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White House Prepares for Post-Election Brawls If Dems Win House. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 18, 2018 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead.

An abrupt change at what had been a relatively stable if embattled part of the West Wing, the White House Counsel's Office, as news broke that Don McGahn is headed for the exit.

Right now, President Trump's lead White House attorney handling the Russia investigation, Emmet Flood will fill that role while the administration waits for the president's new pick, Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone to start.

[16:30:01] It's an unusual arrangement. Typically, the person in the job stays on until the successor is ready to begin. But the president and McGahn had long had a contentious relationship.

In June 2017, McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the president's order to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn met with Mueller for more than 30 hours, news that caught the president off-guard. And a source tells CNN, quote, McGahn was tired of the president and the president was tired of McGahn.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us.

Jessica, is there any indication that the president will have a better relationship with the new guy Cipollone than he did with Don McGahn?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I spoke with a lawyer who worked in the special counsel's office under President Trump, and he told me President Trump is comfortable with Pat Cipollone who has been acting as an informal adviser to him and that the two have already established a rapport.

I'm also told that this hiring comes down to one thing -- the Trump White House gearing up for a potential partisan battle should the Democrats take the House in November.


DEAN (voice-over): New White House counsel Pat Cipollone will have his hands full, stepping into his job as the White House braces for potential legal storms following November's midterms. The Washington, D.C.-based lawyer is also a former Justice Department official during President George H.W. Bush's administration.

When he was first being considered in August, President Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow put out a statement praising Cipollone's ability. Quote, Pat Cipollone is a brilliant attorney. I've had the privilege to work with him and can attest to his skill, integrity and knowledge of the law.

Cipollone's hiring shows the White House is gearing up in the event Democrats take the House which could lead to a number of new investigations of the Trump administration and perhaps even an impeachment battle.

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL IN CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: I think the president has to feel some degree of confidence that you can utilize those legal abilities in what is a political environment, that you bring to the job some sense of political sensitivity. He's going to have a lot on his plate at one time.

DEAN: As the head lawyer for the office of the presidency, the White House counsel advises the president and his staff on legal issues surrounding everything from policy to any investigations or subpoenas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make a public announcement.

DEAN: A tough position once dramatized on "The West Wing."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then, order the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor, not just any special prosecutor, the most blood- spitting, Bartlet-hating Republican in the bar. He's going to have an unlimited budget and a staff like an army. The new slogan around here is going to be: bring it on.

DEAN: Like that TV version, that may be Cipollone's slogan as he's tasked with protecting Trump from any legal reactions or inclinations that could be damaging.

QUINN: And I don't envy him. I worked for a president who listened, who took advice, who respected advice and who -- unless it was patently off base -- followed that advice. You can't count on that with President Trump. That's pretty clear. So, that's going to be a challenge for him.


DEAN: Former White House counsel Don McGahn found himself in a unique situation as a witness involved in the Mueller investigation, as you mentioned, sitting for more than 30 hours worth of interviews.

Now, as a result, attorney Emmet Flood has been handling the White House's response to the investigation as special counsel to the president. Again, he'll continue that work alongside Cipollone and as you mentioned, the White House counsel until Cipollone officially starts, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much.

Let's talk about with this with my panel.

And you know Mr. Cipollone. You worked with him on -- DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: 2012 Rick Santorum for

president campaign.

TAPPER: For president campaign.

URBAN: Almost, almost on that one. We almost.

TAPPER: Which didn't work out. But is he a -- in the immortal words of "The Godfather," is he a wartime consigliore? He'll be ready for the Democrats?

URBAN: That is a serious guy. Well, listen, nobody can be ready. The only person that's ready maybe Emmet Flood, who's sitting in the seat, who's gone through this before. So, Emmet has experienced this.

TAPPER: Because he worked for Bill Clinton.

URBAN: No, he worked for the Bush/Cheney White House. Private law firm.


URBAN: But he was a part of this getting prepared --

TAPPER: For partisan fights.

URBAN: -- for the onslaught of subpoenas and investigations and document production, but Pat is a serious lawyer and serious member of the bar, very bright guy, litigator, and he's up to the task.

