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Trump Talks Arms Deal, Jobs in Saudi Arabia; Trump in Saudi Arabia as Controversies Swirl at Home; Royal Welcome for Trump as Saudi Arabian Locals React to Visit; White House Denies Lawyers Researching Impeachment. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 20, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:43] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
A king's welcome on his first trip overseas in Saudi Arabia. King Salman is greeting President Donald Trump with grandeur, red carpets, elaborate floral arrangements, and a Medal of Honor ceremony right there. Last hour, the president met with the crown prince. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was a tremendous day. I just want to thank everybody. But tremendous investments into the United States and our military community is very happy. And we want to thank you and Saudi Arabia. But hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States, and jobs, jobs, jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also traveling with the president. He spoke at a joint news conference championing the new relationship, a renewed relationship, that he hopes to foster with the Saudis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: And charting a renewed path toward a peaceful Middle East, where economic development, trade, diplomacy, are hallmarks of the regional and global engagement, and something we will be working closely together on. This growing partnership is really grounded in trust, trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives, cooperation and a shared interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: But as the world watches the president of the United States take his first steps into diplomacy on a world stage, the storm cloud over the White House grows with two new explosive reports. Sources tell CNN that Russian officials bragged about their relationship with the former NSA adviser, Michael Flynn, before he was fired, and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump.
And "The New York Times" reports that during his meeting with Russian officials earlier this month in the White House, in the Oval Office there, the president of the United States said firing FBI Director James Comey eased the, quote, "great pressure," end quote, of the investigation. Russia's foreign minister now denying that topic was even discussed. More on that in a moment.
First, let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, traveling with the president. He's there in Riyadh.
So, Jim, the president is calling this tremendous. He promised that this renewed relationship means jobs, jobs, jobs. What else?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, you heard the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during that news conference a few moments ago really tout this arms deal that was signed between the president and Saudi King Salman, they'll pump $110 billion worth of weapons and military assistance into the Saudi government as they try to counter Iran's influence in the region. Much of that money will be used to combat the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen we hear so much about from time to time.
But we don't want to bury the lead or the headline too much, Fredricka. We should point out, in addition to the president's comments today, in addition to the secretary of state's comments during the news conference, the secretary of state took a pass when it came to a question about the Russia investigation that has been swirling around this administration, swirling around this White House. He essentially said to one question asked during the news conference he didn't have any information to offer on that.
We should point out, after this news conference was over, reporters followed the secretary of state and his Saudi counterpart, Saudi Foreign Minister al Jubeir, as they left the hotel here where the press is gathered. He was asked about, the secretary was, the president's speech to the Muslim world tomorrow and didn't have much to say only that it would be very positive. I did try to follow up and ask the secretary the question whether or not the president would use the term "radical Islamic terrorism," that is a term the president used earlier this year in a speech to a joint session of Congress, it's something he said out on the campaign trail time and again, but something we're told by White House officials he is not going to talk about or he's not going to use that phrase, we should say, in that speech to the Muslim world tomorrow. So that's going to be something to listen for.
I thought it was also interesting during that news conference, Fredricka, you heard the secretary of state essentially say that lines of communication will be kept open with the government of Iran following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The secretary of state said he's never been in a situation he turned off his phone, he plans to continue talking, if the opportunity arises, with the Iranian foreign minister. And so I think that is a headline to come out of that news conference.
[13:05:22] But as for the president, he has a dinner with the king tonight. He'll again have some meetings tomorrow, meeting with other gulf leaders here in Riyadh to talk about this effort they want to expand to take the battle to ISIS, take the fight against ISIS. But in that speech tomorrow, so many eyes, so many ears, are going to be focused on exactly what the president says, the language he uses, and whether or not he tones down that rhetoric that we heard so often during the campaign trail, that super-heated rhetoric you heard on the subject of Islam, during the campaign trail, whether that's end tomorrow now that we're in this part of the world. That will be fascinating to watch -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: Jim, we know most presidents when they are abroad and they are r revising their speeches up to the minute, how much do we know about whether the president is making adjustments similar to his predecessors, trying to gauge, you know, the environment first?
