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Trump Surrogate Boris Epshteyn Weighs In On First Presidential Debate

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After last night's presidential debate, we're speaking on the program this morning to advisers from both campaigns. We caught up a short while ago with Boris Epshteyn. He is a senior adviser to Donald Trump.

I want to talk about the Iraq War that came up. I mean, Hillary Clinton was very firm in saying that your boss, Donald Trump, supported the war. And it goes back to an exchange that he had with Howard Stern in late 2002, where Howard Stern asked - are you for invading Iraq? And Trump said, I guess so. Let me just play that here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWARD STERN: So are you for invading Iraq?

DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was - I wish the first time it was done correctly.

GREENE: So was that not a nod in favor of going to war?

BORIS EPSHTEYN: Well, you know, Mr. Trump has explained that plenty of times. That was a - it's a comedic program. Obviously, it's Howard Stern. And, you know, he's a private individual. He wasn't (unintelligible) what he was thinking about.

Here's the bottom line, Mr. Trump has been consistent that he was against the war. Senator Clinton, at the time, went down to the well of the Senate and proudly cast a ballot for the war. So it's pretty rich for her to start poking at somebody else who was against the war and say, well, how - you know, how could you be saying something?

GREENE: That said, is your boss being a bit disingenuous by saying that he did not support the war when we have that interview that we just heard there?

EPSHTEYN: And even from those words, you know, it sounds like somebody who wasn't even expecting a question, again, on a comedic program and was, you know, sort of on the fence about it. And that's exactly what it sounds like.

And then you've got a follow-up program and a discussion with Neil Cavuto that was ahead of the war - it was in January of '03 - where he was, you know, very staunchly and directly said he was against the war. So that's what it is.

GREENE: I want to ask you about something that came up at the very end of the debate. The moderator, Lester Holt, asked both candidates if they would accept the outcome of the election as the will of the voters - whoever wins. And this was Donald Trump's response.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're losing our jobs. People are pouring into our country. The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps they passed the wrong button - they pressed the wrong button. Or perhaps, worse than that, it was corruption. But these people that we were going to deport, for good reason, ended up becoming citizens - ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don't even know.

GREENE: Was he suggesting that this election is somehow corrupt because there might be people in the country who should not be citizens who will be voting, or what was he saying there?

EPSHTEYN: Well, what he was saying was a part of a longer answer, is that our country is in dire straits. And that's the truth. If you look at where we are in terms of the economy, we haven't had 3 percent GDP annual growth in eight years. Where we are in national security and where we are in immigration - we're in a bad place. So that was part of a longer answer.

And now, of course, you know, the - it's a problem in terms of those people who - we hope that it was just 800, but it sounds like it was more or could have been more - but people who are becoming citizens who should have been deported, that's a problem from the perspective of national security, crime, but of course voting as well. But Mr. Trump then specifically said that he would accept the results.

GREENE: Do you know how that could sound to some people, suggesting that if this election - once someone sees the results they might look at people who, I don't know, could be Latino and be thinking to themselves, maybe this person shouldn't have voted? I mean, is - do you see that that can be taken in that way, as some sort of veiled...

EPSHTEYN: Absolutely not, David...

GREENE: ...Racial bias?

EPSHTEYN: ...That's a spin. Absolutely not, David, that's a spin. The way it should be taken is the way it was said - is that we know that there are folks - specific folks - who should have been deported who are now citizens. Those people should not get to keep their citizenship. And then we should make sure that those mistakes are not made and our immigration system is fixed.

GREENE: Boris Epshteyn is a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and speaking to us from Hofstra University, where he saw the debate last night. And we'll be talking to you again in the future. Thank you so much, Mr. Epshteyn.

EPSHTEYN: Thanks so much, bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline and Web summary on this story misspelled Boris Epshteyn's name as Epsteyn.