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Interview With Congressman Adam Schiff; Top ISIS Leader Killed; Michelle Obama Campaigns for Hillary Clinton; Trump Finally Admits Obama Was Born in U.S.; Clinton Camp: Trump Actions "Disgraceful, Appalling, Sickening"; Lab Working to Give Special Ops A High-Tech Edge; Trump Finally Admits Obama Born in U.S.. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 16, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How will this controversy play in the very close presidential race with the first debate only 10 days away?

Going there. Michelle Obama addresses the birther conspiracy and takes on Trump during her debut appearance at a Clinton rally. Did the first lady make the case to voters in a way other Democrats can't?

And ISIS leader killed. We are getting new information about the U.S. takedown of the ISIS propaganda chief and his close connection to the group's top terrorist. I will ask the ranking on the Democrat House Intelligence Committee what he is learning.

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: The breaking news this hour, Donald Trump's decision to finally acknowledging a cold-hard fact, that President Obama was born in the United States.

Trump offered no explanation why he is now publicly backing away from the birther conspiracy theory he actually promoted for five years and he refused to take any questions. Hillary Clinton says Trump pushed lies to try to delegitimize the first African-American president and he can't erase that, he says.

Both Clinton and the Democratic Party say Trump owes President Obama and the American people an apology. The White House suggests the president isn't waiting around for an apology, saying he doesn't care what Trump does.

When asked about Trump's reversal, President Obama simply said he always knew where he was born.

Tonight, Michelle Obama says her husband has always responded to Trump and others who questioned his birthplace by going high when they went low. The first lady making her debut on the campaign trail on behalf of Hillary Clinton. A top Democrat and Clinton supporter Congressman Adam Schiff is

standing by, along our correspondents and analysts, as we bring you full coverage of the breaking news.

Up first, let's get to CNN's Phil Mattingly more on what Trump said and didn't say about the birther conspiracy -- Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Wolf, initially, it was supposed to be a press conference and then a "big announcement." What we got was 36 seconds of Donald Trump trying to put a divisive and factually inaccurate issue behind him as he heads for the homestretch of this general election campaign.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump is backing off the long-debunked theory that fueled his political rise, that President Obama was not born in the U.S.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.

MATTINGLY: But Trump is refusing to apologize or even take questions about the reversal, instead falsely attempting to pin the blame on his rival, Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.

MATTINGLY: Trump made his announcement as he stood on stage with veterans, including noted birther retired General Thomas McInerney, who introduced him. McInerney questioned Obama's citizenship in a 2010 affidavit in support of a soldier refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because he didn't believe Obama was born in the U.S.

Trump's shift comes 12 hours after his campaign announced he changed his mind and claimed he was put the issue to rest in 2011, something that a series of interviews, tweets and statements proves is completely untrue. There's this, an interview with Wolf in 2012.

TRUMP: A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate. Many people do not think it was authentic. His mother was not in the hospital. There were many other things that came out and, frankly, if you would report it accurately, I think you would probably get better ratings than you're getting.

MATTINGLY: Trump continuing to question the issue in this 2014 interview.

QUESTION: But he is a citizen. He produced that long-form birth certificate.

TRUMP: Well, a lot of people don't agree with you and a lot of people feel it wasn't a proper certificate.

MATTINGLY: This from a 2015 FOX News interview.

TRUMP: When I questioned, he gave whatever it was he gave. I'm not exactly sure what he gave, but he gave something called a birth certificate. I don't know if it was or not.

MATTINGLY: Still pushing the falsehood during his presidential run, including an interview with Wolf earlier this year.

TRUMP: Who knows? Let's -- who cares right now? We're talking about something else, OK? I mean, I have my own theory on Obama.

MATTINGLY: All as he stirred the fictional theory time and time again on Twitter.

Hillary Clinton is making clear she has no intention of letting him off the hook on his history of pushing the false theory.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know who Donald is. For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president. His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history. He is feeding into the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country.

MATTINGLY: Even as Obama himself continues to make light of the issue today from the Oval Office.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well.

