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President Trump Continues Attacks On Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Giuliani Calls Mueller's Team A "Lynching Mob"; Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Gets Emotional At Child's Question On School Shootings; Giuliani Blames James Clapper For Trump's False Talk Of FBI Spies. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired May 31, 2018 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:14] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump continues his public attacks on his attorney general. On Wednesday, the president tweeted a quote from Congressman Trey Gowdy and then added his own sentiment, saying this about Jeff Sessions.
"There are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked somebody else. And I wish I did."
Let's bring in former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. He is currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law and the author of "True Faith and Allegiance."
Mr. Gonzales, good morning.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, FORMER COUNSEL, PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, DEAN, BELMONT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW, AUTHOR, "TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE": Good morning, Alisyn. How are you doing?
CAMEROTA: I'm doing well.
If George W. Bush had said that about you, that he wished he'd pick somebody else while you were in the job of A.G., what would you have done?
GONZALES: Well, I would have picked up the phone and asked to visit with the president. We would have had a very candid conversation as to whether or not he wanted me to continue to serve in that position.
It's hard for me to imagine that that didn't occur here. I mean, Jeff Sessions should have had a conversation with the president to know exactly where he stood. And maybe in that conversation the president said listen, I'm going to criticize you going forward but I want you to remain as attorney general.
So it's up to Jeff Sessions --
CAMEROTA: Why? Why is that -- explain how that calculation would work. First of all, I think it's our reporting but somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, that they have not had a meeting in a long time. They have not had a face-to-face meeting.
GONZALES: That is very surprising to me. It really is.
CAMEROTA: But how can the attorney general -- you tell me. How can you function --
GONZALES: Well --
CAMEROTA: -- in your job when you've lost the confidence of your president?
GONZALES: I think you raise two important points here. There are two ways this is damaging.
I think -- I'm worried that this is -- this hurts the image of Donald Trump. It makes him, I think, appear weak and indecisive to be so critical of a cabinet secretary.
He is their boss and if he's unhappy with the performance of the cabinet secretary and not taking action, he has a responsibility to make sure that the people that serve in the cabinet are the best people possible in serving the American people.
So, I worry about the image -- how it affects Donald Trump's image. But I also worry about the effect of moral of the career individuals at the Department of Justice because it weakens the attorney general. It weakens the attorney general interagency vows (ph) with other cabinet agencies.
It also, I think, weakens the image of the attorney general as head of a department where you've got 130,000 people who look to the leadership and -- to carry out the work of the American people day in and day out.
CAMEROTA: And help me understand this. If the president has no confidence anymore in Jeff Sessions and really can't seem to abide him at all -- well, actually, let me just read to you -- I mean, this isn't the first time.
Let me just read to you the long history of public demeaning that has been going on for Jeff Sessions. So here it is. Here are the public attacks.
In May 2017, tells Sessions he should resign after Mueller appointment. July, calls Sessions' recusal extremely unfair. Also in July, describes Sessions as beleaguered in a tweet. Also, he says he's very disappointed in Sessions.
In February, he pressures Sessions to investigate the Obama administration. In February 2018, Trump calls Sessions Mr. Magoo. And, he tweets that he wished he'd picked a different A.G., as I just said.
So, should Jeff Sessions resign?
GONZALES: Well listen, I think, like for most attorneys, being the attorney general of the United States is the ultimate. It's the dream job.
Jeff Sessions has a long history of service to the American people. I don't think he wants to leave his position. I think that Jeff Sessions believes he's done the right thing and continues to do the right thing.
By all accounts, he really has been a great soldier in terms of promoting the president's law enforcement policies and objectives.
And so, I think he's going to continue to stay there and I think he's going to continue to take his pummeling until the president actually fires him. I would be surprised if Jeff Sessions simply resigns, quite frankly.
And, you know, at the end of the day, it's going to be up to the president to decide. If he's really unhappy with his attorney general then he ought to make a change.
I don't believe a change is warranted, based -- again, based on what my understanding of the facts. I think Jeff Sessions did the absolute right thing in recusing himself. And I think based upon all appearances, he's carrying out the president's objectives in the law enforcement arena.
But at the end of the day, the president can remove the attorney general or any cabinet official for any reason or for no reason.
CAMEROTA: Yes. And so, to your larger point that you think that this actually weakens the president that he's keeping a cabinet member that he clearly has lost faith in, why isn't the president firing him?
GONZALES: Well, there is some speculation that he's not firing him because of pressure from Senate Republicans.
From my perspective, he has an obligation to make sure he's got the best people on his team and you nominate someone in that position if you're unhappy with Jeff Sessions.
And then, the Senate has an obligation to vote that person up or down. And so you can't control whether or not the Senate is going to take action on a nomination. You can control a nomination.
