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50 GOP National Security Experts: Trump is 'Dangerous'; Trump Details Economic Plan; Jeb Bush's Son Backing Trump; Clinton Hits Back at Trump's Job and Tax Plans; Trump Adviser Praises Putin, Criticized U.S. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 8, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. At risk. Fifty national security officials, all Republicans, signed a blistering letter saying Donald Trump would be a dangerous president, would put America at risk. They say he lacks the necessary character, values, experience and temperament, along with a basic knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and would be, quote, "the most reckless president in U.S. history."

Pushing the reset button. Sinking in the polls, Trump unveils his economic plan, saying his tax breaks and a freeze of federal regulations will make America grow again. Can that put him back in the lead again?

And breaking with the family. Neither of the former presidents named Bush are supporting Trump. Nor is former presidential candidate Jeb Bush. But Jeb's son is backing Trump, despite the insults Trump hurled at his father on the campaign trail.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news: 50 Republican, all of them former top national security officials, have written a scathing letter, saying Donald Trump would be a dangerous president and would put America's well-being at risk.

They say he lacks the character, values and experience to be president; appears to lack basic knowledge of and belief in the U.S. Constitution; and has shown an alarming ignorance of international politics. The former officials say Trump would be the most reckless U.S. president ever, and they say they will not vote for him.

That letter comes just as Trump tries to hit the reset button on a campaign plagued by some blunders, most of them his own making. Trump stayed on message today with the speech unveiling his economic plan, with a collection of tax rates, a freeze on regulations, and renegotiated trade deals. Trump says his plan will make America grow again. But even some supporters are questioning how Trump could make the numbers work.

I'll speak with Republican Congressman Chris Collins. He's a Trump supporter. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with breaking news. Even as Donald Trump was trying to lay out his plan to make America prosper again, his campaign works to get back on track, 50 prominent Republicans are threatening to derail him with a stinging letter calling him a danger to the country. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the story for us.

Jim, the timing couldn't be worse for Trump.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Terrible timing, Wolf. Just as Donald Trump was trying to lay out his plan it make America prosper again, his campaign is dealt with one of its biggest challenges yet. From top national security heavyweights here in Washington, who all arguing the GOP nominee fails the commander-in- chief test.


ACOSTA (voice-over): They are former national security officials who've served in Republican administrations, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. And in their letter to the nation, they say none of them will vote for Donald Trump.

From a foreign policy perspective, the former officials write, "Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander-in-chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president, put at risk our country's national security and well-being."

Signing onto the letter, first reported by "The New York Times," former director of the CIA Michael Hayden; former homeland security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge; and the former director of national intelligence, John Negroponte.

Ridge has been blunt about Trump in the past.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: How the hell can he be a commander-in-chief when he says POWs are not heroes, and then you've got the whole Muslim -- every Muslim is a potential terrorist?

ACOSTA: The bombshell letter is hitting Trump's campaign just as it was looking for a reboot: the speech designed to jump-start both the nation's economy and his battle against Hillary Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: She is the candidate of the past. Ours is the campaign of the future.


ACOSTA: Interrupted more than a dozen times by protesters in Detroit--

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you.

ACOSTA: -- Trump showed some message discipline as he kept his cool.

TRUMP: The Bernie Sanders people had far more energy and spirit. ACOSTA: Trump's economic plan puts a populist stamp on a laundry list

of standard GOP proposals. He would put a moratorium on new government regulations; repeal the estate tax; and pull back on global trade by withdrawing from the Transpacific Trade deal and crack down on Chinese trading practices, all while inviting Canada to restart the controversial Keystone Oil Pipeline project.

TRUMP: When I am president, we will start winning again. Big league.

ACOSTA: Trump is also calling for three new income-tax brackets that are actually higher than his original proposal, but one of Trump's top surrogates conceded his plans would blow up the deficit.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Mr. Speaker, his numbers don't add up.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think, historically, no candidate's numbers add up.

ACOSTA: Trump's attempted resurgence comes at a critical time. The "never Trump" movement is introducing a new candidate, Evan McMullin. Far from a household name, he's a congressional staffer and former employee at the CIA and Goldman Sachs. Anti-Trump Republicans just don't want to give their nominee a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you or anyone else get Trump to stop saying crazy and offensive things for the next three months?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes, you know, you hear these rumors and it just -- I guess it makes for good fodder on the Internet.