And my hope would be that the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, I want to unpack a little bit what the Trump campaign is saying as they try and blame this issue on Hillary Clinton, saying she started this in 2007 and why we at CNN and also other fact-checking organizations like have found that to be untrue.

What the Trump campaign is pointing to is a memo from Mark Penn, who was the chief start of Clinton's 2008 campaign, that basically laid out an attack or a potential attack on President Obama as not having roots in the American experience.

There was no mention of citizenship, no mention the president never being born here. It was more that he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, not necessarily in Middle America.

That is factually inaccurate. Another issue that has popped up today, the former McClatchy Washington bureau chief tweeted out saying that Sidney Blumenthal, obviously a close associate of the Clintons, had pitched this theory to him during that campaign. Sidney Blumenthal just respond to Dan Merica, my colleague who follows

Hillary Clinton, saying that is completely untrue. But it's worth noting Sidney Blumenthal did not have official role on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.

What we know, the reality of this issue is this. Hillary Clinton and her campaign, at least those paid by her campaign, never pushed this claim and is certainly not the people that originated this claim -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly outside of Trump Tower in New York City, Phil, thank you very much.

As Trump hits the campaign trail in Florida tonight, there are still many unanswered questions about his apparent reversal on this birtherism issue.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Miami for us.

Jim, what, if anything, are you learning from the Trump campaign about why Trump decided to do this today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you top campaign officials are being very silent about this question as to why Donald Trump decided to come out and try to put this matter to rest.

But I have talked to a couple of sources inside Trump world who strongly believe Donald Trump was trying to get this issue out of the way before this upcoming fall debate that we will be having in about 10 days from now.

That is one issue that you are hearing from inside Trump world as to why he decide to go and do this today. But, Wolf, I talked to another person who has been an informal adviser to this campaign from time to time who wondered whether or not today's events was "too cute by half."

Donald Trump almost trolling the media today, keeping people in suspense for something like almost an hour as he was talking about his hotel, as he was welcoming the praise of those military leaders who were on stage with him.

At least one person who has been close to Trump world questioning whether or not that was a good idea. But I talked to yet another Trump adviser who said they believe the media is just hyperventilating over this issue and in the words of this one adviser, Trump one, media zero.

They believe that Donald Trump bested the media today on how he handled the issue. Wolf, one thing I should mention right now, we are in Miami. Donald Trump is about to come out on stage. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is on stage behind me right now.

But just a few moments ago, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, was on stage very much showing sort of a picture of a party unity, or at least attempting to do so, on the same day that Donald Trump tried to put this matter to rest.

At one point, Reince Priebus told this crowd Donald Trump is not politically correct, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Tonight, the Clinton campaign says it's appalling to see Trump try to appoint himself as the judge of whether the president is an American. Democrats seizing on Trump's remarks today at a time when the presidential race is neck and neck and the first debate is just around the corner.

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

We also heard from Hillary Clinton, not only Hillary Clinton, but we heard from the president of the United States and the first lady.


And Michelle Obama, she didn't mention Donald Trump by name, but she pointedly said for the last eight years until this very day, some have questioned whether her husband was born in this country. She and other Democrats what transpired today will be a rallying cry for why voters who supported them in 2008 and 2012 should now flock to Clinton's side


And Clinton hopes it feeds into that argument that Trump is not qualified to be president.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next 53 days will shape the next 50 years.

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton delivering a clarion call to Democrats about the election's steep consequences and a warning not to buy the shape-shifting of Donald Trump.

CLINTON: Well, my friends, there is no new Donald Trump. There never will be.

ZELENY: Tonight, Clinton and Democrats across the party are rising up in fury at Trump after he tried extinguishing his long-running, factually incorrect questions about President Obama's citizenship.

The new wave of conspiracy could awaken and energize the so-called Obama coalition, which Clinton has been struggling to motivated. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus came out in full force, calling voters to action. REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Don't walk to the polls. Don't

jog to the polls. Run to the polls to make sure this hater is not elected as the next president of the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

ZELENY: In Virginia today, Michelle Obama confronting Trump at her first solo campaign appearance for Clinton.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: There were those who questioned and continue to question for the past eight years up through this very day whether my husband was even born in this country.


