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Black Gubernatorial Candidates on the Ballot; President Trump Rants Against Own Justice Department Over Republican Indictments. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 16:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is once again criticizing his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, but this time not for the usual Russia investigation complaints that we typically see from the president, but instead about the indictment of those two Republican congressmen, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, each for their respective alleged wrongdoings, saying that instead Jeff Sessions -- instead of indicting them, implying that instead he should have been thinking of how to save those seats ahead of the midterm elections here in a few days.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump staying out of the public eye today while going after his attorney general behind closed doors, criticizing Jeff Sessions for indicting two Republican congressman, one who was accused of insider trading and another who was accused of brazenly misusing campaign funds for personal expenses, arguing it could hurt his party in the midterm.

In a tweet that stunned Washington, Trump writing: "Two easy wins now in doubt. Good job, Jeff."

That criticism as Trump prepares to hit the road this week to stump for Republicans amid rising fears of a blue wave in the midterm elections, where the stakes couldn't be higher and concerns of impeachment are growing louder. Trump traveling to Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota this week alone as part of the White House's effort to boot vulnerable Democrats and boost Republican hopefuls.

With nine weeks left in the battle to control the House, the president sending this message.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this election, you are just voting for a candidate. You're voting for which party controls Congress. Very, very big vote. It's very close. People say we have the majority. By how much? Like, by almost nothing. Somebody has a cold, we no longer have the majority. We need Republicans in Congress.

COLLINS: That amid a creeping sense of panic from Republicans who fear that seats which were once safely theirs are now up for grabs.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Over the next two months, Republicans just have to point out the success.

COLLINS: Those Republican fears on full display in Texas, where Senator Ted Cruz is facing an unexpectedly tough fight against a Democrat, Beto O'Rourke, in a race that should be a cakewalk for Cruz.

Trump anything he will rally alongside Cruz in the Lone Star State next month, tweeting: "I'm picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find."

But the president's critics will look to remind Texans of the bitter feud that played out between Trump and Cruz in 2016, when he suggested Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of JFK, insulted his wife, Heidi, and branded him Lyin' Ted.

TRUMP: I think he's crazy. I -- honestly, I think he's crazy. Lyin' Ted does not have the temperament to be doing this. He's choking like a dog because he's losing so badly.

COLLINS: With the battle for the House just weeks away, CNN's latest House race ratings show there are 30 seats considered to be tossups; 28 of those are held by Republicans and 12 are in areas Hillary Clinton won in the presidential election.

Asked recently if he fears impeachment if Democrats win the House, Trump telling Bloomberg News: "I don't think they can impeach somebody that's doing a great job."


COLLINS: The White House has said they hope have President Trump on the road for a minimum of 40 days between August 1 and Election Day.

The president has made clear he's eager to get out and campaign for these candidates, but our sources inside the White House tell us a lot of that is motivated by self-protection, because the president realizes that if Democrats take over Capitol Hill, there could be threats to his presidency Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Bigly, as the president would say.

Kaitlan, thank you so much for that.

So she mentioned some of the stops that the president is making, at least on a schedule, this month. In September alone, I am told the following, Montana, of course, this week, as well as North and South Dakota, and then he is also slated to go to Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee.

These are all states with very important Senate races, states where he is -- did very well in 2016. So as much as he is a drag on the ballot in some of the House raises, particularly in the suburbs, some of these areas, some of these big Senate races, he could have a positive effect, especially on a Republican base that is kind of ho-hum.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF, U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: Absolutely. In states like -- you mentioned Indiana, South Dakota, West Virginia,

he can make a real difference. The problem I think, as the report was mentioning, are the House races. And we have 30 battleground districts; 28 of those are Republican.

RealClearPolitics has actually 43 battleground districts, with 41 being held right now by Republicans. In some of those districts, I think he could make a difference because he could connect with working-class Americans and some of his base.


But then, in some other districts, look at California, the Central Valley, congressmen like Valadao or Denham, where there's a large Hispanic electorate , Trump better not show up there, because it's not going to help them. Those are all very tight races.

BASH: I don't see that happening.

Jen, you were at the White House. You were communications director for a president when you had to make these decisions. Where do you go? What's the best strategy? And I'm not sure the dynamic is quite the same, in that I'm not sure if President Obama was champing at the bit to get out and campaign as much as President Trump is.

I mean, it is his oxygen. He absolutely loves it. But I saw it when we were talking about the number of campaign days he's going to have. You said that's a lot.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is a lot. It is a lot. And clearly his comfort place, as you said, is on the campaign trail. That's where he sees his people. That's where he can say, build a wall and people scream.

