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Special Counsel to Lead Russia Investigation. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Who it is, what they are capable of. NEW DAY is going to get after it. Come with us.


[07:00:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deputy attorney general made a fine decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rod Rosenstein has appointed FBI Director Bob Mueller to oversee the Russia move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I welcome and I do applaud this decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good for the country that we get to the bottom of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen days before the inauguration, the Trump transition knew there was an investigation looking into Michael Flynn.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's reaching the point where it's of Watergate-size and scale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to see the documents, hear from Director Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't deal with speculation and innuendo.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm a person who wants to get the facts.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (R), MARYLAND: Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of Donald Trump.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Brooke Baldwin joining me this morning.


CUOMO: We begin this morning with the investigation into Russia's election meddling. It is now in the hands of a special counsel. The deputy attorney general taking it on his own behalf, naming former FBI chief Robert Mueller to head up the probe. Remember, Rosenstein, acting -- the deputy A.G. had said he didn't

think we needed one. What changed? Trump vowing there is no collusion but saying he looks forward to an end of this situation.

BALDWIN: The special counsel comes fired FBI director James Comey becomes the most wanted man in Washington. You have three separate congressional committees, wanting him to testify about what President Trump told him in those private meetings. And there are also several new reports about fired national security adviser Michael Flynn that add to these crises facing the Trump administration today. We have it all covered for you this morning beginning with Joe Johns at the White House.

Joe, good morning.

JOHNS: Good morning, Brooke.

Starting another day here with the White House once again reacting to events rather than directing them. The president last night huddling with his advisers in his office before issuing a terse 57-word statement after the appointment of Bob Mueller, one of the nation's most highly-regarded law enforcement figures to head up the investigation into Russian interference in the last election.


JOHNS (voice-over): The White House issuing a statement from President Trump, responding to the appointment of a special counsel. The president says, in part, "A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know. There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity."

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein naming former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into Russia' election interference. Rosenstein signing the order before alerting Attorney General Jeff Sessions and only giving the White House less than an hour's notice before making it public.

The surprise announcement comes after mounting pressure for the deputy A.G. to appoint a special prosecutor after President Trump initially cited a memo Rosenstein wrote as the basis for why he fired James Comey.

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

JOHNS: One source telling CNN, Rosenstein is throwing President Trump overboard with the special counsel, a move the White House opposed.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's frankly no need for a special prosecutor.

You have two Senate committees that are looking into this. The FBI is conducting their own review.

JOHNS: A statement from Rosenstein explaining, "The public interests requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

The move follows back-to-back bombshells from President Trump, including a damning memo from Comey, where he documented private conversations with President Trump, in which he says the president asked him to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn just one day after Flynn was terminated.

And today, more bad news for the embattled administration. "The New York Times" reporting that President Trump knew Flynn was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist on behalf of Turkish interests, weeks before the inauguration, and yet still named him as one of his top advisers, giving him access to the nation's biggest secrets.

Another report by McClatchy connects the dots even further, alleging that Flynn stopped a U.S. military plan that Turkey opposed. The plan was eventually restored after Flynn was fired.


JOHNS: So what is the president really thinking about the appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel? No tweets so far this morning. But we will have an opportunity to see the president. He is going to be meeting with the president of Colombia this afternoon and a news conference is scheduled -- Chris and Brooke.

CUOMO: Joe Johns, appreciate it. Bob Mueller's appointment as special counsel is drawing something very, very unusual these days. Praise from Democrats and Republicans and the intelligence community. If you look at just that on its face, that's a good development.

Now, his sterling reputation matters and experience matters. But where could this lead us in the form of this man?

CNN's Laura Jarrett live in Washington with more. He's certainly starting off with positive momentum.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Chris. This is a person with a stellar reputation. Widely respected both within the FBI and the Justice Department. He was first appointed to be the head of the FBI back in 2001 by President Bush, just before 9/11. He's largely credited with rebuilding and transforming the bureau after those attacks.

But Mueller also has bipartisan appeal. President Obama asked him to stay on at the helm of the FBI for an additional two years beyond the normal ten-year term before James Comey finally took over.

