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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Foundation Pay-to-Play Scandal?; Interview With Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz; 88 Retired Generals, Admirals Endorse Trump; Clinton Slams Trump on Taxes; Presidential Race Tightens. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 6, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Fighting over veterans. Trump meets with military families and wins the support of dozens of retired generals, this as new Clinton ad accuses Trump of disrespecting veterans. Tonight, who is winning the commander in chief test?
Call to investigate. Republicans are pushing for another federal probe of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. I will talk to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee about his concern the key evidence may have been destroyed.
And menacing ships. Iran escalates its high seas harassment of the U.S. Navy. We have new details about another provocative maneuver by Iranian fast attack boats that put Americans at risk.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are trading new attacks out there on the campaign trail as our exclusive new CNN/ORC poll shows Trump edging ahead of Clinton among likely voters nationwide. The two presidential nominees now in a virtual tie, as the race moves into the final stretch.
We're standing by to hear from Trump soon at a rally in North Carolina. Tonight, the Republican is denying any link between a $25,000 donation made by his foundation back in 2013 and the controversy surrounding Trump University. That donation helped fund the reelection of the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Bondi later decided not to investigate allegations of fraud at Trump University.
Also tonight, Hillary Clinton is dismissing the new GOP push to investigate her e-mails, arguing the FBI's probe resolved all those questions. A House panel is asking the Justice Department to determine if Clinton and her aides destroyed evidence and obstructed justice when files were deleted from her private server.
I will talk to the congressman in charge of that committee, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. We will bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.
Up first, CNN's Sunlen Serfaty with more on the Trump campaign and CNN's exclusive new polls -- Sunlen.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Trump campaign has some reason to celebrate tonight. Trump has nearly wiped out Clinton's national lead in this new poll and this race is now basically in a dead heat. You see here in this new poll Trump is just barely at 45 percent to Clinton's 43 percent.
But it is not all good news for Donald Trump tonight. This poll also reveals some major areas of vulnerabilities for Him on the question of his temperament and if he is ready for the responsibility to be commander in chief. So the Trump campaign is refocusing on national security to try to minimize those areas of doubt.
SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump is making an across-the-board play to flex his national security muscles.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should not have been in Iraq, but we should not have gotten out of Iraq the way we got out. ISIS just evolved out of all of the turmoil, all of weakness, all of the stupidity of the decisions from Hillary Clinton, from Barack Obama.
SERFATY: The GOP nominee is campaigning today with retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn in Virginia.
TRUMP: People say as an example, Russia, Hillary likes to play tough with Russia. Putin looks at her and he laughs.
SERFATY: As his running mate, Mike Pence, hammers a similar theme in Missouri.
GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been amateur hour on the world stage for the last 7.5 years. Donald Trump showed you can have broad shoulders and still stand with grace and poise on the international stage.
SERFATY: The synchronized effort includes the campaign's release of a letter signed by 88 retired million leaders announcing their support for Trump and calling for a "long overdue course correction in our national security posture."
But as the Trump team tries to refocus on national security, Trump's still shifting stance on immigration is raising more questions about the cornerstone issue of his campaign.
TRUMP: I'm not ruling out anything, no, no.
SERFATY: Trump is refusing to close the door on potentially allowing undocumented immigrants to get legal status without leaving the country, telling reporters Monday:
TRUMP: We're going to make that decision into the future, OK? Good question. I'm glad you asked me. That decision will be made. SERFATY: Trump also leaving open the possibility in an interview with
ABC News, saying it could be that some undocumented immigrants get to stay, adding -- quote -- "I'm going to make a decision or somebody will, whether it's me or somebody else, because by that time, we will have a secure border. We will have a wall."
But that position stands in direct conflict with what Trump said less than a week ago at his major immigration policy speech in Arizona.
TRUMP: For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only, to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.
SERFATY: And the seemingly endless shift in Trump's position on immigration is leaving many to question whether this is a calculated, strategic move on his part to intentionally keep his stance vague.
And certainly right now, Wolf, he is leaving a lot more question marks than he is firm answers.
BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty reporting, thank you.
Tonight, Donald Trump is holding a rally in Greenville, North Carolina.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray is on the scene for us right now.
Sara, what are you learning about Trump's expected remarks tonight?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are expecting Donald Trump to continue hammering home the national security message here in North Carolina, but to do it by going after Hillary Clinton and her e-mails.