[07:35:00] And so if the president is unhappy with Jeff Sessions, I think that he ought to make -- he ought to remove him and put someone -- and nominate someone else and tell the Republican-controlled Congress, the Senate, you have a job to do. Your obligation is to make sure this very important position is filled.
Having said that, again, I don't believe that Jeff Sessions has done anything that warrants -- CAMEROTA: Yes.
GONZALES: -- his removal but he can be removed for any reason or for no reason by the President of the United States.
CAMEROTA: There's also reporting that the president asked Jeff Sessions a while ago to un-recuse himself from the -- heading up the Russia -- overseeing the Russia investigation.
Would that be obstruction of justice, to your mind, if the president wanted a loyalist and asked the person who had recused himself to undo it to oversee this?
GONZALES: Well, it depends on the -- on the nature of the conversation and his interpretation or your interpretation or our interpretation of loyalist. It wouldn't be inappropriate for the president to have a conversation with the attorney general to get a fuller understanding of the reasons for the recusal.
And the president may have been told by another lawyer -- maybe Don McGahn or someone else -- that the reasons for recusal are somewhat iffy. And so, the president -- it might not be inappropriate for the president to simply push the attorney general to make sure the attorney general considered all factors in connection with his decision to recuse.
And again, that kind of conversation would not have been inappropriate. And at the end of the day, the attorney general stuck with his initial decision and I think rightly so.
CAMEROTA: So you would have recused yourself as well?
GONZALES: Absolutely. You know, once you get that advice from the career ethics officials at the Department of Justice, if -- to ignore it, particularly if you've been someone who has worked on the campaign --
I think someone like Jeff Sessions comes in the department with somewhat of a reputation as being somewhat political and tied to the White House. And then to initially ignore the advice of ethics officials, I think it would have -- it would have cost him credibility in the building and I think it would have made it much more difficult for him to serve as the attorney general of the United States.
CAMEROTA: Mr. Gonzales, I want to ask you about some language that Rudy Giuliani has been using. He's referred to the FBI agents who raided Michael Cohen's apartment and office as storm troopers. And now, he is referring to Robert Mueller's investigators as a lynching mob.
What do you think of that language?
GONZALES: It's disappointing. Listen, I know that Rudy Giuliani is serving in a different capacity but given his history at the Department of Justice and just given the wonderful things -- the wonderful service he's given to the people of New York, I'm surprised. I think there's a way that you can be effective as an advocate for his client, Donald Trump, but to use that kind of language is demeaning to the officials -- to the people that work at the Department of Justice.
Not to say that they haven't made mistakes and clearly, certainly at the leadership level there have been mistakes made at the Department of Justice with the connection with the Clinton investigation. I think, in some ways, in connection with this investigation -- the Russia investigation.
But they've worked very hard to get it right and I think that -- I'm troubled and disappointed at some of the language used by Mayor Giuliani.
CAMEROTA: Former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.
GONZALES: Thanks for having me.
CAMEROTA: John --
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Alisyn.
A child asked a question at the White House press briefing and it nearly brings the press secretary Sarah Sanders to tears. The question, the answer, the emotion, next.
[07:42:01] CAMEROTA: A New York City grand jury has indicted disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein on rape and other charges. This comes seven months after dozens of women came forward with stories alleging sexual misconduct and/or assault by Weinstein.
Weinstein intends to plead not guilty and is currently free on $1 million bail. He is due back in court July 30th.
BERMAN: President Trump is headed to the Houston area today to meet with the family members of victims affected by the Santa Fe school shooting.
This comes one day after press secretary Sarah Sanders choked up a bit while answering a question about school shootings from Benje Choucroun, a child reporter for "Time" magazine's edition for children -- watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJE CHOUCROUN, CHILD REPORTER, "TIME FOR KIDS": At my school, we recently had a lockdown drill. One thing that affects mine and other students' mental health is to worry about the fact that we or our friends could get shot at school.
Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these senseless tragedies? SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that as a kid and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying for a kid to go to school and not feel safe, so I'm sorry that you feel that way.
This administration takes it seriously and the School Safety Commission that the president convened is meeting this week. Again, an official meeting to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing within our power to protect kids in our schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: It was interesting to hear Sarah Sanders get choked up there. I think that that reflects how so many of us feel about sending our kids to school every day and just hoping for the best, keeping our fingers crossed.
I would love to talk to that kid reporter. I'm not sure that hearing that there's a commission meeting --
CAMEROTA: -- next week is what he was looking for in terms of safety tomorrow.
BERMAN: Look, I think he learned like many reporters do, you don't always get a direct answer to your question there.
You know, I don't question Sarah Sanders' emotion there. I mean, to hear a child say they don't feel safe at school --
BERMAN: -- makes you think of your own children. Maybe she's heard it from her own children. I mean, my own children have asked questions about this.
CAMEROTA: Mine, too.
