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Trump Announces White House Counsel to Leave Soon; 'NYT': Trump & Cohen Wanted to Buy Decades of Dirt from 'National Enquirer'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 07:00   ET



RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: It has everything to do with whether or not we want Florida to to go in a good direction.

[07:00:04] ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: He's apparently given up the whistle. They've gone to the bullhorn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're grateful to have been gathered here today to honor the life and memory of John Sidney McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's really inspirational. He was always in touch with what was happening around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain believed in America.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CO-HOST: And good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, a close friend, though unnamed, of the White House tells "The Washington Post," quote, "winter is coming."

JOHN BERMAN, CO-HOST: Not Ned Stark in this case.

CAMEROTA: No, not yet. But we still don't know who said this, but it sounds very ominous. The new concerns coming as the president officially announced White House counsel Don McGahn would be leaving the White House soon. So the biggest fear in the West Wing is that the president's legal team will not be prepared for a flood of subpoenas or congressional committee hearings, the potential for the start of an impeachment process, if Democrats take over the House in the midterm elections.

BERMAN: This is all happening as the president is losing a key member of his legal team. There are growing signs that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will soon be shown the door. "Politico" reports that President Trump has spent the last 10 days lobbying Republican senators to flip on his own attorney general. And there are indications it's working, as a few powerful senators -- Lindsey Graham, for instance -- seem to be taking the president's side.

CAMEROTA: OK. Joining us now to discuss that and much more is former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Good morning, Anthony.


CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. Thanks so much for being with us. Are you concerned that Don McGahn is leaving the White House?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, I'm not concerned. I mean, these are, like, super high-pressure jobs, and he spent four -- I'd say 19, 20 months in the White House.

He has a sterling record. I would -- I would ask your viewers to look at the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board piece this morning. I mean, he put together 32 appellate court judges. You've got two Supreme Court nominees, Kavanaugh likely getting confirmed before the end of this year.


SCARAMUCCI: And when you think about what Don did, it's -- it's an amazing achievement in that short period of time.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Listen, the question -- hold on, Anthony. I just want to clarify something.


CAMEROTA: The question isn't does he have sterling credentials? The question is, are you worried that, without him, something bad will happen in the White House. And the reason I ask, because you sound a lot more sanguine than some lawmakers. So let me just give our viewers and you some of the warning that top Republicans are issuing today.

So this comes from Senator McConnell, majority leader, of course. He says, "Don is the most impressive White House counsel during my time in Washington, and I've known them all. His departure from the White House, whenever that may be, would be a big loss for the Trump administration and the country."

Senator Grassley puts an even finer point on it: "To Donald Trump, I hope it's not true. McGahn is leaving as White House counsel? You can't let that happen."

Why do they sound so alarmed?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I think in Senator Grassley's case it really does have to do with the nomination to the judges. I mean, he's -- not to use baseball analogies, but he's an unbelievable scout in terms of picking judges. I mean, they've totally -- and totally transformed the judicial system for the next generation and possibly more. Could be 30, 40 years.

But specifically to the White House, I think the alarm bells go off every time somebody leaves, and the president keeps chugging along. I mean, he's got a great situation happening now with NAFTA. The economy is booming. All of these statistics that you would look at in terms of judging a president have been phenomenally good.


SCARAMUCCI: What people are looking at in terms of the gossip, the intrigue, the internecine fighting, now there's speculation that he's done something wrong, which you know, listen, we haven't been able to uncover any specific thing that the president has done wrong.

CAMEROTA: I understand.

SCARAMUCCI: You asked me a question. I answered the question.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that. But I think that there's a third option that you're ignoring, and it's -- it's that people are worried that there is a coming legal storm, and that Don McGahn should stay for that.

So I'm referring, of course, to "The Washington Post" reporting today which says, quote, "'Winter is coming,' said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it's like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody's prepared for war."

