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California Governor Gavin Newsom Projected to Defeat Recall Effort in Special Election; New Book Details Joint Chiefs Chairman General Milley and Former Vice President Mike Pence's Dealings with Former President Trump after 2020 Election Loss. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 08:00   ET



GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM, (D) CALIFORNIA: I think about just in the last few days, and the former president put out saying this election was rigged. A democracy is not a football. You don't throw it around. It's more like, I don't know, an antique vase. You can drop it and smash it in a million different pieces. And that's what we're capable of doing if we don't stand up to meet the moment and push back.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Republican frontrunner Larry Elder took a page from the Trump playbook in the last few days. He has suggested the outcome of the election will be affected by shenanigans. Last night after the fact, he did let go of the big lie strategy. This is what he said.




ELDER: Come on, let's be gracious. Let's be gracious in defeat. And, by the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.


KEILAR: Now, Elder is already hinting at a run for governor in 2022, so let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Phil Mattingly for more on the results. Walk us through this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, look, going into the night there were a couple things that were very clear. Democrats hold a major registration advantage in the state and, therefore, Republicans who wanted to recall Gavin Newsom needed a bunch of things to happen all at the same time in a rather momentous manner. None of those things happened. Take a look at where things stand right now, 70 percent reporting,

obviously this race has been called. Gavin Newsom will remain governor. He's 2.5 million votes ahead. But look at the percentage, 63.9 percent. Track back to, say, last year. Joe Biden won the state very handily, 63.5 percent. His percentage, Gavin Newsom's percentage, actually above what Joe Biden's was in a nearly 30-point victory.

What about Gavin Newsom back in 2018 -- 61.9 percent. Obviously, there's still more vote to come in, but it just underscores the big concern, Democratic apathy, perhaps a surge in Republican voters, independent breaking hard towards recalling the governor, none of those things happened anywhere near the scale of what would have been necessary in this very blue state to knock off Gavin Newsom.

In fact, when you actually dig in on a few of the counties, and we won't go too deep here, but this I thought was rather telling. You look at counties where Newsom underperformed his 2018 results. You have one, a very small county that had no impact whatsoever on this race. What about where he overperformed? You had six different counties at this point in time where he's overperforming by up to five points. That tells you everything you need know about how Gavin Newsom is still governor of the state of California.

Here's another thing. We saw very clearly over the course of the last couple of weeks in the race a significant focus on the pandemic, a significant focus on combatting the pandemic. Let's pull out of the voter data and into the exit poll data. In that exit poll data you understand what the Newsom campaign was seeing and why that message was so effective. Most important issues facing California, COVID, number one, 31 percent, Above homelessness, the economy, wildfires, and crime.

Now, what about Newsom's COVID policies that he's actually put into place? And 45 percent of those in the exit poll said it was about right. Not strict enough, 18 percent, too strict, 32 percent. Again, very much so on the side of Newsom.

Now moving to those specific policies, how did Californians in the exit polls view vaccinations? Sixty-three percent say a public health responsibility, only 34 percent say a personal choice. What about mask mandates, obviously a huge issue, contentious throughout the country. Politically at least, not in California. And this is a number that you can't help but stare at. School mask requirement in California, the support level 70 percent compared to 25 percent oppose. If you want to know why the Newsom campaign went all-in on this issue, well, they were looking at numbers, and those numbers absolutely translated come election night, guys.

KEILAR: All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you so much for taking us through that.

And joining us now to discuss the California recall election results, former presidential candidate and former Vermont governor and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean. Just top line for us, what is the big take away for you? I think with sort of looking forward, because this is a race obviously very important to California, but nationally Democrats were watching this as well. What's the takeaway?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: The takeaway for me is the Democrats finally figured out what the strategy is to win. If you had said that eight weeks ago that Gavin Newsom was going to win by 30 points, people would have thought you would have been out of your mind, and you would have been out of your mind. What the Democrats did was make this election about Donald Trump. And it's very clear.

And I think the Republicans have dug themselves a deep hole. I believe that despite a fantastic campaign of Raphael Warnock and certainly Jon Ossoff would not have won had it not been for Donald Trump in Georgia.


And the Texas abortion decision really, I think, has galvanized American women. This is what you get when you vote for the Republican Party. That message was incredibly well honed by the Newsom people and by national Democrats in the last six weeks, and it lifted Newsom, who was really pretty close to a dead heat in this race, and some people thought he was going to lose, to a 30-point win. And that was about turnout. The reason that your polls show what they show is because Democrats who were indifferent and maybe didn't like Gavin so much and blah, blah, blah, there was a lot more than Gavin Newsom on the ballot in California last night.

