Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Director of Communications Discusses Mueller Report, Health Care, Elections, Budget, Special Olympics; Civil Rights Group Rocked by Accusations of Discrimination; Chicago Says It'll Slap $130,000 Bill on Jussie Smollett. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] MARC LOTTER, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, TRUMP REELECTON CAMPAIGN: They had evidence of collusion which is Russia, Russia, Russia. But the special counsel absolutely cleared the president and his campaign of any collusion with Russia. We know that was a lie. And I think, in many cases, the American people need to realize, especially those who may rely on mainstream news channels, that that was a myth.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: One thing we know is that the special counsel says it does not establish any conspiracy or coordination by Trump or on the campaign. One thing we don't know is exactly what the special counsel says because we have not seen the report. We have seen four pages of a summary from Bill Barr and we have yet to see the 300 plus pages from the special counsel. I add that because we don't know until we know what Bob Mueller says.

One thing, Marc, that the president does want to focus on now is Hillary Clinton health care. As of last month, if you look at the Kaiser Family Foundation, more people favor Obamacare than don't. The Republican plan for the summer is the flip-flop. It's way underwater in terms of favorability. Democrats won back the House om 2018, in large part, by running on health care. Where in this do you see that running on health care in 2020 for the president is a winner?

LOTTER: I think there are many options here. First is that we have to remember that premiums have gone up for families about $3,000 in the last few years. That's a lot of money coming out of people's pockets while they are also facing high deductibles. Their choices are going down. I remember traveling with the vice president when we were talking about Obamacare, hearing from people saying there wasn't a hospital in their county that would take it. They would have to go out of their own county to try to find a doctor that would accept their Obamacare insurance packages. So we can make this better. We can lower premiums. And we have already seen the president lowering health care costs --


BOLDUAN: Can you make it better without eliminating it? Can you make it better without eliminating it?

LOTTER: The fundamental problem with it is that it is failing. Even Democrats are admitting that it has to be fixed. We can bring back private competition. One thing they have wanted to do is not only lower premiums, expand access so small companies and things can pool their resources together.


LOTTER: They tried to do it administratively and they got struck down yesterday.

BOLDUAN: Republicans tried a bunch of times to do a bunch of things to fix it, overhaul it, repeal and replace it, and that didn't go through when Republican had control of Washington. Are you concerned about a timing issue here, which is you are fighting in court to eliminate it and there's no alternative on the table?

LOTTER: I think we have time to finalize that alternative because, as you know, Kate, this is going to go through the appeals court and it is most likely going to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which won't make a decision until possibly as early as next year. We have time to get that done. As you also know, Congress, regardless of who controls it, doesn't usually do much unless there's a deadline. If there's a court decision and we have time to transition, that puts a deadline in place where we can possibly get both sides together --

BOLDUAN: I -- I hear you.

LOTTER: -- and come up with something that can work.

BOLDUAN: You might have to go it alone. Here is what Mitch McConnell, a very shrewd politician, said to "Politico," "I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker."

That is Mitch McConnell saying he wants nothing to do with this.

LOTTER: I respect, obviously, the leader and his thinking on this. We do have Senators Cassidy, Scott, and others, who are going to be working on this. They have expertise, not only as medical professionals but as --

BOLDUAN: Is that the working group?

LOTTER: That is part of the working group the president talked about yesterday. Let's get people into a room, figure out how we can lower premiums. We have shown we can do it with prescription drugs. Last year, the price of prescription drugs fell for the first time in 46 years.


LOTTER: We can do more if we can get both sides together, and if they face a deadline, things typically get done in Congress.

BOLDUAN: I love deadlines.

The president made a lot of promises last night. One is he will protect patients with preexisting conditions. The laws the administration are supporting would not do that. Here is what I really want to know. He promised the crowd in Michigan that he will fully fund an initiative to protect the Great Lakes. Let me play this for you.


TRUMP: And I am going to get in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative --


TRUMP: -- which you have been trying to get for over 30 years.


BOLDUAN: Here is the thing, the president's budget this year and in previous years does the exact opposite, not even close to fully funding it. What should people believe, Marc, his words or his actions?

LOTTER: Well, I would tell you, a president's budget proposal is always ignored completely by Congress, regardless of the president and regardless of Congress.

BOLDUAN: It's not often ignored by the president whose name is on it. I don't care who put it together. Clearly, someone else.


BOLDUAN: But he should know his own budget?

[11:35:03] LOTTER: What I would tell you is obviously the line by line of the federal budget is quite immense. In this case, I think you've got great Senators, like Rob Portman and many others, who have convinced the president that this is something that needs to be done. He made that promise last night. Now it goes to Congress.

BOLDUAN: But wait. So are you saying --


LOTTER: I am excited to see that they will be able to do that in a bipartisan fashion?

BOLDUAN: Is the president's budget total B.S. then?

LOTTER: No. The president's budget always outlines general guidelines that -- where they want to go with Congress.

BOLDUAN: Outline. You're taking it from $300 million to $30 million.

LOTTER: And also, it's promising --

BOLDUAN: I can tell you, in Ohio and Michigan and the Great Lakes region, they took notice of it. LOTTER: It also promised to cut spending 5 percent across the aboard.

Many of these budget proposals are showing long-term broad examples. It goes to Congress to fund these budgets. As you well know, Congress, regardless of who the president is or the party, basically ignores it and does what they want to do anyway. Now you have the president saying let's fund this Great Lakes Initiative. It is something that should be bipartisan. And I'm positive we can get it done.

BOLDUAN: It should be. But he should also maybe outline it as a budget priority if it is a priority at the time. It wasn't that long ago that he unveiled the budget. That is why it is just so surprising.

But this speaks directly to the president's announcement about the Special Olympics. Did he hang Betsy DeVos out to dry?

LOTTER: I don't get into the who is up, who is down in Washington. I know it's a great parlor game around here.


LOTTER: That was a budget proposal.


BOLDUAN: -- if it is Democrat/Republican.

LOTTER: That was part of a budget proposal put together by budget experts that are reflecting their needs to cut their budgets. In this case, when the president found out about it, he said, no, we are going to fund Special Olympics, they're going to get their full funding. And so again he stepped in and made the call. I'm positive Congress will go with it.

BOLDUAN: It's just another one. I'm feel like Betsy DeVos today.

Let me play you something, because this why. Ryan Nobles was trying to ask questions of the secretary when she was walking through the capitol yesterday. Let me play this for you, Marc.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Madam Secretary, you said today that you were not the person that proposed this funding change. Can you explain who in your administration did?

Madame Secretary, have you spoken to the president about this at all?

If there's some misunderstanding, this is the opportunity to explain it to us.


BOLDUAN: It's really uncomfortable to watch.

You specialize in communication. You are very good at it. That's why I love having you on.

LOTTER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Is that how you recommend handling this?

LOTTER: Actually, I would. It's not unusual for members of Congress to ignore the reporters who are running around the halls and asking them questions at all times of the day. It happens in both parties. It happens all the time.

In this case, a lot like the federal budget, you've seen it, it's always a big production when it is on a pallet. It is about the size of an old phone book. So many decisions are made at a bureaucratic level. When they get the broad discretion to say, cut the budget by this or do that, to know every single line of the budget proposals, that is what the appropriators do. That is what Congress does. I don't get into it. I'm not sure if she knows the answer of what specific name of what specific person put that line into a computer. But the fact of the matter is it is really meaningless because it is going to be funded. The president wants to do it. Congress on both sides of the aisle wants to do it. It will be funded.

BOLDUAN: I would love to argue that it is all in some way meaningful because that's a lot of wasted paper if no one needs to know what the president's budget priorities are.


LOTTER: The House is saying they are not going to produce a budget proposal, their version of it --


LOTTER: -- because they can't get agreement on it. Again, these resolutions are guidelines. It is when you get to the appropriation bills. Congress isn't going to do it in the House on their side this year.

BOLDUAN: My immediate recommendation to Betsy DeVos is to find a faster elevator. Because that will --


BOLDUAN: Marc, thank you.

LOTTER: A lot of people would like faster elevators in Congress.

BOLDUAN: Bipartisan.

LOTTER: Yes, exactly.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Marc. Thank you for coming in.

LOTTER: You bet. Great to see you, too, Kate.

[11:39:17] BOLDUAN: Coming up, a leading civil rights group rocked by accusations of harassment and a toxic culture. What is happening there now? Details next.


BOLDUAN: There's a group that has been a fierce champion for social justice for decades, keeping close tabs on hate groups, defending civil rights and taking to court and winning. Now the Southern Poverty Law Center is in a different kind of struggle from within. Two weeks ago, a cofounder was fired. Now the president is stepping down. And now accusations of discrimination.

CNN's Nick Valencia has the very latest and has been following this.

Nick, what is going on?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it shows you that no one is immune to these types of allegations, not even the SPLC. The current conflict hit a boiling point after a respected African-American attorney resigned earlier this month. In her resignation letter, Meredith Horton brought up issues with the culture at the SPLC. A source tells us the legendary organization, which has fought for equal rights in America for decades, could not guarantee equal rights for its own staff.



[11:44:59] VALENCIA (voice-over): Since its inception, the group has fought for equal rights for some of the more infamous groups of our generation, like the KKK.


VALENIA: But two current employees told CNN the Southern Poverty Law Center fell short in guaranteeing equality for its own staff. They employees we spoke to would not go on camera out of fear of retaliation. But one told CNN, "The SPLC suffers from a systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace." A second employee agreed. "It's an environment where black employees are not being promoted despite being qualified, a work place where a woman is made to feel she is not being seen her heard." Said one employee, "My boss only hires white people."

Now some employees say the group has to practice what they preach. "It is bad," one employee speaking on condition anonymity said. "The rank and file are deeply divided."

