Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Calls Omarosa Lowlife, Dog in a Tweet; Trump Slams Jeff Sessions Again; CNN Poll: 42 Percent Approves of Job Trump is Doing as President; Numerous Fatalities in Italy Bridge Collapse. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 14, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:08] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And we begin this morning with President Trump back from his working vacation with a vengeance. In a new and truly stunning attack on his former White House aide and former primetime co-star Omarosa Manigault Newman, this is what the president just wrote, quote, "When you give a crazed, crying, lowlife a break and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog."

Now Manigault Newman's tell-all White House memoir is on bookstore shelves now, as we speak, releasing today. But what appears to have especially incensed the president are her repeated claims that he used the N word during at least one taping of "The Apprentice." Last night, he wrote -- the president wrote in part, "I don't have that word in my vocabulary. Never have. She made it up."

And it's worth to note this alleged tape has not surfaced so for now it is her word against his word on this.

Also this morning a fresh attack on his own attorney general referring to the special counsel probe, the president writes, quote, "If we had a real attorney general this witch hunt would never have been started."

Let's go to Abby Phillip. She is back at the White House after covering the president in Bedminster, and joins me now.

So, Abby, we'll get to Sessions in a moment but let's just begin with this escalation of the feud with Omarosa. The White House beyond irked by this.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the president really being the one to lead the charge in the pushback. The president had been silent on Omarosa for so long that I think a lot of people wondered when he would finally push back and now he has, and he's centered on this issue of an alleged tape of him using the N word during a filming of "The Apprentice" and he said last night he spoke to Mark Burnett, the creator of that show, who said that no such tapes exists and he said Omarosa used to say such wonderful things about him, and now she's clearly not as a result of this book.

But this has become a real problem for the White House, in part because Omarosa keeps talking not only about these bombshell allegations but keeps talking about the tapes that she allegedly has. She released yet another one this morning and the president after that tweeted that tweet where he calls her a dog that you mentioned this morning, but last night it was a full court press not just from the White House but from the president's allies on the outside including Katrina Pierson who is in Omarosa's book.

Omarosa alleges that Katrina talks about this tape in a conference call, and this is how Katrina denies those allegations.


KATRINA PIERSON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: That is absolutely not true. I have no sources with that tape, I have no connections to anyone at "Celebrity Apprentice" other than Omarosa and in fact she was the only one that brought this tape up.


PHILLIP: So, again, Poppy, Omarosa claims that she has tapes that bolster her side of the story. The question will be who to believe in all of this and clearly none of it is going away. This book tour is just getting under way. The book is out today and Omarosa is continuing with her media appearances this week.

HARLOW: So, Abby, you know, the president is really fighting on two fronts, right? He's fighting this he said-she said battle with Omarosa, and then he's continuing to fight with his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. A big attack yesterday. This morning he says we need a real attorney general once again slamming Jeff Sessions. Why?

PHILLIP: Yes. This morning the president with a series of tweets about the Russia investigation but he won't lay off of Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying that if we had a real attorney general this witch hunt would never have been started.

Look, this continues to be part of a crusade on the president's part to undermine this probe but he is not over this issue of Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the probe. He keeps talking about it day after day. But we have to remember in all of this he appointed Sessions. Sessions is one of his biggest supporters. That's not going to change. And according to the president he thinks he has the authority to remove him but he hasn't yet, Poppy. You have to wonder why.

HARLOW: Right. The first sitting senator to endorse President Trump, you know, help him throughout the campaign and now the president clearly not pleased at all with the job he's doing.

Abby, thank you. Bring us the latest when you have it from the White House.

Let's talk about all these headlines. NPR White House Reporter, Ayesha Rascoe is with me. Also former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, and CNN Political Analyst and "New York Times" Correspondent, Alex Burns. So let's talk, Ayesha, first about, you know, the words that the

president used this morning to describe Omarosa. He called her a dog and that is clearly an attempt to make her seem less than human, and he does this at the same time that he is trying to discredit her claims that he, according to her, allegedly used the N word way back from the day on the taping of "The Apprentice."

You can't ignore race here, right? I mean, this country has a history of trying to make black people less than human, right? And then the president does that this morning with the word dog. What's your read?

[09:05:10] AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: It is, to try to defend yourself, saying that you didn't use a racial slur, well, we don't know whether there are any tapes or whether President Trump used that racial slush but we do know in black and white that he did call his former staffer who he hired a dog and I don't think that anyone would want their mother, their sister -- you know, to be called a dog.

And then when you add in to the fact that this a black woman. And this is not the latest time that President Trump has done this. This is not the only time President Trump has done this, made this kind of derogatory remarks about prominent black figures. He questioned the intelligence of LeBron James. He does the same thing with Don Lemon and others so this seems to be a part of a pattern for the president.

