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Source: Possible Explosion Detected Before Crash; Russia: No Sign of Explosive Impact on Victims; Jeb Bush Rejects Trump's Call to Quit Race; Carson Leads Trump in National GOP Poll. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 3, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, midair explosion. CNN is now learning that a satellite detected a heat flash only moments before a Russian airliner broke apart and crashed on the Sinai Peninsula. With a missile all but ruled out, was it on board? Was a bomb on board that brought down the plane?

Terror connection? Threats against Russia by the head of al Qaeda calling for attacks in an ominous new message. Was the plane disaster actually a terror attack?

Backing Assad. Russia insisting tonight its position on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has not changed, but earlier a foreign ministry spokeswoman said keeping him in power isn't a fundamental issue for Vladimir Putin. How far will he go to prop up Assad?

Jeb Bush unplugged. The Republican presidential candidate goes one- on-one with CNN for a candid conversation about his struggling campaign and why he still believes he can win the White House. How does he plan to turn the GOP race upside down?

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

We're following the investigation into the crash of that Russian airliner in Egypt and a potentially significant new clue. A U.S. official is telling CNN that a midair heat flash, possibly an explosion, was detected by an American military satellite just before the plane broke apart 23 minutes after take-off.

But Russian state media's now reporting that investigators haven't found any sign of explosive impact on the victims' bodies. At the same time, there is new concern tonight of possible ties to terrorism.

The head of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, is urging Islamic militants everywhere to unite in attacks against the west, and also he's singling out Russia. He made the call in an undated recording, released one day after the Russian airliner disaster.

We're covering all that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And our correspondents and expert analysts. They are also standing by.

Let's begin with CNN's Brian Todd, on the very latest on the crash investigation. Brian, there are some potentially major new developments.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Potentially very significant, Wolf. Tonight, new information about a burst of heat detected just about at the moment this plane broke apart. There was clearly a catastrophic event in the air. And tonight, investigators are scrambling to determine if this was mechanical or if it was terrorism.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, a U.S. official tells CNN a military satellite picked up what the Pentagon calls a heat flash in midair, shortly before the plane crashed. Perhaps the signature of an explosion.

Starkly contrasting a report from a Russian state news agency, saying so far, none of the recovered bodies of passengers show evidence of explosive impact.

Tonight, CNN has learned, despite that report, U.S. government experts still aren't ruling out the possibility of a bomb on board, even as they weigh other scenarios.

(on camera): What could cause a catastrophic event?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Many things. A history of fatigue cracks that were discovered after maintenance repairs have been done. We've had planes where the skin has disintegrated flying over oceanic routes. So that kind of catastrophic failure. We have issues about cargo hold. We have issues on engines.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say the security at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport has to be investigated. How rigorous is security at that airport?

ED DALY, AVIATION SECURITY ANALYST: The Sharm el-Sheikh Airport has multiple layers of security, initially upon arriving at the airport driveway, and then prior to check-in and then upon check-in itself. As any airport in the world, there are a number of ways to get a bomb aboard; and whether it's through a person entering, through the check- in process or through the baggage process.

TODD: If a bomb did bring down this plane, there's no shortage of groups sworn to launch attacks. The ISIS affiliate in Sinai claimed responsibility. But analysts say that group likely doesn't have the capability to get a bomb onto a passenger plane.

They say two terrorist organizations could pull it off. The Khorasan Group, tied to al Qaeda's branch in Syria, they've been developing bomb-making capability, experts say, and would be motivated to strike at a Russian commercial plane, because the Russians are bombing them in Syria. And al Qaeda in Yemen, which has twice gotten sophisticated bombs onto U.S.-bound planes.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: And they have a master bomb maker called Ibrahim al-Asiri, who is constantly coming up with more sophisticated devices, trying to beat airport security; devices made out of PTN, a difficult-to-detect explosive with nonmetallic components. He's been experimenting, it's believed, with new generations of shoe bombs, new generations of underwear bombs.


