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NYT: Trump Lashes Out at Sessions & Comey, Warns Mueller; McCain Diagnosed with Brain Cancer. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants Mueller to know that he retains the right to get rid of him, too, if he crosses a red line.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He's worried about this investigation. He's worried about what they can find.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He constantly steps on whatever message his White House is actually trying to get out there.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a man who is not going to just sort of throw in the towel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There aren't that many giants left in the United States Senate. John McCain is a giant.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: We'll get an update on Senator McCain as soon as possible. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

The presidency is at six months at this point. We are six months into the Trump presidency, and this morning there's a new revealing "New York Times" interview that sheds light on his mindset. In a nearly hour-long discussion, the "New York Times" reporters sat down with President Trump, and he aired his grievances, ripping the Russia probe and breaking with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: For one, the president clearly is still upset with Jeff Sessions, specifically his decision to recuse himself from the Russian probe. The president saying he regrets appointing Sessions as attorney general.

The president also taking aim at a favored target, fired FBI Director James Comey. You're going to hear about how he thinks Comey may have been trying to get leverage against him, and he made a very bold statement about the special counsel and something that's going to raise a lot of concerns going forward. CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent

Maggie Haberman was in the Oval Office to conduct the interview yesterday. She joins us now. You were joined with two of your colleagues.

Maggie, just as important as the substance is the style and the setting. What did you find when you walked into the Oval Office? How was the president and how did that translate into his posture in the interview?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST/"NEW YORK TIMES" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Contrary to the last time that I had been in the Oval Office for an interview, where there was sort of a garage band full of aides sitting around. This was just Hope Hicks, who has been with the president since the beginning of the 2016 campaign, and then me, Peter Baker, my colleague; and Michael Schmidt, another colleague.

The president was in a very good and chatty mood, you know. A couple of times people tried pulling the plug on him talking. He wanted to continue talking. This is much how he was on Air Force One last week on the way to Paris. He likes doing these kinds of interviews, and he likes speaking his mind. I think he also believes -- and you guys have seen this before -- that nobody defends him or represents him as well as he does himself and when he has things on his mind he wants to talk about them.

This issue with Jeff Sessions has clearly been eating at him for some time. Peter Baker and I reported several weeks ago now that the president basically, you know, remained very frustrated with Jeff Sessions, that all roads in his mind related to the Russia probes lead back to the moment when Jeff -- under the current presidency, lead back to the moment when Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything Russia-related after he had botched his answers, and it was disclosed that had he had done that, in his Senate confirmation hearing, about his own contacts with the Russian ambassador.

The president is very frustrated. The president, I think, also is not going to directly fire Jeff Sessions for a number of reasons, not the least of which, though I think he might not always be so swayed by this, but not the least of which is that Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel, that is now looking in all of these issues would then become the acting attorney general.

So there are a lot of complicated issues here. But the president, other than at those moments when he was talking about Russia, was in a very, very good mood.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's dive into what I think is certainly one of the headlines, and that is what you're referring to with the Jeff Sessions opinion of the attorney general now, how the president feels. So let's listen to him in his own words.


TRUMP: Sessions should have never recused himself. And if he would -- if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job; and I would have picked somebody else.

HABERMAN: He gave you no heads up at all?

TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have -- which frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, "Thanks, Jeff, but I can't, you know, I'm not going to take you."


CUOMO: The logic there, it doesn't work, by the way.

CAMEROTA: The time line doesn't work, that you would recuse yourself before you would get the job. He didn't know he was going to have to recuse himself.

CUOMO: He didn't know -- he obviously didn't know how Jeff Sessions -- Maggie, he didn't know how he was going to answer those questions, because if he had thought it through before, he probably wouldn't have botched, as you say, those questions, but regardless of the logic, the president's emotions are where they are. He's gone south on Jeff Sessions.

[07:05:05] HABERMAN: And he's been going south for quite some time. I mean, if you remember, it's funny. A lot of what happens with this president, especially with the things that he does that I think become self-inflicted wounds, a lot of them are chain reactions, right? I mean, there's just sort of one event that plays off of another.

Remember the weekend when he first sent out that tweet about President Obama tapping Trump Tower, wiretapping Trump Tower. The day before the president had been fuming at aides in the Oval Office right before he departed for Mar-a-Lago.

And the focus of his ire really was that Jeff Sessions had recused himself a day earlier from the Russian probes with no heads up to the president. So there's often, really, a pretty clear creation story on a lot of this stuff with this president and that's -- that's that's one in this case.

