administration is securing the support of Congress on the Iran deal, this as a top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, has vowed to oppose it.

(on camera): You have said you respect your friend and former colleague Chuck Schumer for disapproving of the policy. But this isn't Prime Minister Netanyahu here. This is the future leader, possibly, of your party in the Senate actively lobbying against an important policy initiative of the president. It seems like a pretty big betrayal.

KERRY: Oh, I don't look at it that way at all. I just don't.

Chuck Schumer, I know him well. He's a friend of mine. We have worked together very closely. He's a person of conscience. He made a hard decision based on his view. And I don't think he is lobbying.

LABOTT (voice-over): In the battle against ISIS, when asked if ISIS used mustard gas this week.

(on camera): Reports of chemical weapons used by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, game-changer?

KERRY: We have alleged, I have personally alleged the possibility of chlorine being used as a chemical weapon.

LABOTT: We're talking about maybe mustard gas now. That's right.

KERRY: This is a separate one. This is -- I have said, but I'm saying, we are not surprised by the possibility, possibility, that something has been used by somebody. And we have been investigating it very, very closely.


LABOTT: And with the situation in Syria continuing to deteriorate, new allegations that ISIS is using chemical weapons, Secretary Kerry did tell me that there is a renewed effort between the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey to get a political process together in Syria to negotiate an end, transition to the end of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, because, as you know, Pamela, he's been seen as one of the main impediments to ending the civil war, which is really why the crisis in Syria has begun, so a lot of efforts by the U.S. and others.

Secretary Kerry said that he isn't necessarily confident it will lead anywhere, but a real intensification of effort, including figuring out who the opposition is. Five years later, Pamela, they still don't know who can lead this country after Assad is out.

BROWN: Elise Labott, thank you so much for bringing that interesting interview with Secretary Kerry.

And I want to bring back in Congressman Peter King to discuss what we heard.

Congressman, you say that President Obama hasn't done enough with regards to human rights in Cuba. But Secretary Kerry, as we heard, said the people of Cuba will be better off as a result of the U.S. restoring diplomatic relations. Do you disagree with that?

KING: Yes, I do, based on the entire record so far.

For instance, it's been eight months, and I know Secretary Kerry tries to diminish that. But you would have thought that Cuba would have been at least on better behavior. Instead, the persecutions and harassment of dissidents has only increased. The Cubans has gotten worse. The Cuban government has gotten worse over the last eight months, rather than better.

And this is during a time when you would think they'd be trying to show some good faith. Also, what really bothers me here is all the pomp, the ceremony, somehow the equivalency that the U.S. was wrong, the Cubans are wrong, and are trying to work this out.

All these -- the presidents took this action against Cuba because they're such a vicious, violent police state, and there's been nothing there to show any change. In addition to that, Cuba is holding on to fugitives from American justice, Joanne Chesimard, a cop killer who is down there, others who were involved in the bombing of Fraunces Tavern in New York, where innocent civilians were killed.

So, to me, if there was any sign of good faith by Cuba, that would be one thing. But, instead, it seems to me the president is so anxious to make this deal -- and, quite frankly, even if there was some practical reason to make it, I could understand that.

I can't understand this -- somehow this love affair that so many Americans have with Castro as some kind of romantic figure, going down there and smiling, and flags going up, and music being played. To me, it was just the wrong signal to send, especially to those poor suffering people in Cuba who depend on the United States or have depended on the U.S. for the hope of their future.

BROWN: Congressman King, thank you so much.

KING: Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: And just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Joe Biden may not be the only Democrat considering a late entry into the presidential race. Is Al Gore considering a comeback?

And we're standing by for remarks by Donald Trump as he plans a high-flying stunt at the Iowa State Fair.

We will be right back.



BROWN: Tonight, sources close to former Vice President Al Gore are shooting down speculation that he might jump into the 2016 presidential race.

But the fact that Gore's name is even being mentioned says a lot about the rumblings among Democrats who want more alternatives to Hillary Clinton. Clinton and her current rivals are coming together tonight to give Iowans a taste of what they have to offer over plates of chicken wings.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in Iowa with more on the Democratic field and whether it may be expanding -- Jeff.


That certainly is the chatter and conversation among Iowa Democrats. Will their party's field expand? But right here in Clear Lake, Iowa, outside the famed Surf Ballroom, you can hear the excitement here, Pamela, from a lot of Martin O'Malley supporters. The Hillary Clinton supporters are a little quieter in the distance. But the conversation here in Iowa is, will their field expand?


ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, the field of Democrats will take stage in Iowa. There's Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley and more.


ZELENY: But other hopefuls may still be waiting in the wings. Vice President Joe Biden called more supporters today. He's asking advisers to start making a plan if he decides to run. Even friends of Al Gore wonder if he should jump in, a suggestion his spokeswoman quickly shot down. Never mind Bush/Clinton. But a Bush/Gore rematch?

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My first reaction was, "Really?" You know, I mean, look, he's qualified.

ZELENY: At the Democratic booth at the Iowa State Fair it was the topic of conversation.

(on camera): We have something for Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb. Is there room for another person in the race, do you think?

JOHN NIEDERBACH, IOWA DEMOCRAT: Oh, I think -- well, look at the Republican side. Obviously, I hope we don't get to that level, but there's always more room.

Several people have said they hope Joe Biden jumps in. It would give a good choice. It will give more depth. I'm truly undecided.

ZELENY (voice-over): Clinton holds a wide edge in Iowa, leading Sanders by 19 points. But not all Democrats are convinced she's the one. The controversy over her private e-mail server has eaten into her trust and credibility with voters.

BECKY DAVIDSON, IOWA DEMOCRAT: I don't know. As much as I'd like to see a woman in there, definitely, I don't know about her being the one.

ZELENY: Clinton is trying to show she's the strongest Democrat by taking on Bush and other Republicans, like she did today at a stop in Dubuque.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When George Bush -- I confuse -- Jeb Bush said...

ZELENY: As Sanders draws massive crowds in rallies across the country, O'Malley is trying to win over voters one by one, taking time out to hit the giant slide with two of his kids.

(on camera): You're optimistic that you can -- that in six months, voters are still open-minded to your candidacy?

MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am. There's no doubt in my mind that people are looking for a new leader. And after we get done rolling around in our summer of anger here, people are going to evaluate which of us is actually that new perspective of a new generation that can actually govern and get things done.

ZELENY (voice-over): That summer of anger has upended the race on both sides. The question is whether it seeps into the fall.


ZELENY: Now, this -- all this talk about a potential new candidate in the race certainly frustrating to the Clinton campaign. But they can hold on to a couple of positives, Pamela.

Senator Tom Harkin, the former long-time Iowa senator, endorsed her candidacy today. And they're also leading Bernie Sanders by so much in the polls here.

And Pamela, I have to tell you, you talk to so many Iowa Democrats and others across the country. They still may want a few more candidates. Six months to go until those Iowa caucuses. We'll just have to wait and see.

BROWN: Jeff Zeleny. Let's talk about that with our panel here: CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger; CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash; and CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston.

Gloria, I'm going to start with you, because you've been talking to your sources about a possible Biden run. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say, actually. I think when you look back to 2013 and 2014, it was almost as if Joe Biden had said, "OK, I'm not going to run." And it seemed as if Hillary Clinton was all but blessed by President Obama. Her exit interview was with the president, if you recall. Some of his top staff went to run what's now become her super PAC.

And then something changed. I think Hillary Clinton is out there now dropping in the polls. The vice president, very tragically, suffered through the loss of his son. And more and more people started coming to Joe Biden and saying, "Why don't you think about this, you know? This isn't a coronation of Hillary Clinton. You still have a lot to do. You still have a lot to contribute." Some people said it was just people who wanted to make him feel

good. But now it seems to have gone to a next stage, where the vice president has actually made some phone calls to potential donors. Let's say he has no money and no organization at this point. But it is a lot of people around him who could do that.

And he's spoken to people about it potentially. No decision has been made. He's in Delaware this week with his wife. They're going to be talking about it. Advisers are still going to be continuing to talk to him about it. So at this point, we really don't know what Joe Biden will do.

BROWN: But Dana, do you think that Joe Biden would even be considering this if Hillary had a lock on this race?

[18:35:05] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm not so sure. Probably not.

However, if you sort of -- in a vacuum, you have somebody who ran, didn't do as well -- remember, he did run before he became vice president. And he has been in public service for so long, it's kind of hard, I think, for him and the people who are really closest to him, meaning like his family, to see that this as really his last chapter.

But the fact of the matter is, at this point, Hillary Clinton isn't doing that well, and that is why he's deciding. One person close to Biden reminded me, though, that he had promised that he would decide by the end of the summer and that the end of the summer this year is September 23. Looked it up, actually, on the calendar. So it might be a little while before we know what he decides.

