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Live Coverage of Press Conference as Alex Acosta Resigns; Extraordinary Number of Trump Cabinet Officials Have Resigned to Date; Mueller Testimony May Be Postponed by a Week. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 12, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- know about it. It's a major operation. So if the word gets out, it gets out. Because hundreds of people know about it. It's a major operation. So if the word gets out, it gets out. It starts on Sunday and they're going to take people out and they're going to bring them back to their countries.

Or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison. Or put them in prison in the countries they came from. We're focused on criminals as much as we can.

QUESTION: How many --

TRUMP: Before we do anything else.

QUESTION: How many --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You said (ph) you (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: For instance, MS-13, very important. We're taking them out by the thousands. We've already been taking -- you know, we didn't stop this. We've been taking criminals out for the last year. These people have been here for many years, MS-13. We're taking them out by the thousands. We're getting them out.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You said you had no idea --

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe that (INAUDIBLE) this (ph) data (ph), the (ph) ability (ph) (INAUDIBLE) citizenship (ph) data (ph) on the census, will it be as effective in '20?

TRUMP: I think we'll have it, in the end, where it'll be actually more accurate than a census. Because we have information gotten through other means. Whether you look at Social Security or other places, we have -- including loan applications. We have information that's probably more accurate than the information we could get by going in and asking somebody, "Are you a citizen?" Because a lot of people aren't going to tell the truth. (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, no. Not only didn't I back down, I backed up. Because -- anybody else would have given this up a long time ago. The problem is, we had three very unfriendly courts. They were judges that weren't exactly in love with this whole thing. And they were wrong. But it would have taken a long time to get through those courts. You understand that better than anybody, John (ph). Would have taken a long time, back up to the Supreme Court.

So I asked, "Is there another way?" And somebody said, "There's a way that might be better." It might be more accurate. They explained it. I said, "Then what are we wasting time? We're going to be in court for the next two years. What are we wasting time for?"

In the meantime, we have to -- by law, have the printing done. So the printing is started and we're already finding out who the citizens are and who they're not, and I think more accurately.

So when I heard this, I said, "I think that's actually better." I think what we're doing is actually better. And only the fake news -- which there's plenty --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- would say differently.

QUESTION: Did Wilbur Ross let you down?

TRUMP: No, he didn't let me down.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: How many people are you targeting during the raids? And (INAUDIBLE), are you worried at all about law enforcement (INAUDIBLE)? It's putting them at risk because everybody knows about the raids.

TRUMP: These are great professionals. These are people that have done this for a long time. We're really looking for criminals as much as we can. We're trying to find the criminal population, which has been coming into this country over the last 10 years. We know who they are, too. We've been taking them out by the thousands, specifically gang members from MS-13 and other gangs. We've been taking them out by the thousands.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Two thousand?

TRUMP: So -- so we are really specifically looking for bad players, but we're also looking for people that came into our country not through a process. They just walked over a line. They have to leave.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: The mayors don't want the ICE raids. The mayors don't want the ICE raids --

TRUMP: Some do. No, no, no. The mayors in sanctuary cities like -- a mayor like de Blasio, who's probably the worst mayor in the country -- from New York -- I don't even know what his attitude is, nobody does because he doesn't work very hard. Nobody knows what the hell he does. But a guy like de Blasio probably wouldn't want the raid.

But many mayors do. Most mayors do. You know why? They don't want to have crimes in their cities or states.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What do you think about Christine Lagarde? What do you think about Christine Lagarde --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What about military (ph) (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: So nobody has treated the military better than President Trump. Nobody. Nobody's even come close. And you see that with budgets, you see that with the pay increases, and you see that with medical. But you know where you see it more than anyplace? Is with the vets. Because the vets now have choice. They never had choice before. Before --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- wait, wait, wait. For 44 years -- wait. Wait. For 44 years -- we are looking at that. For 44 years, they've tried to get veterans choice. I got it. Nobody else could have gotten it.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: OK, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: -- Robert Mueller's (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Say it?

