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Interview with Michael Avenatti; A Look at the Economy; Discussion of Trump Reaction to McCain Passing; Lester Holt Interview with President Trump Examined; Latest Immigration Issue. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Thanks, J.B.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

All the stuff, you remember that line from the secret Michael Cohen tape that I got you here? What is said on that tape is taking on new significance as part of the proof that Trump was trying to buy a lot more than you know about until tonight. Those hush money payments that Michael Avenatti is trying to get him to testify about under oath are even in sharper focus. Avenatti is here to argue what this new information should mean to his case and others.

Senator McCain, as you just heard, returned to the Capitol for the final time after a day of deep tributes from political friends and foes alike.

And then the president weighed in not too long ago, and things went sideways. I'll take you through the highs and the lows.

And the latest target in Trump's immigration fight is legal U.S. citizens. Americans are getting passports denied or confiscated at the border. Is that legal?

It is that time, so what do you say? Let's get after it.


CUOMO: So, it turns out that President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, were apparently trying to buy a lot more than just one playmate's story, or two, or three. "The New York Times" is reporting the plan was about decades of dirt held in trust by the "National Enquirer's" parent company.

Now, if it sounds likely to you, that may be because you heard Cohen and Trump discussing exactly that on this show for the first time.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away.

Yes. And it's all the stuff -- DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct.


CUOMO: David, David Pecker, the company, "National Enquirer," AMI, all the stuff.

So what are the implications? Let's bring in the attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti.

Counselor, good to have you.


CUOMO: All right. Let's start micro and get macro on this. To your case, hearing that there's more stuff, what does this do in terms of your chances of getting your day in front of the president?

AVENATTI: I think it increases our chances exponentially, Chris. Those chances have risen significantly over the last eight or nine days every 24 or 48 hours, I think the chances go up.

We're going to get a deposition of Donald Trump. In my opinion, it's not a question of if. It's only a question of when. And we're going to get a deposition from Michael Cohen.

And both of them are going to have to answer some questions that I'm going to ask each of them relating to what happened in connection with these payments, what evidence exists, and what we've heard thus far are some very general statements from Michael Cohen. But we're going to get into specifics, and it's not going to take a long time to do so.

CUOMO: What is the interest in it being more than a couple women, three women, that it's decades of different types of sordid material that his friend had kept quiet, and he wanted it in case his friend moved on?

AVENATTI: Well, Chris, I mean, I think is evidence -- more evidence of basically the criminal enterprise that these two men were operating for a significant period of time. I mean, to hear that tape, and now we find out about this treasure trove of damaging information that they were contemplating purchasing.

I mean, these guys give mobsters -- they make mobsters look good frankly. I mean, these guys are operating their criminal enterprise, and they're C-class mobsters.

CUOMO: Why is it illegal to buy this stuff? AVENATTI: Well, we don't know the circumstances yet about how the

money flowed, what accounts were set up, what businesses were set up relating to purchasing this information. I find it very hard to believe that the first time that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen came up with the idea to establish a company and to route this money in the way that they did was in connection with the Stormy Daniels payment. I just don't believe it. I think that that was probably one in many instances of them engaging in similar conduct.

CUOMO: So then you get the larger implication of, well, could this mean anything to other investigations on the federal level or to Mueller's probe? The president said today to Bloomberg, he doesn't care about the Mueller probe because it's illegal.

Do you think he has any standing there, not in the legal sense, but do you think that case makes any sense, that it's an illegal probe?

AVENATTI: No, it's not an illegal probe. I mean, this is more of the fallacy, the make-believe universe that the president likes to craft and likes to believe that he operates in. Well, this is not going to last forever. When the facts and the evidence are laid bare for the American people, they're going to ultimately decide whether you're on the right, the left, or the center, what happens to Donald Trump.

And it's going to be very difficult to argue with the facts and the evidence. These claims of the president of fake news and doctoring the tape by NBC and all of this other nonsense, it's going to be very, very difficult for Donald Trump to counter the testimony that I believe Michael Cohen's going to provide, that Weisselberg's going to provide, and that others are going to provide.

