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White House Faces Major Credibility Crisis. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 4, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.

[05:59:26] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's as if the players are executing the plays on their own.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Imagine if that came out in the middle of the, you know, last debate.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: If you pay money to help Donald Trump get elected, those are campaign expenses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still believe that there's not an FEC violation here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the guy that's going to save Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump is in trouble.

GIULIANI: We got Kim Jong-un in truth enough to be releasing three prisoners today.

SANDERS: We can't confirm the validity of any of the reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't want to have problems before the summit even starts. I believe they're ready to deal.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It is Friday, May 4, 6 a.m. here in New York. And here's our starting line.

The White House is facing a major credibility crisis. So many misleading statements and lies. It's actually hard to keep track. We should remember the words of George Washington. It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.

We learned this week than President Trump paid off a porn star to keep quiet about her alleged affair with him. Rudy Giuliani admitted that the president fired James Comey, because he refused to say publicly the president was not under investigation. These are different reckonings than we have been told by the president and others over time.

CNN reported exclusively that Mr. Trump deceived voters before the election with a glowing health later that we now know he dictated to his doctor.

Sources tell CNN Rudy Giuliani's revelations blind-sided the president's other lawyers and the White House communications team. Can the American people believe anything coming from this White House?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani also said that North Korea would be releasing three American prisoners yesterday, which did not happen. The revelation caught many, including the White House, by surprise. So why is the president's newest lawyer making statements about national security issues without a security clearance.

And thousands are being ordered to evacuate from their homes on Hawaii's big island. You can see the volcanic eruption there, sending molten lava through the streets and the forests. The state's governor activated the National Guard to help with the evacuations. So we will bring you the latest on this developing story.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's live at the White House with our top story. What is the latest there this morning, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the president is at odds with his own White House after many of them were left in the dark yesterday. That revelation made by Rudy Giuliani prompted widespread disbelief and frustration among not only the president's legal team but also his own staffers.

And their responses yesterday did little to clarify the confusion and a whole lot to call their credibility into question.


COLLINS (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani's revelation that President Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the hush money given to porn actress Stormy Daniels just days before the election, catching many in the White House off-guard. One aide telling CNN Giuliani's interview stunned and shocked the communications staff who were unaware he would disclose that bombshell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you specifically know that the president repaid Mr. Cohen for the $130,000, you personally?

SANDERS: The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.

COLLINS: Giuliani conceding that there was no way White House staffers wouldn't be surprised by his remarks, telling CNN, "The president is my client. I don't talk to them."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you expect that Rudy Giuliani would talk about this payment tonight? HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We had no idea the

topics of the show, obviously. I'm not an attorney. I just work at the White House.

COLLINS: Two White House officials tell CNN the situation is now out of their control, others noting that Giuliani and Mr. Trump have their own conversations before Giuliani's cable news appearances, reinforcing the idea that the president is increasingly acting as his own communications director.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders struggling to explain the shifting story.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said on March 7 there was no knowledge of any payments from the president, and he's denied all of these allegations. Were you lying to us at the time, or were you in the dark?

SANDERS: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim. And again, I've given the best information I had at the time.

COLLINS: Sources say Giuliani blind-sided many of President Trump's other legal advisers, who feared he was winging it and not fully prepared. Some advisors speculating that the comments were playing solely between Giuliani and President Trump, who are long-time friends.

GIULIANI: I have known Donald Trump for almost 30 years, and he has created and accomplished great things.

COLLINS: One official tells CNN that Giuliani undermined the administration's defense strategy in both the Daniels case and Mueller probe. Giuliani continuing to insist that the payment wasn't a campaign finance violation.

GIULIANI: It wasn't for the campaign.

DOOCY: Right.

GIULIANI: It was to save their marriage -- not their marriage as much as their reputation.

COLLINS: But moments later, the president's lawyer appearing to undermine his own argument.

GIULIANI: Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate.


COLLINS: Now the question today, Chris and Alisyn, is what political and legal trouble Giuliani may have opened the president up to with those comments.

