Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Knew of Hush Money Long Before He Denied It; Hawaii Volcano Still Spewing Lava and Toxic Gas; WH Press Secretary Facing New Credibility Questions; WSJ: "Does Trump Want Americans To Believe Him"; Conway: "Never Heard About" Porn Star Payment During Campaign; Soon: Trump Talks Tax Reform In Cleveland; Miami Cop Caught On Video Kicking Handcuffed Suspect In Head. Aired 11-12p ET
Aired May 5, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:59:50] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: According to a bombshell report the "New York Times" President Trump has known for months about the $130,000 hush money payment his lawyer made to adult film star Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair meaning the President was well aware of the deal when he said this in April.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this if there was no truth to the allegations?
TRUMP: We'll you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my -- attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got that money to make that payment?
TRUMP: I don't know. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We now know those words are simply not the truth.
CNN White House reporter Jeremy Diamond is live for us at the White House. So Jeremy -- the President is on Air Force One now heading to Cleveland for a tax roundtable. But did he say anything to reporters, anything more, about all that we've been hearing in the last 24 to 48 hours?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the President was walking this morning to Marine One. Reporters were gathered. Questions were shouted but no answers were given. The President, preferring it seems, to allow this confusion that has settled here in Washington surrounding his payment, hush money payments of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to simply hang out there. Let's go back to Wednesday night. That was when Rudy Giuliani, the President's newly minted attorney, confirmed for the first time that the President did, in fact, repay his attorney Michael Cohen for that $130,000 payment. Rudy Giuliani followed that up by saying that it was repaid through a $35,000 a month retainer.
And he also made clear that he wasn't just speaking on a whim. He had spoken with the President before and after that initial interview. And yet the President yesterday taking to -- talking to reporters, saying that Rudy Giuliani didn't have his facts straight and suggesting that reporters take a look at his earlier denial of knowledge of that payment.
What followed, though, is this "New York Times" report that makes clear that the President, according to two sources who spoke with the "New York Times", did know about that payment months before he made that very denial last month.
Rudy Giuliani put out a statement saying that he was describing his understanding of the matters but not necessarily the President's knowledge of those matters. A little bit of a confusing statement there, particularly from a man who's supposed to represent the President, both publicly and in litigation.
So it appears that the President and his legal team here are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to avoid any potential legal repercussions that Michael Cohen making that payment without getting repaid by the President would involve. But they also don't want the President to be deeply enmeshed in this payment to Stormy Daniels, who again, has alleged that she had a sexual encounter with the President.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.
So, mixed messages on the Stormy Daniels payment still raising a whole lot of legal questions and even confusion. Let's take a look back at how this all unfolded with CNN's Athena Jones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is Rudy doing, Mr. President? How is he doing?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This week, constantly shifting explanations about the President, the porn star and the payoff. First, there was President Trump's firm denial aboard Air Force One last month that he knew anything about the $130,000 payment, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen
make that payment if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.
JONES: That denial contradicted Wednesday night on Fox News by one of Trump's new lawyers -- Rudy Giuliani.
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP LAWYER: That money was not campaign money. Sorry -- I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: They funneled it through the law firm.
GIULIANI: Funneled through the law firm and the President repaid it.
JONES: And again, Thursday morning, saying of Cohen --
GIULIANI: He was definitely reimbursed. There's no doubt about it.
JONES: While also attempting to clear up questions about what Trump knew and when.
GIULIANI: He didn't know the details of this until we knew the details of it, which was a couple of weeks ago. Maybe not even a couple of weeks, maybe ten days ago.
JONES: The President, who Giuliani says he spoke with before and after his Wednesday night Fox interview, backed up Giuliani's explanation on Twitter Thursday morning writing he reimbursed Cohen through the monthly retainer he paid to him for his services and adding, "Money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction."
Friday, the story changing yet again. Giuliani, who said Trump reimbursed Cohen through monthly installments of $35,000 each now telling NBC he doesn't think Trump realized he had paid Cohen back until Giuliani made him aware of documents that show he did. Saying when he told the President, Trump responded "Oh, my goodness, I guess that's what it was for."
