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Trump Threatens To Withhold Federal Funding For Michigan, Nevada Over Mail-In Voting Push; Disney Springs Partially Reopens With Restrictions; Trump Admin Declassifies Susan Rice Email From 2017. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 12:30   ET



MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- that was what she said back in 2018, when she had that meeting with the President, where she walked out in the red coat, and it's the image on the cover of my book.

And I think that kind of set the tone for a lot of the relationship that they've had since she became speaker again in 2019. We've seen her repeatedly, you know, go into conflicts with him, frequently get the upper hand whether it's in a fiscal negotiation or the government shutdown at the very beginning of her term. And he knows that she's not afraid to stand up to him, and that seems to bother him a little bit.

They don't have much personal relationship anymore. He sort of has refused to talk to her since the impeachment situation. So the only sort of communication they have with each other are these sort of volleys of insults in the press.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The most powerful Republican and the most powerful at the moment Democrat in America, great dysfunction in the relationship. Molly Ball, appreciate it. It's good to see you. And the book is fantastic, for anybody who wants learn a bit more about the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

This morning, President Trump threatening to hold up federal funding to Michigan and Nevada, why is he mad? Well, the President claims without evidence, those states are committing voter fraud by sending out absentee ballots. But in Michigan, they quickly had to fact check the President saying, they didn't send out ballots. They sent out applications for ballots, but they often do before elections. As for Nevada, the President's claim was also flawed.

Joining us now is CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip. Abby, you have spent a lot of time in recent days on the President's fixation with any mail-in voting. The President across the board calls it fraud. Now he's taking issue with a state that was critical to his 2016 map Michigan and Nevada, which used to be a swing state now we would lean at Blue, but the Trump campaign says they'd like to put that in play.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John. I mean, the President is clearly focusing in on what is most important to him, which is what is going to happen in November. What is voting going to look like? And he's become convinced despite all the evidence to the contrary, that voter fraud is something that is caused by vote by mail. And also that Republicans are disadvantaged by vote by mail.

I've spoken to so many Republicans who say that is just not the case that Republicans fare just as well as Democrats. But putting all of that aside, as you pointed out, John, these tweets this morning really rife with misinformation, Michigan is not sending out ballots to all voters. They are sending out applications.

And that is something that actually the Republican Party has been arguing for. Just this week, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, told reporters that she has no problem with absentee ballot applications being sent to voters because that is one way that the states can actually clean up their voter rolls before they send those ballots out.

So the President's claims really not having much bearing on the reality. And I should add one more thing, John, this idea that the President can withhold federal funds, because he doesn't like the way states are administering their elections is also not true. I spoke to a constitutional law expert this morning who made it very clear to me, this is not a power that the President even has.

KING: No. It's not a power of the President has. He just likes to talk about it on Twitter. Abby Phillip important reporting, we'll continue this through the election. I suspect this will be with us all the way through November.

Meanwhile, CNN learning President Trump's re election campaign now actively recruiting doctors to serve as campaign surrogates. They want those doctors to help support the President's message on health care, particularly his coronavirus response.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us more with that. Now, Ryan, talk us through this process.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, you know, the campaign telling me that this isn't out of the ordinary for them that they are actively searching for surrogates that can support the President's message on a variety of topics. And healthcare is of course a big focus for them right now.

So what they're doing is they're building what they're calling a coalition of doctors who will support the President's plan to reopen the country in a safe manner. And this is what Tim Murtaugh, the campaign's communications director, told me last night he said, quote, the President has made it very clear that he wants to open the country as safely as possible and do it as fast as possible. There are many doctors who agree with that position. There are many medical experts who share the President's view that a prolonged shutdown of the economy brings with many other forms of healthcare problems. And it's important that that message gets out.

So what the campaign is hoping here is to buttress the President's message that well, yes, he is focused on getting the country through the pandemic as safely as possible. He also thinks that it's very important for the economy to get back open as soon as possible. And he wants to back that claim up with healthcare experts that are sending out a message that there are also healthcare problems that are associated with the country being shut down.

And the campaign insists that this is part of their job. There's no daylight between the campaign and the President when it comes to issues like this. And that's why they want to get these surrogates out on all forms of media backing up the President's message, John.


KING: Ryan Nobles, appreciate that reporting. We are, we are in the middle of a campaign as we try to deal with a pandemic. Ryan, appreciate that.

When we come back, Disney, one of the iconic American business is trying to path, trying to draw a pathway to reopening.


