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Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Terror Investigation; Trump Feuding with Republicans?; Trump on GOP Feuding: I'm Running Against Two Parties; Photo of Possible Suspects Being Investigated by Turkish Police; Trump Rips GOP Rivals Who Broke Pledge to Support Him; Flap Over Bill Clinton's Private Chat with Attorney General. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 30, 2016 - 17:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And talks on the tarmac. New backlash tonight over Bill Clinton's surprise chat with the U.S. attorney general. Is there any evidence to suggest the Justice Department's investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails has been compromised?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking tonight, Turkish police are showing residents a photo of three suspects captured on video at the Istanbul Airport, this as a source in the Turkish government tells CNN there's strong evidence that ISIS leaders were involved in planning the slaughter.

We're told the three bombers spent time in the ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria, before traveling to Istanbul. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the homeland security says travelers should expect enhanced security at airports this Fourth of July weekend.

The CIA director has warned that ISIS may try to carry out an attack in this country similar to the airport bombings in Turkey.

Also tonight, in a blow to ISIS on the battlefield, U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes wiping out two huge convoys of ISIS fighters in Iraq. One military estimate says 300 militants were killed.

And in the presidential race, a source confirms that Donald Trump's campaign is vetting Chris Christie as a possible running mate, this as Trump take aim at some of his other former primary rivals, saying they shouldn't be allowed to run for public office again if they break their pledge to support him.

I will talk about the breaking news on terror with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mike McCaul, and our correspondents, analysts and guests have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First to CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir. She is live for us from Istanbul.

Nima, give us the latest.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it's long been said that as the U.S.-led coalition squeezed ISIS in Iraq and Syria and degraded their territorial hold, that they would be looking for other ways to exert their influence through terror attacks around the globe. And this is what the Turkish authorities believe happened here at Ataturk. Take a look at this, Brianna.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Tonight, sources tell CNN the suspects believed to appear in this newly released security video may have been directed by ISIS leadership in Syria, suggesting a centrally planned and coordinated attack by the terror group.

Investigators are now releasing surveillance video like this one acquired by an Italian newspaper showing the attackers moving through the terminal and opening fire. Footage acquired by a Turkish newspaper shows one of men wearing a heavy coat, despite the summer heat in Istanbul.

When an undercover officer approaches him and requests identification, the terrorist opens fire.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): These people are not Muslim. They're going to be the occupants of hell. They have secured their places in hell.

ELBAGIR: Today, Turkish police conducted raids across the country in connection to the attack, rounding up more than 20 people.

EFKAN ALA, TURKISH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): The evidence, documents, and findings we have obtained corroborate the predictions that this attack was carried out by ISIS.

ELBAGIR: Still, there has been no claim of responsibility, and while the government here is convinced ISIS was behind the attack, which has not left more than 40 people dead and hundreds more injured, it hasn't said it believes others were directly involved.

What Turkish authorities will say is that they believe the three men were foreign fighters, originally from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakstan. Sources tell CNN they arrived here last month carrying their suicide vests after receiving training from ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

CNN has learn they rented an apartment where the Russian man apparently left his passport. Today, the U.S. homeland security secretary echoed the Turkish government, saying that attack has all the hallmarks of ISIS. He confirmed one American was injured Tuesday, although he described the injuries as minor.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ELBAGIR: This shift in strategy, the central oversight is one that intelligence sources both in the U.S. and in Europe say could signal a real change in ISIS' strategies and ISIS' policies moving forward, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Nima, thank you so much.

And now to the war against ISIS on the battlefield. After airstrikes took out two ISIS convoys in Iraq, the Pentagon chief says the coalition hopes that going after ISIS in its headquarters in Syria can happen as soon as possible.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Anti-ISIS forces are making gains, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They are, indeed, Brianna, some very blunt words from the defense secretary today just as U.S. and Iraqi airplanes did score a significant gain against ISIS. This is a battlefield that seems to be changing every day.



STARR (voice-over): ISIS fighters under cover of darkness trying to outrun U.S. and Iraqi warplanes. South of Fallujah, hundreds of ISIS operative and 200 vehicles or move busted through a cordon trying to escape the Iraqi government liberation of the city.

