Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Campaign Fires Pollsters After Negative Polls Leak; Graduation Party Shooting in Philadelphia Leaves 1 Dead, 5 Hurt; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Interviewed on New Democratic Strategy to Circumvent Stonewalling; 'NYT' Reveals Four-Month-Old Separated at Border from Father. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 07:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Always a pleasure to be here.

[07:00:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This morning, new questions about just how far President Trump is willing to go to win reelection.

A new report in "The Washington Post" finds, "Slumping in the polls and at war with his political rivals, President Trump has signaled a willingness to act with impunity in his drive for reelection, taking steps over the past week that demonstrate a disregard for legal boundaries meant to hold him accountable and protect the sanctity of American democracy."

One other thing you can do if you don't like the polls is just fire the pollsters. That's exactly what the Trump campaign has done after internal polling leaked that showed the president trailing Joe Biden in key states.

HILL: Now, keep in mind, all of this comes just a day before a big speech the president is using to officially launch his re-election bid. It appears, though, the president may be in deeper trouble when it comes to some of those key battleground states.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with our top story -- Joe.


This tells you something about the state of play as the president gets ready to launch his reelection campaign this week.

My colleagues here at CNN picked up the information that the Trump campaign has cut ties with several of its pollsters. And this is a reaction that comes after the reporting suggesting that the president is trailing Joe Biden in several battleground states. And the reaction to that took a little bit of time, but when it did, it was fairly certain.

And the White House -- I should say, the campaign -- really, essentially, did not just try to get rid of the messengers in this situation. They also tried to get rid of the message, as well. The president suggesting that these polls are fake polls, inaccurate

information. His press secretary, Sarah Sanders, repeating the same line of message right out here in the driveway just last week.

So what it goes to show, No. 1, is the evidence continues to suggest that the Trump campaign is concerned about the continued strength of Joe Biden. And it also tells you just a little bit about who gets fired in this campaign and who doesn't.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe, thank you very much.

Want to bring in Jane Harman. She's a former Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Now the director, president and CEO of the Wilson Center. David Gregory is a CNN political analyst. And Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political analyst.

Let's throw those poll numbers back up on the screen so people can see the hole that the president is in or was in, according to his own campaign polling. And the important thing is there, the president can say these polls are fake, but his own campaign verified the reality of them to ABC News. So the president was lying when he said they were fake polls. It's his own campaign polls.

David Gregory, what does it say to you? I know it's a process story, but it's process that reveals a little bit about his thinking. He's fired some of the pollsters behind this polling.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, it's just not surprising at all that Trump would react this way to seeing these polls that you could certainly argue don't care carry a lot of meaning this far out. These are hypothetical match-ups.

But he understands well that these early snapshots of polling, as he benefitted himself when he first ran in 2016, can create a narrative that gets set and can take on a certain permanence. He's the one who's elevated Joe Biden, even though there's a huge Democratic primary. And this would only solidify that as the one-on-one matchup beginning so soon.

But the fact that he would first deny the existence of the polls and now would fire his pollsters, I think is just entirely keeping -- in keeping with his -- his method of operation, with his denial of reality and his willingness to simply lie about whether such things exist. This is the kind of campaign we'll be in for.

HILL: Jane Harman, to that point, this is sort of -- you know, to David's point, we're in for more of this. We should be used to it at this point. That said, what do Democrats do with it in terms of being effective?

JANE HARMAN, DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT & CEO, WILSON CENTER: Well, it's so early. Ron Brownstein, whom you show on your show a bit before, says that head-to-head match-ups this early don't matter. I think they don't matter.

What do Democrats do? They run good campaigns. They've got to run campaigns on issues, not just against Trump. There are many good candidates in this race. The debates are in a week, and the field will winnow out. And you have to beat somebody with somebody. And let's just see how this rolls.

And my last campaign -- comment on this is that, if you only welcome good news, you're not going to get anything accurate. And so I would hope that Donald Trump would want to face whatever the reality is. The reality is in his re-election.

BERMAN: That's a good point. And that goes for campaign news, and that should also go for international affairs, which I know you watch very closely and we're going to get to in just a moment.

Rachael Bade, there is some breaking news this source -- this morning. "Politico" is reporting that Democrats in the House might take a different approach now to investigating the president. This is something you've been watching very closely with some brand-new reporting on the impeachment possibility.

