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New: Trump Lashes Out At Controversies Looming Over White House; Government Cites Trump Interview In Proposing Neutral Party Review Seized Cohen Docs; Daniels' Lawyer Says Trump/Cohen's Statements Don't Match. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired April 26, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINSTRATOR: I think it's early, it's nascent in the process. And I think it is just very few early adopter states so far. And that's the reason we're working hard to educate and inform the states.
REP. DAVID B. MCKINLEY, R-W.VA.: Mr. Administrator, thank you for handling all these issues and I hope that we can stay on policy and talk about some of the progress that's been made because I think it has been good for the 2environment. Thank you. I yield back.
REP. JOHN SHIMKUS, R-ILL., CHAIRMAN: The gentleman yields back. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Peters, for five minutes.
PETERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do want to ask a couple of questions about the Superfund program, particularly about your friend, Mr. Albert Kelly, who you put in the charge of the program, despite his past. He was scheduled to appear before the committee in January, but he backed out of the last minute, citing travel obligations.
I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle were disappointed, but Mr. Kelly sent a letter for the record that he would be willing to answer any and all of our questions regarding his lifetime ban from the banking industry and the illegal activities that led up to that.
More than three months later, we got no information from Mr. Kelly. We're told that political leadership has prevented him from speaking with us. And if that's true, it is certainly disappointing. Two weeks ago, you were interviewed on Fox News by Ed Henry. And he asked you several questions about Mr. Kelly.
In the interview, you said that on the details of the settlement with the FDIC were private and that none of us really know what happened. My question is if Mr. Kelly's happy to share the details of his lifetime banking ban as a matter of transparency, is he not telling us the truth or are you stopping him from doing that?
PRUITT: There is -- I think Mr. Kelly, if he's willing to share that with you, he should do that.
PRUITT: And I would encourage him to do so.
PETERS: And because we do think that it is important about -- important issue of transparency, I'm glad to hear that. The FDIC ban is not the only concern about Mr. Kelly. It has been widely reported that his family abuts the Superfund National Priorities list site. He is the head of the Superfund Program, creating at least a perception of a conflict of interest and that he might be favoring the site that is next his property.
You have mentioned that one of your goals -- is -- one of your values is that you are committed to good stewardship of taxpayer resources. Has this financial conflict been reviewed by EPA ethics officials? And if so, were they provided with all the necessary information to conduct that review?
PRUITT: I don't have knowledge about that, Congressman, if that's happened or not.
PETERS: All right. Certainly, we would ask that that be done. When you came to testify before this subcommittee in December, you claimed that you had to remove scientists from EPA's Science Advisory Board because of, quote, "the appearance of a lack of independence."
John Konkus, your Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Public Affairs, was tasked with reviewing millions of dollars of grants for the EPA, was approved to provide media consulting advice to unnamed clients, likely including his prior clients from his Republican-affiliated consulting firm.
Were you aware that Mr. Konkus has continued to work as a media consultant for outside clients?
PRUITT: I am aware that the ethics officials at the agency approved that. That is what I am aware of.
PETERS: Don't you think this creates an appearance of a lack of independence?
PRUITT: The ethics officials didn't believe that.
PETERS: You have an opinion personally about that?
PRUITT: I don't know -- I don't know anything about the contract. I just know that the ethics officials approved that transaction.
PETERS: It just seems to me that if he is working for people outside the agency, with his fingers inside the agency, that that could be a lack of independence of this offer. That is my own observation then.
You brought in Jeff Sands, directly from Syngenta, which was facing a very large fine from EPA for failing to protect his workers from a dangerous pesticide --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (In progress) Thank you, Linda. Great job you're doing. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And, Bill, Senator, please stand up, and Congress -- Bill, stand up. Please. A lot of good congressmen. My friends. There's a brave one. (Applause.) These guys -- and they fight for you. They fight for you. You fought for them; they fight for you. That I can tell you. Especially this group. Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everybody.
We also want to thank our really amazing -- these are amazing people -- the military spouses and families. Could the families and spouses please stand up? Incredible people. Incredible people. (Applause.) Their love and dedication and support is really the foundation of our military might. We give them a lot of credit. Right?
So I especially want to thank Mike Linnington and everyone at the Wounded Warrior Project. Thank you, Mike. And Mike has done an incredible job. Mike spent 35 years leading soldiers as an infantry soldier, reaching the rank of lieutenant general. And I know Mike agrees that there is no more important job than supporting the warriors who have fought and bled to keep us free. So I want to thank you very much. We all want to thank you. (Applause.)
That's why we are fighting to reform the VA. And that is why we signed VA accountability legislation into law.
I want to thank you folks, because that's been -- they've been trying to get that through for over 30 years. Accountability. We want accountability. They don't treat our vets good, we want them out. And that's what we can do now. We couldn't do it before.
