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U.S. Sending Destroyer Near China's Manmade Islands; Helmet Cam Video Shows Rescue of ISIS Prisoners; NYT: Russia May Pose Threat to Vital Undersea Cables; U.S. Sending Destroyer Near China's Manmade Islands; Major Deal Near to Avoid Shutdown & Default; Clinton & Sanders Exchange Sharper Criticism; Iowa GOP Poll: Carson Leads Trump, Rubio Rising; Rubio Slams Trump, Defends Own Record. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 26, 2015 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm Jake Tapper. Please don't have any bacon or hot dogs this evening. I turn you over -- I'm just joking. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: in the fight. Stunning new video, commandos battling ISIS on the ground in Iraq as the Pentagon hints at more ground combat.

And as the U.S. releases more images of an airstrike against ISIS, does the Iraqi government want Russia to join in the bombing?

Depth charges? Russia's accused of threatening vital undersea communications links carrying Internet traffic and financial transactions. Russia says it's not true.

Meantime, breaking tonight, halfway around the world, the U.S. is about to challenge China on the high seas. I'll speak with the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

Death and destruction. A huge 7.5-magnitude earthquake kills hundreds, leaves thousands homeless in areas where the -- where U.S. allies are already grappling with terrorism.

And missing work? In an exclusive new interview GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio criticizes the habits of federal workers but says that's not the same as his own record of missing votes in the U.S. Senate.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. A direct U.S. challenge to China in an area of the world where tensions have been nearing the breaking point. President Obama gives the go ahead for an American destroyer to pass within 12 miles of China's manmade islands in the south China sea.

The Pentagon is strongly suggesting there will be more U.S. combat raids in Iraq at the same time, as we get dramatic new video and new details on the rescue of dozens of hostages at an ISIS prison stormed by U.S. and Kurdish forces.

A Delta Force commander was killed in the raid, the first American combat death on the ground in Iraq in four years.

And there's a new report that Russian subs and spy ships are lurking near undersea cables that carry much of the world's Internet activity and financial transactions.

The "New York Times" says U.S. officials are concerned that, in times of conflict, Russia could cut those fiber optic cables or tap into them to steal information.

I'll speak with the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark. And our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news. The United States challenging China right now by sending a destroyer close to China's manmade islands in a very volatile region of the world.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is following this for us.

Jim, you've actually flown over those islands on a U.S. surveillance aircraft. What do we know? What's happening now?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told that this mission could happen any time now at any hour. The 12- mile perimeter is internationally recognized as the limit of territorial waters. The U.S. taking this step to convey it does not view these manufactured islands as Chinese territory and, therefore, considers these waters around them to be international.

This the second message the Obama administration has delivered to China this year. In May we flew on a U.S. surveillance aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon, over these same manufactured islands. A similar message from the U.S. that it does not recognize the air space over them as Chinese either.

And you may remember at the time, we received multiple warnings from the ground, the Chinese navy on the ground. This is what they sounded like in that cockpit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Foreign military aircraft, this is Chinese navy. You are approaching our military alert zone. Leave immediately.


SCIUTTO: You could expect that U.S. destroyer to hear a similar warning if it sails within those 12 miles. Remember, the U.S. has accused China of militarizing these islands by building landing strips for military aircraft, ports for Chinese navy ships, even placing artillery on some of these islands. The construction has stopped, but I'm told that's only because they

have completed that construction by now. You know, Wolf, some people refer to these islands as unsinkable aircraft carriers. And in effect, they have that way to project power in this case, 600 miles from China's shore.

BLITZER: I remember when you got that exclusive look over those manmade islands. There's another developing story we're following right now. for the first time we're seeing this new video that came out of that daring U.S.-Kurdish commando raid last week when one American soldier, unfortunately, was killed in that raid.

We're also now getting indications more of this may be in the works?

SCIUTTO: That's right. In fact, when I pressed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter about the possibility of U.S. forces on the ground facing more combat in Iraq, he said at the time that we will see more missions like this. And now we have a rare look inside one of them. A dangerous operation by the elite Delta Force, the raid, of course, that unfortunately left Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler dead, mortally wounded.

The first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011. This way the joint U.S.-Kurdish operation, the Kurds, though, meant to do the fighting, the U.S. in a backup role. That is not how it transpired.


