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AT THIS HOUR

Midterm Elections on Tuesday - Republicans Selling Hope or Fear?; Shooting in Pittsburgh Synagogue Leaves 11 Dead; Large Early Voting Turnout Recorded; Roger Stone's Admissions May Change Course of Mueller's Investigation. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 2, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Organizers of the "Show up for Shabbat" say it's meant to be a show of strength and love against hate. I would say we need that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Yes. We certainly do. Thank you all for being with us all week. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. With four days to go until the midterm elections, President Trump could be trying to sell success. Instead, he's selling fear. The president would rather paint a bleak doomsday scenario, not based in fact, of the country being invaded by immigrants instead of selling strong jobs numbers and economic gains. Now he's upping the ante yet again, suggesting the U.S. military shoot migrants if they throw rocks. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican police, where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm, because there's not much difference, when you get hit in the face with a rock, which as you know, it was very violent a few days ago. Very, very violent.

(END VIDEO)

BOLDUAN: The president's statement there seems to very clearly contradict the military standard rules of use of force, and also remember, the troops that are being sent to the border are not combat troops. They're filling up support roles - supporting roles backing up customs and border patrol who are already there, raising the question once again, why is the president almost entirely focused there when there's good news for Republicans to tout today.

It's the economy stupid, as James Carville said, or maybe now not so much. Let's start at the White House. CNN's Abby Phillip, she's there for us. Abby, the president's consistent message once again is, be afraid. I wonder why the focus remains there when they've got economic gains to talk about this morning. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. They have

really good economic news at their backs, but President Trump has been really focusing and fixating on this immigration message. It's a message that's aimed directly at his base, and yesterday, he even used the White House and really the force of the entire federal government to back up this push to get tough on the border.

He said that next week he would be signing an executive order making it more difficult for migrants to gain asylum when they get to the border. But he also suggested that one of the reasons for this push was the idea that in the last week or so, given the package bombs being sent to news organizations and to prominent Democrats and also that massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh had slowed Republicans' momentum going into the midterms.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: We did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible, because for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum. More importantly, we have to take care of our people, and we don't care about momentum when it comes to a disgrace like just happened to our country. But it did nevertheless stop a certain momentum.

(END VIDEO)

PHILLIP: And so it seems in order to regain that momentum, the president is pivoting back hard to his base. Making sure that he's talking constantly about a major issue for them, which is immigration and border security. He will also be hitting the campaign trail twice today, heading to West Virginia and to Indiana, trying to rally supporters in two key Senate races in both of those states. So I'm sure that we will be hearing much more about this immigration issue, but we'll also be waiting to see how much he also refocuses on the economy, which frankly, a lot of Republicans in swing districts, particularly suburban districts, would much rather be talking about. Kate.

BOLDUAN: What does refocusing there now mean anyway, after what we have seeing consistently? Great to see you Abby. Thank you so much. Let's talk about the strong economic news though. The U.S. economy added 250,000 jobs in October. That number stronger than expected. There's a lot there. Christine Romans, CNN's Chief Business correspondent is taking a look. Christine, what do you see?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN'S CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's a really strong job market still, Kate. I mean, you look at the quarter million jobs in October, a little bit of pullback in September, but that was because of Hurricane Florence. August, also a gang buster month for job creation. That means unemployment rate continues here near the lowest in a generation, 3.7 percent; that's a fantastic number. It's the kind of number we should see a lot of people starting to come in from the sidelines to try to chase, try to chase some of these jobs.

And we're seeing higher wages Kate. I think that's really important here; 3.1 percent was the wage growth. That's the fastest wage growth in almost a decade. So that missing piece of the economic recovery, of the strong jobs market, wages, starting to come back here.

Let me show you the sectors. This is also pretty important, leisure and hospitality, 42,000 jobs; health care, we have seen several years of strong health care job growth. This, make no mistake, is an engine of the American economy, and manufacturing up 32,000. There are those who credit the president's trade policies for that in particular. It's interesting Kate because it almost sets up the president for maybe a little bit of a fight with the Fed. You know, he's been critical of the Federal Reserve.

[11:05:00]

These numbers are so strong and with wages coming in, it suggests there could be the whiff of inflation down the road. The Fed, you know, raises interest rates to keep that under wraps. The president doesn't like the fed raising interest rates so watch this space but clearly, this is another strong month of job creation. Kate.

