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Dems Stay Alive in California Elections, GOP Avoids Shutout in Governor's Race; White House Aide Who Mocked McCain is Out; Sanders Refuses to Comment on Previous False Statements; Pruitt Used EPA Aide to Help Wife Inquire about Chick-Fil-A Franchise. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ben Rhodes, it's great to have you with us. The book is "The World As It Is." Appreciate you being here.

[07:00:05] BEN RHODES, AUTHOR, "THE WORLD AS IT IS": Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. We thank our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks to you, the halftime score is looking very promising.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans were very concerned they were going to have nobody at the top of the ticket across the state. Now they have the possibility for two.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Overall, it was a good night for the Democrats in their drive to try to take back the House.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: All these seats are credibly in play for these safe Republican seats. No longer a sure thing.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If this wasn't a political stunt by the Eagles franchise, then they wouldn't have backed out at the last minute.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is beyond insulting for people to lecture us about patriotism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole controversy is a net benefit for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My message to him is, hey, you're a healing sort of guy. You can unite this. The president is playing the NFL like a fiddle.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Democrats, they didn't blow it. That seems to be the headline in the

political world this morning. And the most consequential primaries of the season. The votes are still being counted in California.

But Democrats are growing confident they will have candidates in every congressional district they hope to -- as they hope to take back the House of Representatives.

What is complicating things is the jungle primary in California, where the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to a run-off in November.

CAMEROTA: It could take days to know which Democratic candidate will face off against the Republican front-runners in those House districts. There is good news for Republicans. They avoided a shutout in the state's governor's race. Trump-endorsed businessman John Cox coming in second. So he will challenge Democrat Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom in the fall. And we have many more races to tell you about.

So let's begin with CNN's Miguel Marquez. He is live in Los Angeles with the latest results. It's been a long night there, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very long night. It's all about No. 2. Who landed in that No. 2 spot?

So for -- Republicans were very concerned statewide they were going to have nobody at the top of the ticket. Now, they may have two different individuals at the top of two different races.

So for governor, Gavin Newsom advances, the former mayor of San Francisco. But he will face John Cox, a business. He beat -- handily beat former L.A. mayor Villaraigosa.

For Senate, Dianne Feinstein, it's not quite clear yet whether she will face a challenger from her left, Kevin de Leon, or a Republican on her right. Those votes are still being tallied.

Democrats are very concerned about several races in Orange County and across the state, because they might be -- get locked out. There were so many Democrats who went into these races their votes were split, and it was quite possible that two Republicans would end up in the general election. That doesn't look like it's going to happen.

Two races that we're still watching, the 10th -- 10th District. It is possible that there may be a Republican there. But it looks like the Democrat will squeak through to face Jeff Denham in November.

And then the 48, it's two Democrats and a Republican now tied for that second place that they -- they're all still looking at the votes. All of this will take some time to get settled. Because it's going to take that time to count those votes. L.A. County alone, there were 118,000 people left off voter rolls. The had to do paper ballots. Those still have to be counted.

And then, across California, you can mail in your ballot on election day. You can also drop it off when you get to the ballot station. So all of those ballots will have to be counted before we have a final answer.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Miguel. Thank you very much for explaining all of that.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian and associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard. Great to see both of you. It has been a long night in California.

David Chalian, what results nationwide jump out at you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the Democrats avoiding a disaster is the huge headline. This -- this complicated top-two system really could have complicated the Democrats' math as they put the pieces together to try to win the 23 seats they need nationwide.

CAMEROTA: They could have been shut out in California.

CHALIAN: In some districts that are key pickup opportunities that were critical to their path to 23 and a House majority. They avoided that. That -- that is a very big deal for them. And it makes the math a bit easier for them as we look to November. And it keeps California as a very target-rich environment where that state may offer the Democrats about a third of the seats they need to become the majority party.

BERMAN: It's necessary but not sufficient --

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- to take back the House.

But in true Democratic form, and it's a stereotype and a cliche, A.B., but it's sort of true at times. I mean, Democrats get very, very nervous before elections always and always think they're going to blow it. That didn't happen here. They poured in a lot of resources at the end here. And they mostly got what they wanted.

[07:05:00] A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. I think that it's interesting that Dianne Feinstein, who people worried about, was going to be facing this fierce storm for the left is probably going to make it just fine.

