Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Trump Stuns; Mass Shooting Investigation. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired December 7, 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: Tracking Baghdadi. CNN has learned about new sightings of the elusive ISIS leader, as U.S. special forces launch a new mission to target top terror operatives and take them out.
Plus, Trump stuns again. He says he wants to stop all Muslims from entering the United States, at least for now, this as he's gaining ground in our new CNN poll in Iowa. How will his new terror response play with voters?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the FBI says the married terrorists behind the San Bernardino attacks practiced their shooting skills within days of their deadly rampage.
We now have a photo of the couple entering the United States together through customs at O'Hare Airport in Chicago last year. Authorities say both killers have been radicalized for "quite sometime."
There is also more evidence tonight of weapons of mass murder inside the couple's home. The FBI says explosives experts removed 19 pipes that could have been used to build bombs. In a stunning new response to terror on American soil, the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, is now calling for the United States to block all Muslims from entering the country at least for now.
He says the move would be a total and complete move and last until Congress takes some kind of action to better protect the nation.
I will ask Senator Angus King. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by to cover all the breaking news.
Up first, our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with more on the investigation of the terror in San Bernardino.
Pamela, what are your sources telling you? PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, my sources
say it appears Tashfeen Malik was radicalized prior to receiving a visa to come to the U.S., raising questions about the process and whether the couple ever made direct contact with terrorists overseas.
BROWN (voice-over): For the first time, a picture has emerged of the attackers together. The photo was snapped as the married couple passed through customs at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in July 2014.
DAVID BOWDICH, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: As the investigation has progressed, we have learned and believe that both subjects were radicalized and have been for quite some time.
BROWN: U.S. officials believe Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik, had been radicalized before stepping foot in the U.S., raising alarm bells about the fiancee visa she came in on. The State Department says Malik would have had to have an in-person interview before receiving her visa, but a State Department document obtained by CNN in her immigration file shows she failed to show up for the interview.
It's unclear if she ever rescheduled.
ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The background checks aren't as extensive as you would get on a regular type of visa or green card or employment situation over here in the States.
BROWN: Malik was born in Pakistan and spent some of her life in Saudi Arabia, where her father lives. She earned a degree in pharmacy from a women's-only Pakistani university. A professor there told reporters she was quiet and reserved.
BABAR KHAGAN, PROFESSOR: There was nothing specially to be noted by the teachers. She was an average student. She came, always came on time.
BROWN: CNN has learned Syed Farook not only interacted with FBI terrorism subjects, but also looked into contacting terrorist groups overseas, like al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra and Al-Shabaab.
Farook's father told an Italian newspaper his son -- quote -- "shared the ideology of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi" to create an Islamic state and he was fixated on Israel. Farook lived with his mother in this home in Redlands, California, where investigators found a cache of ammunition and bomb-making materials.
The attorney general told NBC News investigators are interested in what she may have known about her son and daughter-in-law's activities.
BOWDICH: We have found evidence of pre-planning. And we want to find out everyone who profited from it, financed it, and I'm not saying there is anything like that, but we will leave no stone unturned. BROWN: It's unclear what started this husband and wife on the
path to radicalization or who may have known about it in advance, but, tonight, new indications of planning in the days ahead of the attack.
BOWDICH: We do have evidence that both of these subjects did some target -- participated in target practice and -- some ranges within the metro area.
BROWN: The State Department says all procedures were followed when Malik received her visa and prior to that she did have a face-to- face interview, they say.
And, so far, no one else associated with the attackers has been charged in this case, including the former neighbor and friend of Farook believed to have bought two of the rifles used in the massacre. We have learned the FBI has interviewed him and has searched his home twice -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
Also tonight, U.S. special operations forces are going after senior ISIS operatives with new urgency, new firepower after the San Bernardino attack. We're learning about new intelligence on the movements of the terror group's top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, getting al-Baghdadi is a huge priority for the United States right now.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A huge priority, Wolf, if al-Baghdadi is behind the inspiration of attacks like Paris and San Bernardino. The U.S. wants him and wants him bad.
