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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders Debate. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Live from Washington, this is CNN's exclusive town hall on the White House in crisis. I'm Jake Tapper.
DANA BASH, CNN: And I'm Dana Bash. We are joined by two leading voices from across the political spectrum: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Governor John Kasich, Republican of Ohio. Thank you both for joining us on this very busy night.
And we have a new bombshell story here in Washington tonight. Sources confirm to CNN that the fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo detailing a conversation in which President Trump asked him to end an active investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
TAPPER: The news is breaking just 24 hours after the explosive revelation that President Trump divulged to Russian officials in the Oval Office classified information about an ISIS plot. We're going to hear from our audience in moments.
But, Governor and Senator, viewers are watching us from around the world. We want to give you each a minute to react to the latest news. We'll start with you, Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VERMONT: I think this is a sad day, and it's a sad period. The American people want us to focus on the real issues impacting them, why 28 million people have no health insurance, why the middle class is in decline, why we have massive levels of income and wealth equality, and here we are today dealing with what we have to deal with.
The facts are that, for whatever reason -- and I can't understand it -- Trump ran for president touting positive relations with an autocratic president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The evidence is now overwhelming that Russia interfered in our election through cyber warfare. There is now an investigation going on as to whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And that's a very, very important issue, because if there was collusion -- and I'm not saying that there was -- this is a serious crime.
And then we learn in the midst of all of this that Trump asked Comey, according to news reports -- you just mentioned it -- to stop the investigation of General Flynn, which is kind of the definition of what obstruction of justice is about. Yesterday, we learned that he sat down with and revealed classified information to the Russians, who are supporting Assad in Syria, a mass killer, which has led to a major, major crisis in our relations with our allies around the world in terms of sharing of information, maybe put in danger an operative working for us or the Israelis.
So clearly, where we are now is, in my view, we need a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether or not there was collusion. Clearly, we need to make the tapes, if there were recordings done at the White House between Trump and Comey, public. To the degree that we're going to see a new nominee for FBI, this guy or woman has got to be absolutely independent, nonpartisan. I would hope that we would require 60 votes in order to appoint that person. And that's kind of where we are right now. But it is a sad day for our country.
TAPPER: Governor Kasich?
GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-OHIO: Well, Jake and Dana, Bernie and I were supposed to talk about a bunch of issues that had only touched on national security, and we'll probably do that somewhere down the road soon. But, you know, we find ourselves in a serious situation today.
I don't like people that say "I told you so." But you both know how much pressure, criticism, and heat I took because I was the one Republican who would not endorse Donald Trump, would not go to the convention. Some people thought I did it because I was angry or, you know, bitter. It had nothing to do with it.
The things that have swirled around this White House are the reasons that caused me not to move forward and support him, both in the primary and going to that Republican convention.
I'm just sad for the country, because we have to get to the bottom of this. And I believe this is not a time for Republicans to hide, and I also don't think it's a time for Democrats to exploit. I saw Bernie's wife, and we were right there getting the make-up, and as I walked past her, so, you know, it's serious.
Look, people are going to go to school tomorrow. We're all going to go to work tomorrow. But it is very important that we get to the bottom of this, because once we can get to the bottom of it, I think we can move on.
And I believe that the senator is right. I mean, we have health care in front of us, we have debt, we have issues of -- the differences between the rich and the poor, our education system, training workers. We have to get to the serious business of running this country.
And part of my concern was not just some of what I saw during that campaign, but also it wasn't a real grasp on the issues that I think are so important. And to the American people, the thing I would say is there's no pills, there's no apps, there's no bumper stickers to solve these very serious problems we have in this country. We have to get down to them. But first, we've got to get to the bottom of this. And again, let's put our country first, and we'll come out of this better.
And we'll see. Maybe -- maybe we'll find that there isn't anything here that is destructive. We'll have to find out. And I'd like to get to the bottom of it all.
TAPPER: And, Governor, if it can be proven, if the memo that James Comey wrote is produced and the memo shows contemporaneous notes that President Trump asked James Comey when he was FBI director to let the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn go, does it -- do you agree with Bernie Sanders here that that is the definition of what obstruction of justice is all about?
KASICH: Well, look, I don't want to avoid this, Jake. I'm not a lawyer, and you're not, either. I think if the Intelligence Committees cannot do their job, then we have to have a special committee. If, in fact, that's what we find, if there's a violation of law, then we have a very, very serious problem, perhaps a constitutional problem for our country.
But I don't want to speculate at this point. I don't think that's fair to anybody. Let's see where this all -- you know, I always like to tell my staff when somebody says this and somebody else says that, I said there's always three sides to every story. So I think we've got to see where this all rests before we jump to any conclusions, because I don't think it's fair to anybody. But we need to know.
SANDERS: Well, Jake, if I can, I agree with much of what John said. But what is key here right now is that the American people not believe that this is a partisan effort on the part of Democrats, and I think to make that happen, as I think John indicated, it's absolutely imperative that Republicans work with us in an open and fair process. I kind of think we need a special investigation. I think we need a special prosecutor.
And I hope very much that this is done in a bipartisan way for the sake of the American people. Because if it looks like this is just a witch hunt, man, a demoralized people are going to be even more demoralized.
KASICH: However we proceed, and I've always been for the Intelligence Committee -- I'm open to the idea of a select special committee, something along those lines. But whatever comes out of it, the American people have to have confidence that we got to the bottom of it.
