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Hostage Situation in Burkina Faso; Trump, Cruz Attacks Boil Over; Push To Narrow GOP Field; GOP Hopefuls Scrambles As Barbs Fly; Clinton Vs. Sanders: Gloves Come Off; Sanders On Path To Win Iowa, N.H.?; Cosby Case Falling Apart. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 15, 2016 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here in for Anderson.

We begin with breaking news. American military involvement right now on the scene of a deadly terror attack that appears to be on going along with a hostage situation in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. This is happening at a hotel popular with diplomats, westerners, including Americans in the capital of Ouagadougou.

CNN's Robyn Kriel moderating these developments for us from Nairobi.

Robyn, what's the latest?

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we can tell you there is a large cordon around this area but the eyewitnesses have seen several dead bodies laying outside the hotel. The assault we understand, the operation by this Al-Qaeda group is still on going with a number of hostages. We don't know the exact number, however, are trapped inside. Attackers we're told by eyewitnesses were light skinned. They were wearing covers over their faces and they spoke in a language not native to Burkina Faso. That's the latest information we are hearing from the ground, John.

BERMAN: And we do understand that Al-Qaeda just a short time ago claimed responsibility for this attack, correct?

KRIEL: Yes, Al-Qaeda and Islamic (INAUDIBLE), a special sector of theirs that just recently joined up with them, a very similar hotel. They were responsible for a very similar hotel attack on the Radison Blue in neighboring Mali, the capital (INAUDIBLE) which killed 22 people. Very similar modus operandi got gunmen going in.

And just to give you a bit of background, this particular movement Al- Qaeda and Islamic (INAUDIBLE) in December called for Muslims in West Africa including Burkina Faso to wake up for jihad. So this is a clear calling to those sorts of groups who would have been involved in this assault and we understand it is ongoing. We do hear as you said U.S. Special Forces are outside, most likely in advisory capacity, French troops outside, as well. However, it will be those Burkina Faso (INAUDIBLE) Special Forces who will, if they do decide to assault who will go in.

BERMAN: Robyn, you mentioned the hotel attack in Mali, at a hotel very popular with westerners. The same type of situation here. This is a hotel where if you are a western person traveling in that nation you would be most likely to stay?

KRIEL: Indeed. That would be the hotel where diplomats would stay, U.N. staffers, journalists, as well, NGOs and people just traveling through who can't afford to stay there. So are really seeing an incredible increase in these sorts of attacks. From here and east Africa, Somalia across the continent, too as you said, the Radison blue attack in Mali which killed 22 people in a very, very similar style also on Friday by the same group. We cannot independently verify it is this group however they claimed responsibility to (INAUDIBLE) intelligence.

BERMAN: And Al-Qaeda claiming responsibility as we sit here tonight.

Robyn Kriel, thank you so much. Again, we are getting reports of U.S. military involvement, a presence on the ground. Want to bring in Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are you learning?


What we know at this hour is that the French military has made a request to the Pentagon, to the U.S. military for assistance and the U.S. military we are told will be sending surveillance assistance, it will be a U.S. military drone that will begin flying overhead, an unmanned drone to survey the area and provide intelligence about what is happening to French and local authorities.

Now, there are about 75 U.S. troops in this country. Fifteen of them are assigned to the embassy. But there are 60 that provide assistance, training, advice to the French forces who are in the lead in that country as outside forces. Those 60 forces, those U.S. troops are in a position tonight to provide additional assistance and advice to the French if it comes to that. We are also told by a U.S. defense official that right now what they can confirm is that there is one U.S. military member outside the hotel embedded, if you will, alongside the French forces already directly on scene working with them to coordinate and to provide assistance.

As Robyn said, the -- when she talked about the French, the U.S. is adamant. U.S. troops will not at this point certainly participate in any assault. They are in a backup role to provide that advice and assistance and fly that drone overhead to get some direct eyes on the situation -- John.

BERMAN: Barbara Starr, stand by a moment.

Right now, again, you're looking at pictures right now. The situation is this. There is an ongoing terror assault, we believe, at a hotel popular with westerners in the West Africa nation of Burkina Faso, the capital Ouagadougou. We heard reports of bodies on the ground outside. A U.S. military presence there.

Want to bring in our CNN intelligence and security analyst, former CIA officer Bob Bear.

Bob, the Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Qaeda and Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack. Tell me about this group and what they have been doing recently.

[20:05:24] BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, you look at the map and you've got Mali Niger which those countries have, you know, extensive networks of Al-Qaeda and the Maghreb. They are very active, very well-arms. And as you saw with this hotel attack, it was a synchronized attack, car bombs, plenty of people to take that hotel. This is clearly a group that knew what it was doing. And they are very active. And I think this tact is long overdue. Burkina Faso is a fragile country. It just had a coup. The security services, they are very good and that is why you are seeing the French taking the lead in this. Doesn't surprise me at all.

And you know, the Americans, yes, American troops there but they are not used to doing entrees, I'm quite sure. You wouldn't have that in place in the country like Burkina Faso, but the French do. But it's a big hotel. It is hard to take back. And there could be a lot of casualties before the day is over.

