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The Trump Election Effect; British Political Operatives Met With Russian Ambassadors Days After Trump Visit. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 16:30   ET




COREY STEWART (R), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Over my dead body when I'm governor of Virginia are we ever going to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: After that speech, Stewart accepted the endorsement of Richard Hines for his gubernatorial campaign.

Hines is a leader of the neo-Confederate movement who has attacked un Ambassador Nikki Haley as -- quote -- "South Carolina's Sikh Hindu governor" who he said had -- quote -- "opened a Pandora's box of cultural genocide against all things Southern" by Haley having the Confederate Flag removed from the South Carolina capital.

When asked Stewart about Hines' endorsement last year, Stewart said he was -- quote -- "not going to apologize for standing up against the oppressive political correctness the leftist media uses in its impotent attempt to silence their political opponents."

Now, before that white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, Stewart made several joint appearances with Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the rally. Here are the two together in 2017.

After that rally in which a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed by a white supremacist, Stewart blamed both sides.


STEWART: You never hear is about the violence that was committed by the left. Now, there was a whole lot of left-wing agitators who went down there. There were left-wing politicians who showed up and decided that they were going to contribute to the violence.


TAPPER: Stewart even told "The Washington Post" that no apology was needed, saying -- quote -- All the weak Republicans, they couldn't apologize fast enough. They played right into the hands of the left wing. Those Nazi people have nothing to do with the Republican Party. There was no reason to apologize."

And that is just two of Stewart's concerning ties. Last year defending Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after Moore had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls, though Moore still denies it.

Stewart also revived the racist birther conspiracy against Barack Obama to promote a different conspiracy theory, saying -- quote -- "The Democrats got cocky, forging Barack Obama's birthday certificate. Thought they could slip by Allred yearbook fraud by on Moore for Senate. Sad."

Now many Republicans today are distressed about Stewart's victory. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado told CNN that the National Senate Committee, the group he chairs, has no plans to endorse Stewart.

But it remains to be seen if any of this matters. After all, this is a man, Stewart, who called Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie last year a cuckservative. A cuckservative, that is an insult that Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck last year told "The Washington Post" is -- quote -- "not acceptable in political discourse under any circumstances," noting the term is "used by white nationalists."

Those white nationalists use the term which combines cuckold with conservative to suggest that Republicans who condemn racism like to watch their white wives cheat on them with black men. That is what the term means.

Normally, Republicans in Washington, D.C., would distance themselves from the stink of such a candidate. But now Stewart has the most powerful Republican in the nation rooting for him, President Trump.

If there is one takeaway today from last night's key Republican primary races across the country, it may be tread lightly when it comes to taking on Trump.

But what might that mean for the midterms?

CNN's Tom Foreman has more on the Trump effect in full force.


KATIE ARRINGTON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm running for Congress to get things done, not to go on CNN to bash President Trump.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In South Carolina, Republican Katie Arrington rode her praise of President Trump to a swift primary victory over incumbent Congressman Mark Sanford, a Trump critic.

The final push coming three hours before the vote: "Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me. Vote Katie."

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.

STEWART: Thank you, Virginia!

FOREMAN: In Virginia --

NARRATOR: Want to stand with President Trump, there's only one choice.

FOREMAN: Corey Stewart took the Trump train to victory by adding tough talk on immigration to his already controversial support for Confederate memorials, prompting celebration from the White House and sadness from a former lieutenant governor: "I am extremely disappointed. This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew."

And just a week ago in Alabama, another incumbent Congress member, Martha Roby, was forced into a runoff, fallout from her criticism of Trump.

At the Capitol, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is trying to brush off the Trump effect.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That is just what happens in contested primaries.

FOREMAN: But while just over 40 percent of Americans approve of the president's performance, among Republicans, that number is more than twice as high.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Donald Trump's popularity with Republicans is unprecedented.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place.

I mean, it's almost been -- you know, it's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it?

FOREMAN: Tennessee Senator Bob Corker complains that now his party won't even back measures it supports unless Trump does too.

CORKER: We might poke the bear. The president might get upset with us, as United States senators.


FOREMAN: For some Republicans, the trend is a seismic unwelcome and unwise shift.

But in the primary winner's circle, the message is different. Get over it, get in line, get used to it.

ARRINGTON: We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.


(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: Whether Trump can now push some of these primary winners to general election victory is very much in doubt, especially in more moderate districts.

But within the party, all the old litmus tests about ideology, taxes, abortion rights have virtually disappeared. And they have been replaced with one question alone: Are you for or against Donald Trump?

TAPPER: And for means no criticism whatever.

FOREMAN: Yes, none, not little bits, not light criticism, not moderate.

TAPPER: None at all.

FOREMAN: Nothing.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Will Democrats be able to counter President Trump's so-called cult- like hold on the GOP come November?

Stay with us.




SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Look, we have a big map.

And, right now, we're focused on Florida, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, a big map. And I don't see Virginia in it.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the president this morning said that Corey Stewart can win. He endorsed him.

