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Democratic Congresswoman Receiving Death Threats; Rose McGowan Speaks Out; Trump Administration Tries to Shift Focus to Clinton Campaign on Russia Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 3:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sarah Sanders tried to flip the script on a number of occasions and say, well, it was the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.


ACOSTA: Now -- now, I don't think this is any small thing, Brooke.

When you have the White House -- keep in mind, the campaign is over. The election is over. When the White House is suggesting that there is collusion, that there was collusion going on between a defeated rival, a defeated political opponent and a foreign government, as this White House is doing.

It's one thing for one campaign to say it about another. But this is the White House saying that. And that's why I tried to ask the question, it was a multipart question, why is it that the president felt to be involved in this Uranium One deal, to try to have that gag order lifted on that key informant in the FBI investigation?

No real answer there, although Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, spoke to that earlier this morning on CNN. And then also the president tweeted that the only collusion that existed in the election was between Hillary Clinton and the Russians.

When I asked for evidence of that, there was no evidence presented this. This White House has not presented any evidence of that. The president has not presented any evidence of that. And so once again you have sort of this inappropriate political behavior on the part of this White House that we saw going on during the course of that campaign with "Lock her up" and everything else.

When you have a White House making those kinds of allegations about a defeated opponent, that is just something that's just not normal in the course of events in a political campaign or to have a White House do from the podium of the White House Briefing Room.

So, I don't know if you noticed this right now, Brooke, but there are some kids in Halloween costumes going back right now to the Oval Office to meet with the president. Perhaps there will be some trick or treating going on in the Oval Office.

But I think there might have been a fair amount of that going on here in the Briefing Room a few moments ago, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I thought I saw kids. It was funny to see little faces as you were guys asking these heavy-hitting questions.

ACOSTA: I forgot my costume. That's right.

BALDWIN: Unfortunately, although maybe somebody can be Jim Acosta for Halloween.


BALDWIN: Jim, thank you so much, as always.

ACOSTA: All right, you bet. Sure.

BALDWIN: And on Jim's latter point and how Sarah Sanders -- Michael Zeldin, let me just come back to you -- kept saying -- and he pointed out the president's tweet this morning about collusion, and if there is any collusion, it's collusion between the DNC and Hillary Clinton.

What collusion would they be talking about?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they have raised this story that was first surfaced by the Breitbart news organization about the awarding of a uranium contract, the purchase of a company by Russians, as being quid pro quo for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

On the merits, it doesn't hold a lot of substance. But as an appearance matter, there is enough politics in it that they are continuously going back to this, as I think, in legal terms, a diversion from the truth of the matter, which is, Mueller has a serious investigation on his hands, they're the subjects of that investigation, and they would like to divert the attention of the American people from that.

So they're trying to take this uranium purchase case from 2009 and have it be the news of the day, instead of Mueller and his investigation and the new revelations about the meetings at Trump Tower with Don Jr., none of which is really good for the president.

BALDWIN: Right. Pivot, pivot, pivot.

Caitlin, what do you think about the big push?


CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Yes, it's interesting, because you can also argument about, what was the U.S. government doing in terms of these contracts with Russia, right?

But you can also argue, OK, Well, we are six, seven years into a Republican majority in the House at least. They had plenty of opportunities, you would think, to look into this issue. This week, they announced an investigation. And, remember, this was talked about during the course of the

campaign. We know the campaign was saturated with tons of information and different allegations here and there. But there is a question to be raised about, why now, what's the timing?

And also, if you kind of look at this in the larger landscape here, you do have Republicans who are saying, OK, yes, we have had these majorities. Why are we spending so much time going after our own president? Why not Hillary Clinton? I'm not validating that. That's just arguments you hear from Republicans.

I think it's also worth considering, though, when you look at the president, he's very embattled right now, right? His legislative agenda has been stalled. He's been under fire for various different things.

And also this new FOX News poll shows his approval rating dropping among his core constituency of white men. And so that leads me to question kind of what will the president do to kind of focus in on that base? And he does have some allies in Congress who are interested in that as well.

BALDWIN: I want to go take the conversation back to Whitefish, to this Montana company that got something like $300 million, right, to help put the lights back on and everything else in Puerto Rico.

