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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Invites New Clinton Accuser to Debate; Clinton, Trump Gear Up for Debate; Interview with Joel Benenson; Surprises Ahead in Electoral College? Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 19, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, final faceoff here in Las Vegas, and the election could be riding on it. Hillary Clinton gaining in the polls. Donald Trump looking to cut her lead, still trying to make his case beyond his base.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Reshaping the map. Can Democrats turn red states blue? What new polling says about the road to winning 270 electoral votes, with surprises just about everywhere you turn.

COOPER: And e-mail impact. Whether it's the WikiLeaks messages from her campaign manager or the State Department miss, how will Donald Trump use it on stage tonight? And will it really pack a punch with the voters who count?

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hello from the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, site of this, the third and final presidential debate. We're here, along with the UNLV marching band outside, as you'll hear in a moment for an occasion certainly worth at least 76 trombones.

In just four hours, the two major party presidential candidates will have perhaps their last chance to make their case to such a big audience. Hillary Clinton goes into it with a growing lead in the polls. Donald Trump arrives here battling a system he calls rigged and a rival he calls crooked. What happens when the two face off tonight?

CNN's Jim Acosta is covering the Trump campaign for us. He's joining us now live.

Jim, you're getting some news about who Trump is bringing to the debate tonight. What can you tell us?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I think it's a pretty clear indication that Donald Trump intends to go for the jugular tonight at this final faceoff with Hillary Clinton.

We are just getting word that one of Donald Trump's guests at the debate tonight will be a woman by the name of Leslie Millwee. A lot of Americans out there are not going to know who she is. She is a former Arkansas TV reporter who says more than 30 years ago she was sexually assaulted by former President Bill Clinton.

Obviously, this is a counterpunch from the Trump campaign after all of these allegations of sexual assault facing the GOP nominee. But Wolf, it's a very clear indication that what we may see tonight is going to be a repeat of what we saw during that second debate, where both sides are going to be hesitant to even shake hands with one another, because they are -- it is just getting so nasty, even inside the debate hall.

Wolf, we do know, also, that Donald Trump has been putting in more prep work for tonight's debate. He was preparing even on his flight in to Las Vegas yesterday, and during one of his debate prep sessions, RNC Chair Reince Priebus was playing the role of the moderator of the debate, asking questions of Donald Trump, and that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was playing Hillary Clinton, essentially pushing back on Trump when he would answer questions.

So it does appear that Donald Trump, in addition to trying to get inside Hillary Clinton's head, did do more preparation for tonight's faceoff with Hillary Clinton, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what are you hearing in terms of the overall Trump campaign strategy, Jim, for tonight?

ACOSTA: Well, we've been hearing a preview of their strategy all week long, Wolf. And that is, Donald Trump has this message: he wants to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. I think we're going to hear more of that anti-establishment message.

I did talk to one advisor, a Republican who has advised this campaign who thinks Donald Trump would be well served to go in tonight, acknowledge he has flaws to the American people.

Remember, this is a last big audience that Donald Trump will have this opportunity to do this. Acknowledge he has flaws but say at the same time that those flaws do not represent a greater risk to the country than a Hillary Clinton presidency.

But Wolf, I talked to another top advisor to Donald Trump, who said don't expect that to happen. That is not Donald Trump's style to acknowledge his flaws, acknowledge his faults. This advisor saying Donald Trump will be Donald Trump tonight. He's going to go right after Hillary Clinton, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Dana Bash also has some additional new reporting that fills in the Trump picture. She's joining us right now.

Dana, clearly, the momentum right now is in Hillary Clinton's favor. He's got to do something. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, just to sort of piggyback on what Jim was just reporting, I was just texting with a Trump official, who says that she's in debate prep with a whole bunch of people right now, as we speak. So that just goes to show you how differently they appear to be taking it.

But one thing that I am told from sources in and around Trump world is concern that, even though Donald Trump is doing a different kind of prep, more -- more prep than ever before, that once he gets on the stage, because, I am understands just how dire the situation is, Wolf, for his campaign, that once he gets on the stage he might just fall back to where he feels he's more comfortable, going with his gut and being himself and the Trump that he says often in private and even sometimes in public got him the nomination in the first place.

That is the concern among some Trump advisors I talked to. Is he going to follow the prep that he's doing even as we speak right now, just a couple hours before this debate? Or is he going to fall back onto some habits that even his advisors do not want him to do.

