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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Hurricane Joaquin Headed for East Coast; U.S., Russia to Meet Over Syrian Air Strikes; Is Russia Hitting Pro-U.S. Rebels in Syria; Joe Biden Time Line for Deciding Presidential Run. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 1, 2015 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That will do it for me today. I'm Poppy Harlow. Carol Costello is back tomorrow.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman.

We have a breaking news just in. A new update on Hurricane Joaquin. As of this morning, it is a major hurricane, a category 3, and getting stronger. It is now menacing the Bahamas. If it turns a certain way, it could hit the most densely populated part of this country, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, not to mention areas still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, all right in its path.

BOLDUAN: Obviously, for the some 80 million people who could be in the path of this powerful storm, it's simply wait and see, and prepare. In North Carolina, they've been putting up sand barriers. They've been lining the beachfront there. Virginia's governor has already declared a state of emergency in that state. Moments ago, the National Weather Service issued its latest forecast model for this potentially powerful storm.

Let's get to Meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, what's the update? What's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Kate and John, we're up to 125 now, 125 miles an hour. It was at 120. Air Force reconnaissance has been going through the plane, flying through the eye. A flight I wouldn't want to be on. Some people get excited about flying on that thing, but 125 miles per hour with all that turbulence doesn't sound like a fun ride to me. It will stay a 4 for a while, turn into a category three, 110 miles per hour. Look at the time. It's here and here, 500, 600 miles. That's Sunday morning. This is still a long way from getting anywhere important. Here's Monday morning, Tuesday morning, center of the line, center of the cone. The highly most concentrated probability but the cone is wide, from West Virginia to halfway to Bermuda.

Let's talk about our computer models. Why are they doing so poorly or changing their mind? We don't have people living in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We don't have the population density and data density as we do over the U.S. to say, is it going to rain in D.C.? If you say, is it going to rain in Bermuda? You have 1,000 miles of nothing between you and Bermuda so there's 1,000 miles of loss of data. The hurricane center flying their jet back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, dropping these parachutes down trying to figure out what's going on out there like a weather balloon would go up, except these come down.

What's going to happen? The computer model saying what we know is there is going to be tremendous rainfall. Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, big-time rainfall, South Carolina. Could be 10 inches of rain before the storm even gets there.

BOLDUAN: Wow.

MYERS: If the storm turns left, into those areas, can you imagine a flooded mess, with the roots and the trees, what it's going to do? We hope it stays offshore. If it does, it needs to stay far offshore otherwise the northeast is the next stop.

BOLDUAN: A big, big rainmaker regardless. There's at love of wiggle room. Chad, everybody needs to watch this closely.

Chad with the latest update on Hurricane Joaquin right now. Thanks so much --

MYERS: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: -- Chad Myers.

Let's turn to our other breaking story of the day.

A high-stakes meeting is set to begin right now between the United States and Russian military officials. This comes as Russia launches another round of air strikes today in Syria and a huge admission coming from Syria's ambassador to Russia about who they were targeting.

BERMAN: The defense ministry and Russia just released this gun-camera video showing these explosions they say at the sites they targeted. They claim they were going after ISIS terrorists but Washington says they're hitting areas where there are few, if any, ISIS militants.

Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, high-stakes meeting between U.S. and Russia, what's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We were told, John and Kate, that meeting was scheduled to begin four minutes ago, right at the stroke of 11:00 in a secure video teleconference room here in the Pentagon and going to meet with another secure video teleconference in Moscow. We're not getting a lot of information from the Russian side. But for the U.S., they are sitting down with Russians to talk about how to coordinate air operations by both countries over Syria. After yesterday's events when the Russian general knocked on the door of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and said, you have an hour to get out of Syria before we start bombing, the Pentagon very unhappy, wanting to get a fast-track on this, get everybody to the table, sit down and talk about it.

On the U.S. side, we're told a top civilian policy official here at the Pentagon and a three-star Navy admiral. who heads up strategic planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You got the heavyweights there. We're waiting to hear who Moscow has put at the table on their side of the teleconference. We're hoping to get a read from the Pentagon as soon as it is over.

What they are looking for are the procedures, the plans, the coordination, how do we share information. U.S. pilots have a lot of intelligence. They feel they can stay safe, they can keep away from the Russians. But in a situation like this, you don't leave it to chance. You sit down and talk about it. That's what they're doing right now.

