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Face the Nation Transcript September 4, 2016: Christie, Flake, Gonzales

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: The candidates enter the final stretch of campaign 2016, and the East Coast prepares for another possible round of Hurricane Hermine.

Saturday, Donald Trump went to church, looking for minority votes and maybe some divine intervention to help his campaign against Hillary Clinton.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am here today to listen to your message, and I hope my presence here will also help your voice to reach new audiences.


DICKERSON: But after Trump’s surprise trip to Mexico and a speech on immigration further muddled his message, is the outreach strategy working?

We will find out with now Battleground Tracker poll numbers, plus analysis of where the race stands.

We will talk with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who heads Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, and we will check in with Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake to see if he’s any closer to supporting the Republican presidential nominee.

And as Hillary Clinton closes books on a big month of August fund-raising, we will talk about the fallout from new revelations out of her FBI interviews about the use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.

Plus, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales talks about his new book on the George W. Bush years and weighs in on campaign 2016.

It’s all ahead on this Labor Day weekend on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

We have got a lot to get to today, but we begin with Hermine, the storm that’s caused the heavy rains, high winds, power outages, dangerous surf and two fatalities as it moved across Florida, and now up the Eastern Seaboard. Eric Fisher is chief meteorologist at our CBS affiliate WBZ in Boston -- Eric.


Very tricky storm we have been tracking here over these last several days, and the latest trend, a little farther to the east. That’s what we saw overnight tonight. So, many along the coastline will see conditions deteriorate over time as we head into overnight tonight and Monday.

Our tropical storm warnings are still up from the Mid-Atlantic, up to coastal Connecticut, tropical storm watches in southeastern New England. And here’s the latest track, staying a little farther to the east. What that means is, a lot less rainfall, really no rain, except for right along the immediate coast late tonight and Monday getting some showers, but the heaviest rain stays offshore.

At the same time, it’s still a very strong storm, big wind field. It’s going to move very slowly. So, as we head through Sunday into Monday and into Tuesday, those strong winds churning up the surf. And so our main impacts are going to be still some coastal flooding, also a lot of beach erosion from the Mid-Atlantic up into New England, rain totals low, some even seeing the sun, but the beaches really taking a beating this Labor Day weekend -- John.

DICKERSON: All right, Eric Fisher, thanks so much.

Turning now to the other big story this weekend, campaign 2016.

Our CBS News Battleground Tracker today looks at North Carolina, where Hillary Clinton is up by four points over Donald Trump, 46 to 42 percent. In Pennsylvania, a state Donald Trump promises he will win, Clinton enjoys a comfortable lead, with 45 percent to 37 percent for Trump.

We have added Arizona and Georgia to our original 11 battleground states. So, now, if we look at the race in the 13 most potentially competitive states, Hillary Clinton is up by two points over Donald Trump, 42-40 percent.

The remaining voters are either undecided or supporting a third- party candidate.

Joining us now from his home in Mendham, New Jersey, is Governor Chris Christie.

Governor, before we get back to politics, quickly on Hurricane Hermine. You declared a state of emergency. What is the situation, as you see it now?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, as you just heard in the forecast, John, we got some good news overnight that the storm was tracking a little further east, which will mean less water.

We still expect in our three southernmost counties, where we did declare a state of emergency, Cape May, Atlantic and Ocean counties, that we will still have moderate flooding starting later today -- later today into tomorrow, because of the slow-moving nature of the storm.

But, so far, unless it makes a turn back west, which these storms always can do, unless that happens, I think that we are going to look at moderate flooding, rather than a very severe impact.

DICKERSON: All right, let’s switch now to politics.

You helped set up the meeting this week between Donald Trump and the Mexican president. What was the point of that meeting?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think that what Donald Trump wants to show everyone is that he will be a leader for all Americans. And he will be someone who is going to reach out, even when he has some disagreements with a foreign leader, to reach and out open dialogue.

And I think the words he used at the end of that meeting were very important, that he enjoyed the meeting, that he likes President Pena Nieto, and that he thinks they can work together to help improve the economies of Mexico and the United States.

All those things are very important. And I think those are things that they also stand for, which are that they’re going to fight for the people of their country. I don’t think anyone expected anything less from a President Trump or a President Pena Nieto, but I think the meeting was to make sure everybody understands that this is going to be a president who will work with our allies to make sure that lives of citizens in both countries improve over the next four years.

DICKERSON: So, after the meeting, Donald Trump then gave a speech in Arizona in which he said, “They don’t know it, but they’re going to pay for the wall.” He was talking about Mexico.

After setting up a meeting to show this part of his character and building a relationship with Mexico, why say something like that to show that he’s dominating the Mexicans, or would as president? How does that work? Isn’t that a mixed message?


No, John, I think he was just being candid. That’s one of the areas that obviously they disagree upon and are going to have to be topic of further discussion going forward. But I think what Donald was doing was being very candid with the American people about, this is one of the areas where they disagree.

This is the kind of transparency you get from Donald Trump, as opposed to what you get from Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t had a press conference in nearly 10 months, hides, doesn’t answer questions, except for high-dollar donors.

I mean, the fact is that Donald Trump is going to tell you exactly what he thinks. Sometimes, you will agree it. Sometimes, you won’t. But you will never have to wonder. Hillary Clinton, she’s the mystery woman of 2016. All we know is that she has told us she had one device, so that’s why she’s a private e-mail server, John.

