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President Trump Gives Interview to "New York Times"; Analysts Examine Possible Subject Matter of Robert Mueller's Investigation. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] SIMPSON: I've basically spent a conflict-free life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His statements were self-justifying, showing no remorse.

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



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your new day. It's Friday, July 21st, 8:00 here in Washington. Chris is off. John Berman joins me in what looks like a very lonely New York studio.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is very lonely, but it's also 8:00 here, I can confirm that also.

CAMEROTA: Very good. Up first, the "New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are reporting that President Trump's legal team is trying to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller. The president's lawyers are investigating the investigators in hopes of discrediting Mueller's Russia investigation.

BERMAN: It comes as the president reshuffles his legal team after being frustrated with how they're responding to the daily Russia revelations and perhaps one of the first tasks reported to "The Washington Post." The president is asking advisors about his ability to pardon his aides, his family, even himself.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in one of the reporters from "The Washington Post" story who can give us the entire scoop. We have national reporter Carol Loennig. Thanks so much for being here, Carol.


CAMEROTA: So tell us more. The president's legal team is trying to find some chinks in the armor obviously of Robert Mueller's legal team, and they're, what, looking into their political leanings? They're looking into their donations? What are they investigating? LOENNIG: There's a long list of things they're looking into,

political conflicts, associations they've had with Hillary Clinton in the past. The relationship that as you know Bob Mueller has had for a long time, the working relationship with the FBI director Jim Comey who the president famously fired and which led to all of this investigation.

Most of Mueller's investigative work as you know comes from Comey's own investigation that he had to leave when he was fired. Other conflicts are sort of baffling and intriguing to us at "The Post." One of them, strangely enough, involved Bob Mueller's membership at a Trump golf course in Virginia. And the president seems to be, according to a source that spoke to me yesterday, really fascinated by the fact Mueller resigned his Trump membership at the golf course and there were some alleged disputes over the fees that he was owed back. Mueller's team has told us there was no dispute. He resigned. It's a nothing burger. I hate to use that term.

CAMEROTA: We love the nothing burger. Feel free to use it liberally here.

So what is the thinking that there might be a beef, just play this out for me, between Bob Mueller and the golf club and that would somehow taint the --

LOENNIG: That would make it look like Bob Mueller has some sort of animus towards the president and towards the Trump organization. And I have to say there's some divisions in the legal team about the importance of this, but I have heard that the president finds it disconcerting. Just as he finds it disconcerting that several members of Mueller's team have given money to Democratic candidates, and Hillary Clinton included.

CAMEROTA: Is this customary? Is it customary? Because we've heard from some of our guests that, guess what, Bill Clinton did the same thing and tried to look into, you know, Ken Starr's legal team and find out if they were conservative leaning. So is this just kind of doing due diligence?

LOENNIG: Absolutely. There's a feature of it that is absolutely due diligence and the norm. But as you have experienced in Trump world there's a brashness and a direct frontal assault that's a little bit different about this. You know, there are teams of people talking about how Bob Mueller is engaged in a witch hunt and is continuing to press on the president. There are -- the president himself as he said in that wonderful "New York Times" interview the other day is talking about a bright line. The president is going to say what he thinks a criminal investigator should or should not investigate. These are not the norms in our world.

CAMEROTA: President Trump does not think that it would be appropriate for Bob Mueller to look into his tax returns.


CAMEROTA: But Bob Mueller, we understand from some reporting, is looking -- will attempt to look into the tax returns. What do you have on this?

LOENNIG: So look, every prosecutor can walk down to the Justice Department when they have a reasonable basis to ask for someone's tax returns. When they think -- and a reasonable basis is a pretty low standard to say this could be relevant to my criminal investigation, and get the tax returns including the tax returns of the president. And what we are hearing is that the president found that disconcerting. Remember, this is a client learning what's going to happen and what could be asked on a very big stage.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it's nerve racking, I get it. However, we've had some of the president's supporters, we just had Congressman Chris Collins saying that would be totally out of bounds. That's basically a fishing expedition because the president already released the financial disclosure statement. Nobody needs to look at his taxes. What's the thinking legally on this?

[08:05:03] LOENNIG: Well, think about the ways in which if you're Bob Mueller and you're looking at obstruction, would you ultimately find that in his tax returns -- I'm just spooling it out -- would you potentially find that a key person that the president's son or son-in- law met with had actually purchased at a ridiculous rate, a large bank of condos or helped finance something for the president or helped provide the loans for a real estate deal? That might be material, who knows?

CAMEROTA: Carol, stick around. I know John has some questions for you as well as the rest of our panel.

