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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Republicans Attempting to Subvert Democratic Election Victories?; GOP Election Fraud in North Carolina? Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired December 4, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY EVERS (D), WISCONSIN GOVERNOR-ELECT: Making those same -- making those same decisions that they're making today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. So what's happening right now behind these doors?
This is the Senate gallery here in Wisconsin in Madison. And the debate is happening on this bill. The bill is expected to pass, Jake, because Republicans have the majority -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kyung Lah in Madison, Wisconsin, thanks so much.
Let's talk about it with our experts.
You're champing at the bit to get into this. What is your take, John?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. This is disgusting. This is an attempt to do an legislative end-run around election results.
In North Carolina, where it was tried two years ago, it was called a legislative coup. There is no way Republicans would do this if their candidate had won. This is simply about not principle, it is a power grab.
And it's offensive to anyone's little-D democratic instincts if they actually care about principles, more than people ramming through power. They favor a strong executive when with their party. And when the other guy wins, they want to gut it. It's disgusting.
TAPPER: Well, it does seem -- look, I'm always open-minded when it comes to arguments about co-equal branches and an executive branch having too much control, too much power, but to do this in the lame- duck after Democrats win makes, it seems -- make it just seem like this is just petty and you're just trying to...
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. It's not just about optics. It's not just about optics. It's suddenly -- that's just not feasible anymore. Right?
I'm sorry you're losing your voice and I wish you would get as upset when Democrats bend the rules. But what Republicans actually need to be focusing on right now is not extending their power. What they need to be focusing out how they can win more voters.
And the problem is in the back end, when they don't win enough voters, they're also trying to slam the door behind them so they're shutting down early voting. This is unconscionable. Look, as Republicans have said, there is no infrequencies or inaccuracies or problems in the voting. Now they're shutting down early voting on the way out.
And it looks like the one case of real voter fraud that has happened in this country is actually happening at the hands of Republicans. Republicans have a lot of rethinking about how to win back the majority in this country and they're not doing it.
TAPPER: We will talk about that North Carolina race in the next segment.
We heard some of the changes that Wisconsin Republicans are trying to make. And I want to point out, in Michigan, Republicans are trying to make it so that the state legislature intervenes in legal cases that involve the state. They also want to let a new commission oversee campaign finance laws, instead of Michigan's newly elected Democratic secretary of state.
It does seem like Republicans are just trying to take power away from Democrats.
ASTEAD HERNDON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. That's what all the signs point to. I think everyone is right here in the analysis that this would not be happening if we saw Republican victories in these states.
I think the most important thing to recognize here is, these are likely the past. And they're likely to pass because even before this moment, there are gerrymandering cases that have meant that legislature has often been out of step with the purpleness of those states in the first place.
TAPPER: In Wisconsin or Michigan or both?
HERNDON: In Wisconsin and Michigan. And so you have -- these are both states that have had legislatures that are more deeply conservative than the kind of purpleness that the state would imply.
And so you have an ability for this legislature to put through bills that were probably polled throughout the state as unpopular. But they will, frankly, and likely not see the electoral repercussions and they're confident in doing so because they know that those districts are so well-drawn that they're going to win almost every time.
That kind of tribalness, that type of partisanship is actually deeper than these bills. They don't even feel the kind of electoral repercussions we might see otherwise, because this game has been being played by them for a long, long time.
PHILIP BUMP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's exactly the right point, which is that the underlying anti-democratic -- small-D -- of this thing starts with this gerrymandering.
I actually looked at the numbers this morning. In 2016, Republicans in the state of assembly won 52 percent of the vote, ended up with 65 percent of the seats. In 2016, the Republicans won, got more votes statewide, 161,000 more votes. They ended up with a 29-seat advantage over the Democrats.
This year, the Democrats got 200,000 more votes, and the Republicans ended up with a 27-seat advantage. They only lost one seat, despite a swing of 300,000 votes.
TAPPER: Because of gerrymandering.