ACOSTA: That is a great question, Fredricka. As a matter of fact, as we were chasing -- I don't want to use the word chase too dramatically here -- but as we were following the secretary of state and Saudi foreign minister out of the hotel here, there was a spokesman for the National Security Council with the secretary of state, part of the entourage with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and so on, and the question was asked what about the term radical Islamic terrorism what's happening with the speech. And one national security official did say to reporters, in sort of a hushed tone, that the speech is still being worked on. I think that's an indication right there, Fredricka, this is not set in stone yet as to what the president is going to say tomorrow. But there is an indication that we are receiving that there's a bit of a back and forth tug of war going on behind the scenes as to how sharp the rhetoric will be in the president's speech tomorrow. It's going to speak volumes about his diplomatic approach for the rest of this week. Does he tread lightly with the diplomatic land mines laid before him?
He goes to Israel where he has to deal with the Israeli/Palestinian situation. And then off to Rome where he's going to meet with the pope, with whom he has clashed in the past. He's criticized the pope in the past. The pope has criticized some of President Trump's policies. So I think tomorrow will be a big indication whether we'll see a toned-down President Trump for the duration of this trip -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: All right. Jim Acosta, we'll check back with you. Thank you so much.
I want to bring in my panel to talk about this, CNN contributor, J.D. Vance; CNN political analyst, Patrick Healey; Republican strategist, Eric Beach; and Qanta Ahmed, author of "In the Land of Invisible Women."
Good to see all of you.
Boy, there's a lot. Great anticipation for what may transpire tomorrow with the president's remarks as he, you know, extends the olive branch, perhaps, to the Muslim community there in the Middle East.
But J.D., at the same time one cannot overlook, you know, what just transpired today, the president's very rosy view of it's been a tremendous day. You saw the U.S. Secretary of state also say that this was a growing partnership guided in trust. and that followed by the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, al Jubeir, who said and described this as a very productive and historic visit. This relationship is many decades, long standing, between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The business deals between arsenal, you know, and economic interests has been going on a very long time. Why is this declaration signed today of this vision, strategic vision, any different?
J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't know if it is a whole lot different from what we've done in the past with Saudi Arabia. Obviously, they have been a very important partner through various military and nonmilitary conflicts we've had in the Muslim world, but the flip side of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, as a lot of folks appreciate and understand, they are one of the main exporters of a radical Wahabi strain of Islamism that is in some ways been the philosophical underpinning for a lot of terrorism that's been committed against the United States and our allies. So I think cooperation is important and we're not going to throw away the Saudi Arabia relationship that is very integral and important to our interests, we also have to appreciate there are some really difficult issues lying beneath the surface. They've been there 20 or 30 years. And I hope the president takes this opportunity to start to deal with those issues because they haven't been dealt with in a long time.
WHITFIELD: And, Qanta, I saw you nod your head when Jim was talking about embarking on this trip, being careful about his language in Saudi Arabia, as well as kind of mending, you know, fences, you know, with the pope because of, you know, an exchange of words while on the campaign trail. So do you see this largely as a sort of mending tour --
[13:10:06] QANTA AHMED, AUTHOR: No. No.
WHITFIELD: -- for the president -- no? Is it possible or is there forgiveness for his language that has insulted so many in the -- you know, in the Muslim world while on the campaign trail and now?
AHMED: Fredricka, this tour is bigger than our recent presidential campaign. And the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is longer than several decades. It's almost a century old. I think it's absolutely critical. And, in fact, I just traveled in the Muslim world about ten days ago. I was in the Sunni power of Egypt, which is also very important and will be there tomorrow. We see this, as Muslims, as an enormous gesture and a thrill demonstration of bilateral power. President Trump doesn't just represent himself. He represents the U.S. presidency, and recognition that we need to unite quite fractious and challenging neighbors, allies that have been hurt, allies that have been humiliated by the neglect of the Obama doctrine over the last two presidencies, against a lethal enemy that does unseat or threaten --
AHMED: I think this is -- I think this is very much the beginning. I think you will find President Trump will be short on rhetoric, but very good on brass tacks. And I think the arms deal, don't forget, caps a $300 billion arms deal over the last decade. So the timing of the president's visit on the final day is important, symbolic. And this is not lost on the Muslim world. I met with Egyptian soldiers and scholars at the seat of Sunni power last month. Nobody castigated President Trump as a xenophobe. They all said he's an enemy of bad Muslim, of Daesh, of ISIS. We are much more pragmatic. And the Arabs, and Saudis, in particular, are masterful at negotiating relationships to mutual benefit. This will be mutually beneficial and refreshing. Not lost is this is happening on the day Iran announced its election and is being internationally snubbed because there's no news about this as the Sunni Crescent begins to return to its historical primacy.
