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Shine Out as White House Communications Director; Trump Accuses Cohen of Lying; Interview with Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX); Rivals Joe Lockhart and Ken Starr Talk about Clinton and Trump. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 8, 2019 - 13:00   ET

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


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[13:00:20] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live at CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, despite the outrage over Paul Manafort's sentence, the president now says he feels badly for his convicted former campaign chief.

And President Trump directly alleging that Michael Cohen asked for a pardon, and Cohen firing back, invoking International Women's Day.

Plus, Congress, they can't even agree on how to condemn hate. I'll be speaking with one of the Republicans who voted against the resolution written by Democrats.

And he's the husband of a presidential adviser and one of his loudest critics. Today, in rare remarks, George Conway warns the president's actions may lead to a Banana Republic.

We have breaking news on a big departure from the White House now. The president accepting the resignation of his deputy chief of staff and de facto White House Communications Director Bill Shine, saying in part, Bill Shine has done an outstanding job working for me in the administration. We will miss him in the White House but look forward to working together on the 2020 presidential campaign where he will be totally involved.

But CNN has learned that behind the scenes, the president had begun to sour on Shine, growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of improvement in press coverage and questioning Shine's judgment on a number of issues in recent months.

Let's get right to it now. CNN political analyst -- or CNN political analyst and "Politico" White House reporter Elaina Johnson with us.

OK, so we're learning that he was disappointed in Shine. Is this -- even so, is this something that surprised you?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's not surprising as the president tends to bring people in and sour on them quickly, but Shine is an interesting case because his background was as a Fox News executive. And given the president's proclivity for Fox News, I think he had high expectations for Shine, who was a long-time best friend of Sean Hannity, one of the president's closes friends. I think he expected to bring Shine in and see the news coverage generally look a lot more like Fox News and was disappointed that that wasn't the case.

And I think the two really never totally clicked or hit it off. And -- but that's not particular to Shine. He's the fifth person to hold this title of White House communications director. And you begin to see a pattern where I think it's really that nobody can really perform this job successfully in the White House for a president who does his own communications.

KEILAR: There was also a story here in the last few days in "The New Yorker" by Jane Mayer (ph), about Fox News, Bill Shine featured prominently in it. This was about how Fox News essentially has been operating as propaganda or state-run TV for the Trump administration.

Did that have anything to do with this, do you think? The timing's certainly close.

JOHNSON: The timing's very close. I don't think we know yet whether this story was directly related to Shine's departure. But the relationship began to sour a long time before the publication of this story with the president expressing disappointment that he hadn't seen greater improvement in the news coverage with Shine inside the White House. And I think Shine feeling he didn't have all that much to do. He was really focusing on improving sort of the back -- really the look of the set, you know, things like he was doing at Fox. The president not seeing a great improvement in the headlines that he got and expressing frustration to allies about that.

KEILAR: So as you bring up the point that there has been five comms directors and -- I mean it's a difficult job and clearly no one's really cutting it with what the president wants. Maybe what he wants is impossible. Is there a replacement in his mind?

JOHNSON: I don't think the White House has begun to look for a replacement yet. And, truly, I think the major problem here is the president doesn't give a communications director latitude to do the job. He doesn't take the advice of the communications director, who tell him, you know, maybe you shouldn't send so many tweets, and he often stomps on the communications of his own aides who are trying to do it for him.

We've seen the White House press briefings stop altogether because the president's aides can go out and speak for him, but the president often contradicts them. And so I think the aides in the president's press shot have found that it is a fruitless endeavor to go out and amplify one of the -- the president's message when he often contradicts it at a moment's notice. And he's really the only person who can speak for the White House right now.

KEILAR: And for now, I guess, Donald Trump is the comms director, right?

Eliana, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. And also breaking, President Trump is defending his former campaign

chairman, Paul Manafort, and blasting his former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. The president spoke to reporters before leaving the White House to visit areas of Alabama hit by deadly tornados and he said this about the sentencing of his former campaign chairman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it's been a very, very tough time for him. The judge -- I mean for whatever reason, I was very honored by it -- also made the statement that this had nothing to do with collusion with Russia. So, you know, keep it going. Let's go. Keep the hoax going. It's just a hoax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:05:16] KEILAR: That's not actually what the judge said.

