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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
White House Aide on McCain Opposition to Haspel as Next CIA Chief: "He's Dying Anyway;" Fox News Military Analyst: Torture is Good, "It Worked on John McCain;" Pence: Wraps Up Mueller Investigation; Columbus Nova's Connections to Alt-Right Web site Names; "New York Times:" Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Was on the Verge of Resigning After President Trump Berated Her; New CNN Polling on the Russia Investigation; Infamous Lobbyist Weighs in on Allegations Cohen Peddled Influence, Access to President Trump. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired May 10, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here in for Anderson.
A late day surge of developments. CNN has confirmed that a new cabinet secretary has threatened to quit after being berated by the president. We have a brand-new CNN poll out about the Mueller investigation, a huge spike in the number of Republicans who say the president should not testify.
But we begin in low places. A comment from a White House official about Senator John McCain that is at a minimum insensitive, quite possibly flat-out odious.
President Trump himself has a long checkered history when it comes to the Arizona Republican who survived five years as a prisoner of war. The president once questioned whether he was a war hero saying, quote, I like people who weren't captured. As we all know, tonight the senator is at home in Arizona battling brain cancer.
Let's get the very latest from the White House, CNN's Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, walk us through what happened here.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it is clear that, you know, the president sets the tone at the top at this White House here. And one of his lower level staffers, her name is Kelly Sadler.
She was on a phone call with Republican spokespeople on Capitol Hill earlier today. They were talking about something Senator McCain had just done. He sent out a statement earlier this week opposing the nomination of the CIA director, Gina Haspel. He said he does not believe that someone who has that history in the program of waterboarding and other kinds of torture should lead the CIA.
So, the White House was sort of in defense mode there. In a conference call with Republican press secretaries and others, this staffer said he's dying anyway. Of course, a comment like that quickly spread across Washington, given the respect that Senator McCain has. So, then it essentially blew up from there. The White House apologized and said we respect his service.
But, John, just a few moments ago, we heard from Cindy McCain, Senator McCain's wife, of course, who sent out this message on Twitter. Let's take a look. She's addressing it directly at the White House staffer there.
She said: May I remind you, my husband has a family, seven children and five grandchildren.
Simple words there. Sparse words. But a tough message, indeed.
Talking to a few friends and allies of Senator McCain this evening, John, they remind me that he's still creating waves and still working hard, even though he's out in Arizona because he announced his opposition to Gina Haspel that created a whole stir here, which, of course, led to this.
But in a town of disgusting comments, I think this ranks pretty high up there, John.
BERMAN: You know, Jeff, you said the White House responded. Was that an apology?
ZELENY: John, I wouldn't exactly say it's an apology. But let me read it to you and people can make their own judgment here. We respect Senator McCain's service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.
But they did not walk it back or say, you know, she was misquoted. They said she was not intending to be malicious.
Talking about someone's brain cancer this respect sounds fairly malicious to me, John.
BERMAN: That's not an apology. That statement was definitely not an apology. Had not known the comment was made to Republican press secretaries, which does explain how it got out so quickly.
Jeff Zeleny, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.
BERMAN: Amazingly enough, that insult from the White House staffer was not the only attack on the Arizona senator today. During an appearance on Fox Business News, a former Fox News military analyst named Thomas McInerney said that Senator McCain opposed the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director because torture worked on him.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. THOMAS MCINERNEY (RET), AIR FORCE: The fact is, John McCain, it worked on John. That's why they call him song bird John. (END VIDEO CLIP)
Joining me now with the details of this remark, CNN's Brian Stelter.
Brian, who is this guy who made that statement?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, McInerney was once the number three commander of the Air Force. He served several tours of duty in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. More recently, he's known as a Fox News paid military analyst. He's on the payroll until last year. So, today, he was on the air just as a guest.
His recent political views do receive a lot scrutiny. He raised doubts on Barack Obama's birthplace. Actually just like Trump did. And he endorsed Trump in 2016.
If you remember that event where Trump came on stage and renounced birtherism and said he knew Obama was American, McInerney was there. So, maybe they both had a change of heart.
But birtherism is not the only conspiracy theory that McInerney has promoted. He also promoted this conspiracy theory about McCain. And that's all it is. It is a baseless lie that was first brought up in 2008 during the presidential campaign.
Back then, PolitiFact called it a pants on fire lie, saying there is no evidence at all to support the claim that McCain helped the enemy in Vietnam. On the contrary, as most of us know, he's an American hero.
BERMAN: Yes, it's a very important history. I encourage everyone to check out PolitiFact. Also, look at McCain's biographer who explained exactly what happened and note that John McCain never gave anything of value to the North Vietnamese.
[20:05:03] Has Fox commented all about this?
