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State of the Union

Interview With Former U.S. Independent Counsel Ken Starr; Interview With New York Congressional Candidate Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez; Interview With Alabama Senator Doug Jones; Republicans Praised Manafort When He Worked For Trump; Democrats Need To Flip 23 Seats To Win Control Of The House; President Trump Disputes Official 3,000 Death Toll In Puerto Rico. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired September 16, 2018 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Flooding fears. Florence crawls across the Carolinas, dumping record rain. And the worst may be yet to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water is rising fast everywhere.

TAPPER: As President Trump again raises doubts that 3,000 Americans actually died in Puerto Rico.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.

TAPPER: Plus: big flip. Paul Manafort takes a plea deal with the special counsel, pledging to cooperate on -- quote -- "any and all matters."

TRUMP: This has nothing to do with Russian collusion.

TAPPER: Should President Trump be worried? We will talk to former prosecutor and Democratic Senator Doug Jones and the man who investigated President Clinton, Ken Starr, next.

And progressive power? Democrats believe they have the enthusiasm and outrage needed to push through 2018 and all the way to 2020, but will party divisions knock them off-track? Rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be here in minutes.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is still concerned for the Carolinas.

Florence already has taken more than a dozen lives, left hundreds of thousands without power. Homes and businesses are destroyed, roads washed away, with flash floods and mudslides the immediate and urgent concern. After slamming ashore as a hurricane, Florence has now been downgraded

to a tropical depression. But there's little comfort in that. The storm is breaking rainfall records as it moves inland, turning rivers into lakes and towns into islands, first-responders and citizens fighting back with everything they have.

I want to go straight to CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She's with the Cajun Navy conducting rescues in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is on a boat that is on a trailer about to be taken into the water.

Kaylee, tell us what you're seeing?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, this boat in the process of being launched into the floodwaters by the volunteers of the Cajun Navy into an area where they believe hundreds are in need of help.

This is a different kind of phenomenon. This is something we have never seen. That's how Wilmington's mayor, Bill Saffo, described this developing situation to me, as floodwaters are rising and moving into areas that have never flooded before.

Last night, the Cajun Navy helped rescue more than 200 people in this area of North Wilmington that we're in now. Those rescues began because the local fire department called the Cajun Navy asking for their help.

As Todd Terrell, the leader of this group, tells me, they got that phone call because they're the ones with the boats, they're the ones with the manpower. They were the ones who could get to people who were surprised by these waters quickest.

Jake, these rescues will continue for some time to come in this county and neighbor ones.

TAPPER: All right, Kaylee Hartung with the Cajun Navy in North Carolina, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

As Florence hammers the Carolinas, President Trump seemingly remains fixated on what is now the official death toll in Puerto Rico from a hurricane a year ago.

He's repeating his untruthful claim that the official death toll of close to 3,000 people was made up by Democrats to hurt him.

Joining me now is House Democratic candidate and rising progressive star -- pardon me -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her mother is from Puerto Rico, and she had family in Puerto Rico during the hurricane.

Alexandria, thanks so much for joining us.

The president continuing to send these tweets disputing the official government death toll from Hurricane Maria and blaming Democrats for inventing those numbers.

I know this is personal for you. You tweeted that your grandfather died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the storm. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Can you -- can you tell us what happened?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think what happened in my family is what happened to thousands of Puerto Ricans, where, in the neglect and government inaction, there was so little -- there was so little response, so little connection.

You don't know whether a hospital lost power. My grandfather was -- was in a medical facility, and he had passed away in the middle of the night. The people who pass away in these storms are the most vulnerable. They are children with illnesses. They are our elderly.

And when power is not restored, when infrastructure is not taken seriously, these are the first people who pass away in storms. And what we saw in Puerto Rico was a mass death of 3,000 people. It was the worst humanitarian crisis in modern American history.

And many, many people impacted by the storm point to government inaction as the cause of death.

TAPPER: Now, the Trump administration will respond to comments like the one you just made by saying that FEMA was on the ground, they were doing as much as they could, the infrastructure on the island was already badly damaged because of years, if not decades of neglect by politicians in Puerto Rico and the United States.