And now we find out this week from the FBI 13 different mobile devices and five different iPads, most of which are now gone.

DICKERSON: The wall that Donald Trump was talking about, do you that is really going to happen, that Mexico is going to pay for it?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I think that Donald Trump has negotiated some extraordinary deals over the course of time in his career. And this will be another challenging deal for him to negotiate.

But I absolutely believe that is the way he sees it, and it will be part of an overall negotiation with Mexico to improve the economies in both countries and to make sure that the lives of the people in both countries are protected from drug-running and gun-running and illegal immigration, which is hurting both countries, John.

So, listen, I -- people have lost a lot of money so far in the last 16 months betting against Donald Trump.

DICKERSON: So, because the wall is such an important part of his candidacy, you said during the primaries, “This makes no sense,” referring to the wall. “I have met President Pena Nieto a number of times. I don’t think if we present him with a bill, he’s going to pay for it.”

So, were you wrong then?

CHRISTIE: Yes, I disagreed with Donald Trump at the time. Big shock. I was running against him, John. And so let’s pull out all the quotes where people who are now supporting Hillary Clinton disagreed with her during the primary as well, so we can be fair about this.

Of course I disagreed with him, because I was running against him.


DICKERSON: But do you think it’s possible now?

CHRISTIE: But, John, a lot of people -- John, a lot of people, a lot of people, myself included, have lost betting against Donald Trump.

And I think he’s going to be a very good negotiator for the American people, not only on this issue, but on trade deals that will help improve our economy to make the world safer and more secure.

DICKERSON: On the question of the 11 million undocumented, there’s been some confusion. And Donald Trump at one point said they would be leaving America so fast, it would make your head spin. Now he’s saying something that will be worked out. In the way we have seen immigration talked about, that kind of softening, to use his word, usually is prelude to not ultimately dealing with all 11 million. That’s what it feels like here.

Why is that not the case? Why is this not basically moving away from his position he had in the primary?

CHRISTIE: Listen, we want -- we want candidates and leaders to listen, and if they hear new information or different information that leads them to conclude different things in their positions, we want them to do that, John. We don’t want people stuck in cement.

Be really clear. Donald Trump is going to get rid of very early on the two to three million criminals that are here illegally in this country. That will be priority number one. And once we remove those two to three million from the country, return them to their countries of origin because of their criminal conduct, then I think what Donald Trump wants to do is take a deep breath and look at where we are in the country then, and find out if you could find humane way to deal with those who remain.

And so I think what he’s talking about is a pause. After the two to three million get put out of the country because they’re committing crimes, hurting Americans, selling drugs, doing things that are illegal, once those people are dealt with first -- and I think everyone agrees on that issue -- then we can deal with the remaining eight million people.

That’s what Donald Trump wants to do. I think that is a humane way to deal with it. And I’m proud of the fact that he’s been willing to stand up and say what he really believes on this as he’s learned more about the topic.

DICKERSON: So, your point is that this is an evolution to a pause, which shows his -- his ability to adapt to changing information?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely.

And that’s something that Hillary Clinton will tell you Donald Trump can’t do. But what I will tell you about Hillary Clinton, John, is that she doesn’t evolve. We don’t even know if she evolves, because she doesn’t talk to anybody, except for mega-rich donors in the Hamptons and all over America, and Hollywood and the Hamptons are the two places where Hillary Clinton answers questions, not on shows like yours.

DICKERSON: I hear a line of attack there that might be used in the debate.

You’re a part of the debate prep with Donald Trump. You also went up against him. How much does he really need to prepare for debates?

CHRISTIE: Everybody needs to prepare, John. I mean, you need to get ready. And Donald is taking that process very seriously. But, in the end, there’s nothing you can do in preparation that can hide the essence of who you are. The essence of who Donald Trump is, is an outspoken, aggressive, smart, successful businessman who is going to be a strong leader for our country.

The essence of Hillary Clinton is, she’s a political insider who over and over again has not told the truth to the American people and who thinks there’s a different set of rules that apply to her than everybody else.

And so you are not going to be able to hide that. No matter how many coaches she hires, John, to help her in debate prep, it’s not going to change the essence of who she has been and who she is. And that is what you are going to see in the debates on September 26.

DICKERSON: I want to ask you about a report in “Washington Post” this week about Donald Trump’s foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013.

She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn’t. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him.

Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money, then investigation didn’t happen?

CHRISTIE: I can’t believe, John, that anyone would insult Pam Bondi that way.

She’s an outstanding attorney general who has been reelected by the people of Florida. She’s somebody who has been an outstanding law enforcement officer and continues to be. And I can’t imagine that Pam Bondi would ever make decisions on that basis.

But what I will tell you is, we now know that Bill Clinton has taken over $16 million of taxpayer money to help to fund the Clinton Foundation, a foundation that essentially was the person and the group that was screening who would get to see the secretary of state.

If you wrote your multimillion-dollar check to the Clinton Foundation, then you got a visit with the secretary of state. There’s no doubt about what was going on there, John, same way there was no doubt that when Hillary Clinton said she had a private e-mail server for one device, so she could use one device, we now know from the FBI she had 13 devices, one of which was destroyed with a hammer by her staff.

