A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, August 12, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS: America divided one year after Charlottesville. Last year, the president's response to that deadly and hateful rally made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Today, President Trump is calling on Americans to, quote, come together as a nation.
And explosive allegations...
OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, FRM. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: If he wants to start a race war, he's succeeding.
KARL: Omarosa is calling her former boss a racist.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Low life. She's a low life.
KARL: The White House says she is a disgruntled former employee, but is there any merit to Omarosa's claims. We'll ask Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and Elijah Cummings, the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Plus, just months before the mid-terms, a wakeup call for Republicans in Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a tied ball game.
KARL: And potential 2020 candidates test the waters in Iowa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they go low, I say we hit harder.
KARL: Could a publicly-driven lawyer for a porn star really be a serious presidential candidate? Michael Avenatti thinks he can.
We'll talk to him here live fresh off his trip to Iowa.
What's fact, what's fiction, and what matters this week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.
Good morning. And thank you for joining us this Sunday.
The president is spending the day in Bedminster, New Jersey at the last full day of his working vacation. President Trump's time away from Washington has been relatively quiet, a marked change from this time last year when he was forced to address the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
The president's response to that hate-fueled riot triggered massive blowback. It also shined a harsh spotlight on the president's own attitude toward race. And it prompted a conversation still playing out about who we are as a nation.
TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.
KARL: That was President Trump's initial response to last year's deadly Charlottesville rally, failing to specifically condemn Neo Nazis and white supremacists, arguably the low point of his presidency.
Three days later, this attempt at damage control.
TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
KARL: Making an already bad situation worse.
But fast forward to this weekend, another rally, and so far a very different response. The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division, the president tweeted yesterday "we must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to all americans."
But as the president preaches peace, a former staffer is calling him out.
MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: I heard the president of the United States use not only the "n" word but other horrible things during the production of The Apprentice.
KARL: Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the former Apprentice villain turned White House adviser, describing Trump as a, quote, racist, misogynist and bigot in her soon to be published book obtained by The Washington Post.
Here's what she told TMZ.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the Lebron James situation, that the president is really causing tension with African-Americans right now.
MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: If he wants to start a race war, he's succeeding.
KARL: But Omarosa's own words last year threatened to undermine her credibility.
UNIDENIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this president is racist?
MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Absolutely not. I would never sit nor work for someone who I believe to be a racist.
KARL: The White House says Omarosa's book is, quote, riddled with lies and false accusations.
Meanwhile, when it comes to race, President Trump is saying look at my record.
TRUMP: African-Americans, so many others, I said what do you have to lose? You have high crime rates, you have horrible education. So what happened is the African-American unemployment rate has reached the lowest level in the history of our country.
KARL: And that is one Trump claim that is true. African-American unemployment did hit a low in May.
But despite those numbers, only 36 percent of Americans say they approve of the way Trump is handling race relations. And among African-Americans, only 3 percent approve.
KARL: And joining us now is Congressman Elijah Cummings. He’s the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Congressman Cummings, thank you for joining us.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It's good to be with you.
KARL: So you heard the president’s message now, a year after Charlottesville . Let’s put it up on the screen one more time. He says: "We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to all Americans." Has the president now gotten the message right on this?
CUMMINGS: No. He has not gone far enough. I think it’s a low bar for the president of the United States to simply say he’s against racism. He’s got to do better than that. He’s got to address the people who are espousing racist-type comments and doing racial -- racist-type acts. And white supremacy, seems like he can’t get -- can’t say those words. But I think he can do better.
And the other thing, Jonathan, is we've got to look at -- it’s one thing to say things. It’s another thing when we look at the direction that you’re going and see that the very things that you say that you stand for, you undermine through your actions.
For example, I believe that he is about the business of suppressing the vote. I look at the way he has dealt with health care, taking away health care for so many Americans. And I look at the way he has treated and his administration has treated the young immigrant children and their parents. That is horrendous. And so, you know, when I hear the words, words ring hollow with me.
KARL: He seemed to reach out to you in the beginning of his presidency...
KARL: … and you met with him at the White House.
CUMMINGS: Yes, I did.
KARL: And you told him -- this was March of last year, so before Charlottesville. You told him that some of his language on race is hurtful and insulting to African-Americans. Have you talked to him since?
CUMMINGS: I talked to him once or twice. But that was close to a year ago now. Right after I met with him. But in that meeting, I also said something else, Jonathan. I said, Mr. President, you cannot just be the president for a few people, for 36 percent of the people, you’ve got to be the president for the entire nation and you’re not doing that.
KARL: Some of your colleagues, prominent Democrats in the House, have called him a racist. Just flatly said the president’s a racist. I don’t think I’ve heard you say that. Do you -- do you think...
CUMMINGS: I don't -- no, I’m not -- I look at a person’s actions. And you can label them however you want to label them. But I do not believe that President Trump has been a man of his word. I kept going back to his inauguration speech. And I ask the president right now to go back and to -- and read his inauguration speech where he talked about unity and bringing people together and how our unity will allow us to be the very best in the world.
And I think he has done, through his actions, almost everything he could to take that unity and throw it away.
KARL: So have you tried to reach out to him again? You know, you’ve got a very strong message that you’re giving to him right now.
KARL: But have you – have you asked to see him again...
