Return to Transcripts main page
Funerals Held Today for 3 Jewish Synagogue Attack Victims; Trump Makes Solemn Visit to Pittsburgh Amid Protests; Jewish Synagogue Shooting Suspect Moved to Butler County Prison; President Trump Looks to Rev Up Voters with Hard-Line Immigration Stance; White House Weighs Different Options on Khashoggi Response; Steve Bannon Interviewed Again By Mueller's Team. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired October 31, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Dire warnings of what may happen if Democrats take over.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is a hard turn after the president's somber visit yesterday to Pittsburgh where three more victims of that massacre at the synagogue will be buried today.
Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Abby Phillips joins us this morning.
So, Abby, again, we're watching Pittsburgh, we're thinking of everyone there. More funerals today. As for the president, the language this morning, the twee this morning, it is all about the midterms. Right? Six days away. 11 rallies that he will hold in those six days and the strategy is pretty clear right now.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. The president is pivoting pretty dramatically back to the midterm cycle, heading out this afternoon to Florida for the first of 11 rallies that he'll hold between now and Election Day and based on the president's travel, you can see him going to all of these states where there are active and competitive Senate races, in many cases gubernatorial races where Republicans and Democrats are running head-to-head.
It really leads to the question, is the president focused on the House so much? This is really the part of this whole thing that could have the greatest impact on his presidency, but it seems that based on his travel, the House is not necessarily a huge priority.
Now we asked Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, this morning about that and here's what she said was motivating the president's travel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you look at those 10 states, they're also places where the president is overwhelming popular in those locations and I think that the president is the best messenger for the party. He's had an incredible historic first two years in office and he has a great story to tell. And he's been doing that all over the country for the last several months. (END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: So clearly the president's focus on his party, on his base is what's driving the schedule over the next couple of days but it's also what is driving his rhetoric. He's focused on this issue of immigration. He's been tweeting this morning multiple times about the caravan of migrants coming from Central America to the southern border. He's promised to deploy troops. But all of this seems to be trying to get the message to his base that immigration and not other things, perhaps like health care ought to be their top priority going into the midterm elections -- Poppy and Jim.
HARLOW: OK. Abby Phillip at the White House. Thank you very much.
SCIUTTO: Let's discuss with Harry Enten, CNN politics senior writer and analyst.
So, Harry, it strikes me, I wonder if there is a message in the president's strategy in these last few days. So focus on strong red states, particularly Senate races, states where he already did well. You know, basically, you know, increase the lead, right? Does this mean that they're pretty much granting that they've lost the House?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: I don't know if they're pretty much granting it. But yes, it's pretty clear. He's only going to states he won. It's actually a pretty decent political strategy. Right? Don't go into the suburbs of Chicago. Don't go in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Don't go in the suburbs of Kansas City. Because if you go there, you're going to hurt those candidates.
And obviously President Trump wants to help those, and he looks at the poll numbers probably more than I do, so he recognizes that his approval rating is low in a lot of the key House districts so he wants to just stay away.
HARLOW: Nancy Pelosi was so confident last night on "Colbert," right, talking about even we will win.
On the Senate, there is a new Marist poll out about Tennessee specifically, but it's germane to the broader conversation because it tells us a lot about the way the Senate will go, right?
ENTEN: Yes. So Marist came out with a poll yesterday that had Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who had been leading in some of the early polls in this race, down by five points. And you know, I've done the math. You can put the different states together to find a way to a Democratic path to a majority. Without Tennessee, without North Dakota, without Texas, it's pretty much impossible.
HARLOW: Oh my gosh, this is just a path that reminds me so much of the language before the 2016 election.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Narrow path.
HARLOW: There is no path. There is no path. And then --
SCIUTTO: We should --
HARLOW: And then there was a path.
ENTEN: Then there was a path. I mean, look, there are margins of error with all this stuff, right? So there could be a polling error.
ENTEN: But generally speaking, if you're winning one of those states, then the Democrats just simply don't have a path. Now maybe the polls are wrong, but at this point, the Democrats are down on all those.
SCIUTTO: And the Dems just simply have more contested Senate seats up this year. Right? The math was against them under any time and place.
ENTEN: Absolutely. Look, they control 26 of the 35 states. That means there are only nine pick-up opportunities. And of the Democrats 26 seats, 10 of those states were places where Donald Trump won back in 2016. So they were always going to have a difficult pathway versus the House where all 435 races are up and there are a slew of different places, a much easier pathway to a majority.