[17:05:11] SCIUTTO (voice-over): ISIS-held prisoners running for their lives, freed from the terror group in a daring U.S.-Kurdish joint raid. New helmet cam video shows the raid in northern Iraq Thursday that led to America's first combat death since 2011. Delta Force special operators, alongside Kurdish COBRA commandos seen here checking hostages for weapons or suicide vests.

Inside an ISIS flag hangs on the wall. Then the pop-pop-pop of gunfire as prisoners, some bloodied, flee the burning compound. Later, after the soldiers and hostages are cleared a U.S. warplane bombs the compound into rubble.

ISIS released video it says shows the resulting damage.

The deadly battle was the first time U.S. forces have directly engaged ISIS fighters on the ground in Iraq. The hostages thought to be in imminent danger of execution after U.S. surveillance showed mass graves had been dug.

The freed prisoners now claiming they were set to be executed after morning prayers Thursday, says the Pentagon.

Five helicopters brought in nearly 30 U.S. Special Forces and 40 Kurdish troops. The U.S. forces were not meant to directly join the fire fight, but when Kurdish forces were overwhelmed, Delta Force operators entered the walled compound, where Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was mortally wounded. Master Sergeant Wheeler's remains returned home Saturday, greeted at Dover Air Force Base by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Chief of Staff Mark Milly.

Asked by CNN Friday if U.S. forces were now in combat in Iraq, Secretary Carter said to expect more raids.

ASH CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have this capability. It is a great American strength.


SCIUTTO: There are other capabilities the U.S. has been considering, including placing forward ground controllers with Iraqi forces. They could call in airstrikes from the ground.

Also the possibility of moving military advisers that have been training Iraqi forces inside bases in and around Iraq, moving them to be forward deployed with Iraqi forces. Going back to chief of staff -- or chairman of the joint chiefs, rather, Martin Dempsey. He's mentioned those options a number of times. So far those are options that the president has not yet exercised.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Obviously on multiple fronts, very disturbing information. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, there's also a new report raising serious troubling questions about the security of undersea cables, which carry much of the world's Internet traffic and financial transactions. The "New York Times" reporting that Russian submarines pose a threat to those vital communications links.

Brian Todd has been digging into this report for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told by experts tonight that those undersea fiber optic cables, you see them here being placed by a ship in the water, these cables are very vulnerable. They have hundreds of breaks a year, most of them caused by natural occurrences.

But could Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who's been so antagonistic to his rivals recently, could he and his navy be posing an increased threat to those cables?

The "New York Times" reports that more than a dozen unnamed Pentagon officials have raised concern that Russian submarines and spy ships like this one are aggressively patrolling near important fiber optic cables which carry the bulk of the world's Internet communications.

Those cables are a couple of hundred -- excuse me, couple of miles down on the ocean floors. There's about 373,000 miles of cable down there running all across the globe, enough to circle the globe at the equator 15 times.

According to the "New York Times," officials are concerned that, if a larger conflict between Russia and the west broke out, a Russian ship could locate an Internet cable on the sea floor, could lower a submersible down to it and either attach a wiretap to eavesdrop on it or, worse, could sever the cable cutting off a crucial data pipeline. Now, "The Times" and other newspapers are reporting that a Russian

ship called the Yantar -- you see a picture of it here in Cuba -- that this ship has been spotted cruising in the Atlantic, not far from where at least one cable lies.

The Yantar, according to those reports, has submersibles which have the capability to cut cables on the ocean floor. But officials we spoke with are downplaying the "New York Times" report. One U.S. official tells CNN the Russians could tamper with the cables, but the U.S. has not seen a significant increase in Russian activity where the cables are located.

There's been no evidence of any actual cutting of the cables, as well, Wolf. No evidence of that yet, but this vessel, the Yantar, seen kind of cruising around near where one of the cables lies in the Atlantic, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the Russians are pushing back on this, as well, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. We contacted a spokeswoman at the Russian foreign ministry. She says, quote, "As we can see, the media has been constantly whipping up hysteria lately, trying to make Russia look like the aggressor."

All those reports, she says, are not based on facts but based on assumptions. They give impressions or concerns but no facts. The Russians pushing back hard on this tonight, Wolf.

[17:10:10] BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Joining us now is the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark.

General Clark, thanks very much for joining us. How likely is it, in your estimation, that the Russians potentially could tamper with these cables?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, I think in the event of a significant conflict, there might be tampering with it. But there would also be interference with satellite communications. There would be interference with land-based communications in Europe or the Middle East.

