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Trump: 'Second Amendment People' Could Stop Clinton; Interview with Sen. Jeff Sessions; Orlando Gunman's Father Seen at Clinton Rally; Clinton Targets Two Republican-Leaning States; Speaker Paul Ryan Faces Sharp GOP Primary Challenge. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 9, 2016 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Trump's warning. Donald Trump tells a crowd that, if Hillary Clinton gets to pick her Supreme Court justices, there's nothing they can do about it, but then he adds, "Except maybe the Second Amendment, people." Is that a threat? The Clinton campaign calls Trump's remarks dangerous. Trump's campaign blames the media.

"Increasingly dismayed." Another Republican senator is now refusing to vote for Donald Trump. Senator Susan Collins calls the party's nominee unsuitable for office, saying she's increasingly dismayed by Trump's stream of cruel comments and fears he'd make the world more dangerous.

Behind her. The father of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub is spotted standing behind Hillary Clinton at a Florida rally. He says Clinton would be good for U.S. national security. The Clinton campaign says he was not invited.

And "I want to debate." Donald Trump says he is absolutely on board for three debates with Hillary Clinton, but he wants to see the terms and reserves the right to renegotiate. Will he show up?

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news, Donald goes unscripted again and sets off a stunning new controversy. He says Hillary Clinton wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment and tells the crowd if she gets to pick her Supreme Court justices, there's nothing you can do.

Then Trump suggests maybe the Second Amendment people can do something. The Clinton campaign calls the remark dangerous, saying a presidential nominee should not be suggesting violence. The Trump campaign says he was talking about the political influence of Second Amendment supporters. We'll go in depth. Another Republican Senator, Maine's Susan Collins, is refusing to vote for Donald Trump. She says he 'd make the world more dangerous. She slams what she calls his cruel comments, saying that the tipping point was Trump's feud with the Muslim-American parents of a fallen soldier.

And the father of the Orlando terrorist that killed 49 people in a nightclub is spotted standing behind Hillary Clinton at a rally. He calls Clinton is good for the United States, saying Donald Trump has no solutions. A Clinton aide says he was not invited to the event.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

But let's begin with our breaking news. An off-the-cuff Donald Trump statement now being seen in some quarters as a threat. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is out here on the campaign trail in North Carolina.

Jim, this is certainly setting off some shockwaves.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It sounded like Donald Trump's most outrageous statement yet during this campaign, when he suggested in this venue here in Wilmington, North Carolina, that people who support the Second Amendment could somehow do something about Hillary Clinton.

Democrats immediately complained that Trump was inciting violence against Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign responded within seconds of that, saying that there's nothing to see here, and that this is another example of media bias.

But let's let our listeners and our viewers out there decide for themselves. Here's what Donald Trump said at this rally here in Wilmington earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know.


ACOSTA: Now, almost as soon as Donald Trump made that comment, the Clinton campaign put out a statement from the campaign manager, Robby Mook. We'll put it up on screen.

It says, quote, "This is simple: what Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

And as we mentioned, the Trump campaign also put out a statement. Jason Miller, the communications director, advisor for Donald Trump, put out this statement, saying, "No, it's called the power of unification. Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won't be for Hillary Clinton. It will be for Donald Trump."

And Wolf, within the last several minutes, Donald Trump was trying to, I think, clean up some of these comments. He was retweeting some tweets from the NRA, saying they're going to come out in force to defeat Hillary Clinton at the ballot box come November.

But make no mistake: Democrats are very fired up over this. Chris Murphy, the senator from Connecticut, a state that's been touched by gun violence. Obviously, the Sandy Hook tragedy happened there.

Senator Murphy put out a tweet saying that this was not a gaffe on Donald Trump's part, that this was essentially a call for an assassination attempt. So some very strong words are flying back and forth.

And Wolf, this came on a day when a lot of people were listening to whether Donald Trump was going to be able to stay on message, stay on script. Witness what happened yesterday at that speech at the Detroit Economic Club, when he stayed on the teleprompter. He was not distracted by those protestors.