That was a tough one to get through, but we got it through. And now we're going for choice. And we're going to get choice. And that's another one that I've wanted right from the beginning. And we'll get that done too.
So I'm so happy with accountability. It's been worked on so long. We have people that were terrible working there and they're gone. And before we couldn't do anything about them. But we're very happy and we're going to have the finest choice program that you've ever seen. In fact, we turned down one program because we truly didn't think it was good enough. Is that right? We could have gotten it passed, and I said, "Nope, not good enough. We're going to go for the real deal."
So we're going to have choice. There's no more waiting on lines for 12 weeks, and you can't get the doctors, you can't get what you need. So we're going to have choice. It's going to be a really good one and these folks are going to be responsible for it. So I want to thank you all.
This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Phoenix VA scandal. Horrible scandal. And we must make sure that this kind of tragedy never ever happens again. We must always protect those who protect us. The heroes in this room today come from every background and every single walk of life. But they are united by the sacred bonds of duty and loyalty that hold us together as one nation, under God. Your devotion, your endurance, and your unbreakable will are all a great inspiration to every single American.
Each of you has endured life-changing injuries. Each of you has conquered adversity with resolve -- never giving in, never giving up, and never ever backing down. Have you ever given in, anybody here? I don't think so. (Laughter.) This is not a stage of those that gave in. Is that right? Would you say -- do we have any giver-iners? I don't think so. (Applause.)
They don't know what that word -- those words -- mean. They don't know. They are winners.
As the nation and all nations watch you ride today, they will see the fighting warrior spirit that thrives in your souls. And by the way, our military -- recent budget -- General Mattis asking -- $700 billion -- never happened before. And next year -- we don't' even talk about it -- already approved $716 billion. So that's really something. That's what we had to get. That was number one on our list even though we had to approve a couple of things that we weren't so happy with because of some folks that are not friendly to our military. $700 billion, and $716 million, and $6 million for opioid.
We're going to fight that opioid situation harder than anyone has fought it before. We've already begun. But $6 billion for opioid and stopping that scourge, and also for working with those that have unfortunately met with the opioids in a very bad fashion. So we're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and now we have the money. So thank you all, fellas. That's great. (Applause.)
With that, we will be able to see you through -- that brave example, that out nation can defeat any hardship, meet any challenge, beat any setback, and rise from our trials stronger and more determined by far, by far, than ever before. Our military will be stronger, more powerful than at any time ever before. Better equipment -- we make the greatest equipment in the world.
It also means jobs. By the way, far secondarily, jobs. Jobs are a benefit, but that's far secondarily.
One warrior with us today is someone I first met years ago. His name is Dan Nevins and his incredible story embodies the long journey of recovery and triumph that each of you represent so beautifully. Each of you just represent it beyond what anybody can do. It's incredible.
Dan served as an Infantry squad leader of Task Force Tacoma in Iraq, in 2004.
While on a combat mission, his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Dan was severely injured, ultimately losing both legs. Through countless surgeries, Dan refused to give in. He is a fighter and he is a champion. (Applause.)
And the Wounded Warrior Project was there to help Dan along his difficult journey, where he's had such tremendous success. Dan is now a nationally-recognized motivational speaker, and works to serve other veterans and their families.
I also know from personal experience that Dan is a great golfer. (Laughter.) How do you think that makes me feel? (Laughter.) He's a great -- he really is, he's a really good golfer. Right? (Applause.)
So, Dan, I want to thank you for everything. You're really an inspiration -- everything you've done and will continue to do for our beloved nation. We love this nation. We're in your debt, and we are in the eternal debt of every single person on this stage -- the Wounded Warriors. These are our most incredible people, our most incredible people.
As you set out on your Soldier Ride, all of America will be cheering you on and watching. And all of America will be celebrating your strength, and your tenacity, and your unwavering love of your country. My pledge to you, our noble warriors, is that my administration will support you, and your loved ones, and your amazing families every single day, now and always. We're never going to forget. That is our sacred commitment.
As Dan comes to the podium, I want to again thank you all for honoring us with your presence today. Thank you all, and thank you all for the help, everybody. It's a tremendous help. This group, in particular, has been of great help.
May God bless you. May God bless our Wounded Warriors. May God bless our military. And may God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
NEVINS: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, I actually remember the first time meeting you, Mr. President. It happened to be at one of your golf properties, and you were hosting a charitable fundraising tournament for Wounded Warrior Project.
And I remember coming up to the par 3, and you were stationed there greeting all your guests and saying thank you, and being a gracious host. And I stepped up and just felt all this pressure. I have to hit a good golf shot.
