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Trump White House on Defensive Over Transparency. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Trump in a big way. So what do you say? Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For 40 years presidents have released their tax returns to the public.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that the American public knows clearly where he stands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be a good gesture on his part to release them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want more transparency. I want more information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no military resolution in North Korea.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All options are on the table, and there they will remain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could use a coherent policy to present to the American people.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to telegraph what I'm doing or what I'm thinking. I'm not like other administrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The manhunt for 37-year-old Steve Stephens expanding nationwide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to stop until he's in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're out there, if you're listening, turn yourself in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with the Trump administration on the defensive on the defensive over its lack of transparency. The White House refusing to release the president's tax returns once again, and now the president is sued to have visitors logs from the White House made public, something that he has argued in the past should be public.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You'll remember Donald Trump promised to, quote, "drain the swamp" if he made it to the White House. But ethics efforts now call his administration the least transparent in decades.

It's day 89 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Joe Johns. He is live at the White House.

Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

It is tax day, a day when millions of Americans have to have their taxes in and a reminder that President Trump has not released his tax returns.

He ran on this issue of transparency, often used it as a political weapon. But now that he's in the Oval Office, it doesn't seem to matter much.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it time to say once and for all, the president is never going to release his tax returns?

SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.

JOHNS (voice-over): The White House on the defensive, facing mounting criticism over the administration's lack of transparency.

SPICER: We're referring to the same audit that existed, and -- and so nothing has changed.

JOHNS: Press secretary Sean Spicer again citing routine audits to justify President Trump's refusal to release any tax returns. Except an IRS audit does not prevent disclosure.

This lack of transparency now jeopardizing another Trump key campaign promise, an overhaul of the tax code. "The New York Times" writing that Democrats are uniting around a pledge not to cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically how that provision would benefit the billionaire president and his family. A growing number of Republican lawmakers also calling on the president to make his returns public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be a good gesture on his part to release them, like all other presidents have.

JOHNS: Some lawmakers are being shouted down at town halls over Trump's taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm aware, the president says he's still under audit.

(BOOING) JOHNS: The president himself downplaying the issue in the face of nationwide protests this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

JOHNS: Tweeting, "I did what was an almost possible thing to do for a Republican, easily won the Electoral College. Now tax returns are being brought up again?"

The administration also facing scrutiny for refusing to disclose who's golfing with the president and for reversing an Obama-era precedent of making White House visitor logs public.

SPICER: We recognize that there's a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come and express their views.

JOHNS: Press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting that such disclosures would be harmful and unnecessary. Spicer adding that the Obama White House redacted some visitor names while acknowledging the Trump administration will not release any.

SPICER: Frankly, the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub what they didn't want put out didn't serve anyone well.

JOHNS: This policy change inconsistent with Trump's past criticism of Obama, who he labeled the least transparent president ever, tweeting vaguely in 2012, "Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition. Hiding something?"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Today President Trump travels to Kenosha, Wisconsin. He's expected to sign an executive order making changes to the H1B visa program. That's a program that brings in highly skilled American workers. The administration says this is an attempt to promote the president's plans to hire more American workers -- Alisyn and Chris.

CUOMO: Joe Johns, appreciate it. Bring in our panel. We have reporter and editor-at-large for CNN Politics Chris Cillizza and CNN political analyst Alex Burns and Patrick Healy. Gentlemen, welcome to all and each of you.

Editor-at-large, you wrote a piece yesterday saying, yes, President Trump won, even though he didn't release his taxes. But he did not win because he did not release his taxes. Distinguish?

[07:05:09] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT- LARGE: Well, I mean, basically, what they're saying, and Kellyanne Conway said this -- Donald Trump has said it in that tweet that Joe just went through -- is, well, Donald Trump won the election. Therefore, people are not interested in his taxes. Those two things are not necessarily true.

There was a poll conducted right before he was inaugurated that said 74 percent of people thought he should release his taxes, including 49 percent of people who supported him.

So what I would say is what is true is Donald Trump won the election, and his tax returns were not an issue that most people voted on. Absolutely true and still remains true, by the way. Donald Trump is not going to lose reelection in 2020 because he doesn't...

