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Special Counsel Appointed in U.S./Russia Probe; Putin: U.S. is Developing "Political Schizophrenia"; Trump Visits Israel Next Week After Allegedly Giving Russian Israeli State Secrets; Venezuela on Brink of Collapse; Special Counsel Could Be Good News for White House. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:06] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay, in Los Angeles.

We're following several big developments from the White House political crisis. First, the U.S. Justice Department has appointed an independent special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is the type of non-political professional that lawmakers were calling for. And both Democrats and Republicans have applauded the choice.

Meanwhile "The New York Times" is reporting fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn, told the Trump transition team he was under federal investigation before he was fired. Authorities were looking into his secret paid work as a lobbyist for Turkey, but he was hired anyway. And his legal troubles had been a consistent aggravation for the White House long after they fired him.

Well, the investigation by the special counsel is, indeed, special for a few reasons. First, Robert Mueller will have all the powers and resources of a federal prosecutor to pursue charges should they arise. But he will do that independent of the standard chain of command at the Justice Department. That is a really important distinction, especially because of Attorney General Jeff Session's recusal from this investigation. Mueller also has wide latitude what he chooses to pursue. If the investigation leads him in an unexpected direction, he has the power to follow that.

More now from justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A significant move, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, gas handed the reigns of the Russian probe to former FBI Director Bob Mueller. In a statement, Rosenstein said he thought it was important in the public interest. He said the fact he's doing this is no indication a crime has been committed. But of course, this comes on the heels of the revelation that the former FBI Director James Comey had a discussion with President Trump and documented it in a memo where he alleged Trump asked him to end the probe into Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor. It's unclear how much of that factored into Rod Rosenstein's decision. We can tell you, shortly after Comey's firing, according to sources, Rosenstein began considering a special counsel. But last Friday, he was telling people close to him he didn't think it was necessary. Clearly, something changed. It raises the question whether the revelation of the memo changed the calculus for him in terms of appointing a special counsel.

Now for Bob Mueller, he will oversee this investigation. He will have the same authorities as an attorney general. He can convene a grand jury, issue subpoenas, he can even interview the president.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: Joining me now, Schoenberg; former FBI special agent, Bobby Chicon; Democratic strategist, Dave Jacobson; and Republican strategist and talk radio host, Andrea Kaye.

Another night another full house. Welcome to you all.

Randol, let me start with you, the legal mind.

Let me read part of the deputy attorney general's statement. Let's put it up on screen for our viewers. "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that, based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

Randol, CNN is learning from a source that Rod Rosenstein had not read the Comey memo as of last night, so what do you think got it to this point? What do you think?

E. RANDOL SCHOENBERG, ATTORNEY: My thinking last week was this was in the works. Rosenstein, if you see how it played out with the firing of James Comey, had to know this was going to be the next step. I think a lot of people are critical of him but I think too soon. He needed a few days at least to mull things over, consider and prepare this next step. He obviously had to speak with Bob Mueller before announcing him to special counsel. That must have taken place over the last several days. I think this was Rosenstein's plan from the very beginning. That's my guess.

SESAY: Andrea, to you. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about special prosecutor. Here's what he said.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's frankly no need for a special prosecutor. We've discussed this before. You have two Senate committees looking into this. The FBI is conducting their own review. And I think if you even look at what Acting Director McCabe said last week, he made it clear they have the resources they need and the work continues.


SESAY: That was Sean Spicer on Monday. Now the special counsel is appointed. The president's response in a statement, let's share that before you respond. This is what the president said, "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."

What is your sense of the legal and political state for this White House?

[02:05:20] ANDREA KAYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: I think the stakes are huge. This is about an attempt to undermine a free and fairly elected president of the United States. What a difference a party makes. A year ago, we had a clandestine meeting of an attorney general with the husband, the former president, of the wife of someone she investigated. There was no call for a special prosecutor at that point. And James Comey turns around, assumes the role of attorney general, and says no prosecutor would prosecute crimes that were actually uncovered. Still, no special prosecutor. Here, there's been no crime that Donald Trump has been accused of. In fact, I'm glad we might, with Comey out of the way, have a real investigation because I would like to know, and it's not been explained to me what the probable cause was that justified the sitting Democrat president to have his administration or anybody in it investigate an opposition-party candidate and his team. And what evidence is there that there was any collusion with Donald Trump. What evidence is there that we even --


SESAY: That's what they're trying to find out. Right?


