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Republicans Demand Unmasking Of Whistleblower; Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) On Unmasking Whistleblower; Bloomberg May Run As Democrat, Instead Of Independent; "Godfather II" And The Roger Stone Trial; College Campuses: Unsafe For Free Speech?; Local T.V. Brings Back Late-Night National Anthem. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired November 09, 2019 - 09:00   ET



TOM PETTY, SINGER: I need to know, I need to know, I need to know, I need to know. If you think you're going leave, then you better say so. I need to know, I need to know ...

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: The late, great Tom Petty, great song from 1978, "I Need to Know." I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The president and many Republicans have been saying they need to know the name of the whistleblower, but is that really the case where the whistleblower complaint has been corroborated at least six times? My first guest, Senator Rand Paul, made waves when he said he needs to know, even challenging the media to publish his name.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): The whistleblower needs to come before Congress as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs. I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name.


SMERCONISH: Yet as he admitted on "Fox News," he himself has declined to out the whistleblower.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't understand what prevents you from getting on the Senate floor where you're protected ...

PAUL: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... on all kinds of things and just giving a speech and saying what the guy's name is ...

PAUL: Right. I ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... if you're convinced you know who it is.

PAUL: Yes. No, I can and I may, but I can do it right now if I want. Nothing stops me. There's no law that stops me from doing it other than that I don't want to make it about the one individual.


SMERCONISH: This has become a common talking point for the president who said this on Friday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The whistleblower is a disgrace to our country, a disgrace, and the whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed.


SMERCONISH: So yesterday I sat down with Senator Paul in Chicago.


SMERCONISH: Why does the name of the whistleblower matter?

PAUL: You know, as you know, I've been a big defender of whistleblowers. Edward Snowden is probably the most famous whistleblower of all time and I'm a great defender of his. So I think we should protect whistleblowers, but I do think that there's a competing right that others have that when you're accused of a crime, you should get to confront your accuser. That's part of the sixth amendment and I think it's important that the president get that protection as well.

SMERCONISH: But in this instance, it's almost superfluous because seemingly what the whistleblower has said in that complaint has been confirmed by Vindman, by Taylor, by ...

PAUL: Well, I guess -- yes. I guess the problem is is about 60 people listened to that phone call probably by the time it was passed around in the White House. Most of them say that there wasn't a problem with it at all. So it's an opinion and so really it's not that there's a whistle being blown that, oh, no, there's this secret that the president did something. All of the people knew it. Sixty some-odd people knew about it and most of them had a public policy opinion that it wasn't a problem. So when you have a disagreement on policy, is that really whistleblowing?

So there's some question whether this actually fits the definition of a whistleblowing, but either way, if it's this person's opinion that he thought it was illegal and he was blowing the whistle on something illegal, that's his opinion and he needs to come forward and we need to hear it from him, otherwise we're just going to hear other people's opinions. Why wouldn't we hear the opinion from the guy who instigated the whole process?

SMERCONISH: But if you're outing the whistleblower, who will be the next whistleblower? I mean, what about the chilling effect of this?

PAUL: I think the whistleblower statutes were intended to protect you from being fired or persecuted. I think the greatest whistleblower of all time we're still persecuting and that's Edward Snowden and we should change the statute. So I've offered a bill to actually expand the whistleblower statute to be retroactive to include all contractors for government. Edward Snowden said that he would actually have come forward, but he wasn't covered by the whistleblower statute.

So I think there are things we can do on it, but I don't think the whistleblower statute was ever intended to say, oh, if this goes to court and we're going to put somebody in jail on your word that you wouldn't have to testify. In fact, most people acknowledge that, that in court proceedings, the Sixth Amendment does protect you and does mean that you will have to come forward to challenge your accuser.

SMERCONISH: That which we learn from the whistleblower in the complaint seemed to then have been backed up by the transcript, backed up by Vindman, backed up by Taylor, backed up by Mick Mulvaney ...

PAUL: Right.

SMERCONISH: ... Senator Johnson. I mean, it seems like there's a lot of corroboration out there for it, which would seem to lessen ...

PAUL: I don't think anybody -- I don't think anybody disputes that the president wanted to influence the investigation of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, but at the same time, Joe Biden wanted to do the same thing. He wanted to influence an investigation concerning his son. So he went to Ukraine and he's bragged about this. I told him I'm cutting off $1 billion in your aid if you don't fire one particular prosecutor.

