Return to Transcripts main page


FEC Chair Calls Out President Trump Over Baseless Voter Fraud Claims; NASA Scientists Track Greenland's Melting Glaciers; ISIS Claims Responsibility For Deadly Afghan Wedding Attack. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:31:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So this morning, there is no evidence of mass voter fraud in New Hampshire in 2016 and there never has been. And now, a key government official is calling on President Trump to produce evidence for these claims that he continues to make.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many, many people voted that shouldn't have been voted. Some people voted many times. What I'm saying is we need voter identification -- we need voter I.D.


BERMAN: So that was just yesterday and it follows a similarly baseless claim during a rally last week in New Hampshire.

Our next guest says it's time for the president to put his money where his mouth is.

Joining us now is Ellen Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission. Chair, thank you very much for being with us.

You've written a letter to the president that says, "Our democracy depends on the American people's faith in our elections. Your voter fraud allegations run the risk of undermining that faith. You have not, so far, provided any proof of these allegations.

To put it in terms, a former casino operator should understand there comes a time when you need to lay your card on the table or fold."

Why did you write this to the president?


Facts matter and people of America need to be able to believe what their leaders tell them. It is damaging to our democracy to spread information that as you, yourself, just described, is baseless.

There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in 2016 or really, in any previous election. People have studied this -- academics have studied this, lawyers have studied this, the government has studied this, Democrats have studied this, Republicans have studied this, and no one can find any evidence of rampant voter fraud, either historically or particularly, in the 2016 elections.

I think it is damaging to our democracy to spread information like that if there is no proof.

Now, if there is proof, then we really need to be taking action about that. These are serious allegations. Law enforcement should be involved. But if there is no proof, then these things really shouldn't be said.

BERMAN: Has the White House been responsive at all to your request for further information?

WEINTRAUB: No, not so much.

BERMAN: Has the White House ever -- and I mean including the commission chaired by Mike Pence -- produced any evidence and handed over to you, the Federal Election Commission, of fraud in New Hampshire or --


BERMAN: -- or California or other places in 2016? No?

WEINTRAUB: No, and I'm not aware of them handing any evidence over to the local law enforcement authorities who would have jurisdiction over what happened in their own states.

It's -- in fact, I've heard from folks at the state and local level who were offended by this. They thought that it was insulting to the way they ran their elections in each and every state to suggest that they would allow this kind of rampant voter fraud to go on.

I've heard from people who said, you know, I was at the polling stations. There were no buses. We didn't have room in the parking lots for these kinds of buses.

And this kind of information really -- to put out information that has no proof, has no evidence behind it, it is -- as I said, it's damaging to our democracy.


WEINTRAUB: It causes people to lose faith. It causes people to question the results.

We have some serious threats to our democracy right now. There are threats from abroad that our National Intelligence Community has been warning about.

There are bipartisan bills in Congress that cannot get votes, that cannot get through Congress that would address the serious and real threats to our democracy. That's where we need to be focusing our attention. To be suggesting to people that if the candidate that they don't like doesn't win -- if the candidate they choose doesn't win that it's because of fraud, that undermines our democracy. It undermines people's faith, and once their faith is broken it is very hard to build up again.

[07:35:04] BERMAN: Since we have you here -- no better expert on election law and campaign finance law -- the president did an event last week in Pennsylvania -- in Western Pennsylvania -- where he spoke at a company. This was an official White House event. Yet, a lot of what he spoke from the podium seemed to be about the campaign and his reelection.

Listen to this.


TRUMP: I'm going to speak to some of you union leaders to say I hope you're going to support Trump, OK?


TRUMP: And if they don't, vote him the hell out of office because they're not doing their job. It's true. Vote them out of office.


BERMAN: Again, this was a White House event, a government event, a taxpayer-funded event. What is the law between what is a political event and a government event?

WEINTRAUB: I would not want to opine on any particular issue that could become the subject of a complaint to the Commission. It would be inappropriate for me to weigh in on that in advance.

I can just say that as a general matter that government activities and campaign activities are supposed to be kept separate. Under campaign finance laws, under Hatch Act regulations, under ethics rules, they are supposed to be separate.

It's a difficult determination sometimes. It's not always obvious in every circumstance what's official and what is political.


