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WSJ: Trump Saw McCain Coverage as 'Over the Top'; Giuliani: Trump Legal Team Hasn't Heard from Mueller in 3 Weeks. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 07:00   ET


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain.

[07:00:07] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: He fought the good fight. He kept the faith. And he never gave up the ship.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Four decades of public life could not warp his fidelity to the unvarnished truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, "I've had a hell of a life. It couldn't have been any better. It's OK to go."

RICK DAVIS, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR JOHN MCCAIN: Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY, with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We will read more of Senator McCain's final words there in that letter that he wanted released after his death.


CAMEROTA: Very. So good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

This morning, the flag at the White House has been lowered back to half-staff in honor of Senator John McCain's passing. So why the back and forth and up and down?

Well, this morning we have new details about why President Trump initially refused to praise Senator McCain or even mention that he was a six-term senator and Republican presidential nominee and a POW who endured five and a half years of captivity and torture.

"The Wall Street Journal" reports the president felt the television coverage of McCain's passing was, quote, "over the top" and more befitting a president. But President Trump did ultimately cave to pressure from Congress, veterans' groups, and members of his own staff.

So yesterday afternoon he released a statement saying he respects McCain's service to the country and ordered the flag to remain at half-staff until McCain is buried. The president also appeared on camera last night saying he appreciated, quote, "everything McCain has done for the country."

BERMAN: We'll play that for you in a little bit.

Also getting new details about the ceremonies to honor John McCain. His colleagues in the Senate remembered him, draping his desk in black, placing white flowers on that desk. We know former presidents Obama and Bush will deliver eulogies. The president also has asked Vice President Mike Pence to make remarks at the Capitol memorial.

But this morning, the focus is in a letter read by long-time aide Rick Davis, McCain encouraged Americans to unite around the ideals that connect them, rather than focus on divisions. And in a pretty clear rebuke on the president, McCain asked Americans to tear down walls rather than build them.

Let's bring in Michael Bender, the White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" who broke the story about the president's apparent disgust with the TV coverage of Senator McCain's death and his change over to praising him.

Mike, thanks so much for being here. So, let's talk about the chronology of how this all happened.

The president started the day yesterday. It sounds like pretty dug in that he didn't want to say anything particularly nice about John McCain. Then what happened?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, that's right. It was the second day that White House officials were trying to urge him to say some kind words about former Senator McCain and to sign this proclamation that would keep the flags lowered for more than just the two days that are required under the flag code.

And then the -- as you mentioned earlier, the president saw the wall- to-wall coverage of his decision. And I was in the White House yesterday. He repeated -- he refused repeated attempts to say something nice about John McCain, which just fueled the coverage, on a day when the White House thought it had some pretty good news to share which was an agreement, a trade agreement in principle with Mexico.

Finally, it was, from what I'm told, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders who stayed on the president and repeatedly urged him to sign this proclamation and wasn't until yesterday afternoon that the flag was lowered after it had been raised earlier in the day.

CAMEROTA: OK. So that's very interesting, Mike, about Sarah Sanders being instrumental. To be honest, some people in the media and the public often question what her influence is and her role is and if she does have any powers of persuasion over the president.


CAMEROTA: So, can you tell us more about your reporting, that it was really she more than chief of staff John Kelly, more than the VFW influence, that had also called the president?

BENDER: That's what my reporting is. And it was -- it was -- Sarah is in the room quite a bit. She's become a trusted adviser to the president. I'd be careful to say anyone has influence over the president, right? This is a White House that is clearly run on the president's decision making; and no one is really making decisions in there other than him.

But you know, in the year or so that Sarah has been press secretary and has had a lot more of a communications role than a lot of her predecessors, she's in the room quite a bit. We see her at the table in -- during cabinet meetings. She's become very influential with the president.

And I think the other thing to remember here, too, is she was pretty outspoken on Senator McCain's passing, as well, and retweeting a note from Senator McCain's daughter. Sarah, of course, is a daughter of a prominent politician. So I think she sees, you know, some parallels there and appreciates how a father is treated in politics.

[07:05:15] So, I think she was -- she had a -- she had a very clear focus and understanding of what this moment meant and repeatedly expressed that to the president over the last couple of days.

