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Democratic Voters Mull Alternative Candidates; Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) Discusses U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Syria; Four Parents Flip To Guilty Pleas In College Admissions Scandal. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00]

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL, INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: I have been in Democratic politics for over 20 years and I am so frustrated and annoyed constantly with the donor class trying to dictate what's going to happen on the ground because they're the ones spending the dollars.

The truth is just go to Iowa and you can see where the energy is on the ground. A lot of that energy is for Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg is getting a lot of energy. Amy Klobuchar says that people are now with her.

I think that this idea that the donor class needs to handpick somebody else is extremely problematic and frankly, part of why Hillary lost because there are a lot of people in the room who think they're smarter than everybody else and they think they're smarter than the average voter.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I will say every four years, we have this moment. And, Jonathan Martin, in his piece, notes this is very much like the Sam Nunn moment or a Lloyd Bentsen moment or a Mario Cuomo moment that we see in election after election.

But, Frank, I do think there is something here, which is that as Warren -- Elizabeth Warren has gone up and up and up in the polls there is concern among Democrats and not just the donor class that she may not be either the most electable or they need an alternative to her.

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's absolutely true and you can't divorce this from --

OK, so there's a normal cycle where you're trying to dislodge the incumbent. You're trying to dislodge, in this case, the Republican incumbent. This is not just any Republican incumbent; this is Donald Trump. And the feeling among Democrats is an urgency like never before that this human being cannot have another four years in the presidency.

So they're looking at their candidates -- at their front-runners, in particular -- with a very withering microscope because the question is who is super-potent enough, rock-solid enough to guarantee us that we'll get rid of Donald Trump.

And you have a situation here. It's not just the donors who are concerned, you have two front-runners who are both extremely flawed and extremely vulnerable.

Joe Biden has seemed very rickety on that debate stage. He's not raising money the way he should. He's spending too much money. He doesn't have cash reserves.

And, Elizabeth Warren is to the left of a lot of Democratic voters and a lot of general election voters.

So I think the panic here is real. What's sort of silly is the notion that there's someone out there in the forest who's going to solve all the problems.

Like, let me give you one example. He mentions the name -- that a lot of Democrats say we should get Michelle Obama in the race.

Well, she is one of the country's most respected and beloved women, but as soon as she comes out into the arena and has to take positions on things and has to offend people and disappoint people and take a progressive versus moderate fork in the road, the shine leaves her and she's just one of the 20 candidates, not the savior.

MOODIE-MILLS: Guys, I think we're having the wrong conversation, too, which frustrates me about this whole -- this whole piece is that the Democrats are trying to find the savior.

The truth is is that part of the reason -- much of the reason why we have Donald Trump in the White House is because of this massive disinformation campaign that's continuing to happen digitally -- that the Russians are frankly, propagating -- and also because of deep voter suppression.

So if these Democratic donors and others who really want to figure out how we get rid of Trump and how we make sure the Democrat wins, there are so many structural issues happening that aren't about going and finding a white knight but it's actually about figuring out how to make sure that our election process works well.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: If voters are afraid that Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are flawed candidates, isn't Donald Trump -- wasn't Donald Trump a flawed candidate? And so, do Democrats -- do Democrats require more purity or some sort of -- I don't know, idealistic candidate than Republicans do?

BRUNI: I -- you know, I wrote a whole column about this. Donald Trump has this amazing advantage, which is the advantage of low expectations. I mean, he basically came out of the gate the beginning and showed all of his true colors. You know, I'm a bigot, I'm a bully -- you know, all of this stuff.

CAMEROTA: I like to grab women.

BRUNI: No -- and so -- and so in a really perverse way we judge him -- I don't mean we in the media, but I think in a perverse way the American electorate judges him by a different yardstick and that becomes difficult for Joe Biden, for Elizabeth Warren, and for everybody else.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: Frank Bruni, Aisha Moodie-Mills, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: All right.

