Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Goes After Bush Family, Calls George W. A Liar; Remembering Justice Antonin Scalia; Rubio Sharpens Attacks on Rivals; Ex-NY Governor Eliot Spitzer Accused of Chocking Women in Hotel. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] BRUCE HAYNES, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: As far as the polls go, I think the debates have really been defining as to who the winners are. I personally, and the people I'm talking to, we want to see a couple more nights of calls post debate, kind of the two-night, three-night roll. I think maybe Wednesday morning we'll have a better sense of how things are shaking out in terms of the impact they had on voters in South Carolina.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Scottie, you are a Donald Trump supporter. I'm going to ask you to take a step back and talk about the potential risks for him going after George W. Bush as much as he did, saying that the Bush administration lied about September 11th. What are the risks, particularly in South Carolina, where there's a huge population of veterans, a huge population of people currently serving in the military? Doesn't he risk alienating some voters?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, USA NEWS NETWORK: Absolutely not, considering more than 6500 soldiers have died between Iraq and Afghanistan, not because we didn't go in but because George W. Bush didn't have an effective strategy once we were on the ground. In '06 and '07, personal bankruptcies were up 60 percent, out national debt grew 70 percent, and most importantly, Bush signed a $152 billion stimulus package. To be honest with you, every time I look at my bank account, I'm reminded of what life was like in '08. The people in South Carolina are the same. Bringing George W. Bush on the campaign trail in South Carolina is not going to help. It's just going to be a reminder of why Barack Obama was elected for eight years straight, to escape all the damage George W. Bush did in the last two years of office.

BERMAN: Bill, you're a Democrat. You lean to the liberal or progressive side. Did you ever think you'd see language like that in a Republican debate where you have the leading Republican candidate bashing the legacy of the last Republican president?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me just say this, as a Democrat, there's nothing I like more than watching the Republican candidates for president form a circular firing squad. That's what Democrats used to do. I hope we have more debates where they kill each other off, as a Democrat. As an American, I was appalled. I'm appalled by the language. I don't think it shows any respect for the office of the presidency that they're seeking. I would hope, as an American, that the South Carolina primary will sort out the field and maybe come down to one or maybe two challengers to Donald Trump. Donald Trump I think would be a huge embarrassment to the world or the nation if he were the nominee of the Republican Party.

BERMAN: Bill, what do you think the Supreme Court situation right now will do to the race? You were talking about the Democratic race. Look, the president, he says he is going to make a nomination. Do you expect this will be something we hear on the trail every day until next November?

PRESS: I think this is going to be a major issue between now and November. I believe that the Republicans are making a mistake in making this a battle and saying don't even dare send somebody up. It's the president's job to nominate. It's the Senate's job to confirm or not to confirm. If Justice Scalia were alive, he would say follow the Constitution. Don't play politics. Strict constitutionalists could say, let the president do his job, let the Senate do its job. I think they're making a big mistake.

BERMAN: Scottie?

HUGHES: Except one problem is that we don't have much faith and trust, even though Mitch McConnell did issue a pretty tough statement. We don't have faith and trust in our Senate right now to hold strong and to actually defeat anybody Barack Obama -- we have seen them cave on every other issue. Why would this be any different? It reminds people the president has to pick a cabinet and a staff.

One thing Donald Trump has done well is put people around him that are good at their job and are going to sit there and he'll make sure he'll do the same thing, put people in his cabinet that will be best for the job, not people he owes because they bought him during the political favors and he owes them political favors or bought him during the campaign season. This is another reminder why Mr. Donald Trump would make a great president and better than the other guys that are beholden to Washington D.C. as it is.

BERMAN: Bruce, I want you to play off that. Quick last word here. Do you think we may see the first Republican candidate -- if Donald Trump wins, he'll be the first that runs not just against the Democrats but against the Republican Party. It's clear that's what he's doing.

HAYNES: It's bigger than the Republican Party when you talk to Trump voters. To rip on a little bit of what Scottie said, it's the Washington establishment. They want to upend what's been going on in Washington. They don't see how it works for them economically or culturally. And it's not just the Republican Party. It's the Democratic Party. It's interesting. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both running as functional Independents in both of the primaries, and they're both leading the polls.

PRESS: Yeah.

BERMAN: All right. The South Carolina primary is Saturday. I can't imagine what else will happen before then.

(LAUGHTER)

Scottie Nell Hughes, Bruce Haynes, Bill Press, thank you all so much for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:35:07] BERMAN: Along those lines, a programming note. A unique two-night event Wednesday and Thursday night, 8:00 p.m. both nights, all six Republican presidential candidates, the first time we're doing this, they will answer questions from the voters of South Carolina in live televised town hall events moderated by Anderson Cooper, seen only on CNN. Wednesday, it's Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz. Thursday, it's John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. They'll field questions live from voters. Again, it all begins 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday. All I can say is, wow, this is just a few nights before the South Carolina primary. Imagine the impact it could have.

