Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
ISIS-Inspired New Year's Even Plot Thwarted; Iraq Military Liberates Ramadi; Coalition: Ten Senior ISIS Leaders Killed This Month; New Trump Threat about Bill Clinton's Scandals; Millions Brace for Possible Historic Flooding; Calls for Chicago Mayor's Resignation Over Police Shooting. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 29, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, New Year's Eve plot. A planned terror attack thwarted. The alleged target, holiday celebrations in an historic square. We're learning new details of the two people arrested. What is their connection to ISIS?
[17:00:21] Trump's new attack. Donald Trump goes after the husband of his main Democratic rival, invoking the sexual scandals that dogged Bill Clinton's presidency, declaring Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones fair game. How will Hillary Clinton's campaign react?
And breaking news, historic flooding. Millions of people in the path of rising water that could reach unprecedented levels. The National Guard called in as the death toll climbs. We're covering all of this live.
Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We are following breaking news. Deadly flooding that's about to get much worse. The National Weather Service warning of potentially historic high water in Missouri. Mandatory evacuations are under way right now. And the governor has called in the National Guard, and at least one levee along the Mississippi River has already been breached.
Now, we're also following the terror threat around New Year's Eve celebrations, the arrest of two people in the Belgian capital, accused of plotting an attack on revelers in an historic Brussels square. A counterterrorism source tells CNN that the plot appears to have been inspired by ISIS.
We're covering all of that and more this hour with our guests, including the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith. Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's begin now with CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
So Jim, this concern over terror around the New Year's holiday, this extends well beyond Europe.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It does. The holidays always a particularly nervous time for authorities, for people in the counterterror field. And this is no exception, particularly as ISIS has shown its ability not to only to plan and orchestrate attacks abroad but inspire people to carry out attacks abroad on their own, which is one we're seeing with this Belgian plot that appears to have been stifled.
All of this happening as the U.S. military increasing its pressure on ISIS and killing several senior ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): With New Year's fast approaching, authorities across the world on alert for terror from Belgium to Bangladesh, to New York City.
JAMES O'NEILL , NYPD CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT: People should feel safe this New Year's Eve because we're there. You're going to have one of the most well-policed, best-protected events at one of the safest venues in the entire world.
SCIUTTO: Police in Belgium arrested two men Tuesday in connection with a plot, they say, to attack historic sights in the Belgian capital on or around New Year's Eve. A senior Belgian security official tells CNN the target was Brussels' central square: the Grand Palace. The plot inspired, though not directed, by ISIS.
Police conducted several terror raids Sunday and Monday, seizing military uniforms and ISIS propaganda. The Belgian government raising the threat level to three out of a possible four, meaning an attack is likely.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, the U.S. embassy warned U.S. citizens of possible attacks on New Year's Eve. New York says there is no credible threat to the New Year's celebrations, but it is dispatching 6,000 officers to Times Square, where more than 1 million people are expected on Thursday night.
The secretary of homeland security encouraging New York police academy graduates to be vigilant on their new beats.
JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: In the face of this current threat to your country, to our country, I encourage you to build bridges to the communities in this city that the Islamic State is attempting to target for recruitment.
SCIUTTO: Underscoring the homegrown dangers, a British couple were both convicted today of preparing for acts of terrorism after investigators seized stockpiles of chemical and bomb making materials at one of their homes, and this video, showing them testing an explosive device.
LAURA NICHOLSON, SOUTH EAST COUNTERTERRORISM UNIT: It's clear that radical and violent extremist ideology was motivated for these offenses.
SCIUTTO: On the battlefield in Syria, the coalition announced that airstrikes killed ISIS leader Charaffe al Mouadan, who officials say had direct links to mastermind of the Paris attacks and actively plotting more terror. Over the last month the coalition says it has killed some ten ISIS leaders and operatives on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Some of them senior, some continuing to plot attacks overseas.
Of course, the question is, Brianna, whether killing high-value targets, as they're called, whether that makes a difference in their capability both on the battlefield and carrying out terror attacks abroad. That's an open question.
[17:05:06] All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for that.
We do want to bring in now CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
Elise, as we just heard Jim Sciutto reporting there, the coalition killed an ISIS member with connections to the Paris terror attacks. What are you learning about this?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, Charaffe al Mouadan, 27 years old, traveled to Syria in 2013, but we understand that he was in touch with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was the suspected ring leader of the Paris attacks, and our Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst, has learned from his sources that he was in touch with the Paris plotters just days before the attack, Brianna.
And as Jim said, seemed to be actively helping it to plan some attacks in Europe in the west. We don't know what his involvement is in those attacks. Planned attacks or in the attacks in Paris. But obviously, a very significant kill, the U.S. thinks, in terms of the direct links to the Paris attacks.
KEILAR: And he's one in ten of what the coalition are calling high- value targets, right?
