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Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Hillary Meets With Black Lives Matter; Republican Battle; Team Biden Reaches Out to DNC as V.P. Mulls 2016 Bid; Inside An FBI Counterterror Operation. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 9, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To draft Paul Ryan to take charge of the House after the race to replace John Boehner took a shocking turn. Will the former vice presidential nominee say yes?

Confronting Clinton. The Democratic presidential front-runner gets an earful from Black Lives Matter activists, as her opponents get ready to take her on in their first debate. We are going to hear from someone who was on the inside of Clinton's closed-door meeting.

And Trump's love fest, the Republican front-runner eagerly embracing a Latina supporter who made her feelings for him loud and clear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump. Yes, Mr. Trump, we love you. We love you all the way to the White House.


BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, the United States military in retreat from a troubled program that was supposed to be an effective weapon against ISIS. U.S. officials are calling it an operational pause in efforts to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight the terror group. The new setback comes as Russia flexes its muscles in Syria intensifying its bombing campaign and making the U.S. strategy against ISIS more complicated.

Also tonight, threatening military moves by North Korea. We're learning that Kim Jong-un's regime may be just hours away from a provocative new weapons test.

I'll ask Senator James Risch about all of that and more. He's a leading member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. Our correspondents, analysts, they are all standing by as we cover all the news that is breaking right now.

Up first, our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, U.S. officials say the rebel training program in Syria isn't being halted, it's being in their words adopted. What is going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no way around it. This is a massive overhaul of one of the pillars of the U.S. fight against ISIS.


STARR (voice-over): Syrian forces backed up by Russia continuing to escalate attacks in Western Syria, as the U.S. announces a massive overhaul of its effort to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I wasn't satisfied with the early efforts in that regard.

STARR: Few were. Now, instead of recruiting fighters from the battlefield for training, the U.S. will provide airstrikes and air- drop ammunition and communications gear in Northern Syria to members of the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition, some 5,000 fighters from various tribes and militias that have been fighting ISIS for months.

U.S. special operations forces have worked already with the coalition and pressed the Pentagon for months to back them up. The original effort to train thousands in Turkey and Jordan and send them back into Syria fell apart. An update on the number of those trained included this shocking admission by the U.S. general running the war against ISIS.

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. CENTCOM COMMANDER: It's a small number. And the ones that are in the fights is -- we're talking four or five.

STARR: About 100 of those fighters remain in training, but the program is over.

One problem, many of the rebels oppose the U.S. rule that they must promise to fight ISIS, not Assad.

SETH JONES, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: The challenge in Syria is that the entire train-and-equip program has been pretty hamstrung. It's like the U.S. was trying to train Syrian rebels with one hand tied behind its back.

STARR: And they have had little support.

JONES: Not allowing U.S. special operations forces to accompany rebels in Syria undermined the entire program.

STARR: In the new program, rebels will still have to promise to focus on ISIS, but this time the U.S. thinks it will work because fighters are already in place doing just that. And the more they fight, the more air support and weapons the U.S. will give them.


STARR: And this is just the beginning.

Now the Russians, of course, are still there. They claim they have killed some 200 militants in the last 24 hours. They continue, also, to build up their forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You also, Barbara, have some new reporting on North Korea, the possibility some types of weapons test could be taking place within hours, perhaps. What are you learning?

STARR: Well, I think it's very fair to say that all U.S. military intelligence eyes, the entire U.S. intelligence community at this hour this evening has all eyes on the Korean Peninsula.


With that big celebration coming in Pyongyang in North Korea, the concern they have is that Kim Jong-un, the leader, will order a weapons test to even further enhance in his mind his image on the world stage beyond this celebration. The U.S. is looking at everything from the possibility of an underground nuclear test to the possibility of a submarine-launched missile off the east coast, off the eastern coast of North Korea.

Some in the aviation community already being warned to be on the lookout for that possibility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

Meanwhile, a dangerous power player in the Middle East is paying a price tonight for its military intervention in Syria. Iran says one of its top commanders has now been killed by ISIS.

Brian Todd is digging into this story for us.

Brian, I take it this is a very significant development.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a huge loss for Iran.

