Return to Transcripts main page


Special Counsel Takes Over Russia Probe; Investigation into Russian Interference Continues; President Trump to Leave on First Overseas Trip; Change of Power in Iran; Loves Knows No Boundaries. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: The White House caught off guard as a special counsel takes over the investigation into Russian interference in the election that put Donald Trump into the Oval Office.

Meantime, Vladimir Putin is defending Mr. Trump, calling the drama in Washington political schizophrenia. We are live in Moscow.

Plus, advice for the new president from a man who's been there before. CNN talks to Jimmy Carter.

Hello and welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

And once again, we begin with breaking news from the White House. A special prosecutor is now investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The White House says it wasn't given much advance notice of the announcement that former FBI chief Robert Mueller will oversee the investigation.

Mueller will be fairly independent, though he will report to the Justice Department.

Both democrats and republicans say they're happy with the choice.

In a statement, President Trump said he already knows how it will all turn out, saying this, "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."

Well, for more on how this all happened and how the investigation will move forward, here's our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A fast-moving chain of events here at the Justice Department late Wednesday with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein announcing a special counsel, Bob Mueller, former FBI director has been appointed to lead the Russia investigation on behalf of the Justice Department.

A group of reporters were gathered here on Wednesday afternoon, and given briefing materials, including the special counsel statute, the special counsel order from Rod Rosenstein, as well as a press release.

I'm going to read a little bit of the press release to add context here. He said in part, "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that 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."

And, of course, the deputy attorney general leading this decision to appoint a special counsel because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything having to do with the Trump campaign, the Russia investigation, or the transition earlier in March.

We're also learning a little bit about the timing and sequence of events on Wednesday. And now know from a source that the deputy attorney general's office phoned the White House Counsel's Office to inform them of this decision, but did not give them a head's up. Rather they were told after Rosenstein signed this order.

I'm also told by a source that Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General was informed after Rod Rosenstein signed this order. We now know as well that Bob Mueller, who is going to be the special counsel is able to put together his own team to lead this investigation.

He has 60 days to put together a budget of his choosing, and he can pick staff both from within the department and outside. And we're learning that he's already picked two of his former partners WilmerHale, one who worked on the Watergate investigation.

Laura Jarrett, CNN, from the Justice Department.


CHURCH: For more on the appointment of a special prosecutor, let's bring in Larry Sabato, he is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Always great to talk with you, welcome.


CHURCH: So the big news Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department naming Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to investigate any possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia. The news was well received. So how likely is it that this will calm things down, given this is exactly what democrats have been calling for?

SABATO: It certainly a good news and I think a major step forward. Now somebody is clearly in charge, and someone who's non-partisan and almost universally respected. You can't find anybody who says a bad word about Mr. Mueller. That's the good part of it. The bad part of it is, it's not going to shut down the Senate

intelligence committee investigation, it isn't going to shut down the House intelligence committee investigation. It isn't going to stop the leaks, and it isn't going to stop the press from reporting on what they can confirm that they're hearing.

[03:04:57] So, I suspect that there are more bombshells to come and we won't be waiting for the end of the special counsel's investigation.

CHURCH: Interesting. And of course the Justice Department took the lead here, but strangely enough, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not a part of this decision, or the announcement. What does that tell you?

SABATO: It tells me that Attorney General Sessions is fulfilling the promise he made before the United States Senate. He pledged after he failed to reveal his own contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, he pledged that he would not be a part of the probe into ties between Trump and Russia. So he had no business being involved in this decision, and it appears that he was not, so hooray.

CHURCH: Yes, interesting too. And republican Senator John McCain has compared President Trump's daily scandals to Watergate. But the White House never called to reprimand him. Most republicans now have gone quiet, apart from John McCain. There are whispers in the corridors at the possibility of a Pence presidency, and democrats have raised the specter of impeachment. Is this all a little too premature at this juncture do you think?

SABATO: It's very premature, Rosemary. There's no way for impeachment to go forward while republicans control both houses of Congress. I don't think there's any chance of impeachment passing in the House, and there is zero chance that a president or President Trump could be convicted in the Senate.

You need 67 votes out of a hundred. It's not going to happen, unless we move further into this investigation and find out that Trump is even more culpable than some people suggest.

