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Russia Ships Fire 26 Missiles at Targets in Syria; Source: FBI Helped Foil Nuclear Smuggling Plots; U.S. Investigating ISIS Use of Toyota Trucks; Conservatives Back Challenger in Speaker Fight; Trump Beating His Rivals in Swing State Polls. Aired 5:00-6:00p ET

Aired October 7, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Air space showdown. U.S. aircraft forced to back off after a close encounter with a Russian jet fighter over Syria. As Russian ships fire dozens of missiles from nearly 1,000 miles away, is Vladimir Putin now calling the shots in the war zone?

Dirty bomb sting. Smugglers in a former Soviet republic try to sell radioactive material to what they think are terrorists. We're learning how the FBI helped foil those plots. But can ISIS still get its hands on nukes?

Terrorist trucks. You've seen them in all the ISIS videos, packed with fighters and bristling with heavy weapons. But now the U.S. is asking Toyota, how did ISIS get its hands on so many pickups?

And Trump's Trojan horse. The GOP frontrunner worries that Syrian refugees are made up mainly of strong looking men. And he's warning that, if the U.S. admits too many of them, they could pose a danger.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. Russia has unleashed a massive missile attack against targets in Syria. It says 26 cruise missiles were fired from warships in the Caspian Sea more than 900 miles away.

At the same time Syrian, opposition groups now say Russia's carried out heavy airstrikes in coordination with shelling by Syrian regime forces. The United States says Russia continues to hit non- ISIS targets, including moderate groups calling those strikes a fundamental mistake.

And for the first time, U.S. aircraft over Syria had to change course to ensure safe flying distance from a Russian fighter jet. The Pentagon says the U.S. pilots were not able to complete the mission.

And we're also learning how the FBI helped foil the potential sale of radioactive and nuclear material suitable for a so-called dirty bomb in a former Soviet republic, where smugglers are willing to sell almost anything.

I'll speak with Congressman Adam Schiff of the intelligence committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with Syria. A massive Russian attack at a close encounter between U.S. and Russian warplanes. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us with the latest.

Barbara, rebel group backed by the U.S. says Russia bombed them. What's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I want everyone to just right off the bat take a look at this video. Now CNN cannot independently confirm this, but this is video said to be from a moderate rebel group on the ground in Syria, suffering from a Russian air attack. The violence is unmistakable.

There is at this point, we are told, no reason to believe that this video is other than what it is, a moderate rebel group backed by the United States under attack from the Russians.

All of this comes, Wolf, as the violence has seriously picked up in the last 24 hours. As you say, Russian warships in the Caspian have launched withering naval attacks, cruise missile attacks against targets in Syria. And at the same time, Russian artillery, Russian rocket launchers pounding targets in western Syria backing up the forces of Bashar al-Assad. The violence growing more grim, more serious by the day, Wolf.

BLITZER: And now for the first time Barbara, a U.S. jet fighter had to divert because of a nearby Russian fighter. What happened?

STARR: Wolf, what we now know is the U.S. pilots are operating under some very strict rules now that the Russians are also in the skies. This was a couple of days ago, we are told, a U.S. -- two in fact, U.S. F-16s flying out of Turkey into northeastern Syria to strike an ISIS target had to back away and divert, because they were within 20 miles of a Russian jet, a Russian fighter came within 20 miles of them.

The new rules of the air, if the Russians are within 20 miles, the U.S. pilots are told they must back away. They must divert their flight path. This is for the safety of American pilots.

Right now, until that agreement is reached with the Russians, and there is no agreement right now, the Russians aren't talking about this until there's an agreement on rules of safety, common safety rules for all pilots in the air. The U.S. taking no chances. Nobody wants to see a U.S. pilot, God forbid go down over Syria. So U.S. pilots taking a very cautious approach to all of this, Wolf.

[17:05:05] BLITZER: Truly dangerous situation, all of a sudden getting even more dangerous. Barbara, thank you.

We're also learning today how the FBI worked with investigators in a former Soviet republic to foil potential smuggling plots involving nuclear and radioactive material that could be used by terrorists to make a so-called dirty bomb.

Let's go to our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He's been digging into the story. What are you finding out, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is definitely a scary proposition. Criminal groups in Moldova allegedly have been trying to sell radioactive and nuclear materials to extremist groups. The police in the European country say they've been working with the FBI to conduct a series of sting operations to catch some of these smugglers.