Now, as for his ex-attorney Michael Cohen, the president tweeted, bad lawyer and fraudster Michael Cohen said under sworn testimony that he never asked for a pardon. His lawyers totally contradicted him. He lied. Additionally, he directly asked me for a pardon. I said no. He lied again. He also badly wanted to work at the White House. He lied!

White House reporter Jeremy Diamond is traveling with the president in Alabama.

We can see tornado damage behind you. That is why the president is there. But this has followed him to Alabama, Jeremy. Tell us about the president and what he's saying here beau case he's clearly mischaracterizing what the Manafort judge said about Russia collusion.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He is. And what the president said there about, you know, and the way that he characterizes the judge's comments is absolutely false. What the judge said, as he was sentencing Paul Manafort to nearly four years in prison, was that -- and Paul Manafort was not before the court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government. Meaning that the case that was before this judge in that moment, which was bank fraud, tax fraud, those issues had nothing to do with collusion, Russian collusion, involving the 2016 presidential election. This judge was not making a definitive ruling on the question of whether or not the president's campaign colluded in any way with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 campaign.

We know that this is something that the president has done repeatedly, of course. Any time anybody says something that, you know, they haven't yet seen any evidence as it relates to collusion with Russia or, you know, so far nothing has come up in that way, nothing definitive, the president seizes on that as if it is a definitive statement, you know, effectively ruling out the issue of Russian collusion when that is not exactly the case.

But right now the president is turning to different matters here in Alabama where he is touring some of the storm damage brought by one of these EF-4 category tornadoes that just swept through this area here in Lee County, Alabama. (INAUDIBLE) damage behind me here. It is absolutely devastating. Twenty-three people so far confirmed dead and the president coming here to share his thoughts and prayers with the people affected.

KEILAR: All right, Jeremy. And we will follow that visit as well.

Jeremy Diamond in Lee County, Alabama.

And I want to bring in former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates now to talk with us.

So, Laura, the -- first the president is saying basically in his tweet that Michael Cohen directly asked for a pardon. And there's a little more of what he said before leaving for Alabama. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Cohen lied about the pardon. And that was just a stone-cold lie. And he's lied about a lot of things. But when he lied about the pardon, that was really a lie. And he knew all about pardons. His lawyer said that they went to my lawyers and asked for pardons. And I could go a step above that, but I won't go do it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That's not -- what's the fallout from this, I think, especially because you've heard some Republicans say, you know, if he lied about one thing, they're not going to think kindly about everything that Michael Cohen said.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, plainly, Michael Cohen's credibility remains an issue. Remember, he had already lied to Congress. That's one of the reasons why he has had this issue. Also the nature of the crimes that he has been convicted of and pled guilty to are lie-based offenses as well. So you know that's an issue.

However, this selective amnesia or selective credibility is what's the bigger issue here. Notice the timing of it. Immediately after he testified last week, the president claimed that there were a whole host of lies that were told. Conveniently, the ones that made him look good about his wife and other matters and about his treatment of women in some capacities, he wanted people to believe that aspect of it. But why come out now and say that you were directly asked if that was a very blatant and very specific lie that he told at the time.

Also, in terms of Michel Cohen, credibility is an issue. And, Brianna, when you rely on semantics, you have an even bigger problem. The idea, well, no, I didn't ask specifically, I had my lawyers do something to ask your lawyers, your people called my people, that is a little bit of a murkier water.

But Cohen has come out and said that that's actually a lie. That did not happen. He did not ask for it directly. But, either way, it's very well known the president has the pardoning power. If there was a conversation between Cohen's attorneys about exploring the possibility of it, it doesn't translate it into an outright lie by Cohen to say that I didn't do it. But, again, I admit fully that this is a credibility issue that keeps haunting Michael Cohen, but the selectivity of credibility is equally a problem.

KEILAR: So at this point this is a he said-he said, right?

COATES: Uh-huh.

KEILAR: And if you were Cohen's attorneys, would you be advising him to go on Twitter and say this? Just another set of lies by President Trump. Mr. President, let me remind you that today is International Women's Day. You may want to use today to apologize for your own lies and dirty deeds to women like Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford.

