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CUOMO PRIME TIME
Kristin Davis Testified Before Mueller Grand Jury; FBI Fires Peter Strzok over Anti-Trump Texts; Omarosa Releases Secret White House Recording. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired August 13, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Three generations of Cuomos like your Facebook show -- my mom, my wife, my daughter. Three generations. Good for you, brother.
I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.
An exclusive tonight. The closest that we've been able to get to knowing where Bob Mueller's probe is headed, at least with respect to Roger Stone. You knew her as the Manhattan Madam. Her name is Kristin Davis, and she's here for her first interview since her grand jury testimony.
What did they ask? What did she say? She is here to tell us.
Plus, Peter Strzok fired from the FBI, and tonight, his attorney is firing back. He is here to make the case to you that this firing is not about the text messages.
And we have Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA, secretary of defense, and White House chief of staff under President Clinton. He's back here on PRIME TIME. We're going to talk Russia and the apparent White House security breach as Omarosa leaks a recording from the Situation Room. Is that a crime?
Well, it's Monday, but we already have a week's worth of news. So what do you say? Let's get after it.
CUOMO: What does Mueller want with Roger Stone? How does it tie into what he may be looking at with the Trump team?
Finally, we have someone who can help us get answers, Kristin Davis. She got the nickname the "Manhattan Madam" during the Eliot Spitzer scandal. She's a close friend of Roger Stone. She worked for the Trump campaign and has been a focus of the Russia probe, that has been a focus of the Russia probe.
Kristin Davis, thank you for taking the opportunity.
KRISTIN DAVIS FORMER "MANHATTAN MADAM": Thanks for having me, Chris.
CUOMO: So when you got in there, how long were you in there before the grand jury? DAVIS: About an hour.
CUOMO: All right. What was the line of questioning like?
DAVIS: I think that's what's concerning is that it was very one- sided. You know, there's obviously no defense attorney in there. The special counsel's office has a rapport with these jurors, and the questions were very leading. So --
CUOMO: Like what? Give me an example.
DAVIS: Um --
CUOMO: You're allowed to, you know. Legally, you are not beholden to them.
DAVIS: Right, I know --
CUOMO: It's not like you're a juror on a case.
DAVIS: I know. But the problem is they don't like you to use your First Amendment right to freedom of speech. I was issued a subpoena originally for August 3rd.
Then when they found out I talked to the press, accidentally, they moved that up a week, giving me four days notice with a 2-year-old and saying we don't care what happens to your child. Figure it out. You can talk to the press. You can figure out how to get here with your 2-year-old.
CUOMO: All right. So be that as it may, you are not one to shy away from controversy or conflict and I know you're not going to let somebody shut you up.
CUOMO: So, what kind of thing did they can ask?
DAVIS: You know, I think they're genuinely concerned about whether or not any collusion happened with Russia. And so, their line of questioning really did revolve around whether or not this happened. I particularly don't have any knowledge of it. I didn't work for Roger Stone in 2016.
So, you know, I answered truthfully on those questions.
CUOMO: You better.
DAVIS: Of course. I would not commit perjury. And I don't want to impede their investigation. I actually -- you know, if this is legitimately something they feel that has happened, then they should go forward, and I don't want to jeopardize that.
CUOMO: I hear you. But no question that they have concerns that Roger Stone may have done something that he shouldn't have done? DAVIS: I think they're concerned with all of the people in the 2016
campaign, all of the high-profile names that we've seen come across and all the people that have worked for Roger. And since Roger was such an integral part of the campaign, they're really following all avenues.
CUOMO: But they didn't think you had done anything?
DAVIS: No, no, no.
CUOMO: So there was no question about we think you did this -- none of that?
DAVIS: None of that.
CUOMO: No exposure for you as far as you know?
DAVIS: No exposure for me in any capacity.
CUOMO: Or your attorneys have explained, no?
CUOMO: OK, but Roger, they know you know him.
CUOMO: And what kinds of questions were they asking you about? Who he knew? What he did? What kinds of avenues did they go down?
DAVIS: I mean, I think there's the general concern for some things that he seemed to predict, his tweets, the Podesta tweet, you know, has been the subject of much controversy all over the media and also puts him in a position to wonder how he was able to predict. And I think that's also taken out of context.
You know, he's talked about it before. He said the Podestas. Most people take that "S" off to say Podesta.
