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White House Chaos. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 3, 2018 - 15:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In a way that she was trying to distance herself from having that accusation against her, that simply that she was trying to proactively lie about a story.

She also said, Erica, that when she learned about the idea that Donald Trump had reimbursed Michael Cohen, when did she learn about it? Like everyone else, watching Sean Hannity in the interview.

In that moment in time, that 10-foot pole elongated between her and the responsibilities in the White House. And to me, it said that she was on notice that there were contradictions that she was walking into, that she had walked away from, and that she was trying to salvage perhaps her turn in front of an investigator.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That will be interesting to see.

The other thing that really struck me was the question, which was not surprising it would come up, about what more do we know about whether or not these American detainees will be released today?

And, David Priess, she was very clear in saying we can't confirm any of the stuff that Rudy Giuliani said last night.


DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Let's call this out for what it is.

HILL: Yes.

PRIESS: This is a dysfunctional White House in two different ways that came out just in this briefing.

One is the national security process is normally you don't have people freelancing, talking off of different talking points about something as significant as American lives as stakes. In this case, not only did you have people with difference messages. You had somebody who shouldn't have been involved in that information at all.

There's no evidence that Rudy Giuliani should be in national security discussions or speaking for the president as such. But you also have a dysfunctional White House in terms of the press spokesman out there talking about this.

In previous administrations, we have had press secretaries who have threatened to resign or have stepped down because of exactly this situation. I will disagree with the idea that it's her job to go digging for information in the White House.

No, these people are brought into those meetings so that they know what they can say and what they can't say and sometimes they're deliberately excluded from a sensitive meeting so that they can authoritatively say, I don't have direct information on that.

We have the opposite here. According to her own admission today, she's kept out of just about everything. She can't talk about how the president feels about anything that has happened. She is losing her ability to speak with any credibility anymore.


HILL: Just want to ask really quickly just to touch on this point about when it comes to what may or may not be happening with these three American lives in North Korea.


HILL: How much could this damage efforts, the fact that Rudy Giuliani is saying, yes, this is happening today on Thursday, and yet it doesn't appear that that's the case, it doesn't appear that he was authorized to even talk about it or say that it was happening?


PRIESS: Especially in national security, you underpromise and you overdeliver. That is a rule. You don't want to get ahead of what's happening because people overseas can change their minds.

This is Kim we're talking about. He's already lured the United States down the path of going into negotiations and promising a change in behavior. It hasn't happened. Why would you possibly overpromise on the lives of Americans being held hostage?

HILL: Just in terms, too, I have to say it was brought up and we have all been wondering it today, the president tweeting earlier about these three Americans and talking about the fact that the previous administration had failed.

But, of course, two of them were actually arrested in May and April of last year. So, when President Trump was in office, when Sarah Sanders was asked about that, she started to backpedal and somehow tried to tie at least one of these people to Otto Warmbier.

Nia, as I'm listening to that, I'm trying to make sense of it, and, frankly, I couldn't.


This is something that the president tweeted about last night and then you heard Rudy Giuliani echo it basically, doing what they often do, which is a kind of tease. Right? In some ways, maybe that's fine in matters that don't have anything to

do with matters of national security and people's lives and families who are waiting to see whether or not their family members are going to be released.

But there you had Rudy Giuliani really talking about it in sort of a flippant and casual way. And a question came up, why is Rudy Giuliani even in these conversations about national security matters?

PRIESS: Right.

HENDERSON: So, you have all of these sort of blurring of the lines in terms of who should be making these announcements? Is it premature to make these announcements?

And then Sarah Huckabee Sanders there in some ways totally out of the loop, and forced into that position by all of the chaos, whether it's Rudy Giuliani talking about it or President Obama or President Trump tweeting about it and wanting to compare himself to President -- former President Obama. It's really a mess.

HILL: The word chaos definitely seems to sum up today.


HILL: And,, David, that's something else we can notice when we circle May 3 on our calendar.

Every time we think the chaos can't get more intense, more frenetic, it does. If we go back to the Stormy Daniels payments for just a minute here, there are so many conflicting stories at this point.

Sarah Sanders can't speak to the timeline because, for that, we have to go to the outside counsel, as we learned today, and yet so we're told by Rudy Giuliani that this money was repaid. Michael Cohen, at least from what I have seen as of 3:04 p.m. Eastern time today, has not confirmed that repayment, in fact, recently was talking about the fact that he hadn't been repaid.


At one point, there was reporting that he was saying he had to take out a home equity loan.

David, is it your sense we're ever going to get a real answer on any of this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, maybe eventually through the case that is against Michael Cohen in the Southern District of New York through investigations there.

We may get some answers from it. I don't expect that we're going to get answers from the White House podium or clean answers from Rudy Giuliani about this.

