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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy; New Anti-Trump Candidate Emerges; Donald Trump Delivers Speech on Economy; 50 GOP National Security Experts Sign Letter Opposing Trump; Trump Campaign Reacts to Criticism by Security Experts; Iran Executes Nuclear Scientist Accused of Spying for U.S. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 8, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: With less than 100 days until the election, his candidacy is clearly a long shot, but could he steal enough votes from Trump to turn one reliably red state blue?
And executed for treason. A deadly final chapter in the mysterious saga of an Iranian nuclear scientist who claimed he was kidnapped by the CIA. What secrets about Iran's nuclear program did he take to his grave?
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, an extraordinary rebuke of a Republican nominee from within his own party; 50 top national security and foreign policy experts who have served in Republican administrations spanning 50 years have signed a letter denouncing Donald Trump's presidential candidacy and pledging not to vote for him.
The dramatic rebuke comes just hours after Trump's latest effort to get his chaotic campaign back on track. He gave a speech detailing his economic plan, including reducing tax rates for most Americans and simplifying the tax code.
Hillary Clinton responded just a little while ago, accusing Trump of repackaging trickle-down economics with policies that would throw the United States into recession.
And in another sign of Republican dismay at Trump, a group of conservatives has recruited a former CIA officer to launch an independent White House bid. Evan McMullin worked most recently as a top aide to House Republicans.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican Congressman Sean Duffy. Our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's get straight to the breaking news, the letter signed by 50 Republican national security experts opposing Donald Trump.
Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, has details.
Dana, these are people who held key positions in Republican administrations spanning from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
I just talked to two people who signed this letter who told me there' were a flurry of calls and e-mails among these officials in the last two weeks, especially the past five days or so, alarmed over a series of Donald Trump's comments especially about Russia that made them join together and speak out against their own candidate.
BASH (voice-over): A who's-who in the Republican foreign policy world coordinating an unprecedented effort to stop their party's nominee from winning the White House; 50 former GOP national security officials signing a letter saying -- quote -- "Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander in chief. Indeed, we're convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our national security and well-being."
Some high-profile officials, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, have expressed concerns about Trump before, but nothing like this form, 50 like-minded foreign policy experts, many of them non-politicians, coming together to say they're not wild about Hillary Clinton, but warning Trump in control of the nuclear arsenal makes them alarmed.
"We're convinced that in the Oval Office he would be the most reckless president in American history."
The letter was released just as Trump was finishing his speech in Detroit aimed at trying to alleviate concerns those GOP national security experts voiced, like lack of self-control. Usually, when Trump is interrupted by protesters, he insults them. Today, his economic policy speech was disrupted 14 times, but he bit his tongue except to say this:
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Bernie Sanders people had far more energy and spirit. I will say that.
BASH: After a tumultuous week, it was Trump's attempt to get back to basics.
TRUMP: We need to stop believing in politicians and start believing in our great country.
BASH: A detailed economic policy speech, but with a more fundamental goal, reminding voters he's an outside eager to disrupt a broken system.
TRUMP: Our party has chosen to make new history by selecting a nominee from the outside, and that's outside of the very, very already proven rigged system. BASH: Trump made sure to re-up his core anti-trade populist messages
his campaign believes could play well in places like hard-hit Michigan.
TRUMP: American cars will travel the roads. American planes will connect our cities. And American ships will patrol the seas.
BASH: But he also used his speech to the Detroit Economic Club, businesspeople, to talk tax cuts and court college-educated wealthier GOP voters that polls show Trump may be at risk of losing.
TRUMP: We're reducing your taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent.
BASH: That's a 15 percent cap on taxes for businesses. He's also proposing a moratorium on new business regulations and renegotiating NAFTA. Trump even dumped his own tax reform proposal, wiped it from his Web site and adopted the House Republican plan.
TRUMP: My plan will reduce the current number of brackets from seven to three and dramatically streamline the process.
BASH: And he warned GOP voters considering voting for Hillary Clinton about her plans.
TRUMP: Hillary Clinton, who has spent her career voting for tax increases, plans another massive job-killing $1.3 trillion tax increase.