Wolf, a U.S. intelligence official telling us tonight this is a psychological blow to forces in Syria fighting for Bashar al-Assad. This man, General Hossein Hamadani, was killed near Aleppo. We will show you where that is. It's in the northwest. This is a key city that the Syrian regime is desperately trying to hold on to.

Analysts say Hamadani knew about Iran's operations in Syria from A to Z. He was also involved in protecting key areas in Damascus, according to an Iranian news agency. Also, Hamadani was a right-hand man to this man, General Qassem Suleimani. Suleimani is the shadowy, secretive leader of the Quds Force, an elite division of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The Quds Force has been a key player in Syria and in Iraq, and Suleimani is considered the "overlord" of Iran's involvement in the fight against ISIS. He answers only to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Suleimani was also a key player in getting Russia into this war, we're told, isn't that right?

TODD: He was, Wolf. Various news reports have him going to Moscow in July. Analysts say

when he was there, he likely closed the deal for Russia to deploy its forces in Syria. Suleimani's influence on this war simply cannot be underestimated. He has commanded Iranian forces, often leading from the front lines. He's been a closed adviser to Bashar al-Assad's forces. Now he's brought the Russians and Hezbollah into this fight.

Many people are talking about Vladimir Putin right now, but this man, Qassem Suleimani, may well be the single most important figure in this war at the moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: The general who was killed, Hossein Hamadani, he was a legendary figure in Iran as well.

TODD: Certainly was, Wolf.

Hossein Hamadani was a hero of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. He helped Iran crush a Kurdish rebellion also in the '80s. He's believed to have been a leading figure in the crushing of the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. This is indeed a major loss for Iran tonight.

A U.S. intelligence official telling us, Iran's expanding role in the war is going to put more Iranian lives at risk. This is a top general being lost on the battlefield, a crushing blow to Iran tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's bring in Senator James Risch, Republican of Idaho. He's a leading member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

Does the U.S. know right now how large Iran's actual military presence is in Syria?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: We do, Wolf, in certainly not specific terms, to the exact number, but we definitely know what it is.

This latest development, with this general being killed, I think underscores, and the takeaway from this is how committed Iran is to the battle in Syria. The pedigree that you just went through, this man had been around for a long, long time, was incredibly pivotal in just about every operation they have been involved in for decades. And for him to be in the middle of this and actually to the point where he was in harm's way tells you how committed Iran is to this battle.

BLITZER: And to bolstering the regime of Bashar al-Assad and to fighting ISIS at the same time. When you said the U.S. knows, are we talking about thousands of Iranian troops inside Syria right now, hundreds?

RISCH: You know, Wolf, I'm going to pass on that.

Obviously, those things are classified, but we have good sources being able to obtain those kind of numbers. And let me just say that it's very, very significant. The fact that this person was killed tells you just how significant it is. I think that's probably an indicator of what Iran has committed to this.

When they get the money that the president is going to release to them through the agreement that was just entered into, they are going to be able to up the ante even substantially more in Syria.

BLITZER: When the sanctions are lifted.

Does Iran's increased military presence in Syria benefit the U.S. and its allies, because it's also, among other things, fighting ISIS?


RISCH: Well, certainly, to some degree, but I would say it's de minimis when you compare the fact that the Russians, Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah, all of those groups have banded together to crush the opposition that's trying to unseat Bashar Assad.

That is the bigger component. That is the bigger objective of not only Iran, but the Lebanese, Hezbollah and the Russians and the Syrians. They want to protect Assad and keep him in power. That is their primary goal. ISIS certainly is there, but that isn't -- that isn't the goal.

BLITZER: The Pentagon announced today it's abandoning its training program for so-called moderate Syrian rebels. This is a failure. This whole program has been a failure from the beginning until now. Today, they acknowledge it. What do you do going forward?

RISCH: Well, first of all, I would say it's about time.

When they tried to do this in the first place, those of us who voted against it said this simply was not going to work. Those -- you don't need troops with training nearly as much as you need troops with commitment, troops that are willing to fight, troops that have a real, honest-to-goodness commitment to what they are doing.

