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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With New York Congressman Gregory Meeks; Donald Trump Speaks Out; Hillary Clinton Argues Trump Campaign Built on Prejudice and Paranoia; Clinton: Trump "Taking Hate Groups Mainstream"; Trump Pulls Back from "Softening" Immigration in CNN Interview; Officials: U.S. Navy Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Boat. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 25, 2016 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:03] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Urging voters to reject what she calls his prejudice and paranoia. Can Clinton change the conversation after days of being on the defensive?

Not racist. Trump claims Clinton is trying to smear his supporters, arguing she's guilty of lies and deception. And, tonight, Trump is defending his claim that Clinton is a bigot in a brand-new CNN interview.

Immigration his way. Trump is going farther and signaling a major shift on his stance on deportations, even as his campaign manger denies any change. Is Trump starting to sound like his former Republican rivals?

And warning shots; 24 hours after Iran's aggressive moves against an American warship, the U.S. responds to another high-risk encounter at sea that's raising military tensions right now.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton warns voters that Donald Trump is giving racist and paranoid fringe groups a national megaphone.

Clinton in Nevada delivering his first public speech in days accusing Trump of stoking hate and resentment. She detailed his links to nationalists and extremist groups, saving some of her harshest attacks for Trump's new campaign CEO, the former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon.

And tonight Trump is offering his first reaction to Clinton's speech in a new interview with CNN. He's refusing to back down from his charge that Clinton is a "bigot," arguing that she knows her policy will not help minority voters.

Earlier, Trump denied that he or his supporters are racist and accuses Clinton of trying to smear them. Speaking in New Hampshire, Trump blasted what he calls Clinton's lies and deception, calling her e-mail controversy Watergate all over again.

Also breaking, U.S. officials say Iran is escalating military tensions with provocative maneuvers against American vessels this week. We're now learning about three new close encounters at sea yesterday, the most dangerous incident prompting the U.S. Navy to fire warning shots.

I will talk about the 2016 campaign and allegations of racism with Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks. Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First to CNN's Pamela Brown. She is covering Hillary Clinton's speech today -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, on the heels of what has been a rocky week, today, Hillary Clinton warned voters that Donald Trump is not a conservative or a Republican. She says that he is practicing a different kind of politics that's driving a wedge between Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

BROWN (voice-over): Hillary Clinton taking direct aim at Donald Trump.

CLINTON: From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He's taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.

BROWN: Slamming him for embracing what she says are extremists and divisive views steeped in white nationalism, misogyny, and anti- Semitism.

CLINTON: The names may have changed. Racists now call themselves racialists. White supremacists now call themselves white nationalists. The paranoid fringe now calls itself alt-right. But the hate burns just as bright. And now Trump is trying to rebrand himself as well. But don't be fooled.

Clinton attempting to draw a stark contrast by portraying herself as someone who wants everyone to have a role in the future.

CLINTON: Every day, more Americans are standing up and saying, enough is enough, including a lot of Republicans. And I'm honored to have their support in this campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BROWN: And questioning the line Trump has been using as part of his outreach to African-American and Hispanic voters. What do you have to lose?

CLINTON: It really does take a lot of nerve to ask people he's ignored and mistreated for decades, what do you have to lose? Because the answer is everything.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BROWN: In New Hampshire today, Donald Trump offered a preemptive response to Clinton's takedown.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She lies and she smears and she paints decent Americans, you, as racists. She bullies voters who only want a better future and tries to intimidate them out of voting for a change. I'm for change.

BROWN: He also accused Clinton of pay-to-play practices during her time as secretary of state.

TRUMP: What is being uncovered now is one of the most shocking scandals in American political history. It's Watergate all over again.

[18:05:03]

BROWN: Clinton defended the work of the foundation during an interview with CNN Wednesday night.

CLINTON: What Trump has said is ridiculous. My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right to keep Americans safe and to protect U.S. interests abroad. I know there's a lot of smoke, and there's no fire.

BROWN: And she admitted she erred in using a private e-mail server during her time at the State Department, saying she was not trying to make excuses for her decision.