CUOMO: Why should you care about him not releasing his taxes? Why should it matter?

CILLIZZA: Well, because there's more on whether it's good politics or not. This is the person's single most powerful person in the country, maybe in the world. We don't know sort of his financial portfolio. There is a reason that every president in the modern era has released taxes to give some sense to the American public -- who pay his salary, FYI -- what he's worth, where his investments are, what debts, if any, he owes.

It's not a full financial picture, but it is something of a financial figure. Again, there is a difference. It is not going to hurt him politically. That doesn't mean not releasing them is the right thing to do.

CAMEROTA: I don't know if you're right about that, Chris. I mean, obviously, that remains to be seen. But the latest polls -- this is, you know, just a couple of weeks ago. This is a Quinnipiac poll taken March 30 through April 3. Should Donald Trump release his tax returns? Sixty-eight percent still say yes; 26 percent say no.

And then it goes to this question. This is a new Gallup poll. Americans who say that Mr. Trump keeps his promises. People do vote on whether or not you keep your promises, and now that's dropped from 62 percent.

CUOMO: You think that's about taxes or health care?

CAMEROTA: Who knows? But I think that if it all goes into one, you know, sort of big pot of a narrative, you know, maybe it will. Look...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A fully rounded picture of what we want to see from a president. What we wanted to see from a candidate. We want to know especially for a billionaire who is about to take offices and who's making large claims about taxes and about his ability to sort of run the country, fix the country's economy, you want to know what their financial record was.

And the reality was over and over again, he kept citing an audit that he was under and sort of taking protection under the cloak of kind of the IRS boogeyman that a lot of Americans could relate to. And now it -- it feels like, you know, it's kind of a charade. CUOMO: But first of all, I can't believe he dropped 15 points over

the taxes when nothing has changed in his position. I think there are other things that have happened in these first 80-plus days that are shaping that narrative. But you have the deeper issue than the politics. You have the conflicts. OK? And are the taxes dispositive on what his business interests are? No. But they would be helpful in that analysis.

The committees can probably get them. Can they not?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, various congressional committees if they want to, Republicans in charge of the committees...

CUOMO: We have heard that they are reluctant to get...

BURNS: ... the returns, right. Another way they could come out is if certain avenues of litigation pursued against the president could be released through a discovery in a civil suit of some kind. Democrats are trying to engineer that outcome.

But look, I think the big picture, I think Alisyn had it right. I think the tax returns on their own are probably not -- and clearly were not a clarifying issue for him last year. Unlikely to be if he runs for re-election. But what he has to worry about and what I know what Republicans in Washington are worried about is this sort of broader idea that sort of builds of its own momentum and sets in. You saw it in that clip of Tom Cotton's town hall where voters are very worked up about this.

And it's not that people are angry about the taxes on their own, it's the larger narrative of the president is not being level with you. Right? It's a president who's hiding.

CUOMO: His credibility numbers were in -- were in the basement when he was running. You know, I mean, again, you could say that it was written off to Cillizza's point.

CILLIZZA: He was running against an opponent who also for a lot of Americans had honesty issues.

CAMEROTA: But Chris, this is the part that really confounds me, the visitor logs to the White House. The White House is the people's house. And I don't -- frankly I didn't ever understand the Obama policy of redacting names, too. What -- what are they keeping from the public? What's so classified in the visitor logs?

CILLIZZA: And Alisyn, remember that the Obama policy was much more transparent than all the policies before it, which where that the White House visitor logs weren't made public.

[07:10:09] You know, the problem that I have with Sean Spicer's argument is that some transparency, imperfect transparency, which is what the Obama administration practiced. They did not release everything in an absolutely timely manner, that some transparency is worse than no transparency. Which is a -- that's a tough sell to make. You know, the argument that people have a right to privacy when they

come to visit the White House, I mean, I always remind people, we pay literally -- we the taxpayers on a day like today pay the salary of the people who the president of the United States, vice president of the United States.

So I understand you want to get the best people, get the best advice from the president and maybe, if you're making those things public, some of those people might not come.

But it seems to me that in sort of the public good argument, it would do well to know, well, that's interesting that so-and-so or so-and-so came.

CUOMO: You know who agrees with you, Cillizza?