CUMMINGS: No, no. I -- once or twice, but I just don’t -- I’ve gotten to a point where I’m totally frustrated. Jonathan, when you are dealing with someone who calls lies the truth and truth lies, it's kind of hard. And after I met with him the first time, he did not accurately depict what happened in the meeting. And that gave me, you know, some pause.
KARL: So is it hopeless? I mean what do you want him to do now? He’s come out, certainly the message is different than what he did a year ago. It may not be far enough, he’s not specifically calling out -- still not specifically calling out the white supremacists. But what do you want him to do?
CUMMINGS: I want him to be honest, first of all, with the American people. I want him to bring integrity back to the White House. I want him to stop doing the things that he’s doing and working in conjunction -- in conjunction with Republicans in the Congress to suppress the vote.
I want him to make sure that health care is provided to our citizens. And I want him to get his administration straight, because as far as I can see, it seems like there is -- they don’t seem to know what they’re doing, particularly when we look at what’s happening with these immigrant – immigrant children.
KARL: So I want to ask you about these allegations from Omarosa, but -- but before I get you on that, let’s -- let’s hear again what she told us just after she left the White House in December.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this president is racist?
OMAROSA MANIGAULT, FORMER POLITICAL AID, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Absolutely not. I would never sit nor work for someone who I believe to be a racist.
KARL: So does Omarosa have any credibility on this?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: I don't know. I don't know Omarosa, but I can only judge from what I've seen. You know, when people go around asking is somebody a racist, you know what happens? Once I say that and if I were to say that, that would be the headline and nobody would ever get the message.
And what I'm saying to you and the message that I want to get through is that this president has consistently tried to distract us from the things that we've been fighting for, distract us from the great country that we are, distract us from being the moral authority of this world, and distract us from the erosion -- I think in many instances his efforts to erode our democracy.
KARL: So, I want to ask you on a different subject, Elizabeth Warren made some comments the other day that have gotten quite a bit of blowback. She was talking about law enforcement and she said -- this is the quote -- the hard truth about our criminal justice system, it's racist, I mean from front to back.
She's calling the criminal justice system racist from front to back. Do you agree with that?
CUMMINGS: I don't necessarily agree with that, but I do know that right in Baltimore we have had some real problems with policing. And it wasn't about black police and white police, it was just some bad police. And we ended up with a consent decree that we're working through now.
We have to have smart policing. We have to have community policing. But certainly Senator Warren is entitled to her opinions, but that's where I stand.
KARL: The president has said -- you heard him in the open to the show, over and over again, African-American unemployment is at its lowest level, and that's actually true.
CUMMINGS; That may very well be true, but we have to ask what kind of jobs are those African-Americans getting? And Jonathan, I can tell you, when I have my job fair every year, thousands of people come out trying to get a few jobs. And so, you know, while the economy may be good, the question is does it have a direct effect on the quality of life?
KARL: So one last question, there was a story in Politico recently that said that the mid-term elections could bring the first African-American speaker of the House. Do you think that could happen? Do you think -- we've seen a lot of Democrats, a lot of candidates come out against Nancy Pelosi for speaker.
Is it time for an African-American speaker of the House?
CUMMINGS: I think it's quite possible, but I can -- I'd bet everything I've got that Nancy Pelosi will be speaker, period.
KARL: And you support her without question?
CUMMINGS: I support Nancy Pelosi without question. I think that she has been a phenomenal speaker.
KARL: And no chance you yourself run for speaker of the House?
KARL: OK, Elijah Cummings, thank you very much for joining us.
CUMMINGS: And now let's bring in the senior counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Kellyanne, thank you for joining us.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
KARL: So I want to ask you right away these -- about these allegations from Omarosa. You -- you’ve heard them, obviously. She says that she felt a growing realization that Donald Trump was indeed a racist, a bigot and a misogynist. You -- you seemed to be quite close to Omarosa when she was at the White House and when she left, you called her a very valued member of our team for a very long time. So what do you make of what she’s saying now?
CONWAY: The first time I ever heard Omarosa suggest those awful things about this president are in this book. And I think that Omarosa unfortunately has undercut her own credibility, whether it’s in the NPR interview confusing a very central fact in the book that she had never heard those alleged tapes and then she said the tapes really changed it for me.
And this is somebody who gave a glowing appraisal of Donald Trump the businessman, the star of the "The Apprentice," the candidate and indeed the president of the United States. She told your own network, Jon, ABC News, the day after she was fired from the White House that she had resigned, now she’s saying she was fired, that she -- that Donald Trump is not a racist, she said she never heard him use the N-word.
Let me tell you something, two years ago today Donald Trump asked me to be his campaign manager. I have worked alongside that man for over two straight years now without interruption, I have never a single time heard him use a racial slur about anyone. And it’s -- and I also never heard Omarosa complain that he had done that. And so the only thing that’s changed is that she’s now selling books.
And look, I think Omarosa is a tremendous disappointment here because she should be taking credit for all the great gains that this president has made with respect to that low unemployment number among African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and others. She should take credit for the fact that in his first month in office he took decisive executive action on behalf off HBCUs, workforce development, prison reform now, the drug crisis which I’ve tried to work on with Mr. Cummings and -- and others on his side of the aisle.
