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Trump Lashes Out At Sessions & Comey, Warns Mueller; Senator John McCain Recovering from Brain Surgery. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The president doing something that we have not heard in recent history. He throws his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, under the bus, saying if he had known that Sessions was going to recuse himself, which he should have known, he wouldn't have picked him.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president also accuses fired FBI director, James Comey, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising information in order to keep his job. President Trump then goes on to issue a warning to special counsel Robert Mueller about that investigation, and he once again insists that he is not under investigation.

Now, earlier, we spoke with one of the reporters who conducted this wide-ranging interview. It's our CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Here's a piece.


CAMEROTA: Fascinating, wide-ranging interview that you have. He talked about Jeff Sessions, whom he seems to have soured on. Let's play that for our viewers and then you can comment on it. Listen to this.



DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sessions should have never recused himself. And 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.


CAMEROTA: So, Maggie, we want to know what jumped out at you. Isn't the timeline of that a little confusing? How did Jeff Sessions know he was going to recuse himself before he took the job?

CUOMO: He couldn't know.

HABERMAN: My take on it, and I think among the more charitable explanations, is what the president is referring to, and he talked about it in other points in the interview, was the fact that Jeff Sessions botched his testimony in his Senate confirmation hearing where he was not forthcoming about Russian contacts with the Russian ambassador. And my read on what the president was saying is that he had Sessions make clear that he was going to omit that or had he had a concern about that in the first place, that he wouldn't have appointed him.

Look, we know he's been angry at Sessions. Peter Baker, one of my two colleagues, the other is Mike Schmidt, who conducted the interview with me, Peter Baker and I wrote several weeks ago that the president was fuming at Jeff Sessions. This has been going on for quite some time, over the recusal. The president sees the recusal as the original sin.

What was striking and what jumped out at me is that he said it to us. I was very surprised that he said it on the record. But as you guys know, the gap between what this president says privately and what he says publicly has always been pretty narrow. It's usually pretty consistent. But it was a remarkable disclosure and a remarkable public rebuke.

CUOMO: The president seems to view Sessions stepping away from the investigation as the main domino that has led to the special counsel, is that accurate?

HABERMAN: Absolutely. That's not even a close call. I mean, he believes that it all leads back, Mueller leads back to Rosenstein, who leads back to Jeff Sessions. And the president really laid it out that way. He sort of unfurled how he watched this in his mind develop and what has been frustrating for him.

CAMEROTA: Next, James Comey. He shared more of his opinion about fired FBI director James Comey, as well as what he thinks, what the president thinks that dossier was really about. So it was filled with salacious details, unconfirmed, so the president, this is not audio, but I'll read it for everyone, told you this. "When he," meaning Comey, "brought it," the dossier, "to me, I said, this is really made- up junk. I didn't think about anything. 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." One of the reporters asks, "as leverage?" Mr. Trump says, "Yes, I think so. In retrospect." Give us more context here.

HABERMAN: I think he was pretty clear. What he was indicating was that he felt that as if James Comey was essentially presenting him with this information and dangling it to show that he had something on the president. I think in the president's mind, that was about keeping his own job, James Comey keeping his own job.

But again, another remarkable statement from the president. Look, he has made, in fairness, a series of remarkable statements about James Comey, you know, beginning with when he fired him. But this was a first. And this was a new revelation on how he is viewing that chain of events during the transition process.

CUOMO: I don't want to wait to talk about the Mueller stuff.

HABERMAN: We're here!

CUOMO: This was a big deal because this issue of what the president can do with the special counsel or should do with a special counsel, we're talking about it before the show, it seems reasonable that if the president has no financial dealings with Russia, no financing, nothing to be worried about, he should want the special counsel to go down that road and come up with nothing.

[08:05:17] And that would be the best validation for the president's position. Instead, he said something very different to you. I believe we have sound of it. Let's play it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual --

TRUMP: I would say yes.


CUOMO: And then he goes on, right? He said he didn't want to answer it, but he seemed to suggest -- you tell me, Maggie, your take, you were in the room, that if Mueller went after him personally too much, that might be too much, would seem to suggest that he would move on Mueller.

HABERMAN: Wasn't clear exactly what he meant and I'm hesitant to put words in his mouth, because we did ask him that question.

CUOMO: And he said he didn't want to answer it right now.

HABERMAN: We asked it repeatedly and we asked it in different ways, and he was very cautious and thoughtfully cautious about not answering it. But he was making clear that he saw Mueller's purview as very constricted, specifically to Russia. He made clear that if it was broader about financial issues -- and to be clear, the White House is very aware, the counsel's office is very aware of the number of attorneys who Mueller has hired who are experts in financial crimes issues. They are paying close attention to that.

