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White House 'Can't Guarantee' Trump Hasn't Used the 'N'-Word; Progressive Women Do Well in Democratic Primaries. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Omarosa is an actress. She's playing us all.

[05:59:25] OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Had I heard it while I was working in the White House, I would have left immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is racist. We don't need to have the tape to know that.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This has absolutely nothing to do with race. The fact is, the president is an equal opportunity person that calls things like he sees it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I met him, I was about 18 months old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The largest report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He abused it, and the church covered it up.


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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 15, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off, Erica Hill joins me.

Just dropped your cell phone. So working through a few things this morning?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I think I'm going to make it, though. I have two cell phones, so at least one will work later.

BERMAN: A back-up plan. I like that.

So this morning, we live in a world where the White House cannot guarantee there is not a tape of the president of the United States using the "N"-word. That is one messed-up world.

It's the same world where he called an African-American woman a dog. So if the White House was initially hoping the controversial book by his former aide, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, would quietly disappear, the president is doing everything to make sure it doesn't, including filing new legal action against her, saying she violated a 2016 non- disclosure agreement.

Also, a huge day in the Paul Manafort fraud trial. Closing arguments set in the case against the president's former campaign chair. The big question, why did the defense rest without calling a single witness? Was that a smart move?

HILL: Democrats embracing diversity as Republicans side with President Trump's pick. In Tuesday's primaries, Vermont Democrats nominating the nation's first transgender candidate for governor. Dems could also make history with some of their congressional nominees in other states.

Meantime, President Trump is tightening his grip on the GOP. Minnesota's former governor, Tim Pawlenty, who was critical of Mr. Trump, losing his bid to stage a political comeback.

And the details are horrifying to put it mildly. Decades of abuse by priests in Pennsylvania. In a detailed grand jury report, it reveals more than 1,000 children were abused by clergy. The report also finding Catholic Church leaders protected and covered up for more than 300 predator priests.

We begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, who is live at the White House.

Abby, good morning.


Well, it is the second straight day that President Trump is out of the spotlight. He has no public events on his schedule today, but the controversy around him about whether he is on tape saying the "N"-word is going to continue to grow.


PHILLIP (voice-over): The White House taking on allegations of racism against President Trump. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders unable to categorically deny the president has ever used the "N"-word, despite a direct denial from the president on Twitter.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can't guarantee you anything, but I can tell you that the president addressed this question directly. I can tell you that I've never heard it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to be clear, you can't guarantee it?

SANDERS: Look, I haven't been in every single room.

PHILLIP: Former senior White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman claiming that she heard a recording of Mr. Trump using the racial slur during a taping of "The Apprentice." Omarosa says it isn't in her book, because she heard it after it was written. Omarosa alleges that she discussed its existence in a 2016 conference

call with former campaign aides Jason Miller, Lynne Patton and Katrina Pierson. Pierson initially denying the conversation took place.

KATRINA PIERSON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: That did not happen. It sounds like she's writing a script for a movie.

PHILLIP: Just hours later, Omarosa releasing a recording of the call.

LYNNE PATTON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I said, "Well, sir, can you think of any time that this might have happened?" and he said, "No."

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Well, that's not true.

PATTON: He said, "Well, why don't you just go ahead and put it to bed?" He said it. He said -- no, he said it. He's embarrassed.

PHILLIP: Pierson now insisting she was just placating Omarosa.

PIERSON: Your viewers, I'm pretty sure, have run into an individual that is the complete epitome of annoying. To where you absolutely have to finally give in, in order get on about your day. That happened a number of times, because Omarosa is a bully.

PHILLIP: Patton also saying she never denied the conversation took place but pointing out that she was denying the group confirmed during the call that President Trump used the "N"-word.

PATTON: There were a lot of times that we talked about this tape, because Omarosa was literally obsessed with it. She brought it up constantly.

PHILLIP: The Trump campaign taking legal action against Omarosa for breaching a non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2016.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: I have to be very careful, because as of today, Donald Trump has decided to sue me, or to bring litigation against me to silence me and to not allow me to tell my story.

PHILLIP: This coming as President Trump intensifying his feud with Omarosa on Twitter, writing, "Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog."

The White House fighting back against critics who say the tweet is yet another racist attack against African-Americans.

SANDERS: This has absolutely nothing to do with race. The president's an equal opportunity person that calls things like he sees it. He always fights fire with fire.


