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Angry Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls Across America; FBI Refused White House Request on Russia Stories; Hollywood's Biggest Night; Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:31:31] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Angry voters continue to unleash on Republican lawmakers at town hall events. And it's led some lawmakers to opt for telephone town halls instead or to just skip them altogether.

CNN's Deb Feyerick is live in Covington, Kentucky, with more. What's the latest, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we can tell you, Alisyn, is at the rally yesterday the sense that we got was that there's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, especially because there's so many changes coming in so many policies. And the people that we spoke to, they want their lawmakers who represent all Americans to really acknowledge the concerns and address them if possible. Now some lawmakers are taking that head on. Others not so much.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Republican lawmakers confronted by furious constituents in town halls across the country. In Florida, rowdy crowds demanding answers from Congressman Matt Gaetz about whether he'll call for the release of President Trump's tax returns.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Let me say right here, right now, absolutely Donald Trump should release his tax returns.

FEYERICK: In Arizona tempers flaring when Representative Martha McSally sidesteps questions about education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just answer our questions --


REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: You may not like the answers that I'm giving.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Mitch, what are you afraid of?

FEYERICK: In Kentucky, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell avoiding scores of protesters outside this ticketed luncheon.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: It's pretty clear what they're protesting and that's the outcome of last year's election.

FEYERICK: But when pressed by two constituents inside who paid up to $60 to make their voices heard --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are protesting the fact that to get in front of you we have to pay dollars. Why won't you hold a town hall with your constituents. We want to hear from you.

FEYERICK: Faced with public anger some Republican lawmakers opting for telephone town halls or skipping the face-to-face meetings altogether.


FEYERICK: Outraged voters holding empty chair town halls like this one in Ohio with cutouts of missing Senator Rob Portman, and in Florida, one constituent chasing down Marco Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to hold a town hall?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Good to see you, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a constituent town hall today. We need to hear from you, Senator.


FEYERICK: Now some politicians are citing safety concerns. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert basically saying he's skipping the town halls because of what happened to Gabby Giffords. Now Gabby Giffords made very clear -- she released a statement saying, "I was shot on Sunday, by Monday my offices were open to the public." And then she said, "To the politicians who abandoned their civic obligations, have some courage, face your constituents, hold town halls."

And when I spoke to Senator McConnell yesterday and said these people want to be heard, he said we are hearing them, it's just there's a fundamentally different view on what should be happening -- David.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Deb, thanks so much. Strong statement from former Congresswoman Giffords.

President Trump just this morning calling on the FBI to find the leakers responding to our exclusive reporting on apparent White House attempts to politicize intelligence. We're going to get the bottom line with David Axelrod, up next.


[08:38:53] CAMEROTA: So the Trump administration is under fire for two exclusive CNN reports today. First, the FBI rejected an unusual request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports that the Trump campaign was in constant contact with Russian officials. You know that story. And then there's also growing concern in the intelligence community about how the White House is building its case for the travel ban.

GREGORY: So what does all this say about the new administration? We want to get "The Bottom Line" this morning with CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod.

Ax, good morning. You know, we took a step back after reporting on this all morning long. You've been on the inside, you're also looking at this as a commentator. Is it just straight-up outrageous to you or having been on the inside, part of the administration that prosecuted national security leaks quite aggressively, and angered the news media in the process, can you see some of where the administration is coming from?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there were instances in which the Obama administration pursued leaks. And generally they applied to places where they felt the leaks compromised people in the field, compromised operations that were under way, and those can be debated.

[08:40:08] But there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. The notion of anyone in the White House calling the FBI and asking them to knock down a story that is politically embarrassing about an ongoing investigation is outrageous and it's concerning.

You know, I and everyone should accept that when there's a new administration, policies will change. And policies may change in ways you don't like. That is the nature of democracy. But our institutions and the preservation of our institutions and trust in our institutions is something that has to endure from administration to administration.


AXELROD: And if an administration, if a president, if a White House, is disregarding of the integrity of those institutions and is willing to subjugate them to their own political needs, then we have a larger problem. And I think that's what this poses.

CAMEROTA: Well, David, hold on. I mean, let's give the White House the benefit of the doubt for a moment because they say they're not trying to knock it down because it's politically embarrassing to them. They say that this deputy director at the FBI shared his concerns that the reporting was somehow erroneous and they simply asked the FBI to share those conclusions with the public at large. Is that also off base?

AXELROD: Yes, I mean, I don't think that the chief of staff for the president should be talking to the FBI generally, whichever way the conversation is going about ongoing investigations and reports related to ongoing investigations, and the question for the White House is, did they reach out to other intelligence agencies in an attempt to knock this story down as well?

This is a very, very tender story, shall we say, for the administration. And so there are lots of reasons for them to want to knock this story down. But if you start using the FBI as a political organ to knock down stories about ongoing investigations, you're into a very, very serious area.

