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New Day

Clock Ticks as U.S. on Verge of Default, Biden Agenda at Stake; Trump Administration Downplayed Russia and White Supremacists According to Whistleblower. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2021 - 08:00   ET



MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: -- ever requested information about a possible assassination. He says Assange has been treated unfairly. This is the guy his own administration then later indicted, and now here Trump is reverting to his earlier sympathy for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks no doubt remembering all the help they gave him in the 2016 election.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You said it, this is Jason Bourne stuff. Everyone should read this article right now. It is deeply fascinating. Michael Isikoff, thank you very much.

ISIKOFF: Sure enough, thank you.

BERMAN: And NEW DAY continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this NEW DAY. The active threat to America's democracy intensifying this morning, underscored by a big confession from the former president, Donald Trump.

And the massive manhunt for Brian Laundrie enters its third week as the FBI searched his home, collecting personal items and anything they could find for possible DNA testing.

BERMAN: The week from hell as Congress heads into tumultuous full days, pressured by critical deadlines and chaotic negotiations. What this means for you and what it means for the Biden agenda as it hangs in the balance.

And a former DHS official who once led the intelligence branch is speaking out fort first time, the intelligence he says was covered up because it made the former president look bad.

KEILAR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, September 27th. And America's democracy is in peril as the Republican Party continues to sow doubt about the outcome of the 2020 election and threatens to wreak havoc on elections in 2022 and 2024. The party's ringleader and for now the frontrunner for the nomination is the big lie's biggest cheerleader.

BERMAN: The former president confessed at a rally in Georgia that he called Republican Governor Brian Kemp in the wake of the 2020 election and asked him to hold a special election. He wanted Kemp to hold an election to throw out the results of the November election and do a new one all based on Trump's lies about voter fraud.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Let me handle it. I'll call him up. I said, Brian, listen, you have a big election integrity problem in Georgia. I hope you can help us out and call a special election, and let's get to the bottom of it for the good of the country. Let's get to the bottom of it for the good of your state. Let's go, election integrity, what could be better than that? Sir, I'm sorry, I cannot do that. I said you cannot do that, and that's why -- let me tell you, this guy is a disaster. He's a disaster.


BERMAN: Joining me now, Bill Kristol, former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle and director of Defending Democracy Together. Bill, thanks so much for being with us. This is the president saying it out loud, the former president, just saying it out loud. He's not embarrassed by his public in broad daylight lies about the 2020 election.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Good morning, John and Brianna. No, he's not. You said he confessed, and that's true in a legal sense, but as you then said correctly, he's not embarrassed. And the key is he can't be embarrassed. He's not going to apologize. The whole point is to normalize this. And, as Brianna said, the Republican Party is now carrying this message of denying the facts about the election and of committing, in a sense, to the possibility at least of overturning the next one. It's not just Donald Trump. So the whole point of the enterprise here is not to apologize, is not to cover it up. It's to normalize this.

BERMAN: And talk to me more about the fact that the point isn't 2020, the point is 2024.

KRISTOL: Totally. Maybe a little bit 2022, incidentally, in states where there might be close elections. No, the point is that Trump has a party -- if Donald Trump were an ex-president who were out wailing away at the injustices that were done to him and sulking and screaming and yelling and everyone was kind of ignoring him, that would be one thing. He dominates the party. Mitch McConnell said last week that he is fine with all these candidates who are running as almost exaggerated versions of Trump in different Senate primaries and totally embracing the election law.

Here in Virginia we have a candidate who has tried to put a little distance from Trump, very, very delicately, but basically will not repudiate the election law. He will not say he would have voted to uphold the election -- would have voted if he were a member of Congress to uphold the election on January 6th. We have a political party that is being organized to possibly overturn the results of the election in 2024, and the voters of that party and voters in general are being taught this is no big deal. In fact, this is kind of what it means to be a tough, good Republican and not to be a wimp like Brian Kemp.


That's why Trump goes after Brian Kemp so much. He wants to purge people like Kemp from the party and make it difficult or impossible for Republicans to succeed in elective office if they resist him. He's OK with some of them being quiet, I think, but the point is, if they're quiet, they'll ultimately go along.

BERMAN: It is interest. You bring up Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, who refuses to say how he would have voted to certify the election on January 6th were he in Congress. He refuses to say it. That should be a lay-up question for anyone who believes in truth. And the silence there isn't option three. It's not, oh, I'm not going to address this, because silence itself does something, which is what Liz Cheney was saying in an interview last night. Listen to what she says.


REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R-WY): When you look at the spread of these mistruths and the spread of the disinformation, silence enables it. Silence enables the liar. And silence helps it to spread.

When we allow that to continue to go on in the face of rulings of the courts, in the face of recounts, in the face of everything that's gone on to demonstrate that there was not fraud that would have changed the outcome, then we all, if we do that, we are contributing to the undermining of our system. And it's a really serious and dangerous moment because of that.


BERMAN: She is saying, Bill, the Republicans can't just look the other way.

KRISTOL: I think she said that extremely well. Silence is acquiescence, silence is enabling, and taking this kind of trying to be cute about it is also enabling. And the question is, will people pay a price, though? With voters, it's unclear whether, if you're a Republican operative, you think it's terrible that Trump cost, may have cost Republicans those two seats in Georgia on January 5th. But that's not what the whole party thinks and that's not the way the party is behaving.

And it's not clear where voters are honestly. My colleague Sarah Longwell has done focus group with many voters and reluctant, people who left Trump -- swing voters, and voters who stuck with Trump reluctantly. And what's striking is somehow it has not been brought home to them how dangerous the situation is. They kind of look at it, they're not paying very close attention, honestly. And they see the parties are squabbling, and maybe there was some election, some problems with the election, and who's to say? You let this stuff go, though, you don't confront it, it really could become deeply damaging to our democracy.

And again, the people who are most effective at confronting it would be Republicans, people who might have voted for Trump once or sympathetic to the policy goals of -- some of the policy goals of Trump. That's why Liz Cheney is now such an important figure, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. But how many of them are there, John? How many?

BERMAN: You just named two, and I think there may be a couple more, but it's not much more than that. I've got to let you go, but constitutional crisis as Robert Kagan wrote over the weekend, is it a crisis?

KRISTOL: Yes, it's a crisis for democracy.

BERMAN: Crisis for democracy. Bill Kristol, thank you for being with us this morning.

KEILAR: A potentially significant development in the Gabby Petito death investigation. On Sunday the FBI was back at the Laundrie family home in Florida to collect personal items belonging to her fiance, Brian Laundrie. They appear to be trying to match some DNA samples here.

So here to try to help us understand more of the challenges in this case, Zeke Unger, who is a bounty hunter and fugitive investigator with over 40 years of experience. Zeke, first thing's first here. What does this tell you, they're trying to collect items that it appears they're using for DNA comparison. What does that tell you?

ZEKE UNGER, BOUNTY HUNTER, FUGITIVE INVESTIGATOR: I think it tells us two things. One is that they're trying to pin him directly to the homicide by using DNA samples, and also that they want to start using canines, and possibly that DNA and the scent will allow the canines to do what they do very well, and that's to attempt to locate the fugitive.

KEILAR: OK, so look, he's not being called a suspect at this point, just to be clear here. He's certainly being investigated for spending money, at least $1,000 that was not his, right? But he's obviously someone they're intensely interested, and there is a manhunt under way. With that, knowing that you have searched for many individuals, where do you start with this? How do you go about searching for someone in this situation?

UNGER: The first thing is I believe he is a suspect and they're just not letting that out yet. I believe that they have information that they're not disseminating to the public.

In the fugitive game we say never assume, always investigate. And they have a lot of leads coming in different parts of the country. The problem is he's evaded twice now. He's evaded detectives on his interview.


And he's also evaded now by giving false information to his parents, which was disseminated to law enforcement. And law enforcement took the red herring and went to Florida deep in the swamp there to look for him for a week, which gave him the ability to have a week's jump on law enforcement, so you have to be very careful about chasing red herrings in the fugitive game. You have to look at fact and you have conduct your investigation accordingly.

KEILAR: So you put no credence in what he may have told his parents or his family and you put no credence in what the family related to law enforcement, it sounds like. So then where does that leave, where does that leave this search, using perhaps social media, using tips and that kind of thing. Where do you go from here in a search like this?

UNGER: I think you have to stand down momentarily and take a big look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the investigation. And then what you do is you reach out to law enforcement areas in which you think that the suspect may be in, along with social media. You have to remember that fugitives will usually go where they feel comfortable. Many fugitives are caught within miles of their home. He spent a lot of time in the Appalachians. I'm starting to gear my investigation towards the Appalachian ridge. Rural and easy to hide. Also, everyone's wearing masks right now, so it's hard for facial recognition, so when your tips are coming in, it makes it even harder to disseminate whether that is actually your target or not.

