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Trump, GOP Push Baseless Claims of Fraud Before California Results; D.C. on Alert for Armed Rally Goers; AOC Wears 'Tax the Rich' Dress at Expensive, Elite Event; NC School District Stops Tracing, Quarantines for Non-Positive; Video, Interviews Cast Doubt on Pentagon Account of Drone Strike. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, September 14, and I'm Brianna Keilar, alongside John Berman.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Literally alongside.

KEILAR: Lovely to see you this morning.

And there is a growing amount of evidence that the assault on American democracy is before that started with the big lie. But it is far from over.

In California, polls open in just a few hours in a recall election that could remove Governor Gavin Newsom from office. Already, former President Trump and Larry Elder, the leading candidate to replace Newsom if he is recalled, has started to lay the groundwork to baselessly dismiss a Newsom victory as a product of Democratic cheating.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether or not you win or lose, will you accept the results of the election tomorrow?

LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think we all ought to be looking at election integrity.

We have lawyers all set up, all ready to go to file lawsuits in a timely fashion.


KEILAR: Now, Elder's campaign website now features a link to this site here that urges residents to sign a petition, quote, "demanding a special session of the California legislature to investigate and ameliorate the twisted results of the recall election."

The problem: there are no results yet, and there are no problems as of -- as of yet, for sure. Trump treading familiar territory, releasing a statement pushing

baseless claims about a rigged election that, yes, hasn't even happened.

BERMAN: You know, familiar or not, you can't brush it off.

In a new CNN poll, 59 percent of Republicans say that support for the lies about the last election are important to being a Republican. It's the price of admission.

You can't brush it off, because this Saturday here in Washington there's a rally planned at the Capitol in support of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6. You heard that right.

A source tells CNN that law enforcement is preparing for some protesters to be armed, new security fencing set to go up. Police arrested a man who had a bayonet, and a machete in his pickup truck, parked near the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The truck had a swastika and other white supremacist symbols painted on it.

You can't brush it off, because Trump seems to literally be standing up for domestic terrorists. After George W. Bush delivered that speech, suggested the people who attacked the U.S. on September 11 and the people who attacked the Capitol are, quote, "children of the same foul spirit," Trump put out a statement that basically said, "Who, me?"

Trump did not deny it. He just said that Bush should not be lecturing about anything. And then, parentheses, Trump is endorsing a QAnon supportive candidate for secretary of state in Arizona.

All this going on. We're going to start in California, where there is a recall election with the results not even in yet, and Donald Trump and others already crying foul.

CNN's Dan Simon in Sacramento with the latest -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, John.

Well, that is the state capitol behind me. That is the seat of power in the state of California, and we should note by tonight whether or not Governor Newsom will retain his office inside that building.

Now it is worth repeating that this recall effort really began to gather steam during the heart of the pandemic. There was criticism over Governor Newsom's policies with respect to COVID-19, and that led Republicans to get the 1.5 million signatures necessary to force this on the ballot.

But in the wave of the Delta variant, Newsom and his supporters are happy to have this election framed as somebody who will follow the science, versus an outsider, somebody who would loosen restrictions, which in turn could lead to more cases and more deaths. President Biden laying out the stakes last night while campaigning with the governor. Take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year, the leading Republican running for governor is a -- the closest thing to a Trump clone that I've ever seen in your state.

He's the clone of Donald Trump.


BIDEN: Can you imagine him being governor of this state?




BIDEN: You can't let that happen.


SIMON: Of course, that is Biden talking about conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the leading contender here.

But all of this is a moot point unless the recall itself is successful, and all of the polls show Newsom cruising to victory here. But we shall have to see once the ballots are opened.

And we should point out that Newsom's, one of his top advisers saying that there is no scenario in which the governor loses.

John, we'll send it back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Simon, thank you very much for that.

KEILAR: Let's talk about this now with CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" Washington correspondent Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, is this the new normal?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a great question. It certainly seems to be for now. I think we have to see what other elections look like. A recall is always a little different and allows people to make claims that they might not otherwise.

But it's hard to imagine Donald Trump would not make this claim otherwise, and it's hard to imagine that some candidates -- I don't think all, Brianna. I think there are a number of candidates who are, you know, longtime politicians who are not going to see this as a road map. But there are clearly candidates who are going to use this to say, when they lose, this was rigged. They are saying this before ballots have been cast, which not only depresses their own voting turnout, but it also just creates a system where it's clear that it's not actually about the -- you know, the result and what it might be. It's just about if they might lose. And so I think that there will be other instances where we see it. I don't know how seriously it is going to impact future elections. But again, as I just said, Republicans are hurting their own turnout when they are doing this model. So it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

BERMAN: Fifty-nine percent of Republicans in the recent CNN poll say that supporting the big lie from the 2020 election is important to being a Republican now. It is foundational, John, at this moment to being a Republican, not incidental. Sixty percent. That's a big number.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a big number, and the point off of what Maggie said is that, as the Republican base has shrunk, base of support has shrunk and gotten increasingly radicalized, they're turning away from the legitimacy of elections, period.


