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Interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago; U.S. Cyber Command Targeting Russian Operatives Suspected of 2018 Election Interference; Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; Trump Stokes Immigration Fears to Rile Up Base Voters; Another Putin-Trump Summit Planned?. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Does he accept Turkey's allegation that a ferocious murder was committed?

Putin's sit-down plan. The president is planning another face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader soon, this as Vladimir Putin is taking jabs at the U.S. and giving Mr. Trump's national security adviser an earful.

And kissed off. The FBI finds zero evidence to back the president's bizarre claim that there are 100 photos of James Comey and Robert Mueller hugging and kissing. Tonight, another Russia probe conspiracy theory debunked.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the red meat President Trump is now throwing at his base exactly two weeks before the midterm election.

Tonight, we heard Mr. Trump call himself a nationalist, this for the third time in less than 24 hours. He insists the term reflects his love of country, claiming he is unaware that the label is sometimes associated with racism and anti-Semitism.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office just a little while ago, the president strongly defended a series of controversial and misleading statements he had been making out there on the campaign trail.

I will get reaction from Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you were there inside the Oval Office. You had a chance to ask the president several questions, including about his use of the term nationalist. Tell us what he said. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump appears to be embracing his new label of being a -- quote -- "nationalist," repeating that again today here at the White House earlier today.

Critics say the president's rhetoric is just another dog whistle to his base. But it's also a big part of the president's midterm strategy of nationalism, nastiness and nonsense. The president defended that label of being a nationalist earlier today. But he could not offer any proof to back up one of his other claims, that there are people from the Middle East riding in the caravan heading toward the U.S. border.

The president actually said this -- quote -- "There isn't any proof of anything."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a controversial label President Trump is wearing proudly from the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Call me a nationalist, if you would like, but I don't want companies leaving.

ACOSTA: To his campaign rallies.

TRUMP: You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.

ACOSTA: In the Oval Office, the president defended the nationalist label. But he brushed off concerns from critics that he is sending a dog whistle to his base that what he really means is that he is a white nationalist.

TRUMP: I love our country, and our country has taken second fiddle.

ACOSTA (on camera): 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.

TRUMP: I have never even heard that. I cannot imagine that.

You mean I say I'm a nationalist...

ACOSTA: You have never heard...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, I have never heard that theory about being a nationalist.

We protect, and we get killed. We do the trading, and they get killed. Can't do it.

All I want, our country, is to be treated well, to be treated with respect. So, in that sense, I am absolutely a nationalist. And I'm proud of

it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has been dubbing himself a nationalist while he is blasting the thousands of migrants heading for the border in a caravan that Mr. Trump claims has been infiltrated with what he calls Middle Easterners, a racially loaded suggestion that there are terrorists among them.

But when asked for proof, the president, who turned to the vice president at one point, couldn't provide any.

(on camera): You had said that there are Middle Easterners in the caravan. Can you explain that? Are you saying there are terrorists in that caravan at this point?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: It could very well be. And if you look at...

ACOSTA: But do you know for sure?

TRUMP: I have very good information.

ACOSTA: Are you saying you have evidence that there are terrorists in the caravan?

TRUMP: I spoke with Border Patrol this morning. And I spoke to them last evening. And I spoke to them the day before. I speak to them all the time. And they say -- and you know this as well as anybody -- over the course of the year, over the course of a number of years, they have intercepted many people from the Middle East.

They have intercepted ISIS. They have intercepted all sorts of people. They have intercepted good ones and bad ones. They've intercepted wonderful people from the Middle East and they've intercepted bad ones. They've intercepted wonderful people from South America and from other parts further south.

They have intercepted a lot of different people. But 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.

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

TRUMP: There is no proof of anything.

[18:05:00]

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also took questions about his claims that he will be unveiling a middle-class tax cut plan in the coming days, even though multiple GOP sources have told CNN that proposal is news to them.

(on camera): Is that an acknowledgment that the original GOP tax cut was too heavily tilted in favor of wealthy Americans and corporations?

TRUMP: No. No, it really wasn't. I'm talking about the one that was passed -- we're very proud of it.

