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Sen. Cory Booker (D) New Jersey To Challenge President Trump In 2020; Trump's Latest Interview Riddled With Falsehoods; Trump Says Mueller Probe Was "Attempted Takeover" Of Government; President Trump Moves To Kill Obamacare Without Plan In Place. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 23:00   ET



[23:00:00] (TOWN HALL)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, a lot to talk about. I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to a special edition of PRIME TIME.

What did you think? How did you think Senator Booker did? Did he make a strong case tonight in your mind that he should be the Democrat to rise from the field, that he should be the next president of the United States?

He was just tested on these big and weighty issues facing us in the next election in one of the early battleground states of South Carolina.

So, his main task was to set himself apart from the rest of the pack. Did he do that? We're going to discuss it. He's going around. He said he's grateful for every question he got tonight. He spoke a lot about his family and the context of the different ways he could connect with the people in South Carolina.

He showed a lot of grasp for their history. He is known as a student of the game, a young man but he's been in it a long time. He's obviously very focused and he's well-read.

How genuine, how much communicates and what separates. All right. Now let's get to the experts who are watching along as well. Great minds. Errol Louis, Karoun Demirjian, and Frank Bruni. It's good to see you all.



CUOMO: All right. Errol, what did you think? Let's do a little plus, minus.

LOUIS: I think a number of pluses. This was Cory Booker the mechanic, not Cory Booker the revival preacher. He's really quiet an orator, and that's normally his style. We've seen that on the floor of the Senate, we've seen it on the campaign trail in snatches. Tonight, though, he was really pretty focused I thought and surprisingly wonky in some places, being very specific about detailed policy positions that he intends to take. It was a bit of a switch for him, but I think he's gambling that, that's the way for him to sort of quietly build up his own reputation and his own support while others, you know, the Beto O'Rourke's of the world are out there using the high flown rhetoric that Cory Booker certainly is no slouch at.

CUOMO: He didn't take a shot at any of his fellow party members, Karoun. What do you think of that?

DEMIRJIAN: No, not by name. He certainly didn't. Although a few times he referenced that, you know, we all talk about things like reparations, that we all talk about things like, you know, free tuition and what does that actually mean as a transition point to try to drill down and saying specifics what he meant.

[23:20:07] Which at this point, it's what Democrats have to do to distinguish themselves because there's not that much diversity in terms of what they're trying to pitch as an alternative to President Trump right now.

But I think at this point it's clear that, you know, they don't gain anything, these candidates, by taking potshots at other Democrats from the race. It's very early on right now. We don't know who's going to kind of rise to the top of these polls, of the still growing fields, really.

And so, you can't -- you have the message that Booker started out with which is that, you know, we're in this together, we are going to do this, we have to have a large tent and be gracious to everybody. And then kind of criticize people directly, which he didn't do.

So, he's doing that in the sense of putting, you know, the statement out there that these things are being discussed widely, here's how I want to specifically pitch myself to you on them.

CUOMO: It's always good in a general, in terms of the conceptual stage. But then you get into the direct combat and, Frank, when you're talking to Democrats it seems to me no matter where I am in the country, no matter what kind of Democrat they are, they're all worried that whoever comes out of the field has to be the one who can beat Trump.

You know, they're not thinking about, you know, the highfalutin or the general concepts or the ideal Democrat. How does Booker shape up as someone who can beat Trump?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, he has got a near-perfect resume for this. He's intensely charismatic as I think he showed tonight. But so far, his candidacy has been a little bit baffling because he hasn't really caught fire or he hasn't had that kind of moment that some of the other candidates have had, and I think a lot of us are wondering why that is, what's missing.

I think that's what he was trying to accomplish tonight. And I think the main thing he has to convince Americans of, which came up at the very beginning and he talked about it at length, is that his positivity, his message of love, his idea that you do not beat Donald Trump by getting nasty but you beat him by going on the high road.