We were told from the beginning that the people that the administration has chosen to side with and to press this fight supposedly against ISIS really didn't want to do that. They wanted to fight Assad. And whatever else happened, when they were done training, when they were done being given weapons, their focus was going to turn to Assad.

And indeed that happened in many, many, many cases. We wound up with one of the -- well, we had a very credible report that said a half-a- billion dollars resulted in four or five individuals on the battlefield. I mean, just piddling around the edges like they are doing here is not going to work.

BLITZER: Yes, they wanted to fight Bashar al-Assad. They didn't want to fight ISIS because ISIS was fighting was Bashar al-Assad at the same time.

Senator, stand by. We have more to discuss, including U.S. weapons, armored vehicles,

other equipment being provided to some of these so-called moderate rebels. What happens to those weapons? There is a disturbing new development.



BLITZER: We're back with Senator James Risch.

Senator, as U.S. officials are suspending the troubled mission to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, they're also promising that the program will be overhauled.

Will this new approach by the Pentagon work?

RISCH: You know what, Wolf? I can't say.

We're having real difficulty with the administration. As you know, they have got a real disdain for the first branch of government. We can't get the secretary of state or anyone from the State Department to come into either the Intelligence Committee or the Foreign Relations Committee and explain where they are going, what is the strategy?

We can't get answers to that. And if you can't get answers to that, you really can't make judgments on whether it is going to work or not. There's a lot of disgusted people. And it is not just Republicans. It's people on both sides of the aisle, where the administration just absolutely refuses to come in, explain where they are going, how they are going to do it, what they need. We're just getting nothing.

BLITZER: Well, is the Pentagon, the military briefing the Armed Services Committee?

RISCH: They are.

But when you ask them about strategy, what they will do is, they say, well, that's policy. You're going to need to go higher up as far as policy is concerned.

We don't know what they are doing. This thing that started with the training and arming the so-called moderate opposition was met with a tremendous amount of skepticism. And that it didn't work really doesn't surprise anybody, but where are they going to go from here? You can't fight a war by piddling at it.

You either do or you don't. Now, either one of those decisions takes a tremendous amount of courage, but someone is going to have to stand up and articulate what is the policy, what is the position of the United States of America, because the people that the administration has chosen to back are getting run right over the top of right now by some tremendous war machines there in Syria.

And to give them small arms to fight this with, this isn't going anywhere. This is not going to last very long, the way it's going.

BLITZER: Here's the problem, though. If you give them big arms, if you them armored vehicles, tanks, stuff like that, given the past history, there is no doubt, in my mind, at least, that at least a lot of those weapons are going to wind up in the hands of ISIS or al-Nusra or some other terrorist group.

These guys, very often, they simply run away. We have seen it in Iraq. We have seen it in Afghanistan. We're seeing it in Syria.


RISCH: There's no question about it, Wolf. You're absolutely right on that.

What the people that the administration has chosen to back need more than anything is air cover. I don't know what happened in that meeting between the president and Putin or between Ash Carter and his counterpart or John Kerry and his counterpart.

All I know is, the Russians said, look, we're coming into -- and we're bringing airpower in and we're going to do things in Syria. And all I know is, our people apparently have been told to stay 20 miles away from it.

If you have got people on the ground that you want supported, you can't cut and run with your airpower and assume that they are going to prevail. It's not going to work. Somebody has got to come up with a strategy that we can all get behind and look like we are the power that we are.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Russia is continuing to carry out lots of airstrikes, cruise missile strikes, but some of those cruise missiles aren't very accurate, apparently. They are supposed to go into Syria. They went into Iran, we have been told.

What happens if they go into Israel or Jordan or someplace else?

RISCH: Well, that's a good question. Obviously, that would be a transactional decision that would have to be made.

Our military might is second to none into world, and not by a little bit, but by a tremendous amount. But it doesn't do you any good if the other side is convinced that you won't use it, and that's where we are right now.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr from the Pentagon reporting that the United States is now seeing new indications North Korea is preparing for a weapons test around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party in North Korea. It happens tomorrow.

You're a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Have you been briefed on this? What are the indicators?

RISCH: Well, of course I can't talk about what the indicators are. Yes, we have been briefed on this.

What I can say in a very general sense is that when these type of anniversaries happen, you can expect, as everyone has said, that there is going to be some type probably show of force by North Korea. And so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when they actually do something. It's being watched very closely.

BLITZER: Is it just, though, symbolic or does it show an increasingly aggressive Kim Jong-un?

RISCH: Well, what has happened in the past with North Korea is they will push the envelope and do something that can be very provocative.

Then they back away for some period of time, and then what they do is they come back out and push the envelope again. The dangerousness of all of this is you don't know how far they are going to push the envelope, because, as we all know, on the Korean Peninsula and where they are located, they could make a miscalculation very easily that would be very costly to the world.

BLITZER: We're all going to be watching in the coming hours what the North Koreans are planning to do.

Senator Risch, thanks for joining us.

RISCH: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, inside Hillary Clinton's talks with activists from Black Lives Matter. We're going to tell you what we're learning about the closed-door meeting today from someone who was on the inside.

And Donald Trump gets a surprising show of support for his claim that Hispanic voters love him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump. Yes, Mr. Trump, we love you. We love you all the way to the White House.




BLITZER: There is new pressure on Hillary Clinton tonight on several fronts.

She's been meeting behind closed doors with Black Lives Matter activists who have been turning up the heat on the Democratic presidential candidates. She's also preparing for her first presidential debate on this, the 2016 presidential campaign, and the possibility that she may have another challenger soon.

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, black activists, they are pressing Hillary Clinton for action.


Hillary Clinton met with black lives movement leaders for about 90 minutes here in Washington today to have what organizers called a candid conversation about racism and criminal justice reform in the wake of police shootings across the country.

Now, this group is trying to influence the discussion in the Democratic presidential campaign, which is growing increasingly more competitive heading into that first debate on Thursday.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton in Washington today, as she prepares for Tuesday's presidential debate, meeting with leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement at the National Council of Negro Women.

These days, she's taking no constituency for granted. She wouldn't discuss the closed-door group with the group suddenly playing a prominent role in the Democratic primary fight.

(on camera): Secretary Clinton, how was the meeting?

(voice-over): But, inside, a quick view of Clinton captured by participants on social media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much for the meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on Periscope, so can you just say hi to...

CLINTON: Hi. Hi, everybody.



CLINTON: You are the social media emperor.

ZELENY: The Democratic presidential race could be on the cusp of becoming even more competitive.

Vice President Joe Biden's team reached out to the Democratic National Committee, officials told CNN. They asked about ballot deadlines and other details only a 2016 candidate would need.

Time is running short to qualify for the ballot. The first deadline is October 29 in Georgia, followed by November 9 in Arkansas and November 10 in Texas.

Several people close to Biden tell CNN they expect him to make his decision known as soon as next week.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever.

ZELENY: The vice president was said to be furious at this emotional ad from the Draft Biden movement, telling friends it treads on sacred ground. The group agreed to pull it, saying, "Nobody has more respect for the vice president and his family than we do. Obviously, we will honor his wishes."

All eyes in the Democratic Party are also on Bernie Sanders, who is gearing up for Tuesday's debate with more giant rallies. Tonight in Arizona, tomorrow in Colorado. Those soaring crowds have been greeting Sanders since the summer when we caught up with him in Phoenix.

(on camera): Are they underestimating Bernie Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People often have underestimated me. I'm in the race, and we're running to win.

ZELENY (voice-over): Now he's a candidate to reckon with this fall.


ZELENY: Now, it is Hillary Clinton who's going to be standing on that stage right next to Bernie Sanders and the other Democratic candidates on Tuesday.

Now, Clinton did face a bit of criticism on social media after her meeting earlier today in Washington. Some said they wish she would talk about racism more openly in public, not simply behind closed doors, so she sent out a short tweet a short time ago, saying, "Racism is America's original sin. To those I met with today, thank you for sharing your ideas" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you.

Let's bring in CNN anchor Don Lemon. Also joining us, the former federal prosecutor, our legal analyst Sunny Hostin; and DeRay McKesson. He's a Black Lives Matter activist. He was there inside the meeting with Hillary Clinton today.

DeRay, you were there, an eyewitness. Were you happy, were you sad? How did it go?

