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Strengthening Hurricane Dorian a Threat to Florida; Sources: President Trump Offered Pardons for Laws Broken to Build Border Fence By Election Day; Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) is Interviewed About DHS Moving Funds from FEMA for Immigration Enforcement. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:21] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: It is a hurricane tonight, and it's expected to be a major hurricane when it hits the U.S. mainland.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

And yes, President Trump has indeed tweeted something insensitive and obnoxious about the Americans in Puerto Rico now being sideswiped by Hurricane Dorian. More on that shortly.

First, just seconds ago, we got an update from the National Hurricane Center which means brand-new and troubling details about just how big the storm is, how big it will get, and just where it's headed.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joining us now.

Allison, I understand the headline is getting stronger.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And you can see that when you look at the satellite images and read the numbers. The most significant thing is it had a big drop in pressure, going from 997 down to 990. This may not sound like that important, but that's a big drop for a tropical system in a short period of time.

Winds are still sustained at 80 miles per hour, gusting up to 100 miles per hour, but the key is it's now moving entirely over open water. That is fuel for a storm like this, which is why we're seeing it intensify. Also, now, we're beginning see that eye wall begin to take shape. That is also another indication that the storm is strengthening.

Here is the thing that you don't often necessarily see at night, it needs the sun. It needs the heat of the day to help intensify. So, there's going to be a lot of information that comes out of this once we wake up tomorrow morning and really see what the storm has done overnight tonight.

There is a NOAA hurricane hunter flight in there now taking all these new measurements. Again, they did pick up a measurement of about 83 miles per hour. More significantly, we talked about the storm intensifying.

Here is a look where the track is expected to take. In the short term, it's going to be out over open water, not necessarily hitting land, but that's a good thing in terms of the storm because it allows it to intensify. There is nothing to really weaken the storm in the short term.

Long term, the question where does it go from here? It's going to start to curve back towards the state of Florida and in fact, just about owns the entire state of Florida is in the cone of where a potential landfall point could be and perhaps making landfall as high as a category three storm.

The question is, why Florida? Because by all normal circumstances, these storms always want to veer north. Always. Under normal atmosphere conditions.

But that's not the case here. Normally, this storm would start to curve back tornados the Carolinas and Virginia. But this high pressure system right here is what is effectively steering it and pushing west towards Florida.

All of the models right now end up making a landfall somewhere over Florida. The American models tend to favor more of a north Florida landfall, Jacksonville down to the space coast. Whereas the European models favor more of a landfall point south of Orlando. This is really what we'll have to keep a close eye on over the next couple days.

But one other thing, John, they could have been having two landfalls because the storm may end up going back out over the Gulf of Mexico and curving back around making a second landfall sometime next week.

BERMAN: And when will the first landfall be or could it be on Florida?

CHINCHAR: Right, so right now, the timeline looks to be Sunday night into early Monday morning. Whether it goes further north, that would be delayed versus the south Florida landfall earlier end of that timeline.

BERMAN: And all of this has to do with this warm open water and now nothing in its way, correct?

CHINCHAR: Yes, even the Bahamas for the most part is different than say Puerto Rico. They don't have the elevation that those other countries do. You need that elevation to break these storms apart but because the Bahamas is a relatively flat country, there really isn't much in the way for this to break apart the storm.

And the temperatures, John, hovering in the mid-80s -- that is perfect fuel for a storm like this.

BERMAN: And, of course, the Gulf of Mexico warm, also. Two potential dangerous landfalls in the mainland U.S.

Allison Chinchar, please keep us posted throughout the night.

All right. We're going to speak shortly with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee about administration efforts to redirect disaster relief money as this hurricane is hitting toward enforcement efforts on the southern border. Right now, though, something else shows how far the president might be willing to go to get his border wall, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for, then tariffs war, now we are.

But this is yet another twist. It's potentially unlawful and possibly impeachable. Or maybe as the White House says, it's all just a joke. In other words, when the president did what we're about to tell you about, which, by the way, no one is directly denying, some aides suggest he was only kidding, kind of like individual one walks into a bar, that sort of thing apparently.

