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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
"Washington Post": Trump Posed as His Own Spokesman; Trump Refuses to Release Tax Returns; Trump: Muslim Ban Is a Suggestion; Obama Orders Schools: Allow Transgender Bathroom Choice. Aired 11- 11:30a ET
Aired May 13, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.
AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Kate Bolduan.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman.
So his name is Donald Trump but you can call him the presumptive nominee or you call him John Barron or John Miller. It all works, maybe. Confused? Well, a just plain-strange new report from "The Washington Post" out this morning suggesting Donald Trump posed as his own public relations person, fake names and all, and it's all on tape dating back to the 1990s. An alleged spokesperson, sounding like Trump, is speaking by phone with a reporter from "People" magazine to talk about the end of Trump's marriage to then-wife, Ivana, and several of his relationships, including one with France's former first lady, or who went on to be France's former first lady, Carla Bruni.
Here is a portion that audio.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Eric Clapton introduced her to Mick Jagger. And then Mick Jagger started caller and she went with. Then she dropped Mick Jagger for Donald, and that's where it is right now. And, you know, again, he's not making any commitments to Carla either, just so you understand.
(END AUDIO FEED)
BOLDUAN: So this just on the heels of Trump's Capitol Hill charm offensive, meetings he described as great at every turn, and just as many Republican Party holdouts were coming around to the idea of backing the presumptive nominee.
Let's bring in David Chalian with much more on this.
David, this is a strange one. Trump says this is not him on this audio recording.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: He does say that, and, remember, this is not the first time we've heard that Donald Trump had this relationship with reporters back in New York in the day where he would pose as a publicist, but now we're actually hearing some tapes of his doing so. And he was asked directly this morning on NBC's "Today" show whether or not it was him. Take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED NBC TODAY SHOW HOST: Is it you?
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (voice-over): No, I don't think -- I don't know anything about it. You're telling me about it for first time and it doesn't sound like my voice at all.
UNIDENTIFIED NBC TODAY SHOW HOST: "The Post" says you decades ago that it was, in fact, that was you, but it was a joke.
TRUMP: It doesn't sound like me. I don't know what they're talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHALIAN: He also acknowledged in a court case, at one point, guys that he may have used a name like John Miller or John Barron. He may have used a pseudonym like that at the time. So it does seem a little conflicting, although this specific tape, I guess, he's saying, no, that's not his voice and he doesn't recognize that.
BERMAN: So that's out there.
Also this morning, Trump went on some of the morning shows and he was asked about some of the issues that percolated over the last 24 hours. One is when or if he will release his tax returns.
Let's listen to a little bit of an exchange he had with George Stephanopoulos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a routine audit. I want to get through the audit first. There have been many presidents who have not shown their tax returns.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST, GOOD MORNING, AMERICA: Actually, every single nominee since 1976 has --
TRUMP: But before 1976, people didn't do it. It used to be a secret thing. I don't want it to be secret but I do want the audit to get finished.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your tax rate?
TRUMP: It's none of your business. You will see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: David, it's none of your business, but the effective tax rate is the issue, for instance, that was so important for many voters dealing with Mitt Romney four years ago.
CHALIAN: It was, indeed, and it is one of these transparency issues that's sort of a threshold issue in modern-day presidential politics. If he refuses to release them because of this audit, you know, that is going to raise the question for the Clinton campaign to ask, which they already have been asking, what's he hiding? So I think he's inviting a story line that's going to continue.
Can I also just point out a little irony here? He is trying to go back all the way to pre-1976 to bolster his case for president. But in the earlier conversation about the tape, he said talking about what he said is 25 years ago should be out of bounds. He seems inconsistent about when the past should apply and when it shouldn't.
BOLDUAN: Inconsistency. There you go.
BERMAN: I think the answer is when he wants. Anyone with kids, we all know sometimes that is decent logic.
David Chalian, thank you so much.
BERMAN: We want to bring in Barry Bennett, senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
Barry, thanks so much for being with us.
BARRY BENNETT, SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having me.
BERMAN: I assume you had a chance to listen to the audio of "The Washington Post." There's minutes more, and there's a lot of it where the speech patterns are very, very similar to ones we've all grown accustomed to with Donald Trump. Do you think it's him on that audio?
BENNETT: Didn't sound like him to me on the tape.
BENNETT: No, the voice was about an octave higher.
BOLDUAN: The other audio you heard when he was talking to the report and the report asked, who is this, what's your affiliation? You don't think that's Donald Trump?
BENNETT: The only tape I heard was what you played in my ear.
BOLDUAN: We'll play more for you. [11:05:11] BERMAN: He has acknowledged in the past in affidavits and
whatnot that this is something that could have happened. These are names he might have used. It is out there, right? You do agree with that?