And it's part of the doctrine of warfare. And what you've seen on the part of Russia under -- under Vladimir Putin is they've been increasingly assertive, trying to restore their capabilities and show people their influence. So if they're going out and mapping cables undersea in case of time of conflict, that's more of the same.

BLITZER: It would be devastating for the U.S. and its allies, but potentially, it could be totally devastating for the Russians, as well, right?

CLARK: That's exactly right, because a lot of that Internet traffic is broken up in bits. It's sent all over the world. And it's reassembled later. So for any particular message, you're not quite sure which route it might be taking. So it could affect Russia, certainly would.

BLITZER: Is this -- is this just muscle flexing on the part of the Russians? What's going on over here? Because all of this is so reminiscent, you and I well remember, the bad old days of the Cold War.

CLARK: Well, it is reminiscent of the Cold War, but this is -- this is part of oceanographic research that all navies do. They want to see what's on the bottom. They're looking for strategic significance. They may be looking for ways to navigate their submarines. They may be looking for hiding places for, let's say, moored mines that are remotely activated in shipping lanes. And they may be looking for undersea cables. So you just don't know. People do this and other navies do this, as well.

BLITZER: General, I want you to stand by. There are other very disturbing developments going on right now. Russia's involvement in Syria, potentially in Iraq, and now there's some indication the U.S. may be getting ready to talk to Iran, as far as Syria's concerned. Stay with us, General Clark. We have much to discuss.


BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Obama gives the go ahead for a U.S. destroyer to approach China's manmade islands in the South China Sea. That's a potential direct challenge to Beijing's efforts to control the area.

[17:17:12] We're back with retired General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander. Is that a real threat to China right now? What will this mean?

CLARK: Well, it's not a real threat, but it is symbolic. And China has to decide how to respond. Do they respect freedom of the seas and navigation? Do they continue to issue warnings? Will they do something like fire a shot across the bow of the destroyer or send out other ships to meet it?

This is going to be a very interesting experience, and probably we'll see more of this in the future.

BLITZER: They're going to send that destroyer within 12 miles of that -- those manmade islands. Outside the so-called international chain, if you will. How do you think the Chinese will respond?

General Clark?

CLARK: I think the Chinese are going to send out some boats to try to intercept the destroyer. And there'll be some harassment, but I don't think you'll see shots exchanged.

But, you know Wolf, it is somewhat unpredictable. And it's always -- it's always a little dangerous to make a prediction here. The United States is doing what we believe is the right thing by -- by demonstrating that this is freedom of the seas. It's a law of the sea navigation issue for the United States and for, really, the whole world that we're standing up for here.

And China has to decide how it's going to respond. And this is the kind of process that you have to go through to communicate effectively the significance to the Chinese of their actions.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what Russia's up to in Syria right now. Syria's four-year civil war, hundreds of thousands of people dead, millions of refugees.

Last week the secretary of state, John Kerry, met with Russian officials, Turkish officials, Saudi officials. Supposedly, according to U.S. officials there was a good meeting.

Now they're thinking of expanding that to bring in Iraq into those efforts. Iraq and Russia obviously have very good relations with Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus. Is that a good idea for the U.S. to be directly engaged with Iraq now and what's going on in Syria?

CLARK: I think it's going to be inevitable that we're going to at some point be directly engaged with Iraq in Syria. We after all do have a nuclear agreement with them. And so this is all part of the process. But our problem in this, Wolf, is leverage.

We don't have the leverage to offset, assuming that our objectives and Russia's are not the same, that Russia wants to keep Assad in, Russia wants to control the replacement and working with Iraq, Russia wants to help Iraq establish this Persian corridor across the Middle East in putting more pressure on Lebanon and, ultimately, Jordan and Israel.

So our objectives aren't the same. and we don't have the leverage directly in these negotiations, because they're the moderate Syrians, the free Syrian opposition has systematically not been supported, including the political leadership that's present in Turkey and in France and also the thousands of fighters that were armed and trained and are in there by the -- with the CIA.

[17:20:17] And so we don't have the leverage to go toe to toe in this. So we're going to be on the -- on the losing end of the diplomacy one way or another.

BLITZER: And potentially it means Bashar al-Assad stays in power, at least for the time being if he's got the Russians, the Iranians very influential supporters right now. We're going to continue our reporting on what's going on.

General Clark, thanks very much.

CLARK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a new poll shows that Carson with yet his widest lead over Donald Trump in Iowa. Senator Marco Rubio quietly making up some ground.