[20:05:02] So, here is what the president did. Two officials tell CNN he is so desperate to build a border wall by election day, he recently told aides he would pardon them for any laws they break to get it done. "The Washington Post" broke the story and we'll hear a moment from one of the correspondents who did the reporting.

First, this White House claim that it's all just a joke that we don't get, all said with a wink and a smile like this one, calling Democrats traitors for not applauding at his State of the Union Address last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much.


BERMAN: His press secretary at the time said the president was clearly joking. Her assistant called it tongue and cheek. Other defenders called it sarcasm, which the president has also invoked after remarks such as this one.


TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.


BERMAN: The president in his written answers to Robert Mueller said, quote, I made the statement quoted and questioned ingest and sarcastically. One problem, the Russians didn't take it that way. They started hacking within hours, unless, of course, the president was being sarcastic when he said he was only being sarcastic.

There are many examples, too. What they share is that none in any way actually resembles a joke, not in form and especially not in content.

Well, they also share is the teller's demonstrated dishonesty, which his press secretary seldom seen, Stephanie Grisham, today flat-out denied, telling "The Washington Post" quote: I don't think they are lies. I think the president communicates in a way some people, especially the media aren't necessarily comfortable with. A lot of times they take him so literally. I know people will roll their eyes if I say he was just kidding or speaking hypotheticals but sometimes he is.

The question now, seriously, was she joking when she said the president doesn't lie?

Perspective now from "The Washington Post's" Nick Miroff, who shares a byline with Josh Dawsey on this pardon story.

So, Nick, based on your reporting, what did the president actually say about pardoning officials?

NICK MIROFF, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: So the president said to aides who were worried about both the pace of the contracting process, the procurement process, the environmental concerns as well as the imminent domain issues involved with taking large amounts of private land along the border when they express those worries, the president said don't worry, I'll pardon you.

And this was, you know -- and we were told this by people who were in those meetings with the president at the time.

BERMAN: And did they take it as a joke?

MIROFF: They did not take it as a joke. In fact, the president has said this repeatedly to his aides and to visitors at the White House who were working on this project and there have been moments when, for example, his former chief of staff, General John F. Kelly, had to later reassure some of those aides that the president didn't really mean it and not to follow his instructions.

BERMAN: And just to be clear, what exactly is he pushing these aides to do before the election when it comes to the wall?

MIROFF: So the president is under extraordinary pressure to deliver on his 2016 campaign promise to build a wall along the border. So far, the Army Corps of Engineer has built 60 miles, all of it replacing fencing in areas where that fencing was older or dilapidated. But the president promised a border would and feels like he has to deliver.

He has told his supporters that he's going to build 500 miles by next year's presidential election. And Homeland Security officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have said they are on track to build 450 miles and so the president wants them to hurry up. He wants to be able to point to this as an establishment and he's hungry to take it as -- to be able to claim it as an achievement.

BERMAN: And as you've reported, his staff wants pictures of it to prove that it's going on.

You're also reporting about comments the president made to lawmakers about how effective of a deterrent a wall would actually be. What can you tell us about that? MIROFF: That's right. I mean, the president acknowledged in meetings with lawmakers that he realizes a wall along the border, or a large fence, which is what it really is, will not make as large a difference in deterring illegal immigration as other measures, including the kinds of legal and administrative authorities that he's been seeking to be able to deport more people faster, that type of thing.

[20:10:01] BERMAN: Again, yes, the wall doesn't do anything about the asylum issue and that's really the big problem right now. People are presenting themselves. A wall doesn't stop people from surrendering at the border which is what is happening.

And just to be clear, you made this point a moment ago. The president tweeted this afternoon, quote, the wall is going up very fast despite total obstruction by Democrats in Congress and elsewhere.

If you're talking about new miles of wall where wall has not been, that's factually untrue, correct?

MIROFF: That's right. So, so far, the administration hasn't completed a single mile of fencing or barrier in a place where none existed before. They have completed 60 miles of replacement barriers and their plan is to install about 110 miles of barriers in places where there is currently no fencing whatsoever.

I also want to point out that the president has been changing his mind about some of the design requirements he's passing along to Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers and in May, he directed those agencies to paint the wall black. The wall is to be painted black and he also wants it to be spiked on top with sharp points, which he thinks will be more of a deterrent to people who might consider trying to climb it.