CHURCH: Now, of course, what we've seen in recent days is the White House failing miserably at damage control, but now President Trump has stopped tweeting. That is progress in itself. The White House has gone quiet. Is this a sign things may change within his administration, do you think?

SABATO: Anything's humanly possible, but I wouldn't bet too much money on Donald Trump stopping the use of Twitter. This has been a part of him since he got into politics, and even before he was into politics. It's how he helped himself build a constituency. He's going to get back to it. He'll break down. He may not tweet about this investigation, but Donald Trump has thousands of tweets in him to go.

CHURCH: Larry, behind closed doors, how disgruntled are republicans at this point, do you think?

SABATO: They're naturally worried about their own fates. They're all independently elected. The entire House is up in 2018, and a third of the Senate. So while many of them are safe, they come from deeply red states and districts, there are others who really are vulnerable, especially if there's a wave building because of all of Trump's problems.

The democrats do have a shot to take over the house. You wouldn't bet on them today, but you certainly wouldn't give the kind of odds to the republicans that we started out with.

CHURCH: Certainly never a dull moment. Larry Sabato, thank you for taking us through it all. We appreciate it.

SABATO: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well, the Trump White House is facing an onslaught of controversy, some of their own making. But the president has other ideas of who is to blame.

Our Jeff Zeleny reports.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump offering a telling lesson today for graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. His remarks, shining a light on his mind-set for a White House consumed by crisis.

TRUMP: 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.

ZELENY: The commander in chief's words of encouragement, an inspiration overshadowed by the airing of his personal grievances.

TRUMP: Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I've been treated lately. Especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great purity, has been treated worse or more unfairly.

ZELENY: Presented with a ceremonial sabre, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told the president this.

Under deepening siege over the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the White House denying the president asked his FBI chief to close down the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which comey wrote in a memo at the time.

[03:09:58] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been very clear, this is not an accurate representation of that meeting.

ZELENY: For all the finger pointing and endless talk of a West Wing shake-up, the root of the controversy sits in the Oval Office. One top republican close to the White House telling CNN, this is on him.

On Capitol Hill, more republicans joining democrats sounding the alarm, over what could be obstruction of justice, even early talk of impeachment proceedings.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen.

ZELENY: Senator John McCain drawing parallels not only to Nixon's Watergate, but Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal.

MCCAIN: It is a comparison to other of these kinds of crises that have reason, whether it be Iran-Contra, whether it be this one or whether it be smaller ones, and they do affect the way we do business in Washington.

ZELENY: Speaker paul Ryan and other republican leaders walking a fine line, not embracing the president, but trying to contain the runaway speculation.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The last thing I'm going to do is prejudge anything. I'm a person who wants to get the fact. That is our job, to be sober, dispassionate and to get the facts and to do our jobs and follow the facts wherever they may lead.

ZELENY: But some democrats are not inclined to wait.

REP. AL GREEN, (D) TEXAS: I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the President of the United States of America.

ZELENY: While the president offered a ray of optimism in his commencement speech.

TRUMP: You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.

ZELENY: He closed with these thoughts.

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. Great honor, good luck. Enjoy your life.


CHURCH: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reporting there. Well, new details are emerging about the controversy surrounding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The New York Times reports that Flynn told the Trump team he was under investigation for secretly taking paid work as a lobbyist for Turkey.

Flynn mentioned this weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration. But he was hired anyway and given access to top U.S. intelligence. Flynn was ultimately fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence, who led the transition team.

Well, Vladimir Putin is opening up about another controversy dogging the White House. Russia's president denies that Mr. Trump shared highly classified Intel with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and says he's happy to provide a transcript to prove it.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): 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 supposedly revealing some kind of secret to Lavrov.

Moreover, if the U.S. administration thinks it's possible, we are prepared to provide the transcript of the conversation between Trump and Lavrov to Senate and Congress, only if that is if the U.S. administration wants it.


CHURCH: Joining me now from Moscow is CNN's Diana Magnay. Good to see you. So, Diana, interesting optics, yet again this time, the Russian president offering a helping hand to President Trump. So if there's a transcript, could there possibly be a tape?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was initial confusion, Rosemary, over what exactly President Putin had meant, whether he'd said, we can offer a recording or a record or a transcript to the Americans, and there is confusion about the specific word.

The Kremlin was quick to follow up and say that they could provide a transcript, because there had been a stenographer in the room. That raises several more questions.

