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CUOMO PRIME TIME

NYT: Trump Wanted DOJ to Prosecute Comey, Clinton; Trump Sends Written Answers to Mueller. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 20, 2018 - 21:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The news continues. So I'll hand it over to Chris Cuomo, "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, J.B., thank you very much, and a happy Thanksgiving to you, if I don't see you.

I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME. Two hours tonight. And we're going to need all of it. Let's get after it, my friends.

There are three breaking stories on our watch. The President actually did want his justice department to go after Clinton and Comey. It wasn't just rally rabble. The President tried to order this in the spring. He was talked out of it reportedly by his then-White House counsel who warned him he could get impeached if you do something like this, it could be contributable to an idea of abuse of power. Maybe, maybe not. In either case, he didn't do it.

"The New York Times" dropped that bombshell. And once again, that story winds up stepping on a good headline for the President because he kept his word that he would answer the questions of this special counsel and he did that.

Robert Mueller right now has the President's responses to certain questions in his hands. A response from the special counsel is expected within a week. We have a lot of new reporting about what was and was not in those responses. And what may come next.

And then Acting A.G., Matthew Whitaker, he finally turned in his financial disclosure forms. He got nearly a million dollars from this conservative oversight group that he created four years ago. He was the only employee. Where'd the money come from? Most of it came from dark money including one of the Koch brothers.

Why does the President put so much on this one man? Why? We're lucky to have a great mind to walk us through the implications of much of this tonight. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey is here.

Welcome back to PRIME TIME. Great to have you.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Great to be here.

CUOMO: Happy Thanksgiving in advance.

MUKASEY: And to you.

CUOMO: I don't like that Clinton and that Comey, find a way to go get them. Is that something a President can say to the DOJ?

MUKASEY: Can say, I suppose he can say it, it ain't going to happen.

CUOMO: Why? It didn't, but why?

MUKASEY: Didn't because nobody at that department would follow that order. This is an echo, something that happened before. Recall he add a conversation with Don McGahn.

CUOMO: Yes.

MUKASEY: He told Don McGahn to call up the DOJ and get something done. McGahn said, I'm not doing it. And you know what, if you order me to do it, I'm leaving.

CUOMO: What does that tell you about the President in terms of what he knows about how power is supposed to be used? Is this about misfeasance or potential malfeasance? The difference for the people at home, is this him not knowing that you don't do this or is this him saying I know what my power is and I want to use it this way?

MUKASEY: I think what it tells you is that Donald Trump has no unexpressed thoughts, which is too bad because we all have unexpressed thoughts. We have --

CUOMO: What is that, unexpressed thought? Something that when you thought better of?

MUKASEY: A thought that you wish you could do that you don't then articulate because you know you can't do it. We all have thoughts like that and unfortunately with him, there's no monitor stopping it. However, he does have, whether it's the good sense or the good luck, to voice those thoughts to his lawyers.

CUOMO: Can you imagine --

MUKASEY: To Don McGahn, to other people around him.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: And he, as happened once before, that was reported, and it's happened this time, it was reported.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: He gets told he can't do it.

CUOMO: Well, McGahn was a good counsel for him, I tell you why. Just one example, because in his lawyer's statement about this, we know from the reporting that McGahn sent a memo. Did the President look at it? Yes or no? Was it communicated verbally? Yes or no? Probably. And it said, don't do this, and here's why. It's going to stink. It may be seen as abuse of power. That could get you impeached. Don't do it. You're going to have a problem. You could have an outcry from the membership of the DOJ. It's just got bad written all over it. However, his counsel, McGahn's counsel, then says, but, the counsel

McGahn has no recollection of the President ever ordering this to be done. What a helpful thing to say to the President. He never ordered it, but I gave him this advice, anyway, that you'll be impeached if you do this. Frankly, Mike, the two things don't go together. If I have to write me a memo like, saying if you do this, clearly I'm doing more than asking you for more than an opinion.

MUKASEY: Not necessarily.

CUOMO: Come on.

MUKASEY: I think you write a memo like that if you want to make sure that you got a record of what you told the President.

CUOMO: Yes, but in what context? That's not a hey, Mike, do me a favor, if I wanted to go after them, what are my options? You don't write me back a memo, you'll get impeached, this is abuse of power, don't do it, settle down.

MUKASEY: Given the history here where there was a prior incident involving a basically a direction for him to call the DOJ and he had a threat to resign, I'm not surprised that he wrote him that.

CUOMO: I'm not, either, and also that's a great point that you make because it sheds light on something else that used to be clouded in mystery. Would the President really ever go to McGahn and say I want Comey out, or that I want to go and get rid of somebody? And did McGahn really have to say to him, calm down, don't do this, I won't do this? And remember, the White House and the surrogates all said, oh that never happened. This story makes that story a lot more likely. Because this is the kind of memo that you wrote, because just as you said, you've wherein them before.

[21:05:23] MUKASEY: But there are other stories about him having voiced things that he'd like to do involving foreign relations of the United States.

CUOMO: Sure.

MUKASEY: Where he's told by the defense department either he's told we're not going to do it or, yeah, we'll get right on it, Mr. President and then the phone goes click.

CUOMO: Understood. But they are very different things. One is I want to go after my enemies. I'm President now. I want to use that power. Go get them. He does it with McGahn. McGahn pushes back. He does it again. He's in a meeting reportedly with Rosenstein and Whitaker. Matthew Whitaker now the acting A.G., the man the President alternately says I knew nothing about and I knew everything about. For whatever reason, the Chief of Staff Sessions at that time is in the meeting with Rosenstein and the President and the President says where are we on going after Clinton and Comey? Where are we on those things?

