Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Trump Intensifies Claims Election is Rigged; Was Deal Made on Classifying Clinton E-mail?; Trump's Rocky Road to 270 Electoral Votes; Melania Trump Talks to AC360; Inside the Battle for Mosul; Billy Bush Officially Out at NBC. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 17, 2016 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Donald Trump trailing in the polls and plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct is falling back on his favorite safety net.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The election is rigged. It's rigged like you've never seen before. The investigation of Hillary Clinton was rigged. It's all rigged. It's all rigged.

MURRAY: The GOP nominee now insisting there's a monumental conspiracy to rig the entire election against him.

Trump tweeting today, "Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!"

But Trump's claims aren't true. There's no evidence of widespread voter fraud. And the candidate's claims are putting election officials, even those in his own party, on edge.

Today, Ohio's Secretary of State, a Republican, who plans to vote for Trump, blasted the candidate's claims as reckless.

JON HUSTED, (R) OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: It's irresponsible. He should focus on issues that matter to people.

I can reassure Donald Trump, I'm in charge of elections in Ohio and they're not going to be rigged. I'll make sure of that.

MURRAY: While Hillary Clinton's running mate warns that Trump's claims are the protests of a sore loser.

SEN. TIM KAINE, (D-VA) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an insult to American voters and it's an insult to county registrars to say that America doesn't know how to run an election. We know how to run an election. And this is clearly a guy who feels like he's losing and is trying to whine in advance.

MURRAY: As Trump's running mate, Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, says he will accept the results on November 8th ...

GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R-IN) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Donald Trump said in that first debate and I'll say to you again today, we're going to accept the will of the American people.

MURRAY: Even he is warning about voter fraud on the campaign trail today.

PENCE: Voter fraud cannot be tolerated by anyone in this nation because it disenfranchises Republicans, independents, Democrats, conservatives and liberals in America.

MURRAY: In fact, a Loyola Law School professor found just 31 potential instances of voter impersonation out of more than one billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sara Murray joins us now. What more did Trump say tonight about his claims of a rigged election?

MURRAY: Well, he kept up his claim of this rigged election and he pointed to people who are dead, who are still on the voter rolls. He pointed to a study that showed some non-citizens may be voting in American elections.

But Anderson, I think the thing that's really important here is yet in an election, there will be instances of voter fraud. But the people who have studied this has found that these instances are minuscule and nobody who has studied this has come out and said that there is widespread, systemic voter fraud and no one has said that this is the kind of thing that undermines the integrity of our American elections.

COOPER: All right, Sara Murray. Sara, thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton was off the campaign trail today, doing debate prep. As you heard, though, Donald Trump was hitting her hard on her State Department e-mails and he got powerful new ammunition today. A new release from the FBI investigation. They documented a dispute between Patrick Kennedy, who was a top State Department official, and the FBI. The FBI claiming that he pressured them to change certain e-mails from classified to unclassified. More on that now and the larger state of the campaign from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)s

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hillary Clinton is shoring up blue states and exploring red states trying to keep Donald Trump from bouncing back. But for yet another day, she's off the campaign trail, preparing for her final debate Wednesday. She's outsourcing her work to other Democrats like Elizath Warren and Bernie Sanders.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: A selfish little sleaze ball. A man who will never be president of the United States.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Not only is he going to lose this election, but he and his billionaire friends are going to start paying their fair share of taxes. ZELENY: Tonight, all eyes on Arizona, a once-reliable Republican state that may suddenly be up for grabs. The Clinton campaign making new investments and sending one of its biggest weapons, Michelle Obama.

Three weeks before Election Day, Clinton is in the driver's seat, but still facing fallout over the FBI investigation into her e-mail server. The FBI today denying a quid pro quo in its fight with the State Department over the classification level of e-mail on Clinton's private server.

A newly released document suggests a top State Department official pressured the FBI to declassify certain e-mails possibly in exchange for offering to help station FBI agents overseas. The FBI and the State Department deny that any arrangement actually took place. But congressional Republicans seized on it as one more Clinton controversy.

Speaker Paul Ryan saying in a statement, "These documents further demonstrate Secretary Clinton's complete disregard for properly handling classified information."