I was speaking to a senior adviser earlier who said they are expecting Donald Trump to say that that because of her previous behavior, she wouldn't even be allowed a top security clearance today. We're Expecting Donald Trump to say she obstructed justice and that the notion that she forgot what she put in these e-mails, she forgot these interactions is the kind of defense that doesn't that seem work for anyone but the Clintons.
And, Wolf, as a signal for too just how potent they believe this national security message is, they believe her actions, when it comes to these e-mails, really disqualify her to be commander in chief -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Who will be with Trump tonight at this big rally in North Carolina, Sara?
MURRAY: We saw a number of them earlier today. Rudy Giuliani is expected to continue on with him today in North Carolina, as well as Michael Flynn and as well as his daughter Ivanka Trump.
And even though it looks and sounds very much like a big raucous rally behind me, this will be yet another event where Donald Trump delivers his remarks off a teleprompter.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much, Sara Murray reporting.
We will stand by for Trump's remarks.
Let's talk about a new push by House Republicans to launch yet another investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
Joining us now, Congressman Jason Chaffetz. He's chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Thanks.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your new investigation. I want to play an exchange that Hillary Clinton had today with reporters. She was asked what you're up to. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: To follow up on the Chaffetz investigation, though, he's asked for a U.S. attorney to look into whether your aides deleted e- mails that had already been subpoenaed. Do you have any concerns that e-mails were deleted after they were already supposed to be preserved and did you ask for them to be deleted?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, of course not. I have no concern on either count, none. Neither did the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I don't know if you could hear it, but she said "I have no concern on either count, none, and neither did the FBI."
What are you up to now?
CHAFFETZ: That's not true.
The FBI said they didn't look at the testimony she gave under Congress. Remember, it was in 2015, years after she left office, on March 3, the select committee from Benghazi issues a preservation order. March 4, they send a subpoena. March 10, the secretary goes out on television and says they have preserved all of these e-mails.
But then it is March 25, literally days later, that there's actually a conference call. And that's between David Kendall and Cheryl Mills, her top advisers, and the Platte River Networks.
Guess what? Less than a week letter -- a week later, there is actually documents that are destroyed. There is a work order that documents this. All new information that we helped glean from the FBI report and questions we have, because these aren't Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
BLITZER: I know you asked James Comey, the FBI director, to investigate her testimony before Congress, whether she perjured herself, whether she lied. Has the FBI launched an investigation? Have you formally made that request?
CHAFFETZ: We did.
I was shocked and surprised, after nearly a year of an investigation, they never looked, the FBI never looked at her testimony under oath before the House of Representatives or the United States Senate.
BLITZER: Have they launched an investigation, the FBI?
CHAFFETZ: They will never confirm or deny whether or not they have done that.
But the House has responsibility. These are not Hillary Clinton's e- mails. These are federal records. And I believe it is one of potentially the biggest breaches of security in the history of the State Department.
You can't just let all this classified information and four years of records go out the door without some accountability and without us making sure that it never happens.
BLITZER: Here's the criticism of you and your supporters. There have been so many of these investigations already by members of Congress, congressional committees, including your own, as well as the FBI. No criminal charges have been filed against Hillary Clinton. You heard what James Comey said.
What do you realistically hope might emerge from your latest investigation?
CHAFFETZ: Well, when the FBI director testifies that they never even looked at that, when the FBI director confirms...
BLITZER: But that was not their responsibility.
CHAFFETZ: Well, again, so we have waited patiently. You didn't see us doing hearings on this.
We waited patiently. Hillary Clinton is the one that chose this timeline. Hillary Clinton is the one that came up with this convenient relationship with herself and you have got to beg the question, what about the foundation? Was the interaction with the State Department, was that official business or private business?
BLITZER: But tell us specifically what you're looking for.
CHAFFETZ: I want to get to the truth. I want to make sure this never happens again.
BLITZER: But specifically what?
CHAFFETZ: What did she do or not do with those documents? Because the proximity in the timeline is just stunning. She holds these e- mails for years. Does not turn them over. She says it is for convenience, but she held onto them.
And then within days, literally days of a conference call with her two lead attorneys and assistants, there is the destruction of documents. And now we know from the FBI that those e-mails have been recovered by the FBI, 14,900 new documents we haven't seen.
We can't even -- the Associated Press is suing, for years has been suing in court under the Freedom of Information Act just trying to get Hillary Clinton's calendar.
BLITZER: But between now and November 8, the election, what are you plan on doing, if anything?
CHAFFETZ: Well, we have three hearings that will be happening in rapid succession.
BLITZER: Who is going to testify?