Because if there's a cloud hanging over all of this, the recriminations between the political parties are going to prevail. We're going to keep yelling and screaming at each other at family gatherings and everywhere else we go, to the gym. I mean, people are just fighting with one another. So it is important that once we have finished this, the American people say it's been fair, it's been thorough, and we'll buy the conclusions.
BASH: Governor Kasich, you mentioned a select committee. The other thing that is out there, the option that you just heard from Senator Sanders...
KASICH: A special prosecutor.
BASH: ... is a special prosecutor. Do you think, given the news today, and maybe the combination of today and yesterday, and so many other days that it is time for a special prosecutor to make sure that it is nonpartisan and independent?
KASICH: Yeah, I'm not so sure that if you don't have a select committee made up of Republicans and Democrats on the Hill to work on this, that that isn't a better way to go.
Look, I remember reading the comments of Ken Starr, the last special prosecutor, who expressed -- I believe expressed great regret in the role that he had and how it all worked out. I think if you go to the special prosecutor, it just raises it all. It becomes even more heightened.
Now, if Bernie and Senator Warner and all these other people say we can't do it any other way, well, then I think it has to be considered. Maybe we do it. But I'd rather not go there. I'd like to have enough faith in the men and the women of the House and Senate on a committee inside the Congress, along with the FBI, all these investigations going on, to figure out if we can -- look, I'm not trying to argue against it. I just -- my experience is, I think it would be better if they could do it. Now, if they say they can't, if they say, well, we cannot accomplish this, that's a whole other situation.
BASH: But are you talking about apples and oranges a little bit? Because the congressional committees are already investigating. This is a question about the Justice Department.
KASICH: Well, maybe -- no, and also maybe a special committee of the Congress, bipartisan and bicameral.
SANDERS: Well, what we have now, and I think this is good news, John, is -- I'm more familiar with obviously what's going on in the Senate than in the House. But in the Senate, I think you have some serious efforts.
KASICH: You do.
SANDERS: I think you've got Richard Burr, who's a conservative Republican, working with Mark Warner. But I think Richard is taking this issue very seriously. I think they're trying to expedite the process, move it along as quickly as they possibly can. So hopefully we can maintain bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, hopefully in the House, as well, and then, in my view, move forward with a special prosecutor, as well.
KASICH: You know, the other thing is I was -- I was with Representative Schiff, and I told him, because he's very smart guy, a Democrat of California, and I said, look, if you can do this in a nonpartisan way, you're going to become a star.
My only concern about the special prosecutor and how long this goes on, you know, everything is way up here. I'd like to get on a steady path to getting this resolved. And I just think there's more hype. Now, but I want to get to the truth. And if Senator Warner says this won't work, if the growing numbers of Democrat senators say there's a whitewash, then we have to do something else. I'm just trying to do this in a serious and sober way, without raising the lights even brighter than what they currently are.
TAPPER: Let's take some questions from our audience. I want to bring in Mark Del Mauro. He's from New Jersey. And Governor Kasich, this question's for you. Mark?
QUESTION: Good evening. Thank you. My question is, as the intelligence agencies follow the bread crumbs closer and closer to Donald Trump regarding Russia, and in light of his public appeal to Russia to hack into our democracy, and his ongoing conflicts of interest, do you believe that there is sufficient grounds for impeachment? And if so, would you support it?
KASICH: I don't think we're there. I don't think that we know exactly what happened. The Russian investigation is very, very important. Not only has Russia hacked into our elections, but they have also hacked into -- as it appears into the French elections, into the Austrian elections. Their use of cyber warfare is growing. And, frankly, we need in our country a single Cyber Command with a single person in charge of that command, because the different agencies and bureaus argue among themselves.
But I think we need to find out exactly what happened on that. And it's critical for us. And that's why I think these investigations should not just be about the Comey memo, but I think the investigation ought to encumber everything, the Russian hacking, what happened there, the associates of the Trump campaign who may have been involved. We've got to get to the bottom of all of it, not just pieces of it, but all of it.
But it is very, very serious when a foreign power is not only trying to disrupt our elections and our communications, but elections and communications throughout the world. And to think they are our ally is ridiculous. And Bernie mentioned it.
KASICH: But let me finish real quick, Bernie. So, you know, you take a look at Syria, where they have worked with Assad, and there's a slaughterhouse over there. Or whether what they've done in Ukraine or the threats in the Baltics or the cyber attacks all over the world. There is no way I would share anything with these people, because they are not our friends.
TAPPER: Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: Well, I think John is certainly absolutely right. Here is the question mark. And I think you led us here. How does it happen? Why does it happen that a candidate for president of the United States consistently expressed sympathy for a guy who's undermining democracy in his own country, who clearly wants to destroy the kind of alliances that have been in place since World War II, as John indicated, is waging warfare, cyber warfare against country after country who are holding free elections, trying to undermine democracy around the world?
So I think all over this country, people scratch their heads. Why is Trump, during his campaign, saying such kind things about Mr. Putin? And then we learn, of course, about the cyber attacks that supported -- ended up supporting Trump over Clinton. And where we are right now is trying to determine was there collusion between the Trump campaign? And Trump's people have a number of contacts in Russia, but we -- John is right. I don't think you want to make that leap to impeachment until you follow a path which leads us there. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. But I'm not there at this point.
KASICH: See, the beauty of getting to the bottom of this so that the American people can say yes or no can get us to a point where maybe we can start talking to one another again and getting on with the business of the government. If you have an investigation or you short-circuit it or it is not cleaned up, you're going to continue to even divide the country more, and that is why it's so important that all of us, no matter what party we're in, demand to get to the bottom of this.
