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Former President Donald Trump Answers Questions at Town Hall Hosted by CNN; Mark Short, Adviser to Former Vice President Mike Pence, Interviewed on Former President Trump's Comments on Vice President's Role in Certifying Elections. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired May 11, 2023 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Fact-checking in real time former President Donald Trump on everything, from abortion to Ukraine as he runs again for president under the cloud of criminal investigations and felony charges. Here is some of those key exchanges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: It was not a rigged election, it was not a stolen election. You and your supporters lost more than 60 court cases on the election. It's been nearly two-and-a-half years. Can you publicly acknowledge that you lost the 2020 election?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Let me just go on. If you look at True the Vote, they found millions of votes on camera, on government cameras, where they were stuffing ballot boxes.
COLLINS: What you just said there, Republican officials debunked those claims about fraudulent ballots. We want to give you a chance tonight --
TRUMP: Who? Who?
COLLINS: Republican officials in Georgia and every single state. Your own election officials, Mr. President.
Can you say if you want Ukraine or Russia to win this war?
TRUMP: I want everybody to stop dying. They are dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.
TRUMP: And I will have that done in 24 hours. I will have it done. You need the power of the presidency to do it.
COLLINS: What do you mean negotiating ability? Because the question that Republicans have and some of your allies on Capitol Hill say that they want to introduce legislation when it comes to banning abortion. If they send it to your desk, would you sign it?
TRUMP: Some people are at six weeks, some people are at three weeks, two weeks.
COLLINS: Where is President Trump?
TRUMP: President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what's fair for the country.
I have never spoken to a crowd as large as this, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud, they were there with love in their heart. That was an unbelievable, and it was a beautiful day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you pardon the January 6th rioters who were convicted of federal offenses?
TRUMP: I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can't say for every single one, because a couple of them, probably got out of control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: So let's talk about all of this, what happened last night. Let's bring in CNN political analyst Astead Herndon, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, and New York law school professor and former prosecutor for the New York district attorney's office, Rebecca Roiphe. Thank you all very, very much for being here.
David, let me begin with you. So? I mean, Phil got texts it was gold for Biden. Maybe. What does it mean for our country?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, these are separate questions and we should deal with them separately.
AXELROD: Look, Donald Trump is exactly who he always was. And that's part of his strength and it's part of what's appalling, is that he is who he always was. He lied. He was crude in many ways. He keeps perpetuating this hateful lie about the elections that rile people up and drive them to insurrection. He defends the insurrectionists.
Let's set that aside for a second. As a matter of pure politics, he did exactly what he wanted to do last night. He rallied his base. And his base is all he cares about. He is trying to be the nominee of the party. He probably advanced that project last night.
Now, for Biden, that's OK, because he wants Trump as an opponent. He thinks Trump is eminently beatable. And Trump said many things last night that reminded us why he is eminently beatable in a general election. The one thing I would be concerned about in making this draw if I were Biden, and I do think this is his draw, is that the thing that Trump was last night was very energetic. And that's the contrast he wants to set between this energetic guy who can pull us out of what he describes as a morass and a president who may not be.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Astead, can I ask you, David makes a good point. There is the two parts of this. It's the politics, and it's also the country. And I want to play something that Kaitlan asked him, would he accept the results of the 2024 election. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Will you commit tonight to accepting the results of the 2024 election?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Yes, if I think it's an honest election, absolutely I would.
COLLINS: Will you commit to accepting the results of the election regardless of the outcome?
TRUMP: You want me to answer it again? If I think it's an honest election, I would be honored to. And right now we are so far ahead of both Democrat and Republican. And you know what, if I don't win, this country is going to be in big trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Again, separating the politics and the message, which, obviously, plays to his base and everything he said about 2020, with the caveats of if it's fair, I will accept, all that type of stuff, there is a tangible effect of saying that. And we saw it live and in color on January 6th and then November 20th of 2020. What do you make ever that in terms of what we should be looking towards going forward?
ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In some ways it's not surprising. It's been his consistent message since January 6th.
