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President Obama on Iran Cash; Republican Civil War?; Hillary's Bounce; Serial Shooter Strikes Again. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 4, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He defended that. He insisted no ransom was paid. And he also strongly defended the Iran nuclear deal, saying it worked. And even Israeli military intelligence believes it has worked.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he made a point that I have been hearing from administration officials for these last several days, as this $400 million story broke again, in effect, because the president is right that we knew about this transfer going back to months ago, when those hostages, when those American prisoners were released, the new details being that when they made that initial $400 million payment, which were, as a matter of fact, frozen Iranian assets from a number of decades ago, that it was in cash.

The president saying here the reason it has to be in cash was because sanctions had worked, that Iran did not have access to the international banking system, so we couldn't do it by wire transfer. We had to do it, in effect, old-school, and then going on to say -- to try to basically claim credit for this new diplomacy with Iran, because he said, listen, the fact that we were talking with Iran about their nuclear problem allowed us to talk to Iran other things, including Americans held in captivity and including this concern for Iran of frozen assets before.

The trouble is even his own Justice Department saw the obvious appearance, at least, of releasing those American prisoners on the same day that a plane full of cash goes to Iran. And even if you did, and this is true, have separate negotiating tracks, when it happens at the same time, it's difficult, if possible to fight the impression that it was a quid pro quo.

And the fact is, historically, Iran has played this game before. They have taken prisoners, Americans and other nationalities, over specious claims, held them, kind of held them as bargaining chips and either traded them for other Iranians or for, well, in this case, the argument is, or at least the appearance, they wouldn't have released them unless the money was released at the same time.

But the president fighting back against that. Finally, as you noted, Wolf, there the president saying he asked this rhetorical question which is really a pie in the sky question, saying wouldn't it be great if those critics of the Iran deal who said all these bad things are going to happen, that Iran was going to cheat, it would be great if they publicly said today and acknowledged that actually Iran has abided by the terms of the deal.

That is something I have heard from intelligence officials. It's something that Israeli officials have said as well. But you and I both know that is something that is very unlikely to happen here in Washington.

BLITZER: Jake, what did you think about the president's defense of his decision to provide that $400 million to Iran on the very same day that those four American prisoners, those hostages were released and the president insisting this was not ransom?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things we should do for just a second is to step back and take a look at where President Obama is in his presidency.

He wakes up today, his 55th birthday, with the highest approval ratings, the highest job approval ratings he had since the very beginning of his second term. He's been in office for 3.5 years. You saw -- and I think this is something that is quite a contrast, as David Gergen noted, from what we're seeing on the campaign trail, a very measured response.

He obviously took issue with "The Wall Street Journal" report and the follow by the rest of us in the media about this $400 million. Said this is something he had announced in January. This is no big secret and he thought it was interesting. That's where he let the media criticism kind of drop.

He just said I find it interesting it happened. We announced it, et cetera. It is true that the deal cut, the settling of this complaint that was in The Hague, that that was announced in January. A lot of the details that "The Wall Street Journal" broke were not known.

But without getting into the details of his defense, I think, at least based on his current job approval numbers, there are a lot of Americans who are going to take his word for it and also just approve of the measured tone that he brings to his presidency.

BLITZER: And once again, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The president just wrapped up a one-hour news conference on several key issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and the payment of $400 million to the Iranians on the very same day that four American prisoners were released. The president insisting this was not ransom.

Elise Labott is our global affairs correspondent.

Elise, you have learned it's not just $400 million that was provided to the Iranians, but the balance of that money was provided as well.


That initial $400 million was actually an Iranian trust that when that failed Iran deal went sour in the 1970s under the shah of Iran, the money was put in trust. This is the money that Iran has claimed is interest.


You have heard the president and others say that the Iranians were really calling for $10 billion and they thought that when this went into The Hague that they would have lost much more money if they lost that suit.

So, the $1.3 billion is in the interest money. We understand that did go to Iran earlier this year also in foreign currency, because they have to work around those U.S. sanctions.

But I understand it was not in cash, because now Iran has access to the international community. What officials are saying is if you look at everything that went down that day, Wolf, not only the implementation of the Iran deal, the settlement and those prisoners, officials say the $400 million is really was what Iran's least priority. What they really wanted was to lift those international sanctions. They wanted to get their nationals back.