Plus, the Clinton campaign pulls out some star power on the campaign trail just as Senator Bernie Sanders sounds a bit more negative. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:26:00] BLITZER: We're following breaking news up on Capitol Hill. It looks as if lawmakers are working together to avoid both another government shutdown and a default on U.S. debts. We're just learning there will be a crucial meeting among House Republicans later tonight.

Let's go to our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, for the very latest. Manu, what are your sources telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a pretty significant deal. Probably the biggest deal of the president's administration with the last year and a half here in office.

What Republican leaders and the White House are closing in on is a deal to raise domestic and defense spending by roughly $80 billion. That would alleviate a lot of the pain felt by those across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. And it would also reduce the chances of a government shutdown over the next two years.

In addition to that, they're looking at raising the national debt limit until March of 2017, essentially of taking off the issue of default, that scare we've been hearing year after year after year and averting that November 3 deadline where they have the raise the debt ceiling again, extending that until March of 2017.

Now, I should caution that the details are not out yet. We have not seen anything yet on paper. We're gleaning this information from our sources. But Republican leaders are going to be talking to their own rank and file members in just half an hour, Wolf. It's going to be a critical time to sell it to those members.

And John Boehner is trying to push this through before Paul Ryan assumes the speakership on Thursday, because as he said, he wants to clean the barn up, Wolf. Looks like he's trying to do just that.

BLITZER: That would be a major development if, in fact, it goes through. Thanks very much, Manu, for that. Let us know what happens in the next hour or so.

Meanwhile, in presidential politics, both Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, they're sharpening their criticism of each other. Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following developments in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Brianna, what's the latest?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, on Friday, Hillary Clinton, in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, revised history a bit on her husband's motivation for signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996.

She said it was -- or there was evidence that it could help stop a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Well, Bernie Sanders called her on this over the weekend, gay marriage advocates backing him up. But Clinton sharpened her elbows, too, implying that something Sanders said in the debate was sexist. And -- surprise, surprise -- Sanders popped up today on a popular daytime women's TV show. Bernie Sanders making a play for the women's vote on "The View" today.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you are a mom and you have a baby, you have the right to stay home with paid family and medical leave for at least three months.

KEILAR: After a busy weekend on the campaign trail.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've never been the warmup act for Katy Perry before.

KEILAR: At a campaign rally in Iowa, Hillary Clinton got a little help from her husband and pop star Katy Perry, trying to inject a little excitement into her campaign.

KATY PERRY, POP STAR: It's time to wake up, America.

KEILAR: Democratic candidates made the rounds at the state party's annual Jefferson Jackson dinner this weekend. Bernie Sanders sharpening his differences with Clinton on trade, the Iraq War, and her support for the anti-same-sex law signed by her husband.

SANDERS: I will not abandon any segment of American society, whether you're gay or black or Latino, poor or working class, just because it is politically expedient at a given time.

KEILAR: And Clinton insinuating sexism from her top competitor.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been told to stop shouting about ending gun violence. Well, I haven't been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it's shouting. But...

KEILAR: That after this line from the Democratic debate.

SANDERS: That all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want.

[17:30:04] KEILAR: Sanders calling foul on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

SANDERS: I am very proud of my record on women's issues. I certainly do not have a problem with women speaking out. And I think what the secretary is doing there is taking words and misapplying them.

KEILAR: This as Clinton releases a new ad promising to fight for equal pay.

H. CLINTON: I'm going to do everything I can to make sure every woman in every job gets paid the same as the men who are doing that job. KEILAR: And the next move for Hillary Clinton is a two-day swing this

week through New Hampshire. She'll be trying to shore up some support there in a state that has turned out to be competitive with Bernie Sanders.

And then next, Wolf, she's heading south, trying to shore up the African-American vote. She'll be going to Atlanta. She'll be going to South Carolina. She'll be talking to the NAACP. The African- American vote so important, really all important for a Democratic candidate in that state.

BLITZER: New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders still slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, as well. All right, stand by, Brianna. I also want to bring in our CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker" magazine Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza; along with Real Clear Politics national political reporter Rebecca Berg.

Guys, in fact, stay with us for a moment. We have lots to assess, to discuss. We've got to take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:35:59] BLITZER: A new poll of Iowa Republicans shows Dr. Ben Carson with his biggest lead so far over Donald Trump. Carson is 14 points ahead with 32 percent to Trump's 18 percent. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are tied for third place.

