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Trump Fires V.A. Secretary, Taps White House Doctor; Trump Slams Amazon On Taxes And Retail Competition; NYT: Trump Lawyer Floated Idea Of Pardons For Flynn And Manafort; White House: No Discussion Of Trump Pardoning Manafort And Gates. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: Because you are the king of the jungle.

CUOMO: That's my gear.

CAMEROTA: And he would have understood that immediately.

CUOMO: I'd probably be like at the hyena level out there.

CAMEROTA: Which are bad. They're scary.

CUOMO: Yes, I know, they're big. We were just on Safari in Tanzania. I totally believe that happened just as the man says it.

CAMEROTA: All right. Somehow I'm going to toss now to "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman.

Take it away, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

He will speak out loud in front of people. The president of the United States will emerge from his protective cocoon shortly after nearly six days of silence. He heads to Ohio to talk about infrastructure and most decidedly not talk about Stormy Daniels, although the questions about that alleged relationship and cover-up linger and grow.

So while hiding from the public, the president did fire another Cabinet secretary. David Shulkin is out as secretary of Veterans Affairs. A White House source blames Shulkin for creating, quote, "too many distractions" for the president to handle.

Shulkin will be replaced by the president's doctor, Ronny Jackson, a man who the president insists is highly trained and qualified despite the fact he has no real managerial experience. This morning some veterans groups already raising concerns about this nomination.

CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House with the latest.

Still more turnover, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, every week here at the White House apparently, we are turning over a new leaf in terms of staff. And this time it is the V.A. Secretary David Shulkin who has been really on the ropes for quite some time now and President Trump pulled the trigger yesterday pushing him out of his role and naming his White House personal physician into the role of V.A. secretary. But Shulkin has been in a long standing dispute with political appointees in his agency and on his way out the door, he wrote today in the "New York Times" op-ed talking about his experience serving in the Trump administration.

This is what he said. He said, "There is no," I'm sorry. "I have been falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way but despite these politically based attacks on me and my family's character, I'm proud of my record and know that I acted with the utmost integrity. Unfortunately, none of that mattered. As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought it should not be this hard to serve your country."

Ultimately Shulkin is out in part because he also did not have the president's confidence. And the person who does now is his personal doctor, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, who just received a promotion in military ranks a few days ago. And the president has talked up Jackson in private talking to advisers about him, but according to our sources, no one really believed him because it was such an out of the box pick.

But one of the reasons according to our sources that the president really has liked Jackson is because of his performance in this setting when he talked about the president's personal health. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RONNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN TO THE PRESIDENT: There is no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The president, you know, he is very sharp. He is very articulate. A lot of energy and a lot of stamina. He has incredible genes. I just assumed. I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: The questions now transition to whether Jackson has the qualifications to run the federal bureaucracy of the V.A.. It's large, it has been troubled for quite some time. And there is no -- there's nothing on his resume that shows that he has that kind of management experience that would make him a good pick for that job.

BERMAN: All right. As we said, the president going to Ohio to talk about infrastructure, not talk about Stormy Daniels. And I imagine also not talk about this new reporting that his lawyer was discussing possible pardons with lawyers for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort -- Abby.

PHILLIP: That's right. "The New York Times" is reporting that these conversations were happening last summer between one of the president's outside lawyers John Dowd and the attorneys for Paul Manafort and for Michael Flynn. This was before Manafort and Flynn had pled guilty to the charges -- or before Flynn had pled guilty to the charges that the special counsel brought against him, before Manafort was charged with his charges,

And these conversations really speak to the kind of tone that we've been hearing about at this White House for some time. The president himself has been asked about his willingness to pardon these individuals. And he has pushed it off saying that he's not -- will wait and see what happens with that. But the White House is now denying that these conversations are happening.

Dowd has denied that these conversations are happening. But of course this report from "The New York Times" definitely raises the question of why this was being considered. And what they thought Manafort and Flynn might say 2to the special counsel that might be problematic for President Trump -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us at the White House, thank you very much. We'll talk about this pardon issue in just a moment.

First, though, here to discuss some other things, CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson, CNN political commentator, former Hillary Clinton campaign manager, Robby Mook, and former Mitt Romey public policy director, Lanhee Chen. Still with the Hoover Institute, I believe, right?

Lanhe, I want to start with you because you're like a pure policy guy. As much as anyone I know, you want things to work the way that they're supposed to.

