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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio On His Presidential Run; CNN Reality Check: What Is Trump Trying To Hide With Deutsche Bank? Billionaire Robert F. Smith's History Of Paying It Forward. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his presidential run last week, making him the 23rd Democrat vying to beat President Trump in 2020. So, what are his chances?

Mayor de Blasio joins us now in-studio. Great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: Do you like our new studio?

DE BLASIO: I think it's pretty snazzy -- congratulations.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Yes, we're really enjoying it. This is our second day so it's so far, so good.

OK, let's talk about your run. So, let's get a little of the unpleasantness over first. The late-night comics and some pundits have been particularly scathing and brutal about your bid over others, I feel. So let's just watch a teeny little snippet of that.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": Well, you guys, after 12 years, today was the final episode of "THE BIG BANG THEORY." Don't worry, it was also the beginning of a brand new comedy, Bill de Blasio's presidential campaign.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Yet another new Democratic candidate pushed his way into the clown car. I'm talking about New York City mayor and Frankenstein's monster's lawyer, Bill de Blasio. You hear the hometown crowd warmly receiving that.


CAMEROTA: I'm glad you're enjoying that moment. What's that about?

DE BLASIO: That's what they do for a living. It's normal. I don't -- look -- CAMEROTA: You didn't think that there was something a little bit nastier about the reaction to your announcement? I mean, here's the "New York Post" -- maybe we have it. Put it -- pull it --

DE BLASIO: Odd -- well --

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm pulling it up.

DE BLASIO: Fox News and the "New York Post" are going to get a definite reaction --

CAMEROTA: All right.

DE BLASIO: -- because I have challenged them plenty of times.

CAMEROTA: Fair enough. But what about -- did you think that pundits and late-night comics were a little more scathing about your --

DE BLASIO: I think this is actually something to understand about me and my candidacy. I'm mayor of the largest, toughest city in America. I have been for six years. To me, that's like a walk in the park.

I didn't even notice that because I deal with really tough issues every single day. I deal with the toughest press corps in America. I deal with -- unfortunately, we're the number one terror target in America.

You know, late-night comics don't bother me.

I'm here because I want to put working people first. We have big changes we have to make in this country and I've proven that we can make change. We've done it here in New York City.

We've done big sweeping things like pre-K for all our children, guaranteed health care for all New Yorkers who don't have health insurance, paid sick leave. Things that really reach working people's lives, and the government is on the side of working people.

So criticism, that's part of life in New York City, but you've got to be tough enough to handle it.

And you've got to be tough enough to take on another New Yorker, Donald Trump, who doesn't play fair, who likes to get really low with people. But if you're not tough enough to be able to fight back, you're not going to win.

I call him "Con Don" because he's a conman. I've watched him for decades. I know his games, I know his tricks, I know how to beat him. I think a New Yorker's exactly right to take on the New Yorker in the White House who has to go.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I get brushing off the tabloids and even the late-night comics, but what about the New York City voters? And I understand you won overwhelmingly in your two elections here.

DE BLASIO: Stay there to that point. Won overwhelmingly in two elections.

BERMAN: Because you're going to go back to that.

But, in the most recent poll when voters were asked by Quinnipiac about the possibility of you running for president, 73 percent said no. Why do you think that is?

DE BLASIO: So again, with every poll, I say it's not where you start, it's where you end. Every time I ran for office -- I've been in 10 elections. I've won them all. I often started as an underdog.

But yes, overwhelmingly elected -- 73 percent originally, 67 percent reelection -- and that's the poll that matters. People in New York City have supported my vision and we've delivered on the vision.

We're the safest big city in America, we have the most jobs we ever had, the highest graduation rate we ever had. These are the kinds of characteristics --

BERMAN: But why --

DE BLASIO: -- you would want in a president.

BERMAN: Why, then, do you think there's that disconnect, though, between your reelection number and that number now with 72 percent saying they don't think you should run?

DE BLASIO: I, again, think people have to get the full picture and that's what campaigns are about. They're just hearing for the first time that I'm running for president. Now they're going to hear about what I want to do as president and how I'm connecting it to the work we've done already.

Look, the things I'm talking about are not position papers. These are achievements. Again, the toughest, largest city in America. I'm talking about a vision of progressive change that we've already put in action.

And I'll tell you, I was out in Iowa and Iowans take the qualifications of candidates very, very seriously. They interview candidates for the whole nation. And when they heard the kinds of things we've already done -- and I talked about guaranteed health care and a focus on mental health care as well -- huge issue in Iowa affecting families. They've seen massive cutbacks in health care, particularly mental health care.