I think it's also interesting that a Republican has made it to the No. 2 slot in the race for governor, doubling Villaraigosa's count, a really stunning result. And that will help -- that will help, I think, Democrats, actually marshal their resources and their energy statewide at different races instead of being torn in sort of a liberal-moderate split. And I think that it's true we're talking about this, you know, averting a lockout.

The pickup opportunities are in blue states. I mean, they're in New York, and New Jersey, and some Philly suburbs, and California. That's the road to 23 plus. And so for that was it was a really good night.

Other, you know, things are a great turnout in Iowa. Health care being a big issue. Women candidates succeeding. Getting all the candidates they wanted in New Jersey. There's some good headlines for Democrats.

But the fact that it isn't just a total stunner and a wipeout for Republicans, John, means that they really need to take seriously these new factors that are helping Republicans in the generic ballot looking at the fall. There really has been sort of a turn against the headwinds that we saw in December, predicting a blue wave.

And Republicans now are enjoying the really good economic numbers, job growth. And also, these right track-wrong track numbers which have helped President Trump improve his approval numbers back into the 40s. And when the country feels that it's on the right track like this, it's not going to be such a blue wave slam dunk, unless things change before November 6.

CHALIAN: To A.B.'s point, Steve Stivers, the congressman who was responsible for keeping the Republican majority in the House, runs the NRCC, has a great line about that. He says, "Peace and prosperity, not a bad message to run on." I mean, that's part of what we are seeing in the narrowing of the generic congressional ballot. There are good economic numbers.

The president so far, and obviously, we'll see what happens in Singapore, but is getting high marks for just simply getting this meeting with North Korea and this summit on the books. The country is giving him pretty good marks for that.

So when you have peace and prosperity, that helps Republicans sort of awaken what had been a really depressed 2017 for them.

CAMEROTA: That's a winning formula.

A.B., what about the Trump effect outside of peace and prosperity? What about the Trump effect of endorsing certain candidates or campaigning for them?

STODDARD: Well, the interesting thing is that John Cox, who is going to be facing off against Gavin Newsom, and will likely lose to him, but as I said --

CAMEROTA: For governor.

STODDARD: -- will increase Republican turnout, sorry, for governor will bring Republicans to the polls. And that will help down-ballot candidates for sure. That's a big victory for Republicans, just to have him there as a placeholder.

And he was -- you know, given a big endorsement from President Trump. You saw Martha Roby in Alabama have to face a run-off. She turned against the president in late '16 after the "Access Hollywood" tape, unendorsed him, and then had to scramble back and, you know, try to be a supporter. And she paid the price, because the Republican Party is giving Trump his highest marks in terms of pure Republican support.

Now, the interesting thing to take into account is that the party has been purified. Many Republicans have left the party in the age of Trump. They don't identify as Republicans anymore, leaving behind a purely Trump party. And so in a lot of these primaries, like Martha Roby's, you get punished if you turn away from President Trump. And we saw that last night.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein says the Republican opposition to Donald Trump has basically withered away at this point. And he thinks, David, that's one of the key factors in this election going forward. You know, his approval rating is now in the 40s. Albeit the low 40s. And you can argue it's astounding it's not higher, given the economy is doing so well.

But having a four as the first number, as opposed to a three there, is a huge psychological barrier for other Republicans running around the country.

CHALIAN: There is no doubt about it. And yet that -- you're grading on a Trump scale. It is still historically low. No party strategist in the Republican Party would tell you that's where they'd like the president's approval rating to be as they head into these midterms. But certainly, they'd rather be there than in the 30s. There's no doubt about that.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next story, A.B., let's talk about the Kelly Sadler update. She is no longer at the White House. She, of course, was in the communications department. She's the one who gained notoriety for saying John McCain will be dead soon. Why does he sort of factor into any of our decisions? So it doesn't seem as if she was fired for that comment, though there was all sorts of outcry about it, because it's months ago. So why did she get fired?

STODDARD: Because she fought with Mercedes Schlapp in a meeting with only a handful of people at the Resolute Desk with a handful of people. I believe it was reported by Axios. She turned and fingered Mercedes Schlapp, her superior, her boss, as the worst leaker in West Wing. And I think she's paid a price for that.