TAPPER: Let's talk about impeachment for a second because former Vice President Biden was -- did an interview with Norah O'Donnell at CBS and was asked about it, and he didn't seem to be waving the impeachment flag. Take a listen.


NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS: And if Democrats win the House, do you believe that they may move forward with articles of impeachment?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I hope they don't. I think we should wait until the report comes out.


TAPPER: I hope they don't. There are Democrats who have already filed papers of impeachment.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, Jake, Democrats are not running on impeachment in this midterm election.

[16:35:04] We're running on things like health care, the economy, tax breaks for working people, not corporations.

And, look, an impeachable offense really is the basis of it, whatever the House decides at the point in time it likes to decide what an impeachable offense is.

So, with all due respect to Vice President Biden, if the House decides, it's a Democratic House, which I think they will decide there is an impeachable offense prior to the Mueller investigation being concluded, then they will be well within their rights to do that. I don't know --

URBAN: Listen, just to be fair. Democrats, I they have already submitted articles of impeachment. Sitting Democrats have already done that so let's not --

TAPPER: And there are not only House and Senate candidates, Democrats who are running who are on the ballot this November, but 2020 presidential candidates.

URBAN: Absolutely.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It will take care of itself. All across the country, volunteering for challengers, house candidates who are Democrats, from New York, Nevada, Illinois, Texas. None of them, none of them --

URBAN: Because they realize it's a losing issue. That's why.

BEGALA: They are running, as Symone says, on prescription drug benefits, health care, what they ought to be running though is Mitch McConnell this week saying I want to cut Medicare and Social Security. Every Democrat in America ought to be advertising on that. Let impeachment -- I think the vice president is exactly right. You don't want to put the country through impeachment.


URBAN: He's a bright guy. He's the best politician in your party.

BEGALA: Mitch McConnell's gift to the Democrats.

TAPPER: Well, and speaking of Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell says after the midterms, Republicans might try to repeal Obamacare again. He said, quote, if we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it but that depends what happens in a couple of weeks. We're not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.

However, take a look at how voters feel about Obamacare in this new poll: 53 percent have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, 42 percent have an unfavorable view. How does Obamacare -- I don't hear every single one of President Trump's rallies, but it doesn't seem like he focuses as much.

He talks about Obamacare. He talks about the attempt to repeal, and he takes a shot at John McCain even after he passed away, but it doesn't seem to be a focus of his speeches.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's not, and it used to be a really big one because he was so incensed about that. Now, he's talking about Medicare for all. He's got a few more hits worked into that rally where he essentially gives the same speeches at most of these, but he's becoming increasingly concerned about the midterms. You know, he's saying he's not going to take responsibility if the Democrats do take back the House, and he's publicly saying he thinks Republicans are going to be fine which is not what Republicans want him to say.

URBAN: The president shouldn't be saying that.

COLLINS: Republicans -- exactly -- don't want him to say that but Trump is increasingly saying that, but behind the walls in the West Wing people are readily admitting they believe this can happen. But going back to Pat Cipollone --

TAPPER: That's if Democrats will take the House.

COLLINS: Yes, they are pretty much prepared for that. Whatever that is going to entail is a little bit more worrisome for them, but they do think they're going to take back the House.

But back to Pat Cipollone, he's got a pretty tough job ahead of him. I mean, Don McGahn and the president had a love-hate relationship that was mostly hate and a little bit of love. People often described it as a tortured relationship because you could see what President Trump -- how he viewed Don McGahn through this lens, that his personal lawyer, not the White House lawyer, which he was, the White House counsel.

So, it's going to be interesting to see how he fits into this mold, how he interacts with the president as the president becomes increasingly agitated that the Mueller probe hasn't wrapped up, and if as based on our reporting, you know, there are more indictments to come from Mueller and whatnot, we're going to see that increase. So, it will be interesting to see how President Trump treats Cipollone.

We already know based on our reporting from Evan Perez that he hadn't even formally told this is how we're going to roll out the job when President Trump announced during the interview.

TAPPER: He just blurted it out at "A.P." interview.

SANDERS: Writings on the wall.

COLLINS: Didn't have this all worked out because they had to name Emmet Flood as the acting White House counsel until Cipollone officially comes in. So, you see, there's already chaos behind the scenes.