[11:05:06] Just a few hours later, the President again reversing course suggesting Giuliani, who joined his legal team two weeks ago, didn't have a full grasp of all the facts.
TRUMP: Rudy is a great guy but he just started a day ago. But he really has his heart into it. He's working hard. He's learning the subject matter. He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight.
JONES: Adding before boarding Air Force One for Texas --
TRUMP: When Rudy made the statement -- Rudy's great but Rudy had just started and he wasn't totally familiar with every -- you know, with everything.
JONES: All while insisting --
TRUMP: We're not changing any stories.
JONES: Giuliani issued a statement Friday meant to clarify his comments about the payment and the President's knowledge of it. Saying in part "My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President's knowledge but instead my understanding of these matters."
Athena Jones, CNN -- New York.
WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now to discuss, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin.
All right. We've got a lot to tackle. So first, you know, Giuliani's, you know, big reveal this week about the Trump reimbursement payment and now today's "New York Times" report about Trump knowing of Stormy Daniels' hush money payment months prior, and the "Wall Street Journal" report of Trump attorney Michael Cohen securing more than $700,000 in lines of credit during the campaign.
So how much bigger have these probes become?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: well, I'm not sure if they have become bigger because we don't know whether or not the southern district of New York knew all of this and was investigating it and this is what gave rise to the search warrant issued against the Cohen properties, the pen register against Cohen's phone numbers. So we just don't know what they know.
What we know only is that there's more confusion than there's ever been and that's in large measure because of the inclusion of Rudy Giuliani on this team.
This was a normal relationship between an attorney and a client. And the attorney did what Rudy Giuliani did, he would be fired. And he should probably be fired and sent back to New York, let the other lawyers who are actually practicing law day-to-day handle this matter, get out a story that is true, that we can understand and we can move forward from.
WHITFIELD: So a different version of events because Giuliani says they discussed, he and Trump, you know, attorney and client discussed. They knew what was coming but then Giuliani came out with a statement yesterday as we saw in Athena's piece, you know, after the President said he's new. He needs to learn the facts.
So, you know, this portion of the legal team -- is it in trouble? I know you've said that this is a matter deserving of a firing. But if the President keeps on Giuliani, how is Giuliani to work with or be in step with the White House counsel, including a new attorney, you know, Emmett Flood, who has since joined the team?
ZELDIN: Right. Right. So we have a couple of new lawyers -- Marty and Jane Raskin and Emmett Flood. And we have Ty Cobb leaving. Don McGahn stays on and Jay Sekulow remains as the communications lawyer.
What Giuliani has to become is a member of that team who coordinates with that team and who, if he is going to be permitted to go ever on television again -- which I would preclude him from doing -- he has to be in touch with all the lawyers so that the messaging is absolutely clear.
What he did was in -- I don't know -- I want to use the word disgraceful. What he did was disgraceful because he blindsided all the other lawyers on his team when he was in a position not even aware of the facts or the law that governed federal election campaign contributions and, in-kind contributions and he put his president -- his client, the President -- in a terrible situation.
WHITFIELD: Well, is it your feeling that you know, President Trump was really calling the shots. That perhaps he really give the marching orders, you know, or the ok for Giuliani to do this and that would be up for the President to say, all right, Giuliani, I want you to work with or really get permission from my White House legal team.
I mean is that realistic? Is it even reasonable to think that that is what would happen, the sequence of events that would happen?
ZELDIN: So first, I think that Rudy Giuliani was freelancing much more than executing a well-considered strategy. I think his interview on Hannity was not what was contemplated by the White House.
So I think, therefore, he has to be essentially talked -- if not fired he has to be talked to about never doing that again. Sarah Sanders didn't know that he was going on. Marty and Jane Raskin and Emmett Flood and Don McGahn and Jay Sekulow appear not to have known what was going on although we don't have firsthand knowledge of that.
[11:10:02] But that would be the clear implications of what Rudy Giuliani did. And so it really is up to the President to say to Giuliani, you're either going to be part of this team, coordinated with this team or you're going to go back to New York.
