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Reports: Trump Legal Team Trying To Undercut Mueller; Officials Say U.S. Navy May Have Prompted Deadly Crash; Parole Board Grants O.J. Simpson Early Release; ExxonMobil Fined For Violating Russian Sanctions; Reports: Trump Asked Advisers About Pardon Powers. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 21, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- information on Mueller and his potential conflicts of interest.

Joining us now to discuss all of this is Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. Great to have you here.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R-NY), MEMBER, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Happy to be with you, Alisyn. Welcome to D.C. --

CAMEROTA: Thank you. It's hot and steamy --

COLLINS: -- as always.

CAMEROTA: -- here, figuratively and literally.

COLLINS: You bet.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here.

So, why do you think President Trump's legal team is looking into Robert Mueller's legal team's background and political leanings?

COLLINS: Well, I would say this was fairly standard legal practice. If you're going to be sued or are sued you're always going to look for conflicts with the judge, with prosecutors, with witnesses.

I think this is just nothing more than, you know, standard practice when you're involved with litigation --

CAMEROTA: But where does it --

COLLINS: -- or potential litigation.

CAMEROTA: Fair. But where does it lead, I guess is the question? Is it to discredit Robert Mueller's investigation? Is it to possibly lay the groundwork to fire Robert Mueller?

COLLINS: Well, I can't speak to reasons other than it's standard procedure. If you find an investigator or if you had a judge or if you had somebody on the other side that had significant conflicts of interest you would want them removed because there's a bias or other conflict. And I don't think this is all that unusual to -- certainly the

president's got some real pros surrounding him.

CAMEROTA: But what if you find that somebody on Robert Mueller's legal team gave money to a Democratic candidate? Does that disqualify them?


CAMEROTA: It doesn't?

COLLINS: No. I think -- there's lines you cross and if you're looking for different kinds of conflicts -- and again, for a lot of this --

CAMEROTA: Like what? I mean, give me an example.

COLLINS: Well, a lot of this is supposition as well. You know, we've got four investigations going on with the House and Senate, plus Bob Mueller's investigation.

But clearly, if somebody had an axe to grind, you know -- that they had a family member -- I mean, the president's been involved in other litigation. Who knows if somebody has a relative that's been involved and they are then going to push the envelope.

There could be somebody here that had been speaking out and would know about his tax returns --


COLLINS: -- that's going to use this as some way to get after his tax returns.

CAMEROTA: Got it. So you're looking for an axe to grind because what's been floated at times --


CAMEROTA: -- is that -- the contributions that they've given -- that Robert Mueller's team has given to some Democratic candidates. But you don't think that that would make them impartial.

COLLINS: No. I mean, we -- that's the way our process works in America. Money is the ugly side of politics. You need to raise money to get up on T.V.

You know, we all have a race every two years so the fact that someone contributing money to one cause or the other or one party or the other, I would not think that's at all -- that would suggest everyone has to be a Republican then and so, no --

CAMEROTA: Absolutely --

COLLINS: That would --

CAMEROTA: -- and that you can't ever vote for anybody and still do your job, basically.

What do you think about Bob Mueller? Can he do this investigation impartially and fairly?

COLLINS: Well, everything I know about Bob Mueller would suggest yes, but he's got a team of people working with him. I don't know where they may head.

I'm a little bit -- you know, we find it a little disturbing what we might call leaks coming out --


COLLINS: -- you know, that perhaps shouldn't be.

CAMEROTA: Well, this is not a leak.

Here is what President Trump, himself, said directly to "The New York Times." Let me read it to you.

"Mr. Trump was critical of Mr. Mueller. He was up here and he and he wanted the job, Mr. Trump said. After he was named special counsel, I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts.

But he was interviewing for the job" -- meaning FBI director. "There were many other conflicts that I haven't said, but I will at some point."

That sounds like a threat.

COLLINS: I would -- I was not aware of some of those but I would think it's more in tune with -- you know, Donald Trump's pretty aggressive as the president and I think Bob Mueller is up for the job. I do -- would worry about some under him who may be having another agenda like trying to get at tax returns that the president has no obligation whatsoever to release.

CAMEROTA: Do you worry that President Trump will try to fire Robert Mueller?

COLLINS: I would think that would be a very extreme situation. I would hope that Mueller doesn't cross the line into tax returns and he should let go of some of the business things.

