Return to Transcripts main page
Trump: Sessions's Job Is Safe Until November Elections; Biden Eulogy: 'I'm a Democrat and I Love John McCain'; Trump Has No Regrets about Response to McCain's Death. Aired 6-6:29a ET
Aired August 31, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our Justice Department have to start doing their job.
[05:59:20] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His idea that the Mueller investigation is illegal just doesn't sit right on its face.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'd just better not do anything to take away the power of Bob Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country has fallen in love with John McCain this week.
JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John McCain's impact on America is not over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He served his country with honor. Now my friend, sleep in heavenly peace.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. What a juxtaposition this week has been with the sort of beautiful and poignant rhetoric around John McCain and then some of the fiery rhetoric that we've heard elsewhere. And it continues today.
BERMAN: And it's all coming together in some ways in one interview that Bloomberg did last night.
CAMEROTA: That's right, great point.
So welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, the last day of August, the 31st, 6 a.m. here in New York.
So President Trump has given a new interview to the press that he claims not to like, and in it, he replayed his favorite topics and made some big headlines.
The president told Bloomberg News that Jeff Sessions will keep his job as attorney general until at least the midterm elections, but beyond that, the president would not say. He added that Jeff Sessions had failed to reign in the special counsel's probe, and the president came up with a new insult for it.
Hours later, during a rally in Indiana, President Trump went after his Justice Department as a whole, threatening to get involved if they don't comply with his demands.
BERMAN: For the first time, the president addressed his handling of Senator John McCain's passing as the fallen senator's body was brought to Washington, D.C., for a memorial service today.
Asked if he made a mistake, missing an opportunity to unite the country, the president said no. And added he has done everything requested of him in the wake of McCain's passing. When asked if he felt McCain would have been a better commander in chief than President Obama, President Trump would not comment, only saying he has a very strong opinion.
We want to bring in one of the reporters who interviewed President Trump, senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg, CNN contributor Margaret Talev.
Margaret, thanks so much for being with us. I feel like I haven't talked to you for at least --
MARGARET TALEV, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Three hours.
BERMAN: Yes, three or four hours or so, so it's great to see you again.
TALEV: Morning, guys.
BERMAN: Listen, I think one of the biggest news-making moments was the new language the president seemed to use with you surrounding the Mueller investigation. I want to put this up on the screen, what he told you when you were talking to him about that.
He said, "I view it differently. I view it as an illegal investigation, because great scholars have said that there never should have been a special counsel," he said, Margaret.
TALEV: Yes, that's right. And look, we've known for months that the president has been questioning the legitimacy of the investigation, but to question legitimacy and to call it illegal are two different things. And I think what we don't know yet, what we're trying to understand, is whether he was laying down a new sort of predicate, a new set of arguments yesterday or whether he was just continuing to vent and using different words.
But our original question had been, "If, you know, if you are subpoenaed as part of the Mueller investigation, will you comply?" And he didn't answer that. He answered that question by saying that he thought it was an illegal investigation.
BERMAN: I will note the language he chose to use came on the eve of the Friday before Labor Day, when some people think perhaps Robert Mueller might do something before the end of the summer. We just don't know. We don't know.
We also don't know what the president's thinking is long term on Jeff Sessions, but we do have some more clarity in the near term, which is to say the president seemed to indicate to you he's not going to fire Jeff Sessions before the midterm election. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'd just like to have Jeff Sessions do his job, and if he did, I'd be very happy. But the job entails two sides, not one side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So he said that out loud to you, Margaret, but the body language and everything else I've gleaned from your interview, he really seemed to be saying after November 7, after the midterm election, all bets are off.
TALEV: Yes, and I think what he was doing was also signaling to the Republican leadership, the Republican establishment that are worried about whether more chaos would make things worse for them in midterm elections, "OK, guys, enough. I get it. I'll wait until after November." That's how I think we read his comments.
And you know, John, I just think it was interesting because our interview was sort of predicated on a lot of economic questions heading into the Labor Day weekend to see that there were really two different President Trumps on display in this interview. One was sort of very outgoing and on the offensive about how he was going to prosecute economic policy, whether it was trade or the WTO, dealing with other countries.
And then his handling of some of these domestic questions, whether they involved the Mueller probe or the handling of Senator McCain's passing, sort of a much more defensive or frustrated crouch.
