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Interview with Representative Lee Zeldin; More Than 40 States Reject Voter Commission's Request; U.S. Closing in on Raqqa; The Annual Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 4, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Our electoral process is incredibly important, whether it's reflecting on the last election but also looking forward to future elections, so that's an important topic.

Russia was wrong to do so. I'm a Republican, but I'm concerned about what I saw happen with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, even though that's the other side, the other side of that political battle, you know, who knows where you are in 2020? Or 2018, if Russia chooses to meddle in a different way.


ZELDIN: So we need to come together as Americans to send a strong message united.

WHITFIELD: A real assault on American democracy.

All right. Congressman Lee Zeldin, thanks so much for your time on this holiday.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. The list is growing. More states refusing to fully comply with a request from the Trump administration on voter information. One secretary of state says the request amounts to a witch hunt.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. New this morning, EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has filed a motion to block a request from the Trump administration for private voter information. It says the request puts the privacy of millions of voters at risk, calling it, quote, "both without precedent and crazy," end quote.

This as CNN has learned 42 states are now defying the request as well. The voter commission asking for voters' full names, dates of birth, party affiliation, and partial Social Security numbers, among other information.

New Mexico's secretary of state says she has questions about the White House's moves and motives. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[10:35:08] MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER (D), SECRETARY OF STATE, NEW MEXICO: So I have a lot of questions. It's really not clear what this data is going to be used for. It seems to me to be a fishing expedition or a witch hunt of some kind.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about this. David Swerdlick, Patrick Healy are back with me. I'm also joined by Jay Newton-Small, contributor for "TIME" magazine and author of "Broad Influence."

All right. Good to see all of you. Happy Fourth again.

All right. So, David, let me begin with you. So one secretary of state says this is a witch hunt on the part of the White House. Is it tantamount to that?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Fred, I think you have so many states including the states with Republican secretaries of state looking at this skeptically and pushing back a little bit on the White House, in part one because there are other procedures and avenues for getting information about data, about who's on the voter rolls other than just going to the secretaries of state and saying please cough up Social Security numbers, party affiliation, names, et cetera.

The other thing is that President Trump is operating under this sort of umbrella of the claim he made early in his administration or during the transition that 3 million to 5 million people had voted illegally in 2016 when there's no evidence of that. Secretaries of State looking at their own credibility, I think, are saying look, we need to know more about this, more about what the White House has in mind before we just sort of go along with it and become a part of a situation where a White House commission maybe is looking to cast doubt on a future election, 2020 or something like that.

WHITFIELD: And Patrick, among those states rejecting this request, Indiana Vice President Mike Pence's state. That's a discovery that you've made. What does this say?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's just really stunning, Fred. I mean, I would encourage everybody to go to CNN's great story that's online this morning that goes through all 50 states -- CNN did survey of all 50 states, saying where do you stand on this. And there's quotes from Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on the record saying how they feel.

With Indiana, you have a Republican secretary of state, from Mike Pence's home state, who was saying basically the voter commission is misunderstanding the rules. You can get -- the purview, you can publicly available information on a person's name, I think their address, and their congressional district and that is it.

The idea that Social Security numbers, a whole batch of partial Social Security numbers or party affiliations will just be handed over to the Trump administration, a lot of these secretaries of states saying it's outrageous. And again they don't understand where this is coming from.

The voter fraud allegations that we reported on at the time, CNN, during the campaign were found to be manifestly untrue, you know, but President Trump wants his own commission. OK. To do their own investigation, OK. You know, but the -- what's not OK is invading the privacy of Americans' personal liberties to ask for this kind of data.

WHITFIELD: And Jay, this only lends to the further mistrust that some might have about government, period.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Absolutely, Fred. I mean, if President Trump was actually serious about doing electoral reform, he would make this a bipartisan committee, so right now the 15-member committee, actually 14, since one of them, the Maryland member, resigned over the weekend after his state refused to hand over information. But this committee was all just appointed by the Trump administration.

President Obama did a bipartisan committee when he came into office to look at electoral reform. He pointed his top campaign lawyer and Mitt Romney's top campaign lawyer from the 2012 election. Actually it was the 2012 election when they did. And they did very bipartisan electoral reform.

