Return to Transcripts main page


Trump vs. Bush; Mudslide Misery; Drone Wars; Top Aide: Biden Nearing Decision on 2016 Bid. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired October 16, 2015 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Drone wars. Turkey shoots down an aircraft invading its skies and ignoring repeated warnings. Was it a weapon in Russia's military assault in Syria?

Mudslide misery. Flash flooding leads to disaster in California, engulfing roads stranding dozens of cars and drivers. It's likely to get even worse in the hours ahead.

And battling over 9/11. Jeb Bush calls Donald Trump pathetic after the Republican front-runner seemed to hold George W. Bush responsible for the attacks on America.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you talk about George Bush, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.


KEILAR: We want to welcome the viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news tonight, Israel scrambling to try to end the cycle of violence that is rocking the Jewish state to its core.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now planning to meet with John Kerry next week after a new round of clashes and bloodshed. Tonight, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are condemning an arson attack on a religious site in the West Bank that is holy to Jews, as well as Christians.

Hamas militants fanning growing anger and unrest across the region by calling for a day of rage against Israel. We have correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by as we cover all of this news that is breaking right now.

I want to get first to CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is joining us live from Jerusalem with the latest -- Oren. OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this day of rage all

started early this with an arson attack in Nablus in the West Bank when the IDF says Palestinian rioters torched a Jewish and Christian holy site, the site of Joseph's Tomb.

The IDF says it was Palestinian security forces which we haven't seen too much of this week that moved in, dispersed the rioters and put in the fire. Condemnation from both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps a good sign there, a bit, as these two sides working together to condemn this attack. But it didn't end there.

There was heavy security restrictions in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, as Israel put in nearly 2,000 extra border police officers to maintain the security, to maintain the calm. And having walked around the Old City, it was relatively quiet in the Old City today, but that's because the attacks moved into the West Bank. It was just a few hours after Friday prayer that the IDF says a Palestinian dressed as a press photographer stabbed an Israeli soldier.

Other soldiers opened fire and killed the attacker. While this was happening, there were a number of clashes in Bethlehem, Hebron, around Gaza, all as part of this day of rage there and that's this continued cycle of violence we're seeing that is now entering its third week. One of the big questions at this point, of course, how long -- will this violence end?

Since the month, the beginning of the month, this claimed the lives of seven Israelis, 39 Palestinians and injured many, many more. Brianna, the question again there, how long will this last? How many more lives will it claim?

KEILAR: Is there any optimism, Oren, For some resolution here?

LIEBERMANN: Well, that's certainly the hope here on both sides. Both sides calling for calm and to a certain extent both sides also blaming the other sides for incitement here.

It was Secretary of State John Kerry who hopped on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and even the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, to try to talk all this situation down, to try to bring some calm and ease the tensions here in the situation. And, as you mentioned, it was -- it will be, rather, Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting with Secretary of State Kerry next week in Europe to try to see what can be done to de- escalate.

In the end, Secretary Kerry's ultimate goal is a two-state solution. That may seem very, very far away right now, but, Brianna, even bringing these two sides to the table to a peace process could help, could help placate the situation even a little bit, which is very much needed here right now.

KEILAR: Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem, thank you so much.

President Obama is putting some new pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do more to end this cycle of violence and bloodshed.

CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski was at the president's news conference today.

And you asked him, Michelle, about this conflict. What did he say?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Today, the president condemned the violence in the strongest possible terms and he asserted Israel's right to protect its people, but now with Secretary of State Kerry traveling next week to sit down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seemed like today President Obama really wanted to give a much tempered version of what Kerry himself said earlier.

He talked about there being a massive increase in Israeli settlements over the last couple of years and Kerry said now you have this violence because there has been frustration that's been growing. We will tell you, President Obama said there is not a direct causation and he described this atmosphere of tension that as he put it has a potential to lead to more misunderstandings and triggers.


He did urge both sides, though, to try to defuse it.


KOSINSKI: And do you feel like President Abbas has a responsibility to condemn attacks and try to stop them?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also believe that it's important for both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli elected officials, and President Abbas and other people in positions of power to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding and try to, you know, get all people in Israel and in the West Bank to recognize that this kind of random violence isn't going to result in anything other than more hardship.


KOSINSKI: So just as President Obama didn't want to appear to be putting blame on the Israeli side, he also wouldn't really answer that question as to whether the Palestinian president has a responsibility to condemn the attacks.

