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CNN NEWSROOM

CNN Poll Finds Record Voter Enthusiasm for Election; New Report Shows Pilots of Doomed Lion Air Flight Tried to Read Handbook; Biden, Sanders Hold Top Spots in Crowded Democratic Field; Kamala Harris Climbs in Democratic Race, Moves Up 8 Points; Bernie Sanders' Popularity Among All Voters Plummets; Republican Enthusiasm Outpaces Democrats in New CNN Poll; Mueller's Team Requests for Deadline to be Extended; House Oversight Chair Accuses White House of "Stonewalling"; White House Misses Judiciary Committee Deadline to Turn Over Scores of Records as Part of a Sweeping Democratic Investigation; Mike Rogers Interviewed About White House's Refusal to Turn Over Scores of President Trump's Records. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:17] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim has the day off.

And repeatedly blast a late war hero. And your own party fights back. This morning a senior Senate Republican is leading the outrage over the president's attacks on the late Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: This news follows a string of renewed attacks on Twitter, and today the senior Republican senator from Georgia Johnny Isakson says he's set to make good on his promise to deliver a, quote, "whipping" to anyone who tarnishes the reputation of the war hero.

Here is Isakson two days after McCain died.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: But anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping, because most of the ones who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn't have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: In an exclusive interview today with the "Bulwark," let me read you what Isakson said. Quote, "I just want to lay it on the line that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don't the care if he's president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risk their lives for all of us."

Let's go to Lauren Fox with more on the backlash.

Look, he is one. Will he be joined by many?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's pretty remarkable that these comments are coming from Johnny Isakson. He is a reliable conservative vote in the Senate. He is close with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This is not someone who speaks out often when there's news of the day and something to react to. So, you know, it was very significant. And I want to read just a little more from Isakson's interview.

He said, quote, "When the president is saying that he doesn't respect John McCain and he's never going to respect John McCain, and all of these kids are out there listening to the president of the United States talk that way about the most decorated senator in history who is dead, it just sets the worst tone possible."

And Isakson isn't the only person to speak out on behalf of John McCain in recent days. You of course had his close friend Lindsey Graham speaking out in a tweet. He said, "Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished." You also had Mitt Romney saying, quote, "I can't understand why the president would once again disparage a man as exemplary as my friend, John McCain."

But I just want to underline how significant this is, Poppy. That this is coming from Johnny Isakson who is the chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee. You know, this is a significant moment, given just how senior he is in the party and the fact that he doesn't react on a daily basis to the president's tweets.

HARLOW: Yes. And he doesn't do a lot of interviews. He does seek the spotlight or media attention. But he clearly thinks this is worth saying and saying loud.

Lauren, thank you for the reporting.

FOX: Exactly.

HARLOW: Another presidential feud that running red hot this morning pits the leader of the free world against George Conway, the conservative lawyer who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. In his latest broadside, the president calls George a, quote, "stone cold loser and husband from hell." That's what the president chose to tweet this morning. This is after George Conway asserted the president suffers from, quote, "narcissistic personality disorder."

Our Joe Johns is at the White House. These are two grown men. These are not 5-year-olds.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, and what a window this is on some of the tensions that are percolating in the background here at the White House and elsewhere. George Conway, as you know, a top shelf conservative lawyer of his own

right, married to Kellyanne Conway, who is a top adviser to the president of the United States. They have been engaged in this back- and-forth Twitter war after the president, of course, had his tweet storm over the weekend. George Conway questioning the president's mental fitness. The president firing back.

And in a very extraordinary way actually getting inside the marriage of one of his subordinates here at the White House, which is extraordinary in and of itself, and then you add in the fact that the president has 59.2 million followers on Twitter, it's a real window. So George Conway this morning responding to the president's tweet with three words punctuated by periods. "You. Are. Nuts."

He also responded in an interview with the "Washington Post." I'm talking about this a little bit, I'll just read it for you. "The mendacity, the incompetence is just maddening to watch. The tweeting is just the way to get it out of the way so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day."

[09:05:11] That's basically it. Frankly it's so I don't end up screaming at her about it," that's presumably talking about Kellyanne Conway. So the president has referred to George Conway as Mr. Kellyanne Conway and has suggested as well that George Conway very much wanted a job in this administration. Conway seems to deny that suggesting that he withdrew himself from consideration for the job here, which I believe was the solicitor general's job.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Yes. Joe Johns, thank you so much.

We do have that letter. The "Washington Post" just obtained this letter. It was in May of 2017 to the president. Let me read it to you.