SESAY: That's what they're trying to find out.

KAYE: Aren't we supposed to have a special prosecutor on the heels of finding out there's a crime and investigating a crime first. That hasn't happened here?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Going back to your initial question, Sean Spicer has lost credibility and is totally incompetent. The fact the White House is openly contemplating hiring a different press secretary and also overhauling the White House staff, as reported by "The New York Times," "Politico," CNN, all underscores the fact the president has lost complete confidence in Sean Spicer, the entire communications apparatus in the White House and his senior staff. But this underscores the broad turmoil you're seeing with the White House, the ongoing disarray, the confusion and chaos. It's reflective of what we saw in the Trump campaign. SESAY: I want to play -- Bobby Chicon, I haven't forgotten you're

here. But I want to play sound from the president who gave a commencement speech on Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy hours before the announcement that Robert Mueller had been appointed. Take a listen. This is clearly a president that was bristling from all the controversies.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down, and fight, fight, fight.

Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.

I guess that's why I won.


SESAY: Bobby Chicon, to you. That's a defiant president saying fight, fight, fight. But he is in a big fight now that there's a special counsel that's been appointed. What do you make of the fact that the White House wasn't told this was happening until the order was signed by Rod Rosenstein?

BOBBY CHICON, FORMER FBI AGENT: I think it's a result of the way things have played out, you know, in the past. The abrupt firing of Director Comey took everybody by surprise. Certainly, took the deputy A.G. by surprise, especially when the White House used his memo as justification. We know how upset he was about that. I don't think he wanted to give the White House any chance to interfere with this process and any opportunity to start backtracking things and try to prevent him from doing it. I think it's a direct outgrowth of the way the White House dispatched Director Comey without consulting the deputy A.G. even though the deputy A.G. wrote that scathing memo but walked back a bit when the White House started to use it for justification for Comey's firing.

SESAY: Randal, I want to pick up on what Andreas said at the beginning, there's an element of impropriety here in the sequence before it's determined something of a criminal nature has gone down. And here we are having a special counsel. Give us your perspective on that. Respond to Andrea.

[01:09:16] SCHOENBERG: I think Rosenstein was concerned with more than speculation. In July last year, during the campaign, President Trump called on the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton's e-mail, and they did that with their campaign manager, John Podesta, and released those e-mails later. There's no fewer than four on Trump senior advisors from the campaign that had significant ties to Russia, including Flynn; Manafort, his campaign manager; Roger Stone and Carter Page. All four have been very, very accurately accused of having improper ties and done improper things. For example, Mike Flynn, the national security advisor, before he became national security advisor, had a conversation with Russian ambassador where they talked about lifting sanctions and that led to his firing in February. There's a lot more than smoke here. There's real fire with regard to the Trump aides. We don't know how involved Donald Trump was in any of those contacts and we still need an investigation into whether Trump attempted to cover up anything that his advisors had done and the revelation in just the last 24 hours of Director Comey's memos of conversations with Donald Trump where he tried to get the director of the FBI to lay off his friend, Michael Flynn, even after Flynn had been terminated. Those raise a lot of questions that I think Mueller will have to investigate. We'll see where that investigation leads.

SESAY: Andrea, this is the statement from Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Let me read that. "The decision by the deputy attorney general to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel confirms that the investigation into Russian intervention into our election will continue, as state last week by FBI Director Andrew McCabe. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will also continue its investigation into this matter."

We talked about the White House perspective on this. Let's talk about Capitol Hill and the Republicans. Before the appointment of Mueller, this was not something they wanted to entertain. They did not want to be talking about special counsel or independent commission and here we are.

KAYE: Yeah, here we are. I feel they've kowtowed what Rosenstein did with appointing a special counsel. Let's talk about the Comey memo. Has the ink dried on it yet? Did he write it after May 3rd when he said he went under oath and said he was not pressured in anyway by the Trump administration regarding investigation, something he confirmed to Chairman Burr the day before he was fired?


KAYE: In the words of the great Judge Judy, "Don't come into courtroom with dirty hands." Comey has dirty hands --


SESAY: According to sources to CNN, the Comey memo was known by people close to him after he had his encounter with the president. People knew about it. He talked to people about it.


KAYE: Then why did he deny it?

JACOBSON: He also has a history of methodically writing memos.


