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Interview With Former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra; Hacked Clinton Campaign E-Mails; Trump Calls New Sex Assault Allegations False; Michelle Obama Denounces Trump; U.S. Retaliates for Missiles Fired at Navy Warships; Sources: New Signs Russia Behind Email Leaks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 13, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The first lady uses words like disgraceful and intolerable and beneath human decency, her voice shaking at times. How will Trump respond?

Retaliation. The U.S. launches missiles at Iranian-backed rebels who fired on American warships. The Pentagon is warning it's ready to answer further provocation and up the ante. Is Iran directly involved?

And coordinated release? CNN is learning new information about evidence of a Russian role in a WikiLeaks revelation of Clinton campaign e-mails. A state-backed Russian Web site reportedly published the latest stolen documents before WikiLeaks. Did Russia tip its hand?

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: We're following breaking news, dramatic new twists in this unprecedented presidential race. Donald Trump reacting to a series of new allegations that he forced himself on women.

The embattled GOP nominee is vehemently denying the stories as -- quote -- "fabricated, pure fiction and outright lies."

Also breaking tonight, Michelle Obama's first public reaction to the recording of Trump bragging about groping women. At a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton, the first lady spoke emotionally, saying Trump's words have shaken her. She calls Trump -- and I'm quoting her now -- "a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior."

And more breaking news. CNN's Jim Sciutto is learning new information from his sources about Russia allegedly using WikiLeaks to make public stolen e-mails pertaining to the U.S. election. Today, WikiLeaks published almost 2,000 more e-mails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

In a possible sign of collusion, a state-backed Russian Web site published a story on them before WikiLeaks posted them.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour, with our guests, including Trump supporter former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. And our correspondents and our expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with the Trump campaign.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray has the very latest.

Sara, these new allegations about Trump appear in "The New York Times," a Florida newspaper, and "People" magazine. What's the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Wolf, is that Donald Trump has spent a lot of his day on the campaign trail seething over these allegations. And he's doing what Donald Trump does. He's punching back, denying that he ever sexually assaulted anyone, and seeking to undermine the credibility of his accusers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false.

MURRAY (voice-over): With less than four weeks until Election Day, Donald Trump is adamantly denying allegations of sexual assault that are emerging from multiple women across the country.

TRUMP: These claims are all fabricated. They're pure fiction, and they're outright lies. These events never, ever happened.

MURRAY: At the presidential debate, Donald Trump insisted his vulgar comments about sexually assaulting women were only words.

TRUMP: I have tremendous respect for women.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Have you ever done those things?

TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you, no, I have not.

MURRAY: But now women are stepping out to allege that Trump did in fact do the very things he boasted about, one woman telling "The New York Times" Trump groped her on a plane more than three decades ago.

JESSICA LEEDS, TRUMP ACCUSER: He was like an octopus. It was like he had six arms. He was all over the place.

MURRAY: While another alleges that she introduced herself to Trump in 2005, and he suddenly started kissing her on the cheeks and on the mouth.

And a reporter for "People" magazine assigned to write a story about Donald and Melania's first anniversary in 2005 writes that when Melania went to change outfits, Trump offered her a tour of Mar-a- Lago, during which he pinned her against a wall and began -- quote -- forcing his tongue down my throat," telling her, "You know we're going to have an affair, don't you?"

Some of the allegations are strikingly similar to the behavior Trump bragged about in footage from "Access Hollywood" in 2005.

TRUMP: It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. And, when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

MURRAY: Amid the revelations, Trump is fighting back, his lawyers calling for a retraction of the "New York Times" story and threatening to sue. "The Times" has declined to retract the story, saying: "Any harm to Trump's reputation was brought on by Trump's own words," as Trump attacks the credibility of his accusers today from the campaign trail.

TRUMP: These people are horrible people. They're horrible, horrible liars.

MURRAY: The GOP nominee reserving some of his harshest criticism for the "People" magazine reporter.

[18:05:10]

TRUMP: Why wasn't it part of the story that appeared 20 or 12 years ago? That would have been one of the biggest stories of the year.

MURRAY: Even seeming to suggest the reporter was not attractive enough for him to sexually assault.

TRUMP: You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so.

MURRAY: Trump's approach comes as he and top aides have argued the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault in the 1990s deserve the benefit of the doubt.