STARR (voice-over): ISIS' leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, secretly travels every few months to Mosul, Iraq, to preach to his followers, apparently believing he can move faster than U.S. airstrikes can target him, a U.S. official tells CNN.
Baghdadi avoids regular patterns of travel to keep from being tracked, the U.S. official said. Getting him and other senior is operatives is now a top priority for U.S. special operations forces being sent into Iraq and Syria. It's even more urgent in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks because of ISIS' ability to inspire followers.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're deploying special operations forces who can accelerate that offensive.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: Our threshold for collateral damage increases with the value of the target we're going after. And, you know, I can assure you if we're going after Baghdadi's command and control network or some other critical node, then we will go after it as aggressively as necessary.
STARR: Dozens of U.S. special operations forces will now either find and kill or capture and interrogate top ISIS operatives.
COL. STEVE WARREN, U.S. SPOKESMAN FOR OPERATION AGAINST ISIS: Certainly, it's our preference to capture in all cases. And we prefer to capture because that allows us to collect some intelligence and to gain additional information and insights.
STARR: Getting that intelligence may now be a race against time. ISIS' global reach is growing, according to a new assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.
An estimated 23,000 ISIS fighters have been killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but ISIS is still increasing the areas it controls. Followers are now as far away as Bangladesh and Indonesia.
AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA OFFICER: It's obvious that this organization is generating not only gains in other countries; it's also gaining recruits.
STARR: Up to 30,000 ISIS fighters and supporters could be inside Syria and Iraq, according to administration estimates.
DUNFORD: We have not contained ISIL.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have they been contained at any time since 2010?
DUNFORD: Tactically, in areas they have been. Strategically, they have spread since 2010.
STARR: And Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday will be back up on Capitol Hill defending the Obama administration's ISIS strategy. A lot of questions about whether the strategy will work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
And we're also following some startling new political fallout from the San Bernardino terror attack. The Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, now wants to stop all Muslims from entering the United States, at least for now.
A written statement from the Trump campaign says: "Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's following Donald Trump today campaigning in South Carolina, getting ready for a rally down there.
Jeff, so what are you learning about this? Trump, after that statement was released, he then tweeted another statement, doubling down on what he's saying.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Donald Trump is doubling down, but with very few specifics about how any president could even put anything like this in place.
But, Wolf, of all the rhetoric we have heard during this campaign, I can tell you this is extraordinary. This has sent shockwaves throughout the Republican Party. They believe what Donald Trump is doing is spreading fear and preying on the fear of Americans and that's just the words coming from his fellow Republican presidential candidates.
Now, he didn't give many specifics of exactly how this would play out, but his campaign manager told us that it would apply to immigrants coming here, Muslim immigrants, as well as people coming here just to visit the United States.
Now, he also said this. Donald Trump said: "Great surveillance and vigilance must be adhered to. We want to be very fair, but too many bad things are happening and the percentage of true hatred is just too great."
Now, Wolf, the extraordinary thing about this is just a couple months ago, in September, actually, Donald Trump was asked directly about Muslims and he said: "I love Muslims. They are great people."
Of course, this is since the San Bernardino shooting has happened, but he is what some of his rivals believe is taking advantage of this incident to try and make political gears. And across the board, Wolf, it's being jeered by his fellow Republican candidates.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what he says at that rally that is coming up.
All right, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny.
And just a little while ago, I asked President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, for his reaction to Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's totally contrary to our values as Americans. You know, we have in our Bill of Rights respect for the freedom of religion.
Muslim Americans have made extraordinary contributions to our country. But it's also contrary to our security, Wolf. The fact of the matter is, ISIL wants to frame this as a war between the United States and Islam.
And if we look like we're applying religious tests to who comes into this country, we're sending a message that we're essentially embracing that frame. And that is going to make it very difficult to partner with Muslim communities here in the United States and around the world to prevent the scourge of radicalization that we need to be focused on.
And we should be making it harder for ISIL to portray this as a war between the United States and Islam, not easier.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator Angus King. He's an independent from Maine. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.
