This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," August 26, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SANDRA SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: I'm Sandra Smith, in for Chris Wallace.
Presidents and lawmakers from both parties honor a political giant, Senator John McCain, for his decades of public service.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NEW YORK: The Senate, country, the world are lesser places tonight with the loss of John McCain.
SMITH: The war hero, presidential candidate and six-term senator dead at 81 after a battle with brain cancer. This hour, we'll talk to someone who served alongside him in Congress -- former Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jon Kyl.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: Thanks for having me on again. I love our spirited discussions.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Me too, always.
SMITH: We share some of his most memorable moments on "Fox News Sunday." And --
SCHUMER: You can't replace a man like that. Everyone looked up to him, everyone respected him.
SMITH: We'll ask the panel about the political maverick's legacy in the era of extreme partisanship.
Then, President Trump seemingly rattled by the legal downfall of two former close associates reignite his war with the attorney general and the Justice Department.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn't have put him in.
SMITH: Today, we will discuss with it nation's top law-enforcement official.
TRUMP: He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said, what kind of a man is this?
SMITH: Plus, the legal and political ramifications from the fed's convictions of Trump's former campaign chairman and the guilty plea from his former fixer.
TRUMP: It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.
SMITH: With former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Then, we'll get reaction from the key defenders of the president, his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
All, right now, on "Fox News Sunday."
SMITH: And hello again from Fox News in Washington.
He is being remembered as an American hero, patriot and lifelong public servant with unwavering commitment to his country. Senator John McCain, one of the most storied politicians of our time died Saturday following a year-long battle with brain cancer. Tributes are planned in his home state of Arizona and here in Washington for the statesman who made a name for himself by often rising above party politics, earning the moniker "Maverick of the Senate".
Now to Phoenix and Fox News correspondent Alicia Acuna with the very latest on all this.
Alicia, good morning to you.
ALICIA ACUNA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning, Sandra.
The man who had been an American political institution for decades loved his adopted state of Arizona.
ACUNA: And it was here in the rural home outside Sedona he so adored that John McCain died. He battled brain cancer for more than a year. On Friday, the family announced the end was near and within minutes of his passing Saturday, tributes poured in from across the political world.
President Trump, who has so often criticized McCain, took to Twitter to express his deepest sympathies to the McCain family, saying: Our hearts and prayers are with you.
As the flags outside the statehouse in Phoenix were lowered to half-staff, former presidents, colleagues on Capitol Hill and others praised the 81-year-old war hero, Senate veteran and 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
In a bipartisan sign of respect and appreciation, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants Congress to rename its Russell Senate Office Building for McCain.
SCHUMER: He was always willing to speak truth to power at a time when there are so few people who do that. He will be so missed.
ACUNA: McCain's death came nine years to the day of another Senate legend, Ted Kennedy. McCain delivered a eulogy at the Kennedy funeral and while the friends were sometimes legislative combatants, they also partnered together in attempts to change the nation's immigration system. They each died of the same form of brain cancer, glioblastoma.
Perhaps the most moving tributes were offered not by politicians, rather by McCain's wife and daughter.
Cindy McCain writing on Twitter: My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved in the place he loved best.
Daughter Meghan said: He loved me and I loved him. He taught me how to live. His love and his care ever present, always unfailing, took me from a girl to a woman and showed me what it is to be a man.
Earlier this year, McCain published what would turn out to be his last book. In it, he voiced satisfaction for always living his life in the moment, perhaps imperfectly at times but always with passion.
MCCAIN: Some things didn't work out the way I hoped they would. I had difficult moments and a few disappointments. But by God, I enjoyed it.
ACUNA: And we soon expect to hear official details on memorial services in the days ahead both here in Phoenix as well as Washington, D.C. We do know that the senator will be buried at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.
Also to come, a decision on replacing the legend, that responsibility belongs to Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican -- Sandra.
SMITH: Alicia Acuna reporting live from Phoenix. Alicia, thank you.
Joining me now from Manchester, former U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte who was dubbed one of the three amigos on Capitol Hill, along with Senators McCain and Graham for their joint pushes on foreign policy.
Senator Ayotte, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday." Good to have you on the program this morning.
KELLY AYOTTE, R-FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATOR: Thank you, Sandra.
SMITH: You wrote a beautiful tribute, Senator, calling Senator McCain a dear friend and a mentor. How will you remember him?
AYOTTE: I remember him -- first of all, what a tremendous loss for his family, but for the entire nation. I remember John for his courage, his tenacity and his wonderful sense of humor. I mean, he was tough as nails, incredibly bright and also just always cracking a joke, always a smile, believed so strongly in America and really a patriot, but always never took himself too seriously. What an amazing man and I feel so grateful to have known him.
SMITH: And he loved New Hampshire. He won the first of the nation primary there twice. He loved to campaign there. Why did he -- why did he enjoy-- why did he enjoy New Hampshire so much? As you mentioned in your tribute, he loved his time spent there.
