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Trump Erupts at White House Counsel; Evidence Shows Mail Bomb Suspect Planned Attack For Months; Republican Candidate Accused of Running Anti-Semitic Ad. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I love that.

I -- Stanford, dating, says no, end up on the Supreme Court -- it's an extraordinary story.

Joan Biskupic, thank you for that.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.

BALDWIN: All right, we continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We have new details for you this afternoon from inside the Oval Office. CNN has exclusively learned that President Trump blamed his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, for Robert Mueller his appointment over the Russia investigation.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

And, Kaitlan, just jogging everyone's memories -- it's all so much a blur -- Don McGahn left the job two weeks ago, and they had this encounter at the White House. And what exactly -- what exactly did Trump say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was one last time before Don McGahn left the White House, Brooke, that President Trump blamed him for the Mueller investigation.

Now, they were sitting face to face in the Oval Office, supposed to be this exit meeting that typically would not be a situation like this, a critical situation or meeting like the one that it was. But we are told by sources that President Trump brought up the Mueller investigation, blamed McGahn for it, saying that it happened on his watch, and it has now cast this cloud over the presidency, which we know that President Trump has said privately multiple times that he believes the Russia investigation hangs over this White House and hangs over any of his other accomplishments.

Now, they were sitting in this Oval Office face to face. This was long after, though, Brooke, that the president had announced on Twitter, much to McGahn's surprise, that he was announcing his departure. McGahn had always expected to leave the White House, but he didn't expect the president to tweet about it in the way that he did.

And so now we're seeing a little bit more about what their last meeting was like. And it was President Trump blaming him for the Mueller investigation. Now, Brooke, during that meeting, there were some high notes, the president praising him for some things, presumably helping him reshape the courts and getting those two Supreme Court justices approved.

But we are told by sources that the president remained fixated on the Mueller investigation during that meeting.

Now, Brooke, there have been questions about McGahn's departure for several weeks now, because he was scheduled to leave, but he did leave before his replacement was even ready to start. That's Pat Cipollone, who still has not officially started yet.

And that is why Emmet Flood was named the acting White House counsel, waiting -- filling that period in between McGahn and Cipollone.

But, Brooke, this just shows a little bit more to this tortured relationship that President Trump shared with Don McGahn, someone who we should note sat down with the special counsel's office for more than 30 hours to speak with them.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you.

And we will have much more on that in just a bit, but, first, the president's campaign closing argument. With Election Day all of six days away, President Trump is about to kick off his eight-state, 11- rally blitz.

He is trying to keep Republicans in control of Congress, endorsing his party's candidates, while inflaming partisan rhetoric. And he's going hard on immigration all to get out the vote.

So with me now, CNN politics senior writer and analyst Harry Enten, who provides the forecast on elections nationwide, CNN.com. Look for this guy, especially on Tuesday.

What a pleasure.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Well, shalom.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

Let's start with you and just on the early vote numbers. So here's what we have, 20 million votes cast throughout the nation already. For example, it's a huge jump since 2014 in the midterms. You look at Montana specifically, just under 20,000 votes then, now 220,000? Is that a great sign?

ENTEN: Well, I would say that the early vote numbers to suggest that turnout is going to be higher, that voters are very enthusiastic. And the polls are suggesting that as well. I think, however, we have

to be careful into reading too much into the early vote. Yes, we have an idea of who is voting, but we have no idea who they're voting for. So the good polls have been suggesting that turnout is going to be higher. I trust the polling data.

I don't think the early vote necessarily tells us who's going to win or lose. It just tells us that people are very enthusiastic.

BALDWIN: OK, what about the Senate? What's the forecast for the Senate?

ENTEN: Right now -- so, yes, so right now, the forecast is that Republicans will actually gain a seat. Right now, they're at 51. We think they're going to end up at 52.

More than that, if you look at the Senate map, what you're generally seeing is the Democrats' path to majority is getting shut off. So let's say that Democrats won all the close states, the Missouris, the Arizonas, the Nevadas.

BALDWIN: Sure.

ENTEN: They would still need to win either North Dakota, Tennessee or Texas. And if you look at my forecast in those states, what you generally see is that the Republican candidate is forecast to win by five points or more in all of them. And if the Republicans win in all three of them, forget it, it's over.

Republicans will maintain their majority.

BALDWIN: What about the House?

ENTEN: In the House, Democrats are favored to win control of that body. They need a net gain of 23. Right now, my forecast suggests they will get a net gain of 30. That's within the margin of error.

