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Trump Lashes Out Over Special Prosecutor In Russia Probe; Soon: Deputy AG Briefs Senate After Appointing Mueller; Trump Breaks Short- Lived Silence, Rips Special Counsel; Pence Had Claimed Team Didn't Know About Flynn Probe; Sources: Flynn Rejected Military Move Opposed By Turkey; Controversial Sheriff: I've Accepted Administration Job. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 18, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. The breaking news -- President Trump on defense this morning, going from a measured 57-word statement last night to throwing that all out the window in 140 characters today.
Calling the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible ties between his campaign and Russia "The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."
And what should no longer come as a surprise, the president's fiery tweets are in stark contrast to the official White House statement. That's accepted former FBI Direct Robert Mueller as special counsel, a decision made by President Trump's own Justice Department.
You don't have to read Twitter much longer, my friends, to get the president's take. He is holding a news press conference later today. We will be watching very closely for that.
On top of that, in just a few moments, House Speaker Paul Ryan is also holding a news conference. So, a lot to get to. Let's start with CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, and CNN Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, following all of this for us.
So Laura, first to you. How did this all go down, because a lot happened over the last 12 hours?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely right, Kate. As you've pointed out, Trump broke his unusual period of silence on Twitter this morning, lashing out on the appointment of a special counsel to lead the Russia investigation as "The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."
Going on to say, "With all the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration, there was never a special counsel appointed."
Now, we've learned from sources yesterday, Kate, that the president was not given a heads-up about this decision, instead only learning about it after the fact, when Rosenstein had signed the special counsel order, and he told the White House Counsel's Office.
But despite Trump's anger over this, this is one of those things that is actually not in his control. As Mueller's appointment under a special counsel regulations gives him wide latitude to pursue this investigation into any coordination between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates, as well as any matters that may arise directly from that investigation.
So, essentially, he's been deputized to step in with full prosecutorial authority here as the attorney general would, if he had not recused. And Mueller can issue subpoenas, he can convene a grand jury, he can conduct interviews. It's up to him on where to take this investigation.
But most importantly, Kate, he's really supposed to have more autonomy here to run the investigation than anyone else might have. This special counsel regulation says he is not supposed to be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official within the Justice Department.
But Rosenstein can, however, request an explanation for any investigative steps he might want to take. Mueller can certainly be required to prepare a confidential report to Rosenstein at a certain point, Kate, so he is given wide latitude here.
BOLDUAN: A lot of power with this post, but a huge job ahead of Bob Mueller right now. Laura, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Phil Mattingly is standing by, probably slept there last night. I don't want to know, Phil. There's bipartisan praise for Mueller, but what does his appointment mean and what does this appointment do to the efforts that have already been under way in Congress?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a great question. I think you're getting multiple answers from multiple people. Look, House and Senate Republican leaders have made very clear, the Senate Intelligence investigation into Russian meddling, the House Intelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign will continue unabated.
But as Laura kind of so succinctly laid out, the scope of the power and authority of former FBI Director Bob Mueller here raises real concerns about whether or not these investigations will run into one another, and perhaps even more importantly, whether or not James Comey, who has been invited by multiple committees to come up and testify, both in public and in private session, can actually do that or will actually do that going forward.
Now, I think it's important to note, after, as you noted last night after the announcement was made, we heard bipartisan praise for Bob Mueller, bipartisan support for a special counsel, but that doesn't mean Capitol Hill is done with their questions, and that's not just from Democrats, Kate. Take a listen to what Senator John McCain had to say this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Frankly, so far, we have not punished the Russians for what we all know they tried to do, and that was to undermine the fundamental of democracy. So, all of us have known Director Mueller, very happy he's there, but that -- and that relieves us, relieves the Congress and the executive branch from certain responsibilities, but we still have to move forward with the investigation of what the Russians did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: So, there's really kind of two key points there. First and foremost, what the senator laid out in terms of relieving the Congress of some responsibilities, it's also relieving members of having to deal with these questions, particularly Republican members, on a daily basis.
I've been told from multiple aides, members were simply beat down. And while a lot of them were opposed publicly to a special counsel, privately very concerned about what that would mean going forward for the White House, for the agenda.
[11:05:03]There is short-term relief that they might not have to deal with those questions, or can at least say, hey, look at Bob Mueller, go talk to him instead, not us.