AYOTTE: John had a very special connection with New Hampshire. I think we consider him an honorary Granite Stater. He came back twice here to win a New Hampshire primary and he did it from voter to voter, he did town halls here. I mean, hundreds of town halls here in New Hampshire.
And so, he forged a special connection with the people of New Hampshire. He has so many friends here. He is thought of so fondly here and really has straight talk in the way he would just answer anyone's questions, speak his mind and be so direct. And I think also a very special connection with our military families and our veterans here who he cared so deeply about.
SMITH: Senator, you just mentioned how he used that straight talk. He spoke his mind and he is credited for rising above party politics. How was he able to do that?
AYOTTE: He just had the courage of his convictions and he really was a true bipartisan champion, someone who was focused on getting things done for the American people and he had the political courage. Even when his own party disagreed with him, he was willing to get out there because he knew that we need to solve problems. He wanted to make our nation better. You know, that takes a lot of courage and he just had so much moral fortitude.
You know, I had the privilege of seeing him at the ranch this spring and what he said to me was, do the right thing, Kelly. That's how he lived his life and I'll never forget it.
SMITH: What is the political landscape look like in McCain's absence?
AYOTTE: Well, I think that, you know, as we look at someone like John McCain and his passing -- I mean, his legacy is really one of civility and dignity and honor and integrity in something that we really need very much in politics and bipartisanship.
SMITH: You were a big part of the confirmation process for Neil Gorsuch and now, we got Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation coming up next week. If I could, Senator, ask you what your expectations are for that and timing of the replacement for McCain seat is going to be crucial as well.
AYOTTE: It is. And, you know, I think that this is an excellent nomination by the president. And I would expect that he will be confirmed before the elections. You know, tremendously qualified both in his education and experience and just like Justice Gorsuch, I think he'll have a strong vote and I think it will be a bipartisan vote.
SMITH: Senator Ayotte, so sorry for your loss, he was a friend, a mentor to you.
AYOTTE: He was.
SMITH: And to hear your stories this morning, and thank you. Thank you for coming on and telling them.
AYOTTE: Thank you for having me on, Sandra. My heart goes out to Cindy and John's family. What a wonderful group of people.
SMITH: Thank you, Senator.
Joining us now, former GOP Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who was McCain's colleague from Arizona in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2013. He has also been discussed as a possible replacement for McCain.
Senator Kyl, thank you for coming on program this morning.
JON KYL, R-FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR (via telephone): Good morning, Sandra.
SMITH: You join us by phone, Senator.
If you could, just share with us your thoughts this morning. Senator McCain was a man you worked closely with for many, many years.
KYL: That's right. The lead in to your comments or to your interview with Senator Ayotte included the comment living life in the moment. Jon's entire approach to life was we want to get the most out of the time that we have here, so let's dig in and get going. And in his case, it pointed him towards public service, service of his country end of the state of Arizona. And he certainly did get the most out of the time he had here.
SMITH: he was a busy guy and got a lot done in his life.
What was it like being in the political arena with John McCain?
KYL: Well, there was never a dull moment, I will put it that way. John was involved in so many different things.
It was a great experience. We worked together on some things and then on we divided responsibilities to make sure that our state was well-served, but just all of the experiences of working with John. There was never a dull moment.
And I want to just take on one thing that Kelly Ayotte talked about because your viewers should know what a mentor that John was to a lot of the newer members of Congress. He led probably more congressional delegation trips abroad than anyone else in the Congress and he always included the newer members to help them meet the same people that he knew abroad, to visit the same places and these were not garden spots. We are talking Yemen and Afghanistan and Iraq and places like that.
But he did that not only to teach the newer members, but also to represent the United States in a very effective way abroad.
SMITH: How, specifically, Senator, did he want to inspire the next generation?
KYL: Well, I think he wanted to do two things. First by his example, the way that he conducted himself to show that that was the most effective way and the proper way to represent the United States, and then secondly of course to dig into the issues in all of these different places.
I firmly believe that he -- that his legacy will be his commitment to and his contributions to the national security of the United States. That's where I think he made the most difference and I'm sure there are people all over the world today that are joining in the mourning of John McCain's death.
SMITH: In an era of extreme partisanship, Senator, what will or what does the political environment look like without him?
KYL: Well, it's not as good because John was always there as kind of conscience of the Senate. I remember one day going onto the floor and he was just incensed that whoever the Republican leader was at the time -- and this was a long time ago. It probably was his great friend Bob Dole, but somehow they weren't giving the Democrats to vote on an amendment that they wanted. And he was incensed. He said we have to give them about, it's the right thing to do.
So, he was always there trying to make sure that both sides got their say and were treated fairly, and has already been noted, he didn't have any trouble working across the aisle.
SMITH: Senator Kyl, your name has been whispered as a possible replacement for now that vacant seat. The Arizona Republican governor is tasked with naming that replacement. He has now said he will not do so until Senator McCain is laid to rest.
