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Former White House Aide Omarosa Manigault Newman Continues Releasing Taped Conversations with Other White House Staffers; Attorneys to Present Closing Arguments in Paul Manafort Trial. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump campaign meantime now taking legal action against Omarosa, claiming she violated a 2016 confidentiality agreement while working for the campaign when it was signed during that time. Omarosa shooting down claims saying she doesn't believe she violated it at all.

Joining us, Maggie Haberman, who is the White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN political analyst. And Maggie, you write about this. This new legal shot that is coming now from the Trump campaign, calling it a warning shot but also somewhat therapeutic for the president.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think this is a president, I think it's important for everybody to remember when they look at how he handles himself in the White House, he was incredibly litigious over many decades as a real estate developer and as a private citizen. He liked deploying lawyers against his rival business partners who where things went south, or people who he felt defamed him in some way. But it was always a way for him to exert dominance and control.

And I think in this case I think it felt good to him. As of Monday the plan had been for the campaign not to do this, and then suddenly on Tuesday they were doing it because this president wants to engage, and by engaging he is elevating Omarosa's book. He is elevating the story. He is making sure more people see it. That's obviously not the intent, but you would think he would have been able to metabolize some of the lessons of what happened with the Michael Wolff book when he did the exact same thing, and he made that a much bigger deal than it would have been otherwise based on the information.

She is making a lot of claims in interviews that she doesn't include in her book, but he is, again, helping make it more of a salacious story by the most powerful man in the world responding to it and treating it this way.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Maggie, you're down in Washington and you note the plan was for the campaign not to initially engage in this legal action. The plan was for the White House not to give the entire book and the rollout the oxygen that they have. So my question to you being down there, I guess we're on what, day four of this whole escapade, how do they think it's going, Maggie? HABERMAN: Down there, up there, look, White House aides would rather

they are not doing this. White House aides had gotten the president to agree last week -- and they were not totally in unison on this. Some in the White House thought that actually they should shoot this down because Omarosa does have a credibility problem and they wanted to take advantage of that.

The problem is this White House has a credibility problem, and so what Omarosa is doing is deploying a lot of Donald Trump's own tricks. There are things in the book that sound fantastical and hard to believe such as germaphobe Donald Trump chewing on a piece of paper to eliminate its existence. On the other hand, there are things that are been clearly true. And that has been Donald Trump's secret sauce all along for three years is mix in things that are completely unverifiable with things that are verifiable so people start to think maybe there is something true in there.

They might have luck with this arbitration claim against her. I've seen the nondisclosure agreements the campaign asked people to sign, and the first line is that you will not divulge confidential information during your term of service or at any point thereafter, and I think that's what they're hinging this on. But again, it is just going to drag this out for some time.

HILL: You make the point, too, and you just touched on this, but in many ways Omarosa is pulling a page from the Donald Trump playbook. She learned so much from him. I know you even point out at one point in your piece this morning that he called her conniving in the years leading up to this, but he seemed to admire that, at least then.

HABERMAN: Sure. He surrounds himself with people, typically, who are like him and who are willing to take on his traits. They don't all rise up and sort of shoot back at him with his own tactics but some of them do. And if you look at the people who have sort of hurt him the most, it is the people who are playing his own game. One is Omarosa. One was Michael Wolff who was sort of obsequious and flattering of the president in order to get access, and then told people this would be a positive book, and then wrote reality or some reality, anyway, some version of it. Michael Cohen, who taped phone conversations with the president, at least one. Donald Trump was known for years to tape, to have some kind of a proof if he needed it of a conversation with someone.

Trump prefers sort of the world as a mirror, and so if you do that, then you are going to surround yourself with people who are like you or who are willing to act like you. And Omarosa has done that expertly.

BERMAN: When we're talking about the Omarosa back and forth, the next person to get involved with this will be the first -- the next credible person to get involved in this debate will be the first credible person to get involved in this debate, because there's no credibility to be found here, not at all.

HABERMAN: No, that's totally true. BERMAN: And every day that passes, again, it's the same thing. Sarah

Sanders yesterday was -- I don't even know what she was trying to do at the White House press conference, but one of the things she said is that the president is an equal opportunity insulter. That's actually not true if you look back.

[08:05:0y] HABERMAN: Equal opportunity person. She couldn't even -- she stopped herself short almost.

BERMAN: Just the "Washington Post" counted, and I just want to put this out there. They counted what the president has said, how he has demeaned people for their intelligence since the inauguration. And 73 percent of the people he's insulted for their intelligence since the inauguration are black, 27 percent are white. It goes without saying that that is a disproportionate number there of African-Americans he has insulted in terms of their intelligence.

