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Melania Trump Weighs in on Husband's Campaign; Trump Points to Alleged Conspiracy in Media; Polls Show Tight Race in Battleground States; FBI and State Department Deny Clinton Email Deal; Trump Blames Firebombing on Pro-Clinton "Animals". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 17, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Melania Trump, Donald Trump's wife, sits down with CNN's Anderson Cooper. It's her first interview since the recent controversies concerning her husband became public. You'll hear it right here on CNN.

[17:00:16] Blame game. Donald Trump goes off on the media, Democrats, fellow Republicans and the establishment, insisting that the election is rigged. Our new polls show a tight race in key battlegrounds. Does Trump still -- Trump still have a chance for a path to victory?

Pressuring the FBI. Republicans are accusing the State Department offering the FBI a deal. Posting more agents overseas if the bureau would declassify an e-mail on Hillary Clinton's private server. Both agencies say there was no quid pro quo.

And firebomb. A GOP office is burned in North Carolina. Trump accuses Clinton supporters, calling them animals. Clinton calls the incident "horrific." Who's behind it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER; The breaking news: Melania Trump goes public for the first time in months and for the first time since the recent controversies concerning her husband became public. Melania Trump, a very special interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. You'll hear part of it here first this hour.

As both candidates prep for their final debate, our new polls show Trump is remaining very competitive in three critical battleground states. Almost even with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and Nevada and holding a four-point lead in Ohio.

After weeks of self-inflicted wounds, Trump is slipping nationally. Our average of national polls shows him trailing by eight points.

The battleground states are what count, for now, and perhaps offering him a very narrow path to an Electoral College win. But the Clinton campaign is pushing into traditional red states.

Chelsea Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama, and Senator Bernie Sanders, they are all expected in Arizona this week.

And Trump may already be preparing for defeat, reportedly -- repeatedly calling the election rigged. Offering no proof, he's complaining of, quote, "large-scale voter fraud," accusing Democrats, the media and mainstream Republicans of conspiring against him. I'll speak with Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.

And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

But let's get to the breaking news first. Melania Trump sits down with Anderson Cooper. It's her first interview in months, first time we've heard from her since the recent controversies concerning her husband became public, including accusations of sexual misconduct.

The full interview airs tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, on "AC 360." Anderson is joining us now live with a preview.

Anderson, tell us what she said.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I talked TO Melania Trump just a few hours ago in her apartment in Trump Tower, the apartment she shares with Donald Trump and their son, Baron. She is strongly defending her husband against the allegations by the number of women who have come forward over the last week or so.

I began by asking her about that videotape that really started it all that was released 10 days ago from -- originally from "Access Hollywood." Look -- listen.


COOPER: It was 10 days ago that "Access Hollywood" released that tape. I'm wondering when you first saw it, when you first heard it, what did you think?

MELANIA TRUMP, WIFE OF DONALD M. TRUMP: I -- I said to my husband that, you know, the language is inappropriate. It's not acceptable. And I was surprised, because that is not the man that I know.

And as you can see from the tape, the cameras were not on. It was only a Mike. And I wonder if they even knew that the Mike was on, because they were kind of boy talk, and he was lead on -- like, egged on from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.

COOPER: You feel the host, Billy Bush, was sort of egging him on?

M. TRUMP: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: Is that language you had heard him use before?

M. TRUMP: No. No. That's why I was surprised. Because as I said, like I don't know the person that would talk that way, and that he would say that kind of stuff in private.

I heard many different stuff, boy stuff. The boys, the way they talk when they grow up and they want to sometimes show each other, oh, this and that, and talking about the girls. But yes, I was surprised, of course.


[17:05:01] COOPER: Wolf, I went on, obviously, to ask her about the allegations made by a number of women over the last week or so. She is defending her husband. She says she believes her husband has not done anything inappropriate with women over the years. This is going back as far as 30 years, some of those -- those accusations do.

She also says she has seen women directly approach Donald Trump, giving -- giving him phone numbers, their phone numbers in front of her, that she's even spoken to some women who have done that. So she says she categorically does not believe any of the allegations.

BLITZER: What did she say, Anderson, about the women on the campaign trail, his comments about those women?

COOPER: I did ask her about that. I mean, she didn't really address whether or not she felt it was appropriate to talk about the woman's looks. I talked to her about that. But she -- she is really across the board supporting her husband in this. She also says that she does believe it's very coincidental, the timing of this. She's suspicious of the timing of release of information, both the tax -- you know, the tax returns that were -- that were leaked, the 1995 tax returns being leaked right before the first debate; this tape being released right before -- or being broken by "The Washington Post" just days before.

