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Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), Georgia berates Trump: The McCain family deserves better, Trump's Twitter war with top adviser's husband escalates, Frm. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) Texas says small donors fueled record fundraising haul, Frm. Sen. Joe Biden (D) Delaware and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont hold top spots in crowded democratic field, CNN poll: Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California climbs in Dem race, jumps 8 points, Mueller team says it's a very busy week in court filing, Aired 10:00-10:30 ET

Aired March 20, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.

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POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: In an exclusive interview today with The Bulwark, Republican Senator of Georgia, Johnny Isakson, says, quote, I just want to lay it on the line that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don't care if the 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 for more on this backlash. The fact that it comes from Senator Johnny Isakson is really significant, isn't it, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Absolutely. It's really an incredible statement from the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee. This is somebody who votes with republicans. He's close with McConnell. He's someone who has worked very closely with the President on other issues. But on this issue, he cares deeply about protecting Senator John McCain.

And this isn't the first time he's gone out and threatened to defend John McCain against any attacks. Here's what he said on the Senate floor back in August just days after the senator passed away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), G.A.: 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)

FOX: And, of course, this is not the only republican, Poppy, who has come out to defend John McCain. You had Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of Senator McCain, saying, quote, nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished. And then you had Senator Mitt Romney last night Tweeting, quote, I can't understand why the President would once again disparage a man as exemplary as my friend, John McCain.

So the question now is exactly what Isakson would say next, but just so significant that this is coming from such a senior republican in the party. Poppy?

HARLOW: And will he be joined, right? That's another big question. What's he going to say next, do next, will he be joined by other republicans and leadership? Lauren, thanks for the reporting from Washington this morning.

The President clearly is willing and able to fight multiple unseemly feuds at the same time. And so we see a new vicious attack not only on a deceased war hero but on a private citizen and a fellow republican who was married to one of the President's closest aides. Try to imagine any previous President of the United States calling anyone, as President Trump just did of George Conway a quote, stone cold loser and a husband from hell. Wow.

Sarah Westwood is at the White House. We're in uncharted territory here. This feud between George Conway and the President continues. I mean, aside from obviously putting Kellyanne Conway in a very awkward position, why? I mean, why does it continue? Why is the President still hitting back?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's a question many people are asking right now, Poppy, as President Trump seems to be elevating George Conway to new levels of fame by engaging directly with him. Conway, he's a prominent D.C. lawyer, has been a long time critic of President Trump.

But after Trump weighed in this morning in that tweet that you read attacking for the first time the Conways marriage, George Conway responded on Twitter writing, you are nuts, also saying that the President is simply proving his point by taking time to write that rebuttal.

And speaking to the Washington Post, George Conway sought to explain why he so frequently Tweets criticisms of the President, who is his wife's boss, writing the mendacity, the incompetence, it's just maddening to watch. The Tweeting is just a way to get it out of the way so I can get it off my chest. Frankly, it's so I don't end up screaming at her about.

Now, Trump in that same Tweet claimed that George Conway was angry about being denied a job in the administration. But the Post published a letter that suggested George Conway actually turned down a position in the Justice Department in 2017.

And keep in mind that this all started when George Conway speculated openly on Twitter this week about the President's mental state. He tweeted out images from a mental health diagnostic manual. We should point out that George Conway is not a psychiatrist. This was just speculation on his part. But, Poppy, it has now morphed into a major feud that has roped in allies of the President an even President Trump himself.

HARLOW: Wow. Just think about the example that this sets to little kids everywhere. Sarah, thank you. Plenty to absorb.

I'm joined by Josh Dawsey, White House Reporter for the Washington Post. I am going to begin on what I think is the most important of what was just reported, and that is the fact that Senator Johnny Isakson is calling out at the President in this way, Josh Dawsey. I mean, it's really remarkable.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, Isakson is seen as more of an even tempered senator.

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He is not one for a lot of public criticism of his colleagues or the President.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: And the fact that he's doing this kind of gives you a sense of where the rest of the conference (ph) is likely on this issue.

With that said, it's hard to know what this actually means. There have been previous occasions we've seen time and time before where one senator has made a public rebuke of the President either to be slapped down by the President or none of his colleagues have followed. So whether if this actually means anything or is just an interesting blip, I think time will tell. But past history tells us that it often does not amount to too much in the long run.

HARLOW: Well, that's what I was wondering. I mean, you do have sort of a tempered response from Senator Lindsey Graham, who, of course, is McCain's best friend, but also a close ally of the President. But he did put something at least out there on Twitter. Mitt Romney condemned it on Twitter. I mean, what about leadership? Do you have any reporting that there is an appetite here for McConnell, republican leadership to condemn the President on this?

DAWSER: I don't think that there's an appetite to get into a row with the President on this. I mean, you look what happened even on the campaign trail where the President said he preferred war heroes who weren't captured and a lot of the GOP was very frustrated with that comment, public condemnations of the President. And he still remains incredibly popular with the Republican Party. A lot of these senators fear rebukes from back home if they clash with the President. I mean, we saw this week Roy Blunt, a Missouri republican, who was disinvited from a republican dinner back in his state after he clashed with the President on the national emergency, after he voted against the President's decision to do that. And a lot of grassroots activists are turning on him back in Missouri.

So you have to understand the cost if you go after a popular president in his own party. And I think that's why you don't see a lot of the republican senators doing it just because of sheer numbers.

HARLOW: All right, let's to turn to George Conway and the President. This is your reporting from the Post. You're the one who obtained this letter, by the way, that I read last hour from 2017, May of 2017, where George Conway is turning down an offer to work in the administration, right, to serve as his assistant Attorney General for the civil division of the DOJ. This line we have highlighted here, Conway says to the President though, Josh, Kellyanne and I continue to support you and your administration. Well, that's changed.

DAWSEY: Well, that has changed. If you remember, Kellyanne said in one of your colleagues, who's Dana Bash, George Conway on election night 2016 was weeping in excitement. And that's true. He was. I mean, George Conway was a supporter of the President's. He described to me his metamorphosis as watching the President fire James Comey, watching him take on officials at DOJ, watching some of the chaos in the first six months of his administration. He said he decided that the President was not fit to serve. Obviously, he used to feel differently.

Even by May when he sent that letter though, he was already seeing parts of that was happening. And I think he was looking for a graceful way out of the administration.

HARLOW: is that why, Josh, because you had Brad Parscale Tweet in recent days? Basically, George Conway is bitter. I don't have the words in front of me. But there it is. We know that the President turned down Mr. Kellyanne Conway for the job he desperately wanted. So, I mean, is that false?

DAWSEY: Yes. I mean, George Conway turned down -- withdrew himself from consideration for the position at DOJ. He recounts a conversation with me, Poppy, where the President comes up to him in June 2017 at Steve Mnuchin's wedding wedding and says, you're smart for turning down that job, George. Jeff Sssions is so weak, he should have never recused himself and I know you didn't want to work for him, and, obviously, the President singing a different tune now.

What if this comes down to this? The President obviously has a right to have his feelings about George Conway. He's been a vociferous critic of the President, as you guys have reported and we've reported. He's made kind of armchair psychiatrist diagnoses. He's made comments that some see as out of line.

But the President is not true [ph] to the facts here in how he knows George Conway. He's known him for more than a decade. They worked together back in New York. He is asking for legal advice. He's ridden in cars with him. He's attended parties with him. He can say he hates him. He can make a comment that he thinks he's a stone cold loser, but can't say he doesn't know him. And that is not a point of contention if you stick to the facts.

HARLOW: All right. Stick to the facts, we will and you will. Josh Dawsey, great reporting as always. Thanks very much.

DAWSEY: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Still to come, democratic candidate for the presidency, Beto O'Rourke, spoke to CNN a few moments ago with some new details on how this record breaking cash haul his campaign has brought in. We'll give you the numbers next.

Also, the Special Counsel needs to extend the deadline for a request to unseal documents related to Paul Manafort's closed case. Mueller's team says it's just too busy this week. What does that signal?

And it's the most common complication after pregnancy, more than a complication. But a groundbreaking new drug could soon give relief to hundreds of thousands of women suffering from post-partum depression.

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Our Doctor Sanjay Gupta has that.

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[10:14:28] HARLOW: All right. Just a few moments ago in New Hampshire, democratic presidential hopeful and fundraising juggernaut, so far, Beto O'Rourke gave CNN some new details on his record haul. Listen to this.

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REPORTER: Congressman, was that your day one fund-raising? I just wanted to make sure on the totals.

