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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. President and Predecessor in Dueling Rallies; Interview with Senator Jeff Flake; Former Lawyer: Trump Often Used Racist Language in Conversations; Trump Says He Will Restrict Asylum, Claims Troops Will Shoot At Rock Throwers; Obama Hits Campaign Trail As Trump Spins Migrant Caravan Comments. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 2, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: dueling presidents. As President Trump goes from rally to rally, trying to drive his loyalties to the polls, he's now being answered by former President Obama, who accuses him of lying, while warning this election may be the most important of our lifetime.

Rules of enragement: the president tries to walk back his statement that U.S. troops on the border may shoot migrants and throw rocks but finds another target, telling one reporter -- and I'm quoting the president now -- you're creating violence by your question.

Scare-a-van: making false and misleading claims, the president continues to focus on migrants, saying more caravans are forming and posing a direct threat to the United States.

Is this scare tactic working?

And missed message: after virtually ignoring the roaring economy and booming employment, the president takes a stab at it in his latest rally, conceding, it's not as exciting as fearmongering.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: It's a showdown out there on the campaign trail. President Trump on the road once again, playing the race card at rallies, stoking fears about immigrants and trying to walk back his clear threat that U.S. troops may shoot migrants who throw rocks.

But Democrats are countering with former President Obama, who accuses the president of lying, making up stuff and pulling a political stunt at the border.

Also calling President Trump to account, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who now says Donald Trump repeatedly used racist language in conversations.

I'll speak with Republican Senator Jeff Flake. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin out there on the campaign trail, as the president wraps up a rally in West Virginia and gets ready for another one in Indiana. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Indianapolis at that rally.

Jim, apparently no letup in the harsh rhetoric.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's right, Wolf. But the president is walking back one comment that he's made in the last 24 hours, suggesting that U.S. troops could shoot at migrants who might be throwing rocks at military forces stationed at the U.S. border with Mexico.

But the president is not giving up on this issue of immigration with his own caravan of falsehoods heading into next week's midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Trump, it's an about-face. One day after he all but gave the green light to U.S. troops to fire upon the caravan of migrants heading to the U.S. border, the president is backtracking, now saying those soldiers will be making arrests instead of shooting if they're hit with rocks.

TRUMP: They won't have to fire. What I don't want is I don't want these people throwing rocks. They do that with us, they're going to be arrested. There's going to be problems. I didn't say shoot. I didn't say shoot.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But hold on. Here's how the president ignited the controversy.

TRUMP: They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We're going to consider -- and I told them, consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks, like they did at the Mexico military police, I say consider it a rifle.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Critics pounced, calling that an abuse of the commander in chief's authority.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SURPEME ALLIED COMMANDER: You don't use maximum force. You use minimum force. And you don't attack. You defend. You restore order. So he has it all wrong.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's incendiary rhetoric on immigration is throwing the GOP off its message on the economy. Mr. Trump tweeted about the latest unemployment numbers.

"Wow, the U.S. added 250,000 jobs in October. Unemployment at 3.7 percent. Wages up. These are incredible numbers. Keep it going. Vote Republican."

TRUMP: So the country is doing, I think, maybe you could say better than it's ever done. ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president is riding immigration more than any other issue heading into next week's midterm elections with continued vows to end birthright citizenship, even though it's enshrined in the Constitution.

TRUMP: This crazy, lunatic policy that we can end, that we can end.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mr. Trump hinted at why he's throwing so many punches before the midterms. As he told a rally in Missouri, he sensed Republican momentum stalling after a Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and CNN and when an anti-Semitic gunman committed mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

TRUMP: Now we did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible because, for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That sense of desperation may also explain this misleading Trump campaign web ad which falsely blamed Democrats for allowing cop killer Luis Bracamontes into the U.S.

"The Sacramento Bee" newspaper found Bracamontes had been deported under Democratic president Bill Clinton. After he snuck back into the U.S., he was arrested and released by Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Trump supporter, before he was deported again and reentered the country when Republican George W. Bush was in office.

Pressed on his rhetoric by reporters, the president accused the media of causing violence.

