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CNN NEWSROOM

High-Level U.S.-Mexico Meeting Today; Trump to Issue Orders on Border Wall and Immigration; Trump Wants Major Investigation into Voter Fraud. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- he goes, he stays, he saves a life.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's beautiful. Thank you very much for that "Good Stuff." Time for NEWSROOM with Carol Costello.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

CUOMO: She once punched right through a window once when I was in a car, but it wasn't on fire.

CAMEROTA: Oh, boy.

COSTELLO: Yes, I saved Chris's life. And you owe me. I'll be collecting later today. You guys have a great day. NEWSROOM starts right now.

And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me.

President Donald Trump just hours from delivering on a major campaign promise that he will indeed order that construction to begin on a border wall separating the United States and Mexico.

But that photo op now overshadow as Trump steals his own spotlight. He drops a bombshell, doubling down on his unproven claims that millions of people voted illegally.

His tweet, quote, "I will be asking for a major investigation into voter fraud including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal, and even those registered to vote who are dead and many for a long time. Depending on results, we will strengthen up our voting procedures."

OK. So we'll have more on the border wall in just a few minutes, but, first, the President's mission to prove his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. CNN's Athena Jones at the White House with more.

Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. That's right, the President not backing down from these debunked claims that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the November election.

As we've been saying over and over again, there is absolutely no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but this is something the President continues to bring up. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was repeatedly pressed about this during yesterday's briefing, including by my colleague, Jeff Zeleny. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said the President believes that there was voter fraud. I wonder if you believe that. You worked for the Republican National Committee at the time, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was the chairman of the RNC at the time. Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Listen, my job is not --

ZELENY: -- and do you --

SPICER: Look, this --

ZELENY: How can he be comfortable with his win if he believes that there was --

SPICER: He's very comfortable with his win.

ZELENY: -- three million votes. Maybe he didn't win then.

SPICER: No, he's very comfortable with his win. It's an electoral based system. He got 306 electoral votes, 33 of 50 states voted for him.

I think, look, Jeff, I've asked and answered this question twice. He believes what he believes based on the information he's provided.

Yes, ma'am?

ZELENY: What does that mean for democracy, though, Sean? What does mean if --

SPICER: Thanks, Jeff. Ma'am?

ZELENY: If he does believe that, what does that mean for democracy?

SPICER: It means that I've answered your question.

ZELENY: Have you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Now, as you know, Carol, this is something that the President has been talking about ever since he was President-elect, tweeting about this right after the November election. We also know that it came up again on that Monday night meeting with the Congressional leaders here at the White House. We're told that he talked about it for several minutes. And we know that Republicans and Democrats have been urging the

President to stop saying demonstrably untrue things. Here is what Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would urge the President to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on earth. You're the leader of the free world, and people are going to start doubting you as a person if you keep making accusations against our electoral system without justification. This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Without proof. And so here you have a situation where the President was complying with campaign promises, taking lots of actions that meet his campaign promises, things that will likely please his supporters like the immigration actions he's taking today. But then, he steps all over that message by bringing up these distracting false claims.

It's an unusual communication strategy. We'll have to see if it continues, Carol.

COSTELLO: We will. Athena Jones reporting live from the White House, thank you.

So a major investigation into voter fraud. It's not exactly the same, but it does take you back to November when Green Party candidate Jill Stein sued for a recount in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

Republicans were incredulous, including President Donald Trump. He tweeted at the time, quote, "The Green Party scam to fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts is now being joined by the badly defeated and demoralized Dems."

How times have changed. Mr. Trump is now demanding a nationwide voter fraud investigation, so let's talk about that.

With me now, David Lauter, Washington correspondent for "USA Today." Jeffrey Lord is a CNN political commentator and former Reagan White House political director. Maria Cardona, also a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.

And Michael McDonald is here. He's a political science professor at the University of Florida. He specializes in U.S. elections.

Jeffrey, let's start with you.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Carol. Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning. So if President Trump thinks there is massive voter fraud, is his presidency legitimate?