So Republicans could still maintain control, but Democrats are definitely favored as we head into the final six days.

BALDWIN: Do you dream of districts and politicians and numbers?

ENTEN: I dream of districts. I dream of politicians. I dream of old election nights.

I mean, I watched 1978 election night coverage with Jessica Savitch of old NBC. So I dream of all that. I am ready to go. Let it be done. I'm going to try the caffeine, the diet soda, everything that's necessary.

[15:05:05]

BALDWIN: Harry Enten, thank you so much...

ENTEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: .. for swinging by. Appreciate the enthusiasm. I feel it.

Days before the final vote, President Trump taking a swipe at the most powerful Republican in the House, Paul Ryan, scolding this speaker when Ryan said that President Trump could not end birthright citizenship by a presidential executive order.

Trump now has tweeted this: "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority, rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about. Our new Republican majority will work close on this, closing the immigration loopholes and securing our border."

So let's chat starting there.

CNN political commentator Angela Rye, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, is with us, and CNN political commentator Tara Setmayer, host of the podcast "Honestly Speaking," and Tara also a former Republican communications director of the Republican Party.

So, ladies, good to see both of you.

And it looks like Trump kind of clapped back, Tara. And is this -- six days to go, is this a good look for Republicans?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, having an argument over what's right, what's constitutional and what isn't, and whether the president of the United States is abusing a constitutional power is probably not a good discussion to have.

The idea of an immigration fight a couple days before the election, well, that riles people up. That's why Trump has been doing that. That's why FOX News has been covering this caravan as some ominous invasion, which it's not.

So he knows that the immigration issue is a wedge issue and it gets people fired up. It's partially why he got elected president in the first place. However, picking a fight with Paul Ryan over what's constitutional...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Who has raised millions of dollars for him.

SETMAYER: Yes, but Paul Ryan's leaving, so he knows that Paul Ryan's kind of low-hanging fruit at this point. He's not very popular amongst the base. He is seen as the establishment.

That's not -- that's probably inconsequential for Trump. But what it does do is put Republicans who are in tight races in suburban districts in a tough position, because now they're arguing about whether what the president is doing is constitutional or not. And this issue of immigration and birthright citizenship is something probably that most Republicans in tight districts don't want to talk about.

Believe me, Paul Ryan knows more about the constitutionality of the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship than Donald Trump does. He's the same guy who claimed he knows more than the generals. I mean, it's an asinine comment.

BALDWIN: The fact is, though, Angela, that the president is picking on a guy who has been pretty allergic to criticizing him for a year- and-a-half.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Imagine that.

And Paul Ryan all the sudden has the ability, the fortitude and the bravery to challenge Donald Trump, who, as Tara said accurately, he's leaving now. So where was this courage when he was running this same exact campaign in 2016?

SETMAYER: Yes.

RYE: That is the kind of courage we needed then. That is the kind of courage that says partisanship out the window, this is not right, this is inhumane, these are the types of things we should not be talking about or engaging in, as the -- as American people.

That is the Paul Ryan who should have showed up when he was going to be reelected speaker. That is the -- that's the real challenge to me. It doesn't matter that Paul Ryan is doing this now, because at this point, families have been separated. At this point, there are now kids who are being born every day, their parents afraid of what their future holds because we have a president who functions in this manner.

And Paul Ryan should have stood up against this Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

BALDWIN: Speaking of being the target of the president's ire, we just heard Kaitlan Collins reporting, Tara, on how Don McGahn, on his final exit really from the White House as White House counsel, was getting full blame for being the person who, as the president saw it, was the reason why Robert Mueller was positioned in charge of the Russia investigation.

What do you make of that development today?

SETMAYER: Well, I mean, it's not surprising. Donald Trump points the finger at everyone but himself for everything. He's the consummate victim, right, constantly a victim.

Don McGahn accomplished a considerable amount for this president. Not only did he probably stop President Trump from doing God knows what else that was outside of democratic norms and institutions, he got two Supreme Court justices through, which was pretty much the main reason why Don McGahn stayed around.

I have known Don McGahn's wife for a long time. Don McGahn has been a stalwart in the conservative movement for two decades. So, Don McGahn was probably one of the blessings in disguise for Trump keeping that -- keeping that chaos in the White House together.

The fact that he would dress him down at all while he left, that's part of Trump's personality. He does it all the time. He doesn't appreciate the people who try to protect him and protect the office of the presidency.

And I hope that someone who -- whoever replaces Don McGahn is able to contain the president moving into the latter half of this term, because that's a really important position.