CLINTON: When I try to explain what happened, it can sound like I'm trying to excuse what I did. And there are no excuses. I want people to know the decision to have a single e-mail account was mine. I take responsibility for it. I have apologized for it. I would do differently if I could.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And during her speech, Clinton also mentioned prominent Republicans such as Bob Dole and George W. Bush, saying that they are politicians who practiced inclusiveness, an apparent attempt to draw a stark contrast with Donald trump and reach across the aisle to those Republicans who are still on the fence -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about Clinton's new line of attack against Trump.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny was at Hillary Clinton's rally in Reno, Nevada, today -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this was a different speech than we have heard Hillary Clinton give before.

She's given a litany of speeches questioning his fitness for office, his temperament and even his policy views. But this went something farther, deeper than she's gone, talking about what he truly believes in, and more than that forcing voters, urging them to think about what they believe of race in America. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Of course, there's always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, a lot of it arising from racial resentment, but it's never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it and giving it a national megaphone, until now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: She said that Republicanism has never been like this and conservatism has never been like this. She's trying to reach out to some of those voters in the middle who don't like what Donald Trump is saying, some of those Republican voters.

But, Brianna, the challenge here, of course, for Hillary Clinton is she's not a credible messenger necessarily with some of those voters. She has issues of her own on honesty, trustworthiness and other things.

We will have to see how this speech settles in to voters at large. Democrats loved what they heard. But still, those voters in the middle, quite frankly, are dissatisfied with both of their choices in many respects.

KEILAR: Yes. Are their ears even open to it? We shall see.

Jeff Zeleny in Reno, thank you.

Earlier, we got reaction to Hillary Clinton speech from Republican Congressman and Donald Trump supporter Ted Yoho.

Now let's hear from a Democrat.

We are joined by Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. He's the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

And I want to ask you first, Congressman, as -- and thank you so much for joining us.

But we heard Donald Trump just a short time ago sitting down with Anderson Cooper. We got a little bit of a preview of this interview. I want to play this for you and then we will discuss it.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You called last night Hillary Clinton a bigot. Previously, you called her policies bigoted. You directly called her a bigot.

TRUMP: She is a bigot, because you look at what's happening to the inner cities, you look at what's happening to African-Americans and Hispanics in this country, where she talks all the time. She's talking. Look at the vets, where she said the vets are being treated essentially just fine, that it's overexaggerated what's happening to the vets, not so long ago.

COOPER: But how is she bigoted? Bigoted is having hatred toward a political group.

TRUMP: Because she's selling them down the tubes, because she's not doing anything for those communities. She talks a good game. But she doesn't do anything.

COOPER: So, she has hatred?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Her policies are bigoted because she knows they're not going to work.

COOPER: But you're saying she's personally bigoted?

TRUMP: Oh, she is. Of course she is.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Her policies. Her policies, she comes out with the policies. And others that believe like she does also. But she came out with policies over the years. This is over the years. Long time. She's totally bigoted. There's not question about this.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It does imply that she has antipathy, she has hatred toward, in this case, I guess you're talking about African-Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I think she's been extremely, extremely bad for African- Americans. I think she's been extremely bad for Hispanics.

You look at what's happened with her policies and the policies of President Obama and others. Look at the poverty. Look at the rise in poverty. Look at the rise in violence.

COOPER: But hatred is at the core of that or dislike of African- Americans?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Or maybe she's lazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What is your reaction to that as you listen, Congressman?

MEEKS: Pathetic.

Donald Trump is a cheap con man. He conned the Republican Party into the nomination. He's not going to con African-Americans into thinking he's for African-Americans.

His record, his own voice speaks for itself. When you talk about who is bigoted, he started out even running his campaign by denying the first African-American president, trying to say that he was not an African-American.

[18:10:10]

I can guarantee you -- I mean, not an American. I can guarantee you, if he was not African-American, he would have never had the birther situation. Guarantee it. It's because of Barack Obama happened to be African-American.

He talked about taking our country back. Back from who? Well, you have the first African-American president, so he's saying take it back, claiming that African-Americans now -- because we have this president, we need to take the country back. It's his word. It's the code words.

He initially tried to say he did not know who David Duke was. He talked about Mexicans, his opening statement, talking about that they are criminals, they're rapists. He talked about an American citizen who happens to be a jurist, that he couldn't do his job simply because he's Mexican.