But most importantly, Chris, he's really supposed to have more autonomy to run this investigation than anyone else might have. The special counsel regulations say he shall not be subject to the day-to- day supervision of any official within the Justice Department.

Now Rosenstein can, however, request an explanation for any investigative steps he might want to take. And Mueller will be required to prepare a confidential report to Rosenstein about his findings at the end of this investigation and the decision to release that publicly, of course, will be left to the department -- Chris, Brook.

CUOMO: The feature here, Laura, because you know, what will the public know? Obviously, that was part of the motivation to pick a special counsel. But what will it mean in terms of disclosure? Thank you for the reporting.

Let's bring in our political panel. CNN national security analyst Matthew Rosenberg. Key to have Rosenberg this morning. He broke "The New York Times" story of the Trump transition team knowing General Flynn was under investigation. We'll talk to him about that. Thank you for being here.

Also joining us, the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish. And CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. So the man and the mandate. What does this move mean for this investigation?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it means that Mueller takes over any aspect of this investigation relating to criminal law and possible violations. You know, and that doesn't just mean narrowly Russia and possible collision with the Trump campaign.

It means any possible false statements that might have been made in the course of this investigation. Certainly, anything involving Michael Flynn and his activities and possibly, and most importantly, financial matters relating to all of this, which could include Mueller subpoenaing the president's tax returns.

CUOMO: Is this just Toobin speculating? No. Put up Rosenstein's order on this. Order No. 3195-2017. Look at points two and three, sub points. Any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation and then the omnibus catch-all, No. 3. Any other matters within the scope of 28 CFR Section 600.4a, which is at his discretion, what he thinks is worth of investigation.

TOOBIN: It's -- it's an enormously broad mandate. And as we have learned from independent counsel, special prosecutor investigations in the past, they tend to go off in new directions over the course of not months, but years sometimes. These investigations go on for a long time. Most famously, the Whitewater investigation of Kenneth Starr meandering into the story of Monica Lewinsky.

BALDWIN: OK. So the White House found out about this about an hour before the news came out from the DOJ naming Bob Mueller. We have the response directly as it was apparently dictated from the president to two senior staffers at the White House. And I quote, Michael Smerconish, "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." He says, "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 do you make of that? Especially the line "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly." Is that something he should say?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": With regard to President Trump, I thought it was a pretty sober analysis from him. I'm more surprised, Brooke, by the lack of any tweeting which, I think, is in his best interest to treat this in a different manner than he has treated any of this thus far.

Can I also float the idea that perhaps this was Rosenstein's revenge? I mean, the lack of head's up to the White House, I think, was proper. But I can't help but wonder if this was Rod Rosenstein sort of getting a little bit back at the White House for having thrown him out there, and that two and a half page memo on May 9 and allowing the president to say, well, it's because of the Rosenstein memo that I fired Comey, when in fact that's really not what the memo said.

CUOMO: But isn't it just as likely that Rosenstein took the temperature of people at the DOJ and the FBI and that they all had eyes spinning in their head about how compromised this had all become and how many political overlays there were, and though he wasn't in favor of this initially, it seemed like the best course, especially when he could get Mueller.

[07:10:13] SMERCONISH: I want to be clear. I like this course of action. Give me credentials and credibility instead of polarization and partisanship. And I think we're headed in the right direction.

And Chris, you know, I entertain telephone calls from hundreds of people in the course of a week. One call stands out recently. A guy named Brian in Yonkers who said to me, "I just don't know what to believe anymore." So I'm thinking of him this morning. And I'm thinking, hopefully, he gets peace of mind that we've taken politics out of this.

OK. Let me move on, Matthew, for the reason we have you. This bombshell in your paper this morning. Trump team knew Flynn was under investigation before he came to the White House. Tell me what you learned.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So we learned that, you know, Michael Flynn in the final months of the campaign without telling anyone, never registered, didn't tell Trump. Worked for Turkey as a kind of a paid lobbyist through a weird arrangement through a third company. Anyway, on the -- after the inauguration, the Justice Department kind of started poking around on this. And they realized, wait. He was working for Turkey without telling anyone. They started an investigation.