This is something that's totally not bipartisan and that's why so many states are rejecting it. And you see these incredibly red states saying this could be a real abuse of power and we're not going to go along with this because we don't believe that the Trump administration is going to treat this information in a way that's going to reflect well with us with voters. And my favorite actual response to all of that, all of this, looking at the CNN's list this morning, was Mississippi Secretary of State Daryl Burt Horseman, fabulous name, who said that President Trump could go jump in the Gulf, and that the Mississippi was a great launching point for him to do that.

WHITFIELD: And so, David, you wonder if the very notion is, you know, another excuse for many voters to stay away from the ballot boxes altogether, saying, wait a minute, if I do this, does this mean that my information is going to be out there?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Fred, you have -- if you step back from this for a minute, you have this problem where the administration with this commission is looking at, you know, this idea of widespread voter fraud, even though there's no evidence that there is widespread voter's fraud in this country. There are instances of voter fraud certainly but not any evidence that there's a big problem and on the other hand, they are sort of downplaying the idea that there was Russian meddling in had the election, even though our intelligence agencies have confirmed that.

[10:40:04] And so you have the voter getting whipsawed between these competing narratives about whether they can trust the voting process and they're not getting the answers that they want out of this, and yes, there is a possibility that this will have voters, you know, increasingly skeptical about exercising something that they have the right to do and that is sort of a bipartisan issue that people should be out there voting and exercising their democratic prerogatives.

WHITFIELD: And then now let's talk about health care and the ongoing effort to pull together some sort of plan among Republicans and senators. Many are taking advantage of the July 4th recess to try to hunker down and try to, you know, craft something. In other cases you have many members of Congress who are going to 4th of July parades and they're hearing an earful, you know, Patrick, from their constituents. How are Democrats seizing on this opportunity, if at all?

HEALY: Right, I mean, between advertising campaigns, between town hall meetings, between sort of mobilizing voters to get out there and get on television at these town hall meetings and talk about their own personal stories and how much these huge, you know, proposed health care premiums would affect working class voters, that has real power, but what we're not seeing, Fred, is the sort of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing in the Senate right now to try to get to 50 votes. I mean, that really his goal --

WHITFIELD: Entertaining repeal, replace later?

HEALY: Right. I mean, the options are on the table and President Trump, you know, kind of injected repeal now, replace later on the table. But Majority leader McConnell is very much focused right now just on getting a few recalcitrant senators from the maybe column into the yes column. Sort of getting a vote. He wants to have a vote after the 4th of July. He doesn't want to have to sort of shelve this into perpetuity, and so what that's going to take.

So we're seeing a lot of Democratic energy at the town hall meetings right now. You know --

WHITFIELD: They're even kind of counter campaigns.

HEALY: Exactly. The sort of counter campaign going on right now by the Republicans.


NEWTON-SMALL: Yes, I mean, you see 43 events I believe that progressive groups have planned in the nine swing states or the nine states where senators are, you know, potentially going to maybe vote for this, maybe not vote for this, and so they're getting blasted by a lot of progressives. But some of them are also taking friendly fire as Patrick was just saying. Back in Nevada you have Dean Heller who is one of the most vulnerable senators, Republicans up for re-election in 2018, and he's facing more than $1 million in Republican funds against him to change his vote from a no to a yes.

And so they're really getting sandwiched between outrage on the left and outrage on the right, which is potentially not doing much to soften up their votes because they just feel that the safest thing at this point is just vote no and then they can -- and protect themselves electorally. So that's really Mitch McConnell's challenge right now is to turn those no's into yeses and it's going to be a tough, really tough, lift for him.

WHITFIELD: All right. And we'll see if they end up blowing right through the August recess as some have proposed.

All right. Jay Newton-Small, Patrick Healy, David Swerdlick, good to see all of you. Happy 4th.

All right. ISIS on the run. U.S.-backed forces making significant progress on another key stronghold. We'll bring you an update next.


[10:46:41] WHITFIELD: A major development in the battle against ISIS in Syria. U.S. Central Command says U.S.-backed rebels have breached the walls surrounding the city of Raqqa. Raqqa has been under ISIS control for more than three years now, using the old city wall as a fighting position.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joining me live now from Irbil, Iraq with the very latest on this next.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it is a key moment to have, according to the coalition statement who got through the outer city -- old city walls quite so swiftly. Now we only have their word for it, but they appear to have broached two substantial holes in that wall and say that's enabled the Syrian, Kurdish and Arab forces surrounding ground and air support to get in and around that old city a lot faster, bypassing a lot of booby traps and defensive positions laid out by ISIS to slow them down.