WHITFIELD: And at the very beginning it would seem -- I think most of us heard Giuliani say that he would be Russia-probe centric, that he would be able to, you know, push the Mueller team along, expedite things. What we just saw unfold this week had very little to do with that, expediting. If anything, it seems like it added fuel potentially to the Mueller probe, does it not? Or is that strictly a separate probe under the southern district of New York?
ZELDIN: Yes. So I think it's separate, Fredricka. I think that the controversy that he created is relevant to the southern district of New York case. However, Rudy Giuliani was, according to Rudy Giuliani, to come down here and talk to the Mueller people and put this matter to rest in a few weeks, according to him.
Obviously that's not true. It probably was delusional at the time it was said. But if you're Robert Mueller and you see this guy acting as he does, you think I don't have a partner here with whom I can negotiate the terms of a potential interview. I can't trust this guy and that, I think, is a setback for the President in respect of the Mueller investigation.
I think Robert Mueller and his team has to know that he's dealing with people who he can be trusting of and confident in their confidence with the President and speaking for the President. And I think Giuliani undermined the President in respect to the Mueller probe as well.
WHITFIELD: And I know you just underscored the separation of these, you know, different probes, different cases but then when you have Giuliani talking about the payment, the reimbursement made -- $130,000. Now, you've got the "New York Times" doing the math in addition to use of President Trump's own tweets -- $35,000 a month, which then amounts to something like $460,000 to $470,000. And then you've got the "Wall Street Journal" report talking about the lines of credit over $700,000. How is that potentially of interest to the Mueller probe?
ZELDIN: Well, I think that it will be further evidence of the Mueller probe and southern district of New York's probe to get everybody's tax returns, to see how all of these financial transactions were treated. Were they loans? Were they payments from the business organization? How were they declared as income? Were they deducted? So I think this controversy has created the opportunity, if it didn't already exist, for both the southern district of New York and Mueller to start looking at tax returns to determine whether or not there was tax, you know, sort of violations in the reporting of these transactions. That's not good.
And, as well, what this does is it gives Michael Avenatti, in his case, more evidence to ask the judge to provide them the opportunity to take discovery from the President and the President's team because of the conflicting stories. It gives, you know, that ammunition for that argument. And that's not good.
I think that case should have been dismissed by Cohen long ago and she should have been relieved of her nondisclosure agreement and put an end to that as soon as possible but they didn't choose that route either.
WHITFIELD: And now if we can shift gears but also by extension of the existing probe, to talk about Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager in court for a motion to dismiss. And then the judge ends up injecting, perhaps, personal opinion into this, saying to the courtroom and to prosecutors, you don't really care about Mr. Manafort. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort gave -- can give you to lead to Mr. Trump.
So how unusual or perhaps in-step is it for a judge to issue, you know, an opinion like that before issuing, you know, an official legal opinion or decision on a motion or in a case?
ZELDIN: Well, it was a bit gratuitous on behalf of the judge. He was expressing his opinion. And you know, he's the judge; he gets to express his opinion but I don't think it impacts the underlying merits of the case. Manafort has moved to dismiss this case, in the same way that he moved to dismiss it in the District of Columbia, where he said Mueller is acting outside of the scope of his authority.
The District of Columbia judge ruled that he was, in fact, acting within his authority and dismissed Manafort's case. So Manafort tried it again in Virginia. The judge made these gratuitous comments.
[11:14:56] But in the end I think that Mueller and his team prevailed. That Mueller is acting within the scope of his authority, both in the original appointments and then as augmented in the August 2nd expansion by Rosenstein, signed off on by the tax division and the national security division.
The judge may not like this, but in the end I think the law favors Mueller and the case moves forward.
WHITFIELD: All right. So the judge's opinion is separate from what is already stated in the permission of this probe? It says it's wide- sweeping, right. It says that if there are other things uncovered along the way that it's fair game?
ZELDIN: That's right, and particularly with respect to Paul Manafort, what happened is apparently clear. Mueller comes across additional information in his investigation. He goes to Rosenstein as he is required to do and said what do you want me to do with this? Do you want me to keep it myself or do you want to give this to the eastern district of Virginia for them to prosecute? Rosenstein looks at it and he says to Mueller, you keep it.