What did you make of the president's tweets?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think, first and foremost, there is a systemic issue here.


And that is the modern-day colonial relationship that the United States has with Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are technically American citizens, but they do not have the right to vote.

They are -- they are treated in completely different ways as normal American citizens are. And, for that reason, you do have the chronic neglect of the island.

And it is acute situations like this in which Puerto Ricans continue to be treated like second-class citizens. Puerto Rico was given a fraction of the FEMA recovery as other -- as Houston, for example, in Hurricane Harvey. We have Hurricane Irma. We have Hurricane Sandy.

And this is not just an issue of the colonial status of Puerto Rico, but it is also an issue of us not treating and dedicating enough resources to addressing climate change enough either.

TAPPER: And when you say they don't have the right to vote, you mean they don't have the right to vote for members of the House that can vote on the floor, and they don't have two senators, because, obviously, they have the right to vote.

I mean, they're...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Puerto Ricans have no right to vote in federal elections.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: They cannot -- they cannot choose a president. They do not have a vote in -- they don't have a represent -- a representative vote in the House or the Senate, which means that they did not even have the capacity to choose for this president, yet they continue to suffer at the hands of this administration.

TAPPER: So, I want to move on.

You endorsed progressive candidate Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary for governor of New York. She lost on Thursday to Governor Andrew Cuomo by a whopping 31 points.

Now, I know progressive candidates have had plenty of other victories, including yours, but Governor Cuomo said that your progressive wave was -- quote -- "not even a ripple." He called your primary win a -- quote -- "fluke." And he asked on Friday -- quote -- "Where was that effect yesterday?"

What's your response to Governor Cuomo?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I mean, I always take a -- I'm always down to go toe-to-toe sometimes.

But I think what's -- what -- when you actually look at the numbers that we focused on, every single down-ballot progressive candidate in my district, New York 14, won. New York had a profound tidal change really in the Democratic Party.

One out of every five Democratic senators got replaced on Thursday night. And the path to eliminating the IDC was through New York 14 and my district. So I'm proud to say that every single locally endorsed candidate that we mobilized for won our election.

TAPPER: Right.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Cynthia Nixon did a phenomenal job.

TAPPER: She lost your district by 30 points.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Right, right, but we focused on our local candidates, and we focused on the legislatures.

But I think that what she did was that she centered a lot of phenomenal issues. She centered racial justice. She centered criminal justice reform. She centered the legalization of marijuana, single-payer health care. And a lot of down-ballot candidates benefited from that.

And what I also look forward to moving forward is us rallying behind all Democratic nominees, including the governor, to make sure that he wins in November.

TAPPER: Your platform has called for various new programs, including Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, canceling all student loan debt.

According to nonpartisan and left-leaning studies friendly to your cause, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities or the Tax Policy Center, the overall price tag is more than $40 trillion in the next decade.

You recently said in an interview that increasing taxes on the very wealthy, plus an increased corporate tax rate, would make $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

So, where is the other $38 trillion going to come from?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, one of the things that we need to realize when we look at something like Medicare for all, Medicare for all would save the American people a very large amount of money.

And what we see as well is that these systems are not just pie in the sky. They are -- many of them are accomplished by every modern, civilized democracy in the Western world. The United -- the United Kingdom has a form of single-payer health care, Canada, France, Germany.

What we need to realize is that these investments are better and they are good for our future. These are generational investments, so that not just -- they're not short-term Band-Aids, but they are really profound decisions about who we want to be as a nation and as -- and how we want to act, as the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

TAPPER: Right. Now, I get that, but the price tag for everything that you have laid out in your campaign is $40 trillion over the next 10 years.

I understand that Medicare for all would cost more to some wealthier people and to the government and to taxpayers, while also reducing individual health care expenditures.

But I'm talking about the overall package. You say it's not pie in the sky, but $40 trillion is quite a bit of money. And the taxes that you talked about raising to pay for this, to pay for your agenda, only count for two.

And I -- we're going by left-leaning analysts.


Well, when you look again at, again, how our health care works, currently, we pay -- much of these costs go into the private sector. So what we see is, for example, a year ago, I was working downtown in a restaurant.


