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Trump Lawyer Sends Cease & Desist Letter to Bannon. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired January 4, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:00:04] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. This is an interesting lesson for your kids and not one that you had intended to teach them. Well, Shelly Simonds, we will be watching, obviously, very closely as we have throughout all of this craziness. It shows that every vote does count. Thank you so much. We'll see what happens at 11 a.m. Eastern today.
SHELLY SIMONDS (D), VA DELEGATE CANDIDATE: Thank you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: We'll talk again.
And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you CNN "NEWS ROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Bannon is essentially saying there is a "there" there in the Russia probe. It's really stunning.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's lawyer sending Bannon a cease and desist letter.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Bannon speculates that the special counsel's office is focusing on money laundering.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president said Steve Bannon not only lost his job; he lost his mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wolff writes that Mr. Trump never expected or wanted to win the election. And most everyone in his campaign agreed he probably shouldn't be president. If any of this is true, it makes him look terrible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're beginning what's going to be a battle royale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen this much snow here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More than 100 million Americans under wind chill advisories.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to cause a world of problems, no doubt about that. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.
The president's lawyer sending a cease and desist letter to former top strategist Steve Bannon. Is this some kind of wish to return to the days where criticizing the president or government was illegal?
This comes after the stunning claims by Bannon in a new book. Among them, blasting Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then-campaign chair Paul Manafort all for going to that meeting with that Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign. Bannon calls it treasonous. And that is just the start.
CAMEROTA: The president is said to be furious and disgusted. In a blistering statement he said Bannon had, quote, "lost his mind."
But this morning, the president is tweeting about other things. His decision to dissolve his controversial Voter Fraud Commission after the White House claimed that too many states refused to participate. That, of course, was created after the president insisted, without any evidence, that there was widespread voter fraud that prevented him from winning the popular vote in 2016.
So we have all of this covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House, which is of course, the scene of all the talk this morning -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. This is extraordinary even for the Trump White House. The president angrily lashing out at his former chief strategist for trashing the president and his first family, using words like, oh, among other things, "treasonous."
The president also in a situation where he is demanding, through his lawyers, that Steve Bannon stop talking, even though Bannon has said at least some of the things that Democrats have been saying for months.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump's lawyer threatening imminent legal action against Steve Bannon, accusing the president's former chief strategist of defamation and arguing that he violated a nondisclosure agreement when speaking to the author of this bombshell new book. Excerpts published in "The Guardian" quote Bannon suggesting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort have been treasonous and unpatriotic for meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton at Trump Tower in 2016.
Bannon also reportedly saying that "The chance Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero." A claim that runs contrary to the administration's longstanding position. DON TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It was such a nothing, there was
nothing to tell.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The president wasn't aware of the meeting, did not participate in the meeting.
JOHNS: Bannon is also quoted discussing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, claiming, "They're going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV," allegedly predicting that the investigation will center on money laundering.
News of the book prompting a scathing statement from the president, asserting in part, "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think furious, disgusted would probably certainly fit when you make such outrageous claims and completely false claims against the president.
JOHNS: Bannon saying this about the controversy last night.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Nothing will ever come between us and President Trump and his agenda. Don't worry about that. We're tight on this agenda, as we've ever been.
JOHNS: Democrat Andre Carson telling CNN Bannon is scheduled to come before the House Intelligence Committee later this month.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: We want to make sure his statements aren't out of emotionalism or spitefulness. We want to really find out what he really thinks.
JOHNS: Bannon's remarks just one part of journalist Michael Wolff's stunning new book, characterizing the first year of the Trump presidency as chaotic and dysfunctional and President Trump as uninformed. Wolff saying this about the impression deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh allegedly had of the president: "He didn't read. He didn't really even skim. Some believed that, for all practical purposes, he was no more than semi-literate. It was, said, Walsh, like trying to figure out what a child wants."
[07:05:23] Walsh denies making these remarks, but the passage is similar to a different quote published in "New York Magazine" from aide Sam Nunberg, who reportedly said this about Trump's attention span when he was sent to explain the Constitution: "I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head."
The White House vehemently denying these accounts, saying, "The book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House."
