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"CHASING LIFE WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA" Debuts Tonight 9PM Eastern; "Some People Did Something"; Are Dems Headed For A Convention Slugfest?; How Political Divide Prevents Fixing Immigration Crisis; AG Barr: "I Think Spying Did Occur" On Trump Campaign"; AG Barr to Investigate Spying; Abortion Debate Continues. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired April 13, 2019 - 09:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY WEEKEND: Well, we're looking forward to watching the episode tonight at 9 Eastern.

PAUL: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Be sure to watch "CHASING LIFE WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA." Premieres tonight at 9 only on CNN.


PAUL: "SMERCONISH" is next. We'll see you in an hour.

Michael SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Look, I'm a never forget guy. I'm of the opinion that we don't see the imagery of 9/11 often enough. It seems relegated to just once a year, usually on the anniversary, but this is not what I had in mind.

Thursday's "New York Post" cover showed images of the Twin Towers burning down on September 11 juxtaposed with a quote from representative Ilhan Omar. The quote was from remarks she made at a March 23rd banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Her description of 9/11 as, "Some people did something," has now caused a firestorm. Well, here's some context.


ILHAN OMAR, US REPRESENTATIVE: Far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second class citizen and frankly, I'm tired of it and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.


SMERCONISH: "Washington Post" fact checker Glenn Kessler among those who pointed out that CAIR was founded in 1994, not after September 11. Omar's spokesperson Jeremy Slevin said, "The congresswoman misspoke, meant to refer to the fact that the organization had doubled in size after the September 11th attacks." There has been a full-throated reaction from both sides of the aisle. Texas Republican congressman and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw tweeted this, "First member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as, 'some people who did something.' Unbelievable."

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, "This woman is a disgrace." On "Fox and Friends," co-host Brian Kilmeade said this.


BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX AND FRIENDS CO-HOST: Really? There's some few (ph) people that did something? You have to wonder if she's an American first.


SMERCONISH: Others faulted the "New York Post." Michigan Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib said, "Taking Omar's words out of context was a pure racist act." Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was similarly appalled.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: We are getting to a level where this is an incitement of violence against progressive women of color and if they can't figure out how to get it back to policy, we need to call it out for what it is because this is not normal and this is not a normal level of political debate or rhetoric. As wild as it can get sometimes, this is something beyond what is normal.


SMERCONISH: The "New York Post" didn't back off, instead running a follow-up editorial that doubled down saying, "Omar and her supporters simply want to stifle debate by declaring any criticism of her to be out of bounds and Democrats are playing along, either echoing the out of context excuse or just staying silent. It's even worse than their failed effort to condemn her remarks accusing American Jews of dual loyalty and of buying political support for Israel. The dodges may play well on Twitter, but we suspect most Americans will remain appalled."

Then Congresswoman Omar made things worse with another tweet. She cited President George W. Bush's quote, "The people and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," and asked, "Was Bush downplaying the terrorist attack? What if he was a Muslim?"

By the way, I don't think the comparison is a good one. President Bush, unlike Omar, wasn't ignoring the perpetrators of 9/11. Hell, he was threatening revenge against them. And yesterday, President Trump joined the fray himself with this tweet which incorporated grisly images of the towers with her quote.

Everybody has had their say except me, so here goes. I think that at best her words were poorly chosen. Never should anyone, much less a member of Congress, minimize September 11 by saying that some people did something. Better that in making a point about civil liberties, she had correctly noted that terrorists killed 3,000 innocent Americans, robbing them of all of their civil liberties.

I can understand why she might have been uncomfortable using the words "radical Islam" in front of an Islamic group, but here's what she should have said. She should have said CAIR doubled in size after 9/11 because it recognized that in the aftermath of the most despicable and heinous terror attack on our country, which was perpetrated by individuals who distorted our faith, law-abiding peace-loving Muslims were losing access to all of our civil liberties.

[09:05:01] After I made that point on Sirius XM Radio, a friend of mine objected and he said, "Omar's being held to a different standard because she's a Muslim." And that made me reconsider. What if it had been a different type of political leader who similarly sought to make Representative Omar's point about the curtailment of civil liberties post 9/11? After all, that's a Libertarian mantra.

