Return to Transcripts main page
Special Counsel Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Russia Investigation; Interview with Ken Starr. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired August 4, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New leaked transcripts show contentious conversations between President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am worried about the way this president is conducting foreign policy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need order out of chaos, and start firing some people probably would be the right signal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. This is "new day" with Chris kwoem mo.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone, welcome to NEW DAY. It is Friday, August 4th, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Great to have you here.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I win the Camerota lottery this morning.
CAMEROTA: My gosh, you're so lucky.
BERMAN: Take that, Cuomo.
CAMEROTA: We begin with several big developments in the Russia investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller issuing grand jury subpoenas seeking documents and testimony from people involved in that June, 2016 meeting between Trump campaign advisers and a Russian lawyer.
BERMAN: CNN has also learned that federal investigators, they're on the money trail, zeroing in on possible financial ties between Russia and the president, his family and associates. The widening of the investigation now, it crosses what the president considers to be his red line. The president blasted the latest developments as a total fabrication. We want to begin our coverage with CNN justice reporter Evan Perez who is live in Washington. Evan, you broke a lot of these details. What have you learned?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: John, special counsel Robert Mueller is following the money as the investigation into Russia's meddling into 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: In a clear sign that the Russian 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's no collusion and he has no final ties to Russia.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 to 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 connected to Trump dating back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that Trump hosted in Moscow.
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 DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president's point is that he doesn't want the special council 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 this.
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 is also focus on key targets like Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and General Michael Flynn, his fired national security adviser.
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 to 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 by investigators on financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.
[08:05:05] PEREZ: And the president's attorney Jay Sekulow told CNN in a statement, quote, "The president's outside legal team has not received any request for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to." Alisyn and John?
CAMEROTA: All right, Evan, thank you very much for all of that reporting.
And joining us now is a guest well versed in special investigations, Ken Starr. He is a former judge and solicitor general. He was the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton. Mr. Starr, thank you very much for being here. Do you think that the Robert Mueller investigation is now beyond the scope and mission of what it was originally stated to do, looking into collusion, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
KEN STARR, FORMER JUDGE, SOLICITOR GENERAL, AND INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: It's really uncertain. The mandate that Bob Mueller received has some broad language, including "related to" type language, which tends to open the door. But there are checks and balances. The president has said here is the red line.
But he has a great defense team, and what they can do is they can go to first, of course, Bob Mueller, who I think everyone agrees is a man of great integrity as well as enormous experience, and say I think you've gone too far here. And there may be litigation in the courts with respect to the scope of the grand jury subpoena.
And then the defense team can go to Rod Rosenstein, the department attorney general, and say this is far beyond the mandate that you gave him. He's in business only because of your appointment. So there are checks and balances in the system, and those haven't been triggered yet.
BERMAN: Let me read you the key line in that mandate just so people know what you're talking about when Rod Rosenstein charged special counsel Robert Mueller with his mission. It included that number two, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.
Now, our Evan Perez who has broken so many details of this story indicate that Bob Mueller and his team, they don't think they're anywhere near the outer limits of this. The financial matters that they're looking into, they say, relate to or arose from this investigation into possible Russia ties. It does seem like a fairly wide berth there, Judge Starr, with that statement, any matters that arose or may arise from the investigation.
STARR: It can be read in two ways, three ways. It can be read different ways. I think that the gravamen of the original complaint was, was there collusion. To the extent that you're moving beyond collusion with Russian operatives or Russian interests or the Russian government itself, and into that which doesn't seem to have a direct tie to Russia, then these questions are in fact raised. And it becomes a litigable, as we say, question that people are going to squawk about it and disagree about it.
I don't think it is clear one way or the other, but I do think it is a certainly a serious matter when a special council is accused -- and I was accused of that -- of exceeding his or her authority. That's a serious matter because we do not want investigators and prosecutors out on a fishing expedition.
CAMEROTA: But look, by definition, aren't you always casting a wide net? Let's say -- we've had other lawyers on this morning who have said if Donald Trump, before he was president, did some sort of business deal, let's say in the 90s, and it was a real estate deal with some sort of Russian millionaire, couldn't that find its way for motivation to what's happening in the campaign now?
STARR: Alisyn, you used a key word there. You said "Russian." And that's my point. Does this relate to Russia's activity, which I think we all agree was absolutely, unspeakably horrible in the state election efforts and so forth. So the Russians are to be condemned and the Russian government is to be condemned.
Now the question is was there collusion with the Trump campaign. So if the investigation goes beyond the Russian mandate and let's just say let's just look into the financing of Trump Tower but there is no Russian connection to it, then the argument is there, as I see it, that the investigation has gone too far.
BERMAN: Judge Starr, just to be clear, what you were saying about yourself is you came under criticism during the Clinton investigation. Corey Lewandowski, who was the president's campaign manager, was referring to this just the other day. He said Bill Clinton was not impeached over a land deal. Bill Clinton was impeached by the Congress for lying about Monica Lewinsky under oath. And of course Whitewater was a land deal investigation and then it became something else. So the argument that you hear from a lot of people is look, look what happened with your investigation. If started out as one thing and then you found instances where you believe at the president broke the law, so that's where it went.