BUMP: Because of gerrymandering, because a lot of Democrats are drawn in very, very heavily Democratic areas.
TAPPER: All right, right now, we have to cut in here.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are visiting the Bush family at the Blair House across the street from the White House to pay their respects. Both Trumps visited the Capitol Rotunda last night, where former President George H.W. Bush is lying in state.
We should point out, one of the most emotional moments on Capitol Hill took place today. Former Senator Bob Dole, visiting the casket of his once rival turned close friend, with tears in his eyes, he was helped out of his wheelchair so that Senator Dole could offer one final salute to his fellow World War II veteran, his fellow World War II hero.
President Bush is going to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda until tomorrow morning, when his funeral will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington. All five living presidents are expected to attend, with one of them, his son, George W. Bush, delivering a eulogy.
Let's continue our conversation.
I wanted to talk about something that we covered in the B block, which has to do with all these Republican senators being given information by the CIA director, Gina Haspel, about Khashoggi. And they came out even more fired up, even more convinced that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is behind this.
Will it mean anything? Will they do anything about it or are they just going to blow off steam in front of the cameras?
BUMP: I mean, we have seen this road map before, right? You just replace MBS with Vladimir Putin, and we have seen the exact same script from the White House, since the day he won the election.
Repeatedly, the CIA, other intelligence agencies have said the same thing about the Russia interference of 2016 as they're saying now about MBS, Mohammed bin Salman' role in the murder of Khashoggi, and that is that there is a clear link, that they're seeing this evidence.
And what have we seen as a result from the Senate? Yes, we have seen some sanctions that were imposed against Russia. We have seen some proposals to do that. But, obviously, we have more relationships with Saudi Arabia which can be leveraged here.
But the real question is, what is the holding to account of the president himself? And I have seen no indications that there is anything significant.
HOOVER: But the Senate isn't -- Senate, the House, the Congress is a separate and equal branch of government. So they should act. They absolutely should act and they should wield their power. And so they should pass a bill.
And the House should send -- there's no reason the House wouldn't. They can send it over to the House. They can pass it again in the new term. And they should. And it looks like Lindsey Graham and others are organizing around that principle. And we should see that.
TAPPER: Do you think that there actually will be any consequence from this? There was this vote expressing the sense of the Senate that the U.S. should withdraw support for the war in Yemen, the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Will there actually be consequences?
AVLON: I think the Magnitsky Act is the only area where the Senate has got the ability to have leverage after 120 days, at the end of the day, to war powers question about Yemen.
But I think the troubling thing is, you know, we have seen the president say out loud, the CIA didn't come to any conclusion. And then we heard the CIA director utterly contradict and communicate it to the American people through the Senate.
Why? Not just some geopolitical game. He's covering for a killer.
TAPPER: He's covering for a killer.
HERNDON: Yes, I was just going to say, we have not seen congressional Republicans defy President Trump in any meaningful type of action here.
And so until that becomes -- until that becomes true, this always seems unlikely.
TAPPER: You will believe it when you see it.
Nearly a month later, a House race with no clear winner, with accusations of election tampering that will make your jaw drop -- coming up next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Fears of election fraud in a U.S. House race that may suddenly need a do-over.
A rapidly unfolding investigation today in North Carolina after allegations that absentee ballots for a House race were tampered with. Now that state's bipartisan election board is refusing to certify the election and could potentially order a whole new vote.
CNN's Drew Griffin joins me now from North Carolina.
Drew, why are there so many questions about absentee ballots in this race?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: This all centers around a get-out-the-vote campaign which was paid for, it was paid for by the Republican congressional candidate, Mark Harris' campaign.
Turns out they hired a convicted felon, a guy who had been convicted of insurance fraud, who went out and gathered a bunch of his other petty criminal friends and associates to basically launch this absentee ballot push for the Republican candidate.
