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Jackson Plans to Press on Despite Controversies; Scott Pruitt to Face Tough Questions in House Hearings. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Fifth Amendment rights in a Stormy Daniels hush-money case.

[07:00:04] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, I think it's disgraceful.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: When it fits his defense, he will go to it. When it fits somebody else's defend, he will go on the attack.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani sitting down with the special counsel to discuss a potential interview with the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The president's mind on testifying has changed dramatically since the Cohen raid.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: When Mueller's finished, he's not going to have a stitch of evidence that he colluded with the Russians.


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

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president's embattled pick to head the V.A., met with senior White House officials late last night. Sources tell CNN the president is beginning to wonder aloud whether Jackson should step aside, quote, "before things get worse."

This comes amid explosive new allegations that a document compiled by Senate Democrats, nearly two dozen current and former colleagues of Jackson accuse him of being abusive to them, of wrecking a government car while being intoxicated, and loosely dispensing prescription opioids.

CUOMO: Meantime, President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid being deposed in the Stormy Daniels case.

Now, this move is totally separate from the criminal investigation and Cohen's disposition toward it. It is a tactic, and it is because of an open criminal investigation. However, how will this play? How many people will share his boss's view of what happens when you assert the Fifth, which is some kind of tell, the president believes, that you're guilty?

Also, sources tell CNN the president's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, kept his promise and got in there with the special counsel, Robert Mueller and discussed a potential interview with the president.

So let's get our coverage started here. We've got Abby Phillip live at the White House with our top story -- Abby.


The president's nominee to be the next V.A. secretary, Ronny Jackson, has told reporters last night that he plans to stay on and looks forward to talking to them in the coming days. But there are growing questions this morning about whether his nomination can survive these latest controversies.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is, as the president said, Dr. Jackson's decision. We stand behind him 100 percent, depending on what he decides to do.

PHILLIP: White House officials insisting that the decision about withdrawing his nomination for V.A. secretary lies with Dr. Ronny Jackson. But sources tell CNN that President Trump has begun wondering aloud whether Jackson should step aside, quote, "before things get worse."

White House aides are now preparing for the possibility that Jackson could withdraw, as "The Washington Post" reports that the former White House doctor has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration.

A source tells CNN that the White House was blind-sided by a range of allegations within this two-page memo released by Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The memo, which cites 23 of Jackson's current and former colleagues, claims that on at least one occasion, Dr. Jackson could not be reached when needed, because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room. At a Secret Service going-away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.

The document alleges that Jackson was abusive to his colleagues and would prescribe medications when other physicians would not, earning him the nickname "candy man," because he would provide whatever prescriptions they sought without paperwork.

Jackson addressing the allegations Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are all these allegations coming from?

DR. RONNY JACKSON, V.A. NOMINEE: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it. I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have no idea? Are you withdrawing your nomination?

JACKSON: No, I have not wrecked a car. So I can tell you that. That's easy to deduct. Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you move forward?

PHILLIP: A number of former Obama administration officials defending Jackson amid growing questions about the White House's vetting process.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All I can say is that there's been a history here of people coming to the Hill not very well vetted.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's been, again, a pretty thorough vetting process done by the FBI, as well as three other independent investigations.

PHILLIP: Leadership at the V.A. in question. As President Trump's long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, indicates that he will assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, regarding his involvement in a hush money detail involving President Trump and Stormy Daniels.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: This is the first time in our nation's history that we have a sitting president's personal attorney pleading the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. I do not think the magnitude of this can be overstated.

PHILLIP: Cohen's decision coming despite the president's past criticism.

TRUMP: You see, the Mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

PHILLIP: A source says the Cohen raid caused a seismic shift in Mr. Trump's willingness to sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. CNN has learned that the president's newly-appointed lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, discussed the matter with Mueller face-to-face this week.

[07:05:04] GIULIANI: I can guarantee you this. When Mueller is finished, no matter whatever he does, he's not going to have a stitch of evidence that he colluded with the Russians.


PHILLIP: So the president's -- the scrutiny on the president's V.A. secretary comes at a time when his EPA secretary [SIC], Scott Pruitt, is headed to the Hill. He's expected to be grilled about some of his own ethics challenges and controversies in the past several weeks, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for setting all of that up for us.

Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. Great to see you guys. So David Gregory, let's talk about Dr. Ronny Jackson. OK? Because

there are all of these allegations now that are really troubling that have come out from what Democrats say are 23 current and former staffers that worked with him but they admit these are unconfirmed. OK? They haven't confirmed them. And you just heard Dr. Ronny Jackson say, "No, that's not true. I never did wreck a car when I was intoxicated." So is there some argument to be made that -- that Congress should let his hearing move forward, where they can ask him directly some of these questions, instead of shutting all of this down because of these, you know, accusations and rumors, et cetera.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. There's certainly an argument to be made for that. I think supporting that is the fact that he's got a lot of support from those who work closely with him in the Obama administration and the Bush administration prior to now. And this is somebody who's working as the physician to the president of the United States. So it is curious why all these accusations come out now and these questions that he's not prepared for the job because he doesn't have the experience for the job.