And the president made very clear that if things went sort of in his mind far afield or beyond what the parameters are of this initial and the initial charge, that he would consider it a, quote/unquote, violation. But he did not say what he would be prepared to do. However, he clearly wants to leave that option open and wants Mueller to be aware of that. CUOMO: And all of that hinting about conflicts in the interview. The

president says when you look at it, that Mueller, he had conflicts. We don't know if that's true, but it shows that he's laying groundwork.

Let's bring in the panel, CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN political director David Chalian, and CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin. David Gregory, Jeh Johnson was on the show, the former homeland security secretary. He changed my mind about something with Jeff Sessions. He had a different take. What do you think about it? He said, it's not about the testimony. It's not about the botched answers. Jeff Sessions had no choice but to recuse himself from jump because he had been involved with the campaign. The president knew that, and should not have picked him. It's on the president, because he had to know that Sessions would have to recuse himself from anything to do with the campaign because he was part of it?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's right, in terms of what Justice Department policies are. But I think that also presupposes that the president was going to take any of that into account. You know, at the time, before he turned on him, Jeff Sessions was one of his earliest supporters and was part of a kind of America first world view and a hardline on immigration that the president wanted to make good on to his supporters.

The bottom line is that the president has never taken this investigation seriously. He doesn't have any support for or faithfulness to the independence of the Justice Department or the FBI, and is essentially threatening to fire the special counsel if it gets into areas that he thinks are uncomfortable for him. The president is not telling the truth about everything with regard to Russia. And he's acting like someone who very much is only out for himself and not thinking about the presidency, and/or has something to hide. I don't know how you draw a different conclusion based on what we're hearing.

CAMEROTA: Jeff -- go ahead, go ahead, David Chalian.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I was just going to say, think about what this means, if Jeff Sessions takes the cue and decides to leave for a moment. Think about what this means for the next attorney general. So what is learned here, that having some sort of independence seems to have cost you your job? So who's going to -- who's going to sign up for that? And the next question is, if you're the next attorney general and you don't recuse yourself from the Russia thing, do you use a heavier hand in overseeing the special prosecutor process? These questions, for whoever may be next after the way that Donald Trump is talking about Jeff Sessions, seems very important to me.

CUOMO: The answer better be yes, if they want the job, based on what we're hearing from the president.

CAMEROTA: Look, it raises a lot of questions, Jeff. Tell us legally, can the -- look, I know that legally the president can fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and special counsel Robert Mueller, but it's complicated. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Right. Look, I think it was a

mistake for Darden to ask O.J. to try on the glove, but we'll never know whether -- I'm sorry, I'm just warming up for --

CUOMO: I like it!

TOOBIN: I'm sorry. The answer is, yes, he could engineer the firing of the special counsel, but he can't do it directly. He has to do it through the Justice Department. So he would have to ask Rod Rosenstein to fire him.

[08:10:10] CAMEROTA: Who he's not crazy about also.

TOOBIN: Rod Rosenstein may or may not agree to do it. If not, it would start to go down the chain of command and he would have to find someone who would agree to fire Mueller. And that's -- and that would be a direct replication of what happened in the Saturday night massacre in 1973 --

CAMEROTA: So you're really time traveling today.

TOOBIN: Yes, I know.

CUOMO: But it's the only parallel that we have.

TOOBIN: It is. And it's -- it would be a precise parallel if you have Justice Department officials refusing to fire an outsider prosecutor.

CUOMO: Except the president's counter to all of this analysis would be, yes, but that was a crime. You had a crime in Watergate. There's no crime hear. This is all just open questions and speculation because of what the Russians did, that they always do, and that we do also, by the way, which is this election interference, and it's all nothing.

TOOBIN: That has been the president's approach to this whole thing, which is that this whole thing is absurd because there's no crime. But that assumes the conclusion of the investigation. Maybe Mueller will find crimes. That's why -- that's what he was appointed to do. The fact that Watergate originated in a break-in that was an acknowledged crime and this investigation did not have the same kind of precipitating factor, prosecutors investigate possible crimes all the time. That doesn't mean what they're doing is illegitimate.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, we will know more next week, because we now know that there are actually dates certain for a behind-closed-doors interview in front of a Senate Intel commission for Jared Kushner, and then an open interview, public hearing, for Don Jr. and Paul Manafort, middle of next week, Wednesday. So, what are you looking at?

GREGORY: Well, we'll see how much we find out in open session. You've got two committees who are bearing down on these witnesses and gathering everything up. I don't know that that means they're enjoying to draw any conclusions, and there may be some information that is leaked or is put out there, you know, publicly, that points to a particular direction. But I don't think anything is going to be definitive.