KEILAR: Right.

HARWOOD: They're turning towards force, toward authoritarianism, in some cases toward violence. Obviously, that is a fringe of the party, but it's a fringe that's tolerated by the wider party, and they're leading themselves further and further.

So Republicans in Washington tried to discourage the investigation into the January 6th insurrection. Now they are, after initially being shaken by the insurrection, which of course, was an assault on the democratic result, they're now treating the January 6 offenders, the people who treated atrocities at the Capitol, as political prisoners.

And so you -- you say an election was rigged, because you know you're going to lose the election, and you don't -- the election itself is not decisive in your view. It is the ability to rally people to rise up against the electoral process.

BERMAN: Democracy is not what's important. If democracy was important, you would believe the election. And I think the point you're making is so important. There's a through line between these absurd claims about this California recall, which isn't even done yet. Right? There's a through line between that and this protest -- over my shoulder. Which way is the Capitol?

KEILAR: It's this way.

BERMAN: The Capitol, which is that way.

HARWOOD: Well done.

BERMAN: And there's a through line between these California claims and the protest at the Capitol, where law enforcement is now concerned they're going to show up armed on Saturday.

HARWOOD: That's right. And you know, there's an element of grift in this, too. Because for Donald Trump to make these claims, he gets people to give money to his political activities. And we know that he is using some of the political money that he's raised to pay himself rental space for his political action committee at Trump properties.

But for the Republican Party itself, this is about finding ways other than winning elections to assert themselves, to speak up for the cause of a segment of the white population that feels under threat, that feels the country is moving away from them.

And in a disturbing number of cases that, as we saw in the case of the guy with the pickup truck and the machetes at the Capitol, that involves either the threat of violence or something more direct and concrete than that.

KEILAR: You know, Maggie, the comments from former President George W. Bush at the Shanksville memorial on Saturday, where he said the 9/11 terrorists and the insurrectionists, essentially, are "children of the same foul spirit," it was a speech that our Gloria Borger said maybe the most important, if not the most important, speeches that he's ever given.

Donald Trump responded by saying that George W. Bush shouldn't be lecturing anybody. What did you think about how Trump responded to Bush's remarks?

HABERMAN: It was completely in character and unsurprising. He hates George Bush. He hates the Bush family. It devolved, essentially, into name calling, which was he shouldn't be lecturing anyone, look at -- look at the war in Afghanistan, look at the overseas entanglements. The Twin Towers came down, I think is part of what that statement was, under George Bush's watch.

And so it's fine. It doesn't address, obviously, the substance of what Bush was saying.

And I think that one major question I have, Brianna, is it was a powerful speech. There was no question it was a powerful speech. It was -- I don't think it was the most important of his career, but it was certainly up there. The question is who else is going to continue echoing this? Who else is going to keep making this kind of point?

Because if this is a one-off, which we have seen over and over, over the last six years, it is going to dissolve somewhat quickly. And Donald Trump knows that, which is why he issues statements like that.

BERMAN: You know, it may have been predictable that he was going to do it, but it's also pretty notable, given that what George W. Bush did was basically saying domestic terrorism is bad, and the Trump response was like, Oh, don't you go criticizing domestic terrorists at this point. It was -- it was notable on that point.

Adam Kinzinger, who I spoke to last night, basically said Trump was just proving the point that George W. Bush was making.

HABERMAN: I think that Trump didn't quite -- Trump didn't quite go that far, John, in terms of saying, yes, domestic terrorism is OK. But to your point, he almost never says, this is really bad. We agree. What we've seen is terrible.

And so it just leaves it on the page, unaddressed.

HARWOOD: There's also a bit of a comic touch to the president who just lost his reelection decrying the unsuccessful president -- presidency of the guy who won reelection when he ran.

KEILAR: Yes. All right. Let's talk about Berman's favorite, which is the nexus of fashion and politics, because Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the Met Gala last night, and this may be the dress that is most remembered from it.

On the dress of this dress, it said, "Tax the rich." But this is also -- there she is, standing next to the designer, who is one of the few black designers who was featured at this event.