SCARAMUCCI: Listen, I -- listen, I didn't last very long, but it was those sort of anonymous quotes and things like that that we used to find to be completely outrageous.

So if I was trying to ignore it, Alisyn, you would never let me ignore it on your show, so let's talk about it. What is the winter that is coming that the anonymous source is suggesting?

CAMEROTA: Well, what that -- I mean --

SCARAMUCCI: That they will subpoena the president?


SCARAMUCCI: Whether Avenatti's going to have the opportunity to get the president to testify under oath --

CAMEROTA: I suppose, yes, yes.

SCARAMUCCI: -- about the Stormy Daniels situation? Let's --


SCARAMUCCI: Let's unpack. So let's --

CAMEROTA: And the midterms -- OK, hold on, there's a third thing. Let me unpack it.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. CAMEROTA: The third thing. And that if Democrats win the midterms and take the House, that there will be more investigations, more congressional committees, more questioning.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. So I -- of the three things we're talking about, the third would be the most concerning to me. Because what will end up happening is -- and I do agree with that. If the Democrats do win the House, they will will tie up the administration in tons of investigations. Unfortunately, that's the stuff about Washington the American people really don't like.

And they do it to both sides. I mean, both sides are, in my opinion, should be indicted for that issue of slowing each other down and creating unnecessary havoc. So I'm not just picking on the Democrats here as it relates to that.

CAMEROTA: I know you're not, but you're saying unnecessary havoc. Some people would say justice.

SCARAMUCCI: Some people would say justice. I've seen the "Miller time" placards. I obviously have a Twitter account. I know that there are people out there that don't like the president, and they'd like to see the president removed from office.

But what are they pointing to? He has to have done something criminal. He then has to have the House, 50 percent of them -- 51 percent of them vote for it, and then two-thirds of the Senate.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand. We're not going full impeachment.

SCARAMUCCI: If you guys think that's going to happen -- no, I understand that, but if you guy think that that -- I don't think that impeachment is going to happen to the president. Are they going to try to hobble or cripple his administration? They absolutely will. The Republicans tried to do that to President Clinton in the second term of his White House.

CAMEROTA: Yes. OK. I understand, but the question is -- yes --

SCARAMUCCI: I think, to me, speaking as a typical American -- go ahead.

CAMEROTA: The question is is the White House --

SCARAMUCCI: I just think it's a bunch of nonsense, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I know. I'm so sorry for the satellite. Because we're not in the studio together, I know it sounds like we're talking over each other, and we don't mean to. But the point is, is the White House prepared for that?

By getting rid of Don McGahn, is there a sense that they are sort of, you know, whistling "Dixie" while all of this unfolds around him? And that the president and his aides are not worried for winter coming?

SCARAMUCCI: So what we both know about Don McGahn is that his job is really specific to the White House, the Constitution, the American people. Sure, he serves the president, but he's not really there as defense counsel for the president or the president's advocate.

So I don't think that that's going to be an issue. I think the president is well-staffed with. I know they talked about Emmett Flood. He could be a possible replacement for Don. He's got close ties to the Democratic Party, and he's an incredibly bright guy.

And so, as I like Don McCain and I think he's very, very talented, there are other people inside the president's roster, if you will, that he could pick from that could replace Don McGahn.

Are they going to do as good of a job on judicial appointments? Maybe Mitch McConnell is going to be right about that. But in general, he can draw from the talent across the Republican Party--


SCARAMUCCI: -- and frankly some Democrats who would love to work inside the White House. So I'm less concerned about it.

But I'm also less concerned about the president having done something wrong.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

SCARAMUCCI: So if you invite me back on the day that he's done something wrong, you can you can dunk me in the Southampton studio or whatever or wherever

CAMEROTA: I like this offer, we will take you up on that.

SCARAMUCCI: I have been -- unfortunately, dunked before, I'm happy to do it if he's done something wrong.