CUOMO: Now, arguing against the Avenatti in court and trying to say, hey, the Lester Holt thing, that's bad for him -- not so compelling. But in the court of public opinion, as you just alluded to, let's say Mueller's report comes out. It's not about criminality or charges. It's about political implications.

The president made another statement today where he said, can't impeach me. Several reasons. One's, the standard's too high. Two, I'm doing a good job. And three, if you impeach me, it means every time the out party doesn't like who the sitting president is from another party, they can impeach them.

You think it's that simple, and that his base will hold true to him? There won't be the political will to get rid of him, so ultimately, this won't mean anything dire for Donald Trump?

AVENATTI: I don't believe that, Chris. You know, if you look back in the 1980s, there was a time period where John Gotti was called the Teflon Don, and many people believed John Gotti would never be convicted, that he would never be held accountable for his conduct.

Well, guess what? John Gotti died in a federal penitentiary, and he was the Teflon Don right up until the day that he wasn't. Nothing lasts forever, and I don't believe that this president's con job of his base is going to last forever either. Again, I think that the facts and the evidence -- and it may take a while. But eventually the facts and the evidence are going to rule the day.

CUOMO: You know, you said to me when we were doing that first flush of Cohen plea agreement drama, about what he had pled to and there was so much attention, for good reason, about the campaign finance violations, you said tax evasion is what gets people. It's what gets mobsters, it's what gets white collar criminals.

How do they book the money that Cohen got back that they call legal fees, and that that is something that has to be looked at because tax evasion could mean more even in a political setting than even campaign finance situations, yes?

AVENATTI: A hundred percent. I mean, you go back to the days of Al Capone. They didn't get Al Capone for murder or for accessory to murder or for ordering hits on people. They got Al Capone on tax evasion.

CUOMO: The Mattingly letter, the letter that his lawyer sent, his accountant and lawyer making a mistake and sending the information that the government used.

AVENATTI: Absolutely, 100 percent correct. You look at Michael Cohen's plea last week. You look at the immunity that was just given to Weisselberg. I mean, none of this looks good for Donald Trump.

CUOMO: And, of course, taxes, I don't know anything about them because the president won't release them. But Mueller could get the taxes much more easily than the press can.

Michael Avenatti, appreciate the brain. Thank you very much.

AVENATTI: Thank you, sir. Good to be here.

CUOMO: All right.

So, he tells us -- the president does -- that the economy has never been better. He said it again less than an hour ago. So, if that's true, why is the president about to completely stiff his own federal workers? His reason, serious economic conditions. This is furrowed brow signaling potential B.S. What's really at play, next.


CUOMO: All right. The president announced today that he is canceling pay raises for federal employees. This is a big deal. He then wrote a letter to Congress telling the congressional leaders that the planned increase is inappropriate, adding, quote: We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.

Now, what is this about? It's about choosing winners and losers. Trump and company know they're going to get hit for this, especially after larding on to the deficit and national debt with chubby budgets and fat cat tax cuts, not to mention constantly undercutting his argument here about sustainability of payroll by bragging about the economy like he just did not long ago. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TRUMP: You know, it's interesting. We have the strongest economy in the history of our nation.

The economy is blazing.

We're on track to hit the highest annual average growth rate in over 13 years.

We have the best numbers. We're setting records in every respect. Our economy is booming. Jobs are pouring back into our country.

No president has ever had this economy.


CUOMO: The economy is great. I can't sustain any payroll increases. How do those go together?

Well, two things to think about. First is the truth is a strong economy usually drives more tax revenues. But because of the president's imbalanced tax cuts, right now, he's not going to get more revenue for the government. So, he has to offset the difference, and he's chosen -- that's the second thing to think about here, his choice. He's chosen to do that by stiffing the employees.

Now, some will argue, well, those employees, they make too much, or this is about leaning out the elites. That is B.S., OK?

There are 2.8 million federal workers. They make, on average, $76,000 a year. That's about $213 billion annually that the government has to come up with. OK.

The proposed raise was 2.1 percent. In context, that doesn't even make up for the impact of inflation. The president's tax cuts alone add about $1 trillion in debt over ten years. So, $1 trillion. That means you have less revenue. You're going to wind up gypping the workers. Why don't you do it somewhere else?