I don't think it's going to get to that point, because I just think he'll be done. And he'll withdraw, and I think he'll be rather subtly or not so subtly pushed from continuing this. Because even this administration's penchant for a fight, do they really want this distraction when they've got other things to deal with?

That said, I can certainly see this president and his supporters saying, "No, let's use this to really show overreach on the part of the Democrats." Especially if there's things that can't be proven.

CUOMO: They also have some Republicans who are worried about this. And I think a lot of it is the surprise factor. You had Raj Shah, one of the White House spokespeople, people on with Erin Burnett, saying, "Look, you had the FBI vet him several different times, Office of Government Ethics. Others looked at this. Obama said he was great."

You know, "So we felt that that was a good situation that was pushing him. But did you vet any of this yourself?" It's different. The FBI wouldn't necessarily flag these kinds of people and these kinds of accounts. But politically, this is what you prepare yourself for. So when you get the call from Cuomo saying what's this about the Percocet? You're ready. "Yes, I heard about the Percocet. It never happened. Here's the report."

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Talking to Cuomo about the Percocet is exactly what keeps people up at night.

CUOMO: Not just when I'm asking for it.

AVLON: Look, I think part of the problem here, of course, is rooted in how Trump decided on this nomination: impulsively, without proper vetting.

But I think it is really significant that people from both parties in different White Houses have attested to Ronny Jackson's excellence in his job in the past. That's part of the tragedy of this. It's troubling that there are 23 people who have come out and had

really critical things to say about it that are at utter odds with what past presidents have said.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, why wouldn't that come up during FBI vetting? Something is wrong with FBI vetting if that's not coming out.

AVLON: Honestly, I agree. But the vetting, there are a series of interviews with people who know you and all that. One would think that would have come out. But it's also troubling it's anonymous.

Ultimately, this is a problem of Trump's own making. He kind of got over his skis with an impulsive nominee, and the fundamental problem with his nomination isn't all -- even all these allegations. It's that he doesn't have relevant experience running a large bureaucracy, let alone the second largest agency in the U.S. government.

But his reputation is severely damaged after being stellar. And whether he goes on to defend himself in testimony or not, that's the radius of damage for Donald Trump's rash decision.

CAMEROTA: This is Raj Shah here explaining that they thought that he had been vetted sufficiently, or trying to.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Did you do any vetting at all, beyond saying he passed background checks from the FBI?

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So first of all, he has passed three separate background investigations. And for anybody in as sensitive a position as his --

BURNETT: No, I understand. But I'm saying did you do anything else?

SHAH: As far as fitness for office -- no. There are obvious questions about what he think about veterans issues, how he would conduct and clean up the V.A., which are questions very important to the actual position that he's being nominated for. You know, there is a thorough background check in which you interview previous subordinates, you interview previous bosses, you interview individuals.

BURNETT: So you're saying you did that separate from an FBI background check?

SHAH: No, the FBI does that. The FBI does that, and it came back clean.


CUOMO: The FBI -- he was -- he was double speaking there. Right? The FBI doesn't do an investigation into whether or not he has good policies when he gets into the V.A. That is obviously a political consideration. And the irony is, David, that's a bigger problem for Ronny Jackson

than these anonymous allegations, except for the Percocet one. That they're going to have to clean up, because it seems to have different levels of concern to it.

[07:10:12] But that was his problem. The man has never run anything, let alone something of the scale of the V.A. And the veterans in their polls aren't in favor of him because of that, not these other things.

GREGORY: And also, not to water down -- water this down, but I mean, there are always holes in the vetting process. And you can imagine what happened here. You listened to Raj Shah. You know, the president decides he likes this guy, "I want him." And everybody is playing catchup to say, "OK, well, how do we vet this guy?" It didn't start with proper vetting and "Here's some choices, Mr. President. What do you think?" It went the other way.

And because he was already serving as a physician, because he had a really strong record, I'm sure -- because he had been checked, I'm sure people thought, "Well, you know, he's going to be OK. Now we just have to deal with the experience question."

You know, I still am a little bit caught up in why, under these circumstances, would he already have been serving as physician of the president of the United States. Nobody brought up some of these other allegations. It's curious to me. And it's unfortunate in this process that, if these things aren't true, it's very hard to walk any of it back. And I just don't know that he nor the White House are going to have the stamina to want to put him through all that.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, look, if these things aren't true, that's horrible. But the idea that there's so many people --


CAMEROTA: -- that have come forward, and that there's a bipartisan agreement that things have surfaced.

