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Fractured Republican Party?; President Obama Calls Out Republican Leaders Over Trump Support; Obama on TPP: "I'm President and I'm For It"; Report: Trump not Backing Ryan, McCain; Source: U.S. Growing Confident of Chemical Attack in Syria. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 2, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: fractured party. Donald Trump is now refusing to support the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in his primary election next week. And Trump is using Ryan's own words against him, telling "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "I'm not quite there yet." Is it payback for Ryan's delay in endorsing Trump?

Enough. President Obama delivers a stunning rebuke of Donald Trump, saying there has to be a point where Republicans stop their support for the party's presidential nominee. So, what impact will the president's words have?

Walking away. A former top aide to Chris Christie tells CNN she's breaking with the DNC, saying she will vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The dramatic move coming one day after a similar announcement by a top aide to Jeb Bush. Is this the beginning of a Republican exodus?

And forced out. A major shakeup inside the Democratic National Committee. Its highest ranking official is stepping down following the cyber-attack that led to an embarrassing e-mail leak. Two other high-level staffers are also out. Are more heads about to roll?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking political news this hour, a dramatic new sign of the turmoil Donald Trump has unleashed within the GOP. The Republican presidential nominee has just told "The Washington Post" he's not supporting House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain in their upcoming primary elections.

And Trump use the exact same words about Ryan that the speaker used in describing his reluctance to endorse Trump earlier in the campaign -- quote -- "I'm not quite there yet."

And President Obama is calling on Republicans to reject Trump, saying today at the White House he is unfit, Trump is unfit, he said, to be president. Mr. Obama delivered a razor-sharp censure, calling Trump woefully unprepared to be president and urging Republican leaders who have endorsed him to withdraw their support.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guest, including Trump campaign national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, and our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's get straight to the breaking news.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is working the story for us.

Dana, what did Donald Trump tell "The Washington Post" about Speaker Ryan?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he used probably was not a coincidence, very similar language about Ryan that Ryan initially used about him when he declined to immediately endorse Trump, when he became the presumptive nominee.

Here's what Trump said about Paul Ryan who has a primary race in his House district a week from today. "I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need a very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I'm just not quite there yet. I'm not quite there yet."

So those again are the terms, the words that Paul Ryan used with our own Jake Tapper initially talking about Donald Trump. We should say since then Ryan has endorsed Donald Trump. Obviously went to the convention, presided over the convention, despite his obvious misgivings.

Just in the last few minutes, Wolf, we have gotten a statement from Ryan's campaign back in Wisconsin basically saying that neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Trump's endorsement and he feels confident he will win his primary a week from today in Wisconsin.

But let's just kind of take a step back about why we are doing breaking news. It is not just because it is sort of a tit for tat between two Republicans. This is most senior Republican elected official right now, period, end of story. And this is something you don't see even usually in the worst of time.

And this is a time of -- especially after the convention, we thought that they would at least all begin to come together. I spoke to a House Republican just a short while ago about this.

This is someone who has endorsed Donald Trump, who said he thinks this will backfire on Donald Trump within the House Republican Caucus, because Ryan has a pretty good reservoir of support and people who might not always agree with him on policy like him as a person, and that there are a number of Republicans, Wolf, who are in the words of this congressman hanging on by a thread in their support for Trump, especially after the back and forth with the Khan family, and that this might tear things apart even more.

We should also note that Ryan of course put out a pretty tough statement about that Khan controversy.

BLITZER: But Paul Ryan did go to the convention, did endorse Donald Trump. And it was interesting, though. Last night, Donald Trump was tweeting positive things about Paul Ryan's challenger for that House seat.

BASH: He was. He was definitely doing that. And then his challenger tweeted back. Again, this is something that you just don't see.


The man at the top of the ticket openly applauding a primary challenger within the Republican Party, basically, trying to kind of beat the drums of the divide within the Republican Party. Now, we know the reason. This is personal. He is upset about the fact Paul Ryan and others, including John McCain, released these statements that were very, very critical of Donald Trump and the way that he appeared to go after these Gold Star parents who spoke at the Democratic National Committee.