I went around and I asked, how many of you folks have health insurance? Not a single person did, because these -- they were paying -- they would have had to pay $200 a month for -- for a payment for insurance that had an $8,000 deductible.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: What these represent are lower costs overall for these programs.

And, additionally, what this is, is a broader agenda. We do know and we acknowledge that there are political realities. They don't always happen with just the wave of a wand. But we can work to make these things happen.

And, in fact, when we -- when you look at the economic activity that it spurs, for example, if you look at my generation, millennials, the amount of economic activity that we do not engage, the fact that we delay purchasing homes, that we don't participate in the economy and purchasing cars, et cetera, as fully as possible, is a cost.

It is an externality, if you will, of unprecedented -- unprecedented amount of student loan debt.

TAPPER: So, I'm assuming I'm not going to get an answer for the other $38 trillion. But we will have you back, and maybe we can go over that.

But I do want to ask you about some breaking news here, because you have been a major supporter of the MeToo movement. You have also expressed the need for caution in the past.

You said -- quote -- "We also need to make sure that due process is held."

There's this new accusation this week from an anonymous woman about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from an incident more than 35 years ago. It was leaked to the press by Democrats.

Do you think Brett Kavanaugh deserves the benefit of the doubt here?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that -- I believe -- well, first of all, Brett Kavanaugh should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court under any circumstances, whether -- regardless and independent of...


TAPPER: Right. But what about this -- what about this case -- on this case with this anonymous accusation?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I certainly think that one of the aspects of due process is that we have to hear these things out. And he should certainly not be confirmed before this is explored.

TAPPER: So you think that an -- do you think an anonymous accusation is enough?

What if the woman decides that she does not want to come forward? There are a lot of people who think that the kind of due process you have called for has not happened here. This was not -- this was not raised in the public confirmation hearing. It was not raised in the written requests for comment. It was not raised in the private, closed session.

There is a way, a process for this to happen. The Democrats had his information in July, but it didn't come out until a few days ago.


Yes, again, I think that, really, when we talk about process and due process and justice, it must center on the victim. I cannot say whether -- what should be done and what should not be done, because what we need to make sure is that there is due -- due justice for the victim in this case.

If she -- a lot of that depends on if she wants to come forward, if she chooses to remain anonymous. Or, frankly, when it comes to behaviors like sexual assault, it's about power. And, also, when it comes to behaviors of sexual assault, they are not one-off incidents. They are repeated.

So, perhaps this woman chooses to remain anonymous, but if -- if her account is true, there could potentially be other victims out there that are scared to come forward. And this could potentially be an act of solidarity, and for them to air that out, if they exist.

TAPPER: But does the accused deserve any due process as well?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, due process is about justice for all folks involved. And when we have a lack of process, then we have a lack of justice for both victims and -- and the accused.

But what is going on right now is that there is not due process, and we're looking at brushing a -- potentially an extremely concerning incident under the rug, which should not be occurring, especially when it comes to a Supreme Court nomination in which the Republican Party has already demonstrated that they will not disclose or they will not really unseal a lot of the documents, which they, frankly, demanded of Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court.

They wanted to make sure that -- I mean, look at what they put Eric -- Merrick Garland through. Look at what they put Sonia Sotomayor through, yet they want to kind of hide almost everything about Brett Kavanaugh's history.

And so I think that what this is, is that this is part of a pattern.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: And it's a pattern of keeping this nominee in the dark ahead of his nomination.

TAPPER: All right, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

President Trump said he was -- quote -- "sad" about Paul Manafort'S conviction last month. How does he feel now that his former campaign chairman is talking to Robert Mueller?

And the president's pick for the Supreme Court forced to deny an anonymous allegation just days from the first vote on his confirmation.

A senator whose vote could be key, red state Democrat Doug Jones, is here next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is denying a serious allegation of sexual misconduct leveled by an anonymous woman.

In a letter given to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the woman claims that, while they were both high schoolers in the 1980s, Kavanaugh held her down and tried to force himself on her at a party.

Kavanaugh has issued a flat, unequivocal denial -- quote -- "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Chuck Grassley, says he has no plans to delay Kavanaugh's confirmation vote.

