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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans' Last Ditch Effort in Swing States; Examining the Latest WikiLeaks E-mail Dump; Gingrich To Megyn Kelly: You're "Fascinated" With Sex; Two Power Earthquakes Rock Central Italy; ISIS Suicide Squads Move Into Iraq From Syria; Pentagon Suspends Repayment Of Guard Bonuses. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 26, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:31:36]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

More on our politics lead, Republicans launching a last-ditch effort of sorts, pumping millions into critical swing states, including Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju looks at what seems like a very real fear among Republicans that they might lose the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senate Republicans now planning a red state firewall to preserve their majority endangered by Donald Trump's campaign struggles, outside GOP groups pouring in $30 million in six states, including in Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana, releasing tough new ads, including this one targeting Democratic Deborah Ross' time as an ACLU attorney in North Carolina.

NARRATOR: It makes you wonder, what was Deborah Ross thinking?

RAJU: But her Republican opponent, Senator Richard Burr, fighting for his survival, and battling headwinds caused by his support of Donald Trump.

DEBORAH ROSS (D), NORTH CAROLINA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Burr has stuck by Donald Trump during all of this. And I think that that shows a lack of judgment.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I'm not going to defend Donald Trump, what he said or his actions. But when I look at our choice, it's not close for me. I am going to support my nominee. I am going to support Donald Trump.

RAJU: Burr locked in a dead heat, as Trump narrowly trails Clinton in North Carolina. In Indiana, Trump up by just four points, making it harder for down-ticket Republican Todd Young to ride his coattails. And in Missouri, Republican Roy Blunt in the political fight of his life, in a dead heat as Trump is underperforming.

But Blunt is sticking by Trump.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Don't need a third Obama term. As long as the choices are Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, I am for Mr. Trump.

RAJU: In Nevada, Trump has created such a dilemma for Republican Joe Heck, that he won't even say who has his vote.

QUESTION: When are you going to tell people who you are voting for, for president?

REP. JOE HECK (R-NV), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: It's my ballot. I will wait until November 8.

RAJU: Democrats need to win just four seats to take back the majority if Clinton wins the White House. And they have a good chance of winning Wisconsin and Illinois, while Pennsylvania and New Hampshire remain true tossups.

And in an important signal, a source tells CNN that Clinton wants her big donors to shift campaign money to a super PAC tied to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and more Democratic money expected to go after Republican Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Ayotte locked in a dead heat with Governor Maggie Hassan, with a new poll showing them in a virtual tie.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: You have got Hillary Clinton's super PAC, Mike Bloomberg's super PAC, you have got Harry Reid's super PAC all throwing millions of dollars into this race to prop up Governor Hassan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Marco Rubio's seat in Florida, where Democrat Patrick Murphy continues to trail in the polls, and some Democrats, including Harry Reid, are privately making the case to spend money to help Murphy.

But he's faced from resistance from incoming Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who believes that money would be better spent in those three red states, given how expensive Florida is, and, Jake, really just so important money decisions are right now in keeping Senate majority for Republicans and Democrats taking it back.

[16:35:05]

TAPPER: Incredibly competitive.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

More WikiLeaks and the look at the concerns within the Clinton campaign about President Obama's own words about her private e-mails, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're going to stick with politics now. And we're learning that top Hillary Clinton advisers worried about how to -- quote -- "clean up" a statement by President Obama after the president publicly said he found out about his secretary of state's use of a personal e-mail from the news.

The hacked e-mail released by WikiLeaks shows that in 2015 Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills e-mailed other campaign staffers about the president's statement -- quote -- "We need to clean this up. He has e-mails from her. They do not say state.gov."

[16:40:05]

The White House later explained that the president had not known Clinton's e-mails were sent using a private server. They knew it was a private e-mail account.

Our political panel joins me now for more.

We have with us Republican strategist Alice Stewart, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, The Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich, and Politico chief political correspondent Glenn Thrush.

Jackie, let me start with you. There is a lot of concern about the politics of the e-mail server in these e-mails. What do you make of this latest one about we need to clean this up?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: You also see a lot of staff kind of infighting about how to deal with this.

And I am sure, if any of us had our e-mails released, you would see a lot of that back and forth. But what this does is, I don't know how much this will change anyone's mind looking at the election. I think this just reminds people of why they don't like Hillary Clinton and what -- and just this whole e-mail scandal. It just reiterates what they were sort of hesitant about before.

TAPPER: Glenn, one of the things that seems to come across is that there are people in Clinton's orbit who seem to understand that there are some shady characters in that orbit as well.

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: It's hard to figure out where the late and the shade is sometimes with these guys. Right?

