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Interview With Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark; Where Is Vladimir Putin?; Ferguson Investigation; Polls Point Toward Upset in Israeli Election; Jeb Bush Makes 2016 Debut in Key Primary State

Aired March 13, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Kremlin releasing what some suspect are old pictures of Vladimir Putin, as questions swirl about the Russian president's health. Why hasn't he been seen for more than a week? And who is in charge?

Plus, this:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got officer down, officer down, shots fired at their station.


BLITZER: A dramatic recording of the desperate call for help after two police officers were shot in Ferguson. The manhunt for the shooters continues. And now the embattled mayor talks to CNN about his future.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are following new developments in Ferguson, Missouri, tonight, where police say they are pursuing multiple leads as the manhunt continues for the person or people who shot two police officers. Now the city's embattled mayor is talking to CNN about his future. And he faces growing calls for his resignation.

We're also following a troubling warning about Russia and a new missile that could strike the U.S. East and West coasts possibly with a nuclear warhead. We are covering all angles of the story with our correspondents and our guests, including the former NATO supreme allied commander retired General Wesley Clark.

But let's begin with the Pentagon.

Our Barbara Starr is joining us with more on that disturbing warning about the threat of Russian missiles.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Russia has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. But now Moscow is upping its game on the conventional weapon side, leading to a lot of questions whether Russia is arming found a new Cold War.


STARR (voice-over): Defending against Vladimir Putin's Russian military aggression is about to get harder, the head of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, warning a new generation of Russian cruise missiles could strike critical military radars and missiles inside the United States.

ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, NORAD COMMANDER: The development of the cruise missiles that they have that have a very long range, that from the Russian, from Eastern Russia, they can range critical infrastructure in Alaska and in Canada that we rely on for our homeland defense mission.

STARR: This is the missile, the KH-101. It's a non-nuclear long-range cruise missile now in the final stages of Russian development. Its 2,000-mile-plus range gives the Russians the ability to fire from near their own coastline. It's highly precise, flies low and is difficult to detect.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: If we don't have the ability to detect it, we can't defend against it.

STARR: That means not just Alaska is at risk, but even the Eastern United States from potential missile launches in the Atlantic. Russia already has doubled its long-range Bear bomber patrols around U.S. coastlines in the last year, now 10 a year, more than 100 around Europe, the most flights since the Cold War.

In the last month, several U.S. officials publicly sounding warnings.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Russia's provocations are only more worrisome in light of Vladimir Putin's intense focus on building up and modernizing Russia's military forces.

STARR: The top U.S. commander in Europe even raising nuclear weapons concerns.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: There are those dual-use weapons systems that could very easily be nuclear or non-nuclear. And our ability to tell the difference between one and the other is very tough. And this is very worrisome.


STARR: Now, those increased Russian air patrols, some of it is perhaps Moscow thumbing its nose at the United States. But the U.S. military is worried that also Russia is very deliberately pinging the U.S. air defense system to see how NORAD responds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing stuff, indeed. Barbara, thank you.

The missile threat comes amid growing questions about Russian President Putin. He hasn't been seen in public for a week, sparking new questions about his health and prompting the Kremlin to take some action.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, has the latest from Moscow -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the mystery of the missing president, that's what I'm calling it. It's been more a week now Vladimir Putin has been nowhere to be seen.

Meetings and trips have been canceled without explanation. It's all very odd. It has led to furious speculation on social media, both here in Russia and around the world. There are rumors that Putin is sick, seriously sick, with cancer or has suffered a stroke. That though has been categorically denied by the Kremlin, a spokesman saying the Russian president is in -- quote -- "perfect health."

There are also dark conspiracy theories that Putin has been toppled in a Kremlin coup, although I have not seen any evidence of that so far. But these are uneasy times in Moscow. The Russian economy is in freefall. The Ukraine war has isolated the country internationally. The killing last month of a key opposition leader has the nation on edge. It's not a great time for a president to be absent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Moscow for us with the latest on this mystery, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper.

Julia Ioffe is the contributing writer for "The New York Times" magazine. She's with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What are you hearing about this mystery? Putin, has he been seen, has he not been seen? Are these pictures real? Are they old pictures? What is going on?

