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Trump Gives Incoherant Interview on Fox & Friends; Trump Nominee for Head of VA Drops Out. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see someone invoking that fifth amendment. It does raise serious questions. And what you were saying, to your point, I mean, there's an effort here to minimize what his role was, which on one hand he's a friend, he's been intimately involved with everything that the president has done for so long and now he's saying, "Well, it's just a little tiny percentage." It does raise questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: and brutal backtracking on his relationship with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is somebody who has proudly and consistently described himself as the president's attorney, the president's personal attorney. That relationship is at the core of his public self-definition. And the president has remained loyal to Michael Cohen in public certainly, but that was a statement of definite distancing from Michael Cohen.

Now, it may be related to what his heard about the contents of the raid way the president did say that "this is about Michael Cohen's private businesses, it's got nothing to do with me." But that was not the kind of two-way street loyalty that I think Michael Cohen could expect after giving his undivided loyalty to Donald Trump. That was stark.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: It's just interesting. I think if we pull back a little bit, one thing should be said. The obvious point is the president talks a lot and barks a lot and roars a lot and tweets a lot, but you do have to watch what he actually does. And in this case, he's clearly following his lawyer's advice to distance himself from Michael Cohen, who could become a witness against him whose testimony, and I'm sure he invoked the fifth because it could get into criminal matters that would affect him and perhaps even affect Donald Trump. So he's hewing to the line that his lawyers have given him.

And look at the situation with Ronny Jackson, I mean, he's going to yell and scream and blame Democrats, but in the end, he got out of the way. And the people said to him you got to let go of this and we're going to have to cut him loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the only question I would have there is was he following his lawyer's advice when he called into Fox News this morning because I listened to that entire segment and he was on fire.

GREGORY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, he didn't hold back. He's letting us know what his opinions are on an array of different subjects.

GREGORY: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of you came from law enforcement, you want your client to speak less so when he's out there calling into a national news network and really giving his opinion, anything you say can be used against you.

CUOMO: Well, and he's talking about something that's a central concern to the presidency and will be of particular curiosity to you because you couldn't hear it, because you're here right now. He's talking about the Department of Justice. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, USA PRESIDENT: If you a Justice Department that was doing their job instead of --

STEVE DOOCY, FOX & FRIENDS HOST: It's your Justice Department. Mr. President, Mr. President, you're the Republican in charge and you've got a Republican (inaudible).

TRUMP: Yes, you're right. Yes. You're right. 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. I will wait until this is over. It's all lies and it's a horrible thing that's going on, a horrible thing. And yet I've accomplished, with all of this going on more than any president in the first year in our history and everybody...

DOOCY: Okay.

TRUMP: ... even the enemies and the haters admit that. We have accomplished more than any president in the first year by far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Wow. There was a lot of check there. That was Steve Doocy pushing back saying, "Mr. President, that is your Justice Department." What did you think of the president's explanation?

GREGORY: Well, there's this issue of the destruction of norms that we've been seeing in this country particularly in the last year, and one of those key norms has been this independence of the Department of Justice. They are in the executive branch, they are not of the executive branch. So at first when I was hearing and say, look, I've been hands off, I thought, okay, good. They're getting it. They realiz that you have to keep them at arms length. But I can tell you, it caused great concern when he said "but that may change" because it shows that on a whim this could shift in a different direction.

The last thing I'll say is this and this is for the good of viewers as well. Most of the people that are in the Department of Justice are career civil servants. When he says that I have questions with people that are over in the Department of Justice, I hope he's talking about the political appointees and if that's the case he's almost certainly talking about Rosenstein and Sessions. But if he's broad-brushing and bringing in the civil servants into that, that's very questionable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But, of course, he is because that's a concept we've heard about the deep state, the idea that nonpolitical lifetime staffers in these key agencies are somehow a fifth column against the United States where he's basically saying, particularly, awful nice Justice Department you got there, it'd be terrible if something happened to it.

But one more pushback and good for the pushback "This is your Justice Department" because there does need to be ownership. This can't be purely oppositional and paranoid. The idea that he's had the most productive first year in American history and even the "haters" agree on that, historians, just objectively there are facts we can compare to. That's just not true. The president had some big accomplishments. But the idea it's the most accomplished first year in American history as a matter of consensus is just wrong.