He's got to convince people of that because as you said, Chris, what voters want more than anything else is the guarantee that the Democratic nominee is the person most likely to unseat Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Errol, you're nodding your head but put some meat in the bones of that suggestion about what it takes to beat him. I mean, we all know what's going to happen. Donald Trump is straight ahead fighter and his punches generally low, you know, somewhere around the belt line and below. Do you just ignore it, or do you engage it? You know, I mean, that's part of the alchemy of the campaign.

LOUIS: Well, you know, it's very interesting. If you go point by point through what Senator Booker was talking about tonight at almost no point does it intersect with the major initiatives of the Trump administration.

He didn't talk a whole lot about immigration. He didn't talk about tearing down the wall, he didn't talk about trade agreements, he didn't really get into the things that have been sort of the focus of the Trump administration.

And so, to that extent he wasn't talking about Trump personally, he wasn't talking about his policies. He was kind of like going in an entirely different direction. And that is where, in fact, I think the Democratic candidates have decided to take at least this early phase of the race for the most part where they want to talk about hard core entitlements, basic pocket book issues that Democratic voters really, really care about.

And so, you hear about baby bonds, you know. You hear about closing the wealth gap, you hear about over and over again about healthcare. And that's I think what the Democratic race is going to be about at least for the foreseeable future.

CUOMO: Yes, he didn't find as many opportunities as I thought he would, Karoun, to talk about the health care conflict that's coming, to talk about the crisis that is emerging on the border right now. Not that the one the president was selling but the real one with these kids that are showing up, unaccompanied minors and their families presenting themselves for processing.

You heard the commissioner of the CBP saying, you know, we're overwhelmed already, it's only going to get worse. He didn't flush those out. What do you think the play is?

DEMIRJIAN: It's interesting. Because the Democrats do think that they have the upper hand right now on those issues. And they want to talk about healthcare, they want to talk about immigration because they think that the president is weak on those.

But the fact that Cory Booker didn't go for those it either means that, you know, he's trying to cast a message of positivity and you can't really address those things without taking a direct negative line on what the president is doing and kind of trying to rile up the anger of the Democratic base that you're trying to appeal to at that point.

Or he simply he just didn't get the questions for it because a lot of the questions were, you know, on topics that seemed a little bit more in the wheelhouse of things he's been pitching, not necessarily on things that he's been responding to the Trump is ding.

And that is another theme of what this race is going to be. Who sets the tone? Who sets the agenda for what issues they discuss? Is it going to be what's going on in Washington or is it going to be what they are going to try to pitch themselves on the campaign trail that they think will move voters more?

But the two that you did identify healthcare and immigration do -- are issues that Democrats do thinks are winners on the trail. So, he may want to actually engage on those a little bit more as he's going to be talking to voters.

CUOMO: Frank, where do you think he is in the field right now? Forget about polls. I'm saying in your own personal assessment.

BRUNI: I think he's in the middle. He's not -- he's not an elite, he's not in the back. I mean, he's too -- he's too serious in credential to candidate not to take very seriously, but he just hasn't really emerged in the foreground.

[23:25:01] I think, you know, it's interesting that it was noted that he didn't really kind of engage on things in the news today or the last 48 hours. But I think that was deliberate.

I mean, I think this was a night where he was trying to say these are my values, this is my story. He kept referring to biographical things I thought in a very effective way.

And I think above all he wanted to show people this is my passion. And I was struck by how incredibly animated he was to the point of manic at times. And It's hard to know how that's going to come across to people, whether he comes across to someone who's got the kind of burning energy they want, or whether he seemed a little bit all over the place an undisciplined.

CUOMO: Well, look, you know, it's always about the authenticity, right?


CUOMO: Does it wind up being consistent and giving a consistent message of who you are where you're about hours and hours, all the different types of stages you have to be on. Do you give the same answers, do you have the same alleged spontaneous reaction to things?

Campaigning is tricky and everybody's watching. How will he handle the big stage? All right. There's more I want to talk to you guys about in terms of what the challenges are for Democrats and how it does fit to what we're seeing as the emerging new set of issues as the Mueller report for a second is on standstill.

Next up, we're going to do some fact checking, though, of President Trump. He gave a big interview tonight, it was long. And he had a very direct message. He wants to attack the people who investigated him. Did he go overboard in talking about it? He says the people who investigated him did.