Now, what does that tell you about what he must know about Whitaker? MUKASEY: Tells me nothing about what he must know about Whitaker.

CUOMO: How so?

MUKASEY: Tells me what he wishes. It tells me what he would like to see happen.

CUOMO: But he must know, right?

MUKASEY: And the fact --

CUOMO: Would you ever have that conversation in the presence of somebody that you didn't trust and know?

MUKASEY: I think I would not have that conversation at all.

CUOMO: Fair point.

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: But the President did. He's no Mike Mukasey.

MUKASEY: Look, there's no doubt that he had seen Whitaker before, that Whitaker had briefed him in the Oval before. And that he was in that sense familiar with his -- with the way he presented it.

CUOMO: Should people be worried that this President thinks about going after his enemies by using the DOJ as if they were his tough --

MUKASEY: Worried, I wouldn't say worried. I think people should be dejected by it. Worried --

CUOMO: That's a fancy word, Mike, help me understand it.

MUKASEY: No, it's not. Depressed.

CUOMO: OK.

MUKASEY: I think worried means that they -- that you think there's an actual likelihood that the tanks are going to roll. And I don't think there is. I don't think the DOJ today or on any near tomorrow.

CUOMO: Then why would he put somebody like Whitaker as the acting DOJ, the acting A.G.?

MUKASEY: Somebody like Whitaker in what respect?

CUOMO: Yes. A loyalist, somebody with very heavy-handed views about this, certainly someone that you didn't vet that carefully to see whether or not he was going to reflect well on you, under vetting.

MUKASEY: I think he had gotten on -- he had gotten along with him at the briefings.

CUOMO: He says he doesn't even know him. He says he was just told about him, counselor. MUKASEY: Yes, I what he says, and he said initially that he knew him

well, right?

CUOMO: So which do we believe?

MUKASEY: I think something in the middle. He knew him enough to know that he liked his reactions to things. He knew that he had been -- he served in a senior position. And he knew that other people who might very well be in line for succession, like Rod Rosenstein, for example, has enormous conflicts and there's no way that he could have or should have made Rod Rosenstein the acting A.G. And so he picked the A.G.'s chief of staff who was it is lawful to other point.

CUOMO: Can you imagine George W. Bush ever picking up the phone and saying, Mike, this guy's really been bothering me, I need to get after him, how can we investigate this guy?

MUKASEY: No.

CUOMO: What's the difference?

MUKASEY: The difference is that George W. Bush was a different kind of person.

CUOMO: Meaning what?

MUKASEY: Meaning he was a person with a very substantial consciousness. What the limits were of not only of his office but of the way that he expressed himself. Very different kind of person but the question is what the consequences are of what somebody does. And the consequences were zero in the case of Donald Trump's conversation.

CUOMO: The consequences were zero because it never happened? But doesn't just the desire for it to want to happen matter? And something that we should process, analyze, and scrutinize?

MUKASEY: We should analyze and scrutinize it and make decisions about whether we're going to support this man or not support this man. Some people have one view. Some people have another. Absolutely.

CUOMO: I mean, that's why I ask you about Whitaker. I mean, you know, if they called you up and said, hey, stop talking to Cuomo all the time, help us out here, I think Whitaker is the right way to put in. If you took 15 minutes looking into the man's background, would you have said what he's put out there if public, you know, forget about all the financial dealings and all these other things that are coming up now. Why put him in charge except to say I have a guy who will pull the string on this special counsel whenever I want --

MUKASEY: In fairness, the stuff that he put out, assuming you're alluding to his having said that the attorney general would be in power to cut the budget of --

CUOMO: Among other statements.

MUKASEY: OK. CUOMO: I mean, my favorite is that he said he really just wants judges who have a biblical view of justice.

MUKASEY: That --

CUOMO: Is that your opinion also?

MUKASEY: My opinion? No.

CUOMO: Yes, New Testament. I need to know where you are on the bible to make a judge --

MUKASEY: There's a flat-out prohibition on that in the constitution, says there shall be no religious test holding any public office in the United States, period.

[21:10:00] CUOMO: Rick Santorum said the other day, if you don't understand the bible, how do you understand what the law is? How about that? How about that, Mike?

MUKASEY: Rick Santorum is not the President. He's not A.G.

CUOMO: True. True. Well said. So you have this situation where there becomes concern of how President processes good and bad, right and wrong, right? And this is not necessarily your bailiwick, but it's an extension of the same intellectual construct. Khashoggi happens. OK? His CIA, his people, look the at it, they say the way this went down, the prince knew. He looks at it and says, maybe he did, maybe he did not. Let's stop right there. The CIA gives you a report and says, this man, this --

MUKASEY: High confidence.

CUOMO: High confidence.

MUKASEY: Right.

CUOMO: Is that maybe he did, maybe he didn't?

MUKASEY: Usually they back it up with the evidence that they have. That's not maybe he did, maybe he didn't.

CUOMO: What does it mean the President looks at it and says, maybe.

MUKASEY: I think what the President is doing is hedging and saying, well, they don't have a confession. They don't have a photograph of him doing it. They don't have a recording of him giving the order and, therefore, it's equivocal. That's ridiculous.

CUOMO: Sure. It's certainly not the basis of proof he requires when he wants to go after somebody.