[15:10:03]

And I want to echo Angela's criticism of Paul Ryan.

You're 100 percent right. He's been one of the biggest disappointments to me, as a conservative who was a big fan of Paul Ryan and had high hopes for him. What he's allowed this president to get away with, just they could pass some tax cuts or this or that, I think is partially what's destroyed the Republican Party.

BALDWIN: Let's turn the page, ladies, and talk about how we're inside the six-day window ahead of the midterms.

In this final stretch, you're seeing a lot of celebrities, a lot of A- listers coming out, saying get out the vote. There was just this Bloomberg -- Michael Bloomberg's PAC put together this whole push to get -- to get women out there and voting. Here's a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What matters to you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Civility.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kindness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dignity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom of the press.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom of speech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of our freedoms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they matter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Serious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they matter to you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you care about immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Children being taken away at the border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If gun reform matters. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Health care for young...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... for old matters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: Then vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: OK, so here's my question, Angela Rye. You see all these incredible women out, right, in this video.

And I'm wondering, is that something that makes younger people, younger women, younger folks in this country say, all right, I'm showing up on Tuesday, or does it totally backfire, because you have Hollywood, liberal -- liberal Democrats, celebrities, which will then just further energize Republicans to go vote? Which is it?

RYE: Well, yes, Brooke, I got to tell you, I hope that it energizes young people.

As soon as I get the answer to what energizes young people, old people, veterans...

BALDWIN: You can sell it to everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

RYE: ... workers, entrepreneurs, I'm going to like scream it from the mountaintops. I hope this is what does it.

We keep saying things like, people died for your right to vote. We keep saying things like, your vote is your power and it's just the first step in engaging in the electoral process and in being engaged in the political process.

We keep saying if you want things to change, don't sit on your hands. Don't sit on your behinds. Go vote. I do not know what gets it. But I will tell you, this ad moved me enough. And I'm so glad you all told me it was going to come on, because now I'm going to post it on my Twitter feed.

(LAUGHTER)

RYE: And I hope you put these women in your show, Brooke. They need to be on there. There's such an incredible showing in this ad. So I hope it works. I don't know if it will, but I hope it does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I featured a lot of ladies who are running in this unprecedented run of women running for office.

RYE: I know.

SETMAYER: Yes. Yes.

BALDWIN: But I hear you. I hear you.

Here's my last thought. And we're going to go there, ladies, Kanye West. Kanye West apparently is done with politics. I know. Let me read the tweet.

"My eyes are now wide open and I now realize I have been used to spread messages I don't believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative."

Tara, perhaps he will be more creative than his 0-0-0-0-0-0 password.

SETMAYER: Yes.

Kanye has been a mess for quite some time. He's vacillated between positions on a number of things. I felt as though the Trump administration was exploiting him in a number of ways. I caught a lot of criticism because I called him a token.

And I'm sorry, but this is exactly what tokenism looks like. And I'm glad to see that Kanye West has opened his eyes and decided that he no longer wanted to be one.

BALDWIN: OK.

Tara and Angela, thank you. Thank you.

Still ahead here: President Trump stirring up more vitriol against the migrant caravan making its way toward the U.S., calling them thugs and criminals. And he plans to send more than 5,000 troops to the border. So how much will that cost you, the taxpayer? That's what we want to know.

Also ahead, a Republican candidate in Connecticut is getting all kinds of backlash after depicting his Jewish opponent with wads full of cash in this print ad. We will talk live to the Democrat, the man in the photo, who he targeted next.

And later, a murder mystery here in New York, where the bodies of two sisters, both Saudi nationals, were found duct-taped together on the banks of the Hudson River. Hear what investigators have learned coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:28]

BALDWIN: New today, a federal grand jury has returned a 44-count indictment against the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings. He initially faced 29 charges. That included hate crimes. He is expected back in federal court tomorrow.

Today, again, was a solemn day in Pittsburgh, as three more victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue were laid to rest. Services were held today for Joyce Feinberg. The 75-year-old was known as a caring person who lit up the room with her huge personality. She leaves behind two sons and six grandchildren. Irving Youngner is being remembered as a friend of all in that

community. The former Squirrel Hill little league coach was a greeter at the Tree of Life Synagogue. And members say the 69-year-old felt it was his duty to serve people.

And 88-year-old Melvin Wax was known for being one of the first people through the doors every Saturday to worship at the Tree of Life. Three people, including a police officer, remain hospitalized.