[08:35:00]

GREGORY: But it is, yes, it's his Justice Department, but his political appointee, Jeff Sessions, recused himself. So, I mean, we can't have it both ways. The Justice Department and the FBI should be independent of the administration as much as they can be, that's why the FBI director has a 10-year term and that's why Sessions stepped aside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do have a weird situation where you've got his attorney general had to step away from the biggest thing that he's looking at and then you have this guy at the southern district who had to step away from the biggest thing that Michael Cohen's looking at.

CAMEROTA: There's a few weird situation I feel that we need to look into. All right. Yes, panel, thank you very much.

So breaking news, Dr. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn his nomination. Will he now stay on as the president's doctor after stepping away from the VA nomination? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here next with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrawing as President Trump's nominee to head the VA. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters moments ago that Admiral Jackson is a doctor in the United States Navy assigned to the White House and is here at work today. Is he going to stay there though? All right, let's discuss this.

[08:40:00] We have CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joining us now from Rome. Thank you very much there. I heard the Pope brought you and asked you for some advice on how to be nice. What do you think of Ronny Jackson's fate here, not just on the VA side but on staying on the House side?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really interesting because I spent some time at the White House during that press briefing that he gave about the president's health. And I got to tell you, Chris, you talk to everybody within this administration, within previous administrations, doctors that I know that have worked with him and everyone had really frankly very good things to say about him. I mean, there was not a hint of this that I heard a month or two, many weeks ago that was now.

So I would say if these things are true and there was dispensing of some of these controlled substances and not in a very ethical way, whatever it may be, that's going to raise a lot of concern obviously for him to stay on even as the White House doctor. When you have multiple hats to wear, military hat, medical hat like he does, there's a lot more accountability that comes with that. There's a lot, we talked about this with a lot of friends even here at the Vatican saying doctors every now and then they may give someone an Ambien if they're asking for one because they're taking a long haul flight, or something like that, that happens. That's true. It is a controlled substance, a schedule four controlled substance. But it does happen where doctors do this, but the level of accountability here is obviously higher. And I think it might throw his fate into question even as the White House doctor.

CAMEROTA: But, Sanjay, isn't it the president's personal preference who he wants to treat him, who he wants to have as his personal doctor?

GUPTA: I think so. I don't know what the hard and fast rules about this sort of thing are. I think when you're coming with this sort of background, I think there's an assumption sometimes that there's been a lot of clearing in terms of how he's conducted his medical practice, how he's interacted with patients, both the president and other patients as well in the past. So it's interesting. Again, everyone's saying, no one bringing up any of these things in the past, but now making a larger issue of it. Should it be as large an issue as it is?

Many doctors even here doctors that I talk to will say probably not, but I think it becomes a question of what is the bar of accountability for this particular job. It is the president's preference. I don't know how much the president knew about this. Does it indicate a sort of laxity with regard to the rules of medicine? We don't know. We don't even know if these allegations are true obviously as of yet. But if they are, I think some would suggest that for this particular job, taking care of the president, taking care of staffers in the White House, it's the highest level of accountability.

CUOMO: All right. Just to be clear, Sanjay, of the allegations that are out there, what concerns you the most and what would you need to know? GUPTA: I think the dispensing of medications that are controlled

substances. The Ambien is one thing, a lot of people know that, but also dispensing of pain medications, opioids. These things typically doctors who prescribe these medications obviously take it very seriously. A lot of people have heard about what's going on opioids, but before you prescribe those medications there's a significant history, a significant evaluation of the patient that should be done, all those sorts of things.

Obviously, if someone had been intoxicated at a point when they were on call to be taking care of a patient, in any hospital and certainly in the hospital where I work and the hospitals I've worked, you wouldn't last in the job if that were found to be true. So I think those are the ones. Again, I don't know if this is true. I did not hear any of this before. It's certainly come out of the blue I think for a lot of people. But if they're true those from a medical standpoint, I think, would be the most concerning.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much. Always good to get your perspective, Sanjay.

Let's bring back our CNN political analysts. We have John Avlon, David Gregory and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. So once again for our breaking news, John Avlon, if he's out as the VA nominee person, prospective nominee, then who's in? Who could be possibly be next? I mean, we've talked about how vital this agency is, how much these veterans need help. And is there somebody else? I mean, that's what apparently took so long in getting rid of David Shulkin. There was no Plan B for who would run the agency.

