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President Trump Attacks Democrats Who "Harass and Complain" Says "Maybe We Should Just Say No, We've Got A Country to Run"; AG Barr: Mueller Report is Nearly 400 Pages, Expects Release by "Mid- April, If Not Sooner"; President Trump Threatens To Close Southern Border Next Week; Atlantic: RNC, Pro-Trump Super PAC Plans To Attack Reporters With T.V. Ads Against Them; President Trump Uses Profanity As He Stump's Against Democrats, The Press, And Mueller Report; President Trump Undercuts Own Staff Again And Again. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:25] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

And we begin with this breaking news. Did the president just threaten to block the release of the Mueller report? We don't know for sure, but depending on how you read what he just wrote, he might have.

A little background first. This afternoon in a letter to Congress, Attorney General Bill Barr said the Mueller report will be ready for release by mid-April if not sooner. That full report is nearly 400 pages excluding tables and appendices. So, that was mid-afternoon.

But then, just minutes ago, the president, the same president who over the past week has said he's for the full release of the report, wrote this: Robert Mueller was a hero to the radical left Democrats until he ruled that there was no collusion with Russia, so ridiculous to even say, after more than two years since the insurance policy statement was made by a dirty cop, I got the answers I wanted, the truth.

The problem is no matter what the radical left Democrats get, no matter what we give them, it will never be enough. Just watch. They will harass and complain and resist the theme of their movement, so maybe we should just take our victory and say no. We've got a country to run.

So maybe we should just take our victory and say no? What exactly does that mean? Is he now threatening to block the release of the report or is he just broadly saying no to what he calls the harassment and complaining? Honestly, we don't know. We're asking, but we don't have an answer as of yet.

We also don't know what's in the nearly 400 pages of the report. Democrats have no idea what's in them. The White House and fellow Republicans don't know what's in them. In fact, Barr told Congress in that letter that he has no plans to share the report with the White House before it's made public, or should we say before more of it is made public. In fact as of now, Barr revealed 74 words from Mueller's report in that four-page summary -- 74 words excluding a single footnote and the title of the report, if you include all of that it jumps to a whopping 101 words.

Yes, those words do include the fact that Mueller does not think there is a criminal case for coordination or conspiracy, but 101 words out of 400 pages leaves a lot of room for possibilities. Do the 400 pages exonerate the president as he's been claiming for the past five days since we received the Barr summary? Or do the 400 pages reveal details about key events absent from it?

Details like what Mr. Mueller's team found out about the Trump Tower meeting. Details about what they learned about the cover-up and lies about the Trump Tower meeting. Details like what they learned about the Trump Tower Moscow project that the president pursued until the ending of his candidacy but denied ever doing. Details like what they learned about the Oval Office meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Details like why the special counsel specifically did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice.

The report will come out, Attorney General Barr says, once the DOJ is finished scrubbing the report of sensitive intelligence and ongoing legal matters. They're getting help with those retractions from the special counsel himself.

Meanwhile, Democrats are demanding that Barr stick to the deadline they set for the release of the report without redactions. That deadline is Tuesday, April 2nd.

Now, the news on all of this broke late this afternoon just before President Trump was set to talk to the press, so there is reaction from him on camera and then there's that tweet he just sent out.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now from the White House with the details.

Kaitlan, is there any sense at the White House what the president means with this statement of saying no maybe to the release of the full report?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, John, we haven't gotten a lot of clarity. If you read through the president's tweet, the beginning of it is essentially what he's been saying the last several days, but it's that last sentence right there at the end that really catches your eye where he says maybe we should just take our victory and say no. That is what is going to have people talking over the next few days, wondering what it is the president is trying to say there because it's certainly not explicit.

John, one thing it could be is that letter from the House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, in response to Bill Barr earlier today where he essentially refuted everything Barr said in his letter. He said he didn't agree with when Barr said that letter was going make it to Congress. He didn't agree to the fact there were going to be redactions in it. And he didn't like it when Barr said he would come testify in May and, instead, Nadler said he wanted him to come testify now.

So, that could be part of what the president is referring to. But also in the last several days, I've talked to several of the president's allies who have been touting Barr's summary on Sunday, that letter, saying that it's a victory for the president.

[20:05:04] But they're also a little bit worried about this full report coming out, all 400 pages. Not that it's going to expose the president legally or criminally to anything, but they fear it could be politically damaging to President Trump.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting because earlier today in public the president did seem to defer to the attorney general in terms of the report's release, correct?

