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Pence Denies Reports of Presidential Bid. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 7, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We're prepared to do whatever it takes to defend ourselves and to defend our allies.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR: These aren't going to change North Korea's mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully, send a strong message that North Korea understands the expectation of the rest of the international community.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Brianna Keilar joins us here this morning. Good to have you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.

CUOMO: We have reached day 200 of Donald Trump's presidency. The president marking the milestone with a 17-day stay at a New Jersey golf club, where he insists he is not vacationing, and he is touting his accomplishments marking this 200-day period.

Meanwhile, there is a report in "The New York Times" that says Mike Pence and other Republicans are positioning themselves to run for president in 2020, just in case President Trump decides not to run. The vice president denies the story and calls it offensive.

KEILAR: And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ramping up the pressure on North Korea. He's calling on the Kim Jong-un regime to stop its missile tests if they want to start negotiating. North Korea is ignoring this morning, vowing to retaliate against the U.S. over the latest round of sanctions. And we have it all covered for you.

Let's begin with Joe Johns. He is live for us from Bridgewater, New Jersey -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna.

Presidents often refer to their time off as working vacations, but this time the White House is undergoing some renovations. It comes at a time while the administration and the White House is trying to repair their policy prescriptions, also at a time the president and the White House is trying to knock down questions about Mr. Trump's political future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump waking up on his 200th day in office at his golf club in New Jersey, where he'll be spending the next two weeks on a, quote, "working vacation," as the White House undergoes renovations.

The president stressing on Twitter that he will still be taking meetings and calls while spending time at his resort, while touting the successes of his first six months in office.

This as Vice President Mike Pence pushes back against a "New York Times" report that some Republicans have begun building 2020 shadow campaigns, with Pence advisors allegedly signaling to party donors that he would plan to run if Trump did not. Pence contesting the story in a strongly-worded statement, calling the report, quote, "disgraceful and offensive" and dismissing as "laughable and absurd" the suggestion that he isn't working solely for Trump's agenda and reelection.

CONWAY: It is absolutely true that the vice president is getting ready for 2020, for reelection as vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No concern he's setting up a shadow campaign?

CONWAY: And he's also getting ready for 2018. Zero concern.

JOHNS: The report also cites a number of other Republicans allegedly weighing a 2020 bid as the president continues to grapple with record low numbers and an intensifying Russia investigation.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The special counsel is subject to the rules and regulations of the Department of Justice. And we don't engage in fishing expeditions.

JOHNS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asserting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller can investigate any crimes within the scope of investigation, during an interview with FOX News.

ROSENSTEIN: If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.

JOHNS: "The New York Times" reporting that Mueller's investigators have asked the White House for documents related to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and possible payments from the Turkish government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The president tweeted a little while ago something that appears to be his own take on "The New York Times" story about possible contenders for the White House in 2020. It says, "The failing 'New York Times,' which has made every wrong prediction about me, including my big win, apologized, is total inept." Now, "The New York Times" has said it stands by its story -- Chris and

Brianna.

CUOMO: Joe, appreciate it. We have one of the authors of the story here with us this morning, our CNN panel. We have analyst John Avlon, Alex Burns and Karoun Demirjian.

Alex, like I said, co-write -- co-write the story about the V.P. and other Republicans' presidential ambitions.

So defend yourself, man. The president is saying the failing "New York Times" has made every wrong prediction, totally inept. What is the basis of the reporting and what do you feel confident in saying is the truth?

ALEX BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So I feel, fit of all, entirely confident in what we reported over the weekend. We totally stand by it, this story. What we reported is that there are a number of Republicans, including Vice President Pence, who are -- not that they're gearing up to challenge President Trump in 2020, but that they're laying the groundwork for potentially running as national candidates, in the event not to be on the ballot, whether that's that he can't run, chooses not to run, is so unpopular that he appears vulnerable even within his own party.

[07:05:08] Well, we reported that, clearly, got under the president's skin, was that several of his advisers have indicated to Republican donors that they want to be ready for all scenarios. They have to be ready for 2020, just in case. And actually...

