Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Blamed Ex White House Counsel Dan McGahn For the Mueller Probe; Trump Begins Eight State Blitz; GOP Criticism Grows Against Steve King Over His Racist Remarks; Black Church Was First Target of Kroger Gunman; Kroger Gunman Said Whites Don't Shoot Whites Before His Spree. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you. Hi there, everyone. Happy Halloween. Kids, when you're out mapping out the doors tonight looking for the good candy, don't be spooked when you knock on Republican Mark Sanford's door, instead of Reese's pieces you get pocket constitutions. Welcome to the midterms. Trick or treat.

The president is offering a major handout as well hard-line rhetoric full of fire and fury focused on immigration. It is his closing argument to get out the vote to try to keep his Republican majority in Congress. Today President TrumpAnd President Trump is offering a major handout as well kicked off his eight-state 11 rally campaign blitz with election day just six days away. We have

CNN anchor of inside politics and chief national correspondent and special appearance today by John King. Welcome to you, sir.

And here to discuss more on the breaking news this afternoon, Kara Scannell with exclusive details inside the oval office. President Trump is blaming his former White House counsel Don McGahn for the Mueller probe. So, Kara, this involves the presidents parting words McGahn who left the White House just a couple weeks ago, tell me what he said.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: In this final encounter between Dan McGahn and Donald Trump, our sources tell us that Trump had a lot of positive things to say about McGahn, he was fixated on the Mueller investigation. Ann was talking about how Muller was appointed during McGahn's time as White House counsel, and also the cloud that this investigation has placed over the presidency.

McGahn didn't appoint Robert Mueller and didn't really have anything to do with it. But he did cooperate extensively with Mueller's investigation. He met with him multiple times, spent over 30 hours with his team, answering questions about Mueller's desire to fire Robert Mueller himself, to want to pressure Jeff Sessions to recuse himself. So, this kind of is part of this big tumultuous relationship that has continued between these men despite McGahn getting two Supreme Court justices on the bench for Trump. A weird way to end this relationship with Trump remaining fixated on the Mueller investigation while he's having his final good-bye chat with McGahn.

BALDWIN: Kara, thank you. John, you heard her sort of explanation, a bizarre way to leave the building. Is this all about the blame game?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR OF INSIDE POLITICS AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He gave Rod Rosenstein a break for the day and blamed somebody else for the investigation. The FBI had ample reason to start the counterintelligence investigation of Russian meddling, ample list of questions about possible members with the Trump campaign. Jeff Sessions followed a law book 101, first year law student directly. This is what the President does. He lashes out and blames others. He hasn't blamed Don Jr. for bringing Russians into the Trump Tower in the middle of the campaign. This is what the President does, thanked Don McGahn and I'm sure he happens to be off the block today.

BALDWIN: Let me read this tweet. Paul Ryan, he said, should be focusing on holding the majority, rather than giving his opinion on the birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about. Our new Republican majority will work on this closing the immigration loopholes and securing our border. Ouch.

KING: Ouch is right. Number one, the President wants to close on immigration, he trusts his instincts. The speaker respects the Constitution more than the President of the United States and thinks this birthright issue might be going too far. He doesn't mind the President saying let's build a wall but the birthright is the citizenship is a step too far for the speaker. Everyone is going to get asked, who is right, the President or the speaker? That's not right in the final days to have message dissidence.

BALDWIN: So, when you think of where the president is going in the next six days, what's your take in the final days? So, Florida tonight, then Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana, Montana, his final stop before election day is Missouri. What does that tell you about his strategy and Republican strategy?

KING: It tells you that, A, the White House political shop is listening. The senator of Nevada, Dean Heller was grateful the president came a few weeks back, he doesn't want him there in the final days. The Arizona campaign was a little squishy. Martha McSally, she doesn't want him back in the final days. She thinks that's too much of a risk.

[14:05:00] The President is going where he's welcome. The President is going to states where he won big where he'll get what he loves most, big crowds. But he also going whether you're a fan or critic of the President to places he can legitimately help. Republicans have a chance to not only hold the senate majority but maybe a chance to add one, two, maybe three seats. We have two different elections going on. The senate election climate is very different than the house election climate. The President almost exclusively focusing on the senate where he is actually a good asset for his party. It's smart.

BALDWIN: So as far as Democrats are concerned, they have to feel pretty good going into perhaps at least flipping the house. You had the leader, Nancy Pelosi, on with Stephen Colbert last night, she's obviously feeling pretty good, confident. Maybe too much so. Here she was. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) MINORITY LEADER: Let me say this, up until today I would have said if the election were held today, we would win.

STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT HOST: What happened today that changed that?

PELOSI: What now I'm saying is we will win. [cheers and applause]

COLBERT: Please don't say that. Do you want to say that on Hillary's fireworks barge that she cancelled?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We remember the fireworks, a little premature celebration. Should she have gone that far, John King?

