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Reports Indicate Robert Mueller is Investigating Connection between Trump Deputy Campaign Chair and Russian Operative; President Trump Replaces Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin with Personal White House Doctor; : Interview with Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia; Trump Slams Amazon on Taxes & Retail Competition. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: The interesting here and perhaps significant development is that very early on, before Gates had even agreed to cooperate and when he was in talks with the special counsel to cooperate, they told him, we're told, that they did not need him for Paul Manafort. Instead, wanted to hear about what he knew about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Now, we may have a hint as to just how Mueller has been using Gates' information from a recent court filing that shows Gates was communicating with a Russian intelligence official who was also a close associate of Paul Manafort, and the court document said that Gates knew of this connection while he was working for the Trump campaign.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And Shimon, what kind of information could Gates have?

PROKUPECZ: Well, Gates has ties to members of Trump's inner circle, including, as we said, Paul Manafort, long-time business associate of his, and Tom Barrack who is a close friend of Trump's. So Gates was in on some of the fundraising decisions. He was also the guy who developed this reputation for keeping tabs on what others were up to in the campaign, including that Trump Tower meeting which is under investigation by the special counsel where Donald Trump Jr. and others met with the Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

CAMEROTA: Shimon, thank you for sharing all of your reporting, setting all this up for us. Let's bring in now CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN political analyst Julie Pace. Great to see both of you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: So Ron, Robert Mueller's work has been done, as they say, in a black box, meaning no sunlight gets out of that. So what we do is look for these bread crumbs in court filings. And we seem to have a trail of bread crumbs now that Rick Gates was having contact with a Russian intelligence officer. So where does this leave the investigation in your mind? BROWNSTEIN: First, as you point out, I think modesty chastened the

attitude toward what we don't know about Mueller is always called for because they have consistently shown the ability to surprise the media and political world with the quantity and depth of the information they possess.

But bread crumbs was the exact word that I was going to use. One thing we have learned is they do not casually drop these bread crumbs into their court filings. The piece of information that Mr. Gates was in contact with a Russian intelligence officer that he knew to be such is significant, and it underscores that they are continuing to explore this central issue.

The president can type "no collusion" in capitals as often as he wants. But leaving aside what we already know, for example, about the meeting at Trump Tower, this is a reminder that this investigation grinds on and moves in directions that we cannot fully apprehend from the outside.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You call it bread crumbs, but the information that the deputy campaign chair was talking to someone connected with Russian intelligence --

BROWNSTEIN: That may be a whole loaf.

BERMAN: That's like a hoagie. There's something going on there. And Julie, it does seem that there's something of a message here, whether intentional already or not, that the Special Counsel is very much looking into collusion, despite the fact that there are people obsessed with the notion he's looking at Paul Manafort's past business dealings and money laundering, or whether it be obstruction or whether it be perjury. No, no, the central charge here, collusion. He is looking into it this seems to say.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's looking at all of it. That's our main takeaway from Bob Mueller. But it is true, the centerpiece of this investigation remains whether the Trump campaign was coordinating or colluding with Russia during the election. And as Ron points out, the president keeps saying there's been no collusion. That has been proven. It has not been proven. There's been nothing proven on that front. The only thing that's been proven is that Bob Mueller has not put forward any evidence of that.

But this investigation is one that is going to go on for quite some time. It's not one that is on the verge of wrapping up. So it's impossible for the president to say that has been ruled out at this point. And I think that is one of the takeaways from this recent court filing.

CAMEROTA: OK, so Ron, let's talk about the changes happening in the administration. Rex Tillerson leaves at midnight tomorrow night. Hope Hicks, we saw her goodbye with the president yesterday. And of course we know that the president has fired the V.A. secretary and is now replacing him with his personal White House doctor. How do you think that one is going to go in terms of Senate confirmation and how it's being received in D.C.? BROWNSTEIN: I think the first point is that the pattern is now

clearly established. Whether it's for personal or political reasons, Donald Trump believes that chaos benefits him, I think. And I think the markets, the Congress, the public has to be kind of accepting that this is going to be the model, there is going to be extraordinary turnover, unprecedented turnover in the administration across the board, in the White House and in the cabinet.

[08:05:13] Specifically on this area of replacing the V.A. secretary, David Shulkin had issues, ethical issues common that many cabinet officers have had, but the decision to remove him that he is now attributing to this desire to partially privatize the V.A. I think speaks to a larger vulnerability. The core of Donald Trump coalition were older, white Americans. Half of his votes came from whites over 45. And anything that moves toward undermining government-provided health care, government-guaranteed health care, is a real warning sign for those voters.

The efforts to undermine Medicaid and the ACA were very unpopular. The ideas of Paul Ryan of partially privatizing Medicare and very unpopular with older, and partially privatizing the V.A. as well I think is extremely unpopular with veterans. And all of these issues I think are creating an opening that Democrats have not had in a long time with older Americans.