ZELENY: The first lady, one of the most popular figures in politics, helping a former first lady, and making clear she is personally invested in keeping the White House in Democratic hands.

M. OBAMA: No one in our lifetime has ever had as much experience and exposure to the presidency, not Barack, not Bill, as he would say, nobody.

And, yes, she happens to be a woman.


ZELENY: She's one of many Democratic stars hitting the campaign trail, a highlight reel from the party's convention last month now fanning out across the country.

To fire up liberals and young voters, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders heading to Ohio this week. On CNN's "NEW DAY," Sanders offering sharp words to any of his followers who are still cool on Clinton.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Please, anybody who supports me, do not think that Donald Trump in any way, shape or form reflects the point of view that I have.

ZELENY: Clinton is trying to regain her footing after weathering one of fight rockiest weeks of her campaign, even making political hay from her setback with pneumonia.

CLINTON: The good news is, my pneumonia finally got some Republicans interested in women's health.


ZELENY: Back on the campaign trail for a second straight day, Clinton told could black women leaders they could play a large role in helping stop Trump's candidacy. She noted that African-American women voted in higher percentage than any other group.

CLINTON: This year, once again, you have your hands on the wheel of history, and you can write the next chapter of the American story. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, this is all happening on a weekend when the Congressional Black Caucus is meeting in Washington.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton will be on the same stage to speak to black leaders tomorrow night. The idea was for the president to help energize his old coalition and transfer some of that excitement to Clinton. Now Trump may have unwittingly fired up that old Obama coalition himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He may indeed have done exactly that.

All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

In the last hour, I spoke with a Donald Trump supporter, Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.

Now let's bring in a Hillary Clinton supporter, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is also the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, you heard Donald Trump today say finally he believes that Barack Obama was born in the United States, period, he said. So, is that enough?

SCHIFF: No. It's not enough. It is certainly not enough to overcome five years of peddling this, I think, bigoted theory of his.

And it is interest to go watch how he does it. He did this several times in his interviews with you. He likes to say, some people believe, some people will say, and this is his way of propagating these racist theories.

And it's appalling. And the fact that he now finds it expedient 60 days before the election to effectively replace one falsehood with another, the falsehood that president wasn't born here, with another falsehood that this all started with Hillary Clinton, is simply classic Trump, but it's appalling.

And I don't think today ought to mitigate in any way five years of trying to call into question the legitimacy of the first black president.

BLITZER: What else do you want him to do?

SCHIFF: Well, I don't think there's much he can do.

I would certainly like to see him admit that he was peddling this bias for years and explain himself. He is not going to do that. And I think he made it worse today by, as I mentioned, replacing this fabrication with another one, that Hillary Clinton got this whole thing started, when there's so much evidence that Donald Trump has been peddling this theory for years.


So, I'm not sure there's much he can do. And I find it insulting that he thinks that the American people are so incredulous that they would accept this very insincere about-face on his part.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is coming off a pretty several rough days politically for her campaign. She lost her lead in the national polls over Donald Trump. It's neck and neck right now. Why is it this close?

SCHIFF: I think at heart it's this close because we are a very deeply divided country.

And I think in any presidential race recently and in the foreseeable future, you are going to have a very divided electorate. It's going to get close. It's going to tighten any time after Labor Day. That's just where we are in the United States.

I do think it's going to open up again in Secretary Clinton's favor. But we are just too polarized a country right now for any candidate from either party to walk away with a presidential election.

BLITZER: As you know, there's the issue of trust out there. A lot of the voters out there say, according to all the polls, they simply can't trust Hillary Clinton. What can she do to change that?

SCHIFF: You know, those of us that know the secretary and have such great confidence in her find it hard to understand those polls.

And yet we have seen those polls many times. I think she is doing the best that she can and try to really win the confidence of the American people. But there is only so much you can do, and particularly in the last couple of months of an election, when people's views have hardened somewhat.

But I think she is making the case for why she is the best candidate, making the case for why she has been the most transparent. We have a candidate, for example, who won't even release their tax returns.

