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What Trump's Handling of Ukraine Scandal Tells About 2020 Campaign; All The President's Projections; U.S. Soldier Arrested Over Alleged Plot to Bomb CNN, Target Presidential Candidate; Prosecutors: Former Police Officer Missed Warning Signs Before Fatally Shooting Victim; House Dems Appear Closer to Launching Impeachment Against Trump. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 07:30   ET




[07:32:51] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe Biden and his son are corrupt. If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they'd be getting the electric chair by right now.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, that was President Trump's response to the whistleblower controversy. What does his handling of this tell us about his re-election strategy?

Joining us is now CNN Senior Political Analyst David Axelrod. He's a former chief strategist to Barack Obama and host of the "Axe Files." David, tell us what you -- what jumps out at you about how the president is handling this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's more brazen than he's ever been before, and I think that he has been emboldened by the fact that he has gotten away with a lot over time. You know, I've said here and elsewhere that Donald Trump does not believe in rules, laws, norms or institutions. The only thing he believes is wrong is if you don't do what is in your self-interest.

He understands -- you know, it isn't corruption in Ukraine that motivated him to do what he's done. It's polling that shows Joe Biden 12, in some cases 15 points ahead, and he is trying -- he understands that for him to win re-election, he needs to destroy his opponent, and he's tried to begin this process in this way. The thing that -- you know, in the process he clearly has created a huge vulnerability for himself and may put the House in a position where impeachment is unavoidable.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, yes, I mean, it does sound like things are definitely moving on the impeachment front. But in terms of a huge vulnerability for himself, you know, he famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base would stay with him. So, do you think that this is making him politically vulnerable? AXELROD: Well, I think it's a really good question because my guess is that a lot of people among his base say, you know, embrace the Trump equation which is that everybody does this stuff. This is just the way the world works, and so -- and may buy into some of the stories that he's propagating some of the conspiracy theories about Biden. I'm sure that that is true.

[07:35:01] There are voters on the swing. I mean, he believes there are no swing voters in this country. There really are some swing voters in this country, and I think they'll find this disturbing. You know, I don't know by the way in terms of impeachment what the political implications are. You heard Jane Harman lay out the negative argument against it which is that the political ramifications would be severe, and you could end up impeaching the president and helping him wins re-election, strengthening him, and exacerbating his behavior.

But, you know, at some point they have to make a judgment as to, you know, what looks -- what is more cynical, not impeaching the president when he is blatantly violating laws and rules and norms or holding back because the politics don'ts look good.

CAMEROTA: You know, as you know, the -- Trump and his media allies often engage in whataboutism, and so what you hear -- and I mean, you are the perfect person to ask about this is, Joe Biden withheld, threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid from Ukraine because of corruption. So what's wrong with President Trump threatening to withhold millions in dollars in aid because of corruption. Can you explain the difference?

AXELROD: Yes. Well, a couple of things. One is the whole world was pressuring Ukraine to dispatch this prosecutor because he was looking -- he was overlooking corruption including politically-motivated murders, and so Biden was merely amplifying what the -- what world leaders were calling for there. This is a case where you have a president who, you know -- where else in the world has the president taken a stand against corruption? He's embraced kleptocrats around the world. He's broken and flouted ethics rules and laws here at home.

Corruption has never been high on his list of concerns, and all of a sudden he suspends aid and a few days later insist that they investigate this case involving his political opponent, it's laughable. It really is laughable. You know, corruption is a big issue, it has been in Ukraine that's why the new president was elected, but that's not what Donald Trump's concern is here. His concern is trying to win an election, and he tried to enlist a foreign leader to help him do it.

CAMEROTA: David Axelrod, it's really good to get the facts behind this. Thank you very much for your perspective.

AXELROD: Good to see you.

CAMEROTA: John? JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a major court decision that could have reverberations around the world and put the key world leaders future in jeopardy. We're waiting to hear from that man, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He's here in New York, but the British Supreme Court just ruled he took unlawful actions, so what next?


[07:42:00] BERMAN: This morning, the president of the United States proving again he is a major proponent of the ancient art of I know you are but what am I. When accused of colluding with Russia absent all evidence remember, President Trump said it was Hillary Clinton who was colluding. And now, well, you can guess.

John Avlon with the reality check. John?


Because there's not enough Freud on morning television, let's talk about projection. Webster's dictionary defines it as the externalization of blame, guilt or responsibility as a defense against anxiety. Kind of like this.


TRUMP: The one who's got the problem is Biden because you look at what Biden did. Biden did what they would like to have me do, except for one problem, I didn't do it.


AVLON: Behold the power of projection. But projection is a regular part of the Trump playbook. He's taken the impulse and elevated it to an effective political tactic. You might remember this attack on Ted Cruz during the primaries.


TRUMP: Lying Ted, lies. Oh, he lies.


AVLON: Then, of course, this comes from someone who has lied more than 12,000 times as president according to the Washington Post. Ted Cruz was pretty quick to push back and diagnose the problem.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This man is a pathological liar, in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychological textbook. His response is to accuse everybody else of lying.