Idea -- $12 billion, the bailout for farmers. They didn't need that. They only needed it -- you only did it to backfill the problem that you created with these trade machinations with China. That's hurting the homeland. That's where the $12 billion had to go. It wasn't necessary.

So here's some good news. Let's get away from this bad news. Federal workers don't have to despair just yet despite the president's promise to put them in a bad way.

Congress has the power of the purse. Congress can overrule the president's edict. The Senate passed a 1.9 percent raise. Now, that's not 2.1 percent, and the House didn't take it up.

But elections are coming. And when you're talking about people's pay, that can get hineys to the polls, and that may promote action from Congress.

But bottom line on this one, this is not about needs. It's not about sustainability. It's about wants for the president. It's about choices, and he is choosing to reward investors like him and not paycheck people like the families across the country that voted for him.

Now, despite what we just proved for you here by fact, there is someone arguing that African-Americans will never do better even with all these cuts -- and a lot of African-Americans work for the federal government -- than under President Trump. The man arguing that is Kanye West, and that is the premise for a great debate, next.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Senator John McCain, the maverick, the hero, the navy pilot, the war hero, he has completed his final flight. His casket arrived at joint base Andrews in Maryland a short time ago after a memorial service in Arizona.

His widow, Cindy, was escorted by Defense Secretary James Mattis. That's what you see there right now. His daughter, Meghan.

Of course, this is so difficult for his family. We've seen them weep over the loss of their father as that casket came off the plane.

But as senators and troops lined up to pay their respects, we got a new headline from the president. When Trump was asked by Bloomberg News if he made a mistake on how to respond to the senator's death, he said, quote: No, I don't think I did at all. I've done everything that they requested, and, no, I don't think I have at all.

And more to the point, he said he did not miss a chance to unite the country. Really?

That is the premise for a great debate. Let's bring in Nina Turner and Ken Cuccinelli.

Nina Turner, was there a chance to unite the country, and was it missed by the president?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, Chris. Call him the petty president in chief. I mean, he never misses an opportunity to be petty.

And, you know, Senator John McCain, as you just laid out, was a war hero. He served in the Senate. People may not agree with all his policies. Certainly, I didn't. I did not.

But this is not the time to argue the senator's policies when he has just died. It is absolutely the time for the president of the United States of America to be a diplomat and not continue to fight Senator McCain even in death.

You have veterans agencies, organizations ask the president continue to have the flag half-staff. He refused, putting it back up to full staff the next day instead of keeping it there until Senator McCain was buried.

So, yes, he missed a great opportunity to try to unite the country. But there's no surprise there when it comes to President Donald J. Trump.

CUOMO: Ken Cuccinelli, you're a Republican. Who do you think would have been a better president, John McCain or Barack Obama?


CUOMO: The president couldn't answer that question today.

CUCCINELLI: But we'd have been -- we'd have been -- we'd have been in wars all over the world, but --

CUOMO: The president was arch nemesis of Barack Obama. When he was asked that question today, the day that the senator of his own party was lying in repose and being memorialized, he could not answer that question. Petty or principled?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I don't know that -- you know, John -- not John McCain. Donald Trump ran for president as a practicalist. I don't know that he ascribes to that, and he endorsed John McCain in his last election --


CUCCINELLI: -- in 2016 against a conservative. And I think he expected to build a relationship off that. That didn't happen.

John McCain was, of course, one of his most critical people in the Republican Party. And -- but at the same time, look, the notion that there was some opportunity to unite the country here, I think, is really quite silly.

And when veterans organizations did ask the White House to put the flag at half-staff, that's why they did it. So, let's get our facts at least in order.

TURNER: That's the point.

CUOMO: It's not a fact analysis.



CUOMO: They could have done it without being asked. He could have done it without being asked.

CUCCINELLI: He could have and he didn't.

CUOMO: He could have come out and said --

CUCCINELLI: He could have and he didn't.

CUOMO: He could have said to people, John McCain and I had our differences, but that's about politics, not people.

