Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Voices Outrage, Launches Attacks in Deluge Tweets; Police Release Image of Suspect in Netherlands Shooting; New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: Gun Reforms to be Announced Within 10 Days; Trump Again Attacks Late Sen. John McCain Over Russia Probe, Frm. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) Texas Raises Record-breaking $6.1 million in First 24 hours. Aired 10-10:30 ET

Aired March 18, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: I think they'll keep Tweeting about this plant.

[10:00:02]

All right. It is the top of the hour, 10:00 A.M. Eastern, 7:00 A.M. out west. I'm glad you're with me. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the week off.

This morning, one of the closest aides and advisers to the President is publically defending his mental fitness. Kellyanne Conway says she doesn't, quote, share the concerns, voiced repeatedly. And, again, this morning, by her husband, who says, and I quote George Conway here, all Americans should be thinking seriously now about Trump's mental condition and psychological state. George Conway's concerns are fuelled in part by the social media tear and it really consumed a lot of the President's weekend and featured a staggering list of targets and grievances, those include but are not limited to General Motors, Saturday Night Live, the Paris Climate Accord, the Mueller Report and the late Senator John McCain, and minutes ago, Joe Biden, whom the President calls, quote, a low I.Q. individual.

Sarah Westwood is at the White House. On a weekend after 50 people were murdered in New Zealand by a white nationalist, that was not the top of mind in the President's tweets at all. Why?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's a great question, Poppy, and one that many people are asking after President Trump spent the weekend going after the late Senator John McCain, Tweeting about reruns of Saturday Night Live, trying to encourage Fox News to bring back a television host that he really likes, but instead, he was just erring a lot of grievances on social media in a way we haven't seen in a little while.

Now, George Conway, a conservative who has been highly critical of President Trump throughout his time in office took to Twitter over the weekend to question the President's mental fitness after this weekend of outrage. George Conway writing his condition is getting worse. He shared an entry from a manual for diagnosing mental disorders. Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the President, though said she does not agree with her husband when it comes to this topic. She was asked about it this morning. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids and I was getting out of the house this morning before I got here, so -- and talk to the President about substance. So I may not be up to speed on all of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, this obvious split in opinion between Kellyanne Conway and her husband has been sort of a subject of interest for a little while, George Conway frequently Tweeting out barbs against the President. And President Trump himself has actually been asked about this disagreement in the past. It was in November. He leaving for a trip here at the White House. And he said -- he referred to George Conway as Mr. Kellyanne Conway, said that George Conway was only speaking out to get publicity for himself. Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. Sarah Westwood, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about it. Our Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein, is here, Senior Editor for the Atlantic, and CNN Counterterrorism Analyst, Philip Mudd, Former CIA Counterterrorism Official. Gentlemen, good morning to you both.

In the words, Ron, of what The Washington Post and Garen [ph], quote, it was a weekend of nonstop grievances from the leader of the free world. You would think that the top of that list would be the sick individual, white nationalist, who carried out that attack in New Zealand. Why wasn't it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, look, first of all, it's consistent with his pattern all the way through his political career. I mean, go back to the weekend in March 2016 where he would not immediately condemn David Duke and his support right before a group of southern primaries that were voting and on through Charlottesville. He will not draw a line that excludes this kind of extremist radical violence because it is on a continuum. It is the far end of a continuum of views that are uneasy about demographic change, uneasy about cultural change, that view Muslims as more likely to be prone to violence or Islam isn't compatible with American ideals and views.

That is -- his coalition is based -- is centered on the portions of America that share to some degree those concerns. That doesn't mean that they are radicalized and going to commit violence. But it does mean that he is unwilling to kind of separate that out. And that has been consistent all the way through. It is a feature not above of the way he talks about race.

HARLOW: Phil Mudd, all that anyone has to do is look at the stats from the ADL, from the Justice Department on the rise in white nationalist hate and action and murders in this country and around the world. And when the President was asked about it over the past few days, does he think it is on the rise, his answer was no. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, when asked if she'd agree with that, her simple answer was no, no, I don't agree with that because the evidence shows it. I wonder from your standpoint given your background in the CIA what not explicitly condemning the white nationalist part of this or pointing out, yes, this is on the rise, here's what the fact show us, what does that do in terms of opening the door for concerns about future attacks?