The second debate, she believes there is a conspiracy, essentially, between -- the media is rigged against her and her husband. She's very critical of media coverage, particularly from "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," just as Donald Trump is, as well. And she also believes the Clinton camp, the opposition, as she refers to them, is behind the release of that tape and the timing of it.

BLITZER: Does she think that the election is rigged, as her husband has often said over these past few days?

COOPER: You know, I asked her specifically about that toward the end of the interview, and we talked for almost 30 minutes or so, which you'll see tonight. She says she believes that the media certainly is rigged against her husband. She didn't go as far, as I recall, to talk about elections themselves. But she certainly believed, focused on what she said was the media, which she believes has been, from the beginning, hostile to her husband.

BLITZER: And does she think that the election, from her husband's perspective, is still winnable?

COOPER: You know, I asked her what her plans were and what her plans were if she becomes first lady. And she certainly is thinking about that. She's, you know -- initially I talked to her months ago about that. Early on in the campaign, she talked about wanting to do something for children. She now talked about being interested in focusing on social media, online bullying and things like that. So clearly, she is thinking about it and believes itis very possible

for them to win.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. Good work, as usual.

And I want to let our viewers know, a very special Anderson Cooper interview with Melanie trump, 8:30 p.m. only -- only here on CNN. We'll talk to our political experts, including David Axelrod, about this interview in just a moment. A very perfect important interview, in deed.

But first, we want to turn to the other breaking out of the campaign trail right now as his options seem to narrow for pulling out a win on November 8. Donald Trump is pulling out complaints that he's somehow being cheated.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on the campaign trail in Wisconsin tonight with Trump.

So Jim, Trump is now blaming almost everybody but himself, right?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. After another rough week and the election fast approaching, Donald Trump appears to be laying the ground work for what he will tell his supporters if he loses this election. This is, it's all rigged.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We're not going to back down. And remember this, it's a rigged election.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump claims there is a conspiracy to deny him the presidency, and it's widening.

TRUMP: It's all a big, beautiful fraud.

ACOSTA: The Republican nominee's rhetoric threat ends to undermine the foundation of America's democratic system of government, on top of his complaint that the Clinton campaign and the news media are ginning up accusations of sexual assault to damage his campaign.

TRUMP: False stories, all made up. Lies, lies. And they take these lies, and they put them on front pages. This is a rigged system, folks.

ACOSTA: Trump is predicting the election will be stolen from him at the voting booth, tweeting, "Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive."

But GOP leaders, like Ohio's top elections official, who happens to be Republican, say Trump is wrong.

JON HUSTED, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: It's irresponsible. He should focus on issues that matter to people.

ACOSTA: Even though he's voting for him.

HUSTED: I can reassure Donald Trump. I'm in charge of elections in Ohio, and they're not going to be rigged.

ACOSTA: Pressed by CNN's Jason Carroll, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway didn't offer any evidence of voter fraud.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I didn't say that. I said if there is, that -- that certainly we would take action. But in the meantime, it's very frustrating every day to just see that we can't get complete coverage of the race.

ACOSTA: Trump's warnings of widespread election fraud come one day after his running mate said the GOP nominee would indeed accept the will of the people. Mike Pence says it's about the coverage of the campaign.

[17:10:09] GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We will absolutely accept the results of the election.

The American people are tired of the obvious bias in the national media. That's -- that's where the sense of a rigged election goes here.

ACOSTA: That is, until they see a story or a poll that they like.

PENCE: That even CNN's poll says that we're leading in Ohio by four percentage points.

ACOSTA: Trump says one way to stop the conspiracy against him is to conduct a drug test before Wednesday's debate, suggesting, without offering any evidence, that Hillary Clinton was using a performance- enhancing substance at their last face-off.

TRUMP: We should take a drug test prior, because I don't know what's going on with her, but at the beginning of her last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning. And at the end, it was like, "Oh, take me down." She could barely reach her car.

ACOSTA: Even the White House took issue with that one.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So you're telling me that the candidate who snorted his way through the first two debates is accusing the other candidate of taking drugs?