BERMAN: And he has reasons for that, his own theories, but the fact of the matter is by making those changes or additions, it adds extra cost, which would reduce the total number of mileage.

MIROFF: That's correct. So, the cost of painting for example 175 miles of barriers is going to be as much as $133 million, according to the government's own calculations and that is going to reduce the amount of fencing that they will ultimately be able to build.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Miroff, terrific reporting. Thanks for being with us tonight.

MIROFF: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: More perspective from two people familiar with the president's thinking and the way he works. David Lapan served as DHS spokesman under President Trump and former White House attorney James Schultz, who is currently a CNN legal commentator.

David, I want to start with you. You worked for this administration and this president. Would it surprise you if the president did in fact offer to pardon people who broke the wall -- broke the law, I should say, in order to get his wall built? DAVID LAPAN, FORMER DHS SPOKESPERSON, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: No, it

wouldn't surprise me. And again, I think the issue here is all the confusion after the fact. You know, the question is, was the president joking about pardoning people? Was he joking about breaking the law? Was he joking about building 500 miles of fence before the next election?

I mean, there are all these elements that have gone unaddressed.

BERMAN: Well, what does it matter if the people who are in the room didn't take it as a joke, took it literally and took it as an order?

LAPAN: Now, that's a great point because again, for all of us, words matter. For the president of the United States, it's even more important. So there should never be any doubt of any of the people who work for or support the president about exactly what his intent is. He should be clear.

And if there is doubt in their mind about whether he's joking, whether he's serious, that's going to cause confusion and people are going to get out of line and do things that they weren't supposed to be doing.

BERMAN: And I will note, if he was joking and there is no evidence in fact he was based on the reporting coming out of that, it would be hard for those people who took him literally to find that out after he broke the law. That would be a heck of a time finding out he was kidding, wouldn't it?

LAPAN: Oh, absolutely. And again, I would be hard pressed to go ahead and knowingly break the law with this idea that there might be a pardon for me, what kind of guarantee is there that will happen? If I break the law, I'm held accountable for breaking the law, not the president.

BERMAN: Jim, how do you see this? To be clear, this isn't the first time that the president has reportedly suggested pardoning people who break the law to get things done that he wants to get done.

JAMES SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't think there is any question that the president said that in the meeting but the context of it is just -- we don't know how it was said and we don't know how it was taken. A lot of this is somewhat speculative.

But one thing he wasn't kidding about is the fact that he wants to see a border fence built and he wants to see it built in a fast and efficient manner. And, look, he has a right to be frustrated with bureaucracy getting in the way of construction of that fence. I've worked in government for a lot of years off and on. I've seen what bureaucracy does to construction projects.

In Pennsylvania when I was general counsel, we had a -- to just get bridges built, we had to do a rapid bridge replacement program to get through the permitting process in the construction and procurement process. That's not unheard of in government that you're going to want to get through those processes quicker to get something accomplished. [20:15:00] No one is going to argue that government tends to slow

things down --


SCHULTZ: -- as it relates to construction projects when compared to the private sector.

BERMAN: Bureaucracy is a pain in the neck, Jim. There's no question about that.

But were you serving in the White House counsel's office as you did and someone came to you and said, hey, Jim, the president just told me to break the law, what should I do? Would what would you say?

SCHULTZ: First off, nobody came to me and said that when I was in the White House.

BERMAN: I'm saying now, there are people in the meeting --


SCHULTZ: You're giving me a hypothetical that just wouldn't happen. There's no one in that meeting that took that as an order to break the law.

BERMAN: But, Jim --


SCHULTZ: But no one in their right mind is going to walk out of there and think the White House Counsel's Office and the Department of Justice --

BERMAN: The report --


SCHULTZ: -- is process to give a pardon to these folks who are breaking the law.

BERMAN: -- "The Washington Post", CNN and "New York Times" all say --

SCHULTZ: No one is taking that seriously --

BERMAN: There are three reputable news organizations all now reporting in this meeting the president said, if you have to break the law to get this done, I will pardon you. So, frankly, everyone is saying it happened right now. The distinction is --

SCHULTZ: I haven't disputed that it happened.