All of this as more hacked campaign e-mail published by WikiLeaks, offering an unvarnished look at Clinton's paid speeches that she's refused to release publicly. At least three of Clinton's paid speeches were to Goldman Sachs that Bernie Sanders railed against in the primary. Now they're disclosed.

[21:05:11] SANDERS: That's why I believe Secretary Clinton should release the transcripts.

ZELENY: Clinton's words, finally released because of the stolen e- mails, are at odds with the populist rhetoric in her party.

In a 2013 speech, she suggested Wall Street should regulate itself saying, "The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry." She received $250,000 per speech and also talked foreign policy. She said she had no problem authorizing secret missions in places like Syria, saying, "My view was you intervene as covertly as possible for Americans to intervene." She added, "We used to be much better at this than we are now."

The Clinton campaign is entering the final stretch with an edge in money in momentum. Clinton and her allies started the month with $152 million in the bank, new figures show, while Trump had only half that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And Jeff joins us now. What can you tell us about the Clinton strategy for the swing states moving forward?

ZELENY: Well, Anderson, that $152 million in the bank really is going to allow them to expand and try some other places. Arizona is at the center of that list. They have been looking at it for a few weeks, but the decision to send Michelle Obama there on Thursday, who's arguably the most popular Democrat and probably the most popular politician of either party, they're sending her there Thursday. That is a sign that they believe they actually can win Arizona. A lot of top Republicans there now are saying that Donald Trump simply does not have the ground work there. So this money actually matters and pays off.

The Clinton campaign, also, is starting to spend more money in states with down-ballot races. Focusing on Indiana and Missouri. $1 million combined there.

So they are, you know, having the luxury here of expanding into red states. But some of this is bluster, some of it is not. We'll find out in the coming days which is which here. They're still counting on a strong debate performance on Wednesday to put her over the top.

But Anderson, the reason it matters now, Colorado, other states are starting vote by mail. All the ballots went out today. The Clinton campaign is trying to freeze this race in place, get all those ballots in case something should shake out like all those controversies that are still hanging over her head.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, appreciate the reporting. Jeff, thank you.

With Election Day getting closer, polling starts being a kind of a fuzzy snapshot begins snapping into focus as undecided voters make-up their minds. Tonight four new national polls from ABC/"The Washington Post", CBS News, NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal", and Monmouth University. As you can see, they show Hillary Clinton with anywhere from a 4-point to a 12-point lead over Donald Trump.

And there are new battleground polls out as well, some showing a tighter race than that. All of them factoring into the race for 270 electoral votes. CNN "Inside Politics" anchor, John King, breaks it down for us by the numbers.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We looked through our new battleground state polling, some very competitive states still on the map. A chance still to change the race.

Look at North Carolina, always competitive, 48 for Clinton, 47 for Trump. This one, competitive in '08 and in 2012. Looks like it will be competitive to the end. Slight Clinton lead there, but really that's a virtual tie, a statistical dead heat.

Out in Nevada, key to both Obama victories, but look at this, a very close race, 46 for Clinton, 44 for Trump. Gary Johnson gets 7. None of the above coming in a 2 percent. Again, Clinton can say she's ahead, but that's a statistical tie. A very close race in another battleground state.

And here's one reason Nevada is so close. The Latino vote critical to both big Obama wins, 10 percent of it is going to third party candidate, the libertarian, Gary Johnson. Clinton still has a big lead over Donald Trump, but she would love some of those votes to come home to the Democrats.

And let's move to the Midwest, battleground, Ohio, a critical state, absolutely a must-win for Donald Trump. And look at this, he's already tweeted today how happy he is with these results, 48 for Trump, 44 for Clinton. Johnson and Stein at the bottom of the pack in battleground Ohio. Again, so then the margin of error, the Clinton campaign says it's still in play in Ohio, but Donald Trump, after the last two weeks of bad news, in the lead in that battleground state.

So why is this happening? Let's take a quick look. The education gap we've seen throughout the campaign continues. White voters with no college degree, overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. Look at those numbers, and wow, look at that margin in North Carolina. But big margins in all three of our battleground states. White voters, no college degree, the foundation of Trump's support. But white voters with a college degree, in all three of these battleground states, Clinton wins. Critical, because Mitt Romney won this constituency in 2012. This is a very important part of her being more competitive in the more conservative states, leading among white voters who have a college degree.