So, Ambassador Norm Eisen, you are the ethics guy. What questions do you have? Again, the White House saying this was Puerto Rico call, the federal government had nothing to do with this, despite some of the questions.


What are your questions, sir?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, question number one is, what's the qualifications of this company that's 2 years old, just two employees when Hurricane Maria hit?

Question number two, Zinke or other Trump administration involvement. Whitefish is it a very small town. The CEO of the company admits he knows Zinke. Is that really a coincidence? That would be my next set of questions.

And then the final set of questions are about the political contributions that Whitefish investors and those who are close to the company, massive political contributions to Mr. Trump and those around him, the GOP, does that have anything to do with this contract?

It is a head-scratcher.

BALDWIN: And, again, Secretary Zinke is saying to the president he had nothing to do with the fact that this company based in the town where he grew up had absolutely nothing to do with him.

But, Caitlin, isn't this just another controversy involving a Cabinet member, this one now, fill in the blank, Ryan Zinke?

HUEY-BURNS: Absolutely. And look at what this company will be tasked with doing. Right?

BALDWIN: Huge job.

HUEY-BURNS: Puerto Rico, it's a huge job. The administration has been under fire, of course, for its handling of Puerto Rico.

And there are questions to be raised about Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying we had nothing to do with this, this was a local issue. There are questions that are going to surface, however, about...

BALDWIN: There is an audit under way.

HUEY-BURNS: There is an audit under way, certainly. But there are going to be questions about how Puerto Rico officials locally knew about this company specifically, just given how small it was, and there are questions about the qualifications, of course. But, yes, certainly audit is under way.

Don't want to make any judgments here. But those are the questions being raised.

BALDWIN: Norm Eisen, back on this FBI informant and how the president had tried getting this gag order lifted here. On that piece, what's the next step here if the gag order is lifted?

EISEN: Well, we will hear what the informant has to say.

But I want to echo what Michael said. And I thought it was terrible that Sarah Sanders wouldn't answer Jim Acosta's question. In the absence of some evidence that any of this has to do with Hillary Clinton or that there is any connection, to make these unsubstantiated allegations, it's the big lie strategy.

And it's reprehensible. And we should not stand by and let the White House do it. It's truly shocking. It's an obvious effort to start an alternative investigation.

Look, if there is a basis to believe that something improper happened, put the evidence out there. But to refuse to answer questions and to make these allegations, and to have the White House engaged in politicizing a criminal matter, it has the most disturbing historical echoes. It's profoundly troubling from an ethical and a legal perspective.


ZELDIN: May I add something to that which is interesting to me?

BALDWIN: Yes, please, sir.

ZELDIN: Which is, they are trying to lift a gag order on an informant who was in the Russian organization that is charged with having done bad things. Well, the person who ran the operation was prosecuted in the United

States by Rod Rosenstein when he was United States attorney for the district of Maryland.

And so he ended up pleading guilty. He was sentenced to four years in prison. They have all sorts of evidence and affidavits. They know everything about this case.

So the gag order lifting of an informant really adds nothing to what they don't already know and couldn't already share with Congress, which is why it strikes me that this aspect of it is political theater, rather than really trying to get to the bottom of what happened. They know what happened. They have the evidence. It's in the Justice Department.

And Rod Rosenstein is the guy who led that prosecution. So this is just not legitimate from a law enforcement need-to-know standpoint, in my estimation.

BALDWIN: OK. We will keep digging on that.

And let me just -- before I say good buy to all of you, Caitlin, just lastly, to me hearing the young woman in the White House press pool asking Sarah Sanders about this massive movement by Hollywood, within journalism, Capitol Hill of women speaking, finally, right, after feeling silenced for so many years on sexual harassment, asked about it, and she wrote -- here was my note -- "We have been clear on all of this from the beginning, and that's all we are going to say on it."


BALDWIN: Do you think that was a swing and a miss?

HUEY-BURNS: Completely.

And it seemed like it wasn't even interesting, right, to the White House, which, you know, of course, we all covered the campaign. Donald Trump was accused of a lot of things. We've all covered that.

BALDWIN: We know.


HUEY-BURNS: This question was hugely important, given the context of this week.

And it provided a great opportunity for the White House to gain some better ground here, right, especially coming from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is a woman in this role, who is a mother. Lots of opportunities missed here.


BALDWIN: Why do you think she just said nothing?

