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The NYT: White House Counsel, Don McGahn, Met With Robert Mueller's Team For Nearly 30 Hours Over the Past Nine Months; Don McGhan's Attorney Did Not Give Trump's Lawyers a Full Account of What Don McGhan Told Mueller. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This story was really about trying to drive some wedge between the president and his lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kevin McCarthy (ph) was a demagogue. And we haven't a public syllable from Bob Mueller in more than a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What McCarthy (ph) did was he singled out people in the government. How is that different from what Trump has been doing recently?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "New Day" with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, at least you've prepared a slow Monday for me, to ease back in -

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'll give you the news. Welcome back.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Great to be back. Great to be with all of you. Welcome to your "New Day." So White House Counsel, Don McGahn talking to Special Counsel of Robert Mueller's investigations.

CNN has learned that McGhan's attorney did not give Mr. Trump's lawyers a full account of what Don McGhan told Mueller's team. President Trump says McGhan is not a rat, and insists he allowed McGhan to be interviewed.

Meanwhile, President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could learn his legal fate. CNN can report that prosecutors are in the final stages of their investigation, and they could be preparing criminal charges against Michael Cohen by the end of this month.

BERMAN: But wait, there's more. The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has a new reality-bending argument for why the president should not testify to the Special Counsel. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI,DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: I'm not going to rush into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation about -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of it's truth (ph). I don't mean to go like -

GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth (ph). Truth isn't truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Truth isn't truth, he said. Also, cats are not cats, they're sometimes dogs. Giuliani, obviously, trying to create a universe of relative factuality. And the thing is, is that, this is not an argument about the facts, this is repeated assertion that there are no such things.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House, with the very latest. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The president allowing the White House Counsel to sit down with the Special Counsel for hours and hours, it might sound like risky legal strategy, but there are a couple of conflicting ideas in play right now.

While sources say Don McGhan did not give any incriminating information to the Special Counsel, it's pretty clear he did not also tell the White House, the president's legal team, all of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: New questions about White House Counsel of Don McGhan's cooperation with Special Counsel of Robert Mueller, with a source telling CNN that McGhan's attorney did not provide the president's lawyers with a full accounting of McGhan's three interviews with investigators.

Still, a source insisting that McGhan did not provide incriminating information about President Trump, a message echoed by the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

GIULIANI: The president encouraged him to testify, is happy that he did, is quite secure that there is nothing in the testimony that will hurt the president, and John Dowd told you that when he said he was a strong witness for the president.

JOHNS: But according to the New York Times, they're reporting that McGhan provide Mueller detailed accounts of episodes, at the heart of a potential obstruction of justice case, has prompted concern amongst the president's advisors and Mr. Trump, who was shaken by the notion that he did not know what McGhan told investigators. This frustration on display, Sunday, with the president comparing the Mueller investigation to McCarthyism and targeting former White House Counsel of John Dean, who testified against Nixon during the Watergate investigation, tweeting that, "McGhan isn't a John Dean type rat." JOHN DEAN, RICHARD NIXON'S WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: He doesn't like the

truth the come out. He doesn't know what McGhan has or has not said. And I think the proof will obviously be, as this thing further unravels, and I think we'll look back on this story as pretty significant.

JOHNS: The revelation about McGhan's testimony prompting fresh debate over the president's initial legal strategy to cooperate with the probe, including deciding not to invoke executive privilege over interactions with McGhan.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-NY: Once you waive that privilege and you turn over all those documents, Don McGhan has no choice, then, but to go in and - and answer everything. It's bag legal advice, bad lawyering, and this is the result of it.

JOHNS: The New York Times reports that McGhan and his lawyer fear that Mr. Trump was setting up Mr. McGhan to take the blame for any possible wrongdoing. So they embrace the opening to cooperate fully with Mueller.

The revelation about McGhan's cooperation, coming amid ongoing negotiations between the president's lawyers and the Special Counsel, over a potential interview with Mr. Trump.

[07:05:00]

GIULIANI: I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly because it's somebody version of the truth, not the truth.