COLLINS: Totally. He was speaking with reporters in Palm Beach. They asked him about the breaking news from Bill Barr about sending this redacted report to Congress within a matter of weeks. The president seemed pretty onboard with what Barr had said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in the attorney general. If that's what he'd like to do, I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch hunt. I have absolutely nothing to hide. I think a lot of things are coming out with respect to the other side. But I have a lot of confidence in the attorney general.


COLLINS: Now, we should note that in Barr's letter today, he said the White House is not going to get their hands on a copy of this redacted report until it's in lawmakers' hands as well. Now, he said in that letter the White House has the right to exert any executive privilege but since the president has publicly deferred to him as he did there on camera, that Barr is going to be the one making those decisions.

So, John, the question is, is Barr going to try to exert some executive privilege for any conversations that the president has had that is in that report.

BERMAN: Yes, we're going to put that question to some of our best legal minds in just a moment. Kaitlin Collins, thank you very much.

Joining us now from "The New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, also a CNN political analyst, and something of a Trump human decoder ring.

So, Maggie, thank you for being with us.

This latest statement from the president, maybe we should just say no. I have a hard time believing that this is a real literal genuine threat to block the release of the Mueller report. Is this just more of, A, him messing with people on a Friday night because he can? Or, B, sort of moving the bar, no pun intended, so the part of the report that does get released by Barr, he can say, look, we're being completely transparent, that didn't have to be? MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It

could be all of the above. It could be literally everything you just said. I think there are some of these tweets of his where there's not much utility in trying to figure out what the motive is. In this one, he could be trolling the press very successfully right now, he could be reacting to television coverage which he often does, or he could indeed be thinking, and I tend to think it's a little less that, that he's setting the bar at a different point.

Look, I think that -- I understand why the White House feels very good over the past week and they're doing exactly what I think that their political opponents would probably do in the same situation, which is say, look, this exonerates -- he's cleared. There's a difference between being cleared criminally and a political problem.

And this report is a potential political problem. So, I think that, you know, he said very clearly, we just saw in that video, I have nothing to hide. So, if he's saying that, you know, Barr is going through it for grand jury testimony, sources and methods, things like that. Barr can flag areas of potential privilege but my understanding is he can't exert privilege. He can only do that if he talks to the president.

BERMAN: We're going to talk to our lawyers. We have John and Shan Wu coming up about that.


BERMAN: It is possible I think when you talk more about this, that the attorney general could withhold things because the president might assert executive privilege at some point, like we see in congressional hearings. I do want to ask you because Kaitlan said some of her reporting is a sense of a little trepidation about the unknown about what might be in these 400 pages.

What are you hearing on that front?

HABERMAN: Exactly that, that I think as time has gone on, there is a recognition that I think the initial high of the summary from last Sunday has worn off a bit. You saw today that Barr sent either some note or made a statement that this was really just top line findings, folks. This was not supposed to be indicative of the entire report.

And I think as time is going on, folks around the president are becoming more aware of the fact that there could be things that are politically damaging in here. It may turn out that there isn't much, but at 300 to 400 pages that as I understand that don't include on the indictments or, you know, pieces of evidence, there is going to be a fair amount of information there. Exactly what that information reflects on the president remains to be seen, but they don't know either.

So they're getting a little ahead of themselves on some of what they're saying and trying to get the headlines they want. Again, politically, I understand that. They're trying to muddy the waters on this before it all comes out. BERMAN: What is the opinion right now that the president has of his

attorney general? You get the sense that he's his favorite person on earth at the current moment.

HABERMAN: The president's estimation of people can change pretty quickly, as you know. I think that he was very happy with the letter that came out on Sunday. I think he was very happy that the attorney general inserted himself into this in terms of saying there's no obstruction and the A.G. rules.

I think depending on what happens with this report, we will see how happy he is.

BERMAN: The attorney general and the president both claim there's a separation, that the attorney general is doing this completely on his own.

[20:10:00] HABERMAN: And they need that to be the view, because otherwise there is going to be a perception -- it may not be real but there will be a perception by some that the White House got involved and mucked around with it. Barr is already getting a lot of criticism for having taken the Mueller report further than Mueller has.

BERMAN: So, I guess my question is, any evidence it's not completely on his own, and, B, does the White House trust him to do it on his own?

HABERMAN: I mean, I think the White House does trust him to do it on his own. I think they think very highly of Bill Barr. Certainly, the White House counsel's office has a good relationship with him and there's no reason to believe from anything I know right now that there is some kind of exchanges going on about the information.

