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Interview With Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Interview With Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence; Trump, Clinton on Foreign Policy; Pence Backs Trump Praise of Putin, Clinton Says It's "Scary". Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired September 8, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: fact, fiction, or lies? Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of a criminal cover-up on e- mails, as Clinton hammers him for stunning insults of President Obama and America's generals. Tonight, Democrats say Trump faced a crucial commander in chief test and failed.

Double standard. Clinton's dismisses the RNC chairman's complaint that she didn't smile while talking about national security issues. The attacks on both sides escalating, as new polls show a tightening race in some of the important presidential battlegrounds.

Pence's punt. Trump's running mate refuses to say whether his boss has filled him on his secret plan to defeat ISIS. Stand by for CNN's exclusive interview with the vice presidential nominee on some of Trump's provocative new statements.

And Putin's play. New questions tonight about the Russian president's possible influence over Donald Trump after the Republican nominee takes his praise of Putin to a surprising new level that his opponent calls scary.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton exchanging fierce new attacks, portraying one another as unfit to be commander in chief with the election now exactly two months away.

Trump accusing Clinton of a criminal cover-up in her e-mail controversy and of producing policies that produced ruin and death. Trump trying to shift the focus to Clinton's controversies as he faces new criticism for remarks he made during a national security forum overnight.

Clinton also is ratcheting up her rhetoric as her race against Trump tightens. She is claiming that ISIS is rooting for Trump to win the presidency. And she slammed Trump for what she calls trash-talking about America's generals when he said U.S. military leaders have been reduced to rubble under President Obama. Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, also is coming to his defense

tonight. In an exclusive CNN interview, the Republican vice presidential nominee says Trump was criticizing President Obama, not the generals.

Pence also is standing behind Trump's claim that Russia's Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than President Obama. Hillary Clinton is calling Trump's praise of Putin scary and unpatriotic.

I will talk about all this with a leading House Republican, the military veteran Congressman Adam Kinzinger. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by as we bring you the full coverage of the day's top stories.

Up first, CNN political reporter Sara Murray in Ohio, where Trump has been campaigning today.

Sara, what's the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Donald Trump's set out to talk about education policy today in Ohio, but he could not help rehashing some of those issues that came up during last night's security forum.

He insisted yet again that he was an early opponent to the war in Iraq, despite evidence to the contrary, and didn't pass up the opportunity to lay into Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server.


MURRAY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump waging political warfare today over who is more qualified to serve as commander in chief.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night was yet another test, and Donald Trump failed yet again.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The whole country saw how unfit she was at the town hall last night.

MURRAY: Trump launching into a lengthy defense today of his claim that he opposed going to war in Iraq.

TRUMP: I opposed going in, and I did oppose it, despite the media saying no, yes, no. I opposed going in.

MURRAY: But there's no evidence to prove his early opposition. In fact, his earliest public statements suggest he supported the war. As for Clinton, she took to the tarmac today, denouncing Trump's preference for Vladimir Putin over President Obama as bizarre and astonishing.

CLINTON: Now, that is not just unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country, as well as to our commander in chief. It is scary, because it suggests he will let Putin do whatever Putin wants to do and then make excuses for him.

MURRAY: That's after Trump lavished praise on Putin Wednesday night.

TRUMP: I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin. He has been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.

MURRAY: Clinton also taking Trump to task for offering relatively few details in Wednesday's national security forum.

CLINTON: He says his plan is still a secret, but the truth is, he simply doesn't have one, and that's not only dangerous. It should be disqualifying.

MURRAY: That's as Trump explained he has a plan to defeat ISIS. He's just not ready to reveal it.

TRUMP: I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.


MURRAY: The GOP nominee saying he will rely on the input of generals to help craft his anti-terrorism agenda, just not the generals currently leading the nation's military.

TRUMP: I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country.

MURRAY: As Clinton seized on the moment to lash out against Trump's temperament.

CLINTON: We saw more evidence that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be commander in chief. He trash-talked American generals.

MURRAY: Trump also generating controversy last night for standing by this tweet about sexual assaults in the military.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: In 2013, on this subject, you tweeted this -- quote -- "26,000 unreported actual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?"

TRUMP: Well, it is a correct tweet.

MURRAY: With both candidates now receiving classified briefings, Trump says he left with the impression the intelligence community is not pleased with the Obama administration.