We're going to track a few of his claims. Were they false? Nobody better to do that than this man, Daniel Dale. Does he have some new additions to his running list of Trump untruths? Next.


CUOMO: So, fresh off the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report, the president went to mother ship to celebrate. The almost 40- minute interview saw the same regard for the truth that we've come to expect from this president.

Here to help us get after it on his truthiness is Daniel Dale. He makes it his job to fact check this president. Welcome back to PRIME TIME. Good to see you.


CUOMO: All right. So, I'll play you some sound and you tell me why it qualifies. First up, it's about what you need to go down the road here politically.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): There was no crime, as you know. You're only allowed to do this legally if there's a crime. There was no crime. They've all admitted it.


CUOMO: He's talking about impeachment, right?

DALE: I think he was talking about the Russia probe more generally there, Chris. I think it's wrong in two ways. Obviously, not to be snarky at all, it is not true that you need evidence of a crime or even that there needs to be a crime to make an investigation legal. You know, that is why a lot of investigations are conducted.

But even aside from that, you know, there were crimes. There was the Russian criminal hacking and disinformation effort. And aside from that, you know, the president's personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security advisor and others in his orbit were convicted.

CUOMO: Right.

DALE: So I think both parts of that are not true. CUOMO: Look, and it did start as a counterintelligence investigation, right? We haven't even seen the fruits of that yet. The A.G. didn't even mention it in his report. But I have to tell you, when I heard it in context, I think his mind goes on what are they going to try to do to me. And if you didn't even find a crime, can you even consider impeachment?

I have to tell you, it's a legit question. If the Democrats don't have anything criminal found, I know that high crime and a misdemeanor is not a legal standard, but if you have no crime, can you still get the kind of consensus you need on impeachment? What's your take on that?

DALE: Sure. So, I think, you know, under the definition for impeachment, I think you can do it, you know, as constitutional scholars will tell you --

CUOMO: Right.

DALE: -- high crimes are not necessarily criminal crimes.

CUOMO: Right.

DALE: Will they do it though? I think it's very unlikely. You know, Pelosi was reluctant even before we got this Barr's summary that, you know, said that Mueller found no evidence of Trump involvement in a conspiracy, so will they go forward with this kind of report from Mueller and from Barr, I'm very doubtful.

CUOMO: And we also saw the president was still even though he said the Mueller report was great and the Mueller report resoundingly even from the summary, we understand, makes it clear that Russia did interfere and they did so to help Donald Trump. He seemed to play with that tonight in a few different ways. Let's play one piece of sound about it.


TRUMP (voice-over): Russia, if they were at all for me, and by the way if you look at all of the things they were sort of for and against both. Not just one way.


CUOMO: What about that?

DALE: So this is an egregious lie, you know. It has been exhaustively documented by U.S. Intelligence, acknowledged by Trump's Republican Party that the Russians wanted Trump to win. And you don't even have to believe U.S. Intelligence. Putin himself was asked in their famous Helsinki press conference, "Did you want Trump to win?" And he said "yes" because he said, "Trump plan to normalize relations with us, Russia."

And so by all accounts, you know, this was a Russian effort to help Trump. There is the thinnest threat of evidence that Russia did anything against Trump after the election, according to the Mueller investigation. There were two post-election rallies in which Russia tried to sow discord by organizing anti-Trump rallies at that point. But during the election, during the campaign, this was a pro-Trump effort to help him get elected.

CUOMO: One more. Because it should be a sensitive issue for all Americans given what is actually happening on the border with all these kids showing up and CBP saying that they are overwhelmed, I want to play what he said about building the wall.


TRUMP (voice-over): We're building many miles. We're going to have -- hundreds of miles are already under construction or soon to be under construction. We're building massive many, many miles of wall right now.


CUOMO: Are we?

DALE: We are not. This is the 115th time that Trump as president has falsely claimed that the wall is currently under construction. I don't fact check claims about what will happen soon, but it is not happening right now. What Trump has done in recent months is try to redefine wall construction to include the building of replacement fencing and reinforcement barriers.

