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Trump Leads in GOP Primary; VA Secretary Denis McDonough is Interviewed about Veterans; Manhunt Continues in Pennsylvania. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 06, 2023 - 08:30   ET



HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: He leads across the board. It doesn't matter how old you are, how young you are, whether you have a college education, whether you don't, whether your income is below $50,000 or above it, Trump leads with all the groups.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: One of the main questions I've had is - well, actually, I'll just ask this, the poll asked how likely people are to actually support their first choice candidates. What did we learn there?

ENTEN: Yes. I mean so perhaps you're looking for some weakness -


ENTEN: In Donald Trump's support, right? Well, definitely support your first choice candidate in the primary. Donald Trump, 83 percent of his supporters.

MATTINGLY: So, locked in? Locked in.

ENTEN: Locked in. Locked in.


ENTEN: DeSantis' supporters, just 54 percent. All others, 37 percent. So, this 83 percent, these Trump voters, there are a lot of them, they're really locked in. And more than that, Phil, they're becoming more locked in.

So, will definitely support Trump. You go back to March of 2023, 75 percent. June of 2023, 79 percent. Now we go to August. What do we have? Eighty-three percent of Trump voters are definitely supporting him in the primary.

When you look at this poll - look, I tried to find anything to move this story forward. Maybe something might shift in this choice. At this particular point, looking at the polling data, at least in the Republican primary, I can't find it, Phil.

MATTINGLY: It's such a critical point. Something I actually want to ask you about. Maybe we can do it tomorrow for the morning number. ENTEN: OK.

MATTINGLY: The actual morning number in terms of historical context, precedent here. I think that's critical.

Harry Enten, thanks so much.

ENTEN: Thank you, Phil.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Harry, you just got your homework assignment for tomorrow morning.

MATTINGLY: Like I have that authority.

HARLOW: Clearly.

Let's bring in CNN political commentator and "New York Magazine" columnist Errol Louis and national political reporter for the "Associated Press," Michelle Price.

Errol, let me just start with you and what you make of what the numbers tell us.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, we've seen this sort of building. And this is bringing us to sort of a high wave of this phenomenon, which is that the Republican Party is going to back Donald Trump in the primary. There would have to be a sort of historic collapse for him not to be the nominee. The first of the contest is coming up in a short, you know, 131 days. It's really 90 days plus another month. And we'll start to see this play out probably despite his legal problems, because when you go down to the cross tabs, and you look for the follow-up, well, gee, what if he's - you know, now he's indicted. What if he has to go to trial. What if he's convicted and so forth. The numbers actually don't change that much.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: They want him to be the candidate.

HARLOW: You know who reads through all the cross tabs?


LOUIS: This guy.

MATTINGLY: It's fascinating.

HARLOW: Admit it.

MATTINGLY: Like, it is - OK, yes, but, like, that's a - that's the most interesting part of the polls.

HARLOW: It's true. MATTINGLY: But it also underscores -- and I think that's why - that's why Harry is so great always, and Errol's point. But I don't know -- I was trying to think -- certainly not even in 2016, certainly not in 2020, this very clear cut of a -- this person is going to be the Republican nominee unless something that no one could ever imagine, perhaps like an asteroid, is coming at the this point. Why am I wrong on that?

MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": I mean, I'm not sure you are. And I'm not sure on asteroid even changes it. I mean we've got historic indictments of this leading candidate and we have stasis in the polls. Nothing is changing.

What is interesting is you kind of have to ask, why are these other people still running or why are they still trying to run as Donald Trump when he has solidified everything and they're not peeling anything off. They're not, for the most part, offering anything different than what he is.

HARLOW: Do you agree with that?

LOUIS: Yes. No, that's right. I mean, look, they -- they are waiting, in fact, for an asteroid. Whether it's a legal asteroid or some other kind of scenario that will shake up the race, perhaps sideline Donald Trump, or even get him to sort of -- to drop out.

