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Candidates Grapple with Trump's Troubles; Trump Hammers Sessions; Kasich Skipping State GOP Dinner; Hunter Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption; Trump's Base's Thoughts on Negative Headlines. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: For being here.

REP. MARK WALKER (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thanks, Poppy, glad to be here.

HARLOW: How would you assess this week for the Republican Party?

WALKER: Well, I think each week you have your ebbs and flows. Sometimes we see things that happen that are outside of Washington, D.C., that certainly impact potentially the voters' mind. But, overall, we want to try to stay consistent with our message of trying to make a better life for the people -- for the American people throughout all of our communities.

HARLOW: Was that message overshadowed this week by Paul Manafort, by Michael Cohen, by this fighting with the attorney general?

WALKER: Well, if you're looking at all the media outlets, them being transparent, I would say, yes.

HARLOW: OK.

WALKER: I think we're seeing more and more of their lifestyle and their backgrounds. And I think it is troubling.

HARLOW: Do -- let's talk about the attacks that are ongoing at this hour between the president and his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Do you want to see Jeff Sessions keep his job?

WALKER: I think Jeff has exemplified someone who is a little timid at times. But if you look at his record, he has been consistent. That is between the president and the DOJ if there's issues there that maybe that we're unbeknownst of. But I think Jeff Sessions has done a decent job. I would like to see him a little bit more bold on some of the decisions that he is making for the country.

HARLOW: But you don't want to see the president fire him?

WALKER: No, I don't -- I don't think it's good necessarily for the cabinet members to be fired, unless there is concrete evidence to support such.

HARLOW: OK. WALKER: Could the attorney general be more aggressive? Absolutely.

HARLOW: All right, so, tonight, as you know, President Trump will attend this big dinner, this big Republican dinner, in Ohio. The biggest state dinner there. That's how it's being billed. Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich is not going to go. Just last week the president blamed Kasich for the Republicans possibly losing Ohio 12, called Kasich very unpopular.

I'm interested in what you think, as a member of Congress, who represents the Republican Party right now more, Governor Kasich or President Trump?

WALKER: Well, if you look at the numbers, you would definitely have to say President Trump. We do polling, as other members of Congress do, and the base of Trump, the people who elected Trump, are not deterred. In fact, I believe even you guys did a piece last night there in Pennsylvania, maybe northern Pennsylvania, that talked about even with all the Cohen and Manafort, as disgusting as we've seen some of the decisions that these gentlemen have made, it looks like that core base of Trump supporters is still intact.

HARLOW: Well, except it is sort of the, if the president were to pardon Manafort, that's the line that those voters told our Jason Carroll they would draw.

Let me get you on something very near and dear to your heard and very important to you, and that is race and the Republican Party.

WALKER: Sure. Yes.

HARLOW: It is very clear that you do not think the Republican Party is doing enough to bring in African-Americans. You spoke about it. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER: It's easy to preach to the choir, but we must take our message to new places, to new neighborhoods and new communities. Learn to listen. Whether Democrat, Muslim, minorities or those who identify with the LGBT community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I mean is your party still, as we sit here today, even after the 2012 autopsy report, is it doing enough to bring African-Americans and minorities in?

WALKER: I believe there's a lot of improvements to be made. I never read that report, wasn't even aware of it when I left the ministry to run for Congress. I did something that specifically was in my heart. And I believe individual liberty and opportunity, prosperity, that should be good for all of our communities.

Probably the thing that we're most proud of is those relationships. But they weren't pre-oped or photo-oped before when I ran for Congress.

HARLOW: Yes.

WALKER: Those relationships have been long standing. Our work in the inner cities of Cleveland, New York and Baltimore, and recently I became the first Republican -- elected Republican to speak a keynote at the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. I take great pride in that because that goes beyond the Republican/Democrat.

HARLOW: I know, everyone else there was Democrat.

WALKER: Exactly.

HARLOW: I mean everyone else there was Democrats.

WALKER: And that speech you just played there, that was -- there were -- and the speech that you just played was not a non-partisan crowd. That was at one of the more conservative conferences there in Washington, D.C.

HARLOW: Right.

WALKER: So we try to be consistent with our message.

HARLOW: So, here's my question. I mean, look, I know your district.

WALKER: Sure.

HARLOW: One-fifth of your district is African-American. But you said recently, this week, this is much larger than my district. I am trying to lead by example. Well, does it make your job a lot harder to make this about your country and not just your district when the president says things like calling Omarosa a dog or LeBron James dumb or peddling birtherism claims about president Obama for years, or pointing to both sides in Charlottesville? Is he making your job a lot harder, sir?

WALKER: Sometimes it can be difficult to explain some of the tweets, there's no question about that.

[09:35:01] What we're trying to do is look at the results instead of the personalities sometimes. I have three children. I think you have a couple as well. We want to set good standards. President Obama was a good man. Had a good marriage. I loved for my children to exemplify that component.