ACOSTA: Now, aides say Donald Trump will try to get back on message for this rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He'll once again hit Hillary Clinton on her use of a private e-mail server and join Republicans in Congress in their claim that the State Department and the FBI were working together to contain this scandal. Wolf, it is a claim that both the FBI and the State Department deny -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for us. Jim, thank you. Donald Trump may be slipping further behind in the national polls. In three nationwide surveys out just over the past two days, Hillary Clinton leads by 12 points, 11 points and 4 points. But our new polls show Donald Trump nearly even with Hillary Clinton in two crucial battleground states and clinging to a narrow lead in a third.

Let's go to our political reporter, Sara Murray. So Sara, tell us what the polls show.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even though those national polls look bleak, at least a couple of battlegrounds Donald Trump is within striking distance. In one he's actually leading.

So let's start with Nevada. This is, of course, going to be the host of this presidential debate on Wednesday. It shows Hillary Clinton at 46 percent, Donald Trump at 44 percent. So she's holding onto a very narrow lead there.

When you go over to North Carolina, we also see a very tight race. Hillary Clinton at 48 percent, Donald Trump at 47 percent. This is a state where Donald Trump's advisors have felt very bullish for months, and so they believe that they could potentially turn out a win there, even though they're lagging just behind.

Now let's look at Ohio. This is sort of the crown jewel for Donald Trump, as far as our swing-state polls goes, because it shows Trump in a lead with 42 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton's 44 percent. This is a state where the Trump campaign feels like they can turn out working class white voters, not only those ones who have identified as Republicans but even some ones who have identified as Democrats.

BLITZER: Sara, we also just received brand-new state polls, key battleground state polls, from Quinnipiac University which suggests a tighter race in Ohio. Tell our viewers what they show.

MURRAY: That's right. So for all the good news in our poll for Donald Trump in Ohio, there is a note of caution in this Quinnipiac poll, because it shows Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tied, a dead heat here, both of them at 45 percent. Obviously, this is a state where Trump was in the lead in our poll.

But let's take a look at some of the other polls in this sort of battleground batch from Quinnipiac, because this gives you a better idea of how tough the road to 270 could be for Donald Trump.

If you take a look at Colorado -- this is a state where Trump is going to be campaigning tomorrow -- Hillary Clinton holds a very wide lead. She's at 45 percent compared to Donald Trump's 37 percent. That would just be a trouncing if that's what the results were like on election day.

Now, let's just shift over to Florida. The Trump campaign sort of seeing as a must-win. If we can live Ohio, if they can win Florida, they can pick up some others. They feel like they would be in good shape. But right now, this poll shows Hillary Clinton with a lead. She is at 48 percent. Donald Trump is at 44 percent.

Now, let's go on to the last one in the batch from Quinnipiac. And that is Pennsylvania. Donald Trump has spent quite a bit of them there, even though past Republicans have sort of felt like this is a bit of a bait and switch. They felt like they spent the time there and could never eke out a victory.

And we're seeing Clinton with another sizeable lead here. She is at 47 percent, compared to Donald Trump at 41 percent. So still, a lot of very, very narrow pathways for Donald Trump to get to 270. But certainly the campaign is very happy about at least what our poll shows in Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara. Thank you very much. Sara Murray reporting.

Coming up, Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. I'll speak with her live. We have lots to discuss.


[17:24:12] BLITZER: Welcome back. Joining us now, Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. Kellyanne, thanks for joining us.

CONWAY: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to get your reaction first to the new battleground polls that we have released showing it's pretty tight in several of those battleground states, and then, in our new poll, Donald Trump is slightly ahead in the key state of Ohio. Your reaction to these battleground polls? You're a pollster.

CONWAY: Well, we're thrilled to see those battleground polls from CNN, Wolf, not the least of which is because we feel like we an anvil dropped on our head every day, and Hillary Clinton, you know, relatively gets a free pass, and yet, the voters are seeing right through that. They will not be fooled by what they're told is important to them in this election. They're going to vote based on the issues and based on their own independent characterizations of these two individual candidates.

I would point out that Ohio, as you know, Wolf, Ohio has traditionally been seen as the most important state for Republicans, and I see everybody backtracking on that saying, well, it's not that important anymore. We know in the Trump campaign it's still important.

North Carolina, a state which President Obama carried the first time, in 2008; lost in 2012. And in Nevada, like Ohio, a state he carried twice. We're particularly pleased, Wolf, to see that Hillary Clinton just seems completely unable, almost congenitally unable to bust past a 46- or 47-percent ceiling in these states that Obama carried with well over 50 percent of the vote.