BERMAN: There you go. Not even you are disputing it --

SCHULTZ: I think -- BERMAN: If there is someone is that took it, is there is someone in

the meeting that took it to be an offer of the pardon if you broke the law, and so, it's not a hypothetical, it happened, what would the White House Counsel's Office if you were in it say to that White House staffer or administration official?

SCHULTZ: But that's not right. Don't take it literally. That's exactly --

BERMAN: Don't do it. You would say don't do it? Don't break the law. You would say don't break the law no matter what the president says?

SCHULTZ: Of course you would say that. You know, of course you would say that do not break the law and that person that's coming to you, if they are coming to you and asking, was he really serious about that? The answer to that question in senior staff is likely to be no. That he wasn't serious about that.

But what he is serious about is breaking through the red tape in order to get this wall built.

BERMAN: I will note that likely isn't definitely in this case, but there is another issue here that's serious, as well. David, I want to put this question to you. The reporting from Nick Miroff is the president is conceding to lawmakers that while he cares about the wall, there is no question that he cares about the wall. The wall in and of itself won't stop the biggest part of the illegal immigration problem right now, which is the asylum process and asylum seekers.

That's a pretty glaring admission, given that he ran on the wall, the wall seems to be where his primary focus is, correct?

LAPAN: That's correct. And another talking point that there has been on the wall is that its effect on stopping drug trafficking into the United States, which is also not accurate. Most drugs enter the United States through ports of entry, not only across the southern border but in the airports and ports. A wall is going to do nothing to stop that.

The humanitarian crisis at the border, not just asylum seekers is women and children. Again, they are not deterred by a wall. In fact, as you noted earlier, we've seen photos of migrants coming to the border and walking up to the fence that exists there now and waiting patiently for border patrol to open the gate and let them in so they can request asylum.

BERMAN: Jim, to be sure, this isn't to say that the border officials I speak with and I know you speak with don't want the wall because most I have spoken to say a wall would be helpful.

SCHULTZ: More officials want it.

BERMAN: Exactly. However, however, at the exact same time they will tell you that they wish that is not where the focus was at this time because it would not help or affect the asylum crisis they see going on.

SCHULTZ: So, why doesn't Congress get off the coach and do something about it? That's what I have to say. The Democrats and Congress can get off the coach and do something about this now. They choose not to. They choose not to work with the president on a global approach to how to deal with the immigration crisis at the border.

Just today, they were upset that the president was diverting funds to add additional beds and additional funds as it relates to the courts and the detention centers along the border and at a time they are saying there are problems -- AOC went as far as to say that they were like concentration camps along the border. There is all of this -- you know, that the sky is falling along the border, yet when it comes to doing something, they sit on the couch.

BERMAN: You gave me a segue to our next segment, Jim, I appreciate that. The idea of diverting FEMA money as the hurricane hits to address the border.

Jim Schultz, David Lapan, thanks so much for being with us tonight.

On the issue of priorities, what about sending FEMA money to the border and what the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has to say about that?

And later, the president's former defense secretary opens verbal fire on the commander-in-chief. What Retired General James Mattis says about his old boss and leadership.


[20:24:04] BERMAN: As we mentioned at the top of the program, President Trump did not wait for the intensifying Hurricane Dorian to pass to take another shot at Puerto Rico.

He tweeted and I'm quoting here: Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on Earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Congress approved billions of dollars last time, more than any place else has ever gotten, and it is sent to crooked pols. Not good.

Last night, you heard the mayor of San Juan praised the effort federal authorities are making to help this time. But as for the president himself, she advised him to, quote, get out of the way, unquote, and let them do their jobs.

That said, as we reported last night, the administration is siphoning money out of the FEMA disaster relief fund, at least $155 million, to be used for border enforcement measures.

Joining us is Congressman Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being with us.

First of all, what does it say to you that the president couldn't resist slamming Puerto Rico just as they were bracing for a potential hit from Hurricane Dorian?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, you know, that's who Donald Trump is. He's a bully. He talks about American citizens and it's all about him. In the time Puerto Rico is being faced with another disaster, he talks about the people there who are American citizens and unfortunately, in the midst of this, he's diverting money that should go to the disaster relief effort for a manufactured crisis that he created along the border.