[13:10:12] COATES: So I would not have invoked International Women's Day. That was -- that was probably a bad look.

KEILAR: You wouldn't have said, hey, you should do this, client?

COATES: I wouldn't have done any of it.

KEILAR: That's so surprising, Laura.

COATES: And, you know, I -- because maybe because I was thinking with common sense, Brianna, on that point.

KEILAR: Yes.

COATES: And I think it's -- you do have the right to remain silent.

KEILAR: He's a lawyer, though, Laura, come on.

COATES: Well, no longer in New York. He's been disbarred based on his conduct.

KEILAR: That's right, he has the training, let's say.

COATES: That's true.

But I will say the notion of the tit for tat that goes on, when you have a credibility contest between two people who have their own unique sets of credibility issues, you do have the balancing favor go against who has lied the least, and who has had some corroboration to their statements? You can go back to Michael Cohen. Part of the reason that his credibility is bedrests in comparisons to Michael -- to Donald Trump is because the SDNY and the Mueller probe has assigned some level of gravitas to his testimony and credibility by virtue of cooperating agreements -- or cooperation allowance, and also by virtue that they have allowed him to plead guilty in different cases. So you do have some receipts.

And let's not forget, there was a check that was held up to show that there had been some payment about the very issue that -- involving Stephanie Clifford and Karen McDougal. So it's a bit of a people in glass houses should not throw stones if you facilitated a transactional payment to these women. But all (INAUDIBLE), all of these men, stop talking.

KEILAR: All of these men, stop talking.

Laura Coates, thank you so much.

SO the president is also making a stunning remark today about the Democratic Party after the House passed a broad resolution calling out bigotry of all kinds, without directly condemning freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for recent anti-Semitic remarks. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought that vote was a disgrace and so does everybody else if you get an honest answer. If you get an honest answer from politicians, they thought it was a disgrace. The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So the House voted 407-23 to pass the resolution. Those 23 no votes were from Republicans, including Congressman Chip Roy of Texas, who is with us now.

And, congressman, thank you for being with us. And tell us about this because you did not think that this went far enough.

REP. CHIP ROY (R), TEXAS: Hi, Brianna. First, thanks for having me on this afternoon. Good to be on again.

And I want to offer my thoughts and prayers for the people in Lee County, Alabama. My deputy chief of staff went to Auburn, grew up in Auburn. She's there home now with family. And so just know that our hearts are with the people down there that are suffering with the tornado damage.

With respect to the vote yesterday, I was absolutely -- I was proud to vote no. We've had votes before on this very topic. You know why? Because this is a troubling trend with my colleague, Representative Omar, where she continues to make these statements. And so we've already had a vote calling out anti-Semitism. I was happy to vote for that. But this was a show vote. This was a sham vote that was designed specifically to kind of be a cover for Representative Omar, rather than calling her out specifically.

And I've been delighted with the support I've gotten with friends of mine in the Jewish community, my colleague Lee Zeldin, who spoke passionately on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday. I would encourage anybody to look at his comments about why he thought this wasn't the right response.

And I think the last -- the final point I would make is, if you're going to engage in this kind of activity where we're focusing on identity politics, which I wish we weren't, then let's -- let's put it aside and don't do anything. Don't have a show vote. Let's get busy doing the work of the American people. Let's balance the budget. Let's secure the border. Let's get back to health care freedom.

But instead we had a show vote, wasted more time and we did nothing to actually deal with the issues that my colleague, unfortunately, continues to repeat in her anti-Semitic statements.

KEILAR: So -- so by that logic, this desire that you have to clearly call out the person who said something, does that mean that whenever any member, Republican House member, makes a racist or anti-Semitic remark, that you want to call them out by name in a resolution?

ROY: No, what it really means is I -- number one, I would rather not even be focusing on identity politics, like I said, in the first place. So -- but if you're going to have a resolution, now the second, third, fourth time that we've had a member of the Congress who is making comments about our Jewish friends and our neighbors in Israel and AIPAC, and making these pretty horrific comments, that we ought to address them directly or not have a show vote.