TRUMP: No, no. You know what?

You're creating violence by --

[17:05:00]

TRUMP: -- your questions. You know?

You are creating -- you. And also, a lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth. The fake news is creating violence.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Campaigning with Democrats in Florida, former president Barack Obama said voters have a clear choice next week.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the closing weeks of this election, we have seen repeated attempts to divide us, with rhetoric designed to make us angry and make us fearful. They'll get folks riled up just to protect their power and their privilege.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now as for the president's rhetoric, "The Washington Post" fact-checkers found the president made more than 1,000 false or misleading claims in the month of October alone. That is faster than the fact-checkers can keep up, Wolf. But there is one reality the president is dealing with tonight at a

rally in West Virginia. Just a short while ago, he acknowledged Democrats may take the House, possibly the Senate, in the upcoming midterm elections. It's a reality the president said he will be dealing with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

A very different message coming from the Democrats' side. The former president, Barack Obama, is heading to Atlanta right now for a rally this evening for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, just hours after campaigning in Florida for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum.

The African American candidates are both hoping to make history here in the United States. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

Mark, why are these races so significant right now?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, a couple things. One is we haven't heard a whole lot from President Obama since he left office. He's kept a relatively low profile. But he is out on the campaign trail.

And what we're seeing in Georgia and Florida is perhaps the passing of the baton, Wolf, where you have these two rising African American stars, who are on the precipice of being able to take over their state houses, their governors. But as far as the state of play right now in politics in the U.S., this is what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I know there are sincere conservatives who are compassionate and must think there is nothing compassionate about ripping immigrant children from the arms of mothers at the border.

I'm assuming that they recognize that a president doesn't get to decide on his own who is an American citizen and who is not.

That's not how the Constitution of the United States works. That's not how the Bill of Rights works. That's not how our democracy works.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: People who think it's wrong to spend eight years trying to take away people's health care and then spend the final days pretending you're Mother Theresa or you're Florence Nightingale, people who -- I'm assuming people must get upset when they see folks who spend all their time vilifying others, questioning their patriotism, calling them enemies of the people and then suddenly pretending they're concerned about civility.

And we don't need more mealy-mouthed elected officials who say, oh, well, I'm very concerned or I'm terribly vexed by this bad behavior but there's nothing I can do about it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: There you have very sharp words right there, Wolf, from the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, on the campaign trail, not only for Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in Florida but, as we also saw, there is a Democrat down there, Bill Nelson, in very much trouble in Florida.

They're hoping that Barack Obama can raise his profile as well.

BLITZER: The former president says this may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

Is his message very effective, a counter message to what we're hearing from President Trump?

PRESTON: Well, it's certainly a different message in the fact that it is not a scare tactic mongering message. It's more of a get out the vote message. Before I walked onto set, I did call one of Andrew Gillum's top political folks and said, explain to me what this really means, to have Barack Obama come in and to explain it beyond just the basic it helps get out the vote.

He said this is what it does: it reminds people. It reminds people that there is an election and it dominates the news cycle. That's what we're seeing in Florida.

BLITZER: Yes, he wants to generate -- to get that Democratic base out there, as well, in big numbers. All right, Mark, thank you very much.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. You just heard President Trump and former President Obama lay out two very different closing arguments.

So which one sounds most like your own vision for the country?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZ.: Well, that's a tough question. I certainly don't like the tone --

[17:10:00]

FLAKE: -- that President Trump has taken with regard to blaming immigrants. Having that ad, which I thought was just sickening and, frankly, very untrue with regard to the threat that is posed by illegal immigrants.

And then the notion that Democrats have prevented any fix -- the last real vote we had on substantial immigration reform was the bipartisan bill that we did in 2013.

Every Democrat in the Senate voted for that bill, which included about $41 billion for additional border security. That's more than the president has even asked for on border security. So this notion that this is all the Democrats' fault is just wrong.

BLITZER: It sounds like you're more in line with former President Obama than you are with the current president, President Trump.

