Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Intensifies Attacks on Sessions; Manafort Subpoena Dropped; Trump on Being Presidential. Aired 8:30-9:a ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:33:13] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump intensifying his attacks on his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The president, though, will not say whether he plans to fire Sessions.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Good morning, senator.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Good morning, Alisyn. Hood to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Good to have you.

Do you think that Jeff Sessions will be the attorney general a month from now?

BLUMENTHAL: I do think he will be, because there would be a firestorm of opposition to the president firing him or forcing him to resign. The only reason that the president has said he wants Jeff Sessions to resign is that he recused himself, which means he can't fire Bob Mueller, the special prosecutor. If the president wants a political lackey or lap dog to fire Bob Mueller, that will meet with very strong opposition on both sides of the aisle here on Capitol Hill.

CAMEROTA: OK, well it's interesting that you say that because we just had senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, on with us in the last hour, who said that what he thinks is going to happen is that the president is going to fire Jeff Sessions and then he will rely on an August recess appointment so that all of you will not be around to try to stop him and then the president would fill that slot with what Sherrod Brown's words were, "one of his flunkies." Is that scenario possible in your mind?

BLUMENTHAL: That scenario is certainly possible, but, again, there would be Republican strong, vehement opposition to that kind of scenario. And the reason is very simply, on both sides of the aisle there is a feeling that the special council is the best means to uncover the truth about Russian meddling. There's no question it occurred. And about possible Trump campaign conspiracy with that collusion. And there's widespread --

CAMEROTA: Right, but what do you do if it's a recess appointment? How could you -- I mean I understand that you're saying there would be an outcry, but what could you do if you all were gone?

[08:35:05] BLUMENTHAL: There are tactics and methods using parliamentary tools that could be used to stop a recess appointment. And as Leader Schumer said yesterday, Chuck Schumer of New York said absolutely unequivocally, we will use every tool available. Because this firing of Bob Mueller goes to the administration of justice. It's bigger than Jeff Sessions. The administration of a law, the integrity and independence of the FBI and of the special prosecutor are essential to the fairness and integrity of our democratic institution.

CAMEROTA: OK. The let's talk about what's happening with the investigation into the Russian meddling and whether or not there was any collusion. I understand that your committee, Judiciary, wants to interview Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign chair. Why did you drop the subpoena of Paul Manafort?

BLUMENTHAL: The chairman and the ranking member decided that they wanted to pursue negotiations about Paul Manafort's appearance to provide testimony and also documents. Now, my personal preference as a prosecutor, having been a United States attorney and our state attorney general, is always have subpoenas. And I believe that subpoenas will, in fact, be necessary for both Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. because --

CAMEROTA: Why, because you don't think that they will voluntarily cooperate?

BLUMENTHAL: So far they haven't and they have seemed to act like people with something to hide. And that's why I think eventually we will need subpoenas for them and also, I think, for Jared Kushner, who was at that June 2016 meeting. And the question is, what other meetings there were. What other documents exist. And the only way to be absolutely sure, Alisyn, that we will have all those documents and public testimony -- not just behind closed doors as it happened so far, and have it under oath, not just on the promise that it's honest, is to issue subpoenas.

CAMEROTA: But just to be clear, what you're telling us is that thus far the documents that you want and the information you want out of Don Jr., the president's son, and Paul Manafort, has not been provided?

BLUMENTHAL: So far there have been few, if any, documents provided by either Donald Trump Jr. or Paul Manafort. That course is inadequate, so far as I'm concerned, and they need, ultimately, I think, to be subpoenaed.

CAMEROTA: Weren't they supposed to testify today?

BLUMENTHAL: Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. initially were expected to testify today. The chairman and the ranking member issued the subpoena for Paul Manafort. And I think ultimately what has to happen is sworn testimony in public so that the American people can see what their version is and so they can be challenged based on the documents that we have. The give and take of examination and questions is what will elicit the truth and the American people then can judge what reforms need to be done and what we need to recommend as the judiciary committee in legislation to prevent this kind of Russian meddling again.

Russians need to be -- pay a price and the sanctions bill needs to be passed in the Senate as soon as possible, before we leave, and the president needs to sign it to send a message to the Russians, we will not tolerate this kind of meddling again and reforms will be adopted to stop this kind of attack on our democracy.

