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Trump's 2020 Campaign Kick-off Rehashes Grievances; Shanahan Withdraws Nomination Over Family Issues; Sen. Angus Kind (I-ME) is Interviewed about Trump's Vetting Process. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- and Shanahan's family. His sudden withdrawal and resignation has senators from both parties questioning the White House vetting of nominees.

[07:00:09] Want to discuss. Joining us this morning, David Gregory, CNN political analyst; Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief for "VICE News"; and on the set in New York, Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and a CNN political commentator.

And Paul, you among us has worked to get a president re-elected. Bill Clinton in 1996.

So I want your take on what we saw last night from President Trump at this rally, which was the same. It didn't seem as if he hit on any new message. I don't know if he needed to, but what do you need to do if you're going to win re-election? And did he hit the mark?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Particularly if you got fewer votes than the last guy. Than the last woman in this case. Right? He got fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. George W. Bush got fewer votes than Al Gore.

Bush's re-election slogan, by the way, was "A Safer World, A More Hopeful America." Barack Obama's was, "Forward." Bill Clinton's was "A Bridge to the 21st Century." Ronald Reagan was "Morning in America."

Donald Trump's is "I'm still mad, and I'm looking backward." It is not -- But he's made a decision. I think it's the wrong one, but I'm often wrong. He's chosen to deepen rather than broaden his support.

CAMEROTA: He said his message is "Keep America Great." KAG.

BEGALA: KAG, "Keep America Great."

CAMEROTA: Is that better than MAGA?

BEGALA: That's fine. Well, but no, actually, because it's about status quo: "I want to keep the status quo."

And honestly, just to set my partisanship aside, a president running for reelection has got to be forward-looking, optimistic, positive, even if times are tough. And actually, he's blessed with a good economy. This is exact -- But he's choosing to deepen. Deepen not widen. And this gives an enormous opportunity to the Democrats, then, to move into the middle. Let's see if they do.

CAMEROTA: Shawna, I guess that I would say that I think that the president and the people around him think don't fix what ain't broken. To them, he won. He won, and when he goes to the rallies and you see all of the enthusiasm -- he filled that stadium. There were 20,000 people that waited for hours to come and see him. And so the feedback they get is it's working.

SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "VICE NEWS": Yes. They get -- they get the president that they asked for. We had correspondents -- "VICE News" had correspondents outside at what they called 45 Fest, which was some kind of all-day festival before the event.

And we asked people to give the president a letter grade outside. And for the most part, his supporters think he is doing a great job. Now, they were pretty rational. They were like, "The wall's not been built," so he got a "B" on that.

But I think the idea of trying to ascribe some larger -- some kind of larger thought to what he's saying when he's in these rallies is kind of a mistake. He knows what gets his audience ginned up. He knows what makes good television. When he talks about Hillary Clinton and he bashes her and he talks about her emails, that also remains his audience that he was under a Mueller investigation for two years and that they feel wronged and he feels wronged.

And this is about the crowd and getting that love. And I don't think we should expect him to sort of change his style or suddenly come up with some kind of plan that kind of makes sense to the rest of us when it comes to campaigning. Because this is what he likes to do, and he gets the results in the room.

BERMAN: And I get that. And David Gregory, you know, I shortchanged you. For four years, you covered George W. Bush when he was in the White House as he was getting ready for re-election in 2004. He spent four years trying to expand his base. I don't get the sense that President Trump has spent four minutes trying to expand his base.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's one parallel that I would say is loose here, you know, to the Bush re-election campaign, which was still in the middle of -- the Iraq War had started. But it was still very much a mindset that was post-9/11. And so that's the only loose parallel here, which is that sense of being under siege. The sense that there was some danger that we were facing as a country. I think that changed within months of the election in 2000 -- 2004. But that, of course, feels like ancient history.

Here, this is still the politics of grievance. This is a nationalist, a demagogue who is saying, "They're coming after you and your way of life and your way of thinking." Whether it's the media or the establishment or it's Democrats or it's socialists. So that's that grievance.

