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Trump Defends Calling Himself a Nationalist; Papadopoulos to Testify Before Lawmakers; Trump Renews Claims of Middle Easterners Inside Migrant Caravan; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Embracing nationalism. President Trump calls himself a nationalist and says he's proud of it but walks back when asked about the racist overtones of the word. Is he just trying to motivate his base ahead of the midterms?

"Worst cover-up." The president blasts Saudi Arabia's changing story about the killing of "Washington Post" columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Tonight, sources say Mr. Trump feels betrayed and is voicing his frustration with the Saudis.

Another Putin summit? With tension rising between Washington and Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin tells U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, that another personal meeting with President Trump might be helpful. Could a summit happen in just a matter of a few weeks?

And hitting Russia's trolls. An administration official confirms to CNN that the U.S. military cyber command is now targeting Russian operatives believed to be attempting to influence the upcoming midterm elections. Is it too little too late?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump is now defending calling himself a nationalist and proudly embracing the word.

Just moments ago, in the Oval Office, the president said the term should be used more often, but when asked about the racist implications of nationalism, the president said, and I'm quoting him now, "I've never heard that theory."

I'll talk about that and more with the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president just wrapped up some wide-ranging remarks in the Oval Office, including embracing, calling himself a nationalist. Update us.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It was a wide-ranging back and forth with reporters in the Oval Office. I was in there and asked the president about this label that he's given himself in the last couple of days, calling himself a nationalist at that rally down in Houston last night. And then earlier today here at the White House, the president defended giving himself that label. But he denied that there were any racial overtones to it. Here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Mr. President, just to follow up on your comments about being a nationalist, there is a concern that you are sending coded language or a dog whistle to some Americans out there that what you really mean is that you're a white nationalist.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've never even heard that. I cannot imagine that. You mean, I say I'm a nationalist. No I never heard that theory about being a nationalist. I've heard them all. But I'm somebody that loves our country. I'm proud of our country. And I am a nationalist. It's a word that hasn't been used too much. Some people use it. But I'm very proud. I think it should be brought back.

I'm somebody that wants to help other countries of the world. But I also have to take -- we have to take care of our country. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be duped on military and also duped on trade.

All I want, our country, is to be treated well, to be treated with respect. For many years, other countries that are allies of ours -- so-called allies, they have not treated our country fairly. So in that sense, I am absolutely a nationalist. And I'm proud of it.


ACOSTA: So the president there, Wolf, trying to describe himself as a nationalist, and mostly economic terms, trade protectionism and so on. But Wolf, I think a lot of his critics out there are going to hear the words that he just used a few moments ago when he said," Well, I haven't really heard that theory. he didn't really deny that he is trying to call himself a white nationalist, although he seemed to suggest that he's only thinking about this in economic terms.

BLITZER: At the same time, Jim, the president continued to stoke what many people would consider to be a nationalist, racist fears about central-American immigrants, migrants, who are walking thousands of miles to try to seek asylum here in the United States.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. They've really seized on this issue of the caravan of migrants moving up through Central America towards the U.S./Mexico border as a campaign issue for the midterms to energize the president's base. The president has been saying over the last few days that there are these unknown Middle Easterners, as he's described them, moving along with those migrants. Basically, a suggestion, a racially loaded suggestion, that there are terrorists hiding in the middle of these migrants moving up toward the U.S./Mexico border.

I asked the president about that, and here's more of what he had to say.


TRUMP: Among the people they've intercepted, very recently, are people from the Middle East. OK? So you can't be surprised when you hear it. You've heard that before. Happens all the time. And I spoke to him literally last night. I spoke to another one this morning. Very good relationship with Border Patrol. And ICE. And they say it happens all of the time from the Middle East. It's not even saying bad or good, but some real bad ones. But they intercept --

[17:05:11] ACOSTA: But they're in the caravan now?

TRUMP: Well, they could very well be.

ACOSTA: But there's no proof?

TRUMP: There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything. But they could very well be. Or they don't have to necessarily be in that group. But certainly, you have people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country.