And he loves that. President Obama wasn't champing at the bit as much, but he certainly did enjoy getting out of the White House. So that's a pretty common thing.

Even in the time when President Obama was less popular than he was at the very end, say, 2010, we lost a lot of seats, he was still helpful to certain races, he could raise money, he could turn out the base. Obviously, a very different circumstance. That was about giving people health care. This is different.

But Trump can still be helpful. And when we talk about the blue wave, we're really talking about the House. I mean, the Senate is very hard for Democrat. And they're very difficult seats we're defending. So those are places where he could claim a win, even if that's a little fuzzy.

BASH: Amanda, sorry to put you on the spot. But you worked for Ted Cruz. He's -- he's got a tougher race than Republicans tend to have in the state of Texas, at least in a generation.

The president is planning on going down there next month. He wants to have a giant rally for him. AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Texas has big stadiums.

BASH: Texas has big stadiums.

You probably remember that he said some not such nice things about Senator Cruz, about his father, about his wife. What do you think about this?

CARPENTER: Well, putting on my political hat, I know that voters in Texas wants to know that the drama is behind those two.

Cruz was known as the Tea Party candidate when he came on the scene in 2012 and won his election. And now things have changed. It is now Trump's Republican Party. And people need to be assured that they're on the same team and that Cruz will be there to fight, because a lot of Republican voters -- and this isn't limited to Texas -- they don't like the Republican infighting.

They really get upset when they see Republicans trashing the Republican candidate. They say, there's enough people that do that. Why don't you just help Donald Trump? And so they're going to have a unity reality.

And although I do think this as much for President Trump than is for Ted Cruz, because he wants a big rally.


BASH: And, Karine, there's a difference. The other side to that coin is when the president comes in, it does fire up the other side. And in Texas, you are seeing more enthusiasm among Democrats than we have seen in a while.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, and you see that just across the board, across the country. In these special elections even that, that we lost, you saw the enthusiasm on the Democratic side.

I just wanted to say, the first two years of the Obama administration, I was in the administration and traveled with Biden and Obama to a lot of the political events that happened across the country. And we were really worried because the party in power in a midterm tends to lose seats.

And so we had that in the back of our mind and, really, we were concerned as well with the Senate. So, in this scenario, when you have a president going to Texas, that does not bode well for the electoral landscape for Republicans.


CARPENTER: Real quick, because I see people talk about this race like it's a tossup. Someone show me one poll that Beto is beating Ted Cruz at before we get all excited.


BASH: I have to take a quick break.

But I want to ask you about John Kerry.


BASH: OK. He's left the door open a little bit in an interview over the weekend, and the president tweeted about it. He basically said -- wait, I have it here somewhere. Can you put it up on the screen?

There you go. "I see that John Kerry, the father of the now terminated Iran deal, is thinking of running for president. I should only be so lucky, although the field is currently assembling -- that is currently assembling looks really good for me."

You did work very closely with John Kerry at the State Department. Do you really think he's going to run?

PSAKI: I did.

No, but I will say about John Kerry, when -- I worked for him when he ran for president. But I came back and worked for him at the State Department. And he has more energy than I do. He is very gutsy.

And he really changed in a positive way after he ran for president and lot. I mean, he became gutsy and ballsy. I don't know if I can say that. Hopefully, I can.




PSAKI: And he -- and so it's not actually crazy.

And when I worked for him, he was asked this a couple times during interviews, and he would always say -- he would never rule it out. He would always say, well, I'm not considering it or I'm not currently thinking about it.

And I would ask him, why would you say that? You're leaving the door open. He said, you never close the door.

BASH: You never know. You never know.


PSAKI: He would be great.

BASH: You never know.

All right, everybody, stand by.

One tough choice. How does the Arizona governor fill Senator John McCain's seat. Does he lean into Trump or find a McCain-type Republican? Stay with us.


BASH: In our politics lead: Three states could elect their first black governors this November.

Andrew Gillum in Florida, Ben Jealous in Maryland, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia are all Democratic nominees for their state's highest office. And in Georgia, the most historically red of those states, Republicans are grappling with a changing electorate while Democrats test the power of Trump in 2018. CNN's Kaylee Hartung reports.


STACEY ABRAMS (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: We are writing the next chapter of Georgia's future.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Democrat looking to become the nation's first black female governor.

ABRAMS: Where you come from shouldn't determine how far you can go.