MUKASEY: But two important points here. Number one, we're not going to break our relationship with the Saudis. That I think is correct. But number two, this is not a guy in whom we can have confidence. This is not a guy we can trust. CUOMO: Who are you talking about, the President or MBS?

MUKASEY: No, MBS. This is a guy with whom the President thinks we can have a close relationship.

CUOMO: So what do you think about that?

MUKASEY: Look at the record.

CUOMO: Look, I hear you.

MUKASEY: He holds -- he holds the prime minister of Lebanon hostage. He starts a blockade of Qatar. I should add that I'm involved in representing Qatar. So maybe I have a bias in that respect. And then he pulls off, according to the CIA, he pulls off a clumsy, horrible act.

CUOMO: They had to believe nobody would care. And this was SOP for them. This is the kinds of things that they do. They didn't think anybody would care. They didn't factor in that Khashoggi wasn't just another Saudi guy with a big mouth in their reckoning. He was a journalist. But this is the part --

MUKASEY: He's also associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

CUOMO: We don't know that. And I know the President's relying on it and I got to tell you when I look at the reporting of it, there's nothing hard on that. For many --

MUKASEY: Wasn't carrying a membership card?

CUOMO: No, listen, Mike, if you're going to start judging the character of somebody who was brutally murdered --

MUKASEY: I'm not --

CUOMO: It seems to be convenient for the President to say, you know, he may have been a bad guy. The murder is what it is. What does that mean? I grew up in Queens, too. It is what it is, is what you say, but it's kind of like what we used to call, (inaudible) res ipsa loquitur, or the thing speaks for itself. If you --

MUKASEY: Khashoggi's dead. And it doesn't tell you anything.

CUOMO: Well, it tells you that it's exactly what it is on its face, it was a cold-hearted murder of a guy that they didn't like it.

MUKASEY: Correct.

CUOMO: If you say --

MUKASEY: Done in a stupid clumsy way.

CUOMO: -- while the economy matters too much. My relationship with the prince matters too much, we're not going to leverage everything for one person. What message does that send to heavies all over the world?

MUKASEY: I don't know that it sends any message to heavies all over the world because we deal with different heavies --

CUOMO: Just killed a guy who's a journalist, not going to do anything about it, we sanctioned people who are already in jail.

MUKASEY: Yes. Again, depends on the heavy, depends on the situation. I think the message it sends to this particular heavy is bad enough. And this is not a guy -- I'm with Lindsey Graham on this. This is not a guy we should be associating with. I should also mention that as a former A.G., this is kind of outside my lane. It's foreign relations, so your viewers can discount my views for that.

CUOMO: Why do I ask you? Because you understand leadership at its highest levels, you served a President. You've been an observer of this dynamic in power for decades and decades. This is not the way the United States usually deals with the brutal murder of somebody, let alone a journalist.

MUKASEY: For sure.

CUOMO: It doesn't have to be existential, zero sum. We must go to war with Saudi Arabia. You know, exaggerating the price of the disconnect, I believe, does a disservice to not wanting to handle the question. You don't want to handle l the question of what you're going do about it, so you say we can't blow up our whole relationship. Nobody's asking you to do that.

MUKASEY: Correct.

CUOMO: We're asking you to keep America, America. You know? What does America do when somebody brutally butchers somebody out of convenience, let alone out of political convenience?

MUKASEY: A sad part of this is this was not a good day for American values and it was not a good day because of what the President said. And that's a bad thing. To use a term that he uses.

CUOMO: But where does it leave us? It is what it is. You know, they're buying these weapons for us. You know, the experts that I speak to, Mike, many I'm our you know, say they're not going to buy Russian equipment, not going to buy Chinese equipment. They need our equipment. Their equipment is not as good and won't match up with the system they already have.

That's not a real threat. And they need us for that equipment. We don't need them. We have lots of people who want our equipment. We're selective in selling it. And they need us. Yes, they're our proxy right now in Yemen, but they need us. The Saudis aren't known for fighting their own battles.

[21:15:05] MUKASEY: Not for fighting them well.

CUOMO: And you know, all the oil prices. The pressure that's on their oil prices is mostly driven by our domestic market and what we're doing with our supply and output right now. I don't get why you need to be so afraid of jeopardizing this relationship that you will overlook something as heinous as this murder.

MUKASEY: Yes. This is more than a policy dispute. I think this a question of values, as you put it. And, again, I'm with Lindsey Graham on this. This is not a guy we can deal with on a long-term basis.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see where it takes us. I disagree with you that it's outside your lane. You have never failed in giving me perspective on the rational way that leaders would examine questions that are matters of big importance.

MUKASEY: I want to make sure your viewers understand that I was not in foreign policy. I was in law.

CUOMO: I understand. And sometimes they wind up being the same thing.

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: Because this is a matter of law also what happened with Khashoggi.

MUKASEY: Thanks a lot.

CUOMO: Michael Mukasey, I am thankful for you for being on the show. You make us better every time.

MUKASEY: You're terrific. Thanks very much. Happy Thanksgiving.

CUOMO: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

Months of jockeys between Trump and Mueller are now over. Better to say for now over. Why? Trump turned in his questions as promised. I have talked to people close to the investigation. I have new reporting on what was in those questions. What wasn't, and what they might mean going forward. I have it all laid out for you very nicely next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. We have news. The President's lawyers submitted his written answers to questions from the special counsel. And we're told they are open to answering more. OK? So we'll see what happens. That's what that means.