HARLOW: Let's talk about Wisconsin. Scott Walker is in a political battle for his life in Wisconsin. He's asking for the fourth time for people to elect him in eight years. Joe Biden heads to Wisconsin. He headed there yesterday. What are you seeing there?
ENTEN: Yes. The polls there, it's very interesting. We'll have a Marquette poll out later today which is the best poll in the state. But generally speaking if you look at the average of polls, if you look at my forecast.
ENTEN: Tony Evers, the Democrat, actually favored to win there by about four points, which is amazing, right? Scott Walker who seems to always find a second, third, fourth political life, right now it looks like he might have finally run out of political lives. The reason being, Donald Trump is unpopular in the state, Scott Walker is the least popular he's been in any of the times he's run for governor before.
And Tony Evers is this boring white guy, but, you know, if Scott Walker is the spicy conservative, maybe you need a little milk, a little, you know, a little niceness to kind of just --
[09:05:09] HARLOW: I mean, Walker has talked about being bland himself.
ENTEN: Walker is certainly bland personality-wise, but he isn't bland in terms of his policies.
HARLOW: Fair, fair.
SCIUTTO: I remember thousand years ago when he was a front runner for the Republican nomination in 2016.
HARLOW: That was a thousand years ago.
SCIUTTO: Remember that?
HARLOW: It seems like it.
ENTEN: Donald Trump sunk his bid before in 2016 and Donald Trump's unpopularity in the state may sank his re-election bid this year.
HARLOW: Thanks, Harry.
ENTEN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Thanks as always.
HARLOW: Joining us now, CNN political commentators Symone Sanders, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders, and CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Good morning to you both. So, Scott, let's start with you and let's just talk about this first. The message from the president. Just in the last few minutes on Twitter, so clear. Dangerous caravan coming here, he says. You know, talks about something that would be completely unlawful and that he's using an executive order to wipe out a constitutional right, a birthright citizenship. Not that long ago it was a promise of a 10 percent middle class tax cut.
Is this the best strategy for Republicans right now?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the immigration strategy is certainly rooted in polling evidence. I mean, I have looked at a lot of polls from districts around the country. The immigration issue generally remains one of the most motivating issues for Republicans. It scores really high on intensity. When you ask Republicans what they care about, so the president here is recognizing that the midterms are usually base turnout type elections.
And if this is the issue that drives intensity among your party, I'm not surprised that he's talking about it. Of course he's been talking about immigration since he started his own presidential campaign. So it's a natural nexus of something he really cares about and something that a poll would tell you is going to drive turnout in your own party.
SCIUTTO: OK, Scott, if I can just follow just to set aside politics for a moment. The president has now ordered 5200 troops to the border. Yesterday the Pentagon announced that more would be on the way. There are already 2,000 National Guard troops there in addition to the regular Customs and Border Patrol agents that are there regularly.
This means there will now be more U.S. troops on the border with Mexico to defend against a migrant caravan and there are in Iraq, where the Pentagon estimates there are still today 15,000 to 17,000 ISIS fighters.
Is there a greater national security threat at the border from this caravan than there is from ISIS in Iraq today?
JENNINGS: Well, no. I mean, clearly ISIS remains one of the biggest threats to American interests around the world. But --
SCIUTTO: But why is the president ordering more U.S. soldiers to the border with Mexico six days before an election than he has in Iraq to fight ISIS?
JENNINGS: Well, my point is, even though ISIS is extremely important, I think most people would also argue that border security is equally important and that it's not an illegitimate policy idea to put troops on the border to back up the border guards that we already have there.
Now I'm not a military analyst or strategist and I can't tell you how many troops is needed to do what, but I do think it's a legitimate purpose of the National Guard and of the military to back up our border guards who are guarding against illegal immigration. I don't think it's all about the caravan, by the way. That's obviously been in the news.
SCIUTTO: The president has made it a lot about the caravan.
JENNINGS: But I think a lot of Americans do think it's not a bad -- it's not a bad idea to use the military there.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I just like to --
SCIUTTO: Symone, do you agree?
JENNINGS: And by the way, other administrations have done it. It's not the first time it's been done. Other administrations have done it.
SANDERS: I would just like to note that this caravan is well over a month away and that the president, I believe, is sending troops to the border not because it's in our best interest as national security, but because he thinks it's in his best interest in the polls and for the midterm elections. And that's unfortunate.
