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Gates May Be Key to Russia Collusion Investigation; Trump Pick for V.A. Secretary Greeted with Skepticism; Judge Denies Lawyer's Request to Depose Trump. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have very little evidence that shows collusion.

[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's at stake here is the following question. Did the president himself come under Russian influence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of stuff that smells very bad.

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Three hundred and seventy-five thousand employees, a budget of close to $200 billion. It is going to be a challenge for anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does have the president's confidence, and he had the confidence of President Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know much about him, and that's part of the concern.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've made a lot of progress with the veterans, but I want to get them a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's just this toxic culture in the West Wing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aides urging the president not to appoint a new communications director. Those ideas are really dumb.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off. John Berman joins me.

Great to have you. Happy Friday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be here. Thanks.

CAMEROTA: So up first, CNN has learned why Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants help from the former Trump deputy chairman, Rick Gates. Court filings suggest that Mueller is going after bigger fish as he investigates contacts between President Trump's campaign and Russia.

BERMAN: In the meantime, President Trump's pick for V.A. secretary drawing criticism and concern over his thin management record. "The Washington Post" reports that Dr. Ronny Jackson, the doctor

himself, was taken aback when he got the news and expressed hesitance about taking a job that oversees 360,000 federal employees and a $186 billion budget.

And a federal judge in California denying a motion from the attorney for Stormy Daniels to depose President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Daniels's attorney here live to discuss his next move.

Let's begin our coverage, though, with CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, live in Washington with the top story. Information and insight into what the special counsel is after right now, Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And this relates, obviously, to the Rick Gates development. And we're told that Mueller's team has primarily been using Rick Gates for information about the central mission of the investigation, which has been Russian interference or, as we've all referred to it as the so- called collusion into the 2016 campaign.

Now, the interesting thing here, very early on, before Gates agreed to cooperate with special counsel, we're told that Mueller's team told him that they needed him -- that they didn't need him for Paul Manafort and instead wanted to hear about what he knew about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.

And we may have a hint just how Mueller has been using Gates's information. That came from a recent court filing that shows Gates was communicating with a Russian intelligence official who was also a close associate of Manafort. And the court papers said that Gates knew of this connection while he worked for the Trump campaign.

BERMAN: Shimon, any sense of what Rick Gates could know about all of this or what information he might have had access to?

PROKUPECZ: Well, he had a lot of access. Right? He had a seat at the table. He had ties with members of Trump's inner circle. Obviously, he was the deputy to Paul Manafort. He was also a long- time business associate of his.

And then he also has connections to Tom Barrack, who's a fundraiser and close friend of Trump's. He was involved in some of the funding for the inauguration.

So he was in -- Rick Gates was in on some of the fund-raising decisions. He also, we're told, developed sort of reputation for keeping tabs on what others were doing inside -- in the campaign, including that Trump Tower meeting where a Russian lawyer promised dirt. Remember, that happened over the summer during the campaign, where this Russian lawyer promised dirt on Hillary Clinton -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Shimon, thank you very much for all of your reporting.

So skepticism appears to be growing over President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. This as the president made headlines in this unscripted rally in Ohio. CNN's Abby Phillip is live in West Palm Beach, Florida, with more. So

what happened, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.

President Trump is waking up here at his resort here in Mar-a-Lago after a somewhat quiet week, if you count getting rid of one of your cabinet secretaries. But it's the person that he's picked to choose [SIC] his new V.A. secretary who's coming under some new scrutiny as his inner circle increasingly shrinks.


PHILLIP (voice-over): Mounting skepticism on Capitol Hill about the qualifications of President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, White House doctor Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R-CO), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: This is an organization that's over half the size of the United States Army. And unless he's going to be tough, nothing is going to change.

PHILLIP: Jackson has worked at the White House for three successive administrations, but he has no management experience and, if confirmed, would take control of the second largest department in the federal government.

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Three hundred and seventy-five thousand employees. A budget of close to $200 billion next year and a very complex organization. And so it is going to be a challenge for anybody to take.

PHILLIP: Former CIA chief John Brennan calling Jackson's selection a "terribly misguided nomination that will hurt both a good man and our veterans."

[07:05:03] "The Washington Post" reports that Jackson himself was taken aback by his nomination and hesitated to take on such a big job. But the president continued to push for his selection. Sources say Mr. Trump has been pleased with Jackson since he praised his health in January.

REAR ADMIRAL RONNY L. JACKSON, NOMINEE FOR SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the next 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.

PHILLIP: Jackson has not commented publicly about his position on the privatization of veterans' care, a step his predecessor, David Shulkin, opposed.

