Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump's Very Notable Silence on Stormy Daniels; Two More Lawyers Decline to Join Trump Legal Team; Trump Suggests U.S. Military Foot the Bill for Border Wall; Sean Penn on His Debut Novel. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 27, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:02] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he'll never be mistaken for Silent Cal Coolidge except perhaps when it comes to a subject that President Coolidge could really never have imagined nor spoken out loud. On the table tonight, President Trump's very notable silence on Stormy Daniels, who we just learned tonight a source close to the White House says he will maintain.
Also, the trouble President Trump appears to be having filling out his legal team or even keeping it up to strength. And later, who is going to pay for the wall. The President promising Mexico would. Then he tried to get taxpayers too and now, well, a new answer perhaps.
First, radio silence on Stormy Daniels and the question is raising including at today's White House briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I still don't know that I understand why the President' response has been so different in this case. On object 13th, 2016, he said these claims were all fabricated. The next day, he said, I have no idea who these women are. They're lying. Mrs. Trump has said he will push back 10 times as hard. No matter if you're a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal. Why the silence? Is someone advising him to be silent or is he following his own advice here?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think it's silent when the President has addressed this. We've addressed it extensively. There's nothing else to add. Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again doesn't mean that we have to keep coming up with new things to say. We've addressed it. We've addressed it extensively, and there's nothing new to add to this conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Again, the breaking news tonight, the President will not be adding to the conversation anytime soon because our source says he doesn't believe it's hurting his poll numbers.
I spoke earlier tonight about his reticence about this, but not other things with Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Congressman Dent, are you surprised at all that the President still hasn't commented about Stormy Daniels, and he's certainly not shy about, you know, commenting on the special counsel's investigation, which potentially holds far more serious consequences for him.
REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, actually I think the President has played this better by -- I thought silence is probably not a bad strategy. It seems to me that, you know, the less he says about this, the better. So I thought that's the right way to handle it. I think he should frankly use this strategy more often on more issues, particularly with respect to -- you mentioned Director Mueller. He should be silent. So I think that's the right approach.
COOPER: According to "The Washington Post," the President has privately been telling people that he believes Daniels' -- the story is a hoax. I'm wondering, do you believe it's a hoax? I mean, do you believe her allegations?
DENT: Well, when people elected Donald Trump, I think they realized they were not electing a choir boy. And so, you know, I think she's credible. I think she's credible. I thought Karen McDougal was credible. But, again, I'm not so sure that the American public is completely surprised, you know, by these events after what we went through during the campaign and the "Access Hollywood" tapes.
COOPER: You raise an interesting point because we've heard from a lot of evangelicals or other Trump supporters who say, look, we're not electing a pastor in chief, you know. We're electing a commander in chief, a President. I'm wondering what you make of that argument. I mean, do you see it as the job of the President to be a moral leader for the country?
DENT: Well, I happen to think it's important for the President to set a good example, and I do. I think that's very important. I think the American people need to be able to trust what the President says. I do get concerned, for example, on Friday when the President talks about vetoing an omnibus spending bill that he helped negotiate. I mean those types of things do concern me, or I do get concerned when he makes statements that are false in the event, I'll say the Canadian surplus issue when in fact the United States runs a surplus with Canada. He'll say things that are factually not accurate, and I think that's a problem. I do.
And I don't know how many in the evangelical community can reconcile, you know, some of their positions at this moment. They seem to be more concerned about someone who embraces their policies on a public level as opposed to maybe, you know, living by a personal code that they would find objectionable.
COOPER: I mean, it does seem like if the shoe were on the other foot, if, say, President Obama had been facing allegations like this, I wonder if, you know, the evangelical community would have been responding in the same way or other Republicans would have been responding in the same way. DENT: Oh, no, they'd be waving a bloody shirt. You know, it would be a human rights violation. It would have been the shoe on the other foot. I mean, there's no question about it. You know, had this been a Democratic President who had been, you know, conciliatory toward the Russians, for example.
I'm sure as Republicans, we'd be, you know, screaming, you know, morning to night about such a situation. When a Democratic president -- and with Bill Clinton, I mean, let's face it, I wasn't in Congress back then, but a lot of folks were pretty darn alarmed and outraged and had a strong voice about the character, saying character counts. And now that the shoe is on the other foot, a lot of those same folks are pretty damn silent.
