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Trump: President Has "Complete Power To Pardon"; Dozens Dead After Kabul Bomb Attack; U.S. Marines Facing New Challenges In Afghanistan; Kushner Releases 11-Page Statement Ahead Of Senate Meeting; Interview with Rep. Jim Himes. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:30:32] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The president, once again, blasting the Russia revelations as a, quote, "phony witch hunt."

But for the first time he is tweeting about his power to pardon, saying, "While all agree the U.S. president has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is leaks against us."

So what are the authorities of the president and why would he even be thinking about that?

Joining us now is Robert Ray, former Whitewater independent counsel; and Matthew Axelrod, former senior official for the Department of Justice.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

Robert Ray, let's give people a little bit of a primer. They're going to hear a lot about two words. Clemency -- you know, mercy or reducing a penalty for someone. And pardon, which is removing them completely -- exonerating them from any type of punishment or crime.

What can the president do?

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I don't think there's any question that the president has the absolute right to pardon, and --

CUOMO: Which means even if I were convicted of a crime he could say Cuomo doesn't go to jail.

RAY: Correct, or even before proceedings are instituted and a pardon could be issued before you ever got to the point that an indictment was returned for --

CUOMO: So he can say Cuomo is under questioning about what he did with the Russians. I pardon him in advance.

RAY: He could take preemptive action, that's correct.

CUOMO: Matthew Axelrod, do you agree? MATTHEW AXELROD, PARTNER, LINKLATERS: I do agree. I do agree.

I think there is an open legal question as to whether he could that with regard to himself, but when it comes to others I think he has the legal authority to do so. Whether doing so would be something that would in keeping with the expectations of the country is another question.

CUOMO: Pardoning one's self. What's your thought on that?

RAY: I think that's right. I think that's never been reviewed before but the better view consistent with the Constitution, which is where you would start, is that it wouldn't make a lot of sense if the president were able to pardon himself because the Constitution also provides that if the president were removed by -- from office by impeachment he is thereafter subject to prosecution according to law.

If he had the power to pardon himself he wouldn't be subject to prosecution thereafter, according to law and I think the better view, therefore, is that he would not be able to pardon himself. But it's never been litigated before and it would probably reach a court if we ever got to that point and that would be a question I would imagine that a court would review.

Otherwise, the pardon power is unreviewable. It's a nonjusticiable political question which in English essentially means hands off. The courts would not touch that question.

CUOMO: So Matthew, even if you found out that Cuomo was pardoned by the president in exchange for a free lunch -- you know, some bargain for exchange -- it was a deal -- would that be meaningful in terms of any legal implication?

AXELROD: Yes, potentially. I think, again, we're in uncharted territory here but I think the better view of the legal scholars who look at these issues is that conditioning -- exchanging a pardon for something else -- a quid pro quo, if you will, would be improper.

What the consequence of that, again, I don't think we know because to my knowledge it hasn't happened before. But that's contrary to how our system of laws work. In all other contacts you can't use your -- even though you have the legal authority to do something that doesn't mean you can use that legal authority in exchange for a bribe, for example, or something like that.

CUOMO: Robert, what do you make of this discussion that we're talking about this morning? Obviously, this got leaked somehow.

RAY: Sure.

CUOMO: Somehow this was being discussed in the White House. Why, the context, we're not really sure. And the president wanted to get on top of it as he often does, through Twitter.

But what do you make of the discussion? RAY: I think it's a preliminary discussion. The president's not a lawyer. I mean, if you were president wouldn't you want to know what your -- the limits of your authority are?

I mean, it doesn't seem to strike me as an earth-shattering notion as you would -- in ordinary course of conversation around the dinner table with your own family -- want to know and talk about the issue of the president's powers under the Constitution.

I mean, I don't think it extends much beyond that. I don't -- you know, to suggest that that's the same thing as saying he's giving preliminary thought to and giving rise to actual action to carry out an intent to circumscribe or cut off the investigation, I think, is a bridge too far. I think it's obvious the president wants to know what his authority is.