What if a Libertarian leader, maybe Ron Paul, was speaking at an affinity group like Cato and similarly said some people did something that caused the rest of us to lose all of our civil liberties, would he have faced the same reaction as Congresswoman Omar? Probably not. Here's the bottom line. Her words were totally inappropriate and so too was much of the reaction.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Answer this survey question. The "New York Post" cover using 9/11 photo to condemn Ilhan Omar, was that morally and journalistically wrong or fair comeback to her 9/11 comment? Give you the results at the end of the hour.

Now, looking ahead to the 2020 election, are the Democrats headed for a nasty slugfest at the 2020 convention? Remember that Donald Trump won in 2016 by taking advantage of the crowded GOP field and the winner-take-all geo primary rules to grab an unexpected victory. My next guest says that in 2020, the President could again benefit thanks to similar factors -- a crowded field, primary rules, but this time on the Democratic side of the aisle and it could lead to a floor fight at the convention.

Joining me now to discuss is David Wasserman, House editor at "The Cook Political Report." He wrote this recent piece in "The New York Times," "Trump May Have an Unlikely Re-Election Ally." David, hypothetical, if the 2016 Republican contest had been fought under Democratic rules, what would have been the outcome?

DAVID WASSERMAN, HOUSE EDITOR, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: It absolutely would have gone to a contested convention. Look, everyone knows that Democrats are headed for a zillion way primary field. And you might say, look, well, you know, that didn't hurt Donald Trump's chances in a 17 way field in 2016, but Republicans' and Democrats' primary rules are fundamentally different in a way that penalizes Democrats for having a large field.

The reason is that Republicans are more about free markets and they allocate most of their delegates on a winner-take-all basis which allowed Trump to wrap up the nomination fairly early, gave himself two more months before the convention to attack Hillary Clinton and kind of jackhammer away at her.

Democrats' rules are more egalitarian. Everyone gets a participation trophy, everyone gets a share of delegates as long as they have more than 15 percent of the vote in any district or state. And so what that means is if you have seven or eight viable candidates next spring, then you're going to have a scenario where it's very, very difficult for one candidate to get 50 percent of the delegates before the convention and that means -- and this is the irony of the DNC's rule change on super-delegates.

Even though they don't get a first vote at the convention on a -- on a first ballot, if this thing goes to a second or third or fourth ballot, the irony is those super-delegates, which the grassroots hates, could end up having even more say in deciding who the Democratic nominee is.

SMERCONISH: Let me illustrate by showing a slide from South Carolina in 2016 and the final result in South Carolina. There it is. Thirty- two point five percent of the vote won by Donald Trump, a third, and yet he gets, David, all the delegates.

WASSERMAN: That's right and, you know, we didn't give Republicans enough credit, I don't think, in 2016 for just how much their primary process rewarded a front-running candidate who was winning small pluralities. In fact, you know, we said -- we looked at it and said, OK, well maybe winner-take-all by district.

Well, Donald Trump may have won 33 percent of the vote in South Carolina total, but he managed to eke out majorities in every district in South Carolina and this was repeated across the board to the point where he was able to get essentially a delegate majority, clinch the nomination before the convention and that's not true on the Democratic side.

And today's Democratic Party is highly fractious. This is not going to be a picnic. You have candidates who are raising enormous money from small donations, from grassroots, which will allow them to fight deeper into the primary calendar. We don't know when that checkered flag is really going to be on the Democratic side and also consider that Democrats have front-loaded their calendar, California and Texas have moved up their primaries to Super Tuesday.

So you will have 36 -- at least 36 percent of delegates allocated by early March which means that this primary will have allocated a whole lot of delegates before the herd has been called.

[09:10:05] Right. The point is -- and we're showing the graphic -- that Super Tuesday is going to be of critical importance and you're saying everyone will still be standing, 15 maybe 20 candidates. On March 3rd, the vote will get whacked proportionately and that will decrease the odds that someone on the Democratic side can do that which Donald Trump did on the Republican side which is to lock it up. Now, let me ask a question because I think you make a very convincing argument. Is this necessarily bad for the party? I mean, maybe it will energize the interest level if the thing goes down to the wire to the convention.

WASSERMAN: It could, but, look, what we found out in 2016 is that Donald Trump is an expert when it comes to prying open cracks in the opposing party's coalition. He is a highly manipulative politician, as we all know, but Democrats are a fractious party. There are Democrats who want nothing less than a Green New Deal, to abolish ICE, to -- for a single-payer health care.