Senator, you have read the Trump statement. Your reaction?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: A gift to ISIS. A gift to ISIS.
This is exactly -- this is literally their strategy. If you read about what they are trying to do, they are actively trying to drive a wedge between non-Muslims and Muslims around the world to push Muslims toward them, toward their extreme version of Islam.
And this is exactly the worst thing that we could do. It's the same argument that applies to sending U.S. troops into Syria. That would be the same kind of mistake, because that's what they want. They are trying to convey to the Muslim world that this is a war of the West against Islam, the new crusades. That's the language that they like.
And I have read some of their strategic writings, and they talk about exactly this kind of thing, where they want us to push our Muslims away and push them toward radicalization. It's just a terrible idea.
BLITZER: In a statement that you have read and I have read, and he cites these polls suggesting that there is hatred among a lot of Muslims around the world who want to come to the United States.
And then he tweeted: "Just put out a very important policy statement on the extraordinary influx of hatred and danger coming into the country. We must be vigilant."
What should the U.S. government be doing right now? What should the American Muslim community be doing right now? We heard what the president said last night.
KING: Well, you asked me two questions. One is what the government should do.
And, obviously, one of the things we have to do is be very careful who does come in, but not exclude an entire class of people that includes 1.6 billion people in this world, but to be careful about what people's backgrounds are. Are they on the watch list? Are they on the terrorist watch list? Are they on the no-fly list? What are their connections to terrorism?
I do think we need to be careful about that. And we need to take extra scrutiny, particularly of people coming from these unstable countries in the Middle East. That is definitely part -- should be part of the policy.
But we don't want -- you said, what should Muslims do? I think it's incumbent upon Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims, particularly conservative Sunni Muslims in places like the Gulf states, to forswear this organization.
They have got to come out with their own religious leaders saying, this isn't Islam. This is a small slice of a small slice. And they got to step forward.
Now, the United Arab Emirates has stepped forward. The other Gulf states, not so much. That's where a lot of the pressure has to be. We can't carry this message. Muslims have to step up because these guys are ruining their brand.
BLITZER: Senator, we have a lot more to discuss, including the latest revelations about the FBI investigation into the terror attack in San Bernardino. I know you're well-briefed on what is going on.
Much more with Senator Angus King in a moment.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Angus King.
And we're following the breaking news on terror. The FBI now says the married killers in San Bernardino, California, had been radicalized for "quite some time" before the attacks. We're also learning more about the attempts by the top ISIS leader to dodge the U.S. military's efforts right now to track him and to take him out.
What are the chances of finding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and, as the White House says, take him out? The president said that was his goal, in effect to kill him.
KING: Well, I think it is going to be difficult because he's obviously aware that we're after him and he moves in secret, and there's a lot of efforts to conceal it.
But, you know, we got Jihadi John, we believe, and I think my advice to Mr. Baghdadi would be, don't buy any green bananas.
BLITZER: You think he's being targeted right now. I'm sure he is.
What can you tell us about the wife, Tashfeen Malik, when she was radicalized, how she was radicalized? Did she come here to the United States as an ISIS sympathizer anxious to kill Americans?
KING: I think that's the indication.
Here is what I can share, that she came from Pakistan, had been to Saudi Arabia, and clearly had some of these sympathies, it appears, when she came here. And this is the hardest kind of attack to prevent, although a lot of people aren't aware of this. Over the past year or so, the FBI has arrested 60 people in the U.S. plotting these kinds of attacks.
So they have been very effective. They have got 900 investigations going on, in every state. And often these are people like the people in San Bernardino, but sometimes they are ordinary Americans, non-Muslims who for some reason have fallen for this romance of the death cult, as the president called it.
But this is a very tough problem for us because it doesn't involve a lot of planning and a lot of leaks and a large group of people. This is one that we have to keep working on. And I think all of us have a responsibility. We don't want to be snitches on each other, but we also want to, if you see something, say something.
BLITZER: Did she radicalize him?
KING: I don't know if we can -- if I can go that far, because it appears that he was going to some of these Web sites for some years even before he met her, but, clearly, she was an active participant.