CUOMO: Timing was still pretty uncanny. I've spoken to Roger about this directly. As we learn more, he's always welcome to come back here and make his side of the case.
But what was your answer to that?
DAVIS: Well, and I think Roger has publicly said that his intermediary was Randy Credico. And I know that since my meeting, Randy Credico has been subpoenaed. So I think that there's some truth there that his intermediary was Randy Credico, and hopefully, the truth will come out in terms of that.
CUOMO: You are not a particular Credico fan. Is that a fair statement?
DAVIS: That's a very fair statement.
CUOMO: Why not?
DAVIS: I ran him for Senate in 2010. He started a fistfight at one of my events with Roger.
CUOMO: Who won?
DAVIS: Of course, Roger Stone won.
CUOMO: Really? Were there actually blows thrown?
DAVIS: I think so.
CUOMO: And landed?
DAVIS: I don't know. I don't know. I had left at that point in time. I just saw a video.
CUOMO: That's a very careful answer. So you know he won, but you don't know if anybody hit anybody else? Come on, Davis.
DAVIS: I just heard. I just heard after the fact that there was commotion.
CUOMO: So you don't like Credico?
DAVIS: I don't like Credico.
CUOMO: Do you think he tried to set roger stone up?
DAVIS: It might be. They've been frenemies for a very long time. I've personally witnessed his hostility at a number of my events. I've read some of the e-mails he sent threatening Roger.
CUOMO: Then why would Roger Stone -- now, he's no -- right, he's not stranger to doing things with people he doesn't like. But why would he listen to Randy Credico about WikiLeaks if he doesn't like him or trust him?
DAVIS: Well, I think -- I think Randy Credico had some information that seemed credible at the time. And so --
CUOMO: Do you remember telling Roger, don't listen to this guy?
DAVIS: I'm pretty sure I said something to the extent of why are you friends with that douche bag. And I said the same thing in the grand jury --
CUOMO: You won't give me any specifics but that word are more than -- thank you for injecting to the audience. I appreciate it.
So you told him watch out for this guy, but Roger believed he might have known something about what was happening with WikiLeaks?
DAVIS: Well, Roger tends to give people numerous chances. And so, if you come to him and, you know, apologize a little bit and want to work with him on something new, he'll forgive you and move forward. He's an understanding guy.
CUOMO: Do you think that Roger Stone had contact with WikiLeaks and knew what they had?
DAVIS: No, he did not. And --
CUOMO: How do you know for sure?
DAVIS: My family and I have had dinner with him, and at that time in 2016, and asked him these questions before any of this was an issue. And the response from him at that time was, I've not had any direct contact with Julian Assange. So, before this was such a colossal undertaking and event here, we were already getting straight answers from him.
CUOMO: Sam Nunberg says differently. Inasmuch as he says that Roger was much more direct and strong in terms of saying that he thought he had some access and knowledge.
DAVIS: Well, I think that there was an e-mail that he says jokingly to Nunberg, saying, I'm having dinner with Julian Assange. But that was a joke, and Sam Nunberg tends to call you 50 times in the course of 10 minutes and e-mail consistently, annoyingly. And so --
CUOMO: Wait. Why would that make --
DAVIS: -- I think Roger was just putting him off and just making a joke like, please leave me alone.
CUOMO: You don't believe he had plans to have dinner with Julian Assange?
DAVIS: No, no. He's not left the country in that year. So, I mean, his passport would show that.
CUOMO: Now, I remember back before neither of us knew better, at least certainly I didn't, when I was talking to Roger about Guccifer and him talking to them, he was -- didn't believe anything about Guccifer was real or anything like that. And whatever he was talking about on Twitter, he didn't think was a big deal.
But since then, the intelligence community has shown that they believe that Guccifer is exactly what we were afraid it was, which is a front for Russian hackers. Do you believe Roger Stone knew who he was dealing with at Guccifer?
DAVIS: Absolutely not. Half the time Roger Stone wasn't in charge -- you know, there were numerous hands in his Twitter. He was getting so many tweets. You know, there's five or six people helping manage that process, automated systems.
You know, Roger's not particularly technologically savvy with some of the things going on in technology nowadays.
CUOMO: Now, for the audience's edification, you are biased. You know, you like Roger Stone. He is more than a former employer. He's godfather to your child. So, personally, you care about him, and you want to protect him.
Did you come away from your Session today believing that the investigators are coming for Roger Stone?