But, you know, we have another it sounds like two weeks until we see this, so who knows what's happening.

BERMAN: All right, Maggie, stand by if you will.

I want to bring in former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor, John Dean, also CNN legal analyst Shan Wu who briefly defended Rick Gates when he was indicted by the Mueller team.

John, let me start with you on the question Maggie and I were discussing there. We are told the White House will not see this before Barr releases it. It would be the White House who would have to technically assert executive privilege.

But what's your understanding of what William Barr could do here? Could he identify areas and keep them redacted because of the possibility that executive privilege might cover them?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: He could theoretically do that. I know of no instance where a president has delegated or tried to delegate executive privilege rights and powers. So I think what we're talking about is, are there things that are going to come up in the report that were given under the condition by the White House where they provided documents to the special counsel and they said they were reserving the right to invoke executive privilege. Will Barr flag that and withhold it for some reason until the president does or does not invoke executive privilege?

BERMAN: So, Shan --

DEAN: That's the issue.

BERMAN: We know that William Barr is an accomplished lawyer. I think there's been evidence over this last week that he's a shrewd political player as well. I don't mean that pejoratively. But the mere fact that this report is 400 pages nearly, and we learned that today officially from him for the first time. There's no reason he could not have told us that last Friday had he wanted to, correct?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, it was like pulling teeth to get that page count out. Absolutely.

There's really -- he's not in the realm right now where he's confined by legal requirements, so it very much is him exercising his discretion. One of the points John just raised is quite fascinating. One of the great unknowns is we don't know what kind of conditions there were with regard to information turned over by the White House to him. In fact, we don't know much about what he promised with regard to the president's written answers as well.

All that has given Barr an enormous amount of discretion. And he appears very unafraid to use that discretion, John.

BERMAN: He listed four areas, Shan, where he would redact or withhold material in these 400 pages. Grand jury testimony, intelligence testimony, also ongoing legal investigations and number four -- I want more explanation on -- information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.

That might be an area where there is wide discretion. I would imagine some argument, Shan.

WU: Oh, yes, that is a area of very wide discretion. That's like his safety net there for what he wants to do. I mean, it sounds like the Mueller report is what we call a prosecution memo. And that's going to rely heavily on the grand jury information. Usually, there's tons and tons of quotes from that in the analysis.

It's not rocket science to get rid of the grand jury testimony. It's quite easy, anything that came before the grand jury. If he takes that out of the equation, not too much left. He takes out classified, not too much left.

Sources, techniques, now you've got really small amounts. If he then exercises this last one which he thinks is sensitive material in his judgment, you could be looking at just pages and pages of blank pages.

BERMAN: There's a little bristling in here too, Maggie, in this new letter from William Barr where he says it's been mischaracterized that his four pages were a summary. He's now saying it wasn't a summary, it was principal conclusions. He obviously doesn't like how this is being portrayed.

HABERMAN: Yes, I don't think that the five days of coverage that have been suggesting that he basically presented a finding before anybody has seen the report, anybody outside of the Justice Department has seen the report, I think that seems to have bothered him. Again, I think this all -- I don't know to be clear, I really want to be careful about what we do not know, which is a lot. We have no idea what's in this report.

But seeing something like this after his initial letter to Congress last Sunday, it indicates to me that he wants to at least prepare the public or Congress for the fact that there might be, you know, sort of more nuanced portrayals, shall we say, in the report than just saying there's no evidence of conspiracy and a lack of exoneration or a charge on obstruction of justice, but I've decided no obstruction.

[20:15:05] BERMAN: He wants to prepare us for that now. Where one week ago if he told the public, there were 400 pages there might have been a different response.

HABERMAN: Right, that is one area where I think there is a legitimate criticism, why they couldn't say that out front. I do think Barr was in a damned if he did, damned if he didn't situation over the weekend. You know, he got criticized for taking just 48 hours. If he took longer than that, he would have accused of meddling around.

So, I don't think he had a win-win there. But I do think that in terms of just preparing people for as much information about the scope of this, I think that would have been wise.

BERMAN: So, John Dean, key historical and legal question here. One area where Barr says he will withhold information from this report has to do with grand jury testimony. Well, a judge can release that grand jury testimony and make it public. There's historical precedent for that, in Ken Starr's investigation, also the Watergate investigation.

My understanding in Watergate, one of the areas where this became a reason to make it public was because there was an official impeachment inquiry. Does that incentivize Congress -- now, they don't want to do this. Democrats don't want to use impeachment really in any way right now. But might they need to, to make the legal case that they have a right to see the grand jury testimony?