TODD: Also tonight, al Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a recording we believe was released on Sunday, the day after this crash, called on jihadists to fight the west and to fight Russia. But so far, no claim of responsibility from al Qaeda in the Sinai crash.

And analysts say, given that this would have been a huge terror success for al Qaeda, their silence so far suggests they may not be responsible for this incident.

BLITZER: And Brian, investigators are also looking at some abnormal sounds around the time the plane disappeared.

TODD: Yes. Russia's privately-owned Interfax news agency, Wolf, cites an unnamed source saying the plane's cockpit voice recorder captured uncharacteristic sounds the moment before the flight disappeared from radar. It's not clear exactly what those sounds were.

One safety analyst says it could simply reflect whatever catastrophic event was occurring. That's got to be a point of the investigation, as well.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will be. All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, the heat signature doesn't necessarily prove it's a bomb, but it is setting off alarm bells.

STARR: It is setting off a good deal of concern, Wolf, across the security agency's hearing in Washington.

And let's try and unpack it and explain why. You basically have two scenarios here. Was there some type of mechanical structural failure on the plane? Or was it a terrorist attack?

Now Egyptian investigators are finishing up their work in the field. Now they turn their attention to the voice and data recorders and any of the forensic evidence they can gather from the wreckage. So they will look at the voice and data recorders to try and determine how the explosion happened, how hot, how fast, velocity? Can they determine where it began on the aircraft? What can that tell them about this event?

But, intelligence services are also looking at any threat streams, any indication that there might have been a group out there that could have pulled this off. How did they do that?

They looked at passenger lists, the cargo hold, what kind of cargo was on the plane. Was there any possibility that someone could have gotten to the plane and tampered with it? Very complex. And it's why you're seeing a lot of these conflicting reports, some news reports saying there's no explosives, there's no evidence of blast injuries.

And yet the president, the head -- pardon me. The spokesman for the airlines saying there's absolutely no evidence of mechanical failure that could have led this plane to break apart.

So the bottom line is we're going to have to wait. Investigation is -- the investigation is likely to take a very long time, and it is going to get a lot of scrutiny around the world as to how the Egyptians and how the Russians are going to handle this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thank you.

At the same time, the Russian state media, they're citing an unnamed source close to the investigation that's saying investigators haven't found any sign of explosive impact on the bodies of the victims. Two hundred and twenty-four people were aboard that plane.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is in St. Petersburg, Russia, for us. Matthew, how is all of this being reported tonight in Russia? What kind of safety record do the airlines there have to begin with?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I think it's fair to say the Kremlin is trying to play down any links between this air catastrophe and terrorism. Early this morning, the Kremlin spokesman said that it would be wrong to draw a linkage between the intervention in Syria, for instance, and this bomb attack. He said that -- sorry, this aircraft disaster, implying it was a bomb attack. And he said that would be a wrong conclusion to -- to draw.

But you know, it's going to look bad for the government, whichever way it goes. If it does turn out to be some kind of terrorist attack, then you know, the government is open to the accusation that its intervention in Syria perhaps has made the Russian people vulnerable.

If it turns out to be a technical failure, the government is also likely to be criticized, because it hasn't done enough, people will say, to protect air travelers in the skies on Russian aircraft. And so it's pretty much of a lose-lose situation.

Russia does have a checkered history when it comes to airline safety. It's affected by terrorism. It's affected by poor maintenance and technical issues, as well. So many people I've spoken to here in St. Petersburg are saying that this is just the latest in a long line of air disasters to affect this country.

BLITZER: There certainly have been. I want you to stand by. We're going to get back to you.

But I want to dig deeper right now into all of this with the former NTSB managing director, our CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz. Our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, is also joining us right now.

Let's first of all talk about this Russian news agency, Interfax, reporting that there were unusual sounds heard on the cockpit voice recorder just before the flight disappeared. Richard, what does that suggest?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, without knowing what the sounds were, this is not unusual. It happened with MH-17. We're talking about sometimes just in that case, milliseconds before the recording stopped. They were able to detect the pressure wave of the sound of the missile.