CHAFFETZ: Well, the first is going to happen on Thursday. We want to know under the Freedom of Information Act, what about all those responses to Congress? What about those responses to the Freedom of Information Act?
So, we're going to have under Secretary Kennedy and some of the people in charge of FOIA. The following Monday, we want to bring up the people who make the classifications and make the redactions on these documents, because the information they have shown us should not be redacted.
And so we want to know about that. And then I want to get at the I.T. geeks. Those are the people that really knows what's happened here. According to the FBI reports, some of these people evidently pled the Fifth. And really this timeline really doesn't look good for what Clinton did with these federal records.
BLITZER: The majority leader, remember, he got into a lot of trouble, Kevin McCarthy, when he said this entire thing, Benghazi, all of these investigations, in effect, he said are political. Look at Hillary Clinton. Look at how her numbers have gone down as a result of this.
The accusation against you, you're doing this now for political reasons.
CHAFFETZ: No. Hillary Clinton chose this timeline.
She came up with this convenient relationship with herself. She's the one that delayed the release of these for so long. And even to this day, the State Department has still not turned over to Congress all of the information. And we just got the FBI report a couple weeks ago.
No matter the election, I'm the chairman of the Oversight Committee. Of course we're going to do this investigation. These are federal records that have inappropriately left. They should not happen. And I don't care what's going on with the election. We're going to get to the...
BLITZER: Let's say she's elected. You will continue this investigation.
CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. Whether she wins, loses, I have a duty under the Constitution to fulfill my constitutional duty to provide that check and balance. That's what the chairman of the Oversight Committee does.
BLITZER: Very quickly, James Comey's bottom-line assessment that we all heard it, against launching any criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, did he do the right thing?
CHAFFETZ: I think Mr. Comey is a man of great integrity. I don't think he had a political desire to do one thing or the other.
I disagree with his final assessment about intent. But when he hasn't even looked at those things that are important to the House of Representatives as anything, I have got a duty to then take that baton and make sure that we do that probe and it's full in its entirety, wherever it leads us.
BLITZER: You have seen all the latest accusations against Donald Trump, that his foundation, charitable foundation, gave $25,000 to the attorney general, to a group supporting Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general.
The accusation is that he was doing it to convince her not to launch an investigation into Trump University. The IRS later said the contribution was illegal. They fined this charitable contribution $2,500.
Is that something you want to look into as well?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I don't see the federal jurisdiction in this case. It does look to me to be a state issue. It is regarding an attorney general in Florida. I just don't see the federal jurisdiction that the federal records in this Clinton case...
BLITZER: Because the accusation is there is a double standard, that you only want to look at Democrats. You don't really want to look at Republicans.
CHAFFETZ: Oh, no, I have got a clean record of actually looking very hard and I have been very critical of Mr. Trump along the way.
If he said something wrong -- I want to call balls and strikes as they come across the plate. And in this case, Hillary Clinton has lied time and time again. She's not been truthful. Even today on the airplane, she's not telling the truth if she says that the FBI gave her a clean bill of health. That's just not true.
BLITZER: They gave her a clean bill of health on what they were investigating. They didn't look into her testimony before Congress.
CHAFFETZ: Didn't even look at it.
BLITZER: That was not, according to James Comey, their responsibility.
Very quickly, have you endorsed Donald Trump for president?
CHAFFETZ: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: You want him to be the president?
CHAFFETZ: Originally, I was with Marco Rubio. But I said I would support the nominee. And I do. Compared to Hillary Clinton? From my political vantage point? Oh, my goodness, Donald Trump would be..
BLITZER: Do you think he's been truthful?
CHAFFETZ: I do. I do he has. In comparison to Hillary Clinton? I mean, I'm 100 percent certain that she will look into the camera and just lie, lie, lie.
BLITZER: We have more got questions for you, Congressman Chaffetz. Stay with us.
We are going to take a quick break. We will resume this conversation right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, as our new poll shows the presidential race right now in a virtual tie.
Congressman, tomorrow, you are going to be releasing the findings of a cyber-attack on the U.S. government's Office of Personnel Management. Thousands and thousands of people had a lot of their private, personal information stolen. Can you give us the upshot? What's the bottom line? What happened here? Who was responsible for that hack?
CHAFFETZ: Unfortunately, there are going to be people bombarding our personnel systems all the time.
But there were more than 20 million people with personal identifiable information that was released to these nefarious actors out there. And it was preventable. I think we were misled in Congress. I think the president had put in Ms. Archuleta, the wrong people at the Office of Personnel Management. He has since corrected that.