[11:05:47] BERMAN: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon with the latest on that meeting, said to have begun a few minutes ago. We'll get a read out on the results from you a little later on.

Barbara, thank you so much.

One of the charges now from some officials in the U.S. is that Russians are hitting fighters trained by the United States, essentially, American allies on the ground in Syria. What's the U.S. going to do about it? What can the U.S. do about it? Is there a way to retaliate? We'll ask former NATO commander, Wesley Clark.

BOLDUAN: Plus, will he or wouldn't he? New information into CNN about how long Joe Biden could wait to make his decision about running for president. Much more on that ahead.

And the odds-on favorite to be become the next House speaker. Kevin McCarthy, he is facing serious criticism from his own party for linking Hillary Clinton's poll numbers to the criminal investigation into Benghazi. What does this mean for Kevin McCarthy and that committee?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:10:08] BOLDUAN: New accusations with dangerous implications. The Russians confirm a new round of air strikes in Syria this morning. Charges that Russian war plans are not hitting ISIS there but fighters trained and armed by the CIA. In other words, America's guys on the ground in Syria hit by Russian bombs.

This was Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against our Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA because we have communications with people there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: On top of that, Syria's ambassador to Russia just told CNN that the Russian military is attacking all rebel groups, not just ISIS in that country. To reiterate, the United States has been training and arming the moderate option fighting in that country.

Let's bring in to discuss these developments -- and there are a lot of them -- former NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark; and Christopher Dickey, world news editor for "The Daily Beast."

General, I have to ask you about the latest news coming out. Syria's ambassador to Russia saying clearly to CNN that they're not just targeting -- Russia is not just targeting ISIS targets, they're targeting all rebel groups. That means the guys on the ground, as John said, that the United States has been backing, arming and supporting.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: That's right. That's entirely consistent with Mr. Putin's policy that he announced up at U.N. this week. They consider that Assad as the legitimate government. All the rest of these people are illegitimate and a threat, and so Russia is going to eliminate them. That's the policy. So it's not a surprise that they might attack some of the groups we trained.

BERMAN: Christopher Dickey, Vladimir Putin is hitting our guys, for lack of a better word. He's hitting America's guys in Syria. Is he intentionally doing this to embarrass the United States on the world stage?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, WORLD NEWS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that's definitely part of it. I think he's doing it because this is a tough sell for him back home. This is not a popular adventure for the Russian people. A lot of them are against it. He needs to simplify the war, make it very clear. Us versus them. Us with Assad, ISIS and them on the other side. If them includes some people who are trained by the Americans, well, that's too bad.

I think also you have to look at, what is the record of the training of these opposition forces by the Americans? It's terrible. "The Daily Beast" was reporting last week about U.S.-trained soldiers going into Syria and handing over their weapons and trucks to an al Qaeda affiliate. This has happened again and again and again. Basically, Putin is just saying, this is a bipolar war. It's us versus them, and us means Assad. I think that's an easier sell for the Russian people.

BOLDUAN: General, when it comes to this other big news happening as we speak, this meeting, this meeting between U.S. military officials and Russian military officials, they're talking about coordination, cooperation, making sure they're not flying into each other as they're conducting missions and operations in Syria. What's the first thing the U.S. is going to say when sitting down for this meeting? I'm sure part of it has to include, thanks for the one hour heads up. CLARK: I think this is a technical meeting primarily. They'll be

asking, how do we get notice of where your targets, how soon can you tell us, what's your flight route, can we establish some zones where you don't operate that we're operating, how do we de-conflict the possibilities of midair collisions.

BOLDUAN: Can you trust anything they're going to say?

CLARK: Sure. You can trust everything at the technical level. But the technical level is driven by the political level. This is where you come back to Mr. Putin believes all the groups against Assad should be attacked. That's what he's doing, whether it's design the specifically to embarrass the United States or not. So when you get into the technical discussion and you say, please don't attack in these areas because these are the people we trained, the Russian generals are going to respond to their political direction and they're going to say, no, we'll be attacking wherever they are, and these are enemies like is. At that point, the military technicalities bump into the political realities. It's a policy issue at that point. And the president, our president has to decide what is the action he wants to take. Does he want to encourage us to pull the forces we've trained back out of the way, hold them for the next phase of the contest? Does he want to try to reinforce in some way? Does he want to provide a way that we can use our air power to protect them more effectively from other forces, ISIS forces in the region, and possible attacks by the Syrian military? This puts us more at odds with Russia on the ground. These are issues the White House must be wrestling with right now.