BERMAN: Bob, are we seeing a competition now, an international competition between ISIS and Al-Qaeda because yesterday we had an ISIS inspired attack or an ISIS affiliated attacking in Indonesia. Today, it is Al-Qaeda in West Africa, is this important for propaganda value for these groups?

STARR: Well, I think it's --

BAER: It's very important --

BERMAN: Go ahead, Bob.

BAER: Yes, you know, for me the interesting thing is a couple days ago is talking to people in jihad circles and this was after attacks in Turkey that killed ten Germans. And they said these attacks will continue. They are going to be wide ranging. And they said do not put too much value on the name of the organization whether it's Al- Qaeda or the Islamic state. There is an offensive going on against the west.

And, you know, whether it's coordinated between the Islamic state and Al-Qaeda as it was in Paris in Charlie Hebdo, I simply don't know at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me. And they are going after the vulnerable targets like Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where these hotels are not well protected and the local security services are not particularly good.

BERMAN: And Barbara, just remind us what U.S. presence is there? I think a lot of people will be surprised that there are U.S. troops in Ouagadougou and are they trained to handle this kind of assault?

STARR: Probably not equipped for it as Bob just pointed out at this point. But what we are seeing over the last couple years in Africa is the U.S. has been sending U.S. troops to help with training advising and assisting. We have seen this in several countries. They also provide intelligence, reconnaissance, they fly drones, try and help local African forces where they can. But actually ready, equipped to jump in and conduct an assault in an urban environment on a building, probably not. The French to a large extent I think Bob would agree have taken their military has very much taken that leading edge role, especially in western Africa.

BERMAN: Bob, assuming this assault is ongoing, assuming there is still a hostage situation, how do you end it?

BAER: That's very difficult because they are going to have to do what is called a dynamic entry. They are going to have to do breaching. When you set off explosives in a hotel to get through a wall like this, you obviously don't want to kill the hostages on the other side. And you have to move floor by floor. Very, very difficult. I mean, if you don't hit these people at the beginning and stop them and get in a hotel like that, all the guests are vulnerable. And I can't tell you what these intentions of this group is, but I fear the worst.

BERMAN: Potentially dire situation there.

Barbara Starr, Bob Bear, hang on for just a minute.

Joined now by journalist Marina Spironetti. She is on the scene, joins us now by telephone.

Marina, give us a sense of what you are seeing right now. What's the situation?

MARINA SPIRONETTI, JOURNALIST (on the phone): Hi, there. The situation is (INAUDIBLE). Now we have the first numbers. I'm afraid, we have number of casualties and apparently 20 casualties from the Cappuccino Cafe. That, of course, this number will probably rise over the next few hours. First injured people have been moved to a nearby hospital.

Meanwhile, in (INAUDIBLE) hotel, the attack is still going on. The gunman, three gunmen are still inside the hotel. Gunfire could still be heard until very recently. And we know that police forces are all around the hotel. And also according to an eyewitness I spoke to just ten minutes ago, on top of another hotel, which is the Ebe hotel. The Ebe is (INAUDIBLE). Quite hard right now to get update because the curfew is started at 11:00 p.m. and is going on until 6:00 p.m. What we hope is that something will happen between now and army is going to happen over the next few hours.

[20:10:34] BERMAN: All right. Marina Spironetti, who is on the ground in Ouagadougou, thank you for that description.

Just a recap what we just heard from Marina. She says 20 casualties so far. Most from a cappuccino cafe next to or attached to this hotel. The assault on the hotel is still on going. Marina told she believes there are still three attackers inside the hotel. She heard gunfire up until very recently. The siege, any kind of assault to take back the hotel, Marina does not believe has started yet. So this still very much an active situation and active hostage

situation at this western hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou right now. You are looking at pictures right there of the scene. That fire burning. We heard reports of bomb blasts, also gunfire. Reports of bodies on the ground outside. Again, ongoing situation there. We will bring you the latest as it comes in.

Barbara Starr, Bob Baer, our thanks to you.

Coming up next, the Cruz Trump feud takes another turn and the scramble for support with just 17 days until the first real life actual votes are cast.

And later, a CNN exclusive on why the criminal case events against Bill Cosby could be doomed. New information just in tonight.


[20:15:39] BERMAN: Just over two weeks now until the first actual voting in the race for the White House, first prize, of course, the presidential nomination. Second prize might as well be a set of steak knives. The day is ending right now that Ted Cruz rally in Tigerville, South Carolina. Bill Clinton, he is at his third event of the day stopping for his wife in Iowa. Four events today in New Hampshire for Marco Rubio, two for Ted Cruz in South Carolina. Jeb Bush is in New Hampshire. He was in South Carolina in the morning. Donald Trump hit Iowa. Trump is telling Iowans he is there so much they are going to be sick of him. He is also continuing to take (INAUDIBLE), a lot of (INAUDIBLE) today at Ted Cruz' remarks at last night's debate. And in the run-up about New York values. Here is what he told "the LEAD's" Jake Tapper.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought that was disgraceful he brought it up.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Did you think he was going after something a dog whistle of sorts.

TRUMP: No. Probably you would have to ask him. I don't know what he was thinking about. I think he came across badly. I mean, some people gave him pretty good reviews on the debate. I think he came across very strident and not a nice person and people don't like that.


BERMAN: Late today senator Cruz weighed back with a shot of his own. We will bring that to you in just a moment.