BORGER: I interviewed him, like, around the midterm elections. And I asked him, "Well, you'd only run if Hillary didn't run?" And he said no. He said, "No, I'd run -- I'd run no matter what Hillary did."

BROWN: Now there's these rumors, if you will, swirling that al Gore might be considering. Now we're hearing that that's not going to happen. What does that tell you about the nerves, perhaps, in the Democratic Party about Hillary Clinton?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: A couple of things. And literally talking to folks up in New Hampshire, and in Iowa, and even here in Washington, specifically along the K Street corridor where all the lobbyists have -- you know, hang their shingle.

Here's the thing about Hillary Clinton. They're frustrated. They're angry. They say this is the same old, same old from the Clintons.

BROWN: Because of the e-mail controversy?

PRESTON: Because of the e-mail controversy, because of them having to deal with Benghazi. Having said that, though, they say this is to be expected, and we're not going to leave our candidate right now. This is our candidate. When -- you know, when things -- the fire starts to get a little hot, you don't move away from your candidate.

As far as al Gore...

BORGER: Let's hear a Democrat.

PRESTON: Then you throw them under that bus. But listen, the Al Gore thing can be started by one adviser with one phone call to one reporter, to one blogger.

BROWN: What's the calculus of that?

BORGER: Well, it's funny that you said that. Because I was talking to a couple of former Gore staffers, one of whom said to me, you know, anybody at this point could be called a former Gore staffer/adviser, because he was in the White House for eight years, and had a campaign after that in the Senate. So it's a very broad -- look, and the people who I've talked to, who kind of know Gore's thinking is, no way.

And also that this is that sort of point in time in the summer, before the caucuses, that people look at the field, if there's somebody like Hillary Clinton, with a presumptive nominee, and they say, "Whoa, are we really sure we want to do this? And other names come up.

BORGER: Once you've run before and you have a taste of it, do you think you should be president? Yes. And that goes for both Joe Biden and it goes for Al Gore, who thought he did win the election.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: So, you know, you sort of have to get into their -- into their heads. You say, "Well, why should Hillary Clinton be coronated? She's not doing well. I could do better."

BROWN: And let me ask you this. We all expected Hillary Clinton to run. But where we are now with her campaign, how she's doing in the polls, does it surprise you at all?

BORGER: It does to a degree. Because I didn't think she was running against anybody. You know, at first we all -- and I'll speak for myself here. But we didn't take Bernie Sanders that seriously. You know, a man who identifies -- self-identifies as a socialist, right? I mean, really?

And we thought that Hillary Clinton would be a retooled candidate from the way she was in 2008. She has to a degree but not as much as I kind of anticipated, I don't think.

PRESTON: I mean, look, she's going to drop in the polls, right? I mean, once you go from being a nonpartisan secretary of state to becoming a partisan politician, you are going to drop in the polls.

I think that the Clinton campaign is just as surprised as everyone else is in the United States that Bernie Sanders is doing so well in these early states.

In some ways, though, it's good for Hillary Clinton. She needs to be tested now. And she needs to try to get through this. She needs to be battle tested. That's why Barack Obama was so strong back in 2008 when he ran against Hillary Clinton, because it was actually a race. It made them better.

BROWN: Battle tested, too, so that people see it's not easy for her. Right?

PRESTON: Exactly. Not a coronation. Because a coronation would be worse than having a tough fight.

BASH: I know I'm going to get hate mail by Sanders supporters. So I'm going to preface this by saying of course, Bernie Sanders has legitimate supporters out there.

But I think a lot of this is Hillary Clinton sort of running against herself. In that -- in that the people who are "Rah-rah-rah, Bernie Sanders," is because he's the shiny, red, liberal ball out there that they can go for who's not Hillary Clinton. And that's part of it.

BORGER: And that speaks to Joe Biden. Because Joe Biden is to the left of Hillary Clinton, particularly on foreign policy. That's been his place. He's never been a huge fan of either of the Clintons.

[18:40:00] And so the space that Joe Biden would occupy would be to the left of Hillary without being Bernie Sanders. But the big question for him is, where would he make his pitch? If he ran in New Hampshire, for example, you could argue that he'd be the spoiler and hand it to Bernie Sanders. So we'd have to make his stake in South Carolina, I think.

