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Should U.S. Move to Popular Vote in Presidential Elections?; Trump Blasts McCain Again; Trump Meets With Brazilian President. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: He welcomed his Brazilian counterpart, a man who is clearly singing from the same hymnal, to the White House.


JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): May I say that Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes and against fake news.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call it fake news. I'm very proud to hear the president use the term fake news.


BALDWIN: President Jair Bolsonaro, who is known as the Trump of the Tropics, has come under fire for language that is anti-immigrant, language critics say has led to a surge in violence against indigenous Brazilians.

And that controversy is something similar to President Trump, who has been slammed for his rather tepid responses to the New Zealand mosque shootings, to Charlottesville and to more.

So, let's start at the White House with our correspondent there, Abby Phillip.

And, Abby, it is notable that both leaders stood up there and they talked about fighting terror, neither of whom mentioned, you know, condemning white nationalism, the threat globally, what happened in New Zealand, none of it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, none of that was mentioned at all, Brooke.

But it's kind of rare sometimes to see the president really feeling like he has a partner in crime in this world leader who is so similar to him in a lot of ways. President Bolsonaro saying at the end there at the press conference that he was confident President Trump would be reelected to another four-year term. But these are two men who came into the office on the backs of this idea that they flout political correctness, that they don't care what you want them to talk about. They are going to talk about what they think is important.

And the use of that term fake news obviously was not an accident. It was definitely a nod to President Trump and a way of President Bolsonaro saying, I have got your back. And President Trump essentially said the same thing.

So there was no discussion of some of these thornier issues, especially the ones that President Trump has been dealing with over the weekend, his failure to say more about rising hate, rising white nationalism globally, and say more about, you know, supporting the Muslim community in the face of an attack like the one in New Zealand.

But he was also in pretty friendly company, and he got at least one set of questions that was also quite friendly as well from a conservative media outlet.

BALDWIN: Speaking of, a turn to 2020 from said outlet, the president was asked about the idea from the Democratic side of this notion of expanding the size of the U.S. Supreme Court. So here was Trump's response.


TRUMP: No, I wouldn't entertain that. The only reason is that they're doing that is they want to try and catch up. If So, They can't catch up through the ballot box by winning an election, they want to try doing it in a different way. No, we would have no interest in that whatsoever.

It will never happen. It won't happen. I guarantee it won't happen for six years.


BALDWIN: So I suppose no surprise given the Supreme Court appointments are one of his biggest achievements and one of his biggest legacies of his time in Washington.

PHILLIP: Absolutely no surprise. That's what is almost like tee ball for President Trump. It's setting up a question for him that's actually really important to his base.

As you pointed out, the issue of the Supreme Court is so central to conservative voters, that was one of the reasons -- President Trump has said this himself -- that he believes he was elected, because in the campaign he said, I'm going to stick to this list of potential judges and if I'm president I promise to appoint one of these people from this list.

And that list had been vetted by conservative legal scholars here in Washington. So essentially President Trump is signaling to his base here that I'm not going to change my strategy and I'm not even going to entertain the possibility that the court could be brought further to the left by a potential Democratic president or by anyone really in the future.

But, of course, these ideas are a little bit more complex than simply packing the courts. If you hear at least one of the Democratic candidates, they're talking about the idea of making the court a little less political, but that's not how President Trump framed it. He made it sound as if what this was, was an attempt by Democrats to really rig the court in their favor in the future by simply adding more liberal judges to the court, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Abby Phillip, thank you at the White House for us. And we will also talk in just a couple more minutes about the, again, president's new and harsh attack today on the late Senator John McCain.

So we will talk about that coming up.

But, first, it was the FBI raid that President Trump called a disgrace. And now we are learning from just released documents that the search of Michael Cohen's properties was months and months in the making. In fact, these documents show that Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, was a target of Robert Mueller almost immediately after he was appointed as special counsel back in may of 2017.