And so, yes, the U.S. did make this payment and sort of clear accounts, as President Obama said, taking opportunity to wrap up all those issues with Iran. It was really the lifting of the sanctions, the access to the international banks, and also getting back their seven Iranian nationals that was really priority and that they say that everyone here, the political climate is just making too much out of it.

BLITZER: Yes. The administration says back in the 1970s, in '78, '79, the then shah of Iran gave the United States $400 million for weapons purchases. Those weapons were never delivered. They say the $400 million economy was provided then with compounded interest became $1.7 billion.

That's why they got the $400 million first and the $1.3 billion later. That's the argument that the administration says.

I want to go back to David Axelrod and talk about ISIS.

David, where does ISIS fit -- the president wrapping up his eight years in office. Where will ISIS fit into his legacy?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, the whole scope of these eight years and how this story has evolved when we got to Washington -- and I was with him at the time -- there were 180,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He brought many of them home. Some are still there. And obviously the situation has morphed. The Iraqi regime, the hope was that they would find some political solution that would be mindful of all of the sects in Iraq. That didn't happen, created conditions that exploded.

I'm sure there will be a lot of thought. And he spoke to it today about Syria and some of the decisions he made. So, bringing those troops home and some of those steps will be part of the legacy, and the ongoing struggle with ISIS and terrorism will be part of that legacy as well.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr is with us, our Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara, you were in the briefing room at the Pentagon. You asked the president a very important question about ISIS. Was his answer up to speed? Was it what you thought he should deliver?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think I was very struck by his repeated theme which we have not heard a lot about, which is the expansion of ISIS far beyond Iraq and Syria.

ISIS now said to be in some 18 countries perhaps, and he talked about that, that they have expanded, that they have adapted far beyond the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. He talked about you still have to defeat them there, but what about this expanded threat? We have seen all of these attacks in Europe, Bangladesh, in the Middle East.

What do you do about all of that? That's perhaps the much tougher problem. So, I asked him, well, what about the homeland? They all -- all government officials talk about that the homeland is safer than it might have been without the additional security measures of recent years. They have helped significantly.

But I thought it was very telling when we asked about the possibility of a threat to the U.S. homeland, he said, I think it's serious. He does believe clearly that they have to keep an eye on these ISIS networks and operatives that may be inside the United States. No proof of it. But they could be here. He made the point that ISIS, these people could be without a criminal record, no gun violations.

They could go out and buy weapons. It's one of the things that makes it so hard to track these people down. We have seen for years now the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security go after these people, but the president making it clear he's very much holding open the notion that there is an ISIS threat to the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, you also asked the president if he was confident, if he was OK with the thought that if Donald Trump were president he would be in control of nuclear weapons. He did not give a flat yes in his response to you.


STARR: I thought that was perhaps the most fascinating, the president saying that he has very strong feelings again about Donald Trump's ability and temperament to be president of the United States. He said he's talked about this repeatedly.

I brought it back to the question, but do you believe he can be trusted with America's nuclear weapons? I just want to read quickly what we did get from the president.

He said -- and let me quote here -- basically, he says: "Just listen to what Mr. Trump has to say and make your own judgment with respect to how confident you feel about his ability to manage things like our nuclear triad."

For a president, a sitting president of the United States, people can make their own judgment. Many people may believe that falls far short of an endorsement of Mr. Trump's ability to handle the nuclear arsenal.

BLITZER: The president also said he has no choice but making sure that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton receive daily intelligence briefings, because that's the law and the tradition with nominees of the major parties.

Nia-Malika Henderson is with us as well, our senior political reporter.

Having said all that, he seemed -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- a bit more toned down than he was the other day, when he was standing next to the Prime Minister Lee of Singapore.


In that non-news conference, we remember him essentially saying that he thought Donald Trump was unfit to be president. He didn't repeat that today. He almost seemed to not want so many questions on Donald Trump.

I think he got about three or four and he almost at one point seemed to say this is what I'm going to say and for anybody else who wants to ask about Donald Trump, you can refer to what I'm about to say now.

I think maybe the White House might be worried about him giving too much airtime to Donald Trump. There's plenty of time for this campaign obviously and there's going to be everyone out there among Democrats really going after Donald Trump.

I thought they probably felt like this setting with the Pentagon, with ISIS, talking about matters of national security, not wanting to waste too much time talking about Donald Trump, given that they really set I think a new standard in terms of his take on Donald Trump in that previous press conference.

