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Epstein's Cell Not Regularly Monitored on Night of Death; Biden's Weekend Gaffes Worry Some Democrats. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Epstein was found in his cell unresponsive. A law enforcement source saying that he took his own life.

[05:59:28] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators want to know why Epstein was taken off suicide watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did the president retweet that Clinton suggestion?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The president just wants everything to be investigated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Presidential candidates converged on Iowa this weekend.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Biden campaign says he simply misspoke.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd pay very little mind to it. Biden will have to answer to his words himself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, August 12. It's 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, my friend.

BERMAN: Happy, happy Monday.

HILL: Happy Monday.

BERMAN: All right. This morning we know Jeffrey Epstein is dead. We know that that, in and of itself, that this is a failure, an appalling failure of the criminal justice system. We know that, in and of itself, this is a betrayal of his victims. We know that the way the president has chosen to respond, peddling

conspiracy theories, is in and of itself, a forfeiture of leadership. All that we know this morning.

What we don't know is the succession of events that led to Epstein's death. A source tells CNN that Epstein was not being monitored regularly on the night of his death. A medical examiner performed an autopsy after the convicted sex offender was found hanged in his jail cell. We also don't yet know the full extent of Epstein's crimes. That is still under investigation.

HILL: It is not just the president peddling conspiracy theories throughout the weekend. Though his legitimizing this latest one is a reminder that Donald Trump himself has been here before when it comes to conspiracy theories. And of course, so have we.

Kellyanne Conway defending the baseless claim over the weekend and her boss's retweet as proof of the need for further investigation and, in her words, transparency.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live outside the federal jail in Manhattan where Epstein died and joins us this morning with the latest -- Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, that brown facility you see behind me, that is the building. That's the prison where Jeffrey Epstein took his life over the weekend here.

What we do know at this point is that now there's a -- there's new information that is suggesting that there were possible violations in the policies and the protocol here.

Of course, the first one, that he was not regularly monitored in the special housing unit. That certainly would be concerning, as guards, according to what we're hearing, are required to check on those inmates every thirty minutes.

The second one is that he would have been left alone in his cell. You'll remember that he was found dead in -- in his cell by himself. Policy requiring for all inmates fresh off of suicide watch to constantly have a cell mate present with them. For whatever reason, there was a cell mate that was supposed to be there but was not. That source not saying exactly why.

CNN reaching out to the Bureau of Prisons, but at this point, not commenting right now. And of course, the big question: why was he even taken off of suicide watch to begin with? The source telling us that -- the source that told us that information essentially telling us that he had been psychologically evaluated repeatedly and then finally cleared to return back to his cell late last month, John and Erica.

So again, these are really the questions that are being asked right now. And for the victims, well, they still feel like they were essentially robbed of justice.

BERMAN: Yes. This is not justice. Nothing about this is justice. Polo Sandoval for us in Lower Manhattan. Polo, thank you very much.

Want to bring in Joe Lockhart, CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House press secretary; Margaret Talev, CNN political analyst; and Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Let's put up a time line here. This is P-101. July 23, Jeffrey Epstein was placed on suicide watch. This was because there was an apparent attempt on his own life.

Late July, taken off suicide watch. August 10, found dead of apparent suicide.

Shan, as we said, this is an appalling failure of the criminal justice system. They had one job in that jail. Well, two. Not to have Jeffrey Epstein escape, and not to have him take his own life. They failed. Your reaction?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They horribly botched this with fatal consequences. And certainly, we need an investigation, but you don't need an investigation to tell you what a massive failure this was.

I think the investigation, frankly, not to espouse any conspiracy theories, of course, but one thing, of course, we have to look at is the autopsy to see what was the cause of death and could there have been anybody implicated?

But it makes no sense at all in a maximum-security situation like that with someone who's been on a suicide watch to have them unattended, and they also moved his cell mate out, supposedly, which also makes no sense.

HILL: And for reasons unknown is still the answer on that., why the cell mate was moved out, why no one else was moved in, because someone was supposed to be in there.

Listen, we can't avoid these conspiracy theories, obviously, that the president was retweeting and peddling over the weekend.

Joe, we have to get your take on this, of course, just given your connection to former President Clinton. I know you saw it over the weekend. Where does this put us this morning?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, you said you can't avoid the conspiracy theories. The president of the United States should be able to avoid a conspiracy theory. You know, it's his Justice Department, his Bureau of Prisons. He's supposed to have some human qualities that keeps him from doing these things.