JULIA IOFFE, "NEW YORK": Most of them have been old pictures. So he has been seen in old pictures. He was found momentarily in Ticino, Switzerland, where his girlfriend, the gymnast, Alina Kabayeva, was said to have given birth to their love child.

But Putin's spokesman quickly denied the rumors.


BLITZER: We haven't confirmed those rumors here at CNN.

IOFFE: No. No.

You know, it's the classic situation in Russia. The people who are talking don't know. And the people who know aren't talking.

BLITZER: How unusual is it for Putin to just sort of disappear for a week or so?

IOFFE: He has disappeared for a few days here and there. There was an incident in 2012 when he apparently threw out his back in a judo match.

There was another time where he disappeared for a couple days and looked to have come back with some plastic surgery done. But the problem with this is the system has become so personalized, he is so equivalent, he has made himself to equivalent to the Russian state that when he disappears, there's a sense that the Russian state has disappeared, the government has disappeared.

BLITZER: And he has so many political adversaries out there, whether internally in Russia or externally. All the wild rumors start circulating right away when he disappears for a few days.

IOFFE: Well, the problem is, all those adversaries are much weaker than he is.

BLITZER: In Russia.

IOFFE: In Russia. That's right. And so none of them are real competitors or could be real stand-ins. Or they haven't been introduced to the Russian people as such. It just introduces a lot of uncertainty and a lot of nervousness into the system when he vanishes like this for over a week. It's a long time.

BLITZER: Are we back in the bad old days of a cold war right now? You have studied this very closely.

IOFFE: Not yet. But it looks like things are ratcheting up. History actually doesn't repeat itself exactly. I think we're going to have to find a new name for this.

BLITZER: Does he really want that?

IOFFE: I think he does.


BLITZER: Because that's going to bad for Russia, it's going to be bad for his economy. Politically, maybe it will make him look a little bit very nationalistic or whatever. But it's -- is he trying to really recreate the old Soviet Union?

IOFFE: No. I think he's trying to walk a very fine line between the Cold War and, you know, the warmer situation he had with the West in the previous decade. What he wants to do is walk a fine line between projecting Russian power, making sure Russian -- Russia is feared in the world and taken seriously in the world, but without it becoming too isolated, without it becoming Iran or North Korea.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of North Korea, you heard Brian Todd's report saying that Kim Jong-un may be going to Moscow, his first trip as leader of North Korea outside of North Korea. Supposed to be a year of friendship, if you will, between Russia and North Korea. What is going on here?

IOFFE: Before, Russia used to do these years of friendship or years of cultural exchange with European countries. There was one year that they did this with the U.S., one year that they did this with Holland, with Italy, with France.

Now those countries have sanctioned Russia. You can't really do years of friendship with those countries. You have to turn to the countries that haven't written you off yet or blocked you on their friend list. What's really interesting if you look at Russian polls, they show that -- they reflect what Russian people are being shown on TV, so anti-American, anti-European attitudes have ticked up to all- time highs.

But -- and pro-Chinese, pro-North Korean, pro-Middle Eastern sentiments have also hit all-time highs. They are clearly being positioned inside Russia as alternatives to being friends with the West, to show that just because Russia is isolated from the West doesn't mean that Russia is completely isolated.

BLITZER: Yet they are still cooperating with the United States and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in Germany on the whole issue of Iran nuclear weapons.

IOFFE: For now. For now.


BLITZER: When you say for now, what does that mean?

IOFFE: What I mean is, let's see how things go in Ukraine, whether things escalate again, whether Russia walks out of those negotiations, whether Russia decides that it's not beneficial for it to be involved in those situations yet -- anymore.

Things are going to be more touch and go on the international arena with Russia.

BLITZER: All right, Julia, I want you to stand by, because I want to bring in the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.

General Clark, how concerned are you, first of all, about this apparently new Russian missile threat that we heard the head of -- the commander of NORAD discuss earlier?


But there's also a wave of Russian nuclear modernization that we know about that's of concern. Russia is rearming. Russia is flying these aircraft and putting these patrols out to warn us that it wants what it wants and it's a powerful military force and that this is part of its psychological campaign of preparing for the United States not to withstand and stand up against it.