CUOMO: To be clear, this wasn't one adviser. This wasn't one donor. This was multiple sources on both sides, all saying they had the same conversation.

BURNS: Or similar conversations, overlapping conversations. We wouldn't have just -- wouldn't have reported this if this was just one person talking to one other person.

And actually, since this story has been published, as much as the vice president has been pushing back really hard, I've heard from additional people that we didn't know of prior to publication who have said, yes, those conversations are absolutely happening and that the vice president's overreaction is sort of revealing in an unintended way.

KEILAR: So you're saying the overreaction, this is it. This is a statement when the story came out from the vice president: "Today's article in 'The New York Times' is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family and our entire team. The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration. Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president's agenda and see him re-elected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd -- John Avlon.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That has all the greatest hits in it, "Whatever fake news may come our way." That's a good one.

CUOMO: I think that's Churchill.

AVLON: Actually, Mike Pence is actually -- that's exactly right. Mike Pence, we all know, is a man without ambition, whose only purpose in life is to serve this president with absolute fealty and self- abasement. Because that's what he does whenever he goes on the stand.

Look, Mike Pence is an ambitious politician. He is the sane, responsible face of this administration. And it would, frankly, be crazy for Republicans not to be saying, "He may be a safer alternative for us in '18 and '20 looking forward."

There are other Republicans who may be challenging the president for ideological reasons. But there's such a degree of chaos, such a degree of uncertainty, of course people are playing out different contingencies. This is politics, folks. It has feedback.

CUOMO: Karoun, what do you make of the legitimacy of this tweet from the president that goes to the poll numbers? "The Trump base is far bigger and stronger than ever before, despite some phony fake news polling. Look at rallies in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia. The fact is, fake news, Russian collusion story, record stock market, border security, military strength, jobs..."

KEILAR: We're still waiting. There might be another tweet.

CUOMO: Right. And he's taking a breath, and he's going at it again. He's obviously watching the show or something greatly similar to it, because we are covering these numbers and themes. So what is your response to this depiction of the president's base?

DEMIRJIAN: Let me know if part three changes at this...

CUOMO: Let's see what you say, Karoun. I'll let you know.

DEMIRJIAN: But I mean, look, the rally Trump held in West Virginia last week was, in a way, an answer to the approval ratings or disapproval ratings that came out that were not in his favor.

He has, throughout the campaign, pointed to his large rallies and say, "Forget what the polls are saying. I see people that are turning out." Nobody believed it then, and then it turned out he was right, he turned out winning the presidency, although not the popular vote. And this is what he takes stock in, by pointing to these rallies and saying that this is the proof that his support is still strong out there.

But I mean, these polls numbers do suggest that parts of his base are slipping, that the Quinnipiac poll, I believe it was last week, that showed not only that his support among Republicans had gone down but also his support among non-college-educated white people had gone down. And these are key parts of his base that everybody was tracking during the election as being very strong. If they're not as strong anymore, that's a problem for the president. And also, you can see that he's on the defensive when he puts that

list out there. You know, the job numbers are strong, and you know, the military is strong, although some people are -- there's a big debate happening in the administration right now about what to do in Afghanistan, push back from Capitol Hill that the president wasn't serious enough about upping the strength of the military and putting enough money behind that to improve things. So he's pitching himself, and he's pitching his last 200 days right now as being stronger than a lot of people observing the administration believe that it is.

KEILAR: I want to change the subject a little bit and talk about something that was pretty rare that we saw this weekend, which was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy A.G. on a Sunday show. This isn't something you see all the time, and he was essentially asked where does this go, this special counsel with Robert Mueller? And here's what he said about the scope of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: If he finds evidence of a crime that's within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of this investigation, then he can. If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time me, for permission to expand his investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The key words of the statement are "within the scope." That's the entire issue.

KEILAR: What is the scope? Is that what you mean?

[07:10:06] CUOMO: There is an articulated purview of jurisdiction, that the acting attorney general put out in appointing the special counsel. Remember, Rosenstein appointed the special counsel. What went into is thinking that only he knows.

