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Interview with Sen. Dick Durbin; Trump Calls Probe a Witch Hunt; Rosenstein to Brief Senate; Fox News' Roger Ailes Dies; Interview with Rep. Peter King; Bob Muller Leading Investigation. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[08:31:03] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A special counsel is now in place on the Russia investigation, and the president calls it part of the greatest witch hunt in history. This morning he's tweeting exactly that.

Joining us now, Democratic whip, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

There had been debate, even with Rod Rosenstein, about whether or not special counsel was necessary. I guess these tweets kind of make that need all the more clear. What is your response to the president calling this the greatest witch hunt ever and saying that all the illegal acts by Hillary Clinton during the campaign and in the Obama administration did not warrant the same? Do you agree? What do you say to the president?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I'd say to the president he should get to know Bob Mueller, as I did, over 12 years when he was director of FBI. He's smart. He's principled. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll put country first when it comes to this investigation. This won't be a witch hunt. He's going to follow the facts and the evidence wherever they lead. And I trust that he'll come to the right conclusion, whatever it may be.

This president has no one to blame by himself for the mess that he's in. Things that he has done, things he has said, tweets that he continues to incisively release just made his life much more complicated.

CUOMO: He just fired the FBI director. The White House tried to pass it off as being about a memo from Rosenstein. We now know that was basically B.S. Do you have any confidence at all that you can keep the most powerful man in our government from influencing this investigation?

DURBIN: Well, I certainly had doubts until last night when Bob Mueller was named. I don't have any question about his principals, nor his strength, his moral strength, when it comes to this assignment. I know him. I know how he served our country in the military, as well as a federal judge, how he was re-upped, if you will, as director of the FBI because of the bipartisan confidence we had in his performance. He's the right person for this job.

CUOMO: But you've really never lived through this. I mean you're a man of great experience, senator, don't -- don't get me wrong. But the idea of the sitting president saying what's happening here is bogus and I'm going to say it every chance I can, and, more importantly, I'm going to do anything I can, witness him getting rid of the FBI director punitively because he didn't like this investigation. How can you have such confidence that he won't be able to influence it?

DURBIN: First, I trust our Constitution. Second, I believe that elected officials, like myself, are in a position where we've taken an oath to preserve and protect that Constitution and our form of government. I believe that my fellow colleagues in the Democratic Party, my colleagues in the Republican Party will rise above party if necessary to preserve that Constitution and our form of government.

CUOMO: Where does that confidence come from, senator? The GOP has been ghost for days about this. Ryan putting out, you know, mealy-mouth statements about it, more than the majority of these who needed to speak were quiet until today, and that was before the tweets. Where is the confidence that people will stand up and own the mandate of the people and speak truth to power?

DURBIN: A little over 40 years ago, another constitutional crisis, President Richard Nixon and Watergate, and what happened? Ultimately, after some time, several Republican senators stepped up, went to the president and said it's over. We're not going to stand and cover for you any longer. What's important is to maintain this country and to maintain the values that we're all sworn to uphold. I trust that will happen again if this president continues to try to interfere.

CUOMO: Now, Bob Mueller has created an odd dynamic in Washington, agreement among Republicans and Democrats about something. But it may also have thrown you a curveball in as much as this expectation, this anticipation, of having Jim Comey come out and make his witness what was in this memo, why didn't he share it with the DOJ, who serious did he take it, you know, all those questions. Do you think you're going to have to wait on that now because Comey is obviously close to Mueller and there may be a legitimate issue of interfering by testifying? Are you concerned about that?

[08:35:11] DURBIN: Well, I am -- I am concerned. I don't want us to interfere with a legitimate investigation, which Bob Mueller is going to head up. We are going to meet with Rod Rosenstein this afternoon and talk to him about his decision to release this laughable memo that the reason for Comey's dismissal was his mistreatment of Hillary Clinton. Give me a break. We want to know what was behind it.

I said after that memo came out and after President Trump refuted it with Lester Holt that Rosenstein really only had two choices, he had to appoint a special prosecutor, special counsel, or resign. Well, he's appointed that special counsel and he picked a good one.