CAMEROTA: OK. So you also asked him, or at least he volunteered. Information about James Comey. And we know this story when he was the FBI director, he pulled President Trump aside and shared with him -- or maybe it was even during the transition when he was president- elect, shared with him that there was this dossier that exited out there of salacious details but uncorroborated details.

CUOMO: Some things have been corroborated in the dossier. Some have not.

CAMEROTA: Fair. So he felt that President-elect Trump should know about it. Here President Trump tells you what he think. "When he, James Comey, brought it, the dossier, to me, I said, 'This is really made-up junk.' I didn't think about it. I just thought about, man, this is such a phony deal. So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there."

Your reporter asks, "As leverage?"

Mr. Trump says, "Yes, I think so, in retrospect."

Tell us about that moment.

HABERMAN: It was pretty breathtaking. I mean, he has said any number of negative things about James Comey since he fired him. Remember that he, you know, essentially was said by people who had spoken with him to describe James Comey as having something wrong with him.

But this was a whole new wrinkle where he essentially appeared to be saying that Comey wanted to let the president know that he had something on him, whether real or not, whether it was substantiated or not, which the president said that it wasn't. But that in the interest of keeping his own job, he wanted to suggest and sort of dangle out there this potentially damaging document.

CUOMO: Now, look, often, I interpret the president's words, and I -- I understate them, because I think that he speaks in the moment sometimes.

HABERMAN: You should. I think that's wise, and stick as closely to what he says as possible without interpretation.

CUOMO: But there was something in this interview that I think is a really big deal. I think it was portentous, and I think it -- you know, it -- by that I mean it points a direction of what is to come that should be troubling the people.

Let me play this piece of sound about what he said about the special counsel and what happens if the special counsel investigates certain things.


MIKE SCHMIDT, "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: Mueller is looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual authority is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.


CUOMO: Now, here's why this is troubling, at least to me. Maybe it's just the legal mind part of it. But if he were to move on Mueller and, of course, it's a constipated process, have to go through the A.G., directly. That would be Rosenstein. But he could get there if he wanted to.

That would be a political nightmare, and the fact that his mind is even looking at that possibility shows what his fundamental issue is with this entire investigation. He can't get himself out of crosshairs, Maggie.

Every time he hears Russia investigation, he thinks about himself. And that has to be the motivation for even considering a move on Mueller, because if Mueller looks at his finances. And if the president is right that there's nothing there, that's the best validation he could get. But if he were to move on Mueller, Maggie, that would be huge.

HABERMAN: If he -- I think something that David Chalian said in the earlier hour about the fact that this president has been pretty consistent since Mueller was appoint that had he wants to leave that option open of getting rid of him. I think that's correct.

I agree with you that it would be explosive, and I think that has been relayed to the president by some of his aides and by some of his counsel. That said, this is a president, as you know, who likes to keep options on the table. He tends to view everything as a deal.

The motivations that we might ascribe to people as to why they would do this, and it -- certainly there is an issue with appearances when something like this arises. I'm not sure exactly what is in his head. And again, to be clear, when we asked him repeatedly, is this going to be something, you know, where you would fire him, where you would remove him? He wouldn't say. He was very careful not to say.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, stay with us, if you would. We want to bring in the rest of our political panel. We have CNN political director David Chalian; and CNN political analyst David Gregory. David Gregory, I'll start with you. What do you hear in Maggie's interview?

[07:10:02] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, just -- something to say off the top. I mean, I think it's striking that the president, who spends so much time trying to discredit the news media, to convince his supporters simply not to believe outlets like "The New York Times," in the end cannot quit Maggie Haberman, and that's just the bottom line.

HABERMAN: There were three of us.

GREGORY: He wants legitimacy, and he knows you have to go to Maggie and her colleagues who are really the journalists of record on this Trump presidency. That's illuminating about what he thinks about and what he cares about.

I think the other thing that strikes me is, look, the president has been determined to undermine the independence of the Justice Department, to undermine the independence of the FBI and now the special counsel. He's threatening the special counsel in terms of the breadth of his -- of his investigation.

He's upset that the attorney general saw a duty to the country to recuse himself rather than just being loyal to the president. That's actually what the attorney general should do, and apparently, the president is unaware that a lot of this problem that he faces is because -- oh, wait for it -- oh, yes, he fired the guy who was investigating him at the FBI, which was -- and the way he did it and the things he said was why he has the special counsel.