CAMEROTA: And do you think the president will sign that?

BLUMENTHAL: I just listened to Anthony Scaramucci say that he was going to sit down with the president and ask him what he was going to do. So I have no more knowledge than that latest version from one of the highest ranking people in the White House.

But let me just say, if he fails to sign it, he will be overridden. No question. So he would be really foolhardy not to sign it.

CAMEROTA: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you so much for joining us on NEW DAY. Great to talk to you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good, we got the Democrat there. We had Scaramucci representing the White House.

So, let's bring in the panel and synthesize. CNN political analyst John Avlon, Washington bureau chief for "The Associated Press, Julie Pace, and CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris Cillizza, what did you find the point to be in this round of conversation?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: First of all, plugging my daily news letter will get you everything, Chris Cuomo. Other --

CUOMO: Well, second only to "Amanda Wakes Up," which I have on my bedside table.


CAMEROTA: A new novel available now at your local bookstore.

CUOMO: And people are telling me is a life-changer.

CILLIZZA: I recently -- that's so -- that's so interesting. I'm hearing a lot of buzz about "Amanda Wakes Up," which I recently purchased.

CUOMO: I mean it's funny that you mentioned "Amanda Wakes Up" because a lot of people have been talking about "Amanda Wakes Up."

CAMEROTA: What does John Avlon think about it?

CUOMO: About "Amanda Wakes Up"? We'll have to ask.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I know.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Lots of people are talking about it. Everybody.

CILLIZZA: The -- aside from the proposed Scaramucci-Cuomo hug, I thought that -- look, he is fascinating in that I think Anthony Scaramouch's belief and recipe for success in this White House in his new job is to act and sound as much like Donald Trump as humanly possible.

[08:40:22] I was amazed when he said, Chris, we're -- very early on in your interview, Chris, we're going to win so much you're going to get board of winning. I mean that's -- that is a Donald Trump-ism 101.

The refusal to explain that the firing of the press aide came directly from President Trump, which, obviously, we're reading between the lines, it certainly did, Anthony Scaramucci acknowledging that, saying, I plainly -- I straightly decided not to answer your question. I mean the interview had a lot of Trump feel to it. I think that's why --

CUOMO: With some Scaramucci genius. You know, because, not unlike with analysis of the president, you know, people say, oh, I don't -- I wonder how intelligent. The president's very intelligent. Anthony Scaramucci is one of the most intelligent people I know.


CUOMO: And that's why his response was, well -- you know, I said, you're not answering the question that suggests that it was a president. And he goes, well, it's because you're not a derivative thinker.

CILLIZZA: Yes, and what these --

CUOMO: Which is, of course, a very abstruse concept of quantitative thought. You know, he's a very smart guy.

CILLIZZA: He's a smart guy in that I think he also understands that what Donald Trump likes are people who look and sound like Donald Trump. And I think he did a lot of that in that interview. You know, he regularly talked about how much people love Donald Trump. You know, I think Donald Trump watching that and, frankly, let's be honest, we know that he watches this stuff, is going to be quite happy. Anthony Scaramucci understands the best way to keep your job in this White House is to make the boss happy. And the best way to make the boss happy is to talk like the boss. And he did a lot of that in that interview.

CAMEROTA: John, you took copious and indecipherable notes. What -- what --

CUOMO: Furious. Look at -- let's just look at the penmanship.

CAMEROTA: Yes. What -- (INAUDIBLE). What -- what did you hear?

AVLON: Look, I think, you know, look, he gives good spin but it's all impressionistic arguments. And I think the key to -- as what Chris was getting to is, he was debating Chris one-on-one, mono e mono. But it was for an audience of one, the president of the United States.

And there's always a problem institutionally when people promote mini mes. He is a very smart advocate of the president's positions and he's a more authentic communicator, but he didn't deal with any of the substance. The argument about health care was all macro. It sounded great. Free system, freer system, de centralized, but specifically no details.

And that's a problem that it's difficult to spin your way out of if you care about policy. Instead is, let's take the first step, then we'll figure it out. And judging the president by his results to date, where that rubber meets the road is the fact that this president has the lowest approval rating of any president at a six-month mark. So that's not a sign of, you know, judging by the results and, you know, everyone should feel great about the progress being made in the White House.

