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Cohen Justifying Turning on Trump; Stuttering John Case; No Numbers on Separated Kids; Pruitt Kept Secret Calendar. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired July 3, 2018 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So you keep saying -- and I've seen you in other interviews as well -- that Michael Cohen has something on the president. That it -- that you think he should call prosecutors right away and reveal what that is. Is this -- in your case, is this information about Stormy Daniels and the money that was paid to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, or do you feel that Michael Cohen has other information prosecutors might be interested in?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER REPRESENTING STORMY DANIELS: I think he has a host of information, including relating to the payment to my client, as well as a number of other issues. And there's nothing stopping him from disclosing that publicly.
BERMAN: I can see -- I can see you would know or have some visibility as it pertains to the Stormy Daniels case, but do you know for sure that there are other issues that Michael Cohen has information on or is this just the type of thing we've been seeing in the papers?
AVENATTI: Well, John, I know for sure. This isn't just rampant speculation. And I'll remind you that, you know, I was the one that released the information relating to the payments from Vekelsberg (ph) and others a few months back. You know, I've become a --
BERMAN: Back -- you absolutely were, which is -- which is my point here. So what areas specifically do you think that federal prosecutors -- again, because you see more of this than we do -- might be interested in when it comes to possible connections between Michael Cohen and the president?
AVENATTI: I think that there's a number of areas, including payments to other women, the flow of money relating to that issue. I think there are issues relating to other business dealings that the president had in the 10 to 12 years that Michael Cohen served as his personal attorney. I think there's a myriad of issues and problems that Michael Cohen is aware of that could pose significant issues for the president. And that's all the reason why if Michael Cohen truly wants America to believe that he's a hero, or could be a hero and a patriot and a good guy and not a villain, he needs to come clean now.
BERMAN: So, while we have you, you actually have more clients now beyond just Stormy Daniels. You always have. But one of them is John Melendez, Stuttering John, who was able to get a call returned by the president from Air Force One over the last several days.
What's the status of Stuttering John? Has the Secret Service reached out to talk to him yet?
AVENATTI: The Secret Service -- well, first of all, John, contacted me on Friday, asked me to take on the representation. I told him I would think about it and to let me know if anything transpired.
The Secret Service evidently then showed up at his door seeking to interview him. He contacted me on Sunday and I agreed to take on the representation, which I don't think is going to take a lot of time, truth be told.
The Secret Service wants to interview him. I'm in the process of getting to the bottom of exactly what happened and how the president could allow such a security breach. You know, this is a president who talks about tough security and protecting America. He can't even protect his own phone line. It's an absolute joke.
So as it stands right now, we're determining whether John's going to sit down with the Secret Service and what the next steps are.
My hope, John, is, is that this goes away and the president doesn't allow his ego to get in the way of going after a guy that played a prank on him and he -- he should admit that he just got played.
BERMAN: Michael Avenatti, thanks for being with us this morning. Do appreciate it.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, now to the other top story, John, that we have been following all day, when will the 2,000 children who were separated from their parents at the border be reunited and how will this happen? We'll try to find out, next.
[08:37:21] CAMEROTA: The Trump administration has three weeks to reunite parents with their children who were separated at the border. But the Department of Health and Human Services refuses to say how many separated children are in their custody or what this process will be.
Joining us now is Rick Santorum, a CNN senior political commentator and former Republican senator from Pennsylvania.
Rick, great to have you.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: You understand how, of course, the federal government works.
Do you have any faith that these 2,000 plus children will be reunited with their parents?
SANTORUM: Well, I -- yes, eventually they will. But, you know, there are a lot of complicated circumstances here. I mean you have -- you have the Flores, you know, settlement agreement, which says that you can't detain children with their parents for longer than, I think, a 20-day period. And so there's, you know, the -- just housing situation, how do you -- you know, enough for families to be -- to live together in that kind of setting where children right now are, you know, in -- in places where they're safe and they're being taken care of and they're not in a detention facility.
CAMEROTA: Sort of. I mean, Rick, hold on. Hold on. I just want to check that. They're in -- some of them are in foster care. As you know, some of them were transported to New York.
CAMEROTA: New York City and New York state, thousands of miles from where they last saw their parents. We don't know if there's a process that's tracking them. In fact, we've heard there is no tracking mechanism. And the governor of New York doesn't know where these kids are or who they are or how they're going to be restored. So I don't hear the process by which this is going to actually be able to happen.
