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Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued in Russia Probe; Trump: Russia Story is a 'Total Fabrication'; Bipartisan Effort to Protect Special Counsel Mueller. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 4, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication.
[05:56:58] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New subpoenas issued to people involved in the Trump Jr. meeting as the investigation expands to the president's finances.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: He has said that he has no financial dealings with Russia whatsoever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking at your finances and your family's finances. Is that a red line?
TRUMP: I would say yes.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The president can't set red lines for Bob Mueller.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: If you think there's another shoe to drop, it's going to be about a size 18.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New leaked transcripts show contentious conversations between President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: I am worried about the way this president is conducting foreign policy.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We need order out of chaos and start firing some people would probably be the right signal.
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's Friday, August 4, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off; John Berman is here with me. No August recess for the news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No. We brought the news this morning.
CAMEROTA: We did bring the news.
All right. Here's our starting line. Robert Mueller issuing new grand jury subpoenas in the Russia investigation. The special counsel is seeking documents and testimony from people involved in that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between President Trump's son, Don Jr., top campaign advisers, and a Russian lawyer.
CNN has also learned that federal investigators have crossed what President Trump said would be his red line. They are now focusing on the president's finances. Investigators are exploring the president, his family, and associates for any possible financial ties to Russia.
BERMAN: So with the Russia investigation widening, President Trump blasted the revelations as a "total fabrication," insisting he didn't win because of Russia. The president says Democrats have made the whole thing up, because they can't get over what he calls "the greatest loss in American history."
All this as the president embarks today on a 17-day vacation to his private golf club in New Jersey. Now you would ask, who would ever criticize a president for taking some leisure time? He would. Donald Trump went after Barack Obama all the time for taking breaks on the campaign trail. Donald Trump pledged to take little vacation and vowed that he wouldn't have time for golf.
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN justice reporter Evan Perez, live in Washington with news about the Robert Mueller investigation -- Evan.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is following the money as the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election enters its second year.
CNN has learned new details about what investigators are digging into, and that includes the finances of the president and his family.
PEREZ (voice-over): In a clear sign that the Russia investigation is advancing, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas related to the June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials, seeking both documents and testimony from the people involved, according to a source familiar with the matter.
This as the probe widens, with federal investigators exploring the potential financial ties of President Trump and associates to Russia.
Sources tell CNN that financial links could offer a more concrete path to any potential prosecution. Investigators are looking into possible financial crimes, including some unconnected to the election. For the president, that's going too far. He's warned that delving into his businesses is a, quote, "violation." Trump has maintained there is no collusion and he has no financial ties to Russia.
TRUMP: And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.
PEREZ: Now, one year into this complex probe, the FBI has reviewed financial records related to the Trump Organization, the president himself as well as his family members and campaign associates. CNN is told investigators have combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties. They've scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower in Manhattan, reaching back several years.
And officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN Mueller's team has examined the backgrounds of Russian business associates...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Moscow, it's Miss Universe 2013.
PEREZ: ... connected to Trump, dating back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that Trump hosted in Moscow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you to Aras Agalarov and the Focus Group for their amazing hospitality.
PEREZ: CNN could not determine whether the review has included Trump's tax returns.
But even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia, but involve Trump associates, are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.
Trump's team seeking to limit Mueller's investigation.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's point is that he doesn't want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission, and the president has been very clear, as have his accountants and team, that he has no financial dealings with Russia. And so I think we've been extremely clear on that.
PEREZ: CNN has learned new details about how Mueller is running his special counsel team. More than three dozen attorneys, FBI agents and support staff, experts in investigating fraud and financial crimes, broken into groups focused separately on collusion and obstruction of justice. There's also a focus on key targets like Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, and General Michael Flynn, who was fired as national security advisor.
CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious of Manafort when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives, discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, coordinate information that could hurt Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, according to U.S. officials.
In Flynn's case, the focus is now on his lobbying work for the Turkish government, which he failed to initially disclose, as required by law.
While both men deny any wrongdoing, the approach to the Manafort and Flynn probes may offer a template for how the focus of investigators on financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.
