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Interview With RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer; Vice Presidential Debate Fallout; Hurricane Matthew Targets East Coast; NSA Contractor Accused of Stealing Secrets; Clinton, Trump Prepare for Second Debate. Aired 6-6:30p ET

Aired October 5, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The theft is now seen as a potential threat to U.S. national security. What was the motive?

Split ticket. Democratic nominee Tim Kaine comes out swinging in the vice presidential debate. Republican rival Mike Pence calmly refuses to take the bait, but also reshapes some of Donald Trump's controversial policies. Did Pence upset his running mate by outperforming him?

And poison pills? The State Department is investigating a report that two American diplomats were drugged in a bar in Russia. The incident is the latest in what the U.S. sees as a pattern of Russian intimidation of U.S. diplomats. What might Vladimir Putin's government be trying to achieve?

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 tonight, Hurricane Matthew is closing in on the Southeastern part of the United States, with Florida bracing for a direct hit as early as Friday.

All of Florida is now under a state of emergency, with the governor warning of potential massive destruction. President Obama is urging people to heed evacuation orders. He says Matthew could have a -- quote -- "devastating effect."

Also breaking now, the Justice Department says a government contractor has been arrested for allegedly stealing top-secret intelligence from the National Security Agency. Prosecutors say hard copy and digital files containing highly classified information were found in a search of the Maryland home of Harold Thomas Martin III.

And we're following the race for the White House. Donald Trump is praising Mike Pence's performance in the vice presidential debate and seeming to take credit. Trump says he's being praised for picking Pence as his running mate. We're standing by to hear from Trump this hour. He's holding a rally in Reno, Nevada. We're covering that and a lot more this hour with our guests,

including the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee, Sean Spicer. And our correspondents and our expert analysts are also standing by.

But let's begin with the Trump campaign.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, has the latest.

Jason, we're standing by to hear from Trump in Reno. What are you hearing?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you this. Donald Trump has been out complimenting his running mate, basically saying that he remained cool under pressure.

And when he spoke to a crowd here in Henderson, he said what they saw last night was an example of his own good judgment.


CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump heaping praise on himself for his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence's performance in Tuesday's debate.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mike Pence did an incredible job, and I'm getting a lot of credit, because that's really my first so-called choice. I would argue that Mike had the single most decisive victory in the history of vice presidential debates.

CARROLL: Pence spent much of the debate tangling with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who repeatedly pressed the Republican vice presidential nominee to defend Trump's past controversial comments.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm happy to defend him. Most of what you said is completely false. And the American people know that.


CARROLL: Kaine highlighted past praise by Trump and Pence for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump and Mike Pence have said he's a great leader.

PENCE: No, we haven't.

CARROLL: But here's what Pence told CNN's Dana Bash last month:

PENCE: I think it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.

CARROLL: And Trump said this earlier: D. TRUMP: I have already said he is really very much of a leader. 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.

CARROLL: Pence rejected Kaine's charge that Trump had suggested more countries should acquire more nuclear weapons.

KAINE: More nations should get nuclear weapons. Try to defend that.

PENCE: Don't put words in my mouth. Well, he never said that, Senator.

CARROLL: But this is what Trump told Anderson Cooper in March:

D. TRUMP: It's going to happen any way. It's only a question of time. Now, wouldn't you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?

CARROLL: And Pence pushed back on Kaine's attacks about Trump's line in his announcement speech last June that some undocumented Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.

PENCE: Senator, you have whipped out the Mexican thing again. He -- look...

KAINE: Can you defend it?

PENCE: There are criminal aliens in this country, Tim.

But he also said, and many of them are good people. You keep leaving that out of your quote.

CARROLL: Kaine and Pence also sparring over Donald Trump's refusal to release tax returns.

Following the debate, Trump's son Eric told CNN's Dana Bash his father has paid some federal income tax in the past two decades.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Has he paid federal income taxes over the last 18 years, yes or no?

ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Yes, absolutely. My father pays a tremendous amount of tax. We as a company pay a tremendous amount of tax.


CARROLL: And Trump was criticized for not preparing enough for the last debate. The next debate will be a town hall format type of debate, and he will be getting a practice session in tomorrow when he holds a town hall in New Hampshire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will see how he does on that one. Jason Carroll, thank you, Jason Carroll reporting. Hillary Clinton is here in Washington tonight at a fund-raiser after

spending the day preparing for her next debate with Donald Trump just four days from now.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, covering the Clinton campaign for us.

