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Trump Forms Voter Fraud Commission; White House Puts Firestorm Behind Them; Trump's First Presidential Trip Overseas. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 08:30   ET

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


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[08:33:47] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump has signed an executive order forming a commission to examine voter fraud in the United States. It follows his baseless claims that millions voted illegally and all for Hillary Clinton, and that's why he lost the popular vote which he lost by about 3 million votes, which is the same number he says was illegal votes.

Joining us now is Kris Kobach. He is the vice chairman of President Trump's voter fraud commission. He's also the secretary of state of Kansas and a supporter of the president.

Mr. Secretary of State, thank you for joining us.

KRIS KOBACH, VICE CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S VOTER FRAUD COMMISSION: Thank you, Chris, good morning.

CUOMO: It's good to have you.

So what is the response to the notion that this commission was put together to justify the president's claim that there were 3 million illegal votes, mostly in California and New York, and they all voted for Hillary Clinton? Is that what you're setting out to look to?

KOBACH: No. The commission is not set up to disprove or to prove President Trump's claim, nor is it just looking at 2016 election. We're looking at all forms of election irregularities, voter fraud, registration fraud, voter intimidation, suppression, and looking at the vulnerabilities of the various 50 election systems we have in each of the states.

And another point I'd make, Chris, is, it's a bipartisan commission. The first half of the membership has been announced with the formation announcement last week, but there will be more members announced. So it's a bipartisan group of people, all experts in their field, and we'll look at the facts and go where the facts lead us.

[08:35:15] CUOMO: And what would be the goal, seeing how voting is largely done on a state by state basis, what would this panel be able to control?

KOBACH: Great question. So there's really two goals. One goal is to, for the first time, have a nationwide fact-finding effort, to see what evidence there is of different forms of voter fraud across the country. Like I may know in Kansas, and I do, we've studied the issue and what we have -- what we've seen in our state, but I can't speak for the other 49 states. So that's -- that's one thing. Just put the facts on the table, let people draw their own conclusions, let people in the media, like you, draw your own conclusions from those facts.

The other half of the mission is, if there is agreement among the commissioners that this system works pretty well or that system seems to have some flaws, the commission may say, well, we recommend states try this or don't do that. If there's a recommendation for federal legislation, that might come out, too. Although I frankly think, you know, because as you rightly point out, the states have the constitutional driver's seat, if you will, for running elections, most will be at the state level.

CUOMO: Now, you're right, we haven't had a nationally governmental sponsored study of this, but there have been some fairly exhaustive studies done on this and they always show de minimis, you know, like almost too small to quantify, actually carry through of what the president suggested, which is somebody voting illegally. The numbers are small. The convictions are small. Yo know this. So what is fueling the urgency?

KOBACH: Well, and I've read those studies and, as you may recall, many of them are based on surveys. So they'll sample a group of people, like, you know, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and they'll ask, did you vote in the election, are you a United States citizen, things like that, and then you try to extrapolate from that little study, that survey, to the entire country, and that's really hard to do. As we all know, surveys have their flaws as we saw going into the 2016 election. So --

CUOMO: Right, but not all of them. Some of them comb through like, you know, huge volumes of actual votes and followed it through and wound up showing that if you take it all the way through to somebody actually being convicted for voter fraud, it's -- it's a handful.

KOBACH: Well, let me give you an example of that. So, in Kansas, we, about three or four weeks ago, announced a conviction of an individual, a non-citizen from Peru had voted multiple times in our elections and we brought that prosecution. But that prosecution was one individual who was actually out of 125 people we know who had -- who we could identify by name who are non-citizens who registered and/or voted in our elections or attempted to register. And the reason we only brought one prosecution was because most of those cases were more than five years old. And as you know, the statute of limitations, especially in election law, usually says you cannot prosecute for an event that occurred more than five years ago. So of those many, many cases, we had only one to this point that was prosecutable because we discovered it soon enough.

CUOMO: Right.

KOBACH: And in cases of that particular form, it's very hard to discover. You have to have some external evidence telling you that this person is not a citizen. CUOMO: Right. A couple of things. One, it depends on the state, right?

The statute of limitations go anywhere from two to ten years.

KOBACH: Right.

CUOMO: But, you know, I take your point on that, you could be --

KOBACH: Correct.

CUOMO: You could be ham strung on it. I mean your state, you had 125 is the number that you use. You only got nine convictions, though. And what that indicates to some people is that if you want to spend time figuring out what's wrong with the voting system, don't focus time on illegal voting, it's de minimis. Focus on lack of franchise and some of the laws that you favored in your state which, as you know, have gone through some strict legal pushback where you're keeping certain segments of the population from exercising their franchise to vote as freely as they should. Why not focus on that part?

