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Trump White House Turnaround; Axelrod's McCain Interview; Skeptical About Russia Connection; Escape for Chicago Kids. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:33:01] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Russia controversies continue to plague the Trump White House. How do they get passed them? Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod.

Great to have you in studio with us.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: I predict that you'll say transparency is the answer to getting past these controversies. But White Houses don't always like transparency.

AXELROD: Right. But I think it's more than transparency. Let's start with not looking guilty, OK? Don't do things that make it worse. And, you know, this latest -- this last week's events with Nunes and the whole escapade of his trip down -- you know, turning him into a carrier pigeon essentially only makes it worse. And I think the president's tweet this morning only makes it worse. He's so reactive --

CAMEROTA: Why is he saying that Michael Flynn should be given immunity, why does that make it worse?

AXELROD: I just think him weighing in and being as reactive to these things. You know, if I were he, I would want to stay as far away from this as possible. Now, I know what the strategy appears to be, which is to kind of sully in advance this whole investigation and leave the impression that it's a -- it's a political exercise. But at some point, that's insufficient. And what you're doing is only intensifying coverage. Every time he puts out a tweet, he intensifies coverage of this story, so --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they want to make it about incidental collection. They want to make it about leaks and they don't want to make it about Russia. But to the extent that they're talking about anything every day, you think that hurts this White House?

AXELROD: Yes, I think so. And the other thing is to talk about it sort of inconsistently, to suggest one set of facts one day, another set of facts another day, you know, I think they have been unsettled on this and people sense that. So I think this has been -- you know, at one point they said, we're not going to talk about this. That was a long time ago. Nobody remembers that. And that didn't last but for a couple of days. That would have been a good posture actually.

CAMEROTA: But they can't not talk about. Sean Spicer's asked about it every day. They can't just not talk about it.

[08:35:02] AXELROD: But if he had a consistent position to say this is under -- this is an investigation, let's see where this investigation leads. But the Nunes thing made it more difficult because what was direct White House involvement.

BERMAN: All right, David Axelrod, you host a podcast, which as far as I can tell is the biggest podcast available anywhere. Now is something --

AXELROD: You're a good man, John Berman.

BERMAN: But everyone always talks about it. You always hear about "The Axe Files" everywhere you go.

AXELROD: Yes.

BERMAN: Now it's coming to TV. It's coming here to CNN. And the first televised, you know, "Axe Files" is an interview you do with John McCain. And the reason I'm bringing this up is because it gets to this issue we're talking about right now. It gets to Russia. It gets to Vladimir Putin. And it gets to the ways that this administration and the Trump campaign before that were talking about it. So I want to play a little bit of a clip of you talking to Senator John McCain.

AXELROD: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: If someone -- if an American citizen were complicit with the Russians in trying to interfere in our elections, would that, in your view, be tantamount to treason?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think you would have to gauge exactly the circumstances. You know there's one thing, you know, to have a conversation. It's another thing to plot together. But I think it would be -- it would be something that that individual would have to be held accountable.

AXELROD: What did you think when you saw the president with Bill O'Reilly when O'Reilly called Putin a thug and a murder and the president said, well, you think we're so innocent?

MCCAIN: Killer. What O'Reilly said, it stands out in my memory. He said, he is a killer. And the president said, well, aren't we killers, too? That was so appalling to me to have a moral equivalency between this fella, who is -- I don't know how many deaths he's responsible for, for example, in Chechnya, where he put down any opposition with great killing.

AXELROD: There were several assassinations just last week.

MCCAIN: Yes. One guy was thrown out of a fourth story window. So to state that there's some moral equivalency between an imperfect nation, that's the United States of America, and Vladimir Putin is appalling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I'm always struck on "The Axe Files" how you get people to confide in you, which is, you know, I admire that.

But one of the big questions --

CAMEROTA: But do they not think -- is there something different about a podcast and TV?