BLITZER: He was also asked about Donald Trump.

I'm anxious to get your thoughts. Manu Raju is our senior political reporter.

About Trump's accusations that this could be a rigged election.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the president saying that is a ridiculous claim. Kind of laughed it off.

To your guys' point, this was a subdued president. He has really pulled his punches on Donald Trump. There are plenty of opportunities for him to do that. He decided not to do that here.

They clearly viewed this news conference as something to talk about national security. The president's eye is on the ball, that he's not forgotten about the real threat to the homeland, because even if his poll numbers are rising, which they are, you look at the poll numbers, you drill down, a large segment of this population is still nervous about the direction of the country; 46 percent of Americans in the most recent poll do not think things are going well right now.

And why? Because of national security issues. That's causing a lot of this anxiety. And similarly Donald Trump is actually doing pretty well on national security questions in polls right now, actually leading Hillary Clinton, so one reason why the president made this a big focus of his press conference.

BLITZER: Jake, he always going on vacation at this time, goes up to Martha's Vineyard. He's about to leave. Today happens to be his birthday a well, as he reminds us he's 55 years old.

He always does a news conference, a major news conference before he leaves on vacation. It's almost always at the White House in the East Room of the White House, wraps it up. Then he goes on vacation.

In this particular time, he decided to do it at the Pentagon. Talk a little bit about the optics and why he decided to do this news conference at the Pentagon.

TAPPER: I think one of the reasons is he had a meeting there and it was a briefing on ISIS. And so he was going to be there.

The White House is definitely sensitive to accusations that the president doesn't take the threat of ISIS seriously enough, based on some of the comments he's made where people have objected to times he's attempted to say keep this in perspective, keep in mind these are small attacks, et cetera.

Americans are scared. Whether it's a small attack that only kills three people or an attack that kills more, it's still a horrific loss of life. And obviously the president has never meant to belittle any of that, but he's one who is skeptical of the constant drumbeat that the sky is falling.

One other thing that is interesting though in terms of his reluctance to go after Donald Trump, you're right, Nia-Malika. There are people in the White House who don't want him to go after Trump every time he speaks. Don't want that to be the centerpiece of the message he's giving to the American people.

I would guess one the reasons for that is political capital, and the president has some right now, his poll numbers are up, his highest job approval rating since the beginning of the second term. It's a very valuable commodity. There's not an endless supply of it.


And it can be squandered very quickly. If the president were to make every single press conference from now until Election Day about how much he dislikes Donald Trump and how unfit he thinks Donald Trump is, then eventually people might start tuning it out.


TAPPER: He really wants to be an effective surrogate for Hillary Clinton in September and especially in October.

He doesn't want to just be another talking head on television. He derides cable TV and the likes of all the time. He doesn't want to become that. He wants to be the president of the United States, so that when he does say something like Hillary Clinton is this and Donald Trump is that, people really take notice.

And I think that there is an effort at the White House to protect that political capital, protect that commodity, so that when it is really needed in October, when this race will likely tighten significantly, and who knows what's going to happen -- Hillary is up a lot right now over Donald Trump, but anything could happen to Hillary Clinton.

That said, you want to make sure that you deploy it when you need it.

BLITZER: Our new CNN/ORC poll shows he's at a high 54 percent job approval number right now. It's the highest he's had in about 3.5 years.

It's similar to what President Clinton had at this late state of his second term and just very similar to what Ronald Reagan had at this late stage in his second term.

Everybody, stand by. We're going to have much more on the breaking news. Let's take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, President Obama speaking out about Donald Trump just a little while ago at a Pentagon news conference.

The president confirmed the Republican nominee will in fact receive classified intelligence briefings every day. That's in keeping, the president said, with the tradition and the law. But the president also said if Donald Trump wants to president, he should start acting like a president, adding that he hopes Donald Trump won't share that classified information.

Trump was appearing somewhat more presidential today, mostly avoiding any of the most controversial remarks at a campaign rally.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is joining us. He was there.

Jason, Trump returned to his focus almost exclusively on Hillary Clinton.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did. In some ways, it was a much different Donald Trump that we saw here today in Portland. Not as much of the name-calling. We did hear him talk about a number of issues, the issue of illegal

immigration, a cornerstone to his campaign, as you know, Wolf. He talked about the danger of letting in immigrants from places like Somalia and Morocco. He also continued to raise questions about how that $400 payment to Iran.


CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump looking to steady his campaign after several rocky day by taking aim at Hillary Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton, furthermore, can never be trusted with national security.

CARROLL: And attacking the Obama administration's $400 million payment to Iran, but still repeating the false claim that he saw video of the transfer taking place.

TRUMP: A tape was made. Right? You saw that with the airplane coming in. Nice plane. And the airplane coming in. And the money coming off, I guess. Right? That was given to us, has to be, by the Iranians. You know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country. They want to embarrass our country. And they want to embarrass our president.

CARROLL: This as the GOP nominee tries to reassure voters and Republican leaders wary of his recent series of missteps that his campaign is moving in the right direction. Helping him make the case, a big July fund-raising haul.

TRUMP: It was $80 million or $82 million. We're raising a lot of money for the Republican Party, but small contributions -- I think it was $61 each.

CARROLL: But Trump's rhetoric catching up with his running mate on the trail, with Mike Pence today being challenged by an 11-year-old boy on whether his role is to tone down Trump's words and policies.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sometimes, things don't come out like you mean, right? And Donald Trump and I are absolutely determined to work together. We have differences styles. Differences in style, Matthew, should never be confused with differences in conviction.

CARROLL: Pence and Trump do have a split when it comes to support for House Speaker Paul Ryan, with Pence endorsing Paul Ryan Wednesday, a day after Trump said he wasn't ready to do so.

Ryan today shrugged off Trump's nonendorsement.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The only endorsements that I want are those of my own employers here in 1st Congressional District.

CARROLL: Ryan also opening the door of potentially not backing Trump in the future. RYAN: None of these things are ever blank checks. That goes with any

situation in any kind of race.

CARROLL: While he is backing Ryan, Pence today refused to endorse two other Republicans Trump has criticized, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, both seeking reelection to the Senate this year.

PENCE: I look forward to supporting Republican candidates in the days and weeks ahead all over the country. And so does Donald Trump.

CARROLL: There was also new evidence of frustration with Trump's candidacy among Republicans. Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, who is facing a tough reelection, released a TV ad vowing to take on Trump.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: So, if Donald Trump is the president, I will stand up to him.

CARROLL: A fresh round of poll numbers today show Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in three key states, up nine points in Michigan, 13 points in Pennsylvania, and 15 points in New Hampshire, where that deficit could also spell trouble for Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte's reelection bid.

But Trump campaign chairman Manafort says the dip is no surprise.


PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We had a bounce. We knew that the Democrats would have a bounce.


CARROLL: So, Wolf, we will see if Trump has more to say about that $400 million payment to Iran when he has his rally tomorrow in Wisconsin.

As for what happened here today, at one point, a group of protesters stood up and held up pocket versions of the Constitution. They were escorted out, of course, this a reference to Khizr Khan, the family who stood up during the DNC and held up a version of the Constitution, asking Trump...

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we just lost the connection with Jason Carroll, but he was wrapping up his point.

I want to get some more on all of this right now.

Joining us, the Trump campaign senior adviser Jack Kingston. He's a former Republican congressman from Georgia.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's get through a lot of questions that have been raised today.

As you just heard at the news conference, the president questioned Donald Trump's ability to receive classified briefings, even though he said he will receive them. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I'm not going to go into details of the nature of the security briefings that both candidates receive.

What I will say is that they have been told these are classified briefings. And if they want to be president, they got to start acting like president. And that means being able to receive these briefings and not spread them around.


BLITZER: Clearly, clearly, Congressman, he's concerned about Donald Trump getting the briefings, although he will receive the briefings. Your reaction?

KINGSTON: I think the president is putting on his Democrat hat and putting on his partisan hat.

He absolutely was acting in that statement. I think for -- obviously, the president of the United States is going to be concerned about national security, but you can tell, the way he phrased that, is that he was trying to cast doubt on -- there's no question about where President Obama stands in this election.

And I think any clever jab or a slight that he can -- or doubt that he can put over the Trump campaign, he is going to do that. But I think also he wanted to take the attention away from the $400 million in cash that was sent to Iran.

Senator Tom Cotton has sent letter to Secretary Lew and Secretary Kerry about it asking some very pointed questions which if the president is going to be up front about the $400 million in cash, then I hope he will answer those questions and focus on those sorts of things and maybe back off his partisanship in this election.

