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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Praises Medal of Honor Recipient Supporters Trump Addresses Birther Issue in Speech Rep. Gregory Meeks Reacts to Trump Speech; Harry Reid Responds to Trump Speech. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 16, 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] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Marc Lamont Hill, let me start with you.

We have to keep the suspense going, which he seems to be doing on the stage right now. It feels like he's treating this like a game.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah.

BERMAN: Is questioning the birthplace of the president of the United States, is that a game?

HILL: It should not be a game. This is one of the most disgusting and pejorative moments of the entire Trump campaign for me. That's saying something. First of all, eight years later, to still be debating whether or not the president was born in America is absurd to me. To then present it as if he has some big announcement, and he's going to confirm the president's birthplace, which is essentially confirming the president of America is American, eight years later, to me, positions him as some sort of arbiter of citizenship.

BOLDUAN: Hang on.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We think Donald Trump is now speaking for real.

(APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

(CHANTING)

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

Please sit down.

Thank you. This is such an amazing honor. The difference is we want to all get back to work. Whether it's building our military or building our country, we have to get back to work. We have a lot of work to do. We have been very much left behind. Speaking with the admirals and the generals and all of the military people, we talk about the word depletion. The military has been so badly treated in terms of its equipment and the money being spent. And this is a time where we need our military perhaps more than ever. When you look at the number of ships, you look at the number of military personnel, you look at the numbers, they are setting records for all-time lows. We can't have that. There's a world out there, and it's not nice to say, but there are a lot of very, very evil people heading up some potentially very strong countries. We have to be prepared. We have to keep our country so great and so strong. And that's why to have all of the support from so many generals, so many admirals, people I respect so much. They're smart, they're tough, they know what's happening. And I believe in them totally. And that's why the fact that they believe in me is one of the great honors of my life.

So I want to thank everybody. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton --

(LAUGHTER)

(BOOING)

TRUMP: -- and her campaign of 2008 started the Birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.

Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BOLDUAN: That was it. That was it. This started at 11:04. And at 11:30, he came back to the microphone and said, for the first time since starting this back in 2011, that he believes Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. There you have it.

Marc Lamont Hill, wow.

LAMONT HILL: This was absolutely repugnant. First of all, Donald Trump has never given a speech this short before on any issue. He talks for hours sometimes when it's supposed to be five minutes. He gave essentially a 30-second perhaps message that President Obama was born in America, period. Even then, he didn't take full responsibility for his contribution to the dialogue.

I don't disagree with him that Hillary Clinton had some soft moments of Birtherism, sending out the Kenya picture, doing other things in 2008. But Hillary Clinton has unequivocally said Barack Obama was born here. Donald Trump pushed an agenda for years --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Honestly --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: It wasn't the Clinton campaign. There were supporters of Hillary Clinton who did send e-mails around. Hillary Clinton and her campaign never, ever pushed this issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Hang on.

And, guys, no matter what, it doesn't matter. Donald Trump, it's false, it doesn't matter. Donald Trump from 2011 --

BERMAN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- he made this his signature issue. No one has gone as far as Donald Trump on the Birther issue. Donald Trump needs to answer for Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Hang on, hang on, hang on.

What we are going to do is bring in John king right now to analyze this a little bit.

In addition to that, in addition to saying the untruth that Hillary Clinton pushed this, started the Birther controversy, Donald Trump bragged about finishing it. Donald Trump now, in 2016, says he finished the Birther controversy, taking credit five years after the fact, five years after President Obama produced his birth certificate. First of all, he finished the controversy. What controversy? The president was born in the United States of America.

[11:35:07] JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was born in Hawaii, yes. I actually don't know what to say here. I had the great good fortune, if you want to call it that, of interviewing Donald Trump. The interview was previously scheduled, on the very day Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate. On that day, Donald Trump said he had done the country a great service, after he had done the country a great disservice, by becoming the chief cheerleader for a fraud, a Birther movement, trying to delegitimize the sitting United States president.

So I really don't quite know what to make of that except for that we got played again by the Trump campaign, which is what they do. He got a live event broadcast for, what, 20-something minutes.

Kate, you were keeping the count.

And Jake is absolutely right. We should all have great respect and reverence for those military heroes, who are now making a political choice, just as the military heroes who made a different political choice and support Hillary Clinton. It's no disrespect to any of those heroes who served our country and continue to serve our country in different ways. But we just got played. We just got played. Voters can decide what to make of that.

You are right, Hillary Clinton's campaign never advanced it. Supporters of hers did. What those supporters did was reprehensible. But it was not the campaign itself.