That now puts them about three kilometers from the city center. That's pretty quick going, frankly, given this only started about a month ago now, and we've seen a lot of progress on the ground. It's unclear really how long this will take, but it does look like it's going to be faster than the eight months onslaught that was required to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul.

There are potentially as little as 50,000 civilians inside Raqqa, maybe as many as 150. Nobody really knows but only 2500 ISIS fighters, says the U.S. coalition. So it could be quicker, but there'll still be booby traps and there's still be dense fighting in urban areas but perhaps this, the final stand of ISIS, in their last city that they really control won't be as long and bloody as the fight for Mosul.

WHITFIELD: And Nick, U.S.-backed forces are also making progress to recapture, you know, Mosul, but that intense fighting there has delayed all of this. What more do we know about that?

WALSH: Without an incredibly small pocket of land in the old city of Mosul on this West Bank of the Tigris River now, it's been rumored that potentially they would be able to kick ISIS out of there in a matter of days. But we're now into a very long, intensive slog, suggestions that the fighting has been very brutal down in that remaining area.

We have potentially over 100 ISIS fighters all as usual willing to die but potentially throwing themselves as suicide bombers towards Iraqi special forces trying to advance. Many civilians still in their midst and it does appear it's taking a lot longer than thought.

Here is what the Pentagon had to say about this continuing fight.


COL. RYAN DILLON, SPOKESMAN, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE: We have advisers from the coalition that are with our Iraqi partners throughout the fight, so we have a very good picture and definition of what the battlefield looks like and what remains before total liberation can be called.

Three years ago to the day is when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that his so-called caliphate, so it is very symbolic and while that is one of the two twin capitals over in Syria, the de facto capital of ISIS is also being taken from them every single day.


WALSH: You could in these weeks begin to feel perhaps the caliphate as it was called is crumbling as fast as it initially spread but still a lot of complicated social tasks and still bitter fighting left ahead -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Be safe there, in Irbil, Iraq.

And we will be right back.


[10:53:07] WHITFIELD: All right. Let's be frank, shall we? It is a 4th of July tradition that you might not be able to stomach but others can't help but relish.

Nathan's Hotdog eating contest is set to begin in a little over an hour from now. Who are the favorites to take home the mustard belt and a little indigestion, too? Heartburn?

CNN's Karin Caifa joins us now live from Coney Island, the site of the contest every year.

So what are the odds looking like for the past champ, Joey Chestnut? He's the king.

KARIN CAIFA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. Things are looking are pretty good for Joey Chestnut when you look at the rest of the field. Now he has done this before, he's a nine-time Nathan's Hotdog contest winner. He's also got 43 competitive eating titles to his credit ranging from apple pie to burritos. So he's really looking to come out strong here today. Last year in this competition he won by eating 70 hotdogs in 10

minutes, and that wasn't even his personal best. He's done about 73 in the same time span.

We're talking about ingesting about 20,000 calories in 10 minutes. That's about what most of us eat in 10 days. But as far as a day for competitive eating goes, pretty good conditions here at Coney Island today, it's about 76 degrees here in Brooklyn, moderate humidity so Joey Chestnut, he's going to have competition indeed, including Matt Stony who bested him in 2015 and also there is a guy named Carmen Cincotti who came out of the Queens qualifying competition and ate 53 hotdogs, which for someone who's not necessarily on the circuit that much is getting a lot of attention.

So, Fredricka, lots at stake for that mustard belt and also a cash prize here today and of course the bragging rights after eating how many dozen hotdogs.


WHITFIELD: My god. This is like a sporting event, Karin. What about the ladies?

CAIFA: Yes, it really is. And there is something for the ladies. They got their own competition about seven or eight years ago and the returning champion is Mickey Souto, she's won this competition three times.

[10:55:04] Last year she downed 38 1/2 hotdogs. But she does not hold the record. That belongs to Sonia Thomas, the so-called Black Widow of competitive eating on the ladies side. They are competing for the pink belt, which is the compliment to the mustard belt for the men. And the ladies, the ladies will get it started first here this afternoon. So lots of sun and fun.

WHITFIELD: Sounds good.


WHITFIELD: Lots of fun and lots of indigestion for sure.

Karin Caifa, thank you so much. Have fun out there.

All right. Thanks so much for being with me today on this 4th of July holiday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right after this.