So if you want to define replacement fencing as wall, then maybe yes, wall is under construction, but I don't think that's a reasonable definition. In terms of new miles, there is nothing new.

CUOMO: Do you think people understand yet that the crisis he's sold them is not the real one, that these unaccompanied kids that are showing up, the families that are there, people presenting themselves to be processed, that they're not just sneaking across, they're actually looking in many of the cases for someone to take them in and we can't handle it, we don't have the resources?

[23:35:01] Does anybody get that that's the real crisis yet and a wall doesn't fix it?

DALE: I think some people understand and believe that, and I think many people don't. I think Trump has successfully muddied the waters here to suggest that the crisis that we're experiencing is not this humanitarian crisis with unaccompanied minors and other families seeking asylum, but rather is a crime crisis, you know, gangs and cartels. And so I think a lot of Republicans are inclined to believe Trump's version rather than the correct version.

CUOMO: Daniel Dale, thank you very much as always.

DALE: Thank you.

CUOMO: So you've heard the president call the Mueller investigation a witch hunt like a gazillion times and a hoax. Now he's going even further. He's saying it was an attempted takeover. He's saying that there are people who committed treason. You're going to hear it for yourself, and we're going to figure out why he's saying it, next.


CUOMO: Treasonous. That's how the president described the Mueller probe in his latest interview with the mother ship tonight. Take a listen.


TRUMP (voice-over): We can never allow this treasonous -- these treasonous acts to happen to another president.

[23:40:00] This was an attempted takeover of our government, of our country. An illegal takeover.


CUOMO: And he didn't stop there. The president is also touting his goal to make the GOP the party of health care without discussing any details on how he plans to do it.

Let's bring back the A-team: Errol Louis, Karoun Demirjian, and Frank Bruni.

Karoun, you know, this is what he does, right? You accused him of it. He now accuses you of it. The reason I find it interesting there is how far do you think he wants to go with this? Do you believe that the president feels that he wants to take a move on, or do you think he is going to keep this fight going?

DEMIRJIAN: I don't think the president is in the mood to win gracefully and just let bygones be bygones. He seems to have been saying from the get-go since he did his all caps declaration of total and complete exoneration that he is going to make people who questioned him, who he thinks were biased against him pay, and that's everybody from Democrats in Congress to apparently members of the law enforcement organizations.

He is now threatening to release certain classified documents that might be somewhat damaging to show the things that the FBI and DOJ want to keep under wraps. He's talking about -- he's accusing people of treason. He's threatening in ways that would be one thing if they were just kind of bluster leading into the next presidential cycle, the 2020 elections, in which case Trump thinks he probably has something to benefit from keeping this issue alive, so he doesn't want to let it go away. .

But it's escalating with every step that he takes, and he feels kind of free now to make these accusations and charges --

CUOMO: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: -- so nobody knows quite where it's going to go. And if it goes into the realm of accusing people of treason or directing the attorney general to try to make certain charges or to even just declassifying things that could be problematic for the Intelligence Community, this could have consequences than is more than just listening to the president take what is an angrier and angrier victory lap.

CUOMO: That is going to get a little tricky. If he wants to release classified stuff like the FISA documents and we don't get that same kind of transparency from the A.G. about the Mueller report --


CUOMO: -- he's going to have a problem there. Frank, look, I don't see it as a win because I don't see not getting prosecuted as a felony, as something to run around and dance about.


CUOMO: But I get what they are afraid of here in terms of potential consequence. But, you know, we see that this didn't really change people's minds about the president, so where's the percentage for growth?

BRUNI: I don't think there is any percentage for growth. There is just keeping his base stoked up by using his overbaked language. He's used this word "treason" before. Let's remember he used it in similarly inappropriate circumstances. And it's wildly, wildly irresponsible what he's doing.

He's also reinventing history. Yes, what we know of Mueller's report so far seems to be good for him. He seems to be in the clear so to speak more or less.

But to pretend that the entire investigation was unwarranted, to pretend there weren't many things that happened that gave people legitimate suspicions about his ties to Russia, about whether Russia had something on him, I mean, to this day, we still don't really have answers for why he has this love affair with Vladimir Putin. We don't have answers for what happened in Helsinki which for some reason he has forgotten and everyone in the Republican Party is forgetting.