And I stepped up to the tee, I hit a beautiful shot. And I was, like, just remembering the reality of the situation. (Laughter.) It nestled maybe two feet from the pin. And I was so excited I just -- under all the pressure of you watching, I just nailed it. (Laughter.) And then everybody else went, and then it was your turn. And you hit your golf shot, and it landed on the green well away from mine. (Laughter and applause.)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That was good. Good line. That was -- you're listening there, President Trump speaking at an event for wounded warriors as they kick off today the Annual Soldier Ride. That's happening at the White House as we speak.
Coming up, breaking news coming in, a lot of news happening this morning including the breaking news on the legal case against President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. We'll have that right after a break.
BOLDUAN: Breaking news, a presidential cabinet in turmoil, more turmoil. A president incensed today. Right now, on Capitol Hill, embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt is fighting for his job. He's facing tough questions from both Democrats and Republicans as he faces a slew of ethical scandals.
Also new this morning, Dr. Ronny Jackson pulls the plug on his own nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jackson already hobbled by accusations of professional misconduct, he denies any of it, but said it in a statement this morning that it all had become a distraction for the president.
And then this, this morning, an angry President Trump unloading in a live interview about Ronny Jackson and the other controversies hanging over his White House. Here's a bit of the summary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: These are all false accusations. These are false -- they're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp. Look, Comey is a leaker and he's a liar. And not only on this stuff. He's been leaking for years. He also leaked the memos which are classified. Nobody unclassified them and those memos were about me and they're phony memos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is your Justice Department -- Mr. President, you're the Republican in charge of --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You're right. But I answer this all the time. Because of the fact that they have this witch-hunt going on, with people in the Justice Department that shouldn't be there, they have a witch-hunt against the president of the United States going on, I've taken the position, and I don't have to take this position and maybe I'll change that I will not be involved with the Justice Department.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, how much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen? PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, it is a percentage of my overall legal work. A tiny, tiny little fraction, but Michael would represent me and represent me on some things.
[11:20:08] He represents me, like, with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me. And, you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So, there is that. And there is already maybe possibly legal fallout from that interview that President Trump did just starting at 8:00 this morning with Fox.
Joining me right now, CNN's Brynn Gingras live outside the federal courthouse in New York. It is a wild morning, so what is happening there already -- Brynn.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You literally took the words out of my mouth, Kate. A wild ride from 8:00 this morning to now. Let me tell your viewers first, everyone was supposed to come into court, Trump's Organization, attorneys, Cohen's attorneys, the government.
And basically, the judge in this case wanted to know how Cohen's attorneys and the Trump Organization attorneys were going to filter through all these privileged documents that was taken from Michael Cohen's home and his office and his hotel room earlier this month.
That was a purpose of today. Then that Fox interview happened where the president went on there and you heard it just now say that Michael Cohen really did very little tiny fraction of legal work and that really just bolstered the government's argument that there really isn't much privilege documents here.
So, why are we even arguing? So, they actually put a filing into court late this morning, ahead of this hearing, saying, you know what, we're going to take back the fact that we didn't want a special master in this case.
Remember, special master is someone who is totally neutral with this whole thing, who looked through all the documents and siphoned through them, decided if any privileged documents that would sort of contradict or have any implication on attorney/client privilege.
And basically, the government says, you know what, let's go ahead with that special master. So, certainly we have 45 minutes until court starts. We don't know if anything else is going to happen. But there is going to be a lot that is going to happen it sounds like when it gets started at noon today.
And of course, we are still waiting to see if Michael Cohen actually appears in court today. We know that he's left his hotel room where he's been staying. He said he was feeling good. We'll see if he actually shows up here -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: All right. Brynn, we'll see what happens in just a few more minutes. Great to see you. Thank you so much.
A lot to discuss right now. With me now, Walter Shaub, CNN contributor, former head of the House, the Office of Government Ethics, Nia Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash is here, and Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor.
Do we start with the legal or the political? They are all one and the same at this moment. We just spoke with Brynn and she was kind of giving us this rundown. Michael Zeldin, give me your take. Does it surprise you that the government has already taken what was said in a live interview at 8 a.m. and applied it in federal court now?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely not because what the president said was essentially there is a tiny, tiny fraction of documents that may reside in the Cohen law office that relate to me.
And so, the government said, fine, if that's your position, then we'll take a special master, look at those tiny percentage of documents, and we'll put this thing to bed and move forward with our prosecution against -- investigation against Michael Cohen.
So, the president, again, shoots himself in the foot legally and the government takes advantage of it, and this should wrap up much more quickly than we thought it might otherwise.