This is the way they operate. And so, yes, we have got to have the right technology and the right forces to defend ourselves and to deter. We have that capacity. I'm more worried about Ukraine and what could happen there. And I think Julia has it just right. We don't know exactly how

Putin will see this going forward, whether he will maintain cooperation. On the ground in Ukraine, people feel like that another wave of the offensive is imminent. They don't at all feel secure from -- as a result of the Minsk 2 agreement. They are holding their breath.

There's people being killed and wounded every day from mortars and tank fire and so forth. And so it's unclear what the future holds.

BLITZER: But you don't believe -- maybe you do. I will ask you, General Clark. Do you believe that Russia under Putin would actually threaten a NATO ally, whether Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, or Poland, because you know the treaty obligations for all NATO allies?

CLARK: Right.

But I think what Putin is working with is a -- it's like picking a lock. He looks at the way we have arrayed ourselves, how we view the threat. He has found a way to come under underneath it, so to speak. And he practiced this in Ukraine. It's called hybrid warfare. And so, according to the leaders in the Baltic states, they are under hybrid warfare attack right now.

These aircraft flying around are part of that hybrid warfare. And let's say there was a demonstration in Latvia and some buildings were taken over. And the Latvian government says, these are Russians that have come in there. Someone stands up and says, no, no, no, I'm just a Latvian citizen who speaks Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia.

What would NATO do? Those are the questions that bother our allies in Eastern Europe. And so if it were to start that way, as it started in Ukraine, we don't know how it would end. And that's the threat that NATO must deal with, not only the threat of a conventional invasion or some long-range cruise missile taking out our radars, but the fact that through these hybrid warfare tactics nibbling away at NATO, he could completely undercut the credibility of the alliance.

BLITZER: General, Julia wanted to weigh in as well on that point.

Go ahead, Julia.

IOFFE: So, one thing I was going to say is, Russia is already testing NATO in the Baltics. Putin has basically taken his domestic policy of sending out trial balloons international. And what he has done a few months ago was to go across the Estonian border and kidnap an Estonian intelligence officer, bring him back to Russia and imprison him in Moscow.

It was a test to see how NATO and the West would react.


BLITZER: How did NATO and the West react?

IOFFE: They didn't really do anything. And so the problem is that if something more serious comes along, a bigger trial balloon comes along or if an attack, like General Clark said, somebody takes over some buildings, what would NATO do? If NATO doesn't do anything, does that mean that NATO no longer exists?

BLITZER: Well, what is the reaction? What is the answer to that question, General?

CLARK: It means that NATO has to develop new capabilities. It has to incorporate these new threats in its exercises. And it has to prepare its political leaders to understand the challenges and react to them.

For example, in the case I cited in Latvia, you might need some NATO, let's say, paramilitary police, some Carabinieri, like the Italian have, who can go in and retake a building with NATO and not just leave it to the Latvian police force. But this process, as Julia said, is already under way. There are already leaders in Eastern Europe who are afraid, let's say, to assist Ukraine with its urgent plea for military assistance.

They say, well, Putin might escalate. That's all part of the Russian tactic. He wants you to believe that if you try to resist, it's futile to resist. He wants to frighten the West with the fear of escalation. And we dealt with this adequately during the Cold War. We understood what the threat was. But have got a whole new generation of leaders, political leaders from all across Europe and in the United States, who aren't familiar with the tactics.

They don't understand it. It's not accompanied by the same ideological component that it had during the Cold War. This is not global Marxism, Leninism. This is re-assertive Russian nationalism. But it's about great powers, his seeking his sphere of influence.

So, we have to understand that threat and comes to terms with it.

BLITZER: We have to remember, of course, the NATO alliance is based on the theory that an attack on any NATO country is an attack on all NATO countries and all NATO allies have to come to the defense of an attacked country.

General Clark, Julia, both of you, please stand by. We have more to discuss. What fear -- what I am really worried about is a miscalculation right now that could lead to some sort of dramatic and awful escalation.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're following a very disturbing warning by the U.S. admiral in charge of defending

North American airspace. He says a new Russian missile may be able to avoid detection and could threaten both U.S. coasts, potentially with a nuclear weapon, all this coming as Russia continues to support rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

We're back with the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark, and Julia Ioffe, the contributing writer for "The New York Times" magazine.