CAMEROTA: Duly noted. OK moving on, what do you think is going to happen with Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

SCARAMUCCI: You know, that's a tougher one, Alisyn. Because I think the president is super sore at the attorney general. The attorney general, I think, is trying to do a good job. I like Attorney General Sessions. The recusal is really the thing that the president is most sore on. Had -- had Attorney General Sessions not recused himself from the investigation, I don't think there would have been this bee swarm around him.


SCARAMUCCI: So my guess is, is that you're at the point now where, if the president is flipping senators, Attorney General Sessions is probably going to get let go as a result of that.

Now, am I OK with that? It's up to the president. At the end of the day, the president is making these personnel decisions. He asked me to come and serve. Eleven days later, I was told not to. He's the president of the United States. It was an honor to serve for the 11 days.

Attorney General Sessions, if he's asked to leave, he'll leave graciously. I think he's a good guy.

CAMEROTA: And when do you -- I'm just curious --

SCARAMUCCI: I will remind the president that when he needed him, He was the first sitting senator to endorse the president.

[07:10:00] CAMEROTA: We remember. We remember that, and he doesn't seem to have been that rewarded for that early endorsement, in terms of what's happening now and the public feud that they're in. When do you think the president would pull that trigger if he were to get rid of Jeff Sessions?

SCARAMUCCI: I mean, the speculation is that he would pull the trigger after the midterms. So I mean -- I don't see any reason why he would have any severe personnel changes prior to the midterms, even in Don's case. He's going to be leaving after the Kavanaugh nomination is confirmed.

So I don't see any reason to do anything in a rush. But again, it's going to be up to the president. But here's -- here's the thing I would say, and I've said this on your air before. I went to law school with Rod Rosenstein. We sat in the same section together. I know that there's a cabal on the right that says nasty things about Rod. I see the guy as a very honorable guy and a guy that's really just trying to uphold the law impartially. I've said that from the beginning. I've told the president that specifically.

CAMEROTA: And what was his response when you told him?

SCARAMUCCI: And I've known Rod for 33 years. As it relates to --

CAMEROTA: Because it seems like he's not always as respondent --

SCARAMUCCI: It was right around Easter. Well, no, I think he's sore about the entire investigation. We have to remember, I'm not the person that they're making these accusations about. You know, if they were making accusations about me and I knew I didn't do anything wrong, I would probably be emotionally charged about that.

And so -- so I understand why the president is emotionally charged about it, but if you're asking me to evaluate somebody, I have a reasonably good track record of evaluating people, given the fact that I've run reasonably successful businesses.


SCARAMUCCI: I've known Rod for 33 years, and I think he's an impartial Justice Department member. So that's me. That's my personal view of him.

CAMEROTA: OK. And you --

SCARAMUCCI: But as it relates to Jeff Sessions -- CAMEROTA: Yes, but hold -- yes, well, finish your thought.

SCARAMUCCI: As it relates to Jeff Sessions, I don't like the fact that they've been feuding. They got along great during the campaign. They got along great in the beginning.

But if you were talking to the president, he would probably say the reason that they're feuding is they did not want Jeff to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.

CAMEROTA: yes, understood.

SCARAMUCCI: He wanted him in there.

CAMEROTA: Yes. He's been --

SCARAMUCCI: Because he felt that he would be somebody that would look at the thing fairly as opposed to, quote unquote, "friends of James Comey" looking at the thing.

CAMEROTA: Well, yes, I mean, look, Anthony, the president has also said that he expected loyalty from Jeff Sessions. And he's been very clear that he is very miffed about the recusal.

But I want to move on to something that you tweeted about John McCain. As you know, the memorials for him continue. And you tweeted this. "Our flag is at half-staff. Honoring a veteran like Senator John McCain should be above politics and personal grievance."

Were you disappointed with the delay in the president lauding John McCain in what seemed like for about two days of personal grievance?

SCARAMUCCI: Yes, listen I'm not surprised by it, but I'm disappointed. I would disagree with it. And I think that the smartest advisors around the president, the ones that like him the most would tell him the truth about something like this.

