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Trump Predicts Exoneration in Russia Investigation; Power Restored to Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport; Mueller Team Denies It Unlawfully Obtained Trump Transition E-mails. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 07:00   ET


TRUMP: -- if we ever needed his vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big giveaway to big corporations.

[07:00:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions of middle-class taxes go up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lights just went out. Everything went out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now we don't know the cause of the fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's extremely frustrating.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We do begin with a CNN exclusive for you. Multiple sources tell CNN that President Trump is quietly confident about the outcome of the Russia investigation as his personal attorneys prepare to meet with the special prosecutor's team. The president believes that he will be exonerated, and he's striking a much less agitated tone about the probe of late.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: This as lawyers for the president accuse the team of Mueller of using improper channels for obtaining e-mails from the Trump transition team. Mueller maintaining it was all done by the book in a rare statement of defense by his team.

CNN's Sara Murray is live at the White House with breaking developments.

Sara, thank you for bringing us the reporting. What do we know?


We know the president has been a little bit calmer behind the scenes when it comes into the special counsel investigation into whether there was any sort of Russian meddling. In fact, he's even told some of his friends and allies he expects to get a letter of exoneration from Mueller's team.

Now, both privately and publicly, Trump's lawyers have cast this very optimistic timeline, saying that they expect the president and the White House to be cleared of this any time. And it could come in the coming months.

But legal experts and other lawyers who are involved in the Mueller probe are very skeptical that there's any indication that Mueller is wrapping up his work. And that has some of Trump's allies worried that this could be setting up the president for disappointment and setting him up for a meltdown and potentially, you know, a rash move. We talked to more than three dozen sources who are in the White House, who are close to the president, who are involved in this investigation.

And they also noted that one of the key tipping points for the president's mood on this could come this week. That's when we're expecting Mueller and his team to sit down with some of the president's lawyers. The president's lawyers are hoping that they can get a read on Mueller for the next steps in this investigation.

Now, that could be good news for Trump. Maybe Mueller sends him a signal that, sure, things are wrapping up. But if it's an indication that this could carry on, that Trump's allies are worried, could set him off, could potentially cause him to do something rash, like try to move to fire Mueller.

Now, Trump talked to reporters yesterday as he was returning to the White House. He insisted that wasn't under consideration. But we've already seen Trump's allies out there, taking aim at Mueller's investigators, and that could be a sign of things to come -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, thank you very much for sharing your exclusive reporting with us. Joining us now to discuss, CNN political analyst and editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast," John Avlon and Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics reporter and editor at large. Gentlemen, great to have you here in studio.

John Avlon, the idea that he is no longer agitated about the Russia probe, that is newsworthy and notable. I mean, honestly, that alone, it sounds as though he's sort of transferred his ire to Christopher Wray, head of the FBI or Jeff Sessions. I mean, this is some of Maggie Haberman's reporting, in addition to Sara's. So what do you make of this?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What I think is fascinating about this reporting is the reason that the president is increasingly not exclusively, maybe, feeling he's going to be exonerated, seems to be coming from his lawyers, saying, "Look, you know, expect a big exoneration. It's all going to be OK. There's light at the end of the tunnel."

The danger -- that dangerous trap that sets up is, if there's not an exoneration, an official letter he's apparently expecting, which doesn't seem to be standard operating procedure, that that could create major backlash. Because there's a lot of containing the president, of managing expectations. And if he's feeling a little bit better about things because his lawyers tell him it's all going to be fine by the end of the year or in a couple of months, that doesn't happen, beware the blowback.

CUOMO: It will be interesting if, you know, some of the surrogates around the president are making donations by some of Mueller's team relevant again. It will be interesting. Chris Wray's donations come up. Now again, he's a political appointee.


CUOMO: You know, he can donate to whomever. If he's a partisan. But it's interesting that he's going after Wray now. I wonder if that will wind up coming up from his surrogates. What do you take from this in terms of its long-term impact?

CILLIZZA: That the president is fundamentally mercurial. And so if he's not...

CUOMO: Long-term impact. There probably isn't one.

CILLIZZA: Look, I just see that he -- I especially and, I think, anyone who spends a lot of time in political journals, you have a -- you have a tendency to see -- try to see a narrative arc that exists in presidencies. It's just the way in which we cover these things.

I'm just not convinced -- I always use the NFL metaphor that we've seen. The NFL is a week to week league. Meaning, you know, you can -- well, except for the Browns, you can be good one week, bad the next week. You lose to any team. I think Trump is a day-to-day president. That is, what he says or tweets yesterday is not terribly indicative of what he'll do today. It doesn't tell us all that much.