STELTER: Yes, sort of. The anchor Charles Payne says he didn't hear the comment this morning, he didn't hear McInerney say it because a producer was talking in his ear. And whether you believe that or not, here is the rest of what Payne said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES PAYNE, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: I, in fact, have very high respect for Senator McCain's lifetime of service and sacrifice to this nation. Those reprehensible comments do not represent how I feel or how this network feels about Senator McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Payne there saying the network does not support the comments. Now, McCain's friends, I think we should be honest about this, they
are measuring their time left with their friend in days or weeks, not in months or years. Hopefully, they're all wrong. Hopefully, McCain will be with us years from now. But he has a book coming out later this month, an HBO documentary coming out later this month.
He views these -- these documents as his final words, his final messages to the public.
So I have some advice to McInerney. He should set his DVR, watch the HBO documentary. He has a lot to learn about John McCain.
BERMAN: I will note, that was an apology from the Fox Business anchor right there. And he did note the network didn't stand behind the comments either.
All right. Brian Stelter, thanks very much. I appreciate it.
BERMAN: As we have noted, insults from President Trump lobbed at Senator McCain not new. To refresh your memory, this is a brief look back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He hit me -- he's not a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.
TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.
And except for one senator who came into a room at 3:00 in the morning and went like that, we would have had health care, too. We would have had health care, too.
We got a bad vote the evening that we were going to terminate Obamacare. We got a bad vote. You know about that, right? That was not a nice thing.
We actually had it beaten except for one vote. You remember that beautiful night. It was -- it was defeated, but one vote changed.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BERMAN: Joining me now to discuss, Paul Begala and Jim Schultz.
You know, Paul, politics is politics.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
BERMAN: But it doesn't matter, he's dying anyway -- when John McCain, as everyone knows, is in Arizona right now at home battling brain cancer. Where is the line between, you know, politics and human decency?
BEGALA: Well, there is no decency in a comment like that, obviously. It's one thing to argue over whether Gina Haspel should run the CIA. Reasonably people can differ.
Reasonable people, good people don't say things like that. Why did this aide say it? She's just a dust speck in the American body politic, right?
It is as Zeleny points out, because the president sets the tone. Once norms are shattered, it's very difficult to put them back together, you know? I worked for a president who gave the Medal of Freedom to his component on the campaign of 1996, Bob Dole. Why? Because Bob Dole deserved it. They didn't agree about politics, but Dole was an American hero.
We need to find a way to get back to it, but this president makes it very, very difficult. It is -- people should know, by the way, can I just quickly -- what exactly Senator McCain endured? He was shot down over North Vietnam. Both his legs and his right arm were -- I'm sorry, his right leg and both his arms were broken in the crash.
BERMAN: Still can't lift his arm completely over his head.
BEGALA: He can't comb his own hair to this day. When he landed, he was stabbed, he was beaten. Later, his captors found out his father was the commander of the Pacific Fleet, a very powerful admiral. So, they said, you're free to go.
Alone among our POWs, John McCain had the key to his own cell. He could leave at any time he wanted. But he wouldn't do it because the code of honor of POWs is first in, first out. So, he was tortured for resisting. More than most.
So, what he endured for our country, he endured unspeakable torture and he is an American hero. I don't agree with his politics. But that's not the point. To say something like that about a man who's given this much for his country is just beneath contempt.
BERMAN: Jim, Kelly Sadler should not have been saying this, correct?
JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Absolutely not. John McCain is a war hero. He is a hero, he -- the sacrifice that he made and those like him have made give us the freedoms that we enjoy. And we have to respect that.
And beyond that, there is a certain decency associated with someone that's dying of cancer that may be dying of cancer, to their family, to their friends and the loved ones. You just have to be sensitive. Certainly, an insensitive, inappropriate comment that she is probably going to regret and I would hope that she does regret.
That being said, you know, I think it's OK to criticize Senator McCain for his views on health care. It's OK to criticize Senator McCain for his views on Gina Haspel's candidacy to the CIA. We can disagree on that. That's OK. That's what politics is all about. It's OK to play hard ball politics with that.
It's just not OK to be insensitive and to make it personal.
BERMAN: Can't the White House say I'm sorry? Why hasn't the White House come out and said I'm sorry?
SCHULTZ: Well, the White House said that the family is in their prayers. I disagree with the fact that this is something that rolls downhill from the president himself.
This was someone that made an off the cuff comment in a meeting.
[20:10:02] This is not something that she was harkening back to 2015 and saying, OK, it's OK to say these kinds of things.
BERMAN: I don't think president Trump has ever apologized for those initial statements.
SCHULTZ: No, he didn't. And, again, when -- in the political realm to get into that personal issue for someone who has -- who has, you know, suffered for our country, it's inappropriate. There is no question about that. I agree with Paul in that.
But I also think it's incredibly insensitive to say the president doesn't respect military service. He surrounds himself with military people in his staff and respects their opinions.
BEGALA: He does not respect senator McCain's sacrifice. He lied to the country and said he wasn't a war hero. By the way, you know, corporal bone spur there in the White House, Mr. Trump, took steps to avoid service. John McCain took steps to serve.
