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Trump's Special Report. Aired 11:30-12mn ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 23:30   ET



[23:30:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is "Trump One Year Later", a CNN Special report. Tonight new political and legal aftershocks in the wake of the devastating one-two punch absorbed by the Trump White House this week.

I'm Jim Sciutto.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And I'm Pamela Brown, first paying the slow rollout of scandalous revelation from a tell-all book raising new questions about the Russia investigation and President Trump's fitness for office.

SCIUTTO: Then came the second blow, disclosures by the New York Times potential evidence obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller all pointing to a possible obstruction of justice case. And new reporting tonight, a senior official saying White House officials were involved in the effort to persuade attorney Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the investigation. Then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and then Press Secretary Sean Spicer, according to this senior administration official were among those anticipated in the White House and Justice Department. Earlier today, CNN was told by a source close to Attorney General Sessions that White House council reached out to try dissuading Sessions from recusing himself from the Russian investigation. Let's get right to the panel of experts who certainly have a lot to discuss. Evan, we'll go to you first. Now that you know we'll have these other senior administration officials involved, is it reasonable to conclude Special Counsel Mueller would want to interview them?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think those two officials had already gone in for their interviews and I don't know if they were asked about this already, but if they don't, I think the interest of Robert Mueller is to try to figure out if there was something being done that could obstruct this investigation. I think it goes certainly to this part of the question, but I think for the White House, for President Trump, more importantly, I think what he cares more about is the people that are closer to him. His son-in-law and his son. You will see bigger and more alarm coming to the White House.

BROWN: And as far as we know that has not happened yet.

SCIUTTO: Michael Zeldin, you look at this, is there legal jeopardy for members of the President's team that would have been involved in this outreach.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It depends, if it was an effort to say to the Attorney General do you really think the regulations require this? Can we talk about it? The White House council is really the only person under the regulation that is supposed to talk to the Attorney General on matters that involve the White House and the DOJ. That is the communication set up. That is why there was a problem when President Trump wanted to talk to Comey, because he bypassed White House council. Doing the right procedures. If it is Jeff, I am looking at the regulations here and it says shall and should and could, can we talk about it, maybe it is not so bad. But if it says I don't care what the regulation is, you're not stepping back, I need you to protect me because Mueller is going to otherwise, you know crucify me. That is more problematic, and he will want to look at that in the context of obstruction of justice.

BRIAN KAREM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SENTINEL NEWSPAPER: It is a nice hot mess. From the beginning if we remember we went back to the Trump team came into the office, he wasn't expected to win, he didn't have a lot of people in the GOP with him, and he brought that attitude in to the White House, they have been under staffed and overmanned the entire time there. The fact they had conversations, many of them had conversations is not surprising, because they had such small numbers to make any decision, they had to have a lot of people involved. That was not worrisome in and of itself. At some point in time, the President said hey, you have to bail me out and protect me, then yeah, you got a little problem there. And that is where we're at.

BROWN: And I want to bring in Jack Kingston for you to weigh in Jack. We know the Russia probe was weighing heavily on President Trump when he fired the former Director James Comey. He said as much to the oval office to the Russians saying that it took pressure off that he fired Comey. He said to a national television to Lester Holt on NBC so how can you come up with any other explanation that he fired James Comey because of the Russia probe to take pressure off.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think the President can fire an FBI Director without cause, because the FBI Director does work for the president. They have a ten-year term. It is unusual to fire them. Clinton fired one of his, but I think for the statements they made later.

[23:35:00] I can say this, originally the question was raised by Harry Reid, the senate Democrats leader during the campaign when he said did he violate the hatch act by influencing an election and getting involved with it. John Podesta and Hillary Clinton both raise that same question.

BROWN: Even after that Jack, I mean Trump praised James Comey. You put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and that is not why James Comey is fired.

KAREM: Why do they always go back to Hillary?

KINGSTON: It is historically accurate --

KAREM: He stands --

KINGSTON: I'm sorry, but the law has not changed. Hillary Clinton raised the point, the law was not changed. Here is what I can tell you.