HUEY-BURNS: Really just not even accepted the question. But, also, I think it left on the table -- she said we have already

commented on this. And the comments are not supportive, right? The comments that have been made before are kind of, this thing kind of happened.

So to leave that as the statement, given all of the revelations that we have seen over the past week, I think was certainly a missed opportunity, but good for Jackie Alemany at CBS for asking that question. It's an important one to put forward, certainly.

BALDWIN: Good one, Jackie. Kudos to you.

And thank you so much, Caitlin and Michael and Ambassador Eisen.

HUEY-BURNS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Great conversation. Thank you. Have wonderful weekends.

Still more for me, though, coming up. So, stay right here. More on our top story, President Trump asking the Justice Department to lift the gag order on this undercover FBI informant. That's what we were all talking about there.

Also, missing from Washington this week, Congressman Frederica Wilson. She says she is receiving death threat after death threat after her war of words with the president's chief of staff, which is now actually keeping her from going to Washington to vote on Capitol Hill.

We will talk about that.

Also today, actress Rose McGowan among dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment, this morning, she spoke out for the very time publicly since the scandal broke wide open. You will hear from Rose McGowan in her own words.

Do not miss this.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: And we're back on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Moments ago, we heard the White House press briefing there, Sarah Sanders saying that the president was pushing for transparency after he may have pressured the Justice Department to lift this gag order on an FBI informant.

This informant may shed new light on Russians trying to influence Clintons in 2010 just as the U.S. was approving the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia's Atomic Energy Agency.

Keep in mind, at the time, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, and it was her department that signed off on this deal, along with a reported eight other federal agencies. Watchdogs, including the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, fear the president may have crossed a line here when he directed, according to sources, his White House counsel to tell the Justice Department to -- quote -- "facilitate the lifting of the gag order."

Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted this: "If the president personally intervened with DOJ to advance a case against a political opponent, it is beyond disturbing. I intend to pursue in new probe."

Here is how the White House just responded.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has pushed for transparency, if that's what you're referring to, when dealing with Congress. I know that's probably something new, for a president to actually push for transparency, but that's what he's done.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: And that was the purpose of what he was trying to do in that process.


BALDWIN: Let's get some analysis.

CNN legal commentator Ken Cuccinelli is with us, the former attorney general of Virginia, and CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, a senior lecturer at Yale and a former FBI special agent.

So, good to see both of you.


BALDWIN: We just saw Sarah Sanders, right, a minute ago talking about how the president is pushing for transparency.

Ken, to you. Comment on this case, but I'm curious. Are there other examples of presidents trying to get involved in decisions over at the Department of Justice? Or is this really unprecedented?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, actually, this is -- usually, as Sarah Sanders said, it usually goes the other way.

On a bipartisan basis, presidents typically are trying to contain information in the executive branch. That's the usual behavior. So, for the president to be encouraging this -- and, look, there is a difference between him saying this is what he would like to see and giving a direct order.

BALDWIN: Saying do it.

CUCCINELLI: That's right. And this has not crossed into that territory.

Nonetheless, when you are over in DOJ, you know what the president wants, and you undoubtedly in the -- if it's plausible and reasonable to do it, it's one more item on the scale in favor of that sort of transparency.

So I would note that going forward this kind of transparency is an expectation now that the Trump administration is setting.


CUCCINELLI: So, in its first year of its first term, I think it's pretty noteworthy to see this sort of position being taken by the president.

BALDWIN: Asha, you nodded on the transparency note. What do you think of what Ken just said?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that the president simply does not seem to understand the boundaries between the Department of Justice and the White House.

And we saw this as early on with Comey and trying to interfere with that investigation or trying to give some influence there. And, look, the reason that this -- that we have these policies is that we are built on a system that is based on the rule of law and the equal applying of the law to everyone.

And when you even have the perception of a politicization of our investigations, it causes problems. People lose faith in what our investigations are about.

And it's especially problematic when you are dealing with a former political opponent, which is the case here. And I will just note that it is interesting that we are not seeing a consistent push towards transparency, to go back to what Ken was saying, across the board.


I presume that the White House would be happy to see the Russia investigations that Mueller is conducting be shut down completely. They seem to only happen when it benefits the political agenda of the administration. And that's where it becomes incredibly problematic.

