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President Trump Tweets White House Counsel Don McGahn is Leaving Administration; Reporting Indicates White House May Be Unprepared for Democratic Takeover of House of Representatives. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


LEIA PIERCE, NINE-YEAR-OLD SON COMMITTED SUICIDE: -- and so he started standing up for his sister. He started standing up for his sister because he kept -- he got tired of seeing her hurt. So he wanted to take her pain. I'm sorry, his sweet little heart just couldn't handle it. My son didn't have an ounce of anger in him. My son didn't have an ounce of anger in him. Anyone who knows him would tell you my son was either happy or he was just -- he was just happy.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Leia, this is horrible. It's horrible on every single level. It sounds like your kids needed more support. It sounds like you need support. Sounds like your daughter still needs support. What is your message? What are you trying to tell other parents and other kids today?

PIERCE: I'm trying to tell them to love each other as equals and treat each other as people. We have to stop hating each other. We have to show more love and compassion in this world. It's just going to get darker and darker and more evil. Nothing is going to change and things are going to get worse if someone doesn't just smile and be kind to someone and show them respect. Simple things.

Personally, me and my kids will go buy lotto tickets and randomly hand them out to people and tell people they're beautiful, or give them compliments, kind to people. My son, he loved opening doors for people and he loved to watch people walk in. He would open my car door from me. When you do kind things for others you show kindness, and then that helps people, helps them with their anger because no one showed them kindness or love. Sometimes they're hurt, too. Usually the ones who are meanest are the ones who were hurt the most.

And I'm not going to lie, I've been hurt. I've been hurt a lot, but I use my pain to turn it to love, and in return I got this son who was nothing but pure love. And I appreciate this world for letting me have him for nine years, but I wish I could have had him longer. And I'm pretty sure I could have if we could have just learned to love. I'm pretty sure a lot of parents would have their kids if we could just learn to love right now.

CAMEROTA: Leia, are you worried about your daughter right now going to school?

PIERCE: I actually was worried this one would be her, to be honest. I was worried it would be her, not my son. CAMEROTA: Leia, we are going to get you some support. We'll call the

school and we'll make sure you're in touch with them. We'll make sure that they know that your daughter is at risk. We are so sorry for your loss. And your message of love and kindness for each other obviously is so needed right now, and we appreciate that even in your pain you're able to come on and share that message with the country. We will check back in with you, Leia. Thank you very much for being here.

PIERCE: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: If you know someone who is battling suicidal thoughts, there is always help available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Line, 1-800-273-talk.

We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was a very powerful discussion. Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 30th, 8:00 in the east. Winter is coming to the White House, that is what someone close to the president told the "Washington Post," winter is coming. The "Post" reports there is concern that the president and his staff are just not ready for the political and legal onslaught that is coming if the Democrats take control of the House. New investigations, a possible flood of subpoenas. This new concern comes as the president officially announced that White House counsel Don McGahn would be leaving the White House soon, an announcement on Twitter that apparently surprised Don McGahn.

CAMEROTA: Also, this morning, the "New York Time" reports that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had devised a plan to buy up all the dirt on Donald Trump that the "National Enquirer" had collected on him dating back to the 1980s. The "Times" says the audio recordings CNN obtained last month of Cohen and Donald Trump, President Trump, talking about payoffs, that was before the 2016 election, actually, strongly hints at that bigger plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR President Trump: It's all the stuff. All the stuff, because you know you never know where that --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: The "Times" says that plan was never finalized.

BERMAN: Joining us now by telephone is Josh Dawsey, one of the reporters on the "Washington Post" "Game of Thrones" story. Josh, thanks so much for being with us. I'd like to do a dramatic reading from the story written in party by Josh Dawsey. It says "Winter is coming said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. Assuming Democrats win the House, which we 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." Explain.

[08:05:06] JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, John. The problem is that Don McGahn, the chief White House counsel who left yesterday, there's been a decimation in the ranks at the White House. There's been departures in the last year or so. So there will be a lot of subpoenas, a lot congressional investigations, a lot of different parts left. There hasn't been a lot of oversight, and you can imagine Democrats would do more a lot more oversight than Republicans.

And the president continues to say red wave and he thinks Republicans are going to keep the House, but a number of his allies are increasingly convinced, they're looking at generic polls, that Democrats are likely to win the House and are trying to acclimate him to that possibility before November.