But I don't think we should lose sight, to your point, of what it means kind of countrywide. This is someone who has continued to stoke this lie about the election. And the problem, I think, when they think from a national perspective is he is not alone, unfortunately. This is a Republican party that has the base which is driving a lot of the message has embraced this conspiratorial view of the last election as another buildup of a grievance of a country. They think Donald Trump is the only person who can stop the kind of cultural change that really has motivated a lot of those folks.
And so even in reporting since the January 6th, I have been to Virginia where Republicans did pledge of allegiance to a flag that was at the 6th. I talked to Ronna McDaniel, asked her, the RNC chair, to denounce the lies about the last election, and she has refused to do that. We have seen, talked to Mike Lindell, who has certainly pushed his view about the stolen election on to a Republican Party and really used his money to grow that message.
This is a top to bottom issue. I was at CPAC where Marjorie Taylor Greene met with the January 6th folks and talked about the need to pardon them. This is a through line through the party he is reflecting. And so to David's point, that is a general election problem. But a country problem is that it's not an issue for him in the short term because enough Republicans are with him on that message, at least for the primary.
HARLOW: To the lawyer at the table, he said a lot that I am sure his lawyers wouldn't be thrilled about hearing. But I want your take on the classified document exchange that they had last night at Mar-a- Lago. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ever show those classified documents to anyone?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified --
COLLINS: What do you mean "not really"?
TRUMP: Not that I can think of. Let me just tell you, I have the absolute right to do whatever I want to do with them. I have the right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: First of all, not really. That was everything that he said, not really. What did you think we you heard that?
REBECCA ROIPHE, PROFESSOR, NEW YORK LAW SCHOOL: He claimed to be sort of -- he was playing negotiator in chief. I am going to negotiate the abortion problem, I'm going to negotiate Ukraine, and he also did that with regard to the documents. He said it's all a negotiation. The fact is when somebody gets a subpoena, that is not a negotiation. And so his lawyers are much less happy with his performance than his political advisors because he put himself in jeopardy by making it clear that he handled these documents himself. He did this on purpose, and he thought he had every right to when, at least in certain ways, no matter what, he didn't.
AXELROD: That's the danger of Donald Trump is that he doesn't believe in rules or laws or norms, and he flouts them. And he is setting up, we may have other indictments coming down the lane here, and he set the whole construct up as saying this is part of a corrupt system that is trying to stifle me and stifle you. And so the question comes, well, what if he is indicted again? What if he is indicted again? Will that stop him with his base? No, it may strengthen him with his base because it's more evidence that there is this conspiracy to muzzle him rather than being held accountable to the law.
HERNDON: Right. In some ways his message conflates and political and legal argument, because it seems like his biggest defense has been this presidential run. He is using the legal challenges to fuel his political ascent, and I think that is really where you see Donald Trump try to conflate those lanes, and I think he continued that last night.
AXELROD: I think it's the reason he announced so early. And this is his shield and his sword against these legal challenges. MATTINGLY: And the construct he's setting up doesn't end well. It
just doesn't. Guys, thank you very much. We're going to be digging into this a lot over the course of the next long 15 months or so.
HARLOW: I was just going to say, are you counting?
MATTINGLY: Yes, I was trying to do it in my head. That's going to be a lot of months.
OK, former Vice President Mike Pence's relationship with Donald Trump is complicated. However, there was nothing unclear about how some of the capitol rioters felt about Pence on January 6th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: That mob forced the vice president to flee, having to be ushered out of the Senate chamber by Secret Service. Here is Pence certifying the election after the riots at around 3:30 in the morning. Pence didn't have the authority to stop that certification despite what Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed, and what he said last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: One person who was at the Capitol that day, as you know, was your vice president, Mike Pence, who says that you endangered his life on that day.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think he was in any danger.
COLLINS: Mr. President, do you feel that you owe him an apology?
TRUMP: No, because he did something wrong. He should have put the votes back to the state legislators and I think we would have had a different outcome. I really do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: We want to bring in the senior adviser, former chief of staff to former vice president Mike Pence, Marc Short. Marc, thanks so much for joining us. Look, I understand you, as I think many of us, probably weren't surprised by anything that you saw last night, but still, when you hear that, what goes through your head?