WHITFIELD: So you're using hopeful language.
Eric, you are nodding in affirmation. How are you seeing this?
ERIC BEACH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I agree. It's the most ambitious first tour abroad for any modern president in my opinion. And this is bigger than just a get to know you tour. He's been doing that inside of the White House and, you know, he's there to build stronger ties with our -- you know, with our Israel friends and also other Middle East allies and you saw this deal, I know Jim was focused on, you know, the rhetoric he has whether he'll say this or that in a speech. The reality is this, he's already signed a deal that's going to be a mutual benefit to us, bring back jobs, increase our domestic programs here in the United States and, you know, create both jobs and better our economy. So this is something that the president campaigned on. And again, it's really about the substance, not the rhetoric. I think the substance is very high. And as mentioned, you know, they're very welcoming in the Middle East to this trip. They look forward to mending ties with the U.S. and make sure we can defeat ISIS and really rally the Middle East, you know, allies.
WHITFIELD: So, Patrick, does this give the president an opportunity to upstage the headlines I hear at home in the U.S. as it concerns the cloud over the White House?
PATRICK HEALEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Fredricka. I mean, look, he was -- President Trump was caught in a cycle of bombshells and breaking news alerts and sort of a drip, drip, drip around James Comey and the Russian investigation. And while that's not going away, presidents traditionally love to go on these big foreign trips, these -- he's going on these world stages and projecting U.S. power, but also U.S. interests. And President Trump very much sees himself as someone who, first and foremost, is fighting for American interests in terms of jobs and security. That's a message that he would love the media certainly in the world to focus on. And the reality is, when he gets outside of the White House bubble, you know, he's able to do that a little bit more.
But the problem is, Fredricka, these clouds keep following him. He's got his entire senior staff around him, some of whom he thinks are leaking these damaging stories about, as "The Times" reported referring to James Comey as a nut job. So you have to wonder once you get away from the cameras, again, what kind of the dynamics and tension are within that group. But the thing is, just to step back for a second, I think the other
speakers are right on, President Trump very much likes, you know -- he likes nothing more, frankly, than respect and even sort of flattery for his own vision and power. And what he's hoping to do I think tomorrow in this speech and more generally is to get away from this sort of image of him as a xenophobe, anti-Muslim, or anti-Islam. And the needle that he's going to have to thread here is he very much cares about allies in the Muslim world and wants great relationships with these governments and the Muslim travel ban and other policies that he's put forward are something sort of different, and that that's related to security. That is a needle he has to thread.
[13:15:34] WHITFIELD: Interesting, because as the president addresses millions tomorrow, but particularly, that very -- that very intimate audience in front of him, leaders of 50 Muslim, mostly Muslim majority nations tomorrow, word choice will be super important.
And, you know, and then there are other messages or subliminal messages and body language, those are being dissected as well. Already on social media today, there's been a lot of attention about Melania Trump not wearing the hijab, the head covering --
AHMED: Let me --
WHITFIELD: Yeah, I would love to hear your point of view on that --
AHMED: That has been barely been attention in the Muslim world. The hijab is not mandated by Islam. Melania Trump is --
WHITFIELD: Particularly for guests, there's an exception.
AHMED: When we have foreign dignitary, no less, my monarch, the queen of England, she is not required --
WHITFIELD: You know what the difference is? It's not just that, but it's because of Donald Trump's tweet, long ago, when Michelle Obama, the first lady, was in Saudi Arabia, she was not covered. And so his tweet at the time, he said this, "Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia but they were insulted. We have enough enemies." And now the shoe is on the other foot. Here he is the sitting president --
WHITFIELD: -- and the first lady is there and she is following suit of, you know, the former first lady so -- (CROSSTALK)
AHMED: I'm not here to defend the president's tweets. He can speak for himself. But in contrast, you will see lovely ladies, Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, are dressed more modestly than they are normally in the West and showing dignity and they are showing respect. But frankly, Muslim women around the world, there are almost 600 or 700 million of us, we really don't care about these things. And also, we don't want to see women objectified in the form of their dress. The fact that he's brought his family, his daughter with him, as well as these officials, shows you how seriously the United States takes engagement, not just with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is symbolic of the entire Muslim world.