And I'm not letting them in. They're not coming in, all right? They're not coming in. We're going to do whatever we have to. They're not coming in.

(end video clip)

ACOSTA: So the president there, Wolf, saying he has very good information about Middle Easterners traveling with those migrants heading up through Central America into Mexico towards the U.S./Mexico border.

But at the same time, uttering those words, "There's no proof of anything." Wolf, that's something else I think to listen to when you're in the Oval Office, trying to ask a question of the president. If there's no proof of anything, it makes you wonder what else they're making up over here at the White House.

Obviously, there's proof of lots of things. And whether or not there are Middle Easterners traveling with that caravan, there ought to be proof of that. And so far, the White House hasn't provided any.

And we gave the president and the vice president -- there was one moment during that exchange, Wolf, that the president was referring to the vice president. And Mike Pence came forward and started talking, and then the president would interrupt him and go on with his business about Middle Easterners being in that caravan. They really, at the end of the day, had no proof to give us that they knew what they were talking about, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim, the president also went further than he has in days, in laying out his frustrations with Saudi Arabia over the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

ACOSTA: That's right. And this was the toughest criticism to date I think we've heard from the president. It's been some time now since Jamal Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis in Turkey. And I suppose it's taken up until this point for the president to draw the conclusion there was a botched cover-up of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the president talked about that with reporters, as well. And here's what he said.


TRUMP: And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover- ups. It's very simple. Bad deal. Should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever. And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint, where they thought about it. Because whoever thought of that idea, I think is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble.


ACOSTA: So the question, of course, Wolf, moving forward, is the president saying, well, there may be people in big trouble. But I guess the question that we're all wondering is whether the president will actually deliver any kind of trouble to the Saudi kingdom. Because up until this point, e's offered a lot of rhetoric, a lot of tough talk, but really nothing firm in terms of any kind of policy ramifications that would be exacted upon the Saudis for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

One other foreign policy note we should mention, Wolf. During this exchange with reporters, the president did say he may possibly meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, when he goes to Paris, coming up after the midterm elections -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there are suggestions that November 11 could be that summit in Paris.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

And the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, just speaking out about punishing those Saudis who were involved in the murder of that journalist. Much more on that coming up. But there's other important news we're following right now. Much more substantive issues. Breaking news this hour.

Sources now telling CNN that the former Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, is expected to testify behind closed doors before a small group of lawmakers in the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us right now. So what does Papadopoulos plan to tell the committee on Thursday?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He's difficult to pin down, because you may remember when he pleaded guilty to federal crime, and at his sentencing, he was very apologetic, and I'll quote from him what he said on that day.

He said that "I made a terrible mistake for which I have paid dearly. I'm terribly ashamed." He went on to say, "I wanted to do my best to help this investigation. And did I understand now that in trying to do this I was not honest and might have hindered the investigation."

Well, since those apologetic words, when he was sentenced, if you follow George Papadopoulos on Twitter, he's been stringing together a whole host of accusations, basically accusing the U.K., Australia, the U.S., the FBI, of being involved in a conspiracy to frame him and the Trump campaign for conspiring with the Russians.

And he's now given a list of names to the committee of people that he wants to talk about. If you look at this list here, and it's very long. There are nine people on it. It includes Alexander Downer. Downer was the Australian diplomat who sat across the table at a London bar, early in the campaign and early in 2016, when Papadopoulos told him that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. This in May of last year.

We now know that that comment to the Australian diplomat led him to report to the FBI. That conversation concerning enough that Alexander Downer reported that to the FBI, and that helped spark the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Not as you have heard claimed by the president and others, the dossier, et cetera. But Papadopoulos since, in effect, copping to, Wolf, lying about this, et cetera, at his sentencing, has now spun this other tale.

And as he sits on Congress, when he does testify, you can imagine that he's going to have some receptive ears in the Republicans on that committee who have been making similar allegations about this probe, the start of the probe, which do not stand up to the facts.

BLITZER: And he pleaded guilty to these charges that were leveled against him.

SCIUTTO: He did, in fact, and gave that very apologetic statement. Since then, he's been spinning this other tale.