"Dear Mr. President, I'm profoundly grateful to you and the attorney general for selecting me to serve as assistant U.S. attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. I've reluctantly concluded, however, that for me and my family, this is not the right time for me to leave the private sector and take on a new role. Kellyanne and I continue to support you and your administration. I look forward to doing whatever I can from outside of government."

That was, you know, just about two years ago. So the president's top adviser, George Conway's wife, Kellyanne Conway, sat down for a wide- ranging interview recently with our Dana Bash. It's part of her "Badass Women of Washington" series. This is back in February. Of course before of all this latest back and forth between George Conway and the president. And Dana asked her about the back and forth between her and her husband and the president then. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF KELLYANNE CONWAY: Now we have a president who's actually criticized his own attorney general. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watch TV

and Twitter lately, and one of Trump's most vicious critics is her own husband George, striking hard and deep with his latest attack on the president's mental state calling it narcissistic personality disorder.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids and I was getting them out of the house this morning before I got here, so I didn't talk to the president about substance.

BASH: We spoke before the latest drama but well after her husband started going after her boss which she says she didn't see coming.

K, CONWAY: George was so excited, literally crying with joy in his MAGA hat, black not red, with his MAGA hat on election night, and so in that way, he's changed. He's changed his opinion on, I guess, matters with the president, the presidency. But I haven't and Donald Trump hasn't.

TRUMP: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway?

BASH (on camera): The day that he was out on the South Lawn and he called George Mr. Kellyanne Conway struck me, sounded like he was sending a message.

K, CONWAY: I thought it was him being Donald J. Trump. It was clever. It's an unusual situation especially in politics or Washington, and certainly in Republican politics for a husband to get his notoriety and power through his wife. It's usually the other way around. It's funny because people will say, George, you should come to Harvard and speak, you know, side by side and we should do this and that, and I think, oh, OK, but then I'd have to give him my power.

BASH: The president and top allies restrained before are stepping up their response to George Conway on Twitter, and rallying around her personally, as a mother of four children.

K, CONWAY: These children, you know, they're now 14, 14, 10, and 9. And so they're all old enough to read everything and they're all old enough to have embraced D.C. as home, which took a while especially for one of my children. It took a long time because it is --

BASH: It's a tough age to move.

K, CONWAY: It's a tough age to move, Dana, and let's face it. It is a rare occasion where a family is moving for mom's job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: All right. That interview says so much, even the fact that it happened before the latest back-and-forth.

Jackie Kucinich is with me, the D.C. bureau chief for the "Daily Beast," and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers.

Good morning, ladies, to you both. I'd actually like to start with what I think is so relevant and important this morning and that is what Republican senator of Georgia, senior Republican Senator Johnny Isakson is saying here and doing and standing up to the president on.

Kirsten Powers, the rebuke from this Republican senator, it's really just him this publicly and this forcefully right now. We have Mitt Romney and a few others. I wonder if you think he will be followed by the majority of Republicans in Congress.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would be surprised if he is. I don't think that we've seen a lot of appetite in the Republican Party for going after Donald Trump, especially publicly criticizing him because of the backlash that they suffer. I mean, we see what's happening right now with -- you know, with Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway. That's sort of the treatment that people get when they're critical of the president, and so I think that he has intimidated them into staying silent for the most part.

[09:10:09] HARLOW: Jackie, politically, does the president think that these attacks on John McCain actually help him, or does he not care?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know that there's a lot of forethought here when it comes to attacking John McCain. It's pretty clear the president doesn't like him, and he -- there's never been a resolution. The president couldn't really win in this situation. John McCain had the last word. So the president is known to hold grudges, and this just seems to be a continuation of that, that he just can't let go, the fact that McCain sank the health care bill. Obviously this goes on well before that happened, but I think the fact that John McCain got the better of him, the president can't let it go.

HARLOW: With just a thumbs-down. Right? That's all it took.

KUCINICH: Right.

HARLOW: But just sticking on that point, Kirsten, for a moment, I mean, the thing is this is not -- this is far from the first time that the president has attacked John McCain so publicly, so viciously before his death, while he was fighting for his life and now after. And there's a new CNN poll out this morning that shows nearly eight in 10 Republicans say the president is the one with the best shot of winning in 2020 in terms of all of the other, you know, Republicans who are to run for president who has the best shot and that they are supportive of the president. I think 76 percent supported the president.

POWERS: Yes.

HARLOW: So, I mean, isn't that evidence that politically this doesn't hurt the president?

POWERS: Well, it seems to not hurt him. I mean there's also in that poll, you know, 57 percent of Republican voters are very excited about voting.