This of course, Maggie, is one of the most expensive and elitist events of the year. And I wonder if you think she thread the needle here with her message and her presence there or not?

HABERMAN: I think she did. Look, I think there's going to be an effort by Republicans to say, Look, this is -- I saw a lot of this last night. This is a gift to Republicans in the midterms. The midterms are not going to be decided on AOC's dress, first of all.

But second of all, I think on the -- you know, it is unsurprising to see criticism that there she is, hobnobbing with the wealthy. That message of that dress is not a popular message in that crowd. And so there is -- there is something risky about doing it.

I think that, you know, she could continue to preach to people who already agree with her, or she could preach to people who don't, and she chose to do the latter.

HARWOOD: And I would say it's the opposite of hobnobbing with the wealthy, and it shows the talent that AOC has. She has a strong belief system. She's able to articulate that belief system.

We're in this extended debate over the Biden economic agenda, and Joe Manchin is out saying too big, too fast, too many taxes. And how do progressives counter that? And with AOC, you see she uses her star power to go into that venue, high-profile venue, and drive a very strong message that is now on the front page of newspapers. And we're talking about it on television. And it's precisely the point of the argument. Tax the rich.

Democrats are right now, progressive Democrats are trying to defend a menu of tax increases that Biden wants to use to pay for his domestic benefits agenda for climate change, for child tax credits, for preschool free community college, a whole range of things. And she goes, and all of a sudden focuses attention on precisely what progressives want the message to be, and it's a popular message.

BERMAN: Look, I think if you want to argue whether or not taxing the rich is a good policy, that's fine. Have that argument.

But to be outraged that she wore that dress to the Met Gala and say it's somehow hypocritical requires you to believe that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn't realize that the Met Gala has rich people who are hobnobbing behind closed doors.

KEILAR: You think she -- And you think she knows that?

BERMAN: I think she might know that.

HARWOOD: People who are outraged about it is -- that's how you know that they were stuck by the message.


HARWOOD: That it hit them, because she drove something that they didn't want to be on the front page.

KEILAR: John Harwood, Maggie Haberman.

HABERMAN: Or -- or it's not real.

KEILAR: Sorry, Maggie, yes.

HABERMAN: No, I as just saying, or the outrage isn't real. And it's manufactured. Which I think is -- which I think is a lot of --

HARWOOD: That could be. Sometimes that happens.

HABERMAN: It could be.

BERMAN: Sometimes that happens. You know what? It makes me angry that you you even said that, Maggie.

KEILAR: It's polyester outrage. I hear what you're saying.

Maggie, thank you so much.


KEILAR: John Harwood, thank you.

Just in, Russian President Vladimir Putin in isolation after a COVID outbreak in his inner circle. We'll have some details ahead.

Plus, we'll speak live to a pregnant mom who is upset that her school district is not requiring exposed students to quarantine.

BERMAN: And a new investigation casts doubt on the Biden administration's account of the deadly drone strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan.

This is NEW DAY.



BERMAN: New numbers from the Academy -- American Academy of Pediatrics show an exponential increase of children infected with coronavirus, up nearly 240 percent since early July before schools reopened.

Schools across the country are back in full swing now, and experts say adults should get vaccinated to protect children younger than 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine.

KEILAR: Now, one of the only school districts in North Carolina not to require masks in its schools went a step further yesterday, voting that effective immediately, students and staff no longer have to quarantine after possible exposure to coronavirus, unless they have symptoms or a positive coronavirus test.

This move by the Union County Board of Education has sparked outrage among some parents and teachers in the district.

And I'm joined now by Angie McCray, who is a parent who is currently pregnant, who says this decision puts not just children but the entire community at risk.

Angie, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Obviously, these policies being put in place are very much against the guidelines of public health officials in the state and at the federal level. How are you reacting to this?

ANGIE MCCRAY, PARENT OF UNION COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS STUDENT: You know, I think like a lot of parents in my district and county are very upset with the decision they made. They took the authority on themselves to decide that we were no longer going to do contact tracing and, effective immediately, students were to return to school that were on a current quarantine. And we were no longer going to quarantine for students and staff that are not positive. It's very upsetting and disappointing.

KEILAR: So students who are exposed but asymptomatic could end up at school, and they could still be positive, and they could still spread this to other children. What is your biggest fear here?

MCCRAY: I have a first grader that's at an elementary school here in the county. And it's very concerning for me. I'm currently pregnant, and I'm concerned for my family's safety. And I do not want to have to home school her again this year. And we were so excited to go back to public school and be able to let her have somewhat of a normal education.