First of all, if there was a Russian stenographer present in the room at that meeting, then presumably, there may have been an American stenographer present, which also then begs the question why President Trump couldn't offer the same kind of evidence that President Putin is now offering on his behalf.

And of course, either way, a stenographer's account can also be doctored. I think that it's very clear that President Putin knows as well as anyone that coming in to the American president's defense is not going to do him any favors. So in a way, it raises the pressure.

And then, of course, speaking of optics you had President Putin say this to Lavrov, giving a sort of rebuke to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a joking rebuke. And then in the audience you saw Sergey Lavrov himself having a good old chuckle.

So it does make it appear as though, the Russians are once again having a joke at the expense of the Oval Office, in any case.

CHURCH: Yes, it's hard to know the motivation, isn't it, whether he's enjoying the chaos erupting within the White House, or perhaps if there is something more to this. It's difficult to know, right?

[03:15:05] MAGNAY: It is difficult to know. But I think that we've sort of heard a kind of twofold response from the Russians. And I think the second part of what President Putin said in this speech was fairly instructive. He said, at the beginning when we were watching how this process of internal political strife is unfolding, we laughed.

As of today, it's not just sad, it's alarming. Alarming because, I think at the beginning of the Trump administration, President Putin was hoping that the new administration would be a way to bring Russia back from the cold in the wake of Crimea sanctions, Russian's actions in Syria.

That perhaps President Trump would be a useful partner to rehabilitate Russia on the world stage, to a certain extent, and that certainly is not happening with the White House in the chaos that it is at the moment, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Diana Magnay joining us there from Moscow, just after 10.15 in the morning. Many thanks for that live report.

Well, investors are showing signs of losing hope in the Trump administration's ability to deliver tax reform and regulation cutbacks.

Asian markets are down. You see all the arrows there in negative territory. And in Wednesday's trading on Wall Street, stocks fell sharply in the biggest sell-off since September. The Dow lost almost 373 points.


PETER TUCHMAN, FLOOR BROKER, QUATTRO M. SECURITIES: The market has sort of disengaged in up in this point. We're at Dow 21,000. So no matter, you know, it sort of divorced itself from the madness going on in Washington. I kind of think, though, we're at a point where it seems like his presidency is starting to crackle and become vulnerable. And I think Wall Street is feeling that for the first time.


CHURCH: Although it was a big sell-off, it's nowhere near some of the huge drops that happened back in 2008. We'll keep an eye on those numbers.

All right, let's take a very short break here. But when we come back, a preview of Donald Trump's upcoming visit to Israel after he allegedly gave sensitive Israeli intelligence to top Russian officials.

Plus, voters in Iran may be feeling a Trump effect. Could they elect a president Friday who will take a harder line against the U.S.? More on that, coming up after the break.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Well, U.S. President Donald Trump hopes an ambitious trip overseas next week, will help refocus public attention on his policy objectives, rather than on the numerous controversies swirling throughout Washington.

But one of his campaign promises, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, won't be announced when he visits Israel. Many top U.S. officials had warned it could hurt chances of restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is covering all of this from Jerusalem for us. Want to get to that in just a moment, but I want to ask you, Oren, how is the intelligence community in Israel responding to news that President Trump shared sensitive information with the Russians, intelligence information that reportedly came from Israel?

[03:20:11] And how will all this impact the U.S. President's trip to the Middle East?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Israeli politicians are trying to make sure it doesn't impact the trip at all. They've not confirmed nor commented on it, and they say that the intelligence community relationship between the Israelis and the Americans is just as strong as it's always been and will continue to strengthen under Donald Trump.

It's clear they want the controversy surrounding the revelation of an Israeli source to the Russians as far away as possible. They want it to stay in Washington and not follow Trump to the Middle East on his trip.

But we're hearing a very different message from former intelligence officials, no current intelligence officials are speaking now. The former head of Mossad says this could be a possible catastrophe if Trump really did reveal an Israeli source. Here is what Danny Yatom had to say.


DANNY YATOM, FORMER HEAD OF MOSSAD: I, I had to reiterate, but it might cause a dramatic damage to our capabilities to continue and to collect vital information in ISIS. And relating to ISIS.


LIEBERMANN: And Yatom says if it really did that much damage, then Israel needs to consider holding back some of the most sensitive information from the American intelligence community and from Trump. And that's an incredibly big statement coming from the former head of Mossad, which is essentially Israel's CIA. And that gets at the gravity here of what may have happened.

