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Trump Campaign Fires Pollsters; Trump Cites Nixon; Cough During Trump's Interview; Hong Kong Protesters Reject Apology; Trump to Kick Off Re-Election Bid Tomorrow. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And when he doesn't even mean to, he ends up driving the narrative in that fashion as well.

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": Yes, I think what this shows really is the president's obsession. When he gets bad news he doesn't like and it gets in the public sphere, he has a really hard time turning the corner. This is a White House that was obsessed with leaks internally in the official capacity. Clearly they're trying to take measures right now to stem the concept of leaks into his presidential campaign.

But this is a rough start. Tomorrow they're going to have the official kickoff of the Trump 2020 campaign and this is not the thing they want to be talking about, these poll numbers. Whether they are a little old or not, they don't look good for the president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tim, you're nodding. I want to get your take on this before I bring up Nixon.


He's a -- the president's clearly a nightmare if you want to give him bad news. And we're going to be talking a little bit later about foreign policy. This is always an issue. How do you give this president bad news? And it's clear that he can't handle it, which means, of course, that people in the inner circle, in the campaign are going to try to shield him from bad news, which is not going to help campaign management at all.

BERMAN: All right, now, in your wheelhouse, Richard Nixon, obviously a Nixon expert. And the president, in this interview with George Stephanopoulos, was talking about the whole idea of whether or not he wanted, you know, Robert Mueller fired during the investigation. And listen to how he framed his answer.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wasn't going to fire. You know why? Because I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody and that didn't work out too well.


NAFTALI: It's true. That is actually acute, historical understanding.

What I don't believe is that he actually believes that because if you look at the Mueller report, this president was fuming all the time about getting rid of -- of -- about Mueller -- getting rid of Mueller. So I think that, yes, indeed, what starts the engine of impeachment going in 1973 is when Richard Nixon fires Cox and tries to shut down the independent investigation of Watergate.

What I don't believe is that the president, in the first months of his administration, and even in the second year, actually believe that he didn't have the power to do this and it wasn't a good thing. So maybe now he's saying that, yes, we learned the lesson of history. But, again, from volume two of the Mueller report, it is my sense -- and most -- most people agree -- that this president really, really, really wanted to get rid of Mueller.

So, good that he learned the lesson in time because we would certainly be in impeachment proceedings right now if he had fired Mueller and tried to do what Nixon did with Cox and the independent Watergate group.

HILL: There's a -- there's a lot that we learned in that interview with George Stephanopoulos and a moment that I know has really stood out to you, John.

BERMAN: I think this -- this, to me, is the story of the morning. But -- but this was -- well, go ahead.

HILL: Well, I don't want to steal your thunder but it's -- thank you -- thank you, Joe, for setting this up perfectly. There is "the cough." So if you're not familiar with it, let us just play that moment for you.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point, I hope they get it because it's a phenomenal -- it's a fantastic financial statement. It's a fantastic financial statement.

And -- let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer.


TRUMP: I don't like that, you know?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your chief of staff.

TRUMP: If you're going to cough, please leave the room.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll come over here.

TRUMP: You just can't -- you just can't cough.



TRUMP: OK, do you want to do that a little differently then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we just changed the angle. Yes.


TRUMP: So at some point -- so at some point I look forward to -- frankly, I want -- I'd like to have people see my financial statement.


HILL: There -- I mean, there's really -- there's two parts to that. There's the cough, I don't like the way this is playing out, I'm going to produce this shot, I'm the television guy, versus the, why was he coughing? Did he not want the president saying something? I mean who knows, Joe.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think if it was a strategy, he should have coughed a lot more during that interview.

HILL: Perhaps a little bit more loudly too.

LOCKHART: Yes, much more loudly.

Listen, it -- I think -- again, the interview was really interesting last night because you saw petulant Donald Trump, who is impossible, I think, to -- or is very intimidating to give bad news to because he clearly just has no regard for anyone else, or at least in the -- his staff around him.

But you also saw -- and I think this is a difference with Nixon. When you listen to Nixon tape -- his tapes, he was -- he was, I think, pretty honest with himself about what he was doing. I mean he knew he was covering up a crime and he was covering it up to protect himself. The effortlessness of Donald Trump lying during his interview with George, almost every answer contained two or three fundamental mistruths to the point where George had -- it seemed like in the middle kind of gave up correcting him because every time he did it was a five minute side bar about, you know, the argument. And it's a -- it's really a -- it struck me as kind of a sickness that he -- and I don't think he -- I don't think he believes he's lying. And that's very dangerous when you come to, you know, some of the decisions that are on his plate right now. Particularly, you know, the Middle East, where he's going to have to make decisions based on facts, not based on, you know, his famous gut.