On January 4, Flynn spoke with Don McGahn, who was then the transition team's chief lawyer. He's now the White House counsel. And told him, "Hey, look, there's an investigation going on. The Justice Department is looking into this."

January 6, Flynn's lawyer spoke to other lawyers in the transition, told them the same thing. And what this is, is the White House basically, "OK, well, you can go on and become national security adviser." The Trump administration said this, "I'll let him do this" at a time when he was under federal investigation. Now, that as national security advisor, that gives you ready access to the president. It gives you access to almost every American secret. It is a tremendous policy -- shaping planning role. And something, you know that going into office you've got a guy who's under investigation.

And this isn't just a simple "I failed to register" kind of investigation. Those are pretty weak investigations, and they tend to be. What we've also learned is there is a grand jury in the eastern district of Virginia. That's in Northern Alexandria. That's investigating this. It's led by the veteran counter espionage prosecutor. And that seems to suggest the Justice Department thinks there's a serious case here.

CUOMO: Hey, I have a question about the implications in this. Matthew, we're going to come back to this. In terms of how all these developments may change the political dynamic.

So Mueller is in there. Everybody at least politically, this is a good move. And I'm telling you, that is an unqualified benefit in and of itself. Hopefully, this is contagious and it starts to makes them down there think about ways that they can be on the same page. But we all are looking forward to James Comey testifying next week. Tell us what was in that memo. Why you wrote it. Why you didn't tell the DOJ. You know, if it mattered so much, why did you testify and made it? Nobody tried to impede your investigation.

You know, big questions. But might Comey, who has a good relationship with Mueller, go to Mueller and say, "Does this help or hurt you?" And Mueller might say, "Hold off."

Will he do that?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I think that's a very good possibility. Both Mueller and Comey served in the George W. Bush administration after 9/11. That was an enormously dramatic and important time. They were both involved in the confrontation with President Bush about the famous hospital confrontation involving John Ashcroft's bedside. They are very close associates.

And Comey undoubtedly will go to Mueller and say, "Do you want me to let you get your sea legs get -- get up to speed before I go public with this very important part of your investigation? And Mueller may well say, as prosecutors tend to say, don't go public. Let me investigate for a while before you put this very important story out.

CUOMO: Or does it cement, Michael Smerconish, his bona fides, as an independent special counsel to let Comey take on all of the vestiges of politics and what happened before he took over?

SMERCONISH: No, I agree with Jeffrey. I see very little likelihood that Comey goes forward with his testimony next week. And what it brings to my mind, you're asking about the political ramifications. This is good news for Republicans, insofar as they go home to the districts and no one can demand of them, well, what exactly are you doing about this Russia probe? I think similarly, Democrats need to not overplay their hand and allow

this to breathe and not be perceived as interrupting now the normal course of the investigation by Mueller.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me throw up one picture. And Matthew, I want you to chime in on this. We're going to throw up -- we just started seeing the cover of "TIME" magazine. So it's the White House kind of becoming the Kremlin.

[07:15:06] CUOMO: The Kremlin is kind of bleeding in. I think the red is supposed to suggest the bleeding in to the White House image. I don't know if you can see it, Matthew.

BALDWIN: Can you see it, Matthew?

ROSENBERG: I can see it.

CUOMO: But your reporting is a little bit of the palette of paint that is going to be used to paint the portrait like this. What do you make of this suggestion in terms of what we know?

ROSENBERG: I mean, everything looks bad. Is this smoke? Is this fire? I don't think we know that at all. And you know, even if there were attempts by people in the campaign that were communicating with Russia and Russian officials, how much can possibly do together?

Was this, you know, anything but kind of ill-conceived kind of let's try and plan something. I don't know. And I don't think there's anybody out there who knows. This much we do know, is that we have spoken to people who have seen a ton of intelligence who tell us, like, look, there are things in there that look really bad. Can we prove them in court yet? No.

So I mean, I think there is something there. It's just what is it? Is it the Kremlin taking over the White House? That seems pretty fantastical.

