i'm wolf wlit zblitzer. it's 1:00 p.m. in washington. wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us. we're watching the stage in akron, ohio where bernie sanders is scheduled to speak at any moment. later it hour, we'll also check in on ted cruz holding a rally in illinois. and in just moments, you will
hear my interview with donald trump. he just wrapped up a campaign event with chris christie in hickory, north carolina. it's all part of the push to tomorrow, the next super tuesday. this one with five states voting, has more than 1,000 delegates in play for the candidates from both parties. candidates hit the trail early today in north carolina, florida, illinois, ohio, each trying to whip up support ahead of tomorrow's critical vote. >> tomorrow is the day where we'll shock the country and we'll do what needs to be done. we'll win the 99 delegates here in florida. >> at what point do we say enough is enough. if donald trump is the nominee, he is a disaster. and the answer is to beat him. >> we he especially need you ho because i know people are worried and they're afraid by some of what they are hearing.n because i know people are worried and they're afraid by some of what they are hearing. >> in the next hour, mitt romney hits the campaign in ohio in
support of gruff john kasich. romney hasn't endorsed any single candidate, but has made it clear that he will do what it takes to try to derail donald trump. phil mattingly is joining us from westerville in ohio ahead of that kasich/romney rally. phil, where we heard from donald trump this morning, it was clear there was a lot of tension in ohio right now. this is a critical state. what is the latest there now? >> reporter: a critical state not just for donald trump's effort to try to secure the adequate delegate it is to get the nomination, but also for the future of john kasich's campaign, a campaign whose tone has shifted very much so into where the man who he will be campaigning with today has been. take a listen. >> it's not about us tearing one another day or having fist fights at campaign rallies. that's not what america is. >> reporter: now, that is a change from where john kasich
has been up to this point. he said finally when watching the division and saw what was happening in chicago, he just had enough and started to speak out. mitt romney has been criticized for not having a major impact in this whole anti-trump movement it that we've seen, but kasich's campaign is taking a different route with him today, carefully targeting where he will be campaigning. his first event in north canton, in stark county. his even down here in westerville, it straddles delaware and franklin countys. mitt romney won ohio in 2012 by 10,000 votes, 6,000 of those came from those three counties. so kasich's campaign being strategic. >> chris frates joining us there hickory, north carolina. what was the mood like there today as we saw the donald trump i guess it was an interview with the new jersey governor chris christie? was it raucous at all? >> reporter: this was a much more fellow affair. a couple hundred people, smaller
by donald trump standards. there weren't the thousands of people here at a small theater in the university. just a little bit north of charlotte, about an hour north of charlotte, north carolina. no additional security. the usual security was here. there were a few disruptions, those folks were ushered out rather quickly. they weren't the serial disruptions that we've seen in places like zest. louis. nobody needed to be carried out. so it was a much more subdued affair than we've seen on friday and saturday of this last week. >> as you know, the vice presidential nominee was supposed to be headlining an event with donald trump in florida but had to cancel. tell us what happened. >> reporter: well, very unfortunate set of circumstances here. sarah palin was scheduled to campaign in the villages in florida and her husband, todd palin, hurt in a snow machine accident. he's been hurt and hospitalized. she is headed back to alaska, a
source close to the family tells cnn donald trump putting out a statement saying that they understand, they're supportive, they hope that todd palin gets better soon. and of course she was a big force, a big important endorsement for donald trump as he rallied the conservative movement. but also important to remember he is not in any trouble in florida. he is beating marco rubio the native florida son by double digits. in fact he decided not to campaign in florida today, instead doubling down in ohio to take on john kasich. while it was a terrible turn of events, florida not an important place, but the donald trump campaign wishing todd palin the best, a very unfortunate sad state of affairs for the palin folks and everybody here of course wishing him a very, very speedy recovery. >> let's hope for that. chris frates in north carolina, phil mattingly joining us from ohio.