FLAKE: Well, certainly, the tone. I've always felt that the tone is better. I do think that President Trump and Republicans have a strong hand to play with regard to the economy.

The economy is doing well. The jobs report, announced today, was good. Boy, that's what -- if I were a candidate right now, that's what I would be running on, not this fearmongering.

And we know you're not running for re-election. It certainly sounded like the former president may have been going after you and some other conservatives, who say they're concerned about the president but not doing enough about it. You heard that little clip of what he just said. I want you to respond.

FLAKE: Well, I know that some people who know that I am very much opposed to the president in regard to some of his policies and, certainly, his behavior expect me to become a liberal. I'm not. I'm a conservative. And I vote for conservative tax policy and regulatory policy.

If the president puts up good, conservative judges, I typically vote for them. I don't support the president when he tries to keep us from imposing Russia's sanctions or other items on his agenda. I voted to protect the special counsel from the president's moves.

So I agree with the president sometimes. I disagree with him quite a bit. But people shouldn't expect me to vote in lockstep against the president simply out of spite.

BLITZER: In these final days before the election, the president obviously wants to focus heavily on immigration, on that migrant caravan, still weeks away from getting to the United States, assuming it ever does get to the United States, still about 1,000 miles away.

Do you support a military buildup inside your home state of Arizona, near the southern border with Mexico?

Because as you know, the president, he's ready to deploy 15,000 active duty military personnel to the border.

FLAKE: No, I don't. I don't think that it's necessary. The caravan contains far fewer people than it once did. I think that we could handle them with Border Patrol and ICE agents and others, civilians, not the military.

The military, as I understand it, in my state, would be deployed out of Tucson. That is still more than an hour away from the border. They wouldn't even be forward deployed on the border itself.

So it strikes me that it's not a very serious thing. And it's, I think, another pretty transparent play to the base, just like the birthright citizenship move now. BLITZER: Yes. The president clearly can't change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution through an executive order, through his signature, although he suggests he's been told by some unnamed legal scholars that he can. Clearly, almost everyone disagrees with that.

Another border state Republican, your colleague, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, he tweeted a suggestion that his Democratic opponent, Congressman Beto O'Rourke, is actually funding the migrant caravan with campaign cash.

His tweet basically said -- let me read it to you. Two basic questions that we reporters should ask Beto today. One, should the caravan be allowed to cross illegally into Texas. Beto refuses to answer. And two, did your campaign dollars illegally fund their doing so?

So why shouldn't voters trust the Republican Party to govern when some of its most prominent leaders, like Senator Cruz, seem to believe in paranoid conspiracy theories?

FLAKE: Well, I think Senator Cruz certainly was the -- on the other end of some of those conspiracy theories when the president accused his father of being involved in JFK's assassination.

So I certainly am surprised to hear that he would espouse that kind of conspiracy theory with the caravan.

BLITZER: Yes.

FLAKE: So I think we are better off, as Republicans, sticking to what works, I think. And we have a good record on regulation and jobs and the economy. That's a good message right now.

But to see the fearmongering that's going on, particularly with regard to immigration, is just --

[17:15:00]

FLAKE: -- unseemly. It really is.

I went last night a couple miles from my house where, at a church, they were welcoming 22 families who were asylum seekers. And they had asked us all to bring clothes and food. And we did.

And to see people like that caring for people who truly needed help was just something else. It was just in -- with the backdrop of what's going on in politics, to see what was going on last night was very refreshing. And it's going on all over the country, frankly.

BLITZER: Are you going to ask Senator Cruz, your Republican colleague, to actually withdraw that baseless accusation, that Beto O'Rourke is funding through his campaign contributions that caravan making its way through Mexico?

FLAKE: I haven't even seen that tweet. You mentioned it; it was the first I had heard of it, so I would want to know more about it. BLITZER: Yes. It's clearly a baseless conspiracy theory -- yes, go ahead.

FLAKE: I say I would think so. If somebody is accusing -- I can tell you, as a former candidate, you husband your campaign resources. You want to use them in the best way that you can to get re-elected. And to think that somebody is using them to fund a caravan coming north just doesn't strike me as plausible.