But I think the other important issue here is, there's no question about it, on a bipartisan level, there are still a lot of questions that Capitol Hill lawmakers feel like they need to be answered. These investigations are continuing.
And of note, Kate, Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, the individual who wrote the memo that the Trump officials cited and then kind of moved away from, then cited again, for the firing of Jim Comey, will be on the Hill in a classified briefing for the entire Senate at 2:30 today, briefing the entire House tomorrow morning. There are more questions than there are answers on this whole scenario here. Expect those to be asked today -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: There is no shortage of things going on right now, Phil. Break out the flow chart. I really appreciate it, Phil. Thank you so much.
So little to discuss! With me right now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash is here, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times," Alex Burns, CNN legal analyst, Mark O'Mara is here, and former CIA analyst, Nada Bakos is here as well.
All right, friends, Dana, let's talk first about the reaction we heard this morning from President Trump. His two tweets calling this the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history and criticizing that no matter what Clinton or Obama did, they didn't have any special counsel appointed. And as Phil's talking about Rod Rosenstein going to the Hill, this leads me to believe, so, last week, Rod Rosenstein was the respected reason behind firing James Comey, and today he is now the driving force behind a witch hunt.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, well, which should not be a surprise.
BASH: Given the sort of behavior that we've seen of the president on this issue, particularly on Twitter. But look, I think at the end of the day, the fact that he's lashing out at the notion of a special counsel should not be -- also should not be a surprise, since I think he realizes that this could be really bad news. Now, it could be really good news.
BASH: At the end of the day, Bob Mueller, who has so much respect, has the best reputation -- if he at the end of day says there's no there "there," that would be the biggest gift to the president.
Much more so, let's be honest, than the investigations that are less sterling, as Bob Mueller's likely will be. But he also understands, I think, recent history, or at least he's been told about recent history, which is the -- I mean, never mind the Ken Starr special prosecutor that started out as a land deal and ended up with impeachment of a president.
But even during the George W. Bush years, the last time we've seen this, and it was in 2003, the question into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame who was a spy, that ended up in the conviction of the person who had been Dick Cheney's top aide, Scooter Libby.
And so, which we didn't -- nobody expected at the beginning. So, I think he understands that. But politically, I think it's very important to listen to what Phil just said about Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Last night, this morning, the fact that they feel that they have a short-term off-ramp to say, look, I can't talk about this constituent x, y or z, I just have to focus on my job and I'm going to let Bob Mueller do his work. That's huge.
BOLDUAN: But where does this leave the White House, I wonder, Alex? Because you don't have to go too far in the distant past -- and don't worry, we have the tape prepared for everybody -- to see what everyone around the White House had to say about Rod Rosenstein in his sterling credentials. And Dana has an amazing source saying this is really seen as Rod Rosenstein throwing the president overboard.
BOLDUAN: Is Dana's source. Listen to what the White House has previously said about Rod Rosenstein. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He made a recommendation. He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time. And to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general --
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president accepted the recommendation of his deputy attorney general.
KELLYANN CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general --
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence, made a recommendation to the attorney general. The attorney general concurred with that and forwarded that recommendation today on to the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Where does this leave the White House now, though, Alex?
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think by any conventional playbook, this would leave the White House in a position where they can't go after the special prosecutor, can't go after the person who appointed the special prosecutor. And by the way, even if they hadn't said all of that, a conventional playbook would dictate that you don't go after the special prosecutor, right?
BOLDUAN: That's true.
BURNS: You know, I've spoken to people, both today, but just sort of over the last few months who have been through this kind of experience, not exclusively with a special prosecutor, but any kind of prosecution of a politician, and they say the only way you can just get out of that hole day to day is to be able to say that you're going about the people's business, right, that the investigation is going to run its course --
[11:10:09]BURNS: And for now, what I'm going to do is, you know, create jobs or solve health care or something like that. That is obviously not, based on the tweets this morning -- we'll see the press conference later today -- that is obviously not where the president instinctively wants to go.
And I do think -- and Dana touched on this briefly -- that you know, it does raise the burden on folks on the Hill to show that they can do the people's business, right? That there is this question of is the House functional? Can the Senate get something done?
If you aren't delivering something, it gets that much harder to move away from the questions about Russia, Russia, Russia.