Take a look at this remarkable video from police -- from an arrest in February. This man allegedly was trying to sell small quantities of this radioactive substance called cesium 135. This is a sting operation and the Moldovan police used informants posing as middlemen for extremist groups.

And authorities say material like this could be used to make a dirty bomb. Now Moldovan police say they arrested seven people in 2014 trying to smuggle uranium. The State Department says that it is working with Moldovan authorities to improve security facilities that hold radioactive materials.

And, Wolf, we know this has long been a concern for the FBI that groups such as ISIS or al Qaeda could get their hands on this dangerous, dangerous material for use either in the battlefields in the Middle East or to attack western countries. And we know also that Moldova and nearby Russian controlled region called Transnistria have a thriving black market with criminal groups that simply don't care who they're selling to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a nightmare scenario that is. All right, Evan, thank you.

Let's bring in a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. What can you tell us about this armed smuggling operation? Do you know how close, for example, ISIS or some other terror group has actually ever come to obtaining nuclear materials?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Wolf, I can't go into specifics of this particular case, but I can say this has been a concern of ours for many years with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the disintegration of a lot of the security around nuclear materials. We have tried through programs like the non-luther (ph) program to work with the Russians to blend down and dispose of their radioactive material.

Much of the time these plots, Wolf, in the past have involved something that is, I think, as a term of art called red mercury. That is a red herring. It's not radioactive, but often people try to sell it. I don't know whether it's sold as a scam. That might be part of the case, or whether the sellers don't know exactly what they have. But of course, we have to be constantly on guard for those

occasions when it might be the real thing. We know that these radical Islamic groups like al Qaeda and ISIS would love to get their hold -- their hands on nuclear radiological material that they can fashion into some kind of weapon.

BLITZER: Because some sort of dirty bomb, as it's called, like that some sort of radioactive nuclear or even small dirty bomb, that could cause incredible damage in New York City or Los Angeles or any place, right?

SCHIFF: Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sources of material that could be very dangerous that way. A lot of hospitals in the United States, for example, need to use radiological materials for diagnosis. It can be very valuable in terms of medical applications.

But one of the things that we have tried over the last several years is to really beef up our defenses in places like hospitals so that we don't have these materials stolen. But should they get some of this material and go to a place like Times Square or the financial district or whatnot, they could render areas uninhabitable for quite some time and, of course, cause wholesale panic.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. doing everything it can to stop these kinds of potential terror attacks in terms of cooperating with countries like Moldova or Russia to make sure that none of that nuclear material gets into terrorist hands?

SCHIFF: Oh, absolutely. And we have been for many years. The intelligence community, the FBI, elements of our armed forces all working together to try to make sure that, if necessary, we can interdict, that we can do the investigations necessary, that we have good cooperative relationships with authorities in other countries, so they know what to look for. So absolutely, we work to cultivate these relationships for quite some time.

BLITZER: I ask the question, because it looks at least at this sting operation in Moldova, the FBI was involved. The operation obviously was foiled, but it looks like it potentially could have gotten close.

SCHIFF: Well, you know, again, I can't comment on this particular situation, whether it was really the kind of material that has been alleged in the public reports.

But, yes, we have a number of scenarios since the collapse of the former Soviet Union where there have been purported sales or attempted sales of these things. Often when we get wind, obviously, we try to apprehend those involved in a sting operation. But this is a concern that is very much with us today and will be unfortunately into the future.

[17:10:20] BLITZER: We have a lot more to discuss, Congressman. Standby for a moment. When we come back I also want to find out what's going on with is. All of a sudden they got hundreds of Toyota pickup trucks. Where are they getting these Toyotas? A lot more coming up when we come back.


[17:15:12] BLITZER: We're talking with Congressman Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee. We'll get to him in a moment.

But first, there's an important issue out there right now. How did ISIS, the terror group, get so many -- so many Toyota pickup trucks? They've played a key role in the terror group's lightning attacks in the Middle East, and now the United States is formally asking the Toyota company some very serious questions.

Brian Todd is looking into this story for us. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight the Treasury Department is pressing Toyota for information on why so many Toyota pickup trucks, SUVs and other vehicles are in ISIS's hands. Analysts say it's almost as if ISIS has outfitted itself with a fleet, much like a corporation would.

In ISIS videos, whenever you see the terror group riding into a town celebrating a capture, their fighters are draped all over Toyotas.


TODD (voice-over): They're hard to miss. Packed with ISIS fighters and heavy weapons, Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs are featured prominently in ISIS propaganda videos.