And, you know, frankly, Jim and Poppy, the president can't run on, you know, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said right there in the White House driveway that the president has accomplished a lot in the last two years and that's what he's out there talking about. That's not true. The president is out here fear-mongering, trying to scare the base to the polls and trying to use the caravan as an issue to motivate the base. And I would say that, again, if that's the closing argument that the Republicans like to make less than a week out from the election, I think they're in deep trouble. You talk about Wisconsin, I was in Wisconsin this weekend. Randy
Bryce in Paul Ryan's district is looking amazingly good. If you win Racine city, there goes the same county and there goes the rest of the district. And I can say that they have an amazing turnout operation that they're running. So, look, Republicans --
JENNINGS: You know, just --
HARLOW: Hold on, let me --
JENNINGS: To make a comment on Symone's point. I would say that if you want to look at how this is playing in the big Senate states, how does immigration is playing, I mean, I'm sitting out here in a media market that's getting all of the ads for the Indiana Senate race. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat, is running every single ad, I will build the wall, I buck my party.
HARLOW: Yes. We know that. We have reported that.
JENNINGS: So the issue of immigration and the idea of enforcement is not something that's an illegitimate campaign strategy.
HARLOW: That's also in a state --
JENNINGS: These Democrats are using.
HARLOW: Look, he also knows the state that he's running in, right? And he knows the voters there.
[09:10:01] Symone, to you, a lot of the proposals, especially the birthright citizenship one, sort of out of nowhere from the president, he was asked about it by Axios, and said, yes, I could get rid of it with executive order. Did either get surprise reaction from leaders in his own party or outright denouncement? Right? Like Paul Ryan saying no, no, no, you can't do that. But then you have Lindsey Graham saying, yes, and I'm going to support legislation to make that the case.
Is this an indicator that this is the president's party now, Symone, and those who fall in line don't matter?
SANDERS: Yes, I believe --
HARLOW: Those who don't fall in line don't matter?
SANDERS: I believe it's been the president's party, Poppy. And I would like to say that this birthright citizenship issue did not come out of nowhere. This was in Donald Trump's platform when he ran for president. This is part of his candidacy. Lindsey Graham has long since been a proponent of birthright citizenship and Vice President Mike Pence for that matter was also a proponent of birthright citizenship.
In 2015 -- in 2015 many outlets reported and even Hillary Clinton, you know, even said that this is something Donald Trump would in fact do. And so while I believe at this point it's just rhetoric, I caution folks to just cast it aside as rhetoric because at one point in time when the Muslim ban, quote-unquote, was just rhetoric, putting kids in cages at the border was just rhetoric and look where we are right now.
SCIUTTO: Scott Jennings, I wonder what your position is on this. I mean, you know the history as well of the 14th Amendment. It is rooted in American civil rights, right? It was in part, you know, added to the Constitution to protect African-American citizens and give them equal treatment under the law.
Do you believe, one, that the president has the power to do this without a constitutional amendment, something that Paul Ryan himself has said he does not? But do you believe it's right?
JENNINGS: First, I don't think it's possible to change this constitutional amendment without the process by which we amend the Constitution, which would take a very long time. And obviously, a number of hurdles we have to jump over. That's number one. Number two, you know, I don't think it's an illegitimate issue to debate. I think there are policy points that can be made on both sides of it. But the reality is the changes would take a very long time. It would be very arduous, and I don't think anybody in either party frankly thinks it's a great idea to allow any president to amend the Constitution via executive order.
I mean, as Republicans we were frequently unhappy when Barack Obama took it upon himself to issue regulations and executive orders that seemed to go around Congress. I think if we're going to have that position about Obama, we need to have it on this one as well.
SANDERS: I'd like to note birthright citizenship in my opinion is not up for debate. This is -- this 14th Amendment in the Constitution was rooted in giving black people citizenship because they were slaves and they were not counted as people. And so to have a conversation about stripping or denying citizenship from folks, what are we going to say? Like, are we going to say now you're a citizen because of your blood? That is very dangerous territory.
And so that is why in my opinion, and many others' opinion, the birthright citizenship is in fact not up for a discussion. And we're not the only country that does it. Again, upwards of 30 countries have birthright citizenship.
HARLOW: Yes. 33 including --
SANDERS: This is a dog whistle.
