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Record-Breaking House Race Tests Trump's Popularity; Dems Slam GOP Closed-Door Process; Top House Dems Scrutinize Flynn's Trips To Mideast; UPS Will Charge More For Holiday Shipments; Paul Ryan To Talk Tax Overhaul Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- with John Berman, always seen and heard.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Did Chris Cuomo just say, sometimes it's better to say less?


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. In that position.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he did.

CUOMO: Not in mine.


CAMEROTA: The irony that screams.

CUOMO: And in your position right now, it may be better to say less.


BERMAN: Yes. I better stop right now, I have to say, in that sense.


BERMAN: We have a lot of news, so I'm going to get to it and say goodbye to you, guys. So long, bye.

All right. At this moment, voters are heading to the polls in what could be the most important special election in decades. The most expensive House race ever. The most pivotal political moment yet to face this White House.

It could be all of those things. Then again, it could just be Tuesday. It's sometimes hard to know with special elections.

What we do know about the race in suburban Atlanta is that it is being seen as a referendum on the Trump presidency in a district that has been in Republican hands for a long, long time. So important the President weighed in, not once, but twice this morning. Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, they are neck and

neck. We've heard from both of them within the last hour. CNN's Jason Carroll joins us now live from Marietta.

Inside the most watched congressional district on Earth this morning, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow, that's quite the lead-in, I mean. But you're not off the truth there.

I mean, you look at how many votes were cast early in this election -- 140,000, John. Those are the types of numbers that you normally see during a presidential campaign. This is the most expensive race of its kind in U.S. history. $50 million spent between both candidates, if you also add in super PAC spending and PAC spending as well.

When you look at the lay of the land in terms of what's happened here, I mean, the sixth congressional district has been reliably Republican for decades. But during the 2016 campaign, Trump barely eked out a win here.

Democrats saw an opportunity. That's where you had the man by the name of Jon Ossoff entering the race early on, very much making it about President Trump, making it very critical of President Trump.

You've got Karen Handel on the other side who says Jon Ossoff doesn't have the political experience. He's basically just a liberal doing what he's been doing.

Now, what you have is both candidates, John, basically saying the race is about each other and not about the President.


KAREN HANDEL, REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA: The people of the sixth district want this to be about the sixth district. They are not interested in Hollywood and California coming in and buying this seat. And they are very concerned about an individual who does not even live in this district.

He is a liberal and just the same along the lines of Nancy Pelosi. He's going to be her vote in the House. What the people of the sixth want is a vote for them.

JON OSSOFF, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA: The contrast in this district is between a career politician, my opponent Karen Handel, who is notorious for cutting off funding for life saving breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, or a fresh voice who wants to work across to get things done and grow our local economy, work to make health care more accessible and affordable for women and folks with pre-existing conditions.


CARROLL: So let's look at the implications here. If Ossoff wins, that's really going to be a symbolic victory for Democrats going forward, hopefully giving them the momentum they think that they need going into midterm elections.

If Handel wins here, again, symbolic victory for Republicans because what it does is it shows that what the President has been doing is working, gives GOP lawmakers in Washington a mandate to move forward on his agenda.

The problem is, for both sides, John, the race is just too close to call. John?

BERMAN: I got to tell you, Jason, both those candidates look simply exhausted, probably almost as tired all as the voters in that district where you are this morning. Jason Carroll, in Marietta, thanks so much.

CARROLL: They are tired, yes, no doubt.

BERMAN: All right. It's a big day for secrecy on Capitol Hill. In a few hours, Vice President Mike Pence will meet behind closed doors with Senate Republican leaders to talk about their health care bill that practically no one has seen and for which there are virtually no details. But whatever is in it, it is promising enough to leaders that they want the Senate to vote on it as soon as next week.

Incidentally, what does the Vice President think about secrecy? Listen to this. "It's simply wrong for legislation that will affect 100 percent of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors."

He wrote that. Of course, he wrote it back in 2010. I guess times have changed.

Democrats, who have almost no power over these developments, held something of a vent-a-thon overnight. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, Democrats are really seizing on the Vice President's comments there. And they are also, while many of us were sleeping late last night, they were on the Senate floor.