Warplanes swooped in. The U.S. destroyed up to 50 vehicles, Iraqi forces bombing dozens more. One military estimate? more than 300 ISIS dead. The stakes are accelerating at the Pentagon with eyes quickly turning towards the is capital city.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We'd like to get Raqqa as soon as we possibly can.

STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter bluntly signaling the next move to ISIS leaders by U.S. aircraft and anti-ISIS fighters in Northern Syria.

CARTER: We're going to position to again envelope and collapse ISIL's control of Raqqa. And the reason I want to do that, Barbara, as soon as possible is that Raqqa is the self-proclaimed capital of the self- proclaimed caliphate of ISIL.

STARR: Getting to Raqqa is increasingly urgent. The attackers in the Istanbul Airport assault traveled from Raqqa, according to Turkish officials. And the CIA director is warning more may be headed to Europe.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West. STARR: It comes as Washington is discussing with Moscow whether their two militaries can cooperate more in Syria, a more urgent concern with Raqqa now firmly in the crosshairs.

PAUL SCHARRE, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: The U.S. starts to then put in U.S. ground troops, advisers to assist U.S.-backed rebels on the ground. That's certainly we will have to be able to do is to communicate to the Russians here is where our people are so that Russians aren't bombing our own troops on the ground.


STARR: Why would Ash Carter publicly signal ISIS about the next moves? Well, if ISIS decides to go on the run out of Raqqa, and make that move into the desert there, you saw what happened outside Fallujah.

Carter would be very happy to have warplanes strike them out in the open in the desert -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Sure would. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

And joining me now is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Mike McCaul of Texas.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us.

And we understand now that Turkish police are showing locals there in Istanbul video and pictures of three men, including this one you're looking at right now, and that they say are believed to have carried out the airport attack. It's possible that these men were operating out of Istanbul for a full month before the attack.

What does that tell you about the organization of this cell?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, I have said all along this is an ISIS attack in Turkey.

It tells me this was a command-and-control operation out of Raqqa, Syria. I think Turkish intelligence is confirming this. And I think they attacked Turkey because they're a NATO ally providing airspace to the allies to conduct airstrikes into Syria.

And these foreign fighters both in Turkey and Europe are really the threat that we see. And I'm also concerned about that threat as it extends into the homeland.

KEILAR: If it is ISIS, as you say you expect, and everyone is saying they expect that this is ISIS, but why aren't they claiming responsibility?

MCCAUL: I believe they are not claiming responsible because they do not want the backlash from the Turkish army to conduct -- to essentially put combat troops into Syria.

I think they're concerned about the -- they have to attack Turkey because they're being an ally to the coalition and NATO forces. On the other hand, they do not want Turkey to put combat troops into Syria, who could be one of our strongest allies to go straight into Raqqa, the headquarters of ISIS, to take them out.

KEILAR: We're looking at a big travel weekend coming up July 4. Any known threats to the homeland right now that you can tell us about?

MCCAUL: No specific and credible.

You heard the CIA director, though, talk about how they could be conducting these operations in the United States. I think my greatest fear, Brianna, is that it's a very soft target outside the perimeter of the airport. We have those in the United States.

The season of Ramadan is very important here. That goes through July 5. The head of ISIS called for attacks during the season of Ramadan, which is what you have seen both in Orlando and now in Istanbul at the airport.


So, we are really on a state of alert right now through the season of Ramadan to ensure as the traveling public is out there during this holiday season the Fourth of July, our nation's birthday, that they don't conduct terrorist attacks during this holy season of Ramadan.

KEILAR: And we're looking at some pictures from today actually at Reagan National Airport just outside of D.C. There's some authorities there with long guns. There were more dogs, it appeared, canine units, present than usual. Definitely an enhanced state of security that was visible.

But when you're looking at what's not just one occurrence, we saw the attack at the Brussels Airport in March. And even this is happening on planes as well in the case of Metrojet in Egypt. Knowing that and also that there is a vulnerability when it comes to people who work in the airport and work close to these planes and can get access to these planes, should there be some further changes to U.S. airport security?

MCCAUL: Well, I think these last point-of-departure airports are our greatest concern.