Now, the White House press secretary had a stronger statement earlier this week saying that the administration is concerned about Israeli settlements, but said there is no justification for this violence -- Brianna.

KEILAR: The president clearly trying to strike a balance there. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much.

Tonight, we're learning more about the deadly U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan and what American officials knew about this building before it was attacked.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been digging on this story.

They knew it was a hospital, is that right, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: At least somebody in the U.S. military, somebody in the U.S. government did have the information that it was a hospital. There had been rumors of Taliban in the area. The question now, how did all of this lead to such a disaster?


STARR (voice-over): CNN has learned that U.S. military investigators have found the U.S. did know this was a hospital being run by the medical group Doctors Without Borders in Northern Afghanistan. Two U.S. officials tell CNN the location was in a U.S. military database, one official saying the medical group did everything right; 22 people, including 12 medical staff and three children, killed in the U.S. attack October 3.

Doctors Without Borders says there has been more trouble. An armored vehicle carrying military investigators forced its way into the wrecked compound, causing damage and potentially destroying evidence.

JASON CONE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: It's just another example for us of how this investigation is unfolding in a way that really necessitates an independent investigation.

STARR: Still, U.S. investigators still trying to answer the questions, how did it happen? Who ordered the aircraft to fire? Other key questions, did the knowledge it was a hospital get passed along?

When an AC-130 gunship struck, did the air crew and the U.S. special operations forces on the ground know it was a hospital? If they did, did they realize strafing a hospital is against U.S. military rules, even if Taliban are there?

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.

STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter says all the video and audio recordings are being reviewed, but promising everyone will have their say.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is other data as well, and make sure we have the whole story.

CONE: The only theory we have is, is that we had a hospital fully operational, full of staff with patients, up to 200 patients and staff. It was bombed. It's one of the hugest loss of life that we have ever experienced as an organization. It's one of the most clear- cut cases that we can think of where the laws of wars have been violated.


STARR: Doctors Without Borders say there were no Taliban in the facility that night and that in fact it was so quiet, they were able to carry out some surgeries that they had had to postpone due to earlier violence in the city -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon, thank you.

Now escalating tensions along the Syrian border leading to a shoot-down in the skies. Turkey says it downed an unidentified drone invading its airspace after repeated warnings were ignored. Did this drone belong to Russia? A lot of folks are saying that.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto is here.

Do we know the answer to that?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, U.S. officials believe they do and they believe it is a Russia drone. But Russia is denying it.


SCIUTTO: And there has been deep concern about conflict in that airspace over Syria and now we have seen it. A Russian possibly drone that lost contact with its command and control taking it out of Syrian airspace, despite that Russian denial that all of its drones are accounted for, still, it was shot down then by Turkey, which is a NATO ally.

Turkey saying it had no choice and we have seen more alarming near misses. In fact, two U.S. and two Russian aircraft came within miles of others' so-called visual range before they moved away. That was just a few days ago. U.S. officials immediately protesting. Today, the president did say the two sides have reached agreement on what's called deconflicting the airspace, basically keeping them from shooting at each or running into each other.

But on that larger issue of Russia joining in to military action in Syria both in the air and on the ground, the U.S. and Russia still very much at odds, and the president said today that Russia cannot expect to bomb its way to a settlement in Syria. That's the president's words, and they are also at odds even on the basic facts. Russia says it is hitting ISIS targets, having an effect.

The U.S. says Russia is not hitting ISIS targets, basically anybody who is against the Assad regime and have not succeeded in aiding Assad's forces on the ground. Brianna, so you have real disagreement there both at the tactical level, but even on the facts on the ground.

KEILAR: We're hearing about a U.S. airdrop to Syrian rebels. What can you tell us about that?

SCIUTTO: Well, this is interesting.

The U.S. really airdropped a supply of ammunition for Syrian rebels it's been supporting, but basically in a sort of carrot effect promising more weapons only if they follow through on targeting ISIS as promised. There's been a lot of issues here because many of these rebel groups that the U.S. backs, they are more interested in attacking the Assad regime than they are in fighting ISIS.

The U.S. stipulating now we will give you these weapons, we will give you more weapons if you do attack ISIS. We will see if that pans out. But, really, it has no control once the weapons on the ground, a lot of foreign commanders who say you put those in the hands, the hands of those rebels, you have no control where they will end up.

KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thanks for that report.

I want to get back now to the breaking news on the terror and other violence aimed at Israel.

Joining me to talk about this, Middle East analyst and author Aaron David Miller. He advised six secretaries of state over two decades.

I know, Aaron, that you see what is going on as a symptom, obviously, of the larger issue here in the region, but does the Israeli government have the ability to combat these lone wolf type of attacks that we have been seeing?

AARON DAVID MILLER, AUTHOR, "THE MUCH TOO PROMISED LAND": Those are the toughest, in large part because 80 percent of them are conducted by young Palestinians anywhere from 13 to 20. None of them are on Israeli internal security's radar screen.

And weapons, low-tech, either running people down or kitchen knives, are readily accessible and available. Plus, there is a sense of frustration, desperation, what happened in the Al-Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, conspiracy theories that the government of Israel is out to fundamentally change the nature of the status quo arrangements.

All of these, I think these are wrongheaded, but I think that's fed it. And Islamic Jihad and Hamas also have a stake to a certain degree in stirring the pot. The good news here, I think, is that Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation continues and neither Abbas nor the prime minister have a stake in watching this escalate.

Plus, the president doesn't want to fight with Israelis. Had this happened six months ago, I think you would have seen a much different reaction from Washington. We have now walked back in three cases statements that have been made, one that settlements caused this. The president basically said they didn't.

Two, the Israelis have used excessive use of force. That has been walked back. And, three, that the Israelis were trying to change the status quo on the Al-Haram al-Sharif, Temple Mount. They walked back that, too. I think implementation of the Iran agreement is primary and the big event is going to be the prime minister's meeting with the president next month.

KEILAR: Meaning sort of extending more positive language to Israel because of the Iran deal that Israel is not on board with?

MILLER: Right, and they want to see implantation and they want to see it secured.

Obama has a year and change left on the presidential clock. Neither Netanyahu nor Obama I think want to pick a fight over there. And who knows, maybe at that meeting, the two of them can discuss a strategic approach to how to get negotiations back on track, although that is...

KEILAR: Yes, let's talk about it. You have Benjamin Netanyahu, you have John Kerry, they're going to be meeting in Europe. But it just seems like the U.S. relationship with Israel is -- even with this less strident language towards Israel about the tensions and the violence that's happening right now, it just seems like things are so strained. Is there really any way to accomplish anything?

MILLER: I watched a lot of Israeli prime ministers and American presidents deal with one another.

Begin and Carter had a strained relationship, yet they produced an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Bush 41 and Shamir, strained relationship, and yet they went to the Madrid peace conference. And Netanyahu and Clinton his first term, strained relationship, and yet we negotiated two interim agreements.


I think it's possible. Brianna, the problem is, the leadership required to take the risks on the Israeli and Palestinian side isn't there. The ownership required to invest Israelis and Palestinians in the process isn't there. And, frankly, I'm not sure we have the will and skill in Washington to serve as effective brokers and mediators.

You give me three those things and you can have a serious negotiation that could actually lead to a two-state solution. We're just not there.

KEILAR: Without those things that you just mentioned, it seems like a pessimistic view about somehow coming to a resolution soon. Is there a possibility we're on the verge of something much bigger here?

MILLER: I think you will know that. You will know whether or not this will get worse before it gets or in essence whether or not there is a way to tamp this down.

But if you do, you're returning to status quo ante with all of the problems that remain to be resolved and the chances of doing so are not great, no.

KEILAR: Aaron David Miller, we always enjoy having you on. Thanks so much for stopping by THE SITUATION ROOM.


MILLER: Pleasure to be here always.

KEILAR: Appreciate it.

And just ahead, Donald Trump, he seems to blame George W. Bush for 9/11 and Jeb Bush fires back.

And pounding rain, rising water and oozing mud, it is a recipe for a disaster hitting California right now.



KEILAR: We're actually standing by to hear from Donald Trump. He's holding a campaign event in Massachusetts very soon. And the GOP front-runner is engaged right now in a new war of words that is prompting his opponent, Jeb Bush, to call him pathetic.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is here with more.

What's he doing in Massachusetts?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, right, Massachusetts is not one of the early states.


MURRAY: But New Hampshire is, which is very close by, and the Trump campaign has a problem that more candidates wish they had, which is that they can't find venues big enough for the crowds that Trump draws and that's sort of the reason we will see him popping up every now and then in Massachusetts.