And then after that, he was deluged with all kinds of criticism coming from former national security officials, from Senator Susan Collins up in Maine.

[17:05:16] Trump said at this rally here in Wilmington, and a lot of this was overshadowed, obviously, by his comments on the Second Amendment, that -- that he would never hire those former national security officials, that they are the ones that got this country in the mess in the first place. But I suspect in the next 24 hours we're going to be hearing a lot more from Donald Trump, cleaning up what he said about the Second Amendment at this event here in Wilmington than he is on just about anything else.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Wilmington, North Carolina, for us. Thank you.

I want to bring in our political reporter, Sara Murray.

Sara, you're there. Trump is getting ready to speak at the event where you are right now. I assume he's going to try to address this issue. The campaign, as we just heard from Jim Acosta, quick to put out a statement. But what else are you hearing about this uproar?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think one of the biggest differences from the campaign now compared to a few weeks ago or a few months ago is how quickly the Trump campaign moved to clean up the comments. In the past they sort of left this kind of thing just hang out there for days and weeks at a time.

But these are the kinds of off-the-cuff comments that give other Republicans pause about Donald Trump. People who are cautious about supporting him or can't go so far as to support him look at moments like this and say this was a week where you are supposed to be staying on message. It's a week when the Trump campaign wanted to talk more about the economy, wanted to roll out more specifics about Donald Trump's economic plan. And obviously, that's not the kind of thing that's happening when we're talking about his comments on the Second Amendment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, some more polls are coming out in some of those key battleground states. What are the latest numbers showing us, Sara?

MURRAY: Well, it's a little bit of a mixed bag when you look at these latest Quinnipiac polls. When you look at Florida, the Sunshine State, obviously a hugely important state in a general election, Hillary Clinton is at 46 percent; Donald Trump is at 45 percent. This is neck and neck, and the Trump campaign will be pretty happy to see themselves in the hunt this close to Hillary Clinton, particularly coming off of a rough week for him and a pretty good convention for her.

Now, when you move on to Ohio, though, it's also a tight race, but it's pretty clear that right now Hillary Clinton has the edge. She is at 49 percent. Donald Trump is on -- is at 45 percent. And Wolf, this matches up with what we're hearing from political operatives on the ground in Ohio, who say this is not necessarily a blow-out for Hillary Clinton. It is a close race, and she clearly has an edge, but Donald Trump still has an opportunity there. Obviously, the Trump campaign would like to see those numbers reversed.

But it's when you move on to Pennsylvania that you really see the kind of gap that could be very problematic for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is at 52 percent. Donald Trump is at 42 percent. That is a huge gap, and the Trump campaign has made no secret of the fact that they want to make a play for Pennsylvania, even though it's been such a difficult state for Republicans to win. He's going to be there on Friday, but Wolf, as of right now, it certainly looks like a long shot.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, Sara, that the Trump campaign or some of the Trump super PACs are going to start buying significant numbers of TV commercials, ads? Because we know the Clinton campaign, the Clinton, pro-Clinton super PACs, they're spending a ton of money on those TV commercials in those battleground states.

MURRAY: Well, and that's been one of the mysteries of the Trump campaign. Initially, they didn't have very much in their campaign war chest, but of course, they've ramped up their fundraising. They've really tapped into this small donor base. And we just have not seen them on the airwaves. They've done a little bit of digital advertising, and we start to see the pro-Trump super PAC ramp up a little bit, but it's nowhere near compared to where Hillary Clinton is at.

And this could be reflective of the campaign's strategy. This is a candidate who has believed from the beginning that he can predominantly rely on free media. But of course, that's a risky gamble to make when you're headed into the general election and your opponent is outspending you so heavily on the airwaves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara Murray, we'll stand by to hear from Donald Trump in Fayetteville, I guess, fairly soon, and I assume he's going to address this latest controversy, as well. We'll have coverage of that.