But it doesn't change the fact that the president has a strategy here of undermining everyone involved in this process, Undermining the process itself, and nobody appears willing to try to stop him. You know, there's no Republicans who are speaking out about him and the fact that he is not thinking about the presidency, is just thinking about himself, and his own legitimacy. They stood up to him on health care, but appear to be giving him a pass on this behavior with regard to the Russia investigation, just like Trump is giving Russia a pass on what happened.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see. It's going to be a big day. Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. That will be private, so we won't know as much.

CAMEROTA: All right, panel, thank you very much for all of the insights.

We do want to get to a major developing story now. And that, of course, is that we're following the health of Senator John McCain. He's 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. And Dr. Gupta joins us live from Hot Springs, Virginia, with all of the latest. Sanjay, what did his doctors tell you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they gave a lot of details on what's happened over the last several days. Most people heard about the operation that Senator McCain had, but we got an idea of just how things transpired that day and how urgent this operation was, as well as what caused all of this in the first place.


GUPTA: 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. By 3:00 p.m., McCain was in the operating room undergoing a craniotomy to remove a tumor. Doctor's made an incision above his left eye brow 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. [08:15:03] 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: I'm having a lot of exposure to the sun when I was very young and having fair skin.

GUPTA: Doctors removed a dime-sized melanoma from McCain's left temple. That was the most serious of several other 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: And I should point out, Chris, that Senator McCain recovered really well from this operation. It was a big operation, it was general anesthesia. He's 80 years old. He spent the night in the intensive care unit.

But the doctors say when he woke up, he was immediately joking around with the operating room staff. He was able to go home the next day, as you heard. So, making calls, have been up and about.

But this is happening real-time now that they're getting this diagnosis, learning what caused that bleeding within his brain. This glioblastoma, as mentioned, is likely going to need further treatment, radiation, chemotherapy, Chris.

But that therapy can't start for probably three or four weeks after his incisions and all of that and he recovers from this operation. So, he's got a long road in front of him, but he is tough and he has overcome health scares in the past, Chris.

CUOMO: You always say, your mental outlook and your spirit and your desire to fight, those are all big factors in terms of what course of treatment will take and how effective it will be. And this man checks every one of those boxes, we know that.


CUOMO: So, we'll watch and wait and wish the best to him and his family. We know they need him very much and he has a lot of work left to do.

Sanjay, thank you so much for bringing us this reporting. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: You got it, Chris.

All right. We've got a lot more on President Trump's interview with "The New York Times." it is really full of surprises. We have not heard a president chastise their own attorney general, let alone say they probably shouldn't have picked him. We're going to discuss what the fallout's going to be, next.


[08:21:05] CAMEROTA: All right. So there was this extraordinary interview with "The New York Times." And in it, President Trump suggests that he regrets appointing Jeff Sessions as his attorney general. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job, he recuses himself.


TRUMP: Well, 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 been picked somebody else.


CUOMO: Suggests is the lightest word I think you can use.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I inserted that there.

CUOMO: I know. It was too fair, I think.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's discuss all of this with our CNN political commentators. We have Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, and Jeffrey Lord, former Reagan White House political director and President Trump supporter.

Great to see both of you.


CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, nice to see you. What is Jeff Sessions --

LORD: You know, Ali, if I may start, I think what we're seeing here is that you might borrow from a novel and call this, when Washington wakes up.

CAMEROTA: Oh, well played, my friend!

LORD: As opposed to "Amanda Wakes Up", which I will be ordering today.

CAMEROTA: You have good taste, Jeffrey Lord, "Amanda Wakes Up" available next Tuesday.


CAMEROTA: Thank you so much, Jeffrey. But, listen, when Jeff Sessions wakes up this morning, what is he thinking when he hears this?

LORD: This is not your typical president. In all seriousness, if I can say this, I don't need to tell you guys in particular of how different this presidency is, in terms of their approach to the media and all kinds of other things.

CAMEROTA: Right, but his approach to an ardent supporter. I mean, Jeff Sessions was one of his most vocal, passionate supporters on the campaign trail.

LORD: I understand. I understand. I love Jeff Sessions. I think he's doing a terrific job, et cetera.

But this is somebody who, if you put it in these terms, that this is the ultimate outsider versus the ultimate insiders, meaning the entire Washington establishment, whether it's Jeff Sessions or whether it's James Comey or members of Congress or what have you, when you go to these rallies, I keep thinking of these rallies I've been to -- I mean, people are really mad out here. And when you try and translate this to what's going on with Attorney General Sessions, again. And I think the world of him. I think he's terrific.


LORD: But I think that the president has an expectation that things need to be done differently, that in terms of this whole special prosecutor gambit, that it's -- that this is something that Washington has been doing for decades, they start with point A and wind up at point C.