But "Politico" is reporting that now Democrats are looking to call people to testify who have no claims of executive privilege. That's something we've been talking about in this show. People like Corey Lewandowski, who can't claim any privilege at all. People like Chris Christie, who can't claim any privilege at all. And these are people who were mentioned in key parts of the Mueller report on the issue of obstruction.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right. I think, you know, early in March, Nadler had mentioned that there were a bunch of witnesses he -- who had talked to Mueller that he wanted to bring in. Not just, you know, the high-profile figures like Don McGahn but people like Lewandowski, who also sat down with the special counsel and were key witnesses in the Mueller report.

The issue Democrats are having is that any top White House official who can really speak to the contents of the report and be sort of this star blockbuster witness that will really raise the profile of the Mueller report to Americans who perhaps haven't read it, they've -- they've held back. They haven't either showed up, or the White House has exclaimed -- claimed executive privilege.

What they're trying to do is they're trying to go around that. To poll people who never worked in the White House but who were close to the Trump campaign who could perhaps speak to some of these instances.

But here's the problem. Another committee has already tried this.

The House Oversight Committee actually called a witness a couple of weeks ago who never worked in the White House but actually advised the White House on the census and even spoke personally to the president. And guess what? They claimed executive privilege over him and his conversations with the president, which a lot of lawyers say is not allowed, and that's going to totally be shot down by the courts. But again, I'm not certain that this is actually going to work. The

White House very well is probably going to try to stop this, and we'll see where it goes.

GREGORY: It's not just a privilege issue and fighting about it in the courts. What do you do if the White House basically denies you at every turn?

And then, if you get somebody like a Corey Lewandowski or Chris Christie, what does that get you in the impeachment inquiry itself with regard to obstruction? And I think that becomes a bigger question, of what is it that they're actually going to prove, working on the periphery?

BERMAN: All right. We'll say. But Lewandowski is a key player in this episode in part two of the Mueller report, where the president wanted him to go and talk to Jeff Sessions --


BERMAN: -- to get Sessions to change his role or un-recuse himself. Look, I mean, if Corey Lewandowski sits there under oath and testifies in public on TV about this, that tells a story.

BADE: But do we actually think he's going to do that? That's the question. I mean, a lot of these people are still loyal to Trump. And so, if the White House says, "You're not allowed to talk about any of your conversations you had with people in the White House," a lot of them have gone along with it, even though there's some legal question about it, and it could wind up in the courts.

BERMAN: Well, I'm not a lawyer.

HARMAN: And is this going to persuade the people in the middle --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

HARMAN: -- who are undecided? It looks like both camps are hardening, and there needs to be a new narrative.

And I know that the Democrats are trying to get out the message about the substance of things they've done and the fact that McConnell is blocking action on them in the Senate. I really think the better play is to talk about why the Democratic Party offers something different.

HILL: And it will be interesting to see how they spin that. And what we do.

And I do really, just very quickly, before we move on to Ron, because we want to get there, but Rachael real quickly, on your reporting that's out, just when it comes to impeachment and when it comes to Nancy Pelosi and her whole -- how do you think something like this could influence where she is moving and helping to move those in her caucus or perhaps not move them, as the case may be, and keep them where she wants them? BADE: Yes, So Pelosi has had a lot of success over the Past four

weeks, ever since we saw sort of Nadler confront her privately and say perhaps it's time -- the House Judiciary Committee -- perhaps -- committee chairman confront her privately and say, "It's time to start impeachment."

She has really worked behind the scenes just to make sure people know that that is not what she wants to do. She's snapped at people who have raised it in meetings. She has made clear that she thinks they need to just keep investigating and not begin impeachment proceedings. And the caucus has really fallen in line with her.

We have seen 60 members come out and support it. But if you watch their language very closely, you will see that they don't criticize her. And in fact, when you ask them about her, they refuse to say that they're trying to grow support for impeachment by any means.

And this, again, shows the sort of grip that Pelosi has on her caucus, which was a lot different than the past two Republican speakers we saw here in Washington, who were constantly being challenged by conservatives. People right now are listening to her and they're really falling in line even as the numbers continue to tick up. I think that's why there's a lot of skepticism in the House that they're ever going to get there.

HARMAN: And if I could just say one thing. Rachael has written about my chapter with Pelosi in 2006. I supported Nancy Pelosi for every leadership position. She supported me every single time for Congress. We see each other casually, run into each other all the time.

And I think that her leadership in this turn as speaker, in her second -- second incarnation is just magnificent. And she's doing the right things in the House.

[07:10:09] And again, if Democrats are going to win, if this is a goal. It's obviously a goal for many people. I'm in a nonpartisan position here, but they have to show that they are united behind a set of issues.

BERMAN: All right. Jane and David quickly, I want your take on Iran. Because, look, we heard Tom Cotton yesterday say that he wants to see a military retaliatory strike against Iran for the attacks on the tankers in the Gulf.