CILLIZZA: What does that tell us about who he's listening to?

CUOMO: You know who agrees with you? Trump. Trump said about President Obama, "Why are you fighting releasing these logs? You're the least transparent ever."

When is that going to start to matter? You know, we always bring up these tweets about what Trump has said that is creating a complete hypocrisy on what he does right now, and it doesn't seem to get any heat.

HEALY: Now, but he said -- but he says these things during the campaign. He said these things during the campaign.

CUOMO: It was about in 2012 when he went after Obama.

HEALY: But...

CUOMO: As citizen Trump.

HEALY: But that's in the past. He's now president.

CAMEROTA: His approval ratings are sky high. What do you mean when is it going to matter?

CUOMO: I think in any other circumstance, if I can show that you said the exact opposite on this issue than you're saying right now, you're going to be in a bind. That doesn't...

BURNS: In all seriousness, these sort of one by one gotchas with him have clearly not had much of an impact. Because I think a lot of the people who supported it in the sense that, yes, he freelances. He makes stuff up. He doesn't, you know, isn't always internally consistent. But there is a deeper consistency to his beliefs, and there is a deeper authenticity to the things that he's going to do as president. The reason I think why you're seeing his numbers drop now, and I'm just down in the Georgia congressional district, talking to folks who voted for him about this matter is that they are questioning that deeper authenticity, that deeper reliability.

CUOMO: That was a tight space for him. He only won by a point and a half.

BURNS: Absolutely. But these are people who voted for him and thought, "I don't love him, but he'll repeal Obamacare." That's probably the overall...

CUOMO: He'll bring back jobs. Now he's talking about North Korea.

CAMEROTA: All right. So let's talk about that race, Patrick, in Georgia. This is Congressman Tom Price's seat. The Democrat -- Democrats think that the Democrat there, though, is young; and basically a neophyte could win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

CAMEROTA: And is this a barometer of -- on Mr. Trump's, you know, popularity?

HEALY: I mean, the issues that they're fighting over, yes. I mean, in terms of both sides.

But the -- the broader issue right now is that Trump, you know, barely squeaked out, you know, in this district. And in terms of this candidate at least, in terms of a very large field of Republicans, none of these people are ultimately Trump. It's very hard to sort of look at the ballot and saying three months into a presidency, this is how I feel about President Trump right now.

CUOMO: Trump seems to be worried about it. He's tweeted about this twice in the last half hour. He's attacking this guy Jon Ossoff with everything he has. I can't believe...

HEALY: He loves politics, and this is the thing.

CUOMO: I can't believe he spent a lot of time learning about Ossoff, but it does show something, Cillizza, about where his head is. And he talked a lot about Kansas. He had to say that Estes had a big win. He didn't have a big win, certainly compared to the president. Why does this matter so much?

CILLIZZA: Well, because Trump follows media narrative more than any president we've ever seen. He watches more cable television. He consumes more news about himself than any modern president. And because of technology, has the capacity to do so.

He understands that the race is being painted as a referendum on him. So whether it is or not, he understands that it is. And therefore, he is going to go out and do everything he can to try to pre-spin it. I mean, I think you have to think of Donald Trump in a way -- I know he's president of the United States, but in a way he's sort of a political hand. He's a guy who survey -- he likes to watch politics. He likes to comment about politics. That's what got him into this in the first place.

So he follows this stuff really closely. It's why you've seen four tweets or five tweets in the last 36 hours on Georgia 6.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much for all of the analysis.

So are special elections like the one today in Georgia going to be a referendum on the president? What are voters looking for as they head to the polls? We debate that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:18:29] CAMEROTA: The White House under fire for withholding the president's taxes, and now the White House visitor logs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: We're under the same audit that existed, and so nothing has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it time once and for all to say the president is never going to release his tax returns?

SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say?

SPICER: I said I'll have to get back to you on that. I think that, of course, he is still under audit. The statement still stands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Is the White House falling short on transparency? Let's see what our guests think. We want to bring in our CNN political commentators. We have Simon Sanders, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders; and Jeffrey Lord, former Reagan White House official, back by popular demand, together again.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Simon, you stop laughing.