TRUMP: Bill Clinton was the worst abuser of women ever to sit in the Oval Office.

MURRAY: And in yet another sign of the Trump campaign struggles, a source confirms the campaign is pulling resources out of the battleground state of Virginia, acquiescing crucial territory at the same time that Clinton is looking to expand the map.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, even as Donald Trump is grappling with these mounting allegations of sexual assault, his campaign is sticking by their strategy of bringing up Bill Clinton's accusers and trying to use those against Hillary Clinton. One top adviser tells me this is war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much, Sara Murray in Cincinnati, here Donald Trump will be speaking later tonight.

Now, let's get some more on Michelle Obama's passionate denunciation of Donald Trump today. Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is working this part of the story.

Jeff, the first lady's voice literally was shaking with emotion at times during her speech.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was as personal and pointed of a political speech that we have heard from Michelle Obama, an impassioned plea for why she believes people should pay attention to this campaign, no matter how offensive they may find it.

She called Donald Trump's language toward women disgraceful, intolerable, regardless, she said, of which party you belong to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.

ZELENY (voice-over): Michelle Obama delivering a blistering rebuke of Donald Trump and his crude comments about women.

OBAMA: It would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move onto the next thing, like this was all just a bad dream. This is not something that we can ignore. It's not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season.

ZELENY: She's weighing in with an unusually pointed and personal denunciation of Trump, a call to arms for women, men and, she said, basic human decency.

OBAMA: We all know that, if we let Hillary's opponent win this election, then we are sending a clear message to our kids that everything they're seeing and hearing is perfectly OK. We are validating it.

ZELENY: A coordinated message with Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope you will see Michelle Obama's speech today in New Hampshire.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Once again, she not only made a compelling and strong case about the stakes in the election, but about who we are as Americans.

ZELENY: In their fight to hold the White House, Democrats believe Mrs. Obama offers the most compelling argument for Clinton, speaking from the moral high ground, or what's left of it, in American politics. She is wading in deeper than ever before, and far further than she intended to in this campaign.

Aides tell CNN she was disgusted by Trump's words from a decade ago revealed on a tape last week. OBAMA: Too many are treating this as just another day's headline, as

if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted, as if this is normal, just politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn't matter what party you belong to.

ZELENY: The Trump campaign says it plans to make Bill Clinton's sex scandals a bigger issue in this campaign. Appearing on "The View" today, vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine said the former president isn't running.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two on the ballot. That's the relevant comparison.

ZELENY: All this as hacked e-mails from the Clinton campaign continue to muddy the waters, portraying the painstaking calculations behind nearly every move, even sending out a tweet signed by Hillary Clinton herself.

Far from spontaneous, Clinton aides engaged in a remarkable back-and- forth about language she should use in a tweet.

In the fight to raise the minimum wage, communications director Jennifer Palmieri writing: "If we tweet, we will immediately get asked if we support 15 and then attacked when we have to answer that we do not. Doesn't seem worth it."

With 26 days remaining until Election Day, Clinton's path to 270 electoral votes is widening. Polls show she has a growing command of the race in most battlegrounds. Yet Democrats are worried about complacency, a point Mrs. Obama addressed head on.

OBAMA: We cannot allow ourselves to be so disgusted that we just shut off the TV and walk away, because remember this. When they go low, we go...

AUDIENCE: High!

OBAMA: Yes, we do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:10:03]

ZELENY: Complacency and contempt for the tone of this campaign, that's what worries Clinton's advisers the most. They fear some voters will simply be turned off by the whole process here.

So deploying Michelle Obama is one of the ways Democrats hope to stop Trump with a decisive turnout and victory. At a fund-raising event a short time ago in San Francisco, Secretary Clinton says she knows voters simply want to turn off the news. She urged them to wait four more weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny reporting -- Jeff, thanks very, very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Trump supporter former Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, he was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is joining us right now.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: So Donald Trump today completely denied all these accusations against him leveled by these women. Do you believe him?

HOEKSTRA: Yes, I take Mr. Trump at his word.

You know, these are unsubstantiated allegations against Donald Trump when he was a private citizen, some a decade ago, some 30 years ago. Absolutely.