ACOSTA: Now a senior Trump adviser described this economic speech today as an excellent start to the week, as it defined expectations with some new policy proposals.

Still no reaction, though, to this letter from these national security officials, who say in their letter that they have real doubts about Hillary Clinton. Still, they end this letter by saying they believe Trump would be the most reckless president in U.S. history. Wolf, those are strong words from some very respected people here in Washington.

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. This letter, how damaging could it be, Dana, especially at a time that Donald Trump is clearly trying to reset?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. That he's trying to reset but also the kind of criticism that this letter presents. Not just, "We don't like him." It's he's dangerous, coming from people who have worked alongside presidents on issues of national security, Republican presidents. Wolf, I just got off the phone with one of the officials who signed

the letter, a senior official from a Republican administration who told me that this started with two to three people who signed it. And they just started calling around. This is a community' these people know each either. They've worked together for years.

And this source said to me that what was surprising was how enthusiastic the people who were getting the calls were in the idea of signing the letter and that that grew over the past two weeks, particularly with the reaction to Donald Trump's comments about Russia.

And the other thing that this source said to me was that he and others travel around internationally a lot and how much they hear from other world leaders, former and present, about the concerns that, because he is, in this source's words, reckless, it will cause others around the world, even in especially America's enemies, to be reckless, as well. And that is the genesis.

I mean, you've covered national security for a long time. Have you ever -- and presidential politics. Have you ever seen anything like this?

BLITZER: No. I've never seen a letter like this from members of the nominee's same party.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: National security advisors, former secretaries of homeland security, CIA directors, directors of national intelligence, all of whom worked for Republicans. I've never seen something as scathing as this.

BASH: No. You know, and as Jim just said, we haven't heard from the Trump campaign yet. One would think that they -- one of the things they would talk about is the fact that Donald Trump himself has been very critical of the Bush administration and the foreign policy during those years. Most of these officials -- not all, but most of these officials -- come from the George W. Bush foreign policy world. So there certainly are fundamental differences in world view.

But to have this kind of coordinated, I think fair to say, unprecedented attempt to write down, pen to paper, and show the world these people who, as a source I talked to said, are the closest to presidents at times of national security turmoil, that they don't think that Donald Trump has the temperament to be there. And this source said that it would alarm our allies. Quite stunning.

BLITZER: It is, indeed. All right, Dana, thank you very much.

And joining us now, Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. He was the first member of the U.S. Congress to endorse Donald Trump.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. So Congressman, you've heard about this letter,

now signed by 15 national security experts, many of them former officials -- All of them served in Republican administrations -- - pledging not to vote for Donald Trump. Let me read a couple lines from the letter, and we're going to get your reaction. And I'm quoting now.

"Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander-in-chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country's national security and well-being." The letter goes on to say -- once again I'm quoting -- "Unlike previous presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics."

Question to you, Congressman: are you comfortable ignoring this warning? How serious do you take it?

COLLINS: Well, I don't think this is anything I would take seriously. These are establishment Republicans. These are George Bush-Mitt Romney type Republicans who will not have a role to play in the Trump administration.

I can assure everyone, I do know Donald Trump, and he will put together a cabinet the likes of which America has never seen before. The strongest cabinet, top to bottom, from the secretary of defense to the secretary of homeland security, director of CIA.

[17:10:10] There's no one that should be worrying whatsoever about how a CEO is going to tackle a job. He's not going to micromanage.

But these are just some more disgruntled Republicans. It's disappointing, certainly, to see, but I can tell you the energy behind Donald Trump putting America first, it's almost laughable when you consider the debacles of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The rise of ISIS, the threat of terrorism around the world. The tragic deaths of Benghazi, the infamous red line in Syria and now paying $400 million ransom to the chief sponsor of terrorism, Iran.

It's all but laughable, frankly--


COLLINS: -- the sad way that these 50 individuals look at that track record and put this letter out. But Wolf, it's not going to have an impact on Donald Trump supporters.

BLITZER: Congressman -- as you take a look at names of some of the people who signed this letter: Michael Chernoff, former secretary of homeland security; Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence; Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security. These are major Republican national security figures.

Here's the question: If you don't care about them, who is Donald Trump going to put into these kinds of very sensitive national security positions? Who's there inside his advisory board right now?