BERMAN: Look, it works in California with a two to one Democratic voter registration advantage over Republicans there. The question going forward is how well can it work, say, in Virginia in two months, with Terry McAuliffe --

DEAN: Virginia is just fine. Virginia is a blue state at this point. And he's got the same -- the guy who is running in Virginia has got the same problem. Terry McAuliffe is a known quantity. People thought he did a good job as governor, but he's not an inspiring figure. He's going to win because he has successfully helped to, and with some help from the other candidate, connected his opponent with Donald Trump. So Donald Trump is on the ballot in Virginia, and we're going to win that one, too, the governor's race.

BERMAN: Does it fly in 2022? Does it fly in the midterms?

DEAN: It certainly does. It's not going to fly in the deep conservative Alabama, but it's going to fly in a lot of marginal districts. People really don't like the authoritarian turn that the Republican Party has taken. They don't like the anti-women stuff. Most of them don't like the anti-gay stuff. Most of them don't like the anti-race stuff. Trump and the Republican Party have thrown in their lot, I think it's just too bad for the country and it's going to be too good for them with the old days. And we're not about the old days in this country and we never have been.

KEILAR: Can we talk about the role of the big lie in this race and what the lessons are for Democrats and Republicans, because you saw Larry Elder here in the waning days raise the specter of talking about this was a rigged election. In the end he conceded. That didn't happen. But at the same time, I wonder, as we saw the polls for whether you wanted someone recalled or not, that sort of lined up with the vote, not too far off of it, I wonder what kind of fire Republicans are playing with, with potentially making their outreach to Republicans -- they don't want to come out and vote. Maybe they don't believe it's really an election that's worth voting in.

DEAN: I think the big why has scared the hell out of a lot of Americans who are in the middle of the road. Again, elections is this country are about the middle of the road. That's why Georgia senators, we have two Democratic senators from Georgia which we haven't had for generations. What the big lie means is do you want more January 6ths in this country? Do you think armed insurrection and invasion of the Capitol by people who believe the election was stolen when there's no evidence for it, is that a good thing for America? And I think the vast majority of Americans think it isn't.

And I think these things, January 6th, the Texas abortion decision, which is essentially affirmed by a group of political hacks that have gotten themselves out at the Supreme Court, these things have alarmed Americans. And, yes, the Republicans will carry really rightwing states like Mississippi and Alabama, but they're not going to carry a lot of reasonable, thoughtful, middle of the road people. I think we're going to pick up a Senate seat in Ohio because of this kind of stuff in 2022.

BERMAN: Can I ask you very quickly, we have got some other news we've got to get to, but I want your take. One of our guests earlier said a little bit of this in California was the revenge of the vaccinated. Gavin Newsom campaigned on some stricter COVID measures, vaccine mandates and the like. Is that something Democrats should lean into?

DEAN: That's absolutely true. And look at Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the country where the governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, came out and blamed unvaccinated people for what's going on in their south, which is devastating their hospitals. When that happens, you know that the Republicans are in deep, deep trouble.

KEILAR: It's a very good point. Thank you so much, Governor Dean, for being with us. We appreciate it.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

KEILAR: So we are learning more revelations about this new book about the Trump presidency, including fears at the highest level of the U.S. military and Congress that the nuclear arsenal was not safe from the commander in chief.

Joining us now, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel. She got an early copy of this book. It's called "Peril" and it's by "Washington Post" journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Talk to us about some of what you are seeing here.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, just to set the stage, the headline from this is that on January 8th, two days after the insurrection, General Milley is shaken. He is -- Woodward and Costa write that he believe President Trump is in serious mental decline, unstable, and unpredictable. [08:10:03]

Then Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, calls him. And Woodward and Costa have obtained in the book -- have in the book an exclusive transcript of that call. And Pelosi is worried about nuclear weapons. She says, Pelosi to Milley, quote, "You know he's crazy. He's been crazy for a long time." Milley, "Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything."

Milley gets off that call. He's putting this all together. He knows that China -- we have intelligence reports, he's had conversations with his counterpart, the top general in China. And he realizes that we're in a vulnerable situation, and he goes in. He calls together the generals and colonels who run the Pentagon war room, and he reinforces, let's understand, process and procedure. He says, you're going to follow the process. You're going to follow the procedure. And I'm part of that procedure.