BLITZER: So, Trump himself described almost exactly the behavior these women are reporting in that 2005 "Access Hollywood" videotape. He talked about unwanted kissing, unwanted groping. Listen to the accounts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA LEEDS, TRUMP ACCUSER: Well, he was grabbing my breasts and trying to turn me towards him and kissing me. And then after a bit, that's when his hands started going. I was wearing a skirt, and his hands started going towards my knee and up my skirt. And that's when I said, "I don't need this." And I got up.

TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

TASHA DIXON, FORMER MISS ARIZONA: All 50 contestants are in one room. It was announced Donald Trump was going to come in. And before you could put a robe or kind of dress yourself, he walked in and, you know, some women were half-naked. Others were in the process of changing.

TRUMP: I will go backstage before a show. And everyone is getting dressed and ready and everything else. And I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant, and therefore I'm inspecting it. They're standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.

DIXON: I'm telling you, Donald Trump owned the pageant for the reasons he utilized his power, to get around beautiful women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so, Congressman, how can you doubt these women's accounts, when we know Trump himself bragged about this kind of behavior?

HOEKSTRA: Well, you know, Wolf, the language that's going on, the actions, you know, I don't necessarily give these a lot of credit or a lot of merit.

They're a long ways -- we're a long ways past them. You know, this campaign needs to be not about the Clintons. I'm very familiar with the Clintons. It's well-documented what they did in public office and how they abused their roles in public office and what they may also have abused while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

These are other allegations going against a private citizen. It's time for the media, in all honesty, to focus on what the real issues are that the American people care about, is, how do we bring about a sluggish economy? How do we...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, Congressman. Why does it matter if he did these things as a private citizen,as opposed to a government official or a politician? What's the difference between doing it as a private citizen or doing it, let's say, as a member of Congress?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I will tell you, when you are in public office, you are held, and that has consistently been proven -- or the media has consistently tried -- and I agree with that -- you're held to a different standard.

You go into public office, recognizing that you are elected. In my case, I'm elected and I'm representing 700,000 people, a portion of whom have said that we want Pete Hoekstra as our congressman. In Bill Clinton's case, it was, we want you as president of the United States, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

You have a moral obligation to the people who elected you and wearing -- in my case, wearing a pin that says, I am an official representative of the United States here in America and when I travel overseas. There is a tremendous responsibility that comes with holding public office and having and being entrusted with that.

BLITZER: So, you hold Donald Trump to a lower standard if in fact he did these things as a private citizen, as opposed to someone running for president? Shouldn't he be held to a high moral standard whether you're a private citizen or running for president of the United States?

HOEKSTRA: The standard for a public official is very, very different than what you have as a private individual.

[18:15:02]

Donald Trump, it appears there's been no allegations that anywhere through this process has he done anything that, you know, where he's broken the law. There's not been charges brought against him or anything like that. Wolf, we're talking about unsubstantiated charges from decades ago.

And I can't quite understand why the media continues to be fixated on this, and why there's actually a coordinated effort...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's not just the media. It's Donald Trump himself. And I listened carefully to his whole speech earlier today in West Palm Beach, spoke for about 40 minutes.

He spoke for 30 minutes about this. He didn't just speak about some of the substantive domestic economic issues, the national security issues. He spoke about this, really railing against these women, railing against Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, for that matter.

Here's a question, Congressman, because I have known you for a long time. Why should people believe Bill Clinton's accusers, but not Donald Trump's accusers?

HOEKSTRA: Because the pattern of behavior for Bill Clinton while he was in office demonstrates a consistency that provides some credibility. But, again, that's not something that we ought to be litigating at this point in time.

BLITZER: But don't the audiotapes, the exchange he had with Billy Bush in that "Access Hollywood" bus that we have all watched now so many times, doesn't that indicate that he was bragging about doing exactly what these women are accusing him of doing?

HOEKSTRA: And every -- you will laugh. It's kind of like, OK, excuse me, that is locker room talk.

Wolf, you were around in the 1990s, when we actually went through and where Bill Clinton went through a process of lying to Congress and the American people about exactly what he was involved with while he was president of the United States of America.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And he was impeached, and we all remember. I was then CNN senior White House correspondent. I remember in 1998, 1999 just as well as you remember all those stories.

In 1998, by the way, Donald Trump dismissed the stories of Bill Clinton's accusers because, in his words, he said they were an unattractive group.

Today, Trump implied that one of his accusers wasn't attractive enough for him to sexually assault. He said, "Look at her." And we have all heard that video, that video by now, that sound bite.

