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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Still Angry At GOP, McCarthy For January 6th Blame; California Gov. Newsom Easily Survives Recall Election In Blowout; U.S. Officials: Al Qaeda Could Rebuild In Afghanistan In 1-2 Years. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 05:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Trump is quoted to have said, "This guy called me every single day, pretended to be my best friend, and then he f***d me. He is not a good guy."

Even though McCarthy has walked back his initial comments -- he's been all over the map on this, actually -- Trump has reportedly dismissed his attempts to get back in his good graces. Kissing his 'you know what' is actually how Trump referred to it in this book.

Joining us now, CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melonie Zanona.

We knew that they weren't getting along -- we know that -- and we know that Donald Trump has a long memory, in this case.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, it's just the level of grudge that he holds is so deep. It wasn't just the Republicans who voted to impeach him, it was anyone who even whispered a hint of criticism or suggested he did something wrong.

I mean, it's remarkable that Kevin McCarthy, who has hugged Trump more tightly than any other Republican, arguably, in the House Republican Conference, is not loyal enough in Trump's eyes.

And look, if you're Kevin McCarthy, this is the last thing you want to be reading right now because the truth is the House Republican Conference is more loyal to Trump than they are to McCarthy. And so, this doesn't really bode well for his chances of going to become the Speaker of the House one day if they win back the majority.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Look, the McCarthy v. McCarthy storyline here is just so fascinating and revealing, and it's got these details of the conversation that McCarthy had -- one of them with Trump that day.

"I don't know what's happened to you in the last two months," McCarthy said. "You're not the same as you were for the last four years. You've done good things and you want that to be your legacy. Call Joe Biden."

ZANONA: Yes. I mean, what's remarkable about that anecdote is the timing because nine days later is when he makes his first trip to Mar- a-Lago to go kiss the ring and suck up to Trump and get back in his good graces. And so, it was a very short turnaround time when McCarthy decided, politically, he made the calculation I need Trump to win back the majority and for my own speakership.

But it is really fascinating to see just how much the GOP was struggling with its identity in the post-Trump GOP and whether or not to put any distance between themselves and Trump. I think the other calculation here was can we keep the popular parts of Trump and sweep all the ugly stuff under the rug and, obviously, we know where they landed on that.

KEILAR: There are some interesting twists and turns in this book, right? They detail that pressure that Trump was putting on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election -- reportedly, even telling him that he wouldn't want to be his friend anymore if he didn't follow his request.

Here's what he said. "If these people say you had the power, wouldn't you want to?" Pence said, "I wouldn't want any one person to have that authority." Trump was referring to they could actually hear people outside the White House who were kind of chanting and this was about Pence being the one to kind of have this perfunctory role of certifying the election before Capitol Hill.

Trump said, "But wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power?" He said, "No, I've done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It's simply not possible." Trump, "No, no, no -- you don't understand, Mike -- you can do this. I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this."

ZANONA: That is so striking. I mean, we knew that Trump was desperate to overturn the election results, so that's not surprising. But almost just the cavalier attitude in which he was talking about it, treating it like it was a game. And he's talking about overthrowing American democracy here. It's just an absolutely stunning revelation from this book.

BERMAN: It's 12th grade Instagram. I mean, I don't want to be your friend anymore?

ZANONA: Yes, basically.

KEILAR: You're being generous. It feels like sixth grade.

BERMAN: OK, I apologize -- sixth grade. I don't want to be your friend anymore? Also, revelation, as we'll talk about as the show goes on.

Pence called Dan Quayle. Pence called --

KEILAR: Who saw that coming?

BERMAN: Well, Indiana. You know, vice presidents --


BERMAN: -- from Indiana for $500, Alex. But it's -- and Pence asked Quayle can I overturn the election on

January sixth and Quayle's like forget about it, pal. You can't do this. Just open the envelope.

ZANONA: I mean, it makes you wonder if he had gone to someone else for advice or if Dan Quayle had something different, would the outcome have been different?

I mean, I think there's this narrative out there that Mike Pence was some sort of hero who stood up in an act of defiance because he was a constitutional conservative. But behind the scenes, we're learning that he actually really much wanted to help Trump and overturn the election results. I mean, ultimately, he did the right thing but I think it's not as clear-cut as we may have thought it was.

BERMAN: People on Twitter have been saying if you had Dan Quayle as the person saving democracy on your bingo card. Yes --

ZANONA: Yes, right, right.

BERMAN: -- pretty extraordinary.

KEILAR: Bad speller, good reader, perhaps, of the law --


KEILAR: -- right? That could be the case.

Mel, thank you so much for that.

ZANONA: Thank you.

KEILAR: We do have some more on our breaking news -- a landslide victory for California Gov. Gavin Newsom overnight. What does the failed recall effort tell us about other races across the country?

BERMAN: Plus, new CNN reporting about the debate within the FDA over vaccine boosters. What it could mean about when you could receive a third vaccine shot.