And what it did, more than anything else, it brought jobs, tremendous numbers of jobs.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even his own top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, conceded to reporters the plan isn't coming any time soon.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We're working through the Ways and Means, as you have to do in these things, OK? And it may not surface for a while.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: We should also point out the president during that lengthy exchange with reporters talked about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At one point, the president described the cover-up of Khashoggi's murder as the worst cover-up he's ever seen. The president, though, did not say, Wolf, exactly what he plans to do about it, if it is, in fact, the worst cover-up of a murder he has ever seen.

We should point out the president also said he may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he travels to Paris after the midterms next month. But, of course, the president has to worry about winning these midterms first. It is a battle he's trying to win at this point, as you know, Wolf, with falsehoods, half-truths and fear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Two weeks exactly from today. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

We're going to have more on the breaking news coming up, including more on the U.S.-Russia relationship right now, as President Trump tries to lock down a meeting with Vladimir Putin next month.

Tensions between the two countries on display during talks today between Putin and the president's national security adviser, John Bolton.

Let's go live to Moscow right now. Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is on the scene for us.

So, Fred, what are Putin saying about their discussions there today?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was interesting, because John Bolton earlier today had a press conference, where he said the discussion were very frank and honest.

But you could clearly see that there was a lot of heat in the air, especially during his meeting with Vladimir Putin. Here's what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PLEITGEN (voice-over): A tense meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and National Security Adviser John Bolton. Putin immediately taking a swipe at the U.S.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The emblem of the U.S. depicts an eagle. In one claw, it holds 13 arrows and, in the other, an olive branch, a symbol of the peace-loving policy of the states, together with 13 olives. Question: It looks as if your eagle has eaten all the olives and has only arrows left.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: But I didn't bring any more olives.

PLEITGEN: Despite the thick air, the two sides decided on a new meeting between President Trump and the Russian leader on November 11 in Paris.

The Russians still fuming after the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. CNN caught up with the national security adviser as he was laying a wreath for murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov between high-stakes meetings with top Russian leaders.

(on camera): Have the Russians been quite understanding for your reasoning? And have you explained it to them?

BOLTON: Well, I think their preference, as they have stated, is that we not withdrawal. But I think we have given them reasons why we're going to do it. And I think they understand our reasons quite clearly, some of which I think they fully appreciate from their own strategic perspective.

I think the president could not have been clearer, not just on Saturday, but yesterday, as to what his decision is.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): After a Russian woman was recently indicted for allegedly trying to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections, Bolton said he warned Putin not to interfere.

BOLTON: What the meddling did create was distrust and animosity within the United States and particularly made it almost impossible for two years for the United States and Russia to make progress diplomatically.

So that's a huge loss to both countries, but particularly to Russia. So it's a lesson, I think, don't mess with American elections.

PLEITGEN: But the national security adviser didn't specify what the consequences would be if Russia was found to be meddling in America's democracy again, saying only the U.S. was keeping an eye on the situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, he was asked several times what America would do if, in fact, there was new evidence that Russia was trying to meddle in the elections, like, for instance, that indictment that just came down.

He didn't really answer that question. In the end, he pointed to some of the things that Mike Pence said, the vice president, a couple days ago, obviously, saying that, in reality, the U.S. currently believes, or this administration believes that China seems to be a bigger threat than Russia as far as possible election meddling is concerned, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, very interesting.

Fred Pleitgen, good report. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat. She serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. We have a lot to get to.

(CROSSTALK)

[18:10:02]

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Aloha.

BLITZER: But, first, is there anything you can think President Trump could accomplish through yet another meeting with Vladimir Putin in the middle of next month?

HIRONO: I think it's very problematic, what he can accomplish, because pretty much he is very much on the page with Putin.

And his announcement that we're going to withdraw from the INF is yet another, in my view, gift to Putin, because I think Putin would like that to happen, so that we can be unfettered in his aggression.

BLITZER: Not only is the U.S. pulling out of this nuclear arms treaty that's been around for 30-plus years, but President Trump is also promising to build up the nuclear U.S. arsenal.

So what are the potential consequences if this new arms race escalates?

HIRONO: This is yet another example of how President Trump makes these kind of announcements without consulting certainly with Congress and definitely with our allies.

