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Reports: Trump Legal Team Trying to Undercut Mueller; CNN: Sessions Criticism Has 'Chilling' Effect Inside White House. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired July 21, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inappropriate for the president to try to dictate the boundaries of the investigation.
[05:57:09] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "The Wall Street Journal" saying Trump's legal team is working to discredit the special counsel investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Mueller should look at anything that falls within the scope of the special counsel's mandate.
REP. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: If the president (UNIDENTIFIED MALE) by firing Bob Mueller, I think he will pay a very heavy price.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, "NEW YORK TIMES" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You can feel coming out of this White House the tension and anxiety.
O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I've done my time. I basically have spent a conflict-free life.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: His statements were self- justified, showing no remorse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you take a look at what they're supposed to consider, it's a slam dunk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, July 21, 6 a.m. here in Washington, D.C.
Chris is off, and John Berman joins me from New York. Great to see you, John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to see you.
CAMEROTA: Here's our starting line. "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" reporting that President Trump's legal team is trying to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller, by looking for conflicts of interest in order to discredit his Russia investigation. The "Washington Post" also reporting the president is asking advisers about his ability to pardon his aides, his family members, and even himself.
BERMAN: Meantime, one day after President Trump warned the special counsel not to dig into his family's finances, Bloomberg reports that Special Counsel Mueller's investigation is expanding to do just that. All this as CNN learns that President Trump is shaking up his legal team. The president unhappy with how his lawyers are fighting back against the daily rush of revelations.
We have this all covered for you. A lot going on. We're going to begin with CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns, live at the White House.
Good morning, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
The reshuffling of the president's legal team comes around the same time that he's sending signals that he's gearing up for a fight against special counsel Robert Mueller's legal team, citing conflicts in an interview with "The New York Times."
This comes amid reports the president is seeking to undermine the investigation.
JOHNS (voice-over): "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" are reporting that the president's lawyers and aides are looking to undermine the special counsel's investigation. "The Times" says Trump's team is scouring the professional and political backgrounds of Robert Mueller and other investigators, looking for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit the investigation.
"The Post" also reporting that the president has been asking about his authority to pardon aides, family members, and even himself, in connection with the probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions refusing to answer questions about whether he's discussed pardons with the president in testimony before Congress last month.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the White House.
JOHNS: All this as the Russia investigation appears to be widening, Bloomberg reporting that Mueller is expanding his probe to include a broad range of financial transactions involving Trump businesses and associates.
HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual purview is?
TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would say yes. JOHNS: The president warning Mueller against delving into his finances earlier this week.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president is making clear that the special counsel should not move outside of the scope of the investigation.
JOHNS: "The Washington Post" reports that the president has told aides he's especially disturbed after learning that Mueller would be able to access his tax returns. The president has refused to release them, citing ongoing IRS audits.
Mueller has broad latitude. Sources say the president has also vented in recent weeks that his legal team has not done enough to beat back allegations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen...
JOHNS: Sources tell CNN Marc Kasowitz, the president's longtime attorney and lead lawyer on the Russia matter, will see his role reduced, after the spokesman and communications strategist for the legal team resigned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, does Jeff Sessions still have your full support?
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
JOHNS: President Trump ignoring questions about his embattled attorney general, after blaming him for the special counsel probe.
TRUMP: Sessions should have never recused himself. And if he would -- if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.
JOHNS: Sessions signaling Thursday he has no plans to step down, despite the president's remarkable public rebuke.
SESSIONS: We love this job, we love this department, and I plan to continue to do so, as long as that is appropriate.
JOHNS: Despite this morning's reports, a source says the president's team does intend to cooperate fully with the special counsel.
The focus on the special counsel and the president's own words in that "New York Times" interview overshadowing, if you will, the attempts of this administration once again to focus on policy. Today, we do expect to see the president this afternoon, as he meets with the survivors of the "USS Arizona" -- John and -- John, back to you.