BROWN: All right. Stay tight, because we can't have a political panel here without talking about Donald Trump. So we have a lot to discuss on that front. Stick around. We'll be right back after this break.


BROWN: Donald Trump is delivering a one-two punch in the leadoff battlegrounds of 2016.

[18:45:01] He's about to hold a rally in New Hampshire and we're standing by for his remarks right now.

And then, later, the Republican presidential front-runner flies to Iowa to join the political roundup at the state fair.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is at the Trump event in Hampton, New Hampshire -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, we're learning tonight that Donald Trump is going to get specific sometime soon. He says in early September, he'll start to roll out a series of policy proposals. This is after a lot of calls for him to get more specific.

Now, Donald Trump telling "The Washington Post" this evening in an interview, quote, "My immigration paper, my tax paper, they're pretty much done but I don't want to do them in August. I'll wait until September when everyone is back."

Now, this sort of lack of specifics has really made him vulnerable to his opponents and even people here coming out to his rally here in New Hampshire, saying that they want to support Trump but they just don't know exactly what he stands for on immigration, on ISIS, on the economy. So, certainly (AUDIO GAP) strategically releasing in the lead up to the second Republican debate September 19th hosted by CNN -- Pam.

BROWN: And there are some signs Donald Trump may be mounting a more serious campaign. Explain that.

SERFATY: That's right. We are seeing a little bit beneath the surface in the Trump campaign, that they're somewhat moving organizationally and operationally towards mounting a more full- fledged campaign. For instance, here tonight in New Hampshire, he's not just holding a large campaign rally, which we've typically seen him done, but we're also noticed behind the scenes he is going to be meeting with state party activists.

Also, we know he's beefing up his staff in Iowa, basically making preparations potentially for a longer campaign. And definitely this sort of release of policy papers, the specifics that everyone from voters to his opponents have been calling for, is a big sign that at least he wants to get serious.

BROWN: OK. Sunlen, thank you so much for that. And let's go back to CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston.

So, Gloria, first to you. You know, you see political candidates, they try to be more average to appeal to the down to earth Iowa voters. But in this case, on the other hand, you have Donald Trump planning to ferry children around in his personal helicopter.


BROWN: He's not charging them, for free. So generous. Clearly flaunting his wealth.

Why is this working for him?

BORGER: Well, this is the mystery to me. It's sort of the -- it's the nut that I just can't crack here, which is that we are in the middle of a huge debate in this country about income inequality. That's going to be sort of the major topic, topic "A" in the campaign. And Donald Trump is saying, "I'm very rich. I'm very, very rich." And that's -- nobody objects to that. And the reason, I think, the more I think about it, is that

people say, you're successful, I believe in your success, and you can make me successful, unlike these dunderhead politicians who can't do a thing for me.

Hillary Clinton didn't --


BROWN: If other politicians did what he was doing, it would never go over.

BORGER: Right.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And you remember, one of the things that politicians always try to become, more importantly their advisers want them to be, is relatable. There's nothing relatable about having your own fleet of helicopters. Never mind, you know, the Trump Tower and everything else.

Except that he is just different because he doesn't have to sort of (AUDIO GAP) standard, because he talks like a person. He doesn't talk like a politician.

So, he's got the charisma and the ability to communicate, and that almost cancels out the idea that he doesn't live any kind of life that any people who would vote for him live.

BROWN: And what do you make of the fact he's assembling this team in Iowa now? It seems like a more sort of serious shift for the Trump campaign.

MARK PRESON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: So a couple of things. Donald Trump, all the attention directed on Trump is because of Trump being this unscripted politician. Telling everybody the people in Washington are dumb, and they're stupid, they don't know how to negotiate trade deals, and what-have-you.

When you look at the ground game in Iowa, though, we're seeing huge crowds that are starting to come out for Donald Trump. The problem with that, though, and I talked to his folks in Iowa about this, people who have been in the political game for a very long time. It's one thing to get folks to come out and see your helicopter. It's one thing for folks to come see you speak, because you are a reality TV star.

It's another thing to get those folks to come to caucus for you and support you in the really cold days of winter. And really for Trump, what Trump's going to have to do is try to pivot off of this, he's going to have to get his own supporters out there to go door to door and get their neighbors to back them up.

BORGER: And that's where --

PRESTON: And that's the big problem. BORGER: And that's where the issues come in, right? Because,

you know, I'm old fashioned, but I believe presidential campaigns are built on ideas other than "make America great", which is a great idea.