So I agree with -- with Paul that that's not a forward-looking message. But that is what has been working for him. And I think he benefits even when he doesn't succeed. There are those among his hard supporters who say, "Well, but he's still fighting for it. He's still out there on the front lines." The problem for Trump, of course, even though he defies all conventional wisdom in politics so far, is that there's still a lot of conventional wisdom out there that holds. That is, he is under water in terms of his popularity. He only has nailed down a -- a finite group of the electorate. And there's a lot of voters out there who seem beyond his grasp who, if they show up, if they're mobilized, could tilt this for a Democratic candidate.

CAMEROTA: Paul, I want to move onto this ugly and embarrassing episode with the acting secretary of defense. Patrick Shanahan, where all of this domestic violence in the past was revealed.

It doesn't sound like it was -- that he was the aggressor. I mean, from all the reports that we've read, and including his ex-wife's family, it sounds like she was the person who was wrestling with mental health and substance abuse issues and was perhaps the violent instigator.

[07:05:15] However, what do we learn from all of this? Should this have come out sooner?

And by the way, why if she was the aggressor, why is it disqualifying for him? Just because now we're learning it, and it seems like it was a dark secret?

BEGALA: Well, he's decided it's disqualifying. He's removed himself from it.

I have to say, just as -- as a parent, I don't know why he'd put his family through that. When he put himself up to be the deputy secretary, he should have known that all of this would come out.

CAMEROTA: But it didn't come out when he --

BEGALA: It should have. Right?

CAMEROTA: -- for the Senate. Is the system broken.

BEGALA: Absolutely. We need to know that. He -- and I do feel for him. I feel for his family. But I feel a lot more for the 1,359,000 active duty military who are under his command. Their lives are precious and sacred, and they are in his hands.

We need a defense secretary who's not distracted. We have China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, enemies around the world moving on us. We have a president who, with no prior experience in the government or military, first time in American history. He needs strength and -- he needs Jim Mattis, General Mattis, which was a terrific choice by President Trump at the Pentagon.

But now it is "Home Alone" with a president who has absolutely no experience. It's -- it is a real national security risk for our country, and somebody ought to be held accountable for this lack of vetting. BERMAN: And I -- We're going to have this discussion in just a minute

with Sen. Angus King, who's on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I don't want to shortchange it. I think it is more of a vetting issue than it is an issue about the family in general, although there are questions about what his response was to some of the episodes there. Is the fact is, people didn't know. People didn't know after he was already Senate confirmed as deputy defense secretary. We'll ask Angus King about that.

Shawna, I do want your take on what's going to happen very shortly. We're waiting for Hope Hicks, who was the president's longtime aide, to arrive on Capitol Hill. She will testify behind closed doors. And CNN has learned that the White House, the president is going to exert executive privilege on some of her testimony. The White House will not let her answer questions about things that went on in the White House.

Where does this go or how much longer can it go on like this?

THOMAS: I mean, I think what we'll see with Hope Hicks, I mean, we won't see anything, because she's behind closed doors. One, she will be asked about things that happened in the campaign before the president took office. And so it's a little bit more murky, because executive privilege shouldn't cover that stuff.

And I think we will see Congress do, or at least Democrats do, what they've been doing, which is if she is not fulsome, maybe they will -- they will file more subpoenas. They will go into courts.

Like, this is a cycle that's going to keep happening. And I don't think the House Democrats are going to just let her get off with claiming executive privilege without trying to push this further.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, a transcript of the interview will be released within 48 hours. It happens behind closed doors, but we'll all be able to see. And that will be fascinating. Because executive privilege doesn't apply to the other years that she spent --


CAMEROTA: -- with Donald Trump and being his confidant. So what will she say and what won't she?