CAMEROTA: Alisyn, I'll take it now. Thanks so much, Joe.
All right, so lots to discuss. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst David Drucker; CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. Great to have all of you.
David Drucker, I'll start with you, David Drucker, because you and I are together here in Washington. So let's talk about this. Is the thinking of President Trump's legal team that, if anyone on Mueller's team has ever, say, given money to a Democratic candidate, that they therefore cannot be unbiased and impartial and that that would somehow taint the investigation?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's the message that the president is trying to send. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the special counsel -- special prosecutor that looked into President Bill Clinton, where there was an all-out war from the White House, trying to discredit Ken Starr, so that any result of his investigation would be tainted.
And so what you're seeing here from this president, with a difference, that the president can actually -- although it would be complicated and politically explosive, could actually fire Mueller, because there's no longer a special prosecutor law protecting -- protecting Mueller. But what the president is trying to do, like he tries to do with all of his political adversaries, is undermine his credibility and legitimacy.
So at least in the eyes of his very loyal base and the broader Republican electorate, which has kept the Republicans on Capitol Hill at bay, because they still support him, they are not going to buy anything that Mueller comes up with. And I think that's the shot across the bow that we've seen this week.
BERMAN: You know, it's been really interesting. I mean, in a way, the president's interview with "The New York Times" was Chekhov's gun. You know, we saw the gun in the first act, the president talking about conflicts, and then overnight in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," these stories are, you know, pointing out alleged conflicts in a concerted, you know, direction that they're doing from this legal team.
Let me read you what the president said again in that "New York Times" interview. He, "Mueller, was up here and he wanted the job. The next day he is appointed special counsel. I said, 'What the hell is this about? Talk about conflicts.' But he was interviewing for the job. There are many other conflicts that I haven't said," you know, subtext, but may come out tomorrow night in "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times."
You know, Jeffrey Toobin, what is a real conflict of interest which would be grounds for Rod Rosenstein to fire Bob Mueller?
TOOBIN: I don't think -- it's hard to know in the abstract of what is -- what is a conflict of interest.
BERMAN: If Robert Mueller were talking about the FBI job, would that be a conflict of interest?
TOOBIN: Absolutely not. BERMAN: If there were political donations from people inside
Mueller's team to some Democrats -- and we know there were -- is that a conflict of interest?
TOOBIN: It is certainly not a conflict of interest justifying firing. You know, as a journalist who spent a good deal of time investigating Ken Starr and his staff and their political inclinations, I think it is entirely fair for Trump's team to point out if Mueller is hiring lots of partisan Democrats. I don't think he is, but if that's true, it's a perfectly legitimate issue for Trump's people to investigate.
[06:05:17] It's -- they are not Mueller. Mueller is the decisionmaker. And if there is a less political person in a prominent place in American life, I don't know who it is. Mueller has a very clean and apolitical record.
CAMEROTA: So David Sanger, much of this comes from "The New York Times" reporting, your outlet, but there's also some "Washington Post" reporting this morning that says that the president and his team are also exploring how far-reaching the president's pardon authority is.
Obviously, the implication is, if Don Jr. were in trouble, maybe, if Jared Kushner were in trouble, what could the president do about that?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, when you read into the story, it says, he's asking the question, but not necessarily with an eye toward trying to do that anytime soon.
What you don't know with this president is that he is obviously a man of some passions, and the question is, could the same moment of passion that led him to fire James Comey lead him to issue the pardon or attempt to fire Mueller or take one of these other steps?
Now, it was interesting in "The Times" interview, he said again that he does not regret firing Jim Comey. But when you think back to it, it was the firing of Comey that basically brought all of this upon him. It's what forced the deputy attorney general to appoint Bob Mueller as a special counsel. It's what then triggered the rest of this set of investigations. Had he kept Comey in place, there would certainly be an FBI investigation underway, but there wouldn't be any of this structure that we're seeing now, that clearly the president finds so disturbing.
