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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump's Lead Growing; Syrian President in Russia; Biden Not Running; Trump Leads GOP Field for 100 Days. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired October 21, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: Biden is out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: After weeks of speculation, the vice president takes a pass on running for President Obama's job. Hillary Clinton's camp breathing a sigh of relief, but tonight Biden still sounds determined to hold Clinton's feet to the fire.
E-mails exposed. WikiLeaks goes public with personal information allegedly stolen from the CIA director's AOL account. We're digging on this breaking story and whether it's a dangerous national security breach.
Secret meeting. Syria's embattled leader sneaks off to Moscow to meet with his chief protector, Vladimir Putin. I will ask a top congressman and Iran War veteran about growing fears that Putin now is trying to flex his muscle in Iraq.
And Trump's sweep. A fourth national poll drives home the strength of the Republican front-runner's support and rising expectations that he's likely to win the nomination. We're standing by to hear from Trump live.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories, Vice President Joe Biden finally revealing his plans, saying he won't launch a new bid for the White House.
He stood in the Rose Garden with the president at his side and argued that Democrats should run on President Obama's record. It appeared to be a veiled jab at the party's front-runner, Hillary Clinton, and tonight, we're getting new reaction from the Clinton camp and other presidential campaigns about Biden's decision and how it affects the presidential race.
Also breaking, just hours after cyber-criminals broke into the CIA director's private e-mail, WikiLeaks just posted new information online. The group says the material came from John Brennan's personal AOL account. We're reviewing the documents and whether any secrets were revealed.
We have correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by. They're covering all the news that is breaking right now.
First, let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, even though Biden is not running, his announcement felt certainly like a campaign speech.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a campaign speech indeed, or a speech from a politician who sounded like he isn't sure he wanted to step off the playing field. It was part wistful, part defiant and even indulgent.
But in the end, Joe Biden simply decided he had run out of time to launch a credible presidential campaign, so he followed his head, not his heart.
BIDEN: Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.
ZELENY (voice-over): With those words today, the vice president closed the door to weeks of self-induced speculation about joining the 2016 presidential race. It turns out he wasn't firing a warning shot this week at Hillary Clinton over her suggestion that Republicans are the enemy.
BIDEN: I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to talk to Republicans.
ZELENY: He was offering an optimistic lesson to fix a broken Washington.
BIDEN: I believe we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart.
ZELENY: Of all the places to make his announcement...
BIDEN: Mr. President, thank you for inviting me to the Rose Garden a minute.
ZELENY: ... the vice president picked a spot he strived to reach since arriving to Washington more than four decades ago with presidential aspirations. Biden may never win the White House, but he's an elder statesman now. He made clear that's a role he intends to play. BIDEN: But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be
silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.
ZELENY: He offered no endorsements, but said Democrats should embrace President Obama.
BIDEN: This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy.
ZELENY: Another unspoken message to Clinton, the party's front- runner, who's broken with the president on a few key issues.
BIDEN: Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record. They should run on the record.
ZELENY: After the announcement, Clinton praised the vice president, saying in a statement: "I am confident that history isn't finished with Joe Biden. As he said today, there is more work to do. And if I know Joe, he will always be on the front lines always fighting for all of us."
This week, our CNN/ORC poll found with Biden on the sidelines, Clinton's lead grew to 23 points over Bernie Sanders. She's the biggest beneficiary of his decision.
ZELENY: Now, Hillary Clinton was one of the first people who called the vice president after he left the Rose Garden. She didn't directly ask him for an endorsement, I'm told, and he didn't offer one, for now at least.
Most Democrats are giving him his space. But privately they worry his swipes at Clinton are unhelpful. Yet, with Biden out of the race, the Clinton campaign is breathing a sigh of relief that one of the biggest roadblocks to the nomination has been removed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are very, very relieved. Thanks very much, Jeff, for that.
We're learning more about how and why the vice president decided to stay out of this 2016 presidential campaign.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here with us.
Jim, you were there in the Rose Garden for the vice president's announcement. It was a very dramatic move.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
First of all, it was an incredible scene at the White House. This was sprung on everybody at the last minute. First, we got a sense what was about to happen when the president's longtime adviser Ted Kaufman arrived at the White House, then the vice president's wife.
