Return to Transcripts main page


Candidates Face Off In First Presidential Debate. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2016 - 04:00   ET



HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have a feeling by the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.


CLINTON: Why not? Yes, why not?


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The mayhem begins. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, their first presidential debate -- taxes, e-mails, birther lies, just the beginning. The candidates go head-to-head in the first debate. Who came out on top?

This is the first day after post-analysis anywhere on television.

EARLY START begins right now.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, September 27th, approaching 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and, of course, all of you watching around the world.

Finally, the moment we have been waiting for -- the first presidential debate. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump head-to-head last night at Hofstra University on Long Island. Every word, every gesture, every rebuttal, evidence for voters in the weeks ahead. The most important themes of this campaign, trade, taxes, Iraq, her emails, his judgment.

So, who won? Who lost? How will it instruct the campaign with just six weeks remaining until Election Day?

Joining us with the latest, CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Good morning. Bright and early this morning, Phil Mattingly.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. How are you doing?

Look, let the record show for at least two minutes, there were pleasantries exchanged last night. For the next 93 to 94 minutes, it was the exact opposite. Look, we knew it would be a raucous debate, attacks back and forth. Hillary Clinton trying to paint Donald Trump like he was unfit for office, Donald Trump trying to paint Hillary Clinton as status quo and himself as a change agent. Those attacks went back and forth.

[04:00:01] But Donald Trump was on the defensive for much of the night, including on his claimed initial opposition to the Iraq war. Take a listen.


TRUMP: President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq, because they got out -- what, they shouldn't have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed.

CLINTON: Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: That is absolutely proved over and over.

LESTER HOLT, DEBATE MODERATOR: You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. What makes --

TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq. That is a mainstream media nonsense put out by her because she frankly the best person in her campaign is mainstream media.


MATTINGLY: Now, guys, the record does show that Donald Trump in 2002 before the Iraq invasion did, in fact, say he supported it.

Now, a number of Donald Trump attacks did land, particularly on trade, where it looked like he had Hillary Clinton on her heels through much of the debate.

But one consistent attack that we heard over and over again on the campaign trail on Hillary Clinton as Donald Trump said, stamina, that appeared to back fire. Take a listen to this.


TRUMP: And I just left Detroit, and I just left Philadelphia, and I just -- you know, you've seen me, I've been all over the place. You decided to stay home, and that's OK. But I will tell you, I've been all over. And I've met some of the greatest people I'll ever meet within these communities. And they are very, very upset with what their politicians have told them and what their politicians have done.

HOLT: Mr. Trump, I --

CLINTON: I think -- I think -- I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing.


MATTINGLY: Walking right into a tailor made attack line there. One interesting point about all of this, guys, is throughout the 95, 96 minutes last night, issues that were not brought up. Immigration, a border wall and Benghazi and, also, the Clinton Foundation. So, a number of issues that Donald Trump you can expect, there's two more debates left, he will almost certainly bring up going forward.

But you talk to Clinton allies. They feel very good about last night. A very important moment for a team that was on the ropes after weeks of polls tightening -- guys.

BERMAN: And our viewers, people who are watching the debate told us that by 62 percent, 62 percent of voters said they thought Hillary Clinton won this debate, 27 percent said Donald Trump did. It was a slightly more Democratic viewing audience, but still, that is a pretty wide margin, almost what Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by four years ago in that first debate then.

ROMANS: They didn't mention immigration, but I'll tell you, the Mexican peso jumped almost 2 percent overnight because the idea being that, you know, maybe Donald Trump did not do as well as Donald Trump thinks he did in the spin room.

BERMAN: All right. Let's discuss with our panel right now. Joining us this morning, CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott, and here on set, two CNN political commentators, Angela Rye, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, and John Philips, political columnist for "The Orange County Register", talk radio host, and a Donald Trump supporter.

Mark Preston, you are the executive here, the executive editor. I'm going to go to you first.

General impressions of this debate. Who came out looking best?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, John, going into the debate, no doubt that Donald Trump had the wind at his back. We saw that in national polls and also in these battleground states that Hillary Clinton is clinging on to at this point.

Hillary Clinton delivered last night. She went into the debate. She was focused. She was relaxed. And most importantly, she knew her facts. Donald Trump went into the debate. He was not focused. He was not

relaxed. And he didn't know his facts. That was clearly laid out in front of the eyes of, we'll see in a few hours of how many viewers of upwards of 100 million people.