Let's face it, the president is not subject to the normal ethics issues when it comes to business.

CAMEROTA: But how will he know if President Trump has investments in Russia if he doesn't look at his tax returns and his financial dealings?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, legally, the president could have investments in Russia.

CAMEROTA: Sure, but there are entanglements that he's looking at. COLLINS: Well - but again, the president is exempt from most if not all of those. It's just this president has a very complex business relationship around the world. But he's been clear. The president has been clear he doesn't have those relationships with Russia.

CAMEROTA: That's true but nobody's seen his tax returns.

COLLINS: Well, they've seen his personal financial disclosure. It lists every property he's involved with. It lists the income that he's receiving from those properties.

It's all on his personal financial disclosure which has more information than a tax return.

CAMEROTA: I want to also ask you about what President Trump said to "The New York Times" about his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, where he basically expressed a lot of displeasure with Jeff Sessions and said that he would never have chosen him had he known how this was all going to play out.

[07:35:07] COLLINS: Well, I can't speak to his exact words but I do know -- I know Jeff Sessions very well. We campaigned together for the president. He nominated and Iseconded Donald Trump's nomination at the convention.

He's a man of integrity. I respect him. He's a great attorney general. I'm happy to hear he's not going to resign.

I think what we have is Donald Trump -- the president's frustration with everything Russia every day. Let's face it. Yesterday was the president's six-month anniversary on the job and here we are talking about Russia --


COLLINS: -- instead of all of his accomplishments. So it's --

CAMEROTA: -- fair enough, but he's the one who gave the interview --

COLLINS: I hear you. I know that.

CAMEROTA: -- to "The New York Times" where he talked a lot about this.

COLLINS: It's the frustration and I think he would have -- he would have liked to have had -- of course, I would, too -- Jeff Sessions right as his side but Jeff recused himself, which I think was the proper thing to do at the time but that would have been another story.


COLLINS: So I would put this in the context of President Trump's frustration with everything Russia, every day, including today, one day after his six-month --

CAMEROTA: Yes. COLLINS: -- anniversary of being on the job and here we are talking about it.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, as someone who was an early supporter of President Trump, like Jeff Sessions, you were -- both you and Jeff Sessions right there --


CAMEROTA: -- supporting publicly the president.

Do you ever fear that the president will publicly turn on you?

COLLINS: The president and I have a very unique relationship and, no, I have no fear of that whatsoever.

First of all, I'm not in the administration. I'm right where I want to be on the Energy and Commerce Committee in Congress.

And so, no, that thought clearly has never entered my head. He and I get along very well.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Chris Collins, thanks so much for being here in Washington.

COLLINS: Thank you, Alisyn. Always good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alisyn, great interview, great question there.

O.J. Simpson, he could walk free in just weeks so how are his close friends reacting to this news? We're going to speak with one of them, next.


[07:40:35] CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news.

A preliminary investigation into that deadly crash between the USS Fitzgerald and that Philippine cargo ship off the coast of Japan, it gives an early indication of who may be at fault.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with all of the breaking details. What have you learned, Barbara?


U.S. officials are telling us the preliminary findings are indicating the U.S. Navy was at fault in this collision that killed seven Navy sailors when they collided with a cargo ship. The preliminary findings are indicating that the U.S. Navy crew on the bridge failed to sound warnings.

They knew the ship -- the cargo ship was approaching but they did nothing. They stayed on course. There was no warning until it was too late and they were unable to maneuver out of the way.

Why there was no warning, why they failed to understand the emergency that was right in front of their face is now the key question for investigators.

There is a lot of concern on how this crew, if this is what proves to be a final report on how a Navy ship could go to sea with such poor seamanship.

A tragedy for the seven families that lost their loved ones when the berthing compartments below the water line were ripped open and the ship flooded.

But Navy officials are also saying this ship came dangerously close to sinking -- to having the entire crew lost at sea -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, so many questions still there and our hearts go out to the families.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you so much.

O.J. Simpson expected to walk free in a matter of months after a Nevada parole board ruled in his favor. But the NFL Hall of Famer raised eyebrows with some of what he said to the parole board. Listen to this.


O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER NFL STAR:I've always thought I was -- I've been pretty good with people and I basically have spent a conflict-free life, you know. I'm not a guy that ever got into fights on the street and with the public and everybody.