[06:35:02] BERMAN: I'm going to let cough-gate slide just quickly for a second here because it seems to me the president has proven that he won't push you out or sanction you in the White House if you violate the Hatch Act, if you talk to the Russians, if you lie to the press, if you spread, you know, derogatory things about John McCain. But, if you cough, if you cough, that will get you kicked out of the Oval Office. And is this a germophobe thing? Is this a megalomaniacal thing? I don't quite get it. It was really a bizarre moment.

PALMER: Yes, the look of disgust was pretty intense to say the least. I think he clearly is a germophobe. There's been countless reports about how he didn't like to -- he doesn't like to really shake hands on the campaign trail and other things. But it was a pretty just amazing situation, particularly because, in the beginning you didn't know, was it an ABC staffer? Who was -- who was the one who was coughing that had kind of caught his ire, and it was clearly Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff.

So it was one of these many kind of illuminating moments that you get in the Trump White House. But I also thought the camera -- the changing the camera shot, also pretty illuminating, how much he still sees this as his Hollywood moment.

BERMAN: Tim, last word on this?

NAFTALI: I was just going to say, when you take the attention off the president, the president gets angry. And that's what was happening. Somebody else was getting attention and he didn't like it.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you all very much for that.

We are watching developments out of Hong Kong this morning. Millions of people on the streets, posing a new threat there to the Chinese leadership.


[06:40:30] HILL: Protesters in Hong Kong are rejecting a compromise in an extradition bill floated by their leaders.

CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Hong Kong now with more.



People power has won for the time being in this remarkable test of wills between protesters on the streets here in Hong Kong and the Chinese government.

It has been such a dramatic week here. Over the course of the past eight days, demonstrators have come out in the streets. If you can believe the estimates coming from the organizers, by the millions in opposition to a policy to pass a new controversial extradition law which would give the Chinese central government the authority to grab suspects from this semiautonomous city and bring them up to China for its notoriously opaque judicial system.

And on Saturday, Beijing's hand-appointed leader here in Hong Kong did a remarkable thing, she made a concession. She temporarily suspended passage of the law. This is after protesters were out in force, after they clashed with riot police in this very park where I'm standing who fired rubber bullets and tear gas to scatter the demonstrators. And on Sunday there were so many people out in the streets that that hand appointed leader actually issued an apology.

As you can see, there's still a much smaller number of demonstrators here. They're calling for that leader to resign. They are calling out allegations of what they say is police brutality and the test of wills continues in the streets of this city.


BERMAN: All right, Ivan Watson for us. Please stand by there as these protests clearly continue.

Thank you very much.

We're also watching the fallout this morning from brand new polls that paint a bleak picture for President Trump. Now, you could fire the pollsters, as he has done, or our next guest suggests a slightly different approach.


[06:46:23] HILL: President Trump set to kick off his re-election campaign tomorrow with a rally in Florida. So is there any certainty now as we head into the 2020 election?

Joining us now, Michael Smerconish, the host of CNN's Smerconish and the Michael Smerconish program on Sirius XM.

Always good to see you.

You say the one thing that's certain as we head into 2020 is that nothing is certain. There's a whole lot of uncertainty.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The only thing -- the only thing we know for sure, Erica, is that we really know nothing. And I was prompted to deliver a commentary saying so in view of the fact that it was yesterday, four years ago, that now President Trump descended on that escalator at Trump Tower and formally admitted his bid to the presidency.

I'll be the first to admit it. I didn't give him any shot. I thought for sure that he wouldn't even last for the duration of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire, that he would probably beg out after getting a lot of publicity. But I was wrong and a lot of us were wrong.

And that's not the only instance. When you go back in the modern era and look at virtually every cycle, Ed Musky in '71 seemed a certainty. Rudy Giuliani, in 2007, seem -- he was a lock for the Republican nomination, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, you know, if politics were a ball, it would be a football because it bounces in directions you could never anticipate.

BERMAN: I agree with that. And I agree that polls taken a year and a half before Election Day aren't necessarily predictive. But they do tell you something. They still tell you where things are right now. And it tells you about the political environment heading into an election. And along those lines, Michael Smerconish, Erica Hill pointed out a poll number this morning from the Democratic race, which I want to get your take on. It asks -- this is a Fox News poll -- the most important attribute in deciding primary vote among Democratic voters, 72 percent say steady, reliable leadership. Twenty-five percent say bold, new agenda.

Now, accepting that this doesn't predict who will win the election 18 months from now, what does it tell you about what Democratic voters are talking about today?

SMERCONISH: I can't lay claim to this as being an original thought of mine because I've so often heard it from David Axelrod, and that is, we often look for, you know, it's that Sinfeld-ian (ph) George Costanza, the opposite. What do American voters often want? They want the opposite of the guy that they have in office right now. So if that's a poll of Democratic voters, it surprises me absolutely not that they would want someone who is the antithesis of Donald Trump.

And I think, John, that explains why Joe Biden seems to be running so well, at least at this stage. But my thesis is that I would be shocked for as strong a candidate as Vice President Biden is, I would be shocked if from the open gun to the finish line he could maintain this invincibility that he has. There will be some near misses with other candidates I'm sure.