TAPPER: Let's talk about some of the races, because there's really a fascinating slew of races, Senate and House. I want to run a little bit of an ad from Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat running in a very, very red state of Indiana. The latest poll shows the race is essentially a tossup.

Take a look at the new Joe Donnelly ad, and just a reminder, this is a Democrat.

URBAN: I'm guessing his internal polling shows different.


SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: I split with my own party to support funding for Trump's border wall. The liberal left wants to chop defense spending, no way. I'm not into a fair fight. I'm about giving our troops the edge. I've always been pro-life and pro gun, and Mike Braun, he shifts jobs to China.


TAPPER: Honestly, that's one of the most -- that is one of the most Trumpy ads I've ever seen in terms of his messaging.

URBAN: Love it.

TAPPER: The liberal left, border wall, give our troops an edge, pro- life, pro-gun, goes after the Republicans.

URBAN: He thinks Republican would be too leftist.

TAPPER: But that is a fairly reliable Democratic vote.

SANDERS: Look, I like Senator Donnelly. If I was one of his consultants I might not sign off on this ad. But I think -- look, I think Senator Donnelly has done a great service to the people of Indiana.

[16:40:01] And I'm looking forward to him winning re-election. I think there are a number of Democrats across the country doing what they need to do without compromising their values. I can't say the same for Republicans.


URBAN: Go ahead, Paul.

BEGALA: Fact check, everything he said was absolutely true and in his record. I checked. The nerd website FiveThirtyEight says Joe votes with Trump 53.8 percent of the time. So, that's a legit honest ad.

I have a problem with candidates --

URBAN: Fifty-three-point-eight.

BEGALA: Half the time.

TAPPER: He votes with Trump quite a bit. Right. The way they calculate, yes.

BEGALA: The way that the nerds calculate it, but that's a far cry from my beloved Texas there's a Republican Congressman Will Hurd. He's running as if he's bipartisan. He votes 97.5 percent of the time with Trump. And then he goes home to Texas and says I'm not partisan.

Joe is not partisan here in Washington. I think he's got every right to go home to Indiana and say I'm not partisan.

TAPPER: A guy running to be the next Joe Donnelly as it were is Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee.

URBAN: Right.

TAPPER: He's running in Tennessee against Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and a new shows the race essentially deadlocked, 45-45, and I heard from a Republican source saying that's not so different from internals that Republicans. Maybe Blackburn gets a little bit of an edge, but that's a tight race, too, in Tennessee.

URBAN: So, in that case, listen, Phil Bredesen was an incredibly popular mayor of Tennessee and incredibly popular governor of Tennessee, and a great retail politician. Marsha Blackburn not as popular statewide. She's getting the Trump bounce in the state. Bredesen is fighting his own because he's a great politician.

TAPPER: What do Republicans in the White House think that they are going to pick up seats in the Senate, that it's going to stay the same, or do you they like at Indiana and Tennessee and think, we might even lose a few seats?

COLLINS: It depends on how hopeful they are, but those who'd been around Washington and worked for other people, other Republicans, who are people who didn't come here with Trump, you know, from New York or from wherever, they are not so confident. They really do see that this could be a very real problem for them, and they are trying to look ahead to the future, how they are going to react when the Democrats do take back the House, what is their plan going to be?

TAPPER: And speaking of races, be sure to tune in to CNN at 7:00 p.m. Eastern this evening for a live town hall in Texas with Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke. CNN's Dana Bash will moderate.

We should note, as we have, CNN invited Senator Ted Cruz multiple times to appear tonight in his own town hall, he declined. He was invited several times to appear in his own town hall. He declined.

Stay with us.

The FBI's headquarters is falling apart, but it seems President Trump really didn't want the agency to leave the building. The reason why, next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The President is keeping FBI headquarters close very close to the White House. The Democrats are asking if scrapping plans to move the FBI headquarters is actually a scheme to boost business at the Trump Hotel in D.C. New internal government e-mails released today show the President was directly involved in the decision to keep the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. instead of the previous plans to move them to the suburbs. CNN's Tom Foreman joins us in our conflict of interest watch series. Tom, the President's business interests have already led to court cases. Could that happen here?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could. It could certainly get very messy. Congressional Democrats are demanding a pile of papers from the Trump administration explaining how this massive plan to build a new FBI headquarters suddenly changed course. Who was behind it and who might stand to profit?