Will the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria ultimately hurt the battle against ISIS? Senators hope to get answers today. Senator Tim Kaine joins us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:38:00]

BERMAN: New this morning, Iraq now says that the U.S. troops that just withdrew from Syria cannot stay in Iraq. Moments ago, the Defense secretary, Mike Esper, said that was never the plan. So what is the plan on that and what's the plan big picture in Syria?

Joining me now is Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. He serves on the Armed Services and the Foreign Relations Committees. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

There's a lot of activity --

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Absolutely, John.

BERMAN: A lot going on today in regard to Syria.

Number one, as we speak, the Turkish President Recep Erdogan is meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. What do you think will come of that meeting?

KAINE: Well, look, one of the things that President Trump is doing that he hasn't really laid out on the table is he's driving many nations that are sort of adverse to us together. Turkey, Russia, Iran, Syria, the Assad regime are all being empowered by this.

When the president is withdrawing, all of these nations are being empowered and so they're starting to decide what they want to do in the Middle East, given their view that the U.S. is backing out. And that can have profound consequences not only for us but for allies like Israel.

But the administration is not laying out that they've thought this through or where this is going and that's troubling.

BERMAN: What do you think Vladimir Putin will get out of the situation in Syria? KAINE: Well, look, we've already been told by military leadership in armed services hearings -- and we're going to have a Foreign Relations hearing today -- that the move of President Trump -- the precipitous that would draw U.S. troops is empowering Russia to have more power in the region, empowering Turkey, empowering Iran, and likely leading to a reconstitution of ISIS and growing power there.

So the U.S. can -- is backing away but we're going to have serious consequences from this. And that's one of the things we'll be getting into at the hearing this afternoon with State Department witnesses -- exactly what have you thought through about this?

Certainly, the rise in ISIS is the most significant threat to the U.S., but empowering these other nations isn't good for us and it's not good for anybody.

BERMAN: You're talking about the hearings later today in Foreign Relations. This is really the first chance you will get to question administration officials on these major decisions in Syria.

[07:40:07]

What will you press on and what do you hope to learn?

KAINE: First, let's talk about just in the last couple of weeks what's happened with ISIS. All of the U.S. advice to President Trump is if you pull these troops out ISIS is going to reconstitute. So what threat do we have there?

Second, what message does it send when the U.S. pulls our troops away from people who have fought side-by-side with our troops on the battlefield? You see the deep disappointment in the Kurds feeling like we've abandoned them.

And for President Trump to say actually, you know what, we're not going to pull our troops completely out of Syria -- we'll protect oil fields but we won't protect the Kurds who fought side-by-side with our troops -- that's deeply disturbing.

And then the last question, which is the big one is if you abandon the Kurds now, what ally is going to trust the United States in the future when we need to battle terrorism, when we need to battle threats? Who's going to be our ally if they think we're going to walk away from them?

BERMAN: The exact quote from the president. "We never agreed to protect the Kurds. We fought with them for three or four years but we never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives."

KAINE: Well, look, did we agree to protect them for the rest of their lives? I'm not sure we did but they had an expectation and so did we. The moral of our troops and military leadership, John, is actually just been crushed by this.

You know, this is why Sec. Mattis stepped down a year ago when President Trump started to talk about abandoning battlefield allies. In Virginia, I represent a very military state. One of my kids is in the military.

You don't walk away from somebody who has battled with you on the battlefield and just leave them to be slaughtered.

The idea of the Turks -- what they want to do is they want to push the Kurds out of Kurdish territory in northern Syria and then resettle a lot of non-Kurdish Syrians there. It's a form of ethnic cleansing and that's what the military leadership has warned President Trump about, but he doesn't care.

BERMAN: You mention your son, Nat, who is a Marine.

One of the pictures that we have seen over the last few days is U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria and on their way out in these Kurdish regions these U.S. troops are being pelted by rotten potatoes.

I wonder when you look at these pictures how you feel about that.