This is not what I'm saying. And as a result -- this is his words. And as a result, there are many Republicans who don't want anything to do with him. And that's why at the Republican Convention, you didn't see many Republicans who are in elected office or positions of responsibility even go to the Republican Convention, because they did not want to be associated with those bigoted remarks that came out of the mouth of Donald Trump.

If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it is a duck. And that's Donald Trump.

KEILAR: Congressman, he's been attempting to reach out to African- American voters recently, speaking directly to them, maybe not before them, but certainly to them on camera.

And one of the things that he's saying is, look at certain cities, Baltimore, for instance. And he says Democrats have been in charge of governing these cities, and yet they are still facing tremendous challenges. There needs to be a change.

What do you say to that, where there are some cities where Democrats are governing and there are still just tremendous issues?

MEEKS: Donald Trump is a con man. Donald Trump has no policies, and not one inch in his soul... (CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: But what do you say to that point?

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKS: I'm going to get to this point.

KEILAR: OK.

MEEKS: Because there are -- I'm just saying that he's not the messenger, because, number one, he's not talking to blacks.

That's why he's not before any communities of color when he talks. But let me address, there are poor Appalachian communities that are governed by Republicans, and those individuals are still poor. And we have got to figure out how we resolve this together. That's what Hillary Clinton talks about. We're better together.

We have poverty and crime in pockets in all parts of the United States of America. That's why one of my colleagues, Jim Clyburn, talked about a 10-20-30 formula, so that we can look at the areas where there's been abject poverty, so we can fix it. This is something that Hillary Clinton has embraced and she said that she will move forward on.

Government moves slow. You're talking about equity disparity and equity as far as income disparity. Well, look, in the '90s, under the Clinton administration, income disparity was becoming closer and closer. It's the 2000s, not when Democrats were in control, when Republicans were in control with their policies, that we had the 2008 crisis that caused the greatest disparity that we have had in the African-American community in a long period of time.

KEILAR: But we did see some of the things that happened in the Clinton administration did lead to that. I think we know that with some of the deregulation.

MEEKS: Not income disparities. You can talk about some of the things that took place.

KEILAR: The financial crash, though, I guess is what I'm talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I hear what you're saying about the earnings gap.

MEEKS: But even the financial crash, it was those who put in place by a Republican administration to oversee it, whether they should -- and what they should have done. So, there's a lot that we can talk about.

KEILAR: But I will just say it was Bill Clinton who signed into law the deregulation of those securities that ultimately led to the crash.

But I want to ask you about something that we have been hearing people say. They say, look, this is a little bit cynical that she did this today, because she's been struggling with real questions about the Clinton Foundation, very reasonable concerns that people have about it. And this was her just trying to change the subject.

MEEKS: No.

Listen, to me, when you look at the Clinton Foundation, number one, it's a five-star foundation. If you talk to any impartial individual that talks about the Clinton Foundation and what it does to save the lives of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, it is by far the standard that they would like a number of other foundations to follow.

The Clinton Foundation is not about the Clintons putting any money individually in their pockets. Donald Trump has only been about putting money in his pockets and his family's pockets.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: It's not the disputing of the good works. Even with acknowledging that the Clinton Foundation has done many good things, the issue is the conflict of interests. OK? That's really the issue here. And so there are real questions about that.

[18:15:13]

MEEKS: There's not been any conflict. Show one policy that...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: An appearance of a conflict of interests, which, as you know, in politics is very important.

MEEKS: You can make up smoke or make up anything that you want to make up.

I have heard Donald Trump say that the worst network on television is CNN. It's garbage. We know that you do good work. I have saw him talking about -- he's talked about sometimes to ban the CNN camera. It's garbage, what he puts out there. He put it out there about this network and other networks and newscasters. And he's putting it out there about Hillary Clinton. It's the same garbage the same way. And it should be accepted the same way.

KEILAR: Congressman, I do have to get in a quick break here. I'm going to have you stand by for me.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much. We have much more to discuss ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:20]

KEILAR: We're back with the breaking news, Donald Trump defending his charge that Hillary Clinton is a bigot in a new CNN interview.

He's been working all day to counter her allegations that he's making hate groups mainstream.

Let's get more on Trump's message from CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Hi, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hey, Brianna.