[21:20:01] First, what this was and what it was not. There was nothing asked or answered about obstruction. Now that's a key thing. Here's the biggest question. Hold the prompter for one second. We don't know whether or not the Mueller probe involves obstruction. I know that you keep hearing that it does. I understand that. So have I heard that.

However, what they were looking at and what they may finally act on and write up could be very different things. And if so, I want you to remember this conversation because the fact that there was nothing presented to the President of the United States about obstruction in these questions that he just answered is a big clue. Because I don't know how you do an obstruction investigation without understanding the President's answers on it just the same way that they couldn't do it about collusion.

So, what else do we know? This was all about Russia. All right? And what went down before the inauguration. Why do I slow down? Not before the election, before the inauguration. That is going to catch events that I didn't know it was going to catch before. I thought it was always before the election. Like what? Well, you're going to have to look at General Flynn and there could be some other things that are indicative there.

Now, we're also told that there were fewer questions, but still, like, dozens. And they had different parts and one link to a different kind -- yes, this is complicated stuff. And, frankly, nobody's allowed to really talk about it and the integrity of this process has been very good so far on both sides.

Even Trump's lawyers, we haven't heard anything. We saw their statements. They didn't criticize. They didn't use perjury, trap and a lot of the other rabble that's come out of the President about what he was worried about. They didn't say any of that in their statements today.

So where do we go from here? That's the big question. They believe that the special counsel, all the staff, they're going to process these answers for about a week. That's when they're expecting something to come back. What happens if that happens? Well, they're different paths. Right? That's why I have them laid out like this.

What's the first one? Election law. Whether or not the President ever actually had anything to do with Stormy Daniels that was sexual, or Karen McDougal, I don't care about any of that. But there could be a legal issue. The deals with Michael Cohen, the "National Enquirer," the parent company there, paying them off. That could be interpreted as crossing the line of election law.

Remember, Michael Cohen already admitted in court that Trump knew about the money, something the President has denied and played with as he often does with the truth. His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, came out and tried to clean it up. Then, there are computer laws. In other words, the WikiLeaks hack.

Mueller seems to be tightening the pressure on those around Roger Stone, all right. He's not in the business of wasting time by all indications. Stone continues to deflect. There's a chance that Stone may pay a price for his own truth abuse, you know, his jazzing up what he might know.

Now, there are maybe price for that depending on what he told the Senate committee. How many answers did he give that don't match up with what others tell the special counsel? This is one of those things that could linger, even after Mueller is done looking into Trump, himself. What could that mean? Well, thing of value. Receiving something of value from a foreign government, what could that be? Hacked e-mails. E-mails that certainly help the Trump campaign. The I.C., the intelligence community is clear, the Russians were behind it.

Now, all of this is before you even get to the question of obstruction. And as I said, questions of obstruction were not in the batch Trump just answered. That's where reporting about Trump using the DOJ to go after Comey comes in. Because questions about what Trump has done once in office could require a subpoena fight that could last a long time and the law is not exactly clear. It's certainly not exactly on point. But it would require DOJ permission of a man named Matthew Whitaker. At least for now.

So, that is a lot to digest. Watch this again on Twitter. We'll take it forward as the special probe comes back with any kind of indication of action or inaction but something I want you to keep your eye on, there's a chance that this probe could wrap up and a report could be issued about collusion and the President, but the probe not be over, that they could still be tying up other avenues. That could happen. So, keep your eyes open about it.

We heard there the President for the first time today on his daughter, Ivanka's, e-mail controversy. The way he tried to explain it away versus his Hillary Clinton condemnation. What is that? Is it hypocrisy at its highest? That's a good starting point for a great debate. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:27:59] CUOMO: Today, the President, again, sided with the accused. This time, refusing to publicly blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of "Washington Post" Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Answers, it seems, may have to take a back seat to money. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders and let Russia, China, and everybody else have them. It's all about for me, very simple, it's America first. Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I think that it's a very simple equation for me. I'm about make America great again. And I'm about America first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: If you make America first, don't you also have to think about what you put first about America? And if you ignore human rights abuses, by our supposed allies, then what are you really saying that this country stands for?

Let's ask our great debaters, Van Jones and Scott Jennings. Listen, Van. I know it's bad. I know it looks like he killed him. I'm not going to say that, though, even though my CIA says with strong certainty that the crown prince had something to do with it. But I can't give up that money. I can't risk economic woes over one man who, by the way, was a journalist. That's my argument, Van. Your response.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, again, if you were dealing with a kid in a neighborhood who said, listen, I know you won't let me hang around these bad people, but I'm getting a lot of money out of it. You say, you know what, kid, you're a wayward youth. We need to sit down, have a long conversation. You know, values matter. And here's the thing. We have had worse allies than the folks in Saudi Arabia.

CUOMO: Lot of mean people in the world, as Pompeo said.

JONES: Exactly. So, listen, the high integrity thing to say would be, you know what, I think my CIA is right. I think he did something that is wrong. I denounce it but I'm not going to break ties because I think it would be in the worst interest of our country to do so. That would be high integrity. I'm going to support my intelligence officials and make a very tough judgment.

But he's showing low integrity because he won't admit what everybody in the world knows. This guy did order this murder. And instead, he's trying to hide behind the money. I think it's unfortunately once again a situation where Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to show real leadership even if he's making ultimately the right decision.

[21:30:25] CUOMO: Scott, you think the President knows better than the CIA, maybe he knows something they don't know?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you'll give me a little latitude, Chris, I actually had a conversation with someone last week who gave me some perspective on this. I had a chance to speak for an hour with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. I asked him directly how is it the United States and Israel can trust a regime like the Saudis here who have so willingly lied to the world?

