Return to Transcripts main page
Closely Watched Races in Ohio & Kansas Still Undecided; Congressman Arrested for Insider Trading Expected in Court Today; Sen. Rand Paul Delivered Letter from Trump to Putin; New Details in Leaked Document on Trump/Putin Summit. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired August 8, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:30] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The polls may be closed but the races are far from over. Two of the most closely watched races from Tuesday still up in the air right now. The special congressional election in Ohio. That will decide who has the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives right now. It's a deep-red seat that could be changing color potentially.
Also the Republican primary for governor of Kansas testing the president's popularity as one of the most -- one of his most controversial supporters tries to upend the Republican establishment in Kansas.
Let's bring in CNN political director, David Chalian.
David, walk us through what we saw last night, first in Ohio.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: First, in Ohio, what we saw, as you noted, it's still in the too-close-to-call category but the Republican Troy Balderson is leading in the vote count, Wolf. And what we saw was what you just stated, this is a district that Donald Trump won by 11 points. That Mitt Romney won by 10 points. That has been held in Republican hands for 35 years. Deep-red district. And it was a very close race within 1 percentage point. Why? Because we're seeing Democratic enthusiasm arrive at the polls in turnout. And Republican turnout is a little depressed. As the president argues all the time to his supporters, don't get complacent. There's some complacency there. It's a very Republican district. The Republican able to hold on. But it should never have been this close.
What does this mean? It means, look around the country. The battlefield is so large. If this Republican of a district can be competitive, there are, according to the political reports, 68 less Republican districts than this one. So you can just see how large the battlefield is for Democrats as they try to win a net gain of 23 Republican seats and gain the majority.
BLITZER: We should point out he's ahead by about 1700 votes. There's still about 8,000 votes, absentee ballots yet to be counted.
CHALIAN: Absentee official ballots. Danny O'Connor has said his campaign not going to concede at all right now. Wants to make sure all those votes are counted because they want to see if it gets within a half a percent and that would trigger an automatic recount. BLITZER: What about Kansas?
CHALIAN: What about Kansas. What you see in the gubernatorial primary is Donald Trump's potency at play. Kris Kobach, one of his most controversial supporters. That title might have been surpassed by Congressman Chris Collins. But one of his most controversial supporters, no doubt, due to his voting fraud panel participation and the comments made about that, his hardline immigration views.
He took on a seated Republican governor. And look at that vote total there. It's 191-vote lead for Kris Kobach there. So this clearly is not done either. We're waiting to hear from the governor, who has not yet conceded the race there at all. Waiting to see if they call for a recount. Only 191 votes separate them.
But if Kris Kobach emerges with the nomination, Wolf, the question is going to become, does that give the Democrats an opportunity? Is he a controversial enough figure that, yes, he can get through a Republican primary, defeat the incumbent governor, have the president's backing, but will it make the gubernatorial seat vulnerable for Democrats to pick up in the fall?
BLITZER: Big picture, what we saw last night, what does it bode for the midterm elections in three months?
CHALIAN: It's more alarm bells for Republicans. What last night showed us, I think it solidified the trends we've seen all along. In all the special elections for the last year and a half, the story has been Democrats are significantly overperforming in these Republican- held districts, what Hillary Clinton got there, what the previous Democratic candidate got there. And that's because all the enthusiasm right now in American politics is on the Democratic side.
BLITZER: Good point.
David Chalian, thank you very much. We'll be busy between now and November.
[13:34:17] BLITZER: We'll watch it very closely.
We'll get back to the breaking news. Republican Congressman Chris Collins, of New York, set to be in court within the hour after being arrested and charged with insider trading this morning. We have details.
Plus, Senator Lindsey Graham reveals what President Trump couldn't stop talking about during their golf outing at the country club in New Jersey. Stand by. We have details.
BLITZER: Republican Congressman Chris Collins, of New York, is expected to appear in a federal courtroom in the next hour. The New York Republican surrendered to authorities today after being indicted on charges related to alleged securities fraud. Collins was the first sitting member of Congress to support Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race.
Joining us now from Rhode Island, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, what do you think of this indictment of your fellow Congressman Chris Collins?
[13:39:56] REP. DAVID CILILLINI, (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think it's, obviously, very, very disappointing. Serving the public in elected office is a tremendous honor and a great privilege, and everyone has a responsibility to conduct themselves to the highest standard, and certainly this is a gross violation of that.