PEREZ: And the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, told CNN in a statement that the president's outside legal team has not received any requests for documentation or information about any of this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment, we would object to, Sekulow says -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Very interesting there, Evan. We'll talk about how big that scope is in a little bit.
President Trump tried to fire up his base against the Russia investigation at a West Virginia rally. The president called the Russia story a total fabrication, and he tried to raise questions about whether the special counsel will be fair.
CNN's Joe Johns live this morning at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
The president beefing up his campaign rhetoric with a campaign-style rally in Huntington, West Virginia. It was his second trip to the mountain state in about ten days. Only this time, the audience was not a large group of Boy Scouts; it was some of his most faithful supporters in the state that he won by almost 40 percentage points.
And in the space of about five minutes, the president describing the Russia investigation as a fabrication, also in pure, raw, political terms, asserting that this was something being done to some of his most loyal supporters, the people who put him in office by Democrats. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: But in case you thought this might have signaled some new opposition to the special counsel, it doesn't appear to be the case. The president's office, the White House here putting out a statement last night through the lawyers, indicating that the White House is fully supportive and will participate in and cooperate in the investigation, also indicating once again that the now-fired FBI director, James Comey, told the president three times he was not under investigation.
[06:05:19] As you said at the top, the president will set off for a two-week vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey, beginning this evening.
Back to you.
CAMEROTA: Hey, Joe. Thank you very much for all that background information. We have a lot to discuss with our panel. Let's bring them in.
We have Evan Perez. We also want to bring in former Whitewater independent counsel Robert Ray; and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.
Phil, I just want to start with you. What does it mean now that Robert Mueller is using a grand jury to issue these subpoenas for that June meeting between Don Jr. and those Russian representatives?
MUDD: First of all, Alisyn, it can't be just about that June meeting. We have information on one day, one session with a couple of people. I'm looking at a campaign that goes on months and months with allocations about Russia involvement and inserting data into an American election. I've got to believe Director Mueller, the man I worked for at the FBI, is looking for information that relates about an expansion of contacts with Russians beyond that one meeting. That's the only thing we know about.
The second thing I would take from this is, the guy I worked for doesn't do fishing expeditions. As Evan said earlier, this investigation is going into year two. I'll lay as much money as you want on the table: it will not go into year three. The fact that they're going to a grand jury suggests to me that they have enough information to ask the right questions. The right questions about people and the right questions about things like data, phone calls and e-mails and money.
When they're asking the right questions, it tells me the investigation is entering a fundamentally different phase. That's not a "Let's gather information" phase. That's a "Let's close it out and ask the key questions" phase.
BERMAN: And Bob, look, you've been there. So what power does this give Robert Mueller now?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I don't think we're quite there yet, meaning that I think we're still at the preliminary stages. That's not to say that that won't move forward rather quickly. But they're still gathering, you know, the rudiments of an investigation: the phone records, the text messages, the e- mails, anything that would corroborate what happens immediately before meetings, during meetings, immediately after meetings.
I think the rubber meets the road when you start seeing subpoenas for testimony before a grand jury. At that stage, then you're really starting to talk about beginning to put together the investigation to a point of drawing conclusions and deciding and making judgments about whether or not people should be charged.
CAMEROTA: Robert, I want to stick with you for a second, because Phil just said, "I guarantee this is not a fishing expedition. Robert Mueller basically doesn't have time for those sorts of things." Kellyanne Conway last night told Chris Cuomo that this does feel like
a fishing expedition. And how could it not feel like a fishing expedition to Donald Trump, when the word comes out now that they are looking into his finances even unrelated to Russia? They're looking at whatever pops up that may seem untoward of some kind. That they're going to look into his finances.
And here is what the scope of the Russia investigation is, as outlined by Rod Rosenstein. Let me read it -- Rosenstein. Let me read it to everybody. "Any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump" -- we knew that part; here's the part that makes it seem as though the scope is so broad -- "any matters that arose or may arise from that investigation." And then No. 3, "Any matters within the scope of this" next gobbledygook.
So that No. 2 part is the one that leads from Whitewater, as you know, to Monica Lewinsky.