[07:10:06] And so I'm not going to be surprised if she turns up at the 2020 campaign, which is where you want to go if they still want to retain you in the Trump administration as an employee. Buff you have to get out of the circle of heat. And so I don't know where she's going. But it certainly is made clear from "The New York Times" reporting and elsewhere that it was not about what she said about John McCain.

BERMAN: No, she was not fired for what she said about John McCain. No public apology from her. No public apology from the White House at all, even close.

A.B. Stoddard, David Chalian, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: For the second straight day, White House reporters tried to get press secretary Sarah Sanders to correct her false statement that President Trump was not involved in dictating that misleading statement about his son's meeting at Trump Tower with Russians. Listen to this.


JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Was your statement accurate or inaccurate?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I know you want to get me into a back and forth with you on this conversation.

DAWSEY: Not a back and forth. You said something. We just want to know if it was accurate or not.

SANDERS: I know your goal is to engage me in a conversation about matters dealing with the outside counsel, and I'm not going to do that today.

DAWSEY: You said something from the podium. Was it accurate or not? That's all we want to know.

SANDERS: Again, I work day in, day out. And I believe, frankly, with the majority of you here in the room, I think you all know I'm an honest person who works extremely hard to provide you with accurate information at all times. I'm going to continue to do that. I'm not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is that reporter that you saw there, CNN political analyst Josh Dawsey. Good morning, Josh.

DAWSEY: Good morning. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm well. So where does this leave us? I mean, the fact that Sarah Sanders seems to be trying to shift the conversation over to, well, you'll have to ask outside counsel. This is a legal matter. But you're only asking her about her actions? Why did she give a misleading statement? She can answer that. So now what?

DAWSEY: Right. Back -- back in August, Sarah Sanders said that President Trump did not dictate this misleading statement on Air Force One that was about Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and others meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. It's an episode being examined by the special counsel.

And critical to understanding that episode is what was the president's role in it? Did the president try to cover up any facts that would be deleterious to their side of the case or did he not?

And at the time, Sarah Sanders said at the podium -- so did Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for the president, to be fair to Sarah -- both said the president did not dictate it, that such an accusation would be, you know, unfounded.

And then the lawyers for the president obviously wrote a letter to the special counsel saying, in fact, he did dictate it.

So what I was trying to do yesterday and what I think reporters have been trying to do with Sarah, is to say do you still stand by your statement that he didn't dictate it? Are you right, or are the lawyers right? Both of these things cannot be right at the same time.

CAMEROTA: But Josh, I mean, I know this is perhaps a crazy question. But if you're not getting usable information from the podium. In fact, if you're getting false or wrong information from the podium, how useful is it to go to these White House press briefings? How long can you go to these press briefings if you don't trust what's coming out of them from the podium?

DAWSEY: I think it's important to hear from the White House has to say. And I think for viewers at home, I think it's important to see the questions being asked and to be able to let them judge for themselves if they think the White House is credible or if they think the answers are sufficient.

One of the things the podium does is it allows us as reporters to get things on the record from the White House. We can press them for answers to questions that maybe aren't being answered. I would argue that there's not always the highest news value at the briefings and not a lot of news made some days. But at the same time, and it gives a lens into, you know, the fact that these questions are being asked. They have to answer from the podium one way or the other. And I think it's valuable to see that.

CAMEROTA: Josh, I want to move on. You have new reporting about EPA head Scott Pruitt who has had all sorts of ethical conflicts. What now?

DAWSEY: So Scott Pruitt asking EPA official -- obviously, he's the administrator of the agency -- to help his wife get a Chick-Fil-A franchise, set up a meeting with Chick-Fil-A CEO that Scott Pruitt later attended. It's going to -- one of a number of ethical issues for an administrator who has had first-class flights. He's had aides doing personal work for him. There have been just question after question about him. He's managed to survive.

But this latest issue has him asking an EPA official to do work on behalf of trying to benefit his wife financially.

CAMEROTA: So listen, I mean, we can do a Scott Pruitt segment many days, certainly most weeks. So what is going to happen? How has Scott Pruitt kept his job with all of this negative attention?

DAWSEY: I think it's two-fold. The president certainly has been told by a number of advisers, a number of senior officials on the West Wing, that Scott Pruitt is actually implementing his deregulatory agenda and is doing a good job at EPA. And the president likes Scott Pruitt.