JONATHAN SCHANZER, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Toyota is the truck that jihadists choose when they want to go to war. It's the same thing with Kalashnikovs. That's the rifle that they choose.

TODD: Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, similar to the Tacoma sold in the west, and Toyota Land Cruisers are seen in the group's videos from its campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Libya. A top Iraqi official tells CNN his government believes ISIS has acquired hundreds of Toyota vehicles in recent years.

Tonight, Toyota tells CNN the U.S. Treasury Department is seeking information from the automaker on how ISIS has gotten hold of so many of its vehicles. And the company says it's briefed the Treasury Department on how it handles its supply chains.

(on camera): How do you think they're getting these?

SCHANZER: I think they're buying them probably right over the -- you know, through formal channels. They're probably going right into the dealerships and purchasing them. They're just not identifying as ISIS. Who would?

TODD (voice-over): Jonathan Schanzer, a former terror finance tracker at the Treasury Department says the Toyota procurement illustrates how ISIS runs itself like a combination of a mafia gang and a major corporation. It's got spreadsheets on missions, assassinations and captured assets. Some terror group's vehicles are clearly from other car makers, not just Toyota.

This Ford pickup truck still has decals of a plumbing company in Texas. The company tells us after they traded it in, it must have gone to an overseas auction. The Taliban and other militants also use Toyota vehicles. But analysts say Toyota pickups are especially well- suited to ISIS's fast and light fighting style.

JOBY WARRICK, AUTHOR, "BLACK FLAGS": They can be easily modified. They can be upgraded so they're great for desert -- for dry conditions, for dusty conditions. So they've got a lot of, you know, ruggedness that helps out a lot. And also you can put pretty much any weapons system from a grenade launcher to a machine gun. They're easily modified. So you can mount equipment on the back.


TODD: A Toyota official tells CNN the automaker does not know how ISIS obtained all of those vehicles and says it's impossible for any automaker to completely control how many vehicles are stolen or resold by third parties. That Toyota official says the company is working with the Treasury Department on this. And he says Treasury has indicated that Toyota appears, for the moment, to have the right procedures in place. Treasury is refusing to disclose any details of their investigation, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about, Brian, possible theft rings working for ISIS or other terror groups? Could they have obtained these vehicles?

TODD: Absolutely they could have. Jonathan Schanzer, the former treasury official we spoke to, he points out that an Australian newspaper report says 834 Toyota Hilux pickup trucks were reported stolen from the streets of Sydney, Australia, and its surrounding areas between 2014 and 2015. That newspaper report says over half those vehicles were never recovered. Theft rings are a distinct possibility, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

We're back with the senior Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

How telling is it, Congressman, that ISIS's operation can get their hands on all these Toyotas, all these supplies. Is ISIS more sophisticated, more complex organization than some had thought?

SCHIFF: Well, it certainly has great capability. And the fact that they are able to smuggle in just about whatever they want in terms of weapons, fighters, Toyota vehicles. It shows the degree to which we have a long way to go before we're sealing off access to supplies and munitions. It's really quite disturbing how, nonetheless, readily accessible the marketplace is to ISIS.

I don't know whether these vehicles are being purchased in Iraq through straw purchasers or simply being driven across the border from Turkey into Syria and maybe some combination of both.

One thing I think is interesting, Wolf, is we had very similar reports probably ten years ago in Afghanistan that the Taliban and al Qaeda were driving around in these Toyota vehicles that this was the vehicle of choice for the jihadis. That much hasn't changed.

BLITZER: Fascinating. What's really intriguing, though, the U.S. Treasury Department now investigating Toyota on this issue. We'll update our viewers on what we learn.

[17:20:14] On another sensitive issue right now, Congressman, the U.S., as you know, for the first time had to divert a military aircraft flying over Syria to ensure that it would maintain a safe flying distance from a Russian fighter jet. How possible -- how likely is there there could be a miscalculation resulting in a disaster?

SCHIFF: Well, it's very possible. And of course, this is the chief concern we have in terms of escalating a conflict between the United States and Russia. They're not de-conflicting these flights with us. They're talking about it. Maybe they will at some point.

And you can see why. They're going in there bombing moderate rebels. So they don't want to have to come to U.S. planners and say, "These are our flight patterns. Here's where we're going to bomb" and have the U.S. point out, "You're bombing the wrong people. You're going after not ISIS but others." It would, I think, be very transparent, and indeed is very transparent what the Russians are up to.