BERMAN: That's right. We're going to bring in CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, Political reporter for "The Atlantic" Molly Ball, and also Bob Mueller's special assistant at the Department of Justice, Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst. Michael, let me start with you here, because this notion of trying to discredit the special counsel investigation here, we keep on hearing this is something that happens in prosecutions. You do go after the other person's team here. How far could the White House and his lawyers take this here? Is it difficult if the president wants to get rid of Robert Mueller?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there are a couple of questions that are embedded in that question. First is, is it normative to look at your prosecutor to see whether your prosecutor has a bias that could lead to his recusal, if you will? And, yes, that's normative. And I think they're going to do what they can do. And my legal response to that is good luck with that, because I don't think that there's going to be anything found there that's going to create a legal conflict of interest that would allow for the removal of Mueller himself and perhaps any of his team members.

And secondly, with respect to the removal of Mueller, the only person that can remove Mueller under the regulations that govern this is Rosenstein. And Rosenstein's basis under the regulations for removal of Mueller is good cause, and that there is not going to be good cause found in this fishing expedition into his background. I mean, he's a Republican and he doesn't have any political orientation in the way he investigates crime. So I don't think it's going to amount to anything.

And Rosenstein has said in his public testimony that he will resign before he fires Mueller without there being a good cause showing. So I think this is a lot of bluster, and maybe it has some political resonance. I don't do politics, just law. The others can talk about that. But I don't think in the end of the day it's going to amount to anything. With respect to -- sorry, go on.

CAMEROTA: Well, I was going to bring in Molly because, Michael, you've given us a great information as has Carol about all of the sort of threads of this, but the big picture, Molly, is we're supposed to be talking about made in America week.

MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Oh, I didn't get that assignment. I thought we were talking about whatever we want to talk about.


CAMEROTA: No, we're supposed to be talking about made in America week, if the White House had its way. And we would have been because there are things developing. There's what's happening at the Carrier plant, some jobs are being lost this week. Some jobs are being preserved. There's stuff to talk about on this. However, the president in the wide ranging "New York Times" interview where he could have stayed on message and talked about anything, talked a lot about the Russia investigation.

BALL: Right. This is clearly what's on his mind. And, you know, say what you will about Donald Trump, he does tell us what's on his mind. He doesn't try to obscure it. It's very obvious.

You know, I think it's more than just a political problem of not being able to stay on message. Certainly that's part of it, but it's a substantive problem that he continues to be completely focused on this to the exclusion of making policy. I mean, I think if we were talking about made in America week, that might not be a great story for the White House because they can't really point to accomplishments on that score. As you said even the Carrier deal turned out to be not what it was advertised as. You know, health care is also not a very good story for them at this point. There aren't a lot of really good stories that they could be pivoting to, to use a political term. So, you know, the president does look like someone who is increasingly desperate, feeling like the walls are closing in, he seems cornered, and he's lashing out.

BERMAN: It's interesting, Alisyn was interviewing Chris Collins, Republican representative from New York, a big ally of the White House. And Chris Collins said to Alisyn, essentially, you know, the president's annoyed that we're talking about Russia. He keeps getting frustrated the focus is on Russia. Chris Cillizza, we're talking about it because he brought it up in the interview with "New York Times" and made news on it in somewhat astonishing ways. We're talking about it because his legal team is now going after members of Robert Mueller's investigative team. And we're talking about it because they're now discussing the issue of pardons right now. This is, again, something that is completely and utterly self-inflicted.

And along those lines, you know, we now know the president is warning people, well, you know, special counsel Mueller's investigation shouldn't go into finances or taxes. If you're special counsel Robert Mueller, Chris Cillizza, wouldn't you take the investigation right there because you're being warned not to?

[08:10:05] CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Don't look behind the curtain over there. Yes, look, John, you're right. I would say if you want to not talk about the Russia investigation, you should not spend two-thirds of your time in an impromptu sit down with three "New York Times" reporters talking about the Russia investigation. And by the way, not just talking about the Russia investigation in ways that he has before, but also saying, and, man, if I had known about Jeff Sessions, he would have never gotten this job.

I mean, we would be remiss as reporters not to cover the president of the United States saying I wouldn't have hired my attorney general if I knew he was going to recuse himself. So I think, you know, we're now six months and a day into the Trump presidency. I think one of the top if not the top storyline is Donald Trump is his own worst political enemy. I think if you ask Republican senators this candidly, you ask Republican House members, they would say the same thing. Molly's right that made in America week isn't an A-plus grand slam homerun for him, but it's a lot better than a series of stories about how have you lost confidence in your attorney general, should he be fired, should he resign, are you thinking about pardoning your senior advisors, could you pardon yourself, none of those things are better than made in America week. That's an F message wise. Made in America week may be a C, but as someone who attained a number of C's, they're better than F's.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that full disclosure.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I like to -- honesty is the best policy.