HABERMAN: Right. It's true that he insults a lot of people but he does not insult everyone, and he does insult certain people more and more negatively and with more historically racial undertones or overtones. And there are only so many times somebody can be asked to be given the bennet of the doubt. We are talking about a man who in the 1980s took out a full-page ad calling if the death penalty for five young men of color who had been accused of a crime they were later exonerated of, and the president still existed -- they were pushed into false guilty pleas, false confessions. The president continued when DNA evidence had cleared them to say no, they really did do something.

It is hard to go back and look at all of that and then say, when you look at other instances where he has engaged in racial dog whistles or racial bullhorns that oh, that's just how he talks. He doesn't mean anything by it. You stop getting the benefit of the doubt after the 30th time.

BERMAN: Can I ask, Maggie, because you've been reporting on the president for a while. The whole tape that allegedly exists or doesn't exist of the n-word, this isn't a new notion.

HABERMAN: No, it's not.

BERMAN: This is something people have chased for some time here. In the back and forth over the last week, I guess the one new thing, the really one genuinely new thing is this tape that Omarosa produced yesterday of the discussion which we heard and Katrina Pierson and one other person during the campaign about the existence of that tape. That was interesting to listen to.

HABERMAN: It was interesting to listen to. I don't really know why it wasn't in her book. There were a bunch of things that were not in her book that would have bolstered what is in her book that she has produced since, and I found it somewhat confusing. But she clearly had two side tracks -- two tracks. One was the book and then one was the evidence to support the book, so she has laid that out later.

But I thought that Katrina Pierson tape was pretty damning. Katrina Pierson had gone on the TV the night before to insist this was totally false, everything Omarosa was saying wasn't true if that tape is real, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, that's pretty bad. Most people at the level of office that the president is in in 2018 in this country, not only would you guess that they would not be on a tape saying that word, but their aides would say definitely there is not going to be a tape of that. I think Sarah Sanders is being self- protective by making sure that not saying definitively that this doesn't exist when she clearly doesn't know and there's clearly a doubt in someone's mind, and that Katrina Pierson audio would add to that.

HILL: Give us a sense, too, Maggie, what is the situation right now in this White House? We started off the week talking about how Omarosa said she had these tapes because everybody lies in the White House and so you needed to make tapes of things, and there was this sense of paranoia. There were concerns about what else might come out. Here we are now a few days in, as John pointed out. How are things going in the West Wing?

HABERMAN: They're going about how they usually go. I know that we tend to look at these things as if this is suddenly the moment when things have gotten really bad or really different. This has been a paranoid, factionalized White House from the very, very beginning, from the very first week. And everything that has happened since is just almost like a natural role of what you would expect based on that. These are people who don't trust each other, who don't particularly like each other, who don't respect each other, and they exist in little clumps and lanes, as one person put it to me yesterday. And people who are in there cliques or groups will support the other people in there. They will be very suspicious of others.

Omarosa, it's really important to note here, was not the only West Wing official that I know of who was found taping. She was believed to be taping during the time she was there. There's another official who my colleague Katie Rogers and I wrote about, who was caught taping. Who had taped conversations with the president, played them for other people, and was caught while working there. No longer works there. But that's two. I have to imagine there could be others.

BERMAN: More than one person taping, including one person who was caught. Maggie Haberman, fascinating. Stick around, a lot more to discuss, obviously.

HILL: We'll be back with Maggie in just a moment as we continue to talk about not just what's happening with Omarosa but also Paul Manafort. We are waiting on closing arguments starting just about 90 minutes from now.

[08:10:01] We'll tackle that, plus primary election results.


HILL: Closing arguments set to begin in the next hour in the bank and tax fraud trial against Paul Manafort. Manafort's defense team resting without calling any witnesses to the stand. Maggie Haberman is back with us now waiting to hear what will be said in these closing argument, which is the judge made very clear he would like the attorneys to keep the closing arguments tight. How closely is this being watched in the White House, because we've been noticing the president is very quiet this morning on the Twitter.

HABERMAN: I think the president goes through these stages and then he gets quiet when he realizes perhaps things are not going the way he hoped. In the case of Manafort, the president actually has moved off of Manafort on to other things, and so therefore there has not been that much of a focus that he's been directing onto it. It's obviously gotten a lot of attention as a trial.

I think had the president not talked about it, it would have been easier for him to move away from it. Instead he has continued to tweet about and talk about to aides that he thinks that Manafort is getting a raw deal. Most of this trial has not focused on what Manafort did during the Trump campaign, or his work there other than the fact that it was simultaneous with some of the allegedly illegal activities and the things that Rick Gates, his former deputy, had testified about as taking place through the fall of 2016.

But, again, if Donald Trump were thinking with the same level of strategy that people like to say he has -- that he doesn't, he would have been able to stay off of this and just recognize the testimony about $15,000 ostrich skin coats does not really suggest Russia collusion.