FOREMAN: Overcrowded outdated and crumbling. Plans to relocate and rebuild FBI Headquarters have been in the works for years. The government studies showing how it could be moved from Downtown D.C. to one of several possible sites in nearby Maryland or Virginia. The cost 3.6 billion tax dollars. But now a different plan is calling for the FBI Center to be rebuilt right where it is even though it would be smaller than the suburban alternative, likely have security risks, and be more expensive 3.8 billion. So who came up with that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm a real estate guy. I build buildings.

FOREMAN: A study by the Inspector General of the General Services Administration traces a series of meetings in which the suburban plan was pushed aside by the Trump administration amid claims that keeping the headquarters downtown would be cheaper. The I.G. report shows team Trump's math is wrong. Nonetheless Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insists the President wanted to save the government money and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters.

Skeptics, however, suspect a hidden motive. For years Donald Trump had been all for freeing up that FBI land downtown for private development with his brand-new hotel close by even talking about getting in on the action. But congressional Democrats in a letter to the GSA say something important changed. After he was sworn in as president and became ineligible as a federal employee to obtain the property, he reportedly became dead opposed to the government selling the property which would have allowed commercial developers to compete directly with the Trump Hotel.

He was directly involved with the decision to abandon the long-term relocation plan and instead move ahead with the more expensive proposal. There is no proof so far and the White House insists once again House Democrats have it all wrong. But those Democrats are demanding the paperwork to prove it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government won't turn over the information on the president's exact reasoning. Why is the president doing this?


FOREMAN: Why, we just don't know but the Inspector General found an administration official have misled Congress about the President's role in all of this reigniting those long smoldering concerns about potential conflicts of interest for this billionaire president. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much. Most signs point to the President's direct involvement in this plan. Do you think this is a serious issue?

[16:50:02] PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We don't know yet. He is the president, he has a right to have a direct voice in where the FBI is located. I have a problem with that. But this conflict of interest will always hang over him. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and he put his peanut warehouse in a blind trust right so that nobody could say that people were buying peanuts from him to influence him.

This guy owns a huge hotel right down the street. The problem is he should have divested himself of all this. He should still. He is going to be tied in knots by this government. He's going to have -- God forbid -- there's somebody at FBI who says hey the president in an e-mail right, the president wants to improve his real-estate values, so X. I mean that's the kind of thing that could come out with proper oversight from Congress.

TAPPER: Is this something that the White House takes seriously? I mean, obviously, they've been dealing with questions about conflicts of interest from the very beginning when the President did not put his assets in a blind trust.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They have been. That was one of the original problems at the White House space on a regular basis especially because of the Trump Hotel here in D.C. just blocks from the White House where he regularly holds fundraisers. It's pretty much -- I actually think it's the only place in Washington he goes to besides private fundraisers at people's homes. But that is the question. Does -- is anything else going to come out from this report that shows as much? But the White House is saying no, he simply was merely following the wishes of the FBI when he made this decision.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Just to be clear, so everybody in the real world knows that it doesn't live here in D.C. There are lots of other hotels in Washington. Lots other hotels right across the street, The Marriott, The Willard, The W, there's tons of hotels up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. So the notion that some of the president is not going to let the FBI move so a hotel, another hotel comes to Pennsylvania avenues is somewhat far-fetched. I will say to Paul's point, look this is something the White House and Pat Cipollone need to buckle in because there's going to be a lot of this coming, OK, a lot of it.

TAPPER: Just to point out. The General Service Administration Inspector General report concluded that officials greatly underestimated the cost of keeping the headquarters of the FBI in D.C. Additionally they said the GSA was not taking into account the money that would be earned from selling the Hoover Building land so it's unclear whether or not financially keeping it was the right decision.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, which is why I think Congress has sent a letter asking for more information.

URBAN: It's going to be here, yes.

SANDERS: I don't think though we should paper over the fact that Donald Trump had been on record previously when he was a private business owner.

URBAN: He wanted it.

SANDERS: He wanted the land and all of a sudden when he becomes president his mind changes because he is now ineligible to buy the land. And it's not about another hotel, it's about anybody else it's not Donald Trump. So this is why Congress means the exert proper oversight. I wish the Republicans in Congress would do that. Since they haven't, I think if Democrats win the House they will do so.