[07:05:10] I mean, tomorrow -- we know certain things about him, personality-wise. But I'm not sure that we're moving in a sort of, you know, predictable arc toward something. I do think he's probably calm right now, because Ty Cobb and others have said you're going to be fine.

CAMEROTA: Why would they say that? If they don't have any special information. If his lawyers have any special information from the Mueller team -- or maybe they do. Why would they be saying...?

CILLIZZA: I have an idea. Because the way in which you remain around Donald Trump is tell Donald Trump things that make him happy and that he wants to hear. I mean, we know from time to time again, he does not like to be given information that he finds to be either not conducive to what he believes or things that will bother him.

CUOMO: But you don't have to be a great legal mind to see that his legal exposure is probably not that -- well, look. They are probably looking at it. But what is the worst-case scenario if you are going to sit with him as a client, right? Remember, these guys don't work for the government. They work for the president.

What's the worst-case scenario? There's a huge question -- but there's a huge question as to whether or not Mueller could even bring an indictment of that kind against a sitting president. So they're telling him that. And they're saying, "And by the way, obstruction of justice is not an easy case to bring." So they're telling them that. Have a letter of exoneration, I don't know where they're getting that.

AVLON: Exactly. Yes. The question is what does Mueller's report ultimately do in terms of influencing the actions of Congress? There are a lot of aides who are being brought in by the Mueller investigation. The scope keeps widening. There are indictments. Now whether it reaches the president personally, that's a big question. Is that his standard of success? Because he keeps talking about broad exoneration.

The broader danger, though, as Chris is saying, is people telling the president what he wants to hear, not what he needs to know. Putting personalities aside, that's bad practice for a presidency. That has its own dangerous repercussions.

CILLIZZA: And I mean, I do think you're right, Chris, legally speaking. Though I do think the obstruction of justice, it's worth keeping up. Legally speaking, you're right. I mean, what we know of the investigation in terms of Trump largely comes from Trump's conversation with Comey, James Comey, which was a while ago. But Comey told him on three occasions, you're not under investigation. Now, obviously, that can change.

But we don't have any information that's changed. We should not assume that he faces massive legal jeopardy here. But what we do know is his attempts, repeated attempts to dismiss this as a Democratic witch-hunt, I mean, I just think it's important to keep harping on this point.

This is the Trump Justice Department. Jeff Sessions but then Rod Rosenstein, who opened up the special counsel. Mueller is a -- is a former Republican. I mean, this is not Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer driving an investigation. I just think it's important to say it does not he's in serious legal jeopardy, but you just can't -- this is not a political witch-hunt. It's just not.

AVLON: Right. But the larger pack for -- problem is this pattern of almost trying to subvert reality. We know that a lot of Trump's closest aides and advisors, Newt Gingrich called Mueller a superb choice. And then about four months later, he's fundamentally corrupt, as is the system and the FBI. And that ratcheting up of rhetoric, calling into questions individuals, the system of justice, comparing -- surrogates on air comparing the FBI to the KGB, the secret police organization of a totalitarian state that murdered people. That is -- that's not a rhetorical game. That's an attempt to flip the script of reality in dangerous ways for our republic.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what's happening in Congress on Capitol Hill, that it will affect all Americans this week. The tax plan. It is expected to be on the president's desk before Christmas. Here's the timeline as we know it as of today. The House to vote first on Tuesday, tomorrow. Senate to take up the bill when the House is done. Bill on Trump's desk by December 20. So this is going to happen. I mean, all signs point to this is going to happen, and they have the votes.

CILLIZZA: Yes, and they do. But I think Marco Rubio's issues last week resolved, Corker now on board. They have the votes. I think the fact that John McCain is going to Arizona tells you most of what you need to know about the fact of that. If they desperately needed him, they could.

It's going to happen. It shows you Congress can work quickly. They -- this was necessity. They believed they had to have this, and that's what drove it. Again, I think the politics of it are more dicey than that. The bill is broadly unpopular. Can you change that? Sure, you can change it. But this is -- this would be clearly, other than Gorsuch, this is his big accomplishment of 2017.

AVLON: I just say, look, it looks like they've got it all lined up. It is zero sum politics, and it's a political necessity. They have a one vote margin. So let's not be too, you know, sanguine that that's a forgone conclusion, because it ain't.

CUOMO: Who wants to be the one?

AVLON: That's the danger. No Republican wants to be the person who kills tax cuts. Even though they know it's not about that.

CILLIZZA: And that's why Rubio...

AVLON: Look, I'm just saying it looks overwhelmingly like it. It seems like they've lined up all the ducks, but let's not forget that one fact. It ain't over till it's over, and it's a one-vote margin.