LABOTT: Well, we don't know how high-value they are. They've been described as kind of middle to upper echelon.
But today the collision tried to make a direct link to killings and effect that it's having. You've seen some recent successes on the battlefield by the coalition and Iraqi forces against ISIS. And what the coalition is saying is that they're hampering their ability to have command and control launch the attacks, as having direct effect on the ground.
KEILAR: And you talk about one of those successes. Obviously,r that would be Ramadi, where you have Iraqi forces who have pushed out right now. I think, 75 percent of the city they've been able to clear. Is there any sense, as the prime minister sort of takes, really, a victory lap today, is there a sense that the Iraqi forces will be able to hold that?
LABOTT: Well, you could say it's 75 percent of the city or you could say ISIS is still in control of 25 percent of the city. The city, as we've seen these pictures, in ruins now. They've been evacuating citizens. The Iraqi forces are still trying clear the area of explosives that ISIS left behind.
But the coalition does believe the Iraqi forces will be able to hold the city. And they're having a lot of help from these Iraq/Sunni tribal leaders helping to hold the city. So they think it will hold.
KEILAR: It would be more significant if Iraqi forces were able to go in and clear ISIS out of Mosul. That would be huge. But yesterday, talking to a coalition spokesman, a U.S. colonel, he sort of said, "Well, look, there's other places in Anbar that we need to deal with."
But today, I spoke with the Iraqi ambassador, and he said, sort of, "Next thing we're doing is Mosul." So what is it?
LABOTT: Well, he's -- I talked to him earlier, as well, and he -- Mosul is the big fish, right? And we're talking about Fallujah, other areas of Anbar. He says, "Listen, we want to go after Mosul."
You saw Prime Minister Abadi in Ramadi today saying Mosul's next. They want to get ISIS out of Iraq entirely by 2016. So some very ambitious goals. Talked to Iraqi experts. They say it's ambitious but doable.
I think come spring we could see a push towards Mosul. But the Iraqi forces, you know, they're not completely ready yet. As you heard the coalition spokesman say yesterday, they're still training up some Iraqi forces. Those forces have been depleted after all this fighting. They need to be replenished.
So a lot of work to do in the next few months, but I think they feel they have the momentum in their favor. And of course, they want to turn around this narrative that ISIS now is on the defensive.
KEILAR: It would be huge if they could. We'll have to see if that pans out.
Elise Labott, thank you so much.
I want to get more now on all of this with the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington.
Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. I do want to ask you about Ramadi. But first you heard Elise's report there: the U.S. coalition says that Charaffe al Mouadan was one of ten high-value targets that was killed in December. What can you tell us about the other targets in this raid? We're still trying to get more information about it.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I don't know a lot of the details of that. But overall, I think progress is being made because, keep in mind, one of ISIS's biggest narratives is that they are expanding, that they are moving forward and they're making progress. And they're not. They've lost Ramadi. They've lost a round in Syria.
And I think the other huge issue here is this was actually the Iraqi military that was successful in Ramadi. Prior to this, most of the success we've had against ISIS has been led by the Kurds. So to have another group that is an effective fighting force is a huge positive.
And then all of these individual targets, including the one you mentioned, that, too, helps roll back the sense that ISIS has any momentum. And that is very, very important.
KEILAR: What can you tell us about al Mouadan's role within ISIS, and really how significant this is?
SMITH: You know, I think -- I don't know. He's certainly not at the top. We went through this with al Qaeda. You know, as Joe said, the most dangerous job in the world is No. 3 at al Qaeda.
I don't think the individual targets are as important as the progress that is made on the ground. Because the question, will they have people to replace these guys? They usually do. So we have to roll them back on the ground, take back their territory, undermine their narrative that they're making progress so that fewer people will be willing to join.
And then, of course, there is a much, much broader and more difficult ideological struggle to stop some of these individuals who are being radicalized like in San Bernardino, like in Paris, like in the plot that was just disrupted.
Those are the most immediate threats to us. And stopping that ideology, turning that around, is going to be a very, very long-term struggle.
KEILAR: All right. Congressman, stay with me. I do want to ask you about Ramadi and also about some ISIS documents that were seized in a raid. Maybe what they tell us about the fight against ISIS.
We'll be back in just a moment with more questions for Congressman Adam Smith.
[17:13:40] KEILAR: We're following some fast-moving developments in Iraq where the country's prime minister visited the city of Ramadi one day after declaring it liberated from ISIS, which seized control seven months ago. But local tribal leaders are telling CNN that as much as one quarter of the city is controlled by terrorist forces.
We're back now with the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington.
And Congressman, we are hearing this. Iraqi forces have recaptured most of Ramadi, the key word there being "most." But do you think that this is a victory that will be long lasting, that will hold?
SMITH: I think it will hold. The question is where does it go next? Are they, first of all, able to clear the city entirely, clear the surrounding areas? And are they able to build on this progress?