So our allies both in Europe and Asia are very concerned about where he's going, that we don't need another nuclear arms race to proceed apace, and then to encourage other countries to become very -- to develop these kinds of capabilities also. This is not what we need.

We should be pursuing diplomatic means to bring about a peaceful resolution to what's going on in North Korea, as well as the Middle East.

But that is not where President Trump is.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the question, Senator, surrounding Jamal Khashoggi's murder. The president now says the Saudi cover-up was one of the worst of the cover-ups -- his words -- and that he wants a bipartisan recommendation from the U.S. Congress, the House and the Senate.

From your perspective, what will you recommend to the president?

HIRONO: Well, first of all, I think that we do need to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

And I am very much in agreement with Senator Jack Reed, who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wherein he said, we should stop our refueling assistance to Saudi planes as they're attacking in Yemen. We should not have any more -- we should not approve any more sales of offensive arms to Saudi Arabia. And we should have an independent body investigating what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.

And then we can proceed. But it took a long time for the president going from really disbelieving that the Saudis had anything to do with it, to believing their own cover-up, to where he is now. So when the president says he's waiting for Congress to make a recommendation, it reminds me very much of when we are dealing with DACA, and he said, I will accept a bipartisan recommendation. I will sign it into law.

And then he did entirely the opposite. So, I would like those other things to happen, and I would like the president to be on that page, as opposed to just saying all kind of things that we can't rely upon.

BLITZER: The president also says -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We would be really hurting ourselves and American companies and jobs if the U.S. were to back out of its weapons deals with Saudi Arabia."

What's your reaction to that?

HIRONO: When he equates what happened to Mr. Khashoggi with the arms deem, which is, by the way, a long-term kind of process, I think that he is creating a false choice.

But we definitely need to reassess what we are doing with regard to Saudi Arabia. And with Trump, everything is about money. Everything is about money, particularly for his own family. And, by the way, you mentioned in the earlier segment that he is throwing everything out there and trying to make sure that the midterm elections go the way he wants by not just dog whistles, but I would call it a bullhorn.

And really, when he goes low, we have to fight back.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk a little about that.

Exactly two weeks until the midterm elections, the president, he is stroking fears about immigration right now. He says Middle Easterners, his words, Middle Easterners, are among the migrants among the migrants trying to reach the United States through Mexico right now.

They're coming up from Central America. What do you think he means by that when he says these Middle Easterners have planted themselves in this caravan?

HIRONO: Well, note that he had no proof of it. And it's just yet another example of how he stokes fear and loathing into the electorate.

He knows he is speaking to his base. And the words he uses, he says he doesn't really -- he makes up his own definitions.

We should stop giving him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn't understand what he means when he refers to nationalist or any of these other terms. These are not just dog whistles, but it's bullhorns.

[18:15:03]

It's racism. It's basically -- for many people, it's anti-Semitic. It's white supremacy. He knows very well what he is talking about, even if he professes otherwise.

BLITZER: Well, he says he is proud to call himself a nationalist, even though he says he knows that word hasn't been used in quite a while.

He also at the same time is railing against what he calls power-hungry globalists, who really don't care, he says, about what's good for the United States.

What's your reaction to that?

HIRONO: If there is anybody who is power- and money-hungry, it is the president of the United States, where he just lies every single day.

It is very hard to keep up with all of the lies. For example, he says that it's the Republicans who are protecting everyone from being discriminated on preexisting conditions. Nothing could be further from the truth, because they are right now, the administration right now is in Texas in a huge lawsuit that would do away with protections for people with preexisting conditions.

That's over 50 million people in our country. That is a lie on his part. Also, that he is protective of Medicare and Medicaid. No, in fact, his 2019 budget already puts a $1.5 trillion cut to Medicaid. That's going to hurt all of our families.

So it is very hard to keep up with all of the lies. But suffice to say that he will say anything to rile up his base, so that they will come out and vote for his candidates. And he has put this election, midterm election, as a referendum on him.

And I just hope that the people of our country have figured out and connected the dots as to who is protecting people with preexisting conditions.