Most people, if they were facing the kind of serious charges that he's facing in four different jurisdictions, would say, you know what, let me attend to making sure that I get through this legally and come out the other side with my freedom intact. Donald Trump is not like most people. So, to the extent that he has this complicated way of trying to sort of merge his legal defense as -- with his political strategy, he's not going to drop out. And then that leaves a bunch of candidates who, like Tim Scott, maybe want to raise their statue or like Vivek Ramaswamy, maybe want to sort of angle towards some kind of cabinet position or a speaking gig or a podcast or something like that.

HARLOW: Or a number two.

LOUIS: Or a spot on the ticket, that's right. And then, you know, and then people like Mike Pence, who, you know, I mean, where else is he going to go? He's had the number two job. He's going to try for the number one job, even against long odds. You never know. Lightning can strike. That sort of a thing.

But, look, Donald Trump is, in effect, the incumbent as far as Republicans are concerned. And incumbent presidents don't really get a lot of challenges. That, I think, is what we're seeing here.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's actually an interesting way of framing it, if you look at what President Biden is facing. Obviously questions about his age. There's no real challenge. Obviously he's running against people.

Michelle, I wanted to connect this because I think the - the -- just kind of gorilla nature of Trump's candidacy and the Republican primary actually connects to what's going on in Washington in terms of Capitol Hill right now, right? Like, he -- he controls a large segment - at least a notable segment of the House Republican conference.


They have some major nations that they're heading into. They have to fund the government by the end of the month. They also want to launch -- some of them, to launch an impeachment inquiry into the current president.

I want you to listen to what Matt Gaetz, who's a Trump ally, said about Speaker Kevin McCarthy.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): When we get back to Washington in the coming weeks, we have got to seize the initiative. That means forcing votes on impeachment. And if Kevin McCarthy stands in our way, he may not have the job long.


MATTINGLY: This has always been the thing hanging over Speaker McCarthy since he got through 15 votes and became speaker, the ability with one single member to kind of call him out and try and take him down as speaker. Do you think the threat's real right now?

PRICE: I think it is real. I mean, again, those 15 votes - you know, that wasn't that long ago and he has a very tenuous grasp on his leadership. The faction that is loyal to Donald Trump in the House is very loyal to him. And McCarthy, you know, he's left him out to dry -- Trump has left McCarthy out to dry a few times.

MATTINGLY: And McCarthy has been unflinchingly loyal.

LOUIS: Keep in mind, on the other side there are about 18 Republicans who won districts that Joe Biden won. There's a quartet of them here in New York. They don't like to hear this kind of talk from the Matt Gaetz's of the world. They don't necessarily want to go all in on impeachment or attack the leadership and so forth. They need a little bit of calm to assure their own re-election. And so McCarthy's going to have to sort of balance those two factions within his party.

MATTINGLY: McCarthy doesn't have the votes. He doesn't have 218 for impeachment. And this is the - sorry, I'm going to -- I'll stop.

HARLOW: Cross tabs.

MATTINGLY: Cross tabs.

HARLOW: Cross tabs.

MATTINGLY: It's the general - it's the primary versus general election argument as it extends to that, which I think is important. This isn't just a primary.

All right, Michelle, Errol, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

MATTINGLY: Well, a new ad campaign is urging Americans veterans struggling with mental health to ask for help. Veterans Affair Secretary Denis McDonough joins us next on the White House's new program.

Stay with us.



HARLOW: The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a new ad campaign this month encouraging veterans seek help for mental health struggles before it is too late. September, of course, is National Suicide Prevention Month, and the veteran suicide rate in 2020 was 57 percent higher than the non-veteran adult rate. That's according to new government data. The new "Don't Wait, Reach Out" campaign is working to change that.


ON SCREEN TEXT: We spoke to real veterans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever helped a fellow veteran?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever asked for help yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Always tough, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I always feel like I can solve my own problems. But eventually, you know, you just can't deal with it on your own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you start to question, maybe people would be better off without me.

ON SCREEN TEXT: If you're struggling, do for yourself what you'd do for others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you realize that you're not alone, once you take that first step, there is so much support.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Don't wait. Reach out.


HARLOW: Well, joining us now is the secretary of veterans affairs, Denis McDonough.