I mean, it's a ridiculous claim on its face, that anyone related to President Clinton or his family had something to do with this. That's old news. This has been -- dealing with this for 20 years, of people who have been making these claims.

[06:05:04] What's different is you now have the leader of the free world, the president, peddling this. And, you know, maybe even more disturbing yesterday was -- because we know the president does this and is a person of very low character. But you had, you know, one of his chief aides out there, you know, defending him, saying that he just wants everyone investigated. There's just something very wrong there. And, you know, I know we talk about this often, but at what point do we say enough is enough?

BERMAN: It is horrifying, to put it bluntly, that this was done over the weekend. I want to read you what Marco Rubio wrote about this.

He said, "Scrutiny of how Epstein was able to commit suicide is warranted. But the immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the other side of the partisan divide having him killed illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation and influence efforts."

Marco Rubio says it's dangerous, Margaret. The president had a choice here. He had a choice. He could have said, "We need an investigation into how it was that Jeffrey Epstein apparently took his own life." He could have said, "This is a failure." He could have written about gun violence and stayed on the subject that has overwhelmed this country for the last nine days, since the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

But what he chose to do was peddle in conspiracy theories. It really is notable.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, good morning, John.

I think it's really important for viewers to understand that there is no actual basis for the claims in that conspiracy theory. And just period. Paragraph.

So you know, the president should -- should have and still has the chance to say things that will get a message to victims of Jeffrey Epstein that the full extent of what he did and everyone else involved is going to be pursued.

But I think there is a different question, which is what does this say about kind of the way the president's going to address these issues going forward?

And my colleague, Jonathan Swan at Axios, did some reporting over the weekend in which he talked to White House officials who said, "We've basically given up on trying to prevent or walk back these sort of things." So I think even White House officials who are not comfortable with this have just basically thrown up their hands and found it impossible to prevent the president from acting on his Twitter instincts, no matter how they will sort of affect, you know, the public debate or the state of victims.

HILL: The fact that they've given up is both remarkable and not all at once. Right? Because it's not surprising, just based on what we've seen over the last number of years. But how sad is it that this is where we're at now? That we're just going to throw up our hands. I mean, Joe, when you look at this, part of the question, too, is --

which we've had for some time now, what's actually happening in terms of communication. We know this is a president who is not necessarily going to take direction, but in terms of trying to at least control -- control is probably the wrong word. We know it is. But at least trying to have a conversation to let the president know what the impact could be.

I mean, no one's left. And there hasn't been anyone there for a long time, Joe. So as you look at this situation, what do you do with it? Do we just start to ignore it? Because you can't normalize it.

LOCKHART: Well, you -- yes, well, in fact, the Republican Party and the Republican Party leadership has normalized it by saying nothing. I mane, I'm a critic of Marco Rubio often, but I applaud his comments that John was reading. And they're right.

But by and large, the Republicans, you know, who are afraid of Trump and the power he wields over the Republican base right now, have let him get away with it. So the message to Trump is, "I can keep doing this, that I pay no penalty for this. I don't care if people come on CNN and criticize me. Because FOX News will back me up and my base will be OK."

There's somebody has to eventually step up. I don't predict they will. But I would -- I would say that, if this were any other presidency, and if you think about this in context, this would be like if Jeffrey Epstein was killed, and President Obama blamed President Bush for killing him. You know, the world would explode at that. But

now it's just Trump.

Someone -- I think someone in the cabinet has to get together, because we are in 25th Amendment territory. This is not normal behavior. It is very disturbing behavior. The mental profile of the question of the president is now in question, you know, when you see something like this. But I don't have any confidence that there's anyone with the political will or, more importantly, courage to step up and challenge this president.

BERMAN: Silence is acquiescence in this case, I think, Shan, we can honestly say. Because the insinuation he's making, the implication, the flat-out statement he's making in dangerous. He's accusing someone, or peddling a conspiracy theory accusing someone of murder. And we've seen it before, where he's made baseless allegations and he's peddling conspiracy theories. And there are questions about whether that has led to violence also.

And what Marco Rubio points out and our friend Jim Sciutto has pointed out over the weekend, is that questioning the system like this, questioning the reliability is what happens in third world countries. It's what happens in regimes, you know, in like Russia where everyone says, "Oh, you know, we can't trust anything anymore." He is shaking the foundations of our democracy.

WU: Absolutely. I mean, that's the buildup to asserting the authoritarian regime which is, "Believe in me, not anything else you hear."

And let's remember that a court has noted that his tweets are not just his personal musings. They're official communications. So he is using official communications to peddle these kinds of lies. And I think that's, frankly, an impeachable offense, not to mention the concerns about his mental state.

BERMAN: Could these tweets ever appear in court in a case involving Jeffrey Epstein, Shan?

WU: I think they could. There's a bit of technical issues with them being hearsay. You'd have to make sure that they were authenticated or they went to show someone's state of mind.

For example, hypothetically, if someone, turns out they had attacked him in the jail. Maybe the earlier marks were from somebody attacking him, they could claim they were inspired by a social media presence.

Thank you very much. We have much more to discuss on this and a variety of other subjects.

HILL: Yes, indeed, we do. A big weekend in Iowa, of course, for Democratic presidential hopefuls. As a mistake that frontrunner Joe Biden made twice raises concerns. We'll discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So new this morning, what would be the gaffe that breaks the camel's back? Former Vice President Joe Biden leads in national polls and in key state polls, including a new poll from Iowa, but after a weekend on the stump there, there are new questions about whether verbal slips could hurt his chances. It's been a busy weekend of words, Rebecca.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. It's been a very big weekend here in Iowa as the Democratic field made their case to the voters here. And at the center of the spotlight this weekend was the issue of guns.

Of course, in the wake of these tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, now more candidates calling for more aggressive gun reforms than ever before. A growing number saying that Wal-Mart should stop selling guns after the El Paso shooter entered that store and killed a number of people there. Now eight candidates are saying that the company should stop selling guns in their stores.

Meantime, we spoke with Senator Cory Booker this weekend. He was the first Democratic candidate running in 2020 who supported a national gun licensing proposal. And now more and more candidates are getting on board. Beto O'Rourke did this weekend on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

But Senator Bernie Sanders telling us this weekend at the Iowa State Fair that he is not there yet. We asked him if he would support national gun licenses for all guns, not just assault weapons. And he said it's something he still needs to think about. But meantime, the front runner here and across the country is still

former Vice President Joe Biden, and he has been getting some unwanted attention in recent days after a series of gaffes. The first one when he said he met with Parkland students as vice president, but in fact, he wasn't vice president at the time. He was already out of office. I want you to take a listen to that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I watched what happened when the kids from Parkland marched up, and I met with them and they went off up on the Hill when I was vice president. And they went off the Hill to go into those neighborhoods.

I watched what happened when those kids from Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president. They went into the -- And some of you covered it. And you watched what happened with them when they went up in the halls of Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCK: In another slipup, Vice President Biden saying poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids. He immediately corrected himself, but of course, the damage was done.

He also said in another moment, "We choose truth over facts." Another little slip. That one caught the attention of President Trump, who tweeted, "Biden isn't mentally fit to be president." He continued, "We are playing in a very big and complicated world, and Joe Biden just doesn't have a clue" -- John and Erica.

BERMAN: All right, Rebecca. Thank you very much.

HILL: Joining us now, let's bring back Margaret Talev. Also joining us, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator; and Frank Bruni, "New York Times" op-ed columnist and CNN contributor.

As we were all watching Rebecca's report and listening there to those moments, specifically, when the former vice president was talking about, and he said very clearly, "When I was vice president and met with the Parkland students." I saw you both shaking your heads.

Frank, I want to start with you on this one. It was tough, because you heard it twice and also because he was very clear that it was "when I was vice president."

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

HILL: What is the damage from that?

BRUNI: Well, the damage is as you said, first of all, he said it twice. It wasn't just a word. We're referring to this as a gaffe, but he's told now an anecdote two times that turned out to be entirely untrue. There's an enormous number of years between what he's referring to, which is Newtown, and -- and what he's saying, which is Parkland, which is wrong. [06:20:10] The damage isn't the gaffe itself. But as they accumulate,

people are wondering, is this the same Joe Biden as five years ago? I mean, we're dancing around it, but the question is does he have the same acuity he did? Does he have the same stamina he did? And those are important questions as you ask the question beyond that, which is who should the Democrat Party put forward to go against Donald Trump? Who is their best chance?

Biden's argument since he declared his candidacy has been, "I'm the one who can most likely beat Donald Trump. I'm the safest bet." And when you have these moments, these gaffes, this seeming lack of sturdiness, it undercuts that whole rationale for his candidacy. So I think the damage is significant. I don't think this is the last of it. And I think, you know, we have to consider that, by the time we reach the Iowa caucuses, he may be in a very different position in this pack of candidates.