Rubio has gained six points in Iowa since August. He's now ahead of Jeb Bush, which has the Bush campaign looking for ways to hit back, including calling Senator Rubio a GOP Obama.

Our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, had a chance to sit down with Senator Rubio to discuss the state of his campaign. She's joining us now live. You had a chance, Jamie, to ask him about his standing in the race. What did he tell you?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, the gloves are coming off on both sides. It is true Marco Rubio is rising in the polls, but he's also taking off the gloves. He criticized frontrunner Donald Trump on national security and immigration. But we started by asking Rubio why he isn't winning in his home state of Florida.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't -- if you start paying attention to these polls in October, I mean, you'll go crazy. I've been up; I've been down.

GANGEL: But you're the sitting senator in Florida.

RUBIO: It's a very unusual year. And I think part of it is that people are really angry about the direction of our country.

GANGEL: So here's the good news for Marco Rubio. Democrats say you're the triple threat. That you're the young, new fresh face, that you're great in the debates, that you are Hispanic and you put Florida into play.


RUBIO: Thank you.


GANGEL: So why is it taking you so long to get traction?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, none of those things matter. That's just campaign talk. It's like politics today is covered almost like sports. And so you watch these teams. They have a really good game. They're the top team in the world. The next week, they have a bad game; it's a disaster. That's not the way campaigns work.

GANGEL (voice-over): The way the Rubio campaign works is not glamorous. Behind the scenes, he races from event to event, trying to raise money, trying to inch up in the polls and taking on Donald Trump.

(on camera): At the Trump event, there were protesters on immigration. And at the end, Trump said, "I'm going to win with Hispanics. I love the Hispanics." What do you think when you hear him say things like that?

RUBIO: That's Donald being Donald. I mean, that's what it is.

GANGEL: He is the frontrunner, though. Is he more in tune with the Republican Party on this issue than you are?

RUBIO: No. His rhetoric is a little louder, but you think about where he was six months ago. His position on immigration six months ago is nothing like what he is saying now. And what he's saying now is -- borders on the absurd.

GANGEL: Jeb Bush says Donald Trump has dangerous views on national security. Are you comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump with his finger on the button?

RUBIO: Well, I wouldn't term it that way. I would say that, ultimately, the next president of the United States, on their first day of office, must understand the threats that face this country and must have shown good judgment about what to do about those issues.

GANGEL: Are you comfortable?

RUBIO: Well, I'm not -- the truth is, as I said in the debates the last time on CNN, I don't believe that up to this point in the campaign, he has clearly outlined a deep understanding of the issues before this country in a serious way. And obviously, he has time to change that.

GANGEL: So right now, he's not ready to be commander in chief? RUBIO: To this point in the campaign, he has not proven an

understanding of these issues or the preparation necessary to be the commander in chief of the most powerful military force in the world.

GANGEL: If he's the nominee, would you enthusiastically support him?

RUBIO: Well, I'm going to support the Republican nominee. And I'm comfortable that it's not going to be Donald Trump. And I'm increasingly confident that it's going to be me. So I feel good answering that question.

GANGEL: Marco Rubio criticism, over and over again, that you keep missing votes on the Senate floor. Forty-three percent of the votes. I know you say you're campaigning for president. But, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, they've missed fewer than ten votes. You're up at 59 or 60.

RUBIO: Well, everyone needs to run their own campaign. I can tell you that in the history of presidential politics, people have -- when they've been running for politics in the Senate, they've missed votes. And I'm not missing votes because I'm on vacation.

GANGEL: But this many votes?

RUBIO: Actually, this is lower than what other people have missed.

And here's the other point I would make. I'm running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again. A lot of these votes won't mean anything. They're not going to pass, and even if they did, the president would veto it.

[17:40:18] GANGEL: The other -- the other day, though, you got up on the Senate floor, and you said federal workers who don't show up should be fired.

RUBIO: That's not what I said.

GANGEL: What did you say?

RUBIO: Federal workers that aren't doing their jobs, that are not performing at their jobs, should be able to be fired.


RUBIO: Should be held accountable for not performing.

GANGEL: So someone might say you're not showing up. You're not doing your job by voting.

RUBIO: Not true.

GANGEL: You don't think you're in...

RUBIO: Voting is not the only part of the Senate job. I mean, the most important thing a senator does is constituent service. We're still involved in looking out for Florida issues... GANGEL: What do you mean? Votes aren't important?