He didn't have a conversation about -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of it's truth (ph). I don't mean to go like -

GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth (ph). Truth isn't truth. The president of the United States says, "I didn't -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Truth isn't truth? Mr. Mayor, do you realize what -

GIULIANI: No, no, no -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to become a bad meme (ph).

GUILIANI: Don't - don't - don't do - don't do this me. Trump says, "I didn't tell him," and the other guys says that he did say it. Which is the truth?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: OK. So we have the new questions about McGhan. CNN has also learned that prosecutors are preparing charges against Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer. And those charges could be announced by the end of the August. The New York Times also reporting that investigators are looking into over $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses owned by Cohen and his family. John?

BERMAN: All right, Joe. Joe Johns in the White House. Thanks very much. Joining us now is Alberto Gonzales. He served as White House Counsel for George W. Bush and then his attorney general. He's now the dean of the Belmont University College of Law and the author of "True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace."

General Gonzales, thanks so much for being with us. Again, you served as White House Counsel, so in your mind, what is the significance of the fact that Don McGhan apparently sat down for 30 hours answering questions from the Special Counsel?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think there's something that's very important for people to understand. The White House Counsel is a government lawyer. You have an obligation, as a government lawyer, to cooperate with the government investigation.

This isn't a question of whether or not he has a choice or not. He has an obligation to do so. In this case, apparently, the president of the United States was aware of his cooperation, gave permission. Although, again, as a government lawyer, you know, your - there is not attorney-client privilege between the White House Counsel and the president of the United States, with respect to personal criminal wrongdoing.

Now there may be executive privilege, but we know, from the Nixon tapes case, that in the case of a criminal investigation, that privilege is going to - is going to fail if, in fact, the information that is being sought by the prosecutor is necessary for the Administration of Justice. But I think just people need to understand, the White House Counsel and all government lawyers are different than your normal private lawyer.

You are a lawyer for the government. You're not a lawyer for private individual and therefore, you have an obligation to cooperate with the government investigation.

BERMAN: So this was going to happen inevitably, whether it happened easily and quickly, with the cooperation of the White House or not, is what you're saying?

GONZALES: That is exactly true. And now - and it may be that the reason why the White House is unaware of all the details of Don McGhan's testimony is because the prosecutor may have asked, may have requested that Don McGhan not share the content of the - of the questioning with the White House. And that often happens because you don't want to tipoff others who may be under investigation as to what they prosecutors are focusing on.

BERMAN: Now our reporting and the reporting from the New York Times is that the current legal team surrounding the president did not know the extent of the questioning and was not fully briefed on what was asked to Don McGhan.

The reporting for the New York Times this weekend is also that the president is rattled by all of this, apparently on the phone frantically, on Saturday, trying to deal with it. Why do you think he would be rattled by this?

GONZALES: Well, I - clearly, this is - there's a lot at stake here for this - for this presidency in terms of the outcome of this investigation. And you know, he may be aware of activities of other people. Putting aside his own activities, he may be unaware of activities and statements by - by the others in the White House, and may be concerned about that.

So anytime there's an ongoing investigation, particularly one of this magnitude, one that has generated so much publicity, it - it's human nature, to be concerned about - about where the direction of the investigation - even though you may feel that you've done nothing wrong, from my perspective, it would be human nature. You want to now what's going on. That's certainly natural.

And as I said before, the reason why they probably have not received a full briefing - or the White House has not received a full briefing is because it's possible that Mueller and his team requested that Don McGhan and his lawyers not convey to the White House the full contents of the interviews.

BERMAN: Let me tell you some of the things that the New York Times said that Don McGhan told investigators, the areas that were discussed, the president's comments and actions during James Comey firing. That's obviously a key area of interest. Trump's obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the probe, he always says, "Where's my Roy Cohn (ph). Why can't Sessions unrecuse himself."

And finally, the president's attempt to fire Special Counsel of Mueller, Don McGhan, in theory, could shed a lot of light on those things.

[07:10:00]

GONZALES: Sure. Again, because he is not a lawyer for Donald Trump, he is a government lawyer and you have obligation to cooperate and to tell the truth fully and completely and I have every expectation that Don McGahn was advised by his lawyers, in terms of his obligation as a government lawyer and cooperated fully.