So, this is, I just disagree, this is emblematic of your times, this is emblematic of the era of Trump. And the challenge for everybody else, decent people in both parties, is not to sink to his level. Reciprocity is so deep in the human soul, but I really admire the McCain family, for example, is conducting themselves with such grace.
BERMAN: Let me -- there's some new bit of reporting in CNN, let me read this to you. A source close to the situation says Kelly Sadler called Meghan McCann today to apologize for the crass remark. It's unclear what Meghan McCain's response was, but we're told that Sadler apologized to her.
That's a start, Jim. Sadler apologizing to the family is a start. The next step would be apologizing in public. The next step, the White House saying that the comment was inappropriate and apologizing.
I still don't get why they can't say this was a completely inappropriate comment, we're sorry. She's paid by the taxpayers.
SCHULTZ: As she should apologize to the family. It was an insensitive comment about someone that's dying of cancer, and someone who served our country well and someone that -- you know, if he does, in fact, die of cancer will be sorely missed by many.
So, there is no question she should apologize. And the White House, I'm sure, will be critical of her remarks.
BEGALA: Well, no, they can't apologize because Mr. Trump won't apologize. That's the problem.
If you fire this woman, which any decent White House would. If she publicly apologizes, which she must, it puts the presidents in the horn of a dilemma because Donald Trump doesn't apologize for these lies and personal insults. He never apologized to Ted Cruz for somehow implying his father was connected to the Kennedy assassination.
He, in fact, was asked once -- I say this as a person of faith, he was asked, do you go to God with your sins and ask for forgiveness? He said, well, I don't -- I don't live a life that requires that. He could not name a single time even in the quiet of his own soul he felt like he did something wrong. That's the kind of man we have as our president.
BERMAN: Just very quickly, Jim, you really don't think that the president has changed the level of discourse. Whether or not it's successful is a different story. But has he changed the level of discourse?
SCHULTZ: There has been vitriol in politics as the right goes for the right, the left goes for the left. You know, there's been all kinds of vitriol back and forth. I don't put that solely upon the president. That was going on long before President Trump came on to the scene. We were heading in that direction.
BERMAN: Do you think she should be fired?
SCHULTZ: Do I believe she should be fired? I believe she should be reprimanded for her insensitive comments. Someone else can determine what that reprimand can be.
BERMAN: Not fire them?
SCHULTZ: Someone -- if you're the chief of staff, you have to make that determination. That's his --
BERMAN: Would you complain if she was fired? Would you go on Twitter, Jim, afterwards and say this woman never should have been fired?
SCHULTZ: No, of course not. That's the decision that someone needs to make. That's a personnel decision that someone needs to make.
BEGALA: The chief of staff has never apologized for lying about a congresswoman who he said completely false things about. He never apologized. This is the era of Trump. His people never apologize because the president doesn't.
SCHULTZ: Let's not act like the Democrats have the high road in all of this either.
BEGALA: No, human beings do. Homo sapiens do. SCHULTZ: Right.
BEGALA: Decent human beings do. These people are beneath that.
SCHULTZ: OK, there is a political discourse in this country on both sides of the aisle where the vitriol is just over the top. It's not just Donald Trump.
BEGALA: That's a false equivalency, Jim. That's not right.
SCHULTZ: You sit here today and say that all the Democrats are -- none of them conduct themselves in any inappropriate fashion as it comes to --
BEGALA: I did not say that. I said this president --
BEGALA: -- and he is beneath any standards of our lifetime.
You can never imagine Ronald Reagan saying this. You could never imagine Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or George Bush. We have never seen a president so loathsome in conducting himself in the public discourse. And now his staff is following suit.
BERMAN: Jim, would you see Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama make the comment that President Trump made about John McCain as a POW?
SCHULTZ: I can't speak for what they'd say in private. Certainly no one's made that comment --
BERMAN: That was public. That was public.
SCHULTZ: About John McCain publicly, you know, history is history. We know what that is. We know what they've said publicly.
To determine what they may say or what they may think, you know, I'm not going --
BERMAN: All right. We're talking about public comments, not the private comments in this case.
But, Jim, I do appreciate you being here. Paul, thanks for being here as well.
One more bit of reaction, Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of John McCain told Dana Bash of the White House aide's comment. Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate. That's from Senator Lindsey Graham.
Coming up, Vice President Mike Pence says it's time to wrap up the Mueller investigation. Not only not up to him or the president, there are continued signs that the investigation really is nowhere near over. We're keeping them honest next. And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has reportedly drafted a resignation letter but not submitted it after the president blew up at her at a cabinet meeting. Details from "The New York Times" ahead.
BERMAN: Tonight, we're keeping them honest with the vice president of the United States, much like a bartender at closing time saying, OK, folks, it's time to wrap it up here. Only this is direct at the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the United States presidential election. And instead of a bar at 2:00 in the morning, the setting was a United States military base where he and the president were welcoming back Americans who were freed by North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been about a year since this investigation began. Our administration has provided over 1 million documents. We fully cooperated in it. And in the interest of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up, and I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, keeping them honest, the vice president was right about at least one thing, it has, indeed, been about a year since the Russia investigation began. A week from today, in fact, will be exactly one year since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. One year.