MARC SHORT, CHIEF ADVISER TO FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, thanks for having me, Phil. I guess, it's not really a matter as to what the president thought whether he was in danger. I was by the vice president's side when the United States Secret Service three times asked him to evacuate the capitol. And as you know, the vice president refused to leave because he said that that's not the image he wanted the world to see, the hallmark of democracy, where a vice president would have to flee that setting.
So what the president thinks is probably not consistent with what the United States Secret Service thought, which was by the vice president's side at that time. And after conversations I had with Secret Service, they commented that, look, we were just inches away from actually having to open fire on that crowd, which would have led to a massacre in the Capitol. And so whether or not -- the vice president certainly was protected, but there could have been a lot of more carnage that day, and I think we were very close to that.
Regarding what the president and vice president's dispute of the vice president's role on day, I think it's important to remember that really the president and his team's request was the vice president simply reject the electors. When it became crystal clear that he was not doing that, I think in the aftermath of January 6th his advisers told him, look, just say you wanted him to return it to the states. And of course, there is no authority in the Constitution to do that. There is no vice president 250 years who has exercised a mythical authority such as that, even though we have had contested elections in our history before.
And I think for anyone who advocates that theory, they are not really accepting a negotiation that Kamala Harris could unilaterally reject electoral votes from Texas or Alabama in 2024. And so I think we know on the face the absurdity, there is nothing in the Constitution that suggest that a vice president can do that. And I think in fact we fought a revolutionary war to assure that no one person can determine the outcome of an electoral process.
And so I think there is a lot of absurdity on the face of it, and I think there is also a lot of revision because really the request was to simply reject states electoral votes so you would get under the 270 threshold and force a vote in the House of Representatives. So a lot there to sort of answer your question, Phil.
HARLOW: Kaitlan tried to, in real time, explain that to the president, that in fact Congress had just strengthened that law to ensure that that is extremely clear. He seemed to not understand that or see it the other way around. We haven't heard from former vice president Mike Pence yet this morning publicly. I just wonder if you have?
SHORT: Well, Poppy, I think that on the first part you mentioned, on the Electoral Count Act reform, it's important to note they don't really change the vice president's role. What that legislation did was change Congress's role.
HARLOW: That's right, so it's very clear.
SHORT: Yes, because I think what has happened is our founders wanted the elections to be certified by the states and the federal government to have a fairly limited role in certifying the states' results. And I think what happened, candidly, Poppy, is that the three times Republicans have won the presidency, Democrats have objected to the certification on false grounds when there was no evidence of fraud. I think, sadly, Republicans saw that play and took it a step further in 2020. And I think it was important for Congress to clarify the role of Congress, but they don't change the role of the vice presidency in that act.
MATTINGLY: Which is -- go ahead.
HARLOW: No, go ahead.
MATTINGLY: I was just going to say, it's important to note because the former president has tried to use that as some type of basis for the fact that the vice president could have had that power. I just want to make something abundantly clear. This is not a difference of opinion. This is not an argument between the former vice president and the former president. The vice president is firmly on legal, on moral, on ethical, on patriotic grounds in the right place on this, and it is not an argument, despite what the president says.
HARLOW: That's exactly right. Could we get to the second part of my question, Marc? Have you heard from Vice President Pence?
SHORT: We chatted last night. But I have not heard from him yet this morning. And I don't think there was anything that was discussed in the town hall that I think he hasn't heard before or is new.
HARLOW: We do want to hear from you on Ukraine and Russia, because I think this was striking. We are going to play for you a part of the exchange that Kaitlan had with President Trump on the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Can you say if you want ukraine or Russia to win this war?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I want everybody to stop dying. They are dying, Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.
TRUMP: And I'll have that done in 24 hours, I'll have it done. You need the power of the presidency to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Marc, I'm interested because the former vice president has been traveling around the country trying to figure out if he wants to run. Does that message resonate in the Republicans that the vice president has spoken to, that you have spoken to right now inside the party?
SHORT: Yes, Phil, I think the reality is that a lot of people and the Republican primary voters are tired of talking about the 2020 election.
And as much as we look back in the rearview mirror, it costs elections as it did in the midterms in 2022. I think they're anxious to talk about the future. And I think the biggest concern is actually where Trump has gone since he left the White House.
Because the Trump that was president actually took a hard stance against Russia, whether or not it was a Nord Stream to or whether or not it was eliminating roughly a hundred Mercenary Russian soldiers in Syria. And yet, since he left the administration, he's more or less adopted a position of further praising Putin and more or less saying it was a brilliant move to go into Ukraine. And if you were just going to say we're negotiating an end in 24 hours, I think essentially what that means is just let Russia keep the territory that is occupied.
SHORT: I think we have similar concerns on issues like life, where the President, you know, did take a strong stand in the 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton. But now it said that basically, it allows me to negotiate, what are we going to negotiate, how many unborn children are never got to see life? Is that what we're negotiating? I think it's pretty clear that it's important for Republican primary voters, that the leader of our party stands for life at conception.
HARLOW: Marc Short, we appreciate you being here very much. Thank you.
SHORT: Thanks, Poppy. Thanks for having me.
HARLOW: Former President Trump making the case for his 2024 White House bid his likely opponent in that race. The primary was top of mind, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Biden on the other hand, Joe Biden. Biden says --
COLLINS: But you did it, so that's the question.
TRUMP: Joe Biden took 1850 boxes.
COLLINS: But that's the --
TRUMP: Biden -- Biden -- I'm leading Biden by 11 points. Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Democratic Senator Chris Coons joins us live ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are really putting it to Biden, but he's putting it to himself because the economy stinks, inflation is horrible, and the border is a disaster. And by the way, the way he got out of Afghanistan was the single most embarrassing moment in the history of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: We should note that was following through on a Trump era policy on Afghanistan, an agreement. As focused as Trump remains on the 2020 election, it's clear from the clips you just saw from last night's CNN Town Hall, he has an eye trained on 2024 and his likely opponent, President Biden.
Let's talk about all of that. A close friend of the president, Democratic Senator from Delaware, Chris Coons, who's also the National Co-Chair for President Biden's 2020 for reelection campaign.
Good morning, Senator, thank you for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Good morning, Poppy, great to be on with you. The clips I just saw about President Trump, former President Trump shows that his eyes are firmly trained on 2020. He spent a huge amount of time last night, relitigating the 2020 election and insisting that he would pardon many of the folks who stormed the Capitol on January 6 and assaulted police officers.
HARLOW: We saw from President Biden, his Twitter account, posted a fundraising message right after the Town Hall quote, "It's simple, folks, do you want four more years of that?"
Did you find last night helpful for the president in his reelection campaign?
COONS: Well, look for me as someone who was at the Cleveland presidential debate, where President Trump ran right over Chris Wallace, didn't observe any norms or rules, lied about an incredible range of things, I had a little bit of PTSD watching that last night. I can't imagine why anyone is surprised that they thought President Trump, former President Trump would be any more normal, would follow any guardrails.
I do think this helps define, what election, a general election season between President Biden, who will continue to be a rational, normal orderly president. And former President Trump who treats the presidency as entertainment and as a wrestling cage match. This will be a challenge for us to have the rest of the world have more confidence in our leadership, and for folks domestically to come together.
President Biden, Poppy, has an incredible record of actually delivering on the things that former President Trump talked about.
COONS: Former President Trump talked about infrastructure, President Biden got it done. Former President Trump talked about reducing prescription drug prices, President Biden got it done. He strengthened our leadership at home and abroad. And he's brought Congress together to deliver real solutions to a wide range of the issues --
COONS: -- actually facing average Americans.
HARLOW: One of the most critical issues facing America right now is Title 42 expiring tonight. And immigration, we'll get to that in one moment, but just sticking on this.
Some Democrats are worried about the energy they saw President Trump bring last night, including David Axelrod, an advisor, well, obviously, for former President Obama, this is what he said to us just minutes ago, the one thing I'd be concerned about in making this draw if I were Biden, is that the thing Trump's showed us last night was he was very energetic. And he talked about the contrast, will President Biden bring that same energy?
COONS: Absolutely, President Biden will show the kind of energy focus and mature leadership that the American people want and deserve. President Biden is respected on the world stage, he has made the critical choices needed to come to Ukraine's aid and defense to push back on China, and to show that he has decades of leadership and seasoning. He's also shown domestically, the ability to actually lead not to bluster and tweet and threat.
HARLOW: But on --
COONS: And frankly, the combination of those two things. Actual record of leadership, solving problems.
COONS: And energetic forceful leadership on the world stage is what I think the American people are looking for and why I think President Biden will be reelected in 2024.
HARLOW: But on the issue of leading on key domestic issues, let's talk about two very pressing ones this month. Title 42 expiring tonight, immigration and the debt ceiling in the potential of default in just a few weeks.
Let's start with immigration. Obviously, something's going to change tonight. We don't know what we're going to see in the morning when this pandemic era policy ends. And even Democrats, as you know, some of your fellow Democratic senators have been very critical of how the Biden administration has handled this critical of the new asylum restrictions, and critical of what hasn't been done and this influx that we're seeing. Do you believe this White House has truly done everything it can and enough to stop and address this crisis? COONS: Yes, Poppy, the White House has done what they can without congressional action. And with some Republican leader is actively working to make it worse. I joined a bipartisan delegation that went to El Paso, went to Yuma, visited the border from our side and then went to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Lopez Obrador and his cabinet. There is a group of Democrats and Republicans trying to find a legislative path forward.
In the meantime, over the last couple of months, President Biden and DHS Secretary Mayorkas have done a number of the things that Republicans were proposing a year or two ago. Establishing regional processing centers, establishing a new pathway for asylum so that folks who are sitting in Nicaragua or Colombia or Venezuela or Cuba, instead of making a long, expensive and dangerous journey to our southern border, have a legal pathway to apply for asylum from their home countries. And if they nonetheless make that trip and present themselves at the border, in most cases, they will be turned away. That was a Republican proposal of several years ago.
COONS: Our president has shown a willingness to take bold and difficult steps and to invest in enforcement, deterrence, and diplomacy.
COONS: I think President Biden has asked for robust financial support from Congress and deserves to get the resources we need to have a humane and orderly border.
HARLOW: Democratic Senator Menendez, for example, who put together quite a comprehensive proposal says essentially, that has not been paid attention to are prioritized by this White House. I want to end though on the debt ceiling. Listen to this exchange last night between Kaitlan Collins and the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I don't believe they're going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: To just to be clear, Mr. President, you think the U.S. should default, if the White House does not agree to the spending cuts, Republicans (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: Well, you manage to do it now because you'll do it later. Because we have to save this country, our country is dying. Our country is being destroyed by stupid people, by very stupid people.
COLLINS: You once said that using the -- that using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge just could not happen? You said that when you --
TRUMP: True, that's why I was president.
COLLINS: -- were in the Oval Office. So, why is it different now that you're out of the office?
TRUMP: Because now I'm not President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: People laugh at that. But this is such a consequential thing. And we could be weeks away from a default that would hurt every single American.
COONS: Poppy, we are weeks away from a default that would impact every American. The stock market would tank, everybody who pays interest on their mortgage, on their car loans, student loans, would see interest rates skyrocket. Janet Yellen, the Secretary of Treasury has been trying to get Congress to focus on the millions of jobs that will be lost on the global wreckage to our economy and on the recession that would almost certainly follow.
We should not be casually joking about default. It is a deadly serious matter that will impact every American. And I think President Biden has been clear, we should do under his presidency, what we did in Congress under President Trump's presidency. Pass a clean debt ceiling, avoid default and negotiate responsibly about our annual budget and appropriations process. There is a path towards coming to a common positive resolution about reducing spending and reducing the deficit. But let's look at the actual record. President Biden reduced the deficit by $1.7 trillion from a record high deficit under President Trump and Democrats worked responsibly to avoid --
COONS: -- default under President Trump.
COONS: That he casually said last night, oh, we should just go ahead and default --
COONS: -- makes it clearer than ever. He's just not serious about governing.
HARLOW: I have to leave it there. I will note a lot of that deficit reduction came from ends of COVID era spending programs. Senator Coons, thank you.
COONS: Thank you, Poppy.
HARLOW: Appreciate it, Phil?
MATTINGLY: Only a few places in the U.S. have a law on the books preventing discrimination based on a person's height or weight. And New York could soon join that list. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)