BERMAN: Yes, I think it's really interesting, Margaret, as you say. Perhaps what he's trying to do more than anything is send a message to the Republicans who are pleading with him not to do anything on Sessions, "Look, I hear you. Let's just put this to rest."
CAMEROTA: Table it.
BERMAN: For a little while.
CAMEROTA: Right. So Jeff Sessions can breathe easily for today.
Margaret, stay with us if you would, please. We want to bring in CNN legal analyst, who's also a former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, Carrie Cordero; and CNN political analyst David Drucker. Great to see all of you.
David Drucker, what jumped out at you from this Bloomberg interview?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the Sessions comments were very instructive in that Senate Republicans, the leadership, at the very least, have been pressing on the president for over a year not to touch Sessions, but especially they don't want anything to happen to Jeff Sessions between now and the election.
And even though we have seen some cracks in the wall from some key Republican senators in the past few days, I think that for most Republican senators, they would look askance at Jeff Sessions's firing. They especially don't want to deal with the upheaval it would cause in the midterm elections.
Because they in particular, unlike House Republicans, are in a good position to pick up some seats in the midterm elections. You start to bring in this idea that he's firing Sessions because he's trying to do away with the Mueller investigation, which is exactly how it would read, and it could really upset the apple cart.
And then on the other side of the ledger, you have House Republicans who already are in trouble, and the last thing they need is a president trying to put his thumb on the scale of an investigation, which gives them more questions to answer in suburban House districts where they already are on defense because of blowback based on President Trump's leadership.
And so I think that the fact that he's willing to play nice with his, you know, would-be allies on Capitol Hill, which is not a given with this president, says a lot about at least how he understands the midterms to mean to his political future.
Because if Democrats take over the House, which could happen, he is going to be faced with so many investigations, his administration is going to be faced with so much oversight, I don't know if they're prepared for what it means. He's already upset because of a special counsel investigation that is partly about him but not even fully about him.
House Democratic chairmen of key committees would deluge his administration with questions. They'd try to drag people up to the Hill to testify, and it would probably be what the next two years and his reelection bid were all about.
BERMAN: This is "The Game of Thrones" "winter is coming" theory that we've heard so much about the last 24 hours.
Carrie it is interesting, because in Margaret's interview with the president he used that phrase it's an "illegal investigation." And he said he's basing that on the word of great scholars. Great scholars.
CAMEROTA: One of whom you spoke to.
BERMAN: I did. Alan Dershowitz is one of the president's favorite legal scholars, and I asked Alan outright, Carrie, "Do you the Mueller investigation is illegal?"
And Professor Dershowitz said, "No. No, not at all. I don't like the investigation. I have issues with it, but it's perfectly legal."
So you know, I think that whole legal scholar argument is a bit thin, Carrie.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: John, the special counsel's investigation is legal. It was appropriate. It was right that Attorney General Sessions recused himself from the investigation. He put his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, in charge of it, and he has been overseeing it according to the mandate that the special counsel was given. And they have appropriately spun off investigations when they -- when it was appropriate and when something fell outside the scope of Rosenstein's original mandate to the special counsel.
The key with respect to the potential firing of Attorney General Sessions is that it could have significant consequences for the special counsel's investigation. Why is that?
That's because, if Attorney General Sessions were fired, then there -- a new attorney general, if one were confirmed -- and that's a question, whether or not the Senate would actually confirm a new attorney general, a new attorney general could take the supervision of the investigation away from Rod Rosenstein and supervise it that person's self.
Now, a new attorney general, according to what the president views as that person's role, the role that he wants to see that person fill, would be to limit the scope or shut down the special counsel's investigation. He has repeatedly said that he wants the investigation to go away and that he thinks it's inappropriate, and now he says it's illegitimate and illegal.
So what would a new person do? What would the litmus test for a new attorney general nominee be? If a new attorney general took that investigation away from Rosenstein, understanding what the president's expectations were, and being willing to serve in that position, then there could be significant consequences for the continuation of the full scope of the investigation.
CAMEROTA: Margaret, when the president told you that, you know, he doesn't think that the DOJ is sort of going in the direction that he wants it to and he would be willing to get involved, what does that mean?
TALEV: I think we don't know what it means. We -- at least we know it's a threat, a rhetorical threat, but I think, again, this is another question that is not going to be answered until after the midterm elections. Would he get more hands on and take steps including the replacement of the attorney general to try to facilitate some changes to the process?