KEILAR: Breaking overnight, California Gov. Gavin Newsom easily defeating the recall campaign against him, delivering a decisive answer to the question of whether voters would penalize those who enacted strict policies aimed at slowing the coronavirus pandemic.

So what does this mean -- this victory -- for both parties going forward?

Let's talk about it now with CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.

That's really the question here, Ron, is trying to read the tea leaves about what more broadly COVID restrictions and opposition or being a proponent of them is going to mean in other races.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC (via Webex by Cisco): Yes. Well look, California is obviously favorable terrain for Democrats to have this argument, but when you look at the magnitude of what happened I think there is a pretty clear message here.


I mean, this recall got on the ballot in the first place because of a kind of tailwind of backlash against the stringent COVID restrictions that Gov. Newsom put in place in 2020 in the state's most conservative regions. That's what got it on the ballot in the first place.

But once the Delta variant emerged and Newsom put in place some of the toughest policies in the country -- a statewide mask mandate for schools; vaccination requirements for educators, healthcare workers, government employees -- that was the pivot point in the race.

And he was able to make the final weeks the central contrast between him and the leading Republicans, particularly Larry Elder, the argument that they would undo what he did and lead California in the direction of Texas or Florida. And, Brianna, that not only appealed to many Independents, but perhaps more importantly, it woke up the Democratic base.

And I think that's probably the clearest message from this race that leaning into tough steps to deal with the virus is something that can mobilize Democrats when the traditional biggest problem for the president's party in a midterm election is that their voters are less motivated than those in the party outside of the White House.

BERMAN: Is it repeatable for Democrats -- you know, forget even 2022 -- 2021. You have this race in Virginia -- not as blue as California --


BERMAN: -- but a blue state now. So, can Terry McAuliffe, who is trying to be governor again -- how could he -- or can he use this there?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the politics aren't exactly the same in every state, obviously. I don't know if everyone running for governor is going to pursue as an aggressive a suite of mandates as Newsom did in California.

But generally, yes, I think Democrats -- you see already in both Virginia with Terry McAuliffe and in New Jersey with Gov. Murphy -- they are leaning into mandates and portraying their Republican opponents as a threat to the ability to contain the virus because they are focusing on, quote, "the rights" and, quote, "the choices" of the unvaccinated.

I think -- I think one lesson out of California is there is a silent majority of the vaccinated, which is now three-quarters of the country, that is largely exasperated with those who are refusing the shot -- only about one-quarter of the country at this point -- and are ready for tougher measures to try to get this under control and to try to get life back to some semblance of normal.

KEILAR: That would be nice. Normal would be nice.

Ron, thank you so much. It's lovely to see you this morning.

BROWNSTEIN: Good to see you.

KEILAR: The Biden administration bracing for potential violence during Saturday's right-wing rally at the Capitol.

BERMAN: Plus, a new warning that al Qaeda is already making a resurgence in Afghanistan. We're live in Kabul, next.




DAVID COHEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA: We are already beginning to see some of the indications of some potential movement of al Qaeda to Afghanistan. But it's early days and we will obviously keep a very close eye on that.


BERMAN: That's Deputy CIA Dir. David Cohen warning that U.S. intelligence agencies are seeing signs that al Qaeda militants have started to return to Afghanistan. U.S. officials also say -- said Tuesday that the terror group could rebuild inside Afghanistan in one to two years.

Our Nic Robertson is live in Kabul. And, Nic, the issue here is that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to the Biden administration, was predicated on the fact that they said al Qaeda had been defeated in Afghanistan.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And one of the difficulties is right now that al Qaeda doesn't control the whole country. One of the other difficulties is that al Qaeda -- rather, the Taliban doesn't control the whole country. One of the difficulties is that the Taliban and al Qaeda are interwoven by marriage.

A U.N. intelligence assessment of al Qaeda earlier this year estimated that there were dozens to about 500 of them in Afghanistan. That in the first four months of this year, they perpetrated about 18 different attacks. That they're spread in 15 of Afghanistan's 32 different provinces. So without intelligence assets on the ground, without allies and partners on the ground, it's going to be very hard to spot them.

And one of the things that I can tell you that's going on right now -- here today in this city, in the country -- is the Taliban are searching out for people they think might be -- might be spies against them and might fight against them in the future.

So that's the background of where al Qaeda stands today.

And I think to the point being made there that there are indications that al Qaeda might be coming back, Osama bin Laden's military chief from his last hideout in Afghanistan, Tora Bora, who has been in hiding -- this guy's been in hiding for quite a few years now -- was seen publicly on the streets of this country close to the border with Pakistan just a couple of weeks after the Taliban got to power in this city.

That al Qaeda have kept their relationship on the quiet, on the down- low with the Taliban while the Taliban's been negotiating with the United States -- those communications were kept down and quiet. That was the assessment of the U.N. Now, one can imagine it's potentially going to reestablish -- John.

BERMAN: Nic, something that needs to be watched very closely going forward. Thank you so much for being there for us.

Coming up, a major shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security as the agency confronts a series of critical challenges.