You can't take a veteran like John McCain, five and a half years in the Hanoi prison, all the things that he's done for the country, even if you dislike him, you dislike him personally, you dislike the things he said about you, as the commander in chief of the United States -- and me personally, I have travelled, Alisyn, to Afghanistan and Iraq on troop support missions. And I've been all over the world with the American military and the American Navy. It's a slap to all of the veterans.

And I ultimately think, whether it was General Kelly or others inside the White House, they encouraged the president to change his point of view on this thing, because it's a slap to the veterans.

Forget about Senator McCain for one second. Sometimes the symbolism coming out of the Oval Office and the White House is for all Americans. And so what I would encourage the president to think about, even though you're in partisan squabbles, and sometimes there's intraparty or internecine fights inside the party, John McCain was a veteran. He served the country with distinction. CAMEROTA: Yes.

SCARAMUCCI: He's a war hero and whether he was captured or not it doesn't really make a difference. He is a war hero, and you have to honor him the way you would honor other veterans in the United States military.


SCARAMUCCI: So I'm very, very happy that they switched that decision. And so, yes, I put my flag at half-staff, and I encouraged other people to do so, as well.


SCARAMUCCI: And I'm glad the White House did it.

CAMEROTA: So Anthony, quickly, I don't know if you heard what Congressman Ron DeSantis, who's now a nominee for Florida governor, said yesterday about his opponent, Andrew Gillum. Let me play this for you and our viewers.


DESANTIS: We've got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let's build off the success we've had on Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.


CAMEROTA: What did you hear there, Anthony?

[07:15:05] SCARAMUCCI: I heard a political gaffe. And so, you know, did it on live television --

CAMEROTA: Did you hear a racist statement?

SCARAMUCCI: -- and I don't know -- So, so, I know you heard a racist statement, and I know a lot of people heard a racist statement. So it doesn't really matter what I heard. If people think that that's a racist statement, I would recommend to Ron DeSantis that he gets out immediately, he walks it back, he offers up an apology, and he moves on.

I unfortunately have a big mouth, which you obviously know. It's why I get invited on TV. And I have sometimes said things that I regret and wish I could take back. One of the problems with words, once they leave your mouth and they end up on that videotape, they're there forever. So I've said things that I regret. I wish I could have taken certain things back in my life.

CAMEROTA: I understand. But why do you think he hasn't apologized?

SCARAMUCCI: I'm telling Ron --

CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead. What are you telling him?

SCARAMUCCI: Because that's what -- that's what these guys do. They don't apologize. They don't like apologizing, because they think it's a sign of weakness. You can point to many, many politicians and many political consultants say, "Hey, don't apologize, because you know, listen, now you'll look super weak. And you know, you can't walk anything back if you said something stupid."

And so the average American is scratching their head at that. I mean, we learned in, like, sometime in the second grade if you didn't do the right thing you offer up an apology.

So to me when people apologize, it moves faster. The news cycle moves faster, the hurt feelings go away, and people will recognize -- I think each of us recognize that we're fallible human beings and we're capable of doing things wrong. And we're capable of doing things that we regret.

I cannot imagine Ron DeSantis -- and I know him personally, I've met him more than one time -- being super happy with himself that he used that statement. We're in a racially-charged environment, unfortunately. There is an ideological divide in the country. And so people are going to use that statement against him. And other people that are these ridiculous white nationalists are going to rally behind it, which I also think is ridiculous.

And so I would like him to walk it back and move forward. Let's make the battle in Florida about ideas, Alisyn --


SCARAMUCCI: -- and where Florida is going over the next four years, as opposed to this sort of nonsense.

CAMEROTA: Do you think -- Anthony, do you think that there's something about President Trump's loaded racial language that gives a pass to some of his supporters or candidates like this?

SCARAMUCCI: See, I know where you're going with that. That's the whole fish stinks from the head down thing, meaning he says certain things, and so therefore, it's opening up a pathway for other people to say certain things.