And the school board has just made decisions that are not logical and are affecting my family, and so many families in the county. This affects the larger community. It affects teachers, staff, students, our whole community.


KEILAR: You are a pharmacist by trade. I know that you are practicing for 13 years, and that during the pandemic, you have had to step back from that, and you did home school your daughter. Would you consider doing that again?

MCCRAY: I am considering it, because I have to worry about my family's safety first. And I don't feel like our elected officials on the board of education are taking the health and safety of our students and staff seriously.

They've had multiple opportunities and meetings to create a mask mandate, and they chose not to and voted against it. And then yesterday, to have an 8 to 1 vote to remove any extra layers of protection and mitigation that we have in contact tracing and quarantine options doesn't make any sense.

KEILAR: Well, Angie, I'm very sorry for what you and so many other parents are dealing with, and we are really thankful that you're speaking with us this morning. Angie McCray.

MCCRAY: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: Two middle schoolers in Florida accused of planning a mass school shooting inspired by Columbine. We'll have the details coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, a brand-new CNN investigation casting doubt on the Biden administration's account of a deadly drone strike in Afghanistan. All of the breaking details, coming up.



BERMAN: For the last two weeks, CNN has been investigating the U.S. military's final drone strike on a car in Kabul, just hours before U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The U.S. military claims it hit a legitimate terrorist target, but CNN's investigation raises some very serious questions about the U.S. government's accounts of what happened that day.

CNN's Anna Coren joins us now. And viewers, you need to be away that this report contains scenes that are graphic and may be hard to watch. What have you learned?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, doubts have been raised over whether the U.S. military actually hit an ISIS-K target when they dropped a Hellfire missile on a car in a Kabul neighborhood two weeks ago.

According to the family and colleagues of the targeted victim, 43- year-old aid worker Zemari Ahmadi, the U.S. got it wrong.

CNN's investigation was led by journalist Sandi Sidhu and Julie Hollingsworth and has spanned the past two weeks. We have spoken to 30 people in total, including five colleagues who were with Zemari that day.

We've also spoken to two bomb experts who dispute the military's claims there was a significant secondary explosion after the drone strike, code for explosive material, which the U.S. suspected. One of them said to us, if there was a secondary blast, it most likely was the vehicle gas tank exploding.

We've also analyzed the CCTV footage that you're looking at right now from that day of Zemari in the office. Now, what is critical to note is that a U.S. official with knowledge of the operation who spoke to CNN said the U.S. military never knew who was driving the car.

They began following the Toyota Corolla Zemari was driving based on intelligence and chatter they'd been monitoring from an ISIS safehouse. Officials said they saw the car leave, possibly from the same safehouse and then followed it for the next eight hours before launching the strike.

We should remember, of course, that just days before, an ISIS-K suicide bomber had killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans at Abbey Gate at the airport.

Now, the U.S. had intelligence of an imminent and credible threat, and were understandably on high alert.

But John, from what we have established, there are serious doubts as to whether Zemari, a father of seven, highly respected, who worked for a U.S.-based NGO for 15 years that feeds the poor, was, as the U.S. claims, an ISIS-K facilitator with suspected explosive material in his car for an attack on the airport.

Now, Zemari was not the only one who was killed. According to the extended family who live together in his compound, nine other family members died, including seven children, three of whom were toddlers.

Now, John, we've seen this distressing footage of charred remains of what was left of the bodies, parents trying to recognize a hand, a foot, an ear to work out which body part belonged to their child.

The Pentagon says an investigation is underway but maintains the strike was based on good intelligence and that no military works harder to prevent civilian casualties. John, our full investigation will air later today on Jake Tapper's show.

BERMAN: I look forward to seeing it, but I think we get the thrust of it right now. Anna Coren, thank you so much for your reporting.

KEILAR: Joining us now, former White House adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan, and senior South Asia fellow at New America, Shamila Chaudhary; and CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin with us, as well.

It's incredible. It's incredibly difficult to hear the details of what has happened here, and I just wonder what your reaction is to learning this, and what needs to happen?

SHAMILA CHAUDHARY, SENIOR SOUTH ASIA FELLOW, NEW AMERICA: So Brianna, this is a sad and tragic end to two decades of sadness and tragedy. So, you know, I think we need to put it into context, that this isn't the first civilian casualty that we're seeing. It has been happening for two decades.

There have always been civilian casualties in Afghanistan which resulted at the hands of the United States, and also Afghan forces, as well. Just last year, there were over a thousand strikes. Many of them did result in civilian casualties.