PHILLIP: And at least one Republican senator is pushing back on President Trump's tweet. Senator Jeff Flake, who's a constant critic of the president, said this on Twitter: "This kind of language is unbecoming of a president, and Republicans should not be OK with it" -- John and Erica.

BERMAN: All right. Abby, stay with us, if you will. We also want to bring in CNN senior political analyst John Avlon and Spectrum News political anchor and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

Friends, normally, I want to push forward and focus on what's new, but I cannot get over what we all heard yesterday. It's just remarkable when the White House press secretary cannot guarantee that there's not a videotape of the president of the United States using the "N"-word. She can't guarantee that tape doesn't exist, Errol.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I watched it right here, as a matter of fact. And it was a little startling, but it tells you that the clean-up squad for the president, and that very much includes Sarah Sanders, they've learned over the years that you can't go out there and sort of put out a definitive statement, because they're not necessarily getting all of the facts from their principle, from the president. They don't know what's out there. They don't know what he has said.

Look, just having listened to what -- some of the experts you just played, clearly, the discussion within the campaign was that the tape exists. What are we going to do about it? There's no getting around that. Katrina Pierson can try and, you know, sort of mischaracterize it after the fact. But the reality is they don't know what's out there. And as we discovered with "Access Hollywood," what's out there could be really, really damaging.

HILL: What's remarkable, too, is that we are still having a conversation about how all of this is being handled by this president. The fact that, as opposed to trying to, you know, maybe not give attention to the book, he is so focused on anything that may have happened with Omarosa. On fighting anyone who fights him, as Sarah Sanders pointed out.

And Abby, I'll point out yesterday, it seems like Sarah Sanders was this close to saying the president is an equal opportunity offender. But it's also impossible to ignore that there are more than a few times where the president is clearly making things about race.

PHILLIP: Yes. It's not a great day when the White House's excuse for the president's tweet is that he's mean to everyone. I think it's just a symptom of a larger problem.

But there is a problem here with the president using this kind of language about African-Americans in general. And also, regardless of whether it's a pattern, I think we can put aside whether it's a pattern. A lot of people can just calling an African-American woman a dog. Not even like a dog, which he typically uses in other contexts, but a dog is something that is beyond the pale. That even if it's -- even if he calls a lot of people "like a dog," it's something that the president of the United States shouldn't say.

So, you know, Sarah Sanders didn't have a lot to go on here, but it is a symptom of how bad the situation has gotten. It is about the fact that the president is just an equal opportunity insulter. He calls everyone a dog, he says everyone has a low I.Q.

BERMAN: The fact of the matter is that he's not equal opportunity offender, at least not since the inauguration. "The Washington Post" went back and counted since the inauguration all of the insults that he's made about someone's intelligence, 73 percent of them, says "The Washington Post," about African-Americans, just 27 percent about white people. That is not consistent with the population of the country -- John Avlon.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not even a little bit. And that would indicate this is not just an accident. This is an impulse he has, whether he's conscious of it fully or not.

And look, the -- you know, FDR famously said that the presidency is primarily a place of moral leadership. This president is not trying to be a moral leader in any way, shape or form, and that denigrates the office.

And when you use the bully pulpit, putting the bully in it, primarily to dehumanize your critics, that is uniquely dangerous, as history also shows us really clearly. And that's why this matters, in addition to the staggering fact that his own staff can't guarantee there's not a videotape of the president dropping the "N"-word.

AVLON: I'll also say that the best way to make the argument that you're not a racist usually isn't to say something that a lot of people think is racist.

HILL: Right.

AVLON: If you're trying to fight the claim in the book that you're on tape using the "N"-word, calling an African-American woman a dog is not the best way to make that case. And it may be why, by the way, that in February, before this whole controversy, months before this book was coming out, more Americans than not thought that President

Trump was a racist. "Do you think President Trump is a racist?" This is Quinnipiac back in February. Forty-nine percent say yes, 46 percent say no.

HILL: Here's the other thing that's remarkable. I mean, not only does this White House have a hard time with its messaging and the fact that, as Abby pointed out, there wasn't a lot in that White House briefing yesterday, because there wasn't a lot that Sarah Sanders could say there.

But the fact that those are the numbers, Errol, and it doesn't seem that this, in any way, impacts the president, that it's a concern. It's not.

LOUIS: That's the remarkable thing, right? Under other circumstances, a panel would be convened. Maybe there'd be a retreat. Perhaps there'd be even an Oval Office address and say, "Look, you guys have got me all wrong. I want to bring the country together."