And again, on TWA 800, again, they can always hear any noise, any external noise. And the flight data recorders will show tremendous changes in sudden shifts in parameters, just literally before the -- the explosion cuts the power. But what, of course, causes the explosion, it won't tell them that.

BLITZER: Peter, can the analysts who are listening to that cockpit voice recorder looking at flight data recorder, can they make a distinction between the sound that a bomb would have caused as opposed to a mechanical failure?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, in some cases you company as Richard mentioned TWA 800, we had just a millisecond of sound but we had scientists compare that sound to the sounds from Pan Am 103, which was a bomb. And we saw that there were distinct differences between the signatures, even though it was just a millisecond. So if there is a little bit of sound, we can figure it out.

BLITZER: So basically, even a millisecond could make a difference listening to that?

GOELZ: You can tell whether it is a high-order explosion or a more low-order event like a decompression and a tearing apart of the aircraft.

BLITZER: Richard, we know that the credibility of the Russians, what they're going to say, the credibility, for that matter, of the Egyptians. They have a lot of -- they have a lot of motives, if you will, to put various spin on what may be coming out. What kind of trust, what kind of credibility do they have in providing this kind of information to the world right now?

QUEST: The basically they are on trial and tested. I spoke this afternoon, Wolf, to the Egyptian tourism minister. He first of all said that he believed everything in terms of security at Sharm el- Sheikh, he said it was fully compatible with international regulations and I asked him, can you promise us a free, fair, independent investigation? And he said, yes.

I followed it up. I said, "But what if it proves that Egypt was deficient in some way?"

And he says, "Well, they'll just have to live with that." You know, he said you can't -- his exact words were, "You can't hide the facts." And so from what he says -- now of course, I can't -- you know, we can parse it by saying if the Egyptians and the Russians have this tussle between the two sides. But at the moment, the Egyptians are saying, everything is on the board and will be revealed. BLITZER: Richard, Peter, both of you stand by for a moment. I want

to bring in the former government and military accident investigator, Alan Diehl.

Alan, the Egyptians announced today that the field investigation in Sinai is expected to finish as early as today maybe tomorrow. Is that typical for a field investigation, for all of that work to be completed that quickly?

ALAN DIEHL, FORMER GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR: No, but this airplane went down in the desert, Wolf, and that makes it a lot easier to locate the critical pieces. But that is very quick. If they can do that and get the forensic wreckage evidence into the labs, that will be great. Good news.

BLITZER: They basically, Alan, have ruled out -- correct me if I'm wrong -- a surface-to-air missile bringing this plane down or a shoulder-fired missile bringing it down, because the launch of those missiles would have been detected by U.S. satellites and whatever. And certainly, the Israelis, who are right next door, Israel's right next door to Sinai, they've got their air defense systems. They've got their iron dome, patriot systems. They would have detected and they didn't detect any missile going up to shoot a plane down.

It sounds like that door is not totally closed but it doesn't look like that is likely one of the avenues.

But obviously, when doing investigations, you go about it very methodically. So I don't think they are ready to totally discount that yet, Wolf. I've worked on military, as well as civilian crash investigations, as you know, and you keep all of the doors open until you have sufficient evidence to discount that.

BLITZER: Yes. Midair explosions would be pretty rare. But Peter, the engines of this plane were manufactured in the United States. So you would think the Egyptians would invite representatives of the NTSB or the FBI to come over and participate in the investigation. As far as we know they haven't done so yet, right.

GOELZ: That's my understanding. There's been no invitation offered.

In addition the U.S. embassy in Cairo has indicated that this is really a high-danger area and that civil employees really are taking some risk in going there.

But there is still hard feelings between the NTSB and civil aviation authorities in Egypt over the investigation of Egypt air in 1999.

BLITZER: You participated in that investigation, Peter, right?

GOELZ: I did.

