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GOP Candidates Drop Pledge to Back Nominee; Trump Stands By Arrested Campaign Manager. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] PEREIRA: I know. I love that.

LEMON: Congratulations. Congratulations. It's time now for "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. See you tomorrow. Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I like the introduction. Hi. Have a great day.

NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you continue to pledge whoever the Republican nominee is?


COSTELLO: Pledge? What pledge?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family.

COOPER: You're kind of waiting to see.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I would say that that would be a good way to describe it.

COSTELLO: Here's another way to describe it -- Republican revolt.

Also Donald Trump's campaign manager arrested, accused of grabbing a reporter. But Trump says she started it.

TRUMP: She was grabbing me. She had a pen in her hand which Secret Service is not liking because they don't know what it is, and whether it's a little bomb.

COSTELLO: We're combing through the video, frame by frame.

Let's talk, Live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Wisconsin, the next big battle ground in the presidential race and the latest place where Republican unity has come to die.

At a CNN town hall all three GOP candidates backed away from their pledge of support to the party's eventual nominee. This newest assault on GOP loyalty. The latest landmine on the road to the convention. But Donald Trump's allegiance unwavering to his embattled campaign manager. Corey Lewandowski faces a simple assault charge for supposedly manhandling a female reporter. Trump mocking the woman's claims.


TRUMP: And by the way, she was grabbing me. Am I supposed to press charges against her? My arm is hurting --

COOPER: You're suggesting you might.

TRUMP: Anderson, my arm is just killing me. It's never been the same.

COOPER: You've suggested you might.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. I didn't suggest.

COOPER: Yes, you did.

TRUMP: I tweeted. No, no, I tweeted.


COOPER: Tweet is a suggestion.

TRUMP: Should I press charges?

COOPER: Right. Are you going to?

TRUMP: I don't know. Maybe I should.


COSTELLO: More on that in a minute. First that cantankerous town hall.

Chief political correspondent Dana Bash live in Milwaukee to tell us all about it. Good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure was. And I remember about six months ago being in Trump Tower because Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chair, came to New York personally to ask and convince Donald Trump to sign a pledge just like all of the other candidates at the time did in order to promise to stay in the Republican Party and not run as a third party candidate. Well now fast forward to three candidates in the race and Donald Trump's opponents are the ones who aren't so sure they can support him.


BASH (voice-over): Things have gotten so ugly all three remaining Republican candidates went back on their promises to support the party nominee.

COOPER: Do you continue to pledge whoever the Republican nominee is?

TRUMP: Look, no, I don't anymore. Look --

COOPER: You don't?


BASH: That came after Ted Cruz refused to back Trump despite being asked three times.

CRUZ: I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family. I think that is going beyond the line.

BASH: Trump said he understands if Cruz won't support him.

TRUMP: I don't want his support. I don't need his support. I want him to be comfortable.

BASH: And then renewed a warning to party leaders.

TRUMP: I have been treated very unfairly. Look, I won the state of Missouri. Right? No, I have. Truly Cruz people. I've been treated -- I've been treated very unfairly. I'll give you an example. I won --

COOPER: Unfairly by who?

TRUMP: I think by basically the RNC, the Republican Party, the establishment.

BASH: John Kasich even went so far as to say he never should have made the pledge in the first place.

KASICH: If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country and dividing the country, I can't stand behind him.

BASH: Donald Trump came to CNN's town hall eager to defend his campaign manager charged earlier in the day with simple battery against a reporter.

TRUMP: Based on what I heard, I don't think he really even knew who she was.

BASH: On another issue he calls a distraction, the ugly back and forth about their wives, Trump was vintage Trump.

TRUMP: Excuse me. I didn't start it. I didn't start it.

COOPER: But, sir, sir, with all due respect, that's the argument of a 5-year-old.

TRUMP: I didn't start it. No, it's not.


COOPER: The argument of a 5-year-old is he started it.

TRUMP: Excuse me. You would say that. That's the problem with our country.

COOPER: Every parent knows a kid who says he started it.

TRUMP: That's not a 5-year-old. Excuse me. No, no, no. That's the problem. Exactly that thinking is the problem this country has. I did not start this.

BASH: Cruz once again denied knowing anything about the anti-Trump super PAC ad featuring Melania Trump, and doubled down on blaming Trump for planting a tabloid report accusing Cruz of infidelity.

