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Lieberman Front-Runner for FBI Director; Gonzales Talks about Mueller; Trump Disagrees with Special Counsel; Trump Overseas Trip; Mueller Impact on Congressional Investigations; Trump on Collusion. Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Should not be Liebermann. What do you say?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There's a strong feeling among many of my colleagues, and I share it, that the director of the FBI should be someone with a real strong background and expertise and experience in criminal justice, rather than partisan politics.

CUOMO: Is it just that he was an elected official or is a little bit of it that you guys feel he's differential to Trump. He works at a firm that Trump used, that he's too friendly to Trump, you don't like it?

BLUMENTHAL: I have known Joe Lieberman for many years. I respect his dedication as a public servant. But there is a strong feeling that the FBI director, now more than ever, has to be above politics with unquestionable credibility in the law enforcement community, rather than involvement in politics. And that goes back to the questions you were raising about Bob Mueller. He is a prosecutor's prosecutor, just as Jim Comey in many ways is. They both share that ethos of the Department of Justice that they will pursue wrongdoing and evidence wherever it goes and the Congress and an independent commission have a responsibility to produce a report that will enable us to deter and defend our nation against these kinds of Russian attacks. But at the same time, an oversight responsibility to ensure the FBI is above politics.

CUOMO: Independent commission would require a vote. That would require cooperation by the two sides in D.C. We'll see if that can come.

Senator, thank you for joining us here on NEW DAY. Appreciate it.

Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Trump's team now advising him to cooperate with the special counsel into this Russia potential collusion. We'll talk about it with former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:35:41] CUOMO: President Trump insisting on weighing in on what's going on with the Russia investigation, once again calling the appointment of a special counsel a witch hunt, a waste, that the American people don't care about it and insisting there is no collusion, but then adding he can only speak for himself. CNN is learning that Trump's allies are pushing him to cooperate with the special counsel and say less about its existence.

Joining us now, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales is currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law and the author of "True Faith and Allegiance: A story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace."

Always good to have you on the show, sir.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's always good to be on your show, Chris.

CUOMO: Special counsel, right move? Mueller, good choice?

GONZALES: I think so. I - you know, I have total confidence in the FBI doing this investigation I would have generally would have expected him to continue and get to the bottom of all this. But given the swirl about the firings and about these so-called recent conversations between the president and the FBI director, I think there's just so much out there that perhaps this was probably the right - the right and inevitable outcome, quite frankly.

In terms of the right person, I have a great deal of confidence in the judgement and wisdom, maturity of Bob Mueller. And it appears that he has broad support on both sides of the aisle. So it looks like that's - that's - that's being viewed as a very good choice by many people.

GONZALES: So we had a moment of apparent clarity and unusual cooperation between left and right when it came to the counsel and the choice of counsel. And then the president trashed it and trashed those who believed in the decision. What's your take on the president's insistence on commenting?

GONZALES: I think, you know, we've got now this special counsel appointed. I think perhaps if I were advising the president, I would probably advice the president, probably the less said the better, quite frankly. And moving forward my advice would be something like, you know, if asked a question, I would probably say something like, you know, my feelings about this are on the record. This is now in the hands of the special counsel, and I've got nothing else to say about it. That would be my advice to the president of the United States.

Can I comment a little bit about some of the statements by Ben Whittis (ph), because I - I've got some serious issues as an attorney - former attorney general about this. If, you know, there - it is true that traditionally there is not a really strong relationship between the president and the FBI director, and for good reasons, quite frankly, if, in fact, Jim Comey felt so strongly about the pressure he was feeling from the White House, he had an obligation, in my judgment, and I don't think any former attorney general would disagree with this, he had an obligation to notify either Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Dana Bente (ph), someone because it is a job of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to protect all of the bureaus and services and divisions within the Department of Justice. It may very well be that Donald Trump not having served in office might not know that these conversations are inappropriate, particularly when there's an investigation that may touch upon the White House.

Someone like Jeff Sessions, who has this relationship with Donald Trump, could be very effective in pushing back the president and making him understand this - these kind of comments, relationships with the FBI director in the face of this ongoing investigation is improper and is dangerous. So I really have a serious issue. If, in fact, Jim Comey did not notify his superiors, that is his job. That is the best thing that he could do to protect the bureau. And if he didn't do that, then he failed in his job.