DERAY MCKESSON, BLACK LIVES MATTER ACTIVIST: It was a productive meeting. We had a tough, frank candid conversation with Secretary Clinton about a host of issues. She engaged deeply, and I'm looking forward to see if it will actually be represented in the platform that she releases, hopefully soon.

BLITZER: Because there has been some criticism that she's been slow in releasing this platform, that she's been preparing this for a long time. She says it's going to take a few more weeks before she decides what her platform is going to be on these sensitive issues. MCKESSON: That's what our team said, a few more weeks. I left that

meeting with even higher expectations about the content of that. We talked about things ranging from private prisons to mental health for young kids to demilitarizing the police and even he, like, talked about a new deal for black people in this context. So it was a good meeting.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Did you talk about transgender issues, as well?

BLITZER: Why -- did you ask why she hasn't released this platform yet?

MCKESSON: Yes, Don, we did talk about transgender issues.

LEMON: Sorry about that.

MCKESSON: We pushed on why it's been so long, and that they want to make sure it's the most comprehensive as possible. So we're going to hold them to that and look forward to the release.

BLITZER: You know, Don, I'm glad you're weighing in. Her previous meeting, as you well remember, with Black Lives Matter activists, that was at times awkward, tense at one point. Some of the activists pressed her on her husband's role in promoting what they called white supremacist violence against communities of color. So how important was today's meeting?

LEMON: I think it was very important. I think it was very important for both sides. And I have to applaud DeRay today for what he said and for that meeting and the Black Lives Matter movement. Because it's a young movement, but it's a very important movement and it's growing. This is all part of it. This is what happens.

The evolution of any sort of process, of any sort of movement. So you know, you make noise and then you sit at the table; and that's exactly what they did.

They didn't -- by my estimation, this is my estimation and many other people, they didn't do the right -- everything right at first. She didn't do everything right at first. But now they're at this point where they're actually sitting at the table and they're actually listening to each other. And I think it's important.

So I have to applaud both sides here, and I'm looking forward to a more robust and intelligent and mature discussion about issues that face people of color and also especially trans people now. Because they are at the top of the news, as well.

So I think today was very important and again, I applaud both sides.

BLITZER: Sunny, as you know, Senator Bernie Sanders, he, met with Black Lives Matters activists a month ago and the accusation against the former secretary, Hillary Clinton, is that she was slow to the -- slow to the process, if you will. SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And I have to agree with that. I

think that's a significant criticism. I think it's an appropriate criticism.

The bottom line is, you know, after your meeting today, which I applaud you for -- I mean, I disagree with Don in saying they didn't do things right. I mean, we're talking about a grassroots movement that has so much momentum and...

LEMON: I said everything. No, no, no, Sunny, I didn't say -- I said they didn't do everything right. No movement is perfect. I'm not perfect. We're not perfect.

[18:35:01] HOSTIN: I -- I think you know, you've done just such an incredible job, DeRay. And I think the bottom line, though, is she seems to be leading from behind. She seems to always be late to the party.

I don't understand why she doesn't have this sort of comprehensive criminal justice and race platform already ready to go. We're talking about people that are on her committee that are seasoned professionals.

Bernie Sanders released his very comprehensive plan in August. And so where is Secretary Clinton at this point?

BLITZER: Were you there, DeRay, at the meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders?

MCKESSON: We did have a strong meeting with him, as well.

BLITZER: How did that meeting go?

MCKESSON: It was a good meeting. You know, it was different in the sense that we were able to sit down at the table and talk about his platform, because it had been released. And after the meeting it's been clear that there was impact in that meeting. So he came out afterwards and talked about ending civil asset forfeiture, which is one of the things we pressed him on. And they've made some important tweaks to that. So we've seen the -- we've seen the impact.

BLITZER: What would you, DeRay, like to hear from the Democratic candidates Tuesday night at the first presidential debates, going to be right here on CNN?

MCKESSON: Yes, so what we said to Clinton today was that she needs a stronger language about race. No more coded language, that people should have to guess where they fit in. That's it urban, really talking about the gentrifiers or the people in community. So that's really important.