KAYE: Then why didn't he come forth with it, with the memos of other things, like Loretta Lynch on the tarmac. This memo is - and if he believes that Donald Trump has tried to obstruct justice for him back in February, why did he hold on to it? Why did he bury it? Why did he wait until after he was fired? (CROSSTALK)

JACOBSON: Those are totally legitimate questions that need to be answered. Look, at the end of the day, increasingly, you're seeing a wave of Republican Senators and House members, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, other Senators, Steve Knight, Tom McClintock, Darrell Issa in California, House members, all of which supported Donald Trump in the general election, all of those folks increasingly supported an outside independent prosecutor.


SESAY: A minority.


JACOBSON: Now you have four congressional investigations. You have the Intelligence committees in the Senate and House, the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, the House Oversight Committee, which Jason Chaffetz, who chairs that committee, said he is willing to, if he needs to, to subpoena the FBI to get those notes. He wants to see them and put a bright spot on those.

You raise legitimate questions that need to be answered but all of which is only the beginnings of what we need to do. We also need an independent outside commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to look at the scope of this.


KAYE: Based on what? What is the actual crime that's been committed?

SESAY: The attorney general feels there's enough here and it warrants appointing a special counsel and that's been done.

Let put up Chuck Schumer's statement, the minority leader for the Democrats in the Senate. This is what he said. "Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job. I have significant great confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."

I guess, this is my question to both of you, Andrea and Dave.

Andrea, I hear your exasperation, but doesn't it just come down to following the facts wherever they lead?

KAYE: Absolutely. That's what makes me exasperated because I'm not seeing that. I'm seeing this memo being put forth as facts that it's absolute fact that Donald Trump tried to obstruct the investigation when we have the acting FBI director saying that's not true, when we have, under oath, Comey himself saying he had not been pressured by Donald Trump or anyone in the administration. And I'm saying if we want an investigation, let's do a proper Russian interference investigation --

(CROSSTALK) SESAY: This special counsel, is this not good enough to have special counsel?

KAYES: It's not even about the appointment of the special counsel that concerns me. It's the fact I found out the FBI were not the ones that reviewed the servers, that it was a hand-picked company called CrowdStrike.


KAYE: It wasn't even their own investigation. I'm saying let's have a investigation properly done. Maybe with Comey out of the way, it might happen.

SESAY: Dave?

[02:15:07] JACOBSON: Here's a key element, Donald Trump fired James Comey eight days ago. But one thing he did, just days later, in an interview with Lester Holt, he said Russia was on my mind when I fired the FBI director, so it raises questions of obstruction of justice. We need to hear from the president, no doubt about that, but it does raise the question.

SESAY: Randal, to you. Let's talk about that. You know, all of the elements, firing of Comey, the fact he said to Lester Holt, I had this Russia thing on my mind, the fact we now have this memo. Talk to us about from where you see your perspective on the mandate for Mueller and the scope here. Because the thing about these special counsels and investigations, they could become something else, could grow into something else, correct?

SCHOENBERG: That's really what's unclear right now. It's a great question. Because Rod Rosenstein is deputy attorney general. Ordinarily, it's the attorney general who appoints a special counsel. Rod Rosenstein did it because the Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself because he was on the Trump campaign from anything to do with the Russian investigation. So if you look at Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's letter today announcing special counsel, he is very careful to stay within the lines. In other words, he only gives Mueller authority to investigate Russian interference with the election, exactly what Jeff Sessions has recused himself on, and anything related to that, but nothing more. The question will be, will Mueller now request other authority to go into other items, for example, the allegations coming out about the Trump campaign knowing about Flynn's connection with Turkey before appointed as national security advisor. Those comes outside of the Russian investigation, but are so integrally related to that investigation that they might be folded into what Mueller is looking into. We'll have to see how far Mueller will take this.

SESAY: Thank you to all of our guests for that extremely lively conversation.

Next on CNN NEWSROOM L.A., while chaos surrounds the White House, Russia's president said the U.S. is developing "political schizophrenia." Details coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello everyone. U.S. investors seemed relatively unconcerned over the recent politic winds in Washington but, on Wednesday, they reacted with the biggest sell off since September after the latest in the Trump/Comey controversy. The Dow closing down 373 points. Markets seems to be putting asides hopes for tax reforms and rollbacks that the Trump campaign promised.