When they hear that we're making mental health care services available more broadly than ever before, we're giving folks direct health care that don't have insurance, that's eye-opening to a lot of folks. So, they're not laughing, they're taking it very, very seriously.

And I'm going to bring that message out and I think it's going to appeal because people need to know that the Democratic nominee is ready for the job. Ready to take on Trump but also ready for the job.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about your issues and your positions. You support -- as you say, you instituted universal pre-K. Elizabeth Warren also has talked about that as part of her platform.

National single-payer health care plan. Bernie Sanders' original idea.

[07:35:03] Protections for undocumented immigrants. Lots of other Democrats feel that way.

Supporting abortion rights. That's, obviously, so much in the news and so important right now. You hear lots of Democratic candidates talking about that -- LGBTQ.

So what's your lane that is unique to you?

DE BLASIO: Having already done the things I'm talking about.

Look, when you have 23 candidates -- a lot of them very good people, obviously, but people who the voters who are looking at this situation want to know who's for real. Who can prove that they're actually going to do the things they're talking about.

So, point one -- I can go down a whole list of items and show as leader of this city, these things happened -- they've been achieved. It's very different to talk about something as opposed to proving you can get it done.

And the second big differentiator -- and this is why I call him "Con Don" because I understand this guy's mentality -- you can't shrink before Donald Trump. You have to be tough enough to take him on.

We can see -- look, I understand this guy's game plan. I've watched it for so long. And I understand there's a way to confront him that's unnerving to him -- that throws him off his game.

CAMEROTA: What is that?

DE BLASIO: It's fighting back every single time. We learned this anytime we dealt with a schoolyard bully. You don't give any ground. You confront him.

You know, he tried to take away our security funding here in New York City early in his administration because we respected the immigrants who are part of the fabric of life in this city. He said we're taking away your security funding. He thought I would cower before that threat.

I said there's no way we're changing our approach. We're going to fight you in court. We're going to beat you. We did beat him in court and he backed off at that point.

This is the pattern we have to understand about this guy. Confront him, be tough on him.

Stay the issues, always. There's no contradiction between having an issue vision -- working people first -- and a clear sense of the changes we need to make in this country. But also, the ability to confront this guy.

Put me on a debate stage with Donald Trump and I'll know how to take him down. It's as simple as that.

BERMAN: I've been listening to your words very carefully here and I think they're very interesting. You keep on emphasizing ready for the job. Mayor of the toughest, biggest city.

So what I keep wondering as you're laying this out there is in juxtaposition to what or to whom? Who else is running, do you think, that doesn't necessarily match this?

And I keep wondering -- you know, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. It's got 140,000 people. New York City's got -- you've got eight million people. Is that the kind of difference of experience you're talking about?

DE BLASIO: I'm not comparing it against any particular candidate, I'm making a point about what I think everyday Americans are looking for. They don't want words, they want deeds. The way to know what someone will do is to see what they've done already.

So when we talk about the safest big city in America, we're the number one target for terrorists in America. We've managed to keep this city safe, consistently.

The biggest school system in America. Pre-K for all instituted for every single child for free.

These are the kinds of things everyday Americans want to see in their lives. But when they know someone's done it on the toughest stage, that, to me, is the kind of thing that gives people confidence you can handle the job of president.

CAMEROTA: But did you watch Mayor Pete's launch and how much attention he was getting and think wait a second, I can do that? I mean, was that an inspiration for you?

DE BLASIO: No, no, not at all. It's -- look, I've thought about this for a long time and I decided I had something to offer. It's as simple as that.

I have done things that are different from some of the other candidates. I have achieved these real progressive changes.

And when I say working people first -- I want to emphasize this -- the one percent in this country of concentrated wealth and power in a way we haven't seen in many generations. In this city, we have been giving money back to working people. All the things I'm talking about -- guaranteed health care, pre-K, paid sick leave.

These are ways of actually dealing with this current reality in America where people are working harder and harder and getting less and less. Middle-class people, working-class people struggling to make ends meet. And we're finding ways to give people back money so their lives can be better. I've done that and I think that vision is important to the future of our country.

BERMAN: All right, something very serious now.

CAMEROTA: Something very important, I would say.

BERMAN: I would say the important stuff coming up now.

CAMEROTA: Candidate mixtape. We like to talk music whenever we can, so what's on your playlist? What's your favorite band?

DE BLASIO: My favorite band is The Clash.


CAMEROTA: We haven't heard that one yet.