Quickly on the issues, let's go through these. In all three of these battleground states, she wins. If the question is, who's best on foreign policy? Who has the better temperament to be president? Who would be the better commander in chief? But on issue number one, the economy, Donald Trump gets the edge in all three states. And despite all these allegations against Donald Trump, despite hearing him on tape talking about groping women, Donald Trump still viewed as more honest and trustworthy than Secretary Clinton. So three tight races in three battleground states. How does that affect the map that matters most?

[21:10:00] Well, let's go to where we now stand heading into the election. As we have it now, Clinton would win. The gold states are the battleground states. And guess what? The gold states are the three we just went through, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada. So what does that tell you? They're important states, but Clinton can win the presidency without them. Donald Trump absolutely needs at least those two. There's no way to get Donald Trump to 270 without Ohio and North Carolina. He would also still need Florida and then still need more. But the benefit for Clinton here is, she would like these states. She still thinks she's competitive in these states, but she can win without them.

Here's the challenge for Donald Trump. Wednesday's debate is absolutely critical. The map is heavily tilting her way. He has to hold this, but he also needs a strong debate performance to move this one his way. Again, he's a little behind right now. He needs to move this one this way if he can. Still a little behind there.

Look, that would get him into play. Still wouldn't get him to the finish line. Donald Trump, absolutely, would have to win Florida and even if he did, he'd have to turn something blue red. But those three races being so competitive tell you, map's tilting in Clinton's direction. The debate does offer Trump a chance, if he can seize it, to maybe make the last couple of weeks little interesting. Anderson?

COOPER: No doubt. Going to be very interesting either way. John King, thanks very much. Just ahead tonight, the best moments from my conversation, some of the most important moments from Melania Trump.

Also this ...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This has been an effort with much international support. A lot of coalition planning learned from air power ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Some dramatic moments in the battle for Mosul, Iraq is on. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there. We'll get the latest from him as some 50,000 troops with U.S. advisers helping take on ISIS and drive them out of the last big city they hold and have been terrorizing month after month.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:15:14] COOPER: Welcome back. Donald Trump out on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton is not. Both, to some extent, are on the defensive. Secretary Clinton over allegations of a deal between the FBI and State Department over declassifying certain e-mails. Donald Trump over just about everything he's been saying lately about the system and perhaps the election outcome being rigged against him. He's also, as you saw, facing strong head wins the polls and the race for 270 electoral votes.

Back with the panel this hour, Karine Jean-Pierre, Paul Begala, Maggie Haberman, Alice Stewart and Corey Lewandowski.

First of all, Paul, I want to ask about what we were just reporting on, the State Department and the FBI denying that there was any kind of a quid pro quo over the classification level of Clinton e-mail, but it certainly doesn't look good. And had it not been for Donald Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape, this would have been getting a lot more attention.

PAUL BEGALA, PRO HILLARY SUPER PAC ADVISER: I guess, but it's one of these stories -- one of my clients was John Glenn, the legendary astronaut, war hero, senator. And Senator Glenn had a phrase for stories like this, MEGO, "My eyes glaze over." Like they pay me to read this stuff and I had to like try and try. It's two career bureaucrats fighting over some classification issue about which I don't care. And if I don't care, I've a real hard time believing any voters too. It's really ...

ALICE STEWART, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Strongly disagree. I mean, Paul Ryan came out with a wonderful statement on this. This is another example of her showing an absolute complete disregard for classified information. And this is evidence of the fact that there was quid pro quo going on and her not being able to understand what's classified and what's not. And she clearly mishandled this information. And you're talking about your eyes glazing over. It's because the volume of the way she mishandled evidence in her e-mails is so vast. We saw it earlier, saw it with the Clinton Foundation, in the State Department. We saw clear evidence of pay-for-play and conflicts of interest. Now we're seeing quid pro quo with classified information. People should care about this. This is important. This is classified information. This is important.