Similarly Mueller went to Rosenstein and said in the Cohen case, what do you want me to do about this? We've come across this. Do you want me to keep it or do you want to give it the southern district of New York? Rosenstein gave it to the southern district of New York.
So he's just made determinations as to which office is best to prosecute the matter. Of course, if Judge Ellis decides that this case is beyond Mueller's mandate it doesn't get dismissed. It just gets moved to the U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of Virginia and they continue the case. So this is not the end of it. It's just which prosecutor is going to handle it.
WHITFIELD: So Judge T.S. Ellis knows that then is there some ulterior motive as to expressing an opinion like that, or making what could be construed as a political statement knowing that that opinion is not going to cement the demise of that motion or that case?
ZELDIN: Yes. That's why I called it, in a sense, gratuitous. He was editorializing and that's his prerogative. And he might now, you know, sort of like these sorts of independent counsel investigations. A lot of people over the years have, you know, worried about the unfettered prosecutor, you know, with a fishing license.
ZELDIN: And so maybe that was his personal opinion that he was expressing. But in the end, he has to rule as the law requires him to rule. Now, he has asked for the unredacted memo that Rosenstein gave Mueller, which gave Mueller the expansion, and so hopefully when he sees that, he will understand more what Mueller is up to and he'll rule, as I think the law requires him to rule, that Mueller is acting within the scope of his mandate.
WHITFIELD: Interesting. All right. Michael Zeldin, we're not done. We're going to have you again, after a short break.
WHITFIELD: Meantime, hundreds of people in Hawaii are forced to evacuate after the Kilauea Volcano erupts, spewing lava and toxic gas into the air. Officials saying, quote, "It doesn't look like it's slowing down." We'll take you there live, next.
[11:17:59] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
People on the east side of Hawaii's Big Island bracing for more earthquakes, lava and toxic gas -- all of it is coming from an erupting volcano. Thousands have already been forced to flee their homes.
Take a look at video from our team captured -- capturing rather, the lava spurting from fissures there.
CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam joins us live from near Hilo. So Stephanie -- what is the latest?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred -- I wish that I could actually express to you just how amazing that was, standing that close to that fissure. The fact that it was that loud, that you could see the magma, that it was as orange as it was. It almost looked like it was fake.
This is what they're concerned about because these fissures have kept opening up in the area of Leilani Estates, where we're standing by now. That is the concern. These fissures, they're dangerous, obviously.
You've got hot, molten lava in the middle of these communities. That's why they have some 1,700 people who are evacuated. There's some 700 buildings that are under threat because of this. And because of this molten lava that is moving in this volcano, they've also had earthquakes, massive earthquakes that have knocked out power to people in this area and also causing the Hawaii volcano's national park to close.
But take a listen to one resident who had to evacuate. Take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIMOTHY TRUN, LEILANI ESTATES RESIDENT: We're holding up good. I'm with 11 people that had been displaced and are homeless and workless right now that were also working on my farm. It's been a real shocker, you know. The last day we were there, you know, just Thursday, we were making a goodbye dinner, you know, for one of our friends. We're making the dinner. We're about to enjoy dinner and then cops showed up and told us we had to go.
And everything changed in an instant. You have, you know, five minutes to pack your bags with what you think you're going to need and you're off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: And that is also part of the issue here. That people are evacuating not just because of the fissures but also because of the air quality, the sulfur dioxide in the air. When you get around it, they say it just takes your breath away very quickly. It is very dangerous. So that's why they want people to stay way -- Fred.
And that's also why they're taking longer for first responders. They can't put them into these areas where that air quality is bad and the wind shifts and they move around. So you see behind me they have this road blocked here. And part of the reason why they have it further away is because of that air quality issue here because it can change on a dime.
WHITFIELD: And so, Stephanie, you know, I've been to the Big Island. So talk to me about the complications of just simply being able to evacuate because the Big Island is also known to be, you know, a lot of farm land there, a lot of people with, you know, horses and livestock there. And just getting away is not so easy. You don't just get in a jeep and drive away.
