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Trump Denies Threat; Scarborough Talks Threat; Scarborough Claims Proof; Kushner Called About Story; Reversal on Replacing Obamacare. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 30, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:12] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. Thanks for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

It is a busy Friday afternoon here as we begin with another allegation of abuse of power from the top office in the land, the White House. And this time it has absolutely zero to do with Russia.

In moments, the White House press briefing is about to begin. And, once again, the administration is denying you the chance to see and hear it live. That is happening on a day when the president of the United States is accused of threatening two news anchors with a tabloid expose. All of this stemming from his salacious and outrageous tweets against MSNBC anchors Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. The two have responded, expressing concern about the president's mental fitness, and alleging how the president used "The National Enquirer" to try and influence their show's coverage.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: We got a call that, hey, "The National Inquirer" is going to run a negative story against you guys. And it was, you know, Donald is friends with - the president is friends with the guy that runs "The National Inquirer." And they said, if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story. I had -


SCARBOROUGH: I will just say three people at the very top of the administration calling me. And the response was like, are you kidding me?

The calls kept coming. And kept coming. And they were like, call. You need to call. Please call.


SCARBOROUGH: Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's blackmail.

BRZEZINSKI: And let me explain what they were threatening. They were calling my children. They were calling close friends of mine.

SCARBOROUGH: You're talking about "The National Enquirer" now.

BRZEZINSKI: And they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that. So I knew immediately it was a lie.


BALDWIN: Despite the outcry and even a poll against the president tweeting, he sent this out denying the anchors' accusations. Quote, "watched low rated 'Morning Joe' for first time in long time. Fake news. He called me to stop a 'National Enquirer' article. I said no. Bad show."

Let's begin at the White House, shall we, to our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns in the Briefing Room.

It is day two for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to defend the president.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And certainly this controversy is a big part of the news of the day. In fact, we've seen the president several times today, Brooke. I, personally, asked the president in a pool spray, not once but twice, about the growing Twitter war with the morning show hosts, and the president did not respond to that question.

Now, meanwhile, we have this increasingly bitter language. A good example of that is this tweet from Joe Scarborough. "Yet another lie. I have texts from your top aides and phone records. Also those records show I haven't spoken with you in many months." So we'll have yet another opportunity to ask questions about this controversy to Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she arrives here in just a little while in the Briefing Room.

This will be another off-camera briefing. It will be recorded. My understanding is we'll be able to play back the audio at the conclusion of the briefing. So they say the reason for this is that when you see the president a lot, they don't want the briefing to step on the message of the president. But as I said, the president did not answer questions in his appearances with South Korean President Moon.


BALDWIN: Don't want it to step on the message of the president. OK.

Joe, thank you so much. We will take the audio when it - when it's over and stay tuned for headlines from that and how Sarah Huckabee Sanders will defend this.

Let's analyze this. Got great voices again today. CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp is back, co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right." Gloria Browne-Marshall is with us today, constitutional law professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She wrote the book, "The Voting Rights War: The NAACP on the Ongoing Struggle for Justice." And CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, who also hosts CNN's "Reliable Sources." So, as we await the defense from the White House on this today, Brian Stelter to you, because Joe had pointed out, you know, it's an abuse of power story - and we're going to get into that in a second , a potential abuse of power story. If Joe Scarborough says he has texts and records of this exchange, who else was aware of this, and why is he waiting until now to tell everyone?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Apparently he told his colleagues about this at the time, back in April, when "The Enquirer" was sniffing around. Remember, he is divorced from his wife. Brzezinski's divorced from her husband. They had been dating. Now they're engaged. "The Enquirer" was snooping around about that.

[14:05:10] So Scarborough knows this story is coming and he says he had White House aides calling him up, threatening him, saying, if you just call the president and apologize for being mean to him, then he'll make the story go away. What's interesting about that is, we know Trump is interested in the Scarborough/Brzezinski relationship. He has previously tweeted about it and threatened to spill the beans about it.

So we know the president's interested in it and we also know that, according to Scarborough, according to NBC News, he told some colleagues about this when it was happening. He told the head of PR, for example, that I'm getting these phone calls from White House aides. Here are the text messages. So that gives some corroboration to Scarborough's account.