This president is saying with prison reform that if you paid your debt to society, that you should be given a second chance. And there are over 6.6 million available jobs now in the Trump economy and we want everybody of every background to have the skills, the training, the education, the opportunity and the dignity of work if they so desire. So I feel like Omarosa could have taken some credit for that, said look, I worked in the White House for a full year and I got the ball rolling with the president.
But -- but that doesn’t sell books and that doesn’t settle scores. So I understand whether it’s 30 pieces of silver or a seven figure book advance (ph), people do change their loyalties and change their mind. But I would refer you to Omarosa’s own comments. Very glowing appraisal of this president’s work and this president’s work with respect to the African American community.
Omarosa also criticized the Congressional Black Caucus while she was in the White House for -- for refusing to meet with the president.
KARL: So – so just to be clear, she says that she heard the president use racially charged language even in the White House, including –
CONWAY: He never said that to us in the White House, and I certainly have never heard it. But why didn’t she tell us at the time? Why not tell ABC News the day after she was fired that that is in fact what she witnessed?
She was asked explicitly the important question by your colleague at ABC News, Jon, and she said no, he’s not a racist. I wouldn’t – she said I would not be there, and I wouldn’t be there, none of us would be there if that were true.
You’ve got to – I totally with Congressman Cummings that you should look at what people do, and this president has made tremendous gains on behalf of the African American community and continues to.
And I – I do have correct the record, you said that the president has never denounced white supremacists. I want to read you his quote from August 14 of last year because it’s missing from the conversation.
And I quote, "racism is evil, all those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs" quote "including the KKK, neonazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hope to do (ph) as Americans."
KARL: Kellyanne, as – as you know, the president also said there were very fine people on both sides in that rally. That was a rally led by neonazis and white supremacists. Does he –
CONWAY: And – and he denounced them, but you’re not covering that.
KARL: No, no, but he said there were very fine people on both sides.
CONWAY: -- why doesn’t that matter? Why doesn’t it matter that you’re not taking the totality of his comments over the stretch of days, John?
KARL: Well because I think it’s still a question of who were the very fine people on the side of the neonazis?
CONWAY: Well he’s telling you who’s not, he’s saying he denounces, quote, "the KKK, neonazis, white supremacists and all those who cause violence in the name". And yesterday, in a very, very strong statement, he said that last year there was senseless and death and division.
He’s calling for unity among all Americans and he denounced all forms of bigotry and acts of violence and racism. And –
KARL: Still – still not specifically calling out the neonazis or the white supremacists or –
CONWAY: -- (inaudible) you just don’t cover it.
Do you even have – excuse me, does ABC even have the quote in your file that you’re able to put it up right now for all your viewers? Probably not. But I just read it –
KARL: I think – I think the fact that he said very fine people on both sides, and one of the sides was lead by neonazis and white supremacists.
CONWAY: He denounced –
KARL: I still don’t understand –
CONWAY: He said they’re criminals and thugs –
KARL: So who were – who were the very fine people marching with the neonazis?
CONWAY: -- white supremacists. He – he denounced all of them, you’re just not covering it.
KARL: OK you’re not – you’re not answering that question.
CONWAY: I answered the question. But you’ve got to show all the quotes to be fair. And John, I totally agree with Congressman Cummings. We should see what people’s records are.
So why don’t you go send a reporter to Chicago, to Baltimore, to Philadelphia, where the mayor of Philadelphia said we’re no longer going to give information to ICE and a child was sexually abused by – by an illegal alien who should not have been there.
Why don’t you go cover the violence – we’ve – we’ve got an increase in homelessness and crime and violence in these major inner cities that are governed by Democratic mayors who have not listed –
-- out of poverty, have not created the jobs my boss has created for them.
KARL: Kellyanne, the -- Omarosa was the most prominent, high level African American serving in the West Wing on the President Trump’s staff. Who now is that person? Who is the most prominent, high level advisor to the president on the West Wing staff right now?
CONWAY: African American?
CONWAY: I would say that – well first of all, you’re – you’re totally not covering the fact that our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and world renowned –
KARL: I’m asking you about the White House staff. I’m asking you about the people the president is with every day.
CONWAY: -- that he’s – well the president works with Secretary Carson every day. He’s trying to break the back of –
KARL: Who – who there is in – in the White House staff right now?
CONWAY: And we have Ja’Ron, who’s done a fabulous job, been very involved with – he’s been very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform from the (ph) beginning.
He’s been there from the beginning, he worked with Omarosa and others –
KARL: Does he have an office in the West Wing, Kelly?
CONWAY: He has an office on the – in the EOP, absolutely, the Executive Office of the President, yes.
KARL: But -- but not in the West Wing. What does that say to have not a single senior advisor in the West Wing who’s African American?
CONWAY: I didn’t say that there wasn’t, but hold on --
KARL: Who -- who is?
CONWAY: There -- there are plenty of people -- if you’re -- if you’re -- if you’re going by that and not by the actions of the president, which you probably should, then -- then you should look at the fact that we have a number of different minorities.
And the fact is that this president is doing well for all Americans. He promised on November 9, on his election night -- he wrote it into the speech. I was there when he changed the speech and wrote it in.