BLITZER: So here's the question, Kellyanne. If Donald Trump is doing so well in these battleground state polls, not necessarily in the national polls, but what's really important are these battleground states, why is he repeating the claim over and over, over these past few days, that the election is rigged?

CONWAY: Well, it's just so difficult for us to feel like we get a fair shake, respectfully. Every day we're hit. If you look at these objective content analysis, negative news about Donald Trump last week was covered 23 times more than the negative news about Hillary Clinton.

And frankly, Mr. Trump is being asked to defend against allegations that he said are not true, whereas we hear very little that we know is true. In other words, nobody is denying that friends of Bill, VIPs of President -- of President Bill Clinton's, got preferential treatment when the State Department, where his wife was the secretary, was handing out contracts post the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

We know that the uranium rights, a pretty high percentage of uranium rights were divvied out based on -- based on collusion and, frankly, based on favors. We know that...

BLITZER: Because let me interrupt for a moment...

CONWAY: ... she got half a million dollars for a speech. You know, it's just it's very frustrating to not get, I would say, equal coverage.

BLITZER: But you're blaming the news media, saying that's a rigged system. He blames the entire system; he's not just blaming the news media. And that's a clear distinction, a clear difference.

CONWAY: Well, he's been looking over reports that people have presented to him about irregularities in some past elections, and he's been looking those over and wondering, you know, if, in fact, that could be replicated this time, particularly since we feels that we feel that we can't get a fair shake just by getting our message out.

And look, what he's doing, you see it in your own CNN polling, it's working. He is going around the noise and around the silence, as the case may be, and taking the case directly to the voters. There's a reason that, as I sit right here, he's on a plane to a couple swing states ahead of the debate on Wednesday, because he's got to connect directly to the people. We can't trust the system to help us deliver our message.

BLITZER: Well, what evidence does he have that the voter -- the system, the entire system, is rigged? Because voter fraud is very rare by almost all studies.

CONWAY: He's mentioning a couple different things. He's saying that there could be irregularities at the polling places, could be. He's saying that there is a collusion...

BLITZER: Could be? But clearly, what evidence does he have about that? Because it shows that there are tiny numbers of these kinds of irregularities. CONWAY: Well, tiny in the past, but he's read those reports. And if

you're Donald Trump, and you feel like every single day, you are facing lies and distortions and an avalanche of negative coverage, or I would say put differently, incomplete coverage, as if there's only one person running for president and not two, then the frustration mounts. And you wonder what could happen if people really want to stop you.

But I'm saying that he -- all he's saying is, seeing these irregularities in the past that have presented -- been presented to him, coupled with -- tripled with the collusion we see the Clintons are completely capable of, colluding now, we know, just today -- I think it's breaking news, colluding between the DOJ, the FBI and the State Department, quote, written an e-mail quid pro quo. That's pretty clear. You don't need to speak Latin to know what that is.

BLITZER: The question is, and it's an important one, because a lot of his supporters are going to be reacting after November 9. Assuming, let's say, he loses, will he accept the election as free and fair, which Mike Pence said yesterday he certainly would?

CONWAY: And I would and Mr. Trump would, if there absent an overwhelming evidence of any kind of irregularities, yes. And I know where this conversation is going, in part, maybe not by you but by others, Wolf, who go down the same path, which is you know, will people be violent? Will they not accept the results?

The only violence I saw in the last day was perpetrated on a Republican headquarters in North Carolina. Somebody firebombed it. I doubt it was a Republican. Firebombed it, wrote awful, disgusting things in graffiti. And, frankly, Wolf, if somebody, God forbid, had been in there at the time, they could have been maimed or killed, if you look at the -- so there's a lot of violence. There's a lot of inciting. You know, words matter and I would say that on the left, as well.

BLITZER: We're going to have later this hour a full report on that firebomb at that Republican Party building in North Carolina. A full report coming up. But so far, authorities there say they have no idea, they don't know who is responsible. But Donald Trump immediately went out and blamed what he called "animals representing Hillary Clinton and her campaign" for that, based on no evidence.

[07:25:04] CONWAY: Well, that's his -- that's his position, but again, CNN for a week now plus has been covering things as if there is evidence. You've had accusers with their allegations, given in some cases, just half a show to go and talk. I've seen panels on CNN, sadly enough, Wolf, where people are calling Mr. Trump names that, under the law, you just could not -- you just could not say. Talk about opening up to liability, you can't say is if that's "X." It's actually -- that's a charged legal term, and you don't have the evidence of that. That's just a fact.

