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NYT Report: Jared Kushner Likely Paid No Taxes From 2009 to 2016; Voter Suppression Scandal Grips Georgia; Trump's Drain The Swamp Promise Clashes With Reality; Court Filing Indicates Ross May Have Misled Congress. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 13, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:00:12] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Good evening. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And emotional day, the fiance of a missing Saudi journalist feared dead pleas for answers. And an American pastor is now back home after two years, detained overseas. More on both those stories in just minutes.

But first, the President is making a closing midterm pitch to voters at this hour. He is in Richmond, Kentucky. Immigration a big theme, also Medicare and the Supreme Court fight. But with the midterms just a tick over three weeks away, the President looked back to 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vote is in. The polls have closed in Kentucky. Donald Trump is the winner of Kentucky.

Under Republican leadership, America is booming. It's thriving.

In the wake of hurricane Michael, our thoughts are with our fellow citizens in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. They got hit hard. But we are going to get along great with China but we are doing things with China. And they have dropped about $20 trillion. But you know what? They are going to be just fine. But they have to treat us fairly.

We have a great team. But we need more of them. We need more Republican votes. What the crazy radical Democrats did to justice Kavanaugh is a national disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: CNN's Boris Sanchez is live in Richmond, Kentucky for us.

Boris, the White House tonight thinks the Supreme Court fight obviously sent a jolt through the GOP days. And tonight, the President really keying in on the court to rally voters.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. The President talking about Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh during this rally, one of a number of applause lines that the President has added to his campaign rally staples including attacks against Democrats, (INAUDIBLE) and of course, attacks against the press as well.

This is the President's fourth campaign stop this week. He is in Kentucky's sixth congressional district campaigning for congressman Andy Barr. It is his eighth overall campaign rally in October. And he has more planned for next week, at least one in Montana, and we are told by sources that we should expect more. '

This is a full court press by President Trump, trying to prevent a blue wave that many speculated may be headed to Congress, of course during the first midterm election of an incumbent presidency. The President, of course, is not just worried that Democrats (INAUDIBLE) his agenda but the potential for Democrats to lead extensive investigations as the head of numerous key committees in Congress, not only the President's finances, his business deals, but those closest to them.

I do want to point out the President has some big names onstage with him, namely Kentucky senator Rand Paul but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, someone who we know has had a contentious relationship with the President in the past. But tonight nothing but a love fest. President Trump at one point saying that Mitch McConnell is one of the best leaders in history.

I want you to watch this exchange as they interacted onstage, the President praising him for helping confirm many judges to federal courts. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There's nobody smarter. He refused to cave to the radical Democrats' shameful campaign of political and personal destruction. He stared down, tough cookie. I know tough people, he is tough. He is Kentucky tough, which is about as tough -- he stared down the angry left wing mob. He never blinked and he never looked back. And he got us a man who will be one of our great, great Supreme Court justices. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Eighty-four new federal judges already this Congress. That's already a record, Mr. President. Keep sending them our way and we will keep confirming them and change the court system forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: We will keep an eye on what else the President says here tonight, Ana.

I did want to point one bit of news today, the White House hasn't officially announced this but sources have now confirmed to CNN that the President has decided upon a replacement for White House counsel Don McGahn who CNN has previously reported will be leaving the administration likely shortly after the midterm elections. The President apparently settling on Washington, D.C. attorney Pat Maloney who he has met with previously to seek advice from during the Russia investigation, Ana.

[20:05:10] CABRERA: Boris Sanchez for us in Richmond, Kentucky, where the President's rally, his campaign continues. Thank you, Boris.

Now before leaving for Kentucky, the President weighed in on the case of missing journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi making this grand prediction from the oval office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My first hope was that he was not killed. But maybe that's not looking too good.

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

Trump: No, I haven't. I have spoken to him many times about this but I haven't called him yet. I will be. And I will be also calling King Salman of Saudi Arabia, because I think it's appropriate for me to ask him what is going on. Probably tonight or tomorrow.