That raid of Cohen's office and hotel and apartment took place last April. The filings also reveal the feds almost searched the wrong hotel room, but citing the documents -- quote -- "Another law enforcement agent learned from a hotel employee that Cohen's room was eventually one floor below."


Shimon Prokupecz is our CNN crime and justice reporter.

And, Shimon, you have been going through all these hundreds of documents. Do they explain what it was that specifically led Mueller to want to look into Michael Cohen?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: In very general terms, Brooke, it explains what the violations were, the crimes that they were investigating.

And it's similar to what we have seen in the Paul Manafort case, bank fraud, also the fact that -- doing work for foreign -- as a foreign agent and not registering. So, it was along those lines. But exactly what specifically led them to start looking at Michael Cohen for these crimes is not clear.

And keep in mind that Michael Cohen was never charged with any of the counts from the special counsel's office. Everything eventually moved over to the Southern District of New York, where he ultimately pleaded guilty and admitted to all these crimes.

But it's probably a lot more involved. The reason we don't know is because the search warrants that the special counsel team obtained have not been made public. So we don't know what evidence they had to suggest that they needed these warrants. What did they tell the judge here in Washington, D.C., about why they need these search warrants to search his e-mails?

That's what they were doing. They were going through tons of his e- mails. They were going through phone calls, contacts that he was having with people, so they were watching him for quite some time. And, as you said, Brooke, it was just months, about two months after the special counsel was appointed, that they went ahead and started getting these search warrants and trying to build this case against Michael Cohen.

BALDWIN: OK. Shimon, thank you.

I have got Elliot Williams and Elie Honig back with me.

And let's just start by explaining what all this is. You have in your hot hands here all these documents. And I see the redactions. But, first, so, what's in those papers?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, this is 269 pages that a prosecutor walked over to a federal judge here in New York and said, I have probable cause to search Michael Cohen, his e-mail, his iCloud, his phone records, right?

It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but what you do is, you marshal all the evidence. I have done this a bunch of times. This is 10 times more evidence than I have ever presented to a federal judge to get a search warrant.


HONIG: And what this shows is that, even before they did those searches in April of 2018, which I think put Michael Cohen on the map...

BALDWIN: The very public raid.

HONIG: Yes, that's when we all started paying attention.

BALDWIN: Right here.

HONIG: He's in trouble. They already had this much evidence. So all this talk about conspiracy theory by Trump and by Giuliani is complete nonsense and sort of elided by this.

BALDWIN: Let's remind everyone what President Trump said about those raids. Roll it.


TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man, and it's a disgraceful situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Elliot, broke into the office and disgraceful. So doesn't this prove that ain't true?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right. They called it disgraceful. They called it unlawful.

But what you see here is the meticulous work of prosecutors and FBI agents to go through and establish probable cause. It's not easy to do and this is -- I read through it this morning too. It is done effectively and done well.

And it further highlights that Michael Cohen and frankly everything that's happening in the Southern District of New York is a far greater threat to the president of the United States than anything else he's facing right now, because this is the proof of what happens when the president and his folks are investigated.

BALDWIN: Let's get into it. I want to get into the details, because I read through a ton of this earlier as well.

So, Cohen was paid more than $500,000 from this company called Columbus Nova controlled by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was close to Putin, subject of sanctions, because Cohen was consulting, right, and it was that money that he received that he then funneled through his LLC, Essential Consultants, which is how we reported months ago how he paid the hush money to Stormy Daniels.

HONIG: Yes, heavy air quotes on consultants, right? It's unclear on what consulting he was providing.

BALDWIN: We don't know.

HONIG: Yes, but this is a shell company. This is why people create shell companies, because they want to move money in a way they hope they can hide from investigators.

And that led to I think what a lot of people are noticing, which is all these redactions, right, 20 pages of this. It's kind of frustrating as a reader, but I think they're talking to us through these redactions.

BALDWIN: How do you mean?

HONIG: So, there's 20 pages of this, first of all.

