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White House Counsel Leaving; Trump Warns of Violence if Republicans Lose House; John McCain Remembered. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired August 29, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I love it.
So, there's great stories here from all of them. And they talked about royalty, the Queen of Soul.
Brooke, as I leave you, I want to show you one thing. You can't have this story without a pink Cadillac being somewhere in the background.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh.
YOUNG: People have been stopping to take pictures. This has been a memorial service that people won't forget. Don't forget, concert's tomorrow, the funeral is on Friday. The city is coming really together for Aretha Franklin.
BALDWIN: I could listen to all the stories for so long about Aretha Franklin.
Ryan Young, thank you so much. Appreciate that.
We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.
We begin with the president, the fact that he will be looking for a new lawyer, not for himself personally, in the Russia probe, but for the White House officially in the office of White House counsel. The president announced Don McGahn's departure, where else, on Twitter, and moments ago said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a good man, very good man. Don, excellent guy. Yes, Don McGahn is a really good guy.
Been with me a long time. Privately, before this, he represented me. He's been here now it will be almost for two years. And a lot of affection for Don. And he will be moving on probably the private sector, maybe the private sector, and he will do very well. But he's done an excellent job.
QUESTION: Any concern about what he said to the Mueller team?
TRUMP: No, not at all. Not at all. (CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: I knew he was going, also. Yes, I did know. I had to approve it. So, we didn't claim executive -- no, I don't have to be aware. We have -- we do everything straight. We do everything by the book. And Don is an excellent guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The message is confirmation of what sources told CNN in the days after the president learned just how much McGahn has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller, 30 hours' worth of conversations.
But one high-level Republican is already bucking the move. As he heard the reports on McGahn leaving, the senator who leads the committee in charge of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court, he tweeted to the president directly, saying -- quote -- "I hope it's not true McGahn is leaving White House counsel. You can't let that happen."
Note the time stamp. This is Senator Chuck Grassley. It was too late. The president had sent his tweet 23 minutes earlier.
With me now, our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
And so let me just glance down, because I was handed reporting from Jim Acosta on all things Don McGahn, saying, that according to a source, McGahn had not had a good relationship with the president for more than a year. What do you know?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, I think that sums it up.
Look, I was just watching your intro there, and it really does capture the complications, like a lot of the president's relationships with a lot of these people that work for him. Don McGahn with him, there were definitely some rocky times.
There are various times that Don McGahn had his bags packed, his boxes boxed in his office ready to go because he was ready to quit. So there was definitely a very tense relationship at times between Don McGahn and the president.
But here's the deal. For the purposes of this investigation, the Russia investigation, Don McGahn has been a very, very, very important witness. The fact is, he's the White House counsel. He had some very important conversations with the president over, for example, the recusal of Jeff Sessions, which you know is something that Donald Trump has been very, very exercised about for more than a year.
And he also had conversations with the president about whether he could -- whether the president could fire Robert Mueller. So there's a lot of importance to Don McGahn and whatever testimony he provided to the special counsel as part of the Russia investigation.
But the truth is, Brooke, he's very popular with Republicans because Don McGahn has helped the president pack the courts. There's 26 appeals court judges that have now gone through. And I think long after Donald Trump's presidency is over, Don McGahn's work to try to turn conservatives -- put conservatives on the bench for these lifetime appointments is going to be something that is going to live on.
BALDWIN: Evan Perez, thank you so much.
I want to bring in a couple voices here.
Joining me now, CNN national political reporter M.J. Lee, former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney John Lauro, and former federal prosecutor in New York law school and professor Rebecca Roiphe.
So, great to be with all of you.
And in terms of this Don McGahn move, first of all, does anyone know what is the typical tenure for White House counsel?
JOHN LAURO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Not very long. It's a tough job.
BALDWIN: Not very long. It's a tough job. So, it's a tough job.
He has been hanging in there through very key moments of the first key 18 months of this White House. And the fact is that it was 11 days ago when it was reported out he had cooperated 30-hours plus with team Mueller.
Do you read anything into the timing and the fact that we're also hearing the relationship not so hot?