DAVIS: I did. I think that there's cause for concern based on that they just want to believe something happened, which I don't believe it did. I don't believe --
CUOMO: Why do you feel that? Because you're with him. You're with the pros. You're there in front of the grand jury.
This is the real game. This isn't spin. This isn't people talking to me. How did they come across to you?
DAVIS: Well, there's a relationship between the special counsel prosecutor and those juror members.
CUOMO: They're there for them.
CUOMO: It's their show.
DAVIS: And he's making jokes --
CUOMO: It's not supposed to be a trial.
DAVIS: Right. And he's making jokes. He has a rapport with them, and he's able to, you know, lead these questions in a negative manner. And --
CUOMO: But you know he's allowed to do that. It was a he?
DAVIS: Right, right. Yes.
CUOMO: OK, they're allowed to do that. Usually the rules of evidence, they get objections and they get jammed up and a judge would have to decide. Not here. It is the prosecutor's show.
So, leading questions are OK, but you're saying they betrayed an intention?
DAVIS: Correct. And those types of questions, even though they're OK, it doesn't mean they're right. It doesn't mean you're sitting with an educated jury poll. I'm not saying that they're uneducated, but it could be a mixed bag, right? That's the whole point in having a jury. They are a mixed bag.
So, now, you're saying questions for people who don't really have the background. They only know what you're saying, and you're leading them down a path, maybe trying to tie in this notorious figure that Roger Stone is from "get me Roger Stone" and "win at all costs," when that's just the public persona.
And something -- a statement like, say, win at all costs, doesn't mean that he would go out and commit some huge, colossal crime to impair the democracy of our country. It just means in a campaign, this is sort of what you do. So everything is taken out of context, pushed down the path that they want it to be down.
CUOMO: Did they ask you any questions -- the grand jurors?
DAVIS: They asked me a few.
CUOMO: What was it about for them?
DAVIS: Mostly just my relationship with Roger Stone, the sort of work that I do for him. I mean we've talked about that. He's one of my closest friends. Both him and his wife are my child's godparents. So, they're friends, as well as I do work for him on occasion.
CUOMO: Was there any question they asked you that stumped you?
DAVIS: No. No.
CUOMO: People in this audience will know you as the "Manhattan Madam". That is in your rearview mirror.
DAVIS: That is.
CUOMO: There is no more "Manhattan Madam" for you?
DAVIS: That was so 10 years ago.
CUOMO: What do you do now?
DAVIS: Right now, I'm hoping a nail art boutique in Harlem called Bombshell Beauty Lab. We open on Friday and I'm being a mom, working, hanging out.
CUOMO: And involved in one of the biggest investigations in American history.
DAVIS: I know. How do I manage that?
CUOMO: Kristin Davis, thank you for your candor in coming on to talk to us.
DAVIS: Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: Appreciate it. Be well.
All right. So, that's one big story going on today. Another is the news of the FBI agent who was kicked off the Russia probe over his anti-Trump texts has been canned. Peter Strzok is out, but his attorney says there's a problem, and there may be a fight coming.
Why? Find out next.
CUOMO: All right. Big news: Peter Strzok is out, fired from the FBI for those text messages the president loves to claim undercut the entire Russia investigation.
So, is the FBI cleaning out a bad agent or bowing to political pressure? Does it matter?
Joining me now is Peter Strzok's attorney, Aitan Goelman.
Good to see you, Counselor.
AITAN GOELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PETER STRZOK: Good to be here, Chris.
CUOMO: Are you really surprised that they fired Strzok?
GOELMAN: At the end of the day, I was really surprised that they fired Pete, mostly because we had an agreement with the FBI OPR, Office of Professional Responsibility, which is their main caretaker for internal discipline, that Pete would get a 60-day suspension and a demotion. And at the last minute, that was countermanded by the higher ups, and he was fired.
So, yes, we were surprised.
CUOMO: You don't believe it's wrongful. You just don't believe it was right. I'm talking about the difference of you don't think this is illegal. You just think it was the wrong call.
GOELMAN: I guess we think that they had the power but not the right to do it.
GOELMAN: Certainly, the deputy director and the director can countermand a decision by OPR, but it doesn't happen very often. And in this case, it is hard to reach any conclusion other than the decision to reverse OPR's decision was itself motivated at least largely by politics.