RUBIO: No, of course, they're important.

GANGEL: Intelligence committee hearings aren't important?

RUBIO: We do all the intelligence briefings. I was just there this Tuesday. I got fully briefed and caught up on everything that's happening in the world. I'm fully aware. We have a staffer that's assigned to intelligence. We get constant briefings.


GANGEL: So it turns out, Wolf, that there is a former senator who missed more votes than Marco Rubio. For the record, he is now the sitting president of the United States, Barack Obama, Wolf.

BLITZER: And when he was running for president back in 2007, 2008, he was a sitting junior senator from Illinois.

Jamie, you're also doing a lot of reporting on Jeb Bush's new strategy that seems to be emerging. He's been going through some tough times. Explain what you're learning.

GANGEL: So, you know, suffering in single digits. He is struggling. He is frustrated by the Trump phenomenon and Ben Carson. So the Jeb campaign, sources close to the campaign tell me that they are, quote, "tearing up the script." And they are going to let Jeb be Jeb.

My source says that the campaign has realized at this point, they have nothing to lose. And they're going to try a new tack, a new strategy of letting Jeb relax and speak his mind.

What you saw this weekend when Jeb was very outspoken, expect to see more of that Jeb Bush unleashed. Also expect to see him spending more time in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And they really insist that, despite all this dire talk, Jeb Bush is not going anywhere.

And last but not least, at the debate this Wednesday night, watch closely. I think you're going to see a new Jeb Bush. There may be some fireworks. His sources close to his campaign say he must take control of that debate. That is key, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks very much. Let's bring back our CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza; our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar; and Real Clear Politics national political reporter, Rebecca Berg.

Ryan, can he go, Jeb Bush, toe-to-toe when it comes to being aggressive, tough, a lot of energy with Donald Trump?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We haven't seen it yet, but it is the right approach. I mean, it is time that Jeb Bush realizes he's in single digits. His campaign -- original campaign strategy didn't work. And he needs to adjust to the reality of the campaign, which is he is a serious underdog at this point. The front -- the actual frontrunner is Donald Trump.

And it makes sense that he's -- the shock-and-awe strategy that he started with didn't work. So it makes sense to just flip the script, go back to do what McCain did in 2008. Right? McCain entered the Republican primaries in 2008 as a frontrunner. His campaign bottomed out, and he reassessed everything. And he came out as the nominee. So I don't think it's too late for Jeb Bush.

BLITZER: We'll see if they can manage to regroup following this setback.

Rebecca, this Monmouth University poll now the third poll in recent days that has Donald Trump second, not first, behind Dr. Ben Carson. Thirty-two percent for Carson, 18 percent for Trump. What is driving this surge for Carson?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, Carson is Iowa's cup of tea. I mean, if you look at his personality, his campaign style, the issues he cares about and the issues he talks about, he's actually much better suited to Iowa than Donald Trump has ever been. So I'm really not surprised that he is polling better now than Donald Trump in Iowa. I figured it was only a matter of time.

But Donald Trump, I should note, is still polling ahead of Carson in all the other early primary states. I was just in Florida this weekend for Donald Trump's rallies in Miami and Jacksonville, and he is still beating everyone in the field there, including Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, as we just saw in that interview, which is huge cause for concern for both of them.

So Carson, I mean, there are a number of Republicans right now who will say Carson is the favorite to win Iowa. And I think we're seeing that reflected in the polls.

BLITZER: Still almost 100 days to go before the Iowa caucuses February 1. And remember, as you point out, Trump is still way ahead in the national polls and all the other state polls in Iowa. Ben Carson is doing really well.

It explains in part, Brianna, why Trump is now taking direct aim at Ben Carson. And clearly, Donald Trump is upset that he's not winning in these polls in Iowa. And all of a sudden he starts discussing Dr. Ben Carson's religion. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh Day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about.


BLITZER: Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. And he's doing really, really well with Christian evangelicals in Iowa. But Donald Trump all of a sudden saying, I don't know anything about Seventh Day Adventist. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Trying to maybe

paint him as not quite, you know, in a way just sort of maybe outside of the mainstream trying to create some doubt there. And he's doing that because as we know Donald Trump looks at the polls. And a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that one-third of likely Republican caucus goers think -- they think Donald Trump is a committed Christian, but that means a lot of them do not, or they have doubts.