The vice president seems to suggest that's a big deal, that 12 months has some magical investigatory properties.
[20:20:00] That after one year, it all turns into a pumpkin or something.
The thing is, it hasn't in the past. The Benghazi investigation, for instance, took two and a half years. Whitewater, eight years and two months until a final report was released. Now, we all know where this pressure, or as Pence put it, respectful encouragement to wrap this thing up is coming from.
There is a chorus from some Republican lawmakers, and led, of course, by one voice. At this point, if anyone is unclear about how the president feels about the investigation, this one's for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a total witch hunt. I've been saying it for a long time. I have this witch hunt.
It's a witch-hunt. That's all it is.
They have phony witch hunts. The witch hunt continues. The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
This is a pure and simple witch hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So the president is operating under principle that if you repeat something enough times, there are people who will believe it based solely on that repetition. And guess what? It's working.
According to brand-new CNN polling, at least among one segment of the population, it is working. And we'll have more on that ahead.
The president and his supporters can say as much as they want that this should end, that there is no "there" there, but never forget the fundamental truth about Jedi mind tricks, these are the Droids you're looking for.
Keeping them honest, when it comes to the Russia investigation, there has already been a significant amount of "there" there. In just under a year, the Mueller investigation has yielded 75 criminal charges, 22 defendants, five guilty pleas. We don't know where or when it will end, but just two days ago, we learned that the Mueller team questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments that his company's U.S. affiliates made to President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen after the election, a Russian oligarch who is close to Vladimir Putin and who also went to the Trump inauguration.
This is an investigation about Russian interference in an American election. There are real questions about our democracy as stake. And as a wise man once said, no one is above the law. That wise man, Michael Richard Pence, after James Comey announced he was re-opening an investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: What the decision this week showed is even 11 days before an election, no one is above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Again, we don't know what ultimately will come of any of this, but maybe the investigation should wrap up when it's finished, not when the president or the vice president decides it's closing time. So that company we mentioned that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michael Cohen after the election, it's called Columbus Nova. It is linked to a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, who went to the Trump inauguration.
Tonight, were learning even more about that company. A strange turn of events involving the purchase of alt-right domain names.
Our Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin joins me now.
Drew, we know this company paid Michael Cohen a half million dollars. We know the company has deep connections to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. But what you're pointing tonight is perhaps even more strange. Shortly after Hillary Clinton gave a speech criticizing the alt-right, somebody at this firm, Columbus Nova, started registering alt-right Websites?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. And, yes, it is strange. August 25th, 2016, here is that speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not conservatism as we have known it. This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas, anti- Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women, all key tenants making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: OK, John, within two days after Hillary Clinton said that word, alt-right, if that speech, a person named Frederick Intrater at Columbus Nova registered eight names containing the phrase alt-right or a variation using alt-right, here they are, all eight of them. Frederick Intrater is the brother of the company's CEO and the registrations were being made using a Columbus Nova business account.
He's also the cousin of that Russian oligarch.
BERMAN: Drew, any idea why he wanted these domain names or how they were used?
GRIFFIN: We got a statement from him tonight. He's saying he purchased these domain names for years with his own money and he would then try to sell them for profit. On these specific domain names involving the alt-right, the statement says this, he regrets doing this and that, I subsequently thought better of the idea of selling domain names, which obviously now have connotations that are inconsistent with my moral beliefs.
It goes on to say: so instead of selling them, I left them dormant to let them expire. In retrospect, it was a dumb idea. I never told my brother or anyone else at Columbus Nova that I had done this. His brother, again, is the CEO, also a cousin with that Russian oligarch.
The domain names, John, never used to build any Websites and they, in fact, have now expired.
BERMAN: All right. Drew Griffin, thanks very much.
One of the many questions looming over the Mueller investigation is whether the president will agree to an interview and whether he has had to comply or whether he will comply with any possible subpoena.
[20:25:09] So, what is a president to do in that situation? Depends who you ask, whether it's Rudy Giuliani or Rudy Giuliani.
Here he is last weekend. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: What happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the president? Will you comply?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: Well, we don't have to. He's the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So that was Rudy Giuliani now. How about Rudy Giuliani then?
This is the summer of 1998, same Rudy Giuliani, different president. Bill Clinton was in office at the time. And Charlie Rose was still on the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE ROSE, T.V. HOST: If the president is asked to testify, subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and says, no, not going to do it --
GIULIANI: He's got to do it. I mean, you don't have a choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You got to do it. You don't have a choice. Oh, how times have changed.
Joining me now, CNN Political Analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, and CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash.
