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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Makes his Picks, Wants to Face Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke; Bloomberg Mocks Biden and O'Rourke: They're on an "Apology Tour"; Trump Tries To Discredit Probe As White House Braces For Report. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:32:40]

BRIANNA KEIALER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back with our 2020 lead. President Trump picking his favorites from the Democratic field and among them former Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke who is on a blitz of early voting states and trying to show that he can stand up to Trump by standing on things. His footprints are on several countertops but today it was a chair. Don't worry those. CNN has found he does ask permission first.

And as CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, President Trump is saying, bring it.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would love to have Biden. I would love to have Bernie. I would love to have Beto. I mean, Beto seems to be the one that press has chosen.

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LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump listing three Democrats he would like to face in 2020 singling out Beto O'Rourke.

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TRUMP: When I watch Beto, I say, yes, we could dream about that.

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SANTIAGO: And O'Rourke is pushing for the match up to, stomping it more than 20 events in seven states in his first week on the trail including his latest visit - South Carolina.

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BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're going to have to excuse my voice. We have been on the trail now for eight days. All of eight days.

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SANTIAGO: On his packed tour, O'Rourke was quick to broadcast his bipartisan credentials.

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O'ROURKE: Anything I got done I got done with Republican colleagues. So bipartisanship walking across as well as working across the aisle.

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SANTIAGO: And his message seemed to reach a few Republicans we talked to in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Mike Harris says he is looking for anyone but Trump.

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MIKE HARRIS, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: Somebody with integrity, with character, that my son could look at and I could say that's a good person.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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SANTIAGO: While another of the president's preferred Democrats, Joe Biden, has yet to declare. Sources tell CNN the former vice president is eyeing an April announcement possibly later in the month. One person President Trump did not mention, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who took his 2020 campaign to "The View" today.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What should I call you, Pete?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pete Buttigieg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: He reassured the all-female panel that any potential presidential ticket would be balanced.

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BUTTIGIEG: I do think that you talking about gender balance on the ticket is a good idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. I don't think you rule anybody out decisively.

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SANTIAGO: One person not running, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who shed light on his reasons for passing on a 2020 bid saying it would be hard for him to compete.

[16:35:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Unless I was willing to change all of my views and go on what CNN called an "apology tour." Joe Biden went out and apologized for being male, over 50. Beto -- he has apologized for being born.

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SANTIAGO: And Brianna, I had a chance to speak with Beto O'Rourke after he spoke here as SC state. The largest historically black college in the Palmetto State. And I asked him about the chatter of a possible Biden/Abrams ticket in the future. The possibility of it and he had nothing but praise for Stacey Abrams that he thinks she should run and he has spoken very highly about Joe Biden as well.

But let's turn to someone else here. Today, when talking about President Trump here on this campus he described him as the smallest, meanest, vile and he also used the word vindictive. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Leyla Santiago in South Carolina. Thank you.

And joining me now is the former mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, Andrew Gillum, who narrowly lost his race to be Florida's first African American governor by less than one-half of a percentage point. Thank you so much for being with us, Andrew.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FORMER TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA MAYOR: Thanks for having me as always. The half a percent always -- thank you for the reminder.

KEILAR: I'm sure that stings. If it were a larger percentage I think it might have been easier.

So, I want to start with what we heard. Former Mayor Bloomberg say about going on an "apology tour." Basically, it seems on one hand that he says he wouldn't be able to fit in with where the Democratic Party is but he also seems to be saying that everyone is apologizing too much on the Democratic side. Look at the opposite Trump never apologizes. What do you think about this pattern of apologizing? Is it too much?

GILLUM: Well, I don't necessarily agree with the you know the premise of the mayor's comment. Listen, we got a really wide feel. I don't think that anybody has to apologize for being white or being gay or being a woman or being a person of color. Those are shrinks for us not only as a party but as a nation. I don't think voters are going to ultimately decide based on those kinds of superficial traits. They're going to be looking for what it is that you had to say, how well will you represent them? Very importantly they also want to see themselves reflected and that's not just in the race or in the sex - the gender of an individual but also in what their lived experiences are and whether or not they can see whether or not that individual will be a good representative voice for them. And I think that's what all elections often times are about seeing people and yourself reflected and whoever best does that is likely to win to get your vote.