BERMAN: When you talk about who is surrounding the president, John McCain used to have a joke that his support is down to essentially blood relatives. The West Wing is practically down to literally blood relatives, now, maybe a little bit more than that, Julie. But we're getting information overnight, reporting that there are outside advisers to the White House saying, you know what, you don't need a communications director. You don't need a chief of staff. Just handle it all yourself. You've covered the White House for a long time. Is that possible?

PACE: No, it's not possible. And you have to remember that these outside advisers have a real incentive to be pushing this message to the president, because the fewer gatekeepers that there are around the Oval Office, the more access these people will have. And that's been the frustration that many of them have had with John Kelly, that he really has at least tried. He hasn't actually been successful always, but he's at least tried to cut down on the number of people who can call the president directly, who can show up in the Oval Office unannounced and try to push some more unconventional ideas. So for them, having fewer people around the president would be better for them.

But the reality is that governing is such a massive job. You are overseeing this incredibly large federal government. The number of decisions you have to make on a day-to-day basis are just enormous. The president himself can't do all that. He needs people around him. You can be the best communicator, you can have a robust Twitter account. But the day-to-day functions of the government and of the White House itself require a staff. It's that simple.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Ron. BROWNSTEIN: I point back, as on many things, to the Congressional

Republicans and the move over the course of the Trump presidency from one, a posture of kind of independence at the beginning and the suggestion they would put some constraint on him to one where they have basically given him the signal that they will support and defend him almost no matter what he does. They actually have a lot of leverage over personnel through the appointment, through the confirmation process, and yet they really have done nothing to try to rein in this tendency, this inclination toward chaos which is an animating principle of his management style.

And now I think they're riding this tornado, aware that there's going to be I think throughout this presidency -- as I said, the pattern is pretty well struck -- that there's going to be this high level of chaos and they have very little ability to rein in toward anything more straightforward or reliable because they have largely self- surrendered that power, that influence over these first 16 months.

CAMEROTA: Julie, we just had Stormy Daniels attorney, Michael Avenatti on. He said there's more to come. He says they will settle at nothing -- he just told us -- until the president and Michael Cohen tell the truth, whatever that is, in Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels's mind. I asked him is there any amount of money, any amount of money, any number of digits that they would accept to go away and stop being a thorn in the president's side. He said no. So how is this going over in Washington?

PACE: This has been quite the phenomenon because it's been a controversy that has outlasted pretty much any other controversy that we've seen in the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. And I think that that is due in part to the strategy that Stormy Daniels and her attorney have been employing where they are trying to be out there every day. They are dropping new revelations.

In the press, our focus continues to be on getting the president to answer questions on this topic. No matter how many times Sarah Sanders says he has already answered this, the fact remains he hasn't. We have not heard from the president directly on this. He's not tweeting about it. He's not taking questions on it. If this is going to be out there and this is going to be a controversy swirling around his presidency, then he does have to be held accountable for it.

BERMAN: It strikes me that Michael Avenatti saying that there's no amount of money short of the president and Michael Cohen telling truth will stop him, I'm not sure that's a legal outcome.

[08:10:03] That's the part that I don't fully understand. What is he filing for? I don't think there's a legal result that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen all of a sudden give a public speech about what happened there. That's what so unusual about it.

CAMEROTA: He wants him deposed.

BERMAN: He wants him deposed, which I think is purely political at a certain point, Ron. BROWNSTEIN: Look, this all goes back to Jones v. Clinton and the

Supreme Court ruling that a president could face these kinds of private suits while in office. Donald Trump accused all of the women who made accusations against him of lying. And the prospect that others will seek defamation cases against him seems to be very high. We obviously have that track going on with the former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos.

So I think the likelihood is that you are going to see multiple efforts through his presidency to depose him on these issues. I remember during the Clinton years thinking every time another special prosecutor got appointed, it was like in "Jaws" when they put another barrel in the shark, and the shark would keep diving, but there were more barrels and it was harder and harder. And I think that is the likelihood what we are going to see. There is so much material, chum in the water to continue the "Jaws" analogy, that is out there, I think whatever -- after Stormy Daniels is resolved one way or another, there are plenty of other potential litigants to take her place. And I would bet he is going to be in this situation for as long as he is president.

BERMAN: It strikes me the deposition as an end here. Usually a deposition is a means to an end, not the deposition is the end.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: As it was in Paula Jones.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Ron Brownstein, Julie Pace, thank you very much. Have a nice holiday weekend.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: President Trump's pick to lead Veterans Affairs has no managerial experience. So is the White House doctor fit for the job? We will ask a Republican congressman and veteran next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:42] CAMEROTA: There's growing skepticism of President Trump's pick to head the Veterans Affairs Department with White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson.