BERMAN: And they want to staff up. There are folks that want to staff up, and there's a notion that in some ways the president has his eyes on specific lawyers, and he seems enamored with his son-in-law's lawyer, Jared Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell who has been representing him in various number of capacities. Explain what's going on there.

DAWSEY: Abbe Lowell who is Jared Kushner's lawyer is one the president has looked at for bringing on. The president, a number of folks around the president, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, have more respected white collar lawyers in D.C., top members of the legal bar here. And the president has an outside group of Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow and others that are not as well regarded in some circles, and his associates and allies tell him that.

And if an impeachment proceeding came even if he wasn't impeached, if there was an effort, he would want high powered lawyers around him that so far he's not been able to get them. One thing we've reported, John, repeatedly is that a lot of the lawyers who the president and his team have wanted have not been ones to work for him because he has a reputation of not listening, of tweeting things they don't want him to tweet, and the White House has been a difficult place to work for the first year and a half. You don't have lawyers beating down the door to represent the president.

BERMAN: I suppose there is the issue of timing. And you note this, if the Democrats did take control of the House -- it wouldn't happen, the election happens in November, but they don't take control until January, so that could give the White House some time to get things in order, so there is a sense that you write about that people feel we're just going to put it off until we have to deal with it.

DAWSEY: That's correct, but the challenge has been attracting people in the White House to some degree. This is a White House where a lot of folks who have left have been tarnished or tweeted at or fired in unceremonious ways. And a lot of Republicans in Washington who are not beating down the door to get in, so I think there is concern among those close to the president that going into the critical stress with the Mueller probe, that he's going to wrap up, there could be a damaging report. The Michael Cohen incident is going to go on. You're going to have probably more congressional scrutiny of Democrats. There's a confluence of factors that could make the next few months challenging, and just having a few lawyers around you who don't have experience doing this, who are not accustomed to doing these sorts of things have people worried.

BERMAN: Josh Dawsey from Winterfell and the "Washington Post," we appreciate you being with us. Thanks so for your reporting.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring in CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfield Davis, she is a White House reporter at the "New York Times," and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, he's a former federal prosecutor. Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: So people, leaders, Republican leaders, seem worried that Don McGahn is leaving the White House and it sounds like Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell are trying to sound the alarm via Twitter or statements that they don't think this would be a good idea. But we just had Anthony Scaramucci on in the last hour who can channel the thinking inside the White House, and he said to think that they're sanguine because if there's no evidence the president did anything wrong then why should they be worried? Winter is not coming to the White House. They're not worried because there's no evidence the president did anything.

TOOBIN: There are a couple different things going on here. I think what Anthony is talking about there is the Mueller investigation and whether Don McGahn is an incriminating witness. He either is or he isn't. He had spoken to them for 30 hours. His story has been told.

The administrative job that he has as White House counsel is a very important one, and it's not only that Don McGahn is leaving, it's that four of his five deputies are leaving, and there's work that has to be done. And if there's a Democratic Congress or House of Representatives, there will be a new set of work that this White House has never had to deal with. They've had a compliant Congress for two years. They will have to start responding to investigations.

CAMEROTA: Committee investigations, interesting. So there has to be manpower and people don't see the manpower if he leaves.

TOOBIN: Right. And remember one of the unsung successes of the Trump administration has been the nomination and confirmation of an enormous number of federal judges, including, of course, two Supreme Court justices, one not confirmed yet. Don McGahn has been the principal person working on that. Mitch McConnell, it's a huge priority of his. He wants to make sure the pipeline continues for the next two years.

[08:10:14] BERMAN: Julie, one of the great pleasures of this job is being able to talk to someone from the "Washington Post" who has a scoop and then 30 seconds later speaking to someone from the "Times" who has the scoop. Your angle on the Don McGahn, the legal goings-on inside the White House has this incredible juicy tidbit that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been critical of Don McGahn and very concerned about some of the "Times" reporting that McGahn answered 30 hours of questions that the White House wasn't aware of what went on in these conversations.

This is such an interesting story that the president just commented on it. Of such concern to him he decided to weigh in. He said Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the so-called pushing out of Don McGahn. What's going on here?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: People close to Jared Kushner and Ivanka obviously deny this, but there's no denying that for months now, more than a year, they have been suspicious of Don McGahn. They have not particularly felt like he has served the president well. And this story my colleagues at the "Times" did last week about the extent of Don McGahn's cooperation and the time that he spent with Mueller really got under their skin and prompted Ivanka Trump to go and complain to her father about what she thought was an untenable situation where the counsel spent all of this time with the special counsel and potentially maybe told him damaging things.