And, look, when people see these events and they see this excitement, it has Republicans worried and they're starting to wonder what can we do, what is it going to take to knock Trump out of the race?

KEILAR: What is happening with these 9/11 comments? Donald Trump made them, Jeb Bush hit back. They are at odds.

MURRAY: Donald Trump sort of reignited this feud with Jeb Bush today by basically saying that George Bush was the one who was responsible for 9/11. Let's take a listen.


TRUMP: When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want. The World Trade Center came down during his time. If you look at Sandy Hook...

QUESTION: Hold on. That -- you can't blame George Bush for that.


TRUMP: He was president, OK? What -- don't -- blame him or don't blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.


MURRAY: Now, as you might imagine, this did not sit very well with Jeb Bush. And so he lashed back on Twitter today, saying: "How pathetic for Donald Trump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked and my brother kept us safe."

The battle between Jeb and Donald Trump back at it today.

KEILAR: All right. And it will continue. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about this is a Donald Trump supporter and the news director for the Tea Party News Network, Scottie Hughes.

So, so, Scottie, you heard it, this back and forth. Jeb Bush is calling the comments pathetic. I would ask you this as a supporter of Trump's. Were his comments presidential?

SCOTTIE HUGHES, TEA PARTY NEWS NETWORK: I don't know about presidential, but talk about pathetic.

I think this is desperate of the Jeb Bush campaign sitting here taking the words that honestly were the truth. His brother was president. Mr. Trump did not come out and say I blame it on him, but the truth was Mr. Bush, President Bush had been in office for eight months. If anything, 9/11, as we know, these terrorists had been training for years to prepare for this. It's all underneath threat Clinton -- but the actual words for what Mr. Trump said was that he was president, which is factual.

And this is the Jeb Bush campaign trying to twist words and blow them up because they want Mr. Trump look unpatriotic and unsupportive of the good people and the good things that came after the 9/11 events of this country uniting.

KEILAR: You don't think he was alluding to some sort of causation or connection here?

HUGHES: Absolutely not. I think he was just simply stating facts and the Jeb Bush campaign is wanting to sit there and blow this up to more than what it is.

It is a fact he was president and Jeb right now is trying anything he can to twist the words of Mr. Trump to make him look bad. This is a desperate attempt on the part of their campaign, not necessarily what Mr. Trump said.

KEILAR: OK. The other day, Donald Trump weighs in on Bernie Sanders. This is interesting because he's been targeting Bernie Sanders now and he calls him a socialist/communist. He's also hitting FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly again on Twitter.

But you have people, Scottie, who are saying all of this bombast is just to distract from the fact that he's policy-light. Where are his ideas?

HUGHES: Well, where are his ideas? Go to his Web site. Go listen to his speeches. He says them.

And if you go and look at all the GOP candidates, Jeb Bush, I'll give him this, he has a lot on there, Marco Rubio, but then Trump, but the rest of the candidates, not near as much.


KEILAR: I'm sorry. Pardon me for interrupting you. But we have gone to the Web site and there's only three policies outlined on there. Other candidates have rolled out a whole lot more than that.


HUGHES: Well, but you sit there and you look at actually who they are.

And the key is, you have to realize strategy to this. You're in the media business. Jeb Bush put his plan out probably a month ago and Rand Paul has had his economic plan out since the very beginning. Nobody talks about it.

There is a strategy that Mr. Trump is using in rolling out his policies and it's obviously working. It's the idea of the D.C. elitists, the consultants that they say throw everything at the American people so they glaze over and they don't pay attention to it. That's how the GOP has been up to now. That is how we have lost.

Donald Trump is actually putting things and what Main Street folks need to hear, how they can understand it, and then going into it and explaining it. The people act as though the election is this November. We still have 13 months to go, folks. That is plenty of time.

You want to ask about his policies? It's pretty simple. He continues to lay them out, unlike Bernie Sanders, who he puts them out by just saying, I'm going to give you free stuff and the way that I'm going to do it is by making the taxpayers pay for 90 percent of it, raising their taxes.

Mr. Trump has laid out as much policy as he believes that needs to be out there right now and will continue to lay them out over the course of the next 14 months.

KEILAR: You think we will see more or do you think he continues at this pace, this sort of slow pace of laying, of putting policy proposals out?