[02:20:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The market disengaged up to this point. We're down 21,000, so no matter, it has divorced itself from the madness going on in Washington. I think we're at a point it seems like his presidency is starting crackle and becoming vulnerable and we're seeing that for the first time. And today is the first day we're seeing it fall.


SESAY: Let's look at the Asia markets. Those aren't looking pretty. You see across the board, it is down everywhere. Numbers are not pretty reading.

Russia's president is now speaking out about another controversy dogging the White House. Vladimir Putin says Donald Trump did not divulge any secrets during the meeting last week with Russia's foreign minister. And he's offering Congress a transcript to prove it. He made light of the controversy during a news conference on Wednesday.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We see that a political schizophrenia is developing in the U.S. around this. And I can't find any other explanation for the president's supposedly revealing some kind of secret to Lavrov.

Incidentally, I had a talk with Sergei Lavrov this morning and had to rebuke him, to give him a telling off, that he didn't share the secret with us, neither with me, nor the Russian Special Services, and that was very bad of him.


SESAY: Joining me now from Moscow, CNN's Diana Magnay.

Diana, good to see you.

The Russian president says he has a record of Trump's meeting with senior Russian officials. Is he really trying to provide clarity or just making mischief.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, it was a spectacle to see the Russian president offering a mock rebuke to his foreign minister and to see Sergei Lavrov chuckling away at that, and coming to the defense of Donald Trump hardly the right moment to do so. I think when we look at this offer of a transcript, it raises questions. First, did the White House know there was a Russian stenographer in the room? One would presume so. If there was a Russian stenographer, presumably there would be an American one also, in which case, surely the White House could have that information also. So that puts pressure on Donald Trump. I think what was instructive was the rest of this speech where President Putin said, quote, "At the beginning, when we were watching how this process of internal political strive was unfolding, we laughed. As of today, it's not just sad, it's alarming." And he pointed to what he said was U.S. politicians who were inflaming the internal political circle with anti-Russian slogans and doing considerable damage to their country. That points to the two-point response Russia has towards the unfolding crisis. First, they are clearly mocking the situation. Secondly, they are worried about it -- Isha?

SESAY: And with that in mind, has there been any reaction to the news that Robert Mueller has been appointed as a special counsel to investigate the FBI investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election?

MAGNAY: Not yet. These things tend to take a while, few more hours, until we start getting official response. I'm sure there will be something from the Kremlin today but I don't think it's going to deviate much from what we always hear, this is American internal business, welcome any kind of investigation, but it has nothing to do with us. But certainly, the fact that the investigation will continue. You know, will they be able to raise evidence the Russians keep saying there is none, well, we'll see -- Isha?

SESAY: All right, we'll be watching.

Diana Magnay joining us from Moscow. Thank you, Diana.

President Trump visits Israel next week against the backdrop of giving away Israeli state secrets. The former head of Israeli intelligence says classified information divulged to Russian officials could be a catastrophe, especially if it compromised an Israeli source. And we've now learned the president will not announce plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as he pledged in his campaign.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is covering all of this for us from Jerusalem.

Oren, we're hearing more reaction to the news that some classified intelligence Trump shared with Russia was from Israel. What more can you tell us?

[02:24:46] OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT: We're hearing two stories, one from Israeli politicians, some of whom will meet with the Trump delegation went it arrives Monday. They are saying, look, everything is fine. They are neither confirming or commenting on the alleged divulging of information, but they are saying the American and Israeli intelligence communities are so close in their relationship, and so deep, has always been so deep that it will continue that way and only strengthen under President Donald Trump. But we're hearing a different story from former intelligence

officials. No current intelligence officials are commenting. That's not surprising. It's a secretive community. But former intelligence officials, including the former head of Mossad, Israel's CIA, said this could be possible catastrophe if it was an Israeli source that was compromised to the Russians, especially if that source relates to ISIS. It's an incredibly difficult source to develop and maintain. And they way, again coming from the former head of Mossad, saying, if this really happened, Israel needs to consider withholding sensitive information from the Americans. That's an incredibly powerful statement because of how deep the relationship is between the intelligence communities. But that's how seriously they view this. We also spoke with former intelligence officials who say, perhaps it's not that bad, we may need all of the information to find out what was divulged to get a better sense here.

SESAY: Oren, turn to the location of the U.S. embassy, are Israelis disappointed that President Trump won't announce a move to Jerusalem during the trip?