You heard a lot of questioning in the Briefing Room today about the president in his tweet referring to that as a monthly retainer. But how could monthly retainers throughout all of 2017 and perhaps into 2018, with the theory that it is paying back that money, how could that have happened, and then Donald Trump says he doesn't know anything about the payment, and Sarah Sanders says he had nothing -- no payment was made whatsoever?

So things do not square up here yet. There is more to learn about exactly how the payments were structured and, you're right, confirmation from Michael Cohen that he actually has been reimbursed for that money he paid to Stormy Daniels.

HILL: And, Laura, just remind us again. Just let's go down to the basics here.

When you put an attorney on retainer, that retainer isn't typically used as sort of a fund of money to deal with unfortunate situations, correct?

COATES: Correct.

It's also not one where you pad it to have profit and tax relief included. Remember, Giuliani also said a little extra was included for profit and for taxation.

What you have here is Rudy Giuliani who tried to, I think, distance himself and undermine any campaign finance allegation, and instead he walked right into the proverbial and invited more scrutiny, and also the indication when he said they funneled it through a law firm, which makes me believe that perhaps it was a willful and intentional act to try to circumvent campaign finance laws, which leads you away from the Federal Election Commission, Erica, and right towards the Department of Justice's front door on these things.

Even if it was a loan that needed to be repaid back, that's still an excessive contribution that needs to be reported. The fact that it was never done on either side is a violation of sorts and will be held to task. Why? Because a lawyer thought that he'd be proactive about foreclosing things he should never have said.

HILL: In terms of foreclosing, too, David Priess, just in terms of the president's own transparency and honesty, or lack thereof, when it comes to the American people, the American voter, and before the election what we didn't know about, this potential Stormy deal, his taxes, that's still a question today, the real health assessment, the doctor now saying, well, he dictated that entire letter to us, Russia meetings, all of this builds up to and creates a picture that is far from flattering.

PRIESS: No, it isn't.

But it's expected. Look, the president learned during the campaign that he could do this and be rewarded for it. He did not take a hit for anything that was discovered about not telling the truth to the American people or holding back things like tax returns, like medical records.

The lesson he clearly learned was, I don't have to do it, and there will not be a price to pay that matters enough to me.

Now, that may change once Cohen's documents are out there and once Bob Mueller digs into this information. That price may get higher and higher.

But, right now, it appears that all the president's men are doing the best that they can to put a wall around the president, let him continue to be himself, because it's worked in the past. They hope it will continue, even in the legal challenges.

HILL: David, Laura, Nia-Malika Henderson, David Chalian, who had to leave us as well, thank you all.

PRIESS: Thank you.

HILL: More on the breaking news ahead, including the White House refusing to comment on reports the president's personal lawyer was wiretapped.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani saying Jared Kushner is disposable and warning Robert Mueller that Ivanka Trump is off-limits.

Stand by. This is CNN's special live coverage.




APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Why didn't he talk to the White House press office about his impacting (OFF-MIKE) statements about what was happening?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The White House press office wouldn't coordinate with the president's outside legal team on legal strategy.


RYAN: You said yourself you were blindsided...


HUCKABEE SANDERS: I actually didn't use that term.

RYAN: Well, I said it. But you were blindsided, from what you said.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, with all due respect, you actually don't know much about me in terms of what I feel and what I don't.


RYAN: ... understand how this operates.


HILL: Never a dull moment at the White House press briefing.

With me now, April Ryan, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, of course, former CIA, and CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza.

And, April, I want to start with you.

That exchange there, there's the fact that Sarah Sanders didn't seem to want to admit obviously that she didn't know what was going on. And there's also the broader question of the lack of accurate information that is coming out of that room on a daily basis.

RYAN: Yes.

Well, I'm just leaving the Briefing Room, and I had to decompress. It was a moment. She took this personally, and it was not a personal attack. She admitted at that podium just moments ago -- and I'm sure she's watching in her office -- hi, Sarah -- she literally said at that podium that she heard Rudy Giuliani while we heard it.

She was watching. She found out all of the information while she was watching FOX last night. So she was blindsided.

This was not a personal attack on her. And for her to say something like, "You don't know me," that was very street. I know there are street politics here, but that was very street.

But I have been for 21 years at this White House, from the second term of Bill Clinton until the first term of Donald J. Trump. I have seen impeachment. I have seen war. I have seen peace. So, I understand the process. I'm not a dummy. And do not discredit me. That's what my comeback was.


But this is a real issue. It's not about me. It's not about her. It is about the fact that the president's lawyer, who was saying about a year or so, a little bit more than a year or so ago, that he was going to be the head of DOJ, and he was talking so much, he never got anything. He never got a Cabinet position.