HUGHES: Obviously, it's working. It's a great strategy. It's the reason why he continues to be number one in all of this. (CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Wait. So you're saying he continues to be number one because he's not getting specific and he's not boring people with details?

HUGHES: No, it's not boring people with details. He has the details.

He understands how they are going to do it. But instead of sitting there and doing these large document dumps of policy using D.C. elitist words that the majority of the American people don't understand, he's talking in terms the majority of people do know how to talk about.

He's sitting there talking about people are not able to afford their health insurance and how he wants to eliminate Obamacare and replace it, yet still take care of those folks who are without insurance. He's talking about Second Amendment and he's actually talking about -- instead of sitting here and saying, folks, here is everything, here is exactly what we need to talk about at this time period.

It's called strategy, something the GOP has not had. And it's working. It's engaging people who normally would not pay attention to politics and it's engaging them in the process and you have got to commend him for that.

KEILAR: If he's not explaining how he plans to do these things, including his health care proposals, shouldn't he -- isn't it incumbent on him as a candidate to explain how he does this?

HUGHES: But I think he is. That's the key.

It's just that it's so simple, it's complicated for people not to -- you know, it's complicated for these elitists and those D.C. folks to understand. He talked about how he's going to pay for, how he's going to pay for everything. He's going to go in with a chain saw and hack out the EPA, the Department of Education, all the pork and government waste that we know exists in it.

That's how he's going to do it. Instead of sitting here and raising taxes like Bernie Sanders is offering, taking more money out of the working-class Americans, he is saying, no, I will go to the government and slice these budgets in half.

Unlike John Kasich's plan that says I'm going to keep the status quo, I'm going to put a freeze on it, Trump is saying, I'm not going to freeze it. I'm going to reduce it, because there is more superfluous spending in the federal government budgets than any other private corporation that exists right now.

KEILAR: And I do think you're right. It is working. We see the poll numbers and we see he's by far and away the front-runner.

Scottie Hughes, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being with us.

Just ahead, we're actually standing by to hear from Donald Trump on the campaign trail. He's in Massachusetts.

And then Hillary Clinton, she regains some lost ground in New Hampshire on the heels of the first Democratic debate. Is that a reason for Joe Biden perhaps to stay out of it?


KEILAR: This hour we are following now twists in the Democratic presidential race, from Hillary Clinton's new post-debate bump in the polls, to Joe Biden's decision on whether to challenge her.

[18:33:38] The vice president's announcement could come in a matter of days, maybe even hours, and our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has been following the story. We're getting some hints, right, Jim, about his timing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lots of hints but not a lot of definition at this point, Brianna. Top Democratic officials are telling me privately the party is growing impatient as Joe Biden is taking longer than expected to make his decision on running for president.

But the vice president's political team sent out a smoke signal that a final answer is coming soon.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's the big question all over Washington, will he or won't he? When Joe Biden's political future came up in the Oval Office, the vice president was just a few feet away, listening with his lips sealed. President Obama later brushed off the question.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to comment on what Joe is doing or not doing. I think you can direct those questions to my very able vice president.

ACOSTA: But a decision appears to be coming soon, so says Biden's former Senate chief of staff Ted Kaufman in a message to the vice president's political network: "I am confident that the vice president is aware of the practical demands of making a final decision soon."

Kaufman also described what a Biden campaign would be like, in other words.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will put y'all back in chains.

ACOSTA: Lots of Biden being Biden. "I think it's fair to say, knowing him as we all do, that it won't be a scripted affair. After all, it's Joe."

[18:40:08] But Democrats are all but begging Biden to hurry. As one senior party official put it, if the silence goes into next week, friends think the decision is made for him.

Hillary Clinton is practically pushing herself in this interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A decision has to be made, but certainly, I'm not in any way suggesting or recommending that the vice president accept any timetable, other than the one that is clicking inside of him. He has to make this decision.

ACOSTA: Plus, the longer Biden waits, the more it hurts. The latest poll in New Hampshire shows Clinton and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders way out in front of the vice president. When Democratic voters were asked if Biden should enter the race, half said no.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think he knows this is -- this is D-day, and he's got to make a decision. A lot of people are waiting. And people who really care about him and want to help him are waiting, too, and so he needs to move on there.

ACOSTA: Democrats are starting to compare Biden's lengthy deliberations to those of the late New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who actually had a plane waiting to take him to New Hampshire in 1992, but Cuomo pulled back at the last moment. And a Clinton went on to become president.