[10:05:08]

Meaning, you know, do you fear that it gives individuals some sick belief that they're not going to be condemned directly for this kind of thinking and behavior?

PHILIP MUDD, COUNTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, I think there are two implications. One is the one you're discussing, which is what I would call validation. I'm not suggesting that the President is saying what's happening is appropriate. I'm saying that there's going to a subgroup of people among white nationalists who say violence is okay, just like we saw among Islamic extremists. If you don't directly confront them day after day after day, some group of them, especially people who might talk on the internet and say what we believe is appropriate are going to say, okay, this validates what I believe.

I think there is a more boring issue. So let me bore you for 20 seconds that we need to talk about, and that is if we cannot have a conversation about the threat at the political level, the bureaucracies I was involved in, particularly at the FBI and and the National Counterterrorism Center are going to continue to say that politicians want us to focus on Islamic extremism. They are not starting a conversation to say, why don't we spend more resources on white supremacist. That conversation about resources has to start at the top. Bureaucracy won't start that.

That's an important point when you look at these numbers. I mean, the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, found last year white supremacists murders in the U.S. just last year, Ron Brownstein, doubled, more than doubled from -- in 2017 rather. 50 white supremacists were responsible for 59 percent of all extremist-related fatalities in the U.S. in 2017. Those are the indisputable facts. Does the unwillingness so far or clearly not top of mind for the President condemn those facts or just say, yes, those are the facts? Does it move the needle at all for the American people?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think there are two elements. I mean, there is the one that you are mentioning that he will not immediately condemn in the same way that he would violence by undocumented immigrants, for example. And that sends, I think, a clear signal. But he is doing something else as well. He continues to -- and something more affirmative. He is continuing to use language that by now is very clear, animates and validates those at the radical end of this movement. I mean, the President talks about immigrants as invaders. He talks about the country as facing an invasion. This is language that when they hear, I think, from the President, those at the furthest end, you know, the most radical extremes, see as evidence that they are advancing in society, that their views are gaining ground. So, I mean -- and he knows that by now and yet he continues to use that language.

HARLOW: Do you agree, Phil?

MUDD: I think so. I mean, if you look -- there is a consistent message here, which is the President builds up a problem, invaders coming from across the border, a Muslim ban because we have a problem here. Look at the problem with North Korea. He created a problem with the little rocket man early as an administration, got off a plane and said I solved it. And everyone of these circumstances, what the President has to do is to say, despite whether you know it, we have a significant threat and I am the stable genius to solve it. I think the message is pretty clear. He wants to be the solver in chief and you can't do that without creating a problem in the first place.

HARLOW: Ron Brownstein, Phil Mudd, I appreciate you both on this this morning.

All right. Also right now, there is a man hunt underway in the Netherlands after a mass shooting inside a tram in the city of Utrecht. Authorities now say three people are dead, nine injured, three of those are in serious condition. Right now, the authorities are not ruling out terrorism as a potential motive. This hour, a Turkish-born man is being named as the suspect and police are warning the public, do not approach. We'll bring you updates, of course, as we get them.

Earlier today in New Zealand, the Prime Minister vowed to rollout new and tighter gun laws in ten days. Authorities are investigating what they could or should have known about the alleged gunman before he murdered 50 people and wounded dozens more in two Christchurch mosques on Friday.

Our Martin Savidge joins us this morning in Christchurch. And the pain there, the utter shock, I know, is so palpable for you, Martin, a place that is just by definition is so welcoming to outsiders.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. If anybody had put a list together and said, which country would you pick, that would be the last to have any kind of attack like this, New Zealand would have been it. And that has been shattered not just for the people who live in this country but for much of the world that perceive this nation as somehow almost immune to violence. And that clearly is not the case.

It is striking, Poppy, how similar what has transpired here. We can measure against a litany of mass killings that have taken place in the United States. But what I cannot explain to you is just it has never happened here before and they never thought it would happen here. And just like in the United States after a massive death toll that's been caused by guns, what happens, the debate over gun control.

[10:10:05]

In this country, they have fairly liberal laws when it comes to gun ownership at least compared to other nations within the region. Compared to the U.S., it's tighter. You have to get a permit. And for that, there is a very strict vetting process in this country before you can buy guns. With that said, the gunman was able to get quite an arsenal including semi-automatic weapons.