BLITZER: Well, the president has suggested that George Soros, the billionaire, that he's funding that caravan as well.

Have you seen any evidence at all to back up that conspiracy theory?

FLAKE: None at all. None at all. And George Soros, the anti- Semitism that goes on, we just had an example last week of Radio Marti (ph), the broadcast that goes to Cuba. They produced a program that called George Soros a multibillionaire Jew and went on to blame him for the financial crisis of 2008.

Now after I wrote a letter and asked for an investigation, they have suspended those who were involved in that program. But that was taxpayer-funded anti-Semitism. And there's a lot of it that goes on with George Soros, this reference to being a globalist and on and on. And it's just -- it's just wrong. It's just wrong. It's shouldn't go on.

BLITZER: He's an 88-year old, he's a very wealthy guy, gives a lot of money to his progressive caucuses. He also happens to be a Holocaust survivor.

And there's a lot of this kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric out there, blaming him for all sorts of stuff, blaming other Jews for all sorts of stuff. It's a really disturbing development that's unfolding.

How do you explain that right now?

Why has that accelerated?

FLAKE: Well, I mean, as you mentioned, he gives a lot of money to progressive and liberal causes. Nobody denies that. He certainly wouldn't.

But some of the conspiracy theories out there, are that he somehow was standing in the way of those helping the Holocaust victims back when he was, I think, 14 years old and hungry. So some of these are absurd on their face.

But anybody who funds liberal causes or who isn't a conservative is fair game for some conspiracy theories and things thrown out there; that just doesn't speak well for us as conservatives or Republicans. We, I think, can fight on the issues.

I think on the issues on the economy and things like that, we have a lot of good things to say. But, instead, we delve into these conspiracy theories and hate politics, grievance politics and it doesn't do us well. And, frankly, I think, here in Arizona, it's not helping the Republican candidates at all.

BLITZER: It's a very disturbing development.

And do you believe the president at all, as his critics are suggesting, at least partially, is to blame for this heightened anti- Semitism that's out there?

And we were all sickened last weekend when we saw what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

FLAKE: Well, I've been very critical of the president with regard to the First Amendment and blaming the press. And we've seen, just today, a military general in Nigeria cite the president when they opened fire, I guess, on some protesters.

You've seen around the world, Bashar al-Assad in Syria cite the president and cite fake news when he was trying to cover up what he had done in his military prisons.

You see the president stand next to Duterte of the Philippines and laugh as President Duterte referred to the press and media as spies.

Words matter. And when the president denigrates the press and the First Amendment and calls real things fake and fake things real, it has a real effect around the world. And we can't forget that.

BLITZER: And so many people have appealed to the president to stop calling the news media "the enemy of the American people." Today he went one step further. He blamed the news media for helping to create the violence that we see unfolding right now. He's doubling down, tripling down on all of that.

FLAKE: Right. I think that's patently absurd, to blame the media for that. I just do.

[17:20:00]

BLITZER: Let me play a clip of what the president said today on that front. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You are creating, you. And also, a lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth. The fake news is creating violence.

And you know what?

The people that support Trump and the people that support us, which is a lot of people, most people, many people, those people know when a story is true and they know when a story is false.

And I'll tell you what. If the media would write correctly and write accurately and write fairly, you would have a lot less violence in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I just want to point out, the president has often spoken about violence and he's made suggestions about using violent actions. I want to get your reaction to what we just heard from the president.

FLAKE: Well, blaming the media for the violence out there, I think, is just wrong. I think that we all ought to stand up and speak out when the president goes as far as to commend a Republican congressman for assaulting a reporter. That's just not right.

And that doesn't do anything to foster peace or civility. So I think the president has gone too far, many times, in this regard. But to blame the media for this, I think, is just wrong.

BLITZER: You got a lot a lot of praise, I remember, when you wrote a check for $100 to the Democratic Senate candidate, Doug Jones, in Alabama, when he was running against Roy Moore last year.

Are you donating money to any Democratic candidates, even symbolically, this time around?