We know that security officials are meeting this week to discuss sending more troops. What should they be looking at, Jane?

HARMAN: Well, I was just in Europe over this weekend at several conferences. There's great skepticism that we've made the intelligence case.

Having Pompeo, who does have good history as director of the CIA, on this say it's -- you know, "The intelligence proves this. More is coming," is not a National Intelligence Estimate. I believed the NIE on Iraq. It was wrong, and I was wrong to vote for the war. I will not, in my views, be quiet until there is a real proof here

that this happened. There's rumor that a third party could have done this attack or contributed to the attack and a grainy picture is not proof.

GREGORY: Also, past is prologue here. Jane mentions Iraq. One of the things you saw in the run-up to the Iraq War was a big split between the Bush administration and European allies over questions of intelligence about Iraq but also the business relationship that European countries had with Iraq over oil at the time.

You're starting to see Iran try to work that split between European allies and the Trump administration.

So there's a lot of work here yet to be done if the administration wants some kind of strike against Iran, which may, if they were behind this, have done something that is grossly in violation of international law. But nobody wants to see a full-blown confrontation with Iran.

BERMAN: Except for Tom Cotton, who is calling for an immediate retaliatory military strike.

David Gregory, Rachael Bade, Jane Harman, thanks very much.

HILL: There is breaking news at this hour. A manhunt underway after a fatal shooting at a graduation party in Philadelphia.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in Philadelphia with more of these breaking details. Polo, what more do we know?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, we're in the city's southwest side. You can see, basically, what's been left behind here. The police say that this is where that party was being held when the

sound of gunshots rang out.

And it really is an eerie scene here. There's people's shoes that are scattered throughout the area. That single red balloon that's tied to the canopy. It is an eerie sight, but it is a reminder that things changed very quickly last night, when police say a gunman walked up, or at least made his way up to the group and then opened fire.

About 60 people who were gathering here celebrating that graduation. Everything was said and done, six people were wounded, one of them fatally.

Investigators, as you're about to hear from the police commissioner, now trying to establish a motive and trying to find a suspect.


RICHARD ROSS JR., COMMISSIONER, PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: There was nothing that suggested there was a fight that preceded this, at least according to the people here. Again, we don't know if the shooter or shooters left on foot or if they left in a car. We're trying to get as much information. Hopefully, there'll be some cameras, or you know, some of the people out here will be able to provide more information.


SANDOVAL: Today marking the end of what was a very busy Father's Day weekend for police in Philadelphia, according to affiliate KYW. They worked at least 16 shooting-related investigations over the weekend.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Polo Sandoval for us in Philadelphia. Polo, keep us posted on the developments there.

We have some new reporting just out this morning that Democrats may have landed on a new strategy to get around the stonewalling from the White House. We'll talk to a key Democratic member of Congress on this next.


[07:17:46] BERMAN: All right. This just in. A new report says that Democrats in the House might be finding a new strategy to deal with the White House stonewalling or all the investigating they're trying to do.

That strategy: call people who, in theory, have no claim of executive privilege to testify in public before their committees. People like Corey Lewandowski, people like Chris Christie. They never worked for the White House, so in theory, they have no claim of privilege.

Joining me now to talk about that breaking news and also the investigation at large, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He serves on both Armed Services and the Judiciary Committee, and he has an important bill up that deals with this, which we'll get to in just a minute.

First Senator, the news that House Democrats are looking to call people who have no claims of executive privilege. First, your legal knowledge on this. You, of course, were attorney general in Connecticut for a long time, an accomplished lawyer.

Corey Lewandowski was campaign manager but never worked in the White House. Chris Christie, a political adviser. Never worked in the White House. They are both talked about in part two of the Mueller report in issues that deal with obstruction. Would they have any claim of executive privilege?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): They have no claim of executive privilege, none whatsoever. But I'd argue that those individuals who worked in the White House previously, like McGahn and some of the others, also lack a viable claim of executive privilege, and it will be rejected by the courts.

But the key is accountability. And Bob Mueller is the absolutely critical witness to holding the president accountable for his law breaking.

BERMAN: Yes. Robert Mueller, of course, if he -- he may need to be subpoenaed to come testify. Do you think that should happen soon?

BLUMENTHAL: Robert Mueller needs to appear. I think he has to understand that part of his job as special counsel is to appear before congressional committees. I hope he will do it voluntarily. If not, a subpoena may be necessary, because Robert Mueller wrote the book. And it is a powerful 450 page description of law breaking, obstruction, and a threat by the Russians. Most won't read the book. They need to see the movie, and Robert Mueller is the movie.