CUOMO: Well, but they didn't say as a matter of fact don't fire him. They just said, OPR, this is what we recommend. And then you have the president of the United States tweeting, just fired Strzok. If the president of the United States doesn't want you in the FBI, should you stay?
GOELMAN: Well, I don't think the president of the United States should be going around and telling executive agencies -- executive branch agencies who they should be firing and who they should be retaining. I think that's completely inappropriate for the chief executive of the government to do that.
CUOMO: But he's in charge of the DOJ. I mean these people all work for him, at his direction. If he were to call and say, I want to get rid of the attorney general, he gets rid of him. If he says, I don't like Christopher Wray at the FBI anymore, then he's gone.
If he doesn't like Strzok, whether it's the right call or the wrong call, it's his call to make, isn't it?
GOELMAN: Well, no, not exactly. I mean, look, first of all there's a difference between political appointees like, you know, the attorney general or even Jim Comey, who the president generally can fire at will. And Pete Strzok was a career civil servant. He'd been at the FBI for 22 years.
There is a normal process that is followed for disciplining civil servants, federal employees, and that process was followed here but in form only, not in substance. And that's what our big objection is.
CUOMO: The idea of bringing shame on the FBI, I thought Strzok was fairly open and honest about that in his testimony, that he is aware that things he did hurt the reputation of the FBI. Would he have wanted to stay really?
GOELMAN: He did want to stay. He loved the bureau. He loved his job. He's very committed to protecting the country, and he was a great counterintelligence agent. I mean, that is pretty much the consensus across the board.
So, I don't think he necessarily would have wanted to work on, you know, the next high-profile political investigation, but in terms of, you know, going after spies from our adversaries who are undermining American national security, that's what motivated him. That's what he was good at. And that's what he wanted to continue doing.
CUOMO: Is it true that he was getting a lot of pressure from colleagues to resign?
GOELMAN: Not that I know of.
CUOMO: Hmm. So what does he do now?
GOELMAN: In fact, you know --
CUOMO: Go ahead.
CUOMO: Go ahead. Make your point. In fact, what?
GOELMAN: No, I was just going to say that before Pete testified in front of those two congressional committees, the voicemail and e-mails that we were getting were overwhelmingly hate mail. Since that, he has gotten -- the proportion has completely flip-flopped, and Pete's actually gotten an outpouring of support even before today. And then since the firing was announced, he has been really gratified by a lot of messages of support from across the country.
CUOMO: Last question. What next? Does he fight this decision?
GOELMAN: Well, that's a question -- does he fight? And the sub question is how he fights. The letter from the deputy director said that this is the end of the road. There's no more administrative appeals. This is a final decision. CUOMO: It's like 25 pages too, right? It was a thick letter you got.
CUOMO: It was a thick letter you got, right?
GOELMAN: Well, the letter from OPR -- and this wasn't a recommendation. You referred to it before as a recommendation. This was a decision. This was a decision, and one that Pete actually signed on to. Pete and I both signed this --
GOELMAN: -- what's called last chance agreement on July 26th. It said he'll take this punishment and, you know, he gets to stay an agent. And then we got on Friday, a 25-page letter that you're referring to from OPR, which had all the different considerations, all the way that they thought Pete screwed up and then all the mitigating factors that they considered and concluded -- not recommended, but concluded that the right punishment here for Pete would be the suspension and demotion.
And then we got about a page and a half letter from the deputy director saying, I've reversed this decision. Pete's fired.
CUOMO: Deputy director of the FBI, not Rosenstein?
GOELMAN: Right. Right. Deputy director of the FBI.
CUOMO: All right. So he's done. He's got to figure out what he does about it now. So, let's leave it here for now, counselor, until we have new facts on the situation.
All right. Counselor, appreciate the opportunity. Be well.
GOELMAN: Bye. You too.
CUOMO: All right. Another big story, Omarosa's taping and her firing and what she means about the diversity not in this White House. Controversy or nontroversy? What do you say?
It's certainly going to be a great debate, especially with whom we have, next.
CUOMO: Increased paranoia. That's how senior administration officials describe the mood among Trump staffers. Why? Omarosa drops tapes, accusations left and right, including somehow capturing John Kelly firing her in the White House situation room.
Now, that's all the intrigue. Omarosa's story has changed more than once during her media blitz, but the question tonight is how much damage her bridge-bombing campaign is having.