[07:35:08] CUOMO: Well, and then you get to the why.

And Matthew, you know, one of the questions would be if the president does believe that this is a situation where someone close to him could get railroaded and, you know, in his estimation, that could be another context for why he wanted to know what he could do about it, right?

AXELROD: Yes, perhaps, although there's no indication so far that anyone's going to be railroaded.

You have a former FBI director and Marine, Robert Mueller, with an impeccable reputation who's leading the probe and he's hired career prosecutors and DOJ alumni who have excellent reputations.

CUOMO: The president's been pecking at that though, Matthew. The president's been pecking at it, to play on the word impeccable. He said in this e-mail, you know, this interview. He was like oh, in that Mueller, there are conflicts.

He sat in that chair right where Maggie Haberman was -- you know, the president was saying -- wanting to be the FBI director. There are conflicts. And all those guys he hired, they're all Democrats and Democrat contributors.

What do you make of that?

AXELROD: Yes, I don't -- I don't make -- I don't make much of those allegations.

Now, obviously, if there were something that came to light about a true legitimate conflict that would be serious stuff. But the fact that the White House called director -- former Director Mueller in to interview for the FBI director job I think actually can be flipped the other way, you know.

Director Mueller had served his country for 12 years as FBI director. The FBI needed a new director after the president fired Jim Comey, and so if the White House called him it's not surprising that he would be willing to at least entertain the idea of stepping into the breach one more -- once more. But the notion that was a job he was agitating for I find hard to believe.

I also find it interesting that the White House had such confidence in Robert Mueller that they were willing to consider him as FBI director one day, but why the next day, all of a sudden, they don't think much of him at all.

CUOMO: And a man, Robert Mueller -- who is not just a decorated individual in service to the country but he is a registered Republican -- was roundly praised by Republicans when he was made special counsel.

Robert, you know, just in terms of the rules of the game you were referring earlier to what the Constitution lays out with the ability to check the president. Of course, we have impeachment proceedings and if you are impeached then, as president, you are vulnerable to criminal procedures.

Could a president --

RAY: That's the Nixon -- that the Nixon precedent.

CUOMO: So could a president be indicted?

RAY: Well, that's also an unsettled question. We faced that issue during the Whitewater investigation, at least on two occasions that I'm aware of. The advice of the Office of Legal Counsel with the Department of Justice was sought on that question.

It's a little bit of a complicated issue about whether or not a sitting president could ever be charged or prosecuted. That question remains open and, in part, it comes down to your view about whether or not you believe in a unitary Executive Branch.

Whether or not the independent counsel statute is constitutional about which a majority of the Supreme Court believed that it was with a prominent dissent.

CUOMO: We don't even have one now.

RAY: Correct, and Justice Scalia was firmly of the view, you know, believing in the unitary executive that it is not possible to imagine a circumstance in which a president could be indicted because he has and maintains the entirety of Executive Branch power.

But I -- you know, look, it's an open question. I think the better view was that the president, consistent with the Constitution if impeached, would be thereafter subject to prosecution, which was the issue that I faced in the Clinton investigation, which is the question of whether or not he could be charged after he left office. But it's not the views of the Office of Legal Counsel and they agreed with that.

CUOMO: That's why I asked you.

RAY: There you go.

CUOMO: Robert Ray, thank you very much. Matthew Axelrod, as well.

Thank you for your perspective. Appreciate it from both you gentlemen. Thank you -- Alisyn.


Fifteen years into the battle, American troops now reveal new challenges in Afghanistan. We have a live report for you from Kabul on the concerns of the U.S. Marines there, next.


[07:42:56] CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking new right now.

The Taliban claiming responsibility for a car bomb in Kabul that killed at least 24 people and injured dozens more. The terror group admits targeting a bus carrying Afghan intelligence staff.