So I don't like everything that the president says. Trust me, he doesn't like everything that I say. We're -- I still consider us close friends. I'm obviously a huge supporter of him and his agenda and his family.

But at the end of the day, there are certain things he's saying I would recommend he cuts those back. If he'd like to see his approval rating go into the mid-50s, where if you look at the economic data and other things that he's done inside the presidency in a very short period of time --

CAMEROTA: Yes. SCARAMUCCI: -- he could have a mid-50s approval rating, but he's got to be way more strategic in terms of the way he's communicating. And frankly, what I would tell the president, be less frustrated. As frustrating as it is to deal with some of the things that you don't like dealing with as a politician that you didn't have to deal with as a business person, just be patient and let that pitch go away. You don't have to swing at every single pitch that comes across the plate. It's not the campaign right now. You can switch into that mode in a couple of years.

CAMEROTA: I'm sure the president is listening. Anthony Scaramucci, thank you very much for coming on and --

SCARAMUCCI: I doubt that -- I doubt that, Alisyn. I don't know if he's in love with CNN these days, but maybe. You never know.

CAMEROTA: You know what? Despite what he says, we do have indications that he watches in the morning.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, well, that -- that's good for CNN.

CAMEROTA: Anthony, thank you. We appreciate you being here.

BERMAN: All right. That was a great discussion, and by the way, the president has a lot to say about us this morning, indicating he is watching.

But while you were having that discussion, I have to say, a new report came out from the "New York Times," which is fascinating. You know the idea that Michael Cohen and the president had a plan to buy up Karen McDougal's story, Stormy Daniels's story. Well, the "Times" just reported that they had a plan to buy decades' worth of stories from "The National Enquirer." What does this mean? What are the legal implications? One man has the answer. Jeffrey Toobin joins us next.


[07:23:21] BERMAN: All right, we have brand-new reporting from the "New York Times" about what they say is a wider effort to catch and kill unflattering stories about Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

According to "The Times," Donald Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, quote, "devised a plan to buy up all the dirt on Mr. Trump that 'The National Enquirer' and its parent company had collected on him dating back to the 1980s, according to several of Mr. Trump's associates." But the existence of the plan was never finalized.

Joining us now is CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He is a former federal prosecutor and a staff writer at "The New Yorker."

We have President Trump on tape with Michael Cohen, talking about giving David Pecker at "The National Enquirer" money for at least one story. That appears to be the Karen McDougal story. This puts it in a slightly different perspective. If it was more than that story, it was everything that "The Enquirer" and Pecker had. And based on your reporting, which goes back years, that's a lot.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Yes, when -- you know, when I profiled David Pecker for "The New Yorker," you know, one of the things I learned was just the intensity and duration of the relationship between Pecker and Trump.

Back in the '80s and '90s, Pecker's American Media actually published an entire magazine that was just about the Trump properties. It was a -- something that you got in your hotel room when you checked into a Trump property. It just gives you an idea of how close they were.

You know, he was -- Trump was also a source for Pecker, not just about himself, but about other celebrities. And this story suggests that the inquirer knew a lot about Donald Trump's life, presumably his personal life, that Trump himself was very concerned about keeping private.

[07:25:09] BERMAN: And the Trump -- Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, for the purposes of the campaign, this story says, wanted to buy it.

Now, you're a better lawyer than I am, but as I'm reading this story, it doesn't seem to me to change the legal implications of what the president did or Michael Cohen did already. On whatever financial scheme existed or allegedly between them to buy the Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels story. This just is more; it's not different.

TOOBIN: Right. And remember, the legal issue in connection with the Karen McDougal story is whether Michael Cohen, as he acknowledged in court, basically laundered a campaign contribution through "The National Enquirer." Got "The National Enquirer" campaign to pay her for silence during the campaign, because of the campaign.