Here is what worries be, General. I'm sure it worries you as well, the potential for miscalculation right now. Remember what happened when apparently those separatists in Ukraine, they shot down a commercial jetliner out of the sky last July using Russian made surface-to-air missiles? I'm really worried about that. Something like that could really escalate quickly, couldn't it?

CLARK: Well, I think that wasn't so much a miscalculation as a mistake by the Russian crew that fired the missile.

But, you know, Western powers have been very, very careful, overly careful, in my view, to avoid provoking President Putin. And the truth is that we're not going to get the kind of agreement we want in Eastern Ukraine unless Ukraine can successfully defend itself and close off the military option.

Part of the Russian hybrid warfare effort is to convince people in the West that Russia is unstoppable militarily. It's simply not true. We have looked at what they have done in Eastern Ukraine. Their maneuver forces, the tanks and the infantry, it's good quality materiel. The training of the troops is substandard. It hasn't gone that well.

The separatists have had a lot of problems with command-and- control. Russia artillery is excellent, but they have enjoyed a battlefield technological superiority, thanks to the fact that the United States and allies have withheld from Ukraine some of the essential means it needs to defend itself.

BLITZER: Julia, here is what I don't understand. The Russian economy is in trouble right now, not only because the price of oil has dropped, but also because the U.S.-led sanctions, the boycotts and all that kind of stuff. Yet Putin's popularity goes up and up even as people suffer economically. Explain.

IOFFE: It's going to get into the triple digits soon.

BLITZER: His popularity, you mean?

IOFFE: His popularity, that's right.

BLITZER: Why, if people's bread-and-butter issues are hurting?

IOFFE: Because in part, that's how Russian TV works. And it's part of Russian history.

Russian TV just channels something else in the Russian psyche and Russian history. Before, it was about material well-being, about economic stability that Putin brought after the chaotic 1990s. As soon as that went out the window, Russian TV changed tracks and it started talking about empire, greatness, Russian orthodoxy and, you know, other things that are important to Russians. And then material well-being then takes a back seat.

BLITZER: General Clark, what's a bigger threat to the United States right now? Would it be Russia and its aggressive moves, if you will, or ISIS and these other terrorist organizations?

CLARK: Well, in the immediate future, right now, the terrorists, if they could get a bomb on an airliner, would do it and we would consider that an immediate threat. But the more significant threat is actually Russia, because the structure of the post-Cold War global order depends on the United States and its relationship to Europe.

It depends on NATO and the European Union. We have got to have our NATO allies in order to deal with the rising power of China and help China integrate peacefully into the future 21st century world order. How we play all this is very important in the long run.

ISIS and the fight against terrorism is going to go on for three years or a decade. And our influence on that is limited. We don't want U.S. troops on the ground. That inflames the situation. We want to be able to sustain our engagement using airpower, maybe special forces and work around the edges of it while people in the region sort this out.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Julia Ioffe, thanks to you as well.

IOFFE: Thank you.

BLITZER: To find out more about the escalating battle against ISIS, specifically what you can do to help protect Iraqi children affected by the violence, visit You will be able to impact your world.

Just ahead:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got officer down, officer down, shots fired at their station.


BLITZER: Dramatic audio of the call for help after two police officers were shot in Ferguson, Missouri. Plus, the mayor calls for -- the mayor of Ferguson, there are calls for his resignation. They are getting louder. Now he talks to CNN about his future. We are live in Ferguson. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: There is new information tonight about the manhunt in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of two police officers. The Saint Louis County police chief said just a little while ago

investigators are pursuing many leads in the case. And the mayor of Ferguson is now speaking out to CNN about his future, as calls for his resignation grow louder.

CNN's Sara Sidner is on the ground for us in Ferguson.

Sara, what's the latest over there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, you know, the rain and the cold have really made things quite calm here right now.

But certainly, there's still calls for the mayor to step down and for -- as the protesters put it, for this place to see itself cleaned out.

