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CNN Poll: Biden & Sanders Lead Democratic Field in Iowa; Buttigieg: Pence is "Cheerleader of the Porn-Star Presidency; Poll: Trump Maintains Strong Approval with Republicans; Stormy Daniels' Former Attorney Speaks Out; Hypocrisy Alert: Trump's GOP Allies Hated Bill Clinton's Lies; Fierce Battle for Last ISIS Stronghold in Syria; FOX News Rebukes Jeanine Pirro's Comments about Omar's Hijab; Tucker Carlson Refuses to Apologize for Offensive Remarks. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: At this point, we should point out it is a very early, early period. Early polls don't matter much except for name I.D. It is one thing Joe Biden is looking at. He is likely to jump in, I am told by some people close to him, probably in early April. Of course, that's a decision that he alone can make.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: No matter how early it is, and you can add more earlier to your statement, he has to be looking at something. This is one of the things he's looking at.

So, Ron, when it comes to age, this is one of the things you're narrowing in on, and why this poll looks better for Biden than Sanders.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. One of the things that I -- there's so much focus on young people, understandably, as they become a bigger part of the Democratic coalition. In 2016, voters over 45 were 60 percent of all the voters in the Democratic primaries if you look at the analysis of all the exit polls that were done. In Iowa, it was even higher, close to 65 percent. And Sanders really did have kind of a cliff in his support last time. He did very well among people 18 to 30. He was very competitive up to 45. After 45, his numbers really dropped particularly among nonwhite voters.

The other point about Biden, who was strongest with older voters, is that he probably has less competition in that pool than Sanders may have for younger voters. If Beto O'Rourke gets in, he will be a very formidable competitor for young people. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris could be formidable competitors with young people, especially the large numbers of young people who aren't white voters. So Biden may not only have a bigger pool, he may have less competition for that pool in terms of others who are naturally situated to take away the party.

BOLDUAN: That is an interesting way of putting it, Ron. I hadn't thought about it. Another Democratic candidate who can be vying for the younger voters

would be one of the youngest candidates who is down in South by Southwest where you have been, Jeff. Three CNN town halls last night. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is getting a lot of attention this morning, in part, for his take down of Vice President Mike Pence in part of the town hall. Let me play this for everybody.


PETER BUTTIGIEG, (D), MAYOR OF SOUTHBEND & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn-star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don't know.. I don't know.



BOLDUAN: I think he has an opinion on that.

Remember, Buttigieg served with Pence when Pence was governor of Indiana.

And, Jeff, when I sat down with Pete Buttigieg in South Bend, he took it further when it came to Mike Pence. He writes about it a lot in his book. He called Pence a fanatic politically. What do you think last night meant for his chances, for someone like him who, when you talk about name I.D., he doesn't have it?

ZELENY: I think it is a big introduction point. I have been watching Mayor Buttigieg. He has been traveling around to those early states a lot, giving a lot of interviews. He is talking about his age as a virtue, as an asset. He is 37 years old, the youngest person in the race. He says it is a moment for generational change. He believes older voters will also be drawn to that, parents and grandparents of younger voters. But we'll see about that.

But last night, here in Austin, I think the most significant thing he did was show that, yes, he can stand up to the president, at least rhetorically, and the vice president.

He also is able to point out his military service. That is a string we are seeing in several of these younger candidates. He served in Afghanistan. We are seeing that from several of these 30-something, 40-something candidates. Tulsi Gabbard also on the stage here last evening.

I think that he introduced himself and it starts there. He is going to have to do a lot more of that to break into these early state polls. Last night, I think, without a doubt, he showed that he should be on the stage.

BOLDUAN: Ron, also interesting messages in this polling when it comes to the president. You have overwhelming support among Republicans in Iowa. Still, 40 percent say they would like to see a primary. BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, 47 percent of Iowa Republicans with a college

degree or more said they would like to see a challenger. And that is comparable to what we saw in the most recent University of New Hampshire poll where less than half of New Hampshire Republicans with a college degree said they were certain to vote for Donald Trump. There's an audience. It's tough to cobble together the numbers, given how strong Trump is with the blue-collar side, to imagine a challenger beating him. Could a challenger show the party that there's a genuine white-collar problem, reinforcing the message of the 2018 congressional election from Republicans in suburban districts around the country? You would have to say from these early polls that kind of opening is there.

By the way, really quick, on the Democratic side, you can have the most candidates since 1976 so no one will consolidate any lane. The one thing to keep in mind is, after Iowa and New Hampshire, which are both about 90 percent white, the diversity of the Democratic Party over the next month comes out in force, from South Carolina to Nevada to Texas, California, Florida and the south.


[11:35:12] BROWNSTEIN: With California moving up, it underscores how the diverse parts of the party will be so powerful from mid-February to mid-March. No one who can't compete for those diverse voters is going to be viable by the middle of March. That, I think, is the big challenge for Sanders, to show he can go further than he did last time in appealing to African-American and Hispanic voters.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Good to see you guys. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, the former attorney for Stormy Daniels revealing new details about the hush money payments during the 2016 elections. It's really the first time he is speaking out. Was it personal in the payments or was it politics, as obviously many have suggested? And you want to hear about what he has to say about Michael Cohen.