BLITZER: But you did hear the president go in depth in explaining that $400 million transaction to Iran, also strongly defending the Iran nuclear deal. He went point by point by point and made his case. You heard him say that.

KINGSTON: You know what? I heard him say, oh, that's old news, which, as you know, is a very Clinton-esque kind of tactic when you're caught doing something. You say, oh, yes, no, we reported that at the time.

We have gone down that route before with Bill Clinton. I think what we are -- what we need to have is Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew go down to the Hill and talk to the senators and talk to the House and make sure that they have answered all these questions and that this was not in fact ransom money. And I think it also raises the question of a $1.7 billion payment

transfer to Iran in general. I don't think the American people quite have focused on how much money we will be paying Iran as part of this nuclear deal. And it opens up the whole question about the nuclear treaty with Iran, which Hillary Clinton has embraced and Donald Trump is saying he's going to rip it to shreds and start all over.

I think there is a difference there. And the president has opened up, believe, a can of words which the American people will want know more about far beyond the $400 million in cash.

BLITZER: But you remember, back in January, when the deal was announced, the president and the secretary of state, John Kerry, they did say the $400 million was part of the deal, part of a bigger $1.7 billion the U.S. was providing to Iran because of a longstanding dispute going back to the days of the shah.

They didn't say it was being provided, the $400 million, on unmarked Swiss francs and euros on an unmarked cargo plane that was arriving the same day, but they did talk about the $1.7 billion deal.

KINGSTON: And I think it's just a topic that the American people may want to know more about, because, certainly, it is a defining difference between the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign.

And is this a deal that the American people are going to be happy about 10 years down the road? Are they going to be very leery in dealing with a nuclear Iran?

And so, to me, the president really does not want to talk about this. And the fact that he brought this up and brought up in the same press conference that ISIS is now in 18 different countries and a threat to the United States of America, that is scary.

[18:30:09] And if there's two things that the Trump campaign will talk more and more about, it is the economy and it is the failed foreign policy, which Hillary Clinton was an architect of. And remember, ISIS did not exist when they came to office. ISIS was a birth or creation that happened under their watch. And now for it to be well beyond its original borders, it's a thing that all Americans are going to be very concerned about as we go into the election.

BLITZER: ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq. It used to be al Qaeda in Iraq. It later became the Islamic State, or ISIS as you point out.

Donald Trump has also been saying now that there's video of that $400 million cash transfer to Iran on the very same day that those four American prisoners were released. Let me play the clip for you once again, Congressman.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The tape was made. Right? You saw that with the airport coming in. Nice plane. And the airplane coming in and the money coming off, I guess. Right? That was given to us -- has to be -- by the Iranians. And you know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country. They want to embarrass our country, and they want to embarrass our president.


BLITZER: But -- but the only video that we've seen are the video of some plane in Geneva at the time the detainees were released. We haven't seen any video of the transfer of this money inside Iran. And I think that's pretty clear. So why does Donald Trump keep bringing this video up?

KINGSTON: You know, I can't answer that question, Wolf. But I do think, when you're dealing with Iran and countries like this, you're going to have a lot of false information. And it underscores why the president of the United States should be forthcoming with, "Hey, here's what we did and you may remember we did this in January. Now, I'm going to give full details again. I'm sending my top secretaries down to the Hill. They're going to talk to Senator Tom Cotton, who's already asked a lot of questions about it, and we're going to answer all the questions. And if there's a video out there, then we'll talk about it.

I do not know all the details of it. But I know that, when you deal with Iran and you identity them as a new ally, you're going to have problems like this which, again, underscores the uncertainty that has been created in our foreign policy under the current administration.

BLITZER: The only video, though, we've seen is that plane in Geneva. I think even the campaign, the Trump campaign has suggested that. And so that's why it's curious why Donald Trump keeps speaking about video released by the Iranians. If there is such video -- and maybe there is -- we certainly haven't seen it. It hasn't been on television.

Let me get to these poll numbers for you, Congressman. New polling in New Hampshire, for example, shows Hillary Clinton ahead -- you can see it right there -- by 15 points. In other key battleground states, as well. How worried are you about all these poll numbers that are coming out right now which shows not only nationally but in key battleground states Hillary Clinton leading decisively?

KINGSTON: You know, one thing that we've learned coming out of Cleveland and Philadelphia is how fluid this campaign is. We had a great bounce coming out of Cleveland. We knew that would not last. We knew that Hillary Clinton would get a great bounce out of Philadelphia. She's enjoying that bounce right now.