I was in Cairo, Egypt, where Sinai -- ISIS conducted the Russian airliner downing. We're concerned about safety and security at these last point-of-departure airports flying directly into the United States, in that case, JFK. You have got -- in Istanbul, you have 50 flights -- or -- I'm sorry -- 90 flights per week coming into the United States.

We're worried about that. As you mentioned, we have ramped up security domestically at our airports with the law enforcement, greater law enforcement presence and canines. But you can't -- intelligence is always the way you win this, to stop threat before it even gets to the airport. That's what we're working very hard on to stop these threats before they happen.

KEILAR: We see ISIS becoming more nimble and creative. Do you think that the U.S. is keeping up with that?

MCCAUL: Well, I think the pace of these attacks has increased more than I have seen in modern times. That's what worries me.

This is happening too frequently. And I think people are very worried about this. They don't feel safe anymore. I will tell you, I work with the FBI and Homeland very closely to try to evolve and stay in front of these threats. But it's very easy to pull off a soft target attack like this. Very difficult to stop it. We stopped over 100 plots against the West since ISIS has been created.

But it's really hard to stop it all.

KEILAR: Yes. And Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke about that. He should you can't just entirely focus on airports. You need to focus on all public places and events, especially as we're looking ahead to large gatherings here on July 4.

Is that a concern of yours, that there may just not be enough manpower to handle that?

MCCAUL: Exactly.

The Fourth of July, say, in Washington, D.C., what better target than that, and how do you stop that from happening? You will see a lot of security down in Washington on the nation's birthday. But, again, you can't -- this is a free society. It's open. The Capitol is a very public building.

And you cannot shut it down with a ring of steel like the Russians did. We have to keep it open, but keep it safe. And that's where I think good intelligence comes into play. We can put our harden -- we can harden these soft targets, but at the end of the day, it's this intelligence that I think will drive prevention on the front end.

KEILAR: Congressman Mike McCaul, just stay with me. I have many more questions for you about the threat of ISIS to the U.S.

We're talking to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, more when we get back from break.



KEILAR: We're back now with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul. He's speaking with us about the breaking news on this airport terror attack in Istanbul.

And Turkish police have been showing residents images of three men who were at the Istanbul Airport during the attack. They're possible suspects.

And it's possible, Congressman McCaul, that these men were able to enter Turkey from Raqqa, Syria. If they did, how likely is it that ISIS could send similar attackers to the U.S. through Turkey? MCCAUL: Well, I think very likely.

This was -- the mastermind, we think, of this attack was a top lieutenant to the minister of war, if you will, of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. He was taken out by an airstrike. We believe he coordinated with the three suicide bombers in Istanbul to conduct this conduct during the season of Ramadan.

We know there are 5,000 foreign fighters with Western passports. We know that many of those have returned to Europe, which is our grave concern about Europe and the Euro Cup in France, for instance.

But hundreds of those foreign fighters have gone to Syria from the United States. And many of those have returned, so, yes, the Western passports to the United States and those who may have returned who have been trained as militants, as in this case.

Unlike the Orlando case, this is a little different, where you have trained militants that know how to conduct an operation that's very sophisticated and very coordinated. That's what we kind of fear the most is one of these attacks with AK-47s and a suicide bomber.

KEILAR: Can you tell us more about this top lieutenant, his identity?

MCCAUL: Well, he's a Chechen rebel. He's a Russian, was one of the -- probably the number one enemy in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia. That says a lot.


Remember, the Boston bombers were Chechen rebels. It comes from the same area that we saw the Boston bombers come from. He traveled to Syria on many occasions, and then became again one of the top lieutenants to again the minister of war for ISIS operations, who is responsible for external operations.

And I think this demonstrates the threat now. As the strike intensity ramps up, so too are the external operations now against the West. And I think you are going to see more of these, not less. It concerns me about the homeland. Orlando was more of an inspired Internet radicalization event.

And what we don't want to see -- and that was very deadly. We don't want to see also an event like there where you have trained militants in the United States that can conduct a very sophisticated, deadly attack.

KEILAR: Can you -- this top lieutenant -- and I'm sticking to this, because this is actually the first that we have heard of this. Do you have a name for this Chechen rebel that you think was behind planning this attack?