WHITFIELD: I hear you. So your message --
HEALEY: Michelle -- but here's the thing though --
WHITFIELD: Your message to those who say there is hypocrisy, you're saying not an issue?
AHMED: I'm saying, just let's stop being petty.
WHITFIELD: All right, Patrick?
AHMED: The world is bigger than tweets.
HEALEY: Well, this is President Trump who is the one sending these tweets. I understand you don't want to defend President Trump and his Twitter language, but there is hypocrisy h ere. Michele Obama also dressed modestly. Hillary Clinton also dressed modestly.
WHITFIELD: Laura Bush.
HEALEY: -- in the West. Laura Bush, certainly. And President Trump has a habit --
WHITFIELD: Theresa May, Angela Merkel recently.
HEALEY: Absolutely. The reality is we can't ignore the truth, and the truth is that
AHMED: But I think there are far more important things to say.
HEALEY: -- he has sat in judgment of Democrats all of the time, and women particularly, you know, who he's demonized all of the time for not adhering to a certain standard that now he just sort of --
AHMED: But now I think there are things to speak about --
BEACH: Fredricka, Fredricka --
HEALEY: -- the question --
BEACH: If you're going to compare and contrast a previous administration to the current administration, and let's look at, you know, the advancement that we've had in terms of our Middle East relationships and they were abysmal under Obama and he was supposed to have a reset. And President Trump has to roll back a lot of those deals that took place between the United States and the Middle East and he has to reset those relations. So --
BEACH: -- Bebe Netanyahu --
BEACH: -- contrast yourself --
BEACH: Would not have liked how President Obama treated him, but he was not leaking classified intelligence to the Russians, as it appears President Trump did with the Russians just days ago. I mean, the reality is that the niceties and the adherences of, you know, calmity might be closer with President Trump and some of these leaders, but you know behind the scenes it's not as if everything, you know, everything is rosy over there.
WHITFIELD: And J.D. would you like to chime in?
VANCE: Yeah, the controversy over the hijab is much ado about nothing. At the end of the day, as one of the panelists said, the optics are much less important than the message, and the message is much less important than the substance after it. While I'm certainly hopeful this reflects a new era in U.S./Muslim world relations, and I certainly think it's hard to imagine it getting much worse after the past eight years, we've got to recognize there are still really significant issues. And I appreciate that the Saudis and the -- a lot of others in the Muslim world have woken up and, in some ways, been leaders, especially the Jordanians and others, have been leaders in the fight against ISIS. We've got to recognize especially with the country like Saudi Arabia, that we've never had a perfectly good relationship -- (CROSSTALK)
AHMED: Let me just add something.
VANCE: -- that there's always been good but always the bad. We have to appreciate that. And I think we have to do with that going forward.
[13:20:19] WHITFIELD: OK.
And last point, Qanta?
AHMED: Let me add something. When President Trump is seated with King Salman, King Salman has a very personal relationship to the kind of jihadism that now we are all finding ourselves fighting. Whether or not the Saudis, which I do believe contributed to that ideology, along with the help of the United States and Pakistan in producing the Mujahedeen, we are also guilty in this, King Salman has buried his own son when he was governor of Riyadh. I used to there in 2003. That was the wake-up call when al Qaeda struck inside Riyadh. I think wasting our time about tweets or head scarves misses the entire picture of how valuable this is.
WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there. Qanta Ahmed, Patrick Healey, Eric Beach, J.D. Vance, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. Thank you.
All right. Coming up, even thousands of miles away, President Trump cannot escape the controversies mounting here at home. The new concerns over whether the president tried to influence the Russia investigation and whether he obstructed justice in the process, next.
[13:25:29] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
As President Trump enjoys a king's welcome in Saudi Arabia, a firestorm of bad press continues to smolder back home. "The New York Times" reports that during his meeting with Russian officials earlier this month, the president admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey to "relieve great pressure" on him. And called Comey, quote, "a real nut job." Russia's foreign minister now denying that topic was even discussed when they were all at the White House.