GREGORY: Well, it doesn't sound like she is going to be forthcoming on anything they're going to care about with regard to obstruction of justice. Whether she was involved in changing the statement at the president's direction that would have been untruthful about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, discussions that were had at Trump Tower about it. And that's what people want to know.

So the larger question is whether executive privilege is appropriate here, whether they're going to be able to gum up the works for a while longer before the courts actually weigh in.

And then that lays this larger point of who are you going to get on Capitol Hill, who can you call to testify who was involved in something who can't assert privilege? Other, more informal advisers to the president who were on the outside who are still political allies and who are not going to want to be cooperative. It's difficult to see what Congress is going to be able to put together here that's going to be meaningful for them.

BERMAN: All right.

THOMAS: I do think --

BERMAN: Go ahead, Shawn, very quickly.

THOMAS: I do think it is important to remember that, in the months and the years before President Trump became president, Hope Hicks was at his side. She was the one who you would call to ask for an interview in 2015. And she'd yell at the president -- not yell, but respectfully ask President Trump, then Mr. Trump, you know, did he want to do the interview? So she saw and heard a lot before -- before the president became president.

BERMAN: And we will see the transcript in two days.

All right. Shawna, David, Paul, thank you very much.

We were talking just moments ago about the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, pulling his name from consideration. How is it the Senate did not know about all this information when they confirmed him as deputy defense secretary? What questions does this raise about vetting? We're going to talk to a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee next.


[07:13:57] BERMAN: New concerns this morning about who is serving in the president's cabinet and, frankly, how they got there. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has withdrawn his name from the nomination process. "The Washington Post" and others now have unearthed nearly decade-old incidents of domestic violence within his family.

But should the White House have caught this issue? Should the FBI have caught this issue? Should the Senate have caught this issue when they confirmed him as deputy defense secretary?

Joining me now is independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He serves on the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committee.

Senator King, thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), Yes, sir.

BERMAN: The stories about what went on in the Shanahan family are terrible, and my heart goes out to them. The issue for the country is how is it that the Senate didn't know? When the Senate confirmed him as deputy defense secretary, how is it that that this information wasn't discovered to come out then? KING: Well, first, let me share with you how that process works. We

go through a hearing process. We meet with the candidates individually. But the FBI report is -- only goes to the chair and the ranking member of the committee. It's very unusual for members of the committee to see the details of an FBI report.

[07:15:07] I looked at the one on Brett Kavanaugh, because I made a special request to do so. But by and large, it goes to the chair. And I honestly don't know whether any of this information was in the FBI report when he was confirmed as deputy.

But I think it's also important to realize his nomination -- he never was nominated.

BERMAN: Right.

KING: His nomination papers never came from the White House. So this -- this did come up. It's not like it was hidden from the committee, because we weren't at the stage of having a hearing or getting background materials.

So it's -- it's really unfortunate, the whole scenario, but I think it does raise a question about the White House should have its own process before it even drops a name in a situation like this.

BERMAN: And of course, it's serious now because of everything that's going on in the world. I mean, there is a big crisis with Iran --

KING: We --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

KING: We need a secretary of defense.

BERMAN: Right. Let me read you what Sen. Kamala Harris said about this. "The president likes to talk tough, but for six months now, we've gone without a permanent secretary of defense, and he just withdrew his nominee, all as Trump marches us towards conflict with Iran. The president is making us less safe."

Is the president making us less safe?

KING: Well, I'm not running for president, so I'm -- I'm not going to go that far, but I do think it's a real lapse. I think she makes a serious point.

To not have a secretary of defense for something like six months, going on seven months is just not right. And there's no reason that there -- someone couldn't have been brought forward that could receive confirmation in a more timely manner.

And she's also right about the fact that I'm very worried about what's going on with Iran. We seem to be on an escalation ladder without any way of getting off. I think it's a very concerning situation.

BERMAN: Just very quickly, Mark Esper, who's the secretary of the Army, it has been reported he is the likely nominee to be secretary of defense. Would you vote to confirm him if he is nominated?