I think the last point, and this goes back to something that Jeff got at before, which is that at the moment that Mueller was appointed, you heard a lot of Republicans saying that, you know, he was a perfect choice. He's very nonpartisan. His war record in Vietnam is remarkable, his time as FBI director. And so the president probably realizes that it's going to be an uphill battle to go make the case for partisanship that he's now pushing.
BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. David Sanger says, you know, you don't always know what the president's thinking. In some cases, we know exactly what he's thinking. We know the words "conflict of interest"/ are seared on his brain right now, and he seems to be wanting to say it out loud, you know, in his interview with "The New York Times" and has his people talk about in articles.
And we also know, because, again, this was part of his interview. We've heard him say it out loud, and then his people have been saying it since. He's very concerned about the parameters of the Bob Mueller, of the special counsel's investigation right now. And the president does not think it should expand into his business dealings, particularly from when he was before president -- you know, before he was president.
Listen again to the president himself and now the president's staff talking about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE SCHMIDT, "NEW YORK TIMES" CORRESPONDENT: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual purview is?
TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would say yes.
SANDERS: I think that the president, the point he's trying to make is that the clear purpose of the Russia investigation is to review Russia's meddling in the election and that that should be the focus of the investigation. Nothing beyond that.
The president's making clear that the special counsel should not move outside of the scope of the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You know, David Drucker, the president says he doesn't like to give red lines. That seems like a red line there, coming from his mouth and his staff's mouth there, despite that Rod Rosenstein's charge for Robert Mueller includes matters that might arise during the investigation.
DRUCKER: I don't see how you look at an investigation into Russian meddling and how the president's campaign may have been implicated without looking into the president's business dealings, especially because the president has not released his tax returns.
And one important thing David Sanger was getting at here, if the president were to move to fire Robert Mueller, the most anxiety you've seen in Washington would be coming from Capitol Hill. Because Republicans do not want to have to deal with this. They'd rather focus on mundane policy matters, important policy matters, but things that are a lot less political. And they don't want to be in a position where they have to act against the president or move against the president. At least not before they've seen a signal from Republican voters that that's what they would like them to do.
And so that's -- that's who would be most concerned about this, because it would put them in a really difficult political position. And that's why you've heard, you know, some complaints from the Hill about where the Mueller investigation might go, but you haven't heard a lot, because they understand what the scope of the investigation needs to be. And they had shoved this off on Mueller, so they could get out of having to have anything to do with it.
[06:10:14] CAMEROTA: So, Jeffrey, "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump has expressed concerns about Mueller getting his tax returns. As you know, the president did not release his tax returns. Legally, can Robert Mueller pull those?
TOOBIN: Absolutely. There's no doubt that he can. In fact, in white-collar investigations, it is routine for the -- for prosecutors, U.S. attorneys, to get tax returns as, first of all, to investigate whether there are tax offenses that may have been committed, but also as a guide to the assets of the people, of the people you are investigating.
And, frankly, given the fact that, you know, what -- the question of motive is at the heart of this investigation. Why was the Trump campaign so favorably disposed towards Russia? Financial motive is an obvious possibility, so I would find it very hard to imagine that this investigation could be completed without Mueller looking at the president's tax returns.
BERMAN: You know, David Sanger, you've been in Washington a long time and covered many administrations. I found this week to be an astounding week from the White House, in terms of their messaging. They had the health care debate, you know, and apparently falling apart, maybe not falling apart in the Senate, and then completely by choice, electively, the president goes to "The New York Times" and knives his attorney general, raises the possibility of taking on the special counsel, and now in articles in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," someone's floating the idea that the president is considering pardons. This seems to be a White House that has completely lost control of controlling any kind of message here.
SANGER: Well, message discipline has not been their greatest strength in the six months and now a day that they've been in office.
When you think about that, it's the other downside of the president's tweeting, the president's determining that he's got to be completely the one who does the communication, because he thinks he does it better than anybody else.