He said I will be the president for all Americans, even those who didn’t support me, he said and there were more than a few, he said in the wee hours of November 9. And he’s made good on that promise, Jonathan, look, you may not want to cover it as much as it should be covered, but the low -- the lowest -- historically low unemployment rate among African Americans --
KARL: We -- we -- I’ve said that already twice so far on the show.
CONWAY: I’m sorry --
KARL: So don’t say we’re not covering it.
CONWAY: -- the fact -- doesn’t get covered enough. Just like you gave 24 seconds of coverage to the Vice President receiving the remains of American soldiers --
KARL: OK --
CONWAY: -- who fell decades ago in Korea. These things just don’t seem as important as Russia.
KARL: OK, so one -- one -- one other question -- and I haven’t asked you anything about Russia -- is Omarosa said that she was offered $15,000 a month to work for the Trump campaign if she signed a document saying that she would not speak about her time in the White House. We’ve also heard the same number, $15,000, offered to two other staffers leaving the White House. Is the president in the habit of offering hush money to people leaving the White House?
CONWAY: That’s an insult and that is not what was offered. If she had worked on the campaign and she left the White House, according to her interview with ABC News, Jon, on great terms, that the president is, quote, not a racist and that she’s very proud of the work she did with him and that she knows -- and all the glowing appraisal she’s had of Donald Trump’s work over the years, it -- most specifically in the White House and on the campaign -- why not ask her to go back to the campaign? It is typical, and you know it, to sign an NDA --
KARL: Well --
CONWAY: and -- excuse me -- to sign an NDA in any place of work. I’d be shocked if you didn’t have one at ABC. She -- I’m told she signed them when she was on "The Apprentice", certainly at the campaign, we’ve all signed them in the West Wing. And why not have somebody who --
KARL: You’ve signed them in the West Wing?
CONWAY: -- again?
KARL: You’ve signed a non-disclosure --
CONWAY: We have confidentiality agreements in the West Wing, absolutely we do. And -- and why wouldn’t we? And by the way, the fact --
KARL: You’re -- well, you’re -- you’re -- you’re a public employee.
CONWAY: Well -- well hold on. But -- but confidentiality is -- is implied, Jon. Hold on -- thanks for bringing that up because I would have been (ph) remiss in not mentioning something you didn’t ask me which is these reports that Omarosa surreptitiously taped conversations in the West Wing, indeed maybe even the Oval Office? For what purpose? You have a reasonable expectation of confidentiality and privacy in your conversations at your place of work.
Why shouldn’t we in the West Wing? Why shouldn’t the president of the United States in the Oval Office indeed the few times that she was in there with him? I mean, this is -- but -- but look, many people who have left -- I can name them, you know them -- who have left the White House have been offered positions on the campaign, I believe at the super PAC, because they’ve demonstrated their talent and they’ve demonstrated that they get the president, they continue to support him.
That’s something Omarosa told your colleagues at ABC News the very day after she was fired -- she said she resigned, she changed that now in the book.
KARL: Kellyanne –
CONWAY: But why not offer (ph) -- that’s not hush money. Everybody signs an NDA. It sounds like she didn’t want to sign it and didn’t want to go back to the campaign because she had a book on her mind.
KARL: Kellyanne, I know you have to go. Before you do, I want to ask you about the midterm elections. The president tweeted, quote, as long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates within reason, they will win. He is predicting a giant red wave. Now, you are a pollster. You’ve been involved in campaigns for a long time. You don’t think the Republicans are actually going to see a red wave, that they’re actually going to pick up seats in the House, do you?
CONWAY: They certainly can and here’s why. First of all, this man --
CONWAY: -- makes -- excuse me, this man makes history, he doesn’t repeat history. He makes his own trend, he doesn’t follow them.
I would – I would think that the media got all the polling wrong. I know you guys are doing national polling which was irrelevant and inaccurate, but they’ve got all the polling wrong, didn’t think he could win, probably didn’t want him to win.
This is someone who’s going to go out there and – and put up his own political currency. And we won eight out of nine special elections so far, Jon, that’s a great track record. Here’s what – here’s the problem I see for the Democrats.
Is who’s in charge of their party? Is it Tom Perez, who they don’t respect? Is it – is it the 28 year old socialist? Is it the 70 something year old socialist? She gets her facts wrong routinely about basic policy issues.
Is it Elizabeth Warren who says that all law enforcement is racist from front to back and forward and backward? Is it – is it Hillary Clinton who still can’t get over her loss in 2016? Who is the leader of the party?
And what is their message exactly? They shut down the government in the beginning of this year. All of them voted against the historic tax cuts which have led to 6 million Americans getting bonuses or raises or both where our corporate tax rate has decreased to that.
These folks are hiring more people, lowest unemployment rate, GDP at four percent, energy development, renegotiating imbalanced, non-reciprocal, unfair –
CONWAY: What is the message? That 400,000 manufacturing jobs are a bad idea? They have no message. And I went back and read speeches by President Obama at this point in 2010, his first midterm election, it was all gloom and doom.
And for this president, it’s all economic boom. It’s a fundamentally different message. We understand there are 42 House retirements. That’s tough. And we see that the party in power usually suffers grievous losses.
But can you tell me it’s going to be the 63 House seat losses that Obama suffered or the 54 Clinton suffered. Nobody’s predicting that right now.