Sara, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump. Often mentioned, at least he was mentioned as a possible running mate. Could be in the cabinet, supposedly, as well.

I know you're smiling. It may be premature for all of that. Thank you very much, Senator, for joining us.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Good evening to you.

BLITZER: All right. So I know you just flew into Washington.


BLITZER: You may not have heard this latest uproar, but I assume you've been briefed. Donald Trump said something off of the cuff at this earlier rally that's causing a lot of uproar right know. Let me play the clip for you. Then we'll discuss.


TRUMP: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know.


BLITZER: All right. That's the comment that's generated all this controversy.

The Clinton campaign said this after Donald Trump's comments in Wilmington. The campaign said, "This is simple. What Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

SESSIONS: Well, I agree with that. They shouldn't suggest violence, and I don't think he did. That's just -- actually, I had not heard that statement, but what I think he's saying is the Second Amendment people care about this.

Hillary Clinton's position on the Second Amendment is that she will appoint a judge that will make it not a personal right, which means that any state and any city in America can completely ban firearms. It's 5-4 in the Supreme Court. A new justice replacing Scalia would make it 5-4 the other way, and that would reverse that holding, making -- giving the states and cities the power to completely ban firearms.

BLITZER: But you understand how this could be interpreted as suggesting violence. Because if she picks Supreme Court justices, she will have -- she would have been elected president of the United States. And at that point, he says, "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is." Let me read to you a tweet. This is Senator...

SESSIONS: Let me just say, I don't think so, Wolf. He has no intention of suggesting violence against Hillary Clinton. I just don't believe that's possible.

BLITZER: A lot of people are concerned. Senator Chris Murphy, your Democratic colleague from Connecticut, he tweeted, "Don't treat this as a political misstep. It's an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy and crisis."

SESSIONS: That would be totally wrong. I do not believe that's true. I don't believe that's at all what he meant. And I don't think it's the kind of issue that's going to impact this election.

What he was talking about Monday about the economy are the latest numbers coming out of the second quarter shows income for working Americans down again. The economy is not doing well, and we've got to do better, and he's got a bold plan that will work.

BLITZER: He's about -- you support him. He's a friend of yours. You work closely with him. He's about to deliver a major speech at a rally in North Carolina, just a little bit from now.

His campaign put out a statement -- and I'll read it to you -- Jason Miller, senior communication advisor. It's called the power of unification. "Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year they will be voting in record numbers, and it won't be for Hillary Clinton. It will be for Donald Trump." That's the reaction from the Donald Trump campaign.

But if you were advising him, and you know he's about to go out and speak. What should he say right now to try to put this commotion -- and I know you've been on a plane, but there's a lot of angst out there right now. What would you advise him to say?

SESSIONS: I just don't believe this is a serious statement of any kind that should impact this election. I think he should continue to talk about what I think he clearly meant, which was that the Second Amendment is under great threat from Hillary Clinton's appointment to the Supreme Court. There is no doubt about that. It will eviscerate the strength of the Second Amendment if the court reverses it's 5-4 ruling with Justice Scalia, a fifth vote, which would be reversed if Hillary Clinton appoints another justice.

BLITZER: It was awkwardly phrased, though.

SESSION: Yes. Well, it may have been awkwardly phrased, but he talks aggressively to the people, and I think that's healthy. Instead of hiding like Hillary Clinton does, he goes in interviews so many times and does things that I think is worthy and good, that he's open.

BLITZER: Because even if he was joking, this is obviously something you don't joke about.

SESSIONS: Well, you absolutely shouldn't joke about it. You're exactly right. And you should not, in any way, suggest that violence could be used in this political system. That's contrary to everything we believe in. You're right about that.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about something else he said today. Because he was talking about if the election is rigged, and he was talking about voter fraud. And at one point he said jokingly that some of Hillary Clinton's supporters will vote 15 times. Fifteen times.

He was joking, but is he sort of laying the ground work for calling this whole election rigged if he doesn't win by suggesting that Hillary Clinton voters are going to go out there and vote 15 times?