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

TRUMP: Probably tonight or tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Here is what we know. First, Khashoggi, a frequent critic of Saudi Arabia, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2nd. His fiance who was waiting for him says he never came out.

Second, an official says U.S. intelligence has intercepts with Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.

Third, in a horrifying twist, a source says Turkish officials now have audio evidence of Khashoggi being detained, tortured, even murdered, all of this inside the consulate. That audio is said to have been recorded by Khashoggi's own Apple watch. This is the intelligence that the President will have when he calls the Saudi king.

And I want to go live now to what could be the scene of a terrible crime. CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Nic, the President says he is going to speak to the Saudi king by tomorrow. Publicly, President Trump says we just don't know what happened. Privately, is there any reason to believe the President is going to be tougher based on all this evidence that implicates the Saudis?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Look, if we judge the President by the way he's dealt with, let's say, president Putin, of whom he met face-to-face and had a huge amount of evidence of Russia's attack on U.S. democracy by medaling in the 2016 presidential elections. He looked president Putin in the eye and made no attempt, it appeared, when they met publicly together, to criticize him or to dress him down at all for that. And that was a very big act against the whole of the United States.

So this is one citizen, journalist, living in the United States, allegedly murdered by Saudi authorities. So it's hard to see how President Trump on a private phone call with the king is going to exercise a sense of toughness with -- you know, with a partner. He views Saudi Arabia as a very important business partner but also as a strategic partner in the Middle East that helps the United States with its foreign policy. So I have to say, it is hard to imagine on how we have seen President Trump perform so far, that he is going to get tough behind the scenes. However, Congress is pressuring him. And he has said himself that he will be tough. But the measure of it, of course, will be how the Saudis respond after that, call.

CABRERA: Nic Robertson, thank you for your continued coverage. I know it's just 3:00 a.m. where you are and you have been up all night. Thanks again. We appreciate it.

Joining us now, former CIA officer Evan McMullin, and we should also know, he ran as a third party candidate against Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Evan, I'm so glad to have your expertise with us tonight. According to a Turkish newspaper, Khashoggi may have recorded his own death on his Apple watch, but tech experts and even our own crews in Turkey say it's highly unlikely because of the technical limitations on that device. But what are the possibilities that Turkey obtained this audio in some other way, say by bugging the consulate?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, it's quite possible. It would be a surprise to us, people who have worked in this space, in the intelligence space, if the Turks, knowing how capable and aggressive they can be in an intelligence sense, did not have some kind of access to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, whether it be technical or with human sources or both. So they would have likely had access.

The story about Khashoggi recording his potential attack on his phone is a possibility. As you point out, experts are saying it would be difficult for the phone or for the watch to have exfiltrating that data to the phone which was with his girlfriend waiting outside the consulate.

But we don't actually know, as far as I know, what happened to that watch. Did that watch leave the consulate with him or his body at some point and then connect? I mean, we just don't know. We don't have those facts. But there are a variety of ways in which there could have been some kind of recording or some kind of observation that was then obtained by the Turks, certainly.

[20:10:24] CABRERA: We don't have a lot of information just yet on the specifics. When Trump says he wants to get to the bottom of this, what would U.S. intel agencies be doing right now to figure out the facts? I imagine we can't only rely on turkey.

MCMULLIN: Yes, absolutely. Well, the U.S. intelligence has a variety of ways they can get at facts here. They will work I'm sure very closely with their counterparts in Turkish intelligence and law enforcement. I'm sure that's happening. I'm sure they are trying to gain information from the Saudis, which of course they are in official channels going to be unwilling to provide, probably. But that doesn't mean that the U.S. doesn't have other ways of collecting information from Saudi sources who cooperate with U.S. intelligence.

And so, there are a variety of ways. And then also through electronic means. It has been reported already that U.S. intelligence has some signals intelligence or intercepts of telephone calls between Saudi officials talking about Khashoggi and their desire to lure him back to Saudi Arabia. So there are a variety of ways that this kind of information can be collected.