First, I want to go to Jim Acosta in Des Moines, Iowa.

You have been watching Trump on the stump there. The attacks we saw from Trump in the debate last night, mainly aimed at Ted Cruz, did we see that in front of actual voters today? JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We did not, John.

And I thought that was very interesting. What we heard from Donald Trump today was essentially, you know, he was trying to get out the vote here in Iowa. He was encouraging caucus goers to get to the polls on February 1st. And you get the sense from inside the Trump campaign that they are concerned about this conventional wisdom back in Washington that yes, he is riding high in the polls. Yes, he is doing very well. He is getting very good reviews for his debate performance last night. But the concern is whether or not he can get these caucus goers out on caucus night on February 1st. And so, he was saying things like play you just played that sound byte a few moments ago. I'm going to be here in Iowa so much you are going to be sick of me. But he didn't go after Ted Cruz today. And so, that was a departure in terms of his campaign tactics, but he went after just about everything else under the sun. So, there was no big difference in terms of that from his protective.

BERMAN: You brought up Trump's ground game in Iowa. And there is a lot of talk, a lot of speculation about if it is, in fact, real. Any evidence you have seen?

ACOSTA: Well, I think we're going to see that very soon. You know, what we saw earlier today is, you know, unlike these big arena events that he has across the country, you know, he had sort of a small scale event. He was inside a small auditorium, only held about 200 people. He was taking questions from the crowd. Not just giving his stump speech where he goes through the usual one liners. He was taking questions 15, 20 questions from the audience and answering all of them. You know, at one point he was asked about being the angry voice in this campaign. He says, you know what, I am the voice of the angry voter out there. He wasn't really denying that.

And at the same time, John, you know, he was doing something we haven't seen from Donald Trump really at all and that was retail campaigning. He went up to a pizza ranch which is soft of an Iowa tradition every four years. You see all these candidates at these local pizza ranches around Iowa. He did that for several minutes. He did not actually sit down and eat the pizza we should point out, John. But his campaign was quick to note after we left that event that there was some slices waiting for Donald Trump on his plane as he was leaving the area.

The other thing that he did here, he rented out a movie theater to show that new Benghazi film "13 Hours" to supporters. And at all of these events, there were campaign volunteers, campaign organizers saying remember, these are things you have to show up and do on caucus night because they have these huge influx, all these new voters coming in to the campaign. They want to make sure that they do what they have to do on caucus night -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Jim Acosta in Iowa for us. Thank you so much.

Now, Senator Cruz who as we mentioned has a new take on the New York controversy.

Sunlen Serfaty in traveling with the Cruz campaign, joins us now from Columbia, South Carolina.

So Sunlen, you know, Ted Cruz, he sort of apologized to New Yorkers earlier today, but it was sort of like a fake apology, right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was, John. Ted Cruz really making it very clear that he is not backing down at all for this. Here in Colombia, South Carolina he was asked repeatedly by reporters if he would apologize. And he seemed to almost have a little fun with this in a classic Cruz, though, I would say sort of way as he continued to really push this argue farther down the field. Here is how he responded.


[20:20:18] SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio have all demanded an apology. And I am happy to apologize. I apologize to the millions of New Yorkers who have been let down by liberal politicians in the state. I apologize to the hard working men and women of the state of New York who have been denied jobs because Governor Cuomo won't allow fracking even though there are high-paying jobs south of Pennsylvania. New Yorkers are denied the ability to provide for their families.

I apologize to pro-life and pro-American, pro-second amendment New Yorkers who were told by Governor Cuomo hat they have in place in New York because that's not who New Yorkers are.


SERFATY: So that was Ted Cruz here earlier today. But also interesting is the Cruz campaign is already trying to fund raise and raise the money off of this. Heidi Cruz, the wife of Ted Cruz sent an email to supporters earlier tonight referencing the "New York Daily News" cover that said drop dead Ted with the reference, of course, to his New York values moment from the debate and previously this week. In that email to supporters, she said that this is the lowest attack on Ted. So very clear that they think that this will fire up a very specific part of their base -- John.

BERMAN: I actually have a copy of that "New York Daily News" right here. I can hold up for you to see. It does in fact, as Sunlen just said, say drop dead Ted. And at the bottom it says hey Cruz, if you don't like New York values, go back to Canada. Not very subtle there. Not very subtle either with the statue of liberty is doing with their hand right there. That's the daily news.

But the relationship between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Sunlen, it's clear that those days of friendliness, the love affair they had on the stump even doing events together, that's over.

SERFATY: Yes, long over. And Donald Trump declared that dead last night. He said that bromance is over. It is off. This truth that we have. And I think Ted Cruz's posture and the rhetoric that he brought to the debate stage really signaled the same thing. He went after Donald Trump forcefully and specifically very clear that he planned outlines of attack against Donald Trump, something we have not seen him do in this campaign so far. He has flirted with the issue a bit, but really hasn't dove right into that sort of pool to criticize Donald Trump.

The Cruz campaign telling me that they believe that this campaign is entering into a new stage, and one where it is really important to draw these clearer contrast in these policy distinctions. So I think this is something we will continue to see from Ted Cruz and the campaign trail going forward.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, with the Cruz campaign, thanks so much for being with us.