And one of the big questions there is -- and I've still got to get some details on this -- how -- how many Sunnis were involved in this assault? How bought into the Iraqi military and the Iraqi government is the Sunni population? Is that reflected in this victory in Ramadi? Will it build and grow? I think that's really the key. They're moving up into heavily Sunni areas. And if the Sunnis still think the Baghdad government is a sectarian government that is against them, it will be hard to get those Sunnis to fight with the Iraqi government. That's going to be the key.
[17:15:02] Whether the next step is Fallujah or Mosul or wherever, the key is to get the Sunnis in Iraq to believe that fighting with the Iraqi government is a better choice than fighting with ISIS. And it's still yet to be proven that that's the case.
KEILAR: You talk about the importance of being able to clear this quarter of the city that's still under ISIS control. What are the challenges in doing that?
SMITH: Well, I imagine it would be very, very difficult, because you're up against a terrorist group. They're not so much trying to hold territory as they're simply trying to commit acts of terror against the occupying forces. So I think it's going to be very, very difficult to clear -- clear the city in that regard, to completely eliminate the enemy forces.
It's going to take some time, and it's going to be difficult, because they're also not clearly identified. You have to move in amongst the population and figure out who's with ISIS and who isn't. So I think it's going to be a challenge.
KEILAR: We heard from the coalition spokesman that -- you know, I asked, "Is Mosul next?" And he said, "There are other part of Anbar that need to be addressed. And obviously, Mosul is an eventual goal. But he seemed to sort of, I guess, put aside this idea that this was, you know, the next punch of the one-two punch.
Talking to the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. today, he really had his eye trained on Mosul. So, which one do we sort of -- which one would you lean into, which assessment?
SMITH: First, I think the coalition's more accurate. I mean, what's been true for a number of years is the Iraqis have consistently overstated what their forces are capable of doing.
And also, they've consistently overstated the degree to which they are willing to truly reincorporate Sunnis into the government, into the military.
We've been hearing statements like this for some time. And yet we still aren't quite -- well, we aren't close to where we need to be in terms of having a truly coalition government in Iraq, where the Sunnis are truly represented. And that's going to be the key, like I said, to building and going forward. So I would listen more to what the coalition has to say.
But look, this is important progress, and we can't understate that. You know, because ISIS has been, you know, for a number of years now, saying, "We're on the march." They're going to build this caliphate. It's going to grow, and it's going to grow. And that builds psychological momentum. It makes people want to join them.
Well, they're not growing anymore. They're shrinking. And people are less willing to be on the losing side. And we've seen this in some reports about some of the, you know, the difficulty now in recruiting, and people not being as willing to go into the fight with the coalition bombing, with forces that are actually fighting back. It's, you know, it not as attractive when you're not winning and grabbing more territory...
SMITH: ... when, in fact, you're going in reverse.
KEILAR: Reuters -- I want to ask you about this -- they're saying that ISIS documents the U.S. Special Ops retrieved in a raid in May, that they include everything from how ISIS keeps sex slaves to organ harvesting that they participate in. How valuable will these documents be in further military operations?
SMITH: I think they'll be incredibly valuable. Because that's the thing that you have to remember. Ultimately, al Qaeda in Iraq fell apart in the first place because not only -- they're uncapable [SIC] of governing, and they govern in a way that is just incredibly punitive to the population. And the people who live under this rule for even a day or two very quickly say, "We don't like this. We don't want these guys to be governing us."
You give them any kind of reasonable alternative, if the Baghdad government would actually open its arms even a little bit to the Sunni population, they don't want to be with ISIS. These guys are violent psychopaths. They don't know how to govern. They simply know how to terrorize, even the territories that they control. We've got to make that case; we've got to make that clear. This is what's going on in the territory that's controlled by ISIS, is just incredibly violent behavior against the population. This is not good for anyone who's going to be under ISIS. That's a big part of the argument.
But again, like I said, the other part is offer a reasonable alternative. Don't push the Sunnis out of power in Baghdad. Show them that there's a better place to go than ISIS. I mean, ISIS is clearly a horrible alternative. But given a lot of what's happened with the Baghdad government, and since we left in 2011, a lot of Sunnis didn't see that as a particularly good alternative either.
KEILAR: Congressman Adam Smith, thank you so much. And also happy new year to you. We'll see you in 2016.
SMITH: Happy new year to you, as well. Thanks. KEILAR: Now coming up, Donald Trump named some names. He says it's fair game to talk about Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. How is Hillary Clinton going to react?
And we also have much more on this hour's breaking news. Deadly floods forcing Missouri's governor to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard.
[17:23:07] KEILAR: We are following dramatic, new developments in the war against ISIS. The U.S. military says coalition airstrikes have killed ten senior ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria this month, including a man linked to last month's bloody terror attacks in Paris.