There are also a new contingent of Democratic primary voters, I would argue, suburban Republicans whom Trump has converted to Democrats who bristle at those proposals. You have Democratic primary voters who don't want a septuagenarian, who don't want a white male, who don't want a coastal elite.

So there's a -- there's a broad array on this wish list and no Democrat I think is going to get everything they want in a nominee, but, you know, that could lead to a scenario where the President is able to kind of use social media and use ads on Facebook and other channels, as he did to kind of suppress elements of the Democratic coalition in 2016, to do the same in 2020.

SMERCONISH: Let me -- let me just roll some footage. Catherine, show the Bernie footage from the last cycle at the convention. Those Bernie folks at the convention were bummed. I mean that's them at the -- look at the misery in some of their faces because their guy went down and you know they thought that it was super-delegates. Actually, super- delegates didn't determine the outcome, but my point is there could be some very disappointed people if, in fact, it goes to the convention with a lot of candidates still viable at the outset.

WASSERMAN: That's right and, you know, kind of the myth from 2016 was that super-delegates, you know, swooped in and rigged the nominating process on the Democratic side for Hillary Clinton. Well, you know, the danger for Democrats in 2020 is not necessarily, you know, these super-delegates overriding the will of Democratic primary voters so much as the fact that the large field could lead to a very, very divisive ...


WASSERMAN: ... convention in Milwaukee. And, you know, this wasn't a danger for Democrats in 2008 or 2016 because the field boiled down very quickly to two candidates. It was virtually guaranteed that one of those candidates in those years would receive a delegate majority. That's not guaranteed in 2020.

SMERCONISH: Fascinating analysis. David Wasserman, thanks so much for coming back.

WASSERMAN: Thanks so much, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Remember, go to the website at Answer this week's survey question. The "New York Post" cover using 9/11 photo to condemn Representative Ilhan Omar, morally and journalistically wrong or fair comeback to her 9/11 comment? What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I'll read some during the course of the program. What do we have?

"She was 100 percent correct. Her delivery was just not eloquent." She was correct insofar as there were civil liberties sacrificed by the Muslim community, but I can't say she was 100 percent correct whereby omission she ignored the heinous nature of what happened on September 11. That's my view.

Up ahead, will we ever be able to solve the border situation? Not until people's views are based on data, I say, and not their perception of the President.

And when Attorney General Bill Barr discussed spying on the Trump campaign this week, he was talking about former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Mr. Page is here to discuss.




SMERCONISH: When so many people's views of the border situation are tied to their perception of the President, for or against him and not tied to the data, it's our nation that suffers. U.S. border authorities are predicting the number of undocumented migrants stopped or turned away at the southern border could reach as high as 1 million by the end of the year, potentially doubling last year's level, yet the issue has become a political football.

This was reinforced this week when we learned that the President wants to relocate migrants to sanctuary cities as a kind of punishment to the, quote/unquote, "radical left." CNN reported that the President told CBP head Kevin McAleenan that if he's jailed for blocking asylum seekers, the President would pardon him.

Joining me now is Dara Lind, Senior Correspondent at "Vox" who covers the immigration beat, author of the recent piece, "Nine questions about the border crisis you were too embarrassed to ask," which is perfect for me because she answered many of those that I was wondering. Dara, you say this, "This isn't a manufactured crisis or a politically engineered one." Explain.

DARA LIND, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, VOX: So for awhile, and this has diminished somewhat as it's become clear just how many people are coming in, but in the last couple of months, it was very tempting for Democrats to say, yes, there are problems, but the only problems at the border are those the administration has created.

It's since become apparent that the magnitude of Central American families coming into the U.S. really is something that we've just never seen before and that this isn't entirely something that the Trump administration has provoked, even if there are fairly strong arguments that the number of people getting caught by Border Patrol agents crossing illegally as opposed to presenting themselves at ports of entry would be maybe slightly reduced if the administration were putting more effort into allowing people to seek asylum at those ports.

SMERCONISH: The first question that you address, is there an unprecedented surge of unauthorized migration to the U.S.? What's the answer?