Joining us now is Andy Dean a Trump supporter, former president of Trump protections. Also, we are waiting to hear from Iowa congressman Steve King, Ted Cruz supporter.

Andy, you are here with us right now. Let me start with you. We just heard --

ANDY DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, TRUMP PRODUCTION: Did Steve King not want to show up, by the way?

BERMAN: No, no, no, Andy. No, no, no, it's a simple television technical problem here. And Steve King desperate to appear with you. We are going to get him on the phone if we have to. Rest assure, Andy.

DEAN: I heard he's afraid but go ahead. OK. Go ahead.

DEAN: He's not afraid.

Let me ask you about the comments we heard from Ted Cruz. Not apologizing for saying that Donald Trump has New York values and say instead of explaining what he thinks New York values are. Pro-choice. Pro-gay marriage, different than a lot of people, especially Republican voters in Iowa may think. What do you make of that?

DEAN: I think this is just a losing cause for Ted Cruz. And the idea that he thinks the people of Iowa somehow pit the -- hate the people of New York. And he wants to pit the people of Iowa against the people of New York, I think it's a losing proposition and it also sadly exposes Ted Cruz' hypocrisy and that he rails against New Yorkers and New York values, yet, he walked into a New York bank, Goldman Sachs and took out a $1 million loan which he didn't disclose on his Senate papers.

So, if anything, if I were Ted Cruz, I would not want to be talking about New York City because all it's going to remind people of is the $1 million loan that he took out from Goldman Sachs. And I think the people from Iowa would have a bigger problem with Goldman Sachs than the people of New York.

BERMAN: I believe behave congressman Steve King from Iowa with us, a Ted Cruz's supporter.

DEAN: Good.

BERMAN: Congressman, I don't know if you heard what Andy Dean just said right there. Do you think that the people of Iowa care more about that Goldman Sachs loan that Ted Cruz did not disclose with the federal election commission or do you think they care more about what Ted Cruz continues to call New York values?

REP. STEVE KING (R), TRUMP SUPPORTER: Iowans are a stood. And they understand that Ted Cruz reported that on inside of senate document. And there are a lot of times that there are corrections that are made because of simple omissions. And also, that it was a loan that was against shares that he had and it was either sell the shares or hold shares expecting they are going to appreciate in value and borrow against them.

No, that doesn't matter. Iowans see through that part. And Iowa values and New York values, it's Donald Trump that laid out New York values on October 24th of 1999 when he said he is very pro-choice. He'll allow for partial birth abortion and he supports same-sex marriage. So I think that this is -- when Donald Trump described New York values, Ted Cruz referenced them I think is Donald Trump that has to explain that.

[20:25:28] BERMAN: Hang on, Andy.


BERMAN: Congressman, I heard you say this morning. You actually thought that Donald Trump gave a good answer to the idea of New York values in the debate last night. You thought when he was talking about September 11th, you thought that went over well. I heard it with my own ears this morning on CNN.

KING: No, well, no, you didn't hear that, actually, Andy. Because what I said was Donald Trump turned that to the emotionalism of the September 11th, then I was sorry that it went that direction. I would have been happier if it had not been brought up because it got turned into emotionalism of September 11th.

But I point out this. As tragic as it was, it bound America together. And we all paid a price for that although the worst price was paid by New York. And I was there. I gazed into that smoking pile of rubble that became a hole. It hurt all of our hearts it did. But in the end, we are 14, 15 years after that and New York's values and New York's politics didn't change because of that. Eighty-four percent of Manhattan still went for Barack Obama.

BERMAN: So Andy, let me put the other issue that came up in the debate last night, the issue of where Ted Cruz was born. Ted Cruz was born in Canada. A lot of people watching the debate last night said that Ted Cruz got the better end of that discussion with Donald Trump. Is that your view, Andy? Do you think this is asked and answered, done as an issue?

DEAN: No. I think the fact that we keep talking about it seven days in, ten days in now shows that there is something here and there is a lawsuit filed this week against Ted Cruz in which this issue is going to go potentially to the Supreme Court and there is a cloud hanging over Ted Cruz' head. I mean, look, the guy was born in Calgary, Canada. Up until 18 months ago, this guy was a Canadian citizen. And the idea that this is subtle law is factually incorrect. And we can go so far back as to the 1795 naturalization act which I think the Supreme Court is going to look out which is going to show that Ted Cruz is not qualified to be president more over 25 percent of Republican voters think this is a very serious issue which potentially disqualifies Ted Cruz. So I honestly just feel bad for Steve King here who has put all of his hopes in Ted Cruz when this guy may not be --

KING: Not if I get time to rebut, you don't.

BERMAN: You have that time. Go for it, Congressman.

KING: OK. It's all really, really simple. I had an intern that was born under the same circumstances. She understood it. I interviewed her in the first minute that I was introduced to her. Here is the answer.

There are only two ways that you can be an American citizen. You can either be natural born or you can be naturalized. Now, I haven't heard Donald Trump challenge the citizenship of Ted Cruz. So let's stipulate. He is a citizen of the United States of America. Well, he has never been naturalized. That means he was natural born and just that simple and --

DEAN: Does go back.

KING: 1790. It's not posturing at all. Answer the question --

BERMAN: Andy --

DEAN: I will.

