Who can Americans trust with national security? Tim Kaine makes his case for Clinton

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) campaigns at Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., July 31, 2016.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RTSKH96

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JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump traded new jabs today amid polls showing the presidential race has tightened.  Clinton said there are growing questions about Trump’s ethics, and she linked them to his refusal to release his tax returns.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee:  I’m going to continue to raise this, because I think it’s a fundamental issue about him in this campaign, that we’re going to talk about in one way or another for the next 62 days, because he clearly has something to hide.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Later, in Tampa, Florida, Clinton charged that Trump’s policies would lead the nation back to war in the Middle East.

In turn, Trump released an open letter of support from 88 retired generals and admirals.  And in Virginia Beach, Virginia, he belittled Clinton’s argument that she’d be tougher on the likes of Russia.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee:  Putin looks at her and he laughs.  OK?  He laughs.  Putin.  Putin looks at Hillary Clinton and he smiles.  Boy, would he like to see her.  That would be easy, because just look at her decisions.  Look how bad her decisions have been.  Virtually every decision she’s made has been a loser.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Clinton and Trump will appear separately in a nationally televised forum on national security tomorrow night.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the race for the White House, we turn now to Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

Before becoming senator in 2013, Kaine served as governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia and mayor of Richmond.

Judy sat down with Mike Pence during the Republican National Convention.

I spoke with Tim Kaine earlier today after he delivered a national security speech.

Welcome, Senator Kaine.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: You bet, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: From our account, listening to your speech just now, you mentioned Donald Trump 57 times and Hillary Clinton 29 times.

Are you the Hillary Clinton defender in this campaign or the Donald Trump attacker?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Well, I’m not a Hillary Clinton defender. I’m a Hillary Clinton promoter.

And I am also drawing a sharp contrast with Donald Trump, because on this issue of national security, the power of the president, as commander in chief and as the nation’s chief diplomat, the differences are incredibly stark and very, very important.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you something about something your Republican counterpart, Mike Pence, had to say about your running mate. He said that Secretary Clinton is the most dishonest candidate for president since Richard Nixon. Here’s your chance to promote.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Hillary Clinton is somebody who has had a passion for families and children since she was a kid, in a Methodist youth group as a teenager in the suburbs of Chicago.

And what I tell people, Gwen, is this. If you want to know about the character of somebody in public life, look to see if they have a passion that has animated them throughout their life, whether they were in office or out, whether they were winning elections or losing them.

And Hillary Clinton has that, a passion to empower families and kids, and a desire to measure health of society by how families and kids are doing. You can see this from her service as a lawyer, first lady of Arkansas, and United States senator, and secretary of state.

And I draw that contrast with a Donald Trump. What’s the passion that has animated his life, other than Donald Trump? And there really isn’t one. And so that is the important definition, in my view, of character in public life. Can you count on somebody? Do you know what motivates them? And with Hillary Clinton, I think that’s very, very plain.

GWEN IFILL: Why would Mike Pence say something like that?

SEN. TIM KAINE: You know, I’m not going to pretend to understand why he would say it.

I think the Nixon analogy is an interesting one, because when Mike Pence mentions Nixon, here’s what I think of. Richard Nixon, under audit, released his tax returns, so that the American public could look at them and know what his financial situation was, whether he was following the law, and whether he was beholden to anybody.

Donald Trump promised in 2014 that, if he ran for president, he would do the same, but he’s not even willing to do what Richard Nixon did.

And then the second thing I think about when I hear about Richard Nixon is, Richard Nixon was a Republican presidential candidate who encouraged crooks to commit espionage against the Democratic National Committee in order to gain an edge in a presidential election.

And that forged a constitutional crisis, an impeachment and a resignation. Donald Trump has encouraged Russians to cyber-hack the United States to give him an edge in an election. And that just shows how serious and seriously misguided Donald Trump is.

GWEN IFILL: What evidence do you have to support the notion that Donald Trump directly, other than that one comment that he made, but that he’s been in touch with Russians, has had a direct connection with them to urge them to affect a United States election?

SEN. TIM KAINE: That is the evidence, Gwen, that he publicly — not privately — publicly encouraged in a press conference during the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia Russian hackers to get involved and try to find information that would help him win the race.

That’s the evidence. And he repeated it, and then, when he was confronted with it, he suddenly said, well, he was just being sarcastic.

But anybody who would joke about that, about espionage committed by the Russians against the United States to help him in an election, that was an example of Donald Trump showing us who he is. And if he thinks that’s funny, then he has a sense of humor unlike anybody I have ever met.

GWEN IFILL: But that doesn’t necessarily show — that shows him maybe if he thinks he’s being funny. That doesn’t necessarily show that he was in cahoots with the Russians, does it?