CAMEROTA: I want to read just a portion of that statement that finally came out by President Trump after so much pressure. Here's the beginning of it: "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his internment."

It's not typical sort of Trumpian language and syntax --


CAMEROTA: -- if Twitter is any indication. Who crafted that statement?

BENDER: It's a good question. I'm told that those are the president's words. You know, I think there is some light editing that goes on in the White House with all of these statements, but he is very -- he's very involved in these statements and dictates almost all of them that come out under his name.

And again, I'm told by several people that this, again, is his -- is his statement. You know, I mean, and he's -- to the point where the punctuation in this statement is where he wanted it. The commas and the periods are at the order of the president on this statement.

CAMEROTA: That's very interesting, because sometimes his punctuation is questionable.

BENDER: Unique, yes.

CAMEROTA: Unique on Twitter. But also, just that, I mean, what I believe you're reporting is that he felt very strongly about starting with "Despite our differences on policy and politics." He didn't want to gloss over that they had a lot of differences and, in fact, acrimony. He wanted to start with that --


CAMEROTA: -- and then go into the kinder part of the statement.

BENDER: Yes. I think there's -- I mean, there's no ignoring that. And that's part of the problem or part of the reason, at least, that this took two days to get done. And, you know, I mean, the -- the battles between the president and Senator McCain weighed very heavily on the president's mind, even in -- even in death.

CAMEROTA: OK. Mike Bender, thank you very much for sharing your reporting with us.

BENDER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting.

BERMAN: All right. Let's get reaction. Once again, David Gregory joins us, as well as senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and CNN political analyst, Margaret Talev. Also new Harvard fellow Margaret Talev. We wanted to congratulate --


BERMAN: I wanted to congratulate you. Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: I was like, "Harvard, Harvard, Harvard." You know? We get enough of that.

BERMAN: It was important to me --


BERMAN: -- to say congratulations. Man of the people, David Gregory, joining us from Nantucket.

Margaret, I want to ask you --

GREGORY: I am in Washington, D.C., this morning.

BERMAN: All right. Thank God you got the private jet down there.

Margaret, I want to ask you, because you and your Bloomberg colleagues, they were on the phone. You guys were on the phone all yesterday learning the reaction, I think, from voters out there, from people to what was going on. And you got a sense of the pressure that the president must have felt by yesterday afternoon.

TALEV: Yes. I mean, my colleagues on the Hill and our White House team reaching out to congressional offices as part of trying to understand what was happening. And these offices were being flooded by complaints from voters, who were very upset at the way the president had handled things and about the flag issue. And then of course you saw what happened with veterans' organizations,

including the American Legion. When you have veterans' organizations going out of their way to put the president in a box and Republican congressional offices being flooded with phone calls, you have a problem. And it is a problem that the White House aides had seen coming for days all throughout the weekend.

I was in the pool vans over the weekend while the president was in Virginia at his golf club and just waiting for that official White House statement. Why hasn't the White House statement come yet? And we began to understand yesterday kind of the etymology of why this had become so complicated, and yet, how clear the pressure was for the president to just set the tensions aside and do what would normally be done for a lawmaker of this sort of VIP national status.

CAMEROTA: Yes. David Gregory, it doesn't take a crystal ball to see this one coming. I mean, of course the American Legion; of course constituent. John McCain was in, in some ways, a class of his own, you know? He was not your everyday senator that might squabble with the president.

And the fact that the president was so terribly tone-deaf on this. I mean, sometimes his instincts, obviously, are right on and appeal to voters in a really deep way; and sometimes, they're off kilter. And so yesterday was one of those. And it is fascinating to see behind the scenes how many people had to appeal to him to say something kind about John McCain.

GREGORY: Right. Well, look, this is just a self-imposed controversy, a self-imposed mistake once again, born out of the president's insecurity, his self-indulgence with regard to his temper.

[07:10:08] And it shows you how he went out of his way to ignore his top aides, who said, you know, "You can't do this. You've got to -- you've got to do the right thing here," because it's not about him. It's about the presidency. The office of the presidency requires, you are duty bound to honor a figure like John McCain, whose service to the country, whose patriotism, whose statesman-like qualities are, in many ways, presidential as the president complained about, because he was a towering figure in the Senate and in our national life. He was the Republican nominee for president. So all of those things are so obvious.