GREGORY: And there's no real Republican saying, "OH, no, we've got to stand by this guy." You know? I mean, they're so tepid on the Hill on the Republican side, which is a real problem.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's move on to Scott Pruitt. He's going to be on Capitol Hill today, and he's going to be answering questions. And "The New York Times" has obtained a document that appears to be his talking points of what he's going to -- how he will explain to Congress his spending and the other ethical issues that have ensnared him.

So we know that he's going to say he now flies coach. That's a relief. And that he, it looks like from this document, that he's going to pass the blame to some of his staff for trying to give these two friends of his and staffers big promotions and big salary raises.

CUOMO: And instead of the $50,000 (ph) soundproof booth he will speak with his hand next to his mouth, only in whispers?

AVLON: Tin can and strings. Yes. I love that, I feel like coach does. We're good, right?

There are ten ongoing I.G. investigations against him as EPA director. This is a problem. And you can try to throw your staff under the bus. It's not going to create much loyalty inside the organization. It's also probably dishonest. So this is a kind of "Mission: Impossible". The question is whether industry will continue to protect him because they like him rolling back the regulations and whether Trump will stick by him. But the fact pattern for Scott Pruitt is terrible.

CUOMO: David.

GREGORY: The big point is that he is popular among conservatives in policy areas. This is one of those cases where performance matters, I think, on Capitol Hill. How he comes across with an audience of one, and that's the president, that's going to matter here.

CUOMO: A hundred percent, because you know, that's one thing we're, like, not giving enough shade to here. Which is if Pruitt is strong or not strong, Congress can't remove him. You know, if Ronny Jackson, if this is true or untrue, it's not up to him whether or not he steps forward.


CUOMO: These are the president's decisions. That has to be kept in focus. What will he do about these things? What is too much for them?

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, John Avlon, thank you both very much.

Now to this. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney under fire for what he told a group of bankers about lobbyists and taking money behind closed doors. Now one senator who wants him to step down will be with us next.


[07:22:44] The White House is preparing for President Trump's nominee for V.A. secretary to possibly withdraw from consideration. This comes after Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released this memo, and it details these disturbing new allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson.

For instance, they include that he was loosely dispensing painkillers like Percocet, drinking on the job, they say, which even led to a car accident, and leading to a -- and also encouraging a toxic work environment.

So joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. He's of Ohio and he serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Thanks, Alisyn. Good to see you. CAMEROTA: Great to have you. So can you explain why the Democrats on

your committee are releasing this list of allegations -- we've just outlined some of them -- before actually confirming whether these were true of Dr. Ronny Jackson?

BROWN: Well, we've heard from very credible people, 23 of them and counting, people who served with them. And these are mostly underlings. I mean, I hear the White House say, you know, we've heard good reports. That's from his equals and his higher-ups, and he has good relationships with them. T

These are 23 people who served the country in uniform. Some still are active duty. Some are active duty. Some are veterans. They have spoken out. The stories -- the stories are corroborated over and over again. We hear the same stories in different situations from different people.

But what's lost sight of here, I think, Alisyn, is the V.A. is in turmoil. They're leaderless. It started because the president fired the former V.A. director, because he was supporting veterans and veterans' groups in opposition -- in opposition to the privatization of the V.A. And that was self-inflicted turmoil by the White House. And they don't have a backup plan.

When is the White House going to put a real leader there who can do this job? This has always been -- I found out recently there's never been -- no senator has ever cast a "no" vote on a secretary of the V.A. nomination confirmation. And this has always been bipartisan until now.

Clearly, I -- David Gregory, I was watching a few minutes ago. And David Gregory pretty much said the White House -- the president likes this guy. He flattered the president. The president likes his personality. Nobody in the White House can stop the president when he wants to move on somebody. And nobody asked him any questions.

[07:20:12] And these 23 people, probably none of them were called by the vetters at the White House or the FBI. What does that tell you? It's the president wanted him and "Let's move on him quickly."

CAMEROTA: Yes, well, I hear you about the White House vetting being inadequate. But the FBI should have unearthed some of this stuff. I mean, that's the question, which is the White House says these are false allegations. OK? So just in terms of the process of your committee, the White House says these are false allegations. And we just heard Dr. Ronny Jackson say, "No, I never crashed the car." That seems like something that you would be able to confirm definitively, if there was some car repair, you know, that was needed when he was on the job.

And you know, I mean, the only reason I ask is because should you allow the hearing to go forward where you pose these questions to him directly and let him answer them?

BROWN: Well, of course. We're not stopping here. The chairman of the committee -- well, Johnny Isakson is the chairman of the committee. He makes the decision with Senator Tester, the ranking Democrat. Isakson's the chair, Johnny makes the decision. Johnny is concerned enough, obviously, as Seante Republicans that I talked to in the Veterans Committee, and I've talked to at least three about it so far, they are all concerned about what's going on. So that's why they delayed it. They wouldn't have delayed it if they thought the charges were empty.