Then it was not long before Biden's announced his decision. As for the timing, a senior administration official tells me Biden made this decision last night before informing his advisers this morning and that there was no changing his mind back and forth, that he made one call and one alone and this decision was based on his assessment that he had simply run out of time to raise the money and do, as this official said, what Joe Biden does best. And that is retail campaigning, the kind of he needed to do to win the Democratic nomination.
As for why it took so long, this senior administration official said, quite frankly, Wolf, listen, Biden has been grieving the loss of his son Beau. As this official put it -- quote -- "It takes time to heal once you have lost a child. That process cannot be rushed."
Now, as for future, Biden has some core issues he wants to work on, but he plans to devote much of his time to fighting cancer. He wants to do this for Beau Biden. We will be hearing more about that soon.
And what about pressure on Biden? Was the president of the United States putting pressure on the vice president? I'm told no and as one official put it -- quote -- "No way." They wanted to give Vice President Biden all the time he needed to make this decision.
But, Wolf, I have to think folks across the White House are breathing a sigh of relief that this is finally over.
BLITZER: Yes. Everybody is wondering, is he going to in, not go in? His son Beau Biden, who was the attorney general of Delaware, he died of cancer. He had a brain tumor and it was a very tragic moment, obviously, a great guy. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.
Joining us now is the former senior adviser to President Obama, our CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod.
David, thanks for joining us.
You're very plugged in. What are you hearing from your sources about the vice president's decision, why he decided to do it and why he decided to do it today?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that as he said, time had run out. I think space had run out, too, Wolf.
If you look at the events of the last several weeks, they have really moved in the direction of Secretary Clinton. She strengthened her lead. The debate last week was a very positive step for her and for Bernie Sanders. They were commanding three-quarters of the vote.
There simply wasn't oxygen in the tank. And that's before you get to the logistical challenges what's necessary to run for president. I just think that the signs were not positive for a candidacy and he finally had to confront that reality.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton sent a tweet shortly after the vice president's announcement, but Senator Bernie Sanders, he actually made a statement, went before cameras, held a news conference, in effect, embracing the Obama administration and praising the work they have done.
From your perspective, who is the big winner in this Democratic contest right now, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?
AXELROD: Well, every poll -- first of all, she's got the front- runner and she's got a very large lead to start with. Every poll suggests her lead grows larger with Biden out of the race.
She has to be considered the big winner. There was a moment, Wolf, six weeks or eight weeks again, when she appeared to be much more vulnerable and there was a lot of interest in the party in urging Biden into the race. He had jumped at that moment, perhaps things would have been a little bit different.
But, at this juncture, she's a strong candidate and she's getting stronger. Obviously, she has a big test tomorrow at that Benghazi Committee. But I assume that she's going to do fine there and that she's going to derive great momentum from his announcement today.
BLITZER: Is it just coincidental he made the announcement the day before her testimony before the Benghazi Select Committee?
AXELROD: No, I don't think so, because I don't think he wanted to be in a position where if she did well at the committee, he then withdrew from the race, if he was hoping for a bad result at that committee.
I also think he was being pressed by the fact that there is a big event in Iowa this weekend, the Jefferson Jackson Dinner. That's a must-do for candidates. And there would have been a lot of pressure for him to be there if he actually was planning to get into the race.
BLITZER: The vice president said in the Rose Garden, he said, "While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent."
You have dealt with him on the campaign trail. Strategically, how do you best use him now to get a Democrat elected to the White House?
AXELROD: First of all, I don't know what a silent Joe Biden would look like. Let me make that point.
But I think that he -- look, he is a guy who over the course of 40 years has been really identified with the middle class. He's a middle class guy from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He's often spoken to the economic interests of middle-class people and the survival of the middle class. We heard it again today in the Rose Garden.
And this is the issue of this campaign. Deploying him to discuss these issues, particularly among working-class voters in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, would be a smart way to use the vice president.
BLITZER: Certainly would be.
One final question. What would you be advising -- how would you advise Hillary Clinton in her demeanor and her message that she needs to convey tomorrow when she appears before that Republican-led Benghazi Select Committee?
AXELROD: I actually think she's going to be very comfortable there. She's used to that setting. She's been a senator and she's been a witness on this very issue before.
And the main thing is not to carve new ground out here or to create new issues. You know, just answer the questions and keep focused on the subject at hand, with knowledge of what you have testified to before and hopefully extinguish this story to a large degree tomorrow, and not have it linger in the days after.
