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Trump Escalates Attacks on Cummings; Make-or-Break for Democratic Candidates; Trump Nominates Ratcliffe to Head Intel. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired July 29, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, President Trump is ramping up his attacks on Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore. He's now calling Cummings King Elijah and claiming it will be a long road to 2020 for Democrats who defend Baltimore and the congressman.

Let's get to CNN's Sarah Westwood, who is at the White House with the latest.

Sarah, I wonder, do the president, do his advisers see a political advantage in these continued attacks?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, we know that President Trump and his advisers did see a political advantage in attacking "the squad" earlier this month, the four Democratic House freshman that the president used racist language to attack earlier this month. And he's just escalating this feud with Democratic critics of color, this morning even dragging the Reverend Al Sharpton and Senator Bernie Sanders into it, still escalating those attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Now, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, hit the Sunday shows yesterday to defend President Trump and credited this whole tirade from President Trump, pointing to comments that Congressman Cummings, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made while grilling the acting head of DHS, Kevin McAleenan, more than a week ago. That's the reason why Mulvaney said the president has gone on this tirade, which has moved far beyond any mention of the border, now attacking Baltimore and the people who live there.

But, nonetheless, very few Republican congressmen have stood up for Congressman -- Chairman Cummings in the wake of the president's tirade. But take a listen to Chairman Cummings sticking up for his fellow Republican congressman, Meadows, earlier this year in February.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Mr. Meadows, you know -- and of all the people on this committee, I've said it and gotten in trouble for it, that you're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people. REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes. You are. And I would do -- and I can see and feel your pain. I feel it. And so -- and I don't think Miss Tlaib intended to cause you that.


WESTWOOD: Now, Cummings was defending Meadows against accusations of racism.

Mulvaney, yesterday, defending President Trump said critics who saw racism in the president's attacks were spending way too much time reading between the lines. Those were Mulvaney's words. And President Trump, while denying racism, Jim, he's not backing down his underlying criticisms of Cummings or any of the other men and women of color that he's been attacking over the past few weeks.

SCIUTTO: Well, Chris Wallace's response to that line was, I'm not reading between the lines, I'm reading the lines.


SCIUTTO: Sarah Westwood, thanks very much.

And there are a lot of the lines from the president.

Let's speak now with Nick Mosby. He's a Democratic Maryland delegate, former Baltimore city councilman.

We appreciate having you on today, Nick, and I know that this has been quite a broadside on the city of Baltimore.

The president called conditions in your city inhuman. What's your response and the response from the people of Baltimore?

NICK MOSBY (D), MARYLAND DELEGATE: Well, I mean, Baltimore city, just like all the other post industrialized cities around this country, you know, be it Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, has definitely seen its best and its worst of times. But, unfortunately, we have a leered in the White House who has done nothing but continue to push rhetoric, had done nothing to do but exacerbate the conditions of our city and has, you know, used hateful speech to really divide our country.

And what really concerns me, now more than ever, is, we're no longer talking about the person who is opening the White House as is he racist. We understand and know exactly what he is through the types of communication he's put out, though the type of statements. I mean, you know, just two weeks ago he's telling black and brown women of Congress to potentially go back to where they're from. I mean this is definitely out of the doctrine of white nationalism. And, you know, we are in scary times right now in America.

[09:35:24] SCIUTTO: You're calling the president racist here?

MOSBY: I mean, I think no longer are we -- is this like a dog whistle. I mean he's glaring sirens, basically saying that he is a racist. You know, when you use terms like "vermin" for a city like Baltimore, when you go after, you know, leaders, whether you agree with them or not and say that they hate white people and hate law enforcement, you're doing nothing but intentionally trying to cause chasms in our country and it's very dangerous and it provides no productivity to the issues that he's constantly supposedly trying to highlight.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the last week -- and you reference this, his attacks on "the squad," four women of color, beyond Elijah Cummings, an African- American, sitting member of Congress. Al Sharpton has now come into the president's cross-hairs in the city of Baltimore.

Do you see all these attacks by the president as connected?

MOSBY: Totally. I mean we can go all the way back to when he went after John Lewis down in Georgia. I mean there's certain individuals that we all know, whether we agree with their political ideology, are somewhat untouchable. To -- but to go after a man like John Lewis, to attack four women who are sitting members of Congress, again, this is unprecedented.