But it's clear that the veterans -- veterans have not come first in this whole process. And that's what's disturbing. And I wish the White House would have a backup plan, because it's pretty clear Admiral Jackson's nomination is in at least some trouble. And the White House should be thinking whom do we want to select to be the head of the V.A.?

They had a V.A. that was running relatively well. Veterans' groups were happy with Shulkin. Individual veterans by the, I think, millions were happy with Shulkin. They fired him because they didn't like his politics. And now look what they've done. And I just want to fix this.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that Ronny Jackson is going to survive this day, that his nomination will survive?

BROWN: Well, I don't know about this day. I -- I guess there's always a path forward. I don't know. I think that this is serious. I mean, there are -- the V.A. served nine million veterans every year in places like the community-based outpatient clinics in Mansfield and Lima, and Zanesville and the hospitals in Cleveland and Chillicothe.

The -- people the work at the V.A., people that are going to be recruited by the V.A. to work there, patients, they're all -- there's an anxiety out there because of the politics played by the White House that Johnny Isakson and Jon Tester and I and others are trying to sort out.

And I don't mind doing this job. This is an important -- as important a vote as I'll cast in the next few weeks through the new secretary of the V.A. But don't do it this way and put this whole operation in turmoil because the White House -- because President Trump liked Admiral Jackson in his medical relationship. We're good, but check him out through the FBI, check him out through the vetting process. Call people who used to work for him, not just people that were his peers or who were above him. Because he clearly treats his peers and those above him very well. How does he treat the people under him? And we've seen that game. I see that in the Senate with plenty of All right. people.

CAMEROTA: Let's move on to Mick Mulvaney, who of course was the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So he had a meeting in front of the Bankers Association on Tuesday, and he said some eyebrow-raising things. Let me read a portion of his statements to them.

He told them, "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you are a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you." That got your attention. You have called for him to resign over that.

So why? Why is that -- why is that offense worth losing his job over?

BROWN: I'm not a lawyer. And I -- I don't know if what he said he did in the House of Representatives, I think it's a violation of the ethics rules. I don't know if that's a violation of federal law or not. I won't -- but I want to step back and look at the big picture.

Here's the -- here's the head of the Consumer -- underline "Consumer" -- Financial Protection Bureau. You're there to represent consumers. They saved $12 billion from 29 million American consumers, dealing with the American banking system. Start with that. He is to represent them. He has -- he has called this place -- that bureau a joke when he was in Congress.

So he goes in front of 1,300 bankers, and he says, "You should lobby me and the Congress to weaken this bureau and more or less try to put it out of business. If you have to give campaign money, do it."

I mean, think of -- step back and look at the big picture. Not just was he sort of border-line bribery in the House, but he's going in front of 1,300 bankers. His agenda is, "You bankers, most powerful people in the country, lobby me, lobby Congress to weaken this consumer bureau, to strike the word 'consumer' out of the consumer bureau," fundamentally.

That's what's so troubling. That a leading official in the Trump administration --


BROWN: -- would go to banks and say, "Stop the consumer agency from representing consumers."


[07:25:04] BROWN: That's as bad as it gets.

CAMEROTA: So what do you want to see happen?

BROWN: Well, I want to see, No. 1, him resign from both those jobs he holds. I was curious about the two jobs. Put that aside. I want to see the president nominate somebody who, consumer groups and financial service industry could agree on that we could see as a strong bipartisan vote out of Congress to do this job.

CAMEROTA: But just to be clear, you also want him to resign as director of the Office of Management and Budget?

BROWN: Yes. I'm circulating a letter that close to half the members of the Senate, I assume, will sign by the time it's out in a couple of days, asking, demanding of Mr. Mulvaney that he release his schedule, both at the Office of Management and Budget and at the Consumer Bureau, release his schedule. Because considering those comments, we want to know who he's meeting with. Is he meeting with payday lenders all day long? Is he meeting with

bankers that have an agenda to eliminate the Consumer Bureau which he is charged, taking the oath to represent? And I mean, I want to know his schedule that way.

But he really should step aside. When you make those kinds of comments and you're trying to represent a president who said "Drain the swamp," and you go to 1,300 bankers and say, "Lobby us. Weaken the consumer bureau, you really should leave both jobs.

CAMEROTA: Senator Sherrod Brown, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

BROWN: Thank you, Alisyn. Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Nice to talk to you.


CUOMO: President Trump's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, dropping the nickel, asserting the Fifth Amendment in the Stormy Daniels case. What does this mean to his criminal investigation in New York? Nothing. But this tactic deserves analysis, and you get it next.