ACOSTA: A top Democratic source says Biden's inner circle has indicated a decision could come in the next few days, but some Democrats are not buying it, as one party strategist told me, Brianna, this latest message from Biden world just might be buying time.

KEILAR: We will see if that's the case, Jim Acosta. Thank you for that report.

I want to bring in CNN political reporter Sara Murray. We also had CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza. He is a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director for "The National Journal."

OK, so Ryan, you have Hillary Clinton having a gad debate performance.


KEILAR: She gets a bounce in the polls in New Hampshire, which is key, because Bernie Sanders was really, you know, taking it to her there. And she seems to have turned this corner here. Knowing that, how quickly is this window for Joe Biden closing for him to get in the race?

LIZZA: Right, all of the politics are sort of coalescing here in favor of Hillary and not so much in favor of Biden. You have the e- mail scandals sort of getting packaged into the Benghazi committee, which has become seen as very partisan, right? So Hillary not suffering as much about that right now. You have

the polls doing, you know, increasing her polling in New Hampshire and have her being declared the winner of the debate the other night almost universally. People are claiming that she's talking about her commanding performance. And you have the deadline of October 29, when the first state, Georgia, you have to send a letter to the secretary of state if you're a presidential candidate if you want to be eligible for Georgia's delegates.

And so Biden has to do it by then. Put all that on top of the political case, frankly, from my perspective was never that strong for Biden. And maybe he'll do it, maybe he won't, but I don't think the case for him is very strong.

KEILAR: All right, Sara, well, he could get his letter to the secretary of state to Georgia together and just send that thing on. I mean, there's still time.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sure there are friends in Georgia willing to drop that letter off on his map. Listen, I do think the reality is there are some structural challenges, too, for Joe Biden to build a campaign out of nowhere. And I know how we talk about how he is a sitting vice president and he has a network.

But let's remember Barack Obama, running for reelection, essentially kept his entire campaign organization in tact from 2008 and turned to that so that he could win again. The idea that, just because you are a sitting vice president, you can all of a sudden snap your fingers and make this appear is not really true.

KEILAR: So Ron, then why is he making these calls to party leaders in these early states and sort of having this just in case I decide to run, which kind of seems like a wink, wink, nod, nod kind of thing? Why is he doing that?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You don't want to foreclose your options. If you don't act in essence you remove your ability to act later. And you have to make at least some oars in the water to give yourself the ability to make a decision.

But you know, as I said before and as we talked about before on the show, to a large extent, Joe Biden is a dependent variable in his own potential campaign. I mean, this is more about Democrats' views, I think, of Hillary Clinton and whether she is a viable nominee than it is necessarily about Joe Biden.

To the extent Democrats feel that Hillary Clinton has been compromised and cannot carry the banner in November, there's more opening for an alternative like Biden to the extent she reassures Democrats and firms up her position the way she did this week, as Ryan was suggesting, that window narrows.

And the polling has never been overwhelming, it hasn't been totally discouraging, but numbers have never been that high so that you can say it was a slam dunk to enter even before the improvement for Hillary Clinton this week.

KEILAR: And his rule more than anything has been to kind of cut into Hillary Clinton's poll numbers.

OK, we are waiting, as we speak for Donald Trump. He's going to be addressing a crowd there in Massachusetts. Our panel is going to stay with us. We'll get a quick break in, and we'll chat after the break.


[18:44:49] KEILAR: We are back with our political analysts and more breaking news tonight. One of Hillary Clinton's top aides spoke out a short while ago after a grueling day, several hours of questioning behind closed doors about the Benghazi attacks.

Huma's appearance before a special House committee is a warm-up of sorts for Hillary Clinton's public testimony next week.

[18:45:05] And our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has been trying to get details on this.

She actually says that she answered questions -- Huma did -- to the best of her ability. What are you learning, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I'm told that it was a very respectful session and the committee just appreciated willingness to come on and answer all of their questions. You know, as Hillary Clinton's right hand the State Department, the committee believes Huma Abedin has firsthand knowledge how Clinton handle the Benghazi affair, but Democrats say the past week shows the attacks are the last thing on the Republican-led panel's mind.


LABOTT (voice-over): After spending the day behind closed doors, testifying to Congress about her boss' role in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton's top aide broke her silence.