But the story is now part of the debate over this Supreme Court nominee and something every senator will need to weigh.

Here with me as a senator whose vote could be a deciding factor in Kavanaugh's confirmation, Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

You're hoping to meet with Kavanaugh this week. Are you going to bring up this accusation?

SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: Oh, I'm sure I will if I get a chance to meet. It's a very serious allegation.

But, at this point, it's -- you know, you -- it's an anonymous letter. You're not going to be able to really test it, unless somebody comes forward with more information.

But if I get a chance to meet, I obviously would have to bring that up.

TAPPER: We're only talking about it because your fellow Senate Democrats had this information in late July, didn't do anything about it, and then leaked it a few days ago.

As far as I can tell, they didn't do anything during the hearing process in terms -- including the -- behind closed doors, the closed session, and the written answers.

Do you have any issues with how your fellow Democrats have handled this allegation?


JONES: Well, I think that it should have been brought up, at least behind closed doors. I mean, it's a really serious allegation.

At the same time, it's a very difficult situation, when you have got allegations like this, very sensitive allegations that are important, and you want to respect the wishes of a victim, as well as be fair to the people -- the person that's being accused.

I think it's a difficult spot to be in. I wish someone had talked about it early on. It could have maybe been cleared up. I think, at this late date, we're going to have to wait and see if this person decides to come forward to test that in the light of day, similar to what happened in my race, Jake.

You have got to have that in the open, and tested in the light, in the sunshine of the media and other things, in order to judge the credibility.

TAPPER: Well, that's the thing.

I mean, in your race, the accusations against your Republican opponent, Roy Moore, were on-the-record accusations with corroborating evidence...

JONES: Right.

TAPPER: ... individuals who were told at the time, four women who came out publicly and talked about it.

Is the standard now for Senate Democrats one anonymous allegation?

JONES: No, I don't think so. I don't think it's that at all.

I think you are going to see this nomination move forward. There's really not much that can be done unless this person comes forward and you can see this and talk to the person who wrote that letter.

I just they think an anonymous letter, to derail something at this late date, is just not a good practice. And I don't think it will happen.

But there is still time, Jake. There's still time. And I'm sure that there are people talking about this. And there's still time for this to come forward and to shed more light on what may or may not have happened back some 30 years ago.

TAPPER: You still have yet to announce how you're going to vote on the Kavanaugh nomination.

You represent a state -- I don't need to tell you it's pretty red. Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 percentage points. Don't you think, just empirically, a majority of your constituents want you to confirm Brett Kavanaugh?

JONES: Well, it's been interesting to get the letters and the cards and the phone calls. And it's not been as overwhelming as you might think. It's not been anywhere close to the 28 percent of the vote that Donald Trump got.

There are people that believe very strongly on both sides of this issue. So, that is one reason I am spending as much time as I am. I had a process that I set up early on to go through all of the documents, to go through all of the speeches, to go through all of the opinions, to try to listen to the hearing, which we did, make those notes, ask -- write down our notes for questions, and hopefully meet with him.

If I don't get a chance to meet with him, then I will obviously have to go with what I have got. But I think, right now, we're still in our deep dive. And we have got a few more days to do that.

TAPPER: And in other major news this week, President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to a number of crimes on Friday.

Here's how the president's personal attorney responded -- quote -- "Once again, an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: The president did nothing wrong" -- unquote.

You're a former U.S. attorney in Alabama. Isn't he right that the crimes to which Manafort pleaded guilty have nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign?

JONES: Well, he is correct about that, but that really doesn't answer the question, because, in a plea bargain situation, you don't always plea to those situations which you're still investigating. You don't always do that.

It makes for a good news story and a good press release. But there's a method to sometimes doing a plea bargain that has nothing to do with the ultimate goal.

So, I think the president should still be worried right now. We have seen two of his closest advisers, one personal in Mr. Cohen, and one political in Mr. Manafort. So, we have got to wait and see how this plays out.

Mueller is moving this investigation expeditiously, efficiently. We will see where it goes. But I don't think that just because it didn't include the president in his plea should have any weight one way or another. We will see what comes next with the Mueller investigation.