BLITZER: Although his instinct is to go with what got him here...

BASH: The instinct, exactly.

BLITZER: ... when he beat 16 other Republicans: governors, senators and everyone else. I think that's his instinct, even as his advisors are telling him there's another strategy.

What about Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee? What are you hearing about his role in all this?

BASH: So interesting. Reince Priebus is somebody who was really the first to call Donald Trump the presumptive nominee back when Donald Trump won the Indiana primary and tried to get -- from there on in tried to get everybody on board with the notion that Donald Trump is the nominee.

But I am told that, even he is having a lot of trouble, mostly -- for several reasons but mostly because of his personal anger and frustration that Donald Trump continues to go after House Speaker Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus are old friends, dear friends from the state of Wisconsin, and even though I'm told Priebus continues to tell Trump, "Please don't do this, it's bad for the party, never mind personal." He refuses to listen.

So what does that mean? Priebus has been helping Trump in private, but he hasn't appeared with him in public, even though Trump went to Priebus' home state of Wisconsin this week. Didn't go there. Was in Colorado when Trump was having an event. He didn't appear with him in public there.

And so it's going to be fascinating to see whether or not Priebus shows up in the spin room tonight to be a surrogate, a public face, for Donald Trump, because he hasn't been in the past couple of weeks.

BLITZER: Because the sounds of silence from some of these Republicans has been pretty -- pretty ominous.

BASH: He's been helping, but in public it's different.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dana. We'll get back to you. I want to get the latest now from the Clinton side, including some very interesting maneuvering over who will and won't shake hands later tonight. Jeff Zeleny is joining us here in the spin room.

Jeff, obviously, this is the final debate for Secretary Clinton in this election. In terms of her preparation, has she done anything different this time? And what about that handshake?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she has been preparing extensively, even more so than during those first two debates, I'm told. One of the big reasons is because of all the new information that has come out since that debate in St. Louis, largely with that dump of e-mails, those hacked, stolen e-mails that have been published day by day on WikiLeaks.

The Clinton campaign is going through all of those to see what they may mean for her candidacy. So in addition to studying Donald Trump, she's also studying herself in some respects. All those old speeches from Goldman Sachs and others. So she's going through that, Wolf.

I am told she is going to try to stay positive. She is going to try and use this event tonight, with the biggest audience left of this campaign, to reach out to voters in some of those states that she is trying to win now, like Arizona, like Georgia, maybe even Utah. She's going to try and stay positive and be presidential here tonight.

But Wolf, the challenge, of course, will be, you know, defending all of these things that she's going to have to defend, including e-mail. She knows that e-mail will still be a central issue of this campaign.

It was a year ago here when she was sort of relieved when Bernie Sanders says "enough of the damn e-mails." Well, that is not the situation here tonight, Wolf. And she knows that she will have to answer that again.

Now, as far as the handshake goes, it is customary for the spouses to shake hands and the families to shake hands before this event. That may not happen this evening. The reason why is this, Wolf. At that debate in St. Louis the Trump campaign was trying to upend things and rattle the Clintons by bringing in some of the accusers of Bill Clinton. And had they sat in the VIP box, he would have had to come face-to-face -- the former president coming face-to-face with them, shaking hands. So there may not be a handshake between Bill Clinton and Melania Trump and the children. This is still being worked out.

But if the Trump campaign has that other accuser of Bill Clinton in the VIP box or in that area, we are told that Bill Clinton may not shake their hands. They may just enter in a different way.

So Wolf, these are part of the minute-by-minute sort of negotiations happening here as the tensions are so high on both sides here.

The Clinton campaign simply wants to continue in the driver's seat of this campaign, but they know, as one advisor told me, they believe Trump is increasingly desperate -- Wolf. BLITZER: And what about any reaction yet from the Clinton campaign to

word now that this woman, this former TV reporter in Arkansas back in 1980, she now says that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her three times and that she's going to be a guest of Donald Trump here at this debate tonight? Any reaction yet from the Clinton campaign?

ZELENY: Wolf, the Clinton campaign has not responded to that. I reached out to the campaign just a few moments ago, and they have not responded. And their practice of this has been not responding to any of these individual allegations. This, of course, is a new one.

So at this point, they are not responding. They're saying it's simply a distraction. Bill Clinton is not running for president. Hillary Clinton, of course, is. But we'll see if there is any response between now and debate time -- Wolf.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: Yes. All right, thanks very much. Jeff Zeleny here in the spin room with me.

