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Would Kushner Report Future Offers? "I Don't Know"; Despite Controversial Tweets, President Trump Gets Royal Treatment at Buckingham Palace; President Trump: I Never Called Meghan Markle "Nasty" (Even Though It's On Tape). Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired June 3, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:17] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The president's senior adviser and son-in-law, the Middle East envoy with a top security clearance, says he's not sure what he would do if the Russians came offering campaign help again.

John Berman here in for Anderson.

We begin tonight with what Jared Kushner said to "Axios" what he would do if there were a next time. Last night, he gave cringe worthy directions, none dealing with the one thing Robert Mueller literally made the beginning and the end about Russian attacks on America's democratic process then and now. And remember, the "then" part included Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort and a pack of Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton at a meeting everyone then proceeded to mislead the public about.

So, with all that in mind, "Axios" asked a very reasonable question, one that should not be necessary to ask, but seems to be given the times, would he do it again? Here's what he said about that and about 2016.


JARED KUSHNER, SENOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: The e-mail that I got in my iPhone at the time basically said show up at 4:00. I didn't scroll down. I never would have thought about that.

JONATHAN SWAN, REPORTER, "AXIOS": It had Russia in the subject line.

KUSHNER: Again, I would get about 250 emails a day and so -- I literally saw show up at 4:00. I showed up at 4:00.

SWAN: Would you call the FBI if it happened again?

KUSHNER: I don't know. It's hard to do hypotheticals. But the reality is, is that we were not given anything that was salacious.


BERMAN: Now, he could have answered, no, I would report it. But he didn't and it's staggering that he didn't given what the Mueller investigation concluded.

Here's what Mr. Mueller said last Wednesday.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictment that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.


BERMAN: Joining me now, CNN senior political analyst and adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin, and Vicky Ward, journalist and author of the insider's account of Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump, "Kushner Inc."

So, Jeff, Jared Kushner can't say whether he would call the FBI if the Russians came offering help again during the campaign. I'm not so sure this is how national security is supposed to work for someone with top secret security clearance.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's atrocious, it's terrible. But it's also consistent with how the Trump administration and Trump personally is responding to the Mueller report.

I remember Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani said, I'm going to Ukraine to get dirt on Joe Biden. Now, there was a outcry and he said, well, I guess I won't go to Ukraine. But there was certainly nothing wrong with that.

The Trump universe obviously thinks that it is perfectly appropriate to get the help of foreigners to win presidential elections. That's illegal. They managed to skate in 2016 as a result of the -- a sort of aborted meeting at Trump Tower. But, obviously, if someone else comes calling, they'll take it again.

BERMAN: He said -- he defended himself saying they didn't get something salacious. He was upset they didn't get something salacious at the time. Everyone at that meeting were disappointed they weren't getting something else.

Vicky Ward, you looked into Jared Kushner so long so deeply. How does he consider the rules and how they apply to him? I mean, again, he has top secret security clearance. One would think that requires him to come forward if the Russians were to come calling?

VICY WARD, AUTHOR, "KUSHNER INC.": Right. I think you know you saw specific, especially in the second part of that interview when Jonathan Swan really started pushing the questions again and again, particularly about Mohammed bin Salman and Middle East. You saw the look on Jared Kushner's face while he was being asked the questions and it was like this glazed disdain kind of like a mannequin. I think that was extremely telling. It tells what you he thinks of the rules.

My sources say that the answer he gave about whether or not he had discussed his security clearance with the president is the biggest headline of that interview and the one that will come back to haunt him. That Jared Kushner who has been nicknamed the secretary of everything, the idea that a guy who's in President Trump's ear 24/7 did not discuss his security clearance, which he didn't have remember in 2018 for weeks and weeks and weeks is according to my sources who were in the White House with him preposterous.

BERMAN: He told Jonathan Swan he never spoke to the president about security screens.

[20:05:01] Again, lying to a journalist, if that's what it was, isn't illegal. Lying people interviewing for the clearances is.

David Gergen, to the seriousness of this. I wanted to play Robert Mueller's statement the other day because it was so serious. It was the beginning the and the end of Robert Mueller's statements. The Russians attacked the electoral system and everyone better take this seriously.