TAPPER: If we take a step back, we see, as you note, the former -- the president's former campaign chairman is going to prison, in all likelihood. The president's personal lawyer, as you just noted, has implicated the president in a felony campaign finance law violation. The special counsel's investigating potential obstruction of justice.

A new CNN poll shows that almost eight in 10 Democrats support beginning impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Do you?

JONES: Just because you have seen people that surround the president that have gone for -- doesn't mean that there should be impeachment hearings, not by any stretch.

Once we see any reports, then you will have to weigh those on their own, but simply because -- look, Jake, I have gone through too many investigations where the circles seem to tighten around an ultimate target, but it never got there.

So let's just kind of wait see how this thing plays out. There's a lot of speculation right now. And, clearly, you have got people that were close to the president of the United States that committed crimes. And that, in and of itself, is a problem, but it's not necessarily an impeachable offense.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, always good to see you, sir. Thank you so much.

JONES: Nice to see you, Jake. Thanks.

TAPPER: He's the man who led the probe that led to President Clinton's impeachment. Where does Ken Starr put the odds that President Trump will be impeached?


I will ask him live next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

The White House is brushing off the bombshell news that President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort is now cooperating with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying it -- quote -- "had absolutely nothing to do with the president" -- unquote.


Joining me now is Ken Starr, whose independent counsel investigations led to President Clinton's impeachment. His new book is "Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation."

And Ken Starr joins me now.

Thanks so much. And congratulations on the book.


TAPPER: The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also released this statement on Friday about the Manafort plea deal -- quote -- "Once again, an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: The president did nothing wrong. And Paul Manafort will tell the truth."

Then they issued that statement again, except they took out the "Paul Manafort will tell the truth" part of this.


TAPPER: Do you think that they're paving the way, Rudy Giuliani, for attacks on Paul Manafort's credibility? Does it send a signal that they're worried about what he might say? How would you interpret that?

STARR: Well, the playbook, as I describe in "Contempt," I think that the Trump White House and the lawyers are taking a page from the Clinton playbook: Attack the prosecutor.

This is more delicate, because now you have someone very close to the president, at least for a while, the campaign manager. So I think it's -- you have got to be very careful.

But, on the other hand, the real significance of what's happened is, we're much closer to getting the truth than we were before this plea. It is so terrific for the investigation and, frankly, for the American people that we're moving forward, we're getting someone who may be knowledgeable.

We don't know. We don't know what Bob Mueller knows. We don't know what Paul Manafort can share.

But there's a key word in that agreement, which was truthfully. And then there was another key word, fully. And that's what we really need to do.

Now, thus far, the signs are, there is no evidence that Paul Manafort is going to bring forward of collusion. But we will see.

TAPPER: President Trump has certainly signaled that he is thinking about possibly pardoning Paul Manafort. Do you think he should? And what do you think the repercussions would be if he did?

STARR: Well, I think it would be unwise...


STARR: ... for the president to do that, because the process of justice has occurred. I don't know of any justification for pardoning an individual who just stands convicted of very serious crimes and who just pled guilty to serious crimes. So, it doesn't look as if there's a miscarriage of justice. The president does have the plenary power to do that, but I think it

would just be an imprudent decision.

TAPPER: Do you think -- based on having been a prosecutor, do you think that it's likely that Robert Mueller is wrapping things up, or do you think he might be opening up a whole new avenue? We have no idea?

STARR: Well, as I recount in my book, I thought I would be through in six months, because what can be so serious about a failed land deal in Arkansas that had been investigated before?

But what one finds out in getting into an investigation is, oh, my word, there are different avenues that come to you, ultimately the Monica Lewinsky phase, which came to us as a complete surprise. Attorney General Reno authorized that.

So we just don't know. We're behind the veil of ignorance, Jake.

TAPPER: A lot of times, the president's defenders will actually cite you when talking about out-of-control prosecutors, fishing expeditions, perjury traps, et cetera.

How do you respond to that?

STARR: Well, as I -- in this book, I tell the whole story of the demonization that the Clinton White House and their surrogates carried on. It was a campaign of demonization, not just of yours truly, but people in the investigation and the -- just -- it was this show no quarter, take them out. Hillary...