We will see the president as he leaves the White House. He's headed for Dallas to speak at the NRA convention. But there's a chance we could hear from him before then, because it was just 24 hours ago that he confirmed on Twitter that he had reimbursed his personal attorney for the money that he paid a porn star before the election. So we'll see what's in store for today.

[06:05:18] CAMEROTA: It's early.

CUOMO: Right. If it seems to be falling apart, that's because things come apart easily when they are held together by lies.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Before we get to the obvious political problem here, right? May be better off politically than legally when it comes to lying. Because the prosecution, we only know what the prosecutors can show. And that's obviously where Rudy Giuliani's head is, Renato, to try to put together a story that can't be disproved by the known evidence by prosecutors.

Do you think it's working? Well, hold on. Let me explain that again, because it makes sense to Renato. I said this yesterday. And I get it. If you guys aren't lawyers, it's a little tricky. But every lawyer sees through what's going on. Rudy is saying this: "Here's our story. You prove it's not true." That is the burden for the prosecutor. It is on a prosecutor to show that you did this to violate campaign laws.

CAMEROTA: I hear you. But what I hear is that Rudy introduced an entirely new narrative that they had never mentioned, in fact, had denied before and that that's what's causing at least the political problems. I hear you're going with the legal problems.

CUOMO: That's right. Because that's what this is about. This is just like Bill Clinton, Renato. I remember, I came into the business in a position like you but very junior to give legal analysis and how to make sense of the fact that Bill Clinton and his team wouldn't answer a simple question and it wound up with what is the definition of "is" is. That's where we are again, is it not?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I suppose that's the case. I actually -- my read on the legal strategy initially was that Giuliani was trying to take some pressure off of Cohen and put that pressure from Cohen onto Trump, because frankly, Trump is in a stronger position, because he likely can't be indicted as a sitting president, and the GOP is probably not going to impeach him. So I thought it was a way of relieving pressure from Cohen and making sure he didn't flip.

But I will tell you, the inartful comments by Giuliani really created more problems. I don't really know how the heck you spin Giuliani's comment on "FOX & Friends" that, "Well, you know, if this happened during the debate then this would have been a problem for us." I mean, he is -- unfortunately there's really no way for me to say that this is a well-crafted legal strategy and from what I've heard, CNN has been reporting that there's a lot of confusion within the legal camp on Trump's side and that that certainly comes through in terms of how the legal strategy is being executed.

CAMEROTA: Right, John. The reporting is that Giuliani surprised a lot of people. Maybe not the president, who he said he talked to before he made this revelation.

CUOMO: And after.

CAMEROTA: OK. Yes, but certainly the legal team.

You know Giuliani well.

AVLON: I do.

CAMEROTA: What was he doing?

AVLON: My -- I worked for Rudy Giuliani for many years when he was mayor and after. My powers at absolute mind reading at this stage are not perfect. Look, he's clearly thinking he's serving his client, and to some extent, the country.

But this is not the best of Rudy we saw on air yesterday. Let's be clear about that. The standard which I like to use, does this cause more problems than it solves? It's really unclear he didn't ultimately cause more problems than he solved.

But clearly, it's a strategy that the president talked about. The president doesn't seem upset about it. Yes, it upends the White House line on Stormy Daniels for months. But it may have the virtue of, for the first time, telling the truth or something close to the truth.

How it interacts with the Cohen investigation, whether they're, you know, playing a larger game with prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District, that's possible. TBD. But I mean, certainly, the White House was absolutely taken aback by this. And they are forced to expose the fact that their boss's statements now reveals them to be liars.

CUOMO: We have heard nothing from Trump that's negative about Rudy Giuliani. But that is a classic trigger. If you say something he wasn't ready for or he didn't want, you know it in pretty short order. I would bet on Rudy Giuliani having the confidence of the president on this.

Now in terms of confidence, Sarah Sanders has a bulls eye on her right now, because their statements have just been, at best, inconsistent, if not completely fabricated. She got tough questions yesterday. Here was one of the volleys from ABC's Jonathan Karl.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: When the president so often says things that turn out not to be true, and the president of the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here or what is said by the president? SANDERS: With give the very best information that we have at the

time. I do that every single day and will continue to do that every day under this position.


CUOMO: Does that work, Renato?