There you got after, what, four or five years of leading a fraudulent, reckless campaign against the legitimacy of the United States president, you got about, what, six or seven words from Donald Trump saying he's decided it's over. I guess he gets to decide that.

BERMAN: None of them, none of those words, none of those words that came out of his mouth were "I'm sorry, I apologize," explaining why he ever did question the birth of the president of the United States.

I want to bring in Jake Tapper for your comments -- Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE LEAD & CNN ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, first of all, I agree with everything John said. We should point out that of the statement he said, "Hillary Clinton and her campaign started the Birther movement, I ended it." Those are two factually false statements. Hillary Clinton's campaign did make attempts to other-ize Obama during the 2007-2008 campaign talking about his foreign roots, talking about ways in which he might not necessarily be perceived as being rooted in this country. They never mentioned his birth certificate. That never happened by Hillary Clinton. That never happened by the Hillary Clinton campaign. I covered it at the time.

John's right. People who supported Hillary Clinton that put out a whole bunch of garbage about Barack Obama, that was reprehensible. And maybe somebody will ask Secretary Clinton about that. But she and her campaign never started the Birther issue.

Second, Donald Trump did not end the Birther issue. He takes credit for President Obama being pressured to release his birth certificate in 2011. And if you want to give him credit for that, I suppose you can.

That said, there really was never any question about whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States, in Hawaii, in 1961. There were contemporaneous newspaper mentions of his birth. There were never any serious questions as to whether or not he was born in Hawaii. It was a crackpot conspiracy theory. Donald Trump fueled it. And then after Barack Obama released his birth certificate, Donald Trump said that it was fraudulent or suggested it was fraudulent. And he kept up this Birther nonsense long after 2011. As recently as this year, he was suggesting that he had his thoughts about what Birtherism was. Last year, he was talking about how he didn't think the birth certificate was real.

And let's get into why this is important beyond the fact that it's a conspiracy theory, not unlike the conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz's dad had something to do with the Kennedy assassination, something else that Donald Trump put forward this year. This is significant because many people, including many African-Americans, think that the attempt to say that Barack Obama, the first African-American president, was born in Africa and was not eligible for the presidency, was not a real American, was not, quote, unquote, "one of us," that that whole campaign was racist. There are a great many people who feel that very passionately. And to act as though this is over like that is a disservice to those people who were greatly personally offended by the whole Birther movement.

And John King put it right when he said that he was, Donald Trump, was the lead cheerleader for that movement.

BOLDUAN: And let's be clear, Donald Trump didn't say when he concluded that Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Dana, was it when John King sat down with Donald Trump in 2011 and showed the birth certificate, or -- nothing has changed since then. I'm throwing it out there. I know there's no answer to it at the moment.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:39:47] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There is an answer to that question, and it's no. Trump has done several questioning whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States.

I think just looking at this going forward, what was the goal of this from the Trump campaign? The goal was to try to put a button on it, be able to talk about other issues and move on. Not going to happen. It's just not. Not with this kind of statement where, first of all, it was just, you know, two sentences, raising some more questions than answers, but more importantly, that -- traditionally, at least in the past yea and a half or so, Donald Trump has been immune to what is the normalcy of political campaigning, what is expected. But with something like this, you've got to stand there and take the questions, the questions about why did you come to this conclusion, what about the 2014 interview that you gave or the 2012 interview that you gave, why now, do you apologize. If he went through all that, maybe they would achieve the goal of being able to focus on jobs and immigration and veterans. Instead, what they did was tease us that he was going to say something, then as John said, played us by making sure that everybody who has an ability to show Donald Trump actually took 20 minutes or got 20 minutes of very important decorated veterans praising somebody who they think should be the next commander-in- chief, which would not have been live on cable news otherwise. So I definitely think it's a goal and we know it's a goal to try to put an end to this. Is not going to happen, and it will keep this discussion going at least in the near future instead of ending it.

BOLDUAN: It's really difficult to be surprised anymore in this election. The last 40 minutes of television and what we've thrown together is still pretty surprising.

BERMAN: Let's go -- hand on a second, we have Congressman Gregory Meeks, of New York, Democrat, with us right now.