BASH: CNN's poll of polls shows Clinton with a whopping 10-point lead over Trump. To turn that around, Trump has to bring college-educated women back into his column. He hopes his new tax break for child care developed with his daughter Ivanka will help.
TRUMP: Reduce the cost of child care by allowing parent to fully deduct the average cost of child care spending from their taxes.
BASH: Now, we just got in a lengthy statement from the Trump campaign responding to the letter that went out today that we started the story with, 50 Republican foreign policy experts saying that Donald Trump is too dangerous to be president.
I'm going to read you the statement from the Trump campaign.
"The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess. And we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place."
It goes onto say: "They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power and it's time that they are held accountable for their actions. These insiders, along with Hillary Clinton, are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die in Benghazi, and they're the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS. Yet, despite these failure, they think they are entitled to use their favor, trading to land taxpayer-funding government contracts and speaking fees. It's time we put our foot down and declare that their gravy train is over. No longer will crooked Hillary Clinton and the other disasters in Washington get rich at our expense."
Wolf, this statement also talks about his vision for the country, which Donald Trump is saying it's one that is not going to be run by a ruling dynasty.
BLITZER: Strong response from Donald Trump's campaign to this letter from these 50 Republican national security advisers.
Much more on this coming up. Dana, thank you.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan is campaigning in his home state of Wisconsin ahead of tomorrow's primary election there, but his reelection bid has been overshadowed by tension with Donald Trump, who delayed his endorsement of Ryan until just last week, just as the speaker delayed his backing of Trump a few months back.
Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, is in Wisconsin for us tonight.
Manu, is Ryan in any serious danger of losing this race tomorrow?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't appear that way, Wolf.
In fact, if Paul Nehlen, who is Paul Ryan's primary challenger, wins tomorrow, it could be one of the biggest upsets in political history. Nehlen doesn't have nearly the institutional support or the financial support that Paul Ryan has. But even so, Ryan is not taking this super lightly.
He's advertised at least three times here in this district talking about his record and he's been meeting with voters, including today. He had two events this afternoon that press was allowed to go to. He spoke to voters about a variety of issues, including one he's been hit on from the right on trade. Paul Ryan has expressed support for international trade deals.
He champion to push for fast-track trade authority. But he said today he's concerned about the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He doesn't think it has the votes in the House to pass and he says it needs to be renegotiated, even though he said that he supports greater involvement, engagement in the world internationally.
Some recognition by Paul Ryan of concerns over this very hot-button issue in his district -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu Raju in Wisconsin for us, important election tomorrow. Thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: Absolutely, Wolf. Thanks for having me on.
BLITZER: Let's start with that letter from 50 Republican national security officials pledging not to vote for Trump.
Among other things, they said -- I will read it to you -- "He's unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He's alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal."
So, how does he correct that? These aren't Democrat who are saying this. These are all Republican national security advisers.
DUFFY: First off, Wolf, I don't think that Republican or Democrat voters know who these people are.
Voters are going to go to the polls in November and they're going to vote on Hillary Clinton's record and Donald Trump's vision for America. Voters are going to look at what Hillary Clinton has done. And when you talk about reckless and dangerous, someone who for 13 hours leaves four people to die in Benghazi, someone who has a private server and exposes our secrets or allows the rise of ISIS, cuts a bad deal with Iran, that's dangerous for our country.
That's reckless. Leading from behind, Wolf, is reckless. Americans will look at that policy and look at what Donald Trump is saying about how we fix the Middle East. They won't give a darn what these no-name folks are saying. They will look at the policies of the two candidates.
Though it's a good news story, I don't think it's going to play much in the minds of the American voter. They will look at the two candidates and make their decision based on their visions that are laid out in policy speeches and rallies.
BLITZER: But you say no-name, Congressman. Take a look at some of these names. Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security. Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, former director the NSA, the National Security Agency.
Take a look this. John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Tom Ridge, the former secretary of homeland security. All Republicans, all worked with Republican presidents. These are significant national security figures.
DUFFY: I shouldn't say no-name. You and I know who they are. People who are involved deeply in politics know who they are.