[11:25:09] ELAM: Right. And for some of these people, that was exactly their concern about leaving. There are some people who they said stayed on the other side of these blockades because they were worried about their animals, worried about their farm, knowing that that air quality issue was there.
And also you don't know where the fissure is going to open. The mayor of Hawaii county saying that people -- anyone who tells you that they know what's going to happen when a volcano is erupting, they are lying to you because they're saying even the people who study these volcanoes the closest don't know exactly where it may rupture, where you may find one of these fissures where the lava is spouting out of the earth. So because of that it's just not safe and that's why they're asking people to move.
Now, what I will say is that -- Hawaii, the big island, is very large. There is -- it's almost like a different climate completely on the other side of the island, on the western side of the island. But still at the same time, you're right. There's not a lot of places you could go, especially if you're worried about your farms.
WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Stephanie Elam -- thank you so much. We'll check back with you. >
All right. Coming up, the President and the truth -- they don't always go hand in hand. And now the President is taking heat from conservative media outlets. So, why the change in tone now? [11:26:23]
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Misquotes, false equivalencies and flat-out lies. President Trump is no stranger to bending the facts but increasingly some of his most ardent supporters are starting to fall victim to the constant cover-ups.
This week, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani revealed that Trump did, indeed, paid back Michael Cohen for a hush money payment to porn star, Stormy Daniels, something both the president and his subordinates have denied week after week.
Now, faced with facts they're being forced to answer for it. Here's White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said on March 7th there was no knowledge of any payment from the president and he has denied all of these allegations. Were you lying to us at the time or were you in the dark?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim and, again, I've given the best information I had at the time. And I will refer you back to the comments that you, yourself just mentioned a few minutes ago about the timeline from Mayor Giuliani.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," Lynn Sweet, and CNN political analyst and senior political correspondent for "The Hill," Amie Parnes. All right. Good to see you all.
All right. So, Lynn, when you hear Sarah Sanders say, you know, quoting now, "gave the best information," end quote, that she had at the time, what does that say to you?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": It's a hedge. It's a -- not a signal. It's admitting that you're not in the loop. That's a very hard position for a White House press secretary to be in because they have to sell their credibility.
They have to sell their knowledge and reporters have to be convinced that you're going to a briefing or getting information from somebody who knows what's going on. And out of all the things we could do in this segment or in others to talk about the role of the press secretary and Sarah Sanders.
In a sense, not being in the loop is one of the more serious issues, one of the more serious problems for a place for a press secretary to be parked at, that place of not knowing what's going on.
WHITFIELD: Amie, if you're the press secretary and you're not in the loop, how long can you want to continue being the press secretary who is not in the loop, who has to answer the questions without having information?
AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the problem. You know, I think that she has had her moments of frustration where she feels like she's been in the dark, where people haven't been upfront with her. And that's what I've been hearing for weeks and months, coming from the White House.
I think you have to kind of being in the loop to provide the best information, as she said. I don't even think the best information cuts it at this point. I think people really want to get as close to the truth as possible. Everyone in that room wants that. So, I think that moment was a little laughable for her and, definitely ate into her credibility going forward.
WHITFIELD: So, the credibility of Sarah Sanders, you know, is certainly on the line. But, frankly, you know, Brian, we're talking about the credibility of the entire White House.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
WHITFIELD: And where the president has been able to receive a heck of a lot of the support and advocacy. Fox News is also sounding like it's calling this administration's bluff. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPARD SMITH, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: He got in a shout out to Kanye while attacked political opponents including Jon Tester, the president falsely stated that Democrats want all guns outlawed and gave public support to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose wife's looks he once attacked while falsely claiming his father was involved in the assassination of JFK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Brian, this was after the president was at the NRA in Dallas. You've got Fox News that's now saying, wait a minute. Here is the hypocrisy and hold up, wait a minute. Is he really speaking truth here? What does this mean? Is it like a potential seismic shift that the president or this administration is now facing?
STELTER: That was reporting 101 from Shep Smith. It stands out because sometimes we don't see that elsewhere on Fox News. When cable news channels, including CNN or Fox, broadcast a presidential speech nowadays we have to come on right away and correct all the things that were said that were false.