[09:05:06] Dr. Ronny Jackson, Admiral Johnson, you know, terrific doctor by all accounts. What do you see in his resume that qualifies him to lead one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world, 377,000 employees at the V.A.?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR: Well, I think the substantive expertise may be there in terms of his experience in the military, his experience as a doctor. The question is, what is the proper qualifying experience to be a Cabinet secretary? We've seen some people that come in with fantastic resumes, they don't do such a great job. You see others who come in, a little more shaky, and maybe they do a wonderful job.

So this is a very difficult thing to predict. But fundamentally, John, I think the most important factor is, does the secretary have the president's trust? That's going to be the most important factor. The other issue is around process and I think hopefully he can bring some people around him who can help with the process but ultimately trust I think is the key factor.

BERMAN: Does he have the president's trust, Eliana? The answer to that is absolutely. The president seems to love this guy. What does he like about him?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you saw pretty clearly in your introduction what the president loves about him. He has gone out on television and vigorously defended the president when he talked about the results of the president's physical. He took every question from the White House Press Corps until there were none left. I think he spent about 90 minutes with the press defending the president's physical health and vigor to the point that it became almost comical.

And President Trump just loved that. And I think you're seeing a pattern of administration picks from the president from the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the new National Security adviser John Bolton to the new secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. Ronny as they call him in the West Wing.

People who have gone out and defended him vigorously on television, these are the sorts of people the president likes and we're seeing the sort of turnover that you would normally expect after four years going into a second term after a single year.

BERMAN: Let's talk about that turnover a little bit, by the way. David Shulkin, V.A. secretary, is someone that the president gushed over as recently as last June. He joked the he would never be the type of guy to get an "Apprentice"-like you're fired. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will never have to use those words. We'll never have to use those words around David. We will never use those words on you, that's for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: By never he meant at least until next March apparently.

You know, Robby Mook, what about the turnover inside the administration? Because we've seen, you know, two Cabinet secretaries, a National Security adviser, key White House personnel all go within the last few weeks.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, this White House is becoming a bunker essentially. The president -- I agree with everything that's been said. The president is choosing people who he thinks perform well on TV. We've heard that he has said to his staff he wants to run the White House like a reality show, like a TV show. And he is picking loyalists at this point.

I think that the people around him and the Republican establishment had some leverage when he was coming into the White House. He wasn't expecting to win the election. He obviously wasn't very prepared to be president. And so I think he was somewhat deferential to others. But he is clearing out everybody that he doesn't like. And, you know, I don't think we're going to get very good results out of it.

I think we're going to get good television. I think we're going to get people who are loyal to Donald Trump. I don't know that -- I honestly don't know that we're going to get a better V.A.. You want to give people the benefit of the doubt. But this one is going to be interesting. You know, David Chalian brought up that some Democrats may want to support this because they'll be attacked for, you know, not defending veterans.

I actually think this could go the other way where some Democrats and Republicans could use this as a way to stand for veterans and against President Trump. So it will be very interesting to see what the veterans groups say in the coming days about this nomination. I think that will make a big difference.

BERMAN: We'll see. And again Ronny Jackson was beloved in the Obama White House for his medical expertise. We'll see how that translates to leading a very big brass.

Eliana, very quickly, Hope Hicks, her last day I guess was yesterday. What is the vibe inside the West Wing?

JOHNSON: You know, there is real concern about Hope Hicks' departure. She sits about 10 feet from the Oval Office. She is the closest person to the president. And she is somebody who shielded the president not only from the news media, but from the rest of the White House staff really seen as a liaison from the president to the rest of the White House staff. And there is no replacement for her yet. So I think there is concern about her departure and about how the president will handle it.

There have been a lot of White House departures. You've seen the president reaching out to people outside the White House increasingly including Rob Porter who was dating Hope Hicks and who left under really a cloud of domestic abuse allegations. And so, yes, a lot of concern in the White House about another person very close to the president leaving the White House with no replacement yet on the horizon.

BERMAN: All right. Eliana, Robby, Lanhee, do not go anywhere. I have a lot more for you three good people.

[09:10:02] In the meantime, I'm joined by Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, on the other big headline this morning, reports that the president's lawyer John Dowd -- I guess former lawyer -- floated the idea of pardons for both Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort to their attorneys.

Now, Laura, we all know the president has broad power when it comes to the pardon. But when his attorney is dangling a pardon to attorneys for people facing criminal exposure, what questions does that raise?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It raises whether or not the intent was to obstruct justice or intimidate or influence the witnesses in a way that was unlawful. Because you see the idea that he has the complete pardon power is very, very clear. The president has tweeted about this. You even had the brother of Michael Flynn encouraging the president over Twitter to try to actually get a pardon for his brother.