Up next, the new CNN electoral map and some big potential surprises for Republicans as Democrats gear up to try to turn red states blue. John King will run it all down for us.

And the UNLV marching band takes us to break as our CNN debate countdown marches on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:15:11] COOPER: When Donald Trump was doing better, he opened many campaign rallies by simply reading the polls. They were good, and he was happy. Now that the polling picture has changed, so has his message about them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They don't want to show you the good thing. And if they take five polls of the same group, they'll always show the bad one. But the bad one is fine. It's fine. You've got to get out and vote.

I'll tell you what. We are going to have one of the greatest victories in political history. If we get out and vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So will there be a surprise outcome, or will the surprise come from a different direction? Say a red state like Arizona, Utah, Georgia or even Texas turning blue?

CNN "INSIDE POLITICS" anchor John King is at the Magic Wall for us with a new CNN electoral map that really does chart something we have not seen before. Break it down for us, John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, this shows, heading into the third debate, the enormity of the task for Donald Trump. Our new CNN electoral map -- look at this -- has Secretary Clinton at 307. It takes 270 to win. We have her now -- sorry. That's just from me moving. It's a sensitive map. Let's come back to that. Has her at 307. Donald Trump falling to 179. He has a lot to change on this map.

If you look at this now, even if Donald Trump won all four of our remaining tossup states -- Utah, Arizona, Ohio and North Carolina -- it's not enough. Even if he wins the tossup states, it's not enough. He has a fundamental problem. He has yet to turn anything blue from the Obama victories red for Donald Trump. And his hill is much steeper now.

Heading into the first debate, we still had Secretary Clinton ahead, but Donald Trump was in play, Anderson. He was leading her ahead in Nevada, leading her ahead in Ohio, leading her ahead in North Carolina, leading her ahead in Florida and closing in Pennsylvania, closing in Michigan, closing in Virginia and Colorado.

But, as we wait for the third debate tonight, Anderson, you see the numbers right there. She is well on her way. And she's leading in North Carolina, competitive in Ohio, competitive out here. If the trend keeps going the way, she's headed toward a blowout.

COOPER: It's a big change from our conversations heading into the first debate. What's the most note-worthy shift?

KING: I break it down two ways. The most shocking shift is this. We've taken both Utah and Arizona. We had them leaning in solid for Trump. But look at the polling data out there. The conservative, Evan McMullen, could actually win in Utah. Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton could, but the third party conservative is competitive. Hillary Clinton now is plus five in the most recent poll in Arizona. So we've taken the two states away. Mitt Romney won Arizona with 72 percent of the vote four years ago. He won Arizona by 10 points. That these are now competitive is shocking.

But most significant, Anderson, is this. Donald Trump cannot win the presidency without Florida's 29 electoral votes. He simply can't come up with a viable scenario. Now that we've leaned that Democrat, the map is overwhelmingly in Secretary Clinton's favor, and it's a huge task for Donald Trump tonight.

COOPER: You talk about the importance of Florida. Does -- does Trump have a path to the presidency here?

KING: If you look at the map as of now, the answer simply is no.

So what can Donald Trump do to change this? I often say, pay no attention to the national polls. We're in a position now where I say pay attention to the national polls. Because look at this. This is what is driving this race. This is unheard of in the last 20 years, 25 years of American politics. Look at the size of Secretary Clinton's lead, an eight-point national lead.

Donald Trump can't worry about one or two states. He has too many states to turn. His major task: change the national dynamic of this race and then hope that trickles down to the states. Again, this is Hillary Clinton on the verge of a blowout. If you go

back to the first debate on September 26, it was a two-point race, and Donald Trump had the momentum. Before we worry about going state by state by states, Donald Trump, if he's -- to be successful, he has to get the race back closer to this, Anderson, tighten up the national polls. Then we can worry about the states. But as we speak right now, the map is heading her way, and it's continuing to move that way.

COOPER: John, stay with us. Want to bringing in our panel. CNN senior political reporter: Nia-Malika Henderson; CNN political analysts David Gergen, Gloria Borger and Kirsten Powers; Trump supporters Corey Lewandowski and Scottie Nell Hughes; also Clinton supporter Bakari Sellers.