And this explosion comes as U.S. Marines face discouraging challenges in what has become America's longest war. Fifteen years in, hundreds of Marines still fighting the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan and still coming under attack.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh spoke with some of them. He is live for us in Kabul with more. What have you learned, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, the violence here unabated. Just throw into that a car bombing in Kabul. In fact, governments say it was mining ministry employees on their way to work -- civilians caught in the blast.

But further south in Helmand, the most volatile province of Afghanistan, a handful -- 300 U.S. Marines have gone back really, as one said, to try and stop the bleeding, to try and hold the Taliban back.

They face enormous challenges. We saw what those were as we are in our days potentially ahead from a White House announcement about their next military moves here in Afghanistan.


WALSH: Here we are again but it's been going on so long these guys have left and then come back, Afghanistan's Helmand and America's Marines. When does it end?

A year ago the Taliban were at the gates of this key city, Lashkargah. Now it's not good but it's better because the Marines, even though there's only 300 of them, have brought huge firepower with them.

Afghan troops just now retook one district. The Marines, not at the front, but advising on base instead and congratulating them indoors. But nothing lasts forever here except maybe the war and the triumph soon fades.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. MARINE: Let's go. WALSH: The rockets just hit, landing about 20 meters from us outside. A total of three indiscriminate. An eight-year-old boy wounded in the attack.

[07:45:00] President Trump is now weighing his first move in a war that for men like Colonel Reid, whose birthday is September the 11th, is absolutely nothing new. He was last here seven years ago but then with thousands of Marines, so fewer now.

COL. MATTHEW REID, DEPUTY COMMANDER, TASK FORCE SOUTHWEST: Right around 300 but still, those are the troops that ran the chow hall.

WALSH: Now, they have to do it all over again.

REID: It's discouraging, right? I mean, a lot of blood on the ground.

WALSH: You have an actual sense of heaviness when you try and take it on again.

REID: There is a definite feeling, kind of a sense of obligation to get this right because of those that have gone before us, for sure.

WALSH: How many friends did you lose?

REID: I don't think I've ever bothered to count, so too many --


REID: -- between here and Iraq.

WALSH: Some Marines advise near the front where you can just make out the Taliban's white flag.

COL. MATTHEW GROSZ: This is all Taliban country, all of it, so there's Taliban that come through here on a daily basis.

WALSH: But the Marines aren't meant to fight them, the Afghans are, and they aren't as many here as they are supposed to be.

Listen to how these 45 Marines, almost double what's meant to be 500- strong Afghan units here --

GROSZ: There's only about 200 that are assigned right now.

WALSH: By assigned, you mean that actually exist.

GROSZ: That actually exist.

WALSH: They have 500 --

GROSZ: That's right.

WALSH: -- but in reality they have two.

GROSZ: Of those 200, there's about 100 of them that aren't even here. WALSH: Some on operations or on patrol, so 50 to 100 Afghans actually here.

This Marine unit pulls back after a week.

The Marines are leaving but this is only supposed to be a short mission. They come, they go, they come back again, each time hoping the Afghan security forces they leave behind them will be able to do their jobs to hold the Taliban back.

The question is, with only 300 of them here, Marines, this time, whathas changed?


CUOMO: That is the question, Nick.

First of all, thank you for going there and getting the story.

We are waiting for the White House to give the latest iteration of strategy in Afghanistan, a place with good reason known as the graveyard of empires.

On the ground, do you believe anything has changed that offers new opportunity?

WALSH: Sadly, not at this stage and the options really ahead of President Trump, none of them are really particularly new or sparkly, you know. They could send many more troops in.

The Obamaadministration tried that. It didn't radically reduce violence and it couldn't last forever.

They want to talk to the Taliban. Well frankly, the Taliban at this point seem to be winning to some degree and certainly their leader is radical enough to have claimed that his son took his own life in a suicide bombing just last week in Helmand, the district you saw just there.