Great debate. Angela Rye and Scott Jennings. Let's keep this tight, point, counterpoint. I set it up as
controversy or nontroversy.
Angela, what is your take?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Depends on which side you sit on. It's a nontroversy because it's helping her sell books.
CUOMO: All right. So you say it's a nontroversy.
But, Scott, how about the idea of Omarosa, what she captured from John Kelly, the suggestions of what she says was a threat, what seemed to be her version of what the president knew versus how he came across in the phone call. What do you make of all that? What's the truth here?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we need to hear from John Kelly I guess at some point. But it sounded to me like he had some pretty legitimate issues he needed to raise with her surrounding her treatment of her high office. I think we should expect more professionalism out of people given the title of assistant to the president, and she did not exhibit that behavior.
CUOMO: Fair point. However, how about the idea that the president says he was told she stunk every qualified way that you can think about it, and then he said, but keep her because she says good things about me.
Is this about him or is this about doing the job for the rest of us?
RYE: Who is that to, Chris?
CUOMO: That's to Scott. I know you're going to answer that. I give a chance in a second.
JENNINGS: Look --
CUOMO: How do you feel about that?
JENNINGS: Look, at the -- well, here's how I feel. When you get hired into any White House for any president at any level, your job is to serve the American people. Your job is not to serve yourself. Ultimately, I think all of these actions she has taken have culminated in her own pursuit of her own fortune and glory and have not been in the pursuit of serving the American people or the agenda that she was hired to promote.
I think she's selling books. And, look, she may be telling the truth about some things. She may release more recordings and other things may emerge.
But at the end of the day, we have to expect better of these staffers. They have access to the president and lots of information and I don't think it looks good for us on the national or international stage to have people acting the way she's acting.
CUOMO: Couldn't that criticism be equally leveled at the president, Angela, that he finds out that she stinks in every way that someone can stink in a job, and he says, but try to keep her. She says good things about me.
RYE: What we know is that there's no end to the desires of this president in receiving flattery. We know that he likes it lavished upon him. What I think is really interesting and you -- this is the only time you'll probably ever hear me defending Omarosa, and it certainly won't be her actions.
But what's interesting is I haven't heard this same criticism by Republicans leveled at Steve Bannon, who pretty much did the same thing. Maybe he didn't record anyone, right, but this is certainly the same type of behavior. Or a Stephen Miller or some of the other folk who's are supposed to serve, right, the American people, but they are serving not only their own self-interests but also the interests of this president, which very much conflict overall with what are in our best interests, our national security interests as well as ensuring we continue to be this -- you know, I shouldn't say continue to be -- hope to become, you know, this beacon of light and hope for all of the world.
So, I think that is what's really fascinating that, all of a sudden, Omarosa is super demonized. I never liked her, not even on "The Apprentice". They think this is "The Apprentice", the remake, as I've said repeatedly.
But nevertheless, she's not acting any differently than the rest of the people who have either been summarily dismissed or some of the folks who still sit in the White House.
CUOMO: She is a window, though, into an absence, which is that there's just not diversity in this White House even by --
CUOMO: -- by American political standards. Let's put up some numbers for the audience just to give context for this. We have graphics of how many cabinet members that you see. You know, Donald Trump, number of white men in the first cabinet of each president, 18 for him. Barack Obama, eight. That gives you the full range.
And that's from "The New York Times." And then the number of women and minorities in the first cabinet of each president. Barack Obama, this time it flips. He had the most. Trump at six.
You know, what does that tell you, Scott, about what the priority is in this White House?
JENNINGS: Well, I think the priority for any White House should be to hire the best possible people to do the job, to serve the country, and to --
CUOMO: Hold on a second. You can't just whip through that line and not smile. You have to smile when you say that. JENNINGS: Well, look --
CUOMO: You can't talk about this White House hiring only the best and not smile. Be honest.
JENNINGS: Here's how I would staff -- here's how I would staff a White House. I would try to find the best people I could find, and because no race and no gender has a monopoly on good ideas, if you're truly seeking out the best people to execute, you're going to wind up with some white folks, some black folks, some Asian, some men, some women. And that's the way it ought to be.
I don't know that we ought to hold people to quotas based on the census, but we ought to hold people to the standard do I have the best people and they're executing on behalf of my agenda.
CUOMO: Do you think they're doing well with that standard? How do you think they're doing with your own standards?
JENNINGS: I think they have some -- I think they have some great people working in the White House. I don't think Omarosa was a good choice.
