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WI GOP Senate Candidates Battle for the Trump Bump; Wisconsin Republicans' Tough Tariffs Dilemma; Vermont Democratic Governor Primary Features Teen, Transgender Candidates; Trump Renews Attacks Against AG Jeff Sessions; Ellison Denies Domestic Abuse Allegations. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 14, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:33:43] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. It's Tuesday. A midterm election year. That means it's primary day. Voters in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Vermont are voting right now.

These setting up some of the most crucial midterm match ups when we get to November. Wisconsin has some big races to watch, including which Democrat gets the right to challenge Governor Scott Walker this fall. Republicans also in Wisconsin picking a candidate to face off against Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin in November. That Republican primary is one of those establishments versus outsider clashes.

Let's take a look. It's drawing a lot of outside money. More than almost $14 million in outside money spent and there was one Republican Senate primary in one state, Wisconsin. Take a peek. Kevin Nicholson, he's the outsider candidate in this race, he's a former Democrat, a military veteran. More than $7.5 million of outside money coming into support him.

Look here, anti-Nicholson money, a little shy, $0.5 million. Leah Vukmir, she's the establishment candidate, only a small amount of money coming in from the outside to support her. Look at this, anti- Vukmir. So add up the anti-Vukmir and the pro-Nicholson, and you get the impression more than $11 million of that outside money to help him, including by hurting her.

It's a Republican primary. She's an establishment. He's outsider. What do they share in common? Look at their T.V. ads. Hug the president.


[12:35:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump needs an ally he can trust in the U.S. Senate. That's not Kevin Nicholson. Fortunately, there's a consistent conservative running for U.S. Senate, Leah Vukmir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump needs fighters in the Senate. Fighters like Kevin Nicholson. Nicholson has a real plan to help Trump drain the swamp. Outsider, conservative. Kevin Nicholson for Senate.


KING: We've seen this before. Interesting to me though in this particular state because this was a blue state the president turned red. Democrats are determined to prove that was a fluke, number one by getting Scott Walker, they hope this time. Finally the Democrats have a say, we'll get to that in a minute.

But you still have these Republicans running these pro-Trump ads, even though tariffs and the president's personal war with Harley-Davidson. Is that a risk?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, not -- I think in the primary we have seen across the country in every primary this year, every Republican primary, this is clearly the message that the campaigns, the candidates, the pollsters have tested and found wins Republican primaries is be the strongest Trump ally you can. Similarly, we've seen otherwise well-qualified candidates lose because they were perceived as less loyal to President Trump.

The question I'm waiting to see answered is, I think like clockwork, as soon as these primaries are over, you're going to have the Democrats start attacking Republicans for being too close to Trump who's unpopular in many of these states. Will that be a winning strategy and so will the Trump hug turn out to be a double-edge sword, to mix a metaphor.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: I think that's the case when you have two candidates backed by two different Republican billionaires. The other aspect of it is that they didn't want to get too negative in the primary to sort of attack the other candidate because it's so close. So I think one of the ways they went positive is by hugging Trump even closer.

KING: And most people won't know these names. But if you followed Scott Walker's career, number one, he won three statewide elections in just a couple years including a recall election because a Democrat tried to challenge him. He is reviled by Democrats in Wisconsin. But he has proven himself, look at that, to be a survivor.

Democrats think this is the year they finally get Scott Walker. One way you know that is look at all these Democrats running to win the primary against Scott Walker. I think we have that graphic as well to show the Democrats.

You see they have eight candidates there running. That tells you they think there's a chance. The question is, is this their year? They say Scott Walker keeping winning is a fluke, Wisconsin is a blue state. President Trump winning was a fluke, Wisconsin is a blue state. Scott Walker keeps winning and the president won. Is Wisconsin a blue state?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I mean, I don't know that it makes a difference. It gets weirder than the governor has from because you have that in Vermont as well, actually. But with Scott Walker, he's such a formidable fundraiser. I mean, you can't discount -- well, that's all we were talking about all the way back in 2015 is how formidable a presidential candidate he was going to be because of that fundraising network. And that hasn't dissipated for him. So -- and that is going -- that's going to matter.