With us in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about this, we have CNN contributor Michael Weiss. He is a senior editor of "The Daily Beast," and he's co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror." We have CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd. He's a former CIA official. And we have CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.
So Michael, what do we know exactly about this ISIS leader who was killed in this airstrike, and really how important he is in the scheme of things to ISIS?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, truth be told, we don't know all that much. The biographical details are a bit sketchy. He's a 27-year-old French national, apparently had been in touch with the Paris attacks so-called mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
According to CNN's Paul Cruickshank, who did a very good report on this, witnesses during the Bataclan massacre recount one of the gunmen taking a cell phone and calling someone called Suleiman or Sulemain, and Sulemain apparently is an alias of this ISIS operative.
Now the Pentagon has come out and said he was a very high-ranking or senior official. I'm a little bit skeptical of that claim for several reasons.
No. 1, his age. Twenty-seven is a rather tender year to be that high up in the echelons of ISIS. No. 2, his nationality. If he's French, the chances of him having a very high-ranking position within the ISIS sort of constellation is -- is slim. They tend to be Iraqis who run the show there.
So I don't know. I mean, it's -- I'm waiting to see what more information and news reports come out about him.
Also, I put this in the back of your mind, that when we say that he was behind or had a role in the Paris attacks, that can mean anything. The fact that he was in touch with the mastermind of the attacks doesn't necessarily mean that he had any kind of command-and-control or was the money guy or the weapons, you know, sort of acquisition person behind any of it. So it could just mean that they were fellow travelers; they were part of the same network in Syria.
[17:25:22] KEILAR: All right. So, still definitely some questions that you're raising there.
So Phil, the coalition says, you know, this target was actively plotting another attack. What does that tell you in terms of intelligence gathering, whether it's improved in Europe in the wake of the Paris attacks?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It's improved in the short term. Look, ISIS won the first round here with, from their perspective, the success of the Paris attacks. But they've got a couple of problems to deal with.
You look the breadth of those attacks, the number of individuals involved, remarkable from a counterterrorism perspective. But each of those individuals represents a vulnerability: a phone, an e-mail address, a friend who talks about what they were doing, how they traveled.
As intelligence analysts pull together that technical information, they're going to find the mode of operations if Syria and target people as we've seen in the past week or so.
The second and final thing I'd say, Brianna, is ISIS, unlike al Qaeda, does not have a lot of experience, not only running these operations but getting out of these operations with security practices. And in this case, my guess is they didn't know well enough how to cover their tracks, and they paid a price, Brianna.
KEILAR: What do you think, Peter? Do you think that the coalition is overstating -- that's the question that Michael's raising -- overstating the importance of this target that they've taken out? And do you think it's really any sign that they're able to do a better job in terms of intel and tracking these guys down?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: On the latter question, things have gone from having a very poor record, when you recall the attempt to free American hostages July 4, 2014, you know, the intelligence was too late, and ISIS, unfortunately, killed those American hostages.
I think, you know, how much later, the intelligence is significantly better. I mean, think about Jihadi John, who was the executor of many of these western hostages, who was killed in November. Abu Sayyaf, who was their financial guy, who a lot of records were recovered from. And then these ten that the coalition are saying have been killed since December 7. I mean, that's a fairly good record compared to having a rather poor record if you go back to over a year ago.
KEILAR: And on the issue of whether this target could be overstated or they're calling these ten senior-level or high-value targets, is that hard to say? There's obviously a reason the coalition wants to say, "Look, we're doing a good job here," right? They're trying to change the narrative.
BERGEN: Well, I think Michael's point is absolutely correct. I mean, the people who run this organization are Iraqi. And then the next level down are Syrians. And, you know, Westerners have some role. Think about Jihadi John. But they aren't the leaders of these organizations.
KEILAR: OK. No, that's a very -- very important point that you make there.
Peter -- well, actually, no, I want to ask Phil a question here. When you see these plots that are hatched in Belgium and are targeting Belgium, as we see recently, why is that -- why is it so significant when you're talking about all of the -- all of the plots? Why is that really the area that so many are concentrated on?
MUDD: I'd say comfort level and target of opportunity. Look, if you're looking at major cities that ISIS might want to target -- Madrid, Paris, London, Belgium, New York -- what are the issues that they're looking at is how they have an impact on Europe, how they have an impact on North America, the people that are striking them in Syria and Iraq.
But the second issue, the issue that we've seen since the 9/11 attacks in America, is when you have a recruit, a recruit who doesn't have a lot of experience, you want to send that recruit back into an area where that recruit has a comfort level, an area he's lived in.
If I were to ask you, Brianna, to go run an operation in Ankara, Turkey versus New York, where would you say you have a comfort level? So I think what we're seeing here is not only a high-priority city but an area where, when ISIS is training somebody who doesn't have a lot of experience, that trainee is going to say, "I think I know how the trains work, how the police work, how the city works." And that's going to increase the prospect that these cities like Belgium are going to be chosen as targets.