Well, come after the election, we start getting and seeing these affidavits from voters saying, hey, what happened to my absentee ballot? Why is my absentee ballot in question? I never voted.
People like Lacy Allison, a voter we talked to today, who says he was approached by one of these people, and, Jake, he has no idea what happened to his vote. Take a listen.
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GRIFFIN: So you filled out an application for an absentee ballot?
LACY ALLISON, NORTH CAROLINA VOTER: No. She filled it out. She said she was going to bring it back for me to sign and I never saw her again.
GRIFFIN: People who say they witnessed you filling this ballot out and signing it and sealing it, Jessica Dowless (ph), Sandra Dowless (ph), you don't recognize those names?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: And yet those names, Jake, are all over these absentee ballots.
There are 161 of them being questioned by the state, some of them witnessed by the same person 40 different times, 40 different ballots witnessed. We have seen that over and over again.
You also have a question of absentee ballots that were never returned, and in this county and a neighboring county, such a high number, 1,600 of them, way more than average, that those are now under question. You put that together, 1,600 absentee ballots, 169 questionable ballots, that far exceeds the 905 votes that separates the Republican winner in this campaign from the Democratic loser.
That's why this investigation is going on.
TAPPER: And, Drew, the election board wants another hearing on this investigation by December 21. Then what can we expect to see happen here?
GRIFFIN: I think that right now the election board is trying to go through the tedious work of trying to track down all these ballots, do some of the work like we did. Go out and find some of these voters and ask if they can even remember voting or if their unsealed ballots were simply taken from them by some of these workers who worked for this Republican operative that I talked about.
It's a lot of tedious work to prove that an actual fraud took place. And I'm just not sure how they're going about tackling that. We are expected to hear from the board later this afternoon, Jake.
TAPPER: Thank you so much, Drew Griffin in North Carolina. Appreciate it.
I want to focus for one second on the man at the center of this. His name is Leslie McCrae Dowless.
[16:45:00] He was convicted of fraud and perjury back in the 90s. The charge is not related to elections. Back in 2016, he was accused of paying volunteers for each absentee ballot they collected according to the great radio show This American Life.
Now, North Carolina law says you're not allowed to collect absentee ballots. People have to do it on their own. Close family members can deliver them but that's it. And now he worked for the Republican Congressional Candidate Mark Harris this time around. And the big question, Philip, how was this guy allowed to be working on an election? There was -- there were -- he was a convicted felon for insurance related crimes and then in 2016, there was this This American Life story.
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: And there's no good answer. I mean why he was? The names just read as having witnessed that thing were Jessica Dowless and Sandra Dowless. These are relatives of his. They're involved in this operation, right? I mean, it's mind-boggling. And we saw in the primary as well.
There's some great data that was pulled by Michael McDonald of University of Florida who actually looked at the absentee vote in that same county in the primary. The primary in which Harris won as a surprise over an incumbent Pittenger. And the absentee ballot favored Harris in that County by something like 427 to 17. I mean, those were the sorts of numbers that any outsider --
TAPPER: That doesn't happen.
BUMP: Of course not. Yes. I mean, absolutely not. Unless he you know, unless it's Kim Jong-un who's running for reelection, those sorts of numbers don't happen. Why this was allowed to happen again in the general is just mind-boggling.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because it's the feature not the bug. Him hiring -- him being hired was for apparently the skillset. You saw it at work in the primary apparently, you saw it at work in the general. What you have his absentee ballot fraud. After all, the President's fear-mongering about voter fraud. We got a real live case on our hands. Folks, something's rotten in North Carolina Nine and they haven't certified it. Of course, I never heard boo from the President, but this is a real deal and I don't see how they can certify this election. It looks like this absentee ballot fraud impacted the primary as well as the general and 905 vote margin so this is fascinating stuff.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's a --
TAPPER: Go ahead.