At some point they may decide de-confliction is in their interest. We hope sooner than later, because the chance for escalation and conflict here with Russian incursions into Turkish air space, as well as the provocative actions they're doing with our NATO partners, ultimately may lead to catastrophe.

BLITZER: What a nightmare that would be, too.

The Russians, as you know, they've indicated they might be willing to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, should the U.S. start offering them specific intelligence. What do you think? Should the U.S. do that?

SCHIFF: Well, I would be very concerned about doing that, because frankly, whatever intelligence we give them about who the moderate rebels are, they may simply use to pinpoint more strikes on those very same people. There's not a lot of trust here, as you can imagine.

So we need to do our best to de-conflict, but it's going to be very imperfect if the Russians, indeed, cooperate with us at all. And we're going to have to be circumspect about how much we're willing to share with them.

BLITZER: Is Russia conducting military ground operations in Syria right now? In other words, do they have boots on the ground? SCHIFF: The Russians do have boots on the ground. I don't know

whether they have boots on the ground in a combat role yet. Whether they're planning to. Obviously, there have been public statements from Moscow that they plan on sending volunteers. I think they invented a new definition of the word "volunteer."

But it's certainly possible, if things don't go well, that they insert Russian ground troops. And that has a real potential of drawing Putin in further and further and further. He may rue the day that he got involved in this mess. But meanwhile, it's a tremendous challenge to the United States.

And I think we're going to have to reconsider some of the things that we haven't wanted to undertake in the past, whether that's no-fly zones or telegraphing to the Assad regime. We're not going to let their helicopters barrel bomb civilian populations anymore. I think we need to give these ideas new consideration.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, we'd like to hear from you. Do you think, for example, Joe Biden will enter the presidential race? Go ahead, vote right now. Go to THE SITUATION ROOM Facebook page and click on the top post. We're going to bring you the results in our next hour.

Coming up this hour, new e-mail problems for Hillary Clinton. Why did a tech company employee think they were being asked to cover up something shady?

Plus, Donald Trump explains his different position about what Russia's doing in Syria.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let Russia bomb ISIS. What are we talking about? What are we talking about? They want to bomb them, let them bomb them. Bomb the hell out of them.



[17:28:28] BLITZER: Six days left until the first Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. Hillary Clinton's campaign now coping with new revelations about her e-mails while she was serving as secretary state. This time the focus is on a company that backed up her information on her private e-mail server.

Let's bring back our justice reporter, Evan Perez. Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, employees at a company that was working to back up data on Hillary Clinton's e-mail server had concerns after the Clinton team ordered them to change how they were saving this data. The apparent instructions to reduce how long e-mail data was being saved came in August. And this was after it was publicly known that the FBI was conducting an investigation of this matter.

That prompted an employee at Platte River Networks to write to another employee saying, quote, "Starting to think this whole thing really is covering up some shady" -- expletive.

The employee wanted to make sure, Wolf, that the company had -- had these instructions in writing from the Clinton team, just in case they ever have to go public to explain why the data was being deleted after 30 days. That was a shorter time than when previously was being used.

And CNN has learned that a second company called Datto Inc. has also turned over backup data to the FBI. Senator Ron Johnson sent a letter to this company asking for more information.

We also have a statement from the Clinton campaign saying, quote, "Johnson was ripping a page from the house of Benghazi committee's playbook and mounting his own taxpayer-funded sham of an investigation with the sole purpose of attacking Hillary Clinton" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, stay with us.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's a former federal prosecutor, along with CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes. This investigation goes on and on and on.

As you know, when the FBI starts an investigation, you don't know where it's going to wind up. How damaging could these new details potentially be?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they're certainly damaging to a certain extent because, you know, just the story moving forward in a small way is just one more day when it's not behind Hillary Clinton. I think one of the things this illustrates, though, is people say, well, why can't she put it behind her?

It's out of her hands now. There are investigations going on. And this is the real problem for her, is that even though she has tried, it seems, to get all the e-mails out there and tell the whole story. The e-mails are still being declassified. The investigation is still going on. And she just can't control it.

BLITZER: Take us inside, Tom, the FBI. You spent decades serving in the FBI. What's going on there right now as far as this e- mail investigation is concerned?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all they're trying to get their hands on all of the e-mails and recover whatever was on the servers in the first place. Then they'll look at the content and see whether or not it was classified, should have been classified if it wasn't. And then they'll try to look at if they have the information, the metadata, that shows who sent it, who else received it and which computers communicating with each other.