BLITZER: One of the president's conspiracy theories is that Robert Mueller, the special counsel and the then-FBI director, James Comey, actually plotted against the president as far as the Russia investigation is concerned. The president even telling "The Daily Caller" in an interview that he had some 100 -- 100 pictures of Mueller and Comey, quote, "hugging and kissing each other."

So there's been some investigation. What's the latest on that? SCIUTTO: Well, the president makes a lot of claims like this. This

one relevant to the investigation. So BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold, he actually sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI last month, asking for those hundred photos of Comey and Mueller kissing.

We have some of the letter that Jason Leopold, the reporter, released, his letter to the FBI. The subject line, "Their response." And their response, photographs of former FBI directors Comey and Mueller hugging and kissing each other. That's the quote from the president.

The response from the FBI, very simple one: "We were unable to locate records responsive to your request. Therefore, your request is being administratively closed."

So another presidential claim that even the FBI admits it cannot back up. James Comey, of course, the subject of this claim, tweeting somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the following: "My wife is so relieved." So at least Comey's wife relieved that there aren't 100 pictures of Comey --

BLITZER: So they couldn't even come up with one or two pictures?

SCIUTTO: Well, according to the FBI, they found -- as they said there, "We were unable to locate records responsive to your request." That seems pretty categorical there that there were no such records of these hugging and kissing photos between Comey and Mueller.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, is joining us.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And I want to get to several other issues in just a moment. But first on what we just heard, the upcoming testimony from the former Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos. This will be his first interview with members of Congress. What should lawmakers press him on?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, they should press him on his meeting with Mifsud. What exactly Mifsud said.

And also, he's been very squirrelly about who he told within the Trump campaign about this contact by the Russians, about their willingness to give the campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Those are the most important issues.

But, look, this is someone who had a secret meeting with the Russians and lied about it to the federal investigators. Michael Flynn had his own conversations with the Russians and lied about them and was convicted of it. Carter Page has also been dishonest about his contact with high-level Russians. This is a pattern within the Trump campaign and the Trump transition.

And I think the best that any of these members can do is try to find out about these contacts and sort out fact from fiction.

But look, the reason he's brought in is not really for that purpose. He's being brought in so that they can selectively push out some crazy conspiracy theory. That's what they tried with Carter Page, although it was very little -- to very little avail.

BLITZER: And you're suggesting the Republicans in the House are trying to do that.

As you know, Papadopoulos has been promoting these conspiracy theories to further President Trump's claim that the entire Mueller investigation is simply a witch hunt. What do you make of that?

SCHIFF: Well, look. It's sad that, even after these multiple convictions of multiple high-level people within Trump orbit, not only the president, but you have people amplifying his witch-hunt comments on FOX. You have a whole basic information ecosystem propagating the president's line. It's deeply destructive.

You know, these deep-state theories we used to basically laugh at third-world countries for having these crazy conspiracy theories. But now they're being promulgated here in the United States, and you can see the damage it's done to the FBI and the Justice Department. It will be among the many things that we will have to recover from when this awful Trump era is over.

BLITZER: If the Democrats do take the majority in the House of representatives and you emerge as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, are you going to reopen this entire investigation? Because, as you know, the Republican majority, they shut it down.

[17:15:09] SCHIFF: Well, you know, they shut it down and they didn't shut it down. They're obviously bringing in people like Papadopoulos. They're just not bringing them into the committee that's charged with the investigation.

BLITZER: I'm talking about the House Intelligence Committee.

SCHIFF: No, you're right. But it's interesting that they should bring Papadopoulos in, but not have him come before the committee that has been doing the investigation into Russia. It's because they want to use him for a very different purpose.

But the reality is, while the Republicans walked away from the investigation, the Democratic minority has continued, and we've been bringing witnesses in. We've been learning more. And that work won't stop when we take the majority. But we will be able to get answers the Republicans were unwilling to pursue. Records that the Republicans wouldn't ask for.