BALDWIN: The huge piece of this, S.E. Cupp, is again these are just allegations -


BALDWIN: That, you know, that there was this horrible story that was to come out in "The National enquirer" and they're getting phone calls from top brass at the White House saying, you need to call the president. He will spike this story in exchange for maybe being a bit more positive about your coverage of the president. If true, that's a big, big deal.

CUPP: If true, it's a big deal. And that's a big if. While we've heard similar stories coming from the Trump White House about higher-up officials trying to pressure journalists, this is a bit more nuanced. There's a report in "New York Magazine" today that suggests that actually Scarborough was calling the White House, and in particular Jared Kushner, to ask him to leverage Trump's relationship with "The National Enquirer" to kill a story. That's a bit different, and still problematic. But if that turns out to be the case, and not the other way around, that the White House is calling Joe to say, you've got to apologize or we're going to -

BALDWIN: Run the story.

CUPP: Allow "The Enquirer" - yes. That's a little different. And we don't know yet. I think it will be interesting to see if Joe Scarborough, as he claims, was getting all of these phone calls - STELTER: Right.

CUPP: These weird phone calls from the White House. You'd imagine a seasoned broadcaster and former political official would record them. If he didn't, that's a little odd to me.


CUPP: And if he did tell all these people, then I'm wondering also why he sat on it for so long.

STELTER: I've asked the same question to NBC.

CUPP: Right.

STELTER: Well, why -

BALDWIN: Why now?

STELTER: This seems like a disturbing thing that was happening in April.

CUPP: Very.

STELTER: Why didn't you tell your audience as it was happening? And there's no comment from NBC or from Scarborough. But, you know, he says he has these texts. We'll see if they're provided.


STELTER: The president says he got a call from Scarborough and said, no, I'm not going to help you. But no doubt there is a cozy relationship between Trump and "The National Enquirer." So if you're at the grocery store and you see the Trump headline in the supermarket tabloid, you might wonder, there is a - there is something going on there and we've seen that in the past.

BALDWIN: We'll talk about that in a second with Toobin's "New Yorker" piece on David Pecker. But -


CUPP: But, don't forget, though, the also cozy relationship that once existed between "Morning Joe" -

BALDWIN: Between Joe, Mika and the president.

CUPP: And President Trump.


CUPP: That's sort of gotten lost in this.


CUPP: That they cultivated a relationship with him over the course of the election -


CUPP: For a very friendly place for him to come. Joe Scarborough is now saying that Donald Trump has changed. I don't think anyone covering the campaign or Donald Trump for a decade would see they - say they see a different Trump. But there's a lot of massaging going around in this story.

BALDWIN: Gloria, I want to hear from you, because we're hearing, you know, back and forth from them, I'm looking at you, the legal - potential legal legs on either side of this.

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: Well, we have a free press, and we have a president who has the power of the bully pulpit. We see both of these things happening at the same time. In order for the president to use some press that's friendly to him, you know, he has the right to do that. And that's been happening over centuries of time. But as was pointed out, if there's going to be this type of blackmail, that unless you say positive things about me, I'm going to ruin you personally, that takes it to another level. But the press is in the situation in which they are under threat at all times under this president. I call him chance (ph) the gardener (ph) because people then read into what he's saying to say any number of things. Is this a threat or is he just being Trump? Either way, you know, it doesn't cross that line, in my estimation, to be actual blackmail, because there are so many outstanding issues here.

BALDWIN: What's "The National Enquirer" saying and just remind everyone about this relationship between David Pecker, right, who's the big cheese up at "The National Enquirer," what is it, America - he's chief executive of America media.

STELTER: Yes. Right.

BALDWIN: Who has had a relationship all '80s and '90s with then just Donald Trump, to now, to the campaign, to this story.

STELTER: Yes, this is an example of the pro-Trump media universe. You wouldn't think of "The National Enquirer" as being sort of a political outlet, but it has been becoming more political because of his long- time friendship between the publisher, David Pecker, and Donald Trump, first the businessman, now president. So there's that relationship. Pecker's been buying up other magazines, growing his empire. And to some degree, Trump's been benefitting.

Remember, there were those anti-Ted Cruz stories in "The National Enquirer" last year.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

STELTER: So there were times that "The Enquirer" may have been helping Trump.

[14:10:01] BROWNE-MARSHALL: And the anti-Obama stories that were coming out during that whole time of those two terms.

STELTER: Right, many, many, many of those.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Yes. Many of those.