JOHNS: The president has several meetings scheduled with Republicans today, though none appear as open to the media, at least for now. Anger over the Russia investigation a likely explanation for the president's low profile this week -- Chris and Alisyn.
CUOMO: Yes, you know, his Twitter feed, Joe, is all about everything but this book this morning. And that's obviously a signal that he knows we'll be talking about it and with good reason.
Joining us once again, we have CNN political analysts who are going to come in and talk about what's going on with this book. John Avlon, David Gregory here with us.
David Gregory, it's interesting. One more reason that it's hard to hear what you get from the pulpit at the White House and believe it in the form of Sarah Sanders, when she says, "This book is filled with people who have no access to the White House and don't know what they're talking about" when Steve Bannon is the guy who's making headlines this morning for what he said. They can duck all they want. This book is going to hit and hit hard. Why?
GREGORY: Because the White House granted access to journalist Michael Wolff. It has a lot of journalists wishing they had similar access. He wanted fly-on-the-wall access. He appears to have gotten it. He has claimed this morning in Axios to Mike Allen that he's got tape recordings to back it up. So it's going to be very hard to wiggle away from all of this.
And Steve Bannon was very much inside the tent. He may be, you know, similar to Trump in his self-aggrandizing proclivities and his sense of himself, but he has taken on the president here.
And I think what's most striking is him taking on the president, whom he says he still supports, by fueling the biggest danger to this presidency, and that is this Russia investigation. Going after Don Jr., saying that he might flip, saying that that meeting at Trump Tower was treasonous. These are the kinds of things that I think, even beyond the bumbling nature of the Trump White House and Trump as president himself, are so damaging and striking about this book.
CUOMO: All right. So let's start our look at the book with the beginning.
CUOMO: Before he even won, look at this excerpt from Michael Wolf about what the expectations were there in Trump land. "As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had been never to win. 'I can be the most famous man in the world,' he has told his aide. He would come out with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumors about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities. 'This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,' he told Ailes a week before the election. 'I don't think about losing, because it isn't losing. We've totally won'." John. AVLON: First of all, you should do the audio book, clearly. But look, it is a stunning portrait of a campaign that was set up as, basically, a marketing exercise, which is what was suspected but seems to be revealed in these quotes. That nobody thought they would win inside the Trump campaign.
CAMEROTA: And didn't really want to win. That's the other thing.
AVLON: That's right.
CAMEROTA: That's not him just putting the best spin on a possible loss.
CAMEROTA: It's that they already had won. He had elevated his name brand, and they didn't want to win.
AVLON: And we'd -- he'd be able to enrich himself off the experience of running. It's the exact opposite of how most people run for president, which is the primacy of public service, something that you actually prepare for over a long period of time. And that this, instead, was sort of a long con played to build his brand. That itself is one of the most dispiriting things about -- about the perception of the campaign that seemed to be confirmed in this book. Is that this was not about our best -- this is utterly separate from our best traditions as a country.
CAMEROTA: There's a lot of different colorful things in. I mean, there's certain stylistic points in here. So we'll just -- we'll go from the substance to the style, OK?
So in here it also is a window into some of the president's idiosyncrasies. Here's one about the president fearing that he will be poisoned. "Then he," Donald Trump, "imposed a new set of rules. Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush."
CUOMO: That's a good rule.
CAMEROTA: Don't we all agree with that?
CUOMO: Yes, I mean --
CAMEROTA: That's -- that's not a quirk. "He had a longtime fear of being poisoned. One reason he liked to eat at McDonald's."
CAMEROTA: Nobody knew -- nobody -- are you going to be the subliminal commenter?
CUOMO: Yes. Trans fats.
CAMEROTA: Exactly. "Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade." Questionable. "Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed. CUOMO: Respected military school training.
CAMEROTA: David, do you have any one-word comment on that?
GREGORY: No. I mean, again, I think the idiosyncrasies are just those. I think the substantive things are, you know, much more important to analyze or to criticize.
CAMEROTA: All right. As someone who enjoys to eat in bed, I -- I appreciate this excerpt. He also likes eating in bed. Not that I generally eat a cheeseburger, though you may find a half-eaten sandwich.