Today, the Prime Minister met with her cabinet. They have begun to roll out what is going to be new legislation. She has the backing of the people shocked by what has taken place. Yet gun reform in this country has been controversial in the past. And even though, provisionally, this government says says it will move forward, it's potentially still going to get some pushback.

As to the investigation, the gunman acted alone. Now, authorities want to know was he supported in advance. They also want to know did anybody in his family, anyone in the public or did the police misread flags. 31 people still in hospital, nine are still critical. Poppy?

HARLOW: My goodness, including those children. Martin Savidge, thank you for being on the ground for all of your reporting. We will stay on that.

The President renews attacks on the late Senator John McCain. His daughter, Meghan, swipes back. But what about some key republicans? Where is their voice in this?

Also, Beto O'Rourke shows us the money. The presidential candidate brings in a record breaking $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. Wow.

And a short visit can go a long way. Incarcerated mothers get out from behind bars to spend time with their children. We will take you exclusively inside of Rikers Island.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I chose the streets over my family. The day I got locked up, my daughter was actually with me.

HARLOW: What did your daughter say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, mom, and it's going to be okay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:18] HARLOW: All right. President Trump has renewed his attacks on the late Senator John McCain, attacking McCain for giving a copy of the so-called Steele dossier to the FBI and for his vote against repealing Obamacare. Let's talk about that and a lot more with Republican Congressman Jim Banks of the great State of Indiana. He sits on the House around Services Committee, serves currently in the U.S. Navy Reserve and he also served this country in Afghanistan.

So, first, let me thank you for your service and your continued service to this country, sir.

REP. JIM BANKS (R), I.N.: Thank you, Poppy. Great to be with you.

HARLOW: It's nice to have you. Your words about Senator John McCain in the past, quote, an American hero who courageously served his country for decades. His strength and sacrifice will always be remembered. That's how you remember him. Are you concerned about what the President is writing about the late senator on Twitter?

BANKS: Well, as you said, I served in the Navy Reserves. John McCain is the ideal role model for public service for me and so many others. I had the chance to express that to Cindy McCain recently. I served in Afghanistan with Senator McCain's son. I understand the President's frustrations with the Russian investigation. I understand his frustrations with the healthcare vote over a year ago. But we do need to move on from that, focus on the issues. The President wants to focus on other issues and get the investigation behind us so that we can get back to work for the American people.

HARLOW: But, Congressman, does it concern you to read what the President wrote about Senator John McCain this weekend? Yes or no?

BANKS: Obviously, I disagree strongly with the President's sentiments about John McCain, the person. And my Tweets and public expressions have been very different from that. I don't know any republican in the Republican Party today who is focused on a poor or negative reputation of John McCain in the past. I think many of us have praised him over the past several months after his death.

HARLOW: Except for the President.

All right, let's move on to the horrific attack in New Zealand, 50 people dead. You have still got 30 in the hospital, children, nine in intensive care. And the President, yes, condemned the attack. He did not explicitly, and has not to this moment, condemned the white nationalism that clearly led to this virulent attack. When asked if it's on the rise around the world, he said, I don't really think so. It's a small group of people that have a very serious problem. You Tweeted otherwise. I mean, you Tweeted this, leadership matters when it comes to condemning hate and radical extremism. Would you call the President's denial of the facts here leadership?

BANKS: I didn't take his statements as denial of fact. I mean, he did reject what happened in New Zealand, excuse me. Obviously, he has rejected the hate that led to that. But none of us can be emphatic enough in the rejection of hate and radical extremism that causes situations like these.

HARLOW: I agree with you that no one can be explicit enough in rejecting that. But just to point a fact here, he did dispute the facts. He was asked, does he think white nationalism is on the rise? And his words were, I really don't. But it is. I mean, you know the ADL numbers. So I guess I'm asking you as someone who says leadership is so important on this front, would you call his denial of the facts leadership?

BANKS: I don't know the point. I don't blame Donald Trump anymore for what happened in New Zealand than I blame Chelsea Clinton. It's not healthy for an obsession on that type of blame.

HARLOW: No. Look, I'm asking you -- you think facts matter, I know you think that numbers matter and the statistics bear out.

[10:20:03]

The Anti-Defamation League's statistics show a number of government agencies. Statistics show white nationalism and white nationalist- driven murders have risen. They doubled, more than doubled in 2017 alone. So the President saying, I don't think this is the case, does that concern you?