What do you want to see happen with McCain's seat?
KYL: Governor Ducey has an awesome responsibility there. And I think the key thing is to try to continue the representation of the state of Arizona but more than that as I alluded to earlier, to continue representation for all the people of the United States on the most critical international issues. John had the experience to do that and he had the instincts, in my view, to make the right kinds of decisions, and I hope whoever the governor appoints can work in that vein.
SMITH: And, Senator Kyl, I know you'll be heading to Washington soon for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. You will be the Sherpa rallying support around those confirmation -- his confirmation. And, Senator Kyl, we really appreciate your time and thank you for coming on the program this morning looking back at a man you worked very closely with for a long period of time there in the Senate. Thank you.
KYL: Thank you very much.
SMITH: All right. When we come back, our Sunday panel joins us to discuss the legacy of John McCain and we will take a look at some of his key appearances right here on "Fox News Sunday" next.
SMITH: As far as Sunday shows go, Senator John McCain was a perennial guest whether as his party's presidential nominee, an authority on foreign policy, or at provocateur of the White House. You can count on him to make news, including right here with Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday."
WALLACE: Senator, you probably didn't make a lot of friends in the White House this week when you contradicted one of their main attack points against Senator Kerry, which is to say that he is weak on defense.
MCCAIN: John Kerry is a friend of mine. I don't choose to attack or disparage him and I will not. I know that having a friend in Washington from another party is not acceptable to some in Washington. I have two words for them, too bad.
I have found in my life that when I do what I think is right, for example, on the Marriage Amendment, it always turns out in the end okay. When I do things for political expediency, which I have from time to time, it has always turned out poorly.
WALLACE: Give me an example sent to bring it up. What have you done? What would you admit you did for political expediency?
MCCAIN: I went down to South Carolina and said that the flag that was flying over the state capitol, which was a confederate flag was, that I shouldn't be involved in it, it was a state issue. It was an act of cowardice.
WALLACE: Act of cowardice on your part?
WALLACE: And you did it because you thought this would help in the South Carolina primary in 2000?
MCCAIN: Yes, sure, this won't alienate certain voting bloc. And I lost anyway.
WALLACE: One thing that I was surprised to learn about both of you is that you are -- maybe I'm wrong about this too, superstitious. I'm told that you have lucky suits. I'm told, Senator, you have a lucky (INAUDIBLE)
But after everything you've been through, you've also been quoted as saying you feel you are one of the luckiest people on earth and you feel certain, not to get highfalutin about it, a sense of destiny. Do you feel that you have one final mission to serve this country?
MCCAIN: I have been blessed to be able to serve for many years, both in the military and in public office. It's one of the great honors of my life. But it doesn't mean that I was meant to be president. It just means that whatever time I have left, I would be of service to the country.
And I am grateful, incredibly grateful that I've had the opportunity and if it stops tomorrow, I will look back at an imperfect person, but one who always tried to serve.
WALLACE: Republican insider, Senator, say that your big job going forward is to reach out to conservatives. Here is what one McCain insiders that the other day.
REPORTER: Can he then go on and become the nominee of this party?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I think holding their nose. They don't know how to take him.
WALLACE: Oh boy, Senator. One, is your mother right? And two, how do you persuade conservatives to stop holding their nose?
MCCAIN: I love my mother dearly, more than anything in the world. But really my mom is not -- is not a complete expert on this issue. And I love her and I love her candor and she's been a great, great asset, particularly whenever the age issue comes up.
WALLACE: On McCain's desk is a picture of his granddad during World War II. In the corner, you can see a photo of the senator as a little boy.
McCain says treasure your children.
MCCAIN: If I had a message, because I'm not as young as I used to be, it's enjoy every moment with them. Enjoy every second, because they all grow so fast and you will have some of your best memories of the time you spent with them.
I fought against my own people -- administration when I wanted to, when I thought it was necessary to do so, and I will fight against this administration when I think it's necessary to do so.
WALLACE: If I may press and, it is what other people are saying, that's what you are saying about yourself. You said I never considered myself a maverick.
MCCAIN: Well, I -- what I was saying was that I had considered myself a person who is a fighter. I wouldn't be around today if I wasn't a fighter. I fight for things that I believe in and sometimes that's called a maverick, sometimes that's called a partisan. People can draw their own conclusions. I prefer great American myself.
WALLACE: As the son and the grandson of military men and as a war hero yourself --
MCCAIN: And a son in the Navy.
WALLACE: And a son in the Navy.
MCCAIN: One who was in the marines, too.
WALLACE: Your thoughts on Memorial Day?
MCCAIN: The great honor of my life, it was to have had the opportunity long ago and far away to have served in a company of heroes.
I'm the luckiest guy you have ever interviewed and will ever interview. I'm the most fortunate man on earth and I thank God for it every single day.
Thanks for having me on again, Chris. I love our spirited discussions.