And in light of this "Newsweek" article that Donald Trump has these business interests in Russia, in Turkey and Azerbaijan and elsewhere that could influence his decisions in the Oval Office, I think the level of transparency on Secretary Clinton's part, contrasted with the opaque quality of what Donald Trump represents, is a pretty persuasive comparison for voters.

BLITZER: He says he will have -- if elected president, he would have a blind trust, hand over the business to his children and have nothing to do with it at all. Is that good enough for you?

SCHIFF: No. And I don't think anybody really buys that.

How is that supposed to work? His kids seek business as part of the Trump Organization in Russia, and you have somebody in Donald Trump who is going to speak favorably about that Russian autocrat who is invading his neighbors merely because Putin says something nice about Donald Trump?

How is he going to react if he finds out that Donald Trump has steered Russian millions or more to his own family? You can imagine how persuasive Donald Trump would find that, as opposed to a simple compliment. There is simply no way, I think, to divorce himself unless he and his family cut their ties to this business.

And there's no indication they're willing to do that. I find it interesting that, even here, 60 days out, he is still peddling his own hotels. It tells you he can't let go of the business priority, his personal wealth priority, even in the last throes of a presidential campaign.

BLITZER: And here is a source of concern for the Clinton campaign. CNN released battleground polls this week showing Trump with the lead. In Florida, for example, he is up by three points. In Ohio, he is up by five points. If Trump wins Florida and Ohio, potentially, he is on his way to the White House.

SCHIFF: I don't think he is going to win Florida. I think Ohio will be very close.

I think, at the end of the day, Secretary Clinton will win that state too. But these are battleground states. These are very tough states. And they will come down to the wire. I think you are going to see Secretary Clinton prevail I hope in both, but I feel very optimistic and particularly about Florida. And I also have a lot of optimism about Ohio.

This is I think what we expected to see early in the campaign. At some point, the polls were going to tighten. At some point, they were going to show Donald Trump ahead in certain states. But I am hoping and I believe that this is going to be an aberration when we get to the fall, further in the fall.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, I want you to stay with us. We have more to discuss, including the latest developments in the war against ISIS, a top leader killed in another U.S. drone strike. We will get more from you on that and other issues when we come back.



BLITZER: We're back with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

Congressman, we have more breaking news we're following tonight about the death of another ISIS leader. We learned today that a top ISIS leader, a guy by the name of Wa'il Adil Hasan Salman, was killed in a drone strike earlier this month. He was one of the few ISIS leaders believed to have had direct access to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader.

Is the U.S. getting closer to taking out al-Baghdadi himself and other top ISIS leaders in a significant way?

SCHIFF: Well, we have been taking out a lot of those very close leadership to al-Baghdadi.

And it is unquestionably a sign that our intelligence is really improving. I think ISIS on the battlefield is under greater pressure than ever before, as we succeedingly pick off their leadership, as we diminish their resources, as we're, I think, cutting off the flow of recruits into Iraq and Syria.

It is much diminished from what it has been. They are still lethal and there's still a lot of political challenges to overcome, as well as military in Iraq and Syria. But the trends on the battlefield are very positive. And we see a reflection of that in our improving intelligence and our ability to take out this top leadership like Salman.

BLITZER: Do you believe the Russian government is behind the latest string of cyber-attacks targeting the Democratic National Committee and other Democrats?



And I really think the administration ought to the call Russia out on what it's doing. I think this is just appalling that the Russians appear to be trying to interfere with our elections. We have seen this happen in Europe before.

We have not it happen in the United States. And in my own view, whether it's their cyber-attacks or in their invasions of their neighbor or what they are doing in Syria is the only thing Russia really respects is a strong response. And I think we need to push back. And I think that begins with a public accounting of what Russia is doing.

So, I have been urging the administration, along with my colleague Senator Feinstein to call out Russia on its cyber-activities and the threat that it poses to us.

BLITZER: Congressman Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told me this week that Republican political operatives have had their e-mails hacked.

Do you anything more about who else may have been hacked?

SCHIFF: I'm not at liberty to go into that.