KAINE: It's -- can you imagine how these troops feel? And you've -- you're reading interviews from troops who talk about the valiant efforts made by the Kurds.

We've had no better ally in defeating ISIS than the Kurds -- none. They have been the best on-the-battlefield fighters and they've lost so many lives in helping us defeat ISIS. To walk away from them now, you're going to lead to the -- you know, the reconstitution of ISIS and we'll be getting into that today.

But also, you just send a message to people around the world if you get asked by the U.S. to be their ally in a tough fight, they'll walk away from you when it's over. America needs to be a nation that people can count on, not a nation that walks away from its friends.

BERMAN: One of the things being reported overnight -- and we just were speaking about Vladimir Putin in a different context -- is that when you look at the time line of events in terms of the president's attitudes on Ukraine, President Trump had conversations with Vladimir Putin.

And, George Kent, who testified before the House impeachment inquiry, suggested that Putin helped sour the president even more on Ukraine. That Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary who was a pariah in many corners, worked to sour President Trump on Ukraine.

What do you see as the significance in that reporting?

KAINE: Well, I think -- I think the reporting is accurate.

Look, this president, since his first day in office, he likes the authoritarian figures. He likes the Putins and the Orbans and he's got this chummy relationship with Kim Jong Un. He likes them.

And at the same time, he trashes allies -- Canada and Europe in trade deals, he sanctioned them. Negative comments about Angela Merkel and Theresa May. Walking away from the Kurds.

This president embraces authoritarians, talks up Erdogan -- what a good guy he is -- and then he pushes away our allies.

In this world and especially in the world of tomorrow we're only safe based on the quality of the allies we have because the challenges that are out there, we need to address them together. And when the president shreds those relationships he's making us less safe.

BERMAN: One last question on Syria for you. This deals with your own personal views here.

You've been critical of the president's withdrawal of U.S. troops there. But you, in a way, don't think U.S. troops should be there unless there is a specific vote for an authorization of military force, correct?

KAINE: I agree. I introduced -- actually, I think it was in September or October of 2014, a specific anti-ISIS authorization for military force in Syria. I recognize that we need to battle ISIS and make sure they're defeated.

But I don't think the vote that Congress cast in September of 2001 really covers the wide engagements the U.S. has all over the world. So I do think Congress owning -- taking back from the White House the power to declare war is absolutely critical.

[07:45:09]

BERMAN: All right, Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia. Thanks for being with us this morning.

KAINE: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John.

We have some breaking news right now because former President Jimmy Carter is hospitalized after another fall at his home in Georgia. The Carter Center has just issued this statement on Twitter that the 95- year-old suffered minor -- a minor pelvic fracture and he is in good spirits. He is looking forward to recovering at home.

This is the second time this month that Carter has taken a fall at his home. The former president also survived brain and liver cancer. He is a hearty 95-year-old but, of course, falling is always a risk.

BERMAN: It is, and we're thinking about him. But what we should really think about and honor is that within the last, what, 10 days he was out building houses again with his wife. I think they were in Tennessee working on this.

What he has done over the last few years is truly, truly remarkable.

CAMEROTA: And we'll monitor his progress there. BERMAN: But the college admission scandal -- new developments there. Why federal prosecutors may be preparing to file new charges against some parents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:58]

BERMAN: It is time for "CNN Business Now."

And you know what? The economy is doing pretty well, which makes it all the more cofounding and ridiculous when the president makes stuff up about it. So how far off the mark has he been over the last 24 hours?

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now with the facts.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Exaggerating when it's not even necessary.

Look, in a combative, sometimes disconnected cabinet meeting, President Trump snapped at reporters asking about impeachment and said it's the economy, stupid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I have the strongest economy ever. We're setting records over 100 times.

And by the way, the day I got elected, the following day, from there until January 20th, the market went through the roof. You know why it went through the roof? Because they got rid of Obama and they got rid of Clinton.

