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Chaos in West Wing as Hope Hicks Resigns; Trump Bucks His Own Party on Gun Control. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 06:00   ET



GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A friend of his said he's going to go into a tailspin without her around.

[05:59:20] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we've seen from the very beginning of this administration is nothing but chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think she was forced out. There's a shelf life to working in the West Wing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're seeing Jared Kushner meeting with executives in the White House, and then the companies are giving very sizable mortgages to his company.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whose business is he doing when he's in the White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jared Kushner simply cannot continue in his present role.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA.

If you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it passed.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Mr. President, it's going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this.

We need to act.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, March 1, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

Chaos in President Trump's West Wing. One of the president's most trusted and longest serving aides, Hope Hicks -- that's his director of communications -- abruptly announcing that she is resigning.

CNN has reporting that President Trump berated Hicks after she admitted to congressional investigators that she tells, quote, "white lies" on his behalf. The president's embattled attorney general is fighting back against Mr. Trump's very public attacks.

"The Washington Post" reports Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the president's efforts to oust and intimidate Jeff Sessions amounts to obstruction of justice.

CUOMO: Another explosive story about the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. "The New York Times" reports Kushner received hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for his family business. But here's the key part. Those loans came after meeting with financial executives inside the White House.

Kushner's tenure in the administration continues to be dogged by conflict of interest questions.

And a televised meeting between President Trump and lawmakers has Republicans scratching their heads. The president stunning members of his own party, saying he supports comprehensive gun control, including stronger background checks, raising the age limit for buying rifles, and taking guns away from high-risk individuals. We have a lot to cover, and we have it all.

Let's begin with Abby Phillip live at the White House -- Abby.


It's been a wild 48 hours for this White House as the president, one of his closest advisers and confidantes, Hope Hicks, decides to leave this White House.

And it also comes at a time when the Mueller investigation seems to be closing in on the president's inner circle.


PHILLIP (voice-over): ... growing increasingly isolated after the abrupt resignation of one of his closest advisors, White House communications director Hope Hicks. Hicks is the fourth in that Post, to step down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hope was one of the people he really, really trusted. So with her leaving, there's only a handful left. And he's going to feel like he's on an island.

PHILLIP: The White House attempting to downplay the shocking announcement, insisting that Hicks has been thinking about leaving for weeks, but Hicks' departure came one day after she testified before a House committee as part of their Russia probe, conceding that at Times, she's told white lies for President Trump.

A source tells CNN's Erin Burnett that this admission upset the president, who berated Hicks after her nearly nine hours of testimony. A former Trump campaign aide telling CNN that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has been inquiring about Hicks's remarks to "The New York Times" shortly after the election, denying any contact between the campaign and Russian officials. A statement that has proven to be false.

Only a handful of President Trump's original inner circle are now left in the White House as scrutiny over the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, continues to grow. "The New York Times" reporting that the two companies loaned Kushner's family real- estate business more than $500 million after meeting with Kushner at the White House.

JESSE DRUCKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (via phone): You're seeing Jared Kushner meeting with executives in the White House. And then sometime after those meetings, the companies that those executives work for, run or help to run are giving very sizable mortgages to his company.

PHILLIP: The "Times" reports that Kushner still owns the vast majority of his interest in his company. But a spokesman for his attorney insists that Kushner has taken no part in any business, loans or projects with and for the Kushner companies since joining the White House.

Sources tell CNN that Kushner is worried that everyone in the West Wing is out to get him after having his top-secret clearance stripped by chief of staff John Kelly.

All of this as the Mueller probe intensifies. "The Washington Post" reporting that Mueller's team is looking into whether President Trump's efforts to oust and intimidate Attorney General Jeff Sessions last summer amounts to obstruction of justice.

TRUMP: I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office.

PHILLIP: "The Post" adding that the president has privately refers to Sessions as "Mr. Magoo," a cartoon character who is "elderly, myopic and bumbling."

President Trump lashing out at Sessions again, calling his approach to investigating alleged surveillance abuses "disgraceful."

Sessions dining publicly with the other top members of the Justice Department Wednesday night after firing back at the president's latest attack in a rare statement: "As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner."


PHILLIP: Jeff Sessions will be at the White House today for an opioid meeting. But President Trump is at the moment not scheduled to attend. He will be, however, holding a separate meeting on school safety with senators, a private meeting. And we are also expecting, waiting to see what the school safety proposals that Trump is supposed to unveil as soon as the end of this week -- Chris and Alisyn.

[06:05:11] CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much. We'll get to Jeff Sessions in a moment. Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza.