DEAN: John, there's not a lot -- excuse me, there's not a lot of case law on this. There are a handful of cases. There's some conflicting cases. The D.C. Circuit has been very favorable to congress.

But as you point out, it's been in the impeachment context. Not just presidents, but judges. And so, they want to see -- it's a very different situation when it's just a general oversight inquiry. The case law is very mixed there.

So, this is no sure route. If they do issue a subpoena that they can get this material via subpoena, the grand jury material. They can probably get everything surrounding the grand jury and learn largely what did happen in a grand jury. They can get notes from prosecutors. They can get other things that weren't actually presented in a grand jury, FBI summaries, but the grand jury itself, the 6-E rule is very tight.

BERMAN: Shan, one other fascinating thing in these two pages that we got from William Barr, he made a point of saying that the special counsel, not the special counsel's team, the special counsel is assisting him in going through this 400-page report.

To me that feels like a message, that Mueller is buying in. May not be true, I don't know. But it's a message that Barr wants to deliver that Mueller is buying into what Barr is doing.

WU: It does sound like a message. I mean, from a practical standpoint, John, you'd have to have the Mueller team's assistance in scrubbing what's the grand jury material and ongoing investigations. So , that's really sort of a practical point that he puts out there, but it certainly has the implicit atmospheric that, oh, the special counsel is buying into everything that we do.

BERMAN: Mueller was not a part of the four-page summary last week, so that he's a part of this now is interesting.

Shan, John, Maggie, thank you very much.

A lot more ahead for us tonight, including a discussion with the man who's been pushing for the impeachment of the president. Is he going to back down after the Barr summary and as Democrats quieted talks of such efforts?

And later, President Trump is warning that he will close the border with Mexico as early as next week. What is behind this new threat and the new deadline? We'll have the latest ahead.


[20:22:37] BERMAN: Again, our breaking news, Attorney General Barr says he will deliver the Mueller report, or most of it, to Congress by mid-April if not sooner. A report that Barr says is nearly 400 pages long. Whatever happens next, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that for now, impeachment is not on the table.

Democrats, she says, should focus on health care and the economy. That is not what my next guest thinks. He's Tom Steyer, founder of Need to Impeach.

Tom, thank you very much for being with us.

Robert Mueller says there was no coordination or conspiracy with Russia. The attorney general says there's no criminal obstruction. Virtually, no Democrats want to go down this road to say nothing of the complications it poses for the presidential candidates.

So, why are you going to the mat on this? TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, NEED TO IMPEACH: John, we're a grassroots

organization. Eight million people have signed our petition asking that the president be impeached. What we're asking for is to put the evidence in front of the American people.

We've said for a year -- don't wait for the Mueller report. But when the Mueller report comes, let's look at the information. We already know from the public record that this is the most corrupt president in American history. And I believe we've seen him obstruct justice.

So I believe what we really want to do is put the evidence in front of the American people through public hearings, through giving us his tax records, and by giving us the full Mueller report so we, the American people across the country, can decide for ourselves whether he did -- whether what he did was obstruct justice and break his vow to us and to the Constitution.

BERMAN: Let me put it this way. We've only seen 101 words that are direct quotes from the Mueller report. But among them are he says he could not or will not establish a criminal case for conspiracy or coordination.

Is there anything that could be in these 400 pages, anything that Robert Mueller could say that would convince you to drop your pursuit of impeachment?

STEYER: John, I haven't seen the Mueller report. You haven't seen the Mueller report.

BERMAN: I know that.

STEYER: You can't --

BERMAN: But I'm just trying to establish whether --

STEYER: I will say this.


STEYER: I will say this. We will look at the information there, which has been gathered over two years and try and understand what it means.

[20:25:04] But we have in the public record that this is a president who's refused to divest himself from his business, who's continued to do business with foreign governments and with American corporations whom he has a lot of control --

BERMAN: And that's my question. Are you for impeachment no matter what the Mueller report says, aside from anything that might be in there?

STEYER: There is something in there that I will look at very closely and I believe honestly and objectively, which is what is the information that he's gathered on obstruction. But it's not just about me and I think that's the point, John.

There's a question here about the American people getting to see this. Not the insiders in Washington, D.C., not the administration deciding whether the administration has been corrupt and lawless. Give it to the American people so we can take a look and let me say, there is a real question here about whether the president is going to be treated equally before the law like every other American.


BERMAN: What about what -- what about what Nancy Pelosi says, which is that she would rather the Democrats in Congress focus on other things?