LORD: Of course, it is. Look, Carol, first of all, I just want to say something here about this entire issue. I'm looking at November 30, 2016, in "The Wall Street Journal" and October 30th in 2014. Two different articles that have chapter and verse with specifics of non- citizens voting.

[09:0510] There is nothing wrong with finding out what's going on here. And both of these articles say that we don't know how many people have participated in this, but the fact that non-citizens voted is a fact.

COSTELLO: OK. So I hear you.

LORD: I have nine examples right here that this does happen.

COSTELLO: I hear you, Jeffrey. But if there are serious questions, I ask you again, can Americans be assured that Donald Trump's presidency is legitimate?

LORD: Of course, they can. Of course, they can. I mean, non-citizen --

COSTELLO: If there is widespread voter fraud in this country or is it just certain people --

LORD: We don't know how --

COSTELLO: -- in the fraud?

LORD: That's the thing, Carol, we don't know how widespread it is. Let's find out. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

I mean, I'm appalled at Senator Graham. I mean, he is a sitting United States Senator. He's also concerned about Russian hacking. That's about foreign citizens or foreigners manipulating the system. He should be investigating. What's with him?

COSTELLO: All right. So, Maria, what should Democrats do? Should they pounce on this or do nothing?

MARIA CARDONA, FOUNDER, MESTIZOINOVATIONS: Well, I think that they should continue to underscore the reality of this. There is no alternative fact here. There is only an insidious lie.

There have been study after study after study shown, and I hope the Professor will talk about this, that there's absolutely zero evidence of widespread voter fraud, the kind that Donald Trump is talking about.

There have been infinitesimal small incidences of voter fraud at the very local level. But the kind of voter fraud that Donald Trump is talking about, 3 to 5 million people, means that you have to have a conspiracy that is nationwide. That includes Republicans and Democrats, that includes federal officials, statewide officials, local elected officials, all understanding that they are allowing this kind of voter fraud to proceed. And that is just not the case.

And what Donald Trump is doing, it not only undermining his own legitimacy, interestingly enough --

COSTELLO: But wait, wait. And, Maria, if that is true, then what a colossal failure because Donald Trump still won.

CARDONA: Well, so this is what's so interesting, right? Interestingly enough, he's accusing Democrats of -- or that there's voter fraud between 3 and 5 million people clearly because he can't accept that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million people.

Look, if we were smart enough to do this voter fraud, right, to implement this kind of voter fraud, wouldn't we have put these illegal voters in battleground states? I mean, this is --

COSTELLO: You mean like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin?

CARDONA: Yes, absolutely. So the whole thing is absolutely ridiculous --

COSTELLO: OK. I'm going to my professor here because I want to ask him --

CARDONA: -- and it undermines our democracy.

COSTELLO: All right. I want to ask him a scientific question. So, Michael, you have studied voter fraud for years. You and many other researchers have found little evidence of fraud. What do you make of this move by President Trump?

DR. MICHAEL MCDONALD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Right. So, you know, again, let's get the facts straight here.

Yes, there is vote fraud and, yes, it's very rare when it happens. And when it does happen, it happens predominantly in local elections and it happens by mail. That's our most vulnerable spot in our electoral system.

So what do I think is actually going on here is, we've seen, repeatedly, claims of vote fraud used to legitimize policies to enact very strict photo identification laws, proof of citizenship laws in some states. And what I think is going on here is there's groundwork being laid to do some sort of federal action to make it easier for states to adopt photo identification or proof of citizenship.

It may be a wholesale withdrawal of the National Voter Registration Act, which is what is called "Motor Voter." And if you listen to Representative King yesterday, he was basically telegraphing that that's what they're looking for. They don't like Motor Voter. Somehow, illegals are registering to vote through driver's licenses.

One other thing about this, and this goes to what Donald Trump is now saying, if you look very carefully at what he said, he's actually shifting the goal posts. He's no longer talking about vote fraud. He's talking about registration fraud. Are people registered in more than one state? Are people who should not be registered are, like dead people? We know that that exists as well. What we do know about that as well

is that many of those people, very few of them actually vote. So, yes, we will find registration fraud as Donald Trump is now tweeting. But, again, I don't think that's going to really be vote fraud.

