Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Source: Trump Signals About to Boot V.A. Secretary; Two Lawyers Won't Join Trump Legal Team; Massive Marches/Protests Push for End to Gun Violence; Legal Questions Arise from Stormy Daniels Interview. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:58] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Could another member of the Trump cabinet be cleaning out his desk soon? A source telling CNN the president is getting ready to boot V.A. Secretary David Shulkin possibly this week. Shulkin has been under fire after an inspector general report detailed how he and his wife used taxpayer dollars for a European trip.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House with more details for us.

Jeff, is this not a matter of if, but when, when it comes to Shulkin?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It seems that way. The reality is the president has long expressed privately his displeasure for what is happening at the V.A. He does not believe that it is being run smoothly. He was furious about some of the spending there. And simply the V.A. has not been operating that well with all this political upheaval there.

The question is timing of then. Of course, it is up to the president, as we have always seen, when he decides to make a change. Brianna, I'm also told that the White House is looking for a replacement, so they have a replacement to sort of have on board around the same time they make this public.

But in the last several weeks, we have seen a top-level major firing every week. So we certainly wouldn't be surprised if something happens this week, but the timing is up to the president entirely when this happens.

The V.A. is a difficult spot to fill. It is basically, you know, a large administrative role. They administer health care for so many veterans. It is certainly something that is a difficult position to fill. And it raises the question is it going to be challenging for this administration to get top level qualified candidate to come serve or not.

We have our eye on that as well as other potential staff changes here at the White House -- Brianna?

KEILAR: And his legal team, I mean, what is going on there? Just days after announcing two new lawyers for his Russia legal team, they're already out. What happened?

ZELENY: Certainly, it seemed like the president simply did not have a good fit with Joe DiGenova. He had a meeting with the president last week. This was about the shortest-lived assignment we have seen, really only lasting 72 hours or so before that first meeting and never was even on board here.

So now the president, of course, saying over the weekend, he's happy with his legal advisers. It is a pretty slim list, basically one lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is essentially running the president's legal team. And, of course, this is all building up to the central question, will he sit down with Bob Mueller's team, so we'll see if there are other lawyers hired this week. But certainly, a very small group, because the reality is many lawyers here in Washington and elsewhere simply do not want to handle this assignment -- Brianna?

KEILAR: He's a notoriously tough client, as we have reported before.

ZELENY: Indeed.

[11:34:48] KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

After a weekend of marches here in Washington, all around the world, hundreds of thousands pushed for an end to gun violence, where does this movement go from here?


KEILAR: Welcome back. Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets to protest this -- protest for their lives this weekend. Students who inspire the march say this is just the beginning.


DAVID HOGG, STUDENT & ACTIVIST: I think the outcome is really a great start. And what we witnessed on Saturday was really the birth of a revolution. This is just the beginning. Nobody should be thinking this is the end, especially the politicians that are out there, that are supported by the gun lobby and NRA. That was an outpouring of support to show the materialization of the support we have online.


[11:39:55] KEILAR: With the rallies over, the question is, what now? Is this truly a movement that can change public opinion on the most divisive of issues or is it a blip in the country's long complicated history with guns.

Joining me now, we have CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye, and CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House aide, Keith Boykin.

Doug, Parkland students yesterday suggesting on FOX News that the NRA had really gotten to President Trump, and that is where he currently stands. Let's listen to what they said.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: He had a meeting with the NRA after that and, suddenly, he backed down.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Is that what you think it is?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I mean, it is -- to call it a coincidence seems like a bit of a stretch, because to say all of these incredibly firm stances and then to immediately backpedal on them after having a meeting with the NRA and not a long time-period difference there, it reads sketchy to me.


KEILAR: It reads sketchy to her.

And it is interesting because President Trump made such a point in his meeting with his bipartisan meeting with lawmakers to say, look, I'm not beholden to the NRA, you all are. So how is that going to play with the president who really wants to project this image of being in the pocket of no one.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I wrote a piece for last month that said Trump in a unique position to be the Republican that makes the big deal, the big beautiful deal. We have seen this kind of -- these kinds of maneuvers from Trump on so many other issues, the big, bold announcement, and then the fine print is found out after the fact. Ask anybody on DACA or immigration. Trump wanted to make a deal, caught Republicans by surprise, and slowly walked away from the deal. This is inconsistency.