HILL: Well, and there's -- and let's be honest, some near misses, but there are also so many candidates. Even if Joe Biden is still doing well today, as we point out in the polling today, toward the top.

There was a whole heck of a lot that can happen between now and -- and even the primaries when -- when we start in Iowa with the caucus.

SMERCONISH: Well, there's so many things that you could just never anticipate. I mean go back to the last cycle. Who -- who could have anticipated the "Access Hollywood" tape, followed by now President Trump trotting out the so-called Clinton women right before a debate at Washington University in St. Louis, followed by a WikiLeaks document dump. I don't know what the 2020 vision of those things will be, but there will be some intangibles that today we could never anticipate.

[06:50:00] BERMAN: No. I'm shaking my head only because if you had submitted, you know, a draft of a political novel that had all of those events, your editor would have told you that's ridiculous, no one -- will believe it.

HILL: There's no way.

BERMAN: Go back to the drawing board here.

Michael, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who actually has pulled himself off the campaign trail to deal with a -- a police shooting there, also did an interview over the weekend where he brought up a really interesting notion. He was discussing whether or not there had ever been a gay president before. Listen to this exchange.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent president who have been liberal. I would imagine we've probably had excellent presidents who were gay, we just don't know which ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe that we've had a gay commander in chief?

BUTTIGIEG: I mean, statistically, it's almost certain.


BERMAN: I guess, statistically speaking, he's right. So, 44 presidents before this. Michael?

SMERCONISH: Listen, I think the -- the best part is when he was then asked to identify them and he said, look, my -- my gay-dar (ph) doesn't work so well in the present. I doubt it's going to work so well retroactively. But, you know, that -- that data is -- is something that's often kicked around and debated, which is to say exactly what is the percentage? But I -- who am I to tell him he's wrong?

BERMAN: Right. Look, James Buchanan, the only U.S. president who never married. Certainly the U.S. president for whom the most has been written speculating about whether or not he was gay.

I would only add that when Pete Buttigieg said we have had excellent presidents before, that would preclude James Buchanan, correct? I'm parsing the language here, Michael, and I can tell you don't want to get involved, but I also know you're going to talk about this all week on your radio show. So, thank you very much for being with us today. I appreciate it.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: All right, why are some Democrats hesitant on impeachment? New reporting this morning that points to both deference and fear of Nancy Pelosi.


[06:57:06] BERMAN: All right, this is truly an amazing story. You'll want to wait until the end to fully understand the scope of this.

This morning, a home invasion suspect is North Carolina is back in custody after escaping from the hospital. Nineteen-year-old Jataveon Hall is set to make his first appearance in court today. He faces charges of breaking and entering, also second degree kidnapping. He was initially captured -- and this is the stunning thing -- when an 11-year-old boy took a machete. He was home alone during the invasion. He had a machete and he hit Hall in the head with the machete, sending him away.

HILL: That's just a wild story. Actress Bella Thorne posting nude photos of herself on Twitter. She says she posted them after a hacker threatened to release the photos. The model and singer saying she wanted to take back her own power, noting the hacker not only sent her -- not only sent her own photos to her, but also sent pictures of other celebrities. Thorne said this alleged hacker is now being investigated by the FBI.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's gripping me.





BERMAN: All right, Rachel and Hunter Hughes of Utah proudly sharing pictures of their miracle baby. Beckham Hughes entered the world at 2 pounds 8 ounces after an emergency C-section. Rachel was 27-weeks pregnant when she got sick at work and decided to drive home last week. She blacked out during the ride and she crashed into a rock wall, had to be air lifted to the hospital. She is still having mobility issues and will remain hospitalized for a while. Back Beckham is doing well. Although, though, expected to stay in the hospital until September, the month he was due.

But, look, could have turned out so much worse.

HILL: Absolutely.

BERMAN: We are so happy for that family this morning.

HILL: Yes.

Thanks to all of our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN "TALK" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, the president's campaign sacks pollsters after some dismal internal numbers are leaked. NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were reports that the president was lagging in key battleground states. The president became furious. Pollsters for the Trump campaign are out of a job.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Even your own polls show you're behind right now.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, my polls show that I'm winning everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Head-to-head matchups this far out are of limited value. It's certainly reasonable for the campaign to say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russian cyberattacks have targeted residential homes. President Trump authored these kind of attacks against Russian targets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A pretty immediate response so far in the Russian media. State television suggesting it's not surprising. Countries would attempt to probe each other's cybersecurity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A gunman in Philadelphia opening fire at a graduation party killing one and injuring several others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several shots were fired. We're hearing there could be even more victims than we were told so far.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill with me this morning, which is awesome.

HILL: Nice to be with you. Always a pleasure to be here.

[07:00:01] BERMAN: All right, this morning, new questions about just how far President Trump is willing to go to win re-election. A new report in "The Washington Post" finds slumping in the.