MARIOTTI: Well, I will tell you it's certainly not convincing to me. And if I was a journalist listening to her every day, I wouldn't take her very seriously at this point. You know, it seems to me that what she's doing is she's repeating whatever the president tells her. And at this point, his credibility is pretty much shot.

[06:10:08] And, you know, frankly, you know, I think you have to wonder at this point, you know, is what she says news? I mean, I suppose it's news just from the fact it's what the White House's line is. But I don't know how we can take seriously anything she has to say.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But what else is she supposed to do, John? I mean, here is Sarah Sanders. She's sticking to that line: "I gave you the best information I had at the time." That was probably true. She was -- everybody thought that -- listen, Rudy Giuliani is the person who changed the narrative, OK, not Sarah Sanders yesterday. Here's how often she tried to tell the press this. Listen to this.


SANDERS: We give the very best information that we have at the time. Again, we give the best information possible at the time. And, again, I've given the best information I had at the time.

Again, I gave you the best information that I had.

I'm giving you the best information that I have.

Again, I'm giving the best information I have. Some information I am aware of and some I'm not.


CAMEROTA: She didn't know, necessarily, that Donald Trump was paying Michael Cohen a $35,000-a-month retainer and what that was used for. So what's wrong with what she --

CUOMO: How do you know what she knew and what she didn't?

CAMEROTA: I don't. But I'm just giving her the benefit of the doubt that she didn't have that information, since nobody else did. It was a shock to everybody when Giuliani announced that.

AVLON: It was a shock when it was announced publicly, for sure. How much do they know behind the scenes that there are problems they are trying to correct --

CUOMO: There you go.

AVLON: -- by spin, by using the best they can? And how much are they actually going forward with the best things they've got, naively.

CAMEROTA: Are you saying she knew there was a $35,000 retainer?

CUOMO: I'm saying that you shouldn't say she didn't know --

CAMEROTA: I'm saying how could you --

CUOMO: -- because we don't know that. I'm also saying something else.

I've watched this job. I actually did some homework last night. Sean Spicer said the same thing.


CUOMO: "I'm giving you guys the best idea -- information I have." You know what that is? That's a plausible deniability line. That is, "The president of the United States told me this. I am going to believe it, because he is the president of the United States. That is the best information I have." But that assumes that they believe he's telling them the truth.

AVLON: No --

CUOMO: And I don't believe they always do.

AVLON: That's exactly right.

CAMEROTA: Isn't that what press secretaries do?

AVLON: Well, look, I think press secretaries in the past have actually held themselves to a higher standard. They've threatened to resign when being confronted or being asked to present false information to the press. Because it's their credibility. And their job, as sort of point person with the press, is also to be a mouthpiece for truth as well as the administration's interests. And that's a line you walk.

What the press team does -- and that line Sarah Sanders is holding onto like a life line, is not only plausible deniability but it's also the line they've been forced to put forward because they're only as good as the information they're getting, and a lot of times they know that information is not good.

Here's, I think, the larger standard we've all got to keep in mind. There's a quote from Edward R. Murrow I've got in my office. It says, "Io be believable you have to be credible. To be credible you have to be truthful". That's the way that relationship works.

And the White House press secretary depends on a degree of credibility with the press. That has been erased, not only yesterday but over a period of months. Because tone comes from the top, and this administration, like the president, has a truth-telling problem. CUOMO: Three thousand misstatements and lies --


CUOMO: -- in 466 days. Renato, you know what it sounds like to you. It sounds like "I don't recall. I don't recall." And that's why in the law, when somebody says they don't recall, which is a plausible deniability law, they built in this ability to refresh your recollection. You know, and the political context for that would be to show Sarah Sanders -- "Remember when you said this and it was wrong. You remember when you said this and it turned out to be a fabrication that seems deceptive and is called a lie by everybody else?"

That's where we are right now. They're going to have to own it. They're even hearing it from FOX News, home base, Renato. This is Neil Cavuto, a long-time guy a lot of people respect, and like him. Here's what he said about this.


NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Let me be clear, Mr. President. How can you drain the swamp if you're the one who keeps muddying the waters?