Other former Israeli intelligence officials are saying, wait a minute, hold on, we simply need to see how serious this really is, and gather all of the information before finding out just how much damage this did.

CHURCH: Yes, and Oren, as we mentioned before, we've learned that President Trump will not announce any re-location of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while he's in Israel. What do we to make of this, does it mean it's not going to happen, or is he delaying the move for another time?

LIEBERMANN: It very much could be possible that he's simply delaying the move. Remember, the option comes up for him every six months. So he has seven more opportunities in his four-year term. But there was very much an expectation, especially on Israel's right, that Trump would do it at his first possible opportunity, which is essentially in the next week or two.

And that is one of the reasons the Israeli right was so excited that he had come to power, that he had won the election. They really expected him to move the embassy, despite the fact that republican and democratic presidents, until now, hadn't done so, even if they promised to in the campaign.

It is a disappointment for those voters who were so happy to have Trump in office. And there is a cooling off in the excitement that we saw early on after the election and after Trump's inauguration, for Trump. Will we see some of that from the politicians? Likely not.

Israeli politicians say they still want the embassy moved. They're not going to make any cross statements about this specifically, because they don't want to destabilize a visit, the visit, Trump's visit in just a few days here. Right now, it seems for this visit to be a success, they just don't want any surprises coming from Trump in the next few days.

CHURCH: All right, many thanks to our Oren Liebermann who will of course be following Mr. Trump there in Israel on his visit. It's just 10.20 in the morning there in Jerusalem. Many thanks to you, Oren.

Well, it seems the U.S. President has decided he can live with the Iran nuclear deal, at least for now. As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to tear up the agreement. But the deadline to reimpose sanctions was Wednesday and the U.S. extended the measures.

A State Department official said this ongoing review does not diminish the United States' resolve to continue countering Iran's destabilizing activity in the region. Above all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

However, the U.S. treasury did apply new sanctions to individuals and entities that support Iran's ballistic missile program, which include Iranian defense officials, and a China-based supplier of missile- related items.

Well, meantime, Iran's attention is also focused on Friday's presidential election. The Trump effect is having an impact on the contest between incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi.

As Frederik Pleitgen reports, Iranian voters could radically change the course of relations with the United States.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iranian conservatives mobilizing days before the protection. Their candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, looking to unseat the moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani and make Iran assertive, his supporters say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Raisi has morals, he's a good man. He's knowledgeable and he does what he says.

[03:25:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Mr. Raisi, if being president, our relation with the United States will be worse.

PLEITGEN: Conservatives say the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers two years ago, weakened Iran and hasn't brought the economic benefits many hoped for. Despite the removal of sanctions, unemployment remains high, especially among those with university degrees.

And of course, relations with America and the west pay a major role in Iran's upcoming election. Many people in this country feel that the U.S. has not kept up its end of the bargain in the nuclear agreement, and they want a future president to take a harder line.

Instead of detente, the Trump administration has been talking and acting tough on Iran. Slapping Iran with new sanctions after its military conducted ballistic missile tests earlier this year.

PLEITGEN: So there's a Trump factor then, a little bit?

HAMED MOUSAVI, STAFF, UNIVERSITY OF TEHRAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think in the last debate when issues of foreign policy were discussed, the conservatives were criticizing Rouhani for not being tough on the Americans.

PLEITGEN: Rouhani continues to defend the nuke deal and accuses Iranian hardliners of undermining efforts to ease tensions with the west.

HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): When they wanted to jeopardize the deal, we witnessed what they did. They broadcast the underground bunker with rockets to destroy the deal. They wrote on the missiles to destroy the deal so we could not benefit from it.

PLEITGEN: Rouhani's comments are drowned out by a wall of noise at the conservative rally, where they hope their efforts will be enough to give Iran a new conservative government.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


CHURCH: The Turkish embassy has no apologies for the violent brawl that erupted outside the ambassador's residence in Washington. Sources say Turkish security officials were involved in the assault on protesters outside the residence Tuesday.

The embassy claimed the protesters were affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party and provoked Turkish Americans who were there to greet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A witness said the protest turned violent when a plastic water bottle was thrown. Nine people were taken to the hospital.