But I think the average voter doesn't know who these guys are and really doesn't care about their opinions. And I think the Trump statement was a good one, in that these are some of the same people who brought us the Iraq War that so many Americans, the left and the right, are angry about. It's been oftentimes their failed foreign policy that is in conjunction with Hillary Clinton's failed policy that America now rejects, which has allowed for the rise of Donald Trump.
And so that they would come out and attack Donald I think actually could be a benefit, because I think people look at his vision, the straight talk, and his willingness to call it the way he sees it as a breath of fresh air for our country, as opposed to the same policies, the same people, the same viewpoint that's allowed the world to blow up and leave us less safe and less secure. They don't want that. They want a new vision and a new leader.
BLITZER: Just moments ago, the Trump campaign responded with their own statement, saying the people who signed this letter, the Republican national security figures, are responsible for -- quote -- "why the world is a mess."
As you know, many of these officials served in the Bush administration. Donald Trump said his administration would be run -- quote -- "would not be run by a ruling family dynasty."
Is Donald Trump now blaming George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush for today's national security problems?
DUFFY: Well, listen, I think he has in the past and by he is in that statement.
I think some people upon reflection might look back to the Iraq War and say it was a bad idea. But you have to give George Bush credit and these advisers because they buttoned down Iraq and Afghanistan and turned it over in pretty good shape to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And they have absolutely let the thing blow up and the Middle East is now on fire.
But, Wolf, I think you have to recognize one other point here. Washington is a small town. And a lot of these folks like access to power. They like access to provide their ideas and their information to the leaders, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. These folks have no pathway into the Donald Trump organization and they don't like it.
And so there's a little bit of a lash-out here. But to compare Hillary Clinton's record to Donald Trump's statement and call Donald Trump reckless, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, is absolutely nutty. Hillary Clinton is the one with the horrible burning pants on fire record that has let America less safe.
BLITZER: A lot of these 50 national security advisers, if you look at them, they are at the end of their careers. They have no desire to go back and serve in the U.S. government. So to suggest, Congressman, that they are frustrated because Donald Trump doesn't want them in his national security team, I think, would be inaccurate, given their histories, where they were, and what their intentions are down the road.
DUFFY: Well, Wolf, I don't think they are looking for a full-time job, but they like to give advice. And no one ever retires when you have given your life to foreign policy. You always want to have a seat at the table.
And so too do these folks. But I think the real issue here is Donald Trump gave a great economic speech today. These guys, these 50 came out and dumped this letter to trump a great conversation all day about his vision about you actually grow our economy.
Instead of talking about that, a lot of the news networks are now talking about this letter. I think that was the real play and the real shame of releasing it on a day where Donald Trump was going to talk about how do we grow middle-class family incomes, how do we put people back to work, how do you reduce taxes and rules and regulations so we can grow our economy and make us strong again, as opposed to policies that are the trickle-up economic policies of Obama that have absolutely destroyed our economy?
Wolf, if you grow your government and your taxes and your rules and regulations, it never works. Look at Detroit, look at Chicago. You can go to Argentina, you can go to Brazil, you can go to Cuba. These socialist policies always fail. So, to go back to the policies that we have used in our past of free enterprise, having smart rules and regulations and smart taxes to grow our economy, that should be the message of the day that these guys are stepping on.
BLITZER: Congressman, we heard Mr. Trump say today that under his plan, there would be three income tax brackets, the highest 33 percent -- right now, it's about 39 percent. The second highest, 25 percent and 12 percent.
Do voters have the right to know what Donald Trump has been paying in taxes over the years?
DUFFY: I think what they have the right to know is, has he paid his taxes consistent with the law?
Listen, Wolf, I heard you earlier on the show. I think he should release his taxes. I think he should. I think Hillary Clinton should also release her e-mails. She should also release the donors to the Clinton Foundation. I think transparency in government is the best.