So potentially, well, they could leave but that isn't really a good option. That always potentially leaves Afghanistan as a haven for extremist terrorists. Remember Bin Laden?

The final issue could be well, a little more of the same. Special forces to fight terrorism, trainers to assist the Afghan security forces. That's kind of putting your finger in a dam to stop the leaks.

But there's no broader, long-term strategy to stop the war here. That's why it's been going on 15 years, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Nick, thank you so much for the reporting and for explaining all of the challenges that still exist there for us.

Back here at home, Jared Kushner breaking his silence today ahead of facing Senate and House investigators. What do lawmakers want to know now having read his 11-page statement? What do they still not understand?

We will speak with a member of Congress who is set to interview Kushner, next.


[07:52:07] CAMEROTA: President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also his top adviser, has just put out an 11-page statement. In it, Kushner insists that he did not collude with any foreign government.

So, two hours from now Kushner will face tough questions from Senate investigators. Then tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee will get their turn with Kushner.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Great to have you here in studio.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So, I know that you've seen this 11-page statement -- pretty extraordinary.


CAMEROTA: I mean, in it, Jared Kushner basically depicts himself as, you know, a political outsider who faced a steep learning curve. He seemed to be juggling a lot of things at once and he couldn't remember all of the contacts that he had with not only Russians, other foreign officials as well.

What do you make of his statement?

HIMES: Well, it was -- it was pretty remarkable and, you know, it's about time at great long last that we're starting to get, you know, information out of the Trump administration and people associated with him.

Stepping back I would say one thing is pretty amazing reading that thing, you know. As early as this morning the president was yet again accusing the media of being fake news -- of promulgating stories that are not true.

In his statement, Kushner confirmed a number of stories that had been out there.

"The Washington Post" reported that he had sought a secure line of communication from the Russian Embassy to Russia. Again, we didn't know if that was true or not. He confirmed it.

He confirmed a meeting with Sergey Gorkov, who is a Russian intelligence-trained businessperson.

You know, I think we need to step back and say that what the president's been calling fake news has been, not just by Jared Kushner but by his son, now confirmed time and time again. We're obviously going to want to follow up on a lot of the points that Kushner made in that statement.

CAMEROTA: And let me ask you about that. So now that you've read that statement what question do you have when you face Jared Kushner this week?

HIMES: Well, you know, I'm certainly interested in that meeting with Sergey Gorkov.

CAMEROTA: The banker.

HIMES: Again, Sergey Gorkov is the banker. Now, a banker who was trained by the Russian Intelligence School, who is known to be very close to Putin. We're going to want to really understand what was said in that meeting because, of course, there's different reports.

The bank, VEB, which is a state Russian bank, issued a statement after that meeting saying that they had discussed business. Jared Kushner said that did not happen. So we've got to reconcile that.

We're going to want to better understand the process of his submitting his form. He discusses this in his 11 pages.

You know, the form, the SF86 where you apply for a security clearance, it's just like your tax return. You attest -- you essentially swear that the information that you're submitting with a signature -- it may be electronic -- you swear that that's true.

I really want to understand why we've seen, you know, amendment after amendment after amendment to that form.

CAMEROTA: So as you sit here today knowing what you know from his 11- page statement, now this morning, do you think that Jared Kushner should have security clearance?

[07:55:00] HIMES: Well again, you know, we assume that people are innocent in this country until proven otherwise.

I will tell you this. That if you were just a run-of-the-mill military officer who was looking for a security clearance to work on the National Security Council the pattern of facts that Jared Kushner's process was would have gotten you into a lot of trouble.

CAMEROTA: But would you have been denied a security clearance?

HIMES: Well, I just don't know. I just don't know. I think there's enough misstatement, enough problem here that you would certainly be up for, you know, a review as to whether you should have it or not.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about something else that was in the news this weekend and that was Chuck Schumer -- Sen. Chuck Schumer admitting the mistakes that Democrats made in the past election.