KING: Publicly a lot of Democrats wish she hadn't. Privat privately she studies the numbers better than anybody. Nancy Pelosi knows the numbers. It's not a blowout. If the election were today the Democrats would win more than the 23 seats they need and Nancy Pelosi knows that. She's campaigning to keep her hold on leader, to be the next speaker. She's trying to be the front woman of optimism. There are some Democrats cringing say don't jinx it here. Will they have it? Even smart plugged in Republicans say the Democrats will win somewhere 32 to 35 seats. But given 2016 and all the volatility out there, should she have said it publicly?

BALDWIN: Thank you so much. With election day now less than a week away, more and more Republicans turning against one of their own here. Iowa congressman Steve King, the head of the House Republicans campaign arm, the man in charge of getting Republicans elected tweeted this against King. Quote, "King's recent comments, actions and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms and I strongly condemn this behavior."

Plus, Purina, Intel, Land O' Lakes have all pulled donations to King's campaigns after the companies faced much online criticism for actually supporting him. And even earlier this month "The Weekly Standard" a conservative staple wrote a piece entitled, "Steve King, America's Most Deplorable Congressman."

The responses, after King criticized diversity in the U.S., showed support for a white nationalist in a Canadian election and has attacked Jewish billionaire George Soros in what critics consider is an anti-Semitic move. Let's turn to someone who has followed the Iowa congressman for years and years, Rekha Basu is an opinion columnist for the "Des Moines Register." welcome to you.

REKHA BASU, OPINION COLUMNIST FOR THE "DES MOINES REGISTER": Thank you.

BALDWIN: Steve King has been making comments of this ilk for years and years and years. So why is someone just now saying something? BASU: You know, it's a really good question because some of us have

been waiting for national Republicans to speak up on him for some 22 years. That's how long he's been in office between the Iowa legislature and then the U.S. house of representatives. None of this rhetoric is new for him. He's been beating up on minorities, on immigrants, on Muslims, on anyone who is non-white immigrants for a very long time, but it seems to finally be getting a little bit of traction because of a story that recently appeared in the "Washington Post" about how he had gone to Austria and in a trip supported by a Holocaust Memorial Fund took time to meet with white supremacist, a far-right party that is associated with neo-Nazi groups and to do an interview with their newspaper saying that we don't need anymore immigrants, they're not contributing anything to our culture, we don't need multi-culturalism. I think nationally some politicians felt, especially given the timing of this coming right around the time of the synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh, I think some folks felt that they had to speak up. And social media ran away with it pressuring various companies that have contributed money to his campaign to divest from him.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: This is what Steve King says in his defense. Quote, "Americans all created equal by god with all of her races, ethnicities and national origins, legal immigrants and national born citizens together make up the shining city on the hill. These attacks were organized by nasty, desperate and dishonest fake news. Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump. Establishment never-Trumpers are complicit."

That is what he is saying. Here's what I really want to know though. This a ruby red district and at the end of day despite everything he says, will Iowa voters come home to him next Tuesday?

BASU: You know, it's a really million-dollar question and I am waiting with bated breath for the outcome. I spent time touring his western Iowa district to see where his voters are at and see if they're still as committed to him. He has won past races by 24 points. Now a pollster finds just a one-point difference between them and Steve King himself is saying there's an 18-point difference. But what I am noticing is a difference in the way people in his district are talking about them and this is very significant because he has relied for a long time on appeasing white Christians and keeping them happy by the fact that he's always very anti-abortion and will always vote against any anti-abortion measure. Now some of those same white Christians have adopted children from other countries and they're really getting tired of his rhetoric about we can't keep our civilization going with other people's babies. Some of these adoptive mothers are saying, wait a minute, these are our babies, we're raising these babies.

BALDWIN: Right, right.

BASU: So that's happening. And other people are calling attention to the fact that he's not achieved a single legislative success in his 16 years in the house except for the renaming of a post office. That also makes you wonder how he's delivering -- what bacon is he delivering home? And the only way that I've come to understand it is that he actually -- people in his district are doing quite well financially, so they're not hurting, they're not living in poverty and they're afraid of change and they've had really minimal exposure to people of different races, except now that there are more and more Latino immigrants, people from south of the border coming to work in meat packing plants in his district.

BALDWIN: Let's loop back around next Wednesday morning to see how this goes. You know, whether or not he's able to pull it through, despite all of the odds that seemingly are stacked against him. Rekha Basu, thank you, from the "Des Moines Register."

Robert Mueller is asking the FBI to investigate a smear campaign aimed at him. Who is behind the alleged plot and how it unraveled ahead. And new details on a possible hate crime out of Kentucky where police say a murder suspect tried to enter a black church moments before killing two African-Americans at a nearby grocery store. We'll talk to one of the leaders of the church next.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The shooter in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre faces more charges. He is due back in federal court tomorrow. Meantime, it has been the second day for grief, anguish for this close-knit Pittsburgh community. It's been several days since Saturday morning as they continue to bury the 11 victims killed in Saturday's shooting. Hundreds attended three services today, 69-year-old Irving Younger was known as the greeter. The Tree of Life Synagogue and friends say he liked to be the first person to meet you and help you find a seat and he liked to make sure people knew where they were in the prayer book.