HARTUNG: Versus --

BRIAN KEMP (R), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: This is about fighting for literally, ladies and gentlemen, the soul of our state this fall.

HARTUNG: A Republican using every page of the President's playbook.

KEMP: I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.

HARTUNG: Georgia's gubernatorial candidates polar opposites on seemingly every issue from abortion to taxes, immigration to guns.

ABRAMS: We can repeal campus carry --

KEMP: I own guns that no one's taken away.

HARTUNG: But this race is about more than the future of the Peach State, it's become a microcosm of the political divide in America.

GREG BLUESTEIN, REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: This is going to be something of a warm-up act for 2020 right here in Georgia.

HARTUNG: Greg Bluestein is a Political Reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

BLUESTEIN: Democrats want to desperately prove that Georgia is a battleground state in a way that it hasn't been in a few decades. Republicans want to do everything they can to fortify (AUDIO GAP) in the red column.

HARTUNG: No Democrat has won a major statewide election in Georgia since 2000. Despite that fact, Abrams believes the math works.

ABRAMS: I'm going to talk to the millions of Democratic-leaning voters and those disaffected Republicans who want to see something else and those Independent thinkers who haven't quite decided.

HARTUNG: Important to her formula, Georgia's dramatic demographic shifts in recent years getting younger and more diverse in the former Republican stronghold of the Atlanta suburbs proven by recent presidential elections. In 2000, George W. Bush won Georgia by (AUDIO GAP), Romney by eight. The Republican margin continuing to decrease in 2016 when Trump won the state by just five points.

Still, President Trump's endorsement in a contentious GOP runoff helped Kemp win by nearly 40 points.

KEMP: That was like pouring gasoline on the fire that we had.

HARTUNG: But unlike her fellow Democrats across the country, Abrams rarely invokes the President's name.

ABRAMS: We are in a divisive moment and there is a great deal of concern about whether we're going to continue to stand for the values that have made us a strong country.

HARTUNG: Unspoken or not, there's no avoiding the President's imprint on the race.

If we're talking the first Wednesday in November and this state has turned blue, who will be responsible for making that happen? Who in the electorate?

BLUESTEIN: It will be -- well, Donald Trump will be partly responsible. Either way --

HARTUNG: Kaylee Hartung, CNN Atlanta.


BASH: Now we'll head back to Georgia in a moment but I want to also look at Florida where there is a racist robocall. We're not going to play it for a lot of reasons including the fact that there are children, I know my friend's 8-year-old is watching and we don't want them to hear this. We don't want to exacerbate this but this is a very, very big deal going on in Florida. And I asked Andrew Gillum about this. Take a listen.


ANDREW GILLUM (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, FLORIDA: I want to make sure that we don't racialize and frankly weaponize race as a part of this process which is why I've called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things.


BASH: Karine? KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: It's not surprising to me that this happened to be quite honest. When you have DeSantis basically being a mini Trump and giving a bear hug to Donald Trump very early on making that really bizarre ad where he is telling a bedtime story I believe to his child talking about build a wall.

It didn't surprise me that on day one of the general election he decides to use a racial slur and say something that is really awful, monkey it up and articulate and talking about Gillum in that way and it's -- and unfortunately I believe it's going to get worse. I think this is just the beginning and I know that the robocall did not come from the campaign.


PIERRE: I understand that and they did came from a statement --

BASH: Yes, from a French group in Idaho.

PIERRE: I totally understand that. But when he started off the general election with that slur you give and OK for these groups to say --

BASH: I just want to say that the DeSantis campaign responded to the call. They had a statement saying this is absolutely appalling and disgusting and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: Look, to begin with that robocall message is disgusting. It's incredible that in the 21st century we're still hearing this -- those type of messages. Now with -- and as you said, DeSantis criticized that message. Now on the slur, was it really a slur.

[16:50:01] PIERRE: Yes, it was a racial slur.

AGUILAR: I don't think it was a slur.

PIERRE: I'm telling you from -- coming from a black person, it was a racial slur.

AGUILAR: But you're --

PIERRE: No, no, no.

AGUILAR: You're thinking that he had the intention to make a slur --

PIERRE: No, no, he had every intention --

AGUILAR: He explained it. No, he said he didn't have the intention.

PIERRE: This is he as a mini-Trump.

AGUILAR: But this is the problem. I think --

PIERRE: Monkey it up? Really? AGUILAR: I'll say this. If -- DeSantis has to be careful because I think the left is going to try very hard to use every single opportunity to bring the issue of racism into this.

PIERRE: He's doing it himself.

