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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Rep. Chris Collins Talks Trump Campaign; Rubio Goes After Trump; Romney Heightens Trump Tax Attack. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 26, 2016 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] REP. CHRIS COLLINS, (R), NEW YORK: And I can assure you, the Republican are going to coalesce around the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, because our country, which is at a tipping point, supreme court justice, cannot survive four or eight years of a Hillary Clinton administration. So come Super Tuesday, maybe we get into a couple of the other win or take you'll elections, we're going to coalesce. Everyone will be coalescing around Donald Trump to stop the progressive liberals as in Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton from destroying this country, and having our children live the American nightmare, instead of the American dream.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, real quick, you say what you're hearing last night and this morning from Trump's rivals is the establishment throwing the kitchen sink at Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Right.

BOLDUAN: A lot of folks see Marco Rubio taking on Donald Trump, and taking him on in a Donald Trump way. He calls Donald Trump a con artist, but that's in response to Donald Trump calling him a choke artist. Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz a liar. A fraud, and Ted Cruz should be ashamed he doesn't picked up any endorsements in the Senate. That's just what popped in my head right now. A longer list. Can you acknowledge that Donald Trump started this?

COLLINS: Well, you have to admit, if somebody is losing their state by 18 points, they're going to pull out all the stops and say obviously America is not responding to my message, you know, as a politician. We're going to adopt somewhat of the Donald Trump. It's too late. Too late. I believe people have made up their mind. They say in Florida today, less than 5 percent of the public still on the fence. It's a done deal. So again, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. And as we take the fight to what we think will be Hillary Clinton, the future of our country is at stake.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Just quickly, last question. Do you know of any other members of Congress who are about to endorse Donald Trump?

COLLINS: No, John, I'm guessing most of them are going to sit on the sidelines, but I can tell you many members came up to me yesterday and for one reason or another, they say I can't formally endorse Donald Trump, but I'm not only with him, but I'm going to be aggressively with him once he wins the nomination.

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: How many? Can you give us a number of how many people have said that to you?

COLLINS: Just yesterday, I had 10, 15, 20, on the House floor and we're not there for a long period of time. I was getting a few high- fives and a few fist pumps. I would say aren't you ready to endorse Mr. Trump, and they say, I have some issues in my district, issues with donors, but I'm with him. He is going to be our nominee. The feeling in Congress, Donald Trump will be representing the Republican Party in the fight against probably Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: Congressman Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump, 10 to 15 saying they're backing Donald Trump if not publicly, thanks so much for being with us.

COLLINS: Thank you, John.

Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Congressman.

So coming up any minute now, Donald Trump will be taking the stage in Fort Worth, Texas. A live picture of the room right there. His chance to respond not only to the hits coming out of last night, but this morning, Marco Rubio who just called him once again a con artist, called him old, and suggested that he possibly hired foreign workers to compose his tweets today. It's a whole new game, folks. We're going to bring that to you live.

BERMAN: Plus, Donald Trump says he can't release his tax returns yet, because he is being audited. Is that true? Pretty revealing fact check as Republicans pile up, pile on, on the current front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: How could that be? My party is going bat-shit crazy.

(CHEERING)

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:38:07] RUBIO: What we are dealing with here, my friends, is a con artist. He is a con artist. First of all, he runs on this idea he is fighting for the little guy. But he has spent his entire career sticking it to the little guy. His entire career. All right, every business that he has ever run that's gone bankrupt. This guy bankrupted a casino. How do you bankrupt a casino?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Moments ago, Senator Marco Rubio going after Donald Trump harder than he ever has. Eight months, barely mentioning his name, until the entire event which was mostly about Donald Trump.

We should tell you, Donald Trump will respond with his own news conference. He says he has a big announcement to make.

Joining us again, David Gregory, former host of "Meet the Press"; Kayleigh McEnany, a political analyst and a Donald Trump supporter; and Doug Heye, who has done many things in his life, and has many leather-bound books.

(LAUGHTER)

David Gregory, I want to start with you, here.

We spoke to Rep. Chris Collins, of New York, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump. He said he thought the attacks were desperate and they were too late. Now, taken with a grain of salt, that's from a Trump supporter, but a legitimate question here, whether Marco Rubio is starting this whole anti-Trump thing, too late.

DAVID GREGORY, VETERAN JOURNALIST & FORMER MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Certainly late. We'll find out if it's too late. It's certainly overdue, as a political practice points. I actually want to underline something Amanda said a couple of segments ago that was really important. It is good political practice, as ridiculous as it is to read the tweets from Donald Trump start trolling him and good style and political practice for Rubio to say I'm going to meet him on his level, a taunt and fight with him and trade insults to show that I can stand up to this bully, and then pivot and make his case to voters. He has to try to reach Trump voters who might be sort in their allegiance and begin to show his own base of support where he wants to consolidate, Cruz, Kasich or just sitting out, that he has got the fight to take this to Trump to win it, kind of on the schoolyard level, but also to win it on substance.

