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Trump Silent on White House Aide Mocking a Dying McCain. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had, in fact, drafted a resignation letter.

[07:00:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has done a very dramatic thing. We have three of the detainees back.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to make a great deal for the world for North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not an "Apprentice" boardroom that he's going to be walking into. This is the real deal.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. This has been a big week for President Trump on the world stage. Americans released from North Korea. A date set for a historic summit with the leader of that regime. Positive moves. But he just missed a major opportunity to do the right thing on something that matters here at home.

A White House aide sparking backlash after dismissing Senator John McCain's opposition to the president's CIA nominee by saying, quote, "It doesn't matter. He's dying anyway."

The White House doesn't dispute that this was said about a war hero, but they didn't condemn it either. The president has said nothing. Remember, he has said ugly things about McCain himself. Once again, do you hear that? That's McConnell and Ryan staying silent.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, a source tells CNN that the president berated his own homeland secretary in front of his entire cabinet, insisting that she is not doing enough to secure the border.

"The New York Times" reports that that moment brought Kirstjen Nielsen to the brink of resigning.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House. What's the latest there, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn. President Trump waking up this morning with a little bit of a high

after three American prisoners were released from North Korea and just ahead of a meeting that he plans to have with Kim Jong-un.

But it is the drama back here at home that is making all the headlines. Here in the White House staff, chaos and infighting is threatening to really overshadow the president's foreign policy achievements.


PHILLIP (voice-over): White House aide Kelly Sadler under fire for an insensitive comment she made about Senator John McCain. A White House official telling CNN Sadler told staffers in a closed-door meeting to dismiss McCain's opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel by joking that he's dying anyway.

The Arizona senator and war hero has been battling brain cancer for nearly a year. McCain's wife responding on Twitter: "May I remind you, my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren."

Senator Lindsey Graham defending his long-time friend: "John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate."

A source telling CNN Sadler reached out to Senator McCain's daughter to apologize. The comment comes after repeated attacks by President Trump himself.

TRUMP: He's not a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero. Five and a half years --

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 in the morning and went like that, we would have had health care, too.

PHILLIP: We're also learning more about infighting in the president's senior team. A source telling CNN President Trump berated Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, complaining she wasn't doing enough to secure the border.

TRUMP: We have the worst immigration laws in the history of mankind. We're slowly getting them changed. We want to make it quick. So give me some reinforcements, please.

PHILLIP: A White House official describing the president's comments as "angry" and "heated." "The New York Times" reporting Secretary Nielsen told colleagues she was close to resigning after the argument and drafted a resignation letter. Homeland security officials denying that report.

President Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, working to tamp down reports of chaos, telling NPR, "There's times of great frustration." But he's never seriously considered leaving his post and wishes he would have been in the White House from day one.

President Trump taking a victory lap in Indiana on Thursday night, hours after welcoming home three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea and announcing a June 12 meeting with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore.

TRUMP: America is being respected again. Kim Jong-un did a great service to himself and to his country by doing this.


PHILLIP: And President Trump today is expected to meet with his embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt about automobile fuel standards. He also has a meeting with automotive CEOs today.

And on the Kelly Sadler issue, the White House has another opportunity today, perhaps, to clean up that mess -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to talk about all this.

So David Gregory, it seems obvious that this White House staffer, Kelly Sadler thought about joking about, "Who cares? John McCain is dying anyway" was a joke that would play well in the White House. Otherwise, she wouldn't have made it. And I assume the reason she thought that was because President Trump has been quite vocal in saying toxic things about John McCain.

What's interesting is that obviously one of her colleagues -- or actually, there's two sources. Two of her colleagues were offended enough to reveal Kelly Sadler's joke. And I'm not sure what that tells us today.

GREGORY: Well, it says a lot about just how divided the West Wing is. The amount of leaking that comes out of the West Wing is astonishing and shows you how disunited so much of the president's team is.

But it's not surprising that the president hasn't spoken out about this or he wouldn't direct others to have reprimanded her and to try to correct this and to try to, you know, soothe feelings about all of this, because this is who he is. He has introduced a crudeness into the office that hurts the office. And it hurts political dialogue in the country. And he, of course, has said such disparaging things about McCain in the past that goes beyond trashing him as a political opponent.

Trump's M.O. is to savage anyone in his path and his chief of staff. Retired General Kelly, who has certainly not hesitated from lecturing the media and the public about the honor of public service in the military is also quiet on this score.

