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Damning Text Messages Detail Trump Pressure On Ukraine; Former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (R) On How Republicans Should Respond To Ukraine Text Messages; FBI Monitors Threats As "Joker" Movie Opens. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 4, 2019 - 07:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And then you hear Gordon Sondland say call me. So they know that they're wading into dangerous water and they've become compromised.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE BLUE COLLAS PRESIDENT": But this is the guy saying he's going to quit. The guy's saying he's going to quit. I mean, so I --

CAMEROTA: Well, that's true. But I guess what my point is is that people around -- in the White House -- people around the president, are they feeling compromised? Do they start to feel their principles becoming compromised?

SCARAMUCCI: How could they not feel compromised? But psychologically, what starts to happen is you start to weld yourself to the president because you're stuck now.

And you have to also remember that if you're stubborn and you have an ego, you don't want your detractors to be right. You don't want your critics to be right. And so now you're forced into this sort of siege mentality.

You're forced into a Stockholm syndrome and you start welding yourself to the president and then you become part of a two-sided coin. And that's the danger that's going on right now, that people are so scared and there's such a cultish-like atmosphere going on that they're afraid to break and run.

And so -- and that's another thing where I said to you that we have to create an off-ramp for these people. We have to say OK, listen, it's OK, you can walk out of there. You'll get your dignity back, have some moral courage, and just admit the truth to the American people of what is actually going on.

CAMEROTA: George Conway, Kellyanne Conway's husband, wrote this 30- page opus basically about the spelling out of how he believes the president is mentally ill and has narcissistic personality disorder.

SCARAMUCCI: Yes. CAMEROTA: Your thoughts?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I read the entire piece. I had gotten close to George on -- I was impressed with the piece. It is a full-blown treatise written like a real litigator would write it with all the facts fully articulated in the case.

And so, it would be very, very hard to read that and have a counter- treatise, if you will, or some kind of defense of the president.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, you agree that the president is mentally -- is officially mentally ill from what George Conway lays out?

SCARAMUCCI: Yes, I think he's -- I think the president is a sociopath and I think he has levels of mental illness. But I also think he has levels of mental decline.

CAMEROTA: Anthony Scaramucci, thank you very much -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you very much, Alisyn.

So how will Republicans in Congress react to the release of what some are calling the smoking texts? A former Republican senator who has called on some of stature within the Republican Party to, quote, "stand up" joins us next.



BERMAN: All right. The breaking news, text messages released overnight linking a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election to a White House visit and maybe even military aid. How will Republicans in Congress respond?

Joining me now, Judd Gregg, former Republican governor and senator from the great state of New Hampshire. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Senator.

"Politico" calls these texts released overnight the smoking texts. Text messages that seem to link a meeting between President Trump and the president of Ukraine with investigating the Bidens -- maybe even military aid.

What do you see here?

JUDD GREGG (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR AND FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: Well, I haven't read the text messages. I've heard your reporting on them a little bit this morning as I've been listening to the show.

I don't see the president being involved in them. You've got a lot of people who are in the State Department and staff that's involved in them.

And so I think you need to know a lot more about them before you come to that sort of a conclusion. And, of course, "Politico" tends to be out there in its conclusions.

BERMAN: Well, what we do have the president's involvement is, among other things, we've seen the notes, the reconstructed transcript of the phone call with the president of Ukraine where he quite explicitly asks the president of Ukraine to look into the Bidens.

We have the President of the United States, yesterday, explicitly, on the White House lawn, asking Ukraine to look into the Bidens and China, as well.

So, your reaction to that?

GREGG: Well, I think that's totally inappropriate. I thought it was inappropriate when he -- when he congratulated China on 70 years of communist rule. I think that -- I think that was pretty incredible. But those aren't impeachable offenses, in my opinion.

So, you know, there's a lot of hyperbole going on here and there's sort of a lynch mob mentality from some sectors of our political spectrum.