CUOMO: Strong words. What do you make of these two defenses of the decision not to do it? One offered by his friend in that PBS interview, which was, he thought he could handle it. He thought he would keep notes on it and protect the bureau himself. The other argument is, there was a power vacuum. There was no AG. There was heavy political influence in the DOJ from the White House and Comey didn't feel it was a safe harbor for these concerns.

GONZALES: Not good enough as far as I'm concerned. And it very well may be that he may have communicated his concerns to superiors, other individuals within the Department of Justice. And then if they failed to do their job, Jim has done his job. All I'm saying is, I can't imagine any former attorney general being comfortable with a scenario where someone who is leading the FBI is feeling undue pressure and really - and then believes he can handle it and says nothing about it. I just believe that that was a failure on his part.

[08:40:12] CUOMO: And, to be fair, a point you make yourself, we do not know what Jim Comey did or did not do. It's one of the reasons that people want him to testify. Now, critics will say, Gonzales, he's still bitter at Comey about what happened back in the early 2000s with Andy Card and Ashcroft and that's - you can't take his opinion about James Comey. What do you say about that?

GONZALES: I say that Jim Comey is a dedicated individual but we some - and very talented. But these are very difficult positions and you often find yourselves in difficult positions, but you have to do your job, quite frankly. And as I said, I don't believe this is just my opinion. I would be very surprised if any former attorney general would feel differently. Jim had an obligation to protect the bureau. One of the ways you do that is to notify your superiors that you're feeling undue pressure from the White House.

CUOMO: Alberto Gonzales, thank you for perspective. Please come back on NEW DAY as this conversation continues and have a good weekend, sir.

GONZALES: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we're going to show you this new, chilling surveillance video that shows the moment that car just plowed into pedestrians walking through a busy Times Square in the middle of the afternoon. We have more on the terrifying incident, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:45:20] CUOMO: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

Number one, President Trump denies asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop the Michael Flynn investigation. He also called the special counsel a witch hunt.

BALDWIN: Also, a friend of James Comey says the former FBI director was uncomfortable with his interactions with President Trump. He says the fired FBI director was also apparently disgusted by the now famous hug in the Blue Room of the White House.

CUOMO: U.S. officials confirming an American air strike on pro-Syrian forces in the southern part of that country. The strike targeted a convoy advancing on a coalition base. Russia calls the strike totally unacceptable.

BALDWIN: And just terrifying video. You can see the moment this driver - we'll see it in a second here - this car just plows into people on a beautiful afternoon in New York's Times Square. An 18-year-old tourist died and more than 20 others were hurt. A suspect is in custody and police say this was not a terror attack.

CUOMO: A truck barrier stopped that car. The question, why weren't there more of them.

Look at this painting. What would you pay for it? It's called "Untitled" by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat. $111 million almost at Sotheby's in New York. A Japanese billionaire paid the highest price ever for a work at auction by an American artist.

Did Baldwin have a bid on that?

BALDWIN: Do you at least get like free champagne with that? What does the frame even look like that you put that in?

CUOMO: Oh, I don't think you put a frame around something like that, do you?

BALDWIN: That's just like, boom, $100 million. Badum (ph). I mean I wouldn't know. I wouldn't know.

CUOMO: If you (INAUDIBLE) all those bets you're laying down on the Preakness, maybe you could get some artwork.

BALDWIN: Very funny.

For more on the "Five Things You Need to Know" today, go to newdaycnn.com.

I got that. CUOMO: Sure. Sounds about right.

BALDWIN: I got that. OK. To you, my friend.

CUOMO: How about this story. A Marine medic who put his life on the line in Vietnam is healing his fellow veterans here at home. This week's CNN hero is Bob Adams, and he overcame a struggle with alcohol and became a social worker. He then decided to open a shelter to help war vets fighting intense personal battles after their return. Here's the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB ADAMS: I began to see veterans on the street. Marines do not leave anyone behind. We take our dead and our wounded with us, or we don't go. And that pledge means the world to any one of us. And so to see that code being broken shocked me into action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Adams saying that code being broken, many veterans, as we both know, say, yes, it is hard at war, but it is often equally hard or harder at home.