HEYE: The inconsistency is consistent for Trump.

KEILAR: It is like someone says to him in a way, you're really in danger of alienating your base if you do this. And that's the message that gets to him and it seems like that's when he backpedals.

HEYE: If there is one constant we learned from Trump, even if his base is willing to give him the leeway to do things, he doesn't take his base. You have a base to take it and lead it places, Trump hasn't been able to do that yet.

KEILAR: Keith, how do you think this issue plays out in the midterms? Is it going to? Is this really going to have an effect when you're looking at, say, swing districts and states that are competitive?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is too early to say, but I think the difference between this movement and previous movements is that you have young people actually engaged in the process and registering people to vote. Millennials outnumber baby boomers. If we get them to show up to the polls, we would have cataclysmic changes in public policy as a result of their influence. They don't see the world the way Donald Trump and his age group sees the world. I think there is a real potential to have an impact. Question is will they turn out to vote. And I don't want to be the cynic and say they won't, but this is an opportunity and I think the good thing is they are actually registering people to vote. March for Our Lives, registering people to vote there. Those are good steps that will help push the movement forward and help change the -- have an impact in the electoral process as well.

KEILAR: Keith, you say you don't want to be the cynic to say they won't, is that your concern? That's your concern?

BOYKIN: Well, yes, that's always a concern. I teach at Columbia, and tell my students, who question, why can't we change this, or why is this the way the world is, why do politicians respond to these people. And the reason is because young people don't vote in the same ways that older people do. If young people voted, the world would change overnight. And we see this in terms of, for example, look at the issue like marriage equality, 10, 15 years ago, nobody thought that was conceivable. Reality is the young people were the ones to change the consensus of public opinion on that. And they could do the same thing on gun laws if they're willing to go to the polls that show their strength and exercise their voices, their vote.

KEILAR: Doug, I want you to listen to something that Rick Santorum told me yesterday.


RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that where there is a violent shooter.

KEILAR: But how are they looking at other people -- I would ask you. They took action.

SANTORUM: They took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn't take action to say, how do I, as an individual, deal with this problem? How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What do I do to help respond to a shooter? Those are the kinds of things where you can take it internally and say, here is how I deal with this, here is how I help the situation.


KEILAR: What is your reaction to that?

HEYE: I want to compartmentalize that a little bit.

KEILAR: Go ahead.

HEYE: One, that's looney tunes. We all know that. You can look at that. I think Senator Santorum would look back and say that's not exactly what I wanted to say or I didn't -- it didn't come across well.

Two, I may not agree with all the policy ideas I saw from the marches or a lot of the rhetoric, a lot of nasty rhetoric towards Marco Rubio. I look at the students, I'm proud of them. I admire them. They're standing strong for what they believe in. We always talk about that's what America is for. That's what America should be for whether it is your side or the other side. I would tell those kids, keep on trucking. I'll disagree with you on a lot of stuff. Maybe there is things we can find common-sense solutions on. In meantime, CPR doesn't seem to be an answer here.

[11:45:08] KEILAR: No. It seems that, Keith, when you talk to Democrats and Republicans, there is so much disagreement about, how do you tackle this. They're focused on what do you do before a school shooting to prevent it, right? What did you think about the Senator's response?

BOYKIN: I guess I agree with Doug, maybe not remarkable, but I wish there were more people who expressed -- more Republicans expressed viewpoints that Doug was just saying, even if we disagree, there are areas we can find agreement, for example, background checks. There is 97 percent agreement on the public on background checks. And yet there is no movement in Congress on that. Making background checks universal. When Rick Santorum and makes a comment about CPR, it is laughable at best, but I don't even know if I should make this comparison, but I'll do it, because what would Rick Santorum -- what would someone say to Rick Santorum if he said why are you worried about abortion, that's something that would supposedly prevent something you don't want to happen, why not be concerned about it after the fact? I think he would respond to that, that makes no sense. And so if you're really concerned about preventing something, why not prevent it instead of trying to deal with the effects afterwards. And so I'm pro-choice, by the way, I feel like if you're really concerned about gun violence, and if you're concerned about crime, if you're concerned about whatever issue it is, it is best to stop the issue in advance than try to deal with the effects after it happened.