CABRERA: President Trump has now vowed severe punishment for Saudi Arabia if it turns out they harmed Khashoggi. But he doesn't necessarily say he will go as far as to cancel an arms deal that's in the works. Listen to him tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, there are many other things we could do. But when we take away $110 billion of purchases from our country, that hurts our workers. That hurts our factories. That hurts all of our companies. You know, you are talking about 500,000 jobs. So we do that, we are really hurting our country a lot more than we are hurting Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Evan, what message do you think that sends to Saudi Arabia?

MCMULLIN: Well, that among other things sends a message to Saudi Arabia that it is OK for Saudi Arabia to attack journalists in this case and to violate human rights in other ways.

Look, the whole world, especially dictatorial regimes including that of Saudi Arabia, they look to the United States for signals about what they can and cannot get away with. This is nothing new. It happens all over the world with these kind of regimes, especially those with which we have important relations. And we do with Saudi Arabia, both economic and defense and intelligence, national security related relations.

And so they especially look at the United States and the signals that our leaders are sending. And very sadly, this is an administration that has sent a message to Saudi Arabia and other countries that violations of human rights and the degradation of democracy, not that it exists in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere, where it's under pressure, is OK. And what you hear President Trump now saying is that, hey, we have got this weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, it means U.S. jobs. And yes, Saudi Arabia may be doing some things we don't like. They may be killing journalists and other things. But this is, in his words, our America first approach. And what that means is our economy. And so he says jobs first.

But the reality is that we tend to put ourselves in these positions with these authoritarian dictatorships around the world, having a need for relations with them on some levels, in some ways very important levels, but then making compromises on our values as a result.

And I'm not so naive as to think we aren't going to have to make, sometimes, compromises, I get that. But my view is that we make far too many of them. And especially this administration has gone even beyond that, just to simply say our values are no longer our values anymore, as long as we are in an advantaged position on trade or on weapons deals, then we will turn the other way and we'll look the other way. And foreign leaders will take advantage of that.

CABRERA: Let me talk to you about the role of Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, a senior White House official. He has been this back channel of sorts to the Saudi crown prince. Do you see that as a strength or a vulnerability in this situation?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think it's related to your last question, which was what kinds of signals are we showing. Back in -- I believe it was may, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, commented that he thought Jared Kushner was in his pocket. And this is the kind of statement that signals to us, that tells us that we are -- or that this information is green lighting even passively this kind of behavior.

If Mohammad bin Salman believes that somehow this administration is under his influence or that he is able to manipulate this administration, well, then of course he feels like he can do what he wants to do to consolidate his own power. So that back channel is basically worse than worthless. It's actually doing great harm.

[20:15:37] CABRERA: You have mentioned the intercepts. We have discussed that Saudi Arabia apparently was heard through intercepts with the U.S. intelligence agency talking about luring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia to detain him. President Trump was asked about those intercepts and whether the U.S. had a duty to warn Khashoggi. Listen to his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was there any kind of responsibility to warn him?

TRUMP: Well, it's not our country. It's in Turkey. And it's not a citizen, as I understand it. But a thing like that shouldn't happen. It is a reporter with "the Washington Post." And if something like that should not be allowed to happen, something like that should not happen and we intend to get to the bottom of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Evan, he makes the point that Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen. Even so, he was a resident. But did the U.S. have a duty to warn him about possible danger? MCMULLIN: Look, absolutely. I remember during my days in the Central

Intelligence Agency when we would collect information about a terrorist organization's plans to attack another human being. Whether they were American or not, you know, we would find a way to warn that individual. And to be honest, I'm not sure if we did that because we were required to by law. I think we were. But there was some requirement that we had that came from somewhere, at least ethical, at the very least immoral, to warn people. And I think that certainly applies here.