BOLDUAN: That's a great point. And Mark from your perspective, do you think appointing Bob Mueller speeds things up or slows things down? I've heard both overnight, and also, what's the impact of Donald Trump tweeting on said investigation?
MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's going to slow it down in this sense. Mueller's going to take his time and he's going to have an enormous amount of authority to do it. As you know, Comey at one point said he needed more resources when he was looking into this, and we now know this special prosecutor is going to get those resources.
And unfortunately, it's just going to take a long time. Let's not forget, the first thing that he needs to do is set up the infrastructure. He has to be in a location that's been vetted out by all of the people necessary to make sure that confidential information can go there.
BOLDUAN: Get boring and important stuff.
O'MARA: Absolutely. So, that's going to take several weeks to a month or two. Then he's going to have to do his analysis, his strategy. What am I going to do, who am I going to look for first? Literally, this is an investigation, a prosecution that's going to take a long, long time.
And then with President Trump, you know, using sort of the Trump speak, going after witch hunt -- I've been involved with literally hundreds of federal prosecutors, not as a target, but helping people out, and that's not somebody to mess with.
I know that they have a stronger and thicker skin to put off something like a witch hunt, but you know, this is almost short-term memory lapse that seems to be inherent in the way they speak about these things. It may come back to haunt him.
BOLDUAN: We will see very, very soon. There's another new element today, as there's, like, 18 different moving parts at the moment. "The New York Times" is reporting that Michael Flynn, he informed the transition post-election, pre-inauguration, that he was under investigation for being a paid lobbyist for Turkey way back then.
But that's an amazing revelation that we had not known, exactly that he had informed the transition, of course. From your background in the CIA, how big of a deal is it that just on its face that this person with that background became national security advisor, even after they say he informed the transition of it?
NADA BAKOS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: I mean, the fact that they knew he was under investigation at that point and still appointed him as national security adviser, I question the judgment. It also doesn't make the administration look good when it comes to the question of collusion with Russia.
At that point, they should have held off, appointed somebody else, let Flynn finish his investigation, and if he was exonerated, they could have then moved him back into the administration at some point.
And it also still begs the question, the underlying intelligence question of what is the collusion, or not the collusion, but the influence that Russia had on the elections?
And I think we still need an independent investigation or a select committee to look at that question, because it's not clear to me that Mueller will be able to get to that.
BOLDUAN: It is under his purview, we will see. But Dana, on this point about Michael Flynn and this news coming, this also draws in, raises questions about what Vice President Mike Pence knew, or who knew what when, including Vice President Pence. He was head of the transition, and he was asked about Michael Flynn, and this is what he said in March to Fox News. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Let me say, hearing that story today was the first I heard of it, and I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn's resignation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were disappointed by the story?
PENCE: The first I heard of it, and I think it is an affirmation of the president's decision to ask General Flynn to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And again that was back in March. That was when the story first broke that he had been under investigation, was being paid as a lobbyist for Turkey. Now with this news timeline today, what does that mean?
BASH: Well, it means one of two things. One is Mike Pence wasn't entirely telling the truth there, or that Mike Pence wasn't in the loop, one of those things. Now, given the way that we know Mike Pence has historically conducted himself, it's hard to imagine he would put himself in a position in that interview --
BOLDUAN: To lie --
BASH: -- to not tell the truth. It doesn't seem within his character. The more likely scenario is that he didn't know, but we don't know. You know, we don't know which way it is yet. We're trying get to the bottom of it. But it also begs the question, when Michael Flynn told the transition, who did he tell? I mean, what does that mean?
[11:15:09]BASH: What does that mean exactly? Because Mike Pence was the head of the transition. And more importantly, aside from the Mike Pence question that we don't have answered, is the president.
The president, according to this report, knew about it. So, the president knew about it. He still appointed him and you know, did he feel that much loyalty to this guy because he was out on the campaign trail?
He was with the president on the plane all the time. He was out there doing warm-up acts. He was out there taking one for the team to the point where, you know, maybe as a former general and as a future national security adviser he went too far politically, saying "lock her up" and even worse.
But the president does tend to form bonds with people, and for all of the stories, the real stories that we know of him, you know, sort of willy-nilly firing people, getting rid of people when he's done with them, he also does feel a sense of loyalty. So, was it that, or was it something that we just don't know the answer to?