And then she also needs to help us understand, like, where her priorities are in terms of race. You know, we pushed her on, like, what does the first 100 days look like? And I'm interested in that question for both the candidates. BLITZER: You want to weigh in on that, Don? Because you're going to

be part of the debate; you're going to be asking questions at the debate, as well.

LEMON: No, I think that's very important. What will your -- and that is a very, again, a very intelligent question and conversation. What will your first 100 days look like? Will Black Lives Matter? Will race be part of that first 100 days? I think that's important.

I also think it is important, as you said, as the panel has been saying, that, you know, Bernie Sanders already has a platform that's out there; and Hillary Clinton should have a platform out there. So again, interested to see what that platform will be.

And if you have your questions, you can go to the CNN Facebook page and post them. And maybe we'll ask one of the candidates.

BLITZER: Have you met with other Democratic candidates? I assume you haven't met with Republican candidates, DeRay.

MCKESSON: No. So hopefully, we'll get a meeting on the books with O'Malley. I've reached out publicly to Marco Rubio, and today, I reached out to Ben Carson. So looking forward to seeing if they will reply. We'd love to meet with them and anybody who's running for the president of the United States of America.

HOSTIN: And again, I think that's what's so remarkable. People said when this Black Lives Matter movement started, you know, that there was no -- there were no leaders. There was no leadership. Well, on the contrary. I think we've seen many leaders emerge, and there's sort of been this multifactorial approach. And that is really, really impressive.

And I think that the candidates at this point have to take these meetings. They have to understand that if they're going to get the black millennial vote, these are the folks that sort of have the keys to that kingdom.

BLITZER: DeRay, you're from Baltimore. Dr. Ben Carson, he was at Johns Hopkins. He was a neurosurgeon there for years. He's from Baltimore. Have you ever met him? Have you ever spoken with him?

MCKESSON: I've not, but I grew up really in awe of his practice in medicine. You know, I have concerns about some of his recent statements, but we're looking forward to sitting down, if he's game for it, to talk about his platform and how we can get to solutions together.

BLITZER: Have you studied this platform on these sensitive issues?

MCKESSON: Yes. I've studied his public statements, which are the crux of his platform at this point. I think some of them are troubling when they talk about race. I think he's one of the -- I think that confuses the exceptionalism of his -- of his career with something that a racist -- systemic racism, and that's really problematic. But looking forward to conversation. But I can tell you about Hillary and Bernie that they both heard us,

and by the end of the conversation, they were at a different point than they were at the beginning.

BLITZER: As you know, Don, Dr. Ben Carson, he's the only African- American running this time around for president of the United States. He said some pretty controversial things, but he's right behind Donald Trump in almost all of the state and national polls right now. He's doing remarkably well.

LEMON: Yes, he is. And yes, he said some things that have shocked, you know, many people by calling the Democratic Party, you know, a plantation for African-Americans. And, you know, I think in many ways, sort of -- what many African-Americans see as chastising the African-American community or chastising black people.

But I think, again, if he is to be serious, I think all of the candidates should meet with leaders, not only of the Black Lives Matter movement but other movements that have to do with race, as well.

So he should have a platform. He should be asked the same question, what do you plan to do? Is it part of your first 100 days, as well? To see what -- where he stands on the issues. So should Donald Trump. So should all of the candidates. I think that African-Americans in this country should be looking at all sides -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- every single candidate to see who has -- who had their best interests at heart.

BLITZER: All right, Don, thanks very much.

Sunny, DeRay, thanks to you, as well.

And to our viewers, be sure to join Don later tonight when he anchors "CNN TONIGHT." It airs this evening 9 p.m., 9 p.m. Easter right here on CNN. And don also will be part of the first Democratic presidential debate just four days from now. He'll ask candidates questions shared through Facebook. It airs Tuesday night 8:30 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Just ahead, the must-see campaign moment of the week. Donald Trump is right now feeling the love.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I vote for Mr. Trump! We vote for Mr. Trump! Yes! Mr. Trump, we love you! We love you, all the way to the White House!



[18:44:46] BLITZER: We're capping a head-spinning week for Republicans, from the House speaker shocker, to a stunning show of love for Donald Trump. And Democrats are in the midst of a presidential campaign cliffhanger, as well.