ROMANS: Eugene Scott, you have been covering this election for some months now. Your general impressions of how these two candidates did last night?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I think what we were expecting from Donald Trump is him able to make a clear point within the two- minute period that he was allotted. He did not do that consistently as we expected him to do. He did use that the time to bring up issues his that supporters had found problematic with Hillary Clinton, but he did not do a good job of using that time to communicate what he would to approach those situations differently.

BERMAN: Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post" said Hillary Clinton came out with a needle which she repeatedly used to get under Donald Trump's skin. I want to play you some sound right now where Hillary Clinton started talking about Donald Trump's tax returns. This is the question brought up by the moderator Lester Holt. But Hillary Clinton really hound in on it, and listen to Donald Trump's response as well.


TRUMP: I will release my tax returns -- against my lawyer's wishes -- when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release.


I will release my tax returns. And that's against -- my lawyers, they say, "Don't do it."

[04:05:00] CLINTON: A couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.


BERMAN: So, John Phillips, Donald Trump supporter, that makes me smart. Is that the kind of response that Donald Trump should have prepared for when it comes to why he hasn't released his tax returns?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, as Phil mentioned, the topics of immigration was not mentioned. Benghazi wasn't mentioned. Border wall wasn't mentioned. So, this was the equivalent of being dealt a 14 with the dealer sitting on a face card.

And he frequently would start to answer the question and then pivot to more friendly territory, but he just couldn't help the gravity to go back to what it was that was already resolved to the story that broke in his favor. It's almost like if he stopped after a minute and did not go to two, he would have been much better off.

ROMANS: It's interesting that he didn't have two minutes to really fill things out.

I want to talk about another thing that he talks about a little bit, the whole birtherism issue and Hillary Clinton needled him on this issue. But listen to Donald Trump talking about birtherism.


TRUMP: I think that I've developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community. I think you can see that.

And I feel that they really wanted me to come to that conclusion. And I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country, but even for the president, in getting him to produce his birth certificate.

HOLT: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, just listen to what you heard.

He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie.


ROMANS: One thing that I thought was so interesting, Angela. I mean, they were getting into the weeds -- he was getting into the weeds about Patti Solis Doyle and who started birtherism. It was kind of covering ground that we've been over again and again and again, even though he tried to put this whole thing to rest.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know that I would call what he's done trying to put it to rest. Donald Trump lived this out until the last possible moment he could. Historically both on the Republican and especially Democratic side of the aisle, I think because it's known to be the big tent, you have people who wait until the last six to eight weeks of an election to reach out to people of color.

So, what you saw when Donald Trump held really his promo press conference for Trump Hotel is him saying he put it to rest. But the best way to do this and I advised this all day yesterday and Lester Holt didn't get the memo apparently, but when he asked the question about birtherism. He really should have been one where he called on Donald Trump to apologize to the American people and to President Obama for birtherism.

That is not what you saw last night. You saw more of the same of him digging his heels on this point.

ROMANS: Giving himself credit for the president producing his birth certificate.

RYE: And I think it's ridiculous. I think most people can see through that. And so, Hillary Clinton did very well by calling it what it is. It's racist.

BERMAN: You know, I have to say, Brian Stelter, I said this to you. I always assumed that when Donald Trump said he wasn't practicing and preparing for this debate that that was a lie. I thought he was doing much more debate prep than the campaign was letting on.


BERMAN: But on the birther issue, on Iraq, on his tax returns, I was very surprised that there wasn't more concise answer, a more rehearsed answer, a more, you know, surgical answer on those issues. Yes, on trade, I think he did have a message he wanted to get through. On experience, he had a message he wanted to get through.

But on those things, which you had to know were coming, I thought he floundered a bit.

STELTER: Clearly, he had been thinking a lot about this debate, but thinking about it is not the same as actually having mock debate sessions or subjecting yourself to tough interviews in the weeks leading up to this. You know, Trump had not been interviewed by journalists at CNN or other outlets about birtherism, about important topics this September. He mostly stayed with conservative news outlets, friendly news outlets. That may have back fired because he did not seem prepared for some of the questions Holt asked.

It seemed to me there were times Trump was in an alternative reality, presenting his own version of the facts, encouraging people to go to his own web site and get the information. But the fact checkers were supporting Clinton on most of these points throughout the debate. Yes, there were a few times where she strayed from the facts. But Trump told bigger whoppers more often.