So listen, let's start with Hope Hicks, OK. Obviously, she's not -- she's not sort of the public face of the administration. So people -- regular people don't know how significant she has been for years to President Trump. So what does her resignation mean, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, it's another person that he trusts gone. And I don't think you can overestimate how important trust is to politicians generally speaking, particularly at this level. But to Donald Trump in particular.

Remember that when he started running for president he was a punch line, literally. But Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowsky, Dan Scavino, they were with him. She is no longer with him.

I mean, she was in many ways, someone who sort of could say, "I was with you in June 2015, so let's not freak out in June 2017." There's not that many people left who can do that.

So forget her title, which is a big and important thing. It's not really about that. It's about her capacity to be trusted by the president of the United States. And when you shrink that down even further than it already is, you get someone, I think, who retreats into Twitter and into some of his less good/worse...

CUOMO: He was doing that anyway. One of the layers of significance, John, is whether or not she resigned, for whatever reasons, or she was pushed out. Now Maggie Haberman at the time says she wasn't forced out. This isn't about what happened at the hearing where she said, "I tell white lies for the president."

Do you buy that, and does it matter whether she's leaving because it's time to move on and make money? Or is this another person who got on his wrong side that got kicked out?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It matters to the extent that she has been loyal, she is familiar. And if there was bad blood, as CNN has reported, you know, a berating after the white lies comment, you know, that would be significant.

But we always do -- did they jump or were they pushed? I think what's most significant about Hope Hicks is she has been for so long the loyalty, the familiarity, which is so important to Trump, but increasingly embroiled in a series of scandals, the Rob Porter scandal, most significantly, reports that Trump had been blindsided by that, by their relationship.

But this really means that Dan Scavino wins the game of survivor in the West Wing. He is the last member of the original crew. Kellyanne Conway comes in later in the campaign. She's there, as well.

But that whole cast of characters who came in with Trump is basically gone less than 18 months later. That is a sign of chaos. It's a sign that I think the president will get more isolated, because if he's being surrounded by professionals, there are people he does not necessarily trust and know. CILLIZZA: I mean, he has had five communications directors. I know

Jason Miller never wound up making it to the actual post, and Sean Spicer was acting. But still, he's been in office for a year.

CAMEROTA: What does that mean Sean Spicer was acting?

CUOMO: He wasn't permanent; he was acting. I took it the same way, too.

CILLIZZA: Oh, sorry. Acting -- acting...

CAMEROTA: Thespian.


CILLIZZA: That, too.

CUOMO: That's the best he can do.

CILLIZZA: Acting...

CUOMO: I can do better than that acting.

CILLIZZA: Acting communications director.


CILLIZZA: A little early for me.

CAMEROTA: ... one person whose job seems precarious but says he's not going anywhere is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Here are the list of public insults that the president has lobbed at Jeff Sessions. In May, he called him an idiot. In July of 2017, beleaguered. In July 25, very weak. July 26 also he was very disappointed with Sessions. Then December, he did a, quote, "terrible thing." And then yesterday he is disgraceful.

AVLON: The all-caps "DISGRACEFUL," which is the other level of disgraceful.

CUOMO: This is the first senator to really come out in his favor during the campaign. Nobody would even look at Trump.

AVLON: The only. That is what is so extraordinary about this, is that step back for a second. This is the president of the United States berating his attorney general, who he could fire but doesn't feel, apparently, empowered to do. On a consistent basis, belittling and belittling him when he is the first supporter in the Senate. It is astounding. And then to see Jeff Sessions stand up yesterday and push back in that sort of dignified, you know, southern honor culture. This is deep bad blood, but it's utterly surreal circumstance, without real precedent in America.

CUOMO: And he was having dinner last night with Rosenstein.

AVLON: That was probably prescheduled. CAMEROTA: Hold on. You know I like body language.

CUOMO: What do you see here?

CAMEROTA: I see two -- I see three men. I see four men.

CUOMO: You're spot on.

AVLON: Nailed it.

CAMEROTA: I see four men in business suits. Oh, he waved. What does that mean?

CUOMO: Leaving the Justice Department. Right?

AVLON: Are they hungry?

CAMEROTA: Are they hungry? I can't tell.

CUOMO: Rosenstein a step in front and also a step to the side.

CAMEROTA: To the left.


AVLON: Oh, wow.

CILLIZZA: That's the critical...

CUOMO: It's a metaphor.

AVLON: It's always a metaphor.

CILLIZZA: It's dark in Washington. I mean, it was night.

CUOMO: Under cover of night.

CILLIZZA: I think there's a tendency..