If you don't want to actually address the comments, then let's get busy doing the work. Let's have a debate about whether she should be on the foreign relations committee. Let's talk about balancing the budget. Let's talk about the budget that the president's going to be sending us on Monday, instead of having a show vote, which is really what that was, a complete show vote.

KEILAR: The president -- I think you may have just heard him -- he spoke as he left for Alabama there on the South Lawn, and he called the Democratic Party anti-Jewish. Do you agree with that?

[13:15:00] ROY: I would not cast aspersions on a wide net to my colleagues in the House. Like I said, I'd like to be focusing on the business of the American people. Its why I was sent to Washington, D.C., was to do the things I've already mentioned, balance the budget, health care freedom, secure the border. I want to focus on the budget the president's sending up.

I do think the president is right to call out this vote. I think -- you know, comments like it's all about the benjamins. I mean these are the kinds of things she continued to do. This isn't the first time. Everybody in the media knows that. There's a history of it going back before she was elected. We're now seeing it now that she's on the floor of the House of Representatives.

I would rather she not be doing that. I would rather we get back to focusing on our work. But if the Democrat Congress is going to pull a resolution onto the floor of the House and force us to vote on it, then it ought to be meaningful, instead of another show vote that the American people are tired of wasting the time that we have here to represent them.

KEILAR: So -- the -- you said he's right to call this out. And, look, I am certainly not defending what Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has said, but the head of your party, the president, he has not only trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes, which is the complaint about Congresswoman Omar, he even said that during Charlottesville that there were good people on both sides of the debate. On one side of the debate you have white supremacists who were anti-Semitic.

ROY: Well, of course there's no argument that what was happening in Charlottesville is defensible. I'm a graduate of the University of Virginia. I took great sorrow in what we saw unfold and both the loss of life. But then let's fast forward to a year later where there was more hate-filled bigots that were taking to the streets in Charlottesville. There's no room for it. We should call it out and move on.

I think the president should have been more forceful in August of 2017 on that point. I think a lot of people called him out and I think that he ended up getting back to a place where he was a little more forceful about it.

But, you know what, we weren't debating that yesterday. What we were debating was very specifically the remarks made by my colleague that has been repeated, not just once, not twice, not a simple misstatement. It's all about the benjamins. We're talking about, you know, Israel, about how our foreign policy is all beholden to Israel and all of these things she continues to say and we were addressing that. Yet the Democrat Party refused to actually address it. They just did another resolution saying, well, we're all against, you know, anti-Semitic remarks. Well, no kidding. Of course we are. We should be. But let's get business -- get busy doing the work of the people instead of playing these identity politics games.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Chip Roy, thank you so much for being with us.

ROY: Brianna, have a great weekend. Great to see you.

KEILAR: You, too.

So the president is reacting to a tough jobs report after we learn America's budget and trade deficits are exploding.

Plus, he's one of the loudest critics of the president and happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. Why George Conway says the U.S. is nearing a Banana Republic.

And two former rivals from the Clinton impeachment in the same room together for the first time. See what happened when Ken Starr and Joe Lockhart went head to head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN STARR, LED INDEPENDENT COUNSEL INVESTIGATION OF PRESIDENT CLINTON: Hold on a second -- no, hold on, Joe, let me just --

JOE LOCKHART: But -- but -- President Trump --

STARR: He didn't shut down the investigation. That's one of the key things. The investigation is over.

LOCKHART: He then tried -- he then tried to remove and then fired his attorney general. What else do you need to see that it's obstruction? What else?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[13:22:23] KEILAR: So there are two former rivals that were the center of the Clinton impeachment investigation, and after 20 years Ken Starr and Joe Lockhart sat down to debate not just the political scandal that plagued the country two decades ago, but the legal storm that is engulfing the White House today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Do you think a sitting president can be indicted?

KEN STARR, LED INDEPENDENT COUNSEL INVESTIGATION OF PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes. And I disagree with the Justice Department's guidelines, but it is the historic position of the department. It goes back to the days of Bob Bourke and the Nixon administration.