TRUMP: I am pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy.

MURRAY: An assessment Clinton scoffed at.

CLINTON: I think what he said was totally inappropriate and undisciplined. I would never comment on any aspect of an intelligence briefing that I received.


MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump did eventually turn to education policy today, but there were a few awkward moments when he was talking about the threat of terrorism, when he was essentially calling Hillary Clinton a liar when it came to the way she used her private e-mail server, all at a charter school here in Cleveland in front of a couple of rows of children -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us, thank you.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's covering the Clinton campaign.

Brianna, what's the latest there?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Hillary Clinton has still had to address her e-mails, still has not put this issue to rest.

And today taking questions about why she's taken the option of conventional forces on the ground in Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS before even, perhaps, winning the election, before she -- taking this off the table before she would ever even step foot in the White House.


KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton still sensitive to liberal worries about her Iraq vote made a promise to voters.

CLINTON: We're not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again and we're not putting ground troops into Syria. We're going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.

KEILAR: Today, she's facing questions about whether she's ignoring the fact that special forces are already in combat in Iraq and Syria and if she's restricting her options for defeating ISIS.

CLINTON: I think putting a big contention of American ground troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria would not be in best interest of the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. In fact, I think it would fulfill one of their dearest wishes, which is to drag the United States back into a ground war in that region.

KEILAR: Clinton is criticizing Donald Trump for a lack of command when it comes to foreign policy and national security concerns.

CLINTON: It's like he's living in his own celebrity reality TV program. You know what, Donald? This is real reality. This is real people. This is real decisions that have to be made.

KEILAR: President Obama providing backup from his foreign troop to Laos.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think the guy is qualified to be president of the United States. And every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed.


KEILAR: But Clinton is again tangled up in her e-mail controversy for parsing words about whether she and aides transmitted classified information through her unclassified e-mail system. She did the FBI said, but Clinton offered this defense.

CLINTON: There were no headers. There was no statement top-secret, secret or confidential. I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously.

KEILAR: Just as she took the military issues forum. Too seriously, according to the head of the RNC, Reince Priebus tweeting: "Hillary Clinton was angry and defensive the entire time. No smile and uncomfortable. Upset that she was caught wrongly sending our secrets."

CLINTON: I don't think take anything seriously that comes from the RNC. We were talking about serious issues last night.


KEILAR: And, Wolf, perhaps the part from last night that most frustrated the Clinton campaign was when Donald Trump said, "I was totally against the war in Iraq," a statement that is false, and there was no pushback.

In fact, Hillary Clinton putting out an e-mail, her campaign, that is, putting out a fund-raising e-mail imploring people to make donations, the subject of it, Matt Lauer, who, of course, was the moderator of that forum last night.


And it says that it accuses him of failing to fact-check Donald Trump, who really did not voice concern about the war in Iraq until the tide of public opinion was really already turning. And it also says many outlets apparently lack the wherewithal to call him out, saying that the campaign is going to be responsible for fact-checking and that will require resources, read, money.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting, thanks very much.

Let's talk about the presidential race with a leading Republican in the Congress. In the last hour, we were joined by Congressman Duncan Hunter. He's a very strong Donald Trump supporter.

Right now, Congressman Adam Kinzinger is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The Illinois Republican is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has not endorsed Donald Trump.

Congressman, thanks very much for much for coming in.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes. You bet. Thanks.

BLITZER: We spoke just not that long ago. You told me last month, you said you don't see how you could support Donald Trump in part because you said "I don't know what he stands for in foreign policy.'

Has he done anything since then to reassure you that would enable you to support him?

KINZINGER: No, not yet. The one thing I wish he was inconsistent on is the area of Russia.

And, unfortunately, he's been consistent. And that is an admiration for a very brutal leader, keep in mind somebody that's been, they believe has killed journalists, that puts down political oppositions, that invades neighbors, that occupies neighboring territory, that holds up the Iranian regime and the Syrian regime to kill half-a- million people.

And they, themselves, the Russians, bomb medical facilities and innocent civilians, whether it's in Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria. I don't have any -- in fact, I don't think Putin is reacting out of strength. I think Putin reacts and does what he does out of weakness. And so any admiration for this guy is extremely disappointing.