BLITZER: The Egyptians never accepted, at least publicly, the U.S. conclusion that it was pilot suicide that brought that plane down, right? GOELZ: Officially, their position is that it was some sort of

mechanical failure with the elevator, which we thought -- the NTSB thought that was just foolishness, that it was clear what was happening to that aircraft.

BLITZER: Alan, you used to work for the NTSB. Is there still some bad blood, you think, between the U.S. and Egypt as far as these aviation investigations are concerned?

DIEHL: I think there may be some residual resentment over that for all the reasons Peter mentioned. And of course, but we have other European countries that are there. The French are very reliable. They'll be looking over everybody's shoulder. The Irish are good.

So I don't think either Egypt or the Russians will try to pull some cover up. I'd like to see the NTSB and FBI invited in. Hopefully, the Egyptians will change their minds and allow us to participate.

BLITZER: Richard, I know you want to weigh in. Go ahead.

QUEST: Sure. The fascinating part about this is what Peter was just saying, Wolf. You know, you can't hide anything in an investigation. The Russians and the Egyptians may wish to. I don't know whether they would.

But what Egypt Air proved is that, because you've got the French and the Irish and you've got the Germans and probably the truth will out. Even if a report is put forward that is a load of hogwash and whitewash, somebody else will see the details and append their views of what really happened to that report.

BLITZER: All right. We're getting more information, guys. I want all of you to stand by. We're going to continue to develop this story, and of course, let's not forget, 224 people were aboard that plane.

Much more after this.


BLITZER: New developments into the investigation of the crash of that Russian airliner in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board. A source now telling CNN that a heat flash, possibly an explosion, was detected by a U.S. military satellite just before the plane broke up in midair over the Sinai Peninsula.

Russian state media report that the victims' bodies, however, don't show signs of an explosive impact.

Let's get some more with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, serves in the reserves, the U.S. Air Force. You've flown commercial aircraft and other planes, as well. What's your latest information, your latest assessment of what might have happened?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I'm hearing what you all are, which is there was some kind of a heat signature detected. Now the question I've heard conflicting reports, was it prior to the impact or was it the actual impact of the aircraft itself? That's going to be very important.

Plus, you know, and the fact of if this plane just broke up in midair, let's say it was a structural failure, which has happened before on planes like this, maybe that somehow caused an explosion or led to any kind of fire.

But I think it's very important, obviously, to find out if this is any kind of a bomb, as was mentioned in your earlier segment, it's probably not any kind of a missile. But look, when this is said and done, the fact that we're even considering this as a possibility shows that terrorism is still a very real threat and something we need to be on the offensive against.

BLITZER: I've got to show our viewers, we've got some new drone footage of the crash site in footage released by the Russians. You can see, it's sort of spread out over several kilometers over there, wreckage, pieces all over the place. They say the inspection on the ground is going to wrap up either today or tomorrow. It sounds pretty quick for an investigation of this nature to be.

KINZINGER: Yes. But if you think about it, you know, the terrain there, it's desert. It's flat. It's probably easier to find these pieces to put them together to reconstruct this accident. You're going to have the best folks on the job. And I guarantee you if this is any kind of a terrorist attack we'll know probably pretty shortly.

And if it isn't, it may take us a little bit of time to find out what, in fact, caused it. But again, there have been times in the past where, you know, a tail has come off or a structural failure's happened. And that's why in the United States, we have such great inspection processes to ensure it was a good aircraft.

BLITZER: If it was a bomb, to get a bomb on a plane like that, then target it 23 minutes after take-off to explode, you've got to have some sophistication. The information we're getting -- you've heard Brian Todd's report -- ISIS probably doesn't have that capability. But AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they have some bomb makers; and there are other al Qaeda-affiliated groups, as well, that have that kind of capability. And they really would like to put these bombs on these aircraft, and sometimes bombs that could even go through metal detectors.

KINZINGER: Well, that's right. And if you think about ISIS, for instance, they're a very evil group, a very terrible group. But their focus right now is in building the state. And once they have that state built, the caliphate, then they're going to begin to project external violence, mainly against the United States, the western allies.