He's not interested in any of that. He's a backlash politician. He came to political prominence using the birther lie as the base on which he was going to ride into power. He continues to, just as "The Washington Post" analysis suggests. He continues to make that his default move, because he's not talking to the whole country. He's talking to a particular brand of voter, his base that he sort of stokes and prods and tries to stir up all of the time. When you see him in Alabama, as he was at a political rally, shouting epithets into the night, you know, calling black athletes sons of bitches, you know, he's letting you know, in a lot of different ways. So whether they find this tape or not, I think it should be pretty clear where his politics lie.

AVLON: And that is such a stark departure. I mean, almost all presidents run as uniters, not dividers. Because that's actually an effective way of governing, let alone campaigning and coddling up to the majority.

This president is utterly uninterested in that. And the fact that so many Americans feel that he's racist is also a stark departure. There is a danger of getting numb to it. We can't allow that to happen. This is a departure in every way from our best traditions.

And this president -- you know, Sarah Sanders -- Sarah Sanders is a woman of faith. And she always says from the podium that the president likes to fight fire with fire. Another way of saying that is, you know, an old biblical phrase, an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. And that's the danger of where we go as a country by elevating this rhetoric.

BERMAN: And one of the things that is notable about this latest back and forth between the president and Omarosa Manigault-Newman and Katrina Pierson and others, is that there is an absence of credibility here, Abby. It's very hard to discern what's real and what's not real.

We do have this tape, which is fascinating, that Omarosa released yesterday. We have this tape where, during the campaign, the use of the "N"-word is being discussed, and two out of the three people on the phone call didn't rule out the possibility that it was there. We've heard it now. I'm just not sure how we determine what else is real or fake here, Abby.

PHILLIP: That's absolutely right. I mean, I spent a lot of yesterday trying to sort through all of this, and I can tell you that it is a problem when there are people on both sides who can't be trusted.

And I'm going to actually refer to Omarosa here, who actually said it herself. She said in Trump world, lying is the norm. And I think that's really what we are seeing here, even as Trump's allies are trying to defend him by claiming that Omarosa has no credibility. They are lying in order to do it.

We had several statements put out yesterday that were simply untrue. They were proven false within hours of being issued. Because there is a tape that exists, but you know, the bigger problem is that we're in a place right now in American politics where we can't trust what anybody says unless there is a recording of something. We actually have to have a lot of skepticism. And I think as journalists, we always have some skepticism, but for the American people, that's a troubling proposition.

We are going into this where, unless you hear someone say it with their own mouth, you cannot trust their denial or their claims of one thing or the other. I think it's a whole mess. And I think it also highlights why this Omarosa issue is such a problem for the White House. She does have tapes. We don't know how many she has, but she has them, and when they prove something, they simply prove them, and we can't -- clearly can't trust what people say in the wave of denials about some of this stuff.

BERMAN: I will be interesting to see, because on Trevor Noah last night, she seemed to indicate that perhaps she has to be more careful now that the Trump campaign has taken some legal action. We'll see how many hours that lasts today, or if she will come out with more of these tapes that she says she has.

All right, thank you very much. Some of you stick around. A night of potential firsts for Democrats in the primaries as a prominent Trump critic fails to stage a comeback. We're going to analyze the results that came in throughout the night into the morning. Stay with us.


BERMAN: It's the day after Americans went to the polls in four states in the latest round of primaries. Let's break down the big results.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fended off his primary challenge and will face Democrat Tony Evers in the fall. Walker, who was endorsed by President Trump, is considered one of the most vulnerable high- profile Republicans in these midterm elections.

In Minnesota, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, a vocal Trump critic, losing his bid to stage a political comeback for his old job. CNN projects Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson beat Pawlenty in the state's GOP primary.

BERMAN: Congressman Keith Ellison won the Democratic nomination for Minnesota attorney, but Ellison is facing allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-girlfriend, which he denies.

HILL: And a first in Minnesota's First Congressional District. State legislator Ilhan Omar winning the Democratic nomination for Keith Ellison's House seat. She could become the first Somali-American in Congress.

BERMAN: History made in Vermont as Democrat Christine Hallquist became the first openly transgender major party nominee for governor. She'll join us, by the way, next hour.

And in Connecticut, CNN projects that Democrat Ned Lamont will face Republican Bob Stefanowski in the race for government. Remember, Lamont beat Joe Liberman in the Democratic Senate primary more than 10 years ago. Where's the time go?