Why were they hammering her cell phone, John? Let’s talk about the real issues of trust in this race. And the real issues of trust in this race -- and I can tell you this as a former prosecutor -- I’m stunned, given what I saw in the FBI files that were released Friday, that Hillary Clinton was not prosecuted.

DICKERSON: All right, Governor Christie, we have run out of time. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTIE: John, I look forward to coming back. Thanks.

DICKERSON: Joining us now from Phoenix is Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Senator, Donald Trump this week visited Mexico, met with the president there, and gave a very fiery speech in your state of Arizona. At the end of the week, what do you think the net result is of those two actions?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, the speech in Mexico, and that action, I think all of us had some hope after that that he might be changing the tone and tenor of his campaign.

But then when the speech was delivered in Arizona later that day, he seemed to be right back where he has been.

DICKERSON: What’s your understanding of how he’s going to handle the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in America?

FLAKE: You know, that’s not clear at all.

You know, some people, as he said, said it was heartening. Some said softening. I say it was just confusing. There really isn’t any -- any clear indication of whether or not, for example, kids who are brought across the border when they were 2 years old, the so-called dreamers, whether they would be forced to go back to Mexico, and if there would be visa slots for them to return to the United States, if they so choose, later on.

So, it really is unclear right now.

DICKERSON: You have been part of the immigration discussion in Washington. You spent a lot much time on the issue.

With that experience and listening to the speech that Donald Trump gave in Arizona, how do you think his immigration plan which he plans to kick off the minute he gets in office, how would that be received in Washington? What would those early days and months of his administration be like?

FLAKE: Well, any serious immigration reform has to include four elements, obviously border security. Donald Trump has talked quite a bit about that.

Although, just really what element, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, that is not a very serious policy in and of itself. But then you have got to talk about interior enforcement, having an E- Verify-style system to allow employers to know who they’re hiring.

And then you have got a robust temporary worker program, both for skilled and unskilled labor. He’s talked very little about that. And then the mechanism to deal with those who are here illegally now, and that has been just kind of muddied, at best.

DICKERSON: If you -- you talked about the tone and tenor of his campaign. We have had this conversation, you and I, before.

Since then, Donald Trump has made a bit of a pivot. He said he regretted some things. He’s tried to change his position on the undocumented workers. He’s also kind of layered over his view about not allowing new Muslim immigration. Have any of those moves done anything to change your thinking about him as a president?

FLAKE: Well, I would like to see him stick with some of those positions for awhile.

The ban on Muslims, he does seem to have walked back. He’s talking more about regions or visa vetting process. That seems to be better. I’m glad to see that.

With regard to immigration, he pivots, and then pivots right back, so it’s kind of a 360-degree pivot at times. So, I would like to see a firm position that he sticks with for awhile. And, obviously, I would like to see it a more realistic position in dealing with those who are here illegally now.

DICKERSON: You have said a version of that before. Given how long you have held this position, aren’t you really at a point of no return in terms of ever supporting him?

FLAKE: Well, it becomes increasingly difficult to see that he’s going to change.

So, I don’t expect that I will be able to support him in November. I would like to, but he’s the Republican nominee. I just don’t see how I can.

DICKERSON: And you have advised other Republican senators running, including John McCain in your state, to distance themselves from Donald Trump. John McCain in an ad appears to be doing that, saying he will be check against Hillary Clinton. Is he taking your advice?

FLAKE: No, I wouldn’t suggest he’s taking my advice, but he’s doing what I think Republicans need to do.

If we want the future of our party to be what it needs to be, we can’t associate with this kind of message and certainly with this kind of tone and the rhetoric that’s being used. Long term, I think that drives away young voters. It certainly drives away a lot of people in the minority community that we’re going to need moving ahead. So, I think John McCain and others are doing exactly what they need to do.

DICKERSON: Hillary Clinton has been saying that Donald Trump is not a part of the Republican Party. She’s been saying there are Republicans who are not like him.

Does actually help Republicans who are trying to win in the same year he’s running as president?

FLAKE: It probably does for anybody to say that. For people to be reminded that this is not what the party stands for, I think, is a good thing. I wish more Republicans would say that as well, but if Hillary Clinton wants to say it, I’m glad people -- voters are being reminded of it anyway.

DICKERSON: And finally, quickly, Senator, Hillary Clinton is spending money in Arizona, thinks it’s competitive in the general election. Is that just trickery, or do you think Arizona is really up for grabs in the presidential contest?

FLAKE: It shouldn’t be up for grabs. Mitt Romney won it by I think, eight points. But, frankly, it is.

And I think that they’re spending money because they have some indication that she might be in play. And, unfortunately, I think that is the case.

DICKERSON: And is that just about Hispanic voters, or is there any other part of the vote that’s at play here?

FLAKE: No, it’s not. It’s not just about Hispanic voters.

I have always said that independent swing voters and others expect the major-party candidates to have serious policy proposals. And with regard to immigration, just saying that you’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay is not a serious policy proposal. And I think most Arizonans know that.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Jeff Flake, we appreciate you being with us. Thanks so much.

And we will be back in a minute.


DICKERSON: We’re back now to talk numbers, more from our CBS News Battleground Tracker poll.

We’re joined by CBS News director of elections Anthony Salvanto.