That sounds sort of a little bit like the same thing. We're going after a one particular person in another country? Why would we be telling a country they have to fire one person? And there is a debate, but there are people on our side who do believe that that prosecutor was investigating a Ukrainian oligarch that was paying Hunter Biden $50,000 a month.

So I think they're similar and so we can't have two different standards. We can't say, oh, well, Joe Biden gets a pass, but we're going to actually impeach the president over this. It's a difference of opinions, the kind of stuff that should be decided in an election, but if we're going to criminalize the presidency, my fear is this is just going to happen all the time.


This is going to become the new normal like they do in Latin America where every time the president finishes a term, someone puts them in jail. I think it's a bad -- a bad thing for the country.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that censure is a more appropriate route, given the underlying facts as you understand them, than impeachment?

PAUL: I think there are a lot of different ways people could. I think it's essentially a policy decision. I think some people believe that you can condition aid on whether or not there's corruption. In fact, the law for foreign aid says that you cannot give foreign aid to a country if you believe them to be corrupt.

And I think the president honestly believes that there was corruption between and conflict of interest between Joe Biden and Hunter Biden making $50,000 a month. So I think you could look at this perfectly as the president's just -- you know, just following the law.

SMERCONISH: If this were to turn into a censure move and it's not an impeachment move, would you be willing to consider censuring the president for his conduct here?

PAUL: No, because I think this is a public policy decision. I think it's a difference in an opinion. Would I have done it that way? No. If I were talking to the Ukrainian president, I would say hell no, you don't get any money because we don't have any money. You know, we basically are $1 trillion short. We borrow money from China to send it to Ukraine.

So I'm not for giving the Ukraine any money and I really think we should stay out of the affairs of other countries. I don't think we should be asking, not if we're hiding (ph) Hunter Biden stuff, but Joe Biden shouldn't be also getting so involved in Ukrainian affairs. So I think they're the same. I think everybody's trying to influence Ukrainian aid for whatever they want. Look, Menendez sent a letter saying if you don't investigate Trump on the Mueller investigation, if you don't continue the Mueller investigation, we'll cut your aide. So everybody seems to be threatening Ukraine's aid.

SMERCONISH: Why, in this case, is it not extortion? Essentially the president's saying I have something you want and unless you do me ...

PAUL: Right.

SMERCONISH: ... this personal solid, find dirt on a domestic political opponent, you're not getting it.

PAUL: Well, like I say, everybody seems to be threatening their aid. President Obama was told by Congress to give them $300 million in lethal aid. He gave them blankets. So he didn't follow the letter of the law. He chose not to give them lethal aid even though Congress told him to. So we actually withheld aid. I think presidents from time past have been trying to influence and give aid and they don't always give the aid the way Congress tells them and then there's a dispute between the branches, but that's a public policy dispute.

That isn't something -- if we're going to impeach presidents over everything that's a public policy dispute, we're going to criminalize the presidency and we're going to ...


PAUL: ... be in this all the time.

SMERCONISH: Final question then. Based on what I think I've understood you to say, why doesn't the president just own it and stop saying no quid pro quo and instead, Senator, say there was a quid pro quo, It was all about corruption and I didn't want to have them get the money? PAUL: Right. If you're my barber and I give you $20 for a haircut and you cut my hair, that's quid pro quo. I think we've gotten tied up in this Latin phrase that it means something. It's only bad if you're asking for something that's corrupt or if you're bribing somebody. I think there is a valid -- I think you can make a valid case that what he was asking for is studying corruption. Hunter Biden making $50,000 a month. I think most Americans ...

SMERCONISH: But that's not inherently corrupt.

PAUL: Well, I think if you ask most Americans, does it pass the smell test, do you think there might be corruption there? this is a young man -- in our country, you don't get like 35-year-old people all the sudden on big major corporations. This is really, really unusual. There were people at the time telling Joe Biden that there could be a conflict of interest. In fact, the whistleblower, we need to know what he was thinking at that time because he was working on the Ukraine desk at the time Joe Biden was over there and Hunter Biden was working for this oligarch.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.


SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? This comes from Twitter. "Outing the whistleblower is like arresting the person who pulls the fire alarm to let the fire department know a house is on fire."