[08:10:02] STARR: No. But there was a check and balance there, John, which is the Lewinsky phase of the investigation was specifically authorized by the attorney general of the United States. That's the key. The Lewinsky phase was not simply something that we thought we should look into when the information came to us. We went to the attorney general, Janet Reno, and said here's what we know, or the information that we have. And I think here we need to have the same kind of check and balance in place.
The president has a terrific team of defense lawyers. They are fantastic. And they are saying they're going to cooperate. Well, part of the cooperative mode will be to go into, first, Mueller and then Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and say you're going too far. The special council has gone too far. And then it became a litigable issue. It was never contested. It became a political issue in the Lewinsky situation, but it was never a legal issue that we'd gone too far.
CAMEROTA: Since you brought up the president's red line, the one that he said that if they were dealing with his financial dealings, that would be a personal red line for him. Now we know. That's happening. Bob Mueller, it's been confirmed through our reporting is dealing with the president's financial dealings before he was president. So if it's crossed a red line for the president, what's his recourse?
STARR: Yes. His lawyers then say to Bob Mueller, you've gone beyond t scope of your mandate.
CAMEROTA: And then it's up to Bob Mueller to say, OK, I'll back off, or no, I think it is part of my mandate.
STARR: That's exactly right. He'll say to them, and then they may litigate in the district court. This will all be confidential because of protecting grand jury secrecy. But we'll probably find out a whole lot about the issues as they find their way into court even in terms of the grand jury process which needs to be secret, it needs to be confidential. So this is a stay tuned. We're probably going to have some real battles ahead, but a lot of them may be off camera.
BERMAN: And it's great to have you here because we can get a look behind the scenes at how these information investigations work. Phil Mudd who was at the CIA and also an FBI investigator made the point that subpoenas aren't issued like this for documents or witnesses unless the investigators already have some information, they already have some leads that they're following. So calling this a broad based fishing expedition, Phil was arguing, might not be fair here. Is that something you agree with, that you don't think Bob Mueller would be having the grand jury issue these subpoenas unless he was looking for something specific?
STARR: I agree with that. I think there had to be some predicate in Bob Mueller's mind, and he is an extraordinarily a careful lawyer. I've worked with him and served alongside him under President Bush 41. And so he's a total professional. So you can say, Mr. Mueller, we disagree with this expanded scope as we see it, and he will listen. He will listen to those arguments and then make a determination.
But I will also say it's frequently said about grand juries they'll just do whatever the prosecutors want. That's not been my experience. I think it's not the experience of most prosecutors. Those are 23 citizens. They are there. They're asking questions. And the prosecutors are keeping them very well informed or the prosecutors aren't doing their job.
BERMAN: Maybe you can't indict a ham sandwich, as the saying goes.
Judge Starr, one question, because our understanding now is that some of these subpoenas, some of the information that is now being sought has to do with the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had with the Russian lawyer, a meeting that as far as we know, we don't believe that Robert Mueller and his investigators even knew about prior to June when this began becoming public. What does that tell you that this started being known by the investigators in June and already, he's got a grand jury issuing subpoenas, asking for documents and witness on that?
STARR: It means he's doing his job. And it also mean that the information that the grand jury is finding is going to come from any number of sources, including from the media. Let's also not overlook the fact that both the Senate intelligence committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee are investigating as well. And remember that in Watergate a long, long time ago, a generation ago, the great breakthrough came by virtue of the work Senator Sam Ervin and the Watergate special committee. So there's going to be information coming from various sources.
CAMEROTA: Ken Starr, as you said, stay tuned. Thank you very much for sharing your expertise with us.
STARR: Thank you, Alisyn.
BERMAN: President Trump lashing out at the Russian investigation, he called it a total fabrication. Our panel reacts next.
[08:17:46] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump is blasting the latest developments in the Russia investigation at a campaign rally last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of the American politics. Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were.
We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you, that I can tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Our panel is here to discuss. We're joined by CNN justice reporter Evan Perez who broke a lot of this story, CNN political analyst John Avlon, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, and CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza. Evan, I want to talk to you on something Kenneth Starr just said.
Obviously, Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating Bill Clinton and led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Ken Starr says he thinks it's possible that what Robert Mueller is doing right now might be pushing up against the limbs of the mandate provided by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and that perhaps he may need to get permission to expand this further.
But just to be clear, your reporting on this is that the people involved in this investigation right now don't see that problem, have not gone to Rod Rosenstein to ask to expand it more. They belief this is connected to the original mandate.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, they view this, John, at this point, as exactly what they need to be doing. You know, you start in the middle of this investigation. You start with the central question, right, which has to do with whether that -- whether or not there was any illegal coordination with the Russian security services in the Trump campaign, and then you start going out. And that includes looking at the finances. You have to look at that.
Look, from the very beginning, one of the people we talked to in our story that we published yesterday said that from the very beginning, there's always been a concern about whether or not there was any blackmail possibility by anyone connected to the campaign, and so, you have to look at the money. You follow the money to see whether or not going back five years, whether it's going back to some real estate deal that someone felt they had something on the president or someone close to him that they could have used to force them to help the Russian security services.