AVLON: This impulse to deflect and project continued to the general election. So when Trump was accused of being the most corrupt candidate ever, Clinton became crooked Hillary. When Trump came under fire for racist appeals he called her a bigot. When Clinton raised questions about Trump's erratic and impulsive behavior he called her unstable and unhinged. And who can't forget this.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet.

CLINTON: It's pretty clear.

TRUMP: You're the puppet.


AVLON: OK, so that last one was more of an impulsive bleep rather than evidence of strategy, but of course it's continued in office. For example, during the Mueller investigation, Trump kept saying there was no collusion except by crooked Hillary and the Democrats and saying Russia wanted Hillary Clinton to win despite Vladimir Putin saying the opposite.

These projections may sound absurd but they serve a serious purpose. They muddy the waters between fact and fiction and make people think that everyone else is guilty of what Trump's been accused of, which increases apathy and cynicism in our democracy. And because it comes from the top, you see the president's surrogates and even cabinet officials echo it. But sometimes they go too far and give away the game.

Here's Mike Pompeo on "Face the Nation".


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: If there was election interference that took place by the vice president, I think the American people deserve to know.


AVLON: I'm sorry, what's that now? Because literally, no one is suggesting that Joe Biden was involved in election interference. But of course, that's exactly what President Trump is being accused of. If you can't defend the president's alleged actions, you just deflect and project.

Here's the thing, projection is actually a sign of deep insecurity which makes you wonder about the president's favorite insults. An analysis by the Washington Post found that Trump's top five insults on Twitter were, fake, failed, dishonest, weak, and liar. And given everything we just told you about projection, maybe deep down Donald Trump doesn't think of himself as a very stable genius after all.

[07:45:05] And that's your reality check. CAMEROTA: OK, that reality check worked overtime. First of all, you were spell checking the president's tweet in graphic form also which we appreciate.

AVLON: One of the many services we provide.

CAMEROTA: You really outdid yourself there.

BERMAN: And the puppet moment, hall of fame.

AVLON: It's top five clearly.

BERMAN: All right, John, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: You're the puppet.

BERMAN: You're the puppet.

CAMEROTA: All right, listen to this, it's a -- well, it's a serious story but to be expected, sadly. A U.S. Army soldier is under arrest. He is charged with threatening a presidential candidate and discussing wanting to bomb CNN. The disturbing details of what federal authorities have uncovered next.


[07:50:23] CAMEROTA: An active-duty U.S. Army soldier now under arrest. He is charged in an alleged domestic terror plot that involved wanting to bomb CNN and target presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live in Washington with details. Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the FBI says the 24-year-old Jarrett William Smith repeatedly shared bomb- making techniques on Facebook and other online platforms. They also say that he plotted to target CNN and even talked about targeting presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. In at least one of his plots, an FBI bomb tech who was later consulted said if that bomb had been properly constructed, well, it could have detonated.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The 24-year-old U.S. army soldier is accused of sharing bomb-making instructions over Facebook and talking about blowing up an unidentified major news network. According to two sources, the network he named was CNN. He also talked about killing members of the far-left group Antifa and destroying cell towers or a local news station according to the affidavit. Prosecutors say Jared William Smith while stationed in Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Riley in Kansas was discussing building bombs and conducting attacks. The FBI began tracking Smith on Facebook in March but soon discovered Smith's conversations on social media discussing desires to fight and engage in violence dated all the way back to 2016 before Smith enlisted in the military. The feds say Smith sought out another man who had traveled to Ukraine to fight with the Right Sector, a violent right-wing paramilitary group. That man allegedly mentored Smith and prepared him to fight. The criminal complaint shows Smith stressed his desire to fight in Ukraine one year before he enlisted with the U.S. Army. Smith said no former military experience but if I cannot find a slot in Ukraine by October I'll be going into the army. To fight is what I want to do.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This case shows a level of motivation that we don't always see in investigations, and that is someone who is so intent on causing harm and loss of life. He doesn't care where it's going to take place, either here domestically or internationally. This person was looking for a target to kill.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Smith joined the U.S. Army one year later in June 2017, but his plans to fight or blow up something only seemed to intensify. In a Facebook group chat in December 2018, Smith allegedly said, I got knowledge of IEDs for days, we can make cellphone IEDs in the style of the Afghans. the FBI used a confidential source and an undercover employee to talk online with Smith in August and September of this year. Smith allegedly discussed targeting the headquarters of that major American news network with a large vehicle bomb. An FBI tech who analyzed his plan says the bomb would not have worked.

Smith also elaborated on his plans to build weapons from everyday materials saying, making AK-47s out of expensive parts is cool, but imagine if you were going to Walmart instead of a gun store to buy weapons. He allegedly gave very specific instructions for constructing an explosive device which the FBI says would have been viable if correctly built. And he referenced presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke when asked by the undercover agent if he could think of any politician who would be a good target in Texas according to prosecutors. Smith allegedly asked, outside of Beto.

CAMPBELL: The FBI brought in bomb technicians who were apparently so concerned with his level of sophistication, they wanted to run to the ground exactly what he was capable of doing, again, in order to stop a potential threat to the public.