So you know, this is just how they roll in this White House. And it's really unfortunate. Also unfortunate, as Chris alluded to, the congressional leadership. The Republicans don't stand up and say, enough. I mean, this cannot become the new norm in American politics and our public discourse. People don't want that.

CAMEROTA: Now, she did call Meghan McCain. I mean, the reporting is --

GREGORY: Yes, I agree.

CAMEROTA: You said that she wasn't reprimanded. We don't really know what went on inside. But we know that something prompted her to call Meghan McCain.

GREGORY: But the fact that we don't know is significant. And I agree with you. I think that's significant. I mean, you know, it's obviously she did a bad thing. I don't know that she should be universally condemned. There should be some punishment or maybe she should be fired. I don't know. They'll have to determine that. But she did take a big step. No doubt.

CUOMO: Let's not get caught up in the small in this debate. The big is this is a layup. This is an obvious opportunity. We would ordinarily expect those in charge to step up and use it as a teachable moment, reinforcement of decorum. And that we are not mean. And that when we disagree, we don't have to be disagreeable. He's not saying anything. He may well be awake and watching right now.

Just tweet and say, "I don't like people making fun of people who are in the fight of their life against brain cancer. That's not what we're about. I don't like mean and being mean." But he says nothing.

TOOBIN: He says nothing because one of the touchstones of how Donald Trump operates is he doesn't apologize. He doesn't believe in apologies. He never apologized for the original statement, for you know, "He's not a war hero. I like people who were not captured." Never apologized for that.

The only apology that I can recall was after the "Access Hollywood" tape where he gave sort of like a hostage video, where he sort of gave a, you know, begrudging apology.

But you know, and I think, you know, one of the things we learned about the president over the past -- particularly the past few months is that he doesn't want to change. He's like, "I got elected president of the United States this way. Why should I change my personality?"

He hates John McCain. And he knows that John McCain hates him. So this, of all things, is not going to prompt an apology.

CAMEROTA: And making --

GREGORY: I think that the idea of decorum, the idea of thinking about the institution is also something he's not as concerned about.

I think every day when he brings in the mentality of the reality, you know, TV star or of a businessman, every day he brings in that kind of, you know, china-breaking style he thinks is a good day. Not just for his supporters but because it's a better way to run things. CAMEROTA: And when the president says something, it can have a

contagious effect. It can have a ripple effect across TV. So then yesterday, we see Tom McInerney, this retired lieutenant, Air Force lieutenant, feel that, on national TV, he can say something even arguably more outrageous about John McCain on FOX Business. So watch this.


LT. TOM MCINERNEY (RET.), FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The fact is John McCain, it worked on John. That's why they call him Songbird John.


CAMEROTA: I mean, that's wrong on so many levels.

TOOBIN: What he was referring to was torture.


TOOBIN: That it worked. It worked --

CAMEROTA: On John McCain. No, it didn't. This is the whole point of why he's a war hero. This is his legacy, that he didn't actually go home when his captors gave him an opportunity to, because he said not until everybody is released.

TOOBIN: And by the way, nobody calls him Songbird John. The whole thing was so --

CUOMO: Right. I know that the anchor has supposedly apologized. Because they thanked that man for what he said.

CAMEROTA: Right. So Charles Payne is the anchor, and he said that a producer was talking in his ear. We know that's possible. And he missed it in the moment. So he apologized via Twitter later.

[07:10:04] And FOX has said that Tom McInerney will no longer be on air. But again, this is years after he already spread all sorts of birther conspiracies, he made all sorts of vile anti-Muslim comments on the air. So I guess this one was --

CUOMO: Look, it's just more proof. You know, if FOX can offer an apology that this is too much, this is too far, you know, that should be echoed everywhere, David. That's all it is.

I'm just saying, you know, I know that people will say, "Oh, you're jumping on this. It's not that big a deal." It is evidence of a trend that is toxic and is destroying the opportunity of common ground down there in D.C. They're not working on anything, because they don't want to work with each other. There is no sense that there's any positive energy on things, unless you figure it out in quiet. Don't let it become a big deal, because it will get ruined by the atmosphere.

GREGORY: Right. And I think, you know, we just can't get to a point where there's a certain kind of discourse that's acceptable. And then we say, well, you know, Trump, he just broke the seal. So you know, it's just how it's going to be now.

I mean, it is not a full-scale embrace of the establishment or the swamp that so many people dislike to say that -- that you wouldn't have people expressing themselves this way. It doesn't mean it never happened, obviously. But you wouldn't have a president expressing himself this way in our lifetimes. And that's what Trump has changed.