Now, the White House, people around President Trump say they're not concerned about that as we heard earlier. But I think one of the big divides here that has been going on for a long time is there are people in the White House and around Donald Trump who believe that he should be more concerned than he is, and this goes back to what he will do now when Don McGahn does leave, and all of his deputies or many of his deputies followed him out the door, preceded him out the door. And so there's a divide about how concerned they should be about what Don McGahn has said, but this all played out behind the scenes.

And given that Don McGahn was going to leave anyway, it led to this tweet yesterday that blindsided him that now looks like it was precipitated by these stories about his cooperation with the investigation when in fact he had always planned to go. And so you have this unnecessary intrigue behind a decision that had really already been made.

TOOBIN: Just a normal workplace. Just like a cheerful place, everybody gets along.

CAMEROTA: Somebody else monitoring Twitter to see if he still has a job every morning is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We assume he wakes up as well and checks the Twitter feed. And so we now know from new reporting that the president has been lobbying senators basically to get them comfortable it sounds like, or to get them on his side if he's going to fire Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

TOOBIN: And it's worked.

CAMEROTA: We've heard some like Lindsey Graham come around.

TOOBIN: And Chuck Grassley basically saying he's the president and he gets to pick the cabinet he wants. That's a big change from how they had been unified in defense of Sessions for months. And of course this has enormous significance because if Jeff Sessions is replaced by someone who won't have a conflict of interest regarding the Mueller investigation, this person will take over from Rod Rosenstein as the supervisor and potential firer of Robert Mueller.

CAMEROTA: And they need to get Senate confirmation.

TOOBIN: Right. And for all the Republican talk about concern about something Donald Trump might do, they have been very compliant and very obedient to this president, and I see every reason to believe they will continue to be.

BERMAN: There is a third person taking part in this panel here this morning in this segment, and that's the president of the United States, Donald Trump. We have Jeffrey Toobin, Julie Hirschfield Davis, and the president who is literally writing about the subjects we're talking about --

CAMEROTA: Live tweeting.

BERMAN: As we're talking about it. He's talking about Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions all at once. He says "I'm very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House counsel, he misspells "counsel" again which I'm now convinced he's doing on purpose, I like Don but he was not responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions. So much fake reporting and fake news," he goes on there. Julie, the reporting for a long time has been that there was a moment in time when Don McGahn said I'm not going to go fire Bob Mueller, it's either Bob Mueller or me. If you're going to force me to fire Bob Mueller I'm going to quit. The same type of thing happened with Jeff Sessions.

CAMEROTA: But who is the person he's very excited about?

BERMAN: That's the other thing, which is that we don't know he's made a pick yet. He's telegraphing that he has made a puck. This seems to me like season eight of "The Apprentice," here. It's just a tease. We don't know if there is someone.

TOOBIN: The leading candidate has been said to be Emmet Flood who is a former Williams and Connolly partner who has been working on responding to the Mueller investigation from inside the White House. I'm sorry, didn't mean to interrupt Julie if she was about to say something.

DAVIS: No, I was going to actually say the same thing, and actually he has been Don McGahn's preferred candidate to take his place once he left.

In the months when he has considered leaving, one of the big things that he was thinking about was who he - who would succeed him.

And I think the people close to him say that they think that Emmett would be - or he thinks that Emmett would be good for that job. He - he's the one who defended Bill Clinton in impeachment proceedings. He has a lot of experience with the kinds of congressional investigations that the President would be facing if the Democrats did take back the House.

And so, he's certainly a name that's been mentioned. It's not, totally, clear that the President wants him. But I've been told that they have established a - a report since he was brought in as the White House lawyer in charge of handling the Mueller probe, so that's certainly a possibility.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Since the President is watching, maybe we could ask him to...

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Yes.

TOOBIN: ...tweet - tweet the answer to...

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Yes.

TOOBIN: ...who the new White House Counsel will be...

CAMEROTA: Please say more.

TOOBIN: ...while we're on.

CAMEROTA: It'll be - he's going to wait (ph) through the commercial break.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: (INAUDIBLE) people will stick around. We now know a little more about why the National Enquirer needed a safe. There was, apparently, a lot of dirt that the National Enquirer had been gathering on Donald Trump since the 1980s.