[08:20:03] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: John, of course, all of this is bathed in irony, particularly when you bring in Ken Starr and what happened with Bill Clinton because that became a galloping runaway horse, many people felt, of an investigation that started in white water and led all the way to a blue dress.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CAMEROTA: And that's what obviously the Trump people fear could happen here.
AVLON: Right. And you've got Republicans who would have been cheering fishing expeditions in the case of Ken Starr now saying this is inappropriate and outside of bounds. And, obviously, where you stand is a matter of where you sit and this is what people get frustrated, it was rank hypocrisy.
It was stunning to see Ken Starr in that interview, which is very revealing. And he's got more personal expertise in this kind of an issue than most, and has been trying to strike an independent line. But he said that, you know, prosecutors and investigators shouldn't engage in fishing expeditions.
Well, I think a lot of folks at home think that's sort of a jaw- dropping statement given the progression of that investigation from being about a Whitewater land deal, to being about a blue dress, and all the differences along the way from Ken Starr being a partisan Republican, appointed to special prosecutor situation, to people the FBI director under Clinton and A.G., you know, allowing if not encouraging that investigation to go forward. There's just an enormous in number of differences. And if that's the standard, then the Trump (INAUDIBLE) are going to have a hard time holding their hands up and saying stop.
BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Laura Coates. Now, we have a grand jury how does that change this investigation as we know it? What stage is in now?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the grand jury is necessary to be able to wield one of the most effective powers that a prosecutor has or special counsel has. That's subpoena power, access to records, access to documents, access to witness testimony.
Right now, I suspect they're at a phase where they're trying to obtain documentation about the leads they have -- bank records, financial statements, perhaps land deals, perhaps real estate transaction. As you move closer to subpoenas for actual people to testify, it will show you're narrowing in the focus on what potential charges are being explored. Right now, it's clear that they're trying to have it narrowed to the fact that they're going to have actual evidence to present.
Remember, there's no reel time line for a grand jury investigation. It may be hastened. It maybe excited, that maybe at a stage where they're just trying to use that subpoena power. Make no mistake, John, that's extraordinarily powerful to have access to documentation.
It also tells you why Sekulow talked about the fact that they haven't seen the documents or any requests. Well, with the subpoena power, they may not receive it. It's the bank, it's different organizations that would actually get it.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, on to your area of expertise, politics. Politically speaking, wasn't it smart what President Trump did last night in front of his West Virginia rally of, you know, they all talk about the Russian investigation and they're taking away your votes, you all voted me in. You made this happen.
You know, to let people know that somehow, the Russian investigation is delegitimizing them, the regular people, because he knows that he won thanks to them.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. Politically smart. I think intellectually some what dishonest. But yes, politically smart, because, you know, the Russian investigation for the average person is amorphous thing out there. They don't really know exactly what's going on. They don't think Donald Trump's being totally truthful but they're not sure.
To connect it to Democrats, to connect it to the "they" Donald Trump kept saying which is stand in or the media, elites, establishment, you know, Democrats, whoever, is smart because it will rally people to his side. They believe fundamentally that Donald Trump is speaking truth to power, I would say despite evidence to the contrary in terms of his truth telling. That's something that they really get behind.
And to connect that to Russia, gives it a way to say, look, this Russia thing is just part of the broader argument. They hate me. They're against me. They're working against me and this Russia thing is indicative.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Go ahead, John.
CILLIZZA: Can I just make one other very quick point?
CAMEROTA: Yes, quick. No one has said Russians were involved, worked for Donald Trump. They were on his payroll. No one has said Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Michigan vote -- infiltrated the United States and voted for Donald Trump. He's creating these straw men.
And again, it will work politically, but he's creating these straw men that he's making arguments nobody is making. That is what this investigation by Bob Mueller is about.
AVLON: Just quickly, we can say that's a smart frame, an attempt to refocus and deflect and distract, but let's not lose sight of the bigger picture in the spirit of the reality check here, which is the president of the United States at a campaign style rally decrying an ongoing investigation is something that is well outside the norms of American politics.
[08:25:05] It's something we've seen in our countries, with bad overtones, but not here to date.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you all very much.
So, up next, they voted against the Senate's effort to repeal Obamacare and now Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are talking about defying their party. What that meant to them, why they did and what the president has said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He tried to intimidate you on Twitter, you know, very directly, specifically. Maybe having his interior secretary call you.
Did you feel he was trying to intimidate you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: We have Dana Bash's exclusive interview with the senators, next.
BERMAN: We have a CNN exclusive. Senator Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski speaking out against their no votes against repealing Obamacare, along with Senator John McCain. They talk about the pressure and the backlash.
CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins us now from Washington with this big interview.
You know, they've been in politics a long time, but I do sense they feel like they learned something. They came out of this somehow a little bit different.
BASH: Very different. I totally agree. That's the sense I got, because, look, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, they were actually the only Republican senators to go against their leadership.