WEINTRAUB: A lot of people think that everything that an officeholder does is political. So I don't want to weigh on in any particular fact and circumstances.

BERMAN: And I understand you don't want to talk about the specifics here and you correctly note that every president has come under some kind of accusation for mixing political and official events. You know, President Trump, himself, accused Barack Obama of using Air Force One for political events.

But typically speaking, the White House reimburses -- sorry, the campaigns reimburse the Treasury for events that are deemed political. Again, just broadly speaking, why is this? Why is a campaign reimbursing the Treasury when an event is deemed political?

WEINTRAUB: Well, in the broadest possible terms, you don't want to have taxpayer dollars supporting an individual candidate's campaign.

Outside of the now largely obsolete public funding system that has its own sets of rules, you don't -- it's a concept called the Abuse of State Resources and it's something that countries throughout the world worry about, whether the party in power is going to use the resources that are available to them. And this is true not just of the presidency but at the state and local level and of members of Congress.

You don't want to have the incumbents have the -- in addition to the inherent advantages of incumbency to be able to use government dollars to advance their own campaigns.

BERMAN: And just to be clear, you said you don't want to comment on something that might be the subject of a complaint. Has there been a complaint filed with the FEC yet about this?

WEINTRAUB: I'm not going to comment on that, either.

BERMAN: All right.

Ellen Weintraub, thank you for being with us this morning -- appreciate it.

WEINTRAUB: Thank you so much.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Really interesting. So glad that we had her on.

Meanwhile, John, there's a lot of talk, as you know, about Greenland lately, but there's more to this arctic island than meets the eye. The incredible work above and beneath the ice to address the global climate crisis. That story coming up.


[07:42:35] CAMEROTA: There were severe storms along the East Coast overnight, ripping trees from the ground in North Carolina. You can see some of the aftermath on your screen right now. Also, the summer heat is gripping the area and it will for several days, while more than 30 inches of rain have fallen in parts of Florida.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is keeping his eyes on all of this for us. How's this week looking, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Pretty humid -- I mean, pretty summerlike for sure, Alisyn. The heat index today around New York City is going to be 101. Farther south into Richmond, even warmer than that.

It's the heat, humidity, and also there's going to be showers and storms behind it. The same humidity that caused the severe weather yesterday in North Carolina could cause many more storms today, especially even through New York City.

Philadelphia, it's going to feel like 101, all the way down to D.C., 103. Same story in Baltimore. Take it easy this afternoon.

But the good news is there will be a line of weather. The bad news is some of those storms may contain some wind that could knock down some of those older trees -- you know, the ones that don't have a good root system anymore or maybe a few termites inside. Those are the ones that are going to fall down today with those storms.

But look at the heat index in Little Rock today, 106. So take what you can get. We are really in the middle of what would be considered meteorological summer, although it's coming to an end soon.

Not soon enough for Florida, though. Twenty to 30 inches of rain in the Big Bend north of Tampa over the weekend and we'll see a few more showers today. But I think most of this is just about done.

Take the heat for a couple of more weeks and then finally, we're on the big downhill slide to fall, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Don't rush it, Chad. Let's savor it.

MYERS: I'm trying.

CAMEROTA: Let's savor the last few moments of summer.

Thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: So, an Iranian oil tanker is back in the open sea this morning after it was detained for more than a month in Gibraltar. British marines seized this ship after it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in violation of E.U. sanctions.

The U.S. tried but failed to block its release. Iran says it has warned Washington to leave the ship alone.

BERMAN: The number of cases of lung disease possibly caused by vaping has jumped to more than 120 in at least 15 states. This is according to a CNN survey of state health departments. Last week, only three states reported a few dozen cases.

Health officials say it's still unclear whether vaping definitely caused these illnesses which led to multiple people being hospitalized.

CAMEROTA: President Trump wants to buy Greenland. Greenland says it's not for sale. But American researchers are on Greenland right now, tracking melting glaciers and rising sea levels.

[07:45:09] CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen got a firsthand look at what NASA is doing in Greenland and what it means for the rest of the planet. He joins us live from London.

So, Fred, what are they looking at there?


Well, it was really interesting because they were telling us that when many people think of ice melt because of global warming, they essentially think of hotter air temperatures -- sort of like a blow dryer hitting a large ice cube.