BANKS: I took the President's comments at face value for what he said in rejecting the hate that led to the incident in New Zealand. But the fact of the matter is, we need to call out hate in all of its forms, whether it's white nationalism, whether it's anti-Semitism, whether it's Islamophobia. And that's what we have done in the Congress.

As I have said before in the Tweet that you mentioned, when white nationalism reared its ugly head in the republican conference, Kevin McCarthy and republicans did something about it. They stripped Steve King off his committee assignments. Unfortunately, with Representative Omar and others who have made anti-Semitic comments, that hasn't been appropriately dealt with in the Congress today.

And that's what worries me. That's where leadership matters where we haven't seen leadership to the scale that we should in the Congress today.

HARLOW: I mean, as you know it took years Congress after Congress after Congress, Steve King kept saying the same things and was not stripped of those committee assignments until now. Well, the President --

BANKS: That's fair until Kevin McCarthy became the republican leader. It was one of his first acts of leadership. And while others didn't deal with it before, he did.

HARLOW: Back to the President and what he chose to write about this weekend, for example, fight hard for Judge Jeanine. He is calling on Fox News to fight for an anchor there who is suspended for questioning if a member, your fellow member of Congress is basically un-American or not, saying, you know, where is her allegiance? Is it to the constitution? In the hours, days following the attack that murdered 50 Muslims, the president is fighting for Judge Jean Pirro. Is that appropriate?

BANKS: Look, what happened in New Zealand was a tragedy. We can't do enough. We can't be emphatic enough to call out the hate that led to it. I get that. I am not -- Poppy, I am not obsessed with the President's Twitter feed. I don't read what the President Tweets on a minute-by-minute basis. I'm hard at work in the House of Representatives on the issues that matter.

And last week, one of the stories that didn't get enough attention, for example, was the democrats sending smoke signals that they are not going to put a budget on the floor of the House and address significant budget issues for our country. Meanwhile, as our debt rises, $22 trillion plus, those are the issues that I'm focused on. I'm not obsessed on what the President is tweeting minute-by-minute.

HARLOW: They are official statements from the White House, so they do matter. But on the issue of budget, let me ask you this as a last question before you go, because you are Chairman of the RSC Budget and Spending Task Force, so this stuff matters. And you wrote, I had the opportunity to thank the President for his fiscally conservative leadership. But here is the thing. Under this President, the federal deficit is up 77 percent in the first four months of this year alone. The Congressional Budget Office, as you know, Congressman, projects the annual deficit will hit over a trillion dollars per year starting in 2022. Is that really fiscally conservative leadership?

BANKS: Well, the budget proposal that the President released last week is fiscal conservative leadership. Because what it would is it would balance at a 12 to 15-year mark, it would make a number of reforms to drive down the national debt rather than see an increase.

HARLOW: In 15 years, a deficit that the President said he could get rid of and that the tax cuts contributed to.

BANKS: Yes. And as the Chairman of the Spending and Budget Task Force Republican Study Committee, we're going to put out a budget that will balance in less than ten years. But the fact of the matter is the President put forward a budget proposal that balances, that drives down the national debt. Now, we need the democrats to do something about it. And if Nancy Pelosi is signaling that she refuses to put a budget on the floor, then we're going to see those numbers continue to rise at a pace that are going to impact my daughter's future in a way that is unacceptable.

HARLOW: Congressman Jim Banks, I appreciate your time this morning. Keep us posted on that because it's really important to all of our children. And, again, thank you for your service to this country.

BANKS: Thank you. Great to be with you.

HARLOW: All right. Beto O'Rourke's fundraising breaks records. What does that 6 million in the first 24 hours really mean?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:00]

[10:29:33] HARLOW: All right, this morning, a stunning headline from the Beto O'Rourke campaign. His team just announcing that in just one day of campaigning, O'Rourke earned $6.1 million, breaking records.

With me now is CNN's Senior Political Writer and Analyst, Harry Enten. Look, this was a big question. We knew he did it in the Senate race, raising $80 million in that race. Could he do it on a national level? Not only did he get 6.1 million in a day, he got it from someone in every single state. [10:30:00]

HARRY ENTEN , CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes. I mean, this is a record breaking haul. This is what we were talking about with Beto O'Rourke. Let's make a statement on day one.