Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Reignites Attacks on the Late Senator John Mccain, Official: Black Box Data Shows Clear Similarities Between Ethiopian Airlines, Lion Air Crashes, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) New York Officially Announces Presidential Run, Frm. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) Texas on Woman VP: That Would Be My Preference, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota Says I Wasn't Born to Run. But I Am Running, Frm. Sen. Joe Biden (D) Delaware Almost Announces He's Running in Delaware Speech. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 17, 2019 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was what eventually brought his indictment and his conviction of perjury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alger Hiss, one-time high government official, will lose all civil rights after a year in prison.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Tricky Dick premieres tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

You're in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. And on this night at the same time the Midwest is grappling with historic floods and at the same time the Muslim community mourns 50 lives lost in the terror attacks in New Zealand, President Trump is Tweeting not about either of those things but about the late senator he once said wasn't a war hero.

He again took aim at John McCain, going after the late senator for among other things, McCain's decisive vote against repealing Obamacare. Trump's attacks coming on the anniversary week of McCain's release as a POW 46 years ago.

The President also firing off Tweets at slew of other targets, Saturday Night Live, Robert Mueller, even Fox News, all of this as Trump's acting Chief of Staff made the rounds on morning talk shows today to come to the President's defense after he said he didn't believe white nationalism was on the rise despite a far-right terrorist who killed 50 people at mosques in New Zealand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The President's absolutely briefed on all of the threats, both domestic and international. But I want to push back against this idea that every time something bad happens everywhere around the world, folks who don't like Donald Trump seem to blame it on Donald Trump.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: To the degree that there is an issue with white supremacists, white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigotry in this country, and there is an issue with that, why not deliver a speech condemning it?

MULVANEY: You've seen the President stand up for religious liberty, independent liberty. The President is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez is with us now at the White House. Boris, pretty remarkable that Mulvaney had to explicitly say Trump is not a white supremacist.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ana. And you can tell by Mulvaney's laugh there. He sort of shaved at the idea of having to answer this question yet again. One that has plagued President Trump since long before he came to the White House, before his remarks about Charlottesville, before his proposed Muslim ban dating all the way back to comments that he made about the Central Park Five in New York decades ago. Mulvaney obviously feels that President Trump's response to the attack in New Zealand was enough.

But critics suggest the President is sort of ignoring a rise in white supremacist activity and white supremacist violence around the world, which there is evidence indicating that it is surging throughout the globe. The President clearly doesn't feel that way. He also hasn't specifically called out Islamophobia by name even though he does spend a lot of time, as you noted, Tweeting about the cast of SNL and others with a lot of energy and vigor. Ana?

CABRERA: Boris, the family of the late senator John McCain is also reacting to President Trump's renewed assault on his name and his legacy. Tell us about it.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that's right. President Trump watched apparently an interview with Kenneth Starr on Fox News and which Starr says that that John McCain's tie to the Steele dossier and its release American media is a stain on his legacy. The President grabbed a hold of that and continued to attack McCain, suggesting that another stain on his legacy was his vote against a light repeal of Obamacare some two years ago.

Meghan McCain, John McCain's daughter, blasted the President with this stinging rebuke. She wrote, no one will ever love you the way they loved my father. I wish I had been given more Saturdays with him. Maybe spend more with yours instead of on Twitter obsessing over mine. The President re-Tweeted, somebody else's criticism of Meghan McCain, so he hasn't specifically addressed her comments himself.

Something that's notable here is the silence from prominent republicans except for Senator Lindsey Graham who was a very close friend of John McCain. I want to read you what he Tweeted here. Senator Lindsey Graham writing, quote, as to Senator John McCain and his devotion to his country, he stepped forward to risk his life for his country serving honorably under difficult circumstances and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body. Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished. Notably, no mention there of President Trump or his comments.

Don't forget, in 2015, President Trump said that John McCain was not a war hero. So that grudge, even though Senator McCain passed away seven months ago, lives on. Ana?

CABRERA: Years later. Boris Sanchez, thank you.

Joining us now is CNN Political Analyst and Senior Editor for the Atlantic, Ron Brownstein, and CNN Presidential Historian and former Director of the Nixon Public Library, Timothy Naftali.

Guys, the President has this incredible platform in Twitter to reach millions of Americans in the blink of an eye.