WALLACE: Me too, always.
SANDRA SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: It is time now for our Sunday group. A former press secretary for Vice President Pence, Marc Lotter, columnist for
The Hill, Juan Williams, the co-host of "Benson and Harf" on Fox News Radio, Marie Harf, and Fox News correspondent, Gillian Turner.
At least he left us laughing there, and in such a sad few hours that we have seen since the family announced his death yesterday, Marc. He did make us laugh.
MARC LOTTER, FORMER PENCE PRESS SECRETARY: He absolutely did. And the only thing I can say is if you would have decided to retire and enjoy a quiet peaceful life after his military service, no one could have faulted him for what he went through --
SMITH: But that he did not do.
LOTTER: But he felt called to serve and do more, and he did.
SMITH: And he did, even in those final 18 months or so of his life, he kept fighting the brain cancer for sure, but he still stayed politically involved as well, Marie.
MARIE HARF, CO-HOST, "BENSON & HARF": Absolutely. He was not going to just walk away and not have a voice in so many important issues we continue debate -- whether it's health care, whether it's the state of our politics. And, Sandra, I thought a lot over the last few weeks about, you know, John McCain was a hawk for sure.
But for me, one of the most significant things he did was when he worked to make peace with Vietnam, a country where he was tortured, where he fought a war. He banded together with John Kerry, who he disagreed with him on many things, including the Vietnam War, and said that our past does not have to dictate our future when it comes to our relationships around the world, normalized relations with the country who tortured him. That is an extraordinary statement.
SMITH: You know, all of us sitting at this table at some point in our careers, we had the opportunity and the honor of knowing Senator John McCain and getting to know him in some instances. Juan, we get a picture of you and your son with Senator McCain.
JUAN WILLIAM, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SMITH: He's someone you knew.
WILLIAMS: So, that's the last time I saw Senator McCain. We ran into him at the Nationals baseball game this summer. So, that's the last time I think that he was here.
And again, you know, Senator McCain and I had had disagreements. My job is to sometimes be critical of politicians. I remember when he was yawning, groaning I think it was in '07, he was down at the bottom in terms of candidates seeking the Republican nomination. I said, it looks like John McCain is out of gas here.
And, boy, he didn't like it. He let me know he did not -- he didn't think that was the right thing for me to say and then when he came back, he let me know, hey, I'm back, I won and you should tell people that I came back, you know? So that's John McCain.
But to me, just picking up on what Marie said, what stuns me is not only that he would go back and work to normalize relations with Vietnam, but here in America at a time of political polarization, part of the reason I think we honor McCain so much today, it comes out of our living need to say that we can go beyond party politics, we can go beyond polarization. We can go beyond race.
You heard what he said to Chris about acknowledging a mistake on the Confederate flag issue. But if you think about his working with Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, with Ted Kennedy on health care, you think about him standing up to his own party on the Affordable Care Act recently and saying I don't think we can just strip it, we have to have something to put in its place.
This is the maverick. He said he didn't like to be called a maverick. He would rather be called a great American.
I think on this Sunday morning, Sandra, we can say -- John McCain, you are -- you were not only patriot, a great American and an American hero.
SMITH: You know, he referenced back, Gillian, to his mother, Roberta McCain, she is still with us. She's 106 years old. He was certainly obviously a war hero, a politician with a long career, a successful career in politics, but he talked about his family being the most important thing in the world to him.
GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, of course, and those of us who know it had the chance to work with Meghan when she was here at the channel know just how tight his bond was not with her but with all of his children.
Marie pointed out that a really important part of his legacy is that he was a national security hawk. A defense hawk. But I think it's important to point out that he was not a warmonger. Far from it. You know, he spent a lot of time advocating for better support and services for service members, veterans and their families, but he had a very healthy appreciation, especially later on during his tenure in the Senate for the limits to the use of military force.
I always think about Afghanistan, he lobbied President Obama really hard for increased troop presence in Afghanistan and then was the first guy on the Senate floor after that was secured to stand up and say America is never going to secure all of its interests in this country with the use of military force alone. He is very unique in that. He's worked on both sides of the issue as a service member and then his policy, there is no one else like that.
SMITH: Yes. And now, a lot of questions about what will happen with that vacant seat, who will fill it and what kind of -- the timing is going to be so important, obviously, with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings coming up.
A fighter he called himself and I think we all agree we saw in the same way.
We have to take a break with our panel but when we come back, two of the president's former close associates are facing jail time. What does this turn of events mean for the president? We will speak with two insiders, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, next.
SMITH: Coming up, Democrats issue a warning to President Trump over the use of his pardoning powers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: The president should not even consider pardoning Mr. Manafort or Mr. Cohen at any point in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: We'll ask our Sunday panel about the true extent of the president's authority, coming up on "Fox News Sunday".
SANDRA SMITH, FOX ANCHOR: Tensions between President Trump, his attorney general and the Justice Department reaching epic levels after a week of legal bombshells involving once loyal members of his inner circle. Let's review.