The tweets, the interviews, and so forth, always veer toward what he feels most strongly about at the moment. And he clearly feels aggrieved by this investigation. And does not view it as a reaction to anything he's done, including the firing of James Comey, but instead, he views it as an effort to conduct what he's called many times a witch hunt.
So that tends to dominate it. So if it's "Made in America Week," or it's less "Let's focus on the details of health care week," his mind is not necessarily right there. You saw it in the health care debate, where a number of Republican senators said, the president did not seem to be deeply engaged in the details of what the health care bill should look like. In fact, the White House didn't have its own. Instead, he just want
to have had a win. And you have to wonder if it doesn't look like he's going to get that, if he'll just move on to the next thing.
BERMAN: "Made in America Week," when it comes to the Russia investigation and you have the focus on it right now, it's the made in the Oval Office week, because the president has exclusively, I think, created this renewed focus over the last few days.
All right, guys, stick around. President Trump's relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions put to the test. The attorney general says he's not going anywhere. No one would have asked that question if not for the fact that the president gave this remarkable rebuke to "The New York Times." Is loyalty a one-way street for President Trump? We discuss, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[06:17:44] SESSIONS: We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so, as long as that is appropriate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. That's Attorney General Jeff Sessions right there. He says he is here to stay, after the president's extraordinary public criticism in the interview with "The New York Times."
The president's rebuke really making waves now inside the White House. One official tells CNN, "No one was more loyal than Sessions, no one." Another calls this chilling.
The big question is, is loyalty a one-way street with President Trump?
I want to bring back our panel: David Drucker, Jeffrey Toobin, and David Sanger.
You know, David Drucker, again, the question is, the question we're hearing from inside the White House, Jeff Zeleny is reporting, look, if the president will do this to Jeff Sessions, will he do it to anyone?
DRUCKER: Well, anyone probably, other than his close family members. I think here what is very -- very interesting and important is that, when you do this so publicly to a member of your administration, a cabinet official, and usually this is done third-hand -- so I guess you've got to give the president credit here for not outsourcing this -- is that you've completely undercut Jeff Sessions' power and influence.
Because the way politics works, especially in the West Wing, but even on Capitol Hill, is it's all about how much juice you have with the principle. And now, in a tug-of-war over policy, if Jeff Sessions gets into one, his adversary can say, "You know, I don't think the president has that much confidence in your leadership. He was pretty public about that. So I don't really care what you think."
And it creates a situation where, especially if Jeff Sessions as attorney general has carried out some of the president's more prioritized initiatives, which he is, because on policy and on a lot of the key things that the president has campaigned on, it's within Jeff Sessions' purview to handle these things, I think it weakens his ability as attorney general to carry this out.
And -- and, you know, we talk all the time about, you know, here, well, this one's going to have to leave and there's no way he could stick around, but you really lack at the tongue lashing that Jeff Sessions got. You look at his career in the Senate, and you wonder how long he can stick around in this situation.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, Jeffrey, it's not -- it's also the public -- the public tongue lashing. It's not unusual to be displeased with a member of your staff, but to vent your spleen publicly to "The New York Times" about them does seem to be unusual.
[06:20:10] TOOBIN: Well, it's unusual; it's weird. Choose your adjective.
But I also think, you know, Jeff Sessions is still the attorney general. And he can do all the things that attorney generals do. And yesterday, he -- you know, he announced a major cyber-crime investigation.
I mean, I think part of what makes this so weird is that, in many respects, I don't think Sessions is all that weakened by it. I think he's going to continue doing his job. And unless and until the president actively throws him out, I don't think he is in, really, that much trouble. I think just the weirdness of this administration is that the president free associates in public a lot, but I think Jeff Sessions is still in the position to do the job that he was hired to do.
BERMAN: And it was interesting, you know, with Jake Tapper yesterday, several Republican members of the Senate, three on background, one on the record, Susan Collins, actually you know, rallied behind Jeff Sessions there. So maybe in a way, Jeff Sessions, a former senator, will get more senatorial congressional support now that the president's attacking him. Could be one of the strange ironies here.