TAPPER: The difference -- the only difference perhaps being that President Trump himself is leading the charge here, whereas President Clinton had other people do it for him.

STARR: For the most part.


STARR: But there were critical times, for example, after the conviction of Jim and Susan McDougal, and then some signals that Bill Clinton was sending to Susan McDougal, who stood convicted of fraud, very serious crimes that brought down a Savings and Loan and so forth.

But you're right. Bill Clinton had a very different style, charismatic, attractive, and so forth, whereas Donald Trump just comes at -- directly at you as a New York street fighter.

TAPPER: Do you think that President Trump will face the same fate of President Clinton, which is impeachment?

STARR: I hope not, because one of the lessons in the book is, impeachment is hell. The country should not be taken through that. The founding generation wisely knew that it was such a serious action, it should require a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Unless there is a growing national consensus that impeachment is proper, it's doomed to fail and it's just the wrong way to go.

And it's very good...

TAPPER: So, you -- you're happy that President Clinton was not removed from office? You think that it worked the way it should have?

STARR: I think the system worked.

How would I have voted as a senator? I think I would have voted to remove him. But I can understand full well the interests of the American people and then a significant number of the senators, who just said, this is not directly related. What he did, they were crimes, but it's not directly related enough to his conduct of the presidency.


And that may happen here. We will -- we will see. All this that is related thus far has to do with things that happened before the president of the United States, Donald Trump, was sworn in.

TAPPER: Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, worked for you...


TAPPER: ... while -- while you were doing the impeachment proceedings, et cetera, while you were gathering evidence.


TAPPER: I want to ask, what was your -- I know you support him for -- for Supreme Court.


TAPPER: What was your reaction when you heard about this anonymous allegation about him by a woman alleging that, in high school, there was serious sexual misconduct, if not attempted assault?

STARR: As someone who's interested in process and fairness, obviously, any allegation is -- of this kind of nature is an unfortunate, serious allegation.

But, to be honest, I was outraged about the timing, as well as the process, that the letter from something long ago was in the hands -- and you covered it very well -- of the Democrats in July, and yet there was nothing done about this.

I just think it's too late for there to be any serious consideration at this stage. It's sort of, the matter has adjourned. You had your opportunity to come forward, and you failed to do that year after year after year.

TAPPER: The book is "Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation."

Ken Starr, thanks for being here.

STARR: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

With less than two months until Election Day could the president's confidence about a red wave backfire in November? That's what a new study suggests. Stay with us.




NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nobody is going to underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help this campaign to where it is right now.

ERIC TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: Paul is a great guy. And I think my father didn't want to be, you know, destructed by, you know, whatever things that, you know, Paul was dealing with and, you know, Paul was amazing. And, you know, he helped us get through the primary process.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Paul, helped us grow the campaign and we need 10 more of these.


TAPPER: Members of the Trump team in 2016 talking about how great Paul Manafort was, how essential he was. Our panel joins us now.

And, Marc, we should, first of all, point out that you had an NDA that you signed when you joined the Trump campaign in 2016. We're supposed to mention that. But let me -- let me say that it's hard to make the argument that Paul Manafort had nothing to do with Trump or the campaign.

MARC SHORT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: I agree with you on that, Jake. I think that Paul was brought in at the time to help with the convention and he did a good job with it.

TAPPER: And then he ran the campaign after the convention. And then he -- I mean --

SHORT: He was campaign manager. You're right. And I think that Kellyanne was campaign manager, did a phenomenal job, too. So I think that -- yes, it's hard to say that he had no role in the campaign.

At the same time, Jake, it seems so far all of the allegations predate his involvement in the campaign. It's about his times as a lobbyist, representing foreign governments. And tax evasion is a serious charge and not filing as a foreign lobbyist is a serious charge and those should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but that does not equate to collusion with Russia on the campaign. TAPPER: Congresswoman --

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think Bob Mueller has been running a great investigation. I think he was just handed the keys to the castle. Not just with Manafort but also Cohen.