It was a kind of a talk-a-thon, if you will, waging their own protest to at least call attention to the super-secret process that is going on behind closed doors to craft this legislation by Senate Republicans. They have asked for a number of things, all of them rejected.

[09:04:58] One of the things that we had heard about was whether or not they would make the text public and available. There is no text to this bill so far. Public hearings. That has also been rejected, an all-Senate meeting. So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that none of those things are on the table.

Now, earlier this morning, I spoke with Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat, and asked him, what can Democrats possibly do? Why did they wage this protest? And are they going to slow or try to slow the government down? Here's his response. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It takes three Republican senators. If three Republican senators say this is the wrong way to change the health care system in America, we can stop this and move toward a more constructive process. One that's more bipartisan, one that's more open, more public, so that the American people know what's going to happen.


MALVEAUX: John, some Republicans are pushing back, saying that the Democratic process, as you had mentioned back in 2010, was not completely open. And I did put that to Senator Durbin. And he said, well, at least we had some public hearings following that bill, at least the writing of that legislation, and 25 days of debate.

If you look at the calendar on Republican's side, they certainly will not be offering that. It will be more in the tune of hours and not days for that to be public.

But what we will see today is Vice President Mike Pence, who, in that course, could be a tiebreaker in all of this. He will be meeting behind the scenes with Republican lawmakers to talk about what they have so far. A temperature check, if you will, in terms of some of the details -- John.

BERMAN: Yes. They may not get 25 hours of debate, let alone 25 days, but it might be the best way to get it passed in the Republican Senate. Suzanne Malveaux, on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Jason Miller, CNN political commentator, former communications director for the Trump transition team; David Swerdlick, a CNN political, assistant editor at "The Washington Post"; and Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders.

Gentlemen, let's play a game of what if with the Georgia Sixth special election. Jeff Weaver, firs to you, in 20 seconds or less, if Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, wins, what if he wins? What does it mean?

JEFF WEAVER, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, what it means is that the American public are sick and tired of this Trump agenda, of an attempt to take away health care from 23 million people.

And as we've seen over the course of three special elections, Democrats are far outperforming how they did in the presidential election year. And I think Jon Ossoff's going to put it over the top today.

BERMAN: All right, Jeff. Then, what if he loses?

WEAVER: Well, look, this has been a very close race. The previous incumbent, Price, I think won this seat by 23 points. It's a staunchly Republican seat. The fact that Ossoff has gone toe-to-toe with his Republican opponent, I think, is a testament to the strength of the Democratic message at this particular moment. BERMAN: Jason Miller, you get to play now. What if Karen Handel

wins? What does that mean?

JASON MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR THE TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: I think what this will show is that voters in Georgia, and largely around the country, as this race is becoming nationalized, do not want to see another vote for Nancy Pelosi being sent up to Congress.

And I think there's a bigger counter culture backlash that we're seeing going on right now that's really galvanizing and firing up the Republican base, where voters are upset with a Kathy Griffin treatment toward President Trump.

We see the terrible witch hunt that's going on against President Trump in Washington right now. We even see the fake art in the park that has dominated some of the headlines over this past week.

I think Republican voters are really fired up about this. They're going to show up in big numbers today.

And one other really critical point that's going on here -- I think Jeff is really someone who can speak to this as well -- is it's important to point out that the Democratic base really has been demotivated and in shambles ever since the DNC and Secretary Clinton and others --

WEAVER: We'll see.

MILLER: -- stole this election, that primary election, from Bernie Sanders last year. The Democrats have not been able to get their footing back ever since then.

BERMAN: You went over your 20-second allotment there.

MILLER: Sorry.

BERMAN: But I will still ask you, in 20 seconds or less, Jason, what if, then, the Republican Karen Handel loses?

MILLER: Well, I don't think she's going to lose today. I think she's going to win bigly.

I know everyone is saying it's really close going into today, in Election Day, but, look, I think Karen Handel probably wins by upwards of four or five points. I think she wins it running away, and I just don't see her losing at all, even though it's a tight district.

BERMAN: All right. Jason Miller, noted. Not playing the expectations game here. You're supposed to say it would be an amazing upset if she wins, that's the way politics normally is in Washington. But we appreciate your honesty there.