And I want to tell you what he told me because I think it is not about the money, although I think the President made it about that today mistakenly. I think he should have made it about what Ambassador Dermer talked to me about, which is the larger geopolitical equities. He said these kinds of actions cannot be allowed to happen with impunity.

But he also said the United States cannot let this incident undermine its relationship with Saudi Arabia because that could destabilize the entire region and then he pivoted to Iran and he said that he still believes the crown prince could be a force for modernization in Saudi Arabia, and a force for containment on Iran. So I think the President essentially put a price tag on a man's life today. And that was not a good look for the United States.

CUOMO: Well, it's not that it's not a good look for the United States --

JENNINGS: But there are larger arguments to be made.

CUOMO: It's not a good look.

JENNINGS: It's not a good look -- and it doesn't make any of us feel good.

CUOMO: It's not as trivial as just a look.

JENNINGS: But my point is --

CUOMO: Hold on, Scott. I got your point. Let's take it one at a time. It sends a message. One, we're not going to come after you if you abuse human rights. It's OK. If there's money on the line, if we need you for something else, it's OK. I tell you what, if this had been an Israeli citizen that was done dirty his way, I'm telling you that state would respond to it differently than the United States is right now. You would not hear Bibi Netanyahu saying there's a lot of money on the table here, you know, I got to tell you, I like this prince. He and his relatives, they bought a lot of stuff from me so, you know, I'm not going to let it all go over one person. You would never hear them say that. And why do you think there's such a difference?

JENNINGS: Yeah. Well, I think that the point the ambassador was making to me, and I think what's going on here, is there are conversations going on in the background among these three nations. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States and they are right now unwilling to let this incident, horrific as it was, interrupt those conversations.

Now, I think the President's statement today should not have focused on the money. It should have focused on the larger geopolitical --

CUOMO: That's where -- Van Jones --

JENNINGS: That, to me, is a better argument.

CUOMO: Yes.

JONES: Now let's talk about that side of it. Because, again, if we could have a grown-up conversation, let's talk about that side. There is this obsession with Iran. And there -- this administration made a bet that they could tear up the deal with Iran, which had contained them by the Obama administration, in terms of their nuclear ambitions, tear that deal up then work hard with the Saudis and with the Israelis to basically roll back Iranian influence.

I think that they have placed too much confidence in this strategy. I think they placed too much confidence in MBS, in particular, and I think that we may pay a bigger cost because when you decide that you're going to go against the entire world community, that you know better than everybody else, you better be right and guess what, so far, it doesn't look like they're right.

This guy, MBS, has not only done this, he's done many, many other things that are very disturbing. And so I think my concern about this administration is that they make such big bets and then there is not a plan "B" and then when new information comes forward, they don't respond in ways that are smart and appropriate and they can't back up. And so, you know, that is -- I mean, we want to talk about the geopolitical equity, I would not have torn up that deal with Iran and I would not have bet this much on one --

CUOMO: Right.

JONES: -- crown prince.

CUOMO: And look, this isn't the first time that we've had to be allies with bad guys. I remember traveling to Pakistan several times, talking with then-President Musharraf. You know, he wasn't going to win anybody's sweetheart of the year award. The America has a history. There's a lot of blood in that area of the world and life is cheap there. We all get it. You know, anybody who's lived a little bit, been in this business, understands that it's not as easy as judging people by one act. But the way the President did it today, Scott, one point you made, he made it about the money. That was a mistake. It wasn't a mistake. He did it on purpose because that's where his head is. That's how he values things. He puts a dollar sign on it. That's about him.

JONES: And by the way, the wrong dollar sign. I don't want any of your viewers to be confused that there are hundreds of billions of dollars --

CUOMO: Yes, it's millions.

JONES: It's millions.

CUOMO: Right.

JONES: And I think as you pointed out earlier, and have been pointed out before, that there's not a whole bunch of other people that can sell American-level military equipment in the world.

CUOMO: Right.

JONES: It's a -- it's a seller's market, not a buyer's market.

CUOMO: Right. And it's also a little bit of a red herring, right, because you have in Saudi Arabia our equipment already, U.S. equipment. It's not really compatible with what you're going to get from Russians and --

[21:35:06] JONES: It's not interoperable.

CUOMO: -- from the Chinese. And their stuff isn't as good, say our experts. But again, that's where the President wanted to put his head. But he put his head somewhere else, Scott. My CIA, me, I heard what they said. Me, I don't know, it what is what it is. I don't know may be he did, may be he didn't. Why disrespect your own CIA like that, Scott?

JENNINGS: Yes. Well, first of all the CIA provides intelligence. I don't think they agitate for policy decisions. I think they give the President the truth.

CUOMO: High confidence MBS was involved with the plot. High confidence.

JENNINGS: I know. I think the truth is -- I think the truth is the CIA is absolutely correct, it's clear the Saudi regime was involved in this and that's the core of the larger question, how do you trust these folks if they're so willing to lie to the world?

And Van made a good point, we're putting a lot of confidence in these people. You know, we're putting a lot of eggs in one basket. The trouble is there aren't that many baskets in the Middle East in which to put your eggs and so they put some confidence in the Saudi regime because for them, it is all about Iran.