[11:35:12] It is a sad reality of covering the Trump administration 2018, but it's a necessary part of the job. That's what Shep was doing, trying to tick through the errors and falsehoods in the speech. I do think, though, the most of the commentators on Fox, the opinion side of the house, Fox opinion hosts, they are still standing by the president, mostly by ignoring inconvenient and embarrassing facts.
Fox is not talking about the Stormy Daniels' payment in very much detail. They're not talking about "The New York Times" scoop that Trump apparently knew several months before he denied knowing. They try to ignore that, tune it out, pretend it's not happening. That's typically the Fox News way of handling things.
WHITFIELD: It has been. Is this signaling perhaps we might be seeing something else?
STELTER: There were a few signs of it, Neil Cavuto's recent viral essay, speaking truth to the president, telling him he has a problem with credibility. The "Wall Street Journal" editorial page also spoke out on this subject, both are controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a friend of the president. So, that is notable.
But I think these issues involving Sarah Sanders, for example, these individual examples of lies, they're all symptoms of a much bigger problem. And that is, as the media scholar, Jay Rosen, has said, there is no White House in the attritional sense. There's the president and the people trying to keep up around him.
Sarah Sanders is not in the loop because nobody is really in the loop except for the president. By the way, this is the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board statement from the other day talking about the Stormy Daniels damage.
It went on to say that the president -- would have a problem in a genuine crisis. That in a genuine crisis the public will not believe him because his credibility has been so stained.
SWEET: May I make a quick point here?
SWEET: What we're really talking about, I think, and maybe we're at a crossroads of if it's time for the White House to rethink what it wants is so far a traditionally structured communications operations since one of the jobs that President Trump relishes is acting as his own communication chief and going so far as to dictate words, lines, or whatever.
This is not -- way out of the norm, which everyone here has talked about many times, how this presidency is not in the norm. But in that case then, why subject the coms people to this, putting them out there, having their reputations damaged or at least dented if President Trump just wants to be the communicator chief as well?
STELTER: They don't have a White House communications director ever since Hope Hicks left, the job hasn't been filled.
SWEET: Right. And maybe now is the time to think it may never really be. It's time to restructure. I'm throwing it out there that maybe this is the crossroads that we're approaching.
WHITFIELD: And I'm wondering, Amie -- go ahead.
STELTER: There used to be this line that was applied by the Russians, Reagan used to cite it, trust but verify. Unfortunately, now, in this coverage of this White House, we have to verify before we can trust. There should be an assumption sometimes. What we're hearing is not correct. I'll give a short example.
Rudy Giuliani a couple of days ago said three Americans in North Korea would be released today. He is the president's lawyer and he misspoke. He got that wrong. Unfortunately, those Americans, to our knowledge, have not yet been released. There are so many examples. You could spend the rest of the hour, Fred, listing off all those falsehoods. It makes our jobs different I think than they used to be.
PARNES: And the president saying that Bob Mueller actually worked for President Obama, another one yesterday.
STELTER: And leaving out all the eras of Bush, yes.
WHITFIELD: And I wonder if this kind of confluence of events is also starting to produce a sort of realization. You know, we talk about whether Sarah Sanders is now kind of just looking at her body language, if she was starting to wonder what am I into? Yes, I'm out of the loop.
And then, you know, just listen to one of Trump's trusted advisers, Kellyanne Conway. One has to wonder if she is coming to some realization or if she is thinking out loud with this realization. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kellyanne, when did you first learn that the president had reimbursed Michael Cohen for that payment made to Stormy Daniels?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I had no comment on that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about it before Sarah?
CONWAY: I never heard about that during the campaign. I was the campaign manager and a lot crossed my desk.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about last year in the White House?
CONWAY: I did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, while she's smiling and says, you know, I'm in step with all this stuff when it comes down to, you know -- were you caught flat footed with this information, she's kind of saying, yes, I am. SWEET: Well that, I think, shows that the Trump Organization writ large, President Trump, Candidate Trump never wanted to have a multiply integrated operation where everybody knew what was going on.
[11:40:07] That's my point here is that where in this White House do you find somebody that -- who is informed, credible and willing to, in real time, do give out the answers? The briefing has turned into something that is -- maybe want to be rethought because we're not getting out of it what we should as reporters from these briefings.