Basically, he said that voters didn't know what Democrats stood for. They basically just thought that they were anti-Trump. Do you agree with that?

HIMES: I do, I do. And I think -- look, it's -- you know, maybe it's a little bit like a 12-step process, you know, where the key steps of sort of, you know, improving yourself is taking responsibility for what you didn't do right.

And, of course, in a situation like this the temptation is out there to blame Comey, to blame Russia, and maybe those things had something to do with it or, you know, who knows. But what you've really got to do is say what can I do better.

And I think the key of what you saw released this morning and what will be discussed in Virginia later on today is really a laserlike focus on the economic well-being. The jobs, the job security, the possible -- the possibility for opportunity in middle-class families all over this country.

And I think we need to both make it clear that that's what we stand for and, of course, really come up and explain the agenda to the American people.

CAMEROTA: And so, in part in so doing you have a new slogan, "A Better Deal." Did you help craft that?

HIMES: I participated in this whole process. On the House side, we've had three co-chairs of a committee that have really worked hard to understand what went wrong and how our agenda didn't speak to the American people, and we think this one does.

CAMEROTA: But the slogan, "A Better Deal," that means better than Republicans. Is that right? I mean, am I interpreting it right?

HIMES: That's an easy sell. We've now watched the Republicans -- look, we've now -- I give Donald Trump credit. He spoke to people in Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin and he somehow persuaded them that he had -- I don't think he was honest with them but he was going to bring back the coal mines, he was going to bring back those manufacturing jobs, and I'm not sure that our candidate did that nearly as well.

But here's why it's an easy sell. You know, fake news, no news, whatever you want to say, six months -- first of all, there have been no major legislative achievements that have done anything for the American people.

Number two --

CAMEROTA: Well, hold on a second. The White House would say that he's signed also some executive orders and his supporters like some of these that have taken off regulations, that have eased the way for small businesses, that have -- they like what he's done with getting out of Paris.

And he's done -- in six months the president has done things and his supporters do like them.

HIMES: Remember the stunning criticism of President Barack Obama when he said I have a pen and a phone and I'm going to sign executive orders. Back then, that was a terrible, terrible thing. Today, that's all they've got.

But the key point here, Alisyn, is that the last six months have been devoted, at least with respect to the big, major efforts -- have been devoted to eliminating health care. And this is a number that's not my number -- not a Democratic number -- this is a Congressional Budget Office number -- 22 million Americans.

This has been what the administration has devoted itself to. To taking away health care for millions of Americans in order to provide a tax break to the households that make more than $250,000 a year. How is that in any way, shape or form to the benefit of the American middle-class?

I've got to tell you, that's a pretty easy story to tell.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for being here in the studio. Great to talk to you.

HIMES: Thanks, Alisyn.

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


CAMEROTA: Jared Kushner has put out an 11-page statement saying that he did not collude with any foreign government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He insists that he had no additional meetings with Russians other than the four contacts that had been reported.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I want to hear his side of the story.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We support where the legislation is now and will continue to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bill that will go on the president's desk and he should sign it into law.

SCARAMUCCI: The mainstream media position is that they interfered in the election. In his mind -- what do you guys suggest? Are you going to delegitimize his victory?

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP TEAM LAWYER: The issue of pardons is not on the table. There's nothing to pardon from.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If he pardons himself or someone close to him under investigation, it would be one of the greatest breaking of rule of law. ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Monday, July 24th, 8:00 in the East and we do begin with breaking news.

White House adviser Jared Kushner telling his side of the story just hours before he answers questions from the Senate Intel Committee behind closed doors.

The president's son-in-law releasing an 11-page public statement saying in no uncertain terms, he did not collude with any foreign government.

CAMEROTA: So, Jared Kushner outlines his foreign contacts during the campaign and after President Trump won, and he offers his recollection of the controversial meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and that Russian lawyer.