QUESTION: Why would you lie to Robert Mueller (ph) about (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Well, I think -- how many bites at the apple do you get? We've gone through 500 witnesses, 2,500 subpoenas. I've let them interview my lawyers. I've let them -- because I had nothing to do with Russia. Now, that's come out. There was no collusion. But how many --

[10:35:03] QUESTION: You didn't --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- how many people and how many times and -- this has been going on for two and a half years. Rush Limbaugh said there's nobody else in the world that he knows that could have taken it. And on top of taking it, I've been a great president.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I've done more -- listen, listen. I've done more in two and a half years than any other president. Nobody's even close including, we just said, veterans' choice and all of the other things I've gotten. But for two and a half years.

So now they have Mueller go make a speech. That goes. Now they wanted to have him again. They want to go it again and again and again because they want to hurt the president for the election. Because I see what I'm running against.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You got sleepy Joe Biden, he doesn't have the energy to be president. And the people that are nipping on his heels, they don't have what it takes. And I can tell you that China and Russia -- and I've been rougher on Russia than any president in the last 50 years -- China and Russia and try North Korea, where I have a relationship. You don't have a man testing nuclear any more. You have a man --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Wait. Wait. You have a man that was so happy to see me. That's a good thing, not a bad thing. You have a man that doesn't smile a lot. But when he saw me, he smiled. He was happy. You have a man that, when I came into office, all he was doing before under Obama was testing nuclear weapons and blowing up mountains --

QUESTION: Robert Mueller --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- and now he's not doing it.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: There's nothing he can say. He's written a report. The report said, "No collusion." And it said, effectively, no obstruction because there's no obstruction.

And the other thing is very interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: So they find out there's no collusion. The whole thing is about collusion. So they find out there's no collusion. Now actually, it was different. It was bad crimes committed by the other side. We'll find out about that. I'm sure that's being looked at right now.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: So -- so there's no collusion. And there's no obstruction. Now, we have a great attorney general now. He's strong and he's

smart. And he read it and he studied it along with Rod Rosenstein, who worked it from the beginning.

And Rod Rosenstein and Bill Barr said there's no obstruction. That's also interesting. Number one, there's no crime. And how do you obstruct when there's no crime?

Also, take a look at one other thing. it's a think called Article II. Nobody ever mentions Article II. It gives me all of these rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We don't even talk about Article II.

So they ruled no collusion, no obstruction. Very simple.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And you can only -- by the way, you can only get so many bites at the apple. We've got to get on to running a country. You got immigration, infrastructure, drug prices. The Democrats aren't working. All they're doing is trying to hurt people like Alex Acosta, a man who has done --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- a man who -- I have no idea.

Are you a Democrat?

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, OUTGOING LABOR SECRETARY: I'm not, no.

TRUMP: I have no idea. You know what I know? You know what I know about Alex? He was a great student at Harvard. He's Hispanic, which I so admire because maybe it was a little tougher for him, and maybe not. But he did an unbelievable job as the secretary of labor. That's what I know about him.

I know one thing. He did a great job. And until this came up, there was never an ounce of problem with this very good man.

Go ahead.

ACOSTA: And -- and let me -- let me just add --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- let me -- let me just add, you know, I hear a lot about how individuals got jobs (ph) and whatnot. Before our interview, we had never met. We had never talked. The president selected me as it should be done. It wasn't that we knew each other. It's not that we had a longstanding relationship. And I think that's a testament to his selection process.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What do you make of the infighting going on among Democrats in Congress? Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the squad (ph)?

TRUMP: Well, I think Cortez, who kept Amazon out of New York and they don't like her for that. Thousands and thousands of jobs. I thin Cortez is being very disrespectful to somebody that's been there a long time.

I deal with Nancy Pelosi a lot. And we go back and forth and it's fine. But I think that a group of people is being very disrespectful to her.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And you know what? I don't think that Nancy can let that go on. A group of people that came -- I don't know where they came from. I'm looking at this Omar from Minnesota. And if one half of the things they're saying about her are true, she shouldn't even be in office.

But Cortez should treat Nancy Pelosi with respect. She should not be doing what she's doing. And I'll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do. She is not a racist, OK? She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are you deepening (ph) immigration (ph) (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Yes. Very importantly, today, in a few hours, Vice President Pence and the head of Homeland Security are taking the press and congresspeople into detention centers. And we're the ones that said they were crowded. They are crowded because we have a lot of people. But they're in good shape.