75-year old Joyce Feinberg two sons gave moving eulogies today, she was a retired researcher at University of Pittsburgh and her husband had died from cancer just two years ago. And students say she had a huge personality, treated them like family and she would send cards to them long after they had graduated.

Mourners today also remembered 88-year old Melvin Wax as being full of jokes family members say his greatest passions included his grandson, his faith and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Three people including a police officer remain hospitalized.

And there is a search for healing and understanding in the Louisville suburb of Jeffersontown, Kentucky as well, where the mayor says these two innocent victims were likely the victims of a hate crime. Police say the suspected gunman killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones. They were both shot and killed last Wednesday at a Kroger Supermarket after the shooter first tried to ambush a predominantly black church just down the road but he couldn't get inside, couldn't open those doors.

[14:20:00] And investigators also say he allegedly told a bystander before he was arrested that, quote, "whites don't shoot whites."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR BILL DIERUF, JEFFERSONTOWN, KENTUCKY: Every day there seems to be a situation that unravels in our country. We as a community need to step back, reach that hand out to that neighbor and start talking to the ones that we love and we cherish.

CHIEF SAM ROGERS, JEFFERSONTOWN, KENTUCKY: Certainly, this has rattled the foundation of our community based upon the fact that we are a small town with a big city atmosphere in that sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Joining me now, Billy Williams, church administrator for the First Baptist Church, where it was the suspect's first target.

BILLY WILLIAMS, CHURCH ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH: Thank you for having us.

BALDWIN: It's my understanding it's your job to sit at the desk and look at the surveillance cameras outside those doors. Had you actually been at your desk watching those monitors, seeing this guy trying to get in, what would you have done?

WILLIAMS: I would have done what I've done hundreds of times before. When I see someone approaching the church on the monitors, I typically get up from my desk and go to the doors to greet them and ask if I can help them. It's something I do pretty regular and would have done the same thing if I had seen the situation on past Wednesday.

BALDWIN: So, you've had an entire week to think about this. Had you been sitting at your desk, do you think you'd be sitting here with me today?

WILLIAMS: No, I don't believe so. I don't believe the individual came by our church to do us anything but harm. As I reflect back on it, my biggest fear and struggle over this past week is not just me approaching that door but my friends, co-workers that were also in the building and just the thought of opening the door and allowing something like that to happen to not only my church members but they're my friends. I've been knowing them for quite a while. That would have been a pretty tough situation to deal with.

BALDWIN: In terms of your friends in that church, it's my understanding a service had just finished, just about an hour before this individual tried to get in. How many people were in the church at that time?

WILLIAMS: An hour before we probably had about 70 people in the bible study. We typically every Wednesday at noon our pastor has a noon bible study and it wraps up pretty much around 1:15. By the time people leave the building, it usual's usually around 1:30. So it was fairly close to when the individual came by our church that we had about 70 people on the property, and then after that there was probably eight of us still in the building when he actually came to the front door.

BALDWIN: So, since he couldn't get into the church -- were the doors locked? Is that what the issue was?

WILLIAMS: Yes. We have a security system that we lock all exterior doors so that when we're inside, we have the monitors for the purpose and we have ways to greet people. So typically, we make sure the exterior doors are pretty secure.

BALDWIN: So, they're locked. He can't get in. He walks down the road to this Kroger and shoots and kills two African-Americans, one of whom was a grandfather, whose grandson was there and witnessed the whole thing. I just want to ask you how are you, how is your community coping with this?

WILLIAMS: We've had an outpouring of support from the entire community, both from phone calls, e-mails, people stopping by to visit the church, several different groups have also sent flowers and cards directly to the church. So, we've had an outpouring of support from the entire community. But there's been phone calls and text messages and e-mails from clear across the country, from all different locations throughout the country. We've gotten support from fellow Christians and alike.

BALDWIN: So as the calls and the love is coming in, I know at church this past Sunday that the police chief, Sam Rogers, spoke to the congregation and said the attack was racially motivated that some do not want to believe. Do you believe this man targeted this church, those folks because of the color of their skin?

[14:25:00] WILLIAMS: I really do. I have reflected back on it some. Because of the camera system that we have, I saw how he circled the building before he approached the building, before he tried all three of the doors, and I just don't believe he came there with any intent but to do us harm. So, I really do feel like that was his intent. And he actually left the property in his car driving away from our church at that point.

BALDWIN: Thank goodness those doors were locked. Just our hearts go out to the loved ones of those two who were killed. Billy Williams, thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, the FBI is now investigating a scheme that was designed to smear and discredit the man leading the Russia probe. My next guest says she was actually offered money in exchange for information. So, what's this about? Who is behind this plot that quickly fell apart? We have the back story next.

[14:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: A smear campaign against Robert Mueller appears to be unraveling. A spokesman for the special counsel said a bunch of women were offered money to lie and say Mueller acted inappropriately to them decades ago.