All right. This morning, new fall out from the pummeling in the Palmetto State. How that brutal debate changed the look of the Republican race.

Plus, any minute, we'll hear from one of the key contenders. Ted Cruz, take the stage. We're expecting new attacks against Donald Trump and possibly some news on how Ted Cruz plans to battle President Obama over the Supreme Court. I think that's Glenn Beck warming up the crowd right now. A lot more to come. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:34] BERMAN: The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has triggered a challenge an extraordinary challenge to all three branches of government. But let's not forget this is about more than just an empty seat on the bench. There's also an empty place in the lives of so many of his friends and family.

One of those friends is Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. You see this picture, a friend and hunting buddy. He joins us live.

Thank you so much for being with us.

Let me ask you -- I was at dinner with my family when my phone started going off Saturday night. I was shocked. I can't imagine what your reaction was when you got the news.

REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I was actually shopping with my children, and I texted my wife. I said, I just want to cry. It was so shocking to so many of us. And a very sad day. I really appreciate you titling the segment of this story, "Remembering Justice Scalia. So much of the discussion immediately gravitated towards who is going to replace him and the divides. For those of us who knew him on a personal basis, I feel like America lost her grandfather. He was a stately man, a noble man. He was a great student of our history, our tradition. He brought intellectual rigor to the Supreme Court in his service. He'll be greatly missed. He was an extraordinary American. BERMAN: On a personal basis, you get the sense from people from all

walks of life he was an easy guy to like. I mean, take us inside, you know, a hunting trip with Antonin Scalia. What was it like to be out there hunting quail with him?

FORTENBERRY: Well, it was kind of like you'd imagine. Again, he was very quick with his opinions, he was very forceful with his intellect, but he was also very welcoming of intellectual debate of normal discussion, friendship. He was a very rounded person, just a person of great character. He was very devoted to his family and his faith and very devoted to our country. The conversation would flow back and forth between highly intimate personal matters about friendships and family, about hunting, and issues facing our country. He put you at ease being around him, even though in a certain sense it was intimidating because he had such great stature.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about this because you brought it up. One of the other things, not only was I shocked to get the news of the justice's death Saturday night, I was shocked that within the hour, from both sides, there was already politicking about this idea of who has the right to replace him. Both from the Senate majority leaders saying it should make until the next president. You had statements from Democrats as well saying the president should nominate someone right away. Do you think that was too fast for the politics to start, even in this day and age?

FORTENBERRY: Yes. It was undignified. It speaks to the dynamic of which we're living. It's a sad commentary on the philosophical divide, the country. How we over politicizes everything. How the media picks up drama and runs with it on a 24-hour basis. We need to slow down. When we lose a great American like this, there should be a time to mourn and remember. And for, again, those of us who had some personal insights into his character and to let us tell the rest of the nation about what an extraordinary person he really was. Hopefully, that immediate reaction will give way to a time in which the nation really does step back and study this great American statesman.

By the way, where we were hunting -- and I believe you might have a picture of it -- that's near a place called Chimney Rock, which is in western Nebraska. Chimney Rock was a marker whereby the first pioneers, the settlers who were going West, when they got there, they knew they were halfway across the country. I was just thinking about this. Maybe this in a certain way is symbolic of the justice. He had a great adherence to the great American tradition of jurisprudence. He understood our history. He was consistent in his application of intellectual rigor and case studies while also trying to move it forward in time and applying the principles to modern-day dilemmas and difficulties. So I offer that to you as my own reflections as to what a great man this was and an extraordinary contribution he made to America.

BERMAN: He must have gotten a great kick out being at that location, given his respect for American values and American history.

Just last question, Congressman, what do you think he would make of the fight over the last 48 hours over his seat since his death?

[11:45:09] FORTENBERRY: Oh, he would probably laugh about it. I think even though he was a man of, again, very decided character and decided opinions, he had a certain humility to himself. He would probably laugh and joke about it. He might even participate in the discussion himself.

But I think the deeper issues, as you raised, and again, the title of your segment, "Remembering Justice Scalia," is very important to interject in the media commentary right now because it's going to be very hard to replace a man of his caliber, his formation, and the contributions that he made to our country with his decisions and the way in which he portrayed them with consistency and rigor. I think he's going to be hard to replace. We need to revive ourselves, our understanding as a country, as to how we create the formative traditions and move them forward in time so that we have great men and women like Justice Scalia, who can present themselves in public service on the highest court of the land as well as in other areas of government service.

He was a truly great individual. I will personally miss him. And thank you so much for letting me talk about him.

BERMAN: Well, he was lucky to have friends like you, sir.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate your time and giving us your perspective.