Well, the White House said there was no need for a special counsel, but the Justice Department disagreed. How this man will lead an investigation into possible Russian interference in the U.S. Election. That's next.

Plus, President Trump will soon be heading on his first trip abroad. CNN spoke to former President Jimmy Carter who had some advice for Mr. Trump. We'll have that for you in just a moment.


CHURCH: A very warm welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church with CNN NEWSROOM. Our top stories this hour.

The U.S. Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head up the U.S. Russia investigation. He'll look into the alleged election meddling and whether Trump associates colluded with the Russians.

As an independent special counsel, Mueller could prosecute any federal crimes he uncovers. Robert Mueller's appointment may thwart lawmaker's calls for fired FBI Director James Comey to testify before Congress.

They want to hear more about Comey's memos on private conversations with President Trump, especially one in which Comey says Trump asked him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey didn't share his memos with top Justice Department officials.

And the New York Times reports Michael Flynn told President Trump's transition team he was under investigation for secretly taking paid work as a lobbyist for Turkey weeks before Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Despite this, Mr. Trump still appointed Flynn his national security adviser before ultimately firing him. Well, news about the special counsel's appointment came as a welcome surprise to some. For others, it was seen as unnecessary meddling.

Our Jim Acosta tells us how the Trump administration is responding.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is reacting cautiously to the news that the Justice Department has tap former FBI Director Robert Mueller to be the special prosecutor in the Russian investigation.

President Trump issued a statement insisting there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, adding that he looks forward to the matter concluding quickly. An administration official said the White House received almost no advance notice of the Mueller news before it was announced by the Justice Department, same for Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was here at the White House when the news came down.

It is unclear how the Mueller news will impact the White House, but one White House official described staffers here as exhausted after 72 hours of damaging bombshells, all just a few days before the president leaves on his first foreign trip to meet with critical U.S. allies.

Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: The man chosen to lead the FBI's Russia investigation has a long history with the bureau, but lawmakers in both parties say Robert Mueller is the right man for the job.

CNN's Gary Tuchman tells us more about him.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the summer of 2001, President George W. Bush declared...

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my honor to nominate Robert S. Mueller of California to become the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


TUCHMAN: And it was exactly one week before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, that Robert Mueller began his tenure as director of the FBI. Mueller, a Princeton grad with a masters from NYU, joined the Marine Corps after college where he served with honor in Vietnam as an officer.

Following his military service, he went to law school, then became a litigator and ultimately became a federal prosecutor. The day after the 9/11 attacks, Director Mueller said this.

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: The first objective is to determine, identify the hijackers on each of the plane -- each of the planes. Having identified the hijackers on each of the planes, we then have sought to identify any of their associates remaining in the United States.

TUCHMAN: The nation was in chaos. Weeks after the attacks Congress passed and President Bush signed the controversial Patriot Act, which enhanced law enforcement investigative tools, including domestic surveillance and increased the opportunity to punish terrorist acts in the U.S.

Three years later, though, the bill's passage led to a showdown involving Mueller. He received a call from Deputy Attorney General James Comey late at night, that President Bush's counsel Alberto Gonzalez, was on his way to the hospital, to persuade a seriously ill Attorney General John Ashcroft to re-authorize a key part of the act, dealing with the domestic surveillance program. But the Justice Department had determined it was against the law, so

Comey, with Mueller's blessing, raced to the hospital to stop Gonzalez.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of attorney general. Because they've been transferred to me.

TUCHMAN: Both Mueller and Comey threatened to resign over the incident, but were persuaded to stay. Once, President Bush decided against pursuing the controversial surveillance program. Enjoying bipartisan respect, Bob Mueller served as FBI Director for 12 years, for two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

[03:34:56] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank your outstanding Director, Robert Mueller.


Not just for the introduction, but because Bob has led the bureau during incredibly challenging times.

TUCHMAN: Mueller has most recently been a partner in a private law firm and a visiting professor at Stanford. He will leave those positions to take on this new and important responsibility.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


CHURCH: There has been a lot of speculation over the past couple days about whether President Trump might be charged with obstruction of justice. Now, it's not as straightforward as one might think. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former adviser to Mr. Trump, had this to say about it.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm the only person in this room, I think, who has prosecuted obstruction of justice cases, and won them. They're very difficult cases to prove, and you have to have very significant evidence of the state of mind of the person who is attempting to do it. So I'd ask everybody to take a deep breath before everybody jumps to conclusions.


