Special: Recapping President Trump’s “Fox & Friends” interview

Apr. 27, 2018 AT 9:06 p.m. EDT
The panelists discussed the president’s recent wide-ranging phone interview on “Fox & Friends,” along with the findings from House Intelligence Committee's Republican-lead investigation into potential Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra , where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.

Joining me around the table, Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS NewsHour , Tara Palmeri of ABC News, Mark Landler of The New York Times , and Dan Balz of The Washington Post .

During a freewheeling phone interview on Fox and Friends Thursday morning, President Trump discussed everything from his frustrations with the Justice Department to former FBI Director James Comey. He also discussed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and his legal issues. It was the first time the president acknowledged Cohen represented him in a case involving adult entertainer Stormy Daniels.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From recording.) Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction, but Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me and, you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

MR. COSTA: Cohen, who has admitted he paid Daniels $130,000 in the month before the 2016 election, says he will assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the civil lawsuit filed against him by Ms. Daniels. Yamiche, covering this White House, what did they make of that Fox News interview and the legal thicket the president seemed to wade into on the Cohen front?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the White House – I mean, everybody that’s covering the White House realizes that there’s not a communications director, so the people that I’ve talked to say that John Kelly – Chief of Staff John Kelly can’t really control Donald Trump. And he wasn’t really controlling him all the way before, but at least you didn’t really see these 30-minute freewheeling conversations. The fact that the Fox News hosts at one point had to cut him off while he was starting to just talk about all sorts of things signals that he was kind of off and being able to talk about whatever he wants. But in terms of the legal aspects, the legal – I talked to a lot of legal experts about this, more so than White House aides, and they say it was really problematic for him to be talking about Michael Cohen’s case. And the fact that federal prosecutors turned around and used the president’s words against Michael Cohen shows you that he’s in hot water and that the president probably did not do him any favors.

MR. COSTA: What’s the latest from your reporting on Cohen and how this – how the White House is dealing with it? You see Cohen asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. You see the president trying to get involved through an attorney to review some of the materials seized in that FBI raid.

TARA PALMERI: Well, President Trump certainly hurt his case, like Yamiche said, by saying that he was only an attorney for him partially. I mean, he was a – he was a senior player in the Trump administration. That’s hard to believe. But I think that they’re worried because this targets – this is his lawyer for almost 15 years. I mean, they – he has a lot of information on Trump. Discovery could get icky. Maybe not impeachable, but certainly could get embarrassing for him. And this is – this could be something that’s not going to go away, especially the Stormy Daniels angle of it. And it’s Mueller, and now it’s Cohen hanging overhead.

MR. COSTA: And there was news Friday that the trial with Stormy Daniels is going to be delayed about 90 days.

MS. PALMERI: Mmm, so that’s 90 more days of coverage until then because we know that her media-savvy lawyer knows how to turn the –

MR. COSTA: He’s everywhere – (laughter) – Michael Avenatti.

DAN BALZ: He is everywhere.

MS. PALMERI: He’ll be at White House Correspondents Dinner we know.

MR. COSTA: Sure. We know that he will. (Laughter.)

MARK LANDLER: There was one other sort of negative development for President Trump on the Russia front just today with these reports that the Russian who helped broker the meeting with Don Trump Jr. that Jared attended during the campaign has now more or less outed herself as not just a(n) interested party, but someone who’s working as an agent of the – of the Russian government. So that then lends credence to those who do see, against what Trump says, evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia. So I think that story, which had been dormant for a while, may sort of revive now.

MR. COSTA: So the door is opening on that. You see she’s calling herself an informant, I believe, in an NBC News interview.

MR. LANDLER: Mmm hmm, informant is the right word.

MR. COSTA: And then you have the Michael Cohen trial. But then the door’s closing a bit on Capitol Hill on this – on this issue because Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee announced the results of their investigation, a Republican investigation – led by Republicans – into whether the Trump campaign was involved with Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The report said they had found no evidence of collusion, a finding the president was quick to point out in a tweet this morning. He typed: “Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. ‘No evidence’ that the Trump Campaign ‘colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia.’ Clinton Campaign,” he asserted, “paid for Opposition Research obtained from Russia- Wow! A total Witch Hunt! MUST END NOW!” Must end now, wonder what he’s talking about. Is that the Mueller probe? Rod Rosenstein’s job? Not clear. Democrats, however, put out their own document accusing Republicans of prematurely closing this investigation on Capitol Hill.