TURNER: That's right.

CUOMO: He was a great American. He will be missed. He will be remembered, and I wish him and his family well. That's it. And not only would --

CUCCINELLI: Well, he did the last part as soon as John died.

CUOMO: He would have liked this -- no, he put out --

CUCCINELLI: And he did it the way he usually does.

CUOMO: It was cursory. No, not the way he did when the Reverend Graham died, Nina Turner.

CUCCINELLI: What's enough, Chris? What's enough? What's enough?

CUOMO: More. The basic standard of decency people do in these situations. And guys reward him for doing less?



CUCCINELLI: No, no, no. He doesn't get rewarded for this.

CUOMO: I'll come back to you, Ken. Nina, make your point.

CUCCINELLI: All right. I'll wait.

TURNER: The veterans organizations should not have had to ask the president of the United States to be decent. What other presidents had had to be asked to be decent?

He is still upset with Senator John McCain over the Affordable Care Act because he didn't give him the vote that he needed to repeal it. So, again, petty president even in the death of a war hero and a senator who, as you said, he may not have agreed with him politically, but it's time to put aside the politics and allow his family to grieve and show that he can be a diplomat in Senator John McCain's death. He couldn't do that. That was too much to ask.


CUOMO: And instead, Ken, you don't hear that from any of you guys. You hear don't be so tough on him.

CUCCINELLI: Wait. You said you're going to let me respond.

CUOMO: Yes, I just want to tee it up for you. You guys say, well he was damned if he did, damned if he didn't. I don't think that's true. Go ahead.

CUCCINELLI: Well, look, he did say -- he did say -- he did speak to the senator's honorable service. He did offer condolences to the family.

The question isn't that he's been disrespecting John McCain. It's what we just heard. He didn't do enough. He didn't do it fast enough. And when the veterans groups came back to him, he did respond to that request.

Is it how you would have done it, Chris, or how I would have done it or how Nina would have done it? No. Is it how previous presidents have done it? No.

But, look, this guy wasn't hired because he was, you know, going to lead the way in knightly behavior, with a "K", knightly behavior. He was elected just to get things done, and he doesn't do these niceties well. He doesn't do them gently, and this is an example of it. But he does get the basics.

You were talking about the taxes earlier, Chris. You can argue about whether that should have happened, whether he should be cutting federal salaries, but those things get things done that matter to all of America. And I don't think anybody's going to see Donald Trump as a uniter, and I don't think posing this as a lost opportunity for unity is really very accurate.

CUOMO: It feels like it is. And, you know, I'm just telling you tens of thousands of people who work for the federal government -- actually hundreds of thousands of people, they're going to be affected by this. I think they're going to care.

But I have another topic for you guys.

Nina Turner, this one comes to you first. Kanye West says that Donald Trump wants to be the best president ever for African-Americans. Here's what he said.


KANYE WEST, RAPPER: I feel that he cares about the way black people feel about him. He wants to be the greatest president, and he knows that he can't be the greatest president without the acceptance of the black community.


CUOMO: And Trump says, look at the economy. I've helped the blacks more than Obama ever did. Your take?

TURNER: Not true, Chris. Look, Kanye has a right to his opinion. I want to put that there.

But we know that, you know, his press secretary got the numbers wrong. African-American community has netted about 700,000 jobs under this president. They compared that to president Obama. We know that over the course of President Obama's presidency, it was 2.8 million even after the president inherited one of the worst great recession in modern history. This president does not respect the African-American community, and

every time they throw up these numbers to substitute for the way that this president actually feels, he led the birther movement, to say that President Obama was not born in this country and therefore not legitimate. He has a HUD director in Dr. Ben Carson that is not upholding fair housing laws. They are pushing more war on drugs back, you know, taking away what President Obama had fought to do. Voting rights.

You name it. This president calling African-Americans, Congresswoman Waters, a low IQ, talking against black folks who express themselves in this country, calling Omarosa a dog. That does not sound like or represent -- the Central Park Five. I mean, we can go on and on.