KEILAR: You've heard these reports about Vice President Biden who is not in the race yet but maybe getting into it. That he could pick a running mate early on in his campaign. Some have speculated it could be Stacey Abrams. This is something aides have been discussing after they met last week. What do you think about that idea?

GILLUM: Well, first of all, I've known Stacey a long time. We are friends. If Stacey were considering getting close to the White House, I hope it would be as candidate as president of the United States. You know we got a process here. I hope that Vice President Biden who I have a tremendous amount of respect for will join the rest of the Democratic field, compete with his ideas, his big vision, what he wants to do for the country and give voters a reason to go out and choose him. Once we made a selection for our presidential nominee, then I look forward to that individual then considering who might be a best fit for vice president and I think the first and most important quality is someone who has the ability to become president of the United States.

KEILAR: Meaning they should have run for that role?

GILLUM: I don't think folks are - no, no. I mean --

KEILAR: That they have to. You don't think they - I just want to make - be clear about that. So, I do wonder what you think though that every vice president who has ever run for president has maybe not won the presidency but they've ended up as their party's nominee. To that degree is there some inevitability about Joe Biden?

GILLUM: Well, if I were Joe Biden I would run hard away from inevitability. It does not serve you well in a primary process. The Joe Biden that I know and that I have recognized and seen on the campaign trail has fire in his belly. He is energetic. He seems to be the type to run always as if he is running from behind. And I think that it will serve him well in this very crowded field to not run with an era of inevitability and I'm not accusing him of doing that. But to rather stick to his instincts here which are to run like you're running for your life, run like you're the last man in the race trying to get to the front of the pack. And I think if you do that, you'll see that the voters will reward you for the hard work and the energy and the passion that you put into this race. I hope that's the Joe Biden that shows up on the presidential stage.

[16:40:003] KEILAR: All of this talk about whether some of these candidates would have a female running mate, do you think it is presumptive when you have this big field of women who are also running for president?

GILLUM: I think it's - I've got a lot of thoughts on it. There are so many qualified women. And the fact that we keep asking the men whether or not they would choose a woman running mate sort of skips over the fact that we could actually have a woman nominee on the Democratic side. I would welcome it. And I think -- let's be disciplined about this process. Let it take its normal and its natural course. We will get to a vice president. But can we get to a presidential nominee first? Let's get that and then we'll talk about these later.

KEILAR: All right, Andrew Gillum. Thank you so much.

Unplugged and off the cuff Michael Bloomberg sharing what he really thinks of the Democrats who are running for president.

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[16:45:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back now with our "2020 LEAD." And President Trump spelling out exactly which Democrats he wants to face in next year's election but it's those same candidates who are now facing criticism from Michael Bloomberg, a man who considered a presidential run himself over what he calls an apology tour.

What do you make of Michael Bloomberg's comments and is there too much I'm sorry going on in the Democratic side?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Michael Bloomberg isn't running because there isn't an appetite for him in the Democratic Party and I don't think --

KEILAR: He basically says that though, right? He apologized for it.

PSAKI: He admits that and says that, but I also don't think there's an appetite for what he thinks about any of the candidates. Now the fact is here, he's -- would be great on paper and this is kind of a lesson to a lot of people. He's a legitimate businessman. He's done a lot of philanthropic -- probably more for addressing gun violence than anybody else, but he would be a terrible candidate.

I don't even know what he's talking about with the apology tour. I'm sort of not worried about it and I doubt most Democrats are. But I think this was more about a little bit of sour grapes that like there was an appetite. You know, I can't even remember that guy's name. That's how it struck me.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I mean, I actually like Bloomberg and probably agree with him, you know, on most -- on a lot of issues. I think he would be a pretty good president. But I think this is no -- I mean, I tried to --

MEHDI HASAN, COLUMNIST AND SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE INTERCEPT: That's why he's not running, Bill.

KRISTOL: No kidding. That was what he -- that's what he told me. But no, he could run as an independent -- he could run as an independent but I haven't tried to proceed to run as an independent in 2016 and hoping he might run as a Democrat this time or do -- you know, it's irresponsible for him to be doing this, honestly. What's the point? He's not running. You know what, is he going to end up--

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KRISTOL: I mean, he's going to end up supporting Joe Biden if Joe Biden's the nominee against Donald Trump right? And Bloomberg is the guy who said you can't do third-party, you can't do an Independent race so he's not going to --

HASAN: Well, whoever the Democratic --

KRISTOL: Wait, so he should be. So why is he bothering -- so why is he bothering to say this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's not the only making this criticism. There's a big story Politico about all the Democrats being an apology tour. So I do think he is recognizing something that a lot of other people see. The Democrats might not like it because it makes it what kind of candidate seem vulnerable, but yes, they're apologizing a lot. It doesn't seem like they're proud of their history.