You know, I think we just don't know. But this interplay between the impact of the elections and the president's impatience or, you know, fears about this investigation are very interesting, because again in our interview, he spoke a lot about his popularity, his popularity among Republicans, his ability to draw these huge crowds to the rallies, and his belief that he can help the Republicans, that he's not sure how much his popularity transfers, but that he wants to be out on the road helping Republicans, if his popularity can convey, to retain the majority. So how he balances his efforts to keep the Republicans in charge,
limit the congressional exposure, at the same time as he tries to keep Robert Mueller's investigation a little bit, you know, controlled in some fashion is very interesting to watch.
BERMAN: And in fact, he suggest his popularity has certain powers over the Constitution. It can, in fact, supersede the Constitution at points.
I want to read what he said in the interview to Margaret about the issue of impeachment. So the president said, "You get elected as a Republican or Democrat, and the opposite party gets put in the House, that will mean, 'Oh, let's impeach him.' Can't do it. If you look at the definition of impeachment, that's a high bar, and that would take a long time to fight. If you're doing a good job -- and I'm doing a great job."
Now, granted, the last two sentences --
CAMEROTA: Are not grammatically correct.
BERMAN: And make very little sense, but is it a bunch of words near each other, David. And it seems to suggest that he thinks you can't impeach a popular president.
DRUCKER: Well, look, to the extent that impeachment is a political solution to problems that may be political but also could be legal, the president has a valid argument, in that he's fighting this on political grounds. And I think it's understandable that he's trying to litigate the Mueller investigation in the court of public opinion so that, by the time a report is released by Special Counsel Mueller, he's already in a good position to get past it and not have to deal with impeachment and try to make it very uncomfortable for House Democrats.
It also serves the president's interests to talk about impeachment, because what Republicans are trying to do is sour swing voters on this idea of a Democratic majority.
I think there's two key things, though, to keep in mind here. No. 1, this talk about the illegal Mueller investigation as the president sees it and this idea that he can get involved if he doesn't like the direction things are going reminds me of the memo that his team had issued and made public, where they talk about the president as the chief law enforcement officer in the country, which he is under the Constitution, giving him the right to involve himself in any federal investigation that he thinks that he needs to be involved in.
It's all about trying to set the stage for making moves that he might want to make at some point.
The other thing is that if Republicans actually do gain seats in the Senate, even if they lose control of the House, these new senators are going to be friendlier toward Trump than the existing 51, which would give him more confirmation votes for a Sessions replacement. And that could, at that time, give him the time and the space to do that, where right now, it would be a very dicey proposition.
CAMEROTA: That is an interesting perspective, I mean, an interesting mathematical calculation that I think is important to keep in mind.
David Drucker, thank you very much.
Carrie, Margaret, stick around. We have many more questions for you.
But now to this news that we've been covering, of course, all week. The late senator and war hero John McCain has returned to Washington for the final time. He will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda today, ahead of a memorial and burial this weekend.
In Arizona yesterday, former vice president Joe Biden honored his friend. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live in our nation's capital. It's been an emotional week and only will be more so today, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Alisyn. This is a place where he spent so much of his life, dedicated and committed to the work here. He will lie in state here at the U.S. Capitol later this morning.
And we are going to see many of the people who were in Arizona but also many of the people that he worked with side by side. We expect, of course, the family. Cindy McCain will be here. His 106-year-old mother, Roberta McCain, will be here. And his grown children, including Meghan. We will see governors. We will see senators and lawmakers, the joint chiefs, as well as those who work beside him. His aides, people who know him in and out, as all part of a private ceremony.
Vice President Mike Pence will address the crowd, as well. Notably absent will be President Trump, who is not invited.
All of this, as you know, Alisyn, follows that very powerful, impactful ceremony and celebration of John McCain's life we saw yesterday in Arizona as they said goodbye to their favorite adopted son.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): A flag-draped casket arriving at Joint Base Andrews to full military honors. Senator John McCain returning to Washington, D.C., where he spent 35 years representing the state of Arizona. McCain's family and friends waiting on the tarmac to honor the late senator.
Hours earlier, thousands of Arizonans lined the streets of Phoenix to say goodbye.
(MUSIC: "AMAZING GRACE")
MALVEAUX: Hundreds more gathered inside the North Phoenix Baptist Church to give the war hero a final send-off from his home state.
[06:15:04] GRANT WOODS, MCCAIN'S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: He loved this place, and if John McCain fell in love with Arizona, Arizona fell in love with John McCain.
