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Senators Booker And Graham To Testify At Menendez Trial; McConnell Allies Declare War On Bannon In 2018 Race; Trump to Declare Public Health Emergency; WikiLeaks Asked for Help; Trump Campaign Distances Itself. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


We do begin this hour with breaking news this morning. What is not going to happen, we have learned, after months of publically promising that he will declare the opioid crisis in this country a national emergency, the president will not do that today as expected. He will call it a public health emergency.

BERMAN: This is a significant step, make no mistake about that. But, again, it's different than what he said would happen.

Joe Johns at the White House for us this morning with these new developments.

Joe, what have you learned?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is sort of a sense of surprise here at the White House simply because there's a big difference between declaring a public health emergency and declaring a presidential emergency under the emergency -- the National Emergency Act. Much more sweeping powers, the president has, under the Emergencies Act, including waiving privacy laws, waiving Medicare regulations, creating the ability to have more beds to treat substance abuse.

While the public safety emergency, the public health emergency that we're going to hear about today is much more limited. And we've had a number of those. A number of those are in effect right now around the country. But the first time -- the last time a public health emergency of this type was declared goes all the way back to 2009.

So the White House pushing back this morning on the idea that they have reneged or changed direction. Nonetheless, it's clear that the White House believes a public health emergency is the right way to go on the opioid crisis. It opens up the ability of the government to use certain funds out of the pool of health money as opposed to using FEMA monies, which obviously are in short supply due to the hurricanes and other disasters.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns at the White House.

Again, we will hear from the president later today on this and get more of an explanation of what's going on here.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean it is different because it doesn't open these FEMA funds, these emergency funds. It allows different funding to go to states. It's not the same thing. It's not the same level.

BERMAN: All right, major developments on a subject dear to the president. We know he loves golf. We know he loves big trucks. We know he loves deal making. We also know he loves WikiLeaks. How do we know that? Because he told us so.




HARLOW: How long is this, guys?

He said that during the campaign while WikiLeaks was releasing those e-mails, those hacked, stolen e-mails from the DNC and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. This morning we're learning that a data analysis, an analyst, that was doing work for the Trump campaign, called Cambridge Analytica, reached out to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, during the campaign to see if he could help. Of course, what they wanted help on, getting those 30,000 plus deleted e-mails from Hillary Clinton's account.

Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, joins us now. Also with us, Betsy Woodruff, who broke this story initially for "The Daily Beast."

Good to have you here both.

Shimon, let's begin with you.


The head of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm hired by the Trump campaign, contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to see if he had obtained e-mails connected to Clinton's campaign. Now Assange confirmed on Twitter that chief executive Alexander Nix reached out but said the request was rejected. Nix, we're told, then send an e- mail to several people, including Trump donor Rebekah Mercer reeling that he had e-mailed Assange.

A source tells CNN that no one from the Trump campaign was copied on the e-mail, but the attempt is the closest known link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. You'll recall that WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing hacked e-mails from the DNC that U.S. intelligence have said were stolen by Russia and handed over to WikiLeaks through an intermediary.

The Trump campaign has responded to the report by distancing themselves from Cambridge Analytica stating, we, as a campaign, made the choice to rely on the voter data of the Republican National Committee to help elect President Trump. Any claims that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false.


BERMAN: The thing is, Shimon, that our reporting -- CNN's reporting on this has uncovered some things which sort of refute that last statement.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's right. We went back and looked at some of the FEC records and filings and we found that just after Trump won the nomination, his campaign started a series of payments to Cambridge Analytica totaling some $5.9 million. So it's clear that there was more of a relationship there than what was conveyed in that statement.

[09:05:17] And Jared Kushner, who headed up one of the data operations, also told "Forbes" magazine in an exclusive interview in November that after the president won the nomination, they kept both data operations going simultaneously and a lot was shared between them. And by doing that, they could see -- sort of they could see the scale and it was a pretty good operation.

