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ISIS Threat; Hillary's Bounce; Republican Civil War; New Assessment: ISIS Expanding Its Reach; American Stabbing Victim was Wife of College Professor. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is the Republican civil war about to get uglier?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just minutes ago, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate, pointedly declining to endorse two incumbent Republican senators up for reelection, one of them the party's presidential nominee in 2008. Just the heck what is going on?

Battleground bounce, and a big one, at that. Hillary Clinton now clubbing Donald Trump in three states he said he would win on the way to the White House, and one poll suggests that Trump's feud with that Gold Star family has many voters scowling.

And we knew ISIS was big, but now a new assessment shows just how big the terrorist group truly is. In minutes, President Obama will address how tough this battle to eliminate ISIS may truly be. We will carry that live.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are just minutes away from President Obama holding his final news conference, taking questions from reporters before heading on vacation on Saturday. Today's remarks coming not from the White House, but rather from the Pentagon, where the commander in chief is about to wrap a meeting with his national security team to get the latest on the war against ISIS.

The president is expected to discuss the terrorist threat and field questions on any number of subjects in the next few minutes. We will bring that to you live when he approaches that podium.

But, until then, some breaking news from the front lines of what increasingly looks as though it's a Republican civil war. In North Carolina today, Trump's running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, was asked about Arizona Senator John McCain and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, both of them Republicans, both of them facing primary challenges in the coming days, and if they win the primaries tough contests against Democrats in November.

Now, earlier this week, Trump criticized both McCain and Ayotte, igniting all sorts of questions about the disunity of the GOP. Pence until now, however, has been playing good cop, endorsing Speaker Ryan after Trump refrained from doing so earlier this week.

But, today, Governor Pence was asked if he would endorse McCain or Ayotte. And he said the following:


GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I look forward to supporting Republican candidates in the days and weeks ahead all over the country. And so does Donald Trump. Look, the stakes of this election are so high. To restore our country at home and abroad, we need new leadership.



TAPPER: So, you hear there no endorsement for McCain, no endorsement for Ayotte, and a call for new leadership.

Now, that could have been a reference to Pence and Trump, I suppose, but the greater context of Pence's remarks was that he and Trump are the same page, which they frankly have not always seem to have been on in the last few days, whether we're discussing the endorsement of Speaker Ryan or the attitude towards the Gold Star Khan family.

CNN's Jason Carroll is traveling with the Trump campaign in Portland, Maine, right now.

Jason, these comments from Governor Pence, they're really quite surprising. Leaders of these parties tend to endorse and support incumbents in their parties. And even though McCain and Ayotte have criticized Trump, they are still supporting him.


Look, this has been an unusual campaign from the beginning, today another unusual chapter in how this is going. Donald Trump on the stage right now. He was already talking about Pence's background, but, as you say, very clear at this point going forward Pence not offering an endorsement for Ayotte, not offering these endorsements going forward, as you heard there, basically saying the country needs to be moving in a new direction with new leadership.

For Trump's part, he is staying so far on message, attacking Hillary Clinton for that $400 million payment that went to Iran.


CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump is looking to steady his campaign after several rocky days.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our campaign is doing so nicely. We are running -- we have some of the finest people in our campaign. CARROLL: The GOP nominee is trying to reassure voters and Republican

leaders wary of his recent series of missteps that his campaign is moving in the right direction.

TRUMP: I love seeing these crowds of people pour in.

CARROLL: Helping him make the case, a big July fund-raising haul.

TRUMP: It was $80 million or $82 million. We're raising a lot of money for the Republican Party, but small contributions -- I think it was $61 each.

CARROLL: But Trump's rhetoric catching up with his running mate on the trail, with Mike Pence today being challenged by an 11-year-old boy on whether his role is to tone down Trump's words and policies.


PENCE: Sometimes, things don't come out like you mean, right? And Donald Trump and I are absolutely determined to work together. We have differences styles. Differences in style, Matthew, should never be confused with differences in conviction.

CARROLL: Pence and Trump do have a split when it comes to support for House Speaker Paul Ryan, with Pence endorsing Paul Ryan Wednesday, a day after Trump said he wasn't ready to do so.

Ryan today shrugged off Trump's nonendorsement.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The only endorsements that I want are those of my own employers here in 1st Congressional District.