I believe in Beth Cobert, who is now in there. And I think the president picked a good person. But we have got to have a zero tolerance. There has got to be zero trust in these computer networks. There has got to be dual authentication. There's got to be verification. Right now, we're just not operating at the optimum level.
BLITZER: Because you're saying 20 million federal workers and their families.
CHAFFETZ: Millions of fingerprints.
BLITZER: They had a lot of private information that was stolen. Who did it?
Well, I can't get into the details of that, but on our report, we are going to show that once we knew that this is happening, we did not take the right -- make the right moves to make sure that we were extracting out of the system.
BLITZER: Was a foreign government responsible? I know you don't want to tell us.
CHAFFETZ: I do think it came from overseas. But I can't name that.
BLITZER: I have been told it was China. But I don't know if that's what you have concluded. Maybe you can give us an indication.
CHAFFETZ: Well, when I see classified information, I'm not going to go out and share it.
BLITZER: Is that classified, who was responsible?
CHAFFETZ: I do believe it is classified and I can't talk about that.
BLITZER: Who has got a stronger cyber-attack capability, China or Russia?
CHAFFETZ: Well, you have to worry about both. Those are the two nation states that have the capability. There are others. There's a guy in a van down by the river who is probably pretty good at hacking into the system too. You have got to be ready for all actors.
BLITZER: But why would they want this information about employees, federal workers at the Office of Personnel Management? What is Russia or China or any other country, why do they need this information?
CHAFFETZ: Well, they actually got in through the Department of Interior. But once they were inside, they could look at and map out basically the government of the United States.
And if you're trying to figure out who is dealing in classified information, who is dealing with intelligence, who is dealing with all those of things that maybe they want to know about a country, they can figure out who is moving where, who has got what security clearances, what vulnerabilities they have, what does their fingerprint look like?
If you are actually operating on behalf of the United States of America, and doing some stuff that is maybe classified, you don't want that out in the information. And that was let on.
BLITZER: Is Russia hacking right now DNC, Democratic National Committee, other Democratic institutions, to try to have an impact on the outcome of the presidential election? The accusation is that the Russians want Trump elected.
CHAFFETZ: I think that there has to be an assumption from the United States that these outside entities, whether they be nation states or rogue individuals or terrorists, are probing and looking at not only Democrats.
They're looking at Republicans. And they're looking at the federal government. And if you don't have the proper cleansing tools, if you don't implement the very basic hygiene on your systems, whether you're living in Iowa and you're looking at your banking information to somebody who serves at the CIA, look out, because they're coming to get it.
BLITZER: Because we haven't seen any evidence that Republican institutions, political parties or anything like that were hacked, only Democratic.
CHAFFETZ: Very concerned that the DNC was hacked. I think they should be pursued and I think they should be absolutely prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
I think one of the big burning questions for America...
BLITZER: Who should be prosecuted?
CHAFFETZ: Well, yes, nice try.
I can't tell you exactly who it is.
BLITZER: But the foreign government, or the foreign institution who did it, right?
CHAFFETZ: I think one of the big policy questions for the country is how do you fire back in this cyber-war? There is a cyber-war that's going on, America. Wake up. It is
happening as we speak right now. How you fight that, boy, we have got some real good smart people, but it is a tough political question and policy question.
BLITZER: Yes. Yesterday, the president said the U.S. has the strongest defensive and offensive capabilities in cyber-warfare. That was seen as a real threat to some of these other foreign actors. You want to play this game, the United States has better capabilities.
CHAFFETZ: The report we went out yesterday, though, 22-plus million Americans who worked for the federal government, even made an application since the 1980s, their information is in the hands of the bad guys.
BLITZER: Jason Chaffetz, Congressman, thank you for coming in.
CHAFFETZ: Thank you. Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump has something to hide. She is raising questions about his honesty, as our new poll shows she is trailing Trump badly when it comes to voter trust.
And another high-speed taunt by Iran putting American sailors at risk. Why are the Iranians stepping up these provocative close encounters?
BLITZER: Standing by to hear from Donald Trump. He has a rally in North Carolina that's coming up. And we expect him to hammer Hillary Clinton on national security, as well as her e-mail controversy.
Joining us now, CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and "The Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.
Gloria, Donald Trump seems to be, maybe some are saying, intentionally trying to confuse us about his position on granting some sort of legal status to at least some of the undocumented immigrants here in the United States, seems to be going back and forth. Is he doing this deliberately to try to get some support?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We don't know for sure. But I would think it makes sense for him to a certain degree, because he is looking to pick up those independent voters, suburban women, Republican women, who might think that they don't want to vote for somebody they consider intolerant.