This president cannot substitute employment rates with his lack of respect for the African-American community. And on top of all that, to know that the job quality in this country -- unemployment rate may be low, but the quality of jobs that people are working are not -- their salaries, their wages are not keeping up with inflation in this country, and there's something wrong with that.

Chris, the point that you made about the tax cuts, 83 percent of those tax cuts represent 1 percent in this country, not the everyday working people of this country, of which the African-American community is part of.


CUCCINELLI: Yes. Chris, where everyone benefits from tax cuts and deregulations is when you get economies going over 4 percent like it did in the last quarter. That's where all boats rise.

Let me zero in on one thing I care a lot about, and that is criminal justice reform, which has been something focused on by a large number of members of the leadership of the black community for years. President Obama did nothing but talk about it, and this White House has shepherded a criminal justice reform bill to the verge of passage. They seem to have a deal in the Senate that may survive. We're finally going to get for the first time in about 30 years -- 25 years, criminal justice reform at the federal level, and that's going to be because this White House shepherded it through both the House and the Senate and delivers on a promise that the last president only used to divide and bait people on.

CUOMO: But let's see what's in the bill, but see, there's something else here, and you made this point before. I think it was a little stronger in the other context than this one.

Being president is about what you say to a large extent. If you can pass policies, that's good. But when it comes to race and people, what you say matters.

And I don't think that if you would look at African-Americans and ask them, hey, if you get an extra $5,000 in your pocket, is it OK if somebody calls you a dog? Is it OK if you get shot by a cop and everybody kind of blames you for it and says that if anybody covers it, it's something else, it's really being un-American and unfair, and if you protest, we're going to talk about you differently? We're going to single you out.

Is it OK? You've got some more money in your pocket. Do you think --



CUCCINELLI: Chris, whatever elements work into it, in polls repeatedly by different organizations, President Trump has a higher favorability rating than Republican predecessors of his. And we can all dissect --

CUOMO: Still less than three in ten.

CUCCINELLI: -- why it might be or why not.

CUOMO: Still less than three in ten.

CUCCINELLI: I understand that.

CUOMO: How much lower than you can?

CUCCINELLI: But 29 percent is better than George Bush did. It's better than his father did.

CUOMO: Yes, we have a poll here. Put up the poll that we have. I just -- the numbers are all bad. Eighty-five to 9 percent. From -- Kanye, Trump cares about how black people feel about him. Trump's approval rating among black voters, this is our most recent take on the Quinnipiac poll, August 9 to 13, 85 to 9.

You feeling good about that, Ken?

CUCCINELLI: Oh, I wouldn't say I feel good about it. I'm somebody who has put a lot of effort into this subject and things like criminal justice reform and building relations but --

TURNER: The African-American community cares about other issues other than criminal justice.


CUCCINELLI: I stopped my interruption. How about you stop yours?


CUOMO: Fair point. To think that African-Americans only care about criminal justice reform assumes that's where they live most of the time is in prison. Obviously they care about education and the economy and the environment and a lot of other things, you know, because they have a --

CUCCINELLI: Chris, Come on, now. Wait a minute. The reason I pulled that one out is because it's been a priority of the community. (CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: But that's not the only way you get the black vote. You know what I mean?

TURNER: That's right.

CUCCINELLI: Of course not. Of course not. You lower unemployment rates. You create economic opportunity.

CUOMO: And you say the right things. You treat them as what they're supposed to be, which is created equally under --


CUCCINELLI: That does help. That does help. I agree does that help.

TURNER: No, that's more than a starting point to show that you respect the community. He has not shown that in his deeds at all.

CUOMO: And I respect both of you for coming here to make the case, and I wish the both of you a very happy Labor Day weekend. Ken Cuccinelli, thank you. Nina Turner, as always.

TURNER: Same to you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. So in the president's world, nothing you see or hear should be believed, right? But now there's an addendum. Apparently, that includes what the president tells you himself on tape. He is trying to blame the press for one of his infamous damning admissions that could come back to haunt him. What is this about? Insight, next.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

The president said he can't state strongly enough how dishonest and enemy-ish the media is. Certainly, CNN and NBC is now in his crosshairs.