SIMON SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't say anything crazy, Jeffrey. Stick to the facts.

CAMEROTA: I believe you were referring to Martin Luther -- the analogy that Jeffrey Lord made between Martin Luther Jr. and Donald Trump. Jeffrey, do you want to say any more on that point before we move on?

LORD: Not really. Look, no. I mean, there's a whole long discussion where you get into, and it's not on the agenda today. And you know, I'd be happy at some point to do it. But I just think -- I just think that this was wildly misinterpreted. And I think for some reason -- and I just -- I just don't agree. That's all.

CAMEROTA: Got it. All right. We will move on now, because there's lots of other stuff to talk about in this news cycle, Jeffrey. What is it that President Trump doesn't want us to see in his taxes?

[07:20:09] LORD: Well, I don't know about -- you know, I am one of these people that thinks this whole thing is bogus from start to finish. We had the income tax came in in 1913 under Woodrow Wilson. From Wilson to LBJ, we had plenty of presidents. Their taxes were not out there.

CAMEROTA: I understand. But in modern times, you know the history, that since President Nixon everybody that has released their taxes. And in fact, it was Donald Trump who really pressed Mitt Romney to do so for the sake of transparency. So now what's going on?

LORD: I guess -- I think the whole thing is -- because this stuff is now used as a political gotcha. But I will say this. If we're going to go down this road that people of influence, the president of the United States or whomever, should release their taxes, then everybody should do it or everybody of influence.

You know, it was interesting. I asked a prominent member of a former administration who was advocating this, whether he went in the administration had released to the public, not to a Senate committee but to the public. Well, he couldn't remember. And my point is that, gee, you know...

SANDERS: Everybody is not the president of the United States, though, Jeffrey. And the bar is extremely low -- let's just be frank, the bar is extremely low for Donald Trump. I do think there's a real issue with the lack of transparency. What does the president have to hide? Release the damn tax returns. Because you know what? Our national security could be at risk.

LORD: Why don't you release...

SANDERS: Well, I'm not the president of the United States. I'm just a little bald black girl from Nebraska.

CAMEROTA: But Jeffrey, your argument -- the reason that I think that your argument doesn't exactly hold water is because it was -- it was Donald Trump before he was president who beat this drum all the time.

Let me remind you, Jeffrey, about some of the things he said about transparency. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: President Obama is the least transparent president in the history of this country.

DAVID LETTERMAN, FORMER HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Why do we want to see President Obama's college records?

TRUMP: Transparency. Does that make sense to anybody? Seriously, transparency.

LETTERMAN: What does that mean, transparency?

TRUMP: It means there are so many hidden things that we just don't know about our president.

There's a total lack of transparency. This is a very, very sad day for the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That was 2012. Jeffrey, if it's not about transparency, isn't it about hypocrisy in that case.

LORD: So Aly, did we see any of those things that then Donald Trump, private citizen was asking about?

CAMEROTA: Yes, we did. It's called a birth certificate. President Obama did...

LORD: The college records.

CAMEROTA: But because Donald Trump so many times on it, President Obama did it.

LORD: Did we see the college records?

SANDERS: Jeffrey, Jeffrey?

LORD: Did we see the college records?

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey.

LORD: No. No.

SANDERS: Jeffrey, you are talking about tax returns.

CAMEROTA: Critical that Donald Trump said all that about transparency and now doesn't want to be transparent.

LORD: Again, I think this has just become a gotcha. That's what it is.

SANDERS: No. This has become what people do when you say you want to stand up and you want to serve the people of America. Donald Trump is the, like, ultimate hypocrite on everything. He came at President Obama for golfing, and Donald Trump has spent more time on the golf course than he has actually running the free world.

He beat not only President Obama but Mitt Romney over the head about transparency. And now we actually have the least transparent White House, I think, since Nixon.

LORD: Not to put too fine a point on it, but Donald Trump won the election. This was made -- this was an issue in the election. Hillary Clinton said...

SANDERS: ... 400 million more votes than Donald Trump got. Just because Donald Trump is the president of the United States does not mean he gets to upend the rules and rewrite history. And I think that's something that folks need to remember. You especially, Jeffrey.