You know, I don't cease to be amazed at this point.

TOOBIN: All right. Gentlemen, appreciate it. Thank you for all of the information this morning.

In just minutes, we're going to discuss these stories with the players down there in D.C. We have Republicans and Democrats. Had not been easy to get the GOP on the show, but they're back now. Charlie Dent, Carlos Curbelo, Peter King. And on the Democrat side, we've got senators Joe Manchin and Dick Durbin. We also have the lady on the right, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Great diversity of perspective on NEW DAY this morning.

BALDWIN: So we have that coming up. Also, I want to update you, though, first on a story we told you about yesterday. Law enforcement sources now tell CNN security personnel from Turkey took part in Tuesday's bloody attack on people protesting that country's president at the Turkish ambassador's residence there in Washington, D.C. The State Department confirms it and has reached out to Turkey's government to express concern.

U.S. officials say video of this incident shows a mix of Turkish embassy staff and security officers for President Erdogan involved in the violence. The clash unfolded as President Trump hosted Turkey's controversial leader at the White House.

CUOMO: And remember, the president -- you know, this is one of the tricks of diplomacy. He says Erdogan's a good man; we're going to have a good thing. Erdogan comes in with a lot of baggage, and then reportedly, some of his goons do this on American soil? Where's the White House on that?

Up next, reaction from Congress to the special counsel. Why are they all on the same page? We're going to talk to both sides, find out what they think about Mueller's appointment and what it means for being on the same page moving forward in the House and Senate investigations.


[07:21:56] BALDWIN: Democrats and Republicans showing rare agreement on the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at the U.S. Capitol with more.

Good morning, Suzanne.


Certainly, a rare moment for Democrats and Republicans to agree on something but yes, they agree on this. This is all the way from people on the left like Representative John Conyers who says that this brings a sort of seriousness to investigation, as well as on the right, Senator Richard Burr saying that what this does is that it takes the political influence out of the equation in the investigation. One of the reasons why they point to the person who is selected, that being Bob Mueller who is well-respected, very well- known here on Capitol Hill. One that many journalists know having covered 9/11 with presidents Bush and Obama. This is someone that members of Congress believe they can go back to the constituents and say, "Look, we are going to get to the bottom of this."


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: He is as good as it gets. His credentials are impeccable. He's in the latter part of his career. He has nothing to prove. He's been silent politically. It doesn't get any better than Robert Mueller.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He's exactly the sort of person that many of us had hoped would be named for special counsel.


MALVEAUX: What this does not mean the other investigative bodies are not going to actually move forward and do the work they're talking about. The FBI, as well as the inspector general and also various agencies and committees. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight, as well.

They expect that they are going to try to still get James Comey before them at the memos. They do not think that that necessarily is going to happen next week, because much of the focus is going to be on the special prosecutor's investigation -- Chris.

CUOMO: Yes, that's a strong point now. How will Mueller's appointment affect Comey coming forward and investigating? And of course, it's good to have Republicans and Democrats agreeing on anything. Bu special counsel is a good move if you thought one was necessary.

The question is how will this announcement affect what's already going on in these investigations in both the Senate and the House.

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. While he was not in favor of a special prosecutor, he says he does have confidence in Mueller and supports his appointment. Why the shift? You were against it.

Now you're for it. Tell us why.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, sure. Thanks, Chris, for having me on the program. First, let me say this. I said last week right after the firing of Director Comey that there was an inevitability to some type of an independent investigation. I was thinking more along the lines of independent commission, 9/11 style. That was my thought. But I do accept and respect this decision.

Special prosecutors tend to take on a life of their own. Director Mueller has impeccable credentials. I think this is the right thing to do. And I think this will help the situation. You've also been talking about how this will affect congressional investigations.

I did serve on the House Ethics Committee. I was chairman of that committee. So I was involved with sensitive investigations and there are sometimes interaction with justice, and sometimes Congress is asked to defer an investigation to justice. And I served as chairman. We often did that when the request was made.

[07:25:15] It remains to be seen how members of the intelligence committee will react to such a request. But I would expect that there may be some entanglements.