g guys, thanks very much. donald trump is responding to the criticism that he's to blame for the violence at his rallies. i spoke to the frontrunner just a little while ago. >> mr. trump, thanks very much for joining us. i want to get right to the issue of security. we've noticed a very visible security presence at your events over the weekend surrounded by secret service officers and agents. are you worried about your personal safety? >> no, i'm really the nonot, wo. we have had not only tremendous security, but we have tremendous love in the rooms. we have thousands and thousands of people. i have massive crowds. by far the biggest. and we'll have 25,000 people and we'll go through sessions where we have absolutely no protesting or when you say protesting, disruption or protesting, we have absolutely none.
very rarely do we have a problem. >> i'm sure when your wife and your kids see all those secret service officers standing around you as they did this weekend, they're probably worried about your safety, aren't they? >> well, i think the secret service -- first of all, they do a fantastic job. but i think generally speaking, you know, it was the idea for secret service because of crowds they get because i do -- we do have very big crowds. and frankly, i don't think anybody positions of it that way. but the secret service is evident. they are there are quite a few people because the crowds are so big, wolf. that's the only reason. >> but this seems like a new development based on the protester trying to jump through a line on friday night that we all saw. that was obviously very disturbing. >> well, i haven't noticed that much of a difference. we've always had the secret service around. and i feel very secure. >> all right.
let's talk a little bit about the reaction that the democratic up to hall that cnn hosted last night, both of the democratic candidates had sharp words for you. first listen to hillary clinton. >> what trump has done is like a case of political arson. he has lit the fire and then he throws his hands up and claims that he shouldn't be held responsible and he should be held responsible. >> your reaction to secretary clinton. >> well, she has to say what she has to say, wolf. i mean she has very uninspired crowds. her crowds are very small. if you look at the poll numbers, they're down 35% because people from four years ago because people are not inspired by her or by bernie. there is nothing much to be inspired. it's boring and not very inspiring. so she only wished she had my crowds and she only wished she had the enthusiasm that i have in my crowds. there is no enthusiasm for
hillary or her crowds. >> she's basically saying that you're creating -- the vir leol could get out of hand and you are responsible for this. are you? >> there is not much violence. when we have 20,000 and 15,000 and, you know, many more than that in some cases, 35,000 people in alabama and there were no protests. and there is not much -- first of all, let's not even use the word is very little disruption generally speaking. it's a function of the press. the press likes to say what they like to say. if one person gets up and starts shouting and the police walk that person out, they try and make it like it's a violent thing. it's not violent. it's a protest toer or probably disrupter because i think they're sent there by some people on the other side. but it's a disrupter.
but there is no violence. nobody has been hurt. i will say this, wolf, if you look at -- other than chicago where i've actually been given a lot of credit for canceling. because i could have gone there and done the speech and after i did the speech, you know, i don't know what would have happened frankly. and i didn't want to take a changes that people could have gotten hurt. and i've been given a lot of credit for canceling that one. so other than that, and then you had the person that tried to come on stage and they stopped him will quite easily. but we have had very little disruption. we've had very little problem overall. >> bernie sanders goes one step further and hillary clinton and he says you are inciting violence and he refers to this notion that you would pay the legal bills for a man charged with punching a protester as a rally. listen to what bernie sanders said about you. >> i hesitate to say this because i really don't like to
disparage public officials. but donald trump is a pathological liar. >> he calls and you payou a pat reaction. let's get your reaction. >> he was a terrible senator and now he's running and he hit a hot streak for a little bit, but it will fail ultimately i guess. i think they would both be easy to beat. right now i'm focused on putting to -- getting over the finish line. we started off with 17 people. we now have the four, total of four. and i think it will happen fairly soon. but bernie was a terrible senator. did it very little as a senator. people don't realize this, ask him what legislation he got passed. ask him what he did. it's wonderful to say he's a socialist and he's all of these things, but ask him what he got done. and i know he talks tough and he talks big now, but if i meet him
in the election, he won't be talking so big. >> he called you a pathological liar because he called him a communist. do you want to revise that? >> well, i also called him somebody that i think is lying because a lot of the people that stand up and make fools out of themselves and disrupt my meetings, they have bernie sanders signs printed right by the same people that print his signs. it's the typical signs. so somebody gave them the signs. so let's see what happens. but i don't really think much of bernie sanders. he's going nowhere and he'll be going back to being a bad senator again. but that's what he was. he was a senator that did not do a good job and now he's in a position that maybe -- he should be very thankful to me because frankly, he was doing very badly until i spoke about hillary and bill when they did my very unfairly about five weeks go and then all of a sudden bernie started doing better and it gave