BLITZER: We know she's been out of sight the last few days preparing, getting ready, rehearsing maybe, getting through these questions that are going to be asked of her tomorrow. CNN of course will have live coverage throughout the day, beginning during the 9:00 a.m. Eastern hour.
David, stand by. We have more news coming in.
There is breaking developments. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, Joe Biden announcing he won't challenge Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic presidential candidates.
The vice president is staying out of the race, he but promises he won't be silent during the campaign.
Joining us now, Rebecca Bergdahl, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics, our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston.
Gloria, let's talk what are you hearing from your sources. What was it that ultimately convinced the vice president this is not the time to run?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, this was a public, month-long, open flirtation and process, right?
And I think what eventually happened was, he just realized he went out of time. I was told that the longer this dragged out, a source close to Biden said to me, the more he came to terms with the downsides of this, both personally in terms of his own life, having lost his son Beau recently, but also in terms of his legacy.
Did he want to lose the presidency three times? Probably not. But you could hear in his speech that he was -- it was an announcement speech without a candidate. He was clearly so ambivalent about this decision, because he really does want to run for president. He just didn't think that he could succeed or do it well or that this was the right time.
BLITZER: Yes. It was a very tough decision.
BORGER: Very tough. Very tough.
BLITZER: So many of his friends and advisers were convinced he was going to run and obviously they're probably pretty disappointed right now that he's not.
BLITZER: Mark, how do you explain that he seems to be taking still even on this day in the Rose Garden some not-so-subtle swipes at Hillary Clinton?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Look, he did it in his own fashion and way, didn't he?
He doesn't -- look, after today's speech in the Rose Garden, you have to say to yourself, Joe Biden is not kowtow and fall in line behind Hillary Clinton. The big talk was that Joe Biden was upset that Hillary Clinton seemed to be trying to force him out of the race, that her advisers were starting to try to push him. We saw John Podesta make some comments recently that Joe Biden had to make a decision soon.
But Joe Biden went out on his own. What is interesting about Joe Biden though is at this point, as we talk about who is the big winner, we say that Hillary Clinton is the big winner, right? But you could also say congressional Democrats who need somebody on the campaign trail such as Joe Biden in certain parts of the country to try to win back the Senate, to try to take back some seats in the House.
I think congressional Democrats are pretty happy.
BLITZER: Rebecca, all the polls show that without Biden in the race, Hillary Clinton's numbers go up more significantly than Bernie Sanders' numbers go up. But if Biden is still out there speaking as he does and suggesting that maybe there are some problems with Hillary Clinton, that could be a problem for her. REBECCA BERG, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Although I would be very
surprised to see Joe Biden go out there on the campaign trail in any fashion and attack Hillary Clinton directly.
He's basically been trying to nudge her in a certain direction. We can see Joe Biden has worked his entire career as someone who loves finding consensus, who loves working with Republicans. He really made a name for himself in this administration striking deals with the Republican Senate.
And so I think we will see a lot of that from Joe Biden, urging Democrats to try to find consensus with Republicans and take a less aggressive approach towards the other party. Whether Democrats especially in the primary actually take that tack is up for debate, but I think that's along the lines of what we will see from Joe moving forward.
BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders, he is doing remarkably well in the national polls, just behind Hillary Clinton, maybe like 10 points or 15 points or whatever. But in New Hampshire, he's beating her right now in the polls.
How does the Biden decision impact him?
ZELENY: Well, he's essentially the last credible candidate standing.
Yes, there are a couple others in the race. Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, is still actively campaigning, but I think that, for Bernie Sanders, this is a moment. He has a window here, if he would be able to try and win over any of those Democrats who just don't like Hillary Clinton, who just don't want more of the Clintons.
He has an opportunity there. But a lot of true party regulars wonder if he can actually win a general election. They think he's too liberal. But let's watch what happens tomorrow at that Benghazi hearing. If she stumbles -- there are still big questions out there, the e-mail things and other things. Bernie Sanders could capitalize. But, boy, it's such a small bench for this Democratic Party, certainly compared to the Republican one.
BLITZER: I may be reading too much into this. I want to play a clip from Biden's speech in the Rose Garden today, Gloria, in which I thought it was at least a subtle, indirect criticism of the past seven years of the Obama administration. And he's been vice president all these years.