And so when you sort of confuse the issue a little bit, and you're not sure about whether there is a pathway to citizenship or mass deportation may no longer be on the table right away, these were issues that he was very clear and very straightforward about during the campaign, if you will recall.
And he accused anyone who was not with him of being for amnesty. But now he's in a general election fight. And I think it serves his purpose to confuse things to a great degree.
BLITZER: He's also trying to burnish his national security credentials in recent days. He now got -- has a letter signed by 88 retired generals and admirals who are supporting him right now.
[18:30:07] Some are saying, John McCain, well Mitt Romney had more retired generals and admirals sign such letters. But what's his goal here? Who's he trying on appeal to?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Many veterans. Veterans have been, even according to our poll today, it bolsters this notion that veterans have been in his corner. And, you know, they might have slid a little bit. There was concern in Republican circles that they were sliding after his attack on the Gold Star family, the Khans. But he needs them, big time, particularly in states like Virginia, which many Republicans think is gone. They're writing it off. But the Trump campaign is not, because they need Virginia. And sort of one of three scenarios on the path to 270 electoral votes. So he needs that.
But to your question to Laurie about is he intentionally confusing people? I think that you're being kind, that he said -- there's a strategy here.
BASH: My sense is that, you know, if he had his druthers, if they could, you know, sort of rewind to the beginning of, I guess, the end of the weekend, he wouldn't have done this; and he would have tried to stay focused on military issues, on issues of jobs and trade in states like Ohio and not rehashed the immigration issue, which they were hoping that they were going to put to bed. And the sleepy last week of the summer.
BLITZER: He's got another issue he's got to deal with, the $25,000 contribution from his foundation, a political contribution from a charitable foundation -- the IRS said it was illegal -- to Pam Bondi, the attorney general of Florida. She didn't go ahead and launch an investigation into Trump University. How much of a problem is this for Trump?
KEILAR: You know, it's hard to know. I think, with the people who support him, it's not going to be a problem. The question is, as he tries to broaden his appeal, what is it going to be?
The rest issue here, though, is if you look at what happened here, it's more damning than what we have seen with what has gone on with the Clinton Foundation, which he has called the most corrupt enterprise in political history.
Just look at the facts here. In mid- to late August of 2013, Bondi solicits this donation personally. This is what we've learned from a consultant to her re-election campaign at that point. That consultant said she didn't know that -- that there was an issue with Trump University. You had the New York state attorney general, who was launching this investigation against Donald Trump. He was pushing back on it.
But then fast forward to September 13 of that same year. Pam Bondi publicly says for the first time she's considering joining this New York state probe. And four days later, receives a check, or the group backing her up receives a check. And then poof! This goes away.
And Donald Trump was even asked by local media at the time, you know, "Why are you donating to a Florida state official?" And all he said, basically, was that she was really good at her job. She was a good representative.
BORGER: And Donald Trump is somebody who says I know how -- before I went into politics, I gamed the system.
KEILAR: He talks about that.
BLITZER: Worked the system. That's why he said he gave money to Democrats, Republicans.
BLITZER: When you're a big business billionaire, that's what you've got to do, David. He often said that.
SWERDLICK: Yes. He said it a lot. He said, "I have to get along with everybody." He said that several times in debates. The idea being that, look, that was my job as a businessman. Now I'm a politician.
But this, what Bri is talking about happened while he was running for president. It's a little different.
KEILAR: And you have a lot of his surrogates saying -- this is one of the things that I think is an issue for him. They're saying that this is a clerical error. But clerical error meaning it shouldn't have come from the Trump Foundation, it should have come from him personally. The Trump
Foundation is a nonprofit. It's illegal for it to give in this way.
But the issue isn't necessarily whether it was a -- clerical error. That's the point. If money, wherever it came from, went to Pam Bondi and then, you have -- I mean, four days later, that's I mean, an incredible coincidence and certainly one that Donald Trump would be all over Hillary Clinton about.
BLITZER: David, what about the whole Roger Ailes issue right now? Twentieth [SIC] Century FOX paid $20 million to Gretchen Carlson, the former FOX anchor who had these sexual accusations against Roger Ailes. Roger Ailes, obviously, no longer works at FOX News. But he is an informal unofficial adviser to Donald Trump. He's been on his plane. He's helping him, presumably, prepare for the debates.