This is a new reporting from the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman. And that Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump had talked about buying up all of it so that nothing, sort of, leaked out slowly and incrementally.

TOOBIN: Right. I mean, it's - it's an amazing thought that they would continue to - that they would do such a thing. As far as I can tell, there would be nothing illegal or improper about - about their doing it.

What - what was - what - what was illegal about what Michael Cohen did, admitted to doing in court the other day, was that he, essentially, laundered a campaign contribution through the National Enquirer.

He got the National Enquirer to pay off Karen McDougal so that she wouldn't during the campaign. This general idea of buying up the...

CAMEROTA: Your own dirt...

TOOBIN: ...your own dirt.

CAMEROTA: ...is legal.

TOOBIN: If you use your own money.

CAMEROTA: Good to know.

TOOBIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Use your own money.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: That's right.

CAMEROTA: OK.

TOOBIN: Alisyn, I'm sure they have a safe (inaudible) for a yard (ph) store about you (ph).

CAMEROTA: They should.

BERMAN: A vault. It's not a safe.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, Julie Hirschfeld Davis. Julie, we'll let you continue your conversation with the President offline this morning. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, meanwhile, more emotional farewells in Arizona today for the late Senator John McCain. In a few hours, former Vice President Joe Biden will deliver the eulogy at a memorial service for McCain. Thousands of people are expected to attend. CNN's Nick Watt is live in Pheonix. And we've already, Nick, seen so many emotional moments, particularly, from his family.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Alisyn. This is now day two of John McCain's long and fond farewell. He died at his Arizona ranch Saturday. And yesterday here at the state capital, people stood in line for up to three hours to file past his casket and say goodbye. They waited in line in 102 degree heat to pay respects to the man who settled here in his 40s and served them in Washington D.C. for 35 years as congressman, then senator.

DOUG DUCEY, GOVERNOR OF ARIZONA: John McCain was Arizona's favorite adopted son.

WATT: Governor Ducey speaking earlier at an intimate ceremony attended by friends, colleagues...

JEFF FLAKE, ARIZONA SENATOR: We are grateful for his life and for his sacrifice.

WATT: ...and family, the late senator's daughter Meghan inconsolable, Cindy McCain, a touch of the flag draped casket mourning her husband of 38 years.

DUCEY: John is probably the only politician who could get us to set aside politics and come together as a state and a nation, as we have.

WATT: At the service later this morning, former Vice President Joe Biden will speak. He and Meghan McCain bonded on the view about the same cancer that took Biden's son Beau and would take her father.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things that gave Beau courage, my word was John, your dad - you may remember when you were a little kid, your dad took care of my Beau.

I know if I picked up the phone tonight and called John McCain and said, John, I'm at second in vine (ph) in Oshkosh and I need your help, come. He'd get on a plane and come and I would for him too.

WATT: At the National Cathedral in Washington Saturday, Barrack Obama and George W. Bush, both former foes, will eulogize their fallen friend.

BERMAN: All right, Nick - Nick Watt, thanks so much. An emotional lay (ph) with Joe Biden speaking today, expected with laugh and cry based on what we see there.

CAMEROTA: Yes, great points.

BERMAN: All right, sparks fly at a political debate as a veteran politician takes a swipe at an opponents' former career as an actress. Cynthia Nixon joins us live to talk about her progressive bid for New York Governor. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:20:00]

CAMEROTA: A fierce faceoff at New York's first and only Democratic Gubernatorial debate last night. Incumbent Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and his opponent, Progressive, Cynthia Nixon, got into a contentious back and forth after the governor seemed to take a dig at Nixon's past career as an actor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: My opponent lives in the world of fiction, I live in the world of fact. Let's just do a few facts, okay? The subway system is owned by New York City. The subway ...

PATRICIA NIXON, ACTRESS: The MTA has been controlled by the state since 1965.

CUOMO: Excuse me. Can you stop interrupting? Can you stop interrupting?

NIXON: Can you stop lying?

CUOMO: Yes, as soon as you do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: It was feisty and candidate, Cynthia Nixon, joins us now. Great to have you here.

NIXON: Thank you. Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: Okay, so for our viewers who may not live in New York, just a quick recap as we understand it. This is sort of the 20 cent version. You got into this race because you didn't think that Governor Cuomo was doing enough for the state of New York, but, he has raised the minimum wage, he has fought for the toughest gun laws in the country.