KARL: So Kellyanne, can you clarify something before you go? The president was again tweeting about Attorney General Sessions yesterday saying RAG is scared stiff and missing in action.
This comes after the chairman – the chairman of his campaign – campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is saying it is time to fire Sessions. Are Sessions’ days numbered as attorney general?
CONWAY: The president is frustrated that the attorney general recused himself in early March of 2017 from anything having to do with the campaign. And what the president really wants, if you look at all of his tweets and don’t just cherry pick them, the (inaudible) of his tweets, Jon, are that he wants to make sure we’re investigating all sides of the, quote, so called Russian collusion.
I’ve noticed that the media is almost silent about these new revelations that Christopher Steele and the number four at the FBI, Peter Ohr and his wife Nellie working for Fusion GPS.
I don’t want Americans to get so confused at this convoluted mess to miss the essential point here, was that the pro-Hillary people were so afraid that they needed to prop her up, that she was such a non-compelling, non-persuasive pathetic candidate that they had to dig up dirt on Donald Trump early on that...
KARL: But to my questions, will Jeff Sessions be the attorney general by the end of the year?
CONWAY: Well how in the world will I know the answer to that question?
KARL: Well what do you think?
KARL: We have the campaign manager saying he should be fired, we have the president saying he’s missing in action. I mean...
CONWAY: Excuse me? That’s -- I’m not answering questions as to who will be in the White House at the end of the year. That’s a crazy question. You just want to roll the tape sometime.
I think the fundamental point here is that the attorney general is doing great work on law enforcement, on -- on pushing back on MS-13 gangs, on his SOS which is his Synthetic Opioid Surge task force, working with the new D.A. acting director.
But he has recused himself from this. And the president rightfully wants to -- wants America to see that this Mueller investigation comes to a conclusion in a timely fashion. So far no Russia collusion proven. And you know it. You know I was the campaign manager for the winning part of the campaign. I never talked to anybody in Russia. I talked to people in the Macomb County, Michigan and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Not Moscow. You know...
CONWAY: ...there’s no collusion. Paul Manafort’s on trial, has nothing to do with the campaign, Russia, collusion, the judge warned everybody not even to say those words.
KARL: Kellyanne Conway, thank you for joining us.
CONWAY: Thank you, Jon.
KARL: Appreciate it.
Coming up, the Powerhouse Roundtable on the president and race.
And what do they think of Omarosa's allegations?
Plus, you probably know him as Stormy Daniel's lawyer, but Michael Avenatti says he's seriously considering a run for president in 2020. He'll be here live. And we'll be right back.
KARL: And we’re back with the powerhouse round table. Democratic strategist Donna Brazille, Mark Short, who left the White House just three weeks ago, where he served as the president’s director of legislative affairs. He’s now a senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. Jonathan Swan, Axios’ national political reporter and political strategist and ABC News contributor Ana Navarro. Thank you all for joining us.
So Donna, one year after Charlottesville, the president certainly has a different message. Let me ask you what I asked Elijah Cummings. Does he have the right message now?
DONNA BRAZILLE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: No. I think the president’s statement last year about -- let me make sure I’m right -- very fine people on both sides and his statement this week in all types of -- all types of racism, it echoes his same statement. It -- you have to -- this is a moral issue. Racism, there’s no equivalent. The president has to condemn racism, he needs to condemn the KK, he needs to -- to condemn these groups.
And they’re not just marching in Washington, they’re marching all over America. And so the president needs to come out with a firm statement. Look, he condemns LeBron James, he condemns our friend Don Lemon, he condemns Maxine Waters. Call their name and condemn these groups and the violence that they are out there perpetrating.
KARL: Marc, you were at the White House at the time of the Charlottesville tragedy, the -- when you saw the president’s response, what was your reaction in real time when you heard him come out and say very fine people on both sides?
MARC SHORT, SENIOR FELLOW, MILLER CENTER OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Jon, and I think I’ve said that the White House didn’t handle that as well as we could have from a P.R. perspective. But when Donna says that he should have called them out by name, this is what he said last year, August 14. Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its names (ph) are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.
So we say the president didn’t call them out by name, but he did. He mixed messages, which was unfortunate and wrong, but the president did call it out. And too often we don’t actually remember that.
KARL: But we still have that very fine people on both sides. You saw me try to get an answer --
SHORT: I said --
KARL: -- out of Kellyanne earlier (ph).
SHORT: -- I -- no -- I just said -- I agree with you, that’s -- that was -- that was mixed messaging and that unfortunate. But I -- to say that he never called them out is also wrong. The facts say that he did and the president reiterated that yesterday.
ANA NAVARRO, CONTRIBUTOR, ABC NEWS: Look, for me, today, this weekend is about Heather Heyer. Let’s remember her name. Let us live like Heather. She lost her life a year ago. She was killed protesting white supremacists. She raised her voice against racism. Here’s the problem with Donald Trump. Today is one day. But there’s 365 days a year and most of those days, he is figuring out ways how to divide this country through racial lines, ethnic lines, immigration, whatever it may be.
Whether it is going after John Lewis, whether it is going after LeBron James, Don Lemon, calling Maxine Waters low-I.Q. Just a few days ago, he was again tweeting against the NFL athletes taking a knee -- African American athletes. He -- you know, he -- so many times he has gone after African Americans, after people of color. We see him putting little children -- immigrant children behind chain link fences.