Potentially, this could be a problem, especially now that this $20 million settlement has come forward.
SWERDLICK: Right. It doesn't look good for Trump or for the Trump campaign. At the same time, polls consistently show that Trump is up among men voters. Clinton is up among women voters. I think a lot of this is already -- you know, the table is set for this. Trump has made a series of sexist statements, both during the campaign and before that. So there's ample reason, if someone wants -- if someone, man or woman voter, wants to say, "Look, he's sexist. He doesn't treat women right," they've already got sort of fodder for that. I don't think this changes the dynamic. More importantly, I think, for Trump is the immigration issue and, for Clinton, is the e-mail issue. When we get to the debates, they're going to be questioned about it.
[18:35:10] BASH: And the question also is what is Roger Ailes doing for Donald Trump? What is his actual role?
I interviewed Kellyanne Conway a couple of weeks ago, and she just said, "Oh, he's an informal adviser." But I am told that Roger Ailes has been -- and we've been reporting that he has been involved in more than one of Trump's Sunday debate sessions, which he's done with some of his inner circle, discussing message with him. I'm told that he was focused on how to be authentic, in his authentic self but still get his point across. The kind of thing that Roger Ailes has done successfully for decades.
But this Roger Ailes is somebody who obviously has a very tarnished reputation. The fact that Trump is still consulting him is -- is questionable.
BORGER: And I think you'll -- you'll see during the first debate. If Donald Trump comes up with some good zingers, I would guess they would have come from Roger Ailes who, don't forget, came up with Reagan's line against Walter Mondale, you know, "I won't let your youth and inexperience handicap you," et cetera.
KEILAR: Absolutely. He is brilliant at it.
BORGER: He is. And this is what Trump is looking for. And we'll see if Roger Ailes gives to it him.
BLITZER: We've got a lot more to discuss, including Hillary Clinton. She is now coming out with a new level of attacks against Donald Trump. We're going to update on that and much more, right after this.
[18:41:15] BLITZER: We're back with our political team. And Hillary Clinton's new attacks on Donald Trump as the race tightens dramatically, and Hillary Clinton trails right now badly on this issue of trust.
Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar.
Brianna, Hillary Clinton went after Trump on several fronts today.
KEILAR: That's right. His tax returns, his business dealings. She even talked about her health, about her coughing attacks that have popped up recently, including yesterday on the trail. As the famously press-averse Hillary Clinton, jokingly or not so jokingly, feigns enthusiasm for talking more to the media.
KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton taking questions from reporters for the second day in a row on the new plane she now shares with the press after avoiding a formal press conference for months.
CLINTON: Had so much fun yesterday. I didn't want to do this again. Adventures on the plane.
KEILAR: Race tightening, Clinton has become more accessible and more on offense. Clinton criticizing Trump for not releasing his tax returns.
CLINTON: Truly, the list goes on and on. The scams, the frauds, the questionable relationships, the business activities, that have stiffed workers, refused to pay small businesses. So clearly, his tax returns tell a story that the American people deserve and need to know.
KEILAR: She spent the day in battleground Florida.
CLINTON: His whole campaign has been one long insult to all those who have worn the uniform to protect our most cherished American values.
KEILAR: And her campaign is out with a new ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump compared his sacrifices to the sacrifices of two parents who lost their son in a war.
KEILAR: Highlighting Trump's comments about the military and veterans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What sacrifice have you made for your country?
TRUMP: I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. Built great structures. I've had tremendous success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those were sacrifices?
KEILAR: Clinton is trying to convince voters they can't trust Trump to lead on the world stage. But most don't trust her, period, and they trust Trump more. A new CNN/ORC poll shows 50 percent of voters say Trump is the more honest and trustworthy candidate, compared with 35 percent who say Clinton is. Vice President Joe Biden telling CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Clinton needs to open up.
BIDEN: Let them see your heart a little more. She has the heart.
KEILAR: She also, it appears, has allergies.
CLINTON: Every time I think about Trump, I get allergic.
KEILAR: Her coughing fits have happened a few times now on the trail, including Monday.
And Donald Trump, the first nominee in modern history to openly engage in wild and false conspiracy theories, is questioning her wellness, tweeting today, "Mainstream media never covered Hillary's massive hacking or coughing attack. Yet it is No. 1 trending. What's up?"
Just the pollen count, says Clinton, and she's upped her antihistamine.
CLINTON: Now, the advice, of course, is don't talk for a day or two. That's not going to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to manage that?