SESSIONS: Well, I don't think many will, but we have seen fraud repeatedly, and there is a problem if you don't use a voter id when you go to vote. Because you can vote for someone -- some other name that you know is not available to vote that day.

But there are dangers out there, but I don't think that's going to -- hopefully, that won't be a major impact in the election. But the Democrats start their preemptive attack on Republicans, and that way about to votes. And the Republicans start their pre-emptive election on the...

BLITZER: But you don't really believe a presidential election can be rigged?

SESSIONS: Well, we don't know how Florida came out. There were a lot of hard feelings about that in Bush-Gore. So one precinct in one major state can make a difference in an election. And there is fraud still in America today.

BLITZER: Let talk a little bit about this letter from 50 Republican top national security advisors, foreign policy advisors that they issued yesterday, suggesting they could not vote for Donald Trump, because he would be dangerous to the world, dangerous for U.S. national security.

You've read the letter. You know some of the individuals, former secretaries of homeland security, former CIA directors. You know these individuals. Your reaction?

SESSIONS: Well, I knew a few of them. But a lot of them I did not know. A majority I did not know.

BLITZER: John Negroponte you knew, the director of national intelligence.

SESSIONS: Sure, and Chertoff, and several others that I knew and respect, but I just want to say it's not 50 of the top best known people in America. Right?

BLITZER: Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security.

SESSIONS: You've named three. But it's still not a top list of some of the top Republican leaders in Congress, No. 1. No. 2, many of these were involved deeply in pro-immigration

activities. Several of them were like trade representatives, who believe in international trade that Trump opposes. And a large number of them were deeply involved, and they're very aggressive, some say overreaching foreign policy that's gotten us into so much trouble in the Middle East.

Donald Trump, Wolf, you have to know, he is more humble about use of American power. He's going to show more restraint. His criticism of Hillary Clinton has been that she's been too militarily aggressive and has gotten us into nation-building and things that have turned out very badly: Libya, Syria, Iraq. That decision in Iraq was devastating to us. So that's his fundamental criticism of Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: We've got more to discuss on national security and foreign policy. I know you're one of Donald Trump's top advisors in this area. Senator Sessions, stick around. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:21:17] BLITZER: Our breaking news, Donald Trump goes unscripted, telling a crowd that, if Hillary Clinton gets to pick her Supreme Court justices, there is nothing they can do about it. But he then adds and said that maybe the Second Amendment people can stop her. The Clinton campaign calls the comment dangerous, suggests it's an invitation to violence. The Trump campaign says the nominee was talking about political action.

We're back with the Republican senator Jess Sessions of Alabama, who's a key Donald Trump supporter.

I know you're advising him on national security, foreign policy. Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general, is one of his advisors. Who else is on his inner circle of national security and foreign policy advisors?

SESSIONS: We've had a lot of people that he's talked to personally, some of which he has not revealed, because they want to just talk privately. A lot of people I've talked to, and I've shared with him.

But I just want to tell you, the key part of what he sees as he sees the world is that the United States has overreached, and we've got to be careful that we don't get involved in things beyond our ability to impact.

I know one time I asked Secretary Gates shouldn't we be more humble about our policy? And he just sort of lit up and talked about that a good bit. He mentioned that in his books. We've got to be thoughtful. We've got to be strong ability -- have the ability to defend this country. We've got to go after the direct threats like ISIS. But just nation building and overall, we've got to be more careful.

BLITZER: Give us some names of possible secretaries of state, defense, CIA director, top national security advisor in the White House, who would be in that inner circle?

SESSIONS: I advised him not to talk about that, although he might at some point. It would be up to him. But I don't think we should be talking about who will be in there.

I'll tell you what I believe, Wolf. I believe if you're elected president of the United States, you have to go to the best people, even those who have opposed your election, if you believe they can help you govern and establish a foreign policy that will serve this world's interests.