Secretary, thank you very much for being with us, especially on this issue, because when you look at the numbers from the VA, more than 17 veterans die from suicide every single day. Can you talk about the new efforts to try to change that?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Yes, Poppy, thanks so much for having me. And I'm really grateful for the opportunity to talk about this.

Look, our vets are warriors. And they're trained to look out for their mates, to look out for their unit. And too often they put themselves in the background rather than in the foreground.

And so what we're saying is, hey, don't wait. Reach out. We have our website as a tool to help veterans and their families take that important first step to reach out for help before it's time of crisis. And that's our simple message, don't wait. Reach out.

MATTINGLY: Mr. Secretary, I think the alignment between the Pentagon and the VA and this issue specifically, obviously, rite large is very important. We've seen Secretary Austin make mental health and seeking assistance on mental health a critical component. Have you seen kind of the second order effects on the VA side? Do you feel like having the ability to connect with the -- on these issues with active service members is helping on the back end with the VA?

MCDONOUGH: Very much so. Obviously, this is a major priority for Secretary Austin. I have appreciated his partnership in this. He and I are routinely meeting, not just with veterans and military families, also with active duty units to talk about this. He has a very simple message, which we do too, which is, your health is mental health. Mental health is your health. And so let's stop somehow disaggregating these two questions and address our whole health. That's really the bottom line message here. Also, let's not wait for a crisis. Please, don't wait. Reach out.

HARLOW: Yes, and that is the message of this campaign.

It's been two years since the withdrawal from Afghanistan and I'm wondering if you could speak to what you have seen as the toll on those veterans who have come home, especially when it comes to mental health.

MCDONOUGH: Look, we have seen real manifestations of moral injury because so many of our troopers dedicated so much of their lives to that remarkable effort in Afghanistan. And so we have seen a big impact.

But I'll tell you what I've also seen is, across the country, veterans still fighting to get their interpreters, their drivers, Afghans who worked with them -


MCDONOUGH: Make sure that they get them here to the U.S. We see that in every community across the country. I'm really proud of the work that our vets are doing to watch out for, as I said, their interpreters, their drivers, their mates. It's really America at its finest.


MATTINGLY: Mr. Secretary, what degree of concern do you have about the finding fight? I feel like at some point this is a yearly thing. Sometimes an every two or three months thing. Do you see that this has a tangible effect in terms of agency operations, especially on this issue in particular?

MCDONOUGH: Yes, we feel very good about the progress we've made. Over the course of the last several years, under President Biden we've had historic levels of funding. That's been supported by Republicans and Democrats. I'm hoping the same will happen this year.

And the fact is, Phil, I think you're aware of this, we also have advanced appropriations, especially on health care. So, we're in good shape as it relates to what our veterans will need, especially with access to emergency mental health care, which is why I feel very comfortable being out here today saying, look, don't wait for a crisis. Make sure you reach out. Visit us at and let's make sure that we're giving you and your family the tools that you need to prepare for those crises.

HARLOW: Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, thank you very much for being with us on this issue. We appreciate it.

MCDONOUGH: Poppy, Phil, thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course. And just a reminder, if you or anyone you know and love needs help, if they're having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline. You just need to dial 988.

Ahead, a deputy U.S. Marshal is calling the manhunt for the convicted murderer in -- right outside of Philadelphia a dangerous game of tactical hide-and-seek. We've got new details about what law enforcement is doing.

MATTINGLY: And a judge handing former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio the longest sentence of all connected to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. And his lawyer is pointing the finger at former President Trump.

Stay with us.



MATTINGLY: Well, this just in overnight. Multiple Michigan state police cars were set on fire and hit by rifle rounds in northern Michigan. The suspect is still at large. No troopers were in the vehicles when the incident occurred. Police posted these images on social media saying, quote, the suspect is considered armed and dangerous and is described as a white male wearing camouflage. He was last seen driving a silver Honda CRV. HARLOW: So, take a look at this. These are live pictures right now

from a helicopter over Chester County, Pennsylvania. That is where the search for the convicted murderer who escaped prison seven days ago is ongoing right now. There are two school districts there that are closed again this morning as about 200 law enforcement officers search for this killer. The U.S. Marshals Service says the goal is to stress him out of hiding.