Joining us from Washington is CNN crime and justice producer, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, this cloud is darkening over the White House. There's a close friends of James Comey who has kind of interpreted some of his feelings. And now, after Memorial Day weekend, we know that James Comey will be testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE PRODUCER: That's right. You know, he has expressed his interest to go public and wants to do it, the director - the former director of the FBI, has expressed an interest to go public, to come out and speak in the proper setting, and something a hearing before the Hill would be probably the best setting for him right now.
You know, the key question here, there's all this talk of whether or not Comey viewed this as interference, obstruction of justice. I think we really need to hear from the former director about that. There are people who are close to him who don't necessarily believe that, at the time, when he had this meeting with the president at the White House, that the former director actually thought that Trump was trying to interfere in the investigation. The feeling for Comey, based on some conversations that we here at CNN had with someone close to him, was that Trump just doesn't know how this stuff works. He doesn't know that it's improper for the White House to question, to ask questions, about an investigation of the FBI. And certainly, when it's someone who was a friend of his, that being Flynn, someone who was close to him, someone who worked for him. So there is this feeling I think from Comey that Trump just doesn't know how this stuff worked. And so he was compiling these memos and keeping track of this information, probably to protect himself, but also as a tool down the line to maybe use to try and get someone to educate Trump about the proper form in which Trump could ask questions. He could go to the Department of Justice and say, what is going on with this investigation? That is not so improper. What's improper is for him to ask the FBI director, you know, in a one-on-one conversation, what's going on with this investigation, you know, I hope you can let this go.
Also, Fred, keep in mind, everything that has come out since, Comey has been fired, the interview that Trump gave to NBC, and some of the other information, the stuff in "The New York Times," that can be viewed differently now, because we know he had made these comments to Flynn about Flynn, the president made to Comey about Flynn, and now subsequent, we have all this information where Trump is saying, oh, there's less pressure now on me, you know, he was a nut job. All these things are sort of going to be used to see if there was actually obstruction here. And really, no one can really answer that question right now.
WHITFIELD: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you for joining us.
PROKUPECZ: Sure. Thank you.
WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.
[13:33:34] SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sisters Jackie and Carlo Salano are training for a half marathon at Disneyland.
CARLO SALANO, MARATHON RUNNER: We are big Disney fans. We forget that we're adults. We hold hands and we skip into the park because we're excited.
GUPTA: The sisters bond through running. Having raced dozens of events through the years, yet the next race is different. JACKIE SALANO, CANCER PATIENT & MARATHON RUNNER: Hearing the words
that I have cancer was probably the hardest thing I've had to hear.
GUPTA: Last October 31-year-old Jackie Salano was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She's gone through three rounds of chemotherapy limiting her strength and immune system but she's determined to finish the race with her sister.
JACKIE SALANO: Right now, I'm halfway through treatments, I want to feel normal.
CARLO SALANO: Cancer, that's not what defiance my sister.
JACKIE SALANO: Cancer is definitely not stopping me from running. Not at all.
GUPTA: This "Star Wars"-themed Disneyland half marathon takes a run through the Magic Kingdom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Runners, set, go.
GUPTA: Five miles in, the strain on her body is wearing her down, but her team was there to help her.
GUPTA: By mile 12, she got up, to finish on foot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go. Finish it strong.
JACKIE SALANO: Really emotional crossing that finish line.
CARLO SALANO: That's just one finish line she will be crossing. Once she is cancer-free, that's another finish line that she'll cross.
JACKIE SALANO: Cancer or no cancer, I finished the race.
[13:35:28] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
President Trump receiving a royal welcome when he arrived in Saudi Arabia this morning, but he stirred up controversy when he was openly critical of Muslims and some Muslim nations while he was on the campaign trail.
CNN's Nic Robertson took to the streets of Riyadh to see what locals think of the president's visit, and he found mixed reactions.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The Saudi royals are rolling out the red carpet for President Trump, but what does the rest of the country think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe he make -- apologize for all Muslim -- apologize for what he say about Islam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like him. He's good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to different everything.
ROBERTSON: Make everything different?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything different.
ROBERTSON: What do you want from it? Why is it so important?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we would like to confront Iran. Iran has expansionist policy in the region. It has Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has Houthis in Yemen, and we would like to confront this expansionist policy.
ROBERTSON: Is President Trump a good man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.
ROBERTSON: You don't know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Maybe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He try. He make big mistake Obama. He make big mistake.