COOPER: Karine?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: Well, I just -- look, we keep talking about this and at the end of the day, the FBI did a thorough investigation and they said there was no criminal intent and nothing criminal was done. And so even I -- I was trying to also kind of get more from this e-mail. And I actually -- there was no quid pro quo. It is just two -- just like Paul said. It's two bureaucrats just going -- just talking and going back and forth. But there was no quid pro quo actually in this e-mail.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Anderson, let's not kid ourselves, OK? The undersecretary of state negotiated with the FBI in a quid pro quo in the e-mail and what it said, he filed a Form 302, which is what the FBI file, which is their notes from these investigations and he said, look, it's very simple, if you declassify this e-mail so it's hidden from the public, the State Department will give you overseas billets for your FBI agents so they can go work overseas.

When that was originally denied, the assistant secretary, undersecretary said, I'd like to take it up the chain to the FBI. Who else can I talk to? Three separate occasions. Whether or not the quid pro quo ever happened is irrelevant.

Potentially asking for the quid pro quo is a felony. And we've seen the House members now ask for the immediate resignation of Patrick Kennedy from the State Department and instead what we see is politics as usual, D.C. insiders get protected. What would happen to the regular person doesn't happen to me. And Hillary Clinton should step forward right now and say, if this is the case, unless they are accusing an FBI agent of lying on Form 302, which no one is doing, then we know unequivocally that this was an attempted quid pro quo, and that alone is a felony.

COOPER: Do you see, Maggie, Hillary Clinton actually talking about this or just trying to kind of run out the clock?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think she's going to try to run out the clock, which is I think what she's basically been doing. I mean, she's essentially been running -- to say it's a non-campaign is not quite right, but she is saying as little as possible, I don't think it's helpful for her anytime the public hears the words e-mails and State Department in any conversation.

I don't know how many of the details people are actually able to process, because it is a somewhat complicated story. But it's certainly not a help to her. And I think that she will do everything she can to not talk about it.

COOPER: Paul, it does play into, you know, the long-standing criticisms of her about lack of transparency or a tendency for secrecy or a belief that the rules don't apply.

BEGALA: Yes, and the e-mail thing has done enormous amount of political damage to her, enormous. This is a career diplomat who had a very similar job when Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state. He wasn't a political appointee, arguing with a career FBI official about what to classify. Your government does this every day. That's what they do. These nerds and propeller heads and -- they just argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. That's what this was.

COOPER: As a nerd, I ...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Because I hate to tell you, if you look in the mirror, you're kind of a nerd too. ] (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sorry.

[21:20:00] HABERMAN: Very special panel.

COOPER: I've got to be honest. We're all a little nerdy on this panel. You wouldn't be on this panel if you weren't kind of nerdy.

Paul, I got to ask you, it was referenced in the last hour, your name was on one of the leaked e-mails from WikiLeaks, I think it was in January 2008. There was an e-mail chain, there was some other Clinton loyalists concerning polling about President Obama's past drug use and his father is a Muslim ...

BEGALA: And Obama loyalists. This was a group that I was a part of that was watching the Hillary/Barack death march and really worried that the nominee would be so badly damaged that he or she couldn't win.

So, I was part of a group, the founder was from MoveOn, who was very strong MoveOn and endorsed Obama. He came and started this group. He was a very pro-Obama. The pollster was pro-Obama. The people who did the research, that was apparently tested in the poll, I don't remember, that was a pro-Obama firm.

So, it wasn't some Clinton deal. There were some Clinton people involved, some Obama people involved. But every campaign and every pac tests their own strengths and weaknesses. It was actually a poll to test Senator McCain's strengths and weaknesses, but you have to put your own in there, or it's going to be a biased poll.

COOPER: As Trump supporter, I mean it's got to bother you that WikiLeaks, which would have been a huge story had there not been anything going on, on the Trump side. I mean, obviously, the Donald Trump tape, the recording, the allegations of five women is an enormous attention getter. Had that not been -- had it -- it just been kind of a more standard campaign, this WikiLeaks story would have gotten much, much more attention.

STEWART: It should. It's a huge story, it's a huge concern and Americans should be worried about this on the heels of her -- the questions that still remain about the e-mails and this is why I say, when we first got word 10 days ago about this "Access Hollywood" tape, he should have, as he did, made an apology, both maybe do an interview together, put it to bed and move on ...

COOPER: Not have the week go by.