BORGER: President Obama was there.
BLITZER: And while the vice president was standing next to the president in the Rose Garden.
Let me play this clip and tell me what you think. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Four more years of this kind of pitched battle may be more than this country can take. We have to change it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It said to me that the president, who came into office saying we have to work together, we're going to end all the bickering in Washington, has failed on that front, because the bickering is as intense, if not even more intense, than it was when he took office.
I think that's exactly what Biden said, even though the president was right there. And I think, you know, it's interesting when you look at Biden, because there are two Joe Bidens. One is the one who talks about bipartisanship.
The other one is the one who called Republicans homophobes, who said that Republicans keep you in chains. Remember that? Joe Biden can be as partisan as any Democrat I have ever met out on the campaign trail. The difference between Joe Biden and Barack Obama, and that may be what he was saying, is that he will then pick up the phone and call you and say, why don't you come over and let's really talk about this and try and get it done.
But he couldn't get it done. He tried on guns. He was in charge of the gun issue. He was. It did not get done, because they couldn't work it out. Whether that was Biden or whether that was Obama or whether that was the Republicans and conservative Democrats, we don't know.
ZELENY: Could I just stick my foot in the door of him closing the door on his run for the presidency? Because he has now positioned himself, quite frankly, that if Hillary Clinton were to stumble, then he is the credible candidate that all the Clinton people and other supporters and all the donors will turn to.
Had he challenged her, there would have been bad blood. But now he did it gracefully, had some harsh words today, but if she were to stumble, then he could be the one that would immediately slide in.
BLITZER: Guys, stand by. We have more to assess, more reaction coming in.
Also just ahead, Donald Trump's 100 days of political dominance. A new poll is driving home the Republican front-runner's staying power.
And Syria's embattled leader, Bashar al-Assad, goes a long way to say thank you for Vladimir Putin. We have more on the surprise meeting and what the Russian president may be planning next.
BLITZER: We're back with our political team.
We're awaiting a Donald Trump campaign rally in Iowa. Trump is likely to mention a new poll just out there that shows his status as the Republican front-runner growing even stronger.
Our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, is covering Trump for us. She joins us from Burlington, Iowa, where the crowd is getting ready to hear from Donald Trump.
Sara, Trump is marking a milestone today, right?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Donald Trump must be getting pretty comfortable at the top of the polls. Today marks his 100th day leading the Republican field.
But it's a big difference from when he started, Wolf. Now many Republicans actually believe he could win.
MURRAY (voice-over): It's a milestone even the staunchest Donald Trump critics can't deny, 100 days of the Donald at the top of the GOP field.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, it's an honor to have such a wonderful poll. It's a very nice way to get up in the morning and see. And I will say that I will fight for it.
MURRAY: Tonight, yet another poll showing Trump's lead is as outsized as his personality.
In a new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, Republicans increasingly believe Trump has staying power. More than four in 10 Republicans say he will win the nomination, a stunning reversal from when he entered the race.
Trump is now pulling 32 percent support from Republican voters, a 10-point lead over Dr. Ben Carson. Meantime, Jeb Bush, once the front-runner, stands at just 7 percent nationwide among Republicans, something Bush tried to explain away today.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four years ago, Herman Cain was the front-runner, and two weeks prior to that, it was Rick Perry. Both are great guys and they didn't win the nomination.
TRUMP: Well, look, Jeb has had a very hard time. He's way down in the polls. He's doing very poorly. He's embarrassed by what's happening, so he has to attack me to try and get his numbers up.
MURRAY: Trump's team now looking to prove it has the organization to bring the candidate to the finish line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all doing our part. MURRAY: It boasts paid staffers in 11 states, including a total
of 40 employees in states holding the first four nominating contests. And the operation is still growing.
TRUMP: Our ground game is all over Iowa, New Hampshire, all over, South Carolina, tremendous ground game.
MURRAY: Iowa offers a unique challenge, turning Trump super fans into committed caucus goers. To make it happen, the campaign is teaching supporters how to caucus and organizing precinct captains to help deliver a victory.
But the question remains, can Trump turn his poll numbers into actual votes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We attract people from all over. We go to the population centers. We do the things that are necessary to get people out. We sign them up. We get the cards filled out. We put them into our database, and then we get ready to crank up the ground game.
MURRAY: Now Iowa is a tricky state to organize. Here, supporters have to show up at the right time on caucus night. They have to give a speech in support of their candidate.