Donald Trump knew exactly what Hillary Clinton was going to be talking about today and he just so happened to have a speech right before her speech. He used that speech to try and prebut what Clinton was going after, defending his campaign, defending his supporters, more than that, trying to turn everything onto Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump attempting to get out in front of Hillary Clinton on race. Just moments before Clinton attacked Trump's campaign on the issue, Trump attempting to turn the tables.

TRUMP: She lies and she smears, and she paints decent Americans, you, as racists. She bullies voters who only want a better future and tries to intimidate them out of voting for a change. I'm for change. She doesn't want change.

MATTINGLY: The GOP nominee also stepping up his outreach to minority voters, hosting a roundtable with black and Latino fellows to the Republican Leadership Institute, this coming after Trump deployed this harsh critique of his opponent overnight.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton is a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.

MATTINGLY: The comment even appearing to shock this woman sitting behind him. Even as Trump tries to rebrand Hillary Clinton, he's also facing questions about a defining piece of his own brand, immigration. Today, Trump pledged a strong immigration policy.

TRUMP: Very strong on illegal immigration. We have to be. We have no choice. We either have a country or we don't. We either have borders or we don't.

MATTINGLY: But, overnight, he appeared to be softening his hard-line stance, one that fueled his rise to the GOP nomination.

TRUMP: They will pay back taxes. They have to pay taxes. There's no amnesty as such. There's no amnesty. But we work with them. Now, OK, but when I look at the rooms and I have this all over, now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out.

MATTINGLY: Words that sound a lot like the competitors he vanquished and ridiculed.

TRUMP: Bush is weak on immigration.

Rubio weak on illegal immigration, like weak like a baby. MATTINGLY: In the GOP primary, like Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We're not going to have amnesty. Sanctuary cities should lose all their federal funding. And criminal aliens should be immediately deported.

MATTINGLY: Or Jeb Bush.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: If they pay a fine, if they work, if they don't receive government assistance, if they learn English, over an extended -- and they get a provisional work permit, over a period of time, they can get legal status.

MATTINGLY: And appeared a long way from this earlier position on deportation.

TRUMP: People that have come into our country illegally, they have to go.

MATTINGLY: But Trump's advisers insist there's no change at all.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: And trying to find a way to explain -- or for Donald Trump to articulate to Americans a very complex issue and how he feels about it. But I assure you nothing has changed in terms of the policies.

MATTINGLY: Trump's apparent shift getting called out today by Jeb Bush.

BUSH: All the things that Donald Trump railed against, he seems to be morphing into. It's kind of disturbing.

MATTINGLY: As well as from his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: Somebody has told him, I guess the latest people that he's consulting, how damaging his statements have been, how terrible his deportation plan is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Brianna, it now appears we have another twist in the Donald Trump immigration policy story. Take a listen to what he told Anderson Cooper just a little bit ago in New Hampshire in his exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: If they haven't committed a crime, is there going to be a path to legalization? I'm talking about citizenship.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, there's not a past -- there's no path to legalization, unless people leave the country. Well, when they come back in, if they come back in, then they can start paying taxes. COOPER: So, they still have to leave the country?

TRUMP: But there's no path to legalization unless they leave the country and come back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:25:00]

MATTINGLY: A statement that looks an awful lot different than what he told Sean Hannity last night -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Well put. Phil Mattingly outside of Trump Tower, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our political experts to talk about this.

Wow. Donald Trump will say all time that your head is going to spin. Truly, this is a time I think where it is in a way, because this is completely antithetical to what he said yesterday, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is, which is -- we should make clear, he hasn't rolled out the immigration policy that he's going to run on in the fall election yet. So, this is little bit like trying to pin Jell-O to the wall here, because we don't know where he's going to land.

KEILAR: Sure.

CHALIAN: What we're seeing is somebody going through a very public searching of trying to alter his policy to get to a place where he thinks he will be able to win over a broader swathe of voters.

But it was quite clear to me, I don't know how you guys felt, but in listening to him this week, especially last night with Sean Hannity, he was very open to the possibility of some -- quote, unquote -- "good ones," people that have been here for 20 years and have family ties, to be able to stay in the country. Pay back taxes, which he says would eradicate the need to call it amnesty, but...

KEILAR: Although many conservatives would disagree with that.