But can you believe this, Wolf, that this woman, this couple left a six-month-old baby? It's sort of incomprehensible to me.
BLITZER: Because the assumption, some people are suggesting that was just for show, to have a child, but they were never really planning on raising this child. They were anxious to go out and do the work of ISIS.
KING: What a tragedy for that child, what a tragedy for the grandparents and people who are puzzled by this.
But this is a -- this is a powerful idea. And we were all talking, the president was talking last night about military options. We need to talk about the idea, and it's -- you can't kill an idea. We have to be combating it.
I thought that was the one missing piece of the president's speech. And I thought he did a good job of laying out the strategy, talking about how he got where we are. But the one missing piece was, we need to be fighting on the battlefield of ideas.
And that's where, as I mentioned before, we got to have the world's Muslims with us.
BLITZER: Was there an intelligence failure here not picking up these two? KING: I don't think so. And I have done a lot of thinking about
And, in fact, we're going to have a briefing tomorrow afternoon on that subject. But it doesn't appear so. We don't want to live in a country where everybody is being watched all the time.
BLITZER: But apparently, he, the husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, he was in touch with people, whether on the Internet, and various communications with people who were in fact being watched by the U.S. government.
KING: And that's where we need to dig in and see whether there was something missed.
It's a question how many leads can you follow up and -- but here was a guy, people at his workplace expressed shock. They didn't see any of this coming. But, obviously, one of the things we have to connect is, was he in touch with other people, are there other people involved in the cell, if you will?
And this is why some of these programs that got all the flak last year about being able to follow up on the phone calls, not the content, but who called who, I think that's an important tool in a case like this.
BLITZER: The president says the U.S. is not going to deploy ground troops into Syria to go after ISIS. There are 3,500 or so in Iraq right now.
So where are the ground troops coming from? Because the moderate Arab states, months ago, they had a few airstrikes. They stopped months ago, whether the Saudis, the Jordanians, the UAE. They are not even engaging in airstrikes and they have absolutely no intention of sending ground troops in. The French have made it clear, even what happened in Paris, they aren't sending ground troops. The British aren't sending ground troops.
Where are the ground troops coming from?
KING: That's the right question. That's the gap in the strategy.
We have got the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds in Iraq, but Syria, where the ground troops are going to come from -- that's why what Secretary Kerry is working on in Vienna to try to ease Assad out, if we can get Assad out -- and it's going to take the cooperation of the Iranians and the Russians -- then the ground troops is the Syrian army.
BLITZER: But the president didn't even mention Bashar al-Assad last night in his Oval Office address.
He made no mention of what Hillary Clinton is proposing, a no-fly zone to protect Syrian refugees inside Syria. Those are sort of what his critics are calling thunderous silences on his part.
KING: Well, I think the part about getting rid of Assad, so that we can then focus the attention of the Syrian army, the Russians, the Iranians, the Americans on ISIS, that's the strategy, but it -- the successful extinction of ISIS goes through Damascus.
BLITZER: Yes, but Damascus, the Bashar al-Assad regime, as you know, has strong support from the Russians, strong support from the Iranians, strong support from Lebanese Hezbollah. They're in pretty good shape right now.
KING: Here is what has to happen.
Putin has to decide that ISIS is a greater danger to him than Assad is an asset. And Putin has a -- they don't like this radical jihadism, because they have got their own problem in the Caucasus and in Russia.
So, and I think they are in the process of making that calculation. That's exactly why they went to Vienna.
BLITZER: Angus King, the senator from Maine, thanks for joining us.
BLITZER: Just ahead, our terrorists experts, they are digging deeper right now into the radicalization of the San Bernardino terrorists and how they could buy and build an arsenal of mass murder.
plus, Donald Trump's rivals have a very strong negative reaction to his new proposal for a total and complete shutdown of all Muslims coming into the United States for now.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in the war against ISIS and the terror threat.
[18:30:43] A U.S. official tells CNN that more than 23,000 ISIS fighters are now estimated to have been killed in 8,700 airstrikes by U.S. and coalition partners.