BERMAN: All right. Joining me now is O.J. Simpson's former manager, longtime friend Norman Pardo. Thanks so much for being with us, Norm.

Let's get your reaction, first of all, to the news yesterday that after nine years, as early as this fall, O.J. Simpson will be free.

NORMAN PARDO, O.J. SIMPSON'S FORMER MANAGER AND LONGTIME FRIEND: I mean, we were excited -- very excited that he was getting out. Almost elated --

BERMAN: When you heard him --

PARDO: -- just to know that he's actually coming out of there and going to be free.

BERMAN: And that is something that you've been looking forward to?

PARDO: Oh, yes, we've been working hard at it. I mean, he's been in there for nine years for something we felt he shouldn't have been in there for in the first place. You know, his -- all of his friends, including (INAUDIBLE). BERMAN: And when you heard --

PARDO: So it's time for him to come back out.

BERMAN: When you heard Mr. Simpson yesterday say -- and we played some of that sound leading in to you -- say that he has led a conflict-free life, your reaction to that?

PARDO: Well --


In O.J.'s world, it's conflict-free and it has been. He doesn't get into fights with people, et cetera, on the streets. I've been with him for a lot of years.

I mean, the main conflict is he is O.J. Simpson. You know, that's why he's in there now. I mean, the last nine years has been hard for him. It's been hard for everybody.

I mean, I've had to keep his kids out of the media for nine years and him in the media, you know, just so people know he's still alive --

BERMAN: Why --

PARDO: -- and, you know, he means something.

BERMAN: Why were you laughing when I asked you to react to the conflict-free quote? What's funny about that?

PARDO: Well, I could see how that -- how people could take that, you know, the wrong way.


You know, if you go back into the -- you know, the murders and all of that.

BERMAN: Well look, the murders -- it's just not my --

PARDO: All in all, when he's out on the streets there's no conflicts.

BERMAN: He was -- you know, he was found not guilty in those murders.


BERMAN: Leave the legal questions aside -- and the people, you know, around the country have various opinions on that, aside.

What about the allegations of domestic abuse which were never refuted? That's --

PARDO: Yes, that was only once, I think it was. It was only one that was recorded.

BERMAN: OK. You think he only -- PARDO: I don't know.

BERMAN: In your opinion, he's a friend of yours, you think it only happened once?

PARDO: Yes, once or twice.

I think it was the one he was talking about all the time when we were out was the one that happened on New Year's Eve. They were both drinking tequila, he said, and they got totally wasted and he won't drink it again.

BERMAN: Is that conflict-free? Is that --

PARDO: And they got in a big fight.

[07:45:00] BERMAN: Even if it is only one or two incidences of domestic abuse, is that a conflict-free life?

PARDO: Well, you know --


I wouldn't say conflict-free but sort of -- conflict sort of free.


BERMAN: Well, again --

PARDO: I don't know what to say on that part. I mean --

BERMAN: And I appreciate -- you know, he is a friend of yours and you are excited to have him out but, again, this is what many people consider a very serious matter.

I mean, domestic abuse is certainly something that is considered conflict in some people's mind and diminishing it, either by saying it only happened once or twice, or not including it as something which, you know, should reflect on your character, that's something that struck a lot of people as odd on the stand yesterday.

PARDO: Yes, but you -- I don't think you should go back 20 to 30 years and say OK, something that somebody did 20 or 30 years ago one time is something you can judge him by for the rest of his life.

I think that he did that. He said he was sorry he did that and he was never going to do it again. He didn't -- he didn't want to do it the first time. So, you know --

BERMAN: Well, he didn't want to --

PARDO: I don't judge people like that.

BERMAN: So, you know --

PARDO: That's why, you know -- yes, he did. He had some conflicts, you know, in his life. He misspoke a little bit there --


PARDO: -- and he misspoke on a few things. I mean, I'm not saying he's, you know, an angel for no means. But at the same token that was way a long time ago.

BERMAN: Do you think there's any remorse?

PARDO: Now he's got a new life. He's going to come out there a different person.

BERMAN: Do you think there's any remorse? Did you see remorse there? Have you heard remorse?

PARDO: Oh, yes. He's very remorseful for the things he had done in the past.