But they say there's so much that's going on underwater because of hotter water temperatures out there that's also causing attrition, especially of the glaciers in Greenland, and that's going to affect us all.

Here's what NASA showed us.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Take-off from a tiny airfield in South Greenland. NASA embarking on its mission to map how warmer ocean water is melting arctic ice.

Chief scientist Josh Willis shows me the probes they're launching all around Greenland. It's like dropping thermometers into the sea.

JOSH WILLIS, OCEANS MELTING GREENLAND LEAD SCIENTIST, NASA: They got out of the plane right through this tube right here. They fall down to the ocean and then they separate into two parts. The part falls all the way down to the seafloor, so it gives us a profile for the surface to the bottom on the shelf.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): We've reached today's drop zone -- the massive Helheim Glacier. What you're seeing from our cockpit camera is not even the glacier itself, it's just the ice it has lost in the past days, and this goes on for miles.

PLEITGEN (on camera): It is absolutely awe-inspiring to see the size of this glacier -- to see how much ice is coming off that glacier that's obviously then going to flow into the world's oceans. It is one of the largest glaciers in Greenland. The amount of activity is just absolutely overwhelming.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the scientists spot an ice-free zone right at the mouth of the glacier. It's pretty unusual. With great precision, they have to drop a probe right in that pond.

WILLIS: Five, four, three, two, one -- drop, drop, drop. Fourteen away. I can see water.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Bullseye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the drink (ph) -- perfect.

WILLIS: I saw it -- yes, yes. Oh, wow. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see it.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the readouts they get are troubling. Warm water along the entire depth of the glacier more than 2,000 feet below the surface.

DR. IAN FENTY, OCEANS MELTING GREENLAND SCIENTIST, NASA: And these warm waters now are able to be in direct contact with the ice over its entire face, supercharging the melting.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And it's not just this glacier. The ice melt has been supercharged in all of Greenland recently.

PLEITGEN (on camera): This year is on pace to set a record for ice melts here in the arctic and the NASA scientists are finding out that it's not just hotter air but also warmer ocean water that's causing a lot of the attrition that's making these glaciers lose so much ice.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And while it may look majestic, the ice melt is also dangerous. These billions of tons of ice are causing sea levels to rise. The scientists from NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland Project saying all of us need to pitch in to try and slow down global warming or face the consequences.

WILLIS: There's enough ice in Greenland to raise sea levels by seven and one-half meters. So it's an enormous volume of ice -- that's about 25 feet -- and that would be devastating to coastlines all around the planet.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The changes to our planet's environment can already clearly be seen here in Greenland, a remote arctic paradise whose warming climate will affect us all.


PLEITGEN: And I can tell you guys, flying around there and just seeing that area is a really humbling experience. And if you talk to the folks there, they say the glaciers there have already gone back -- have already receded considerably.

Now, NASA's going to keep dropping those probes for a couple of more weeks. They're going to do it all around Greenland. But they say the readouts they're already getting are saying it's not just the air that's having the big effect, but that warm water that you saw there in our report also having a big effect driving that ice melt, John.

BERMAN: And this is the issue, I think, of greatest concern to the people of Greenland.


BERMAN: And when the world talks about Greenland this is the area of biggest concern, not some other things that have been in the news lately.

PLEITGEN: Yes, true. BERMAN: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much. A terrific look at the situation there.

A suicide bombing at a wedding threatening to disrupt U.S. peace negotiations in Afghanistan. A look at where the talks go from here. That's next.


[07:53:45] CAMEROTA: Is the United States any closer to ending its 18-year-long war in Afghanistan?

Over the weekend, peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban were rocked by a suicide bombing at a wedding that left 63 people dead and 200 people injured.

BERMAN: President Trump says we cannot let Afghanistan become a "laboratory for terror" by withdrawing U.S. forces prematurely.

Joining us now is Susan Glasser, staff writer for "The New Yorker" and a CNN global affairs analyst. She has a revealing -- and that's an understatement -- new profile about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which we'll get to in just a moment.

Susan, though, I do want to start with Afghanistan and specifically, the negotiations. What do you see as a significant of this moment? Significance, I should say.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, look, I mean, first of all, the timing of this terrible attack in Kabul is not an accident.