And to give you, you know, very blatant example, we know that there were calls back and forth between the president's son and Emin Agalarov, the son of that Russian oligarch, in the setup of the Trump Tower meeting. And sandwiched between these calls was a call from a blocked number. And we know the president used a blocked number during the campaign, so we asked for a subpoena of the phone records.

But the Republicans said, 'No, we really don't want to know if the president was in the loop and approved that meeting in Trump Tower."

That's the kind of investigation they ran and, of course, we will do things very differently.

BLITZER: Do you think Mueller has the answer to that question?

SCHIFF: I would certainly expect that Mueller has the answer to that question. The question, though, that I don't know whether Mueller has been able to answer, because I don't know whether he's been given the license to look into it, is were the Russians laundering money through the Trump Organization?

And that will be a very high priority to get an answer to. For the reason that, if they were doing this, it's not only a crime, but it's something provable. Something that the Russians could hold over the head of the president of the United States. And that might be influencing U.S. policy in a way that is against our national interest.

BLITZER: President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who, as you know is now cooperating with the special counsel's probe, he pleaded guilty to several charges.

But Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, says he's been in contact with Manafort's legal team and claims that Manafort hasn't provided any testimony he would consider to be damaging to the president. Does that sound plausible to you?

SCHIFF: You know, honestly, and I hate to say it, but you really can't believe anything that Rudy Giuliani says. He's made that clear time and time and time again as he's made representations about Michael Cohen that proved not to be true and about others that proved not to be true. About what the president knew about the Stormy Daniels' placements that proved not to be true. So there's no reason we should rely on him to tell us what Paul Manafort may have to say.

Clearly, the White House is deeply concerned about his cooperation. And we're just going to have to wait until Bob Mueller tells us either through indictment or through a report what, in fact, we, the U.S. government, will ultimately learn from Paul Manafort.

BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on the president's embrace of the word "nationalist." Is he really unaware of the word's disturbing history?

Plus, a possible second Trump/Putin summit as the U.S. prepares to withdraw from a key nuclear weapons treaty. Will the two leaders manage to avoid a new arms race?


[17:22:58] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news just a little while ago in the Oval Office. President Trump weighed in on all the day's major headlines, including the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the migrants walking through Mexico right now; middle-class tax cuts, and his rhetoric heading into the midterm elections.

We have a lot to talk about with our political and legal experts.

Jeff Zeleny, let's talk a little bit about what the president had to say, especially his theory on who is inside that caravan of migrants heading through Mexico. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Among the people they have intercepted, very recently, are people from the Middle East. OK? So you can't be surprised when you hear it. You've heard that before. It happens all of the time. And I spoke to him literally last night; I spoke to another one this morning. Very good relationship with Border Patrol and ICE. And they say it happens all of the time from the Middle East.

It's not even saying bad or good. But some real bad ones. But --

ACOSTA: But no proof. No proof that they're in the caravan now?

TRUMP: They could very well be.

ACOSTA: But there's no proof?

TRUMP: There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything. But they could very well be. Or they don't have to necessarily be in that group. But certainly, you have people coming up through the southern border, from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country.

And I'm not letting them in. They're not coming in. All right? They're not coming in. We're going to do whatever we have to. They're not coming in.


BLITZER: All right. So what's your main take-away?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The main takeaway is the president is clearly trying to have Republicans win the midterm elections, and he's trying to use a scare tactic or a fearmongering tactic to awaken Republicans to an immigration crisis that exists, but it certainly is not as urgent as he presents it.

Now hearing the president there in the Oval Office, such a different sense of urgency and certainty to him than when I heard him last night at that Houston rally, when he was essentially saying they were knocking on the door of the border. That's not true. They are --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Wait a second! Can we -- ZELENY: -- miles and miles and miles away. And the reality here is -- one second, Jeffrey.

[17:25:04] TOOBIN: I'm sorry. I -- I'm sorry, Jeff.