But I can say this. There's every reason to believe that the Russians aren't simply interested in one party, from the point of view of intelligence gathering. We would expect them to be probing the private files of both Democrats and Republicans and certainly, you know, anyone of interest that may hold a position of responsibility.

But what we are seeing is that the information being dumped tends to thus far have been directed at injuring Secretary Clinton, interfering with the Democratic Party. So people can draw the conclusions from that as they will. There is plainly I think an interest the Russians have in electing Donald Trump as president for a whole variety of reasons.

But the fact that the Russians and others are interested and our presidential candidates or are interested in doing foreign intelligence gathering, we fully expect that that would be bipartisan.

BLITZER: Do you anticipate there will be more leaks before the Election Day?

SCHIFF: Yes, I do.

Unfortunately, I think this is now the new norm. We're in a cyber- Wild West, where these things are going to continue to get leaked, where new people are going to continue to get hacked. It's incredibly, I think, damaging and destructive. And I think it signals that we have to maintain a stronger deterrent.

We have to be willing to call out those who are responsible, because what we are doing thus far is not deterring this kind of conduct at all. And unless we want to see a lot of mischief with our political processes, we are going to need to start pushing back.

BLITZER: Do you believe that our election in November will be safe and secure, the results won't be tampered with or hacked?

SCHIFF: I don't think that foreign hackers can change the outcome.

But I do think they have the ability to call into question some of the election results. And if they are able to do that in a few swing states or they are able to delay or somehow bring about a cloud of uncertainty over a particular election result in a pivotal state, that would be deeply damaging.

All of those, like you and I, who remember Florida all too well in 2000 know what that means. And here we have a 4-4 Supreme Court. The balance of the Supreme Court is in question. So, if we had a Bush vs. Gore Supreme Court decision on this, you can imagine what that might look like.

So, it is a very deep concern. But I think the greatest concern, frankly, is that they sow discord in this country, that they cast doubt on the election results, rather than they had the actual ability to change the result.

BLITZER: One final question, very quickly. Did the Russians hack Colin Powell's e-mail?

SCHIFF: I can't comment on that.

But, again, I think that the administration needs to be ready to move forward with a public accounting of those who are hacking into American both former administration officials or political parties. I think we need to call out the responsible parties. And I think the administration also needs to think about what consequences need to be put in place.

BLITZER: Chairman Adam Schiff of California, thanks for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on Donald Trump's long embrace of the so-called birther conspiracy theory and his abrupt reversal today.

Will this help or hurt the Republican nominee who has been in an upswing in recent polls? And we will talk about the Democrats' response to all of this. Will it help Hillary Clinton put a very bad week behind her?


[18:34:16] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Donald Trump has finally ended his years'-long effort to discredit President Obama by questioning whether he was born in the United States.

Trump not only abandoned the birther conspiracy theory but he also pushed repeatedly the claim Hillary Clinton started it, a claim that is false. Let's discuss all of this.

Sara Murray, you're with us. He really wants this over with, once and for all. He said, quote, "Obama was born in the United States, period. He thinks it is over with, but it's by no means over with.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly didn't want to answer any more questions about it today. That was clear. It was an event earlier today, billed as a press conference. But he got out there pretty hastily and didn't take any questions from the press.

The reality is he's had a number of options to put this to bed earlier in the campaign, and he repeatedly said early on that he didn't necessarily believe Obama was born in America, or he just said he didn't want to talk about it.

[18:35:10] And all of this is coming at a pretty inconvenient time for Donald Trump. This is shortly after his campaign announced this big effort to reach out to minority voters, to visit African-American communities. And this whole birther push, for years, is one of the things that was very offensive to the African-American community but also to millions of people who voted for President Obama and did really feel like this was an effort to undermine the first African- American president.

BLITZER: He said in a brief statement, Jeff, he said, "Hillary Clinton and her campaign in '08 started the birther conspiracy. I finished it." "I finished it." He didn't exactly finish it, because the state of Hawaii released the birth certificate in 2011. I had this exchange with him in 2012.


BLITZER: I don't understand why you're doubling down on this birther issue after the state of Hawaii formally says this is the legitimate birth certificate. He was born in Hawaii. Why are you going through all of this, Donald?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE (via phone): Well, a lot of people don't agree with that birth certificate. A lot of people do not think it's authentic.