You know, David Sanger, next week, speaking of Congress, you know, a lot going on up there in terms of the investigation. Jared Kushner heading up. He will talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee, not under oath, but he will speak to them behind closed doors, some staff members there.
And then the Judiciary Committee waiting for a response from Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, to see if they will testify on Wednesday. And there is this threat of a subpoena if they don't.
You know, part of me cannot imagine what it would look like with Donald Trump Jr. testifying there. On the other hand, part of me can't imagine the fact that, you know, the president's son would have to receive a subpoena here. Where do you see this heading?
SANGER: Well, it's a little bit hard to tell, because those two people, Mr. Manafort and Donald Trump Jr., are not government officials. Manafort, of course, famously was fired as the campaign chairman, and Donald Trump Jr. has never taken a position in the administration.
So they are not covered by any kind of executive privilege, any of the protections that usually go around somebody who works for the president. While Mr. Kushner is, because he's got an appointment within the White House. So, it's going to be -- it would be very difficult for the two of them to be able to resist this subpoena.
Now, they could show up and testify and invoke the fifth. And this is more Jeff's territory than my own, but that probably wouldn't look very good, especially after Donald Trump Jr. has said publicly -- and I think you have to believe him on this -- that he's perfectly willing to cooperate with the committee and go out and explain this entire meeting.
And of course, the White House has said and Donald Trump Jr. has said that this was entire innocent, that even though they were there to receive what they described as dirt on Hillary Clinton, in fact, that none was delivered and nothing came of the meeting and everybody went away. And that's the argument they have to be able to make in public and in private.
TOOBIN: I think Manafort, in particular, would be insane to testify without immunity. I don't -- you know, no lawyer in the world would advise him to testify. His finances are obviously the focus of this investigation, by Mueller.
You know, putting him in a position where he might make false statements would delight Mueller to no end. I think Donald Trump Jr. has less to fear, criminally. But, you know, the big beneficiary, if those two testify under oath, will be Robert Mueller, because he will -- he will have juicy new targets to investigate.
DRUCKER: And one thing, I think we need to remember with these subpoenas, and this is very interesting, and my Republican sources were reminding me of this last night, the subpoena that the Judiciary Committee is going to issue doesn't have any teeth, unless the full Senate votes to enforce it. This is not a court of law.
And so the only way the marshals are going to go after Manafort or Donald Trump Jr., if they ignore the subpoena and don't want to testify, is if the Senate goes on record enforcing it, and that could be a very tricky political maneuver for a Republican Senate.
CAMEROTA: Very quickly, gentleman, I just want to give you a snapshot of how Americans are feeling right now. Here's a new CNN poll. This is about the Russian meeting.
Should Don Jr., Kushner, Manafort have taken the meeting with the Russian lawyer? Twenty-three percent of respondents say yes; 57 percent say no; 20 percent say unsure. Now, if you look at it by party, Don Jr. should not have taken the
meeting with the Russian lawyers. Democrats say 83 percent; independents, 55 percent; Republicans, 36 percent. So that is telling.
[06:25:03] We'll leave it right there. Gentleman, that you very much for being with us on the panel.
We have some breaking news to get to right now, John, because there's been this powerful and deadly earthquake that has rocked a Greek island and parts of Turkey. So we'll bring you all of the latest from there, next.
CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news for you. There's been a powerful earthquake that has rocked Turkey's coast and the nearby Greek islands, leaving at least two people dead and five seriously injured. You can see people in Turkey here, running in the street after the 6.7 magnitude quake rattled that area. This was the scene on the Greek island of Kos. Some buildings reduced to rubble. We are told that two tourists were killed there. They are from Sweden and Turkey.
BERMAN: All right. President Trump will not say it outright, but CIA director Mike Pompeo is offering the clearest and strong words yet from a sitting administration official that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Of course. And the one before that and the one before that. They've been at this a hell of a long time.