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Trump Maintains Strong Approval; Biden and Sanders in Polls; Schiff Wants Trump to Testify; Manafort's Second Sentencing; Assault on Last ISIS Stronghold; Fox News Rebukes Pirro. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] DAVID URBAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP 2016 CAMPAIGN: And look, it's Iowa. You know, folks in Iowa are used to seeing, you know, their candidates nine, ten times in their local diners. They are very intimately involved in this process.

But as you said, look, the numbers -- the numbers are huge. The president's numbers have ticked up 5 percent since December in this poll from 77 percent to 82 percent favorability. That -- that's unbelievable. And it -- and also in this poll, which I was, you know, not too surprised to see, over 60 percent of these folks agree with the president's emergency declaration for the wall. So these are pretty strong Trump supporters in Iowa.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: They are. And to your point, David, Harry and I looked because I was curious what percentage of Democrats supported a challenger to Obama in the run-up to 2012. And I think we have those numbers on the screen but are similar figures, 45 percent. This is a Marist poll back in 2010. So a little further in advance of the 2012 election. But, still, is this something Harry Enten that you see fairly common even with relatively popular incumbent presidents among their own party?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, I mean you mentioned the Barack Obama numbers go back to 1995. You see similar numbers with Bill Clinton. In fact, many more actually wanted a challenger nationwide. I think it was 66 percent.

Look, we all like choices, you know, right? I like Popeye's. I also like the idea that maybe there will be a KFC down the line. But at the end of the day, I'm still going to choose Popeye's. I just like the choice to be there.

SCIUTTO: David, in case you don't know, David --

URBAN: Right, and --

SCIUTTO: Harry always relates it back to fried chicken because he is a connoisseur of the Popeye's, just so you know.

URBAN: Well, listen, also interestingly in this poll, if you look at -- if you look at the numbers, look -- I was going to say, interestingly, if you look at the numbers here, amongst those -- the Republican voters, only a slim 11 percent said they might vote for a Democrat. There would be somebody in the Democratic field that they would vote for.

You know, so 82 percent, 83 percent, I believe, said they would not support any of the Democrats. And Howard Schultz barely registers.


URBAN: So it seems like, you know, the president would be cruising to re-election amongst Iowa voters.

SCIUTTO: No, it's -- it is a -- well, at least in the primary, I mean it's a very polarized electorate. We know that, no question.

So, Harry, let's talk about the Democrats. Also in this Iowa poll, likely Democratic caucus-goers, they found Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders by far really at the top of the list. I think we have those numbers as well, 27 percent, 25 percent respectively. The other candidates, you know, Elizabeth Warren, Harris, they're down in the single digits.

Is this an enduring advantage for Biden and Sanders in your view?

ENTEN: I'm suspect that it's enduring in so far if you line up the name recognition, the people who can form an opinion of these different candidates, and then you look at the horse race numbers, you see a very clear correlation, right? Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, 96 percent of Democrats can say they can form an opinion of these candidates. No one else is really close.

Of course I will point out that we saw with President Trump, when he was running in 2015, a lot of people said, oh, those early numbers, that's just name recognition. He was able to hold on to that lead. But I think it's still very, very early. Going back since 1980, only six of 14 times has the leader at this point actually won the caucuses out there. So, a lot of time they don't (ph).

SCIUTTO: See, Harry's always -- he's always got a number. He's always go a number.

URBAN: And just look --

SCIUTTO: David, go ahead.

URBAN: I was going to say, and just looking at those Democratic numbers, Jim, what I thought is interesting is the movement, right? So -- so, you know, Biden and Sanders are kind of stuck in that number where you see big movement among some of the folks. Kamala Harris' numbers moved dramatically up in the favorable. That's what I think you'd like to see if you're a Democrat running. And also, remember, Iowa voters tend to be much older, so they're going to skew towards less progressive candidates. I mean that doesn't explain why Sanders -- I think name I.D.'s pretty high. But among some of the progressives, they're doing quite well in Iowa.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can, Harry, because you have even some Democrats, particularly moderate Democrats, expressing concern about at least in public statements a move to the left for the party. Is there evidence in this polling as to where Democratic voters -- what kind of candidate they want in 2020? Do they want one more left of center or someone more moderate?

ENTEN: I mean it's very interesting because you see that there are a lot of Democrats who want a Medicare for all package. That to them is important. But, at the same time, Bernie Sanders, who's obviously the furthest left of any of the Democrats, 44 percent of likely Iowa caucus Democratic-goers say he is too liberal. And so I think there's -- you want to be further to the left than the average Democrat in past campaigns but you don't want to be too far out to the left.

SCIUTTO: All right, Harry Enten, David Urban, thanks very much to both of you.

ENTEN: Thank you.

URBAN: No, we want them -- we want then far to the left. We want them far to the left, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It would help feed the socialist line, which we're hearing more and more from this president, no question.

Thanks to both of you.