Obviously, last week wasn't a great week for us. But the reality is the American people are still going to be focused on the economy and the fact that you have 95 million people who are not in the labor force right now who should be. You've got 43 million people on Food Stamps. You have the lowest homeownership rate since the 1950s.

And I think, as we go into November, people are going to put aside some of these side shows and say, you know, "What is the central issue? Central issue is that my income and my job opportunities have shrunk under the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton administration policies, and I want change. And if I'm going to vote for change, it's going to be Donald Trump."

BLITZER: The former House speaker, a man you know well from Georgia, Trump supporter Newt Gingrich said this about Donald Trump in an interview with "The Washington Post." I'll put it up on the screen. He said, referring to Trump, "He can't learn what he doesn't know, because he doesn't know he doesn't know it," which is sort of, you know, making fun of Donald Trump. Wouldn't you say that?

KINGSTON: I'd say it's very poetic. And I think you can barely follow it but you can follow it.

You know what I think what we have here, Wolf, is have a guy who came up through the New York business community. It's a tough community. There's a lot of brashness that you have to have to do business to be successful, as Donald Trump has been. And I think what we're seeing right now is the transition from a guy who's leaving the private sector and kind of a bare-knuckles street brawl kind of approach, to now transitioning to the public sector, where you have to be a lot more careful with what you say and what battles you pick and choose. I think -- I think we're getting there. It's going to take a while.

[18:35:12] The things that Americans have liked about Donald Trump is that, by saying these things, he underscores the fact that he is not bought and paid for by Washington lobbyists, which Hillary Clinton cannot make that claim.

And I think when you have a change agent, a guy who's not from the establishment, you kind of have to love him warts and all. And I think America right now is going to have to choose: Do you want change? Do you want a stronger economy? Do you want a better foreign policy? And if you do, you've got to go with Donald Trump. If you like the status quo, then Hillary Clinton is there to carry on the baton of Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Jack Kingston is a senior advisor to Donald Trump, to the Trump campaign; former congressman from Georgia.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

KINGSTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Much more on the breaking news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break.


[18:40:40] BLITZER: Let's get over to the Pentagon, where President Obama just finished a news conference, an hour-long news conference, a little while ago.

Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is joining us right now.

Michelle, some major headlines in this news conference. MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, this

was President Obama very clearly not wanting to be overly rah-rah about how the fight against ISIS is going. We didn't hear phrases like "ISIS is desperate" or "ISIS is on the run." His tone was very much acknowledging that, yes, branches of ISIS have spread, and even if ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria, which he says is necessary, it's going to take a lot longer to stop its influence.

And where we saw him get feisty in his press conference is when he answered his critics, namely and especially Donald Trump.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Obama defended his ISIS strategy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ISIL has not had a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq in a full year. Even ISIL's leaders know they're going to keep losing. In their message to followers, they're increasingly acknowledging that they may lose Mosul and Raqqah, and ISIL is right. They will lose them. And we'll keep hitting them and pushing them back and driving them out until they do. In other words, ISIL turns out not to be invincible. They are, in fact, inevitably going to be defeated.

KOSINSKI: He pushed back against critics who called a $400 million cash payment to Iran a ransom payment.

OBAMA: We have a policy that we don't pay ransom. And the notion that we would somehow start now in this high-profile way and announce it to the world, even as we're looking into the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage and say to them that we don't pay ransom defies logic.

The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions, and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran, that we couldn't send them a check. And we could not wire the money. And it is not at all clear to me why it is that cash, as opposed to a check or wire transfer, has made this into a news story.

KOSINSKI: The president weighing in once again on the 2016 presidential race and calling out Donald Trump.

OBAMA: I've made this point already, multiple times. Just listen to what Mr. Trump has to say and make your own judgment with respect to how confident you feel about his ability to manage things like our nuclear triad.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: With respect, sir, it suggests that you're not confident.

OBAMA: I obviously have a very strong opinion about the two candidates who are running here. One is very positive, and one is not so much.

This is serious business. And the person who is in the Oval Office and who our secretary of defense and our joint chiefs of staff and our outstanding men and women in uniform report to, they are counting on somebody who has the temperament and good judgment to be able to make decisions to keep America safe, and that should be very much on the minds of voters when they go into the voting booth in November.