Jeff, Clinton's fund-raiser is going on right now at that hotel behind you. What are you hearing?


Hillary Clinton is at a Women for Hillary Clinton Leadership celebration with some star-studded guests, like Julianna Margulies, Eva Longoria and others. It's her only stop on the campaign trail today, at least publicly. Other than that, Wolf, she's been behind closed doors at her home here in Washington, preparing for that debate next Sunday.

Her aides are calling it the Sunday sequel in Saint Louis.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton giving two thumbs up for Tim Kaine's debate last night. She's stepping off the campaign trail to prepare for her second showdown with Donald Trump. A parade of Democrats, including former rival Bernie Sanders, is stepping out to make the case against the Republican ticket.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: What does Donald Trump stand for? What does Hillary Clinton stand for? And which candidate is better for you?

ZELENY: Spending most of the day inside her Washington home, Clinton is getting ready for that town hall-style debate four days away in Saint Louis. Campaign chair John Podesta says the format comes naturally to her.

JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: She likes it. She likes answering questions from individual citizens. She listens hard and relates to people. And that's a format that Donald Trump isn't as used to.

ZELENY: In the Sunday sequel, her campaign is bracing for a far tougher fight with Trump after watching his running mate. Kaine defended her biggest vulnerabilities one by one, from trust.

KAINE: We trust her with the most important thing in our life. We have a son deployed overseas in the Marine Corps right now. We trust Hillary Clinton as president and commander in chief.

ZELENY: To e-mail.

KAINE: You don't get to decide the rights and wrongs of this. We have a justice system that does that. ZELENY: To the Clinton Foundation.

KAINE: So the foundation does good work. And Hillary Clinton as secretary of state acted in the interests of the United States.

ZELENY: The Clinton campaign is racing to register voters before a deadline next Tuesday in critical battlegrounds of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, Bill Clinton on a bus tour of rural Ohio, Kaine hitting Philadelphia.

President Obama's visit to Florida today called off because of Hurricane Matthew, which is also interrupting voter registration efforts. It was Bill Clinton drawing unwanted attention, still trying to explain what he meant when he criticized Obamacare as the craziest thing in the world during this Michigan speech.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, you have got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care, and then the people are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It's the craziest thing in the world.

ZELENY: For a second straight day, he expressed his support for expanding health care, but said it's far from perfect.

CLINTON: I strongly supported that bill. And it's given 20 million more people insurance. But there are problems with it. There are problems with it. And everybody knows it.

ZELENY: In Nevada, Trump seizing on his words today.

D. TRUMP: You read Bill Clinton's comments yesterday about how horrible Obamacare is. He's right. He was being honest. He will probably now have to pivot and go back.

ZELENY: We asked Podesta whether the comments from the former president were helpful.

PODESTA: He was colorful. And I probably would have chosen different words, but I think that what he was saying is there still -- the law has been a success, but there's still more to do.


ZELENY: But Bill Clinton has been campaigning across Eastern Ohio. When you talk to Democrats who have known and worked for him a long time, they do acknowledge that occasionally you get some bad with the good Bill Clinton, but they insist the good out there outweighs the bad.

He's working areas that have shifted since he was in office from Democrat now to Republican, trying to win some of those white working- class voters back.

Now, speaking of Bill Clinton, Al Gore is also going to be on the road for Hillary Clinton in the coming weeks. She will be earning his support as a way to try and reach over to some of those millennials. He of course supports climate change and will talk about it so centrally.

And, Wolf, one more note. This fund-raiser behind me here will have television cameras in it. It's a rarity for the Clinton campaign, only the second time in recent weeks she has opened her fund-raisers up to our cameras -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much for that report.


Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us now, the chief strategist, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, Sean Spicer. He's joining us from Trump campaign headquarters, Trump Tower, from New York.

Thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right, so let's talk a little bit about the debate last night. I know you think Pence won the debate.

But in several instances, he deviated from his own running mate, Donald Trump's positions. Governor Pence called Russian leader Putin, for example, a small and bullying leader. And Trump repeatedly praises Putin as a strong leader, very different stances.

So what is the Trump campaign's position, for example, on Putin? I know you're embedded there and you work closely with that campaign.