That would be the Democrats. As to who is protecting the people who are on Medicare and Social Security from the kind of cuts that even McConnell has put out with regard to Medicare, and that will be the Democrats two are protecting our seniors. So, I hope that the people in the 2018 elections will have connected the dots and will vote accordingly.

BLITZER: We will see what happens in two weeks, two weeks from today.

Senator Hirono, thank you so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to have more on the president's Oval Office defense of his midterm campaign tactics, as he pushes right-wing hot buttons on immigration, nationalism, tax cuts.

And the president insists there is a Comey-Mueller bromance that discredits the entire Russia probe. The FBI has investigated this claim of photographic evidence. The not-so-shocking results, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:14]

BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories right now, including new testimony in the Russian investigation. Sources offering a preview of what convicted former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos wants to tell lawmakers behind closed doors on Thursday.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us right now.

Evan, so, what does Papadopoulos plan to tell these lawmakers?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Papadopoulos has a story to tell.

He thinks -- he wants to talk about nine people that he said played a role in this investigation and that he believes might show like a nefarious purpose of the FBI investigation, Wolf, that has clouded this administration.

In particular, one person that I think he wants to focus on is Alexander Downer. This is the Australian diplomat with whom he was having a drink in 2016 who he mentioned that there -- the Russians might have dirt on Hillary Clinton and that is how the FBI investigation ends up kicking off, when Downer ends up passing that information on.

At the heart of what Papadopoulos is doing here is essentially a conspiracy theory that he believes shows the Australians and the British perhaps were spying on the Trump administration.

So I think we are going to hear some of that be told by Papadopoulos when he meets with the committee on Thursday.

BLITZER: We will see what happens there. He did plead guilty by those counts, Papadopoulos.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, as you know, the president has suggested that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and former Director James Comey, they actually plotted against him as far as this whole Russia probe is concerned.

The president even telling "The Daily Caller" in an interview that he had 100 pictures off Mueller and Comey, in his words, hugging and kissing each other. Now, there has been an examination of that. What have you learned?

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: This is definitely one of our favorites. The FBI has looked to see whether or not there are any pictures. Jason Leopold, the reporter, had actually FOIAed this.

And the response from the FBI is titled "Photographs of former FBI Director James Comey and Robert Mueller hugging and kissing each other," and the simple response from the FBI is simply, "We were unable to locate records responsive to your requests. Therefore, your request is being administratively closed."

James Comey, the former FBI director, saw this response on Twitter and he tweeted later on today: "My wife is so relieved."

BLITZER: They couldn't even find one or two pictures, let alone 100 pictures.

PEREZ: No pictures.

BLITZER: And this reporter went through the Freedom of Information, the FOIA process, to try to get something. And the FBI said, we have no proof.

PEREZ: We have nothing, right, no proof.

BLITZER: All right, Evan, thank you very much -- thank you very much, Evan, for that.

The breaking news continues next. President Trump blasts what he calls globalists and embraces nationalists. Is he sounding some dog whistles for racists out there?

[18:25:05]

Plus, the president admits there is no proof to his claim that unknown Middle Easterners are now part of that migrant caravan making its way through Mexico toward the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are following breaking news on President Trump defending his attempts to scare and mislead voters in the final two weeks before the midterm election.

Speaking to reporters tonight, the president once again called himself a nationalist, saying he is proud to embrace the controversial term, denying he's aware of its association with racism.

[18:30:15] There's lots to unpack right here. Let's bring in our analysts. And Gloria, I want you to listen to precisely what the president said. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So he's going after power-hungry globalists, and he's defending the use of the word "nationalist," even though there are some overtones, under tones, whatever you want to call them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I mean, first of all, he's mis-defining globalists. Because globalists are not people who don't want our country to do well. They want all countries to do well, and they want countries to work together. So it's not -- you know that is a mis-definition.

I think what he's thinking about, to be honest here is Steve Bannon and the economic nationalism that Steve Bannon spoke about so openly and promoted inside the White House. And I think the president is veering towards that when you look at his trade policy and a whole bunch of other stuff.

So I think that here, you know, when Jim Acosta rightly asked him about the question of white, you know, white nationalists, the president seems a little confused and put off by it. And I do think you know what he's -- you know, what he's thinking about, is to give him the benefit of the doubt, what he's thinking about is economic nationalism.