A top Democrat in the House says it was a mistake to allow President Trump to answer only written questions from the special counsel. Next, is there a chance that the president could still be subpoenaed? Is that a closed question? We'll discuss.


[09:39:09] SCIUTTO: As we wait for news that Robert Mueller has wrapped up his Russia investigation -- yes, we're still waiting -- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says that he still wants to hear President Trump testify under oath. So far the president has only submitted written answers to written questions from the special counsel. A take-home test, as it were.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, I think it is a mistake. And I've said all along that I don't think Bob Mueller should rely on written answers.

I think the constraint that Bob Mueller is operating under is, he had an acting attorney general who was appointed because he would be hostile to a subpoena on the president and now he has a permanent attorney general who was chosen for the same hostility to his investigation who would likely oppose that step.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Laura Coats.

Laura, great to have you on.

I mean, is it a closed question here? I mean is there still a possibility that the president could be subpoenaed to give in-person testimony as opposed to written testimony?

[09:40:08] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly not a closed question. And Adam Schiff is correct. The idea that giving somebody a chance to have a take-home exam in the form of written answers doesn't really give you the transparency you'd like. They're normally highly vetted answers. You don't have a chance to actually do any follow-up questions if the line of inquiry will go that direction.

When it comes to the president in particular, the Supreme Court has actually never had to rule specifically on whether or not the president of the United States could ultimately be compelled to testify because most presidents have given up this inquiry. The question is not whether you can subpoena. That's pretty clear you can subpoena. But the question is whether or not he could actually refuse to comply with it.

And if he were to try to refuse to comply with the subpoena, he'd have to have a very good reason, either under the Nixon administration sort of case that he really had a privilege-based reason why he couldn't speak under oath or in open -- in an open, public hearing or even in private. And under the Clinton era, it's idea -- the Supreme Court said, well, look, listen, you have to be able to come to the judicial process, particularly if you are the head of the executive branch whose job it is to enforce the law. It's an open question, but it's going to be a long court battle to get there.

SCIUTTO: Have you -- and, again, special counsel knows a lot more than us about the president's answers and what he knows that either corroborates the president's answers or may contradict the president's answers. Based on what we know, though, in public, have you seen anything that -- any evidence that the president has given inaccurate answers in those written answers to the special counsel's questions?

COATES: Well, certainly we've seen over the course of his administration he has given many inconsistent statements. And then we have the actual written answers which talk about things like, for example, the campaign finance issue, the idea of Michael Cohen, his relationship and his role to the actual payment of different things. You've seen inconsistencies going forward.

The question will be whether or not you're able to actually compare the under oath statements by saying Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort or maybe Michael Flynn if he's already testified before the grand jury or a number of other people that have been very key in his actual campaign or as a surrogate, and then compare his written answers to that. The problem is, it will be not a very fruitful comparison, for the very reason that people testify under oath had follow-up questions, Jim. They were able to have different lines of inquiry, meander difference directions, find out what they didn't know. Here, the president's statements have been explicitly confined to a short line of inquiry that had very little to do with perhaps things that happened after he was inaugurated. Remember, Mueller's inquiry had to do with the campaign. A lot of the statements being made about people, including Michael Cohen under oath that we've seen about a week and a half ago, were things that happened even after he was inaugurated.


COATES: So the comparison will fall short.

SCIUTTO: Final question. Paul Manafort. Of course there's the sentencing last week which surprised a lot of people, 47 months when the sentencing guidelines for those crimes close to five times, four or five times that. You have the other case, the other sentencing this week in D.C. court, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who's been very different in her approach to this case, often more critical of him and his defense team. Do you expect a stiffer sentence from her?

COATES: I do. And here's why. Unlike a trial where the person is able to at all times maintain their innocence, you can do so until you're blue in the face. It's your right as an American to be able to do so. But once you've actually pled guilty, meaning there was no trial or a jury of your peers and had to conclude your guilt, you have admitted it wholeheartedly, you've said, I have done these things, the judge normally has a different approach to it because you're not maintaining your innocence any longer. You've admitted to the proper effects. You would expect when somebody has already pled guilty for a judge to look at it. On the one hand, say, well, you have saved the government resources and the community time and energy. But on the other hand, you have said, in no uncertain terms, I did these crimes.

Also the fact that this last judge, Judge Ellis, has gotten a lot of backlash. It may influence the new judge not to try to one up or try to be on the same page but to acknowledge that, look, this judge has the power to have a concurrent or a consecutive. This is a separate crime in Washington, D.C. She has every right to have it be maybe even the same four-year period, maybe more, but it can run on top of the other sentence.

SCIUTTO: OK. And that could --

COATES: That in and of itself would be more harsh.

SCIUTTO: That could more than double his term.

Laura Coates, thanks very much.

Fierce fighting is underway right now as we speak as U.S.-backed forces launch an attack on ISIS' last stronghold in Syria. A CNN team is on the ground very close to the fighting. You're going to get a remarkable look at the combat there.