Trump volunteers are out here tonight in full force, trying to sign on supporters. They want to prove to their competitors that they are in this for the long haul, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara. Stand by. We'll get back to you. We'll get ready to hear directly from Donald Trump, as well.
Gloria and our panel are still with us. Gloria, I guess with all these polls, not just "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll that came out today but in the past two days, an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, a Monmouth poll, our CNN/ORC poll, not one, not two, not three, but four...
BLITZER: ... national polls among Republicans in the last two days, they all basically have the same thing: Trump is way ahead. Dr. Ben Carson is second. Everybody else not so good.
BORGER: You know the old saying, "nothing succeeds like success." I think that's Donald Trump. He's building on it. Forty- two percent of Republicans now believe that he is going to be the eventual nominee.
But if you look closely at these polls, he isn't gaining new momentum. He -- it's as if you kind of pushed the pause button on this. He is where he is. Carson is coming up a little bit. The others are all sort of in the back of the pack, but it's not as if he's gotten a new birth. Look, he's doing really, really well. I don't want to take that
away from him at all. But I've been through so many campaigns where you're doing really well early on -- Rudy Giuliani comes to mind -- and the momentum shifts.
So right now, he's a successful candidate, and by virtue of that, he continues to be one.
BLITZER: Jeb Bush can say Herman Cain was ahead four years ago, Rick Perry was ahead four years ago. They may have been ahead for a week or two or three but not for 100 days as consistently as Donald Trump has been ahead.
PRESTON: Right, Wolf. A couple things. Let's look at Jeb Bush, compared to Donald Trump right now in Iowa.
If you talk to people on the ground out there, they will tell you Jeb Bush actually has a ground game that is instituted. He has precinct captains in the 99 counties. That's important.
Right now Donald Trump is trying to teach people how to be their precinct captain. So while he's doing very well nationally, in Iowa, he might do well in the polls but on a very cold February night, will you get those people to go out for you? It's a lot of cajoling. It's a lot of pressure and what have you. A successful campaign in Iowa doesn't begin in August, and quite frankly, you have to live in Iowa, in many ways, to be successful there.
BLITZER: And well, he's doing great in the polls so far. And even in all the Iowa polls. He's ahead in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. It's not just nationally he's ahead.
Are Republicans beginning to sense increasingly, Rebecca, that he's going to be the nominee?
BERG: Absolutely. You know, I was shown an e-mail this week, Wolf, that Alex Castellanos, the Republican strategist, sent around to some friends, where he said, grudgingly, I should add, that he was among the establishment guys who never thought Trump could or would be the nominee, but now he has changed his mind and thinks that he could be.
He said also in the e-mail that he thinks Trump could win Iowa. Right now he would predict Ben Carson or Donald Trump will win Iowa, and Trump will win New Hampshire. And then, when you win those two states historically, you have the nomination locked up.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeff, is it just a matter of he's the right guy at the right time, or has he been a brilliant politician?
ZELENY: It's a mix of both, no question. He is tapping into the resentment of Washington. He is a different brand, a different flavor of politician. People like his brag, you know, his -- just his aura, his sense of himself. He's a braggadocios guy. People like that at this moment. We still do not know, though, if there will be a consolidated
alternative to him. If all of those -- if you add up everyone else, once it becomes a smaller field, then we'll have to see how he does. Will he do paid advertising?
I'll tell you, he'll need more than 40 paid organizers. He has the money for it, so he should go for it and actually start organizing in a real way in these 99 Iowa counties. Mark is absolutely right. That's what he needs to do to win.
So if he takes the next step, he's a very, very, very serious potential nominee.
BLITZER: All right, guys. All of you stand by and let's stand by for Donald Trump, as well, and see what he has to say.
There's other news we're following, including that surprise meeting today between the leaders of Russia and Syria. So what's next for Vladimir Putin? Does he have his sights set on Iraq right now? I'll ask a top congressman and Iraq War veteran what he's learning.
[18:35:06] And how worried should the CIA director be, now that WikiLeaks says it has released his private e-mails? We're going to have the latest on this really, really embarrassing security breach.
BLITZER: Vladimir Putin's expanding power play in the Middle East is clearly on display tonight. The Russian president getting a personal thank you from Bashar al-Assad during a surprise visit to Moscow by the embattled Syrian leader.