CARROLL: Ryan also opening the door of potentially not backing Trump in the future.

RYAN: None of these things are ever blank checks. That goes with any situation in any kind of race.

CARROLL: Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said his candidate would eventually come around.

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: He does support Paul Ryan. He said he is going to work with Paul Ryan.

CARROLL: There was also new evidence of frustration with Trump's candidacy among Republicans. Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, who is facing a tough reelection, released a TV ad vowing to take on Trump.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: So, if Donald Trump is the president, I will stand up to him.

CARROLL: A friend round of poll numbers today show Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in three key states, up nine points in Michigan, 13 points in Pennsylvania, and 15 points in New Hampshire, where that deficit could also spell trouble for Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte's reelection bid.

But Manafort says the dip is no surprise.

MANAFORT: We had a bounce. We knew that the Democrats would have a bounce.


CARROLL: Again, Trump at this rally here hitting on a number of topics, illegal immigration, law enforcement, but one to main topics he talked about once again, Jake, was that $400 million payment to Iran. Looks like that is going to be something that they're going to be continuing with throughout the duration of the campaign -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jason, on that $400 million to Iran, my understanding is that Mr. Trump just repeated something about that $400 million, a claim he has made, he made yesterday, that his campaign has already acknowledged is not accurate.

CARROLL: Well, look, he made the claim yesterday again in Daytona Beach. He made the claim again here, basically saying, Jake, that he saw this video apparently showing that he says shows this exchange of money that was made to officials in Iran.

Let me have you hear it in his own words, what he said just a short while ago.


TRUMP: A tape was made. Right? You saw that with the airplane coming in. Nice plane. And the airplane coming in. And the money coming off, I guess. Right? That was given to us, has to be, by the Iranians. You know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country. They want to embarrass our country.

And they want to embarrass our president.


CARROLL: So, a couple points to clarify there, Jake.

First of all, Hillary Clinton was not in a position at that point when this alleged tape was made, and that tape that he's talking about is a tape that actually refers to a video that came out of Geneva, not Iran.

And it does not show an exchange of money. So, perhaps he saw something on another network and mistakenly has applied it to this Iran sort of exchange of money. We have reached out to the campaign to try to get some sort of clarification in terms of why he keeps repeating this false narrative. We have yet to hear back from the campaign on that issue -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. His campaign has told other media outlets that he is referring to having seen the prisoners get off the plane in Geneva, not money being delivered to Iran. Very odd. Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Let's turn to the Democrats right now.

Right now, Hillary Clinton is holding a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is there with the campaign.

And, Joe, we're 96 days away from the election, but these battleground poll numbers are good for her campaign. I cannot imagine, however, that the campaign doesn't think things are going to get a lot closer.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that is absolutely right, Jake.

And when you look at the polls, these are professionals. They know polls go up, polls go down, just as they did with Hillary Clinton after the FBI director went after her on the issue of her e-mails.

They also know if you look historically over the years, the convention bounces many times have not worked out very well for Democrats, if you look at Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis. All of them came out of the convention with a bounce and ended up losing in November.

They're not saying a whole lot about the convention bounce, as it were, right now, but at the moment, the polls look good and Hillary Clinton continues to push forward, Jake.


TAPPER: Joe, we have just talked about a false claim that Donald Trump reported.

Hillary Clinton did an interview with a local Colorado TV reporter, KUSA, and she repeated this patently false claim that has been debunked by numerous fact-checkers, her claim that the director of the FBI testified that her public comments about her e-mail server were accurate.

She told a Colorado TV station -- "As the FBI said, everything that I have said publicly has been consistent and truthful with what I have told them" -- unquote.

Joe, that is not true. She got four Pinocchios from "The Washington Post" for that when she said it. Why repeat it?

JOHNS: Right.

Well, the interesting thing about this is, her initial statements on it, people said they were parsing, overlegalistic, cherry-picking, if you will.

But what she initially hung her hat on was the fact that that the FBI director said her comments to the FBI did not indicate there were any lies. If she had lied, of course, she could have been charged with obstruction of justice. But he said that didn't happen.