But you cannot deny that his policy added people into the poverty arena. We believe that President Trump's policies, as well as the House Republicans, are helping pulling people out of that poverty situation. Ultimately, we've got to get away from this government notion that adding more people to a government program is a good solution. It's not. It actually stymies the American dream for many of these people.

HARLOW: But, congressman, before we go, I mean you said, look, sometimes it can be hard to explain his tweets. Really? I mean is that it? Do you not find -- the way that you stand up for African-Americans in your district, do you not find some of the things that the president has said racist?

WALKER: I find them offensive. To be able to label someone a racist is someone -- is sometimes trying to judge where their heart's intent. Some of the undertones, some of the things that I hear is not language that I use because I know how hurtful and painful it is to many of my friends in these communities.

We've got to continue to try to raise the standard, but we've got to get past this place also, are we measuring more of this administration about personality or about policy, about results? I hope that -- both matters, I get that. Character, integrity and class always matter, but we want to make sure that we don't get distracted by some of this to miss some of the things that we believe are helping all of our communities.

HARLOW: Congressman Mark Walker, look, it's an important conversation. We'll keep having it. And I appreciate you being with me today. Thank you.

WALKER: Thanks, Poppy. My privilege.

HARLOW: All right, ahead for us, indicted for misuse of a quarter of a million bucks in campaign funds and what does a sitting Republican congressman have to say? My wife handled all the finances. Hear the stunning interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:41:00] HARLOW: Steelers tickets, lavish vacations, tequila shots and a flight for a bunny. Folks, you cannot make this stuff up. Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife pleaded not guilty to charges saying they used campaign money for all of that. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning. Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel going into the courthouse today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you (INAUDIBLE) today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: They are yelling. Those are protesters yelling "lock him up" as he appeared in the California courtroom yesterday. It appears, though, the Republican lawmaker is shifting blame for all of this to none other than his wife.

Sara Sidner has been all over this story and joins me now.

So he gave this interview to Fox News last night.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

HARLOW: What did he say?

SIDNER: Yes, stunning. I think we've all used that word over and over again. But it is pretty stunning.

I do want to mention this too, Poppy, that when they went into court, he and his wife went into court at separate times, at separate doors, and they didn't sit together in court. So if that tells you something beyond what he has said about his wife, one of the things he talked about, you know, they had $37,000 in overdraft fees, $11,000 overdrafts according to prosecutors. And when he asked about how did this all happen, he started talking about his wife.

And I do want to run through some of the things that prosecutors say they spent campaign funds on. $14,000 on a family vacation to Italy. $6,500 to Hawaii. $3,700 to Las Vegas.

One of the things that really struck people and really upset them was that in some instances when they were buying clothes and shoes they said, look, let's just write this off as for wounded Warriors. We're talking about wounded veterans. Remember that Representative Hunter is a veteran himself. He did three tours after 9/11 in the Marines overseas. And so that really struck people as something really disturbing what prosecutors are saying about this family.

But let's listen to what he says, why the finances were so problematic, if you will.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: When I went to Iraq in 2003 the first time, I gave her power of attorney and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress.

She was also the campaign manager. So whatever she did on -- that will be -- that will be looked at too, I'm sure. But I didn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: It really sounds like he's throwing his wife under the bus. I mean he is seemingly blaming her for some of their financial issues.

He has also blamed -- taking a page right out of Donald Trump's book -- he has blamed the deep state, he has blamed the Justice Department, calling them corrupt, saying this is Democrats coming after him, that they just want the seat. And, believe me, they do want the seat.

HARLOW: Yes.

SIDNER: But they call it hogwash that they had anything to do with this. This is all their doing. HARLOW: It was so interesting, Sara, in your reporting, as you've been out talking to voters in this really sort of safe Republican district. And, by the way, it's now too late for the party to have someone else, you know, run. What -- I mean are they -- all the voters on the same page on him or are they divided?

SIDNER: Not at all. They are divided. According to the people that we spoke with. Our producer, Jason, went and talked to some people as well. And basically, you know, we heard from someone who's staunchly Republican, who voted for Representative Hunter, who voted for Representative Hunter's father, who had the seat before him, and they decided that they were changing their mind. They said, look, you know, he hasn't been convicted, but these charges are really problematic and distracting and he needs to get a job done in Washington.

But there were other voters who said, look, we are going to vote Republican no matter what. Well, guess what, the only name on the ballot, because it's too late to change the name, the only name on the ballot under Republican will be Representative Duncan Hunter.

Lastly, though, there is a Democrat who is vying for this seat. His name is Ammar Campa-Nijjar. He was out at court smartly yesterday getting attention, talking about the issues.

HARLOW: Sure.

[09:45:04] SIDNER: The one thing that he did talk about -- this is a heavily military area where Duncan Hunter is, and so he said, look, I respect that he went into the military and did his duty. But he, after being in Washington, seems to be working for himself.

Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you. I know you'll be on this story for us as it evolves.