CUOMO: Given this new development, it's a good time to reset and get everybody on both sides on record where they stand. Do you believe there are legitimate questions to investigate about Russia's interference and potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign team/staff?

DENT: Yes, there's no question, in my view, that the Russians meddled in the elections. That's well-established. I don't think anybody is debating that. And they were certainly trying to harm one candidate more than the other. They've been meddling in our elections. They've been meddling in France and Germany. And Russia is a threat.

They're a hostile actor. And -- and we need to get the facts and we need to get to the truth and let the chips fall where they may. There's no question that the Russians have misbehaved here and that they did some terrible things.

CUOMO: I asked you about a second perspective also, which are any questions and issues that arise about potential combination, connections, communications or potentially collusion between Russian actors and members of the Trump team or campaign staff. Do you believe that is a worthy pursuit?

DENT: I believe that's why we're having this investigation to find out if, in fact, there was collusion. And I certainly hope there wasn't any. But if there is, then there are going to be serious consequences.

CUOMO: But you don't think it's a hoax? You don't think it is a plan launched by Democrats to sabotage the president, do you?

DENT: No. It's very clear to me that there is concern. And you know, we've heard a lot of discussion about Michael Flynn as an example. I think we have to investigate to find out if, in fact, there was collusion. I'm not aware of any at this moment. That's the whole point of the investigation.

CUOMO: The reason I ask is, even though we have had a lot of incendiary and questionable moves by the president in the last couple of weeks, very few Republicans. And certainly among the leadership came out and took a position and stood up to what was happening with the president. Why? Why were you men and women so slow on the GOP side to check the power of the president in the recent regard?

DENT: Well, I can't speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. I have been critical of the president at times. I criticized his travel ban when it was -- the day it was ordered. You know, I had disagreements with the president on health care and on other issues.

Last week, I said there was an inevitability the day after firing Jim Comey that there was an inevitability to some type of an independent investigation. But these events are moving very quickly right now, Chris.

Let's face it. You know, revealing classified material with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, and Comey memos and what the president and Director Comey may have said to each other. It's all very exhausting and time consuming. Let's face it.

But bottom line is we have work to do, and I think we need to move forward and let this investigation proceed and Congress needs to get about its work of dealing with tax reform and infrastructure on the Appropriations Committee. We have to fund the government. We have things to do here. CUOMO: Absolutely. But the question is why is this happening? This

is self-inflicted from the White House all the way up to the president. This isn't about the media trying to distract from the work of government. I mean, look at the record. The facts are pretty clear.

The most recent reporting is that the White House knew that Flynn was under investigation. That they had been warned by the president, by the acting A.G., by Flynn himself. And yet, they still signed him up as NSA and pretended nothing was going on for 18 days after a pretty severe warning from the acting A.G. That's about them. Not coverage of that move, right?

DENT: But that's -- certainly, that's a failure of vetting and it's a failure of judgment. There were certainly a lot of questions about, you know, General Flynn's suitability for that position even before this revelation of the Turkish connection. So yes, I really can't defend that. It's indefensible, and it's just a terrible failure of judgment and vetting.

CUOMO: What's your -- last question. What's your take on this "Washington Post" reporting that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, colleagues in 2016. He comes out of the meeting with the Ukraine official ad says, "I think Putin pays Trump." Joke or otherwise?

DENT: You know, I know Kevin McCarthy well. He can make facetious comments, irreverent comments. A lot of us do that. There are a lot of really serious issues here that we're dealing with. I don't think that's not one of them.

CUOMO: Ryan telling people to keep it quiet, show that we're family, to keep a secret?

DENT: Well, again, I didn't talk to Kevin McCarthy about it. But I know Kevin. He's a pretty funny guy, to be honest with you. And I think he like many members of Congress, we'll make a facetious, irreverent comment from time to time. I don't think that's one of them.

CUOMO: Well, here's what we do know on the positive side of the ledger. I will get you guys, Democrats, agreeing that everything is good, is unusual. Hopefully, it's contagious, and it leads to work on actual policy measures for the American people.