We're joined by our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; and our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

Ryan, you've been reporting on this meeting that some staffers, not Draft Biden people, but actual Biden staffers, have had with the DNC going through logistics for possibly joining this contest.

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: Yes. So, this is a meeting that the DNC has offered all of the presidential candidates or potential candidates, all five of the declared candidates have met with the DNC to go over things like ballot access issues, how you collect superdelegates and the state by state allocation of delegates -- all the stuff that you need to know if you're running for president. And this is the -- the Biden people have a standing invitation to take this meeting. It was actually scheduled for June and then for some reason cancelled. That's the month after Beau Biden died.

And finally, this week, Biden's folks went over, talked to the DNC staff about this. And the DNC, when I was doing this reporting yesterday, the buzz there was they thought this was an indication that he's running. Now, it could have the opposite impact. He could have gathered this information and realized oh, no, I don't have time to get on the ballot in the states but definitely a sign he's taking it extremely seriously.

BLITZER: Jeff, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this as well.

How much time does he really have to make up his mind, to get on those ballots?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Not as much as you think and the Georgia deadline is the one that is really staring them down. That is October 29th. That is when campaigns have to write a letter to the Georgia Democratic Party or Republican Parties and parties have to forward that to the secretary of state the next month. But that has to be here by the end of the month.

So, that is why there is a deadline for the Biden campaign. Now, of course, they could give up the Georgia delegates, but if this really is going to be a hard fought campaign, it would look like 2009, which we all remember became a fight of delegates where every single delegate mattered and Georgia a big Super Tuesday state voting on March 1st next year is key.

So, really, he has to make that decision by at least then and it takes awhile to get a campaign going. You don't turn a switch on and it happens. So, we're coming up to have a very end point of the decision.

BLITZER: It went until June in 2008 --

ZELENY: It did, state by state. BLITZER: But, finally, then Senator Barack Obama got enough delegates to make sure he would be the nominee. Are Republicans anticipating a possibility down the road, just a possibility of a Biden run for the White House?

BASH: Well, I think just when you talk about the raw politics of it, they are salivating over it because, you know, they have been really fighting for the most part on the Republican side among, you know, whatever, 11, 12, how many now? Fourteen people? I know, it's my job, I'm supposed to know this. Right.

But on the Democratic side, it's been less so and the more conventional wisdom but generally plays out that the more fighting there is, the more wounded whomever the nominee ends up being will be.

Having said that, Joe Biden is a beloved figure even among many Republicans. I mean, there is a reason why when push came to shove, it was Joe Biden who called senior Republicans and got deals done to keep the government open. So, he has very good relationships with Republicans on a personal level. Politically, it's different.

BLITZER: He had been vice president for seven years, a former candidate.

What's the latest on the effort to find a new speaker of the House? Ryan Paul says no, no, no. But now, he's, what, thinking about it?

BASH: Yes, he's not saying no, no, no anymore. He's not much publicly but privately, we talked to a number of his colleagues who have been pressuring him, pushing him, please, you've got to do it, and so now, he's leaving the door open. He left for the week, actually, for the week, Congress is out next week for Columbus Day week, and so he's going to be home with his family and try to make a decision.

And I think here are so many reasons he doesn't want it which one of them is the fact that he has small kids and wants to be with them, and one of the selling points by colleagues is, you know, we'll take some burden off of you. We'll do some of the traveling and fundraising so you don't have to be away from your kids.

The problem is, people want to go to fundraisers because they want to see the House speaker.

BLITZER: If Paul Ryan is the speaker of the House, how does that impact the race for the White House?

LIZZA: Well, Congress has, what, single digits, sometimes in the teens in terms of an approval rating, right?

And so, for the most part, on the Republican side, I think that they want a figure, a grownup that can contain the excesses of the House of Representatives. If you were the Republican nominee next fall, you just want the House of Representatives in Congress not to be an issue and occasionally want to run against across Congress. So, I think the incentive on the Republican side is to have an establishment grown up figure who can keep things bottled up.

On the Democratic side, there's probably a different incentive in the fall campaign, they will want the chaos of the House. They will want the extremists in the House to be causing trouble for Republican leader. So they might not have the incentive to have a grown up figure like Paul Ryan.