And so e-mails, Clinton Foundation, and Donald Trump's tax records, those things together, I think the American people should have it because I think they can consider that when they go to the voting booth about what decisions have each of these individuals made, and it's relevant. BLITZER: I think she has released the donors to the Clinton
Foundation. What she hasn't released are the transcripts of the speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, some of the big corporations on Wall Street that were paying her huge, huge honorariums. I think that is -- is that the point you were trying to make?
DUFFY: I think there are some donors, all the donors have not been released of the Clinton Foundation.
But you are right. She hasn't released the transcripts of those speeches. So, again, I think we deserve all the information about these candidates that we can get our hands onto make an educated vote in November. You're right.
BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman. There's more to discuss. We have more questions with Sean Duffy right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, Donald Trump now responding to 50 leading Republican national security experts who signed a letter denouncing the GOP nominee.
Trump just released a lengthy statement of his own saying those critics are responsible, along with Hillary Clinton, for the war in Iraq, the rise of ISIS and more.
We're back with Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.
Congressman, Evan McMullin, not a well-known figure, a former CIA operative who once served as a chief policy director for House Republicans, he's now announced that he will run as an independent for president of the United States. He may actually be on the ballot in a few states. How concerned are you as somebody who supports the Trump campaign about this that he could drain Republican votes and if it's close in a state, let's say in Utah, for example, he could hurt Trump?
DUFFY: Evan is a good guy and a smart guy. But this is the last dying gasp of the never Trump movement.
I'm sure they went to 150 different people trying to see if they would jump in and run for president. And in the end, they got to a staffer in the House who was willing to put his name on the ballot.
Good guy. I like him, but there's no hope here. I know they don't like that Donald Trump is the nominee, but the bottom line is, Donald Trump is the nominee. And there's a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And to try to tank that right now, I think, is a foolish errand and will be unsuccessful.
BLITZER: I want to get your response to this, because the chairman of the -- what is called the American Nazi Party has praised Donald Trump for bringing what he called white supremacist rhetoric into mainstream politics. We have seen continued support for his campaign from some of these hate groups, if you will. So, what does that mean for your party? What's your reaction when you see this?
DUFFY: Well, I got to tell you, you can't help people that endorse you. You don't ask for them. And it's a free country. People can endorse whatever candidate that they like.
I would tell you that Donald Trump doesn't endorse them, even though they endorse him. But I thought it was unique is today, to push back against that endorsement, when Donald Trump was in Detroit, he's talking to the African-American community, saying, listen, Obama has been a disaster for your economy.
There's higher unemployment, lower wages, less opportunity. I'm going to fight for you. I'm going to make sure that your kids get a job, that your -- that your young people have opportunity and you can put food on the table again in Detroit. I'm fighting for you.
So, just what Donald Trump even said today on economics would push back against some kind of a Nazi endorsement.
BLITZER: Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, thanks very much.
DUFFY: Hey, Wolf. Have a good one. Thanks.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Breaking news we're following: Donald Trump, he is now firing back at dozens of Republican national security experts denouncing his presidential campaign.
Plus, Hillary Clinton's response to the Trump's economic plan, why she says it would cause another recession.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.
Dozens of leading Republican national security experts who have worked for presidents as far back as Richard Nixon are denouncing Donald Trump.
The GOP candidate has just put out a response, saying those same critics are responsible for many of the crises the United States has now been facing around the world.
Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is back with us to talk about it, along with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN politics senior digital correspondent Chris Moody, and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.
Gloria, among other things, these 50 Republican national security officials say this: "From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander in chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country's national security and well-being." It's pretty unprecedented when you think about it.
[18:30:20] BORGER: The language. First of all, having this many national security officials who are Republican also sign a letter is unprecedented.
The language, I have to say, in this letter, is stunning to me. Not only the part that you just said but talking about how Trump lacks the character, values and experience to be president.
And I think what they are looking at, and they're trying to convince people to vote against him, obviously. And when you look at the polling, you understand why. Because if you look at the recent ABC News poll, 65 percent of the American public does not believe that Trump has the personality and temperament to be president. And 58 percent believe that he is not qualified.
So what they're doing is they're trying to push on that open door a little bit and convince more people who might be sitting -- sitting on the sidelines to sort of say, "Take a look at his temperament." And this letter is very strong.