Congressional Republicans, when you look at, Dan, Mark Meadows, the Republican from North Carolina, Jim Jordan from Ohio, Devin Nunes in the House Intelligence Committee, they’re ratcheting up the pressure with this report they’re releasing, with their conversations with Rosenstein to end the federal probe.

MR. BALZ: Well, they are. I think that the reality is that the House Intelligence Committee investigation kind of disqualified itself a year ago, when it broke up in partisan wrangling. And so everything that’s come out since is seen through a partisan lens. But they have an agenda. And that agenda is pretty clear. They are trying to put that pressure on the FBI and/or the attorney general to do something about this. You know, the president every time he’s asked about it says: I’ve been accused that I’m going to do this, and they’re still standing. But I think that if you’re Rod Rosenstein, you have to wake up every day and wonder: How many more days am I going to have in this job? And what happens if that happens?

MR. COSTA: What about Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor? He met with Mueller on Tuesday in Southwest Washington. And they’re trying to negotiate a presidential interview. Is the president going to sit down or not?

MS. ALCINDOR: I think that’s the key question that everyone is Washington is asking. I know at PBS NewsHour, we’ve talked to a lot of lawyers who don’t want to represent this president, which is on its face is pretty remarkable, that we have a sitting U.S. president who’s having trouble finding kind of a lawyer that’s a top-tier lawyer. Rudy Giuliani is really a political choice in my mind, and a political choice in a lot of the experts I’ve talked to’s minds, because he’s someone who can talk for him on TV, he’s someone who can make the case.

In terms of actually putting him in front of Robert Mueller’s team and letting him be deposed, most people say – most of the lawyers that I talk to say: Donald Trump is not the kind of client that you want to be under oath, who you don’t want him to at all be in fear of lying to the FBI, because this is someone who objectively has said things that are not true. So it’s really, I think, a problematic thing. And I think that most of my sources say that he likely will not be sitting down for those reasons, the fact that if he does sit down he could get himself into a real problem.

MR. COSTA: Because if Mueller’s searching for intent, and he needs the president to figure out the president’s intent and these decisions, it’s very likely, as Yamiche was saying, he’s going to sit down.

MR. LANDLER: Well, and also Donald Trump has a proven record of admitting things when he talks to people. I mean, there’s the famous Lester Holt interview that probably was more important in laying the predicate for obstruction of justice than any other single development. So if you’re one of his lawyers, you’re rightly concerned that whether wittingly or unwittingly he’s going to blurt something out, as he did on Fox and Friends about Michael Cohen, that is going to just land him in more trouble. So I sort of continue to believe, notwithstanding Rudy Giuliani’s latest efforts, that in the end it just doesn’t happen.

MR. COSTA: And that Lester Holt interview’s from 2017, when the president fires Comey.

MR. LANDLER: That’s right.

MR. COSTA: And he says, in part, because of the Russia probe, or the Russia investigation.

MR. LANDLER: Because of the Russian investigation. That’s right.

MR. COSTA: And when you think about, Tara, Giuliani, you’ve covered New York politics. Any insight into the relationship between him and the president?

MS. PALMERI: Well, he was passed over for the AG job. I mean, that was something that he really wanted. Obviously, Rudy’s not up to that much, except maybe a third divorce I think I read recently. (Laughs.) So he was happy to step into the spotlight. This is a big role for him. And, you know, he’s a believer in the agenda, at least. But, yeah, it seemed that they needed a heavy hitter in there to just move the – to hopefully close the investigation. But, yeah, I mean, he needs to remind the president – who is very prone to hyperbole, to the point where sometimes aides say he just says things that aren’t true – and they have to remind him, no, no, no, sir, that’s not actually accurate. And put – doing that as, you know, before a special counsel, that could be some history repeating itself in some ways.

MR. COSTA: At one level, Giuliani’s a former U.S. attorney, he’s a former Justice Department official. But we also heard this week that he was pressing Mueller in the conversation about Jim Comey and whether Jim Comey’s credible. And so you see that confrontational style that Giuliani has, the president has. That’s combined on this legal team for the moment.

We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra . While you’re online, check out this week’s Notebook, where I report on the president’s inner circle and three people to watch.

I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.

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