KING: Disney theme parks here in the United States not set to open until July at the earliest. But if you need a Disney fix, Disney Springs and outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment venue in Florida does reopen today. Before you go though, no, only some outlets there will be open. And any guest must first pass the temperature check even be allowed in.


Joining me now is D. Taylor president of UNITE HERE. His union represents Disney worker. Sir, it's good to see you today. This is a baby step. I'll call it a first step. Are you comfortable as some of your members start to go back to work? Is there good coordination with the company here, safety precautions, are you good with this?

D. TAYLOR, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, UNITE HERE: Yes. They have been very consistent and how they communicate with the unions and also with their workers. They have protocols in place. I think our first step there's continuing conversations about the protocols when the hotels open up, when full service restaurants open up.

But I think Disney has also done something else that every business in the U.S. should look at. One, they guarantee all the workers even laid-off to have healthcare for a year. Number two, they have permanent recall rights. So no matter how long it takes to get back, those workers know they have security.

So I think those are two steps that every company should look at doing. And they have a cooperative relationship in trying to figure out the best protocol to keep the workers and the guests safe because really, there's no separation here. It's not like the viruses of the worker has it, it just stays with the workers or the guests. So I applaud them for taking the kind of steps that are necessary. KING: Well, that's good to hear. You have a lot -- we've had a lot of contentious conversations with union leaders in recent days about whether it's meatpacking plants or other things around the country. It's good to hear of a company that's keeping in touch with the union, trying to work cooperatively and again keeping the health benefits and the like.

Here's some of the rules in place, facemask for everyone age three and older including employees and cast members, temperature screenings at arrival, limiting the number of guests, practice social distancing, cashless transaction, more cleaning measures in place. Again, Disney Springs has a very limited opening, but they're hoping, they're taking reservations at the park to try to do more beginning July 1st.

I assume what you have here at Disney Springs essentially is your laboratory. Can we do this in a safe way? What lessons can we learn before we take it to the next step? You mentioned the hotels and the theme parks.

TAYLOR: Yes. I think that's right. I mean, I think, as we all know, you can't wait out this virus and since it's not going to go away. Obviously, they're looking at all the metrics of health care, and making sure both workers and guests are safe. I think it's an ongoing conversation we have to have.

Like I said, as compared to a meatpacking or cruise ship, I think they're trying to do it right. Those conversations are going on. Plus, they're saying if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you're sick, you're fully paid to stay home and be quarantined. So people don't have to make the choice about, OK, I'm sick. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing, but I'll go to work because I need the money. I think that's a huge thing that frankly, Congress should do. But if they can't step up to the plate, then I think actually, the American corporations should do that.

KING: D. Taylor, I really appreciate your insights today. Let's keep in touch as this ramps up and more of your members get back to work. We'll see how everything plays out. I appreciate it. Thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you.


When we come back, an e-mail by President Obama's National Security Advisor now public, but does it help or hurt the President's case defending Michael Flynn?


KING: A newly declassified e-mail from Inauguration Day 2017 is proof. But what it proves depends maybe on where you sit. The Trump administration releasing an unredacted January 20th, 2017 e-mail from Susan Rice, memorializing a January Oval Office discussion, Rice was then the national security advisor. She wrote that the former FBI Director Jim Comey in that meeting expressed concerns over sharing classified information with Michael Flynn, because of the Trump aide frequent conversations with the Russian Ambassador. Rice specifically notes in her e-mail that President Obama said he was not directing the FBI to do anything. But that the FBI, any FBI action should happen, quote by the book.

Republicans say this e-mail is unusual. Rice through a spokesperson says, the e-mail shows the opposite that nothing nefarious took place in that meeting. CNN's Kara Scannell and former FBI General Counsel Greg Brower, join our conversation.

Kara, let me start with you. Republicans say this is proof of some kind of a cover up. If you read the e-mail, Susan Rice says, no, I was just putting a note in the file.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. So the Republicans have come out saying that this is evidence of some sort of sabotage or effort by the Obama administration's undermine the incoming Trump presidency.

But a spokesman for Ambassador Susan Rice yesterday issued a statement after this e-mail was declassified, you know, where they said that this was about the President Obama telling the FBI that they wanted to do this that he wanted them to handle this by the book.

I'm going to read a portion of what the statement says from her spokeswoman -- spokesman. He said, Ambassador Rice's e-mail makes clear that no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place, despite dishonest accusations to the contrary. The e-mail clearly states that President Obama stressed that he was not asking about initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. In the interest of transparency, Ambassador Rice again calls upon the director of National Intelligence to release the unredacted transcripts of all Kislyak-Flynn calls.