But, so far, I haven't seen anything that raises itself to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor, which is the standard you have to confront if you're going to try to remove somebody who's been elected from office -- to office, especially the President of the United States. And that's a very high standard.

And there's a lot of things he does that are -- that I totally disagree with but, so far, I haven't seen anything that's an impeachable offense.

BERMAN: Well, you know because you, of course, were a lawyer before you were a politician and steeped in American history.

The founders consider abuse of power -- consider abuse of power to be impeachable. George Washington, in his farewell address, specifically talked about foreign influence as being baneful. So, the founders certainly had this in mind as something they wanted to prevent from happening in the White House.

Would you agree to that?

GREGG: No. I don't think the founders had in mind Donald Trump ever becoming president.

You know, the founders set out the term, which was an old English term of high crime and misdemeanor and it's really up to each member of Congress, as Justice Rehnquist made very clear when he went to the Clinton impeachment, as to how you come to the conclusion as to what is a high crime and misdemeanor.

And my opinion is it's a very high threshold because you're removing somebody who's been elected by the American people.

And I understand there are a lot of folks who don't like the fact that Donald Trump was elected, but that's not an impeachable offense, being elected.


GREGG: What's impeachable is violating the law when you're president in a way that transgresses on the office of the presidency and the purposes of the Constitution.

BERMAN: Again, I will not a high crime and misdemeanor -- they do not explicitly say in the Constitution has to be a violation of law. I don't want to get into a constitutional debate.


But I want to read you something you said here. You said, "It would be welcome to very many Americans if, right now, someone of stature within the Republican Party would stand up and call the nation to a higher purpose."

Now, this wasn't explicitly about the current goings-on but you would like to see someone stand up in the Republican Party and speak out. What do you want the Republican response to be? If you're not calling for impeachment, what should Republicans be doing and saying about this?

GREGG: Well, to reflect that story -- that article accurately, I said it about the Democratic Party, too.

I think both parties have a fundamental problem now, which is that their leadership is not reflective of what I think is the basic American view of what government should be doing.

In the Democratic Party, it's basically you jump the rails and you've got a socialist movement in the Democratic Party which undermines market economics. And the market economy is what gives people opportunity in this nation to succeed and has created our wealth.

On our side, we've got a president who is extremely erratic, who's undermined the character of the office of the presidency.

And I think somebody in our party of stature should -- and on the Democratic side should stand up and run and make a point, whether -- I don't think they get the nomination this time, but at least make the point that a lot of the policies, especially of this administration, are not Republican policies.

The running up of the debt at the rate it's being run up. The disavowing of our international alliance, which has always been a Republican philosophy that you have strong alliances with democratic countries.

The commitment, in my opinion, to industrial policy, which is on steroids, coming from the secretary of Treasury and the president when they pick winners and losers. That's a Democratic policy, not a Republican policy.

So I think there's a lot to talk about on substance -- on policy substance, which should be discussed as we go into the next election and in our party, but on the Democratic side also. There's nobody -- (INAUDIBLE) isn't a socialist.

BERMAN: I've read many of your essays of late and I think they are very interesting. And as you say, you're equal and critical of Democrats.

But what's interesting is having been a Republican senator and a Republican governor and a member of the Republican Party, when you suggest that someone of stature should stand up -- and you just said should run against the president -- that's interesting to me.

And you talk about the policies but you go beyond the policies in your writings, which I've looked into as well. And you say, "Donald Trump has turned the presidency into an extrusion of childish tantrums, superficial and dishonest claims, and consistent inconsistency."

And what we hear, largely, from Republicans in Congress now about that statement that you wrote down is silence -- is silence.

So what do you want to hear from the Republicans in Congress now about what you just wrote -- about what you say are childish tantrums, superficial and dishonest claims, and yesterday, calling on China to investigate the president? What should Republicans be saying about that?