We need to do better. We need a bipartisan foreign policy, one that extends beyond the next election. We can't just be flip-flopping every time there's an election. I believe we can sustain a containment-type strategy against radical Islam, attacking the greatest threats to us but being careful about where -- what we do. And I think that's the kind of thing Donald Trump is going to be open to, and I believe he's going to be seeking the best people he can get.

BLITZER: As you know, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, retired former ahead of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he's a close advisor to Donald Trump. He's out there speaking publicly.

He did say that Donald Trump's proposal for a ban, either on Muslims or people coming from countries where terrorism is very prevalent, Flynn said that is really not workable. It's not really a workable program right now.

You've had a lot of time talking to Donald. Does he listen to these top advisors get and get -- and their thoughts and appreciates what they're saying, or is he simply doing what's in his gut and what is in his mind?

SESSIONS: Well, I think he's -- for example on that, he's pushed back and moved back on some of the things he originally said. He said, "Look, we'll look at the countries where we have a significant number of terrorists coming from and we need to slow down. Let's have a policy here."

I think that's correct and sound. We need to make sure we have the best possible vetting procedure we can have when we have a history of one nation, perhaps sending a lot of terrorists here.

BLITZER: He originally called for a ban on all Muslims, but he's started toning that down.

SESSIONS: Not a ban but a temporary ban...

BLITZER: A temporary ban on Muslims...

SESSIONS: ... until we figure out what's going on.

BLITZER: ... until -- until we can figure out...

SESSIONS: And he backed off that, you're right. BLITZER: And now he's avoided Muslims. He's saying take a look at the countries where there's a prevalence of terrorism and a slowdown in that area.

[17:25:00] SESSIONS: Right. I think that's reasonable.

BLITZER: Yes. Although Flynn says it's not workable.

But let's move on. I want to get your quick reaction. Your Republican colleague, Susan Collins of Maine -- she's a Republican. You know her well. She wrote this article in "The Washington Post" today. She gave an exclusive interview to CNN, and she says, basically, that "Mr. Trump's lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so. Mr. Trump's tendency to lash out when challenged further escalates the possibility of disputes spinning dangerously out of control."

SESSIONS: Well, I read that, and she's concerned about some of the statements he's made that we all have heard and talked about, and you've talked about it just then.

But I just have to say, in this election, the people with the most endorsements have done the least well. Donald Trump has gone forward with the fewest endorsements, talking directly to the people about their wages, about their public safety, about international failures of Hillary Clinton, and he's risen to the top. And I think, as time goes by, he's going to strengthen as we go into November, and he's going to win this election.

I think the American people want a change. They do not want business as usual. They want a strong leader, somebody who's not afraid to speak up. And that's Donald Trump.

BLITZER: By our count now -- and put it up on the screen -- there are at least six -- there they are; you can see it right there -- six Republican senators who say they're not able to support Donald Trump. There are probably some others out there that are on the borderline. They're not saying either way right now.

What do you say to these Republican colleagues? They're your friends. You work with them. Out of 54 Republicans in the Senate, there's a growing number of Republicans who are saying, "You know what? We can't go along with Trump."

SESSIONS: He's going after them on trade. A lot of these people have a different view about trade. A lot of the people feel very strongly, like Lindsey Graham, of an aggressive foreign policy that he pushes back on.

So they have some reasons to be concerned about it, but I think as -- with regard to his statements and the way he's conducted the campaign, I think they're being too harsh about this.

We've got a choice that's so dramatic from the Republican point of view about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it's just dramatic. Whether it's the economy -- he's got a mainstream Republican growth policy. He's got a solid humble, responsible foreign policy agenda that he's laid out in a big speech that he's made and done that.

And I think his trade policy is a thing that we've got to talk about. We've been taken to the cleaners on these policies. I've supported them in the past, Wolf, I have to admit. But I've studied the results. They have not worked for the American people.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Sessions, thanks very much.

SESSIONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton's campaign is now dealing with some embarrassing pictures. This video -- take a look -- is raising questions about who screens the people who attend her campaign rallies.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton's campaign today is coping with some embarrassing pictures from her latest rally in Florida. CNN's Brian Todd has the video. Brian, what does it show us?