KING: His performance as a presidential candidate was pitiful.

KUCINICH: It was not good.

KING: And so I just want -- to get into the dynamics. This state fascinates me because you look at a state where the president, you know, to his credit, turned Pennsylvania, turned Wisconsin, turned Michigan. So you study those states. Was it just a one campaign? Was it the Clinton campaign's failings? Was it some way the president talks?

Since then, you have Scott Walker, a national Republican figure as your governor, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, the president loved the fact -- he likes to give out his maps. Look at the states I turned but now he's got tariffs, and he's saying boycott Harley- Davidson. Listen to Speaker Ryan and Governor Walker trying to dance around that one.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, the president has a style that's different. He knows that I don't like tariffs either, but I think at the end of the day, we hopefully can get an agreement here that opens up more access to our products in Europe. And I hope -- I think that's good for everybody including ha Harley-Davidson.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I want them to do -- I want Harley- Davidson to do well here in the state of Wisconsin. I think one of the best ways for that to happen is for us to do what the president himself talked about. And that's get to a point where there's no tariffs.


KING: Spin.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I think the question -- his style is different, right? That's not the only issue here. I mean, I think the question is how big of a factor Trump will be in this particular race, right as Jackie said. You know, Scott Walker is a well-established figure in this state. He has a formidable fundraising apparatus which is very important in a race like this.

Will Trump -- sort of the specter of Trump that has encouraged all these Democrats to throw their hats in the ring to get the nomination, will that energize Democrats more than it energized these Republicans who has as you point out are already worried about the effect of tariffs, worried about the effect of some of his policies on the manufacturing sector, on companies like Harley-Davidson. And this whole idea that the tariff issue is going to be taken care of later, like it's, you know, it's a pain now, but for down the road, it will be better for us, that does not motivate voters.

Voters take a look around themselves on Election Day and say, what do I feel now, what is happening now, who do I blame for that? And if they make the calculation that Trump has created a situation and that Scott Walker is allied with him and created a situation that is hurting them now, they're not going to care about what might happen down the road.

[12:40:07] KING: Yes. The president thinks we'll be out of that tunnel by 2020 if you're Scott Walker. My guess is he's not going to ask the president to come out and help. Just a guess.

Up next, details on another big primary in the spotlight, one that features two extraordinary candidates.


KING: Topping our political radar today, another noteworthy primary. We're watching featuring two remarkable candidates. It's Vermont's Democratic primary for governor. Christine Hallquist is trying to become the nation's first ever transgender governor. Among her opponents on the primary ballot, a politically passionate 14-year-old named Ethan Sonneborn who thought, why wait, after learning Vermont has no minimum age requirement for its top office. Here's both making their case.


ETHAN SONNEBORN (D), VERMONT GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: My age hasn't played a larger a role in my campaign as one might think. Everywhere I go, my message transcends age.

CHRISTINE HALLQUIST (D), VERMONT GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: For some Vermonters, I think my being transgender might be an issue. I think it's going to be a small minority. I think Vermonters are going to vote for me for what I'm going to do for Vermont.


KING: Let's just call this next story about karma. Remember Sebastian Gorka, the former Trump White House aide and one of the president's most vocal sidekicks throwing around the fake news label? Well, he got busted using a fake business card. Mediaite (INAUDIBLE) a Gorka card suggesting he works for Fox News. He doesn't.

It points out, the Mediaite piece does the card features all the usual info and an outdated Fox logo compared to the current one. You see it on the right. Mediaite says it gotten no comment from Fox.

A congressional candidate in Oklahoma thinks he's found the effective attack line ahead of his Republican runoff in the district one race. Kevin Hern going after opponent Tim Harris because Harris supports the Mueller investigation. Hern hopes his opponent's position be a big turnoff to voters, especially Republicans in a state where the president carried every county in 2016.