Carole Dee, I think that the significance of the whistleblower has only diminished since we all became aware of this Ukraine situation because, as I said at the outset, of the corroboration that has now been offered by six, maybe seven different sources. So therefore, and I gave Senator Paul ample opportunity to present his side of it, it's a diversion at this stage.

I mean, it's Ambassador Taylor who will testify and lay this whole thing out presumably when we get under way this week. I don't even know if we're going to hear from the whistleblower, but they want to focus on the whistleblower because they must think that they can discredit that individual, but if seven people are telling the same story, it makes it hard to do.

One more if we've got time, I think from Facebook. "Hard to look at Rand Paul after listening to him at the rally. So disappointing." Patti, here's what I take away from it. I don't think the facts -- you've heard me say this for weeks here and my radio audience hears it from me every single day on Sirius XM. I don't think the facts are in dispute. I think that the factual predicate for this has been established.

The question is what now will be done about it? Does it rise to the level of an impeachment standard? Is this going to be an entirely partisan vote? And I think it will probably be in the latter category. This will be a vote entirely along partisan lines, regardless of what the facts show and that's disappointing.


Coming up, I think Michael Bloomberg should run as an Independent. Instead, he seems to be joining the already cluttered Democratic field. Judge Judy endorsed him last night on Bill Maher.


JUDGE JUDITH SHEINDLIN, HOST, "JUDGE JUDY": He's the only answer and I'll tell you why (ph).


SHEINDLIN: Yes. No, he's the only answer. First of all, if you think about it, Michael Bloomberg is the only person running who has over a decade of executive experience running the largest city in the United States.

MAHER: Who cares? This is not what people care about.

SHEINDLIN: Well, just ...


SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think. Go to my website right now at and answer today's survey question. Are you open to a Michael Bloomberg candidacy? I'm not asking will you vote for him. Just are you open to the concept of Bloomberg running?

Also up ahead, have college campuses created so many safe spaces that there's no space for free speech or thinking differently? That's the subject of a new movie. I'll talk to its co-star. Comedian and podcast host Adam Carolla will be here.

And what's the connection to Roger Stone's trial and the "Godfather" films? There's a clue in a text Stone sent to an associate about to testify about him, seeming to instruct him to behave like this character from "Godfather II."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you serve under Caporegime, Peter Clemenza, under Vito Corleone, also known as the Godfather?





(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Why, if Americans are more Independent than Republican or Democratic, isn't Michael Bloomberg running as one? That's what I wondered when I heard the news that he was considering a bid for the White House. Last night, he filed for the Alabama presidential primary in the already crowded Democratic field.

Joining me now is Greg Orman. He ran in Kansas as an Independent for both U.S. Senate and governor. Make the case, , reg that he should have run as an I or should run as an I and not as a D.

GREG ORMAN (I-KS), FORMER CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: Well, I think there's a wide lane that's going to be forming for an Independent. You know, the president is going to want to make this a referendum on two competing economic systems. The Democrat is going to want to make it a referendum on Trump. I think an Independent can make it a referendum on both while presenting a positive vision for how they'll de-rig the system, use common sense to solve our problems and make the American dream real again for every American who's willing to work to achieve it.

SMERCONISH: You look at the data -- Catherine, could we put up on the screen what I was referring to? When you ask Americans how they self- identify, it's 43 percent who say as an Independent, 29 percent as a Democrat, 26 percent as a Republican.

So you look at that and superficially you say, wow, I guess there's 43 percent of the vote out there for a Bloomberg type candidate if he ran as an I, but you know that people would say, well, wait a minute, if the same 46 percent vote for Trump again and they are rock-solid for Trump, all you'll do is diffuse the Democratic vote and guarantee Trump's re-election. What's the response to that?

ORMAN: Well, I actually think that there's a more interesting number out there, which is 57 percent of Americans, including 54 percent of Democrats and almost 40 percent of Republicans, believe we need a credible third-party. That tells me very clearly Americans aren't happy with the choices the two-party system is giving them.

You know, we've done some research on this and looked at the numbers and an Independent, a credible Independent, would start this presidential race, depending on the Democratic nominee, with somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent of the vote. That gets them into the presidential debates where 76 million Americans on average watch each of those three debates and it gives them a real opportunity to present a vision for America that I think ultimately would persuade voters.

The other interesting fact ...