[09:20:02] LIND: So it's unprecedented in terms of who is coming. Definitely if you look at the top-line numbers, we're not really near where we were in the turn -- the turn of the 21st century, the George W. Bush administration, kind of pre-recession levels, we haven't hit those yet, although we're now at higher levels than we have been since 2007.

That said, what's different now is that a majority of people coming in are family members or unaccompanied minors and that's really something that we have, to all accounts, never seen before and because of the specific protections that are built into U.S. law for families, for children and for asylum seekers, that means that people can't just be kind of detained and easily deported, which is what the system is set up to do.

So border agents are in a position where they have to deal with people who they have to kind of give a certain standard of care, they have to treat in a certain way and they don't have the resources or structures to do that.

SMERCONISH: You published a graph -- I'm going to put it up on the screen -- of Border Patrol apprehensions October of 2011. Look at the spike when you get to where we are today. can you explain what's depicted in that?

LIND: Sure. It's important to bear in mind that if you compared that to, say, 2000, it would still look much lower than kind of the 2000 peak. What's really notable about that graph, and you can kind of see it in there, is the light -- the lightest color, the kind of parents and children and family units, are just so much higher than we've seen before.

There's a broad trend over the last several years to more people coming into the U.S. being families and that has been accelerated over the last six months or so to the point where it's now a solid 60 percent. The Trump administration argues that that's because U.S. law currently prohibits them from keeping families in detention until their cases are resolved.

There's probably something to the idea that, like, we know that smugglers are giving discounts for people who come as families, but it's not really clear that people who are coming to the U.S. have a perfect understanding of what exactly asylum law is. I've talked to asylum seekers who have no idea what exactly it is that they're claiming and don't really know what the process is going to be when they get there. SMERCONISH: Here was the takeaway. Tell me if I got it accurate. We have an unprecedented number of families and children coming in and we are not equipped to process and handle them. Is that fair?

LIND: That's absolutely fair. It's just -- the question is what processing and handling them looks like. The Trump administration is absolutely dead set that being able to process and handle them means being able to swiftly deport large numbers of them who don't necessarily ultimately qualify for asylum.

Democrats, on the other hand, are convinced that because some of them will ultimately qualify for asylum, the most important thing is to give them fair and humane treatment in the meantime to maximize the number who, if they do have legitimate asylum claims, will ultimately be able to stay in the U.S..

SMERCONISH: My criticism, final thought. My criticism of Democrats and progressives in this regard is that there's such hesitancy to use the C-word, crisis, because they regard that as giving the President a win. They think that they're playing into his hand if they acknowledge that we have a problem, but we have a problem.

LIND: It's really -- it's a big, hairy policy issue, right? At this point, we are dealing with a regional issue. Mexico's behavior -- Mexico's policy is extremely relevant here. The Northern Triangle countries and what they're going through is extremely relevant and, of course, let's not even get into the fact that this is much smaller than what we're seeing out of Venezuela that we don't even, as the U.S., have to deal with much.

So it's one of those issues that it would be a very large problem if there were willingness to attack it and so the crisis frame, while it does open the door to having that conversation, also might encourage the idea that there's just a very easy, very rapid fix, which I think is really what Democrats are worried about. They don't want the idea that you can just flip the switch, as the President appears to think you can do, and stop people from coming and it's very difficult to talk about how hard the problem is in a way that doesn't give politicians an easy way to solve it.

SMERCONISH: I'd like more conversation about data, which is, by the way, what you supplied at "Vox". Thank you, Dara. Appreciate it.

LIND: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. "My observation of the border is Trump has just made it worse. Trump is labeling a crisis of bad people when in reality it's tons of mothers and children fleeing a terrible situation."

Louis, I think that's what the data shows. I also think that there's a hesitancy, as I said to my guest, on the part of Democrats to acknowledge the level of crisis that we actually face whatever the causation might be because they think it gives him a win and justifies the wall. I don't know that the wall is going to solve the issues that are being faced right now. In fact, it probably wouldn't help the type of problem that we have.

[09:25:00] Up ahead, the anti-abortion movie "Unplanned" has made $14 million at the box office despite being shunned by traditional Hollywood. Is the story it tells accurate?

Plus, Attorney General Barr threw a grenade in Washington when he said, quote-unquote, "Spying occurred during the 2016 election," and it seems everybody in Washington has an opinion on it. What about the person at the center of that claim? The man himself, Carter Page, is here to discuss next.