BLITZER: But Kellyanne, last week, you yourself retweeted something Hillary Clinton said at one point. You said this, and I'll put it up there. This is your retweet. "Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported."

Here's the question: Does that apply to Donald Trump's accusers, as well?

CONWAY: So what I was doing was retweeting -- retweeting Hillary Clinton's tweet while she was facing her husband's accuser, her husband's sexual victims at that second debate in St. Louis.

But I will read the rest of her quote to you. Quote, "I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence." And I think that's a very important part of her quote, because that's the whole point here. Is the evidence somebody coming on a cable TV show and telling their story for 46 minutes? Or is the evidence in a court of law? If these women want to lodge their complaints, they have avenues to do that.

But I think, you know, we can't be faulted for thinking that there is a corrupt, rigged system, unfair to us, unfair to Mr. Trump, unfair to the campaign every day, because he is -- he is stuck defending against things that he says are not true and are totally negative 23 times more than Hillary Clinton, or I guess because she's not available now for a few days, anybody in her campaign is forced to address the negative information that we see right in front of us: evidence right in front of us, anti-Catholic bigotry, collusion, and favoritism for Haiti contracts after the hurricane, certainly Russian favors. And that's very concerning.

And today, we saw a request by a State Department lieutenant, very high up...

BLITZER: Let me ask you this. We'll get to that in a moment, but why do you believe voters should believe Bill Clinton's accusers -- there are several of them -- they should believe Bill Clinton's accusers but not Donald Trump's accusers?

CONWAY: No, what I've said is I think that people should believe -- the people should at least be able to assess them. And Hillary Clinton was not forced to answer that question that was posed to her in that debate last week. She was not forced by anybody there to continue and to actually acknowledge them and answer for her conduct toward them, not her husband's but her conduct toward them. The naming and the shaming, as crisply pointed out in a "New York Times" article about a week and a half ago, days after they endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

"The New York Times" very deftly laid out Hillary Clinton's modus operandi was always to blame and shame the women. Go find maybe men that they had been with and show that they're really not decent women, try to make their lives miserable. In some cases, women say their lives were ruined. And so that is relevant, because it goes to her character.

But these women got nearly no air time compared to the air time that has been given on CNN and other places, Wolf, to the accusers of Donald Trump. I mean, it's simply unfair, and it's imbalanced. Look, your CNN state-wide polls today show that people aren't buying it. BLITZER: Kellyanne, I was CNN senior White House correspondent in

1998, in 1999, 2000 when these women, including of course, Monica Lewinsky herself, got tons and tons of airtime. You remember those days. I remember those days.

CONWAY: But what about here?

BLITZER: We all remember those days. We went through all of those cases, these women who have come forward, and we gave them a lot -- a lot of reporting time.

But quickly, to the women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. Are you -- it sounds like you're almost encouraging them to go to court, to prove what they say. Is that what you're saying?

CONWAY: No, I'm not encouraging anyone. Women can do what they want; they're free to do what they want, Wolf.

What I'm saying is I encourage responsible outlets like CNN to at least give balanced coverage. And respectfully, stories that were covered 18 years ago, because Bill Clinton was president as they were happening, because he gave $850,000 to Paula Jones to settle a sexual harassment suit. The last time I didn't sexually harass someone settle here at the Trump campaign, I didn't pay $850,000, either.

But now the relevance is she's running for president, and what was her conduct towards those women? So I would argue it's all -- you know, it's all fresh content just to see how she treated these women. This woman who says she's a champion for women, is that all women? This woman who says she's a champion for children. We have -- millions have been living in poverty. She's been in public life for 30 years.

Now, your own Anderson Cooper interviewed Melania Trump. It will run tonight on CNN. I sat through that interview. And you will hear Mrs. Trump tell your own Anderson Cooper of CNN that she believes her husband, and she thinks people fabricate lies for financial or political reasons or for fame and that her husband has denied them, and she's standing by him.

[17:30:15] And I think it's a very important insight into -- into Donald Trump.

BLITZER: So Kellyanne, do you believe these nine women who have come forward in the past few days are all lying for whatever goals they have, financial goals or whatever?

CONWAY: I'm not saying that. What I'm telling you is Mr. Trump is the only person who can confirm or deny. And he has denied it. These allegations are about him. He has denied them. And I'm saying that they should get the same -- I think that they get plenty of hearing. Goodness.