I mean, if he wasn't a U.S. citizen, he was a U.S. person, because he resided here. He worked for a leading American newspaper. But more than anything, he is a human being. And at least what we used to do, and I believe what we probably still do in most cases, is that when we collect information that some individual, some human being is in harms way, we warn them, we find a way to warn them. And it appears we may not have done so in this case.

CABRERA: We just don't know for sure whether that happened.

Evan McMullin, thanks for your time.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Jamal Khashoggi's fiance has now penned an op-ed in "the New York Times." And I want to read part of it to you.

She writes, today is Jamal's birthday. I had planned a party inviting his closest friends to surround him with the love and worth that he had missed. We would have been married now. Twelve days have past. I have been waking up every morning hoping to hear from him. The speculations about his fate have not been confirmed by the authorities. But the silence of Saudi Arabia fills me with dread. That haunting question doesn't leave me for a single moment. Is it true? Have they assassinated Jamal? Oppression never lasts forever. Tyrants eventually pay for their sins. When your loved one leaves this world, the other world no longer seems scary or far away. It is being left here all alone without them that is most painful.

A homecoming today for an American pastor after spending two years detained in Turkey. Andrew Brunson touched down on American soil today and got an audience with the President. The emotion cresting with this moment, the pastor praying for the president and asking God to give the country strength.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW BRUNSON, PASTOR: Oh, God, I ask that you pour your holy spirit on President Trump, that you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance and we bless him. May he be a great bless to go our country. In Jesus' name we bless you. Amen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The President added that the timing of Brunson's release by Turkey was a quote "strict coincidence," coming at the same time as the investigation into what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, rescuers are still desperately trying to reach people trapped after hurricane Michael. Why they say they still can't get to everyone in need of help.

Also ahead, President Trump's commerce secretary under fire for apparently changing a story he told Congress and engaging in what's now being called a secret campaign with the justice department.

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[20:24:23] CABRERA: Now three days after hurricane Michael unleashed its wrath on the Florida panhandle, first responders are still searching the debris for people trapped or killed. The storm's death toll has just risen to 18 across four states. Officials say that number will likely rise again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BATTALION CHIEF DAVID COLLIER, PANAMA CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: It's highly possible. Unfortunately we're not able to gain access to all areas at that point in time. The quick response teams, the task force teams from around the state and the nation have done a quick rapid search of the area, have tried to clear homes as best they can. But unfortunately, we will probably still going to find people in the coming weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: New drone video shows the full scale of the devastation. This is Mexico beach, Florida, what some are referring to as ground zero of the storm.

Look at this, the mayor there says about 75 percent of this city was wiped out. No businesses are up and running at this point. One resident who rode out the storm captured this dramatic footage of Michael's fury as it washed ashore.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

[20:25:32] CABRERA: CNN's Martin Savidge is on the scene for us with the very latest from Mexico beach.

And Martin, it's a long road to recovery ahead for many of these storm victims.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. And in fact, we found just out a short time ago it's going to be even longer.

First, you can see that the sun has gone down. In this community, once that happens, it is almost completely dark. The only lights are those generated as you can see for TV. Beyond that, the background is almost pitch dark. The occasional flashing strobes of the emergency vehicles are about the only other lights that you will see in this community.

Of course, it means that the search and recovery effort hasn't come to an end, it has for today. It will pick up again tomorrow. In fact, authorities are now saying it's likely to go on for four more days in this community. The reason that's significant is not only just showing you the herculean task they are up against, but it also means that residents who probably are very much want to come back will not be coming back, because the recovery and the search takes priority in this community, according to city officials.

We are told that they have gone through now every standing structure. That would be the homes and businesses. But maybe the most difficult and most challenging and potentially dangerous aspect lies ahead. Going through the very large debris piles. That's where they fear they may find more victims. They are working through a list and post 300 names. These are people they know were going to ride out the storm. They actually went and saw all of them before they hit.