MCCAUL: Yes. His first name is Ahmed. He's, again, one of the top lieutenants to the minister of war, if you want to call it that, for ISIS. And he came from Russia, was, again, the number one Chechen rebel enemy of Russia. And he traveled to Syria on multiple occasions.

KEILAR: Is it Ahmed Chataev, by chance?

MCCAUL: Yes. Correct.


KEILAR: OK. So, that's who it is. OK. So, that's a new bit of information we're getting, that you believe is the top lieutenant in ISIS who...

MCCAUL: One -- he's one of the top.

KEILAR: One of the top lieutenants who would have been responsible for the planning?

MCCAUL: We believe that -- and, again, this is coming from more Turkish intelligence -- I have no reason to discount that -- that he was in fact the mastermind behind this operation at the Istanbul Airport.

KEILAR: OK. OK. That's very interesting new information.

I do want to ask you, switching to politics a little bit now, to talk about Donald Trump. He's shifted language. He's said he would ban immigrants coming from countries with known terrorism links and training, a move away from saying that he would ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.

Can you react to that? Is this happening because of pressure from within the Republican Party?

MCCAUL: Well, I have had conversations with Mayor Giuliani about this outright ban.

I think I have always said you can't ban an entire population based on race and religion. We have a lot of NATO allies that are Muslim, for instance. I think what you have to do is close off all terror pathways into the United States that the terrorists exploit. You need to ramp up the vetting process. And you need to ramp up the intelligence and secure our border to keep them out.

And I think Mr. Trump is listening to this now and realizing that this is the smart strategy to defeat the terrorists where they exist and to win this and to keep them out of the homeland.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Mike McCaul, we really appreciate you speaking with us and also giving us some new information about who the mastermind behind this attack in Istanbul may be.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sir, thank you.

MCCAUL: Thank you.

KEILAR: And still ahead, more on the evidence suggesting ISIS leaders planned the Istanbul terror attack -- you heard some of it there -- as U.S. authorities step up security at airports in this country for the busy Fourth of July weekend.



KEILAR: We're following breaking news in the investigation of the terror attack in Turkey.

Local police are showing residents pictures of three men who were at the airport during the suicide bombing.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is in Istanbul live for us with an update on the investigation -- Ivan.


Yes, let's show you this photo. This is a screen shot from what appears to be surveillance video. And the reason why we feel confident about showing it is our teams have been on the ground in the neighborhood where the three suspected suicide bombers were believed to have rented an apartment.

And some of the people, the neighbors, the real estate agency that rented out the airport, they have confirmed to us that this was the photo that police showed them when they were asked to I.D. the suspected bombers, saying that that was in fact a photo of the three men.

So, the photo shows them in coats at the height of summer here in Istanbul in the airport. What more do we know about them? Well, some of the neighbors there who have spoken to our teams, one of them described the smells of what smelled like chemicals coming from the apartment.

Another neighbor saying that they saw people smoking by the windows of the apartment, but that the curtains were usually drawn there. And, of course, the real estate agency confirming to us that these were in fact the men that were rented the apartment.

The Turkish government saying that they are believed to have come about a month ago from the ISIS stronghold city of Raqqa in Syria, and that they were believed to have brought their suicide belts, finally saying that they were believed to have been foreigners, a citizen from Russia, from the Dagestan, troubled Dagestan region of Russia, and also from the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

So, we're starting to get a fuller picture of the men who carried out this atrocity -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Ivan, thank you so much for those details.

I want to bring in now CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez; CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen; and Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research program in the Washington Institute; and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. Evan, you are seeing the Turkish police showing this picture of three

individuals, possible suspects, people in the area. What are they trying -- what information are they trying to figure out? They're basically going door to door.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They're going door to door, and they want to know what neighbors saw, whether they saw anybody else associating with these people. Obviously, they believe that there are other people who are helping, people who did some of the surveillance, some of the preparation work before this attack.

They know that these people were there for several weeks. Who else was there? Who might have helped build the suicide vests, the bombs? And who might have supplied any of the assistance before this attack took place?

KEILAR: And, you know, Phil, according to Turkish officials, these attackers were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. You heard Ivan describing that. What does that tell you?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It tells me we have an increasing problem with time, Brianna. That is think of just the past couple of years. In the summer of 2014, we're talking about ISIS taking territory from a surprised Iraqi military. Over the past year, we're talking about ISIS inspiring people in places like San Bernardino and Orlando.