You didn't know about that $130,000 payment to a porn star until you did. Said you knew nothing about how your former lawyer, Michael Cohen, handled this until acknowledging today you were the guy behind the retainer payment that took care of this. You insist that money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction. Of that you're sure.

Now, I'm not saying you're a liar. You're president. You're busy. I'm just having a devil of a time figuring out which news are fake. Let's just say your own words on lots of stuff give me, shall I say, lots of pause. I guess you're too busy draining the swamp to ever stop and smell the stink you're creating.


CAMEROTA: Wow. John, wow. It is notable when FOX News, anyone on FOX News on the commentary side, which I think Neil straddles that, says something like that. That's off-script.

AVLON: Yes. When you lost the charter member of the Trump fan club.

CAMEROTA: I don't know if Neil ever was.

AVLON: Neil isn't. I think that honor goes to Hannity and "FOX & Friends." But Cavuto is somebody who's got credibility in the building. And FOX Business, the station he really helps run, has been like -- that is Trump No. 1, you know, affirmation zone.

So the fact that Cavuto went after him hard, with a line pretty well- crafted, saying, you know, "You can't drain the swamp when you're muddying the waters," basically saying the president's got a truth- telling problem and that he is the genesis of this. That's tough talk. And maybe the president will listen, because it comes from a friendly face. Maybe he won't.

[06:15:09] But it's clearly the truth, and they're being forced to confront it, even though they've spent months, you know, really contorting themselves not to confront the truth.

CUOMO: Look, and it's a fair argument, and it's one I've made, full disclosure, to Rudy Giuliani personally. Going on FOX to lay this out, you knew that at night you had a friend in Hannity, although in deference to Sean, I haven't talked to him about this. He seemed surprised about what Rudy were doing. They were talking across each other for a while.


CUOMO: They were talking about different situations. The dossier was on Hannity's mind, when Rudy was talking about the Stormy Daniels situation. But when they go in the morning and you sit with three- potted plants and you don't get tested, people aren't going to give you the opportunity to be believed. Because you're talking to the home team. You're not answering the tough questions.


CUOMO: And your credibility takes a hit. What did they ask?

CAMEROTA: They asked questions. Hold on. The hosts did ask questions during that what people said was an unhinged -- you can decide that for yourself -- interview with Trump, that phoner. They asked, they pushed back. They asked good questions.

AVLON: They did push back at times. There's a separate danger. There's actually a specific separate danger from going on these friend zones where you think it's all cozy. Which is that you actually let your guard down and start saying extra stupid things. Because you're not -- because you're not thinking it through.

CUOMO: And when the rules change about what comes to you and the level of credibility and the level of integrity, you've got to change your rules. You've got to be aggressive. You have to test, because the people deserve it. You work for them, not for the government.

CAMEROTA: We were wrapped four minutes ago.

CUOMO: We work for you.

CAMEROTA: Renato Mariotti, John Avlon, thank you.

Did Rudy Giuliani's revelations expose President Trump to new legal problems? We take that up next.


[06:20:43] CAMEROTA: Sources tell CNN some of President Trump's legal team felt blind-sided by Rudy Giuliani's revelations about the president reimbursing Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush-money payment.

So let's discuss the legal ramifications with CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

So Kristen Welker at NBC had an interesting tweet that she sent out at midnight last night. She says that she had just spoken to Rudy Giuliani, who gave more information about what he was thinking, OK, when he made this revelation that nobody had heard before that, in fact, the president had reimbursed Michael Cohen through this monthly retainer.

Here's Kristen Welker's tweet: "Just spoke to Giuliani, who says he revealed the president's payments to get out in front of the special counsel, Southern District of New York" -- that's where they're investigating Michael Cohen -- "because at some point, they would realize this information and leak it."

Ken, what do you think of this disclosure?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, when I have a witness and I have bad information, I want to be the one to bring it out. Because it has much more of a "gotcha" feel to it when the other side does it than when I do it. And so --

CAMEROTA: And you think this is bad information? Sorry to interrupt, but just to be clear, you think this is bad information about the president?

CUCCINELLI: Yes. No, that's OK. Well, first of all, it's at least bad, because it's such a dramatic change from the previous line, right? So in that sense alone, it is bad.