And let me actually just say what he said about John McCain, while I'm on that subject, because he basically said the same thing about McCain who also has a primary in his home state of Arizona next Tuesday. "I have never been there with John McCain. He has not done a good job for the vets and I have always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets. So I have always had a difficult time with John for that reason, because our vets are not being treated properly. They're not being treated fairly.'

So that is Donald Trump about John McCain, who had a very lengthy, we reported it all day yesterday, lengthy, very, very tough statement about the kind of back and forth that Donald Trump had with these Gold Star parents in a way that McCain didn't do when Trump questioned McCain's own service, who was a prisoner of war of course during Vietnam.

BLITZER: And Donald Trump was pretty tough on Kelly Ayotte, who faces her own tough reelection bid as the U.S. senator from New Hampshire.

BASH: He sure did.

Look, this is -- the fact that he, in this interview, went after all these Republicans who have been tough on him gives you a sense of where he is right now. And I'm just going to read you what he said about Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is in a pretty tough reelection race in New Hampshire.

"I don't know Kelly Ayotte. I know she has given me no support, zero support. And yet I'm leading her in the polls. I'm doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don't need weak people."

Now, I should just say that in the polls we have seen, in conversations with Republicans in New Hampshire, she actually appears to be doing better than he is with regard to her race in the Senate and how he is faring in the presidential race. But it is obviously early.

But the bottom line is that he is clearly not happy with the fact that there isn't kumbaya still to this minute within the Republican Party coming behind him, and he's lashing out in a way that, really, I don't know about you, Wolf, I have never seen in this kind of situation.

Circling back to Paul Ryan, I think it is possible that there will be pressure on him to take back his endorsement. I don't think that is going to happen, though.

BLITZER: That's pretty extraordinary, I must say. I don't remember anything, especially two weeks after the Republican Convention, anything like this happening.

Thank you very much, Dana, for that.

These extraordinary developments come just hours after President Obama's truly remarkable rebuke of Donald Trump.

Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, has details.

Michelle, this was the president's strongest denunciation of the Republican presidential nominee.


This felt like the gloves were off. Even the words President Obama chose. There he is in the East Room of the White House standing next to a foreign leader and having his say about Donald Trump.

He was also being specific too. Do you feel Trump's recent words criticizing the parents of a fallen Muslim soldier make Trump unfit to be president? And President Obama went way beyond unfit, calling him woefully unprepared and well beyond recent comments, questioning, in his words, Trump's knowledge, his common sense and basic decency.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president. I said so last week, and he keeps on proving it.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): A blunt answer to a simple question, but President Obama didn't want to stop there, unleashing a more-than- five-minute smackdown.

OBAMA: The notion that he would attack a Gold Star family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country, the fact that he doesn't appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues means that he is woefully unprepared to do this job.

KOSINSKI: Extending his pointed words to top Republicans and the party as a whole.

OBAMA: What has been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans, including the speaker of the House, and the Senate majority leader, and prominent Republicans like John McCain.

And the question, I think, that they have to ask themselves is, if you're repeatedly having to say, in very strong terms, that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party, that this is your standard-bearer?


This isn't a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily. There has to come a point at which you say, somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn't have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world. There has to come a point at which you say, enough.

And the alternative is that entire party, the Republican Party, effectively endorses and validates the positions that are being articulated by Mr. Trump.

KOSINSKI: A warning there, but President Obama also has some words for the current Democratic nominee. Hillary Clinton opposes the TPP, the massive trade partnership with Asia that Obama has been pushing so hard for.

OBAMA: Well, right now, I'm president, and I'm for it. And I think I have got the better argument. Hopefully, after the election is over, and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won't just be a political symbol or a political football.


KOSINSKI: Donald Trump put out his own statement today blasting what he called President Obama's failed leadership. And both Republican leaders in the House and the Senate through spokespeople declined to respond to what the president said today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you.

Donald Trump himself appears unswayed by all the controversies swirling around his campaign right now, even as new ones explode by the day.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is with us right now.