[11:40:26] BOLDUAN: You talk about, we saw that this morning and that all started last night. I want to play one exchange, and there were plenty, that having encapsulates this new fight, this new fire, coming at Donald Trump. That he is spending off. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: I also think that if you're going to claim that you're the only one that lifted this into the campaign that you acknowledge that, for example, you're the only person on the stage that's been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I'm the only one on the stage that has hired people. You haven't hired anybody.

(CHEERING) (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Folks not named Trump folks, who are not for a man named Trump, they've been waiting for this fire to come at him, Kayleigh. As a Trump supporter, where do you see the fight going from here?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST & COMMENTATOR: You know, he is going to be attacked, just what we saw last night, only the beginning. We saw Rubio attacking him on the campaign trail. That's going to continue and continue and continue. As long as Donald Trump is the front front-runner and he'll continue to be the front-runner. Nine of the 12 Super Tuesdays, ahead in Massachusetts, likewise, ahead in southern states, with different demographics. He'll be attacked. We know this about Donald Trump. Whenever he is attacked, he succeeds. When Jeb Bush attacked him in Las Vegas, everyone said Jeb Bush had the greatest night of his life. So if history is any indicator, attacking Donald Trump is just going to mean you falling in the polls and stifling and tripping up on the campaign trail.

BERMAN: What about that, Doug? We've learned in this campaign so far is that the debates have mattered. The debates have changed the trajectory of this race. I mean, mar after he had that issue in New Hampshire. Donald Trump had that dust up in South Carolina, and he still won South Carolina, but his lead was not by as much as it had been. So is there enough time for this to sink in before Tuesday and you know, will it have the effect that a lot of the pundits think it will have?

DOUG HEYE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Obviously Donald Trump has been impervious to most political realities that we've known over the last millennia, but it may be late in the game but I don't think it's too late yet. Republicans have gone through three stages with Donald Trump. First was don't attack him, he is not serious. Don't attack him, he won't last too long. It won't work. And then the third was don't attack him, it's too late. It's not too late. What has to be done is exactly what Marco Rubio has been doing, but it can't be a one attack and move on. It has to be sustained, because we know whether it's at the upcoming press conference or something else later in the day, Donald Trump is going to create another outrage that's going to get us all talking about something that has nothing to do really with the problems that we're facing in this country or anything to do with substantially with this campaign. If you're Marco Rubio, you keep going on the attacks and you don't let up. It may work, it may not work. But it has to be sustained.

BOLDUAN: David, final word. Do you think this is now effectively after last night a two person race, but it being Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, even Ted Cruz would like to say it's a two person race and his name is in there?

GREGORY: Yeah, I don't think we can say that yet. There is a lot of momentum within the party, within the party establishment, among donors, and Marco Rubio has helped, and even true in the media as well, pushing towards Rubio. But Super Tuesday will tell us a lot about particularly in Texas, whether Cruz still has some strengths moving forward. I also agree with Doug on this. This is not just about throwing the kitchen sink at him. It's about substantive attacks, electability, temperament, insults, where he is thin, Donald Trump is thin on policy prescriptions. On whether he is consistent on some of his views, policy in the Middle East more generally, that's how you get to the larger point he is not for real. He is a con artist. You have to deconstruct him in a way that would make him look less goods among his supporters. I think to the point that I made, a lot of work to be done to achieve that.

BOLDUAN: David Gregory, Kayleigh, Doug, great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

GREGORY: Thank you.

MCENANY: Thank you.

HEYE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And right now, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is holding a live rally in Minnesota as he races to the finish trying to win over more supporters ahead of Super Tuesday, more specifically, ahead of South Carolina. The big primary there this Saturday. Get this. He is now getting some help from top Republican donors and hitting Hillary for her Wall Street speeches.

[11:45:16] BERMAN: Plus, Mitt Romney now part of the 2016 race in his Twitter war with Donald Trump, before, during after the debate. He continues to say Trump has no good reason to keep his tax returns private. Trump says he can't do anything while the IRS is auditing him. What does the IRS say about this? New developments ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So what is Donald Trump hiding in his tax returns? That's the very question that the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is continuing to push against the GOP front-runner this time. Saying this, that's Mitt Romney, on Twitter last night during the debate. He tweeted this: "No legitimate reason Donald Trump can't release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns, no longer under audit."

BERMAN: Here is how Donald Trump addressed that issue last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will absolutely give my returns, but I'm being audited for two or three years, so I can't do it until the audit is finished obviously. I think people would understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Can't do it? Obviously? Is it obvious?

Let's bring in CNN chief business correspondent, anchor of "Early Start," Christine Romans.

What's the real reason? [11:50:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT &

ANCHOR, EARLY START: He can do it, or he doesn't want to do it, or his lawyers don't want him to do it, his tax attorneys don't want him to do it.

We talked to the IRS, you own there's no reason why those couldn't be released or prior years. The IRS not commenting specifically about Donald Trump saying you can release them even having an audit. Saying, no, you can release the tax information.