I mean, Gloria, you see that now. It's a tough road, certainly, for Donald Trump, let alone -- turning one battleground state is difficult enough, to try to turn basically all of them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He has to run the table, and then he has to find another table, and he has to -- and he has to run that.

And I think the point that John made is that -- is really good, which is, if you look at the national polls, if Trump tonight can cut Hillary Clinton's lead in half, because he does so well, then the battleground states generally move together, and they -- and they follow. That is -- that is his hope. But he does limp into this debate.

When we're talking about Utah being a battleground state, you know something is really different for Republicans in this election.

COOPER: David, I mean, it is a very, very difficult road.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not a road; it's a path through the wilderness where you get back, through a lot of briar patches.

Listen, I think when we started this fall, we didn't realize how important these debates were going to turn out to be. And now -- we now know that the first debate was a turning point. It was a pivotal moment. And his campaign been sliding downward since then.

[17:20:10] There have been 23 days since that first debate. Every single day has been a bad one for Donald Trump in the media. He's had the worst string of campaign I've ever seen in a presidential candidate.

COOPER: Really? The worst?

GERGEN: The worst -- the worst 23 days I've ever seen.

COOPER: Nia, can he turn it around tonight?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He really has to undo a year and a half of political branding in 90 minutes and then keep that going for the rest of the campaign.

It seems like he probably can't do it. I mean, he obviously would need a personality transplant to do that. He's so attached to who he is. He's so attached to talking to that base. They give him such great feedback. I mean, there is a visceral attachment that the base has for Donald Trump.

And all along, what you've seen Hillary Clinton do is expand. She's got the Obama coalition, and now there's a Clinton coalition that includes Republicans. It includes older voters, that includes those college-educated white women that typically aren't necessarily in the Democratic fold. So it's hard to see how he undoes that with just one debate.

COOPER: So Kirsten, does Hillary Clinton and the Democrats just try not to make mistakes between now and then and just try to run out the clock?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's a little bit of her holding the ball, I think, because she is ahead. And she needs to not make a mistake.

But at the same time, we have to remember she was already -- like David was saying, I mean, the debates were making a huge difference even before all this stuff happened with the women coming out and making accusations against Donald Trump. She was already on the trajectory of sort of turning things around. And so she's performed very well in the two debates. She needs to come in and do that again.

And in terms of him having a path, you have to also remember with these numbers that she has a real ground game, and he doesn't really. And you get at least a couple points off of that. So you have to also bake that in a little bit. And he has so little of a ground game, it may even take a couple points off.

COOPER: So Corey, what are these points not showing? What do you -- what do you see?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. What they're not showing is here in the state of Nevada, right, Barack Obama won Hispanics with 71 percent of the vote. Hillary Clinton isn't anywhere near that. What we know in the women demographic, Barack Obama won that with 55 percent. She's getting 47 percent of the women vote. This is what the CNN polls are saying.

And if we look at the three battleground polls that CNN released this week, he is clearly winning in Ohio. That state is basically off the map at this point. And put that in the win column.

If you look at Iowa, a state that's normally competitive, that's clearly in the win column for Donald Trump.

You look at the state of Florida and Nevada, the other two places where we've seen polling, Donald Trump is either within the margin by one or two points. And what that rates is that means it's competitive. This entire race is going to come down to the state of Florida. If

Donald Trump takes the 206 electoral votes that Mitt Romney won and you add Ohio and Iowa, that means there are two states left he needs to win, which is New Hampshire and Nevada and one additional vote in the state of Maine and you've got 270. That's what he needs to be successful.

COOPER: John King is with us. John, do those numbers add up?

KING: Yes and no, Anderson. I snuck over here at the end of the table. Yes, that is the scenario. If Donald Trump were in Vegas, Donald Trump is sitting at the table, he's all in, he's on his last hand and he has to draw to an inside straight flush. He literally has to draw to an inside straight flush.

Corey knows the math. That math is right. However, Florida is trending her way right now. Donald Trump is still in play. You're right, it's a very competitive race, but it's moving her way.

Ohio, it's not off the table. Donald Trump is ahead in our poll. There are other polls that show it a tie. And even our poll has it within the margin of error.

You're right about her numbers here in Nevada, but that's because of Gary Johnson. The third-party candidate is getting about 10 percent of the Latino vote. Doing an apple to apple comparison to 2012 is not fair, because the third-party candidates weren't showing as strong.