[21:05:05] COOPER: Do you think this has -- I mean, the President's behavior, whether it's past behavior or current behavior, more generally could impact the midterm elections or in what way do you think it could impact the midterm elections?
DENT: Oh, yes, absolutely. This midterm election in my view will be a referendum on the President of the United States and his conduct in office. And that's what typically midterm elections are about, the party in power and specifically the President and his party. And I think that will be the case this election, and all the other issues will be secondary or tertiary to the President. This will be a straight up referendum on the President and his conduct. So I think these issues will have an impact.
COOPER: Congressman Dent, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
DENT: Thank you, Anderson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Let's bring in the panel. Hopefully they are not remaining silent. Ryan Lizza, Kirsten Powers, Rob Astorino, Peter Beinart, Alice Stewart and Frank Bruni.
Frank, you wrote about this, about President Trump's silence. And you said it was, "It was glaring and fascinating omission." A glaring and fascinating omission, what do you think is behind it?
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I think we've also assumed the people he's tweeting the most about are the one who's are rattling him the most. And I think it may be the case when he's not saying anything about someone, that's when he's really rattled.
And I wonder -- I think there are many possible explanations but one of the ones that I wonder about is when you have someone like Stormy Daniels coming out. She's striking -- what she could or couldn't say is striking one of the pillars of the President's vanity. He has spent many years of building the persona of the devastating, irresistible lady's man. It's what he used to brag about it on Howard Stern.
We had a presidential debate where he assured us that everything below the belt was just fine. I mean, this is a real pillar of his identity and he knows that someone like Stormy Daniels is going to some out and talk about various facets of their actual encounter. And that's what she did you. She talked about how she found it sort of pathetic that he was pointing to himself on a magazine cover and she said does this work with most women. She talks about spanking. She said she didn't find him attractive, she said she didn't want to have sex with him. I think this stuff bothers him. And I think she knew that was the kind of thing he knew she might say and I think he's just running away from this because it's part of his identity that freaks him out. I mean, what she's saying about it.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Another thing you wrote recently or in that piece was about traditional Presidential etiquette is gone, and traditional Presidential ethics are gone, which unfortunately I tend to agree with you because we all knew this about Donald Trump. We all knew this was part of his character. We all knew that he was a ladies man and philanderer. But a lot of people elected him anyway.
And as Charlie Dent said, people stood behind him. Republicans stood behind him because of his policies. I think at this point we have to just accept the fact that we knew we had a flawed candidate in the Republican Party.
I worked really, really hard for someone who had ethics and integrity to be the Republican nominee, and he didn't make it. We ended up with Donald Trump. I think at this stage of the game, we have to understand this is who we have. He is tremendously flawed, but at the end of the day, he is our President. And clearly the reason he's being quiet here is because he knows he's wrong here. He knows that these women -- despite their careers and playboy playmate and porn stars, he knows that they're right, and there's nothing he can say about it. And attribute that's why we have this --
COOPER: Rob, is this supported the President -- why do you think he's being silent?
ROB ASTORINO, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think it's the right kind of thing to do because once he opens his mouth on this, it will be never ending.
COOPER: It amplifies the story.
ASTORINO: It does. And it will give credence to what she has said whether it's right or wrong. I mean, in the interview there were two things -- I was one of the 22 million who watched it because of curiosity. I think that's what a lot of people wanted to see in this and what she could possibly say.
I didn't learned anything expect two things, one, spanking, which is completely salacious. And the second about a threat, which was not salacious. It was uncorroborated. So I didn't really learn anything new from this. This is old news. It has nothing to do with what he's done in the White House, which is a very big distinction. And, you know, people are making an issue about the nondisclosure. Just go back to when that was signed. He was well down in the polls. So it wasn't like they were doing this to potentially hold the lead and win the White House.
COOPER: But are you saying it was just a coincidence that she was asked and signed a nondisclosure agreement 11 days before the election? That's what Michael Cohen is saying.
ASTORINO: Yes, but what I think is the case, it's less political because everyone predicted he was going to lose at that point. Nobody had him winning the election 11 days before. But more an embarrassment to he and his family.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Isn't there just a simple legal explanation? I mean, not that Donald Trump usually takes the advice of his lawyers, and we know with the Mueller investigation, he's constantly tweeting against their advice. But it does seem like there's a simple legal explanation for why he hasn't spoken about this.
LIZZA: Right. The whole argument of Stormy's lawyer is that Cohen broke the nondisclosure agreement so it's null and void. That's one argument they're making. And otherwise that Trump didn't sign it. So Trump is out there talking, giving oxygen to this that hurts his case.