Now, much of the e-mail she turned over were printed pages of the text only that didn't have that information. So that's part of what they're trying to reconstruct, is who is sending this e-mail, who was receiving it, who was classifying it, who was determining, who was sorting it? Were the government employees sorting her personal -- personal e-mail? Were personal employees sorting possibly top-secret government e-mail? So that's the concern here is you don't know who was handling it.

TOOBIN: And even with the best of intentions, even with the skill of the FBI, this takes a long time. It is difficult to reconstruct an e-mail change in the best of circumstances. And when you're dealing with different servers and some of them deleted and some not, it's just a mess. And that takes time.

BLITZER: It's an enormous mess. Go ahead, Evan. I was going to ask you how long you're hearing this investigation is going to continue.

PEREZ: Right. Well, that -- what Jeffrey's pointing out is exactly the problem here. But the FBI really doesn't feel like it has any time limit on how long this can go. And for Clinton, I'm sure she would prefer for this to be wrapped up, certainly, by early next year so she can really rev up her campaign.

We asked the FBI director, James Comey, in a meeting last week he met with a group of reporters, and we said, "Look, don't you think the American people deserve to know the result of this before they go cast a ballot?"

And he said, "Look, that's not what is going to guide us here." They're going to be thorough. They're going to be -- they're going to do everything as quickly as they can. But no quicker than they have to.

And he says he's getting briefed on this investigation almost every week just to make sure it's being done right. And he has the right people on it. But he's under no time constraints. And he certainly doesn't believe that he has to do this quickly to help anybody's campaign.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much. Jeffrey and Tom, guys, thanks to you, as well.

Coming up, Donald Trump, he's back out there today on the campaign trail. And he's back to insisting he'll make Mexico pay for building a new wall along the U.S. border.


TRUMP: Why would Mexico ever think of paying $7 billion to build a wall? I say because they're making $45 billion a year, you idiot.



[17:38:25] BLITZER: Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail today addressing a crowd this afternoon in Waterloo, Iowa. The Republican presidential frontrunner promised he isn't getting out of the race. And he had plenty to say about Russia's military moves in Syria, his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and all the latest polls.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank you. This is amazing. I know the fire marshal had to send a lot of people outside unfortunately.

Florida, I was at 21. I went up to 28. We're killing everybody. We're winning by many, many points. And don't forget you have a sitting senator and an ex-governor in Florida.

You know, when you're 28, 29, that's a lot. When you think you have 16 people -- you had 17, one did sayonara. You have 16 people in the race, and when you get almost 29 percent, that's pretty good.

Pennsylvania beating everybody. Ohio beating everybody, 23. We're beating the governor of Ohio, who's a nice guy, by the way. I don't know. Maybe there's a mistake, because actually, the governor of Ohio is a quality guy and he's doing a good job. But we're beating everybody by a lot in Ohio.

I'm not going anywhere. You better believe it. He knows. He knows Trump. You know. You've got the same mentality, right? We're not going anywhere.

But, you know, I watch the politicians. They're at one. He's at one. No chance. In fact, I think he's gone down to zero. Would you get out? "Absolutely not; we're in it to the end." Now, you know he's going to cancel out next week. That's called political speak. When you talk that way it's really easier, because there's no story. So if he would have said, "Well, I'm thinking about it. I'm not doing well," you know. Of course nobody would have written that story anyway, because nobody cares.

By the way, I'm funding my own campaign. I'm spending a lot of money. Not as much as I thought, because frankly I'm getting so much publicity, I don't have to advertise so far, you know, right?

We had a poll with the African-Americans where I was at 25 percent. That's a huge number for a Republican primary. Somebody said, "If you actually got 25 percent of the African-American vote, the election's over. It's over. You win."

Russia's now talking to Iraq. They're going to do some bombing. Of ISIS, which frankly I think is a great thing. Let Russia bomb ISIS. What are we talking about? They want to bomb them, let them bomb them. Bomb the hell out of them. Bomb them. And I said that. And somebody said, "Oh, that's controversial."

A couple of the countries: "No. We will not speak to Russia. We will not talk to Russia. And we will go and confront Russia." What? Over Syria? We're going to have to -- we're going to start World War 3, right? Give me a break.