Now, I would tell the president, don't be so hard on yourself. I think you've stated in plenty hard. You just don't have any of the facts right.

He seems to be hoping that the faithful will just believe he didn't say what he did say to NBC's Lester Holt, who the president now claims, erroneously, was caught fudging his tape on Russia.

Now, to me, I have to be honest. This defies reason. But it makes sense to the president, so let's get someone who understands him better than I do.

Michael Caputo, a former aide to the Trump presidential campaign. What is the play here, my friend? MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, first of all, I'm

not quite sure I understand the president better than you do, Chris. But I appreciate the --

CUOMO: You better on this one. Go ahead, Michael. What do you think we're getting at?

CAPUTO: Well, I'll tell you, I re-watched that interview in preparation for our sit-down here tonight, and I think I know what the president's talking about here. If you watch the totality of the interview, it was very different from the sound bite that everybody marketed after the interview took place.

The sound bite, you know, he went kind of from talking about always planning on firing Comey with a non sequitur to talking about how he's thinking about Russia. And that became a predicate for a lot of discussion about how he fired Comey over the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Right.

CAPUTO: But even though two minutes later in that interview, he went on for about a minute-plus about how he wanted the investigation to go forward, and he might even extend it further.

CUOMO: Right.

CAPUTO: And how if anybody in his campaign was doing something wrong, they should be punished for it.

CUOMO: Right.

CAPUTO: And I think the totality of the interview is really where his mind was, but the sound bite marketed really was a predicate for a lot of bad things to come.

CUOMO: Right. But a couple of points, Michael. First of all, they're different subjects, why he fired Comey and what he would do with the Mueller investigation. Second of all, he said it.

And the story that the White House had put out was him firing Comey had nothing to do with Russia. Then he said to Lester Holt the opposite. And, yes, you're right. When you look at the totality of the interview, there is double-speak. But that does not take away his accountability for contradicting himself, which is what he did.

CAPUTO: I understand.

CUOMO: That's not Holt fudging the tape.

CAPUTO: It is Holt and his team and every other media organization that used that brief sound bite out of context --

CUOMO: But it's not out of context. That's what I'm arguing. It is in context.

CAPUTO: I understand. But listen, Chris, I think the president's looking at the totality of his message of that interview, where he was very firm on how this investigation should go forward, and yet the sound bite that was used was used to outline and to predicate that the president fired Comey over the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Right, which is what he said.

CAPUTO: I don't think that was an honest assessment. I get that in a small sound byte and a larger context --


CUOMO: He never said afterwards, by the way -- he never -- he never, until now, he never said after that interview -- and he talked about it a lot -- did he say, hey, by the way, where it says I fired him because of Russia, I didn't mean that. That's taken out of context. Why not?

CAPUTO: Right. Chris, I got to tell you, my family and I look back on that interview, that whole time frame there where we went from firing Comey to getting a special counsel, which has put my family and so many other families in harm's way, and I really regret that Lester Holt interview. My wife in particular really regrets it.

I think it was taken out of context. I think the totality of the interview was more honest. But I really wish he had never done it.

CUOMO: Right. I hear you.

CAPUTO: Because so much came out of that that was really bad.

CUOMO: I hear why you would think that.

CAPUTO: And I think, Chris -- and I think, Chris, that's why he's looking back on it now, because he's starting to look at whether he's going to sit down and talk to the special counsel, and et cetera, and he's looking at the predicates of this. And if you do the, you know, of the Mueller investigation, that interview is kind of the grandfather of it in a lot of ways.

CUOMO: No. It was all going on long before that. To be fair to the audience, we're talking about two things --

CAPUTO: No, not the Mueller investigation. They appointed the special counsel shortly thereafter. I know the FBI was investigating for --

CUOMO: They had been looking into these questions for a while is what I'm saying. Obviously, it didn't start right then, but I'll take your point on that.

But, also, let's be fair to the audience. This is the excerpt that the president is now talking about.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


CUOMO: Because you said --


CAPUTO: I'd like you to fast forward that about a minute and twenty seconds, and play the part that I'm talking about.

