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VA Gov. Northam Ignoring Demands To Resign As Lieutenant Governor; Fairfax Denies Sex Assault Claims; O'Rourke Set For Interview With Oprah Today; Stacey Abrams To Give Democratic Response Tonight. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:38:21] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Virginia is mired in a dramatic leadership crisis. The Democratic Governor Ralph Northam continues to ignore demands from his own party top leaders to resign. They want him to resign because of racist images of his medical school yearbook and Northam's admission he once wore blackface to mimic Michael Jackson.

And now the Lieutenant Governor, inline to step up if Northam quit, faces a sexual assault allegation. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax calls the allegation a politically motivated smear and says his conduct with the woman, this is 15 years ago, is consensual.

Meanwhile CNN has learned that the accuser has hired the same law firm who represented Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

The Northam controversy was deep enough and now this. What is the way out in Virginia?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's very unclear. I think, this is a mess, a complete mess from top to bottom. I think Northam is really on his last rope here. It does not seem that he has much support anywhere. But the problems with Justin Fairfax are really complicated for Democrats.

I think many of them don't know what to make of it because the reports that we have so far are fairly limited in nature. I suspect that now that this accuser has hired some attorneys, we might be hearing more from her. But this could go from bad to worst, not just for Northam but also for Fairfax in a short amount of time. And the politics of it for Dems are continued to be complicated also because you're already hearing Republicans being like where was the hesitance to, you know, to give the accused the benefit of the doubt when Brett Kavanaugh was in the hot seat.

So, I think it's going to -- it's messy for them. And -- but even still, many more Democrats want Northam to step aside so that Fairfax can step forward, or someone else can step forward, because Northam's explanations are really terrible. I mean, two instances of blackface is too too many. [12:35:12] KING: Right, but Northam has made the situation worse. The question is does he now see his lieutenant governor in trouble and think that somehow gives him opportunity to run the clock or something to hold on? You said if. If we had a governor resign, a lieutenant governor unable to step up, it would be the Democratic Attorney General next in line in the State of Virginia. As we play that out, let's be fair to the Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax.

Again, the accuser has not spoken publicly. She has hired this law firm so we'll see if we get a statement from them or anything playing down the road. The Lieutenant Governor we confronted with this yesterday said it's not true, but he also complicated things a little.


LT. GOV. JUSTIN FAIRFAX (D), VIRGINIA: Does anybody think it's any coincidence that on the eve potentially my being elevated that's when this uncorroborated smear comes out? Does anybody believe that's a coincidence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Do you think Governor Northam is behind this allegation coming out now?

FAIRFAX: No, I have no indication of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: You seemed to suggest that earlier.

FAIRFAX: I did not suggest that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: What about the Mayor Stoney?

FAIRFAX: Here's the thing. I will tell you what. You all, you're great reporters. And you'll get to digging and you'll make some connections and as I said earlier, facts matter.


KING: There was some grumbling in the State of Virginia that he was trying to assign blame elsewhere as he raises questions about the timing, perhaps understandable. But should the standard be the accuser as her say, period?

PHILLIP: I think that's right --

KING: That was the Democratic position during the Kavanaugh hearings.

PHILLIP: That's what the standard was, that at the very least, the accuser needs to have a moment to make her claims known. And I think it would be very difficult for Democrats to say otherwise in this situation. Corroboration or no, if she wants to be heard, I think they have no choice but to let her be heard.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And the progress of this is not all that different than the Kavanaugh accusation which is that you didn't have the person publicly out there at the beginning and then eventually she came out as the identities, you know, were made known and that was -- it was a step-by-step process.

But it's also interesting that Fairfax has been pushing back so hard. That he, you know, there is also the statement that he made about, you know, the Washington Post having spoken to an accuser, which was more than a year ago at this point before he was elected that saying, yes they found, you know, severe inconsistencies and problems. It's like it didn't actually go that far as we put on the story that we wrote about the back and forth of this now.

So, it's -- I think Democrats in Virginia wanted to have an unsullied candidate to -- or put person to put out there to replace Northam because we know there's a picture with Northam and he's told us about another instance. You know, that is very hard tangible proof as there is a dispute about what the facts are in Fairfax's case.

But Fairfax's pushback is not helping him, the severity of it.

KING: And so you have the question of what happens in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but then to the point, this is Tim Kaine, wherever he was Hillary Clinton's presidential candidate. He's a former governor of Virginia. He's a United States senator. And he said pretty quickly, first he talk to Northam, they were trying to get Northam to go on his own.