CAMEROTA: Transparency, we vote for that here. Michael, a favorite adage, obviously, of investigators is often follow the money. Is there a money trail here in terms of the Russia investigation that investigators can follow?

ZELDIN: In fact, I think they are already following it. They are following it with respect to Paul Manafort and his payments out of the Ukraine and the way he purchased properties with those dollars in New York through limited liability companies that hide the transparency of the beneficial owners.

I think he's looking at the money laundering as it relates to Russian infusion of money into the Trump business empire. Remember, Donald Trump Jr. In 2008 gave a speech to a conference where he said that in their high end properties, most of their money was coming in from Russia. And so they're going to want to look at what is that money and what was the source of that money, and does that money infusion into their businesses create a motive for them to cooperate with Russia in the election? I don't know if they'll find anything there in that stream, but you

have to look into it. And to the question of the tax returns, the tax returns may well be relevant to obstruction of justice as was said, but I think it's more relevant to this money laundering matter, which is one has to ask the question why is Donald Trump and his ecosystem, Flynn, Manafort, Junior, Kushner, why are they behaving this way with respect to Russia? And they're going to look at is money a motive for that, does it explain their behavior?

And the tax returns are very different than the financial disclosure forms. They tell you in much more minute detail who you did business with, how you did business with them, what the source of that money was, how dependent on that money are you. Remember, there's a lot of conversation about the Trump businesses being on the brink of failure. And the only way they survived was from Russian money coming in through private sources and from Deutsche Bank which itself is under investigation for its dealings with Russian money. So that has to be looked into. There may be nothing at the end, but that has to be looked into. Basically money laundering 101, when I ran the Justice Department's money laundering section, this is what would have been the first step in our money laundering investigations.

BERMAN: Carol, on top of all of this overnight, we're learning that the president's private legal team is being shaken up and Marc Kasowitz taking on a diminished role if any. The spokesperson for the legal team is out. John Dowd, he who led the Pete Rose investigation, he is going to take over. Does the shift in personnel denote a shift in strategy? Are they going to go about things differently. Is this attack on Robert Mueller's team the first part of that?

LOENNIG: I actually think it's a great question, but I think it's a little more subtle than that. I think as everything is true with Donald Trump's advisors, his legal team is also slightly divided about how to pursue this. You know, should we go hard, should we go more traditional. And I think what you see is the ascension of a more veteran, old Washington hand, kind of legal world here with the president. Ty Cobb has now been installed at Republican levels inside the White House, working his inside team. I don't think Marc Kasowitz is going to disappear, but I think that you're going to see people that traditionally have worked with special counsels and with special prosecutors taking more of a lead role. Jay Sekulow is going to do media. Dowd, a veteran of this kind of world, and I just sort of see this as the ascension of the traditional team.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We will see, and we'll see how long it lasts at this stage. Thanks, guys.

As Russia revelations continue to dominate the headlines, Republican senators are still trying to repeal and possibly, because we're not sure, replace Obamacare. A progress report from the lawmaker who coined the term, the Jimmy Kimmel test. That's next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the daily Russia revelations continue to overshadow the big battle on Capitol Hill over health care.

[08:20:02] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still planning a vote next week, but no one seems to know exactly what they'll be voting on.

Let's bring in one person who can help us answer this. We have Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, he's a physician. And you may remember he coined the term, the Kimmel Test as a standard for American health coverage.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you for having me.

CAMEROTA: What are you guys voting on next week?

CASSIDY: Well, it isn't so much that we don't know what we're voting on. We don't know in which the sequence we will vote. Just the process is that the first vote will be to take up the House bill. That is just the process.

CAMEROTA: But when you say the House bill, do you mean the repeal only, no replacement, the repeal only bill?

CASSIDY: No, the repeal that had somewhat of a replace --

CAMEROTA: Oh, you mean the original House bill.

CASSIDY: The American -- the AHCA.


CASSIDY: Now, that is a process because bill haves to originate on the House side and come over. That's just how you sequence it. What is at issue is what will be the bill after that. The amendment if you will that would replace that.

CAMEROTA: Because the people aren't happy with that one.

CASSIDY: No, they're not. But on the other hand you cannot take up the issue without first voting on that bill.

CAMEROTA: Got it. I appreciate the arcane, you know, procedural issues that you guys are steeped in that all of us may not be. But let's get to the substance of this.

So once you dispense with that procedure, then are you all going to vote on the repeal only suggestion?

CASSIDY: So then the question is, do we vote on the repeal only or will repeal with a two-year delay in repeal, or do we vote on something else.