ORMAN: ... in that -- in that research is that if you tell people a little bit about an Independent candidate, in some instances the right profiles, the support skyrockets, including dropping President Trump below 30 percent. So I think there is a pathway to win and I don't think an Independent would ultimately lead to a guaranteed Trump reelection. In fact, quite to the contrary, depending on the match-up, I think an Independent could win this race.

SMERCONISH: One of the things that I like about Michael Bloomberg is that he's dated-driven and not an ideologue. You know, he's a critical thinker. He uses evidentiary analysis. So when he issued a statement in January, I took note. We'll put it up on the screen. He said, "The data was very clear and very consistent. Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the electoral college system, there is no way an Independent can win. That is truer today than ever before."

I've got to figure that he used the best data, the best minds, spent the money to really game theory whether there was a lane as an I. You're saying that there is. I'm saying I hope that there is, but respond to that.

ORMAN: Well, I agree. Mayor Bloomberg is a very smart guy and he's surrounded himself with a lot of smart people and I know that if he enters the Democratic nomination, he'll only do it if he believes he's got a path to winning that nomination. But with that said, you've got to remember polls are snapshots in time and in similar polls, what we hear is between 30 percent and 40 percent of Americans say they wouldn't consider an Independent candidate because they don't think they have a chance of winning.

If someone ran a credible Independent campaign, that would force those 30 percent or 40 percent of voters to rethink their position and ultimately, I think many of them would come around to supporting an Independent candidate.

The thing we have to remember is people's connection to partisanship today is highly negative. We don't particularly like our own party, we just hate the other party and I think an Independent can create an opportunity to transcend that.


SMERCONISH: Here is hoping that you are right. I am prepared to surrender my salt shaker and my sugary drink to Mr. Bloomberg in return for his competence. Thank you, Greg.

ORMAN: Happy to be with you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we got? "What? Smerconish, Bloomberg as an Independent is literally handing Trump a victory." Well, Heather, we just addressed that subject. You know, if 43 percent of the country say they are Is as compared to 29 percent D, 26 percent R, seemingly there's a path out there, but I get your argument. I heard it from radio listeners yesterday and the day before.

You know, if Trump gets the same 46 percent and the rest of the vote is split, but Greg Orman makes a really interesting point. Part of this is a perception issue. People who say yes, I'd love to vote for an Independent as long as I thought they could win. When you have his bankroll and he's prepared to spend it, that could change that perception. Anyway, this is the survey question today at my website. Go to I simply want to know are you open to this idea? Are you open to the idea of a Bloomberg candidacy? Results at the end of the hour.

Still to come, President Trump's advisor, Roger Stone, on trial this week and in an unusual move, his jury was forbidden from watching "The Godfather" films. The judge doesn't want them prejudiced by the fact that Stone allegedly texted an associate to start practicing your Pentangeli. Here's part of Frank Pentangeli famous scene in "Godfather II.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have it, your sworn affidavit, that you murdered on the orders of Michael Corleone.

PENTANGELI: Look, the FBI guys, they promised me a deal. So I -- so I made up a lot of stuff about Michael Corleone because that's what they wanted, but it was all lies. Everything.





SMERCONISH: "The Godfather" movies now loom over Roger Stone's trial, but can't be shown in the courtroom. How come? Well, you'll remember that Stone is charged with lying to Congress, obstructing justice and attempting to witness tamper all about his alleged role in seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race from WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Stone has denied all wrongdoing.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson has not only told prosecutors they can't show scenes from "Godfather II," but instructed jurors not to go home and watch it either. Here's what it's about. Stone is alleged to have texted his associate, Randy Credico, before Credico was due to testify about Stone, telling him, quote, "Start practicing your Pentangeli."

Stone is referring to this classic Senate hearing room scene in the 1974 film "Godfather II." Mobster Frank Pentangeli enters a courtroom ready to affirm his sworn statement against the Corleone family, but then he sees that the Corleone's have brought his brother all the way from Italy to sit with them, an unspoken threat. Here's how Pentangeli then suddenly recants his sworn statement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you serve under Caporegime, Peter Clemenza, under Vito Corleone, also known as the Godfather?

PENTANGELI: I never knew no Godfather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here and now, under oath, were you at any time a member of a crime organization headed by Michael Corleone?

PENTANGELI: I don't know nothing about that. Oh, I was in the olive oil business with his father, but that was a long time ago. That's all.