FRM. REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), T.X.: Yes, David. So 6.1, the other numbers that I shared with you, including the average of $47 was the first 24 hours of the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: And they say donations from every state. Also, an interesting new CNN poll out this morning shows that O'Rourke is far from the leader but is in the top four.

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Joe Biden owns that top spot. And if you're thinking, well, hey, Joe Biden is not even technically running yet. You are right. Senator Bernie Sanders is in second place. Senator Kamala Harris and Beto come in double digits there, Harris at 12 percent, Beto O'Rourke at 11percent. And when it comes to momentum, check out Senator Harris's jump from 4 percent in December to 12 percent now. She is up across the board among democrats, independents, women, men, minorities, white, you name it. That's big for her. And while Sanders comes in second only the Biden in a horse race, a majority of democrats or democratic-leaning voters say, the ticket would be better off without him. Stay tuned.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of Ohio. And I have to start there, because you make --

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), N.Y.: New York.

HARLOW: Did I say Ohio? Oh my goodness. I'm sorry about that. I'm thinking about Ohio because the President is going to Ohio today -- from the great State of New York. I have to start here because you told me and made a lot of headlines on this show, as you know, last time you were here, that you do not think that Senator Bernie Sanders should run for the presidency in the Democratic Party because he has been an independent for his life. Do you still feel that way?

MEEKS: Yes. Here's my -- I want to be clear. I could not support Bernie Sanders because he's not a democrat. And I think that the person who is the democratic nominee should be a democrat. And, you know, I know I got a lot of noise before as if I was urging him to vote or to move to run as an independent. No. What I'm urging him to do is to join the party, that if he wants to run as a democrat, he should join the party.

HARLOW: He did technically switch his affiliation to democrat to run, and he did it that he switched it the back in 2018 to run in the Senate race as an independent and now back. I mean, what is a switch you would believe?

MEEKS: Well, look, I want him to be invested in the party. I'd use as an example, although he's not running for president, someone who has flipped back and forth, Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was a registered republican when he ran for mayor and he stayed that way. But what he was thinking about now, he -- for a year or so, he's been a registered democrat and he had invested heavily in democratic candidates, in moving forward about the Democratic Party and trying to get things together.

I think that what Bernie should do if he wants to be the leader, he should say [ph], I am now a democrat and running as a democrat, not as a person who is an independent individual, and then get involved in the democratic politics.

HARLOW: Well, he is technically running as a democrat. But, okay, what would convince you of that and that it's not just lip service? I mean do you not -- are there fundamental ideas of Bernie Sanders that you don't agree with most? I guess I'm just trying to get at it seems like the label is most important to you.

MEEKS: Well, you know, it seems that being a member of the party, when asked previously whether or not he would join the Democratic Party, he has said no, you know, other times when he's not running for president. So it seems as though -- you know, I can recall there was conversation that had been had at a democratic conference or something of that nature, at which point he was asked, hey, would you ever run or think about changing and becoming a democrat? He said, no.

HARLOW: All right. I don't know about -- I don't know which event that was, but okay, all right, so you're sticking to your ground on that one. Looking at the enthusiasm here in this new CNN poll, the republican enthusiasm is ten points higher than the democrats. Look at those numbers, republicans they're 57 percent are really excited about voting in 2020 and 46 percent of democrats are. Are you worried about that?

MEEKS: No. I think that what's happening right now is we have 14 candidates. And we are trying to learn, we're waiting, number one, to see who all of the candidates are going to be, whether Joe Biden jumps in or not or anyone else. And then, you know, starting in June, we'll have a debate season. And then folks, well, the interest will start picking up as we start to identify and whittle down who our candidates are.

HARLOW: I want to talk about reparations. Elizabeth Warren made a lot of news at the CNN Town Hall this week by becoming the first senator running for president to endorse a house bill to study reparations and to look at even potential financial payments to descendants of slaves. Do you support that measure?

MEEKS: Yes. You know, John Conyers used to introduce a measure like that every year, of which I was a co-sponsor of. So I think that we should look at it. Definitely when you look at the scenario of the ugly institution of slavery in America, there should be something there, similarly, I think for Native Americans. When you look at basically what took place to Native Americans in this country, there should be something to help the wrongs that had taken place in this country.

HARLOW: Look, I think this is going to get a lot more attention in this entire run-up to 2020. What -- financial payments, is that the best answer?

MEEKS: Well, I think that we need to look, and that's what I think that we are talking about it. And I know that with the Conyers bill, they were talking about a study so that we can take together to figure out what is the best way to do it.

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But when I look at the difficulty, for example, of individuals, especially African-Americans, et cetera, and as far as education is concerned, and paying for college and things of that nature to get a hands up. Overwhelmingly when you look at student debt, it is those individuals who have ancestors who have been slaved.

HARLOW: Let me ask you this finally, because we've got a go out of this, but we also heard Elizabeth Warren in that Town Hall say that she supports the removal of the confederate symbol from the Mississippi state flag. So on both of those points, I'm interested in whether you think she could be as effective a candidate to tackle the issues of racial inequality as some of the other candidates, African- American candidates, Cory Booker or Senator Kamala Harris.

MEEKS: Look, I think I'm proud of the Democratic Party in that regards, because I think that the Democratic Party, in general, is pushing to make sure that we have equality and we correct some of the past mistakes. I am proud of the fact when you go down to Georgia, for example, when look at Lucy McBath and others who are African- Americans, who have won in those seats --

HARLOW: But I asked you about Elizabeth Warren. Do you think she can be as effective on this front?

MEEKS: You know, I think that she will be more effective than Donald Trump. That's for sure.

HARLOW: We'll leave it there. Not from the state of Ohio, Congressman Meeks of New York, thank you very much.

The Special Counsel claims it's too busy to meet a Friday dead line deadline. Could that mean something bigger? There's a lot of speculation, well talk about it next.

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[10:26:09] HARLOW: All right. The Special Counsel's team says, this week, it's been, quote, too busy to respond to a request to unseal court documents from Paul Manafort's now closed criminal case. The deadline to respond was on Friday. But now, Mueller's team is requesting an extension to April 1st.

At the same time, the Trump administration has not responded to House Democrats' request for documents in that investigation into the President. In a scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post yesterday, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings accused the White House of engaging in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction.

With me is our Chief Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin. Good morning, my friend.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Miss Harlow, good morning.

HARLOW: Since you know all, this April 1st extension wish from Mueller's team of prosecutors, anything more than just, you know, them slacking?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think they're slacking, but I think they're busy. And they are really trying to wrap up a bunch of things. You know, the Manafort case is not entirely done, the issue of unsealing documents. I mean, they're preparing for the Roger Stone trial, although that's going to be with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington. There are the two cases against the Russian interests where there is one defendant who has at least shown up and may fight it. And, of course, there is the final report that they're working on. You know, all of us are expecting that report soon, but we don't know much. And I fully admit that I don't know much about when this report is coming out.

So there's a lot happening. But whether it means we're going to get some big news today, tomorrow, next week, I don't know. HARLOW: What I appreciate about you is that you are always willing to say those words that not enough people say on TV, which is I don't know.

TOOBIN: I know. I'm kind of a pioneer in not knowing.

HARLOW: Yes, you are.

TOOBIN: That's kind of role, yes.

HARLOW: Yes, that's what you'll be remembered for, Jeffrey Toobin. But, I mean, there are some standout things, like in terms of Michael Flynn, for example, who -- they want the sentencing but it keeps getting sort of drawn out by the other side here. Any of those tea leaves that we can read?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the fact that the sentencing has not taken place is a sign that it's not over. Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's former deputy, also has not been sentenced. And, in fact, in the last filing, the Special Counsel's Office said Gates was still cooperating in several investigations.

Now, if you look at his knowledge, it may involve some cases that are not directly related to the Special Counsel's investigation. But still it just suggests why people seem to be talking about the Mueller investigation as if it's in the past tense. That may not be right, that there are other things going on.

HARLOW: What is the most important thing you learned, Jeffrey, from that huge stack of documents that was released regarding the Michael Cohen search warrants and the Mueller team looking at the emails, the pen register with the phone calls? What did you glean from that?

TOOBIN: One of the things about the Mueller office is that for all that these documents look like grim legal documents, a lot of them read like short stories. And the story of Michael Cohen is so amazing. And a lot of it starts with Uber, of all things, because Michael Cohen was heavily invested in New York City taxi medallions, which are the right to have a yellow cab in New York City. And because of Uber and Lyft and the other services, the value of those medallions dropped dramatically. So Cohen started having all these financial problems and, according to Mueller's office, started lying to banks to get more money.

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And that's what sort of started this crisis in Cohen's life.