RAY: Well, there's a key word you left out, though, and that's the word "directly." And with regard to an investigation, if there's doubt -- and I think the White House is appropriately pushing back to say, "Don't travel down the road of my finances." Now, to the extent that it's directly related, they have some latitude, and there is a sort of a follow-the-money aspect to this.
But it would seem that Bob Mueller would be well-advised to the point of the edges of an investigation, that it's not clear within his mandate, he may have to go back to Rod Rosenstein to get an expansion of jurisdiction.
BERMAN: But if it arises as part of the investigation, which is to say if you're investigating something, if you're investigating Russia, for instance, and you turn up -- and again, I'm not saying this is what happened -- when you turn up a faulty bank deal, you turn up potential illegalities of finances or transfers of cash that may not have to do with Russia...
BERMAN: ... does that arise directly from the investigation? I can see an interpretation where the answer is, "Yes, look, we were investigating one thing. We turned up this illegality. We have to go into it."
RAY: Well, you could see that. But I think in the political process, I think the special counsel would be well-advised under those circumstances, if it's uncovered during the course of an investigation, to go back to the deputy attorney general and actually make it explicitly within his mandate. That then puts it in -- you know, the president in a difficult position to say that that's not fairly within Bob Mueller's investigation.
[06:10:17] You know, look, along the way they're going to look at a lot of things. And in some sense, grand jury investigations are in part and are designed to be fishing expeditions. You're fishing to find out whether or not you have evidence that would reflect that a crime has been committed and that certain individuals have committed it. That's what -- you know, that's the whole point of an investigatory grand jury. That's what he's looking at. That's all fairly within his mandate.
But on the edges, you know, you start traveling down the road of, you know, a tax investigation, for example, or into the finances of the Trump Organization, the president is right to fairly push back and say, "Listen, that's not what you were put in office to do." And...
CAMEROTA: But it's still within the scope?
RAY: Well, it could be arguably within the scope. And in the political process, again, one of the things that was learned during the independent counsel era in the Whitewater investigation, is that if there were doubt about that, you went back to the Justice Department and the special division for an expansion of jurisdiction for that very reason.
BERMAN: Let's go back to Evan Perez, because it's Evan's reporting here that really, you know, blew open this idea that the special counsel is looking beyond Russia into the finances. Exactly what are they focused on right now, Evan?
PEREZ: Well, John, one of the things that you do in these types of investigations, and those guys there know exactly what I'm talking about, is that you look at the finances to see whether or not there's anything that might, for example, might have exposed the president or anybody around him to blackmail, for instance.
I mean, that is directly -- even though it's about the finances, it still goes right back to the original question, which is whether or not there was any reason that somebody connected with the campaign, including perhaps the president, might have illegally coordinated with the Russian government with regard to the election.
And so even though it's the finances, I mean, I think one of the things that we were trying to say in this story -- and we spent a lot of time trying to refine the words to make sure we were clear -- is that, you know, you look at the finances because you have to. You start in the middle, and then you go to the periphery to see what you can find that ties back to the middle of this case.
And again, keep in mind, not only are we talking about perhaps illegal coordination with the Russian spy services with regard to the election. But we're also now, also talking about potential obstruction of justice issues, which goes back to this meeting in Trump Tower last June and the fact that they tried to cover it up and not try to disclose what -- exactly how many people were in there and what they were talking about.
CAMEROTA: So Phil, let's look at what we understand from Evan's reporting, as well as others on the CNN team, of what Mueller is actually looking at.
So Russia collusion, obstruction of justice, as Evan just said, looking in particular interest with Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. And -- and Phil, in your vast experience with all this, you know, you always hear that investigators often follow the money, that that's how they get to the bottom of something.
MUDD: I agree with you. I can't understand why we're having this conversation, Alisyn. This isn't peripheral, and it isn't sort of an add-on to the investigation.
You have questions that we don't know the answers of on the outside of this investigation. For example, we're talking about one meeting. I've got to believe, in the many months of the campaign, that there were other meetings with individuals that were arranged by Russians, as this meeting with Don Jr. was arranged by Russians. You have to have a simple question, not peripheral but core: Why would somebody accept that meeting?