BROWN: But he claims he has written his policy paper.

[18:50:01] BORGER: That's right. It's built from, you know, policy positions that then get built into a pyramid. Top of the pyramid is the candidate. Candidate says vote for me, because I'm going to make America great but here's how I'm going to do it.

When you go to the caucuses and they talk to each other about positions and about what the candidate believes, I think that's where it's going to count.

BASH: But the question is, whether or not we have seen the Kardashianization of the caucuses, whether it matters if you have --

BROWN: Kardashianization. I've got to go to this Instagram video that Donald Trump --


BORGER: I didn't know that was a word.

BROWN: You should trademark that right there.

All right. Let's watch this video.



PRESTON: Right. So, let's look at the images.

BROWN: Mark --

PRESTON: Very simply let's look at the images. We saw ISIS. We all fear ISIS, OK?

We saw Barack Obama. A lot of people are very frustrated at how he is leading the country.

We saw clearly chaos and something on fire. People think that the country is burning down right now. And you see the Clintons and frankly a lot of people are frustrated and tired of the Clintons.

So, you piece all that together, makes a good video.

BORGER: And it's anger. It's anger, though. And again, I come back to the point about presidential campaigns. You have to give people hope, optimism, good feelings. Ronald Reagan said morning in America, right? Just like Donald Trump is saying, make America great again.

But there has to be an optimism rather than a mean spirit -- PRESTON: But that's going to work, though, Gloria. That will

work to a certain extent. You have to be negative just as you have to be positive. In the end, he is going to have to be positive, I agree with you. But being negative helps fuel his candidacy.

BROWN: OK. Great. Thank you so much, guys. We've got to move on here.

Dana, Gloria, Mark, we really do appreciate it.

And we're already coming down to the next Republican debate. It's on September 16th at the Reagan Library in California. You will see it right here on CNN.

A state of emergency now has been lifted in Ferguson, Missouri. It was ordered Monday after gunfire broke out during protests, marking one year since the death of Michael Brown. The demonstrations have eased and there were no arrests the past few nights. To find out how you can address the issues of race and justice raised in Ferguson, go to

And just ahead right here on THE SITUATION ROOM, we are standing by to hear from Donald Trump in New Hampshire.

Plus, we'll have an update on those massive explosions in China. We have more dramatic video tonight as the death toll rises.


[18:57:40] BROWN: Happening now, Donald Trump is taking reporters' questions in New Hampshire. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do something very strong. It does have a big problem. I've been hearing it from everybody. Bigger than any place else.

Yes, ma'am?

REPORTER: When are we going to see you roll out specific policy?

TRUMP: It will be very soon. Yes. I mean, I have some of the most brilliant people in the country working on tax, which I'm involved in very much because I understand the system very well, probably better than anybody that's ever run for office, if you want to know the truth, because I am part of the system.

But we have some amazing people working on immigration. So, I would say over the next two or three weeks, probably sometime during September. OK?

REPORTER: Aren't you worried about what Putin has done over in Ukraine --

TRUMP: So, Ukraine is a problem. But at some point, don't you think that the countries of Europe should be a little bit more involved than they are? We are leading all these fights, and Ukraine is a big problem.

Germany is a very rich, powerful country, Germany, economically tremendous power -- tremendous unbelievable unleashed economic power. Why isn't Germany -- do we have to lead every fight?

So, Ukraine is a problem. We should help them. But let Germany and other countries over there that are directly affected -- let them work it. Let them work it.

We've got enough problems in this country. We have to rebuild our country. China and other countries have drained us. China has created the greatest theft in the history of the United States.

I mean, if you think about it, it's the greatest theft in the history of the United States. The money they have taken out from us. It's a one-way street. So, we have enough problems.

Now, we back our folks and we back our friends and we want them to straighten out Ukraine. And I want to see it straightened out also. But don't you think maybe Germany and those countries directly affected should be fighting -- it's almost like they don't even care. They don't even care.


TRUMP: I think I get along great with them. I get along great. Who knows? But I think I'd get along great with them.

REPORTER: How are you doing?

TRUMP: How are you?

REPORTER: Rand Paul spent three days here in New Hampshire and he spent those days criticizing you.

TRUMP: Well, that's because --

REPORTER: What did you do to tick him off?

TRUMP: Yes. No, Rand Paul -- you have to understand -- is a disaster in the polls. He's a disaster on military and defense.