But the mayor says he is staying put as this investigation to try to find that person or persons who shot the two police officers is still under way.



SIDNER (voice-over): A city again on edge as the intense manhunt continues for the gunman who police say targeted two officers early Thursday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officer down. Officer down. Shots fired at the station. All cars en route to the officer down. Officer in need of aid.

SIDNER: Tonight in a news conference, police said they are pursuing many leads, but they say they've made no arrests and are not providing details about the investigation.

CHIEF JON BELMAR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE: The detectives are looking at this investigation around the clock. They will not rest until we get to the point where we have a conclusion regarding this investigation.

SIDNER: Police have been going door to door looking for the suspects, detaining and questioning and ultimately releasing three people who may know something.

IRESHA TURNER, QUESTIONED BY POLICE: I opened the door and stood back. I look at my chest, there's a red dot on my chest. I had my hands up. "Please don't shoot me."

SIDNER: Overnight, a call for calm as a prayer vigil replaced the normally tense and sometimes violent protests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ask you to be with those police officers who have suffered an injustice, that you will raise them back up.

SIDNER: And Barack Obama, in an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" condemned the attack on the officers but said it shouldn't detract from the main issue.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest. But there was no excuse for criminal acts.

SIDNER: Meantime, in a new interview with CNN, tonight the mayor of Ferguson tells me he's staying put, despite the scathing Department of Justice report that outlines systematic racism in the city's police department and courts.

(on camera): Why should they trust you since you were here during all of the madness that has unfolded?

KNOWLES: There's ways to remove me if that is the will of the people. I've stood for office five times over the last decade and won every time. This past time, just a year ago -- less than a year ago I was unanimously -- or rather unopposed for office.

SIDNER (voice-over): Mayor Thomas [SIC] Knowles says he owes it to the people of Ferguson to stay.

KNOWLES: It's my commitment to the city. I lived here for 35 years. You know, I moved back here after college. My wife grew up here. We're going to have our first child here in the next month and a half. I've been committed to this community, and I want to make sure that this community is the same community that everybody else wants to live in, work in, to play in.


SIDNER: And that was the mayor, James Knowles, talking to me about his position and how he feels about the city that he is from, that he grew up in.

We also must mention that there are plenty of residents here who want him to stay. We have spoken to them today, and we will have more on that in "ANDERSON COOPER 360." There are protest movements that want him out. But there are a lot of residents here who still want to see him at the helm. They believe that he can help change this city for the better -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner in Ferguson, thank you.

The breaking news, we've learned that the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, traveled to St. Louis County today, which includes the city of Ferguson, as you know, where the two police officers were shot. According to a news release, Governor Nixon was briefed on the situation by law enforcement officials over there.

Let's bring in our analysts to assess what's going on. Joining us right now, the community activist, John Gaskin; the St. Louis city alderman, Antonio French; and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

John Gaskin, what about the governor? He seems to have a very, very low profile. He was at some sort of auto plant today. I don't know if he's making comments about what's going on in Ferguson. What is going on with the governor?

JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, I don't think the governor went out of his way to come to St. Louis to be briefed, certainly, on the incident that took place the other night. I think it may have just been a matter of coincidence that he was in the area.

But I will say this. A lot of people don't have a whole lot of -- a whole lot of confidence in the governor. We saw how he responded to the events that took place back in August and even in November. So many business owners are still going throughout the motions and dealing with the fact that the National Guard and even firefighters did not protect their businesses from arson.

But nonetheless, I will say this, Wolf. I have very little to no confidence in Mayor Knowles. It is time for him to step aside. I can't imagine anyone that would allow those atrocious injustices to take place within their municipality and stand by idly, or allow that to happen and not expect to step down and have a level of accountability for those actions.

BLITZER: Antonio French, the Ferguson city -- Ferguson city council member, a former Ferguson police officer, Kim Tihen, says she has been supportive of peaceful protesters, she says, but she's beyond outraged, her words, by the behavior and lawlessness of the protesters who want nothing more than to destroy our city. How does this -- give us your reaction to that and how this impacts what's going on over there.

