Return to Transcripts main page


Lawmakers Await Trump's Reaction to Border Security Deal; Journalist Attacked at Trump Campaign Rally in El Paso; White House Aide Writes Tell-All Book, Sues Trump; Is Beto O'Rourke Rally Against Trump in El Paso a Sign He'll Run in 2020. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 12, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto, in New York.

"AT THIS HOUR" begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

While you were sleeping, a miracle may have happened. I think we have to put emphasis on may at this moment even though we are in February. Congress may have reached a deal to keep the government open before the Friday deadline. What is in it? As one Democrat negotiating the deal said, no one got everything they wanted.

But did Donald Trump get what he demanded? In maybe the most telling statement, the president told a campaign rally in El Paso that he didn't bother to find out.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They say that progress has been made.


TRUMP: Just now, just now. I said, wait a minute, I have to take care of my people from Texas. I got to go. I don't even want to hear about it.


TRUMP: I don't want to hear about it. So I don't know what they mean.


BALDWIN: I don't even want to hear about it, even though it is what I have been demanding for more than two months. Is he on board, on the fence or will he be on the rampage against this deal? So far, crickets from his Twitter feed and the White House. The president meets with his cabinet later this hour, so please stay tuned for more on that.

Let's get to where things stand at this very moment. Dana Bash, Abby Phillip, Phil Mattingly standing by.

Let's start on Capitol Hill with Phil.

Phil, can some 800,000 federal employees breathe a sigh of relief?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I think there has been a lesson in the last two years, probably wait until the president puts pen to paper before breathing signs of relief or grasping the possibility that things might be in the clear. I would say this. There's a reality on Capitol Hill. There will likely be the votes to pass this in both chambers. They will lose Republicans and Democrats for policy issues and differences over the bill. As you noted, Neil Lowe (ph) said earlier, one of the top negotiators, that not everybody got everything they wanted. That is the art of how these things work. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and said the Senate will move to this in short order. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is likely behind the deal. So leadership will be there, rank and file will be there.

If you want to get a sense of the mood, take a listen to what my colleague, Manu Raju, got from a couple of Republican Senators a short while ago.


SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON, (R), GEORGIA: I hope we have this behind us, we don't shutdown again. Shutdowns never work for anything.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, (R), TENNESSEE: I certainly hope it is something he can accept.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: The compromise that has been reached, absolutely there's no way that the country should be put through another disastrous government shutdown.


MATTINGLY: Kate, I think that, more than anything else, will likely be the bill to prevail in both chambers. They don't want another shutdown, lawmakers in both parties. Whether they disagree on the policy here or have agreement, they don't want another shutdown. This is an avenue to avoid one. That will likely get it through Congress. Then we will have to see what happens.

BALDWIN: See what happens, we will.

Abby, is the White House saying anything at this moment about this agreement?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Phil has a lot of the details about what is in the bill. The White House is saying that they don't -- they don't know what's in this compromise agreement. So as a result, they can't say whether or not President Trump would support it.

Listen to Hogan Gidley explaining where they stand on this at the moment.


HOGAN GIDLEY, PRINCIPLE DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Chief of staff had a meeting early. We were all in his office. He made it very clear, until we know what is in it, it is very difficult to comment to say what we will or won't take because we don't know what is actually in the document. We don't know what nuances are put on some of the stipulations. Until we see it, again, I hate to tell you, I don't know where we stand, but we don't.


PHILLIP: The White House is leaving a lot of wiggle room for the president to make some kind of decision at some point about whether or not he is going to support this, focusing in on what they are calling nuances. There were, as we know from over the weekend, concerns about any restrictions that might be in this bill for how the money can be spent or where it can be spent and how they can detain people, when and where they can detain people. I think the White House is trying to evaluate those kinds of details.

We will hear from President Trump shortly within the next hour as he goes into a cabinet meeting. It is not clear whether or not he will be ready to make a public statement about where he stands on this proposal. At the same time, administration officials are keeping out there the possibility that some kind of executive action is still within the realm of possibilities. Even if the president supports this compromise agreement, he could move forward with executive action that allows him to do even more than Congress is allowing him to do. Look for that as we go forward.