Jim, it's been a difficult stretch for the Trump campaign.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is hard to keep track of all these controversies. Donald Trump tried to turn the page today around his damaging confrontation with the Khan family. But again the GOP nominee found his growing chorus of critics only getting louder here in Washington on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Dubbed unfit to be president by the man currently in the White House, Donald Trump punched right back.

D. TRUMP: He's been one of the worst presidents in the history of our country. And for him to be calling me out is almost an honor, because he truly doesn't know what he's doing. He's been a very, very weak president.

ACOSTA: Under fire for his very public battle with the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier, Trump tried to show he still has plenty of military support, introducing a crowd in Virginia to a self- described veteran who offered a medal to the GOP nominee.

D. TRUMP: A man came up to me and he handed me his Purple Heart. And I said, man, that's like -- that's like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.

But I tell you it was such an honor.

ACOSTA: So far at his rallies this week, Trump has steered clear of his incendiary comments on the Khan family who scolded him at the Democratic Convention.

Trump is attempting to change the subject back to Hillary Clinton.

D. TRUMP: Hillary Clinton will be worse. She has bad relationships with people like Putin. I will give you an example. She has a terrible relationships with Putin. She wants to play the tough one. She's not tough.

ACOSTA: But unlike his past incendiary comments, Trump is having trouble outrunning his war of words with the Khan family. Same goes for his V.P. pick, Mike Pence, who was challenged by a military mother and Clinton supporter to rebuke Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump has disrespected our nation's armed forces and veterans. And his disrespect for Mr. Khan and his family is just an example of that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will there ever be a point in time when you're able to look at Trump in the eye and tell him enough is enough? You have a son in the military. How do you tolerate his disrespect?

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's OK. It's all right. It's all right.

Folks, that is what freedom looks like and that is what freedom sounds like, OK?

ACOSTA: Some Republicans have had enough. One New York GOP Congressman, Richard Hanna, wrote an op-ed, saying: "While I disagree with her on many issues, I will vote for Mrs. Clinton."

The Trump campaign the candidate's son Eric have accused the media of blowing the Khan story out of proportion.

Eric Trump tried to say his father has apologized, even though he hasn't.

ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I think that's a great question for him. And I think he has by calling them a hero.

ACOSTA: And Eric Trump seemed to stand by his father's comments on how daughter Ivanka would respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. Donald Trump had said she would leave her career or company. Eric Trump suggested strong women somehow don't get sexually harassed.

QUESTION: Does your father stick by what he said?

E. TRUMP: There is no question. There is no question that obviously should be addressed and it should be addressed strongly. And Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman. She would not allow herself to be objected to it.


ACOSTA: So far, the latest controversies haven't dampened the energy at his rallies, where supporters seem to be enjoying every moment, even when their candidate jokes about kicking out crying babies.

D. TRUMP: Don't worry about that baby. I love babies. I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it. I like it. Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here.



ACOSTA: Now, one of Donald Trump's top surrogates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said today that it is inappropriate to criticize the Khan family.

Now, I have spoken to two key Trump supporters, Wolf, who said privately to me that the GOP nominee should apologize to the Khans right away. Of course, we have not heard that apology yet from Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Not yet.

ACOSTA: Not yet.

BLITZER: We will see if he does.

All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's get some more on the breaking news right now.

Joining us, the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Why has Donald Trump decided to go after two of the most prominent Republicans in his party, Paul Ryan, the highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Congress? He actually endorsed Donald Trump. What was behind his decision to make this public, to go after John McCain and Paul Ryan today?

PIERSON: Well, I don't know what the question is even about. Every time Mr. Trump speaks, he is going after or attacking someone. And I have yet to see the attacks.

He was asked a question whether or not he was going to endorse, and he said, "I'm not ready yet."

Mr. Trump doesn't like endorsing in primaries. He said that early on. And so he has stated now that he's not ready to endorse. There is no attack here.

BLITZER: But this isn't just any Republican. As you know, Katrina, this is the speaker of the House, who endorsed Donald Trump, went to the convention, even though he had some reservations. He was there. He said he is going to vote for Donald Trump, work for Donald Trump, support Donald Trump.

Yet Donald Trump says he is not quite ready to do the same as far as Paul Ryan is concerned exactly one week before his primary.