In the state's Fifth Congressional District Jahana Hayes won the Democratic nomination, moving her one step closer to becoming the state's first black woman to serve in Congress.

HILL: Back with us, Errol Louis and John Avlon. Also joining us, senior writer and analyst for CNN Politics, Harry Enten.

As we look at all of this, I love just sort of getting your take on things, Harry, as you look at this. What's the real stand out for you last night? We had some firsts there, but what are we not talking about?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: I think I always like to try and paint a complete picture, right? And you look at Omar, you look at Hayes in Connecticut, and I see progressive women doing very, very well last night. And that's the thing for me, as we're kind of trying to compare this progressive sort of insurgency in the Democratic Party. How does that compare to, say, the Tea Party insurgency eight years ago? And to me, a key difference is the progressives are doing particularly well in Both Omar and hays are heavy favorites into the fall.

BERMAN: And on the Republican side, Tim Pawlenty who lost a race for Minnesota governor, says all this is the Trump effect. Listen to what Governor Pawlenty said.


TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: People are going to ask me, "What do you see in this result?" I think the circumstances we live in in the era of a different kind of leadership in terms of President Trump and the like, and I just don't fit well into that era, into that picture.


[06:20:05] AVLON: So Harry, is the answer to that "yes"?

ENTEN: I don't think he fits in. It didn't help that he went off to Washington, D.C., and became a lobbyist, right? I mean, that's just never been good in Republican politics.

But again, you know, if you're comparing this to the Democratic side, what you saw was Pawlenty was clearly a stronger general election candidate than Johnson was.

I know a number of people have shifted that race from being a potential toss-up in the fall to now leaning towards the Democrat, and that to me is the signal going forward, is Republicans electorates are willing to put forth more extremist candidates, despite what the general election ramifications might be.

BERMAN: That's right.

HILL: What's interesting is they're putting in more extremist candidates. The other thing that we're going to hear more of from the Republican side is you're seeing more extremist candidates on the Democratic side, right? With these progressives. And this polling that is out that more Democrats say they have a higher opinion of socialism than capitalism, if I'm phrasing that correctly. So it will be interesting to see. It's really going to be the pitting of extremes.

AVLON: Well, the --

HILL: Or the attempt to paint it that way.

AVLON: That certainly will be the narrative, and there's no question this new progressive wave is further to the left than anything we've seen in recent decades for the Democratic Party.

But as Harry just pointed out, a lot of these candidates really are in congressional seats that are well-tailored to their politics, where they're likely to be only semi-contested.

But look at the state-wide candidates Democrats are putting forward, particularly in Minnesota. They went with a basically centrist who is very well-positioned to compete for that governorship. So that's fascinating.

And there are countervailing things, as well. I mean, you've got, in Vermont, you've got this historic candidate, transgender woman winning the Democratic nomination against a Republican who, on the surface, wouldn't have a prayer in Vermont, but of course, he's the incumbent. And Vermont has a strong tradition of nominating centrist Republicans. So for those state-wide races, a centrist candidate in either party can buck trends, and that's something that's not worth dismissing. I think it's looking at the congressional races as distinct from the statewide.

LOUIS: Something to keep in mind that's going to be really, really important in Wisconsin in particular is that we're going into a redistricting. This is going to sort of set the stage for the next presidential election. It's going to set the stage for politics for the next ten years. It's going to be really judiciously hard fought, I think, in ways that they surprise people how much the Democrats are going to have to really, really go to bat if they want to turn around what has happened with Wisconsin. I mean, they've been dealing with Scott Walker what, four elections now? For about ten years, he's really reshaped the politics of that state.

BERMAN: Yes, and these are races worth winning for Democrats. I know that's a cliche, but it has implications beyond just governing for the next four years.

Harry, one of the more important results last night wasn't exactly at the ballot box. It happened in Kansas, where the governor, the sitting governor, Collier, conceded the race to Kris Kobach, the secretary of state. It looked like that was going to be headed to some kind of a recount thing. They were counting the provisional votes there. It was separated by what, 300 votes?

ENTEN: At the end there.

BERMAN: Talk to me about what kind of general election candidate Kris Kobach is, what baggage he carries and the impact of that race. ENTEN: I mean, look, Kris Kobach is the least liked Republican

politician in the state of Kansas. Maybe second to Sam Brownback, who was the former governor there and then went off for a job in the Trump administration.