HOOVER: There's a larger narrative among Republicans and voter fraud isn't a problem. There -- you know, there are no issues. This is all made up by the Democrats, and then -- so this -- what this does is proof point that's not true. It has happened, and by the way at the hands of Republican culprits. In the case of North Carolina, there's a legacy of a deep-seated legacy of racism that has descended from those countries original sin, but writ large Republicans have to look in the mirror and recognize that they're not winning the votes of African Americans, they're not winning the votes of people of color, and they need to think really clearly about how to do that.
Now as they do that, they should look at Maryland's governor, re- elected Governor Larry Hogan who won in a blue state, who won 30 percent of the African-American vote, an incredibly high number for Republicans who right now African-American is ten percent vote for Republicans. And not only he won 30 percent of African-Americans, he won against the former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous. So, I mean, there is a way to do these folks, and it's not cheating.
AVLON: Without stealing.
HOOVER: And it's not cheating.
TAPPER: The only thing that we've heard from Republicans on this -- because you're right we haven't heard from President Trump, we been seen the acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker send a task force down there. Chris Kobach who's made a career out of talking about voter fraud, we invited him on the show today to talk about this issue, he declined our invitation, but we have heard some Republicans talking about this.
WSOC's Joe Bruno got the transcript of a robocall going out to possible donors which argues in part "this is just a test to see if Democrats can steal North Carolina from Donald Trump in 2020." That's very similar to an argument we heard from Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz when there was this legally mandated recount in Florida and ultimately the Republicans won both election night and the recount. But this idea that the only Republicans we've heard from on this issue are ones saying this is Democrats trying to steal the election is remarkable.
ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. It's another stuff of this kind of projection we've seen before. The "it's not that suits you" even though that belies all the evidence in front of us. I mean I think it's correct that Republicans certainly seem to have a problem with our minority voters especially in this era of the president -- of President Trump. But we've seen Republicans in North Carolina and Michigan and Wisconsin seem not -- seem to decide that that's a battle they're unwilling to fight and the battle they are willing to fight is one that puts our democracy small D under pressure.
And so, this is another example of I think a Republican Party that is grappling with an electoral disadvantage in some of these places and it's going to be a big question going forward to see if they decide to play on an equal playing field or if they decide to just change the rules of the game.
TAPPER: Now, in California, there is such a thing as vote harvesting which is allowed as opposed to in North Carolina when you're not allowed to go and collect absentee ballots but in California, you're allowed to. And we heard even speaker Ryan call into question the fact that so many of these elections that were decided after the election because of these votes coming in afterwards. Speaker Ryan questioned and said pejorative things about them but I haven't heard any Republicans talk about, well, we need to figure out what happened here and make sure that it didn't happen again if people are saying that their votes were basically stolen from them.
[16:50:07] BUMP: Yes, it's a baffling sigh. I don't understand honestly why that would happen. But you raise -- your point about California is particularly well taken because that is also a state in which the President of the United State alleged that millions of people had committed fraudulent voting. I mean, we see here in North Carolina several hundred people perhaps were affected by what happened with this electoral fraud and very quickly came to light. There are people who are involved came too light, and the people who are on the payroll came to light. They've already been interviewed and talked to the press.
This was absolutely belies Donald Trump's assertions that there's wide-scale in-person voting fraud. You cannot possibly have had that go unnoticed even in California where it takes forever to vote because of how they try and get everyone to vote. You know it's speaking the features not bugs. But this exact situation demonstrates how full of nonsense those wide-scale fraud accusations actually are.
TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. The White House and glass houses, a member of the Trump family blasting the behavior of Kellyanne Conway's husband. Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: And this just in. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, just released a letter from the attorney for Roger Stone, the Trump associate, stating that Stone will not cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee and will not produce documents. He's invoking the Fifth Amendment, his Fifth Amendment right against self-recrimination.
We should point out, Feinstein as a member of the minority does not have subpoena power herself. Let's just get a quick reaction from people here. Not a surprise, I guess, that Roger Stone would flaunt this?