COLLINS: Well, I don't know exact names that are going to come out, but I would point to, for instance, the list of Supreme Court judges he did release that certainly, once and for all, put to bed the thought that he wasn't a true conservative.

We've got 94, 95 days left to the election. I'm confident you'll see some of this rolling out. Today is not necessarily the day. But I do know that this cabinet that Donald Trump will put together will be second to none.

BLITZER: But do you know any--

COLLINS: Not going to be any political hanger-ons.

BLITZER: Do you know any potential secretary of defense, potential CIA director, potential secretary of state, potential national security adviser who may be on a short list?

COLLINS: Well, I can tell you this, Wolf: Once Donald Trump is elected and that phone call comes, I don't think very many people could turn down the president of the United States when it comes to filling a position. And he will vet them and make sure they agree that we're going to put America first. We're not going to kowtow down to Russia, North Korea, certainly Iran. We're going to recognize them for the sponsor of terror that they are.

So Donald Trump, no one is going to push Donald Trump around and let's face it, between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, everyone has been ignoring them. Our enemies defy us and actually insulted our allies, people like Great Britain and Israel.

So this is -- you know, I guess you could call it a little tiny bump in the road, but these are more establishment Republicans who are not going to be part of the Trump administration.

And the public, the energy behind Donald Trump, this is something we're going to shrug our soldiers at and point to Hillary Clinton and the mess that she made as secretary of state and wanting to be secretary of the status quo. And the failures, the abject failures of the Obama/Clinton time and where we are today in this country with the ISIS and danger and terror and then, to add insult to injury, $400 million of ransom that Barack Obama paid to Iran, I mean, if we should be concerned, that's something we should all be concerned about.

BLITZER: As you know, the president denies that was ransom. Let's not re-litigate that right now.

Let's talk about these poll numbers from the Trump perspective very, very concerning. He's trailing Secretary Clinton right now by 10 points in our new CNN poll of polls. Clinton at 49 percent. Trump is at 39 percent. She maintains a ten-point lead with even the third- party candidates included.

So looking at these numbers, Congressman, has Trump convinced the American people he's ready to serve? COLLINS: Well, let's start with, Wolf, the polls. Polls cannot

determine who's going to be voting. Energy behind Donald Trump is like no one has ever seen. Pollsters have no way to poll it, so they're using traditional polling methods, which we saw in primaries weren't worth the paper they were written on.

So the election, really, after Labor Day, that's when it really starts. Donald is raising money now. The message about Hillary Clinton's failures.

And let's put it this way. Hillary hasn't yet given America a single reason to vote for her, where Donald Trump has been very clear. He's going to secure borders, bring back our jobs, defeat ISIS, make America great again. He's very clear what he's going to do.

The best Hillary Clinton is saying, "I don't trust Donald Trump will be a good president. I don't know why you should vote for me, but you should vote against Donald Trump." At the end of the day, that's not going to be a good message when two-thirds of America know she's nothing but a pathological liar.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Collins, I need you to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have more questions for you right after this.


BLITZER: We're talking to Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump. But many high-profile Republicans are refusing to back him. Among them, both former presidents named Bush and former presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

Even though Jeb Bush was routinely insulted by Trump during the primary campaign, his son is now breaking with the family and backing the GOP nominee. Brian Todd has been looking into this. I should say, this is a rather surprising turn of events.

[17:20:00; BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To say the least, Wolf. You know, tonight, Wolf, the people we spoke to who are close to the Bush family say this was not a planned rollout for George P. Bush. And they say it's not an endorsement.

But it is nonetheless stunning that Jeb Bush's son urges support for Donald Trump in Texas, given the bitterness that exists between Trump and his father.


TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

TODD (voice-over): His campaign's become radioactive, pushing away more Republicans by the day. Many in the establishment wing of the party made a point of staying away from the GOP convention. Not one member of the Bush family was there, but now Jeb Bush's son, George P. Bush, is calling for his fellow Republicans to support Donald Trump. GEORGE P. BUSH, TEXAS LAND COMMISSIONER: I know a lot of us in this room had dogs in the fight in the primary, leading up to the race, but you know what? It's time to put it aside. It's time to put it aside. And you know from team Bush, it's a bitter pill to swallow, but you know what? You get back up, and you help the man that won, and you make sure that you stop Hillary Clinton.

TODD: This is the son of the former candidate who endured these insults from Trump during the primary campaign.