This week, Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, convicted in federal court on financial crimes. His former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, implicated the president in a harsh money scheme. And the two men closest to those payments granted immunity. The White House says none of this has anything to do with the president. That he did nothing wrong and there are no charges against him.
Joining us now, Alberto Gonzales, former U.S. attorney general who served under President George W. Bush.
Welcome back to "Fox News Sunday," sir. Thank you for coming on the program.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning.
If I can, let me -- let me just as an Air Force veteran, I honor John McCain's service and sacrifice on behalf of our country, our military, our veterans and their families.
SMITH: We appreciate your words this morning as we're all sharing sentiments in the wake of John McCain's death.
We're following the developments of what was -- it was a hectic week for this White House and for the president. And questions about what sort of legal peril the president is in, or is he in any legal peril at all, depends on who you ask.
I want to start first with the president's argument that his attorney general never took control of the department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. And it's a -- sort of an incredible thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: So, first, just let's establish where you stand on this, judge. Is that criticism of the president, of his AG, is that fair?
GONZALES: That is a very serious allegation that the Department of Justice is out of control. You know, Jeff Sessions has been mainly quiet until now in the face of a lot of criticism from the White House. And he finally responded. And I think it was appropriate that he did respond because to say that the department is out of control is a very serious charge. From my perspective, from my vantage point, you know, there appears to be investigations ongoing, appear to be successful prosecutions. And so I think that it's important for the attorney general to reassure the American people, and speaking to the president, that he is in control of the Department of Justice and that it's operating the way that it should be operating.
Now, that's not to say that the president, as president of the United States, he has a right to be critical, to say what he wants to say about his Cabinet officials. As a general matter, I think it's more effective to do it privately than publicly because it undermines the department -- the attorney general and also I think hurts the moral of the Department of Justice. So I think it's preferable for the president to speak his concerns and criticism to the attorney general directly as opposed to publically. But he certainly has a right to speak out.
SMITH: Well, Sessions hit back at the president, and sort of rare for him. He doesn't normally publicly hit back at the president. But here he was, the action of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.
And, like I said, this marks one of the few times that we've seen him publicly respond to the president, although he did not call him out my name there. But what is, judge, the danger in this feud between the president and his AG? What is the danger in this continuing?
GONZALES: Well, as I said, I think -- I fear that because the president is head of the executive branch and can remove the attorney general anytime that he wants, that the continued criticism without taking any action I fear makes the president look a little weak. But I also worry about the fact, as I said, it undercuts the attorney general's authority and agency battles with other cabinet secretaries, with his counterparts around the world, and I do think it has a long-term effect upon the morale of the Department of Justice and undermines the integrity, how people view the Department of Justice, how the American people view the institution. And I think that's -- that's very, very dangerous. And so, as I said, the president has a right to speak out, no question about that. He was unhappy with the performance of the attorney general. But as a general matter, I'm not sure that it's doing the president much good. It may be preferable and more effective to do it privately.
SMITH: Meanwhile, a lot of developments as far as the Robert Mueller investigation goes. This week a conviction in the case of Paul Manafort and the White House making it very clear where it stands on that case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Manafort case doesn't have anything to do with the president. It doesn't have anything to do with his campaign. It doesn't have anything to do with the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: What are the ramifications of Paul Manafort's conviction, judge?
GONZALES: I think it's still too early to tell.
It is interesting, the White House is correct that no charges have been brought against the president, but we need to be mindful of the fact that it is current DOJ policy, as I understand it, that the president cannot be indicted and the president cannot be prosecuted. So you're not going to see any charges, I don't believe, brought against the president. Irrespective of whether or not there is a conclusion by the Department of Justice that the president engaged in criminal wrongdoing.
But, nonetheless, I think with respect to the conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, you know, it's not good. It creates a lot of debate and swirl around the president as an individual and that's never good. I think it averts a president's attention from the business of the American people. There are very serious issues, both domestically and across the world that deserve the president's full attention, and that's what I worry about.
SMITH: But the president did seem to sort of praise Paul Manafort in the wake of his conviction, leaving questions about whether or not he may pardon him. Look how he responded to that question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Paul Manafort's a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. And I feel very sad about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: So that was him on the ground in West Virginia seemingly praising Paul Manafort when asked specifically in a Fox News interview whether or not he would pardon him. He did not say no and he did not say yes. Do you -- is he laying the groundwork for a pardon?
GONZALES: Well, you'll have to -- we'll have to ask the president. I don't -- I can't -- I can't get into his mind.
It is a bit unusual for the president of the United States, the head of the executive branch, and the Department of Justice works for the president of the United States, and they've had a very -- they had a very successful conviction of Paul Manafort. And to have the president then, you know, speak so well of Paul Manafort was -- was somewhat unusual.