CAMEROTA: That's very cool.


CAMEROTA: And so, what are your top songs that you like to listen to?

DE BLASIO: Oh, so many -- so many. Now, I'd say for The Clash, when I think about it, "London Calling" -- that whole album -- a beautiful album. There's many good hits on that one.

So -- but I also love -- I love reggae. I love Bob Marley, I love Peter Tosh.

CAMEROTA: How do you feel about ska?

DE BLASIO: I love ska.

CAMEROTA: Right, because combo of the punk -- your punk aesthetic and reggae.

DE BLASIO: I -- Alisyn, I didn't know -- I didn't know you had all this to you.

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes, yes. There's a whole hidden ska happening inside me.

BERMAN: Can I ask about The Clash? You know, obviously, you're rebelling against something there. What do you feel like you're rebelling against? What do -- what do the inner voices tell you?

DE BLASIO: I'll tell you something. I thought their music spoke about a different, better world.

[07:40:00] You know, there's a beautiful line, if know Joe Strummer, who was the lead singer. And, "The Future Is Unwritten" was a message he often would talk about and I think that's very pertinent today.

You've got global warming, you've got a huge economic inequality, tremendous concerns, and yet, tremendous possibility for change.

And I'll tell you, I just had a wonderful moment yesterday. My son, Dante, graduated from college.

CAMEROTA: Congratulations.

BERMAN: Congratulations.

DE BLASIO: Thank you. And I got to spend time with a lot of young people. And I have faith that the generation coming up understands these immense challenges but also still believes we can change things while there's time -- and particularly, global warming.

So when I think about that music, I think about the hope in it. I think -- I think about the idea that change is still possible but we have to feel it in our hearts.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Bill de Blasio, rock on.

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you so much for being here.

DE BLASIO: Alisyn, you're impressive -- ska.

CAMEROTA: I know. We should go to a ska concert.

BERMAN: You should. She's impressive.

DE BLASIO: Go to Skatalites. Skatalites --

CAMEROTA: I would love -- I would love that.

DE BLASIO: The Skatalites, she even knows that.

CAMEROTA: I love that.

BERMAN: Now, I'm concerned.

All right, Mayor, thank you very much.

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, Dana Bash moderates CNN's town hall with former congressman Beto O'Rourke. That's tonight at 10:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

BERMAN: So why did one bank keep bending over backwards for Donald Trump, even after he defaulted on loans and sued them? A must-see reality check is next.


[07:45:00] BERMAN: The strange tale of Donald Trump and Deutsch Bank has so much drama it reads like the "Real Housewives of Wall Street." Now, it's taken a dark, new twist with accusations of money laundering.

John Avlon is responsible for all of this and joins us with our reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There are some things I can't take responsibility for.

But for all of you out there who were denied a mortgage despite a good credit score and liquidity just because the big banks were running scared after the financial crisis of 2008, do we have a story for you because one very big bank has stuck by one very controversial client for decades through thick and thin -- mostly thin -- extending him $2.5 billion in loans when other banks wouldn't give him the time of day.

We're talking, of course, about Donald Trump. The financial institution in question? Deutsche Bank.

It's a head-smacking tale and it's all connected to the title Trump used to love to give himself.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm the king of debt. I'm great with debt.


AVLON: No, in the 1990s, fresh off staggering losses in Atlantic City, it seemed like no other bank would deal with him, but Deutsche Bank was eager to gain a foothold in America. And what followed was hundreds of millions in loans from aggressive loan officers who loved trips in Trump's private jet and golf outings at Mar-a-Lago. Then -- spoiler alert -- it all began to fall apart.

There was an accusation of a forged signature on a loan document, and bank officials determined that Trump wasn't worth what he said he was.

And then came this stunning bit of brass. After the financial crisis, Trump actually sued the bank to get out of a massive $500 million loan because former fed chief Alan Greenspan called the 2008 meltdown a, quote, "tsunami" making it, in Trump's mind, an act of God.

But, Deutsche Bank responded by challenging "Anchorman" -- I'm not even angry, I'm impressed -- because its parts of the bank kept doing business with him.

Now, Trump moved on to the private banker with Jared Kushner and then Trump used that loan from the bank to pay back the money he already owed to the bank. But some bigwigs began to worry and by the time Trump was elected, word went around the bank wasn't even to use the name Trump on the trading floor.

They were already in hot water for alleged interest rate manipulation, selling toxic assets, and -- wait for it -- Russian money laundering, which would ultimately cost them some $10 billion in fines and settlements.