Let's dig deeper with our CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez; the former FBI assistant director, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; the former CIA operative, our CNN security and intelligence analyst, Bob Baer; and our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.
Bob, a new U.S. intelligence report says you can't really fight the spread of ISIS without defeating them significantly on the battlefield in both Iraq and Syria. How significantly does ISIS need to be diminished on the ground in order for that to work?
BOB BAER, CNN SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Oh, I think it has to be absolutely we just simply can't bomb them. What we have to look at is the support they're getting around the gulf, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, everywhere else, as long as this movement is being funded privately, it's going to exist.
I mean, the only way we're going to really end this thing is bring the conflict from the Middle East, you know, to a conclusion, and that should be, you know -- that should be our main concern. The bombing again will not do it alone.
BLITZER: If the U.S. and its allies, Paul, eventually do beat them on the battlefield, does that also destroy and defeat the ideology?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Short answer no, but I think it will significantly degrade the power of the ideology, Wolf, because ISIS's appeal is based on the idea of winning, of victory, and holding territory is a big part of that. Makes supporters around the world believe that God is on their side, and that gives ISIS a lot more legitimacy, a lot more persuasive power to ask these followers around the world to launch lone-wolf strikes, a lot more persuasive power to recruit people into the organization, as well.
But no, it's not the whole part of the story, and there needs to be a generational effort to defeat the ideology, as well. Ultimately, that will be a battle that the Muslim communities around the world need to fight against this distorted literalist interpretation of Islam. That's going to create a need for Muslim imams and preachers to really take on this ideology.
BLITZER: Tom, as you know, authorities, including the FBI, which is the lead investigative agency, they don't know if the wife of this case, Tashfeen Malik, radicalized her husband, Syed Farook, or vice versa, or they both were radicalized for a long time. They do suspect that. Was there an intelligence failure here?
I don't know how you could determine that, because this is inside their heads. They hadn't really revealed it to other people that they were going to do an attack. They didn't try to recruit additional people to help them. And if all of the intensity of the radicalization increased during their pillow talk, I don't know how any law enforcement or intelligence agency is going to penetrate that.
BLITZER: But the FBI did say they were communicating with individuals, terrorists who were on the watch list, who the U.S. was monitoring. And they also were engaged in an extensive target practice on firing ranges, even in the days leading up to that massacre in San Bernardino. Wouldn't that have suggested some call for monitoring?
PEREZ: Well, you know, Wolf, let's take the second part first, right? This is a country where it's very, very easy to obtain these types of weapons to go out and do target practice, especially in the west. It's not at all unusual. It's not anything that would call attention.
U.S. Muslims have the same right as you or I to go out and shoot guns whenever you want, as long as there is no -- you haven't broken any laws, there's really nothing to prevent that.
And then as far as their contact with people who were on the FBI radar, we're told -- we asked this of the FBI director on Friday, and he said was that these were people who the FBI investigated, closed cases on. Nobody was ever charged. These were not high-level people, and these contacts were not of the nature that would have caused the FBI to take a deeper look at Farook.
Now, I do think the problem here lies in the wife and how she was screened before she came to this country a year ago. She got into this country. A year later, she carries out a terrorist attack.
BLITZER: So they're taking a closer look to see what that screening was like. Go ahead, Tom.
[18:35:01] FUENTES: If I could add to that, I've been through the K-1 process with my wife, and you both get screened. He would have gone through...
BLITZER: The fiance visa.
FUENTES: The fiance visa, the K-1 visa, requires both parties to submit extensive, and I mean a stack of material about this thick that goes to USCIS then later results in a State Department consular interview before leaving that country and an additional interview coming through U.S. passport control.
PEREZ: But the process is mostly geared towards preventing marriage fraud. It's not intended, and now I bet you it will, looking at whether or not someone could be a terrorist.
FUENTES: No, I don't think that's true. It's a process to not let bad people in, people with criminal records, that there's going to be financial support on this end and insurance that the person is not going to be a drain. It's an extensive diligent process. I don't know how she got through it.