KEILAR: Zeke, look, this is the hunt that continues, and we appreciate you being with us to talk about it. Zeke Unger, thanks.

UNGER: Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: The week from hell on Capitol Hill, so much hangs in the balance -- possible shutdown, arguments about paying the debt, infrastructure. We'll tell you how lawmakers are dealing with this in this last-minute push to get through President Biden's agenda.

KEILAR: And built for trauma, not for an influx of COVID patients, Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside the hospital where he has worked for 20 years, and we'll talk about the challenges that the staff is now facing.

BERMAN: And the DHS whistleblower who says former President Trump wanted the U.S. to lie about Russia, the border, and white supremacy.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A week from hell. That is what one Democratic member of Congress says is now upon them in Washington with legislative deadlines colliding and President Biden's agenda at stake. There's the threat of a government shutdown and the possible default on the U.S. debt.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to hold a key test vote to fund the government and raise the debt limit, which pays debts already incurred by the United States.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, the House may take up to $3.5 trillion spending package over 10 years that has divided Democrats. The divide between moderates and progressives threatens to perhaps sink that spending bill, which in the words of one prominent Democrat would be disastrous.

Debate on the bipartisan crafted trillion dollar infrastructure bill begins today in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says a vote on that will be held on Thursday. The Federal government is set to run out of money on Friday if Congress doesn't pass a new government funding bill by then.

So a major player in all of this this week is West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who is trying to bend the domestic agenda to his will. The Democrat is opposed to the top line number of $3.5 trillion in spending over 10 years, but what will the plans inside that proposal actually do for his constituents, for the people in West Virginia? John Avlon with the Reality Check?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, all roads to the Democrats' chance of success this week seem to go through West Virginia, whose senator is Joe Manchin is in a make or bake position for the Biden presidency and the razor thin Democratic majority.

There's been a lot written about the red state Democrats disproportionate influence, much of it along the lines of the Kanye West lyric, "No one man should have all that power." But there just might be some strategic symbiosis here because West Virginia would benefit big time from their post Democratic budget.

Well, Democrats would benefit big time for more red state representatives. After all, the reason they can't afford to lose a vote is because they literally have no margin for error. And right now the clock is ticking as they count the hours.

So let's start with facts first. West Virginia is a one-time Democratic stronghold that swung right going from an all Democratic House delegation in 1998 to an all Republican slate in 2014.

Manchin, a former Governor is the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation winning re-election in 2018 between Donald Trump's 268 percent wins in the state. So, to put it bluntly, no Joe Manchin, no Democratic control of the Senate.

Well, John Denver called the state "Almost heaven" going into this hell week, West Virginia's got more than its share of challenges with the largest population drop in the U.S. over the past decade. It has the nation's sixth highest poverty rate, even though unemployment rate is now below the national average at five percent.

But with almost one in five children living in poverty, that's before the pandemic, West Virginia would benefit from the extension of the child tax credit, child nutrition programs and universal pre-K proposed in the Democrats budget. Likewise, only 40 percent of the state had dental insurance as of 2012.

So the proposed expansion of the Medicare to cover dental, as well as vision and hearing can make a meaningful difference in people's lives. Now, a lot of the debate around the Biden budget concerns climate change mitigation, clean energy, and West Virginia is of course, coal country, and that's been a powerful culture wedge issue used against liberal environmentalists, but many of the proposals are about incentivizing renewable energy investment and Manchin has proposed his own American Jobs and Energy Manufacturing Act together.

That's probably more than $20 billion investment in the state and create thousands of new jobs while moving to nearly 80 percent emission free power generation by 2030. And then, there's hard infrastructure, the other trillion dollar bipartisan bill hanging in the balance now.

West Virginia got D grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers for bridges, dams, roads, drinking water, and wastewater. For example, 21 percent of the state's bridges are structurally deficient. That's three times the national average.


AVLON: And proposals put billions into rural broadband could also help the fact that, quote, "Internet service in West Virginia is slower and more expensive than the rest of the country." That's not to say there isn't room in the bill for pruning and negotiation, which Manchin will do, citing excessive spending and concerns about inflation.

But big picture, Biden is betting the Democrats can begin to win back some of the blue collar voters they've lost in recent decades by delivering on bread and butter economic issues, while sidestepping some of the culture war debates that have cost them rural and red state votes.