HARLOW: Stay with us, Shimon.

Betsy, I mean you look at the full statement from, you know, the Trump campaign on this one. They don't mention Cambridge Analytica. They say we just relied on the RNC, et cetera, et cetera, sort of dodging the key question here. What's the takeaway? How does this move the ball and to where?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": The Trump campaign statement is a nonsequitur. It doesn't do anything to undermine the importance of what -- of the news that I broke yesterday, which is that the CEO of a data analytics firm that the Trump campaign paid nearly $6 million to over the course of the election reached out to Julian Assange and offered to help him distribute e-mails that this CEO may have believed were obtained by a hacker.

That's a really important story. Whether or not Cambridge Analytica was involved in the nitty gritty, in the weeds of how the Trump campaign's data operation worked is not relevant to this.

Another piece of this that's really important, though, is that Rebekah Mercer, who received the e-mail from Alexander Nix, according to your reporting, is a very powerful figure in Trump's orbit. Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon have been close for years and years. For quite some time Bannon was viewed as the outside gatekeeper to Rebekah Mercer. Rebekah Mercer is the daughter of Robert Mercer. They're a billionaire father/daughter duo who have donated generously to conservative causes, to causes Bannon supported and both to the Trump campaign and to an outside super PAC that spent a significant amount of money to help Trump get elected.

So these aren't just sort of distant donors who were vaguely interested. Rebekah Mercer, Bob Mercer, and Alexander Nix are three people who were very closely connected to the way that the Trump campaign worked as a political entity.

The nitty gritty of how Cambridge Analytica functioned as part of the Trump campaign's specific data operation isn't germane to the reality, to the facts that we now know, which are that Alexander Nix, the CEO of that company, offered that that company would help Assange potentially distribute e-mails that could have been obtained illegally.

BERMAN: Yes. And Assange confirmed it. I mean basically --

HARLOW: Right. Oh, yes.

BERMAN: Somebody very involved with the Trump campaign, the head of Cambridge Analytica, major players here, reached out to this man, who we know released e-mails that were hacked from the DNC, not to mention Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. There is a connection now between someone with the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

HARLOW: And WikiLeaks said no.

WOODRUFF: Exactly. Assange confirmed that to me yesterday shortly after our story published. And it's so important because it makes it extremely difficult for folks on the campaign, campaign alumni and Cambridge Analytica, to really cast any doubt on the significance of this story.

BERMAN: Betsy Woodruff, very good reporting. Shimon, thank you so much.

HARLOW: And stay with us, if you could, guys, on this as we bring the panel in because let's get some political analyst to weigh in on this, commentators Paris Dennard and Dan Pfeiffer.

So, Paris, to you two. As a big supporter of the president throughout the campaign, this is no friend of the United States, Julian Assange. And we're talking about e-mails that would be hacked, stolen e-mails, just like the Podesta or DNC e-mails. Problematic?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Problematic? I generally -- I mean I don't think that this is a major issue when you look at the substance of what happened. An e-mail was sent from a -- at best, a subcontractor from the campaign. Nobody from the campaign, the Donald Trump -- Donald J Trump for president campaign e-mailed or an official person did this communication. A subcontractor did it.

But what was the result of it? Absolutely nothing. What was the impact on it with respect to the outcome of the election? Absolutely nothing. What is it going to do to change the status of Americans in the middle class to get them tax reform and to get them Obamacare repealed and replaced? Absolutely nothing. So I think this is just another attempt to try to show that there was

some type of collusion between the actual Trump campaign and Russia. And, once again, it has fallen up short.

BERMAN: Well, it's trying to report conversations that did apparently happen. It's just trying to show what actually happened.

And, Dan, I imagine you have a different interpretation of those facts.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, first, the idea that Cambridge Analytica is some sort of subcontractor of the Trump campaign is ridiculous. They -- you know, if you read the book that Josh Green wrote about -- "Devil's Bargain," about Steve Bannon, it go into great detail about how involved Cambridge Analytica was. Steve Bannon was the board of Cambridge Analytica. The Mercers, who were Trump's most important donors, owned Cambridge Analytica.