So in all of this, he may have an effective strategy, because the president's given Russia a pass. Republicans seem to be giving him, the president, a pass. And he's going to -- he's just going to keep on doing it without a real feeling. And -- and duty to the larger -- the larger presidency and everything that's at work here.

CHALIAN: Just to add to David's point.

CUOMO: Please, David.

CHALIAN: It is also interesting in the interview to seem -- it seems that the president is so consumed by the investigation and the Russia investigation that he doesn't think about all the other things that Jeff Sessions is not recused from as his attorney general, some big- ticket items, whether it's immigration or voting, all the other things that Donald Trump wanted -- wants to accomplish that Jeff Sessions is fully on board with. But he -- it seems to me that he thinks Jeff Sessions made himself completely inoperable by recusing on the Russia investigation, causing this cascading of events, that everything else doesn't matter.

And I find that fascinating because it -- to me it shows us the insight into Trump's mind that the entire Justice Department right now, to him in his mind, is this Russia investigation.

CUOMO: He would not be wrong if the president were working on an assumption that this Russia investigation is the biggest thing he has to worry about.

GREGORY: Certainly.

CUOMO: I mean, I can see why he would be focused on Jeff Sessions looking at him through this lens, but it was something else in the interview that proves that this isn't a fishing expedition; this isn't just a speculation exercise when it comes to Mueller.

He took time to Maggie, Schmidt and Baker to talk about this specter of conflicts that you guys don't even know about, and he was using Mueller's name when he was doing it, Maggie, when he was talking about Bob Mueller, he brought up this suggestion of conflicts about this guy.

CAMEROTA: But that he's not going to talk about or not going to mention right now.

CUOMO: He did say, you know, he was sitting right in that chair. I don't know if he was talking about you.

HABERMAN: Pointing to me.

CUOMO: And Mueller was there and he wanted the FBI job. And we were here talking to him. Now, they called Mueller in. He didn't call them and say, "I want the job," but that's beside the job.

He took the meeting and let's say the president is right. This specter of conflicts, Maggie, why do you think the president was talking about this open-ended vague suggestion of something that would be a besmirchment of Mueller?

HABERMAN: I think it's something they've been looking at for some time. Look, this issue of Mueller coming in to interview for the FBI job is something that, if you recall, Chris Ruddy (ph), who has known the president for many, many years, was in the White House a couple of weeks ago, and he later went on a TV show and he said that they were seriously looking at firing Mueller.

One of the things that came up that day in my reporting was that the White House and people in the West Wing wanted it known that Mueller had been in for this interview. The president had not said it himself, but I think that, look, they had been -- this White House, this president have often looked at people who they view as adversaries and looked at ways to pick apart their standing.

And I think this is completely in keeping with that, and again, I don't know what he's talking about on conflicts beyond their sentiment that Mueller coming in to interview that job, for interim FBI director -- I don't think it was for a permanent job, was a conflict.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, what do you think it means?

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, I just think, look, the president. as I said before, has been determined and has used a great deal of political capital to discredit anyone associated with this process, with Jim Comey for leaking that material, which ultimately triggered the special counsel, which is a fair criticism on the part of the president by raising questions about Mueller.

It's all part of what the president does with a great deal of discipline in the way he goes after the news media, to try to reach a narrow band of supporters who simply will not believe what's right in front of him.

He doesn't use any of this capital, any of this discipline to actually get to the bottom what happened with Russia trying to help him in the election. He seems to want to give Russia a pass. But he'll focus on all of these things.

[07:15:14] Again, here's the troubling part. You can agree with the president. You can, you know, find fault with this whole process or this investigation or in the media that maybe it's overblown in your mind.

The president sees the presidency about him. He doesn't see that he's a custodian of the presidency. That is the through line in this interview. He doesn't respect the independence of other institutions. He doesn't really protect his supporters early on, like a guy like Sessions. If anything seems to undermine his legitimacy, hurts his ego, triggers his insecurity, he will lash out without regard to the consequences.

And again, one of the reasons that Trump has been successful with this so far is that Republicans won't call him out. Now, they were willing to call him out and face up to him on health care, because they thought he was weak. On this, they apparently don't think he's as weak, and I think that's telling.

CUOMO: Well, they've made a calculation that it's better to have, you know, someone from their party in there than not, and it is, therefore, ironic that the president has been separating himself from other Republicans.

But, you know, all of this is speculative in terms of what will the president do and when. We may not have to wait that long, David Chalian, because next week, there's testimony from Paul Manafort who, by all accounts, is very eager to get in there. He feels that he has really been tarred on all of this speculation. He wants to get out here, and he wants people to hear his testimony. And he believes he'd be absolutely cleared.