The truth, in my view, is always better to deal with. And that appears -- there's no reason Giuliani would have brought this out if he didn't believe it was true. So let's accept that it's true, and I think that that -- that's a positive.

I do think that the conflict, in particular, and the details of the story do cause problems for the president, but they were, as Giuliani said, they were going to be caused anyway. Better for them to get it out. I don't know how long they knew all these pieces, or Giuliani knew all these pieces, or the president knew all these pieces, but it is better to bring it forward, simply because it's better to be dealing with truth than falsity, which is obviously the position they were in before. So it is a step in the right direction.

It does cause new problems simply because of the facts. There will be a debate over whether this was campaign finance-related or not, whether it might have been civil violations or criminal. Criminal if it's knowingly done to circumvent the federal election laws.

And it also will raise a question, not in a negative way, but informationally, in the direction of Stephanie Clifford of was she taking steps in the September, October of 2016 time frame, of her own to raise this issue? CAMEROTA: Yes.

CUCCINELLI: So she was using the campaign as leverage. Now, that's -- she's shown some business sense in this whole thing. That might be a very reasonable expectation. And then the campaign may actually be secondary to the main motive here, even for the president, which is what Rudy Giuliani is advancing.

CUOMO: All right. So Renato, put some more meat on the bones of that. Let's put the politics to the side. Giuliani is saying he did this to get ahead of a leak. We know what that's about. It's in the same bucket as calling the people from the FBI who did the search of Michael Cohen "storm troopers." There's a little bit a smear campaign going on. Let's stick to the law. That stuff won't matter once the prosecution starts. How does what Rudy said increase the stakes legally?

MARIOTTI: Well, to me the most problematic comment that Giuliani said was on FOX & Friends. You played the clip during the last segment. Where he said, "Well, can you imagine if this came out during the last debate?" You know, that very much ties the payment to the election.

You know, the best defense for the president would be, "Look, there's lots of reasons why I wouldn't want people to know about an affair. I wanted to protect my wife from this embarrassment. I wanted to help my family. This had nothing to do with the campaign." That, I think, very much, you know, to some extent, the John Edwards defense --

CUOMO: right.

MARIOTTI: -- when he was dealt with this problem. Obviously, a lot of reasons why you wouldn't want people to know about that.

But why -- why go out of your -- why as an aside on "FOX & Friends" say, "Hey, yes, can you imagine if this came out during the debate?"

You know, I wonder, Chris, during the last segment you talked about when they go onto comfortable territory, sometimes they let their guard down and they start talking. I really think that was an undisciplined comment by Giuliani.

[06:25:10] And I have to say I agree with the idea that you want to get the story out. But this could have been crafted in a much more controlled, thoughtful way.


MARIOTTI: And it really does not come across that way to me.

CAMEROTA: Ken, one more thing that Kristen Welker tweeted out that I find fascinating, about how Rudy Giuliani says he had to tell the president this new narrative, OK. So "Giuliani said he made the president aware of paperwork that showed the payments were actually reimbursements for Stormy. Trump replied, 'Oh, my goodness. I guess that's what it was for,' Giuliani said." First of all, have you ever heard less Trumpian language than "Oh, my goodness"? And second, I mean, he's really being depicted as a rube here.

CUCCINELLI: Yes. He is a little bit. And I think, you know, they're playing into the plausibility of October 2016 being a rather busy month for Donald Trump. We all remember that.

And I think that Rudy Giuliani is sort of counting on that as part of the explanation for this.

How much people will buy that, I don't know. I mean, I was listening to the last set when you all were talking about the challenge Sarah Sanders faces in simple believability. You know, I'm -- I manage prosecutors. I wasn't in a White House. But my view of that is simply that she can't do any better than the information she has. And it's that credibility behind Sarah Sanders --

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: -- that is more brought into question. And so -- so that factors in here going forward, and it doesn't help them. The history doesn't help them.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Ken Cuccinelli, Renato Mariotti, thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Other news for you this Friday morning. Thousands are being evacuated from Hawaii's big island. There is a volcano there spewing lava into the streets. The latest on the eruption next.