SMERCONISH: The prosecution contends the communication meant that Stone was telling Credico to lie. Stone claims that it's just about the fact that Credico does impersonations and Stone was just asking him to do an impersonation. Credico says that while he didn't know the genesis of Stone's request, he had brought the movie up after watching it on a plane back from London and he added, "I'm sure, over the years, every Italian that I know knows every scene from 'Godfather I and II.' I'm one of them and he's one of them."

Jurors will be allowed to read a transcript of the scene to understand the reference, but if you want to see it for yourself for the first time or as a refresher, by cosmic coincidence, the film is being shown in theaters this weekend as part of its 45th anniversary. Now, that's an offer you can't refuse.

Still to come, "O Say Can You See," why a chain of TV stations just playing our national anthem is considered by some to be a partisan act. I'll explain.

And college campuses have been shouting down and cancelling controversial voices. In the quest to create safe spaces, is there no room left for challenging ideas? Comedian Adam Carolla is here to discuss what he learned visiting universities for a brand new movie. That's next.



SMERCONISH: Adam Carolla is the comedian, the T.V. host and namesake of what has been described as most downloaded podcast in the world. And now he has teamed with radio talk show host Dennis Prager in a new movie "No Safe Spaces" that addresses threats to the First Amendment. What concerns them is best evidence on college campuses and Carolla worries that the unwelcomeness to controversial speech seen there might soon metastasize to the tech sector and beyond. Among those affected by change, comedians.


JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN: What do you mean gay? What are you talking gay? What are you doing gay? What do? What do you mean, you know? And I thought, are you kidding me? I mean we can't even -- I could imagine a time -- and this is a serious time when people say, well, that's offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing motion and you now need to apologize. I mean, there's a creepy P.C. (ph) thing out there that really bothers me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: That's a clip from the new movie, and Adam Carolla joins me now. So, Adam, in the film which I watch and enjoyed, you argued that college campuses were once a place for ideas. Now they are a place for some ideas. When did it all change and why?

ADAM CAROLLA, COMEDIAN/CO-STAR, "NO SAFE SPACES": I've been thinking about this a lot and I think it may be the self-esteem movement. I didn't grow up with enough self-esteem to think I could inject myself into a conversation where somebody else couldn't speak. I think we all grew up in a different era.

I mean think about the narcissism and the self-esteem it takes to say, I'm a guest on this campus. Ben Shapiro or whoever wants to come speak on this campus, it's going offend me, so they may not speak on this campus. Think about how good your self-esteem has to be for that.

SMERCONISH: Does the situation that you describe in the movie only apply to elite liberal art colleges?

CAROLLA: Well, I think the trends start there like I'm in California and you're in New York. A lot of -- are you in New York?

SMERCONISH: Philly, Philly.

CAROLLA: Oh, Philly. Sorry. All right, scratch that.


New York and California sort of set a fashion trend and then it just bleeds out into the rest of the country. And I think the elite college has set a trend and then it just bleeds out into Iowa State.

SMERCONISH: Is it a two-way street? Are only the conservative speakers now welcomed with inhospitality or liberals as well?

CAROLLA: It seems to be that the only pushback is against the conservative speakers. That's the only ones you seem to hear about. I don't know. I haven't followed every case. I'm sure there are some cases where there's pushback.

But it seems to me that the conservatives are a little more live and let live and the left not liberals, the left. It's a distinction that's made in the movie, sort of has it's my way or the highway.

SMERCONISH: Here's a montage from the film that establishes how the United States heretofore has been this beacon in the world, but let's take a look at what's been going on around the globe. Roll it.


CAROLLA (voice-over): Free speech unique to the United States. Lots of countries pretend to have it but they'll cut your head off for blasphemy in Saudi Arabia. In Thailand they'll throw you in prison if you make fun of the king. In Russia and China you go to jail if you say anything nice about gay people. In Germany you can't praise Nazis.

Sounds good, right? Maybe not. It doesn't stop people from promoting Nazism in secret. It just means you can't debate them in public.

France convicted Brigitte Bardot five times for criticizing the practice of animal sacrifice at a Muslim festival. The U.K. convicted a comic of a hate crime for teaching a pug to do a Nazi salute. Just over the border in Canada, a Christian preacher was arrested for -- wait for it -- preaching in public.

Pretty much everywhere else cops can come to your house and arrest you for a rant or complaint or for even making a joke. The only reason they can't do it here is because we have the First Amendment.