them a lot of credit for that. but he wasn't the one who took hillary clinton town. and i will tell you that he should be saying thank you very much, mr. trump. >> five critical contests tomorrow, super tuesday two as we're calling. you're calling john kasich an absentee governor, you've added another ohio rally to your schedule later today. are you concerned that kasich will win in ohio and keep on going? >> well, i don't think he will keep on going. he may win ohio. it's right now a tie according to most of the polls. literally tied. he may win in ohio. i mean who knows. he's the governor. but he has not done a good job. he's convinced people that he has. he hasn't. they're losing industry tremendously. he voted for nafta, which is the reason they're losing industry. now he wants tpp. he's raised real estate taxes in ohio through the roof. and frankly, the only reason he's doing well in ohio is because of the oil that they got
lucky and they found. ohio happened to be sitting on top of oil. so it's the biggest budget increase in the entire united states. their budget has increased more than any other state in the united states. and he's got, you know, a lot of problems. and now with the fact that oil is down, he can't use that as a crutch anymore. so with the budget increases and all the problems that they have, the tremendous loss of industry, i mean they have lost eaton, they have lost ford, a tremendous number of people. and a tremendous number of companies. and so, look, i don't think he would do the job. he certainly will not do the job that donald trump will do because i will be bringing jobs back. and i'll be bringing companies back to the united states. and he will never be able to do that. >> what about florida tomorrow because the polls show you way ahead of senator marco rubio. cruz is looking like there a fight going on for second place. >> well, marco is not a very
popular guy in florida. he doesn't show up to vote. he's got the worst voting record of the united states senate in 20 years. this guy doesn't vote. they put him in, he really defrauded the people of florida because they put him in and he was their senator and from that point on, i mean he started running for president. and he's failed very, very badly at that. i means they elected him to be their senator and even an important vote, he doesn't show up to vote. and you can't do that. and i'm not just talking about the fact that he's running for office. because other people are running, also, and they have a much better record than he has. so marco frankly i think made a big mistake. he should have stayed as a senator. he should have gone into those beautiful halls and he should have voted. >> very quickly, i want you to respond to the president of united states, over the weekend he was in austin, texas and he
said this. listen carefully to president obama. >> the folks running for office should be focused on how we can make it even better. not insults and school yard taunts and manufacturing facts. not divisiveness along the lines of race or faith. certainly not violence against other americans or excluding them. we're a better country than that. >> and he's saying as you just heard, he's saying you're divisive and the country deserves better and i wanted to give you a chance to respond to the president. >> well, sure, i'd love to respond to that but i've been saying for a long period of time that he's the most divisive president maybe that we've ever had and he had an opportunity to bring the country together. and whether it's white and black or so many other did different forms of division, the fact is he's been the most divisive
president we've ever had. i would be a total unityrd. you take a look. we have an african-american president and what he's done for african-americans is a shame. 58% and even 59% of african-american youth has no job. african-americans in their prime, 30 years old, 40 years old, 50 years old, they are way, way behind. so he's an african-american president who frankly has done very, very folgts african-americans. and frankly, i think i'll do a great job for the african-american population in our country. i think that what has happened over the last seven years and soon to be eight years for african-americans is really a shame and really disgraceful. and i think the president of the united states should be ashamed of the job that he's done for african americans in our country. >> all right. bottom line, and i'll leave it
where we started, your message to your supporters about keeping calm, protests are fine, but not vir lepts protests, making sure this doesn't get ugly or dangerous, what is your he is innage to your supporters? >> my people are calm. they are amazing people. my theechl is make america great again. that's what they want to see. but every once in a while, you'll have a disrupter come in. in chicago, they had thousands of them standing on the streets, so i did something that i think was really pretty wise by saying let's not do it today. but, you know, we really are -- they are calm. they are really calm. but you have thesagetimers and protesters are taking away our first amendment right, taking away the freedom of speech and it's very sad that they're allowed to do it in a sense. but that's the system.