BLITZER: You served the commander in chief in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's the question. Who, in your opinion, would make a better commander in chief, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

KINZINGER: It's always a tough one to answer.

Wolf, I haven't seen much from Donald Trump that says he would be somebody who would be a great commander in chief, especially again when we talk about Syria, we talk about ISIS, we talk about Russia. At the same token, I have the same response for Hillary Clinton.

I agreed with going into Libya. I think it needed to happen, but the idea of leading from behind and the lack of follow-up that occurred after that was also disappointing. I think this exchange of ideas between the two is good. It brings foreign policy to the forefront, the nuances of it, not just the one-liners.

And this is something that hopefully over the next couple of months through the debates and everything else, they can really explore these issues and the American people can see what they're made of, including me.

BLITZER: There seems to be a disconnect between Trump and his top military adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

I spoke with him here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. I want to play these two clips, the exchange I had with General Flynn, followed by what Trump said at the forum last night.


BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the current leadership in the U.S. military? Would Donald Trump accept them or would he want new generals, new admirals?

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: No, I think we have all the confidence in the world in the military leaders that we have, absolutely, absolutely.

These are lifelong servants, courageous people who have given it all, and I think that what they need to be able to do is they need to be able to unleash our military capabilities, as well as other capabilities that we have inside of our government system, particularly in the intelligence community, and some other capabilities that we have to be able to really go after and defeat this enemy, get this thing over with, instead of continuing on with perpetual war that we're involved in.

LAUER: But you're going to convene a panel of generals, and you have already said you know more about ISIS than those generals.

TRUMP: Well, they will probably be different generals, to be honest with you. I'm looking at the generals. Today, you probably saw, I have a piece of paper here. I could show it; 88 generals and admirals endorsed me today.


BLITZER: Those are all retired admirals and generals.

So, when he says he'd have a whole bunch of new generals, that doesn't express a lot of confidence in the current batch of generals.

KINZINGER: It doesn't. And this is again unfortunate.

Donald Trump had a good Teleprompter speech before this, but then when he's off the cuff, to say you're going to basically fire all the generals, a new commander in chief has every right to assess his general corps and make some changes. And I would expect that no matter who is president.

But to say they have been reduced to rubble and you are going to fire them all I think does a disservice to the men and women that do serve with stars on their shoulder.

BLITZER: And when he said not that long ago he knows more about ISIS than the generals do, how did they react? You served in the military. You are still in the Reserve, but you're still in the military.

KINZINGER: Well, we laugh about it. It's obviously not true. He doesn't know more about ISIS than the military.

The military has been studying this issue for a long time. Many of these generals and high-ranking officers and people in the military for a while have been engaging the predecessor of ISIS, al Qaeda Iraq, and will be engaging whatever follows ISIS when they're destroyed. So, no, I don't think he knows more than the generals.


BLITZER: You're a Republican. Let me ask you about the Hillary Clinton statements.

She doubled down this morning saying she would never, ever allow U.S. combat ground troops into Iraq or Syria. She said that very clearly, but maybe some special forces, drone strikes, airstrikes if you were working with the Kurds, working with other Arabs, but no more U.S. combat troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Was that smart of her to say that?

KINZINGER: No, I don't think so.

I think Hillary at that forum was trying to probably acquiesce a little bit to her base that doesn't want to have anything to do with Iraq. And she probably did that in an emotion and in the moment, just kind of felt the heat, but, no, especially when it comes to foreign policy, never say what you will never do, because you never know what's going to happen.

You could have any number of scenarios run in Iraq in which ground troops being there in the U.S. interest to defend not just Iraq, but people here at home. So, never say that, because when you do have to pull back on that promise, it's going to be embarrassing for you and the country.

BLITZER: We have more to discuss, including what Donald Trump is saying about the two intelligence briefings he's received so far. Much more with Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

We will take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

We're following the breaking news in the presidential race, as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton trade new attacks just hours after they both took part in a forum on national security.

One of the interesting things that Trump said is that he's now received two classified intelligence briefings from the U.S. experts. He claimed that based on the body language he witnessed there, they don't believe that the president of the United States is doing the right thing. Not anything they said, but just the body language. You buy that?