Now fast forward. We're talking about not territory, not inspiration, foreigners, think foreigners potentially in the future from western, Europe, the United States entering Raqqa and being trained to return to countries like Turkey with ISIS-provided suicide belts to conduct attacks.

That is a very rapid maturation process for a terrorism group, and it raises questions even for American presidential candidates about how quickly do we want to intervene to stop this stuff?

KEILAR: We're learning, Peter, about the mastermind, potentially, of this attack. We just heard from the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Mike McCaul, and he said that it is a Chechen rebel, Akhmed Chatayev, who is a top lieutenant in ISIS, who -- we did know before that ISIS leadership was helping plan this. But do you know anything about this man or anything about just -- it's a pretty high-level plan.

BERGEN: I don't know anything about this man. But I will say there was a -- some people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Chechens being killed in a strike earlier this year who had a $5 million reward on his head, who was regarded as a commander of ISIS in northern Syria who ran a prison for the foreign hostages. So Chechens have played not only foot soldier role but also a leadership role.

Chechen is really often a sort of misnomer because of what the name for anybody of the former Soviet republic or Russia often in these cases. But we've seen thousands of Russians go to fight, or people from the former Soviet republic. So this is one of the things that this attack underlies is how Russian -- how central Asians, so many of the people are in ISIS.

KEILAR: Is this because they have previous experience? So this is someone that ISIS wants to recruit, because they come in, basically, battle-ready.

BERGEN: Yes. Many of these people are -- there were two Chechen wars. They were very brutal. The Russians had a totalitarian approach to the war. And they are battle-hardened.

KEILAR: Soner, I think it's fascinating to a lot of people that we know pretty quickly now that these suspects had come over from Syria about a month ago. So they're in Istanbul. They're operating in Istanbul. Is it possible, because it seems that Russia is saying one of these individuals, one from Russia, was on the radar of Turkish officials. Do you think Turkish officials had leads on these guys?

SONER CAGAPDAY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: Seems to me that, if they were in Turkey for about a month, how could they disappear? It's a city of 13 million people, first of all. Yes, that is possible.

But beyond that, ISIS has been using Turkey for now three years to smuggle fighters in and out of Syria. So because its networks, sleeper cells, its support structure and, unfortunately, I think this is a sign that things in Turkey might get worse before they get better. There might be other attacks.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think you hear that from John Brennan, the CIA director, in the last couple of days he's been speaking. And what I'm told from U.S. intelligence and from the Turkish intelligence agencies, they saw. They know there were cells that were taking their place in Turkey, that they -- they were aware the cells were doing surveillance on possible targets. They were aware that there was this upsurge in activity in the past few months in Turkey. It was just a matter of time.

They didn't know, obviously, that this attack was coming and it was coming this week. But they certainly were expecting something big to happen.

KEILAR: Just bracing for something generally.

And I do want to, Phil, take this back home, if we can. Because we're looking at the last few days of Ramadan, coinciding now with this big travel weekend, July Fourth. What are U.S. authorities going to be looking for?

[18:35:12] MUDD: There is only so much you can do. These are the days when you're in the position at the CIA or the FBI that you hate. There are cases you're sitting on, potentially because you want to collect more intelligence or because you don't have enough information to go to the Department of Justice and say, "We want to prosecute somebody."

When you're sitting on those cases, every night is a problem. If they decide that night that's the night they're going to move, you could have an incident in, for example, a supermarket, a shopping mall, a tragedy like we've seen in the United States already. So you're sitting there, saying, "I hope the cases we're sitting on don't get inspiration from what we just witnessed in Turkey." Because with the hundreds of people, thousands in this country inspired by ISIS, you can't control all of them.

KEILAR: Phil, thank you so much. Evan, Peter, Soner, appreciate you being part of the panel.

And just ahead, Donald Trump says he feels like he's running against the Republicans as well as the Democrats. Stand by for his reaction to members of his party who still are refusing to jump on the Trump bandwagon.