BERMAN: I mean --
CAMEROTA: But, I mean, I think that isn't the time for meetings over? I mean, we've been meeting for years. Isn't it time for action? I mean, I think that's what he was asking.
BERMAN: I think had he been given a follow-up maybe that's what he would have asked right there.
CAMEROTA: Yes. We're going to find him. We'll ask him.
It's time, meanwhile, for "CNN Money Now."
The U.S. may make good on a trade threat slapping metal tariffs on key allies.
Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center with more. Hi, Christine.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Hi there, guys.
Deadline time. The U.S. gearing up for a trade battle with three of its biggest trading partners here.
Remember, the Trump administration granted a few temporary exemptions on steel and aluminum tariffs back in March, giving the E.U., Canada, and Mexico more time to negotiate with the U.S.? Well, those exemptions expire in less than 24 hours.
"The Washington Post" says the White House did not get what it wants from those trade talks, though it plans to hit all three allies with tariffs.
If that happens, the E.U. threatens swift retaliation, targeting $8 billion in U.S. exports, including strategic items from the homes states of speaker Paul Ryan and majority leader Mitch McConnell. Think motorcycles and bourbon -- tariffs on those.
[07:45:06] Metal tariffs could also affect NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico. The Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, says a decision will be announced today.
Ross was in Paris yesterday to negotiate with the E.U. Now he heads to Beijing for another U.S. trade battle, this one with China. The two countries are currently working on a trade deal but another set of tariffs threatened to derail those talks.
The U.S. just announced plans to target $50 billion, John, in Chinese goods. We'll get a list of those goods on June 15th.
BERMAN: It will be interesting to see what the market does this morning.
All right, Romans, thanks so much.
ROMANS: You're welcome.
BERMAN: He has met face-to-face with Kim Yong Chol, so what does James Clapper expect will happen in today's meeting between the former North Korean spy chief and Mike Pompeo? We'll talk to Mr. Clapper, next.
[07:50:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE, MEMBER, PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: That's Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy debunking a claim that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but the White House not backing down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "ABC NEWS": Given what Trey Gowdy has said, is the president prepared now to retract his allegation that the FBI was spying on his campaign?
SANDERS: No. Clearly, there's still cause for concern that needs to be looked at.
Let's not forget that the deputy director of the FBI was actually fired for misconduct.
The president's concerned about the matter and we're going to continue to follow the issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, joining us now is CNN national security analyst and former director of the National Intelligence Agency, James Clapper. He is the author of "Facts and Fears" which is number three on "The New York Times" bestseller list.
Director, thanks so much for being with us.
Rudy Giuliani -- he says it's because of you. He is saying that were the one who uses the term spying and that justifies the fact that the president and Rudy and all the president's allies keep on using it.
Listen to what the former mayor says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think the guy responsible for that, to some extent, is Clapper because when the president first called it spying everybody disputed and said it was an informant. That seemed like a semantic difference.
And then he said -- Clapper said we were spying -- we were spying on Russia and as part of that we ended up inside the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Because of you. What do you say to that?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, AUTHOR, "FACTS AND FEARS: HARD TRUTHS FROM A LIFE IN INTELLIGENCE": Well, first of all, I'm not sure why Rudy Giuliani would refer to a clown, which is what he characterized me last Sunday, as an authority on anything, and he is deliberately misinterpreting what I said.
There is a huge difference between the use of an informant and a spy -- a term I've never like anyway -- because it had none of the trappings of a clandestine tradecraft, not using a person who was formally trained as a case officer or using -- or using any of the techniques and procedures that would be used -- that a so-called spy would use.
So I think it's a deliberate distortion just to sustain the narrative.
BERMAN: What do you think of the fact that the mayor is saying this and this is the same person who is calling the Mueller investigation, overnight, a lynching mob?
CLAPPER: Well, I think this sort of characterization is really unfortunate, inappropriate, unfair, and in fact, dishonest.
But this is part of a larger campaign very -- which Mr. Giuliani fully acknowledged, to undermine the investigation -- I mean, that's the whole point here -- and cast as many aspersions on the investigation and those conducting it as possible.
BERMAN: I assume you had a chance to work with Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York after 9/11 in many of your various capacities or at least crossed paths with him over the time.
How do you compare that to what's happening --
CLAPPER: No, I have -- no, I have not had any direct interaction with him.
But your mention of 9/11 is the preferred image that I want to keep of Rudy Giuliani and the inspirational leadership that he provided to New York City -- not only New York City but the entire nation. I prefer to remember him that way than the way he's conducting himself now.
BERMAN: Which you would characterize as?
CLAPPER: Well, I think he's kind of an incoherent mouthpiece for the president.
BERMAN: One of the things that happened overnight, we got excerpts from a book that will be coming out by Ben Rhodes, who was the deputy national security adviser for President Obama.