[21:10:03] COOPER: Right.
LIZZA: And the other thing is they think they have a strong case on the merits of the nondisclosure agreement. They want to get this into, back into arbitration behind closed doors.
COOPER: Right, out of court and into arbitration.
LIZZA: Exactly and make it go away. And I think this is an example of Trump actually listening to his lawyers and pursuing the smart legal strategy which is to shut up.
COOPER: But I mean in that point as well. But I think that's what so interesting about it, Kirsten, is that it is legally it's the smart thing to do, to remain silent. But there have been so many times when the President has just ignored that advice.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he ignored it -- he's basically under investigation now because he ignored advice that he was given about how to deal with the FBI, right? So -- how to deal with the counsel. So I think he ignores people even when it can put him into serious legal jeopardy. And so I don't really -- I don't know if that makes sense to me. I think it's more what Frank's saying frankly. I think that you know -- and also anyone who's following Stormy Daniels on Twitter, I wouldn't get in a fight with her, you know. I mean she's -- he's met his match for sure if he tries to get into it with her. And I think it could become very ugly for him very quickly.
And let's also remember he's married. He has a wife who is not very happy about this, we can assume. And I think that that's a factor in his thinking. STEWART: And another part of remaining silent, hopefully he's learned you don't continue to add gas to a fire. And a lot of times he has these stories that aren't positive and he tweets and pushes it out there and it just further elongates the story and makes a one-day story a longer story. I think he's wise to be silent on this. Hopefully in their mind it pulls it back.
But let's take the sex out of it. Let's take what happened out of it. The real problem for him as Ryan said is the legal complications here, the fact that they potentially paid people off and potentially threatened people. That's the bigger concern.
The sex in my view is between he and Melania. For the American people, it's about the lies and the cover-up and the potential threats that I think the President needs to be concerned about and Americans.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We're noting that, there was a time when he was relatively quiet on Mueller too until he stopped being quiet, right?
COOPER: He never mentioned Mueller by name until just recently.
BEINART: Right. So far I think he's doing the right thing legally and he's doing the right thing for the country, right? He should be spending his time preparing for his summit with Kim Jong-un, right? He's got more important things to be doing. But I also think it's worth noting with Donald Trump that you simply never know, and it may also be that he doesn't have something he needs to distract from right now. But tomorrow he will have something he really needs to distract from, and we'll want everyone to start talking about Stormy Daniels so they won't talk about the crazy thing he's done tomorrow. So I think we need to be careful about predicting that we've seen some kind of pattern here.
COOPER: It is also -- I mean, and you've raised this idea as well that you can't underestimate just the personal aspect to this. I mean he's got a wife obviously. I don't know what he has said previously to her, if that contradicts what Stormy Daniels is saying. You know, this was allegedly shortly after she gave birth. I mean, there could be just a very big personal element to this.
BRUNI: Melania Trump knew when she married Donald Trump. I think she knew she wasn't marrying a choir boy just like Americans knew they weren't electing one. I don't think that mean she was ready to be publicly shamed and to see headlines every day about what he was doing. When she was raising a child who had just been born, I think that we've seen a lot of signs of estrangement here. And if not making that worse is served by not tweeting about Stormy Daniels and bringing attention to it himself, that's a strong motivation not to do it.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to pick this up, when we come back, more on the President's belief that he can give this story the silent treatment and why his aides may disagree.
Also ahead, Ryan Lizza talked about the President listening to his lawyers. Just one problem, he's now got fewer lawyers to listen to. High powered attorneys seem to be ling up to stay off the legal team. The President denies this. We'll talk about that ahead.
[21:17:28] COOPER: We're talking tonight about the conspicuous lack of talk from a man who rarely ever holds back. President Trump's silence about Stormy Daniels, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 2 COOPER: The President watches "60 Minutes." If he's watching tonight, what would you say to him?
STORMY DANIELS, AMERICAN PORN STAR: He knows I'm telling the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: According to "The Washington Post," the President did watch. Back now with the panel. So Senior White House officials according to "The Washington Post" believe Stormy Daniels' story, at least again according to the post. Does it say something that the President's own staff believes this?
STEWART: I think they say they believe it. That doesn't necessarily mean they believe it. Look, many polls show that six in ten Americans believe these women and they don't believe Donald Trump. But the reality is recent poll numbers for the President's approval ratings are up.