BALDWIN: Show what that looks like.

HONIG: This times 20, right, a little dissatisfying to the reader.


HONIG: Before 20 pages is an awful lot before they even raided Michael Cohen's home and office and hotel.

So, that shows you they were well on to the campaign finance. And there's another clue too. Judge Pauley, who is the judge in the Southern District who's presiding over this, who I have appeared in front of many times, last week, when he was ordering the release of this document, said -- he said this.

He said that the document includes a -- quote -- "catalogs and assortment of uncharged individuals and details their involvement in the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pled guilty."

So, he has seen underneath these redactions and he tells us there's other people named in here who are part of it.


BALDWIN: Spell that out. Spell that out.

WILLIAMS: Well, no, but, again, we know the judge knows what's underneath the redactions. And it's not good for Michael Cohen.

Other individuals.

WILLIAMS: Other individuals.

BALDWIN: Currently under investigation.

WILLIAMS: Currently under investigation, wink, wink.

The other thing that was interesting here, though, is that they make a reference to Michael Cohen being investigated, but not charged with this foreign agent registration stuff.


WILLIAMS: And so when you're talking about this, let's use the air quotes again, the consulting company, it was seeded with a lot of Russian money, right, and he wasn't reporting some of the contacts he was having with individuals overseas.

I think this is the first time we have seen Cohen brought into the international game that we have sort of heard Paul Manafort and others associated with. It was just striking to see, because we have associated him with these payoffs to porn stars and so on, but not these international deals.

BALDWIN: And it was because of the legislation that the president signed into law, the CLOUD Act, that enabled the prosecutors to go back to the court and say, hey, we need to take a closer look at this because this president just created this law that enables us to look into Michael Cohen's bits and pieces overseas.

There's so much more we can get into.

WILLIAMS: Sweet irony.

BALDWIN: Right. Just wanted to point that out. Guys, stay with me. Thank you.

Just ahead here on CNN, a "New York Times" report that lays out in stunning detail how Donald Trump worked with Deutsche Bank to get more than $2 billion in loans over the years often by inflating his own wealth.

Plus, President Trump going after the late Senator John McCain again today, saying that he was never a fan of the late senator and never will be.

And Senator Elizabeth Warren during a CNN town hall becomes just the latest 2020 Democrat to call for the elimination of the Electoral College. We will debate whether that idea has any traction.



BALDWIN: All right, new findings just in to CNN about Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.

CNN's KFILE found that the former Texas congressman once called for significant spending cuts and tax increases to address the United States' -- quote -- "extravagant government" and -- quote -- "out-of- control debt."

They just hit publish on

Andrew Kaczynski is with me from KFILE.

And so this is a man who would like to be president who has been short on policy substance. This is what he suffered so far as far as criticism. And so what does he say when it comes to spending?

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, SENIOR EDITOR, CNN KFILE: So, at this time, it's actually -- it's pretty interesting, because we sort of talk about the lack of policy specifics.

When he was running in this race, he sort of -- he hit his opponent for not choosing like which specific cuts he would want to make to the federal government. He said, we need to look at things like Social Security means-testing, raising the retirement age, sorts of stuff that might be a little out of step with the current Democratic primary.

BALDWIN: OK. So, specifically, this is -- it sounds to me what you're saying is that unlike what we're seeing currently with the Democratic base and his contenders, who have moved further left, that this would be at odds with what his base would want to hear now?

KACZYNSKI: A little bit at odds, yes.


KACZYNSKI: Some of the -- one of the plans he specifically cited was Simpson-Bowles, which was that deficit reduction plan from the commission that President Obama set up. And that sort of looked at tax increases, domestic and military spending cuts, means-testing for Medicare, raising the retirement age. And that was just one specific plan that he said we should look at.

BALDWIN: And when did he say this, the context of this?


BALDWIN: 2012.