CUOMO: Whenever you get a harumph (ph), you know you're on a good trend.

CILLIZZA: This is what's difficult. I think there's a tendency to be like, wow, you know, he's really mean to Sessions. But I mean, this is the degradation of the presidency yet again. He's bullying him. I mean, he is bullying him. If someone treated your kid like this at school, you would either tell them, "You need to punch this kid in the nose."

CUOMO: But you'll get stamped the snowflake option now. People say this is -- you're just being a softy on it.

CILLIZZA: But it's not just that. Because this is the person who is the head of the...

CUOMO: There you go. CILLIZZA: He's the top law enforcement official in the country.


CILLIZZA: And if he is removed, Rod Rosenstein is no longer in charge of the Russian investigation. This person, because the person who is now in that office is not recused. I mean, I just think...

AVLON: Why Trump wants him to resign but not actually have to fire him.

CUOMO: Because I think he thinks potentially if you go into his mind, always a dicey proposition, but you try to go into his mind, figure out what his plans are, I think there is a concern that, if you fire Sessions after firing Comey, after reportedly wanting to fire Mueller, now you start to get into the -- why is he trying to get rid of them?

CAMEROTA: Ding, ding, ding.

CUOMO: Now you start to...

CILLIZZA: In his mind I think he thinks, "Well, maybe that's a bridge too far."

CUOMO: He's saying another institution of the democracy doesn't work. His initial insult is you can't have an inspector general look at this stuff with FISA. They have no teeth. They don't prosecute anything. And that guy's an Obama guy.

That -- you know, forget about all the Magoo stuff and all that, although that was a pretty good insult.

AVLON: You like a nice insult.

CUOMO: I like a nice insult. Make no mistake about that. The president and I grew up in the same place. Insults were high currency. But the idea of saying they can't do the job. You can't trust the people or the process. That's dangerous well beyond politics.

This is how he treats his friends and earliest allies.

CUOMO: And institutions. The institutions part matters.

AVLON: Of course it does. And that is actually the larger erosion of faith and trust in institutions. You know, the call is coming from inside the house, people, the White House.

CAMEROTA: Let's...

CUOMO: When you're home -- no, you're too young. When you're home and the phone call was inside the house.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I remember. I don't like that.

CUOMO: The babysitter. AVLON: It is terrifying.

CUOMO: Years of therapy.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about Jared Kushner.


CAMEROTA: OK. So according to the "New York Times" I believe, in early 2017 after the inauguration, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House. He was interested in a White House job. Then in November of that year, that private equity firm sent $184 million to Kushner's real-estate firm to refinance his mortgage.

CUOMO: Which was much larger than their typical bridge financing for APILA (ph) Capital.

CAMEROTA: It doesn't actually get swampier than that. Paying for access. That is the definition, right? Right?

CILLIZZA: And the context, too, Alisyn, the fact that we know, according to "Washington Post" reporting, that four foreign countries have said that Kushner, because of his financials setup, is vulnerable to this sort of manipulation.

I mean, let's remember he paid $1.8 billion for a skyscraper in Washington -- in the best city, New York.

CUOMO: New York City.

CILLIZZA: How can I make that mistake? And continues to try to get out from under it. Again, there was -- the idea of bringing in people who you are related to is sketchy in and of itself. The idea of not having those people -- Kushner made any number of changes to his disclosures. This is why he doesn't have a permanent security clearance.

CAMEROTA: Downgraded.

AVLON: Do the math on this. We're talking over half a billion dollars in this report. Two loans that total over half a billion dollars after meeting with someone in the White House.

This is just exactly why we don't have nepotism. This is exactly why four countries thought that he was an easy mark.

CUOMO: Right.

AVLON: This is why you don't have a security clearance. But there is something even deeper and shadier here. Half a billion dollars on loans to a property. They have meetings in the White House. Watch out, people. This is what it looks like at some point.

CUOMO: What looks like? You lost it. AVLON: It looks like he's having meetings with people and then getting preferential treatment and financial benefit. Which is also why you don't have people who have relationships with business entities when they're serving in the White House.

CAMEROTA: Yes, why don't you just agree with me that it doesn't get swampier.

AVLON: I did. I just took more words.

CILLIZZA: I will say it doesn't get swampier, Alisyn.

CUOMO: That's the point.

AVLON: He's doubling down.

CUOMO: One layer of defense is, hey, guys, these are not government lifers. These are not professional politicians. They're conducting business the way regular people do.

AVLON: That's not the point.