And the reason is because the fake news "New York Times" wrote phony stories. What Border Patrol is doing, they've become nurses and janitors and doctors. And they're not trained for that. What they've done is so incredible.

So they're touring detention centers and that was my idea. Because I read a phony story in "The New York Times" today, or the other day, about the detention centers, about the conditions. And I had people calling me up at the highest levels, from Border Patrol and ICE, almost crying about that phony story.

And they never saw anything. They have phony sources. They don't even have sources. They write whatever they want. "The New York Times" is a very dishonest newspaper. They write what they want. And what they do is a tremendous disservice to this country. They are truly the enemy of the people. I'll tell you that. They are the enemy of the people. And what they wrote about detention centers is unfair.

Now, I believe it's going to be the center they wrote about. But we're taking a tour. They -- I'd love to be there, but I'm going to Ohio, Wisconsin. I'll be going. I'll be going.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But I've seen it. I've seen it. And these centers are -- I mean, to have Ocasio say they're drinking out of toilets. She made that up, OK? That's a phony story. She made it up.

And these people, they -- I'll tell you what. I've been with ICE and I've been with Border Patrol a lot. They love those people coming across the border. They love them. And I've seen it. They love them.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Does (ph) the (ph) administration have an estimate of how many illegals are (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: So one of the reasons the Democrats don't want to have a census is because the number of people in the United States for many years -- you know, for years, you've heard 11 million. It's far greater than that.

But we'll find out because I'm going to do something much more accurate than the way we -- the way we did it in the census would never have been very accurate. What we're doing will be much more accurate.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Anything on the wall? (INAUDIBLE) on the wall?

TRUMP: The wall is being built. The wall is being built. We had a couple of very good decisions. We had one bad decision. It's very tough. Again, Paul Ryan let us down. Paul Ryan was a terrible speaker. Frankly, he was a baby. He didn't know what the hell he was doing. The wall, let us down.

Now, in all fairness, the problem with during -- when we had both houses, in the Senate, you need 60 votes. Well, we don't have 60 votes. We had 51 last time. Now we have 53 because we won during the '18 election, which nobody wants to say. Just so you understand.

So the wall is being built. We had one setback, we had one tremendous victory.

And I had a tremendous victory that was very rarely covered by the press. Two days ago, I won the emoluments case. That was the biggest case of them all. I won the emoluments case. People don't know that my being president, I lose billions of dollars by my being president -- and especially in money I can't make because I don't do deals. But I lose billions of dollars.

But another thing, I get a salary of $400 or $450,000 a year. I don't think any other president's ever given up -- it's a lot of money, almost a half a million dollars -- I gave it up. I don't think I've ever seen anybody say, "I give up my salary." I'm not looking for credit. But I give up my salary. I get zero. I get zero.

But you know what makes me happy? That we're doing a great job. And I want to thank Alex Acosta. He was a great, great secretary.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I asked -- I asked about Iran (ph) not (ph) the wall. Could you give us an update on your thoughts on Iran?

[10:45:04] TRUMP: Oh. Iran better be careful. They're treading on very dangerous territory. Iran, if you're listening, you'd better be careful. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What's your reaction to (INAUDIBLE) defund Planned Parenthood?

TRUMP: They had a big win yesterday. We had some very good (ph) cases (ph) having (ph) to do with that. We'll see where (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: You just saw 31 minutes of a defiant, defensive president, standing by his labor secretary who has just resigned amid the scandal surrounding Jeffrey Epstein.

Though Alexander Acosta has resigned, the president said, quote, "I am with him." While he tried to distance himself as much as he possibly could from Jeffrey Epstein, the sexual predator, saying, "I wasn't a big fan of his." Remember, the president called him a terrific guy back in 2002.

So much in that 31 minutes. Dana Bash, let me go to you first. All over the place. I mean, from defending Nancy Pelosi to talking about China to talking about the wall to trying to put himself as far away from Jeffrey Epstein as he could.

I think one thing that struck me on this breaking news that Acosta is out, is that the tone. That Acosta and the president tried to downplay, "Well, this happened 12 years ago. Why aren't you all talking about how good the economy is?"