KING: Listen to the third one.

DEAN: Let's be nice. Have decorum here.

BERMAN: Go ahead, Andy.

DEAN: Maybe in Washington there is no decorum, but on CNN there is.

There are actually three categories. Steve only mentioned two which is misleading to the American public. One is if you are born on U.S. soil like Donald Trump was born in Queens. We all know he is a citizen and he can run for president. Then there is category number two in which you are born overseas and you are not a citizen in which case you can't be president. And then Ted Cruz is in a third category, which is a category which has been disputed. John McCain went through this despite. George Romney with this dispute. But with John McCain and George Romney, they have a much better legal argument and that John McCain born in the Panama Canal Zone, which was U.S. territory. And then, of course, Arizona became a state whereas Canada as far as I'm aware is still an independent country. So Ted Cruz is in the third category in which, yes, he is a U.S. citizen, but is he natural born? And that's a case for the judiciary to decide. And do we want to elect a nominee where there may be a 10 or 20 percent chance. It may be slim chance, but there is a real chance he's not qualified according to the constitution to be president of the United States.

BERMAN: Congressman, I got to give you the last word here.

KING: Andy, you made up a third category. That's the category of somebody that doesn't have claim to citizenship. No, there are still only two. You're either natural born or naturalized. And Ted Cruz was never naturalized. There was no question about it. In fact, he didn't know that he even had a sign to him, Canada citizenship until a couple years ago. That was discovered by a reporter that are now said to him and he immediately went out and renounced --

DEAN: How does he not know that?

KING: He just didn't have knowledge of that. They conferred upon.


KING: They moved back to the United States. No, you either have to be natural born or naturalized and I don't know a respectable legal scholar that rebuts that.

[20:30:06] I deal with them constantly. I said of the judiciary committee down the constitution, subcommittee for 13 years in United States Congress, I've read back through this scholarship. You've got some knowledge of it. But I think you've characterized this in a way, this decide to bore it.

And by the way, talking about this for seven days, we're doing that because Donald Trump brought it up. And it's Donald Trump that changed his mind. He said in September, "Hey, there is no problem. I accept this, I understand it."

Now that he's got a political reason to raise this issue, he's bringing it. Can we get to the issues? Why is there not an answer why Donald Trump is flipped on pro-choice on partial birth abortion and same-sex marriage?

How can we think that he's a social conservative that transformation seemed to take place for political reasons and in then when he talks about the idea of putting a tax on products coming in from China, my Iowa farmers are getting in concern about that, as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman King, Andy Dean, we're going to leave it right there. Gentlemen, I hope you do come back because...

KING: Thank you.

BERMAN: ... that was a spirited discussion.

Next, why some Republican insiders want to narrow the field in hopes of taking down both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. John King breaks down what could be the limits of their popularity by the numbers.


BERMAN: So, here is what might happen if you give some Republican insiders truth serum and asked them who they would rather see get the nomination, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

According to our reporting, POLITICO's reporting, just about everyone's reporting in fact, their true answer would be, "Neither." After last night's debate, there was no doubt this is a Trump, Cruz battle at the moment yet the Republican establishment deeply dislikes them both.

Their hope as Chief National Correspondent John King is reporting to get a smaller field and then count on Trump and Cruz for a variety of reasons to start losing.

[20:35:06] So, is that a good bet? Chief National Correspondent John King breaking it all down by the numbers joins us now. So, John, does it still look like that could happen?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Less and less, so John, if you look at the numbers available now, add this caveat at the beginning as we go to the wall. It's really. Iowa will shake up this race. New Hampshire will shake up this race. South Carolina after that will shake up this race. But at the moment, the Republican establishment that thought that was a sure bet has to think again.

Look, there's no question, Donald Trump is the biggest dog in this race. He's in a dead heat or he's leading in Iowa, his leading in New Hampshire, he's the national front runner.

Ted Cruz you have to put with Donald Trump because he's in that hunt in Iowa. If he can win Iowa, he's a social conservative Tea Party guy with deep support as the calendar moves on.

These are the four establishment guys and in true powerball mode here, they get small little balls at the moment. You got Rubio, Christie, Bush and Kasich.

What the establishment hopes John, is that Iowa and New Hampshire send a couple of these guys home. Then, you've got one or two of them left in the race changes. Will that happen? Maybe.

If you look at the data as we know it now. There is no question, zero question, Donald Trump nationally benefits from the crowded field. Ten candidates here, this is the latest NBC News and Wall Street journal poll. Trump at 33, Cruz at 20 and then everybody else down in here.

Now, no question, Donald trump's benefiting because it's so many so let's just have an experiment. Let's cut it to five. If you take the top five candidates, what do you get? Trump went up. Cruz went up. Rubio went up a bit. Bush went up a bit.

But the theory of the establishment is you strength the field, these guys will hold firm or come down. Not so fast. Again, this is the national poll, not a state poll but let's take it to three.

Trump, Cruise and Rubio. What happens here? Add this up, Rubio and Bush from the five gets you Rubio in the three, but Trump and Cruz split the Carson vote when you take him out.

So they're still. Again, it's a national poll but if you're the establishment, you're crunching the numbers, is no means that this guarantee in a three-way race like this and you can put Bush, you can put Kasich, you can put Christie here and the numbers would most likely just about the same if you look deep in the polls.