Now, time will tell whether the President's bet on the Saudi regime is going to pay off. This is not the first time an American President has failed on human rights issues at a large public scale. Barack Obama failed on Syria. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. Bill Clinton failed on Rwanda. He later admitted he could have saved 300,000 lives had he acted. American presidents have done things that have not made us feel good about ourselves before. I just hope in this particular case, the larger payoff of containing Iran was worth putting a price tag on this journalist's life.

CUOMO: You know what I'm worried about, hopefully Scott is wrong about what this portends and what the costs could be of it by the President playing it the way he does, but Van, you know what it reminds me of? Yellow cake. That when you run down intelligence, when you run down your institutions the way this President does, without cause, by the way, he didn't need to throw the CIA under the bus today, to make his namby-pamby remarks. What happens when we need something to be right and the President of the United States stands behind the seal and says my intelligence community tells me this, this, and this, and that is why we must do this, this and this.

Are the Trumpers going to believe him? But you told us these guys are liars, it's all deep state. They couldn't even get that murder thing right with the prince, remember? You said maybe, maybe not. Remember? Why would I trust them? That's what I'm worried about.

JONES: Yeah, I had not thought about that. But that's a very good point. We got termites now eating into the legitimacy of serious, serious American institutions. None of these institutions, by the way, are perfect. The CIA is certainly far from perfect but there's a basic sense that they can do their basic job. I don't like it when they go beyond their basic job and do stuff but their basic job is figuring out what the heck is going on.

Nobody has questioned that until now that it's at the level of the President of the United States. And so the idea that you got termites eating into the confidence of Americans and American institutions, whether it's the media, the courts, whether Congress is gerrymandered, whether voting suppression is going on, whether the CIA or the FBI can be trusted. At some point, you're out there and the floor falls in because you've taken away the confidence of American people in their own institutions. I think it's another example of that.

CUOMO: Van, Scott, you know, I had another issue here to talk to you about, but, you know what, it pales in comparison to this. I don't care about Ivanka's e-mails. We're talking about literally life and death with these decisions so let's leave it there. Van, Scott, the best to you and your families for Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for both of you making this show what it is every night. Thank you, gentlemen. Be well.

JONES: thank you.

JENNINGS: Thanks for the discourse, Chris. Really good conversation.

CUOMO: Always.

The Mueller team has some serious reading to do tonight, the same night we're learning just how far our President is willing to go against those he considers his enemies. Not Saudi Arabia, I'm talking about people right here in the United States.

And look who we have. Anthony Scaramucci. Here to try to help us understand why the President is saying what he's saying. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:42:42] CUOMO: The President has turned in his answers to the special counsel's questions.

Now, this is just one move on the chess board there, and there's this stuff about the White House Counsel, Don McGahn, clouding the idea of what's going on with the probe that the White House counsel had to stand up to the President and his impulse to use the DOJ as his personal strong arm to go after Hillary Clinton and reportedly James Comey.

Busy night. So let's get into why the President says what he says and doe does it connect to rationale? With former Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. Always good to have you, welcome back to "Prime Time."

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Happy Thanksgiving, Chris, good to be here.

CUOMO: All right. Help me with this one. You could say the world is a messy place, sometimes we're friends with people that we don't like everything they do. We are going to take actions, but there's a political chess board here. Saudi Arabia is very important to us. And we're going to hold by our values and our objectives. He said none of those things.

He grossly exaggerated the money on the table. And as you probably know, you may not know at home, but Anthony's got lots of contacts when it comes to military contracts. And they can't use Russian and Chinese equipment compatible with ours that they already have. And they want our stuff and it's hundreds of millions of dollars, not billions or trillions. Why did he make it about money? Why did he get the number so wrong?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, again, I mean, you know, we can go back over this, and, you know, I think Scott Adams in the book, "Win Big Leagues," explains it better than I can. But he has a tendency to take a theme or a wave and he uses it repeatedly. And he's trying to get the gist of what you just said in year preamble across the people, but he likes to flower it up and spice it up with certain things.

And so mentioning the Chinese and the Russians, thinks that's a good idea, so I'll throw that in there. And so he's making a daily word salad that, you know, you just interpreted for the American people what he basically means. But he does do that and it's upsetting to people, but he's not going to stop doing it. And so what I would rather do is focus on what is the right policy for the American people as it relates to the Saudis?

[21:45:00] And so -- and I've maintained this, Chris, I think the President by if large when you look at his policies, and his executive action, and his thought process, he usually gets to a very common sense answer despite the explanations that he's giving you related to his answer.

And so -- and I said this to my wife on our podcast, if you're the 45th president, here's the situation with the Saudis, you don't want to put 2.5 million people out of work if you have crippling sanctions on Saudi that disrupts the entire oil market and the supply chain for the global economy. Unfortunately, they sit on 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and, you know, that's the regime that we're have to deal with right now. And so --

CUOMO: Have you ever heard an American president say anything like that before? That, look, I know you just killed this journalist and lied about it, and I know my CIA just came and said with high confidence that you were behind it. But I'm going to undermine them and say I don't know if they're right and I'm going to give you a pass and I'm going to say the money is what we have to keep our eye on, not this man's life. Anybody ever?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, no. But I don't know why he's doing that exactly. This is, you know, going back to Helsinki when he was questioning the intelligence agency. You know, I think what ends up happening with the President, he gets two or three politically charged principles in these areas. And so, therefore, you know, it sort of like a steam rolling action.

But I would say to the President that the intelligence agencies, and I would imagine most people, good percentage of the people inside the CIA, really like him and like the policies that he's implementing. And so I think it's a mistake to go after them or to suggest that they may not be accurate.