CUOMO: Well, look, I mean you guys gave plenty of political cover for getting rid of Comey. So many Democrats were calling for his ouster and complaining about what he did with Clinton. It's not like that's not a legitimate basis for criticism. That's certainly what Rosenstein pointed out in his memo. The problem is, that just doesn't seem to be the reason that the president dismissed Comey as much as he said with his own words and tweets and continues to do so. So, going forward, what does this special counsel mean for these parallel investigations in the House and Senate?

DURBIN: Well, the special counsel means that when it comes to the criminal side of this equation, which is a very essential part of it, we're going to have an investigation supervised by Bob Mueller. He is going to be the prosecutor if prosecution is necessary. He'll have the resources. And if there's any complaints that the Department of Justice, the president is trying to deny those resources to him, you can get there's going to be a strong reaction on Capitol Hill.

I think he's going to move forward. Now, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have their responsibility to take a look at this from a policy viewpoint, a counter intelligence viewpoint and we certainly still, I believe, need an independent commission to talk about protecting the American electoral process. This won't be the last time that Putin decides to meddle in our election. We've got to make sure that we're ready for its next attack.

CUOMO: And it is a time for leaders to stand up for what is right in the Constitution and otherwise.

Senator Durbin, thank you very much for being it was on NEW DAY.

DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Trump, this morning, lashing out on Twitter. Is the president hurting his own party's attempts to work with their agenda? Republican Congressman Peter King joins us next.

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[08:41:21] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: All right, there is big news in the media and political world. The man on your screen, Roger Ailes, the father of Fox News, has died. There's a statement from his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, saying she's "profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning." We confirmed this. Fox News is reporting it. We just got off the phone with Sean Hannity, of course, not just the star at Fox News, but a dear friend of Roger Ailes. And there is much heartbreak for those who knew him. Obviously, his death is going to be in the shadow of his fall from grace amid very ugly allegations of his conduct during his time at Fox News, but this is a big blow.

BALDWIN: It's huge. But, more recently, you know, as we've been talking about Roger Ailes in the news, not only as an advisor to the Donald Trump campaign last year, but also with the news when Gretchen Carlson, former Fox anchor, came out last summer and made the allegations of sexual harassment and we all witnessed over the course of several months the fallout, other women coming out and telling their stories and ultimately the fall of Roger Ailes at Fox News. He'd been the founding CEO since 1996.

CUOMO: He started it. He came up with the idea of it.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CUOMO: So, some perspective here, OK. That all matters what you're talking about. It's real. It's relevant. Has to be dealt with. Still hasn't been to satisfying many of the people involved.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CUOMO: True. Fair. But when someone passes, you have to take the full measure of the man or woman. This is a man who has such importance, not just in the media world, but in the political world.

BALDWIN: Political.

CUOMO: I --

BALDWIN: Nixon, right?

CUOMO: Well, sure. But with the lords of folderol (ph) and the idea of messaging and how to protect through media, he was one of the founders of media manipulation, and I mean that for better and worse, within politics. He was then introduced to the world at large through Fox News. Nobody thought that could work. And he did it.

And on a personal note, he gave me my start in the news business at Fox News. Alisyn Camerota worked at Fox News for a very long time. Roger Ailes was very good to me. He has his criticisms, and deservedly so, but his loss is going to be a big blow to his family and those who knew him and counted on him in their professional and personal lives and to them our hearts go out. But this is big news in the media, political and, of course, the world of Roger Ailes.

All right, let's turn right now to President Trump making big headlines this morning and of the wrong kind. He's calling the appointment of a special counsel, one of the few moments we've had in months of politicians coming together and saying this is a positive move, he's called it the greatest witch hunt in history. Those are his words. You're looking at them on your screen right now.

Joining us, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. Also a member of the House Intel Committee.

Some big headlines for you to address. The death of Roger Ailes, your take?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: He was definitely a giant. I actually had some differences with Roger Ailes. For the most part, we had a good friendship. But, again, he was a giant and, again, he really revolutionized television, television news and the world of politics. And again, you know, may he rest in peace.

CUOMO: OK. Now, to the political side. This was a good move, Peter King. You had said that. Special counsel. You can debate whether it was needed or not, But Bob Mueller, hard to assail, brought Democrats and Republicans on to the same page. And then the president this morning blows it all up, calls it a witch hunt, basically implicates all of you on the right who agreed with this move as being part of a witch hunt, basically denigrates Rod Rosenstein, a man that he only recently wanted us to believe was so influential, such great credentials, that he relied on his assessment in getting rid of James Comey. We now know that was a line of B.S. But for him to tweet this way, what is your message to the president of the United States as a member of his party?