SCHNEIDER: And Beto O'Rourke says his campaign has been working with the FBI on this case. The 24-year-old U.S. Army also saying he cooperated with the FBI leading up to Smith's arrest in Kansas last weekend. Now that 24-year-old U.S. Army soldier faces up to 20 years for the charge that he distributed bomb-making information online. And, John, he'll be back in federal court on Thursday for a detention hearing.


BERMAN: All right, Jessica. Disturbing to say the least. Excellent work by the FBI. Wish they didn't have to do so much of that.

Prosecutors say a former Dallas police officer missed a number of warning signs when she entered the wrong apartment, shooting and killing her neighbor inside his apartment. Her defense says she was fatigued after a long day on the job.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live outside the courthouse with the latest on this.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, prosecutors say Amber Guyger missed those warning signs because she was so distracted from exchanging sexually explicit e-mail -- text messages with her former lover and patrol partner, that was one of the reasons that she ended up in Botham Jean's apartment, that she was planning a late-night rendezvous with the former lover.

[07:55:10] Amber Guyger's attorneys say that's not the case, that this was all a tragic mistake.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Amber Guyger watched as prosecutors argued the former police officer missed numerous signs indicating she was in the wrong place the night she shot and killed 26-year-old Botham Jean in his apartment. Guyger was indicted on the murder charge last September and pleaded not guilty.

JASON HERMUS, ASSISTANT DALLAS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: In the last ten minutes of Bo's life, Amber Guyger made a series of unreasonable errors and unreasonable decisions and unreasonable choices. And for her errors, for her omissions, Botham paid the ultimate price.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Guyger lived in the apartment right below Jean on the third floor, and prosecutors say she missed plenty of signs she was on the wrong floor, including a skylight, a red doormat, and differences in the hallway. She also did not notice a missing table in the apartment, clutter on the counter and smell of marijuana which Jean smoked to treat his ADHD. Guyger's defense says she was exhausted and was moving in, quote, autopilot after working 40 hours in four days.

ROBERT ROGERS, ATTORNEY FOR AMBER GUYGER: The tenants that lived on the third and fourth floor reported doing the exact same thing. How is that unreasonable?

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Her attorney claims she placed her electronic key fob in the lock on the door. However, the apartment door was unlocked and open. She thought Jean was an intruder and she shot at him twice, missing once and striking him in the chess with the other bullet.

ROGERS: She's in her apartment, my God, there's a man in my apartment and his big and he's 25-feet and then he's 20-feet and it's happening like this and she has to make decisions.

AMBER GUYGER: I'm an off-duty officer, I thought I was in my apartment, and I shot a guy thinking that he was -- thinking it was my apartment. Oh, my God. I'm done. I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Prosecutors say during that 911 call, instead of giving aid, Guyger texted her former lover, a fellow police officer, "I need you, hurry", and I f'd up.

HERMUS: When you listen critically to what she is saying, you are going to hear that she is as concerned or more concerned about how this is going to affect her than this poor guy on the floor next to her.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The defense argues the relationship is irrelevant, calling the shooting a, quote, epic tragedy but not murder.


LAVANDERA: Amber Guyger's attorneys say that she will testify at some point when the defense begins putting on its case. If she is convicted she faces up to life in prison, and this trial is expected to last a couple of weeks.


BERMAN: All right, Ed Lavandera for us in Dallas. We're watching this case which is getting more and more interesting by the day.

We do have breaking news. The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom says that the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson illegally suspended parliament ahead of the Brexit deadline. We're expecting the first response from 10 Downing Street any moment now.

NEW DAY continues right now.


TRUMP: We had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine. Everybody knows it. It is just a Democrat witch hunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He put a hold on the aid to Ukraine a week before calling up Zelensky and badgering him to investigate Joe Biden. That is highly suspicious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he did nothing wrong and he has nothing to hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must move forward with impeachment proceedings. I don't think we'll have much of a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're beyond the tipping point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy Pelosi is reconsidering her position on impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are throwing that term around so loosely, it's lost all meaning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats are in a tough spot. I think impeachment math is still not great for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: All right, good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, September 24th, 8:00 in the East.

And there have been developments overnight in the whistleblower story. There's also a seismic shift among Democrats on impeaching the president. CNN has confirmed that President Trump ordered that millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine be frozen roughly a week before that phone call in which the president admits talking to the Ukrainian president about former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

Now, about that freezing of funds, the Washington Post reports that administration officials were told to tell Congress that the delay was a result of, quote, an interagency process, whatever that means. We will talk to the reporter who helped break that story in just a moment.

BERMAN: The other major development, signs that by tonight impeachment could be on or at least an official impeachment proceeding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with key committee chairs and then the entire Democratic caucus this afternoon amid reports that her resistance to an impeachment inquiry is breaking. You know, you can see hints of it in an op-ed overnight.

Seven key freshmen Democrats, the kind that had been resistant to impeachment proceedings, largely moderates from swing districts, this is what they wrote.