ANTONIO FRENCH, FERGUSON CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I don't know if comments like that really help. I haven't seen people who have wanted to destroy the city. What they do want to do, if anything, is destroy the system that has really plagued African-Americans in that community for a long time. That system which is detailed in the Department of Justice report.

And so people ask, why are people still protesting even after these resignations? It's because the DOJ report doesn't describe just the acts of a few individuals. It really describes a system that is in place, not just in Ferguson, but in municipalities all around Ferguson in the region. They really prey on poor people and African- Americans. And that's the change that people want to see.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes is joining us now, our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director.

Tom, detectives say they're working on leads. They've questioned several individuals regarding the shooting. What will police be doing in the coming days to try to find the shooter or shooters who were involved?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, they'll be trying to get cooperation from the community, Wolf, and see if anybody has information that might help them locate these subjects that they're looking for and get them into custody, determine whether or not they're responsible for the shooting. They'll be monitoring social media. They'll be doing a lot of

door-to-door type questioning and searches and discussions to try to get information that can help them get these people into custody and move the investigation forward.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, you know, the Ferguson mayor -- you just saw him -- Mayor Knowles, spoke with Sara Sidner just a little while ago. He says he's not going anywhere. According to him, if the community wants him to resign, they're going to need to hold a recall. Is that -- is that at all plausible or reasonable if he wants to stay on? Can he stay on until the next election?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it's a practical matter, yes, there's never been a recall in Ferguson. It's a small community. And one of the issues that has driven this whole controversy is that African-Americans who constitute a substantial majority of the citizens of Ferguson have not voted in significant numbers, particularly in municipal elections. And thus, the African- Americans are very underrepresented in the government.

The mayor can stay. The mayor can be a symbol of the old days. And that's what he is apparently determined to be. But it's the voters who can turn him out. And until the next regularly scheduled election, it seems like there's virtually no chance. And probably very little chance of getting a new mayor if African-American turnout remains at the very low levels that it's been at.

BLITZER: Let me ask Antonio French, because I spoke last hour with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. And he said African-Americans vote in years where there are presidential elections, but off years for municipal elections, they don't show up to vote. Why is that?

FRENCH: That is a problem. And in Ferguson in particular, a lot of the African-Americans that live in that area are new to the community. Many of them are renters. They don't get necessarily invested in the community. So we really want to see a change in that. Our organization has registered hundreds of new voters. There's a municipal election coming up in about four weeks. We really want to see a high level of turnout among the African-American community to start reclaiming their government in Ferguson.

The mayor is not up for re-election at this next election. But half the board -- half the city council is. And so this is an opportunity to get that kind of change if people want it.

BLITZER: Is he going to be re-elected in the next municipal election? What do you think, Antonio?

FRENCH: I doubt it. And really, I think his presence and continued presence in that position is an obstacle to what the city and what this region needs to move forward. I think the best thing he could do is eventually resign.

Now what I understand about the Ferguson city charter, though, is that in the case of a vacancy in the mayor, it actually would be the city council that would appoint an interim mayor among city council members. So that is something that may best happen after the next election.

BLITZER: John Gaskin and Cornell William Brooks, the head of the NAACP, also suggested to me -- and I don't want to put words in his mouth. But some African-Americans may be intimidated to actually go out and vote right now, given the climate that exists in Ferguson, surrounding communities. What do you say to that?

FRENCH: I think Cornell Brooks is exactly right. When you've got the type of tension that exists in this region, I would not be surprised if you may have some voter suppression efforts that may be upon us on April the 7th for the municipal election. I would not be surprised at all. He's right. We, I think that is something many people do need to keep their eye on, moving forward for the upcoming municipal election.

One of the things that I did not like was the fact that the city council meetings, prior to the incident in August, were not necessarily widely publicized. You talk to so many people, both black and white, and they weren't necessarily really aware of when the city council meetings took place. There's a very good possibility that the city council and the city of Ferguson was certainly taking advantage of the community's lack of engagement, for sure.

BLITZER: John Gaskin, thanks very much. Antonio French, appreciate having you on. Tom Fuentes, Jeffrey Toobin.