high people are ca my people are calm. we've had essentially no injuries. the biggest disruption was in chicago where we canceled it because we didn't want to have anybody get hurt. we didn't want to see anybody get hurt. but the people that go to my rallies are amazing people. they love our country. and they really are very calm. they're very ennews i can't say tig, i will say. any want to see something great happen for the country. but they are very, very great people and they are not the cause of any problems. believe me. >> but even that man who sucker punched that one glon straight tore, you don't want that to go on, do you? >> no, and we don't condone it and we've said it many times. but that young man made a gesture in the air with one of his fingers which was not good and was not nice and was very, very horrible to see also. but despite that, i don't
condone it and we don't want it to happen. >> donald trump, thanks very much to joining us. >> okay. thank you very much, wolf. thank you. we'll get reaction to the donald trump interview, our political panelists standing by. donna brazile, jeffrey lord. i'd like all of you to take a -- we'll take a quick short break and we'll assess what is going on, get reaction. pet moments are beautiful, unless you have allergies.
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donald trump firing back at his critics during an interview i had with the frontrunner. you just heard it. let's get some reaction to that. and tomorrow's big primaries with our political panel. joining us, donna brazile, democratic strategist. also tara stret mayor, republican strategist and jeffrey lord who supports donald trump for president. there has been violence at some of those rallies, jeffrey, you have to admit. there this has been violence, right? >> yes, absolutely. wolf, while i was waiting to come on with you, i jotted down
a quick list. columbia university in 1968, kent state in 1970, 1968 democratic convention, people's park in berkeley in 1969, occupy wall street, black lives matter, ferguson, baltimore, american left is ted indicated to violence. they use violence all ever the time. events that i've just named to you have nothing whatsoever to do with donald trump. and yet this happens over and over and over again. donald trump is just the latest to have this problem here and this is -- these are the folks who are responsible, not donald trump. >> let me let donna weigh in. >> jeff, i'm sorry, with all due respect, mississippi 1963, birmingham 1963, i can go '64, '65, '66 -- jeff, i can go back as far as you want to go back in terms of the kind of racial violence, the kind of what i call aggressive rhetoric, the
inciteful dog whistle. let's not play left versus right. this is right versus wrong. and what we have to take into account is the kind of rhetoric that is coming from a major presidential candidate, the leading presidential candidate on the republican side. the kind of dog whistle, just now mr. trump, and i call him mr. trump, i'm not calling him donald, i'm calling him mr. trump. mr. trump insulted us once again by calling the president of the united states the man elected for two terms with over 50% of the vote, calling him divisive when it was mr. trump back in 2011, 2012 began to raise the issue of his birth. and he hasn't backed down from that. so let's not get into right versus left. let's condemn the kind of hateful tone that we're hearing, let's have a substantive conversation about what is foreign policy, national security, domestic issues. let's understand that when black youth unemployment is 31%, not 59%, when has panic youth
unemployment is 18%, let's tell the truth. let us inspire people, not condemn people. and don't ever be on the side of hate. let be on the side of the better angels that brings us up in this country not take us back to a bygone period. >> he did say president obama was the most divisive in history. do you agree? >> i agree he has been divisive in a lot of areas, not taking the side of law and order in this country to using his executive orders as a president to disrespect the constitution in this country. so there is an argument to be made. but it's much bigger than that. this tit for tat back and forth about, well, in history this happened and in history that happened. we all saw that. what is going on right now, there is a responsibility on
donald trump's part, if you want to be the leader of the free world, you want to represent the office of the presidency, then you have a responsibility to condone unequivocally what is going on. on both sides. we're not going to absolve the left and crazies doing what they're doing trying to shut down free speech, but let's not take away donald trump's responsibility here. jeff, i know that you support donald trump and that's your prerogative. but when you see how he hams these situations and you see what he says, when he goes out and he says we should punch protesters in the face, we want to see people pulled out on stretchers, remember the days of old when it was tougher on them and the vigilante justice, can you sit here and tell me that that is the kind of let's make america great again that you want? do you think this is making america great again? how can you sit back at someone who worked under ronald reagan who understood how to unify people, who was the great communicator, how can you watch how donald trump has handled all these things, the lies that come
ouflt his mouth, the demagoguery and you think this is making america great again? honestly. and i'm a conservative life long. >> let me just say in 1969, then governor reagan sent in the california highway patrol and the local police, called the he protesters who had physically taken over people's park, he he called them communists, sexual deviant p. there was a riot. this kind of thing that had nothing do with donald trump. ronald reagan was as forceful in his language then as donald trump is now and the american people -- >> jeff -- >> there is no excuse-of. >> ronald reagan never said the outrageous things that donald trump has said justifying this kind of behavior. >> that is no excuse for violence. >> and he was clear about the protesters breaking the law.