GREGORY: Well, and -- the broadest -- the broader context here is that this administration is at war apparently with the FBI. If you read the president this morning on Twitter. And the intelligence agencies, in the same way that they are at war with the news media. And the issue is, when something bad happens, if, god forbid, there's a terrorist attack, if there's sensitive intelligence that would require a response to head off an attack, there's so much distrust then in our government that has real consequences.

AXELROD: No, David, you just hit the core point. And this is the point I was making before. The erosion of trust in our institutions is a real problem and when the president of the United States is leading that chorus, it's really dangerous for the country. And it's not just the intelligence community, the FBI, the media. It's also the courts when the president got a decision that he didn't like, his first instinct was to try to impeach the court as political.

This is a very, very dangerous trend. And I don't even know whether it's a calculated strategy or just wanton disregard and lack of appreciation for our institutions. But whichever, it's very, very dangerous. And you know, I'm not one who thinks the news media should be harping on the attacks on the news media. I think people find that tiresome perhaps.


AXELROD: But there's no doubt that the White House would like the news media to become house organs for the White House.


AXELROD: And they don't want unpleasant information published. That is not the role of the news media in a free society and every citizen should be very, very clear on that.

CAMEROTA: David, let's shift gears. Former House Speaker John Boehner was at a health care conference yesterday and somebody slipped him some truth serum, and he spoke about Obamacare. So listen to this.


JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, everyone time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once. If you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens, it's your fault. But I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace. Because that's not what's going to happen. Basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.


CAMEROTA: What do you think of his comments, David?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, I'd tell you that he walks around -- and ever since he left that job, he's been walking around with a truth serum patch. John Boehner is having the time of his life speaking his mind. And of course, the people who are most aggressive in that caucus about repealing and replacing are the people who be deviled John Boehner throughout his speakership and the reason that he left.

[08:45:04] But it's been this ongoing problem. The Republican Party for six years when after repeal and replace, they were going to remove Obamacare. Now they have the responsibility of doing it and they're coming head on with the reality that there are many elements of that program that people very much like, and that if you remove some and not others, the whole thing can collapse. It can be a house of cards. And so I think you're going to have a bill that says repeal and replace because they promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. But inside that bill, you're going to see what John Boehner forecast, which is more of a modification of Obamacare than a replacement of Obamacare.

GREGORY: Can I do a real quick one? We remember back in the Bush years Carl Rove being Bush's brain or Cheney being the spin galley behind President Bush, do you think all of this about Steve Bannon is overblown, or is he truly informing the president's world view?

AXELROD: No, I think he is. And I think the difference between Donald Trump and George W. Bush or other presidents is he's never had any real experience in government politics or policy making. And so he comes to this office with no grand world view. I always joke that if he had a hat today it might say "rent this space." And Steve Bannon fills in -- Steve Bannon fills a lot of that in. And you can hear Trump in some of the things that he says about the world and about, you know, sort of putting a moat around America and so on, reflecting what is a long-held view of Steve Bannon who has this apocalyptic view of Judeo Christian society at war with Islam and about globalism as a threat to the sovereignty of this country.

You can hear intimations of that in Trump's rhetoric and I don't think it's something that Donald Trump has long studied and thought about.


AXELROD: So yes, I think Bannon is really influential.


CAMEROTA: Yes. David Axelrod, have a great weekend. Thank you.

AXELROD: OK, guys. You too.

GREGORY: Thanks, Ax.

Well, Sunday is Oscar night in America. Will it be a big night for "La La Land" in la-la land. Just let that wash over you. How political will the stars and the host get? I think a little political. What do you think? Yes. We'll have all that coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:51:16] GREGORY: When did they start singing in the movies again?

CAMEROTA: I don't know. This is some movie called "La La Land," just another movie we'll never see, nominated for a record tieing 14 Academy Awards. The 89th Academy Awards will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel this weekend.

What can we expect Sunday night? Let's get a preview with "Entertainment Tonight" host and CNN contributor Nischelle Turner. And CNN --


CAMEROTA: Hi. Senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter.


GREGORY: Stelter, how did you worm your way into covering the Oscars? Are you working the red carpet now, too?

STELTER: It's the biggest.

GREGORY: Unbelievable.

STELTER: The biggest night on TV after the Super Bowl. I can't wait.

GREGORY: Anything that happens on TV, he needs to be a part of.

CAMEROTA: He covered. I know. I've seen that.

TURNER: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Nischelle, let's get your predictions. Let's put up here. What are nominated for best pictures. We have all of these on our screen. Which one do you think is going to run away with it?