But I think right now, really everybody on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, not really sure where the man, the only person who matters is, stands on the issue, President Trump.

[11:05:11] BALDWIN: And Hogan Gidley not one -- no one at the White House wants to get ahead of the boss on this one.

Dana, you are hearing from some of the president's allies on the Hill on how this may play out. What are they telling you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That the president is likely to sign this, is likely to go along with what is, by any measure, less than the president wanted at the beginning of this process, before the government shutdown for more than 30 days, which is kind of remarkable on its face. What I am told by a conservative House member is that what he, the president, is being urged to do is sign it, avoid a government shutdown, keep things going, make clear that he believes that Congress can't do its job, and look for avenues where he can use his executive powers.

Now, I am told that there are options, that we have been reporting on for the month-plus, that the president has been presented when it comes to how he can use his executive powers. The emergency declaration is probably low on the list right now. He has other options, like using a pot of money from the Department of Homeland Security or from the Pentagon. That is likely going to be where he goes if he chooses this in tandem with signing this very, very disappointing piece of legislation if he goes down that path from the perspective of the president. But even the president's conservative allies sense what Manu Raju heard from Republicans on Capitol Hill. They are over it. They are done with this. They want to move on. They want to fight other fights and put this behind them.

BALDWIN: It seemed Mitch McConnell was hinting at this when he took to the floor this morning, Phil. If this is the plan, Phil, that the president will go around Congress to get more funding for the wall, even if they pull it together and send it to him, what does Congress do?

MATTINGLY: Dana and Abby hit a key point. Executive action, not necessarily emergency declaration. If the president declares an emergency, that is a major issue for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear publicly and, I'm told, repeatedly, privately, it is not something he supports. It is something that will run into major issues with Republicans on Capitol Hill, both from executive branch versus legislative branch on constitutional issues but also general opposition to overreach by the president. That, if he did decide to go forward with the declaration, both the House and the Senate will consider resolutions to block that. There's a real possibility both chambers would end up passing it. That's why you've heard the White House shift heavily on this course over the last several weeks, at least according to people here on Capitol Hill, to find, as Dana outlines, these pots of money in various agencies. There's little or limited recourse in terms of what lawmakers can do should the president decide to take that action. There could be lawsuits related to those moves. One question I've had is, when you start taking money out of places that congress members have appropriated that money, sometimes they don't appreciate it, particularly if that money was designated for their districts or particular states, so members might not be happy. There's not a definite recourse like there would be if he declared a national emergency.

BALDWIN: Dana, as you point out, it's less than the president wanted. It's less than a bipartisan deal offered. It is less even when Vice President Pence had gone to the Hill and thought he could get some traction on at one point. How does the White House spin this, as a win, or maybe they don't?

BASH: I think that, as much as the combing through the fine print, as Hogan said they are doing at the White House, you can bet they are crafting their message on how to spin this, even as much as maybe more combing through the fine print of this. Because talking about putting lip stick on a you know what, the president could have gotten this, even maybe a little bit better than this before this government shutdown, avoided a shutdown. But because of the shutdown, people are at wits end. When I say people, I mean the people who are actually in the room negotiating, the members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, particularly Republicans who find compromise for a living. They were allowed to do what they are supposed to do, to negotiate, to get as members on both sides are saying, not the perfect solution for any of them, but certainly not close to what the president wanted. I think that is definitely going to be one thing to watch, how the president spins this if, in fact, he does go ahead and sign what is way less than he wanted and demanded.

[11:10:05] BALDWIN: But let us all acknowledge a moment, even if it is only on principle, there's a bipartisan agreement --

BASH: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- on something that is --


BOLDUAN: -- hyper-partisan or has become. That is unusual. We are seeing unicorns and rainbows and butterflies flying all over Capitol Hill or at least that is what we should be seeing.

Abby, I can't let you guys go. While all that is happening, something happened that can't go unnoticed when the president was holding his rally. A journalist was attacked at the Trump campaign rally. If you have not seen it, here is the moment that it happened.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lowest level in the history of our country.