Look, I do think the intelligence community is very fed up with President Obama. I think the military community is too because of what is perceived as and what is a lack of leadership in the world, new fronts popping up everywhere.

But I don't think that a candidate for president first off should ever even discuss the security briefings. There's a real sanctity in that, and it puts concerns in terms of what will ever be revealed.

And the other thing is, unless he's a body language expert, I don't think that's appropriate to say.

BLITZER: All right, speaking of the military, you're still in the military, just a couple of weeks in the Reserves.

A tweet came up that Trump tweeted back in 2013 on sexual assault in the military. There it is: "26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military. Only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?"

There are 200,000 women serving in the military right now. When you see that, when he says, "What do these geniuses expect?" that seems to suggest he doesn't think it was a good idea to let men and women serve together.

KINZINGER: That's what it seems to suggest.

The first half of the tweet, I agree with. It's sad that there's less convictions than obviously the vast number. But then to say what do you think when you put men and women together, I served with a lot of great women in the military that are just as competent to men to destroy the enemy and defend this country. And so I don't know what he was thinking in 2013 when he put it out. And I frankly think he ought to apologize for it.

BLITZER: Because, last night, the tweet was correct. He used the word correct. He didn't have a problem with what he tweeted then.

But on your personal experience serving together with women, what have you seen?

KINZINGER: Well, they're -- these women are heroes.

With the technology we have in the military, and it really takes as much as anything brains to go out and defeat the enemy. I fight with some very heroic women. And these are women, keep in mind, in profession, as a Reservist, as a pilot, maybe 10 to 15 percent of pilots are female. So, they're obviously in a male environment and handle themselves very well.

BLITZER: But have you seen sexual assaults, sexual harassment of these women?

KINZINGER: No, no, I haven't seen it. No. Uh-uh.

But they do very well in the military. And in my realm as a pilot, they're just as competent as any man. And I would fly with any of them any day. BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, the congressman, thank you.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN's exclusive new interview with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence. After recent disagreements with his boss, why is he defending Trump's charge that America's generals have been reduced to rubble?

And after Trump's new praise of Vladimir Putin, renewed questions about whether Putin will be able to manipulate Trump if he were to win the presidency.



BLITZER: Tonight, Donald Trump's running mate is backing up his controversial claim that Russia's Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than President Obama.

Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence sat down with our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana is joining us now from the Reagan Library in California, where she had that exclusive interview with Governor Pence.

Dana, how did it go?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know that Mike Pence has disagreed with or distanced himself from Donald Trump countless times, but not now.

He was here to give a speech comparing Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. And even though we remember very well that the then Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan tried to say that they are absolutely awful, even called them the evil empire, but now, now that Donald Trump is saying that Vladimir Putin is a good leader, Pence is saying that's just fine.


BASH: Last night, Donald Trump said that Vladimir Putin has -- quote -- "been a leader far more than our president has been a leader."

Do you share that view?

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there's a great analogy between the time that Ronald Reagan was willing to name what was the greatest threat to the people of the United States, which was the communist Soviet Union. He called it an evil empire.

And just a few short weeks ago in Youngstown, Ohio, Donald Trump, unlike President Obama and Hillary Clinton, was willing to name what is the greatest threat to the people of the United States today, which is radical Islamic terrorism. In the case of both men, they identified the signature threat of the

time. They named it, they challenged it, and they developed a strategy to move against it.

BASH: But, Governor, Donald Trump said that Vladimir Putin has been a leader far more than the president of the United States.

Do you share that view?

[18:30:03] PENCE: Well, remember Ronald Reagan spoke boldly on the world stage, even about...

BASH: I'm talking about Donald Trump. If you can just answer the question about the current...

PENCE: ... even about the Soviet Union. But it was Ronald Reagan also who met with Gorbachev and demonstrated that you can, as Teddy Roosevelt said, you can walk [SIC] softly and carry a big stick. You can speak boldly and plainly, but you can have relationships with people on the world stage.

BASH: Do you personally think that Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than the current president?

PENCE: I think -- I think it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country. That's going to change the day that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America. I mean, look, you've seen incidents...

BASH: Obviously, I mean, I don't need to tell you because you were in Congress. He has -- Barack Obama has a true democracy here, with a Congress that pushes back, because there's checks and balances. Vladimir Putin doesn't have that.

PENCE: That's exactly right.