FLAKE: I'm cheering a few on out there. I mean -- but that was the best $100 I've spent in an election, I think. Doug Jones is a good colleague and I think, eminently, a better senator than Roy Moore would have been.

And I think, frankly, I did Republicans a favor there as well. So I -- there are a number of good candidates on both sides of the aisle out there.

BLITZER: Who are you cheering for on the Democratic side this time?

FLAKE: Well, one in Iowa. I mean, we have a candidate on our side of the aisle that isn't exactly, I think, making things easy for Republicans moving forward. It's not the best face of the party.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're talking about Representative Steve King?

FLAKE: I am. I am. Some of the statements he's made over the years with regard to migrants coming across the southern border and more recent comments in this regard have just not been good for the country, certainly not good for the party.

BLITZER: Yes. He said some pretty disgusting things recently; not just recently, for a while.

Any other Democrats you're cheering for?

FLAKE: I'll keep it to that right now.

BLITZER: OK. Senator Jeff Flake, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

FLAKE: Thanks. BLITZER: Up next, the president's former lawyer and long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, now says that Donald Trump, over the years, repeatedly used racist language in conversations. He's been caught up in the Mueller probe, as you know, and has fallen out with the president.

But is there any reason not to believe him?

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[17:25:00]

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BLITZER: The president once again uses racially charged rhetoric to drive the supporters to the polls. His former lawyer and long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, says Donald Trump has a history of using racist language in conversations. Our political correspondent, MJ Lee, is joining us right now.

MJ, has Michael Cohen now become President Trump's -- at least one of President Trump's biggest critics?

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure seems that way, Wolf. Michael Cohen is unleashing on Donald Trump in this new "Vanity Fair" interview. And he says that, in the years that he worked for Donald Trump, he witnessed first-hand, in multiple conversations, Donald Trump using racist and chilling language.

Three examples that I want to point to from this "Vanity Fair" interview.

In 2016, Michael Cohen says the two men were discussing a Trump rally and Michael Cohen noted that most members of the audience were white.

And he says, "I told Trump that the rally looked vanilla on television. And Trump responded, 'That's because black people are too stupid to vote for me.'"

A second example: Michael Cohen says that shortly after Nelson Mandela's death, the former South African president who died in 2013, Donald Trump said to him, "Name one country run by a black person that is not a shithole," and he also added, "name one city."

A third and last example; in the late 2000s, Michael Cohen says that he and Donald Trump were traveling together in Chicago.

He says, "We were going from the airport to the hotel. And we drove through what looked like a rougher neighborhood. Trump made a comment to me, saying that the -- only the blacks could live like this."

Obviously, very incendiary, racist comments that Michael Cohen is now pointing to, as Donald Trump having made over the years. And he says that the motivation for him speaking out right now against his former boss is that he knows from firsthand knowledge that Donald Trump, what he says in private is actually worse than what he says in public and that he simply wants to equip the American people before next Tuesday, the midterm elections, so that they can make an informed decision and know that this is actually Donald Trump's true character -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wasn't Michael Cohen, MJ, the guy who, during the Trump campaign, was actually leading an outreach effort to minorities and testifying that Donald Trump was no racist?

[17:30:02] LEE: That's right. You know, Michael Cohen over the years has unofficially and officially done a lot of work for Donald Trump, as you know. This is kind of why he famously got the nickname of Donald Trump's fixer. And one of the things that he was involved in during the 2016 campaign was minority outreach. And you're absolutely right that during that time when Michael Cohen was still on Donald Trump's team, he vouched for Donald Trump's character.

And essentially went as far as to say that Donald Trump did not have a single racist bone in his body. Here's a quick reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I've lost count as to how many times the disgusting liberal mainstream media have attempted to label Mr. Donald Donald Trump a racist, a xenophobe and a bigot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now Wolf, this Vanity Fair interviews obviously just one more data point and reminder of the complete 180 that Michael Cohen has done when it comes to Donald Trump. We know from our reporting over the last couple of weeks that Michael Cohen says he changed his party registration from Republican back to Democrat. When we bumped into him last month, Michael Cohen said that he wants every American to get out and vote against Donald Trump.