Congressman Meeks, I want your reaction to what you just saw. Donald Trump says that Hillary Clinton started the Birther issue. Not true. That he finished it. Not true. Now he says that President Obama was born in the United States of America. Your reaction?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D), NEW YORK: I think it's a sad day for America, not just for African-Americans, that Donald Trump spent more time promoting his hotel than talking about this issue that's important to all of us. I think it's time for honesty. It's time for Donald Trump -- I mean, I have been saying it, and I know others have said it, especially Senator Rubio, it's like a con. He conned the media today to talk about an issue that's important to all of us that he has clearly led before and then lied, and before our very eyes, promote his hotel, then bring his heroes -- those individuals that were talking, they are indeed, American heroes. He had a Gold Star family member there. Those are heroes, and they are what makes our country great. They can choose who they want. But let's not play this game of conning the American people. It is insulting what he just did. And he's done it time and time and time again, which tries to divide us as a nation. We are "Stronger Together" as a people. This African-American museum opens up next week, and that's what its emphasis is, bringing us all together. And Donald Trump, what he just did, it's like he thinks that it's a game. You are playing a TV show and he can play with people and play with their emotions.

I'm a member of the United States Congress. This is a tough job. And I know that we have got to accept the media and take hits and do what we have to do but it's a serious job for our country.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Congressman --

MEEKS: -- not to play a game with it.

BOLDUAN: A lot of the criticism of even talking about it, you almost heard a little bit of it from President Obama today -- I can't believe that's a question I'm going to get. The criticism is people don't care about this. Why is this important to you?

MEEKS: Well, look, Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States and he was elected twice. He's the first African-American president. It seems to me that Donald Trump was trying to divide this country. Even then he started his Birther comments, to say that an African-American could not be president of this country. That is actually one of the greatest accomplishments, I think, of this country, showing that we were getting beyond some of what our past history was, and that we could move forward and be greater together, "Stronger Together." From many, one. And Donald Trump is implying -- and I think this is what when we talk about deplorables, none of those individuals that were American heroes that talked are deplorable, but some of the things that Donald Trump himself is, in fact, deplorable. And I believe what he did today is deplorable.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

BERMAN: Jake Tapper, I want to bring you back into the conversation.

You just heard the Congressman say it, we got conned and we heard from the Congressman himself about why he, an African-American member of Congress, thinks this issue is important and thinks it resonates with African-American voters.

[11:44:58] TAPPER: Yeah. Not just African-American voters, but certainly African-Americans might feel more passionately about it just because Barack Obama is the first African-American president.

And, look, long before Donald Trump entered the Birther debate and I was a White House correspondent, there were these crackpots out there saying that Barack Obama wasn't born in this country. There was no evidence for it. There was plenty of contemporaneous evidence suggesting otherwise, that Barack Obama was born in the United States. And no matter what you threw at these people, look at these contemporaneous birth announcements in the "Honolulu Advertiser" at the time, they would have some ridiculous explanation as to why that happened. And to act as though there isn't a racial component to this I think is a little naive. I'm not saying all conspiracies are race- based. I don't think that when -- that every conspiracy theory is necessarily racist. But to act as though the idea that accusations, based on nothing, that the first African-American president was born in Africa and, thus, was ineligible for the presidency, to act as though, in this era where we still see so much racial tension and so much racial division, I think is naive.

I think the reason this issue has re-emerged is because two or three weeks ago, Donald Trump started trying to do outreach to the black community. Now, whether that was aimed at actually reaching out and getting black voters or it was also aimed at convincing white voters that Donald Trump is not a bigot, which is something that plagues this campaign with so many people in his campaign, in his inner circle, worried about voters perceiving him to be prejudiced, that's up to debate a political question. But the idea that somebody who did this, and so many African-American voters are still so offended by it, the idea of him making this outreach, naturally brought up the questions of, well, can you understand why so many African-Americans are still so troubled by this, and do you owe them an apology.

We had Dr. Ben Carson on my show a week or two ago and he said he did think that Donald Trump should apologize and acknowledge that it was a mistake. That's not what we heard. Again, what we heard is Donald Trump said that Barack Obama's born in the United States, which has been a fact since 1961, but congratulations for realizing it. And then he said Hillary Clinton started Birtherism -- not true -- and I ended it -- also not true.

I guess I'm curious as to what the reasoning is there, because while we all got rick-rolled and played in terms of rolling the endorsements of those who came out to talk about Trump and why they support him, Medal of Honor recipients and the like, what's largely going to be covered is these two sentences, one of which is completely untrue, the idea that Clinton started this and that he ended it.

BOLDUAN: Jake, let me jump in for one second. I want to take us all and our viewers to Capitol Hill.

Manu Raju is there with the top Democrat in the Senate, Senator Harry Reid -- Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Thanks, Kate.

Senator Reid, thank you so much for talking with us.

Donald Trump actually just said that he believes that Barack Obama was born here in the United States. He said that he actually brought the matter to a successful conclusion after he said it was brought up initially by the Hillary Clinton campaign. What is response to Donald Trump now saying that Obama's born in the United States?