Be right back.


[11:40:29] BOLDUAN: He helped negotiate the hush money deals between President Trump, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Now attorney, Keith Davidson, is having his say, talking about what really happened with those 2016 payments. Davidson tells ABC why then-Candidate Trump and his attorney, Michael Cohen, decided it was time to finally seal the deal for their silence. Listen.


KEITH DAVIDSON, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The "Access Hollywood" tape was the motivating factor in this case actually resolving. It defeats the argument that this was done for purely personal reasons. And that this was, in fact, done for political reasons because after the "Access Hollywood" tape that something like this could be the straw that broke the camel's back.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Kara Scannell joining me now. She's taking a look at this.

Kara, what else is Keith Davidson saying?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In this interview with ABC, Davidson goes on to explain it in more detail. He says Michael Cohen had missed the deadline to make the $130,000 payment to seal the deal with Stormy Daniels for her hush money deal. And then after the "Access Hollywood" tape ran, it was after that that Michael Cohen did make the payment, effectively cementing the deal for her silence. That is what Davidson says makes him very certain this was done for political reasons and not personal reasons. He said he only dealt with Michael Cohen so he doesn't know what role the president played in the deal discussions -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Davidson also talking about Michael Cohen and kind of what Michael Cohen has confided in him and also talking about working or not working at the White House. What did he say there?

SCANNELL: He tells ABC that Michael Cohen felt rejected and embarrassed when he wasn't given a deal in the White House after President Trump was inaugurated. Davidson describes to ABC how Michael Cohen confided in him on his feelings. Let's take a listen.


DAVIDSON: He confided in me that he was just beside himself. And in his words, he said, "Can you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) believe it? I just can't (EXPLETED DELETED) believe it. Can you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) believe, after everything I have done, he is not taking me to Washington?" He felt that was a personal embarrassment for him. He was rejected.


SCANNELL: And, Kate, so this now, of course, is in contrast to Michael Cohen's testimony under oath last month before Congress when he said that he got the job that he wanted. He did not want to go to Washington. He just wanted to be Donald Trump's personal attorney -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: He said that over and over again in that same line of questioning and testimony before Congress.

Kara, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

When it comes to investigations of the president of the United States, I think everyone can agree, in theory, that partisan politics should be set aside. That certainly was not the message from congressional Republicans when a Democratic president was under investigation.

With the Mueller report coming any day now, is past prologue?

CNN's senior political analyst, John Avlon, is joining me more with a little reality check.

So what did your trip down memory lane tell you, John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We decided to go back to the video tape deep in the CNN archives. It showed just a little bit of hypocrisy, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Shocking.

AVLON: Shocking.

So let me get this to you. There's an old saying in American politics that a Democratic crook is just as bad as a Republican crook. The point is we should hold people to the same standard regardless of political party. A good, sound principle. Today, it seems almost impossibly quaint.

During Michael Cohen's testimony, we saw Republicans attack the witness rather than ask questions about serious allegations against the president. We saw Senator Mike Rounds essentially dismiss the hush money payments to porn star, Stormy Daniels, saying the president lied because he, quote, "loves his family."

The standard we're in danger of seeing is that lies and obstruction of justice don't seem to matter to Republicans when it is about a president from their party.

And we know the situation because, 20 years ago, some of the same Senators were singing a very different tune.

Here is Senator Mitch McConnell talking to CNN in 1999 about impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATOR MAJORITY LEADER: The problem is lying under oath and obstructing justice.


MCCONNELL: The subject -- the subject matter is not what is significant here. It is lying under oath and obstructing justice.


AVLON: For the record, McConnell voted to find Clinton guilty for both counts, lying and obstruction of justice.

What about Senator Lindsey Graham, one of President Trump's staunchest defenders? When President Clinton was on trial, he offered a very low bar for impeachment. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The point I'm trying to make is you don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic.

Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office.


[11:45:09] AVLON: That's right, cleansing the office.

What about Senator Chuck Grassley? Here is what he told CNN in 1999 during the impeachment trial, quote, "We are miraculously transformed from politicians to people who leave their Democrat and Republican labels at the door. We are there to seek the truth, to find out whether the president is guilty or not guilty. And no stone should be left unturned to make that determination."

Today, the search for the truth seems secondary for most Senate Republicans. When it was all over, in 1999, a handful of House Democrats voted against President Clinton and dozens of Republicans sided with Democrats crossing party lines. There were still some politicians who put their principles ahead of party loyalty. There's previous little evidence of that now.

For what it's worth, one of the first Senate Democrats to publicly condemn Clinton's behavior was Joe Lieberman, who was part of the Democratic ticket in 2000.

Hypocrisy used to be the unforgivable sin in American politics. That seems to be one more casualty of Donald Trump's presidency. We have the evidence of the double standard and the complete surrender to situational ethics. This is the hallmark of partisanship. That is your reality check.

BOLDUAN: It's a reality check. And I would argue, John, the hypocrisy not being like the death nail of the career. That started before Donald Trump. That's just the way it is.