So for the people in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and not too long, Florida, we'll get it right. Maybe Donald Trump will come to his senses and understand that as president of the United States, he's obligated to help Americans in time of need.

BERMAN: You say that aversion of these funds could have deadly consequences. How?

THOMPSON: Well, there is no question. We're in the midst of hurricane season. We have a number of disasters on going. Who knows?

But, Mr. President, you created the disaster along the border and now you're diverting much-needed FEMA funds to this effort. More importantly, is we don't even have anybody in charge at FEMA. We have an acting director.

There are just so many other things the president could be involved in other than making light of the people in Puerto Rico and, obviously, this manufactured crisis along the border. This Remain in Mexico policy is a Trump-initiated policy that they are now admitting is not working.

So, for whatever reason, he just throws taxpayers' moneys around like it grows on trees, and so, Democrats are prepared to work with this administration if they want to. But you know, you have to sit and talk to people as if they are adults. Nobody is a child.

So, if this administration is willing to talk to Democrats, Democrats are prepared to sit and work out common solutions for our American problems.

BERMAN: You criticized the diversion of the funds from FEMA to the border and Speaker Pelosi called stunningly reckless stealing from appropriated funds she says.

But is that really the case? Don't get funds -- don't funds get transferred all the time under agencies in the same department?

THOMPSON: Well, they do. But usually, the transfer in this instance should be for extenuating circumstances.

There is no real extenuating circumstance along the border because we just gave the largest appropriated amount in the history of department for immigration and other purposes. So, what the president is trying to do is to satisfy his base that he's doing everything he can to browbeat the people on the southern border. Asylum seekers are still people who are in this seeking -- (CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: But if this money went for beds for these asylum seekers, as you note who are human beings, and I think you would also note that the numbers of people on the boarder is at a crisis level, the asylum seekers in this case, would it be OK to divert the funds to help them?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, it's a manufactured crisis. The number is coming down overall and this is kind of pits and highs and lows that we experienced.

But again, we through the Trump administration manufactured this crisis. And so, what we are prepared to do in a calm orderly fashion, work on a solution, but this knee-jerk effort that he continues to do to satisfy his base is not working.

BERMAN: Were you critical -- I just want to know --


THOMPSON: Democrats are not going to fall to this knee-jerk response.

BERMAN: I just want to note, the Obama administration did shift funding in 2014 from disaster relief to cover the ice budget in 2014. Were you supportive of that shift of funds in 2014?

THOMPSON: Well, but he shifted consistent with what the law say. As you know, this administration is a month late on the shift.

So I understand that there are things that happen, but if the guidelines say you have to do it within a certain period of time, you can't come a month later and do it and say oh, well, we just have to do it. We have regulations.

Even Donald Trump and his administration has regulations, whether they want to follow them or not.

BERMAN: Chairman Thompson, thank you for being with us tonight.

I do want to note as this storm passes over Florida, our --


[20:30:00] BENNIE THOMPSON, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY: -- Donald Trump and his administration has regulations whether they want to follow them or not.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Chairman Thompson, thank you so much for being with us tonight. And I do want to note, as the storm passes over Florida, our meteorologist just note it could head into the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi perhaps could be in the path, as well. So, good luck to you and I know that people in your state are looking for help. So thanks for with us tonight.

THOMPSON: Yes. Thank you very much, John.

BERMAN: All right. Still come, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warns of "storm clouds gathering" and a threat he believes is from within. Reaction to all of that from another ex-Pentagon insider, that's next.


BERMAN: Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is taking maybe not so veil swipes at his former boss, the commander-in-chief, President Trump. In an essay published in today's "Wall Street Journal" and adapted from his upcoming new book, "Call Signed Chaos: Learning to Lead," Mattis writes, "A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader." And he goes on to say, "When my concrete solutions and strategy advice, especially keeping faith with allies no longer resonated, it was time to resign."

[20:35:00] You may recall that General Mattis resigned from the Trump administration back in December after clashing with the President over the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan.

Joining us now for reaction of the words from James Mattis, retired Admiral John Kirby, a CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst who served as Pentagon Press Secretary in the Obama administration. Admiral, thank you so much for being with us.