[18:40:10] As Putin flexes his military muscles in support of Assad's regime, he's also making new attempts to widen his grip and defy the United States by reaching out directly to Iraq.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, now Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on Friday in Vienna. The U.S. wants to know what a lot more about what both Russia and Syria may be up to next.
STARR (voice-over): Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Moscow to meet his benefactor, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's not surprising that Bashar al-Assad would travel to Moscow, given the relationship that Syria has with Russia and given the recent military activities by Russia in Syria.
STARR: Those activities include Russian warplanes hitting near Homs. Russia in a multi-front air war now, north of Homs, north of Hama, between Latakia and Idlib and north of Idlib. The Russian strategy, according to U.S. officials: regain key areas for Assad.
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I thank you for standing up for Syria's unity and its independence.
STARR: Congressional Republicans very unimpressed.
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R-TX), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Among the headlines today is Bashar al-Assad going to Moscow to thank Mr. Putin for saving his regime.
STARR: Putin publicly steadfast in his support.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Syria is a friendly country to us, and we are prepared to do whatever we can.
STARR: U.S. officials watching for Putin's next step. The worry: Russia starts bombing Iraq, the heart of the U.S. effort.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians have been indiscriminate. They've been reckless in Syria. They seem to have no difficulty dropping cluster munitions around where civilians may be.
STARR: In Iraq, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs, met with Iraqi officials, Dunford telling reporters after, the Iraqis told him the Russians haven't asked them to come in and conduct operations.
Another complication, incoming Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, says he told President Obama his new government will live up to its campaign promise to pull its half dozen fighter jets out of combat.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, INCOMING CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: But he understands the commitments I've made around ending the combat mission.
STARR: But there is one signal from Moscow, the government in Baghdad reporting it has received a letter from the Russian leader, asking for more cooperation between Moscow and Baghdad on weapons and on fighting ISIS -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the Iraqis, I take it, have responded positively to that letter, right?
STARR: Well, right now the Iraqis' official position is they are working with the U.S. But I don't think they have shut the door -- I don't think anybody thinks they have shut the door to some kind of cooperation with Moscow.
BLITZER: They're cooperating in the intelligence area. We know that already. That's been officially announced. All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's get to other breaking news we're following. The CIA director's personal e-mails posted online after cyber criminals said they'd broken into his AOL account.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, has been looking at the documents posted by WikiLeaks.
So far, I take it, Evan, none of the information appears to be classified, is that right?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is very personal information but as expected, so far, nothing classified.
All of the documents posted are from before 2009, before John Brennan joined the White House and then moved over to the CIA. There's a government form that Brennan filled out in order to get his security clearance. It has personal information about his medical health, information about his wife and friends. And there's a few papers that he wrote, including ones about intelligence and about Iran.
The CIA just provided this statement to us a little while ago that says, quote, "This attack is something that could happen to anyone and should be condemned, not promoted."
There's no indication that any of these documents released thus far are classified, Wolf. That's a very important part of this, because WikiLeaks and these hackers that said that they had this were advertising this as very sensitive information, perhaps classified. So far none of that seems to be the case.
BLITZER: Is the FBI or other law enforcement agencies, Evan, any closer to making an arrest?
PEREZ: Well, they have some -- they have some clues as to who they believe is behind this, Wolf, but they're having a hard time. This goes to show -- goes to show you how tough it is to find people hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. You know, these hackers used very unsophisticated methods to do this. They tricked customer service people into giving them access to these accounts.
But so far, they're outrunning the FBI, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Evan Perez, a very disturbing story indeed. Thanks very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, still in the Air Force Reserves where he's major.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
I want to get to the hack. I want to get to all of that in a moment, but let's talk about what Russia is doing not only in Syria now, but in Iraq, apparently trying to expand its influence there, getting ready to launch airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS targets there. I think the regime there of the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi getting ready to accept that. How much of -- how upset should the U.S. be after the blood and
treasure the U.S. invested in Iraq if Russia now is going to emerge as a serious player there?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, we should be angry. I mean, if you think about it, Russians haven't had a role in the Middle East in decades and Vladimir Putin has seen this as his opportunity to re-engage Russia and Middle Eastern politics.