[18:40:51] KEILAR: More on the breaking news in the airport terror investigation ahead. Right now Donald Trump is railing at his critics within the GOP, saying his former primary rivals should pay a price for not endorsing him. There's no sign that the feuding is easing with the party's convention less than three weeks away.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in New Hampshire, where Trump had a campaign event just a short time ago.

What did he say, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, Donald Trump was off script at times today. He was holding a town-hall-style meeting here in New Hampshire to talk about his plans for trade and the economy. The presumptive GOP nominee, as you said, he's been getting off the teleprompter in recent days and making his feelings perfectly clear about members of his own party who refuse to rally behind his campaign.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Just weeks before he's set to become the Republican nominee, Donald Trump isn't feeling like the life of the party.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE (via phone): Well, it's almost, in some ways, like I'm running against two parties.


TRUMP: I'm not sure it matters, because I think we're going to win.

ACOSTA: Trump is now openly complaining at his rallies about his past rivals refusing to endorse him, despite signing a GOP loyalty pledge to support the party's eventual nominee, a document Trump agreed to himself.

TRUMP (on camera): They broke their word. In my opinion they should never be allowed to run for public office again, because what they did is disgraceful.

ACOSTA: But it's not just Trump's opponents from the primaries. GOP senators are hesitating to get on board, big time.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Donald Trump was not my second choice. He was not my third choice. And I'm going to see what happens at the convention.

It's going to be very important to me whom Donald Trump chooses as his running mate. And that is arguably the most important decision that a candidate can make.

ACOSTA: On Trump's vice-presidential search, CNN has learned New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being vetted by the campaign but one caution (ph), it's not clear how high Christie is on the list.

Utah Senator Mike Lee, in an interview with "The Huffington Post," is urging Trump to consider Ted Cruz. But Lee is still furious that Trump once floated a bogus conspiracy theory about Cruz's father.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH (via phone): We can get into the fact that he accused my best friend's father of conspiring to kill JFK.

ACOSTA: And Cruz hasn't even endorsed Trump. Lee says he's not ready to back him either.

LEE: I'd like some assurances that he is going to be a vigorous defender for the U.S. Constitution. That he's not somebody who's going to abuse a document to which I've sworn an oath to uphold and protect and defend.

ACOSTA: And Trump's tough message on trade remains a concern for Republicans. Consider his latest verbal assault on Mexico, a key U.S. trading partner.

TRUMP: Their leaders are so much smarter, so much sharper. And it's incredible. In fact, that could be a Mexican plane up there; they're getting ready to attack.

ACOSTA: Then there are his counterattacks on key GOP-friendly groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that are making party insiders even more nervous.

TRUMP: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is totally controlled by the special interest groups.

ACOSTA: Which brings some Republicans back to their last nominee, Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My wife and kids wanted me to run again this time, interestingly enough. And I got an e-mail from one of my sons yesterday, saying, "You've got to get in, Dad. You've got to get in."

ACOSTA: But Romney added, don't hold your breath. ROMNEY: The idea of running and asking people to come around me with

the sole purpose of being a spoiler is not something I could go out in good faith to donors and to workers and voters and say, "Come help me stop this candidate or that candidate."


ACOSTA: Now, Trump and Clinton went back and forth today on the issue of trade. Trump accused Clinton and really guaranteed that she would sign the proposed Transpacific trade deal with only a few meaningless modifications.

The Clinton campaign fired back late today, noting that many of Donald Trump's products, like his ties and so forth, are made overseas.

Now, we should also point out, Brianna, a recent poll showed a little more than half of Republicans would rather vote for somebody else besides Trump. That is a lot of ground to make up with the GOP convention only three weeks away -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. It is an eyebrow-raising figure there. Jim Acosta in New Hampshire for us.

I want to bring in CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty, as well as CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. We have "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Jeff, first question to you. But just as an aside, I'm looking at Mitt Romney there and it strikes me he's such a better candidate when he's not candidate, you know? He's --

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Sure. He has to have those thoughts in his mind like, why am I not in that position?

KEILAR: He just seems very comfortable.

As we watch Donald Trump, it sort of seems like he keeps trying to do the reboot. But it's like someone who's learning how to drive stick shift. He's like stopping and starting and kind of all over the place.