For example, I am putting up a bill with Lindsey Graham that would block grant the dollars back to the states to allow states to come up with their own solutions. That will be in the sequence at some point. CAMEROTA: That one will be voted on at some point?

CASSIDY: Totally. And so there will be multiple amendments. What we don't know is the sequence of those amendments and that's the more proper way to say it.

CAMEROTA: Man, this is complicated. How do you know what you're going to have on the other side of it? Do you have any inkling of where you will end up after these procedural votes?

CASSIDY: Let's go back to the Graham/Cassidy Amendment. So far, I think the only thing that gets 50 votes is that amendment. It is a good conservative Republican but also American principle to allow states to come up with state-specific solutions as opposed to D.C. dictating.

CAMEROTA: And you think that even sadly in John McCain's absence right now that you have the votes for all of that?

CASSIDY: We don't know if we have the votes yet, but when we speak to governors, they like that approach. They like the idea, wait a second, Alaska is different than Louisiana different than Rhode Island. So allow us to come up with a specific solution. We need resources, guidelines, you got to use it on health care, not a ballpark.

But on the other hand allowing a state to come up with their own solution is worked very well in other federal-state programs.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, I understand why governors would obviously want that. But that's not what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been talking about. I mean, what we've heard most is the repeal only. That's what they say that Republicans promised their constituents and by goodness they're going to vote on that one.

CASSIDY: So, we will absolutely vote on that, but there will be a sequence. And you can repeal and replace with again something like Graham/Cassidy which returns it to the states. If you listen to the leader, he's going to say we're going to vote on many, many amendments. And so, it isn't so much that we're not going to vote on one thing and vote on others. We're going to vote on lots of things.

The question is where do we end up, as you said at the outset. In fact, I think the only thing that gets us to 50 votes on a replace is something like Graham/Cassidy.

CAMEROTA: How do you know that Graham/Cassidy passes the Jimmy Kimmel test?

CASSIDY: Well, you --

CAMEROTA: If you leave it up to the governors -- my question is this, if you leave it up to the governors and everybody has their sort of own autonomy to put in the essential health benefits or not put in the essential health benefits to give this amount to opioid abuse or not give this amount, how do you know they will all do the right thing by you and Jimmy Kimmel?

CASSIDY: There's an old saying he or she who governs best governs closest to those governed. Who do you think is more accountable to a woman who's child is born with a certain condition? A president who is the president over 310 million people, or a governor who is up for re-election in two years?

I would argue the governor. And I think history shows the governor. By the way, when it comes to mandates, Marco Rubio pointed out yesterday Florida has like 47 different mandates. So, it isn't states don't know how to do mandates. They absolutely know how to do mandates.

It's arguably the issue you raised who should decide, over 310 million people or over that state in particular. I would argue we should trust this person more.

CAMEROTA: And you're sure with all the series of votes happening next week that this is going to come to a vote?

CASSIDY: So the Graham/Cassidy amendment will come to a vote.

CAMEROTA: Next week?

CASSIDY: Next week. Unless there's something in the process that obviates, but believe me, we are told it will come to a vote. And we think it's the solution to get us to 50.

CAMEROTA: Before we go, I want to ask you about the news headlines today about President Trump's legal team is looking into Robert Mueller's legal team's background.

[08:25:08] CASSIDY: So I listened to your guest from "The Washington Post." I thought she put it perfectly. She goes, yes, this is what Bill Clinton did. This is standard operating procedure.

But then she said, what is at issue here is his style. Well, one thing we have to acknowledge, President Trump has his own style. And she said it's brash. It's more forthcoming.

Hey, has anybody looked at Trump for the last 70 years? He is brash and forthcoming. So I'm not sure the strategy is at issue rather style. I cut the guy slack on style.

CAMEROTA: Fair. What if it led to him firing Robert Mueller?

CASSIDY: Now, you're giving me a hypothetical.

CAMEROTA: Well, only because he's suggested that he may not be happy with Robert Mueller and in fact we've heard his friends say that he has considered doing that.

CASSIDY: So, again, you have a sense that the president when he thinks a thought, it is quickly on his lips. Now, any of us in such a situation would ponder what if, what if, what if, but we may choose not to say. The president almost always chooses to say and sometimes a tweet.

Now, again, that's a question of style and brashness and forthcomingness, I'm not sure that's necessarily a strategy. Until it's revealed as a strategy, we don't know.

CAMEROTA: Senator Bill Cassidy, thanks so much for coming in.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here in studio with me.


BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Alisyn.

Elon Musk at it again, tech entrepreneur known for shaking up travel is working on a new traffic busting time saver. Wait until you hear how fast he hopes you can get to New York from Washington. That's next.