[17:32:33] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is inexplicable. The video shows Seddique Mateen, the father of the Orlando shooter, sitting squarely behind Hillary Clinton, beaming, cheering her on. Tonight the Clinton campaign is in full damage control mode as he sings the terrorist's father sings the candidate's praises.


TODD (voice-over): A rally where she needed to connect with voters in the most important battleground state of them all.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Whoa! This is fabulous. Thank you.

TODD: A raucous crowd in Kissimmee, Florida, just a 30-minute drive from the spot where 49 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in American history.

Hillary Clinton begins the rally by thanking the Orlando police and city leaders for their response to the Pulse nightclub massacre.

CLINTON: And I know how many people, family members, loved ones and friends are still grieving.

TODD: But as she says that, sitting just behind her in the red cap with the large mustache, Seddique Mateen, the father of the Orlando shooter. One supporter in the backdrop the campaign never expected.

SEDDIQUE MATEEN, FATHER OF ORLANDO SHOOTER: Clinton is good for the United States, versus Donald Trump.

TODD: Mateen spoke to CNN affiliate WPTV about why he showed up.

MATEEN: It's a Democratic Party, so everybody can join.

TODD: He showed a banner supporting Hillary Clinton for, among other things, her position on gun control. This is a man who once touted himself as a candidate for president of Afghanistan. And, in the week after the Orlando massacre, held rambling incoherent news conferences.

MATEEN: I didn't know what I was saying.

TODD: Seddique Mateen says he was invited to the rally. Hillary Clinton's people say not by them, a campaign aide telling CNN this was an open-door event for the public, and quote, "The campaign was unaware of his attendance until after the event."

But this unforced error by the Clinton campaign, observers say, comes at a bad time, as Clinton pushes for support in Florida, which has the most electoral votes of any battleground state.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: The pain is still raw. If the conversation turns to her and some error that shows that she might be possibly affiliated with a terrorist family, then the subject is back on her and off of Trump, and that is not where she wants this debate to be.


TODD: Now a key question tonight: are the people seated behind the candidate, are they vetted for those placements? Dan Merrick, our CNN reporter who is embedded with the Clinton campaign, and who's seen staffers deal with many people who show up to these rallies.

[17:35:07] Well, Dan tells us he wouldn't exactly call this vetting, but he says usually, an advance person for the campaign, often a young person, goes through and picks people to come on the stage. Sometimes those people who are picked are MVP's, and they're known to the campaign. Sometimes they show diversity in age, race, et cetera.

[17:35:20] Now Paul Begala, who works for a super PAC which supports Hillary Clinton, is saying tonight that advance person should be fired.

Now the candidate, for her part, Wolf, is completely ignoring this. She just, a short time ago, ignored a question on this at a political event.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Let's get some insight from our political experts. CNN politics senior digital correspondent Chris Moody is with us. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, you're in touch with the Clinton campaign. So far, no official reaction? Is that right? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They had a reaction this morning, Wolf, saying that, look, they were unaware of the fact that he was at this event last night until it was after -- until it was over when they were contacted by that television station from here in Florida, Wolf.

So since then, there's been no reaction from the Florida campaign. But they are saying privately, look, they don't like the optics of this. They're certainly not pleased that he is -- was behind her, but they're trying to put it in some perspective in the sense that it's an open campaign event.

And, as Brian was just reporting, I've seen -- I've been to countless rallies. In fact, I was at this rally last night, Wolf. And people often file in behind the speaker there.

And this is someone who we have seen throughout the course of these weeks of coverage, he craves publicity. He has his own YouTube channel, other things. So of course he wanted to get in the camera shot there, but clearly, someone on the Clinton campaign did not realize who he was.

BLITZER: Yes, clearly, politically, Gloria, very awkward for Hillary Clinton, for the campaign, especially in a battleground state like Florida.