ZELENY: The president is, you know, trying to galvanize Republicans. And I think it's working. It worked in 2016. And immigration is a hot-button issue, and so that's what he is trying to do. Not that it's not a serious problem that needs to be solved. But it's not an urgent problem like he says it is.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: It's 1,000 miles away! A thousand miles. You know how long it takes to walk 1,000 miles? I mean, this whole thing is absurd. It is a completely manufactured, you know, appeal to the ugliest sentiments of Trump's coalition. The idea that we are under threat from these poor, desperate people, is just absurd.

And, you know, the lies that he keeps telling about who's in this group, with no proof at all. I mean, it is just the bottom-of-the- barrel politics that he's engaged in.

And, frankly, you know, I wonder about our complicity in just talking about this, as if this is some kind of close to immediate threat.

BLITZER: But he is the president of the United States. You can't ignore what the president of the United States says.

TOOBIN: I understand that. But, you know, we can focus on some things more than others. And I think, you know, this transparent attempt to create a crisis where none exists -- I mean, yes, it is good that we're calling it out. And this is a struggle that we've had with covering Donald Trump from the very beginning. Do you cover every tweet? Do you cover, you know, every lie? You know, I don't have the answer to that.

But this one, on the eve of the election, is so grotesque, that it just -- there's something that -- that's even worse about this when you're talking about it at all. But then adding the lies is just unbelievable.

BLITZER: Yes. Kaitlan, go ahead. Because you heard Jim Acosta press him, where is the proof? And at one point the president said, "There's no proof of anything."

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's fascinating to watch the administration try to really vindicate what the president said on his tweet, that there are unknown Middle Easterners in this caravan. And he said there, there is no proof of anything.

Well, Vice President Mike Pence is standing right behind him, who said earlier today, it's inconceivable that someone of Middle Eastern descent is not in this group of 7,000 people. And yesterday, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said there's

absolutely evidence that there are Middle Easterners in this caravan, even though she didn't provide any evidence.

And now we've got the DHS secretary -- or spokesman, rather, saying on Twitter that they have gotten proof that there are not only people with -- who are gang members and have significant criminal histories in this caravan -- again, not providing any proof of that -- they also say citizens of countries outside Central America, including countries in the Middle East, are currently traveling through Mexico toward the U.S. They don't say that they're in this caravan, as President Trump claimed.

So what we're just watching is everyone, you know, spinning their wheels, trying to defend what President Trump said, even though President Trump essentially backed up the bus over them there in the Oval Office, saying there's no proof of anything.

BLITZER: So I want you to hold your thought. I know you're doing a lot of reporting on this also. We've got to take a quick break. Much more right after this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our experts and our analysts. And Sabrina, the president has clearly doubled -- doubling down on his assertion that he's a proud nationalist. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Corrupt, power- hungry, globalists. You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is. A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can't have that.

You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It's called a nationalist. And I say, really? We're not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.


BLITZER: What's your thought?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, the -- idea that the president is unaware of the racial undertones that are associated with the word "nationalist" simply isn't plausible, especially in recent years, as it's really been a term that's been coopted by white supremacist groups to suggest that certain countries or areas should be defined by a white racial identity.

And today you've heard him try and downplay what he meant by the term, suggesting he was making it more of an economic argument. But that's undercut by the fact that, both as a candidate and as president, Trump has really used race to try and inflame tension and invoke fears around immigrants, people of color. We were just talking about it with the caravan.

And there are so many examples of moments in which we've come back to this conversation around white nationalists and the way that they have embraced Trump in particular.

If you go back to Charlottesville and him blaming both sides for the violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally. If you look at when he said that he preferred immigrants from Norway, and used derogatory words I won't repeat to describe certain countries in Africa. Of course, as a candidate, it took him days to denounce support from David Duke.

So he doesn't really get the benefit of the doubt when he uses the word "nationalist." And if we do be charitable, if we are charitable for a moment, and he says he really doesn't know what the word meant, then that's very concerning coming from the president of the United States, where words matter.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, I know you've got some strong thoughts on this. It's not only that he's a proud nationalist. He's very happy about saying he's a nationalist, even though he says you're not supposed to use that word. But then he says these internationalists, these globalists, in his view, they frankly don't care much about our country.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I've got to say, I bow to no one. I've talked about Donald Trump's racism from day one, starting with his lies about where Barack Obama was born.