HARLOW: And he did the same thing with Maxine Waters, a sitting member of Congress, calling her low IQ.

Alex, just about the context here, right? Because the president may respond to the criticism he's getting this morning on the use of that word dog, and he may say, I've called a lot of people dogs, right? And we looked up the tweets. He tweeted about Mitt Romney, called him a dog, Ted Cruz at one point. Chuck Todd, the host of "Meet the Press," at one point. But you can't ignore the history here, right, from what he said about the Central Park 5 to birtherism to the S-hole countries. I mean, this is part of a much bigger picture.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's a neon pattern. It's very, very obvious and at the risk of sort of parsing his tweets a little bit too carefully here there are a lot of people who he said were behaving like a dog.

HARLOW: You know, you're right.

BURNS: Right?

HARLOW: You're right.

BURNS: But there are not a lot of people who he has said this person is a dog, right?

HARLOW: That is a very good point. I noticed that in reading through all of these tweets when he referred to Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, et cetera, it was worded.

BURNS: Begging behavior. Right? Begging like a dog. HARLOW: Yes.

BURNS: Right? Or fired like a dog which is a little bit stranger and not as clear what he's describing in terms of dog-like behavior but in any case he's not talking about people as animals, right? And back- to-back with that word lowlife. It's just unbelievably harsh and it does fit with this pattern that we've been discussing. That has really it seems intensified over the last few weeks. It's very, very public. Very, very unsubtle. He now uses that description of Maxine Waters as a low IQ individual at campaign rallies. It's a huge applause line for him and he clearly delights in saying it.

HARLOW: Now, you know, to be clear here, she has been slamming the president as well, right? And she has been talking about the use of the N word which she says she's heard. We haven't heard the tape. She has been blasting him saying he's mentally not fit to be president but he really took it to a whole new level this morning.

BURNS: Sure. And this is part of the pattern that you've seen with the president all along is if anybody criticizes him in any way --


BURNS: He used that as justification to attack them in just the most heated over-the-line personal terms.

HARLOW: So, Elie, to you, on the legal front. Omarosa is giving a series of interviews, obviously wants to sell books, and in one interview last night on MSNBC, on "Hardball," she had this to say that got us talking. Let's listen.



CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Would you be a great witness --

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Anything they want, I'll share anything that they want. I'm certain I'll cooperate.


HARLOW: OK. She's talking about Mueller's office and the special counsel probe, and you heard her there say if he calls again. So that made us wonder, well, has he called? Has she spoken to him? We don't know. But do you see Mueller sort of clamoring to flip Omarosa or needing to talk to her? Because she seems to me and strikes me as a kind of prosecution witness that defense attorneys might dream of.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I'm not sure Mueller is trying to flip her per se but if you're in Mueller's position you want to speak to everybody and anybody. And if a person has relevant information then you enlist them as a witness. But I think you're right. I think she --

HARLOW: But the credibility issues.

HONIG: I think she'd be a problematic witness. I'd put on some problematic witnesses, I'd put on worse witnesses certainly by far than Omarosa in terms of prior criminal conduct but credibility is another matter. She's been all over the map. She has motives and incentives which are just being exacerbated now with this conflict going on with Trump. It's very public feud. So she'll be a tough witness to put on the stand and to defend the credibility.

HARLOW: Ayesha, these nondisclosure agreements, right? Omarosa claimed that she was offered one by the White House for $15,000 to be -- you know, stay on but not do anything and just stay quiet. And the president confirmed in his tweet yesterday that there are these nondisclosure agreements. He wrote, "Whacky Omarosa already has a fully signed nondisclosure agreement." She says she doesn't.

But bigger picture here, is it normal for a White House to have staffer sign any sort of NDA?

RASCOE: To my understanding it's not normal to have just West Wing staff sign nondisclosure agreements and part of the issue is that legally you -- when you work at the White House you're not necessarily working for the president, you're working for the public.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:10:06] RASCOE: You're a government official. You do have -- there are things that you cannot reveal, national security secrets, and if you have clearance, there are issues with that. But just to say that you can't talk about things that happen in the White House that don't have to do with national security and just kind of the goings on, that is unusual and I think many legal experts say that it's not enforceable.

HARLOW: So, Alex, I mean, what does it tell you about the working environment, the process, the expectations in this West Wing?

BURNS: Well, I think we can tie together this nondisclosure agreement issue with what the president has been saying about Attorney General Sessions that he doesn't really distinguish between the responsibilities of his appointees to the government and their responsibilities to him personally. Right? That he views the sort of expectation of secrecy and confidentiality that are incumbent upon the executive branch staffers as not necessarily the controlling factors in their employment. Right? That they have to be loyal and discreet about his priorities and his information.

With Jeff Sessions it's been reported, you know, starting with the "Times" but by many people now that he sees Jeff Sessions as sort of an inferior lawyer to Roy Cohn because he's not protecting him personally.