BASH: So -- so is it hard to say?

PENCE: And Donald Trump -- and Donald Trump said last night he doesn't like the system.

BASH: While we're on foreign policy, I have to ask you, you mentioned last night that Mr. Trump said that the generals, quote, "have been reduced to rubble" under President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Do you agree with that? And is that how a potential commander in chief should speak about the military brass?

PENCE: Well, I think -- I think the American people are deeply troubled with at a -- at a foreign policy and military policy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that has caused the wider Middle East to literally spin out of control. We've seen civil war in Syria, civil war in Libya. We've seen entire areas of Iraq that were won by the American soldiers be compromised. BASH: But Governor, Mr. Trump was specifically talking about the generals. The generals have been reduced to rubble. He wasn't talking about...

PENCE: But I think -- in all due respect, I think he was talking about the commander in chief reducing the influence of generals to rubble. I think the truth is that the leadership that we have had at the top -- and you heard -- you heard Donald Trump talk about that last night.

BASH: Let me ask you about that in terms of plans. Mr. Trump also said last night that he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS...

PENCE: Right.

BASH: ... which he says he doesn't want to broadcast to the enemy.

PENCE: Right.

BASH: You are his running mate. Has he shared his secret plan to defeat ISIS with you?

PENCE: Well, I'll keep our private conversations private.

BASH: But do you know? You don't have to tell me what the plans are, but do you know?

PENCE: Well, what I can tell you is what he laid out yesterday, what he laid out in Youngstown, Ohio, is a plan to bring in military commanders within 30 days for -- and to have their recommendations, including added to his thoughts and his ideas, of how we can hunt down and defeat and destroy ISIS at its source.

BASH: So you haven't seen the plans?

PENCE: As I said, I'm going to keep our private conversations private. But what I want to say to you is that what you're hearing Donald Trump say is that we're -- we're going to have leadership that is focused and determined.

BASH: Do you think that the military will be able to come up with a brand-new plan to defeat ISIS that they haven't come up with under President Obama? It also sort of suggests a dereliction of duty by the military.

PENCE: Now, the military -- military commanders serve at the pleasure of civilian authority. The commander in chief makes the call. And I'm confident that our military commanders can -- can bring forward the ideas, once the commander in chief makes the mission clear, which Donald Trump has made clear. And Dana, we have to do it. The truth is...

BASH: And it could mean -- that could mean troops on the ground -- ground? If you really want to go for it, you know what it takes. Are you and Mr. Trump willing to go that aggressively, in a way that Mr. Obama just isn't? PENCE: What I can tell you is that Donald Trump -- Donald Trump as

commander in chief is not going to signal to the enemy what we will or will not do, as Hillary Clinton did last night on national television.

BASH: To anybody in the military who saw that and thought that he was being critical of the military, not so much -- or in addition to the current president, what would you say?

PENCE: I don't think -- I don't think they would take it that way. I really don't. And frankly, as I campaign around the country with Donald Trump and for Donald Trump, and I see the tremendous support we have among veterans and active-duty military personnel.


BASH: Now, Wolf, Pence told me that he plans to release his tax returns by the end of the week. That means tomorrow, since it's Friday.

He also revealed to me that he is engaged in traditional debate prep. Donald Trump has said that he's not going that route. He's not doing mock debates to prepare, but Pence says he is. He even already has a stand in for Tim Kaine, who of course, is his Democratic opponent. He says he's working hard for that debate, which of course, is October 4 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of course it is. All right. Thanks very much. Good work, Dana. Appreciate it.

Let's get to our political panel. Rebecca Berg, so you see him -- I guess he's trying to clean up a little bit some of the more controversial comments that Donald Trump made about the generals, about Putin, stuff like that. Is that his role now, to clean up those -- those Trump comments?

[18:35:14] BERG: Well, it's certainly one of them, Wolf. And I guess you could say the same of all of Donald Trump's surrogates, if you look at Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Jeff Sessions. They all have to go out there on the news and interviews with us and try to explain what Donald Trump means by a lot of what he says.

But Mike Pence has done a really uniquely good job of it. He hasn't -- I think it's really notable, because a lot of Republicans, when he took this role, thought that he was on a suicide mission.