It's just a very, very tough -- Donald Trump has to turn several aircraft carriers. The hard part here -- that's why I'm always preaching pay no attention to the national polls. If he's down 8 points in the national polls, pay attention to the national polls. If he gets it back to three or four, then we go back to the states. Because you cannot turn ten aircraft carriers in 20 days, back to Kirsten's point.

The Democrats have proven they're better on the ground. Now, maybe the Republicans will prove us wrong, but I'll believe it when I see it.

COOPER: Scottie, where is your hope lying?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's Florida. But it's funny. You say the Democrats are better on the ground, but it's not showing in the excitement and the engagement for Hillary Clinton.

In these past ten weeks, 140,000 people have attended rallies for Donald Trump in Florida alone. He's going back to Florida next week. I agree everything goes through Florida. But right now, you're seeing that excitement right now. This is where the Senate races play a big ground. Grayson, people are not excited about him. People are excited about Marco Rubio. And while there's a little bit of a feud today going on between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, people are motivated to go back and vote..

COOPER: Bakari Sellers, you're a Clinton supporter. Is there an enthusiasm gap?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, there's not.

And when you talk about ground game, ground game is not the number of people at your rallies. Ground game are the number of people you have registered to vote and how many people you get involved in the early voting process and how you get your voters from point A to point B.

Even when the Republicans had ORCO, even when the Republicans had a legitimate ground game, Democrats still outpaced them. And I expect that to happen, if not double what happened in 2012.

But one thing that we've been talking about and the consistency in the race has lied in one aspect. Demographics. And Donald Trump has struggled with demographics since the day he announced. If Donald Trump somehow cannot do better with Hispanics, African-Americans and college-educated white women tonight -- and I don't know how he does that in 90 minutes -- he will not do well.

[17:25:17] The last time we saw a margin this large going into the third debate and to the election night was Bill Clinton in 1996. Democrats decided they were going to stay at home, Bill Clinton still won by eight and a half points. We lost two seats in the Senate. The difference is the biggest GOTV tool we have in the Democratic Party right now is Donald Trump. And people are excited to vote against Donald Trump.

COOPER: All right. We're going to have much more ahead with our panel. Up next, I'll talk with Bill -- Hillary Clinton's campaign chief strategist, Joel Benenson, about what his candidate needs to do tonight and the attacks she is expecting from her opponent. All that ahead and more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a few hours from now Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they will face off in their final debate right here in Las Vegas with just, what, 20 days left in this race.

[17:30:32] As we've said, Secretary Clinton is heading into tonight's showdown with an expanding lead in polls and on the electoral map. That said, Trump won big in Nevada's caucuses, and in the latest CNN/ORC poll of likely voters, at least in this state, Clinton is leading by just two points: 46 percent to 44 percent, in a four-way race. Trump's Nevada supporters have shown resilience.

Joining us now, Clinton campaign chief strategist, Joel Benenson, who was also the lead pollster, chief strategist for Obama's campaign, what, eight years ago, as well.

JOEL BENENSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: I was.

BLITZER: I'm sure you -- as well. So what's the tone she is hoping to strike tonight, her biggest priority?

BENENSON: I think the biggest priority is to keep going out there, talking to the American people about their lives, how she can work with Republicans and others to make improvements within their economic lives and show that there's only one president on that stage, through her demeanor, her sense of bringing the country together to get the tough things done that we need to to meet the challenges facing.

BLITZER: The WikiLeaks drip, drip that we've seen over the past several days, the John Podesta e-mail hack, stolen, if you will. Almost every day a few files and e-mails are coming out. Is that her biggest concern, that something she said in those transcripts, for example, could come back to haunt her?

BENENSON: No. I think our biggest concern is the fact that we now have 17 intelligence agencies in the United States that have confirmed that these hacks have taken place by Russians. That's unprecedented. And in a race where we've had a candidate of a major party, Donald Trump, encourage them to do so at one point is what is really a source of concern.

And the fact that Donald Trump continues to deny or say he doesn't know anything about the Russians doing this just kind of shows why a lot of people think he's unfit for president even in a state. I think a governor...

BLITZER: The WikiLeaks, you think the Russians are directly responsible?

BENENSON: I don't know.

BLITZER: Because they say -- the intelligence community have publicly said the DNC hack, that was Russia. The Colin Powell hack, that was Russia. They haven't yet formally, publicly said the WikiLeaks, that Russia is specifically in charge of that.

BENENSON: I believe -- I thought the 17 agencies had said that they believe these...