Now they are going back and trying to find them after the storm. It's been hard. Communication has been knocked out. And on top of that, in some cases, they get to a house and it's locked up, nobody is there. What does that tell you?

Then in another case, they get to a house and the house isn't there. They have a map with red dots all over it. They are slowly trying to check it, but they will tell you, the number of those still unaccounted for is troubling. They won't tell you exact number -- Ana.

CABRERA: People need food. They need water. They need gas. They need answers.

Martin Savidge, thank you for bringing us the very latest.

We spoke with one woman earlier this evening who lived through Katrina, now she has lived through Michael. She says her experience with this particular storm was worse.

Still ahead, new documents show President Trump's son-in-law paid almost no taxes for years. And President Trump is hiring a new attorney to take on Robert Mueller. That's next.

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[20:30:14] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: The New York Times reporting this weekend that president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, paid either very little or zero federal income tax for at least seven years. Kushner's real estate and investment holdings are now worth more than $700 million, as confirmed by CNN calculations this summer.

He is now a senior adviser at the White House. Our political commentator Catherine Rampell told me a short time ago how people with Kushner's kind of wealth and investment in real estate specifically are able to take full advantage of legal ways to avoid paying taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Basically there are lots of tax breaks that are available not only to rich people, but specifically to wealthy real estate investors. And one of these tax breaks has to do with something called depreciation.

Basically it means that the tax code assumes that you get to -- you have some costs because the building that you own has like wear and tear over the years, and that's a cost to you, and you can use those costs to offset your actual income.

So in the case of Kushner, he's saying I own these enormous properties, but you know, maybe the value is going up, like maybe I could sell them for a little bit more money. But hey, there's wear and tear on the buildings therefore, IRS, that's a cost to me. I should be able to use that to offset any cash I'm actually getting out of it.

CABRERA: And this how much is offsetting. And the New York Times offers this example, from 2015, it says Kushner took home $1.7 million in salary and investment gains but he had $8.3 million of losses, largely because of significant depreciation on real estate, according to the documents reviewed by the Times.

So effectively here, Catherine, you're saying those reported losses cancel out his income, he pays no income tax as a result. But who's determining the losses?

RAMPELL: Basically he does. So there's a lot of leeway in the tax code for the person who actually owns the property or at least their tax preparation team, to be able to say, you know what, I think that my property went down by this amount of money or that amount of money.

I mean, there's like some guidelines, but they have a lot of freedom to make it up as they go. And again, all perfectly legal.

CABRERA: All right. Catherine Rampell, thanks for putting it in perspective for us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Serious allegations looming over one of the most closely watched races in the country. Why the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia wants her opponent to step down from his job weeks before Election Day.

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[20:35:03] CABRERA: A showdown over voting rights now emerging in Georgia's extremely tight governor's race.

Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are running in a statistical dead heat right now. The big twist here though is Kemp is also the man in charge of Georgia's elections. His day job, Georgia's secretary of state.

Civil rights groups are now suing Kemp, alleging he's using his day job to suppress African-American voter turnout. His Democratic opponent, Abrams, is calling on Kemp now to resign as secretary of state. Kemp has denied any wrongdoing. Here's the latest report from CNN's Jessica Dean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A major dustup at the state of Georgia, weeks before voters go to the polls to choose their governor. The latest point of contention, allegations Georgia's secretary of state, Brian Kemp is using a voter verification law to effectively suppress thousands of African-American voters. Kemp is running on the Republican ticket against Democrat, Stacey Abrams.

[20:40:05] STACEY ABRAMS (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: Now let's go get it done.

DEAN: In the latest twist, a non-profit advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Kemp in his official capacity as secretary of state. This after reports that Kemp's office placed a hold on more than 50,000 voter applications. More than two-thirds of which were made by African-Americans, for not meeting an exact match requirement. This means anything as minor as a typo or missing hyphen between a valid I.D. and a voter registration can be flagged.