[07:15:09] As we've reported and others have, chief of staff John Kelly has said he should be fired. There's not much support for Scott Pruitt in the West Wing. In fact, there's very little. But there's a lot of support for him so far in the Oval Office. And that's the decision that matters at the end of the day.

And I think the president is also concerned recently about the narrative that, you know, there's been too many shakeups in his administration. And you have senators, frankly, Republican senators on Capitol Hill saying, "We don't have time for any more hearings. We don't have time to confirm anyone else. If you nominate someone else, we may not be able to confirm them quickly." And I think that's a -- that's a decision the administration wants to take carefully.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic, which you're also reporting on, which is the president's penchant for pardons. He, as you know, was sort of lobbied by Kim Kardashian to pardon a woman named Alice Marie Johnson. Let me pull up for you and our viewers what she was convicted of in 1996 for drug possession, money laundering. She's currently serving a life sentence.

Kim Kardashian West, as you know, showed up at the White House. So -- but somehow this is causing consternation. What's your reporting?

DAWSEY: Right. The final paperwork for the pardon has been done. And White House officials actually think the president will sign it this week. Always in the White House, that could change in a moment's notice. The paperwork has been finished for that pardon.

What the consternation is, is you know, a number of officials, Don McGahn, the president's lawyer, John Kelly, did not necessarily think Kim Kardashian coming to the Oval Office and pardoning Alice Johnson did not necessarily know that she was qualified for a pardon, in their opinion.

This has kind of exposed some long-simmering rifts in the White House, where you have Jared Kushner, who helped set this meeting up, the president's son-in-law, obviously. Brought Kim Kardashian in and supports this pardon. Kind of facing off against the chief of staff and the chief lawyer.

And right now what we're seeing is the president inclined to sign it. The president really wants to do some more pardons. He's asked his lawyers to bring in more candidates for pardons. He seems to enjoy the idea that he can sign it, it could be done. You know, he's been stymied by Congress, the Mueller probe, a lot of different fronts where it's not that easy to just make things happen immediately. And on pardons, the president can do that.

And you know, some also say, Alisyn, that it's simple to folks in the cross-hairs of the Mueller investigation: "Hey, I'm really willing to use this power pretty -- you know pretty frequently." Though the White House contends that that's not the case. But, you know, that is being seen by others.

CAMEROTA: Maybe it's both. Josh Dawsey, thank you very much for sharing your great reporting with us this morning.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. Coming up in our next hour, we have Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president. She's going to join us live on NEW DAY to talk about all of these issues.

BERMAN: All right. So what do we actually expect to happen when President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un are face-to-face less than a week from now? We're going to get one senator's thoughts next.


[07:21:57] BERMAN: The White House once again refused to correct its claim that President Trump was not involved in dictating a misleading statement about his son's meeting with Russians in 2016. How will these continued denials affect the Russia probe on Capitol Hill?

Joining us now is independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator King, thank you so much for being with us right now. Sarah Sanders at the White House says she's not going to address it at all, the fact that she said in August that President Trump did not dictate the letter. How his lawyers said they did dictate the letter. What questions does that raise to you?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, it certainly raises a question of what was the president's role in that particular episode? I mean, we're trying to keep our heads down on the Intelligence Committee and just work forward through this -- through this series of issues involved in the Russia investigation. So far we've been able to deal with it on a bipartisan basis. I hope we're going to be able to continue that. But as we get to the tail end of the investigation, that is probably going to be a little more difficult.

But John, I continue to be concerned that all of the attention and focus on the collusion issue and what did President Trump do or say or sign or dictate takes away from the real underlying story, which is what the Russians did and the fact that they're likely to do it again.

And we really -- we're really trying to focus that. We had an important series of meetings about a month ago on that issue and determined that, yes, indeed, the Russians were involved. Putin was involved. They were trying to tilt our election. They were trying to help President Trump. And that is something that we've really got to focus on. Because otherwise, they're going to keep doing it, and we're going to be vulnerable again.

BERMAN: NO question about it. And your committee has put out many statements and many of your findings on just that subject.