He may not be remorseful for going into a room and taking his stuff and going to prison for 33 years. I don't think that was right in the first place. If he had not have been O.J. Simpson he would not be in there right now.

So, yes, Icould see where he has a little bit of issue and he doesn't understand -- like, I just took my own stuff. I didn't bring any guns.

You know, O.J. Simpson didn't like guns.

Everywhere we went on every tour we went to the first thing that O.J. would say is we don't need security, we're going to mingle amongst the people. We don't need any guns and anything like that. Keep it away from me -- never wanted it.

BERMAN: Let me ask --

PARDO: It's amazing to me that they're saying oh, he's got two of his best friends in there. We're going to need to bring guns.

BERMAN: Let me ask --

PARDO: I don't believe that.

BERMAN: So again, and my understanding is you actually warned him against going to that hotel room way back when.

But, you know, you've talked to him a lot over the years not, Iunderstand, recently. But if you could give him some advice about how to live and what to do when he is released what would you tell him?

PARDO: I would tell him to stay away from a lot of his friends, especially the felons and the bad people. Spend time with your children and retire. It's -- I think it's time for you to just retire.

And if you're going to do something, don't do it for the money, do it because it's fun. I think he would like that a lot more.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, the conditions --

PARDO: It's not always about the dollar.

BERMAN: The condition of his parole is he's around -- allowed to be around felons. If he's around felons he's going back, you know, to prison if that's discovered.

You mentioned his family. How are they doing and what do you see his relationship with them going forward? You've been in touch with them over the years.

PARDO: I'm sure they're -- right now, everybody's depressed over it but now that he's coming out I think everybody's excited.

His family will survive. They're survivors. I mean, they've gone through everything from the murder trial on and they've survived. They will survive.

O.J. coming out -- he was the rock. He was the one who held the family together and he needed to be back there. I mean, the kids really do need him and they've needed him since the beginning.

I think this may have helped him to a degree because now he knows what's important to him in life, which is his family and his kids, and maybe that's what he'll focus on. And that's what I'm hoping.

BERMAN: Norman Pardo, thanks so much for coming on this morning. Appreciate your time.

PARDO: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right -- Alisyn.


There's new reporting this morning that claims President Trump is looking into his authority to issue presidential pardons.

Can a president pardon himself? The man who wrote the book on it tells us.


[07:51:50] BERMAN: All right. Now to a legal battle pitting two secretaries inside the Trump administration against each other.

The Treasury Department slaps ExxonMobil with a $2 million fine for blatantly, they say, violated U.S. sanctions on Russia. Why, of course, is this so interesting? The president's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was leading the company at the time.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski live at the State Department with the latest on this -- Michelle.


Yes, and Treasury slapped Exxon with the maximum fine possible for this, calling it egregious, harmful, and a disregard for, in 2014, continuing to do business with -- in fact, signing eight documents with Igor Sechin, a close friend of Vladimir Putin, head of the state oil company Rosneft. He was sanctioned after Russia took over Crimea.

The State Department was asked repeatedly about this. Asked repeatedly why doesn't the Secretary of State come and talk to the public directly about this.

It was pretty clear that wasn't going to happen and here's part of what they said.


KOSINSKI: The company he led violated the sanctions scheme so how can the American people trust that he is committed to continuing with this?

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think he was very clear with President Poroshenko. The United States, this administration, the president have all been very clear about our support for the Ukrainiangovernment for its -- for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.


KOSINSKI: So the Treasury Department calls this reckless disregard. Exxon, though, calls it fundamentally unfair and they say that they got guidance from the Treasury Department back in 2014 that because Rosneft Company was not sanctioned it was OK to do business, in part, with them but not with Sechin personally.

They are suing now to get rid of this fine.

CAMEROTA: Michelle, this is a really interesting development. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.

So, another story that we're following this morning.

"The Washington Post" is reporting that some of President Trump's lawyers are looking into the president's authority to grant pardons.

Can a president pardon his family members? How about himself?

Here to discuss this is Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt. He's the author of "Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies."

Professor Kalt, thank you for being here.

Is this one still a cliffhanger? Is it legal for a president to pardon himself?

BRIAN KALT, LAW PROFESSOR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, AUTHOR, "CONSTITUTIONAL CLIFFHANGERS: A LEGAL GUIDE FOR PRESIDENTS AND THEIR ENEMIES" (via Skype): Well, we don't know. No president's ever tried so it hasn't gone to court and hasn't been decided, but he can certainly try.