And I know there is fatigue that's setting in and people sometimes like to default and say, well, let's just get out of the Middle East. The reality is the Middle East is a very important part of the world with a lot of resources, a lot of people, and America writing the rules in congestion with partners is way better than the Russians doing it.
You see the Russians propped up an evil guy like Bashar al-Assad who kills a quarter of a million people, and then there's an unholy alliance developing between Russia, Iran and Syria right now. And my guess is, if Russia moves into Iraq, which it seems like they probably will, this will also be to prop up the Iranians in Iraq.
BLITZER: Did you ever think when you were serving in Iraq and you saw your fellow military personnel dying, coming home badly injured, a few years later Russia would be moving in and Iran neighboring to Iraq has a lot of influence in Baghdad right now. It seems to be growing.
KINZINGER: You know, when I left in '09, I left in May of '09 and the situation was relatively stable. We have basically defeated the opposition. It was kind of just maintaining things at this point.
When I left, I thought to myself -- if we leave this, if we pull all the troops out, it's going to fall apart, but I never would have imagined, you know, where I was laying my head eventually would be occupied by ISIS.
BLITZER: Where was that?
KINZINGER: That was in Balad Air Base.
BLITZER: U.S. air base in Balad.
KINZINGER: That's right. And I never assumed that the Russians would have a role to play.
But, look, this is where strong -- I mean, the Russian economy is basically the size of Italy and said they are going to re-engage as a great power in the world. This should have huge implications for us because the Russians are not doing this for humanitarian reasons. They're doing this to rewrite the global rules.
BLITZER: I'm sure you never thought Iran and Russia would have significant influence in Iraq and that ISIS would be in control of big cities like Mosul, a city of some 2 billion people, the second largest city of Iraq -- KINZINGER: And I did a lot of time in Mosul, by the way. And
it's sad to hear.
BLITZER: I was in Mosul in 2005. I was in Balad at that time, and things were looking pretty positive. Obviously, things changed very quickly. Let's talk a little bit about Russia's influence.
Did Russia's military moves in Crimea and Ukraine embolden President Putin to do these steps in Syria and now Iraq?
KINZINGER: I think so. And let's go further back, Georgia. I mean, a good part of Georgia is still occupied by Russia. Russia has taken moves to annex South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and then they move into Ukraine. They annex Crimea.
There is still a war in Eastern Ukraine that we don't hear much about. You do a great job of covering it. Not a ton of people talk about it.
And then he moves into the Middle East. And at each step, he's met by the U.S. paining anger about it and then ending up joining alliances for instance in Syria to figure out how to keep our planes from crashing into each other.
Here is how you keep the planes from crashing into each other, you tell Putin to quit flying because he's not welcome there. But unfortunately, that's not what's coming from this administration.
BLITZER: I don't know if he would listen at this point.
KINZINGER: I don't know. It might be too late.
BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. We have more to discuss.
Much more on the breaking news right after this.
[18:53:27] BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
Congressman, stand by. We're getting an update on the House speaker's race right now.
Republican lawmakers are deciding whether to jump on the Paul Ryan bandwagon now that he's willing to run for speaker if his conditions are met. The former vice presidential nominee has been meeting with an influential group of conservative Republicans.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is standing outside the door where they're caucusing right now.
You've spoken to Republicans. What are you hearing?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that what happens behind these doors, there is a meeting going on as we speak among members of the so-called House Freedom Caucus. These are members that are quite conservative. They're the people who effectively pushed John Boehner out.
They met earlier this evening with Paul Ryan. Now, they're meeting to discuss whether they will endorse him and that will determine whether or not Paul Ryan will be speaker.
BASH (voice-over): Here is the most important thing to remember about Paul Ryan's bid for House speaker.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: This is not a job I ever wanted.
BASH: And he still doesn't, which is why Ryan can afford to make demands.
REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: I was moderately surprised by Paul Ryan's conditions. That's normally not something you tell voters.
BASH: The most controversial, changing a House rule that allows speaker to be taken down with a simple majority vote, since the threat of that kind of coup from the so-called Freedom Caucus helped force out John Boehner. Some don't want to change that rule and give up leverage.
REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: Every institution, democratically has an opportunity to remove the leader. That's the way it works. I don't think we ought to change the rules for one man.
[18:55:01] If it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, I think it's good enough for us.
RYAN: I also want to ensure that we treat each other with respect.
BASH: But GOP House members rooting for Ryan say bringing stability to the job of House speaker will help restore order and sanity in Congress.