LIEBERMANN: No one has openly expressed disappointment but that has to be the feeling because it was a big point that made Donald Trump a success here, such an exciting name, especially among the Israeli right, who expected he would move the embassy on day one. Now it seems the administration is be passing on that opportunity. That excitement is cooling off. Nobody would say openly right now for fear of destabilizing in any way the Trump visit in just a few days.

SESAY: All right. We'll see how it plays out.

Oren Liebermann, thank you, there in Jerusalem.

Next here on CNN NEWSROOM L.A., an undercover report on the crisis gripping Venezuela and a look at how it is impacting people. Just ahead.


[02:29:34] SESAY: Hello everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

The headlines this hour --


[02:30:34] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Venezuela is sending 2,000 National Guard troops and hundreds of Special Operations forces to a troubled state bordering Colombia. The government protests there have led to unrest and looting. The defense minister says the troops are needed to combat a coup d'etat. Venezuela's opposition party held candlelight vigils were held around the country to honor those killed during the protests. At least 43 people have died since the civil unrest began more than a month ago.

Venezuela is on the brink of collapse, torn apart by violent protests as opposition leaders face off with President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters. The government is cracking down and intimidating journalists, even taking CNN's sister network, CNN Espanol, off the air.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh went into the country under cover and much of the filming was done covertly to avoid the risk of being arrested. This is his report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Venezuela's dark lurch into poverty and chaos was on display. As you drive into the capitol, this food truck breaking down for mere seconds before it was looted.


PATON WALSH: Basic food is scarce. No shortage of bleach, but long lines for bread.

This crisis all created by the mad policies of a government that now wants to hide the collapse, cracking down and intimidating journalists. We had to go under cover and much of our film covertly to avoid arrest.

For some poor nearing starvation, the people demand change. In violent clashes, tens of lives lost --


PATON WALSH: -- as desperation meets tear gas and police birdshot.

You've heard of Molotov cocktail. That's too simple for a once suave, gas-rich state. So this is a sewage bomb.


PATON WALSH: "Mixed with gas and ammonia," he says, "prepared directly for the police that throw tear gas bombs at us worth $60 each. My country doesn't have food and we can't even protest peacefully."

(on camera): During today's standoff, the crowd sometimes attacks by pro-government thugs on motorcycles who open fire indiscriminately.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): Gunfire takes at least one life this day, that of 27-year-old Miguel Castillo.

But it doesn't stop the daily battle to eat. Virginia has been doing this for 18 months to find her five kids. She can't find work since she had this little one. Here she sometimes finds what she calls meat.

"Sometimes I find stuffed bread, rice, meat, beans and pasta. Some are conscientious, putting it in clean bags. leaving it out." So how has oil-rich Venezuela got so bad?

(on camera): In most countries, it is the market that sets the price, for example, for rice, but here in Venezuela, the government decides how much you should pay for most food stuffs, but also what many people's wages are. Since the oil price crashed globally, they have not kept one up with the other. They have basically run out of money. And now for rice like this, you need to find three times as many notes as these, and that's about a month's minimum wage.

(voice-over): Wherever you look, repression and hunger haunts this once-proud city.

This man is a juggler, a magician for kid's parties, beaten heavily, he says, in the days before his protest, now begging for food when we find him.

"I spend two days on the streets," he says, "and two days at home. When I go home, it's because I have food. Before, I get calls to do magic at birthday parties, but no. Now with the country the way it is, magic doesn't help."

They mourn the dead, the anger, quiet, indignant, not belligerent.

South America is looking to see if Venezuela can fix its self-made crisis without major bloodshed but they are falling so far so fast, and the ground is getting nearer.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Caracas, Venezuela.


SESAY: Venezuela's government has repeatedly said its problems are exaggerated by hostile foreign media and that the drop in oil prices and actions of opposition-friendly tycoons have contributed to the country's problems.

In a certain part of his series on Venezuela, our Nick Paton Walsh gives us a rare glimpse into a hospital where the economic crisis is taking its toll on the most vulnerable.


[02:35:09] PATON WALSH (voice-over): Danielle is 14, and elsewhere, probably would have kept her leg. But in Venezuela, vital medicine for chemotherapy is short and so were the odd the bone tumor in her leg wouldn't spread.


"Just a little cold water," the doctor says.