PIERSON: Well, look, Paul Ryan's role as speaker is to chair the convention. So he's doing his job.

And Mr. Trump appreciated Paul Ryan doing what he did at the convention. But, at the same time, it is still a primary and Donald Trump simply stated he is not ready to endorse. Again, that's not an attack.

BLITZER: Why is he tweeting nice things about Paul Ryan's challenger for the Republican nomination?

PIERSON: Well, Paul Ryan's challenger has said nice things about Donald Trump. And, as you know, Donald Trump returns the favor.

There is really nothing to see here, other than what's making the headlines in the media is some orchestrated attack that never occurred.

BLITZER: But what happened to Donald Trump trying to unite the Republican Party? This is now two weeks after the convention.

PIERSON: We're still talking about uniting the Republican Party, but we have yet to hear about the disarray at the DNC with Debbie Wasserman Schultz leaving her post and now staffers are fleeing.

But I haven't seen that in the headlines today. Donald Trump is still committed to uniting the party going into November. The party is united. You have individuals who have different policy positions, like the congressman just mentioned in your package, who actually supports Hillary Clinton's policies.

So he is supporting Hillary, not against Trump.

BLITZER: What's going on in the DNC has been in our headlines. We have been reporting extensively on it over the past few hours.

PIERSON: Not 24/7.

BLITZER: Including on this program.

Well, what's happening in the DNC is an important story. But when the Republican nominee is saying what he's saying about John McCain, Paul Ryan, Kelly Ayotte, the Republican senator from New Hampshire who is up for reelection as well, you have got to admit that's pretty extraordinary.

PIERSON: Wolf, he said we need strong leaders. That's not an attack. He says we need strong leaders.


BLITZER: He is suggesting Kelly Ayotte is not a strong leader. What does that say to New Hampshire voters?

PIERSON: He is saying that we need strong leaders, number one. Number two, he is saying he is not ready to endorse.

And, number three, he said early on that he didn't want to endorse in primaries.

BLITZER: But, as you remember, he went to the House. He asked for Speaker Ryan's support. He was there. He seems to be mocking Speaker Ryan today when he is saying, "I'm not quite there yet."

Those were the words that Paul Ryan used when Jake Tapper was questioning him about whether or not he would endorse Donald Trump. You remember that.

PIERSON: Oh, absolutely.

And Mr. Trump is simply not ready to endorse Paul Ryan. Again, this is something he said early on. He didn't want to endorse in primaries. This is a primary. Paul Ryan did not endorse Trump until after the fact in the primary situation. So, there is nothing really here, other than this talking point to orchestrate some attack that never occurred.

BLITZER: The timing of all this is suspicious. Let me tell you why, Katrina, because Donald Trump's comments today to "The Washington Post" about Speaker Ryan, about Senator McCain, about Senator Kelly Ayotte, they come a day or so after they were very tough on him as far as this whole battle that has been going on between Khan family and Donald Trump.

[18:20:10] You understand why the timing is suspicious? He seems to be

retaliating against them because they made those tough statements. Is that what's going on?

PIERSON: Well, if he was asked the questions tomorrow, it would be tomorrow. If he was asked those questions a week ago, they would have been the same.

We're talking about questions that Mr. Trump responded to. This isn't something that he just decided to go out there and say. This was during an interview process. Like many things that occurred through this election cycle, Mr. Trump simply answers a question and the media headlines is he's lodging an attack against someone, when he is simply responding.

BLITZER: It was an interview. But he didn't to have say what he said in an interview. He could have said something else. He didn't necessarily have to say, "I'm not quite this yet." He didn't have to go after Senator McCain for supposedly not doing enough for the vets.

PIERSON: You know what? You are right. Wolf, you're right. He could be like your typical establishment politician, look you in the face, smile, and lie.

But that's not Donald Trump. He is being real. He wants to tell you the truth. And he just told how he felt when he was asked the question. This was not an attack. He has already said he didn't want to get involved in primaries and now here we are coming up on Paul Ryan's primary. He was asked about it. He simply answered the question. "I'm not ready to endorse."