And you know, here is the other thing. The president didn't have to diminish the fact that they didn't agree. And he's not going to be seen as a sell-out by his stalwart supporters by -- by being gracious in McCain's death. It's what's required of our national life. It's what we, you know, aspire to see in our national leaders that they can show some level of decorum and graciousness, especially in these moments.

BERMAN: Let's play what he finally did say last night at the White House. He with a meeting of evangelical leaders, at a dinner that had been planned for some time. And finally, two and a half days later, the president finally said this.


TRUMP: Also, our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain. There will be a lot of activity over the next number of days. And we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country.


BERMAN: There it is. Really should not have been so hard. Those were the president's words, finally, last night. And now we can focus on John McCain's words, the words that he chose to leave behind with his long-time aide, Rick Davis. I want to play those for a moment.


DAVIS: We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred, and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.


BERMAN: John McCain wanted to tell us something, Margaret. And it's not subtle.

TALEV: Yes. It was almost an eerie feeling to hear from the senator sort of beyond the grave, but he -- he seemed to want to have those words prepared, just in case he needed to -- to say them after the fact; and the events of the last few days have proved that out.

So I know this has been, politically, a frustrating time for the president, but this isn't really a time that's about the president. This is a time that's about a major political figure's, you know, six decades in public service and -- and that is the message that he wanted to leave Americans with.

GREGORY: You know, it's interesting. Mark Salter, who collaborated on all of Senator McCain's books and was a trusted aide, speech writer for him, he wrote a piece in tribute to him in which he said, in part, "McCain was romantic about his causes and cynical about the world."


GREGORY: And that is such a poignant line, because that really does capture McCain, whose words that you just played, yes, they were a rebuke of Trump, but really they were bigger. They were a rebuke of the populist politics that are coursing the globe in parts of Europe and, certainly, in Russia and even here, in the rise of Donald Trump and the populism on the left and the right that fueled him.

So it makes it striking, and it also is a window into the fact that McCain himself, you know, gave some room to this kind of populism when he elevated Sarah Palin, who became a kind of canary in the coal mine for the populism in the U.S., a decision he regretted to make her his running mate.

So he has been on these -- these fault lines of American politics in the conservative movement and the Republican Party for a long time. Often unpopular, certainly a maverick, certainly independent. And he -- and he had his final words on all of that in death.

CAMEROTA: Those words: "Let's not confuse our patriotism for tribal rivalries."

TALEV: It's a very specific messaging, you're right.

CAMEROTA: It really is. I mean, and he says it in such a succinct, I think, effective way.

So Margaret, what does this unfortunate episode teach us and tell us? What do we take away from this? That the president can be, ultimately, cajoled into doing the right thing? That Sarah Sanders has more, perhaps, influence than we -- we sometimes give her credit for? I mean, what do you, inside Washington, think this means for the next time something like this happens?

TALEV: There won't be a next time for -- for Senator John McCain and somebody like that. He was one of a kind. But I think heading into these midterms, we see this really is another test for the Republican Party.

[07:15:02] And this is a test because of the involvement of so many American veterans, such a cross-section of voters that has played out a little bit differently. It is a test of how the Republican leadership and establishment pushes back when the president crosses the line. And on this test, you saw an outspokenness, a more direct response than I think we have in the past.

GREGORY: Can I just say, too --

BERMAN: Hang on one second. Because we're just getting some fresh sound that I'm going to want you to react to. No one, no one, period, I think, is closer to Senator McCain, other than his family, than Lindsey Graham. And he just spoke out about the last few days and had this to say.

Let's listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's talk about John. It is all over now. The flag is down. When the president mentioned John, he got applause. I hope he'll remember how people feel about John.

John Kelly, the chief of staff, has been terrific. He's reached out to Cindy, the entire family -- John has seven children and a bunch of grandchildren -- and says, "What can I do to help?" The president told General Kelly whatever they need, they get.

So let's look forward. Clearly, they had a tentious [SIC] relationship, but I'll make -- he's not the only one to have a tense relationship with John McCain.


BERMAN: First of all, our hearts go out to Lindsey Graham, because he really did lose a true friend. And I know it's got to be hard for him.

Second of all, David, I think that he is saying -- expressing disappointment in his own way over the last few days, because he would have rather have seen even more of the focus been on his dear friend.