So he's speaking like the president. He is speaking to the president. He will, no doubt, be an effective advocate for the president. But there's still a lot of gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

CUOMO: His suggestion, Anthony Scaramucci's suggestion that it is true, Julie, that the attorney general is looking into leaking in the White House, may actually salvage his tenure as attorney general if he's doing something that the president wants him to do.

Very troubling. I'll tell you why. You have to distinguish between leaking of confidential or national security information that could jeopardize us, with would be arguably and possibly illegal, with what is much more traditional and in greater supply than I have ever seen in this White House, which is people who are either worried that the agenda isn't being properly articulated by the president, who are anxious about their own station, or who simply want to get out the ideas they think are better and to police that as well may come at a great cost, no?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Absolutely. I think, one, it's no surprise that Jeff Sessions, as he fights to hang on to his job, is going to come out and say that he's going after leaks. This is something that is near and dear to the president's heart. It's a good way for Sessions to ingratiate himself with the president.

But we have to be really clear about what we're talking about on leaks. There are leaks of classified information. This is something that past administrations have gone after. It is illegal. If you talk to folks in the media, reporters like myself, you know, we look at this one way but this is illegal.

Then there's this whole other category of leaks. This is people who are leaking things because they believe at their agencies that the cabinet secretaries are not pursuing the right agenda. They believe that the cabinet agencies are simply sitting there doing nothing at all. And then the leaks from inside the White House that are coming from pretty senior people. We're not just talking about low level press aides.


PACE: To go after those kind of leaks to try to crack down there to pursue investigations against people like that, that is a really dangerous precedent that I hope most Americans can agree is something we should not support.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean the president's --

CILLIZZA: And by the way --

CAMEROTA: Yes, quickly, Chris.

[08:45:00] CILLIZZA: The Anthony Scaramucci line, just to add to Julie, the Anthony Scaramucci line to Chris that leakers are insecure and under confident and that his job would be to make sure people need to be more confident and more secure, that -- I mean that's obviously a gross generalization of why people leak information and hugely over simplistic.

CAMEROTA: Yes. My point is that the administration doesn't like any of it. They don't draw that distinction that you all have made so well between illegal and sort of common place. They want to crack down on all of it.

Panel, thank you very much.

So, President Trump said that he could be more presidential than any of his predecessors, except for Abraham Lincoln. We have a debate about this that you don't want to miss, next.

CUOMO: Did the president not go far enough?


CUOMO: Who is the most presidential president of all time? President Trump says he is except for one.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's so easy to act presidential. But that's not going to get it done. In fact, I said, it's much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we're doing here tonight. Believe me. And I said -- and I said, with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office. That I can tell you.


CAMEROTA: OK, there's actually a lot of to unpack in there. So, let's do that.

We have our CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, and former George W. Bush political director Matt Schlapp. Matt is the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Great to see both of you.


CAMEROTA: Matt, what I am struck by is not that I'm the most presidential other than Abraham Lincoln. It's what he first said. I can be more presidential. I can be presidential. That's easy. But that's not going to get it done. What does that mean to you?

SCHLAPP: Well, to me, I think what it means to millions of people who were kind of like captured by the idea that we would consider electing this first outsider as president, the idea was that it would take an outside voice who was a little less respectful of the way things are always done in Washington, someone that had a unique and aggressive view on how you get your agenda done, to take on what he views as the liberal bias in the media, to take on the swamp, as he calls it, the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., and all of those foes that stand in the way of Republican presidents being successful with their agenda.

CAMEROTA: That's telling.

SCHLAPP: That's what I hear.

CAMEROTA: I think so too. I argue with you, that he think that the -- being aggressive and less respectful is effective to him.


CAMEROTA: That's what I think he's telling us. But, you know, his public opinion polls might beg to differ.

SCHLAPP: I don't know. I mean, Alisyn, the one thing we have in this country, and I know, I was on the presidential campaign in 2000, which was settled in that recount in Florida, we are incredibly polarized from a partisan standpoint. I think John McCain talked about it in his speech -- his great speech in the Senate the other day.