KING: Well, I can't say that yet, because we haven't had a hearing but I have worked with him over the past two years. As secretary of the Army, I've been impressed. He knows the Pentagon. He knows the military. So I think he starts at a good place.

But I'm going to reserve judgment until we have a hearing. I get to ask him -- the usual question I ask is will you tell the president the truth? If he gives me a good answer to that, then we're part of the way there.

Now one of the questions is what is the truth when it comes to what's happening in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, Iran. The U.S. is sending 1,000 troops there to pollster the deference.

The president, though, in an interview that was just published yesterday, said that the actions taken by Iran are actually very minor issues. It's such a different message than we're getting from the secretary of state or the national security adviser, who are much more bellicose.

Do you understand what the White House strategy is? And do you have concerns about where it's going?

KING: No. No and yes. No, I don't understand the strategy. Yes, I do have concerns about where it's going.

It's clear, as you point out, that the secretary of state, the national security adviser are much more aggressive. They're much more forceful. The president then says, "Oh, you know, a couple of tankers. No big deal."

That's very confusing, and it's a confusing message to the world and to the Iranians. And it's just hard to determine.

And I think, you know, one of the problems, John, that we see in a lot of areas is what's the strategy? What's -- what's the step that comes the day after tomorrow, not just 15 minutes from now? So I think that is a concern.

And what really worries me, John, is that the secretary of state and John Bolton, national security adviser, are moving us into a position where the president will feel boxed in, and he has to respond in some military way. Because I don't think that's his instinct. But that's -- that's what's troubling right now. Wars start sometimes, or often by miscalculations and misunderstandings. And this is a situation that's ripe for that.

One side thinks they're being defensive. The other side thinks, "Well, those people are being provocative. We've got to strike first." A very dangerous situation. Calm voices are needed in all levels of the administration.

BERMAN: Very quickly, there's a report in "The New York Times" over the weekend about cyberespionage being conducted against Russia. I know, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, you can't confirm the details of that. But, you know, cyber intelligence is something you are very concerned about, and you are part of the commission to study this and take action. Explain.

KING: Well, I'm on a commission called the National Solarium Cyber Commission, which is designed to develop a cyber-strategy and doctrine for this country. It goes along what I was saying a few minutes ago.

We need a strategy that deals with issues that will arise a year from now and five years from now. And we need some kind of doctrine that our adversaries understand.

What came out over the weekend, I can neither confirm nor deny. I can just tell that you one of the problems with our strategy thus far is that our adversaries haven't felt that they were at risk, that there as any price to be paid for attacking us.

[07:20:06] So I think deterrence has to be part of the strategy. And I'm looking forward to learning more about that report, but also developing something that will be important for the country on an ongoing basis.

BERMAN: Senator, if I can, I want to ask you about something that might be personal for you. You've had your own successful battles with cancer, and for that we are very, very happy. We're always happy to see you here.

Last night, Donald Trump Jr., at the president's campaign kickoff rally, seemed to criticize Joe Biden, who lost a son to cancer, and Joe Biden the former vice president has made cancer one of the defining causes of his professional life, says he wants to work to cure cancer. Listen to what the president said last night -- the president's son said last night about Joe Biden.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: Joe Biden comes out, "Well, if you elect me president, I'm going to cure cancer." Wow. Why the hell didn't you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?


BERMAN: I wonder what you think of that.

KING: Why would anybody say something like that? I mean, I'm -- I'm not usually at a loss for words, but I am on that one. That's -- that's outrageous.

You know, Joe Biden, this is a deeply personal issue for him, and he's talked about a cancer moon shot. And we've learned in our country in the past that, when we put the resources toward a problem, we can go a long way. Cancer is a very complicated, awful, awful, awful disease that strikes families all across this country, and if Joe Biden wants to take that on as one of his major priorities, more power to him, as far as I'm concerned.