AVLON: Well, the president has teased the idea that he has "someone in mind." Previous to the nomination of Dr. Jackson there had been discussions about Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, somebody who has been already Senate-confirmed with deep executive experience, not a medical background at all, and Pete Hegseth, the Fox News host, a weekend host of Fox & Friends, former veteran.

CAMEROTA: And ran a veterans group.

AVLON: Ran a veterans group, an advocacy group, not particularly directed to health but really more political, who the president apparently likes and admires from his comments on Cable News.

[08:45:00]

That would seem to be setting Mr. Hegseth up for a similar problem to Dr. Jackson, again, the questions of experience, running on a bureaucracy at this level without the added benefit of a medical community. So this is an X factor and this should be a position that's rooted in competence, rooted, that is well beyond partisan political considerations. And if he does that with relevant experience without partisan considerations, this is a position that's so important that senators on both sides would love to support a qualified nominee.

CUOMO: That's what got Ronny Jackson in trouble in the first place...

AVLON: Yes. Right.

CUOMO: ... because it seemed capricious and based on the wrong kinds of things because he doesn't have the experience. However, his concern is not done, because if he wants to stay on as the White House Doctor or even just now as a member of the Navy, Josh, doesn't he have to want these investigated, these allegations? And even if he doesn't want it, don't they have to be investigated?

CAMPBELL: You would imagine they would. I mean, someone in that situation and people know that when you step up to a large high profile position like a cabinet secretary, that you're going to be in the spotlight. Your life is going to be investigated. In fact, it's the FBI that will dig into the lives of these nominees in order to determine what's their past, what's their suitability and that information is passed on obviously to the White House.

But there's a different perspective as you mentioned. If one were to be accused of something and he's accused of some very serious allegations, he should want those to be cleared because obviously there's this cloud over him now with these allegations that we don't know that they're true. But to give him the benefit of the doubt here at least while the investigation is going on, he should want that to happen so they can clear his name. And if these allegations are, in fact, false, then the public should know that.

CAMEROTA: David, does something change with the White House vetting process moving forward?

GREGORY: Well, you can imagine in this situation that they're going to take a different look at this. I would hope that they would prevail upon the president to go through a more formal process to maybe check with the committee head, the Veterans Affairs Committee, run a name or two by them, by Isakson in advance and say how do these people suit you, what do you think their prospects are. It's kind of what's done with Supreme Court nominees or potential Supreme Court nominees. So I think they should run those tracks.

And I think the president has an opportunity to put a real spotlight on what he wants to achieve at the VA, the kinds of reforms that are hugely important. And, again, I don't suspect that he will do this, acknowledge any missteps, but he's got an opportunity to put somebody very strong in there if they follow a much tighter policy in the process here.

CUOMO: Now, interestingly, this morning we saw the president step away from Ronny Jackson, okay? Ronny Jackson withdraws even if he believes all of these things are untrue because he knows he doesn't have the White House support. That's just how it works. The president has tried to shield him from that and say, "Well, it's up to Ronny Jackson," of course, it isn't. It's up to the president.

Michael Cohen came up in his interview as well this morning and that would be, which should seem like an obvious loyalty play for President Trump, but listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny, little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me. And from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this which would have been a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why is he pleading the fifth?

TRUMP: Because he's got other things, he's got businesses. And from what I understand, they're looking at his businesses and I hope he's in great shape.

(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)

CUOMO: So, Josh, let's look at this through the prism.

CAMPBELL: Yes.

CUOMO: First of all, there's nothing wrong with him pleading the fifth. Even the question is a loaded question. Only President Trump thinks there's something wrong with you when you plead the fifth.

CAMEROTA: Okay.

CUOMO: It's an obvious tactical move here. He has an open criminal investigation. So let's put that question to the side. He said this isn't a campaign finance situation because no campaign funds were used. That is a gross misstatement of what the issue is. The issue is whether or not the money that Michael Cohen used from his own personal HELOC, his home equity line of credit would count as a contribution. The president says, "This has nothing to do with me. He only had tiny, tiny amounts of my legal practice. This is all about his businesses." Your take?