Jared Kushner doesn't seem like he is included in that everyone.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALSYT: I agree. Listen, I agree about what Vicky and Jeff just said. I do think it's very important to remember, that at the end of the day, in the Mueller report, Mueller found insufficient evidence to bring charges against Kushner, that included the Trump Tower meeting.

Having said that, listen, I think it's appalling that he hasn't learned apparently any lessons from this whole experience. And it's also very important to point out that when this occurred, the meeting in Trump Tower, occurred, as Lawfare pointed out today, when it occurred, he was a civilian but now in answering the questions from "Axios", he is in the government with a top secret clearance.

By law, Jeffrey can I'm sure provide the details, but by law if are you in that position in the government and a red flag goes up or anything suspicious and something you could reasonably consider suspicious coming from foreign soil, you are required, you are required to report that. And he, here he says, oh, I don't think so, I'd probably do the same thing again, shortened it up.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, just quickly?

TOOBIN: I think that's right. You could quibble around the edges, certainly David has the obligation correct.

BERMAN: Even if it's not a legal requirement, it's a moral requirement. Working in the government, if the Russians are offering you help, you report it.

There's another part of this interview which has received a ton of attention, and it's when Jonathan Swan from "Axios" was asking Jared Kushner if he thought the president was racist. Kushner first answered no, his whole life he's lived a long life and he was never racist. Jonathan someone pushed him. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SWAN: Have you ever seen him say or do anything that you would describe as racist or bigoted?

KUSHNER: So, the answer is, no, absolutely not.


SWAN: Was birtherism racist?

KUSHNER: Look, I wasn't really involved in that.

SWAN: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I -- I wasn't involved in that.

SWAN: I know you weren't.

KUSHNER: Uh-huh.

SWAN: Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Look, I know who the president is and I have not seen anything in him that is racist. So, again, I was not involved in that.

SWAN: Did you wish he didn't do that?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago.


TOOBIN: It was like I don't know it was 2015, who can remember 2015, '16? It's ancient history. Who a disgrace?

You know the answer is, yes, Donald Trump made his political career on a racist claim about the first African-American president of the United States and when the history books are written about Donald Trump, everybody will focus on that.

BERMAN: And the gymnastics, the verbal and logical gymnastics he was doing there to separate himself from birther-ism which is particularly interesting.

WARD: Right.

BERMAN: And you write about there in your book. You examined the Charlottesville episode and how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump try to publicly distance themselves from that.

WARD: Right, but it's just PR. It's messaging and it's not real. What I say in the book is that actually when Gary Cohn who was so upset what Donald Trump said about Charlottesville, there being very fine people on both side, Gary Cohn went to author his resignation, he didn't change his mind. But Jared Kushner listened to him in silence. Ivanka Trump actually

refuted what her father had said, no, no, my father never said that. And again with the Muslim travel ban, Jared Kushner supported the travel ban until it was bad PR for himself and his wife. There was a meme of them in black tie over the internet while there were crowds of people stranded over airports during that time.

It was only when the pr went bad that Jared Kushner sort of publicly stuck his hand up. So I don't think he agrees with the president at all.

BERMAN: So, David, you run communications in the White House before. Would you advise Jared Kushner to give more interviews like that?

GERGEN: Well, I must say I was pleased he did reach beyond Fox to sit down with "Axios". But after that I thought, why did he do that? This interview did not help him or the White House.

If you are in the White House in his defense on the birther thing, if he wanted to stay in the inner circle around Donald Trump, if he had said, yes, that was racist, he would have been right historically, he would have been out of the inner circle. So, that's just the way it is around this president.

But the other thing about this interview, which startled me, he said one of the main legacies we're going to leave is we demonstrated how we could bring in people who ordinarily don't work in government and how wonderfully they would perform. Most of the world thinks this is a group of incompetents, the president, himself, recently said his first secretary of state was as dumb as a rock.


BERMAN: David Gergen, Jeffrey Toobin, Vicky Ward, much more to discuss on this over the next two days. Thanks, for being with us.

Next, President Trump's day in London. How it went and how the rest of the trip may go after dinner at Buckingham Palace. Buckingham. I get in trouble for saying the H.