BLITZER: But if the state of Hawaii authorizes it, if the state of Hawaii says this is official, he was born in Hawaii on this date, here it is, why do you deny that?

TRUMP: A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate.

BLITZER: How can you say that if the...

TRUMP: A lot of people -- now, you won't report it, Wolf, but many people do not think it was authentic.


BLITZER: So clearly, he didn't end it, because he was continuing to promote this conspiracy.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He was. He was promoting it for a long time, talking about it up until this year.

The only thing that's changed here is the clock. We're 53 days before an election, and he clearly -- his advisors, his new advisers clearly want to, you know, put this aside. And it probably wouldn't have even come up this week, had he not told "The Washington Post" again this week that, you know, he -- he wasn't going to answer this.

I don't know why, if you talk to Republicans who were just, you know, about to say, you know, "Gosh, he's actually getting, you know, back on track" and then this. This is all Donald Trump from the beginning until the end. He didn't finish it at all. He did start it. He definitely started it.

There is some chatter that people in the Clinton world started this. The only information that we have is this. We all remember covering the 2008 campaign. Mark Penn, who was her chief strategist, in March of 2007 wrote a memo that was secret at the time; then it leaked out about a year afterward.

And he said that Senator Obama is -- is "other." He's not exactly -- he doesn't have traditional American roots, things like that. So some dark language, for sure, but did not say, without a doubt, that he was not born here. But that was before he was elected president. Donald Trump pursued that after he was elected once and then reelected again. So I think it's a totally different thing.

BLITZER: And even before, Manu, the birth certificate itself was released, we had the -- not one but two Honolulu daily newspapers contemporaneously back in August of 1961 -- and let's show our viewers 00 published the birth announcements. There you see there, Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama announce the birth of their son. Not one newspaper but two daily newspapers in Honolulu published that. I later raised that issue with Donald Trump. He said, "Well, anybody could have called in and put in those kinds of announcements, knowing they would get all sorts of benefits down the road." So he clearly wasn't even convinced about that.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He wasn't very convincing today when he made that one brief statement, saying that the president was born in this country. It's seen, as Jeff said, that he had to do this for political reasons more so than what he really believed.

But if you look at polling, there is still a surprisingly large amount of this country that falsely believes that the president was not born here.

BLITZER: Twenty percent, according to our recent poll.

RAJU: Twenty percent and a majority of Donald Trump supporters. So clearly, he believed -- there's a big reason why -- that he did not let this go.

But I have to say that I do think that if he would have put this aside earlier in the campaign, it would have been much better politically. Right now, he's giving Democrats a gift, something they actually could rally behind. It's probably the best day that they have had on the campaign trail in weeks, after Donald Trump has been surging.

BLITZER: Even as earlier -- as recently as this year, in January of this year, when I interviewed Donald Trump and raised the birther issue with him, he wasn't ready to put it aside. Listen to this.


TRUMP: ... about Obama. Obama...

BLITZER: His mother was a U.S. citizen, born in Kansas. Was he a natural-born citizen?

TRUMP: Who knows? Who knows? Who cares right now? We're talking about something else. OK? I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I'll write a book. I'll do another book. It will do very successfully.


BLITZER: So he was suggesting that, I guess, a theory about his birth.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: It was a very short book, today wasn't it? When he came out and said -- it made one sentence: "Listen, he's a U.S. citizen."

Here's the thing about Donald Trump, and to Jeff's point: Republicans thought that they were righting the ship. They were coming in this weekend, or going into this weekend now, Wolf, with Hillary Clinton slipping in national polls, in every state poll we've seen. She was losing African-American votes specifically in the state of Michigan not to Donald Trump, but losing them to Gary Johnson. The millennial vote in Ohio was flush; it was basically even. Donald Trump was having a good week. He talked about his economic proposals yesterday. He should have been talking about that all day today.