HARLOW: Right. Where's my Roy Cohn?

BURNS: Right? That he puts himself at the center of the government in a way that doesn't really reflect the legal realities of the executive branch.

HARLOW: Elie, what would you do if you were Jeff Sessions? I mean, how does he go to work every day?

HONIG: Yes, it's a good question. I don't know that any attorney general has ever been attacked, demeaned anywhere near this by the president.

HARLOW: They haven't in this way.

HONIG: Right. I mean, it's not even close. I will say this. I guess there's reason to be grateful that Jeff Sessions is withstanding this storm because if he were to do what the president wants him to do and resign, I think what happens next is the president puts in his hand selected person who would not be recused off the Russia investigation who would take it back from Rod Rosenstein and perhaps do the president's bidding from there.

HARLOW: OK. Thank you all very much for being here. Elie, I appreciate it. Ayesha, nice to have you, and Alex. Thanks.

Ahead for us, a lot, new CNN polling this morning, and voters have a message for the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, wrap it up. We'll dig into the numbers. Also it all started with a fight over a parking spot. Well, now the Florida man who claimed Stand Your Grand in defense of shooting and killing another man is charged with manslaughter. He will have his morning in court today, and joining me will be the victim's father in just minutes.

And breaking news out of Italy this morning. Rescuers racing to find survivors and save lives after a highway bridge collapses. These images just out of northern Italy. Several people already reported dead and sources say there are crushed vehicles under the rubble with more victims.

We're following the latest.


HARLOW: So, this morning, brand new CNN polling, and it tells us a lot. When you look at the president's approval rating, it is 42 percent. The number is not great, but it's exactly where it stood in March. And a lot has happened and a lot of different controversies have happened since then, including the Helsinki summit with Putin.

Harry Enten is with me, our senior political writer and analyst, to dig through these numbers. I mean, that just stands out so much that despite the Michael Cohen stuff, the allegations about the Trump Tower meeting and what Michael Cohen says the president knew, the Helsinki summit with Putin, the contentious NATO summit, the president's approval has not budged.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: I'm fairly convinced at this point that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn't budge. I mean, you just go back even before March, you can go back to last

year, we have seen a consistent range of his approval rating being somewhere between say 35 percent and 45 percent and most often right around that 40 percent mark.

HARLOW: It's actually now higher than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton's in the second August of their terms and it's pretty close to President Obama. If you count the nearly 4 percent margin of error, at this point, President Obama in 2010 was at 47 percent. President Trump is at 42 percent. Four percent margin of error doesn't leave us that far apart.

ENTEN: No, it doesn't. I mean, Trump started off so low and the rest of these guys started off high and kind of began to fall. But I should point out that with the exception of Carter who saw a bounce coming out of Camp David in '78, all of those presidents saw their party suffer big-time losses in the midterms.

HARLOW: So, if you're in the White House, what are you thinking?

ENTEN: I'm thinking that the president has a very core base, that he play to that base and he's trying to keep that level at 42 percent - 40, 42 percent. But the problem is, is there's still a majority of people who are against him. And I think the question is what can the president do to get his approval rating a little bit higher, so it's closer to -

HARLOW: And that 14 percent of college-educated women who voted for him. This time around, the Pew polling shows that they are the biggest concern. So, he would need those votes again.

ENTEN: Yes. He would definitely need those votes again. And what he's doing right now simply is not working. So, the president still has a lot of work to do even though he is not falling.

HARLOW: Looking to our numbers on the Russia probe, this is really interesting. So, support for both the president and support for the special counsel Bob Mueller and how they're handling individually the Russia probe has actually gone up, right?

It's 34 percent for Trump. It's not great, but it's up 5 percent since June. It's 47 percent approval for Mueller, up 6% since June. What does that tell you?

ENTEN: First off, it tells me, obviously, that the undecideds have gone down, but it's also within the margin of error. If you go further back in time, you see that, again, not a lot of movement that's going on here. It seems that there needs to be something really big to occur in order to get these numbers to move, but, overall, those numbers also point out that Bob Mueller is trusted more than Donald Trump.

HARLOW: He is, indeed. Looking at this ahead of the midterms, the line from the White House, Giuliani, has been wrap it up, wrap it up, wrap it up, you can't do this so close to the midterms. In fact, Mueller can do. ENTEN: Yes. He can do whatever - yes.

HARLOW: Yes. He can do whatever he wants. But a majority of people that CNN polled, 66 percent, want Mueller to finish this probe before the midterm. And when you look at independents, it's 69 percent who want that.

ENTEN: And including Democrats who want that, 57 percent. Of course, I think Democrats believe if they can wrap it up, it will show that Donald Trump is the big bogeyman, that he colluded and so on.