And, unfortunately, we expect more from the leader of the free world, from our leader. And when we look at the president and what he's saying, I believe that it's very intentional. I believe that he's doing something to incite his base.

And we know that as we've seen hate crimes increase throughout this country, he's emboldened individuals to take a different approach. And that's why I get very concerned about where we are right now in American times.

SCIUTTO: The president seems to believe that he can win over at least some African-American voters with a message about economic opportunity that he claims to have created for them. Do you think that's something this president can do?

MOSBY: I mean, in any equation, there's no absolute. So will certain African-Americans vote for this current president? Of course. I think that what he's utilized and what he's done over the past couple of days, couple of weeks, is he knows that he's doubled down on the fact that he will not get the majority of the African-American vote. And he's willing to flame the fires of his racist, his white nationalist friends to insure that he's trying to inspire his base.

Many -- you know, many people say, well we can't, you know, talk about what Donald Trump is saying, but I don't think we can afford not to talk about it. You know, Martin Luther King once said, you know, it's not what your enemies say, it's the silence of your friends. And I think now it's important for us to all come together. And whether you're a Republican or Democrat, not focus on your partisanship, but focus on patriotism. And this is just not America.

SCIUTTO: Nick Mosby, we appreciate you taking the time and we're sorry you've had to listen to words like this.

MOSBY: Thank you. SCIUTTO: For many of the 2020 candidates, this week's CNN Democratic

presidential debates are the last, best chance to grab that all important momentum. How can they stand out on a crowded debate stage?


[09:43:13] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow. We are live in Detroit ahead of the big two-debate nights, 20 candidates, two evenings and the stage is set for this week's CNN Democratic presidential debates here in Detroit.

But this will likely be the last night of many of these candidates that will set foot on the debate stage during the 2020 campaign. That's right, the group will get a lot smaller after this week.

Joe Biden remains the candidate to beat. But for the mid and lower tier candidates, it is truly make or break. Many may have trouble staying in the race after this.

Joining me now is Brett O'Donnell, a debate coach who's worked on presidential campaigns for George W. Bush, John McCain and he's worked with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Good to have you. Thank you so much.


HARLOW: So let's begin with your first rule of debating, you may not win, but you can certainly lose it all.

O'DONNELL: That's right. You can't -- no single debate will let you win the election, win the primary contest, win the general election, but you can certainly lose an election, loose and hurt yourself significantly in a single debate. And history is replete with examples going back to Richard Nixon and how he looked in the very first debate, Gerald Ford, how he mischaracterized Europe in his debate with Jimmy Carter. And so there are lots of places where you can make big mistakes.

But the -- you know, the big key here for -- for folks tonight is not just not to play not to lose, but also to have a moment where they can ratchet themselves up in the conversation.

HARLOW: Yes. Sure.

You've actually pointed out John McCain and especially Mitt Romney as people who have very -- been very adept at doing that, of seizing those moments, listening carefully.

[09:45:00] O'DONNELL: Yes, I think, you know, many of the candidates are going to have canned moments tonight. They've got lines that they've rehearsed or exchanges.

HARLOW: Sure. O'DONNELL: But some of the best moments happen when your candidate is listening to what's happening in the debate and seizing on those moments and having a big moment in the debate that occurs organically. I think of John McCain in 2007 in New Hampshire when Mitt Romney said that the surge was working apparently. Senator McCain hopped on that moment and went after Romney for being conditional and conditionally supporting the troops. It was a big moment.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

O'DONNELL: Mitt Romney, same thing when he, in 2011, in New Hampshire, sort of co-opted the entire group and focused their arguments on Obama instead of each other, showed that he was the leader.

Folks are looking for their champion in these primary debates. They're looking for the person who's going to go take on the other team.


Look, you said about Joe Biden after the last debate, he needs to raise his game but is he capable of raising his game. So let's assume that he's capable of it but now talk about what a less polite Joe Biden is actually going to look like in your mind because that is what his team has said we should all be prepared for.

O'DONNELL: Well, I think Joe Biden's got to become an effective counter-puncher. You know, when you're the frontrunner, you don't want to initiate contact. The principle is, do no harm. At the same time, you don't want to appear so passive, as he did in the last debate. And so prepare for the attacks that you know are coming and have affective counter-punches to those attacks so that you can turn the moments that are supposed to be at your expense into moments that help you.

HARLOW: OK. Everyone will be watching we know. We know you will.

Brett O'Donnell, thank you. Come back soon. I'd love to hear your post-game on how it all went. Thanks again.

O'DONNELL: Will do. Thank you.

HARLOW: OK. All right. So President Trump picking a staunch defender of his to lead the nation's intelligence gathering. With this relationship, will it be better than his last one? And what are that implications of picking someone like this without a lot of experience in that space?


[09:51:51] SCIUTTO: This morning, both parties on Capitol Hill are digging in for what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight over the next -- or the president's choice for director of national intelligence, the senior most intelligence official in the country. President Trump tapped Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist and vocal critic of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The role of DNI director is supposed to be non-political, overseeing the entire U.S. intelligence community. It was created after 9/11. Critics argue the staunchly conservative Ratcliffe will be to partisan and also lacks experience and credentials for the job.

Let's discuss now with Shawn Turner, he's former director of communications for the U.S. director of national intelligence.

Shawn, always good to have you on the broadcast.


SCIUTTO: So let's compare the resumes of Ratcliffe with prior directors of national intelligence. James Clapper, as you know, 50 years in intelligence, had previously been a director of one of the intelligence agencies. Dennis Blair, long service in the Navy. John Negroponte, served as ambassador and many levels of government, national security adviser. Ratcliffe has been on the Intelligence Committee for six months. Does he have the experience in your view necessary to be the highest ranking intelligence official in the country?

TURNER: In a word, no. Now, it's important to point out that that doesn't mean that he can't do a good job. But, look, across the board, as you pointed out, in the past we've had directors of national intelligence who have had extensive experience either on the political side as members of Congress or through their time and service, or as Jim Clapper had, you know, decades of experience working in the intelligence community.

And, Jim, that really matters because at a time when we have more threats, more concerns, more issues and challenges facing the United States around the world than we've ever had before, you really need someone in this position who, one, either has the ability to lead based on their previous experience, or knows enough to be able to depend on and rely on the seasoned intelligence officials who are currently in place.

SCIUTTO: And with that experience, of course, comes credibility, as you're dealing with the agencies.

Let's ask about the politics here, because Congressman Ratcliffe made what seemed to be a resume speech at the Mueller hearings, laying into him, really not asking questions, more giving a speech, a very critical one of Mueller. He's also made an accusation that there's a secret society within government and the intelligence community that intended to block President Trump, or undermine him, remove him from office.

Are you concerned that he will not have the ability to speak truth to power to President Trump, tell him intelligence that he doesn't want to hear?

TURNER: Look, as I -- as I sit here today, that is a major concern. We know that Representative Ratcliffe met with the president a couple of weeks ago. And based on people I talk with, coming out of that meeting it wasn't clear that he was the president's choice for director of national intelligence. But if you look at the performance last week during the Mueller testimony where Ratcliffe really went after Bob Mueller on an issue that, to be candid, he was not correct about, Ratcliffe was not correct about, that performance was much more like an audition, an interview for the position. And, of course, shortly thereafter, Ratcliffe was named at the likely nominee.

[09:55:03] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you --

TURNER: So at this point I think Ratcliffe has a lot of work to do to prove himself.

SCIUTTO: So just this on the --

TURNER: Go ahead.

SCIUTTO: The effect. If a president's not willing to listen to intelligence that gets to an issue, as we've heard many times, Russian interference in the 2016 election. If the president won't hear that intelligence, does that make the country less safe?

TURNER: Absolutely, it does. Look, and the -- the people in the intelligence community are working extremely hard to make sure that our presidential elections are secure and that all of the threats that we face from around the world are threats that the president has the ability to make wise decisions about. But if the president won't listen to those people, if they won't listen to the evidence, he won't listen to the intelligence, he can't make the decisions that are in the best interest of our U.S. national security. And that's one of the reasons why John Ratcliffe is going to have a very difficult decision to make, because his loyalty can't be to the president. It has to be to the American people and to the safety and security of this country.

SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, great to have you on the program. Thanks very much.

We are following the breaking news out of northern California this morning. A gunman opening fire at a crowded festival, killing three people, including a six-year-old boy.