STEYER: Well, let me say this. Congress has full capability, and I've asked them directly, not only to go forward and try to pass legislation on health care and the economy, but they also have the ability at the same time to hold public hearings and let the American people see what has gone on here. I don't think that's a conflict at all. But what I do think is true is we cannot normalize the kind of corrupt behavior that this president has shown before and during his administration.

For instance, we know from the one day of public hearings that we've seen, which was the testimony of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee that the president was involved in felonies while he was in the White House. So, from my standpoint, we need to have a series of hearings, so Americans can look and see who the president surrounds himself with and what kinds of activities they were involved with together and let us make up our minds.

This is a political question, not a criminal question. This is a political question about whether this president is corrupt and whether he's put his interests ahead of the interests of the American people.

BERMAN: Tom Steyer, thank you for joining us tonight. We look forward to speaking to you more. Maybe in a couple of weeks when all of us have actually seen what's in this report.

STEYER: That would be a good thing, John.

BERMAN: All right. We have more breaking news ahead. President Trump says he will close the entire southern border or large parts of it by next week because he says Mexico isn't doing its part to stop illegal immigration. Coming up, can he actually do that? And what would happen if he does?


[20:31:26] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: More breaking news tonight. President Trump is threatening to close the border between the United States and Mexico as early as next week, saying there's no more detention space to hold undocumented immigrants.

Last night in a blistering speech to supporters in Michigan, he said a large part of the problem were fraudulent asylum seekers wanting to enter the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have people coming up -- you know, they're all met by the lawyers. The lawyers have -- and they come out. They're all met by the lawyers and they say, say the following phrase. I am very afraid for my life. I am afraid for my life. OK. And then I look at the guy, he looks like he just got out of the ring, he's the heavyweight champion of the world. He's afraid for his life. It's a big fat con job, folks.


BERMAN: So if the President actually goes through with the drastic move of closing the border, it would not only stop people but also billions in trade. Joining me now, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona.

Senator, let me start with you, closing the entire border. As a pro- business Republican, are you in favor of closing the entire border with Mexico?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not -- certainly not from a business perspective. It's not a benefit to our country. It's not a benefit certainly to the people in the southwest. I mean, it would be devastating to them. But it does send a message and it sends a message to Mexico and that's really where the message needs to be sent.

I mean, this -- you've got literally now -- even those on the left are admitting that we've got a crisis down there with the huge numbers of people now coming, all coming not from Mexico but traveling through Mexico. So this is something the Mexican government could do something about if they wanted to, but they're not doing something about it. And that's what I think the message -- you know, the message of doing something more dramatic at border is directed at them.

BERMAN: Is that how you see it, Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely not, John. I think what this President both said in his threats about closing the border and in his disgusting mockery of asylum seekers tell us that he actually has no idea how to fix the immigration system, and worse, he's not even interested in fixing it.

He is using this as a clarion call for his base. That is it. And, yes, we do have a problem, we do have a crisis at the border, but guess how you fix it? You actually focus on real solutions. You actually figure out what it's going to take to help these people stay in their own countries.

That's going to take diplomatic relations. That's going to take people understanding what is going on in Central America and actually helping to fix and resolve and stabilize their economy and their government. Here's the problem, John. To fix this long standing immigration problem, it's going to be hard. It's going to take bipartisan solutions based policy, and it's going to take a real focus on doing this in a humane way. Donald Trump doesn't do hard. Donald Trump doesn't do solutions-based policy. And Donald Trump certainly does not do humane.

BERMAN: What about the language, Senator, that Maria was talking about there. The mocking language calling it a con job from these asylum seekers, whom as you know are coming from El Salvador and countries riddled by violence. You know, as a man of deep faith, as I know you are, is that the right way to talk about these people who come to this country saying they're suffering?

SANTORUM: Well, what he's doing -- look, I don't like the President's tone when he does those types of mockeries. I think it's not something that the President should be doing.

[20:35:06] Having said that, he does point out that, look, a great number -- a fairly high percentage of asylum seekers do not succeed in their asylum and don't have legitimate claims. And I think, you know, you certainly can make that case by the numbers. He makes it by mockery and drama, and that way we talk about it.

If you made it by the numbers, no one would talk about it. So, that's just the way the President communicates and, you know, you can like it or not like it, but he does get his point across and we have people talking about it.