STEWART: So why would he talk about it? Why would he change the -- I don't agree with their comms strategy on this, but why would they change course given the fact that people know this is true, and it's not affecting how they view him and his approval ratings as President. So I believe they're going to continue the status quo, deny, deny, deny.
BRUNI: I mean, the narrative of Donald Trump as philander and womanizer is much more benign than the narrative of Donald Trump as commiter of sexual harassment, right? And actually which was the more dominant narrative until Stormy Daniels kind of emerged on the scene. So in a certain kind of way, I actually think this actually helps in that it kind of buries that other story, which was a massive story during the campaign. It still should be a massive story, not about consensual things he did, but about non-consensual things he's accused of doing.
POWERS: So I think -- and I said this when we talked about it before. I mean, maybe I just -- you know, as a woman I saw this as a little differently. I found it very different than the Karen McDougal interview in the sense I thing Karen McDougal was a little older. She was at least in her mid-30s I think when it happened whereas Stormy Daniels was 27 years old and he was 60 years old, and it was clear what she said to you that she didn't want to have sex with him, and she felt sort of pressured to do it, and I think he knew that. And so I think she actually comes off particularly sleazy.
You know, in the Karen McDougal interview actually it sort of humanize, I mean, she was saying he was wonderful and he was so kind. I think with Stormy Daniels, it's like it's a 60-year-old man and a 27-year-old girl who is the same age as his daughter and she's talking about his daughter and then she is kind of feeling like I have to have sex with this guy.
BRUNI: I mean, to your point, he's almost turning it into almost barter. He's dangling an appearance on the apprentice in front of her, so it also comes to feel like paid sex.
POWERS: Exactly, yes.
[21:20:01] ASTORINO: First of all, I mean, if she decided to do it to get on "The Apprentice," and that was her decision if that's the way she wanted to go. She said to her credit that it was consensual. She never felt pressured to do it. I mean, she decided this was an adult position that she wanted to make for whatever reason.
I do think -- you know, as getting into the humanistic side of this too, you know Barron is 12 years old. And he goes to school and he's got to hear all this stuff about his dad. And I think as a father, the President doesn't want to have to talk about this. But also as a country, except for the left in politics and the media really, everywhere I go when I start talking to people at my kids' games, nobody is talking about this obsessively. We watched it because we were curious, but this is not consuming America like it's consuming, you know, the seven of us tonight.
BRUNI: Maybe he should have thought about that before he actually went ahead and cheated on his wife before -- just a crazy thought, you know.
ASTORINO: I don't disagree with you on that, but it was done, and it was done a long time ago. And it's not affecting him as President, per se. He didn't do it in the White House.
COOPER: If more women come out and, you know, say, oh, you know, I signed an NDA or I signed a deal with the "National Enquirer" to stay silent, I mean, if there's a steady drip of this or more information comes out about an alleged threat, do you think that matters or is this -- if he just -- is he, you know, top one on all these issues because voters, it was baked in because of the allegations made during the campaign?
STEWART: One of the things that those in the evangelical community have said is that they forgive him for past transgressions. And they forgive him for what he did as long as it was before he ran for office and before he was President. But in my view, the constant drip, drip, drip, if we hear more of this and like I said, take the sex out of it. This is about lies and cover-up and silencing women who are put in uncomfortable situations of their own choice or not of their own choice. But in my view, people are going to start carrying when they realize there is a long history of lies and cover-ups that's when --
COOPER: Charlie Dent said he is concerned about obviously the midterm election. Do you think this has an impact on the Republicans in the midterm?
ASTORINO: The Stormy Daniels issue?
COOPER: Well, yes. I mean, any -- Karen McDougal, all the story.
ASTORINO: I don't think so. Honestly, I don't think it's top of the mind on most people. If the economy is doing well, that's going to play more of a role. If the economy tanks, that's going to --
BRUNI: I agree the economy is going to have a bigger role but I think -- for starters, this notice of consensual versus non-consensual, all of this boils down tot objectification of women and you've seen in Alabama, and, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, you've seen women coming out to vote. And I think if this continues going into the midterms, this is going to be a turnout factor. And these women are going to come out to vote in greater numbers and they're not going to be voting for Donald Trump.
POWERS: Well, so I think in the sense that it won't matter, I don't think those evangelical voters are going to move. I think barring him becoming pro-choice and putting a liberal on the Supreme Court, I don't think those voters are moving. I don't care if he had an affair right now honestly.