TURNER: Well, Brian might disagree with me here, but I do think "Moonlight" will take home Best Picture this year. "La La Land" does have momentum right now, but I think this film "Moonlight" has been lauded by so many people, critically acclaimed. It also won awards early on in the award season. So I definitely think that we will see this movie take home Best Picture.

STELTER: It is hard to imagine Hollywood voters not choosing "La La Land," though because of all of the Hollywood references in it but, you know, I'm actually pulling for --

TURNER: But it wasn't the best movie.

STELTER: Well, hey, I actually think the best movie was either "Arrival" or "Lion."

TURNER: "Lion." Yes, "Lion." You're right. STELTER: So I don't think any of them are -- I loved "Arrival." I

can't wait to see it again. I love "Lion." I saw it twice.


STELTER: But I'm guessing "La La Land" will take it home.

GREGORY: Can we talk about Best Actor and whether Casey Affleck who was brilliant in "Manchester by the Sea" is going to get this? There's a lot of talk about Denzel as well.

TURNER: Yes. I think there could be an upset Sunday night. I think Denzel might take this home. And that's just because we saw Denzel win a SAG Award for this role.


TURNER: And if you look at the Academy voters, a lot of them are actors. And I think actors lean more toward him. And there's also a big pool of new voters, 683 new voters that are the youngest and most diverse ever. Denzel was masterful in this role. And I do believe that he will upset Casey Affleck. And I could be wrong.

GREGORY: "Manchester by the Sea" --

STELTER: I'm with Nischelle.

GREGORY: I saw "Manchester by the Sea."

CAMEROTA: I did not.

GREGORY: It was a gorgeous piece of art that I could have done without because it was like having my heart removed from my body without anesthesia.

CAMEROTA: I know. I've heard that time and again. And he turns in a phenomenal performance but it really is heart-wrenching.

STELTER: I'm going with Nischelle, I think Denzel will end up taking it. As incredible as Casey Affleck was, and as interesting as Ryan Gosling was in "La La Land," I think Gosling's co-star Emma Stone is the likely winner.

TURNER: Absolutely.

STELTER: Probably the most likely winner as Best Actress. But for Best Actor, I'm thinking Denzel.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's look at Best Actress. Here we go?

GREGORY: Does Tom Brady win anything on this?


CAMEROTA: Ask Brian. So what do you see here, Nischelle? Who do you think is going to win Best Actress. TURNER: I agree with Brian, most likely Emma Stone. Early on Natalie

Portman had a lot of momentum playing Jackie Onassis in "Jackie" but I think Emma Stone will definitely take this home.

GREGORY: All right. What about politics? How much is this going to be dominated by politics? Are we going to hear more from the overrated Meryl Streep? When I say overrated, I'm just quoting the president. What do you expect, Brian, from this night? It could be a platform.

STELTER: I think there are so many stars in Hollywood that have a lot to say right now that are supporters of this so-called resistance against the president who see a stage in front of 40 million or 50 million people and can't pass up an opportunity to at least in a subtle way make a comment about the current political condition. Of course, we're going to hear a lot of debate the next day, a lot of outrage. But if you've got that chance, it's the biggest audience on television after the Super Bowl every year, a huge stage, hard to pass up that opportunity.

[08:55:05] GREGORY: I actually don't think Meryl Streep is overrated. I just want to make that clear.

CAMEROTA: I got that. Sarcasm --



TURNER: It also depends on who wins. I mean, if we see -- we'll probably see the Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali win, and he is Muslim. He has come out strong against some of the things that are going on right now with immigration and with the Trump administration. So you could hear a political speech from him.


TURNER: Also if Ava DuVernay wins for Best Documentary for her film "13th" film, you'll probably hear.

GREGORY: Nothing the White House would like more, by the way, than to hear a diatribe coming from Los Angeles on Oscar night.

TURNER: There you go.

STELTER: That's a good point. It does deepen the divide, it creates even more of that sense that Hollywood liberals are against the president. You know, it was only a few hours after Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech when the president weighed in on Twitter and made it an even bigger deal.

TURNER: Yes. Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: All right. Nischelle, Brian, we'll be watching. It's going to be really fun.

STELTER: We'll see.

CAMEROTA: We'll see how Jimmy Kimmel does as well. Thanks, you guys, have a great Monday.

GREGORY: See you.

TURNER: All right. See you on Monday.

CAMEROTA: OK. And thank you to you, David Gregory.

GREGORY: I was sweeping up in the back. They said they needed somebody in for Cuomo. It's always a pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Get out here. Great to have you.

GREGORY: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow is going to pick up after this very quick break. Have a great weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

GREGORY: Bye-bye.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman is off today. Thanks so much for joining us.

President Trump takes the stage this hour. He will speak at CPAC, the nation's premier gathering for conservative leaders and activists. We'll bring you those comments live as soon as they begin. But we do begin this morning --