KOBACH: Actually, the commission will be focusing on that, too. In addition to focusing on voter fraud and election irregularities, the commission will also be looking at the claims of voter suppression, claims that certain laws depress turnout, things like that. So we'll be looking at evidence on all of these questions and then just putting the facts on the table and following wherever the facts lead. So, you know, why not inform the national debate (ph) --

CUOMO: But you come into it with a disposition on some of this, don't you though, Kris? You know, you're --

KOBACH: Yes, I know --

CUOMO: You're not a big fan of this notion that voter I.D. laws can suppress people's rights to vote, even though we have seen that found in court and studied and seen it authenticated and quantified on several occasions. Why do you fight that notion?

KOBACH: Well, so I'm just one member of approximately a dozen members on the commission. And I'm only speaking from my experience in Kansas. So we brought photo I.D. in, in January of 2012. And so we actually -- and this is evidence presented to a federal court. We looked at the 2010 participation members and the 2014 numbers --

[08:40:02] CUOMO: Right.

KOBACH: Which is comparing apples to apples before and after and we found that voter participation was roughly level, didn't go up or down, whereas in our neighboring states it went down --

CUOMO: Overall.

KOBACH: Overall.

CUOMO: Overall.

KOBACH: And in the neighboring states it went down. CUOMO: Right.

KOBACH: And in the nationwide numbers it went down. So it showed that our photo I.D. didn't depress our turnout. Indeed we were doing better than our neighbors who had not adopted phot I.D. I'm just speaking for Kansas.

CUOMO: Right, but there's this -- there's this thing -- but there's this --

KOBACH: Maybe the other 49 states will show something different.

CUOMO: But there's a statistical anomaly there, though, right? You looked at overall voter turnout. You didn't look specifically at racial ethnic minority turnout. When you do that, the numbers did show a slip. And that's not easy to do because, you know, we looked online for Kansas' voter data by ethnicity and race and we couldn't find it. So you --

KOBACH: We don't (ph) track it. Yes, most states -- most states don't track -- we don't --

CUOMO: But shouldn't you?

KOBACH: If you're a voter in Kansas, we don't have your -- your race listed. Most states don't. It's usually the states that are -- were affected by the Voting Rights Act and, you know, the states (INAUDIBLE) that track race.

CUOMO: But if you want to find out -- but if you want to -- but if you want to find out if something you're doing is suppressing a particular group, wouldn't you want to know what the actual outcome is, because otherwise isn't it inherently disingenuous to say voter turnout didn't change when you don't even measure the group that you're looking at?

KOBACH: No, we're looking at all groups. And, you know, I -- frankly, I think that the government really doesn't need to be asking people their race. We should look at voters neutrally. And that's why most states don't ask you your race when you register to vote.

CUOMO: Right.

KOBACH: Only a small minority of states do ask that. So, you know, it -- does it make it problematic for researchers? Yes, if they're -- if they're trying to dial down and identify people by race, if you don't have that data then, yes, it's problematic. But is it disingenuous for an elected official so say, no, we're registering people, we're trying to increase turnout and we're trying to increase the security of our elections? No, that's not disingenuous. It's -- we never have tracked race in Kansas, nor have most states.

CUOMO: I'm just saying it's hard to speak to a specific problem if you don't have specific data to match.

KOBACH: Sure. Sure. That's true. CUOMO: But your points are well taken, Kris, and we look forward to seeing what the panel develops. And, NEW DAY, consider it a forum to come and discuss the data as you find it. It's an important discussion.

KOBACH: All right. Be well.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you.

Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the nation's former intel chief raising questions about our democracy. Are our institutions, quote, "under assault"? We get "The Bottom Line" with Fareed Zakaria, ahead.

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[08:46:13] CAMEROTA: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

Number one, the former director of intelligence says America's democracy is, quote, "under assault" after President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. At least eight candidates have already been interviewed to replace Comey.

A federal appeals court in Seattle will hold a hearing today on whether to uphold a nationwide halt to president -- the president's revised travel ban. The administration wants the Ninth Circuit to lift the injunction issued by a federal judge in Hawaii.

North Korean state media says the missile launch this weekend is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead and the U.S. is within striking distance.

New attacks being reported in a massive global cyberattack today. The infection started Friday locking the computers of 200,000 users in 150 countries.

Kara McCullough, Miss District of Columbia, is the new Miss USA 2017. The 15-year-old chemist works for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

For more things to know, go to newdaycnn.com for all of your latest.

So, is President Trump a danger to democracy? Fareed Zakaria says, yes, and he's here next.

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[08:51:00] CAMEROTA: The Trump White House trying to move past the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey, but our Fareed Zakaria warns of a bigger danger. And Fareed joins me now with "The Bottom Line."

Fareed, great to have you here in studio.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Thank you.