So, what John if we went to a two-man race? Let's say we're 18, 20 states in, right. We get along Republican race, we get down at two. Nationally, the numbers suggest that Ted Cruz would have a chance at beating Donald Trump. 51, 43 when NBC Wall Street journal had the two way race.

Look at Marco Rubio, the establishment says, give us our guy one on one with Donald Trump, we'll beat him.

Well, in the national polling now, Rubio doesn't beat him. So, a rather smug establishment several months ago saying, "Don't worry, this will all clear itself out. Our guy will rally, we'll get a guy and we'll consolidate. They cannot be so sure of that my friend.

BERMAN: And you were hearing so many people inside that establishment now who said it was never a possibility, now saying, yes it could. Yeah. Exactly. John King, stick around.

I want to bring in the rest of the panel. Republican Strategists, Former Newt Gingrich Press Secretary, Rich Galen. Rich, great to see you. Also, CNN Political Reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

So Rich, we look at those scenarios. We just saw right there. Do you think this will come down to a two-man race but that two man race being between Trump and Cruz or do you think an establishment guy can elbow his way in, maybe Marco Rubio?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, to let me make two quick points, one, and John King remembers this that in 2008, Barack Obama won Iowa with less than 38 percent of the vote.

Everybody thinks he swore and sailed a victory. He did not. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards split the other 60 percent almost directly in half.

If either one of them had not been in the race, you can't just take those votes and split them up evenly. It's very likely that either Hillary or Edwards would have sailed to an easy victory because, John, people who -- there are some understanding that people who are not Trump voters are not going to split evenly. They're still not going to be Trump voters.

OK. So, that's number one. Number two is that it is in Trump's interest to play nicely as he might say with all of these guys to prevent exactly what John King was just describing. What he wants to do is to keep that establishment vote split even if they began to consolidate and none of it went to trump. Because they think it was going to go to Trump. It would now.

But think that -- I'm one of those people. I have freely admit that I have no reputation to protect them is because I've been wrong through the whole...

BERMAN: Nia, that establishment lane, there's a game of chicken I imagine that will go on here. No one wants to be the one to drop out because they all think they can perhaps be the last man standing against Trump and Cruz, no?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And so far, you don't see sort of a establishment figures consolidated in around anyone. Very interesting today that Lindsey Graham came out for Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush sitting at about 5 percent nationally not doing so well in South Carolina, either and Lindsey Graham of course dropped out and had less than 1 percent in national polls but he took a shot at Marco Rubio as he was praising Jeb Bush.

He said of Marco Rubio that one day, he would be president but that at 44, he just wasn't ready to be president.

[20:40:00] So, this idea that somehow Marco Rubio was quite gifted and certainly on paper looks like the future of the Republican Party, he has had such a hard time, you know, what really of getting those elders in the party to consolidate around him. Somebody's looking for sort of that Ted Kennedy moment that Barack Obama had in 2008 where he was really, you know, the torch was passed from one generation to the next. And so far, this just hasn't happened.

Everyone I think -- everybody thought there was going to be some kind of strategy and so far they're just looks like there some hopes and prayers at this point.

BERMAN: John King, we were talking a moment ago about the idea of establishment coming around to the notion that Donald Trump is a real possibility now. Just reading right now a new article on "The Washington Post" from Barbara Cossin (ph), Philip Rucker saying, "You know, Spencer is weak", the great Mitt Romney fundraiser saying, that Romney fundraisers, Romney money men are now trying to elbow their way in a little bit to the Trump's world. They're looking at Donald Trump saying, "You know what, if this is going to be the guy, we've got to get some connection."

KING: If your boat still floating on the water people try to get aboard John, that's how it works. And the psychology of this is fascinating. People who months ago said, "There's no way he'll run". And then said, "There's no way he can win". And then after that said, "Well, he may win if you really stays with them will consolidate". Now they are facing this fact that Trump is here to stay and there's something in the water this year if you will in Republican politics. So they're trying to make nice in case there's a possibility. There are many in the establishment who would tell you they prefer Trump to Cruz. They are others who say they refer Cruz because at least they understand Cruz even if they don't like him, that he's more predictable. They know what he would do and they can plan around it where Trump is sort of a loose cannon.

But to that point, about why some of the establishments -- comes around, let me show another number. Which candidate would you not support? This gives you a sense of how much people have room to grow. Look at this 52 percent of Republicans say they would not support John Kasich. 45 percent said, they would not support Chris Christie under any circumstances. 55 percent say that about Jeb Bush.

This number used to be higher for Donald Trump. Only a third of Republicans say they could not see themselves they ever supporting him. That used to be higher. Trump's numbers among Republicans are getting better.

Now, Cruz and Rubio, you could see these numbers, they have more room to grow because fewer Republicans say, never but part of the establishment saying, "We better start thinking about this is because Trump still has room to grow".

BERMAN: Just a little more than two weeks until actual before human voters get to weigh in. Rich Galen, Nia-Malika Henderson , John King, thanks so much.

HENDERSON: Thanks John.

BERMAN: Just ahead, unexpected drama in the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton now virtually tied in Iowa with Sanders leading in New Hampshire.

How worried should the Clinton campaign be tonight?