The more this is about Manafort and Manafort's own issue with money and taxes and so forth, the less it is about the issues that Trump is concerned about. He keeps tying it back because he just can't seem to help himself. Yes, he has been quiet this morning. It's 8:15. We'll see what happens.

JOHN BERMAN, NEW DAY HOST: I will say, you know, as this trial concludes and the jury reaches its verdict, I assume if Paul Manafort is found guilty, what you'll here from the president in the White House is he had nothing to do with us. If he is found not guilty, it will be massive indication it has everything to do with us and the whole Russia investigation is a sham. That's a preview of coming interaction.

HABERMAN: I think that's likely, yes. Not definite, but likely.

BERMAN: I was struck, also, by something that Rudy Giuliani, who is the president's lawyer, said to Chris Cuomo last night sort of connecting the Manafort trial to the whole presidential legal team's response to the Mueller investigation. Watch.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Are you any closer to having a deal with Mueller to sit down?

RUDY GIULIANI: No. I haven't heard from him in a week.

CUOMO: How do you interpret that? GIULIANI: I think they're waiting for - I hate to bring up the case. I think they're waiting for the Manafort case. I think they feel if they win, they're going to be empowered. If they lose - and I don't know what - it doesn't have anything to do with us. We're trying to tell them. I don't care what happens with Manafort. The one thing that proves is you don't know anything about us. Manafort, whole trial, nothing about Trump.


BERMAN: Once again, that is Rudy Giuliani telling us what he thinks the Mueller team thinks, reminding us that we're getting 100 percent of our information from the president's legal team today (ph).

HABERMAN: Right. Look, that last point that this has nothing to do with Trump is actually something that I would have expected the White Hosue to hammer more and, frankly, Giuliani to hammer more. The early - other points that he's making about, you now, they have continued to act as if Mueller is a political adversary, right? And they have tried to frame it that way, and they're framing it that way for voters and they are doing that very intentionally.

In reality, they don't know what Mueller's team is really up to. They don't know whether they're waiting on Manafort for something. They don't know whether Mueller plans to file the report before we get within to see a window ahead of am election. They don't know whether Manafort plans to bring a bunch of indictments or not and thy don't know whether this might go for another year.

To your point, everything we're hearing is from Giuliani. There are some things that I think are true that Giuliani has said. Once of which is that Mueller's team is going to abide by a DOJ guideline that a sitting president cannot be indicted. I think that is likely. But I think almost everything else that they're saying is conjecture and it's really important to remember we all have very limited visibility into what Manafort is doing.

A lot of these indictments that have been rich in detail and incredibly comprehensive have dropped without any hint of them coming before hand.

BERMAN: I will, though, I mean, Rudy Giuliani just said that they haven't heard from Mueller team n a week -


BERMAN: - and he looked calm right there, but I guarantee you that's unnerving for a legal team.


BERMAN: I guarantee the president's legal team would like to hear something back.

HABERMAN: I think - HILL: Well because they want it wrapped up and because he did throw out that, I mnea, has on repeated occasions over the last week reminded whoever may be listening from the Mueller team that we are coming up on that 60-day window, and at least in their view it would not be proper to do anything in that window.


HILL: While also sort of forgetting that this negation as to will there be an interview, will there not has gone on for eight months.

HABERMAN: I think that there is a distinction between the legal team as a whole and Donald Trump, and I think it is important to remember that Rudy Giuliani is something of an extension of what Donald Trump is thinking and saying. In terms of what he says publically, that has been one of the things that Donald Trump values the most about Giuliani as he will go on TV and say what the president wants.

I think that other members of the legal team do not anticipate that Mueller is operating on Trump's legal team's schedule. Giuliani had initially been brought in because he believed he could get this whole probe wrapped up. Now we're just talking about wrapping up the negotiations over an interview where there is at least a 50 percent chance that Mueller then subpoena's Trump. So it's not like this ends anytime soon. This little portion of this ends right now.

BERMAN: Election night in America, primaries in four states. Maggie, on the Democratic side you saw some more progressive types of candidates, diverse candidates win. On the Republican side, it was, generally speaking, more Trump aligned candidates. Where is the White House right now? I know the president claims he wants to be out there seven days a week. Where is the White House and the Republican party realistically in how involved the president will be?

HABERMAN: Look, I think the president is - they would like to use the president as surgically as possible, which is hard with any president and certainly with this one because he tends to permeate everything. I think that the White House is still fairly pessimistic about what the Republican party's chances are of holding control of the House and keeping their majority. I think they have seen signs that clearly Trump voters have elevated certain people, certainly in the primary in Minnesota with Tim Pawlenty, you saw that last night.