Now, what I will say going back to the campaign, he often complained that the CIA and the intelligence was wrong on the 2003 chemical situation in Iraq and the whole Colin Powell testimony which turned out not to be 100 percent true.

CUOMO: Yes.

SCARAMUCCI: And so that's some level of skepticism he used to bring up inside the campaign. And so he's trying to let the American people know, listen, I'm hand checking or double checking the information.

CUOMO: He doesn't check any of it. He doesn't even read it. They have to force him to take a briefing. John Kelly had to restructure his day just to get him to pay a little bit of attention to policy. He's not rechecking anything, Anthony, and you know it.

SCARAMUCCI: So now what's happening is you got guys that are leaking on the President. Hopefully, we'll get to that.

CUOMO: Thank God somebody's telling the truth. I mean, who are we supposed to go with, Sarah Sanders?

SCARAMUCCI: You got these disloyal very --

CUOMO: Maybe they are loyal but to the country.

SCARAMUCCI: -- operative sort of guys.

CUOMO: Maybe they're loyal to the country.

SCARAMUCCI: I wholly and totally disagree with that, Chris, you know. I said that to you in my shorts into the White House, I said it to Jake Tapper, the notion that these people need to protect the country from the president is a bunch of nonsense.

CUOMO: Oh really? Look at the story today about McGahn.

SCARAMUCCI: I said that 18 months ago and I will say it today.

CUOMO: He went to Don McGahn and said I want to go after Clinton and Comey, make it happen.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. So, you know, I now have the 11-day Ph.D. on the nefarious activity.

CUOMO: Milk it.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. Let's just face it. OK. The President, you just got done talking about some of the stuff that he says that may or may not be true --

CUOMO: No, that is -- demonstrably false.

SCARAMUCCI: -- that he may or may not mean. Let me tell you something.

CUOMO: Of course. Go ahead.

SCARAMUCCI: I have been in situations with the President, so has other people inside the administration where he'll cough something, he'll say something and you're like, all right, he's just blowing off steam. OK? He wasn't -- he wasn't pushing to prosecute those people. That --

CUOMO: Why did McGahn have to write that memo?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, it smells to me like that leak came from McGahn. For some reason I think he's upset that he didn't get a farewell party. The President figured out that he's obviously disloyal guy.

CUOMO: Anthony, come on. This is the second time he had to write a memo to the President that we know about saying Mr. President, please don't do this, back off, it's crazy. You'll get impeached. Don't do it.

SCARAMUCCI: He wasn't -- look, we all know that have worked for the president on the campaign, in the staff, when he's blowing off steam, when he means something. This is some kind of retribution by McGahn to the President where the President has obviously figured out that he wasn't 100 percent loyal to him.

CUOMO: Why would you be 100 percent loyal to somebody who throws everybody under the bus?

SCARAMUCCI: Known leaker inside the White House. And so, and by the way, you know, there was only a couple of people that knew about Ivanka's e-mails. OK? And so I just --

CUOMO: Why?

SCARAMUCCI: -- find it very interesting. Well, we can talk about Ivanka's e-mails if you want but I just find it very interesting that this stuff is getting leaked out by people --

CUOMO: I think it's really interesting that it's getting suppressed. I think that when the main cornerstone of your candidacy --

SCARAMUCCI: American people don't like it, Chris.

CUOMO: -- was Hillary's e-mails, well, they loved Hillary's e-mails and that was foolish BS and you know it. He pushed --

SCARAMUCCI: A totally different situation.

CUOMO: It is not totally different.

SCARAMUCCI: I don't want to pick on Secretary Clinton and go over those facts. Where the e-mail server was and who had access to the server. I don't want to --

CUOMO: Also Ivanka, it wasn't at Gmail. It was her own domain. That means it's her own server.

SCARAMUCCI: First of all, it was during a period of transition --

[21:49:59] CUOMO: Come on. It's all hypocrisy, Anthony. Look, it's all hypocrisy. The idea that I'm going to put America fist --

SCARAMUCCI: You're trying to pretend -- when you're talking about hypocrisy, are you trying to say that one side is less hypocritical than the other?

CUOMO: No. I think that this President -- you cannot defend this President as a function of the system.

SCARAMUCCI: Hey, Chris --

CUOMO: He is in his own class when it comes to truth abuse and misleading the American people.

SCARAMUCCI: He would have never got the job without his help, whether it's Kelly or McGahn. They shouldn't be leaking on the guy. OK? I think it's ridiculous.

CUOMO: So I don't care about them. All I care about is the truth. Anthony --

SCARAMUCCI: And by the way, what are you saying here tonight? You're saying that one side is less hypocritical than the other? This is a hypocritical quadratic equation --

CUOMO: I'm saying that this president -- Anthony --

SCARAMUCCI: -- that cancels each other out.

CUOMO: If you want to know what I'm saying I'll tell you. All right.

SCARAMUCCI: Go ahead.

CUOMO: You asked a question. Let me answer it. I know it's frustrating. I deal with that all the time. I ask a question. Nobody answers it. Here's the answer to your question.

SCARAMUCCI: Go ahead.

CUOMO: Is there hypocrisy in politics? Of course. That's almost a rhetorical question. Is this President a standout when it comes to lying, misleading the American people, and behavior that must be called out and criticized? A hundred percent. All day long. He sets a new and low standard.

SCARAMUCCI: He's got a lot of weaknesses, and we can spend all night explaining them but he's got a lot of strengths too. The economy is booming.