What Republicans have been pushing very hard, and what we all know by now is that Hillary Clinton's public statements have contradicted many things the FBI director said and found in the investigation. It is a real problem for her, and it is one of the reasons why polls suggests voters don't believe her when it comes to honesty and truthfulness. That's one of the big problems for Hillary Clinton in this campaign.

TAPPER: Those poor fact-checkers are going to run out of Pinocchios before this election is over.

Joe Johns, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

We're also awaiting a presidential press conference. President Obama expected to speak any minute about the war on ISIS.

Let's go right to CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She's at the Pentagon waiting for Mr. Obama, President Obama, to come out of this meeting.

Michelle, Secretary of State John Kerry told me a few weeks ago that ISIS was on the run. It's a comment that caused even some Democrats to wince. What are we expected to hear from the president today when it comes to the subject of ISIS?


We heard John Kerry and other U.S. officials push back pretty hard too on any suggestion that the recent ISIS-directed or -inspired attacks that we have seen would be an indication of anything else, even though we have heard intelligence officials say that ISIS is not necessarily desperate, that they're adapting, and even though we know there is worry within the United States.

As Americans have seen attack after attack, not only overseas, but within the United States, look at Orlando, recent polling shows that about 60 percent of Americans don't approve of how President Obama has been handling ISIS, and more than half don't approve of how he has been handling terrorism.

So, by holding this press conference today unusually at the Pentagon, that is an opportunity for them to tout the successes that they have had, the loss of ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria. That is something we hear from them over and over again.

To give an update, but also we expect, possibly, an announcement of some intensification. Maybe something like what we have seen only recently with U.S. airstrikes in Libya. We don't expect this to be a major change in strategy, but again the fact that ISIS has necessitated a change, and airstrikes in Libya, it just shows you that they too have caused the U.S. to have do some adapting, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the Pentagon, thank you.

In minutes, President Obama will step out onto the podium. He will brief the country, talk to reporters. Right now, he is being briefed by his top national security officials about ISIS and other terrorist threats, as a new assessment finds that ISIS is not shrinking, it's not on the run.

That's ahead.


[16:17:36] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In any moment now, we are about to hear from President Obama who will update the nation about the ongoing battle against ISIS. He will also take questions from reporters. This a couple of months, shortly after the Orlando terrorist attack, the president painted a rather rosy picture, insisting, quote, "significant progress" was made to destroy ISIS. Just last month, Secretary of State John Kerry told me ISIS in Syria and Iraq was losing ground. He said that the terrorist group is, quote, "on the run".

But we are learning that ISIS may be expanding its reach around the globe.

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, ISIS might be losing ground in its home base in Iraq and Syria, but it seems to be branching out elsewhere.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just a few days ago, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, he told us that a loss of territory does not necessarily mean a loss of capability. And we're seeing that playing out right now.

Let's have a look. The areas that we normally think of as the ISIS stronghold, Syria and Iraq where it's declared its caliphate, it has lost territory, about 40 percent. It's lost an enormous amount of territory in Libya which has been sort of a fall-back point.

But as that happens, those losses on the battlefield, we've seen them expand around the globe. Now, as you look around here, some of these are countries where ISIS has actual affiliates like here in Yemen, for instance, or here in Nigeria. But in other places, it's places where either people have carried out attacks in the name of ISIS, or they're aspiring to join ISIS as a formal member.

This is the challenge that the U.S. is facing right now as it expands its military action beyond Syria and Iraq and into Libya.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The ISIS flag flying over Libya. The terror group's Libyan bases are now targets in the U.S.-led air campaign. As U.S. warplanes carry out the first strikes in a new front against the terror group, existing forces on the ground at the request of the government. PETER COOK, PENTAGON RESS SECRETARY: We have seen their numbers reduced in Libya, and we think that this precision air strike capability, this unique capability that we can provide to their ongoing efforts can make a different in this campaign.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. is expanding its anti-ISIS campaign, as it makes progress on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. officials say they have now lost 40 percent of its territory in areas it claims as its caliphate and more than 26,000 fighters all since the campaign began.

[16:20:02] U.S. airstrikes against oil facilities and cash depots have also reduced ISIS funding by half. Still, the group holds Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, a major stronghold and a planned offensive to retake the city has been delayed repeatedly.