STEWART: Certainly, because there's plenty of things to talk about with Hillary Clinton and all we're hearing from them is attacks on Donald Trump. There's nothing from the Democrat side. Nothing from over there about what is Hillary Clinton going to do to make the country better.

COOPER: Because it does allow -- I mean, it does allow Hillary Clinton to essentially run out the clock. I mean to just try to lay low, raise money, prepare for the debate.

LEWANDOWSKI: It does -- that's not just the WikiLeaks. Look, what we saw today with the freedom of information request from the FBI document was that her protective detail that was assigned to her is that they were treated so deplorably, that the moral is so bad that they couldn't find senior staffers from the Protective Police Department that's tasked with protecting the secretary of state to serve in that detail any longer. And so what they found was a number of junior staffers, because she treated these people so badly. This is exactly consistent with what the Secret Service has said in the past. And what we have is a public face of Hillary Clinton and a private face of Hillary Clinton. This is not a WikiLeak, this is freedom of information request that came from the FBI directly.

BEGALA: I wear this pen which has Secret Service gave me everyday to honor our country but also their service. These are women and men who risked their lives to protect the first family and others. I was there in the White House when Hillary was the first lady. I saw the folks who risked their lives to protect her and her husband and they're firs-class, terrific people. They don't say things of the sort that Corey has suggesting nor did I ever see Hillary mistreat any of these heroes who risked their lives to protect her. It's a really unfair shot. But it's the sort of thing you get about Hillary. And I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a woman thing, so they have some need to make these accusations. I don't know. But I can tell you firsthand, at least my exposure, which was very close for a very long time, I never saw anything like it.

LEWANDOWSKI: This is what the FBI documents that were revealed today through Freedom of Information Act said. This isn't me. This is the FBI documents who said, they could not find senior staffers to serve on her protective detail. Now, if you want to question the integrity of the FBI agents on that, that's up to you to do. I'm not reporting what was released today. STEWART: And this information is -- this is why she's doing her prevent defense. Laying low, protecting her lead, and hoping, as Maggie said, to run out the clock in order to not have to answer these questions and hopefully in her mind continue her lead.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody on the panel.

Tonight, much more ahead. We're going to dig deeper on Donald Trump, ramping up rhetoric and talking to supporters with claims of a rigged election. We'll look at other theories he's embracing why his latest claims are causing so much concern frankly in both parties. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:23:02] COOPER: As we've been talking about, Donald Trump is ramping up his claims that the election is rigged against him at his rallies and on Twitter, he's hammering that message home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. TRUMP: The election is being rigged by corrupt media, pushing false allegations and outright lies. The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged. And remember this, it's a rigged election because you have phony people coming up with phony allegations ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We should point out, there's no evidence to support Donald Trump's allegations about a rigged election.

Over the weekend, Republican leaders and election officials from both parties tried to counter his claims. It's not the first time that Trump has embraced a conspiracy theory. Some would say it's a culmination. Here's Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. TRUMP: It looks to me like a rigged election.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump is now hitting this note hard and his chorus of surrogates singing backup.

TRUMP: They are attempting to rig this election.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R) ALABAMA/TRUMP SUPPORTER: Do you want to tell me that I think the election in Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be fair? I would have to be moron to say that.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP SUPPORTER/FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: There's no question that everything possible is being done to stop Donald Trump.

BASH: It's not hard to see why Trump's team is doing this. If he loses, he's laying the groundwork for blaming the political system he ran against since day one. He's also following a familiar pattern, peddling in conspiracy theories that don't have facts to back them up.

Remember, Trump first stepped on the political stage five years ago, pushing the mother of all political conspiracies, questioning whether President Obama was born in America.

D. TRUMP: If he wasn't born in this country, it's one of the great scandals ...

BASH: And as a candidate for president, he's promoted some doozies. Like Ted Cruz's father being involved in John Kennedy's assassination.

D. TRUMP: His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this right prior to his being shot and nobody even brings it up.

[21:29:59] BASH: Trump used his famous, many people are saying, phrase as a crutched to road-tests conspiracy theories from the 1990s like questioning whether Clinton aide and friend Vince Foster really committed suicide, "There are people who continue to bring it up, because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that, because I don't think it's fair," he said. Now, Trump is even throwing out there that Hillary Clinton may even be on drugs, with zero evidence to prove it.