[19:05:05]

He could be condemning hatred, he could sending messages of unity, but instead, he's attacking a late war hero. Tim, what's the rationale here?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I'm not in the President's mind, but I feel that the President has made his decision to have a big tent philosophy and he wants his Republican Party to include folks who are moved by white nationalism.

You know, Mr. Mulvaney said that critics blame every bad thing in the world on President Trump. Well, that's not true. But in this case, the shooter in New Zealand held up President Trump, our President, as one of his heroes. That alone should have been a reason for our President to differentiate himself and to say that this man is a disgusting human being and he resents the idea that he could be a model for this --

CABRERA: Although the shooter did say, again, in this manifesto, he wasn't a fan of Trump's policy but that he did see him as a symbol of white identity.

NAFTALI: This is better. Can you imagine, we are talking about -- we have to listen to the acting Chief of Staff say that our President is not a white supremacist? This is unprecedented in our history that there could even be a concern that our President in the late 20th or early 21st century is a white supremacist. The President doesn't realize that he has moved our politics by his loose use of rhetoric into a very dangerous stage and that he has an obligation as our leader to differentiate himself from those that would perpetrate these kinds of crimes. I'm not saying that he's responsible for the violence. But I am saying that has agitated folks who are less -- put it this way, who are not stable, unstable minds by his use of rhetoric that at times dehumanizes people and makes people assume that Muslims and migrants and refugees are potential threats. That's the problem.

CABRERA: Ron, in the past, Trump has pushed this Muslim ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. He's even said, Islam hates us. And yet, here was Mulvaney's response to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MULVANEY: I hear what folks say, oh, Donald Trump said this during the campaign. Look at what we've done while we've been here? I don't think anybody can say that the President is anti-Muslim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Ron, we know -- what do you make of this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, a couple things. First, the idea that you should separate words and deeds as if words are inconsequential is absurd for all the reasons that Tim just said. I mean, the President is using rhetoric not only specifically about Muslims but about immigrants, in general, invasion, invaders, that is similar, reinforcing, echoing, amplifying what these extreme groups are doing.

And, secondly, the agenda itself does not support his characterization. I mean, we have not previously had a President that sought to ban immigration from majority Muslim nations. Not from all majority Muslim nations but from a specific set of them. And so both his facts are not really supported by the record and his distinction is kind of absurd.

And just to underscore what Tim was saying. I mean, it is not that the bulk or most of the President's supporters are -- anything more than a small portion are sympathetic to white nationalism, it's that he refuses to draw a line on that continuum, to isolate those voices from the broader coalition that he has assembled, which is centered on the groups in American society that are most uneasy about the way America is changing.

An, you know, going all the back to his refusal to condemn David Duke right before the big clutch of of southern states voted right here on CNN in March 2016, he has been very, very deliberate in what he says and what he doesn't say, who he reads in and who he does not read out of his coalition.

CABRERA: And he is making sure everybody knows how he feels about John McCain. Tim, what is his obsession with John McCain?

NAFTALI: Well, it's clear, sadly clear, that there is some kind of personal obsession. And the President is incapable, apparently, of separating his own anger at John McCain for having made repeal and replace impossible. From just admiring John McCain's service, he seems incapable of doing that.

Now, there is this issue of the Steele dossier and there's no doubt that President Trump is very sensitive about the Steele dossier. This is -- we know now that it's likely that not only did Senator McCain share this with the FBI, which by the way he admitted in his last book, Restless Wave, but that a member of his team may have probably shared it with BuzzFeed and some members of the media.

[19:10:00]

That is the reason the President has returned to attack John McCain. John McCain's service to this country is much more than what he might or might not have done near the end of his career.

One thing that is absolutely certain is that John McCain thought that Donald Trump was a threat to our national security. And I think that republicans should think twice when they wonder -- they should ask themselves, why did John McCain, this patriot, this serious analyst of American national security issues, why, at the end of his life, did he conclude that Donald J. Trump was a threat to our national security. Rather than attacking McCain, why not they sit back and maybe learn from the man.

CABRERA: Well, here's the other thing I don't understand, Ron. You know, Meghan McCain came out very clearly, taking a stance against the President, but Lindsey Graham, who was McCain's bestfriend, doesn't even directly call up Trump in his Tweet. Why doesn't he or any other member of GOP leadership for that matter say, Mr. President, please stop?