BLITZER: David, how do you see it?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST : So I think there's -- there's -- the nationalism definition -- when he talks about globalism. I think there is an anti-Semitic tinge to that, Wolf, maybe not coming from the president himself, but it goes back to the 20th Century concept of ruthless cosmopolitans.

The president overhears, I think, discussions in the White House among his aides and then tries to boil it down in front of a crowd and winds up with this sort of incomplete definition as you described it, misquoting nationalism and globalism.

And I think that, in the end, it's all designed to frame things as an "us" versus a "them." He wants to be the Jack Nicholson character in that movie. "You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall." There are people who are good Americans, and there are other people who are either trying to get into the country or the people who won't defend the country. And that's what his closing argument is. BORGER: Well, and let me add here, this is all about the election.

This is all about riling up his base and getting them out to vote. So he talks about the caravans -- you know, he talks about the caravans, and new tax cuts, nationalism. I mean, you know, this is all part of one story he's telling. And it's all about his voters.

BLITZER: Interesting to get your thoughts, Phil.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think the president wins this round. If he's in the Oval Office tonight, I think he says he wins. He's making this, and I think you're right, David, an us versus them.

Who's the "us"? People who believe that we represent the Americans, that we want better trade deals. That's how he defined nationalism. Gloria's talking about economics. Who doesn't like that? That's mom and apple pie.

And meanwhile, now, within two hours, the media is out there saying, "Wow, there's a different story to unpack." And he's going to say, "See? The media doesn't like America first. They don't like my trade deals. They don't like representing America." He's redefining the term and, I think, flipped it today to his advantage. He wins this round today.

BLITZER: Rebecca.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president more than anyone, Wolf, in politics right now understands these wedge issues that offend people who are Democrats, offend people who are not supporters of the president. But when his supporters or people who are inclined to support the president hear that outrage from the other side, they don't understand it. They say, "What is the big deal? Look at what he is doing." He loves stoking that division, because it helps him politically.

And he has been brilliant at it. Even though some people could call this a cynical political strategy, Wolf, it's something President Trump has done very well. It worked for him in 2016. And he believes it could work for him in this election.

BLITZER: And Gloria, what also works for him is when he asserts, without any evidence, that there are Middle Easterners --

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: -- unnamed Middle Easterners who've snuck into that caravan with all these migrants, making their way through Mexico toward the U.S.

BORGER: Yes. Throw it all into the same pot. I mean, it's all part of it. It's all part of this strategy two weeks before the election.

You know, the caravan, he turned it around. You know, it doesn't look good. He turned it around into something he can use for immigration and against Democrats who somehow, he believes, are to blame for this, because they're so-called weak on immigration. I mean, you know, there was almost an immigration bill passed through the Congress before Donald Trump.

[18:35:00] And so I think that, you know, he's using everything. A 10 percent tax cut suddenly has materialized.

BLITZER: For the middle class.

BORGER: For the middle class. As if the other the other tax cut was not for the middle class. So he suddenly is inventing things that his candidates can use and that he can use in order to gin up voters.

BLITZER: Do you think, David, all these dog whistles are going to scare his base and, actually, these folks will show up and vote?

SWERDLICK: Yes, I do think the president thinks that. Both sides have recognized that this is a turnout election. And it's not so much about disagreement on this particular policy or that particular policy as much as which side is going to gain control and potentially take something away from the other side?

In addition to that list you named, Gloria, add on the president's op- ed last week about Democrats wanting to take away your Medicare.

BORGER: Oh, totally.

SWERDLICK: The idea is the president and his party, from his point of view, is standing in between you, the voter, and people taking things away from you. Whether it's foreigners, whether it's Democrats, whether it's --

BLITZER: Like I said, the whole caravan, these thousands of Central Americans trying to make their way towards Mexico, towards the U.S., politically speaking, it's been good for the Republican, for the president's base.

BERG: Absolutely, because Wolf, when you look at the issues that Republican voters or many independent voters care about in this election, health care is at the top for a lot of voters, but immigration is up there, as well.