And as the nation has been having conversations about hate speech and division in this country, voters in Connecticut received a campaign mailer that a number of people say is overtly anti-Semitic.

The ad shows a Photoshopped image a Democrat Matt Lesser, who is Jewish, with wide eyes, holding this fistful of cash. Lesser is running for Connecticut state Senate. And his opponent, Ed Charamut, is behind the ad.

And Matt Lesser is with me now. He's currently a state representative.

[15:20:01]

So, Representative Lesser, thank you so much for coming on.

And when you first saw these images of yourself, what were you thinking?

MATT LESSER (D), CONNECTICUT STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I -- first, Brooke, thanks for having me on.

I had gotten text messages while I was meeting with some area teachers alerting me that there was an anti-Semitic flyer going around.

But I thought it was a mistake. I never imagined in 1,000 years that something like this would happen in our part of Connecticut. And so it was a huge shock when I saw the images of the mailer itself, when I got home and started to hearing from constituents who were deeply upset.

This just wasn't something that we thought was part of the American political conversation in 2018.

BALDWIN: Well, CNN has reached out to your opponent. He has not responded to us to try to answer why he would do this.

But this is what he told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong. I reject hate speech in all its forms. The mailer draws a stark contrast between myself and Matt Lesser. Do you want to protect your wallets or do you want to make Matt Lesser your new state senator?"

So he says his intention was to attack your tax policies. That's all the fists of cash. Do you believe him?

LESSER: No. No, I don't, unfortunately.

You know, there had been plenty of discussion about fiscal issues in this race, as there is all the time. But they're the difference in this particular mailer is that he Photoshopped my face in a way that evokes, unfortunately, centuries of depictions targeting the Jewish people that are really tied to some of the darkest moments of human history.

So I don't know what lapse in judgment caused him to do that. I'm disappointed that he missed the opportunity to address his actions head on, and really address whatever lapse of judgment led him to cause such pain to so many people across Connecticut.

BALDWIN: What would you want to hear him say?

LESSER: Well, I don't know at this point.

I mean, I think he has -- he has put out publicly that he stands by -- I guess I just heard a few minutes ago that he may have walked that back somewhat and may be seeking to apologize now.

I mean, I think the real question is, what can we do now, right now, at the moment that is so fraught in our country, where politicians from Washington and on down have sought to exacerbate the differences between groups of people? What can we do to help heal things?

I think Mr. Charamut has done a Connecticut a great disservice. And I think it's much harder now to figure out what we can do to help prepare things and heal those wounds that he that he helped open.

BALDWIN: Apparently, he did apologize on Facebook and said that this was never supposed to be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Your response to that?

LESSER: Well, I don't ever question his intentions. I can tell you what and how my constituents interpreted it. And they were horrified.

I have been -- my phone has been ringing off the hook from people all across the district, including from Republicans. He's a Republican. And there are folks who don't agree with me on the time of day, but who are deeply hurt and offended by his -- his choice of campaign advertising.

And I think -- I think it did a great disservice to the people of Connecticut.

BALDWIN: Let me -- let me end with the tragedy over the weekend in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill.

And I understand your wife is from this community, is from Squirrel Hill. And, of course, President Trump was there yesterday. A lot of folks in the community didn't want him to come at that moment.

And so the president ultimately tweeted about it. And he said he and the first lady were treated nicely. I'm just reading part of his tweet: "The office of the president was shown great respect. We were treated warmly, small protest," making it a bit about him, about him, Representative Lesser.

What do you make of that?

LESSER: I think it just shows the tone-deafness of this administration.

And I think a lot of the tensions in this country right now stem directly from the president and his actions and his decision to divide the American people over and over and over again.

And at a time when we should be coming together as a country to heal after the most violent single act of hatred against Jewish people in America in our history, instead, he seeks to distract and make it about him. And I think that is unfortunate.

We need leaders to lead. Candidates for office should lead. We should be bringing people together. It's our job. If we put ourselves on the ballot, that's our -- that's our role in society. And anybody, whether it's Mr. Charamut and Mr. Trump, who don't do that is doing the public a disservice.

BALDWIN: Representative Lesser, thank you.

LESSER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, CNN digs deep into the social media profile of the suspected mail bomber, finding more than 240 threats to celebrities and journalists and politicians.

[15:25:07]

Hear how Twitter is responding to accusations that it did not act fast enough to shut him down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: The man who police say mailed pipe bombs to dozens of prominent Democrats and to CNN had been planning this for months.

The Department of Justice says the suspect's computer held targets, addresses, and shows he started planning the attacks back in July.