CAMPBELL: No, you're right and you keyed it on the right phrase there, the campaign funds. And I could tell you that in an FBI public corruption investigation, for example, rare is it that you will have a campaign or a candidate say, "I'm going to take these funds and illegally provide them directly to someone." There's always a cutout, not always but most of the time because you're dealing with presumably smart people. These aren't your run of the mill criminals or drug dealers, these are people in positions of authority and power. They're presumably smart or they wouldn't be there. They know how to launder money. They know how to move it around. And, obviously, these are serious allegations, we don't know what happened, but that's going to be part of the investigation, to determine was there malfeasance.

CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen, thank you very much for helping us analyze all of the breaking news this hour. CUOMO: Morning once again with lots of news. We'll be right back.

Grab your coffee and your Xanax.

[08:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right, breaking news, Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee for VA Secretary, is withdrawing from consideration and you know why. There were real questions about whether or not he had the background for this type of bureaucracy at the VA, and then there were all these personal allegations. We don't know the truth of them and Ronny Jackson isn't going to stick around to find out, but his problems with those questions will not go away if he wants to stay in the White House as the president's doctor. Let's listen to the president just moments ago discussing this breaking news.

[08:55:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I want somebody that's going to be good. He would have done a great job, a tremendous heart. 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, welcome to the world of politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

TRUMP: But for John Tester to start bringing up stuff like Candy man and the kind of things he was saying and then say, well, these are just statements that are made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

TRUMP: There's no proof of this.

(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)

CUOMO: All right, let's bring in Paul Rieckhoff. He is the founder and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Always good to see you, big brother.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Good morning, sir.

CUOMO: We know that your membership had conducted a poll on this. Ronny Jackson didn't have a lot of support. Are you okay with the move of him stepping aside?

RIECKHOFF: We needed something to happen, I mean, this was chaos and it's still chaos. Important I think to note now the chapter is over, but the saga continues. We don't know who the next nominee will be. That'll be, I believe, the eighth nominee since 9/11. So there are 300, 000 employees and millions of veterans around the country who are saying, "What's next?" CUOMO: The president says two things. One, don't worry because

nobody is qualified to run the VA so Ronny Jackson is as good as anyone because he's a nice guy and he's in the military. And it really doesn't matter because I've already done so much for you, guys. I've cut co many regulations. The VA is way better off than when I came to office.

RIECKHOFF: I don't think anybody thinks things are better off right now. I know we've gone through two secretaries in two weeks, I think three weeks. And there are people who could be qualified. I mean, we recommended and many veterans organizations recommended that Trump consider keeping on Bob McDonald, who was Obama's VA secretary who's the CEO of Procter & Gamble. He was a West Point grad. He had managed a big organization.

There are people who manage other big organizations here so that's really I think an empty statement. We're going to find out now, like who is it that can step up and take this on. They usually look to retire flag grade officers, but we'll probably find out within the next few minutes.

CUOMO: Do you feel that it is true that this administration had taken care of you guys better?

RIECKHOFF: No, I mean, I think that every administration says that and every administration fails to deliver. They've talked a good game, but this is chaos. I mean, I don't think anybody thinks that this is a good plan, this is a good strategy or this is good for veterans. That should be a nonpartisan consensus I think at this point.

CUOMO: PJ, do the people in your membership and you spent so much of your life advocating for the causes of veterans, the families of veterans, do they believe that we support them? Do they believe that politicians see the fate of veterans as common ground that deserves the best?

RIECKHOFF: They don't believe politicians. That's for sure. We survey our members every year. If you go to IVA.org\survey, you can see they generally think the American public supports them. They don't think Congress and the president supports them, and that's bipartisan. Every president seems to be disconnected from our issues. And every one of the last three presidents has had to replace or fire a VA secretary.

So we're disappointed, we're exhausted, we're exasperated, but we're also standing by to help. I mean, there is a silver lining here, Chris, and it's us, that we want to step up, we want to be a part of this solution. We are bipartisan and nonpartisan and we're going to have to do what we do every time which is step up, answer the call and then try to move forward.

CUOMO: That's the worst part of this for so many of us, is that you guys represent the best of us and how we're taking care of you represents the worst of good government. So, PJ, thank you very much for your service. RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

CUOMO: We will stay on the issues that matter to veterans. That's a promise.

RIECKHOFF: Thanks, man.

CUOMO: And we will stay on CNN's breaking news coverage of big headlines this morning, the president talking about things that matter to you. CNN Newsroom with John Berman right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)