KOSINSKI: At times the president had an almost mocking tone when he was talking about Donald Trump. Laughing a bit in his answers, using phrases like "conspiracy theories" and "ridiculous." Even though he technically didn't answer Barbara Starr's question there, do you trust Donald Trump with the U.S. nuclear codes, he made his answer very clear in its intent, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he did. Michelle, thank you very much. Michelle Kosinski at the Pentagon today.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's the senior editor at "The Atlantic." "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick. And CNN political analyst, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.

David, the president was asked about Donald Trump's assertions that these elections in the United States may be rigged. Listen to the answer.


OBAMA: Sometimes folks, if they lose, they start complaining that they got cheated. But I've never heard about somebody being cheated before the game was over or before the score is even tallied. So, my suggestion would be, you know, go out there and try to win the election.

If Mr. Trump is up 10 or 15 points on Election Day and ends up losing, then maybe he can raise some questions. That doesn't seem to be the case at the moment.


BLITZER: But he keeps -- Donald Trump keeps talking about a rigged system against -- he's talking about a rigged system during the primaries as well. Is he going to keep on doing this?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it will. It seemed to be effective for him in the primary. He won but it was a popular theme.

What I see President Obama doing in the press conference today is sort of a preemption to Trump's preemption. Trump is preempting results. The president is pre-exempting Trump's rigged claim and I think it's a way too sort of set the political scales for whatever happens in November.

BLITZER: Jackie, do you think Donald Trump is questioning the election system before the election because he's preparing his case in case he loses?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: It certainly seems that way. I think that's why you hear a forcible defense of the system from President Obama as well as from Republican because this goes to the very core of how the United States elects presidents.

But Donald Trump is sort of hedging his bets here, and you heard some of his staff and his supporters start talking about what might happen, some kind of dystopian, you know, scenario. If he does lose, and you know, I think Obama and Republicans have every incentive to say, no, this is a fair system. Why don't you keep your eye on the prize and stop trying to gin up this sort of discontent ahead of everything.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, as you know, there's a fresh round of polls from key battleground states that show Hillary Clinton with very comfortable leads over Donald Trump. The most recent WBUR poll in New Hampshire, especially gloomy for Donald Trump right now. Hillary Clinton at 47 percent. Trump at only 32 percent. She's up by 15 points.

How does Donald Trump overcome that kind of deficit over the next three months?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I would start by saying I think his argument that the election will be rigged is actually placing a bad bet for him, because it's clearly kind of rhetoric that fires up his base. But one of the biggest problem s the majority of the country thinks he's not qualified to be president by temperament or experience. And this idea of questioning the election before it happens I think will reinforce those doubts, especially with the Democrats trying to paint him as an authoritarian figure who would the very kind of underpinnings of democracy itself.

Look, what you're seeing in the state polls, in Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that came out today, as well as the national polls that came out, is the consolidation of a very powerful Democratic coalition against Donald Trump built around two elements. One is huge deficits for him among non-white voters and historic deficits among the college educated voters. We talked about it many times. In history of polling, no Democrat has ever won college educated whites in a presidential election.

Today, in the polling in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton was leading him by 30 points among college educated whites. The number was 28 points in that poll that you cited in New Hampshire.

Essentially, you're seeing these two elements of society viewing Trump as unacceptable as president today and him relying on his big numbers among blue collar whites. It's simply not enough in most states. Pennsylvania is a very good example where his deficit in the suburbs of Philadelphia and the essential city of Philadelphia, both suburban whites and a minority population, it's just not -- you can't overcome that by his growing strength I southwest Pennsylvania, the kind of industrial areas, declining industrial areas where he's so strong.

BLITZER: David, a lot of Republicans are deeply worried that Trump could have a negative affect on some down ballot races. Look at this poll, WBUR poll in New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte is the incumbent Republican. Maggie Hassan is the challenger, the Democrat. Right now, she's at 50 percent, Maggie Hassan. Kelly Ayotte is at 40 percent.

How worried are Republicans right now that if Trump does not do well atop the ticket, others will follow?

SWERDLICK: I think they have to be worried on a case by case basis especially in statewide races. When you're talking about smaller, say, congressional race, a lot of Republican seats are safe Republican seats regardless of the circumstances with Trump.

In New Hampshire, it's not quite as surprising as it might be if the challenger was an unknown commodity, but Governor Hassan is sort of a well-known by New Hampshire voters.