KACZYNSKI: And the thing that's actually interesting is, we asked his people for comment about it. And they said that he no longer believes in raising the retirement age for Social Security.

BALDWIN: That's interesting that that's what they're saying. We will for some -- perhaps some comments from the former congressman himself.

Andrew Kaczynski, thank you.

We will go to to read the whole thing.

So, let's start there.

Tara Setmayer is with me, former Republican congressional communications director. And Keith Boykin is here, Democratic strategist. And both Tara and Keith are CNN political commentators.

And let me begin, actually, Keith with asking you about what Andrew and KFILE is reporting. And I'm curious just to my point about, you know, where the Democratic base is right now, do you think he will have some explaining to do?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is the first time I have heard those statements, Brooke, and I don't think those statements in terms of raising the retirement age and some of the cuts to entitlement programs would be very popular with the Democratic base and Democratic primaries.

If he's talking about cutting from the $700 billion defense budget, then you would probably have a lot more support of that in the Democratic Party. But I think it's just a reflection we just don't know a lot about Beto O'Rourke or any of the candidates yet because we haven't had debates.

We're still almost a year away before we have any sort of presidential primary or caucus vote. I think people should slow down a bit. Get a chance to learn a little bit more about the candidates before we rush to judgment about which one we like or don't like and let's hear them speak and hear their thoughts fleshed out in a real debate.

BALDWIN: Staying on 2020 here, Tara, this is for you, because there are all these new notions that are coming out. You just heard the president being asked at the White House about this Democratic notion of expanding the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here's another idea that actually came about -- out of our CNN town hall last night with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Roll it.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, come a general election, presidential candidates don't come to places like Mississippi. Yes.

They also don't come to places like California and Massachusetts, right, because we're not the battleground states. Well, my view is that every vote matters. That means get rid of the Electoral College and everybody counts.




BALDWIN: Tara, make your case of why that is not a good idea.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, we're a republic, not a democracy. And our founding fathers did that for a reason, because they didn't want the tyranny of the majority, which is what would happen if you went to a direct democracy vote.

Guess what? Elizabeth Warren wouldn't be in Jackson, Mississippi, if that were the case either because that's not where the votes are. She'd be in California, New York and Texas.

Also, when you look at it with the different movements, I know that there's some expansion of this movement now. You have I think 11 states that are saying this national populist vote movement. Colorado just joined.

This is where also an example of where state legislators matter, because states have to -- are the ones that are really in control of their electoral votes and what they do with them. Maine and Nebraska have decided to split their electoral votes. Most other states are winner take all.

Now you have this movement where you have some states that are saying, well, we might have a proportional representation of our electoral votes, but you still -- there's a lot that would have to happen in order for that to change.

Plus, you would need a constitutional amendment change to get rid of the Electoral College in the way that these people want to do it. You would also create the potential of getting rid of two parties. You could have 25 parties if you want.

You could win by plurality, not necessarily by a majority. There's a lot of problems with the idea of getting rid of the Electoral College. It's great for an applause line and for people who don't really understand why the founding fathers decided they wanted to have smaller states represented in certain ways and why we have two -- a bicameral Congress, but, in practicality, I think it would be a disaster and it would take an enormous effort to change the Electoral College, including constitutionally.

BOYKIN: I completely disagree. First of all, it doesn't take a constitutional amendment to change it.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would allow the states themselves to determine the Electoral College vote based on the popular vote winner.


SETMAYER: And that would be challenged.

BOYKIN: As you already mentioned, we already have -- it's now 13 states I believe and the District of Colombia, if you include that, have already signed on to this popular vote compact.

What it does, though, is, it encourages candidates to campaign everywhere, like Elizabeth Warren said. Right now, if you look a state like Florida, in the 2016 election, there were 71 campaign events in Florida. There were zero in Alabama, zero in North Dakota and South Dakota, zero in Arkansas and Alabama, zero in Oklahoma.