So this morning, it took less than 60 seconds for officials to vote down a proposal that would have chosen -- would have closed, rather, seven of nine polling places in a predominantly black county in rural Georgia. Now, critics had called this proposal even to consolidate those polling places an attempt to suppress the African-American vote in what is a closely watched gubernatorial race there in Georgia. Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams is trying to become the nation's first black female governor. She's running against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The consultant who recommended the closures was fired ahead of today's decision.

And a whirlwind of negative headlines for the president this week, but how is it all sitting with his base?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pardons? I don't agree with them. I don't agree with pardons.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:50:37] HARLOW: In a week of major legal developments in Trump world, many are wondering what the ramifications of Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea will be on the president's base. And you might be surprised where some of his supporters draw the line.

Our Jason Carroll went to Pennsylvania to ask them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Luzerne County in northeast Pennsylvania is one of those industrial communities that has fallen on tough times over the years. To political observers, it is also known as a place that supported Barack Obama twice and then flipped to Donald Trump in 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cohen, how did it go today?

CARROLL: The aftermath of legal bombshells involving Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, here in Luzerne, voters like Anne Marie Lenahan, a registered Democrat who voted for Trump, is so encouraged by the economy, she says she can overlook allegations of Trump's infidelity.

ANNE MARIE LENAHAN, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: Unless the money came from campaign funds. Then I don't think that it's good.

CARROLL (on camera): I see. So that's where you draw that sort of line?

LENAHAN: Yes.

CARROLL: I see.

LENAHAN: But I would still vote for him again.

CARROLL (voice over): Trump's win in this part of the state is also thanks in part to Democrats like Eileen (ph) and Richard Sorokas.

EILEEN SOROKAS, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: This is all from Obama's campaign.

CARROLL: Who after voting twice for President Obama switched their vote to Trump. Here's what the couple told CNN weeks after Trump's inauguration.

RICHARD SOROKAS, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: You've got to get the politically correct things out of here and get a businessman and get this country straight out, get this deficit down.

CARROLL: The couple stands by their decision.

R. SOROKAS: Our retirement is in the stock market. And the stock market has been growing for quite a while now. So I'm sort of happy what's happening with the economy. CARROLL: The Sorokas say they see the legal crisis involving Cohen and

Manafort as a side show and many others here agree.

BOB SELLON, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: The investigations were supposed to be about Russia interference in our election. And so far I've seen nothing concerning that.

CARROLL: As a candidate, Trump infamously joked about the dedication of his supporters.

TRUMP: The polls, they say, I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's like incredible.

CARROLL: Loyalty only goes so far. And supporters here say it could be tested if Trump began issuing pardons.

ALDO SARTORIO, INDEPENDENT VOTER: Oh, the pardons, I don't agree with them.

CARROLL: Barber shop owner Aldo Sartorio is an independent voter who supported Trump.

CARROLL (on camera): If the pardons started coming -- coming -- started coming down, would that change your mind about voting him -- voting for him?

A. SARTORIO: (INAUDIBLE). That's going to be in my decision. That would be in the decision, sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. Also mine.

PETER SARTORIO: The president better watch about the pardons, because with the pardons that he does that, it looks like it was set up by him with the last couple tweets that he had, where he sticks up for -- who is it, the guy that they're talking about now?

CARROLL: Manafort.

P. SARTORIO: Manafort. Thinks he's a great guy and he's wonderful and everything else. And he's kind of sending a message that if you stick with me, I will pardon you.

CARROLL: And in addition to the idea of pardons, another line in the sand for many of the Trump supporters that we spoke to would be if the Mueller investigation found any evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russians. Again, that investigation far from over. But also a number of Trump supporters express frustration over an investigation they say has gone on for far too long.

Jason Carroll, CNN, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: All right, Jason, fascinating reporting. Thank you for that. More than 1,500 people right now in Hawaii are sheltering in

evacuation centers as this thing, Hurricane Lane, heads their way. The storm has not made landfall yet. Residents already feeling the effects. We'll take you there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:58:51] HARLOW: All right, right now, residents in Hawaii and officials there are bracing for the worst. Over 1,500 people are sheltering in evacuation centers as Hurricane Lane approaches. Right now it's about 200 miles off the coast and has been downgraded to a category three storm.

But the hurricane is lashing the island right now with powerful wind and heavy rain. You see it there. The National Weather Service warns that Lane will bring significant and life-threatening flash flooding and landslides. If we do see Hurricane Lane make landfall, it would become the first major hurricane to hit Hawaii in more than 25 years.

All right, top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning, the president's friends flip as the commander in chief takes a shot across the bow at his own attorney general, hammering Jeff Sessions again, one day after his punching bag punched back.

Plus, the president's longtime friend, "National Enquirer" publisher David Pecker, has turned on him. Whatever he told prosecutors was enough to get him immunity.

Plus, a bombshell report that there was a literal safe at the tabloid with documents squashing damaging stories about the president held inside.

[10:00:03] All of this as we're learning this morning that the Trump Organization is now reportedly under scrutiny over the Stormy Daniels' payoff. The New York attorney general, according to "The New York Times," the New York -- the Manhattan D.A., I should say,