BLITZER: Privately they suspect that, big-time.

BENENSON: Well, OK. They've been -- they haven't publicly. But I think you and others have reported that they have. So I'm taking you guys at your word that you're confirming this, the way you should.

BLITZER: You have no...

BENENSON: Well, I can only judge what I -- what I read and hear about what people are saying the intelligence agencies have confirmed.

BLITZER: They did release, in those WikiLeaks, the speeches, the transcripts of her speeches before Goldman Sachs.

BENENSON: Or some portions of them, I guess. I don't know. I haven't -- I haven't been reading WikiLeaks.

BLITZER: Yes, which earlier she'd refused to do so. In one of those, she says you need, quote, "one position in public for the American people and another in private." So how does she explain that? That the American people deserve a

position that isn't necessarily her real position.

BENENSON: She was referring to something that had to do with a negotiation that was going on. It was a movie scene. That's what she was referring to.

Look, the fact is that when you're negotiating difficult things -- you know, Donald Trump says that he's the best negotiator in the world. You don't -- and he says you don't always show your hand. But the reality is, when you're doing these things, you see congressional leaders meet all the time behind closed doors. They go out, and they talk to you guys in front of the microphones. They're not telling you guys everything they're talking about behind closed doors when they're trying to get something done that will actually make a difference in people.

Look at something as big as, say, Obamacare or even dealing with infrastructure in this country. The leaders meet, often in -- you know, in a president's office or on Capitol Hill, and they negotiate behind closed doors. They're trying to hammer out details to get to something that will actually make a difference in people's lives. That's how work gets done sometimes.

BLITZER: Donald Trump and his campaign clearly want to try to rattle her. They've invited Patricia Smith, the Benghazi mother of Sean Smith, Sean Smith one of the Americans killed in Benghazi.

BENENSON: Sure.

BLITZER: Patricia Smith blames Hillary Clinton for her son's death. She's going to be sitting right there. How is she going to deal with that, Hillary Clinton?

BENENSON: Look, I think, you know, the thing we've seen about Hillary Clinton in these debates is she's very prepared for what's going on, on the stage, what's going on in the room. She knows how to reach out to the American people. She knows how to talk about people's lives. I think she has expressed repeatedly the fact that, you know, the pain of this woman's loss for her son is unimaginable, as it is. I think we all know people who have lost children under any circumstance.

But she knows that Donald Trump is bringing people. He did it to the last debate. And throughout the 90 minutes, she will stay largely focused on the discussion she's having with the American people about their lives. That's what they want to hear from these two candidates one last time.

BLITZER: You saw the "New York Times" report that your campaign tried to work out some new protocols at the top of the debate so that she wouldn't have to shake hands with Donald Trump, that Bill Clinton wouldn't have to shake hands with Melania Trump, other members of the Trump family. Is that true?

BENENSON: I know nothing about that at all. I think that what the commission historically has said is, you know, it's up to the candidates when they come out on stage. I've -- I'm not a student of the commission, although I was on this panel at Annenberg that looked at how the commission conducts debate.

I think they've had very few rules about what happens on the stage, as you've seen. We've had constant interrupting by Donald Trump. I don't think the commission wants candidates to continually interrupting each other. And he's done it in two debates. We expect he'll do it in the third. That's how he behaves. So I think we'll cross that bridge tonight when the candidates walk on stage.

BLITZER: We'll find out soon enough.

BENENSON: We will.

BLITZER: Handshakes, no handshakes. Last time they didn't shake hands before the debate. They shook hands after that second debate.

BENENSON: After the second, yes.

BLITZER: Joel, thanks you very much.

BENENSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Joel Benenson with us.

Just ahead, new details about the attacks that Donald Trump is likely to launch tonight, including ammunition from the e-mails we've been talking about, as we count down to the final presidential debate right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:01] BLITZER: The final presidential debate now just hours away. The candidates face off here in Las Vegas, 9 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And as we've said, since the last debate, WikiLeaks has released thousands more of Hillary Clinton's hacked e-mails, including transcripts of three paid speeches she gave to the Wall Street form Goldman Sachs.

The FBI has also released new documents of its investigation of Clinton's use of a private e-mail server. A lot of people are expecting Donald Trump to use all of this as ammunition later tonight.

CNN's Phil Mattingly us joining us now with the latest.