[09:10:19] But stepping back from that, the bigger issue here is, we know -- we do not know if Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to win the election. We do know they wanted to collude with Russia. We just don't know if they succeeded. We know from this e-mail, we know from Roger Stone reaching out to Guccifer 2.0 the -- the hackers who were hacking the DNC and John Podesta, we know from the meetings that Donald Trump Jr. and campaign associates had. So we know what they wanted to do, we just need to wait for Bob Mueller to tell us if they succeeded in doing that.

DENNARD: Well, we, unfortunately, can't say the same for the Clinton campaign because 33,000 e-mails were deleted. So at least with the Trump campaign we know exactly what was happening because we actually have communication and e-mails that weren't deleted or destroyed to deceive the American people. So that we do know.

HARLOW: So, but, Paris, just to be clear, you're completely comfortable -- you're completely comfortable with someone hired and paid $6 million by the Trump campaign reaching out to Julian Assange, again, no friend of the United States, asking for help in doing something illegal?

DENNARD: I did not say I'm completely comfortable with it. But what I'm saying is, an e-mail was sent. The e-mail was at the request of whatever -- I haven't seen it. I don't know who has seen the full e- mail. But from what I've been told and what I have read, is that the e-mail was sent and the request was rejected. So, in my mind, nothing happened. So if something had happened, I could have a different answer.

BERMAN: Paris --

HARLOW: But they asked for it to happen.

BERMAN: Paris, can I just ask you, because you've done political work. Paris, would you have ever written an e-mail, Paris, in the political work you've done? Would you find it appropriate to yourself write an e-mail to Julian Assange asking for help in getting hacked e-mails? DENNARD: No, I would not have done that. And if I had been on the

campaign in that capacity, I would not have done that. But, again, it wasn't the campaign. It was a subcontractor from it. It wasn't anybody at the Republican National Committee that did that.

HARLOW: It was paid -- Paris, they embed people --

DENNARD: And the other thing -- the other thing, just briefly, about Steve Bannon coming on the campaign. As we all know, he came on late in the campaign. So this wasn't something that was going on widespread through the whole entire duration of the campaign. This wasn't coming out of the three ten (ph) first read of -- at the RNC. This was by a subcontractor. And that's the facts.

HARLOW: How is --

PFEIFFER: I mean is it worth -- it is worth --

HARLOW: All right, Dan --

PFEIFFER: Go ahead.

HARLOW: Go ahead. No, that's fine.

PFEIFFER: I was going to say it's worth noting that even -- even beyond this, Donald Trump's son, Donald Junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort was running the campaign at the time, took a meeting with the Russians promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government's effort to help elect Donald Trump. So we have a large pattern of facts here. And your defense can't be, it was attempted collusion but they didn't actually collude so it's totally fine and you attempted murder but it's also fine, so --

DENNARD: No -- no, my decision is clear, there was no collusion. Be clear, that is my defense, that there is no collusion.

PFEIFFER: But they attempt -- they try -- they tried to collude. They just didn't succeed doing it.

DENNARD: There's no collusion.


DENNARD: And if we had the 33,000 e-mails that your candidate had, we might -- can see that. If we did a full investigation on the uranium issue, we might see that. And we know that they, over there at the Clinton campaign, had direct access and communication in terms of their long career with being in the State Department and the White House with Russians. So let's just look at this for what it is. If we feel that there is issues --

PFEIFFER: Yes, it is -- it is -- it is a fact that the secretary of state --

DENNARD: Let's focus on both sides. PFEIFFER: It is a fact that the secretary of state of the United States of America talked to the Russian government. Like, it's just totally cool, like just for like two seconds, to be willing to admit the Trump folks did something wrong or might have done something wrong without just immediately repeating whatever the Fox News talking points of the day are. It's not that hard.