CUOMO: Thirty-four percent turnover, 34 percent, Angela Rye. Nobody comes close to it. If you add them all up, they don't come close to this. The best of the best? Omarosa?
RYE: No. Obviously, I don't agree with that either. I think what's interesting is, Scott, you brought up a good point about diversity in the White House. We were just talking about the cabinet positions.
Chris, please tell me you have a graphic on the diversity in the White House if Scott -- I'll give you five good dollars if you can name five black people in the White House. Five. A dollar for each. You got five?
JENNINGS: I don't have a list of the White House staff in front of me. But thank you.
RYE: Yes, and even if you did, you would give me my $5 back.
I think the point remains, right, that you can have the best and the brightest and the best and the brightest be black. You can have the best and the brightest and the best and the brightest be Asian. You can have the best and the brightest, and the best and the brightest be women.
So, what's fascinating to me is that corporate America where Donald Trump plans to -- is allegedly this big rich billionaire boss that's figured it out, he's cracked the code, he still hasn't figured out that they've all said that diversity and inclusion is the path forward to ensuring your bottom line is great. So, speaking of making America great again, somehow it became synonymous with making America white again, starting in the cabinet.
CUOMO: Well, certainly on the numbers, that's a tough fact for the president to deal with.
We're going to leave the debate there. I appreciate the arguments on both sides. Scott Jennings, Angela Rye, thank you.
RYE: Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: Leon Panetta -- that's a big name from politics -- White House chief of staff. Could he imagine an Omarosa deal on his watch?
Two more big questions for him: does he think Trump's attorney is changing his story about what the president told Jim Comey with regards to General Flynn? And is a perjury trap a real risk to Trump?
Former defense secretary, former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, next.
CUOMO: All right. So while Omarosa is pushing out a book -- and, yes, I get the criticism, that what she's doing is trying to help sell books. But we still have to look at the facts of her bizarre firing and any kind of security concerns and concerns about the operational integrity of what's going on in that White House.
One man who knows all of this stuff is former CIA director, former secretary of defense, former Bill Clinton chief of staff, Leon Panetta.
You have so many titles, all so warranted, and it makes you the perfect guest. Leon, thank you.
What do you make of what we are seeing in the White House on just this one matter?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it tells me that it's a pretty loose operation if somebody can walk into the Situation Room and be able to do a recording because as soon as you walk into the Situation Room, you're supposed to get rid of all of your technology, your iPhones, et cetera, and that should be enforced.
It wasn't enforced here, and it clearly was a breach of security in the Situation Room.
CUOMO: Why do you think this took place in the Situation Room?
PANETTA: Well, it's a good question, Chris. I have a feeling that John Kelly wanted to have this conversation. He wanted to do it in a place that was secure, and that's probably why they went to the Situation Room. But, again, it surprises me that the precautions weren't taken to make sure that it truly was secure. CUOMO: Now, of course, their policy on devices is an honor code one,
and for the speculation of it being wrong, I don't think it's illegal. I don't think what Omarosa did is going to fall under the two applicable statutes about access or dissemination of defense information, right?
PANETTA: No, I don't think so because the conversation really concerned a personnel matter related to something other than national security.
CUOMO: The two different versions of what we're hearing from Giuliani about what happened with the president and Comey vis-a-vis Flynn -- how material a difference -- well, we know it's a material difference. If he had a conversation with him where he said, go easy on him if you can, it matters a lot more than if he never had a conversation like that at all. But assuming, as Rudy calls in the alternative, yes, they had that conversation, and he said, try to see your way clear of helping him. He's a good guy.
What does that mean to you if you were told that by the president?
PANETTA: I -- I don't think there's any question here that based on what the president said, based on what Rudy Giuliani has said about that conversation, that there was -- it was clear that there was a signal being sent to Director Comey that he ought to go easy with regards to any prosecution here.
CUOMO: They say, well, he said "should," not "must". But language aside, do you believe a president can obstruct justice? And, if so, do you believe there's a legitimate issue under these circumstances?
PANETTA: Well, there's no question that a president can obstruct justice. We've seen that occur in the past, and I think that is an issue obviously that Bob Mueller is focused on, because there is a question here whether this president did take steps to try to obstruct the pursuit of justice.
CUOMO: The criticism that this probe has been going on too long, if he had anything with collusion, we would know by now, it should end.