GARDNER: Well, again, I think my focus continues to be on a number of states that we have candidates who are winning and ahead.


TAPPER: That was smiling Senator Cory Gardner, head of the Senate GOP Reelection Committee, trying to do his level best to not talk about the Virginia senatorial Republican nominee, Corey Stewart, who has some very concerning ties to white supremacists and white nationalists.

Despite that, he was endorsed by President Trump this morning.

Let's talk about this.

I suspect, Kirsten, that Cory Gardner and other Republicans are going to have to do more than that to talk about Corey Stewart before -- or Cory Gardner is going to do more than that to distance himself from Corey Stewart before this is all over.


I mean, this just seems like the Roy Moore thing all over again, right, where they're sort of put in the position of having to try to distance themselves, but also don't really want a Democrat to be in charge and also don't want to make Republican voters angry, who get angry when they look like they're trying to impress the establishment.

So I think it's a very hard line to walk.

TAPPER: What do you think?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I will tell you why I don't think it's a big deal and it's not like the Roy Moore situation, is because the seat wasn't competitive in the first place.

Republicans really needed to win Alabama and lost it by nominating an idiot. And in Virginia, what happened after Ed Gillespie got blown out of that race is it was extremely difficult to try to recruit somebody in this environment.

And --

POWERS: You couldn't recruit a person who is not a white supremacist?


HOLMES: Well, he won a primary, Kirsten.


HOLMES: But the most important part is the two candidates were unlikely to be able to be competitive in the fall.

And Cory Gardner is absolutely right. Republicans have an awful lot of opportunities out there. If they're focused on Virginia at this point, there it's a dereliction of duty. We're talking Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, West Virginia, I mean, just point after point of good quality pickup opportunities.

And Virginia is not on that list.

TAPPER: Tim Kaine is the incumbent Democratic senator.

A little bit south of that race in South Carolina, Congressman Mark Sanford, a member of the Freedom Caucus, a deep conservative, obviously, we know all about his time when he was governor, he lost his primary race, something his hometown paper is blaming on an afternoon tweet from President Trump urging voters to support his opponent, Katie Arrington.

He has -- Sanford has voted with President Trump 73 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Senator Jeff Flake summed up the Republicans' election night like this. He said -- quote -- "This is Trump's party. Boehner said it. We have all felt it. It was reiterated last night. If you want to win a Republican primary, you can't deviate much from the script. It's the president's script. You can't criticize policy or behavior."

Is that true, Josh?

HOLMES: No, I don't think it's true.

What's interesting, this is a phenomenon that's happened for both parties for a number of years, is when you have a president of your own party, there is very little tolerance in the primary electorate for folks who make their core identity criticizing the agenda of that president.

They want people to pick up their hardhat, pick up their lunch pail and go to work and try to get things done. And so for folks like Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, in this sense, Sanford, you see a lot of primary voter anxiety about that.

And I think Mark Sanford is the latest victim of it.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, Sanford told "The Washington Post" this afternoon he thinks the president's critical tweet probably did ultimately cause him to lose.

But -- and that his loss, he thought, would have a chilling effect on other Republicans who think about criticizing the president on occasion.

He said -- quote -- "They don't want the tweet that I got last night. There is no motivation like self-motivation."

Is the big message for Republicans out of yesterday? Don't criticize the president, even on policy grounds, or else you will end up like Mark Sanford?


I mean, he has -- his support is the strongest that it's ever been for a Republican president, other -- in recent history, other than George Bush after 9/11. So they are completely unified behind him.

And I'm often at a loss to say why, just because I don't think, if you were to have followed Republican politics for as long as we have, a lot of stuff he does doesn't seem like the kind of thing that Republicans used to like.

And you can only point to Gorsuch so many times. But when it comes to other things, I think even what just happened with -- in North Korea, we know what would have happened if that had been Barack Obama. I mean, it would be just nothing but stories about appeasement. The world would have exploded probably.

So, why they're so behind him, I can't say. But they are. And it's true. Anybody who criticizes him pays a high price.

TAPPER: So, Josh, you talked about Missouri being a pickup opportunity for Republicans.

Just this hour, President Trump tweeted about Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democratic senator of Missouri, who recently acknowledged that she took a private plane for some parts of her R.V. tour around the Show Me State.

The president tweeting: "Senator Claire McCaskill of the great state of Missouri flew around in a luxurious private jet during her R.V. tour of the state. R.V.s are not for her. People are really upset. So phony. Josh Hawley" -- that's the state attorney general -- "should win big and has my full endorsement."

She's pretty vulnerable.

HOLMES: Yes, she is.

She might be the most vulnerable Democrat of this cycle. And she's got this chronic reoccurring aviation problem that's come up in basically every cycle that she's run in. She's owned multiple private planes and wants to hide that from the public


Obviously in this case, like you said, she was in an R.V. tour that didn't have an -- I mean she had an R.V. she wasn't in it. She was in her private plane going from destination to destination. So yes, I think Josh Hawley got a really good chance there. And you recall she won re-election basically by choosing a Republican opponent in 2012 --

TAPPER: Six years ago with Todd Akin. Yes.