ROMANS: All right. Everybody, stick with us, because we've got so much to go over this morning between all of the attacks. Trump and Clinton dig at plenty of policy in this debate. We will discuss some of those highlights, next.


[04:13:35] BERMAN: Let's talk about some of the policy that came up during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University. Joining us again, Angela Rye, John Phillips, Mark Preston.

I want to start with the issue of trade. This was an issue that clearly Donald Trump was rehearsed. This was a message that clearly Donald Trump wanted to get across.

He came out very hard particularly on the issue of TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership. This is a trade deal that President Obama has negotiated with Asian nations all around the world and Hillary Clinton, he said, was supportive of. Listen to this.


TRUMP: You called it the gold standard. (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You called it the gold standard of trade deals. You said it's the finest deal you've ever seen.


TRUMP: And then you heard what I said about it, and all of a sudden you were against it.

CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are -- I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated --

TRUMP: But you have no plan.

CLINTON: But in -- oh, but I do.

TRUMP: Secretary, you have no plan.

CLINTON: In fact, I have written a book about it. It's called "Stronger Together." You can pick it up tomorrow at a bookstore --


BERMAN: The fact is she did call TPP the gold standard, Mark Preston. So, Donald Trump is right on that fact.

But I'm more interested on the audience. It seems to me that Donald Trump's message on trade might find a very receptive audience in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan.

PRESTON: Yes, John. No question. In fact, not only did he talk about the TPP, which is a very controversial trade deal that is before Congress right now and really on a lifeline to see if he can get through before Barack leaves office.

[04:15:03] But he also -- Trump also went back to NAFTA and talked about how Bill Clinton enacted that. Now, a lot of the Trump's populism is working very well with working in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and that's clearly who he was trying to deliver that message to. And you're right. He was effective in doing so.

But after that, the train went off the tracks. And you have to wonder, for all the time that he put into that argument, is it going to be clouded over by the fact he wasn't prepared in the rest of the debate?

ROMANS: Let's ask John Phillips that question, because, you know, he landed some blows on trade. He talked about jobs moving to Mexico and while the exact number of jobs, manufacturing jobs gone to Mexico over the past two decades, you know, it's kind of hard to gauge, there are jobs that have been lost. That is a story line that really plays with some voters of these in those various states.

What do you make of how well he landed those blows and if he -- you know, if he carried it far enough?

PHILLIPS: I think this was the best exchange of the evening for Donald Trump. But it's an issue that she's particularly vulnerable. Not only did she call TPP the gold standard in trade, but Terry McAuliffe during the Democratic convention went to Democratic donors and said, oh, don't worry, she's saying she's opposed to it now, but if she gets elected, she's going to go ahead and sign it.

And, you know, that something that not only resonates with people in the Rust Belt. But yesterday, you and I spoke, John, what each candidate needed to do during this debate. And I said, Hillary Clinton needs to excite the Obama coalition because there is a huge enthusiasm problem. If you go back to the Bernie bros, the liberals that were at the convention in Philadelphia, one of the thing that they were so upset about was her support for the TPP, and her duplicity on the subject. This causes a problem with the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Supporters who are opposed to TPP.

BERMAN: You brought up the Obama coalition. The key part of that coalition is minority voters, to be sure. And the issue of race did come up last night. The issue of race is front and center in this campaign. Donald Trump going recently to minority communities and talking to more diverse audiences.

Listen a little bit about what Donald Trump said -- I think the exact question was, was the exact question about crime or was the exact question about race in particular? Anyway, listen to what the answer was.


TRUMP: We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African- Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it's so dangerous.

And I'm saying, where is this? Is this a war-torn country? What are we doing? And we have to stop the violence. We have to bring back law and order.

CLINTON: We cannot just say law and order. We have to say -- we have to come forward with a plan that is going to divert people from the criminal justice system, deal with mandatory minimum sentences, which have put too many people away for too long for doing too little.


BERMAN: So, the question was about healing communities. Donald Trump's answer was law and order.

Angela Rye, you're a Democrat, but you've really been reluctant to get on the Clinton bandwagon. What did you make of how she answered this?

RYE: I really appreciate Hillary Clinton's answer. One of the reasons for that is Hillary, for the first time I can recall in a presidential debate where there are all these viewers, millions of viewers talked about implicit bias. There is another segment, or clip and I don't know if you will show

it. But Lester Holt followed up a Donald Trump response to Clinton. He said to her, he said, so, are you saying that all police officers are implicitly bias? She said, Lester, I'm saying everyone is implicitly bias. And that includes police officers.