LAURO: It puts him in a very difficult position, because he's a witness. He's member that Mueller is looking at for information.
And being a witness and advocate at the same time is an inherit conflict. It is very difficult for a lawyer to do that. On a going- forward basis, the White House chief counsel is going to be the chief defender of the president as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. That's the reality of it.
And it you're makes sense for somebody to be independent, who does not have the baggage of also being a witness.
BALDWIN: This is someone who, as I mentioned, had been involved in pivotal mentions, Rebecca, the first 18 months with this president, has also single-handedly kept this president from firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
What is your reaction to this?
REBECCA ROIPHE, NEW YORK LAW SCHOOL: Look, President Trump before he was president hired lawyers who did what he wanted them to do. He hired lawyers like Michael Cohen, who would get things done. He's
not used to people saying no to him. And McGahn understood his role in the White House was not to represent Trump, but rather to represent the presidency. And that meant saying no to the president.
So I don't know if the firing has to do with this recent testimony that he gave Mueller or not, but I do think that that could create tension because the president wants somebody who will -- is a yes-man, who will do what he wants to do. And McGahn was not that and was never going to be that.
BALDWIN: One other interesting note from this Jim Acosta reporting, our chief White House correspondent, another line from this.
As for why Trump doesn't just fire them McGahn, the source says it's typical Trump. He whines about people, but doesn't fire them, like with Jeff Sessions.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I think that's a very good point.
And another line from Jim Acosta's reporting that released with that is obviously the fact that McGahn had thought about or kind of threatened to resign in order to prevent Trump from firing Mueller. I think it is just another reminder that for so many people who work directly for the president, especially in these high-profile positions, so much of their jobs is about trying to prevent the president from shooting himself in the foot, right?
And a lot of people, even the people who are loyal to him and are very committed, obviously, to doing their jobs for the president, they know what a disaster and a nightmare it would be if the president actually proceeded and did fire Mueller.
And I think that they don't really rule that out because with President Trump you can't really rule anything out. So the fact that the White House counsel actually went as far as to threaten to resign because he felt like the president was going to fire Mueller, I think that is really, really noteworthy.
BALDWIN: In other Trump lawyer news -- I know that was White House counsel. Let's move to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen. You have a new scoop today.
LEE: That's right.
We have been talking to people post to Michael Cohen. Obviously, last week was the stunning news that he pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, campaign finance violations and making false statements to a bank.
We're just trying to get a better understanding of what led to Michael Cohen deciding to plead guilty. And what we're being told is that as of right now, he basically feels resigned, resigned to the fact that he is going to spend some time in prison and that he's still not expecting a presidential pardon from his former boss, Donald Trump. And he feels like that everything that he has done up until this point
and what he's going to do is so that he can protect his family as much as possible. We know now that he actually didn't have a lot of good options. Prosecutors made it very clear that he could be facing more counts, that his wife could be implicated, that his assets could be seized.
And he sort of looked at the totality of what he was potentially facing and decided, right, I don't want to leave my family in this position.
BALDWIN: Let me ask you all to stand by, because I'm just getting information in my ear that there is sound now from the president making news speaking in the Roosevelt Room being asked about all kinds of topics, including gubernatorial primaries we were just discussing in Florida. So let's all -- let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No, I didn't hear it.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) said that it's not time to monkey around with the economy down in Florida.
TRUMP: No, I didn't hear it. Honestly...
QUESTION: ... a racist comment?
TRUMP: Yes, I didn't hear that, Jim. I have been now -- I have been actually working on the deal with Canada.
So I have not heard it. I tell you what. I know Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis is extraordinary, Harvard, Yale, brilliant, ran an incredible campaign, really beat a lot of people that he was not supposed to beat, because he came into the race and a lot of people didn't know him.
He is an extreme talent, and he will make a fantastic governor of Florida. So, I think Ron is -- he's extraordinary in so many different ways. I haven't heard that at all, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So I just heard a question about -- we had had a segment earlier about the Republican nominee now in this Florida race who won his primary, Congressman Ron DeSantis, making this comment about his opponent who would be the -- OK, thank you.
