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President Trump Calls Omarosa Lowlife, Dog in a Tweet; Trump Slams Attorney General Jeff Sessions Again; Latest Poll Has Trump at 42 Percent Approval Rating; Interview with Rep. Eliot Engel (D), New York. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 14, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:03] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning. Top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. out West. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And this morning, we begin with the president versus the former aide, co-star and protege, whom he now calls -- and this is the president of the United States speaking -- a, quote, "crazed, crying lowlife," and a, quote, "dog."

Omarosa Manigault Newman provoked this breathtaking show of contempt by writing this White House memoir which is hitting bookstores today and giving interviews in which she claims among other things that the president used the N word during a taping of the former TV show "The Apprentice." Now the president denies those claims. And no such tape has surfaced.

Let's go to Jeremy Diamond at the White House with more. It has just escalated from yesterday.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Poppy. You know, we're seeing this continuation of this drip, drip strategy from Omarosa where she seems to be using her media prowess to kind of dominate the conversation going into the week, and we're seeing already the third day of her dominating headlines. And now the focus appears to be on a new tape that she released just this morning which she says shows her discussing with several former Trump campaign officials, Katrina Pierson, Lynne Patton, close associates of Eric Trump, the president's son, in which they -- she says they are discussing the president's alleged use of the N word.

And that is something that Katrina Pierson and Lynne Patton previously appeared to have denied. They have now just put out a statement. And there is no denial here about this conversation or the authenticity of this conversation. Let me just read the statement to you.

"No one ever denied the existence of conversations about a reported 'Apprentice' tape. Of course there were multiple discussions about it." And then they go on to say, "What has been definitively refuted is that we never had a call confirming that Frank Luntz or anyone else directly heard Donald Trump use derogatory language on the alleged tape. That is something that Omarosa had previously suggested."

And they go on to say, "To the contrary, we clearly confirm the fact that President Trump himself denied ever using such derogatory language." Finally, "None of this changes the fact that Omarosa told multiple high-level campaign and administration officials she first heard the alleged audiotape in December.

So it appears that this storyline is continuing, Poppy. But again no denial there from Katrina Pierson or Lynne Patton about the authenticity of this latest tape that Omarosa has released. So will this give more credence to Omarosa's claims about this? Listen, the tape itself that Omarosa says exists, she says she heard President Trump using the N word on this tape from "The Apprentice" years, that tape has yet to surface, Poppy. So for now it seems like we will have a continuation of allegations flying. And again the strategy from Omarosa appears to be releasing these tapes bit by bit, generating a response from the White House.

Of course just this morning the president took to Twitter to call Omarosa a lowlife. He also called her a dog. A pretty stark words to use, particularly about the only senior White House official who is African-American who has ever served in his administration -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Exactly. Very important point and context. And, you know, this is -- for our viewers, this is more than just some sort of soap opera inside of the White House. This -- she was a huge cheerleader for the president and his advocate when it came to African-American outreach. And now she is saying all of these things about him and he is lashing back in the way that he did.

Let's talk about it. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

With me now, CNN Senior Political Reporter, my colleague Nia-Malika Henderson, and our Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor of "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.

So, Nia, let's just begin -- good morning to you both. I wish -- you know, I wish these weren't the headlines, but they are. Right? So, Nia, you know, the minute that this crossed this morning, I was just stunned. And I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But it's a word the president has used before, dog. But he called Omarosa a dog. And in doing so, right, he is trying to make her less than human.

And this as he is trying to defend himself against allegations that he used the N-word in a tape. He says he didn't. But trying to make her less than human by calling her a dog. In a country where there is a history of trying to make African-Americans less than human.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, what's interesting -- I mean, I actually spent the last couple of hours trying to go through Omarosa's book. Her entire book is really about race. I mean, essentially.


HENDERSON: Especially the first part, this claim about the N word and her insistent -- she kind of goes through this evolution of believing that the president was racial, in her words, that he would essentially use race to his political benefit, to benefit ratings even. So she evolves from saying that he is racial to flat-out saying that he's racist. And here he is in this context using a word, calling her a dog. And again, he has called other people dogs, said that Mitt Romney choked like a dog. Said I think -- that David Gregory was fired like a dog.

[10:05:02] So he has used that word before. But it does take on I think a sort of an added resonance when you're talking about an African-American, when you're talking about an African-American woman, and when you take the full picture of Donald Trump and his history of targeting, seeming, African-Americans. Questioning their intelligence as did he with LeBron James and Don Lemon. And this is why we get to recent polls that show half of Americans -- I think the poll is 49 percent -- think that Donald Trump is a racist.