BENNETT: That's public record, yeah.
BOLDUAN: Would it bother you if this was him, and now he's denying it so flatly?
BENNETT: No. Because I don't think that's him. I agree with him. From what I heard, it doesn't sound like it's him. Certainly, a New Yorker --
BOLDUAN: We have more sound for you. Let's play it.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we reported that about Madonna.
He called and wanted to go out with him, that I can tell you. I'm sort of new here --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is your position?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sort of handling P.R. because he gets so much of it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where did you come from?
BENNETT: Off the record, I can tell you that he didn't care if he got bad P.R. until he got his divorce finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BENNETT: I'm not convinced it's him. Sorry.
BOLDUAN: OK. Great.
Moving on to the other issues, taxes, especially this tax issue. When he was talking to George Stephanopoulos and he says that it's none of your business what his effective tax rate is, and, earlier George Stephanopoulos asked him a very -- an interesting question when he says, do you think voters have the right to see your taxes before they have the chance to vote, especially if Donald Trump released his taxes to get a casino license, and he says, I don't think they do. Do you?
BENNETT: The law requires you to file your personal financial disclosure statement. It's about this thick. And it's not surprising to anybody that he's a wealthy man. Your tax returns -- some people have chosen to release them, some people haven't. He says he's under audit, he doesn't want to release them until after the audit. Voters don't care what his marginal tax rate is. They care what theirs is. And they care --
BOLDUAN: Trump supporters might not.
BERMAN: Look, years ago -- and, Barry, you lived through it -- is that they care what their marginal tax rate is, and they care about if they think it's fair compared to people like Donald Trump. If I'm paying 28 percent and Mitt Romney is paying 17 percent that gets them angry. Likewise, the same would happen to Donald Trump. Do you not agree that would be a cause for concern?
BENNETT: I agree they already understand the tax system isn't fair, that people like Mr. Trump and other folks, who can afford a bunch of accountants, can get a lower rate. That's not fair. And that's one of the things Mr. Trump has said in his tax reform policy he wants to fix.
BOLDUAN: Does transparency matter in this regard?
BENNETT: Everything that he owns was filed with the federal government. That's a public document.
BENNETT: How could you be more transparent? As soon as the audit is over, he'll release.
BOLDUAN: It doesn't matter if he released when he was trying to get a casino license in Pennsylvania while he was under audit previously?
BERMAN: Barry, the ban on Muslims, this morning, which obviously is something Donald Trump proposed, whether it was a temporary ban or not, he proposed it starting in December. Last two days ago now, he said it wasn't a proposal, it was a suggestion. It wasn't a policy statement, it was just a suggestion. Listen to what he had to say about that this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP (voice-over): I'm not the president right now, so anything I suggest is really a suggestion, and if I were president, I would put in legislation and do what I have to do. I'm not softening my stance but I'm always flexible on issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: I find of feel like he said three things. First of all, he proposed it. Then he says it's not a proposal, it's just a suggestion. Anything I say on the trail is a suggestion. But I mean it, but I'm willing to change it.
BENNETT: I don't think that there's a difference between a proposal and a suggestion. Congress has to pass it. So what you're doing is creating a model piece of legislation that you send to Congress who someone else takes, drafts it in legislative language and submits it and the House works its will and the Senate works its will.
BOLDUAN: So is everything a suggestion now?
BENNETT: Proposals are a suggestion.
BOLDUAN: But what do you make of when he did the interview with "The New York Times" and he said -- he laid out what would happen in the first 100 days and he said the wall with Mexico would be designed, the immigration ban on Muslims would be in place, the audit of Federal Reserve would be under way.
BENNETT: Some of those things you can do with the power of the presidency. You can certainly design a wall, but it takes Congress to appropriate money to build a wall.
BOLDUAN: The ban on Muslims would be in place.
BENNETT: Well, I mean, the ban on Muslims -- I love this term. The ban on Muslims, he said all along, until we can figure out the good guys from the bad guys, we should stop immigration --
BOLDUAN: We're not disputing that. The fact he thinks --
BOLDUAN: It's either on suggestion or the ban would be in place.
BENNETT: Right. He's going to ask Congress to do it. That's going to be his proposal, his suggestion --
BERMAN: What about the wall? Is the wall just a suggestion?
BENNETT: No, I mean, Congress can stop it.
[11:10:10] BOLDUAN: So not everything is a suggestion then.
BENNETT: There's no difference between a proposal and a suggestion. Congress has to work its will. Congress has to appropriate money of the United States or some mechanism where Mexico transfers payments, whatever you want to do, entrance/exit fees, whatever, to pay for the wall. It's going to require an act of Congress.