PSAKI: I'm not even sure what -- I really would like -- I don't even know what you're talking about, honestly, what they're apologizing for.

HASAN: What's the apology?

CARPENTER: Vice President Joe Biden -- they've all gone out and made remarks saying that I've regretted things in my past. I mean, you can go look at the (INAUDIBLE), Kamala Harris about prosecution, would have done things differently. Beto O'Rourke talking about his previous arrests and now eating dirt on the campaign trail. I mean, there's some wacky stuff going on. You guys might know what it feels but the rest of us are looking pretty --

KEILAR: How he phrase talking about his wife raising their children with a little bit of help -- I may be paraphrasing.

CARPENTER: Yes, I mean every other day their backtracking something.

PSAKI: I'm not sure it's having an impact, honestly.

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CARPENTER: Yes, sure. Because Trump is out there for sure.

HASAN: Just on the Trump remarks. I mean, I care very little about what Bloomberg thinks about the 2020 field. I care even less what Donald Trump thinks. The idea that Donald Trump is somehow telegraphing who he wants to face is absurd. He does want to face anyone. He would love to stay in power indefinitely without an election.

But the idea that he's picking candidates is absurd. He knows -- he looks at the polls. He loses to pretty much any Democrat for election we'll hope tomorrow. Obviously, it's a long time away. Don't be complacent. But the idea that he has a preference for a candidate --

KEILAR: Oh sure. Mehdi says -- Mehdi says he doesn't care what Donald Trump thinks about the Democratic field. Well, let's talk about what Donald Trump thinks about the Democratic field because he said and this was -- it wasn't -- these were the folks he picked. He said Joe Biden, Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders. I -- what do you make of these picks, Amanda?

CARPENTER: They would pinch themselves into delight if Bernie Sanders with a nominee because they want to run against generic socialism. They want to run against Joe Biden because he represents the establishment in every way shape and form. And Beto O'Rourke, I know a lot of people are in love with him. There's a lot of fangirls and fanboys. But when he's jumping up a counterpart -- counter tops bringing home dirt for him and his wife to eat, there's some people that look at that and say there might be something strange going on there.

PSAKI: I don't even know what that means. But I think this is a case of Donald projecting --

AMANDA: There's a Washington of profile bottom.

PSAKI: -- projecting -- look, I could say I'd love to do like a basketball competition against LeBron James. I mean, he's trying to project confidence against the people who are leading in the polls and like convey to everybody that these people are weak. It's silly.

KRISTOL: Can I -- but -- it's silly but it's not stupid. Again, has that kind of --

PSAKI: It's not stupid but that's what he's doing. It's political strategy.

KRISTOL: -- which is someone is trying to help get you to lay the groundwork for some of the challenge Trump and Republican primary. Trump to the degree you can make the Democrats look like they're going crazy, they're going laughs. You believe how great -- it's helping -- and the Democrats are playing into this. I very much agree with the matter.

HASAN: Not just the Democrats.

KRISTOL: It's helping -- it's helping -- it's making it harder. He's making it -- he's getting some of the reluctant Trump supporters to stick with him. Those donors that we read about earlier this week who met with them, they didn't like Trump. They didn't support him at first. Some of them didn't vote from 2016. But if they think Socialism, anti-Semitism, I guess I have to stick with Trump.

Bill, why are you trying to weaken in with a primary challenge? So this is -- what Trump does is clever.

[16:50:03] HASAN: But he can't do it on his own.

KRISTOL: It's clever in a low way. HASAN: But he can't do it on his own. And I think the media has to

think long and hard about how they cover the 2020 race. Don't repeat the same mistakes of 2016 where Trump is the news editor, the executive producer. He decides which candidates we talk about today who's up and who's down when this is a guy who's still obsessed about losing to Hillary by three million votes just on the socialism point.

Whoever the Democrats put up, Joe Biden will be called a socialist. Barack Obama was called a Marxist socialist Kenyan for two elections running. This idea that if you put up Bernie it's going to be socialism, they've already decided that it could be the most right- wing Democrat of all. He'll be smeared as a socialist.