SANDERS: Right. And on that regard -- again, let me concur with John here. It is -- and I know, frankly, obviously it is harder for Republicans. It is harder for Republicans to demand an investigation of their own president.
But it is imperative that it be done in a bipartisan way. And tonight I really do appeal to the many decent Republicans who are in the Congress whose views are day and night from mine, very, very different, but we are now in a moment where we got to worry about the future of this country, we've got to address the issue boldly and honestly so that, in fact, we can begin to address the many other crises facing -- that the American people want us to do.
BASH: Gentlemen, I want to bring in another member of our audience, Evelio Medina. He's a long-time supporter of President Trump and has a questioning for Senator Sanders.
QUESTION: Good evening. I was not picked up by the Russians to go to the polls, and definitely the Russians did not tell me who to vote for. So given that there is a belief that the Russians colluded and interfered with the Trump campaign and the 2016 presidential elections results, why didn't the Obama administration and his national security agencies take action to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the sanctity of our fair and democratic elections process? Thank you.
SANDERS: Well, Evelio, let me start off by saying, I don't think there is anybody who now doubts that the Russians interfered in a very significant way. And maybe it didn't impact your vote, but a lot of stuff that was flying around the media, a lot of outrageous lies, what's called fake news, did have an impact. How big of an impact? Nobody in the world possibly knows.
This is tough stuff. We just saw it take place literally last week in France, as well. And I wish that we knew how to solve this. And by the way, again, I want to point out what John said, is this is imperative. Democracy is being threatened all over the world if they can interfere in our elections through cyber warfare. Should the Obama people have been more aggressive? Perhaps they
should have been. But this is tough stuff. This is not easy stuff. But the bottom line is, there is no doubt Russians interfered, they interfered on the side of Trump, just as they interfered in France on the side of Le Pen. They have an agenda.
BASH: Governor Kasich?
KASICH: I think to some degree the Obama administration, as you know, the FBI was apparently looking at the Russian involvement. And people say, why didn't Comey release that? Well, I think he felt a commitment on the Clinton e-mails, but on the Russian investigation, I didn't think he had the same level of commitment.
And I think what he thought about is if I involve -- if I intervene in this, people are going to think I'm trying to tilt this election, I'm trying to tilt this election to Hillary. Tough situation for this guy.
But, look, now move forward. We can't be hindsight, we can't be yelling about Obama, talking about Hillary's e-mails and all this other stuff. Let's get to the bottom line.
And, Bernie, you know, you're right. I mean, party sometimes is really important, but when party trumps nation, we lose. And it's been happening now for a long period of time. Not just recently. Party has been trumping the good of this country for too darn long. And I'm tired of it. I'm sick of it. So are you, and so are the American people.
SANDERS: Hey, John, you're talking to the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States.
TAPPER: We want to bring in Gina Walkington. She's from Wisconsin. She has a question for Governor Kasich. Gina?
QUESTION: So Speaker Paul Ryan has been on record saying that anyone who jeopardizes national security and classified information should have their security clearance removed immediately. Should the same standard apply to the president, as well?
KASICH: Well, you know, the president, apparently, from what we're all learning things -- I'm not a constitutional lawyer -- has the ability to do many things as the executive that other people can't do. And I just think that's kind of out there.
We don't know where -- look, he's in bigger trouble than losing his security clearance if we find out that there were very serious problems. And I'm not saying there were. I'm not jumping the gun, any more than if somebody accuses you of something, I'm going to assume that what they said is true. I hope -- I saw that Speaker Ryan said some things tonight about getting to the bottom line. Frankly, I think he should be more aggressive. I think he should speak out more, and hopefully he will.
SANDERS: Well, let me say just that, above and beyond what you said, is I think, for whatever reason, Donald Trump doesn't fully understand what being president of the United States is about. When you sit in a room -- and, by the way, exclude the American media, only have Russian media coming in -- and then you tell Russians highly classified information which is endangering our security as a people -- it may well be that some person somewhere will be killed as a result of what Trump did.
And certainly all over the world, not just in Israel, where it is absolutely imperative that we share information, one of the most important things that has to happen -- we don't know it all. We need to share information with our allies. All over the world now, our allies are saying, are they going -- should we provide information to the United States? Or are they simply going to release it and endanger our agents? So this is a big deal. And this president had better learn what it's like to be president and not share classified information with people who do not wish us well.
KASICH: And it's a three-fold issue, really. Bernie's right. You have a situation where we could jeopardize our ability to be safe. Secondly, we jeopardize the ability of allies to have their folks protected. And thirdly, there are third parties at times that want to give us information because sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and if you willy-nilly disclose this kind of information, you can put a shock on the system. And that's one of the things that has to be reviewed here.
And I agree with Bernie from this point of view. This is part of why -- look, I went through a campaign. I was 13 debates standing on a stage listening to things. And I had doubts in my mind about this person's ability to understand exactly what was involved in being president. I mean, the fact is, being president is the hardest job in the world, and never had a political office before.
So I've been saying -- you know, I've been saying, look, now that he's in, it's like rooting for the pilot on the airplane that I'm on. But sometimes I think we have to get into the cockpit and tell the pilot, no, we need to do something different. And I just think it's really critical that he gets explained and understands the gravity of this situation, because it can jeopardize people, our allies and our own security.