But he hasn't created any controversies of his own. He hasn't sort of tarnished his reputation in any meaningful way, and he hasn't led the campaign's message in another direction. He stayed really on message but in a way that has actually made Donald Trump's positions and his words sound a lot more palatable for a broader audience.

BLITZER: Good point. But you know, David, a couple of things he's doing very different than Donald Trump. He's releasing his tax returns.

SWERDLICK: Yes. BLITZER: As we know, tomorrow, presumably he's going to release his tax returns. He also said unequivocally that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in the United States, case closed. Donald Trump is saying, "I don't want to talk about that anymore."

So he's not necessarily 100 percent on board.

SWERDLICK: Yes. He's not on board, because he's a traditional politician who knows he is going to have to live with some of these outlandish statements or positions by Trump after this election's over, if the Trump/Pence ticket doesn't win.

In terms of, you know, releasing the taxes, he's been prepared for this, because he's run for office before. In terms of the birther comments or the birther position of Donald Trump, you know, he knows that is a ridiculous position that's been disproven many times over.

I agree with Rebecca's analysis of the way he has sort of smoothed over a lot of controversies, although I think his statement today that President Obama is inarguably a weaker leader than Vladimir Putin just does not stand up.

BLITZER: Any of these controversial comments, though, Ron Brownstein, that Donald Trump making, you study the polls very closely. Is there any indication at all it's hurting Trump?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think there is. And I think the greatest myth in this campaign is that Donald Trump is a Teflon candidate. The north star of this race is that 60 percent of the country inABC/"Washington Post" polls and others since June 2013 -- 2015 have said he's not qualified to be president. That number has never changed. Sixty percent, roughly, say he is racially biased against minorities and again women. And roughly 60 percent say he doesn't have the temperament to be president.

Hillary Clinton's own weaknesses have tightened this race. There's no question about it. She has come down. But if you look at the polling, Donald Trump has a lot of trouble getting above the low 40s in both national and key state polls. And it's a reflection of this hard-core 60 percent of the country that, to date, is not convinced that he is a plausible president. That is his biggest problem. That is largely a self-created problem and I think one that belies the idea that he's a Teflon candidate.

BLITZER: Interesting. Reince Priebus, Brianna Keilar, as you know, he had a controversial tweet last night after the forum. He said, "Hillary Clinton was angry, defensive the entire time. No smile and uncomfortable. Upset that she was caught wrongly sending our secrets."

No smile. Those two words generating some commotion. What's been the reaction?

KEILAR: Well, Hillary Clinton said she's not going to take advice from the RNC, but the reaction is that a lot of people look at that, and they feel that it's sexist. Would you ask a man to smile? Would you ask a man to smile...

BERG: ... smile?

KEILAR: ... during a national security forum? This was not -- you know, this wasn't a dinner party, to be clear. This was some pretty serious stuff they were talking about.

And it really comes down to this. That some people, and I think rightly so, feel it's a double standard or, as I would call it, a double mandard. And the reason that it doesn't work so well for Reince Priebus to have said this was it came right on the heels of Donald Trump saying, "Does she look presidential, fellas. Give me a break," and then doubling down on that.

He said things about Melly [SIC] -- Megyn Kelly. You know, "blood coming out of her wherever." He said stuff about Carly Fiorina's face. The list goes on and on. And it's not going to help him. He is trailing considerably with women overall and much more with single women and women of color, as well.

BROWNSTEIN: And Trump's problems in this race are much more about assessments of his personal qualities than, say, about the agenda. There's almost no issue debate, very little issue debate in the campaign. But what the Clinton campaign has been focused on from the beginning is personally disqualifying him as president. And he certainly doesn't help his cause with that kind of language.

BLITZER: You see that, as well, Rebecca?

BERG: Absolutely. I mean, Bri pointed it out. It's a polling problem for him. Donald Trump needs to appeal to women, and he's not doing yet what he needs to do. Part of the problem is his rhetoric. It's not, you know, necessarily sexist remarks; but women in focus groups are consistently saying that they think he is petty, immature in the way he talks, too vengeful sometimes, doesn't think about what he is saying in the context of those words.

[18:40:06] BROWNSTEIN: There are women he does appeal to.

BLITZER: Everybody, hold your thought for a second. We've got much more to discuss. We're getting in new poll numbers in four key battleground states. You're going to need to know what the latest numbers are. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:45:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political team and new polls in crucial presidential battleground states.