If in general, the president, or then the candidate, the real estate developer, Donald Trump, wanted to buy up something in "The National Enquirer," or wanted to buy the whole magazine, there would be nothing illegal about that.

BERMAN: Unless -- unless it was for the campaign, specifically for the campaign, which I understand would be hard to prove, and they did not report it as such. Which is also what Michael Cohen was charged with here in terms of the Stormy Daniels one.

TOOBIN: Also, in terms of how much money he spent. There are limits to how much corporations, how much individuals can give to campaigns.

BERMAN: But $150,000 is certainly way --

TOOBIN: Way over the limit, yes.

BERMAN: -- way over that limit.

Now, you know who presumably knows about this already?

TOOBIN: Donald Trump.

BERMAN: And federal prosecutors. Two people who would have been intimately involved in this mass purchasing would have been David Pecker of AMI, who was granted some kind of immunity to talk to federal prosecutors, and Allen Weisselberg from the Trump Organization granted some kind of immunity from federal prosecutors here. If it's important to them, they could have asked them about it.

TOOBIN: What we don't know is to what extent, if any, the Cohen investigation is continuing in the Southern District of New York.

Remember, when Michael Cohen pled guilty the other day, he said, "I committed these illegal acts at the direction of Donald Trump." Is the Southern District pursuing that? Are they going to give that investigation back to Robert Mueller, to let him and his staff pursue it? We don't know that.

BERMAN: As I'm thinking this through, I do think one of the things that this could contribute some color to is the notion of what Michael Cohen said in court, which is that he was directed to do this by a candidate for office, directed to do this by Donald Trump.

If there was this bigger operation, maybe there is more evidence of the president. I don't know, but there could be more of the president's involvement in that bigger operation.

TOOBIN: Well, what we -- what we certainly have is the tape of Cohen and Trump and Trump talking --

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: And that did not sound like the first conversation they've had about "The National Enquirer," about David Pecker. They spoke in the shorthand of people who had discussed this subject many times in the past.

BERMAN: All right. As any good lawyer, billing by the hour, so I want to take advantage of the time we have. Let me ask you about Don McGahn and the news overnight from "The Washington Post," "winter is coming" to the White House, advisors are warning. McGahn's on his way out. There's concern the White House isn't taking seriously enough the legal investigations and the political ramifications, perhaps, as the Democrats take over the House.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, what's really remarkable is it's not just Don McGahn who's leaving. It is, I believe, four of his five deputies are also leaving.

And remember, the White House has had a completely compliant Congress for two years. There have been no investigations of the White House. What happens if Democrats retake control, and they say, "We're subpoenaing the president's tax records. We're subpoenaing his e-mail -- White House e-mails"? Who's going to -- White House -- he doesn't do e-mail, but you know, White House e-mails. Who's going to defend that? Who is going to handle those very sensitive, very complicated negotiations which, when there is Congress in the opposite hands of the White House, is a big part of what the White House counsel does?

BERMAN: Your friend, Alan Dershowitz, told me last night with Don McGahn leaving, if Don McGahn -- we know he testified for some 30 hours to investigators -- that if the president was -- in any way was concerned about what Don McGahn said, he'd be a lot safer with McGahn staying in the White House. It creates some potential problems letting him go.

TOOBIN: That may be. You know, this -- this marriage between McGahn and Trump was not going to last much longer anyway. It's been an open secret that they have not been happy with each other. I think, you know, the president kind of needled -- needled McGahn yesterday by announcing his departure, somewhat to McGahn's surprise.


TOOBIN: But he was going anyway sometime around the midterms or the first of the year, and he will now be much more of a free agent.

BERMAN: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for being with us. We're going to have you back in a little while, because we're going to dig more into this "Enquirer" story, which again, just passed.

TOOBIN: Very good.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, the official death toll for Hurricane Maria has jumped more than 45 times the number. That's after a year -- a year after the hurricane hit. So who will be held accountable for the thousands of deaths that were not originally reported? Puerto Rico's representative in Congress joins us next.