The employee described the current upheaval at the SPLC as a revolution against the organization's longtime leadership, initiated by employees tired of seeing the pervasive culture persist and going unchallenged by those in charge.

The SPLC declined CNN's request for an interview and did not respond to the specific claims made by some of their employees to CNN, but they did send this response from the board of director's chair, Bryan Fair, "We acknowledge and take very seriously the significant concerns that our talented and deeply committed staff have raised."

MORRIS DEES, SPLC COFOUNDER: At the law center, we see the solutions to these issues involving race and justice as not simple.

VALENCIA: The claims come after the firing of co-founder, Morris Dees, on March 13. The SPLC says the 82-year-old was terminated after two separate investigations into alleged misconduct. They would not be more specific citing privacy of personnel matters.

(on camera): Hi, Morris. My name is Nick Valencia.

(voice-over): Dees did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him about his termination. An SPLC spokesperson said, in a statement regarding Dees' firing, "No one, no matter that person's position at the SPLC, will be exempt from scrutiny and accountability."

After Dees, came the resignation of Richard Cohen, the longtime president of the organization. Cohen did not return calls. In a staff e-mail, Cohen stepped down after 16 years at the helm. "We've heard from our staff that we need to do a better job of making sure our work place embodies the values we espouse, truth, justice, equity and inclusion," he wrote.

While some of our sources have been critical of the culture at the SPLC, they acknowledge that the organization has done important work in shedding light on extremism. CNN spoke to one woman who said, "A lot of the claims were completely exaggerated. I'm completely happy here. We have many women in leadership.

But in recent days, the SPLC's female legal director also resigned. We reached her, but she would not comment.


VALENCIA: One employee cited the recent hiring of Tina Tchen to investigate the SPLC as a step in the right direction. Tchen, the former adviser and former chief of staff for Michelle Obama, is considered an expert in counseling companies on gender and equity, sexual harassment and a lack of diversity in the workplace. Tchen will conduct a thorough review that looks at all aspects of the SPLC operations. We understand, Kate, that those meetings are already underway in Montgomery, Alabama.

BOLDUAN: Really amazing developments.

Nick, thank you so much.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it.

Coming up, new trouble for Actor Jussie Smollett, like $130,000 worth of trouble. The city of Chicago slapping him with a big bill. Will he have to pay? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:50:45] BOLDUAN: Refugees coming to America are looking to build a better life. But when they get here, they often face new obstacles. This week's "CNN Hero" is helping refugees in a surprising way, to get them one step closer to achieving the American dream. Meet Carrie Brody.


CARRIE BRODY, CNN HERO: What we're teaching our students isn't just life skills and it isn't just cooking. It's the idea that you are a human and you have value, and that's something that people have tried to strip away from others for such a long time.

What's the dream team cooking up?


BRODY: Samba cake. Awesome.

That experience of watching our students transform, of seeing our students really come into their own inspires me.


BOLDUAN: To learn more about Carrie's program and to nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero," go to

Still ahead for us, the -- (AUDIO INTERRUPTED)


BOLDUAN: The city of Chicago is looking to collect, now demanding $130,000 from Actor Jussie Smollett, saying it's to covers the costs of the massive investigation they had to launch over what the police and the mayor say was a stage hate crime hoax.

With the latest, joining me right now, CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell. He's a former FBI supervisory special agent.

Josh, $130,000 the city wants from Jussie Smollett. Is the city going to get it?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think so. I don't think they're going to see a dime of this because this falls under the category of asking for restitution, essentially, when someone has not been convicted of a crime. Now, the city, as they claim, has been good at recouping costs when there has been a conviction and charges were dropped. That said, I think it's important for police officers to explain to the public just how resource-intensive this investigation was. We see that $130,000 figure. You had over two dozen officers working this case, you had FBI employees going through digital evidence, so you had a lot of resources in place. The question is, since this is said to not be a hoax and the city isn't charged, will the city see that money. I don't think so -- Kate? BOLDUAN: The president announced on Twitter that the FBI is reviewing

the case. That was yesterday. Since then, there has been confusion over what exactly is being reviewed on this, if anything. Have you heard anything about this?

[11:55:10] CAMPBELL: We have. We've reached out to ask federal authorities. The president really poured gasoline, essentially, on the situation by claiming the FBI was conducting this review into the case. The president obviously runs the Justice Department. He's the head of the executive branch. So for him to come out and say the FBI was actively involved, you would hope that would actually be the case. So far we haven't received that indication. There would be questions of what the FBI would be able to do --

BOLDUAN: Well, what do you think --

CAMPBELL: -- maybe possible wire-fraud violations.

BOLDUAN: What would their role be?

CAMPBELL: I think it would probably -- it would be limited to that view, that point, you know, did he commit some type of wire fraud. That hasn't been determined. We don't know if they're involved. But I think that's probably what they would do, if they got involved.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Josh. Thank you so much.

CAMPBELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, it's the victory lap that just won't quit for President Trump. Rallying supporters in his first campaign event since the Mueller investigation wrapped. And he's out for revenge. That's next.