Otherwise we are going to see two to six years more of this craziness. That was Michael Cohen's words. And, you know, frankly, there are going to be a lot of people who are watching this and still having a pretty hard time believing what Michael Cohen says, because, frankly, it's true that Michael Cohen, for so many years, was Donald Trump's staunch defender. So this 180 is not necessarily going to sit well with everybody, Wolf.

BLITZER: They worked with him for 10 years, very, very closely. Any reaction that, MJ, you're getting from the White House to this interview in Vanity Fair?

LEE: Not so far that I'm aware of, though it's always possible, as you know very well, that Donald Trump could be holding on to his phone, could be sending out a tweet. And as you know, Donald Trump over the last few months, he also has done a 180 when it comes to Michael Cohen. He has been bothered, clearly, by Michael Cohen's decision to criticize him, and it also clearly has not sat well with Donald Trump, the President, that Michael Cohen is deciding, as we have reported extensively, to speak with investigators as he waits for his sentencing in December.

As Michael Cohen would argue, he is the person who knows Donald Trump better than anybody, and he wants to show investigators that if there are skeletons in Donald Trump's closet, he would be the man to know. Wolf?

BLITZER: MJ Lee, good report. Thank you very, very much. Coming up. The President trips over the truth as he tries to walk back his statement that U.S. troops on the border may shoot migrants who throw rocks.

And after a massacre of Jewish worshippers in a series of mail bombs, the President laments that two maniacs stopped GOP momentum in the campaign. Is that the first thing he thinks of? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Our breaking news. President Trump just wrapped up a political rally in West Virginia, once again stoking fears over migrants. But as he left the White House, the President backtracked about the possibility of U.S. troops shooting rock-throwers along the border. Let's discuss the campaign with our experts. And Gloria, I'm going to play a clip. This is the President in his own words yes -- in his own words, beginning with what he said yesterday and how he modified that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:37:38] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexico police, where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm. Because there's not much difference. When you get hit in the face with a rock. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We're going to consider -- and I told them, consider it a rifle.

They do that with us, they're going to be arrested. There's going to be problems. I didn't say shoot. I didn't say shoot. But they do that with us, they're going to be arrested for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you make of the way the President seemed to walk back what he said yesterday?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he seemed to walk it back. He did walk it back. But he didn't say he was walking it back, because he said he never said what he said. Which he said. You understand that?

BLITZER: Yes.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Kind of.

BORGER: OK. So -- and look, I think the reason is very clear. So he was getting an awful lot of criticism from the military about this. And I just want to read you a tweet from David Lapin, who is a former homeland security spokesman for this very administration and a marine. He said, a military strained by 17 years of war and sequestration doesn't need this. Service members have repeatedly spent those long periods of time away from home. Don't need this.

I mean, everybody is calling it a stunt, which it is. So he had to kind of back off. But there's a tape, and it's what he said.

BLITZER: Yes. He said if they throw a rock, it's like somebody using a rifle. So if somebody uses a rifle and you're in the military, you know what you need to do. I want you to listen, Mark. This is the President, he's lamenting the fact that what happened at the synagogue, the pipe bombers that took away some of the momentum he was trying to generate in the campaign by focusing in on the migrants. Listen to how he explained that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Republicans had tremendous momentum, and then, of course, this happened, where all that you people talked about was that. And rightfully so.

[17:40:00] It was a big thing. Rightfully so. But now we have to start the momentum again. Now, we did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible. Because for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Yes. He was -- that first clip was from October 26th. Second part was today.

PRESTON: I've got to tell you, I really empathize with him. I mean, he's so right about this. And I think we should feel for Donald Trump. It's outrageous. He's the President of the United States. He's supposed to be the moral leader, not only of our country, but the world. We're supposed to set an example. And he can't even go out and not make it about himself. But we've seen this time and time again.

And as we head into this election, we decide, hey, it's good that he talks about immigration or is it bad he talks about immigration? You know what, he doesn't necessarily care whether it's good or bad. He thinks good and it's good for him.