And if anybody else -- if any of these people that I've been watching on the stage got elected, your 401(k)s would be down the tubes. They'd go down not 20 percent or 30 percent; they'd go down 70, 90, 80 and destroy this country. You'd destroy the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Of course, that last claim is impossible to know.

But we do know the president repeatedly uses the stock market as a personal scorecard. He measures his stock market gains from the day after the election, not inauguration. And when he measures it that way he beats Obama's also very strong stock market.

Since the 2016 election, the Dow is up 44 percent, the S&P 500 up 39 percent, the Nasdaq up a strong 55 percent.

And, Moody's Analytics election model predicts a second Trump term if the economy just stays the same here.

So what's going right? Gas prices are tame, unemployment at a historic low, the stock market near these records.

But certainly, there are risks. Manufacturing job growth has stalled. The global economy is creaking under the weight of the president's trade war and U.S. growth is slowing. Almost six million jobs have been created in the Trump administration but guess what, that falls short of the pace of jobs created in the same period at the end of the Obama administration.

Now, the president has taken an already strong economy -- a 10-year- long economic expansion -- and he has branded it as entirely his own. If Democrats want to win in 2020 they will have to sharpen their attacks on the Trump economy, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Maybe they can change their math and suddenly start taking credit for the past 10 years as well.

ROMANS: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Christine, thank you very much.

There are new developments in the college admissions scandal to tell you about this morning. Four more parents changing their pleas to guilty and federal prosecutors are expected to file new charges against some parents today.

So joining us now to talk about this, we have CNN legal analysts Joey Jackson and Jennifer Rodgers. Great to have you guys in-studio.

So these four parents who initially pled not guilty have, in just the past few days, flipped to guilty. Do we know what's prompting this, Joey?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Pressure -- that's what's prompting it.

Listen, the government is coming after them and the government is making clear -- you know what, we have a great system of justice and that justice allows you to avail yourself to a trial. Have at it -- do whatever you do.

But if you do it, know one thing -- that we're going to upgrade the charges. And upgrading the charges is problematic. Why, Alisyn? Really, a few reasons, right.

The first thing is it gives the government another bite at the apple. When you're sitting there during a trial and they add in other charges, what they're trying to do --

CAMEROTA: Do you know what they've upgraded it to?

JACKSON: -- bribery.

What they're saying is that if you don't plea -- everybody else -- don't plea. Go to trial but we're going to upgrade you to bribery. So we're going to have another count for the jury to consider. So that's a problem because now the jury can find you guilty of conspiracy, guilty of fraud, and guilty of bribery, so that's a problem.

The other thing that you're doing is you're upgrading your sentencing if you're convicted. But the most important thing is you're poisoning the jury pool, right. You're poisoning public opinion. It's a terrible narrative.

And they're squeezing them and they've been very effective because we've seen flip to flip to flip, meaning from not guilty to guilty.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer we've been able to watch this split-screen of the two most high-profile defendants. So that's Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and they took different tacts.

[07:55:00]

So, Felicity Huffman pled guilty early on. She is now currently serving her 14-day sentence, which has been knocked down to 13 days. So that was one option -- to get in early, plead guilty.

Then, there is the Lori Loughlin option, which is fight the charges. She's facing 40 years in prison.

But if she believes, as she says, that she was the victim of a scam -- she, herself, was the victim of a scam -- she didn't know what she was doing -- that she was engaged in bribery -- that she thought she was giving to this charity -- do you think it's wise that she keeps fighting these charges?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, we'll see. I mean, she certainly has a right to go to trial. She can claim that she was fooled.

The question is will the jury believe her in the face of a lot of evidence that this wasn't really a legitimate charity and that she wasn't actually -- you know, there's no real way to give to a charity and get your kids into school. So we'll see if the jury believes her.

The problem is, as Joey said, now we're getting closer to trial. If she goes to trial she'll be in the worst of all positions if she loses, which is that she will face a lot more time. It won't be 40 years -- it won't be anything close to that.