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Hillary brought it up? What a liar. He never questioned citizenship of anyone else running for president, no one else. He is just such a phony. Here's a man you can't believe anything he says. Nothing. Certainly you don't believe the fact he's not going to give us his income tax returns because there's an audit on every person of consequence says it doesn't matter if he's inn audit or not. Now he's so weak on the subject he doesn't even talk about it. He sends his kids out to talk about his tax returns. He is one of the most unbelievably immoral people I have ever heard deal with politics. Here's a man who attacks people of color, women, people's sexual identity, people who are handicapped. What kind of a man would do this? Frankly, Manu, everybody thinks this is directed toward somebody else. But it's directed toward us.

(CROSSTALK)

REID: For example, he now makes fun of the fact that I'm blind in one eye. I'm blind in one eye, OK? I got that. But I can still see with my good eye. What an absolute fraud this man is, who wants to be president of the United States.

RAJU: He was responding to actually a lot of your criticisms. You criticized his physique this week. You also called him a human leech. In response, he said, I think Harry Reid should go and start working out against and use his rubber workout band, poking fun at your exercise accident. So respond more fully.

[11:50:14] REID: But understand this, I, over my career, have had some altercations with a lot of people but they've all big shots, presidents, Senators, governors. I don't attack the little people. And that's what he loves to do. Whether it's because of someone's color, sexual identity, because they're a handicapped, because they're smarter than he is, he goes after people who can't defend themselves. And I always, always try to go after people who can defend themselves.

RAJU: Do you think his criticism of Obama's citizenship, questioning whether or not the president was a U.S. citizen, is that racially motivate in any way?

REID: Of course, it is. But forget about that. Why has he let his drag on for years? And then the man has the audacity, the ability to lie like no one I've ever seen. He said, well, Hillary's the one that brought it up. There couldn't be anything further that the truth. He's a liar. And I don't know if we should give any credence to anything the man says.

RAJU: Do you -- you said that he goes after people of color. Do you think he's actually racist?

REID: I don't know. All you guys have a job to do. You make that decision. I'm not going to. I'm just telling you what he's done and we've seen it. He's a man of no morality.

RAJU: Increasingly you've used strong word, but is it a sign Democrats are nervous that Donald Trump is doing better in the polls?

REID: Donald Trump will never be elected president of the United States. We're going to retake the Senate. Many, all of these polls about joke, a joke. We you know he can't be elected president. Republicans don't like him. I saw on TV they're going to the most Republican counties in Ohio that's always been Republican. It might not even go Republican this time.

RAJU: The race in the battleground states are tightening. He's winning in Ohio, Florida --

(CROSSTALK)

REID: They're tightening --

(CROSSTALK)

REID: -- because people like the ones you work for get these cheap polls that they can keep making news on. Donald Trump will never be elected president of the United States. I have an obligation to tell everyone that will listen to me to make sure they understand that he is not a person of quality. He's a -- he's a bully. He's an egomaniac. He was born into wealth. He was born into wealth. He's -- he's lived in those mansions his whole life. He does not have any concept of what it is to have to work for a living.

RAJU: I mean, you've been going after him on the Senate floor where there's supposed to be business done in the United States Senate. You did the same thing against --

(CROSSTALK)

REID: I think --

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: -- the same against Mitt Romney in 20 --

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: Is it OK for the Senate minority leader to use the Senator floor to overtly campaign against a presidential candidate?

REID: Well, listen, I have an obligation as the Democratic leader to point out things that are wrong. And I have an obligation to go after people that I think are wrong. Now, I didn't criticize Romney on everything. There are a couple issues that he and I disagreed on. Number one, he obviously now agrees with me. Now he's saying more than anyone else -- because Republicans are kind of shrinking from this, especially McConnell and Ryan. Now Mitt Romney is saying why doesn't he show us his tax returns?

RAJU: Senator, we're about to get the hook here. I want to ask you about your concerns about Hillary Clinton's numbers right now. She is struggling. Why do you think -- what does she need to do --

(CROSSTALK)

REID: No, no, no. You listen to me. You keep going back to your numbers. Your numbers are not fair. They're not reliable.

RAJU: What does she need to do differently heading into the fall?

REID: She's doing a good job. She's doing an excellent job. I -- I admire her very, very much. She's a person who will be as -- as most everyone says, including President Obama yesterday, the most qualified person to ever run for president. That's pretty good backdrop for her. And people are beginning to learn that more and more every day. And I don't buy your silliness with $500 polls you go out and buy overnight. I don't believe them. They're not right. They're incorrect. You only do them it to generate news. Donald Trump is a fraud.