Dana, you spoke to Rudy Giuliani today, and I understand just again very recently. Give us an update on your conversations with him.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Where do we start, John? Well, first of all, let's maybe start with the news that he broke up with and from his law firm that Maggie and here colleagues at "The New York Times" broke today. Subsequent to that report, CNN and I believe "The Times" as well got a statement from that law firm Greenberg and Traurig, suggesting that when Giuliani went on Fox last week and talked about the fact that law firms all the time, he seemed to say law firms all the time make -- lawyers all the time make payments for their clients without telling their clients.
A spokeswoman for the firm today put out a statement basically saying, no, no, we don't do that. I just spoke with Giuliani, who was quite upset, as you can imagine, about the notion of them dissing Giuliani so publicly. He argued that, well, what he was talking about at Fox, John, follow this, wasn't necessarily making a payment as a lawyer on behalf of a client without telling them. He said he would never do that and has never done that. He was talking about signing an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement. That's what he said.
But more importantly, he's in a public spat with the law firm he was officially with until this week. He told me that the law firm has a lot of good people and a lot of people who hate my client, meaning the president of the United States, and I don't particularly appreciate this.
So, this is a fleeting story, but it also sort of feeds into the larger issue of Giuliani being the story and being very much a principal in an area where he is the lawyer to the principal, the president.
BERMAN: I think this is the cleanup of the cleanup of the cleanup. I sort of lost count here.
I don't think it's at all true what the mayor is now saying, that he wasn't talking about payments being made by a law firm. We'll go and, and check that transcript, but it was pretty crystal clear when he said. Whether he meant it or whether he was right is a different.
And, Maggie, you've covered Mayor Giuliani extensively for a long, long time.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Forever, yes. Drag that out.
BERMAN: He's not exactly -- this is not exactly surgical legal precision I feel like we're seeing here.
HABERMAN: Look, so I had a similar conversation with him to the one Dana had. One of the things he said to me in the conversation, he was very upset about what his former law firm had said. He also told me he was talking about the NDA. I, too, would have to go back and look at the transcript, but there is a realm where not knowing what was said there that is what he could be talking about.
He has not been, you know, precise in a lot of these television hits. What was interesting he said to me that he laid low, which we'd known, but I hadn't heard him say it on the record. He had laid low for the last 18 months or so, basically at the request of his law firm.
They did not want him out there. They were unhappy with the surrogate work that he did for President Trump toward the end of 2016, during the campaign. They did not want him out there.
It was upsetting some of their lawyers. I think it was not just that the lawyers aren't fans of the president, although I think that's part it. But clients were getting upset.
He told me he had two offers to host radio shows that he had turned down. And he said he was happy to be back on television, quote/unquote, frankly, I'd missed it.
So I think he's having for. For all of the reports about how the president's angry and the president's this, you have to remember, this is a president who is not so keen on telling people to their face when he's upset. So I think you are seeing a lot of, you know, the president conveying his dismay at certain issues by proxy of staff. I think that the president's staff is very frustrated by Giuliani, but that's a different issue.
BASH: They are. And, John, can I just add to what Maggie was saying? I'm sure you've heard the same thing.
And that is that President Trump right now is distracted with things that he considers pretty big accomplishments.
BASH: Or wins on the board.
BASH: What happened with North Korea and the amazing, amazing story of these three Americans coming home and being released today. Of course, an upcoming summit which they've now announced the time and the date. Iran, which he thinks is A, you know, a campaign promise kept that his base is very happy about. So on and so forth. So because of that, the things that would normally really send him up a tree and say, you know what, Rudy Giuliani is out of here, like he did with Scaramucci or other people who had been loyal to him, he is not doing right now.
BASH: And so that is sort of part of the -- what's going on here. The other thing, as Maggie said, Rudy Giuliani was unfaltering in his loyalty to Donald Trump throughout the entire campaign, including and especially during the "Access Hollywood" situation.
BERMAN: So, Maggie, just in terms of Robert Mueller. You know, we heard Vice President Mike Pence say that a year is almost up and the year is the magical time where this all turns into a pumpkin and ends right now. Is there any indication that Robert Mueller feels the same way?
BERMAN: Or is the President's legal team getting any sense that Mueller feels that way?
HABERMAN: They have no idea where this is going and/or where this is going to end. The basic estimation that everybody can make right now is that the Mueller probe will have to be on hold at some point over the summer so that there can be no sense of interfering with politics as we head into the midterms.
The probe that they remain the most concerned about, again, is the southern district of New York probe into Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer or current lawyer, depending on what the President wants to say at any given moment.
In terms of Mueller, I know you played audio of their video of the mayor talking about -- former mayor talking about an interview for the President with Mueller's team. I still think that that's pretty unlikely. I mean, I understand that one of the appeals of having Giuliani for Trump is -- was ostensibly about, you know, testing whether this could be wrapped up quickly.