And, you know, again, there is a possibility, there's not attorney client privilege, but there is a possibility of executive privilege to, not to personal criminal wrong doing, but related to conversations about, as a general matter of policy for example, but even in that situation, as I said earlier, the courts have been clear that executive privilege cannot overweight the pursuit of the administration of justice ...

BERMAN: Do you think, based on what you've seen over the last 18 months or so, that the president understands that the White House Counsel is not his personal attorney? GONZALES: It's hard for me to say. I don't know what kind of conversations have existed between Don McGahn and the president and by others and the president, so as to whether or not he fully understand that, I don't know.

I suspect that he -- that he -- well, that he should and he does and perhaps sometimes he forgets, but I'm very confident that Don McGahn has had those kinds of conversations, given what I know if Mr. McGahn.

BERMAN: So, you have talked about the integrity of the Special Counsel's investigation and I think you think that Bob Mueller should be allowed to go do his job. The president said some stuff over the weekend, attacking, once again, the Special Counsel investigation. I want to read you one of these statements.

The president says, "Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we're not in the period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby, rigged witch hunt."

Now, frankly, I wonder whether President Trump is such a student in McCarthyism that he can differentiate between early McCarthy and late McCarthy as if it's a like "Let It Be" Beatles album or something, late Beatles versus the early Beatles. But do you think it's fair to talk about the Mueller investigation, Mueller, who we have not heard a peep from in a year, to say that he's like Joe McCarthy?

GONZALES: I can't make that comparison and I -- what I can say is that, Bob Mueller was the FBI Director when I was the Attorney General and obviously I worked with Bob Mueller when I worked in the White House. I -- my experience is, he's a man of integrity. He's handled this investigation in an appropriate way.

Not talking about the investigation and so because interfered with our 2016 election, is going to interfere with this election, I think it's very important that we allow this investigation to move forward so we know we have a much better idea of the extent of what Russia did, so that we can defend against this kind of meddling in the future.

I've got confidence in Bob Mueller. I haven't seen anything yet that shakes that confidence and I hope that the investigation reaches it's ultimate conclusion.

BERMAN: No McCarthyism here, as far as you can see?

GONZALES: Not as far as I can see. No.

BERMAN: Let me as you about Rudy Giuliani, again, attorney, you're an attorney. His claim the truth isn't truth. Now Alisyn Camerota, charitably interprets that as being that people can have different versions, she's sitting here right next to me, different versions of the same story.

CAMEROTA: They're own truth.

BERMAN: But, in fact, isn't there a version of a truth that prosecutors will come down on or a jury will decide who's right based on the evidence?

GONZALES: There's no question about that. We know that something happened and people may have different perceptions of what happened, but something did happen and the question or the challenge for the prosecutor is to convince, ultimately, 12 jurors, in terms of, this is what happened and this version is more accurate with what happened, that version is not accurate with what actually happened, but clearly something happened and the question is, we need to find out what it was that actually happened.

BERMAN: All right, Alberto Gonzales, is in fact Alberto Gonzales and thanks so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

GONZALES: At least I laughed today. Thanks a lot.

CAMEROTA: Very clever John. I saw how you changed that for Alberto Gonzales.

BERMAN: I saw, also, how you were eating when I asked him the question, and could not weight in on ...

CAMEROTA: Yes, I noticed that. Yes, of course juries are tasked with trying to find their version of the truth, but it's beyond a reasonable doubt. Nobody -- no judge ever says, go find the truth, because they recognize that the truth is different for everyone.

BERMAN: To me it is not a controversial statement that truth is truth. That doesn't seem like a hard place to get to.

CAMEROTA: When I came in here this morning, I thought the studio felt really comfortable, you thought it was extremely cold, which one was the truth?

BERMAN: I think the temperature was 71 degrees.

CAMEROTA: Yes, aha. Fact.

BERMAN: That isn't about how you feel about it.

CAMEROTA: That are facts.

BERMAN: It's the question is, whether or not it ...

CAMEROTA: We experience the truth of the studio very differently. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

BERMAN: Then you immediately said, I need a drink because I'm so hot that I need a drink of water.

CAMEROTA: I'm parched.