Now, John, of course, it was just less than 20 days later that Michael Flynn was interviewed by the FBI. It was during that interview that prosecutors had said that he had lied. And of course, Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying. Now, this guilty plea is something that the Department of Justice has asked the judge to dismiss.


KING: And so Greg, come in to the conversation. And that the meeting was on January 5th, 15 days later in her final hours in the White House, Susan Rice writes this note to file to put in the file.

Republicans say that the gap in time there convinces them something nefarious was happening here. The President retweeting this from Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, Susan Rice knew exactly what she was doing. That's why she wrote herself e-mails in a desperate attempt to cover her tracks.

Is there anything else in the record that lends any credence to what Senator Blackburn is saying there that this was somehow an effort, you know, to write an e-mail to say this is what happens when something else that actually happened?

GREG BROWER, FORMER FBI DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL: No, John. There really isn't anything else in the record. In fact, the record, the overwhelming weight of the record and the evidence shows just the opposite. I think what this e-mail proves is three things.

Number one, that the intelligence community and the national security community in the transition period between the Obama and Trump administration's took this Flynn-Russia thing very, very seriously. Number two, it proves that the President wanted anything, if anything to be done, wanted it to be done by the book. And it proves, number three, the Jim Comey agreed and committed to the President that it would be done by the book.

And we now know, because of what has come out since that things were done by the book, it resulted in General Flynn admitting to his misconduct and pleading guilty. And I think the more that comes out, the more that people who are paying attention will understand that the Flynn narrative that has been co-opted by the White House is simply not -- does not comport with the facts. And so I think the more that comes out, the more it's going to backfire on this narrative.

KING: Right. And then to that point, that's why Susan Rice's spokesman saying release everything. If you're going to release this e-mail, release everything including the transcripts or Flynn's call with Ambassador Kislyak of the time. But Kara, this is where, look, we've been down this road many times before about different interpretations of the same facts, if you will, what the Republicans are saying and the President is encouraging them pushing on this is that the Obama administration was pushing to investigate Flynn was pushing to smear Flynn.

What Susan Rice says is, no, we just had warnings. He was having all these conversations with the Russians. And we had to know what can we share with him as we try to be responsible parties in the transition from a Democratic president to a Republican president.

This is from her e-mail, President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue be handled by the intelligence and law enforcement communities quote, by the book, the president stressed, he's not asking about initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needed to proceed as it normally would by the book.

What Susan Rice is saying is the issue really was when I meet with Michael Flynn, or when I write a memo to Michael Flynn as part of the transition, can I tell him everything or do I need to hold something back?

SCANNELL: Yes, that's right. And what we also saw in the e-mails that have been released recently is that she did meet with Michael Flynn for 12 hours. That was over three meetings. And in this e-mail that was declassified, you have FBI Director Jim Comey then saying, you know, he had concerns because of the number of contacts that Flynn was having with Kislyak. It was the number of communications that they viewed as being unusual. Now, there was no evidence at the time and as this is, as memorialized at the time in this e-mail, that they had thought that Michael Flynn had shared any classified information with the Russian ambassador.

But it was something that they were concerned about. But in the end, they didn't restrict any flow of information from the Obama administration to the incoming administration. You know, as Susan Rice details that she did provide with him numerous debriefings over a 12- hour period, John.

KING: Kara Scannell, Greg Brower, appreciate the fact check there, the insights if you will. But this conversation will continue. I'm sure will be added again. Thank you both very much.


Just as students in South Korea head back to class today, dozens of school now telling students, wait a minute, stay home.


KING: The big new global coronavirus developments include back to school day for some students in Seoul, South Korea.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in South Korea, high school seniors are heading back to schools this Wednesday. And it really feels like a milestone in the country's fight against coronavirus. Temperature checks, hand sanitizers, social distancing both in the classroom and lunch time are really becoming the new norm.

In the cafeterias for example, here in this school in central Seoul, they have plastic partitions between people eating every other seat is kept vacant because that is the one place that they will be allowed to take off their masks. Apart from that, they have to wear masks on campus for the rest of the day.

Now there have been a couple of first day hurdles. We know that dozens of schools in a city just west of Seoul have had to close again after two confirmed cases within the student body. Now, they the officials say that they're doing this out of precaution to make sure they can contact trace and pinpoint exactly where those students caught that virus.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


KING: We're all going to learn from each other as we go through this global experiment, aren't we?

Thanks for joining us today. See you back here tomorrow. We hope Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a good afternoon.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're watching CNN special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Right now, more than 1.5 --