Ron, let's take a look at these polls. We'll put them up on the screen right now. In Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton, 44 percent, Trump, 39 percent. North Carolina, Clinton, 42 percent, Trump, 38 percent. Ohio, 41 for Trump, 37 for Clinton. In Florida, 43-43, a tie.

Those are pretty close numbers. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They are conducive,

similar to a national poll tightening that we're seeing.

And it's very interesting. I mean, if you look at these four polls, you look inside them, the reason why Clinton is ahead in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, behind in Ohio has less to do with the groups behaving differently than just simply the composition of the groups in the different states.

There's a lot of consistency across the different states. They're about even among college whites in the first three states. North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Trump is big among non-college whites in those three states, and she's up big among non-whites. What's different is how many of those voters are there in each of the states.

That's very similar to what we saw in that "Washington Post" survey among people of all 50. There's a lot of consistency in this race from state to state. Donald Trump is strongest in the places with a lot of blue collar whites, Hillary Clinton is strongest where there's Democratic coalition of socially liberal white collar whites and minorities are a bigger share of the vote.

BLITZER: David, you take a look at Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, in all four of these states, in Pennsylvania, 9 percent, in North Carolina, 15 percent, 14 percent in Ohio, 8 percent in Florida. If it's a close race between the two candidates, he potentially could do well.

Although he didn't help himself today when he had a problem dealing with Aleppo.

DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, he did not. I mean, it looked bad. It was -- some people have said it was disqualifying. I don't think it was disqualifying. But it was a big loss for him because --

BLITZER: He was asked by an interviewer, he was asked something about Aleppo, where here's a huge refugee crisis. And he said, what is Aleppo?

SWERDLICK: Two problems with that. If it had not just, if Aleppo had not just been in the news because of reported chlorine gas attack the day before, it would have been more accusable. The other thing is libertarians are sort of jumping of the chance to provide a different foreign policy point of view and he really didn't offer that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: His response too. He was asked about it on "The View." Joy Behar said she thought it was disqualifying and he just kind of hemmed and hawed about it at her.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, if you want to be president of the United States, you've got to know about these things.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It sort of, just two sided coin for Gary Johnson, when you're talking about this, because on the one hand, it's good for him to be getting any exposure. His name idea is very low especially relative to two major party candidates. And so, to have him out there, at least more people are learning about him, that's a good thing for him.

But it's never a good thing when you're shown to not know --

BROWNSTEIN: I'm not 100 percent sure of that because I think the details of their platform. You know, broadly speaking, libertarians when they say, we're for more economic freedom and less kind of social oversight, that's socially tolerant and economically conservative, that does fit in with Republican. But they take both of them to a level that doesn't always Republican. Ending Social Security and legalizing prostitution is a point at which at lot of people --

BLITZER: Who does he take more votes away from, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

BROWNSTEIN: I think right now, he hurts Hillary Clinton more actually.

BLITZER: Especially with young people.

BROWNSTEIN: Young people. I mean, the biggest deterioration of Clinton to the Obama coalition is young people. Seventy-five percent of millennials say they have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. She's polling to 45 and 50 percent among them. That's one reason why the race is so close.

BLITZER: You think Hillary Clinton is going to go after Gary Johnson at some point, because presumably he is hurting her?

BLITZER: You know, today, she was asked about Aleppo in this problem that he had identifying it and she didn't really go hard after him, basically made it clear you should know where it is.

But the one thing I would say about young people and where that's she's going to take away, I think young people have a problem with Gary Johnson not knowing, yes, but I think they have a problem with Gary Johnson not knowing where Aleppo is. They are paying attention to this. They are aware of this crisis.

BLITZER: You agree, Rebecca?

KEILAR: They see these pictures that are heart-wrenching and I think that's an issue.

BERG: But at the same time his name is not Donald Trump and it's not Hillary Clinton. You look at their unfavorable ratings and I think that's all you need to know when you're looking at where Gary Johnson --

BROWNSTEIN: That's why I think he's better off if he's more recessed because as long as he is just a default for people who are unhappy about both of them, it's easy to kind of flow toward him. If he actually becomes more defined as a choice, I think you're going to see more pulling back.