[08:45:25] KING: First, Chris, let me say one thing. You've been implying all morning that Republicans are coming out of the woodwork and then you showed my picture on there saying finally come out. I was on your show two weeks ago discussing this issue. I've been -- I agreed to do this show yesterday, long before the special counsel. So I'm not hiding from anyone. I've appeared on television continually on this and I have strong views on it. So I don't appreciate the implications that somehow I'm suddenly appearing.

But, anyway --

CUOMO: Fair point. We know that you wanted to be on yesterday. Also true that I couldn't get anybody on when we were trying to first discuss the implications on these things. I don't have to sell you on the proposition that your leadership had been quiet on it. That was my point.

KING: OK. OK, I'm done talking about myself. I was on your show with Alisyn and I followed Carter Page, which was no easy thing to do.

CUOMO: I got you. True.

KING: Anyway, seriously, you know, put all that aside. I was opposed to the appointment of a special counsel. I think there -- it's a bad precedent. However, if you are going to have a special counsel, you cannot have a better person than Bob Mueller. I worked with him when I was on the intelligence committee and he was the FBI director, also at the Homeland Security Committee. He's universally respected. And I am convinced that he will do a fair and impartial investigation.

As for the president, again, this is unforced error. I'm -- I've said from the start, I have seen -- and I continue to say I've seen no evidence of any crime. I've seen no evidence of any collusion. But the investigation has to go forward. I think the president should let it go forward and it will -- it will basically get out of the headlines and let him do his job as president, let us do our job here in the Congress.

CUOMO: All right, two points of pushback. First, isn't it a little deceptive to say you don't know of any proof of anything? Why would you? The investigation isn't concluded. It seems to fuel a sense of sabotage, a sense of ill legitimacy when you say, well, we haven't seen any proof. But isn't it more true to say, and you should not have seen any proof at this point. The only stuff that's coming out are leaks. There's supposedly a very small circle of people investigating and holding that information in violate (ph), as the FBI is also want to do now in the form of Mueller and his special counsel position. So not knowing, do you believe that not knowing is proof that there will be nothing to know?

KING: I am not aware. I've been, obviously, in contact with a number of people. And also you don't know, and we have an investigation going forward. I mean if there's an investigation going to go forward, there should be some basis for it. And I'm saying, I have not seen a basis for it. And for anything I've seen and heard and even going back to General Clapper who said when he was head of DNI he was not aware of anything at all. And so --

CUOMO: He said he wasn't aware of anything because he wasn't aware of the investigation. He hadn't been told about it. He hadn't reviewed the record.

KING: Right. So -- right. Right.

CUOMO: That's different than saying, I've looked at everything and I see no basis.

KING: There's not -- no. It is not that different because as director of national intelligence, he has access to intelligence from all over the world. You would have thought that somewhere along the line, if there was collusion going on between the Trump campaign and Russia, the director of national intelligence would have picked it up from someone. It doesn't have to be part of a criminal investigation. A criminal investigation has a different scope and focus.

Now, again, I want the investigation to go forward, but I'm just saying that so far I haven't seen any concrete evidence. With Watergate, we had evidence all along the way that a crime had been committed. We're not aware of any crime having been committed yet.

CUOMO: Well -- but I don't know that a crime -- this is different than Watergate. You had the burglary. So abinitio you had a crime.

KING: Right.

CUOMO: And I don't know that having a crime is the bar of having something that warrants our attention.

KING: Oh, no.

CUOMO: I mean Reuters is reporting this morning that you have 18 different points of contact that need to be reviewed. You know what has come out already about Flynn. You know about the other questions that have arised. You know that James Comey took great lengths to come out and say, look, this is -- this is real. We've got to look at this stuff. Not saying that he would predict a certain conclusion, and that's fine, it shouldn't happen, but do you really believe there is no reason to look into questions of collusion? KING: I'm saying it should be looked into. But again, if we're talking

about the overall issue of Russia interfering into the election, it's dangerous of me just to deal -- deal with it from a criminal perspective --

CUOMO: Right.