PANETTA: This kind of investigation, if it's going to be thorough and it's going to be accurate and it's going to really uncover the truth is by its very nature one that's going to take time. Bob Mueller is a professional. He's going to do everything necessary to make sure that they are careful in the pursuit of this investigation.
And so far, at least it's my impression by the number of indictments he has, by the trials he's in, and by the way he has approached this job, that he is doing a careful job. And that's what we want. That's what we should want as the American people is to make sure that this is a thorough and concise and effective investigation into these issues.
CUOMO: What did you make of Kristin Davis? She goes in there. She knows prosecutors and their tactics, and she talks in the grand jury. She comes away thinking, I think these guys are trying to indict Roger Stone.
PANETTA: Well, she obviously was getting a lot of questions related to Roger Stone and whether or not he was involved in working with the Russians. Clearly, that's where they're coming from. Whether they have the evidence to actually make that case, I think still is a question for Bob Mueller to decide.
CUOMO: What's your biggest concern?
PANETTA: My biggest concern right now is that as we get into the issues that directly affect the president, the issue of obstruction, the issue of whether or not there was a conspiracy here to work with the Russians, that Bob Mueller is able to really look at all of the dots here and determine whether or not you can connect all of those lines. I think it's important that we give Bob Mueller the opportunity to be able to complete this investigation, and that means not rush him to judgment, but have him proceed based on his timetable and what he needs either to make a case or not make a case.
My belief is Bob Mueller, if he doesn't have the evidence to be able to support those charges, he is not going to bring them.
CUOMO: Well, we haven't seen him bring one thus far, so we'll see how it goes the rest of the time. And I will call on you please, sir, Mr. Panetta, to come back and give us some pearls of wisdom as we learn more.
PANETTA: Well, I like to be part of the Italian hour. So, it's good to be with you, Chris.
CUOMO: It's always good to have you. You're one who's actually accomplished so much.
All right. So, the Omarosa fiasco raises a white flag over the White House literally. It is a sign of just how white that White House is. Some context and whether or not that matters, next.
CUOMO: So White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway is getting heat for this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the most prominent high level adviser to the president on the West Wing staff right now?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: African-American?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CONWAY: I would say that -- well, first of all you're totally not covering the fact that our secretary of housing and urban development and world renowned -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm asking you about the White House staff, the
people the president's with every day.
CONWAY: It's important that he's -- well, the president works with Secretary Carson every day. He's trying to break the back of the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who there is on the White House staff right now?
CONWAY: We have Ja'Ron, who's done a fabulous job and very involved with -- he's been very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform in the beginning. He's been there from the beginning: He worked with Omarosa and others of us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have an office in the West Wing, Kellyanne?
CONWAY: He has an office in the EOP, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: You know, to be fair to Kellyanne, other than Ben Carson, she really had no big names to offer. The lack of diversity in the Trump White House is not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of fact.
According to "The New York Times," they did an analysis, in the first six weeks of the Trump presidency, take a look at this, OK? Number of white men in the first cabinet of each president. He's far and away the highest, OK?
And look at the number of minorities. Women. So, you know, you're looking at Latinos and Asians and everything. Look at the difference. Then everything flips around, and he is the lowest by a lot.
Don Lemon is with me. Does this matter?
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Does it matter? Of course, it matters. It doesn't surprise me, but, yes, it absolutely matters because you want -- you want insight from people who have been there, who have lived it regardless of what the background, religion, you know, ethnicity, gender. You want to have diversity because you want -- shouldn't he want his cabinet to reflect the great diversity of America?
CUOMO: A hundred percent. I mean, look, you're asking a rhetorical question. Frankly so was I. But I'll tell you what's interesting about this situation, my friend, is the pushback that I heard from Scott Jennings tonight if you were watching in our "Great Debate" is hey, you know, it's not supposed to be about some kind of quota system on intelligence. You really just want the best and the brightest.
They are not going to argue that with this White House. They've had 34 percent turnover. This has been a joke. The idea of draining the swamp, as I joked last week, but I mean it -- he just dug this big moat around maybe where his wall is going to go. We've never seen this level of just falling short from cabinet officials.
LEMON: Why can't all the best people -- remember he said, I'm going to hire all the best people. Why can't those people be the diverse background? Why can't they be African-American or Latino? Why can't there be more women?
I think, you know, she mentioned Ben Carson. I think of the 24 cabinet positions, 16 are held by white men.