What's interesting is the attribution to the Islamic State -- a reminder that we've seen the forms of these terrorist groups morph over the years. Declarations of victory are premature. And I think there's this enormous worry that we could just be repeating history in any kind of a peace deal or American withdrawal.

This is exactly what happened at the end of the Soviet War in Afghanistan back in the 90s, essentially. The Soviets withdrew, which meant that the Americans withdraw. Chaos and mayhem ensued and al Qaeda rose, in effect, out of that vacuum.

[07:55:09] That's exactly the scenario that you see Trump administration officials right now worried about in the risks of balancing wanting to leave after 18 years and a sense that there's no victory that you can declare.

But just -- the pictures are just awful and a reminder that Afghanistan is not the stable place that we would want it to be.

CAMEROTA: And, of course, any conversation about Afghanistan or so many places worldwide leads us to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And your profile is so fascinating to watch his metamorphosis from Trump critic to most loyal cheerleader. And I want to get into how that happened and how the president believes him now when he acts as the most loyal cheerleader or if he really has changed.

But first, let's remind people. Back in March of 2016 during the campaign, Mike Pompeo was a Marco Rubio supporter. So here he is at a caucus in Wichita, Kansas criticizing Donald Trump. Listen to this.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE (THEN-MARCO RUBIO SUPPORTER): You know, Donald Trump, the other day, said that if, quote, "If he tells a soldier to commit a war crime, the soldier will just go do it." He said, "They'll do as I tell them to do."

We've spent 7 1/2 years with an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution. We don't need four more years of that. Now is the time for this campaign to pivot. It's time to turn down the lights on the circus.


CAMEROTA: Then, was that the real Mike Pompeo or is what we see today the real Mike Pompeo?

GLASSER: Well, you know, it's a great question. I think the nature of the Republican Party's flip-flop on Donald Trump is so breathtaking that we tend to forget, in fact, we're inured to just how breathtaking it is.

And in particular, I think Pompeo, he was an obscure congressman from Wichita. He was very little-known at the time. That speech did not get a lot of attention in the Kansas caucuses.

His candidate, Marco Rubio, was smoked. He finished in third place in the Kansas caucuses.

Donald Trump -- within a few months, Pompeo had changed his tune dramatically and my reporting showed he was even seeking out a job in the Trump administration. He was hoping to become either CIA director or Secretary of the Army.

And, to me, this is also a story of the breathtaking fast rise and really, lack of vetting that has been the case in many of these members or members of the Trump cabinet who have come almost from nowhere. So those traditional vetting accountability over a long period in public life -- Donald Trump seemed to know very little or nothing about Mike Pompeo when he brought him into his administration.

BERMAN: What's interesting to me is that now you write that you have people -- sources telling you "He is the most sycophantic and obsequious people around the president." But the question you raise is what is he getting for that?

How is Mike Pompeo influencing the president in foreign policy?

GLASSER: Well, you know, that is -- in many ways, it gets at the heart of the question, right? Is he -- to what end -- is he the only adult in the room now that Jim Mattis is gone? I had some veteran members of the Foreign Policy Establishment tell me that Pompeo has reached out.

His private -- Pompeo is much less combative, much more willing to talk to critics of the president talking to Democrats and members of the Republican establishment who are never -Trumpers, who don't like Donald Trump in private.

So is he the adult in the room or conversely, is he, as some people believe, the most conservative, ideologically-driven secretary of state we've really had in modern times? And so, there's a real division and that goes to the lack of transparency of the administration.

But also, you know, look, this is a guy we just don't know very much about and he's rewritten his biography several times.

BERMAN: Literally -- literally taken --

GLASSER: Yes, literally.

BERMAN: -- stuff out of his biography before key moments in his career.

CAMEROTA: And I'm just wondering, John, why did you leave out the last line in her article --

BERMAN: You can read it -- you can read it if you want to.

CAMEROTA: -- where they describe what body part Mike Pompeo seeks out of the president? On that note, I'll just leave that as a tease.

Everybody should read the fantastic profile. It is in the August 26th edition of "The New Yorker".

Susan, thank you very much.

GLASSER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


TRUMP: I don't see a recession. We're doing tremendously well.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This trade war is not working. It's hammering the hell out of farmers across this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our economy is soaring. It's the best it's ever been.

TRUMP: People don't realize we have very strong background checks right now.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got things the vast majority of Americans support that still haven't gotten done.