Al Qaeda has always existed on inflicting violence on different targets. So my guess is, if this is, in fact, a terrorist attack, my first suspicion would be al Qaeda or somebody linked to that. But it is very hard to sneak a bomb through airport security. You

have to look at if, in fact, this was -- there was somebody on the inside, maybe a mechanic, somebody that worked for the airline. And I think this is what investigators are pouring through very meticulously.

[17:25:05] BLITZER: This notion that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda right now, releases this statement Sunday night -- the crash occurred Saturday -- saying they're going after anyone who bombs their supporters in Syria or Iraq, meaning whether it's the U.S., Russia, for that matter, that sounded ominous to me.

KINZINGER: It is ominous. And, you know, whether this is related or not, it's something we've got to take very seriously. Al Qaeda doesn't seem very on the ropes right now. They seem like they're coming back in a big way.

These jihadist movements, whether it's ISIS, Nusra, or al Qaeda, al Shabaab, are kind of coming under one big terror umbrella now; and that's something we ought to be very worried about.

BLITZER: The Russians, right now, giving some confused -- or maybe some conflicting signals how far they're willing to go to protect Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. A spokeswoman says, well, maybe not all the way. Then they say it's up to the Syrian people to decide who's going to be in charge of Syria right now. Do you understand what Russia's up to?

KINZINGER: Yes, well, look, if it was up to the Syrian people, it would not be Bashar al-Assad. That's why there's violence against his regime that he actually started. It was because they don't want to live under the dictatorship of it.

My guess is what you have right now is Russia's very determined to keep Assad, except they may be seeing that, even despite their best efforts, he's losing grip on power.

Some people suggest they came in at the very end, because they feel that he's going to lose power. And maybe if they're seeing that Assad is not going to survive, they're starting to hedge and say maybe there's other options here. But look, Bashar al-Assad created the environment for ISIS to thrive. There can be no future for Syria that's peaceful with Bashar al-Assad in power.

BLITZER: You serve -- you still serve the Air Force National Guard. Right?


BLITZER: So apparently, there was a test between Russian planes and U.S. planes flying over Syria today to make sure there's no miscommunication, no accidents, no cruise missiles going into a U.S. plane or whatever. And it seemed to have worked. At least they're talking to each other, the U.S. and the Russian Air Force. That's somewhat encouraging, right?

KINZINGER: It's somewhat encouraging. But the problem I have with it is we're, in essence, accepting the Russian presence.

By the way, the Russians are not bombing ISIS there. If they do, it's for window dressing. They're bombing the moderates, the people that want to live in a free Syria. And by us coordinating with them and accepting them, we're in essence allowing strong combat.

By the way, they're bombing hospitals and medical facilities, which we're not hearing about. They're bombing innocent people. We're accepting that there's going to be an air power against the freedom- loving people of Syria, and it's tragic.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. The congressman joining us.

And coming up, there's breaking political news we're following. In a one-on-one conversation with CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeb Bush is now responding to Donald Trump's call for him to drop out of this presidential race.


BLITZER: Breaking political news, Jeb Bush tells CNN, in no uncertain terms, he won't follow Donald Trump's advice to quit the presidential race. Bush sat down with CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel earlier this afternoon in South Carolina for a very frank discussion about how he intends to fix his campaign's problems.


[17:32:42] JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I have some good news for you. You are working with lowered expectations.


GANGEL: No way to go. Does that in some way free you up?

BUSH: To a certain extent. I always knew this was going to be hard. I never felt like I was a frontrunner, because we hadn't earned it. We haven't, you know -- just starting out on the journey, you've got to earn it. I've got to get better at debating, I guess, or performing, whatever that's called, and I will. I'm a grinder. I'm very competitive. And so...

GANGEL: What is that -- you keep saying, "I'm a grinder." What does that mean?

BUSH: That means -- I described it as I eat nails before I have breakfast. I'm focused; I'm competitive. I'm -- I set high expectations on myself. I knew this was going to be hard.

GANGEL: Donald Trump is tweeting out every two seconds. This morning he said you should quit. He said all of the candidates should quit except... BUSH: Except him?