I wonder how you read these words from Jim Mattis, because when I saw them, particularly these two quotes we just read, they were not so veiled comments on the President.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.) CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, I think clearly you can take away from those words that to some degree, maybe even a large degree, John, he's talking about President Trump, they're very much I think in accord with the words he used or at least the tone he took in the resignation letter that he submitted back in January, which I think was actually more direct than this op- ed.

But you also have to keep it in a larger scope. This is an excerpt from a book, a book that he's been working on since -- before he became the Secretary of Defense about leadership. And so a lot of these ideas while they certainly can be applied to Donald Trump and probably do in his mind, also apply to larger principles that Jim Mattis has developed in a lifetime of service to the nation in uniform.

BERMAN: It always did seem a little bit of an odd coupling, General James Mattis and President Trump, and Mattis basically acknowledges that in the piece saying that not only was he surprised to have been chosen for the post --


BERMAN: -- but he also went so far as to recommend other people to the President for the job. KIRBY: Right. He's not an ambitious man. I never worked directly for him or under him, but certainly I had lots of exposure to him in my time at the Pentagon. And he's very humble, he's very thoughtful. He's not a climber. He's not a guy that's always looking for the next star, that next big job. So I wasn't surprised that he was so surprised to be asked that he was willing to demur and to offer other people up for it. It's just his leadership style.

BERMAN: You do, though, disagree with another point that he makes. He says when the commander in chief calls you and asks you to serve, you have to serve. You don't take quite that view?

KIRBY: No, I don't. Look, when you're in uniform and the commander in chief asks you to do something, unless it's unlawful or unethical, of course, you have to treat that like an order and you march out smartly and do it.

When you take the uniform off, as I did in 2015, and the President then asked you to do something, it's your choice. You make the decision to do it. And to say that it's not your choice, that you just have to go along, I think diminishes the role that you're about to take on and it also I think can send a message to the people that you're going to be working with that you don't really want to be there. You want them to know it's your choice.

I left the Navy in 2015 and then Secretary Kerry of President Obama asked me to come onto the State Department as the assistant secretary of state. I made that choice and I'm proud that I did, I'm proud that I worked in that administration and I own it.

Secretary Mattis owned his departure with that very powerful letter, but I worry that he's not willing to sort of own his decision, his choice to join the administration. And I worry that some people could construe that as him trying to escape the scrutiny of being a member of the administration.

BERMAN: To that point, if he does have specific criticisms of this President and the administration, do you think he owes it to the American people to write them perhaps more directly?

KIRBY: No, I don't. And look, the idea of writing a memoir when you leave office, that is again a choice and not everybody did. And I worked for Secretary Chuck Hagel as his press secretary, he did not write a memoir when he left office. His predecessor and successor both did. This is a personal choice. He's obviously choice to do that. But I don't think it's required to do that. I don't think he has to be out there on every issue.

If it's something that really matters to him, something he feels passionate about, then, of course, as a private citizen now he has the right and the opportunity to do that. But I don't think we should consider it as an obligation of his now that he's no longer in office.

BERMAN: Admiral John Kirby, great to have you on, as always.

KIRBY: You bet, thank you. BERMAN: All right. Coming up, a trip to a Pennsylvania farm where there are plenty of soybeans and plenty of discontent over the Trump administration's trade war with China.


[20:42:41] BERMAN: Tonight, President Trump is facing new pressure from some of the very voters who put him in office. So, he won Pennsylvania by fewer than 50,000 votes in 2016.

"360's" Gary Tuchman went to a farm in rural Pennsylvania where back in 2016 members of one family all cast their votes for Donald Trump. Today with the China trade war, especially impacting farm life and farm business, that landscape is changed. Here's Gary's report.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rick Telesz runs a 750 acre family farm in western Pennsylvania with his father and uncle. They have dairy cattle and grow crops, but nothing is more financially important than the nearly 300 acres of soybeans.

(on camera) What percentage of your soybeans is exported?

RICK TELESZ, FARMER: 100 percent of my beans.

TUCHMAN: 100 percent?

TELESZ: Right.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And he believes almost all of it has going to China over the years. But with President Trump's tariff war, China is no longer buying U.S. soybeans. Income has plunged 20 percent in this farm over the last year because of that.