AVLON: He is a symptom of the larger problem, not the cause. I think his example has legitimated that play and made people feel they can be Teflon when it comes to the truth.

BOLDUAN: I always wonder when it comes to 2020 if breaking the rules and breaking the mold only applies to Donald Trump or if it applies to everyone else or if everyone else running still has to live by the other standards, whatever those standards are.

AVLON: We shall see. Stay tuned, as they say.

BOLDUAN: John, great to see you.

AVLON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, a CNN exclusive, inside the fierce fight for what could be the last ISIS stronghold in Syria. CNN is the only Western network on ground. We'll take you there, live, next.


[11:50:56] BOLDUAN: In Syria, U.S.-backed forces say they're making the final assault on ISIS' last stronghold.

CNN is on frontlines to witness the escalated fighting in eastern Syria. Senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining me now from the ground.

Ben, what have you been seeing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the operation began 24 hours ago, and certainly, for the first few hours, we saw intense airstrikes as well as artillery, mortar and machine guns being fired into this small encampment, which is all that's left of the so-called Islamic State. Throughout the day, however, it was a different picture. There were occasional airstrikes, occasional artillery rounds going in, but by and large, it's been relatively quiet. Now, we did have several hours where we had the peculiar sight of seeing men on motorcycles and in a truck milling around inside the encampment behind me despite the fact there were airplanes overhead, there were drones in the sky. But nonetheless, for a few hours, they seemed to have complete freedom of movement in there despite the fact that there's an active operation going on.

What we've seen so far, given that this is the third attempt to completely wipe out ISIS control in this part of Syria, is that every time they've had to halt the operation to allow civilians and fighters, in fact, to go out. The original estimate was there were only 1,500 civilians inside, maybe 500 fighters. It turned out there were more than 30,000 civilians, women and children, inside, and many, many fighters as well. So we may be in for another pause to let more women and children and fighters out perhaps.

So this may be another attempt at a final assault, but it might not actually be the final assault -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you so much for being there, bringing information from the frontline. Ben Wedeman, on the ground in eastern Syria for us. Good to see you.

Coming up for us, backlash and a rare rebuke at FOX News after a host there questions about whether the religion of a member of Congress puts her at odds with the Constitution. More on that next.


[11:57:00] BOLDUAN: FOX News is condemning one of its own anchors, Jeanine Pirro, after comments made during her show Saturday night. Pirro questioned Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's allegiances because Omar wears a head covering. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX HOST, JUSTICE WITH JUDGE JEANINE: Think about it. Omar wears a hijab, which according to Koran, 33, number 59, tells women to cover so they won't get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia Law, which is itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?


BOLDUAN: After that, FOX News spoke out, rebuking her, condemning her words.

Joining me right now is chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Jeanine Pirro is saying outward things, that is not new. FOX News speaking out and condemning very clearly what she said, that is new.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Yes. Even though she wrote this, it was put in the teleprompter, producers must have seen it ahead of time, FOX News did take a stand against her. She's not apologizing but the network is trying to distance itself from her by saying they strongly condemn what she said on the air, saying that it doesn't reflect the views of the network. And they say it's been addressed with her. I don't know how it was addressed but it's been discussed with her. Maybe next week, she'll say something on the air about this. But FOX News has gone back time and time again with the idea of fear of Muslims, fear of minorities. It's part of their business model. Not on the run-of- the-mill talk shows, but certainly on the pro-Trump talk shows like Jeanine Pirro's.

BOLDUAN: But again, networks make choices all the time, right. You make a choice to give someone real estate an hour or more on TV every week. If it doesn't go beyond -- I mean, the statement, has been dealt with directly but it doesn't go beyond that one statement. What does it mean?

STELTER: I think it means they want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to have her on the air spewing this venom all the time, but they also want to keep just enough distance so advertisers don't get uncomfortable. That's probably the overarching issue here. FOX had to apologize to advertisers this week and yet they're embroiled in two controversies and that's an issue.

BOLDUAN: I guess you tell me if you feel differently when it comes to another host, Tucker Carlson.


BOLDUAN: He's under fire for comments he made on a radio show about a decade ago.

STELTER: Right, there's a --


BOLDUAN: It's a different situation. Why do you think it's related?

STELTER: Misogynist comments made by Tucker Carlson on the radio, anti- women comments, really offensive remarks, making fun of women's looks, et cetera. All of this bubbled up doing an anti-FOX with "Media Matters" yesterday. Tucker not apologizing. That's what in some ways makes him similar to Pirro. Neither host is apologizing for the offensive things they've said. And in some ways, that's a problem for FOX in both cases. FOX wants to draw advertisers, it wants to keep running a profitable business, it's trying to promote its news brand. After all, we had a debate last week on whether Democrats should debate on FOX.


STELTER: FOX is trying to promote its news brand, yet these right- wing opinions hosts keep showing the networks face, a really ugly side of the network's face. This is something that comes up time and time again with FOX.

BOLDUAN: I'm very interested to see the next step, if there's a next step when it comes to Jeanine Pirro.


BOLDUAN: It's one thing to say -- to give context to what you said --


BOLDUAN: -- but an apology could be needed in that regard.