[11:15:32] BERMAN: Chris, it seems as if Russia, that Vladimir Putin has already placed a bet on what the White House will decide after its done wrestling with these issues. Barack Obama met with Vladimir Putin for 90 minutes the day before they started bombing. They were given an hour warning before the bombing. Does Vladimir Putin think the United States will do anything about this? At this point, does he care what the U.S. reaction is?

DICKEY: Well, he does care and he calculates these things very carefully. I talked to senior people at the United Nations just yesterday who were telling me how worried they were that this could somehow escalate into a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, probably in the air over Syria. That's a big, big worry. Now, if we can talk about de-confliction. That is a technical thing. But if we get into a situation where the Russians think the Americans might go after Assad and the Americans want to protect their guys on the ground, that gets more and more dangerous. There's something to remember. A lot of those, I think, 32 Russian planes and a lot of the anti-aircraft that's been set up in Syria by Russia, that's not about fighting ISIS or any of the rebel groups. That's about air-to-air combat. That's about other airplanes, meaning probably U.S. airplanes.

BERMAN: ISIS does not have planes, so why does Russia have antiaircraft equipment on the ground in Syria? Great point.

Christopher Dickey, General Wesley Clark, thanks. BOLDUAN: Thanks to both of you.

Also this for us, first, on CNN, we are now hearing when Vice President Joe Biden could decide whether he's running for president. Plus, sources are also telling us much more about his decision about the first debate right here on CNN and what that means for the vice president's decision.

BERMAN: And the man who wants to be speaker of the House under fire from his own party, bragging about the Benghazi panel taking down Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. We'll talk to a Republican member who says Kevin McCarthy shouldn't be speaker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:09] BOLDUAN: New this morning, we're learning more about Joe Biden's time line, when he's going to announce whether or not he's jumping into the race for White House. Democratic insiders tell CNN, the vice president will be skipping the first debate and he's likely to reveal his plans later this month.

BERMAN: We'll talk to the reporter who broke that story, CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Also joining us, former senior adviser to President Obama and CNN political commentator, Dan Pfeiffer; and deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney, Katie Packer.

Thank you all for joining us.

First, Jeff Zeleny, to you.

You broke this wide open overnight. Joe Biden apparently not coming to the CNN debate in Las Vegas.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is not, John. He's made the decision that he -- he does not want to be on stage with those five other Democratic rivals. His aides tell me that this does not mean that he has decided against running. He does not want to feel pressure of this timeline of preparing for this debate, of making a decision before that October 13th debate. I can tell you in talking to a lot of people who surround Joe Biden, that as weeks go by, as these deadlines shift from the end of summer into beginning of October, now extending the window again, the conventional wisdom inside Biden world is he's less likely to run. He's simply not there. He will not make that decision until the end of October, towards the end of October, we're told, but he definitely will not be on the debate stage here in just under a couple weeks' time in Las Vegas.

BOLDUAN: It seems he's left himself wiggle room every time the vice president has spoken publicly.

BERMAN: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: That seems to be, if you really listen to what he's saying, Jeff, that seems to be exactly what he's saying.

Jeff, it's great to see you. Thank you very much. I'm going to go to Dan on this one.

So he's pushing his time line.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

BOLDUAN: He's not going to be in the debate. How long, in your view, purely thinking about the massive operation, the machine that needs to get put into motion to start running, how long he can push it, and it he pull it off without being in this first debate?

PFEIFFER: I think every day he waits it gets a little bit harder. He's well behind Hillary Clinton, organizationally, and Bernie Sanders, frankly, having people on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire. There's just nuts and bolts of campaigning you have to do. He hasn't hired a single political staffer. I think the only person who could get in the race at this period of time and still have a shot at it is the sitting vice president. But October 1 was late. November 1 is even later. Eventually, you're going to cross a point of no return, and you're getting there. But he still has some time --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: The interesting thing is, the 13th, the debate may not be the key date this month. It may be Hillary Clinton testifying on Benghazi and the e-mails. Maybe Joe Biden is waiting to see if that really gets crazy and explodes.