BLITZER: As you know, Susan, the Democrats want to investigate the President's assertion he wants to deploy as many as 15,000 troops along the border with Mexico. And that would cost tens of - tens of millions of dollars. But he's the Commander-in-Chief. Does he have that discretion, that ability to make that kind of decision and have the military obey his order?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So, the President has broad discretion over the military. But it's no way absolute. Obviously, he's subject to constitutional constraints. There are statutory constraints over the use of the military in exactly this kind of context for domestic law enforcement purposes. And, of course, congress has the power of the purse. They get to decide how money might be spent. And that's a very, very powerful tool whenever they want to use it.

Additionally, the U.S. military is subject to the laws of armed conflict. If they were given an illegal order, for example, to violent the rules of proportionality by shooting someone who threw a rock at them, the military is, you know, bound to disobey an illegal order like that. You know, but congress has an additional role here, the role of oversight. If the President of the United States is wasting tens of millions of dollars for turning the U.S. military into sort of a political stunt, this is all theater, there are no security considerations in doing this.

That is an example of the kind of waste, fraud and abuse that Congress has an obligation to investigate, root out and inform the American people about.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, very strong economic numbers, jobs numbers, once again came out for the month of October, 250 jobs were created, 3.7 percent unemployment which is very low. Why isn't the President simply focusing in on the economy and how well these jobs numbers are instead of bringing in all these other issues?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, if this were any other President, and we were just days out from the midterm elections, which will determine whether his party keeps control of Congress, you would think he would want to talk about the fact that the jobs numbers, the unemployment rates, have continued to look good for the country. But the fact of the matter is that while the Trump administration has been able to continue the economic progress that began under the previous administration, the President's own approval ratings have largely remained stagnant.

And so, what that reinforces is that this President has a ceiling. And so although the economy is doing well, he's not actually getting credit for it. In many ways, because, of course, the rhetoric that we often talk about, the actions from this President continue to be lend him - to be unpopular in the eyes of public opinion. And so he's going back to the same ploy that he used to success in the 2016 election, which is to make this a lot more about immigration to really run on the politics of fear.

What that does, of course, is makes it a base-only election. The question is, how that's going to play as a closing argument for all of those Republicans particularly in the House in very competitive districts where frankly voters are not necessarily being motivated to the polls on immigration alone.

BLITZER: Yes. It worked then. Let's see if it works again this time. The former President, Gloria, President Obama, he was on the campaign trail in Florida, and he delivered a very different message than the current President. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the closing

weeks of this election, we have seen repeated attempts to divide us, with rhetoric designed to make us angry and make us fearful. It's designed to exploit our history of racial and ethnic and religious division. That pits us against one another. To make us believe that order will somehow be restored if it just weren't for those folks who don't look like we look. Or don't love like we love. Or pray like we do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was very active on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Didn't exactly work out in the end for her. How is it going to play out this time?

BORGER: Oh, look, at this point with days to go, this is about mobilization. It's not about persuading anybody any more. Persuasion is over. He's just trying to mobilize voters. And so he's not looking to play in red states to the people that Donald Trump is looking to play to.

[17:45:00] He's looking to play in the state like Florida, where it's close. He's looking to play to those close Hillary Clinton-won districts. The districts in fact that he won, you know, when he ran for President in 2018 and beyond. So I think getting him out there, they know where they're putting him. They are putting him in Florida, they're putting him in Georgia.

They know where he can help. And I think he wants to make up for some lost time because under his watch, don't forget, at the state and local level, they lost 1,000 legislative seats, and governorships. And he's trying to - he's trying to help out this time.

BLITZER: How do you think it's going to work?

