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Reporting Indicates President Trump Possibly Unhappy with U.S. Policy Direction on Iran; Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Opens Campaign Office in Pennsylvania; Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) is Interviewed About His Presidential Run. Aired 8-8:30a ET.

Aired May 16, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Reports the U.S. intelligence officials have declassified one image to help prove their case. In just hours top Congressional leaders will get their first classified briefing on this.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The other big headline this morning is the "Washington Post" reports that President Trump is angry with some top advisers, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, who he fears could be rushing the U.S. into a confrontation. The president is denying any infighting and reportedly wants to talk directly with Iran's leaders to try to diffuse the situation.

So let's bring in to talk about all of this Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent, Bianna Golodryga, CNN contributor, and Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst. Sam, I want to start with you because you worked at the National Security Council for four years. You dealt with a lot of Iranian issues. Are you surprised by where we find ourselves this morning?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I'm not surprised based upon the president's own history on Iran and based upon the fact that the policy process is a train wreck at this juncture. We have a playbook for these kinds of situations, Alisyn. We did this when I was at the White House, and this is not the first time that there have been threats from Iran during the Trump administration. President Trump is trying to blame this all, ostensibly, on John Bolton. He doesn't like taking ownership of issues when things don't go well. But he was the one who made the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. He was the one that tweeted memes from "Game of Thrones" when we re-imposed sanctions on Iran most recently.

CAMEROTA: And you think those two things led to where we are with tensions today?

VINOGRAD: I think that they certainly helped escalate tensions with Iran and where we are today. And he is now trying to take a different approach and to say that he's open to talking with Iran because things have gotten to this juncture. But the policy process is not working. There is, again, a playbook for these kinds of situations. You get the intelligence in order, which they haven't done. You brief Congress so that everyone is operating from the same sheet of music. You brief your allies so that there is at least the same talking points about what's happening.

What we're seeing now instead is the process rushed to make a decision, to draw down our personnel, to move assets. And they are now trying to play catch up again with the president's initial policies on Iran and with these decisions when they haven't done the basic good housekeeping to implement a cohesive narrative on this.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip, at the White House, there is this reporting in the "Washington Post" this morning from Josh Dawsey and others that President Trump is somehow frustrated with John Bolton, that John Bolton is pushing for war and the president doesn't want to be there just yet. What are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've heard this before. When it came to Venezuela, the president expressed similar sentiments. We reported just a few weeks ago that he was growing frustrated that John Bolton had pushed the United States in what he viewed as on the brink of a confrontation with Venezuela.

And similarly, here John Bolton has been out front on this issue of Iran, and the president is uncomfortable with that. Sam is right on some level that President Trump defers blame a lot of times in these situations. He is the chief decision-maker in the White House. He is the commander in chief. Ultimately, it's up to him. But he is surrounded in Bolton by an adviser who is basically staked his entire career on the principle of regime change in Iran. And now we are at this point now where the president feels like the U.S. is pushing toward a confrontation that he is personally not ready for, that he campaigned against confrontations just like this.

And that's why we're seeing the president talking a lot more about trying to get the Iranians on the phone. He wants to get on the phone, perhaps even get face-to-face with negotiators, because he would prefer to deal with it that way. But the problem is the rhetoric has escalated to such a point that they are having, I think, it seems, a hard time ratcheting things back down to an acceptable level. And the president is ultimately the person responsible for that, not John Bolton.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And a real concern here is the possible miscalculation, right? Any military action in Iran would make Syria look like a cakewalk, would make Iraq look like a cakewalk. Iran is four times the size of Iraq. You would need more, double the 120,000 troops that are potentially being thought to send over there. So this is really a situation where not only do you need all of your allies on board, which doesn't seem to be the case as far as the Europeans, but also this is something that is really concerning to U.S. officials and to U.S. politicians because any miscalculation could trigger a massive response.

BERMAN: There's some new reporting from our White House team that just crossed a minute ago. Let me read some of the bullet points here. President Trump has become irritated at the impression emerging over the past few days that hawkish advisers like Bolton are pushing him toward military conflict. Inside the president has indicated he is intent on speaking with the Iranians. He actually wants to open up a diplomatic channel. We'll come back to that. Let me just read a few others and then if you want to get on that you can. There is serious wariness of Bolton inside Trump's clique of outside advisers. We need to be careful of his judgment. And in terms of military conflict with Iran, someone else says there is no interest in the president in doing that at all.