BERMAN: All right. You are behind legislation -- You actually proposed it in April -- that would require anyone in a campaign to report outreach from a foreign government or foreign intelligence agency or foreign service offering dirt on a political opponent.

[07:20:10] Why is this important now? Because the president told ABC News last week that he would listen to this outreach. And at first, he only said maybe would he report it to the FBI, and then he went on at length to say you never talk to the FBI. He's cleaned that up a little bit.

That aside, why is this legislation so important?

BLUMENTHAL: His cleaning up, his walking back his previous remarks, is almost worse than his saying that he would listen and accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign power. Because what he said was, "I will report it to the FBI if it's incorrect or badly stated." In other words, "Show me what you have. If it's correct, I'll use it."

It's a little bit like a bank robber offering you money. And you're saying, "Well, if it's counterfeit, I'll turn it over to the authorities. If it's good, I'll use it."

And the clear law is that accepting anything of value from a foreign government is a violation of law, including dirt on a political opponent. The duty to report would seem to be a matter of good citizenship, moral duty, patriotic duty. But apparently, we need to clarify that reporting it to the FBI also is required.

BERMAN: So to be clear, Donald Trump Jr., when he was offered that meeting in Trump Tower and said the Russian government has -- this is part of the Russian government to help elect you and hurt Hillary Clinton, he would have been in violation of your law, had he not reported that?

BLUMENTHAL: Exactly right. "If it's what I am told," he said, "If it's what you tell me, I love it."

Or Donald Trump inviting the Russians, as he did: "If you're listening, go find the dirt on Hillary."

BERMAN: Well, but that won't be in violation of the -- your law.

BLUMENTHAL: But if he then received that information or an approach or had a meeting and failed to report it, then it would be a violation of law. So what's really prohibited under my proposal is that any public

official, any political candidate, not just for presidential office, required to report any meeting or contact or offer of assistance.

BERMAN: All right. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. Well, Marsha Blackburn first, Republican senator from Tennessee, blocked this with the support of mitch McConnell.

The president wrote on Twitter, "Thank you, Senator Mitch McConnell, for understanding the Democrats' game of not playing it straight on the ridiculous witch hunt hoax in the Senate."

He's thanking Mitch McConnell and Marsha Blackburn for blocking measures like yours. What does that tell you?

BLUMENTHAL: One of my deepest disappointments, and I think it will ultimately be judged harshly by history, is McConnell blocking any measures that would hope Donald Trump accountable.

And that, looking forward to this next election, is really dangerous. Because we're talking about election security measures that have been blocked by Mitch McConnell. And now, potentially, the duty to report advances by the Russian government.

Remember the warnings from Bob Mueller. The beginning and at the end of his nine-minute explanation of his report, warnings about the Russian government continuing their attack, planning their interference. Vladimir Putin's strategy of sowing discord and disinformation.

And then Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, saying that the scope and breadth of potential Russian interference are truly alarming.

So we face a threat. And I am hoping my Republican colleagues will speak up and stand up.

BERMAN: Has any Republican supported your bill?

BLUMENTHAL: Not as yet. But as you know from the excellent reporting that CNN and others did last week, every Republican interviewed, to a person, said that the president's welcoming this kind of assistance from Russia or someone else was absolutely reprehensible.

BERMAN: And they all said that they would report it. But my question is why do you think Mitch McConnell is blocking it, then?

BLUMENTHAL: That is a mystery to me. And I hope that Mitch McConnell will relent, that he will do the right thing here and allow a vote on the Duty to Report Bill, that he will release Republicans to support it.

BERMAN: Does it invite foreign meddling in an election?

BLUMENTHAL: The president clearly invited spying. When he said he would listen, he was saying, in effect, "Show me what you have. Tell me whether it's useful. And if it's correct, if it's really useful dirt on a political opponent, I will use it."

BERMAN: And McConnell, by blocking the law, do you think that invites spying?

BLUMENTHAL: I think that McConnell blocking election security measures and other kinds of responsible protections for our democratic process certainly makes us vulnerable to spying.

[07:25:03] BERMAN: Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, thanks so much for being with us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: Separations are still taking place at the southern border. That is what one reporter covering this debacle says. In fact, she has a new piece out on the youngest child taken from his family. A baby, four months old. We'll talk about what happened to him then and what's happening now.

Caitlin Dickerson is with us next.


HILL: A 4-month-old baby taken from his father, who was seeking political asylum, he is the youngest known child to be separated from his family at the U.S./Mexico border.

A "New York Times" investigation was able to track down Constantin Mutu, who spent five months after being separated from his father in a foster home before finally reuniting.