In terms of a pardon, as we know, the president's pardon power is virtually unlimited and so the president may decide that this is a particular case where a pardon is warranted. If he believe that Paul Manafort was unfairly treated. But, again, that would send a message that he believes his Department of Justice acted in a way that was unprofessional and unfair. And I -- you know, I worry about that kind of message as well.
SMITH: So many wondering how far this Mueller investigation will go, how long it will go on.
The president talking about a sit-down interview with Mueller a perjury trap. You heard that from Rudy Giuliani.
Ultimately, do you think the president should sit down with Robert Mueller?
GONZALES: I think it might be helpful politically for the president to at least respond to written questions. I don't know about sitting down with -- and giving oral testimony to Robert Mueller. But I -- I think perhaps it may -- it may ease, in the minds of certain members of the American public, the president's involvement, the president's knowledge about Russia, Russian involvement in the presidential election 2016. So -- but we'll have to wait and see.
SMITH: That's a big wait and see. We'll see where it all goes.
Judge Alberto Gonzales, great to get your take on things this morning. Thank you for -- thank you for joining us on "Fox News Sunday."
GONZALES: Thank you for having me.
SMITH: Now to Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's former campaign manager, who joins us now live from New Hampshire.
Corey, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday." Good to have you on the program.
What a week this was. How would you describe this week for the president?
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Sandra, let me first echo what Judge Gonzales said and -- and let all of the viewers know how our thoughts and prayers are with the McCain family. And as a New Hampshire almost native son, the years he spent up here campaigning, the success he had, I just want to echo those statements to remember a man who served our country with great admiration and honorable. And so I want to thank and thank the McCain family and have our thoughts and prayers with him as we start.
But as it relates to the president and this week, what we have seen here, once again, is the Mueller investigation, which was designed to look at potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian outside influence, has no bearing, has not produced any evidence, not one scintilla of evidence that there was any type of collusion, cooperation or coordination between the Trump campaign and anybody from an outside source to impact the outcome of the election. So what I think is important now is that the Mueller investigative team finishes their investigation, reports that to the Department of Justice and we put an end to the investigation, which clearly has demonstrated has nothing to do with the presidential campaign of 2016.
SMITH: You've got to think about how that looks, though, the conviction of Paul Manafort, the guilty plea from Michael Cohen, immunities granted to two others close to all of this. And you've got to wonder, Corey, and you've got to -- you -- the optics of it, does it spell trouble for the president as this investigation continues?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, Sandra, if you look at what Paul Manafort was originally charged with and has now been found guilty of, those are crimes that he was accused of and found guilty of that took place 10 to 12 years prior to him coming to the Trump campaign for the five month window. Those were tax evasion charges. Those were charges that have absolutely nothing to do with his tenure with us. And what Bob Mueller's team was supposed to be investigating was the potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
So the conviction of Paul Manafort has nothing to do with the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization or any work that transpired during the 2016 campaign.
And as it relates to Michael Cohen, who has now pled guilty and was looking at 60 plus years in jail, once again, his crimes were basically crimes of not following the rules as it relates to your taxes. Following false -- filing false bank statements. Those have nothing to do with the campaign.
Look, I was the campaign manager. I spent as little time with Michael Cohen as humanly possible. He was never part of the campaign when I was there. And what he has now pled guilty to, by and large, has nothing to do with the campaign or the Trump Organization. This is Michael Cohen not filing taxes.
SMITH: But, Corey -- Corey, I hear -- I hear what you're saying about your relationship with him, and there have been reports that you privately tried to get the president -- tried to get the president to back away from him. You were warning him that he was a loose cannon.
But the president said, at that time, at one point in time, that he was a good lawyer and he trusted him for a long time. Now he's calling him a flipper.
So why did the president trust Michael Cohen as long as he did, especially with warnings coming from the likes of you?
LEWANDOWSKI: You know, Michael was very good at certain things. And one of the things that he was very good at, and we've now seen it, is intimidating people and pushing himself to fix -- he was the self-described fixer, which I don't know what that means, but I know from the corporate side -- and I didn't work at the corporation, to be clear, but when there was a problem from the corporation side, you know, if there's a problem with an airplane engine, Michael was tasked with the negotiation to make sure that that engine was fixed under the warranty procedures when companies didn't want to do that. I know that was one specific project.
But I can tell you this, I didn't like to work with Michael. I didn't like to interact with Michael. And that's why he had no role in the campaign, even though he wanted one. I was very clear, when I was in charge of the campaign, Michael was not somebody who we wanted at the campaign. He would go out and make statements that we had to walk back afterwards because he would say things which were factually untrue. And I warned everybody at the organization that Michael was going to become a problem.
SMITH: Here we are, final week -- weekend in August, I should say. It's hard to believe we'll be moving into September, ever more closer to November. What are your expectations for Republicans in the midterm elections, Corey?