CAMEROTA: What will it be?

RODGERS: Well, her range is higher than the range for Felicity Huffman who got, as we know, two weeks, because she spent a lot more money. The fraud guidelines go with how much the fraud is worth, so she spent $500,000.

So I think her range is going to be -- you know, I don't know. It depends on if they add the federal programs bribery.

It may be in the 6-year range. She'll get less than that, I think. But she will go to prison for real, not just for two weeks if she loses, and that's the gamble she's taking.

CAMEROTA: But just out of curiosity, can you always change your plea right up until trial?

JACKSON: Sure, absolutely.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, I mean, Felicity Huffman just sort of curtailed the process early. But you're saying that Lori Loughlin, up until she begins the trial, she could go with -- prosecutors are open to that if she goes in and says I don't -- OK, now, I give.

JACKSON: Prosecutors are always open to people pleading guilty and thereby avoiding a trial, right. And I think sometimes it's in people's best interest.

You know, as defense attorneys, oftentimes you have to be the agent of reality to your client. What does that mean?

You have to say we can't win. But wait a second, I'm paying you to win. What are you talking about? You advocate against my interests.

Here, you see the government being that agent by saying listen, we have the goods on you. Try us if you will.

And to Jennifer's point -- look, I'm not certain that it will multiple years but she will be hammered.

Everyone certainly can avail themselves to a trial, Alisyn, but in the event you believe you're guilty, take that plea. In the event that you're innocent, go to trial but deal with the consequences thereafter.

CAMEROTA: Can you change your plea after a trial starts?

RODGERS: Yes, you can change your plea at any time. And, in fact, the prosecutors don't have to agree. She could just plea to the charges against her, then she wouldn't be getting a deal from them where they recommend a certain sentence. But a defendant can plead any moment right until the moment when he or she is convicted.

CAMEROTA: One of the updates is also that her daughters who you used to see a lot on social media -- so that's Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose -- are no longer enrolled at USC.

So we don't know what that means. We don't know if they were kicked out. We don't know if they withdrew because of all of this going on.

But, Joey, you're saying that you believe because this has all been so high-profile this will be a game changer for the rest of us.

JACKSON: I really do. I think that -- look, this is a major teachable moment and yes, it's been going on for years. So what? It's been discovered now and the prosecutors have decided to focus in on it now.

And I think moving forward you're going to see major shifts in terms of admissions, regulations imposed as to admissions, part of roadblocks built up so that people can't cheat.

And so -- and kids are having the effects of this, too. I'm not for punishing them. I mean, you know, they're young men and women.

But this is a game changer throughout the country in terms of how we deal with admitting students into schools.

CAMEROTA: And it's not over yet.

Joey Jackson, Jennifer Rodgers, thank you very much for all the information -- John.

BERMAN: I get the sense after all that questioning you're considering changing your plea. I'm just saying.

CAMEROTA: I'm guilty of something.

BERMAN: Yes, I know.

CAMEROTA: I know that much.

BERMAN: You're asking a lot of questions on timing -- when you might be able to change that.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, another key witness in the impeachment probe heads to Capitol Hill very shortly. "NEW DAY" continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The President of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The process for impeaching the president is in the Constitution. I think he's lashing out at anything and now he's lashing out at the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is lacking legitimacy, credibility, and fairness. And the vast majority of the Republicans in the House, in a private vote, would vote to impeach him.

TRUMP: We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't guarantee the Kurds safety for the next thousand years, but we absolutely told them we would protect them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a crisis of confidence in this country and it's one that I think we have to change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CAMEROTA: And good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, October 22nd, 8:00 in the East.

And this could be a very important day in the impeachment inquiry, and this person could be the most important person to testify so far in the probe. It's America's top diplomat in Ukraine. Bill Taylor is his name. He'll go before lawmakers and investigators in the next hour.

END