[12:45:01] KEVIN HERN (R), OKLAHOMA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Hi, I'm Kevin Hern. A Christian businessman and constitutional conservative. I'm a political outsider who supports President Trump. My opponent wants the Mueller investigation into the president to continue.


KING: Up next, we'll follow up on that. Do Americans want Robert Mueller to take his time or wrap it up?


KING: Welcome back. Some news CNN poll numbers to discuss on an issue the president says shouldn't exist. It does, and our new CNN poll finds 34 percent approve of how the president has handled the Russia election interference investigation. That's not a strong number, but it is up five points since June.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's numbers also up a bit. Forty-seven percent approve of how the special counsel is handling his investigation. That's up from 41 percent back in June. Still, most Americans want Mueller to pick up the pace.

Look here. Two-thirds of Americans, including majorities across party lines, think Mueller should wrap all this up before the November elections. Now, the president might like that last number, but we know he doesn't like the Mueller probe. And we know just who he blames.

This tweet today, if you needed a reminder. "If we had a real attorney general, this witch hunt would never have been started. Looking at the wrong people."

DAVIS: Jeff Sessions cannot get any love at all from this president. I mean, it's an interesting sort of across the board result that the poll found, which is clearly for two different reasons. Republicans want this over with because they want it over with. They want it to go away, by and large most of them probably agree with the president that maybe it shouldn't have started in the first place. Certainly that it's gone on for too long.

Democrats want it over with because they think there's some there, there and they want it to be out on the public record before voters go to the polls in November. And, you know, so there -- either good reason for both sides to want this over with.

I am intrigued though by the idea that people think that both the president and Bob Mueller are doing a better job with the investigation than they thought previously. Because what we had been seeing is the president's constant tweeting about this and constant discrediting and undercutting of the investigation was having a real effect. And the public's view of the investigation had been slipping. And I kind of wonder what has made it bounce back. [12:50:03] KING: Or people just in an overall better mood because the economy is better, so they're saying nicer things about everybody involved in politics? Or is the Manafort trial is underway so they say, oh Bob Mueller is doing his job. It's a hard one to slice and dice. The president's numbers went up mainly among independents (INAUDIBLE).

BALL: I think it's always possible that the same effect is going on, as with the other question where, you know, Trump's calling attention to this investigation, Trump's continued obsession with the investigation is jacking up his supporters and also jacking up his opponents. So his supporters are getting more and more negative on the investigation. At the same time, his opponents are probably increasingly enraged by the way he's treating the investigation.

So it seems like just by calling attention to it, he galvanizes both sides, just as we've seen politically. Anywhere that Trump goes, both sides are galvanized.

KING: And 66 percent want Mueller to finish by the November elections. That's I think common sense. I don't think Bob Mueller is going to be influenced by the polls. I'm going to make a bet on that one.

But the president would like that number. But we've also watched the president's attorneys, principally Rudy Giuliani but also Jay Sekulow out now especially on steroids the last week or two saying this should be over by September 1st. There's zero presidential reason to testify. Mueller has no constitutional argument. The president has prerogatives.

Should Donald Trump testify under oath if asked by the special counsel? Yes, 70 percent. No, 25 percent. So they may be doing some business among Republicans, but if seven in 10 Americans say yes, Mr. President, you should testify if asked, that means a lot of Republicans are saying yes, Mr. President, you should testify if asked.

PARTI: I think that's part of the reason why voters want this wrapped up sooner. So they feel like if the president testifies, then it probably comes to an end sooner. I think this whole investigation has really taken a toll on voters, just hearing about it constantly in the news and obviously as Julie said wanting to get to the bottom of it. There's reasons for that on both sides.

KUCINICH: Right. And I think you're absolutely right to your point for that number as well. I think Democrats think the president is going to end up lying and getting himself in trouble. And Republicans who don't think he did anything wrong just want him to get, you know, on the record and get out of there and get this thing wrapped up.