ROBERTSON: This is the same President Trump who had a very negative message about Muslims in his campaign trail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. But, you know, it's always said that campaign rhetoric tends to change after, you know, the election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he coming to Saudi Arabia because he like Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia like it, USA.
ROBERTSON: One of the things he's going to do while here is deliver a speech to all of the leaders here about Islam and to ask the leaders to preach a peaceful version of Islam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's a goal to confront radical Islam, but not primary Islam. I mean, radical Islam as evil and should be confronted here and elsewhere.
ROBERTSON: Expectations on both sides are high. There's a lot at stake. And this, just the beginning of President Trump's multiday, multi-country trip.
Nic Robertson, CNN, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (END VIDEOTAPE)
WHITFIELD: And still in Saudi Arabia, live pictures right now of the grandeur of the arrival of President Donald Trump there to the Murabba Palace. It's a 7,000 square-foot building. And it also has a lot of memorabilia, the history of Saudi Arabia. And you see there, with the dance, the pomp, and all of the pageantry, as the king there also greets, you see chief of staff, Reince Priebus, there, is part of the contingent, along with the strategist adviser, Steve Bannon, also. And there in the mix, also, the arrival of the president and perhaps even First Lady Melania Trump guests of the king there at Murabba Palace. We will keep a watch on all the pageantry taking place there in Saudi Arabia.
And we'll be right back.
[13:42:45] WHITFIELD: A former Trump campaign staffer says the president should foot his legal bill and set up a legal fund for any former aides who are questioned. He says people's political careers are dead and he wasn't even paid for his work.
Meanwhile, sources also tell CNN that White House lawyers are researching impeachment procedures. The White House denies that is happening.
A special counsel, former FBI Chief Bob Mueller, has been appointed to look into accusations of Russian meddling into the U.S. election. And all of this amid reports that Trump said that firing FBI Director James Comey relieved him, quote, "of great pressure." That, according to a document obtained by "The New York Times." Russia denying the topic even came up during the Oval Office meeting not too long ago.
For more on all of this, I'm joined by Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland; and Richard Herman, a New York criminal attorney and law professor from Las Vegas.
And alongside all of us, we are watching live pictures streaming in from the pageantry and the ceremonial procedures taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with the president of the United States' arrival there at the Murabba Palace.
As we talk, gentlemen, we'll enjoy the images coming out of there live.
So let's begin with the basics, shall we, Avery and Richard, on if these attorneys in the orbit of Donald Trump are looking into impeachment procedures, even though the White House is denying that's even happening.
Richard, in your view, what would that mean? What kind of probing is taking place and preparations could potentially be made? [13:45:32] RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR:
Well, Fred, if they are investigating, they're doing criminal investigations against Trump and his administration and people around him and they're also doing civil investigations, but just know that Mueller was hired, Fred, to investigate the relationship between the Russian hacking of the election and Trump's campaign and/or Trump. But, you know, with respect to President Clinton the special prosecutor was hired to look at whitewater, a company in western Arkansas and ended up Monica Lewinsky. There's broad range of an investigation here. It's going to go, you know, between A and Z. Mueller is very competent individual. But I will tell you this, Fred, I'm predicting right now live, Trump will fire Mueller eventually, he will get rid of him because he fears him.
WHITFIELD: Oh. OK.
Well, Mueller does have, you know, vast range right now, obstruction of justice is also something potentially he could be looking into.
And, Avery, if Richard's predictions are not correct and bob Mueller continues to, you know, to be this special counsel here, if, indeed, it were the case that any attorneys for Donald Trump were starting to look into, you know, impeachment proceedings, what is at hand? What would they have to tackle? Even though the White House is denying that. What would these attorneys be looking into as they prepare for any findings from these investigations, these many investigations?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Well, I mean, I think the function of law, we've heard this sort of generic obstruction of justice. The section of the United States code that applies here is the interference with a pending proceeding. You have to either impair or impede or influence concerning a pending investigation. And, look, you've got it in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, of course, you have it in the Department of Justice, so they are going to be looking at the elements of these kind of crimes and, basically, they're going to be telling everyone not only the president, but the people around, look --
WHITFIELD: Would that include the firing of an FBI director?
WHITFIELD: Does that include refusing to hand over any kind of documents or records?