TRUMP: He can't fix anything. He's a low-energy person. He's not tough; he's not smart. Guy doesn't have a clue. He's like a child.

He's a stiff.

He's an embarrassment.

You go to Jeb Bush's rally, you fall asleep almost immediately.

His family is so ashamed.

TODD (on camera): And he called him a puppet and a loser. How do you come out and support someone who said these things about your father?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's probably not easy for George P. Bush. I suspect that he feels about as much enthusiasm about supporting Donald Trump as I do about hand-massaged kale.

That being said, he has got some requirements that he feels he needs to fulfill.

TODD (voice-over): GOP strategist Ana Navarro, who's plugged in with the Bush family, says Jeb and his son remain very close, and this won't change that.

On those requirements she talks about, George P. Bush is the Texas land commissioner and has also been appointed to lead the Republican Party's coordinated campaign in Texas. That involves helping to get everyone on the ballot in Texas elected, including Donald Trump.

Analysts say George P. is under pressure from a GOP power base in Texas that's getting more conservative, embracing Trump's angry brand of politics.

ROBERT T. GARRETT, AUSTIN BUREAU REPORTER, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": All of George P.'s advisers are people here in Texas, and they aren't thinking, I can guarantee you, about Jeb Bush's future. They're thinking about George P.'s future.

TODD: Observers say George P. Bush's extended family understands that. Navarro says there's also an understanding this is not an endorsement.

NAVARRO: You're not going to see him wearing a Trump sticker, wearing a Trump T-shirt and out there campaigning or fundraising or any of that.


TODD: Now, will this hurt George P. Bush's political future? Observers say this is a move to actually protect his future, that he's got to keep an eye on that conservative wing of the Texas GOP and stay in their good graces.

Wolf, these are traditionally now Ted Cruz supporters.

Now neither Jeb Bush's nor George P. Bush's offices would comment on the record for this story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

We're back with Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump.

Congressman, is the Bush family's refusal to endorse Donald Trump hurting the Republican nominee?

COLLINS: No, no, not at all. I'm glad to hear that George P. has said he will support Mr. Trump. I mean, Wolf, this is about the future of the country. There's never been a more important race, a more important election, than what we're going to see on November 8. The future of the country -- whether we take America back, put America first, make America great again, stand up to our enemies -- depends on who we elect, and it's now a binary choice, frankly, between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. She is the secretary of status quo. She would represent, in effect, a third term of Barack Obama.

So if you look at the direction of the country and, really, the Supreme Court, whether you really are concerned about the First, Second and Tenth Amendments, defeating Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump is going to put this country forward so our kids can live the American dream, grow up in the America many of us did, the land of opportunity.

BLITZER: As you know, Trump--

COLLINS: That's what this is about, and I'm glad to hear George P. understand that and say he's going to support. We don't care about the word "endorse" but support Donald Trump.

BLITZER: And as you know, Donald Trump revealed his plans for tax reform today. But he still won't release his own tax returns. He's the first major party presidential candidate since 1976 not to do that. Why is that acceptable to you?

COLLINS: Well, actually, I would agree. I absolutely agree with him that to release his tax returns and give all of his competitors privileged inside information on the profits and losses of all his companies, which are private in many cases, would be something all of his competitors would want to see.

With that said, his financial disclosure form, which lists all of his assets, all of his positions, all of his companies, the debts and the value of everything that he's involved in, is what America needs to see.

[17:25:08] We don't need a bunch of nosey Nellies trying to nitpick how much money did he give away here or there or what the breakdown of profits are for everything he's involved in.

I'm glad that him not releasing his taxes may end this cycle, which has been going on for decades and for some reason people feeling that they need to release tax returns, which are private information.

The financial disclosure forms are very intrusive. We all do -- do submit those for public scrutiny. But tax returns were never intended to be that. And I'm thinking now with Donald Trump not releasing it, that that's going to go by the wayside; and we'll be able to stick with what we should, which is the financial disclosure form, which all of us release.

BLITZER: Well, should he at least release the tax rate that he has paid over the years? Should he at least release the amount of tax- related charitable contributions he's made?

COLLINS: Well, you know, again, you know, the nosey Nellies might like to know what that is. But when you really think about it, I don't know anyone in the United States who pay more taxes than they're supposed to. We hire accountants. We have the highest tax rates anywhere in the world.

