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Michael Bender is Interviewed about his New Book on Trump; Cuba Cracks Down on Protests; Debunking the Big Lie. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 08:30   ET



MICHAEL BENDER, AUTHOR, "FRANKLY WE DID WIN THIS ELECTION: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW TRUMP LOST": Mike -- Mike Pence never told me that he wasn't going to do this. Mike Pence never told me no.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Again and again and again you bring up that Pence thing because Pence, you know, except for throwing paper at him once, at a time -- or having paper thrown at him once at a time where, you know, it's been in the press in 2018, never tells the president really flat-out the truth about the election.

There were campaign advisers who went into him early after Election Day and said, what, there was only a 5 percent chance?

BENDER: Five to 10 percent chance of winning. There's a -- if you recall, the election takes a few days to be called. The people closest to Trump are trying to decide what to tell him. Some people did want to tell him, let's -- you've lost, let's move on. The decision ultimately is to present Trump with a plan that he still has -- not to tell him he lost, but that he still has a chance to win. A 5 percent to 10 percent chance. And I tell you, there's not a 5 percent -- 5 percent to 10 percent chance of overturning one of those states.

BERMAN: Right.

BENDER: Let alone all three that they needed.

BERMAN: But what he heard there was, so you're saying there's a chance?

BENDER: Well, correct. I mean you think back to 2015 and his first meeting with Corey Lewandowski, his first campaign manager, who tells him, we have a 5 percent to 10 percent chance of winning this whole thing. And it worked.

BERMAN: The reason I wanted to lay that all out is because of the impact that it has on Trump's supporters. That ultimately you can draw a straight line to the January insurrection. One of the things that I think is so terrific about your book is interwoven within the book is your vast experience at Trump rallies, starting back in the campaign, but all through the administration where you spent time and talked to the people at these rallies who go. And I'm almost, you know -- I'm a Grateful Dead fan -- it's almost like Dead Heads. It really is. BENDER: Yes.

BERMAN: I mean it's people who go from show to show to show, except, you know, they're not holding up a finger saying, I need a miracle.


BERMAN: They're trying to get tickets to all these Trump events and following him like he's a prophet.

And, ultimately, you stay in touch with one who was also at the insurrection, Sandra (ph), and she gives us an insight into her mentality. She says, we're all on the edge of our seats waiting to hear about the next event, she said. Now we're like an army and it's like boots on the ground. Tell us where we need to go. Tell us where we need to be. And we just drop everything and we go. Nobody cares about if they have to work. Nobody cares about anything.

BENDER: Yes, that's right. I mean for a lot of the Trump supporters, he gave voice to a lot of their insecurities, their grievances. And for the first time -- and draws a lot of people into politics the first time. The people who go to all of these rallies, they get -- like you made that Grateful Dead comparison, which I think is a good one -- they found a sense of community there. People who, you know, have time to go to 20, 30 rallies are estranged from their family, don't have families themselves, and they found their own little family here, which in a way Trump enriched their lives.

But I think -- and I appreciate -- this book is going to be the only one that goes -- that takes readers behind the scenes of the Oval Office to show how he governed the country, behind the scenes at the campaign to show how they spent $2 billion and were still scrambling to chase Biden in the last days, and then spends a lot of time -- I was embedded for two years with these Trump supporters going to rally to rally to rally with them. And it's important to understand them in order to understand what happened on January 6th and why thousands of people keep showing up for his rallies in, you know, just this last month.

BERMAN: When he lies to them, many of these people are buying it. And when the people inside the White House know better, don't publicly stand up to him, it's allowing it to happen. And I think that's why the impact here is so important.

Look, there's a lot more in this book. Stick around --


BERMAN: Because I want to talk about the leak where the president threatened to have the leaker executed. We'll get to that when we come back.


[08:37:50] BERMAN: Back with us to continue discussion about his new book detailing the tumult of former President Trump's last year in office, senior White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" Michael Bender.

Michael, you talk about an episode that I have now read about in this detail. It has to do when the former president was taken to the bunker underneath the White House during some of the demonstrations in Lafayette Square and whatnot. Once it was leaked that he was taken down to the bunker, he got upset. How upset? Well, let me read you a quote from your own book.