We see him attack chain migration, except when it is about his wife. I’m glad 47 year old Melania can be reunited with her parents. I only wish the children who are at the border getting separated from theirs and putting in (ph) jail and being treated like animals would get the same benefit.
KARL: Well let’s turn to what Omarosa is saying because she’s – she’s picking up --
NAVARRO: Oh god, why?
KARL: But Jonathan, before we get to the substance of what she’s saying, we’ve heard she recorded her conversations in – in the West Wing. She actually – she’s got a tape of herself getting fired.
SWAN: In this situation (ph).
KARL: In the – how – I mean that’s kind of mind blowing, isn’t it?
SWAN: I’ve – I’ve honestly never heard of anything like it. It’s – it’s – I mean it’s – have we – has it ever happened? Has someone ever recorded in the Situation Room before?
KARL: The presidents have recorded themselves but –
SWAN: -- on TV.
BRAZILLE: Because she was locked in the Situation Room and she recorded as they held her in the situation room in a locked door.
SHORT: When you enter the Situation Room, you have to give up all your phones. So if she actually did that, that’s quite an affront. But I mean, the reality is, Jonathan, the media ridiculed and mocked Omarosa for the full year plus that she was in the White House.
And now she writes a book and all of a sudden she’s like an oracle and everybody’s –
KARL: But let me ask you, Donna. You heard what she told us, ABC News, right after she left. The president’s not a racist, I would never work for a racist. And now she’s saying exactly the opposite.
Does she – does she have any credibility on this? I mean you’ve known her for a long time.
BRAZILLE: Of course I’ve known her for a long time, and I believe that we’re going to hear a lot more from her because she has more than one tape. OK, so let’s get ready for the – the next reiteration of her tape.
And Omarosa believes strongly that President Trump has displayed racist anxiety, racist rhetoric and she’s –
KARL: Why didn’t she say it when she was still working for him?
BRAZILLE: Look, why did (ph) –
KARL: Why did she deny it when she left?
BRAZILLE: Why did she go to work for someone who she perhaps believed that during the time on "The Apprentice", and then she said, and not just in the book, but she’s also said that she has sought those tapes where he has the vile N-word.
I don’t know, I haven’t read the book. All I know is Omarosa believes that she has a story to tell and I’m the last person –
NAVARRO: -- Omarosa has a buck to make. She is – look, I am no fan of Donald Trump, that is no secret. But that – and – and I will tell you birds of a feather flock together. There is a reason why this is happening over and over again with Donald Trump and it’s because he has surrounded himself by people who are unfit, who don’t have the character and who have no loyalty to him and so have no qualms about turning loyalty into royalties.
That’s what we are seeing. No Omarosa has no credibility, she’s Omarosa (ph) in my book.
-- Donald Trump –
SWAN: The most interesting thing about it (ph) –
-- it’s not that complicated, and I’ve talked to people inside. Men, senior men who worked with her, they’re scared of her. They’re all scared of her. I’m not going to talk about Marc, I don’t know, Marc might not be.
But let me tell you, I’ve heard from grown men who worked in the administration (ph), if Omarosa says something (inaudible) you do it. They are literally scared –
SHORT: But there’s less focus on Mary Elizabeth Taylor who was an African American staff on our (ph) team who did more in this White House to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed than anybody else.
She led (ph) all of our confirmations. There’s less focus on Ja’Ron Smith, who I hired 10 years ago in Mike Pence’s staff who’s leading –
KARL: But you still don’t have a senior advisor to the president who’s African American, who has an office in the West Wing.
SHORT: That’s not true, Ja’Ron Smith’s office is actually in the East Wing. He is in the White House. And we also talk about – we don’t talk about Daris Meeks who I hired 10 years ago in Mike Pence’s staff also who is head of policy for the vice president of the United States.
So there’s a lot of focus in the media on Omarosa, but there’s less focus actually on those who are actually doing really hard jobs and doing really good work for the president.
SWAN: -- she was at the very top level, she was at the most – the maximum salary, I mean. You know, you can’t like say that he didn’t give her the very top job.
SHORT: That’s fair, but there’s (ph) also less attention – there’s no attention on those names I just put out for you. In fact, probably no one has –
KARL: None of them are among the 55 top paid staffers in the White House staff. None of them.
SHORT: They are doing phenomenal jobs, and in fact –
KARL: In fact there is – there is no African Americans –
SHORT: -- just nominated for Senate confirmation for the role that she’s been doing so she can be –
NAVARRO: -- "The Apprentice" or whether it through the White House, Omarosa is a creation of Donald Trump and he deserves this exactly.
KARL: All right, we’ve got to take a quick break. We will be back with more from the round table, but coming up next, we’ll talk to one of the most high profile and unconventional Democrats now considering a run for president, Michael Avenatti joins us in just a moment.
KARL: He's just back from Iowa and he wasn't there on legal business. Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti is here live. His first sitdown interview since announcing he's exploring a run for president. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: Whether it’s me or somebody else, whoever it is, they better know how to fight, they better be prepared for a brutal campaign, they better be prepared for a -- a cage match. And if they don’t the stomach for it, they should stay home (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE; I think if Trump still stays in, that Michael Avenatti could beat him.