HARLOW: Including Canada and Mexico.
SANDERS: That President Trump is whistling.
HARLOW: All right, guys. Thanks.
SCIUTTO: Symone and Scott, thanks very much. The suspect in the synagogue attack is moved to another prison. Why
is that? This as funerals for three more of the victims will take place today. We're going to be live with all the developments out of Pittsburgh.
Plus, Roger Stone beefs up his legal team as Special Counsel Robert Mueller zeros in on the long-time political adviser to the president. We will have the latest.
HARLOW: And investigators may be closer to finding out why that plane crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. They have detected these pings that could lead them to the flight data recorder.
[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. So today, more family, more friends will say good-bye to their loved ones. Three more victims of the synagogue massacre will be buried today in Pittsburgh. The funerals come the day after President Trump visited with survivors and first responders at the hospital.
Some head said the president should wait, not come yet including the mayor because of the timing. Our Jean Casarez is in Pittsburgh, she joins me now. Good morning, Jean. First, let's get to the victims, who will be laid to rest today?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the funerals will begin in one hour, but I've just got some brand-new information I need to let you know on the conditions of patients still in the hospital, and there is some good news. The 55-year-old police officer who has been in the hospital has now been released. He has been discharged from the hospital.
The 40-year-old police officer who was in critical condition because of gunshots to his arms and to his legs and to his pelvis, he remains in the hospital, but he is now stable condition. The 61-year-old female who was at the Tree of Life Synagogue right behind me remains in stable condition, but the 70-year-old male victim who was in the synagogue remains in critical condition.
So that is a very somber note right there. But as they continue to get better, the funerals are beginning. And you're right, in 10:00 hour is the very first funeral today of Joyce Fienberg; 75 years old, she was a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, she was a mother, she was a grandmother. Her own husband passed away several years ago.
What her family and friends say is that she is the type of person, she just walked into a room and she just lit it up, and you wanted to talk to her and get to know her. The next victim and his funeral begins at 1:00 this afternoon is Melvin Wax. He actually was an accountant here, and he helped everyone in this community with their taxes, even sometimes free of charge if they were not able to do it.
He was a father, he was a son, he had grandchildren and his three priorities actually in life were his grandsons. It was his Judaism. [09:20:00] And then also the Pittsburgh Pirates, that was number
three on the list. And the final victim today is someone who was only 69 years old, Irving Younger. He was someone that was actually a business owner, a real estate agent. He was a youth basketball coach and most recently he was a greeter at a local cafe. And all of these people were known by the community. They loved their community and they gave so much, Poppy.
HARLOW: They gave so much. Jean, before you go, I know we're getting some more updates on the shooter, right? You talked to us yesterday about him being wheeled into court in the wheelchair. What more do we know today?
CASAREZ: Well, we just found out that, you know, he has been in the Allegheny County jail, which is this county right here. He has been moved to the Butler County Prison, which is another county. It is the adjoining county. It is about 25 miles away, but it is not a local jail, it is a prison.
I've been in touch with the prison asking them why was he moved? And they will not say and they will also not say if he is in protective custody, although common sense says he must be. But obviously, there was a reason for him to be moved out of this country from a jail to a prison -- Poppy?
HARLOW: OK, Jean Casarez, appreciate the reporting on all fronts. Again, those funerals are beginning shortly.
SCIUTTO: The president is making a hard turn from consoler to campaigner once again tonight. Part of that hard line rhetoric to rally voters of course, a hard line stance on immigration. Joining me now is the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Ambassador Richard Haass. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for taking the time this morning.
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Good morning, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So there will soon be more troops on the border than there are in Iraq to fight ISIS where they're outnumbered three to one based on the latest Pentagon estimates. You have said that dispatching those troops to the border in your words is unacceptable misuse and politicization of our troops. Tell us why?
HAASS: Well, we've already got a border patrol there and we've already got national guards men there. We're talking about a dwindling group of, what? Three, four thousand individuals as best we know are unarmed. There're still weeks, if not months away from the American border, if, in fact, they ever get there. Why we would need to send thousands of heavily armed soldiers when we've already again got all sorts of capable individuals on the border.
We're not facing an invasion, even though that's the word that's been used. So it's -- I have a principle, Jim, I almost never talk about what motivates people because you never quite know. But in this case, there is no plausible argument that we need American troops. There's simply not that kind of a security situation there.