CRUZ: You know the "National Enquirer" in its history has never endorsed a presidential candidate until Donald Trump?

BASH: This week Trump rattled world leaders by suggesting a nuclear Asia, which the West worked for decades to avoid, may be OK. At CNN's town hall he went further.

[09:05:08] TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? Maybe it's going to have to be done to change because so many people -- you have Pakistan has it. China has it. At some point we have to say, you know what, we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea.

BASH: Cruz defended his own controversial national security idea, to patrol Muslim communities in the U.S.

CRUZ: Listen, if you want to stop radical Islamic terrorism, the answer isn't to go hang out in random neighborhoods. It is instead to focus on communities where radicalization is a risk.

BASH: Later Kasich called that ridiculous.

KASICH: If we polarize the entire Muslim community how are we going to get the information we want?

BASH: But what may have been the most revealing moment of the night were seemingly simple questions that candidates had trouble answering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you regard as your greatest personal failure, and what did you learn from it?

CRUZ: You know, those are always -- whether in political campaign or a job interview, those are always tricky questions.

COOPER: When was the last time you actually apologized for something?

TRUMP: Oh, wow.


TRUMP: No, I do -- I don't know. I'll think. Can I think? I apologized to my mother years ago for using foul language.


BASH: And Carol, he eventually thought of one other, which is that he has apologized to his wife for not acting presidential enough here on the campaign trail.

Now all of this is going to make for yet another interesting and very important primary day right here in Wisconsin on Tuesday -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Dana Bash, thanks so much. Dana Bash reporting live for us this morning.

Voters actually watched the Republican Party fracture in real time last night. There is no more loyalty and no love lost.


KASICH: I've been disturbed by some of the things that I've seen. And I have to think about what my word and endorsement would mean in a presidential campaign. So I want to see how this thing finishes out. And you know what? I want to tell you, I think the little engine that can keeps going. I sure hope they will endorse me for president when I'm the nominee coming out of the convention in Cleveland. How's that? Is that a good answer? I don't know.

COOPER: But I would be remiss not to follow up. Essentially you are saying it is in the balance. You are kind of waiting and seeing.

KASICH: Well, I would say that that would be a good way to describe it. If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country and dividing the country, I can't stand behind them. But we have a ways to go. Let's see how this all folds out.

CRUZ: I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family. I think that is going beyond the line. I think our wives, I think our kids should be off limits.

COOPER: I just have to follow up. If Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, would you support him?

CRUZ: Let me tell you my solution to that.


CRUZ: Donald is not going to be the GOP nominee. We're going to beat him.

COOPER: Do you continue to pledge whoever the Republican nominee is?

TRUMP: No, I don't anymore. Look -- COOPER: You don't?

TRUMP: No. We'll see who it is.

COOPER: The pledge you took is null and void. The idea of who's supporting whoever the Republican nominee is, you say you will no longer guarantee that you will support the Republican nominee.


TRUMP: I have been treated very unfairly. Look, I won the state of Missouri. Right? No, I have. Truly Cruz people. I've been treated -- I've been very unfairly. I'll give you an example I won --

COOPER: Unfairly by who?

TRUMP: I think by basically the RNC, the Republican Party, the establishment.


COSTELLO: As Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, that sound you just heard is RNC Reince Priebus having a heart attack. If Trump turns on the GOP, the GOP is dead. This is what Luntz means by that. The Republican National Committee has a pledge of their own. A vow to provide institutional support to the eventual nominee. But how can it possibly do that now?

So let's talk about that. I'm joined by McKay Coppins, he's the senior political writer at BuzzFeed News and the author of "The Wilderness" about the Republican struggle to win the White House after the 2012 election. Also with me, conservative talk radio host and Donald Trump supporter, John Phillips, and CNN political analyst and columnist for Bloomberg View, Josh Rogin.

Welcome to you all. I'd like to take you back to a time just 20 days ago. To the debate stage and Reince Priebus.


REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: This party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100 percent. There is no question about that.


COSTELLO: So, McKay, is Reince Priebus now having a heart attack?


MCKAY COPPINS, AUTHOR, "THE WILDERNESS": I don't know about his cardiac condition, but I will say that I think that when Reince Priebus -- you know, appeared with Donald Trump at Trump Tower last year and kind of make a grand ceremony of Trump signing this pledge to support the eventual nominee, no one including anyone at the RNC actually expected that Trump would be performing as well as he is now. No one really expected him to be the nominee.

[09:10:12] I think what you've seen, though, is that Trump over the past nine months has repeatedly changed his mind on this issue of whether he'll support the eventual nominee. And while he's made this threat and it's certainly frightened Reince Priebus and a lot of Republicans in the beginning a lot of GOP figures now are actually talking openly about running their own third party ticket if Trump is the nominee. So I think that that highlights just how fractured the party has become.

COSTELLO: OK. So, John, a question for you. Donald Trump says he won't support Cruz or Kasich because he's being treated unfairly by the Republican Party. How so?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO HOST: Well, I think Donald typically has pretty good instincts when it comes to matters like this. But I think he's wrong on this. I think he should have said I'll get behind the nominee because let's face it, neither one of them has any chance of being the nominee. One of two things is going to happen. Either Donald Trump is going to secure the delegates that he needs to be the nominee or we're going to go to a brokered convention in which case they're going to drop Ted Cruz like a bad habit.

The establishment and the Republican Party doesn't like Ted Cruz. It's a marriage of convenience. I mean, can you imagine Ted Cruz running around the country campaigning with people like Lindsey Graham? It's going to make the Michael Jackson-Lisa Marie Presley marriage photos look authentic. So I think it's zero risk for Donald Trump. He should have just gone ahead and done it.

COSTELLO: OK. So, Josh, a question for you. Republicans say the GOP will fracture if the candidates don't support the nominee. In other words, if there is no support, doesn't that essentially prove that ideological conservative, nationalists and moderates cannot exist together in the Republican Party?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well it what it's shown is that fracture has already happened and that's been going on behind the scenes for weeks if not months. And what we saw last night was sort of a fascinating public acknowledgment of the split that's already taken place. And when Donald Trump is crying foul, what he's pointing to is this effort by the Cruz campaign, the Kasich campaign, the never Trump movement and establishment types to peel off delegates to prevent him from getting to 1237.

He's behind on that, he realizes that now, and he's preparing the storyline when we get to the convention where he can blame the RNC, the other candidates, the system, the rules, and for all the other candidates this is just a game and they are prepared to use any rule they can to stack delegate, to stack the rules committee. To make sure Donald Trump is not the nominee. And that's the fight that's coming. But the fracture is well sewed.

COSTELLO: Oh, it certainly is. So, McKay, doesn't the rejection of this loyalty pledge, though, guarantee a third party candidate will enter the race at some point? COPPINS: It certainly suggests that the probability is high. I mean,

you already see talk among Republican establishment figures, people like Bill Kristol, the editor of the "Weekly Standard," you know, circulating memos how a third party, independent Republican bid would work. How -- who might be on that ticket, how they might get on the ballot in the various states. So I think that that -- this is one of the amazing things about this contested convention we're headed for.

If that happens and it will be the first time in 60 years or more, we will see a situation where no matter what the outcome is, whether Trump wins the nomination or is, quote-unquote, robbed of the nomination, you will see a significant revolt among a large swath of Republican primary voters. And I think a lot of people in the party whether they're pro-Trump or anti-Trump believe that to be the case and at that point will not be worried so much about the general election in 2016, they'll be worried about the soul of the party in the long-term future of the party.

COSTELLO: OK. So let's talk about that, John, because there are some who say the Republican Party will be destroyed thanks to a petty personal feud between two men fighting over their wives. How can you say that's not true?

PHILLIPS: Look, I think at this point it's bar talk. Everyone is posturing because everyone thinks that they are going to be the nominee. And if you say that you're going to get behind Trump at the convention now, then that gives you less leverage if you try to negotiate for something at the convention.

The reality is that Donald Trump is the leader. Donald Trump has more delegates than the rest of them. And if Donald Trump wins the nomination he's going to essentially have control over the RNC. They are all going the need things from him and I think they'll kiss and make up. What's the saying? That in the primary you fall in love, in the general you fall in line, and I think that's exactly what's going to happen.

COSTELLO: I just don't think that's true in this case. I just can't see Donald Trump kissing and making up with anyone. Can you, Josh?

ROGIN: Yes -- no, there will be a huge part of the Republican Party that will be irreconcilable. They just can't do it. And what their strategy is, and this is a very detailed strategy is, to get to that contested convention, have the first vote which is going to be only Cruz and Trump. If neither of them gets to 1,237, it's an open field.