HUMA ABEDIN, HILLARY CLINTON AIDE: I appreciated the time of the members and committee staff today, and I answered all their questions to the best of my ability.

LABOTT: Huma Abedin was questioned for nearly eight hours, despite Democrat's insistence she had little knowledge of the terror attacks that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead, a fresh sign they say of partisanship in the GOP-led panel, after a string of Republicans called it a political vendetta.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.

LABOTT: Clinton pounced on the remarks in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They ended up

becoming a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee, with an overwhelming focus on trying to, as they admitted, drive down my poll numbers.

LABOTT: The rough road for the committee continued when a staffer told CNN he was fired for not keeping the investigation focused on Clinton.

MAJ. BRADLEY PODLISKA, U.S. AIR FORCE RESERVE: This has become a partisan investigation. I do not know the reason for the hyper focus on Hillary Clinton.

LABOTT: Committee Chair Trey Gowdy strongly denied he's playing politics, even after another Republican admission.

REP. RICHARD HANNA (R), NEW YORK: I think there is a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people, an individual, Hillary Clinton.

LABOTT: The committee has seized on Clinton's use of a private e-mail server which has dogged her presidential campaign. But after a tough summer, Clinton is on the rebound -- after what most consider a strong debate performance, and a debate boost from her main rival.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.

CLINTON: Thank you. Me, too, me, too.

LABOTT: But the committee and the Clinton camp are looking ahead to Clinton's public testimony next week, in what could be a key moment for her presidential ambitions and the future of the GOP-lead panel.


LABOTT: And aides to Committee Chairman Gowdy say he will be leading a fact-centric interview that is respectful and based on the attacks themselves and that will show the American public the committee is not about politics.

For its part, the Clinton camp believes she will deliver strong testimony that will show this set of inquiry has run its course. They do believe they have the momentum, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We will see.

Elise Labott, thank you so much for that report.

I do want to bring Ron, Sara and Ryan back in to talk about this.

So, Ryan, you have Huma Abedin testifying today. This is looking ahead to Hillary Clinton's testimony on Thursday. But I wonder if we can actually pull up this New Hampshire poll from Suffolk University. Hillary Clinton, 37 percent to 35 percent Bernie Sanders. This is great news post debate. She had been struggling in New

Hampshire and if this is right on, then she's not. So, isn't she kind of in a -- coming into this from a good perch?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Still a little close for comfort, but she's ahead of Sanders. She wasn't before. Sanders' momentum looks like it's been suspended. So, that's great news, and if that continues, you know, she'll be in a much more commanding position.

I think on the Benghazi committee next week, one of the things she's able to negotiate is a public session, right? So she'll have all the members there and she'll have the Democrats there, obviously, to defend her and she'll have the public there to watch it in the open.

What was happening previously with these committees, you go behind doors, you testify and then something might leak out that is a snippet that could discredit you. She's going to have everything on the record in the open and she'll be able to fight and make her agreement that is a partisan investigation.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: But I think that's also key to see how the lawmakers question her in light of all of what we heard folks saying, they do believe it is a partisan investigation. I think people will be paying close attention, of course, to Hillary Clinton's answers, but also to the way lawmakers treat her and their questions are trying to get to the bottom of OK, what happened? How could we prevent a tragedy like this from happening again?

KEILAR: And you see Trey Gowdy, you hear someone from the committee saying, no, this is going to be respectful.

But, you know, there are a lot of different people on that committee, and they may not all toe that line.

[18:50:02] But I wonder, Ron, considering one of the big moments of the debate was Bernie Sanders saying, "enough with your damn e- mails," right? Is this something voters are really paying attention to? Do they think Hillary Clinton needs for answer for this still?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very different in the Democratic primary context than the general election context. I think voters are necessarily paying attention to all the details of the e-mails but it has reinforced pre-existing questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. I do think she is going to have to address them as she goes forward.

You know, you look at New Hampshire. I mean, quick point on the New Hampshire poll. You know, historically, New Hampshire has been the most receptive terrain for insurgent candidates like Sanders. Think of Gene McCarthy in '68, or Gary Hart in '84, even Bill Bradley in 2000.

It is probably best opportunity for him to take -- to cause her to stumble early. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can't make it there, you can't make it anywhere.