One of the answers would be, that person who accepted the meeting, a Trump person, had a previous financial arrangement with the Russian who arranged the meeting. Why is that so peripheral and why is that insignificant?
Any investigation I ever looked at had basics. Who are the core people in the investigation? Who did they e-mail? Who did they call? What did they say? And where did they get their money?
CAMEROTA: Well, right, Phil. Right. I mean, listen, I hear you on that, but that's still connected to Russia. What it sounds like they're also able to look at are the president's financial real-estate deals...
MUDD: Of course.
CAMEROTA: ... from before he was ever running. How is that connected to Russia?
MUDD: Of course. Directly connected. What if there was a purchase arrangement between a Russian buyer and the Trump -- and the Trump people years ago, and that Russian buyer later said, "I need a favor." Or "I want you to meet somebody who's a friend of mine." How do you figure out what the motivation is for a meeting if you don't know where somebody took money from in 2012 or 2013? Pretty basic, Alisyn.
BERMAN: Also, was there a financial relationship with this family, this real-estate family that helped set up the meeting with Don Jr.? I can see how that would be a thing.
Evan, just -- just to clear up one point here. Do you have any reporting that the special counsel has gone to Rod Rosenstein with any of this to ask whether or not he believed it was in the purview of the investigation?
PEREZ: No. I don't think that they have had to do that. I mean, I think they believe that everything they're doing, even if -- look, they're looking outside. They still have to see whether or not it ties back to the central question, and I don't think they're there yet. I think that's one reason why you see they're doing this methodically. You have to look under every rock, because if you finish this investigation and you didn't look one place, you will get criticized for not doing so.
[06:15:11] BERMAN: Fascinating. All right, guys. Stick around. We've got a lot more to ask. As the investigation into potential ties to the Trump campaign and Russia widens, there is growing concern among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill that the president might try to push Robert Mueller out, might have to try to have him fired. Now both Democrats and Republicans are trying to pass laws that would keep him from doing that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: The president is not thinking about firing Bob Mueller. So this is -- this speculation that's out there is just incorrect. The decision that the president were to make on Bob Mueller is a decision that I'm not involved in, would not be involved in, and frankly, the president has not raised with me, with our legal team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. President Trump's lawyer says the president is not thinking about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, despite reports that Mueller is following the money trail now on the Russia investigation. The president had said that would be a red line.
Now there is a bipartisan Senate bill, actually two, that would bar the president from directly firing any special counsel, or to at least slow down the process.
Want to bring back our panel here: Robert Ray, Phil Mudd and Evan Perez.
You know, one of the reasons there's speculation, you know, Bob, that the president might fire Robert Mueller is he hasn't ruled it out. He's been asked directly if he would ever push out Robert Mueller, and he would says, "Wait and see. We will have to wait and see." So that's the reason, despite what the president's lawyer says, that people are wondering about it, because the president hasn't ruled it out yet.
[06:20:12] As someone who has been in that type of role, do you feel this pressure as you're investigating?
RAY: Sure. You know, ultimately, you understand in the political process -- and of course, prosecutors are not supposed to be making, obviously, political decisions. You're talking about somebody's liberty. But you're certainly aware of the fact that you're in the political process and that public sentiment ultimately is the guide about your actions. You have a responsibility, in my case, under the statute to conduct a prompt, cost-effective and fair investigation. That's not so easy to do in the political process, and it's a difficult thing. Obviously, you know, the president of the United States is no ordinary
subject of an investigation. So it is difficult.
Now, the president is appropriately testing the limits of the outer edges of the investigation and is pushing back. I think, you know, the first trial balloon was "I'm considering replacing the attorney general." One of the reasons that he might have been considering that, of course, is the, if the attorney general was removed, there is no longer a conflict within the Department of Justice, as you know, the person who leads the department; and that would essentially remove the necessity for having a special counsel in the first place.
Now we be already -- you know, that's water under the bridge, and I think he, you know, got pushback from the United States Congress to the effect, on a bipartisan basis: "Don't think about replacing the attorney general, certainly not this year, because you're not going to get a replacement through the Senate Judiciary Committee." And that became apparent.