STELTER: Right. Right.

BALDWIN: So, we just got some news. Let me just share this with everyone together. This is from Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent. That a White House official says Joe Scarborough called Jared Kushner about "The National Enquirer" story at issue. Kushner, according to this official, told Scarborough to call the president. The official denied there was ever any offer from Kushner of a quid pro quo. In other words, softer coverage in exchange for spiking "The Enquirer" story.

CUPP: That - that would mirror Gabe Sherman's -

BALDWIN: "New York" - "New York," the magazine -

CUPP: The "New York Magazine" story and reporting. And that's a bit kinder to the White House than what Scarborough is alleging. Now let's - let's - let's even pretend that's true. If it's also true that "The National Enquirer" was calling Mika Brzezinski's children, that's still terrible, but maybe not the Trump White House's doing. Maybe that's just unscrupulous - you know, the unscrupulous "National Enquirer" reporter maybe going a step too far.

STELTER: Yes, maybe - maybe a lot of Americans would rather the White House not worry about this kind of stuff at all.

CUPP: Yes. Right.

STELTER: Not have Jared Kushner dealing with this stuff at all. Not even bothering in the first place. And I think that's where it gets into this other separate issue. Forget about whether there was blackmail or not, just this president's interest or preoccupation with television news and with these personalities.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, they - can I just add one thing.


BROWNE-MARSHALL: And yet, at the beginning, I know you said this is not about Russia. But, actually, it is indirectly because when the spokes people come out and they say he's a fighter and if you hit him once he's going to hit you ten times.

BALDWIN: That's why people elected him.


BALDWIN: That's what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: But then it begs the question, then hit back at Russia ten times over. BALDWIN: That's a great point.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: You know, how can you spend so much time, Mr. President, on tweeting about these very minute issues when we have Russian influencing our campaigns.

BALDWIN: So when he goes to meet Vladimir Putin next week for the G-20 -


BALDWIN: Why not say, excuse me, sir, but you need to stop meddling in elections in America.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: And do that ten times over, as he does with all these other tweets.

BALDWIN: Point taken.

STELTER: And everyone's going to be waiting to see, what is he going to say? What is he going to do, waiting for that counter punch? I find it kind of amazing and very revealing about the president that for 24 hours essentially the entire American media, including some pro-Trump hosts on Fox said, he shouldn't have posted that tweet. That was a dumb tweet. What did he do that? And what did he do 24 hours later? He watched "Morning Joe" and he tweeted about it again.

CUPP: You can say - he's not chastened -

STELTER: And he said, it's fake news, that it's a bad show.

CUPP: Right.

STELTER: A great example of the president not going to change, like him or not.

CUPP: He's not been chastened by this near universal condemnation -


CUPP: Of what he did and that's interesting. But we talked about this yesterday. The defense of Trump is that he was defending himself. You heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders say that. What your point is so beautifully making is that that tweet did not defend him against any of the charges that were being discussed. It really just slapped around a woman based on her appearance. He wasn't defending himself. He was just swiping at her. If he wants to defend himself against the criticisms of "Morning Joe" or whomever, do that substantively. Do that through your policies. Do that through your White House. do that through your spokespeople. Don't go on Twitter, like a 16-year-old bully in someone's basement, and take a swap at someone's cosmetic surgery rumors. It's just -

BROWNE-MARSHALL: But I also want to add this. When someone - I just returned from London a week or so ago.


BROWNE-MARSHALL: We are a laughingstock internationally. I travel a great deal to other places and when we're having this discussion about someone's alleged plastic surgery, et cetera, when there is a war in Syria, famine around the world, refugee problems, all these other issues, it's just amazing how these other countries are looking at us, and it's quite embarrassing.

BALDWIN: Yes. And heaven forbid when that happens, and we're talking to Jamie Rubin (ph) later and you're - you know, my point exactly to ask him, you know, when you have Wilbur Ross being, you know, cut off in Berlin giving a speech and being laughed at by the audience, it just makes you wonder, heaven forbid something horrendous happens in the world and you have our allies, our leaders, questioning the governance and the temperament of the president because of this.

STELTER: Is there any wood I can knock on, on this set, because there hasn't really been a crisis.

BALDWIN: It's glass.