You know, for people like Hillary Clinton that seems to think she should pay more, did she send any more? Did she check a box that says, "I don't pay enough. Let me send more"? No, she pays the absolute minimum. Every American does.

So whatever the tax rate is, it is the lawful tax based on a tax code that's thousands of pages long, and so, quite frankly, what his tax rate is or was is a meaningless number. He pays his taxes in accordance with our current tax laws. And what more could you ask of an individual?

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Collins, thanks very much for joining us.

COLLINS: Always good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, a surprising look at one of Donald Trump's top advisors, a man who praises Russia's Vladimir Putin and criticizes the U.S.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news: 50 top Republicans signing a letter, warning that, in their view, Donald Trump lacks the character and values to be president and would put U.S. well-being and national security at risk.

[17:31:46] With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich. She's the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast." Our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's the senior editor at "The Atlantic." And once again, our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

The letter -- I'll read another quote, Jim, from the letter: "Mr. Trump lacks the character, values and experience to be president. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary."

Has the Trump campaign responded to this scathing letter yet?

ACOSTA: Not yet. I've reached out to a number of officials. My guess is that they will go after these officials in much of the same fashion they went after Mike Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, who basically said the same thing about Donald Trump. I suspect that Donald Trump will tweet, or his officials will say, that many of these officials were part of the Bush administration, marched to war in Iraq, a war that Donald Trump says he opposed, even though he may have initially supported it and then opposed it later.

But no question about it, Wolf. This is just coming down like a ton of bricks on a campaign that was trying to get traction today. Every time they try to get traction, something like this erupts. It just goes to show you there is so much animosity baked into the Republican Party right now and this establishment wing of the Republican Party toward Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Do we -- do we have any clue, Jackie, right now who might be secretary of defense, CIA director, secretary of state, national security adviser in a Trump administration?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, Michael Flynn's been out there quite a bit.

BLITZER: Former head of DIA, defense intelligence.

KUCINICH: Yes. But -- but we don't. Because the usual suspects who might be in line for this position, who may have been working toward this position, want nothing to do with Donald Trump.

Another thing in that -- in that letter that I noticed, they say that not only does he not have a foreign policy background and is he dangerous, but he's not willing to learn. He's not -- he no interest in actually learning about the national security implications of all these things that he's saying. He just keeps on saying them, which is why I think you see more people joining onto the letter that was already in March of this year from the national security community.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: ... thought was the letter. First of all, it is centered primarily on the George W. Bush administration but not exclusively. I mean, you have people like John Negroponte and William Howard Taft IV, who go back to senior positions even in the Reagan administration, which is exalted across the Republican Party. Of course, we already have Brent Scowcroft, who was the national

security adviser for the first President Bush, joined now by Carla Hills, who was the U.S. trade representative.

The first thing is it kind of goes across administrations. The second point is this is a missile aimed directly at what I think Donald Trump's greatest vulnerability is in the election. In the ABC/"Washington Post" poll yesterday, 61 percent said he is not qualified to be president. And every time they've asked that question for the last year and half, the total variation has been between 58 and 61 percent saying he's not qualified to be president. This is, as you know, as strong a voice as can you get with credibility from the Republican previous Republican administrations, saying they do not believe he has the credibility to be president.

It is the kind of thing that is inhibiting him among these college- educated white voters, where he is significantly underperforming of previous Republicans and which loom, I think, as the biggest obstacle on his road to the White House.

BLITZER: Still haven't heard from James Baker or Condi Rice or for Colin Powell, for that matter.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Condi Rice is triangulated in this letter. You have her counsellor, her chief of staff, the head of the policy planning, more than one of her counsellors.

It certainly gives you the impression that, if it really came down to it, it would be interesting to see what Condi -- I'm sure Condoleezza Rice is not looking to get involved in this campaign. But everyone that she respected and relied on for advice, the key people in her inner circle, are all on this letter, and that sends a pretty clear message by itself.

BLITZER: A lot of people were surprised today that George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, went out -- and it was almost very painful for him to say it, but he said, "We're going to have to support Donald Trump" after all the awful things that Trump said about his father. That was pretty surprising.

ACOSTA: It was. I think in the world of endorsements this one was pretty low-energy, to borrow a phrase. George P. Bush did not come out with a full-throated endorsement here. He was saying to Republicans, "Let's rally around Donald Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton." That is essentially what the Trump campaign is trying to argue to those "never Trump" Republicans out there.