KEILAR: Yes, really good point, as we see two men arrested today in Belgium.
Phil, Michael, Peter, thank you so much to all of you for joining this panel today.
WEISS: Thank you.
KEILAR: And coming up, Donald Trump's latest threat to name names when he brings up Bill Clinton's old scandals, how is Hillary Clinton respond?
Also, growing outrage in Chicago. A policeman pleads not guilty to murder and a powerful mayor cuts short his holiday vacation to deal with his city's anger.
KEILAR: In presidential politics, Donald Trump is trying to turn up the heat on Hillary Clinton, declaring today that it's fair game to talk about Bill Clinton's involvement with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones.
[17:32:59] But on the campaign trail this afternoon, Mrs. Clinton simply ignored Trump and questions about his latest threats. I want to bring in chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
Is she going to be able to keep avoiding these questions about what Donald Trump is saying?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear, Brianna, but she certainly tried so hard today. She not only didn't mention him at all at her campaign event in New Hampshire, she evaded a question which she appeared to hear from CNN right afterwards.
But it is hard to see how she does that much longer, especially since the subject of Trump's attacks lately, her husband, will be on the trail next week.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She says, "Oh, we'd love to run against Trump." It's her worst nightmare.
BASH: That could be, since Donald Trump appears determined to relive a nightmare in Hillary Clinton's life: her husband's philandering.
TRUMP: There was certainly a lot of abuse of women. And you look at whether it's Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones or many of them, and that certainly will be fair game. Certainly, if they play the women's card with respect to me, that will be fair game.
BASH: Yet, back in 2008, Trump told Wolf Blitzer the opposite, that the former president's dalliances are a nonissue.
TRUMP: Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant, and they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.
BASH: This morning, Trump tried to explain his 180 by insisting it was his job as a businessman to say nice things about politicians.
TRUMP: I'm dubbed as a world-class businessman, which frankly, that's what I am. And I got along with everybody. I got along with the Clintons. I got along with the Republicans, the Democrats, the liberals, conservatives, that was my obligation as a businessman.
BASH: In a statement, a Clinton campaign spokesperson said of Trump, "Hillary Clinton won't be bullied or distracted by attacks he throws at her and former President Clinton."
It's not just Trump bringing Bill Clinton into the 2016 race.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Starting in January I will have my not-so-secret weapon.
BASH: Hillary Clinton is trying to capitalize on his popularity with the Democratic base, sending her former husband on the trail starting next week.
Another angle for Trump to needle the Clintons about, tweeting, "Remember that Bill Clinton was brought in to help Hillary against Obama in 2008. He was terrible, failed badly, and was called a racist." This morning, Trump insisted he doesn't think Bill Clintons a racist, while also suggesting Clinton's not the dynamo he once was.
TRUMP: I don't believe he is a racist, if you want to know the truth, but they called him a racist. It was a miserable campaign. He did very poorly, and they're bringing him out again. He's being wheeled out.
BASH: So far Trump has been able to get his message out with free media: calling into shows, using Twitter. CNN is told he had $25 million set aside for TV ads in 2015 and never spent a dime. But starting next week, that will change.
TRUMP: We're going to spend a lot of money over the next four weeks, and we're going to just -- we just want to go in -- we don't want to take chances, we're too close.
BASH: Now what those ads would look like still remains to be seen. A Trump source tells me that they're expecting to get hit hard by candidates Trump considers desperate in these final weeks before voters actually go to the caucuses and to the polls. If that happens, this Trump source says that they will use paid advertising to hit back, quote, "ten times harder" -- Bri.
KEILAR: Ten times harder. We shall see. Dana Bash, thank you.
Donald Trump is campaigning in Iowa later tonight. and he's not only attacking the Clintons. He's also going after some of his Republican opponents again.
CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny awaiting the start of Trump's rally there in Council Bluff. Set the scene for us, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, Donald Trump is coming to Council Bluffs. He's trying to squeeze in a little bit of voter time between the Christmas holiday and the New Year's holiday.
And you can see behind me here, people have just started to arrive, probably 30 minutes or so ago. I mean, this is a big-size room, a big size hall for most candidates but this is not Donald Trump size. We are standing here, as you can see, in a pretty big hall, but it's been cut into quarters. And it's one of the smallest Trump rallies I've ever seen.
Now, we see Donald Trump talking so much about his crowds. The key question here over the next five weeks, Brianna, is do all these people who have come to see the show, do all these people who have come to see Donald Trump actually turn out and caucus for him on the night of February 1?
And we watch people come into this event, you know. There are volunteers who are having them sign their names, who are having them sign up. But the question here is, all these new people he's bringing in and attracting, will they go to the caucuses? That is his big challenge here in the next five weeks: to actually get his ground game going more than his air game going on those ads that Dana just talked about.