D. TRUMP: At the beginning of her last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning. And at the end, it was like, take me down. She could barely reach her car. So I think we should take a drug test. I'm -- anyway, I'm willing to do it.

BASH: Trump's focus on what he calls a rigged system goes beyond unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. He also claims the press is in on it.

D. TRUMP: The corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They're a political special interest, no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with a total political agenda and the agenda is not for you, it's for themselves.

BASH: Many Trump supporters like Edie Hollister tell us they believe the system is rigged against their candidate. It's why they don't believe sexual assault allegations against Trump.

EDIE HOLLISTER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: All of the media who's been holding back on a totally irrelevant issue.

BASH: You think it's totally irrelevant?

HOLLISTER: Totally irrelevant.

BASH: How come?

HOLLISTER: Because it's not the issues, national security, border security, foreign policy, ObamaCare. Those are the issues.

BASH: Donald Trump conspiracies echo those seen on conservative sites like Breitbart, whose executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is on leave to help run Trump's campaign. It worked for Trump to rally the base in the primaries, but the general election, to be determined.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There are signs that Trump's claims about a rigged election are resonating with his supporters, setting off talk of rebellion in some crowds. We have a lot to discuss.

Joining me, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser, David Gergen. Also with us, CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod, you can find his Axe Files podcast on cnn.com.

David Axelrod, this message by Donald Trump, I mean, it certainly appeals to his core supporters, but what does that really do for him at this point? Doesn't he need to expand his base? Women voters, young voters, minorities?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Yeah, this has been a dilemma for him for some time. He has a very committed base. When he said, I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and I wouldn't lose a vote, he was right. He has a base of followers who will follow him anywhere. But they aren't enough to win an election. And he has had real difficulty expanding beyond it. And he's been his own worst enemy in that regard. And particularly among these college educated white voters, who he seems to be systemically driving away, and among them, women, most of all.

So, I -- you know, all of the things he's doing now seem designed to reinforce support that he already has, but not to build on it.

COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, historically, have you ever seen anything like this? A presidential nominee calling the electoral process into question to this degree?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: No. We've never had anyone calling into question to this degree. We have had Republican candidates in the last couple of elections, John McCain, most famously called into question the -- what ACORN was doing and how it might disrupt, he believed, his election.

But this is very, very fundamental. And Donald Trump, once again, without evidence, is questioning the very fundamentals of how we elect people. It's not just one organization. He's saying the whole thing is fixed. And it's a fix between the media and Democratic Party. And I think what he's doing, Anderson, is preparing people for a loss.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: And then he can say, you know, I didn't lose, the system was rigged.

COOPER: Which goes against, I mean, how every candidate, David Axelrod, who's lost, I mean, generally says, you know what, OK, I lost and I support the -- and I support my opponent that, you know, I -- we're now all in this together, we got to come together as a country. I mean, Donald Trump said he would do that, I think, during the first debate. But you wonder what his message, if he loses, is going to be?

AXELROD: Listen, I look at Donald Trump and I see a guy who defines the world in terms of winners and losers. And he clearly sees himself on one side of that column. He is not someone who will accept a loss as legitimate. We saw this during the primary after he lost Iowa caucuses. He very quickly started talking about the fact that it was fixed, that it was rigged.

And so he is laying the groundwork for a loss. I don't know whether it's a strategic decision or whether it's emotionally necessary for him. But the result of it is that we're going to have a very ugly aftermath if he doesn't win this election, because a large number of voters who supported him are going to believe what he's saying and they're not going to accept the result. And I think that's very frightening for our democracy.

[21:35:10] COOPER: David Gergen, Paul Ryan spoke out about this weekend saying, "Our democracy relies on the confidence in election results." I mean, could they not be just reckless but actually dangerous?

GERGEN: You know, no, I think they could be. I give credit to Mike Pence for also saying we're going to accept the results of this election, in contradiction to Trump's suggestions here.

But, look, I -- you know, Trump is calling for observers to be at the polling booth. And we already know some of those observers are basically saying, we're going to engage in racial profiling. We believe that basically blacks and minorities fix elections. They come out and vote when they shouldn't, and there are going to be Muslims that are going to show up.