But you know, listen, I mean, George P. Bush, as they say about most Bushes, has a political future; and because he is residing in the state of Texas and is the land commissioner right now, probably has his eye on future and more important positions in the halls of power in Austin. He's going to have to sound like somebody who likes Donald Trump. And, you know, the landscape down there is very different for the Texas land commissioner than it is across the rest of the country. And that probably means supporting Donald Trump is a good thing. BLITZER: I can only imagine, Jackie how painful and difficult this

must have been for George P. Bush after all of us remember, of course, the exchanges that went on between his father and Donald Trump.

KUCINICH: He said it was a bitter pill, and I don't think he was kidding when he said that. I mean, not only that, remember no one in his family even went to the convention to support Donald Trump.

But you know, at the end of the day, this is about political viability, and apparently, he thinks this is the best way to keep that alive going into his future ambitions.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I answer that point? I've actually spent a little time looking at the previous example of the biggest fissures in both parties in modern times over a nominee: Goldwater '64 with Republicans and McGovern '72 with Democrats.

And I think, first of all, the Trump overall level of officials departing from Trump is at the high end on these kind of historical comparisons. But what you see is it's very rare for current elected officials in any of these examples to go out and say they're not going to vote for the nominee. In fact, I think we're kind of at the unusual high end of that even now with people like Mike Hoffman, and Richard Hanna and John Kasich, you know, being uncertain.

But I think what George P. Bush did here is what I think people typically end up doing, which is saying, "Look, he's our party nominee. We have to be for it." They're not actually offering any enthusiasm, or they try to stay out of it. It's very hard as a current elected official to say, "I'm not going to vote for our party's nominee."

BLITZER: Yes, there's some but...

BROWNSTEIN: Very -- by several standards, quite a few.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We have more to assess.

Also coming up, breaking news. We're taking you down to Florida, where Hillary Clinton is firing back at Donald Trump's newly-revealed economic plan.


[17:42:29] BLITZER: There is more breaking news in the presidential campaign. Just now in Florida, Hillary Clinton hit back at Donald Trump's plans to produce jobs and cut taxes. She told a crowd that Trump is just trying to repackage what she calls old tired ideas like trickle-down economics.

Our Jeff Zeleny is in Florida, covering Hillary Clinton's campaign. Jeff, Clinton is wasting no time hitting back after Trump's big speech today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She isn't indeed, Wolf. And she believes there is no time to waste here. She is trying to keep this race exactly where it is, where she would be in the driver's seat, particularly on the economy. She believes that she has the economic argument that will resonate with these voters.

That's why she is campaigning hard again here in Florida. She'll be holding a rally behind me here in just a short time, Wolf, trying to make the case that Donald Trump is unacceptable.

The key that she's doing it in Florida, a state he needs to win the presidency, a state she believes she can block him in.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton blazing across Florida, bringing her jobs tour to this critical battleground state, delivering a sharp rebuttal to Donald Trump in an escalating fight on the economy.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He can't escape the math. Economists left, right, in the middle, all say the same thing. That Trump's policies would throw us into a recession.

ZELENY: As Trump offered sharp criticism of Clinton in his Detroit speech today. ..

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton has supported the trade deals stripping this city and this country of its jobs and its wealth.

ZELENY: ... a new CNN poll of polls shows Clinton riding high: a ten- point lead nationally.

On the economy, Clinton is also seeing gains over Trump. His lead is now hers. Her campaign releasing a nine-page memo refuting Trump's proposed policies and tax breaks for the wealthy, saying they would be a disaster for the U.S. economy.

CLINTON: They are just playing the same old siren song. And why they haven't learned, we are not interested in economic plans that only help the top 1 percent.

ZELENY: And releasing a new video using his record as a businessman against him.

TRUMP: I am the king of debt. I do love debt. I love debt. I love playing with it.

ZELENY: Clinton has repeatedly blasted Trump for outsourcing his company's products, painting him as bad for business in the U.S.

CLINTON: Donald Trump said that he can't make his suits or his ties or his shirts or his furniture in the United States. We're telling him about a hundred places where he can actually make all of those things right here in America.

[17:45:01] ZELENY: This as Clinton is still trying to move beyond her e-mail controversy. Running mate Tim Kaine says she's learned from the past and is committed to change. SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: She said it was a

mistake. I know that this is something that she's learned from and we're going to real transparent.