Just getting news from the control room -- who made this comment about monkeying around in reference to the Democratic candidate who won the primary, this upset in Florida, who is African-American, who would be the first African-American governor in Florida on a major party ticket.
Jeremy Diamond is with us. He is our White House reporter there.
And, Jeremy, it sounded to me like the president was simply he hasn't heard the comments. So, obviously, he obviously didn't want to say anything, but just again embracing Congressman DeSantis, and saying he's extraordinary.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, that seems to be the case.
And again, Ron DeSantis, you know, there are very few Republican candidates who ran to be as closely aligned to the president as possible as DeSantis did, as embodied by that viral ad that he made in which he's reading "The Art of the Deal" to his infant child.
You know, this is a candidate who ran as closely aligned to Trump as possible. But it is interesting also to hear the president make these comments about Puerto Rico, the first time that we're hearing him sound off on this issue, saying that he thinks the United States did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico and said that we're still helping Puerto Rico.
I mean, that's just stunning when you think about the fact that the latest death toll estimate from the Puerto Rican government, a study commissioned by them, nearly 3,000 people. That is more than of folks died in Hurricane Katrina.
And the president, you will recall a couple weeks after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico, when he went down there, he compared the Puerto Rico -- the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico favorably to a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina.
But now it seems like the president is not taking any responsibility for the high death toll that we're now seeing out of Hurricane Maria, the federal response. He has so far offered nothing but praise for this response, rather than looking at what could have been improved.
The FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did, however, take a look at this and identified several areas where they could do a better job. But for the president, it seemed...
BALDWIN: Forgive me for cutting you off mid-sentence. I'm told we now have that -- we have that video as well. We have that sound bite. Let's listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Yes, I think Puerto Rico, I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico. We're still helping Puerto Rico. The governor is an excellent guy and he's very happy with the job we have done.
We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico, and it was a very tough one. Don't forget their electric plant was dead before the hurricane. If you look back on your records, you will see that that plant was dead. It was shut. It was bankrupt. It was out of business.
They owed tremendous amounts of money. They had it closed up. And then, when the hurricane came, people said, what are we going to do about electricity? It wasn't really the hurricane. That was done before the hurricane. But we have -- we have put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico.
And I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we have done. You know, Texas healed quickly, and the people were incredible. Florida healed quickly. And everybody worked very hard.
Puerto Rico was actually more difficult because of the fact it's an island. It's much harder to get things onto the island. With Texas, you're land-based. With Florida, you're land-based. Puerto Rico is a very difficult situation.
I only hope they don't get hit again, because they were hit by two right in a row and really the likes of which we have never seen before.
But the people of Puerto Rico, a great people, they worked very hard. But Puerto Rico, I would say was by far the most difficult of the group. And, you know, right now, FEMA and all of the people that work so hard there, they were very brave, and they have done some job
But Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit. And we're straightening out those difficulties even now.
Hey, thank you very much, everybody.
TRUMP: I think we're doing well with North Korea. We will have to see.
I think part of the North Korean problem is caused by our trade disputes with China. China has been taking out about $500 billion a year from the United States for many years. And we can't let that happen.
So when we started working a little bit against China -- and we have a great relationship with China. I have a great relationship with President Xi. I think he's a terrific man, a terrific person.
But we have to straighten out our trade relationship, because too much money is being lost by us. And, as you know, China is the route to North Korea -- 93 percent of
the product and various things that go into North Korea go in through China.
So I think that now that we're in somewhat, I don't like to call it a trade war. And I think, you know, our country is doing very well. But China's having a very, very tough time.
And I think that China makes it much more difficult in terms of our relationship with North Korea. Now, I knew that, but I couldn't wait any longer when I got in. I have been talking about China for a long time.
When I came into office, I purposely didn't do much with respect to the trade on China, because I wanted to see if we could work out North Korea. But when you're losing $400 billion to $500 billion a year, and it's going to China, and coming away from our country and our taxpayers, I can't let that go on.
So we are being very strong in China. I think it's all going to work out. Our country has gone up and they are -- they're having a hard time. So I think...
QUESTION: Well, we're going to have to see.