[09:15:03] Anyone could be nominated. And the more you get into the later votes the more chaotic it gets. And that's their strategy for stopping Trump. That's what they're doing.

The damage to the Republican Party is done. What they're trying to do is minimize that damage and stop Trump for being the nominee as a way to do that. And who knows? It's not clear exactly who's going to win.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. McKay Coppins, John Phillips, Josh Rogin, thanks to all of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: the video is out. But we are still hearing two sides to the reporter grab-gate. You get what I mean.

Up next, we'll talk to a surveillance video expert who just analyzed this video frame by frame.


COSTELLO: You are not fired. Donald Trump vows to stand by his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who now faces a misdemeanor charge of simple battery. That charge stemming from this March 8th incident with reporter Michelle Fields.

[09:20:02] Watch closely now. You can see Fields trailing Trump and then Lewandowski reaches out and grabs her arm.

In case you missed it, here's another shot. Mr. Trump says his aide was simply trying to protect him from what could have been a major security threat.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She was grabbing me. Am I supposed to press charges against her? Oh, my arm is hurting.

Anderson, my arm is just killing me. It's never been the same.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You've suggested you might --

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me! I didn't suggest.

COOPER: Oh, yeah, you did.

TRUMP: I tweeted. No, no, I tweeted.

COOPER: A tweet is a suggestion.

TRUMP: Should I press charges?

COOPER: Are you going to?

TRUMP: Sure! I don't know. Maybe I should, right? Because you know what?


TRUMP: She was grabbing me. And just so you understand, she was off base because she went through the Secret Service. She had a pen in her hand which Secret Service is not liking because they don't know what it is, whether it's a little bomb --


COSTELLO: All righty then. Trump also now questioning bruises Michelle Fields says were left behind when Cory Lewandowski grabbed her arm.

Let's bring in CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter.

Can we just dispense with the pen thing? A reporter carry a pen. They are not band at political events. The Secret Service allows us to have writing instruments so we can take notes.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the reason it couldn't have been a bomb is because you do o go through metal detectors at events like this, and, of course, this was happening at one of Trump's events, one of his builds, Mar-A-Lago.

So, initially, when this happened on March 8, he said nothing happened. The Secret Service told them nothing, that everybody was OK, that there was no footage of this incident. He also said that he thought she was making it up, and Corey Lewandowski said he thought she was an attention seeker.

Now that there is this new video he's changing his story and focusing on her as a possible threat. We also heard from Lewandowski's lawyer on "The Today Show". He said Fields changed her story. Initially she suggested she was almost yanked to the ground and now she's not saying that. Here's what the lawyer said this morning.


BRADFORD COHEN, LAWYER FOR COREY LEWANDOWSKI: It certainly doesn't look like the description that she had, where she almost fell, that she was yanked. It doesn't look anything like that in real time. It does look like there was contact. Now you have to figure whether or not that contact was defensible contact.

I certainly see that she didn't almost lose her balance. When you watch in real time, literally, it is a half a second. It is an incident that I don't believe Corey thought was anything. I don't think anyone that was present thought f was anything. There were police on the scene she never reported to, that she never said, hey, this is what happened. There is a lot of things I think are in dispute here.


STELTER: There definitely are a lot of things. Keep in mind she didn't go to the police for three days after. It seemed at first all she wanted was an apology, an acknowledgement that it actually happened. When that didn't come, when the campaign denied, that's when she went to the police and the police investigated.

She has tweeted about this just once. Her only comment, we can put it on screen, it says that Donald, "Seriously, just stop lying."

Carol, I think this is a case of two realities. Depending on what you want to believe. You can believe the story, you can believe the videotaped evidence or Donald Trump's campaign has effectively presented an entirely different reality. Websites sympathetic to him have also supported him in that.

So, really, it is unfortunate choose your own adventure situation here. You can decide what you want to believe depending on who you support.

COSTELLO: OK. Let's talk about Michelle Fields for a second. She had to quit her job, right?

STELTER: Yes, she decided to resign from Breitbart.

COSTELLO: She's currently up employed.

STELTER: She felt that the side didn't support her after this happens, that's why she left. Resign.

COSTELLO: Because of this incident, she has lost her job, because Breitbart did not support her. And I'm sure gets trolled a lot on social media.

STELTER: It is disgusting to see the comments coming about her.

COSTELLO: I haven't seen her anywhere. Has she gone underground?