KEILAR: No. She has a lot of talking to do here in the next couple of months. She won't have to do all of the talking, though. We have found out that first lady Michelle Obama, as well as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren are going to be hitting the campaign trail later this month, Wolf, to do some talking on her behalf.
BLITZER: Brianna, stay with us. Dana, let's talk a little bit about her openness, at least in the past couple days, to actually answer questions from reporters traveling with her. Twice she's now gone to the back of the plane to do that. What's behind this?
[18:45:00] BASH: Do you know what? I'm not going on question it, because it's like hallelujah.
[18:45:00] Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. I mean, look, what's behind it is obvious, which is that she sees that she needs to fill voids. And it is true and it has always been true since the beginning of time.
I'm glad that they see it now inside Clinton world, that when you go and you talk on press, especially in a -- kind of a small, intimate environment like when you go on the back of your own plane, you can get your message out. You can do it on the stump. But the rally is a different kind of animal than having a discussion with reporters and talking about things that you want to talk about, especially when it's about your opponent.
Donald Trump has done that and most other candidates have done that for a long time.
BLITZER: Is that going to help her turn around those numbers on honesty and trustworthiness?
BORGER: Look, it's going to help her. I don't know whether it's going to immediately -- it's going to immediately turn around numbers. But the more you do these things, the better you get at it. She is not particularly good at official, formal press conferences as we know. She can control the environment in an airplane. She can come back
when she wants to. She can leave when she wants to. There is a limited group of reporters. There's a limited amount of time and she can say, see you later, I'm going to my part of the plane.
So, they control the environment and I think it's a smart thing for them to do.
BLITZER: As you pointed out, in that new CNN/ORC poll, Trump on this issue of honesty and trustworthiness is doing a lot better than Hillary Clinton, 50-35.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Scary better if you're Hillary Clinton looking at those poll numbers. And that's why you see Hillary Clinton, I think she is trying to take him on when it comes to trustworthiness. You saw one of the first things that she latched on to today was what we just discussed, this -- what was an illegal donation by Donald Trump through his foundation to the then- Florida attorney general trying to get re-election.
But she is looking at that. And I think probably, it is a little hard to turn around. And for the two of them on sometimes on this poll issue, it seems like a race to the bottom honestly.
But she is trying to look at him in other ways. Temperament, for instance, it is why we see that ad role models which they feel is very effective. And also this ad out today that you saw in the piece on veterans. She tries to make him look sort of like an embarrassing leader in a way.
BLITZER: That's what she is trying to do.
But another number that is probably disturbing to the Hillary Clinton campaign is this enthusiasm factor. It seems that Republicans, Trump supporters are a lot more enthusiastic about voting than Hillary Clinton supporters.
DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: They are. You know, Wolf, I think this is part of the irony for the Clinton campaign. She has those low trustworthy numbers. She also has the low enthusiasm numbers because she is not a change candidate.
Donald Trump is a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was a change candidate. And yet, in a way, she is trying to level with voters, right? She's saying, I can't fix everything.
We're going to raise the minimum wage. We're going to tinker with Obamacare. Maybe we can do something differently on foreign policy and trying to kind of tell it like it is to voters. And yet that's not helping.
BLITZER: In the national poll, and you know this, all of us know this, national polls are very important. But much more important are the battleground states right now. And still in those key battleground states, whether Ohio or Virginia or Florida, some of these other, she is still ahead. BORGER: Yes, she is. And, look, Donald Trump has an up-hill climb.
We all know that, because Democrats start out with an advantage and she has to win everything that Mitt Romney won. And he is tight in Arizona.
BASH: And more.
BORGER: And more exactly. Sorry, you're right. And more.
But he has to start out winning what Romney won. And he's got a battle in North Carolina. He's got a battle in Arizona. He's got a battle in Virginia, in Colorado.
So, this is difficult -- this is difficult for him right now. In Utah, for example.
BLITZER: Or even in Georgia or North Carolina, he's got some problems.
BORGER: Georgia and North Carolina.
BASH: Republicans are very, very concerned about Georgia. But one of the questions that at is going to be fascinating to look at is whether or not this national poll, obviously, if it is the first major one heading into the post-Labor Day time, whether it is the beginning of the battleground states kind of coming. There's lagging behind, whether they will catch up to where this national poll is, or not.
The one thing on the enthusiasm that you were talking about that I think is also fascinating, that you reported Michelle Obama going out. Elizabeth Warren is going out. You bet your bottom dollar that President Obama is going out. The cavalry is available for her to get that enthusiasm gap closed, to get the numbers up.