ZELENY: He certainly is with people who aren't necessarily on board with him. His supporters, it's important to point out, are still, you know, fully, fully behind him. The problem with that is that there's a limit to those supporters. That's the Republican primary electorate. He has to broaden and grow, and that's what he's struggling and doing.

I think one thing that is going to answer the question of if he can grow and expand is how he's doing in the states. They have a few more weeks to get things on the ground. Ohio, for example, this week, he hired a very smart, talented campaign strategist from the Rob Portman school of politics. In Iowa, he has a good operative.

So, there are more things going on in the ground now, but the candidate is still not firing on all cylinders. It doesn't seem like. But this trade message is a potent one. The Clinton campaign thinks it is. They're watching this very carefully.

So, again, far too early to make any long term predictions here.

KEILAR: The trade one cost her Michigan, right?

ZELENY: It did.

KEILAR: So, she's certainly very worried about that.

Gloria, you hear Donald Trump. He said he's feeling like he's fighting both side here, Democrats and Republicans. This is so much discord when we're looking at party that is less than three weeks out from the convention. What is that convention going to look like if this continues?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's going to look different, Brianna. Look, he got to make a virtue out of problems he has. He has problems because people like Marco Rubio and John Kasich are not endorsing him, his former competitors who would usually be at that podium and give resounding speeches in support of him.

So, what is he going to do? He's going to use his children who are his best spokesmen. He -- they are going to be the character witnesses for him during this convention. He will use business people, entrepreneurs, sports figure, perhaps. It will be a completely different kind of convention from anything we have ever seen.

And I think the centerpiece of it will be Donald Trump, his family, his family values and presenting kind of a different side of Donald Trump that maybe we haven't seen in this campaign through the view of the people who know him the best, which is his family.

KEILAR: There's, Sunlen, alternative still, or not an alternative but an appetite for an alternative to Donald Trump. You have John Kasich, Ohio governor who is putting out a fund raising e-mail, that shows he fares better in a general election than Donald Trump. And then, walk us through this number where half of Republicans, 52 percent of them in an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, say they would prefer a different nominee.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is so striking. The fact this big number is coming up now, three weeks before a convention, exactly the time where Republicans want to be united.

This is not the position Donald Trump clearly wants to be in. These continued nagging questions. Will there be an alternative? Is there a viable option? The fact is, there hasn't been a viable option that has stepped up now. That's really what has bedeviled the Stop Trump movement from the start.

But certainly going into the convention, Donald Trump wanting to be riding high this month. This is the time he wants to be unifying the party. Instead, these continued questions keep coming up. And I think we have seen some frustrations boiling over him as we saw in Jim's piece, him talking about the people who aren't rallying behind his campaign that they're a disgrace in the party.

So, clearly he's a little frustrated at this moment.

KEILAR: How bad is it for his prospects against Hillary Clinton if you're looking at this number that certainly is not what Mitt Romney had four years ago?

DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, it does not look good. Donald Trump has time to regroup still before the convention and going into the general. But part of what's going on here is you see in these many clips of him talking about Republicans not supporting him, it's an issue of Republicans having to look out for themselves not just look out for the nominee.

In 2012, Republicans were not enthusiastic about Mitt Romney but they didn't feel like he was doing damage to them or the brand or the party. That's a concern with Trump.

KEILAR: Do you think that, maybe I already know the answer to this, but as we talk about Donald Trump trying to bring the party together, he has some new advisors. Yes, new advisors. Some that are newer, newish, who seem to be level headed.

[18:50:01] But is he listening to them, do you think?

ZELENY: Well, we'll find out. I think he's listening to them more than he was, because he is doing some key hiring and they are doing more in terms of voter outreach and the things that we don't necessarily see, but the things that are kind of below the campaign, you know, like identifying voters who may be open to supporting him.

So, a lot of the people he's hired like Mike Biondo again in New Hampshire, a very smart strategist. We'll see if he listens to them or not. If past is prologue, he hasn't always, but he knows this is a different moment as well here. So, I think we'll see if he listens to them or not.

When the teleprompter is not, he seems to and there is a Mexican plane in the sky.