Later, Joe Biden's cane choice to keep his appearances rare. What his Democratic opponents are trying to say as they try to take him down a peg? That's next. Until the minute I said it.


BERMAN: President Trumps visit to the U.K. has already been a rollercoaster ride, with the president insulting London's mayor, calling him a stone cold loser and calling Meghan Markle nasty.

[20:15:03] And he's already has injected himself into British parliamentary and Brexit politics.

However, he also broke bread with the queen and said kind word as did she about the U.S.-British relationship ahead of this week's 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. For a moment at least at the state dinner, all the controversy seemed a bit more distant. The fact that it was in Buckingham Palace and the president avoided protests by choppering there may have helped as well. In any case, the visit gets more delicate from here on out.

Perspective now on all of it from CNN chief international anchor and host of "AMANPOUR", Christiane Amanpour.

So, Christiane, what do you make of how today went?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: To be honest with you, the day has gone so well for President Trump and for his host here that there seems to be absolutely no outward semblance of any discomfort or anything other than a really warm and highly well- received in terms of who he met and the royal family visit so far.

BERMAN: Yes, talk to me more about that, because this was a decidedly different day he'll have for the rest of the week. But inside the confines of the day, which was the royal reception, the state visit part of it -- why do you think it went so well?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, the last thing that happened, the last public event of the day was the state banquet at Buckingham Palace. The pictures in there were just stunning. They were superb. It's the kind of environment that the president we have learned to know enjoys. It was the kind of reception that he enjoys.

And speaking to the queen, he just looked incredibly comfortable and the queen looked comfortable and, you know, Prince Charles, his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, and you saw Melania Trump, the first lady, everybody seemed to be just having a fairly good time.

And the speeches were remarkably well-placed. The queen welcomed the president really using this moment, which is the 75th anniversary of the joint operation which was D-Day to rid Europe of the Nazi menace, and that is very important and that is very, very much front and center. So, the queen highly you know highly was attuned to that. They're all going to see each other again on the beaches of Normandy and the president gave a very, very good speech in response.

BERMAN: The flip side of this reception is the president's spat with the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who you've had some fascinating discussion with. He wrote a scathing op-ed that was published right as the president boarded his flight, saying it was, quote, un-British to roll out the red carpet for Donald Trump. This set off the president works tweeted his ire towards the mayor right as he was landing.

This tension has been drawing for some time, hasn't it?

AMANPOUR: You know, John, yes it has. For whatever reason, the president has taken an instant dislike to the mayor. He's the first Muslim mayor of London. He's a Labour Party mayor. Not the government party and, you know, Sadiq Khan, you know, fired back.

I think it was mostly based from Sadiq Khan in the beginning to a great exception with the president's Muslim ban. That really ticked off a lot of the world. That spat has been going on for a long time, so really nothing new, the spat.

And again, these verbal fisticuffs over Twitter were dispensed with. Once the president landed, there has been no more of that.

BERMAN: Just to finish up on the royal visit, because there will be those in the United States who may not follow the royals so closely who will ask, given the attention from Donald Trump and some government officials in the U.K., given his insertion of himself into the whole Brexit debate, why then would the queen bend over backwards to provide such a glorious ceremony like this?

AMANPOUR: Well, because she is the queen of England and that is what she does. And she also I might add and you can see it, both in Donald Trump's demeanor, in Melania Trump's demeanor, in fact, in the demeanor of everybody who is ever in her presence that she has a remarkable effect on people and that there is an immediate calming effect. There is an immediate aura of respect everybody has for her.

Look at Donald Trump greeting her. The queen, saying you know all the right things. Donald Trump sort of in a half bow toward her. He respects her.

You know, this is not the first time they've met in close contact like this. Frankly, he came over this time last year. It was called a working visit, but he got a lot of pomp and circumstance.

And the queen, look, she has seen her share of let's say controversial world leaders. She has been on the throne for more than 60 years and she hasn't become who she is by any, inserting any personal feelings into this, other than the feeling of welcome and knowing that America is a very, very, very close ally.

BERMAN: All right. Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much. Tomorrow will be fascinating. Appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: It will.