DENNARD: Well, funny how I don't work for Fox News and funny how I don't watch Fox News and I don't have any talking points. I'm telling you what I know.

PFEIFFER: Yes, I'm sure you do.

DENNARD: And you refuse to talk about the 32,000 e-mails that she deleted. You refuse to talk about the connection with the uranium. You refuse to talk about the lies and the deceit that that happened. But let's talk about something important, like tax reform, like the computer science initiative, or like repealing and replacing Obamacare, which is horrible for this country, but you don't want to do that, do you?

BERMAN: Dan, last word?

PFEIFFER: I'd be happy -- I'd be happy to talk about tax reform (INAUDIBLE). It's 6:00 in the morning here. I don't know how much coffee this guy's had, but it's impressive.

DENNARD: Just trying to make America great again.

HARLOW: Gentlemen --

PFEIFFER: I have no doubt.

HARLOW: Thanks very much.

BERMAN: All right, guys, Paris, Dan, interesting discussion. Make coffee great again. I think we can all agree on that. Appreciate it, gentlemen.

All right, allies. Senator Mitch McConnell declaring war on Steve Bannon, planning an all-out assault on the former chief White House strategist. We'll talk to the man leading that charge, next.

Plus, former President George H.W. Bush apologizing, and I'm saying a quote here, for patting women's rears after an actress says the former president touched her inappropriately and told her an off color joke.

[09:15:06] HARLOW: And it is the document drop that historians and some conspiracy theorists have been waiting for, for decades, the president set to release the secret files on JFK's assassination today.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: When your colleague (inaudible) says a lot. I'm on both Senator Graham and Senator Corker (inaudible).


BERMAN: That's New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat facing corruption charges. The breaking news this morning is we just learned that Senators Lindsay Graham and Cory Booker will testify as character witnesses in his federal bribery trial.

HARLOW: Significant both a Democrat and a Republican testifying on his behalf. Let's go to our justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, who has been in this trial the entire time. She has more from outside of the courthouse in Newark.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John and Poppy, jurors here in New Jersey are going to be treated to some familiar faces from Capitol Hill later today.

[09:20:05] As sources tell myself and CNN's Dana Bash that South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Democratic Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey will both be here in person to testify as character witnesses for Senator Menendez in this federal bribery trial.

Now the reason that they are coming to testify here is that prosecutors have accused the New Jersey Democrat of accepting free rides on a plane from a wealthy eye doctor and failing those to disclose those as gifts on his Senate disclosure firm.

Now, of course, jurors have heard from a litany of character witnesses all week, everyone from a bishop to a Turkish refugee to an autism advocate, but by far Booker and Graham are the most well-known faces to date, and the big question right now is whether the senator will take the stand in his own defense.

HARLOW: Laura Jarrett outside the courthouse, thank you very much.

This morning aides to Mitch McConnell say it is war. They are planning an all-out assault on former White House chief strategist and still very close to the president, Steve Bannon.

BERMAN: Joining us now is the head of a super PAC allied with the Senate majority leader, Steve Law, is with us right now. Thanks so much for being with us, sir. Look, "The Washington Post" reports that your PAC is going after Bannon, and quote, "will attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support." So, what do you get out of attacking Steve Bannon?

STEVE LAW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SENATE LEADERSHIP FUND: Well, first of all, notwithstanding Steve Bannon's volunteer publicists at "The Washington Post" are concerned about Steve Bannon is really just limited to this.

And that is that candidates who get wrapped around him will have to answer for his toxic views, things that he said, his associations with the Alt-Right when Democrats make him the star of their attack ads next fall.

That's our concern and that's simply what we want to make sure that Republican candidates know what they are getting if they sign up with him or get closely too aligned with him.