[08:05:11] CAMEROTA: Why are you amused by his desire to have these backchannels are Iran?

VINOGRAD: Well, I have to just start with the John Bolton comments. President Trump feels entirely comfortable mean tweeting at perfect strangers when he disagrees with what they're saying. It is discordant to me that he wouldn't sit down with John Bolton and tell him that he disagrees with his policy approach on Iran. They work in the West Wing together when the president isn't watching television. So that's piece number one.

Second, the president assumes that everybody wants to talk to him on the phone. If he actually sat down with his intelligence community, they would likely tell him that the Iranians have domestic politics, too. They have egg on their face because they signed an agreement with the United States that President Trump violated. So it is entirely unlikely to me that they are just sitting around waiting for the president to call. If he was smart right now, he would engage in a backchannel negotiation with the Iranians like we did under President Obama so that he could build up credibility through that secret channel and convince the Iranians that he is actually taking negotiations seriously.

CAMEROTA: I think that is what he's saying he wants. He wants to develop some backchannel, diplomatic route to them, but is that possible?

VINOGRAD: It might be possible if we behind the scenes establish credibility with the Iranians. I don't know that that's what he's saying. He has the Swiss coming to Washington today in some kind of P.R. stunt. The Swiss are our channel to the Iranians. That's not back channel. That's very overt. He is making these statements publicly. We have no indication that he's trying to do something behind the scenes that actually involves preparatory work.

BERMAN: Abby, you wanted in?

PHILLIP: I was just going to say that the U.S. government has made it clear that they do want to establish some kind of channel with the Iranians, and the Swiss visit today is part of the president making that as explicitly clear as he can. And Sam might be right, this could very well be a publicity stunt, a way for President Trump to signal an openness to talking. But at the same time this is how President Trump operates. He actually would prefer that he be the one being on the phone with his counterparts, having those conversations.

And frankly I wouldn't be surprised if the Iranians felt like they couldn't trust backchannel negotiations, because a lot of times people behind the scenes in this administration cannot speak for the president, and I think they are aware of that just given the fact that past -- that past experiences with this have proven that that's how they operate. But our reporting right now is showing that the president's frustration with Bolton -- Sam is right, he could just talk to John Bolton. But in almost every case where he has been frustrated with his advisers, thinking back to Rex Tillerson, it is expressed through his conversations with his friends. It's expressed on Twitter. Yesterday he issued a tweet saying there is no disagreement, the policy process is going well, but I do want to talk to Iran. He sometimes says contradictory things in public even when he's frustrated in private, and then sometimes that leads to these advisers really being on the outs.

So I think we should watch for this to play out, even as the president tries to deny that there is discord behind the scenes. Our reporting shows that there really is, and I think the fact that his rhetoric and Bolton's rhetoric are not in the same place is just a clear example of how they are just in two completely different directions on this issue.

GOLODRYGA: But there is a big risk in the president personally getting involved in any negotiation with Iran. He's just not equipped in the back story and getting himself directly involved with Iranian officials. He could find himself in a similar position as he has been with Kim Jong-un coming to two summits, walking away empty handed. Many people would say he would be better served if he did have his advisers step in for any sort of negotiation ala what we saw with President Obama over the many years where his top negotiators were dealing with the Iranians, not President Obama himself.

And to Bolton, we have to be reminded he was not the president's first pick. He bypassed Bolton his first year in office as well. He had to be convinced by Bolton's allies. They don't see eye-to-eye on a number --

BERMAN: Michael Flynn was his first pick.

GOLODRYGA: Right, exactly, and look where he is now. They don't see eye to eye on many issues. Bolton is an ideologue. The president is not. Look at where Bolton stands with regard to Russia, similar concerns now about the president being frustrated with where things stand with regards to Venezuela. So they don't have that much in common.

BERMAN: One thing we just learned, we heard from the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif saying there is no chance of discussions right now. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations told me two days ago talks aren't happening. There was a system in place to talk and that was the nuclear agreement. The U.S. pulled out of that, so no.

A little campaign news, Bianna. We learned this morning that Joe Biden, former vice president, is opening up his campaign office in Philadelphia, which seems like an obvious move. He is from Delaware, although he was born in Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania seems to be so important to him.

GOLODRYGA: And he can speak to so many of these voters in a way that, frankly, a lot of the other Democratic candidates don't feel that they have that connection when it comes to the swing voter, when it comes to voters who voted for President Trump in 2016 that may have reservations about voting for him again.