Phil, you've been on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. What specific attacks might Trump roll out related to the WikiLeaks hack?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, look, there's been a lot of focus on some of the pre-game theatrics we expect. But there is fertile ground, at least according to Donald Trump's advisors, in this hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e-mails.

Now, from the outset, note the Clinton campaign has not confirmed the authenticity of these -- any of these e-mails. And they claim that this is a Russian operation and should be taken as such.

But for the Trump campaign, this has become a staple of Donald Trump's campaign speeches, and something he's absolutely going to attack on in the debate tonight.

Look at two specific issues. One, from a speech that was documented in these e-mails where Hillary Clinton states, "If everybody is watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and a private description."

When you talk to Trump advisors about this, they think this is a gold mine. It feeds into the narrative that the Clintons operate on back- room deals, things that people aren't able to see. That is something Trump has been talking about over and over again on the campaign trail. That's something you're going to see again tonight.

Now, when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump has thrown a lot of accusations and allegations Hillary Clinton's way. They believe some of those were confirmed in a separate speech to a Brazilian bank, where Hillary Clinton said, quote, "My dream is hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders." Now, that seems to fit right into Donald Trump's narrative on immigration. Expect him to attack on that, as well.

One issue, though, with that, Wolf, if you look at some of Donald Trump's own writing, like perhaps a January 2013 opinion piece on European investment that Donald Trump wrote, where he notes, quote, "We'll have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability." So a little bit of a weakness there.

But when you look through these speeches, when you look through these hacked e-mails, there's no question that there is fertile ground here, at least according to Donald Trump's advisors, for him to attack tonight in that debate.

BLITZER: And Phil, Mr. Trump could also bring up Secretary Clinton's e-mail server tonight. He might, for example, talk about the release of those FBI documents this week. What can you tell us about that?

MATTINGLY: Well, this is almost a guaranteed point that Donald Trump will make repeatedly. And again, it goes back to three words that the campaign and Donald Trump personally have seized on: quid pro quo.

Now, what this comes from, obviously, as you know, Wolf, is not the WikiLeaks hack. This comes from notes from the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server. And according to two FBI employees, over the course of a discussion, a negotiation back and forth between the FBI and the State Department, an official at the State Department, they believe there was a quid pro quo to step down the classification level of one specific e-mail.

Now, it's worth noting, a third FBI official, now retired FBI official, has spoken to the press. And this, quote-unquote, "quid pro quo," where the FBI was talking about increasing personnel in Iraq in exchange for stepping down that classification, this FBI official has said this was not a quid pro quo. He was the one that brought up, and he backed off it immediately when he recognized what the e-mail was about.

It's worth noting the FBI and the State Department all deny it was a quid pro quo. But this is something Trump has focused on repeatedly, and you can expect to hear about it again tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Phil, thank you. Phil Mattingly reporting.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much.

Back to the panel to discuss this. John, I mean, if Hillary Clinton was up against any other candidate but Donald Trump, I mean, these WikiLeaks e-mails could really be devastating. I mean, Donald Trump has -- has taken a lot of the attention off it because of accusations against him and his own comments.

[17:45:00] But he has his own problems right now that have turned the race dramatically in her favor. That doesn't mean, though, that there is not -- if Donald Trump comes into this, we've heard he's doing more debate prep. We've heard he's been working with a better team. But that doesn't mean that there is not a lot of fruit for Donald Trump to bring into this debate about -- do you mean what you say about issues? What about trade? What about this -- Bernie Sanders would have loved these more than anybody.

Forget about Donald Trump. Had Bernie Sanders had these in the primary, her talking about the people you want to regulate, the banking industry will give you advice on that, or you people or the Wall Street people, or to go to a Brazilian bank and say I imagine a hemisphere with open trade and open borders. Now we're only seeing parts of these.

The Clinton campaign, number one, won't say they are authentic. And number two, we're not sure of the full content. However, there is a lot of material here.

Chelsea Clinton writing an e-mail saying there's something going on at the Clinton Foundation. There were conflicts of interest. There were people cashing in on my dad's name, making money, private businesses at the foundation. There's a lot in here that Donald Trump can prosecute tonight.

And it reinforces the notion of politics as usual. That the Clintons have their own set of rules. There is no question that the challenge will be can he do that effectively to score points? And then can he answer some of the questions about him so that it nets a game for him?