Much more of the breaking news coming up. We're following it here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following signs of what would be a major upset in next week's Israeli election, just days before the vote. The latest polls show Benjamin Netanyahu trailing his challenger, and now, the prime minister is scrambling to try to hold on to his job.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is in Jerusalem with the very latest.

What is the very latest, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the last polls before the election were released tonight, both showing the prime minister down four seats. It's just a little over a week ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was receiving standing ovations from lawmakers in Washington. Now back home, political reality is setting in and he is in the political fight of his life.


LABOTT (voice-over): Just days before the election, Benjamin Netanyahu is on the ropes. The latest polls show the prime minster running behind a little known, mild-mannered politician, now the prospect of a major upset at the hands of Isaac Herzog, known as Boujie.

ISAAC HERZOG, CHAIRMAN, ISRAELI LABOR PARTY: There's a lot of disappointment from Benjamin Netanyahu. I think his era is over.

LABOTT: Focus more on his current job, Netanyahu has been slow to get on the campaign trail but has been quick to blame, pointing to a, quote, "worldwide effort to unseat him." Campaign officials say money from around the world, much of it from the U.S., is funding a get out the vote drive called B15 (ph), with one goal, get rid of Bibi. After six years, Netanyahu's relentless focus on security seems to be falling flat among many Israelis, who want a leader that do not only keep them safe, but deal with rising food and housing prices, health care and welfare reform.

DAVID HOROVITZ, TIMES OF ISRAEL: In the increasing inequalities within the Israeli economy, the emerging and the widening of the gulf between the haves and have-nots. There, he's won these elections.

LABOTT: Tens of thousands filled a square in Tel Aviv this weekend to drive home that message, an anti-Netanyahu rally.

In his final push before election day, the prime minister doubled down on his security platform. With a major speech to Congress on the threat Israel faces from Iran, now featured in a new campaign ad and hedging on his commitment to a peace deal with the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution.

Herzog says Netanyahu has an empty brand, warning about growing tension with the U.S., Israel's closest ally under his leadership.

HERZOG: I think that he failed. And I'm trying to call his bluff on it.


LABOTT: And, Wolf, while Netanyahu is slipping in the polls, Herzog has remained pretty much consistent. So, voters haven't really settled on him yet. Plenty other parties could do very well in election night, and who they support is the key factor in whether Netanyahu holds on to his job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The election is next Tuesday. We'll, of course, have special coverage.

Elise, thanks very much.

Much more news right after this.


BLITZER: Jeb Bush making news as he talks about potential White House rivals, including Hillary Clinton, and some fellow Republicans, all of this as he visits a state that will play a key role in the race for the White House. That would be New Hampshire. Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Dover, New



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats defending Hillary Clinton's e-mail on a private server when in public office argue Jeb Bush did the same thing when he was governor. Today, Jeb Bush argued there's a big difference.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: We complied with the law and we have made all of my e-mails, long before Mrs. Clinton's issues came up we made them public for you to see. So, it's totally different.

BASH: Bush separated himself from fellow Republican 2016 contenders on another hot topic, Iran. Several have asked to sign a GOP Senate letter to Iran, warning about nuclear talks. Not him.

(on camera): Governor, would you have signed the letter that 47 Republican senators signed?

J. BUSH: I'm not a senator. I think they signed it out of frustration that there's been no dialogue, no conversation. No -- there's been a stifling of debate.

BASH (voice-over): All this during Jeb Bush's first political trip to New Hampshire in 15 years.

J. BUSH: Looking forward to learning about your business.

BASH: One that drew so much media, it's hard to imagine the first in the nation primary is still almost a year away. But coming early, engaging in small Q&A settings like this, which New Hampshire voters demand is crucial for a man named Bush, since family history here is complicated.

After Jeb's father, George H.W. Bush, won Ohio in 1980, he skipped the New Hampshire debate and lost the Republican primary to Ronald Reagan, crushing his bid for president that year.

But in 1988, he won, launching his winning drive to the White House. As for Jeb's brother, New Hampshire voters temporarily knocked George W. Bush off his front-runner status in 2000, by delivering John McCain a stunning victory.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front runners. And this year is no exception.

BASH: Helping in that losing campaign was the last time Jeb Bush was here.