But I think Frank is right that the women who it will bother are more of these suburban women who are already pretty agitated, and it could just make them a little more enthusiastic. And to the consent issue, this is, again, what Me Too is kind of about. This isn't actually necessarily consensual the way that you're saying that it is. Monica Lewinsky forever said completely consensual. I have no regrets. And guess what, now she's re-evaluating it in the midst of Me Too and saying actually, now that I look back on it and I was a 23-year-old and he was the President of the United States, that's not actually true consent. So I think he was acting like a predator personally.
LIZZA: Does her view matter? I mean she's told, Anderson, very clearly that it was completely consensual, she was not victimized. That she doesn't want to associate herself with people who were truly victimized or truly assaulted, it is not an --
COOPER: It is interesting, she says that very clearly. And then as she described her thought process in the moment --
COOPER: I talked to a lot of women who said, wait a minute, maybe she doesn't recognize it as such, but who are saying, oh, I deserved this. I put myself in a bad situation. Bad things are going to happen. I deserve this. I got to do this.
POWERS: One of the things about these situations and I think it also applies to sexual harassment, it applies to a wide range of issues is women don't want to think of themselves as victims. They don't report sexual harassment because they don't want to feel like -- they think I'm empowered. I'm not the kind of woman who gets sexually harassed. And so then they don't report it. It's the same thing. I understand she doesn't want to think of herself as a victim. But I'm telling you she's 27 years old, and he's 60 years old. He's a billionaire. She's an adult film actress. There's a major power differential and I think that he took advantage of it. I mean, I think he did.
[21:24:41] COOPER: We have a lot more to talk about, when we continue, more lawyers turn down the chance to work for President Trump's legal team as the Russia investigation continues.
COOPER: With the news that two more attorneys both from the well known Chicago firm Winston & Strawn are declining to work for President Trump's legal team, you got to wonder who's left out there. The answer seems to be two right now, White House counsel Ty Cobb and outside Attorney Jay Sekulow.
Over the weekend the President tweeted that it's much ado about nothing. "Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case." He said on Twitter. "Don't believe the fake news narrative that it's hard to find a lawyer that wants to take this on. Fame and fortune will never be turned down by a lawyer though some are conflicted." Problem is, he continued, "is that a new lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed if for no other reason they can bill more, which is unfair to our great country, and I'm very happy with my existing team. Besides there was no collusion with Russia except by crooked Hillary and the Dems."
I'm back now with the panels. That was quite a tweet.
COOPER: There's so many like parenthetical phrases in that.
LIZZA: It was a big run-on sentence. It's not being good for him.
COOPER: But what does it say that -- I mean, he appears to be having trouble finding -- you know, some of the big firms are saying, look, we have a conflict because people in our firm are representing other people involved in the Russia investigation.
LIZZA: I mean, this job is becoming a little like the drummer in spinal tap. You know, people just disappear under strange circumstances.
[21:30:00] COOPER: I always love a spinal tap reference. If you haven't seen it you should by the way.
LIZZA: Dating myself now. They don't want to work for him because he is -- doesn't listen to them, right? Or they are in liberal oriented firms that are embarrassed to take on the President as a client.
COOPER: I mean, there are a ton of attorneys in Washington, D.C. and Republican attorneys, you would think -- I mean just in terms of career visibility, you would think somebody would want to take this on.
STEWART: I talked with several attorneys over the past few days about this. Some that I know are very liberal. Some I know are very conservative, and they also basically ran down the same laundry list of why they wouldn't take the job. It's that the President is unpredictable. He is not transparent. He is not truthful. He is someone that would be a difficult client. He doesn't listen to advice. He's someone that clearly would always tries to act as though he knows more than everyone else, and sometimes he doesn't pay.
And that's why I think a lot of times what they told me the most skilled, expert lawyers wouldn't take that for all of those reasons, but more than anything, he won't take their advice. And any man that is his own lawyer has a fool for a client. That's what a lot of the lawyers are afraid of. They come on. He doesn't listen to them, and they look foolish.
Asha, you're teaching law at Yale. I mean, you say that she's got -- that the President has got to get, I mean, a really star, brilliant attorney.
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, this isn't a convenience store robbery for my cousin Vinny (ph) OK. I mean, there are all kinds of different issues here. There's obstruction. They're campaign finance issues. There's, you know, potential financial crimes and constitutional issues that he can -- if he has a good lawyer, can actually put them out there.
COOPER: And there's a ton of attorneys on the opposite side. One attorney who I know who is familiar with some of those folks described them as like a team of ninjas. Like they are in their respective fields, they are top of their fields.
RANGAPPA: Exactly and they are on top of all of the doctrinal aspects of constitutional law and in the weeds prosecutorial experience. So he has a formidable legal team and he has all the money in the world to get the best legal representation, and it's amazing that he can't. He's kind of like that character from peanuts, pig pen, you know? He's got this legal hot mess cloud that kind of follows him, and I think when you're a lawyer looking at it, you're like, this guy fires people. There's porn stars with secret contracts. There's random Russians that pop up. I mean how are you going to come up with a theory of the case and how can you trust that your own client is going to be honest with you because your own credibility is on the line if you represent yourself --
COOPER: For the record, pig pen was one of my favorite characters.
ASTORINO: He's a great character.
COOPER: But Rob, does it concern you that right now it's Jay Sekulow and then Ty Cobb, who is -- you know, link to the White House.
ASTORINO: I talked to one of the attorneys today who was mentioned as one who declined, and it wasn't true. Yes, he has a very big law firm, who their firm is conflicted out. So that's the reason why they can't do it. And whether it's perceived or real conflicts, these big firms wall it off and say no. Whether it's Gibson Dunn, Winston & Strawn Sullivan & Cromwell, these are huge firms.
I do think that you'll have an attorney or several attorneys. You'll also have, you know, sometimes an attorney is reluctant to go part of a team when they're not the lead attorney or that the advice that they would give or the strategy that they would take is not where it's going to go. And so they back off because --
COOPER: He is a difficult client, though.
ASTORINO: Well, yes, but --
LIZZA: Al Capone had an attorney. John Gotti everyone had an attorney. Pablo Escobar had an attorney. I mean, the President --
RANGAPPA: Osama Bin Laden's driver had an attorney.
LIZZA: Exactly. How is it that the President of the United States can't find an attorney? I mean none of these explanations really make sense. This is a dream job for most Washington attorneys. You know, you figure out the conflicts. You leave the firm. You get rid of the client. It's the President of the United States. There's something about Donald Trump that is highly, highly unusual in this situation.
BEINART: Look, Donald Trump has had trouble finding people for foreign policy jobs in his administration too because most of the people know that you come out of your experience with Donald Trump looking a lot worse than you did. Look at Rex Tillerson, right?
But the difference is if you go to work in the state department, at least you're going to get paid, right? If you're the lawyer for Donald Trump, you get humiliated, right? And you may not get paid. So I think that's a trouble whammy.
LIZZA: Attorneys always say, you know, Attorneys represent murders, right? I mean, you have an excuse as a lawyer that you don't have if you're in the state department or --
COOPER: According to Michael Cohen, has actually paid to represent Donald Trump.
BEINART: Right, that's going to be a daunting President for people.
BEINART: You lose money on the deal.
COOPER: All right, we got to get another quick break in. Coming up next, the border wall, remember that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's going to pay for the wall?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[21:35:02] COOPER: Maybe not so much right now. Details ahead.
COOPER: Vice President Pence told a political audience in North Dakota today that the border wall is a certainty. When it comes to building the wall, he said, "We're going to build it all." For his part, President Trump is now at least thinking for paying for that long promised border wall by getting the money from the Pentagon, not from Mexico.
In a tweet over the weekend, the President wrote, "Because of the $716 billion gotten to rebuild our military, many jobs are created and our military is again rich. Building a great border wall with drugs, poison, and enemy combatants pouring into our country is all about national fence. Build wall through M. M of course means the military.
Sarah Sanders tackled that one today at the White House press briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That tweet this weekend, does he mean that he wants the military to pay for the border wall? Can you speak generally to that?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of that, but I can tell you that the wall is continuing to be built currently and we're going to keep pushing forward until it's fully completed in the way that the President feels is necessary to defend the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And isn't it true at this point that Mexico is not going to pay for that wall?
[21:40:02] SANDERS: I'm not going to go beyond what the President's already said. I think he still has plans to look at potential ways for that to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, of course, that's a very long way from the daily rhetoric that then candidate Trump used during the election, which became an
important part of his campaign playbook, a daily ritual.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are going to build a great border wall, and who's going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: It will be a great wall. Mexico's going to pay for the wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.
Mexico will pay for the wall. And Mexico is going to pay for the wall, and they understand that.
Mexico is going to pay for the wall, believe me, 100 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, a trip down memory lane. Back now with our panel.
"The Washington Post" is reporting that part of what may be behind this move is the fact that the President's frustrated that television coverage of the Congressional spending deals didn't include -- that talked about the television coverage talked about how it didn't include building the border wall, which I guess, if that is true, would be yet another way that television is sort of steering this President at least in some of his tweets.
POWERS: Yes, I think he's definitely really getting criticized by a lot of conservatives for this deal. And look, this was his last chance probably to get funding in his first term for the wall. So I think we all know Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, and he had a deal on the table from the Democrats. They actually were going to fund the wall, something they were totally opposed to but they wanted in return to get the DACA issue taken care of for the DREAMers. And he didn't want to strike a deal. So now he's kind of out of luck because in order -- I mean the military reportedly is not interested in this idea, and even if they were, he would have to go back to Congress to get the money approved, and that's going to be impossible.
LIZZA: I mean he's tried to get Mexico to pay for this wall. He's tried to get Congress to pay for the wall. And now he's trying to get the military to pay for the wall. The only thing he hasn't tried so far is a GoFundMe campaign. In each of these cases he had absolutely no understanding about the process by which that would happen, right? He never actually explained how Mexico would do that.
He had a deal on the table with Congress and Democrats to make this happen, and I think frankly what happened there is his hardline, more ideological immigration advisers realized that they would rather prevent DACA from happening than have that wall because anyone who really knows the immigration issue knows that the wall is not, you know, going to do much. So that was scuttled. And now he doesn't understand how the budgeting process works. You can't go to the Pentagon and say, hey, you just got all this money from this bill. COOPER: He says they're rich now.
LIZZA: Right. Congress actually specifies exactly what the Pentagon can use that money for, which is a pretty basic part of the constitution.
COOPER: Because I keep thinking about all those other Republicans who are on the debate stage and during the primaries who were all saying, you know, this is not going to -- like it was essentially a persuasive argument that he was making and it was very tough for them to argue against, and yet they all knew this was not going to work out exactly as he was saying.
STEWART: We all knew at all those debates, sitting backstage much watching him say that, we all knew that was not going to happen. As many people realize, Mexico will not pay for the wall. But the coverage in my view that has really gotten to him since the omnibus spending came out and no funding for the wall is the hard core conservative pundits on another network that hammered him because they really went to the well for him and went to bat for him because they really believed he was going to get this wall built. And when it didn't happen and they criticized him, that is why he floated out this idea of maybe having the military pay for it and find some other way to fund this. He is really trying to convince his base, and I think rightfully so and I think it's good for him to do this, telegraph to them I'm still trying to fight for this wall, I'm still trying to get this bill because I promised you that.
That being said, I don't see it.
COOPER: Rob, I mean, in terms of keeping his base happy, how important is this wall?
ASTORINO: I think next idea is tax on tacos or something. I think, look, you know, that was a metaphor. Most people understood that Mexico wasn't going to pay for the wall.
ASTORINO: I think a lot of people assumed --
COOPER: You think that thousands of people chanting that Mexico is going to pay for it.
ASTORINO: No. I think it was lie.
LIZZA: People like us were taking it literally. That was the problem.
ASTORINO: Well, some people may have, but I think --
POWERS: What was it a metaphor for?
ASTORINO: That a wall is going to be built. And -- POWERS: That's not a metaphor.
ASTORINO: A wall is going to be built. Mexico is going to pay for it. I don't think most people believe that Mexico was actually going to write a check for the wall. But when you're talking about the Defense Department --
LIZZA: That is literally what they believed.
ASTORINO: Well, I went to a lot of Trump's rallies.
COOPER: I hate to do this again, but let me just play the sound again because, again, it just doesn't sound like tens of thousands of people are chanting "Mexico" and they really think department of Defense. Let's just play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[21:45:12] TRUMP: We are going to build a great border wall. And who's going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: Who is going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: It will be a great wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.
Mexico will pay for the wall. And Mexico is going to pay for the wall, and they understand that.
Mexico is going to pay for the wall, believe me, 100 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Believe me, 100 percent.