BERMAN: I'm parched.

CAMEROTA: All right, we'll get more into the truth. What does President Trump think American's should be most worried about today? Here's a hint. It's not Russia. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:19:00]

CAMEROTA: "The New York Times" is reporting White House Counsel, Don McGahn, met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for nearly 30 hours over the past nine months. So, what did he disclose behind closed doors?

Let's discuss with Michigan's former Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm, she's a CNN Senior Political Commentator and Pennsylvania's former Republican Congressman, Charlie Dent, he's a CNN Political Commentator as well. Great to have both of you.

Charlie Dent, Congressman, you know Don McGahn. You know him to be an honest person and so, what do you think the upshot is of him talking to Robert Mueller's people for 30 hours?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure there is an upshot. Don McGahn, as I've said, I've known him for 15 years, he's an honorable guy, he's a good lawyer, he will tell the truth. And people should remember, that several months ago it was reported that the president ordered Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller and Don McGahn refused.

CAMEROTA: So theoretically, he will have to explain all of that to Robert Mueller's team. Exactly what the president said and what all the conversations were surrounding that moment.

DENT: Yes, one would think. And I always said the time, that Don McGahn did the country a great service by not firing Robert Mueller.

[07:20:00]

That would have set off a Saturday night massacre. Think Watergate, Archibald Cox being fired. So Don McGahn, he's got a strong character.

CAMEROTA: Governor, doesn't it suggest that President Trump is not worried about Don McGahn might share with Mueller's team that he says that he authorized Muellers to speak and, in fact, Mueller didn't - sorry. He authorized McGahn to speak to Mueller and McGahn didn't have to and, in fact, it's rather unconventional that McGahn has agreed to do this much talking to Mueller.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's certainly unconventional. One could argue that their truth is that it shows that the president has nothing to hide. One could also argue that it was not a good strategy to not invoke privilege and to wave it to -

CAMEROTA: Why?

GRANHOLM: - allow Don McGahn to testify because just exactly what you talked about. Because he's got all of this inside information at least to the case of obstruction. I mean, who knows what else that 30 hours contained. But if there is a charge brought about - based on obstruction and firing Comey, it is McGahn who's got first-hand testimony and eye witness to that.

He doesn't have probably the information in the campaign. I don't know, but it's certainly no the obstruction charge, I think it's really damaging and then whatever the fall out it, the conversation that have been had inside the White House subsequently that he's be privy to - related to Russia. I mean, all of that is extremely damaging potentially for the president.

CAMEROTA: Or exonerating. I mean, that's what Rudy Giuliani -

GRANHOLM: Potentially is. Well, I guess we'll find that out, right? Yes, I mean potentially.

CAMEROTA: Well and - yes. I mean, that's what - I'm just giving you their side of the story -

GRANHOLM: Sure.

CAMEROTA: - and it's true we don't know everything that he said during those 30 hours behind closed doors, but we know a little bit. The New York times reports that these are the things that he testified to: President Trump's comments and actions during James Comey's firing, head of the FBI; President Trump's obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the probe, including his repeated urging of Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to claim oversight of it; and President Trump's attempt to fire Special Council Mueller.

So Congressman, that's interesting. I mean, those are very interesting. It's also interesting to note that the New York Times reports that Don McGahn was very stunned that President Trump was going to let him testify and originally didn't want to until he felt somehow that he was being set up to maybe take the fall for some of these things. And then he decided he was going to go share what he knew.

DENT: Well, yes. I think - I'm really stunned that the administration didn't evoke executive privilege in this case because - you know, Don McGahn's a smart lawyer. He's cautious. I can't imagine he did this on his own. I'm sure he was pushed into this, so they have to give the White House some credit for trying to be somewhat transparent -

CAMEROTA: Transparent.

DENT: - but at the same time, they've exposed themselves to really a lot of risk.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's move on because over the weekend, Jennifer, the president tweeted that people who seem obsessed or even interested in Russian interference in the election should look elsewhere. They should actually be more concerned about China.