MALVEAUX: Former vice president Joe Biden delivering an emotional tribute honoring his longtime friend's commitment to bipartisanship.
BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I love John McCain.
It wasn't about politics with John. He could disagree on substance. It was the underlying values that animated everything John did.
MALVEAUX: Biden speaking in deeply personal terms about the disease that also took his son Beau, and consoling McCain's family directly.
BIDEN: You know you're going to make it when the image of your dad, your husband, your friend, crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye. That's when you know. And I promise you. I give you my word. I promise you. This I know. That day will come.
MALVEAUX: The Arizona Cardinals paying tribute to McCain after wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald recounted his unlikely friendship with the late senator.
LARRY FITZGERALD, ARIZONA CARDINALS WIDE RECEIVER: I'm black; he was white. I'm young; he wasn't so young. He didn't judge individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, their backgrounds, their political affiliations, or their bank accounts. He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts.
MALVEAUX: McCain's body, fittingly carried out of the Phoenix church to Frank Sinatra's "My Way" before traveling to the airport and departing Arizona for the final time.
MALVEAUX: And you can feel his presence, a very different kind of presence, the loss as well as his power here, having covered him for many years.
The private ceremony later this morning will begin at 11 a.m. It will be remembering Senator John McCain's life. The invocation by the House chaplain and remarks by Vice President Mike Pence, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and then, of course, the benediction by the Senate chaplain.
After that ceremony, the family will be escorted out, and then the doors will be opened for the public around 2 p.m. in the afternoon. That will go until 8 p.m. And the body of Senator John McCain will be watched around the clock in the Rotunda by U.S. Capitol police until it is transported tomorrow morning for the ceremony at the National Cathedral -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. Each part of this week, each stop along the way has so much meaning. You know, when you saw the senator leave Phoenix yesterday, you saw him leave Arizona, Arizona I think the place where the senator had the most peace and found the most contentment.
But the Capitol building in the Senate, where he'll be today, I think that's where he, it was the most natural fit. I mean, he was meant to be a senator, perhaps even more so than to have a life in the military. It's the Senate where he was at his most comfortable.
CAMEROTA: And one of the most interesting things is that he orchestrated every step of this.
CAMEROTA: So because he was sick, you know, one of the, I guess, silver lings of knowing that the end is coming, he got to have his thumbprint on every single thing that we're seeing. So we'll do a segment coming up in the program about why that was so important to him and the exact details that he wanted today and tomorrow.
BERMAN: The president for the first time spoke about how he has handled the death of John McCain, his controversial response. He did that in this interview with Bloomberg. Margaret Talev will be back to give us that information. Stay with us.
[06:22:3] BERMAN: So in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg, President Trump was asked if he thinks he missed an opportunity to unite the country after the death of Senator John McCain. The president said no and added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We had our disagreements, and they were very strong disagreements. I disagreed with many of the things that I assume he believed in. But with that being said, I respect his service to the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So I want to bring back Margaret Talev, who was one of the reporters who interviewed the president, along with Carrie Cordero and David Drucker also with us now.
And Margaret, that conversation about John McCain, it was very interesting. Particularly how the president kept on referring to Sarah Sanders when you were in the room.
TALEV: Well, John, to set the stage, as we were waiting to go into the Oval Office, of course, we were in the White House, in the back offices, and they have television monitors all the time on with the different networks and what they're carrying.
And at one point, all of those networks carrying images of the service in Arizona and then the motorcade taking Senator McCain's body to the airport to be lifted to Washington.
But yes, the president telling us that he felt that he had done everything that had been asked of him by Senator McCain's family. And telling us that, while he expected Senator McCain's service to the country, that they had a lot of differences.
Pointedly, my colleagues Jennifer Jacobs and John Micklethwait and I had asked him, did he feel that Senator McCain would have made a better president than Barack Obama did. And he would not answer the question, but he said he had very, very strong views on that, but that he didn't want to share them. And yes, his press secretary looked uncomfortable. And he teased her, you know, about that and then said maybe one day he would tell us how he felt.
CAMEROTA: Margaret, very quickly, there's been a lot of reporting this week that the president hasn't liked being upstaged by John McCain even in death. Did you get some inkling of that?
TALEV: You know, we didn't discuss that in specific, but I think it's safe to say that that is true, because Senator McCain had not just a war hero send-off, but really a presidential send-off this week.