Look, to answer Maria's issue that the President doesn't do hard, the idea that somehow or the other that we're going to stem the tide of people coming to this country by diplomatic or emergency or economic aid to El Salvador and Guatemala, that you want to talk about long- term, that's long-term. The short-term problem which is real has to be dealt with and that is relatively easy if the Mexicans decide that they want to participate in stemming that tide.

BERMAN: And, Rick, before I let Maria answer that, I do want to -- hang on one second, Maria. Senator, are you saying -- you said you have a personal problem and you wouldn't type -- use the type of language the President uses here. But making fun of asylum seekers, making fun of people fleeing violence, are you really saying that's an effective way of making an argument?

SANTORUM: I'm saying -- look, the President's example, I don't know if you want to call it making fun, I mean, he was pointing out --

BERMAN: He called it a con job and he said --


BERMAN: -- a guy look like a heavyweight champion.

CARDONA: He was making fun.

SANTORUM: And what I would say is that, you know, that there are probably circumstances that fit the bill. I don't think it's an appropriate way to do it, but as I said, it's effective in the sense that it gets people to talk about the point of the number of people who come over here who simply do not qualify for asylum and never would and shouldn't be.

BERMAN: Go ahead, Maria.

CARDONA: But, Senator, how is that helping to fix the problem by mocking these people? Why doesn't he sit down with people who are actually experts at how you fix asylum?

And the issue is actually not people who are trying to gain the system, the issue isn't even actually money, because immigration -- Homeland Security got a ton more money and the CR that we just passed, the problem or the issue that we are missing is actually people that are wanting to and willing to sit down and focus on a solution.

I can talk about two quick solutions right now, Senator, that would help to stem the tide. Spend some money on additional immigration judges to set up asylum interviews on the border and then you try to do these cases and do them quickly, that's one very quick thing. But again, this President is not interested in solutions. He's interested in using these people to help his own political situation.

BERMAN: We are interested in solutions here and we will talk about them again very soon. Senator Santorum, Maria Cardona, thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, legendary news reporter and anchor, Sam Donaldson, joins us to talk about President Trump's new attacks on the media and how the Republican National Committee is reportedly gathering evidence to use against reporters who cover the White House.


[20:41:54] BERMAN: President Trump is back in attack mode and he's taking aim at one of his favorite targets. Last night before a friendly crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the President spent a good chunk of his 85-minute speech going after Democrats and the media, who he claims knew all along that he never colluded with Russia.


TRUMP: The corrupt media and it's never been more corrupt than it is today. The media bosses, bad people. The crooked journalists, the totally dishonest T.V. pundits, and by the way, they know it's not true. They're just got great ratings.


BERMAN: So slamming the media in front of crowds of supporters is not new for this President. What is new, the RNC and pro-Trump Super PAC America First are reportedly planning on taking it a step further. A source tells "The Atlantic" the organizations are prepared to hit reporters with 30-second spots highlighting their, "ridiculous claims about collusion." The source also claims reporters tweets have been screen capped and it's all ready to go.

Award-winning journalist Sam Donaldson joins us now. Sam, look, you better than anyone know that attacks on coverage, that's not new. But a paid political campaign against specific reporters, that seems unusual.

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Yes, that was a new angle last night in Grand Rapids. You know, that was a lollapalooza of a speech. President went almost two hours, didn't he? I think Fidel Castro once went five hours. Now, when I tell him that Castro went five hours, he'll go, "I can do that," and he might do it.

But to attack the press, I do not know, John, who the Democratic nominee is going to be next year. It won't be me, it won't be a reporter. I mean, to run against us, he's got to run against a real- live person who maybe president and the issues are going to be important.

He gives us -- the gives them health care. He says, "Let's run on health care." Please, please, come ahead. Let's do that. Let's run on cruelty to children here in the United States. Look at his budget. Let's take money away from the Special Olympics. Well, Ms. DeVos had to back track on that when the pressure got too hard. Let's look at his record. He's running, not the press, and the facts will be out.

BERMAN: Do you feel, though, that the repeated attacks that it could be politically effective?

DONALDSON: It will be politically effective with his base. He's got 31 percent, 32 percent, but it is hard core. He could do anything, as he says, shoot somebody in the middle of the day, he wouldn't lose a single one of their votes. But they're not the majority in this country. They're never going to be the majority. I don't believe.

You know, I did an interview with him in 1990. There's a course of interview about his business. His business was failing but he blew a lot of smoke. And during the course of the interview, he called me rude, he called me ignorant. You know, I'm not that smart. He called me out to get him.

[20:45:04] So I'm one of the pioneers of the Donald J. Trump attack machine. It didn't hurt me. I just kind of went on. And by the way, I was not out to get him at that time and I'm not out to get him now.