SMERCONISH: Adam, make the case. What worries you most is that that could soon be the United States if what's taking place on college campuses continues to metastasize.

CAROLLA: I don't want to be Chicken Little. I'm not that -- I'm not worried on a daily basis. It's just you go to college to learn, and the way you learn is you get information from this side and that side and then some from the middle and you form an opinion, and if you're not going to let people with alternative views come onto the campus and share them with people, then you're really not going to get an education. I mean after all, you're there to be educated. You're not roofers or welders. They're there to be educated. Don't you want a diversity of opinion?

SMERCONISH: You say what's necessary and you said this on Capitol Hill, is gravity. What do you mean by that? Gravity for these students?

CAROLLA: Well, I use the -- on Capitol Hill the analogy that when astronauts go to the space station for a prolonged period of time, they worry a lot about them losing muscle mass and bone density, and the body begins to atrophy in a zero gravity environment. But I think your mind atrophies in a zero gravity environmental.

And if you're going to create a space like the college campuses where there are no other opinions, that's a zero gravity environment and your brain starts to atrophy. Your brain needs the workout like the astronauts need to work out of debating and solving things and pushing back or having alternative viewpoints put before you. So I think what you're seeing when you see a lot of 19-year-olds acting like nine- year-olds, that's atrophy of the brain growing up in a zero gravity environment.

SMERCONISH: The movie is called "No Safe Spaces." Thanks for being here, Adam. I appreciate it.

CAROLLA: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Checking in on social media from Facebook and Twitter, what do we have? This comes from Twitter. Smerconish, free speech is modem alt right code for hate speech and encouraging the destruction of civil society.

I disagree. I mean, unless someone is coming and advocating violence I think college campuses are unique laboratory for very unpopular ideas to be exchanged. And I share the concern that if free speech is not permitted on college campuses then it will soon grow to the tech sector and look out where so much of what we're fed is controlled by a handful of tech firms if it extends there too I think it will be a threat to the First Amendment. That's my view. And by the way, I welcome yours.


I want to remind you to make sure you're answering the survey question at this hour.

"Are you open to a Michael Bloomberg candidacy?"

I will be so interesting to see the result at the top of the hour. Still to come, more than 350 T.V. stations nationwide recently revived the old broadcast tradition of playing the national anthem. But given the recent politicization around athletes just taking a knee is airing the song itself a partisan act?



SMERCONISH: Do you remember that? If you stayed up late enough watching T.V. back in the day, the national anthem would play. That ritual ended long ago by the never ending programming of early morning infomercials and reruns making the patriotic sign-off obsolete. But as "The New York Times" has just reported the tradition is making its way back. Local stations and more than 350 markets nationwide are playing "The Star-Spangled Banner."


They claim that it encourages unity at a time of deep division in the country. But the song can also be a dividing line. Given the recent controversy around athletes kneeling during the anthem and President Trump's reaction to those protests, it begs the question, is playing the anthem itself now partisan?

With me is musicology associate professor at the University of Michigan Mark Clague. Professor Clague, I'm sure that some are saying, wait a minute, you're telling me you can't even play the national anthem without it being controversial? Wherein lies the controversy?

MARK CLAGUE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MUSICOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Well, I think, one of the things about the national anthem is we don't actually think about it. It has been sort of a comfortable part of the fabric of our lives. We do it at football games, graduations. It becomes a kind of neutral background. And so anything that makes it pop out starts to make us wonder what's going on.

SMERCONISH: Do you think it's a provocative act where we haven't had the sign-off? And by the way, the stations aren't signing off per se. They're just playing it at a certain time each day, say, 4:00 a.m.

CLAGUE: Well, I think, one of the things that fascinates me about music is that it's always political. It's always about figuring out who we are as people and sharing that, like making it audible. So there is an aspect of all music that's political at least in my mind as a musicologist that's what sort of interests me about music is it helps us live.

And I think at this particular moment, at a time when people seem to be on one team, the red team or the blue team, doing anything that brings sort of this tradition back, I mean, there's an echo of sort of make America great again, right, we're going back to the 50s, back to the post World War II era when sign-offs were typical. But I think the imagery of this particular -- the Gray Television one is interesting because they've chosen a nine-year-old girl to sing the anthem. She has an absolutely fantastic voice. I mean, it's a beautiful rendition --

SMERCONISH: Absolutely.