We've started to see Donald Trump carrying his bible to campaign events. That's not by accident. But keep in mind this is the same guy who in August couldn't name the bible verse that he prefers. In September he referred to a bible verse that he enjoys in Proverbs that didn't seem to exist, his campaign said it was one bible verse and then later he actually said no, it's Proverbs 24, which is not the one that they said it was.

And I think he sort of -- you know, as people are starting to pay attention in Iowa I think he's looking at the polls, but I also think this is maybe dangerous territory for him as well. This is the state that went for Rick Santorum in 2012, went for Mike Huckabee in 2008. In '96 Bob Dole won beating Pat Buchanan by just a few points.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Trump did conceded, though, that the "Art of the Deal," his own book, was his second favorite book and that the bible --

KEILAR: The bible --

LIZZA: -- was better than the "Art of the Deal." So you've got to give him that.

KEILAR: But I bet you -- I bet you, he could pull out an excerpt --

LIZZA: But it's hard for him to admit that.

KEILAR: Yes. I think that maybe -- and maybe he's deferring to, you know, only to God, right? But I think that it also would be easier for him to probably pull from his favorite part of the "Art of the Deal" than it would be from the bible earlier this fall.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

LIZZA: Yes. And he shouldn't take it, right? We all know he's not an overly religious person.


LIZZA: And I think if he starts quoting bible verses and pretending that he's an evangelical Christian.

BLITZER: It's a problem.

LIZZA: Nobody's going to believe that.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, harrowing pictures of the conditions after a strong earthquake hits two countries at the center of the war on terrorism.


[17:51:58] BLITZER: A powerful earthquake centered in a remote area of Afghanistan has killed hundreds and left countless others homeless across international borders. With communications poor to begin with, the toll is certain to rise throughout the region.

CNN's Ivan Watson is tracking the latest developments for us.

Ivan, what are you learning?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been a little bit more than 12 hours since the earth shook across Central Asia. The epicenter in a rural, very rugged mountainous part of Afghanistan. Already the death toll combined from Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan and even in India, at least 229 people killed.

The -- the governments in the region are mobilizing disaster management teams and trying to get a sense -- a big challenge right now is going to be trying to figure out the extent of the damage across this isolated region.


WATSON (voice-over): Tonight, as the death toll grows and the aftershocks continue, millions of people are on edge across countries in South and Central Asia. The 7.5 magnitude quake rocked northern Afghanistan and Pakistan Monday afternoon, toppling buildings, leveling homes and sending hundreds of thousands into panic.

Among the victims, 12 Afghan girls who died in a stampede trying to escape their school building. Medical workers scramble as the injured are rushed into this hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The moment the quake struck in Kabul captured live during an Ariana News broadcast. Its epicenter was near the city of Jarm, about 40 miles west of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It was felt more than 500 miles away, in Tajikistan's capital. And in New Delhi, where frightened office workers poured onto the streets.

Rescue efforts are complicated by spotty communications and rural mountainous regions, which are hard to access.

UNNI KRISHNAN, PLAN INTERNATIONAL: It's a very difficult terrain. So to get information and to get aid to some of the remote affected areas, it's going to be difficult.

WATSON: Just 10 years ago, this same region suffered another major earthquake that left more than 70,000 people dead.


WATSON: The telecommunications to this part of Afghanistan, Wolf, in Badakhshan Province, have been really spotty since the earthquake. I've been to this area 10, 15 years ago. There were no paved roads in the entire province where the epicenter was. There's been more development since then. Fortunately, it is a sparsely populated area, and an essential bit of help will perhaps be the U.S. military, which still has a significant presence in Afghanistan. It will have more helicopters and lift power to help get rescue teams to the area to help Medivac potentially hurt people.

[17:55:06] This is a rural area. A lot of houses built with mud, brick, and unfortunately, though they're not very tall buildings, they're not high rises by any means, they do tend to come down when the earth shakes in this area. So a lot of work will be needed to be done in the coming hours, again, to assess the damage and to get to the people who may have been hurt and get them medical help fast right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Real disaster. Thank you, Ivan, for that report.

Coming up, we have stunning new video of commandos battling ISIS on the ground in Iraq. A U.S. soldier died in the fight to free hostages and the Pentagon hints more ground combat could be on the way.

And the FBI director takes heat for blaming a rise in crime on what's being called the Ferguson effect. Are police now holding back because of the close scrutiny of their tactics?