SWERDLICK: I think in the last 24 hours, all three candidates created a problem for themselves on foreign policy. The Aleppo problem for Gary Johnson. I think Donald Trump is starting to lock himself into this idea that he's going to wait to hear what the generals have to say about ISIS. And then, Secretary Clinton, this thing about this thing about not putting any ground troops in Iraq and Syria when he have ground troops in Iraq and Syria.

KEILAR: She and Donald Trump will have another shot. This was the day that Gary Johnson had a press junket and he blew it from the junket.

[18:50:01] BLITZER: Stand by, guys.

There's more coming in, including some breaking news. Fallout from Donald Trump's controversial praise of the Russian President Vladimir Putin as Trump's running mate comes to his defense.


[18:55:36] BLITZER: Breaking news this hour: Donald Trump's running mate is defending the GOP nominee's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Mike Pence tells Dana Bash, quote, "It's inarguable that Putin has been a stronger leader than Barack Obama has been in this country."

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He's got more now. Hillary Clinton is calling Trump's praise of Putin scary.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she calls it scary, unpatriotic and insulting. But tonight, this is going beyond politics. National security experts, people who spent careers in the trenches protecting America are telling us that Trump is walking a dangerous line in his praise of Vladimir Putin and that he's being played by the former KGB officer.


TODD (voice-over): Donald Trump is gushing again over Vladimir Putin.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him.

TODD: Trump believes Putin called him brilliant a few months ago. Putin later said he only called Trump bright. But tonight, it's Trump's comments about the Russian president's leadership made to NBC News which have brought serious fallout.

TRUMP: The man has very strong control over a country. Now, it's a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he's been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.

TODD: Putin, the man who invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, backs the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, crushes those who oppose him inside Russia and may well be responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Convention's computers. That Vladimir Putin, Trump says, outshines President Obama.

Fresh meat for Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It is scary because it suggests he will let Putin do whatever Putin wants to do. And then make excuses for him.

TODD: But Trump's embrace of Putin isn't just scaring Trump's rival.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA ANALYST: I'm uncomfortable comparing the president of the United States to someone who's turned out to be a dictator.

TODD: Philip Mudd, a career intelligence analyst and executive at the CIA, FBI and the White House National Security Council is also troubled by Trump's declaration that he would have a good relationship with Putin.

MUDD: In places like Europe, Syria, Iran, where America has critical policy interests, Putin has interests that are in variance. For example, in Syria, he supports the continuation of the Assad regime. The Americans obviously do not.

TODD: By contrast, experts say Putin believes Hillary Clinton will be more formidable.

MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, "THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE": Vladimir Putin would prefer that Trump became president than Hillary Clinton mostly because he really dislikes Hillary Clinton.

TODD: Some believe Putin, the former KGB officer, is manipulating Trump by stroking his ego.

Former CIA director Mike Morell said this to ABC News.

MIKE MORELL, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Donald Trump didn't even understand, right, that Putin was playing him. So in Putin's mind, I have no doubt that Putin thinks that he's an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation, although Putin would never say that.

TODD: How might Putin manipulate Trump if Trump is elected?

GESSEN: I can imagine at least in the early stages, Putin sort of getting Trump to believe everything he says by flattery, by taking Trump seriously, by complimenting him on his leadership ability and then being a negotiator which he always is.


TODD: But analyst Masha Gessen believes that if Trump wins the presidency, a dangerous confrontation between Trump and Putin is more likely. She calls it, quote, "two mentally unstable aggressive men with nuclear buttons." We reached out to the Trump campaign, they wouldn't respond directly to that or to the other criticisms of Trump's compliments of Vladimir Putin. Trump himself has said that Putin's compliments of him would have, quote, "zero impact" on their relationship -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, why does Putin hate Hillary Clinton apparently as much as he does?

TODD: Analysts say Putin doesn't trust her going back to when feels the U.S. allowed Moammar Gadhafi, his ally, to be killed during that Libyan uprising. They also say that Putin believes that Hillary Clinton would be more aggressive toward his military, especially along the borders of Eastern Europe. Essentially, Putin believes Hillary Clinton would start another Cold War with him.

BLITZER: It's going to be a fascinating, fascinating next two months as we get ready for this election here in the United States.

Brian Todd, thanks very much for joining us. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.