BERMAN: So it is a suggestion to Congress.
BENNETT: He will lobby with all his might and ask every American to call Congress and lobby their member of Congress to pass that.
BOLDUAN: So the wall is a suggestion as well.
BENNETT: That's something the president can do. It's a proposal, which is a suggestion.
BOLDUAN: The ban on Muslims, a temporary ban, is a suggestion. The wall is a suggestion.
BENNETT: It's a proposal.
BERMAN: The policy platform coming from the RNC this summer that they will pass at the convention, just a suggestion, the platform is a bunch of suggestions?
BENNETT: Nobody is sworn to the platform of the RNC. That's not the way it works. We've had president after president distance themselves from parts of the platform. That's a party statement, not an individual statement.
BERMAN: Barry Bennett, great to have you.
BOLDUAN: -- which is good. Now we've got suggestions and proposals. One and the same we've now learned.
BOLDUAN: Barry, thank you very much.
Thanks so much, Barry.
So a big warning from Democrats, now do not underestimate Donald Trump. A former Hillary Clinton spokesperson is sounding the alarm, saying Donald Trump has a path to victory in the general. He could win easily, so be ready.
BERMAN: And raising the stakes in the fight over public bathrooms. Letters going out to every public school district in the country. What the directive says. ahead.
[11:15:25] BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Let's discuss our interview with Barry Bennett and all the issues right now. Let's bring in our panel, CNN political commentator, Amanda Carpenter, a former spokeswoman for Senator Ted Cruz; and CNN political commentator, Doug Heye, a former communications director for the RNC; and Mark Preston, executive editor, CNN Politics.
Great to have you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Let me play you a little bit more of this wild story coming out from "The Washington Post" of Donald Trump in the past. They say he denies that he fake -- he was his own fake spokesman when speaking to reporters in New York, a "People" magazine interview specifically. Listen to more of whoever that is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's just that he really decided that he wasn't, you know, he didn't want to make the commitment, he didn't want to make a commitment. He really thought it was too soon. He's coming out of, you know, a marriage, and he's starting to do tremendously well financially. He got his license five to nothing the other day, totally unanimous, and he's really been working hard and doing well and probably, as you know, there's a real estate depression in the United States and he's probably doing as well as anybody there is, and, frankly, he wants to keep it that way, and he just thought it was too soon to make any commitment to anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So what is going to happen? Is she being asked to leave or will she be allowed to stay?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He treats everybody well. You know, you don't know him --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: No, I have met him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you met him?
He's good guy and he's not going to hurt anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Amanda, Donald Trump denies it. Barry Bennett says it doesn't sound like him. What did you think?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If he did have a pr person, he hired a great one because it sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump. This is why I think this story matter. It gets to the issue of how Donald Trump presents himself as a public figure to the press. Is he willing to misrepresent himself to advance his interests and also, side note, this has to do directly with his legendary concerns with how he handles himself with women. So this is a bigger story than I think Donald Trump wants to admit. He's trying to dust it under the rug, so are his surrogates, but frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he admitted it was him in a couple days.
BERMAN: You know, Doug, and it's interesting. It happened in the '90s. It's a strange tabloid culture here in New York. Donald Trump wasn't running for public office then. God knows what goes on inside that society. However, now he is running for public office, and he was asked about it this morning and asked directly, is it him, and he just flat-out said no. You know, and if it was, you know, to deny it like that, it just -- that seems perhaps risky for a candidate.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, this reminds me of 1980s and '90s professional wrestling when a wrestler would lose, the loser leave town match, and they'd come on with a mask, but it wasn't them, when it clearly was. I'm reminded of a line from "Spinal Tap," which I often am, so many lines, but there's a thin line between dumb and clever. This is now what we're talking about, though I agree with Amanda that it does matter how he deals with the media, how he talks to women.
And in an unrelated note, John and Kate, from now on, you have to deal with my fake spokesman, Thor Thunderman, if you want to talk to me.
BOLDUAN: Maybe he will be more fun than the real Doug Heye. We'll see.
BOLDUAN: Mark, Barry Bennett was pooh-poohing it and saying this doesn't sound like him. The subtext is it doesn't matter. And Amanda says she thinks it's a bigger story. One issue that's come up in the past few days that I wonder if it does matter is this language Donald Trump has had about his proposals, his policy prescriptions, that they are suggestions, they're all suggestions he now says because he's not yet president. The wall, a proposal, which means it's a suggestion. The temporary ban on Muslims, a proposal, which also now means it's a suggestion. Do you think that will matter, though, with his most ardent supporters who think this guy can pull off everything he says?