And now we've learned, according to "The New York Times", that transactions involving companies controlled by Trump and his son-in- law, Kushner, set off the bank's own internal alarms against money laundering.

Now, a veteran employee who investigated some of the transactions says her work was ignored and she was subsequently fired, and she's now filed a formal complaint.

But, Deutsche Bank says there were, quote, "numerous inaccuracies" in the "Times" reporting they're legally restrained from saying which ones. A spokeswoman said investigators were never pushed to ignore suspicious activity and no one was ever fired over concerns. The flagged transactions weren't necessarily improper and a spokesman from the Trump-Kushner also issued denials of the report.

Still, there are a lot of questions here and we may start getting some answers because on Wednesday, there's a hearing over team Trump's efforts to block the bank from complying with House subpoenas.

So why is Trump trying so hard to keep all this hidden? Well, perhaps, a clue lies in the tweet tornado that ensued after the "Times" report.

Quote, "The failing New York Times keeps writing phony stories about how I didn't use many banks because they didn't want to do business with me. WRONG! It is because I didn't need the money."

And if you believe that, I've got a low-interest loan to sell you.

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: Wrong!

AVLON: Wrong! Wrong! A little John McGlothlin reference.

BERMAN: I was going to say --

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's right.

BERMAN: Well done.

CAMEROTA: You're so right, John Avlon. Thank you very much.

OK. The billionaire behind that incredible commencement surprise at Morehouse College who offered to pay off all of the student loan debt for the graduating class -- well, it turns out he's no stranger to paying it forward.

But who is Robert F. Smith? CNN's Victor Blackwell explains.




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR, "WEEKEND EDITION NEW DAY" AND "CNN NEWSROOM" (voice-over): The reaction is priceless but the price tag is really tens of millions of dollars.

Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert Smith pledges to wipe out every penny of student loan debt for nearly 400 Morehouse College graduates.


SMITH: I know my class will make sure they pay this forward.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The 56-year-old son of educators says he grew up understanding the importance of philanthropy watching his mother make monthly donations to the United Negro College Fund. Throughout his career, Smith has donated millions and even founded philanthropic projects.

He started his career as a chemical engineer before heading to Columbia Business School. In 2000, Smith launched Vista Equity Partners, an equity firm that invests in software companies.

SMITH: And we created a place where people become their best selves.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Today, Smith is the country's wealthiest African-American with a $5 billion fortune.

BLACKWELL (on camera): The president of Morehouse College tells us that this is the school's largest single donation but the true value, it really is immeasurable. These men will be able to potentially buy houses or start businesses, invest in their retirement, and invest in themselves by maybe going on to graduate school -- realities that might not have been possible if not for the generosity of Robert F. Smith.

[07:50:05] BLACKWELL (voice-over): Some grads are already planning how they'll give back.

CAMERON EDGE, GRADUATE, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE: It's my goal to go to law school and study civil rights law. And I should pay it forward by representing people who are underrepresented in the courtroom and advocate for them on their behalf.

SMITH: More than the money, the awards, the recognition, the titles, we will all be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Smith has made other significant donations, notably $20 million in 2016 to the National Museum of African-American History, one of the largest private donations to the museum, second only to Oprah Winfrey.

Speaking to students at his alma mater in 2017, he shared his familiar message -- pay it forward.

SMITH: Part of what you really have to do is think about what is your highest and best use, OK, in giving back to your communities.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Well, Smith did just that, and he hopes these Morehouse men will do the same.

Victor Blackwell, CNN, Atlanta.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Victor for helping us learn much more about this man who I think has captivated so many of us the last few days.

CAMEROTA: And changed so many lives.


The Republican congressman who says President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct now faces a fresh primary challenge. Could Congressman Justin Amash lose his seat? That's next.


[07:55:29] BERMAN: Republican Congressman Justin Amash has doubled down on his comments that President Trump's action have met the threshold for impeachment. Now, Michigan State Rep. Jim Lower says he will challenge Amash for his congressional seat in next year's primary. So how vulnerable is Amash?

There's something about Harry --

CAMEROTA: Who is dancing us into the -- oh, boy.

BERMAN: All right, let's do "The Forecast" with CNN senior politics writer and dancer, Harry Enten.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER: And new jacket-wear, too. Don't you like this?

CAMEROTA: Very nice.

ENTEN: I thought I would wear something special for the new set.

So let's take a look, right, and just give you an idea of how unusual Justin Amash is compared to the average House Republican.