The question of the Trump Tower meeting gets to the idea of collusion. And again, I'm not asking you what's going on in your committee, because you guys have been pretty good at keeping secrets. But the fact that there was a lie spread about the president's response to that meeting. You know, this isn't just some meeting. This is a meeting at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. There was a lie spread about that, that the president did not dictate the response. We now know he did. Is that problematic for this White House? KING: Well, I think it is. But I think it's -- again, I don't mean

to be ducking your question. But that's really a question for the special counsel who is looking into issues like obstruction of justice.

Our investigation is about what happened in terms of the intelligence community and what we know about what the Russians did. Ours is a counter-espionage, if you will. Obstruction of justice, that's in the lane of the special counsel. Occasionally, our investigations merge, but in this case they're really on two separate tracks.

BERMAN: I get that. Do you feel as if the people who have testified before your committee have been completely truthful with you?

KING: Well, you're talking about interviews with something like 150 people and completely truthful is a very high standard. We have no reason to think that there has been any significant misrepresentation. But there are some of the witnesses that we're hoping to recall to examine in light of later developments in terms of information that's come out.

[07:25:14] BERMAN: Because we are getting some of the testimony from the Judiciary Committee. And we are seeing some inconsistencies there. You know, Donald Trump Jr. did testify again, and I'm talking about this because of the issue of truth, not because of intelligence. I know you're looking at intelligence, about the issue of what the president dictated at the Trump Tower meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. was asked, "'The Washington Post' has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8 statement. Is that correct?"

Donald Trump Jr. says, "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it."

Donald Trump Jr. was asked, "Did you know who drafted that statement?"

He goes, "Well, there were numerous statements drafted with counsel and other people were involved, you know, who opined." And he goes on to say that Hope Hicks may have been told something.

But the idea here is, is we now know that's not what happened. The president's lawyers flat-out said the president dictated the letter. That was testimony to a different committee. Does that testimony raise questions to you?

KING: Well, it does, because it seems to contradict what we've heard just in the last few days from the president's own lawyers about what actually happened. And that was the word that was -- was coming out. I mean, it's a -- it does create problems, particularly because that testimony was to a congressional committee.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see if he does come back and try to clean that up at all, and if there are questions about perjury. Some Democrats are asking those questions. Chuck Grassley says it could just be a confused muddled response. Let me ask you about North Korea. When President Trump sits down next

week face-to-face next week with Kim Jong-un, what do you want the president to get out of that meeting?

KING: Well, the first thing I want to say is that I support the meeting. I believe the president is doing the right thing opening up this dialogue. That's the good news.

The difficulty is, John, this is the fifth time we've been down this road with the North Koreans. And I think my counsel to the president, not that he's asked, would be to be careful and not make any commitments.

Because in the past the North Koreans have been willing to make commitments which they've later just ignored. In the meantime, they get concessions of some kind.

For example, a peace treaty, which has been talked about to end the armistice -- call it a peace treaty -- would be a win for North Korea. It would be an acknowledgment of North Korea, and that may be appropriate but it ought to be in the context of a larger deal.

So I'm just worried that the atmospherics of this historic meeting could sort of get us swept up into agreeing to things that ultimately aren't going to work. So I guess it's cautious optimism would be the way I would characterize it.

BERMAN: If he -- if he comes out of that meeting without conceding anything to North Korea but without getting anything back, without getting any, you know, concrete verifiable steps toward denuclearization. But if he comes out with, say, just a meeting, is that enough? Is that worth it here?

KING: Well, I think -- I think it's worth it in the sense that you're opening a dialogue that hasn't existed. There's never -- we've had a lot of negotiations with North Korea. As I say, this is the fifth time. This is the first time we've had the national leaders in the same room. And if it just begins the process -- and of course, China is going to have to be involved in this. And South Korea is going to have to be involved in this. Both of them have vital interests in what happens here.

So this may be the first step. And I'm not going to criticize what I think is an important opening. The question is what happens next? And I think the important thing is to also not get all excited and make concessions and do things in the spirit of the moment that then turns out to not be valid or useful and actually could be against our interests.

BERMAN: Senator King from Maine, thanks so much for being with us.

KING: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, you will remember this story. On Monday here on NEW DAY, we spoke to Senator Jeff Merkley. That was right after he was blocked from entering an immigration facility where he believes up to 1,000 children are being held without their parents. The White House had a lot to say about this visit, and Senator Jeff Merkley joins us with an update next.