[18:50:05] So, I think what already have been a close race is just -- and then you add the drag for Trump with Senator Ayotte, you see that 10-point spread.

BLITZER: Jackie, you heard the speaker today, Paul Ryan, say in an interview that his endorsement of Donald Trump wasn't necessarily a blank check, wouldn't rule out the possibility of revoking it. Does that threat of losing support from someone like Paul Ryan really hold a lot of significance with Trump?

KUCINICH: It's hard to say because you think if it did, he wouldn't have sort of challenged Paul Ryan earlier this week.

For Paul Ryan, this is all about his agenda and this is all about having someone in the White House that can let him pass his agenda and, you know, sign it into law. If it looks like Donald Trump is going to challenge him in any way, why -- why waste his time with supporting him. He has a great relationship with Mike Pence, and I think they're really leaning on that at this point.

Right now, Trump is an unknown quantity to Paul Ryan because he hasn't followed through on some things they've talked about like party unity, for example.

BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, David Swerdlick, Ron Brownstein -- guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead a serial shooter. A man blamed for seven deaths in just four months strikes again, opening fire on a father and a child seemingly at random, but there may be a critical difference in this latest attack. Will it help lead police to the killer?


[18:56:14] BLITZER: A serial shooter suspected in seven deaths over the last four months has struck again, but now there may be a critical new clue for investigators.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, these shootings are frightening a lot of people in the Phoenix


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf. Tonight, the city of Phoenix is again on edge with new information that this shooter is still at large.

He has terrorized that city for almost five months. Tonight, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals and the Phoenix police are ramping up their efforts to catch this man before he kills again.


TODD (voice-over): He seems to choose his victims randomly, approaches them quickly at night and blast them with a semiautomatic handgun.

Tonight, Phoenix police tell CNN the serial shooter in their city has struck again.

SGT. JONATHAN HOWARD, PHOENIX POLICE: A 21-year-old man and a 4-year- old boy were in a car. It was during that time that we believe the serial street shooter shot at the car. Fortunately, neither the man nor the child were struck.

TODD: That was on July 11th. It's taken weeks for investigators to establish that this was indeed the same man who they say has killed seven people in nine attacks since March.

Children have been targeted twice including 12-year-old Malia Ellis (ph) shot and killed as she listened to music inside a car. Authorities have raised the reward to $50,000, put out this sketch of a suspect. Police tell us he's likely a Hispanic man in his 20s, tall and thin. Profilers say he's a narcissistic psychopath.

PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: What we have here is a person who cares not about anybody else, but himself. He gets a big thrill out of anything that draws attention to him. He wants to feel powerful and in control. He has no empathy whatsoever.

TODD: And no apparent connection to any of his victims, but he does have an M.O. Police say some of the shootings were in east central Phoenix, including the last one. But most have occurred in a blue collar section of West Phoenix called Maryville.

(on camera): What does the pattern tell you?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: What's clear is that he's comfortable in both of these areas of the city, east and west, maybe because he knows a place to park that he considers safe and far enough away, when does these shootings, maybe he's lived in the neighborhood or worked in the neighborhood.

TODD: CNN is told investigators are looking into whether the gunman works in a mechanic shop or car sales lot. Police believe he has access to multiple vehicles, two are described as a white Cadillac or Lincoln-type vehicle or a BMW sedan from the late '90s or early 2000s. He approaches in a car and gets away in a car. He may have an accomplished.

How could this killer slip up?

BROWN: I think the biggest mistake this particular individual might make is that he's starting to think he's invisible, like he's a phantom. Hey, this composite has been out there and nobody's turned me in. They talk about my vehicles. Nobody's turned me in.


TODD: But there could be a critical new piece of information tonight. Phoenix police tell us that unlike his previous attacks in his last attempt, they don't believe the shooter got out of his car. Our analyst Tom Fuentes says that means explosive residue from his gun can likely be detected inside the car, in the seats, in the interior lining. That could be an important clue for police if they can just find that vehicle, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, how specifically have they linked this last shooting to the others?

TODD: Well, it seems to be all about his gun. A source close to the investigation telling us today, Wolf, shell casings at the scene of the last shooting on July 11th match the other shootings. Police say he always seems to be using a semiautomatic handgun.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a very, very disturbing situation. Let's hope they wrap this up in Phoenix in the not too distant future. People are nervous there, understandably so.

Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.

And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.