CUOMO: Jared Kushner is way too sophisticated an individual. Listen, this is a smart guy. He had a great reputation, businesswise here. Everybody has problems when they're putting money around the way he does.

[06:15:05] But he knows what this would look like. He knows what the risks are with this. And that's an important part of the calculus.

AVLON: Let's just play that out for a second and have fun here.

CUOMO: He's not a dummy, this guy. He's not a guy who doesn't know better.

AVLON: No. I'd not -- well, if he'd known better, then he wouldn't have done it. Firsts of all, is it a good business -- -- sign of business acumen to pay $1.8 billion on one single building? Let's just put that through the reality.

CUOMO: Triple 6 is a coveted property.

AVLON: Well, it's not that coveted. OK? Not $1.8 billion coveted.

Second thing is...

CUOMO: Listen to you, E.F. Hutton. How do you know whether it's coveted or not?

AVLON: Come on. Same reason as you...

CUOMO: There were bids for it. They said they overpaid.

AVLON: The second thing is, if you know what it looks like, if you're really savvy, if you understand the politics of perception, you don't do these things. But he did. CAMEROTA: On that note, John, Chris, thank you very much.

AVLON: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Now coming up in the next hour, we're going to speak with the man Hope Hicks replaced, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. What does he make of the impact and the implication on the president?

CAMEROTA: OK. President Trump turning on his own party, or at least not going with with their talking points. He was siding publicly with Democrats on gun control. So where will he stand when it's time to take action? We discuss where he is on gun control next.


[06:20:10] CUOMO: All right. Did you see the big televised meeting yesterday, the bipartisan one with the members of Congress? Even better than the one on DACA and immigration.

CAMEROTA: You think? You're giving this an "A"?

CUOMO: More startling, more eye-popping. I'm getting nods of assent from two men who aren't particularly fond of me. And it was about gun control. And the Republican Party is very clear on this. The president is a Republican. Also clear. But not yesterday.


TRUMP: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified.

In your bill, what are you doing about the 18 to 21?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to change that.

TRUMP: Are you going to leave that? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?

This is not a popular thing to say in terms of the NRA, but I'm saying it anyway.

It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know.

I like taking the guns early. Take the guns first, go through due process second. If you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it, guys.


CUOMO: So let's bring in Chris Cillizza and John Avlon. And here's the good news about this. You don't have to be a lawyer to understand how scary that proposition is. Not that you don't need to do something about guns. Applaud the president for trying to figure on out what to do, even though he's talking about things that are not politically popular within his own party.

CAMEROTA: For sure.

CUOMO: Check that box. However, "Let's take your stuff and then..."

CILLIZZA: "We'll work it out later. Figure out the legal stuff later." It's like a "Homeland" episode.

CUOMO: Highly assaultive to the notion of due process, something that ordinarily anybody in elected office but certainly Republicans would jump all over when it comes to this, particularly Republicans, crickets.

CILLIZZA: I mean, I'm not exaggerating that I think if you substitute Barack -- Donald Trump for Barack Obama and he says that exact same thing, there is like an uprising on the right. Gun sales go through the roof.

I mean, because for years, despite Barack Obama saying, "I'm not coming to your house to take your gun," there was always that fear. When Obama got elected, gun sales through the roof. After Newtown, gun sales through the roof. Because that was always the fear. I mean, it is remarkable.

I don't know that -- I always wonder this with Trump, does he know what he's saying in that regard?


CUOMO: Do the Senator Cornyn face.

CILLIZZA: So the best thing is watch John Cornyn, who is sitting next to -- next to the president. He goes like this all the time. Like, "It's possible I misheard that." And then sometimes he does this. Like "I've seen a ghost" type of situation. Because he's...

CUOMO: Look at him.

CILLIZZA: John Cornyn -- John Cornyn, to your point, though, Chris, John Cornyn is, like, Republican orthodoxy 101 on this, right? He's from Texas. Second Amendment supporter.

And you have the president of the United States being like "We can do -- we can do comprehensive." I mean, it's just like the immigration one.

Now, if you are a gun rights supporter, you should take comfort in the fact that it looked like the immigration meeting. Because two days after the immigration meeting where he said we're going to do comprehensive immigration reform, he vetoed all of it.

CAMEROTA: We're not there yet, but hold on. I want to say this. I think this is President Trump at his best.

CUOMO: You said that after -- during the last meeting. CAMEROTA: And I feel this way, that he throws it out there. He

breaks the mold. He's unpredictable. And so it gets people back on their heels. And he starts here, as we know, with his negotiation. He starts at a more extreme position and gets people sort of all riled up and confused. And then you don't know what he's going to do next, but he generally backs off that.