BALDWIN: Coming home. Yes.

CUOMO: For more on Bob's story, please go to cnnheroes.com. You can nominate your own hero there if you'd like.

BALDWIN: All right. And coming up, one of the president's answers when you were watching the news conference yesterday getting a heck of a lot of attention. Why saying he can speak for himself is raising a lot of eyebrows. "The Bottom Line," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:51:36] BALDWIN: In just a couple of hours, President Trump takes off for his first foreign trip. And this comes after quite a tumultuous week for his presidency. What's at stake? Is he ready? Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

David Sanger, good to see you, sir.

You know, listen, as a correspondent who's accompanied many presidents and leaders overseas, we're talking nine days for the president, five cities. Certainly this cloud of controversy will follow him as he leaves the White House. What will you be watching for the most?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, a few things, Brooke.

First of all, this is a president who does not like traveling and being away from his own bed, so nine days is a big trip. And he told his aids that he actually was eager to shorten it. They couldn't figure out a way to go do that. Second, he's got to look weakened abroad to many of the leaders he's

seeing, who thought that they were getting a new American president who was going to be able to shape America foreign policy in a very different way. They now have to wonder, given what they've seen in the past few weeks.

The most interesting stop on this trip is Saudi Arabia, which is his first stop. It's the most interesting because he decided to go there ahead of Israel. And it's interesting because that is the lynch pin to his design of a Mideast strategy that is really built counter to Iran. You saw in "The Times" today a fascinating story about how they're getting ready to put together a hundred and - hundred million dollar arms deal that appears to have no human rights restrictions on it at all, which is a significant difference.

CUOMO: I want your take, David Sanger, on the notion of the special counsel and its impact on the existing congressional hearings. You know it created rare, you know, rare kind of being on the same page with left and right that this special counsel, Mueller, great choices. Is there a chance that he turns around now and says you guys need to stand down so I can have full access and integrity?

SANGER: Yes, I mean, for the Democrats, this is a really interesting example of be careful what you wish for because I think it is very possible that Mr. Mueller will say these things and these witnesses are off limits. And that's a problem because these investigations have very different objectives. Mueller is looking at criminal issues and trying to decide if anybody here gets indicted, any of the president's aides, campaign aides and figure out how far up within the White House chain this goes.

The congressional investigation is supposed to look at the question of Russian interference in the election, what lessons we're supposed to learn from it and now we get ready before the 2018, but particularly the 2020 election. And if they are imped in doing that because they can't get at the witnesses, it could certainly alter our ability to understand the fundamental issue here, which is, what did the Russians do, how did they pierce our cyber defenses so easily and what's vulnerable in going forward?

BALDWIN: Well, the president, again, speaking alongside the Columbian president. You know, took two questions at that news conference at the White House yesterday and flat out again reiterated, there is no collusion. Here is the sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can only speak for myself and the Russians, zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:55:09] CUOMO: (INAUDIBLE) contradictions there, right? He respects the move but he calls it a witch hunt. There's a contradiction. SANGER: Right.

CUOMO: And he says there's no collusion, but I can only speak for myself. That part we haven't heard before.

SANGER: We haven't. We've always heard there's just no collusion. If I was Paul Manafort or I was Michael Flynn and I heard those lines, I suspect I'd be calling my lawyer and asking the question, is this the beginning of a White House effort to throw us under the bus, to say whatever connections there were, were through us. And I don't know the answer to that. I don't know how he intended it. But certainly that was the first thing you thought when you heard him utter those words.

CUOMO: It's a good thing our job is to ask the right questions. And you're doing that this morning and giving us "The Bottom Line." Thank you very much, David Sanger. Have a great weekend.

BALDWIN: Thanks, David.

SANGER: You too, Chris. You too, Brooke.

CUOMO: All right, there is a lot of news this morning. There's developments and advancements in our understanding of what this special counsel is about. CNN "Newsroom" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman is going to pick that up for you right after the break. Have a great weekend.

You too.

BALDWIN: See you at 2:00.

CUOMO: Good luck on the races.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:59:57] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. So, if a 6'8" guy can't hide in the curtains, where can he hide? A new, dramatic account from a friend of fired FBI Director James Comey about just how far he went to avoid contact with the president.