MARK PRESTON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN POLITICS: Well, you know, Kate, I'm probably in the minority in many ways because this is a central theme to Donald Trump certainly as he becomes the Republican presidential nominee. He is unlike any other candidate we have seen. In many ways he's Teflon in his ability to flip-flop on issues, his ability to change his mind on issues, his ability to round the sharp edges on issues. In many ways at this point I don't think voters care. Now will they care come October and November? Perhaps. Will the Hillary Clinton campaign and her allies do a good job of framing Donald Trump as somebody who is willing to change his mind or say things he is willing to turn back quickly on? We'll have to see what happens. But right now I don't think it hurts him. Certainly not with his ardent supporters and I would go as far as to say even those in the middle right now.
[11:20:29] BERMAN: You know, Amanda, it's interesting, Mitt Romney -- when Eric, the spokesman for Mitt Romney, talked about the --
(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: -- shake it up and create a new persona for the general election, the Romney team was killed for that. But for Donald Trump it's a strength. He flat-out says but I'm flexible on everything. This was the type of thing in primary that is drove the Cruz people crazy.
CARPENTER: I think Mark is right. I don't think many of his supporters care but it makes it difficult for people who defend him, like Barry Bennett, potentially people on Capitol Hill who may be responsible for his policies supporting Donald Trump in a public forum means hitching your wagon to the Trump train without having any idea where it's going at any given point in time. If you're a voter, you may like that unpredictability, you may like that he's malleable and flexible, but if you are someone who is responsible and accountable for his actions, it becomes more difficult. That's part of the divide and the give and take we're seeing between elected officials and voters on the ground.
BOLDUAN: These elected officials, like Paul Ryan, who is going to be asked about every policy position that Donald Trump has at every turn, they have to be quick on their feet to say the very least.
Amanda, Doug, Mark, thanks, guys.
BERMAN: Bernie Sanders, he says he is the best person to beat Donald Trump. Some of his supporters are gearing up for the post-primary situation, a situation, to them, that includes an alternate convention to defeat Donald Trump at all costs.
BOLDUAN: The Obama administration is sending an order to public schools across the country today, let transgender students use the bathroom that they choose or else. The legal fallout ahead.
[11:26:33] BOLDUAN: The Obama administration is sending an order to public schools across the country, let transgender students choose which bathroom to use or there will be consequences.
BERMAN: This comes during a legal standoff between the federal government and North Carolina over that state's controversial bathroom law. The directive now isn't a law just yet, but the message is pretty clear, fall in line or lose federal funding.
CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, has been looking at this letter that the schools received this morning.
Evan, what are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right. This is a new legal guideline from the Justice Department and the Education Department, and it simply says schools have to treat transgender students according to the gender they identify themselves as. Here are is few important points in the letters sent to schools
administrators today. Schools have to respond to harassment of transgender students. They have to allow transgender students to participate in school activities that are segregated by gender, as well as the bathrooms and facilities according to how they identify, and they have to take steps to protect students' privacy.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch says this is intended to protect transgender students from discrimination and from harassment. The letter sent cites Title IX of the Federal Education Law, which means the feds can pull funding from the schools that don't comply. Critics already say the government is going too far with the threat to cut off funds.
Take a listen to the reaction from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN PATRICK, (R), TEXAS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: He's taking money from the poorest of the poor. The president of the United States will be ending the Free Breakfast and Free Lunch Program.
We will not be blackmailed by the president's 30 pieces of silver. We will not sell out our children to the federal government. And the people of Texas and the legislature will find a way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: John and Kate, it's clear that the Obama administration views this as one of the remaining civil rights battles that have yet to be settled. We will see if Texas and North Carolina will be fighting the federal government in federal court.
BOLDUAN: Evan, thank you very much.
Let's talk more with CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.
Paul, you heard from the lieutenant governor right there saying they're not going to be blackmailed. That language obviously there's language to it obviously. What do you make of that charge and what are the legal ramifications here?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does sound like this is going to shape up into a major battle between the rights of the states and the rights of the federal government in this particular civil rights area.
Without getting too deeply into the weeds of how this stuff happens, when Title IX was passed -- and Title IX has to do with not discriminating on the sex in educational programs. OK. So they don't define what sex means, and they mean it in the gender sense. They don't define gender. The Obama administration has now said, well, a transgender person, even if he is an anatomical male who identifies as a female, is transgender and is -- should be protected from discrimination. So that person should be able to use a female restroom if he wants to. The states are saying this is absurd. Congress is the entity that should be making is up an important decision.
And that in a nutshell is what it's all about. Is the Obama administration being overly aggressive in reinterpreting the civil rights law or is it clear as day, because the civil rights law says you can't discriminate on the basis of gender? Right?
BERMAN: The problem is there is no legal definition though for transgender, is there? And isn't that, Paul, what this will force down the line, ultimately?