GREGORY: Yes. Well, I think that's right, and I think there's been plenty of focus on it. I don't think Senator Graham has to worry about that.

But I don't know. I think it's -- what Margaret was saying before, kind of the test, we're going to hear from President Obama, we'll hear from President George W. Bush. These were rivals of McCain. And they'll be a reminder about a kind of politics that shouldn't slip away.

You know, John McCain, as an establishment figure, even in his maverick status, was not always right with the Republican Party; and the party has moved toward Trump. And that's where we are today. Politics do change.

But the ability to respect one another, to respect differences, to mend fences and to have a kind of elegance at the national level. You know, you think about when the presidents, who are part of a club, this exclusive club, get together for the opening of a presidential library, it's a moment where they celebrate each other, because they uniquely know how difficult the job is and they know what the demands are, the duties of public life.

McCain understood that. I think Trump does not always understand that. And I think that is a test. Do not let the decorum slip away that we have in our national life. It will be on display when we hear from George W. Bush and Obama, who went toe to toe with McCain in a pretty tough way.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, Margaret Talev, thank you very much.

So Rudy Giuliani says that he has not heard from Robert Mueller's team in three weeks. What does that mean? Is Robert Mueller about to make an announcement of some kind? Our legal experts, and they are experts, namely Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Toobin, will debate this.


[07:22:09] CAMEROTA: According to Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's legal team has not heard from Robert Mueller's office in nearly three weeks. What does that mean? Giuliani continues his P.R. push to force Mueller to show his hand by Labor Day, citing a goal of September 1 to end the investigation.

Joining us now to discuss all of this, we have CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin; and Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of "The Case Against Impeaching Trump." Gentlemen, great to have both of you.

Professor Dershowitz, I want to begin with you. What do you think it means that the Trump legal team has not heard from Robert Mueller in three weeks? Do you think that that means they are preparing a subpoena?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: I do. I think they're gearing up for what will be a difficult legal battle. I suspect they've come to the same conclusion I came to several weeks ago, that the tactic of the Trump team -- I have no inside information on this -- but the tactic of the Trump team is to make the Mueller team an offer they can't accept so that, in the end, there will be no sit-down; and the Trump team can say, "Look, we made them an offer. It's their fault. They didn't accept it."

I suspect that Mueller is onto this tactic and is now looking forward to filing some kind of a legal action compelling the president to appear in front of a grand jury. You can't compel the president to sit down with the special counsel, but you can compel him to come in front of a grand jury.


DERSHOWITZ: The president will respond with all kind of legal tactics.


DERSHOWITZ: And the courts will ultimately decide.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, do you agree?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think by and large, I agree with that. I think we are heading towards a subpoena. I don't understand why Mueller is taking such a long time to deal with this. I mean, I think --

CAMEROTA: Because they were negotiating. I mean, according to even Giuliani, there was a back and forth. Letters were being sent, that there was still, at least, the dance that the president was going to possibly sit down.

TOOBIN: I understand that, but you know, they have been exchanging letters at this very stately pace. You know, if you tell a lawyer to write a -- write a letter, they can do it overnight. I mean, the legal arguments here are pretty well known to both sides. I mean, this is not the world's most complicated legal subject.

Can the president be subpoenaed? What's the scope of questioning? Where should the -- I mean, these are not the world's most complicated stories.

CAMEROTA: Right. But you think that they have hit an impasse. That these -- do these three weeks of silence, according to Rudy Giuliani, represent to you there's an impasse and the next thing we will see is a subpoena?

TOOBIN: I think there be more negotiating. I think they are still, you know, going back and forth. And frankly, I think this whole thing may be pushed past the midterms at this rate.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about --

TOOBIN: The whole issue of the subpoena.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that, Professor Dershowitz. Because as you know, Rudy Giuliani, at least, has an end date that he thinks or he has even suggested that Mueller has sort of tacitly agreed to or at least privately; and that is kind of around Labor Day, that after Labor Day or after September 1, it does start to cloud the midterms.

[07:25:10] So do you think that -- that Mueller agrees with that and that we will see some action before Labor Day?

DERSHOWITZ: I think we could see some action before Labor Day. What I don't think we can any longer see is a full-scale report, which will be very critical of President Trump, issued between now and the election.