KEILAR: All right. Jeff Zeleny, he will be there once this event starts, and he'll be watching it. Thanks so much, Jeff.
Let's get more now on what's ahead in the presidential campaign. We have CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, still with us here; and we also are joined by "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick; and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
So Bill Clinton, it's interesting, I think that, if you looked at, maybe any Republican candidate, they sort of shied away from this. Rand Paul, right, he tried this sort of once. He's pretty popular. But this is Donald Trump. Does this work for him?
BASH: Absolutely, it could. I mean, let's -- you know, also remember that Donald Trump wants this conversation to be going on, because -- as if he is the Republican nominee, which he is not yet. Nobody has taken any votes. Nobody has gone to any caucuses. None of that has happened, even though it feels like this campaign has been going on for, like, two years.
But -- but yes, of course. He can bring this issue up like nobody else has before, because he doesn't have the same filter that other politicians do, that more traditional politicians.
KEILAR: And he's rewarded for it.
BASH: And he's rewarded for it. And, you know, somebody was asking me why didn't this issue come up in 2008? And I was thinking about it. And I thought, well, it's because Hillary Clinton never made it out of the primary. And when she was going at it with a Democratic primary opponent, Barack Obama, there's no way he would have brought up this Bill Clinton stuff because, at the time especially, Bill Clinton was incredibly popular with the base. So it wouldn't have helped him.
KEILAR: Is this, Nia, about drumming up the base, or is this about positioning himself as someone who could run about Hillary Clinton or is it both?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's both. I mean, it's like a preview of how he would run if he was to match up against Hillary Clinton. And so far, in these kind of hypothetical races, he lags behind Hillary Clinton. Of course, those are sort of meaningless at this point.
I think the question is, will it work in terms of dinging either Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton? That's the whole thing. Hillary Clinton, some of her best favorability ratings came in the depths of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
KEILAR: Yes. HENDERSON: It's also odd, because it feels like it's 1990 again. I mean, if the kind of idea is to remind voters of sort of Clinton fatigue, I think that might be a better angle. But this idea that "Oh, guess what Bill Clinton had affairs," I mean, really? I -- you know, is this breaking news?
[17:40:11] KEILAR: Yes. And it was Rand Paul said something rather interesting, which was, you know, this is something that can be discussed, but he said he actually thought the better line of attack, if you're trying to create a quote/unquote "woman problem" for Hillary Clinton, would be to point out that she's taken donations from institutions or countries, institutions in countries that don't have great records when it comes to women's rights. I thought that was an interesting point.
Does this work to kind of drudge up Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones, do you think?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": That would be the line of attack that Rand Paul would take if he were leading the race or one of the leading candidates in the race.
But for Trump, who is leading the race, I think this goes with the brand that he's established in this primary, which is, "Hey, I'm not political correct. I'm willing to say the things that other people aren't willing say. I'm willing to talk about Bill Clinton. Hey, it's fair game."
At the same time, though, if you scratch the surface every time he makes these comments about Bill Clinton he kind of reels them back, you know. You know, "People said that he's racist, but I'm not the one who said he's racist."
BASH: But you know, a columnist in your paper...
BASH: ... Ruth Marcus had...
SWERDLICK: Karen Tumulty.
BASH: Karen Tumulty. Karen Tumulty had it, OK. The story about, like, you have to be careful if you're Hillary Clinton. You want to have the not-so-secret weapon to come in and help you with the Democratic base, as we've been talking about, but if you invite Bill Clinton, you're inviting all of Bill Clinton, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So in this case, you know, maybe Donald Trump is right. It is fair game.
KEILAR: And he's not -- he's not the typical spouse, you know. He isn't sort of the typical spouse of the candidate. He has this record himself, and certainly, Hillary Clinton was a big part of his administration.
HENDERSON: That's right. And Democrats love him, right? He wasn't so successful in 2008, stumbled on the trail, wasn't very helpful to his wife. He was much more helpful, I think, in 2012 with Barack Obama, kind of the explainer in chief he was known, kind of as a nickname around the White House.
So, you know, I mean, we'll see if this works. We'll see how long he keeps this up. We know that Trump sort of obsesses with things and then moves on. We'll see what happens with this.
KEILAR: Does she have to -- today she was on -- in a campaign event and she was asked about this. And there's really no doubt that she heard the question, but she sort of looks sort of past the questioner; she's not going to answer it. But there's going to be a press availability where she takes questions at some point. This is going to come up. What does she say?
SWERDLICK: Yes, so I think in many instances, she's been poorly served by the people who are sort of crafting her messaging. And to Dana's point this is fair game, so she's going to have to address it.