[20:50:56] BERMAN: 17 days from tonight, the first votes at election 2016 will be cast in Iowa which explains why Bill Clinton is in overdrive in Hawkeye State. Right now, he's in Coralville. This is his third stop of the day. He is to trail again tomorrow with three more stops.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, pretty much now running neck to neck in Iowa. Iowa's governor admittedly a Republican say, he thinks the Clinton forces are in panic mode.

Joining me now Paul Begala, Democratic Strategist and Co-chair of a Hillary Clinton Super PAC. Also Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation "which is celebrating his 150th anniversary this week -- Happy Anniversary -- and is just endorsed Bernie Sanders that will be on the cover of the February 8th edition.

Paul, I want to start with you. The governor of Iowa -- again admittedly a Republican says, he sees the Clinton campaign beginning to panic in that state. He thinks that Bernie Sanders has momentum there. At a minimum, do you think Bernie Sander does have momentum in Iowa right now?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATRIC STRATEGIST: Oh, he's running a great campaign. He's running a terrific campaign. I say this -- I'm actually not the co-chairman advisor though to the super PAC that supports Hillary.

So, even though I've an interest in Hillary winning, my hat off to Bernie and his campaign. I think, he's doing terrific job, by the way so is Hillary. What I love about this race is that, my party is keeping it between the ditches. You know, nobody is even attacking anybody else's mother.

Last night I watched the debate. Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump's mother. "Your mother was born in Scotland". Yuck.

Bernie is talking about ideas. Hillary is talking about ideas. The Republicans are dealing in insults. This can only be good for the Democrats.

Now, is Hillary panicking? I can't coordinate with their campaign so I don't know. But do know this, I've a long believe, there's only two ways to run for office, unopposed or scared. And so both of these candidates, I think are just putting every ounce of energy they have into those Iowa caucuses. And I think it's nothing but good for the Democrats.

BERMAN: But Paul, does she have more reason to be scared tonight than she did three weeks ago? Look, the polls have really become much closer in Iowa, a state where she was 10 or more points ahead now two.

BEGALA: Look, everyday you get closer, you're going to be more nervous. I mean, believe me, you called me up the day before the Iowa caucuses if I was working for Hillary, even though I'm a step removed, I still will be. Be like a porcupine in a balloon factory. And I'm not going to want to move in any direction. And I'll be just completely fearful.

That's how you run. That's what makes this thing worthwhile. You know, that's why, you know, that's why we do this because the consequences are so high.

And again, I actually of a high tolerance for attacks and these two have not attacked at all to the extent they disagreed, it's been unbelievably civil. This has been the most high-class, high-tone issue oriented campaign Democrat s have ever seen.

BERMAN: So, Katrina, say the dream scenario for Bernie Sanders happens which is a win in Iowa, a win in New Hampshire. What happens after that because Iowa and New Hampshire, they don't look like a lot of the rest of America. They don't look a lot like the rest of the primary calendar ever, they're very wide. There's a lot of minority voters suing after that. So the team Bernie Sanders so far, he has not made a lot of in rows of minority voters.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION" EDITOR AND PUBLISHER: Well, the two states have changed and what's interesting in Iowa if I could just step bask is, he has to a certain extent recreated the Obama coalition -- first-time voters, young people, independent. Young people are going for Bernie Sanders 2 to1. And I think, that's speaks to the message.

I think, Paul Begela is right. Unlike last night's brutish long nasty debate, the Democrats are engaged in ideas.

I think, Bernie Sanders coming into this race opened it up to an economic populous direction.

I do think, no one's voted yet, John. So I think success breeds momentum.

I was with someone from South Carolina today who is connected to the church. Bernie Sanders hasn't gone down there in the way as he need to, to really introduce himself. He is very at tentative to the need, to grow his coalition. He understands he needs to woo African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, the core constituencies of the Democratic Party.

But he has a message. He is the champion and ally of movements that are animating this moment black lives matter, climate activists, the fight for 15 economic justice. So, I think, that there is momentum in his message.

[20:50:00] BERMAN: So Paul, what about what Katrina said though about the coalition of Bernie is establishing in Iowa right now because he is doing very well with young voters. He is doing very well with first time caucus voters. He is doing very well with independents who might caucus and that's exactly what gave Barack Obama a victory in there in 2008.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, then Barack Obama was able to go to the rest of the country where the voters are far more diverse and put together a multi ethnic, multi racial coalition.

I love Iowa I'm working hard and probably been in all 99 counties of Iowa but in 2008 when Hillary ran against Barack, 93 percent of caucus attendees were White. In New Hampshire 95 percent are White. You go to South Carolina its only 45 percent White.

Hillary Clinton's whole political DNA got elected to the senate twice in New York. You can do that by putting together multi ethnic, multi racial, multi religious coalitions. Bernie has a terrific record on issues of community of color.

There is no doubt but he doesn't have the background of Barack Obama had coming out as a community organizer running in Chicago. He just doesn't have the same background and I think he's got a lot of ground to make up. I mean I think he got a terrific record and I like the guy a lot but its not going to -- I don't think it's going to happen to him at the same way.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, THE NATION: But Paul, parts of what happened I think in the last year, which is so astonishing is that for too long a corporate media didn't pay attention to Bernie Sanders, lavished attention on Donald Trump and Hillary was always there she's brand name recognition.