Why is he attacking women's appearances to discredit them?

HOEKSTRA: I think he was talking about her words. I haven't seen the clips and those types of things. But, again, Wolf, the interesting thing, in the 1990s, is, they said, oh, well, no, of course he's still qualified to be president, even though he engaged in that type of activity, even though he lied about it to Congress and he lied about it to the American people. And I didn't see a the moral outrage and the coordinated attacks by the media on Bill Clinton that I see today.

BLITZER: I have got to take a break, Congressman.

HOEKSTRA: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There was plenty of outrage. I remember it very, very vividly. He was impeached, as you know, by the House of Representatives, then later acquitted by the U.S. Senate. But he paid a very severe price for all of those actions back in the 1990s.

HOEKSTRA: Right.

BLITZER: But it sounds to me like you believe that, even if Trump did what these women are accusing, it would be OK with you.

HOEKSTRA: No, it would not be OK. Wolf, I never said that. Come on. Let's not start twisting words.

I'm saying that this -- that these are unsubstantiated allegations. But, no, I have never said that that behavior is appropriate, no way, not going there.

BLITZER: If in fact it were proven to you that these women are telling the truth, would you still support him?

HOEKSTRA: The bottom line is, on January 20, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as president of the United States.

And when I take a look at the policies, whether it's the economic policies, it's the national security policy, immigration, the person and the platform that supports the mechanisms or the policies that I want in place for America's future are those that are embraced and supported by Donald Trump.

BLITZER: So, even if it were confirmed that he did these deeds, you would still support him? It's a simple yes or -- it's a yes or no.

(CROSSTALK)

HOEKSTRA: No, no, it's not a yes or no. It's a hypothetical.

What am I going to learn from the WikiLeaks from Hillary Clinton over the next 27 days that as -- would I believe that, under her efforts and her role in the State Department, she actually supplied and facilitated the supply of weapons to ISIS or the groups that evolved into ISIS in Libya and Syria and those types of things? Once that's confirmed, how will other people -- at that point in time,

will they still support Hillary Clinton? These are hypotheticals, Wolf, that at this point in time don't deserve an answer, because we may get more information on Donald Trump, and we will probably get a lot more information on Hillary Clinton.

[18:20:01]

BLITZER: We are going to go through some of those issues in a moment, Congressman. Stay with us.

We will continue our conversation right after a quick break.

HOEKSTRA: Yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More breaking news tonight, sources now telling CNN there's growing evidence Russia is using WikiLeaks to make stolen e-mails pertaining to the U.S. election.

We're back with Trump supporter former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra. He was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

And a lot of us remember when you were the chairman. You now hear, Congressman, the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA, secretary of homeland security, all high-ranking U.S. officials, say Russia is definitely behind these string of cyber- attacks on Democratic Party organizations.

[18:25:01]

Trump has been told this in his classified briefings. He gets these regular briefings from the CIA. So does Hillary Clinton. What does it say to you that Trump keeps defending Russia in public, saying other people potentially could have been behind these cyber-attacks?

HOEKSTRA: Well, there's a number of people who could potentially be involved in this process.

You know, we always looked at the threats as Russia being a primary threat for getting information and through hacking, Iran, China, and self-independent hackers.

I have not been a part of those briefings to Mr. Trump or to Ms. Clinton, so I'm not sure what they're being told there. So it may be Russia. If the reports are that it's Russia and this is who the director of national intelligence says it is, they're probably saying -- they're probably accurate. They're very good at doing those kinds of things.

BLITZER: But Trump doesn't seem to buy it. I mean, if the director of national intelligence, the director of CIA, other high-ranking officials were to say to you when you were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, here's what we know, they take you into a closed-door room, they brief you and they tell you, here's what -- do you believe them, or not necessarily believe them?

HOEKSTRA: Typically, we believe them.

And they usually give you some degree of confidence, especially when it comes into hacking, because it's very, very difficult to go through the process and go through the different backdoors and trapdoors that these hackers may have in place.

And, usually, they're saying, hey, we believe that with a 60 percent or 70 percent degree of certainty, we think that -- we can trace this back to we can trace this back to the Russians.

BLITZER: What if they say they have 100 percent certainty? What if they say they have 100 percent certainty?