Here is one: "If he was not having his 6:30 dinner with Steve Bannon, than more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls. The phone was his true contact point to the world, to a small group of friends."
Anything, John Avlon?
AVLON: A 6:30 dinner with Steve Bannon? I thought he barely knew the guy. He had nothing to do with the campaign.
Dinner -- cheeseburgers in bed at 6:30 looks like a portrait of clinical depression to me. But let's put that aside.
It is the substance -- I mean, the details in this are fascinating. They are fun. They're salacious. They are disturbing. But obviously, the real news is that one of the president's closest aides is describing these Russia meetings as treasonous --
CAMEROTA: OK, let's get to that.
AVLON: -- and unpatriotic and laying out, very frankly, saying this is about money laundering, folks.
CAMEROTA: Let's get to that one.
CUOMO: All right. So here's the next one, all right? "You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering." Now remember, this is coming from Steve Bannon. "Mueller chose Andrew Weissman first, and he is a money laundering guy. Their path to F-ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. It's as plain as a hair your face.
CAMEROTA: And you know, just one thing, David. This is interesting, because it -- it sort of comports with what the Fusion GPS founders were saying, was that money laundering --
CUOMO: Well, a lot of people have been around the investigation. I mean, look, Manafort is suing Mueller right now. Why? Because he's saying, "Your scope is too broad, and it's going back to things that didn't include what I was doing with this campaign." What are those things? They're all about money transactions. So the interesting part of this isn't that Bannon is making something
up out of whole cloth. We have tons of indicia that would lead us to the same point of reference. But it's that it's coming from his own guy, David.
CUOMO: That's why this hurts.
AVLON: That's right.
GREGORY: That particular excerpt, you know, sounds like a guy who's, you know, sitting back in his chair and is, you know, reeling off opinions about an investigation. He doesn't have any particular insight. But he's got insight into the players. And he's been around the players. And he's willing to make assumptions about what they were thinking, what they were motivated to do, what they were willing to do. That's what I think is damning about all of that.
It's not that Steve Bannon talking to Michael Wolff has some insight into where Mueller is going. He's speculating like a lot of other people. But he's got different insight, having been there at the time.
AVLON: Significantly. Importantly different insight. And again, you know, Trump apparently dictated a comment yesterday. You know, "He lost his job. He lost his mind." But this is someone with unusual access and insight into the key players and the president.
CUOMO: You just saw in that quote from Wolff. Six-thirty regular dinner with Bannon. They've been on the phone. They've been talking. One of the reasons that we're so anxious to get Anthony Scaramucci's take on this is he was the counter balance to Bannon in that whole cabal. So it will be interesting to see what he says.
CAMEROTA: But I mean, David, back to what -- the headline, one of the headlines of what Bannon has said was about that meeting. Right? So the meeting that is now at the crux of some of the investigation with the Russian lawyer, the three -- here's just to repeat it again. "The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even if you thought this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad blank -- and I happen to think it's all of that -- you should have called the FBI immediately."
So this is the guy who had the president's ear --
AVLON: Yes, right.
CAMEROTA: -- who thought that that meeting was treasonous.
GREGORY: Yes, no question about it. And the -- even without knowing the particulars of the investigation, what the meeting shows is that the Trump campaign was open for business. Even if foreign agents were coming through the door. It's a huge problem. Bannon also looks to be settling a lot of scores here.
CUOMO: Good point, David.
GREGORY: This is not a shock. And I think the settling of scores can make some things possible. That Bannon still believes in Trump, believes in the agenda and thinks that he's being terribly served by his family, in-laws, his sons, as well as others around him. And I'm sure Scaramucci, it has been revealed going back months, is engaged in score settling, as well. So that's part of the dysfunction that we've got a ringside seat to.
[07:15:07] CAMEROTA: But know your audience. I mean, how self- destructive do you have to be, if you're Steve Bannon, to go after the president's children?
CUOMO: Not self-destructive of him.
AVLON: Politics 101.
CUOMO: If you don't like those guys at the time, remember context, right? So he's talking to Michael Wolff at a time that he knows they're trying to get him out. And he's talking about them in that context. That's part of how you read this book. People will give you cautions about it, you know, that not everything is verified in this book. It's true. Wolff was saying this is everybody's take on it. Michael Wolff, not Wolf Blitzer.