AXELROD: There is because podcast are conversations. They're not interviews. I'm not really looking to make news in these podcasts. I want people to know the person I'm talking to better. And it's particularly important to me when I'm talking -- I ran a campaign against John McCain. I respect him deeply. I want to -- I want to establish the principal that you can disagree on things and still respect each other and still have a good conversation. And that's what I've tried to do here.

BERMAN: And he brings up this issue of Republicans. One of the big questions in Washington is how much are Republicans willing to take on this Russia thing. Do you have a sense of John McCain, where he draws the line?

AXELROD: Well, I think you saw him draw it. He draw it -- he drew it gently. But I think he gave us a clear sense that if there's evidence of collusion, of plotting together, if, for example, people in the campaign knew what was going to happen and were coordinating with the Russians, he obviously feels that. Look, he said that what the Russians did was worse than dropping bombs on our country. That's why I asked him the treason question. Once you establish that, then clearly collusion is a very, very serious offense.

BERMAN: All right, do not miss "The Axe Files," tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m., only on CNN. That's just a tape. It's a really fascinating interview.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you, David. Thanks so much.

AXELROD: Thanks, you guys. Always good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: So what do the president's die hard supporters think about all of the Russia talk consuming this White House? My conversation with them ahead on NEW DAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:42:43] CAMEROTA: All right, time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day.

Fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn says he's willing to testify before Congress if they grant him immunity.

BERMAN: Several media reports say staffers inside the Trump White House gave House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes confidential documents about incidental surveillance of Trump associates.

CAMEROTA: A massive fire causing a high wage bridge to collapse in Atlanta. Georgia's governor declaring a state of emergency for Fulton County. Officials say part of the highway will be closed indefinitely.

BERMAN: The president of the NCAA says its board of directors is reviewing the repeal of North Carolina's controversial transgender bathroom bill. He says they will make a decision next week on whether or not to return to the state.

CAMEROTA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denouncing Russian aggression at a -- in the Ukraine at a NATO meeting in Brussels. Meanwhile, Russia shot back saying, quote, "we want to see U.S. foreign policy, not just quotes."

BERMAN: Those are the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day." Now let's take a look at some extras.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ON SCREEN TEXT: Boy uses birthday to help kids at St. Jude's.

Miracle lion cub born at Dallas Zoo.

Dandelion retired from Crayola's 24 pack of crayons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK, up next, part two of our Trump supporters panel. How concerned are they about Russia? You don't want to miss this, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:48:09] CAMEROTA: Now to part two of my Trump voter panel. How do President Trump's die hard supporters feel about the accusations of ties between Russia and team Trump? We gathered some of them at the old statehouse in Hartford, Connecticut, to find out whether they think Russia meddled in the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: How many of you, raise your hands, are concerned about the Russia implications and allegations that you've heard? Why aren't you worried about any possible ties between the Trump team and Russia?

SARA MARIE BRENNER, FMR. DELAWARE COUNTY CHAIRMAN FOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Because that's what they're supposed to do during campaigns. I mean, you know, dozens of diplomats who meet with senators and congressmen. A lot of people misunderstood, I think, when Trump compliments Putin. You might respect them just because of what they've been able to accomplish. And if you look at Putin, even though we don't agree with what he does, as far as his agenda, he's done a pretty good job of accomplishing it in Russia. But people on the left have misconstrued that as meaning that Trump wants to be like Putin.

CAMEROTA: But if you're saying it's business as usual, lots of people meet with Russian diplomats, then why didn't Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions disclose it?

BRENNER: He came forward after and said that he had met with 10 or 12 other diplomats through the course -- I don't remember if it was that week or that month. It's what they do. It's just what they do.

JOSH YOUSSEF, FMR. NEW HAMPSHIRE COUNTY CHAIRMAN FOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN: In the context of a senatorial or --

BRENNER: Right. So it's -- it's

YOUSSEF: And we have this Russiaphobia (ph) like in place from the Cold War or something. I mean the United States has wholesale surveilled hundreds of millions of its own citizens, vis-a-vis the NSA situation that Edward Snowden revealed x number of years ago and we're pointing our fingers all over the world at how bad this person is and how bad --

CAMEROTA: Do you think --

YOUSSEF: Why don't we stop meddling in their business?