CUOMO: The key part is Lester Holt says, you said in a letter, I accepted their recommendation, so you'd already made the decision. And he says, yes. I was going to fire regardless of the recommendation.

To remind people, the whole reason that we know the name Rod Rosenstein -- poor guy keeps getting his name butchered. Everybody says Rosenstein.

Rosenstein was brought in because Sessions recused himself, and then Rosenstein was used or whatever. He was assigned the task of coming up with a letter evaluating Comey in which he hammered Comey, and he had tons of reasons in there why Comey should go. And it gave Trump great cover to get rid of Comey.

But then he said this: I was going to fire regardless of the recommendation, and that's why we wound up getting a special counsel in large part because Rosenstein was like, oh, would you, we can't be fair. We can't investigate this. You know, I need to have this be clean of conflict. I can't do it. I have to give it to somebody else. And he gave it to someone then that the GOP all loved in the form of Bob Mueller.

This is on the president. And, yes, it hurt people like you. Yes, it put stink on people like you. That's on him, not Lester Holt.

CAPUTO: I don't agree entirely with what you're saying, Chris. I think the Lester Holt interview, like I said, may be the grandfather of this investigation. But, you know, you had that exchange, tit for tat between him and Comey about who had tapes and who had notes and that all brought these things forward.

And Comey himself said he released his notes in order to try to draw in a special counsel, and he got what he wanted.

You know, I got to tell you, this is back in the day when I think the communications operation was still catching their feet. I believe the president never should have done that interview myself. I'm betting he regrets it now too. But I believe that that sound bite that was marketed widely was not a representation of what he truly said in that interview, and I believe that's what the president is referring to. And I think he's talking about it now for the first time because these

chickens are coming home to roost, and he's thinking about the things that he said that brought on this investigation.

CUOMO: Right. But to be fair, Michael, this is not a man who waits for a ripe opportunity to say something. He counters immediately. He's all about counterpunching as you guys call it.

He had plenty of time to say this. He's never said it until now.

But, Michael Caputo, thank you for your take. You do understand what he's thinking in this case better than I do. Thank you very much.

CAPUTO: Thanks, Chris. I'll take that to the bank.

CUOMO: You got it.

You got an immigration update coming your way. The government is denying Americans passports because they were born near the border. How is this happening? We're going to talk to the head of the ACLU, next.


CUOMO: All right. There's a new old the battlefront in Trump's get tough immigration war. Now, the administration is stripping passports from some people in Texas who according to their birth certificate were born in America. How?

Let's discuss with Susan Herman, president of the ACLU. She knows the deal here. A decade ago, her organization fought this same fight against the Bush and Obama administrations, was supposed to be over.

Thank you for being on PRIME TIME.

SUSAN HERMAN, PRESIDENT, ACLU: It's a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

So, just to catch everybody up to speed. Bush did it, Obama did. Why? Midwives -- they thought that midwives were part of a scam to get people who weren't born in this country fake papers and get in here and you couldn't tell the difference. It was a problem.

You got involved and said, you're making it too much of a problem, you're doing it unfairly, the process is onerous. It's got to be scaled back. You cut a deal in 2009.

If so, what is happening now and do you believe it's breaking that deal?

HERMAN: OK. Well, the deal we -- the settlement was with the State Department at the time in 2009. And we did hope that would be the end of this arbitrary and discriminatory policy, because at the time, we had done all the litigation, we had all the papers about what was happening.

And hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were being targeted. As you say, you people of Mexican ancestry, who had been born near the border, who had birth certificates. And because it was possible that some of those birth certificates might not have been legitimate, the government was making people prove that their birth certificates were legitimate, which is virtually impossible. How do you prove that, especially since targeting midwives meant that it was people who were not born at a hospital, usually because they couldn't afford to be born in a hospital? And it was virtually impossible for them to prove.

Now, I have to say, there's a lot that we don't know yet about what the administration is actually doing now. They have not released numbers. We don't really know what their evidence is about particular birth certificates, so our lawyers are now exploring legal possibilities and doing a lot of investigation.

But we're very disappointed. Under the ACLU, Roger Baldwin used to say, no civil liberties battle ever remains won.