BERMAN: Errol, what Biden allies will say, though, is there was a lapse. There was a gaffe in another case. There was a mix-up of words.

But measure that against a president who this weekend is peddling in conspiracy theories, who puts out racist attacks on members of Congress. And how can you even compare those things by now?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They're not necessarily comparable. But on the other hand, if Biden's argument is that "I'm the answer to Donald Trump. I am better than him. I -- we need to replace him. We need to take all of that loose talk and throw it aside and get somebody who's going to represent you and make you proud of the president every moment of every day," well, if you're going to do that, you've got to live up to that. So it really sort of takes him off brand in a way that's not true for Donald Trump.

When Donald Trump was running in 2015 and 2016, he made it clear from day one he's going to say whatever the hell he wanted, whether it was true or not. And on that basis, voters decided to like him or to reject him.

Joe Biden's trying to make a different case. And he's going to have to really be on point and not -- Look, we were shaking our heads. Because you wanted to think, yes. Maybe he meant Sandy Hook. But clearly, when he says it twice in the way in which he said it, that's not what it was. And so it stops being about the gaffe and starts to be more about why is he making the gaffe? And that, to Frank's point, is what, I think, people have to be really concerned about.

HILL: It's interesting, too, that we're starting to -- the other Democratic candidates are really dancing around it. Let's be honest. Right? We saw a little bit of pushback in the debates, but then it tends to be pull back.

Tim Ryan over the weekend saying, "Look, maybe it's time to take a second or a third look, Margaret, at some of the younger candidates. Think about what you're getting in them." That I found interesting, that he was willing to go there over the weekend in talking about Joe Biden, Margaret.

TALEV: Well, it makes sense that he's willing to go there, because No. 1, he's much younger, and No. 2, it's not like he's in the No. 2 spot and has a tremendous amount to lose. So you're going to see this, you know, sort of -- he's more liberated to take a more aggressive posture.

But I think we should also be watching President Trump. Because look, all along one of the concerns for Trump about Biden has been could -- could Biden be kind of someone who the president will have a much harder time running against in places like Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin, Pennsylvania?

Now we're seeing the president try a strategy in case Biden is the nominee, which is run against Biden's age and kind of mental competency to run, which is to some extent ironic, because President Trump is his contemporary, right? They're within the margin of error of the same age. But President Trump is trying to make the case that he is a different 70-something than Joe Biden is.

And the question for Biden and Biden's backers are, you know, if Trump were to go after Biden, Trump's very good on his feet kind of instinctively embarrassing or diminishing or finding someone's weakness and going after it. If Trump were to go after Biden live and in reality and in person in a general election matchup, would Vice President Biden, former Vice President Biden know instinctively how to push back? Could he do it in real time? Could he do it successfully?

BERMAN: Look, I think it was -- thought it was important Friday to play this sound. I think it's important for people to see what's going on in the campaign trail, because they can't be everywhere. You can't be in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada all at the same time.

I do wonder, though, Frank, whether voters have already priced this into Joe Biden. Susan Glasser had a comment the other day, which was "A gaffe-free campaign was never an option when it came to Joe Biden." And Joe Biden himself says, "I am a gaffe machine." I do wonder if people have already priced this in, so it may not hurt him as much as people think.

BRUNI: Well, it's possible. But I also think voters focus much less on this stuff, historically, than we do. So we all know him as a gaffe machine. We've been talking about him and covering him that way for many, many years.

I think a lot of voters, although they're accustomed to him, they're looking at him now, and they're not like, "Oh, yes, I recognize that guy who's always putting his foot in his mouth."

I think they're asking the question, Democrats -- We've seen this in polling over and over again. What is my best, safest bet to make sure Donald Trump is limited to four years? And if Joe Biden doesn't seem, in many ways, to be as energetic as he was when he was making the gaffes before, if the new gaffe machine, in fact, goes at a slower pace than the old gaffe, I think voters will worry about that. HILL: There's also, too, the question of a gaffe versus a lapse. And

I mean this seriously.

LOUIS: That's what I thought.

HILL: There's the -- A gaffe is one thing.

LOUIS: Yes.

HILL: Clearly misspeaking and doing it repeatedly, that's a different question.

LOUIS: Well, that's the point of concern, as a matter of fact. Like, the other slipup that you referenced, where he said, you know, poor kids versus white kids. And then he immediately sort of -- you know --

HILL: Right.