SPICER: Well, first, just to kick it off, it wasn't just us that think Governor Pence did a great job last night. When you look at a litany of Democrats and left-leaning pundits, whether it's former DNC chair and Governor Ed Rendell, a top Hillary surrogate, talking how Tim Kaine didn't do well last night, Chris Matthews, the liberal Democratic pundit on another network, or the founder of The Daily Kos, all of them were extremely disappointed in Tim Kaine's performance last night, and while maybe not praising Mike Pence, made it very clear that they didn't do what they needed to do last night.

Look, Mike Pence made a strong and powerful argument why he and Donald Trump are the right people to lead this country in the right direction. I think the media, ironically, after this debate, and there's no question that Mike Pence won, have come out and nitpicked every part about it.

I have seen so little coverage of Tim Kaine, it's unbelievable. It's almost like people are making excuses for the guy and nitpicking every word that Mike Pence said.


BLITZER: Hold on a second, Sean?

What about -- the question was, why do Pence and Donald Trump, for example, have different views about Putin?

SPICER: They don't.

Honestly, I think the problem, honestly, Wolf, every piece of coverage I have seen today has been trying to nitpick the differences between these two folks, and, frankly, there isn't.

Governor Pence was very clear. He stands by Donald Trump's positions, he's supporting him, he's 100 percent on the team. And yet every piece of coverage today wasn't how bad the Democrats did, which, by all accounts, CNN's own poll they did, they did not do well.

Tim Kaine is a massive -- came in with high expectations as a world- class debater. He failed miserably. And instead of coming in and saying the Republicans actually are back on track, they came in with a strong performance, it's nitpick this and make excuses for Kaine.

It's frankly disappointing and unbelievable the way that the reaction has been with this debate. Mike Pence gave a powerful and strong defense of the Kaine -- of the Trump-Pence position last night.

BLITZER: We have had pointed out -- and I assume you were watching us. We had a poll, a CNN/ORC poll that did show that Pence beat Kaine. We had that last night.

But on some of these substantive policy issues, very important issues, affecting national security of the United States, the American people want to know what the position is of the Republican ticket.

Pence, for example, he suggested last night the U.S. should be prepared -- his words -- to use military force against the Syrian regime if Russian doesn't stop supporting Assad's regime.

I want you to listen specifically, because this is an issue that involves national security.


PENCE: the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. And if Russia chooses to be involved and continue, I should say, to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo.


BLITZER: All right.

If you listened to Donald Trump over these many months -- and I know you have -- this is the complete opposite of what Donald Trump says. He says the U.S. should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of Assad. Donald Trump doesn't go there.

SPICER: Well, I think what Mike Pence said is -- and you just played the clip -- is, we should not take military options off the table.

I think Donald Trump has been very clear. Whether you're talking about the concerns and the issue in Syria or around the world, Donald Trump has always said over and over again, we should not telegraph to the enemy or to our opponents what our strategy is going to be. I think Mike Pence echoed that last night by saying we should never take military options off the table.

BLITZER: But Trump basically says don't get involved.

And we did hear by Mike Pence last night the U.S. should get involved specifically in Syria. He said the U.S., for example, should establish what he called safe zones in Syria to protect Syrian refugees. I don't think I have heard that from Donald Trump. Have you?

SPICER: Well, I think there's a big difference.

Philosophically, they're clearly on the same page. As I mentioned, I think Governor Pence last night went into more detail as far as the crisis there goes, and our issues vis-a-vis Russia and our opposition -- and their alignment with the Assad regime.

But make no mistake. I don't know how many times people can go in and try to nitpick the position. Governor Pence made it very clear last night that he and Donald Trump are 100 percent aligned on this.


BLITZER: This isn't nitpicking, though, Sean.

SPICER: It is!

BLITZER: These are important national security issues.

U.S. military personnel could be deployed under Governor Pence's proposal to go establish safe zones in Syria. I haven't heard Donald Trump say anything along those lines.

SPICER: I guess my point is, Wolf, just because you haven't heard the words used exactly by both candidates -- I have said it before -- Governor Pence said it last night -- their interests are aligned. They share -- they're on the same page when it comes to their -- to national and foreign policy, frankly, on domestic policy as well.

I just -- I think that this idea of trying to parse words on everything that Governor Pence said and not having any of the same scrutiny on Senator Kaine is somewhat of a double standard that exists right now, and we're seeing it over and over again in the media.

BLITZER: Yes, but these aren't -- I just want to point out, this is not nitpicking. These are important policy issues. It's not some tangential issues. This is war and peace, the involvement of U.S. military personnel.

SPICER: I understand.

BLITZER: These are important issues we're talking about.

