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Former VP Joe Biden Becomes 20th Democrat to Join Race; FBI, IRS Execute Search Warrants at Baltimore Mayor's Residences; President Trump Claims He Never Told Don McGahn to Fire Robert Mueller; Joe Biden Enters Crowded Democratic Field for 2020 as Frontrunner; Barack Obama Says He Has No Plans Yet to Endorse Anybody. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:27] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy is off today. And Biden is in.

The longtime senator, two-time -- two-term, rather, vice-president launched his third attempt for the Democratic presidential nomination early this morning in a video that frames 2020 in visceral, emotional terms.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen. The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake. That's why today I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.


SCIUTTO: With that long expected announcement, the Democratic field now stands at an even 20. While Joe Biden is not the oldest -- that honor belongs to Bernie Sanders -- he has more political experience than the other 19 candidates combined. You heard that right, 19 combined.

CNN's Arlette Saenz joins me now from Wilmington, Delaware.

Arlette, you've been covering Biden for some time. This opening salvo really goes visceral, goes emotional, goes for the soul of the nation as he says.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It does, Jim. And this is going to be one of the first of the three pillars of Joe Biden's campaign, talking about reclaiming the soul of the nation. Two other things he's going to be refocusing on is rebuilding the middle class and uniting Americans. But you saw in that video those images from Charlottesville. And Joe Biden is really drilling in on those clashes, that moment, and specifically President Trump's response to it, saying that it's putting the soul of the nation at stake and that he is concerned that this election, that if Donald Trump is re-elected as president, that the character of the nation will be at stake.

This is the first that we are hearing from Joe Biden on his own terms about why he decided to jump into this 2020 race. But before he gets to President Trump in a general election, he is going to have to get through that crowded and historically diverse Democratic field. Right now, he is the presumed frontrunner. He is at the top of most polls. But will Joe Biden be able to keep up that status as he goes through this long slog of the Democratic primary process before that general election?

SCIUTTO: So, as you note, he's high in the polls. The other big barometer of course is money. And he's going after high rollers in effect in Philadelphia. Tell us about that.

SAENZ: That's right, Jim. Later today, he is going to be in Philadelphia for a private fundraiser that's hosted at the home or by one of -- an executive for Comcast. And there's also going to be a strong showing from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, included on that list is Senator Bob Casey who is among the first senators to endorse Joe Biden this morning. Pennsylvania of course is also a very important state for Democrats as they are trying to bring it back into the blue column.

But Joe Biden has never been a prolific fundraiser. And right now you've seen a lot of emphasis and enthusiasm around that grassroots, small-donor fundraising. The question is, is Biden going to be able to capitalize that or will he be doing more of the traditional type of big fundraiser types of events?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Because the playing field has changed so much since his first race. How about the other first campaign stops? Where is he focusing his attention in these first few days?

SAENZ: Yes, well, Joe Biden is keeping up a busy schedule. Tomorrow, he'll be appearing on "The View." And then on Monday, we'll see him at his first official event over in Pittsburgh. He's going to be talking about union issues as well as the working class. And then he's going to really barnstorm the country over the next few weeks, heading out to all of those early states like Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire.

He is also going to make a West Coast swing heading out to California as well as Nevada. And then the culmination of this rollout, of this launch, is going to be May 18th in Philadelphia. The campaign is pointing out that that is the birthplace of democracy, just one of the things they are trying to hone in on in these first few weeks of the campaign -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And also back in that key battleground Pennsylvania. It shows you where the attention is focused. Arlette Saenz, thanks very much. We know you're going to be following him around the country.

Joining me now is CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and White House correspondent for the "Guardian" newspaper, Sabrina Siddiqui.

Great to have you both on. Douglas, the president has already responded to the former vice president's entry to the race.

[09:05:04] Put it up on the screen. "Welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe." That's a moniker he has used before. But clearly one he's going to use again. "I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty. You'll be dealing with people who truly have some very sick and demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the starting gate."

I mean, backhanded compliment, kind of all over the place there. Tell us about Trump's reaction. And does it indicate to you that he is concerned about Joe Biden as competition?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: If I were Donald Trump, I'd be very concerned about Joe Biden. First off, the sleepy Joe thing is just not going to stick. I don't know if Donald Trump hasn't ever witnessed Biden in motion the last decade. But he draws big, enthusiastic crowds. People talk about his age, but he is a deeply energized person. And he is already laying out a campaign right into the heart of Trump country.

Donald Trump barely won Pennsylvania. He's -- Biden, although he is from Delaware, is really knocking things off in Pittsburgh. He is going to have AFL-CIO people everywhere around him. He's going to have firefighters, policemen. Those are the base of Joe Biden. And in a state like Iowa, Biden has worked very hard to keep ties with the Catholic Church.

He lost his son, Beau, obviously, very tragically. And he knows people in Davenport and Dubuque. And many of them are very stoked about having Biden in the race. He's a formidable entry person, whether he can pull it off we'll have to see. But the idea you're going to do what they -- what Trump did to Jeb Bush, low energy Jeb, is doubtful. Biden is energized to try to grab the nomination.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina Siddiqui, you could argue that this president -- President Trump would like to face someone from the left side of the Democratic Party. He's been talking about socialism. I think in this tweet here when he talks about sick and demented ideas, he's referencing that to some degree here. But Joe Biden, he is a moderate Democrat. Something that I have to imagine the president is concerned about.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And Joe Biden's own working class roots does give him appeal to some of the very same working class voters who swung away from Democrats in 2016 and helped propel Donald Trump to the White House. I think what's interesting about Biden's announcement is whereas a lot of the conversations in the Democratic field so far has been centered on a policy debate around progressive proposals like Medicare for all, debt-free college tuition, the Green New Deal, Biden is taking the fight directly to Trump and making more of a values argument against the current president.

And so I think that he, as you saw in his video, sees this as a moment that is more about the character of this country. Now the question is, does that play into Trump's hands in some ways by making this election much more about the president and a referendum on him? The other conversation happening within the Democratic Party is that they need to make more than just an anti-Trump case.

Now I think Biden will absolutely also campaign on the issues. The real question will be, as his campaign takes shape, how will he fair in what is an increasingly diverse and an increasingly young Democratic field? And will those decades of experience that he is billing as an asset in his ability to bring the country together also perhaps be a liability because it does mean that he comes with more political baggage than some of the others in the field.

SCIUTTO: So, Doug Brinkley, you've watched a number of campaigns. Was this a smart tack on Biden's part to start by taking aim at Trump, not just Trump the person but Trump the messenger, Trump as a kind of icon of a divided America? Was that the right way to go here? Or would it have been smarter for him to start with some sort of positive message? You know, here's how I'm going to help middle class voters, for instance.

BRINKLEY: He will do how I'm going to help middle class voters in Pittsburgh and Iowa. I think he is trying to run on saying, we've got to get this bum out of the White House, the bum being Donald Trump. Biden is going to say at all costs, he's got to go. And I'm the one who can do it. He was eight years vice president. Not just vice president to anybody, but to Barack Obama. And if he can get Barack Obama's fundraising list down the line, if he can mobilize Obama supporters, that's another big base for him.

And the one rallying point, what's going to unify the Democrats in Milwaukee is getting rid of Donald Trump. It's an unusual cycle. Who would -- if Biden got the nomination, would be his vice president will be interesting, whether could be somebody like Kamala Harris or I know we're getting ahead of ourselves here. But there has to be a woman on the ticket for the Democrats one way or the other because in Milwaukee, in 2020, they will be celebrating 100 years of women getting the right to vote, which was in 1920, the first time.

SCIUTTO: Well, Sabrina, of course Douglas mentions Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, one of the three battleground states that turned in 2016. 70,000 votes in Wisconsin.

[09:10:03] Michigan and Pennsylvania, of course, a lot of the early events for Biden are in Pennsylvania. He is Scranton Joe. But Pennsylvania, of course a key battleground here. Is Joe Biden the candidate who can turn those battleground states blue from red and beat Trump?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think he is one of the candidates who stands the best chance of doing so. I think his main competition within the Democratic field would undeniably come from Senator Bernie Sanders, who also has a great amount of support among working class white voters. And I think both Biden and Sanders do fairly well against Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head in those states. Now that polling is extremely early. So you can't draw too many conclusions. The question I think for Biden, as he enters this very crowded

Democratic field is when it comes to some of these policy differences, is it going to be that he can still appeal by saying he prefers an incremental approach to change, or is the Democratic electorate really looking for someone who is going to disrupt the system like Senator Sanders is proposing?


SIDDIQUI: I think there is broad agreement among Democrats on some of these broader policy goals. The disagreements are really how to get there. And I think that's what the primary is really going to be about.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's going to be a long one.

Douglas Brinkley, Sabrina Siddiqui, thanks very much.

There is reaction from former president Barack Obama this morning to Biden's announcement. Jeff Zeleny has the scoop.

Of course they served together for eight years. Biden as Obama's vice-president. What is Obama saying?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, good morning. There's no question what type of Democrat Joe Biden is going to run as. We heard him say just a couple of weeks ago, he's like I'm an Obama-Biden Democrat. So we do know that the former vice president is going to focus significantly more on the last eight years of his public record, his time in the White House with Barack Obama than he is on his first 36 years in the Senate.

Of course, during a long Democratic primary, all of this will be litigated and raised. But we are getting a sense of what the former president Barack Obama is thinking. We do know he is not going to offer an immediate endorsement likely this year at all. And this is why. I talked to a close adviser of his who said this. He said, "He believes in a robust primary. In 2007 and 2008, not only made him a better general election candidate but a better president, too. And because of that, it is unlikely that he will throw his support behind a specific candidate this early in the primary process. Preferring instead to let the candidates make their case directly to the voters."

So, Jim, when you dissect that a little bit, he is not ruling out an endorsement at all if this campaign goes on and on next year. And it's, you know, perhaps weakening the party, he may offer an endorsement or he could at some point after the voting begins. But I think one of the central points here is Barack Obama knows the limited nature of endorsements, even if his endorsement is very popular in the Democratic Party. But he knows that Joe Biden has to win this race on his own.

Joe Biden knows that as well. But he does carry that Obama record. It's perhaps a touch of a liability among some progressives. But, boy, Jim, overall, Joe Biden is also a candidate for change. Perhaps not the youngest candidate in the race but certainly change from Donald Trump.


ZELENY: So that is exactly what he is trying to focus the race on right now -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny, great to have you on.

Still to come this hour, President Trump says that part of the Mueller report is wrong. This morning, he is denying that he told former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel. So who do you believe, the president tweeting or Don McGahn testifying under oath?

Plus breaking this morning, FBI and IRS agents execute search warrants at two residents belonging to Baltimore's mayor as well as city hall. We've got the latest on that story.

And really just a heartbreaking, sad end to this story. Police say they have now located the body of a missing 5-year-old boy from Illinois. It's his parents who are under arrest charged with murder.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. This morning, the former Vice-President Joe Biden launched what my next guest is calling a great political science experiment. Harry Enten is CNN senior political writer and analyst with some insights on Biden's third run for president. So I mean, the first question, simplest one is, is he now the frontrunner?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER & ANALYST: I would argue that he is, Mr. Sciutto. And the reason I would argue that is take a look at the polls. We have the national polls, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, the early states. And what we essentially see is he is polling right around 30 percent on average in all of them and he is leading in all of these different contests, specifically, nationally he leads by about 10 points, same in Iowa.

New Hampshire is pretty close, but overall, he is on ahead.

SCIUTTO: Those are big numbers. Progressives, I mean, we talk a lot about the progressive wing of this party, certainly energized in the cycle. They have their favorites, how does Biden do with progressives?

ENTEN: Yes, so take a look at this. So this is ideology, and take a look. This is the most recent Mammoth University poll, and what we see is that Biden is actually trailing. He is actually trailing among those voters who consider themselves liberal. But take a look here.


ENTEN: Moderate to conservative lane, about 50 percent -- about 50 percent of Democratic voters identify as moderate conservative, and he is well out ahead with 36 percent of the vote right now in the national polls.

SCIUTTO: It's not like he is getting killed among liberals either there, I mean, it's second place, he's not way down, it's not like they dislike him, it doesn't seem that.

ENTEN: No, it's not his lane, but he is holding his own. Remember, I think that's one of the key things in politics, right? It's to hold your own among your weakest groups --

SCIUTTO: Right --

ENTEN: And run away with the strongest groups, and right now he is running away with the moderate conservatives and holding his own with the liberal group.

SCIUTTO: His age, major negative for him?

ENTEN: You know, I think that this is a question. And this is right now, are voters in fact taking into the account that he is going to be over the age of 75 on election day and on inauguration day? What we see is that only 33 percent of Democrats say they feel enthusiastic or comfortable with a candidate over 75.

And only 37 percent of all voters, and so I think that's a question, is, when they see him out on the campaign trail, will they feel comfortable with --

[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: Right --

ENTEN: Exactly who the candidate's percent before that?

SCIUTTO: Do they see energy? Do they -- and I wonder if Donald Trump calling him sleepy Joe in his tweet today reacted to this, is that part of that?

ENTEN: I think that's exactly part of it. Going after what they believe is his biggest weakness.

SCIUTTO: Right --

ENTEN: If I could add one little thing here and just to point out and just sort of -- what does it exactly mean that Biden is polling right now where he is, which is right around this. Which is this 30 -- 20 percent to 35 percent, that's where Biden is polling. About 35 percent of the time, candidates who poll there win the nomination, which in a field of 20 is not particularly bad, it makes him the frontrunner, but it doesn't make him the odds-on favorite.

SCIUTTO: What if he goes above 35 percent? I see there, then you got a three and fourth --

ENTEN: That's exactly right, that's where Hillary Clinton was polling. He is not quite there, but he isn't where Jeb Bush was, who was only between 10 percent and 20 percent. They only went about 10 percent of the time. He is right there and sort of that middle road, which is why I say it's a great political science experiment. SCIUTTO: And you have -- are those numbers better, considering the

size of the field, right? I mean, the pie is divided up pretty broadly --

ENTEN: The pie is very large, and what I'll say is in a Democratic primary, you need at least 15 percent of the vote to get delegates, even though it's proportional, and he's above that, and only he and Sanders right now are above those.

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, always good to have you on.

ENTEN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Agents for the FBI and the IRS are executing search warrants right now in multiple locations in Baltimore, including two residences of the Mayor there, Catherine Pugh. The agents also searching City Hall and a non-profit organization that the mayor has worked with in the past.

Pugh has been on a leave of absence in the wake of the scandal over how much she was paid for a children's book series that she wrote. CNN crime and justice reporter David Shortell has been covering the story and has more details. What can you tell us about these searches and what exactly is the mayor accused of here?

DAVID SHORTELL, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Jim, exactly. Five at least search warrants being executed across the city of Baltimore, as you said including two homes belonging to Mayor Pugh as well as City Hall, a non-profit that she has worked with and the home of one of her former aides this morning, that's all confirmed by the FBI.

Now, a law enforcement official tells us Mayor Pugh was home this morning around 6:45 or 7:00 a.m. when investigators arrived at her home. No arrests have been made today according to the FBI. We don't quite know what these search warrants are in regards to, but there has been a scandal that's engulfed city politics in Baltimore, involving a book deal that she had while she was working on the board of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mayor Pugh as you said has taken a leave of absence, citing health reasons earlier this month. We've reached out to her attorney and to City Hall, haven't heard back yet, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So tell us what else we know about the scandal here and where it will go from here.

SHORTELL: Yes, Jim, this scandal has been really well reported by the "Baltimore Sun" and other local outlets in Baltimore for the past couple of months. It involves a period of time that the mayor spent at the University of Maryland Medical System's board.

During that time, the medical system paid her some half a million dollars for about a 100,000 copies of this children's book that she had written about children's health. The mayor last month apologized for this deal and has since returned about $100,000 for a deal that was still being placed.

Mayor Pugh took a leave of absence beginning April 1st, citing recovery from pneumonia. And later this -- later that month, the city council in unanimous step called on her to resign, Jim, that was all before these search warrants were executed, which we know is a significant ratcheting up of this scandal.

SCIUTTO: David Shortell, thanks very much. President Trump lashing out at his former White House counsel claiming that he never told Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. Then why is he trying to stop McGahn from testifying before Congress?

And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors will be watching Facebook; the social network giant says it expects to face a fine as high as $5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission all because of its data privacy practices. It matters to you, a lot of your private information out there, we'll cover the story.


SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Trump continuing his attacks on the credibility of his former White House counsel Don McGahn. The president claiming that he never told McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. McGahn testified under oath to the special counsel that President Trump did, in fact, tell him to fire the special counsel.

But McGahn says that he refused to follow through on that order. Here to discuss is Paul Callan; CNN legal analyst and Josh Dawsey; White House reporter for "The Washington Post". So Josh Dawsey, first, you have a president here who is claiming the report exonerates him, therefore he loves his special counsel now.

But on this issue, well documented by the special counsel, he is claiming that part of the report --


SCIUTTO: Is wrong.

DAWSEY: The president is vacillated between victim and victor in recent days. At times, he had said total and complete exoneration, other times he's tried to repudiate or attack findings of the report. Here, the president is calling the media "fake news" for reporting the findings of a government document that were based on interviews with his own lawyer.

And if you remember, Jim, the president did not interview with Mueller and his investigators because his lawyers were afraid he would not tell the truth or it would become a perjury trap. So, the president has taken some of the findings and done quite a victory lap with them.

You know, that there was no collusion with Russia, that they could not fully prove obstruction as a criminal enterprise. But many of the episodes here that were more damning for him, he has tried to push back on. And here you're seeing that this morning. I mean, and one other point is that the president has been most

frustrated with Don McGahn of anyone in the White House. McGahn, his former chief for U.S. sat for 30 hours with the prosecutors, provided no written materials as chief of staff, Anne Donaldson also provided copious written notes and --


DAWSEY: That has been kind of a nexus of his anger, so you're seeing that kind on Twitter --


DAWSEY: Some this morning.

SCIUTTO: Well, McGahn's testimony gets to what is Trump's worst insult, right.