And I think it feeds into the narrative, sadly, that we're seeing so much from this administration, Republicans in Congress, this culture of corruption. We saw it in Administrator Pruitt and we saw it in Secretary Tom Price. We see it in the self-dealing, the idea that government is not working for the people but working for the powerful special interest and the well connected. People are sick and tired of it. Here's just the most recent example of someone using his position where he's supposed to be serving the American people and, instead, is serving his own financial interest. It's disgraceful. It's very sad day.
And I think the American people are going to say loudly and clearly in November they're sick and tired of the swamp and culture of corruption in Washington and they'll give Democrats the responsibility of leadership again.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise. The indictment -- and I've gone through it and I'm sure you have as well -- it doesn't allege that Donald Trump had any involvement in this biotech firm or any of this insider trading.
CICILLINE: Oh, no, no. I'm not suggesting the president does. I'm saying we've seen in this administration other examples of this culture of corruption of the swamp of Washington. And although, the president committed to draining the swamp, this is the most corrupt administration in recent history. And this is another example of folks who think that elective office is not there for the service of the people of this country, but for their own personal gain or benefit. We've seen lots of examples of that in the Trump administration. We now see an example with Chris Collins. I think people are sick and tired of it. They want Washington and the government to work for them and for the best interest of the people of this country.
BLITZER: Let's talk politics. The race in Ohio's 12th congressional district is still up in the air. Too close to call right now. What's the significance of this very close race for the Democrats, either way, it ends up heading into November's midterms?
CICILLINE: I think the most important thing is to remember that a Democrat has not held this congressional seat but for one time since 1938. So this is a solidly red district. And I think it's evidence that the Democratic candidate and candidates like him across the country that are focused on the important issues facing the American people, driving down health care costs, creating good-paying jobs, rebuilding the infrastructure of our country and draining the swamp in Washington and ending this culture of corruption, those issues are resonating. This shows this is a complete rejection of the Trump administration and the Republican narrative. And people are looking for a new direction in our country, new leadership. When Democrats focus on the issues that matter to the American people, they prevail. The Republicans had to spend over $5 million in this special election. They shouldn't have had to spend a penny. It's a solidly Republican district. And I think it's a harbinger of what's to come in November. There's going to be a big blue wave because people are tired of what they're seeing in Washington from a Republican-controlled Congress.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the movement among Democrats right now. The governor's race in Michigan, for example, where a progressive Democratic candidate lost the Democratic primary. You are the vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Do you think some more middle-of-the-road or establishment Democrats are actually breathing a sigh of relief that the more progressive or Democratic Socialist candidate, supported by Bernie Sanders, for example, didn't win? What does that mean for the future of your party?
CICILLINE: I think what it means, most importantly, is that there's tremendous excitement about Democratic candidates, enormous enthusiasm. We're seeing that reflected in the increases in voter turnout. We'll have a lot of new candidates, a lot of new members of Congress from a whole range of spectrums in our caucus, from the very progressive to more moderate to blue dogs and new Dems to progressives. That's great for our caucus. It's great for the country. What will happen is we'll work together when we're in the majority to develop consensus around issues. There's a lot more we have in common than we have disagreement. But that's a good problem to have. They'll bring their best ideas, a lot of new energy. And they'll advocate for their positions. And out of this will come some real consensus within our caucus. It's a great sign of the energy, of the enthusiasm of voters for Democratic candidates.
And we're a big tent. We'll have lots of people with different views all committed to driving down health care costs, draining the swamp, rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure and moving us forward. So it's a very exciting time for the party. It's a very exciting time for our country, and I think this sort of broad appeal across the spectrum among Democrats is very, very good.
BLITZER: Remember what Ronald Reagan used to say about the Republican Party. He wanted it to be a big-tent party. Have a lot of different views. And you use the words big tent right now. You want the Democratic Party to be a big-tent party as well, right?
CICILLINE: Absolutely. And we want people to come into the party and bring their best ideas. When ideas are generated to make suggestions and make them even better, out of that legislative process will come the best product that will serve the American people. We should be excited about that. We should embrace it, and not run away from it.
[13:45:10] BLITZER: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks for joining us.
CICILLINE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul delivering a letter from President Trump to Vladimir Putin. We have the back story. Stand by for that.