But I don't think there's anything wrong with the term nationalism. And I would hate to see it coopted entirely by these reactionary forces.

Theodore Roosevelt's program was called the New Nationalism. The struggle in American foreign policy between internationalists and isolationists, sometimes called nationalists, rather than isolationists. I mean, that's a real thing in this country. And I don't think nationalism is -- is just a code word for white people.

Look, he does so much actual racism, I think we should criticize him for the actual racism, rather than what I think is an unfair criticism for this use of that term.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But President Trump doesn't get to change the definition of words. If he says, "I'm a racist, but it's not the kind that hates other races," that doesn't mean that that's what racism means now.

When he says, "I'm a nationalist," nationalist has a negative connotation. It has for years. There's a reason people and presidents specifically avoid using it.

Being a patriot means you love your country for what it does. Being a nationalist means you love your country no matter what it does. So when the president saying that there, it means something, it doesn't mean whatever the president says it means. Just because he says it means something about trade, that is not what that word means. And just because President Trump says it and puts a different spin on it doesn't mean he gets to change the definition.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: At that rally last night, it was unclear. I was there. The crowd really didn't know how to react to that, necessarily. So it was a dog whistle, I have no doubt at all; part of his long list of things he's doing to fire up his base. That is the core of all of this. We cannot talk about this enough.

The timing of this, we are two weeks before the midterm elections. That's why he is saying this. It had nothing to do with helping Ted Cruz, had nothing to do with helping the House, the candidates, you know, in suburban Houston. He was, you know, trying to fire this up. So regardless of the definition of it, he knew exactly what he was saying.

[17:35:04] COLLINS: Yes. And he says "old-fashioned," it's an old- fashioned term.

ZELENY: "I shouldn't even say it. People say I shouldn't even use this word."

COLLINS: He knows what the word means. And we've seen Trump do this before. When he's in an arena like that full of supporters in the middle of Texas, he says something; and the crowd starts to chant along with him, starts saying, "USA." Clearly, he's saying, "I'm not a globalist." The crowd boos. He says, "I'm a nationalist." The crowd cheers. He reacts to whatever environment he's in. And that was a positive environment. That's why we saw him double down on it today.

BLITZER: Let me let Jeffrey -- go ahead, Jeffrey, because there is a current -- the current -- one thing when Teddy Roosevelt talking about nationalism. But in the current environment, when there are these so- called white nationalists out there; and even Steve Bannon was saying, "You've got to talk about nationalism, nationalism, nationalism." It's a different environment today than it was 100 years ago.

TOOBIN: But the idea that, you know, you favor America first is a venerable political tradition that Donald Trump is a part of. It fits into his whole approach to tariffs. It fits into his diminution of foreign aid.

I mean, I'm not defending what his political program is. But it is a political program.

And his racism, believe me, I mean, anyone who's watched this program knows, I'm not exactly someone who has reflexive defense of Donald Trump. But I do think the term "nationalism" is one that is sufficiently broad that it can be used in polite company without an immediate association with racism.

BLITZER: Sabrina, go ahead.

SIDDIQUI: Well, again, I think it comes back to the challenge that this is a president who has been embraced by white supremacist groups and white nationalists, and so they see him as one of their own. And so when he stands up and proudly declares, "I'm a nationalist," I think they very much take their cues from him.

And one of the other aspects that I would point out is, outside of the tariffs, for the most part, if he wants to try and suggest he's only talking about economic nationalism, his policy has fairly fallen under Republican orthodoxy. He didn't -- he didn't just tear up NAFTA. He renegotiated it. He has -- he's suggesting that he's going to go after certain popular government programs, entitlement programs in particular.

So you know, he hasn't exactly pursued a sense of economic nationalism if he wants to try and reframe this about -- as about populism and not about race.

COLLINS: And I just don't think -- we keep talking about the word -- I don't think Trump -- I do not think Trump is a white nationalist. I think he made pretty clear there, because he was asked about that specifically by Jim Acosta. And he said, "That's not a conspiracy I've heard," when he asked about those accusations.