OK, Anthony, let’s walk through this slowly.

Thirteen, states we’re going to be obsessed with them on election night. They are where the race is taking place. Give us a sense where things now stand in those 13 battleground states.


So, Clinton is still leading. And in that sense, the race is essentially unchanged. She is still leading among the same demographic groups that she’s been winning. But you look at her numbers underneath that lead, and she’s got historically high unfavorable ratings.

That hasn’t changed either. So, some things that haven’t changed aren’t good news for her. We haven’t seen in that polling from a front-runner before. And what that does is, it introduces a little bit of uncertainty still in this race, because then voters say that they feel like they’re settling, like they don’t really like either choice, they have picked a front-runner, but they’re settling for a choice, rather than making an affirmative choice.

And that leaves things, I think, still a little bit up in the air.

DICKERSON: So, this is not an act of joy. They’re just kind of -- it’s a bit more grudging.

So, let’s just recapitulate maybe for people who haven’t been paying attention what the fragility is of Hillary Clinton’s lead. What is underneath that is weak about her?

SALVANTO: She still has persistent issues on trust, on telling the truth and some of it stems from the e-mail server.

People say in this poll that they feel like her answers to that are getting less believable over time, not more so. But to really understand this from public opinion, John, I think you have to lather that up to the bigger picture.

In polling, people consistently say like they feel in America today that there are two sets of rules, one for them and one for people who have special advantages.

And it seems like the e-mail server is just reminding people of what they don’t like and what they don’t like about politics as usual. And then you see that and it bleeds into some of her other numbers, where people say like they feel like she is running on behalf of big donors, rather than trying to help them or help the country, and even more so that she’s running just because she wants to help herself, rather than them.

And that’s where it spreads out and makes her numbers weaker.

DICKERSON: Right, spreads out to a bigger issue than just about specific e-mails.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump big challenges. He’s been trying to fix them. What’s his big challenge and how he’s been trying to fix it?

SALVANTO: Well, you know, you look at his numbers among minority voters, they are low, and they haven’t moved just yet.

But you wonder if too that some of these appeals to minority voters are also a signal to those reluctant Republicans that we have seen in the polling throughout this who worry. And they tell us they worry that his appeal is based on racial division. They don’t like that. They’re not as moved even by the immigration issue as well.

But you see the balancing that he has. This week, more people said that they felt his immigration policies were staying the same, but conservatives who felt like they were changing, like they were becoming easier on people in the country illegally, got a little less enthusiastic about Trump. So, that that is that balancing act he’s got.

DICKERSON: Well, this is what is so interesting.

So, this question on immigration, it’s the signature policy of Donald Trump. When Chris Christie says that he’s going to take a pause about the 11 million undocumented, that would seem to be a message to those reluctant Republicans you were talking about that Donald Trump can change his mind, that he’s not doctrinaire.

And yet, on the other hand, you have said that there are those conservatives who have always been with him who are always skeptical of presidents who are -- or candidates who are softening, who are changing their mind on that kind of thing.


DICKERSON: And so let’s step back look at the big picture then, the state of the map. What does it look like?

SALVANTO: Well, for Hillary Clinton, she’s leading in enough states -- and we have gone through over the week state by state -- that she’s got enough of a cushion in the states that she can even afford to drop a couple, to lose her lead in a couple, and still get elected.

We hear so much about battleground states like Ohio and Florida. She could even afford to lose them and still win, if she keeps the leads in some of these other places, like a North Carolina.

DICKERSON: And that’s because Democrats start with a group of states that are traditionally voting for Democrats. So, they have a bit of an advantage. And she’s doing well in enough broad states in these battleground states.

So, what does the path look like then for Donald Trump?

SALVANTO: Donald Trump has more challenges, quite frankly.

And it’s not just numerically, in that he has to pull back so many of these states. He’s got to win Florida. He’s got to win Ohio. Then he’s got to go and get the lead back in North Carolina and in Pennsylvania.

His path is narrower because, as you said, Republicans don’t start with as large a base of electoral votes. So, he’s got to pull back some of those Democratic states. And the good news for him, though, is these states are not that dissimilar. If he can change people’s minds, you would probably start to see a sequence of states start to move, not just one or two.

DICKERSON: All right. And you have added Arizona and Georgia to the mix, which are usually Republican states. That means a bigger map maybe for Hillary Clinton. We will see.

Thanks, Anthony. We will be seeing a lot of you this fall.

And we will continue to help inform our viewers about what is going on in the presidential race and out there in the battleground states.

For now, we will take a pause. We will be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: We have got a lot more ahead, but this programming note first.

Be sure to tune in next week for our special coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. We will be talking to CIA Director John Brennan.

We will be right back.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now.

But, for most of you, we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including an interview with former George W. Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and our political panel.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

Joining us now is former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. He is out with new book. It’s called “True Faith and Allegiance,” a story of service and sacrifice in war and peace about his life and time serving the George W. Bush administration.


I want to start with the scene where you were briefly the one administration official to be off in a secret location. Tell us first a little bit about that experience. And then you said it gave you new appreciation for the presidency. How so?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, of course, every year one cabinet official is asked to stay away --

DICKERSON: During the State of the Union.