And new details emerging about what the president and Putin may have discussed during their still-mysterious one-on-one meeting in Helsinki.
[13:49:57] BLITZER: Republican Senator Rand Paul makes a diplomatic delivery. Senator Paul revealed today that he delivered a letter to the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, from President Trump while Paul has been visiting Russia this week.
He tweeted this, quote, "I was honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin's administration. It emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas."
We just heard from the White House a few moments ago. The press secretary, assistant press secretary, describing it as a letter of introduction requested by the Senator in hopes of meeting with Vladimir Putin. But as far as we know, no meeting has taken place between the Senator and the Russian leader.
Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.
Clarissa, what more do we know about how all of this came about and how the Kremlin has responded.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So what we know so far is that the three specific issues that the letter pertained to were counterterrorism, improving counterterrorism between Russia and the U.S., improving legislative dialogue, and also resuming cultural exchanges. These are seemingly, Wolf, very anodyne topics, the exact sort of thing you'd expect to see the president of the U.S. and the president of Russia discussing as they go about trying to repair the very damaged relationship.
What makes this, however, very unusual and quite striking is the method of the delivery of the letter. There are diplomatic protocols. There's a chain that one goes through. We have a thing called the State Department. And traditionally, a letter from the U.S. president to the Russian president would go through that typical diplomatic chain or protocol. So very unusual to see President Trump giving this letter to the Senator to hand deliver to Russian lawmakers, who then reportedly passed it on to the Kremlin. We gather, from a Russian news agency, that the Kremlin has the letter but that it has not yet been reviewed by President Putin himself. One can only assume, Wolf, that he will be reading it soon. But again, a very untraditional mechanism for delivering this letter,
opening up the possibility, people are saying, of is this some kind of a back channel. Really too early to draw any conclusions about that, Wolf. But given that the topic of the letter, the specific things that are discussed, seem so generic, it seems an unusual way of handing over this letter to the president of Russia.
BLITZER: Yes. When it comes to direct dialogue between the U.S. and Russia, Senator Paul and President Trump, they're on the same page. They want to have these kinds of exchanges. They're clearly working together in that area.
As you know, Clarissa, there's a leaked document now that sheds more light on that private meeting that President Trump had with President Putin in Helsinki. According to "Politico," the memo shows that Putin lobbied the president on various issues, including arms control and prohibiting weapons in space. So what more are you hearing about all of this?
WARD: All of this is coming from a report from "Politico." CNN has not yet been able to independently verify the report.
But from what we gather, there's, again, three main topics that President Putin reportedly drilled down on with President Trump during that two-hour meeting. As you have said, many times before, that two- hour meeting, that private meeting has been the source of endless speculation. A lot of mystery surrounding it. A lot of questions of what was discussed.
According to this document, which was written in Russian, in Cyrillic, much of it leaves Putin's agenda for this meeting really focused of issues of arms control, with three specific topics, the five-year extension of the New START Treaty. This essentially dealing with limiting nuclear armaments for both sides, both the Russians and the U.S. Commitment to reaffirm the INF treaty. This deals with intermediate ranges, which both sides have accused each other of violating that treaty. And, as you mentioned, also a possible ban on placing weapons in space.
Again, what is striking about this, Wolf, is that these are very typical topics to be discussed between the U.S. president, between the Russian president. But we have heard the Russian foreign ministry coming out with a blistering critique of "Politico" saying, "It seems about once a month there's a leak from the American side. What kind of interference in the American elections from Russia can there be if, in the United States, even the content of presidential talks cannot be kept secret."
Some harsh words there -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.
Clarissa Ward, in London, thanks very much.
Other news, any minute now, Republican Congressman Chris Collins will be in a New York federal courtroom just hours after being arrested and charged with insider trading. We'll go there live.
[13:54:47] Plus, the scene gets testy in the trial of president's former campaign chairman. Why teams went back and forth over the star witness's extramarital affair.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[13:59:43] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN on this Wednesday afternoon.
We begin with a doubleheader today as the president's legal team tries to avoid, quote unquote, "perjury traps" by the special counsel. We'll get all into that in a second here.
The first congressman to endorse his run for president has just been accused of not only lying to the feds but insider trading. Republican Chris Collins, of New York, turned himself in this morning. He's set to be arraigned this hour.