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Syria War Latest; Military Officials Say ISIS Determined to Strike US Homeland; Christie Suspends Campaign; Source: Christie Dropping Out Of Presidential Race; What's In $200K Oscar Goody Bag? Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 10, 2016 - 16:30   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And they believe that if they are able to deal a crushing blow to the rebels in this part of Syria, that they could decide the Syrian civil war for themselves. Of course, that still is unclear. They don't know how solid their gains are at this point or whether or not the rebels might try to launch a counterattack, but at this point in time, Aleppo is certainly one of the toughest battlegrounds in the civil war that's been going on for about five years.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Aleppo.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: And our thanks to Fred Pleitgen for that story.

ISIS is a dire threat in Syria and a growing one here in the U.S., according to intelligence officials, who revealed this week that members of ISIS are not only hiding among refugees from places such as Syria, but planning attacks on the U.S. homeland and hoping to strike in the very near future.

Let's bring in Jim Sciutto, our national security correspondent.

Jim, intelligence officials saying terrorists may be using last year's attack in San Bernardino, California, as inspiration?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the key is even more than inspiration, possibly taking an alarming step forward from inspiring attacks like last year's shooting in San Bernardino to actively directing and coordinating attacks on U.S. soil like those attacks in Paris in November.

The director of national intelligence and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency warning Congress that ISIS is determined to bring terror to the U.S. homeland.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): San Bernardino, the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, inspired by ISIS. Now the nation's top spies warn that the terror group will attempt to direct new attacks on the homeland this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIL's leaders are determined to strike the U.S. homeland, beyond inspiring homegrown violent extremist attacks.

LT. GEN. VINCENT STEWART, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: ISIL will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016.

SCIUTTO: ISIS, described as President Obama as solely a regional threat just over a year ago, is now global, active in eight countries and counting. And it has a growing focus on carrying out attacks in the West.

STEWART: Spectacular external attacks demonstrate ISIL's relevance and reach. ISIL's foreign fighter cadre is core to its external attack capability. And the large number of Western jihadists in Iran and Syria will pose a challenge for Western security services.

SCIUTTO: Intelligence officials warn that ISIS is hiding operatives and fighters inside the enormous human exodus from Syria and Iraq to plant terrorists in the West., manufacturing false passports and false identities so their fighters can pose as refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One technique they have used is taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow. They also have available to them and are pretty skilled at phony passports, so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers as well.

SCIUTTO: Here in the U.S., the FBI is still trying to unravel the San Bernardino plot for clues as to where and how ISIS might strike next. But investigators have yet to unlock one of the attackers' cell phones, a sign of how violent extremists can go dark using encryption.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We still have one of those killers' phones that we have not been able to open and it's been over two months now. We're still working on it.


SCIUTTO: Director Clapper made clear that terror groups are thriving as the number of failed states thrives. Violent extremists are operationally active today in about 40 countries, more terror safe havens, Director Clapper said, than at any time in history.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Back to our politics lead. Bye-bye, Granite State. Hello, Palmetto State. The candidates come out swinging in South Carolina, filling the airwaves with attack ads. Will the ads work? That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Breaking news now. We have a key race alert. The dominoes in the

Republican race for president keep falling, first Carly Fiorina earlier today. Now a source close to Chris Christie's campaign says the New Jersey governor is suspending his presidential campaign. His announcement coming after hinting at this decision last night after a disappointing sixth place finish in yesterday's New Hampshire Republican primary.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian.

David, what have you learned?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There was a conference call just a few moments ago where the entire Christie campaign staff had convened on this conference call.

That is where they were notified that Governor Christie would be suspending his campaign for president. This is after Governor Christie made calls to donors throughout the day, to friends, to supporters as he was working through what he said last night in New Hampshire. He and Mary Pat, his wife, were going home to New Jersey to reassess where things stand. That reassessment happened all day long, lots of phone calls.

And now, just now, the campaign staff has been notified he is suspending his presidential campaign.

TAPPER: Looking at the race, I don't think that the bridge scandal in New Jersey is necessarily a contributing factor at all as to why there didn't seem to be a lane for him. It seemed to me like his governance and his record were just too liberal, moderate, cooperative with Democrats for this Republican electorate; is that fair?

CHALIAN: I think it's fair. I have no doubt that it's fair. I think his record was always going to be a problem. Anyone looking at Chris Christie from a blue state governing that way as the governor of New Jersey, trying to make a play for the Republican nomination was always going to be complicated for exactly the reasons you're saying.