SMERCONISH: In all the hours of congressional testimony by Attorney General Bill Barr this week, it was this answer that sent shockwaves through an already frenzied post-Mueller investigation.


WILLIAM BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.


BARR: But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated, and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: So what spying is Barr referring to? While he didn't elaborate, he's most likely talking about a situation involving a man by the name of Carter Page. Let's go back to the height of the 2016 campaign season.

In March of 2016, Trump named Page a member of his foreign policy team. In September, Page left the campaign after his communications with Russians came to light. Then in October, the FBI applied for a foreign surveillance warrant because the agency believed quote "Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government."

That warrant for surveillance on Page was approved and then renewed three different times. Page maintains that he was never an agent of a foreign power calling the accusations ridiculous. The president and republicans continually claim that because the FISA warrant helped launch the Russia probe, the whole investigation is tainted, and Barr's use of the word quote unquote "spying" seems to play right into that.

Joining me now is Carter Page. Carter, AG Barr uses that word, "spying," which to me has an illegal or illicit connotation, but in your case, you were surveilled pursuant to a court order. It was based on a finding of probable cause and it was renewed three different times, right?

CARTER PAGE, 2016 TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR: Kind of, I would say, Michael. A lot of that was based on exactly what we talked about two years ago this month in April of 2017, which is the dodgy dossier, paid for by the DNC and their candidate in 2016. Right around that time -- you refer to that September 2016 me stepping away, taking a leave of absence from the campaign. That was a couple of days after the defamatory article by Yahoo News and also by the Radio Free Europe, which is a propaganda network paid for by the broadcasting board of governors and their follow up agency in Washington. So it's absolutely, as I noted before, ridiculous.

SMERCONISH: But my -- my point is that when you say spying, I think it conjures up an image of, you know, G. Gordon Liddy at the Watergate. There was there a process here in which judges made four different determinations that the government had met some threshold of probable cause and that's why they were granted permission to surveil you.

PAGE: Okay. Well, that's two separate issues. Let me kind of go back to your first question on spying. Look, there's good spies there's bad spies, there's good cops and there's bad cops. What we found with new evidence, again, it's exactly as we talked about for ten minutes two years ago this month. There was a lot of wrong doing going on within the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, so that is a major problem. And in terms of those warrants, you know, we now have some initial details of those warrants in the FISA applications and granting the actual warrants themselves from the judges, and actually, the same month that you and I had that conversation in April of 2017, Judge Conway from the U.S. District court of Middle District of Florida signed off on a -- the fraud FISA warrant application by Mr. Comey, which had just been submitted; again, the same month as our conversation. So if they actually looked at the facts and listened to what I was saying, they might have avoided this complete mess that they're in right now.

SMERCONISH: OK, but that kind of - that kind of underscores if - if what you're telling me is you were still be surveilled at the time you were appearing on CNN with me, that was long after you were no longer associated with the Trump Campaign and the papadopoulos aspect of this is what began the investigation. The president is fond of saying, and I could put up a succession of tweets, I remember it was a Saturday, March of 2017, I guess, when he first, yeah there, "just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower." You know, it's really all about you and there was no Trump Tower aspect to this. But my point, Carter, is simply, the investigation began before you, and it was taking place with regard to you at a time when you'd cut your tie with the Trump Campaign.

PAGE: There's a -- we could talk for hours on a lot of those points, Michael, but let me kind of cut to the point on the series of tweets on March 4, 2017, two weeks later, the same person that the following month, the same month as our interview, Mr. Comey filed that fraudulent FISA warrant.

You know, he testified in Congress on March 20th that what he was saying, there's no evidence of that.


To the contrary, I spent a -- my office, when I used to work in New York is right next door to Trump Tower. I was in and out of there quite frequently. The Starbucks coffee, you know, the cafe downstairs, so there was absolutely spying in Trump Tower. There's no question about that. So, and you know, look...

SMERCONISH: No. Go ahead and finish your thought, but I want to ask another question.

PAGE: Look, I think there is a lot of -- look, there's a complete double standard kind of across the board in terms of, you know, these various investigations that have been going on, and I think what Attorney General Barr has been saying in terms of actually looking at what exactly happened, I think there's huge reason for that, you're talking about predicates. There's just a mountain of evidence of wrong doing, and you know, you compare those false FISA warrants, Michael to the pleadings that I have had in the Southern District of New York and now in the second circuit.