And now he's talking a lot again, but not talking to the right people in the White House to let them know what's going on, to keep them abreast, because this is again showing how inept some things are in this White House.

Rudy Giuliani has done harm to the president by going on FOX and putting more questions in the atmosphere and trust. Rob Mueller is watching all of this and taking notes.

HILL: To your point about -- and we heard this a number of times today from Sarah Sanders, right? We were referred to outside counsel umpteen times in these briefings.

Chris Cillizza, yes, they're not coordinating the messaging up with the president's outside counsel and the White House. Isn't this a clear indication, though, that there needs to be some sort of communication between the two, since both are dealing with the same main player?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, I think, Erica, this is a way to put off those questions because there are no good answers, right?

So, yes, it would probably benefit from some communication, but I'm not sure they want that, because the truth is, they don't have a lot of good answer for what Rudy Giuliani said last night.

We have been told for months and months, whether in direct denials, whether in sort of very carefully worded language from Michael Cohen, essentially that Donald Trump was entirely in the dark about this whole process, didn't know where the money came from, didn't know why Michael Cohen did it, was entirely out of the loop.

I mean, it turns out he wasn't entirely out of the loop. There was a reimbursement going on. It, to me, strains credulity that Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen to the tune of $130,000, but never thought, hmm, that's also the sum of money that Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels.

I mean, you have to suspend disbelief to make the Trump story and the Michael Cohen story add up. And so I think that the reason that you're seeing, I would refer you to outside counsel, I will refer you to what Rudy Giuliani said, is because they don't have all that much -- well, I should -- let me rephrase -- they don't have anything better to say at the moment because there's no good answer here.

RYAN: That's right.

HILL: Phil, in a lot of ways -- and I know we talk about this often -- but you feel like a broken record, right? We're constantly asking about, does truth matter anymore? What about integrity? What about honesty?

But especially on a day like today, when we're seeing and hearing so blatantly that there is false information coming out, and it just seems to be the way it is, I mean, where do you go from there?

RYAN: False information.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think truth does matter here.

And we saw evidence of that, whether you like his comments or not, from Rudy Giuliani. Let me tell you what I think is happening here. There's two things happening at once.

One, the president with his legal counsel is considering having a sit- down conversation with Robert Mueller. That conversation will include things like financial activity that the president might have had with Mr. Cohen that might involve campaign finance. Let's make an assumption here that I think is pretty close to a fact.

The investigators have looked at a lot of financial records, including Mr. Cohen's records, and talked to a lot of people about the interactions in advance of the campaign and about whether that was -- those payments to Stormy Daniels might have been related to the campaign.

The bottom line is, I think Giuliani is trying to say, we better get the truth out now, after months of lies, because if the president sits down with the special counsel, we want him now to be able to say, well,I did know that the money was being paid to her. I did know that I fired, obviously, the FBI director because of the Russia investigation.

I think Giuliani is trying to say, now truth matters, because if you lie in front of a federal investigator, the investigator is going to know. And that lie is a federal violation. We call that a 1001 violation. You can be charged for that.

CILLIZZA: And, by the way, Erica, just to -- just to add Phil's point, Giuliani essentially says that, right?

Giuliani in a follow-up interview with Bob Costa, my former colleagues at "The Washington Post," says, we -- this was not me going rogue. This was not me caught off-guard. This was not a gaffe. Donald Trump and I talked about this within the last four or five days. He wanted me to get it out -- those are Giuliani's words -- when I could, so that we could not have -- make a big deal out of this.

The last part, I'm not sure is mission accomplished.

HILL: This tiny little thing.

CILLIZZA: But -- but this was not -- I think we would be mistaken if we thought that this was all just one big accident.

It's not. Phil is right. This was intentional, or Rudy Giuliani wouldn't be working there today and you wouldn't have seen Donald Trump tweet in his defense. Sarah Sanders constantly referred to his comments.

This was purposely done to try to get this behind you. And I don't -- I don't know if that will work, but that's certainly what was happening.

HILL: Well, stay with us, because another bit of news coming out today that Sarah Sanders was asked about, the White House response to reports that Michael Cohen was wiretapped.

Where does all this figure in? That's next.


[15:24:29] HILL: We are back now with Phil Mudd and Chris Cillizza.

And just want to share with you some new comments we're learning from "The Hill."

So, Rudy Giuliani, fresh off his multiple interviews with FOX News now just doing a rash of interviews in the last couple of hours here, telling "The Hill" that he wants Jeff Sessions to step in on the Michael Cohen investigation, saying -- quote -- "I'm waiting for the attorney general to step in, in his role as defender of justice, and put these people under investigation."

That in reaction to reporting that Michael Cohen, some of his phone had been wiretapped. That is reporting that CNN has not confirmed, but we can tell you that we have reported Mr. Trump's attorneys have told him not to talk to Michael Cohen.