TAPPER: I want to follow up on a couple of things you just said. First of all, I'd like both of you to answer, starting with Governor Kasich, do you have concerns that President Trump doesn't have the competence to be president?
KASICH: No. I think he doesn't understand -- he doesn't understand all the things about the job. I mean, I was in to see him, as you remember, the meeting that was extensively covered, and then went in to talk to him about health care. I talked to him about my trip to Munich on national security. I told him at the time that John McCain asked me to go over there. And people didn't want to see his generals, they didn't want to see his vice president, they didn't want to see his secretary of defense. They wanted to hear from him. And he said, yeah, I've been reading about that. I guess -- I guess that's true.
So there is a learning process when you become president. There is a learning process for anybody. There was a learning process for me to become governor. So what I'm hoping is he will become a unifier, will more understand the gravity of this job, to stop the tweeting and bring people together. That's what I want.
SANDERS: Let me just...
TAPPER: Senator Sanders, do you have...
SANDERS: No, I don't agree with John on that. I'm not a psychiatrist and not a lawyer, but there's something strange going on, I think, with Mr. Trump. You know, John, I don't know if you'll agree with me or not on this, but there has never been a president or even a candidate who has lied all of the time. I mean, we're looking at Dana and Jake right now. Essentially what he has said is they are liars, don't believe a word that anybody in the mainstream media faces.
Look, I'm sure you've had problems with the media. I've had problems with the media. But I'm not here to tell you everybody in the media is a liar. That is undermining what America is about. This is a guy who said when a judge ruled against him, I believe appropriately, on this Muslim ban, he said this is a so-called judge. This is the president of the United States undermining our judiciary.
This is a president who is trying to divide us up, whether we were born in America, or born in Mexico, or whether we are Muslims. This is not a typical president. I don't think this is just a learning curve. I think he's a smart guy. But something else is going on.
And all of this leads me -- and his affection for Putin and he's trying -- all of this leads me to think that you got an authoritarian- type mind here, as somebody who is not a great believer in dissent or democracy. And that worries me very much.
TAPPER: The other thing I wanted to ask you, Governor Kasich, is you talked about -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you expressed a desire for Speaker Ryan to say something more than he has already said. More generally speaking, a lot of conservative pundits have noted how quiet Republicans have been since the Comey firing and especially since President Trump admitted that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision to fire him, when he issued the threat on Twitter on Friday, that Comey better not talk to the press, he'd better hope that there are not tapes of their conversations, I could go on. Are you disappointed in your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill for their silence?
KASICH: Jake, I would just say that -- I think Bernie pointed it out earlier -- maybe you pointed it out -- you know, sometimes the party gets to be very big and sometimes the party influences what you do. I can tell you, from my perspective, and I'm not crying or whining -- when I wouldn't endorse him, I wouldn't go to that convention, you know, you covered it, I got pounded. You know, but I didn't feel badly about it.
And maybe it's because I've been around for a long time. Maybe it's because the country trumps party in my mind. I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. But as JFK said, John Kennedy said, sometimes your party asks too much. And so I -- I'm beginning to see more and more Republicans come out and talk. There was a lot of news today, for example, in the New York Times about senators starting to talk about it. I saw interviews tonight, as I was in the green room, seeing more and more Republicans talk about this. At some point, the country begins to matter to people.
One thing I want to say to Bernie. I'm -- you know, look, the more we move forward with rhetoric of incompetence or any of those other things, it gets us kind of off the subject. You know, people now are -- you know, and we just -- we got to look at ourselves in the mirror. Because many of us are in silos. If we're conservatives, we consume conservative stuff. If we're liberals, we consume liberal stuff. The only way to get through this is when we start thinking about the country and we start thinking about being a little bit more agreeable and being careful with the kind of words we use. Because I've seen when words have created big problems.
SANDERS: John, I'm not going to apologize for the words that I use. In other words, look, I disagree with George Bush all of the time. I don't think George Bush is a strange guy. You know, I don't think he is a liar. There is something different about Donald Trump. And we -- and it's not -- you're right. Let me...
KASICH: Bernie, there were people talking about...
SANDERS: Let me finish, please.
KASICH: All right.
SANDERS: You know...
KASICH: You're good at that.
SANDERS: A new president...
KASICH: You're good at that.
SANDERS: A new president is going to learn. There's a learning curve. New presidents are going to make mistakes. I disagree with Trump on health care, I disagree with him on climate change. I understand that. That's not unusual.
There is something unusual about this president. You have never seen a president who has said basically that everything you see on television is a lie. You have never seen a president, I don't believe, attack the judiciary, try to divide us up in the way that he has. There is something different about this guy's presidency.
KASICH: Look, all -- what I'm trying to say is, at the end, I want to get to the bottom of it and then move along. But I was there when I saw Republicans arguing that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was a Muslim. I remember when Democrats wanted to impeach George W. Bush. There was a big thing, impeach Bush, you know? What I'm saying is, let's just -- you know, I guess it's like the old television show. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. And when we get hyperbole put into it, I'm just saying to you, Bernie...
SANDERS: What did I say was hyperbole?
KASICH: No, I'm saying, you know, I'm not psychiatrist, but maybe he's a little crazy or whatever.
SANDERS: I didn't -- no, I'm not a psychiatrist. I did not make that diagnosis.
KASICH: Did you say you were a lawyer?
SANDERS: I'm not a lawyer, either.
KASICH: Well, that proves you're not a psychiatrist.