CHALIAN: Totally.

But this is what he was clearly saying, to my ear, last night, that he was opening to that, and then today standing there with Anderson Cooper and saying, no, you have to go back to your country first. That's now back to where he was in the nomination season.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is the kind of thing that you would expect the candidate to do six months ago, eight months ago before they get into the race, hammer this stuff out.

The problem for him is that he has now eight months of public statements. And the Clinton campaign is dealing with a candidate who has virtually nothing on paper. So, they can make his immigration policy whatever they want it to be.

And they going are going to continue to make it about deportations for as long as they possibly can. And by the looks of it, this isn't being hammered out any time soon. So, it could be quite some time.

KEILAR: OK, but we think we're going to hear about this next week, right?

DAVID SWERDLICK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, but I think they want to stall this out and see how it plays out with the public.

KEILAR: These are all trial balloons, then; is that what you're seeing?

SWERDLICK: They have got to be trial balloons.

And I think, as David was saying, look, earlier this week, Brianna, he walked up as close as he could to the line of saying amnesty without using the word amnesty.

But then, in the last couple of days, you see he's kind of losing Ann Coulter. He's giving the Heisman to his sort of closest and longest- term supporters.

Now I think someone is in his ear saying, look, he's got to reel it back and say, people are -- may be able to get legalization, but they are going to have to leave the country first. That's closer to his original position.

OLIVIA NUZZI, THE DAILY BEAST: What it looked like earlier this week was that he was learning about immigration in real time, publicly. And he seemed sort of astonished by the facts.

And then when that didn't work out so well, when you had people like Ann Coulter coming out to say, well, what is he talking about, this is why we like him -- her book came out. In her book, it said the only thing that would drive Trump supporters away from him would be changing his mind on immigration.

So, when that didn't work out, I think he had sort of a heart attack publicly.

KEILAR: It would be changing his mind on the thing he built his campaign on too.

CHALIAN: It's the underpinning of the entire thing.

KEILAR: Exactly.

CHALIAN: And he used the word himself. His own word was softening, right, earlier.

So, now it does not appear -- I can't point to what is the -- quote, unquote -- "softening" that he thought he was referring to if indeed his position now is back to deporting everybody first?

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: It's going to be difficult to stop Trump from wanting to do the thing that got him here.

KEILAR: Right. Exactly, wanting to do what Trump wants to do. Let Trump be Trump. We will see.

OK, you guys, stand by for me. We have much more to discuss and much more from Donald Trump tonight. Right here on CNN, you will be able to see in its entirety his new interview with Anderson Cooper. Check that out 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "A.C. 360."

And just ahead: Did Hillary Clinton camp's go too far with a new video tying Trump to the Klan? The Trump campaign calls it repulsive. More with our political team after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:33:29] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And we are back now with our political team and the breaking news.

Hillary Clinton trying to tie Donald Trump to white supremacists and extremist groups in a new speech. She's telling voters that Trump's real message is "make America hate again". So, we're going to talk about that in just a moment.

But we're also going to talk about immigration because we're learning that Donald Trump appears to maybe be signaling that he's actually not softening on his immigration stance from something he just told Anderson Cooper. We're going to hear the full interview tonight at 8:00 p.m. But this is something that he said. No pathway.

So, I guess, you know, in this case, he's going kind of back and forth. There doesn't really seem to be this cohesive idea of what he's going to do. Does he run the risk of kind of confusing people and just losing them in the process where he doesn't seem he is decisive?

DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think he's a touch confused. In the clip that you played before the break, he told Anderson, no path to legalization. That is not the same as path to citizenship, even though the two phrases get interchanged a lot.

And I think it really -- there are some conservatives in Congress, conservatives who have been following this issue where the demarcation line between legalization, letting people stay here, have amnesty and actually a path to citizenship is a very important distinction.

KEILAR: Meaning you can get out of the country if you're here undocumented, and there could be a path to citizenship coming back. Is that what you mean?

SWERDLICK: Well, I'm just saying, legalization is being able to live and work here. Citizenship --

KEILAR: Without leaving. [18:35:00] SWERDLICK: Right, without leaving or with leaving.