In reality, my understanding is that President Trump both wanted a big name because he's very frustrated by the narrative that he can't hire a lawyer, which has been true, but he wanted somebody who people knew, and Giuliani is doing a PR campaign that the President, while he might not like all of it, there are aspects of it he does like.
BERMAN: And laying the political groundwork, perhaps not to testify or what happens after he doesn't testify, which may be the most important thing they're doing.
HABERMAN: Correct. And to put stuff out about Michael Cohen's probe as well.
BERMAN: All right, Maggie Haberman, Dana Bash, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
BERMAN: A blow up in the cabinet meeting. The President berating his homeland security secretary over immigration, The New York Times says that Kirstjen Nielsen nearly quit over this. We're going to speak to "The Times" reporter who broke this story next.
[20:35:12] BERMAN: The Homeland Security Secretary nearly quit after being berated by President Trump in front of the entire cabinet yesterday. This is according to reporting in "The New York Times" that says that Kirstjen Nielsen has drafted a resignation letter but not submitted it.
Joining me now is Michael Shear of "The New York Times" who reported the story. Tell me how did this unfold and why did Nielsen I just decide not to submit this resignation letter?
MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're not sure exactly why she didn't submit it in the end. What we know is that it was quite a meeting. This was a regular cabinet meeting. We had a little glimpse at the top of the meeting yesterday, as we normally do. And reporters are let in. The President kind of gave a little bit of a hint about what was to come when he sort of described his frustration with the fact that immigration laws hadn't been toughened enough. Then the reporters were let out of the room and the cameras were led away.
And we're told that at that meeting, which was to talk about immigration, to talk about what the country's doing to close the borders down, that the President just erupted, expressed his frustration about the fact that the laws were not working, that the border was too porous, and that much of his anger and frustration was directed at Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, that the agency that he thinks is most responsible and is most lacking in terms of trying to shut the border down and that it grew so heated and so intense that by the end of the meeting she was incredibly frustrated. She felt like it had all been directed at her and ultimately told associates and friends that she had considered -- was on the verge of resigning and had, in fact, drafted a resignation letter.
When I talked to people today, it appeared that maybe things had calmed down and that she had reconsidered and the folks over at the Department of Homeland Security say she's on the job and intends to stay there, at least for now.
BERMAN: So Nielsen is a protege of the Chief of Staff General John Kelly. The President, we've been told, has never really been a giant fan of hers. Any sense of why that is cynically?
SHEAR: Well, there are a couple of reasons. I mean I think -- the President has always been suspicious of people who he views not as sufficiently kind of loyal to his cause, that includes obviously Obama staffers who had been in the previous administration, but it also includes people who were loyal to former President George W. Bush. He views the kind of Bush universe as people who really weren't part of the Trump phenomenon.
Kirstjen Nielsen had served for many years in the Bush administration, first in the Department of Homeland Security and in other roles. And so I think there was that piece of it that he wasn't entirely sure about her.
And frankly, when she came over, remember, John Kelly was Homeland Security Secretary first and then came over to be chief of staff. He brought her with him to the White House. She served in the White House for a few months. And she didn't make herself any friends there. She was seen as the enforcer, the person who limited access to President Trump.
Remember all of the staff that used to go in and out of the Oval Office, sort of whenever they wanted. She was kind of Kelly's enforcer in that, and that rankled him as well.
BERMAN: Is this the first time that the President has had a clash like this with Nielsen?
SHEAR: No, I think part of what happened here was that this was the culmination of a lot of weeks of building frustration. The President, we're told, several weeks ago had been in series of meetings, to both telephone conference calls as well as in-person meetings that included Secretary Nielsen, you know, essentially going through the same issue, expressing his frustration that the laws aren't tough enough, the immigration laws, and he, you know, he expressed that to her before. This was just a more intense version of it and in front of the entire cabinet.
BERMAN: All right. And she's still on the job as of tonight. Michael Shear, great reporting, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
SHEAR: So far.
BERMAN: Still to come, new polling on how President Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are handling the Russia investigation. We're going to break it down with feedback from Republicans, independents and Democrats.
[20:42:54] BERMAN: More breaking news, new CNN polling just released on the Mueller investigation, a majority of Americans has a negative view of how President Trump is now handling it, with just 31 percent approving of his actions, 55 percent disapproving.
Meanwhile, overall Mueller is fairing better in the court of public opinion. 44 percent approve of the way he's handling the investigation, 38 percent disapprove, 18 percent are unsure. But look how the numbers shift when you break it down by party affiliation.
Republicans now give Mueller just a 17 percent approval rating. That's down 12 points since March. Among independents and Democrats, there hasn't been much of a shift. As for whether President Trump should testify under oath if asked by Mueller that stands at 39 percent for Republicans, down double digits since March.
Again, little change from independents and Democrats. Only 28 percent of Republicans say Mueller should subpoena President Trump if he won't speak with investigators. That rises to 63 percent for independents and climbs to 92 percent among Democrats.