GONZALES: During the State of the Union in case there’s a disaster and someone in the line of presidential succession is still alive to become president of the United States. And in 2007, I was advised just days before the State of the Union that I would be that person. And so I spent that evening on an airplane flying around. And I remember thinking, watching President Bush give the address that evening, and I would -- and I’ve advise President Bush through something like 50 federal and state executions, through two wars. So I’ve experienced a pretty big -- big moments with him before. But sitting on that airplane, it suddenly hit me, oh, my gosh, if something happened in Washington, would I and the people on that airplane be -- be -- be able to govern a wounded nation? The president get -- finishes his speech. We’re ordered to go -- headed back to Andrews Air Force Base and we land and I -- I really had an appreciation of -- of the tremendous pressure and power the opportunity to be president of the United States was really kind of -- kind of special.

DICKERSON: Yes. Well, we’re -- and we’re in the middle of a campaign where people are imaging the candidates stepping into that role --


DICKERSON: That you stepped into for, you know, 45 minutes or however long the -- the speech was. You -- you’ve said that it takes a special kind of person to be president.

GONZALES: Absolutely.

DICKERSON: What do you mean by that?

GONZALES: You know, looking at -- at -- at the president make decisions about who should go on the Supreme Court, or the decision to send men and women into battle, I think it takes someone with a great deal of integrity. And I can -- I think of very few jobs or vocations where integrity matters most. The American people want to know that the person, the most powerful person in the world, is constrained by the Constitution and not use that office for personal or political gain. It takes someone with wisdom. No one is born with wisdom. It comes from experience. So it’s a -- I think wisdom is very, very important.

It also takes someone with vision, a positive vision for America. Someone who can say, come with me. I can take you to a better place. I think I’m -- American want to believe in someone who believes in them. And so -- and courage. You know, the -- the office is about decision making -- I heard President Bush say this often -- and you have to have the courage to make the tough decisions because at the end of the day, you know, that’s what the American people expect is -- is you to make the right decision, to be bold and address the problems of this country.

DICKERSON: And so you’re a Republican. Does Donald Trump have those qualities you just outlined?

GONZALES: Well, I’m still -- I’m still evaluating Donald --

DICKERSON: It’s been 15 months. What’s to evaluate?

GONZALES: He’s -- well, because he shifts positions from time to time and, you know, I don’t -- I don’t know Donald Trump. I don’t think I’ve ever met Donald Trump. And so I think being able to -- to know someone takes some time. And -- and I -- I know there are lot of good people that I that I trust and know who are not supporting him and what it tells me is that I need to study this man very, very closely. I don’t think Americans should make a decision based upon the recommendations of anyone else. For example, if I today said, don’t -- I don’t support Donald Trump, or I do support Donald Trump, I -- I wouldn’t expect other Americans to -- to follow my lead. I would expect them to do their own investigation, evaluation as to whether or not this is the right person for them and their families and to lead this country.

DICKERSON: Based on those criteria you outline and that you outline in the -- in the book, “True Faith and Allegiance.”

Let me ask you another thing you said about Donald Trump’s comments about Mexico, because he went and made the trip this week. Donald Trump said, just to remind people, they bring drugs, they bring crime, they’re rapists. In response to that you said, “you can’t unring that bell.” What does that mean?

GONZALES: Well, I mean, there are consequences for words of -- when a president makes a statement. And I talk -- I talk about that in the book in terms of, once -- once the president makes -- makes a statement, it’s very, very difficult to walk that back. And so I think someone in the Oval Office has to be very careful about the words they say because they are -- there are consequences. And, quite frankly, there should be consequences. When the president draws a red line in the sand and says, if you go beyond that there will be consequences. There can be no doubt in any minds of our enemies that we -- that we intend to follow up and -- and that there will be consequences. So the words are very important from someone who sits in the Oval Office.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about an anecdote in the book that got a lot of attention at the time. It was March of 2004. John Ashcroft was the attorney general. You’re council to the president. There’s a scene in his hospital room --


DICKERSON: Where you’re trying to get an extension for the warrantless wiretapping program.


DICKERSON: And there had been different stories told about this. Director Comey, now director of the FBI, says that you and Andy Card were there to try and, as he put it, take advantage of a very sick man.


DICKERSON: You tell your version of the story --


DICKERSON: Of what happened in the hospital room, trying to get that extension. What -- how did it go as you saw it? GONZALES: Well, you’re right, I did -- I spent some time in the book talking about this. And I’ll just say that I testified under oath about what happened in that hospital room. And the inspector general of the Department of Justice also spoke to me about what happened in that hospital room. And so I am -- I am on record, under oath about what happened and no one has -- has contested my description of what happened.

Listen, Andy Card and I spoke twice -- two times before entering that hospital room about our concern that he might not be competent and --

DICKERSON: The attorney general, John Ashcroft, who had just had surgery.

GONZALES: John Ashcroft, who had just had surgery. And if he wasn’t competent, then we were not going to ask him to -- to do anything. We were primarily there to report on a leader -- on a meeting we had just had with congressional leaders about this very same program and about the -- about the dispute and the congressional leaders telling us we -- we believe it should go forward with the program.

DICKERSON: Continue the program.

GONZALES: Because it is so important in protecting American lives. And, of course, the very next day we had the Madrid train bombings. It was a very dangerous time for our country and we were trying to do what we could to insure that we had the tools necessary to protect America.