KINZINGER: If Paul is the speaker, and I certainly hope he is, I think he understands that we have to push our conservative principles forward but do it in a governing way that the American people can respect.
RYAN: More transparency.
BASH: Another Ryan condition? Time with his young family on the weekends, instead of traveling the country raising campaign cash for colleagues which is tradition for modern day house speakers.
RYAN: I cannot and I will not give up my family time. I may not be on the road as often as previous speakers. But I pledge to try to make up for it with more time communicating our vision, our message.
BASH: To that, some GOP colleagues effectively say give me a break. REP. TOM MASSIE (R), KENTUCKY: I really appreciate his desire to
spend time with his family. Frankly, that's why I wouldn't take the job for speaker. But I think it's sort of an unreasonable demand to say you're not going to work on weekends.
BASH: Ryan not only has the backing of the out going House speaker --
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think Paul Ryan would make a great speaker.
BASH: But rare praise from Democrats.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I'm a Paul Ryan fan generally speaking. I think that he's been -- we've been able to work with him.
BASH: That bipartisan appeal is one reason some of the most ardent conservatives don't want him in the job, calling him weak on immigration and one headline even needling him for acting like a king.
BROOKS: If he doesn't want to job, that ought to tell us something. To some degree, we ought to take into account his personal circumstances as we make a decision on how to vote.
BASH: Now, again, he does not want the job, which is why he put the conditions and demands so high.
But just to reiterate, this meeting that is going on in this room right behind me will determine very likely whether or not Paul Ryan will be the next speaker, because what he has said is that he wants to have the endorsement of the key factions of the Republican caucus in the House.
The House Freedom Caucus, their internal rules are that they will take a vote and if 80 percent of their caucus determines that they will endorse Paul Ryan or anybody, then they will do so. So they're likely to -- we do expect them to take that vote. Maybe they're even doing it as we speak and once we find out the results, we'll know whether or not Paul Ryan is going to agree to go ahead and formally put in his bid to be speaker of the House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, let us know what they decide.
We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
What if they decide they're not going to support Paul Ryan, what happens next?
KINZINGER: Well, I hope that's not the decision, you know? They have an 80 percent threshold. But sometimes they say that somebody has to agree 100 percent, not 80 percent.
Look, if they don't, then it will be interesting. If Paul can still peel off some of those, great. If not, it's unchartered territory.
Boehner has said he will stay until that's done, until we have a new speaker, so he may be in past the end of October or there's going to be other names floated and the potential of a coalition speaker. But at the end of the day, I hope they go with Paul Ryan. He's a good conservative. He works across the aisle, and he'd be a fantastic speaker not just our party, that's important, but for the country.
BLITZER: If they decide to not go ahead and support Paul Ryan, he might still be able to get 218 Republicans, that's the number you need. But I take it he doesn't want do that unless he gets almost all Republicans to vote in favor of his speakership.
KINZINGER: Yes, look, Paul Ryan is a reluctant warrior, but he's a good warrior. He's in a job he loves. He's chairman of Ways and Means. He likes writing tax policy.
But he recognizes that, you know, this is a moment where he's called possibly to do bigger things. But he doesn't want to be a speaker that comes to the speakership with a proverbial gun pointed to his head, with a constant threat of deposing him, a constant threat of do 100 percent what 30 people want or else you're going to be gone.
He wants to be liberated to lead our conservative principles to the American people, and I think you'd do a great job of it. And I'm going to tell you -- there are -- the Republicans last night at that conference were unified behind him, and I hope that all of us can be unified and he can be speaker.
BLITZER: Not necessarily all the members of the Freedom Caucus were unified, and they're, what 30 or 40 of them, right?
KINZINGER: Right, but there are 247 Republicans in the House. And I sure hope that those 30 or 40 do the right thing and say let's move together with a bold conservative ideas and take them to the American people.
BLITZER: Have you spoken to these representatives from the freedom caucus?
KINZINGER: I've spoken to some. They're keeping their vests, you know, pretty close to their -- their cards pretty close to their chest. I hope Dana can report that they've decided to endorse Paul Ryan and would move forward him as a great speaker.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. It's obviously a very sensitive moment right now in the U.S. House of Representatives. He's going to be the next speaker, second in line to the president.
KINZINGER: That's right.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter, please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us right here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.