CAMEROTA: Do you think we're as bad as Russia?

YOUSSEF: I don't think we're -- not even close to as bad as Russia. I don't know enough about Russia. All I know is, when's the last time Russia actually did something terrible to the United States?

[08:50:02] CAMEROTA: Do you think that Ronald Reagan suffered from Russiaphobia?

YOUSSEF: I don't know. I don't know. I just know --

BRENNER: That's different. That's a totally different time. Totally different -- well, I mean, you had communism. You had -- I mean that was a totally different time in the world. I don't think comparing the Russia of Reagan to the Russia of today --

YOUSSEF: That was Soviet --

CAMEROTA: Does anybody here think that Russia meddled in the election?

PAX HART, VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP: Possibly.

TONI DIBARTOLO, VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP: I -- I think that we have to be very careful with Russia. I feel that there should be a mutual respect between the United States and Russia. But I think that I am concerned, but I think that we should just listen to history in regards to Russia as far as walk softly and carry a big stick.

CAMEROTA: What does that look like?

T. DIBARTOLO: To me? CAMEROTA: Yes.

T. DIBARTOLO: It's building up our own military, being in a negotiating place of strength and power.

YOUSSEF: Look what happened when we went looking for trouble in the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction. Look what that -- look what happened. It destabilized a whole region. When we start crossing other people's borders, meddling in their sovereign, at our own expense, we -- the instability is grave and consequential for us.

CAMEROTA: But the question is whether they meddled in our sovereignty.

YOUSSEF: Well --

BRENNER: Well, I mean, so far everything we've heard is that they have not had any impact on what happened here. That's not --

CAMEROTA: Wait a minute. Everything that we've heard is that more than a dozen intel agencies said they did meddle. Are you comfortable with that?

YOUSSEF: I -- I --

BRENNER: Comey has said that --

CAMEROTA: Are you -- go ahead -- that they did meddle and that they are still investigating this and that --

BRENNER: Comey has said, though, that there's no proof --

T. DIBARTOLO: Yes, I --

CAMEROTA: They did hacking.

HART: But -- but -- but here's --

BRENNER: Comey has said though that there's no proof that there was any change in the outcome --

CAMEROTA: So what? Are you comfortable that they tried?

BRENNER: Well, I mean the Chinese try. The North Koreans try. I mean they're -- that's just part of international relations, especially when you're dealing with --

CAMEROTA: We just accept that?

BRENNER: No, no, no, I'm not saying accept it.

HART: It's this collusion between Trump and Russia, that's what's false.

CAMEROTA: They're basing collusion on whatever it is they have on Carter Page, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn. That's what the FBI is investigating. HART: Yes, Paul Manafort left the -- left the administration, or left the campaign.

CAMEROTA: But what if he did something before -- before he left?

HART: He got rid of him because he was -- he was ineffective help (ph).

T. DIBARTOLO: Very concerned about that.

CAMEROTA: Why? Why are you concerned about it, Toni Ann.

T. DIBARTOLO: Well, last time I actually spoke to you, we talked about General Flynn and I said I was a General Flynn fan.

CAMEROTA: I remember.

T. DIBARTOLO: Yes. I admired his, you know, his record. You know, he's a three-star general.

CAMEROTA: I remember.

T. DIBARTOLO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And did your impression of him change?

T. DIBARTOLO: Well, I still respect that he, you know, served the country in the past. But I would be lying to say I wasn't disappointed. He did make an error. He apologized for it and he resigned.

PAULIE DIBARTOLO, VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP: The way I look at it -- the way I look at that is, to be honest, I mean let me ask you a question, Alisyn, do you remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday?

CAMEROTA: So you think he really just didn't remember that he met with the Russian ambassador?