DICKERSON: In terms of the warrantless wiretapping and then also enhanced interrogation, which you oversaw as -- as well.

GONZALES: Well, I didn’t -- I didn’t oversee it.


GONZALES: This was -- this --

DICKERSON: You advised on it as -- in your capacity with the president.

GONZALES: Well, I was counsel to the president, but the advice came from the Department of Justice, the senior leadership at the department, and the lawyers within the administration saying, done a certain way, it would be effective, and it would -- and it would be lawful.

DICKERSON: And I apologize. Not an unimportant fact. But how do you feel looking back on both of those things? Both of those policies have been changed. In the Republican race right now there are some -- well, Donald Trump is saying, bring back waterboarding. It would be great. What do you feel about that?

GONZALES: I think we -- we should only be doing those things that are absolutely necessary and effective and lawful. And the question --

DICKERSON: Was that true of enhanced interrogation techniques?

GONZALES: Absolutely. That it was effective and we’ve had testimony by -- by folks from the CIA and the FBI talking about information that we got from the program. And at that time, the Department of Justice issued an opinion that if -- if waterboarding, for example, was done under certain supervision, and it was only done to three people, high level detainees who we believe had information about a pending attack against the United States, that it would be lawful. And so this was, you know, obviously, very, very controversial. And I -- I don’t mean in this book to try to convince anyone who believes that waterboarding wasn’t torture that it wasn’t torture. I merely meant to point out that -- that the lawyers worked very, very hard to get this right, to -- to ensure that the -- that the CIA and the policymakers had the tools that they believe was necessary protect this country.

DICKERSON: But just very briefly, parting shot -- question here. Your view now, if it were to come back, there’s a legal pathway to bring waterboarding back or is that closed?

GONZALES: Would -- would I support it? I’d have to want to talk to the CIA folks to say, first of all, what is the threat? If, in fact, someone has information about a bomb that’s about to go off in Washington, D.C., in the next -- next half hour and we know some -- we have someone in custody that we know has information about that -- even Chuck Schumer said, in that kind of scenario, Senator Chuck Schumer from New York said, yes, he would authorize torture, assuming, again, I’m not suggest that it would be torture as a -- as a legal matter, but that would be a tool that I think we should pursue under those -- under certain kind of circumstances.

DICKERSON: All right, Alberto Gonzales. The book is “True Faith and Allegiance.” Thanks very much.

GONZALES: Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: We’ll be right back with our panel.


DICKERSON: Joining us now for political analysis, Susan Page is “USA Today’s” Washington bureau chief, Jamelle Bouie is chief political correspondent for “Slate” magazine, and he’s a CBS News political analyst, Molly Ball covers politics for “The Atlantic,” and Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at “The National Review” and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ramesh, I want to start with you.

At the end of the week, Donald Trump has been to Mexico, met with the Mexican president. He also gave a zesty speech in Arizona in the same day. Do the calculation. Where do things stand at the end of the week with Donald Trump and immigration?

RAMESH PONNURU, “THE NATIONAL REVIEW”: Well, I think that it is a confusing story. Today, on the airwaves, Trump supporters Chris Christie on this show and Rudy Giuliani are saying, he has softened on immigration, he’s no long for mass deportation, and this story is not getting through. Well, one of the reasons it’s not getting through is that Trump didn’t actually say that mass deportation is not on the table any more. He simply implied it. And he did it in a speech that was -- that was all of the -- all of the atmospherics of it were extremely hard line. It’s a speech that actually reads differently than it looks. And I don’t see how the -- the Trump campaign expects that it is going to get credit for softening, which it clearly wants, if it won’t actually come out and make that message more explicit.

DICKERSON: Molly, I was surprised that Chris Christie used the word “pause.” I mean Donald Trump, during the primary, said the undocumented immigrants in America will be out so fast your head will spin. That is very different than the word “pause.”

MOLLY BALL, “THE ATLANTIC”: It is. Look, there’s been a lot of attempts to muddy the water, but I really think that a decision was made when Trump gave that immigration speech that he cannot walk back. And as Ramesh was saying, the decision was made to cast this issue in very harsh terms, to continue to depict illegal immigrants as criminals and as a danger to this country. And so whatever policy is in the fine print, and I don’t think we will ever know that because he’s taken all of the positions at once in a way, but the tone of that speech, I think, really closed a door for Trump with some voters who were looking for him to be more compassionate, to strike a tone more of acceptance, no matter what policy he’s advocating, I think, with certain Hispanic voters and certain non-Hispanic voters, there might have been an open door and that door was closed by the decision that Trump made to give that speech.

DICKERSON: Jamelle, who are those voters that -- that he’s trying to -- Donald Trump’s trying to appeal to with this softening, whatever we want to call it, if -- whether it exists or doesn’t exist.

JAMELLE BOUIE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it’s whatever percentage of voters, Republican voters, that are staying away from states like Arizona and Georgia and North Carolina. North Carolina, Mitt Romney won that by a slim margin in 2012. And it’s pretty much a must win state for Donald Trump. And I think that margin is mostly the result of Republican voters who were just staying away. And you have all these activated, energized Democratic voters who are sort of taking their place. So as long as Trump is losing that group, which is college educated, which is suburban, which is predominants (ph) in states like Virginia, Colorado, is important in Pennsylvania, as long as Trump is losing that group of voters, then his path to 270 electoral votes is very narrow, if increasingly nonexistent.