So, 5/30 it's been tracking -- "How often do you vote with President Trump?" Justin Amash has only voted with the president 62 percent of the time.

The average House Republican, on the other hand, has voted with the president 93 percent of the time. This 62 percent is the lowest of any single congressional Republican.

CAMEROTA: That's interest because he's part of the -- he was a co- founder of the House Freedom Caucus which, of course, is seen as the most conservative in the -- in all of Congress. So that's an interesting number.

ENTEN: Yes. He's more of a libertarian leaner.

And I will say the rest of that caucus has basically said goodbye to Justin Amash. They are not joining him on this mission. And part of the reason that they are not joining him on this mission is because truthfully, it's not a mission worth having if you want to win reelection.

Why is that? Because most Republican voters, at this point, love Donald Trump. Look, his approval rating in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, among Republicans, 88 percent. And just eight percent -- eight percent want a House impeachment investigation.

This is just -- these are not high numbers. These are not what you generally expect if you would want Republican House members to go along with an impeachment.

BERMAN: Is there any historical comparison between where President Trump is and where Nixon was?

ENTEN: Yes, take a look at this, right? So, back in '74 when there were a number of House Republicans who joined in on the calls for impeachment of Richard Nixon -- although many did not -- look at this. Forty-four percent of Republicans, that year, wanted Nixon to be impeached.

BERMAN: Of Republicans.

ENTEN: Of Republicans wanted Nixon to be impeached. That's a significantly higher number than the eight percent that we see down here who want that investigation.

So, 44 percent wanted him impeached and his approval rating among Republicans in July of 1974 was just 50 percent, so it was about 40 percentage points lower. That's the type of movement you're going to have to see from voters if you want Republicans in the House.

CAMEROTA: That's frightening.

BERMAN: Can I bring up one point, though? The date here is July of '74, which was a week or two before he left office. So it may be that we're in an earlier time period.

ENTEN: We are in an earlier time period. And I did look this up and I will say Nixon's approval rating earlier in '74 was higher among Republicans, but it was only at about 60 percent. So it was still much, much lower than it was at this point.

CAMEROTA: So what's going to happen to Justin Amash?

ENTEN: Yes. I mean, look, he is vulnerable to a primary challenge. Back in 2014, for instance, he already faced one due to his sort of unusual unorthodox voting style. And back then he only won reelection in that primary by 14 percentage points over Brian Ellis. And obviously, we have already spoken about that there is a primary challenger going on this year.

So the fact that he's already vulnerable and now, President Trump has come out against him, that's not exactly what you want if you're a vulnerable House Republican.

BERMAN: Not even close.

All right, Pennsylvania.

ENTEN: Right. So it turns out that today, folk, it's Election Day -- my favorite day. We have a special House election in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District between Fred Keller and Marc Friedenberg, the Democrat.

Look, this is an overwhelmingly Trump district -- 66 percent. I'm going to lean all the way -- actually, I'm going to walk away over here. Donald Trump overwhelmingly won this district, so this is the type of district where we would expect a Republican to win by a rather large margin.

And here's the thing to keep in mind, right? We want to take into account that margin -- that previously -- how it voted back in the district previously, because remember, in congressional special elections from January 2017 to October 2018, Democrats outperformed the 2016 presidential margin by -- get this -- 12 percentage points.

And then look what happened in November of 2018. Democrats won the national House vote by nine. So these two are correlated.

If we get more House elections like this -- if, let's say, if the Democrats overperform it might be good news for 2020.

BERMAN: You've got 20 seconds left.



ENTEN: I've got 20 seconds left. I just want to point out a lot of people were watching this. I was with someone who was watching this saying, "Oh my God, amazing -- whoa." Most people, though, weren't watching this.

I mean, look at "SEINFELD" in 1980 -- 1998. Seventy-six million people watched it versus 19 million people watching "GAME OF THRONES." That, I think, is an idea of how much our viewership is divided these days.

CAMEROTA: And when you say ""Oh my God, amazing," well, were there any mind-altering substances being used?

ENTEN: I do not believe in them. Stay off drugs, kids. I do not believe in drugs. I just drink cream soda and Popeye's chicken.

BERMAN: All right.

CAMEROTA: I believe -- I know that to be true.

ENTEN: I actually make a Popeye smoothie -- chicken smoothie.

CAMEROTA: I'm going to throw up now.

BERMAN: That's disgusting.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, Harry.

ENTEN: It's early in the morning.

BERMAN: Thank you.

ENTEN: Smiles.

CAMEROTA: All right.

Moving on, there's growing pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over impeachment.