He wants to run on all of this junk. I think his opponent ought to run on the issues the American people really apparently care about. Last November, they weighed in, Mr. President, what do you make of that? Did you win that? Yes, on election night you said it was almost a total victory. Once again, does he really know what's going on?

BERMAN: Let me ask you this, Sam. You covered many administrations and many presidents. Last night speaking before this crowd, the President said, "ridiculous bullshit." He was talking about things that Congress was saying about him and he used those words. Are those words in your mind that the President of the United States should be using? He's used them before. What's the impact of that over time?

DONALDSON: I think the impact is to turn a lot of people off. Maybe not his base, they make excuses for him. Well, he was just trying to make a point. It was locker room talk, we all do that. No, we don't all do that. And if we do, we do it privately and just with our gentleman friends, please.

Have I used that word you just used? Sure, I have. Not on television, not in public, not to people if I do a talk once in a while. This is a president who does not conform to any rules and norms of civility, any rules and norms of behavior that I think most Americans want to see, whether they want to see it in their house of worship, whether they want to see it in their schools, whether they want to see it in their clubs, whether they want to see it in their social life. He doesn't care. I think Americans care. I think you'll find that out, but I could be wrong.

BERMAN: Sam Donaldson, one of my favorite, my absolute favorite former ABC News reporter, thank you so much for being with us.

DONALDSON: John, I've said it before, you're too easily pleased.

BERMAN: I appreciate it, Sam. As I said, you're my favorite.

Now, to one of my top 10 or 15 favorite former ABC News reporters, Chris Cuomo. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Easy, he was my mentor. I did a show with Sam.

BERMAN: He was my favorite.

CUOMO: And he taught me a lot of my tactics.

BERMAN: He was my favorite. You're one of my top 10. You're up there.

CUOMO: Yes, yes, yes, that's okay.


CUOMO: Let me tell you, this is the first time I've ever said this. I think Sam is wrong. One, he is maybe one of the first victims of the Trump PR machine, I don't think so. He wrote a letter when Chris Vlasto and I were investigating his net worth where he damned me back to the womb, JB.

He wrote a letter where he was going to sue me, all of ABC, all of Disney and my parents, damning me back to the womb, literally, even though it was written by his lawyer. Vlasto and I theorized that he not only wrote it or had a hand in it, but he dictated it because it sounded just like him.

And for the coarse language, he does it because it works for him. Sam is there on the screen. I love you. It's great to see you, Sam. You look as good as ever and your points are as salient as ever. But I believe his coarseness is a device.

BERMAN: Sam, Cuomo says you're wrong. What do you say to him?

DONALDSON: You know, I don't think coarse is -- I said back then (ph) who he is really. And by the way, so, I got attacked personally on camera by him. You have a letter? Come on, Chris. You know better than that. I'm the winner. I'm the big one. Oh, gosh, it's infectious, isn't it?

CUOMO: He told me, Sam, that the reason he gets audited so much by the IRS is because he's such a devout Christian.

BERMAN: Trump?

CUOMO: Yes, he told me that during a debate. My point is this, he says outlandish things --

DONALDSON: Well, I never --

CUOMO: -- and it makes people think, "See, he's one of us. He's not one of them, he's not a politician, he's not an elite. He talks like us, he makes points the way we do, he's about us." And I think it works to his advantage, I do. We'll see how it plays out, but that's my sense.

BERMAN: All right. Sam Donaldson, thank you very much for being with us. Chris and I both collectively, you are our favorite, so thank you for being here tonight. Chris, we look forward to your show in about 11 minutes.

All right, yesterday's stunning reversal on Special Olympic funding was just the latest example of President Trump undercutting a member of his cabinet. We're going to speak to David Gergen who worked for four presidents about this unusual pattern, next.


[20:52:42] BERMAN: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent this week getting grilled by congressional Democrats in hearings over the proposal to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics. It was a tough sell to lawmakers. Then she had to face the press, which led to awkward moments like this one you're seeing right here.

But DeVos stood by her proposal to cut nearly $18 million in funding to the program. Then yesterday afternoon, a total reversal, President Trump apparently unbeknownst to Betsy DeVos announced that the money won't be cut after all.


TRUMP: I've been to the Special Olympics, I think it's incredible. And I just authorized a funding. I heard about it this morning. I have overridden my people. We're funding the Special Olympics.