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”: You know it’s interesting, if you look at most of the demographic groups, they are pretty stable from four years ago. And the one exception are college educated whites.


PAGE: In the exit polls in 2012, college educated whites went Republican by 14 percentage points. And in the last Pew Research Center poll, which is a big respected poll, they went for Hillary Clinton by 14 percentage points. That is the kind of swing that I don’t think we’ve seen before with a big group in American politics since we started polling in the 1950s.

DICKERSON: Meaning she’s up by 14 there.

PAGE: He’s up by 14, whereas Barack Obama lost them by 14 points just four years ago. Think of what -- a big swing that is among college educated whites. A huge part of the U.S. population, a huge part of the electorate in just four years.

I was talking to political scientist this week -- this week, Alan Abramowitz (ph) at Emery, who spends a lot of time looking at these questions. We couldn’t come up with another example of that kind of swing since 1952 when we started to be able to look by the -- at the demographics of presidential elections.

BALL: Well, and the gamble of the Trump campaign is that he is realigning the electorate to make up for that swing by attracting more non-college educated white voters and a lot of Democrats. But we haven’t seen him do that.

BOUIE: Right.


BALL: What -- as you say, all the other groups are stable.

PONNURU: You mention Abramowitz. He has a model of election returns that predicts, based on the economy, based on these variables, Trump should win, Clinton should lose, but he doesn’t actually think that’s going to happen because Trump has run such a different kind of campaign that has scrambled the electorate in that way.

DICKERSON: Jamelle, do you think, going back to this point that Molly was making about realigning the electorate, if that’s your take, then wouldn’t you not need to do the softening, because you’re realigning? Is -- in other words, do you see in the softening undermining this notion that there’s a huge group of people out there?

BOUIE: Right. I mean a softening I think is de facto evidence if this group of people isn’t there or if it’s not -- it’s not large enough to make up for the voters you’re losing. I think the original theory was that Trump could have this hard line message and begin to pull non-college educated whites and specifically non-college educated white men from Democrats, those who aren’t voting, pull them into the electorate. But what’s happened is basically, yes, you have this action, reactivating a bunch of these voters, but you have a reaction, too, from college educated whites, from African-Americans, from Latinos, and the reaction is essentially overwhelming the action. And Trump -- the Trump campaign is now trying to figure out how it can mitigate the reaction, but I just don’t think it has time to do so at this point.

DICKERSON: Is this, Molly, what you saw in this visit to the Detroit church, this is also a part of this effort and where do we think that -- is it going to be successful, meaningful? Is it all about -- it is about African-Americans or is it about this group of college educated voters that we’ve been talking about?

BALL: If there is a political calculation, and I think that’s always an if with Trump and his campaign because so much of it is so improvisational and sort of based on the gut. But if there is a calculation, it probably is much more about those white swing voters.

On the other hand, you know, you see him getting zero or one or two percent of the African-American vote in these polls. There may literally be nowhere to go but up for Donald Trump. And those images where he at least seems to be making contact and listening to African- Americans could give him some lift there. But it does seem to be mostly about the predominantly white portion of the electorate that looks at him and believes that he’s a racist, that he’s intolerant, that he’s hateful and wants to be reassured. They -- they -- these people want to vote for the Republican.

BOUIE: Right.

BALL: They want to vote for the person with the “R” next to his name, and that’s why, I think, Trump still has some upside, but he needs to convince them that they -- that they can do that.

BOUIE: And there’s some -- there’s some good political science that notes that part of the gender gap in presidential election is essentially a function of white racial views. That women tend to have softer and less conservative racial views than men do. And when they see candidates who are hard line or seemingly hard line on racial issues, they react very negatively. And so George W. Bush, for example, did better than you would expect among white college educated women, in part because his brand, as it were, was a Republican with more liberal racial views you’re your typical Republican.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, let me ask you a question about how to fix this brand issue, because you can’t do it in one event and yet when Donald Trump went to meet with the president of Mexico, the word “presidential” got thrown around a lot. I’m going to apply to the wisdom of the group here. What does it mean to be presidential in a campaign context? What’s the real benefit of presidential?

PONNURU: If you look at the breakdown in that North Carolina poll from CBS, a majority of North Carolina voters don’t believe that Donald Trump is ready to be commander in chief. That is what it means. That is, I think, the central problem of this candidacy. People dislike him. People dislike her. But they think she is ready to be commander in chief. They don’t believe that he is. That I think is when we’re talking about presidential, when we’re talking about gravitas, changing his image, that’s the key thing he has to do.

DICKERSON: And can you do it, though, Susan, in who -- you’ve been to many of those -- those kinds of presidential moments, but can you do it in a -- just standing up there and -- and having a -- the image? Is that good enough?

PAGE: Well, I think that, and combined with the good performance in debates, is probably good enough, because you, in fact, have an electorate that wants to vote against Hillary Clinton --


PAGE: Because they don’t think she’s honest and trustworthy, because they’re ready for change after eight years of a Democratic administration. But Donald Trump, at least so far, has not gotten over the hurdle of looking like you can trust him to be commander in chief. That doesn’t -- I say -- I don’t think you could say there was no time left for him to do this because despite all the disadvantages that we’ve talked about so far for Donald Trump, he’s still within striking distance. In your national poll -- two points in your battleground states poll. That, you know -- and we’ve got, what, 65 days left?