ASTORINO: It's very unclear to me. I think with the Defense Department, what an executive is supposed to do is accomplish the goal, right? The appropriation but not spend as much as necessary. I mean if you can accomplish something and save. So I think let's take an aircraft carrier, let's say. $40 billion for an aircraft carrier, if you can get that aircraft carrier for $35 billion, you now have $5 billion left over. At the end of the day, could you sweep up enough money to use that without --
BEINART: The lie here is that there's (INAUDIBLE) --
COOPER: Any combatants.
BEINART: Let's be clear about this. This is the pernicious part. The people who are coming across the Mexican border are mostly not Mexicans. They're people from Central American, desperately poor and brutalized in large measure because of American policies that led to extreme violence in countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, who are fleeing for their lives, right? And those are the people who Donald Trump is calling a threat to the United States, a military threat.
COOPER: Right. I mean, he is sort of -- I mean, in order to get it to the military, he's saying enemy combatants which I don't know he's used that term before. But that's implying that it's members of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda who are pouring over the border.
RANGAPPA: I don't know what the books at Trump org look like but you don't shuffle a little money here and there and move it around. I mean, the Congress power is of course is a powerful thing. And this goes to his lack of understanding of the legal constraints and the constitutional constraints on what he can do. We saw this on the travel ban. Through the whole campaign, we're going to do a complete shutdown on Muslims. That's (inaudible) of the Supreme Court. So --
COOPER: We've got to take a break. I want to thank everybody on the panel.
Coming up, Sean Penn was already a fascinating person, actor, director, activist we first met in Haiti after the earthquake. He has a new title, novelist. I'll speak to him about his debut novel next.
[21:51:53] COOPER: Well, you probably know Sean Penn as an actor, director, activist, philanthropist and as of today, he's also a published 2novelist. I've known Sean for a while. We met in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti. He's done incredible work in Haiti on the ground for years. His debut novel is called "Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff." I spoke to him just before air.
COOPER: Can you explain, I mean, it's a fascinating book, and I mean so admire anyone who writes fiction, because it's so out of my realm of -- or my purview. It's such a dumb question, like, what is the book about. Because obviously, it takes an entire book to explain what a book is about, but how do you describe it to people?
SEAN PENN, AUTHOR, "BOB HONEY WHO JUST DO STUFF": My decision to write a book like this and kind of what it's about is to be able to deal with things that I might otherwise fume about. And probably at the end of the day, as a father, at least, fear for the country and for where we are as a culture.
And instead of investing in a place that would tear me apart, I would find humor, was going to be my best way to share it, especially given my history in the debates. So it's kind of, I just imagined the quicksand of that, of our country, and an American man walking delicately over that quicksand. And to see what humor I could find in that. COOPER: I got to know you really in Haiti, in the wake of the earthquake there. And, you know, a great admirer of the work that you've done there and continue to do there. Unlike many people, you continue to work there and continue to go back there. When you heard the President use the words he used to talk about Haiti, about Haitians as people who have aids, I'm wondering, personally, what -- how you felt?
PENN: The first thing that happened was, you know, this President is prone to such outbursts and so on, so it wasn't -- it wasn't a surprise, you know, in the big picture at all, that he would do this. But because it was Haiti and because I knew so many people, so well, who loved this country so much, and its people, and so dream about what they believe to be the American integrity. And that they would, at first, not be angry at what he said, but in their sort of idealism, it would be deeply, deeply hurt that it was like a bully and I felt ashamed that I am part of an electorate that let that happen, I felt -- I wanted to call them all and, of course, they're very strong people, as you know. So they were ready to get angry, quickly after. But I knew what the first reaction would be, and indeed, it was, hurt.
PENN: Deep hurt.
[21:55:01] COOPER: How do you see things in Haiti? I mean, the work you've been doing, you poured yourself into this. You have a -- you built an organization, you have raised millions and millions and millions of dollars. And you continue to be committed. How -- what is it that keeps you doing that? Because a lot of people, you know, move on?
PENN: Well, I think that it -- perhaps, I believe in this place, and the people there. It's a -- I have to constantly reassess the work that we do. I have to constantly rebalance -- recalibrate my sense of what the best value added that we can offer is, increasingly, through the years, we've turned over the leadership of our organization to Haitians, who have increasingly made it work only better. This is while still going to be a slow process, this is going to be a kind of revolutionary one over time.
COOPER: Sean Penn, always a pleasure. Thank you.
PENN: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: We had to cut the interview down for time. You can see my entire conversation with Sean Penn, learn about his rather unconventional writing process on AC360.com. We'll be right back.
[22:00:05] COOPER: Thanks for watching "360." Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts now.