CUOMO: So let's do this, let's find out more. When you get the information, you let me know, you'll come back on and we'll go through it and I'll try to get someone from the administration.

HERMAN: We'd like to. It's just, you know, this is, of course, just the latest in the series of inhumane acts starting with the Muslim ban and the mass deportations, and the family separations, going after American citizens is a whole new level.

CUOMO: Now, somebody who took on all of these fights for a very long time for your organization and now sits in an esteemed position on the Supreme Court is RBG, such a big deal, known by just her initials, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Tell me what you want people to know about her after they watch her documentary on her.

HERMAN: Well, I think there are a few people, I really like people to know, first of all, I've seen the documentary and I think it's just wonderful. But I think people in a broad audience are now really getting to see that she's the hero that we have always known her to be. So, one thing that Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that she turned to the ACLU as her organization to fight for gender equality, because of her broad human rights mission. And she loved the fact that we were fighting for equality for everybody.

So I think it's important to know that she was not a single-issue person. You know, the film emphasizes her work on behalf of gender equality. Ginsburg founded the Women's Rights Project in 1972 and was there through 1980. And one of her successors, who was something of a baseball fan, refers to the Women's Rights Project as the house that Ruth built. I'm sure you know the reference.

CUOMO: That is good! She looms large.

This will be a very different look at the justice than they've seen just from clips and views. I agree with you about that.

Ms. Herman, thank you very much. When you get more information on the situation at the border, come back and we'll keep the audience in the loop on it.

HERMAN: Delighted.

CUOMO: You may discover the inspiring life and career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "RBG", a CNN film, Labor Day, 9:00 p.m., of course here on CNN.

Now, this weekend is a big deal, OK? A holiday weekend. It's a time to think about the work that lies ahead for all of us. I'm going to make a closing argument that's a little different. So I want you to hear it and then you judge it, OK? We'll be right back.


CUOMO: Labor Day weekend's coming. First parade was right here in New York City in the early 1880s. It became a federal holiday in 1894.

But here's the main factor for me on this occasion. We are all about hard work in this country. It has to be one of our top shared values, if you think about it. The desire to make your own way, to contribute to society, all of that.

But deeper, still, Americans just respect hard work in others and in defining ourselves, right? I mean, you work hard, hell, yes, great. We respect the grind in this country.

We evaluate the value to a virtue, from the deference to the thick fingered grip of someone that you know works with their hands, to the person who you know studies their butt off, the persistent effort of being in shape, the measure of success in sport. We see in all aspects the demand of giving your all.

The grind is the glory. I say that to my scrappy CPT team all the time. They roll their eyes. Hashtag let's get after it is simply a call to work your hardest. No one will outwork this team, because we work for you.

At home, impressing the requirement of hard work upon our kids is also hard work. To try to get them to try, even when they don't want to, especially when they don't want to.

Cha-cha (ph) asking me to hold her up on handstands. I said, you got to fight for yourself. She said, I have you for that. I said, work hard at it and you won't need me.

Mario wanted to quit on his jump shot. After several bricks, a swish and a smile.

Bella wanting to drop Latin. No, you've got to grind. And later on when the effort starts to yield results, you see that glint of understanding in a gimlet eye. Why am I reminding of this common fact? You know this. Because this

weekend, remember what we're really about.

And I think if you do, you will see the basis for optimism that we can work through the bigger challenges we face, because we grind. We try. We fail.

We re-double effort in America. We work together in an emergency. We move mountains and raise millions and do what has to be done. It is who we are, left, right, and reasonable, rich and poor, color, creed, or other combination.

And not just in emergencies. Hard work wins elections, finds compromise, makes family, creates alliances, figures out policies.

The struggle is real, my friends. And we are really at our best when we are in the struggle. And no doubt, we're in a struggle right now.

So I wish you the best this weekend. We thank you here at CUOMO PRIME TIME for giving us a chance to work hard for you. And I believe and argue to you, together, we can grind it out and find a better place on any issue and in any situation.

So what do you say? Let's get after it, but on Tuesday, when I'm back.

Thank you for watching.

"CNN TONIGHT" , Don Lemon is going to take the show right now.