The policing of the parameters of the viable have been broken open. Bernie Sanders have shown his viable raising millions from small donors, $27. I think millions are going to meet him for the first time in his ideas and that is what is so critical.

I will say though that, Paul, even though you said this is a civil campaign and it is so far, the kumbaya moment is over. I mean you'll going to see sharper distinctions drawn in Sunday's debate and I think Hillary Clinton's attack on Bernie Sanders Medicare for all single pair shows why Bernie Sanders who is unbought by the pharmaceutical cartels is able to launch bolder ideas. His Wall Street ad is not a nasty attack its simply showing there are two versions how to regulate Wall Street and Bernie wants to dismantle the too big to fail banks.

BERMAN: Katrina, we will see in the next few days.

BEGALA: Wait, can I defend my girl here?

BERMAN: Well, I got to stop.

BEGALA: Wait a minute, they will go to Charleston. Charleston, South Carolina. Somebody is going to ask Bernie Sanders why the most anti corporate guy in the senate voted to protect gun manufacturers. One corporation to lift them above the law as you can even sue them.

HEUVEL: The kumbaya moment is over, Paul.

BERMAN: Two weeks until Iowa...

BEGALA: It forms is about issues...

HEUVEL: He supports President Obama's executive actions, et cetera.

BERMAN: We we'll watch over the next two weeks until they vote in Iowa. Paul Begala, Katrina vender Heuvel, we'll, thank you so much.

BEGALA: Thank you.

HEUVEL: Thank you.

Just ahead, could the criminal case against Bill Cosby fall apart before it even starts? New information just in tonight about a deal that was made a decade ago that could really hinder the prosecution on sexual assault charges.


[20:55:18] BERMAN: A CNN exclusive now one that can have major implications for the case against Bill Cosby. Now you might remember two and a half weeks ago a district attorney in Pennsylvania made a big splash when he formally charged the comedian with sexual assault. But our Michael Smerconish learned it seen evidence that the charges against Cosby could very well fall apart. The charges against Cosby are involving a former temple university basketball coach in 2005 and 2006 and Cosby gave a deposition in the case. Now, Cosby's lawyer says there was actually a deal made at the time that Cosby would never be prosecuted criminally if he gave that deposition.

Not only that, now an e-mail has come to light that helps bill Cosby and that's what Michael Smerconish seen. He joins me now, Michael, the agreement that led to Cosby's testimony in the civil case, what more can you tell us about that?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: So, what is stunning is that not only will Cosby's lawyers say wait a minute, we had a deal that never could the testimony against him in the civil case be used in the criminal case but they will be supported in that regard by the D.A. at the time and John, I'm holding in my hands an e-mail that was sent from the former D.A. to his successor three months before Cosby was charged saying "Hey, wait a minute, you remember we had a deal. We were not going to prosecute this guy because we didn't think we could meet our burden beyond a reasonable doubt. We wanted to open the door so he would give testimony in a civil case, we wanted to help the accuser benefit from a civil judgment."

BERMAN: In this documentation, this e-mail you have seen literally says the LDA if he's forced to testify will officially say, yeah, this deal exists.

SMERCONISH: So there is a hearing that is tentatively set for February 2nd. What I'm holding in my hand is what I expect the old D.A. will come in put his hand in the bible and swear to which is to say in the accuser's best interest back in 2005 we made a deal with Bill Cosby, we opened the door for him to testify in a civil case without the benefit of his fifth amendment right.

BERMAN: The current D.A. it's a new D.A. this is not the same D.A. who wrote this e-mail, this is not the same D.A. the same D.A. who would first made this agreement, is the new D.A. bound by this agreement?

SMERCONISH: Great question. The new D.A. is going to dispute this. We received word from the new D.A. this evening he said, wait a minute, you know, how you go about granting immunity to someone and those protocols were not followed by the old D.A. it's a blood sport I can tell you in the suburbs of Philadelphia because there is no love lost between the old D.A. and the current D.A..

But it's going to be pretty stunning when the image takes hold and that the old D.A. is going to come in, the one that did not prosecute Bill Cosby and says I made a deal with this individual. I did it in the best interest of the claimant. I didn't think I could meet the burden beyond the reasonable doubt to go after Bill Cosby in a criminal case and I wanted to help her in a civil case by eliminating the opportunity for Cosby to take the Fifth Amendment.

BERMAN: And is there a precedent to make a deal in the criminal case to suit a civil case? SMERCONISH: That's going to be litigated. I mean whether he had the authority to do this and whether it's binding on his successors he will say and Cosby's lawyers have said in their petition. Yes, and they've sited case law. I anticipate that next week the current D.A. will respond to all this but here is the take away, it's possible that this case will never go to trial against Bill Cosby because in pretrial activity, it will be thrown out of court.

BERMAN: The judge has big decisions to make I imagine this news which you are breaking here and how much more tomorrow morning.


BERMAN: Wildly controversial. Michael Smerconish, thank you so much. Again Michael is getting new information it going to be up all night he's in report tomorrow on his program, that's 9:00 a.m. And again at 6:00 p.m. Tune in Smerconish tomorrow here on CNN. We'll be right back.