But as we've seen, the lawyers have been wrong. Even though they're telling -- it's like, are we there yet? Yes, we're five minutes away. It's been sort of like that with the Mueller probe. And no one knows when the thing is going to end. KING: So it would be nuts to say why doesn't everybody who has relevant information testify? Then we get a report put together by credible people, and we take the results with whatever they are and not come at it with a polarized, partisan preconception. Nuts?

BALL: Well, that 70 percent number actually is really interesting to me because it raises the possibility that Trump has actually done too good a job of convincing his followers that he's completely innocent and there is nothing there. Seems like you have a lot of Republicans and independents saying, I believe the president, he's done absolutely nothing wrong. Hillary is the one they should be investigating.

And so he should just go, do this interview and get -- and clear the air. So in that case, they may have a political problem when and if he refuses to testify.

KING: But it wouldn't be a relevant question if we had a real attorney general. Don't forget that part. It's right there in Twitter.

Up next, a long time congressman who's running to be his state's attorney general suddenly fighting serious abuse allegations.


[12:56:26] KING: Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison denying some serious allegations against him as he competes today in the primary for Minnesota attorney general. A woman who had a long-term relationship with Congressman Ellison says he was emotionally abusive and physically abused her on one occasion, which prompted her to move out of his apartment she says back in 2016.

Her name is Karen Monaghan. The allegations surfaced when her 25- year-old son posted on Facebook that he saw a video in 2017 showing Ellison dragging his mother off a bed while cursing at her. Monaghan told CNN she misplaced the video during a move and wouldn't want it to be made public, calling it embarrassing.

The congressman denies the allegations and released a statement saying, quote, Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well being. This video does not exist because I've never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false.

Serious allegations and the timing, because the congressman is on the ballot today, what is to be made of this? His statement there leaves no wiggle room. This woman says it happened. I just want to note, some of our K-File team Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott looked into this. They say three friends of Monaghan who asked to remain anonymous did tell CNN she had confided in them about the bed incident in the months after she moved out of Ellison's apartment.

So there are friends of hers who say she did tell them at that time about this which is important.

BALL: Well, we have no idea whether or not this is true. And because the primary is today, unfortunately, voters are not going to have a chance to have these allegations more strongly investigated or strongly vetted before they have to make a decision, which to me says that today's primary is going to be about how much sort of political capital, if you will, Keith Ellison has with his own home state Democratic primary voters. He's long been a favorite of the progressive left and has a post in the DNC largely as a result of that.

And so I think, you know, this primary is going to test whether the progressive voters believe him based on his long service to the state or whether this creates enough qualms about what could be a quite competitive race.

KING: In a statement to CNN, Karen Monaghan said, "Me sharing my story has nothing to do with the primary election. It is never a good time for a survivor to share their story. If I waited a week later, it would become an issue between a Democrat and a Republican."

I take her at her word for that. This is difficult to talk about. The fact is, to your point, this comes in the wake of the Me Too movement, countless allegations about others in power.

I just want to note, groups have to make choices. You're right. Keith Ellison has a pedigree with the progressive movement. Some groups have to make choices because of this maybe not knowing where this ends up fact wise. Ultraviolet, one group says, "We believe women, we believe Karen Monaghan. Domestic abusers do not belong in any position of power. Keith Ellison should withdraw his candidacy."

PARTI: I think no matter what happens tonight, he has such a role within the Democratic Party as Molly was just saying. I mean, this is going to probably continue with further digging from reporters and trying to figure out what happened with this video, if it exists. There's just still so many questions out there. But I think that will continue no matter what the voters decide today.

KUCINICH: Well, this is also a state that has had another person in power caught up in the Me Too movement in Senator Al Franken. And so that will be top of mind for voters. So we'll have to see.

KING: One of the races we'll watch tonight, this one because of these sad allegations, serious allegations. We'll watch these votes tonight, we'll count them for you tomorrow.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you back here at noon tomorrow. Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf this week. He picks up our coverage right now. Have a great day.