BLITZER: David, that's critically important.
SWERDLICK: Yes, she's got an A-list of surrogates. Trump, although he has committed supporters, he doesn't have the same A-list of surrogates.
BLITZER: If she can help, if she can sort of recreate that Barack Obama coalition that got him twice elected, she would be well underway.
BORGER: But here's another person, Bernie Sanders. He is starting to go out this now. She needs him out there. She needs those young women. She needs that demographic of younger African-American voters that she is not getting right now and Bernie Sanders has to be a big part of that cavalry and go out there.
[18:50:10] And so far, let's see the enthusiasm from Bernie Sanders.
BASH: He went out this week, though.
BORGER: He did.
BLITZER: As her advisers know, there is a lot of work they need to do.
All right, guys. Stay with us.
Just ahead, generals for Trump. Dozens of former military leaders are explaining why they're backing the Republican presidential nominee.
Plus, Iran is escalating harassment of U.S. Navy ships at sea. We're learning new details of the latest provocative moves.
[18:55:23] BLITZER: Tonight, Iran's risky taunts of the U.S. Navy. They are escalating. We are getting new details right now of the latest close encounter at sea. Very disturbing information.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it happened on Sunday, but word of this coming to light earlier today from the U.S. Navy.
The USS Firebolt, a small patrol craft, was operating in the Persian Gulf on Sunday when it was suddenly swarmed, if you will, by seven Iranian fast-attack craft, but then it got even more dangerous. One of the Iranian boats actually came to a dead stop in the water right in front of the U.S. Navy ship. It does not get more dangerous than that for the risk of a collision, the U.S. Navy ship making a very sudden, sharp turn, but coming within 100 yards of that Iranian attack aircraft.
The Iranians are upping their game in the Persian Gulf, 31 instances so far this year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very disturbing, indeed.
Barbara, the U.S. relationship with Iran is just one of the many challenges facing the next commander in chief. Tonight, Donald Trump is touting a new show of support by 88 retired general and admirals.
You've been looking into this battle for national security endorsements. What are you finding?
STARR: Well, you know, the candidates very often go for these military endorsements because they believe it gives them some gravitas if you will if they want to be the next commander in chief.
Trump had some interesting endorsements, one of them even a retired army general reprimanded for disclosing classified information.
STARR (voice-over): Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn isn't shy about why he thinks Donald Trump should be the next president.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: My message to you is very clear: wake up, America!
STARR: The Trump campaign today released endorsements from88 generals and admirals. Mitt Romney had over 500 national security endorsements. Flynn promises there are more to come for Trump.
FLYNN: As soon as we got the word out to a bunch of people, that thing just filled up quickly and frankly, we had to cut it off this weekend.
STARR: One of the most significant endorsements, Major General Gary Harrell, the former commander of Delta Force, who retired in 2008 after leading covert operations around the globe.
Another recognized name, retired Lieutenant General William Boykin, who was reprimanded by the Army after retirement for disclosure of classified information in a book.
One signatory says Trump enjoys plenty of military support.
REAR ADMIRAL CHARLES WILLIAMS (RET.), U.S. NAVY: We respect what Mr. Trump is doing. We believe in Mr. Trump and we're putting our faith and hope on Mr. Trump. So, this idea that he doesn't have support at this level is erroneous.
STARR: But some high-profile officers from recent conflicts like David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, James Mattis, Raymond Odierno as well as William McCraven so far have not endorsed either candidate.
One did, however, General John Allen, the former commander in Afghanistan has no hesitation to endorse Hillary Clinton.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: I stand with you tonight, a retired four-star general of the United States Marine Corps.
STARR: The recently retired chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, says retired officers like Allen and Flynn should stay out of politics and political conventions, writing, "It was a mistake for them to participate as they did. It was a mistake for our presidential candidates to ask them to do so."
Three senior Republican national security figures, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates and Colin Powell are also silent for now.
Clinton has not put out a list of military supporters though 50 Republican foreign policy and national security experts, many veterans of George W. Bush administration signed a letter denouncing Trump's candidacy and pledging not to vote for him.
STARR: It is unclear if those still on the sidelines are simply waiting for the right moment or plan to just steer clear of election 2016 altogether -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It looks like a lot of them are going to steer clear. They want to get involved. They don't want to announce publicly who they support. It's obviously, a very, very sensitive subject, especially for a retired U.S. military personnel.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, usual, thanks very much. A very strong report.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lots more coming up. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.