So you are compelled at least or I'm compelled to say this is political. This is to make something more distant that it is. But it is a real misuse of American forces. You know, we've got a tempo that American troops have been dealing with around the world, an operational tempo, and the idea that we're asking now troops to do something that's not essential for this country's security seems to me to be an outrage.
SCIUTTO: The Pentagon is playing along with the politics here to some degree. We had a four-star general briefing at the Pentagon yesterday promising even more troops after the 5,000 that the president ordered. Should military leaders -- of course, there's a chain of command -- president's commander-in-chief. But should military leaders, Mattis included, advise the president that this is not necessary?
HAASS: When the answer is they owe the president that the commander- in-chief, their best professional military advice. Now, this order is not an unlawful order that they're being given. But I do think it's an unwise one and an unnecessary one. So I would hope they would push back. If you're in the serving military, it's one thing. But I would hope that civilian officials will really think twice about whether this is something they could live with.
And I think for Secretary Mattis, someone I have tremendous respect for, I think this is one of those defining issues that he's going to have to ask himself, am I comfortable essentially saluting as the Secretary of Defense as a civilian, not as a serving military officer. Am I comfortable essentially relaying this order to our troops?
As you pointed out, we've got fewer troops in high danger areas like Syria, like Iraq, like -- and we've got more troops in Afghanistan. But why again we're doing this is beyond me.
SCIUTTO: The president, as you know, raised this idea several days before an election about revoking the executive order of birthright citizenship as something that Republicans including the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan immediately said no, the president cannot do by executive order.
The president also claimed that the White House Counsel's office advised him this is OK, not clear who advised him since Don McGahn is on the way out and the new -- his replacement is not -- is not there yet. But in your view, is this simply political performance art?
[09:25:00] HAASS: Well, again, to be clear here, I'm not a lawyer, my degree is in international relations, but I have read the constitution. The constitution is pretty clear. This seems to me to go way beyond what an executive order could do, and I think if it is challenged in the courts, any sort of unilateral action by the administration won't stand up.
But again, I think this is all about signaling. This is about, you know, trying to send a message, and it's not isolated. This is part of a much larger narrative against immigration about identity politics. And I think it's important to remember that the DNA of this country is not about identity, it's not about race, it's not about religion, it's about an idea.
That no matter where you were born, no matter what the color of your skin, no matter how you worship or even whether you worship, America is about an idea and it's about this idea of choice and freedom and opportunity, and all of this seems to me inconsistent with what makes us -- what makes us America -- want to put it another way, what makes us great.
SCIUTTO: Jamal Khashoggi, four weeks ago and a day, he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in Istanbul to get marriage papers. His fiancee waited outside, never seen again. Since then after many lies and reversals, the Saudis now admit he was killed. It was a premeditated murder.
There's been no hard answer from Congress or the administration as to what the penalties are going to be for the Saudi government, if any. Are you concerned that as international attention fades, that the White House will continue with the status quo regarding Saudi Arabia?
HAASS: Well, it's clearly the Saudi strategy to basically weather -- you know, get through this, and that the Saudis are essentially saying you need us for investment reasons and so forth. So they're hoping the business community gradually comes back to them. The White House does not distance itself from them. So I think it's going to be up to Congress to probably sanction them.
The good news is we've seen a bipartisan move in Congress to do just that. Funny enough, you could save the Saudis from themselves a bit here. The biggest strategic era of Saudi policy -- this might be the biggest moral there. But the biggest strategic era is obviously Yemen. And it would be I think healthy for the United States to put all sorts of limits on how our arms can be used there, about how American intelligence can be used there, about what we ourselves are prepared to do.
The best thing would be for the Saudis to essentially stop the prosecution of the war in Yemen. There should be no going back to normal with this Saudi -- with this Saudi leadership. So Congress, I think, it depends on them and it also depends upon, you know, the "Washington Post" just today ran a story about it.
We can't just get tired of the story and move on. This leadership there has really compromised itself.
SCIUTTO: Well, we won't get tired of it. We're going to continue to focus our attention where we can. Ambassador Richard Haass, thanks very much for joining us.
HAASS: Thanks for having me, Jim.
HARLOW: We will. Friday is one month, one month since he disappeared. All right, so the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon meets with the special counsel Bob Mueller's team again. What does it mean? What does it indicate that he's now been interviewed by Mueller three times at least?