CUOMO: But you know, the settling of scores point by David is a smart one to remember. Bannon was known to dislike this group of guys.
CAMEROTA: That's a great point. But of course, there's a delayed reaction with a book. This wasn't a radio show. This is a book that comes out a year later. And so now, of course, the president is going to distance himself.
AVLON: And when did this interview occur? The fact that Steve Bannon in that quote is presenting himself as sort of the civic sentinel, the guy who's really responsible and looking out for the larger national interests and legal procedures is fascinating.
GREGORY: But he -- but he also knew, remember, this -- nobody had better access than Michael Wolff. Everybody knows and can predict the impact this book is going to have coming out, you know, on basically the anniversary of the inauguration.
AVLON: Circular firing squad.
CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen. Thank you very much. Obviously, we'll talk more about all these excerpts, coming up. CUOMO: All right. And a big way to know what's going on with the White House, because you're not going to get it from the president's feed this morning. He's talking about everything else. That's why we have former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. This is a man who's been against Bannon from the beginning. He's going to tell us what he knew and when, coming up.
CAMEROTA: All right. Steve Bannon calls that 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians treasonous, as we've been saying. The former head of homeland security is going to weigh in on that explosive statement also.
CUOMO: And this winter storm is no joke. Parts of the East Coast already getting pummeled. Where? Where next? Ahead.
[07:21:03] CUOMO: There's a lot going on in our government, but the big headline this morning is this new book out, where you have the former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, leveling serious claims against Donald Trump Jr. for his meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
In this book Bannon is quoted saying, "The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad blank -- and I happen to think it's all of that -- you should have called the FBI immediately."
Joining us is the former secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson.
Always a pleasure to have you on the show.
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Chris, Alisyn, thanks for having me.
CUOMO: And now, you know, Steve Bannon, politics aside of what he's saying, he makes a point there that we've heard from many who have been in government and understand its function, that a meeting like this should have raised people's suspicions. Do you agree with that?
JOHNSON: You know, when that e-mail first came out proposing the meeting, when I read that e-mail, it was so brazen and so explicit about how the Russian government wants to support this campaign, I have to tell you, I was involved in the Obama campaign in 2007-2008. If we had received an e-mail like that, I think we would have all run in the opposite direction, let alone call the FBI.
Under federal election law, campaigns, federal campaigns are not supposed to accept support from foreign citizens and, most definitely, foreign governments. And so it's rather shocking to me that people would even -- responsible people would even accept such a meeting, given the stated purpose in that e-mail.
CUOMO: The counter is these happen all the time. That's all you do is meet with foreign people. Everybody wants to help. It was a nothing meeting. Nothing came out of it. Is that good enough?
JOHNSON: Not in this context. Look, in a campaign, in a transition, it is not unusual for an ambassador to want to reach out for relationship-building purposes. And it would not be unusual for somebody to take the meeting, nod your head, be polite and say, "Thank you very much for your interest" to something of that nature.
But my recollection of the intended purpose of the meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. That is very, very different. And as I said, federal campaigns are not supposed to be accepting assistance from foreign citizens and from foreign governments. And so it's very troubling. And I'm sure, you know, Mr. Mueller is investigating it.
CUOMO: Have you ever heard of anything like what's coming out of this Michael Wolff book about the general environment around the president of the United States?
I have to say that it's something fundamentally very different from what I know from working in the Obama White House, which -- every -- every administration has a few bumps in the road its first year. But nothing like what's portrayed in this book.
In the Obama White House, we tended to be very orderly, very disciplined, reflecting the president himself. A White House reflects the personality of the president, no matter who's on the staff. It all traces back to the personality and how the president himself conducts business. The Obama White House was very orderly, very efficient. Everyone knew their job. Everyone had their job. And everyone stayed in their lane, for the most part. And it was kind of a common thing around the Obama administration you say in your lane. And so when I read these excerpts, it's fundamentally different from anything I know about serving in a White House, serving in an administration at the cabinet level.