I was sort of surprised, though, that Donald Trump at his rally earlier today, he spoke for nearly an hour; he didn't even raise the issue. Normally, you know, he would have gone after Hillary Clinton on this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He was handed a political gift with this. And it was very surprising to me that the Trump campaign didn't come out, say something about it, have their candidate say something about it. Why is the father of the shooter there in the photograph? Why is he there supporting Hillary Clinton? And it was something that was sort of easy for him to hit it out of the park today, Wolf.

He didn't -- you know, he didn't do it. Instead, as you were talking about earlier with Senator Sessions, he went completely off script. While he was talking about the Supreme Court, another valid issue, a very important issue for Republicans. And instead, started talking about the Second Amendment and, you know, in a way that was really confusing to people.

And if I were a political candidate running for the highest office in the land, I wouldn't want to give anyone the opportunity to think that I was threatening any kind of violence against my political opponent, but that's the kind of confusion that ensued today.

BLITZER: Chris, let me play the clip that's generated all this commotion. Listen to this.


TRUMP: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.


BLITZER: Yes, that's generating a lot of commotion. They're saying it was just political. The Second Amendment supporters, they could go out and politically support him. That's what this was all about, although you're getting a very different reaction from the Clinton campaign and its supporters.

CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I'm not surprised that the Trump campaign is trying to spin this, or at least clean up after there was a lot of confusion, but let's provide some context of what Donald Trump was discussing.

He was saying, in the event that Hillary Clinton is elected, there is nothing you can do. And in that context, he said, "Well, there might be," and he mentions the Second Amendment people. That could be construed as a message to people. Some people are saying a possible assassination on Hillary Clinton. But it's not in the context of, "Hey, let's get out and organize before the election and make sure Hillary Clinton is not elected." This was very clear. This was after that election.

And like I said, I'm not surprised they're trying to clean up after it, but it's a -- it's a tough thing to spin, that's for sure. This is not what...

BLITZER: Jeff, how is the Clinton campaign seizing on this?

ZELENY: The Clinton campaign reacted very quickly to this, Wolf. They often allow insults and things to kind of go by the wayside. But the campaign manager, really within minutes of this event this afternoon in North Carolina, he released a statement saying any call for violence is unacceptable here.

But Democrats are coming to the same conclusion. We've seen senators and others saying this type of, you know, language is unacceptable. But Hillary Clinton not saying a thing, Wolf. They are allowing other people to take care of this for her.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by. There's more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, including this.

[17:40:00] The Clinton campaign targeting a pair of states that usually go Republican in presidential elections. Can she turn those red states blue?


BLITZER: Not only are today's new polls showing Hillary Clinton leading in some important key swing states, her campaign is supposedly now targeting some states that nearly always vote Republican in presidential elections.

[17:45:00] Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us with details now. Joe, what states are the Clinton campaign folks going after?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, new polls out today showing Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by narrow margins in Iowa and Ohio, and out to an 11-point lead in Pennsylvania, but is looking very tight between the two candidates in the state of Florida. And by no accident that's where Mrs. Clinton has been spending a lot of her time this week.


JOHNS (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is digging in for the second straight day in battleground, Florida.

CLINTON: Everybody has a stake in this.

JOHNS: Even as her campaign is making a play for typically red states that could turn blue in November, putting new resources into Georgia and Arizona, Clinton pushing a new line of attack against Donald Trump's vision for the economy, mocking his newly announced economic team.

CLINTON: Let's see. He's got three Wall Street money managers, an oil baron, a former chief economist of one of the big banks at the heart of financial crisis, he's got six men named Steve.

JOHNS: Trump said today more names will be added to the group.

TRUMP: It's just a partial list, other names are being put on as we speak. But we're putting the names on over the next two weeks you'll see the full council, but we've had tremendous brain power working on it.

JOHNS: That as Clinton picks up more Republican endorsements including two former EPA administrators who served under Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The Clinton campaign tells CNN it is recruiting disaffected Republicans to join the effort, but insists some are leaving on their own. Turned off by Trump's national security position and his divisive rhetoric.