SHULKIN: There were some political appointees within my administration that didn't see it that way and really wanted us to take a much harder stance towards privatization. I wasn't willing to do that.

PHILLIP: President Trump, hinting at his support for privatization at a rally Thursday. TRUMP: We've made a lot of progress with the veterans, but I want to get them choice.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump also defending his decision to oust Shulkin.

TRUMP: I've made some changes, because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of. I wasn't happy with it.

PHILLIP: After largely staying out of public sight for days, President Trump going off script at the rally meant to tout his infrastructure plan. Mr. Trump threatening to upend his first major trade deal with South Korea.

TRUMP: I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea.

PHILLIP: And surprising the Pentagon with this announcement about the U.S. presence in Syria.

TRUMP: We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.

PHILLIP: Before leaving for Ohio, President Trump bid farewell to outgoing communications director Hope Hicks Thursday. So far nobody is in line to take her place. CNN has learned that the president is being told by some advisers he doesn't need a communications director or a chief of staff if General Kelly departs.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If General Kelly at any time does decide to leave or the president decides it's time for him to move on, I don't believe there will be another chief of staff.


PHILLIP: Well, we are learning new developments about another of President Trump's cabinet secretaries. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is under some scrutiny for his use of a 24/7 security detail, according to a letter by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse that CNN has obtained. Pruitt has used the security detail not only for his time here in Washington but also at home in Tulsa, for a trip to Disneyland and also a trip to the Rose Bowl. So more troubles here for the president's cabinet secretaries, Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. We'll get into all of that.

So let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and Brian Karem.

OK, so John, it's hard for people, I think, to follow every thread of the Russia investigation. OK? But what's happened now with this court filing and Rick Gates does feel like it's a big deal to delve into. So explain it to people.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a confirmation that the Mueller investigation is looking at collusion and direct contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence services. That's the simplest way to say it. It's not just Russians being -- you know, surrounding and lobbying the

campaign. It's not just questions of whether they tried to influence the election, which they did via the IRA in St. Petersburg. It's a close member of the Trump campaign, deputy to the former chairman, Paul Manafort, who is both in business and in contact with a member of the GRU, Russian intelligence services.

BERMAN: It also looks like the Mueller investigation tries to send signals, subtle signals. Not-so-subtle, right? When they indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities.


BERMAN: That's saying the Russians meddled.

KAREM: Pretty direct.

BERMAN: Let's not argue about whether the Russians meddled.

In this obscure court filing they're trying to say, "No, no, no. We're looking at campaign contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia." And it's also a reminder "We've got Rick Gates."

KAREM: Right.

AVLON: "Rick Gates is cooperating with us. We've got Michael Flynn. He's cooperating."

KAREM: And a few others that you probably haven't mentioned. Well, I think we're looking at it from the outside in. And we're ascribing motive to the action that we can't be aware of.

Because I have to tell you, having covered the DOJ, you know, for years and knowing the people that know him, this is a -- it's been described as a black box. And that -- and the other metaphor is, you know, peeling back of an onion.

I think he progresses methodically. And what we see and ascribe as motives to kind of, like, give us -- I don't think he cares. I think he's doing his job. He's going to go about doing his job. He's going to do it in the best way he knows how.

And I think we find that they're not going to be coming forward with too much information except through court documents. And then he's going to -- which is really, you know, a very professional way of doing things. Very contrary to Washington, D.C., where if you say hi, it turns out three blocks later that you gave the Gettysburg Address. So I think it speaks to the professionalism of this investigation and the thoroughness of it.

I don't like the word "collusion," though, I mean, since it's not a -- you can't be charged for collusion. I think what they're probably looking at is obstruction of justice. And while collusion could be used to impeach. But if they're going to indict him on anything, it's not going to be collusion. It's going to be something else.

[07:10:09] CAMEROTA: All right. Let's talk about what's going on in the White House --

KAREM: Oh, boy.

CAMEROTA: -- and in the administration as a whole.

So yesterday, the president said good-bye publicly to Hope Hicks. It was her last day. Hope Hicks has been with him since before he was president. I mean, this was a trusted adviser, and aide, and confidante. I'm no body language expert, but this was an awkward -- that part actually wasn't awkward. The -- they're very close. That part is actually nice. This one. And good-bye, farewell. Best of luck to you.

AVLON: Get out of you.

BERMAN: It was like a mini Emmanuel Macron handshake right there.

KAREM: Coming up next --

CAMEROTA: Clearly, he has affection for her and it appears vice versa. So where that leaves us is that he may not replace her. He thinks he may not need a director.

AVLON: This is -- apparently, the president is getting advice from people that he doesn't need a communications director; he might not need a chief of staff. Whoever is giving him that advice are actually not his friends.

If ever a president needed a chief of staff and a communications director, it is this one, if he was willing to listen to them. And therein lies the rub.

KAREM: Well, maybe that's why they're their friends.

AVLON: Yes, but I mean, this -- you know, we're at the end of March. Let's just look at the body count over this month in the president's inner circle. Communications director, gone. Secretary of state, gone. Chief economic adviser, gone. National security adviser, gone. V.A. secretary, gone. That is massive upheaval.

KAREM: And wait until hour. Someone else might leave.

AVLON: There's still time.

BERMAN: Look, Rob Porter, the staff secretary even before that. These are people who are key -- were key to the smooth operation of the White House.

KAREM: And that's, you know, the chaos. He loves -- he had said he loves to operate in chaos. And I can tell you there's nothing out of covering a lot of administrations. I've never seen -- it's almost scary how mean-spirited and chaotic the White House is and can be.

So to operate without -- you know, the idea of operating without a chief of staff, to me, is anathema to running a government. And how do you run without a communications director? He likes to fly by the seat of his pants, make his own decisions.

That's the way he's done business. Everyone who's ever done business with him will tell you that. They say, "He means well." I get it.

But this is the U.S. government. It's not a start-up operation. It's been going on since the 1700s. So maybe you might want to kind of follow rote.

BERMAN: A billion served and counting.

KAREM: We're not even a McDonald's.

BERMAN: John brought up a great point here, which is that these are friends who are not friends if they're giving him this advice. But you can't dismiss these people as powerless quacks, Brian. Because we know the president listens to these people. In some ways they might be more powerful than the people in the West Wing.

KAREM: Well, and some of them may have spent time in the West Wing and may no longer be in the West Wing. That may be some of the people that he's listening to. And he finds it more convenient to listen to people who aren't with him on a daily basis. You know, familiarity breeds contempt. So maybe he becomes contemptible when he has to see him on a daily basis. And they of him, because they have to put up with him. So perhaps when they're outside, he listens to them.

And you're right. It's a good point that you made, John, is that I don't -- the scary part about it is when you have people outside of the White House giving you -- giving you advice and you take it. And you don't listen to the people that are there on a daily basis, that's -- that's a recipe for disaster.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, what's the upshot to the American public if he doesn't have a director of communications? Does it matter?

KAREM: Yes. Yes.

AVLON: It does at the end of the day. Look, we know the president is not a big fan of studying American history. But just for a second, you know, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter tried stretches without a chief of staff. It was a disaster. There's a reason that role exists.

CAMEROTA: I understand chief of staff. That traffic cop I understand. But director of communications? He says whatever he wants on Twitter.

KAREM: Yes, that's the problem.

AVLON: Maybe the administration can have some message discipline that will counteract his shoot-from-the-hip style.

KAREM: Yes. The problem without a director of communications, look, we'll go through one news cycle. You know, it used to be like -- I remember walking in with Reagan. They would spend all day long craft -- you'd go in early in the morning. Larry Speakes would say, this, this and this. Then, say, bring in somebody else who would explain the facts. And then the briefing would come later. And you would spend all day long crafting one message. In fact, sometimes all week long crafting one message.

CAMEROTA: How quaint.

KAREM: And this guy will ruin it all with a tweet. But what you hope is -- like, we had this plan and then he tweets out something else. But what you hoped you have, and maybe what Hope Hicks was providing, was enough of a break to keep it sane.

And you do need that -- you do need that traffic cop in the White House. Otherwise, bedlam and chaos is going to overwhelm us all, if it hasn't already.

BERMAN: Very quickly, John Avlon, Dr. Ronny Jackson, will he become the V.A. secretary?

AVLON: Look, I think Republicans control the Senate. They're going to be inclined to vote for whoever the president's nominee is. But that -- that hearing is going to be interesting, because he's going to get tough questions about what is his experience, what are his policies, details about the presidential physical, perhaps. So look for, actually, a revealing hearing.

But he's -- look, he is a charming guy. The question is does his -- and a good doctor by all accounts. Does his experience match up even in the same ballpark of the responsibilities of running the V.A.?

[07:15:07] KAREM: And the situation there is the administration, as I said yesterday, the administration has been screaming that it wants its people. "Give us our people. We can't do our job. We want our team in place."

So inasmuch as -- like I said yesterday, if he doesn't come in and drool or make a big mistake, he'll probably be seated, because the Republicans at the very least, unless of course, there's an overwhelming number of them that don't, want to give him his chance and give him his team.

And there's nothing actually wrong with that. I mean, you want -- the president comes in to do the job. You want him to have the team that he wants.

BERMAN: The team has to be able to play the position.

KAREM: Well, that's right.

BERMAN: You can't have a pitcher -- you can't have a pitcher play shortstop.

KAREM: Well, that's up to the coach. That's up to the coach.

AVLON: It's not good for the ball club or the fans.

KAREM: You and I agree with that. I'm not disagreeing. Then we get rid of the coach.

AVLON: And play ball, people.

CAMEROTA: I'm stopping the sports metaphors right here, because I don't understand them. John Avlon, Brian Karem, thank you very much.

So a legal setback for Stormy Daniels's team. A judge denies her request from her attorney to depose President Trump and his longtime personal attorney. Michael Avenatti joins us next.


[07:20:10] CAMEROTA: A federal judge denying a motion from Stormy Daniels's lawyer to question President Trump and his personal lawyer under oath about the $130,000 payment aimed at silencing Daniels about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.

Joining us now is Stormy Daniels's attorney Michael Avenatti. Great to see you.


CAMEROTA: So this was a setback from the judge. You wanted to depose the president and Michael Cohen. What's your next move?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't really classify it as a setback. I mean, it's a temporary denial. We're going to refile the motion. It's a procedural ruling.

But what we're encouraged by, Alisyn, is that there's language where the ruling whereby court agrees with our assessment of the law and appears to suggest that we're going to win this motion. I mean, this is two minutes into the first quarter and the other side is declaring victory and popping champagne bottles. It's a little ridiculous.

CAMEROTA: But what is your next move. It seems to us that every day you have something up your sleeve. And you either roll out a new tease of something that you have or a new action. So what today are you going to do?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't believe -- I don't believe that we've been teasing a lot. I think we've been performing actions and we've been litigating this case.

And we've got a -- look, we've got a lot of evidence. We've got a lot of cards up our sleeve. We're going to be strategic. We're going to be smart. This case has got a long way to go.

But we're going to follow -- as far as next steps, we're going to file this motion as soon as they file their motion to compel arbitration. And the court is going to decide this. And I think the president and Mr. Cohen are in a world of hurt as it relates to this.

BLITZER: When I say "tease," I mean you've been dangling a lot of reported evidence that we haven't seen. For instance, you tweeted out that photo of a CD connected to the "60 Minutes" interview with Stormy Daniels. What is that? We don't know what that is. You've never explained it. Why did you connect it to "60 Minutes"?

AVENATTI: Well, I think as I explained, I mean, that was a warning shot to Mr. Cohen and the president that they'd better be very careful after the "60 Minutes" broadcast relating to the denials of this affair.

And Alisyn -- Alisyn, guess what? It worked. Because since the "60 Minutes" interview, we've heard nothing from Mr. Cohen or the president, and they haven't denied it. So it was -- I think it was a heck of a warning shot. It served its purpose. And in due time, the American people are going to learn what's on that DVD.

BLITZER: Tell us right now what's on that DVD.

AVENATTI: I'm not going to do that. I mean, I know that everyone wants that. We're in society where everybody wants immediate gratification. We've got a lawsuit to try.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's not just immediate gratification. It is that you seem to be the master of the tease. So that -- that -- something -- something exists. We don't know if there's any evidence. And what about when you say that there are eight other women who have come forward? Who are they? When do we hear their stories?

AVENATTI: Well, again, and I think I've been clear about this. I was asked a question as to whether there were other women that had contacted us. I didn't tease that out. I didn't get out in front of that. I was asked a question.

I come on these shows, and I answer basically 95 percent of the questions that are posed to me, unlike a lot of politicians and a lot of other people that come on these shows. I don't dodge questions. So if I'm asked a question, I answer it.

Let me talk about the eight women. Eight women have contacted us. We're vetting those. Two appear to have NDAs. But we're going to be very careful before we start releasing information and facts about those, because I'm not willing to stake my reputation behind them.

CAMEROTA: I guess the point is what's your evidence? What's your evidence that there was an affair?

AVENATTI: We've got a mountain of evidence --

CAMEROTA: Such as?

AVENATTI: -- that the American people -- I'm not going to lay out all of our evidence.

CAMEROTA: But share some with us, though. Listen, we've been taking you at your word and Stormy Daniels' at her word. But what's the -- at some point you have to actually cough up something.