[20:20:00] BERMAN: All right. A lot more ahead on one aspect of the run-up to his visit. What he said about Meghan Markle on tape, which he's now trying to say he never said. If you are not sure who to believe him or your lying ears, stay tuned. We're keeping them honest in talking to a senior member of the Trump 2020 campaign.


BERMAN: President Trump toasted Queen Elizabeth tonight and we know it because we heard and saw it. In fact, there it is right there. He also called the duchess of Sussex nasty. He's trying to claim he didn't, even though we heard that, too.

Keeping them honest, it's a funny thing about eyes and ears. The president has the same set we all have, except his seems to think ours work differently, that somehow they will see and hear only what he wants the way he wants it, which in fairness is a trait that all presidents, perhaps even all politicians, have a little of. The difference is most politicians, in fact, most people draw the line at trying to make others unhear or unsee what is right in front of them. This president on the other hand does not.

And that's important not because presidents don't sometimes feel the need to shave the truth or on rare occasions even lie, as a great philosopher Otter of "Delta House" once put it, they do.

[20:25:08] It's just that until this president, none has so fragrantly, deliberately and repeatedly lie when the truth is so plain to see even by gaslight.

So, keeping them honest. Here's a portion of what he told the U.K.'s "Sun" newspaper.


REPORTER: She said she'd move to Canada if you got elected. It turned out she moved to Britain.

TRIUMP: Well, that's be good. There are a lot of people moving here. So what can I say? No, I didn't know that she was nasty.


BERMAN: OK. Got that, nasty?

And then the president said this when asked whether it's good having an American princess?


TRUMP: I think it's nice. I think it's nice. I'm sure she'll do excellently. She'll be very good. She'll be very good. I hope she does.


BERMAN: There it is, both the good and the nasty. And you could have a debate if you would like about how he meant nasty or whether the word referred to her or what she said, and he simply left that part unspoken or implied.

However, nasty is a word he does like to use for women -- Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris to name a couple.

As for this time, it's not our place to tell him how to hand testimony blowback. We can, however, say, it's never a good idea to deny saying something when you are on tape saying that very something, you are denying you said, which is exactly what the president did.

He tweeted: I never called Meghan Markle nasty. Made up by the fake news media. They got caught cold. Will CNN and "New York Times" and others apologize? Doubt it.

Again, keeping them honest, you just heard what he said, both good and bad. But not only can't he admit it. He is essentially telling all of us not to believe our ears, which isn't exactly surprising.


TRUMP: And just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what's happening.


BERMAN: And in case you are wondering if gaslighting is also a team sport, I give you Rudy Giuliani talking about whether his client, the president, should talk to Robert Mueller.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: When you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he should worry, well, that's so silly it's somebody's version of the truth. Not the truth. He didn't have a conversation.

INTERVIEWER: Truth is truth.

GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.


BERMAN: Actually it is, which means whatever you think of what the president said, the truth is, he said it.

Joining us now is Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Trump 2020 campaign.

Kayleigh, great to speak to you as always.

Can we just stipulate? Can we reach agreement the word no, I didn't know she was nasty, you could agree those words were spoken out loud?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER SPOKESMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, you're taking the president's tweet out of context. He said, the president said I never called her nasty, with I he did not do. He never said I never used the word nasty. He used the word nasty in relation to her comments.

And I find it interesting when you played the portion of his sound byte, you left out the first part, John, where he was asked repeatedly, what do you think of her comments? He said back, I don't know about her comments. I've never heard these comments. Then he said in response to that, I didn't know she was nasty, which we all know is a colloquial phrase when someone says something bad.

So, it's just taken out of context by the media once again.

BERMAN: So, you are arguing, an argument over what nasty was modifying when he was saying I didn't know she was nasty. You are saying he was saying the comments were nasty but not Meghan Markle. That's the distinction here?

MCENANY: That's exactly the distinction. When you listen to the whole sound byte, me goes on to say it's very nice to have an American princess, she'll be excellent.

BERMAN: We played that.

MCENANY: You did play that.

In the context of the sound byte, he was saying her words were nasty, her comments were nasty, not her personally, and I hardly think if the royal family thought that he was calling one of their family members nasty, they would agree with all smiles and the pomp and circumstance that he did --


BERMAN: There was a lot of pomp and circumstance. One thing I know from all the royal experts we speak with is that the royal family would do anything not to create any controversy or foster any controversy and they wouldn't have reacted no matter what the president said.

But, Kayleigh, just to be clear, he said I didn't know that she was nasty. When the president comes out and says, I never called Meghan Markle nasty, it just seems to me a distinction without a difference here. He said it. He said that she was nasty in her comments or in something that she did.

So, why go on Twitter and just deny it out of hand? Why not say this is what I meant or if you didn't get it when I said it the first time, this is what I meant, because clearly, the words are out there for everyone to hear.

MCENANY: Because when you turn on the TV screen of several major networks and you see a chyron that he has called someone's character, personhood and individual nasty which he did not do and in many cases you are good to play the second portion of that, John, where he praises her that not every show has done that.

I've been watching all day. The President wasn't lying here. It simply being taken out of context and this is what the media does, which is why the campaign posted the entirety of the audio, but perhaps we need to post it again on Twitter so the viewers and the media understands exactly what he was saying.

BERMAN: I didn't know that she was nasty seems pretty clear to me. Again, what nasty is modifying seems to me to be a distinction without a difference, and especially when you do remember that nasty is a word that President has used. You've heard him use that word before to talk about women, correct?

MCENANY: Look, it's again, hugely different, calling someone nasty and calling someone's comments nasty. But I really think we're missing the forest for the trees here when we're about to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day when 150,000 heroes stormed the beaches and saved the country to save democracy, to save the world --

BERMAN: Yes. But, Kayleigh, just to be fair --

MCENANY: -- and were caught up here about what nasty modified and it's been strive (ph) media controversy.

BERMAN: -- we've been talking a great deal about the President's trip and we just did a whole segment discussing how warmly he was received and we'll be talking about D-Day before. And the argument here isn't about why he called Meghan Markle nasty or used the word nasty, it's his denial that he ever said it, right? And you agree that those words were said?

MCENANY: He never denied he said the word. He never denied he said the word. But again here, here we are all day all I've seen is the nasty comment and the dispute with the mayor. Nothing about D-Day, nothing about the reason the President is there and this is what the media does. Anything for a negative story about President Trump, that's name of the game, the Harvard study of President's first 100 days found historic negative coverage. Don't take it from me, take it from Harvard.

BERMAN: Kayleigh McEnany, again, I will refer you to the previous segment of our show when we just talked extensively about the President's warm reception at Buckingham Palace. And I invite you to watch it over the next few days when we cover his meeting with the British government and his visit to Normandy for D-Day. Kayleigh McEnany, thanks very much for being with us. We look forward to speaking to you again.

MCENANY: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Up next, with no Fox News in the U.K., President Trump is taking aim at a familiar foe of his. He is attacking us, CNN, and he's calling on our parent company, AT&T, to take some questionable actions.


[20:36:15] BERMAN: President Trump is taking his long standing beef with us, CNN, to a new level by complaining in not one tweet but two while in London this morning on his state visit. The President suggested that CNN is the primary source of information about the U.S. for Britain and wanted to know why our new parents company, AT&T, didn't do something about our coverage?

Then about 13 minutes later, he posted another tweet, "I believe that if people stopped, we think he meant stopped, using our subscribing to AT&T, they would be forced to make big changes at CNN." Now, attacking CNN is nothing new. But using the power of the presidency suggest a U.S. company is punished is certainly questionable territory.

Back with me now, Jeffrey Toobin and David Gergen. You know, Jeffrey, AT&T has got about 200,000 employees. The President of the United States is calling on Americans to boycott a big American company here because he doesn't like coverage.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I -- when I heard that -- saw that tweet, I thought of what Attorney General Barr said last week where he said to CBS, you know, it's not the President who's violated norms, it's the President's critics.

If this tweet isn't a fundamental violation of every norm that presidents have operated by, which is you don't use the power of the presidency to punish individual companies in anything like this, particularly in relating to the press, it's just an example of how this President acts in a way that no president in modern American history has acted. It's just completely outrageous and wrong.

BERMAN: And he's calling for punishment for a U.S. company by the American people, David. That seems unprecedented.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I must say, you know, Nixon one of the (INAUDIBLE) television licenses of "The Washington Post" because of their coverage and, you know, it was a real vendetta against Katie Graham and Ben Bradlee and the like. So I don't think it's totally unprecedented.

What I do think is that this President says he's a conservative. It is fundamental to conservatives that the government not interfere, that Washington not reach in and try to direct individual companies. That's an interference with the free markets and free markets are fundamental to conservative thought.

BERMAN: You know, I appreciate the correction, David Gergen.

TOOBIN: Dave gave definite correction to me. He's totally right and I'm wrong.

BERMAN: But --

TOOBIN: It's not exactly a noble president.

BERMAN: Exactly, exactly.

TOOBIN: Right, yes.

GERGEN: I agree with that, John.

BERMAN: In comparison. If the comparison is the Nixon administration and what they did during Watergate, that also tells you something, doesn't it, David?

GERGEN: It does. It does. And there's an interesting side bar here. I'd love to hear Jeffrey comment on it that, you know, when AT&T sued and to try to block -- I'm sorry, when the Justice Department sued and try to block the AT&T taking over Time Warner and that was going to trial, Bill Barr was actually on the board of directors from Time Warner.

And he filed an affidavit related to that trial saying he thought that the lawsuit brought by the Justice Department was politically motivated. Isn't that interesting, a different of the Justice Department from a different time.

TOOBIN: It is. And do you remember during the campaign, candidate Trump said he wanted that takeover not to take place. He wanted AT&T not to be allowed. Now, the judge in the case didn't allow the political evidence. He didn't get into that issue. He allowed the merger on other grounds, but you're certainly right that there is a certain rich irony in Barr's switching sides at least in this situation.

BERMAN: It does kind of reveal, but maybe there was in fact some politics involved there after the fact. David, just reiterate your point about conservative values here, maybe it's because I'm reading George Will's new book.

[20:40:03] But this is the antithesis of conservative values to pinpoint an American company and try to hurt them.

GERGEN: Absolutely. You know, conservatives had for long belief the hallmark of the conservative belief in free peoples and free markets. And free markets means the government keeps its hand off, unless somebody goes clearly over the line, but you don't try to manage individual companies from afar, especially for political purposes.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, David Gergen, thank you very much for being with me tonight. I appreciate it.

TOOBIN: While we're still on the air.

BERMAN: Exactly. All right, still ahead, Democrats running for president take swipes at the frontrunner, Joe Biden, next.


BERMAN: While former Vice President Joe Biden focuses his attacks on President Trump, much of the rest of the Democratic field now focusing theirs on Joe Biden. They did it at the California Democratic Convention, which the frontrunner did not attend.


[20:45:07] SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As you all know, there is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be in this room.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This President really could win again. He wins if we look like Washington. And so the riskiest thing you could do is try too hard to play it safe.


BERMAN: Joining me now, Democratic Strategist Paul Begala and former 20167 Bernie Sanders campaign organizer Alexandra Rojas, both are CNN Political Commentators.

So, Paul, this was a shift. All of a sudden, the other candidates, at least a few of them, are talking fairly directly, very thinly veiled about Joe Biden. Why?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because they're trying to differentiate themselves with the frontrunner. I mean, it's a -- the old saying in NASCAR, rubbing is racing. I mean, this is just the beginning of that. I have no problem with that, whatsoever.

And I think we saw certainly the most epic clash, maybe in my adult life time between Hillary and Barack can produced a stronger nominee. So I have a very high degree of acceptance for going at it.

I would caution, though, that Iowa Democratic Caucus attendees are not like me, they're lovely people. They're not hateful, bitter, awful people who love attacks. They're getting real careful not to upset people in Iowa who do not like negative campaign. I don't think anybody cross the line yet, but they got to be careful about that.

BERMAN: So, Alexandra, do you think we'll hear more of this and do you think it's a smart move?

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think we're going to hear plenty more of this. We haven't even entered the first debate yet and we're, I think, nine months away from the first election. So I think this is just the first to come and I think nobody mentioned him directly by name. So like you said, it was thinly, thinly veiled.

But I think we saw some candidates get an applause, right, and some candidates get booing, particularly with Hickenlooper and Delaney. It wasn't, you know, necessarily just them, it was about their approach to politics and the policy positions that they were espousing, which align very, very closely to Joe Biden.

And you also probably will notice that Joe Biden, you know, did not go into the California, didn't attend the California conference. He also hasn't been doing very many public appearances and I think that is an intentional decision by the campaign because of moments like this, especially when the center of energy right now in the Democratic Party, especially in the grass roots base is overwhelmingly popular with progressive policy positions like Medicare for all, Green New Deal, taking no corporate pack and corporate lobbyist money and Joe Biden's public record before becoming vice president of Barack -- for Barack Obama is very contradictory to that.

BERMAN: Paul, Alexandra brings up a good point, which is that Joe Biden did skip this event. He skipped other cattle call type events and he's three weeks before the first big Democratic debate where he'll be side-by-side with other candidates and will have to move with them in a fast moving night. Do you think that he needs to get better prepared? Is he missing the chance to get himself ready for those debates where the stakes will be so high?

BEGALA: The honest answer is I don't know. I don't have a problem with him, either attending or not attending that California Democratic convention, you know, but our viewers should know. First time in my life, I'm an undecided voter. I have no idea who I'm for, so I'm just going to really give you my honest analysis as a Democrat. I do think perhaps the vice president has figured something out that many of his competitors have not and that is actually the Democratic Party, the Democratic primary electorate is far more moderate than I think they believe or certainly than the press believes.

You know, 53 percent of Democrats said in a Pew poll, they want their party to be more moderate. By the way in that same poll, 58 percent of Republican said they want to be more conservative, which is kind of hard to imagine, I would say, you want to bring back the fetal system or something. So there's a huge pool of moderate.

They're progressive, OK. They just disagree slightly on the timing of when we get to Medicare for all, for example. But they're going to find, I think, that there's too many candidates chasing the white liberals and too few chasing the more moderate people of color. And if I were advising any of them, that's what I would tell.

BERMAN: Alexandra, what do you make of that? Do you think Joe Biden does occupy a certain space in this campaign that others will have a hard time breaking into?

ROJAS: Well, I think we have to take a hard look in the mirror of what got us to this moment, I think. And when you look back at 2016, which I would argue that Joe Biden is running a very similar campaign and it's a very similar candidate in a lot of ways at least on the record for Hillary Clinton there.

[20:50:01] a lot of the people that we needed to turn out did not turn out for us, right, and that's young people, that's working class people of all background and that's largely people of color.

So I think moderation -- electability isn't just about moderation or this sort of centrist point of view, it's more about motivation. And what we are seeing right now just like we saw in 2012, just like we saw in 2008 when Barack Obama ran on a slogan of, yes we can, right, big ideas, grass roots populist ideas in running a campaign base on that is what's going to excite the sort of voters that we need to be able to turn out that sat at home largely in 2016.

BERMAN: Alexandra Rojas, Paul Begala, thanks very much for your time.

BEGALA: Thanks, John.

ROJAS: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour, sir.

CHRIST CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not doing anything about this, but why go to a cattle call when you're doubling up your closest opponent. That's why Biden is not going, he had some scheduled committed, but why? Why let people get a shot at you? Why put them on equal footing until they're grounded (ph)?

BERMAN: Practice, practice. CUOMO: Yes, it's just what he needs. If there's one thing he doesn't need, its practice. Less is going to be more for him in this campaign. So what we're going to look at is this.

J.B., I begged Eric Holder to come on the show, the attorney general under Obama, because he says to me, you know, you guys talk about protecting democracy all the time. You never talk about what would matter most to really even in the playing field that making sure that these elections were fair. You never talk about it. I was like, what is it?

He's going to come tonight. He's got a pledge for all the candidate. He's going to talk about he says is most important and he'll go all through the Barr stuff as well.

BERMAN: Excellent. We look forward to it. Chris Cuomo, thank you very much. See you in a few minutes.

Up next, President Trump's pick to run the FAA is under scrutiny. The Republican chair of a Senate committee-- a Republican chair wants more information on a whistleblower case from Steve Dickson's time as Delta Air Lines executive, something the nominee didn't put on his disclosure forms. The CNN investigation in a moment.


[20:55:33] BERMAN: First on CNN big questions tonight for President Trump's pick to run the FAA about alleged retaliation against a whistleblower during his time as a Delta Air Lines executive. Now, the Republican chair of the Senate Commerce and Transportation Committee wants more information and could potentially delay the nominee's confirmation vote.

CNN Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin has the details.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His resume makes him an ideal candidate to run the FAA, a former fighter pilot, nearly 30 years at Delta. In his recent confirmation hearing, senators had little more than high praise for Captain Steve Dickson.

CAPT. STEVEN DICKSON, FAA ADMINISTRATOR NOMINEE: It's an honor to appear before you today.

GRIFFIN: Dickson answered questions none difficult and committed himself to expanding aviation safety.

DICKSON: I will never abdicate my responsibility and my devotion to safety.

GRIFFIN: But that is exactly what Captain Steve Dickson is accused of in a legal case that he did not report in his disclosure forms to the U.S. Senate. The case, Karlene Petitt versus Delta, the allegation denied by the airline that a female Delta pilot was retaliated against, accused of being mentally unstable after reporting alleged safety violations to Delta's senior vice president of flight operations, Captain Dickson.

(on camera) You think there is a clear link between her reporting a safety issue and being declared by Delta mentally incompetent.

LEE SEHAM, ATTORNEY FOR DELTA PILOT: There is no doubt in my mind that there's a link.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In 2016, Karlene Petitt was concerned about safety at Delta. She called for a meeting and delivered a more than 40-page report to Dickson and his second in command. She said the pilot qualification test wasn't being taken seriously, that pilots were afraid to admit they were fatigued, and that a pilot's travel time to assignment was not being properly added to calculate at hourly limit for flying.

SEHAM: And she wanted these safety issues addressed before some calamity occurred.

GRIFFIN: That is Attorney Lee Seham said. Instead, during another meeting with a supervisor, Petitt became frustrated and her eyes filled with tears. What happened next was shocking.

SEHAM: All she knew was seven weeks after I reported these very serious safety issues without explanation I'm being sent to a psychiatrist.

GRIFFIN: That psychiatrist declared Petitt bipolar. She was grounded. And in his deposition taken just last year, Steve Dickson said he had ultimate authority over that decision and agreed with his staff's recommendation to refer Petitt for a mental evaluation. It was a sound course of action. In the end, that diagnosis was completely wrong.

SEHAM: Ultimately, two teams of psychiatrists clear Ms. Petitt and said she's fine. She's perfectly fine. She should be back in the cockpit, which is where she is today.

GRIFFIN: A year and a half after being grounded, Petitt is back flying at 777 for Delta and she's suing the company for damages.

SEHAM: This was all a terrible mistake, but it was a terrible mistake that went on for a year and a half because of the lack of diligence that Captain Dickson accepted.

GRIFFIN: Delta did order a safety audit after hearing Petitt's concerns and the FAA validated her complaint dealing with pilot scheduling which Delta says it had already addressed, but this is all news to the Senate Transportation Committee who knew none of this was going on when Dickson testified.

On his Senate questionnaire for nomination, Dickson didn't mention the case, but did write that Delta was involved in various judicial, administrative or regulatory proceedings relating to its business although I was not a named party in any such actions. Now, CNN has learned committee staffers are asking for more information, more records. One Democratic committee staffer saying the omission is troubling.


BERMAN: Drew Griffin joins me now. Drew, how serious is this? Is this going to hold up his confirmation?

GRIFFIN: Well, it very well could. We know that the Republican chairman of that Senate committee is asking for more information from the White House and the Department of Transportation and we also know that Steve Dickson is cooperating. We're just going to have to wait and see whether or not his answers and the information they get is going to be enough to get him over this hurdle.

BERMAN: And obviously the White House has been criticized in the past for not fully vetting the President's nominees. Is there any response in the administration on why they may have missed this?

GRIFFIN: No, we have been seeking a response from the White House since Friday. We have yet to get any kind of substantial response other than they're trying to get us a response, so the answer is no.

BERMAN: All right. Drew Griffin, thanks as always.


BERMAN: The news continues. I will hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?