Were I advising her, I would tell her to just say, "Look, my husband and I have been married for 40 years. We're parents. We're grandparents. We've had struggles, just like everybody else. We can talk about this, but why don't we talk about the issues that voters actually want to talk about?" And then she could move on.
KEILAR: Make herself sort of a sympathetic figure. Right?
BASH: The problem is that people, you know, millennials don't remember this, but people who are old enough...
KEILAR: They don't remember.
BASH: Do -- are kind of thinking, especially some women, and people who I've talked to in Democratic circles, we talked a little bit about this yesterday, that it's not just about their personal lives. It was that, because he was a political figure and because he, you know, came out on top politically in a way that was kind of remarkable at the time, a lot of -- it was because the women involved, that Trump is talking about, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, were demonized, maybe not by Clinton himself or Clinton's inner circle but by Clinton allies. And that is the thing that Trump is really hitting on, and that is potential problem for both of them.
KEILAR: Dana, David, Nia, thank you guys so much.
And coming up, there's outrage in Chicago. A policeman pleads not guilty to murdering a teenager, and a mayor hears calls for his resignation.
Plus, a live update on this hour's breaking news. There are deadly floods. There's a state of emergency in Missouri. We'll update you.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news in Missouri where the National Guard has been activated as millions of people brace for what the National Weather Service says could be historic flooding. At least 13 in Missouri are among more than 40 killed by severe weather in the past week.
CNN's Alina Machado is in West Alton, this is near St. Louis.
And, Alina, evacuations there are under way. Give us the latest about how serious the situation is.
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, high water is already blocking several roads into and around West Alton, Missouri, and just 70 miles from here in Union, Missouri, there are several homes and businesses that are already under water. Authorities there telling CNN they've had to rescue at least two people who got caught up in these rising floodwaters.
And today Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is asking people to please avoid driving through roads that look like this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: Just this morning we were informed of an additional three flood-related deaths. This brings the total number of fatalities of the storm to 13, 12 of which were caused by vehicles being swept for flooded roadways. Now that the rain has moved out, the threat has changed but it is not by any means over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACHADO: And that is exactly why the mayor of West Alton, Missouri, has asked residents to leave. This is a voluntary evacuation but he still has asked people to leave because they're bracing here for what could be very serious flooding, Brianna.
KEILAR: So we've heard that some of the levees have been over topped or really there's been sort of this overflow. What about the possibility for levees breaking which would be, you know, that would just be almost catastrophic compared to some overflow.
MACHADO: Yes, it's something authorities here in Missouri are definitely keeping an eye on. You know, we spoke to the mayor of West Alton and he says that they're used to flooding in this area but the big difference here this time around, what makes the situation so unique, is how quickly these floodwater have risen. They went up so quickly that they didn't even -- they didn't even have time to really prepare ahead of time. We didn't really see many sandbags protecting property in West Alton, Missouri, and that's why most of the town has evacuated. The mayor says about 50 people, though, are planning to ride this one out primarily because they live in elevated homes -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Alina Machado for us there, outside of St. Louis. Thank you so much.
I want to bring in CNN meteorologist Tom Sater now. He is monitoring the situation from the CNN Severe Weather Center. We're talking about a number of rivers here, right?
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
KEILAR: And also a lot of -- you talked about this earlier. Sort of feeder creeks and rivers that go into those bigger ones.
SATER: Yes. Absolutely, Brianna. I mean this is my hometown. I just spent the last week there and it rained every day. Record 5, 6, 7, 8 1/2 inches. But it was the same storm system that raked the south with the tornadoes that set the stage for day in and day out of heavy rain across Arkansas. Missouri into Illinois. I mean, the Arkansas River has got problems now as well.
Major flooding north and south of the capital Little Rock. But that's the amount of rainfall. And when you have this much, even though I love the show me state scenic small creeks and rivers, it can cause a problem.
Now the bench mark here for flooding on the Mississippi is 1993. Thousands and thousands of homes and businesses were flooded. They have done some improvements, in fact many areas west of the metro area of St. Louis out toward St. Charles, St. Peters, there have been levees that have been reinforced. But again when you look at the flood watches in effect, let me show you really why this is a big concern for St. Louis.
The Mississippi river flows north to south. Typically we see the flooding when the snow melts. But then you have smaller rivers that feed into areas like the Missouri River, the Missouri goes into the Mississippi. The Merrimac River where we are seeing record flooding now, that also flows into the Mississippi. We're expecting the crest in downtown St. Louis to stay just below the all-time record near 50 feet. In fact it's going to be about 5 1/2 feet from that. The second highest level.
But along the Merrimac River, in some of these places such as Union, Pacific, the river has risen 30 feet since Saturday and these will be historic levels that will soon reach the Mississippi. The problem, Brianna, is that the waters are so high in the Mississippi, it's keeping the flow away from -- away from these communities.