SANTORUM: Yes, look, I don't think the Trump administration has handled this particularly well. There's no question that, you know, that there are a lot of unanswered questions. I think the secretary is trying to manage this situation. But the reality is that, you know, there are -- there are legal impediments in place right now for the administration to be able to reunite these families and -- and you also have the issue that these -- these -- you also -- well, you also have --
CAMEROTA: No. There's -- old on. There aren't legal impediments, there are logistical impediments. Legal, they didn't have to separate these families and they can reunite them. They just don't know how.
SANTORUM: Yes, well, that's a -- that's -- that's sort of a broader question. Legally, did they have to separate them? No. But if they don't separate them, and they simply release them, which is the alternative, because there is a settlement agreement in place that you can't detain them longer than 20 days as a family, then you have a policy that we've had up until this point, which is a catch-and- release policy --
SANTORUM: Which says to everybody that comes across the border, if you have a child, you're going to get it into this country. And the administration said, look, we're not going to continue that policy. So there is -- there are policy reasons for doing what they're doing.
CAMEROTA: Understood. And so, hold on, Rick, one thing -- I just want to -- I just want to check the things that you're saying individually. So I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just want to sort of fact check what you're saying. SANTORUM: Sure.
CAMEROTA: We just had the former director of ICE on who said that one of the things they could have done was speed up the court docket. They could have put resources instead of into separating children, some babies from their parents, they could have put resources into the court docket and sped up that process so that the catch and release thing wasn't what it had been under President Obama.
[08:40:15] But, listen, here we are, OK, here we are today where the last numbers --
SANTORUM: I agree with that. They should -- they should have done that.
CAMEROTA: OK, great. The last numbers that we had were that it was 2,000 plus. OK. And, guess what, they're not even telling us the actual numbers because it seems like they don't know. Do you know of a process whereby these parents will ever see their children again?
SANTORUM: You know, the answer to that question is that, yes, some parents will and some parents won't because some parents have already been deported, as we know.
CAMEROTA: Right. And just -- I mean just get your head around that.
SANTORUM: I mean that's been -- that's been reported. And those --
CAMEROTA: Just get your head around that these parents don't know where their kiss are. Can you imagine not knowing where your kids are?
SANTORUM: Well, I understand that. But let's just -- you know, the parents are not blameless in this situation. The parents came across the border illegally and knowing full well that they -- that they were putting their children and themselves in jeopardy by doing so. And, by the way, most of these --
CAMEROTA: Not really, Rick, some of them were asylum seekers. Some of them were asylum seekers. That's legal.
SANTORUM: Yes. Asylum seekers are not separated. That -- I mean that's been very clear and that's --
CAMEROTA: Yes, they are. Yes, they are, Rick. Yes, they are.
SANTORUM: No, they're not.
CAMEROTA: Yes, they are.
SANTORUM: If you -- if you come to the border and appeal -- and make an appeal for asylum, you are not separated from your children.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Rick, no, I wish that that were true. They have been separated.
Here's the "L.A. Times." They've sent reporters there to try to do the digging that obviously the Trump administration is not doing and not wanting us to know. Here it is. This was yesterday. The practice of separating families appears to have begun accelerating last year, long before zero tolerance was announced in the spring. Among these cases, according to records and interviews, there are many that happened at ports of entry. They weren't coming across just randomly. These were at ports of entry. Court filings describe numerous cases in recent months in which families were separated after presenting themselves at a port of entry to ask for asylum. They did it to everyone. This was a zero-tolerance policy, Rick. It was even for asylum seekers.
SANTORUM: Well, I don't know what happened. I can tell you what the administration's policy is with respect to its ASLE (ph) applications, and that's -- now whether that policy was followed on the ground, that's a problem. But the --
CAMEROTA: It wasn't.
SANTORUM: The policy is that they shouldn't -- well, again, I mean, you know, their -- that's a problem with enforcement, it's not a problem with the policy.
CAMEROTA: No, it was a zero tolerance policy. It was -- it was stated as that. We've heard John Kelly say that. We've heard Stephen Miller say that. It was a zero tolerance policy. Everybody would be separated from their children. That's zero tolerance. It was supposed to be a deterrent and it has blown up into this, you know, human crisis.