And why does that matter? Well, if you are talking about a law and order police department or police departments nationwide, what you run into particularly as a person of color in this country that has had challenges is it is a race-based institution that has institutional racism challenges. I thought her answer was great.

ROMANS: Very interesting.

All right. Guys, stick with us. We've got a lot to talk about. Plenty of story lines surrounding last night's debate to go to.

How did Lester Holt handle a tough assignment? Donald Trump is already weighing in on that. That's next.


[04:23:37] ROMANS: All right. Welcome back. Good morning.

President debates are not just about policy, of course, there's also the spectacle of the moment. Let's bring back CNN's Eugene Scott and Brian Stelter.

Brian, this was sort of billed as, you know, maybe 100 million people were going to watch this and this is sort of the pivotal beginning of the last six-week run. Did it live up to the hype?

STELTER: I think it absolutely did. I was rooting for the debate to continue past the hour and a half mark. It was the most tweeted debate ever. That means more tweets posted than any debate in the past. Also, a huge hit on Facebook. We will get the ratings in a couple hours.

But I'm really struck by the research from social media last night, showing that Donald Trump dominated conversation. On Facebook, 80 percent of the comments were about Trump, 20 percent were about Clinton. If we learned one thing in this election, is that the candidates we're talking about is usually the one that's not doing well. By that standard, Clinton had a good night.

BERMAN: Lester Holt, the moderator, someone who was very much in the spotlight, as well. Listen to what Donald Trump said about Lester Holt after.


TRUMP: I thought Lester did a great job.

REPORTER: You thought the questions are fair?

TRUMP: Yes, I thought he was great. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, Eugene, remember those words, because one of the things you already started to hear, we heard a little bit from our friend John Phillips, was that there were many issues brought up that would be better for Donald Trump than Clinton. Whether it'd be Benghazi, whether it'd be the e-mails, whether it'd be the Clinton Foundation.

[04:25:03] SCOTT: Yes, very much. And it will be interesting to see how he moves forward in future debates based on how Lester Holt debated, moderated this debate. I saw people on social media who were very -- not supportive of how he handled the situation. I was able to watch the event at the Apollo town hall. The crowd was supportive of Lester Holt there.

ROMANS: OK. Let's listen to the moment in the spin room with Dana Bash, it was just really fascinating, where Trump hinted he had ammunition he didn't fire last night. Listen.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anything that you wish you did differently?

TRUMP: No, I'm very happy I was able to hold back on the indiscretions with respect to Bill Clinton, because I have a lot of respect for Chelsea Clinton. And I just didn't want to say what I was going to say --

BASH: Which is?

TRUMP: Which is I'll tell you maybe at the next debate. We'll see.


ROMANS: Whoa. What was that all about? A lot of people talking about that this morning, Brian.

STELTER: That is called a television tease. Listen, you and I both know them. Donald Trump knows them well. He, of course, is a reality TV star and that did not always come through during the debate. You know, I didn't sense necessarily through the camera that you were feeling his warmth and his personality and his charm. Sometimes, he seemed frustrated by Clinton.

The split screen did not always help Trump, right? Having Clinton on one side and Trump on the other side. But after the debate, he presented a tease for the next two debates which for better or worse, will compel people to tune in.

BERMAN: Look, he actually brought that up on the debate stage. He said there is something he could say that he is not saying. Almost as if he wanted credit that he did not feel he was getting before not being more outrageous.

ROMANS: Or he was trying to needle her. STELTER: There was the devil on one side of your shoulder and the

devil on your shoulder, right, and the angel mostly won with Trump last night.

BERMAN: All right. Eugene? Go ahead, Eugene.

SCOTT: I was going to say, isn't that what Robby Mook teased earlier, saying that he was concerned about that? That Donald Trump would be graded on a curve and praised for not misbehaving when what the voters really wanted was more policy.

BERMAN: Well, the one person he was praised by was Donald Trump. Trump was proud by the fact he did not bring it up. So, on the one hand maybe, maybe Robby Mook was right about that.

Thanks, guys. Stick around.

ROMANS: I know we are talking about polls and everything this morning, but one poll that doesn't matter is investors relieved that Trump didn't perform super-well last night. We got markets up around the world.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to talk much more about this first debate. A showdown of epic proportions. Go nowhere.