So, to call this investigation treasonous when it was prompted by behaviours and events that were very, very curious, I think that is just typical Trump estrangement from the truth.

CUOMO: Errol, let me give you a break on the Mueller stuff. I want to show you another piece of sound from the president talking about health care.


TRUMP: So many things that we're going to do, incredible health care that the Democrats, frankly, wouldn't even know how to do. We're going to have great health care. The Republican Party will be the party of great health care. We're going to have pre-existing conditions, absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CUOMO: Going to have pre-existing conditions, absolutely. He just directed the DOJ against the advice of the attorney general to fight exactly those protections in court. What do you see as the play here for the president going after the ACA when he has got nothing in his pocket?

LOUIS: This has always been the kind of language you hear from President Trump when it comes to health care. He wants to do something better and bigger and so much greater than Obamacare. And then the minute you get to the details, he's giving heartburn to all the members of his party who have to try to enact legislation that corresponds to these high flown (ph) claims that he's making.

The reality is all of this stuff is really, really hard. It's hard to make that work. It's hard to not have a mandate and somehow cover pre- existing conditions. It's hard to make sure that you've got something really great in place that everybody's happy with that doesn't also involve a serious level of taxation or some other method of raising the revenue.

So if he wants to sort of take his party down that path again, the Democrats are just waiting for them. The Democrats are just hoping that something like this can be one of the top three issues going into the 2020 elections. I don't know why the president doesn't perceive that, but certainly members of Congress and his party definitely do.

CUOMO: I know why they say, Karoun, that this was something that helped them in the midterms.

[23:45:02] But where is the percentage of advancement for Democrats here? The ACA has problems. They haven't been able to fix those problems because the Republicans wouldn't work for them. Where is the advantage for them exactly?

DEMIRJIAN: It's really in the gesture that the president just made and in the legal position the DOJ is now taking. The Democrats always did well with the ACA is they didn't have to talk about those problems in so many details because the GOP and Congress was trying to repeal the whole thing over and over again and that wasn't working, so they could point at the Republicans and say, look, at least we're not trying to take everything away. We will work on the problems but you have to elect us so we can actually pass legislation to fix them.

The president kind of gave the Democrats a gift by doing what he did this week, which was directing his Justice Department not to defend it at all, that kind of revives the issue in a way that Democrats were going to have to work harder for up until that moment. So now it's like they get to push the repeat button on things they did in the midterm cycle and hope that works well now that their focus is directed towards the Oval Office.

CUOMO: Do you think the Republicans, Frank, step over the Democrats and try to get something done or are they just trying to construct their own plan in case the legal battle goes the way that it hasn't gone in the past?

BRUNI: Chris, did you just imagine bipartisanship? Did I hear that correctly?

CUOMO: I do that on a regular basis.

BRUNI: I would love to believe that on health care and on something that should be even easier, which is infrastructure, we would have some great bipartisan consensus, but my suspicion given the way America is right now is that neither party is going to want to do something that they feel hands the other party credit or victory for anything, and we're going to have complete stalemate in Congress up until November 2020.

CUOMO: Somebody asked me the other day, what are your predictions? What do you think is going to happen? Sounds prognosticator, asked questions for a reason. But I will tell you this. Sometime in my kid's lifetime, I don't believe we have two parties anymore and I believe that the term limits are going to be part of our political culture because I see those things as the only remedies, thinking it may get any different than what we keep repeating every two and four years.

Hey, thank you very much, guys. It is good to see you all again. Thank you for helping me out tonight.

All right, why is the president picking this fight about Obamacare when he doesn't have a plan? He's got to see some margin for victory there and part of that is perception, that people may think the ACA stinks and getting rid of it is a win.

Well, you know who doesn't? Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the architects of Obamacare. So let's go through the facts with the doc, next.


CUOMO: You remember when the president marveled at the complexities of health care? Listen to this.


TRUMP: I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.


CUOMO: And by nobody, he meant him. The question is, now, has he learned anything about it? He seems to remember one lesson, Obamacare, bad. The base wants me to get rid of it. But what happens if he succeeds? What comes next? So, let's bring in one of the architects of Obamacare, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel. It is good to see you, doc.


CUOMO: Let's go through some of the perceptions that the president is obviously playing on here, right? We know all the background and context, that his own people don't want him to do it this way because they don't have anything ready to replace it.

But here is the big one. My premiums are killing me, my deductibles are killing me, they said ACA would fix it and it didn't.

EMANUEL: Yeah. Well, it is true that premiums have gone up. What most Americans don't realize is premiums would have gone up even worse had we not had the ACA. As a matter of fact, probably for a family of four, it is about $4,000 worse than they are today. I just got my open enrolment from the University of Pennsylvania and it broadly announces no premium increase this year and a large part of that control is because of the ACA. Nonetheless, it is --

CUOMO: What about deductibles?

EMANUEL: Deductibles have gone up. I think we're going to see a reversal of that because a lot of the big insurers are seeing that they are not actually doing the thing they are supposed to do. People are not shopping wisely, and they're going to be going to more narrow networks over the next few years and bringing the deductibles down.

But they are a big problem. We should remember the Affordable Care Act did give people primary care appointments with no co-pays and no deductibles. They gave preventative services like mammogram, colonoscopy, and other preventative services with no co-pay and no deductible.

So a lot of people are actually getting some of the services, your annual visit to your family care doctor. You don't have deductible or co-pay, so it's basically free to you. So, those are some of the things the ACA gave. But there's no doubt, we need to get into the -- make it more affordable.

And I would say that the first place to do that is drugs. The exorbitant prices of drugs are a place we have bipartisan agreement. I advised Mr. Trump that he should have a bipartisan agreement on drugs. He should push that forward first. He obviously ignored that advice. But the Democrats are going to put that forward and that's going to be a central plank in the 2020 election.

CUOMO: What would that do and how would it do it?

EMANUEL: Well, the real solution is national price negotiation with the drug company --

CUOMO: Who does it?

EMANUEL: -- based upon value. You can do it do it either through the government or other countries do it with a nongovernmental agency. Germany, for example, doesn't have the government involved. The government empowers another group to do it.

You can do it in different structures. The drug companies in some sense are really ready for it. They actually understand that it's coming. They're just making hay until that moment comes. But that will actually bring prices down substantially. And I think Americans would feel that very quickly. It would also affect your premiums because that's a big driver of premium increases.

[23:55:00] CUOMO: What would be the trick? If you got rid of the ACA and keeping one of the signature protections like pre-existing conditions, the president seems to say, listen, I'm going to take care of that. That's easy.

EMANUEL: Fantasy. Pure fantasy. You have to have a situation where everyone is in and everyone is paying in to guarantee people with pre- existing conditions an affordable price. If insurance companies don't have to insure you, what's called experience rate, we're going to set our rate based upon the diseases you have.

People with pre-existing conditions are going to see their premiums go through the roof if they have to buy their own coverage. And let me remind the audience, there are 133 million Americans. More than a third of Americans have a chronic illness. They got pre-existing condition. When I ask my classes, how many of you know a family member or friend who has, say, diabetes or cancer or heart disease? Every one of the hands go up.

We have hundreds of millions of people with pre-existing condition. So, the reason this resonates with the population is everyone either has a pre-existing condition or knows a close family or friend who has a pre-existing condition. And we want protections for that. The Republicans have no mechanism unless you have a structure like the Affordable Care Act.

CUOMO: So, as I've said in the past and I mean it every time, this is going to be kept on the front burner at least for a while, so I'm going to need you back, not just here in the bonus hour, but in the main show to get after it on what the proposals are, what will work, what won't and why the people need to be informed so they can understand what is happening around them. It is good to see you.

EMANUEL: It is a complex issue. Happy to do it, Chris.

CUOMO: Who knew? Who knew it was so complex?


CUOMO: Take care.


CUOMO: All right, thank you for watching us now. The news continues. Stay with CNN.