And so, as much as the president and Republicans can keep immigration in the news, can sort of scare their voters into thinking that Democrats will act on this issue in a way that Republicans won't like, that will just let people into the country, that is an effective strategy, they believe, for them.

And we're seeing this trickle down into television advertising from Republican candidates. I was just watching an ad today running is Iowa's First District. The Republican there mentioning immigration and showing a very scary-looking photo of MS-13 gang members, trying to say if you elect a Democrat in this district, that's what you'll be dealing with.

BLITZER: Let's talk a minute, while I have you guys, on the president's latest remarks on the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered. The president now saying, you know, the Saudi cover-up was the worst cover-up in the history of the world. How stupid are these people, basically, that's what he's suggesting.

MUDD: Yes, but let's not read too much into this. I'm hearing commentary that says maybe the president finally got religion on the murder. He didn't say the crown prince was responsible, and in fact, the Saudis themselves have said this is a horrible mistake.

We're already starting to see this story gel, and the end of this story is the Turks aren't laying out any evidence. They keep talking about audio. Where is it?

The Saudis have said, "We're going to conduct a 30-day investigation led by the crown prince." What do you think we're going to get out of that? "Well, it was a big accident"?

The Americans are saying, "Well, we'll wait for the Saudis to come out with their report, and we're going to sanction maybe a couple of people."

BLITZER: The CIA director, Gina Haskell, she's been in Turkey, meeting with, I assume, her counterparts in the Turkish intelligence community, Turkey a NATO ally. If they have video, audio, would they share it with her?

MUDD: They should. Gina, I know personally, is serious as a heart attack. Only one question she's coming back with into the Oval Office: do they have evidence or not? Everything else, I don't understand what the point is.

BORGER: And even Erdogan did not mention MBS, bin Salman. He didn't say he planned it, orchestrated it. You know, he sort of left that a little bit open.

And I'm wondering whether there's some kind of negotiation going on. You know, he spoke to the king. And you know, MB is No. 2.

So I, you know, there's something going on there that we don't -- that we don't really know about. But I thought it was interesting that he didn't really pin the blame.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to find out fairly soon, all of that.

Gloria, while I have you, you had a fascinating interview with Ty Cobb yesterday, the former White House lawyer for the president, at the CNN Citizen Forum. And he was strongly supportive of Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Let me play a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TY COBB, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ATTORNEY: Bob Mueller is, you know, an American hero in my -- in my view. He carried, while he was injured, carried one of his fellow soldiers out of the -- out of harm's way in Vietnam. He was a very serious prosecutor. He and I first met in the mid-'80s. We were prosecuting different places and I've respected them throughout. BORGER: He calls it a witch hunt. Do you think it's a witch hunt?

COBB: I don't think it's a witch hunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: There you go.

BLITZER: Well the president thinks it's a witch hunt.

BORGER: Yes, he does. Ty Cobb, from the minute he was in the White House was always one who said, "We need to cooperate with the special counsel. We can't hold back."

They produced a whole bunch of witnesses. The campaign produced a million documents. The White House produced 20-something thousand documents. They kept the president from tweeting about the special counsel, not tweeting generally but about the special counsel.

Then Ty left. And now we see that the president tweets non-stop, Rudy Giuliani is out there. It's a very different P.R. strategy than Ty Cobb had.

[18:40:07] And he also had a relationship with Bob Mueller that went back. I think there was mutual respect and clearly listening to Ty Cobb yesterday, I think it still -- I think it still exists.

Now, he doesn't think it's a witch hunt. He didn't go out and say, "I think the president is guilty of something." Because he doesn't believe it. He doesn't believe that. But it was interesting to hear him disagree with the president on that.

BLITZER: That might explain, Rebecca, why he's the former White House --

BERG: Exactly. These are what you would call in a marriage irreconcilable differences, Wolf. That is not going to fly with President Trump. And certainly you need people on your team who believe in what you're doing and what you're saying publicly. It would be hard for Ty Cobb to be in that position with those doubts and with those feelings, very strong feelings about Robert Mueller.

BORGER: Well, it would be hard for him with the president tweeting every day. I think that's a big -- that's the big difference. I don't think he thinks Mueller has been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but, you know, he tried to and reigned in the president pretty successfully, I would argue tweeting, about Mueller. And then now, that's all gone. This is now.