LEWANDOWSKI: My expectations are that when it comes to the U.S. Senate, the Republicans will gain three to four seats, expanding their majority there. And when it comes to the House of Representatives, I think the Republicans are ultimately going to have a smaller majority, but they're going to continue with their majority because the American people are going to have a chance this November to either go in the direction of economic security, homeland security and national security or they can go back to the days of potentially Speaker Pelosi whereby open borders and no tax cuts, that's what the American people are faced with.
SMITH: You mention Nancy Pelosi. She called Tuesday Trump's day of reckoning. If Democrats were to win control of the House, what do you think the chances are of -- of them going for impeachment of the president?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think it's clearly on their agenda because they have no other agenda. When you look at Maxine Waters, who was slated to become the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jerry Nadler from New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee if they take over, they have no plan for the American people. So there only plan is to be obstinate and obstacles to the Trump economic agenda. And that means starting an impeachment proceeding where there is none to be found, but that will completely stymie a Washington, D.C., which is candidly already broken.
SMITH: I've got to ask you finally about the -- New York state subpoenaed Michael Cohen. This involves you as part of this probe into the Trump Foundation. It alleges persistently illegal conduct. They're accusing the non-profit, the Trump Organization, of engaging in extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump campaign. The president has vowed in response publicly that he won't settle this case. The lawsuit does point to you, Corey, which is why we wanted to ask you about it before you go.
First of all, have you been contacted about that?
LEWANDOWSKI: So I've never spoken to anyone from the state of New York about this issue. And -- and what's really at stake here and what the crux of the argument is, is that the Trump Foundation, which has no overhead and actually gives out more money than it ever raises, is a recognized 501(c)3 charitable organization. And they're calling into question raising money for that 501(c)3 and then distributing it to other 501(c)3s. That's what this is all about.
I've never seen it before. I've never heard of it before. And this -- the Trump Foundation gave away more money than it actually raised because the president, then candidate Trump, was putting his own money into it.
SMITH: Well, they've subpoenaed -- they've subpoenaed Michael Cohen. What will they learn from him?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, that's a great question. I don't know what Michael has to do with the -- the Trump Foundation at all and I don't know what he has to do with the disbursement of the money from the foundation. So that will be news to all of us when we find that out.
SMITH: Corey Lewandowski, thank you very much for joining us today.
LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you.
Up next, our Sunday group returns to discuss the fallout from the swirling investigations battering the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN SASSE, R-NEBRASKA SENATOR: The idea that Jeff Sessions might be fired because he's not a political hack is a very, very bad idea.
LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR: Replacing him before the election to me would be a nonstarter. But the idea of having a new attorney general in the first term of President Trump's administration I think is very likely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: Differing opinions even inside the GOP about the future of Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the president reignited their feud over his recusal from the Russian investigation.
And we are back with our panel.
Marc, you heard -- you heard Senator Sasse there suggesting firing Sessions would be -- I think he said a very, very bad idea. Would it?
MARC LOTTER, FORMER PENCE PRESS SECRETARY: And I don't think anyone is seriously taking that as something happening before the midterms. I think Senator Graham, obviously, talked about that as well. I think any -- while the president can make changes, you know, when he decides it's time to make a change, I would personally be surprised if it happened before midterms.
SMITH: Doesn't Lindsey Graham, one, have a point when he says that the -- the president is entitled to have an attorney general that he has confidence in?
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Without a doubt. The problem is that given the political context, Sandra, can he get a new attorney general? The Republicans have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. But already you hear from people, and you just heard one there, but also Susan Collins and others say, this would be a mistake.
And, don't forget, Jeff Sessions was a U.S. senator. He has lots of friends there. So there would be strong opposition. And the question then would be, oh, if you want to fire Sessions, are you going to replace him with someone then who's going to fire Mueller or fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general?
SMITH: Right. And --
WILLIAMS: And when people start thinking like that, they are definitely going to have much resistance.
SMITH: And Susan Collins, a pivotal Republican, she wanted of the same thing, if you fire him, we may not be able to replace him, right?
MARIE HARF, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: That's right. And it shouldn't matter whether it's before or after the midterms. If it's wrong to fire him because he's not serving us President Trump's personal attorney general, which is, I think, what Donald Trump had in mind when he appointed Jeff Sessions to that role, it should be a problem either before or after.
But the politics will be an issue here. I do not think the Senate, particularly as closely divided as it is, can replace him. Jeff Sessions, as Juan mentioned, he was a senator. He has a lot of friends up there. And I think what you see is the president had probably his toughest week and the press this week as president. He's lashing out increasingly at everyone, including Jeff Sessions, because the situation is very dire. There are three ongoing investigations. People get immunity every day. People are working with prosecutors --
SMITH: Hold on, not every day.
HARF: But that's -- well, every day this week we had a new report of someone close to Donald Trump getting immunity and I think you see the president not knowing how to respond.
SMITH: But the question is, what does all of that mean and imply for the president?
SMITH: And the White House is saying it has nothing to do with the president and the president -- there's no implication that he did anything wrong in all of that.