HOLMES: -- Todd Akin. She wasn't as lucky this time around.

TAPPER: Very quickly, is she --

POWERS: Well I mean, just President Trump you know criticizing somebody for flying out, like flying around on a luxurious jet, I mean, really?

HOLMES: The hypocrisy.

TAPPER: Air Force One?


TAPPER: I hear you. All right coming up, a CNN investigation. New emails revealing another link between the Trump campaign and Russia and this time is coming from the Brits. We'll explain next. Stay with us


[16:50:00] TAPPER: More in our "POLITICS LEAD." New leaked e-mails reveal a link between Russian officials in the2016 Trump presidential campaign thanks to the Brits. Two British political operatives who pushed for Britain's exit from the European Union in 2016 or under parliamentary inquiry there after their extensive links to Russian official surfaced. CNN Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin connects the dots for us.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Arron Banks, the largest political donor to the U.K.'s Brexit campaign became a familiar face on the Trump presidential campaign. He cheered on Donald Trump in Mississippi at a political rally, attended a campaign event in St. Louis, a debate in Las Vegas, even went to Trump's inauguration and has since spent time at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort. He bragged in an e-mail viewed by CNN that we've been working all summer helping the campaign. And just four days after Donald Trump was elected, banks along with fellow Brexit supporters Nigel Farage and Andy Wigmore met for more than an hour with the new President- Elect even before Trump had met Britain's Prime Minister.

They say that meeting was unplanned. And when someone asked why the leader of Brexit was getting more face time than Prime Minister Teresa May, Banks tweets why struggle to understand? We are close to the campaign. What hasn't been known until now is Arron Banks was at the same time regularly meeting and communicating with Russia's Ambassador to the U.K. Alexander Yakovenko. Just days after their Trump Tower meeting, Banks and Wigmore had lunch again with the Ambassador. So Nigel Farage asked them about it on his British radio show just this week.

NIGEL FARAGE, MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT: Three days after we met President or President-Elect Trump as he was you met the Russian Ambassador. And people would say, well, were you reporting back?

ARRON BANKS, POLITICAL DONOR: Well, not really. We've had a very pleasant lunch with him that lasted six hours and of course, you saw a picture of us in the golden doors of Trump's apartment. And of course, he got in touch with (INAUDIBLE).

GRIFFIN: The first Trump event attended by banks was August 24th, 2016 just five days after a lunch was scheduled at the Russian embassy according to an e-mail viewed by CNN. Wigmore has denied the lunch happened but it is one of dozens of communications, invitations, and discussions between Wigmore, Banks, and Russian embassy officials.

DAMIAN COLLINS, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: That's not illegal with meeting with Russian diplomats or of doing business deals in Russia as long as they were not breaking any the sanctions against Russia. There's nothing illegal in that. But I think we want to understand more about the nature of these meetings, the nature of this contact and what was being discussed and to what extent our own banks profited from his relationship with the Russian Embassy.

GRIFFIN: In testimony before an investigative committee in Parliament Wednesday, Banks denied giving the Russians anything sensitive but did admit to handing over one piece of information after that Trump Tower Meeting, how to get in touch with the President-Elect.

BANKS: The only thing we gave in the second meeting was the telephone numbers or the telephone number of the transition team.

GRIFFIN: Banks who also has a Russian wife has been trying to deny reports and innuendo from British press and politicians that he is acting is a potential Russian agent. His story is confusing because he admitted sometimes he lies or allows his sidekick Andy Wigmore to lie on his behalf.

ANDY WIGMORE, BREXIT CAMPAIGNER: I would be guilty of being provocative and I'm provocative, slight exaggerating in the message quite often and I'm guilty of doing that, absolutely.

GRIFFIN: According to the pair, e-mail showing Arron Banks in Moscow in February 2016 were a lie. E-mail showing a meeting request with a sanctioned Russian bank, not true.

Banks does admit during one of his visits to the Russian embassy he was offered involvement in a $3 billion deal to consolidate six Russian goldmines. CNN has learned the company was partially owned by Vladimir Putin's former Deputy Chief of Staff. Banks says that deal never went through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever accept money from the Russian government?


GRIFFIN: Banks was competitive during his testimony and finally after lengthy questioning stood up and abruptly left the hearing.


GRIFFIN: Banks and Wigmore say it should be no surprise to U.S. authorities, Jake, that they had ties to Russia claiming they voluntarily turned that information over to U.S. officials. We have not been able to confirm that took place. There also is no evidence at least so far, anyone in Donald Trump's campaign knew Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, two friends from Britain were also lunch buddies with a Russian Ambassador. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin in London, thank you so much. President Trump may be tweeting North Korea isn't a nuclear threat but Kim Jong-un is spinning a very different tale back in his own country. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.