HOEKSTRA: I don't think, in the whole time that I was chairman of the Intelligence Committee or the ranking Republican dealing -- and we were briefed on hacking -- I don't think I ever had an assurance of we are 100 percent certain that this came from the Russians, from the Chinese, or from the Iranians.

BLITZER: Because, in a public statement they released the other day last week, they said there's no doubt they were saying it is Russia who is doing these cyber-attacks against the Democratic Party and Democrats in general.

And the assumption is, that's because they want to hurt Hillary Clinton's chances and see Donald Trump get elected. Do you buy that?

HOEKSTRA: I find that very difficult to believe.

Number one, I don't know the relationship between Putin and Hillary Clinton. Maybe there is such a broken relationship and maybe Putin really does hate Hillary Clinton and doesn't want her in the White House. But when you take a look at the success that Russia has had over the last seven-and-a-half years, the success that they have had in kind of reshaping their influence in Europe, the success that they have had especially in the Middle East, you know, they're now a dominant player with Iran.

They're a dominant player in Syria. Egypt, which seven, eight years ago was a strong ally of the United States, this, within the past week, is voting with Russia in the Security Council. So when it comes to policy, Russia has had its day. They have not seen this kind of success in a long time. So, in that way, you would say I think they would like Hillary Clinton as president.

BLITZER: Well, one of their top advisers said publicly they think, if Hillary Clinton is elected, there will be war. If Donald Trump is elected, there won't be more...

HOEKSTRA: But it could very much be a personal thing.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to leave it on that note.

HOEKSTRA: Yes. BLITZER: Congressman Pete Hoekstra, we will continue this

conversation. We will have many opportunities down the road. Thanks for joining us.

HOEKSTRA: Right. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues here on CNN, with more of Michelle Obama's personal, very passionate denunciation of Donald Trump. We are going to hear the first lady in her own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: A 6-year-old knows that this is not how adults behave. This is not how decent human beings behave, and this is certainly not how someone who wants to be president of the United States behaves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following breaking words, including Michelle Obama's extraordinary remarks about Donald Trump. Without mentioning the Republican presidential nominee by name, the first lady, emotional at times, said the recording of Trump's bragging about groping women has, quote, "shaken me to my core."

[18:34:08] Listen to what else she said at a rally for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: While I'd love nothing more than to pretend like this isn't happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me for me to move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.

This is not something that we can ignore. It's not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. Because this was not just a lewd conversation. This wasn't just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior. And actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.

And to make matters worse, it now seems very clear that this isn't an isolated incident. It's one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life.

And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this, and I feel it so personally. And I'm sure that many of you do, too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It's frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It's like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you're walking down

the street minding your own business, and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body, or when you -- you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It's that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them and they said no, but he didn't listen. Something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day.

Or maybe we don't want to believe that there's still people out there who think so little of us as women.

Too many are treating this as just another day's headline. As if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted. As if this is normal. Just politics as usual. But New Hampshire, yes, be clear. This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn't matter what party you belong to -- Democrat, Republican, independent -- no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very powerful statement from the first lady of the United States.

Gloria, Donald Trump feels comfortable attacking almost everyone. But it would be very risky for him to start attacking the first lady...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That woman?

BLITZER: ... yes, of the United States. I assume that makes her an incredibly important asset for Hillary Clinton right now.

BORGER: First of all, her popularity is 58 or 60 percent. Donald Trump's approval rating is half of that, No. 1.

No. 2, I was told by a senior Clinton adviser today that Michelle Obama told them she wanted to do this, because she was so personally affected by that videotape, and they said go right ahead. But you can tell from hearing Michelle Obama that this is -- these are her words, her thoughts. She said she was affected at the core about this, and she will continue talking about this.

And the third thing, it just strikes me that, in many ways, she is an amazing surrogate, as we know. But she is also able to talk about things that Hillary Clinton isn't. Hillary Clinton, ironically, the first woman presidential nominee in this country, can't talk about this stuff at the personal level the way Michelle Obama can, because there's all that Bill Clinton stuff out there. And she doesn't want to go there, and she needs to stay on a higher plane, because she's the candidate. But Michelle Obama can take it on directly and talk to women voters directly, ironically, in a way that maybe Hillary Clinton can't. And that only helps Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Rebecca, Donald Trump, he's strongly denied the accusations, all the accusations against him of sexual abuse that have been leveled over the last few days.

But he really went after that -- that reporter for "People" magazine who wrote this article now in "People" magazine, saying that Trump forced himself on her at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. And listen to what Trump said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Take a look. You take a look, look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So when he said, "You take a look, look at her," the suggestion is she's not attractive enough for him to make such a move. And that has generated a lot of commotion today.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Understandably, right? Because that is not much of a defense at all.

If Donald Trump is going to move past this controversy, he's going to have to take this much more seriously. And you know, it was just a few days ago that his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, retweeted Hillary Clinton's tweet that every woman's sexual assault claims should be taken seriously.

[18:40:11] And so clearly, there is a sense within his campaign that this important, but the candidate himself is just kind of reinforcing these doubts that women already have about them, because he's treating this sort of flippantly.

BLITZER: He also asked why didn't these women come forward earlier? Why are they waiting until now? That was his question he asked in his speech. But as a lot of experts know, these women are scared; they're afraid to come forward, especially when there is such a powerful man.

BERG: Yes, that's exactly right. And the writer for "People" magazine, in her personal account of what happened, she went over that detail. She explained why she waited. She mentioned that she tried to kill the story at the time, because she felt so uncomfortable writing it, didn't ultimately do that.

But when you take on a powerful person like Donald Trump with accusations such as these, you are one person against his huge platform, against this huge megaphone. It makes perfect sense why one woman would not have wanted to level those charges and been at the center of a huge controversy.

BLITZER: He also says there's a huge conspiracy going on between the media and the Clinton campaign; that's why all of this is coming forward right now.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Wolf, Donald Trump and his surrogates want voters, want the media to catch ahold of this idea that there is a vast left-wing conspiracy against him, you know, at the 11th hour in this election. The problem is that voters have heard the audio. They've heard all of

these women come forward and give their testimony on camera to "The New York Times," to "The Washington Post." It's not -- people can make up their own minds, and they don't have to take Donald Trump's word for it.

BLITZER: You know, and Jeffrey, Trump has now threatened a lawsuit against "The New York Times," for example, other media outlets who go forward and publish these kinds of accusations. Is that really serious right now? Or is it, as a lot of people anticipate, sort of a campaign of intimidation against other women coming forward?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, I try to be cautious about legal situations, you know, explaining the possibilities for both sides.

The chance of Donald Trump winning a libel suit against "The New York Times" for its report yesterday is zero. It is absolutely zero. There is no chance he could win.

The -- he's a public figure. "The Times" offered him the chance for comment. They -- they were rigorous in their reporting. The libel laws are completely clear that he couldn't possibly win a lawsuit.

It is, in part, an attempt to get us to talk about this issue, as opposed to talking about his conduct. And it is also, as you point out, an attempt to intimidate other women who may come forward. And, come on, these reports that we have heard that are 30 years apart, is it even conceivable that we have heard from all the women? I mean, come on.

BLITZER: Here's "The New York Times'" response to Trump's lawsuit threat: "Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself. If he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight."

David, your reaction?

SWERDLICK: My reaction is that, you know, on Twitter you would call that a "sick burn."

BORGER: Or a mike drop.

SWERDLICK: Yes, or a mike drop. Yes. The lawyer is simply saying straight ahead, "We're not scared of you, Donald Trump." Executive editor of "The New York Times," Dean Baquet, "Not scared. Bring it on."

TOOBIN: They're making...

BLITZER: That's basically -- Jeffrey, go ahead. TOOBIN: They're making another point, Wolf. They're making another point in that letter. They're not just saying, you know, "Our report is accurate." They're saying, "Donald Trump, your reputation is so awful already..."

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: "... that we couldn't possibly libel you."

BLITZER: Let me ask you this, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: And that may actually be true.

BLITZER: When Trump says of these women, they are slanderers; they commit libels; their vicious claims are totally false, fabricated, outright lies, can they sue him for making those accusations against these women?

TOOBIN: I suppose, as a technical legal matter, they could. But, you know, these women were reluctant to come forward in the first place. The last thing they want to do is get involved with suing Donald Trump. At least, that's my impression.

I -- you know, no one likes to be involved in legal proceedings. I think they want to let their comments stand for themselves. I don't think it would be appropriate for them to sue him. But it's bad enough as it is.

BORGER: This is -- this is Donald Trump's M.O. He threatens legal action as a way to intimidate people and also goes through with legal action as a way to effectively harass people.