But he couldn't help himself, could he? He had to go out, and in this interview, really leave some -- some suspect about whether or not he believed that Barack Obama was born here or not. And then last night, his campaign had to move very fast, late at night, to try to end it. But as we all know, it's not going to be ended.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by. We're going to continue our analysis of all of this. We'll take a quick break.

Also, what first lady Michelle Obama says about the birther movement and Donald Trump in her first solo campaign appearance for Hillary Clinton.


[18:45:39] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Strong reaction to the breaking news, Donald Trump finally admitting President Obama was born in the United States after pushing for several years the birther experience theory.

Let's talk a little bit more about that.

Manu, you had an important interview with the top Democrat in the Senate, the Minority Leader Harry Reid. Let me play this little clip. Listen to this.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: What a liar. He never questioned citizenship of anyone else running for president. No one else. He is just such a phony. Here is a man you can't believe anything he says, nothing. You can't believe anything he says.

And, certainly, you don't believe the fact that he is not going to give income tax returns because there's an audit. And every person of consequence says it doesn't matter if he is in an audit or not. And now, he's gotten so weak on the subject, he won't even talk about it. He sends his kids out to talk about the tax returns.


BLITZER: So, Manu, can the Democrats keep up this line of attack and hope to score some significant points?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: They certainly believe they can and what Reid also is trying to do is tie all down ticket Republicans to Donald Trump, which is why they believe his birther issue is such a gift, because it paints Trump as sort on the fringes of normal political fodder. And it could tie those down ticket Republicans in key Senate races, perhaps that helps him. But polls have shown that, particularly in these battleground states

and Senate races, Republicans are doing a lot better. When I asked Reid about that, he strongly dismissed all the polling, call it silliness. He dismissed CNN polls as $500 cheap polls. So, he clearly, he believes that things could be turned around here. And one reason why is because of Donald Trump's mistakes.

BLITZER: Sara, I want to also get into this other bigger issue, accusations against Donald Trump that, you know, he often exaggerates or stretches the truth. Let me play a clip. This is Donald Trump on Jimmy Fallon when asked about the praise he has often offered for Vladimir Putin.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, look, I don't know him. And, you know, I know nothing about him really. I just think if we got along with Russia, that's not a bad thing.

I got to know him very well because we were both on "60 Minutes". We were stable mates. We did very well that night.


BLITZER: On one hand he didn't know him. We got to know him very well. We heard this kinds of exchanges. He thinks he could get away with this.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: He certainly kept the reporters who cover him and the fact checkers who cover him very busy this year, and this isn't a secret that Donald Trump plays it fast and loose with the facts and he has claimed that he never said things that he certainly said that are caught on video. And I think the Putin thing is a good example.

But the birther thing is another good example of a straight out lie that Donald Trump spent years perpetuating to voters, perpetuating to the public, and I think that's one of the things that have sort of gotten lost in this narrative a little bit, is that people aren't trying to choose a president. They are trying to choose a commander in chief.

And this is the kind of thing that could be problematic, to see the way that he doesn't just sort of exaggerate things but something like the birther is just a falsehood that he repeated over and over again for years.

BLITZER: Mark, I don't think today turned out the way Donald Trump's top political aides were hoping it would turn out.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: No, in fact, I think last night, they were hoping this would all put to bed. I mean, basically, we were on air last night talking about this issue because the "Washington Post" story had just published. Within a few moments, we received a statement from the Trump campaign, from one of the senior advisers saying, no, Donald Trump doesn't believe Barack Obama was born overseas. Basically he was born here.

What Donald Trump had said today, they had basically written last night. They -- look, the Trump advisers want to see a discipline campaign. They understand that. They are dealing with a candidate who is unconventional. We say it in a kind way but somebody who doesn't want to say that he is sorry.

BLITZER: Let me play this clip. Donald Trump was joking about Hillary Clinton's secret service bodyguards. Listen to this.


TRUMP: You know, she's very much against the Second Amendment. She wants to destroy your Second Amendment.


Guns, guns, guns, right?

I think what we should do is she goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm, right? Right?

[18:50:02] I think they should disarm immediately, what do you think? Yes? Yes. Yes.

Take their guns away. She doesn't want guns. Take them and let's see what happens her. Take their guns away, OK? It would be very dangerous.