Look, it's been a week's worth of events. And this is a political figure who, right up until the end, challenged President Trump on health care, on his posture on Russia, on essentially, everything that President Trump has tried to do in terms of both foreign and domestic policy.
They didn't like each other. There's no secret about that. The question was could President Trump set that aside, unite the country, in a moment of national grieving for a figure who reached people across partisan lines. He feels OK about the way he handled it. He made it pretty clear.
BERMAN: I think it's pretty funny he -- the interplay with Sarah Sanders there, because we know from our reporting it was Sarah Sanders who really strongly felt the president needed to say something about the statement --
CAMEROTA: To make an official statement.
BERMAN: -- John McCain, which the president was reluctant to do and took a long time in doing. The flag went back up to full staff. Sarah Sanders was very much against that. He's joking about that with Sarah Sanders when you were in the room there. That is fascinating.
One of the other things that I think is very interesting is that the Bloomberg team asked about Stormy Daniels. And of course, we now know that the Stormy Daniels saga critical to Michael Cohen's guilty plea. I want to put up on the screen -- I don't have it in front of me -- but exactly what he would not say about this.
"I don't want to get into it, because it's been covered so much. I can say this. There's no campaign violation," the president said, "whatsoever. And if you watch all of the good legal pundits, you'll see that." Once again, referring to television and what he sees there as the definitive answer.
But Carrie, I found it fascinating that he was willing to go a lot of places, but he was not willing to go to that one place where he was accused in open court, under oath, of breaking the law. Michael Cohen said he broke the law at the direction of the president. The president wasn't going to talk about that when asked -- Carrie.
CORDERO: This might be, John, one of the first times in the president's public statements that he actually made his lawyers happy by not speaking about something that is a pending legal matter and potentially -- well, the campaign finance violations we know are under investigation by the Southern District of New York.
So from that sense, you know, I think it was really good that the president did this interview with Bloomberg, that they did it with Margaret and her colleagues. It's been a while about since he sits -- was willing to sit down with a truly independent news organization. So the interview was really very revealing. I think his lawyers were happy that he didn't speak about that.
His -- he did make the point, which is the advice that it seems like his legal counsel has given him, Rudy Giuliani, that this particular violation that Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to is not actually a violation of law, which is a very odd position for a president to be taking, that something that's a violation of the criminal statutes is not a violation of law. But otherwise, I think they were happy he didn't give it.
The other piece of the interview I just wanted to mention is that one aspect you were talking about, the tributes to Senator McCain. The interview was revealing in really highlighting the differences between the McCain worldview and the Trump approach to foreign policy in particular.
So much of that interview, what stood out to me was the isolationist aspect, pulling out of trade organizations, sort of the go it alone negotiations with Middle East countries, and his willingness to say that he is independently, you know, going to be able to work something out with North Korea. It seemed like the interview alluded to that a little bit. And that is just so different from the McCain world view in terms of foreign policy and working with foreign partners and the embracing of the international western order.
CAMEROTA: Hey, David, one more thing that I want to get to in terms of the investigation and who has been given immunity. We now know that Allen Weisselberg, who has been the CFO of the Trump Organization for decades --
CAMEROTA: -- has been one of the people called and investigated. So Margaret asked about that. My sources, and I'm sure your confirm this, say that, of all of the people connected to Donald Trump, between Michael Cohen, David Pecker and beyond, it is Allen Weisselberg that worries the president, that scares the president the most, because he truly knows everything about the finances of the Trump Organization. He signed the checks.
So Margaret asked about the fact that he was now cooperating with investigators and whether or not he felt that Allen Weisselberg would do the right thing, basically, by him. So here is that sound of his response, I think we have.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He didn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
TRUMP: A hundred percent. He's a -- he's a wonderful guy. It was a very limited, little period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So that means he didn't betray me was how it started. It was a very limited little period of time. Now again, this is a many who has been with the organization since Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, ran it. OK? But I think that he was referring to the questions, what the questions were focused on.
So David, go ahead.
DRUCKER: Yes. And, you know, what's interesting about this to me is that is this is exactly what the president was saying about Michael Cohen before Michael Cohen decided to have a change of heart, apparently. And we'll see how far that goes.
Look, the president, I think, is finding out what happens once you become president of the United States, which is that if you have skeletons in your closet, and the closet is too full of them, they just start to spill out, because there is just simply too much scrutiny and too much attention --