he wasn't condoning violence be did t dea dea begets violence? did ronald reagan said he was going to pay for the legal bills? >> and let's be clear, ronald reagan started his campaign in mississippi where three individuals were murdered because they were trying to get the right to vote. so say the's rights, all of this violence, bringing back some dog whistle type of leadership, that's not what we're about. that's not what we're about. and i think we have to condemn it. whether it comes from the left or the right. and -- >> but it doesn't come from the right. >> it is coming from the right. this dog whistle politics, this president obama is breaking the law when all he is trying to do is use the constitutional framework his powers as the chief executive of this country to advance the goals of freedom
and equality for all. raising the wage of workers, making sure that people who are gay are not discriminated against in the federal workforce. you can debate whether or not you you like, but he's the president of the united states. he's going to -- >> and he should follow the constitution. but that's on that topic. >> tara, hold on a moment. everyone hold on for a moment. i want to play a little clip right now. bernie sanders holding a rally in akron, ohio. ohio voting as we know tomorrow. listen to what he just said a few moments ago. >> when voter turnout is high, when working people and lower income people and young people begin to stand up and fight back and demand that we have a government that represents all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributo
contributors, when people come out to vote in large numbers to reclaim their democracy, we win. when voter turnout is low, we lose. let's make sure that tomorrow we have a huge voter turnout! >> donna, do you think there will be a huge voter turnout? because donald trump you heard him say voter turnout so far on the democratic side is down from 2008 gared to the republican side it's up. >> there is no question we have less candidates and the turnout is not as good as we want it to be. but let me say this to mr. trump. hillary clinton has more voters in terms of the popular vote. she has more voters. and she has more delegates. so she's proud of what she's and i believe to accomplish. bernie sanders is also very proud. he's very close to catching up with mr. trump. so if we have a good turnout, i do believe that will help us. in 2000, we had a low turnout
and do you know who won the popular vote some al gore. >> all right. even stand by. we have more to discuss just ahead. rubio's fight for florida, can he he pull off an upset win in his home state. is this presidential campaign over if he doesn't. and we'll talk to a senior adviser to senator rubio. his pr over if he doesn't. and we'll talk to a senior adviser to senator rubio. ♪ everything kids touch during cold and flu season sticks with them. make sure the germs they bring home don't stick around. use clorox disinfecting products. because no one kills germs better than clorox.