TRUMP: Everything all right? Everything OK? Please?

OK. Thank you. Thank you.


BALDWIN: That was the BBC. Have you heard anything from the president's team about this?

PHILLIP: Really a scary moment there for people who were at the rally, including many of our colleagues and our colleagues. The White House and the Trump campaign so far haven't said anything about this incident that occurred last night. You can hear, in the clip, President Trump kind of being taken aback by what was going on at his rally. This has been an escalating situation for years now where the crowd is getting really ginned up by "fake news" chants and "CNN sucks" chants. I think we have all gotten a little used to it. The consequence is that, in this case, someone was able to get into the press pad, knocked over a reporter, could have hurt him, but luckily did not, and really created a kind of scary situation for many reporters there last night. We'll keep you posted if we hear anything back from them, at least a

statement condemning what happened at that rally last night -- Kate?

BALDWIN: That could have been the very least that could have happened last night.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you so, so much. I really appreciate it. We'll see what happens when President Trump will be holding a meeting with his cabinet.

Coming up, a former White House aide writes a tell-all book about the Trump administration. Why is he suing the president? His lawyer joins us, ahead.

Plus, Beto O'Rourke, counter programs President Trump, held his own rally last night in the same city the president was in. What O'Rourke told CNN about a possible 2020 run.


[11:17:06] BALDWIN: There has been a lot of tell-all books written already about this White House. In a new twist, the author of the book is suing the president over the book. Former White House aide, Cliff Simms, filed a lawsuit against the president for what he calls an attempt to silence him and bully him as he promotes his new book, called "Team of Vipers." Why the lawsuit and what is likely to come of it?

Joining me now is one of the attorneys representing Simms in the lawsuit, Brad Moss.

Thanks for coming in.


BALDWIN: In the lawsuit, you accuse the Trump campaign of being an illegitimate cutout and accusing the government of "intentionally and unconstitutionally engaging in subterfuge, an effort to use a private entity, Donald J. Trump for President, the campaign, to do its bidding to silence Mr. Simms when it is really the intense powers of the presidency coming down upon a sole individual."

Have you heard anything from the White House about this?

MOSS: No, not yet. The only thing heard so far was the demand for arbitration that came from the campaign in which was crusades by the campaign tweet. It was 20 minutes after President Trump defamed Mr. Simms on Twitter on January 29. So far -- let's be clear, former federal employees under long-established judicial precedent have a constitutional right to disclose unclassified information regarding what they saw and observed. This is a long precedent. If there was classified information, that would be one thing. "Team of Vipers," the entire plan for arbitration concerns things that Mr. Simms saw and is disclosing that happened during his federal service, but they are using the campaign nondisclosure agreement to try to silence him. And they're trying to enjoin him from further disclosing to the public things he saw while in the White House. This is circumventing decades of precedent.

BALDWIN: Simms said this morning on "NEW DAY" that he is not going to be bullied. That perked up my ears and made me wonder if anyone from the White House or the campaign has communicated with him about his book outside of this arbitration.

MOSS: Not to my knowledge. There's been no verbal threats that I'm aware of to him coming from the White House, beyond the actions they have taken. This is Donald J. Trump, in his capacity as the president, using his campaign as the cutout, effectively doing through his campaign what he can't do as the president because the government would have no case if this was the U.S. government normally trying to bring this action, normally trying to stop Mr. Simms from further disclosing this information. He is using the power of the presidency, the bully pulpit, instructing his campaign to bring Mr. Simms into arbitration, to impose monetary damages, all for things that happened during his time in the White House.

[11:20:05] BALDWIN: And is there anything in the book that could be construed as being part of the campaign?

MOSS: I'm sure there are various pieces of the initial pages of the book. When we look through the demand for arbitration and to the statement of claims that the campaign submitted, everything is about stuff from Mr. Simms' time in the White House.

BOLDUAN: But that's --

MOSS: Disputes between Trump and Paul Ryan, all those kinds of things.