I know a lot of people see Kansas and they think, "OK, that's a really red state. Bob Dole. Hasn't elected a Republican [SIC] senator in years." But the fact is, we recently just had a Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius, just 12 -- was elected 12 years ago, and Kris Kobach with the voting commission, with all this voting fraud, has stuff that has been proven -- disproven. To me he has a real shot of losing there, and that would be a very big win for Democrats.

AVLON: Let me add something to that. The complicating factor is you've got not only a Democratic nominee but a strong independent, Greg Orman, who ran for Senate last time and came in a strong second.

Now, what's interesting with Kansas is Orman may be a better head-to- head candidate against Kobach, winning over centrist Republicans who don't like Kobach and Brownback than the Democrat. If they both come in, they run a chance of actually getting a Paul LaPage (ph) situation and electing Kobach. If one of them cedes to the other, that really changes things. And Orman arguably would be the stronger of the two.

ENTEN: Potentially. I will point out that the limited polling we do have in the general election itself part does suggest that Orman will not come in strong as he did in 2014 when he ran as an independent for the Senate and actually knocked the Democrat out of the race.

So I think that we're -- look, it's Kansas. It's a deep red state. We're in line for a very close general election at this point.

HILL: One of the things that's fascinating is as we look at the messaging and the candidates that are being put out there, for years at this point, Democrats have been criticized and rightfully so, that they could not coalesce around a central message.

So now they're finding candidates that will work in the district, they hope, where they're running. But Errol, do you have a sense that the party as a whole is recognizing that they finally need to address this? And are they coming to some sort of consensus?

LOUIS: Not that I can find now. I mean, you've got your sort of Tammy Duckworth type candidates who are -- they sell well across party lines. They're patriotic. They've got a military background.

And then you've got socialists who -- you know, who are running in an entirely different direction on an entirely different set of platforms.

You know, what comes across a little strongly, and I think this is why the generic ballot shows the Democrats with only, like, a four-point lead, is that it's not coherent. You know, it's not what you get if you're going to sort of sign up for a Democratic candidate. It might be a transgender person running for governor. It might be -- it might be a veteran or a former educator running statewide in the Midwest. We -- you just don't know. Which is to say the Democrats, I don't think, are going to try and nationalize the fall election. Because it won't work.

[06:25:23] BERMAN: Harry, I want to backtrack, if I will a little bit here, and give you credit where credit is due. You were the one to point out to us overnight, you're a numbers guy. And on the question of whether President Trump is a racist, more Americans than not have said for months.

ENTEN: For months they said that. That Quinnipiac poll was back in February. There was polling from the 2016 campaign that indicated something very similar.

Look, Donald Trump is who he is. And that's the reason why we've seen his approval rating stay very, very stable. Now, it's not 50 percent. It's in the low 40s. In 2016, he benefitted from facing off against Hillary Clinton, who was about as unlikable as he was.

Let's see what happens in 2018 when he's the one on the ballot, when it's referendum on him. And if you look at the polling, it indicates that that's where voters are heading. And so far, that has been beneficial for the Democrats in these special elections. And if look at -- you go race by race by race, not just nationally but race by race by race, you see Democrats are doing well in these congressional races. We'll see if it's well enough in the fall.

BERMAN: To your point that from a numbers standpoint it isn't clear whether these developments move the needle. It may not be the polling standpoint that matters here. But as you look at the numbers, the needle doesn't necessarily move with these types of racial controversies.

ENTEN: So far it doesn't seem to. But it may not need to. And that's the thing.

AVLON: But the energy is in the Democrats' side.

ENTEN: Absolutely.

AVLON: And that's about opposition to Donald Trump. They've done a good job about picking candidates who fit the district. I think the challenge is, is anti-Trump enough? Right now their stated slogan is "A Better Deal." That's about as wan as you can possibly get.

HILL: You have to put up some more details than just "A Better Deal." And that's some of the criticism, too, for simply being anti-Trump. We're going to have to leave it there, gentleman. Thank you as always.

BERMAN: Coming up in the next hour, we will speak with Christine Hallquist, the Democratic nominee to be Vermont's next governor, the first transgender candidate to get a major party nomination for governor.

HILL: Also this morning, that damning grand jury report detailing extensive efforts to cover up hundreds of predatory priests who abused more than 1,000 children over decades. So what is the Catholic Church going to do?