BERMAN: So as Randi Kaye reports, this is not the first or the second time that the President has thrown one of his cabinet members under the bus.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President can't undercut his own cabinet. The President is the leader of the cabinet.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite what his press secretary says, President Donald Trump does exactly that, undercuts not just his cabinet but many on his White House staff, again and again. During the travel ban --

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first of all, it's not a travel ban. When we use words like travel ban, that misrepresents what it is.

KAYE: Just a few days later, the President himself still calling it a ban, tweeting, "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban." Trump at it again after firing then FBI Director James Comey, the White House staff has one narrative.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general.

KAYE: A deputy attorney general who didn't like Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. But in this bombshell interview with NBC, the President says Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

KAYE: Russia was the reason Trump undercut his director of national intelligence too, casting doubt on Dan Coats' warning about Russian interference. After Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, he was asked whom he believed regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump said this.

[20:55:04] TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think its Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

KAYE (on camera): And what about reports that the President had revealed highly classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, team Trump refuted that. His national security advisor at the time quick to call the report false. H.R. MCMASTER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And I was in the room, it didn't happen.

KAYE (voice-over): Cue the President the next morning, seeming to contradict his national security advisor, tweeting, "As President, I wanted to share with Russia at an openly scheduled White House meeting which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety."

President Trump undercut his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, too. While Tillerson was on a diplomatic trip to Beijing, hoping to make a deal on North Korea, Trump tweeting, "He is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man."

More recently on the looming government shutdown, Vice President Mike Pence was the target after his office characterized the meetings he had with aides to top Democrats as productive, Trump threw water on that tweeting, "VP Mike Pence and team just left the White House. Not much headway made today."

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: David Gergen has advised four presidents. He's also a CNN Senior Political Analyst. David, when you see this, this public really flogging and undercutting of cabinet members and White House staff, what does it tell you?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It tells me that this President, his narcissism knows no bounds. Listen, leadership 101 teaches you that if you're going to lead a group of people, that you want them to be loyal to you, but it's also important that loyalty runs both ways. And in this case the President continually dismisses others because he wants to be the center of attention. He wants to call it (ph).

But there's something more going on here I might suggest, John, and that is I think coming out of the Mueller report and what he sees as complete exoneration, he's got a new swagger about him these last few days. You know, so what has he done?

He's overridden Betsy DeVos, one of the most loyal members of his cabinet. He's thrown a monkey wrench into the health care issue in such a way that his own Republicans are running scared from it, take Mitch McConnell, for example. And he's also now declared that he'll close the border with Mexico.

Those are all acts of someone who really has a sense of, "I'm in charge here, I'm completely in charge. I'm going to do what I want. I don't really give a darn -- what other people think." And there's a certain arrogance about this that I think is going to in the long run cost him a lot.

BERMAN: And there is a hubris certainly we've seen this week. I'm not sure --

GERGEN: Hubris.

BERMAN: -- I'm not totally sure that we see different actions from the President, you know, in the wake of that hubris because the splits and the undercutting of his cabinet members is really something we've seen before.

And there are those who wonder, David, if whether or not he treats it as sort of a public float. He doesn't care splitting with his own administration if he doesn't see the approval for some of the policies that he wants to out there.

GERGEN: No, and I think that's right. And I think he values sending a message to his base that he's his own independent guy. He's not only not beholden to Democrats, but he's not beholden to anybody else in his own party, in his own White House, you know, and that's the reason he's got this huge amount of turnover.

I think if you take all four presidents I worked for combined, I don't think there was as much turnover as there has been in this White House in the last couple of years.

BERMAN: The thing is, though, there's something disingenuous about it because this was a Trump administration budget that Betsy DeVos was defending on Capitol Hill.

GERGEN: Yes, yes. I'm so glad you raise that point, thank you. Yes. What that means is that Trump -- the budget, it means that budget went through the Office of Management and Budget where, you know, Mulvaney still has a huge amount of power. And then it went through the west- wing and had to be approved by President.

They had to red flag anything in there that was controversial to get it by the President. Then it was published and then, aha, I only learned about it five minutes ago, you know, and I'm completely overriding my secretary be damned.

BERMAN: Yes, it really just doesn't pass the smell test that it didn't have his stamp of approval going in and certainly someone within the White House knew about it the whole time.

GERGEN: Right, absolutely.

BERMAN: David Gergen, thank you very much for being with us. Thank you for helping us understands which may not be understandable sometimes. Really appreciate it.

GERGEN: Yes. Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right, a reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our interactive newscast on Facebook where you get a vote -- to vote on what story we cover.