STELTER: It's all glass, unfortunately. But there really hasn't been a crisis for this president to react to. The kind of - the kind of world-shaking crisis. There are some slow motion disasters that continue to happen in Syria and elsewhere, but we haven't seen that moment of crisis where a world calamity that he's had to react to. Now, knock on glass, it won't happen any time soon, but I think that's what we all wonder, what will the tweets be that day.


CUPP: Well, oddly, I thought that the Syrian - the Syrian chemical attack was one of those moments and I thought he - he showed some great sobriety there.

BALDWIN: He was champion he supported (ph). Yes.

CUPP: And then the congressional shooting I thought was another one of those moments.

BALDWIN: But he called for unity and the point was made in the White House briefing yesterday, how is this sort of language -

CUPP: Yes.

BALDWIN: In tandem with the message of unity.

CUPP: But we got at least a day or two of a tempered Trump around that. So -

BALDWIN: Kumbaya. OK.

STELTER: But does the country want that, though? Does anybody - I mean I want - but doesn't the president sort of have a sense of what his audience wants?

[14:15:06] BROWNE-MARSHALL: But - but the standard -

CUPP: He clearly does.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: But the standard - the standard is so low.

CUPP: Yes.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Is this really what we expect from the leader of the free world? I say no. And I say someone else said we're normalizing this very rabid behavior and we need to stop normalizing it, even though it's Trump's behavior. We've got to kick him up to another level.

BALDWIN: Gloria and S.E. and Brian, we could keep going. You guys have been wonderful. Thank you so very much on that.

Coming up, the White House press briefing. We are monitoring that. We'll take the audio as soon as it is releasable.

Also, a change of course on health care. The president now suggesting via Twitter that Republicans should immediately repeal Obamacare and then replace it at a later date. Is this the health care surprise that President Trump alluded to a couple of days ago?

And breaking news, a plane crash. The plane lands on one of the busiest highways in America. We'll be right back.


[14:20:03] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump flipped his own script today on the Republican health care bill. He is offering a new course on the path to replace the Affordable Care Act, tweeting this morning, "if Republican senators are unable to pass what they're working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace at a later date." Now, that idea seems to suit at least one Republican lawmaker, Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: If we don't get this resolved by the Monday of the next week, July 10th, if there isn't a combined repeal and replace plan, I'm writing a letter to the president this morning urging him to call on us to separate them. If we can't do them together, let's do as much repeal as we can and then let's have the president ask us to cancel our August state work period and stay here and then work on replace separate.


BALDWIN: MJ Lee is our CNN national politics reporter. It's my understanding that Senator Sasse has been quietly having these conversations with the White House on the just repeal piece, but then doesn't this further complicate any sort of negotiations on repeal and replace moving forward?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Look, Brooke, I think this might be one of those situations where we try not to find the hidden meaning behind the president's tweets. But if I were to venture a guess, I think that this is a president who sounds like he is frustrated. As you know, repealing and replacing Obamacare is one of his most urgent priorities. We've heard him talk about it over and over again on the campaign trail. And right now this bill has come to a standstill. It is stalled in the Senate. And tomorrow is July. We have spent, you know, the first half of this year covering this bill moving through the House very slowly, or at least slower than the president would have liked, and a vote that was supposed to happen this week, Mitch McConnell had to make the decision to postpone it and right now it is not clear when this vote will happen if at all.

But, yes, this is very puzzling coming from the president for two reasons. One is that the president himself has said all along that he supports the idea of repealing and replacing basically at the same time. He has used the word "simultaneous." And the second reason, of course, is that this is not the strategy that Senate Republicans have been using and House Republicans have been using. This is so not in line with what Hill Republicans have been doing on Capitol Hill.

And I think, you know, I just want to be emphatic about this, that the idea of repealing first and then coming up with the replacement later, that is no-go here on Capitol Hill. We know that there is no appetite for this among Republican lawmakers. They know that bringing up the bill like that just wouldn't go anywhere. And so the president is tweeting this, this morning, probably because he feels like, look, this is taking a lot longer than I would have ever expected.

BALDWIN: Huh, no go, huh? MJ, thank you.

Bot two more voices I want to bring in. Is this the president's, you know, big, big surprise that he alluded to, that the repeal now and replace later? With me now, Tami Luhby, CNN Money senior writer covering health care, and Sarah Kliff, senior policy correspondent for Vox Media - Kliff, Sarah Kliff.