BLITZER: How is Senator McCain not supporting the vets? As you know, he himself is a veteran. He spent six years in a POW camp during the Vietnam War.

PIERSON: Well, I think you would have to look at the fallout in the VA, something that Hillary Clinton ignores and says doesn't even exist.

When you have had 300,000 vets die waiting for care, that's a problem. And that is very disturbing to Mr. Trump, as we see them all the time at the rallies with their families coming in and telling those stories.

And for someone like Senator McCain to have been in office long enough to have changed that, that is a cause for concern and that's probably why he's struggling in his primary today.

BLITZER: If Donald Trump doesn't endorse the speaker, they both win in November, how will they work together after he is president of the United States?

PIERSON: Well, you would hope that any elected official based upon the election would understand that the policies that Donald Trump has been putting out, considering he would have defied all odds, not just of the primary, but in a general election as well, and they would work to represent their people.

That is what this government is about. We are a republic, not a democracy. And sometimes people forget that.

BLITZER: All right, Katrina, we have more questions. If you can, I want to you stand by.

We will take a quick break.


BLITZER: Much more with the national spokeswoman for the Donald Trump campaign right after this.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Donald Trump has just told "The Washington Post" he's not backing the House speaker, Paul Ryan, or Arizona Senator John McCain in their upcoming primaries.

It's an extraordinary sign of the turmoil and the division that is rocking the Republican Party right now.

We're back with the Trump campaign national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, among other things, the president, President Obama, today called Donald Trump unfit to serve as president. He said Trump's comments on the Khan family have proved that.

So, what is Donald Trump doing right now to try to reassure his critics, including those within his own party, that he is in fact fit to be president?

PIERSON: Well, first, let me just say that Donald Trump not involving himself in primaries doesn't mean that there is turmoil in the Republican Party. These are primaries, after all.

And secondly, with regard to the president, this is strange coming from a man in 2008 who could potentially be named one of the most unqualified people to ever run for president. He had never run anything his entire life and never created a single job.

And it really showed throughout his tenure as president. They have killed millions of jobs under Obamacare and just rushed this bill down everyone's throats. The economy today is $2.2 trillion below average, Wolf. And he single-handedly destabilized the Middle East and with Hillary Clinton unleashed global terrorism. So, this was classical projection on the president's part.

BLITZER: Well, we can discuss those other issues. I'm sure a lot of people would totally disagree with you, Katrina.

But let me get to something else that is sensitive. PIERSON: I'm sure.

BLITZER: Eric Trump this morning, the son of Donald Trump, he said that Mr. Trump has apologized to the Khan family.

Has Mr. Trump called the Khan family and apologized? Has that happened?

PIERSON: I think you should rerun the tape, because what Eric Trump says is, I think he has apologized by honoring the soldier. He commended them. He didn't say it was an outright apology. He said, I think he has apologized by honoring the family.

That's a big difference than what the media has been reporting all day.

BLITZER: So, he has apologized? Is that what you're saying, he has apologized to that family?


PIERSON: By honoring the family, by honoring the service of the son. That's what Eric Trump says.

BLITZER: Has he said something along the lines, I'm sorry about all of this, I regret what I said, I apologize to the family?

Has he said any of those things?

PIERSON: He has honored the service of the son. And that's what Eric Trump was speaking about.

BLITZER: But he hasn't apologized to the mother or the father of that fallen U.S. soldier?

PIERSON: And just out of curiosity, what is -- but, just out of curiosity, what exactly is Mr. Trump supposed to be apologizing for, just so that I'm clear?

BLITZER: Well, he raised questions about the mother, for example, why she didn't speak. This was a woman who was grieving for her son, and he was raising all sorts of questions about why she didn't speak alongside her husband at the Democratic Convention.

Was that appropriate?

[18:30:09] PIERSON: Well, if you -- if you watch that interview, though, Wolf, it came up because of the reports that he was discussing that had come out about Mr. Khan having this fee for service of bringing in Muslims and writing law -- or law briefs for Sharia law. How is that a farfetched assumption?

BLITZER: Wasn't he disrespectful, though, to that Gold Star family?