HARLOW: Yes. POWERS: And that's -- you know, that says a lot about the support for

the president, that they feel so -- so excited about going out and re- electing him. So I think that, you know, you'd have to ask a Republican to explain this because truly it's mystifying to me. There are some just basic decency issues in the world and one of them is you don't attack people who have just died really for no reason. That's the other thing. What's the current problem that John McCain is causing from the grave, right? It's just --

HARLOW: Right.

POWERS: There's not even a reason to be talking about it. It's just gratuitous, it's hurtful to his family, which is a family that has been dedicated to serving this country. So it's -- like I said, you'd have to ask a Republican to explain this to me.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: You know, the question, Jackie, can be is the president sort of haunted by the shadow of John McCain and what he represents in terms of sort of Republican civility?

KUCINICH: Yes. I mean, again, I think this is just an old grudge that the president -- he can't get beyond John McCain. And, you know, your question to Kirsten, I think, you know, Republicans I've spoken to that are outside of D.C., they'll say they don't like when the president does this sort of thing. They don't like when the president is uncivil. But what they'll point to is his agenda and some of the things that he's actually been able to accomplish and the things that he represents in terms of, you know, their core beliefs. And his other stuff, yes, it doesn't discourage -- is it discouraging? Yes, it is, but I think they just keep on going back. Again, this is just who I've spoken to.

POWERS: But can I --

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Can I just say something about that, though?

HARLOW: Sure. Yes, of course.

KUCINICH: Again I'm just reporting what I learned.

POWERS: No, no, no. And I agree. I hear the same thing.

KUCINICH: Yes.

POWERS: I mean, that's -- you hear it all the time. But that would explain people saying, yes, I'm going to vote for him again, I don't really want to, he really upsets me with how indecent he is to other people or bigoted to things he says, and so yes, I'll vote for him. It doesn't explain 57 percent of people being very excited voting for him, right?

HARLOW: Well, I think this economy can explain a lot of that. And we'll see if this economy hangs on this way.

Before you go, guys, you know, if the president used this platform to his 59 million Twitter followers to repeatedly condemn white nationalists in the wake of what happened in New Zealand, you know, Jackie, wouldn't that be a thing?

KUCINICH: I mean, it would. It wouldn't necessarily be -- it's just not something the president does. And I -- that's just -- he doesn't -- that's just not what he uses this platform for. I think what you'll hear from the White House is that they have condemned it, but should the president use this for good and for trying to send a message that could potentially, you know, help heal and help move things forward, sure. That's just not where we are.

HARLOW: Thank you, both. Jackie Kucinich, Kirsten Powers, so nice to have you.

Coming up, really interesting numbers out of this CNN poll. Senator Kamala Harris makes a huge jump, but Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are still on top. We've got the numbers for you. And there is already massive spending on Facebook ads for the 2020 campaign.

[09:15:00] And we're not talking about Democrats; the president's team outspending his rivals 2-1 when you combine all of his rivals in the Democratic Party. We'll take you inside the Trump digital campaign and operation.

Plus, a new report says the pilots of that doomed Lion Air flight had to scramble to read an operations manual as this plane plummeted down. Terrifying new details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: The crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls is still being dominated by a man who isn't in it, at least not officially. Joe Biden tops a brand new CNN poll favored by 28 percent of Democratic voters and voters who lean democratic. Bernie Sanders comes in second with 20 percent, up 6 points for him since December.

[09:20:00] Senator Kamala Harris is third after a huge jump from 4 percent in December. She now sits at 12 percent, Beto O'Rourke is another name in the double digits there at 11 percent. A lot to unpack, and nobody does it better than our senior political analyst Mark Preston, good morning, my friend, let's start with the Bernie factor.

Dems seem conflicted over Senator Sanders.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they certainly are. Let's talk about aspirational through pragmatism. And that's when you're talking about Bernie Sanders. When you ask the question about Bernie Sanders, is the Democratic Party better with the Bernie Sanders as the nominee or worse off with the nominee?

Look at these numbers right now, not a great morning for Bernie Sanders, if you're looking at these numbers. Still early on, but very aspirational right there. If you look at that, only 33 percent believe that the Democratic Party will be better with him at the top of the ticket.

And that largely has to do with the fact that he is very aspirational. He talks about policy measures that are very difficult to get past here in Washington. However, he's also very influential. If you go back to 2015, 2016, it was Bernie Sanders who took the Democratic Party as you know, Poppy, and moved it incredibly to the left, pushing the major increase in the minimum wage and, of course, Medicare for all, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, totally. When you look at this poll, what does it tell us about what Democratic voters are looking for most in a candidate.