SANTORUM: Look, there's no doubt that it's blown up to a human crisis and the media has reported on that in many ways. But what the media doesn't report on is the human crisis of these children coming to the borer themselves. I mean the fact is that most of these folks are coming from Central America, not from Mexico, and they made a 2,000 mile journey through Mexico. They had to cross the Mexican border, which is no picnic.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Yes.
SANTORUM: And so the idea that putting these children in detention is the worst thing that's happened to them since they -- since they've made this long trek, I'm not sure that is necessarily the case. These kids have been traumatized a lot over the past several months in getting here.
CAMEROTA: Yes, that's who desperate they're -- we agree, that's how desperate their situation was --
SANTORUM: And I agree that's how desperate --
CAMEROTA: That they were willing to risk their life to try to get here.
But, Rick, we're out of time. We've had a lot of breaking news. Always appreciate getting your perspective on this. Thank you very much.
John. BERMAN: All right, mounting ethical scandals for Scott Pruitt, the EPA administration. New ones -- I mean new ones out just overnight. His calendar, did he have people at the EPA scrub it to remove records and evidence of controversial meetings?
[08:47:59] BERMAN: The new questions surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt -- new ones -- on top of all the old ones -- they are scrolling behind me on a continuous loop. Pruitt is already the subject of 14 different probes into alleged ethical violations. Now we add one more.
CNN has exclusively learned that Pruitt kept secret calendars to hide controversial meetings from the public. That's according to an EPA whistle-blower who says Pruitt also directed his staff to scrub his official schedule, which could violate federal law.
Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has more.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This EPA whistle-blower says Scott Pruitt and his staff kept secret calendars or schedules detailing many meetings with industry representatives that have never been made public. According to Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt's former deputy chief of staff, a secret calendar containing the actual events was printed out, then staff would gather around the table, determine which events would be kept on, which would be kept off, and which would be altered. He says it was often done in Pruitt's office and under Pruitt's direction.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Scrubbed?
KEVIN CHMIELEWSKI, FORMER EPA OFFICIAL: Scrubbed, yes, sir.
GRIFFIN: Of the official EPA administrator's schedule?
CHMIELEWSKI: Which happened -- absolutely, which happens quite a bit.
GRIFFIN (voice over): CNN found more than two dozen meetings, events or calls left off Pruitt's publicly-released calendar, which is only released weeks after the events occur. What's missing? Meetings with energy industry officials, lawyers, Washington insiders who could potentially benefit from a friendlier EPA.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So he would meet with industry lobbyists, somebody from industry itself and decide later that that was not going to look good so let's scrub it off the calendar?
CHMIELEWSKI: Sometimes later, even before we would always put on the schedule "meeting with staff." That was the default button was a "meeting with staff."
GRIFFIN (voice over): Want some examples? Internal e-mails show that in April 2017, Pruitt has a briefing and attends a dinner at Trump International Hotel with coal company executive Joseph Pratt. It is not listed on the public EPA calendar.
[08:50:04] September 2017, the official schedule shows Pruitt met with former senator turned energy industry lobbies Trent Lott, but left off that the meeting including the CEO of a shipping company and discussion of ships and their fuel source.
In October 2017, a staff briefing appeared on Pruitt's official calendar. E-mails show the actual meeting was with private attorneys representing a water district over a superfund site.
CHMIELEWSKI: We had, at one point, three different schedules, one of them was one that no one else saw besides three or four of us.
GRIFFIN: Two government experts tell CNN, altering, sanitizing official government records to protect the boss could lead to legal trouble.
LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL FEC: If somebody changed, deleted, scrubbed a federal record with the intent of deceiving the public or intent of deceiving anybody, it could very well be a violation of federal law.
GRIFFIN: The most controversial deletion of all, according to Chmielewski, came after Pruitt's $120,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Rome in June 2017. That trip included extensive interaction with Catholic Cardinal George Pell, who was charged with multiple historical charges of sexual offenses a few weeks later to which Pell pleaded not guilty. But this itinerary shows a tour with Cardinal Pell. It's not on Pruitt's official calendar. Also missing, a lunch with Cardinal Pell.
CHMIELEWSKI: All of our time at the Vatican was spent with Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Pell was basically our host.