TRUMP: But I think China probably has a great influence over North Korean.
I have a fantastic relationship with Chairman Kim, as you probably know, and we're just going to have to see how it all ends up.
But I had to move on China from the standpoint of trade, because it really was not fair to our country. We were just pouring money. For many years, presidents, they closed their eyes.
And I'm talking about not President Obama. I'm talking about many presidents. And they closed their eyes. And hundreds of billions of dollars a year was pouring out of the United States and taxpayers and everything else.
TRUMP: No, I think we're going to have a very positive impact.
If you look at the polls, based on the polls, it is positive. Based on the polls, it is the highest in the Republican Party, I guess, forever or for a long time.
And it's been -- I don't do it for polls. Honestly, people won't necessarily agree with this. I do nothing for the polls. I do it to do what is right. I'm here for an extended period of time. I'm here for a period that
is a very important period of time. And we are straightening out this country.
And one of the biggest things we want to straighten out is what the people in this room represent. That's drug abuse, and alcohol abuse and all of the problems. And I think it's something that maybe a lot of people don't talk about. You know, we will talk about other things, but, to me, this is just as exciting as creating Space Force or sending rockets up or doing so many of the things that we're doing.
So I really don't. And I can tell you this. Jim, I don't do anything for polls. I do it -- I enjoy looking at polls. It is interesting to see, but, ultimately, I always make a decision based on what is right and what is wrong.
TRUMP: Well, I just hope there won't be violence. I can tell you that -- I can tell you that -- because that's the way, I guess, if you look at what happens, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of unnecessary violence all over the world, but also in this country.
And I don't want to see it.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Google, sir?
QUESTION: What would you like the federal government to do about Google?
TRUMP: Well, I think that Google and Facebook and Twitter, I think they treat conservatives and Republicans very unfairly.
I could tell you that I have personal experience. I have a lot of people on the various platforms. Dan would tell you probably over 100 million, over 125 million.
What is the number? Is Dan here?
Dan, what is...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're at about 160 million across all platforms.
TRUMP: One hundred and 60 million people. I have numerous -- yes, numerous platforms.
But that's a lot of people. But I can tell you when things are different. And all of a sudden, you lose people and you say, where did they go? They have taken off. Now, I don't know if it happens to the other side, but I can say that
with respect to Google and Twitter and Facebook, there is a big difference. And, in fact, I hear that they're holding hearings in Congress over the next couple of weeks.
And I think it's very serious problem, because they're really trying to silence a very large part of this country. And those people don't want to be silenced. It is not right. It is not fair. It may not be legal.
But we will see. We just want fairness.
QUESTION: Do you think -- do you want to regulate them more? (OFF- MIKE)
TRUMP: We're just going to see. We're just going to see.
You know what we want? Not regulation. We want fairness. When we have fairness, we are all very happy.
But you're talking about a tremendous amount. I mean, I'm president. They got me here. You're talking about a tremendous number of people. We want to see fairness. Very important.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.
TRUMP: I spoke to him yesterday. We had a very good talk. I spoke to him a couple of times.
TRUMP: Hey, he called me. I didn't call him.
TRUMP: He was very nice. He couldn't have been nicer. We will see what happens.
I love Canada. And you know what? I love Mexico, too. I like them both the same.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: OK, Jeremy Diamond still with me.
And, Jeremy, two headlines there. We were talking earlier about the comments he made to those evangelicals yesterday. And he's -- now it sounds like he was asked about. He said, I hope there won't be violence in reference to the midterms, and if the Democrats take back either chamber this fall. But I want to hone in on North Korea, because we have been reporting on how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was told not to go to North Korea. Right? We have reported on this letter that was sent to Pompeo essentially saying that this whole denuclearization process was -- quote -- "may fall apart."
And you have the president sitting in there saying, doing well with North Korea.
DIAMOND: Yes, that's right. The president expressing his typical optimism about the situation in North Korea.
But, really, the actions that we're seeing from North Korea and from the president with regards to this diplomacy signal that the president is really coming to terms with the fact that there has been very little progress on the denuclearization front with North Korea.