BOLDUAN: Hold on one second. I'm just getting some news in my ear. We need to head to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr has breaking news coming in on Michael Flynn. Barbara, what do you have?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. What we are learning here is that when Michael Flynn was working for the Trump White House and he was talking to the Obama administration officials during the transition, the Obama administration discussed with Flynn a couple of matters about Syria, about the plan to fight ISIS.
What they talked about was this plan that the Obama administration had to retake Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, which is one of the key goals in the fight against that organization. Flynn pretty much, according to sources we're talking to, put that plan on hold.
Now, why did he put it on hold? That's going to wind up being a key question. Did he put it on hold because he had also had business dealings with the Turks, personal business dealings, and the Turks didn't want to see the U.S. necessarily move against Raqqah?
Or did he put it on hold because the Trump administration was going to do this big review of the ISIS strategy going forward and they weren't ready to commit to anything? The same issue coming up now with the Obama administration on the plan to arm the Kurds, which we've now seen happen under the Trump administration.
STARR: Those Kurdish rebels that are going to help retake Raqqah. This was all happening during the transition, a lot of decisions back and forth. Michael Flynn putting some things on hold when the Obamas said, look, we'll go ahead and do it, and that way, the heat won't be on the Trump White House in its opening weeks, but Flynn putting it on hold.
So, I think what we have here is it goes to the nuance of all of this. Not all of it very clear cut. Two great examples. Did Michael Flynn put things on hold because it served his business interests with the Turks? Did he put on hold because the Trump administration wasn't ready to commit to new policy on ISIS and wanted a chance to review everything? Still a lot of nuance in some of these issues -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: A lot of nuance, but you really hit on the perfect question. Barbara Starr, thank you so much for bringing that to us. I appreciate it. Nada, let me get your reaction to that breaking news. How significant is this?
BAKOS: That's very significant. When it comes to intelligence operations, putting anything on hold and possibly for a foreign power that does not have U.S. interests at heart is significant. When it came to Raqqah, under the Obama plan, they were actually going to use the Kurds as part of the incursion to go into Raqqah and fight ISIS.
So, of course, that's not going to be in Turkey's best interests. They don't want to see us arming the Kurds. So, it wouldn't be unrealistic to see Turkey putting pressure on Flynn to then ask him to put that plan on hold. And if I'm understanding the timeline correctly, Trump didn't actually complete that plan, put it into place, until after Flynn had been let go.
BOLDUAN: That's right. That's right.
BASH: Let me just say, this is exactly why it is a monumental problem that Michael Flynn took money from the Turks. This is why --
BOLDUAN: These rules are in place.
BASH: Yes, because he could be compromised. Even if he didn't do it because he got money from them, the appearance is that he possibly could, and that in and of itself is a humongous problem.
BURNS: It certainly is, and I do think it's worth underscoring just how extraordinarily loyal Trump has been to Flynn over virtually everybody else who surrounded his campaign. There were people like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, who were --
BOLDUAN: What is it, though?
BURNS: We don't know. We really don't know. You know there were other people, I mentioned Christie and Giuliani, but there were others who went as far out on a limb, maybe even further than Flynn did for the president and they have no jobs and, certainly in Giuliani's case, they have been rather publicly humiliated in the rejection as a job- seeker.
[11:20:07]And Flynn not only got the job, but when he was dismissed, the president defended his character and said he was a good man being wronged.
BASH: And potentially got caught up in obstruction of justice for asking Comey to lay off of it.
BOLDUAN: Speaking of Comey, and I know I'm jumping around here, but back to special prosecutor, and since Dana perfectly mentioned James Comey, in light of the special prosecutor, where things stand right now with Bob Mueller, do you think it is more or less likely that James Comey will testify on the Hill?
O'MARA: I think, though Congress has the right to require that or potentially require that, I think they're probably going to give deference to the special prosecutor. I would think that they should --
BOLDUAN: If you're Bob Mueller, you wouldn't want him to, is that what you're saying?
O'MARA: I don't want him to, and I want to do my investigation the way that I want to do it. I want to have the questions ready, the background ready, and the investigation. Why rush to the point? Now that we have the person who is going to be a point person for a true investigation, let's give him the time to do it right and do it in a way that is sort of more complete. Don't rush to a congressional hearing when you have somebody who's going to do the whole job properly.
BOLDUAN: Maybe that's why we're hearing privately amongst lawmakers a grumbling that it's put their investigations on hold effectively, even though they can still move forward. Guys, stick around. There's a lot more going on. Stand by.
Moments from now, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be speaking to reporters with his weekly press conference. You can imagine the questions he's going to be facing today. What answers will he offer?
Plus, the deputy attorney general who just appointed the special counsel will soon brief the entire Senate on the firing of now former FBI director James Comey. Stand by for that.
Plus, he's one of the most controversial Trump defenders out there, and now Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who says he's an enemy of Black Lives Matter, one of many things he said during the campaign that raised eyebrows, he may be getting a job at the Department of Homeland Security.
Here's the catch -- the administration not exactly saying that the job was offered. Obviously, there's something to discuss there. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: We now have more news, more breaking news, on the death, involving the death of the Fox News founder, Roger Ailes. Brian Stelter is here right now with much more on this. Brian, what are you hearing now?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: The cause of death, according to a family friend. Ailes passed away earlier today, but he slipped at home last week in Palm Beach, Florida, slipped at home, suffered complications, and then slipped into a coma, according to a family friend who learned about this earlier in the week.
There was some hope that maybe he would be able to come out of this coma, but officially passed away this morning. His wife, Elizabeth, shared the news earlier today, and in some ways, you know, if you think about, Ailes' career, his legacy, he was arguably the most powerful man in all of media until last summer, when he resigned in disgrace amid sexual harassment complaints by a number of women at Fox News.
His life changed drastically after that point. He bought this home in Florida, had been spending time there, but relatively isolated, not speaking with many of his longtime friends and colleagues. Ailes passing away this morning.
BOLDUAN: Now we're getting that cause of death right now. Brian, thank you so much for bringing that to us. And again, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family right now.
Moving on for us, he has been one of the president's biggest defenders on television and one of the most controversial figures in Donald Trump's circle of friends, especially during the campaign, and now he may be joining the Donald Trump administration.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, known to be an enemy of the Black Lives Matter Movement and someone who's taking steps to allow officers to conduct immigration raids inside his jails, and of course, he ignited controversy after controversy with comments like these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE, MILWAUKEE COUNTY: So many of the actions of the Occupy Movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protests and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.
The social order in Milwaukee totally collapsed on Saturday night. When the social order collapses, tribal behavior takes over. When tribal behavior takes over, the law of the jungle replaces the rule of law. Don, I wish you had that message of civility --
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to have a conversation with you --
CLARKE: -- towards this hateful ideology, these purveyors of hate.
LEMON: You don't know what my message is. What I want to say to you -- are you going to let me get a word in? We'll be right back.
CLARKE: I'm tired of all this crocodile tears about the kids, the poor kids coming. We're not talking about that. We're talking about able-bodied, grown men fighting agents that should be back in Syria or the Middle East, fighting for their country, coming over to the United States to spread jihad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So, that has been then, and here is the deal right now. Clarke has said that he has accepted a position with the Department of Homeland Security. One problem here, one caveat, the administration won't actually say if the job has been offered.
Let's discuss. Let me bring in right now Chris Cilizza for much more on this. Chris, what's your take on this? Do you think Clarke has a job or not?
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, this is -- remember, Kate, this is a week in which Kim Guilfoyle gave an interview to "The San Jose Mercury News," essentially saying she had been interviewing for the press secretary job, which, fyi, is currently filled by Sean Spicer. So you never know. Would it be outside the realm of possibility? No.
Remember, I heard in your last segment Alex Burns of "The New York Times" was making the point about Michael Flynn and Donald Trump's loyalty. This is another example of that. David Clarke is someone who Donald Trump sort of liked the way he approached things. He liked that he's willing to say controversial things.
He likes that liberals hate him. And so, I certainly would not be stunned if it would happen. I also would not be stunned if David Clarke put the cart before the horse and maybe in so doing nixed his chances of getting the actual job.
BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, you say that Democrats are going to hate it. Well, that is for darn sure. I mean, just, I saw one tweet from Kamala Harris when this, Senator Kamala Harris when this came out, saying that his unconscionable record makes him unfit to serve. This appointment is a disgrace. Key here is I don't think this is a position that he was going to be taking on that requires Senate confirmation, right?
CILIZZA: Right. So, you could say what you want about Donald Trump's political acumen, but I think someone if not him, someone would be in his ears saying that David Clarke will never be confirmed to anything in --