FRIEDMAN: Exactly. I mean, all of these are fundamental in an investigation. And also, and this is important to mention, Fredricka, the issue of credibility, the credibility of Donald Trump, the credibility of James Comey, who is, by the way, the definitional opposite of a nut job, these forums, the FBI, Justice Department, special counsel, all will be looking at credibility, including Russian influence, for example, on income. That's where tax returns may have to be produced. That's the last thing the president wants to produce. But that along with other internal documents will have to be produced in this.
WHITFIELD: So gentlemen, we're talking about this issue while abroad, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, you're seeing in the distance there, President Trump and Melania Trump, wearing red, stepped out of the limousine, arriving there at the Murabba Palace, which is quite the opulent structure there, two-story, 7,000 square foot palace there, with some 32 rooms, where there's quite the celebration for his arrival from the United States there in Saudi Arabia.
We heard from the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today really talking about this being a historic, you know, embarkment on a renewed relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
But here stateside, you know, the headlines are, you know, are being dominated by that cloud over the White House.
So, Richard, you're making a pretty dire prediction. You think Donald Trump will, at some point, be removed. And he has the discretion to potentially remove a special prosecutor in the name of Bob Mueller?
HERMAN: Yeah, he can direct the attorney general -- he can direct the attorney general or the assistant attorney general to terminate him. He will do that. I'm telling you, he will do that. In a nutshell, Fred, any article of impeachment would have to be drawn up in the House of Representatives. They'll need the majority vote there. And that'll mean, just like in the indictment, of charges being brought.
FRIEDMAN: A majority in the House, in the House.
HERMAN: The chief justice presides and they'll need a two-third of majority to get a conviction.
[13:50:10] HERMAN: Whether he is charged with obstruction of justice under the version of high crimes misdemeanors, briberies and treasons automatically remove a president. If he was convicted of obstruction - and we are not sure if he will be removed, even he was convicted of obstruction.
Fred, I'm telling you, I've listened to all these talking heads this entire week talking about whether or not the elements are there for obstruction of justice under determination of Comey, they are there, Fred. There is an obstruction of justice case that could be brought. I have seen cases with less evidence in federal courts in New York of obstruction in organized crime cases. Fred, the mental requirement, the intent to do it is evidence of Trump clearing the room and telling Sessions, Comey's boss, leave because I need to be alone with him, tat's consciousness of guilt and intent for conviction on this, Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK. All right, Richard and Avery, I'm so sorry, we've got a hard break. And you all are listening -- we are listening to your words and we are
seeing President Trump moving to the rhythm of the ceremony there as he approaches there in Saudi Arabia at the Murabba Palace.
Richard and Avery, thank you very much. Appreciate your insight. So sorry we did not have more time to hear more from you. Appreciate it.
We'll be right back.
[13:56:14] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
A royal welcome there, if you look at picture of the Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with President Trump and First Lady Melania. And Donald Trump right there in the palace. Their arrival was met with quite a ceremony there. Alongside them, their contingents they have been traveling with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and all of them are inside. You cannot see them right now. We all watched them enter. They're gone in that little opening there. We'll continue to monitor the event there for their arrival for the special ceremony there in the Murabba Palace.
Also, this week's "CNN Money's" "Away," there is a hidden gem outside of Seattle and it is a secret forest full of black truffles.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a secret forest, just an hour outside of Seattle. The only way to get the directions is you are truffle hunting with the Truffles and Lolo Company (ph), who will take you on a culinary adventure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're hear for the weekend or the week, we go out all the time. We've got a variety of teams and guys to go out in Seattle. Anything you find, you can take home with you and you will get to cook and we'll teach you what to do with it, do whatever you want to do with it and we'll teach you how to take care of them.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT: That's right. Black truffles here and in abundance.
(on camera): Is this one of the only areas in the United States that you can find truffles?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So of the Pacific Northwest, Washington, D.C., the truffle out here is flavorful. It smells like green apples or chocolates or pineapples?
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You find one?
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT: What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on, I'm coming.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT: Oh, we found one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is two actually. Oh, right there.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORESPONDENT: oh, my gosh. Look at it. Hm.
(voice-over): On a good day, Lolo can find 40 truffles at $45 an ounce. That's $500 worth of black truffles. What do you do with all of them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You take them to restaurants and like, hey, I just found them today, and the chef will be receptive of that, oh, we would love to.