[08:10:00] This is one of the great strengths of Joe Biden. He has quite a few weaknesses as well coming into a few weaknesses as well coming into this race. But when it comes to speaking to every day Americans, saying I feel your pain, I'm one of you, this is what Joe Biden said he could have done in 2016, this is what a lot of people say he can do in 2020.

CAMEROTA: And Abby, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has just jumped into the race this morning. Any comment from the White House?

PHILLIP: So far nothing. But it has been interesting over the last few days, Bill de Blasio and the president's son Donald Trump Jr. going after it on twitter. This is going to be one of those interesting New York sub-fights in which these individuals from New York, the president and his sons and Bill de Blasio kind of have a mini-feuds happening on the side. Whether or not that will be enough to propel Bill de Blasio into real relevance in this race is another story, but there is some serious bad blood there. The Trumps blaming de Blasio for, in their view, mismanaging the city's finances, de Blasio saying that the Trumps basically do business in a shady way in New York.

And I think that sometimes for these candidates getting attacked by the president and his sons can be a really good thing for them. We will see what happens with Bill de Blasio, but there's definitely some bad blood there.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Bianna, Sam, thank you all very much for all of the expertise.

So Alabama's restrictive abortion ban is now law. For our next guest, this effort has been personal. We talk with her about why she begged Alabama's lawmakers not to sign that bill.


[08:15:53] CAMEROTA: The nation's most restrictive abortion bill is now law. The legislation would punish doctors who perform abortions with life in prison. But it does not provide an exception for victims of rape or incest.

Our next guest Sam Blakely had an abortion after she was raped two years ago. Last week, she testified before Alabama's legislature begging them not to sign this bill.


SAM BLAKELY, ALABAMA RAPE VICTIM: If abortion was not legal, I would still have one somewhere, somehow, or I just would not be here because there's no way that I would be able to carry my rapist's child. There is no way.

And I want you all to know that as you are deciding on this. Please, please, I am begging you. Please don't take away my choice.


CAMEROTA: Sam Blakely joins us now.

Sam, we so appreciate you being here because you are the person that this would affect. You represent the women that this would affect. Can you -- and I know this isn't easy talking about so publicly, but you wanted to come forward because you felt that strongly about it.

Can you just tell us what that day was like when you learned that you were pregnant as the result of a rape?

BLAKELY: Absolutely. Devastation. There are no words to really describe what I went through.

I can recall being in the bathroom and biting on my shower curtain to keep from screaming so loudly because I was so distraught. It was the worst moment of my life.

CAMEROTA: And what would have happened in your life if this law had been in effect then and you had to carry the rapist's baby to term?

BLAKELY: Well, I can honestly say that I would not be here. That was very traumatic. I suffered from PTSD afterwards. I suffered major depressive disorder. Lots of traumatic things happened and I honestly do not believe that I would be able to go through with it.

My rapist I know would try to use that child -- that child to control me and to get to me because that's what he tried to do after I had my abortion.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And he would have rights to that child if you were forced to have that child. And so, last night when the governor signed this bill into law and before that when it passed in the state legislature, just share with us your feelings. What was your reaction?

BLAKELY: I was shocked. It was -- it was -- it was different than having all of those men agree and put this into effect, but to have Governor Ivey as a woman who knows what we go through, who has probably heard countless stories of women begging her not to sign this bill and she still did it anyway. It was -- it was beyond heartbreaking to me.

CAMEROTA: Here is what the Republicans on the state legislature say they were hoping for in passing this bill. Let me play for you their motivation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A human life has rights.

REP. TERRI COLLINS (R-AL): We will never get a heartbeat bill to be constitutional until Roe versus Wade is decided and reversed.


CAMEROTA: So that is an admission that this is designed to go to the Supreme Court, that they are hoping that the Supreme Court takes this up.

[08:20:01] In fact, they made it possibly so extreme so the Supreme Court is forced to take this up because what they want, I guess, is a heartbeat bill or something to that effect. So what do you think of their motivations here?

BLAKELY: I think it is sick and I think it's cruel that they are willing to endanger the lives of literally millions of women for a -- some sort of political pat on the back or something, some sort of political advancement in their agendas or something.

I'm not sure if they understand the gravity of what's going to happen, but at this point I have no words. I have absolutely no words to describe the disgust that I feel and so many women have told me that they feel. They are scared. They are angry.