CLAGUE: -- and there's a lot of freedom to it. But it's sort of pre- political, if you will. There's an attempt, I think, to show that this is something before partisanship by using an innocent girl and having all those images of children and individuals that are in the film. To me that's sort of speaking at an attempt to go beyond or pre before partisanship.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think relative to red states and blue states, I mean, you look at a Trump rally -- I'll just say it -- on television, and the flag is constantly a presence. Democratic rallies by comparison, some of the events that you see of the candidates out in the campaign trail it doesn't seem to be as prominent. And I think to the extent there's any controversy here, when people now see more flag references, they associate it with the president and red states and therefore some of them say, oh, maybe we shouldn't be playing that now.

CLAGUE: I think you're right. I mean, there's definitely a difference in how that's -- those symbols are used. I mean, on one hand the function of patriotism, the function of these symbols is to create community.

I mean, we have a huge nation, 350 million people. It used to be that we knew all of our neighbors and our community was the people who went to our churches and who we shook hands with. Now we really have this national presence and a 21st century world, that sort of the international politics of all these different groups, and so anthems become the sort of sonic symbol and flags are the visual symbol of who we are together.

And if we don't have those symbols, if we don't have something that sort of shows us that the nation, the whole, has a role that's beyond the individual, there's a counter point between the two, we really fail as a nation. I mean, you can't have a transfer of power, you can't have judicial decisions be accepted by people unless they subscribe to an identity that's beyond themselves.

That's about being together. That's, I think, where the anthem comes in. So someone like Kaepernick when he kneels, in some ways his kneeling can be interpret as reverence, but it -- because it's a calls attention to him, because it sort of says, hey, something else is going on here, this is not just a quiet unity, that's why it sparked controversy.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think we learned from Jimi Hendrix, and I got this from you, that the song can be both a protest and patriotic. I'm referring to Woodstock.

CLAGUE: Absolutely. I mean, I think Hendrix's is just a beautiful version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in part because it brings all the complexity of what it means to be American. And I think my research, one of the things I want to do is show people that the country's history is complex. It's sort of filled with cacophony, it's filled with dissonance.

And actually when we look at the song which we sort of treat as an immutable object that has actually changed a lot over time. So someone like Hendrix gives a patriotic statement. He plays all the notes. He does it all in the right place, but he has these huge sort of bomb-bursting fire fights that are in the middle which in the context of the Vietnam War in 1969 was undeniably political.

But then you realize that Hendrix himself was a member of the 101st airborne, that he had friends in Vietnam and I think that shifts it. So we really see that being patriotic does not mean that you don't criticize the country. Being patriotic means that participate as a citizen.


And so, for me, Francis Scott Key's act of writing this lyric to a tune that was well-known, there's a whole tradition called the broadside ballad in the 19th century. It actually goes back to revolutionary period where people sort of commented on current events by writing lyrics to well-known songs. And so one of these songs, these melodies was the anacreontic song which came from London, just like a lot of the things in American culture, since we immigrated from there. And you would comment on political life.

So one of the surprising things is that I found over 200 sets of lyrics written to the tune we know as "The Star-Spangled Banner" that come from American history. There were campaign songs for Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, there are women's suffrage song for the vote, there are anti-slavery songs, there are temperance songs, there are songs about peace after the civil war, bringing everybody together, there's a lot of Fourth of July songs, but this was an opportunity for political conversation. It wasn't about one idea of beating another.


CLAGUE: It actually was about amplifying ideas. And I think the cool thing about making it a song is that not only do you have to literally breathe life into the ritual, but it has a motion and that's really what these things did that, say, an op-ed in a newspaper doesn't do today. By having a song you hear the passions.

SMERCONISH: Professor --


SMERCONISH: -- that was excellent. That was excellent. By the way, your book is "Star-Spangled Songbook." Thank you, sir.

CLAGUE: Thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And the result of the survey question today at

"Are you open to a Michael Bloomberg candidacy?"



SMERCONISH: Time now to see how you responded to the survey question at

"Are you open to a Michael Bloomberg candidacy?"

Survey says -- 68 percent yes out of a lot of votes, 12,265 cast. Now, this is what's interesting to me. That's a national snapshot. It's not scientific, just interesting. But if I asked that only of Democrats, what percentage would he get, and that's what he has relegated himself to by running as a D and not as an I.

I'll see you next week.