BOLDUAN: And Dana, that's one part of what the president said in this Fox News interview. As it relates to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the other little tidbit that Stormy Daniels attorney is jumping all over, especially, is that Donald Trump says that when Michael Cohen represents him in a teeny -- in a few little things, but including that crazy Stormy Daniels thing, I have the sound bite, let's play it for our viewers, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny, little fraction. But Michael --
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen, John, has said previously and he's been unequivocal about this, that the president knew nothing about it, that he did it on his own, that he went out and negotiated this agreement and paid the $130,000 without any involvement or knowledge by the president. And you cannot reconcile Michael Cohen's statement with the Air Force One statement, with the statement today. You just can't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So, that's the president and then Michael Avenatti. Dana, what do you make of it? He represents me with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me. Why is that so significant right now?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it is a gift to Michael Avenatti. You heard him make that very clear, that to hear the president of the United States during this sort of legal confrontation and these arguments back and forth about the -- about the contract and whether the contract is valid.
But even more broadly about whether or not the president was aware of the fact that Michael Cohen made this deal and paid her 130 grand in hush money.
[11:25:13] The president made pretty clear he knew about it. Now, he didn't say if he knew before or afterwards, but he knows about it, and more importantly he said he represented me.
I will let the lawyers sort of add to this, but just from my initial reaction, since we have been talking about this for so long, if he admits that Michael Cohen helped him with the Stormy Daniels thing, he's admitting that Michael Cohen was his lawyer in the Stormy Daniels thing, which brings up a whole -- opens up a whole other can of worms politically and more importantly legally for both Michael Cohen and the president on that particular mat, never mind what we don't even know about that the feds found in their search.
BOLDUAN: There is a question, though, Walter, if what we're hearing from the president this morning is contradictory to what we heard from the president on Air Force One. Asked about knowing about the payment to Stormy Daniels on Air Force One, the president said no. Asked about if he knew where the money was coming from, he said, no. When asked why did Michael Cohen pay the money, he said, you'll have to asked Michael Cohen. Is that absolutely necessarily contradictory in what he said today?
WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It sounds pretty contradictory to me. I mean, you were hearing that he wasn't representing him, he was. I'm just interested in seeing what version of reality the attorneys go forward with in court next. The problem is I just don't know how you reconcile these different statements.
That creates some problems for the Cohen team because he's made certain representations to the court. They're going to have to sift through to see what can be specifically attributed to him and whether it is consistent with what his client is saying.
Trump's not under oath when he's talking to Fox News. He can take that back, but as Dana pointed out that creates some political problems and his story keeps changing.
BOLDUAN: Nia, just in general, the tone of the president this morning was something that is absolutely noteworthy. We can get into the other topics they took on, but just his tone. He seemed angry. Yelling into the phone at one point during the interview.
NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, listening to it here, the sound of all of the really disembodied voice, right, just coming through the television, coming through the phone there, full of anger, full of rage, full of grievances, really.
I mean, he saw this really as a way to make some political points, political points against the Democrats in terms of Jackson, political points in terms of where he wants to frame this whole Michael Cohen thing and distance himself. He made the case why he was such a hard client and why lawyer don't want to touch him.
He's damaged his case, it looks like, or Michael Cohen's case, it doesn't look like he's done himself any good in any way with that interview. And it just doesn't seem wise, certainly, legally maybe politically certainly, I think if you're a Fox News viewer, you're probably going hallelujah and amen to what you're hearing.
Even though in that interview, what was also interesting is that you saw Steve Doosey push back against the president and challenge him on some of the assertions he was making, particularly about the Justice Department. This is a Republican led Justice Department, these are your people.
What do you mean, there is a witch-hunt going on, the Justice Department? We'll see. Is this something that Donald Trump will continue to do? In this weird way he's someone we hear from a lot on Twitter.
But in terms of this kind of interview and 10 or 15-minute interview, on his favorite show, we don't really hear him answer questions and make his case in such a pointed and full of fury way that we did this morning.
BOLDUAN: It really felt like these -- the weekend's tweets come alive is what it sounded like this morning. Michael, I want to talk about DOJ. Before we leave this issue of Michael Cohen and the case that is before him, and the president's reaction to all of this, Michael Avenatti, he said that this -- what Donald Trump said this morning adds momentum to them getting closer to deposing the president in their case because of the contradictory statements that they say are out there. Do you think that's true?
ZELDIN: Well, a couple of things. First, they're moving to stay these proceedings altogether because of Michael Cohen's assertion of his Fifth Amendment right that relate to the Southern District. The judge in California has to decide first whether he's going to let this case go forward while the Southern District is investigating Cohen on criminal matters.
But assuming it is something that goes forward. Then Avenatti's point is well taken because what he's going to say is there are contradictory statements from the president of the United States and the only way we can reconcile them is for me to take testimony from him in the form of a deposition.
So, I think it adds fuel to what Avenatti wants which is testimony from the president under oath. So, yes, it does -- Kate, I think help --