HOOVER: And also like the consequences of not cooperating with a Senate committee is not really that significant, right? So you're held in contempt of Congress. Roger Stone shrugs his shoulders and says so what. I mean, the problem is when you have federal investigators like Robert Mueller trying to understand what was happening, and then you don't have so much choice.
AVLON: Yes, well, the problem is that Grassley is probably not going to use his powers and then cue the montage of Donald Trump talking about when people take the fifth. It's not something designed to inspire confidence, because it doesn't. Mueller is the bigger probe but it's not a good fact pattern for the --
TAPPER: And this comes right after President Trump praised Roger Stone for not cooperating or in President Trump's calculation for not lying as Mueller wants him to do.
HERNDON: Right. Intentionally or unintentionally, the President has created the seeming environment where loyalty is prized. And so, this seems to Roger Stone following that playbook, but he's got bigger fish to fry, namely the Special Counsel.
BUMP: And you know, we've seen this pattern, as well. As I have said 19 times on the show, but we've seen this pattern before. Michael Flynn did the same thing, said I'm not going to turn over any documents to Congress and I can do any of it. Robert Mueller knocked on his door, he's been cooperating for a year.
TAPPER: All right, one other big issue in the news. President Trump's son Eric took to Twitter to blast George Conway, the noted conservative attorney and husband of presidential counselor, Kellyanne Conway. Eric Trump writing, of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect George Conway shows towards his wife, her career, place of work, and everything she has fought so hard to achieve, might top them all. Kellyanne is a great person and frankly his actions are horrible. Eric Trump's comments coming after Conway, who is a frequent Trump critic, tweeted a reference to a federal statute about witness tampering -- we have talked about it on the show today -- after the President praised Roger Stone for not cooperating with the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.
Margaret, smart for Eric Trump to weigh in on this? What do you think?
HOOVER: I mean, this is a little bit of palace intrigue I think but it seems -- it feels to me, just as an outsider looking in like Eric Trump is defending Kellyanne Conway, right? Like, somehow in terms of how the dynamics are playing out, you know, he's trying to get his dad's attention ask say, look, she's not her husband, right? Because that is the bottom line here is that he reflects badly on her to the president. So it feels to me like it's Eric Trump trying to defend Kellyanne.
TAPPER: Now, Philip, George Conway retweeted responses to Eric Trump's tweeting, including one from Reza Aslan, the writer who said, "wait, did I miss something? Did George Conway pay money to have sex with a porn star right after his wife gave birth?" As well as another from Ian Bassin, the Associate White House Counsel in the Obama Administration who repeated kind of the contours of the language Eric Trump used and wrote, "of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect that Trump showed toward the rule of law, the presidency, and its place of work and everything in this nation has fought so hard to achieve, might top them all." So some passive aggressive retweets there.
BUMP: Yes. I mean, it's -- Eric Trump sort of stepped into a mine field here. You know, it's what you called getting owned on Twitter, which most of us are familiar with and certainly what happened here. I think Eric Trump's tweet -- the amazing thing about it is maybe the problem isn't the husband calling out the inaccuracies and bad actions of the presidency. Maybe the problem is the inaccuracies and the bad actions of the presidency. Maybe that's what the actual issue is but --
TAPPER: But I mean -- and that -- and that truly is what George Conway has been. From George Conway's point of view -- and I know Kellyanne Conway thinks it's disrespectful and rude to her, from George Conway's point of view, I believe, he was standing up for what he thinks is right, even though look, this guy worked for Ken Starr, he is a conservative attorney, he even interviewed and talked to Trump about being solicitor general.
HERNDON: Right. And the thing here is, if anyone has a problem with George Conway's tweets, the only person who should be dealing with that is his wife. And Eric Trump's kind of stepping in here is just another example of this White House kind of creating public feuds that are more kind of -- that are more indicative of a reality show than what we usually see from the White House and the political actors surrounding it.
TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all for being here. We appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. I will be on Seth Meyers tonight. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.