HARF: Well, we'll see.
SMITH: But Sessions is firing back, which was really interesting because we haven't seen him fire back in such a public way. And he said, he will not let the department be improperly influenced by political considerations. Is that a sign perhaps, Gillian, that he's taking this feud more public?
GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. And a lot of folks were shocked to see that tweet when it came out yesterday --
SMITH: Statement, yes.
TURNER: Or Thursday, whenever it was.
I do disagree with Marie slightly in terms of the timing here. I think that if Sessions leaves, whether he's fired, whether he departs after the midterm, he does get -- the president gets a little bit of a get out of jail free card on that in the sense, there's nothing scandalous, there's nothing unusual about an attorney general leaving -- anyone in the cabinet leaving after the midterms in any administration. I think waiting until then would really turn the heat down on this entire situation. And I think that's what Collins and that's what Cornyn and other Republicans weighing in on this and warning the president are trying to tell him.
SMITH: Meanwhile, the president and his team are making it very clear they want this Mueller probe, this investigation, to come to an end. Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, tweeted yesterday, just days before 60 day run-up to 2018 elections. If Mueller wants to show he's not partisan, then issue a report on collusion and obstruction. They will show President Trump did nothing wrong. Then we will have to admit you were fair. And we will.
Is Giuliani publicly trying to rush the special counsel to wrap up this investigation?
LOTTER: Well, I think he is acknowledging what we -- what we see out there every day. I mean anyone who was close to President Trump or worked for President Trump is getting a legal colonoscopy by every investigator out there. Meanwhile, Democrats --
SMITH: That was a visual I didn't need.
LOTTER: And, meanwhile, Democrats are getting a Band-Aid and sent on their merry way. And I think he wants to bring this to a close. We have seen -- we've still see no evidence of collusion. And nothing is still --
SMITH: Do Republicans have a point, Marie? This investigation's been going on 16 months and counting.
HARF: Well, also, Republicans investigated the Clintons over Whitewater for six years. So let's all just have some perspective here.
I think that Mueller cannot wrap this up before the midterms because they haven't settled issues of whether the president will sit down with him. There are a number of people who haven't been interviewed yet.
I think that Mueller will avoid actually saying anything until after the midterms because there are a lot of outstanding questions that still need to be answered. And through the investigation we have learned much more.
The Trump campaign started out by saying, no one ever talked to any Russians. Well, now we know that over a dozen Trump campaign people did. That may not be collusion, Sandra, but we have learned much more throughout this investigation that warrants further questions. Those are serious and cannot be wrapped up, I think, in the next few months.
SMITH: I think it left a few people wondering why, when the president this week said he could go in and do whatever. He could run it if he wants. But he decided to stay out when it comes to this investigation. What does that tell you?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think he's really, at this point, sort of flustered and flailing. If he thinks that he can take control of the investigation, that's like, you know, Al Capone taking charge of Eliot Ness. It's just not the way it's done in this country. No man is above the law is the standard.
So he instead now is attacking not only Sessions, as we just discussed, but he's also saying, go after the Democrats, my political opponents. Why'd they get an easy pass? I don't know if they got an easy pass. I think they were thoroughly investigated.
But then the other part of it is that he goes after a witch hunt. He says this has been a witch hunt and appeals to his base. At some point --
WILLIAMS: You've got to ask people, when do you stop justifying bad behavior by this president?
SMITH: All right, with the time we have left, I want to go around the table, predictions for the midterms, starting with you, Marc.
LOTTER: Keep the -- expand the majority in the Senate, keeps the majority in the House.
HARF: Democrats take the House. It's going to be a bit of a blue wave. The Senate's a toss-up.
SMITH: Oh, you guys are making this easy. All right.
TURNER: Agreed. Dems take the House and the Senate is --
WILLIAMS: Oh, I think that right now the president said this week a red wave. I do not see a red wave. Instead, what I see is likelihood that I would say a third a chance of a strong blue wave in which the Democrats not only take the House but control in big numbers or, secondly, get just enough, a third chance, that they don't make it. And in the Senate, I think the odds, given the playing field, is still with the Republicans to hold.
SMITH: Final question, Marie, if Democrats win control of the House, will they move to impeach the president?
HARF: I think, after the last week, it is a conversation with having that wasn't worth having a week ago. And we're going to have it.
SMITH: You guys are good. I mean right on your time cues.
OK, it was really fun to have you guys as our panel this morning. Thank you very much, all of you.
HARF: Thank you, Sandra.
WILLIAMS: It was fun to have you.
SMITH: Thank you.
And we'll see you next Sunday.
Up next, a final word.
SMITH: And that is it for today.
For more on the life and legacy of John McCain, please stay tuned to this station and Fox News Channel.
I'll see you again tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for "America's Newsroom" on Fox News Channel. Come join us.
Have a great week, everyone. And Chris will see you next "Fox News Sunday."
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