To this day, actually to last week on April 5th, the U.S. District -- or the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Berman, you know, is still filing these misleading statements and so it's a complete double standard where, you know, people are all over me, but, you know, these falsified court pleadings in various U.S. District courts, both the FISA court as well as Southern District of New York just go unquestioned. So I think there's...

SMERCONISH: A final thought, -- a final thought if I may. Very easily you get lost in the weeds of this case because it's complicated so let me try and simplify with this thought. Wouldn't the FBI have been derelict in not focusing on you, given that you were on their radar in 2013, you had the association with the Trump Campaign, you had met with the ambassador, however briefly in Cleveland, you gave that pro- Putin speech when you were in Moscow. You were headed back over there. I mean, there was a lot of stuff that if they hadn't focused on you, I as an American would be asking why not, is that not fair?

PAGE: The month before our interview in April of '17, I had the long series of interviews with the FBI, and I told them about, you know, Representative Ocasio-Cortez talking about incitement of violence. Right around the time of our interview, I was constantly getting death threats from Oklahoma, which is where the brunt of the injury was but really from across the nation, based on the incitement of violence that was paid for by the DNC and pushed by the democrats including Congressman Schiff during his testimony with Mr. Comey on March 20th where Mr. Comey made the false statement.

So, you know, there's a lot of things they should be focused on. I think it's unfortunate they did not focus on the incitement of violence here in the United States which they were very much a part of, and there was absolutely -- each of those points you alluded to on my side, I did nothing wrong and if you look at the First Amendment, you're allowed to have free speech, Michael, last I checked. At least some individuals are supposed to, but the, you know, it hasn't worked out that way thus far. Only the, you know, big massive media companies.

SMERCONISH: Thank you for coming back. Come back after we see the Mueller report and the IG report.

PAGE: Looking forward to it, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's check on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have? If our intelligence community thought Carter Page was a Russian operative, we are really in trouble. Bill(ph), I just laid out some of the criteria that caused them to want to take a look at him. I guess your argument is that they should have ignored all those factors, notwithstanding the fact that they were focused on Flynn and Manafort at the time. There was a lot of smoke and it surprises me that you as an American would say they shouldn't have looked at any of that.

One more quickly if I have time. Barr carrying Trump's water and not independent. Let's see what happens this week. It seems like we are about to finally read the Mueller report and hopefully it will not appear as Swiss cheese when we get a look. I want to remind you to answer the survey question at, results at the end of the hour, the "New York Post" cover using 9/11 photo to condemn Representative Ilan Omar, morally and journalistically wrong or fair comeback to her 9/11 comment?

Still to come, I'll talk with the producer of the surprise box office hit, it's an anti-abortion feature; "Unplanned" is the title. It's made $14 at the box office. Is what it depicts accurate?



SMERCONISH: Abortion very much in the news this week. On Thursday, the republican governor of Ohio signed into law a fetal heart beat bill. It's one of the most restrictive abortions laws which prohibits abortions if there's a detectable heart beat which can be as early as six weeks. The legal threshold set by the Supreme Court is that states can ban abortions at the point of viability which usually occurs at about 24 weeks, meaning this law is almost certainly headed for a legal fight.

This comes as the White House hosted a screening Friday of the anti- abortion movie, "Gosnell" about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion practitioner who was convicted of murder in my hometown of Philadelphia. According to "Politico" any abortion activists bill the event as a way to encourage the president to advance their cause as activists continue to push for support in the political arena.

The struggle over the production of a new movie, "Unplanned" suggests they're turning their sights toward Hollywood. It tells the story of Abby Johnson who became a pro-life activist after assisting in an abortion at 13 weeks when she was one of the youngest clinic directors of Planned Parenthood. Here's a preview. (BEGIN VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry to bother you, but they need an extra person in the back room. Are you free?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw it and it was like it was twisting and fighting for its life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We commend the souls of these hundreds of children and Lord, we pray to end abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really appreciate what you have done for us. I'll not forget it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twenty-two thousand abortions. How do I even comprehend that?