COSTELLO: Right, because these two major studies that Donald Trump cites, right, they found that, you know, there is fraud but in very rare cases. Is there an actual vote cast? And that's an important distinction.

MCDONALD: Yes.

[09:10:07] COSTELLO: David, this question to you. Most governors in the United States are Republican governors. They actually certify the elections. So in a roundabout way, is Mr. Trump accusing those governors of being irresponsible?

DAVID LAUTER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, yes, Carol. I mean, he's accusing them of being irresponsible or being incompetent or not knowing how to do their job.

I mean, the fact is, as Professor McDonald said, there are occasional instances. The Bush administration spent years looking for voter fraud and brought cases. They found about 100 cases nationwide over a five-year period. So it happens occasionally. It's pretty rare.

And yes, there are dead people on the voter registration rolls. It's called dying. It happens. And every so often, the states clean up their rolls, but in the meantime, you've got some people on there who have passed away. You have people who move from one place to another.

The rolls aren't perfect, but the idea that somehow there could be 3 or 5 million people voting illegally, that's something we would notice. And it just hasn't happened.

COSTELLO: And perhaps Mr. Trump is noticing, Jeffrey, in just certain states because he seems to be centering on California, New Hampshire, and Virginia. Those states happen to have Democratic governors and large Latino populations. Is that what Mr. Trump is talking about?

LORD: Well, what he's talking about is illegal voting, period. And it does happen. Carol, you know --

COSTELLO: In certain areas or all over the country?

LORD: Carol, I have to present a photo id to buy a bottle of booze, to get on an airplane, to get a check cashed in my own bank where I have an account. I mean, voter suppression is about letting people vote who have no business voting, who are illegal. I mean, everybody in this country should have a --

COSTELLO: So you don't believe the studies then, Jeffrey? You think people like Michael are just not telling the truth because he's researched this extensively?

LORD: All I'm saying -- COSTELLO: Are you calling his research wrong?

LORD: No. What I'm saying is that the research by John Fund, formerly of "The Wall Street Journal" and "National Review Online," and Hans von Spakovsky, who is a former member of the Federal Election Commission, who have provided evidence about this --

COSTELLO: Who have done extensive studies or just anecdotal evidence?

LORD: They've written a whole book on the subject.

COSTELLO: Because there's a difference, isn't there?

LORD: They've written a whole book on the subject, Carol. And they've written in "The Wall Street Journal" about it. They provided chapter and verse. Let's find out. What is wrong with finding out?

COSTELLO: OK. So, Michael, I'm sure you've run across those articles and those books. What do you think of them?

MCDONALD: Of course. Yes, well, why don't we move beyond the debate? I mean, there are anecdotes of people who have voted illegally. When you have 140 million people do something, some of them are going to break the law. And it's wrong to take out of context these small incidences, and then blow them up to say that this is 3 to 5 million people who are engaged in this illegal activity.

But I want to go back to what Jeffrey Lord is saying because I actually agree with him on something about the identification, and so does Jimmy Carter and James Baker. After the 2000 election, there was a commission that was formed to look at the way in which our elections are run. And there were two important recommendations made out of that report with respect to this issue.

One is that everybody needs to have identification. And we've seen in litigation again and again about photo identification laws that there's anybody roughly 10 percent of the population, many of them disadvantaged, who don't have the necessary identification to vote, so we need to get identification to everyone.

And if we have identification for everyone, then we can use it for voting. And I actually agree with that. I think that we have a very poor data infrastructure in this country. It's harming, actually, people who are disadvantaged.

It would behoove us to have a very expansive program to get identification to everybody in this country, so not only they can vote but they can cash a check, open a bank account, fly a plane. Whatever it is that they need to do, they would be able to do it.

COSTELLO: See? We have unity, just a small bit but unity nonetheless. Michael McDonald, I want to send my thanks to you. David, Jeffrey, and Maria, you stay with me because I want to hear more from you guys.

Coming up in a few minutes, I'll talk to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. He is the man in charge of elections in Ohio. He certified the results -- or the governor certified his results, he oversaw the elections.

What does he think about Mr. Trump's call for a major investigation into voter fraud? He's a Trump supporter, too.