PIERSON: Disrespectful by defending himself? He didn't say anything about the son. In fact, he honored his service. The only thing he said, Wolf, is basically, "This man knows nothing about me. Why is he criticizing me?" How is that an attack?

BLITZER: Well, most people would have just said, "You know what? This family has lost a son, a hero fought on the battle, prevented some of his fellow soldiers from dying by going into that suicide -- that car bombing, if you will. I'm not going to get into a discussion back and forth. I praise this family. I praise the son" and move on. He didn't have to go back and forth and respond to all of the...

PIERSON: But surely -- but surely you can understand. But surely you can understand the confusion, considering how Donald Trump never voted for the Iraq War. Hillary Clinton did. And then she didn't support the troops to have what they need. It was under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that changed the rules of engagement that probably cost his life.

So I don't understand why it's so hard to understand why Donald Trump was confused about why he was being held responsible for something he had nothing to do with while Hillary Clinton had everything to do with.

BLITZER: Katrina Pierson, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

PIERSON: Great to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have more on the breaking news coming up, including reaction of Donald Trump's refusal to back Paul Ryan and John McCain in their primaries.

Plus, the prominent Republican who now says she will vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the breaking news we're following: a new Donald Trump bombshell rocking the Republican Party. Trump just told "The Washington Post" he's not backing the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, or Senator John McCain in their upcoming primaries.

Joining us now, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he's back; along with our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel; and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.

Dana, this is really a pretty jaw-dropping development right now. I don't remember anything like this happening. This is supposed to be a time when he's trying to unite the Republican Party, but that clearly is not happening.

BASH: No. And, you know, the obvious question is what's his strategy here? And I've been texting and e-mailing with a lot of senior Republicans, and the answer was, almost to a person, there doesn't seem to be one, that this is personal. That Paul Ryan not only took months and months to endorse Donald Trump, even when it became pretty obvious he was going to be the nominee. And then when he was the presumptive nominee. But more importantly in the past couple of days, issued a very strong

stadium condemning the fact that -- that Trump challenged the Gold Star parents who spoke at the DNC.

You know, one thing that Katrina Pierson just said to you that I actually thought, well, maybe that's a good point, is that, you know, there are times when leaders in the Republican Party don't endorse when it's a Republican primary.

And I put that to a top Republican who said, OK, but this is the speaker of the House, who introduced and nominated Donald Trump's vice president at the convention. This is like a whole different thing.

And so this is incredibly unusual, given the contexts of where we are. And a lot of Republicans are not happy about the fact that once again, we are discussing intra-Republican warfare instead of Hillary Clinton's issues, about the economy that is sluggish, about the issues with jobs, things that they think are things that Trump should be talking about.

BLITZER: And Paul Ryan's primary is a week from today, next Tuesday. John McCain's primary is at the end of the month, and all of a sudden, Donald Trump is raising questions about Senator McCain's help for veterans over the years. It's -- it comes at a time after he's had this feud with the Khan family.

Wouldn't you think that he would want to unite with Senator McCain at this sensitive moment and send that message to veterans that they're all on the same page?

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And Donald Trump has tried to carefully cultivate this relationship with veterans groups. Remember, it was not that long ago where Donald Trump had that event at Trump Tower where he rolled out all these veterans groups to talk about all the money that's been donated to these organizations.

And to get into another fight with John McCain just seems to be something that would just infuriate his campaign staff inside Trump Tower.

I talked to a couple of Donald Trump supporters, key Donald Trump supporters who go out on the airwaves and speak on his behalf from time to time, who just said privately, "We just wish he would apologize to the Khan family. We don't know why he hasn't apologized to the Khan family."

And as for this fight with Paul Ryan, I talked to one supporter who said it feels like he's playing games with the speaker of the House. So he has people inside his own camp scratching their heads tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Jamie, the development, all these developments come as the fracture between Trump and other high-profile Republicans continues to deepen. Just today, Congressman Richard Hanna of New York said he would be voting for Hillary Clinton. I understand you have some brand-new reporting on yet another prominent Republican who's backing away from Donald Trump.