BLITZER: And Dana, you got Donald Trump's response and reported it a little while ago. Very tough statement going after these 50 Republican national security advisors.
Let me read one final paragraph that was in that statement. "Instead, I offer a better vision for our country and our foreign policy, one that is not run by a ruling family dynasty. It's an America first vision that stands up to foreign dictators instead of taking money from them, seeks peace over war, rebuilds our military, and makes other countries pay their fair share for their protection. Together, we will break up the rigged system in Washington, make America safe again, and we will make America great again."
Very strong statement from Trump going after these individuals in this foreign policy statement.
BASH: That's right. You and I spoke in the 5 p.m. hour when this letter first broke. We talked about the fact that my suspicion was that they would come back and say, "Excuse me. The Bush world and the Bush team, many of whom signed this letter, they're the ones that got us into Iraq," which he says is a mistake and so on and so forth. And that's precisely what -- what he did, saying that this is exactly the kind of thinking that got the world into -- this is Donald Trump's quote, "world a mess." And that they're -- they deserve the blame for making the world the way it is right now. Having said that, clearly they have very different world views on foreign policy.
But to Gloria's point, this letter is not so much about foreign policy. It's about temperament, and it's about ability to be the commander in chief. And the words and the terms are so dire. That, I think, is what is, frankly, a little bit jarring to read from people who we have known and covered. And when I talked to one of the officials who signed this, the key thing that he said was, "I and other people who signed this have been in the room with presidents during times of national security crisis, and we don't think that Donald Trump should be that person in the room."
BLITZER: So David, has this election turned into an election of temperament, character?
SWERDLICK: Yes, I think it's both. It is temperament, like Dana is saying. Right? I mean, it's alarming to some of the these foreign policy experts that Trump is not exhibiting in public some of the qualities that they have seen in commanders in chief that they have observed or worked up closely with.
But I also think part of it is policy. Some of Trump's statement about Russia, some of his admiration, at least, expressed on the stump for Vladimir Putin, and some of his conflicting statements about whether he wants, on the one hand, to make peace but then, in the same speech, he'll say he's going to vanquish ISIS very, very quickly. These are the things that are driving this foreign policy sort of revolt.
BLITZER: He's got a real problem, Donald Trump. Take a look at our poll of polls, Chris. These are several national polls, all highly respected. Registered voters' choice for president. Clinton, 49 percent. Trump, 39 percent. That's a ten-point spread. That's -- that's a significant spread right now that he's going to have to overcome.
MOODY: In order to overcome it, he needs to follow one thing, and that is two words and that's "resist temptation." He feels the need to respond to just about anybody that criticizes him, whether it's here on CNN or online. And he needs to -- to choose his battles more wisely.
Our colleague David Chalian always says, at the end of the day, he looks back at the day. And he says who did Donald Trump win that wasn't supporting him before? What kind of independent voters did he win today? And I think Donald Trump needs to take a hard look at his strategy and realize that his base is already there for him, and he needs to start thinking of how he can expand that over the next several months.
BLITZER: He was...
MOODY: He's not doing it every day now.
BLITZER: He was very disciplined today. For almost an hour he read off of a teleprompter a very detailed, carefully scripted speech on his economic policy.
BORGER: Right. And most of his economic policy, by the way, was Republican orthodoxy, except for trade and except for the fact that he didn't mention cutting entitlements or the deficit and how he would get the deficit down if he was going to -- if he was going to cut taxes. So chalk one up for Paul Ryan there. He kind of listened to Paul -- to Paul Ryan on that. [18:35:16] I have to say, though, in this letter, it seems to me like
they wanted to throw a grenade out here. The last line of this letter is so stunning to me, because all of these people said, "We are convinced that, in the Oval office, he" -- meaning Trump -- "would be the most reckless president in American history."
That is sort of saying to people, "OK, maybe you're a Republican, you like what he said in his economic plan today. Maybe you like his tell-it-like-it-is. But honestly, we're" -- a lot of these people are diplomats.
BASH: They're not politicians.