Once Northam wouldn't go on his own, he joined other senior state Democratic leader saying the governor must resign much more cautious here on the question of lieutenant governor.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: With respect to the situation with the lieutenant governor, I just don't have enough information. Every person who has, you know, has a claim that they have been sexually assault whoever deserves to tell their own story in their own time and that's not yet happened. So to venture a thought or an opinion about it, until she makes a decision whether not she's going to do that, I just think that would be premature.


MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: It's interesting because when you look at kind of what's happening with these two political officials, with the governor and with the lieutenant governor, these are very personal stories for them. It is what actually happened and what is going to happen to their political futures now.

But if you take a step back away from these two individuals, this is really a proxy for so many of the issues that male politicians in America are going through, the way the Democrats have tried to position. They're dealing with these issues as differently from the way the Republican Party that deals with these issues.

The State of Virginia itself, the voting base that used to represent the average Virginia voter that transformation from red to purple now closer to blue and these two kind of issues that have happened so highlighted since Donald Trump became president. Both issues of how we treat race and the history of racism versus now, and then the Me Too issues and they're all coming to the fore in this completely unlikely setting.

Whereas Northam, I think he's looking at how vicious and fast news cycles can be and what happened with Al Franken and thinking, maybe I just hang-on a while, the cycle will break and I can try to defend myself.

But when you're a politician, unless you have a safety net, unless you have a group of loyalists, in this case there would need to be people of color as well as white politicians standing by your side saying, hang on, don't rush to judgment. Unless you have that, it's very, very difficult to buy yourself the time and space to get that reconsideration that you're looking for.

[12:40:04] KING: And you're dead right in the sense that it's an election year in Virginia. When it comes to the legislatures that were starting into the 2020 cycle see you have the local and the national dynamics. It's a fascinating complicated challenge we will stay on top of that.

Well, up next for us, special 2020 edition of our political radar.


KING: Topping our political radar today, perhaps some context and clarity soon on what's motivating the former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to consider running for president as an independent. Schultz slated to deliver a major policy address at Purdue University on Thursday.

The spokesman telling the Washington Post, Schultz wants to layout ideas and policy prescriptions for the problems he sees in front of the country. Most Democrats of course hope Schultz stays out of the White House race for the next Congressman many hope will get in is about to reemerge in appearance with Oprah Winfrey.

Beto O'Rourke among several VIPs the talk show icon will interview in Time Square today for her super sold conversations podcast. Might not hear about this right away though, the former Texas congresswoman's appearance will be take and it will air later this month. Aides telling the New York Times it's unlikely he will announce whether he's running in today's conversation.

[12:45:04] Democratic senator and presidential candidate Cory Brooker confirming today is in a relationship. He was asked on a radio show in New York to weigh in on their future.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Before I declare president, I'm dating somebody that's really special.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, RADIO HOST, POWER 105.1: Oh, so Cory Booker's got a boo? BOOKER: I have.

ANGELA YEE, RADIO HOST, POWER 105.1: You must not read the blog, Charlamagne?

CHARLAMAGNE: I know. Tell me who is the boo?

YEE: It is on the blogs.


BOOKER: Yes but that --

CHARLAMAGNE: Will she make a nice first lady, whoever she is?

YEE: Yes.

BOOKER: Yes, she would. Thank you for saying that.

YEE: Yes she would.

BOOKER: Thank you for saying that.


KING: They work on the radio. They're going to ask you those questions if you want to know exactly what those blogs are saying. Go online. Check them out yourself. Going to do that here. But, you go on the radio. You got to be ready for anything.

Beto O'Rourke sits down with Oprah. Is this just a long dance? I like to see my name in the newspaper and on TV or is he doing anything behind the scenes to be know of anything?

If you're going to run in Iowa, New Hampshire, et cetera, you better at least getting the legos (ph) ready.

PHILIP: Yes, I mean, it does seems there are people around Beto who are trying to lay the groundwork in the event that he does run. The Oprah interview, when you take a high profile stage like that, you know that the speculation is going to be there. And Oprah really is actually an important haymaker now in American politics. And she is key to such an important constituency for the Democrats, a black women but also just people in general Oprah's constituency is actually quite broad.

