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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Presidential Debate Preview; Pence Arrives In New York For Tonight's Debate; Awaiting Clinton, Trump Arrivals At First Debate; What To Watch For In Tonight's Debate On CNN. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:31:02]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to a very special debate day edition of THE LEAD live from Hofstra University on Long Island.

In fewer than five hours, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will square off face to face on that stage in the first presidential debate right here on CNN.

How they do could make or break their campaigns.

Jim Acosta live in the spin room for us right now.

And, Jim, this is the first time Donald Trump has debated anyone one on one. His campaign is spinning that all the pressure is on Hillary Clinton. How?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I talked to a Trump adviser earlier today who said it this way.

During the primaries, 75 percent of the attention was on Donald Trump during those debates, so they feel like a 50-50 split between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that works out to be an advantage for Donald Trump.

And, to be honest, Jake, Donald Trump hasn't really been preparing for a one-on-one debate during this entire prep process, according to his campaign. And I checked in again with them last night. They say he has not been preparing with a stand-in for Hillary Clinton.

Instead, he's been going over issues with his advisers. They say he doesn't want to come across as robotic or overprepared. That's how they see Hillary Clinton.

And we obtained a talking points memo from the campaign that was put out to their surrogates and staffers earlier today, Jake. And what they are saying is that, yes, all of the pressure is on Hillary Clinton, when you look at the poll numbers, when you look at the way she's been preparing for these last few days.

She's been out of the public eye. And, finally, what they're saying, and they're saying this time and again, you're hearing it from their surrogates out on the airwaves, Jake, they say Donald Trump is an agent of change and that Hillary Clinton represents the status quo. Expect Donald Trump to repeat that later on tonight, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta.

And joining me now live, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sarah, good to see you, as always. Thanks for being here.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Great to be here.

TAPPER: So, let me just put this out here, 90 minutes, no commercial breaks, one on one. That's tough for anybody. Has he really not done one mock debate, 90 minutes with somebody pretending to be Hillary Clinton?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, not in that setting, but he has prepared in the way that's best for him, and I think that's what is most important.

Look, Donald Trump in a way has been preparing for this for the last year-and-a-half, if not his whole life. He's been out with the people doing long events, doing rallies. He survived against 16 far more credible candidates than Hillary Clinton in the Republican primary.

And he came out on top. And so there's no reason, really, to change that strategy. People are looking for somebody to be authentic. They're looking for the change agent in this race, and nobody can argue that that's not Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Well, he's certainly different.

Let me ask you, one of the things that I think people are wondering about is, which Donald Trump will show up? Sometimes, he goes out and he's very restrained. Other times, he goes out and -- you know, you saw the clip, I'm sure, earlier when he calls, this one is a choke artist, and little Marco, and this and that.

I don't think he ever said anything nasty about your dad, thankfully.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, because he's such a good guy. There's nothing bad to say.

TAPPER: Because he is so wonderful, nothing to criticize about Governor Huckabee.

But is he planning on being the restrained version, or should we just expect him to be himself?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that all of those things are Donald Trump, and I think that's exactly what you can expect.

And that's why he doesn't have to take weeks off the campaign trail to go and cram for the debate. It's because he is who he is. That's why people like him. That's why America is rallying behind him. There's so much energy and enthusiasm behind him, unlike anything I have ever seen for a general election Republican nominee. TAPPER: But, to be fair, one of the things that people like him is

that he shoots from the hip, but one of the things that people don't like about him is, they're concerned about his temperament.

Up to 60 percent of the American people in a recent "Washington Post"/ABC News poll that had it a very close race said that they had concerns about Donald Trump's temperament.

In fact, one of the things that got a lot of news today in Washington, D.C., is the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, who obviously is very partisan, but still used language that is very unusual on the Senate floor criticizing Donald Trump.