URBAN: I think Congress should -- listen, is it institution? The Congress does a terrible job -- has been doing a terrible job of exercising their constitutional responsibility of oversight.

TAPPER: The other things is -- I mean, this is the kind of thing that Congress could do in actual oversight in a hearing, find out that there's nothing there give it up or they don't do it. It also comes the week that ProPublica reported that President Trump and his family regularly misled and deceived potential investors and buyers to make a profit off of their real estate projects.

Take a look at some of the examples. In 2008, Ivanka Trump told reporters that 60 percent of the units at the tower, at the Trump Tower in Soho New York were sold. In reality, only 15 percent of the units have been sold. That tower since gone bankrupt with Trump name removed. Ivanka Trump said the Trump International Hotel in Toronto was virtually sold out of units in a 2009 interview. In reality, less than 25 percent of its units had been sold. Again, 2016 bankruptcy filing and that five-letter name TRUMP being stripped from more buildings in New York. The New York Times reporting another building has joined the list of other buildings and hotels that have removed the president's name after licensing it years ago.

So when it comes to the Trump Hotel question, it's not as though these this family hasn't been accused of shady business dealings, although we should point out shady in real estate is not necessarily the same thing as illegal.

URBAN: That's -- there's difference between hyperbole, right? That's public --

TAPPER: But people have lost money. People have said, oh, the Trumps are doing this. They say that almost all the units are filled. I'm going to invest money. It turns out only 15 percent.

URBAN: I'm sure they'll be lawsuit for --

BEGALA: The line is about the specificity. You can say this is the greatest, most excellent, you know, typical Trump-ian hyperbole. When you say 60 percent of the units are sold when there's only 20 percent, if that's accurate reporting, that's fraud.

URBAN: Well, and I'm sure they'll be lawsuit to recoup the money if it is in fact fraud.

TAPPER: But I guess this feeds into the narrative -- SANDERS: That the President is a liar, and that his family has lied

about their businesses and that they seem to have issues telling the truth, yes.

BEGALA: Symone, Symone.

TAPPER: Here's the question though, does it matter? Does it matter to voters?

SANDERS: Yes. It matters. It matters. All that matters.

TAPPER: Does it matter to voters?

SANDERS: Look, I think that it's becoming a trend and not a trend that people are getting comfortable with. I think folks honestly thought that Donald Trump would grow out of this as he became president. And the fact that he has not, that the President will lie about small things that limbs its face that the President will lie about large things, what else has the president been untruthful about. I think that lingers in the back of people's minds.

COLLINS: But also one of the things is of course, people who thought President Trump was a liar before all of this are still going to think he's a liar and people who do not think he's a liar and see the media makes this stuff up or their reporting is inaccurate are still going to think that as well. So I don't think it's going to --

[16:55:02] URBAN: He's got it. He's over at the White House. He's got it.

COLLINS: There are voters in the middle in a lot of Trump rallies.

TAPPER: There was that New York Times story about the President's taxes saying that he engages in all sorts of things that were clearly fraud and against the law and it lasted a couple days.

BEGALA: But he's not running yet. This will come back when he's back on the ballot. And not simply in terms of is he a tax cheat, right? It's going to be he lied about that, he's also lying about your Social Security and your Medicare. I'm telling you this thing is all going to be about entitlements. Mitch McConnell has said, I'm going to cut Medicare, I'm going to cut Social Security --


BEGALA: So that I can pay for my tax cuts. But this -- we know now and we've known for a long time. You leave Republicans alone in a room with the lights off, they're going to steal your Social Security. That's what they do.


SANDERS: The President also said he wanted to -- preexisting conditions.

TAPPER: It is true that President Trump -- BEGALA: But he lied, just like he said 60 percent of the units were


URBAN: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: Donald Trump lies. It's a big leap.

TAPPER: To be fair, that's Ivanka lying, not Donald Trump.

BEGALA: Big leap, big leap.

TAPPER: All right, everyone thank you so much. Coming up next, an unusual and unexpected invitation. North Korea's dictator, an atheist inviting Pope Francis to the Hermit Kingdom. But will the pontiff accept? Stay with us.