rubio urged supporters to help him stop trump. >> tomorrow we have a chance to make a powerful statement to the country. and that is that the republican party is not going to allow itself to be hijacked by fake conservatives and people who go around dividing us against each other. we are a country of people with a lot of different opinions. and we should continue to debate toes p those opinions and argue over those opinion, but we cannot have a country where everyone hates each other, where everyone is at each other's throat. >> jason rose joining us now from san diego. jason, thanks very much for joining us. as you know, governor kasich says his campaign is over if he loses his home state of ohio tomorrow. is it over for senator rubio if he loses florida tomorrow? >> it's obviously very difficult if we don't win florida tomorrow, but marco has a
history of coming from behind in his home state. you'll remember when he ran against the establishment choice sitting governor charlie crist, at one point he was down 40 points and ended up prevailing. so we're very optimistic that people are going to come around and support marco. the polls have been incredibly volatile. there have been other polls that showed single digits and one last week showed that marco actually leads amongst absentee voters that have already voted by 25%. so we feel pretty good about the direction things are going and we just have to keep working hard until the polls close tomorrow. >> because it's winner take all, 99 delegates on the line. if you come in second, it doesn't mean anything as far as florida is concerned. same for ohio. bottom line, though, if he loses florida, and we don't know if he will win or lose, we'll see what the voters city. but if he loses florida, is it over? >> i think you're right, if you're not first, you're last when it comes to florida with the winner take all. and obviously ohio is winner take all, as well.
but we do have to remember i think some context and that is that as of right now, donald trump doesn't even have half the delegates he needs in order to secure the nomination. and so regardless of the outcome tomorrow, this race still has a long way to go before it's settled. and i think everyone realizes that at this point it's most likely that we'll be settling this at convention. >> if he gets the most -- gets a plurality some we say trump but he doesn't get 1237 which is what you feed for the majority in order to be guaranteed the republican nomination, but let's say he gets a whole the lot more than nipples, is that anyone el good enough? >> the ultimate goal is defeating hillary clinton and winning in november. and there is not a poll out there that shows donald trump beating hg. a hillary clinton p. and i think republican voters will look at the situation and realize that we are doomed if donald trump is our nominee. and so i think there is a lot of
sobering up as we get closer to that convention where delegates that cast a vote in their respective states, i think in july republicans regardless of who they support going into that convention are going to want to field the strongest candidate to win in november and i can guarantee you that's not going to be donald trump. >> jason roe, senior adviser to senator rubio. thanks very much. coming up, we have an exclusive look inside war-torn syria. cnn goes undercover where no western journalist has dared to go in over a year. our report wihen we come back. [plumber] i need to be where the pipes are.
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call to learn more. switch to liberty mutual and you could save up to $509. call liberty mutual for a free quote today at see car insurance in a whole new light. liberty mutual insurance. now to a cnn exclusive. clarissa ward went undercover into rebel-held syria where virtually no western journalists have gone for more than a year. witnessing first happened the turmoil these civilians face. they worked with syria based
filmmaker on this exclusive report. we want to warn our viewers, some of these images are very graphic. >> reporter: moving through rebel-held northern syria is difficult and dangerous. as foreign journalists in areas where a strong jihadist presence, we had to travel undercover to see a war few outsiders have witnessed. the only proceed vinvincial cap under rebel control. this was its courthouse before being hit by an air strike in december. dozens were killed. this 40-year-old lawyer told us he was inside the building when it was hit. he was lucky to survive. >> translator: the russian planes target that works in the interest of the people .goal is to people live a destroyed life, that people never see any good, that they never taste life. this is the tax of living in a
liberated area. >> reporter: an hour later, we saw that tax for ourselves. while fill himming in a town nearby, we heard the scream of fighter jets overhead. moments later, a hit. there was just an air strike here in the town so we're now driving very quickly. it's not clear yet what was hit, but we are hearing that there are still planes in the sky. arriving on the scene, our team found chaos and carnage. volunteers shouted for an ambulance as they tried to ferry out the wounded. for many, it was too late. a woman lay dead on the ground,
a jacket draped over her. an attempt to preserve her dignity. russia has repeatedly claimed it is only hitting terrorist targets. this strike hit a busy fruit market. >> translator: this is just a civilian market, this is not a military area. there are no military installations here or anything. it's a market. look, it's a market. a fruit market. is this what you want? >> reporter: we couldn't stay long. often jets circle back to hit the same place twice, it's called a double tap. we've just arrived here at the hospital where they're bringing the dead and wounded from those three strikes which hit a park and a fruit market. we don't know the exact number of casualties there, but the scenes of devastation, blood on the ground, dismembered body
parts and the injured and dead that we've seen arriving here indicate that will was a very bad strike indeed. among the injured brought in, a young boy moaning in pain. he died moments later. the strikes that day killed 11 people. among them, a woman and two children. rescue workers wasted no time in clearing away the rubble and this ugly war, massacres have become routine. >> amazing reporting. clarissa is joining us now live. you went undercover in syria. brutal situation. five years now, hundreds of thousands of people killed. talk a little bit about what it was like behind the scenes, must have been frightening, harrowing. >> our experience in six days in
this area really just gives us a small window into what has become the everyday life for people who are living in these rebel-held areas. those air strikes that we showed you in this piece just now, wolf, happened less than 24 hours after we were on the ground, so it was almost like a baptism by fire type of situation, where immediately you were just thrust into this situation, where you could see so clearly the situation, the intensity of the bombardment that the syrian people are living under, and what is extraordinary to notice on the ground is not so much that so many people have fled, which of course we have seen quite a lot of this in the coverage over the past months and years, but to see that people actually remain, that there are still people who are committed to trying to fulfill the sort of end goal of this uprising that looked very different when it began five
years ago, but which essentially at its core is still about the same thing, that president bashar al assad must go, and that the people have the right to self-determination, so it was an extraordinary assignment on many levels and obviously a lot of security concerns from the threat of kidnapping which is very real. to be honest, my primary security threat or the thing that concerned me the most was the threat of aerial bomb bartment because it is seemingly so random and there's no good way to protect yourself from it. >> the aerial bombardment you're talk about, largely russian bombardment? >> there are basically only two players in the skies in these areas, and that's the air force of the regime of assad and also the russian air force. since russia intervened militarily in syria last september, they have been carrying out the vast majority of air strikes. we're talking about thousands of air strikes every month. in this instance, we actually
went to the russian defense ministry. we told them about this strike we witnessed. we asked them for some kind of clarification as to whether they were responsible. the only thing they told us is that the russian defense ministry has always maintained that we do not hit civilians and we do not hit civilian targets. i have to say, and you'll see this playing out in our series throughout the week, that is at odds with what we saw on the ground, wolf. >> i want you to stand by for a moment. we're getting some breaking news into cnn. the russian president vladimir putin has ordered the withdrawal of his troops from inside syria. our senior international correspondent nick paton walsh is joining us on the phone. nick, what are you hearing? >> well, it's early stages at this point, but we're hearing from the russian state news agency that putin has ordered -- i think it's fair to say -- the beginning of the withdrawal of russian troops from syria. saying that, in fact, as far as he can see it, that task has been completed. he's also apparently in a phone
call with bashar al assad, the syrian president, informed him of this, and also confirmed their mutual desire to see speeding up or intensification of the political process inside of syria. now, it's remarkable to get such public gestures made by the kremlin. normally, russian diplomacy, russian military maneuvers are done under some sort of veil. this is a bold open statement that pretty much says we're done here. he says in the statements here, and these are early stages, they believe that it is done. obviously, isis still have a strong presence there. obviously al qaeda affiliate al nusra still have a presence in syria. but perhaps damascus and moscow's perception of who they see the international terrorists, those moderates fighting against the regime, well, they've taken a severe
pounding in the past few months or so. some may look at this as the kremlin having established their military goals they sought, pushing back from key coastal strong holds and around aleppo, those anti-regime forces they sought to attack. that might be one reason. or the other reason could be some sort of domestic fatigue. perhaps putin's economic status and financial budget isn't doing as well as they'd like to think. another alternative, too, potentially, that given the fact the political process is beginning in the days ahead in geneva to take some kind of shape in the second phase of these new round of talks, perhaps this is a physical manifestation, open signal from moscow to damascus that they need to think about a deal and they need to concentrate more on a political transition. there have been suggestions in the media in the past weeks that perhaps the kremlin is not too happy with the strident tones we've heard from damascus about how assad leaving power is a red