David Swerdlick, to you, obviously, this is a race that people are trying to nationalize here. People all around the country are looking at this as some kind of referendum. When we wake up tomorrow, will it tell us something, going forward?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if Ossoff wins and the Democrats finally get a win, I think it will just mean that a fever broke.

Republicans won the special in Montana. Republicans won the special in Kansas. Those were Republican districts that they were supposed to win.

This is a Republican district that's closer, so if Democrats can pick it off, even if it's a close race, I think that suggests that they have something to build on.

But I think it will be getting ahead of ourselves to say that they can, all of a sudden, start dreaming about taking back Congress or taking back the House.

[09:09:57] If Handel wins, I think it just suggests that a Republican won a Republican district, even though she was facing a well-financed Democratic challenger.

And Democrats really have to go back to the drawing board and realize that part of their message is an anti-Trump message, John, but part of their message has to be a prospective message heading into 2018 about what they want to offer voters that they'll do, rather than what the administration won't do.

BERMAN: I say this as an assistant --

MILLER: Amen. Amen.

BERMAN: I say this as an assistant little league coach here. Democrats are running out of participation trophies. I mean, sooner or later --

SWERDLICK: Yes, exactly.

BERMAN: Sooner or later, Jeff Weaver, you know, you've got to win somewhere, right, so do you believe the Democratic base? Jason Miller suggested the Democratic base isn't energized. Is that for real?

WEAVER: Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I think you've seen it in the streets of this country, with the Women's March and other marches across this country. The base is very energized.

And, look, I would say this, this is the first of the three special elections where you've had financial parity between the candidates.

In the case of Montana, Quist received very little outside money where he was pounded with $5 million's worth of Koch Brother and other money on negative ads. Thompson in Kansas got no outside help.

So this is the first time we've seen a Democratic candidate in one of these special elections get the kind of financial support they need to go toe-to-toe with the Republicans. And surprise, surprise, they're going toe-to-toe. Ossoff's going toe-to-toe with Handel in Georgia. If these other candidates have had the same kind of resources, not

taking anything away from Ossoff, I think you would have seen similar results in those places.

BERMAN: All right, Jason Miller, let's --

MILLER: Sorry, I think that --

BERMAN: Let's turn, Jason, if we can, to health care, to all the details we know inside the Senate health care bill.

I was silent there because we don't know any of the details of the Senate health care bill because it's being negotiated behind closed doors.

And, Jason, I know you were listening as we were reading the Mike Pence tweet from 2010 when he said it's simply wrong for legislation that will affect 100 percent of the people to be negotiated behind closed doors.

Will you grant that it's at least a little bit ironic, Jason, that this is happening in complete secrecy?

MILLER: John, of course, the Republicans are going to go and put together what they want to move forward for the legislation and then, of course, they'll be some floor debate over this. The exact time parameters, we don't yet know, but the Republicans have every right to go and negotiate their own plan, what they want to put forward, and then get that out there for people to go on and debate.

But I think the fact that the Democrats are seizing on the process aspect of this and not the fact that ObamaCare's failing and the fact that Democrats don't have their own legislation or a real bill that will go and help people and turn around this cliff that we're heading to with ObamaCare, I think, is really telling the lack of direction and the rudderless aspect of the Democratic Party now.

BERMAN: But you're talking about the same process.


BERMAN: Democrats are talking about the same process that Republicans talked about back in 2010. No one likes it when the other side negotiates behind closed doors, David Swerdlick.

And to Jason Miller's point, yes, there will be floor debate. Maybe a few hours, you know, 10 to 20 hours. Two days, if we're following the time frame that we're getting a sense of right now from Republican leadership.

It does seem as if they are trying to get this through very, very quickly before these senators have to go home for the July 4th recess, David.

SWERDLICK: They're trying to get it through done quickly and without a lot of rancor on either the House or the Senate side. Look, Jason is my man, 100 grand. But, Jason, you know that this is

exactly the argument that Republicans made in 2009 and 2010 about the Democrat's process. It was partly a substance argument and partly this idea that Democrats were, you know, cooking this up in secret.

Look, Republicans have not been consistent on this issue, and that's actually been a problem for them as they try to get their own version of this bill passed. If Democrats had done something like Medicare for All back in '09, Republicans would probably be doing something right now that looked very similar to the RomneyCare/ObamaCare plan that used to be a Republican plan.