GANGEL: Except for him. Do you think an old-fashioned guy who wants to be a doer, who wants to be a fixer, is really what people are looking for?

BUSH: They're desperate for it. This is the real world. Now, in the pundit world, you know, where it's all about this kind of bizarre tweeting out things that aren't relevant to anybody's real life, you know, that's another subject. I'm not going to win over the punditry class, for sure, but I know I can win over people that aspire to a better life for themselves and their family.

And as it relates to Donald, you know, he's run for president twice and quit; and I've run for governor in the biggest swing state and won twice. I know how to win. I've done. I actually know how to govern which is going to be an attribute when we get closer to the election.

GANGEL: So for the record, for Donald Trump, you're not quitting?

BUSH: No. I mean, do we have to talk about Donald Trump? No. I'm not quitting. He's entertaining. He's fun. He says really funny things in the breaks, in the debate. But I'm running for president of the United States, and it's a serious endeavor. I do it with joy. There's a lot of fun parts of it, for sure.

GANGEL: Marco Rubio, he is now rising in the polls, your former protege. in the debate you went after him for missing votes, but he hit back; and some people think he got the better of the moment. Was it a mistake to attack him on that?

[17:35:12] BUSH: Here's my point. People that are serving need to show up and work, period, over and out.

GANGEL: It wasn't a mistake?

BUSH: I just think people need to show up and work.

GANGEL: I understand. But this is a campaign. You've got to beat these other guys. So do you keep attacking?

BUSH: It's not attacking to say someone should show up and work? Do you get paid when you don't show up?


BUSH: I mean, come on, does anybody in this room get paid when they decide, "Oh, well, I'm going to go do something else?"

You know, Rand Paul is -- has got a pretty good attendance record. He's running for president, as well. You can make an accommodation. The people of the state of Florida expect people to show up and work when they elect them. It's not a criticism; it's just a simple fact.

GANGEL: But you're going to keep saying it?

BUSH: That people ought to show up and work?

GANGEL: That Marco Rubio -- you're going to keep...

BUSH: It's not a criticism.

GANGEL: OK. Donald Trump -- we have to get back to him one more time -- he just called Marco Rubio a lightweight. And he said Vladimir Putin would eat him for lunch. You think that's fair?

BUSH: No, it's not fair. He's a -- look, Marco's a capable guy. He's a talented politician. Here what I think. I think I'm the best qualified to be president.

GANGEL: But is Marco Rubio ready?

BUSH: I'm the best qualified guy to be president.

GANGEL: You're not going to answer the question.

BUSH: If you're comparing me to Donald Trump, I'm better qualified to be president.

GANGEL: Are you -- is Marco...

BUSH: I'm better qualified than anybody else running for president, and it's not -- I'm not pushing people down when I say that. And if it makes you feel better, everybody on the Republican stage is better than Hillary Clinton. That's a low bar, though.

GANGEL: You have said you have grave concerns about Donald Trump. You watched firsthand your brother, your father be commander in chief. Are you comfortable with Donald Trump as commander in chief?

BUSH: I'm not comfortable with some of the things he says, particularly about Syria, where he one week says that "Let ISIS take out Assad, and then the Russians come in." And he praises Putin and says, "Let Russia take care of ISIS."

It's -- it's a reactive kind of mode that somehow I'm the big guy in the room. I'll just figure it out as I go along.

Foreign policy needs to be undergird with a set of principles. And so I think he's going to have to learn, if he's serious about this, you know, to be able to get your foreign policy advice from the shows is probably not the best way to be ready to be president.


BLITZER: We're going to have more from Jamie's interview with Jeb Bush coming up in our next hour, including Bush's feelings about possibly letting down his family if he doesn't win. Stand by for that.

Our political experts, they are standing by. Up next, can Jeb Bush grind out a comeback?

We'll also have much more on that Russian airliner mystery. Do the latest clues point to an in-flight explosion?