BORGER: They're not politicians. They've served in intelligence. They're not politicians by nature, and these are the most direct words. It would be one thing to hear it from Hillary Clinton, but this language is stunning to me.
BLITZER: But Dana -- Dana, you heard Sean Duffy, the congressman from Wisconsin, Republican, supports Trump, saying this is not going to have any effect. Most people don't even know who these national security officials are, so it's not really all that big of a deal.
BASH: Yes. I mean, there's no question that most people on this list are not household names. It's a former CIA director and a former homeland security secretary, again, for a Republican president.
But I don't think it's so much the individuals; it's the totality of the number of them and the fact that this could have been written -- you would almost expect, in today's day and age, for this to be written by Democrats, but to be done by Republicans...
BASH: ... is a whole different issue.
And I just think the fact that we're talking about this instead of what the Trump campaign was desperate for the narrative to be today, which was not just the policy that Trump put forward on his economic plan but, more importantly, the fact that there were 14 interruptions in his speech and he resisted. You could see him physically resisting the impulse to lash out at them and to insult them. He made one kind of funny quip, and that was it. They were so happy about it they even sent out a fundraising letter, saying, "Look, I didn't respond to the protests. Send money."
MOODY: His opponents are going to work very hard to bait him at every turn, whether it's Hillary Clinton or even his Republican opponents. We saw Elizabeth Warren coming after him on Twitter, just trying to get him to go back to the Pocahontas rhetoric and all that kind of thing. Because they know that it's not very hard to get him off- track, and that's what they need to do on a daily basis.
BLITZER: You wanted to weigh in?
SWERDLICK: No, I was -- I agree with Dana. This was -- Trump wasted the week between the Democratic convention and the Olympics to turn the page and to reset his campaign. And desperate to reset things, get back on track and instead -- instead of talking about economics tonight, we're talking about the letter from 50 foreign policy...
BORGER: And so his response to this was in a statement, right? And he took them on as elite know-nothings who got us into trouble. We'll have to see what he continues to say about it or if he continues to say anything about it, you know, as the week progresses.
BLITZER: Yes. He said, "These insiders, along with Hillary Clinton, are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die at Benghazi; and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS." So he's got a tough -- a tough response.
Everyone stand by. We're going to have much more. We have a lot more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.
[18:43:29] BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is warning that Donald Trump's economic plans would throw the United States back into recession. Clinton is campaigning in Florida, where she blasted the policies Trump outlined in a closely-watched speech earlier in the day.
CNN's Pamela Brown is in St. Petersburg, Florida, for us.
Pamela, Hillary Clinton held a rally there just a little while ago. Update our viewers on her main points.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and at that rally, she launched a scathing rebuttal against Donald Trump in what has become an escalating fight over the economy. And today she aimed to draw a sharp contrast, saying that Donald Trump wants tax breaks for people like himself, for the wealthy, while she will fight for middle-class Americans and small businesses.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, Hillary Clinton is taking aim at Donald Trump's plans to bolster the U.S. economy.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He can't escape the math. Economists left, right, in the middle all say the same thing. That Trump's policies would throw us into a recession.
BROWN: At a campaign stop in St. Petersburg, Florida, Clinton accused Trump of pursuing policies that favor the wealthy at the expense of middle-class Americans.
CLINTON: His tax plans will give super big tax breaks to large corporations. He wants to basically just repackage trickle-down economics.
BROWN: Clinton's campaign already hitting the airwaves in Florida, looking to paint Trump as someone who profits off of other people's pain. [18:45:00] TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters. OK?
BROWN (voice-over): A new CNN poll of polls shows Clinton with a ten- point lead over Trump, up six points from just before conventions.
Now, some prominent Republicans unhappy with Trump are breaking from their party and coalescing around Clinton, such as former Michigan Governor William Milliken, who joins major GOP donor Meg Whitman and New York Congressman Richard Hanna.
Despite her recent gains, Hillary Clinton's latest effort to move past her e-mail controversy had backfired. On Friday, she said she short- circuited her remarks about the FBI statement on her private e-mail server.
CLINTON: I may have short-circuited, and for that I -- you know, will try to clarify.