CAMEROTA: You have an op-ed for cnn.com in which you say that President Trump pose a danger to American democracy. What do you mean?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think that, you know, beyond some of the -- the day to day antics here, what -- what is noticeable about President Trump is that he really attacks, systematically, relentlessly any institution, any group of people that stand in his way. And that's fundamentally corrosive of the American system because our whole system is based on the idea of checks and balances. So the idea is, no one person is meant to have that much power, even if you were elected. The whole point of the bill of rights is it's a check on, you know, majority rule. And so what Trump does, whether it's with independent agencies like the FBI, he weakens them. Courts, he attacks them when they disagree with him. The media, he relentlessly attacks individual journalist, smears the media, calls it fake news. You know, any one of it you can get into. But my point is, if you look at it as a totality, it is an effort to weaken the distinctive feature of the American system, which is these checks and balances.

CAMEROTA: But isn't our democracy stronger than any one man?

ZAKARIA: Well, the presidency is unusual. The president sits almost above the law in the American system. People say, for example, Trump admitted to obstructing justice, you know, on that -- in that interview and so it's illegal. No, it's actually not illegal. He is allowed to fire the director of the FBI. The FBI works for him. The Justice Department works for him. So this is very unusual circumstance where ever since George Washington, presidents have exercised discipline and have sort of policed themselves, the notable exception being Richard Nixon. So, you know, the fact that Trump is almost -- almost, you know, unabashedly explaining that he intends to continue to pursue his advantage and weaken everybody who checks and balances him, it's sort of un-American.

CAMEROTA: I understand that he's not playing by the same rules that other presidents have, but I guess my point is, is that we have, you know, 250 years of this shining example of democracy and surely our democracy will exist past these four or eight years.

ZAKARIA: Well, my point in that piece is to say, it will exist as long as we keep trying to maintain that system, and fight back, not against Trump on policies, but on this idea of weakening independent courts, weakening freedom of the press, weakening the independent agencies like the FBI, the SEC, that have really become jewels in the modern American system. When I go around the world, democratic reformers look to things like the SEC, the FBI and say, we want to have independent agencies like that, that can stand up to the president, that are independent of political parties, and here we are, undermining those very institutions ourselves.

CAMEROTA: You've heard -- we've heard some pundits say -- in fact "The Washington Post" has a front page story -- that Russia is the big winner. That as more chaos is sown in the U.S., that Russia wins. Is that giving Russia too much credit for what's going on here at home? ZAKARIA: Well, there's a bigger story here about our own, you know,

our own chaos by itself, but there's no question that Putin has systematically argued that the United States should not be considered a shining model of democracy, that the world has to follow, and certainly that Russia has to follow. I interviewed him last July in St. Petersburg and he very pointedly said to me, and he knows a lot about American history, he said you really think American elections are democratic? I -- you know, you had two examples -- see, he knows his history -- you have two examples where the person who won the popular vote didn't get the presidency. Of course now there are three examples. He goes -- he went on to say, I'm not saying it's a good system or a bad system. I'm telling you, stop lecturing us. We don't need to adopt your system. So in that sense, Russia is the winner because the more you see chaos, the more you can say, you thought these agencies were independent? Look, Trump just undermined that and fired the head of the FBI.

[08:55:15] CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the international stage. President Trump is about to make his first international trip. He's going to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican. He'll be meeting with the pope and Belgium. What do you expect? I mean this is huge, all of the people that he'll be talking to and the places that he's chosen to go. What do you see here?

ZAKARIA: Well, you know, Israel and the Vatican are, of course, more about domestic politics than foreign policy. But in going to -- in making his first trip to Saudi Arabia, he's sending a kind of odd symbolic message. Presidents usually on their first trip they go to Canada, they go to Mexico, they go to Britain. Those are, you know, are traditionally the closest neighbors, your closest ally. In going to Saudi Arabia, he's choosing to go to the country that is perhaps more than any other country the origin, the font of radical Islamic terrorism in the way he describes it. Let's not forget, 15 of the 19 bombers from 9/11 were Saudi. The Saudi government initially, and then Saudi private foundations and people have funded radical Islam all over the world. Osama bin Laden was Saudi. You look at almost all terrorist attacks. You will find somewhere there that the leads go back to Saudi Arabia.

CAMEROTA: Sure, but he says he's going to create a partnership there to fight extremism and terrorism.

ZAKARIA: Well, so let's hope he does that. But the symbolism is odd. I would have gone to Britain.

CAMEROTA: Fareed Zakaria, great to have you here for "The Bottom Line." Thank you so much for being with us.

ZAKARIA: Sure.

CAMEROTA: CNN "Newsroom" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman picks up after this very quick break. I'll see you tomorrow.

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[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: On the verge of tapping a new FBI director, will it be a career crime fighter or a Republican politician? And how far will Democrats go to block this pick?