You had the president pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio even before a sentencing went down. He has the power to do this. The question is whether or not the time they asked or spoke about this issue it was intended to say, listen, don't cooperate fully with the Mueller investigation, hold something back. Wait for us. Don't do anything drastic that may implicate us if we are in fact guilty. And so that's the question that Mueller's team is going to have. It's

also the reason why people are saying that perhaps Paul Manafort has been so adamant in not being a cooperator, perhaps the dangled carrot still appeals to him. It did not seem to incentivize either Michael Flynn or Rick Gates from cooperating but perhaps it does have lasting power knowing that it could be a possibility.

BERMAN: So how does Robert Mueller get to this key legal issue then if he does care about this? I mean, there are some signs he's been asking about the pardon issue. How does he prove intent?

COATES: Well, remember, that's why the cooperation agreements are so key here. That's why it's so useful for a prosecutor and an investigator to secure the cooperation and have the risks of additional charges or the reinstatement of charges in front of the people who choose to cooperate. Rick Gates remember pled guilty to only a couple of charges of the many of the 12-page indictment he was exposed to.

Michael Flynn arguably has a much more extensive exposure, as added to his immediate family members and so when you have the Mueller's team and investigators trying to figure out what is your intent, they need information. They need to know that people are going to be forthright, forthcoming and comprehensive and truthful. So it's going to rely on that. Otherwise it would be speculation having to rely on what John Dowd has said.

He never had these conversations. He never would have intended do so. You can also go by circumstantial evidence to show the context that makes the intent apparent.

BERMAN: John Dowd may be in more jeopardy here than the president ironically. IS it possible you think that Dowd could be brought in? Because if you're breaking the law, that gets beyond attorney-client privilege.

COATES: I suspect that he'd be brought in a variety of reasons now that he's no longer with the Trump team. And one of the reasons for that is sometimes the prosecutor will say and capitalize on the fact that there may be bad blood. Why did John Dowd really resign? Was there some incentive, was whom he thought that was not appropriate? Is he going to be cooperating or at least in terms of trying to be agreeable in information?

Remember he was the point person. But remember, John, the fact that the president has the pardon power was certainly known to the attorneys of both Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn. So it wouldn't have been a shock to say well, the president does have this power. And remember, it also doesn't mean that the president can pardon on state crimes. And there are both commentary actions going on in state court for at least two of the individuals but may not be impacted if the president can pardon them at all.

BERMAN: Laura Coates, great to have you with us. Thanks so much, Counselor (ph).

COATES: Thank you.

BERMAN: The president going after retail giant Amazon. Does he have his facts straight? Plus the date is set for a historic meeting between North and South Korea. What this means ahead of the president's possible sit-down with Kim Jong-un. And Trump supporter Roseanne takes a huge -- takes in huge ratings for the revival of her show. And guess who is the number one fan this morning?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:18:45]

BERMAN: The opening bell is just minutes away. A lot of people looking at Amazon after the president had some new things to say about that giant company. Alison Kosik with the details -- Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. So, it is no shocker that President Trump has had it out for Amazon and for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for a long time. Jeff Bezos, of course, also owns the "Washington Post." President Trump not too happy with the "Washington Post," how the "Post" is covering him.

Now the "Axios" report about Trump being obsessed with Amazon, that actually you caused shares to fall more than 4 percent yesterday wiping out more than $30 billion in market value for Amazon. Now this "Axios" report also went on to say how President Trump wants to go after Amazon with either antitrust enforcement and/or changing tax rules.

So, then let's come back to this morning when President Trump kind of puts the explanation point on that "Axios" article with this tweet saying, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery boy causing tremendous loss to the U.S. and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business."

OK, so hold up here. What is wrong first of all in this tweet is that Amazon does collect sales taxes in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In its annual report, by the way, Amazon paid $957 million in taxes in 2017.

[09:20:08] As far as the United States Postal Service goes, it is doing better because of Amazon. It is delivering more packages and actually had to add Sunday delivery because it is handling so many packages.

Now the reason that all of this matters to the market is because if Trump goes after amazon, that is causing a lot of investors to become more sensitive about regulation in the wake of the Facebook mess because many are believing that there is going to be regulation coming for a lot of these tech companies and the thinking is the last thing investors want to see is Trump going after Amazon.

And he is affecting Amazon's share price because Amazon shares were higher before Mr. Trump tweeted this morning and now Amazon shares have turned lower. As for the broader market, we are seeing green arrows, but the real time to watch the market today will be in the final hour of trading because we have seen a complete reversal for stocks in the final hour of trading.