But I don't think he can just change the word "nationalist" like this. I just don't think that is how this works. And I don't think -- I think we're letting the president do that.

I mean, Jeffrey, if you said that you would say you're a nationalist, then if that's what the definition of the word that you're using, would you say you're one? Probably not.

TOOBIN: You know, I would.

COLLINS: You think you're a nationalist.

TOOBIN: You know, I -- someone who believes in the United States and the importance of the --

COLLINS: I believe in the United States! I'm not a nationalist. Hitler was a nationalist.

TOOBIN: Oh, please. Come on. I mean, that term has not become like Hitler.

COLLINS: It has!

TOOBIN: No, it hasn't.

COLLINS: That is why people do not use the word "nationalist." Because it has a negative connotation. It is not the nationalist of Teddy Roosevelt in the 1940s.

TOOBIN: There are some legitimate grounds to criticize Donald Trump for: for his racism, for his ignorance, for his lying. I just think this one is one where he has a legitimate argument.

COLLINS: I'm not criticizing -- ZELENY: Republicans wish he would talk about tax cuts.

BLITZER: All right.

ZELENY: Republicans wish he would talk about the economy.

BLITZER: We've got to take another break. But I will say, the president himself said, "We're not supposed to use that word." And so he himself is acknowledging there's a little controversy.

ZELENY: That's part of the dog whistle. That's the beginning of the dog whistle.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more coming up. With just two weeks to go until the midterms, will farmers hurting because of the tariffs and the trade fights stay loyal to President Trump and the Republicans?

Also, the U.S. military cyber command begins targeting Russian operatives that the U.S. believes are attempting to influence the upcoming midterm elections.


[17:43:31] BLITZER: With the midterm elections just two weeks away, some of President Trump's most loyal voters may be having some second thoughts. Many farmers out there, they're seeing their incomes taking a hit because of tariffs provoked by the president's trade policies.

Our politics reporter, Dan Merica, was out in the heartland, talking politics and more. He's been investigating this issue for a month now.

Dan, will these tariffs hurt the Republican Party and President Trump during the November election?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, the short answer is probably not as much as Democrats would hope. Many of these farmers remain very loyal to the president. They don't feel the need to punish him or his party in 2018 for this trade war.

Now, of course, they are hurting. And in some districts, especially those in Iowa, in the upper Midwest, places where President Trump did very well, there is a high likelihood that it could tilt the balance. It could keep some of these farmers at home.

The bigger impacts are going to be on what this means for President Trump going forward; and whether this trade war lags on is really going to decide that fact. Take a listen to what a few pork producers in Iowa said about how this is impacting their bottom line.


TRENT THIELE, PORK PRODUCER: I found out about the tariffs through the Iowa Pork Producers. My initial reaction was, this is going to suck. DAVID STRUTHERS, PORK PRODUCER: Old cliche. Nobody wins a trade war.

They don't. It's just -- it's just a tactic that people use to try to get some kind of solution to some other issue.

What I worked for for 33 years, my 33 years farming, could all be shot, you know, in a year. But it is what it is.


MERICA: As one farmer told me, they feel like they're pawns on a chessboard at this point, and the farmer made the point that at the end of a chess game, pawns usually aren't left on the board -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, why are these voters so loyal to the President?

MERICA: It's a great question. There is a number of issues. It's no not one thing. You know, there's cultural connections. There's also -- they agree with him on certain policy proposals that he ran on, immigration, pro-life issues, guns especially.

They also see themselves a bit in the President. And now, that may surprise people. They're culturally very, very different but, you know, much of the -- many of these farmers consider themselves some of the toughest Americans out there, and they like President Trump because they think he is equally as tough.

So what this trade war has done, it's become a referendum on that toughness. You have farmers who are trying to stick it out, are trying to hold on to their farm, and are trying to stay with the President because, much like him, they want to be tough, in his image.

What really it's going to come down to is how this plays in 2020. If you look at a map of where the trade war is really impacting, it's the same map of the voters the President is going to need when he runs in two years.