But to criticize him for it is just ridiculous. BERMAN: Senator Angus King of Maine, great to have you with us this


KING: Yes, sir. Good to be with you, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right. It's grading time. One 2020 Democrat just moved to the top of the class, and Chris Cillizza has our mid-week grades, next.


CAMEROTA: OK. President Trump officially kicked off his re-election bid last night in Florida. And a new poll in that state, though, shows President Trump behind all of the leading Democratic candidates.

The Democrats will hold their first debates next week, but it is Wednesday for us. So let's get --

BERMAN: It's really Wednesday for everybody.


BERMAN: I just want to get that clear.

CAMEROTA: Maybe. Let's hear about it on Twitter. Let's get the "Mid-Week Grades" with Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics reporter and editor at large.

Professor, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: Who are you dolling out your top grade to this week?

CILLIZZA: OK. Let's start with Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with an "A."

Look, she is going to be in that first debate night. She's going to be the best polling candidate. She's going to be right center stage. I think that's a very good spot for her.

And she is on a real roll, Alisyn and John. She has started to move up and passed Bernie Sanders in some national polling. There's a poll in Nevada that came out, one of the early states that shows her passing Sanders. And she is now either competing with him or moving slightly ahead of him among very liberal voters, people who identify as very liberal. It's a key constituency for both of them.

She's clearly the candidate with the most momentum in this race, and she proves the 2020 race, like all presidential races, is a marathon, not a sprint. Off to a bad start but has clearly moved upward.

BERMAN: I think this is her second week in a row of getting an "A" from -- from the professor.

CILLIZZA: Yes, she's -- she's --

CAMEROTA: She's the teacher's pet.

CILLIZZA: She -- well, she struggled early on. But look, momentum is a real thing in these races. It drives activists. It drives donors. It drives staff. And she's got all that happening for her right now.

BERMAN: I just want to tell people, I've peeked ahead to the end of this segment, and I hate it. And this whole thing I'm doing under protest. But until we get there -- that's a tease. That's called a deep tease.

Kamala Harris, who has consistently been at the bottom of the first tier or the top of the second tier in the polling --

CILLIZZA: Yes. That's right.

BERMAN: -- where does she land in your grades?

CILLIZZA: All right. So I'm going to make a Tour de France reference as it relates to Kamala Harris. So I don't watch a lot of competitive bicycle -- competitive bicycle riding, but I do know that, in the Tour de France, there's usually a lead pack, right? And there's a few who hang back and draft off of the leaders. That's where Kamala Harris has been from the start of the campaign. She's not in the front; neither is she far off the lead pack.

And I gave her a "B" this week, and the reason why is -- some of this is luck. She got a really nice debate draw. She's going to be on night two. So the other night, the night Elizabeth Warren won't be on. She's going to be onstage with the people she is directly competing with and wants to pass: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg, who is sort of in that same path with her.

I think her campaign has to like the contrast of an African and Indian-American woman, Harris, standing onstage and making her case against her three main challengers on that stage, Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg, three white guys. I think they will take that every day of the week, and they're going to get that opportunity come next week.

CAMEROTA: All right. Your grades get much worse now. Is this the part there -- Oh, no, I see.

BERMAN: Not yet.

CAMEROTA: We're not at the deep tease part yet.

CILLIZZA: We're almost there.

CAMEROTA: OK. So the -- you give three people a "D." What's up with that?

CILLIZZA: Yes, so what's up with that? I give Wayne Messam, Steve Bullock and Seth Moulton a "D." And the reason for it is these are -- there are 23 candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Twenty will be on one of those two debate stages. These three won't.

And yes, I know they started late and the debate -- whatever. You can make all the excuses you want. But the truth of the matter is, this is the first time that any large number of people -- and I say large somewhat guardedly. It's not going to be, you know, 60 million people. But there are going to be real eyeballs on this. You have to be in those debates. They are not in those debates.

I think Messam is somebody who we kind of were confused at why he was running in the first place. Bullock, I think, has a path.