And basically they are - they're suggesting some of (inaudible) who just seem may start harassing voters. They may sort of delaying the process. They could throw real running monkey wrenches into this.

But, Anderson, there's also something that's very profound here. That the Republican Party for a variety of reasons is taking a conservative argument frequently now that the system is fixed, that essentially, inner cities in particular, there's massive amount of fraud. The evidence does not support massive amounts of fraud.

A professor at Loyola has studied elections between 2000 and 2014. There were only 35 credible cases of minor fraud and they never threw any election. But when you start going down this road, you undermine the belief of voters that the election is fair and once that happens, the person who wins is branded as illegitimate. And that's what they're trying to do to Hillary Clinton now is to make her illegitimate and frankly, it is encouraging people, I think -- I don't want to say encourage -- there are people who are following Trump who now believe that she belongs in jail, not in the White House. And maybe somebody ought to take her out. You hear those kind of loose comments and they're frightening.

COOPER: Yeah. David Axelrod, David Gergen, guys, thank you very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, does Melania Trump also think the election is rigged? Today, I asked her about that and about her husband's comments and all the women who have come forward to say he touched them inappropriately. Her thoughts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:41:07] COOPER: Well, today I sat down with Melania Trump for her first interview since the tape emerged of her husband bragging in 2005, the same year they got married, that he could kiss and grope women because he's a celebrity.

As you know, at least nine women have come forward to say he did just that. Donald Trump says they are liars, and has said about some of them that they aren't sexually attractive enough for him to be interested in. How does Melania Trump feel about all of it? I asked her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It was 10 days ago that "Access Hollywood" released that tape. I'm wondering when you first saw it, when you first heard it, what did you think?

MELANIE TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S WIFE: I said to my husband that, you know, the language is inappropriate. It's not acceptable. And I was surprised, because that is not the man that I know. And as you can see from the tape, the cameras were not on, it was only a mic. And I wonder if they even knew that the mic was on. Because they were kind of -- a boy talk. And he was lead on, like, egg on from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.

COOPER: You feel the host, Billy Bush, was sort of egging him on?

M. TRUMP: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: Is that language you had heard him use before?

M. TRUMP: No. No, that's why I was surprised, because I said, like, I don't know that person that would talk that way. And that he would say that kind of a stuff in private. I heard many different stuff, boys talk. I -- the boys, the way they talk when they grow up and they want to sometimes show each other, oh, this and that, and talking about the girls. But, yeah, I was surprised, of course.

COOPER: Michelle Obama, who you, I know, have spoken positively of in the past, she said last week about what your husband said on that tape, she said, this was not just a lewd conversation, this wasn't just locker room banter, this was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior and actually bragging about kissing and groping women.

In terms of what he actually said on the tape, not saying he did it, but what he said, the behavior described to you, is that sexual assault?

M. TRUMP: No, that's not sexual assault. He didn't say he did it. And I see many, many women coming to him and giving the phone numbers and, you know, want to work for him or, inappropriate stuff from women. And they know he's married.

COOPER: You've seen that?

M. TRUMP: Oh, yes, of course. It was in front of me.

COOPER: In front of you?

M. TRUMP: In front of me. And I said, like, why -- why you need to give your number to my husband? I'm very strong. People they don't really know me. People think and talk about me the -- like, oh, Melania, oh, poor Melania. Don't feel sorry for me. Don't feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.

COOPER: I know you want your voice to be heard on this. So a number of women have come forward that made allegations against your husband. Some of them go back more than 30 years. He has said they're lying. Do you believe him?

M. TRUMP: I believe my husband. I believe my husband. This was all organized from the opposition. And with the details that they go -- did they ever check the background of these women? They don't have any facts.

[21:45:05] And even the story that came out in "People" magazine, the writer that she said that my husband took her to the room and start kissing her. She wrote in the same story about me, that she saw me on Fifth Avenue and I said to her, Natasha, how come we don't see you anymore? I was never friend with her. I would not recognize her.

COOPER: That never happened?

M. TRUMP: Never happened. That's why I sent them the letter, because it discredited the story.

COOPER: Right, your lawyer has sent a letter to "People" magazine saying they have to retract.