Joining me now to talk about the numbers and the timing of all of this, former Republican Senator, CNN's Senior Political Commentator Rick Santorum and CNN Chief Legal Analyst and Former Federal Prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I just want to start with what the Vice President of the United States said today, it's time to wrap it up, 12 months in next week to the Mueller investigation, time to wrap it all up. Is there a clock ticking on all this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't -- you know, I don't think what Mike Pence said there was anything wrong with it, to be honest. I mean, you know, I think he was expressing a feeling with this should be wrapped up. I mean, compared to the things that Donald Trump says every day about the Mueller investigation this was such a mild thing. And, you know, he expressed the desire to have it wrapped up. I think that's a reasonable desire. I just think it's sort of fine what he said.
BERMAN: Senator Santorum, your former colleague Lindsey Graham had this to say about it today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: That's not Vice President Pence's decision to make. I'm sure Mr. Mueller will wrap it up when it gets time to wrap it up. The only thing I can say is I haven't seen any evidence of collusion. Mr. Mueller has a good reputation. And we'll see what his report says and where he goes, but in the system you can't have the people being investigated tell you to wrap it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:45:13] BERMAN: You know, Senator Santorum, what happened to justice taking its course? You know, I don't remember the calls from Republicans during the Whitewater investigation to wrap it up after one year?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, no, there wasn't, but let's just be honest, the intensity of the coverage of this investigation is unmatched. I mean, I was in the Congress during Whitewater --
BERMAN: I was in journalism during Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky. We did an awful lot. I was on a chartered a jet back from Cuba because of that. So there was a lot of coverage.
SANTORUM: There was a lot of coverage but it came in fits and starts. I mean Whitewater was a long investigation and, yes, there were periods where there was lot of discussion. And then you went months and you never heard anything. I mean -- and there have been other long investigations by special counsels. It's one of the reasons I don't like special counsels and don't think we should have them.
BERMAN: Anymore. You didn't then?
SANTORUM: Well, no, I've been against special counsel for a long, long time before this.
BERMAN: Since impeachment, since Ken Starr is -- you know, since President Clinton was impeached?
SANTORUM: I think we should trust the Justice Department to do its job and we shouldn't bring people who, frankly, are untethered to accountability in my opinion and to do this, and whose job it is to indict somebody. I mean, when you put someone in this position, I don't think their job is to get the truth, I think their job is to get some, you know, scalps. And I think that's just the wrong approach.
Having said that, you know, this is only a year investigation. I understand it's not that long. But if you consider the amount of attention and the impact that this investigation and the reporting on it has had, it's far outweighed its longevity.
BERMAN: I thought you take Toobin comment that, you know, what the Vice President said was OK, was good and run with it. Toobin threw you a bone there and you left it sitting.
SANTORUM: No, I'm going to -- you know, I generally agree with what he -- that the Vice President has a right to say what he wants to say.
SANTORUM: But I just think it feels a lot longer than a year. It feels like 10 years for the people -- BERMAN: That's because we're all getting older. Jeff, the other
interesting thing of this is the poll numbers, which I really do think are fascinating.
BERMAN: The headline is, it's working. I mean, what the President is doing to an extent politically speaking is working. The Republican support for the Mueller investigation has plummeted.
BERMAN: You know, the President has political cover among Republicans if he decides not to testify?
TOOBIN: This is Donald Trump's political party. I mean, Donald Trump runs the Republican Party and Republicans agree with most of what he says. The fact that he has been calling this a witch hunt over and over again has started to affect the poll numbers in a very direct way. And, you know, I don't think it's going to affect Robert Mueller. You know, what percent he is in the polls but I think it is indicative of the political environment, this deeply tribal moment that we're in. Democrats believe an entirely different set of facts than Republicans believe. And that's what's reflected in the polls.
2BERMAN: Senator, smart politics?
SANTORUM: I think it's less about Donald Trump calling it a witch hunt than it is about all of the other information that's come out. The alternative facts, if you want to say, not on the Russia investigation with respect to Trump, but with respect to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party. I think that's where Republicans are parting company with the Mueller investigation. That if, in fact, you know, we're going to look into this, then why don't you look into the entire matter that most people find to have more legal problems than what Donald Trump did.
TOOBIN: You know, this is so true. I mean, if you go to the parallel universe that is Fox News, Hillary Clinton's investigated every night on Fox News. You know, they are still crazed to see her locked up, and that, I think, is reflected in both this polling and the general political environment in the Republican Party.
TOOBIN: Not withstanding the fact, as I believe Rick knows, Hillary Clinton actually lost the Presidential election and is a private citizen in Chappaqua.
BERMAN: Senator Santorum definitely knows. Senator Santorum, Jeffrey Toobin thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate it.
So turns out to Michael Cohen got a lot more money from AT&T. And we'll have that. The Republican source saying Cohen was peddling influence, selling his access to the President, sure does seem like what a lobbyist would do. In a moment, I'm going to speak Jack Abramoff, the one time king of lobbyist who ended up serving time for his illegal actions. We'll get his take on all this in just a moment.