Citizenship obviously going all the way through the naturalization process. We normally think of people eventually getting to the point where they can be naturalized, but he hasn't made that distinction.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: -- clear at this point, in this interview with Anderson Cooper is that everybody has to leave. That the only way, if I understand him correctly, the only way he sees an opportunity for somebody who is here in an undocumented manner now is to go leave the country, go home to their home country and then come back. We don't yet have what the process would be to come back and obtain legal status.

KEILAR: And then, what is the outstanding question then. If you leave, do you get to go to the front of the line? Do you go to the back of the line?

ABBY PHILLIP, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not only that, how are you leaving?

KEILAR: That's a lot of people. Right.

PHILLIP: Is he going to ask them, force them? Are they going to leave on their own?

These are unanswered questions and they're real questions. I mean, he didn't really answer them in the clip that you played earlier. Also, I think he left a lot of open space for interpretation.

I thought the biggest thing that Donald Trump id in that clip was actually soften his demeanor on this issue. When I talk to Republican pollster earlier this week, that's one of the things they talk about. Voters are on edge about his crassness and the way he's gone at issues in a very aggressive manner.

And the way he talked about immigration, as we just saw, was sort of leaning toward what might be a policy. They're going to leave in some way. They're going to come back. They're going to have some sort of legal status. We don't know what the details are. But that's the difference between him saying that and saying Operation Wetback was great thing and we should do that.

KEILAR: But how do you soften and that's almost burned into the minds of so many people between build the wall and they got to go.

OLIVIA NUZZI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: It's an impossible position for him now because so many people love him because he's basically based his entire candidacy on being so harsh on this issue. But I think, you know, the problem is that we're putting more thought into Trump's policy right now than he seems to have.

And it's getting very late. He doesn't have too much time left. I don't think he can be out there waffling like this for much longer. KEILAR: What does this mean for -- we're not too far away from the

debate. What does this mean he's trying to solidify his policies? How is that going to look when he has to stand there and be authoritative about them and make it seem like this is something he knows forward and backward?

SWERDLICK: Yes. I mean, to Abby's point, I think he probably will try and soften his demeanor and say things like, you know, we're going to do this humanely. We're going to make a distinction between people who have committed crimes and people who are hard working immigrants.

But to your point, Olivia, right, either there are two ways to, quote- unquote, "bring people out of the shadows". Either you offer them way to become legalized or you round them up. That's the reality.

NUZZI: And what that would require, I mean, he hasn't gotten to the logistics of that. It would be all hands on deck. We wouldn't be able to do anything in this country but that until it was complete.

KEILAR: Can he lose people? I mean, there are people so committed to him, but if he does appear to be adjusting, do they see that as -- I mean, are they open to him making the case about why he would be retooling a central pillar of his campaign or do they suddenly then say, oh my gosh, this isn't the guy that I thought he was?

PHILLIPS: This is real concern for him. I mean, so much of his base is with him because they feel like he's defying the system. If he starts to look like he's sort of caving to it, becoming a little bit more like his former Republican opponents, I think there's real concern that will be a problem for him. And furthermore, the shifts that he can make at this late stage in this game will only do so much to help him and will only do so much to help him with Republicans.

So, there are many Republicans who are not comfortable with his position on immigration and they might give him a second look but they might not because this inconsistency is seen as something they cannot rely on. So, it's very unclear how this will work out for them. And, you know, come the debate, Hillary Clinton's job number one is going to be to remind people over and over again that Trump has said up until this point.

CHALIAN: But his supporters, his loyalists are as committed as I've ever seen in politics. There is a cult of personality around him and they buy into wholeheartedly this notion of being defiant of the system that I do think he probably has greater flexibility among his supporters to move a little bit around without some massive backlash that can peel them away in big numbers.

NUZZI: I think on every other issue but this one, though. I think it's an important distinction. I don't want to overstate how important Ann Coulter is in terms of representing the conservative movement, but she has an entire book about supporting Trump.

[18:40:07] And she says, I'm repeating myself, but she says in it, this is the one issue that his supporters would not be OK with him changing his mind on. And the fact that he's showing it shows such an arrogance in how loyal his supporters are.

KEILAR: Yes. Are they loyal to Donald Trump or Ann Coulter? That's something to see.