GRIFFIN: Yet none of those tours, dinners and lunches appeared later when Scott Pruitt released his official calendar. Chmielewski says that was intentional.
CHMIELEWSKI: Once we came back and the cardinal was actually charged with these offenses, I alerted them and that's when they -- it was basically taken off the schedule that we met with Cardinal Pell.
GRIFFIN: Chmielewski says he was fired from the EPA after raising questions about Scott Pruitt's extravagant spending. He supports Donald Trump and Donald Trump's pledge to drain the D.C. swamp. He says keeping Pruitt at EPA makes no sense.
CHMIELEWSKI: And if there's something wrong, I don't care if it's Republican or Democrat, right's right and wrong's wrong. And what he's doing right now is completely wrong.
GRIFFIN (on camera): CNN, of course, reached out to EPA multiple times seeking comment for this report. Scott Pruitt and his staff have chosen not to respond.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
CAMEROTA: OK, well that really spells it all out for you there in one piece, how does Scott Pruitt survive all of these scandals?
Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political director David Chalian.
David, surely there is someone else out there qualified to dismantle the environmental regulations that President Trump could pick to lead the EPA. How is Scott Pruitt surviving all of this?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You answered it in your -- in your question, Alisyn, which is that the reason he's been able to survive so far is because he is implementing and executing on a policy prescription that very much matches Donald Trump and a lot of his supporters' agenda. And so he's following through day to day with accomplishing the role back of regulations, as you say.
What it does, though, of course, is it -- it pits it against this pledge to drain the swamp. And so you have the swampiest of swamp creatures -- apparently we're learning more and more each day that he is that -- who gets to stay here because he's achieving a policy agenda that the president wants to see implemented.
BERMAN: This is so far beyond the swamp at this point. It's like a tsunami meets the swamp. It's a swampnami.
CAMEROTA: Is there a swir (ph) in there?
BERMAN: It's a swampnami.
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: They're spelunking in this section of the swamp?
BERMAN: But what I will say now, and you watched the Drew piece, there are questions of the law here. Eventually, the law is going to catch up to Scott Pruitt. If they are scrubbing the calendar, we heard from Larry Noble in that piece, that appears to be a violation of the law. And there are witnesses and whistle-blowers, including that man in that piece, John, it was so remarkable, who was a make America great again guy. A big Donald Trump supporter.
AVLON: Big time. And the fact that so many former staffers are turning against him is an indication of how bad it is behind the scenes.
What's most damning about this most recent allegation that Drew dug into so well is that the schedule is being changed to hide meetings with lobbyists and industry leaders who he is paid by taxpayers to regulate. It's not just about an ideological agenda. It's, he is being protected by an industry that benefits from his actions and who he seems to be trying to hide his meetings with. That is an outrage in upon itself. That is a sign of something going terrible wrong behind the scenes at EPA.
CHALIAN: And at his direction.
AVLON: Yes, that's right. That's right. CHALIAN: And at his direction.
CAMEROTA: David, remember how upset Republicans were when they found out that Hillary Clinton wiped her server? That someone, a technician, wiped Hillary Clinton's server? But scrubbing a calendar, are Republicans speaking out against Scott Pruitt? Is there a groundswell?
[08:55:12] CHALIAN: Not many that I have that heard from. No groundswell at all. It is true that cabinet secretaries from both Republican and Democratic administrations have both a full, complete moment-to-moment schedule and a public schedule. That in and of itself is not very abnormal practice.
What is abnormal is what John was just getting at, which is that at the administrator's direction it is being scrubbed to hide from public view specific meetings that seem to be about benefiting industry. So it's what is not being included and how that's being chosen to not be included in the public schedule, that does seem a bit more outrageous here.
BERMAN: It turns out when you are hiding something, it looks like you have something to hide.
CAMEROTA: Huh. You can quote him on that.
BERMAN: Go figure.
BERMAN: Go figure.
David Chalian, thanks very much.
BERMAN: That's all for us this morning. CNN "NEWSROOM" with Erica Hill this morning picks up right after a quick break.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Poppy.
[08:59:55] Still no word from the Trump administration on exactly how many migrant children remain in government custody separated from their parents. Also no word on any plan or process that is in place to reunite those families as a federal court has demanded. This morning, though, the president is speaking out on the border and MS-13 and immigration and customs.