The other women, the accusers, the people who are accusing not just Bill Clinton but the way Hillary Clinton treated them, Wolf, that should get equal airing, and it hasn't. I think 18-year-old clips, when she was, you know, just first lady and 10 years -- I guess years away from losing her first presidential race, it's not the same.

So in any event, I also, if it were up to me, this entire conversation would be about what I know what people want it to be about, which are the issues. I read the CNN polls today. I read them all the time. Your polling and everybody else's polling, the same thing. People, the voters want this conversation, the debate Wednesday night and certainly the election on November 8, Wolf, to be about healthcare and terrorism and the economy and taxes and corruption in government.

BLITZER: We certainly want -- those are critically important issues. But when Donald Trump himself makes fun of some of these women, suggesting they're not attractive enough for him to make such a move towards them or whatever, obviously, he's going to get a lot of response. He's going to get a lot of pickup for that. And I know you. I assume you wish he wouldn't have made fun of these women, right?

CONWAY: I would not characterize it that way. I would not say those things, but he's very frustrated, and he has a right to speak his mind. You'll see Melania Trump answer that question tonight with Anderson Cooper. She and I are on the same page with that.

But look, this man, nobody has ever been treated the way Donald Trump is being treated by the establishment, respectfully, by the mainstream media. I mean, the content analyses, the objective content analyses of the negative coverage about him and toward him versus about Hillary Clinton, where you already know from your own polling, Wolf, people don't like her and they don't trust her. And yet, there's sort of this -- always washed away, because he's great for ratings, and he's great -- he's great clickbait.

And in fairness, there are two people running for president, and this country has a very serious decision to make. As you and I are speaking, people are voting early in their states right now. We just want more coverage of her.

I know scarcity is her strategy. She's not out there as much. Then people aren't reminded how much they don't like her or don't trust her. But there are plenty of things to run about her, plenty of questions to ask even if she won't come to the cameras like he does.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to Donald Trump joining us, hopefully, at some point, as well.

Kellyanne, thanks so much for joining us.

CONWAY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Melania Trump talks to CNN about her husband's latest controversies. And despite Donald Trump's complaints about a rigged election, do new polls suggest he still has a narrow path to victory?

Plus, a GOP office is burned in North Carolina. Trump accuses Clinton supporters, calling them "animals." Clinton calls the incident horrific. Who's behind it? We'll have a full report. That's coming up right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:37:42] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. With just two days to go until the next presidential debate, Donald Trump's wife, Melania, spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper today. It's her first sit- down interview in months.

Let's bring in our political experts, starting with you, David Axelrod. What do you make of Melania Trump's comments that her husband was, quote, "egged on" by Billy Bush in that 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, I expect -- I don't think she did the interview to say, "Yes, he said it and let's move on," but so I'm not surprised that she had a construction like that.

Look, the truth of the matter is I think this has been damaging to him, without question, but I think there are other things that have been more damaging to him and, you know, that go to overall temperament. And you see in his rallies that he keeps digging that hole deeper.

So this interview may have some marginal impact on someone, but I honestly don't think it's going to be very meaningful in terms of moving those who have moved away from him as a result of this episode.

BLITZER: But Dana, the fact that she has now given Anderson Cooper this, what, half-hour interview that will air at 8 p.m. later tonight, it's significant she's clearly standing by her man, if you will.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I totally agree. The fact that she broke her silence, and she sat down for this interview for so long says as much, if not more, than the content of her words. Although the content is important, especially since it helps to soften the very, very rough edges of her husband's reaction to these women, questioning their looks. And "really, would I go after one of these women? Look at them." Not exactly how you defend yourself if you're anybody, but particularly if you want to be elected president in 20-plus days.

So this was from a messenger that they cannot do better than? I mean, she is a better messenger on this issue, in many ways, than her husband for the optics and for the reassurance of women and men out there who say that they are not sure what to believe.

BLITZER: And it's all the more important, because Nia, she's been so quiet since the convention, if you will.


BLITZER: And all of a sudden for her to go out on television, speak to Anderson Cooper and make this strong defense for her husband, that's going to resonate. [17:40:05] HENDERSON: Yes. She hasn't been the traditional political

spouse at all. I mean, typically, you see spouses out there on the stump, not only doing the big speech at the convention, which obviously didn't go so well for her, but you see them throughout the campaign, humanizing all the time whoever the candidate is. So in that way, this is newsworthy, as Dana said, that she's out there, that she's talking about her husband.

I do think it's odd, I have to say, the Billy Bush excuse. Right? I mean, here is Donald Trump arguing that he can essentially bend the world to his will just by his personality and the force of his leadership. And there he is, or his wife, saying that he's been goaded by television personality Billy Bush. So I think that was very odd for them to kind of throw Billy Bush under the bus and essentially say this 35-year-old, I guess, somewhat charismatic television personality led Donald Trump astray.

BLITZER: And that even though they were wearing microphones...


BLITZER: ... she didn't know they were actually being -- he didn't know that they were actually being recorded, she told Anderson Cooper.

Mark Preston, would it have been more powerful, though, if she had done this interview with her husband sitting next to her, the way Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton did that "60 Minutes" interview after the Gennifer Flowers accusations came out back during the Clinton administration?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I think so, Wolf. I also think, had she done the interview several days ago, I think it probably would be a little bit more potent.

You know, if you go back to when the tape of released a week ago on Friday, Melania Trump came out with a statement, but it didn't come out until almost 24 hours later, where she came out and, of course, stood by her husband at that time.

I think, had they moved her out a little bit earlier, I think that would have been more potent. And as you said, if she was sitting next to Donald Trump, I do think that that would be a more potent image for those undecided voters who are wondering if any of this is true.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, do you agree?

AXELROD: Absolutely. I think the timing appears to be an effort to stem what they now realize is an absolute problem for them, and they haven't been able to stop it.

But, you know, I find -- I agree with everything that's been said. I think that Nia-Malika's point is key here, which is you're the guy who's going to back down world leaders, but you get cowed into this by Billy Bush? It's not really very compelling.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stay with us. Stand by. There's much more coming up.

This important programming note: don't forget a very special Anderson Cooper interview with Melania Trump. You won't want to miss the full interview later tonight on "AC 360." That's at 8 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. You'll want to watch that interview.

We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:47:20] BLITZER: Very breaking news on the Democratic side of the presidential race today. Both the FBI and the State Department denied making any kind of deal over Hillary Clinton's e-mails. The denials come despite newly revealed e-mails that appear to show efforts to arrange some kind of quid pro quo.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Colorado right now. Jeff, Senator Bernie Sanders is there. He's stumping for Hillary Clinton. Update our viewers on the latest.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, indeed, Senator Sanders just finished giving a rousing speech here on the campus of Colorado State University trying to get some of those young voters who may still be considering a third party candidate to vote for the Democratic ticket here.

But as he is trying to shore up some states like Colorado, the Clinton campaign is trying to expand to other states like Arizona, even as those old controversies over the e-mails are still invading this campaign.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton's campaign is shoring up blue states and even exploring red states, trying to keep Donald Trump from bouncing back. But for yet another day, she's off the campaign trail preparing for her final debate Wednesday. She's outsourcing her work to other Democrats, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who are piling on trump.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: A selfish, little sleaze ball.


WARREN: A man who will never be President of the United States.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Not only is he going to lose this election, but he and his billionaire friends are going to start paying their fair share of taxes.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, all eyes on Arizona, a once reliable Republican state that may suddenly be up for grabs. The Clinton campaign making new investments and sending one of its biggest investments, Michelle Obama.


ZELENY (voice-over): Three weeks before Election Day, Clinton is in the driver's seat but still facing fallout over the FBI investigation into her e-mail server. The FBI, today, denying a quid pro quo in its fight with the State Department over the classification level of e- mail on Clinton's private server.

A newly released document suggest a top State Department official pressured the FBI to declassify certain e-mails, possibly in exchange for offering help stationing FBI agents overseas. Congressional Republicans say it's another example Clinton mishandled classified information. All this as more hacked campaign e-mail published by WikiLeaks.

Some of Clinton's paid speeches to Goldman Sachs that Sanders railed against during the primary now disclosed.

SANDERS: That's why I believe Secretary Clinton should release the transcripts.

ZELENY (voice-over): Clinton's words at odds with the populist rhetoric in her party. In a 2013 paid speech, she suggested Wall Street should regulate itself, saying, "The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry."

[17:50:00] The Clinton campaign is entering the final stretch with an edge in money and momentum. Clinton and her allies started the month with $152 million in the bank, new figures show, while Trump had only half that.

She's also leading nationally. The latest CNN poll of polls finds Clinton with an eight-point edge over Trump among likely voters. In a new television ad, Clinton is now portraying Trump as a bully using classical movie scenes to bring alive her argument.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why it's important to stand up to bullies wherever they are and why we shouldn't let anybody bully his way into the presidency.

ZELENY (voice-over): As for campaign tries running up the score, Clinton increasingly extending her hand and looking ahead to after the election.

CLINTON: Divisions are being deepened that we're going to have to try to heal. So our job doesn't end after this election.


ZELENY: Now, healing coming after the election, the Clinton campaign believes will be easier if she wins by a wider margin and has a mandate. It's one of the reasons the Clinton campaign is spending now more than $2 million extra in states like Arizona, even going on for a week of television in Texas.

Now, Wolf, the reality here is the Clinton campaign is not certain that they can win some of these states. Texas is a very tall order to say the least, but they are definitely trying to (a) bait the Trump campaign into egging them to spend more money and (b) trying to distract them here. But that debate on Wednesday night, that will set the tone for the final stage of this campaign. Wolf.

BLITZER: And they have two days away. All right, Jeff, thank you very much. Jeff Zeleny in Colorado.

Meanwhile, a firebombing over the weekend in North Carolina is raising troubling new concerns about the potential for election-related violence. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking into what was targeted. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the target was a Republican Party office in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Just moments ago, the Governor of North Carolina called this the work of an anarchist, but he also said he doesn't know who did it or why.

Tonight, there's a manhunt under way for suspects who could have killed someone inside that building, despite the fact that it was an overnight attack.


TODD (voice-over): A swastika spray painted on an outside wall with the words, "Nazi Republicans, leave town or else." Inside, almost everything burned including political signs and an American flag. Walls are charred.

This is what's left tonight of the Republican Party office in Orange County, North Carolina, firebombed in the overnight hours this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (over the phone): They threw some sort of firebomb through the window because it smoked up under the porch and all around the window frame.

TODD (voice-over): No one was injured, but a top State Republican tells us people do work in this office at all hours of the day and night.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: There's no way for anybody to have known that that office was completely empty, so I'm not just willing to accept that they weren't trying to hurt people.

TODD (voice-over): The FBI, ATF, and Secret Service are assisting the Hillsborough, North Carolina police. Tonight, that agency has no word on potential suspects, but Donald Trump thinks he knows who is behind it, tweeting, quote, animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County. There's no evidence to back up his claim, and State Republicans aren't going there.

WOODHOUSE: We don't know who exactly is responsible for this.

TODD (voice-over): Hillary Clinton tweeted the attack is, quote, horrific and unacceptable.

It follows a rash of campaign violence this year, much of it at Trump rallies. Outside a Trump event in Maine this weekend, several cars belonging to Trump supporters were spray painted. Protesters at Trump rallies have gotten sucker punched. Neither Trump nor critics have clean hands.

TRUMP: I would like to punch him in the face.

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: I'd like to punch him in the face.

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: This is an election that is pulling at every seam in American life. Every division that we have is going to be -- has been exacerbated.

TODD (voice-over): With three weeks left until the election, law enforcement experts are worried about an escalation.

TODD (on camera): What is your fear going forward?

RON HOSKO, PRESIDENT, LAW ENFORCEMENT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: My fear is that one of these people that are right at the edge who feel like they're not being heard or perhaps who have mental illness and are coiled and ready to spring and they do something foolish. I think it would be prudent for both the campaigns to say something to their own supporters that tone this down.


TODD: But what will the campaigns do to reduce the violence? The Republican National Committee and its chairman, Reince Priebus, they issued a statement saying this kind of violence and hate have no place in our society, but they did not denounce Donald Trump's tweet. The Trump campaign reached today by CNN said it would stick to its original tweet, blaming, quote, animals representing Hillary Clinton for the attack. The Clinton campaign also stuck to its tweet saying the attack was horrific and unacceptable. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:54:39] Coming up, our new polls show a tight race in key battleground states, suggesting Donald Trump may have still have a very narrow path to victory, but Trump insists the election is rigged accusing the media, Democrats, and fellow Republicans.


[17:59:47] BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Melania, one on one. Melania Trump sits down with CNN's Anderson Cooper for her first interview in months and talks about her husband's lewd recording. She calls Trump's remarks about groping women "boy talk" and says her husband was egged on by Billy Bush. We'll hear from Melania Trump in just a few moments.

Blaming the system. Donald Trump lashes out in the falling poll numbers, calling the election rigged and alleging large scale voting fraud.