BLITZER: Bob, U.S. officials tell CNN that the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, secretly travels ever few months to Mosul in Iraq to preach to his followers, apparently believing he can move faster than U.S. airstrikes, drone strikes, can target him. What does that tell you about his mindset?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think Wolf, he's aware that we monitor all cell phones in Syria and Iraq and that just anybody in his convey can't have a cell phone beyond the Internet or anything, and I would imagine the discipline around him is just extraordinary.
These people have come a long way in understanding our capabilities of our drones and our F-16s. They understand technology, and that's why he's managed to elude us for so long, but I'd like to add that getting rid of him alone is not going to do it. We have to truly destroy this meeting. As Paul said, they cannot look like victors holding territory, because they will draw recruits all over the world and will continue to as long as Raqqah stands as a capital. BLITZER: Paul, you're in London now. As you know, over the
weekend there was a stabbing incident in the London metro, the subway system, the tube, as it's called. The attacker was reportedly yelling, "This is for Syria." You're getting new information from your sources there. Tell us what happened.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, we're hearing disturbing new details about this that this was an attempted beheading. It seems he pinned his victim, a 50-year-old man, down to the ground, held his head in his hand, and started sawing with a sharp knife on his neck. It appears he got distracted when passersby started shouting at him. The police then came, Tasered him to the ground. It took two or three attempts to get him to the ground.
Very, very disturbing details. They examined his cell phone. In the cell phone they found all this ISIS propaganda, including the Paris attacks and pictures and content related to the San Bernardino shootings last week.
So this may be a copycat attack after Paris, after California. Somebody else inspired by the ISIS ideology. Also reports that he had mental health problems, and we've seen that nexus between mental health and radicalization before in the United States, Wolf, as well.
BLITZER: Very disturbing information. All right, guys. Stand by.
When we come back, another update on the investigation of the terror in San Bernardino. How the killers prepared for their shooting massacre. We've got more information.
Also, we're going to hear Donald Trump's rivals react to a stunning new proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, at least for now.
[18:43:08] BLITZER: We have more now on the breaking news in the presidential race to the Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump now calling for a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the United States in response to the attack in San Bernardino.
Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us. Dana, Trump's opponents already are weighing in.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Almost unanimously condemning what Donald Trump said in the statement.
I talked to Lindsey Graham this afternoon, who said he thinks this is a death sentence for interpreters and other Muslims working to help America fight against ISIS around the world.
But true to form, in the face of that kind of outrage, Donald Trump is doubling down on his stunning statement.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): A total and complete shutdown of all Muslims
entering this country. That, Donald Trump's new policy prescription for dealing with terror threats in America. Asked by CNN in September if Muslims pose a danger to the U.S., here was Trump's response.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love the Muslims. I think they're great people.
BASH: Now in a new statement, he claims vast Muslim hatred towards America, saying, "Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
Trump presidential rival Chris Christie quickly dismissed it.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don't know what they're talking about. We do not need to resort to that type of activity, nor should we.
BASH: Lindsey Graham immediately tweeted, "Every candidate for president needs to do the right thing and condemn @RealDonaldTrump's statement."
Jeb Bush called Donald Trump unhinged, tweeting his policy proposals are not serious. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz cautiously distanced himself.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is not my policy. I introduced legislation in the Senate that would put in place a three-year moratorium on refugees coming from countries where ISIS or al Qaeda control a substantial amount of territory.
BASH: This as a new CNN/ORC poll shows that 33 percent of likely Iowa caucus goers say they support Trump. That's an eight-point increase from just last month.
CRUZ: The American people are looking for a commander in chief who will keep us safe.
BASH: Ted Cruz is now in second place overall, but winning among evangelical voters, traditionally key in Iowa.
Ben Carson tumbled seven points, now the third choice of Iowa Republicans likely to vote.
What unites GOP voters is disdain for President Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was an act of terrorism.
BASH: And Republican candidates spent the day competing to criticize the president's Oval Office address on ISIS.
CRUZ: We don't need a president that goes on national television and lectures the American people like a schoolmarm, who condescends to the American people and says the problem we have is Islamophobia.