Cheryl Mills is the most powerful Hillary Clinton aide. She is the one that she relies upon most. She's a former attorney who worked with Clinton in the White House. What I see really playing out here is a reality that if Hillary Clinton is elected president will play itself out in the White House.

There is an inner-inner circle of people, and Cheryl Mills is at the very center of that, along with a couple of other advisers. And everyone else is on the outside looking in.

TAPPER: It's really bizarre.

Let's talk about the other rival, Hillary Clinton's rival, Donald Trump, who spent the morning just a few blocks that way at the opening of his hotel. Here is how Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak weighed in on his schedule in a series of tweets this morning.

"Any campaigning or resource deployment outside of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania is deliberately wasteful at this point. Time and money."

Alice, what do you think?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I agree.

His time needs to be focused on the battleground states and where the polls are close and tight. But, at the same time, his schedule has been very exhaustive.

He's campaigned four, five, six, and seven, eight events a day for several days leading up to the Election Day. And think, in his defense, him saying going to do this for his kids and rolling out the hotel, I understand that. He did hit the road immediately on the campaign trail.

His schedule has not been -- it has been much heavier and intense than Hillary Clinton's. So I will give him a break on this. A lot of things, I won't, but on this, I don't think -- no harm, no foul.

TAPPER: Jamal, Trump was asked about criticism of his schedule today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's so unfair, because Hillary Clinton goes to see an Adele concert last night. And everybody says, oh, wasn't that nice, isn't that wonderful? I have stopped -- I did eight stops yesterday, three major rallies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Trump has been holding more events every day than Clinton. It's not even close.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, but he has no message discipline, so does it matter, right?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: Every time he goes out, he says something completely different. He blows up his schedule. He blows up the message of the day or the week. And so it's like he is just kind of throwing stuff out into the wind.

TAPPER: He needs to work harder than her is what you're saying?

SIMMONS: Well, he just needs to be more disciplined about what it is he wants to do, what he wants to do for the country and what is trying to communicate.

I think the one thing that Hillary Clinton understands, they understand message discipline, they understand her schedule, and they also understand how to turn voters out in the middle of a campaign. He doesn't have message discipline and he doesn't have an infrastructure to actually get these secret Donald Trump voters from their houses to the polls.

TAPPER: And, yet, Jackie, let me say there are some warning signs for Hillary Clinton about being too confident.

In New Hampshire, her lead over Trump has tightened. It's only four points, according to a new poll. In Florida, a new poll from Bloomberg has her lagging by two points, Trump ahead of her.

One would think, considering the month Donald Trump has had, considering her lead in the national polls, that she would be pulling ahead in a lot of these battlegrounds. And, frankly, she is not.

KUCINICH: In New Hampshire, her favorability -- his is lower, but hers is only 33 percent.

People don't like either of these candidates. And I think with early voting starting, and they're actually having to cast a vote, they're sort of pulling back. But one thing I just want to point out in the Monmouth poll, Kelly Ayotte is...

TAPPER: That's -- the Monmouth is the one in...

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: In New Hampshire, yes.

TAPPER: Yes.

KUCINICH: You start to feel bad for Kelly Ayotte, because she is in a tough spot.

Like, 29 percent of people said she is too close to Trump; 28 percent of people said she's not close enough to Trump. And then the remainder was that she is fine. But she is sort of -- that candidate in particular is just in an impossible position in that state.

TAPPER: And one of the reasons that Donald Trump is having difficulty obviously has to do with women voters, college-educated white voters, and she --according to the new ABC News Washington Post poll, Donald Trump is 32 points behind with white-educated women. Newt Gingrich, one of his top surrogates got into a fight with Megyn Kelly, accused her of having a fascination with sex. It's a video that went viral. I'm sure you've all seen it many times, and I'm not going to play for it. But listen to Donald Trump responding to that this morning at his event at the hotel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: By the way, congratulations, Newt, on last night. That was an amazing interview. That was an amazing -- we don't play games, Newt, right? We don't play games.

THRUSH: Jake, apparently Bobby Knight and Rudy Giuliani were unavailable.

TAPPER: I mean, honestly, is there no one in the orbit there? I mean, you got to figure Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager who understands women voters, must have been saying, "Please don't say anything to Newt Gingrich about his showdown with Megyn Kelly, we don't need to be attached to it." And yet his director of social media, Dan Scavino attacking her last night, and then Obviously, Mr. Trump giving him an attaboy.