SPICER: I don't disagree with you, Wolf. I think the refugee crisis that's going on there and the national security issues that we're facing in Syria...


BLITZER: So, just to be precise, Sean, does Donald Trump support intervention, military intervention in Syria?

SPICER: No, what Donald Trump and Mike Pence both said is that we should protect national interests in Syria and we should take nothing off the table, full-stop, period.

Donald Trump has made it very clear that we don't tell our opponents what we're going to do or how we're going to do it. We leave everything on the table, so we would leave the maximum number of options available to us.

BLITZER: But Pence last night -- and we're going to take a break -- Pence last night did advertise what the U.S. strategy under his vision would be.

He said the U.S. should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime, and the U.S. should be prepared to establish safe zones to protect Syrian refugees. He is telegraphing his stance.

SPICER: No. No. Actually, stop and think about what you just said, should be prepared to.

That's exactly what Donald Trump has said. We should not take anything off the table. I get that they didn't use the exact same words, but the philosophy and the goal is 100 percent the same, no matter how many times you ask it.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Sean. We have a lot more to discuss.

We're going to take a quick break. We will continue this conversation right after this.



BLITZER: We're counting down to the second presidential debate Sunday night. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off just four days from now.

We're back with the chief strategist, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, Sean Spicer. Sean, last night after the debate, we interviewed Eric Trump right

after the debate and asked him about his father paying federal income tax.

Listen to this exchange Eric Trump had with Dana Bash.


BASH: Has he paid federal income taxes over the last 18 years, yes or no?

E. TRUMP: Of course, yes, absolutely. My father pays a tremendous amount of tax. We as a company pay a tremendous amount of tax.

BASH: So, if we ever see your father's income taxes, it will show that he has paid federal income taxes?

E. TRUMP: There is no question about it. We pay tremendous taxes as a company.

BASH: Will we see it?

E. TRUMP: Listen, when the audit is over, my father will release it.


BLITZER: So, what do you think? Has Donald Trump -- you have seen all the stories over these past several weeks -- has Donald Trump, based on everything you know, Sean, paid federal income tax, specifically federal income tax, over these past couple decades?

SPICER: I'm probably the last person that Donald Trump is going to share his taxes with. But, obviously, his son Eric made that statement to Dana, and you take him at his word.

BLITZER: Should it be the law for presidential candidates of either party to release their income tax returns? It's been going on since 1976, as you know.

SPICER: I don't know if it should be a law.

Should it be a law that they release all their e-mails that have classified information on them? Should they release all their donors to their foundations that have done business in a foreign country or the quid pro quos that they have made with other state -- I mean, other government officials?

I think we could go down a list of litany of things that potential candidates should or should not release. We have a financial disclosure form that Congress has deemed what it takes to run for federal office. Every candidate has to file that.

What they further choose to disclose, how they do and when they do it, is up to each candidate. And the voters -- frankly, Wolf, at that point, it's up to voters to decide whether or not whatever they do above and beyond which is required by law is satisfactory. In the case of this, both candidates have filed the federal disclosure forms that are required of every federal candidate.


BLITZER: But, Sean, if Hillary Clinton had not released her federal income tax returns, you would be upset about that, wouldn't you?

SPICER: Well, I don't know. We would see. But she did, and she did because she was forced to do it years ago because of some controversies that occurred. She didn't do it voluntarily.

BLITZER: Well, she's released her income tax returns and her husband has as well for the past at least 30 years or so, maybe even more than that, going back when he was governor of Arkansas.

But we will leave that.

SPICER: But let's be clear. They didn't do that voluntarily.

The Clintons released them because they got caught in a scandal and were doing it to release more evidence. So this isn't exactly like they did it for altruistic reasons.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, everybody -- all the other candidates, I'm just saying, since the '70s, all the other candidates have done it

Donald Trump so far has not done it, but he's still got some time. He's got almost five weeks to do it, if he wants to. We will see if he does.

All right, Sean, thanks so much.

SPICER: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean Spicer is the chief strategist, communications director for the RNC.


Just ahead, we will have more on how the presidential candidates are preparing for their next big debate. That's coming up Sunday night here on CNN.

Plus, breaking news: Hurricane watches are now posted in Florida, as Hurricane Matthew gets closer and closer. We will have the latest hurricane forecast. That's coming up.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories this hour.

Evacuations are now under way, as Hurricane Matthew closes in on the Southeastern part of the United States, all of Florida now under a state of emergency, and hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings have been posted.