STELTER: It seems like she has. She was briefly booked on Fox yesterday and then she decided not to appear. So she is laying very low throughout this, and when you look online, it is horrifying to see some of the comments about her, regardless of what you think happened.

COSTELLO: All right. Brian Stelter, thanks so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

COSTELLO: With me now to talk more about the video is forensic video analyst and surveillance video expert Grant Fredericks. Mr. Fredericks is a contract instructor at the FBI academy at Quantico. He's also a consultant to the Justice Department, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and National Institute of Justice.

Thank you, sir, for being here.


COSTELLO: I listened to Mr. Trump's lawyer this morning on "The Today Show". He says this video is inconclusive. Is he right?

FREDERICKS: No. No, he's not right. The video is conclusive. It is pretty obvious that there was force applied to the woman by Mr. Lewandowski. It all depends on how, how much force was applied. If they look at this in court and decide that enough force was applied to cause injury, then he could have some jeopardy.

COSTELLO: OK. So you say there is evidence that gives credence to Michelle Field's allegation that she almost fell because of the force with which Mr. Lewandowski grabbed her arm.

[09:25:07] We're going to put up a small piece of the video here. And you can see that happening. From what you can see from this video, what indicates to you that she could have almost fallen when he grabbed her arm?

FREDERICKS: Well, I didn't say she almost fell. What is very clear in the video, there is at least two angles that I've seen. And when you align the two angles together, even though they are at different frame rates, you can see that Mr. Lewandowski reaches forward with his left hand. He makes contact with her. She does appear to lose balance because we can see her right leg go backwards and over her left leg. So she's crossing --

COSTELLO: Could you take the banner out please?

Go ahead. Talk about her leg again.

FREDERICKS: Her left shoulder comes up. As her -- she is pulled backwards. She's going forward with Mr. Trump. As Mr. Lewandowski reaches forward with his left hand, we see from the overhead view that she suddenly stopped her forward progression, she in fact moves backward. And right leg crosses over, the left shoulder comes up. The creases on her coat that she's wearing moved up. Her hair moves in a fast motion.

And from the other angle, we can see that Mr. Lewandowski moves his right hand forward and continues moving past the woman as she continues going backward.

As far as how much force was applied and whether she lost balance or felt she lost balance is really up to her to say. The video can't say whether or not she lost balance. The video can only support there was contact. Contact enough that changed her forward momentum. If that force was enough to cause injury, then that is another level up that a court would look at.

COSTELLO: From what you can see on the video could -- could Lewandowski's grab have caused bruises?

FREDERICKS: Well, again, that is not something a video analyst can say. A video analyst can assist in saying here is the movement of the bodies. Here the point of contact. The point of contact is in the area of her left arm. So, if she says those bruises were caused at that moment in time and the injuries were more than transient.

In other words, it wasn't just redness that went away right away. That she's going to be the witness that says the force was applied to her arm in that area and that is the nature of the injuries. The video --

COSTELLO: And she also has an eye witness from "The Washington Post", right? Who says that Mr. Lewandowski did grab her arm with some force.

I want to get to this picture too, because Mr. Trump said Mr. Lewandowski reached out to stop Mrs. Fields because it appeared she was threatening him. I want to show two images from that video. Put them up there now, please. You are going to see Michelle Fields. And she's -- actually Mr. Trump

tweeted these images, but these images are from the video. You can see the pen in Ms. Fields' hand beside Mr. Trump.

There is a Secret Service agent directly behind him. Does it appear to you that she was threatening Mr. Trump in anyway?

FREDERICKS: Well, again, as far as I don't know what was being said but she didn't make any contact with Mr. Trump. Her other hand is visible in the image immediately before the one he tweeted. So, her hands are not near him.

Mr. Lewandowski goes between the Secret Service man and reaches between him on two occasions. As he's reaching forward, he turns to the witness. And then he reaches forward and again and pulls the woman back.

And what's interesting about this and what would be relevant in court is that as soon as Mr. Lewandowski made contact, the witness makes an action. He moves forward and confronts Mr. Lewandowski. So, this isn't something the witness came forward later and said, hey, I saw and did nothing. He actually intervened immediately, which is something that's relevant in court.

COSTELLO: All right. Grant Fredericks, thank you for your insight. Fascinating. Thanks for being with me this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: a foreign policy fight at the GOP town hall as John Kasich takes aim at Mr. Trump's stance on NATO.