SANDERS: But, you know, that's all. I gave you my view.
KASICH: Yeah, I got you.
SANDERS: I think this is a very different type of person. And, you know, that's all. That's my view.
KASICH: These are the things that I think we can say to one another when we're back there. But when partisans here -- see, we got to stick to the facts here. What happened with Comey? What happened in the Oval Office with the Russians? All I'm trying to say is...
SANDERS: John, let me just ask you this. Of course we have to...
KASICH: OK, I say uncle. I made my point and...
SANDERS: Is -- but, you know, Jake asked the question. Question to you.
KASICH: He did?
SANDERS: Is Trump a liar? Or am I being -- using hyperbole here? Is he a liar?
KASICH: Well, you know, sometimes he says things I don't agree with and I think they don't resemble the facts. But I'm not going to go...
(LAUGHTER) KASICH: But wait a minute. But wait a minute.
SANDERS: All right.
KASICH: There's a difference between saying sometimes when I see -- I can see that there are politicians that say things that don't resemble the facts. And I can actually call some people very close to me on the facts don't matter reality.
SANDERS: Right. OK.
KASICH: But I'm not going to go so far as to call somebody a liar.
SANDERS: All right.
KASICH: I mean, that's where you get -- when you start using terms like that -- Bernie, we've seen it in Congress. We saw it, you know, back in the days when we were in the majority and they were after Jim Wright, and all these things...
KASICH: There was a lot of calling of (inaudible) liar. We just let the facts speak for themselves, and then we can draw a conclusion. And I'm only saying this not because I'm trying to defend anybody. I'm worried about my country. I'm worried about us getting through this and moving on.
SANDERS: We talk about the facts. I mean, Jake asked a pretty simple question. And I'm just -- all that I'm saying is, it's not a question -- you're a conservative. I don't think you're a liar. We disagree on everything. But that doesn't make you a liar. I hope it doesn't make me a liar.
SANDERS: But if you were to tell me that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in this election, of which no Republican official or Democratic official believes, what can I say? I think that's a lie.
KASICH: I -- look, I guess I'm going to belabor this. I didn't think I would. Does that mean somebody that writes a campaign ad that distorts somebody's record is a liar? I mean, we just have to be careful about our terms. That's all I'm saying.
SANDERS: OK, all right, let -- I made my point.
BASH: Done? Good. Let's go to the -- all right, let's...
SANDERS: He's conceded everything. BASH: Let's go back to the audience. I want to bring in McCulloch
Cline from right here in Washington who has a question for you, Governor Kasich.
QUESTION: Thank you, Governor Kasich. My question is, how can we trust the FBI to carry out a fair and impartial investigation into Russian interference, given that President Trump may have tried to influence or pressure James Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn?
KASICH: Have you ever met any FBI agents? Let me tell you, they're unbelievable. They are some of the best that you can find in our country. They do their jobs. And even though Comey is gone, and I guess a lot of people in the FBI were very upset and disappointed by that, can they find somebody that can step up and really -- of course they can. The FBI is an incredible, amazing organization that does one heck of a job in multiple ways. So do I think they can get to the bottom of this? Can I -- do I think they're an integral part of this? I don't have any doubt about that.
SANDERS: Let me just add, if I might, and I don't know if you would agree with me or not on this, John. A couple of years ago, Democrats changed the rules in the Senate requiring 50 votes for most appointees, not for the Supreme Court. Republicans took it another step level, made 50 votes for the Supreme Court, and we got Gorsuch.
I would hope that at this moment that Republicans would retreat a little bit -- and I know it's a tough one -- and make it -- bring us back to the 60-vote threshold for the FBI director for one reason, so that the American people would see that this is a bipartisan vote.
If the vote for the next FBI director -- and, by the way, historically they've almost always been unanimous, 100-0 for the FBI director. That's just the way it's been. But if we have a new FBI director who gets appointed by, say, a 52-48 vote, a party line vote, I think that will be a bad thing for the country. And it will kind of raise issues that the gentleman who just asked the question...
KASICH: You know, the thing, though, about the filibuster is, you know, the founders were really very smart about this. And I can remember being in New Hampshire saying we ought to get rid of the filibuster, and John Sununu, young John, the senator, he really -- he lectured me on the rules and why they matter.
And the filibuster is something that's designed to prevent kind of a -- in some sense -- I was going to say a rampage through Congress. You know, designed the heat of the moment to not let things pass that we regret. And now we've seen twice this issue of the filibuster being knocked down.
And, Bernie, what I would say to you is, if I were up there and I were the leader of the Senate or if I were the speaker of the House -- and you know, you served on the Budget Committee -- well, you came before the Budget Committee. I was very fair minded when I ran that committee. Even though it was a partisan committee, I ran it fairly. And you can't have 52-48. And it's going to be incumbent on the Republicans and whoever they decide to pick to say, no, we have to have somebody that can be widely accepted by people in both parties.
BASH: And that was going to be my question.
KASICH: But I'm sure you need to break the filibuster or go to 60 votes or whatever.
SANDERS: Well, that's -- well, you're right, John. I mean...
BASH: Senator Sanders, does there need to be an FBI director nominee who is not political, not partisan, who is just completely separate from that, to potentially help someone like you or other Democrats vote regardless of the Senate rules?
SANDERS: Absolutely. At this moment, where there is -- I mean we've heard some of the questions tonight where there is so much suspicion. You know, and you could do it one of two ways. I like the idea of a 60-vote threshold for the new FBI director, because that will automatically mean that it's bipartisan.