BLITZER: But, Jeff, Donald Trump had a memorable moment at an event he had last night in Las Vegas.

[18:50:01] I'll show our viewers. He was speaking in this ad.


UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: We vote for Mr. Trump! Yes, sir! Mr. Trump, we love you! We love you all the way to the White House!


BLITZER: A copy of "People" magazine there. It was a very lovely moment, I suppose.

ZELENY: I guess that's one way to put it. It certainly seemed very real. She was on CNN this afternoon and said she never had met Mr. Trump before.

One thing I was struck by how Donald Trump was treating her, he was touching her and grabbing her arms and her waist and other things and it was a very odd and interesting moment.

But, you know, in this campaign, we thought we've seen it all. We have not seen it all. Only in Vegas.

BLITZER: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. She was very excited.

BASH: She -- listen, I mean, Donald Trump, if nothing else, he gets stagecraft and that was a great example.

LIZZA: Probably worth noting, if you look at the polling, Latinos are probably racial or ethnic group better than most compared to his candidacy. This woman is an outlier.

BLITZER: Not if you listen to Donald Trump.

LIZZA: I listen to him every day.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

This important note to our viewers: Dana will be one of the questioners when CNN hosts the first Democratic presidential debate next Tuesday, Tuesday night, 8:30 p.m. Eastern, live from Vegas. Anderson Cooper will moderate.

Much more news right after this.


[18:56:18] BLITZER: A new documentary is casting new light on FBI counterterrorism operations and how the agency used an unlikely informant in one major case.

Here's CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an extraordinary peak behind the headlines, how FBI informants infiltrate the Muslim community and build cases against would-be or actual terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call me to do an assignment in Pittsburgh. Whatever the case may be, if they want me to do surveillance, I'm going to do it, you know? I need the money.

MARQUEZ: Co-director Lyric Cabral met the subject of the film in 2002. He later told her he was an FBI informant. He was her neighbor.

LYRIC CABRAL, DIRECTOR: The first film to document on camera an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation.

MARQUEZ: We never know the real name of the film's subject, only his undercover name, Saeed "Shariff" Torres.

DAVID FELIX SUTCLIFFE, CO-DIRECTOR, (T)ERROR: The targets are complicated, the informants are tough, complicated. The FBI is complicated.

MARQUEZ: The film tells a story of an informant, a former Black Panther in prison in the late '80s for robbery, first becoming an FBI informant from prison. His claim of being on the security detail for Brooklyn-based Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman (ph) convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, first started his career as an informant.

When he got out after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, he went full on for the FBI.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) every five seconds, man, somebody is plotting about doing something to this America.

REPORTER: What are you basing that on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me going out there and putting my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) life on the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) the line. That's what I base that on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, we have unsealed charges against two Yemeni citizen citizens, Mohammad Ali Hassan al Muyyad (ph) and Mohsin Yaha Yahed (ph).

MARQUEZ: His involvement in the 2003 bust of Yemeni Sheikh Mohammad Ali Hassan al Muyyad is documented in the film. Saaed posing as a wealthy former Black Panther who wanted to fund al Qaeda operations.

CABRAL: His current status is deactivated. He's in contact with the bureau but he's not tasked with any active intelligent assignments.

MARQUEZ: The heart of the film is a real time counterterror investigation that we cannot reveal. The filmmakers claimed up to 15,000 informants had been used by the FBI in the post-9/11 world. Most of those informants focused on mosques and Muslims.

(on camera): What do you find as you got into the Muslim, the American Muslim community?

CABRAL: Well, you know, FBI's counterterrorism operations have really disrupted the fabric of the American Muslim community post-9/11. The community feels uncomfortable even having discussions in public and private place about the impact of terrorism on their community.

MARQUEZ: The FBI won't comment about the information program or the individual portrayed in this film. The film-makers say the FBI also never answered any of their questions about its operations, tactics or informants.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Here in Washington tonight, the White House is lit in pink. The special lights are in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer- related death among women behind lung cancer. This year alone, more than 230,000 women will be diagnosed.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us on Monday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.