MILLER: Well --

SWERDLICK: Now that they have to replace that plan, they're looking for alternatives. And they can't agree between House Republicans who want it a little more conservative, House senators that want it a little more in the middle.

BERMAN: Jeff Weaver, quick last word, though. Democrats, they vented last night, but can they do really much more than vent at this point?

WEAVER: Well, the process is difficult with this Senate reconciliation procedure that's being used to pass this bill. But I do think, look, on this topic, John, the American people at the polls are all consistent.

I mean, a huge majority of the American people are opposed to what the Republicans are doing. And that's why they're trying to do it in secret and sneak out of Washington before they go home for July 4th.

They know if this thing is hanging out there, the substance of this thing is hanging out there, when they go home, there's going to be a lot of angry constituents at their town meetings.

BERMAN: We will see. Jason Miller, David Swerdlick, Jeff Weaver, thank you all so much. You're all 100 grand in my book, or at least 99, on a Tuesday.

New information about beleaguered former national security adviser Michael Flynn, potentially controversial trips and meetings that Democrats say he did not disclose.

Plus, a U.S. citizen dies after being in captivity in North Korea. John McCain calls it murder. This morning, how will the President respond?

[09:14:53] And forget mixed messaging. How about no messaging? The White House schedule clear of press briefings today.



BERMAN: New this morning, fresh questions about fired National Security adviser, Michael Flynn. This time over two trips he allegedly made to the Middle East in 2015. Trips that two top Democrats in the House say General Flynn may not have been completely forthcoming about on a security clearance application.

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz joins us now with all the details. Shimon, what have you learned?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, that's right, John. So these are two trips perhaps overseas that it's believed that these congressional leaders believed Flynn took back in 2015, one of them over the summer, maybe around June, which was not disclosed at all.

Later, interestingly enough, he did disclose an October meeting where he went to Saudi Arabia for some meetings and it appears, at least to these congressional leaders, he did not disclose key details in this security clearance form known as SF-86.

We've heard a lot of talk about this security clearance form where it seems consistently some officials now working for the Trump administration did not fill out certain contacts they had with foreign officials.

In Flynn's case, it seems he left out key details about why he was there, who he was visiting, who paid for the trip.

[09:20:08]And the other thing that's really interesting here, at least according to these congressional leaders, is that he didn't -- the hotel he disclosed he stayed at does not exist.

So they have now sent a letter to his attorney, a seven-page letter, requesting more information on those meetings and also, John, finally, you know, the FBI is continuing to look at these meetings, to look at his business transactions, as the investigation into the Russia meddling continues.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, a hotel that doesn't exist, thank you very, very much.

Joining me now, Nick Akerman, the former assistant special Watergate prosecutor, a former assistant U.S. attorney. He's also a partner at Dorsey and Whitney LLC. Nick, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Let's talk Michael Flynn for a moment, shall we. I mean, it seems as if, yes, he's tied up in the overall Russia investigation, but there seems to be separate interest in him and his business dealings and the forms he filled out. Where do you see the interest in Michael Flynn overlapping with the overall Russia probe?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think the best place to start is what President Trump said to Jim Comey, to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn. I mean, to me, the fact that the president would single out that particular incident out of all of these investigations to try and stop Flynn, saying he's a good guy. I mean, I can't remember one single situation and I actually ask anybody to come up with a single situation where Donald Trump has gone out of his way to help anybody. That in itself raises a lot of suspicion.

BERMAN: It is interesting. It's possible that if the president had that discussion as James Comey described, now the president denies it, but if it did happen as James Comey describes, it was possible he was only speaking about the phone call that he had with the Russian ambassador. We don't know.

It's possible the president never even knew about all these other investigations right now, which are not ancillary but are separate to that. Let me ask you this, though, if you have so many separate things looking into Michael Flynn's finances, the way he filled out forms, question about his business dealings, does it make it more likely that the special counsel will be able to flip him or get him to cooperate?

AKERMAN: I think that's Donald Trump's worst fear, that somehow Michael Flynn is going to be indicted, convicted and sentenced and he'll wind up fingering Donald Trump or Jared Kushner. I think that is his worst fear.