ZELENY: That's not going to necessarily cost him the election. I mean, we can talk about it, but --

BORGER: The question is whether he should continue railing against people who have decided they're not going to support him. You know, I understand to a certain degree that talking about maybe Rubio and Kasich and Cruz can help him rally his base, but he's already got his base, and, you know, my question is to his advisers, is -- you know, at a certain point you have to move on because you're looking for new people to vote for you and to keep living in the past and railing against the people you've already defeated. You know, what's the point in that? You know, he's already got the

Trump supporters. They're not going anywhere and they don't like Kasich and Rubio anyway. So why --

KEILAR: Yes, he has to stretch. He has to do that.

All right. Gloria, Sunlen, Jeff, David, thank you so much to all of you.

And just ahead, Bill Clinton hops aboard the attorney general's plane for a private chat. But with his wife in the middle of a federal investigation, was that really the right move?


[18:56:14] KEILAR: Eyebrows and questions are raised after Bill Clinton hops aboard the attorney general's plane for a chat even as his wife is in the middle of a federal investigation.

We are back with CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

That's the question. Should he have done this? What was he thinking?

ZELENY: Well, Brianna, legally, there are no problems here. But, optically, they're certainly are. It's causing some Democrats to shake their heads and Republicans to renew their call for a special prosecutor into her email investigation.


LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I did see the president at the Phoenix airport the other night, as I was landing, he was headed out.

ZELENY (voice-over): That meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton is raising new questions tonight.

LYNCH: He did come over and say hello and speak to my husband and myself, and talked about his grandchildren and his travels and things like that. So, that was the extent of that.

ZELENY: At the Phoenix Airport Monday night, the former president saw Lynch's plane on the tarmac. He climbed aboard taking Lynch by surprise, a law enforcement official told CNN. They talked privately for about 30 minutes.

LYNCH: No discussions were held on any cases or anything of that, and he didn't raise anything about that either.

ZELENY: Both sides say it was a chance meeting, a coincidence, but critics are calling it a conflict, considering Lynch is overseeing the ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email servers. The encounter gives fresh ammunition to those who have called for a special prosecutor, skeptical the Obama administration's Justice Department can be objective. It lit up conservative talk radio today with Donald Trump leading the charge.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Do you see a thing like this? And even in terms of judgment, how bad a judgment is it for him or for her to do this? I mean, who would do this?

ZELENY: The attorney general said she did not discuss the e-mail investigation with the former president. She said the probe had not been politicized.

LYNCH: It is being handled by career investigators and career agents who always follow the facts and the laws.

ZELENY: The White House said today it wouldn't second guess the private meeting and defended Lynch.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's view is that this is an investigation that should be conducted free of any sort of political interference and the attorney general has indicated that that's exactly her expectation as well.

ZELENY: Yes, it raises questions why Lynch would put herself in this position, given questions she's already faced about the sensitivity of the investigation.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Have you discussed the Clinton e-mail investigation with President Obama or anyone at the White House?

LYNCH: No, sir, I have not.

GRAHAM: Do you anticipate that happening?

LYNCH: No, sir, I do not.

ZELENY: On CNN's "NEW DAY", Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said the appearance of a conflict is bad enough.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I don't think it sends the right signal. I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual social meeting with the former president.

ZELENY: It's a new headache for Clinton who's off the campaign trail today, at home in Chappaqua. The e-mail controversy is still weighing on her candidacy as she waits to be interviewed by the FBI.


ZELENY: Now, the reason this is all so sensitive is because it's taking place in the middle of this FBI investigation.

Now, just a short time ago, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas recalled his call for Lynch to step aside on this case, saying this, "This incident does nothing to instill the confidence on the American people that her department can fully and fairly conduct this investigation. That's why a special counsel is needed now more than ever.

KEILAR: It brings this up when it's not what she wants to be talking about. But on a different note, she does have a pretty big week ahead, right?

ZELENY: She does.

KEILAR: With out on the campaign trail, some pretty big firepower. For the first time campaigning with the president, this is a rescheduled trip and they were going to Wisconsin a couple of weeks go, rescheduled because of the Orlando shooting. And North Carolina, that's where they're headed on Tuesday, the most important state she wants to win that he lost in 2012.

KEILAR: And she's with Biden at the end of the week. It's pretty amazing.

All right. Thanks, Jeff.

I'm Brianna Keilar. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.