I wonder, I always ask the question of myself and to his advisers saying, if there wasn't the bridge scandal, would he have gotten more of a hearing to try to explain his record, to try to make the appeal to the conservative electorate in the Republican nominating race in a way that the bridge scandal prevented him from getting that hearing? That's where I think the bridge scandal had its biggest impact.

TAPPER: Very interesting. All right, David Chalian, thanks so much for that breaking news. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod.

David, your immediate reaction to this news, Chris Christie dropping out of the race. There are Democrats that thought Christie could have been a real challenge for the Democratic nominee, presumably Hillary Clinton, although maybe we should stop making that presumption.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My first reaction, Jake, is how the heck are we going to get up an undercard debate now with all these candidates dropping out? It's a big loss to the political process.

But, look, I think Chris Christie is a very formidable guy. You're quite right that in this Republican Party, his record as the governor of an Eastern state, Northeastern state who has, you know, committed the sin of cooperating with Democrats was probably at the end of the day going to nail him.

And that's the issues -- those were the issues that were used against him in attack ads that Marco Rubio ran in January when Christie was starting to get some thrust in New Hampshire.

So, those issues were very, very tough on him. I do believe the bridge thing knocked him back to the point where he really had to try and rehabilitate himself in New Hampshire, and just as he was getting that, getting some velocity, that's when Rubio came and clocked him.

And now Rubio -- out the door, Christie has gotten his revenge, I think, a little bit. He has really hurt Rubio going into this next round of primaries.

TAPPER: Yes, he brought a shiv to that debate on Saturday night.

But, David, let me turn to that new slew of political ads. As a former ad guru, messaging maven, I'm interested in hearing what you think of some of these new ads running in South Carolina. First, let's look at the new Donald Trump ad attacking Ted Cruz.


NARRATOR: What kind of man talks from both sides of his mouth on amnesty for illegals on national television and still denies it? Ted Cruz, the worst kind of Washington insider, who just can't be trusted.


TAPPER: Until this point, Trump's ads have mostly recycled video from his own stump speeches. This is a very, very tough ad. What do you think of it?

AXELROD: Yes, it is a classic ad.

You know, it's funny. Donald Trump says he's not a politician, but this is a classic negative ad. And the information that's contained within it is information that tested very well against Ted Cruz in Iowa. And so, you know, I suspect that it will have some impact in South Carolina as well.

And obviously branding him as a Washington politician doesn't help Cruz at all. I think this is an effective ad. It's not very elegant, but I think it's effective.

TAPPER: I don't know that elegance plays in South Carolina, really, but I guess we will see what the voters think.

Cruz is counterpunching with a Web ad showing children playing with a Donald Trump doll. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Check out my house, Mr. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That's a lousy house. I'm going to take your house with eminent domain and park my limos there.


TAPPER: Now, no one, I know, doesn't like looking at kids playing, but one South Carolina voter that tweeted to me that he thinks this ad is hard to understand and too silly to be effective in the Palmetto State.

What do you think?

AXELROD: Or any state. I agree with that.

Look, I think this ad was intended for political insiders and reporters to chew on in response to the Trump ad. It was a way of saying we're not going to sit back and take this. But I don't think it's very effective. You know, it's not well documented, it's unclear.

Sometimes, in this business, people who produce these things, and I have been guilty of it when I was in this business, fall in love with their own creative, and when the straight-ahead approach is a lot more effective.

TAPPER: Yes, sometimes, you get too cute for your own good.

David Axelrod, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

AXELROD: Right. OK, Jake, good to see you.

TAPPER: The Democratic candidates will meet on stage tomorrow night in the first debate since Bernie Sanders' blowout win over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. You can watch the "PBS NewsHour" Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN or on your local PBS stations.

First Carly Fiorina, now Chris Christie. So what will Dr. Ben Carson do after his eighth-place finish in New Hampshire? We will talk to Dr. Carson next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're going to continue the breaking news in our Politics Lead. Breaking in just the last few minutes, sources close to the campaign say Governor Chris Christie is ending his presidential bid. The big talking New Jersey governor promised to tell it like it is. He didn't jibe with enough voters. For a while Dr. Ben Carson soft spoken ways catapulted him to top contender status. Last night in New Hampshire, he had a disappointing finish, garnering just 2 percent of the votes, fewer votes than any other candidates in the Republican race.

Let's bring him in, Dr. Ben Carson. He's in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, right now. Dr. Carson, thanks so much for joining me. Moments ago, we learned Chris Christie is dropping out of the race, Carly Fiorina as well. Your reaction?