COL. CHRISTOPHER GARVER, ANTI-ISIS COALITION SPOKESMAN: Clearly, all eyes are kind of focused on Mosul right now. So, not only would it be a significant physical loss, but the loss of prestige is going to take a big hit when Mosul does fall.

SCIUTTO: However, as ISIS loses ground on the battlefield, it is spreading its influence and terror capability virtually across the globe. Despite the Obama administration's posture that ISIS is shrinking. ISIS is now present in some 17 countries from the core bases in Iraq, Syria, and Libya to 14 other nation where it either has its affiliates or it has been able to inspire or direct terror attacks.

And it is extending it's reign of terror to the West as well, inspiring and directing attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and Denmark. And in the U.S. from San Bernardino, California, to Garland, Texas to Orlando, Florida.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What is happening here is a typical terrorist group's response to efforts against them. The difference with ISIS is that they're very nimble, they're very quick, and they're able to move on terrorist impulses much more quickly than past groups have been able to.


SCIUTTO: I spoke just a couple of days ago with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. I asked him about ISIS, and he said that yes, that while they are losing ground on the battlefield, they describe them, Jake, as adaptive, innovative and resilient. And that's his concern, if they get pushed back in one place, they show up somewhere else. He's particularly concerned about their gains in Africa.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

London is on edge today after a knife wielding teenager attacked innocent civilians in a public square, killing one American woman and wounding five others. The U.K. had just increased its security presence across the country because of ISIS attacks in other parts of Europe. Authorities initially suspected that this might be a terrorist attack, but they since backed away from that.

Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir.

Nima, we're now learning more about the American victim. What can you tell us?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are, Jake. We actually just came back from the scene where people have been laying flowers at the site of where she was killed throughout the day. This was 64-year-old Darlene Horton, who was accompanying her husband, a Florida State University professor, here during n the London summer study program at the London University.

Heartbreakingly, we understand that her and her husband were due back home to Tallahassee today. Witnesses of the scene say that her husband was there alongside her. An American man was identified as having been amongst the injured, but we don't yet have any clarity whether that was her husband.

This, of course, as you said comes against a backdrop really of a rise intentions. London has held off from bringing out that armed presence on its street that we've seen at so many -- on so many other European capital cities. But w saw that in the response time yesterday. London is ready for anything, and they were on that scene in five minutes, Jake.

TAPPER: Nima Elbagir, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The president is about to speak and take questions. We'll have that live as soon as it starts. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[16:27:49] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

You're looking at live pictures at the Pentagon. We're expecting President Obama to come to that lectern any minute and take questions.

Until he does, let's talk with our political panel. I'm joined by Donald Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former presidential adviser to four presidents, David Gergen, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, and former communications director to Marco Rubio, Alex Conant.

Mr. Gergen, let me start with you.


TAPPER: Following Mr. Trump's lead today, his running mate Mike Pence declined to endorse two Republican senators who have tough reelection fights, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and John McCain in Arizona. It seems unprecedented to me, but you tell me, is it? GERGEN: You know, Jake, the Republicans spent a whole convention

trying to achieve, you know, they proclaim unity at the end. And now, this is at the top of the ticket, we have this display of disunity. And it's remarkable. I don't remember this ever.

And what particularly striking is they wouldn't unite behind two sittings Republican Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire when they so desperately need the Senate, they want to hold on to the Senate, why would they not line up behind their own incumbents, the oddest of all odd years.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, Sarah, why? Why not support these two? I mean, Arizona and North Carolina happen to be battleground states.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DONALD TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: Look, right now, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have a singular focus, electoral focus in defeating Hillary Clinton. They certainly are going to support Republican nominees up and down the ticket. Trump spent a lot of time over the last several months raising a ton of money for the Republican Party. And that will help people up and down the ticket not just the presidential part of the ticket.

And so, to act like they're not helping bring people into the fold or not supporting Republicans is not the case. And that's certainly what they're doing.

TAPPER: Alex, I want to ask you about some of these new poll numbers. Fox News has a new poll in which Hillary Clinton led significantly nationwide. But something even more interesting than that, because those numbers are obviously, you know, they're going to close I think and it's going to be a much tighter race than that. But they asked voters about Mr. Trump's feud with the Khan family, the Muslim- American Gold Star family whose son, U.S. Army Captain Khan was killed in Iraq.