KING: Because that's a very narrow perspective. I think there's a real issue about Russia interference in our election --

CUOMO: Right.

KING: The French election, the German election. All that should be done. But when we start criminalizing the process, it becomes dangerous.

CUOMO: Right.

KING: I think the criminal focus should be, again, narrowed and not -- not have this broad, criminal net. But again, I have not -- I'm not aware from talking to anyone involved that there's any evidence yet of any collusion of having come up.

CUOMO: But I'm just saying, usually let the process play out, right?

KING: Uh-huh.

CUOMO: I mean that's the way we usually do it. And it seems like some of you aren't doing it here and it smacks of political cover. The --

KING: No, I would say --

CUOMO: Go ahead. Please respond.

KING: Yes, but how about all the politics of people saying the president should be impeached. I came out of a closed door meeting the other day --

CUOMO: Yes, but that can be B.S. also. It doesn't make going the extreme the other way better.

[08:49:57] KING: No, it is and. And I -- and I think many in the media are guilty of that. I come out of a meeting the other day, a closed door meeting, the story had broken in "The New York Times" about the meeting with Comey. Reporters were like a wolf pack, should the president be impeached, is there obstruction of justice, is this a crime? This is before anyone has even seen the memo, before they've analyzed it, before asking if it was so important why didn't Comey -- why didn't Comey report it to the Justice Department?

CUOMO: Right.

KING: Why didn't he tell Andy McCabe, his own deputy director? Where is the memo? No one's seen it. I accept the fact the memo is there. I've always gotten along with Jim Comey. So I'm not anti-Comey. All I'm saying is that we have this hysteria coming from one side -- CUOMO: True.

KING: It's almost natural to push back. But I'm saying, wait -- let's wait and see. I'm not stopping the investigation.

CUOMO: Well, true.

KING: I have no -- no desire in stopping it.

CUOMO: True. I think wait and see is the natural pushback. I don't see the -- I don't think there's no proof of anything, there won't be any proof, is a natural pushback. But you don't like being lumped in.

KING: I haven't said their won't be. I'm saying --

CUOMO: I don't like being lumped in either. We have never forwarded the idea that this must be impeachment or anything like that. We've been asking the questions that -- the same that you were just asking right there.

Last question --

KING: Yes.

CUOMO: These tweets from the president this morning, congressman, you said you didn't think you need a special counsel. After these tweets, after him getting rid of Jim Comey and saying he did it because he didn't like this Russia situation, you still think having a special counsel was a bad idea?

KING: I think politically it's probably the right thing to do. I'm just -- I have a philosophical opposition to special counsel. I saw the damage that Lawrence Walsh (ph) did to people like Elliot Abrams (ph), their lives are ruined. I saw it happen during the Ken Star investigation. I -- I opposed impeachment at the end. I saw how many people really driven to financial ruin who had no really involvement whatsoever. Special counsels -- and people like the fact they're independent. That also means they're not responsible to anybody. And in a democratic society, you should always be responsible to someone. Unfortunately, past experience has shown that special counsel often go off on their own. I am convinced Bob Mueller will not, let me make that clear.

CUOMO: Peter King, thank you very much for taking the opportunity.

KING: Chris, thank you.

CUOMO: You are always welcome on NEW DAY.

KING: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, let's get back to our other breaking story of the morning, former Fox News chief Roger Ailes has died at the age of 77. And he was ousted last summer amid allegations of sexual harassment. On the phone with me now, CNN media analyst Bill Carter and also we'll

talk to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash here in just a moment.

But, Bill, you know, our condolences, of course, to Mr. Ailes family. We have the statement from his wife. What more do you know?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST (via telephone): I really don't know anymore. Obviously we know he -- after he was ousted, you know, he sort of dropped off the radar and people really didn't know what he was up to. We do know he was, you know, a man in his late 70s, I guess, who was, you know, obviously not in the best shape, I guess. A bit overweight. But I didn't know he was ill for sure. So I take this as a very sudden move.

CUOMO: Yes, the world from Sean Hannity, we just were on the phone with him, is that this -- you know, he had been in decline.

CARTER: Yes.

CUOMO: And why we don't know yet. The statement from his wife just says that he passed this morning and she remembers Roger as a husband to her and a father to his season Zachary and a loyal friend to many. And she points out he was also a patriot.