UNDENTIFIED MALE: Avenatti? I like the idea. I’ll work for him. I’m a Republican and I’ll work for him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he has integrity. So that’s a big plus to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: There you have it, Michael Avenatti making his pitch to voters at the Iowa State Fair. He’s been fighting President Trump as the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels but now says he is seriously considering running for president. Michael Avenatti joins us now. So let’s start with the big question. Most of the world knows you as the lawyer for a porn star and somebody that goes on cable TV a lot. Why should you be taken seriously as a presidential candidate?
AVENATTI: Well I think there’s a number of reasons I should be taken seriously. Number one, for over 18 years, I’ve been fighting on behalf of Davids versus Goliaths, some of the largest corporations in the world, con men, fraudsters, I’ve had great success. Over a billion dollars in verdicts and settlements. I’ve tried cases all across this country, so that’s number one. Number two, I’m a student of the law.
I’m very well-versed in a lot of issues that are at the forefront of our society right now. Environmental, issues, issues relating to the Supreme Court, issues relating to working people. And so I think that that also qualifies me. And in addition, I have the ability to communicate with people without having to take a poll or hire some consultant to figure out how to tell people the truth.
KARL: So like Donald Trump before he got into this, you’re somebody with no political experience. But -- but Trump had a signature issue he’d been talking about for 30 years. Trade. You can go back, consistent talking about trade. What is the Avenatti policy issue that you’ve been talking about over the years.
AVENATTI: The truth.
KARL: The truth?
AVENATTI: The truth. That is my policy. That is my policy issue, quote-unquote, is the truth. The facts and evidence. I deal and have dealt in 18 years with facts and evidence. That’s how you’re successful as an attorney. I don’t care how good a speaker you are, how good you are in front of a jury. If you don’t have the facts and the evidence, if you don’t have the ability to talk about the truth, you don’t succeed.
And what’s happened, unfortunately, especially over the last two years, three years with this president, Donald Trump, is we’ve lost track of holding him accountable as it relates to the truth and facts and evidence. And let me tell you this, I’m going to put Donald Trump on trial. We’re going to have a trial one way or the other. The only question is how many jurors are we going to have in that trial.
KARL: OK, so let’s try to get -- let’s try to pin down (ph) where you stand on the policies, on the issues, where you fit in the Democratic party. We’ll do a lightning round. If you can please -- let’s do some short answers to some big issues.
KARL: It’s a long campaign. Plenty of time to get into more specifics. But let’s start with the last Democratic primary. Where did you stand? Were you with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?
AVENATTI: Hillary Clinton.
KARL: OK. Where did you stand on this issue of abolishing ICE?
AVENATTI: I do not believe we should abolish ICE. That’s similar to saying we’re going to get rid of law enforcement, but we should curtail ICE.
KARL: OK, you say out and out (ph) whether you’re in favor of Medicare for All, a Bernie Sanders issue. How do you pay for it?
AVENATTI: Well, I mean I’d think you start with not building the wall on the southern border. I think you also figure out how -- what you’re going to do relating to some of these tax breaks that were just given. But I think look, this is a core issue. We have to provide a basic level of healthcare for all Americans, number one. And number two, if people then want to supplement that with additional plans, they should be permitted to do so.
KARL: Would you repeal all of the Trump tax cuts?
AVENATTI: I haven't decided yet. I'm still analyzing the issue.
KARL: OK. The biggest national security threat facing the United States right now?
AVENATTI: I think it would be the situation in the Middle East and -- well, I would say twofold. It's North Korea and Iran. And let me tell you this. If you're going to go to Singapore and have a summit, you don't go there for a photo-op in front of some flags and a red carpet. You actually go there to get something done.
If it was me, I'd still be there if we were still in the situation we are. We made no progress in connection with that.
As it relates to Iran, you don't send out an all-caps tweet in the middle of the night in a situation that is that serious. The problem with this president is he has interjected too much uncertainty into the international front.
KARL: So would you meet face-to-face with Kim Jong-un?
KARL: You would?
KARL: OK. TPP, the president, in one of his first actions as president, ripped it up. Would you try to revive it?
AVENATTI: I would try to revive it but I would also try to revise it.
KARL: Really? Because a lot of Democrats thought that was a bad trade deal, bad for American workers. So you're a free trade Democrat?
AVENATTI: I am a free trade, but it has to be fair trade. And I agree with the president that there has been a number of trade deals that have been put in place over the years that have been one-sided, but we can't just ignore all of our trade deals.
KARL: If Democrats take back the House, should they move to impeach President Trump?
AVENATTI: It depends on the evidence and the facts. Again, I'm a big guy on evidence and facts. And it depends on the evidence and facts as presented by Bob Mueller.
KARL: But the facts you know now, should they be campaigning on impeaching? It sounds like you're saying no.
AVENATTI: I don't think that there's enough facts and evidence as we know it right now. But that doesn't mean that that can't change or it may very well change next week.
KARL: So based on the facts now you don't think there's enough evidence to impeach President Trump?
AVENATTI: Not as we have right now. But I do believe, to be clear though, we need to be demanding why, why the president is standing shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin.
KARL: Should Nancy Pelosi be speaker of the house?
AVENATTI: You know, I think that's a very tough decision. I think the House leadership is ultimately -- and the House of Reps is going to make that decision. I don't know yet.