FORTENBERRY: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

BERMAN: About a quarter to the hour right now. Back to the campaign trail. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz not just battling over who speaks the best Spanish, but now in a heated fight over who can challenge Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. The new effort for Marco Rubio to create a new image in South Carolina.

Then, new trouble for the former New York governor who resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal. A woman in her 20s now claims Eliot Spitzer choked her at a $1,000-a-night suite at the Plaza Hotel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:50] BERMAN: All right. New this morning, a reinvigorated Marco Rubio, at least that is the image the Rubio campaign very much wants to portray. They want to show that South Carolina is different than New Hampshire where Rubio finished a disappointing fifth. His sharpened attacks on display this weekend at the Republican debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because for a number of weeks now, Ted Cruz has been telling lied. He lied about Ben Carson in Iowa.

(SHOUTING)

RUBIO: He lies about --

(CHEERING)

RUBIO: He lies about marriage. He's lying about all sorts of things, and now he makes things up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, Senator Rubio has done one event today. He has another one in just a little bit.

Our Phil Mattingly, chasing the Rubio campaign, joining us now from Florence, South Carolina -- Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, John. The Rubio campaign believes that debate was a turning point of sorts for much of the week in New Hampshire. He's been tagged with that robotic image that Chris Christie nailed him with so effectively during the New Hampshire debate and the results really kind of took the air out of a campaign that was coming out of Iowa in a good place.

Now yesterday, Marco Rubio, one of the only people on the trail in South Carolina. More than 2,000 people showed up, filling up an auditorium and an overflow room as well. One of the main things I heard talking to voters, possible supporters at that event, John, was there was frustration and concern about what happened in New Hampshire. One voter asking Marco Rubio, kind of the disappointment, was it shared business Marco Rubio. What they want to hear is that he's back on track. Rubio's campaign team making very clear he's more available now, more free wheeling, more willing to talk about anything on the trail as opposed to just his normal stump speech. They're trying to convey that message, but, John, one of the big things they have to deal with here, he's still trailing in poll after poll by double digits of Donald Trump. He's also trailing Ted Cruz. They have a lot of ground to make up, John, in the next week.

BERMAN: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what approach he takes at the CNN town hall. That's really his last chance to speak to voters en masse.

Phil Mattingly, in Florence, thanks so much.

All right. Just moments from now, Donald Trump will hold a rally and eventually a news conference in South Carolina. A Trump news conference doesn't happen every day. So why did the campaign call this? Does he have more to say about George W. Bush on the campaign trail? We will take this news conference the minute it begins.

Plus, the infamous client number nine has a new issue on his hands. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being investigated for this time for assault.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:57:28] BERMAN: All right. New allegations this morning swirling around former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned following a prostitution scandal. He had a show with CNN for a bit. New York police investigating Spitzer for an alleged assault at the Plaza Hotel over the weekend. A 25-year-old claiming to be Spitzer's girlfriend told police that he choked her at the hotel during a fight. A Spitzer spokesperson denies these accusations.

CNN's Jean Casarez is following the story and she joins us now with more.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do know, we can tell you that a search warrant has been executed at the hotel room where she says this happened. That was done yesterday.

But the way this came into the hands of law enforcement is that, on Saturday, from the Plaza Hotel, there was a call to police saying that there was an emotionally disturbed person in a room there. We don't know who made that call, but we know authorities went there. And the alleged victim was taken to the hospital. She had cuts on her wrist that were self-imposed, law enforcement is saying. But a source close to the investigation has been briefed on the investigation tells CNN that at the hospital, Eliot Spitzer actually went there, but he obscured his face by wearing a skull cap. She then allegedly told authorities there at the hospital that it was Eliot Spitzer that had choked her at that hotel room.

Now John, an update, she, we understand, has gone home to Russia, back to her home. Eliot Spitzer, as you said, his people are denying that it ever happened. Law enforcement has not spoken to him yet, but we do understand that NYPD is taking this very seriously as an alleged assault.

BERMAN: With the woman back in Russia, how does that complicate the investigation?

CASAREZ: I think it does complicate the investigation. You don't have your victim, right? Doesn't mean something can't go forward, but there has to be that communication. And they're gathering evidence right now one way or the other. Two sides to every story. And so we don't know where it'll proceed, but to have your victim in another country, another jurisdiction has to make it more difficult for authorities.

BERMAN: All right. Jean Casarez, thank you so much. Appreciate you being here.

All right. One important programming note here for CNN. Two-night event this week, Wednesday and Thursday night, 8:00 p.m., both nights, all six Republican presidential candidates, they will answer questions from the voters of South Carolina. These are two separate live televised town hall events, moderated by Anderson Cooper, only on CNN. Again, both nights at 8:00, Wednesday and Thursday. And don't forget, South Carolina primary is Saturday. Wow, these are important events. You cannot miss them.

All right, guys, thanks so much for watching AT THIS HOUR. "LEGAL VIEW" starts now.