KRISTEN CLARKE, PRESIDENT, LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: The reality is that minority voters are often the ones with unusual names that are sometimes harder for state officials to capture accurately in the state's database. And they are being penalized for that.

Our end goal, our end objective with this lawsuit is making sure that there's a level playing field where everyone's voice can be heard in Georgia.

DEAN: The Kemp campaign calls the claims bogus and points to Georgia increasing its voter rolls under his leadership. Quote, under my tenure as secretary of state, Georgia has shattered records for voter registration and turnout across all demographic groups. Despite any claim to the contrary, it's never been easier to register to vote in Georgia and actively engage in the electoral process.

The Abrams campaign says Kemp is using his authority as secretary of state to boost his chances, saying in a statement, "This isn't incompetence. It's malpractice. Brian Kemp needs to resign his position so that Georgia voters can have confidence that their secretary of state competently and impartially oversee this election."

The Kemp campaign strongly denounces the accusations as a quote, "sad campaign tactic." And says it's Abrams who's up to dirty tricks, calling this whole thing a, quote, "manufactured crisis to turn out her base."

The secretary's website points out voters with registrations on hold can vote on Election Day, if they show an acceptable form of identification, which is already required to vote in Georgia.

Kemp's team says it's this controversy itself that's suppressing the vote. Quote, "By telling people they can't vote, they actually think they can't vote, and that's a sad state of affairs."

As for Abrams, she has long believed Kemp has worked to suppress the minority vote.

ABRAMS: We live in a nation that has spent centuries denying the right to vote and spent decades creating barriers to that right to vote. And I have an opponent who is a remarkable architect of voter suppression.

DEAN: Jessica Dean, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: I want to bring in political reporter Greg Bluestein with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Greg, is the expectation that these 50,000 plus voter registration applications on hold will be verified before Election Day?

GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: That's the hope. And there's a lot of misinformation out there that this is blocking them from voting. And so Democrats and Republicans are getting the word out that this does not block these voters from voting, as long as they show up to the polls with their valid photo I.D.'s or other forms of identification and they substantially match the records of their voter registrations and they can still cast a normal ballot.

CABRERA: Are concerns about voter suppression warranted?

BLUESTEIN: This has -- this has been a valid debate in Georgia politics for years now, long before Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp were candidates for governor. They've been fighting with each other over voter registration and voter suppression claims back and forth. And the exact match legislation that was talked about in the report is a big debate.

But right now, it's getting to the forefront because this comes just weeks before this nationally-watched race.

CABRERA: Not to mention Kemp is still secretary of state. He wants to be governor. How does he respond to critics who say there's a conflict of interest for him to be overseeing this election?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, he points to other secretaries of state who have not resigned while running for higher office. But there's a difference in this case, because he is now the nominee for governor where some of those other secretaries of state lost their primary battles, their political primary battles for that role.

So this has sort of revived the calls for Kemp to resign. And what he says is, I was elected to do this duty and I'm going to fulfill it. CABRERA: And so the question is, now, who has the more energized base, Abrams and Kemp are in a statistical dead heat according to the polls right now. This race does come down to voter turnout.

Greg, who has the advantage, Abrams or Kemp, when it comes to voter turnout among their supporters?

BLUESTEIN: Well, Stacey Abrams has been trying to do something that hasn't been done in Georgia politics. She's trying to expand the universe of left leaning voters to capture voters who usually don't vote in these midterm elections, where Brian Kemp is trying to go back to the Republican base that has -- that has elected Republicans over the last two decades, essentially, in Georgia.

So that's a big question. But Democrats already seem pretty energized. Kemp seems to hope that this also helps energize his base too. He's saying that Stacey Abrams is willing to do anything to win this election including ginning up what he says this is a fake controversy.

[20:45:11] CABRERA: Stacey Abrams wants to be Georgia's first African-American governor after 75 consecutive white men had the job. She's running against a white man. How significant are Georgia's race relations in this election contest, do you think?