BALDWIN: Maybe -- and I think you hit on this a second ago.

And, Ken, this is for you.

The president, having never really been in politics, not understanding where the lines should be drawn.


BALDWIN: But, certainly, the White House counsel should.

And they demand transparency, but then won't reveal, like, when and where he goes and plays golf. So, is it possible that the president still doesn't understand the line?

CUCCINELLI: I certainly think that for someone who came into government as the president, that there is a learning curve. That learning curve is going to last through the duration of the administration.

You can just expect that it will flatten out as time goes on. I also agree that White House counsel Don McGahn is doing an awful lot of educating there, but that is what a lawyer is supposed to do and provide the guardrails.


BALDWIN: Were they provided in this case?

CUCCINELLI: I don't know the answer to that.

But let's assume for the moment they were, just for purposes of discussion. Then it's up to the president to decide how to proceed. A lot of people forget, even when you are the attorney general of the country or of a state, as I was, lawyers advise, clients decide. And he will make a decision how to proceed, even if it's atypical, given how prior presidents have operated.

So, long as he stays inside the law, and he did not get outside the law here, he's at least in legally safe territory. This discussion is, and we ought to know that it is, a political discussion. And that's not irrelevant. It's important, especially to the American people and the perspective on our democracy, as you heard earlier. I think that's very important.

But we have also just been through a lot of years where we saw terrible politicization of the Justice Department. Go ask former Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and go ask all the people in the IRS was hunting down because they were conservative and Tea Party members and cases which were just settled because of Koskinen and Lois Lerner and so forth.

There is a bad history here. And until both sides are willing to essentially declare a truce, I don't see it ending.

BALDWIN: Asha, how should DOJ respond?

RANGAPPA: Well, DOJ, this is apparently going to be a continuing education effort. I don't know if we need to bring back "Schoolhouse Rock" or what.


RANGAPPA: But I think that, look, there are times when the president can reach out to DOJ. If there is a need to coordinate on an investigation that implicates his execution of his constitutional duties, like a Supreme Court case that is coming out or something like that, that could be one reason, or to set policy priorities.

He does have the ability to do that. And he should coordinate with his attorney general on that. But for something like this, where there is clearly so many political mine fields, I can just tell you, Brooke, it has impact on the ground.

I was an FBI agent. I knocked on doors. You need people to talk to you. And when people start to believe that their law enforcement is really just acting on political agendas and whoever is in the White House, it impacts other things that happen, and it's really important to make sure that that piece of it doesn't get adulterated.

BALDWIN: You would know.

CUCCINELLI: Well, that happened under President Obama and his attorneys general. That is actually the problem that began here.

And we are seeing what some people now see as a continuation of it. This is not a decision to prosecute. This is not anything like that. This is transparency decision. It's in a totally different category.

BALDWIN: OK. We will leave it.

Asha, Ken, thank you.

CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you, Border Patrol

BALDWIN: Feeling very differently about it, but we're going to take that.

Thank you both so very much.

Coming up next here, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, she has been forced to stay back home in Florida after her war of words with the president and his chief of staff sparked a series of threats against her.

Plus, President Trump sends happy birthday wishes on Twitter to singer Lee Greenwood. But the problem was, it was the wrong guy, wrong Lee Greenwood.

That's coming up.



BALDWIN: Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson caught in this war of words with the White House over President Trump's alleged treatment of a grieving Gold Star movement, she's MIA on Capitol Hill.

In fact, CNN has learned the congresswoman has left Washington because of what her office says are menacing and racial threats.

So, as a result, she's staying put in her South Florida district, where she feels safer. Her absence, though, has caused her to miss at least 19 congressional votes. Her office confirms she does have enhanced security and is supposed to return to D.C. next week.

So, Brian Karem is up with me live, CNN political analyst and the executive order for Sentinel Newspapers.

Nice to see you, sir.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Brooke. Good to see you go again.

BALDWIN: What do you know about any of these threats?

KAREM: Well, I spoke with someone close to her office about an hour ago who said that she's had nearly 1,000 either calls or letters threatening her.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

KAREM: And, of course, that was the question I wanted to ask today in the White House Briefing Room, but Sarah Sanders isn't answering any other questions.

So that type of question, she certainly didn't want to field. And it's -- the president has to -- a lot a lot of water to carry on this. It's his words, calling her