The Justice Department regulations and traditions, particularly in light of what Comey did during the 216 election, make it, I think, very clear that this special counsel, Mueller, does not want to be seen as or accused of having a thumb on the scale of this election at all.

CAMEROTA: But what about this week? What about this week before Labor Day? Are we still within the window where it would be timely and appropriate?

DERSHOWITZ: I don't think so. I don't think so, because what we're talking about is a report. It takes enormous amount of time to issue a report, to roll it out. I think that we may see within this week some legal maneuvers and legal actions, but an end of this investigation and a report between now and Labor Day, I doubt that very much.

TOOBIN: What's happening? I agree with every word Alan is saying. It's like old times, Alan.

DERSHOWITZ: Because I'm independent, and you know -- I'm independent and I say it as I see it.

TOOBIN: You know, I think there is going to be nothing -- no report from Mueller before the election.

First place, the subpoena is related to the report. I mean, he would want to include what the president said in the report.

CAMEROTA: Yes. If he issues a subpoena, there will be no report. But if he decided against a subpoena --

DERSHOWITZ: Or -- CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead, professor.

DERSHOWITZ: That could -- that could be in the report. I mean, he could say, "Look, we've given the president every opportunity to sit down. He's declined every opportunity. The public should infer from that what we have inferred from it, namely that the president is unwilling to sit down with us."

The Trump team will then say, "No, no, no, no, no. We made every offer. Every offer was reasonable. Look at our letters." They'll put their letters out there. And there will be a dispute in the court of public opinion as to whose fault it was that the president didn't sit down. But that's a victory for President Trump, because it turns into a political, rather than a legal conflict; and the president benefits when it's blue/red, rather than red, white and red legal. And I think that's been part of the strategy of the -- of the Trump team right from the time that Giuliani joined it.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, according to people who've worked with Mueller, he is a by-the-book guy. He's not looking to set some new precedent. He's not looking to break convention. The way "The New York Times" described it this weekend, Mueller is required to only send a short, confidential summary of his investigations to Rosenstein. A less flashy finale suits Mueller. He likes letting documents do the talking. And as a prosecutor and FBI director, colleagues said he regularly excised hyperbole or flourish from his prepared public comments.

Where is the fun in that, No. 1? And No. 2, is that what's going to happen, just a short summary to Rosenstein, and he won't release a public report?

TOOBIN: I really doubt that it will just be a short summary. It may not have a lot of adjectives in it. It may be supported by underlying documents and testimony. But I think the -- the facts of what he discovered will be laid out.

CAMEROTA: This will not be a Ken Starr-like report?

TOOBIN: No, it will not be the -- have dirty parts in it.

DERSHOWITZ: The other thing he can't include --

TOOBIN: What? I'm sorry, Alan.

DERSHOWITZ: The only thing it can't include either, it can't include grand jury information. That's still secret under the rules of the federal courts. And so he's going to have to work around not disclosing to the public what testimony occurred in front of grand juries. That's going to be --

TOOBIN: That's a very --

DERSHOWITZ: -- a difficult task for him.

TOOBIN: That's a very interesting question. It's not out of the question that he might try to get some order from the court, allowing him to use the grand jury material.

But the issue of what can be included in the report, whether it's grand jury material or material covered by executive privilege. That is sort of an issue that's hanging out there that I don't think many people have thought about yet.


TOOBIN: It's not just that this report will be written. It's that what can be included in it and who, if anyone, will object to it before it comes out.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, there is at this moment where you're both agreeing and we'll just end on this, which is you both agree there will not be a report before the election and that we could see a subpoena this week?

DERSHOWITZ: And we're probably both going to be wrong. There's something going on here.

TOOBIN: Yes. I was -- I thought -- I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the last election, so that just shows what I know.

CAMEROTA: All right. Then give me these five minutes of my life back. Thank you, Professor Dershowitz, Jeffrey Toobin. Thank you very much -- John.

BERMAN: Something is clearly wrong here. When Toobin and Dershowitz agree, we are in for something.


BERMAN: There is major news in itself --

CAMEROTA: Prominent.

BERMAN: -- there, but something is going to happen next.

All right. Does Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, want to save Donald Trump? A former Trump biographer who's just written this fascinating new book in my hands that's going to raise a lot of questions. He joins us next.