KEILAR: Plus, tensions ratcheting up on the Korean Peninsula with both South and North Korea testing ballistic missiles overnight. We're live in Seoul.



KEILAR: New this morning, a shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security. Two senior officials resigning as the agency grapples with overwhelming migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the massive resettlement of more than 60,000 Afghan refugees.


Priscilla Alvarez is with us to help us figure out what is going on here. You know, it seems pretty early on in this administration for two main -- like, two of the main officials at DHS to be taking off.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: And that's why it comes as such a surprise within the department, particularly because one of these officials was an influential figure on border issues.

So here's what we know.

On Monday, Karen Olick, who was serving as the chief of staff to Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas, announced her resignation, citing another undisclosed opportunity.

Then on Tuesday, David Shahoulian, who is serving as assistant secretary for Border Security and Immigration Policy, announced he was leaving, citing personal reasons. And as his title suggests, he was the influential figure on border issues which, as you know, has been a significant part of the department's portfolio as they deal with a record number of arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border.

And now, most recently, they're also the lead coordinating agency on resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghans. And this is a department that has been in crisis mode, and it's also a department that has been rattled with turnover over the last four years. Under the Trump administration, if you recall, there was five secretaries.

But still, these departures are still a surprise to many within the department, especially this early on in the administration.

KEILAR: Yes. We'd expect less turnover in the Biden administration than we saw, obviously, in the Trump administration.

What is this going to mean going forward for policy, do you think?

ALVAREZ: Well, for the chief of staff role, we know Jennifer Higgins, who has been at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency, is going to fill that role in an acting capacity. And then, we still don't know who is going to fill David Shahoulian's role. In terms of policy, we imagine that the administration is going to continue on its track though, clearly, a shakeup here that could disrupt some policymaking and decision-making.

And we should also note here that two key immigration agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, still don't have a Senate-confirmed leader.

KEILAR: That is a very, very good point and it's a critical time for these agencies.

Priscilla, thank you so much.

ALVAREZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, a deeply funny man has died. This morning, Norm MacDonald is being remembered as a giant in the world of comedy. He passed away Tuesday after a nearly decade-long secret battle with cancer.

He was famous for his droll deadpan and then deeply committed delivery. He was a cast member of "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" in the 1990s and he had a lot of memorable impressions, including this one of Burt Reynolds.


WILL FERRELL, CAST MEMBER, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Back again, Burt Reynolds in a commanding lead with $14.00.

NORM MACDONALD, CAST MEMBER, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Hey. Hey, check out the podium. Look at this.

FERRELL: Mr. Reynolds has apparently changed his name to Turd Ferguson.

MACDONALD: Yes, that's right, Turd Ferguson. It's a funny name.

FERRELL: What are you doing?

MACDONALD: Yes, I found this backstage -- an oversized hat. It's funny.

FERRELL: No, it's not.

MACDONALD: Sure it is -- it's funny. It's funny because it's bigger than a normal hat.

FERRELL: I see that. Get back to your podium

MACDONALD: Take a look at that.

FERRELL: Yes, I see it. Go back to your podium. It's not funny.

Mr. Reynolds?

MACDONALD: Yes, don't bother. I didn't write anything.

FERRELL: Good work, all right.


BERMAN: As funny as that was, it was his work on "Weekend Update" that was legendary.


MACDONALD: Well, this coming Monday is Oscar night, and three films -- "The English Patient," "Secrets & Lies," and "Shine" -- are locked in a tight race in the category "best picture there's not a chance in hell I will ever see."

USA (ph) mogul Donald Trump announced this week that after 3 1/2 years of marriage, he is seeking a divorce from wife Marla Maples. According to Trump, Maples violated part of their marriage agreement when she decided to turn 30.


BERMAN: Look -- and also, he did just -- he was -- that "Weekend Update" during the O.J. Simpson trial and just merciless jokes -- countless jokes about the trial.

And if you were online yesterday, comedians -- some of the funniest people alive were posting stuff of Norm MacDonald. He was a favorite among comedians, which shows you how talented he really was.

KEILAR: And I like how you said he was deeply committed, right -- because that was -- the thing was at first, you were -- might wonder sometimes is this really working? And he would, like, bring you along with it, right?

BERMAN: Yes, yes, because he didn't care. I mean, you know he cared --

KEILAR: I liked that about him. He didn't care.

BERMAN: Right. He said I'm going to do this. I'm going to see it all the way through whether you laugh at first or not.

But, David Letterman loved him. Howard Stern loved him. And really, some of the funniest people around think he was one of the best. It's a real loss this morning, and he was young.

KEILAR: So young -- 61.

BERMAN: NEW DAY continues right now.

KEILAR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, September 15th. I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman here in Washington on this special edition of NEW DAY.

Governor Gavin Newsom will keep his job. Breaking overnight, a blowout victory for the Democratic governor of California who crushed a Republican-led recall that could have ousted him from office. Newsom's restrictive coronavirus policies --