Also to come in the NEWSROOM, Trump's big campaign promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Today, he'll get started.

[09:15:00]

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COSTELLO: Just hours from now, President Trump launches a multiday blitz of immigration reforms. And chief among them, delivering on that core promise of his campaign, he will construct a border wall separating the United States from Mexico. This as the president's top aides meet with high-level Mexican leaders today. They will set the stage for the upcoming high stakes meeting between President Trump and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto.

The two men have met before when Donald Trump was the Republican nominee. That meeting didn't play well in Mexico. Its president saw his approval rating dipped even lower. Then Trump's action today on the border wall is sure to add to the grumbling. At least in Mexico.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Mexico City with the reaction there. Good morning.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. There is certainly a reaction today given the timing of this in Mexico. President Trump is scheduled to meet with a top delegation from Mexico that includes the Economic minister as well as the new Foreign minister, and there are already calls among some of the Mexican senators to cancel not only this meeting, but also to cancel the meeting later on, January 31st, with President Enrique Pena Nieto.

[09:20:02] And they want to do so as a sign of unity. A lot of people here in Mexico say, hey, listen, if Trump wants to build that wall and make us pay for it, we should not be in negotiations with him. And even yesterday the economic minister said if President Trump makes us or tries to make us pay for the wall, we will walk away. If President Trump taxes remittances, we will walk away. That said, they are still scheduled to meet today. And this could really set the tone for the new relationship -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Leyla Santiago reporting live from Mexico City. Thank you.

Despite Mexico's concerns, President Trump is intent on building his wall. But so many questions remain, including whether a wall that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars at least in the short term will be effective.

CNN's Ed Lavandera talked with a woman who lives in Brownsville, Texas, near the border. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every night 88-year-old Pamela Taylor, out of compassion, leaves bottled water outside her home for migrants moving north and the Border Patrol agents chasing them. She's lived in this house in Brownsville, Texas, a stone's throw from the border, since 1946. When the border fence was built nearly 10 years ago north of the river, she found herself on the south side between the wall and Mexico.

(On camera): You're a little bit of no man's land here, right?

PAMELA TAYLOR, BROWNSVILLE RESIDENT VOTED FOR TRUMP: My son-in-law say we live in a gated community. I mean, you have to laugh about it, you know.

LAVANDERA: You have to.

(Voice-over): Taylor voted for Trump and wants to see illegal immigration controlled. She once found an undocumented migrant hiding from Border Patrol agents in her living room. But she warns the rest of the country that a wall won't work.

TAYLOR: That wall is not going to stop them. If it's 20 feet high, they're going to get a 21-foot ladder, right?

LAVANDERA (on camera): Donald Trump wants to build this bigger, more powerful wall.

TAYLOR: I would like for Mr. Trump to -- I will even feed him if he will come down here and talk to the people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: There are other challenges, too, like how do you build the wall where the terrain looks like that. Rugged, steep and changing.

My panel is back with me. David Lauter, Jeffrey Lord, and Maria Cardona.

All right. So, David, I actually want to talk first about the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Why is that important to Americans?

DAVID LAUTER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, of course, Mexico is one of our two closest neighbors. It's become a major trading partner for the United States. There are millions of Americans of Mexican dissent. And the health of the Mexican economy is extremely important to the United States, particularly the southwest, to California, to Texas, to Arizona. But increasingly to the country at large, if Mexico is in good shape, then things work pretty well for the United States. If Mexico were in crisis, then all of a sudden the United States would have a really major problem on its hands which so far has not been the case, but there is this concern, particularly in Mexico, that President Trump may try to take steps that would put Mexico into an economic crisis, and that could be very dangerous for the United States.

COSTELLO: OK. Still though Mr. Trump seems intent on building his wall. And Jeffrey, I'll throw this question to you because you heard what that woman who lives in Brownsville, Texas, said. She said if you build a 20-foot wall, they'll buy a 21-foot ladder. Add to that, no one knows how long this wall will be. The U.S.-Mexico border is just about 2,000 miles long. And nobody knows for sure right at the moment exactly how Mr. Trump will pay for this wall. So is signing an executive order, Jeffrey, a tad premature?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's beginning to get the ball rolling. And with respect to Mrs. Taylor, I guess her name was, Donald Trump is a builder. And throughout his career he has been in charge of projects in which people said you can't do this, and then he proceeds to do it and get it accomplished.