[07:10:00] CILLIZZA: Look, John's right. We've seen things blow up repeatedly. The thing I would say is I think this is -- tax cuts are, look, in 1981, Reagan. Right? 2001, Bush. This feels like a thing Republican majorities, when you control everything, who in the first year of that control. Marco Rubio, for all of what -- Marco Rubio is not going to be the guy who voted -- who killed the large-scale tax plan. It's just not going to happen.

So could it be Bob Corker? He's on the record as saying yes. Jeff Flake, yes. You know, I mean, there's just -- there's not as many moving options as there were in health care, where there was a lot of uncertainty, even as we went into the end.

CAMEROTA: OK. Chris Cillizza, John Avlon, thank you very much for the conversation.

So we do have some breaking news right now for you, because the power is back at the world's busiest airport. However, the logistical nightmare is only beginning. This is at Atlanta's Hartsfield International. The challenge is getting these tens of thousands of stranded passengers to their intended destinations now.

So CNN's Martin Savidge is live at the airport with what the situation is at this hour. What are you seeing, Martin?


Well, the best news of all is that we're starting to hear aircraft moving in the sky, which means flights are starting to take off, which of course, is something that hasn't happened since about 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, so that's great news.

You've already heard the power is back on. You can see that it looks normal. It's busy, and that's the problem. Normally about 270,000 people go through this airport every single day. A lot of those folks didn't get to where they were going yesterday. And now they run smack dab into today's 270,000 people. So logistically, it's a nightmare. The airlines are trying to make room.

They expect their flight schedules to be back to normal by later this afternoon. But that doesn't mean that everybody is going to be where they want to be, because the flights were already full. It's a big holiday season of travel.

Delta canceled 300 flights at least today. Other airlines have canceled their flights. The ripple effect impacts all airports on the eastern side of the United States to 10 to 20 percent. So you can see how it gets pushed along down the line. And don't even get me started on the millions of dollars the airlines are going to have to eat as a result of this and the black eye for the city, and they're still trying to figure out why -- Chris.

CUOMO: Martin, appreciate it. Thank you very much, bud. It's good to have you there this morning.

So Trump versus Mueller. Did the special counsel obtain thousands of Trump transition team e-mails unlawfully? We have a good legal debate ahead.

CAMEROTA: Plus, the family of Sergeant La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, is speaking out exclusively as new details about that ambush are released and the questions they still have about his final moments next.


[07:16:4] CUOMO: Lawyers representing President Trump's transition team writing to members of Congress, accusing Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team of obtaining unauthorized access to tens of thousands of transition e-mails in the course of its Russia investigation.

A spokesman for Mueller's team denies the accusations. In fact, they have done something we haven't seen the team do very often. In public, they came out and defended their actions saying that everything that they got was either legally obtained or otherwise available.

All right. Let's take it on. Former federal prosecutor and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin against a guy who hasn't even had breakfast. Here's their big point that they're making, all right? I'll advance

the Trump calls here. The Trump for America, OK, which you will see referred to as TFA in a lot of propaganda about this, TFA, Trump for America, it's a private organization. Privately funded. Did not mix and mingle with White House staff. This is not the same thing as a typical government entity. Their e-mails were their own. And in the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, it contemplates that it is a separate entity. You can't just grab them like any other government e-mails, and you did.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Not true. I mean, it is not true that that was a private entity deserving of private protections. The e-mails are PTT, presidential transition dot gov. The e-mails were managed by GSA, the General Services Administration, which is -- you know, manages all of the administration of the federal government. These were government e-mails.

The Mueller team had absolute access to go to GSA -- absolute right to go to GSA and say, "Let us have -- see those e-mails pursuant to a subpoena or voluntary production or any way they wanted to." They had a right to see those e-mails.

CUOMO: And the other side is wrong. You focus on the dot gov. I focus on the PTT. And that while the GSA, the government agency was there. They were in a perfunctory role. They were not in the same role of stewardship that they have in other government things, this transition, contemplated as being separate. It is laid out as that in this act and even in the National Archives recently advised. And yes, I am reading from the letter of the report, but that's all I got. Is that the materials of the transition team that they create are not federal and presidential records. They are considered private materials that comes from the National Archives. These were not supposed to be seen as just government warfare.

TOOBIN: Well, the National Archives is not in charge of what is government material or not. That is not legally binding.

And I think what really is the tell here, is that the Trump lawyers, the Trump transition lawyers, they didn't go to court. They went to the public. They went to a letter to Congress, because they knew they had no chance in court. Because they knew that, as a legal matter, their position was, you know, indefensible. So this is, I think, where it's properly seen. And I think importantly seen as part of the Republican attack on Mueller, the attempt to discredit him, the attempt to limit the effect of this investigation. That's why this is significant, not because there is any real legal issue here.