J. BUSH: We were passing out oranges door to door with people. And it was a blast. It turns out my brother and dad won Florida, didn't win New Hampshire. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us from New Hampshire. Dana, by the way, will be back this Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m., again at noon eastern. She'll be sitting down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for an exclusive live interview. Dana Bash on late edition this Sunday.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

I guess New Hampshire is going to be critical for Jeb Bush.


BLITZER: Presumably, he's not necessarily going to do fabulous in Iowa, the first caucus state.

BORGER: No, in Iowa, they tend to look for more ideological candidates. New Hampshire has a history of sort of looking for center-right candidate, right? And I think Jeb has a feeling that New Hampshire is something he can really look at and go for, because don't forget, there are independent voters who can vote in a Republican primary in New Hampshire, and a lot of independent voters are not going to vote in a Democratic primary because they're going to think, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. So, they may be looking at Republicans and that's where Jeb sees an opportunity.

BLITZER: It's an important -- critically important state for him now, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is. That's the key point, those independents. If there was a competitive Democratic primary, and there still could be but we don't think there'll be one.

BORGER: Right.

ZELENY: That means that could help him out.

But as Dana reported, the history of the Bush's in New Hampshire is very mixed. So, I think it depends what type of candidate is Jeb Bush at that point. Does the primary process pull him to the right at all? Is he allowed to pull himself? That could help with Chris Christie if he's still in. So, far too early to know how --


BLITZER: That might help in Iowa or South Carolina. I'm not necessarily sure if it's going to help him all that much in New Hampshire, though, right?

ZELENY: No, exactly. I mean, if he's -- he could be in trouble in New Hampshire if he's pulled to the right. My big question is, how much is he actually going to compete in Iowa? There are enough main street Republicans who are there that usually don't go to the Iowa caucuses. Can he persuade them to come out or does he sort of skirt it a little bit?

BORGER: And he's hired some key people in the state of Iowa. So, he's not sort of -- he's not giving it up.

To me, the question about Jeb is how relatable is Jeb Bush? We see him when he gives speeches he's kind of flat and not really great at reading the teleprompter. When he's one-on-one, he can be a little bit disarming. He's much more relaxed.

And, you know, voters in New Hampshire have to see you in their living room six times before they decide whether or not they're going to vote for you. It depends on how a candidate wears during the campaign. Jeb may be a little rusty at that.

BLITZER: Is Scott Walker, the Wisconsin government, emerging right now as the most serious, potential challenger to Jeb Bush?

ZELENY: He is at this point, but it's always dangerous. You know, the position you don't want to be in is sort of that early position in the year before. But right now, he is, no doubt about it. Conservatives really like what he's doing in Wisconsin. He's sort of doing a real-time laboratory of conservative governing in the state of Wisconsin.

So, he is emerging as a key person. You can tell by the way that Jeb Bush is going after him. He's already calling him a flip-flopper. So, he's the only who Jeb Bush --

BLITZER: And he's popular in Iowa, Scott Walker.

BORGER: He is popular in Iowa. But, you know, I think Jeb Bush has got to look at Marco Rubio, somebody from the state of Florida. Rand Paul who is somebody who appeals to those independent voters in state like New Hampshire and some conservatives.

I think he's is sort of, there's an interesting, deep field out here that I think will give Jeb Bush an awful lot of competition.

BLITZER: And quickly, Jeb, you're getting some information about Hillary Clinton and her plans to run for president.

ZELENY: Right. Her headquarters is going to be in Brooklyn. She's going to sort of summon everyone there. We still believe she's looking at an April begin date there. I'm told that people are supposed to work to report at the end of March.

So, this campaign is really coming together and after this week, I think it's a clear reason why.

BLITZER: Why Brooklyn?

ZELENY: You know, it's a good place for high-tech people to sort of bring people in. She wants it to be somewhere in the area, but that's a question. Is that a sort of bad place to run a presidential campaign, as oppose to small town somewhere? She's picked Brooklyn.

BORGER: Is it too close to Wall Street? I think is a question.

ZELENY: It's only a couple stops away on the subway.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Well, I don't think Elizabeth Warren is running though, and that would be an issue if she were running.

BORGER: It could be.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us again Monday, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.