PRESTON: I think, you know, as we talked at the top of the show, just speaking to one of Gillum's folks, just within the last hour, it is -- the idea is to just put this front and center in front of voters, specifically African-American voters in Georgia and in Florida who will look at these two candidates in Gillum and Stacy Abrams and see Barack Obama.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in that front. Guys, stick around. There's more news we're following. Echos of the Cold War as Vladimir Putin welcomed Cuba's leader to Moscow. What's behind Putin's new promise of military and technical cooperation?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:49] BLITZER: Tonight, Vladimir Putin's latest diplomatic move is raising some concerns about a repeat of one of the most dangerous confrontations of the Cold War. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what's Putin up to with Cuba?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is expressing solidarity with the Castro-installed communist President of Cuba and he's cutting military deals with the Cubans, all leading to a key question tonight. Is Vladimir Putin yearning for the days of the Cuban missile crisis?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: In what seemed to be a flashback to the battle days of the Cold War, two of America's high-profile adversaries shook hands today. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Cuban President Miguel Diaz- Canel, the Castro's handpicked successor met face-to-face in Moscow with Putin expressing what he called his unwavering solidarity with the communist island nation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am very glad to see you, to be able to continue our dialogue which had already

begun some time ago.

TODD: A benign phrase, possibly belying what Putin and his Cuban ally could have in the works. A prominent Moscow newspaper reports there could be a $50 million deal brewing for Cuba to eventually buy some Russian military hardware, part of a pattern of military cooperation between Putin And Cuba apparently designed to spy on the U.S.

DEREK CHOLLET, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT FOR SECURITY AND DEFENSE POLICY AT THE GERMAN MARSHALL FUND: Cuba is Russia's toe-hold into this hemisphere. It is a place - of course a very close ties with the Russian military, with Russian intelligence. It's a key port for Russia.

TODD: The possibility of more Russian hardware in Cuba harkens to the moment America came the closest it has ever been to nuclear war. October 1962 when a dangerous alliance between Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev led to the placement of Russian missiles in Cuba just 90 miles from American shores. Expert say Putin isn't angling for that kind of confrontation now but he probably loves the optics.

HEATHER CONLEY, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPE PROGRAM AT CSIS: A lot of this has the trappings of the Cold War, an arms race, returning its posture very close to U.S. shores, being as disruptive as possible.

TODD: Since taking office, Donald Trump has rolled back some of the moves President Obama made to improve diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Experts say Putin is taking full advantage of Trump's tougher stance on Cuba.

CHOLLET: Clearly the appearance, the perception will be that just as the U.S. is drawing back, that Cuba is now seeming to run into the arms of Russia, is a symbol that I think Vladimir Putin would be very happy for most of the world to see.

TODD: His efforts to grab back some of the old Soviet influence near American shores, analysts say, strikes at the emotional core of the ex-KGB colonel who once said the collapse of the Soviet Union was the, "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN ANALYST: On a strategic level what we're seeing Putin do is just continue to build this Russia versus the west and try to create a revisionist Russia, a Russia that is a stronger player on the world stage than they have been. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts warn that Cuba is not Putin's only target in using America's neighbors against it. They say Putin has sent Russian advisers to Venezuela and to Nicaragua to give them military and economic help. Now those three countries, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, were what President Trump's national security adviser John Bolton called a troika of tyranny just this week. Wolf? Just like the Cold War.

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian, this new Cuban president is forging other alliances that may keep seem like we're going back to the bad old days of the Cold War.

TODD: He is, Wolf. That's right. In addition to visiting Russia, Miguel Diaz-Cane is about to travel to visit some of Cuba's other old communist allies from that Cold War era. China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea. It seems optically at least that we're heading back to those cold war alliances, all of it playing into Vladimir Putin's hands. He just loves this stuff.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you very much. Very interesting indeed. Coming up, breaking news. A showdown out there on the campaign trail as President Trump tries to drive his loyalists to the polls with some racially-charged rhetoric. He is now being answered by former President Obama who accuses him of lying while warning this election may be the most important of our lifetime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:31] BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Opposing visions. President Trump and former President Obama rallying voters tonight ahead of next week's midterm election and presenting sharply different visions out of the U.S. and its challenges. Which one will better get out the vote?

Called out by Cohen. The President's former fixer, Michael Cohen is saying Mr. Trump made repeated racist references in private conversations with him over the years before he was President. We have details of Cohen's very disturbing claims.

[18:00:03] Tampering and obstruction.