TOOBIN: And the thing that is worth thinking about, if you want to be even more depressed, is even if Donald Trump disappears from the scene after four years, everyone will remember he got elected president this way. So there are going to be people imitating this style for the rest of our lives.

CAMEROTA: Well, it hasn't -- I hear you. But it hasn't worked for some of the candidates already that we've seen, trying to imitate the style.

TOOBIN: It hasn't. But, look, you know, every Republican candidate running in primaries now is trying to be the most pro-Trump candidate. So it's not like this has repelled the Republican Party. You know, we'll see in the midterms how it plays nationally. But he's winning.

CAMEROTA: Next topic.

GREGORY: It does say something, too, about what's happening in the conservative movement. Right? That McCain, that it would be OK to trash McCain in this way in Donald Trump's Republican Party.

CUOMO: Trash anybody. Anyway.

CAMEROTA: Next topic. John Kelly, chief of staff, has just given an interview, curiously, to NPR. Not sure how the president categorizes NPR and the mainstream media and all the things he says about them.

However, John Kelly is talking about what he wishes had happened at the beginning of this administration. Here he is.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: In retrospect, I wish I had been here from day one.


KELLY: Well, because in terms of staffing or serving the president, that first six months was pretty chaotic. There were people hired that maybe shouldn't have been hired.


CAMEROTA: I don't know how President Trump is going to feel about it being called chaotic. Sometimes, as we know, David, when the chief of staff, John Kelly, has said things before in an interview, then it has come back to haunt him. GREGORY: Yes. Well, that's true. Because he's been honest before in

a way that the president doesn't like. But the president has brooked this dissent from him enough now to, I think, lead us to believe that the relationship is strong enough. And I think that, you know, Kelly is right about that. But perhaps where we're wrong is thinking that Trump will take that as an insult.

I think the president doesn't mind a chaotic approach. He certainly doesn't mind berating people in his cabinet or having people pitted against each other. I think he probably thinks that's the best way to drive a result.

We've seen how he's conducted himself on the world stage with perhaps some effectiveness in North Korea, the way he's dealt with him. So I think that he may think that that kind of approach is -- you know, is what you need and some people are bad, and you get rid of them and you keep on moving.

CUOMO: It was interesting. Kelly also talked about the Russia probe and its impact on things. And it was kind of an unusual take. Listen to this.


KELLY: There may not be a cloud, but certainly, the president is somewhat embarrassed, frankly, when world leaders come in. You know, Bibi Netanyahu was here, and he was under investigation himself. And it's like, you walk in, you know, the first couple of minutes of a conversation, and it might revolve around that kind of thing.


CUOMO: This is an interesting bit of truth. Because it is a reminder of how the president thinks about the probe, not that you have an inimical foreign power that's trying to disrupt your democracy. Not that you have 23 indictments, not that all these people around you made it very clear one way or another that they were open for business, including to Russians. But that it's embarrassing to him and he has to deal with it in social settings.

TOOBIN: Well, and you know, that's the problem to him. I mean, he's never addressed the issue of Russia trying to interfere with our democracy. It's always been, you know, a witch-hunt. It's never been even about the substance. Putting aside Trump's personal involvement, if any, the idea that Russia tried to do this, he has never acknowledged at all.

CAMEROTA: OK we've got to go. Jeffrey Toobin, David Gregory, thank you both very much.

[06:15:02] So Senate colleagues coming to John McCain's defense. Maryland's Ben Cardin with a message for those who have made disrespectful comments, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CAMEROTA: Senator John McCain is calling on his Senate colleagues to vote against the nominee for CIA director Gina Haspel after she refused to answer whether torture is immoral.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Alisyn, it's good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Have you decided how you will vote on whether you will vote to confirm Gina Haspel?

CARDIN: Well, I am reviewing some of the documentations. There are a great deal of documentations that have been made available to all the members of the Senate. But I share Senator McCain's concerns.

I thought that the nominee missed an opportunity. Or maybe she didn't, on her response in regards to how the interrogation techniques crossed the line. She refused to say that. And I think that was pretty significant.

CAMEROTA: So then what are you waiting for? I mean, what are you looking for in those documents that you're reviewing?

[07:20:05] CARDIN: Well, there's a lot of documents. I spent yesterday, a good part of yesterday in what we call the skiff, which is a classified room, going through documents that are not available in the public because of the sensitive nature. There's additional documents that's only available to the Intelligence Committee that I'm asking to see some of those documentations.

I like to do a thorough job before making my decision. But I share the concerns of Senator McCain.