PSAKI: I think -- I just want to say, I agree with Bill and he said it in a much better way. My point is that this is not his secret list of who he's actually scared of.

HASAN: Exactly.

PSAKI: He's doing this as a strategy to kind of weaken these people that he is probably actually a little scared of for different reasons because of their support, their fund-raising, their buzz, whatever it may be. So we should treat it like that and not like it's his secret list he's sharing with America.

KRISTOL: And anyway Mayor Pete is going to be the nominee. Janice was spending time with him, and you have interviewed him yesterday.

KEILAR: You just interviewed him. You said you weren't expecting to like him but now you think that he's a formidable 2020 candidate.

HASAN: I'm not mean about him personally. I'm sure you're very nice. I just thought oh god, you know, who is this mayor thinking I'll just run with 20 other people, why is he running for president and you know, what's his background. It just looks too perfect, but actually very impressive guy, substantive guy, has a vision for the future, will shake up this Democratic primaries.

PSAKI: I was just going to add, I was for Pete -- Mayor Pete Buttigieg, that's how you say his name two years ago. I'm not interesting anyone in the thing but I would say he is legitimate and there's not a huge gap between him and the higher-ranked candidates. People should watch him.

KEILAR: And figure out how to pronounce his last name. It's a challenge but as possible, Buttigieg. So yesterday on the show we discussed some comments from the late Justice Antonin Scalia's son Christopher in which he said that the idea of increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court is "may be an argument worth taking seriously. And we just want to clarify that Christopher Scalia does not support expanding the size of the court.

Waiting for Robert Mueller. The Special Counsel report on the Russia investigation could come at any moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] KEILAR: And we are back now with our "POLITICS LEAD." And the White House bracing for the Mueller report. Today Rudy Giuliani telling the Washington Post the President's legal team is preparing a counter report though they're not sure if they'll need to release it -- release it.

I want to bring in our legal experts to talk about this. Elie Honig, to you first, is a counter report, is that normal?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SDNY: It could be. Look, the White House clearly expects to see the report in advance hey bracing for this because I think they understand that this will be a monumental moment when that report goes over to the attorney general because at that point, it's really more of a mild post than a finish line.

But I think they -- the White House fully realizes that that is where the big questions start to get asked and we're going to see in enormous. I think multi-branch rumble over that report, who gets to see it, what gets to Congress, what comes out on the public and we're going talking about big principles, separations of powers, checks and balances, due process. So we're about to see a big multi-branch rumble breakout.

KEILAR: And Michael Zeldin, walk us through what this sets in motion. What is the process of what happens once this has gone to the attorney general?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So the attorney general receives the confidential report of Mueller. It does not go to the White House. It only goes to Barr. Barr then has to review it to make a determination what he's going to notify Congress of. That would include the fact that Mueller is done and whether or not in the course of the Mueller investigator, he or the Justice Department that is denied Mueller any investigative tools he wanted to use such as a subpoena of the President. That is where it begins and ends for the Justice Department and Mueller.

If however, in the receipt of this report Barr finds that there's an executive privilege, arguable materials that he wants to release to Congress, then he will show those portions of his report to the White House first before the release. Then it all goes over to Congress to see if they happy with what he has sent to them or whether they want to do some sort of subpoena for the whole report and the underlying documents because it's not just the report. That could be a very skeletal thing.

It is all of the appendixes one would normally have in a report that is most relevant to the House to make a determination politically about whether they should be doing about that which Mueller gathered.

KEILAR: That came into play with the Clinton impeachment for sure. It is a good point, Michael. So, Shan Wu, as you see President laying out what's really a P.R. strategy. They are trying to -- the White House is trying to create this expectation that the president may be exonerated by anything that doesn't have collusion specifically by him in this report. You know, legally though, what are the issues for the President moving forward not just here but other investigations that have spun off of this?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think legally the problem is no matter what is released there's going to be negative type information. And so legally he's facing so many different investigations. He's got the Congressional investigation, he's got the Southern District case. This is simply going to lay out the foundation from where all of that came from. So that's generally going to be a very, very unpleasant experience.

KEILAR: Generally a very unpleasant experience, understated there. Shan Wu, Elie Honig, Michael Zeldin, thank you so much. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper and our coverage on CNN continues right now.