He has gotten paid sick leave for workers and he signed the same sex marriage act that allowed you and your partner to get married in 2012. Back then, you said, he exhibited, quote, "exemplary leadership." So, what is you beef with the Governor of New York?

NIXON: So, I did vote for Andrew Cuomo eight years ago because I remembered his dad fondly and because I thought he was a Democrat the way he said he was.

[08:25:00]

But since he's taken office he's governed like a Republican and he's handed over massive amounts of power to the Republican Party. And there are a lot of reasons that I'm in this race but first and foremost is education which is something I've been fighting on for 17 years, ever since my oldest child entered kindergarten, because New York schools are the second-most unequally funded in the entire country.

And our kids are owed $4.2 billion, billions of dollars that is owed to our high-needs low-income school districts and this is money that any Democratic governor should obey the command of the highest court in New York and invest this money. And Governor Cuomo refuses to even acknowledge it much less invest it. This is one of the key reasons I'm in this race but honestly there are so many issues on which New York could be enacting real progressive change but we have rhetoric. You mentioned the $15 minimum wage.

That is something Governor Cuomo fought and fought and fought tooth and nail until the unions backed him into a corner and he finally flipped. A few months before he actually embraced the $15 minimum wage, he said a $13 minimum wage was a non-starter. He was proposing $10.50. This is a perfect example of the thing he enacts and claims ownership of but actually he was pushed to and was dragged kicking and screaming all the way.

BERMAN: There is a $15 minimum wage now that is where it stands.

NIXON: Well it has not yet - that has not yet even taken effect, right? It's not even taken effect yet and there's no plan for upstate.

BERMAN: One of the interesting dynamics overnight...

NIXON: What's that?

BERMAN: One of the interesting dynamics last night was you were trying to stand up to Governor Cuomo, Governor Cuomo was trying to stand up to President Trump. He tried to make the debate about how he's standing up to the president and the White House and you said something to the effect of, you stand up to President Trump like President Trump stands up to Vladimir Putin. What did you mean by that?

NIXON: Well I meant that he tried to sound like a progressive. He tried to take on this issue of whether America was great. He said something, Donald trump tweeted at him, he folded like a cheap suit. And what we need in New York is not somebody --

BERMAN: What got him in trouble - what got Governor Cuomo in trouble was he said America's never been great. Do you think he should have stuck with that line, America has never been great?

NIXON: I think that both his initial line and then his retraction of it were really ham fisted. Yes, I think that both were real errors and what I think is what we need in New York out of our governor is not somebody who just attacks Donald Trump rhetorically, we need someone who is fighting the Trump agenda. We need -- like, for example on my first day in office, I will expand access to driver's licenses for undocumented people as a way of staunching the flows of deportation from I.C.E.

This is the number one -- the quickest most effective thing that we can do in New York to stop I.C.E. from coming into our communities and tearing families apart and turning New York into a police state. This would be a very simple thing for the governor to do and he hasn't done it. Does he really care about protecting New Yorkers? Does he really care about protecting our undocumented people? He has given so much power to the Republicans through the IDC and through these turncoat Democrats he's incentivized to vote with the Republicans to give them the majority and it's the reason we haven't passed the New York Dream Act to protect our Dreamers, that we haven't passed the Liberty Act to stop law enforcement from collaborating with I.C.E.

There are so many things that we could be doing the fight the Trump agenda like passing single payer health care which we are so close to in the legislature but the governor has never let on, like 100% renewable energy. We have a Climate and Communities Protection Act that the governor has never backed at a time when Donald Trump is pulling out of the Paris Accords. This is something we need to be doing.

CAMEROTA: Cynthia Nixon, we're told you need to go but we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and we should let our viewers know that we did invite the governor, Governor Cuomo and he was not available but Cynthia Nixon, thank you for being on "New Day."

NIXON: Well I think, and the last thing I would really like to say is that the primary is two weeks from today on Thursday, September 13th and anybody who wants to vote for a progressive alternative to Andrew Cuomo should come out and vote for me.

CAMEROTA: Got it, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

NIXON: Thanks so much for talking to me.

BERMAN: Accusations of racism in Florida's race for governor. Hear what one candidate said in a live television interview. That's next. 3

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:30:00]