ZELENY: But Clinton struggling to square her statements to the FBI with statements she's made to the press.

CLINTON: I never sent or received anything that was marked classified. What I told the FBI, which he said was truthful, is consistent with what I have said publicly. So I may have short circuited --

ZELENY: Trump using that comment to question whether Clinton is mentally fit for the presidency.

TRUMP: She took a little short circuit in the brain and she's got problems. She is unhinged. Honestly, I don't think she is all there.

ZELENY: He's taking a page from her playbook.

CLINTON: Trump is not qualified to be president and he is temperamentally unfit to be commander-in-chief. Anyone you can provoke with a tweet should not be anywhere near nuclear weapons.


ZELENY: Now all that back and forth, Wolf, is going to continue again. It will return to Detroit where she will give her economic speech and message on Thursday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us.

Coming up, the surprising views of one of Donald Trump's top advisers. Praising the Russian leader Vladimir Putin and criticizing the United States.


[17:51:12] BLITZER: One of Donald Trump's foreign policy advisers is raising eyebrows by praising Vladimir Putin, criticizing the United States and seemingly echoing the Kremlin line.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is looking at this story. What can you tell us about this adviser, Jim, who's been generating some controversy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's really remarkable here is when you look at his public comments, some of his public positions of one of Trump's senior foreign policy advisers match almost word for word the positions of the Kremlin on, for instance, alleged U.S. orchestration of pro-democracy protests in and around Russia, and that is sparking concern from Russia experts and former policy makers, even inside the GOP.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): He advises Donald Trump on foreign policy. But his own foreign policy views on Russia appears closer to Moscow's than to Washington's.

Carter Page, informal adviser to Trump, according to the campaign, speaking in Moscow earlier this year.

CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.

SCIUTTO: Writing on his blog, Page accused the U.S. of being behind the pro-democracy protest in Ukraine which brought down a Russian- backed authoritarian government, writing that U.S. government officials, quote, "played active roles in orchestrating the revolution."

It's a position Moscow has propagated as well despite repeated U.S. denials. Page has also defended Edward Snowden's refuge in Russia. Comparing it to Russian and Chinese dissidents given asylum in the U.S. Together his positions on Russia are sharply at odds with the U.S. foreign policy for both parties.

JEFFREY MANKOFF, CSIS: And I think it's an outlier based on where the mainstream of American foreign policy has been for the last 70 years and even within the Republican Party. I think it's an outlier.

SCIUTTO: Page, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Merrill Lynch banker in Moscow, also has business ties to Russia, telling "Bloomberg" he maintains an ownership stake in Russia's state- controlled gas supplier Gazprom. Reached by CNN, Page would not comment. His ties to Russia are drawing increased focus due to Donald Trump's own repeated public statements of admiration for Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn't know that.

SCIUTTO: And the ties don't end there. Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was a paid adviser of the Russian backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanokovic, as Yanokovic was leading a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Kiev.

Challenged about the campaign statements on Russia by CNN's Erin Burnett, Manafort deflected.

PAUL MANAFORT, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: I don't know anything about what you just said. You may know it, and if you do, then you ought to expose him. You know, I don't know what you're talking about.


SCIUTTO: One of the lines from that open letter from GOP foreign policy experts today was quote, "He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. That speaks directly to his comments on NATO." Real nervousness among NATO allies about Russian military aggression. Of course as you know, Wolf, Trump said that the U.S. might not come to their defense in the event of military action from Russia.

BLITZER: All right, very interesting important information. Thanks very much for that. Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Coming up, we'll get back to the breaking news. 50 former national security officials, all Republicans, signed a blistering letter calling Donald Trump dangerous, saying he put America at risk. They say he lacks the necessary character, values and experience and temperament, and would be, quote, "the most reckless president in U.S. history."



BLITZER: Happening now, Breaking news, security warning. Dozens of top Republican national security experts denounce Donald Trump warning his recklessness will put the U.S. at risk and pledging not to vote for him. What impact will their dramatic move have on Trump's campaign?

Make America grow again. Trump details his economic plans in a closely watched speech and stays on message despite repeated interruptions by protesters. Can Trump continue to avoid the controversies that threaten to derail his campaign?

Independent bid. Conservatives opposed to Trump recruit a former CIA official to launch an independent White House bid. With less than 100 days until the election, his candidacy is clearly a long shot but could he steal enough votes from Trump to turn one reliably red state blue?