CAMEROTA: To that point, Jeffrey, about how he won the election. I hear you. But now Americans, even then in all the polls and now here's a recent poll, they do want him to release his tax returns. He's now president of all Americans, even those that didn't vote for him. Sixty-eight percent of Americans want him to release his tax returns. Why not do it?

LORD: Because I just think it's a political gotcha game, particularly with somebody as wealthy as Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: We don't know what it is.

LORD: That's what it's about. It isn't about taxes.

CAMEROTA: Hold on. So just to follow that logic, it's a gotcha game. We're going to find something in there that people aren't going to like, and then Mr. Trump is going to be in trouble.

LORD: He could have given all of -- all of his taxes to Goldilocks, and they would have found a problem with it. Trust me. I know how this game works.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let me show you something, Jeffrey. Because this is Tom Cotton went home and had one of these town halls.

LORD: Sure.

CAMEROTA: And this was the response that he got from his constituents. Let me play this for everyone. About the taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: As far as I'm aware, the president says he's still under audit. The president is under audit.

(BOOING)

COTTON: This is not secondary or aside issue in the campaign. This is a central issue in the campaign. Hillary Clinton in her campaign repeatedly criticized President Trump for this.

And as far as -- as far as your points about this relationship overseas, I'll just make two replies. First, every federal office holder, every candidate for office files a financial disclosure statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Hey, Jeffrey, how do you explain there that Senator Cotton's constituents in Arkansas want to see those taxes?

LORD: First of all, I'd like to know how many of them are paid activists who paid them, and will that person -- will that person -- and will that person put out their taxes so that we can see them?

CAMEROTA: So you think that all that jeering -- just to be clear, you think that all that jeering or much of that jeering that we heard were from paid actors and activists?

LORD: Paid activists. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. SANDERS: Well, let me help you, Jeffrey.

LORD: Not all of it.

SANDERS: When the midterm elections come around, everyone who's saying that these folks who are at these town halls and really red places all over America who are asking, begging their elected officials to please uphold the law, to please be transparent, to please work for us. They had a rude awakening. Those are not paid actors, paid activists. These are concerned citizens.

LORD: Not all of them.

SANDERS: Yes, all of them. Who are you to judge these people who are showing up to their town halls? First of all, I want to where they're paying to go protest. Please, give me a heck. I've never gotten a check for going out in the streets and putting my body out on the line or showing up to a town hall. I have only ever wanted the answers from my elected officials.

And so you Republican folks that are out here saying these people are paid protesters, you are missing the point, and you're going to end up empty-handed and without a seat come, you know, 2018.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, how about the visitor logs? Why can't those be released? What's so nefarious about them?

LORD: Look, the visitor logs are a different -- a different breed here. I mean, that's a government situation. I used them when President Obama was in the White House. But I'm now seeing stories that, in fact, they were manipulated themselves and that they were not on the up and up. I would like to know the truth with that and get to the bottom.

CAMEROTA: Do you want President Trump to release the visitor logs? Would you like to know about who's visiting the White House now?

LORD: Well, if they're saying there's a security reason, then maybe there is a problem.

SANDERS: You are a hypocrite. You are a hypocrite. This is extra hypocritical. Can we just be frank and say that apparently, the rules applied to the first black president of the United States do now not apply to the most unqualified president we have ever had. Release the tax returns, show me the visitor logs, go to work, Donald Trump.

LORD: Let's do -- let's get those visitor logs released. And in return, let's get the phone calls, whatever phone calls and relationships and business between, say, Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff and the House?

SANDERS: This is a reach. How about we find out who else from the Trump campaign and the current Trump administration were speaking to the Russians? This is about transparency. This is about doing what's best for all of the American people, not just the Republican base or Donald Trump's voters. CAMEROTA: OK. OK, that's the last word. I did just hear Jeffrey

Lord to call for the visitor logs to be released.

Thank you both for the debate.

LORD: In return for the other.

CAMEROTA: Got it. There's a deal. Got it. Thank you both.

CUOMO: All right. This other story that we're following this morning, the murder suspect accused of posting a video of the crime on Facebook. The man on your screen is still at large. Our law enforcement expert says this fugitive wants to be caught. Why does he think that? You'll hear it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)