AGUILAR: DeSantis is not Donald Trump.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I don't think -- DeSantis is a great candidate on paper. He gets himself in trouble a lot and that was a terrible mistake. Whether you think of intentional or not, he is I think Yale undergrad, Harvard law --

BASH: He should know better.

CARPENTER: -- he should know better. But probably about these two races, both of these black Democratic candidates are having a lot thrown at them and that you know, that fair, unfair attacks especially you know, the unfair attacks when it comes to race, they're handling it very well. They're not taking the bait which requires an extraordinary amount of discipline in this kind of social media fury. And so the Republican candidates you know, they're running these kinds of like Trump almost parity ads and there's a mismatch there.

BASH: Jen, you mentioned that you worked for President Obama. You helped elect, Jen Psaki, the first black president. You have some experience. So if Andrew Gillum's campaign or Stacey Abrams or Ben Jealous, if they called you and say how do we deal with this, what would you say?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Look, I would say I agree. I think they're handling it quite gracefully. And if I were them, I would be raving mad. So it tells you a lot about their leadership and their calm. You know, and I've never spoken with either of them but I know President Obama used to say to us behind the scenes like I can't be the person who solves race in this country.

Obviously, he wanted to represent something better for the next generation. They certainly would. I was very -- I thought what Stacey Abrams said was very compelling about who she wanted to talk to. And you really -- that is who the Democratic Party wants to be and should be and we often get wrapped up in this. Are we going to turn out minority voters? Are we going to appeal to this --

BASH: That didn't work so well in 2006.

PSAKI: Well, and we have to do both otherwise we're not going to win. And she is saying that and she's running for something that's why she's so compelling.

AGUILAR: And I think that Stacey -- that's why that she's such an attractive candidate Abrams versus Gillum. She said for example, that the Confederate Monument issue is not a tough issue for her, that education, the economy are our issues that she really deeply cares about where Gillum is really too extreme left talking about abolishing ICE, impeaching -- BASH: They are very different. They are very different which

hopefully we can talk about in other show. They're very different races. You're right, in Florida there are -- there are two extremes and in Georgia that both candidates Republican and Democrat are more sort of playing to the middle. OK, everybody, stand by. John McCain has been laid to rest. Now the focus is shifting to Arizona. The governor who has to decide who will fill the late Senator seat. Some familiar faces may be on the short list. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] BASH: Pressure building on the Governor of Arizona to announce who he wants to fill John McCain's senate seat. Governor Doug Ducey said he wouldn't make any announcements until after the late Senator is laid to rest. And now that McCain is resting among other heroes, it's time to decide. Will it be a Trump loyalist or another McCain-like Republican?

CNN's Maeve Reston is live in a very, very hot Phoenix this afternoon. Maeve, any signs of any announcement coming soon and also who might be in the short list?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, as you well know, Dana, Governor Ducey wants to act quickly now that the services for Senator McCain are over and it is quite a long list. We have obviously Cindy McCain potentially topping the list because she's been such a stoic figure, knows her husband's record so well.

But this Republican Party here in Arizona is perhaps more decided than any Republican Party in the country and you have a long list of names that Governor Ducey is considering, potentially a woman as a nod to a diversity pick or someone like former Senator Jon Kyl wh0 would be more of a consensus pick. But lots of people wondering to see what he will do here, Dana.

BASH: Yes, it's diversity and also whether you give somebody a big leg up by making them an incumbent for the next election or as you said someone like Jon Kyl is more of a -- of a caretaker since he already left the Senate. Yes

Doug Ducey has his own election coming up. The President endorsed him in his primary last week. Is there any evidence that you're picking up that the White House is trying to sway his decision?

RESTON: Well, as we saw at the service at the national cathedral this past weekend, Ivanka Trump actually -- and her husband Jared sat next to Governor Ducey so there may have been some conversations there. But he's really trying to thread the needle here trying to please that very pro-Trump wing of the party that could not stand John McCain in Arizona and also showing honor and deference to the family. So a lot of pressure is weighing on him in his own re-election bid this November, Dana.

BASH: It really is among the toughest decisions. I mean, for anybody to be chosen to fill this seat and when you have the divisions within the Republican Party that you laid out so clearly it makes it so much harder which is why you know, he had a whole week to think about it and presumably we'll be hearing about it soon. Maeve Reston --

RESTON: Keeping it close to the vest.

BASH: Yes he is. Thank you so much for that reporting. We'll be talking soon. And our coverage continues with Jim Sciutto in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, breaking news, bullying Sessions.