[18:45:10] And then whether they settle or they don't, it doesn't matter, because he's got the resources to do it, whereas the other people very often don't.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on the breaking news --

TOOBIN: And then --

BLITZER: Jeffrey, don't go too far away.

TOOBIN: I was just going to say, then Trump doesn't pay his lawyers.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Russia allegedly feeding stolen e-mails from the Clinton campaign and others to WikiLeaks. We're getting new information. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:18] BLITZER: United States has retaliated against Iranian- backed rebels in Yemen who fired on American warships.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

What have you learned, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the Pentagon is insisting it is not getting more involved in this civil war in Yemen, but if Navy ships get attacked again, all of that could change.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): So far, no response from Houthi rebels after the U.S. Navy fired missiles at radar site used by the Iranian-backed forces, though same sites targeted U.S. Navy warships twice in four days.

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Those who might threaten U.S. forces should recognize that we will tolerate threats to our people. We will respond if our forces come under fire.

STARR: The U.S. is not saying if there's intelligence showing direct Iranian involvement in the attempted attacks.

Tehran announced its own deployment of warships to the region. The Pentagon making clear it's ready for more action.

COOK: Should we see a repeat, we will be prepared to take appropriate action again at the appropriate time.

STARR: If there is further provocation, U.S. officials say the next round of potential targets could include rebel missile sites and small boats serving as spotters.

This time, the missiles were fairly old but have been outfitted with highly lethal warhead, the kind al Qaeda and Iran know how to make.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: It would be a very serious charge if the Iranians were in anyway complicit against conducting the attacks against the U.S. destroyer.

STARR: The first rebel strikes came Sunday and then another attempted missile attack on Wednesday. In both attacks, the USS Mason fired defensive weapons. The U.S. ships were not struck and there were no injuries.

But the Pentagon wanted to take out the onshore sites used to target the Navy. Drones flew overhead to verify locations and the destroyer USS Nitze fired tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea into three remote areas in Yemen where the coastal radars had been used to threaten the Mason and other nearby ships.

After the Nitze strike, drones returned to ensure the radars were destroyed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And those Iranian-backed rebels tonight are insisting that they had nothing to do with the attacks on the U.S. Navy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, important report from the Pentagon -- thanks very much.

More breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:13] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight in the theft of the thousands of e-mails stolen from the Clinton campaign.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has the breaking details.

What did you learn?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. U.S. officials tell us that the methods of these disclosures on WikiLeaks suggest that Moscow is at least providing the information or could be directly responsible for the leaks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, there is growing evidence that Russia is using WikiLeaks as a delivery vehicle for hacked e-mails and other information. U.S. officials with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN the method of the disclosures, quote, "suggest Moscow has at least provided the information or is possibly directly responsible" for the leaks, said one official.

Asked about possible ties between WikiLeaks and Russia, the director of the CIA John Brennan told CNN --

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I think the government has announced there are concerns that there are some efforts to try to interfere in the electoral process.

SCIUTTO: CNN attempted to reach WikiLeaks for comment but received no response. WikiLeaks has previously denied any connection to or cooperation with Russia.

Today, reports that Russia's state-backed RussiaToday.com tweeted and published a story on the latest stolen emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta before WikiLeaks posted them. WikiLeaks responded on Twitter saying, quote, "No, they didn't. The release was visible to anyone looking at the WikiLeaks site well before our first tweet."

Russia is dismissing accusations outright that they are behind the hacks on Democratic Party officials or U.S. state voting systems. The White House says it is now planning a, quote, "proportional response", a response that Russia is seemingly dismissing.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If they decided to do something, let them do it. But to say that Russia is interfering in the United States domestic matters is ridiculous. SCIUTTO: So far, more than 20 states have experienced attempted hacks

on their voter databases. But U.S. officials are emphasizing that the U.S. voting system is strong enough and decentralized enough to prevent hackers from affecting the election's outcome.

BRENNAN: The electoral infrastructure is very diversified because it is state-owned and operated. And so, the ability of foreign actors to get into the system and try to do something that is going to have nationwide implications is very, very remote.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: U.S. intelligence is still investigating the degree of the connection between Russia and WikiLeaks and it has not reached the level of confidence it has in its assessment that Russia is behind the hacks themselves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us -- Jim, thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.