And progressives who are tempted to balk at nothing less than a redux of LBJ's great society ignore the fact that he had super majorities in the House and Senate, including a lot of rural representation.

Under Biden, there just aren't the margins to make the perfect enemy of the good, and there is no room to punt another quarter with the midterm elections looming.

So, it's time to put up or shut up. That's your reality check.

BERMAN: You know, Manchin always says he's got to be able to go back and explain proposals to his constituents. It sounds like from what you're saying, if he explained a lot of what's in this bill to his constituents, maybe they'd like it.

AVLON: That's exactly right. This is stuff that is designed to help people who have been struggling for a long time. That describes a lot of voters in West Virginia. That's what this bill is designed to do.

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

A former Department of Homeland Security whistleblower now speaking publicly says the Trump team manipulated Intelligence and return to the White House would be a disaster. He joins us next.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A Department of Homeland Security whistleblower speaking out publicly for the first time. Brian Murphy, the Acting Undersecretary for Intelligence at D.H.S. during the Trump administration, says Trump appointees covered up Intelligence about Russian interference and white supremacy because those topics made the then President look bad.

The new comments from Murphy are shedding some fresh light now on allegations that he previously made in a whistleblower complaint last year. Murphy who is a Republican and voted for Trump in 2016 says he faced quote, "intense pressure to take intelligence and fit a political narrative."

Murphy's last day at D.H.S. was on Friday, and he is with us now to talk about this.

Thank you so much for being with us today.


KEILAR: You say that you were told to lie about multiple topics. Which topics?

MURPHY: So, it was really anything that made the President look bad, but from the moment I arrived there, there were three main topics that really would draw the ire of the administration. They were anything to do with white supremacy, Russian disinformation, and the southwest border.

KEILAR: And so why? Just simply because it made the President look bad?

MURPHY: That was it. Yes. They were topics that the President, I presumed, did not want to be addressed, and did not want to hear about and didn't want anyone else to hear about.

KEILAR: And did officials confront the fact that just ignoring these things could be problematic?

MURPHY: I think it was more than just ignoring them. It was to manipulate the Intelligence to fit that political narrative. So yes, they also did not want things to come out, but they wanted to shape it in a way that would support the President's objectives.

KEILAR: Ken Cuccinelli, who is a top official in the Trump administration is someone who -- I mean, tell us about this interaction that you had with him? Was this in person? What did he say?

MURPHY: Yes. So, I met with Ken Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf on an almost daily basis to brief them on Intelligence. And, you know, at one point, I had articulated -- at many points, articulated to him that I was concerned about what was happening. I thought it was unethical, and there were probably violations of law. And he would, you know, constantly tell me to keep my mouth shut, and to do what he said, and I refused.

KEILAR: So you started complaining. This whistleblower complaint wasn't the only time.

MURPHY: Yes. So, right after I arrived at D.H.S. in 2018 from the F.B.I., it was intense. And those three issues I just talked about were immediately told to me that these are things that, you know, aren't going to either come out, or we're going to change the narrative, Intelligence, and I issued my first I.G. complaint in 2018, really, four or five months after I arrived, and then again in March of 2019.

So you know, by the time it came to 2020, I had a target on my back. I've been told multiple times, they knew that I was the one behind these I.G. complaints, it was only a matter of time before I'd get fired.

KEILAR: So who said that to you? Who basically said, hey, we need to change the narrative? And did they actually use words like "change the narrative"?

MURPHY: So I was told by virtually all the senior departmental officials --

KEILAR: Chad Wolf?

MURPHY: Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli, and many others, and the words they used were "I'm ordering you to change the outcome of these products," these Intelligence products we would do. And you know, I told them many times that I would not do that. And if they kept the pressure up, I would go to Congress or use the whistleblower path to make sure that it was addressed.

KEILAR: Ken Cuccinelli demanded that you modify what the Homeland Threat Assessment specifically on the topic of white supremacy.

MURPHY: That's right. So we completed the Homeland Threat Assessment in March of 2020, and it doesn't go out for months. And the reason for that is Ken Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf and others consistently wanted several areas change. One was on the white supremacy part and the other was on the Russian disinformation.

KEILAR: Did they explain why they thought that made President Trump look bad?

MURPHY: So Cuccinelli told me that you know, because of the President's statements in Charlottesville, and then more as the spring and summer of 2020 went along, as it related to the murder of George Floyd and other things, you know in that time era, that it would make the President look bad. I mean, those were his exact words.