Some people, as you've been reporting, have been criticizing that perhaps he overstepped his authority. I think it's important, two things. Read the book. Understand the context of what was going on. The second thing is, let's not forget that even though the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not technically in the chain of command, he is the top military official. He is the president's top adviser on defense issues. And he had seen Donald Trump pull an end run, signing a rogue memo to withdraw from Afghanistan. So he had reason to worry that Trump in his state of mind and what he had done before might try to do something else.

BERMAN: Telling his advisers, other military leaders, no end runs here.

GANGEL: Correct, correct.

BERMAN: No end runs, follow the procedure that's in place, I'm part of it.

GANGEL: Correct.

BERMAN: You have got new details, also, Jamie. There's been a lot of reporting on the back and forth between Donald Trump and Mike Pence prior to January 6th, and how Donald Trump told Mike Pence, incorrectly, unconstitutionally, that Mike Pence basically could refuse the Electoral College results. There's now a new conversation.

GANGEL: So, in this conversation, first Donald Trump says in the Oval Office to Mike Pence that if he doesn't do it -- and by the way, this is the night of January 5th. It's a remarkable scene. There are MAGA supporters right outside the White House, and they can hear them. And Trump points to them and says, wouldn't it be cool, wouldn't you want to do it for them? And then eventually what Trump says when Pence says no over and over again, is, quote, I "don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this." The next morning, he says to him, I know you're going to wimp out. It's just an extraordinary exchange between a president and a vice president. But there's a hero in all of this. It turns out, according to Woodward and Costa's reporting, that there is a critical adviser to Mike Pence, and that is former vice president Dan Quayle. And Pence, in the book, is quoted calling Quayle for advice. And Pence really seems to be struggling. Is there a way to help Trump? And I just want to show you, he asked Dan Quayle over and over again, is there anything I can do? And Dan Quayle shuts him down. "Mike, you have no flexibility, none, zero, forget it." Then Pence says, but he really thinks I can. And there are other guys in there saying I've got the power. Quayle interrupts him -- don't, just stop it. Pence presses him again, and Quayle says, Mike, don't even talk about it. Quayle, you don't know the position I'm in. I'm sorry - Pence, you don't know the position I'm in. Quayle, I do know the position you're in. I also know what the law is. You have no power in this. Just forget it.

BERMAN: Wow. Wow. The full conversation there, Pence really is looking for an out and Quayle is not giving it to him.

GANGEL: And there is also another scene in the book where he's practicing for the vote with the Senate parliamentarian. And he says to her, can I make a sympathetic comment during this about Trump? And she says, basically, no. She's very curt. Stick to the script. Count the votes.

KEILAR: Dan Quayle, who would have known. Not great a spelling, but very good at reading the law. And maybe that's really what matters, right?

BERMAN: The basic Constitution, it turns out. Jamie, stick around. There's a lot more here, including what Trump said about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And ahead, an insurance scheme. A botched shooting, an embattled prominent lawyer. We'll have the details behind an alleged murder plot and mystery in South Carolina.


BERMAN: So, this morning, chilling new revelations about what the top U.S. general thought about the Trump presidency and the risk he believed the former president posed to U.S. national security. The details laid out in the new book "Peril" by "Washington Post" journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

We're back with Jamie Gangel who received an early copy of the book and is helping us break these details.

And also joining us now, Jim Sciutto, CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent.

And, Jim, I want to talk about the stuff that Jamie brought up before. China -- the conversation between General Milley and China where he had to calm China down because China was very worried about what was going on in the United States, but also in the process gave China a warning or a statement that some people think is controversial, saying, look, if we were going to attack you, I'd tell you beforehand.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, here's the thing with Trump and the military and communications with adversaries.


It's part of a pattern. This is not the first time.

When I was reporting out my book, at the tensest times with Iran, there were back communications with Iranian officials, don't listen to the rhetoric or the tweets, we're not going to war. Between the tensest times between the U.S. and North Korea, there were back channel communications between U.S. diplomats and North Korean diplomats saying we're not going to war here because they were concerned about the commander in chief doing just that, right?

So sadly, this period post January 6, when it was clearly more acute, by the way, the president just tried to steal an election and their concerns were more acute, it was not the first time that U.S. officials felt the need to communicate with adversaries to prevent a war. And that is alarming.