CUOMO: Why is the stock market in the tank?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, the stock market is in the tank because --

CUOMO: Uncertainty from the President.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARAMUCCI: I can explain to you why the stock market is in the tank. You've got seasonal adjustment in October-November. Rising stock.

CUOMO: Three percent growth. Stock market in the tank? SCARAMUCCI: Rising rates. Come on, Chris. You're an 11.5 years into

an economic expansion. Most economic cycles last eight years. You know, the market is --

CUOMO: Three months ago he was pointing to the stock market as proof that this is a time of unprecedented prosperity.

SCARAMUCCI: That's a different problem, OK?

CUOMO: Now that's a cycle?

SCARAMUCCI: His treasury secretary and his coms director should say to him, hey, cool out on the stock market because you don't want to own the up, because you end up owning the down. What you want to do is focus on the fundamentals in the economy.

CUOMO: All I'm saying is this, Anthony, I hear you. I call you and I talk to you for advice about the economics all the time.

SCARAMUCCI: These guys are unfair to the guy. They shouldn't be leaking on him and his daughters. It's wrong.

CUOMO: Look, I hear you about that. I'm about the truth.

SCARAMUCCI: Wrong.

CUOMO: I like leaks because I want the truth and I'm never going to get it from this White House.

SCARAMUCCI: You like leaks? You know, I don't like bad leaks, and I understand that there has to be a leaking system.

CUOMO: I just want the truth.

SCARAMUCCI: I don't like the nefarious (inaudible) and warfare.

CUOMO: I hear you.

SCARAMUCCI: They're not even giving out all the facts on the Ivanka stuff. And so it's very unfair to her. When it comes out, you'll see it's a minor issue.

CUOMO: We're always here.

SCARAMUCCI: And people -- and people around McGahn --

CUOMO: We're always here. She could be in your box whenever she wants to.

SCARAMUCCI: Here's a very good news about the situation is that the people in the know, the people that have the Ph.D. and the Washington operatives are on to Don McGahn now. We know what he's like.

CUOMO: All right.

SCARAMUCCI: We know what he's capable of. CUOMO: I hear you. Let me add some--

SCARAMUCCI: And he's a dishonest guy. He's doing a disservice to the President and his family.

CUOMO: I hear your opinion. Bring me some proof. We'll continue the conversation. But I got to go. I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for you all day long. Thank you, sir.

SCARAMUCCI: Hey, same to you and your family. God bless you guys.

CUOMO: God bless. Be the best.

All right. T minus two days to Turkey Day, and while I'm thinking about food, which is obviously a very common experience, I have a great story for you. I've also got a scary as heck story for you, the lettuce scare. Whatever you do, I've never told you anything more true than this. Do not eat any romaine lettuce right now. Don't sell it. Don't buy it. Don't serve it. Don't touch it.

I don't care if it's chopped, whole, head or part, part of your favorite Caesar, anchovies or no. The CDC just said at least 32 people in 11 states have gotten sick from E. coli contamination. They don't know the source. They don't know the extent. All the warnings I just gave you are directly from them. All right? So I just wanted to put that out there, a public service announcement. Stay away from the romaine.

All right. Now, Thanksgiving. I learned stuff about Thanksgiving that is going to blow your mind. Why we think it came to be. The pilgrims, it's all real, but it's better than that. I'm going to tell you the real story behind what we're going to celebrate that makes it so perfect for right now. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:57:06] CUOMO: All right. Thanksgiving is coming, and not a moment too soon. This national day to give thanks was actually designed for times just like those we are living. I'll prove it. Let's start with the current President today, citing the correct message for the coming Thanksgiving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is a time for Americans to unite together in a spirit of love, understanding, unity, and joy as one very proud American family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: True. Does he practice what he preaches? Certainly not enough. But that's not the point of this Thursday, nor should the President be the focus. In fact, the designers of the day would insist on that. Thanksgiving was made to be bigger than anything and anyone. Yes, it was actually done as an offset, a reminder of gratitude during the worst of times. In fact, especially then. The pilgrim references, it's all true. All applies, 1621, the 53 pilgrims, the 90 or so Native Americans, the days of feasting after the first harvest. All true. But that's not what Thursday is really about. Their plight, their coming together with strangers, that is much more metaphor than a true measure of the reason that we celebrate it when and how we do. President Washington started by calling for a day of public thanksgiving and praise not to commemorate the pilgrims but to help people then keep perspective in the midst of a particularly tough time of lean crops and illness.

When he looked around him and surveyed the distress, he said, you know what? As bad as it is, we have to give thanks. Look where we are. Look what we escaped. Look how good things still can be. The pilgrims were a touchstone. They were a metaphor for perseverance but the message was about those early Americans, seeing the promise of what they were building through their pain. The darker moments of deprivation. To give them some perspective, some promise.

But still it was a one-off. Colonies, then states, they did their own things all through the 1800s. They celebrated Thanksgiving different days, different times, different ways. Then came Abraham Lincoln. In the military of the Civil War, 1863 during the birth of the emancipation proclamation, Lincoln called for a day of thanks during one of the ugliest periods of the Civil War.

He decided to remedy division by ignoring it in favor of the greater goals and common aspirations of all those fighting. He called them all Americans. He barely referred to unionists and rebels. He said, we should all pause and give thanks for the better days to come and the increasing freedom that was the destiny of this land.

And now here is the delicious and greatly unknown detail. Where did this great man get such a great idea? A woman. Sarah Josepha Hale. For decades, this pioneer in publishing -- she was a publisher when, you know, women didn't even have the same access to the literature.