So, Sara, let me just ask you first, because I read this quote today. A Republican official close to leadership in support of this current repeal and replace told CNN, quote, "nothing like rolling a hand grenade into ongoing negotiations." A, I mean, do you - do you agree what MJ just said, this whole notion of repeal now and replace later is a total no-go, that that's the grenade that would blow this whole thing apart?

SARAH KLIFF, SENIOR POLICY CORRESPONDENT, VOX MEDIA: Yes, I think it feels pretty dead on arrival to me. This is an idea that came up in January and February, right when Republicans were getting started with the repeal efforts. There were a few senators floating this idea saying, it would be a lot easier just to do this repeal step and then give ourselves like a few years to figure out the replacement. And the idea fell apart within a few weeks. You know, logistically, it didn't make sense. A lot of senators, you know, from conservative Rand Paul to, you know, moderate Lisa Murkowski said, we need to do this all at once. And back in - it was either late January or early February, you know, the president sided with them. Rand Paul took credit for convincing President Trump that we have to do this as a package deal.

And it's kind of where everyone has been. There was a thought about this a few months ago. You know, the Senate shot it down. So it seems to me that this is not going to be the new strategy that we are going to see. That the Senate seems pretty set on figuring out a replacement plan before it will even consider repeal.

BALDWIN: You teed me up perfectly to the sound from - we all remember the "60 Minutes" interview and then on to that big mega-news conference in early January where the president said this about repeal and replace.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, "60 MINUTES": There's going to be a period, if you repeal it, and before you replace it, when millions of people could lose -

DONALD TRUMP, "60 MINUTES": Well, we're going to do it simultaneously. It will be just fine. That's what I do, I do a good job. You know, I mean, I know how to do this stuff. We're going to repeal it and replace it. And we're not going to have like a two-day period and we're not going to have a two-year period where there's nothing. It will be repealed and replaced and we'll know. And it will be great health care for much less.

[14:25:05] It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week but probably the same day. Could be the same hour.


BALDWIN: Tami Luhby, same day, same week, same hour, repeal and replace. That was a promise. I - maybe he - maybe he is frustrated and he's thinking, OK, let's just repeal and we'll replace down the road. How would that even work?

TAMI LUHBY, CNN MONEY SENIOR WRITER: It would not work well, that's for sure.


LUHBY: We don't know exactly what they're thinking or what they would actually come up with, but based on a 2015 bill that passed the House and the Senate but they knew it wasn't go to go anywhere because President Obama, of course, rejected it, but that bill would have left 18 million people uninsured the first year after enactment and 32 million uninsured in 2026. It would have also raised premiums about 25 percent in the first year and nearly doubled them in 2026, which is pretty outrageous.

So, looking at 19 percent of people, only 19 percent wanted the president and Congress to repeal immediately and worry about a replacement plan later. That was according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey a couple of months ago.

People have moved on from this. They're already worried that, you know, we see the standstill in Congress right now it's because 22 million people would be left uninsured by 2026 in the bill that they are considering, and that has the replacement component. So without a replacement, insurers are not going to know what to do. The people with preexisting conditions, the people who have health care are not going to want to do it. This is why we moved on from this months ago.

BALDWIN: No, it's challenging for senators to try to wrap his or her mind around, how do I vote "yes" to somethings that has like a 12 percent approval rating.

Just, Sarah, finally to you. We know everyone's about to take vacation, right? Congress is taking a recess 10 days. What do you think, though, before they do, what's been going on in the Senate majority leader's office in the wake of said tweet and what happens when they come back and they still can't get this thing together?

KLIFF: So I think there have been a lot of frustrated meetings in the Senate majority leader's office. There are a lot of senators who I think really like the idea of Obamacare repeal and replace but are unable to get on board with the current version. I think it's somewhat instructive to look at what happened in the House where we also saw them fail to get a vote on the first time. They couldn't get enough support the first time Paul Ryan wanted to vote. Everyone, you know, took a recess, kind of went home, thought about what they did, thought about what their goals were, and they came back and they did pass their plan. So I would not be surprised if we saw something similar in the Senate, some quieter deal making over recess and then a resurgence of the repeal effort right before the August recess.

BALDWIN: We shall see. Sarah, thank you. Tami, thank you as well.

Coming up next, will President Trump confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over election hacking when the two will be meeting face to face at the G-20 Summit. Let's talk about that, coming up.