You know, when I first made the statement, they were hitting our so-called allies that we have no idea who they are. You know, you have Assad. He's a bad guy. And we're fighting for people we have no idea who they are.

And then you hear we're going to take in -- so originally I heard 3,000 people from Syria, right? And then the next time I was on television it was 10,000. I said, oy. The next time I hear we're taking in 200,000. They want to take in 200,000 to bring these 200,000 people in -- 200,000, 200 -- that's like an army. Ahh, maybe that's it.

Because I look and I see the migration, which is sad. But then I look and I keep looking. I said to my wife the other day, I said, you know, "I don't see too many women there. I don't see that many children. I see really strong looking men."

This could be one of the great Trojan horses. This could make the Trojan horse look like peanuts, OK.

The next president has to be great. Thank you very much. No, no.

Iran, so you have a guy saying death to America, death to America. We have people signing. We have a guy who's on a bicycle in a bicycle race and he's our chief negotiator, breaks his leg, walks in with crutches. They say what a jerk this guy is.

We give Mexico billions of dollars, billions of dollars. But the politicians say, like I'm some kind of a baby, "You can't ask for that. How ridiculous. Why would Mexico ever think of paying $7 billion to build a wall?"

And I say, "Because they're making $45 billion a year, you idiot."

We're doing so great in Iowa. And I just want to thank all of the people. And I'll be here a lot over the next four months. And beyond by the way. And we're going to do something, really, it's going to be a beautiful thing to watch. This is not just like people getting together. This is a big movement that's going on all over the country. And you know what it represents. We're getting the biggest crowds, the greatest people. I just want to thank everybody. And I will see you soon. I'll be back very soon. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: A flavor of what Donald Trump is saying on this day. Let's bring in three members of our political team: our CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, he joins us once again; as does Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro.

Guys, hold on for a moment. We have a lot to discuss, not only Trump but there's a lot of other developments happening right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:47:40] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on this, the eve of a crucial vote on who will become the next speaker of the House of Representatives. We're seeing some new signs of a potential revolt among Republicans up on Capitol Hill.

We're back with S.E. Cupp, Jeffrey Toobin and Ana Navarro.

S.E., let's talk about this. The House Freedom Caucus, as it's called, influential group of Tea Party conservatives and others, they say they will now back Florida Representative Daniel Webster for speaker of the House, not Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader. They say they have more than 30 members who will back Daniel Webster when the full vote comes up.

That potentially could be a huge slap -- a huge stop button, if you will, for Kevin McCarthy and his road to becoming the speaker of the House.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. I think a lot of people thought that Jason Chaffetz's run was going to be sort of maybe a spoiler for Kevin McCarthy and now this looks to be yet another obstacle for Kevin McCarthy.

Look, what the House conference needs is someone who can unite not just leadership and the Freedom caucus, but leadership, and all of the other different groups. It's a very divided, you know, Republican House. Not just between two factions, but multiple, and frankly Kevin McCarthy might be the only one who can speak to all of them, but certainly this is a big hurdle for him now with this late breaking news.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But the -- but there are real substantive differences here.

CUPP: Yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, the Freedom Caucus thinks it is a good idea to shut down the government, to defund Planned Parenthood. Much of the rest of the Republican caucus thinks it's not worth it. You can try to paper over these differences and pretend they don't exist, but these votes, which may well sort themselves out for Kevin McCarthy, you know, when the actual vote comes, it indicates that there are just profound differences.

BLITZER: Yes, the actual vote on the House floor is October 29th. You need 218 to be a majority, to become the speaker of the House. If he loses 29 Republicans, Kevin McCarthy could be in trouble. The Freedom Caucus, they have more than 30 who won't vote for him. We'll see what happens but it's an important development.

Ana, let's talk about what's going on in the race for the White House right now. Donald Trump, he's ahead of John Kasich in Ohio according to this brand new Quinnipiac University poll, 23 percent for Trump, 18 percent for Dr. Carson, 13 percent for the incumbent governor of Ohio, John Kasich.

And look at this in Florida. According to this new poll, Trump is at 28 percent, Carson 16, Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, 14, the former governor Jeb Bush 12. You support Jeb, you're friends with Marco. Shouldn't they be doing much better in their home state?

[17:50:15] ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Twelve and 14 are fairly decent numbers. They're not asterisks like home state folks are who are running for president right now.

