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Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Interview With Rear Admiral John Kirby; Hillary Clinton Speaks Out; F-16 Collides with Plane, Two Killed. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired July 7, 2015 - 18:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, running out of patience. The exchange on Capitol Hill over the slow pace of the war against ISIS after the Pentagon admits that only a few dozen Syrian rebels have been trained to fight the terror group. A powerful senator accuses the administration of, quote, "disturbing self-delusion."

Midair collision. A jetliner slams into a civilian plane over South Carolina, scattering debris over a large area. What went wrong?

And our CNN exclusive. Hillary Clinton gives her first national interview as a 2016 candidate, speaking out on her Republican rivals, her e-mail controversy and her own issue of trust.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... should and do trust me. And I have every confidence that that will be the outcome of this election.


SCIUTTO: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I am Jim Sciutto and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An astonishing admission tonight from the Pentagon underscoring just how tough a slog the war against ISIS will continue to be. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress the U.S. has trained only 60 Syrian rebel fighters the day after President Obama acknowledged that the ISIS war will be long-term and warned in his words of a generational struggle.

Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey faced lawmakers who are clearly running out of patience. And a CNN exclusive, in her first national TV interview as a 2016 candidate, Hillary Clinton talks about her e-mail problem, her issue of trust and her rivals. She slams Donald Trump for his harsh words on immigration.


CLINTON: I'm very disappointed in those comments. And I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and with the Republican Party for not responding immediately and saying, enough, stop it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: I will be speaking with State Department spokesman John Kirby. And our correspondents, analysts, and guests are standing by with full coverage of today's top stories.

But we begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Really, a remarkable and sobering day on Capitol Hill on the war on ISIS.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, absolutely. The admission of the slow pace of the war gave Congress plenty of room to jump in with criticism.


STARR (voice-over): With ISIS still in control of many parts of Syria, a stunning revelation from the secretary of defense on just how slow U.S. training of moderate Syrians to fight ISIS is really going.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: As of July 3, we are currently training about 60 fighters. This number is much smaller than we hoped for at this point.

STARR: The U.S. had wanted to train up to 5,000 per year. But a major problem? Getting fighters willing to promise to only fight ISIS in Syria, not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Senator John McCain furious at the Pentagon for what he views as a failure to protect the Syrians.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Secretary, this is not a very pleasant exchange. I would like to have answers to questions. Will we tell them that we will defend them against Bashar Assad's barrel bombing?

CARTER: I think we will have an obligation to help.

MCCAIN: Will we tell them that?

CARTER: We have not told them that.

MCCAIN: Not told them that.

STARR: The Joint Chiefs chairman leaving the door open for a small number of American troops working as forward air controllers to assist in calling in the airstrikes to help Iraqi forces.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I agree that there are points on the battlefield where the present of forward observers, JTACs, embedded soft forces would make them more capable.

STARR: The administration says there are no plans for more U.S. forces. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In order for us to

succeed long term in this fight against ISIL, we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress.

STARR: But almost one year into the American involvement, questions about whether the U.S. can afford patience.

DEMPSEY: If you're suggesting that ISIL's threat to the homeland could increase because of this patience, I concede that risk, but I would also suggest to you that we would contribute mightily to ISIL's message as a movement were we to confront them directly on the ground in Iraq and Syria.


STARR: So what would change this balance in Iraq and Syria? What many commanders are saying behind the scenes is, they need to see Iraqi fighters, Syrian rebel fighters be able to take back and hold for a very long period of time significant amounts of territory, the battlefield right now very fluid. Territory exchanges hands. They need to get that territory out of ISIS hands once and for all -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: Particularly big targets like Mosul in the north.

Another deadline has slipped away, but the United States and key world powers will keep negotiating with Iran on a nuclear deal. Officials say the talks will go through Friday now. While there has been progress, there are still some major sticking points. And if a deal is reached, it will still need to pass congressional scrutiny.

Let's turn now to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

You and I have been covering these talks from the beginning. And we're going back two years now. There's been a lot of deadlines that have come and gone.


SCIUTTO: Is there actually still a deadline?

LABOTT: Well, no. This is like the fourth deadline just of this round. If you listen to U.S. officials speaking, they don't even use the word deadline. They use extension of the talks or extension of the internal agreement.

I think they felt, the U.S. and its partners felt that there was a lot of momentum in the room. This congressional deadline of Thursday, where the congressional review period would double, was inching up on them. They felt that there was enough momentum. They didn't want to say let's go home.