So, Dana Bash, this man overlapped so many different worlds. Yes, you must give voice to what happened at the end of his career. The allegations from multiple different alleged victims of what was done and the influence on the culture there that needs to be changed still. But his influence in politics, his influence in media, his giving birth to something that people said would never survive and is now the most rated of all cable news in history. A big man.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. Look, I worked at CNN before there was a Fox. And so I remember cable news before there was a Fox. And it changed the landscape. There is no question about it.

Now, we can have a long discussion on whether it was for better or worse for the democracy of this country. Their -- but if you are a Republican and you are a, you know, frankly, a hard right Republican, and even those who, you know, just frankly like info-tainment at night with somebody like Sean Hannity, it gave them a place to watch. And there's no question that it changed the landscape and it changed politics. It changed Republican politics. I saw the change in the years since Fox News was on the air.

BALDWIN: We'll cover his death. I'm sure we'll talk to a lot of voices through the day here on CNN.

But let me just pivot and talk about President Trump. And, of course, the big news, people are waking up this morning, the appointment of former FBI Director Mueller now leading this investigation appointed by the DAG, Rod Rosenstein. We were talking to Maggie Haberman like almost three hours ago and she was saying how thrilled the White House must be that we've heard nothing from the president on Twitter. Until we've now gotten these two tweets essentially --

BASH: Because the president was probably watching Maggie and said, oh, yes, I'll show her.

BALDWIN: That's exactly the point that Chris made earlier today.

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: What -- I mean he said this is the biggest political witch hunt.

BASH: I mean -- this is, I think -- assuming that he has lawyered up more than he was before and that his lawyers are being more aggressive in telling him, lay off the Twitter, this is probably the most tame thing that he could have said legally based on what he probably wanted to say on Twitter this morning.

[08:55:09] You know, I mean, it's hyperbolic. It's not true. And, you know, it is what it is. I think the bigger question and the most interesting thing that I'm hearing from Republicans on Capitol Hill is a sigh of relief, not so much about the long term implications, because it could be bad, but the short term implications for them. When they go home to their districts, they have an off ramp. They can say, you know, yes, it's a special counsel and Bob Mueller is handling it and I don't really know because it's a closed investigation. So let's just let that play out.

CUOMO: Proof of two things. One, the president's suggestion as recently as during this Coast Guard graduation speech that he's essentially a victim. This is proof that he is not a victim. These are self-inflicted wounds. He did not need to tweet this and disparage the people in his party who were for a special counsel. The man who he relied on so heavily just last week, Rosenstein, in it, and the process. He didn't have to do that. He's going to have a negative cycle today and he is why he's going to have one.

And the second one is, we just talked to Peter King. If you didn't think you needed a special counsel after these two tweets and him firing Comey, how can you not think it was necessary?

BASH: Well, look, Peter King, frankly, is an outlier on the notion of a special counsel. There are some Republicans who've I've talked to who said that they weren't there yet on the notion of a special counsel, that they wanted to let the investigations in the FBI and Justice and frankly on Capitol Hill play out a little bit longer. But just because you didn't hear Republicans calling for a special counsel doesn't mean they didn't necessarily want one. They just didn't want to be the ones out front to say, yes, we need -- we need it because of the notion of the political off ramp.

The one thing that Republicans I've talked to are concerned about, who want to get to the bottom of the Comey memo in particular, is that this shuts down the notion of Comey coming to Capitol Hill and testifying.

CUOMO: It could, right? BASH: Definitely.

BALDWIN: OK.

CUOMO: Dana Bash, appreciate it.

BALDWIN: What a morning.

CUOMO: I mean, again, just another day where you have Roger Ailes death, but, once again, the president creating a negative news cycle.

BALDWIN: What a morning.

CUOMO: Why? You can figure out.

BAB: Self-inflicting. Self-inflicting.

CUOMO: Thank you very much.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Dana.

CUOMO: Brooke, thank you for being with me. Appreciate it.

BALDWIN: Hey, I'm be back tomorrow.

CUOMO: I know. And I appreciate that. And you'll be on this afternoon. She is a machine.

CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman has big headlines for you. Stay with CNN. A short break now.

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[09:00:05] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy is on assignment.

The breaking news this morning, special doesn't always mean good. Not for the president.