Trump's top military, law enforcement and West Wing advisers knew he must be upset when he summoned them to the Oval Office for a meeting first thing in the morning, several hours before he usually emerged from the residence. Those suspicions proved correct. Trump boiled over about the bunker story as soon as they arrived and shouted at them to smoke out whoever had leaked it. It was the most upset some aides had ever seen him. Whoever did that, they should be charged with treason, Trump yelled. They should be executed.

OK, why did it upset him so much?

BENDER: Well, because, two reasons. One is he thought it made him look weak. And the other was the more existential reason here, was he could feel his administration slipping away at this point. If you remember -- if you recall, 2020 -- it's hard to remember. 2020 started out very positive for Trump. He had survived -- not just survived impeachment, the first impeachment, but was thriving. His poll numbers were at their highest point. The economy was red hot. He had a direct path to re-election. And just a couple of months later, there are a -- there are several crises that upend daily life for every American in the country, right?

And he doesn't know -- he struggles to find some way to address this. He can't readjust the message quick enough and he lashes out about this leak from my very -- very talented competitors, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. And that's what he focuses on.

And it was striking to me, in reporting this book and reporting this scene and this time period how many aides, the first thing they recalled was how upset Trump was. Not just in the moment, but for days afterwards. And how much it drove his push for a tough response to the protests.


I mean a couple -- you know, it leads very quickly to one of the most controversial political scenes with him and his top aides in front of St. John's Church holding the Bible. I mean that's a moment that will be remembered in political history for years. And this book gives the most full accounting of that to date.

BERMAN: Yes, I've got to say, you know, when you hear treason and execution, your first inclination is to say, oh, he must be joking, it was hyperbole. BENDER: Yes.

BERMAN: Who knows at this point.

BENDER: That's right. That's right. I mean, in hindsight, the aides I talked to, the people I talked to around Trump assumed he wasn't serious about that. But I didn't speak to anyone who actually asked him to find out.

BERMAN: Yes, after the insurrection, I think you have to take everything seriously.

I want to ask about the former first lady, Melania, because it's interesting. I did not know, until I read your book, that she didn't want the election night festivities to be at the White House.



BENDER: Well, she's similar to the president in that she's very concerned about germs, just as germaphobic as President Trump. And the difference being that she was very concerned about COVID. And she didn't want those kind of numbers -- the reason they had to have it at the White House was because Washington, D.C., and basically every other major city in the country, had restricted large gatherings at that point. And the White House was the one place where the president could do this. But she didn't want people to get sick. She didn't want people, you know, to get sick and die, and pushed back repeatedly, told the chief of staff three times, no, until the chief of staff has to bring in Jared Kushner, who tells the president, and it's a phone call from the president on Air Force One four days from election night, asking her to reconsider, and she basically throws up her hands and says, you know, do what you want, you're going to do it anyway.

BERMAN: That's incredible. Four days --

BENDER: That's correct (ph).

BERMAN: She was fighting until four days before.

And just -- there's another thing here talking about her fears about COVID inside the White House. The Christmas parties that were going on, right? The governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, kept on going to these parties, right? And I have a quote here, Melania did successfully cut down the invite list for the White House holiday event, but South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem insisted on attending multiple Christmas parties. Fine, Melania said, you know what, if she wants to get COVID that bad, that's up to her.

BENDER: Yes. I think this is one of several examples in the book here about -- of people around Trump, his loved ones, his family, his closest aides who fight him, push back to a point, right? They see themselves as truth tellers and guardrails, but what they end up being is sort of speed bumps, slowing it down for a few minutes until the president pushes through. BERMAN: And let me just close with that point, then because so often I

think with a book like this people are saying, well, what does this matter to me now? You know, why does this matter now? Well, it does matter now because the former president is out there still talking about some of this stuff. He's saying that the insurrection was all about love.

BENDER: Yes. Yes. I mean he's -- he's singled out my book. He's attacking this book because he knows how many people I talked to, and people who don't normally talk to journalists, and he very much wants a political future. What that future means, I'm not exactly sure.

But Republicans have a choice here heading into the next two years. Are they going to -- try to define the party post-Trump or not? And I think what this book helps inform them is that they're going to make that choice with their eyes wide open about what kind of politician this is and what kind of president he was.

BERMAN: Again, you say the president's attacking this book. You talked to him. You had a nice visit to Mar-a-Lago and a dinner there.

BENDER: Twice.

BERMAN: Twice. So --

BENDER: Yes. He was very generous with his time. He was.