CUOMO: Let me get your head on a few things that matter here this morning outside this book. One, the Election Fraud Commission that seemed to have been put together by the president to advance the notion that he should have won the popular vote, they're disbanding it. He says, "Well, we're going to give it over to the Department of Homeland Security. They'll figure this stuff out. There's still merit. There's substantial proof that the fraud was what determined the popular vote."
[07:25:12] You ran the agency. Is that the job of that agency?
JOHNSON: Well, that referral, to be honest, greatly troubles me. Voting, voter fraud, voter integrity is not a security issue in this country. In a free and democratic society how we vote, who votes is not a matter of homeland security. For example, it's illegal under federal law to have U.S. military in uniform securing election sites.
JOHNSON: As we believe in an open process to vote --
CUOMO: It has a chilling effect. JOHNSON: -- and, you know, having security agencies around voting has a chilling effect. So I'm not sure I understand that referral.
Cybersecurity, election cybersecurity is a matter of Department of Homeland Security's business. It is why I designated the election infrastructure critical infrastructure just before we left office. That's cybersecurity. But not voting -- voter fraud generally. I don't believe that's a security issue, nor should it be.
CUOMO: Also, I want to talk to you about, you know -- because when we learn more about the investigation, I want to have you back on to figure out whether or not we're anywhere in terms of making our election more safe from the kind of hacking that the intelligence community believes happened with Russia. But we just don't know enough about anything that's being done to ask your take on it right now. And I guess that's a shame in and of course.
JOHNSON: We know more and more all the time.
CUOMO: Well, we know more, but the focus seems so clearly on collusion and any criminal implications of that on one side, and who knew what and when. And those are all relevant questions. But I'm saying that, certainly, the umbrella of oversight was supposed to be how did the Russians do this, how do we stop it? And it seems light there, though. Is that a fair statement, Jeh?
JOHNSON: Well, in the matter of cybersecurity and securing our election infrastructure, my concern is here we are, more than a year out from the 2016 election. Some states have taken this seriously and appear to be doing more to step up their own cybersecurity. But others have not. And at the federal level, we've done very little.
2016 should have been a wakeup call. In 2012, my old boss Leon Panetta said that there's going to be a cyber Pearl Harbor one day. And we may well have seen that last year with this election. And so at the national level, we really do need to make cybersecurity around election infrastructure a national imperative. And I've seen very little since we left office last year.
CUOMO: Let me get your head on DACA also. Obviously, you understood the workings of that and what led up to the Obama administration policy in the first place. The president's position now is, "Listen, this was never supposed to be done. This was illegal, this act by the executive. This is for Congress to figure out. I'll give you six months. That's fair."
Do you agree?
JOHNSON: Well, look, if there is legislation codifying DACA, that strengthen -- strengthens the program from a legal point of view. This is -- this is really a test of our democracy. The president says he wants legislation codifying DACA. The speaker says he wants legislation codifying DACA. Just about every Democrat in Congress supports it. And a number of Republicans.
So the question is are we going to get this done when a clear majority of congress and administration supports this? It's the right thing to do. We're talking about a population of 700, 800,000 young people who came to this country as children who are de facto American. They're American in every aspect except legally. And so this is the right thing to do.
And it really is an imperative to get these people and keep these people on the book and not encourage them to work off the books. And the letter that Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Chertoff and I yesterday wrote to Congress really was to flag that you need to do this soon. Don't wait till the end of the -- don't wait till the deadline on March 5. You've got to do this sooner rather than later, because there's an implementation period that has to be put into place.
And those of us who actually ran the Department of Homeland Security were concerned, because we see the possibility of another travel ban- like train wreck coming here, if Congress waits till the left minute on this.
CUOMO: So timing is essential?
JOHNSON: Timing is essential. We've got to do this in January, not March, not wait until March.
CUOMO: Well, we'll see, because they're certainly playing politics with it right now. And we'll stay on that.
Jeh Johnson, appreciate your head on all these things. There's always a lot to talk about. You're always welcome here.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: OK. He is the new senator who pulled off a major upset in Alabama by beating Roy Moore, Steve Bannon's candidate. So what does Doug Jones think about everything that's happening today? He joins us live next.
Also, we're tracking the huge winter storm that's hitting the East Coast. We're live with updates.