BROWN: Trump quickly pounced, calling her unstable and unfit to be president.
TRUMP: She used the term "short-circuited". She took a little short circuit in the brain and she's got problems. It amazes me actually. Honestly, I don't think she's all there.
BROWN: Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine defended her during a "Meet the Press" interview Sunday, saying she has repeatedly apologized for using her private e-mail server and pledging the Clinton/Kaine administration will be more transparent.
TIM KAINE (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am not presumptuous enough to start thinking about how I'm going to do things after November. But I know that this is something that she has learned from and we're going to be real transparent, absolutely.
BROWN: The Clinton campaign also taking note of Trump's July fund- raising haul of $80 million, still $10 million shy of its own total but closing the gap. A fact that prompted campaign manager Robby Mook to write in a memo, "This was far more than anyone expected and should be wake-up call to all Hillary supporters."
BROWN: And the latest CNN poll shows Clinton is making gains over Trump when it comes to the economy. And during her two-day swing here in this crucial battleground state of Florida, she's really setting the stage ahead of what her campaign is calling a major speech on the economy later this week in Michigan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
Gloria, so, Hillary Clinton really going after Trump on his speech in Detroit today. She's got her own speech on Thursday in Detroit. Trump speech was supposed to reset his campaign.
Did he succeed in doing that?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he tried. And as Dana was pointing out earlier, he kind of -- he stayed on target. What set his campaign off today was the letter signed by 50 national security officials calling Trump dangerous and saying, predicting that he would be a reckless president. And he was forced to obviously respond to that. He will continue to respond to that.
I think at this point in the campaign, staying on course is very difficult for either one of these guys because they're going to be taking any opportunity to knock at each other. So, he gave an economic speech. Republicans are going to like it but then something else happens, right?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The key here, again, the bar is kind of low here in terms of message control. But it wasn't self-inflicted today --
BASH: -- by Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump did what Donald Trump needed to do today. His campaign did what the campaign needed to do today -- baby steps, back to basics, talking about the fact he's not a politician, talking about the fact he's an outsider and he wanted to disrupt the way Washington works because it doesn't work and trying to sort of embrace more of the Republican orthodoxy on fiscal issues, like tax cuts and so forth. And then, he was blindsided by 50 people in his own party who say he's not fit to be president.
BLITZER: It is a setback for him this letter from these 50 Republican national security officials. So, how does he overcome that?
DAVID SWERDLICK, WASHINGTON POST ASSISTANT EDITOR: I'm not sure because it was a fairly effective speech. I mean, he gave something for everybody. Republican insiders wanted him to talk about reducing tax rates and simplifying the tax code. It was that tax deduction for middle class - sorry, the middle class tax cut for child care. So, there was a lot -- there was a little bit of something in there for everybody, Wolf.
The thing was that it was overshadowed, as Gloria said, and the other problem is that, again, he's only got 90 days now to go out and consistently deliver this message -- something that he hasn't been proved he's been able to do, consistently deliver this message.
BLITZER: And, Chris, as you know, that strategy of Donald Trump being Donald Trump worked in the Republican primaries, but now in a general election, he's got to bring in not just Republicans, he's got to bring in independents and even some Democrats. That's why his advisers are saying, you know what, you got to keep focus. You can't do what got you to this point.
CHRIS MOODY, CNN SENIOR DIGITAL REPORTER: Right, he said at some point in the primary campaign, he can go out on Madison Avenue or Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and his core base would still vote for him. I think that kind of sentiment is still true. We're seeing that every day. People really excited for Donald Trump who are his core supporters.
[18:50:04] However, there's a lot more Americans out there who do not participate in primaries, whether on the Democratic side and Republican side. The polls we've also looked at show a huge number of independent voters, people who have not decided just yet. Those chips are going to start to fall. He needs to get on message if he wants them to fall his way.
BORGER: You know, I also think what Trump is seeing and what they're seeing in the campaign is that lots of Republicans are starting to distance themselves more and more from his campaign, what he was trying to do today was give them something to hang their hat on, so they could support him. And that's why, for example, on tax cuts, which is Republican orthodox, you know, he's all for it, et cetera, et cetera. Maybe not trade.