BLITZER: Everybody stands by. Just ahead, will the president's attempts to stoke voter's fears help Republicans hold onto the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate? We'll talk about the election mid-term battle with a leading Democrat, the Chicago mayor and former Obama White House chief of staff. There you see him, Rahm Emanuel, he's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:14] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, President Trump admits he has no evidence to support his claim that Middle Easterners, his word, Middle Easterners are among the thousands of migrants heading through Mexico toward the U.S. border. The president saying and I'm quoting him now, there is no proof of anything when asked to back up his campaign rhetoric with hard facts.

Joining us now, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel previously served as chief of staff at the White House during the Obama administration.

Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So when the president says this election is about caravan, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts and common sense, is that a winning message for him?

EMANUEL: It would be interesting if that was in that order or something like that.

Well, look, here's what you need to step back. You got to look at the whole thing about what he just said. One is I happen to think this is a blue wave election, with the red undertow to it.

BLITZER: What does that mean, a red undertow?

EMANUEL: I mean, well, he has done some things and it has to be recognized. You have an energized motivated Democratic bloc. Midterm elections, usually the other side of that is a depressed based, he's energized his base. And he's trying to do that with every trick or trade that he has, and even as he just acknowledged, not being honest about things.

And mid-terms, you go to '82, '94, '06 and 2010, the president's party usually depressed in the sense of -- and the opposition is motivated and independent voters, which were the key swings are upset with the incumbent party identified with the president.

BLITZER: It looks like the Republican versus some momentum right now.

EMANUEL: No, I would just call it, he has reversed that. I do think you have to look at the opposite and this is where I would challenge, which is every one of those elections, the economy was in a recession or felt like it was a recession.

Why is it you have a blue wave when in fact you have 3.7 unemployment? Because he, himself, is unpopular, and that should be noted in -- '82, you had a recession, '94 felt like a recession, '06, you had the beginning of a recession, 2010, you had an anemic economy. You have a strong economy and still the president is going to lose seats in the House?

BLITZER: You saw the NBC/"Wall Street Journal," 47 percent approve now of the president. It's the highest he's had.

EMANUEL: And so, I think you look at that swing, you saw what I have, mea culpa vote, which is a lot of suburban women particularly upset with what happened, upset with what he's doing and are reacting and are going to vote accordingly totally with what they had to do in 2016.

BLITZER: Let's get your thoughts on some of the issues now, two weeks to go, exactly two weeks to go until the election. The president says this caravan includes what he calls Middle Easterners. And that's stoking, that raises a lot of fear among that Republican base.

This has been a winning issuing for him.

EMANUEL: Well, he has since day one tried to play the politics around immigration, not trying to solve immigration.

And I think if I were a Democrat, I'd be very clear, we're ready to work on immigration, that's consistent with our ideals, consistent with our values, we are a nation of laws and immigrants. But what we also know is the issue that didn't work for him, which is when he separated children from their parents. What he intends to do, and I will be strong about this, is separate kids from their parents and once again put a black eye on America, and rather than represent America, he's actually going to put a black eye.

Now, the other thing I think we can be aggressive about what we believe needs to be done, which is to deal with the pocketbook issues and cultural issues that affect --

BLITZER: Are the Democrats doing that? Because a lot of your fellow Democrats say they are disappointed they haven't been effective in dealing with these issues at powdering the president's arguments?

EMANUEL: It's not one or the other, Wolf. Part of the election is votes, posing stuff and negating the attacks.

Now, look in '06, we had a six in '06, which is an affirmative agenda about price control as it relates to pharmacy prices, a minimum wage, things that you can agree on as Democrats.

[18:50:04] It would also give you an agenda that make you and help you --

BLITZER: In 2010, the Democrats, under the Obama administration, got clobbered.

EMANUEL: I got that. That was a midterm election, and that --

BLITZER: Right, and this is a midterm election.

EMANUEL: Which is why I think -- but you're in the opposition, not the incumbency. It's a different position.