The fact that he canceled that visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang signals that the president is pulling the brakes on this a little bit.
But, once again, the president here seems to be homing in on this idea that China is really the responsible party here as far as holding back progress, signaling that his tough stance on trade as it relates to China is leading China to influence North Korea negatively, to influence them to not continue this diplomacy with the United States.
But several North Korea experts that I have talked to you in the last day or so have said that the real issue here is North Korea. And it seems like North Korea has not made the strategic decision to abandon their nuclear weapons and to move forward with this diplomacy, that what we're seeing from North Korea right now, where they are holding back, vs. what they have actually committed to the president of the United States, signals that this is part of their typical playbook that they use to kind of suggest they're going to engage in some kind of a new diplomatic effort and that there's a breakthrough on the horizon, when really they're not doing anything.
Remember, North Korea has gained enormously from all of this. Their relationship with China, for example, stronger than ever. That's something that wasn't the case before the president's summit with Kim Jong-un.
BALDWIN: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you very much.
Still ahead here, mounting pressure from a powerful Washington, D.C. cardinal, to resign in the wake of the Pennsylvania priest abuse scandal. The latest calls are coming from inside the Catholic community.
But, first, we will take you to Phoenix, Arizona, as the late Senator John McCain lies in state. We will share the emotional moments that we saw from his widow and children saying their final goodbyes. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: That is Meghan McCain, one of the late senator's daughters.
Just crushing to watch her and other family members pay their respects at the casket. Today's special ceremony inside Arizona's State Capitol, the body of the late senator lying in state there.
McCain is being honored on what would have been his 82nd birthday today.
Here is the governor of Arizona.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R), ARIZONA: To the woman that brought McCain into this world, Mrs. McCain, Roberta, 106 years young, you raised a remarkable son.
And we are truly blessed that you are among us still. When we look to you, there's no doubt where John McCain inherited his determination, resilience and tenacity. It was built into his DNA.
You see it in John's children, who carry on his spirit of service. Doug, Andy, Meghan, Sidney, Jack, Jimmy, and Bridget, may God bless you and keep all of you. Your father was very proud. And so is the state of Arizona.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: CNN's Nick Watt is there for us in Phoenix.
And, Nick, just share some of the stories, some of the people there today.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I was inside that service this morning. It was intimate. It was emotional. All of Senator McCain seven children were there, and, of course, his widow, his wife of 38 years, Cindy McCain.
She was stoic. I saw her dab one tear away. I saw her nod in agreement when she heard her husband described as a fighter from the podium. Meghan McCain was extremely emotional, crying. She and her brother Jimmy holding hands through much of the service. And at the end, they processed out past the flag-draped casket.
And Cindy McCain, in one of the most touching moments that I saw, touched the coffin and then put her cheek to the coffin also, before she walked out.
There was another staffer I spoke to, a former McCain staffer I spoke to shortly before the service, who, as she was recounting to me her days traveling with the senator, she couldn't help it. Tears just came to her eyes. And you heard Doug Ducey, the governor, talking there. And he also
described John McCain as one of the few politicians who can actually unite this country and bring this country together. He called him a tried and tested politician, said that those characteristics maybe aren't in such abundance these days.
Now, of course, McCain wasn't actually from Arizona. He moved here in his 40s when he married Cindy, but shortly the old Capitol will be opened and so that people, members of the public from Arizona can file past that casket and pay their respects.
Ducey said that McCain was really Arizona's favorite adopted son. And he said on his travels around the world, you know, all people really know about Arizona are the Grand Canyon and John McCain. And life without either is almost unimaginable.
You know, McCain represented the state for 35 years, first as a congressman, then as a senator. And he won every election by at least 10 points, often a lot more. So it will be about six hours. I can see people lining up already to get in to pay their last respects.
Now, one of the few benefits of knowing that your days on earth are numbered is that you get to plan your farewell. And John McCain did that. This was the first step.
He will -- there will be another funeral service here in Phoenix tomorrow, and then his body will be flown to Washington, where he will live lie in state at the Capitol, where there will be a service at the National Cathedral on Saturday, where President Trump is not invited.