OK. We have much more to discuss because this race sort of devolved into some name-calling today, as you know. We're going to discuss that again or ahead, I should say.

Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a bigot, doubling down on that. Hillary Clinton trying to tie Donald Trump to some of his most extreme supporters. We'll be back with the panel after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:32] KEILAR: And we're back now with our political team and more on Donald Trump's shifting stance on immigration, but also Hillary Clinton's speech today where basically you heard her detailing in Donald Trump's words links that he has to the alt-right. She's trying to paint Donald Trump with the same brush as his most extreme supporters and just overall, it seems it's not uplifting but this whole cycle today kind of gets boiled down to just name-calling on both sides.

CHALIAN: Yes, he was calling her a criminal and crooked and she was calling him racist. There was no sort of like America, set your eyes to the horizon and look where I will lead you.

KEILAR: Look forward.

CHALIAN: That is sort of missing from this campaign overall today I think.

I do think Hillary Clinton's argument, obviously, was aimed completely now after trying to disqualify him and will continue to do so, but after laying the predicate to disqualify him as having the wrong temperament for the job and not the right person to have the finger on the button, she's now adding to this argument this slice which is he's completely outside the mainstream of American politics. So, even folks in the middle who may not be my supporters, listen up, this is something who is outside the mainstream in politics and is embracing language, associating language that he should not be part of somebody seeking the highest office in the land.

PHILLIP: So, when I talk to some Republican voters just normal people going to the ballot box, a lot of what they say is "I'm worried that my friends will think I'm racist because of Trump". That's real thing among Republicans who normally vote Republican, who voted for Romney, who voted for McCain. They're concerned about the perception that Trump has sort of placed on the party.

That's what she was speaking to. She wanted to lay out the ground work, let them understand that they can walk away from that. She didn't actually necessarily ask them to walk toward her. That was notably missing from her speech. She just said walk away --

KEILAR: Maybe she realized that might be a bit much to ask for people who have serious --

PHILLIP: Yes, and Republicans don't need to. She -- I mean, I think it works both to her benefit if Republicans stay at home and if they vote for her.

KEILAR: I want you to look at this ad, because she's also out with an ad that -- you know, I'm going to let it speak for itself. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is lot of what he believes in, we believe in. Donald Trump will be best for the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: I'm farmer and white nationalist. Support Donald Trump.

JARED TAYLOR, AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: Sending out all the illegals, building a wall and moratorium on Islamic immigration. That's very appealing to a lot of ordinary white people.

DAVID DUKE, FORMER KKK GRAND WIZARD: Running against Donald Trump is treason to your heritage.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I don't know anything about white supremacists. So, I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump named Steve Bannon as his new campaign CEO. Mr. Bannon is best known for his controversial Breitbart News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A campaign chair that ran a website that has become a field day for the alt-right, which is racist and all sorts of other "ists".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The alt-right, which is the sort of dressed up in suits version of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of what he believes, we believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And to be clear, that's not an ad. That is a web video playing online.

Is this effective? What do people who see this think? Does this change who they're going to vote for? SWERDLICK: Yes, I think the video is okay. I'm not sure that that's

the most effective message. The most effective message against Donald Trump in terms of his views and his own statements, not the other people who he is affiliated with. The average person taking their kids to soccer practice. I don't think he's thinking about the alt- right or Steve Bannon.

Her speech today I thought was, you know, was not a game changer but effective in this sense. She got, like what Abby was saying, she got persuadable voters, Bucks County, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, I-4 corridor Florida voters on her side a little bit more saying, look, there's a difference between me and Donald Trump and here it is.

KEILAR: It seemed like she was building on some other speeches that we have seen her give, where -- you know, normally you watch a candidate and they sort of twist the other candidate's words. And then you really do have to fact check and you find out it's half the truth.

One of the issues I noticed is she just used his words or paraphrased in a pretty accurate way some of -- characterizing some of the things he said.

[18:50:06] I asked a Republican congressman who said that she parsing his words. I said, OK, well, where? So, like, where was parsing his words so that there is something she's pointing to that's not true. And he couldn't point it out to me. I mean, that's a huge problem for Donald Trump.

NUZZI: It's a problem, and what's the bigger problem for Donald Trump and usually I would say it's unfair to blame a candidate for their supporters, but in Donald Trump's case, he's constantly engaging with these people. She mentioned it today during the speech. He's retweeting white nationalists, white supremacists. He's making it easy for her to do this.

