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Cory Booker Drops Out Of 2020 Presidential Race; Sanders Reportedly Tells Warner No Woman Can Win 2020 Election; Widow Of U.S. Soldier Killed By Iranian-Backed Militias Talks Soleimani Death; "L.A. Time's" Virginia Heffernan Likens Trump Supporters To A Cult. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 13, 2020 - 14:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Gloria Borger, good to have you on. Good to see you. Thank you.


BALDWIN: The 2020 Democratic field just got smaller today. Today, Senator Cory Booker announced that he is dropping out of the race after he failed to qualify for tomorrow night's debate. The Senator says, it was a difficult decision to make, but admitted that there was no longer a pathway to victory.

So with me now, CNN Political Commentator and Democratic Strategist, Aisha Mills.

Happy New Year, by the way.


BALDWIN: Senator Booker out.

MOODIE-MILLS: He is out. And I'm sorry to see him go.

I mean, it makes sense. I think they had months ago kind of tried to set expectations lower, expectations about how much money they were raising, could they actually compete in Iowa, et cetera.

But I'm sorry to see him go and I'm sorry to see this field that started off as the most historically diverse --

BALDWIN: Diverse.

MOODIE-MILLS: -- presidential field ever whittled down to what we're going to see on the debate stage this week, which is, you know, rather surprising, given all of the -- not only the progressive voices, but the voices, like a Julian Castro, who were talking about immigration.

And then you have Cory Booker, who really tried to bring this energy around love and who we are as a collective people and kind of being bigger than Donald Trump in terms of our values. And we're going to miss so much of that now, because he's gone. BALDWIN: Speaking of love or maybe lack thereof, tomorrow night, all

eyes are going to be on Senator Warren and Senator Sanders.

You've seen our reporting. We were just talking to M.J. Lee about this meeting, apparently at Senator Warren's apartment in Washington back in December of '18. Again, context, that's when all of those women won seats in the House.

And flash forward to this conversation, they basically make this pact, hey, I'm not going to tear you down, you don't tear me down, we're both repping the progressive wing of the party if we so choose to run.

And he apparently -- this is according to a couple of sources to M.J., that he said to Elizabeth Warren, that I don't think a woman can win. And she has yet to -- she or her camp have yet to comment on this story.

Senator Sanders in, you know, no uncertain terms, has vociferously refuted that reporting. Do you think the truth is somewhere in the middle? What do you think?

MOODIE-MILLS: Here's what I think, generally, about the sexism that just permeates politics. And so much of culture. We watched Hillary Clinton run. And we watched so much of the challenges that she had and there were many with the campaign and otherwise. But that there were a group of people, a lot of people, voters who said, I just don't like her because she's a woman.

What I feel and think about this, though, and I believe Elizabeth Warren parrots this a bit, is that we should not be in a position where we stoop to the lowest common denominator of what we think a few people may or may not be able to accept.

And in this sense, you know, maybe Bernie Sanders did or didn't say it, but the idea that anybody would take caution because we don't think a woman can win to me is just problematic.

If you're running for president in the United States, you should be so ambitious in your ideals, in your leadership, in your vision for who we could be as a people, that you want to transcend all the isms.

Remember, nobody thought that Barack Obama could win and that America wasn't ready for a black guy.


MOODIE-MILLS: So the idea that you would go around and holding on to this notion that America isn't ready for a woman as opposed to doing the work of making Americans ready for a woman, of bringing these values of inclusion and equality to bear to me is overall problematic.

And we see some of the candidates in this race, Biden comes to mind, who want to play it safe. Who say, I'm the kind of guy that everybody's used to. I don't think we get far when we keep doing what we've always done. That's not the way forward or not progress. This idea around gender is the same thing. And Bernie Sanders says he

didn't say it, that's fine, but it's the sentiment that's just underlying generally that we need to refute.

BALDWIN: It will be fascinating to watch the two of them, who really have thus far in these debates stuck together. Will they clash? We'll be watching tomorrow night.

Aisha, thank you very much.

MOODIE-MILLS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Right now, as we watch the shifting justification for killing Iran's top general, we'll talk to one woman who has no doubt it was the right thing to do. The widow of an American soldier killed by militias joins me next.



BALDWIN: In February of 2008, Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake wrote a letter to his baby son. He promised to teach him to ride his first bike, build his first sand box, watch proudly as he played sports and see him have children of his own.

But he would never go on to do that. One month after writing that letter, Christopher Hake was killed in Iraq after an explosive device punched through the fuel tank of his Bradley fighting vehicle, setting it on fire.

The U.S. military says Iraqi militias who carried out that attack and countless others received the training and weapons to use that from neighboring Iran and its Revolutionary Guards Quds force who was headed by General Qasem Soleimani.

And Kelli Hake is the widow of Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake and the mother of their 13-year-old son, Gage.

Kelli, thank you so much for being with me.


BALDWIN: We're so grateful for all of the sacrifice that your husband gave to this country.

And I would like to begin there. And so, when you first found out that the U.S. killed Soleimani in that drone strike, what was the first thing that went through your mind?

HAKE: Probably a little bit of relief, knowing that he couldn't hurt anyone else.

BALDWIN: And can you describe the relief of it more? HAKE: Yes, I just -- the name came across and the name wasn't super

familiar, but the name of the IRGC was very familiar to me. And so I put everything together and realized what had just happened.

It kind of felt like a burden off my chest that he was gone and I didn't really have to worry so much, you know. It was just like a burden off my chest.


BALDWIN: Would you mind just taking me back to when you first learned that you had lost him at time. You had this little baby boy. Did someone come knocking on your door? How did you find out?

HAKE: They did. It was exactly 6:00 in the morning. There was a knock at my door. I was very confused at the time. It was the day after Easter Sunday, so it was a Monday. And I went to go answer it.

My son was still in his bed sleeping and I wasn't tall enough to look through the peephole. So I looked through the window of my -- by the front of my House and realized it was men in uniform and automatically, I went over and opened the door and wasn't quite comprehending exactly what they were there for.

Until they asked me if I was Mrs. Christopher Michael Hake and when I realized -- when they said that, I realized what they were asking. And I said, no, and I shut the door. They knocked again. It took me a few minutes to gather myself.

I opened back the door and they proceeded to tell me that he had been hit by a roadside bomb and did not make it. It was the hardest day of my life.

BALDWIN: I can't even begin to appreciate what that must have felt like, as a wife, as a mother. And then, at what point did you realize, at what point did you put two and two together, that the way in which your husband was killed was ultimately at the hands of this guy, Soleimani?

HAKE: That was not until years later.

BALDWIN: Tell me how.

HAKE: So I had known during conversations with other soldiers that he was killed by a very specific IED called an EFP. I had known that it was a very specific kind, but that's really all I knew.

I didn't know that it was made in Iran. I didn't know the specifics of everything at the time.

And then as years passed, I ended up getting a letter from my lawyer, who wasn't my lawyer at the time, but kind of explaining what their findings were, and that they were tracing these EFPs back to Iran and that they would like to have another conversation with me.

And at that time, I went ahead and spoke with them and learned more about who actually killed my husband.

BALDWIN: Yes, so let me back up, for people who aren't following us. So you're in a lawsuit and you are part of this lawsuit that was filed back in February of 2016, about 3800 or so wounded veteran or relatives of servicemembers who were lost in the line of duty this way.

So when your now-lawyer, but at the time total stranger, came up to you and said, we want you to join this lawsuit, it's my understanding you were at first skeptical.

HAKE: I was very skeptical.


HAKE: I had never really dealt with lawyers or anything and I definitely went through and researched and did my background and stuff and when I realized --


BALDWIN: Homework.

HAKE: Yes. And when I realized that they knew what they were talking about and they had done their research, then I decided to join the lawsuit.

BALDWIN: And what are you all hoping to gain from this?

HAKE: To make it public. I want the American people to understand that Iran had a part in killing my husband, who was an American soldier.

BALDWIN: And now your son -- it's Gage, right? Gage is your now 13- year-old?

HAKE: Yes. Yes, ma'am.

BALDWIN: That's old enough to understand. You know, he doesn't -- you know, his dad's gone. I don't know how much you have explained to him, but how have you spoken to him, maybe explaining why old wounds have been reopened, or as you said off the top, this burden has been lifted.

What has that conversation looked like with him?

HAKE: There are have been few conversations here and there. I mean, at first, he was so young, really, we just said, you know, daddy died and went to heaven to be with the angels. As he's gotten older, we have talked more about how he died and how he was our hero and how he's an American hero.

We've gone through those things, as he asks questions. We try to answer them to the best we can for however old he is at time. When we did find out that Soleimani had passed away, I did tell him that he was -- he was the one responsible for his dad's death.

BALDWIN: And he said what to you, as a 13-year-old boy?

HAKE: He kind of looked at me and he was like, really? And then he just kind of running around the house saying, yes, yes, he's dead! So I could tell he was very relieved as well.


BALDWIN: We'll stay in touch and see what happens with this lawsuit.

Kelli Hake, thank you. Thank you for just everything, to you and your family.

HAKE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: There's no question the president has a loyal base, but one columnist says he has developed a cult following. We'll have her explain live.

And more on what we just reported. The White House is urging Senate Republicans to include the ability to dismiss all charges against the president in his impeachment trial. More from behind the scenes.

We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: Despite the steady stream of lies and contradictions coming from the president on almost a daily basis here, Trump supporters along with large parts of the Republican Party have never wavered in their support for President Trump.

Whether it was evangelical Christian, who never turned on the president amid his infidelity and at least 15 women alleging sexual misconduct, or Republican lawmakers staying mum about the president's foreign policy moves that were once unthinkable for a Republican president.

But despite all of that, Republicans and Trump supporters have remained faithful and more so. Why is that.

In this fascinating piece, "L.A. Times" columnist, Virginia Heffernan, flat-out calls Trumpism a cult.

Virginia is with me now.

So I read this and I was like, I've got to talk to her. You were up front in the piece, you read Trumpism referred to as a cult. You said, that's taking it a bit too far. You changed your mind?

VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, COLUMNIST, "L.A. TIMES: I never liked the, "Trump's a narcissist," you know in the beginning, where it was like, he's just like my dad, he's a narcissist. I feel like that's just name calling. Malignant narcissist.


HEFFERNAN: Malignant narcissist. I didn't want that name calling.

And I thought saying Trumpism is a cult is a way saying, there's no good reason, there must be some kind of brainwashing or occult with to convince people to follow trump.


HEFFERNAN: There's no way that an ordinary human in their right mind. They would have to be body snatched by some kind of Chinese Communist.

A lot of thinking of cults goes back to the Korean wars and the operation of Chinese Communists to indoctrinate people.

And we've come up with those big ideas that those procedures are almost supernatural.

And I like that, because what would make you more a member of a cult than if you were, "A," told that you had been subjected to supernatural forces or "B" that other people were subjected to those forces and that's why they believed it. It just creates more paranoia.

BALDWIN: But you changed your mind?

HEFFERNAN: I know. But now I'm creating more paranoia.

BALDWIN: Tell me why.

HEFFERNAN: So Trump had been compared to almost everyone. On the left, he's compared to Hitler and Mussolini.


BALDWIN: All the worst --


HEFFERNAN: Right, all of our inhibitions are gone about who to compare him to. And his supporters have compared him to Cyrus, the sixth century Persian king, to King David.

But all of a sudden, over the summer, he said he was the chosen one. He looked up at Heaven, presumably, to the God that has chosen him, and started using Messiah language.

And it was seconded by Rick Perry, a right-wing radio host started referring to him as Jesus.

He had been Jesus a little bit in the Russian propaganda. But now he was fully embracing it.

And I started to read more and more case studies of people lost to -- I hope I can name your competitor, FOX News --

(CROSSTALK) HEFFERNAN: -- to the number of stories about people whose parents, especially, but loved ones, husbands, wives had had radical personality shifts. And that's one of the things that seems to mark a cult member.

BALDWIN: I'm listening and hanging on your every word, but I'm also thinking like, a cult, like an ex-Moonie, mind control, brainwashing comes to mind.


BALDWIN: We're talking about a man who's elected president and yes, people are fervent supporters, but isn't this a bit -- like a bit of a stretch, calling it a cult.


BALDWIN: Tell me why it's not.

HEFFERNAN: I'm glad you brought up the Moonies. It's Steven Hassan who's a real expert on Moonies on Twitter. He was a former follower of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He was a fascist cult leader. There are Socialist cults like Jim Jones, and Fascist cults, and usually they're along those axes.

And this one has a bit of a doomsday quality. They fasted for Nixon. They did all kinds of things.

Steven was inducted into that cult. He was tricked, a sort of honey pot. He was approached by a bunch of girls on campus, they brought him back, and two and a half years later, he was starving for Nixon.

He was from a Jewish family, He had decided, even if Moon is Hitler, I'll follow him to the ends of the earth. That's what he said.

BALDWIN: And you feel like that's how Americans are approaching President Trump.

HEFFERNAN: Yes, yes.

BALDWIN: And how do you think Americans are going that far?

BALDWIN: You started the segment by saying, how is it that evangelicals, when Trump seems to betray their every value, how could they follow him? Or Libertarians, when he does the Muslim ban or puts up the wall, and anathema to the Libertarians' position or family values position on marriage and his lifestyle.

That's the point. You believe -- you start saying and believing the opposite of what you think. Or the opposite of what your authentic self feels.

Steven Hassan said, when he yelled out, I will follow Moon. Even if he's Hitler, I will follow him to the end. He said he felt like a sick, almost tingling in his spine of kind of nausea. Just a time that you've said something in lockstep with something that you don't believe. It's inauthentic.


And, you know, as people around the country fight with Trump with relatives or try to show compassion with them, they seem divided to the person themselves.

And just even watching people make -- think of reasons for the Soleimani assassination, think of reasons retroactively, it's like scrambling around to make excuses for someone who's controlling you or someone who's domineering.

BALDWIN: It's quite a conversation to think about it. And it's a great piece. In the "L.A. Times" today.

Virginia, thank you so much for coming on.

HEFFERNAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Your podcast is where?

HEFFERNAN: Trumpcast on "Slate." We talk about cultism, Hassan and Trumpism there.

BALDWIN: You've got it.

Virginia, thank you very much for that.

More twists and turns today as the Trump administration struggles to explain the intel that led to the strike on Iran's top general. We have new CNN reporting that's just coming out. We'll share that with you next.

And did Senator Bernie Sanders tell Senator Elizabeth Warren that a woman cannot win the presidential election? His campaign joins me live to respond, ahead!