Because if you're dealing with somebody who is not informed, no matter how you ask a question you're not going to get a valuable answer.
WHITFIELD: That's interesting. I guess the expectations have changed, yes, but whether you're getting facts or whether you're getting, you know, twisted information, it is revealing. And so, the purpose of the briefings, you know, still merit great interest because it becomes very transparent to the American public, to the American press that, you know, that something is happening here, and you can't be left in the dark even if it means not getting clarity.
SWEET: And to be clear for everybody, I'm not saying stop them, but they're not as useful, obviously, as they could be.
PARNES: It's definitely one of the reasons why I think President Trump has had a hard time keeping a communications director. I mean, he has gone through a host of these, three people at least right now. I think that's why he's having trouble filling that role because people know what they're getting into it.
WHITFIELD: All right. Amie Parnes, Brian Stelter, Lynn Sweet, we'll leave it there for now because you'll be back talking about something similar. All right. We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: Happening right now, President Trump is in the U.S. heartland today, hosting a closed-door lunch with supporters in Cleveland, Ohio, before speaking to a bigger crowd at a roundtable on tax reform. We'll bring that to you live.
Our Polo Sandoval is with the president in Cleveland. So, Polo, this has been a key swing state and the president won in 2016, is this going to be a rather campaign-style appearance for him?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we certainly are likely not going to see any of these rally-like settings. In this case, the White House saying that we are expecting a more roundtable setting. You mentioned a couple of fundraisers, the president currently at those events right now before he makes his way here to downtown Cleveland to participate in this roundtable.
The focus, according to the White House, will be that Republican tax reform passed in December, but even though they say that a policy will be the focus of the conversation, do expect a mix of politics here in the buckeye state, Fred.
We are only a couple of days from the primary. So, according to what we're hearing right now, we are expecting to see a couple of the Republican candidates for the upcoming U.S. Senate primary as well as the gubernatorial race.
Participating in the event, one of the president's picks for that Senate race will be sitting to his left. So, do expect a mix of both politics and policy as the commander-in-chief visits what is friendly and very familiar territory for him.
But even though that is what the White House says will be the focus, of course, it's a very unconventional president who tends to stray off script. So, we will still be watching closely to see if he visits a wide array of topics aside from that tax reform that's supposed to be front and center during his visit in the buckeye state today -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. We'll be listening and watching. Thanks so much. Polo Sandoval in Cleveland.
SANDOVAL: You bet.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, stunning video out of Miami as a police officer gets a running start, right there, before king a handcuffed man in the head. What's the department saying about this next?
WHITFIELD: A Miami police officer has been suspended after he was caught on camera kicking a suspect in the head. The suspect was in handcuffs and on the ground. The video may be disturbing to some viewers. CNN's Rosa Flores has the story.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cell phone video is difficult to watch. A black man is on his stomach getting handcuffed by Miami police when Officer Mario Figueroa runs into frame. The video appears to show the officer kicking 31-year-old David Suazo in the head. Then drops to the ground and puts him in a head lock.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was unnecessary because he wasn't resisting.
FLORES: You'd never know Suazo was apparently kicked and head locked from reading the police report which says Suazo was driving an alleged stolen vehicle, then crashed it when he tried to evade police before fleeing on foot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't need to do all that, buddy.
FLORES: It was the shocked woman behind the camera who messaged police about the police.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That man should get fired. He was not a football for you to just kick him the way you did.
FLORES: The Miami police chief, swift to take action, tweeting, "The video depicts a clear violation of policy. The officer has been relieved of duty." And the state attorney saying she was shocked, appalled and opening an investigation. Suazo has been charged with grand theft auto, fleeing police and other charges.
FLORES (on camera): Figueroa is suspended with pay pending the investigation. Our phone calls to him and to the police union were not returned. The public defender's office who represents Suazo returned our phone calls but says they do not comment on pending litigation. Rosa Flores, CNN, Miami.
WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.
WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All eyes on the president today waiting to see if he'll respond to that bombshell report in "The New York Times."