BASH: And even more reaction is coming in from Trump's opponents about his new proposal to ban Muslims from entering this country. Ben Carson who once said that he couldn't see a Muslim being elected president said everyone visiting this country should register and be monitored and that he, Wolf, quote, "would not advocate being selective on one's religion."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dana, stand by for a moment. I want to bring in our CNN political reporter Sarah Murray, also our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. In our new CNN poll, Trump has this 13-point lead among caucus-goers Dana just reported in Iowa.
Gloria, what is driving this impressive lead?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Donald Trump is driving this impressive lead. What you saw today from him, I believe, is going to appeal to his base and I wouldn't be surprised despite his statement that it increases his poll numbers with evangelicals in Iowa.
Donald Trump knows how to drive the conversation, Wolf. I think that his supporters see somebody who is kind of steadfast, stands for something they like, anti-Obama, no political correctness, he does very well on foreign policy, on dealing with ISIS and on dealing with the economy.
And today, we saw yet again politically that he found a way to separate himself from the rest of the Republican field, and what are they talking about today? Donald Trump.
BLITZER: And he's being criticized by almost all of the other Republicans --
BORGER: Right, but they are talking about him.
BLITZER: Sara, you spent a lot of time covering the Trump campaign. How is this likely to play based on all the conversations you've had with Trump supporters?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think the reality is when you go to a lot of states, there is a lot of fear, there's a lot of suspicion, there's a lot of confusion about Muslims in America and, of course, even, you know, the people you talk to will say they don't think all Muslims are bad but they think the U.S. doesn't know how to differentiate between the ones that are bad and the ones that aren't. They want a better system for this.
And Trump is really trying to play into those fears with this, and also like Gloria said, he knows how to turn a media narrative. There was another poll in Iowa from Monmouth University today that shows Donald Trump was losing to Ted Cruz in the state, a little different from what our polls showed. We're talking a lot less about that. We're talking a lot more about Donald Trump at his latest controversial proposal.
BLITZER: What's driving Ted Cruz because he's clearly moving up?
BASH: Look, Ted Cruz is kind of a traditionally classic candidate who could and would potentially win in the Iowa caucuses. He is conservative fiscally, but maybe even more importantly, he appeals to the social conservatives that drive the votes generally and the caucuses in Iowa.
So, that's, I think, why if you kind of talk about the two polls, the Monmouth University poll, the way that they sampled, the way that they polled were people who voted in the past in Iowa Republican primaries. CNN's poll looked at that, but also looked at people who say that they are going to vote in the future, which includes a lot of new voters, people who haven't gone to caucuses before. Those are the kind of people that Trump is trying to appeal to, to try to get to the caucuses and I think that's the difference.
But I think you're absolutely right. The master at sort of, you know, the message and that Trump is, he didn't want anything to detract from the idea that he is winning.
BORGER: You know, he's a master at this because this plan today, such as it is, doesn't contain any specifics. It's full of bombast, obviously, but it also contains no deadline. It's kind of open-ended that he would shut down Muslims entering the United States, quote, "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Well, that's pretty open-ended as far as I can tell because when does Congress figure out what's going on?
BLITZER: He's saying not just Muslims who want to immigrate to the United States, Muslim tourists --
BLITZER: -- coming to the United States as well. He's getting ready to speak presumably right now. Once he starts speaking, Sara, he's going to elaborate a little bit on what he said, because it caused some controversy.
MURRAY: Right, absolutely. His campaign has said this would apply to tourists and I imagine we'll hear even more from Donald Trump on this, and for other Republicans, the ones who want to slam (ph) it, other members of the Republican Party, you they are cringing because they can feel the way this will impact whoever the Republican nominee is if not Donald Trump.
[18:50:01] These words will be used to paint the Republican as a party that is hostile towards minorities. That's the kind of thing that this is what Republicans have worried about could affect senators who are in tight races, people down the ballot.