LOUIS: That's a fumble. That's not inadvertently disclosing something that maybe you wanted to hide. And that, in turn, is different from saying something that's just clearly factually wrong and you seem to be confused.

And to the event that you have to sort of parse this and sort of figure out what kind of a gaffe is this? What kind of a misstatement was this? Is this a stumble? Is he telling us something that he didn't really -- that we didn't know before? That kind of a thing.

You know, look. I think one -- one thing that's going to be true for both candidates, Joe Biden and for Donald Trump, is that they're really sort of running based on an image that was created many, many years ago.

We think of Donald Trump as, you know, a builder. Well, it's been a long, long time since that was his principle activity. He had his whole Hollywood phase. Now he has a political phase.

Joe Biden, you know, most of what he did is behind him. And I think people are going to look at his overall record, or at least he's got to hope that we look at his overall record and not so much how he's performing in this moment. And it's that image that I think is going to be the basis of the campaign.

BERMAN: He's trying on this. He put out an op-ed in "The New York Times" today where he was calling for an assault weapon ban and making the case that, "Hey, I did this. I'm actually the one guy up here who has passed an assault weapon ban."

BRUNI: It was an interesting op-ed, because he's really trying to reclaim his record. And we've seen in the debates his opponents trying to cast his record as an entirely negative thing that's out of touch with the times. And in that op-ed, I think he makes an aggressive effort to reclaim that record and say, "Wait a second. There's a lot of good here, and I've done a lot of things that these other people have only promised." BERMAN: He says, "The problem is with weak-willed leaders who care

more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins." That's in "The Times" today.

Margaret, I do want to get your take, since you are now at Axios. Anthony Scaramucci told Axios overnight that it may be time to replace the Republican ticket. This is Anthony Scaramucci, who was a big supporter of Donald Trump and worked in the White House, albeit for a short period of time. He says, "A couple more weeks like this and country over party is going to require the Republicans to replace the top of the ticket in 2020."

He knows, Scaramucci does, the kind of focus and the kind of attention that will get today. What's going on here?

TALEV: Well, yes, and sort of immediate -- the immediate reaction from the White House was, "Well, you know, it sounds like his feelings are hurt." Because, as you know, President Trump sort of responded in a very sort of crushing way, diminishing Scaramucci.

But the reason why this is important and interesting is because Anthony Scaramucci, after his 11 glorious days in the White House, has always been kind of a Trump explainer that has bridged, you know, sort of Wall Street to be someone who's supportive for Republicans but comes from the Wall Street background, rather than kind of the Trump base and has explained that you don't have to agree with everything somebody does if you like their policies, or to sort of offer more nuanced explanations for why he does things that sometimes shock the American conscience.

This is a pivot on his part now, to say President Trump has gone too far. Now, there's no immediate evidence that Republicans are about to start coming out of the woodwork to challenge the president. I'd say we don't see that at all.

But I think Anthony Scaramucci does potentially speak for a bloc of Republicans in cities who overlap suburban areas and who come from kind of the donor part of President Trump's support network. And so it is important, beyond the president's kind of instinctive rhetoric to diminish him, for the White House to be listening to what he has to say.

BERMAN: Again, he gets to Chernobyl.

TALEV: Yes. He goes there.

BERMAN: He goes to nuclear meltdown here.

TALEV: He does, he does.

BERMAN: "We are now in the early episodes of 'Chernobyl' on HBO," Mooch says, "where the reactor is melting down and apparatchiks are trying to figure out whether to cover it up or start the cleanup process. A couple more weeks like this and 'country over party' is going to require the Republicans to replace the top of the ticket in 2020." TALEV: Yes, the Mooch's problem was never that he couldn't come up

with a colorful enough quote.

BERMAN: And look -- and on Twitter just a few hours ago, I will note that he's quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Also -- I mean, you're sighing at that.

BRUNI: No, I'm just saying Anthony Scaramucci really loves attention, and he knows how to say things that get it. And so I think we can't parse this too much.

BERMAN: He says, "Silence in the face of evil is evil itself."

LOUIS: And just on Friday night, there he was defending the president on Bill Maher's show and doing a pretty good job of it, actually. I thought he was a pretty good soldier, as he always has been for Donald Trump. I was a little surprised that the president went after him on Twitter.

BERMAN: As fate would have it -- as fate would have it, we have Anthony Scaramucci joining us.

END