So it doesn't clarify the issue. The issue is what would qualify as within this scope? Why is this a concern? Ken Starr is why this is a concern. Because that started out as a land deal...

KEILAR: Whitewater.

CUOMO: ... and turned out into Monica Lewinsky. So obviously, ironically, the Republicans, John Avlon, want to protect against that happening again. But let's remember what the sticky wicket is here. If the special counsel were to come to -- that's a cricket metaphor. You know, I'm -- I diversify my sports analogies whenever I can.

If he goes to the acting A.G. and says, "Look, I've got a road I want to go down. If the acting A.G. was to say no to whatever it is. The political ramifications are huge, no matter what the road is that special counsel wants to go down. Is it not true?

AVLON: Sure, of course that's true. The question of how public that conversation would be at the time or after the fact. But that's effectively what Ken Starr said when he was on NEW DAY on Friday.

Jaw dropping when he said no one wants to see an investigation with the prosecutor going on a fishing expedition. But he made a point that, when they looked to advance the scope beyond Whitewater, he went to Janet Reno, then attorney general, who greenlit it.

So -- so, look, Rosenstein has been in a very unique spot. Because the A.G. recused himself, to the president's great frustration, this whole process moves forward. What we know is that Mueller now is actively working with the grand jury.

The president, probably all his instincts are to fire him. But what's most significant is that people in the administration are saying don't, and that people in the Senate and Congress are saying, "We need a backstop bill put forward to not allow the president to do this, because it would kick off a constitutional crisis in the form of obstruction of justice."

And this is all -- you know, let's not let the 17-day working vacation distract us from this is the big game going on in the administration, whatever economic numbers are being touted beyond that.

CAMEROTA: Karoun, the president said it's really -- the red line for him is family finances, that to him that is outside of the scope. But is it incumbent on, let's say, Mueller, if he does as he is looking into the Russia investigation, finds things that are unrelated but things aren't right with the family's finances, is it incumbent on him, obviously, to pursue that but also on Rosenstein to say, "Yes, you should"?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that the answer to that is probably yes. You have seen too much speculation about the family finances. Remember, there's still been this groundswell of "show us your tax returns" that still has never been satisfied, I mean, at least from the Democrats.

You also have the fact that there's a dispute about why the president's son-in-law met with the head of the Vnesheconombank, which is the Russian foreign investment bank. Why wasn't he with Sergey Gorkov? The Russians say it was because of personal finances. The Trump administration is saying it was to discuss Syria, which doesn't make sense to talk about Syria with that guy in particular. So that kind of has -- is an open question lying there, as well.

And so, if Mueller finds something that starts to bring family finances into question, that could be -- there could be personal motivations to do things, and not -- not campaign motivations to do things that we would find suspect or questionable when we're talking about the major question of was there collusion happening with Kremlin officials?

So these are all questions that it would -- it would be incumbent on Mueller to pursue if he finds a reason to pursue them.

I think Rosenstein has been pretty straight about going by what he thinks that the merits of the case are. He stood up as a firewall between the administration and Mueller early on. He has said that he would not fire him without cause.

And remember, any sort of attempt to fire Mueller does have to go through whoever the acting A.G. is. Trump can only order the A.G. to fire him. And Rosenstein has basically said, "I'm not going to be swayed by politics."

CUOMO: Karoun, I'm sad to inform you that the president did not give you a derisive nickname this morning or comment on how what you said is complete balderdash.

He did say, "The fact is, the fake news, Russian collusion story, record stock market, border security, military strength, jobs, Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation and so much more had driven the Trump base even closer together. Will never change."

We give the president the final word on that. Alex, John, Karoun, thank you very much.

We're following breaking news this morning, as well. CNN has learned a police officer in Clinton, Missouri, was shot and killed in the line of duty. It reportedly happened during a traffic stop late last night. Authorities are looking for the suspect who the highway patrol says got out and just started shooting before driving off. We're on this story. As details become available, we will bring them to you.

KEILAR: The governor of Minnesota calling the weekend bombing of a mosque an act of terrorism. This blast happened around 5 a.m. on Saturday, just as people were getting ready for morning prayers. The explosive device shattered windows and damaged the imam's office. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The FBI, though, is investigating the case as a possible hate crime.