No person is above the law, means that a president can be indicted. But that's not the Justice Department's policy. And Bob Mueller, as you know, is an officer of the Justice Department and is therefore required to follow that policy. He cannot indict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, CNN political commentator and host of "S.E. Cup Unfiltered," S.E. Cupp, is here with us now.

What did you make of Starr's assertion that the DOJ should be able to indict the president?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It was stunning. But let me just say, to set the scene, if you'll allow me. I was in that room when Ken Starr and Joe Lockhart were brought together for the first time since the Clinton impeachment. And I was watching from a couch in "NEW DAY," because I was in the next segment, and I was enwrapped, I think like most people watching, to see these two sort of lions of a foregone, you know, moment in time sparring with each other politely and, you know, intelligently. But it was just -- everything they said was so, so fascinating. And to use that as a layer on top of what's happening now with Trump, I think, was just incredibly, incredibly illuminating.

KEILAR: So let's listen to what Monica Lewinsky -- or what was said about Monica Lewinsky.

CUPP: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Many people feel that the judge was too lenient, one of whom is Monica Lewinsky, who's pointing out the sentence that he got. She says, yep, I had been threatened with 27 years for filing a false affidavit and other actions trying desperately to keep an affair private.

Do you see her point?

STARR: Of course I see the point. No one should, in fact, have to face these horrible sentences.

CAMEROTA: But who was threatening her with 27 years for filing a false affidavit?

STARR: Oh, there may have been a conversation. I did not. But we'll see. That's the first I've heard of that, to be honest.

BERMAN: Joe, when you look at all this -- well, OK, you're skeptical.

LOCKHART: I'm skeptical of that only because it's been reported widely. It's in Monica Lewinsky's book. It's in a number of interviews her lawyer did, dozens of interviews, where they talk about holding her in a hotel room and telling her that if she didn't tell the truth, she could spend 27 years in jail. So I'm skeptical.

[13:25:11] STARR: Well, first of all, she was not held in a hotel room. She had the opportunity -- so if we want to re-litigate that, I'm happy to do it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'll tell you, this morning isn't just --

STARR: But, no, no, let me -- let me finish it because he just made a very interesting comment. They held her in a hotel room. Absolutely false. That was exactly what she maintained and what her lawyer at the time maintained. And, guess what, a district judge, Norma Holloway Johnson (ph), heard what they had to say and said, she was not. She was not in custody. She was, in fact, free to -- to leave.

BERMAN: Joe.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

LOCKHART: Well, she was 21-years-old. She had several older prosecutors sitting in a room, threatening her with spending a considerable part of her life in jail. So she may not have been technically in custody, but in this case I believe her. She felt like she had no choice. She felt like it was only when she called her mother and her mother came down, and her mother talked to a lawyer that she recognized the idea that she didn't need to be there and she should leave.

CAMEROTA: It was her impression that she was being held --

LOCKHART: It was certainly her impression.

STARR: With all due respect, utter revisionist history. She played our prosecutors very effectively. She knew exactly what she was doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Wow. What do you make of all that, S.E.? CUPP: Well, it's almost as like -- it's almost as if those memories

for those two are right here at the surface, right?

KEILAR: I know. Yes.

CUPP: I mean, you know, I lived Clinton, you lived Clinton, but they -- they have every memory sort of right here. And that's because it was such a tumultuous, tense time. And I think it's safe to say that what both the special counsel did to Monica and what Bill Clinton and his surrogates did to Monica was awful. And I only hope that in looking back at that -- at that affair, at that scandal, we remember the center of it, the victim, Monica Lewinsky. And revisiting that in so many ways the era of Me Too, in the era of Trump is important for all of us. And it was just such a special gift to have these two do it so willingly, and to have our John Berman and Alisyn Camerota sort of mitigate this conversation so well. I feel like it was a master class. I wish everyone could see it.

KEILAR: Yes, it was phenomenal. All right, S.E. Cupp, thank you so much.

And we can catch S.E. Cupp on her show, "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered," tomorrow and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

And new today, President Trump saying he has a feeling his relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one despite the failed summit in Vietnam. We'll be getting former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to weigh in on that.

And new today, job creation screeches to a near halt in the month of February, but was it all bad news? We're going to break down the numbers.

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