BLITZER: That makes a lot of us uncomfortable to hear that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it. Let's see what happens to her. You know, we can I think all interpret what he was saying there. Look, he has the same type of protection that she has. She doesn't have bodyguards. She is protected by the United States Secret Service, as is he, as is typical for any presidential nominee. So, by suggesting now that she has bodyguards I think is slightly misleading but that statement is going to keep going.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch that.

Everyone, stay with us everyone. Much more news coming up.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): For Jane Goodall, a plane ride over Tanzania led to a troubling realization.

JANE GOODALL, ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: When I flew over the Gombe National Park in 1960, I was absolutely socked.

CUOMO: She discovered the chimpanzee population was rapidly shrinking, and the human population wasn't faring well either.

GOODALL: There were clearly more people on the land than the land could support. Unless we could do something to help t people live better lives, we couldn't even try to save the chimpanzees.

CUOMO: Goodall reached out to local villages.

GOODALL: We asked what could we do to help them? One was to grow more food. Two was to have better health. And three was better education for their children.

CUOMO: The Jane Goodall Institute starting providing microcredit loans to villages to help them grow food and raise livestock.

GOODALL: We've seen a complete cycle of regeneration. Village's lives improving. Education going up affecting women. And the start of a downward trend in family size.

CUOMO: Overfarmed fields have recovered. Barren land that once divided chimps have grown back reconnecting the population.

GOODALL: Animals on the brink of extinction can be given another chance when people care and are determined.



[18:56:55] BLITZER: An unusual military lab is working to give U.S. Special Operations Forces a technological advantage both on and off the battlefield.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr got a look inside.

Barbara, there is some fascinating stuff being developed in this lab.


You know, with the fight against ISIS picking up in both Syria and Iraq, U.S. Special Operations are now looking for every cutting edge technology they can find.


STARR (voice-over): More special operations forces may head to Iraq and Syria to advise local forces in upcoming battles to retake Mosul and Raqqah, CNN has learned. As troops move closer to the front line dangers, they need every advantage.

To get that advantage, students, professors and military personnel are working in this very nontraditional military lab on cutting edge gadgets. They could mean the difference between life and death.

JAMES GEURTS, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: We found a thing called Gotenna which is an antenna you can clip your cellphone and turn into a radio. So, if you lose a cell tower, you can still communicate.

STARR: At this converted tattoo parlor of all places in Tampa, the special operations command is running an innovation project that seems more like a startup tech company than part of the U.S. military.

GEURTS: What we wanted to create was an inviting place, somewhere that you would want to come to work where if you're a 19-year-old and you got a great idea, you'd be happy to come here.

STARR: It's not just about winning the fight, but surviving it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is actually a pellet that expands up to 20 times its size when it reaches fluids. So what you do is inject this into a wound, all these pellets will expand rapidly clot the wound and quickly shut off the bleeding. So, previously they would have been packing pieces of gauze into that wound in order to try to stop the blood flow.

GEURTS: So, a lot what we also do is rapidly prototype things, talk to operators, get the idea flowing and trying to get it from cocktail napkin to here is an actual thing we're thinking about.

STARR: 3D printed drones also show promise for Iraq and Syria. Imagine getting the part you need by printing it right on the battlefield.

GEURTS: If something breaks, they can repair it themselves and not have to keep coming back to us for parts.

STARR: With a 3D printer and, yes, Play-Doh, a standard issue weapon can be molded to the individual.

GUERTS: Our operator asked us, hey can you customize a grip and when you do that can you embed buttons and switches so I can control all the things I need without taking my hands occupy the weapon and my eyes off what I'm looking at and the weapon.


STARR: So, looking for a new way of doing business. Amid an awful lot of history, this building was a converted tattoo parlor, but even before that, Wolf, I want to share with everyone, it was an old hotel. And history has it Teddy Roosevelt once stayed there on his way to fight in Cuba -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of history there indeed.

Good report, Barbara. Thanks very much.

Remember, the first presidential debate just ten days away, September 26th. Join us for live coverage here on CNN.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.