And he talks about the issue of Russian meddling as it was known to the Obama administration before the election in 2016. And the fact -- and this is something that's come out before -- that President Obama wanted, according to Ben Rhodes and others, to say more about Russian election meddling before the actual Election Day.
Let's listen to what Ben Rhodes -- or actually, let me read you what Ben Rhodes says.
"Mr. Obama had authorized a statement to be issued to by intelligence agency leaders a month before the election warning of Russian interference but was thwarted from doing more because Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, refused to go along with a bipartisan statement. Mr. Rhodes called Mr. McConnell's refusal staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic."
Look, you were involved in all of this. You had a front-row seat to this.
Were there partisan roadblocks thrown up alerting the American people as to what was happening?
CLAPPER: Yes, there were and my book has much the same account.
There was a great deal of discussion a more robust reaction earlier. But there was concern on the part of the president himself because of the allegations of rigging, which candidate Trump was then espousing, that anything that the president did would be viewed as political and he would be putting his hand on the scale and favor one candidate to the disfavor of the other.
[07:55:16] So I think Ben's exactly right and my book comports with his account.
BERMAN: And he says but not for Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, perhaps there would have been more said.
Did Mitch McConnell stand in the way?
CLAPPER: Well, the Republicans, in general, did. There was reluctance on their part to enter into a bipartisan statement that I know Denis McDonough, who was then the chief of staff, was seeking from the Congress.
In fact, I remember one -- distinctly, one occasion where there was a briefing team sent to the Hill to brief about the Russian interference and the team was instructed not to be used as pawns by the Obama administration in the political run-up to the election.
BERMAN: Instructed by whom?
CLAPPER: So, yes, there was a great deal -- a great deal of reluctance on the part of the Republicans to join in a bipartisan statement.
BERMAN: Instructed by whom? Instructed by --
CLAPPER: And you're right, as well --
BERMAN: -- other Republicans?
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
BERMAN: They were instructed not to be pawns by Republicans?
CLAPPER: Well, I'll just leave it the way I said it that there was -- we encountered reluctance on their part to enter into a very aggressive statement about the Russians.
And we finally -- we, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, and I did issue a statement on the seventh of October which was a pretty forthright statement about what the -- what the Russians were doing. And, of course, that got buried the same day that the "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" audiotapes came out and so our message sort of got lost.
BERMAN: Let me ask you about something else that's happening as we speak.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his way to meet again with Kim Yong Chol, who was a former spy chief in North Korea. This is someone that you have seen before. You have been to North Korea.
They had dinner last night.
BERMAN: We're looking at these pictures of the two men smiling, eating, gazing out --
BERMAN: -- over the New York skyline.
Here again, as someone who has actually sat down with the man, what do you see and what's the difference between then and now?
CLAPPER: Well, I couldn't help but be struck, John, by the apparent conviviality of the meeting with Sec. Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol.
When I met with him he was in a different capacity, in uniform, as the head of what's called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is there combination or amalgam of intelligence and special operations.
And we had a wonderful -- he hosted -- the meal itself was wonderful -- a 13-course Korean meal. It was one of the best Korean dinners I've ever had.
And -- but the conversation was very terse, very tense, nasty. He displayed great animosity towards the United States, Americans, and me.
He's in a different capacity now and he looked to me to be a bit overwhelmed by what he was experiencing. I think this is the first time he'd ever set foot in the United States.
So he has a different role to play, although I was struck by the irony of him being appointed as the senior interlocutor as the -- to make arrangements for the summit.
BERMAN: Do you trust him?
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
BERMAN: Do you trust him?
CLAPPER: Well, I think with the North Koreans you definitely need to be in the trust but verify mode.
BERMAN: James Clapper, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
CLAPPER: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: All right. We've got a lot of news this morning so let's get to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: He shouldn't testify. The whole thing should be squashed.
BERMAN: A newly-disclosed memo offering insight into President Trump's firing of James Comey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is does this all add up to obstruction of justice?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's essentially attacking him for something that he was obligated to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a right to hire and fire the attorney general.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants somebody who is going to be a loyalist to him, not somebody who is going to be a loyalist to our constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't take a clearly racist tweet and condemn it. You're at least saying I don't care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he really is in a spot right now to talk about this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is the president of all people and damn it, I wish he would start acting like it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, May 31st, 8:00 in the east this -- spring is flying by.
BERMAN: Spring has sprung.
CAMEROTA: New day --
BERMAN: My pastels are all dirty, already. I've been wearing them for months now.
CAMEROTA: Oh, yes. Wow, thank you for that.
New day, new White House attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, now setting a deadline for Mueller to release his results by, he says, September so as not to get too close to the midterms. But what if the investigation is not complete?
This comes as Giuliani calls Mueller's team a lynching mob in a new interview.
BERMAN: Meantime, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe --