A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Dec. 9, 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.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CO-ANCHOR: Legal land mines.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very one-sided situation.
RADDATZ: Pressure mounts on the president.
The Justice Department alleging Trump directed illegal payments during the 2016 campaign.
REPORTER: Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit violations of law?
TRUMP: No, no, no.
RADDATZ: The president denying those claims, but do the charges against his former fixer put Trump himself at risk?
Could prosecutors attempt to hold the president criminally liable?
TRUMP: There was no collusion whatsoever, there never has been.
RADDATZ: Another White House shakeup, and new picks for Attorney General and UN ambassador. Who will leave the West Wing next? And will those nominations clear the senate? We'll cover all with our Powerhouse Roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning. And thanks for joining us this Sunday. After a relatively quiet week to honor the nation's 41st president, the last 48 hours have been anything but.
The most recent example came yesterday, when President Trump confirmed that his chief of staff, John Kelly, would be leaving the White House at year's end. But the biggest news came through court filings Friday from the special counsel and federal prosecutors in New York. The president claims those filings clear him completely.
In fact, far from clearing Trump, the documents portray potential legal liability that may be far more significant than many had believed.
Robert Mueller's case is beginning to demonstrate a pattern of contacts between Russia and Trump associates, a series of lies about the extent and nature of those contacts, and a possible financial motive. That sprawling tower Trump had long sought in Moscow, what the special counsel called a, quote, ”lucrative business opportunity that sought and likely required the assistance of the Russian government.”
And as if the special counsel's probe were not enough, the president faces an entirely separate and growing legal threat. Federal prosecutors working for the Department of Justice now claiming that then-candidate Trump directed illegal hush money to two women during the 2016 campaign, potentially implicating the president in a federal crime, which already has a top Democrat saying it could, if true, be grounds for impeachment.
And this morning, we'll connect the dots and get to the bottom of where things stand in these investigations. Let's start with our legal panel. ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams, former FBI special agent and Yale Law lecturer Asha Rangappa, and former New Jersey Governor, former federal prosecutor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie.
Dan, let me start with you. A lot of different investigations, a lot of strands here, let’s go piece-by-piece and start with the Southern District of New York and its sentencing memo on Michael Cohen. One of the biggest headlines out of that report relates to campaign finance violations that came out of the so-called hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
So the government appears to directly implicate President Trump in something that’s a federal crime. How much of a legal threat does this pose to the president, Dan?
It is the first time that I’ve seen something in connection with this investigation where I’ve said to myself, you know what? I think they might actually seek to indict Donald Trump here. That doesn’t mean that they would seek to try him, but maybe just to indict him. Because by implicating him so directly in this way, and in effect, by name, these prosecutors are making clear, we think this crime is serious and we think he’s involved.
RADDATZ: And Governor Christie, if you were still a U.S. attorney, would you indict the president?
CHRISTIE: Well, first off, there’s Justice Department policy which says that you can’t indict a president. So, you know, my guess is that I wouldn’t and that I’d follow Justice Department policy. Now, I agree with Dan that the language in the sentencing memo is different than what we’ve heard before. We have heard before from Michael Cohen that he did this in coordination with the president. The only thing that would concern me if I were the president’s team this morning about this sentencing memo is the language. The language sounds very definite and what I’d be concerned about is, what corroboration do they have?
Because everyone knows that Michael Cohen is not going to be the most effective or trustworthy witness on the stand, given some of his past statements. The question is, they sounded very definitive. And in my experience, the problem is, when prosecutors are that definitive, they’ve got more, usually, than just one witness. Now, the flipside for the prosecutors is, they’d better have more than one witness on this because if you’re shooting at the president of the United States and the only bullet in your gun is Michael Cohen, well then, I think that’s a problem.
So I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out but I note the same thing that Dan did. I’ve always said, Martha, on this air, that I thought that the Michael Cohen situation was much more perilous for the White House than was Bob Mueller. There’s no Russian collusion, there’s been no proof of Russian collusion. And I don’t think there’s going to be. It doesn’t appear to me there will be. This is the stuff that’s much more – should be much more concerning to the White House legal team and that language is very, very strong and very definitive. So the prosecutors better have corroboration.
Because if they don’t, and they just go with Michael Cohen, that’s a problem. But if they do have corroboration, that could be a problem for the White House.
RADDATZ: And Asha, do you agree with that? Felony prosecutions in campaign finance are not all that common, so what do you think New York prosecutors do now?
RANGAPPA: That’s right. I do agree with the governor that the prosecutors would need to show that the president acted knowingly and willfully in order for it to become a criminal violation. That’s when it crosses from a civil to a criminal penalty. And here, with regard to the witnesses, let’s remember that the Trump organization CEO, Allen Weisselberg, has been talking to prosecutors. And, you know, unlike, I know Rudy Giuliani has compared this to the John Edwards case which was not successful, but there are many differences here.
And one of those is that there are witnesses who are available who can corroborate things like the reimbursement made to Michael Cohen, the purpose that those were done, why those were concealed for example, and you have a tighter – you have a more direct timing issue here in the sense that these payments were made almost right before the election. And 10 years after the affair actually took place, which tends to substantiate that this was done for the purpose of affecting the election.
So I believe that the prosecutors here would have a strong case if they wanted to pursue it.
ABRAMS: And Martha, I think that we all take for granted too much this idea that they definitely can’t indict a sitting president. There is a difference between an indictment and a true criminal trial. And if you actually read the most recent assessment from the office of legal counsel, they really seem to be saying, you can’t indict and prosecute a sitting president. Yes, they talk about the idea of an indictment but I don’t think that that’s completely off the table, particularly when you read this document.
CHRISTIE: I disagree …
RADDATZ: Governor Christie, I want – yeah, I want you to jump in there.
CHRISTIE: I disagree with Dan on that in this respect. I mean, what’s your end here? If I were a U.S. attorney and making this judgment, and they said, well, you can indict the president, Chris, but you can’t try him – I mean, now you do that if someone’s outside your jurisdiction in a foreign country, et cetera, and you have no other way to go.
ABRAMS: Statute of limitations problem we’ve got here--
CHRISTIE: No, you …
ABRAMS: The potential five-year statute of limitations if the president were to then continue for a second term, it would expire.
CHRISTIE: Well, here’s the issue though. You have an alternative venue. And the alternative venue is the House of Representatives. If the House of Representatives believes this is a high crime or misdemeanor, as defined by the constitution, the House of Representatives can bring articles of impeachment which are the equivalent of an indictment.
And I think -- I'd argue that that's a much more appropriate way to do this then to have some prosecutor, some AUSA in the Southern District of New York do this with the president of the United States.
One other thing I want to point out about willfulness and intent. You know, I -- I think what you'll hear the president argue is that he -- this is the first time that these women at this juncture threatened to go public about these alleged affairs, and that he wanted it to be kept quiet to avoid the embarrassment for himself and for his family. And there -- there is no evidence at this point, that we know of, that they have threatened to go public any time before--
RANGAPPA: But they had gone public before. I mean, Stormy Daniels actually told her story to two different magazines and a blog, and she took a polygraph for them. So this has been out there as far back as 2011. So I think that that argument, I agree with the governor that that’s the argument that will be made but I think that it will be a very hard one to make and I think it’ll also be hard for the president to argue that he was trying to somehow protect his family and business when he has made it a part of his brand, really, to be a -- you know, a womanizer who has affairs and leaves previous wives very publicly.
It doesn’t seem like this is something that he otherwise has ever tried to keep secret.
CHRISTIE: I hardly think it’s part of the brand--
RADDATZ: I’m going to jump in here--
CHRISTIE: … I hardly think that’s part of the brand. And I don’t think that’s what you’d hear the president, or anyone around him, argue. In the end, you know, the willfulness and intent portion of this will be the hardest thing to prove and that’s why, Martha, as you rightly said, you don’t see a lot of felony prosecutions brought on campaign finance violations because that’s a pretty high hurdle for prosecutors.
ABRAMS: But -- but according to these prosecutors, they have it.
RADDATZ: I -- I want to move on -- Dan, let me move on to -- let me move on to the Russia investigation. We really have to get to that too. There’s so much to turn to. The Russian investigation and the question of collusion. We’ve been talking about collusion for many, many, many months. We now have from Robert Mueller evidence of a series of contacts between individuals in Trump’s orbit and Russians dating back to the early days of the campaign but those are contacts, not collusion.
What more would the special counsel have to show to have collusion, Dan?
ABRAMS: Well, you -- you still need a crime here, right? I mean, you’re allowed to have conversations with Russians. There’s no crime against having conversations with Russians. There’s no crime against having conversations with Russians about building a huge tower with Donald Trump’s name on it. The question becomes, why did the Trump team want to push back the date from June of the conversations about the Trump Tower back to January? What additional contacts were happening between January and June? And when you read the sentencing memo, this one from Mueller specifically says that he’s providing information that goes to the core of the Russia investigation. The core of the Russia investigation, so that means we’re not just talking about conversations with Russians. Again, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to find if there was a crime here. But I would be very nervous, if you’re in the Trump orbit, with that kind of language coming out in the sentencing memo.
CHRISTIE: I would be less so, Martha, for this -- for this reason. You saw how definitive the Southern District of New York was. And it’s stark that Mueller was not nearly that definitive. Now, that can mean one of two things. He’s not ready to be definitive yet, he doesn’t have enough evidence, but this has been going on now for 18 months. And so -- and he’s had cooperation from Manafort and from Cohen for some period of time.
Now, he may be making a strategic decision not to lay that card out right now but I would -- if I were the Trump legal team, I would be spending my time focused on the things that are talked about in the Cohen sentencing memorandum and not the Mueller sentencing memorandum because it’s not nearly as specific and not nearly as definitive as what you saw in the Southern District.
RANGAPPA: Well, this is why it’s very difficult when people lie to you and you’re a prosecutor. It delays the investigation. So the fact that Manafort was, quote, unquote, "cooperating" doesn’t really help here. He was lying to them the whole time. But I -- I want to just disagree here with my colleagues in that I don’t know that there has to be a crime. This is a counterintelligence investigation, which means that collusion can involve agreeing to -- I mean, it would essentially be still conspiracy to defraud the United States.
CHRISTIE: Well, yes.
RANGAPPA: But trying to help your foreign adversary execute an intelligence operation against the United States is problematic from a constitutional point of view.
CHRISTIE: Well, where’s the evidence of that? I mean, there’s no evidence of that.
RANGAPPA: Because Mueller’s -- because these -- these sentencing memos show that there were contacts with Russia going back to 2015. That means that with the overtures to make a meeting with President Trump -- then-candidate Trump and Putin, that expands this timeline which means that there was a self-interested motive, whether it was for the Trump Tower -- or for the Moscow Tower…
ABRAMS: But whether makes a difference. I mean…
CHRISTIE: Yes, of course is does.
ABRAMS: … depending on which one, it’s either crime versus not crime.
CHRISTIE: Well, that’s right. And this is -- this is where…
RADDATZ: But even so, Mr. Christie – Governor Christie, let me ask you this; if Manafort’s conversations with the administration were all legal, why would he lie about them? Is that suggestive of a coverup there?
Agents – FBI agents do an amazing job. They work incredibly hard and they get incredibly invested in their cases. And the job of the U.S. attorney, or in this case, Special Counsel Mueller, is going to be to say “OK, I understand what you hope, what you think, what might be. What can we prove beyond a reasonable doubt?” And on Russian collusion, we have not seen anything other than there were contacts.
And as Dan said earlier, if those contacts are about building an office building in Moscow and giving the penthouse to Vladimir Putin, people may not like that but it’s not a crime.
ABRAMS: “What we haven’t seen” is the key phrase here because there’s a lot redacted in this. I mean, a lot of what we’re seeing has big, big black marks over sentences. And there’s a reason for that. And the reason is because Robert Mueller isn’t ready to disclose what he has. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have it, it means that he’s not ready to discuss it yet publicly. And I think that’s a critical factor.
CHRISTIE: Well, and again, I’m saying this …
RADDATZ: Governor Christie, I want to ask you just one quick question for you to close on. And that is the president tweeting that he’s totally clear. You disagree with that, I suspect?
CHRISTIE: My view would be that you’re not totally cleared, nor is anyone, until Bob Mueller shuts down his office and hands in the keys. Special Counsels can go on for a very long time, this one has. I mean, for goodness sakes, the guy the president just appointed – nominated to be United States attorney general appointed a special counsel during 1992 in the middle of the Bush reelection campaign that went on for three more years and found no crimes committed by the Bush administration.
So these things have a life of their own, Martha, and I would say to everybody, what I said to the president right from the beginning. There’s no way you can make this shorter but there’s lots of ways you can make it longer. And one of the ways you can do that is to say you’re in the clear when the prosecutor still has subpoena authority, authority to indict people, and the ability to be able to keep this investigation going.
Until Bob Mueller shuts down and hands the keys and his credentials back in, no one’s in the clear.
ABRAMS: And let’s be clear, there’s nothing to support that. I mean, there’s nothing to support that.
RANGAPPA: He’s directly implicated.
RADDATZ: All right, and on that note, we’ll end it. Thanks, Governor Christie, thanks, Asha, and thanks, Dan. Coming up, much more on the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. We check in with a Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about how they plan to respond to the latest bombshell developments. Do they agree with House Democrat Jerry Nadler that there is potentially enough evidence to lay the ground for impeachment? Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Chris Murphy are coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS: Did you or anyone in your campaign have any contact with Russia leading up to or during the campaign? Nothing at all?
TRUMP: No, not at all, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: That was President Trump nearly two years ago before Special Counsel Robert Mueller had shown evidence of a pattern of contact between Trump associates and Russians during the campaign.
Joining me now to discuss this is Republican Marco Rubio, a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And Senator Rubio, you heard the president there in January 2017, deny anyone in his campaign had contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign. But that's not true, is it?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Well, according to what we see this week filed, no. There is an inconsistency there. That doesn't necessarily mean that that -- you know, people here have a presumption in this country that you have to go out and prove these things.
That said, look, I've always wanted there to be the truth. That's what I've said from the very beginning. What we want for this country is all the facts and all the truth. I've always supported the Mueller investigation and continue to do so, because I think it's in the best interest of everyone involved, including, by the way, the president on many of these issues.
So, I think it's important for that work to go and continue to move forward. And once the American people have before them all the facts and information, then we can begin to make political judgments about this.
The same is true from the intelligence probe that we've conducted in the U.S. Senate. I'm very proud of the work the intelligence committee has done. It has not been partisan. In fact, some of the things we have seen released have caused the committee to go back and attempt to reinterview some people to compare to what we saw and have been released by the special prosecutor. And we're going to continue to do our work.
So, at some point here soon, the American people are going to have before them the report of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, whatever findings the special prosecutor has moving forward. And then we can begin to make some judgments about what needs to happen next.
RADDATZ: But Senator, let's just go back to what happened this week. Just to be clear, we now know that at least five people in Trump's orbit were receptive to Russian outreach, and those are Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos. Is it really possible at this point to say that's just coincidence?
RUBIO: Well, look, again, people have a right to say that that's what happened, especially when facing criminal charges. That doesn't necessarily make it true. It doesn't make it untrue either.
Look, here's -- I'm not going to -- there's no way to spin this. This is not been-- this has not been a positive development for the people that are involved in this. But I just think, and we have learned over time, that it is important for all of this to be out there before us, within full context, compared to other information, before we begin to make political judgments.
And I will tell you when all that information is out there, no one, no one is more important than our country, no one is held above the law, everyone should also benefit from the presumptions the law has.
But from a separate topic, the political judgment we want to make, that has a different standard to it. And my position on that will be based on-- on evidence and the information before the American people. And us, both on the Intelligence Committee through the filings. And until that happens, I just it's important that we not ignore these things, but reserve judgment until we have all of it before us.
It may make you feel stronger about how you view it now. But bottom line is--
RADDATZ: President Trump--
RUBIO: --we deserve the full truth on what's happened here.
RADDATZ: President Trump already seems to have made up his mind. As you know, he tweeted that these filings show he was totally cleared. Do you believe that?
RUBIO: Well, that, obviously is the argument that the president will make, and those around him. If you obviously feel strongly about it. It's about him.
I think the rest of us will have, especially those of us sin the position in congress that we're in, will have to make our own determinations. And we'll have to make our own determinations on the basis of the information before us.
Right now, we are still getting bits and pieces. I would concede we have more bits and pieces than we did a couple of weeks ago. But I would -- before I'm prepared to make a public pronouncement that I'm ready to make judgment on one thing or another, I would like to have all of the information before us. And I also want us to finish our work on the Senate Intelligence Committee, because I think that'll be a big part of this as well.
And that's why -- I know the position you guys have and the work you need to do in terms of asking tough questions, but we are called upon to make judgments, especially on the Intelligence Committee, and we need more information before we can finish our report.
RADDATZ: I just want to talk a little more about the Southern District campaign finance violations that they found. The president had this to say when asked about it yesterday whether or not he gave Michael Cohen any direction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit any violations of law?
TRUMP: No, no, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: So, I know you talk about bits and pieces, but this is a pretty big piece. So, who do you believe, senator, the president or the Justice Department?
RUBIO: I don’t know. Oh, I don't know. And neither do you or anyone else.
RADDATZ: Even from what you've already read?
RUBIO: Well, again, I don't know who to believe, because...
RADDATZ: The Justice Department clearly says it.
RUBIO: Right. That's the Justice Department's position, and I'm not questioning the work they have done. They have got someone who now is willing to testify to that fact. The president is saying that that's not true.
Now, we don't know what other investigation the Justice Department has to either corroborate it or that they don't have to corroborate it. So, again, that's why I think it's important for all the information to be out here. I'm not going to sit here and say that absolutely didn't happen, because it's possible the Justice Department has additional corroborating evidence. It's also possible they do not. And now you have the testimony of a witness who is facing criminal charges and looking for leniency versus someone who denies that it occurred the way they said it occurred.
So, that's why I'm telling you it is important for us to have the full context and all the information before us before we can make final judgments on these issues, because we just don't know what additional information the Justice Department has to either corroborate these charges or not.
RADDATZ: OK, let's move to Paul Manafort. Just last week, Trump refused to take a pardon for Manafort off the table after Rudy Giuliani acknowledged being in touch with Manafort's lawyers.
If the president pardoned Trump (sic) is that a red line for you? Would that be obstruction of justice?
RUBIO: I think it would be a terrible mistake if he did that, I do. I believe it would be a terrible mistake. You know, pardons should be used judiciously. They're used for cases with extraordinary circumstances. And I just -- I haven't heard that the White House is thinking about doing it. I know he hasn't ruled it out. But I haven't heard anyone say we're thinking about doing it. I would advise strongly against it. It be a terrible mistake. I would not be supportive it. I would be critical of it.
I don't believe that any pardon should be used with relation to these particular cases. Frankly, not only does it not pass the smell test, I just -- I think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place. And I think, in fact, if something like that were to happen it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended given these circumstances.
So, I hope they don't do that. It would be a terrible mistake if they did.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much for joining us, Senator Rubio.
RUBIO: Thank you.
RADDATZ: Up next, how do Democrats plan to respond to the latest filings by the special counsel and federal prosecutors? We'll talk to one senator who may also be planning 2020 presidential bid next.
RADDATZ: Could those hush money payments directed by the president provoke impeachment proceedings? One key Democrat says it’s possible. We’ll talk about that and more with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, next.
RADDATZ: Could those hush money payments directed by the president provoke impeachment proceedings? One key Democrat says it’s possible. We’ll talk about that and more with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: They would be impeachable offenses. Whether they're important enough to justify impeachment is a different question, but certainly they'd be impeachable offenses, because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in -- in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, putting impeachment on the table if it's proven true that then candidate Trump directed illegal hush money to two women during the 2016 campaign as prosecutors now allege.
Joining me now in the studio is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. Welcome, Senator Murphy. I want to know first, do you agree with Jerrold Nadler?
SEN CHRIS MURPHY, (D) CONNECTICUT: I'm not going to give the House advice on whether or not to proceed with impeachment. I think it is important to get the full report from the special investigator. But let's be clear, we have reached a new level in the investigation. The special counsel is starting to show his cards, and these are very serious allegations. This is a president who is now named as an unindicted co-conspirator, the allegation is he committed at least two felonies to try to manipulate the 2016 election.
But Marco Rubio is not wrong that it's important for congress to know all of the facts, to see the evidence that Mueller has that leads him to make these filings.
RADDATZ: But you heard what Jerrold Nadler said, though. Is it from what you have seen an impeachable offense? I mean, he doesn't necessarily say the committee should take it up.
MURPHY: So, listen, I think you are beyond the stage that led to impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whether or not you think that was worthy of impeachment or not. I still think it's important for Congress to get all of the underlying facts and data and evidence that the special counsel has before we make that determination.
RADDATZ: In other words, before Mueller comes out completely, nothing should be done?
MURPHY: No, absolutely. I think we should wait for Mueller's investigation.
But I would also counsel the special investigator to show his cards soon. I mean I think it's important for the special investigator to give Congress what he has sometime early in 2019 so that Congress can make a determination.
If the president did, in fact, collude with the Russians to try to manipulate the election, or engage in multiple felonies with Michael Cohen, it doesn't really make sense for Congress to get that report from the special investigator in 2020, we need that next year. We need that as soon as possible.
RADDATZ: You have also raised concerns about the need to pass legislation to protect the special counsel. Republicans in the Senate will need support from Democrats, obviously, to pass the end of the year budget bill in a few weeks. Would you consider holding up passage of that order to also pass a bill to to protect Mueller? Are you still worried about that or have we reached a tipping point?
MURPHY: I'm still very worried about it. You know, I am certainly going to look at all of our options to try to force a vote on legislation that would protect the special counsel. I'm also worried about General Kelly leaving the White House. I imagine that he was one of the people that was attempting to convince the president not to fire Mueller, to not issue pardons as a means of trying to influence the investigation.
And so I think that with his departure, certainly depending on who replaces him, are concerns that Mueller may be on the chopping block are, I think, more serious and this legislation becomes more important.
RADDATZ: And -- and so just to sum up this week what you’ve seen from Mueller, what you’ve seen from the Southern District of New York, have we moved into a new phase here? Should the president be more concerned than ever?
MURPHY: We certainly have moved into a new phase. The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office, President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator, a -- certainly a different set of facts. But this investigation is now starting to put the president in serious legal crosshairs, and he should be worried and the whole country should be worried.
Listen, nobody’s rooting for the president to go down in this manner. This isn’t good for democracy but this investigation may ultimately lead to Congress taking action.
RADDATZ: And -- and I want to turn to the presidency. You previously said you were not considering a run for president in 2020 because you were focused on your own -- own election in 2018, we’re obviously past that. I doubt you want to make an announcement here on the air this morning, but are you ruling it out?
MURPHY: Listen, I just got re-elected and I -- I don’t, frankly, think that I need to run for president in order to make a difference for my state or the country. But I’ll say this, I think in 2020 we need a candidate who’s 100 percent authentic, who is tough and who can challenge this president on both domestic policy and foreign policy. And I’m simply going to make sure that we have a candidate that fits that bill.
RADDATZ: OK. We have a lot of names out there, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker to name a few, but you told The Washington Post recently, we’re not going to break through unless we find a candidate who just, sort of, oozes outsider. Do any of those people named ooze outsider?
MURPHY: I -- I think what’s great is that you’re going to have a big field. And I frankly think that in that contest, the best candidate is going to emerge. And I have a feeling that the Democratic electorate is going to have one thing in mind as they go to the polls in the primaries next year, who can beat Donald Trump. So I think there’s a lot of different models that would eventually work and I think we’ll have a lot of great candidates.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Senator Murphy.
RADDATZ: The roundtable’s up next. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: And we’re back with our powerhouse roundtable: Republican Strategist and ABC News Contributor, Alex Castellanos; ABC News Senior National Correspondent, Terry Moran; Shawna Thomas, Washington Bureau Chief for Vice News; and Julie Pace, Washington Bureau Chief of the Associated Press.
And Terry, so much news crammed into this week. It seems so long ago that you and I were sitting on this set talking about the -- the passing of President George H.W. Bush, but Friday everything returned to normal in that way.
The Mueller investigation was again front-and-center and the New York Post called it a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for the president. Some of the sub-headlines about Michael Cohen, Trump’s spat with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the stock market slide; fair to call it a very bad day for President Trump on Friday?
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A bad day, dark night but what he’s doing is clearly girding for battle now with a new chief of staff and a new attitude. This is going to be, really, a fight to the finish, not just for the survival of the presidency, but for the people who -- who voted for President Trump. They thought he was the right direction for the nation, for the country itself.
And the Democrats who are on the other side, the -- the -- the stakes in this legal fight as it enters the political sphere, I see already is planning his re-election battle, are going to be as high as they could be. And if you think the last couple of years have been terribly divisive and bad for the United States of America, stay tuned.
SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, VICE NEWS: But it’s -- it’s distracting, I mean, how does he do his job? And you know, I was just sitting backstage and thinking, oh wait, he was in Argentina at the G20 like a week ago, right? And there was interesting news…
RADDATZ: It’s warp speed all the time.
THOMAS: … It is. There was interesting news about China and trade, there was interesting news about NAFTA at that point and none of that matters. I don't know how you do any actual work of you’re the President of the United States in the situation that he’s currently in.
RADDATZ: Well, let’s go to one of the things you mentioned and -- and the market slide, is that about Trump’s week -- what is -- what is that about?
THOMAS: I mean, I -- I’m not an economist, I will say that. But I think a lot of that is just uncertainty and we’ve seen this over and over again. We’ve also seen that, until we know exactly what’s going on with China, you have soybean prices drop way low for a lot of farmers out in America. I think people just don’t know necessarily what’s going on…
RADDATZ: Tariff man, not tariff man.
THOMAS: … Yes. And do we really have a deal with China? Do we really not have a deal with China? It’s just -- it’s market uncertainty. And until you -- until they figure out a way to know what the president is going to do, which is almost impossible to ever know, you’re going to continue to have volatility.
JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And -- and if market uncertainty becomes overall economic uncertainty, that becomes a real political problem for the president because so much of what we’ve seen over his presidency is that despite the chaos, despite all of the controversies, he’s really been held up by a strong American economy. And the thing that makes his advisors and the president himself the most nervous is if that starts to crumble because that essentially is his argument, you might not like the tweets, you might not like anything else but look at this economy.
RADDATZ: Well -- and when you go out and you talk to voters, as -- as -- as Terry knows as well, that’s what they talk about. We’ll forgive all that other stuff…
RADDATZ: … as long as the economy stays strong.
Alex, I want to turn to you about Rex Tillerson. We heard from Rex Tillerson earlier this week and I want you to take a look.
Oh -- OK -- OK, we don’t have that sound. But one of the things that Rex Tillerson said is it was challenging for him coming from a disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation and to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined. He also said he had to explain to the president what was illegal and not illegal.
President Donald Trump coming back with, “Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I’m proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!” Dumb as a rock?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: That’s one of the nicest things, I think, the president has said about someone exiting.
No, I think it’s what Shawna was saying: uncertainty. Donald Trump came to Washington as an outsider and he was sent here to be a disruptive force. And an establishment figure like Tillerson, of course, who wants to play things by the rules, is not going to get along well with this president.
But that is the president’s great strength. He’s the madman negotiating theory, right? Your -- your adversaries and competitors don’t know how to deal with this man, he may go anywhere (ph)…
RADDATZ: But Tillerson clearly got under his skin. He’s the man -- he’s the man he -- he nominated for secretary of State, he’s his secretary of State…
CASTELLANOS: That was yesterday’s secretary of State, not today’s.
RADDATZ: … Right, exactly. OK.
CASTELLANOS: But I think the -- the real serious issue is that that same uncertainty -- he doesn’t play by the rules and -- and that really made Tillerson the wrong fit. But that’s what is endangering the economy right now, and that is -- this recovery is long in the tooth. We’ve seen signs that the whole bubble may be getting ready to pop. And if it does, the president’s strength, which is unchangeable, that uncertainty and disruption that he brings to everything may become his greatest weakness with swing voters.
RADDATZ: And -- and…
PACE: Don’t you think it’s amazing though? The Tillerson comments -- you know, again, things happen in this administration at warp speed -- that is an extraordinary statement from a former secretary of State to say this president didn’t read, he didn’t know what was going on, he didn’t know what was legal.
RADDATZ: Well, I’m also remembering that it was reported that he -- that Rex Tillerson called the president a moron…
RADDATZ: … which -- which did not -- yes.
PACE: And that personal relationship was not good. But again, as someone who was by his side, who was in this administration seen the day-to-day dealings, that’s a pretty extraordinary assessment.
RADDATZ: And let’s -- let’s turn to John Kelly. We -- he finally, after months, and months and months of reporting, announced that John Kelly…
THOMAS: The reporting is now right, yes.
RADDATZ: … the -- the reporting is now correct, not fake news there - is that he is leaving. Is there -- there’s part of me that thinks John Kelly maybe wasn’t the right fit at this point of the Trump presidency.
THOMAS: Well, yes. I mean, I think this goes back to, sort of, what Terry was saying, which is we are about to switch into like political hardcore mode. And so because of that, perhaps like a more political operator like a Nick Ayers is maybe a better fit for that, even with the internal issues that Nick might have.
But I think the interesting thing about Tillerson and these changes we are seeing in the administration right now is that Tillerson was -- was not necessarily Trump’s idea of who you want on TV representing him. Like, this is also the media world of Trump, whereas Nick Ayers looks the part of chief of staff even though he’s quite young for this kind of a job. Heather Nauert who’s – is probably going to be nominated to be secretary of state – sorry, not secretary of state, U.N. ambassador, totally different – also looks the part.
And the – in some ways …
RADDATZ: What’s “the part” for a U.N. ambassador?
How do you look the part? Why does Heather Nauert look …
THOMAS: I think she can go on TV and she can represent the president in the way that he wants to be represented, in a way that he is used to. She used to be a – like, on Fox actually. And so, in some ways, whoever can like make the TV show of the Trump administration the way he sees it in his head, those are the people that he’s choosing right now.
MORAN: There are a couple of things. One, it is – it’s true that presidents can operate – excuse me – in all kinds of different ways, right? There are presidents who are punctual, there are presidents who are an hour and a half late all the time. And there are presidents who are kindly and there are presidents who are bullies. And as long as they can get the machine to work for them, that’s what – that’s what matters.
And President Trump had a particular problem. He came into office not as a Republican but as a nationalist; as an economic nationalist and a cultural nationalist. And staffing up an administration with a party that had never existed before he ran, he’s looking for people who will advocate for him, who will be his guy …
RADDATZ: Including, he named a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nine months before he needed to do that. What – what does that tell you? And also a new attorney general, William Barr. What do you make of those two picks?
CASTELLANOS: Well, prepare for turnover in a political year. No, I think the Barr choice is a good one. You know, he has picked some establishment choices here which is rare for Trump. I mean, most of his choices are disruptive – well, gee, they don’t have the experience. Well, no, Trump is running against the very experience that his voters think has ruined the country. So these outsider choices, I mean New York – the Washington Post said that when she was first appointed at state that she had no qualification other than looking like Heather Locklear.
Would anyone have said that about a Democratic appointee of – of limited experience …
RADDATZ: She’s also been at the State Department for almost two years and we forget she also worked for Rex Tillerson so she does have some experience.
CASTELLANOS: Right. Right, but again, the key thing about Donald Trump is, he was elected to disrupt and change this country and we’re seeing that in his appointments. Rare is the one like Bill Barr that has establishment support.
RADDATZ: And – and just on the military again, why nine months early on a military nomination?
CASTELLANOS: I have no idea. This is – you’d have to tell me on this …
PACE: No, that’s a great question. It’s actually a bit of a …
CASTELLANOS: He generally liked likes generals…
PACE: … A bit of a mystery about why …
RADDATZ: We’re down to one general now.
PACE: … We don’t know what this means about Dunford, if he’s going to leave early or if this transition is going to take nine months.
RADDATZ: And -- and let me just ask you, just go back to the Mueller probe quickly and the southern district of New York which we’ve been talking about all morning. How much does this damage Donald Trump going forward, politically?
PACE: I think politically, I’m not sure, frankly. Because we have seen up until this point, Republicans largely stand with him even as we get revelations both in the SDNY probe that relates to the payments to women, and certainly in the Mueller probe. I do think it was interesting in your interview with Senator Rubio where he noted that a pardon for Paul Manafort would essentially cross a line there.
I think we’ll have to watch to see whether there is some movement on the Republican side if they do start to get nervous about some of the revelations from Mueller, certainly the revelations from SDNY which I think are incredibly significant, and then certainly what Trump might do if – with relation to a pardon.
CASTELLANOS: Martha, ow much will this damage Donald Trump? None.
MORAN: Exactly. Exactly.
CASTELLANOS: You can’t fall off the floor. All Trump has …
RADDATZ: Back to the economy, right?
CASTELLANOS: … All Trump has is his base right now and it’s sticking with him no matter what. And a Republican would …
RADDATZ: And they will say he’s totally cleared.
CASTELLANOS: Well, no, I think they’d say “Look, Mueller has an empty holster.” Usually you get the little guy to flip on the big guy for the same thing. Hey, we put out the hit, right, you did this guy in, tell us the boss ordered you to do it and we’ll let you go on this one. Well, there’s no little guy charged with collusion yet. So Republicans would say Mueller’s got an empty holster on the big issue he was sent to get Trump on.
RADDATZ: And – just one second, Terry, I want to return to where we started which was the memorial for George H.W. Bush, which were such powerful tributes. But there was that one moment which I think you all probably watched when President Trump came in, went down that row, Hillary Clinton barely looking at -- Melania Trump, looking – greeting her but not ever looking at Donald Trump.
It was hard to ignore the tensions there. What -- what -- what was your observation?
MORAN: Well, my observation was the tableau of American history that that represented. Each one of those men were put there in that row by the American people operating through their Constitution. That’s our history right there. And he doesn’t like them, tough. They don’t like him, tough.
And I think the notion that we make a great deal out of the bad blood between this president and that president, I think one of the facts that Democrats have had trouble coming to terms with is maybe one of the most undercovered stories in America, that Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States of America.
RADDATZ: Just the last word, Shawna? You've got about 10 seconds.
THOMAS: I think on the same thing, there was a Washington Post article, and I can't remember who wrote it, that said that tableau is also just message about we have peaceful turn over of power in this country. And we can talk about, you know, whether President Trump -- his role in this -- but there is something nice, and H.W. allowed us to see that, that all of those presidents can sit together in a church and worship.
RADDATZ: They did indeed. Thank very much for joining us.
And among the many tributes to George H.W. Bush this week was a 21-plane salute over his presidential library in College Station, Texas, the final resting place for the former naval -- naval aviator and 41st president, a series of four plane formations roared overhead with the final foursome executing the so-called missing man formation.
We spoke to three of the navy pilots who carried out this special mission about what it meant to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT KEVIN "PROTON" MCLAUGHLIN, U.S. NAVY PILOT: It is a very, very large steel ballet is probably the best way of putting it. Everybody has got a role and they have to be in the right place at the right time.
LCDR JAMES 'GW" SHEETS, U.S. NAVY PILOT: Once you're flying, the jet becomes an extension of your body.
MCLAUGHLIN: So, the missing man formation is symbolic of a squadron mate, an air wing made or somebody in the navy, and in this instance President Bush having left us permanently. So, it is -- it's a flight of four, and the third aircraft in the formation will pull to the sky, symbolic of his departure into heaven.
It's quite dramatic as he disappeared into the clouds.
But in terms of a 21-plane flyover, the presidential salute, none of us had ever done that.the navy had never done that either.
PRAYER NATS: I pray that your presence will be especially evident.
MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think I got nervous until I got in the airplane, because it was such a hectic quick 96 hours trying to pull everything together.
CDR STACY "STIGS" UTTECHT, U.S. NAVY PILOT: I actually looked at what the weather forecast was supposed to be for Thursday. And at first, my heart sunk a little bit because I was afraid we weren't going to be able to execute the flyover.
MCLAUGHLIN: We had rain and mist and really low clouds. And typically, on a day like that, we probably wouldn't be flying, but once I turned the battery switch on, and we fired off the auxiliary power units, that nervousness went away. And it was just -- frankly it was business as usual with the one huge, overarching piece, that we were doing this for President Bush.
I saw the library. I tried to take a peek for the family as I passed over them, but it -- it happened pretty quick.
UTTECHT: And when I saw, you know, the jet pull up and kind of disappear into the clouds, it was kind of the weight off your shoulders. OK, guys, we did it. And we did it right.
SHEETS: You take that minute, you kind of think about what you just did. And that's when it first starts really soaking in, where it changes from anticipation to almost gratitude for having had the opportunity to be part of the overall event.
RADDATZ: Just a beautiful tribute.
That's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News tonight. And have a great day.