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Stopping the Big Lie Cult from Destroying Democracy; Trump- Backed Arizona Candidate on Biden Win; Michael James Scott is Interviewed about Broadway's "Aladdin" Cancellation; Ben Smith is Interviewed on the Latest Ozy News. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 08:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The people who contested and continue to contest the 2020 election now using it as a campaign platform. Remember, this isn't just about 2020. This is about the future of the country.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In the latest sign that our democracy is in danger, the Trump endorsed candidate for Arizona governor, a former local Fox anchor named Kari Lake, said she would not have certified the 2020 election, citing information about serious irregularities. Now that's despite the fact the even the hyper partisan Arizona fraud-it (ph) concluded that Biden won the state by an even larger margin than initially reported. This isn't about the facts, it's about the cult of the big lie. The people who back this B.S. are not patriots. They're either cowards or fools. Cowards of politicians who privately know better and fools if they continue to be duped by an anti-constitutional conman. Either way, they're complicit in an ongoing attempt to undermine our democracy.

Because this is about more than one candidate thirty to win a right- wing primary. There have been Republican-led audits of election results in five states and none of them have found any evidence of mass voter fraud. That's, of course, in line with the more than 60 cases where claims brought by Trump's allies were found to be baseless and bogus, something that Trump's own campaign knew at the time. And now Texas Governor Greg Abbott's getting bulled into submission by Trump's demands that the lone star state review the results of the election in a state he won by five points.

Make no mistake, this is about validating voter suppression and election subversion, because already GOP legislators in at least 18 states have enacted 30 new laws that do things like empower state officials to take control of county election boards, strip secretaries of state of their executive authority or make local election officials criminally or financially liable even for technical errors.

[08:35:03] And, get this, 10 of the 15 Republican candidates running for secretary of state in five battlegrounds still question whether Trump really lost the election. That's according to Reuters. This if they win, that's the equivalent of putting the member of the Flat Earth Society in charge of NASA.

Now, Trump's lies have taken over the Republican Party. They are disfiguring our democracy. And attempts to downplay the danger are not likely to age better than former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's infamous op-ed, promising that if he loses, Trump will concede gracefully.

As the Trump virus continues to spread, we need to inoculate our democracy from its intended effect, which is the overturning of an election. And while Senator Joe Manchin continues his quixotic effort to convince ten Republicans to back his imminently reasonable election reform bill, there's an even more targeted effort which could gain some Republican support. It's an urgently needed clarification of an obscure 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act. Now, this is the same murky and messy law that Trump lawyer John Eastman attempted to exploit in his six-point memo for how to conduct a coup.

Among the law's many deficiencies, the act allows state legislators to appoint a slate of electors regardless of how its citizens voted if the state failed to make a choice on Election Day, a circumstance the law does not currently define.

In addition, it allows an objection to the counting of the state's electoral votes to occur if only one senator and one member of the House sign on. It should be a much higher threshold.

Now, the law, notably, does not give the vice president discretion to ignore state electors, as Trump reportedly wanted Mike Pence to do, saying, wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power? Yes, he said that.

But to remove any tyrannical temptations, it should clarify that the vice president is a mere functionary when it comes to counting election results. This reform is needed to avoid another contested election and a new constitutional crisis. And it's already gotten cross-aisle repeal backed by center right thing tanks like AEI and the Kato Institute.

Fanatics don't care about facts, and that's why we need to strengthen our laws now. So attempts to overturn the next election by Trump right (ph) apparatchiks do not succeed.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

I want to bring in CNN political commentator and former Republican congresswoman from Utah, Mia Love.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us. As John points out there, the issue now is that there are Republicans

running for office for whom the big lie is a central platform. And in 2024, they'd be in a position to do something about it.

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Unfortunately, Kari Lake has an opportunity to talk about what she's going to do for the state of Arizona. How is she going to make things better? But, instead, she's focused on -- the main campaign platform is that she would have done things differently than Governor Ducey, that she would -- she wouldn't have certified the elections. And so it's really interesting because she is not giving anybody in Arizona any hopes as to what she will be doing. It's completely focused on whether it's her idea or not, whether it's what she wants to do or not. She made the statement that she would not have certified the votes, so that's what the campaign has become about, instead of, hey, this is what we're going to do in the future and how we're going to help Arizona really have a leg up.

BERMAN: What's to keep -- if some of these candidates get elected, what's to keep them from overturning an election going forward?

LOVE: Well, unfortunately, I don't know what's to keep them from doing that. And I think that it's going to -- people are going to be a little concerned about where her priorities are. Same thing with Greg Abbott. Instead of pledging his allegiance to Donald Trump, he really needs to pledge his allegiance to the United States and to the state of Texas. And it seems as if they're removing themselves from the very people that have voted them in and are focusing on whether the president is going -- the former president is going to run for office again. And I -- and, unfortunately, I think that some of these elected officials are hedging their bets and I think it's going to be detrimental, not just for them, but for the people that they represent.

BERMAN: Well, what is the incentive structure right now inside the Republican Party? Isn't the incentive structure set up for them to do exactly what they're doing?