Now that poll does not tell us whether or not those people think it's good or bad that he is a racist. And presumably, at least some of those people might think it's not a bad idea for him to be racist and to see black people or brown people in a different way and treat them with less respect. But that is where we are. And I mean, what's clear here is that Omarosa really has gotten under his skin to a degree that I don't think we've seen. Certainly not with the Michael Wolff book in the past and previous breaks from this White House.

And again, it's all around this third rail or central rail really of race, you know. This -- you know, this idea of race and racism. And you see President Trump reacting in a really, you know, kind of strong way in trying to discredit her.

HARLOW: Is, Ron, the president being racist with calling her a dog? Because Nia points out, yes, he's used it in other ways. But when you read those tweets about Ted Cruz or Mitt Romney or Chuck Todd, they're saying fired like a dog, acted like a dog.


HARLOW: Here he is just calling Omarosa an animal.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I think the pattern is unmistakable. The president is appealing to white racial resentments more openly than any national figure since George Wallace in either party. I mean, Nia, you know, cited some of the other examples of Don Lemon and LeBron James. We could talk about him describing Maxine Waters as a low IQ individual.

HARLOW: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, she's been in politics a lot of decades and had a lot of fights. And you can say a lot of things about her. But, you know, that is really -- you know, quite a stretch. Look, the important point here is that these kinds of fights, these kinds of Twitter fights, often with antagonist of people of color, is what he does. This is not a moment of peak. This is not kind of an unplanned outburst because he was offended by her allegations.

We go through these week after week after week. And yes, I think a deliberate strategy, he believes picking these kinds of fights with antagonists of color energize a portion of his base. And it really poses a very stark question for everyone who does not -- who does not accept that kind of language from the president.

And, you know, you kind of look at the results last weekend in the Ohio 12, you know, special election in the House. And you saw the erosion for the Republicans in these white collar suburbs that are doing very well economically, that may agree with the president on taxes and judges but are having to look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they belong in a coalition that accepts and even at times cheers this kind of behavior and language from the president.

HARLOW: Nia, you know, where do we go from here? Because it's just -- it's not a first. Right? I mean, we just had up on the screen the derogatory language the president has used about African-Americans.


HARLOW: Over and over and over and over again. And yes, Omarosa lashed out at him first. Right? But there's something about the Office of the Presidency that just makes you think, shouldn't that person be above this?

HENDERSON: You would think so. Right? But again, I think that this is a key to Donald Trump's success, as Ron talked about. I mean, stoking white grievance, stoking white anxiety, he came to prominence talking about Barack Obama's birth. I mean, he was a birther and this idea that Barack Obama was the other and not truly American and therefore didn't deserve to be the president of the United States. I mean, that is how he came to prominence most recently in 2011.

He kind of floated a run of course and ran in 2016 and won. And so you have millions of Americans who are fine with what he says and what he does and the ways he stokes a racial division.


HENDERSON: And it benefits him. I mean, this is -- so far we've seen this to be a winning strategy for Donald Trump.

HARLOW: But what about, Ron, in the party? I mean, you have an interesting piece this morning that just went up on about Kasich and the party as a whole and the, quote-unquote, "establishment" called the Kasich dilemma. Right?


HARLOW: That, you know, he sort of has to support Republican candidates. He doesn't really support to help -- to not be called a betrayer of the party. But he loses when he does that sort of halfway.

BROWNSTEIN: Sure. Right.

HARLOW: So, I mean, what does something like this do to the Kasich dilemma? You've got to believe he'll speak out about this.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, this is the challenge that all of Trump's Republican critics face. On the one hand they believe that he is leading them into a demographic dead end by identifying them as a party of white racial grievance as the country is growing more diverse than ever. HARLOW: Diverse.

[10:10:01] BROWNSTEIN: But they recognize that they are not going to have a full-scale audience for their arguments inside the party unless and until it is shown that Trump's approach is hurting the Republicans' electoral prospects. And that's where they run into what I call the Kasich dilemma because they know they can't get an audience unless Republicans start losing. But partly because they are afraid of seeming disloyal, they feel the need to continue campaigning for Republican candidates like Troy Balderson, and trying to avoid the losses that would directly strengthen their arguments. That is the dilemma they're in. And I think we're going to see it play out all the way through November.

HARLOW: Thank you both for being with me. Important discussion this morning. Nia, thank you, and Ron.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Now, ahead for us, the attorney general isn't real? The president's latest attack this morning on Jeff Sessions.

Also new CNN polling on how American's really feel about the Russia probe. Even with the deep political divide around the country there's at least one thing that voters seem to agree on, that it's time to wrap it up.

Also dozens of children killed in an airstrike in Yemen. The U.S. sending a top general to help investigate. But so far the president and the secretary of state, mum on this. Why?


[10:15:28] HARLOW: This morning, Republicans and Democrats agree -- agree on something, at least one thing when it comes to the Russia probe. Both sides want it to end soon.

CNN Political Director, David Chalian joins me now with our new polling. And David, we will get to that in a moment but let's just go through some of the top lines here from the polling when it comes to the president and his approval rating.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, here they don't agree at all, Poppy. You can take a look at his overall approval rating right now Donald Trump is at 42 percent, 53 percent disapprove. These are not glowing numbers, obviously. He is upside down. But he has been holding pretty steady the entirety of his presidency.

Here is what's new for him. Look at him in comparison to his predecessors at this point in their presidency, in the August of the second year. Throughout the last year and a half, Trump has been at the bottom of this chart when you compare to his predecessors. Now he is above Reagan, Clinton and Carter where they were in August of their second year. Now they were all battling tough economies. Trump has got an economy that's on fire, obviously. But he's moved up the chart here and is above some of his predecessors at this stage of the game. HARLOW: Yes. It's really, really interesting. And not that far from

President Obama if you take in the margin of error, the four-point margin of era there, David.

What about Russia? I mean, there were some really interesting questions asked about, you know, what do they approve -- voters approve of Trump and Mueller on Russia and also when this investigation should end.

CHALIAN: Yes. So let's start with his overall approval rating on the handling the issue. It's one of his worst issues. I mean, this is clearly a cloud that hangs over him. He's keenly aware of that, too. He's upside down by 21 points. But the 34 percent approval rating on how he's handling the investigation, Poppy, that's up five points from last time we asked that. And here is that big number you were talking about, two-thirds of Americans say, Mueller should wrap up this probe before the midterms.

And if you look at that by party, majorities of Republicans, 72 percent independents, 69 percent, 57 percent, even a majority of Democrats want it to wrap up now. Of course if you're a Republican you probably want it to wrap up to exonerate the president. If you're a Democrat, you may want it to wrap up before the midterms because you think it may help you win the midterms.

We also asked about Mueller's overall approval rating. And he's up six points. He is at 47 percent approval despite all the attacks from Giuliani and others about the way Mueller is doing the job. And then I found this so interesting. We asked how important is the investigation to your midterm vote? 30 percent of Americans say that the Russia investigation is extremely important to their vote. That's up seven points since last time.

And here is the thing, among Democrats, it's up 16 points. A majority of Democrats say it's extremely important to their vote. We had been hearing from candidates and campaign managers and operatives that this doesn't come up much on the campaign trail.


CHALIAN: And I wonder if we're starting to see might that change as we head into the home stretch here.

HARLOW: Right. And how does it play into the enthusiasm to get people out to the polls in the midterms, right? Which can be a challenge. The turnout, who will be -- who will turn out more? The Republicans or the Democrats? And how much driven by this?

CHALIAN: Exactly.

HARLOW: David, thank you.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Joining me now, Congressman Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York, a ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Nice to have you here in person.


HARLOW: Usually you guys are, you know, just remote from me from Washington. So thank you for being here.

Let's talk about some of these polls and what you think they mean for Democrats because the president's approval rating now above where Reagan, Clinton and Carter were at this point. But also it just stays at 42 percent despite all the controversy, despite the Helsinki summit with Putin where he was roundly criticized by Democrats and Republicans.

Is that a warning sign to Democrats heading into the midterms that you're not going to shake at least this base?

ENGEL: Well, I think what wins midterms is usually the enthusiasm. And I know that Democrats are very enthused about going out and voting, very motivated, going out and voting. That will, I believe, make sure that the Democrats do very well in the upcoming elections.

Trump has his base. There's no doubt about it. But I don't think there's much room for growth. I think people look and they see a president who tweets, who goes from one side all the way to the other, there's no cohesion. They're in disarray. People are on trial. There are investigations. I mean, this has just been one disaster after another.

HARLOW: So here's the thing, as you know many Americans vote on the economy. And they vote on their pocketbook. And if it is the economy, stupid, if that's still true, thank you, James Carville, then how do you run against this economy as a Democrat? How do you run against 3.9 percent unemployment, 3.7 million jobs added since November 2016, 4.1 percent growth in the second quarter? What's your message?

[10:20:04] ENGEL: Well, you take a look at really who is benefiting from the economy. And it's the way it always is. It's the very, very wealthy who are really benefiting from the economy. You know, here in New York, the president touts his tax bill. We get killed by the tax bill. I know properties have gone down in my district because people are not very happy with the tax situation where they really cannot deduct the same types of deductions on their taxes that they have been doing. So you take a look and see who it's helped. It has helped the very wealthy. It really hasn't helped the average working person.

HARLOW: But the unemployment rate going down is not just more jobs for just the wealthy.

ENGEL: Well, but which jobs? Which -- who has the jobs? And what kind of jobs are there? And again, what's happening from the economy, I think, is --

HARLOW: I mean -- ENGEL: Frankly a carryover from what we saw with Obama.

HARLOW: It's been a pretty broad spectrum in terms of hiring. But I want to get you on a few other things. Abolish ICE. This is a refrain that we've heard increasingly from your Democratic colleagues, some even potentially 2020 contenders like Bernie Sanders, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. They've all called to abolish ICE.

You have not. Do you stand with them on that or do you fear that your party is giving ammunition to Republicans and to the president who say, well, that means the Democrats don't care about border security?

ENGEL: No, look, we have to have border security. Now ICE is doing a horrible job, actually, because they are separating these children from their parents and all kinds of things. So I think the ICE needs to be reformed. I don't think it needs to be wiped out because we need to have border security. And I think there's a pretty broad consensus in mainstream of the Democratic Party that we need to change some things that ICE is doing.


ENGEL: But you cannot eliminate --

HARLOW: When it comes to leadership --

ENGEL: Eliminate it.

HARLOW: As you know, there is a lot of talk and debate within your party about Nancy Pelosi should she be elected House speaker should Democrats retake the House in the midterms. And it brings me to ask you about leadership as a whole. Do you believe that the leadership of the Democratic Party right now in Congress, in the House, is too old and too white?

ENGEL: No, I believe you take a person and you judge that person on their own. I support Nancy Pelosi. I think she's done a fine job. It's very easy to sort of make her a poster child for people that hate her. If it wasn't Nancy Pelosi, whoever we would choose as our leader, Republicans would go after.

HARLOW: Well, even Democrats like, you know, (INAUDIBLE), who had become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress should she win in Michigan in November, in Michigan 13, she says she doesn't represent what the poor people in my district need. She doesn't talk about those needs. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, here in New York 14, same thing, Pelosi doesn't represent the future of the party. You have Rep. Brian Higgins and other Democrats from New York, who told the "Washington Post" this week, people pretend that it isn't a problem, but it is a problem that exists. It's not just Republicans attacking her. It's the party.

ENGEL: Well, I think people are looking at polls and some of the polls show that she's unpopular. And people are riding that bandwagon. Look, let's not put the cart before the horse. Let's first get elected, let's get a majority and then we will worry about who the leaders are. I think if Nancy Pelosi leads this party to victory, then I think she will be the leader. I think if we don't, then there will be another thing that people will look at. And it will be a different story.

Right now, the Republicans would like to make Nancy Pelosi or whoever we would choose -- they are trying it with Chuck Schumer as well. So whoever Democrats choose, the Republicans will want to try to sully that name.

Look, Republicans and Trump have done a horrific job. Women in the suburbs, Republicans are leaving in droves. We just had this election in Ohio. Democrats shouldn't even be --

HARLOW: Still a tossup in Ohio 12.

ENGEL: And so I think we're going to do very well. I think we're going to take back the House. We will unite the party. And I'm looking forward --

HARLOW: Eighty-three days -- 83 days to go.

ENGEL: Eighty-three and counting.

HARLOW: We'll be counting them.

Congressman Eliot Engel, it's nice to have you.

ENGEL: Thank you. Good to be here.

HARLOW: Thanks for being here.

So now he's not real? The president this morning attacks again his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Russia probe. We will talk about it next.


[10:29:01] HARLOW: President Trump this morning attacking his hand- picked Attorney General Jeff Sessions again. Referring to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, the president writes, quote, "If we had a real attorney general, this witch hunt would never have started. Looking at the wrong people."

Susan Hennessey is with me, our national security and legal analyst.

So, Susan, I mean, this is not the first time, not the second time, not the third time, this goes on and on. But this tweet this morning after yesterday's tweet attacking Jeff Sessions, obstruction?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, I do think that you could think about it as a sort of obstruction in plain sight. You know, Trump clearly understands that he is not going to be able to politically get away with firing Jeff Sessions. He doesn't have the political capital in Congress to get away with doing that. And so the strategy here, you know, which is occurring out in the open is attempting to get to essentially humiliate the attorney general out of his job.

Now the problem is, is that I think everybody understands the reason why President Trump wants Sessions to go because he wants an attorney general who is not removed from the Russia investigation, in order to have an attorney general who can shut down the Russia investigation. So I don't want to say obstruction of justice in a legal sense necessarily.