BALDWIN: This gets to the NDA. Simms says he doesn't know if he signed an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement, when taking the job at the White House. Have you tried, in the course of preparing this lawsuit, have you tried to confirm with the White House that he signed an NDA before filing this lawsuit?

MOSS: No. It really ultimately doesn't matter either way because the basis for the -- the way in which the Trump campaign through President Trump is trying to silence Mr. Simms is based off the campaign NDA. The reason they will not bother trying to use the White House NDA, this new additional thing that they created, is because it would be unenforceable. We follow a decade of judicial precedent. The courts have been very clear on this. I'm sorry, unless it is classified information, you cannot censor it contractually or otherwise, which is why they haven't bothered, and why we didn't look into it any deeper.

BALDWIN: What do you hope happens and comes from this?

MOSS: I think we want to clarify and make sure that Mr. Simms can continue to disclose information that's outlined in "Team of Vipers," unclassified information about what he saw, and inform the public about what he observed in the White House, continue to sell the book without fear of monetary damages and without fear of further retribution. And during the course of this litigation, both the arbitration, which we are representing Mr. Simms in, and the federal lawsuit, we will seek discovery. We will flesh out for certain who was involved and whether or not the full extent in which Donald Trump personally instructed this action to be taken using his role, trying to straddle the line between private citizen and president of the United States. We will bring those details to light.

BALDWIN: One of the strangest things about this is that Cliff Simms is not really an adversary, he's not really going after the president in his book. He is very critical of people around the president, but Simms said this morning he supports the president's agenda. How can your client say he still supports the president's agenda and supports the president when he is suing the president at the same time?

MOSS: Because, in the end, just as Cliff said this morning on "NEW DAY," he doesn't like to be bullied. The only way he knows Donald Trump responds to anything is through strength. Donald Trump put him into a corner and said, we are going to try to financially infringe upon your rights and deprive you of your constitutional rights --


BALDWIN: How can Cliff Simms say he still supports the president if he thinks the president is unconstitutionally trying to quiet him and silence him and bully him?

MOSS: The way any number of people may have personal political allegiances or views similar to the particular person, while not agreeing with the actions they've taken. I think part of what we are trying to eventually flesh out here, when you read "Team of Vipers," a lot of the criticism Mr. Simms had was of the people the president surrounded himself with, not necessarily the president himself. I think part of the story here that we will find as we get into discovery and flesh out these details is how much the president has once again been ill-served by those around him and those who may have advised him and encouraged him to push for the arbitration.

BALDWIN: It sets up such a strange dynamic. Have you asked Cliff Simms if he would work for the president if those "Team of Vipers" weren't around the president anymore?

MOSS: No, I haven't. I think that would be a question better left for Cliff. I think Cliff will continue the book tour. He is going to continue the work he was doing before he joined the Trump campaign in 2016. He had a career before that and will continue on with it. As Cliff said this morning, he supports the president personally. It's neither here nor there for me. Our goal, our view is to uphold the constitutional rights of this individual. If it can happen here, if Donald Trump can do this to Cliff Simms, he can do it to anybody else. The people who comes after him, the president has come after, Donald Trump will be able to do it and eviscerate decades of precedent.

BALDWIN: Brad Moss, thanks for coming in. I really appreciate it.

MOSS: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: We'll see what happens with this lawsuit. Coming up for us, Beto O'Rourke holds his own rally in Texas about a

half a mile away from the president's rally last night. Calls out President Trump over his demand for a border wall. Does that mean that all signs point to O'Rourke ready to run?

[11:24:45] Stay with us.


BALDWIN: The contrast could not have been clearer over the border wall. A Republican president heads to the hometown of a potential Democratic challenger. Donald Trump versus Beto O'Rourke. Just listen.


TRUMP: Walls work. Actually, there's nothing like them from what we are talking about. We want to stop drugs. We want to stop traffickers. We want to stop criminals from coming in. Walls save lives.

BETO O'ROURKE, (D), FORMER TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: We know that walls do not save lives. Walls end lives.


[11:30:01] BALDWIN: So was this a preview of the 2020 matchup?