Despite turning against Trump, Maine's Republican Senator Susan Collins today tells CNN she can't back Hillary Clinton either.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have a lot of concerns about Hillary Clinton and I am not going to support her.

JOHNS: The campaign is also challenging Trump to commit to the three scheduled presidential debates this fall after Trump said he was concerned about potential conflicts with NFL games.

TRUMP: I don't think we should be against the NFL. I don't know how the dates were picked.

JOHNS: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta writing that Clinton looks forward to participating in all three presidential debates, adding, "Our campaign is not interested in playing along about a debate about debates or bargaining around them." Today Clinton also focusing on policy, touring a health care facility

on the front lines of the Zika outbreak in Florida, criticizing Republican congressional leaders for not passing legislation to fight the virus.

CLINTON: I would very much urge the leadership of Congress to call people back for a special session and get a bill passed. Get a bill that is focused on combating Zika passed.


JOHNS: And a little more tonight on the debate issue from our colleagues at "TIME" magazine. In a phone interview, Trump said he would absolutely do three debates, but he said he had to see the conditions and had suggested he might have suggestions to change the terms in much the same way he renegotiated the debates in the primaries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Joe Johns, we'll see what happens on that front. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump goes unscripted, sets off some shockwaves. Listen carefully to this, critics saying he is suggesting violence.


TRUMP: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks, although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.



[17:53:01] BLITZER: House Speaker Paul Ryan is very powerful here in Washington and very popular in his home district in Wisconsin, but Ryan is facing a primary challenge today from the right. His challenger is a businessman and a big Donald Trump supporter.

Our senior political reporter Manu Raju is joining us now.

Manu, you are there in the district. What do we know first of all about Ryan's opponent?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's really a political novice. Someone who's not running a race like this before, and really a no-namer until Donald Trump started tweeting nice things about him last week and Donald Trump having that back and forth with Paul Ryan about whether or not he will endorse Paul Ryan. Eventually he did.

Now what Mr. Nehlen is trying to do is stoke antipathy on the right towards Paul Ryan's -- over Paul Ryan's record on immigration and on trade. And I had a chance to talk to Mr. Nehlen earlier today, and I asked him three times whether or not he thought he'd win. Eventually he said he would but he also suggested he had won a moral victory of sorts. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Mr. Nehlen, are you going to win tonight?

PAUL NEHLEN (R), WISCONSIN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. We've already won. If you look at what we were able to do, we were able to bend the arc of Paul Ryan's trajectory. He's already said he's against TPP and in fact I think he said it to you. He was the mercenary champion to whip those votes for Fast Track.

RAJU: It sounds like you're talking about a moral victory than actually a victory-victory.

NEHLEN: Yes, well, look, stopping that Trans Pacific Partnership, that is a victory for America.

RAJU: Will you be the Republican nominee for this House seat after tonight?

NEHLEN: Absolutely. I feel very strongly that we will be.


RAJU: Now last -- last week, Mr. Nehlen actually got in some hot water when he suggested that maybe perhaps this country should consider deporting all Muslims. I had a chance to ask him about that, he walked back that comment, suggested that the country should look at targeting people who could actually do harm to this homeland and we'll have a chance later tonight, Wolf, to actually hear from Paul Ryan here tonight, asked him about this race, assuming that he wins shortly after.

[17:55:05] He will talk to reporters and will probably answer some questions about Donald Trump, too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Polls close in that district 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. We'll get the results shortly thereafter. Thanks, Manu, very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump sets off some shockwaves when he goes off- script. Critics say he's suggesting violence. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news, suggesting violence? Donald Trump sparks a new uproar saying maybe Second Amendment supporters can do something to stop Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign is insisting he was only talking about voting.

Did he mean something darker?

Rejecting Trump. A senior Republican senator comes out against Donald Trump. Susan Collins cites, and I'm quoting now, "his constant stream of cruel comments."