BOLDUAN: And of course, the final one right before the election.

ROMANS: That's right.

BOULDUAN: Good to see you Christine. Thank you so much.

So should you now expect the president's message to shift to happy days are here again? Maybe only if you're living under a rock at this moment. Joining me here, someone not living under a rock, Alex Bernstein, and Political Analyst and Nationals Political Correspondent for "The New York Times," also not living under a rock, Molly Ball, CNN Political Analyst and National Political Correspondent for "Time" magazine. Great to see you guys. Alex, you have been traveling the country throughout this campaign season. You have been talking to a lot of voters, especially suburban voters. Are they being won over with the message of fear -- the message of fear and division coming from the president?

ALEX BERNSTEIN, POLLITICAL ANALYST: No, just the opposite. These are voters who have historically voted Republican despite their misgivings about the party on issues like guns and abortion, and to some extent, immigration. They live in relatively affluent, relatively educated, some of them very diverse communities. This just doesn't register for them. And to the extent it registers, it probably registers in a negative way. They're offended by Trump as a personality. A lot of these people voted for him in 2016 because they disliked Hillary Clinton so much or because they liked his economic policies. What they're hearing from him now at the end of the campaign is really just a reminder of everything they felt uncomfortable about regarding Trump in the first place.

BOLDUAN: As Alex mentions, Molly, fear is not a new theme for Donald Trump. That's what he ran on in 2016. You wrote extensively about that then. Does it look different to you now in 2018, that message?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question is whether it works. You know, to put it totally bluntly, and the president and some of his advisers feel that this was an effective closing message for him in 2016, that pointing to threats from abroad, whether it was Islamist terror or the supposed threat from migrants coming over the border, was what got people riled up and out to the polls.

I think a lot of -- that's a somewhat exotic political theory that that was the difference maker in 2016 and that's an effective political strategy to close on. But there are plenty of political strategists who would tell you that happy people don't necessarily vote. Happy people who feel fine about how everything is going and the president would argue that Republicans ought to feel happy about the way the country is going, that they don't necessarily have a motivation to vote. What motivates people to vote is this desire to protect something that they might otherwise lose this desire to hold on to something or the desire to defend themselves. Angry people vote and fearful people vote. So the idea of social scientists when they look at this issue, when tests are performed and things like this, will tell you that that is a much stronger motivator than someone who just generally feels like everything is okay.

BOLDUAN: Alex, a lot of elections, a lot of any election is about momentum, right? Who has the momentum towards the end; who's trending in that direction. We played it. Abby Phillip played it. I want to play it again though, what the president said about momentum last night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: We did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible because for seven days, nobody talked about the elections. It stopped a tremendous momentum.

(END VIDEO)

BOLDUAN: I mean, it is -- it's just callous. And it's so transparently cynical, I think, is what is so shocking about it. I mean, what he's talking about in two maniacs is what's being considered domestic terrorism. And also, the worst attack, the deadliest attack against American - against Jews in American history. What should people -- what should people do with this? Are people paying attention to his words? When you're talking to voters.

BERNSTEIN: Oh they are, I don't know that you're going to hear people -- I don't know how much people tune in to any individual Trump speech, right? But they certainly do tune in to the big picture of how he's responded ...

BOLDUAN: The totality of it.

BERNSTEIN: ... over the last two weeks. You know, I was in Washington yesterday talking to Republicans who are deeply, deeply involved in this campaign. They think that what has been most problematic for them at the end of this campaign; it's not been the fact of the mail bombs of the fact of the massacre in Pittsburgh.

BOLDUAN: That they happened. BERNSTEIN: That that happened, right. It's been in large part the

president's response to it right, that he has not stopped sort of attacking his political adversaries or the news media in these unbelievably caustic ways. He can't go and do a mourning visit to pay his respects to Pittsburgh without sort of making it about himself and the protests there. That it reminds, again, the swing voters of the stuff about the president that they just view frankly as not presidential or worse than that.