So the standoff is, you know, look, Jeff Sessions is not leaving voluntarily, and the president is not going to be able to fire him.
Related to that is, you know...
RAY: ... if Bob Mueller acts within his mandate, it's a political problem for the president to attempt to try to remove him. And in any event, it's difficult for him to do, because he'd have to direct the deputy attorney general to fire him.
RAY: And the deputy said, "If I get such a directive, I'm going to resign."
CAMEROTA: Phil, in terms of this being a red line for the president, in fairness to President Trump, that was a question posed by "The New York Times." They used that language. They said to him, "Would it be a red line for you if you found out that Bob Mueller's investigation started to look into financial dealings?"
And he said, "Yes, yes that would be."
So -- so...
BERMAN: That's yes, though.
CAMEROTA: Yes. I'm saying that he didn't say, "This is a red line for me."
CAMEROTA: And he also, furthermore, didn't go on to say, "And therefore, I would, blank, blank, blank." So we don't know what happens now that we've reached the red line. MUDD: Boy, and I think this is one of the reasons the new chief of
staff is becoming so important. You look at the president's statements on this in public last night, which I thought, given this president, were relatively measured. And you look at...
RAY: They were tame.
MUDD: They were tame. And you look at the efforts of the chief of staff to tone down people like Scaramucci, I wonder if he's in the Oval Office saying, "Be careful about what you say about this investigation."
Remember, this is a special counsel appointed by a Trump nominee. This is a special counsel who initially came to office as a Republican, appointed by George Bush. This is a special counsel who is working with the Department of Justice that's led by the recused attorney general, who was a Trump nominee. So if you want to say, "This is a Democratic witch hunt, and I want to get the special counsel out, "I've got to say, well, then why are so many Republicans involved?
BERMAN: Evan, I do not want you to reveal your sources about how we are finding out about the facts surrounding the grand jury investigation, but I do want to talk about what the implications are of the fact that a grand jury is now involved.
You know, there will be people riding the subway in Washington, D.C., who know more about Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, you know, than the American people, than perhaps people inside the White House. Is that significant? There will be clerks inside the courthouse seeing people come in and out. There might be witnesses at some point who testify, who could then say what about the grand jury investigation? What does this open up in terms of what the public is likely to know, Evan?
PEREZ: Well, I think you're right. I think we might hear a little bit more about what exactly is happening, what exactly -- maybe the questions that the lawyers have, the 16 lawyers that are now working this investigation.
Look, part of what we -- how we found this out is, you know, obviously, even though a grand jury is supposed to be a secret process, people who receive those subpoenas don't -- don't have to abide by that secrecy. They can come out and say what they talked about, what they were asked. So there is no -- there's prohibition generally on them speaking about what they have heard.
And so what we're told is that the subpoenas that have gone out, and there's a number of them from what we -- from what we gather, include not only requests for documents but also a request for testimony. And that's a big deal, because it means that these investigators are moving beyond just, as Phil mentioned earlier, beyond just the stage of gathering facts. They want to hear what happened in that Don Jr. meeting.
[06:25:05] And just one real quick thing with regard to Jay Sekulow. I mean, he has got an undisciplined client. And the problem for Jay is that earlier he said that the president was not involved in this statement that was issued on behalf of Don Jr. It turns out, the White House says he was involved.
BERMAN: There have been things that have been said out loud in the last week and beyond that that are not true. And now there's a grand jury involved. Now there will be people testifying under oath. Not that they perjured themself before in the investigation, but the jeopardy is even more now, and people are even more vulnerable. And we do not know, really, if this team is up to it at this point. So we'll have to wait and see.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you for all very much for all of the reporting and information.
BERMAN: All right. Ahead on NEW DAY, we're going to speak with Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton. That will be very interesting.
CAMEROTA: OK. So it happened again. One of the tallest buildings in the world, this 84-story Torch Tower in Dubai, catching fire for the second time in two years. It's very scary looking. We'll tell you the outcome and how this happened, next.