The man just fired by the president, Dr. David Shulkin, is weighing on his replacement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I will do everything that I can to help Dr. Jackson succeed in this position. This is a tough position. There's no doubt about it. This is one of the most complex organizations anywhere to run.

It is going to be a challenge for anybody to take. Fortunately, we have a process that we go through where Senate confirmations are required where all these questions will be brought out. But look, I have confidence that Dr. Jackson is a person who is honorable and cares about our veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Joining us is Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. He's a former Navy SEAL and Iraq war veteran.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Good morning. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm doing well.

What do you think of the replacement of Secretary Shulkin with Dr. Jackson?

TAYLOR: Well, much like the good senator you had on earlier who actually does have a vote on the confirmation, I still need to look more into his background. I know he's a rear admiral. I know he's in Iraq. He's White House physician for both President Obama and President Trump. I think he worked under President Bush as well, too.

So, he is, you know, he's a serious person. There's no question about that. I think some of the questions that you are hearing and you raised as well should be asked and need to be asked, of course, in a Senate confirmation hearing.

CAMEROTA: In general, do you think someone needs managerial experience to run the second biggest agency in the government?

TAYLOR: I think it's helpful. There's no question about it. But, you know, earlier when -- John actually asked the senator a good question. Hey, have you ever voted for someone who wasn't perceived as qualified for a position and for confirmation? He said basically yes in a year.

So, the president has his own prerogative in terms of who he wants to lead his agencies. Secretary Shulkin I think has done a good job. I've had the chance to meet with him many times and he sat in many hearings with me over the year, where an appropriations committee over the budget of Veterans Affairs. I think he's deeply committed to our veterans. I'm pretty sure that the rear admiral is deeply committed to our veterans as well.

CAMEROTA: Why do you think President Trump chose Dr. Ronny Jackson?

TAYLOR: I can't answer that question. The president has his desires and opinions and every person has the right to pick who they want to be there.

I will tell you, you know, Secretary Shulkin was in front of us a couple times just recently, maybe a couple weeks ago and he was asked a question numerous times about privatization or if he's been forced or pressured to do so. He said no. I know, I will tell you within the administration and also within the

veteran population, veterans are not a monolith. So, there are certainly veterans who desire more private care or privatization and there are veterans, of course, who want to keep the V.A. as it stands now.

Me personally, I think it's the duty of government to protect and take care of our veterans afterwards. They have to have the full responsibility. However, there are circumstances, and in my area we have the fastest growing veteran population in the nation, so there is more need for partnerships to deal with the care that's needed for that veteran population.

So, there should be more private care available to veterans. However, it's the duty of the government to take care and have the responsibility for our veterans.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you're so interesting to talk to because you were a Navy SEAL, you served in the Iraq war. And so, was there somebody that you wanted to see head the V.A.?

TAYLOR: I wasn't sure that there was going to be a replacement this quickly. There's been rumors, reports, stuff like that. I don't have a specific person that I'm lobbying for.

I care mostly about the fact -- I care mostly about taking care of that veteran population in my area and around the whole country. So, I want someone who is deeply committed who -- you know, Secretary Shulkin, you just had a clip of him and he talked about this complex organization of the V.A. And it is.

There are a lot of moving parts. It's very complicated. There are a lot of problems obviously. They've been highlighted over the years. One could spend a career fixing the V.A. and all the issues that are there. But I want someone who is a hard charger, who is going to get in and be be deeply committed to doing so.

So, I wasn't lobbying for any specific person.

[08:20:02] CAMEROTA: And do you have a sense if Dr. Ronny Jackson is that person?

TAYLOR: I just don't -- I don't know the answer to that question. I don't -- just like the senator who is going to vote on it, on the confirmation --

CAMEROTA: You don't have enough information.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: He seems like a good guy. That's correct.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about Russia. So, as you know, President Trump expelled the 60 Russian diplomats and they, in turn, did a tit for tat and expelled U.S. diplomats from Russia.

So, what should the president do next?

TAYLOR: Well, it depends on what happens. I mean, international relations is like a chess game. When someone moves, the whole game changes. ]

It wasn't -- I don't think it was -- I think they anticipated Russia would respond in kind, if you will. We have to be careful for tit for tat and not let it escalate out of control. But I think it was important that we stood together with our allies and those other countries to push back on bad behavior from the Russians.

Obviously, that's -- we've been reporting on that, of course. There have been multiple incidents of bad behavior, if you will. This is just one of them.

So, I think what the president did was the correct thing to do. And again, it wasn't -- you know, we pretty much anticipated that Russia would respond in kind.