[20:53:16] BERMAN: More breaking news tonight, new information about the deal between President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and AT&T. Washington Post is reporting that AT&T hired Cohen specifically to advice the company on its plan merger with Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.
Also a source tells CNN that AT&T actually paid Cohen $600,000 says three times, came out first reportedly. And Cohen reportedly had quite a sales pitch, one Republican strategist told us, he courted companies bay saying, "I don't know who has been representing you, but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the President, I'm his personal lawyer."
As you will know, selling access to power and all business in politics and my next guess once dominated, the Washington lobbyist circus until his spectacular downfall, Jack Abramoff spent more than three years in prison on corruption fraud and other charges. Today, he considers himself an ethic reformer. He joins me now.
So Jack, paying for access in Washington is not new, but Michael Cohen, as the President's personal attorney, not registered as a lobbyist, is that how it's supposed to work? Is that out of bounds?
JACK ABRAMOFF, FORMER LOBBYIST: Well, I think there are couple things going on here. It's a rather conflict situation with Michael Cohen, we don't know everything of course but, the question is, did he actually lobby anybody, which puts him into a different category. Did he get paid to be an adviser, which is another category?
The problem is that, we have these categories, the fact that Washington is able to sort of get away with this, creating a classification of people who can be paid -- in essence be lobbyists but not go lobby and therefore not register. And that seems to be where he's falling.
BERMAN: To be a lobbyist, it would have meant he would have gone to the government and pressed for something for Novartis, for AT&T, for Columbus Nova and we don't know whether he did that. That would be being a lobbyist, however, just being an adviser, again as a sitting attorney, as a personal attorney for the President, is that OK?
[20:55:11] ABRAMOFF: Well, you know, in terms of whether or not it's legal or not. I don't know what his ethical requirements are, vis-a- vis the bar. And things like that. But, you know, I think there are two things, one did he break the law? It doesn't seem to me at least that I've seen anything yet to say is (inaudible).
The question is, is this right? Is this something that America likes, no, it is not. America does not like to see insiders in essence, the special interest, shall we say and their lobbyists get special access, and that may be what he at least was offering for sale to these clients. BERMAN: One of the firms that Michael Cohen worked with was Squire Patton Boggs. He actually had office based in New York there. The firm did not have a key to the office. The office was always locked. He used his own computer server that was kept completely separate for the firm. Is there any reason you could think of why that would be necessary?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I don't know whether or not that office was actually a Squire Patton Boggs' office or if it was that they need a deal with him in essence as a consultant, an outside consultant to be able to be affiliated with that firm. A lot of lobbying firms in Washington and that's what Squire Patton Boggs is, a law firm that has a lobbying chap. A lot of them will bring on people like Michael Cohen if they have specific access and specific knowledge to work a specific project. Whether that was an actual Squire Patton Boggs office, it would be surprising to me if it were. And if it were, that they didn't have access to it, would in fact be very shocking.
BERMAN: So Jack, you know every side of this business inside and out, the good and the bad, frankly. So based on what you know, and you've been looking in reading into it just as much as we have the last 24 hours, we don't know everything but based on what you see, does it smell right?
ABRAMOFF: No. Well, again, I don't think it doesn't seem that he's broken laws here. He may have broken laws if he did lobby. But certainly in terms of what seems right to America and right to the public in general, I don't think people like to see this, which is somebody on the inside cashing in for their inside knowledge. The other thing that people got to look at is, how did all this stuff get out? It's a separate question. I know not our topic, but one that is I think troubling people in town more than this one.
BERMAN: Right, the bank records of Michael Cohen, how did they get out?
BERMAN: That is the legitimate question there. Very quickly, Columbus Nova, this American company with ties to this Russian oligarch through this Russian company. Is that the type of company that would normally do business, trying to get access through someone like Michael Cohen?
ABRAMOFF: Well, just -- we got to be clear. Almost every company in America that has anything to do with federal law needs to get access to the federal government. There's so much that goes on in Washington that affects them. So it is not unusual again for any kind of company that has any interface with the federal government to at least be seeking advice what to do, because they're very bottom line, their very existence could be destroyed by actions in Washington, D.C.
BERMAN: Possible or plausible I should say that President Trump did not know that Michael Cohen was pitching himself in this way?
ABRAMOFF: I think it's probable. I don't think -- from what I've heard from people around him, President Trump does not approve of people going out and pitching themselves like this. So I would imagine Michael Cohen probably kept this from President Trump because he would probably would have been at the receiving end of a tongue lashing had he told him.
BERMAN: Jack Abramoff, great to have you with us, thanks so much.
ABRAMOFF: Thanks so much.
BERMAN: Up next, the insensitive comment from White House aide about John McCain who was at home battling brain cancer, when talking about McCain's opposition, the CIA nominee, the aide said, "he's dying anyway." The reaction tonight from the White House and McCain's family when 360 continues.