But right now, we are seeing green arrows right now. Keep in mind, John, the markets are closed tomorrow for Good Friday -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Alison Kosik, thank you very much.

My panel is back with me. Free market, Lanhee, leave aside for the fact whatever political motivations he has for going after Jeff Bezos and the "Washington Post," leave aside for the fact (INAUDIBLE). But how do you feel about the president taking on an American company so directly?

CHEN: Yes, I don't think it's appropriate. I mean, it's not something that I think benefits the American consumer. I mean, look, so many of the things that we enjoy are made possible because of online retailing.

BERMAN: And any all arrive in two days.

CHEN: Right. Well, besides that, by the way, it is a competitive marketplace. You go on Amazon, you could buy products from Amazon or retailers that sell through Amazon. Some of those are mom and pop retailers, some of those are folks that are being able to make a living because of Amazon. So, I wish the president wouldn't go after individual companies. I just don't think that that is appropriate.

BERMAN: Spoken like someone who lives in the heart of Silicon Valley. I want to shift gears back to the pardon issue and I want to play what Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary said in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would refer you back to the statement from Ty Cobb in the report that you are asking about in which he said I've only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Robby, I'm not an expert on the law, but I am an expert on verbs. And there is a difference between there are no discussions -- are no discussions about pardons and were no discussions about pardons. Those words seem carefully chosen.

MOOK: Yes, I'm not a lawyer either, but there was definitely room there for a pardon to have been offered at some point. Look, this just gets back to the fact that bad things happened. People are being indicted. I'm sure the White House is in trouble. This is one issue that potentially pardons were offered.

We know that President Trump according to stories that have come out was actively involved in writing a press release that denied that that meeting with Russia -- with a Russian operative took place at Trump Tower. The list goes on and on.

What I just continue to wonder is at what point are some Republicans going to come out and say enough is enough and demand better behavior from the White House. But I think the more you cover up, the worse the coverup gets.

And I think we've definitely crossed the point where probably what the original investigation was trying to find is being eclipsed by the coverup, and this just makes it worse.

BERMAN: There's one more piece of sound I want to play because I always thought this was interesting, Eliana. This is the lawyer for Paul Manafort on the day the very first indictments came out. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: I think you all saw it today. The president, Donald Trump, was correct. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The very first thing Paul Manafort's lawyer said is President Donald Trump was correct. And that day I said why is he saying this? Why isn't he talking about Paul Manafort and the fact that there was no money laundering if there wasn't any money laundering instead he is defending the president. Maybe we now know why, Eliana.

JOHNSON: Yes, the remark was certainly neither here nor there when the indictment, as he said, it had nothing to do with Russian collusion. It was curious, but I think we risk -- you know, we're treading into dangerous territory when we speculate a little bit too much about what is going on here.

You know, Robby, I think is right to say bad things could have happened, but it could be that the president just feels these people were treated unfairly and wanted his lawyers to throw out the prospect of a pardon. We really don't know.

And so, I think as far as reporters are concerned, you know, we risk getting into a treacherous territory because the president does things at times out of impulse as we've seen with some of these appointments, which he's done without making consultations with other people or without necessarily much consideration or rational basis.

[09:25:14] BERMAN: Very quickly, lightning round on some new CNN polling that has to do with the congressional preference. Democrats still hold the edge, but it is down to six now down to six points. It was 16 now it's down to six points. Lanhee, first, why do you think it is closing?

CHEN: I think it has to do with the state of the economy. I think people are seeing some of the impacts of the tax bill. I think maybe that is part of what is driving this. And I think naturally this will bump around a bunch until we get to September, October. BERMAN: And Robby, there is one side of this I imagine, you will like is that when it comes to intensity of support, you know, Democrats hold like a 20-point margin at least.

MOOK: Yes, that is a really important piece of this and that is why we've been doing so well in the special elections. The intensity advantage is exaggerated. And to the point Lanhee made, you know, the numbers jump around, what matters is the average over time.

I think when this number is really going to matter is in September. But look, this is always a good healthy warning sign to Democrats. We cannot take this for granted. We have to win on our own merits, we can't just rely on an unpopular and disheveled presidency.

BERMAN: All right. Robby Mook, Lanhee Chen, Eliana Johnson, thank you all very much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

The date is set for a historic meeting with Kim Jong-un. We'll see what this means for possible peace between the Koreas and what this summit means for President Trump.

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