SEN. TIM KAINE: No, but it shows — again, it shows he is publicly encouraging them to do it.

And then we know, Gwen, that he’s also — there’s a series of questions about business deals that he had — has with Russia or Russian interests that could well be disclosed if he disclosed his tax returns, which he won’t.

In an extraordinary, extraordinary turn of events, his longtime adviser and campaign chair had to step down within the last month because of very, very questionable ties to pro-Russian elements in Russia and the Ukraine, including allegations of undisclosed payments of cash to affect Ukrainian elections.

There are a series of connections between Donald Trump and his closest advisers and Russia that at least raise significant questions. Some of those questions could be answered if Donald Trump was willing to release his tax returns, but he’s unwilling to do that.

And when you add that to his public encouragement of Russia, it’s got to raise questions in people’s minds.

GWEN IFILL: You see the polls as much as I do, Senator, so you know that there’s a wide gulf of distrust that Americans feel towards your running mate.

Even Joe Biden came out today and said Hillary Clinton has got to open her hearts to Americans. She’s, obviously, been in the eye for a long time. What do you think that she has to do and what has to be done between now and November 8 for your ticket to make the case for her, instead of the case against Donald Trump?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Yes, and we are making the case for her, Gwen.

I’m passionate about that, especially on these national security issues. We just have to make it every day in the states that really count. Yesterday, I was in Pennsylvania and Ohio, states that are close. Today, I’m in North Carolina making the case. I was campaigning with Hillary in Ohio yesterday.

And so we’re going to make our case on these issues, who is best suited to grow an economy that will work for all? And then the issue of the day, who is best suited to be the commander in chief, be our chief diplomat, and also the person who has the nuclear codes and the control of the American military?

This is just deeply, deeply important, and we think when we make that case, the American public will be clear on who’s most fit to be president. And that’s Hillary Clinton.

GWEN IFILL: As you travel making that case through all these battleground states you just named, do you find that voters are more driven by national security issues, like you talked about today, economic security issues? In either case, Donald Trump seems to be leading in most recent polls.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Well, I think people are very focused on the economic issues. They want an economy that works for everybody.

And, actually, we’re feeling good about polls we’re seeing. Some different polls came out today in different directions. But in the battleground states, like North Carolina, we’re in there. We’re feeling good.

The top choice that people want to ask about is, who’s going to create an economy that does work for all? But the national security issues are very important for two reasons. First, because everybody knows that we want to be safe. But, secondly, people see these issues as probably the clearest window into somebody’s temperament, their judgment, whether they’re steady or volatile.

And so the national security issues are a really good window into the character of the person that somebody wants to have as commander in chief. And we think those questions show off Hillary Clinton’s strengths and her experience very, very well.

GWEN IFILL: Why does it seem like independents are leaning towards Donald Trump?

SEN. TIM KAINE: You know, again, I see polls, like in Virginia and other states, where we’re doing very, very well with independents.

And so, again, on the polling side, I see polls are close. But in the battleground states that matter, you know, just Virginia — Virginia was assumed to be one of the closest and most important battleground states going into this election. We like what we see in Virginia. We like what we see in North Carolina.

We like what we see in Pennsylvania and Ohio. These are states that are going to be close, but, right now, we like what we see.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you another question about something Donald Trump had to say over the weekend. He said that Hillary Clinton didn’t look presidential.

And then he was asked about that, and he didn’t quite answer what he meant. What do you think he meant?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Well, Gwen, I will quote it precisely.

He said: “Hillary Clinton doesn’t look presidential, does she, fellows? Does she, fellows?”

And, to me, I didn’t have a hard time figuring out what that meant. He was basically saying that, because she’s a woman, that she somehow didn’t meet his standard of what a president looks like.

And I think that is very, very easily understood by the vast majority of people who heard him make that comment, and they find it offensive.

GWEN IFILL: Does it help or hurt you when there are veiled or unveiled comments referring to your running mate’s gender?

SEN. TIM KAINE: Well, you know, whether it helps or hurts us, it’s bad for our country, because we live in a country where we put our North Star out there in 1776 and said that North Star was going to be equality.

It took us 144 years to make the decision that that meant women could even vote. And now we’re 96 years after that, and thank goodness we have broken a glass ceiling and a major party has nominated a woman for president.

But for Donald Trump to suggest — and he’s suggested it before — that, for some reason, Hillary Clinton couldn’t cross over the hurdle because of her gender, when we have stated that our principle is the equality principle, and nations around the world have been able to elect women as heads of state, I think that shows that he’s living in a different time, a time that is not a match for what Americans now believe about who our leaders should be.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Thanks so much, Gwen.

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