CAMEROTA: And do you think there's more that needs to be done. I mean, we've heard from people like Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, a Democrat, who says that this is just the beginning, that he wants to see more be done. Some people suggested, you know, throwing out oligarchs, sanctioning them, somehow seizing money.

I mean, do you think that this is enough for that attack that they did in the U.K.?

TAYLOR: I do. I mean, look, we have to be careful. I know the senators and those on the other side who don't support the president, there's a political interest there. There's a political bias, there's a political desire, of course, for him to act hard.

This is a big deal. What the president did is a big deal for standing for our allies and sending those diplomats home. That's not a small thing in international relations. So, I think we need to be careful about the rhetoric, about escalating this, because let's face it.

Look, we should push back on Russia for bad behavior, but there are things that happen in Syria and other places that we have to work with the Russians. So, they're part of the international community.

So, let's be careful creating international incidents just for political gain.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Scott Taylor, always great to get your perspective, thanks for being here.

TAYLOR: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: John?

BERMAN: Thanks, Alisyn. The part of that interview that jumped out is "John asked a really good question."

All right. President Trump -- CAMEROTA: That's all you heard there.

BERMAN: That's all I heard. After that, it was just (INAUDIBLE)

President Trump ramps its feud with Amazon, insisting the company does not pay enough taxes and is making the Postal Service lose money. So, is that true? We'll speak to the former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:26:43] BERMAN: President Trump slammed Amazon this week, claiming that the retail giant doesn't pay enough taxes.

This is what the president wrote: I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others they pay little and no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as delivery boy, causing tremendous loss to the U.S., and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business.

Does the president have his facts right? And is a policy the right way to go?

Joining me now to discuss is CNN senior economics analyst, Stephen Moore. He's a former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Let's talk about policy before the facts.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Hi, John. Sure.

BERMAN: In your mind, going after Amazon, is that the right policy for the president?

MOORE: Well, Amazon does pay a lot of taxes. There's no question about it.

BERMAN: So, he's wrong on the facts?

MOORE: Well, they pay about $500 million a year in taxes. Now, there's a dispute, an honest dispute about whether they should be paying more. In fact, I actually think this whole issue about whether these online retailers should be paying sales tax in these states. And that's I think the issue Trump was talking about.

A lot of people feel they're not collecting the local sales taxes that need to be taxed. So, that's what the president was driving at. But no, they do pay a lot of taxes.

Now, look, it is true that Jeff Bezos owns "The Washington Post", right? So, there might be a personal feud here.

BERMAN: But do you think this is political? Do you think there is a political motivation to this? Jeff Bezos owns "The Washington Post". Amazon doesn't own "The Washington Post," Jeff Bezos does.

MOORE: Right, exactly. And he owns Amazon. BERMAN: He owns Amazons.

MOORE: Right.

BERMAN: But do you think politics is part of what's driving this?

MOORE: Who knows? You know, it's quite possible. But I think what's really important here is, what's the correct policy? And I find myself against requiring these online retailers to have to collect the sales tax in these places because if you're an online retailer and you don't have a physical presence in that state, the Supreme Court has been pretty clear on this, you're not required to collect the taxes there.

BERMAN: You're cleverly trying to say this in a lot of words here. You think the president is wrong on the policy?

MOORE: Look, there -- I mean, really, there's an honest dispute here.

BERMAN: You disagree with him?

MOORE: I disagree with the whole premise that we should be taxing these online retailers. But, look, a lot of people in the retail sector, you saw Toys "R" Us went bankrupt a couple weeks ago. There's no question that the brick and mortar retailers are facing a tough time with the competition from the online folks.

BERMAN: Do you think it's appropriate for a president of the United States to target a company like this by name?

MOORE: I don't like that.

BERMAN: Why not?

MOORE: I don't think -- because, you know, when you have the power of the presidency and the executive branch of the government behind you, I think you should be bullying companies.

BERMAN: So, it's inappropriate what he's doing?

MOORE: It is not inappropriate to call out -- I mean, look, I think Donald Trump honestly believes that Amazon should be paying more taxes. There are a lot of Democrats that believe that.

BERMAN: You think he's wrong on that.

MOORE: But I do. You know, look, I agree with him 80 percent of the time but I don't always agree with Donald Trump.

BERMAN: You say you agree with him 80 percent of the time. You disagree with him on international trade policy.

MOORE: Well, you know, actually, that's an interesting thing you say. I think the big story this week, I wish CNN were covering more, is the big victory Donald Trump has gotten on trade. He's gotten big concessions from Korea. China is now saying, look, maybe we won't steal intellectual property.

So, I see what Donald Trump is doing on trade right now, it's being pretty effective. Wouldn't you agree that he's got some concessions?

BERMAN: We covered it earlier in the week.

MOORE: Yes, I know.

BERMAN: But you know who is talking about backing off that deal with South Korea?

MOORE: Who?