[07:15:16] FOX News suspending host Eric bowling pending the results of an investigation into whether he sent lewd photos to at least three female colleagues. FOX launching the investigation after a "Huffington Post" story citing a dozen anonymous sources came out. It reports the lewd photos were sent several years ago and on separate occasion. Bolling's attorney says his client denies the claims. Several FOX News executives have been ousted from the network in the last year amid their own sexual allegations.

KEILAR: Well, that deadly accident at the Ohio state fair caused by excessive corrosion. This is according to the manufacturer of the Fireball ride that broke apart last month and killed an 18-year-old rider, injured seven other people, as well. And inspectors say the ride had passed multiple inspections before the deadly accident.

CUOMO: Now, excessive corrosion is going to wind up being a little bit of term of art language was used by the maker of that thing to explain how it broke in a way that may not be their responsibility. That is legal language. We'll see where it goes in terms of that probe.

All right. So Kellyanne Conway, she's out in the media. She's spinning what's going on. And she says, yes, the president's approval is slipping just a little bit, but it is not his fault. Whose fault is it? And how do the parties being blamed feel about it? We're going to give that all to you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I would note, too, in some of the polling which, of course, I scour daily on behalf of the president, his approval rating among Republicans and conservative and Trump voters is down slightly. It needs to go up. They are telling him, just enact your program. Don't worry about a Congress that isn't supporting legislation to get big-ticket items done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Very interesting. There you see presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway: Yes, the president's approval numbers have slipped, but it's not his fault.

All right. Let's get the context of what the numbers are. The latest national poll has President Trump's approval at a new low of 33 percent. The president's approval among Republicans is at 76 percent. Now, that is a deceptive number, because it sounds high. Yes, it's dropped since June.

But remember, within your own party, it's like asking how many of your family members like you. It is not uncommon for that number to be above 85 or even 90 percent. I'm sure Scott Taylor's numbers are very high and in that area, and you expect that.

So let's discuss the intrigue going on here with Republican Congressman Scott Taylor. Always great to have you, sir, and I will not waste the opportunity to pick your brain on what you learned when you went down and met with the leaders of different South American countries and get your perspective on what's happening in Venezuela. Very important to American interests and beyond.

The politics here. It's your fault, Congressman. I say it to you all the time, but this time, it's not coming from my head. in Kellyanne Conway say, sure his numbers have slipped a little bit, but it's because Congress stinks at their job and have gotten nothing done. Do you take responsibility for the president's slipping poll numbers?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I think there's a lot of factors in there, of course. And as you very well know, that's a snapshot in time. It's not -- it's not a good one right now, obviously.

But I think Congress has been the punching bag for many presidents. When you're talking about Obama attacking us, attacking Congress for Gitmo, for economic reasons. Bush did the same thing with Congress. It's kind of tradition, isn't it, from the executive branch.

But as you know, we don't have a king, so you have to play well with others and you have to get along with the legislative branch, as well, to enact your policies as a president. So I don't think that we're to blame, absolutely not. That for some things, possibly, but not time for everything, certainly. CUOMO: The president coming out long and strong on this this morning.

Lots of tweets, lots of detail. It shows the urgency that he sees on defending the merits of his base. He says the Trump base is far bigger and stronger than ever before and then he goes into a, you know, whole tearing down of the media for making up all this stuff that would even suggest that he's not doing well with the base.

What is your sense of how that core of voters that motivated Trump's campaign and ultimately his presidency, how is that base faring? Do you believe that he has expanded it and intensified its strength thus far?

TAYLOR: I don't know about expanding it. But I do think that his base is secure. But I don't think that he's -- I don't think his base has, you know, left him. I don't believe that. I'm not sure that he's expanded it. But there's still a lot of time for opportunity to do so.

CUOMO: Now, one of the reasons I love interviewing you, Congressman, is that you do not have the appetite for what is obvious political spin, the way a lot of lawmakers do. Maybe it's because you're a decorated war veteran. Maybe it's because you went in there with a pretty direct sense of what you wanted to get done, your motivations are a little different than another politician.