[16:35:05]

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump doesn't believe the racist things he does and said are wrong. He says them with full intent, to demean and to denigrate. That's who he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: If Hillary Clinton says something similar about comments that Donald Trump has made that seem to have crossed a line, offending many millions of Americans, Muslim Americans, Latino Americans, other Americans, how is he going to handle it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think Hillary Clinton made the most offensive statement in this campaign when she called so many Trump supporters, veterans, moms, teachers, people like myself, deplorable.

And she showed the utter contempt that she has for so many Trump supporters. And I think she showed us her true colors there. And I think she has got a lot more to answer for than Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Well, when pushed about that, the Clinton campaign said she was referring specifically to the alt-right supporters that you have, the neo-Nazis, the members of the Klan, the proud racists, not you, not veterans, but those individuals who clearly are supporting your candidate.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, I'm glad she certainly clarified that, because that's certainly not the way that it came across. And I don't believe that that's what she meant at all.

Look, here's the bottom line. You're going to have two candidates on this stage with an extremely clear contrast. You have got one that's a career, corrupt politician, and you have got another one that's new, that's a change agent in a race where 70 percent of Americans are looking for change.

To me, that contrast sets them apart. I think just the debate preparation alone shows us what these two candidates are like. And I think that's why it favors Donald Trump, and he's going to do very well tonight.

TAPPER: We will see.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up: fact-checking the debate. Should Clinton try this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: He hired workers from Poland, and he had to pay $1 million.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's wrong. That's wrong. Totally wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And what is the one thing our panel of experts is watching for tonight? That's coming up on the special edition of THE LEAD.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:35]

TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD, debate night in America.

Breaking news, you're looking at video of Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate, just arriving in New York for tonight's debate. There he is.

Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off for the first time just hours from now right here on CNN.

A big question, of course, tonight, whose job is it to fact-check the candidates?

The executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates says it's not the moderator's responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: I think, personally, if you start getting into fact-checking, I'm not sure what is a big fact, what is a little fact?

I don't think it's a good idea to get the moderator in to essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Back with my panel now.

Douglas Brinkley, whose responsibility is it if some -- one of the candidates tell a whopper?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think it's up to the candidates. I think the moderator can only do so much.

Yes, Candy Crowley famously intervened on a debate a former cycle ago. But, really, Hillary Clinton is going to have call Donald Trump out, and Trump is going to have to call Clinton out on mistakes.

I think, in the case of Hillary Clinton, she has got to watch that she doesn't keep going, that's not true, that's not true, that's not true. You become schoolmarmish if you are doing that, like you're correcting papers all the time.

So, she might say, tomorrow, I'm going to post all your misstatements and kind of get around it in a blanket way. And Trump is going to really try to tangle her up in being lawyerly, particularly with that e-mail scandal that she has had.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: "There you go again," that's all you need, right?

TAPPER: There you go again.

(CROSSTALK)

RESTON: Soft, "There you go again."

TAPPER: Well, what do you think, Mr. Mayor?

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: I think it's a three-way responsibility.

The candidates will, on their own -- and they have to decide how they want to do that, as you said earlier. But the moderator, as was said earlier, do so much. Well, do something.

They're big facts, little facts, and then there are lies. If it's just blatantly false, it's known public information, you have to call the person on it.

So, all three, in my view, have a responsibility. You just can't let somebody run up there and say whatever they want and leave it to the public to go on Google on the break. And there are no breaks, so what are you talking about?

TAPPER: Tim, in the past, it has happened that -- for instance, when Gerald Ford infamously said that Poland was not under Soviet rule, the person asking the question kind of tried to get him to -- like, are you sure about that? TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: That's why I think that the

moderator shouldn't fact-check, but should ask follow-ups, and be certain that the question is answered and that the candidate's answer is clear.

So, I think the moderator plays a role, but it's not to be a fact- checker. That's the role of all of us and of the other candidate.

TAPPER: Jeff?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who is telling the truth, to take off from the mayor's suggestion here, let me just give you a recent incident here, the whole birther situation.

The entire media was saying it was not true that the Clinton campaign was connected to it. I can just tell you, I heard from lots and lots of people out there who were sending me chapter and verse that it was so.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: What he said was: "Hillary Clinton started it. Hillary Clinton and her campaign started it. I ended it."