SMERCONISH: Joining me now is film producer Joe Knopp. Joe, how hard to make in Hollywood a prolife feature film?

JOE KNOPP, FILM PRODUCER: Well, it's hard to -- thanks for having me first, Michael. It's -- we struggled from the beginning as far as finance and then trying to get a location, that was also a struggle but the real struggle we have had was a marketing standpoint. We weren't able to get ads in all the normal places we like to get ads. We weren't able to get radio spots. We had struggled with social media, even after we released. So the hard part was getting the word out that the movie was available.

SMERCONISH: Nevertheless, you are on how many screens right now and have grossed how much going into the weekend?

KNOPP: Yes, so it's been great. We have already grossed $14 million in the box office. We jumped out number four in the country opening weekend, and then today we're on over 1,400 screens still in our third weekend.

SMERCONISH: It's pretty jarring to watch. I've watched the movie. You and I have had a prior conversation. Ten minutes or so in, you depict an ultrasound guided abortion where the patient is at 13 weeks. Abby, the protagonist says this was the epiphany moment for her because watching on the monitor she saw the fetus recoil. You know that the medical community says a fetus can't feel pain at that point and therefore, it's inaccurate. What's your response?

KNOPP: Well, you know, Abby has already been sued by Planned Parenthood. She won the case very quickly. But if you think about it, when the surgical instrumentation was entered into the safety of the womb and pokes the fetus, the fetus is going to react, just like you or I would react if an instrument touched us in the abdomen.

SMERCONISH: There's also controversy about whether this was the break point for her with Planned Parenthood. "Texas Monthly" wrote a lengthy feature in which they noted that on Facebook, on the very day that she quit, and again, for the benefit of those who have not seen it, she maintains she was asked nine years into her employment on this one day because they were shorthanded to play a role relative to this ultrasound guided abortion, and that was it. She walked out the door and never came back.

But that night, she wrote on her Facebook page what's now on the screen, "Here's the deal, I have been doing the work of two full-time people for two years. Then after I was working my whole big butt off for them and prioritizing that company over my family, my friends and pretty much everything else in my life, they have the nerve to tell me my job performance is slipping. What, this is crazy. Anybody that knows me knows how committed I was to that job. They obviously do not value me at all, so I'm out, and I really feel good about it." Point being, no reference to the abortion on the day that she quit, can you speak to that?

KNOPP: Well, from speaking with Abby, you know, what she experienced that day was shocking, and you know, like you said, for nine years, she was a champion for that organization and for that cause. So it did take her, you know, a few days to really understand what she just saw and go against what she's been supporting for the previous nine years. So it did take her a day or so to realize that moment did change her forever.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Joe, I looked at the latest data from Gallop, and I was shocked. I hadn't realized that we are really on a 50/50. It's literally a 48/48 point in terms of the abortion issue. Do you consider yourself to be pro choice or pro life? Back in the mid-90s, the company was 56 percent pro choice. Now it's - it's a break even. The movie seeks to, what, entertain or to also advance a perspective?

KNOPP: You know, I think the beauty of a true story is just to follow Abby's journey and to become aware of how she did a complete 180 in her life. So it's just -- our desire with all of the headlines talking about abortion these days, and all the most progressive laws we have ever seen about abortion, we just want to make people aware of what they are truly voting for by experiencing it through someone else's eyes who actually lived it and was there.


SMERCONISH: Joe, thank you for being here.

KNOPP: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and the final results. You can still go vote at on today's survey question, the "New York Post" cover using a 9/11 photo to condemn Representative Ilhan Omar. Was that morally and journalistically wrong or a fair comeback to her 9/11 comment. Go vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: This will be interesting. The survey results from are as follows: The "New York Post" cover using 9/11 photo to condemn Representative Omar survey says, 14,000 - wow and 89 votes morally and journalistically wrong 59 percent; fair comeback to her 9/11 comment 41 percent. Let's call it 60/40. Quickly Katheryn(ph), show me one tweet or Facebook, what do we have.


Paper where 9/11 struck at their heart, perfectly fair says Don Brown(ph). Okay, not the way the survey ended up but that's your view. Wish we had time for more but we don't.

Make sure you join me for my American Life in Columns tour New York City coming up on the 22nd, then Atlanta and Nashville. You can catch us with any time at CNN go and on demand. See you next week.