BERMAN: One thing that's interesting, Steve, is that you are not attacking the president directly, and Tom Coburn, the former Republican senator of Oklahoma put it interestingly this morning in the "New York Times," quote, "We have a leader who has a personality disorder, but he has done what he has actually told the people he was going to do, and they are not going to abandon him."

That doesn't mean told the party exactly what they want to hear, but the people vote for the party, as you know. Is that a reason why you are not going after the president on this one, because he and Bannon are like that?

LAW: Look, our goal is to help advance the president's agenda, and one of the things we want is to elect more Republicans to the Senate who will do that. I mean, I think there's a wildly blown out of proportion (inaudible) Republican civil war.

And I'll give you an inside look of what it really looks like. Two days ago, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, escorted the president of the United States to the Senate Republican Policy Luncheon where the president received an extended and warm standing ovation for the work he has done on judges, deregulation, and the nomination, and the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch.

There really is an incredible unified effort right now to try to get tax reform done, which I think we will achieve at the end of the day, and what you have that's distracting attention is the Steve Bannon side show here.

You have individual fights with individual members mostly personality driven, but what's mostly going on is a very unified front to try to get progress in the president's agenda.

BERMAN: You followed the Steve Bannon side show, but you are in that race right now, right? In Nevada, for instance, you're talking about that race, one of the candidates he's supporting there and the Republican primary (inaudible).

You sent out a tweet, which included a headline, very controversial, which I am praying that we have right now. It says, "Anti-Semitic Trump campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, not a big fan of whiny brat Jews, ex-wife says.

So, you guys are tweeting that out about Steve Bannon. Do you think that he is a white nationalists and anti-Semite?

LAW: Well, he's got a long record of saying things that are very troubling. He has publicly attacked the integrity of the Catholic Church. Court documents, which that article references include maligning Jewish people. He has insinuated there's something wrong with too many Asians running tech firms in Silicon Valley.

There's a huge amount of what he stands for and talks about, and the movement that he's aligned, which is very racially charged and most Americans including the vast majority of Republicans completely reject that out of hand.

BERMAN: So the president doesn't reject him, though, out of hand at all. He was the chief strategist in the White House. They still talk on the phone a whole lot. The president has not really fought back against the candidates that Steve Bannon is supporting right now. So, what does that say about the president if all of those things you say about Bannon are true?

LAW: I think there are two very significant facts to keep in mind. First of all, Steve Bannon was summarily fired from the White House a few months ago I think largely because he took credit for things that this president was actually responsible for and sat around and did not do a whole lot.

But the other thing that's really important is just a week ago the president endorsed three candidates that Steve Bannon had targeted for primary challenges. And so, I think at the end of the day when we look back at this, I am not actually all that concerned about Steve Bannon.

[09:25:06] What I am concerned about is candidates getting aligned with him in such a way that they have to answer for these toxic things that he said and done in elections next fall. I think at the end of the day, we are going to look back at this, and see this was largely the creation of Steve Bannon's ego, and as I said, a few volunteer publicists serving the D.C. Press Corps who like to cover up Biden, who like to talk about this issue.

HARLOW: But it's a fight as John made the point that (inaudible). Quickly before you go, what is -- or is there a battle for the soul of the Republican Party right now in your opinion?

LAW: I actually think the party is truly quite unified. I was looking at some headlines just this morning, you know, senators rally behind Trump and his agenda. There's a "Roll Call" story out today that despite the distractions, Republicans in the Senate are working together to pass tax reform.

This tremendous unity behind tax reform and deregulation, we passed a bill that holds the VA accountable after eight years of Democratic neglect. I think there's actually underneath the surface, when you strip away these kind of side shows that people are very focused on, a lot of unity and purpose to get things done this year and next year and to increase our Senate majority next year, which I think we will do.

HARLOW: We will watch. Steven Law, thank you.

LAW: Thanks so much for having me on.

HARLOW: Former President George H. W. Bush apologizing after allegations that the inappropriately touched women, sort of a second official apology from him last night. We'll talk about that ahead.