I mean, when you think about this, it isn't just the individual pieces that we're seeing, but what we're seeing is top advisers, people who ran the campaign, the campaign manager, the deputy campaign manager, the president's personal lawyer who have all pleaded guilty. And you have to begin to wonder what exactly -- how it could possibly be the case that the president knew nothing about what was going on.

We obviously still have a ways to go in terms of connecting Russia to the campaign and the president. That is still out there.

But I think that you see this reflected in the polls. You see people recognizing they don't trust the president, they don't trust -- they believe that Bob Mueller is doing a good job and that the investigation should continue. And I think people are saying, look, this is outrageous.

This level of corruption, greed, some of the individual charges that are outlined in the Manafort, you know, charging document really show that this guy -- I mean, he's in jail because of jury tampering. This was the person who ran Donald Trump's campaign. Not just some junior person, the person who ran his campaign. I think that's a problem.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, we've seen President Trump's approval among independents take a real hit in the last couple of months. And -- this and Michael Cohen might be some of the reasons for it.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think that's the case. And I think it's a threat during midterms but it is hard to make the argument that he had nothing to do with the campaign. It's easy to make the argument that the crimes which he has been convicted predated Donald Trump and that he would have had no way to know about them because he didn't know Manafort at the time.

By the way I would like to remark that you can run the clock or run the tape back on me on 2016 saying, I don't know about this Manafort character.

TAPPER: Manafort fellow. Yes.

HAM: So I'm not surprised that this stuff has come out. It remains an assumption that Mueller has made this deal because there's definitely something there. Certainly he has proffered something but it remains to be seen.

Of course, those two guys are the only two who know at this point exactly what he has and whether it actually does go to collusion, which is the big, very big missing piece of this thus far.

TAPPER: I want to just turn to politics if we can because all of this comes as we're less than two minutes -- two months away -- feels like two minutes.


TAPPER: Two months away from the midterms. I want to take -- show you this remarkable quote from "The New York Times" reporting a series of focus groups done by America First Action, that's a political action committee associated with President Trump.

"The Times" reported -- quote -- "Conservative-leaning voters in the study routinely dismissed the possibility of a Democratic wave election with some describing the prospect as fake news."

And this is interesting because President Trump is the one out there saying we have a red wave coming. It's not a blue wave. Don't believe the polls (ph). That actually could end up hurting him if his supporters believe that there's -- there's no threat.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: Yes because it's a base election.

That's what midterms are all about. And if you can't get your base out, which he needs to come out, then you're not going to do well in a midterm election. Donald Trump's polling numbers, favorability numbers are down.


You guys have him at 36. We saw "Washington Post" two weeks ago at 36. And a lot of it is because what we have seen this summer, the Helsinki with Putin, and also the tearing up the kids with their families which is hurting him with key voters that he will need in November.

TAPPER: Which ones specifically?

JEAN-PIERRE: I think independent voters (ph), suburban moms. We saw some softening with rural moms as well, or rural women I should say. And that is problematic for Republicans and in the federal -- and also that -- we see fighting for gubernatorial and Senate races as well.

And so this is where we are. But I have to say, you know, I think we should -- Democrats should not sit on their laurels. I think, yes, the wind is behind our backs.

The metrics and the data showing that but we have to go out and make sure we knock on all the doors and make all the calls. Because you'll never know what could happen.

SHORT: I think the last time that there was one party that controls the White House, the House and the Senate, Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010. It's tough to win when you control.

America wants a divided government. At the same time I think what's probably cap (ph) on Democrats' success is candidates who want to make abolish immigration and customs, who want to make sure that there's Medicare for all, government paid for every single American. I think that the policies that Democrats are taking moved them further and further to the left is what's going to negate them having perhaps the caps (ph) on the election cycle they want.

TAPPER: Is that true, do you think?

JAYAPAL: No. I mean, I really --

TAPPER: President Obama embraced Medicare for all in the last few --


JAYAPAL: He did and I really think that this is all about people across the country, red states and blue states, wanting a check on this president.

They see the chaos of the last 18 months. They don't want it. They don't like not only -- you know, they don't like the shattering of norms.

What does a person who has the biggest bully pulpit of the White House do? They don't like the tweets that come from the president, contesting what happened in Maria.