BLITZER: Terrific reporting, Dan Merica. Thank you very much.

MERICA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, even though President Trump avoids talking about Russian cyber attacks in the midterm elections, the U.S. military's Cyber Command is now starting to hit back. Stand by, we have new details.


[17:51:11] BLITZER: Tonight, an administration official confirms to CNN that the U.S. military Cyber Command has started targeting Russian operatives the United States believes are attempting to influence the midterm elections in two weeks.

CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources for us. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources telling CNN tonight this is a multi-pronged operation with several intelligence and military agencies involved.

Even as President Trump continually refuses to call out what the Russians are doing to disrupt America's elections, the U.S. military is taking some steps against those Russian trolls, going on the offensive to send a clear message not to mess with the midterm vote.


TODD (voice-over): A shot across the bow to Russian hackers trying to meddle in America's midterm elections. An administration official tells CNN tonight the U.S. military's Cyber Command has begun targeting those Russian operatives, apparently overwhelming them with electronic messages and fake e-mails to try to make their meddling more difficult.

JASON HEALEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR FOR CYBER INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION: It's interesting to see this now being part of this U.S. cyber strategy to go to these Russian operators and saying, don't influence the elections. We know who you are, we're tracking you, there are going to be consequences.

TODD (voice-over): Word of the operation comes as President Trump's national security adviser is in Moscow, delivering the same message to Russians in person.


TODD (voice-over): Just what are Russian trolls doing to try to disrupt the midterm vote? Experts say they often create false personas, pretending to be Americans. Then they either try to recruit real Americans to stage protests or other events, sometimes even paying for the equipment, like this rally against Hillary Clinton, or they send divisive messages online.

LAURA ROSENBERGER, SENIOR FELLOW, THE GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE UNITED STATES: So whether that's around, you know, a mass shooting or whether that's around, you know, questions about NFL protests, we see them seizing on these moments and often just amplifying existing material but to make Americans think that we're more divided than we actually may be by, again, artificially manipulating that information space. They've purchased ads in the past.

TODD (voice-over): On Friday, a U.S. criminal indictment said a Russian conspiracy of online trolls tried to stoke discord in the U.S. with posts like these -- Obama is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, illegal immigration is a taxpayer burden.

U.S. officials say a crony of Vladimir Putin's contributed $35 million to the operation. The woman charged with coordinating the campaign went on Russian T.V, to ridicule the charges.

ELENA KHUSYAYNOVA, CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: I was shocked to hear that me, just a simple Russian accountant, elected a U.S. president instead of Americans.

TODD (voice-over): This new campaign against Russian trolls isn't the first time the U.S. has gone on the digital offensive against enemies.

HEALEY: The U.S. has certainly been involved with some pretty severe, disruptive attacks on adversaries. And the Stuxnet attack on Iranian uranium enrichment is certainly a great example of that.

TODD (voice-over): Some analysts believe that's what the U.S. should be doing to the Russian trolls, to directly target their capabilities rather than just sending them warning messages.

ROSENBERGER: Offensive cyber operations are an option. Essentially, you know, frying the server.


TODD: The "New York Times" reports that the American effort to target those Russian cyber meddlers is somewhat measured right now. It's limited in scope. Analysts say the Americans have to be a little bit careful not to trigger an escalation and prompt the Russians or other adversaries in cyberspace to try hack into the American power grid and other key infrastructure. Wolf, that could happen if this escalates.

BLITZER: Yes, it shows how much is at stake right now in this cyber war. All right, thanks very much. Brian Todd, reporting for us.

Breaking news coming up next, President Trump defending his embrace of the term nationalist and denying its racist undertones. What does the President think it really means?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. No proof of anything. That's how the President is trying to justify his unsupported claim that Middle Easterners and criminals are among the thousands of migrants marching toward the U.S. border. He is speaking out tonight about his disturbing campaign tactics just days before the midterm elections.

[17:59:57] Bad cover-up. Mr. Trump is going further in acknowledging that the Saudis are trying to hide the facts about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Does he accept Turkey's allegation that a ferocious murder was committed?