[07:20:05] CUOMO: And BuzzFeed has an interview that shed some light on what Jeffrey is saying right now. Let's put up a little excerpt for you from it, please. "When we have obtained e-mails in the course of our" -- all right, well, maybe you read it for yourself. "Loewentritt said, in using our devices, transition team members were informed that materials would not be held back in any law enforcement actions. Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed."

Who is Loewentritt? Why does this matter?

TOOBIN: This is an indication of, you know, how everyone understood it. But even if that was not -- they were not told that, that's just the way the world works today. When you and I have Turner e-mail, Turner Broadcast e-mails, do you and I think really think we have control over those e-mails?


TOOBIN: Obviously not. You know, anybody who has an organizational e-mail knows that you don't control access to it. And that this is essentially open season on those e-mails. And you know, this one, since it was a gov e-mail, is even more obviously one that is not something subject to the normal rules and privacy.

CUOMO: Even though you seem to need no help in this current debate, let's bring in another big shot, former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti. Renato, you've been listening. Am I making any headway here or am I getting clobbered?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think you're getting clobbered. Sorry about that, but...

CUOMO: Sorry. I'm losing your feed. Get rid of Renato right away. No, go ahead. Keep going. Why. Why do you see it as clearly as Jeffrey does?

MARIOTTI: Look, I think it's very clear that there's -- I think you put it the best, there were agreements signed by the transition that said they had no expectation of privacy in those e-mails. And that's really, from a legal perspective, that cuts the legs out from their their claim.

Because if you don't have an expectation of privacy, you can't make a Fourth Amendment claim. The only reason you need a search warrant is when someone has an expectation of privacy. So it's very cut and dry. I agree with Jeffrey.

The only reason they're writing a letter to Congress is because they don't have a good argument to take to a court or to take to Robert Mueller. I mean, if you had a complaint against CNN, you know, you wouldn't write, you know, another media outlet about it. You'd be going to your employer about it. And so it's just -- it's just a stunt.

CUOMO: All right. Let me use these two good minds to something else. How strong a case. Renato, I'll start with you.

The real move right now is that this is politically compromised, this probe. It just is. You've got the e-mails from Strzok who was fundamental in the Hillary Clinton investigation. He clearly doesn't like Trump. Yes, he didn't like Bernie Sanders. But he didn't like Trump. And he's trying to hurt him. And these are political organizations. And that is what is driving and jading this entire process. How much proof is there to that allegation?

MARIOTTI: Well, look, you have the text from an individual who's been removed from the Mueller investigation. It is -- it is certainly a problem if a -- if an agent or a prosecutor lets their political beliefs influence how they make a decision about a case.

But obviously, and everyone at home needs to realize that everyone, every human being that's working in the FBI or the -- as a federal prosecutor has private political beliefs. That's something that's normal. It's something that's protected.

And those individuals can't be fired for having beliefs. The issue here is this guy expressed him. He seemed to have strong beliefs. Just -- there's an appearance of problems, so I think he was removed. But that doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, influence any decisions that it also, you know, in and of itself that, you know, it doesn't really affect anything about the investigation.

TOOBIN: And, remember, those -- those texts were sent long before he was working on the Mueller investigation. There was no Mueller investigation when he was working on it. And, you know, he was an FBI agent. And as important as agents are, they don't make decisions about who gets prosecuted, what a final report says.

I mean, so he was not the straw that stirs the drink in the Mueller investigation. He's gone. The idea that a couple of texts that he sent months and months ago taints the ongoing investigation, led by someone whose reputation is unimpeachable -- that is Mueller himself -- is really just sort of silly.

CUOMO: And they're also using him as being fundamental in the Clinton probe, in that he had some motivation there, as well. But your point stands.

TOOBIN: Again, that was Comey's decision. It wasn't Strzok's decision.

CUOMO: Gentlemen, thank you both to you, as always.

[07:25:05] All right. So we're learning new details about Sergeant La David Johnson's final hours in Niger before that deadly ambush. We're going to speak live with his mother and his sister, next.


CAMEROTA: We're learning new details about the death of Army Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in that ambush in Niger. Officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN there is no evidence that Sergeant Johnson was captured alive or executed by enemy combatants during the 48 hours he was missing. But the investigation has not concluded.

You'll remember that October 4, a team of special U.S. Forces partnered with Nigerian troops unexpectedly came under fire from ISIS- affiliated fires -- fighters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Sergeant Johnson became separated from the group, and his body was

recovered two days later, nearly a mile away.

The Trump administration and the military faced a political firestorm over its slow response in providing details about the attack. President Trump also faced scrutiny for igniting a feud with Sergeant Johnson's grieving widow, reportedly telling her in a condolence call that Johnson, quote, "knew what he signed up for".