And so, there are -- there is a danger to distancing yourself too far from this president in a Republican primary, that doesn't mean in a general election, but certainly in a Republican primary.

The president's approval with Republican voters is, I think, still at 88 percent. That's incredibly high. He is -- he remains the dominant figure in his party, as presidents often are, but not usually with this level of intensity behind them. I think George W. Bush was the last person we saw that with soon after 9/11.

So, that's not a factor you can discount, but there is a difference between sending him in for primaries and sending him in, as you know, into general elections. He is -- he can still be a net negative in a lot of these House districts.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much for joining us, via remote from Washington today. We'll let you get back to your reporting.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, the White House claims that president's labeling of Omarosa as a dog is not racist because he insults everyone. Well, is that really true and is that really presidential?


BERMAN: The White House says that President Trump's tweet calling former aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman a dog has nothing to do with race.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This has, absolutely, nothing to do with race and everything to do with the President calling out someone's lack of integrity, the idea that you would only point a few of the things that the President has said negative about people that are minorities.

The fact is the President's an equal opportunity person that calls things like he sees it. He always fights fire with fire, and he, certainly, doesn't hold back on doing that across the board.


BERMAN: So, the White House defense against charges of racism is that the President insults everyone, not just black people. I want to bring in Ana Navarro, Republican strategist Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.

Both are CNN political commentators. I do want to note that when Sarah Sanders claims that the President's an equal opportunity person in regards to who he insults and demeans, it hasn't been true according to the Washington Post since the inauguration.

They went back and counted the number of people he has insulted on Twitter in terms of their intelligence, going after their intelligence; 73 percent were black, 27 percent right (ph). So, the equal opportunity aspect there, Ana, at least doesn't bear out over time.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, even taking Sarah Sanders and her word which is a huge stretch and something that does not come easily to most Americans who believe in truth.

Even if this wasn't a racist statement, it is a disgusting statement, it is an inappropriate statement. It is an unpresidential statement. The problem is that Donald Trump gets away with behaving in an unpresidential, unseemly manner over, and over, and over again when it comes to the Republican base. It doesn't change anything, that he is calling a woman a dog. Anybody else - any other Republican, Democrat, American who would use this kind of language while being President of the United States would be, roundly, criticized by all Americans. But when it comes to Donald Trump, nothing sticks with the Republican base. There seems to just be no bottom to this barrel.

BERMAN: Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I - I agree with Sarah that I don't think he insults people on the base of race. I mean, we've watched him go through the Republican primary and now operating his presidency, and he, basically, insults anyone who moves if that person that's moving, is moving against him.

And he - and Sarah is right. I mean, they come in all shapes, and sizes, and colors, and genders. And so, he insults everybody and I agree with her on that point. I don't like it that the President is spending time responding to a staffer.

I mean, what you have here is a President using demeaning language. I mean, to call someone a dog is demeaning, at least in his eyes. And he's also punching way down here as it relates to using the presidential podium, which in this case is Twitter, to take up our nation's attention on a staffer. I don't get it. I wish he would just leave it alone and not give her the attention that she craves.

I mean, she's, clearly, gotten under his skin and she knows she can get a response from him. And she's going to keep doing it, and he ought to - he ought to leave it alone, and not use this kind of language when he's responding.

BERMAN: When you do say that the President insults everyone though, how then do you explain those Washington Post numbers? I mean, they went back and counted. Insulting people is one thing, but attacking their intelligence, historically, does have racial overtones. And since the inauguration, he's done it way more to African Americans.

JENNINGS: Yes, look, I haven't done my own statistical analysis of this. I mean, my advice to the President would be, attacking people's intelligence whether they're white, or black, or anything else is not - that's not befitting of the office. Just because someone opposes you, or someone has betrayed you, which is the case with Omarosa. It doesn't make them stupid or low intelligence.

And because of the cultural and historical connotations of doing that, you ought to stop because it gives your opponents ammunition to continue to attack you. And so, I think the President could deal with these situations by sending out surrogates to call her credibility into question, or to call other political opponent's credibility into question without inserting himself into it in a way that - that almost makes it worse.

And so, I - I think for a number of reasons here, there a better way to handle this and I wish the President would actually spend more time telling the good story that he has to tell about the optimism in the country, and the good economy. But we spend all of our time on this instead of that.

NAVARRO: Hey John.

BERMAN: And part of the problem was - part of the problem - hang on.


BERMAN: OK, go ahead Ana.

NAVARRO: If - if you - if you need to read a tweet from Donald Trump calling Omarosa a dog in order to believe that he is a racist, I, frankly, don't know where you have been for the last three years. I don't know where you have been for the last four years.

Look, this guy's racist history and racist past began with housing discrimination in New York back in the 60s.