GREGG: Well, I think I just said what I think they should be saying, that somebody should confront this administration within the Republican Party, and whether we're going on the right route or the wrong route on policy, specifically on things like spending, on things like international alliances, on things like industrial policy.

BERMAN: So I guess the question is -- and I --

GREGG: And I think there are people in the Senate, hopefully, who can do that.

BERMAN: I mean, I hate to interrupt but it sounds like -- it sounds like what you're saying is you know what, say it's bad but you're OK with the fact that he keeps on doing it. Let him keep on doing it. Let him keep on going out to the White House lawn, saying China, investigate Joe Biden.

GREGG: Well, what I'm saying is that somebody should question what he does when he does things like that. I don't think I've made the -- characterized it the way you just characterized it. But if you want to put my words in your mouth and characterize my opinions, I guess that's the policy that you want to pursue.

BERMAN: No, I don't.

GREGG: I'm sorry you pursue that policy.

BERMAN: I just want to know how you would stop him from doing -- if you -- if you think it's wrong, as you did and you just said, how would you stop him from doing that? GREGG: Well, he was elected president. I know -- I know that CNN and you folks have a lot of problems with the fact that he was elected president, but he is the President of the United States. And I'm not the president nor is anybody else the president.

So, he's going to continue to do what he wants to do in the form that he wants to do it, and there's not much I can do or you can do, even though you are certainly attempting to.

By trying to impeach him, it's going to change that until something happens that leads to that course, which as of right now, I have to be very honest with you. The fact that he was elected president is not an impeachable offense.

I have very strong disagreements with the fellow but I don't see him being impeached over anything I've seen so far.

BERMAN: OK, I -- look, I appreciate your view on that. I wouldn't want you to put words in my mouth. I'm not saying I want to see the president impeached. I'm just trying to understand from the Republican angle if you have an issue with what he's done what you would do to stop him.

I do appreciate you joining us this morning. Like I say, I've enjoyed reading everything you've written over the last several months. Very interesting to see it on paper.


GREGG: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you, Senator.

GREGG: Thank you. Appreciate your time.

CAMEROTA: Now to a different topic. The "Joker" movie is on track to have one of the biggest October openings ever, but there are also big concerns about threats. Overnight, a movie theater in Southern California was shut down over a credible threat.

We get more now from CNN's Lucy Kafanov.


JOAQUIN PHOENIX, ACTOR, JOKER: When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be a dark Hollywood fantasy but the new "Joker" film opening nationwide today is sparking fears over real-life violence. Police departments across the country beefing up security from New York to Los Angeles.

KAFANOV (on camera): How concerned is the LAPD?

JADER CHAVEZ, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of the public concern and the historical significance behind the premiere of the "Joker." While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, we do encourage the public to know that the police department will be out there in high visibility.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The FBI and Homeland Security warning law enforcement about non-specific online chatter that they fear could lead to lone offender violence.

Seven years ago, a gunman killed 12 and injured dozens when he opened fire during a Batman film screening in Aurora, Colorado. Grieving parents called "Joker" a haunting reminder.

SANDY PHILLIPS, DAUGHTER KILLED IN AURORA SHOOTING: How are other survivors, of not just Aurora but of gun violence, going to react to being triggered again?

KAFANOV (voice-over): But some fans aren't afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is really bothering me. I was planning to see the movie, anyway.

KAFANOV (on camera): This is the kind of movie that diehard fans would normally dress up for, but security concerns have prompted some major chains to ban costumes.

KAFANOV (voice-over): "Joker" reveals the backstory of the iconic Batman villain portrayed as a disturbed man who finds relief in violence.

BRIAN LOWRY, SENIOR WRITER, CNN MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT: On a certain level, I found it objectionable.

KAFANOV (voice-over): CNN's film critic, Brian Lowry, says among the parallels with real-life attacks, the "Joker" faces female rejection -- a similar sentiment of the U.C. Santa Barbara shooter in 2014.