So yes, I mean, Beto is doing what he needs to be doing to keep the speculation going and maybe he's holding back because the field is quite crowded right now. The announcements are coming fast and furious. Getting a little space from the Kamala Harris and the Cory Bookers might not be the worst thing in the world.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: You know,, I think that's a really good point is that the field is getting very crowded and you may think that you are God's gift to the Democratic Party, but you are not going to -- nobody is going to save you a lane this year. Everybody and their brother is going to be getting in. And so the reason we've seen such a rush to get into the pool is because at some point it does become too late to build an organization in Iowa, to get the right endorsements in New Hampshire, if, this is a conventional presidential cycle and we don't know that.

It could be that, you know, ever since 2016 we live in upside down world and all bets are off. And you know, candidates -- it's always been the case that a charismatic candidate can come along and just sweep voters off their feet without any kind of structure. But you do foreclose some opportunities when you wait and wait and wait.

KING: And Iowa still gets the first caucus in an upside down world, right?

BALL: We'll see.

KING: All right. Up next, the rising Democratic targets her chance tonight to rebut the President. What it could mean for her political future.


[12:51:58] KING: It's a high-profile spotlight tonight for Georgia's Stacey Abrams delivering the official Democratic response to the President's State of the Union Address. Abrams should probably remember narrowly lost in last year's governor's race and many Democrats hope she'll run for Senate in 2020.

She promise in November not to stand on the sidelines too long but she isn't ready to be specific.


STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I intend to go back into politics, but I'm going to take the time necessary to make sure no matter who runs that they can believe that their votes will count and that their campaigns will count. And so my private citizen future is what looms ahead of me, but I will certainly reenter politics, I just haven't decided how.


KING: Well, tonight she will be the first black woman to give the Democratic response as the party counters President Trump with a message of diversity. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is gives the party's official response in Spanish and Senator Bernie Sanders who's an independent but likely Democratic presidential contender is again giving his own response.

We'll comeback to the Sander's question in a minute but for Stacey Abrams, this is a golden opportunity for any politician every year, but it also sometimes comes with a little quicksand.

BALL: Yes and historically it's almost been more of a jinx than an opportunity and you have to think if you're offered this time slot. On the one hand, how can you say no? On the other hand, what is it going to do to your future if all that anybody remembers about you is, you know, that moment with the water bottle or whatever it happens to be.

But, you know, Stacey Abrams, I spent a little bit of time with her for a profile that I wrote last year. She is the rising star in the party despite having lost that election. She's a very charismatic politician and I think the Democrats particularly after 2016 have realized that they need messengers who just have personal charisma. Who just have the ability to make people respond to them that it's not about a policy checklist. It's not about a resume like it was with Hillary Clinton, just people who make people feel good and I think that's a lot of what the fixation on Beto is driven by as well.

It's not about where is he on XYZ, it's about when people are around him, he makes them feel good and the party is dying for that right now.

TALEV: Well Molly raises a good point also both with Beto and with Stacey. Abrams -- you've got two candidates who are famous for losing. But famous for losing close enough that they could be a winner next time. So there some sort of symbolism that the Democratic Party is trying to convey in not that subtle a way, which is if you don't succeed the first time you come at it with a second crack which I think is going to be part of kind of the 2020 theme, whoever that nominee ends up being. So that's part of it.

Part of it is the changing phase the Democratic Party, they very clearly want to send a message about women and people of color and if it is a female person of color, you know, so be it. The symbolism is not nuanced at all. It's totally hits you over the head.

KING: Yes and nobody hear the humor here, you mentioned the quicksand for people in the past I call the quicksand. You said that, Joe Kennedy for the Democrats -- Congressman Joe Kennedy and a long list of advice on Twitter including misplace your Chapstick and go back and look it up in the internet.

Marco Rubio, yes had say to Stacey Abrams, hydration, it's a very good idea. Trust me on this, Marco Rubio and of course the great water about a moment.

[12:55:00] Help with the Sanders. He has done this for some time. He's an independent, he's not a Democrat. He likes to do this every year. But because of this, the moment of the Democratic Party the year of the woman, the diversity in 2018. Is it smart to do it again, or do you step back and give the -- if you're going to say hey, I'm a Democrat when you run, if you run?

BALL: It's a question of whether or not you run for president. Does the country need you personally, Bernie Sanders, or can somebody else deliver that message?

KING: OK, it's fascinating that. Thanks for joining us INSIDE POLITICS. Stay with CNN all day long including Brianna Keilar, she starts after a quick break. Have a great afternoon.