CAMEROTA: Well, it feels wrong because it feels as though then, you know, why bother going through an investigation and a trial of any kind if a president can just pardon himself.

And, by the way, if it is legal then why didn't Richard Nixon try that?

KALT: Well, Nixon did consider it. He asked his lawyer to look into this options and his personal lawyer said that he could pardon himself if he wanted.

[07:55:00] Nixon was concerned about his legacy and he, I guess, was willing to put his faith in the hands of his successor, which the argument that the president can't pardon himself is that he has to do that.

There is the argument on the other side but there are arguments on both sides and so it's -- it really won't be decided until a court gets the case, which will only happen if the president does it and a prosecutor -- federal prosecutor continues to go after it.

CAMEROTA: I mean, look, as we know, President Trump is fond of breaking the mold. He's known for that.

But basically what you're saying is that the legal language on this is ambiguous and so it's just never been tested in court because no president has tried it.

KALT: Right. So the argument that he can do it is simply that the constitution doesn't say anywhere specifically that he can't.

The argument that he cannot pardon himself, it's a little more complicated so part of it is just that the meaning of the word pardon is inherently something that you give someone else.

It comes from the same Latin root as the word donate so you would never say you donated something to yourself. You donated $1,000 to yourself or you donated yourself -- it doesn't make sense. So, similarly, it doesn't make sense -- if you pardon yourself, that's not a pardon.

And there are other limits on the pardon power that are like that but they're implicit in the definition. So, for instance, you can't pardon someone for something he hasn't done yet. That's not in the constitution but it is implicit in just the word pardon.

And then the other main argument is that there's just this principle in the law that you can't be the judge in your own case. Just like a judge who's put on trial would be in front of another judge, a president who wants a pardon would have to wait until someone else is president.


Now, what does the law say about pardoning family members?

KALT: Well, there's no restriction on that.

Now, President Clinton on his last day in office, among other people, pardoned his brother Roger Clinton, so it's been done.

There are issues with potential uses of the pardon power that might be other things -- other crimes. So, for instance, if the president pardons someone in exchange for a bribe the pardon would be valid but the bribe could be prosecuted.

So a similar token if the president was pardoning people affiliated with him using his power to protect himself and his entourage. That, potentially, would be obstruction of justice. A prosecutor would want to pursue that.

But there is some doubt as to whether the president can be prosecuted when in office. So again, that would probably have to wait until he's out of office.

CAMEROTA: And, by the way, a pardon -- I mean, you correct me if I'm wrong -- only refers to a crime. It's not --

KALT: Yes.

CAMEROTA: You can't pardon yourself out of impeachment or even out of somehow a tarnished reputation --

KALT: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- if there's an actual crime.

KALT: Yes. So -- well, first of all, it's only federal crimes so it wouldn't give him any protection at all from any state-level prosecution that state attorneys general might be pursuing.

And then, yes, impeachment is protected from the pardon power. The pardon power cannot be used to stop or undo an impeachment. And, ultimately, that's the main remedy.

If a president does something wrong, impeachment is supposed to be -- it's designed to be the way that you deal with that. Then once he's not president anymore than you can deal with those other things.

The thing about the pardon power is a lot of people think that you have to be charged before you can be pardoned, or you have to be convicted.


KALT: That's not true. You can be pardoned before that. So he wouldn't have to wait untilhe was actually charged -- this would be after he's out of office -- but for pardoning himself he could (INAUDIBLE) like Ford pardoned Nixon. Nixon hadn't been charged yet. CAMEROTA: Well, Professor Brian Kalt, thank you for studying all this so the rest of us don't have to. We appreciate all of your theories on this and the fact that it is, as yet, untested.

Thanks for being here.

KALT: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inappropriate for the president to try to dictate the boundaries of the investigation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: "The Washington Post" reporting Trump's legal team 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president steps in by firing Bob Mueller I think he will pay a very heavy price.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What you can feel coming out of this White House is a tension and an anxiety.

SIMPSON: I've done my time. I basically have spent a conflict-free life.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: His statements were self- justifying, showing no remorse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you take a look at what they're supposed to consider it's a slam-dunk.

SIMPSON: Thank you.