Look, Congress is in session right now. They're being asked. Everyone who goes down the hallway is being asked what do you think about this Trump proposal? That's not a question that you want to be answering right now if you're a Republican in a tight Senate race. BLITZER: All right. We are only, what, a little more than a
week from tomorrow, the Republican presidential debate, eight weeks until the Iowa caucuses. We're going to look at Trump's competition.
Much more when we come back.
[18:55:35] BLITZER: We're standing by for a speech from the Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump.
The breaking news this hour, Trump now says the U.S. should block all Muslims from entering the United States in response to the attack in San Bernardino. This as Donald Trump widens his lead in CNN's new Iowa poll, and his opponent among other opponents but his chief opponent right now in Iowa, Ted Cruz, climbs into second place.
We're back with our political team.
Dana, what, it's only eight weeks until the Iowa caucuses. Cruz is doing well in Iowa. Our poll has him number two. Another poll has him number one.
It's a battle for the evangelicals. Is that what's going on there?
BASH: It's a battle for the evangelicals, but I think what our poll shows not just in Iowa, but the national poll that we had last week, that there seems to be a pretty clear two or three or four people that are now really in the battle for this nomination. You've got Trump, Cruz we were talking about. Rubio in Iowa is pretty far behind. He's at about 11 percent I believe, maybe 13 percent. And then there's Carson as well.
Everybody else is very low in the single digits. You're talking about Jeb Bush and John Kasich and Chris Christie and so forth.
So, you know, particularly when you're talking about the first contest state, you have a huge field but it's narrowing in terms of who the contest is really between.
BORGER: And, you know, now, it's a game of expectations. I was talking to somebody in the Rubio campaign today and they're like, "Well, if we come in third in Iowa, that'll be fabulous for us."
But it won't be fabulous for them. They're working hard to do better there. But to Dana's point, the race is really shaping up, and you've got Trump, the white working class. You've got Cruz, the conservative candidate. Then, you have Rubio who could potentially be that crossover candidate that could appeal to conservatives as well as to the Republican establishment. At least that's what they want to think.
MURRAY: And the other one I would just throw out there, I mean, Christie is polling --
MURRAY: It's not good right now. But we have seen him in interviews in the last couple of days, he's clearly sort of latched on to this idea that in the wake of these terror attacks, this could be his moment. He can talk about being a U.S. attorney. He can talk about prosecuting these cases.
And, you know, if he can move his numbers a little bit in Iowa, maybe he'll be in better shape going into New Hampshire. Still very early and his polling --
BLITZER: So the Republican establishment, Gloria, they're pretty nervous right now. They don't necessarily like Trump. They don't like Cruz either.
BORGER: You know, when we talk about the Republican establishment these days, I'm not quite sure what we're talking about anymore. I think what you're talking about is donors because the Republican establishment is Wall Street, the people who are funding these campaigns.
And donors are getting nervous because nobody is coalescing around a candidate they think that can get elected. This is the Republican establishment. So they're going to watch Iowa and New Hampshire. So far, the Jeb Bush people are nervous I'm told, but they're not leaving yet. They're sort of hanging in there. And they're waiting for some votes actually, believe it or not.
BASH: But going back to what we were talking about before, the big news today, which is Donald Trump's statement, new policy proposal to ban all Muslims from entering this country right now, Carly Fiorina even, obviously, they have had their words, Fiorina and Trump, but she said just a few minutes ago that she believes this is not good for the Republican Party, that this is bad for the Republican -- whether he is the nominee or not. And that's really what we're seeing now at the churning of the differences within the party continuing.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to continue to watch. We're standing by to hear from Donald Trump as well.
By the way, the last hour we asked our viewers to weigh in on the following question online. Do you think President Obama's strategy to defeat ISIS will be effective? Many of you voted in our unscientific vote on social media, 32 percent of the respondents said yes, 68 percent said no -- 68 percent they do not believe President Obama's strategy in dealing with ISIS will be effective. I just wanted to update you on that online question that we asked.
Remember, we're eight days away from the final Republican presidential debate this year. I'll be the moderator when the GOP candidates go face off in Las Vegas next Tuesday, a week from tomorrow, December 15th. We hope you'll join us.
Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.