BERMAN: It's not like he wasn't a source of this book because he absolutely was.

Michael Bender, congratulations to you.

BENDER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Again, thank you so much for joining us. Wish you the best of luck.

BENDER: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right, President Biden speaking just hours from now in Philadelphia about voting rights.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And new crackdowns on anti-government protests in Cuba. CNN's Jim Acosta on his Cuban roots and his reaction to what's happening.



KEILAR: The Cuban government is cracking down on dissent. Internet outages are hitting social media and messaging platforms just a day after the country saw unprecedented, widespread protests. This is coming as President Biden is expressing his support for the Cuban people, and a warning to the Cuban president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government -- the government of Cuba to attempt from violence or attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.


KEILAR: Joining me now to discuss this is Jim Acosta, he's our CNN chief domestic correspondent and also anchor. And his father grew up in Cuba, fled Cuba in 1962, it was three weeks before the Cuban missile crisis.


KEILAR: And I know that your Cuban heritage is such a big part of your identity. You went back in 2016, I think we have a picture that you posted to Instagram. Things have changed a lot in five years here.

ACOSTA: They really have. I will tell you, when my dad and I went to Cuba in 2016, you know, he had not been back in 50 years. And we wanted to find some of his relatives. And, you know, there are lots of Cuban-Americans in this country. We all have different experiences. He wanted to go back. I know there are a lot of Cuban-Americans who say they would never go back. He wanted to go back. We went back.

And we ran into some relatives he hadn't seen in half a century. And they recognized him right away despite the fact that he was a viejo (ph), an old man. And I can say that, he's my dad. And -- but the tears were flowing. It was a heartfelt reunion.

But one of the takeaways that we had, my dad said to me, you know, Jimmy, this island, this area, hasn't changed in 50 years. The town he grew up in hadn't changed in 50 years.

And one of the things that we took away from this experience was just the extreme poverty that is just prevalent across the island, across the Havana area that we spent time in, when we were there in 2016. And much of this because of the U.S. policy that's been in place since the Cold War, this trade embargo that's been in place for decades.

Obviously, there's good reason for it. You know, there's -- the Cuban regime has been repressive for decades. They don't allow people to protest or have freedom of speech, freedom of the press. I pressed Raul Castro during that trip with Obama in 2016, asked him about their policy of jailing political prisoners and he took the headphones off his ears, the translator headphones. He couldn't believe that I was asking such a question.

But, Brianna, you know, there's just no doubt that something has to change in this policy, in this relationship between the United States and Cuba because the Cuban people are suffering, and that's why I think we saw them out on the streets over the weekend. They're suffering from an economy that is in ruins and they don't have the kind of democratic freedoms that we have.

And so, of course, they're at their wit's end. They're not afraid any more, as they were saying in the streets over the weekend.


KEILAR: You have the Cuban president who's actually urging his supporters to physically confront protesters who have a lot of grievances that make sense. COVID rates are high. Poverty has been exacerbated. They can't get medicine. But they're facing physical threat and they're also facing this telecommunications kind of knock down by the government. They have total control over it.


KEILAR: How do you think that's going to affect the situation?

ACOSTA: Well, I will tell you, when I was there in 2016 covering Obama's trip, when he opened up diplomatic relation with the country, of course, Trump reversed that, one of many Obama policies that Trump reversed when he was in office.

But when I was there in 2016, there were these wi-fi hot spots that were set up around Havana. Cubans had cell phones. They could Skype with relatives in Miami. And so this back and forth, this communication was going on that Cubans had not ever really experienced. And so it doesn't surprise me that much of what we saw over the weekend was fueled by this openness on social media that the Cuban government really, let's be honest about this, has allowed to take place.

The question becomes, what happens next? I will tell you, Brianna, obviously there's not going to be much of an appetite right now to loosen some of these restrictions on the island or change the policy on that island. But one of the things that has to be considered is you cannot -- and we saw a sneak preview of this over the weekend. You cannot have an island of 11 million starving Cubans explode into some kind of violent revolution. You think we've had a border crisis, a migrant crisis at the border. We've had Cuban migration crises over our history as we know.


ACOSTA: You could see a massive migration crisis. And that is something that the Biden administration is going to have to deal with. They've said, you know this, Brianna, that Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, has said that Cuba is not a priority for Joe Biden. It probably needs to become one based on what we saw over the weekend.