I do think in this case, there's -- he is the president and it's what he's trying to do for his party is create an agenda and create a set of issues that's define the election. Democrats should have an -- it's a little late now to do, a very clear, as we -- I don't want to say we did everything right in '06 but we had a six in '06, a set of ideals that are very clear but also the ability to rebut and negate a set of issues. He's trying to raise a set of issues even when within the same news cycle, you guys show there's no factual basis to it which has never really been the problem for him, which is a fact-free agenda.

BLITZER: When he was an underdog, Bill Clinton, you helped him win the presidency, you helped Barack Obama win the presidency. You became his White House chief of staff.

Who do you like going ahead? Because the presidential campaign, it's already beginning among the Democrats.

EMANUEL: Well, yes and no. I think it's a mistake to get to the presidential. We have very -- three very important buckets of elections, a House, a Senate, and state house elections.

First of all, one of the things that I'm very interested, we haven't discussed, is in the Midwest where Donald Trump upended a lot of things, you have a number of gubernatorial races. To me, that's very important both for the presidential but it's also important for redistricting. You have Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota.

That's a very important paradigm and it's very important for the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: As you look at these various Democratic potential, 2020 candidates, who do you like? Who's got the best chance of beating this president?

EMANUEL: I have a firm view that we don't want somebody from Washington. We want an outsider that can articulate.

BLITZER: So you don't want a senator?

EMANUEL: Look, it's not about -- I think it's really important, Wolf, that we become a party that wants to change Washington, because a lot of people think Washington's broken. Second is I think in a very important thing that I be very clear about this administration, rather than drain the swamp, he brought the swamp with him and it's made it worse.

And you look at how many people cabinet left with a cloud over their head is a very important issue to the -- and the fact that the ethical standards that he's allowed and he's lowered the ethical standards dramatically under his tenure and ethics and government and what they think a government is working for them, actually for the people inside is a very important issue.

BLITZER: Will the Democrats win the majority in the House of Representatives in two weeks?

EMANUEL: Based on what I know, yes. BLITZER: What about the Senate?

EMANUEL: I don't know it as well as I should know it but I would say this -- I think it's a very different -- it's two different elections and the reason is you have a lot of Democrats running in the red states. You have a lot of Democrats running in purple to blue-leaning districts and it's not the same election, which is the same thing I would say in the heartland of America, the Republican Party is not going to win these governors races. They're going to lose in Michigan. They're going to lose in Illinois. And that is a big table setter for 2020.

And to me, before you get to the question of who's our nominee, how does the table set look? We are going to pick up seats in the state house. We're going to pick up seats in the gubernatorial position and to me, that's what's important for 2020, not yet who. But does the table --

BLITZER: But you did say you want somebody who's not from Washington.

EMANUEL: I think it's -- I think -- look, Donald Trump is from Washington. He owns what happens and doesn't happen here. We want to be the party that changes Washington.

BLITZER: Mayor Emanuel, thank you so much for joining us.

EMANUEL: Wolf, thank you.

Just ahead, a new military offensive against Russian election interference is now underway as concerns about cyber attacks intensify before America votes on November 6th.

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[18:58:28] BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. military cyber command is engaged in a new offensive against Russian interference in the midterm elections two weeks from today.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning about this operation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

This is not an online war game. This is the real deal. Cyber experts in the U.S. military troops are now engaged in an effort to make sure Russia does not interfere with the midterm elections. What they are doing is identifying Russian operatives and trying to flood them with either spam or phishing-type e-mails, anything to slow them down, slow their access to networks, to financing, to anything they might try and do to interfere with the midterm elections.

This is likely to go on for some time, because as the U.S. military finds the intelligence and they're working with the CIA on this, they will be, they hope, to identify more and more operatives and it could grow, Wolf. They are also looking to see if they can develop verified intelligence about similar efforts emanating from servers either related to the Chinese or even to the Iranians. It's very tough business, as you know. These kind of cyber activities often circumnavigate the globe online.

It's very difficult to tell where they're coming from but they think they're making progress. Defense secretary James Mattis says they are beginning to recognize patterns of cyber activities by people trying to interfere with U.S. elections -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly, the U.S. military cyber command, they know what they're doing.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

And thanks to our viewers for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.