[18:40:10] JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: This is not a good week for Donald Trump, Wolf. What we reported today is exclusively to CNN that a longtime Republican, Maria Comella, came out today in support of Hillary Clinton.

Now why is Maria Comella so important? She is one of the top advisors and strategists since 2009 for none other than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who of course, has endorsed Trump.

So the fact that she is breaking with her former boss so vocally is a big deal, especially following on the heels of Sally Bradshaw, longtime adviser to Jeb Bush.

And just to quote what Maria said, she said -- we asked her why and she said, quote, "I think that it's a culmination of watching Donald Trump purposely play to our worst instincts and fanning those flames. If those of us who believe that Donald Trump shouldn't be president don't say anything, we're just part of the same problem."

So you're seeing one very influential, very respected top Republican after another -- Sally Bradshaw yesterday, Maria Comella today -- announcing that they are not going -- not only not going to support Trump but vote for Hillary Clinton.

And I think the question now, Wolf, is that you know, a lot of Republicans have been seeing sitting on the side lines saying, "What are we going to do?" Is there going to be a more public tidal wave now of both elected and unelected people in the party, who are going to come out and very strongly -- neither of these women -- they were both very tough. They didn't mince words, say Republicans can't just stand by. They both said, "Donald Trump can't be president. You have to go out and vote" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David, is it almost unprecedented to see so many high- profile Republicans not only say they're not going to endorse their candidate, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, but actually say they're going to vote for the other party, the Democratic nominee.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, I don't know if it's unprecedented, but I think it is unprecedented, in a sense, the way it's rolling out.

Yesterday I believe Bradshaw was quoted as saying Trump was a narcissist, a misogynist and a racist. Those are strong words coming from a fellow Republican, even one who doesn't want to nominate.

After CNN reported that Maria Comella was not going to support Trump, I talked to a former Chris Christie staffer who knows Comella well. And he basically said, look, she's well-respected by everybody in the Republican Party. This is a signal to people that there could be more to come.

I feel like this is a little reminiscent of Goldwater versus Rockefeller, '64, except that that seemed to be over ideology, and I feel like this is a lot, like Dana said, personal within the party. BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by. We're going to take a quick

break. Much more on the breaking news right after this.


[18:47:56] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

I quickly want to fact check one thing that the Trump national spokesperson Katrina Pierson just said a few minutes ago right here in THE SITUATION ROOM when I asked her about whether Trump should apologize to the Khan family she said that it was, quote, "Under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that change the rules of engagement that probably cost the life of Army Captain Khan."

Just to clarify that Captain Khan died in service in Iraq in 2004, five years before President Obama took office. President Bush was then president of the United States. I just want to fact check that as well.

Let's get back to our conversation with our political panel.

Jim Acosta, just talk a little bit about something else that the president of the United States said today. He made it clear he strongly supports the Trans Pacific Partnership, this massive trade deal with many countries of Asia. And he pointed out that after the election, he's going to work hard to make sure it gets passed -- even though Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, opposes it. The vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, now says he opposes it. Earlier, both of them support it.

Pretty unusual for the president to be that blunt.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It does reveal a split between President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and if you hear Donald Trump out on the campaign trail, this is one of his bread and butter issues, trade. And he likes to go after Hillary Clinton on TPP, and lately, he's been saying that, well, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, she's just going to change one comma in that agreement and then it get passed and claimed that she changed something in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But if you talk to people inside the White House, talk to people in Democratic circles, there is an understanding that Hillary Clinton has taken this position largely for political reasons. But it is something that Donald Trump will continue to exploit. When he talks about trade on that campaign trail, almost more than anything else, that's when the thunderous applause comes in.

It is one of the things that I think Republicans did not really appreciate during the primary process. There's just -- inside the Republican Party, there is a deep discussion of these trade deals.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that is what Donald Trump should be talking about over and over again.

[18:50:00] What President Obama said about TPP today, because it is such a positive for him on the campaign trail and someplace where he has the opening at least to lure some of those -- maybe some of those Bernie Sanders Democratic voters or more importantly, some -- more of the working class voters who just kind of by their DNA, have always voted Democratic and don't like this idea of the trade deal.