KEILAR: Might make itself a priority.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

KEILAR: We will see.

Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

ACOSTA: You got it.

KEILAR: And, of course, we can catch your show on weekday afternoons.

Still ahead, Democratic lawmakers flee -- sorry, weekend afternoons.

ACOSTA: Anytime.

KEILAR: I've got to let them know when to watch Jim. They've got to know.

ACOSTA: That's all right. I'm always with you.

KEILAR: All right, still ahead, Texas Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to try to block the GOP's restrictive voting laws.

BERMAN: And, next, every case, every investigation, every judge's ruling. Your definitive guide to debunking the big lie straight ahead.



BERMAN: President Biden set to give what the White House is billing as a major speech today, directly attacking the big lie that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. It wasn't. And it should be an easy case to make seeing as investigation after investigation into the alleged voter fraud has turned up nothing.

John Avalon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You can't credibly claim to be a patriot while trying to overturn an election with no evidence. But we have been living through the most sustained attack on an election result since the civil war. Democracy itself is under assault, and that's the subject of a major speech about voting rights from President Biden later today.

But it's been tough for some folks to see the truth because the big lie keeps getting repeated. And that's why I want to recap the results, all the hunts to find actual voter fraud to date. Think of it as a definitive guide to debunking the big lie.

First, remember that Trump's legal team lost nearly 60 cases in court, many at the hands of Trump-appointed judges. That's a blowout, folks. And in the six months since the Capitol attack, there have been extensive efforts by Republicans in at least eight states to back up Trump's baseless claims. And they have come up with nothing, nada, ningun (ph).

Take Michigan, where GOP state senators convened a special committee and after 28 hours of hearings they found that the only real fraud had been the claims of mass voter fraud. In fact, they recommended that the Democratic AG investigate those folks who had been pushing the election lies.

In neighboring Wisconsin, when the Trump campaign demanded a recount, it resulted in a gain of 87 votes for Joe Biden. And when election officials dug into the results deeper, they found 13 possible cases of voter fraud out of nearly 3.3 million votes cast.

In New Hampshire, auditors found no evidence of widespread fraud, despite Trump's hype. Same thing happened in Nevada after an investigation by the Republican secretary of state.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was censured after he resisted Trump's request to find 11,000 votes. But two recounts and an audit confirmed those election results.

In Texas, indicted Republican AG Ken Paxton had a special team, spent 22,000 hours searching for voter fraud. And after all that time and taxpayer money, they found 16 minor cases out of 11 million ballots cast. And that $1 million reward from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, which he offered for evidence of voter fraud, still hasn't been paid out despite Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor pushing for payment in exchange for his state's three documented cases of voter fraud, which were all from Republicans.

That hasn't stopped some keystone state Republicans from trying to keep the false claims alive, even after those audits showed the results were accurate. They're one of five states trying to follow the Arizona fraud-it, which has be denounced by local Republicans as a grift disguised as an audit, political theater, and insane lies. It's even more absurd because the audits were already done in Arizona and found no fraud.

So take a step back. Look at the results of these audits and recounts and Republican-led investigations in eight states. And you'll see there's just no actual evidence of mass voter fraud. There's only the desperate attempt to keep doubt alive, to please Donald Trump at the expense of our democracy.

And if you're still not sold, remember how fast Fox News and "Newsmax" backtracked when threatened with a lawsuits from Dominion Voting Systems. Listen to Trump's loyal AG Bill Barr finally resigned because he thought Trump's claims were, quote, bullshit. Or look at the newly unearthed email from the RNC's top lawyer describing Trump's legal team as a joke that was getting them, quote, laughed out of court because they are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking.

If you believe their claims, and I'm sorry to say, the joke's on you. Of course, the real insult is to our democracy. And that's a cause that all real patriots should rush to defend.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: And, John, let me just -- you know, we've had a number of authors on today with books about this time period.


BERMAN: Michael Wolf wrote that the Friday after Election Day there was not a single White House aide or Trump campaign official or Trump pollster who believed that the vote count could reasonably or effectively be challenged. [09:00:01]

AVLON: That's right.

BERMAN: They knew it was B.S.

AVLON: All along. So all the Trump supporters who have still been duped need to face the fact that they've been lied to by the Trump administration.

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

KEILAR: Wonderful reality check there. CNN's coverage continues right now.