But he's giving them a reason to say yes rather than a reason to step away. What these national security officials did is say there's something larger than that and that's why you ought to step away.
BASH: And the one thing to remember about him having his base -- sure, he does. He has the base that voted for him in the primary. And he got 14 million votes and so on and so forth, more than anybody else in the Republican primary season. But there were a lot of other people on the Republican side who didn't vote for him.
BASH: And if you look at "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll I believe it was a couple of days ago, it sort of shows the challenge he has, 83 percent of Republicans back him. It sounds like a lot. It's not nearly enough to overcome the fact that this is a divided country.
BORGER: Mitt Romney had 92 percent.
BORGER: And he lost.
BLITZER: Let's see how disciplined he is in the days to come, guys. Thanks very much.
Much more coming up, including this -- the intriguing and mysterious case of an Iranian nuclear scientist comes to a deadly end. Was he a defector or victim of a CIA kidnapping?
[18:56:16] BLITZER: Iran has executed a nuclear scientist who once allegedly defected to the United States but later claimed he had been kidnapped by the CIA.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.
Elise, Iran accused the scientist for spying for Washington. What have you learned?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Hillary Clinton tried to debunk these claims while she was secretary of state, saying Mr. Amiri was in the United States on his own free will. Now, his whereabouts have been unknown for years, but his death is a dark final chapter to this strange real-life spy drama that is now reverberating on to the campaign trail.
LABOTT (voice-over): Shahram Amiri was greeted as a hero when the Iranian nuclear scientist returned home to Iran six years ago, claiming he fled his American captors, turning down millions of dollars to spy on behalf of the U.S.
SHAHRAM AMIRI, IRANIAN NUCLEAR SCIENTIST (through translator): I was facing psychological warfare and pressure, much worse than being in prison.
LABOTT: But on Sunday, he was executed for treason. Iran's judiciary ministry announced Amiri was hanged for sharing Iran's nuclear secrets with the enemy.
GHOLAM-HOSSEIN MOHSENI-EJEI, IRANIAN JUDICIARY SPOKESMAN (through translator): After due process, he received his punishment.
LABOTT: Amiri disappeared in 2009 in Saudi Arabia, on a religious pilgrimage. He mysteriously ended up in Arizona where he made a video that aired on Iranian state television, claiming he was kidnapped and taken to the U.S. where he was allegedly drugged and tortured.
U.S. officials say Amiri defected and willingly provided useful information about Iran's nuclear program. In a subsequent video produced by the CIA Amiri contradicts his claims.
AMIRI: I am free here and want to assure everyone that I am free.
LABOTT: By 2010, officials claimed Amiri changed his mind and wanted to go home. Iranian television aired a third video in which Amiri returned to his kidnapping story, saying he escaped his captors, a claim publicly disputed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
CLINTON: He is free to go. He was free to come. These decisions are his alone to make.
LABOTT: Amiri demanded to be sent home when he arrived at the Iranian intersection at the Pakistani embassy in Washington. Officials believed he feared for his family's safety.
Clinton aides made veiled references to his request in e-mails over her private server, one saying, quote, "Our friend has to be given a way out. If he has to leave, so be it."
These, after his heartwarming airport reunion with his son aired on Iranian state-run TV, Amiri disappeared, Clinton's critics seized on the e-mails suggesting they put Amiri's life at risk. SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: That goes to show just how reckless
and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server. I think her judgment is not suited to keep this country safe.
LABOTT: We just saw this tweet from Donald Trump saying many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton's hacked e-mails.
Now, today, the Clinton campaign shot back at all, saying the Trump campaign never met a conspiracy it didn't like, and said the accusations are baseless and absurd, Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much.
Elise Labott, reporting for us.
And thanks very much to all of our viewers who are watching on this, our 11th anniversary, THE SITUATION ROOM debuted August 8th, 2005. And over the last 11 years, we've been proud to bring you news from around the world as it happens. We're passionate about what we do, we're privileged to do it, we're honored to have you as our viewers. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.