They want to keep going. I think they also wanted to show the Iranians that they weren't going to buckle under the pressure of a deadline. Iranians are famous in these talks for waiting until the last minute and then trying to get hard bargains to get a deal.

And I think Secretary Kerry wanted to say to the Iranians, but also to Congress and to the American people and their critics here, that the U.S. wants a good deal. The deal is more important than the deadline. If that means they have a congressional period of 30, 60, 90 days, they want it to pass muster.

SCIUTTO: So, now there's this new possibility, and I was speaking to a senator who has been briefed on the talks earlier today, of letting this other deadline pass and just let the interim agreement continue?

LABOTT: I think -- that's what I think is going to happen.

Look, there's been a lot of momentum, but if you talk to officials, the tone in the room is pretty somber. I don't think there's enough progress that they maybe could sign a deal this week. But I don't think anybody wants to walk away entirely from the process. I think a couple of things could happen. There could be a deal, which I think is kind of unlikely.

They could keep working through the weekend, which some people would like to do, maybe Secretary Kerry. I think others think it is time to come home, including maybe the White House. And they could also say to the Iranians, listen, let's keep this going. Let's let the interim agreement stand. We will come back.

But it is entirely possible they say to the Iranians call us when you're serious, please. Until then, we're going to go home and think about plan B and try to put a little fire under...


SCIUTTO: Support so tepid here even on the Democratic side. You wonder how long they will maintain patience, the president's advocates even.

Elise Labott, thanks so much. We know we will continue to watch this.

Does the Obama administration's entire Middle East strategy now depend on those Iran talks?

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is looking into that.

Jim, what are you finding?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, at this hour, President Obama is sitting down with Senate Democrats here at the White House about those ongoing Iran nuclear talks. As a matter of fact, just a few moments ago, they arrived here at the White House behind me. It is a critical moment in the talks, as Elise mentioned, as the White House essentially said publicly today there really is not much of a timeline anymore for a deal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): No breakthroughs in the Iran nuclear talks,

just negotiators breaking through the deadlines. First, it was June 30, then July 7. Now it's the end of the week. The White House indicated today, even that deadline is not a make-or-break date.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And these conversations will only go on as long as the president and his team perceive them to be useful, because they are making progress in that direction.

ACOSTA: With multiple administration sources warning there are major obstacles blocking a deal, the White House is no longer putting the odds of an agreement at 50/50.

EARNEST: I'm not feeling like a betting man.

ACOSTA: Perhaps it is because Iranian negotiators are not hungering for a deal. As the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, told reporters: "My concern has been that there will be a rope- a-dope sort of performance by Iran and they will just string out these negotiations."

The White House has hopes that a deal to rein in Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for loosened sanctions could open up opportunities across the Middle East, from Syria, where Bashar al-Assad is propped up by Iran's leadership, to Yemen and its Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to the battle against ISIS, where Iran again is a major player.

Critics of the president's Middle East policy aren't buying it.

MCCAIN: What each of these growing threats has in common is a failure of deterrence brought on by a dangerous perception of American weakness and lack of resolve.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think even if we get the nuclear deal, we are going to have to try to contain Iranian power in the rest of the Middle East.

ACOSTA: That, the White House maintains, is why the Iran deal is so important.

EARNEST: For all of these bad things that Iran does, Iran would be even more dangerous if they are armed with a nuclear weapon.


ACOSTA: Now, if the White House fails to get an Iran deal in the next 48 hours, Congress will have 60 days instead of 30 days to review the agreement. The White House said today it is OK with that extended review period, even though it might be complicated for the president.


They are noting that most lawmakers will not be spending the August recess poring over the details of the deal. So, they aren't sweating it that much at this point, Jim. SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now is State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Thank you very much for coming on, a lot of issues to cover tonight.

And first I want to start with this idea of the deadline. As you know, I have been covering these talks for some time. There have been a lot of deadlines that have come and gone. There have been extensions. Is there actually a deadline in these talks? Does the new Friday deadline mean anything?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we are in this round here. And that's what we're focused on, Jim, is this round of talks, which we said we obviously -- we were working towards the end of June to try to complete. We're in extra innings, if you will, right now, in this particular round.

And this date of the 10th is an extension of the parameters under the joint plan of action, which allows, quite frankly, the negotiators to stay at the table. And so we're taking this day by day, hour by hour. I can tell you Secretary Kerry's focus is much more on what's going on in that negotiating room than it is on the calendar.

SCIUTTO: John, there's another possibility that we have been beginning to hear from folks involved in the talks, but also senators who have been briefed on the talks. And that is that there is even the possibility of letting this Friday deadline pass, just let the interim agreement continue on, and, in effect, say to the Iranians, if you don't have an agreement by Friday that, hey, come back when you're serious about making concessions.

Is that a possible alternative right now to reaching an agreement by the end of the week?

KIRBY: Well, I really want to stay away from hypotheticals and speculating about what may or may not happen here towards the end of the week.

What I can tell you again is this extension to the 10th is to allow us to keep those negotiators hard at the work in the room. Look, we wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't progress being made and if there weren't serious discussions being had. And so that's what the focus is on, on what we're talking about today, what we will talk about tomorrow. And then we will deal with things as they come later in the week.

SCIUTTO: But you have got to then tell us what the plan B is, because plan A has been pushed out so long, to be fair. John, at this point, the fair question is, what happens if you don't have an agreement by Friday?

KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to engage in hypotheticals, Jim. Our focus is trying to get the right deal here for our national

security interests. I can tell you that if a deal can't be reached, if Secretary Kerry can't help get to an agreement that makes sense and prevents Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability, he will walk away.

And he's made that very, very clear. The focus is on trying to get the right deal, a deal that is consistent with the agreement made in April, the basic parameters that were set in Lausanne. And, again, that's where their heads are right now.

SCIUTTO: So, walking away from the table a possibility.

KIRBY: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: John Kirby, please stay with us.

We have a lot more issues to cover. We are going to get back to them right after this break.



SCIUTTO: And welcome back.

Our top story, the Pentagon makes the stunning admission that only a few dozen Syrian rebels have been trained to fight ISIS. And lawmakers are running out of patience with the war strategy.

We're back with State Department spokesman John Kirby.

John, Secretary Ash Carter revealing today only 60 Syrian fighters trained so far. The original goal was 5,400 in the first year. Then it was reduced to about 3,000 by the end of this year. That's a pretty remarkable shortfall. Isn't this a failure, this program to train Syrian moderate rebels?

KIRBY: Well, I think you heard Secretary Carter speak to this today when he said it is not where they want it to be. And I think they have been very open and candid about the challenges in this program.

It doesn't mean that the program still isn't important or -- that we need to pursue it. We need good capable partners on the ground. This is an effort to try to do that.


SCIUTTO: To be fair, how is this at all a credible first step in that direction? That's a 1 percent achievement on the goal of 5,400. You got about 60 at this point, about 100th of the original goal.

How does that inspire confidence among our partners on the ground, for instance, who are really begging for and U.S. coalition help? KIRBY: I think it speaks to the importance of doing this right,

and not necessarily doing it fast.

Now, I'm not saying that the number isn't an issue. It is. And, obviously, Secretary Carter spoke to that. They would like to have done more by now. I think all of us can agree with that. But it does speak to the importance of the big job of getting this done right and not getting it done fast. And certainly there are issues in terms of who you're bringing in and how you're vetting them and how you're preparing them for the kind of training that they're going to undergo.

And there is just a lot of -- it is very complex. It is an issue that is just going to continue to take some time. It doesn't mean though just because you have such a small number, that it is a failure. Let's keep in mine the number, though small and much smaller than we would like, is still a number of opposition trainees that have made it through that rigorous, as it should be, vetting process and are now in training. And I think that's not something to just completely dismiss out of hand.

SCIUTTO: Well, you compare it to the 31,000 that the CIA estimates you have in ISIS fighters on the ground, 60 is just not -- let's be fair, John. That's just not a reasonable step, in light of the fact that this program was announced a year ago.

KIRBY: Well, I don't disagree that the number is smaller than we would like and I'm not trying on sugarcoat this at all.

But you can't just do it in whole numbers, though, either, Jim. You said 31,000. I think that's an estimate of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. And even if the program was working at its max, some -- 5,000 or more, you could still throw that argument back at me, well, 5,000 compared to 31,000.

So, it's really -- we're trying to focus on the quality. We're trying to get the vetting process right. This is something that, while we're very good at -- the American military is extraordinarily good at, it is hard. It is really hard in this particular part of the world with these particular groups. And we're just going to have to keep working at it.


SCIUTTO: I want to get at the point of patience, because the president urged patience yesterday. You're urging patience in this fight today.

General Martin Dempsey in his testimony today conceded that being patient in the fight against ISIS could actually increase the risk here on the U.S. homeland. That's a fairly remarkable admission. Isn't that exactly why the American public and the administration should not be patient in the fight against ISIS?

KIRBY: Well, look, I think strategic patience is something that we have long said you need against a group like ISIL. The issue is sustainability here, Jim. Yes, could you infuse a

bunch more American talent in this quickly and have a more -- a speedy, more of a tactical effect on the ground? Yes, you could. But you can't sustain that over time. And the only way that this group gets defeated completely over a sustained period of time is by doing it through indigenous forces on the ground.

And that means you have got to have good fighters in Iraq, you have got to have good fighters in Syria. The other thing that we said is you have to have good governance. You have to take away the conditions through which a group like ISIL can fester and grow, recruit and prosper. And that is going to be done through good governance in Iraq and in Syria.

So this is going to be a long-term fight. But when we defeat them, we want them to stay defeated. And that means it has got to be sustainable and you can't do that if it just becomes an American problem that just get fixed with money, resources and troops.

SCIUTTO: Well, a war to be expected to take years, as administration officials have said.

I want to move to another topic finally, before we go. The former Attorney General Eric Holder, he told Yahoo News that Edward Snowden's leaks, in his words, spurred a necessary debate and also mentioned the possibility of some sort of plea deal to bring him back here. We are aware, CNN, of possible -- of negotiations going on between the Department of Justice and Snowden's lawyers.

I want to ask you, is the State Department open to a plea deal that brings Edward Snowden back to the U.S. from Russia?

KIRBY: Well, I won't speak to things that the Justice Department may or may not be doing here with the Snowden case.

Our position has remained the same. This man violated national security. He put national security at risk through his actions, and he needs to come back and face justice. And that's where we are today.

SCIUTTO: But this is -- I don't want to get into the DOJ issue, but this is an issue between nations here, the U.S. and Russia. Russia is currently where Edward Snowden is hiding, in effect, from the U.S. law. And I'm just curious, would the State Department, would Secretary Kerry oppose a deal that brings him back with some sort of reduced sentence?

They're talking about three to five years, a trial, et cetera.

KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to get into hypotheticals. What Secretary Kerry wants is for this man to face justice for what he did to national security here in the United States.

SCIUTTO: And to be fair, I should note that the Defense Department told us today that, if he would return, it would involve a trial, it would involve a jail sentence. Admiral Kirby -- I want to call you Admiral Kirby, former Admiral

Kirby, John Kirby, thanks very much for joining us today from the State Department.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And just ahead, an F-16 jet fighter slams into a civilian plane in the skies over South Carolina, raining debris over a wide area. What went wrong?

And our CNN exclusive, Hillary Clinton in her first national interview as a 2016 candidate. She talks about her Republican rivals and lashes out over Donald Trump's remarks on immigrants. Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Breaking now, the defense secretary saying only 60 Syrian rebels have been trained by the U.S. to fight ISIS, 60 out of an original goal of up to 5,000 per year.

I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's good to have you on the show. Thanks, Adam.


SCIUTTO: So, you heard from the defense secretary today, saying only 60 Syrian fighters trained so far. The original goal was 5,400 in a year, then reduced to 3,000 by the end of this year. Is this program anything else but a failure in your view?

KINZINGER: It seems like that so far. We voted on this. I guess it seems like a year ago. It was probably about eight or nine months ago. It was controversial out here on Capitol Hill. We passed this idea of training the moderate Syrian rebels, which there are moderate years Syrian rebels in Syria that both want to destroy Bashar al-Assad, what is an evil, brutal dictator, and also want to destroy ISIS, because that doesn't represent the country that they want to live in.

To hear that it's 60, I will be honest with you, I had to read that a number of times. It blew me away. That's basically a couple of platoons of men. And that's not going to be -- without saying, that is not going to be enough to destroy ISIS or even probably hold a small village of 100 people from ISIS.

SCIUTTO: Yes, 1 percent of the original annual goal.

But one of the issue you raise there -- and this is what we hear from the Defense Department -- is that a lot of the recruits, they don't want to fight ISIS. They want to fight Assad. So, they have got a fundamental difference of the ultimate goal of who they're fighting and who the enemy is.

KINZINGER: Yes, I think there's some truth to that.

I think, when it comes to having a moderate opposition, the key is going to be holding territory. In some cases, that may be holding territory from Assad forces or holding territory from ISIS forces. The purpose is to take back the country of Syria.

And you know, look, you can't say that these folks that were raised -- let's say you're 30 years old. Your dad may have been killed by Bashar al-Assad. Your family has been brutalized by him. No Western power is going to come in and say, yes, but you can't fight him. The only people you can fight are the people that we are an enemy with.

Look, they hate ISIS. Trust me: they don't like ISIS. But they also don't like Bashar al-Assad, who is the incubator of this problem in the first place.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, though, because the president reiterates that it has to be local ground forces in Iraq. The Kurds, Syrian rebels who have taken hold of territory. Frankly, that's not working, because we don't see that in Iraq. The maps look largely the same. There's been some progress in the northern part of Syria by local Kurds there.

But in your view, since the local forces, and train and equip is not delivering results, do you believe you have to put more U.S. troops on the ground to lead the way?

KINZINGER: Well, I don't think we need U.S. troops to occupy territory. What I have said, and this is part of what I did in Iraq when I was involved with, was Special Forces. And what we saw in Syria that we celebrated, you know, it was a big victory for us. Special Forces that can go in and take out key figures, get their info, go out and take ten, you know, that that guy led to, and ten that they led to. So being involved in that decapitation process of ISIS in Syria is important.

But when it comes to holding ground, even Arab forces can't hold all the ground in Syria. You think about Jordan, for instance. Jordan is the size of Illinois without the city of Chicago. Six million people. So the idea that Jordan can move their troops in, for instance, and occupy Syria is not -- it's not realistic. So you have to have a moderate rebel force, and 60 of them just ain't going to cut it.

SCIUTTO: The new buzz word from the administration on this fight seems to be patience. Strategic patience. It's going to take time.

But we heard General Dempsey today, the chairman of the joint chiefs, conceding in his words that being patient on ISIS could actually increase the risk from ISIS on the U.S. homeland. Well, what is your reaction to that? That's a remarkable concession to a group that the president acknowledged is a direct threat to the U.S. KINZINGER: Well, look, it's absolutely true. I mean, the

president has got to lay out and say, "Look, we have to destroy this group." So not only, you know, in the medium term, they're planning attacks, probably, against local governments, as we've seen. Probably against some American assets in that area. But in the long term they definitely want to strike the American homeland. We know al Qaeda does, and there's an affiliation there.

Look, at the end of the day, this is something that's going to have to be destroyed, and it's going to have to be dealt with. Because every day that goes by that ISIS occupies territory, the recruiting from that territory, they're killing people, which we see all too tragically. And they're digging in. They're putting their IEDs out, and they're putting their roadside bombs, and they're developing a form of governance.

Now obviously, we think of government, we think of water towers and roads. ISIS thinks of brutal Sharia law. It's like how the Taliban ran Afghanistan. They weren't building schools. They weren't building water towers. But they stayed in until an outside force came in and kicked them out.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Kinzinger, an Iraq and Afghan War vet, thanks very much for joining us from the Hill.

KINZINGER: Thanks, Jim. You bet.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, new details of a deadly collision between an Air Force fighter jet and a civilian plane.

Plus, Hillary Clinton talking exclusively to CNN in her first national TV interview of the 2016 campaign.


[18:37:55] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. A CNN exclusive. Hillary Clinton's first national TV interview of her 2016 campaign. It is a wide-ranging conversation with the Democratic presidential candidate, talking about rivals from both parties, controversies surrounding her e-mail and the Clinton Foundation, and much more.

Clinton sat down with CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar in Iowa just a short time ago. Brianna, you asked Hillary Clinton to respond to Donald Trump's recent controversial comments, to say the least, about Mexicans. It seems that the operative word was disappointed. What did she tell you?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She criticized Donald Trump a lot, Jim, but what she also did was she went on to lump all Republicans into the same category when it comes to immigration reform into the same category as Donald Trump. Take a listen.


KEILAR: Donald Trump is also creating quite a lot of commotion on the other side. He's a friend of yours, has been over the years. He donated to your Senate campaign, to the Clinton Foundation.

What's your reaction to his recent comments that some Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very disappointed in those comments. And I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and with the Republican Party for not responding immediately and saying, "Enough. Stop it."

But they are all in the same general area on immigration. They don't want to provide a path to citizenship. They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile toward immigrants.

And I'm going to talk about comprehensive immigration reform. I'm going to talk about all the good law-abiding productive members of the immigrant communicate that I know, that I've met over the course of my life. I would like to see have a path to citizenship.


KEILAR: Hillary Clinton has been noticeably aligned with Hispanic voters on this issue, saying that she is for a full path to citizenship.

And really, you can see this fault line that she is creating here for the general election. That she is basically going to say to Republicans, "If you aren't, then I am going to make that very obvious."

[18:40:14] Now, Jeb Bush, I should say, Jim, very quick to put out a statement in response to what she said about him. She -- he accuses Hillary Clinton of flip flopping on this, of running more to the center on immigration before and now being more liberal. Specifically highlighting her comments last summer during the border crisis that children who are coming over the border should be sent back to their home countries.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of flip-flop, trust is an issue we see in the polls. We see it in national polls. You see in it some swing states. You see it in early primary states. Did she have a good answer to the trust question?

KEILAR: She really deflected questions when it came to trust. She's been dogged by controversies that even many Democrats who want her, want to see her in the White House have said, have been self- inflicted. Her e-mail situation at the State Department. Clinton Foundation donations.

But when I asked her about these things, she did not take responsibility for what we've seen recently, this erosion of belief that she is trustworthy and honest from many Americans. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Do you see any role that you've had in this sentiment

that we've seen where people are questioning whether you're trustworthy?

CLINTON: I can only tell you, Brianna, that this has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years. And at the end of the day, I think voters sort it all out.

I have great confidence. I trust the American voter. So I trust the American voter 100 percent, because I think, you know, the American voter will weigh these kinds of accusations.

I mean, people write books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us and even admit they have no evidence. But of course, it's your job to cover it, so of course that's going to raise questions in people's minds.

But during the course of this campaign, as in my two prior campaigns and in my other years of service, I have a lot of confidence that the American people can sort it all out.

KEILAR: Would you vote for someone that you don't trust?

CLINTON: Well, people should and do trust me. And I have every confidence that that will be the outcome of this election. I cannot decide what the attacks on me will be, no matter how unfounded.


KEILAR: And to her point, Jim, it's interesting, because when you look at polls among voters, I should say caucus goers here in Iowa, her trust numbers are much higher. You have nearly 6 in 10 who are doubting her trustworthiness. Here you've got about three and four who think that she is trustworthy.

SCIUTTO: New Hampshire, though, there are challenges on Democratic voters.

I do want to ask you about the State Department email controversy. Because this is another issue that she tried to put off on Republicans, saying that this has been used by Republicans in Congress. The fact is she has critics on issues from both sides of the aisle.

I wonder, did she deflect on that question of emails? Or did she give you a direct answer?

KEILAR: Well, it's sort of in her favor, I would say, when it comes to e-mails, that some of the regulations were rather big and had not sort of been updated to the times when it came to how you would preserve email at the State Department in the administration.

Now, that said, what she seems to be saying is not really laying out a line of whether what she did was completely proper or if there wasn't some appearance of impropriety. Her line in this is that she did not break the law. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: You're starting with so many assumptions. I've never had a subpoena. There is none. Again, let's take a deep breath here. Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation. I had one device. When I mailed anybody in the government, it would go into the government system.

Now, I didn't have to turn over anything. I chose to turn over 55,000 pages.


CLINTON: Now, keeping in mind a lot of observers, Jim, feel that she may have violated, certainly, the spirit of the law when it comes to email preservation. So this is an issue that she will continue to be dealing with in the weeks ahead.

But we also learned from Hillary Clinton today that she'll be unveiling some economic policy proposals on Monday in a speech. So we are staying tuned to see what her message is on that. It's the issue, the economy that Democrats think is going to define the 2016 election.

SCIUTTO: And that's one she wouldn't answer you on, which is the tax issue. She deflected to that.

Stand by, Brianna, because I want to bring in...

KEILAR: She's waiting. She's waiting to reveal that.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Exactly. Under her terms, of course.

We want to bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and also CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's editorial director of "The National Journal", joining us from Los Angeles.

Gloria, you heard Hillary Clinton addressing this question of why she struggles with trust worthiness and she did deflect to Republicans.

[18:45:07] You saw it. This constant barrage of attacks from the right, something that's gone on for two decades, she said, people attacking her and her husband. It's familiar echoes of vast right wing conspiracies.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's a very similar refrain. I'm not surprised that she is using it. She is running in a Democratic primary contest. And what unites Democrats is saying, look at what the Republicans are doing to us.

And, of course, Iowa, Democrats, very liberal. She's going to go to New Hampshire. She wants to appeal to independents. And so, she is flipping it around.

And, you know, she said today, that's fine. I get it. This is being used by Republicans, kind of saying I know they're going to do this to me.

And, you know, we just got an e-mail blast from Reince Priebus, you know, who's the head of the Republican National Committee. And, you know, he basically said that she is unwilling to shoot straight. She is refusing to take responsibility for her own actions. So, you see the ping pong ball that we're going to see there.

SCIUTTO: So, Ron, looking at this issue of trust -- how important is that to the Republican arsenal in terms of trying to take her down, the trust issue?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a good question. Obviously, any politician would rather be trusted than not. But the evidence I think historically is that trust is not usually the decisive factor in how voters assess these candidates.

In 1996, Jim, on the day Bill Clinton was reelected, in the exit poll, a majority of Americans said they did not consider him honest and trustworthy and yet they voted for him anyway. He won by 8 points.

And what that says, I think, is that other attributes -- empathy, effectiveness, ideological compatibility ultimately matter more. And that's why I think you saw Hillary Clinton making the argument to Brianna today in that excellent interview that people can trust me to fight for them. That is the hurdle she has to get over to convince people who understands their problems and has solutions to them, more than reversing the views about her trust -- about her honesty.

BORGER: I think that's the key, Ron, which is can she become relatable and empathetic and convince people that she understands their issues because don't forget, nobody trusts politicians these days.


BORGER: The fact that you're running for president makes you untrustworthy in many people's eyes. So, if she can cross that hurdle and say, "I understand you", which was always an asset for President Obama --


BORGER: -- I think that would be a huge asset for her.

BROWNSTEIN: And, in fact --

SCIUTTO: Brianna, I want to bring you in on another issue we haven't been able to talk about yet, and that is the challenge from Bernie Sanders drawing crowds of 10,000, sometimes bigger crowds than she's drawn at some of her campaign events.

How did she answer the challenge from sanders, the challenge from the left, which is a tough one for her to take, you know, viewing herself as a progressive through all these years. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, she

seemed to say she would let him play his game and she's going to play her game. She was saying what she learned from the last time she ran for president was that she did not organize well here in this first caucus in the nation state of Iowa.

So, you saw today, even before her event, you saw people who will be caucus-goers who are supporters from different precincts. And she was trying to demonstrate that she has more of that organizational muscle.

But what I think is fascinating even though Bernie Sanders is always having this surge, he is still very much behind Hillary Clinton including here in Iowa. We should say that, he is the self-described Democratic socialist. And still, he is someone that is appealing to so many Democrats. She did not really get into that. But I think at this point, she said she is going on play her own game.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to Gloria and Ron before we go, which is a very simple question. Could Hillary Clinton lose Iowa to Bernie Sanders?

BORGER: Sure. Of course. I mean, I think it's unlikely because I think what people who to go caucuses and vote in primaries also think of another thing. They think of electability. If you're a liberal Democrat and you want to make sure that a Democrat wins the White House, something you're going to consider in the back of your mind is, can this person beat a Republican? As Brianna says, if he is a self-described Democratic socialist, you know, that's kind of tough.

SCIUTTO: Ron, in a word, can she lose Iowa to Bernie Sanders?

BROWNSTEIN: She could, but I also think it's unlikely. I mean, look, Bernie Sanders is always different in style. He fits in a lineage of Democrat candidates that go back Eugene McCarthy to Gary Hart to Bill Bradley and Howard Dean. All of them would appeal mostly to white upper middle class social liberals.

There are a lot of those voters in Iowa. There are even more in New Hampshire. That's the point of greatest risk for a candidate like Clinton. Once she gets past those and you get to large number of minority voters, coming into equation in big states, the risk goes way down. But Iowa and New Hampshire are kind of the isthmus that she has to clear through before she can get out of the clear water later on and her other advantages can kick in.

SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein, Gloria Borger and Brianna Keilar, fantastic interview, revealing interview with Secretary Clinton -- thanks very much.

[18:50:03] Just this programming note: make sure you watch Anderson Cooper's exclusive sit-down, his own interview with Donald Trump. That's going to be on "AC360" tomorrow night, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And next here on THE SITUATION ROOM: a deadly mid air crash between an Air Force fighter jet and a small plane. We're learning new details tonight and we'll have more after this break.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

And we've just received confirmation that two people have been killed in a collision between an Air Force F-16 fighter jet and a private plane over South Carolina.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working the story for us.

Rene, what are you finding about how this happened?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, a fighter jet and small Cessna should not be on a course that would allow them to collide, that goes without saying, but it happened 11 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina today.

The pilot of the F-16 safely ejected from the plane. He was taken to a hospital and is expected to be OK, but the Cessna was broken into pieces, some of the wreckage on land, some in a river, both people on board the private plane died according to the NTSB.

Take a listen to a woman who witnessed all of this right before her eyes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just seen one plane coming this way, one going this way and then exploded in midair and fire ball, and then the plane landed in my yard.


MARSH: And she got very emotional because again, she saw that all unfold.

We do know that an NTSB investigator is on the way as we speak. Some critical questions remain unanswered.

Were both aircraft authorized to be in the air space? Were the pilots talking to air traffic control? Were air traffic controllers talking to them? And did the pilot of that Cessna get a traffic advisory warning that that F-16 was in the area?

All critical in understanding how this deadly midair collision happened.

Jim, we should point out, this is incredibly rare. You don't see this sort of thing happening often. This was a clear breakdown in the air safety system.

SCIUTTO: Yes, sad one, as well. Thanks very much to Rene Marsh. We want to dig deeper now with our aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz. We also have Miles O'Brien. He's CNN aviation analyst and a pilot himself.

Miles, I wonder if I could start with you.

You've flown these small planes, the Cessnas, I've flown them, as well. I can't think of a bigger, sharper contrast between this 50, 60-year-old plane and state of the art F-16. How does this happen?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The 100 horsepower 150, the first plane I ever flew versus the super sonic F-16, they shouldn't be anywhere near each other, that is true. But there's an interesting confluence of events that happened here, Jim.

You have the F-16 practicing bad weather approaches to Charleston, an approach that takes that aircraft over that small air field, Berkeley County where that 150 took off from. The F-16 is a low-wing plane. The 150, the Cessna is a high-wing plane. A high wing plane climbing and low-wing plane descending, there's been a lot of accidents over the years because of that.

Here is the real question, that F-16 pilot would have been communicating with Charleston approached controllers as he conducted this practice instrument approach. What did they tell the F-16 pilot about possible traffic in the area? Did they even see a transponder hit? Was the 150 even using a transponder?

And finally, the pilot, even though he's practicing a bad weather approach, it is his responsibility to keep his eyes out the window, see and avoid, and fly by visual flight rules, even though he's practicing a bad weather procedures.

SCIUTTO: Yes, incredible, all these instruments at the end of the day, you got to use your eyes to look out the window, but the high wing issue is one. These two planes, two different systems, one military, one civilian, would they have any capability of seeing the other on radar, transponder, et cetera?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Miles touched on a key point on that, Jim, which is, did the 150, which is really a basic aircraft, it's trainer in many cases, did he turn on his transponder? Did he file a flight plan? Was he in communication with air traffic controllers?

You know, there is no requirement that he had to have a transponder on, which would have made him invisible virtually to the F-16.

SCIUTTO: That's an interesting point about turning it on, Miles, because that came up during MH370. The idea, can you turn off and shouldn't be able to turn off a transponder? Should that be automatic so that everyone can see everybody particularly as you're close to the airports?

O'BRIEN: The rules are pretty open in a place like that. That air space is not as controlled as it would be if you get closer to Charleston. Interestingly, of course, the F-16 is equipped with a radar capable of identifying all kinds of aircraft that do not have their transponders on. After all, bad guys don't put their transponders on. But this may have been a pilot not with that system on as he was busy practicing this instrument approach.

So, if the transponder was off, the controller might not have seen the much smaller primary target, as we call it, and F-16 was busy flying the approach. It's a horrible confluence of events. But most crashes like these are a series of events just like that.

SCIUTTO: Miles O'Brien, our pilot, Peter Goelz, our investigator, thanks very much for helping clear that up. A sad story, no question.

Thanks very much for watching tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow us on Twitter @CNNSitroom.

Be sure to watch "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT". It starts right now.