PFEIFFER: I don't think, knowing the vice president as I do, that his thought process to sit around and wait to see if Hillary collapses. I think he's making a very tough, personal decision and a big political decision about what he wants his future to be and weather, as he said himself, put his family through the process. I think he hasn't reached that point yet. When he is, he'll make that decision, but time is of the essence here.

BOLDUAN: Let's look at these fund-raising numbers, these third- quarter fund-raising numbers because, as we know, Katie, you need money to run for the White House. That's one thing we can say for sure. Yes, Bernie Sanders is nipping at Hillary's heels. We'll get to that in a second. But look at the guy in the middle, Ben Carson, raising 20 million bucks, reporting 20 million bucks in the third quarter. That's a huge haul for him. Also number two in the polls. I mean, he's there, he's almost leading. What do you make of it?

KATIE PACKER, FORMER DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER TO MITT ROMNEY: Without a doubt, he's very competitive. He has a big network of supporters out there, particularly small donor supporters. I think one of the interesting things we need to look at, though, are the cash-on-hand numbers as being reported by the candidates. Ben Carson did have a big haul. My understanding is that he did a lot of direct-mail fund- raising, he did a lot of expensive fund-raising, and that his cash-on- hand may reflect something a little weaker than that. It's tough to see that he's going to raise $200 million to have the $100 million he needs to be competitive. I think that's sort of the untold story in these numbers coming out with candidates. What is their cash-on-hand, not just what's the money they've raised?

[11:25:22] BERMAN: It takes a lot of money to pay for expensive staffers, like you two have been in the past.

(LAUGHTER)

You look at Bernie's numbers, Bernie did like 10 fund-raisers. He held no fund-raisers during this quarter. Hillary held more than 70? He's right there.

PFEIFFER: This is a tremendous accomplishment on Bernie Sanders' part. It says something about his campaign. Up until now, they've been largely big crowds. The question with big crowds is, can you translate that into money and organization support. It's clearly is an actual, real campaign position. He's signing these people up. He's soliciting them. And it speaks to a lot of grassroots enthusiasm for him. So he's in a strong position now. My suspicion is that, as Katie said, the burn rate is very important. I bet his burn rate is quite well and he's going to have a lot of cash-on-hand --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: B-U-R-N, not B-E-R-N.

PFEIFFER: Yeah, that's right.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: But, Dan, I'm sure the Clinton campaign will say they're not worried about this, obviously. Should they be?

PFEIFFER: I think that they should be concerned but not panicked about it. I think that Hillary Clinton will never have a positivity of resources. The question for them is, can she generate the on-the- ground enthusiasm in Iowa and New Hampshire that Bernie Sanders has to be able to beat him? That's the real question more than the money.

BERMAN: Katie, one quick question on Donald Trump. Donald Trump in a very interesting place on Syria, especially saying if Vladimir Putin wants to bomb there, whoever he's bombing, fine, he can go do it. That's kind of an interesting place to be at a Republican debate stage in a few weeks.

PACKER: Well, it's an interesting place to be for an American, beyond being a Republican. But certainly, you know, for any Republican candidate that takes the position that it's OK to bolster Assad in Syria, I think it's a very strange place to be and I don't think it's where Republican primary voters are. And I think that's whether you're starting to see him diminish in the polls.

BERMAN: Dan Pfeiffer, Katie Packer, thank you so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

PACKER: Thanks. PFEIFFER: Of course.

BERMAN: The first Democratic presidential debate is Tuesday, October 13th, at 9:00 p.m. eastern time right here on CNN. Joe Biden right now says he's not going. You know what? We'll leave the door open to him up until the last minute. He can change his mind.

BOLDUAN: He can change and we can welcome him on stage at any point, even part way through the debate.

Coming up for us, the Secret Service under fire. Ahead, why a top official urged the agency to dig up dirt, embarrassing dirt, about a congressman, and saying folks need to know about it. It was leaked to the public.

BERMAN: High alert. Hurricane Joaquin gaining strength. It is a category 3 hurricane. It has a huge swath of the east coast in its path if it turns a certain way. Millions and millions of people need to pay attention to this. We have a brand new advisory just out. Stay with us.

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