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. The breaking news about that Russian airliner crash. All of a sudden, just now, the United States embassy in Cairo has instructed all U.S. employees of the embassy not to travel anywhere in the Sinai Peninsula, pending the outcome of the investigation into what happened to the Russian airliner. The embassy says it will issue another message when the measure is lifted. We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up shortly.

But let me read precisely what the U.S. embassy in Cairo has just said: "As a precautionary measure, the United States embassy's instructed its employees, meaning all diplomats, civilian, military, not to travel anywhere in the Sinai Peninsula pending the outcome of the investigation into the tragic crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt on October 31."

Once again, the embassy says it will issue another message when the measure is lifted. This would seem to suggest there are deep concerns of the potential for terror attacks in Sinai unfolding right now. So all American officials are staying out of Sinai. They've been ordered to do so by the U.S. embassy.

Much more on this coming up. Stand by for that.

We're also following this hour's breaking political news, Jeb Bush formally publicly -- you just heard it -- rejecting Donald Trump's call for him to drop out of the presidential race.

I want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, who's the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent; and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

You know, Ryan, it looks like he's partially fired up right now, Jeb Bush. He's going on the attack, but he's still restrained.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Still restrained. He still sounds like the same Jeb Bush. One of the things he's trying to turn into a plus is that he's not changing his strategy; he's not changing his message. And you know, that's a little bit of a gamble because it hasn't worked.

The one place I think he has adjusted, is he's adjusted to the reality of the race, that he's no longer the frontrunner, if he ever was. And he's treating Carson and Trump to a certain extent as the frontrunners and himself as the sort of scrappy underdog that needs to perform as an underdog. No longer act like this is, you know -- was just going to be given to him.

One thing, he's talking a lot about process in his interviews. He's not talking a lot of policy and his vision for the country. BLITZER: He's still basically not engaging Donald Trump, when Donald

Trump lets loose. He's still holding back. Is that the right strategy?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably, because he actually did try to engage Donald Trump on one of his earlier reboots, trying to go after as somebody who's not conservative enough.

[17:45:05] And it didn't get him anywhere. So what's the point?

And I agree with you wholeheartedly, Ryan, that, you know, this isn't a fired up Jeb Bush because the whole point of his big speech yesterday was kind of a Popeye speech, he is who he is and he's not going to be somebody he's not, and you know if -- like you said, if you want somebody who is going to be able to just throw things away by tossing to a commercial break after "The Apprentice," that's not a president.

So this is what he's gaming -- you know, gaming out that he just has to be who he is because look, in the debate he tried to be fiery, he tried to go after Marco Rubio and it backfired big time.

BLITZER: He makes a point he's not a performer. But all politicians to a certain degree when they go up on that stage, they've got to perform.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You know, he is burdened with something most politicians would like, which is 100 percent name recognition, his father was president, his brother was president. You know, if people want an outsider they are not going to pick Jeb Bush no matter what he does with his campaign. So I think, you know, he's got to be who he is and I think, you know, he is sort of a nerdy, policy oriented person, and he can't pretend that he's a brain surgeon who has never run for office. I mean, that's just not who he is. And he's going to, win or lose, being Jeb Bush.

BLITZER: We're going to take a look at the latest poll numbers just coming in. Stand by for a moment. Much more with our political panel. We're following all the breaking news, much more right after this.


[17:50:55] BLITZER: The latest national poll of Republicans shows Dr. Ben Carson opening up a pretty significant lead over Donald Trump right now. Carson has 29 percent to Trump's 23 percent among Republicans nationwide. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, they're bunched up, but they're way, way behind.

We're back with Dana Bash, Ryan Lizza and Jeffrey Toobin.

Dana, why is Dr. Ben Carson doing this well?

BASH: Because, you know, in a year where people want an outsider, he is the anti-Trump outsider. If people want somebody who is not as in- your-face as Donald Trump is, you know, they like somebody like Ben Carson. I mean, that's just the bottom line. But it also does speak to what we were talking about before the break, about the charisma thing.