CAMEROTA: I got it. He doesn't like it. Yes, he's on the record, he doesn't like it. He thinks it could be a phishing expedition. But to undermine Jeff Sessions publicly, Paul, where do you think that leaves the attorney general?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm curious that -- you know, Jeffrey Lord says he's a different kind of president. Well, he is. He is.

O.J. Simpson is a different kind of football player. That doesn't make him a better person. It doesn't make Mr. Trump a better president.

He is attacking norms, some of them just manners, that's his problem, that's his business. It's our business when he attacks the rule of law. In this remarkable interview with Maggie and Peter Baker and Michael, we saw him attack the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, the former FBI director, James Comey, the acting FBI director, Andy McCabe.

CAMEROTA: And the special counsel.

BEGALA: And the special counsel.

This is a man who has decided to make an all-out assault on the rule of law? Why? Because it's closing on him, because he knows his guilty.

CAMEROTA: Hold on a second. That's obviously you connecting the dots there --

BEGALA: I've never been to a session in psychology and I can read that --


[08:25:00] CAMEROTA: Hold on, Jeffrey. Let me read to people what he said about Bob Mueller, the special counsel. This is him in his own words, so listen to what President Trump says.


MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: 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 charge is?

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


CAMEROTA: Now, Paul, I want to ask you this. Isn't President Trump right? If he's looking -- hold on, if Bob Mueller is looking at his family's finances, unrelated to the Russia investigation, doesn't that turn into a phishing expedition?

BEGALA: You don't know what's related. His son himself said, Donald Jr., said, this is 2008, this is a long time ago. But 2008, his son gave an interview that said an extraordinary amount of our money is coming in from Russia. We need to know, why did the president not release his tax returns? Because he didn't want us to see something. Why is he telling Mueller in public in "The New York Times," I'll fire you if you look at my finances?

Any decent investigator now knows they must look at his finances. That -- it's like the cops show up at the serial murderer's house in the movies and he says, I don't own a shovel and I haven't been in my basement in months. Like, what the hell?

CAMEROTA: You're using a lot of violent imagery this morning, Paul.

BEGALA: I'm sorry.

LORD: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Yes, Jeffrey, your take? LORD: If I might say, this is not going to come as news to my friend

Paul, but I call this the Clinton precedent, is that my friend, Paul, and others, when Paul talks about the rule of law, so, too, was Ken Starr about the rule of law. And this -- that investigation started with a real estate deal, Whitewater --


LORD: -- for President Clinton, and wound up with Monica Lewinsky.

The point is that the Clinton administration and its allies went out of their way to attack the special prosecutor, to attack, attack, attack. They broke all precedent. In doing so, they laid down a precedent.

So, there should be no hesitation in the Trump White House or for Trump allies to go out there and treat Mueller as Ken Starr.

CAMEROTA: OK, how about that, Paul? I mean, Paul --

BEGALA: I will go on the record. I'll attack Robert Mueller if he starts investigating President Trump's sex life. Even saying it makes me want to wretch. I don't want to know about it. I want to know about the nation's business and the rule of law and why is our president so obsessed with Russia?

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, Jeffrey. Are Bob Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions going to survive this administration, in term?

LORD: I think the attorney general will. I'm not so sure about Bob Mueller.

CAMEROTA: You think that President Trump could fire him?

LORD: Yes. Yes. I mean, this is your basic anti-establishment candidate, Mr. Mueller is the establishment personified, the whole game here with the leaked Comey memo to get him appointed in the first place. Things of that nature just reek of insiderdom here and I don't think the president has a lot of patience with it.

CAMEROTA: And what do you think the timeline on that would be?

LORD: I honestly don't know, Alisyn, I honestly don't know. But do I think it could happen? Yes, I do. Because Mr. Mueller would be turned into a symbol of not just this investigation, but of the Washington establishment and boy, once you go there, the president would have a huge political advantage.

CAMEROTA: Paul, last word.

LORD: Washington establishment, he's not a lobbyist. He's a career prosecutor who has given all the best years of his life to serving his country, to investigate, arrest, and imprison bad guys, and to protect us from terrorists. He's a really admirable man.

And this notion is appalling that this president does believe he's different, he's above the rule of law. And he's not. And this would be a great constitutional crisis if he fires Mr. Mueller, because we need to know the truth. Is our president selling out our country to Russia?

CAMEROTA: Gentleman, thank you.

LORD: We wanted to know the truth about presidents in sexual harassment --

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Jeffrey, we're going to leave it there. Nice to see both of you.


CUOMO: All right, it would have been unusual to hear a Trump supporter going bad on Bob Mueller, especially someone who's such a minted Republican, that's what Bob Mueller is, but it seems to be what we've been hearing more and more of. The president going bad on his own. He just threw Jeff Sessions under the bus. How does that make Republican lawmakers feel? You're going to get their take, next.