I mean, another point I think is important for people to understand is this national security form that's filled out. I just did one for a case I'm involved in. That form says all over it that you have to tell the truth.

That failure to provide information, failure to be truthful on that application could result in your conviction of a federal felony that's punishable up to five years in prison. I think it's important for people to understand.

This wasn't some kind of nonchalant form filled out. This was a form that really instills the fear of God in you in terms of filling it out and being absolutely candid.

BERMAN: What's Bob Mueller doing right now overall not just with Michael Flynn but there's obviously an investigation going on. We only know the bits and pieces that we see. He's meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow, for example, but what aren't we seeing?

AKERMAN: I don't think we are seeing all of the work that going on. All these things are interrelated in some way and we just don't know how. They're looking at lots of documents. They're reviewing interviews that have probably been with conducted already by the FBI. They're trying to get up to speed where the investigation was when they came on the scene.

I think that itself is a lot of work to do. And then trying to determine, you know, where are the weak points? Where will this investigation go? Where can we develop more evidence? Who were the first witnesses we should go to?

I mean, you don't start at the top. You try and find people at the bottom that know certain facts that can lead you to other people.

BERMAN: We're learning the Senate Judiciary Committee, it's possible that they take up the issue of alleged obstruction, possible obstruction with the president and this Michael Flynn case. What would it mean as an investigator to you if there was a Senate committee that would be looking at this at the same time that you as a prosecutor and investigator will be looking into it?

AKERMAN: Well, part of the obstruction part really comes down to the issue of motive. Motive is not an element to prove obstruction of justice, but it's a key part of it. And so you have to ask why did somebody not want Donald -- want Michael Flynn investigated? So that's one part of it.

But the committee's going to look at all of these things because in a way they're all interrelated. Why is it that anybody would care about Michael Flynn being investigated in the first instance? What is it he knows? What's the scope of his knowledge? What did he do?

Every day, we keep finding new things coming out, just as we did last night. So I think this is -- I mean, we don't really know everything that Bob Mueller knows. I'm sure he knows a lot because he's privy to all of these national intelligence investigations. All of the intelligence that's come up at this point.

BERMAN: Nick Akerman, always great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.

AKERMAN: Thank you.

[09:25:07]BERMAN: All right, the first official day of summer is tomorrow but UPS is already thinking Christmas. The world's largest shipping company says it will add a surcharge to holiday packages this year.

CNN's chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans joins us now before the bell -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Ho, ho, ho, John. Online shopping is so big and all these retailers are pushing all these online promotions, right. So UPS is going to charge more for shipping just around the holidays. It's the first they've ever done this.

What it's going to mean for ground shipments, an extra 27 cents for two day air, an extra 97 cents, three select service, 97 cents. Will you have to pay for it? Maybe not. It remains to be seen whether the retailers eat this or whether they pass along the cost to you when you pay for your shipping when you get the packages.

So it's a very competitive world so passing on the shipping might be a hard thing to do as so many of these retailers are switching now to online shopping and online delivery. It's just the way of the future and that's what those fees will be -- John.

BERMAN: This is why you and I have a no gift policy, so we don't have to pay the surcharge.

ROMANS: Exactly.

BERMAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan is talking about taxes today in a pretty big speech, Romans.

ROMANS: He is, and you know, I've been hearing from Republicans and people around the tax reform debate, people in business, they're starting to talk about tax cuts and maybe something short term to bridge the gap and they're starting to talk less about middle class tax reform and just a tax cut for business.

Paul Ryan, the House speaker coming out today, going to give a big speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, John, and he's going to push for tax reform, real tax reform, once in a generation tax reform. We need to get this done in 2017. That's really key, the business community wants it in 2017.

We cannot let this once in a generation moment slip. Transformational tax reform can be done and we are moving forward, full speed ahead.

When I look at these remarks, it sounds to me like he's trying to blunt this movement among some in business and some in the Republican Party to just get something done near term to juice the economy to give business what they want, which is lower taxes and put off the reform or the middle class piece of this until later. It seems like he wants the whole she bang and he's going to make that case today.

BERMAN: The question is, is this stands too late in the process? Christine Romans, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

All right, President Trump condemning North Korea as brutal after a 22-year-old American student died just days after being released. Pressure mounting for the United States to take action.