CHURCH: And to help explain why obstruction of justice is so hard to prove in court, here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump admitted he had something on his mind when he fired his FBI Director, James Comey. TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I

said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

TODD: Tonight, the troubling question following those remarks to NBC News, coupled with the revelation, according to sources, that the president asked Comey to end the FBI's investigation into Michael Flynn. Was it obstruction of justice?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I think what Mr. Trump said was an admission, and we ought to credit that as being the motivating reason why he fired Mr. Comey.

TODD: Legal analysts say that's close to what the law defines as obstruction of justice. But the bar for proving that in a criminal case is high, especially if it's a he said/he said dispute. You'd have to prove intent.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: The mental state of mind is very important in a criminal case. What you'd have to establish is that the president not only expressed a desire that the Flynn investigation be put to rest, but sought to apply pressure to the FBI director to end the Flynn investigation.

TODD: Experts say based on the evidence made public so far, it's very unlikely Mr. Trump would be prosecuted while in office. He may be exempt from charges stemming from his acts as president while he is serving, but that's not the only way to try the president for obstruction.

Congress could attempt to impeach him. The House would have to investigate, draw up charges and vote on articles of impeachment, it would resemble a criminal trial.

STEPHEN VLADECK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: The House of Representatives serves a function as grand jury, it's their job to identify the charges, to present the charges and to indict or in this case impeach the defendant, the president, and then it's the Senate that does the job of the usual jury and judge. It's their job to hold the trial, to call witnesses.

TODD: Then two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to impeach the president. Experts say all this could take several months if not years to play out. A huge question now is whether Congress, with both houses led by republicans, is going to have the political will to establish a commission to investigate the president, or to push impeachment or obstruction proceedings in the months ahead.

Political analysts say that's going to depend heavily on what James Comey may say in testimony to Congress, what evidence he presents, and how he presents it.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Well, President Trump will soon embark on his first international trip. He leaves for Saudi Arabia on Friday, followed by meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then he will head to Europe for the G7 summit in Italy, a meeting with the pope at the Vatican and a NATO summit in Belgium.

But the president's entire trip could be overshadowed by the controversies hanging over the White House. His visit to Israel may be particularly complicated. Reports have said it was their intelligence service who provided the classified information Mr. Trump gave to Russian officials last week.

Well, this trip will mark one of the most high profile weeks of Donald Trump's presidency.

Our Becky Anderson asked former President Jimmy Carter what Mr. Trump should be looking to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Jimmy Carter.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: He's a member of a very small club, an elder statesman, and humanitarian.

Jimmy Carter is just one of five former living U.S. Presidents. And ahead of the current President Donald Trump's inaugural overseas trip, the former occupant of the Oval Office has some advice.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think he should put in the forefront of all of his discussions with foreign leaders, the maintenance of peace in the world, which is one of the prime human rights. I think peace and human rights is a good thing to emphasize in every conversation.

[03:40:07] ANDERSON: One of President Trump's first stops on his first trip will be to Israel. And he has said he wants to work for Middle East peace.

TRUMP: It's something that I think is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.

ANDERSON: You, sir, know from your hard fought success with the Camp David accords, that this is no easy task. A word of warning then to the president as he sets out to embark on all of this.

CARTER: I hope that President Trump will make progress in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. And that he will bring justice to the Palestinians and alleviation of their long-term, 50 year now, suffering as an occupied territory. It was also the Palestinian they have to be willing to recognize Israel as a nation, living side by side with them in peace.

ANDERSON: So when he says it's not as difficult as people thought over the years, do you think he has a relatively naive approach to this conflict? CARTER: Well, I know how difficult it is. One of the things that he's

doing is marshaling the more active support, as I understand, of the Arab countries. They support the overall concept, which has been expressed quite well, I think, in the so-called Arab initiative, which calls for the restoration of Palestinian rights and a dividing of that disputed territory in the Holy Land, between Israel and the Palestinians, with both having nations living at peace.

ANDERSON: Sage advice then from a president past on the very pressing challenges of life in the Oval Office.

Becky Anderson, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


CHURCH: Venezuela is in the grip of a growing crisis.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now for a rice like this you need to find three times as many notes as this, ask that's about a month's minimum wage.


CHURCH: CNN goes undercover to show you the impact it's having on the people. That's next.