But, you know, John is right. If you end up bringing forth somebody that both sides agree with, you end up with 80 or 90 votes, the American people I think will feel comforted by that. But to answer your question, Dana, this person cannot be political. That would be the worst thing in the world for Trump to bring forth.
TAPPER: I want to turn to Kevin Houghton. He's a Green Beret, an Afghanistan combat veteran from Maryland, and he has a question for you, Senator Sanders. Kevin?
QUESTION: Without a doubt, President Trump asking FBI Director Comey to end the investigation into National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is a very serious investigation. At the same time, Congress and the Senate are already investigating Michael Flynn and President Trump. As a Green Beret Afghanistan combat veteran, it is demoralizing to see the country I fought for and know people who have died for continue to tear itself apart. At what point can we allow the investigations to run their course and focus on important issues facing our country, like health care reform and taxes?
SANDERS: Kevin, first of all, thank you very much for your service to our country. And you asked -- I mean, it's kind of the point that I made when we began. What we need now in every respect is a -- let's get through this damn thing. And to do that, we need bipartisan efforts. We need to get to the truth. We need to see where the truth leads us.
It may well be -- you know what? It may well be that there was no collusion, and that's that. Let's end it. It may well be that there was collusion and we have to deal with that. But the point that you just made -- and why I think I'm so upset about this whole business -- is the American people are hurting. You got a middle class which is disappearing, 43 million people living in poverty, people can't afford their health care, they're worried about climate change, they can't afford to send their kids to college, and they turn on CNN, and what do we got? Here we are talking about this.
So I think we have got to get behind this, we've got to get over this. It's got to go -- do this objectively, get over with it as quickly as we can, so we can, in fact, get back to the business of the American people.
KASICH: The reason why Bernie and I are here tonight is we were going to discuss health care, we were going to discuss taxation, the situation with the middle class, what we do to train workers, all the issues of trade. And it was going to be a very interesting discussion, I felt, and, you know, not a yelling and screaming debate or an interrupting, but a good discussion.
But this is a serious matter now. And CNN asked us if we would come and do this. And this is the order of the day. And Bernie and I are in complete agreement when it comes to getting to the bottom line so we can then move on and then have a spirited debate about how we move forward with our country.
The most important thing is getting this country together again. And, you know what, how about if we get everybody in America to take 10 minutes to read or listen to something we don't agree with, and open our ears and open our eyes to other people's concerns, other people's opinions? If we do that, we'll come together as a country. That's how it worked best when I was up on the Hill.
SANDERS: I think that's a -- John makes a good...
KASICH: And in Ohio.
SANDERS: John makes a good point. We should be open-minded. We should hear, listen to people who disagree with us, and we should also, though, begin to figure out why we have a Congress, in my view, which is so far out of touch with where the American people are on issue after issue and why they are so beholden to big money interests and campaign contributors. That's an issue I think at some point John and I will hopefully have the opportunity to discuss.
BASH: You will. We're going to have you both back next month to talk about health care, to talk about taxes and all of those issues. In the meantime, we're going to take a very quick break. Coming up, talk of secret tapes and possible obstruction of justice. The comparisons to Watergate as we continue our live town hall on the White House crisis.
TAPPER: Welcome back to the CNN town hall. We're here in Washington, D.C., with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Governor John Kasich of Ohio. You can learn more about our guests' political views and more in their books. John Kasich is the author of "Two Paths: America Divided or United." Senator Sanders' book is titled "Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In."
BASH: And we now want to return to our audience and bring in Luke Nichter, a history professor at Texas A&M University. He is an expert on the Nixon tapes and digitized the nearly 4,000 hours of recordings, and he has a question for Governor Kasich.
QUESTION: You remember President Nixon.
KASICH: Yeah, I remember him.
QUESTION: There have been many comparisons between President Trump's recent actions and those by President Nixon during Watergate. However, it seems that to be Trumpian is something of a greater magnitude than simply being Nixonian. Do you agree?
KASICH: God, I'd have to think about that for a half-an-hour. I don't know how to feel about that.
Look, here's what I'm most concerned about. First of all, I want to congratulate you coming here from Texas A&M. You know how to get to Texas A&M? You go to the edge of nowhere and catch a plane. That's how you get to College Station.
But, sir, here's what I'm really concerned about. Republicans cannot go hide. I saw Republicans -- they couldn't even find any Republicans to go on the air today. Republicans cannot go and hide. But Democrats have to be careful they don't exploit. Because if they exploit this for political gain, it's just going to be as bad as if the Republicans hide.
Now, I think during Watergate, at the end of it, the Republicans -- you know, they had the committee, they had the select committee, and a lot of careers were made on that committee, and ultimately the Republicans said there was something wrong that was done, they went down to the White House and said, Mr. President, you have to resign.
But we're a long way from anything like that. What we know is that, again, back -- don't let the Republicans go hiding somewhere. That's not right. Go for your country. And Democrats, keep the fact that we have a fragile democracy and a fragile nation. And we've got to make sure that we get this done right. But thanks for your question and thanks for coming tonight.
SANDERS: Well, let me add on to what John said. I think it would be awful for the country if Democrats used this as a political opportunity and ran a partisan effort. But it is absolutely imperative that Republicans come forward and they say we got some serious problems here, let's go where the facts take us. Let's get a special prosecutor or more. But this is too serious a problem to run away from. So we've got to go forward together for the sake of the American people.