[11:10:00]

And listen, these are people to Molly's point, who actually do have something at stake in this election economically, that there are Republicans who for a period of time in this campaign ran on a laser- focused message about the Supreme Court in a lot of states, that if you don't go out and vote for Senate, you will lose that court, that conservative majority to the Democrats. And in some parts of the country, you heard Republicans, you know, smaller parts of the country, Republicans talking about Democrats raising taxes, Democrats compromising the economic gains. That doesn't necessarily light a fire under people the way the immigration issue does on the right. But it might be appealing to more people than the immigration issue is. A matter like birthright citizenship just is not a mainstream political concern.

BOLDUAN: That's so key when you talk about appealing to more people, Molly, because if we're all old enough to remember the Republican autopsy of 2012 after that presidential election, and it was all about bringing in more people. It was all about expanding the tent, all about reaching out to Hispanic voters. Do you hear Republicans talk about that at all anymore? Do you hear -- or is that just kind of a myth gone by?

BALL: Yes and no. I think on the one hand, Republicans felt like they learned from the 2016 election that that conventional wisdom wasn't necessarily correct. That the way the entire Republican establishment thought that they had to go to win a presidential election, Donald Trump proved that not just wrong but basically opposite, basically the opposite of what that autopsy said.

On the other hand, in the long run, there still are a lot of members of the Republican establishment who wish that the party would find ways to broaden its appeal. When you look at the demographics in the country and the way it's diversifying, when you look at the attitudes of young people and how strongly to the left that they have moved, Republicans really do fear there is still a pending wipeout for the party, and you know, the other thing I think is really interesting here is the way you hear Democrats running in this election. Is despite all the things the president says and despite the potential he has to turn off so many swing voters, you do not have a lot of Democratic candidates who campaign message mostly is look how offensive Donald Trump is.

I think that is also a lesson that they took away from 2016 because they felt like Hillary Clinton's closing message of look how offensive Donald Trump is didn't work for her because voters wanted to hear something else. They wanted to hear something more substantive, they wanted to hear about health care, they wanted to hear about economic growth. And so you do have Democratic candidates really talking very little about Trump and talking very much about particularly health care.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you guys. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, massive early voting numbers being reported ahead of the midterms; levels normally seen during presidential elections. So what does it mean?

Plus, Roger Stone's big reversal. The controversial political strategist now admits that he did talk to the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks during the presidential election. So is this game over?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:00]

BOLDUAN: So, what did Roger Stone know in 2016? When did he know it, and who did he tell? The controversial political operative is admitting for the first time he did in fact communicate with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, and before the release of hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. How key is this now to Robert Mueller's investigation into collusion? CNN's Sara Murray is joining me right now. Sara, what exactly is Roger Stone admitting to?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he's revealing these e- mails that show he was in contact with a senior Trump campaign official about WikiLeaks and the big question is, of course, are there more communications like this that are still to come?

New e-mails reveal Roger Stone was in touch with a senior Trump campaign official, Steve Bannon, about WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential race. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has copies of the e-mails, a source tells CNN, part of its investigation into whether Stone actually had an inside track with WikiLeaks and whether he shared any of that information with members of the Trump campaign.

In an e-mail on October 4th, 2016, Bannon, then the Trump campaign CEO, wrote to Stone, what was that this morning? Stone published the e-mails on a column Thursday for the right-wing "Daily Caller." Bannon's e-mail came shortly after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange delivered a speech billed as an October surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

JULIAN ASSANGE, EDITOR OF WIKILEAKS: I understand that there's enormous expectation in the United States.

(END VIDEO)

MURRAY: But Assange didn't unveil any new information, angering some of Trump's supporters who were hoping for a bombshell on Hillary Clinton. In a reply to Bannon, Stone explained the delay, fear, serious security concern, however, a load every week going forward.

Stone says his e-mail was based on public information. During his media event, Assange promised more WikiLeaks material was coming. Stone's move to publish the e-mails preempted a "New York Times" story Thursday about stone's efforts to pitch himself to Trump campaign officials as a WikiLeaks insider.

At least one campaign official told investigators Stone told campaign officials he had ties to Assange, according to a person familiar with the investigation. While Stone made a show publicly and privately of bragging about his ties to Assange during the 2016 campaign, he's since revised his story. Stone says he actually relied on publicly available information, tips from journalists, and a back channel source, progressive New York activist Randy Kretico. He's denied he acted as a back channel.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP POLITICAL ADVISOR: And then of course, there is the Mueller investigation poking into every aspect of my private, personal, business, social, family, and political life.