Should they be doing better? Yes, but if they're going to peak I'd rather they peak much closer to the primary election than peak in October, five months before there -- you know, a single vote is cast. I think that what's happening in Florida is like what's happening everywhere else, which is that there is a lot of voter discontent with politics as usual, with politicians. There's an appeal for outsiders. And there is a lot of angst and frustration at a dysfunctional government.

BLITZER: If Jeb Bush, S.E., is number four in Florida.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: He's in trouble.

CUPP: Yes, I think he would maybe not admit this out loud but probably behind closed doors, yes, would like to be doing better in Florida. But Ana is right, you'd rather, you know, make it in the long haul than peak too early. And I would point out while Trump is winning in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania his numbers --

BLITZER: And Iowa, and New Hampshire.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: In many states he's winning right now according to all of the polls.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: And he's winning nationally, too.

CUPP: Yes. But his numbers have -- are stagnate. They have not grown. He is still at 23 percent, 23 percent, 28 percent, he has not grown higher than his highest amount in weeks. So I think he might have hit a cap. I mean, again, it's too early to tell. And all bets are off when it comes to Trump, but he might have run into as many voters as Trump is ever going to get.

TOOBIN: I don't understand why we think Trump has hit a ceiling. First of all, it's a good ceiling if you're in first place. And you know, Ana says 12 and 14, wow, that's great for Rubio and Bush, you know, talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. I mean, maybe that's their peak. You know, I -- my rule here seems to be, it's better to be ahead than behind, and Trump is the one who's ahead, and that's good for him.

NAVARRO: Well, but, Jeff, I'm old enough to remember when Herman Cain was leading.

CUPP: Yes.

NAVARRO: I'm old enough to remember when Rudy Giuliani was leading in October, when Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama by 30 points in October. So, you know, let's keep some cool-headedness here.

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

NAVARRO: You know. Does it mean something? Yes. Does it mean everything? No. So let's not over-read --


TOOBIN: You're absolutely right, but Herman Cain was not ahead for months the way Donald Trump has been ahead for months at this point. So you know, yes, the election is not for many months.

BLITZER: All right.

TOOBIN: But still this is not a trivial --


NAVARRO: Elections used to not last three years.

BLITZER: Herman Cain also -- hold on. Hold on, Ana. Herman Cain also didn't have $5 billion, $10 billion whatever Donald Trump has, which is a huge amount of money.

Let's talk about the other leader in this race, Dr. Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins University.

S.E., he's not backing away from some controversial remarks he made yesterday about what happened in Oregon at that community college saying people should have rushed the shooter. Maybe even more of them would have survived. He said this earlier today on FOX.


DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're living in a culture now where you have a group of people who just sit there. They don't try to listen to what you're saying. They're just trying to find a defect so that they can cause more division. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What is your reaction?

CUPP: Well, that is just more gibberish from someone who should know better. But Ben Carson is someone who constantly offers up opinion that is not informed by fact. He seems to believe that no one rushed the shooter in Oregon, in fact, someone did and was shot seven times in doing so. Not informed by facts, not based in any kind of reality. Not offering up policy, just simply I would have done it better.

I mean, his campaign slogan should be, "I'm smarter than you at everything." And you know, that might be inspiring to some people, but I think most people should be very skeptical of someone who truly believes his opinion on any range of issues based on no information at all, just gut, should be what runs the country going forward.

BLITZER: Donald Trump gave him some love today online. He wrote this in a tweet, he said, "Ben Carson was speaking in general terms as to what he would do if confronted with a gunman. He was not criticizing the victims. Not fair." That's Trump's reaction.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think S.E. is one of those bad people that Carson was talking about, one of those -- I mean, you know, we seem to be living in a campaign where the laws of political gravity no longer apply. When you say something really dumb, it doesn't matter. I mean, it's appalling to what he said. But you know, a lot of people don't care.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this analysis.

Guys, stand by. Also coming up, Russian ships fire dozens of missiles into Syria and a U.S.-backed rebel group says it was targeted by a Russian airstrike as American aircraft, they're now forced to back off after a close encounter with a Russian jet fighter.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, faceoff over Syria. U.S. mission against ISIS is scrubbed when a Russian warplane comes too close to two American fighter jets. With Russian missiles now raining down on Vladimir Putin's targets, are Washington and Moscow in a collision course in Syria?

Nuclear spinning. Eastern European smugglers busted with the help of the FBI as the suspects try to sell radioactive materials to men they believe are tied to terrorists. Tonight we're learning of multiple similar plots. Will terror groups eventually get what they need to make a dirty bomb.