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: Right.

TAPPER: That's not true. That's not true.

LORD: Right.

Sidney Blumenthal is a Clinton ally, right?

TAPPER: Not on the campaign.

LORD: Well, right.

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: Jake, Jake, Jake, see, now, see, this is what I'm saying.

TAPPER: But it's a fact, right.

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: It's fact that he's a total ally of hers.

And you read these e-mails, and they're buddy-buddy all the time. That's a fact.

NUTTER: The accusation was that the campaign did it, Jeff.

LORD: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. I don't want to...

(CROSSTALK) NUTTER: The accusation was that Hillary Clinton did it.

LORD: I'm trying the illustrate something.

(CROSSTALK)

NUTTER: She never did it.

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: Wait, wait, guys. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, the larger point about birtherism, it was started in 2004 by this person in Chicago named Andy Martin. And that's how it actually started. Just FYI.

LORD: I'm not - I'm not talking about birtherism per se here. What I'm trying to illustrate is the moment a moderator gets into that, you're going to have people all over the country forget the issue. You know, saying, "Well, this is -

TAPPER: And then Mary Katherine, and then it becomes about the moderator.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER AT THE FEDERALIST: Well, yeah. I think that conversation is actually an illustration of - like, it's why it's such a blunder to get into every single issue. One of Donald Trump's strange strength is that when there are quite a few of these things coming out the moderator, breaking it up for each one of them does not work. It's the same - it's a challenge for Hillary Clinton as well. Not that he won't have his own challenges coming at each one of her misstatements, and there will be plenty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

HAM: But I think that's one of his strengths actually, to sort of like, blast them and then you can't correct every one of them, and a moderator don't get really bogged down.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Jake, we're going to give someone the highest, most powerful office in the world. What we need to see tonight is how they respond on their own when the unexpected comes up, when somebody throws something in your face, when they try to pull a fast one on you. We need to - if you're going to go in an Oval Office with Putin, you damn well be (INAUDIBLE) be able to handle the other (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: So, they don't need the help of Lester Holt, is the point you're making?

GERGEN: I think he can be the lion tamer. I think he can sort of keep them in shouting too much, but this is about the candidates, not about the moderators.

TAPPER: Right. Exactly. GERGEN: The two best moderators we've had, in my judgement in recent years, have been Jim Lehrer and Tom Brokaw, and they both come down strongly on the side. It's a - a moderator is a facilitator, not a fact-checker.

TAPPER: And yet, Kirsten, there does exist such a thing as empirical fact.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There does. And I actually - I think that the Trump campaign has actually done a pretty good job of sort of suggesting that, you know, Lester Holt is out to get them, and the media is not going to be fair to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They also called him a democrat when he's at home.

POWERS: And - yeah, he's democrat and he's not a republican. And then I also think certainly from the media is kind of buying into this idea that she's going to be this schoolmarm by fact-checking him. And the - and the truth is, if he is standing up there - again, I want to talk about empirical facts. The New York Times just did look at one week of him and found 31 things that he said were they were empirically false, 31 things in one week. So, if that's what he's going to do, like, Mary Katherine is saying, just throwing stuff at the wall there and not correct, and Hillary Clinton corrects him, I just hope the people in the media aren't going to try to cast her as some sort of, you know, Tracy Flick, know-it-all, you know, which I think is kind of a set up, because you can't just stand there when somebody is saying things that aren't true.

TAPPER: Great movie, Election. Everyone stay with us. Coming up next, our panel will weigh in on what they're going to be looking for in this evening's debate. We're counting down to that crucial first moments, just a few hours from now, and the debates begins. You're watching a special edition of THE LEAD. Stay with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:51:48] TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD, debate night in America. We are awaiting the arrivals of the nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, here at Hofstra University on Long Island. The two will face off in the first Presidential Debate, which you can watch right here on CNN. Let's talk to our panel about the key things are that they're going to be looking for this evening. And Maeve, let me start with you. What is the -- what is the one key thing you're really going to be looking for?