[09:44:51] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a sniper in an ISIS building just 200 meters from where we are. So if we were to go around this corner here, we'd be exposed to that sniper.



SCIUTTO: Well, if you thought the fighting was over against ISIS in Syria, it is not. Right now, as we speak, U.S.-backed forces making their third attempt to drive ISIS out of its final stronghold in Syria. Gunfire, air strikes, explosions erupting in eastern Syria, this after years of intense fighting. ISIS territory, once the size of Indiana, has been reduced to a single village. That single village you're seeing there.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman, and he's part of a team there, producer Karem Kadar (ph), cameraman Scott McWhinny (ph) and team member Adam Daby (ph) on the ground in eastern Syria.

[09:50:11] Ben, you've been covering this conflict for a long time. Tell us about the intensity of what appears to be the final battle, at least of the war on the ground in Syria against ISIS.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Jim, certainly last night it was extremely intense with air strikes, mortaring and artillery barrages, as well as heavy machinegun fire pouring into that. That's not even a village behind me. That's just a collection of wrecked cars and tents in the background.

And, today, however, there have been occasional air strikes, occasional ingoing mortar rounds and artillery. But really it's really quite quiet for the most part. And we've been able to see in the distance men darting between tents and cars and also an ISIS flag, the black banner still blowing in the wind in there. It's not clear how long this operation is going to take.

As you mentioned, it's the third one. The first two had to be paused because of the presence of civilians. And the presence of civilians has really been the most complicating factor in this operation because initially the Syrian democratic forces estimated that there were perhaps 1,500 civilians. It turned out to be more than 30,000.

Now, we understand that since the operation began last night at 6:00 p.m. local time, no civilians have come out. In the preceding 48 hours, just a few dozen. So perhaps there are fewer, almost no civilians left inside. And this operation will proceed.


SCIUTTO: The concern, of course, is that even as ISIS loses its territory, that many of those fighters will sort of run to the hills, as it were, and keep fighting its insurgence. Is that what forces on the ground tell you?

WEDEMAN: Unanimously. Whether you speak to just ordinary soldiers or their commanders, there's no one here laboring under the impression that somehow the end of this battle is the end of ISIS. It's the end of ISIS as a territorial entity. But what we've seen is in the 38 days we've been here, there have been frequent attacks by groups that ISIS claims responsibility for, suicide car bombings, roadside ambushes and whatnot. And then there's the question of all these ISIS fighters who have surrendered. And will they be kept in incarceration for eternity or will they eventually set -- be set free to go back to their old ways? So ISIS began as a terrorist insurgency and is well on its way. In fact, it already has become once more a terrorist insurgency. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, Ben, you and your team are taking extraordinary risks there. Please be safe. We appreciate you being on the ground for us.

Ben Wedeman there live in Syria right at the front lines.

One of President Trump's favorite Fox News hosts under fire, very publically so. What she said that has Fox making a rare condemnation of one of its own.


[09:57:44] SCIUTTO: Fox News is rebuking one of its own today. The network condemning comments made by Jeanine Pirro, a favorite host of President Trump's. Over the weekend Pirro questioned whether Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's Muslim faith ran counter to the U.S. Constitution. Have a listen.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOSE: Think about it. Omar wears a hijab, which according to the Koran 33:59 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 in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?


SCIUTTO: Quite a charge to make to millions of viewers.

Let's discuss now with Brian Stelter. He is CNN chief media correspondent here.

You've heard explosive comments before. This one really beyond the pale.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's why the network I think had to address this, even though it took more than 24 hours for the network to condemn Pirro. Keep in mind, what she said was written. It was scripted ahead of time. It was put in the teleprompter. So this was not just about Pirro, it was about the network letting this on the air and supporting her. But now they are denouncing her. That's partly because staffers inside the network spoke out.

Here's a tweet I want you to read from Hufsa Kamal, she's a producer on Bret Baier's show. She said to Jeanine Pirro yesterday, can you stop spreading this false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America or that women who wear a hijab aren't American enough? You have Muslims working at the same network you do, including myself. That a message from a producer on Bret Baier's show.

Fox's statement late last night said, we strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro's comments about the congresswoman. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly. The reality, though, is Fox has pushed this kind of narrative for many

years, questioning whether Muslims are American enough. This is just the latest in in a strong of those comments.

SCIUTTO: And a message that sometimes has been repeated by this president.

Tucker Carlson made his own category of really just disgusting comments. Just very briefly, tell us what he said.

[09:59:47] STELTER: Yes, Media Matters, an anti-Fox group, published a long list of these comments that were made on radio over the years. Fox is holding a big advertiser event this week promoting its news brand and yet you have Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson both engulfed in controversies, both trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. And as you said, these are the kinds of comments that the president has sometimes made. You know, we're back again talking about the Trump/Fox alliance.