The reason why is that 94 percent of the campaign events were focused on 12 swing states. That's not democratic. It's not representative of where the country is, and that's not the way we should elect our leaders.

Even if you want to say this is a republic and not a democracy, as Tara said, even in a republic, you still have a majority vote, a majority will, the will of the most people, not the fewest vote.


SETMAYER: ... are represented, though.

BOYKIN: Just remember this, though.

Twice in the past 20 years, in the past two decades, the candidate who lost the popular vote, who got fewer votes than the other candidate won the presidency, first with Al Gore in 2000 and second with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

SETMAYER: It doesn't matter. It's not how our system works.


BOYKIN: And it almost happened to George W. Bush in 2004 if a shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio had changed -- would have changed the election so John Kerry would have ended up being president.


BALDWIN: It was Bush in '04 who was the last Republican to win the popular vote.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Tara, I want you to respond. And then I do, speaking of Republican, I want to get on to John McCain. But I want to give you a second to respond.


Yes, no, look, the other side of this is that, it sounds really good, but we have never -- our system has never been based nationally on one person, one vote. It's not. That's not how the founding fathers wanted it.


BOYKIN: We also had three-fifths of the vote, though, Tara, remember, for black people?


SETMAYER: That's a different discussion. That's a different discussion. That's not what we're dealing with today.


BOYKIN: It's a part of the same relic of the Constitution from the 18th century, though.


SETMAYER: So you think the Constitution is a living document and we should amend it then. Then let the states do that. We have a system to do that.

A direct democracy vote would X-out minority and smaller states.


BOYKIN: That's just not true.


BALDWIN: Let's end on something where I -- yes, I think we're both going to agree and then this is just continuously disgraceful.

This is yet another swipe that President Trump took at the late Senator John McCain. This is as recent as this afternoon. Watch.


QUESTION: Why are you attacking Senator John McCain (OFF-MIKE) months after his death?

TRUMP: I'm very unhappy that he didn't repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years, and then it got to a vote, and he said thumbs down.

And our country would have saved a trillion dollars. And we would have had great health care. So, he campaigned. He told us hours before that he was going to repeal and replace. And then, for some reason, I think I understand the reason, he ended up going thumbs up.


And, frankly, had we even known that, I think we could have gotten the vote, because we could have gotten somebody else. So, I think that's disgraceful. Plus, there are other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.


BALDWIN: Never a fan of John McCain, never will be.

Tara, we can agree. Here he is in the Oval Office. It's totally disrespectful, but why can't he seem to let McCain go?

SETMAYER: Look, he's had a bee in his bonnet for John McCain for decades, going back to the '90s, actually, where he questioned John McCain's service.

It's very obvious what's going on here. Donald Trump doesn't like anyone who doesn't like him or who stands up to him and he also could never measure up to the man that John McCain is.

I didn't agree with John McCain on everything, even as a Republican, but, as a hero, as an American hero in this country, that is unequivocal. What this man endured and the sacrifices he made for the service of this country is unmatched. And Donald Trump is a silver spoon draft-dodger that doesn't understand that level of service or honor or courage.

So, this is just a sad display of a man who is very insecure, that can't the fact that someone that is more courageous, more honorable, more decent than he could ever be still did something to stand up to him in principal.

He just can't it. And it is a disgrace and it is beneath the office of the presidency. But he's not going to stop. This is who he is.

BOYKIN: I agree.


BALDWIN: I know you agree, Keith.


BALDWIN: Disgraceful all the way around.

BOYKIN: I agree with Tara on this issue.


Keith and Tara, guys, thank you very much. We're going to leave it right there. SETMAYER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And just a reminder to all of you, don't miss the CNN presidential town hall with 2020 candidate John Hickenlooper. Dana Bash will be moderating that one with the former Colorado governor. That is live tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern.

Coming up next: President Trump weighs in on a $250 million lawsuit filed by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes over a series of parody Twitter accounts that criticized him. But does he have a case?

We will be right back.