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Which was the reason that the president gave for Acosta and -- that Acosta gave for him deciding to resign. Not that he did anything wrong, but because it's a distraction from the great economy, since he is the labor secretary.

I mean, there are so many things to say about that, how that should not be the case. But look, it is. And it has been a distraction. Not necessarily because he didn't do anything wrong, but because this is scandalous. I mean, in the truest sense of the term.

In that Acosta was involved, was -- actually not just involved. He spearheaded a sweetheart deal to effectively allow somebody who was in charge of and helping in the raping of children, to go free and continue to do so. And, yes, he said that he had support for his decision up and down the

chain at the Justice Department -- this was during the Bush administration -- that might be the case, but they're not the current labor secretary, now-former labor secretary --

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: -- he was. And so that's key.

The other bit of news that we got is --

HARLOW: Yes, we're just going to get to the Mueller --

BASH: -- on Jeffrey Epstein --

HARLOW: -- right. Oh, yes.

BASH: -- that he -- that the president said, for the first time point-blank, that he kicked Epstein --

HARLOW: Yes.

BASH: -- out of his Mar-a-Lago club.

HARLOW: Yes, yes. Absolutely, Dana.

So, everyone, listen to this because the president also talked about Mueller, the special counsel, and the upcoming testimony that is supposed to be next week, on the 17th of July, but we are learning that it may be delayed a week as Democrats negotiate, trying to get more time with Mueller. We'll get to Manu Raju on that in just a moment.

But listen to how the president answered some questions ahead of Mueller's testimony. One thing that struck me is that he said, "effectively -- effectively no obstruction." Let's listen to the whole bit there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There's nothing he can say. He's written a report. The report said "no collusion." And it said, effectively, "no obstruction." Because there's no obstruction. And the other thing is very interesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Dana, what should we take away from that? Is it just a throwaway word or is there more there, to that "effectively"?

BASH: God, it's so hard to answer that question, Poppy, when it's the president --

HARLOW: I know, I know.

BASH: -- and it's something like this. You know, you can take it as him potentially admitting something, but that is so out of character for this president. Absolutely so out of character for this president.

What he -- what he was trying to focus on is what he's been focusing on ad nauseum for two years, which is no collusion. And the idea that this is just ridiculous, for Mueller to be coming forward, and it's a waste of time and so on and so forth.

It was striking that he said "effectively" twice.

HARLOW: Yes.

BASH: And there is a question about whether or not he was saying that for a reason. But, again, it's very hard to tell with this president. He sometimes uses phrases and terms very emphatically, very directly, very intentionally, like "no collusion," which he was successful in creating the narrative around "no collusion" for the whole Mueller investigation. I'm not sure this is exactly the same. But we'll see.

[10:50:07] HARLOW: I hear you.

Jessica Schneider, what's your read on that?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, I want to jump in here because the president there, saying effectively no obstruction, and he said that that conclusion came from the Mueller report. That isn't exactly true.

I mean, it was more the attorney general Bill Barr who, when he read Mueller's report and then issued his own report to Congress, summarizing the conclusions, that's when the attorney general said that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute on the obstruction issue. That was a decision that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general at the time, Rod Rosenstein, came to.

But as far as Robert Mueller himself and his team, in the report, it very specifically in the executive summary to volume two, says that they could not reach a conclusion on obstruction.

And the reason they couldn't come to a conclusion on obstruction is because the current guidelines with the Department of Justice does not allow an indictment of a sitting president, so they concluded that it wasn't even appropriate to even put out any possibility, any charges if this couldn't go forward in any sort of indictment or trial.

I mean, you know, Robert Mueller put it this way. He said, "If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so." So it's important to note that distinction there between the special counsel's conclusion, which was no conclusion on the obstruction issue, saying that they didn't come to a conclusion because ultimately they didn't have any power to indict.

But then of course, the attorney general was the one who said there was not sufficient evidence of obstruction. He made that ultimate conclusion when that wasn't exactly what Robert Mueller and his team had put forward in the report there. HARLOW: Joe Johns, let's talk about how different, unique this was

compared to other resignations. It was pretty striking to see Acosta standing right there --

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right.