LOWRY: I don't think the movie is endorsing the character but it is taking a character who traditionally is the antagonist and making him the protagonist. It's taking the "Joker" and putting him front and center.

KAFANOV (voice-over): "Joker" star Joaquin Phoenix says the movie is meant to provoke.

PHOENIX: This is really good when movies make us uncomfortable or challenge us or make us think differently.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Warner Bros., which is owned by CNN's parent company, WarnerMedia, said in a statement it is not their intention to hold this character up as a hero.

MATTHEW BELLONI, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: The creative community's position on this is that no one should censor themselves because they don't feel like the message of the movie is for the masses. If that were the case you wouldn't have any art.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But moviegoers may have the final say at the box office.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Los Angeles.


BERMAN: All right.

We're getting new information this morning about what the former special envoy to Ukraine told lawmakers behind closed doors in these very revealing text messages.



BERMAN: All right, the breaking news -- these text messages released overnight. "Politico" calls them smoking texts, where U.S. diplomats appear to link a meeting between President Trump and Ukraine's leader with an investigation into the 2016 election and an investigation into the Bidens.

I want to bring in CNN political commentator Van Jones, host of "THE VAN JONES SHOW" on CNN. And, CNN commentator, Bakari Sellers. You, gentlemen, are both accomplished lawyers and so I am pleased to be in your company this morning.

So, Bakari, when you see these text messages in black and white, what does that do to the discussion now?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE MEMBER: Well, it bolsters a great case that I believe House Democrats already had.

I think one of the things the Republican Party has done, which has been very good although it's been somewhat -- it's destroyed the contours of the conversation -- is state that a quid pro quo is actually necessary to convict the president or to show that there had been a high crime or misdemeanor. That's simply not the case. But in these text messages you actually bolster the case that there was some type of quid pro quo.

The fact of the matter is the only thing that has to happen for someone to commit the crime, which I believe the president has done -- in fact, he said it out of his own mouth -- is you have to solicit or receive some type of -- some type of foreign assistance from a foreign government. And we've seen the president not only receive that -- or we believe he received that in the 2016 election -- but we've also seen him ask for it on the lawn of the White House yesterday.

And so, when these things are combined, these text messages just bolster the case of the House Democrats who now have every leg to stand on in this impeachment inquiry.

BERMAN: Van, we just had former Republican senator Judd Gregg on who wasn't happy with me, but it was a good discussion about what should go on in Congress now and how Republicans should be behaving. And he said he doesn't like any of this but he doesn't see it as impeachable.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, HOST, "THE VAN JONES SHOW": Well, I mean, a couple of things that are going on here.

First of all, the Republicans made the case as everything was no quid pro quo. Well now, you're starting to see that evidence come in. I think Republicans are -- they're going to have to get in a huddle and figure out what they're going to do now.

Part of what you see happening here, which we haven't talked about is, that politically, what this means is raw terror on the part of Donald Trump of Joe Biden. That's a part of what's going on here.

You have a White House -- everybody thinks about Donald Trump as like, you know, Trumposaurus Rex, you know -- Trumpzilla. He's this unstopped force.

Joe Biden, he's old, he's a has-been. We've got to find somebody else.

That's apparently not how the White House sees Joe Biden. They know they can't beat Joe Biden in a fair fight and they're trying to dirty him up. And they're willing, apparently, to abuse the power and the authority of the White House to do it.

BERMAN: All right, friends, I want to change subjects radically now to a discussion over the last 48 hours that you have both been a part of and we talked about here on this show yesterday. And it had to do with a trial in Texas -- Amber Guyger convicted of killing Botham Jean in his apartment.


He was unarmed. He was watching television. She walked in and shot him.

She received 10 years -- a 10-year sentence. And then there was the scene in the courtroom after the sentence with his brother, Brandt Jean, hugging her. Let's watch this.


BRANDT JEAN, BROTHER OF BOTHAM JEAN: I don't know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?