(on camera): Does it make you angry as a doctor that a procedure like this is necessary where you could prevent it if you had the right medicine?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Yes, that is very sad for us.


SESAY: Well, Danielle's case is not isolated. More from Nick Paton Walsh in Venezuela Thursday on CNN.

Coming up after a quick break, a constitutional scholar explains why the appointment of a special prosecutor could be good news for the Trump White House.


[02:38:00] SESAY: Our breaking news tonight, the U.S. Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. Many lawmakers, mainly Democrats, have been calling for outside help and now they will get it.

But at least one Congressman says he already has had enough.


REP. AL GREEN, (D), TEXAS: This is about what I believe. This is where I stand. I will not be moved. The president must be impeached!


SESAY: So what exactly is impeachment and how does it work? Well, Article II of the U.S. Constitution provides removal of the president from office on, quote, "on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Then it's up to Congress. The House of Representatives has the power to impeach the president with a simple majority vote. The process then moves to the Senate where a trial will be held with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. It takes a two-thirds vote by the Senate to convict the president. If convicted, the president is removed from office and the vice president is put in power.

Where do we stand with President Trump? Do his actions or accusations against him rise to the level of impeachment?

With the answers, I'm hoping, I'm joined by Allan Lichtman, a presidential history and author of the book, "The Case for Impeachment."

Allan, thank you so much for joining us.


SESAY: You have said the proper constitutional remedy to the issues at hand is not a special prosecutor but rather an impeachment investigation. Explain why you feel that way.

LICHTMAN: Yes, I laid that out my book, "The Case for Impeachment," and still feel that way. Here's are some issues with a special prosecutor. Number one, a special prosecutor investigates criminality but impeachment is not limited to criminalities. It could deal with broad abuses of power. Number two, special prosecutors often take years to do their work. The special prosecutor in the Iran/Contra scandal under Ronald Reagan didn't issue his first report for some two and a half years after Ronald Reagan had already left office. In addition, the president can, of course, fire an independent counsel, as Richard Nixon did with Archibald Cox. And finally, the work is done in secret. It's not laid out to the public.

So I'm not opposed to a special prosecutor but it should not preclude what needs constitutionally to be done, and that's beginning impeachment investigation by the House Judiciary Committee. In Watergate, we had both the special prosecutor and the impeachment investigation. An impeachment investigation goes beyond criminality. It considers broad abuses of power, as our founding fathers wanted it to be, because they put impeachment in the Congress, not in the courts. It could go way beyond just collusion with Russia and consider other impeachable offenses, such as conflicts of interest and violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which isn't a crime but is impeachable.

[02:41:09] SESAY: When you look at the temperature on Capitol Hill, and both Houses being controlled by Republicans, do you see anything to hang that on, that desire for impeachment investigation? The Republicans didn't even want a special prosecutor.

LICHTMAN: Here's the problem. I think the special prosecutor will let the Republicans off the hook. They'll say, we'll leave it in the hands of Mr. Mueller. We don't need an impeachment investigation. That would be very unfortunate. I would call upon every Republican in the House to do what so many Republicans did in Watergate, put patriotism above party and support an impeachment investigation. So should Donald Trump. If what the president says is true and he's committed no wrongdoing in his campaign or as president, then he should welcome an investigation to clear the air and make it public. He should encourage every member of his campaign team and relevant administration officials to testify under oath and he should release all documents, including, if they exist, presidential tapes. This should be an opportunity for Donald Trump, rather than continuing what looks like from the president a Nixon-type cover up.

SESAY: If you're the president of the U.S. right now, you lately learn there's a special counsel appointed, are breathing a sigh of relief or panicking and worrying about what comes next?

LICHTMAN: I think little of both. On the one hand, you're kind of let off the hook. You won't be subject to all of these same criticisms. Republicans won't have to defend everything you do. Mr. Mueller is taking care of it. That's very good for Trump administration. On the other hand, if there really is criminal activity involved in the Trump team or the Trump administration, this is not a good thing for the president at all.

SESAY: So your case for impeachment is still very much alive.

LICHTMAN: My book, "The Case for Impeachment," right here, is essential reading for everyone. (LAUGHTER)

SESAY: Allan, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

LICHTMAN: Thank you.

SESAY: He had his book out and ready.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

"World Sport" is up next.

You're watching CNN.




[03:00:07] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The White House caught off guard as a special counsel takes over the investigation of Russian interference in the elections that --