LOVE: Well, the incentive -- I think the -- what they're afraid of is, one, not being able to fundraise. They're using that Trump train in order to gain money. And it's the -- it's the outside of that, the absolute opposite of that which is fear. And that fear is, I'm not going to get the support or the money that I would like to get. And right now what you're seeing in terms of Republicans, there is this turmoil. Instead of talking about what is happening in Washington, what is happening in the state, they're trying to -- it's self- preservation.


It's trying to make sure that they get the votes that they want and the funding that they want. And I think that there are some people that really need to look at this and say, I don't need Trump in order to do this. There are so many -- he is the past. In order for the Republican Party to actually move forward without the president, they need to ignore the former president. BERMAN: I want to ask you something about what the former president

said over the weekend at Yahoo! Finance. He was asked about Governor Ron DeSantis, what would happen if Ron DeSantis ran in a presidential primary against Donald Trump. Trump said, if I faced him, I'd beat him like I would beat everyone else. I don't think I will face him. I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out.

What do you think about that?

LOVE: I think Ron DeSantis -- I worked with Ron DeSantis before. And I think Ron DeSantis should continue to run for governor and -- for the governor of Florida and not to worry about Donald Trump. And I think Ron DeSantis would actually give him a run for his money.

Again, Ron -- the president is going to be -- the former president's going to be on your side as long as you pledge your allegiance to him. That is it. And if you show signs that you are moving away and that you have your own aspirations, watch out, because he's coming after you.

BERMAN: Mia Love, great to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.

LOVE: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Up next, we talk to the star of a Broadway show now canceling performances because of COVID.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a bizarre new turn this morning in the saga over the digital media company Ozy after it was exposed. Why the founder says they're not shutting down after all.



KEILAR: Just two days and three performances into their return to Broadway, the curtain has come down on "Aladdin," just for now. After 18 long months, the show returned on September 28th, only to close on the 29th due to a positive PCR COVID test, a breakthrough case in the show's company which is fully vaccinated. The show reopened their doors on Thursday before shutting them on Friday after more breakthrough cases were reported. This hit musical has paused performances now until October 12th. This is the first show on Broadway to deal with breakthrough cases. Likely it will not be the last.

Joining us now is Michael James Scott. He plays the genie in Disney's "Aladdin" on Broadway.

MJS, thank you so much for being with us.

I know this must be just an incredible disappointment to be stopping and starting like this when I'm sure you want to be right there on the stage.

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT, THE GENIE IN DISNEY'S "ALADDIN" ON BROADWAY: Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It is wonderful to join you all this morning and get a chance to chat.

Yes, it has been devastating and emotional to say the least. You know, I'm ready to perform, to dance, to sing, to do my thing and as all of us were and are still ready to do what we love to do.

KEILAR: But, look, I mean, you will be back, right? You'll be back on October 12th. And just to be clear, your show, your company is pretty careful. You require the entire production staff to be vaccinated, as we saw the entire production, not just production staff. You all take numerous PCR tests each week to catch cases if there are any, which is the case that happened here. You're working with an epidemiologist. You have vigorous safety protocols in place, right?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean thank you for sharing that because I -- I do want it to be clear that we have had these protocols in from day one, right? And so it has -- it is -- it's sort of like a very reality kind of craziness of this time that nothing is for sure a guarantee. As rigorous of testing as we have had in all the things, however, we are doing everything we can to get back. And we do get to say that we're coming back on the 12th. We're not coming back 18 months later, which is what we were experiencing before and the uncertainty of what was happening and the pandemic before.

So this is a new day and we are moving forward. You know, listen, there have been 16 other Broadway shows that are open currently and it is working.


SCOTT: We are -- we are moving forward. We are doing all the things.

And, like you said, we are the first that have had to shut down, but they're -- we're -- everyone's trying to figure out what to do and how to maneuver through this time. However, we are making it work and we are working.


SCOTT: So, you know, to -- to get it back. And we will be back, which is amazing.

KEILAR: So, I mean, this is a breakthrough case. You all have the protection of the vaccine. What do you have to do going forward if you're a performer? Are you just -- I mean are you going to silo kind of in a way because even a breakthrough case you see how this really gets in the way of production.

SCOTT: Listen, I'm praying. No, OK, I'm like, it is, it is -- no, it is -- it is -- it is like the -- one of the things that I know, I am doing everything I can. I can speak for myself, obviously, right? So I am doing everything that I can for Michael James Scott to be healthy, to be safe and walk-through life in this time so that I can go back to my job and -- as well as my other cast members, you know, and including some of the cast members who did have breakthrough cases. You know, every -- we are all working through to make sure that we can come back individually and what that means for our personal lives with our families and all the things that we have to do to really now be conscious of, as we do come back, it is a new reality. It can happen. It is happening. But now, you know, I've got to -- this week I've still got to go to the gym with my mask on. I've got to swim my laps. I've got to warm up. I've got to do all the things to be ready for next Tuesday when we reopen on the 12th.

KEILAR: Yes. Incredibly challenging. You know, a day in the life of a Broadway star such as yourself.