KEILAR: Keith Boykin, thank you so much.

Doug Heye, thank you to you as well.

This morning, new legal questions beginning to emerge after Stormy Daniels breaks her silence. Did the hush money paid to her by the president's personal lawyer violate campaign finance laws? The former general counsel at the FEC weighs in next.


[11:51:22] KEILAR: Let's put those salacious details of Stormy Daniels and President Trump's alleged affair aside. There is one big question that's emerging after Stormy broke her silence on "600 Minutes," that $130,000 payment from Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, to the porn star days before the 2016 election. Was this legal?

Here's what a former FEC chairman had to say to Anderson Cooper.


TREVOR POTTER, FORMER FEC CHAIRMAN: The payment of the money just creates an enormous legal mess for I think Trump, for Cohen and anyone else who was involved in this in the campaign.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360: Are you saying that could be seen as a contribution to benefit a campaign?

POTTER: I am. It's a $130,000 in-kind contribution by Cohen to the Trump campaign, which is about $126,500 above what he's allowed to give. And if he does this on behalf of this client, the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal, in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret?


KEILAR: Did that make sense to you? "Well, if it did, if it didn't." We have more on that. Her now to discuss, CNN contributor and former general counsel for the Federal Elections Commission, Larry Noble.

Larry, thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: You worked with Trevor Potter at the FEC, and you do now. He's your current colleague at the Campaign League Center, former chairman at the FEC. He's really not holding any punches there. Do you believe that this $130,000 paid by Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels is an in-kind contribution?

NOBLE: It certainly looks that way. The timing, as he pointed out, right before the election. And she wasn't talking about the contribution before the affair.

KEILAR: They also said, Potter, it's worse legally for Cohen if the president has not repaid him.

NOBLE: Right. Because if the president repaid him, what you have is Cohen made a loan of $130,000, which is a contribution, but once it's repaid, it mitigates it somewhat. If he's not repaid, that $130,000 is outstanding right now.

KEILAR: On the flip side, if the president did pay Michael Cohen back, it confirms all these things, perhaps, that he says are not true, whether it's how involved he was, whether it's -- if you would be more apt to believe him or not on whether or not this affair happened.

NOBLE: Right. And he doesn't admit to having been part of that agreement. He never signed the agreement. He's denied an affair. So, yes, it would really call into question his credibility.

KEILAR: So what's going to happen? There are complaints that have been made in relation to this against Michael Cohen. Is there going to be any effect?

NOBLE: There very well may be. Common Cause has filed a complaint to the election commission, and they should investigate this. Whether they will or not is the question. They should investigate this. Also the complaints filed with the Department of Justice. And they can investigate this.

Keep in mind, Senator Edwards years ago was criminally prosecuted for having someone basically provide money to a woman he was having an affair with. So this is a serious matter and --

KEILAR: He was found not guilty.

NOBLE: He was found not guilty in one count and I think five counts was a hung jury.

KEILAR: That's right. And to your point on that, and Trevor Potter addressed this, he thinks this is a bigger deal than what John Edwards faced because of the timing.

NOBLE: Right. In that case, the money came in about a year before the election, and the argument was the woman he had provided it to, Bunny Melon, had supported him for a long time and he provided money. Here you have, right before the election, the money comes in, and it seems key to the election. Even in Edwards' case, they did federally prosecute him. So I do think it's a more serious matter.

[11:55:21] KEILAR: "The Washington Post" has reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen. Could these transactions with Stormy Daniels fall within his mandate?

NOBLE: They could for a couple of reasons. One, he has a broad mandate to follow whatever he finds during the investigation. If he finds something illegal here, he could follow it. But there's another issue. We don't know where the money came from. They've said the was it didn't come from the Trump Organization and didn't come from the campaign. They said Michael Cohen facilitated the payment. That doesn't mean he actually ultimately ended up paying. He may have gotten reimbursed by Trump. They don't say Trump did it or somebody else. We don't know at this point, so that's another possibility.

KEILAR: Larry, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

NOBLE: My pleasure.

KEILAR: Coming up, more on the breaking news. The U.S. and American allies around the globe expelling dozens of Russian diplomats from their borders. Stay with us.