CAMEROTA: I mean, listen, I think everybody applauds your due diligence. But what could be the deciding factor? What could you find out in this documents that could change your mind about what her stance is on torture?

CARDIN: I think the most important thing is to see what she said contemporaneous with the actual activities. When you look at it in a rear-view mirror, people might look at things differently. But I want to know what she was doing in real-time as that was taking place. And I'll have that chance to get more of that information.

I don't want to mislead you. I certainly have -- share his concerns. I will be making my announcement shortly. I'm just not prepared to make the announcement today.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well, please come back to us when you are ready to make the announcement. We'd sure like to hear it. And how big does John McCain's wishes about this, about her not being confirmed, weigh on you?

CARDIN: Well, you know, John McCain is a giant in the United States Senate. He's a person who is very clear on morality, on what is right and what is wrong. I don't always agree with John McCain. But I know what he says comes from his value-based judgment. And that's something that is deeply respected by both Democrats and Republicans.

CAMEROTA: So what do you think about the joke that the White House staffer, Kelly Sadler, tried to make about who -- basically, I'm paraphrasing, who cares what John McCain thinks, he's dying soon or he'll be dead soon?

CARDIN: That's just horrible. I mean, I don't know what else you can say about that.

Here you have not just a war hero, but a person who's devoted his life to public service, a person who's respected by Democrats and Republicans for saying -- for making judgments based upon the values. Not about the media politics of it. I mean, he's a -- he's a hero. And to make that type of comment, there's no place for that anywhere in our society, let alone in the White House.

CAMEROTA: You tweeted, "Sure hope we make up to a slew of people apologizing to Senator McCain." It's now 7:22 East Coast Time. Have you heard the apologies that you were looking for?

CARDIN: No, I haven't. And what I said is we should have heard apologies. The statements never should have been made. But do we expect apologies to come out of the White House? That would be something that would be truly newsworthy.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, we do know that she called, reportedly, Meghan McCain. So Kelly Sadler called and apologized to Meghan McCain, John McCain's daughter. But were you hoping for something more?

CARDIN: Well, yes. I would like to hear something from the president of the United States, to say -- he's the one that the people take their direction from in the White House. The president should be saying, "This is unacceptable under my watch. I will not tolerate such comments." But we haven't heard a word from the president.

CAMEROTA: Should Senate leadership speak out?

CARDIN: I think all people should speak out. I think all leaders. Leaders have a responsibility to speak out when things are done that are against the traditions and values of this country. And that statement was -- went beyond what is acceptable. So leaders should speak out.

CAMEROTA: Should the staffer keep her job?

CARDIN: Well, that's a judgment I'm not going to make based upon one statement. But I can tell you I think that is just -- it's outrageous. It's something that needs to have some disciplinary results.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly while I have you, I want to ask you about the president's comments about Kim Jong-un. As you know, the three American detainees were released. It was a victory for the White House, a victory for the country. And the president praised Kim Jong- un, called him very honorable, things like that. And this is all in advance of their meeting.

So, you know, clearly, it could be a strategy, obviously, to sort of soften the target for the meeting and make sure that he is amenable to whatever is going to happen. What do you want -- what do you expect to see coming out of the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong- un?

CARDIN: Well, first, we're very pleased to get our three Americans back home. That's a great accomplishment. We are happy that we're on a path for diplomacy. There is no acceptable military solution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. We need to pursue diplomacy. We have an incredible opportunity with the summit meetings taking place in June. We all want that to succeed.

And by succeeding, we mean we want to turn the temperature down. It starts with a freeze on the North Korean programs. We need to get inspectors in to see exactly what's going on in North Korea.

[07:25:06] You need to continue this dialogue, not just between the United States and North Korea. The South Koreans are obviously involved. The Chinese are going to be involved. Our partners in the region need to be involved so that we can ultimately lead to a negotiated way that we can end the nuclear program on the Korean Peninsula.

CAMEROTA: All right. Senator Ben Cardin, thank you very much for being with us and sharing all your thoughts this morning.

CARDIN: Thank you.


CUOMO: Former president George W. Bush not mentioning the current president by name but warning about a current policy of isolationism. We're going to talk with former defense secretary Ash Carter about America's position in the world today, next.


CUOMO: Former president George W. Bush returned to Washington last night. In a rare speech, he warned of the dangers of isolationism. Listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very important for our fellow citizens to remember these words from Winston Churchill: "America is indispensable for the world and the dangers of isolation loom. People in the United States cannot establish world responsibility."

I wholeheartedly agree.