MJS, it is wonderful to speak with you this morning. We cannot wait for you to get back on stage. Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Please come back. The audiences are ready to come back, which is really amazing. They -- they still want us back. We're all ready to come back. So we will be here. It's happening. It's just a week later.

KEILAR: October 12th. We'll see you then.

Michael James Scott, thank you.

President Biden speaking at the White House later this morning about the debt ceiling battle. We'll have live coverage here on CNN.

BERMAN: And, next, a new twist in the Ozy saga. The beleaguered digital company that said it was shutting down for a second after bizarre allegations. Wait until you hear what happened now.



BERMAN: All right, just in, this happened just moments ago. The founder of the digital media company Ozy did an interview on the "Today" show and said that his company will not shut down after all.


CARLOS WATSON, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, OZY MEDIA: Yes, were going to open for business. So we're making news today. This is our Lazarus moment, if you will. This is our Tylenol moment. Last week was traumatic. It was difficult. Heartbreaking in many ways. And, at the end of the week, we did suspend operations with the plan to wind down. But as we spent time over the weekend, we talked to advertising partners, we talked to some of our readers, some of our viewers, our listeners, our investors. I think Ozy is -- is part of this moment. And it's not going to be easy. But I think what we do with newsletters is what we do with TV shows, original TV shows, podcasts and more I think has a place.


BERMAN: That was Carlos Watson who said just a few days ago the company would wind down operations after reports suggested it had defrauded investors and grossly inflated audience numbers. The reporter who broke this story wide open with just a series of bizarre tales, Ben Smith, media columnist for " The New York Times." He joins me now.

Ben, I guess in a second we'll rewind and tell our viewers how we got to this point. But, just, first, your reaction, Carlos Watson says that Ozy's not shutting down after all.

BEN SMITH, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, I -- you know, I spoke to him yesterday and he was just totally defiant. He thinks that Ozy did absolutely nothing wrong and that - and that there is -- and that there is -- and that there's nothing sort of misleading about -- about having essentially purchased your entire audience to something you claim is a hit show, for instance. It has a sort of exotic theory about how audiences work that he is defending and that he's hoping that the advertising industry in particular will go along with.

BERMAN: So there's several different aspects to your initial report. Number one, as you just said, that Ozy is inflating -- artificially inflating audience numbers and telling people it's getting more views than it really is. But beyond that, there's also just this tale of a flat-out impersonation where someone that Carlos Watson worked with there purported to be some guy at YouTube on a conference call with Goldman Sachs. That's just dishonest fundamentally.

SMITH: Yes, there are a number of really flat-out lies they told. You know, beginning that they were -- had this thing called "The Carlos Watson Show." They hired this very experienced crew and told them it would air on A&E. And then it turned out it was just a video they were posting to YouTube which they said -- they then told other people this is a special YouTube thing. YouTube is paying for it. And Carlos said that in writing. And that wasn't true.

And then they're trying to get Goldman to invest and when they -- and they -- I think they want someone to say, look how great our relationship is with YouTube. And, ultimately, their relationship is they just post videos to a website like you could or I could. And so they put somebody -- they -- you know, they impersonate a YouTube executive to make themselves look good. And I do think, you know, they also have posters up all around New York, although particularly, by the way, near ad agencies that -- that, with quotes that say, the fastest showing show on YouTube, that is also, you know, not -- not the case.

BERMAN: What's the bigger picture here, Ben? Is this, as you say, someone just faking it till they make it or does this cross a different line?

SMITH: Well, you know, the -- impersonating -- when you're lying to investors -- lying to advertisers, sadly perhaps, I think, is fairly common. And perhaps, I don't know -- I don't -- honestly don't understand why the advertising industry lets people get away with it. But I think they're always embarrassed to tell their bosses that they've been fooled, and that's part of it, and their clients. But lying to investors is different. Lying to investors is securities fraud. And so the impersonation is a sort of textbook case of securities fraud, although, you know, Ozy's argument is, a, the guy had a mental health problem and that's why -- we don't -- we don't know if that's true. And, b, the deal never went through, so, you know, ultimately, no harm no foul.

BERMAN: Ben --

SMITH: And the question is -- I mean I think the question will be, was it part of a pattern in terms of their relationship with investors in particular.

BERMAN: He says he's not closing. He says Ozy's still open for business. Is that -- is that possible? Is that viable going forward? What do you think?

SMITH: I think it will be basically up to advertisers, whether, you know, the tradeoff of not having an audience -- not having any real organic audience is worth being aligned with content that, you know, is the sort of thing advertisers love, you know, diverse millennials, Republicans, Democrats, Madison Cawthorn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all getting along and having deep conversations across party lines. I mean it's kind of an imaginary content for which there is no audience, but advertising agencies love it because it's at least not going to stress anybody out and it allows them to feel like they're participating in the social movements of the moment. It's the kind of -- you know, the Kendall Jenner with the Pepsi can, it's kind of that (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Of course they're going to have to work with somebody who has all these allegations swirling about him.


Ben Smith, media columnist for " The New York Times," as I said, terrific reporting. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SMITH: Thanks for having me, John. Good to see you.

BERMAN: CNN's coverage continues right now.