ROBERT CLARK, SUPERVISORY DEPUTY, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: This is a dangerous game of tactical hide and seek.

This is a dangerous, dangerous man. He's got nothing to lose. But I can tell you this, his desperateness will not outlast the resolve of our law enforcement officers here.


HARLOW: CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller is here.

Seven days and he's in, they think, a few-mile radius. Why can no one find him?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Look at the history of these things. You had Michael Burnham, who was a survivalist. It took them ten days to find him. And, you know, that was a very well-resourced search. And, you know, it was the neighbor's dog who came across him on a trail and the neighbors passed by and pretended not to know who he was and called police.

Eric Frein, 2014, that was a 48-day, $12 million hunt for a domestic terrorist that ended in an incredible and tragic shootout with state police.

So, seven days is not out of the realm.

Remember Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber -

HARLOW: Right.

MILLER: Ran into a national - the Nantahala National Forest and, you know, was caught five years later after the most extensive government manhunt in a wooded area that anybody could remember in history. So, I'm not panicking at ten days. He's in a relatively small box. He's under resourced. And at some point he's going to run out of gas and they're going to find him.

MATTINGLY: So, it's not -- you're not surprised by the fact that that small box seemed to expand yesterday. I think our Danny Freeman, who's on the ground, said there are signs it might be expanding again today. This isn't like a net that just closes around them? Like, because that's what I had in my head.

MILLER: Yes. No. I don't think the box is expanding as much as it's moving.


MILLER: You know, the failure part of this is they don't have him. The success part of it is, he's feeling the pressure of being surrounded and trying to penetrate those perimeters. And they're moving with him because the sightings are working.

You have a very engaged public there. So, what you're missing in the urban environment that you would have, you know, informants on the street, electronic surveillance, you know, cellphone tracking, you're probably missing that here, but you've got everybody in any perimeter looking for him and calling at the slightest sight of something suspicious.

HARLOW: Officials have not yet said how he escaped from prison. That's striking to me. But wouldn't that also help people know what he would have gotten away like with, if he was carrying anything, what he was wearing at the time?

MILLER: Well, I mean, what we know is, he's been evolving -


MILLER: Which is through house break-ins he's come up with additional clothing. The idea that he was captured on film shirtless the other night kind of denied them a new description or a color of a garment to give out.


MILLER: He's got that backpack. So, we don't know what kind of changes of clothes he has.

And there's probably a reason why they haven't told us how he escaped.



MILLER: And this is not a question that I haven't asked people who should know the answer to -

HARLOW: My kids were asking me that. I mean, they shouldn't know about this story anyway, I suppose, too young for it, but they were even saying, how did he get out? And I was like, we don't know.

MILLER: Well, on the practical side, he's 5 feet tall and he weighs 120 pounds and can probably fit into places that I can't.


He can definitely fit into places I can't.

MATTINGLY: It's not a funny - that was funny, though. MILLER: On the other hand, the fact that the warden was put on leave, the fact that the deputy warden is running it, the fact that they have taken a position, logical one, which is, job one is to get him back. We'll worry about how he got out later and who's to blame and what happened and so on.


MILLER: But predictable is preventable. And something went wrong there because he wasn't supposed to get out.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you about -- before we run out of time, Enrique Tarrio, the sentence that he was given yesterday, the longest sentence for seditious conspiracy. What's your take on where the judge landed there?

MILLER: Well, the judge landed right in the middle. The government asked for 33 years. And, you know, his lawyers asked for less. And he split the difference. But it's a significant sentence and it's a big message that will be read two ways, by people who are thinking of starting some (INAUDIBLE) pocket (ph) group and taking on, you know, the overthrow of the government, it's probably a bad idea, and from others they'll say, this is the difference that, you know, Trump supporters are treated with. But it's a - it's a strong signal.

HARLOW: John Miller, thank you very much.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, man.

HARLOW: And thanks to all of you for joining us today.

We're glad to have you. We'll be right back here tomorrow morning.