He's fascinating. He has a really interesting story, but I wouldn't call him charismatic, like, at all. I mean, he doesn't perform the way, you know, Donald Trump does or others. So it just kind of goes to show that the electorate is looking -- is finicky and is fickle and is looking for something specific this year that really is different from anything that we've seen before.

BLITZER: The national polls, as you know, Ryan, we've all studied them, they're very important. I don't want to belittle the national polls among Republicans or Democrats, for that matter. They generate funds, fundraising and all that kind of stuff. But the statewide polls in the early states are more important.

In Iowa, Carson's ahead. But if you take a look at New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, so many of the earlier states, Trump remains significantly ahead right now.

LIZZA: Yes. The New Hampshire polls this week were very positive for Trump. Look, at this point, most of the campaigns don't even do national polls. They're just polling in the states. It's a sequential process. Whoever wins Iowa, that's going to affect everyone going into New Hampshire, that's going to affect everyone going into South Carolina. So you're right.

And look, the national polls are famously all over the place at this period of time. They're not really predictive of who ends up being the nominee or who wins in the early states. So we're getting into that part, you know, November, December, January, where you want to pay a lot more attention to those early states.

TOOBIN: Even winning in Iowa has not been a predictor of much of anything.

BASH: That's exactly right.

TOOBIN: We're going back to Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum four years ago.

BLITZER: Or Mike Huckabee.

TOOBIN: Mike Huckabee. I mean, Iowa is such a distinctive Republican group of voters -- caucus goers, not even voters -- that leading doesn't, at least historically, get you a lot. Being in the top group is important.

LIZZA: But it can kill a lot of candidates.


LIZZA: It can kill a lot of guys. And nobody --

BLITZER: People drop out if they really do poorly in Iowa.

TOOBIN: Right.

BLITZER: Some people drop out.

BASH: And --

LIZZA: No Republican has won the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire, so it weeds the process.

BASH: That's right. And New Hampshire this time is even more of a weeder, for lack of a better way to say it. Tomorrow is going to be the day when people can actually file. Donald Trump will be there bright and early tomorrow morning, and I'm going to actually be there with him because --

BLITZER: In New Hampshire.

BASH: In New Hampshire, because this is the place where you've got Donald Trump, you've got Jeb Bush, you've got Chris Christie, you've got John Kasich. I mean, probably one of them is going to, you know, actually get out of that state and continue on.

BLITZER: And if you add up the two outsiders, Trump and Carson, that's more than 50 percent right there in these national polls and in some of the earlier states as well.

TOOBIN: It is now, but, you know, we've been saying this for months, but it is still two months away from voting. And the idea that, you know, there are 50 percent of Republican voters who are going to vote for these two people who've never run for office, I still will believe it when I see it.

LIZZA: But these two states have sort of segmented the party.

BLITZER: Iowa and New Hampshire.

LIZZA: Yes. You've got Iowa, it's more populist, it's more religious, and you've got New Hampshire where independents play a bigger role, and you've got more of the --

BASH: More mainstream moderate.

LIZZA: Mainstream conservatives. So you've got the sort of populous lane and the establishment lane and you see that those two groups going to -- more one towards Iowa, one more towards New Hampshire.

BLITZER: All right, guys. So stand by. We're going to continue our coverage of all the breaking political news.

We're also getting new clues right now into THE SITUATION ROOM about what may have brought down that Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board.

Is the evidence pointing toward a bomb? Stand by. We'll share with you the very latest.


BLITZER: Happening now, warning to Americans. As investigators explore the possibility that terrorists may have brought down a Russian airliner, the U.S. has issued a new alert. Stand by for details.

Terrorists to blame? ISIS supporters are cheering the plane disaster. They're calling Vladimir Putin a pig. Al Qaeda's leader also making new threats against Russia. Could the crash be a form of payback?

Trumped again. With another national poll showing he's no longer the leader, the Donald lashing out at the new frontrunner, Ben Carson, and urging his other rivals, many of them he wants them to quit.

And the sun stumbles.