[16:52:11] MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, yes, I know we're all just waiting to see what Donald Trump does, but I am really fascinated in how Hillary Clinton actually excites her base tonight. There are more undecided voters at this point in the election than there were in 2012 at this point who are leaning towards third-party candidates or just undecided, and she really has to get out there and excite people tonight. And that's been a challenge for her so far. So, she's got to step it up tonight and it will be interesting to see if she can do it.

TAPPER: Tim?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think Hillary Clinton has to deal with the honesty issue. And surprising we're talking about fact-checking, most people were thinking fact-checking Donald Trump. She has to deal with the server issue. She's got to look at the audience, and not just say she regrets it, but she has to say that she was scarred by Whitewater, that she wanted to protect her privacy, she was wrong to do this, she should have trusted the state department to take care of her private e-mails but she did it because of the experience she had in the 1990s. And it was wrong to do. She won't do it again. She admits error, she admits fault, she puts Donald Trump on his back legs, because that's one thing Donald Trump does not do.

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor?

NUTTER: Well, I would agree that certainly acknowledging more than she has and taking the full responsibility on the e-mail server issue would serve her well. I think you'll see Hillary Clinton as she really is. She is a warm, knowledgeable person, she is a commander- in-chief. On the other side, A, we have no idea what to expect from Donald Trump. He is, you know, a political chameleon all over the place and wants to get points just for acting like a normal person, that somehow that's the new standard. That is not the standard. As David said, it is the most powerful job on the planet. And just showing up, you don't get - this is not the SATs, you don't get 200 points just for showing up and writing your name correctly. This is the president.

TAPPER: Nice SAT reference. We've been having flashbacks. To Jeffrey.

LORD: You, too. I think his challenge here is to draw the line which I assume he will in Trump's -

TAPPER: Trump's job.

LORD: Trump's job.

TAPPER: OK.

LORD: Between the political class and Hillary Clinton is the representative of that political class, and Donald Trump is the - if you will, the rebellion or the outsiders. And making the point that she's just more of the same that's been going on in Washington frankly in both parties for a very long time and he is the difference.

TAPPER: OK.

POWERS: Yeah. Well, so obviously, she has a real problem with white working class voters. Is there something she -- I'd like to see her do something that shows that she is the one who really cares about them, that she can somehow emote and show I'm for you, the way that Donald Trump has sort of done this populous - you know, I'm looking out for the little guy, for her to really connect with them in a way that she hasn't at this point.

TAPPER: Douglas.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm looking for zingers who can really scar somebody and do damage with the fiery dart of attack. That dark arts of Roger Ailes. What is Ailes been planning for Trump? And in that regard, what's Donald Trump going to do about these tax returns? How can he handle that he is the only person running for major office, not releasing them. He may have a surprise and say, "Look, I got a letter from the IRS saying I'm under audit, and I'll release it tomorrow." He won't walk over and hand the paper -

TAPPER: Uh-hmm.

BRINKLEY: -- like we've saw on the clip, but I think - but I think it's got your grappled with that.

TAPPER: All right. Katherine?

HAM: Yeah, I think that contrition would help her. I'm not sure she's capable of it. Calm conversance would help him. I'm not sure he's capable of it. And to Mayor Nutter's point and yours about whether the expectations game is fair, it's kind of not, and I've wondered why, and I think it's because people are jonesing for a change election. They're being offered status quo, that they don't like her trust. And a change guy that they're not real sure about at all. If he can be calm about it, they might be satisfied.

TAPPER: Very quick, David, if you could.

GERGEN: I'm looking for who takes command in the stage tonight, because I think that person may very well be the next president.

TAPPER: All right. Great panel. Thank you so very much. You're watching a special edition of THE LEAD. We will be right back. Stay with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:00:02] TAPPER: That is it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. I will see you back here at 7 p.m. Eastern for more of CNN's live coverage of the first Presidential Debate. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, and one Mr. Anderson -