This is -- look, the relationship with Mexico is important, but heavens, we've all had neighbors. If your neighbor just put brought over, you know, and put an ad in the paper and said everybody come to Carol's house, here is the address. And by the way, pay for -- she'll pay for your health care and your food, I mean, I think you'd be upset. You should be. I mean, this is not a good neighbor. And you know, I think it's Robert Frost or someone, you know, good fences make good neighbors. This is a problem here for this country and we've got to put a stop to it.

COSTELLO: OK. So, Maria, let's say, you know, the wall is built. Mr. Trump is also suggesting he's going to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents. Presumably they would patrol the wall to make sure that no one bought that 21-foot ladder.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So here's what I think we need to look at. A couple of things. First, this executive order, until we really know what's in there, really it's symbolism so that Donald Trump can say I am following through on one of my biggest campaign promises.

[09:25:04] The ironic thing here, Carol, is do you remember how much Republicans hemmed and hawed and screamed when President Obama tried to do something on immigration policy through executive orders? And they said no, you can't do that, immigration policy has got to go through Congress.

What Trump is doing here is he is trying to change immigration policy with the wall, with adding Border Patrol agents, with adding ICE agents, and that needs to go through Congress. At the end of the day, the cost for this has got to go through Congress.

And the other point I would say is we need Mexico, not just because they're our second largest trading partner and we need our exports to go to them, but if he is going to -- if Trump is going to really renegotiate NAFTA, we don't want them walking away from the table. And so this is something where the relationship with Mexico is a very complicated and what is becoming a very delicate issue.

And Donald Trump is really simplifying this, and with him, it's all hyperbole. You know, build the wall. And then that's it. It's not that simple. It's a very complicated issue.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the hyperbole point. That's a great word, right?

So, David, is Mr. Trump really intent on building this wall in the short term or is this a symbolic gesture because many of his supporters feel so passionate about this?

LAUTER: Well, as with a lot of things with President Trump, Carol, we don't really know the answer to that question. As you said, the border is 2,000 miles long. There's currently about 300 miles of fence. That leaves a lot of space to build some wall if you want. He could build a mile of wall, he could build 10 miles of wall, he could build 20 miles of wall, and then he could say, hey, look, I built my wall.

We don't know really how much he wants to build. The wall has been estimated to cost about $6 million a mile. And, you know, if you built the whole thing, you're talking about billions of dollars of taxpayer money that President Trump says Mexico will eventually pay back. Well, there's not much chance really that Mexico could afford that, let alone that they would be willing to do it.

So it could be a really expensive proposition for the United States if you built the whole thing. But if the point is just to build a little bit so you can say I built my wall, well, he can probably do that.

COSTELLO: So, Jeffrey, what would supporters of the wall be satisfied with?

LORD: Well, the wall would have to be as good as it can be and would have to work. That's the point. I mean, this is a very practical person. He is a builder by -- I mean, by profession. That's what he does.

COSTELLO: I've been talking about his supporters, though.

LORD: Sure.

COSTELLO: The supporters who want him to build that, what would they be satisfied with? Would they be satisfied with a partial wall, some fencing? Would they be willing to pay for it?

LORD: No, I know -- I think they want, you know, a wall, a physical wall that is unbreachable, that works, that keeps people out of this country who should not be here and that everybody else who wants to come in comes in, as he said frequently, through the door in the wall, as it were, comes in legally. I mean, this entire country is composed of descendants of immigrants so nobody is against immigrants. So, no, I don't think they'd be dissatisfied at all if he does what he says.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there because moments from now the Opening Bell will ring on Wall Street and we're expecting a major milestone to happen there.

Christine Romans is here. She is eagerly awaiting this because she is a financial nerd -- Christine. Oh, we're going to go to break. We're going to come back. I got excited myself. I'll be right back with the Opening Bell.

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