KASICH: And when you think about it -- no, Bernie and I -- I don't think we'd agree on, you know, one out of 10 issues. But you know what? There's some things we would agree upon, and I'll tell you one of them, would be corporate welfare reform. And I was one of the leaders of it in the Republican Party.
We are different on so many things. But I hope what you're hearing tonight is we care about the country. And maybe it's experience, Bernie, maybe it's the fact that we've been around so long, but to sit around and try to calculate a political gain, here's the question, how do you look yourself in the mirror? Because, you know, when you're in public office, it's like that, and you want to be able to look back and say I served my country.
Now, that doesn't mean you dismissed your party, you throw your party away, but it does mean that the party -- or the country always is going to come before -- before the country. And you can see it tonight with two of us that don't share the same philosophy, but we have the same concern we have for our nation.
SANDERS: Well, and let me -- that's right. And let me just add to that. And you use the word -- I don't know if you used it quite intentionally, fragile democracy. We have the lowest voter turnout of almost any major country on Earth. Three years ago, in the by- elections, the nonpresidential elections, 36 percent of the American people voted. Almost two-thirds of the American people did not vote. Congress today I think has a rating -- favorable rating of 15 percent, 18 percent.
The American people are demoralized. And I worry about the future of this country. John and I probably will disagree as to why people feel the way they do. I think a lot of folks feel that their voice doesn't matter when billionaires are buying elections and when corporations have so much power over our economy. But be that as it may, our job is to revitalize American democracy to make you understand that you are America, and when we stand together, we can do real things. And that is a very serious concern that I have.
KASICH: Well, and it's about hope.
SANDERS: It's about hope.
KASICH: It's about the fact that every single person in America feels they matter and every single person in this country feels as though they count. And I think that that's been the great divide.
Today in Columbus, I had a speech before I came here, and there was a young woman. I don't even know how she got to my event. Apparently she must have taken a bus or walked, Bernie, and she stood up, and she has mental illness. And she said I'm so worried about the future, and she started to cry.
You know what? She matters as much as anybody who's worth a zillion dollars. She counts, and she matters. And that's what we have to communicate, Republicans and Democrats alike, because I maintain that neither party really understands the problems of those who are the poorest and the least among us. And that is wrong. This is a country that has to give everybody a chance to rise to whatever God-given purpose they were born.
SANDERS: All right. Now let me give my speech.
KASICH: That wasn't a speech.
SANDERS: A short one, John.
SANDERS: And that is, there is something profoundly wrong when we live in a nation in which the top 1 percent, 0.1 percent, owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. And we've got 43 million people living in poverty. There is something profoundly wrong when you get one vote and you get one vote, and yet the Koch brothers can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy elections. Something profoundly wrong -- you talked about this woman with mental illness -- and we got a Republican Party, if I may say, that wants to throw 24 million people off of health insurance, cut Medicaid by over $800 billion, defund -- defund...
KASICH: Bernie, you know, I'm in the Republican Party. You know that? I didn't do that. And I'm not for that.
SANDERS: I didn't say that you did, John. I didn't say that you did.
KASICH: OK. All right.
SANDERS: No, no, it's the United States Congress -- defund Planned Parenthood, et cetera. And the American people are saying, what about me? I'm working two or three jobs. I can't afford childcare, can't afford to send my kids to college, and Republicans in Congress are talking about hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the very richest people in this country. Anyone give a damn about me? I'm just the working-class person.
So those are the issues that we have to focus on. How you rebuild an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
TAPPER: So, Governor Kasich, you recently said you would not rule out another presidential run in 2020. President Trump has already filed for re-election. If he does go through with a re-election bid, do the events of his first few months in office indicate that some Republican, if not you, some Republican should challenge him?
KASICH: Well, I think it's too early, Jake. He's been in for, you know, barely 100-plus days. I mean, look, I'm rooting for my country. A lot of people think I wrote a book or that I'm on the show or I travel around because I want something. I don't want -- I'm thrilled. I'm a happy man.
I'm worried about -- look, I got these 17-year-old daughters, I don't know if they're watching tonight, Emma and Reese, I love you, and my wife, and my friends, and that's all I care about. We can't predict the future. And when people -- at one point during my tour, I said I'm ruling out ever running for public office. And people said, why are you saying that? You don't know what the future is going to bring.
So I flipped. I said I don't know what I'm going to do in the future. I don't know. But I want to keep a voice. You know, you think about this. I'm the governor of Ohio, and I'm here tonight talking about one of the most serious issues a country can face. So I don't know where the world is going to take me. I don't know what the Lord's purpose is for me. But I'm going to try to figure it out. And it may not be politics and it may be. Who knows?
BASH: Senator Sanders, you clearly galvanized and inspired millions of people in 2016. May many of them are waiting for a signal from you about your plans for 2020. Should they wait around for you? Or should they shop for another candidate?
SANDERS: No, Dana, I don't agree with that.
BASH: Which part?
SANDERS: And you have heard me both say this before. No, millions of people are not worried -- we just had an election. We just -- you guys never end. You're probably wondering who's going to be running in 2030 -- how old are your kids? Are they going to be running in, you know, 2094?
KASICH: Well, they might be.
BASH: Do you want to tell us that?