Phil Mudd, just your reaction to all of this?

MUDD: Well, let me tell you something.

When I was 7 years old, I called my sister stupid, and my mom took out a new bar of Ivory soap, took me in the garage, and washed my mouth out with soap.

Rudy Giuliani needs the same treatment. He is suggesting that there is some sort of criminal enterprise run by, by the way, Donald Trump nominees at the Department of Justice and the FBI.

If you're going to wiretap somebody, it's not the FBI and the Department of Justice alone. You realize they're going to a federal judge and getting authorization based on evidence to wiretap somebody.

Mr. Giuliani said something else that is outrageous. He suggested that attorney-client privilege should protect this.

Let me get this straight. If there's evidence that Mr. Cohen committed a crime, does that mean, as an American citizen, he's outside the law, that he should not be investigated? If there's evidence of a crime, I don't care if you're the president's lawyer. You get the same treatment I do.

You go to a judge and say, I want to listen to his phone.

I have had it with Mr. Giuliani. The most deadly thing in America is getting between him a microphone. He's wrong.

HILL: Wow.

Chris Cillizza, as you follow that, in all seriousness -- but, in all seriousness, when we look at the point that we have gotten to here -- and to Phil's point, you can't just pop up one day and say, oh, I want a wiretap, and they say, oh, sure, here you go. We've got -- right here, we will just put that on for you. CILLIZZA: Yes.

HILL: There's a process to this. And there's a process for very important reasons.

CILLIZZA: Well, right.

And to Phil's point, Rudy Giuliani knows this. He's a former U.S. attorney, right? This is not some guy on the street who has never been involved in anything like this. He knows that he's -- he's saying these things because it is in his and his client Donald Trump's political interest to say that.

I was watching Sean Hannity interview Rudy Giuliani last night, and in the run-up to that interview, Sean Hannity repeatedly talks about the deep state embedded within the FBI, embedded within the intelligence community, and that all these people are out to get Donald Trump.

So, Rudy Giuliani's purposely moving into that mentality. Rudy Giuliani knows that you don't just say -- that Jeff Sessions say, let's just wiretap someone. All right, let's do it. That's not how the -- there's a process in place for this.

The FBI doesn't just raid Michael Cohen's house, his hotel, his office just because there's a bunch of deep staters in the FBI who are pushing this idea.

It's just not -- it's now how any this works.


HILL: Chris, to your point, the message is getting out there.



HILL: And that's an issue.

CILLIZZA: It's exhausting to fight back against it, but you have to.

I mean, I don't want to sound too much like a CNN patsy, but facts do matter. You have to continue to emphasize that. Things that Donald Trump is saying and doing are simply not accurate, not based in fact, whether that is what he said about the Michael Cohen payment, whether that is the claims he makes on a daily basis, whether that is the claims he makes on the campaign trail.

Things that really Giuliani are saying are just simply inaccurate. This idea that there isn't a process in place by which, if this happened, Michael Cohen's phones would be tapped or Michael Cohen's office and hotel and home would be raided.

He is -- it is bad enough to misstate it. It is far worse -- and I know Phil and I have talked about this before -- it is far worse for someone who knows that he is misstating it to misstate it. This is a sin of commission, not omission. And that I think is more dangerous.

HILL: And to your point, which you both brought up, the fact that in his previous life, surveying, as former U.S. attorney, Phil, that's not only egregious because he does know how the process works, obviously, having been a part of it.

But this also could do potentially real and lasting damage to the people who are working within the intelligence community, who are working in the courts as well.

MUDD: I don't think that's the story.

I think the story is even bigger than that. And that is, this a setup. If the investigation continues, let's assume there will be an interview between Mueller and the president.

Even if there's not, if there are additional indictments that touch on the Oval Office or even the president's family, his son or his son-in- law, this is a setup, I believe, where you have the head of the executive branch -- that is, the president -- going out, eventually, if there are indictments, saying the rest of the executive branch is corrupt. I have told you they're corrupt from day. The wiretaps of Michael Flynn are corrupt. The wiretap of Michael Cohen is corrupt.

I fear there's going to be a fight where the president is going to take on the bureaucracy if there are indictments. And that is going to be ugly.


HILL: Go ahead, Chris.


I was just -- Phil is right. I mean, I think what you're seeing here -- and you have seen it certainly in the last month or so, more aggressively, last six weeks, remember how we were talking about Donald Trump never mentions Bob Mueller's name?

He talks in broad terms about the investigation, but he's -- John Dowd and Ty Cobb, two people who don't work for the president's legal team anymore, are advising him to not -- there's no reason to smear Bob Mueller. He is somebody who everybody likes.

Well, that strategy is out the window. So, now the strategy is, we're going to actively work to discredit Mueller --