P. DIBARTOLO: You cannot remember every fine detail.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but lunch is different than meeting with a Russian ambassador.

P. DIBARTOLO: I know, but --

BRENNER: It's not when you meet with a lot of ambassadors and that's part of your job.

HART: If you go to social media now, you will see, you know, diehard Hillary supports who are adamant this is a puppet administration of Vladimir Putin. People actually think that. It's insane.

CAMEROTA: Jared Kushner is going to go speak to the Senate Intel Committee. They're interested --

HART: Yes. CAMEROTA: In whether or not he was having a business deal with a Russian banker with ties to Putin. Let's just say that that is what it is. You're comfortable with that?

HART: But I even remember during -- I even remember during the campaign there was mention of that, and they were open about it. That wasn't a secret during the campaign.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I think the number of times that he met with them has -- was not disclosed.

HART: OK. We'll see how that plays out.

CAMEROTA: Vice President Dick Cheney said this week, quote, "there is no question that there was a very serious effort by Putin to interfere with our democracy." He said, "some would refer to that as an act of war."

HART: There's a certain level of interaction that's going on in the intelligence community between the nations where they're -- everyone is vying for (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: So you accept some meddling, you accept some spying?

(CROSS TALK)

HART: Even allies. Even -- because, remember, we were -- we were spying on --

BRENNER: I don't think we accept it. It's, why is Trump the center of it, right?

HART: We were spying on Angela Merkel.

WILLIAM, "BILLY" BAER, VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP: Germany. That's right. Why are we signaling out Russia like they're so terrible? I --

CAMEROTA: Do you not think that Russia is worse than Germany?

BAER: I'm not -- I'm not really -- I'm concerned about my own government. Russia I don't think is reading my e-mails. Russia is not intercepting my phone calls. Russia is not listening to conversations. Russia is not putting people in prison without indictment.

CAMEROTA: Russia is putting people in prison without indictment.

(CROSS TALK)

BAER: I'm talking about Americans. I'm talking about America.

YOUSSEF: Well, we have passports. Yes, I mean --

BAER: Come on, we're talking about Russia, what they are doing to their citizens and what they're doing to us. How about what we're doing to ourselves? BRENNER: I think we've got to get to the point where we let things

like this whole Russia thing settle down and move on and let the man be president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: You know, it's so interesting to hear from them and it's such a contrast to what we saw from the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday or Angus King, even on the show before, who said, look, Russia meddled in this election and you need to care about this because it's a serious threat to U.S. security.

CAMEROTA: Look, they think that Congress and the press are focused on the wrong things. That we should be more concerned about the issues here. You heard what they said, even the issues that our government is doing here to us, rather than worrying about Russia at the moment.

[08:55:04] BERMAN: Yes, but the fact that they say, oh, everyone does it, the U.S. does it, too, which is sort of what the president himself said. So clearly making a difference there.

CAMEROTA: All right.

BERMAN: All right, in Chicago, violence knows no age limit until recently. The city was on par with its highest homicide rate in nearly two decades, leading some young people on the south side afraid to even go outside. This week's CNN Hero on the front lines, determined to give kids back their childhood. Meet Jennifer Maddox.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER MADDOX, CNN HERO: We are in a state of emergency here in the city of Chicago. The shooting. The killing. Five, six, seven-year- olds, they're losing people that they love and care about. I'm a law enforcement officer, but I'm also a mother and a member of this community. We can't arrest our way out of this. Once I saw that there was another side to policing, I thought that I could do more.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: See how Officer Maddox gives children caught in the crossfire an escape, go to cnnheroes.com. And while you're there, nominate someone you think should be a 2017 CNN Hero.

CAMEROTA: All right, CNN "Newsroom" with Poppy Harlow --

BERMAN: Only.

CAMEROTA: Because one person's missing, is going to pick up right after this break. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thanks for being here, John.

BERMAN: Good to be here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us this Friday.