I mean -- and the numbers don't lie. You put the graphic up there. It shows, I guess, what this president's priorities and how he feels about diversity. It's not a priority.
CUOMO: It is a matter of fact, which is one reason the Omarosa story mattered, because that was the best he could get and look what happened there.
Don Lemon --
LEMON: We'll be talking about it. Ana Navarro will be on --
LEMON: -- talking with Steve.
CUOMO: I will be watching. Nice haircut.
LEMON: Good to see you.
CUOMO: So, you watched what happened in Charlottesville and D.C. this weekend. Thank God there was no repeat of what we suffered through a year ago, but we saw some wrongs and we need to remember what is right.
I have a closing argument for your consideration. It's going to be a little controversial, next.
CUOMO: Welcome back to PRIME TIME.
Here's the closing argument. Two wrongs and what is right. It's been one year since Heather Heyer was killed for standing up to hate, and our thoughts still go to her family.
We know what happened with racial tensions nationwide after that. And this weekend was built as round two, "unite the right", the sequel. Organizers planned to rally in Washington, D.C. this time.
But the turn out of white supremacists was thankfully pathetic, which is why I didn't have to go there and cover it. Only a couple dozen showed up. Proof they lost membership after being exposed again last year as a bunch of hateful losers? No. They're still in force online, but they didn't have the guts to show up, and that's good.
Counterprotesters did. There were good numbers of them. The vast majority were peaceful.
But peppered in the crowd were members of Antifa, or anti-fascists. They covered their faces, confronted police and berated journalists and that was wrong.
Now, you've been hearing it. There's a lot of about what-aboutism and spin going on. And it's kind of sickening to me. So, let's all agree on some common understandings. A protester uses their voice, song, slang, slurs, there's a huge range, but it is talk.
When you use your hands in a violent way, you are a rioter. And unless you're justified in defending yourself and you hit someone, you're a thug, you're a criminal. You attack cops, you slap the media, you are in the wrong, period.
But I argue to you tonight, all punches are not equal morally. In the eyes of the law, yes. But in the eyes of good and evil, here's the argument: if you're a punk that comes to start trouble in a mask and hurt people, you're not about any virtuous cause. You're just somebody who's going to be held to the standard of doing something wrong.
But when someone comes to call out bigots and it gets hot, even physical, are they equally wrong as the bigot they are fighting? I argue, no. Fighting against hate matters.
Now, how you fight matters too. There's no question about that. But drawing a moral equivalency between those espousing hate and those fighting it because they both resort to violence emboldens hate, legitimizes hateful belief and elevates what should be stamped out.
That's what Trump did wrong last year when he said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides?
DNALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.
TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: No, and he proved he still believes that when he wrote this before this year's first anniversary.
The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to all Americans.
He needed to call out the bigots and the white supremacists and he didn't. Why? And why does he therefore have unprecedented support from these fringe elements of white power? Two wrongs and what is right? The bigots are wrong to hit. Antifa,
or whomever, anarchists or malcontent or misguided, they are also wrong to hit.
But fighting hate is right. And in a clash between hate and those who oppose it, those who oppose it are on the side of right. Think about: civil rights activist, were they the same morally as the bigots, as the racist with whom they exchanged blows. Are people who go to war against an evil regime on the same moral ground as those they seek to stop from oppressing the weak?
When you punch me in the nose for being Italian and you say I'm somehow less than, am I in the same moral place when I punch you back for saying that? It's not about being right in the eyes of the law, but you also have to know what's right and wrong and immoral, in a good and evil sense.
That's why people who show up to fight against bigots are not to be judged the same as the bigots, even if they do resort to the same petty violence. The law will take care of that. How you disagree matters. We should be our best. But I am arguing that Trump was wrong to create a moral equivalency between bigots and those who oppose them, making them equal wrongs.
Those hateful few who take solace and encouragement from the president's efforts, my message to you is simple. Be aware, there are many of us who see you as unequal, as less than. And you will be opposed at every turn because what you are about is wrong, and fighting you is right.
Thank you for watching.
"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon is going to pick up the show right now.
It's a tricky argument. I know I'm going to get some heat. I understand that.
The law will take care of what you do to me and what I do to you. But to make it moral equivalence, when you're coming at me because I'm saying that you don't matter in this world as much as I do, those are not equivalent motivations that lead us into the confrontation.