TELESZ: When you're operating on margins of less than a single digit percentage margins, 20 percent is very devastating. I don't know of any business out there, any businessman out there would keep his doors open where he would have to take his own equity out of his own --

TUCHMAN (on camera): And that's what you're doing?

TELESZ: Yes, the farm is using the equity it's built up over the years just to survive.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Rick's father, Frank, has been farming here for 70 years. And his Uncle Tom is a 60-year farming veteran. All three of them voted for Barack Obama twice for president, but three Novembers ago, they were among the many Pennsylvanians who helped decide a presidential election.

(on camera) Frank, who did you vote for president in 2016?


TUCHMAN: Rick? R. TELESZ: Trump.


TUCHMAN: If the election were today, Frank, would you vote for Donald Trump?

F. TELESZ: No way.

R. TELESZ: It couldn't happen.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): An increasing number of farmers nationwide are frustrated with the President's trade war with China and how his tariff decisions have affected their lives. The Telesz family believes the financial crisis they are dealing with could easily have been avoided.

R. TELESZ: Yes, I'm angry at him, sure. Do I hate him? No, I don't hate the guy. But, yes, I'm upset with what he does, what he did.

TUCHMAN (on camera): The nation's farmers strongly supported Donald Trump for president in 2016. And as of yet, there is no indication of a massive farmer exodus away from Trump.

[20:45:00] But there's also no indication this crisis is coming to an end. And with more than 14 months to go until Election Day, there is plenty of time for farmers to get even angrier.

(voice-over) And a lot of time for farmers to worry if China's population of nearly 1.4 billion people will ever be the customer it once was.

R. TELESZ: Well, we'll never get that full market back again, no.

TUCHMAN (on camera): And why do you think that?

R. TELESZ: They've just gotten too many new suppliers that will cater to them.

TUCHMAN: Other countries?

R. TELESZ: Exactly.


BERMAN: And Gary Tuchman joins us now. Great piece, Gary. The question is, the Trump administration is giving billions of dollars of aid to the farmers affected by the trade war with China. Are the farmers you're talking to, are they grateful for that money?

TUCHMAN: Many farmers, John, are very grateful for the taxpayer funded aid, including the family we talked to today. For many farmers, it's a lifeline. But, every farmer I've talked to for the story, whether they like Donald Trump, don't like Donald Trump, don't care about politics at all, would far rather make a lot more money selling their product to as large of a customer base as possible.

BERMAN: Yes, they want to work. All right, Gary Tuchman, thank you so much for being with us tonight. I appreciate it.

Up next, a new departure from the 2020 Democratic presidential race and new polling from voters on who they want to be the nominee.


[20:50:27] BERMAN: As of night, we're now down to just 20 Democratic contenders for the White House. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand dropped out of the 2020 race a couple of hours ago as she was about to failed to qualify for the third Democratic debate in just a couple of weeks. Gillibrand was unable to meet the donor and polling requirements put in place by the DNC.

And speaking of polls, a new one by Quinnipiac University shows Joe Biden at the top of the pack like almost every poll at 32 percent followed by Elizabeth Warren at 19 percent and Bernie Sanders not far behind at 15 percent.

Chris Cuomo joins us now for more on the race and to look at what his team is working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris, Gillibrand out and I have a feeling more may be about to follow soon.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: John Berman, this is one of those magical moments on television where I cannot hear anything you've said so I'll pretend I know what you were asking, which is I believe was how do you manage to look so youthful, yet have such gravitas. That is an interesting question. Unfortunately, there is no answer.

But I can tell you this. Tonight, we're going to look inside the poll numbers that have been rolling out about what the true picture of the Democratic races. And I don't think it's about numbers, I think it's about narratives within that party. What does it mean that Gillibrand is out? What does it mean going forward?

Then we're going to have a member of the Trump campaign on to see how she will sell the actions of this President just from today to the American people. Let's take that on. And, again, J.B., if I had an answer, God love you, I would give it to you.

BERMAN: If only Chris new, I was asking about what hair color he used. He'll find that out at some point. Chris Cuomo, thank you very much for joining us.

CUOMO: I'm pretending to listen.

BERMAN: Bye-bye.

CUOMO: You're very smart.

BERMAN: Bye-bye.