HARLOW: -- next to the president, given all the heat he is under now.

JOHNS: Absolutely. it was like night and day, when you compare this to, say, Jeff Sessions, other members of the cabinet who have had to go away for one reason or the other.

The president just went out of his way to make it clear to the people standing there -- and you could even see in the body language -- that he was not throwing Alex Acosta under the bus. He suggested that he thought he did a pretty good job in defending himself when he went before the TV cameras the other day.

And generally, when the president was asked for example, "Was Acosta becoming a distraction?" The president's answer was very careful. "Well, Alex didn't want this to become a distraction for this administration." So the question, of course, is why does Alex Acosta get this treatment as he heads for the door, when so many others in this administration have not gotten that kind of treatment?

And I can tell you, I don't know a whole lot about it but -- for sure, Alex Acosta's from a very important state in this upcoming election. He's from Florida. He was the United States attorney down in Miami. And it's quite clear that people there in the state of Florida are watching all of this. So that's one thing to consider when you talk about this, too. Back to you.

HARLOW: And, Abby, just talking big picture, but how many key cabinet positions have been vacated? Some of them in scandal, some of them walking away on principle, you know, when you look at Mattis, et cetera. And now another one.

I think we had something up on the screen, just to give people a sense of the magnitude here, of how many folks have left this administration.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think we've become a little bit numb to it because it seems to happen all the time. Alex Acosta is the 13th Trump cabinet secretary to either resign or be fired in two and a half years of the Trump administration.

At this point in the Obama presidency, no cabinet secretaries had. At this point in the Bush presidency, only one had. So that in and of itself is a really extraordinary figure and it really tells you a lot about what's going on here.

This is an administration where people have had a lot of trouble staying in their jobs, whether it is because there have been unknown things in their background that have come back up, that they weren't -- that weren't thoroughly vetted or investigated before they were selected for their jobs. Or because, quite simply, they could not maintain the confidence of the president.

So we can't let that slide by because I think this is really extraordinary, if not unprecedented.

HARLOW: Everyone, stand by.

Manu Raju also joins me on the other breaking news that we literally got, Manu, from the Hill, your reporting mid-Trump press conference. What do we know about Mueller, the special counsel? Is he still going to testify next Wednesday?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be delayed by a week -- this is what we're hearing from multiple congressional sources -- amid concerns from members on both sides, but particularly Democrats, that there will not be enough time for him to testify next week.

[10:55:05] Now, initially, this hearing was supposed to happen on Wednesday, highly anticipated hearing, where Robert Mueller would talk about his two-year investigation into the president and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But the agreement that was reached between Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, who would both preside over those back-to-back hearings, is that the testimony would essentially be limited to two to two and a half hours.

Now, that would be enough time for enough members of the House Intelligence Committee to question, but the larger number of members on the House Judiciary Committee would not have enough time to question Mueller. So the concerns that we had been hearing for days had been that there was just not going to be enough time for a lot of members who wanted to ask questions, to not get their chance to question.

Also concerns, largely, that there would not be enough time to even get to the bottom of what Mueller found. Two hours -- two to two and a half hours, split roughly between Republicans and Democrats -- one Democratic member, Karen Bass, told me that's not even enough time to get to the executive summary of the more than 400-page report.

Another member, Madeleine Dean told me it's definitely -- and she would be disappointed if she did not have an opportunity to question the special counsel. I heard that from a number of other members as well.

So behind the scenes, they have been discussing how to extend the time, whether the special counsel would agree to come and sit down for a longer time period.

So at the moment, we are hearing that they're considering delaying it for a week to allow for these discussions to proceed, to potentially get Mueller to sit down for a longer period of time.

The question is, will Mueller agree. Will it lead to another subpoena fight. And what will ultimately, they decide. We do expect to hopefully hear from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee sometime soon. But at the moment, there's -- the spokesman from this committee says the hearing is still on for now on Wednesday -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. But obviously, this is a big one for the Democrats. This is a big fish that they've gotten to testify before them. They're going to want every second they can get with him. Manu, great reporting. Keep us posted.

Busy Friday morning for all of you. Thank you for being with me this morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim and I will see you back here on Monday morning. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" is after a quick break.

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