But when you hear this talk, the numbers are what they are. And this energy being spent on spin and blaming you and blaming everybody else, what do you make of that use of energy?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, as you very well know, Chris, as a veteran reporter, you know, you've seen this a lot. It happens all the time in the different presidencies, of course.

But of course, I would like to not see the spin. I would like to get to work and get some stuff done for the American people. But to be fair, that's the way our system is set up, you know, to have that tension all the time. And then everybody sort of -- something hopefully, a policy coming out of all that tension and the infighting and stuff like that. But, you know, I don't like to waste time on dumb stuff. You know that.

CUOMO: Well, you're in the wrong job. Let's talk about a couple of things that matter very much right now. H.R. McMaster, a man you know and believes to be worthy of respect says you cannot overestimate the concern and the potential problems with North Korea. What do you make of the sanctions strategy? Do you believe that we are pulling levers that will make a difference right now?

[06:25:09] TAYLOR: Well, we've been trying for about, what, 25 years or so. I mean, it was good to see, of course, the U.N. unanimously voting, 15-0 I think it was, to put sanctions in place and then let North Korea have a very strong message that we won't tolerate some of the belligerent behavior that they're doing. It's very important.

And I've been on this program. I think I've been on this program, talking about insane, that whether you're a Democrat or Republican, it's unacceptable to have North Korea shooting missiles off the coast of California like they do Japan. That's just completely unacceptable.

So I think that, under this president, you have seen sort of a change of strategy. You've seen some force there in the region to sort of change the dynamics of what we've been trying to do for the past 20, 25 years, and I support that. I think it's very important, and I agree with McMaster that it is a serious issue that all Americans should be concerned about, whether a Democrat or Republican.

CUOMO: Mixed bag, right? You've seen more urgency from this administration, more attention to it, teeing it up. The question is now, that puts added emphasis on what you do about it, and you obviously have an unstable regime. We'll see where this latest wave...

TAYLOR: Putting more attention to it creates more -- putting more tension on it creates more tension. That's true, of course. But at the same time, if we don't have that, you'd see them steadily marching to have an ICBM that would have the capabilities to the American homeland. That's unacceptable.

CUOMO: Fair enough, Congressman. So you go down to South America. You meet with all these different leaders. You come back with a message for people about the urgency of different situations but, specifically, Venezuela. And to be honest, we report on it here.

You know, CNN has a big mandate when it comes to international news. But it has not resonated here at home. It's not easy to get people's attention, even after the president of the United States and the administration went hard at the Venezuelan president, targeting him specifically with sanctions, an unusual move.

What do you want people to know?

TAYLOR: I think it's extremely important for not just Americans but, obviously, our leaders, as well, too, to pay more attention to our own back yard. Venezuela is falling apart. And that's going to create a tremendous amount of destabilization in the region. We just went down and met with the presidents of Colombia, Peru, of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

And there's already the start of a humanitarian crisis and refugee crisis on the border of Venezuela and Columbia, and they're really worried down there, of course, because they're not prepared for a refugee crisis. And on top of that, you have Maduro down there making threats to the Colombia government, sort of to mask the disintegration of his own domestic sector there, of course, in Venezuela.

And Colombia is our closest ally in South America. That's something that we have to pay very close attention to. The Peruvians, to their credit, they're having a summit -- I think it's tomorrow, if I'm not mistaken -- with a foreign minister who's bringing other foreign ministers around in the region to discuss to potential sanctions, potential severing of diplomatic ties. So it's a good thing that we're taking the lead on that. But leaders in America should also be paying strong attention, because the destabilization effects of what's happening in Venezuela.

CUOMO: Congressman Scott Taylor, always appreciate your perspective. And you know, as you have information people need to know about issues that matter, you always have a home here at NEW DAY. Thank you, sir.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

CUOMO: Be well. Brianna.

KEILAR: The Justice Department is cracking down on leakers. The deputy attorney general says anyone could be prosecuted. Does that mean they're going to target reporters? We'll be asking a Democratic senator next.

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