But based on what he says and Donald Jr. says in open testimony, we could see the president act on the heels of that. Could we not?

CHALIAN: No doubt. I mean, the president does tend to take action in response to big events like that, especially events that are going to get outsized media attention like those events will. It will be a big week next week. Obviously, with the Manafort and Don Jr. testimony, that meeting, which still has a done of questions hanging over it as to the actual content of the meeting, now we know who the players are. But the players invite even more questions. This is not going to get smaller next week. This is going to continue to grow, and no doubt we'll see how the president responds to it, but we can pretty much guarantee he's going to respond to it.

CUOMO: And the president didn't want to give names to it, but he did suggest that in his meeting with senators, people were saying to him everybody would have taken that meeting. Everybody would have taken. And Maggie, one of his -- or colleagues said, "Who? Who said that?"

And he said, "A couple of the guys, a couple of the guys."

GREGORY: You know, can I just make one other point? Since it's '90s day here on CNN, with O.J. Simpson's parole hearing, if you go back and look at the Clintons and how they treated, you know, the independent counsel, it was a runaway independent counsel in many respects, right? And people would view it, I think, on both sides that way, even if they opposed President Clinton.

And I think Trump is learning from that and saying, "Look, he's broken the seal on everything else. I'm going to work this really hard, and I'm going to work it differently. And I'm going to work to undermine these guys all the time and wage a campaign against them."

CUOMO: And it will be instructive to the president. Remember how that started with Clinton. Clinton appointed the first counsel, and then he got replaced by Starr, who wound up being a runaway.

CAMEROTA: All right. Maggie, thank you for sharing your "New York Times" reporting, as well as you and your colleagues together there for the Trump interview. Very fascinating. Panel, thank you. We have to get some breaking news right now. Senator John McCain has

been diagnosed with brain cancer. The 80-year-old is recovering at home in Arizona after having surgery last week to remove a malignant tumor. The senator's doctors at the Mayo Clinic spoke exclusively to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We should note that Dr. Sanjay Gupta reviewed McCain's medical records back in 2008 when the senator was a Republican presidential nominee.

What do you know today, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've got a lot more details. Obviously, I think everyone has heard that he had this operation this past Friday, but it was a little unclear exactly what the operation was for or what caused the problem in the first place or how to reconcile that with how he had been acting over the past several weeks. Some of those details now becoming much more clear.


GUPTA (voice-over): Senator John McCain is recovering well after an operation last Friday to remove a malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma. With Senator McCain's permission, I spoke exclusively to two of his Mayo Clinic doctors about the details of his care.

McCain had come in for a scheduled annual physical early Friday morning with no complaints, except intermittent double vision and fatigue, which he attributed to an intense international travel schedule over the last several months.

His doctors ordered a CAT scan to check for anything from a possible blood collection to a stroke. Upon review of the scan, doctors called McCain, who had left the hospital, and asked him to immediately return for an MRI.

The scans revealed a five-centimeter blood clot above the senator's left eye, which appeared to have been there for up to a week. The decision was made to perform an urgent operation.

[07:20:09] By 3 p.m., McCain was in the operating room, undergoing a craniotomy to remove a tumor. Doctors made an incision above his left eyebrow to gain access to his skull, where they bore a two-centimeter hole to remove the clot and the tumor.

A pathology report revealed a primary brain tumor known as glioblastoma. It's the most aggressive type of brain cancer. It is the same type of tumor that Beau Biden and Ted Kennedy had. With treatment, which usually includes radiation and chemotherapy, the median survival is 14 months. But it can be five years or even longer.

This is not Senator McCain's first health scare. In 2000, he was diagnosed with invasive malignant melanoma.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: From having a lot of exposure to the sun when I was very young. I have fair skin. GUPTA: Doctors removed a dime-sized melanoma from McCain's left temple. That was the most serious of several bouts with skin cancer.

When McCain was campaigning for president in 2008, I had a chance to review all of his medical records. Details of his health since then have remained private until just now. His doctors at the Mayo Clinic, who have been treating him for several years, said it was McCain's gut instinct, knowing that something just wasn't right.


GUPTA: I'll tell you, you know, this is happening real time, Chris. He's had this diagnosis. The family, Senator McCain and his family are now having discussions with doctors about how to proceed. This chemotherapy and radiation is going to be the most likely course. But it's going to be a few weeks. He's got to recover himself from the operation. He's recovering well. He went home the next day after the operation, which is fast for anybody.