So again as the waters rise from Union to Pacific to Fenton, to Arnold, we're going to see the crest continue to rise until this Mississippi River can start to flow and drop its crest to the south.
KEILAR: All right. We are poised for this to get worse before it gets better.
KEILAR: We know you'll be following that, Tom. Thanks so much.
I do want to move on now to another important story that is developing right now. An intense and dramatic scene outside of a Chicago courthouse today, protesters heckled a Chicago policeman as he came to plead not guilty to murdering a teenage boy.
Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times. And Officer Jason Van Dyke's indictment this month and the release of a police video of the shooting touched off a crisis that has some Chicagoans demanding the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju. We have our law enforcement analyst, former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, along with CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson.
So you're hearing these calls, Manu, for Rahm Emanuel to step down. He's coming back from vacation where he's been with his family in Cuba. What are the chances that he resigns?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think very little. Probably not going to happen. And largely because those calls for him to resign are coming from protesters and people like Al Sharpton, but they're not coming from the heavy hitters in Chicago politics.
I spent yesterday on the phone talking to Chicago aldermen, speaking to state lawmakers, members of the congressional delegation. And right now they're trying to give him space to operate, to try to fix the problems in Chicago. Danny Davis, a congressman who represents the west side district where the two killings happened over the weekend, said I'm not calling on Rahm Emanuel to resign. I want to fix these problems in the police force. We have his ear right now, we need to push him do this.
But if there are any further missteps by the mayor, that could change. But right now at least he seems safe politically.
KEILAR: And just his personality really isn't one, right? He's not -- he's sort of -- he's tough.
RAJU: He's a brash individual.
KEILAR: Right. He sure is.
KEILAR: All right. He certainly is. What about this recall election?
RAJU: Yes, there is an effort in the state legislature to actually force a recall of the Chicago mayor. Now this is not allowed currently under the law, but a lawmaker has introduced this bill. But what is helping Emanuel's case is that the leadership in the state legislature, the Democratic leadership in the State Senate, opposes this bill. So it's probably not going to pass. That means that Rahm Emanuel is safe until his next election, 2019, unless the problems get worse.
RAJU: Unless those calls from the lawmakers intensify for him to resign. That could change things. Right now he seems to be not going anywhere.
KEILAR: All right. Tom, you were a police officer in Chicago for many years. So what we're seeing some of these steps that the mayor has taken, for instance, in the wake of the shooting of Laquan McDonald. He's fired the superintendent, he's brought in new leadership, he's been attending community meetings trying to outreach and create dialogue with people in the communities.
Are these things that cover him politically or are these things that will actually help deal with this problem?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think, Brianna, you know, I was a cop just outside of Chicago.
KEILAR: Outside of Chicago.
FUENTES: But I don't think that they're going to help in a big way. You know, he sacrificed the superintendent, but who made the decision to hold the video until after the election?
[17:55:09] You know, that independent review body that's under the mayor's office, you know, that investigation and the politics behind that really are separate from the police department. The police department is being, you know, sacrificed --
KEILAR: So you're questioning whether that was a political decision basically.
KEILAR: OK. And do you think the possibility of that is that it was? You think it's pretty high?
FUENTES: I don't think it would have been the superintendent's choice to hold on to that video for a year. An investigation like that doesn't take a year. So I think that, you know, it was political from the start. And then you sacrificed the Superintendent McCarthy. Meantime the crowd is, you know, calling for him and as Manu mentioned, they're not going to get him. He's not going to be recalled. And by the time the election comes we'll see what happens politically.
KEILAR: Joey, this officer who is charged in this fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, Jason Van Dyke. We saw him there, he pled not guilty to this murder today. People are looking at this case and they're saying, how is this different from the case of the officers who shot Tamir Rice or Michael Brown or the officers accused in Baltimore in the death of Freddie Gray.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a great parallel to draw, Brianna. Good evening to you. But I think the significance difference is this. Remember that with Tamir Rice, 12-year-old in Cleveland who was shot dead at the hands of police, there is no indictment. And so therefore the criminal case in terms of that matter is over. Certainly the federal government could intervene. I don't think that is going to happen. Certainly they will look at it, but it's a higher standard federally.
If you look at Michael Brown in Ferguson, of course, no indictment of Darren Wilson, and so therefore there was never a trial. However with Freddie Gray, there was an indictment and those six officers are beginning the process of going to trial. We saw a hung jury as it related to the first officer of course. So this particular case with an indictment begins the process. And I think based upon that, you'll see a trial and you'll see both sides air whether or not there is guilt or not guilt in this case.
KEILAR: All right. We will definitely see.
Guys, thank you so much. Joey, Tom, Manu, appreciate it.
Coming up, new details of a New Year's Eve terror plot and the suspects who appear to have been inspired by ISIS.
KEILAR: Happening now, ISIS terror. Local leaders say the militant group still is wielding power in parts of a key --