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I like both of them. I'm sorry to see them go, but certainly understand that there are other pressures that might interject themselves into that decision-making.

[16:50:03] TAPPER: Both of them did better than you in New Hampshire, although right now when it comes to the delegate count, because of your fourth place finish in Iowa, you're tied with Jeb Bush. Are you getting any pressure from anyone to suspend your campaign or is it onward?

CARSON: Not getting any pressure from any of our millions of supporters. You know, I'm getting a lot of pressure to make sure that stay in the race. You know, they're reminding me that I'm here because I responded to their imploring me to get involved. And I respect that, and I'm not just going to walk away from, you know, the millions of people who are supporting me.

TAPPER: You're in South Carolina right now. Tell us the path forward. What is a state that you can win?

CARSON: I think I can win South Carolina. We're going to be putting a lot of resources, time and effort in here, and I think we're going to do extraordinarily well. The people here align extremely well with the kind of philosophies that I have. And I think you'll see the evidence of that.

TAPPER: So with all due respect, the most recent poll numbers out of South Carolina have you in fifth place. How do you get up to first? How do you turn that around?

CARSON: You'll see. As more and more people get an opportunity to hear me, and I'm going to be here extensively, I think you'll see those numbers turn around very rapidly.

TAPPER: You are mentioned in a new TV ad in South Carolina. Donald Trump's ad against Ted Cruz, Donald Trump's ad says Cruz, quote, "Runs a campaign, accused of dirty tricks and tried to sabotage Ben Carson with false rumors," unquote. Do you think that's a fair description of what happened?

CARSON: I don't know if it was Ted Cruz himself or just his people. He says he really didn't know that they were doing that so we should probably try to give him the benefit of the doubt.

TAPPER: Has he taken enough responsibility for the behavior of his staffers, do you think?

CARSON: I don't want to spend time salvaging him. I think the evidence is very clear for everyone to see and to make their own decision.

TAPPER: What issues are you going to be talking about in South Carolina to bring the Republican electorate to you?

CARSON: Well, I just got through doing a little news conference about eminent domain issue here where the city council is threatening to take away land for a park. And, you know, these are established businesses.

It's absolutely an absurd use of eminent domain. You know, I stand squarely with those individuals. We need -- if the government would just do what it's supposed to do, it wouldn't have time to be messing with people.

That's one of the things that I have strongly emphasized, the need to let the government do what it was designed to do. There's no need for 645 federal agencies and sub-agencies and 4.1 million federal employees.

It's absolutely absurd. It's not that I'm an anti-government person, but government was never supposed to be in every aspect of our lives.

TAPPER: Earlier this month when you announced that you were reducing some of your campaign staff there were speculation and reports that your campaign might be running out of money. Today "The Washington Post" reports that you spent more money per vote in New Hampshire than any other candidate, more than $2300 per vote. Right now do you have enough funds to continue in this race and to wage an effective campaign in South Carolina?

CARSON: Well, I will say that we didn't spend nearly as much money in New Hampshire as many others. Many others spend millions of dollars there and we didn't spend near millions of dollars there, recognizing, you know, that there were certain things that were going to happen there. So you have to pick your battles very carefully. We're doing just fine. People continue to support us. We will continue to move forward.

TAPPER: When you start talking about eminent domain and trying to draw a contrast, it would seem with some of your rivals, is that focused on Donald Trump because obviously he is somebody who believes in --

CARSON: It has nothing --

TAPPER: Nothing to do with Donald Trump?

CARSON: It has nothing to do with him, it has to do with an issue here in the Charleston area that is very important to the people here.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Ben Carson, thank you so much. We'll see you on the campaign trail. CARSON: A pleasure, always.

TAPPER: They say money doesn't grow on trees, but sometimes it comes in bags, $200,000 Oscar gift bags, that is. All the nominees are about to get a $275 roll of toilet paper. Might as well just be money on a roll. You thought you were living large.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Kind of a kooky story in our Money Lead. Another perk for being rich and famous in Hollywood because there aren't enough, those nominated for the 88th Academy Awards are going to get an over-the-top gift bag filled with more than $200,000 worth of swag.

It's $200,000 just for being nominated. Even those who don't walk away with a golden statuette will take home a $55,000 first class trip to Israel.

Also a year of free unlimited luxury Audi car rentals, a breast lift for $1900, plus giving new meaning to the term pampered, a $275 roll of toilet paper that promises your next trip to the bathroom will be sublime. OK, I'll take your word for it.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to my friend, Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in a place I'd like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM."