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Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Seeking Justice; Trump Rising; Attorney General: Bland Case Adds to Black Fears, Anger; Trump Tops New GOP Poll, As He's Blasted by Obama. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 27, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now:

Allies against ISIS. Will the U.S. be dragged into a wider war as the terrorists push into new territory and threaten a key member of NATO?

Scolding the GOP. President Obama condemns the nasty tone of the Republican presidential race after one candidate essentially likened him to Adolf Hitler.


Who's to blame for the ugly rhetoric?

Trump's dominance. Our new poll shows he's strengthening his status as the GOP presidential front-runner. Tonight, we will take a closer look at the weak spot he has in common with Hillary Clinton.

And seeking justice. There are new calls for a federal investigation into the arrest and jail cell death of Sandra Bland. Now the attorney general of the United States is speaking out.

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

Tonight, President Obama on a trip overseas addresses an ugly conflict at home. That would be the Republican presidential campaign. He's lashing out at the nasty rhetoric in the crowded GOP race after the debate over the Iran deal went nuclear. The candidate Mike Huckabee using a Holocaust reference claimed the president's policy would lead Israel to "the door of the oven."

We're also monitoring a new front in the battle against ISIS. NATO is set to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the terrorist threat to Turkey, a key member of the NATO alliance that's just joined the air war against ISIS. I will ask Republican Congressman, the Iraq war veteran, Adam Kinzinger about that and more.

Our correspondents, our analysts, they're also standing by as we cover all the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got more on the battle against ISIS -- Barbara. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, NATO's emergency meeting tomorrow will give Turkey a chance to sit down with the alliance and explain why it feels threatened by ISIS. Washington will be watching very carefully. It will give Washington a chance to decide how deeply it wants to get involved.


STARR (voice-over): Turkish F-16s bombing ISIS targets in Syria for the first time, police raiding suspected hideouts in Turkey, the country ordering its forces and tanks to the Syrian border, the ISIS flag within sight. It is a dramatic shift by Turkey, an important U.S. ally taking ISIS on in direct combat.

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The introduction of Turkey into this conflict in a big way is probably the most significant strategic event in the past year, perhaps.

STARR: And for the first time, U.S. warplanes will also have access to Turkish bases for their airstrikes.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: As a military guy, I think it really provides us great operational flexibility.

STARR: The U.S. will be able to fly bombing runs from Incirlik Air Base. That means U.S. airstrikes into Northern Syria against ISIS positions can take place more rapidly than from current bases hundreds of miles away in the Persian Gulf.

And because it is closer, warplanes can circle overhead longer, striking more targets. The U.S. and Turkey now talking about an ISIS- free zone along the Turkish/Syrian border. The administration, however, still opposes a formal no-fly zone.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It's almost having the same effect as if there was one, because only coalition aircraft are occupying that airspace. They're not being challenged. They're not being shot at.

STARR: But the U.S. doesn't want to get dragged into a wider war on Turkey's behalf. Kurdish groups, a big issue for Turkey, are seen as effective fighters by the U.S.

MANSOOR: Turkey wants to fight ISIS now that ISIS has attacked Turkey, but it also wants to fight the Kurds to keep the separate movement down and it wants to depose Bashar al-Assad.

STARR: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad acknowledging his army has given up areas because of a shortage of troops.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA (through translator): We must define the important regions for the armed forces to hold onto.

STARR: Fighting ISIS still the U.S. mission. The latest U.S. intelligence estimates ISIS still commands 20,000 to 30,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And how much is all of this costing the American taxpayer? The latest Pentagon estimate, over $3 billion since the airstrikes began -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Now to President Obama, who is blasting what he calls outrageous attacks by Republican presidential candidates. He's calling out Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee by name, the president specifically responding to Huckabee's condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal, using a stunning reference to the Holocaust.

Listen to what Governor Huckabee said.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. He's so naive, he would trust the Iranians and he would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.


BLITZER: Mike Huckabee right now, according to him and his aides, is standing by that comment tonight.


Let's get some more on the president's reaction as he prepares to wrap up his visit to Africa.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

Tell our viewers what the president said, because he's responding directly, forcefully. He's clearly angry, and he's mentioning names.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president's gloves are off.

For the first time, President Obama jumped right into the 2016 race for the White House, throwing some big punches at former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. At a news conference here in Ethiopia, the president blasting Huckabee, who said the nuclear deal with Iran threatened another Holocaust, as you said, by marching Israelis to the oven.

It was all but official White House policy to stay out of the campaign. But I'm told as soon as the president learned of Huckabee's comments, he was itching to respond. Still, the president went further, hitting Donald Trump, as well as Senator Tom Cotton, who labeled Secretary of State John Kerry as a Pontius Pilate on Iran, and Ted Cruz, who said the nuclear agreement with Iran would make the White House a supporter of terrorism. Here's more of what the president had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we have seen that is -- would be considered ridiculous, if it weren't so sad. We have had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate. We have had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for president suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism.

These are leaders in the Republican Party. So, when you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention, and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines. But it's not the kind of leadership that's needed for America right now. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, tonight, Huckabee is not only standing by his remarks. He is doubling down on them. That is just fine with the White House. As one official put it, the president wants this debate to be on the facts. The White House clearly believes Huckabee's remarks actually help the president's case, driving moderates in his direction.

But the president's comments in Ethiopia today also signal a new phase in this upcoming campaign. Wolf, he is going to sound a lot like the surrogate in chief for Democrats in the coming months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mincing no words indeed. All right, thanks very much.

Jim Acosta is traveling with the president in Ethiopia.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a war veteran, a former pilot, still a pilot. He flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I assume you still fly planes once in a while. Right?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I do, yes. It's great.

BLITZER: Are you in the Air Force Reserve?


BLITZER: So, you're still -- what kind of jet?

KINZINGER: I fly an RC-26 reconnaissance plane. I fly it out of Madison, Wisconsin, so --

BLITZER: So, you're still active.



BLITZER: What do you think of what Mike Huckabee said, comparing what the United States, what the president of the United States is doing basically to the Holocaust? KINZINGER: Yes.

Look, I don't think I would have used those terms at all. I think Huckabee's right to be very concerned with what this is going to do to Israel, what it's going to do to the Middle East, i.e., basically now everybody has a right to 5,000 centrifuges, in essence. But, no, I would never have used those terms. And I'm surprised that he doubled down on it.

It's an interesting election cycle. It's going to get heated. But, at end of the day, I think we can have some mature, grownup discussion about this. And I think we can, in a very calm way, talk about why this is a very bad deal for the Middle East.

BLITZER: You could make strong arguments against the deal, as you do. I assume you oppose the deal, right?

KINZINGER: Right. I do, yes.

BLITZER: But you don't have to start calling the president of the United States someone who's leading the Jews of Israel to the door of the oven.

KINZINGER: I'm not Israeli or Jewish. And from what I understand, that would have -- as somebody who's not that sees the implication of what that means, I could only imagine if you are Jewish how intense those words I guess impact you.

And, so, I think it was probably a very unfortunate thing for him to say.

BLITZER: Yes, strong condemnations from the Anti-Defamation League today, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center.


BLITZER: They don't like the deal. They don't like the Iranian nuclear deal. They have been very critical of it. But, at the same time, they think Huckabee went too far.


I think this is exactly what the president wants, by the way, not that he wanted them to say this, but this is distracting from a real discussion about it. When you use harsh terms like the door to the ovens, instead of having a really good, calm discussion about this, it instead kind of derails to this.

BLITZER: What do you think of the strong words, though, Senator Cruz, Senator Cotton, others are saying, saying the president's the leading state sponsor of terrorism, that kind of stuff? Those are pretty harsh as well.

KINZINGER: Yes, I agree.

Again, one of my big concerns with how politics has been lately is it's gotten so personal. You can't disagree with somebody's political -- and, by the way, this is on the left too. The things that I hear about Republicans sometimes from the left are so bad. I think we can have grownup conversations, talk about our disagreements, talk about our disapprovals, and at end of the day, have a beer together, shake hands, and still be friends.


BLITZER: But you're definitely committed to voting against this deal?


Look, at the end of the day, every country now, whether you're Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, or Peru, for goodness' sakes, can have 5,000 centrifuges. And the other concern is, we give basically Iran the right to have IR-8 centrifuges, which are 17 times more effective than the ones that they have now, as well as, by the way, going into having the ability for intercontinental ballistic missiles, raising the arms embargo, unfortunately.

And while eight years seems really far away, if you think about it, it's really -- I guess eight years ago was 2008. It doesn't seem that far away from now.

BLITZER: Yes. The criticism of the nuclear deal -- you can have experts arguing back and forth. But the other major criticism you're hearing is the $100 billion or so that the Iranians are going to get in these unfrozen assets.

It's their money, but the international community's going to unfreeze it. They're going to have a lot of extra money to spend.

KINZINGER: That's right.

I mean, and what I think is kind of the most interesting whole statement of this is the administration likes to say they have such economic needs, and they have to build their infrastructure, that all that money's going to be invested. That sounds great, except for the fact that they don't have any money today, and they're still investing what little money they have in propping up Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, meddling in Yemen, and being involved in Iraq.

So, if you look at this, at the end of the day, this money, we know this, is going to be spent destabilizing or remaking the Middle East in Iran's image.

BLITZER: Have you endorsed any of these Republican presidential candidates?

KINZINGER: I have. I'm actually a Jeb Bush guy. And I endorsed him because we have a lot of great candidates in the race. I think Jeb's the guy that says, hey, look, I'm going to run even in the primary as the president who can win a general election.

I think he's a very honest person. And, frankly, when you look at the conservative governing that he did in Florida, I think people are going to be very impressed.

BLITZER: And you think he can beat Hillary Clinton, assuming she's the Democratic nominee?

KINZINGER: I want whoever can beat Hillary Clinton, and I think Jeb's going to be the best.

BLITZER: You think he has the best chance?

KINZINGER: I think so.

BLITZER: Don't let Donald Trump hear what you have to say, because he's not a big fan of Jeb Bush, as you well know.

All right, Congressman, stand by.


BLITZER: We will have much more with Congressman Adam Kinzinger. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman, the war veteran Adam Kinzinger, as NATO prepares to hold an emergency meeting about the expanding threat from ISIS.

Congressman, you served in Turkey.


BLITZER: You were based at that Incirlik Air Base, which now the Turks are going to allow the U.S. to use to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. You must be pretty happy that finally Turkey has come around and said to a fellow NATO ally like the United States, other coalition partners, you can use Turkish air bases.

KINZINGER: Yes, it's about time.

Turkey has a very complicated relationship in the Middle East. And I think they were holding off on giving this because they wanted us to engage Bashar al-Assad, which I actually think we should.

But Incirlik Air Base is huge, a lot of infrastructure, very underutilized. I was based out of there with the military. And, in fact, I was just back there when I went into Iraq about eight months ago, and it's going to be a perfect platform for what we need to do. Now these fighter jets, instead of having maybe an hour-and-a-half, two hours of loiter time without air refueling, they will be able to loiter a lot more because they're not in transition so much.

And so we're going to actually have more combat power present even with the same amount of planes.

BLITZER: You think this potentially is a significant game-changer?

KINZINGER: I think it's a significant impact. Game-changer is a tough word. I think it's going to be hard to defeat ISIS frankly without stepping up our special operations, without the Iraqi military really being in a position to take back Iraq.

And, frankly, I just don't see a plan from this administration in Syria. Syria, if you think about it, is really as big and complicated as Iraq, but we don't have an indigenous force on the ground. And our attempts to train the moderate Free Syrian Army, we find out we have only trained 60 of them because we're making them sign on the dotted line not to fight their biggest enemy, Bashar al-Assad.

So, I don't think we have an effective strategy in Syria. But there's no doubt any time we bomb members of ISIS and kill these folks, it's definitely a win for freedom and for peace-loving people.

BLITZER: The U.S. welcomes Turkey's decision to allow Turkish air bases to be used by the U.S. to launch strikes. The U.S. is obviously happy that Turkish airpower is being used against ISIS targets in Syria, but not necessarily so happy that Turkey is also launching airstrikes against Kurdish positions, whether in Syria or Iraq.

KINZINGER: Yes. We find out they're attacking PKK, which is a left- wing Kurdish organization that's frankly been working well against ISIS.

They're on the American sponsor of terrorism list, but there's a move in Congress to try to get them off of that list, because we don't think they reach up to that level. There's been a very complicated relationship with the Kurds in the Middle East. And this is why I think people that are quick to say, let's just divide Iraq up into three pieces and let's just create a Kurdistan, I don't know if they quite gather and grasp the real divisions and the real intensity of what would happen if that comes about.

So, yes, I think we obviously ought to be really holding the Turks back from reengaging. There's been a peace accord basically since 2013. Let's focus on the real enemy right now. It's ISIS. And when we defeat is, then we can get back to the talks.

BLITZER: When we say that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and his regime in Damascus remains in power, is it because of the loyal forces that he has or because of the outside support he gets, let's say, from Iran or from Hezbollah in Lebanon?


KINZINGER: I think Hezbollah and I think frankly Iran has, with all their investments, have kept them in power.

Now, here's what's interesting. He even openly says, we're losing territory. I think it's obvious that he's going to lose control. The question is, does he lose control and does he get out of power based on Western terms or based on the fact that ISIS has risen up and thrown him out? Now, there's always this belief. There's some people that believe

it's a binary choice between supporting ISIS or supporting Assad. I actually argue that Bashar al-Assad not only created ISIS, creates a Syria where ISIS thrives and grows. So, I think there has to be a hopefully political solution to Bashar al-Assad. But, at the end of the day, he's going to be gone. He will never gain control of Syria again, at least all of Syria. And I think we have to really focus on him as a part of the solution.

BLITZER: He's applauding the Iran nuclear deal, because all the money that Iran is now going to get, the frozen assets unfrozen and presumably Iran, if it wants to, it can give some of that money -- there's no restrictions -- Iran can give some of that money or provide military equipment to help Bashar al-Assad's regime.

KINZINGER: And Iran will do that.

You keep in mind al-Nusra, ISIS and some of these groups, you have people that hate Bashar al-Assad so much, he killed their father, killed their family, killed their children, for goodness sakes.

BLITZER: And 300,000 people have been killed over these past few years in Syria. They're all Syrians.


KINZINGER: That's right.

And you know what? In war, it's not usually soldiers that die. It's innocents. And if you look at those 300,000, the vast majority of them are innocent men, women and children, and many children who want to be teachers, firemen, policemen that have their dreams cut short. And in some cases, it was from chemical weapons. He's a terrible person.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, said in the last year U.S. taxpayers have shelled out $3 billion in this war against ISIS. Presumably, that price tag is going to go up.

KINZINGER: Yes, it's going to continue to go up.

I will say this. It's money well spent, because I think attacking them there keeps them from coming here. But I think we have to have a better strategy, again, dealing with mainly the area where ISIS incubates from or explodes from, which is Syria. We don't have that plan right now. And I think we're going to continue to see fires come out of that Syria volcano and light elsewhere in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, will the U.S. Justice Department investigate the arrest and jail cell death of Sandra Bland? We're going to tell you what we're learning as the attorney general of the U.S. is now speaking out. And you will also find out what our exclusive new poll reveals about

Donald Trump's support and his vulnerabilities.



BLITZER: The U.S. government's chief law enforcement officer now speaking out about Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail cell and her aggressive arrest during a routine traffic stop. The attorney general of the U.S., Loretta Lynch, says Bland's case drives home the need for better police training and the fear and distrust many African- Americans live with every day.


LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that it highlights the concern of many in the black community that a routine stop for many of our -- the members of the black community is not handled with the same professionalism and courtesy that other people may get from the police.


BLITZER: There's no word from Lynch on whether she will order a federal investigation into Bland's arrest and death. The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, has requested that. He's from Bland's home state of Illinois.

Let's bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez.

Evan, what are you hearing about a possible federal investigation?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're just not there yet. We know the FBI down in Houston has been monitoring the local investigation and they say that if it produces anything that implicates a federal crime, perhaps a civil rights violation of any kind, then they will formally open an inquiry.

But what the attorney general just said, it's a little surprising that she went there, but it is -- it does not really go to the federal issue, which has to do with civil rights. It's not necessarily a federal crime if someone is treated without courtesy during a police stop. So that's the issue here.

The federal law is much more limited and it's not even clear whether there will be a state law violation, depending on what exactly happened behind -- in that jail cell.

BLITZER: Tough decisions ahead. Thanks very much, Evan, for that.

Let's talk a little bit more about the Sandra Bland case with our CNN anchor Don Lemon, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, our legal analyst Sunny Hostin, and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Sunny, you heard Evan's report, Senator Dick Durbin asking the Justice Department to get involved. Your analysis?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I suspect that it's something that they may get involved in.

I think Attorney General Lynch was very eloquent in addressing and noting a lot of the issues that the African-American community has had and continues to have. It's sort of that phenomenon that we have all talked about, driving while black.

It's a real concern, especially for mothers like myself who have black and brown children. You fear that a traffic stop, a routine stop will result in their death, will result in their detainment. And now we see that a woman is also -- something you don't usually hear about, black women also being stopped and treated this way by law enforcement.

And so I suspect that perhaps the Justice Department, given the attorney general's comments, may indeed look at this.

BLITZER: But, Sunny, very quickly, if she would have initially done what the police officer said, not got into an argument with him, put out her cigarette, would this have occurred?

[18:30:04] HOSTIN: You know, I think it would have occurred. I'm actually tired of people mentioning that. Saying, you know, if you comply, you don't die.

Well, guess what. You know, I think a lot of the orders that he gave were unlawful. I also think, Wolf, and you know this, that he was the professional in that situation. Our law enforcement officers are supposed to be treating civilians courteously. They're supposed to be treating them with professionalism.

And when you get stopped, your constitutional rights don't fly out of the car window during the stop. And so the suggestion somehow that she is the reason why she was detained, she is the reason why she was unlawfully arrested, she is the reason why she ended up in jail -- I take issue with that. I reject that.

BLITZER: Don, you have a different perspective?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I don't have a different perspective about Sandra Bland. That's the thing people get conflated.

If you have a conversation about what should happen when you're stopped by police, somehow people conflate it as saying that Sandra Bland was responsible for her own unlawful arrest. That's not what we've been saying here. That's not what you have been saying, Wolf.

What you said, even talking to you last week, the question was, how should people conduct themselves when they're stopped? Doesn't mean their constitutional rights stop. But in this environment, as we have said, if everything we're saying is true, if the attorney general weighing in on it saying that people feel like they're occupied by police, there are certain things that you must do in this environment. It doesn't mean that it's right, in order to live, to fight another day. And that is separate from what happened to Sandra Bland. That's just in general.

I just read -- I forgot the author's name. It's called "A Black Man's Guide to Police Stops." And every single thing it says, Sunny talks about it with her son, Sunny sometimes conflates the Sandra Bland thing with what you should do when you're stopped and those are two different things. But it's always comply.

This is where I think the Black Lives movement is so important, Wolf. Not to take away time from your other guests. It's so important, because what Black Lives Matters should be doing and maybe they're doing is to gather together a group of attorneys and prosecutors, like Sunny or whomever, who can look at police stops among people in the community and then, once those stops are done and you look at all the evidence, you take it to a Black Lives Matters attorney who can help you get out of it after you are still alive, after a traffic stop, once you've complied and you figure out what the officer did wrong and that officer can be prosecuted or taken care of if he's still alive in the process.

BLITZER: Let me get Tom Fuentes in this conversation. You're a former FBI assistant director, but you're also a former street cop. Go ahead.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. I think in this situation, we're making a lot of driving while black or smoking while black. But I think that what we don't know for sure is that this would have been the same outcome even with a white driver, male or female, that this may have been something that this officer took an affront to even being questioned when he said, put out the cigarette. And she didn't. She gave him reasons why she didn't have to. And I'm not sure that what happened after that only happened because she's a black driver.

BLITZER: Black woman.

Jeffrey Toobin, last year, in the last year alone, the Justice Department has investigated a handful of police-involved incidents. You're familiar with all of them. In Ferguson, the Eric Garner case, the Tamir Rice's death in Cleveland.

Is this now the new norm?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It should be. I mean, I think everybody's making this thing a lot more complicated than it really is. This was appalling behavior by this police officer. This cries out for a federal investigation. I don't know why everyone is so cautious about that.

I mean, and the whole idea that there should be some guide book for African-Americans stopped by the police so that they don't get killed -- well, yes, I guess that's true. But how about we train police officers so they don't treat black people that way in the first place? I mean, I think that's the real problem here.

And I just think, you know -- we don't have to -- this country is full of terrific police officers. And we don't need to make excuses for those that behave horribly like this police officer.

BLITZER: So, basically, Jeffrey, you used to be a U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney. You worked as a federal prosecutor. You would want to see a formal U.S. Justice Department, what, civil rights investigation into what happened?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Now, I don't know if charges would result, but there is certainly enough evidence based on that videotape and the surrounding circumstances to say nothing of Sandra Bland's death, that it is something that the Justice Department should look into. Should they prosecute someone? Should someone be convicted? I don't know, but certainly there's enough here for an investigation.

BLITZER: And you agree, right, Sunny?

TOOBIN: Well said, my colleague, Jeff Toobin. Absolutely, absolutely. At the very least. I have been trying to be very careful, Jeff, as you know.

[18:35:00] LEMON: I was shocked, Sunny. I was like, why is sunny dancing? I thought you were going to come out of the gate and say, yes, there should be a federal investigation.

TOOBIN: I was trying to be careful because I don't want to sort of always cry wolf. But I think we have enough evidence in front of us that at the very least there should be this federal investigation.

And also, if there aren't criminal charges necessarily against this particular officer, what oftentimes happens when the Justice Department gets involved is that you see a complete sort of rehab of the police department in question. We know this same county jail, there was a 2012 suicide in this same jail. You know, so, at the very least, I think that would be a positive result from any sort of Justice Department investigation.

LEMON: Hey, Wolf --

BLITZER: Hold on for one second. I want to get Tom Fuentes' reaction. If there is -- if Loretta Lynch orders a Justice Department investigation, the FBI would be the lead investigator, is that right?

FUENTES: That's correct. FBI would investigate it for violation of civil rights.

BLITZER: You know the FBI. Do they want to do this?

FUENTES: I don't know if they want to. They want justice and they'll look at, you know, and do what they're told if that's what they're assigned to do. But you have two separate issues here. You have what that officer did with her on the street and the whole situation of the arrest, that's one issue.

What happened in the jail is separate. They weren't continuous actions. So, it's a separate. If she was murdered, you know, that's a separate investigation -- whether it's suicide or murder.

BLITZER: Right now, the autopsy says it was suicide.

Don, go ahead.

LEMON: Yes, listen, I think what Jeffrey said is right. It's sad that we have to have a guide book, but unfortunately, those are the times that we live in.

But I think that -- I think that out of all of this can come even the larger community, even the white community, whomever, could benefit from this. Because what Loretta Lynch went on to say is I do think this has been an important part of debate in Miss Bland's death, discussion with the community members, and with police leaders alike, about the importance of training and de-escalating incidents. That not only helps African-Americans, that helps everyone who comes in contact with police.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Excellent discussion, thank you very much.

And this important note to our viewers, Don will be back, much more at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on his program, "CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON". That's coming up later tonight.

Just ahead, are Donald Trump's opponents trying to trump him? We'll talk about the Republican candidates' scramble to get attention as our exclusive poll reveals that Donald Trump's strength and his weakness.


[18:41:45] BLITZER: Tonight, there's new evidence of Donald Trump's dominance in the Republican presidential race. We heard President Obama blaming Trump's influence for the nasty tone of GOP campaign. At the same time, our exclusive new poll shows Trump is holding on to his front-runner status.

Our CNN political reporter Sara Murray is here. She's got more on what we're calling the Trump factor.

What's going on over here, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Trump is laying low this week. He's prepping for the first GOP debate, but he's still making big waves in the race for the White House.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump leads the Republican pack in the latest CNN/ORC poll with 18 percent support, a 6-point jump from last month.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is close behind at 15 percent. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at 10 percent.

What's behind the Trump bump? The former reality TV star tells CNN's Jake Tapper --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): This is more than me. This is a movement going on. People are tired of these incompetent politicians in Washington that can't get anything done.

MURRAY: It's a movement fueled by dissatisfied voters. Fifty-three percent of Republicans say the government in Washington doesn't represent their views, even though their party controls the House and the Senate. And 52 percent of Republicans say they want Trump to stay in the race. While just 33 percent want him to drop out entirely. Now Trump's rise in the polls is drawing President Obama into the fray, weighing in from his trip to Africa, the president accused other Republicans of ramping up their rhetoric to keep up with the brash billionaire.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines. But it's not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now.

MURRAY: That criticism aimed squarely at another GOP hopeful, Mike Huckabee, who referenced the Holocaust in this controversial comment about the president's nuclear deal with Iran.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's so naive he would trust the Iranians and he would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.

MURRAY: Huckabee's remarks sparked a sharp rebuke from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Comments like these are offensive and they have no place in our political dialogue.

MURRAY: As well as President Obama.

OBAMA: You know, the particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are I think part of just a general pattern that we've seen that would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad.

MURRAY: Fellow Republican Jeb Bush also urged the former Arkansas governor to tone it down.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The use of that kind of language is just wrong. This is not the way we're going to win elections. That's not how we're going to solve problems.

MURRAY: Late today, Huckabee remained defiant.

HUCKABEE: I will not apologize and I will not recant, because the word "Holocaust" was invoked by the Iranian government. They used that very word.


MURRAY: With so many GOP candidates scrambling to make it on the stage for the first Republican debate in just 10 days, don't expect Trump or Huckabee to heed those warnings to tone it down any time soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The rhetoric will probably even escalate. Sara, good report.

Let's bring in David Chalian, our CNN political director, and our CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein.

[18:45:03] Ron -- and, Sarah, don't go too far away -- let's talk about what's going on right now. Does it help these Republicans use that kind of rhetoric, pretty tough language like that, very tough language?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think in the long run, the answer is no. And really it's a short run, long run kind of tradeoff that they're facing. On the one hand, in a field of 16 candidates to begin with, it's always hard to get attention, and certainly, since Donald Trump is coming to the race it becomes harder to get attention. So there is an incentive, kind of a pull, a tectonic pull on candidates to ratchet up the rhetoric, to compete with him -- particularly those candidates who are also kind of fishing in the same waters for the most alienated, ideologically kind of mobilized voters. And that would be people like Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, to some extent Rick Santorum.

The problem is, and Trump faces the biggest version of this problem, is that even as you deepen connection to those voters you may be raising more doubts in the broader Republican electorate beyond it. You could be strengthening your floor and tightening down the ceiling, or another way of putting it, you could be deepening your support but narrowing your support. I think all of them have to be careful whether they are creating an image that a broader spectrum of the party will not view as viable as a general election candidate.

BLITZER: Are you saying they're sort of competing with Donald Trump for attention?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think -- I think particularly in that lane of the party. I mean, when you think about it, the Republican race I think pretty clearly divides into candidates who are looking for kind of the more establishment mainstream support, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, to a large extent. And those who are aiming for the same kind of populist, disaffected voters who are kind of gravitating toward Trump. And that would include Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and to some extent Scott Walker.

The problem is, it's really hard to out-trump Trump. If you're treating for voters who are going to be attracted to someone who is saying the most kind of un-PC things, who are willing to say the things that nobody else would say, it's pretty hard to go past Donald Trump.

And you've got to question whether it makes sense to even attempt to do that as a candidate.

BLITZER: David, the last time Mike Huckabee was running for president, you and I remember in 2007-2008, he sounded when it came to Iran a bit more diplomatic. I want to play a little clip. This is back in 2007.


HUCKABEE: Another way to contain Iran is through diplomacy, while never taking the military option off the table. We have to be as diplomatically aggressive as we have been militarily aggressive since 9/11.


BLITZER: So, what he says diplomacy's the way to go, without taking the military option off the table, that's what the president of the United States says as well.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. But now, he has a specific deal to critique. And you're right, back then the president of the United States was George W. Bush, so he was navigating different political waters back then -- a war-weary country after Iraq had gone south.

But I do think that you should -- now his critique is to a specific deal. I think a lot of these Republican candidates, Wolf, nobody wants to sort of fit into one of the two boxes that Barack Obama wants to paint them in. They're either for his deal or they're for war with Iran. I think Mike Huckabee would say he would be for a stronger, better deal.

BLITZER: They all say there's a better deal for in the works. How they get there a subject for debate.

But you agree that by making this analogy to the Holocaust, he's going too far?

CHALIAN: Listen, I think one of the grand rules of politics is that when you move to a Holocaust metaphor, you've already lost. You're going to lose in the sort of debate in the public square.

BLITZER: I think you're absolutely right on that point.

When Donald Trump, Sara, says that he's not just Donald Trump, what he's doing isn't just a political campaign, it's now become a movement. Does he have a point?

MURRAY: I think he absolutely has a point, otherwise you wouldn't see him at these numbers in the polls. He is speaking to a set of the Republican Party that is disgruntled, that is disenfranchised, and they see Donald Trump as their spokesman for that right now, whether it is talking about the deal with Iran or whether talking about Hillary Clinton and her e-mail and the Benghazi scandal. They look at the people they sent to Washington and they say, you guys are constantly complaining about this stuff and we haven't seen you do anything about it. And they feel like Donald Trump might actually be the guy to do something.

BLITZER: You agree, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I do, but up to a point. I mean, I think the problem Donald Trump faces is that he is -- he has touched a nerve with a segment of the Republican Party as Sara and David have both indicated. But that segment is not big enough to win the nomination by itself.

And the question is whether the things that he is doing to solidify his hold on those voters ultimately is creating too many hurdles for him with the broader electorate.

I mean, the issue with Donald Trump is that he want to be the leader of a kind of a loud segment or does he want to be a serious contender for the nomination? He may have already passed the point where he can go back and try to appeal to a broad segment to truly compete for the nomination.

But, ultimately, I think as he goes forward he faces this choice over and again. He can either be as vociferous as it takes to keep this segment riled up, or he can try to kind of convince a broader swath of the party that he is a viable political leader.

[18:50:09] CHALIAN: I think Ron makes a good point there. But in the field -- I would just add -- in a field of 16 or 17 candidates, that slice of the party he's appealing to may be enough not to win the nomination at the end of the day but may be enough to keep him as a major force for a long time in this race.


BROWNSTEIN: And that really is the -- I'm sorry.

MURRAY: When you talk to voters at some of these events, we don't expect Donald Trump to be the nominee but they do expect him to send a signal to the rest of the party. This is what we care about.

BLITZER: All right. I want to take a quick break. But this particular point, our new poll has Donald Trump nationally among Republicans nationwide, he's still number one despite the comments that he made about John McCain and his experience as a POW. Our poll was taken after those comments, the entire poll. So, it wasn't some of it before, some during, some of it after. This was done completely afterwards, right?

CHALIAN: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: I wanted to make sure.

All right. Guys, stand by. Lots more to discuss on the race for the White House. New information on the Hillary Clinton campaign and a whole lot more.

Stay with us.


[18:55:56] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts digging deeper into our exclusive new CNN polling on the 2016 race for the White House. Ron, let's talk about Donald Trump's unfavorables right now among

registered voters in our latest CNN poll, pretty high 59 percent unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump. But one thing I noticed in the same poll, Hillary Clinton's unfavorables nationally are not all that far behind. She's got 49 percent unfavorable nationally among all voters out there, 44 percent favorable.

So, here's the question: Should Democrats be worried about that?

BROWNSTEIN: The short answer is yes. I mean, by the way, on Trump, the more immediate problem is his unfavorables in your poll are over 40 percent, which is much higher than any of the other Republican candidates which goes to the point I was saying before about the question of whether he is deepening his support among those attracted to him at the risk of narrowing his potential growth in the party.

But there's no question the events of the past six months and all the various ethical controversies that have swirled around Hillary Clinton have taken a toll on her favorability, on the sense of her honesty and integrity and these are real issues. I mean, you know, given the underlying polarization of the electorate, probably the ceiling for any candidate now is 53 percent.

Given the polarization about feelings about the Clintons, I mean, that's probably reinforcing it. Even within that constrained universe I think Democrats do have to be concerned and, more to the point, she has to figure out a way to kind of re-engage with the public that moves back towards some of the things that people may like more about her than what has been in the headlines for the last six months.

BLITZER: David, the Vice President Joe Biden has to make a major decision over the next few weeks. He doesn't have a lot of time, early August, mid-August, maybe the end of August, the first Democratic debate is coming up in the fall some time.

He has to decide, does he throw his hat into the ring? Does he not? He sees Hillary Clinton's unfavorable numbers. He sees some of the problems she has with her e-mail, her server, all that kind of stuff. He has to weigh this very, very carefully.

CHALIAN: Obviously, and he's made this decision twice before. So, this is not unfamiliar terrain to him.

But, listen, he's done nothing so far in the early stage to put an organization together or keep people on hold. There are some grassroots organizations that are trying to draft him into the race. But our sources tell us really the first step here is for Joe Biden in the wake of the tragic loss of his son Beau to sort of gather the family and have that real big, honest discussion inside his closest quarters. And that hasn't yet happened yet.

So, until that happens, I think that has to be the first stage for Vice President Biden before he moves forward with the decision-making process.

BLITZER: You've heard the stories Beau Biden before his death told his dad, I'd like you to run. His other son, Hunter, has said supposedly, I'd like you to run.

Those are significant impacts on a dad.

CHALIAN: Clearly, his family, if this is something he wants to do, his family is there for him to do it and Beau was there before he passed.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about that?

MURRAY: Well, this could be a big problem for Republicans if he does decide to run. As David pointed out, he still is clearly in the decision making progress, like you said, he does have to make a decision soon.

I mean, you look at the polling right now, he trails Hillary Clinton very far. I think that's going to be a reality until he makes that decision. Hillary Clinton is at 56 percent with Democrats in our CNN poll. Joe Biden is at 15 percent. You don't have all that long to sit around and make this decision.

That said, I think America likes Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Ron, he's not even a candidate right now. What's your gut telling you?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it's really hard for someone to beat Hillary Clinton from the center of the party like Joe Biden would be. I think if there's any opening, it is more from a candidate reflecting more of the ideological vanguard. I just think it's hard to make the argument Joe Biden would be a stronger general election candidate than Hillary Clinton absent further revelations on the issues she's dealing with, and I think it's hard to see it going very far without that. With that, who knows?

BLITZER: Who knows? That's why we love politics because we don't know.

Guys, thanks very much for that excellent discussion.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.