And so, while it is still very close and it's likely to remain close all the way, it is much more of must-win for Bernie Sanders than it is for Hillary Clinton who has more opportunity to recover in other states that are more racially diverse as you move through the calendar.

KEILAR: What do you guys think looking at the poll numbers, how excited should the Clinton campaign be about this?

LIZZA: Well, one, they should be -- because the expectations have changed so much. As Ron just pointed out, the fact that you could say that now, Ron, is kind of amazing. Six months ago, nobody would have said -- would have been talking about Sanders of New Hampshire being the must win state for him.

But I think it is true. I haven't checked this, but I'm pretty sure that no candidate from a neighboring state and generally it's been Massachusetts, a state next to New Hampshire has lost the New Hampshire primary.

So, Sanders has a huge advantage being from Vermont.

BROWNSTEIN: Howard Dean.

MURRAY: I think just the fact that we have this two-point gap now, if you have -- right. But if you look back, you would have said, you know, we would expect Hillary Clinton to win Iowa, to win New Hampshire, and now that we've seen this rise of Bernie Sanders, a number that would have looked problematic months ago now looks like a big win for her.


KEILAR: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, Ryan, Howard Dean didn't win New Hampshire, from neighboring Vermont.

LIZZA: Good point. Thank you for correcting that.

BROWNSTEIN: But go back to 2000, there's -- yes, there's a lot of similarities between Al Gore/Bill Bradley race. Bradley stayed close all the way to the end. And, in fact, in the exit poll, won a majority of the college educated voters in New Hampshire, which is a big constituency for these kind of insurgent candidates.

But after he didn't win New Hampshire, the air went out of the balloon. And I think that Bernie Sanders has the same challenge. If he can't win New Hampshire, it's hard to see him growing into the full scale challenger. Even if he does win New Hampshire, he faces the challenge of crossing over into the substantial minority of the voting bloc in the Democratic Party. But if he doesn't do it in that first state, I think the air could go out quickly.

So, in the end, I think it's more important for him than for Hillary.

KEILAR: All right. Ron, thank you so much. Sara, Ryan, I so appreciate you being here.

I know exactly what you guys are going to be doing tonight, because you have another chance to see the Democratic candidates go head to head at the CNN Facebook debate. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. You can watch along with Ryan, and Sara and Ron.

And we are standing by to hear from Donald Trump. The Republican presidential frontrunner is campaigning tonight in Massachusetts. His event is about to get started.

Plus, flash floods and mudslides trapped 200 cars and trucks and right now, this same area is bracing for more. We're going to have the latest warnings, next.


[18:57:57] KEILAR: Just look at these pictures. Roads closed, cars trapped by massive mudslides. And tonight, there's actually fear that parts of southern California may see more of this same severe weather.

I want to get straight to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

She's monitoring these conditions. What's going on?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, what a mess today. Not only did you have a huge chunk of I-5 shut down, but a lot of the side roads and some of the other highways were also covered in mud. So, you can imagine the traffic nightmare in southern California. Now, most of the showers are lifting to the north, the area where we saw most of the slides today actually getting a little bit of break from the rain.

But we still have flood watches in effect. What happened here across I-5 in neighboring areas, we had a lot of rain falling, in a short amount of time. We're talking about three inches of rain in some areas and about 30 minutes.

That's a lot for most areas to handle, not to mention Southern California where you have a lot of these burn areas in the mountains. There's not a lot of vegetation to absorb this rain. And then, it just flows off the side of those mountains. The drought-stricken areas that have been in this drought for four years, there's nowhere for this water to go. And basically, gravity takes hold and it takes the side of the mountain with it. So, you get these massive mudslides.

We are expecting a few more showers and thunderstorms through the weekend, but it's not going to be near about as intense as we saw over the last 24 hours or so. But we do have a series of areas of low pressure. They're going to push on shore. And that's going to provide enough energy and moisture to keep the rain going off and on in southern California.

And keep in mind, Brianna, we are in an El Nino year, meaning we'll get more moisture pumped into southern California over the next few months. So, we need the rain but not the mudslides that come along with it. So, you know, it's hard to get a good thing and then you get a bad thing to go along with it.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a really tough year weather-wise for California, for sure.

Jennifer Gray in the severe weather center, thank you so much.

And remember that you can always follow us on Twitter. You can tweet me @BriKeilarCNN, you can tweet the show @CNNSitroom. And please be sure to join us Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf will be black.

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Brianna Keilar.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.