That would -- President Obama said is what he feels and obviously he was at a press conference with a leader from Asia, so he had no choice, but to say that, but it certainly did not help with voters who were very upset about this deal.

BLITZER: A lot of Bernie Sanders supporters who don't trust Hillary Clinton to begin with on this issue of trade. They're going to hear what the president said when the dust settles after the election and I'm going to push this through. They're going to be upset about that.

SWERDLICK: Yes, I mean, it's striking that you have the Republican and Democratic candidates for president against TPP, and you have the Democratic president, the Republican speaker of the House for it, Wolf.

BASH: And work together on it.


I think that the challenge for Clinton that's going to come in if she wins the election and if she feels like she has to flip-flop is that you'd take another example like President Obama flip-flopping on same- sex marriage, you flip-flopped back to where his base wanted it to be and she would wind up going in the opposite direction.

BLITZER: Three top officials, Dana, the Democratic National Committee out under Donna Brazile, the new acting chair. This is a very disturbing development if you're a Democrat.

BASH: It is, but it's more of a fall-out with what happened with the e-mails with the WikiLeaks and everything that was put out there. These are people that are lifelong Democrats and many of them were not connected to Debbie Wasserman Schultz in particular, but they are people who clearly saw the writing on the wall and it was not a place that they could say based on the embarrassing e-mails out there.

BLITZER: It's a breaking political news today. Thanks very much.

ACOSTA: Hard to keep up.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Donald Trump's plan, to defeat ISIS.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They're going to pay nothing. If we could get Russia to help us get rid of ISIS, if we could actually be friendly with Russia, wouldn't that be a good thing?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:56:38] BLITZER: Disturbing new images from Syria suggest the regime of President Bashar al Assad may have launched another chemical gas attack possibly in retaliation for the downing of a Russian helicopter.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.

Elise, you are learning more information?


Tonight, a senior U.S. official tells me the administration is growing confident that a chemical attack, likely chlorine, took place near Aleppo. Now, the Russians are blaming the opposition, but the official said the claim is not critical because the opposition does not have air power and the attack took place from the sky. And it's all raising a lot of questions tonight about whether Moscow can be trusted.


TRUMP: If we could get Russia to help us get rid of is, if we could actually be friendly with Russia, wouldn't that be a good thing?

LABOTT (voice-over): Donald Trump's solution to defeating ISIS in Syria hinges on warmer ties with Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin. But on the ground, Russian air strikes are helping regime forces tighten their grip on Aleppo and today U.S. officials are investigating claims of a poisonous gas attack on U.S.-backed rebels. Chilling video footage shows men gasping for breath.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: If it's true, it would be extremely serious.

LABOTT: Russia denies any involvement, but the gas attack was eerily close to the downing of a nearby Russian military helicopter hours earlier. Rebel forces cheering around the flaming wreckage of a chopper which Russia says was delivering humanitarian aid.

This weekend, Russian airstrikes a third hospital in Aleppo, and with more than 6,000 dead or injured in the last few months and another 300,000 trapped without aid, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is critical, obviously, that Russia restrain both itself and the Assad regime from conducting offensive operations. Nobody's going to sit around and allow this pretense to continue.

LABOTT: Hillary Clinton has backed President Obama's plan to fight ISIS in Syria with air strikes and aid from moderate rebels, but allegations and Russian intelligence hacked Democratic Party computers and meddled in the U.S. election are fueling fresh concerns that Moscow cannot be trusted and could derail a controversial deal in the works for the U.S. and Russia to share intelligence on ISIS and other terrorists in down strikes against opposition targets. President Obama says his eyes are open, but the alleged hacking isn't

his first concern.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If, in fact, Russia engaged in this activity, it's just one on a long list of issues that me and Mr. Putin talked about, that I've got a real problem with. That's not going to stop us from trying to make sure that we can bring a political transition inside of Syria that can end the hardship there.


LABOTT: And growing concern tonight that a Russian offer to let residents of Aleppo leave the city is just a ruse to attack the rebels as they flee. Growing concerns tonight, Wolf, that Moscow's promises across the board are not really anything that the U.S. can count on.

BLITZER: Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.