AVLON: But I actually agree with you, and I think this is the best segment of the reality show running out of the West Wing. Because there is actually a civic value to this. This is like, let's open the doors. Let's put the cameras in real-time. Let's hear all these great statesmen articulate their policy and have a back and forth, and the president's the ring master. So I think there's a real virtue to it.

The problem is, if you listen and look carefully, this is not necessarily a collection of the best and the brightest on the policy issue.

But the president showed real willingness to skew the calculus. And if he follows through, that could be really constructive. The thing is, as Chris pointed out, he's articulating the most fever-dream nightmare of what -- of what they said Barack Obama wanted to do.

Now, whether he is able to move the ball forward, I think the most significant thing he said was, "Guys, you're not going to get conceal and carry. Don't attach it to the bill." If he follows through on that, you actually could see NICS pass forward, the Cornyn bill. You could see some progress.

But it was a debate amongst, you know, members of Congress and the president on one of the urgent issues of our time in real-time.

CAMEROTA: And we get to watch.

CILLIZZA: It's a great thing if he shows some political capital spending, willingness to do one or two of the things. Otherwise it's just...

CUOMO: That's the qualification of what you're celebrating about his tactic here. You said at the last meeting also, you were right then also. But then what happened?

CILLIZZA: Otherwise it's just good -- otherwise, it's good TV.

Interesting from a civic perspective, to John's point.

AVLON: The civic thing can't be underestimated. This is actually really healthy. To see also him try to be a negotiator. And his instinct seems to be try to move people to the middle. Let's see if he follows through.

[06:25:09] CILLIZZA: Well, then remember, his past views on guns prior to being a candidate for president are much more in line with what he sounded like yesterday than a sort of traditional Republican candidate. AVLON: There was this extraordinary member where Senator Ben Sasse, a

critic but conservative, releases a statement that said we're not going to change our principles based on the last person who spoke to the president, which is a stunning -- another stunning statement.

CUOMO: So where does it leave us? To Alisyn's point, this is what he does well. He shakes everybody up. But where does it leave us?

You look at Manchin and Toomey, we had Manchin on the show, the senator from West Virginia this morning. Very key player right now. And he says, "Hey, did you put the age thing in your bill?" And they're like "Did they what to the who?" And he said, "Did you put the age thing in the bill?" They said, "No, it's not in the bill." And they start talking about the age thing. But I didn't get a clear sense of is that on the table?

AVLON: Well, also...

CUOMO: Then he says you should take the guns first. He's talking about people who are considered dangerous because of mental incapacity, mental health. Now, there are a lot of restraining orders that states have passed. California is one of them, if you want to Google a few.

CAMEROTA: And Florida is considering it now, that temporary restraining order.

CUOMO: Due process is step for step with it. You know, you are someone who is close to me. You say, boy, he's losing it. Of course, if you even saw TV (ph).


CUOMO: You have to go to the judge. You have to make a show of clear and convincing evidence. And then, you know, through your responses, what you get off my social media, and then they'll take my gun. It has to go through due process to be constitutional.

CILLIZZA: The thing -- the thing that's hard work in this, I think what we know is he would like to have a win. I think he would like to do something in a way that he believes Barack Obama...

CUOMO: What's the easiest thing? That's the question.

CILLIZZA: NICS is the easiest thing.

CUOMO: But is that a win to the kids down there and to that movement?

CILLIZZA: It's not about that.

CAMEROTA: They want more. They wouldn't consider that a win. They want more.

CILLIZZA: It's about signing. . It's signing something. It's him holding that ceremony that we've seen many times. He does the signature, he holds it. Who wants the pen? That's what he wants. The specifics of what -- I think the reason that you have trouble nailing it down is because he doesn't know.

AVLON: Look, and Manchin-Toomey would be more of a win. The president's impulse here isn't just to get a win, quote unquote. But it's also, I think, he's got an opportunity to be Nixon in China on issues like this, on issues like immigration.

But then the key question is does he follow through? Does he actually use the political capital? The unbelievable influence he has over the House. Will he actually deploy that to get something done? That's the real question. This is his legacy. This is our country. Let's see if he actually follows through in this instance.

CAMEROTA: OK. John Avlon, Chris Cillizza, thank you very much for that spirited conversation.

As we continue the discussion on gun control, seven students at Stoneman Douglas High School tell me what it was like to return to their school for the first time since the massacre.

CUOMO: And another big headline. Russia's Vladimir Putin making a disturbing claim just moments ago. What he's saying about his missile and nuclear capabilities, next.