And then his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, seemed to echo those points, pointing at a lot of other possible culprits, not necessarily mentioning Russia. So listen to this moment of John Bolton.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL DEFENSE ADVISOR: I can say definitively that it's a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling, and North Korean meddling that we're taking steps to try and prevent it.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. So notably, he did not mention Russia, but that's what Martha Raddatz asked about, but should we be more concerned about China, and do you think that administration is looking at all of those things and combating them somehow?

GRANHOLM: If they were looking at all of them, then they would have urged the senators to fund additional funds for the states to be able to combat cyber attacks on our election system. We know that we've got an indictment that Mueller has issued regarding the Russians. So the fact that they continue to have this blind spot with respect to Russia is more evidence, to me, of guilt.

But nonetheless, even if you take them at their word, the states are not impervious and they don't care whether the attacks are coming from Russia or from North Korea or from China. They don't have the systems in place.

And there was a bill that Leahy introduced, an appropriation bill that was sent - that asked for more money, which the states had asked for to combat this. And in response, John Bolton just sends a letter to Congress saying, "oh, here's what we're doing," and didn't exhort the Republicans to vote for it.

[07:25:00]

So, you know, they can talk all they want about what all that they're doing, but if they're not helping the states, which is exactly where the elections are happening, then they are doing nothing to make sure that this doesn't happen again in 2018.

CAMEROTA: What do you think, Congressman? Are they doing enough regardless of where the interference is coming from?

DENT: Well, I'll tell you what. I know the states are doing a lot to protect themselves. Tomorrow, I'm going to be on a call with the University of Pittsburgh. They have a cyber security, election security taskforce that I'm part of.

GRANHOLM: Well, do they have enough money?

DENT: Do they have enough money? Well, we'll see. We're going to - we haven't gotten that far.

GRANHOLM: They're saying they don't.

DENT: Well, I mean, I suspect we're going to be discussing funding shortly, but we have a few meetings set up on this. And I'll tell you - but the threats, the threats. Of course, China, Iran, North Korea are really cyber threats to us.

You know, the Chinese are known for theft. The North Koreans and the Iranians and the Russians for attacks, so we have threats coming from everywhere. I can't speak to the extent to which those folks are meddling in our elections. We certainly know about the Russians, but it's a very real problem.

GRANHOLM: OK, very quickly -

CAMEROTA: Well, while I have you both, I just want to get this next because it's just come out. As you know, John Brennan's security clearance was revoked by the president, and now as of this morning, 175 more government officials or former government officials have spoken out about this. I'll read you just a portion of these national security officials' protest vote basically.

"All of us believe it is critical to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure, but we believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified view on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so. Our signatures below do not necessarily mean we concur with the opinions expressed by former CIA Director Brennan or the way in which he expressed them. What they do represent, however, is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views."

And Jennifer, names as familiar to our New Day audience as Tony Blinken, Nicholas Burns, et cetera are part of that 175. Your thoughts.

GRANHOLM: Bravo for them for standing up, and I would say - and I totally respect Congressman Dent's because he has been one that has stood up in the past against this administration. But where are the members of Congress, the Republicans who would be standing up because if the president follows through on his hit list - I mean, it's ironic that he calls the Mueller probe a McCarthyite type of probe when he's got his own hit list, and these - what these individuals are saying is that do not politicize the intelligence process. And we need to make sure that America is safe and the Republicans in Congress cannot be simply yes men to this president in the case of him politicizing the powers that he has as president to revoke security clearances.

This is a crisis. It is a crisis inside of government and outside of government if this president is allowed to use his powers to punish those who disagree with him when they are out of service.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, very quickly, where are Republicans in Congress to answer Jennifer's question?

DENT: Well, I think it's important that you reach out, you talk to people like Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent. I'm sure he's alarmed by this. These voices should not be silenced, they won't be silenced, and it's in our national security interest that the current CIA director and the national director of intelligence have the ability to talk to these folks and get their guidance and their wisdom and their considered judgment on these national security matters. It's important for the country.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer Granholm, Charlie Dent, thank you both very much -

GRANHOLM: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: - for all of our experience. John -

BERMAN: Thanks, Alisyn. Pope Francis breaks his silence on the decades long priest abuse scandal of Pennsylvania. What the pontiff now says about the cover-up, that's next.

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