Now, Milley telegraphing -- first, I don't believe Milley would tell China we're going to attack them, right. We do have means of communicating with adversaries to avoid unwanted wars so you don't escalate to degrees you don't want to escalate to. I don't believe that that was the essence of what he was trying to say there.

I mean, you can take issue with him communicating with adversaries. All I'm saying is it wasn't the first time they felt the need not to.

GANGEL: Can I just add? This is not some rogue phone call. General Milley isn't picking up the phone. There were translations involved. There were other intelligence people involved.

I spoke with a senior Republican official who said to me last night, quote, no one should be criticizing Milley. They all knew Trump was bonkers. That's a quote. Milley stood up and took precaution to make sure nothing dangerous or illegal happened. He was just making sure that all the procedures were in place, and that in the book, Milley also says about this time, quote, half the friggin' world was nervous. Everyone was on edge.

KEILAR: It really I mean, the question is why was Milley worried about a potential military conflict with China? Why was Gina Haspel worried about one with Iran? And part of the context of all of this is Milley had watched after the election Donald Trump sign a military memo that would have withdrawn troops from Afghanistan very quickly, by January 15th, which is a weird move to do it five days before you're leaving office.

SCIUTTO: By the way, belies all the B.S. you heard Donald Trump would have done Afghanistan differently. He wanted to do it earlier and possibly more precipitously. And, by the way, without welcoming a single Afghan refugee to the U.S., right? January 15, he wanted to do it after he lost an election, five days before he leaves office on Afghanistan.

But the other issues, the reason you have those communications with Iran and China, there is genuine concern now about hostilities between those countries. I mean, we are very concerned about the state of relations between those two. So you throw an unpredictable Donald Trump into that mix in the midst of a stolen election and that further amps up that nervous nervousness.

BERMAN: Jamie, I want to ask you about something I don't think there was knowledge about before, which was a January 5th meeting if I have the timing right.

GANGEL: Right.

BERMAN: Rudy Giuliani, Jason miller, Steve Bannon as depicted in this book, and also new information about the role Bannon played egging Trump on. You have to make it back from Mar-a-Lago, you've got to return to Washington, you got to make a dramatic appearance. This is a crisis, the moment for reckoning.

People are going to go what is the F is going on here? We're going to bury Biden January 6, F-ing bury him.

GANGEL: So, Bannon once fired is back in the fold. He appears, according to Woodward and Costa's reporting, a Svengali like figure January 6. Donald Trump is down in Mar-a-Lago. He was playing golf. He wanted to go to his New Year's Eve party the next night. Bannon says you have to come back.

Then there is a scene where he is there, you say, with Rudy Giuliani, Jason Miller. It's a war room like setting. They're talking to Trump the night of the 5th, and saying very inflammatory things to say the least. I think the January 6 select committee is going to be taking a very close look at the entire book, and at Steve Bannon's role.

SCIUTTO: We already e came closer to stealing an election than we knew. It was pretty darn close. When you have pence calling Dan Quayle to find out if he can deny certification, two-thirds voted not to. It's pretty remarkable when you look at the accounts, even closer than we realized.

BERMAN: Jim Sciutto, you have a show in 36 minutes. We'll let you get ready for that. Jamie Gangel, thank you for your reporting on this.

Speaking of, better call, Quayle. How the fate of democracy came down to that phone call between two Indiana vice presidents.

KEILAR: And the plot thickens for a prominent lawyer in South Carolina.


Why police are alleging he went to extremes to plan his own botched shooting, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: The new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa detail the events Mike Pence faced to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

And the one conversation that may helped him make the decision was talking to Dan Quayle, right? This is a twist that everyone saw coming.

Joining us to discuss the former chief of staff to Dan Quayle, Bill Kristol.

This has taken many people by surprise, Bill. What do you think about this?

BILL KRISTOL, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR VP DAN QUAYLE: I didn't know about it until the rest of us did, but I'm not surprised Dan Quayle said what he said. You know, he was -- is an honorable man and was an honorable vice president. He presided, I was with him, I remember, on January 6, I think it was the same date, 1993, when he announced the electoral college victory of Bill Clinton and Al Gore over George H.W. Bush and himself, Dan Quayle. Never even occurred to us that he would do anything to disrupt those proceedings.

I was thinking also, Al Gore succeeded Dan Quayle as vice president.