SCHLAPP: We've been like that for a very long time. We were like that under Obama. We're like that under Trump. We were like that under George W. Bush.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but he has a different style.

SCHLAPP: It's where we are. It's where we are as a country. And there's no question that Donald Trump has a different tactic. He's not trying to love everybody to his side. He's fighting, trying to demonstrate to people that he will fight to the death for the things he cares about. CUOMO: Now, look, obviously this was something, Matt, you took exception to during the campaign. You often criticized Trump for his tactics and how he was.

Ana, the question is, is the campaigner of Trump, who preyed on cynicism and division, is that working for him as president, in your estimation?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well it's certainly working for him with his base. His base is frankly not budging, which is very impressive.

But this conversation we're having today about him being the most presidential but for Abraham Lincoln, guys, I've never done hallucinogenic mushrooms, but when I watch one of these Trump rally speeches, I feel, OK, this is what it must be like to be high on hallucinogenic mushrooms because the stream of consciousness --

CUOMO: Alisyn says it isn't.

CAMEROTA: That's a very good point.

NAVARRO: The stuff that comes out of his mouth, I mean at some point you've just got to almost laugh at the absurdity. First of all, that somebody -- you know, six months into his presidency he's comparing himself to the other 44 presidents which have include great giants like Thomas Jefferson, like George Washington, like FDR, like Ronald Reagan. It is just mind blowing.

But, you know, it's Donald Trump who is braggadocios, has not stopped being braggadocios. But I would say, you know, maybe, just maybe, just -- let's wait until your term is over and maybe, just maybe, let's wait until his story ends and history judges you. But, you know --


NAVARRO: He's not going to wait.

But, yes, I mean, I just -- I think the entire thing is somewhere between absurd, hilarious and panic-inducing.

CAMEROTA: Matt, let's move on.

Jeff Sessions. And Jeff Sessions, is he long for this post?

SCHLAPP: I don't know. I mean this is the painful thing. I've known Jeff Sessions and have deep respect for him. There's a lot of Sessions people who are populated throughout the Trump administration in important jobs. I saw Jeff Sessions election night in Trump Tower and he was the happiest man in America. So this is painful.

CAMEROTA: So do you think that the president should publicly be dressing him down like this?

SCHLAPP: You know, I have said that I don't understand why he would do it that way because if you look at the way the dominos fall, Alisyn, if Jeff Sessions leaves, Rod Rosenstein will be the acting attorney general. It's Rod Rosenstein who I think made the errant decision to pick a special council and who panicked when he started getting some controversy around some of these decision at DOJ.

So it would be the height of irony that the person who actually was the one who picked the special council without running it by Jeff Sessions would actually then be in charge of DOJ. But I don't think that makes a lot of sense.

[08:55:10] And I just want these two guys to get together in a room and hug it out. I think they need to come to a resolution here. I think it's going to be between the president and Jeff Sessions.

Look, Jeff Sessions works for the president. He serves at the pleasure of the president. The president wants him to leave, he will leave. But I'm hoping they get it resolved.

CUOMO: How big a deal would will it be for the president if he were to move on Jeff Sessions, Matt?



SCHLAPP: I -- oh, sorry.

NAVARRO: Look, I think it -- I think -- I think it would be --

SCHLAPP: Let's not talk about drugs.

NAVARRO: I think it would be -- it would be huge. And I think it would be a very big problem for Republicans, particularly if that move on Jeff Sessions leads to firing Mueller, which is why Republicans have got to stand up against this all the time.

And let's -- can we please stop mincing words. What he is doing to Jeff Sessions is horrible. I don't even like the guy and I feel sorry for him. I feel like I'm in catechism class and watching the martyrdom of Beauregard Sessions. It is horrible. It is a daily tormenting --

CUOMO: Beauregard.

NAVARRO: It is humiliating, it is emasculating the top cop of the land and it is showing everybody that loyalty does not matter to Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Ana and Matt, very much. That was a fun segment. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions --


CAMEROTA: We learned today, his full name.

CUOMO: Aka Jeff.

CAMEROTA: Jeff, exactly. CUOMO: Aka the pinata for President Trump right now.

CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman is going to pick up. They have news for you right after the break. Stay with CNN.