We don't know what's going to happen. We are -- we are seriously in fear for our lives as women in Alabama.

CAMEROTA: When you say they don't know the gravity of what's going to happen, what do you think is going to happen?

BLAKELY: Well, I know that abortion will not end. Safe legal abortion will end, but abortion will not end. As women we will find ways.

They will be unsafe ways, they will be detrimental to our health ways, but we will continue to have abortions and that -- that is something that I don't know if the Republicans know or care about, but that is the fact of the matter, that we will continue to have them. They are taking away our safety.

CAMEROTA: Sam Blakely, we really appreciate you sharing your real life personal and devastating experience with us. Thank you very much for being here on NEW DAY.

BLAKELY: Absolutely.


BERMAN: It's courageous to have that discussion out in the open like that.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock officially entered the 2020 race this week, joining more than 20 other Democrats vying for the nomination. Why does he think he is the best candidate to beat Donald Trump? We'll ask him. He's here with us next.


[08:26:24] BERMAN: New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced just this morning that he is running for president, becoming the 23rd Democrat vying to challenge President Trump.

On Tuesday, our next guest, Governor Steve Bullock from Montana, also entered the race, touting his bipartisan appeal.


GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a Democrat governor of a state that Trump won by 20 points, I don't have the luxury of just talking to people who agree with me. I go all across our states 147,000 square miles and look for common ground to get things done. That's how I was able to bring Democrats and Republicans together.


BERMAN: And Governor Bullock joins us here on the set.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us.

BULLOCK: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Welcome to the fray, as they say.


BERMAN: Listen, some campaign news, we learned overnight that since you announced on Tuesday, your campaign has raised over a million dollars. We also learned this morning that you earned the endorsement of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller who has been in office forever roughly, endorsed Barack Obama when he first ran in 2008, which leads me to wonder do you think for you the road to the nomination goes through Iowa? How important is Iowa to your candidacy?

BULLOCK: Well, I think with a field of 37 or 23 or --

BERMAN: Whatever it is.

BULLOCK: -- whatever it might be, Iowa has always played that sort of the sorting hat function.

So for I think all of these candidates, the field will really be winnowed down after Iowa, but that's not the only place. And, really, what we need to be doing and I will be campaigning everywhere, but Iowa certainly I was so pleased when Tom Miller, I think he was the first person outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama and he's the first statewide official to endorse in the entire field, which I'm pleased that he has the trust in me, that he thinks I can get this done.

BERMAN: Did you really just make a Harry Potter reference, by the way, with the sorting hats?

BULLOCK: That's what happens when you have 17, 15 and 12 year olds. I live in that sort of world.

CAMEROTA: We get it. BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about this magic trick that you pulled off in Montana where you won as a blue governor in this red state the year that Donald Trump won by 20 points. So, that's commendable -- obviously, you are touting that as somebody who can cross the aisle. Some Democrats in this race would say it's maybe because you made too many concessions or you were too moderate. What's your response to that?

BULLOCK: Yes. And, look, 25 percent to 30 percent of my voters voted for Donald Trump, but it's not because I changed the values that I had. I mean, my legislature is almost 60 percent Republican. We were able to get Medicaid expansion through, we froze college tuition, passed some of the most progressive laws on dark money, yet never once compromising on women's right to make her own healthcare decisions or workers rights or access to the courthouse.

So, it's not -- I think the way that I've done it is that I don't just go to the patches of blue, as I said in that video, this is a big state, I have to go everywhere and often I have to both talk to and listen to people that may not initially agree with me. They may not agree with me on every single policy, but they fundamentally believe that I'm going to try to fix a broken political system and make an economy or give them opportunity that can work.

BERMAN: What does that mean on an issue like gun violence, like fighting gun violence, which is such an important issue to many Democratic progressive voters, it's number three on our list, if we put that up so people can see.

You know, being aggressive on climate change, Medicare-for-All, executive actions on guns, because this is an issue -- I don't want to say evolved, but you are -- have been in a different place than some of the Democratic candidates on this.

BULLOCK: Yes. And, look, I am also a hunter, I get outdoors. But, fundamentally, if we could ever look at this as a public health issue. I mean, as governor, I've vetoed a whole lot of gun-related bills.

A public health issue would say, how can we actually make sure that everybody can stay safe? And gun owners and non-gun owners want people to be able to stay safe. Universal background checks.