BERMAN: A lot of people when they saw this really emotional dramatic moment of forgiveness -- I think that was a first reaction among some, Bakari. But when you saw it, there were more reactions than just that. Please explain.

SELLERS: Well, I mean, I respect Botham Jean's brother for taking what action -- whatever action necessary to help him in the grieving process.

But when you take a step back, the imagery that's seen not just at that moment but also the judge hugging Ms. Guyger later, it infuriates me. It drives me crazy because what you see is a -- is a place and a posture in which African Americans -- black folk -- always are having to show forgiveness when that is not reciprocated.

Someone once asked me about reconciliation and they said when can we get to a place where white people in this country say I'm sorry and black people say we forgive you? The problem is that black folk have always said we always get to a point of forgiveness way before we get to a point of I'm sorry.

And I just wish Amber Guyger, before she had to murder someone in their own home while sexting, refusing to give them CPR, decided to have some compassion and now, we have to be in a position of forgiveness.

This isn't a scene about forgiveness, this isn't a scene about Grace. This is another black man dead at the hands of someone who didn't give them the benefit of their humanity.

And for me, I'm just sick and tired of being sick and tired, to quote Fannie Lou Hamer.


JONES: You know, I understand that pain and it's frustrating. And whenever you do have -- whenever you have violence or a killing across racial lines, things are very heightened. It's not just those individuals. There's a whole history here.

And African Americans have had to develop almost superhuman powers of grace and forgiveness because of our enslavement for -- where we were victimized for 300 years -- unspeakable crimes every day and Jim Crow terrorism.

And so, we have the capacity for grace in our community. The way that we deal with our faith gives us that. And it's not reciprocated.

And so I think it's -- I felt -- you know, I was moved because I've been in and out of prisons. You know I did the Redemption Project in our prisons. I've seen that forgiveness happen across racial lines in both directions. But you don't see it happen that often in public.

And I think part of the problem that people have is that the sentence was so short. If she'd been given 100 years or the death penalty or something like that, I think people would have felt that at least the sentence was just and then you have grace.

But a challenge whenever you're dealing with redemption, whenever you're dealing with reconciliation, whenever you're dealing with this sort of justice is cheap grace, unearned grace, and that becomes very, very challenging.

That said, when you have someone like this young man who said I know my brother and my brother would have wanted me to do this, I think that we have to give him that credit, we have to give him that respect, and we have to give him that praise because it's very hard to do what he did.

And listen, we've had two interracial hugs now. You had those toddlers who hugged each other. That got seen all around the world.

Now we have this and there's some -- there's something happening where there's --

SELLERS: But this isn't about a --

JONES: Yes. Well look, Bakari, I'm just -- I'm just saying we've had these two interracial hugs. There's some desire or some tension or something where people are trying to figure out how do we come together.

This one, however, is much more painful for black people to see because that love and that grace and forgiveness is almost never reciprocated.

BERMAN: Bakari, about 30 seconds.

SELLERS: Yes, this isn't about -- I love Van with all my heart and this shows African Americans are not monolithic.

But this isn't about an interracial hug. This is about a young man who will not be able to raise a family, will not be able to walk down the aisle, will not be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Will not be able to live because somebody took away his life because they did not believe in his dignity.

So that's what this is about. That's first and foremost.

And the last thing about this grace is I saw a judge -- now, I know people are going to say well, she's black -- well, she's a part of an oppressive system -- come down and hug someone who is a murderer.

I've been in court over a thousand times. I've probably done nearly a thousand pleas. I've never seen a judge hug a client or defendant or a murderer.

The problem is that this grace is never reciprocated. And as a black man in America, the most frustrating thing is that I have to be in a perpetual state of rage and that is a -- that is a very difficult burden to bear. And I'm tired of giving grace and forgiveness that is apparently a one-way street.

BERMAN: Van, Bakari, I really do.