THRUSH: They need to clone Kellyanne. I mean, like, they need her in multiple places at multiple times. But your Dana Bash, CNN's Dana Bash did a great interview with Kellyanne, in which, Kellyanne made it very, very clear, particularly at the Gettysburg debacle where he starts talking about suing women, that this is clearly not a way to close the gender gap that's between, what, 15 and 25 percent most polls have.

SIMMONS: Now, Jake, take like you, a lot of us who've been in politics for a long time, this is true on the left and it's true on the right. Sooner or later, this is about the candidates, and the political process when you run for president reveals something about candidates that voters need to know. And what we know is, Donald Trump doesn't deserve to be president.

TAPPER: Alice, I want to -- what did you think when you watched that exchange with Newt Gingrich and Megyn Kelly?

STEWART: I thought it was not good for him to be even having that conversation. I think Megyn Kelly handled it with the utmost professionalism, as expected. I think Newt Gingrich is not the right person to be correcting that message for the Trump campaign or any campaign. And I think he crossed a line in terms of turning it on her and her fascination with sex. I think they've done a good job talking about the WikiLeaks and e-mail scandals, just as much as the others. And the fact that, the campaign -- as you say, the message discipline is off, they continue to bring it up, so it continues to be discussed in the media. So, you cannot blame that on the media.

TAPPER: Alice, Jamal, Jackie, Glenn, thanks one and all. With one battle against ISIS still raging, there are now new plans to recapture the terrorist group's center of power in Syria. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: We have some breaking news now in the "world lead." You're seeing the aftermath of two powerful earthquakes that rocked Central Italy. The first was a magnitude 5.5 near Viso, Italy. That's about 100 miles north of Rome. And then, just a few hours later a 6.1 quake shook the same area. So far, no word of injuries, but it is dark and heavy rain is preventing rescue crews from doing a thorough search. Today's quakes happened not far from the site of the deadly quake back in August that killed nearly 300 people. We will keep you up-to-date with that story as news warrants. In other world news today, Iraqi and Kurdish forces are closing in on Mosul, prompting ISIS to send in reinforcements. Witnesses tells CNN, hundreds of heavily armed terrorists with suicide belts have arrived in Mosul from the terrorist group self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. A stronghold the Pentagon now says could be targeted in the coming weeks. Here's CNN's Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The top U.S. military commander now sounding an alarm about Raqqa, a city of nearly a quarter million where the tough ISIS commanders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have long been thought to be hiding.

STEPHEN TOWNSEND, UNITED STATES ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL: There is an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa, our intelligence feeds tell us that there is a significant external operations attacks planning going on, emanating central in -- centralized in Raqqa.

STARR: How urgent is it?

TOWNSEND: We think it's very important to get isolation in place around Raqqa to start controlling that environment on a pretty short time line.

STARR: This, as the fight for Mosul in Iraq goes on. Emotional scenes of families being reunited. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says this second front in Raqqa will begin very soon.

ASH CARTER: I think it will be within weeks. That's what I want to say.

STARR: From earlier fighting in Northern Syria, the U.S. already has intelligence on ISIS plotting against the U.S. and France, Townsend says. The concern here in Raqqa, the target and timing of ISIS's next attack is not clear.

TOWNSEND: We know they're up to something. And it's an external plot, we don't know exactly where, we don't know exactly when. We're going to try to head it off.

STARR: But in this densely-populated city, finding plotters and those who may already have sent operatives overseas will be tough. The secret of Joint Special Operations Command, which includes Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force, is now in charge of stopping ISIS plotters. And U.S. troops will continue training and advising local forces earmarked for the Raqqa fight. But a huge hurdle, getting enough Kurdish and Arab fighters to get Raqqa back and hold onto it. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

TAPPER: And our thanks to Barbara Starr for that report. The Pentagon is stopping efforts to collect millions of dollars in bonuses paid to troops years ago erroneously, but what about those who already paid back the money? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] TAPPER: I do have some good news for you today. A victory for thousands of service members ordered by the Pentagon to repay reenlistment bonuses that had been wrongly given out. Today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter suspended efforts to collect that money back. The California National Guard offered the bonuses about 10 years ago while trying to meet recruiting goals, but after evidence emerged of fraud and mismanagement of the bonuses, the guard began demanding refunds, even though many of the soldiers and veterans who didn't know the bonuses were wrongly given had already spent the money. Carter said today said that about 2,000 cases will be reviewed. Now, he did not guarantee refunds for payments already made. On Monday, I spoke with retired Army Master Sergeant Susan Haley, who's trying to repay more than $25,000. She said on Monday that she felt betrayed by the government. Today, she said she's ecstatic to hear of Carter's decision, but she will not stop fighting this until very guardsman who made payment, gets a refund.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.