They want him to be focused. They want him to be presidential. And Donald Trump is none of those things.

But in addition to that, I think people are not seeing their own lives changing. And I -- they -- you know, health care is the number one issue on the table. It really is.

And when you look at what Republicans have done to undermine health care costs, to drive premiums up, to strip pre-existing -- you know, the ability to qualify for health care with pre-existing conditions, these are things that Americans care about. They do not see health care getting better.

I think that is the number one issue on the table. I think Republicans have done nothing to support the Affordable Care Act.

TAPPER: Yes. You are somebody who has issues with Obamacare being on -- a subscriber to Obamacare, your premiums went up. Are you concerned --

HAM: There are a lot of bad things that happened before.

TAPPER: Right. Are you concerned because I know you don't like what happened with Obamacare. Are you concerned that the president's behavior or whatever it is, is going to hurt your ability -- I assume you support Republicans --


HAM: Yes. I'm not sure it's the behavior that's the problem. It's like the system's inability to address the problem in this sort of nuanced way, which is the problem we have with Obamacare, and a bunch of broken promises and sort of blanket promises that did not come true and was the case during -- trying to tweak it in any way possible.

I'm not sure it's the top issue on people's minds. But I will say this. I do think the greatest allies Republicans have are Democratic overreach and the economy.

But people aren't able to think about those things when Trump is tweeting a ton. And the number was like 58 to 27 percent, people want -- voters want Congress to be more of a check on the president. That's trouble for him, especially in the House.

That being said, it cannot be overstate how friendly the Senate map is for Republicans. They are blowing a chance to gain a bunch of seats but they may very well keep what they have and maybe even gain a few and vulnerable Democrat spots.

TAPPER: I know you are concerned about House. Are you concerned -- you wanted to stay in Republican hands and you're concerned about it. Are you concerned about the Senate? Do you see it more vulnerable than it was before?

SHORT: Of course. I think that any time you're in this sort of situation it's difficult. But I do think, as Mary Katharine said, the map is far more favorable. I think it looks favorable in Missouri, in North Dakota, in Indiana, and Florida.

So like there's several opportunities for pickups.

JEAN-PIERRE: Donald Trump is going to Texas in a couple of weeks to help Ted Cruz. I think that says everything we need to know.



JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, Ted Cruz is ups for grabs which I don't think it was a couple of weeks ago.

HAM (ph): I think so, too. Yes.

TAPPER: Thanks so much everyone. Appreciate it.

The final thought on the president's trouble with the truth and empathy in the time of crisis in Puerto Rico. Next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back. President Trump making it clear this week that when it came to the national tragedy caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he seems to think that the real victim is him. The president continuing to dispute the official death toll of close to 3,000 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria saying Democrats made up the number -- quote -- "like magic."

Of course, the president is combing a few of his favorite things here in this false claim blaming the Democrats, tending to the needs of his ego and reputation, and carelessly spreading conspiracy theories without ever issuing a fraction of proof to back up what he's saying. He did this for years, of course, perpetuating the lie that President Obama wasn't born in the United States and claiming with no evidence that he saw on TV thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11 from rooftops, suggesting Senator Ted Cruz's father might have been involved in the assassination of JFK, insisting he only lost the popular vote because 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. And on and on and on.

And now in the middle of another deadly storm he lightly (ph) dismisses the Puerto Rico death toll and takes an undeserved victory lap around an island that is still suffering. Now taking issue with the methodology of the study that approximately 3,000 deaths, that is one thing, but dismissing those numbers as part of an attempt to victimize him, that's another.


On Twitter this weekend, the governor of Puerto Rico pleaded with President Trump offering to walk him through the scientific process that led to the updated death toll -- quote -- "There is no reason to underscore the tragedy we have suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria" -- Governor Rossello wrote -- quote -- "I hope you consider sending a message of support to show you stand with all of the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico that lost loved ones. It would certainly be an act of respect and empathy."

On election night, Mr. Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans, too, Mr. President.

How does writing about President Trump compare to writing about President Nixon? The reporter who has done both, Bob Woodward, will be here next.