AVENATTI: OK. Well, I think we have coughed up something. My client sat for a two-hour interview with Anderson Cooper. "60 Minutes" spliced that up and played it for the American people. CAMEROTA: We know her story, but we haven't seen the evidence.

AVENATTI: Well, that's evidence. Her statements are evidence. That's part of evidence. That's No. 1.

No. 2, we have the fact that Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to my client within two weeks of the election. Who pays $130,000 to someone if the story is a bunch of B.S.? It doesn't make any sense. If that were -- if that were true -- look, I think the American people, there's no question at this point that the American people believe that this affair happened, in my view. There's very little question.

CAMEROTA: Even only hearing her story. I hear you. Americans have decided that they believe her over the president.

AVENATTI: Correct.

CAMEROTA: However, what is your evidence? And this is where it's important to have evidence. Because you're reporting that a crime has been committed, that the president knew about that $130,000 payment.

AVENATTI: We're not purporting that a crime was committed. I want to be really clear.

CAMEROTA: But if the president knew, then it would suggest more that there was a Federal Election Commission violation.

AVENATTI: A hundred percent. And we're going to get to the bottom of this. And I think it's common sense. And the American people are smart enough to know that the story that they've been told by Mr. Cohen and surrogates of the White House makes zero sense. And it is ever changing.

And we're going to get to the bottom of it. It's very straightforward. We're going to ask some very finite questions to Mr. Cohen and the president, not through the White House spokespeople, not through someone else where there's deniability. We're going to get to the bottom of this. This is really not that complicated.

[07:25:11] CAMEROTA: What do you want from President Trump?

AVENATTI: We want the truth. We want him to come clean. We want Mr. Cohen to come clean about this $130,000 payment, about what he knew, when he knew it and what he did about it. That's what we want.

CAMEROTA: If President Trump today called you and said, "You've been a thorn in my side. This is annoying to me. I have bigger business that I'd like to move on to, how much do you want? I'll write you a check."

AVENATTI: I don't think there's a number. I really don't. I mean, that's not what this is about.

CAMEROTA: I just want to be clear. There is no number that you and your client, Stormy Daniels, would take from Michael Cohen or the president to make this go away? There's no amount of money? AVENATTI: A number that would allow him to continue to hide the truth? Is that the question?

CAMEROTA: Yes. For you to go away.

AVENATTI: No number.

CAMEROTA: No amount of money?

AVENATTI: No amount of money. We're going to get to the bottom of it. My client is committed to it. I'm committed to it. This really isn't about the money. I know that people find that so hard to believe in today's society. This is about a search for the truth. And we're going to get to the bottom of it.

CAMEROTA: How about if the president apologized? Would that be enough? Without having to reveal any details, just apologize to your client, Stormy Daniels.

AVENATTI: And continue to hide the truth?

CAMEROTA: OK, just stop talking. It went away. He's going to issue an apology, and you go away?

AVENATTI: No. It's not acceptable. We want the truth. We want the truth from Mr. Cohen, and we want the truth from Mr. Trump. And it doesn't matter if it's next week, next month, next year or next decade. We're not going anywhere.

CAMEROTA: The president, as you know, has been uncharacteristically silent about this. When he has somebody who's coming after him, he generally punches back. And when there was the, for instance, "Access Hollywood" tape that was so embarrassing for him, he decided not to stay silent. Let's just remind people of what he did in response to that tape. Here it is.


TRUMP: I never said I'm a perfect person nor pretended to be someone that I'm not. I've said and done things I regret. And the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me know these words don't reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize.


CAMEROTA: How about something like that? "I regret what I did. I apologize to Ms. Daniels. But I didn't know about the $130,000 payment." Is that good enough for you guys?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't think so. Because I don't think that he's prepared to come clean with the American people. And it's got to be him and Mr. Cohen. That's what this is about. It's not about money. It's not about apologies at this point.

CAMEROTA: But -- I understand, but how do you know he knew about the $130,000 payment?

AVENATTI: We are highly confident that he knew about it. It doesn't make any sense that he wouldn't know about it. It doesn't make any sense that he wouldn't know about the agreement. Somebody is lying here, Alisyn, and we're going to find out who it is.

CAMEROTA: OK. Michael Avenatti, thank you very much for being on. We'll be watching what happens.

AVENATTI: Happy Easter to you.

CAMEROTA: You, too. John.

AVLON: Senators calling on President Trump to back off Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrat Chris Coons joins us with what he wants to do to make sure the Russia probe is completed. That's next.