PRESTON: Well, look, if you're a Democrat right now, and you're looking at Washington, you feel hopeless, you feel helpless in many ways except for what you see in the House of Representatives because now Democrats have some control of that chamber.

What you want to do, you want to defeat Donald Trump. Look at these numbers right here. A strong chance of beating Donald Trump, that's the kind of trait that they want to see in a Democratic nominee, 56 percent, only 35 percent believe that they want somebody that is entirely lockstep with their beliefs.

Again, this is going to be a very important question as we go forward, Poppy, specifically with the field of upwards of 20 candidates all trying to vie for the voters attention and the support of voters and many of these candidates have very similar policy positions. So --

HARLOW: Yes --

PRESTON: What's the next step, people are going to look at who can win.

HARLOW: Yes, all right, before we get to the enthusiasm, what was really interesting, do you have any idea why Senator Kamala Harris had such a big jump from December to now, an eight-point jump?

PRESTON: Well, OK, it's a couple of things. One, I don't think that you could argue this. She has probably had the best campaign rollout we have seen of any presidential candidate right now. And that was due in part of her willingness to jump around the country very quick and she came in to this Democratic presidential town hall on CNN.

If people go back to that town hall, it was the first one that CNN did --

HARLOW: It's true --

PRESTON: People who didn't know Kamala Harris all of a sudden got to know Kamala Harris. People started to pay a little bit more attention to her, and that's where you see this incredible jump right now. And she really has done a very --

HARLOW: Yes -- PRESTON: Good job on the campaign trail.

HARLOW: And she was asked some really tough questions about her role as a prosecutor, her history there, et cetera. All right, so enthusiasm, voters fired up, but some more than others.

PRESTON: Right, so if -- a lot of talk about enthusiasm on the Democratic side? Well, guess what? There's also enthusiasm on the Republican side, perhaps even more so. Look at this number right here that shows you where the Republicans are right now.

Fifty seven percent of Republicans are enthusiastic about their vote while only 46 percent of Democrats are. Again, we are very early right now, Poppy, in this race, but the fact of the matter is if Democrats think that their enthusiasm is going to be enough to carry them to defeat President Trump, then they are badly mistaken.

And if you look at these numbers right now, Republicans are still in lockstep behind President Trump by and large, enough so right now that he's in pretty good shape of having to fend off any kind of a primary challenger at this point, and he still has support of just about every Republican right --

HARLOW: Yes --

PRESTON: Now as he heads into 2020.

HARLOW: Yes, all right, Mark Preston, all well said, I know you're getting ready for the town hall tonight, we'll be watching, thank you, my friend.

PRESTON: Thanks.

HARLOW: Robert Mueller's team says it has been quote, "too busy" this week to meet one of its deadlines. We'll tell you what deadline and why that could signal something bigger, next.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, welcome back. Robert Mueller's team claims it is too busy this week to respond to a request for unsealed court documents for Paul Manafort's now closed criminal case. The special counsel is now asking for a deadline extension to April 1st.

At the same time, the White House is not responding to House Democrats' request for documents for its investigation into the president. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote a scathing op-ed in the "Washington Post" Tuesday, accusing the Trump administration of stonewalling and obstruction.

With me now is former Republican House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers. Chairman Rogers, it's nice to have you.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN ANALYST: Poppy, great to see you.

HARLOW: So where do we go from here? I mean, you know, we know how Elijah Cummings feels about this. What is next if the White House does not turn over these documents, they miss the deadline for them, how long could this visibly drag on?

ROGERS: It could go on a long time. There really is no mechanism for Congress to get this information, and the Republicans tried to do this, and if you recall, the Attorney General at the time Eric Holder was actually held in contempt by Congress --

HARLOW: Yes --

ROGERS: For not giving certain bits of information. And so I think you'll see the same kind of timeline roll out. And what I think has happened here is the Trump administration went to school on that whole event and realized that they have lots of time here to play with --

HARLOW: Well --

ROGERS: And that's why you're seeing this kind of slow go of it.

HARLOW: This was in fast and furious, wasn't it?

ROGERS: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes, but as I recall, the Obama administration eventually did turn over those documents, right? I mean, so it's about --

ROGERS: I'm not -- apparently, well, there were documents that were turned over, as is best of my understanding --

HARLOW: Yes --

ROGERS: But it didn't get to the heart of what the Oversight Committee was -- and again, I was not on the Oversight Committee, was looking for in that particular case. Eventually documents were exchanged, I just don't think they got what they were exactly looking for.

You know, I think the Trump administration would be smart by just kind of dribbling things out to say, no, we're cooperating, it's just taking us a little while.