KARL: OK. You say you will only run if Democrats seem unlikely to nominate somebody who can beat President Trump. I want to go through just a few quick names.
Can Joe Biden beat Donald Trump?
AVENATTI: Again, I'm not going to opine as to whether I think a particular candidate can beat Donald Trump or not but here's what I'm going to say. OK, over the years the Democrats have had a lot of very talented individuals. But they have lacked fighters. They have lacked individuals willing to take the fight to Donald Trump and others. And that's a significant problem.
And here's the other thing I'm going to say. A lot of the people that are considering running, they've been around for a very long time. If they had the ability to take down Donald Trump...
KARL: That would be Joe Biden.
AVENATTI: If they had the ability to take down Donald Trump, they likely would have already done so. However, I do think that there are some people that are talking about running that might be able to do it.
KARL: Elizabeth Warren?
AVENATTI: Again, I'm not going to comment as to certain names. I have my own opinions as to whether individuals can do it or not.
KARL: Bernie Sanders?
AVENATTI: Again, same.
KARL: One more. Bernie Sanders...
AVENATTI: Look, I like Senator Sanders. I think he has been a phenomenal senator. I think he did a lot of good in the '16 campaign.
KARL: OK, there have been no shortage of controversies surrounding your business dealings. Let's look at some of the headlines we've seen over the last several months. The L.A. Times: "Law firm of Stormy Daniels's attorney hit with a $10 million judgment."
Politico: "Feds target Avenatti over firm's unpaid taxes." CNN: "Avenatti firm settles case with the IRS for $800,000." Don't the attack ads here essentially write themselves?
AVENATTI: No, I don't think so. And look, I'll put up my background and my record of fighting on behalf of working people over the last 20 years against Donald Trump's any day of the week. I say, bring it.
KARL: Hillary Clinton released eight years of her tax returns just after she started running. Will you do the same?
AVENATTI: I don't know yet. I haven't decided. I'll look at the issue. But here's what I do know...
KARL: You don't know if you'll release your tax returns? This was a major issue with Trump.
AVENATTI: No, I don't know if I'll release eight years of my tax returns. But here's what I...
KARL But will you commit to releasing some?
KARL: You will?
KARL: How will you make that judgment of how many?
AVENATTI: I don't know. I'm going to consult with people. We're going to see what the standard has been over the years. But where are Donald Trump's tax returns?
KARL: OK. Last question, you've criticized the president for not being smart enough to know what he doesn't know. So if you ran, tell us, what is your biggest weakness? What's the thing that you don't know?
AVENATTI: Well, I think that clearly the idea that I have not held elected office is a negative. And I'll own that. But here's the difference between Donald Trump and me. Donald Trump promised the American people the best and the brightest. He has been able to surround himself with anything but the best and the brightest, and the reason is, people don't want to work with him.
Why don't people want to work with him? Because he doesn't listen to them, because his ego does not allow him to take in that advice and act on it.
I'm not built that way. Were I to be elected, I would surround myself with very qualified people and I would actually listen to them.
KARL: OK. Michael Avenatti, thank you for joining us in your first in-depth interview as a possible presidential candidate. Appreciate it.
And we'll be right back with the roundtable.
KARL: OK, welcome back to our roundtable.
So, I want to get back to the mid-terms. Marc Short, the president's predicting a giant red wave. Kellyanne Conway said it could happen.
SHORT: Jon, I think it will be hard for Republicans this fall for lots of reasons. One is that you have more chairmen who are retiring. Republicans put in place term limits on their chairmen.
Second, you also have the reality Americans like dividing government. That is a fact that we have to realize.
But I do think the president's an asset for most of those campaigns. The reason being is there is a gap between voters who are Trump voters and those who support Republicans in congress. The president needs to help try to close that gap as best as possible.
KARL: Do Republicans lose the House?
SHORT: I think it will be hard for Republicans this November to maintain a majority in the House. I think we'll pick up seats in the Senate, but I think the president's an asset to those campaigns.
BRAZILE: We have candidates -- Democrats have candidates in all 435 districts. They're enthusiastic. They're passionate. They're outraising their Republicans, and I'm proud of the enthusiasm.
Marc, I want just to say something, if the president condemned the KKK in 2017 following Heather Heyer's death he should do it again in 2018 and beyond.
NAVARRO: Red wave, let's see, the only red wave I see coming is red tide off the coast of Florida that's killing thousands and thousands and thousands of fish.
Look, I think -- what we saw last week with the special election tells us the weight that Donald Trump carries in a Republican primary, his endorsement makes a difference, whereas Bernie Sanders' endorsement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement, did not make a difference.
There's very few endorsements that make a difference, his does. The big question yet to answer is, will his endorsement then become an albatross around their neck when it comes to the general election time?
KARL: The president doesn't -- I mean, the president may think what he thinks but the White House they don't think they're actually going to hold the House, do they?
SWAN: They say -- like even when you get them privately, the most they'll concede is 50/50. I've never heard someone in the political shop or at the top level there say to me we're going to lose the House. They won't utter those words.
NAVARRO: Maybe Omarosa has recordings otherwise.
KARL: We'll see.
All right, that is all the time we have. Thank you to our roundtable and thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News Tonight and have a great day.