DICKERSON: Right. Right. Well, you’ve given us a segue to talk about Hillary Clinton.

Jamelle, new information about her FBI interview. The numbers are very soft. In some polls they’re coming down. What is the state of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and -- I mean it’s now been several weeks that this comes up.

BOUIE: Right.

DICKERSON: It’s a bruise that keeps getting hit.

BOUIE: I pretty much think at this point you can tie Hillary Clinton’s fortunes and national polls to the tenor of her news coverage. When news coverage of Clinton is good or neutral, like just after the Democratic Convention, her poll numbers basically hit your 48, your 49 percent level, and she ends up establishing a seven or eight point lead over Trump. When the e-mails come in, when the foundation comes in, when these questions that remind people of all the things that they do not like about Hillary Clinton, that they do not like about the broader political world come in, her numbers immediately soften to 45, 44. And that’s basically been the story going back to even, you know, April and May. Her lead after the convention was very similar to her lead right at that time. The difference -- well, not the difference, but the same pattern happen. In April and May you had conversation about her e-mails and the foundation and her speeches and Bernie’s attacks, and it softened her to 44, 45. And I think it sort of -- it’s almost like a timing game that we’ll just see come November where she is in this cycle.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, did you take anything away from those FBI reports that is new or it just sort of the general issue that she has on this that will be with her all the way through to November?

PONNURU: There’s always another piece of evidence that tends to reinforce the public’s view that there is a lack of transparency, a lack of honesty, forthcomingness from Hillary Clinton. And I don’t think that story is about Clinton aides destroying phones with hammers is going to help her in any way. I -- I talked to a Republicans about this, a Republican strategists, who said, well, at least somebody’s keeping this race competitive.


PAGE: And yet a -- yet a big potential scandal involving Donald Trump, and I was glad you asked Chris Christie about it because I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention, which is that Donald trump, in 2013, his foundation made an illegal $25,000 contribution to a campaign committee associated with the Florida attorney general, who was, at that time, deciding whether to pursue an investigation into Trump University. And this is the kind of thing -- he’s now paid a fine, which is -- as “The Washington Post” has reported. This is -- this should be a major story. And I’m perplexed by why it hasn’t gotten more attention. I think one reason is, there’s so much attention to her scandals and her credibility to make attacks on the -- on the front of honesty and trustworthiness are so low that it’s harder to get -- for her to generate outrage about this potential scandal involving him.

DICKERSON: Well, and also Donald --

PONNURU: It’s a good news cycles of the third party candidates, I think.


Well, Donald Trump has also boasted about being able to do precisely that, give donations to get what he wants. I mean he hasn’t been shy about this. He hasn’t spoken directly to that thing, but he has said, that’s why the system’s so corrupt because I was a master at playing it.

PAGE: Yes.

DICKERSON: Molly, let me ask you about on Hillary Clinton. When she speaks, is that good for her campaign or bad no matter what the topic?

BALL: I think it depends. I -- I don’t think it is the case that every time she opened her mouth she makes things worse. And I -- she would hold a press conference, I think that whether or not she got herself into further trouble with her answers to questions, it would be refreshing to see her facing the press and answering questions. And, you know, she’s playing a very conventional campaign strategy where you spend your August fundraiser, and then you assume that the campaign engages in full after Labor Day. So I think we -- it’s safe to assume that we will see more of her doing public events and giving speeches after Labor Day.

DICKERSON: Jamelle, there -- she’s likely to give more policy speeches. Is that a way to beat back the criticism that she’s kind of disappeared during August --

BOUIE: Right.

DICKERSON: Raise a lot of money while she disappeared. But is that a way out of the fix she faces? BOUIE: I’m not entirely sure because I think when it comes to Hillary Clinton’s public perception, people kind of just think that she -- she knows a lot, that she’s very prepared with regards to the policy. The things that people do not like or cannot believe about Hillary Clinton, they do not like that she’s secretive. They do not believe that she cares about people like them. And I’m not sure if more policy speeches will fix that latter problem. I don’t know if she needs to fix the former problem. Bill Clinton never ever really quite fixed the former problem about his trustworthiness, but he was able to convince people that he cared about them. And I think that’s Clinton’s challenge going forward.

DICKERSON: And it may be impossible to fix the first, the cares about you. She could, presumably, if she gave good enough speeches about solutions --

BOUIE: Right.

DICKERSON: That might work.

That’s it for us. Thank you all very much. We’ll be back in a moment. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: We turn now for a moment from the negativity of our presidential race to an event that has brought multitudes together in celebration. At the Vatican this morning, Mother Theresa was declared a saint and a mass for 120,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis praised the Albanian-born nun, who died 19 years ago, for dedicating her life to serving the poorest of the poor in Indian slums, calling on world leaders to end the crimes of poverty they themselves created. St. Theresa stood just five feet tall, but as a voice for the poor who often go unseen, she made an impact that could be seen across the world.

We’ll be right back.


DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching. Join us next week when we’ll have CIA Director John Brennan.

For FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson. Enjoy your Labor Day.


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