SANDERS: All right. But, you know what? This is a criticism that I have in the media. And you have heard me both say it. Talk about the issues. Why is it that the United States is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people? Do you think it is moral that so few have so much and so many have so little? It is easy to ask whether Kasich is running or Sanders is running. That's easy stuff. It is harder to talk about oligarchy in America. It is harder to talk about trade policies.
BASH: We're not...
SANDERS: The American people -- I beg to differ -- they're not worried about whether Kasich or Sanders is going to run.
BASH: We're not worried about...
SANDERS: They're worried -- they're worried where they're going to get decent pay for their jobs.
KASICH: Bernie, my wife's worried about it. She doesn't want to go through all this again. So...
SANDERS: Well, my wife is, too.
BASH: Just for the record, we're not afraid of hard...
BASH: We're not afraid of hard questions and issues. And we are talking about that, and we will continue to talk about that. But I have to say that -- you're not going to want to hear this -- maybe both of you won't -- maybe you will -- that online, apparently, our viewers are saying that they're loving this, and some people are wondering if maybe there's a joint ticket in your future.
KASICH: This is what I was worried about.
SANDERS: I think John is thinking about becoming a Democratic Socialist.
KASICH: I don't have any doubt you're not becoming a serial entrepreneurial Republican. But you want to know something? And I think Bernie will -- I mean, he just pointed it out. You know, we have fewer people voting, but more and more young people are deciding that they're not either Republican or Democrat. They're independent. You know why that is? Because the parties are not speaking to them. There's too much politics, not enough exciting issues.
I was telling my staff the other day, I go out, I get 300 people, Bernie goes out, he gets 30,000 people. What am I doing wrong? But the fact of the matter is, I think it is possible in the future for a well-funded, articulate, independent to become president of the United States. I think these parties have got to get better or they're going to erode, and they're -- I mean, we're going to see a transformation, a realignment...
SANDERS: There you go. There you go.
KASICH: ... a realignment of the way that politics works in America.
SANDERS: Well, here's what you got. And, obviously, I mean, I'll take John's point a step further, that's what happened in France. The two major historical parties, the Republican Party and their Socialist Party, they didn't make it into the runoffs. And I think there is mass discontent with both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party today. And I think many people believe that these parties are way out of touch with the working class and the middle class of this country. So I think you have a very good point.
TAPPER: I want to wrap up right now. I want to give you each an opportunity to make a closing argument of some sort. You'll each get two minutes. Governor Kasich, I'll start with you.
KASICH: Well, I think, really, about everything that needed to be said has been said tonight about Republicans not hiding, Democrats not exploiting this whole situation, that we need to get to the bottom of it, we get to the bottom of it.
If you take health care, for example, I believe it is possible to fashion a reform of Obamacare with Republicans and Democrats working together. I think that nothing major gets done in this country -- I don't think, I know that nothing major gets done in this country unless both parties work together on it. You pass Obamacare with no Republicans, it's not stable. You pass a Republican plan without Democrats, it's not stable.
And so it is critical, once we get through this -- and maybe this is a great opportunity for us to put aside too much partisanship. We're going to be conservatives and liberals. Put it aside and figure out how to cast that and work together to solve some of these very big problems.
I would also say something to the people that are watching this show. Please settle down. Don't dislike or hate somebody that doesn't agree with you. Love your neighbor as you want your neighbor to love you. This is so important in this country. And somehow we're treating each other -- and not just in politics.
If you're on United Airlines and they yank you off the plane, or you're Wells Fargo and you file phony accounts, or you're Epi-pen and you jack up prices, I mean, is that the way you want to be treated? So start thinking about other people a little bit and we'll all have a better life and we'll all be more unified.
And I've enjoyed being with Senator Sanders tonight. We used to be in the House together. He testified before the Budget Committee. There's an old tape of it. And we both looked a heck of a lot better 20 years ago. So, thank you for having us here tonight, and I hope it did some good for America.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Senator?
SANDERS: Well, let me just pick up on some of the points that John made. I worry very much about the future of this country. I worry about the fact that so many of our people are working so hard, incredibly long hours, and almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent.
And what I think has got to happen is that we need a revitalization of American democracy. And, by the way, I think we're seeing that. Not so long ago, we had the Women's March, where millions of people throughout this country came out to say that they are going to be involved in the political process, that they believe that a woman has the right to choose, that they believe that we need guaranteed paid family and medical leave.
We saw God knows how many people coming out to say to Donald Trump, in terms of climate, you're wrong, Mr. President. Climate change is not a hoax. It is a great threat to the planet. We've got to take on the fossil fuel industry, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
We've seen rallies and town meetings all over this country where people say you are not going to take away the health care that my wife has, because if you do, she may die. What we want to do is improve the Affordable Care Act, not throw 24 million people off of health care or raise premiums for older workers. We are the richest country in the history of the world. We should not
be talking about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, cutting Medicaid, cutting Pell Grants. We should not be talking about hurting the poorest people in this country. What we need to do is stand up, in my view, to the greed of corporate America, to the greed of the billionaire class, and tell them: They cannot have it all. This country belongs to all of us, not just the people on top.
BASH: Senator Sanders, Governor Kasich, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
KASICH: Good job.
SANDERS: Good job.
BASH: Appreciate it. Thank you very much.
TAPPER: We want to thank Senator Sanders and Governor Kasich for being here tonight. You can read more about their views, again, in their books. John Kasich is the author of "Two Paths: America Divided or United." Bernie Sanders' book is titled "Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In." Our coverage live of tonight's breaking news continues now with Don Lemon and CNN Tonight in New York. Thanks for watching.