BLUESTEIN: Well, it's a very racially polarized state. African- Americans make up the brunt of the -- of Democratic support in Georgia. And she's hoping that by appealing to particularly minority voters who skip these midterm votes, that she can put Democrats over the top for the first time since 2002 in Georgia. Whereas Brian Kemp is relying on a mostly white rural base of voters, the same type of voters that helped Donald Trump win the state by five points despite him losing the Atlanta suburbs.

CABRERA: Greg Bluestein, good to have you with us. We'll be in touch as we get closer to the election. Thank you.

BLUESTEIN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Stacey Abrams will join my colleague Jake Tapper tomorrow on "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:50:36] CABRERA: Well, some chants last night in Ohio at the president's rally to drain the swamp. The president talked about draining the swamp every day in 2016 and it's still a regular feature of his some speech.

Another presidential line that he used repeatedly throughout the campaign, and now "I hire the best people." Yet new evidence emerging this week that putting into practice what the president preached on the campaign trail has proven difficult.

Today, a new report from CNN shining light on Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary and current subject of several open ethics investigations. A CNN inquiry found Zinke's monthly calendars routinely omitted key meetings. Including meetings with lobbyists pursuing looser mining restrictions.

The only reason we now know about these meetings is because of a CNN Freedom of Information Act request for memos and other notes from Zinke and his top aides.

Well, questions swirl around Zinke's omissions, new court filings also indicate the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross may have misled Congress when he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GRACE MENG (D), NEW YORK: Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding this citizenship question?

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: I'm not aware of any such. We have had a request, as everyone is aware, from the Department of Justice, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: That answer has now shifted. In a response to a lawsuit filed by several state attorneys general. The Justice Department says Ross e-mailed with former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, about adding the citizenship question to the census.

Now, Bannon recommended Ross talk to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and immigration hardliner, now running for governor in that state. It's unclear however from the government's filing if Ross ever spoke to Kobach or spoke again to Mr. Bannon.

A commerce department spokesperson says the admission now does not change the secretary's story. It only adds to it.

The Trump administration also struggling today to explain why the state department opted against spending millions of taxpayer dollars that were allocated to fortifying a U.S. consulate in the war zone in Iraq, potentially putting U.S. diplomats at risk.

The plan initially developed by the Obama state department called for $5 to $10 million in security upgrades for the U.S. diplomatic outposts in Basra, Iraq. Yet, last month, citing security threats, President Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo ordered all non- essential U.S. personnel in Basra to pack up and go.

Former state department officials say the two decisions aren't necessarily linked but the current state department refuses to discuss publicly why the security upgrades never happened, and where the money set aside for them went.

And then there's this. This afternoon at the White House, the president called the rush of immigrants to the southern border a humanitarian tragedy. His posture was clear. If they feel there will be separation, they won't come, the president said, but there's little evidence his administration's policy of breaking up families at the border has been a deterrent.

Instead, there's new evidence this week that the policy stretched the administration too thin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We've had a huge increase in families. So just between July and August, I believe it was around a 300 percent increase. So what that means for us our facilities are out of space.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: That is the homeland security chief, Kirstjen Nielsen.

Now, the president stopped separating families in June. But now, faced with a fresh crisis on the border, White House policy advisor Stephen Miller, wants the president to opt for a policy that could, again, break up kids and their parents.

The so-called binary choice option was ruled legal by a judge in July, and would give migrant parents a choice. Stay in detention with their children, or release their kids into U.S. government custody.

The president, judging by his words today, still thinks that is an effective solution, evidence or not. Transparency, honesty, accounting for your taxpayer money, rejecting Washington's web of influence. Those are all part and parcel of the president's campaign pledges. And all things his administration still struggles to live up to, judging by the evidence.

[20:55:04] And the swamp is still thriving. Only the alligators are a different color.

That's going to do it for me tonight. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for being here. I'll be back tomorrow at 5:00 Eastern in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Up next, a marathon of Anthony Bourdain's "PARTS UNKNOWN." Good night.

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