[09:20:05] HARLOW: Actually, if they think that, you would think that 57 percent number would be higher among Democrats.

ENTEN: Yes. Although given that it is a majority, I think there's a good portion of them. But the one thing I will point out is even if you go back to the Richard Nixon and Watergate, what you saw was a lot of people then, at this point, wanted the investigation wrapped up and, of course, it went on and on and on.

HARLOW: Years.

ENTEN: And people eventually got aboard. A number like that is an interesting number, but I don't think that very many people who will be voting thinking, oh, you know, Mueller hasn't wrapped up, therefore Trump is innocent. No, that's not (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: OK. Don't go far. You're going to be with me on the races today a little later. Thank you, Harry.

ENTEN: Sounds good.

HARLOW: Appreciate it.

Still ahead, we're following breaking news out of Italy. Frantic searches for survivors after a bridge collapsed. Look at these images. This is a bridge collapse in northern Italy. We know several people have died as a result. We will get the latest on the ground there are as well.

Also, a quick look at the markets before the opening bell. The Dow set to rise today. Look at those green arrows pointing higher. Future up more than 100 points right now as the Turkish lira has been weighing on stocks because of all the controversy in Turkey and between the United States. We're going to get a check on that as well.


[09:25:47] HARLOW: All right. We do have breaking news this morning out of Italy. You are looking at aerial shot of devastation there. A huge section of a bridge that has collapsed in the port city of Genoa.

It happened during a violent storm. We know that there are numerous fatalities. Our Senior International Correspondent, Nic Robertson is live for us on the ground in Genoa. Nic, what can you tell us? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Poppy, the very latest that we've seen in the last few minutes, I've seen a couple of ambulances leaving the scene behind me, which is where the bridges collapsed. So, that's the first indication I've seen of at least people being - possible casualties being taken away from the incident. Until now, it's all been vehicles, emergency vehicles, pouring in.

At the same time as those ambulances were leaving, I've seen several firetrucks with heavy lifting gear driving in. Again, full speed into the scene here. And this is some almost 3 hours now after this horrible, terrible accident took place when the bridge collapsed in the middle of that huge, huge storm.

What we do know at the moment is 11 people are dead. Authorities here fear that number could climb. The rescue effort is still underway. We've seen at least one helicopter fly in and land close to the scene.

But it seems, in the last hour or so, the call has perhaps gone out to bring in heavy lifting equipment to perhaps move some of that huge - those huge contorted pieces of twisted steel and concrete, the sheared away bridge that's now lying on the valley floor here.

The heavy lifting equipment perhaps giving us an indication now that the rescue effort is focusing in on a couple of specific areas where the rubble is.

But I think from the view of this town, this is something that no one here would have ever anticipated happening. This suspension bridge, one of the first of its type, has stood here for decades.

It is rusty in places. The concrete is discolored in places. But it has been an absolute key part of the infrastructure in this town. Busy port city. The highway behind me that collapsed, the major Mediterranean highway linking Italy along the Mediterranean to France, Poppy.

HARLOW: I have driven on that highway so many times to visit relatives. It is a huge part of the infrastructure there.

Nic Robertson, thank you for that and please bring us the updates. Again, 11 people, we know dead at this hour.

Right now, a sealed hearing is underway in Paul Manafort's tax and bank fraud trial. This after the judge in the case cleared the courtroom just minutes ago. And it follows another sealed hearing yesterday.

It is not clear this morning why Judge T.S. Ellis called for the public to be removed from the courtroom. We do know the prosecution has rested its case. They did so late yesterday after calling 27 witnesses to the stand over 10 days.

The prosecution's final witness, Federal Savings Bank banker, the vice president, James Brennan. Brennan testified that his boss, the head of the bank, a man named Stephen Calk helped push through risky million dollar loans to Manafort hoping in return that he might get a job, a plum position in the Trump administration. He did not.

Today, we should get an idea on what the defense plan is. Joining me now again, Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor. So much going on. We don't know why Judge Ellis has cleared the courtroom. We'll get an update shortly.

But 27 witnesses in 10 days presented by the prosecution. Did they make the case?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think they did. If I'm the prosecutor right now, I'm feeling pretty good. You never know what a jury is going to do.

But what you want is to get your evidence in quick and clean and no big surprises. And by all accounts, their case has been rock solid. It's based primarily on documents and uncontroversial witnesses.

Rick Gates, of course, was the big explosive moment. And the defense, did they score some points on cross examination of Rick Gates? Of course. But that's how cooperating witnesses work.

HARLOW: So, what does the defense do today? There is even a question of, if the defense will bring any witnesses to the stand, but the big one is will Manafort testify in his own defense.

HONIG: I'm going to make a prediction. No, I don't think there's any way they put Manafort on the stand. Sometimes defense lawyers posture about that a little bit. Well, we might put him on the stand. He can't take the stand.