CUOMO: I like you and I'd like to kiss you on the nose. BERMAN: Bye-bye. See you in a few minutes. All right, take him off the screen. Just take him off. Block him out.

All right, President Trump lashed out again at cable news today, a cable news network, and guess what, it wasn't the one you think it was. Details straight ahead.


[20:56:09] BERMAN: Among the many things, President Trump found time to tweet about today was his growing unhappiness with Fox News, Fox News. After criticizing the network for airing an interview with the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, a conversation he said was heavily promoted, he also lashed out against Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith along with commentators Donna Brazile and Juan Williams.

Then he posted this. "I don't want to win for myself. I only want to win for the people," the President said. "The new Fox News is letting millions of great people down. We have to start looking for a new news outlet. Fox isn't working for us anymore."

Perspective now from Brian Stelter, CNN's Chief Media Correspondent, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources." And that phrase, Brian, working for us, Fox isn't working for us. What does that tell you about the way the President thinks about Fox News?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That he thinks about Fox as state-run T.V., the way Fox's critics do. That has been the charge for years as Fox has become Trumpier and Trumpier, shows like Hannity and Laura Ingraham shows, they become the definition of the network. The news side has been squeezed out.

And it seems Trump wants it to be squeezed out ever more. He wants even less news and even more pro-Trump propaganda on the network. And I think it shows an insecurity on the part of the President, because oftentimes he lashes out when he sees Democrats on Fox. He sees Bernie Sanders or today a Democratic spokeswoman. It's as if he doesn't want his fans to even hear about his Democratic rivals.

BERMAN: Now, how is that phrase working for us being received within Fox News?

STELTER: There's been some shrugs. There's been some eye rolls. It seems the President has done this more than a dozen times this year and he's escalating, he's becoming more blunt in his anger about Fox and his feeling that Fox belongs to him.

What is notable is that normally when the President attacks a news outlet, the way he's done with Axios, denying the reporting about the hurricane that nukes, Axios defended itself today. Well, Fox never defends itself. Fox spokes people never respond. The company never comes out defending its journalists and that was the same today.

I think Fox feels it can't really speak out against the President because many of its viewers love the President and stand by him. Traditionally for the President, Fox has been a sword and a shield, a sword against his critics and a shield to defend him against criticism, against controversy. But it seems he wants an even stronger sword and shield. He's not even satisfied with Fox.

BERMAN: And also Brent Hume went out of his way to lash back at the President.

STELTER: Yes. And say we are not supposed to work for you. This once again shows the President doesn't understand the basis of journalism. And in that point, that's why the signature feature of the Trump presidency. It's the attempt to destroy this shared truth that we all believe in as Americans, well, that most of us believe in as Americans, that there are some basic facts and common ground.

It seems this week by attacking Axios and "The Washington Post" and Fox, and of course, as usual talk as like CNN, he's once again trying to further erode the idea of a shared truth.

BERMAN: I know it's hard to graft this type of thing, but if he's lashing out at Fox, which he doesn't do that often, and Axios which is an organization that the White House has had a good working relationship with --

STELTER: Yes, that's right. That's true.

BERMAN: -- what does that tell you about his thinking these days or the way he feels that things are going this week?

STELTER: He's thinking about reelection. He's thinking that he may be very vulnerable, that is what the polls indicate. And I think he's hearing that in the news coverage as well. What we know is that as this presidency goes on, he tweets more, but the tweets individually have less impact.

The tweets are helpful because we get a sense of what he's thinking at any give time, but he's actually tweeting more and more and more trying to get attention. It's working less and less for him, even at Fox.

BERMAN: I will note we've got about 30 second left. He's watching this show tonight and not Fox News.

STELTER: Yes, it can seem like he is. Yes, he was tuning in watching you earlier talking about the border wall, once again trying to deny the reporting from "The Washington Post" and CNN that he wanted to offer pardons if people break the law to get border wall built.

What I always wonder, John, is when you're a White House aide or a government official and the President is denying something that he said to your face, how do you square that? What is that feel like when the President is lying about you?

BERMAN: Great question. Brian Stelter, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks. BERMAN: The news continues, so I'm going to hand it over to Chris. "Cuomo Prime Time" starts right now. Chris, I hope you can hear me.