RAJU: Senator, we spend a little more money on polls than $500.

But thank you for talking to us.

Kate and John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Manu, thanks so much.

Manu Raju, with Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, thanks so much.

The Senate minority leader called Donald Trump a bully, an egomaniac, a person of no morality.

BOLDUAN: Not one to hold back.

BERMAN: Said he does not buy his statement that President Obama was now born in the United States of America, doesn't buy that that cleans up the mess.

But more than anything, Gloria Borger, he said Donald Trump will not be elected president of the United States. I was struck something Glenn Thrush, of "The Washington Post" said earlier today. He said -- "Politico," I'm sorry -- "Democrats have a hard time accepting that a clear majority of Americans are aware of Trump's racist xenophobic comments and back him anyway.

[11:55:19] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think Glenn Thrush is right. I think Harry Reid said what I expect him to say, which is the polls don't matter right now and that Donald Trump is not going to be elected president. I would like to say something about what transpired, we all just

watched today, because Donald Trump has billed himself as not a politician. And what I saw today was a breathtaking act of political expediency, in saying that Barack Obama was born in the United States, period, and not doing anything else about it. This is a candidate who catapulted himself in the national stage on the very premise that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and he was afraid that that premise was now going to derail his candidacy, because African- American voters are offended by it, lots of white voters are offended by it, lots of voters that he needs who are persuadable are offended by it. So what we saw today, without explanation of why he suddenly had a thing that of heart, was a candidate, a political candidate, trying to put a period on an issue that he knew could derail his candidacy, in a very sort of simple way, using his own words, without explaining his change of heart. And I've covered politics for a while. You guys have covered politics for a while. And it was kind of stunning to me, because there was Donald Trump, the anti-politician -- I'm not like the rest of them -- in performing what I consider to be a very blatant political move.

BOLDUAN: So if politics are at play now, John King, what happens next?

KING: Well, just a factual footnote. In 2011, when he was raising this issue repeatedly over and over -- again, remember to Gloria's point of political expediency -- when Barack Obama was elected, Donald Trump said nice things about him. Said he thought he was a bright young man, good for the country. Then when he decided, or thought he would run for president in 2012 that is when he took over as chief cheerleader for the Birther movement. Connect the dots as to whether politics was involved in that.

I would not for the record, he also said in 2011, not this campaign, if the president released his birth certificate, he would release his taxes. Hmm. He said that back then.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Exactly what he said.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: He also offered $5 million for him to release transcripts and $ million to release records of his passports.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Are you a rock 'n' roll fan?

BERMAN: I like rock 'n' roll.

KING: "Won't get fooled again." Play it.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: John King, Donald Trump and his campaign want to put this to bed or else he wouldn't have done this today. Wouldn't most journalists know, who had a shot at interviewing Donald Trump, isn't now one of the obvious questions that I think anyone should ask to Donald Trump, why? What led you to reach this conclusion? Hasn't he opened himself up to now more questions, or guaranteed more questions going forward?

KING: Absolutely. Plus, the first nationally televised debate a week from Monday. No question Hillary Clinton will bring this up. Also no question -- look, Hillary Clinton is in a ditch in this campaign. Donald Trump has momentum now. If we were having this conversation three weeks ago, we'd say the state-by-state map heavily favors Hillary Clinton. As we have it today, we say the state-by-state slightly favors Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is moving in a way he would potentially, if continuing the momentum of the week to last 10 days could be in the lead by the time we get to their first debate. The Clinton campaign will take advantage of this because she has an enthusiasm problem with Latino-Americans and African-Americans, which is a critical piece of the Obama coalition. She has an enthusiasm problem with Millennial, young voters, who maybe they didn't vote for Barack Obama, maybe weren't old enough. Those who were old enough, most did vote for Barack Obama. This is a potential motivational issue for Democrats in the way he gave that answer. There's no question he's going to be asked more about it. But, number one, as Jake said, he didn't begin it, and he didn't end it. I would put this down, though, this is the biggest flip-flop of this campaign. Donald Trump flip-flopping on Birther.

BOLDUAN: When he reached his new conclusion, we will have to find out. And we'll continue to talk about it.

John King, thank you.

Everybody, thank you so much.

Our special coverage continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[12:00:00] ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Welcome to "Legal View."

53 days before the election, 2,796 days after President Obama first took his oath of office. And that's is when Donald Trump decided to admit that Mr. Obama is, in fact, and American --