(END VIDEO)

[11:20:00]

MURRAY: Stone hasn't been contacted by Mueller's team, but nearly a dozen of his associates have. Still, it's unclear what charges, if any, Stone could ultimately face. "The New York Times" also published e-mails showing Stone asking Bannon to help him get funding from GOP donor Rebecca Mercer, to spread a story based on no evidence that Bill Clinton has a love child.

I have raised 150k for the targeted black digital campaign through a c-4, Stone wrote. Tell Rebecca to send us some money. The request could run afoul of federal election laws. Stone says he never received any money from the Mercers and he maintains he is innocent.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

STONE: I am guilty of no crime in connection with the 2016 election or anything else.

(END VIDEO)

MURRAY: Now, even though Roger Stone insists he did nothing wrong, he has said he would not be surprised if Mueller does bring charges against him. He says any charges would be trumped up, though, and just designed to get him to cooperate against President Trump. Back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Not over when it comes to Roger Stone, that's for sure. Great to see you Sara. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, if President Trump is campaigning on fear, does hope stand a chance, any chance anymore? How should Democrats respond? Former Obama Chief Strategist David Axelrod is here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:00]

BOLDUAN: We're four days away from election day but nearly 26 million people across the country have already cast their ballots in the midterms. So what do we know so far? Turnout has been on a presidential level in some crucial states. We also know more women than men have voted in key states. What does it all mean? Joining me right now, CNN Senior Political Commentator, host of "The Ax Files," David Axelrod. Great to see you David.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's risky, yes of course, to read too much into early voting numbers, but these numbers are big; voters in 18 states outpacing early voter turnout from the 2014 midterms. You are one of the minds behind turning out voters who did not normally turn out in 2008. What do you see in these numbers now, do you think?

AXELROD: Well I think one thing that we know and that we can say with relative confidence is this is going to be an enormous turnout. It could be the biggest midterm turnout since 1960s. So, in half a century, and I think these early vote numbers reflect that in part. Now, early voting is becoming more common. You know, you don't want to deduce too much from it, but when you combine it with some of the other signs like participation in the primaries and some of the other things that we have seen, I anticipate that there's going to be a very large turnout. Certainly relative to what we have seen in midterm elections recently.

You know, in terms of which party is favored by it, these numbers carry different augerings from state to state. I will say that the biggest drop off among -- from presidential years to midterm years has been among Democratic voters, minority voters, young voters. And so you would presume that a larger turnout would be good for Democrats and that Democrats haven't been as reliable as midterm voters.

BOLDUAN: Well you hit on something important. It's one thing to turn people out in a presidential year. How do you turn out young voters, black voters, Hispanic voters where you need them, in places like Florida, Georgia, Texas, in a midterm? What's going to be key?

AXELROD: Well, some of it has to do with the candidates. Some of it is operational. And finding those voters and making sure they're registered and making sure they know ...

BOLDUAN: Should have already been done, yes.

AXELROD: ... how and where to vote. But look, I think one of the things people are going to be looking at are the millenials and there was one poll out today that said only a third of millenials say they're definitely going to vote. And that seems very low, especially when you're looking at a potential turnout upwards of 50 percent overall. But it's not low when you consider that only 16 percent voted in the last midterm election. So even if millenials were to vote in the 20s, that would be a significant increase over the last election.

BOLDUAN: That's crazy to think about; only 20% of millenials getting out to vote or less. It really is.

AXELROD: It's easy to be -- you know, I run this institute of politics at the University of Chicago and I spend a lot of time with young people. You know, there is an element of being distracted with other things. There's also an element of jaundice about the political system and the sense that these votes really matter. And you would think given the volatility of issues in this day and age that they would think, well, this does matter, but they really have some sense of skepticism about Congress and whether that's where things really get solved.

So in this poll that was published today, 65 percent said they don't really think Congress makes much of a difference. The reality is that the equities that these young people and all of us care about are affected by decisions that Congress makes and so it is significant.

[11:30:00]

But, look as I said, I think they are more engaged and there will be a larger turnout among millennials.