M. TRUMP: Of course, yes, because it was not true. So, how we could -- how we could believe her? That never happened. I was never friend with her. I saw her -- she interviewed us twice. She came to the wedding and for that story. That's it. I would not recognize her on the street or ask her why we don't see her anymore. So, that was another thing like, you know, people come out, saying lies and not true stuff.

COOPER: We're three weeks to the election. If you could let the American know one thing about your husband, what would it be? Because right now, the latest polls show, I think 60 -- more than 60 percent of people believe your husband made some sort of unwanted advances. What do you want those people to know? What would you say to them? M. TRUMP: That my husband is kind and he's a gentleman and he would never do that. That everything was organized and put together to hurt him, to hurt his candidacy.

COOPER: Organized by the opposition.

M. TRUMP: By the opposition, yes.

COOPER: Media, Clintons.

M. TRUMP: Media, Clintons. Yes.

COOPER: You think they're working together?

M. TRUMP: Yes, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the two men heard speaking on that now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape. One is running for president and the other got fired. Billy Bush is officially leaving NBC and the "Today" show. He was suspended right after the tape came out and after several days of negotiations, the exit deal is done. His spokesman wouldn't comment on the terms of the deal.

Just ahead, inside the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS. Nick Paton Walsh is with Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the front lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:51:17] COOPER: Iraqi and Kurdish forces are closing in on Mosul, the oil rig city that ISIS has controlled in Northern Iraq for nearly two years now. After months of planning, the offensive is now underway. On the city's outskirts today, ISIS made it clear that the battle ahead is going to be fierce. Our Nick Paton Walsh was in the thick of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALSH: This has been an effort with much international supports. A lot of coalition planning learned from air power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That wasn't the worst of it, not even close. We need to warn you that the report you're about to see from Nick contains graphic images, including the death of an ISIS suicide bomber.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALSH: They've been waiting years to finally push through the lines and take on ISIS's brutality. And when the day came, it was still a dusty slow grind. Peshmerga into the desert to flank a main road to Mosul distinct of American vehicles with western occupants in that convoy, air strikes often hitting the places they were headed to first. Hopes ISIS may not fight for the tiny settlements around Mosul quickly dashed.

This is the first village they -- they move down the road toward Mosul, and they're encountering pretty heavy resistance, returning fire with what they have which are often blunt and old.

They want this over fast, suddenly, there's panic, they spot car, a suicide car bomb racing towards them, it's ISIS, one, two rockets try to hit it. A third is lucky. They push on toward the main prize, the road itself to Mosul, flanked by all fires, lit by ISIS, and air strikes piling in regardless. Shells still landing near the Peshmerga, a casualty taken away.

Down on the main objective, the road itself, ISIS sent two car bombs at them and attacked from both sides.

The Iraqi military too at some points will have to push down here toward Mosul. But this has been an effort with much international support. A lot of coalition planning learned from air power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay in the car now.

WALSH: ISIS still everywhere, even in the hills. They give chase to one man, an ISIS fighter, he shoots at Peshmerga. Humvees rescued him and they hunt on. An ISIS fighter pops up from a tunnel, shoots. He blows himself up. A tenacity and desire to die that will surely slow and bloody the fight ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:55:06] COOPER: And Nick joins us now.

Are there actually tunnels around there? I mean, that was an ISIS fighter in a tunnel, you believe?

WALSH: That's what we think. He did seem to emerge out of nowhere at the end of our camera lens there. That is slowing the advance to the Peshmerga down. And will continue to do so. ISIS have had months, if not years, to prepare for the eventuality of an onslaught down that road. And, yes, they have land mines and it appears done as existential tunnel network. In fact, one source inside Mosul telling us that maybe a four kilometer one from the outskirts to the city to one of those villages out lying big enough to actually let a motorcycle travel in it, Anderson.

COOPER: Wow, difficult road ahead. Nick Paton Walsh, please be careful. Appreciate it what you and your team are doing. Thank you.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And that does it for us. Thanks for watching. "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon starts now.

[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Melanie Trump stands by her man. You just heard her with Anderson. And we've got a lot more to talk about.

This is "CNN TONIGHT". I'm Don Lemon.