Let's talk about Mitt Romney here because he did release two tax returns, 2010, 2011, about a month before the general election, I think. September maybe of that election year and he released a 20- year summary. Interesting here, IRS audits are actually down but not for millionaires. The IRS is going after the big fish. It's budget is down and going after big fish. Millionaires like Donald Trump are the ones who are being audited. So if you make a lot of money, more likely to be audited right now, not the regular guy.

What are we looking at here? What will these returns show? How much money he makes, obviously. Showing what kind of donations he may have given and even going back several years. A lot of conservatives want to know what kind of people was he giving money to and the organizations, or was he doing that through a foundation or business income? What kind of deductions did he effective tax rate. Donald Trump said, you guys, many times, publicly, that he works hard to pay as little as tax as possible because he doesn't like what the government does with his money, but how little tax did he pay? And just what is the extent of his income and wealth? Financial journalists for years, as you know, questioned whether he has the money he says he does. Tax returns would show that.

BERMAN: It shows the income, not necessarily net worth.

ROMANS: That's right. It would show year by year adjusted gross income. That's right.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Stand by. There's more to talk about.

Moments away from Donald Trump making the first public appearance since the debate. His first public comments since Marco Rubio went after him hard during an event. Donald Trump says he is about to make a big announcement. You see live pictures right there. What is that announcement? We'll take you live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:56:13] BERMAN: Donald Trump will be facing reporters in just a few moments. You're taking a live look there and in the room his first appearance since last night's rumble in Houston. We'll bring it to you live. And just before the break, we were looking in to this new focus on Donald Trump's taxes, the audit he says prevents him from releasing the returns, and the drum beat now coming from Mitt Romney and others to push them out.

Let's bring back CNN's chief business correspondent, anchor of "Early Start," Christine Romans; and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Margaret Hoover, who also worked for two presidential campaigns; Ryan Williams, himself, a veteran of a presidential campaign, working for Mitt Romney last time around; and also Steve Ministeri, a former senior adviser to Rand Paul's presidential campaign, former chair of the Texas Republican Party.

Ryan, let me start with you.

Your guy, Mitt Romney, who ran four years ago was all of a sudden in the middle of the 2016 race going after Donald Trump for the tax returns saying he should release them and no reason an audit to prevent that. Where does this end? Do you think?

RAY WILLIAMS, FORMER SPOKESMAN, MITT ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, it should end with Donald Trump releasing the tax returns. Governor Romney is saying, why won't he release them? It's a standard question that Republicans and Democrats up and down the ballot, asked to release to release them. Senator Rubio, Senator Cruz, governor Kasich said they're willing to do it. The question is, what is Trump hiding. The excuse of being audited. It's the question of, what is he hiding? What is Donald Trump trying to keep from the public?

BOLDUAN: Even if it's -- if it's something or nothing, I think the question really, Steve, is what kind of legs do you think this issue has? Do you think and most importantly do you think Donald Trump supporters care about it?

STEVE MINISTERI, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, RAND PAUL PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & FORMER CHAIRMAN, TEXAS REPUBLICAN PARTY: No. Absolutely not. Donald Trump one third of the party but where these attacks make a difference is on the ceiling. If you look at the polls in the last three months, Donald Trump has been frozen in the 30s. We have had 12 out of 17 candidates drop out and if you look at the last six polls he is at 31, 35, 26, 35 and 35. He has a frozen base but what the attacks do is give him a frozen ceiling, as well.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, you cover the business circuit. It's not necessarily just the tax issue, and the questions those might raise, and could be an issue going forward. But you think legitimate business questions about Donald Trump's business practices when it comes to immigrant labor.

ROMANS: It resonates a lot of people supporting him. Because he as Marco Rubio said, championed him as a crusader of immigration and peeling it back, you can see that right now the resort in Florida, he is using a worker-free visa programs, bringing in foreign labor to do jobs that at least down there some of the job bank people say Americans would do the jobs and he had that famous lawsuit from the '80s, Polish workers. You heard about that last night, as well. He has been dinged by a court for illegally hiring workers. So on the illegal immigration and legal immigration, he has used I guess the dysfunction of the system for the advantage of his companies. Will that resonate with American workers that seem to like him?

BOLDUAN: This is one of the things Marco Rubio was hitting on, hitting on, hitting on last night. It seems like a new day in this campaign after the debate between -- at least a new line of attack coming from Marco Rubio.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Nobody expected that Marco Rubio would go so aggressively at Donald Trump. Part of is people are surprised and delighted and --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And we're about to hear from Donald Trump. You are not a Trump supporter. There's no question about that. What do you think -- what do you think -- does he change strategy?

HOOVER: His strategy has been the same through out the campaign. It's divert, deflect, insult, divert, deflect, insult -- don't look at anyone too long, just bring in a new topic and keep the ball moving, keep people distracted, keep shifting people's attention. That's all he's done. I can only imagine --