If he prosecutes her very well, but doesn't deal with his problems, he may leave some scars on her, but he doesn't change the race.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And his problem has been the same throughout this race. If you look back at the convention, Paul Manafort went into the RNC convention basically saying that the goal for Donald Trump was that he would convince Americans that he could be president. He could emerge from that, looking like a credible commander-in-chief. It didn't happen.

And you had months and months to try to do that. You went into the first debate hoping that he could do that. But he hasn't really done that. People look at Donald Trump, they see him and they hear him. They don't see a president. They look at Donald Trump and they see Donald Trump. He hasn't yet been able to make that closing argument that he is to be president.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, my perspective, these leaks are damaging, but I don't think Donald Trump is capable of making it devastating in a debate like this tonight.

COOPER: Do you think another candidate could?

GERGEN: I think another candidate could. He's not -- Chris Christie could make more of it because he is a prosecutor. Donald Trump does not argue in sequences. He jumps from one point to the next with references to people we don't know and he makes it very confusing and these are confusing fact situations.

His situation, by contrast, on his sex scandals. That's easy. Everybody understands that. This is complicated stuff. I think what he has to do tonight is turn the arc of this campaign around in his favor and I do not think he can do it by doing this. He's got to be way better.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He really has failed to capitalize on the opportunities he has been given in the last debate on the WikiLeaks stuff.

I think his challenge tonight is really the plausibility of him sitting in the Oval Office, being commander-in-chief.

I'm looking at some numbers from the most recent "Fox News" poll. Only 35 percent of likely voters think he has the temperament, 37 percent believe he has the judgment. And only 2 percent trust him to make decisions on nuclear weapons. That is a battleship he's got to turn around.

COOPER: I want to talk to our Trump supporters and Clinton supporters when we come back. We'll take a short break. More with the panel ahead.

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COOPER: And welcome back. We're coming to you live from Las Vegas, Nevada. You're looking at the debate stage right there. We're at 9:00 Eastern Time, 6:00 p.m. Local Time. The final presidential debate of this incredible election cycle is going to take place.

I'm back here with the panel. Kirsten, is there -- is there an argument that Donald Trump can successfully make using these WikiLeaks e-mails against Hillary Clinton tonight that's going to make enough of a difference?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: There's an argument that can be made, but I think today at this point I'm not sure that he's capable of prosecuting it. You know, sort of staying on message and being very methodical about it.

Even if you put at this point, I think it would be very hard for him to turn this around. It would really require him to do exceedingly well, and then for her to stumble in a way that I can't even really conceive of. And so I think -- I personally think what he's doing is he's trying to gin up his base and make sure he's not completely humiliated in the vote, because he needs them to turn out.

And, frankly, he's actually behaving more like somebody who wants to launch a right-wing TV network than somebody who is trying to win the presidency by bringing for example the half brother, estrange half brother of Barack Obama to the debate, which really doesn't have anything to do with anything.

I mean, it's really has nothing to do with Hillary. But it has a lot to do with throwing red meat to the base. And let's remember also that the first debate, he said I'm not going to bring the women to the debate because I don't want to get in the gutter. I want to stay in the up and up and he's not doing that anymore.

COOPER: Marco Rubio has now come forward and said Republicans should not be using these WikiLeaks e-mails. One that could happen in the Republican Party and also because it's from a foreign power. Is he wrong?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, he is wrong. Look, the media, if they spent as much time discussing WikiLeaks as they have the Donald Trump tape that was released from ten years ago, which as we know factually they've spent 23 times more media time covering the Donald Trump tape as opposed to the WikiLeaks and the Clinton coverage, then the media would be prosecuting this case for Donald Trump, which is the right thing to do.

Look, there are very significant things that have come out in these WikiLeaks which Hillary Clinton has never answered for. She said she was never for open borders. We now know that she is for open border.

We know that she has a private persona and a public persona. We know that she thinks that Wall Street should govern themselves and we know that these things are all the things that she told the American people were never true.

[17:55:08] We also know today, the "Investor's Business Daily" polls shows that Donald Trump is up one percent. And if you look in four yes ago in 2012, they were the most accurate poll according to FiveThirtyEight, which tracks all the polls of poll. IBD was the most accurate poll four years ago. Today, that poll concludes that Donald Trump is up one point. This race is dead even. COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're going to have more with Bakari and Scottie.

Our coverage continues right after this quick break.

Three hours now from the final face-off in a presidential election like no other.

We'll be right back.

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