line they can't contemplate. always hard to divine the tea leaves when it comes to the kremlin's political goals. we have this very bold statement here of remarkably important timing that the withdrawal of the russian military from syria will begin starting tomorrow. wolf. >> well, standby for a moment, nick. want to bring back clarissa ward who just was inside syria, under cover, for us. it's unclear to me, clarissa, i'll get nick to weigh in on this as well, whether the withdrawal of russian ground forces also means a halt to any aerial bombardment, if you will, of sites insight syria, because that's caused such devastation, as your eyewitness report showed us, clarissa. what's your reaction to the breaking news? >> first of all, i have to say it's flabbergasting, wolf, it's not that often that breaking news really shocks you, but this news is very shocking to me for a number of reasons. first of all, russia has been unwavering in its support of the
assad regime really since day one. what we saw happen back in september was an intensification of its efforts to bolster the assad regime, but for russia to say at this stage essentially, quote, their task is completed would still seem to be, you know, a little early in the game to make a statement like that. the stated goal of the russian intervention was to fight terrorism, to take out isis, to take out al qaeda affiliate jabbad al nusra and certainly think the russian strikes have had only limited effect on isis areas. it's had significant effect on the areas we spent time in, where jabbad al nusra does have a presence but certainly al nusra's presence still is strong on the ground. it hasn't been decimated at all by the russian aerial campaign. actually it's really the civilian infrastructure that has taken much more of a hit. a crucial issue there, the distinction. does russia ordering its ground
troops out of the country mean they will cease and desist from this aerial bombardment? certainly it is fair to say since the cessation of hostilities took hold a few weeks ago, the russians have certainly dramatically reduced the intensification of the bomb bartment. if they were to stop it altogether, you would certainly see another dramatc shift on the battlefield, particularly in the city of aleppo, where russian essentially carpet bombing had allowed assad ground forces to encircle almost completely rebel-held areas of the city. leaving up more than 300,000 people potentially under siege. it will be very interesting to see if the russians really do stop the aerial bombardment, as well as pulling out their ground troop. that is going to, again have a dramatic effect, and you're going to see some real shifts on the battlefield on the ground, wolf. >> let me get nick back, he's on the phone still, nick, is there any explanation, removal of the
ground forces, does it also mean a halt to air strikes by the russians? >> well, the little groups which would by definition suggest you might be talking more about ground forces but some of the others suggest a broader issue and i think you have to look at the signals. russia has been on the ground since the beginning of the war in a low capacity, a low intensity, assisting here and there. perhaps what they've done in the last few months is ramp that up. the point here is the signal. the kremlin doesn't make big gestures like this about its military operations without a specific motive. and what we're seeing perhaps today is the beginning what many had thought may have been the case, that there is actually more tension perhaps between dam ma damascus and moscow than had been thought, that perhaps the appetite in syria, as it plays
well at times but maybe the high-octane video from the front lines state media has been playing, that the russian appetite for involvement is not limitless. finances can take a battering. i think what's important here is the beginning of the withdrawal and i think it's also important that it comes as peace negotiations are supposed to be taking on a new kind of momen m momentum. there have been suggestions that assad has perhaps pushed the whole notion of him staying forever a little bit too far. there have been suggestions that maybe damascus and tehran and damascus and moscow are not all on the same page about the future here, and that maybe the russians came in at some point to assist damascus from being dominated by iran. a lot of speculation, as you would expect, from these kind of closed door relationships and meetings. but breaking that door wide open here is a very clear signal from moscow and that says we're leaving. now, it may not be tonight and it will take a long time and they may leave some kind of presence behind. like for example they had in
ukraine. but this is a key moment, wolf. >> it certainly is, nick paton walsh with the breaking news. we will stay all over it. nick paton walsh and clarissa ward, excellent reporting. thanks for watching. the news continues next on cnn. hi there, everyone, i'm brooke baldwin. thank you for being with me on this monday. i want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world as we're going to continue on this significant breaking news here we're learning. russian president vladimir putin has ordered some troops to withdraw from syria. this is specifically coming from russian state media. let me begin our coverage this hour with our pentagon correspondent barbara starr and also nick paton walsh on the phone with me from beirut, our senior international correspondent there. barbara, to you first here, i have a note that putin said they have achieved their goalsn