He's 80 years old, keep in mind. So he's recovering well, but it's going to be some decisions now about how to proceed with his therapy. My guess is over the next three or four weeks, Chris.

CUOMO: And you're handling it with great sensitivity, as would be expected, Sanjay. We all respect you for that, and if we know one thing about McCain, this man can fight, and we will see how he decides to take this battle, and we'll follow it very closely. Thank you, Sanjay. Appreciate the reporting.

All right. So, President Trump just slammed the fired FBI director Jim Comey. He slammed the attorney general, and he gave a none-too- subtle hint to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, all in the same new interview.

We're going to get perspective from a man who understands these issues so well, the former secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson. What is his take on this interview and the issues facing this country's security?


[07:25:21] CUOMO: All right. This new "New York Times" interview very helpful in understanding where the head of the president is on big issues, specifically the Russia investigation. He's clearly frustrated. He slams his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was one of his earliest supporters, in the Senate, at least. And he says, boy, if I knew he was going to recuse himself, I would have never picked him and he has some advice for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as well.

In short it's don't investigate me. Our next guest testified before Congress on Russia's meddling last month. He is the former homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson. It's great to have you with us. Thank you so much. Couldn't think of a better guest.

First of all, your perspective on the comments of the president about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in this recent interview?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I'm actually going to defend Jeff Sessions a little bit here. He recused himself because he was involved in the campaign. At least he said that's why he said he was recusing himself. It was not because of his Senate testimony about contacts with Russian government officials, and basically, Jeff Sessions had no chase. Being involved in the campaign, there are aspects of the campaign that are under investigation.

And so he had to recuse himself, and President Trump, frankly, knew going him that he was hiring somebody to be attorney general who had been involved in his campaign, so he kind of brought that risk.

CUOMO: He sees it differently. It's interesting. You have a different take. This is good. This is good to figure out.

The president then, by your analysis, would be somewhat justified in his feelings, because if the decision to recuse, as you suggest, Jeff Sessions saying, "I was part of the campaign," not because of the botched answers he gave during his confirmation hearing, then the president would be right to be upset at him for not telling him in advance, "Because I'm in the campaign, I'm going to recuse myself from any investigation of the campaign."

JOHNSON: The president knew that he was hiring somebody to be the chief law enforcement officer who had been involved in his campaign. And so there's a certain level of risk that you assume by doing that.

And -- and so my recollection from the attorney general's statement was that he was going to recuse himself anyway, separate and apart from his testimony, because he had been involved in the campaign. And so we are where we are, and look, there are all kinds of ways to express displeasure with one of your cabinet officers.

This was really throwing your own attorney general under the bus, which is obviously not good for his morale. And when the rest of the cabinet, the rest of the president's administration, people who were involved in this campaign, who believed in his candidacy see what happens to Jeff Sessions, it's obviously not a morale booster for them either. So I think...

CUOMO: What do you do if you're Jeff Sessions? Do you think that this is -- this is a none too subtle suggestion that he should think about stepping to the door?

JOHNSON: It definitely wasn't subtle, and that's -- that's going to be up to Attorney General Sessions as to what he does. I don't think I've ever seen a president throw under the bus one of his own cabinet officers in this way, so very publicly.

CUOMO: And how about with Bob Mueller, a none-too-subtle suggestion there either. Also, which is if you're looking at me, my finances, my family, I think that oversteps your bounds.

And then he said in the interview later on, a lot of conflicts that you guys don't know about, conflicts with that Mueller. Conflicts that sat right now where you are right now, Maggie Haberman. He wanted the job with the FBI, and then he becomes a special counsel. Do you see a conflict issue? And what do you make of the notion that if the special counsel investigates the president's finances, that's too far?

JOHNSON: Well, my advice to our president is this. We really do need to get this Russia investigation behind us. I'm not one of these people who were rooting for the president to fail.

This is the person we hired to fly the airplane for the next three and a half years, and we're all the passengers. And there are a lot of problems out there, including, frankly, fixing the aspects of Obamacare that are not working right now.

And so we really do need to get this Russia investigation behind us. I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller to go where the facts lead him and to do the right thing and reach the right conclusions.

He's got no stake in this, other than reaching the right conclusions, and he's obviously going to conduct a very thorough investigation. And if the president and others are exonerated, they're entitled to talk about that.

But Bob Mueller is going to reach the right conclusions. I'm sure about that. I've known him for a long time, and he's the right man for this job.