And I disagree. I do think it was an effective video. I do think that the speech was effective, and I thought her tone was very different today. She was quieter.

She -- her voice was lower. She sounded genuinely frightened by what she was talking about, and I think if you're at home watching that speech, this is not something you care about day to day, and you're don't know who Steve Bannon is, I still think that message would get across to you.

KEILAR: I thought about David what makes a speech like she gave today or that she gave in San Diego about foreign policy different from some of her other ones, and when I think about her stump speech, I think sometimes that she's speaking sometimes in platitudes. I think she believes what she's saying, but it's sort of -- it's just not quite as anchored to something that she believes, like, in her core.

Do you know what I mean? You get a sense that someone is connecting to what they're saying and in a speech like today or in San Diego, you get the sense that she feels wholeheartedly every word and it's not just a platitude.

CHALIAN: And there was a sobriety to her speech today. I just thought it was -- she was as serious as a heart attack, and I think she was really trying to raise the stakes for people. Listen, we're getting to that Labor Day moment, we're getting to that focus moments, and most Americans do not watch Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton speeches in their entirety like we do.

They see the coverage of it. They catch a snippet of it. But throughout her, the entire speech today, no matter what clip you're going to see from her, you're going to see someone who is trying to raise the stakes for Americans in this election.

KEILAR: Thank you guys so much. You've been so generous with your time and an expert panel of political reporters. We do appreciate it so much.

Anderson Cooper is going to press Donald Trump on many of these key issues. You've seen little bits of it, but the interview in its entirety with the Republican presidential nominee is coming up here not too long at 8:00 Eastern tonight. Check that out on "AC360".

And just ahead, a U.S. Navy vessel fired warning shots at an Iranian patrol boat. U.S. officials say it was harassing the Americans. That follows what the U.S. says was a high-speed intercept of an American destroyer. What's Iran up to?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:03] KEILAR: We're following breaking news.

Dangerous maneuvers by Iran threatening U.S. Navy vessels for a second day this week and this time warning shots were fired.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here with details.

This is pretty alarming, Barbara. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Brianna.

It is. Now, the U.S. Navy forced to fire warning shots at the Iranians amid these rising tensions just one day after an initial high-risk encounter at sea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appears to be unsafe, unprofessional. STARR (voice-over): All four boats you see here are Iranian

Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels approaching at high speed and apparently on a collision course with a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz.

This video shot from the USS Nitze. It warned the Iranians with horns and flares to back off, but at least two of the Iranian boats kept approaching, coming within 300 yards, forcing the Nitze to alter course Tuesday, the Iranian boats finally turning away. By Wednesday, a significant rise in tensions. Revolution Guard corps

boats harassing and endangering U.S. Navy vessels three times in 24 hours. The most dangerous resulting in the U.S. Navy firing warning shots at the Iranians.

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: They did feel compelled ultimately to fire three warning shots. And the reason for that is they had used steps -- they had taken steps already to try and deescalate this situation.

STARR: It happened at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. An Iranian fast boat like this approached two U.S. Navy patrol craft, the USS Tempest and the USS Squall. U.S. officials say the Squall using its 50-caliber machine guns fired three warning shots into the water at the Iranians.

This after the Iranian boat had circled around the U.S. vessels, at one point coming within 200 yards.

The U.S. Navy crews had fired warning flares. Eventually, the two sides had a short bridge to bridge conversation, but the warning shots fired when the Iranians still did not back away. The two U.S. Navy boats had been harassed earlier.

Then, the USS Stout also confronted Iranian boats, the third tense incident on the high seas.

CHRISTOPHER HARMER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: The danger of miscalculation is very high. You do this enough and run the simulation enough times sooner or later somebody is going to make a mistake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And that is the worry, Brianna. One side or the other will make a mistake, that there will be a miscalculation and some incident will break out that nobody wants to have -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. There's no room for error there.

All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much for that report.

And stay with us for more on the presidential race, including Anderson Cooper's new interview with Donald Trump. That will be at 8:00 Eastern tonight on "AC360."

I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you so much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" tonight with Jim Sciutto starts right now.