KAREM: What about President Trump and what he did.

KINGSTON: I don't know you guys get so excited when we bring up Hillary Clinton.

KAREM: He is the President. I can't believe it. Let's bring up Warren G. Harding.

KINGSTON: Today must have been a terrible day -- I guess so, that is why we're continuing to look at --

KAREM: Prosecuted as well. A prosecuted them.

KINGSTON: Hillary Clinton is a relevant person and the previous administration is relevant. And Comey is also relevant. I think he could fire James Comey without it necessarily being that I'm going to torpedo this investigation. You could do it because of the way he is conducting it.

SCIUTTO: That is quite -- that hair has been split pretty thinly there, has it not? You can fire him if he doesn't like how he is running the investigation, but there is a distinction between that and trying to change the direction of the investigation?

KINGSTON: Remember he can fire him without cause, because he is the president of the United States and the FBI director works for him. I think that in order to prove obstruction you have to show where he destroyed evidence, tampered with a jury, and someone lied to him.

ZELDIN: Jack, I think that --

KINGSTON: I'm actually quoting someone on this --

ZELDIN: That is your problem right there. So it is correct that the President has the authority to fire the FBI Director without cause. If, however, he fires the FBI Director with bad intent, corrupt intent, in an effort to obstruct the investigation, that can be actionable either as an indictable offense, or not, but as an indictable offense. He does not need to destroy anything. The obstruction of justice statute is an endeavoring statute. You don't have to succeed, you just have to

PEREZ: The bottom-line here is the president would had been better off if he had just stop at the memo that was written by Rod Rosenstein, that is the reason I fired him and just shut up, don't say anything else, don't have any other interviews to Lester Holt


That is where all of his problems --

KAREM: I'll go one further, he fired Comey that was the tipping point.

BROWN: Yeah, Evan, I didn't mean to cut you off.

SCIUTTO: If that holds for the firing of James Comey, right? Did he do it with the intent to obstruct the investigation, is that the same principle with this an effort to encourage Sessions not recuse himself. If it was don't recuse yourself to protect me from this accusation.

ZELDIN: if you print in a mosaic, and you say tile one is he fired Comey with bad intent to take pressure off. And he said what else if anything did he do to take pressure off. In the same vain, he tried to convince the Attorney General to not follow the law. It is quite simple. The code of federal regulations governing the Attorney General. Sessions did the right thing, he had no choice, and he says if you're involved in a political campaign you can't investigate that political campaign. If he is trying to get Sessions to not follow the law, it is like firing Comey with bad purpose.

KAREM: The question they always want today ask everyone is that it is about why, isn't it? At some point why did he do it?

[23:40:00] ZELDIN: That is right, that is the intent. Excuse me one second. It is the intent. He has to do these things with the intent to obstruct the investigation, so did he do it with that intent.

BROWN: Let us bring in Jack, I know you want to say something.

KINGSTON: I think having work on Capitol Hill, I can tell you there is 535 members of the house and senate that want loyal, full-time, chiefs of staff, loyal employees that go to bat with you and he did not want to have --

SCIUTTO: That is not the point.

KINGSTON: Let me finish.

Let me finish.

He wants his A.G. to be full-time working the job and not be recused. I have also actually work with Don McGahn is an ethical guy, for the Republican national committee, he is the guy that made sure that people like me followed the law and when we had questions about it we went to him. He would not go there and say you need to hang in there for the boss man, because we need do you do our bidding. I think Don would say I studied this I don't think you need to recuse yourself. I think it was an honest request, and also discussions about the timing of it, could you hold on a little longer. For me it is very logical for them to go to the A.G. and say don't do this.

KAREM: Was it subverting the law for the will of the president? Was it putting the interest of the country behind the interest?

ZELDIN: We're talking about the Attorney General. The chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

KAREM: Chief of staff --

KINGSTON: I think that it is a legitimate discussion, in fact there was one earlier tonight on this network. They had a disagreement on whether he should have had recuse himself or not, so I believe and I work for a law firm, lawyers that is why you hire lawyers, to get different opinions. Ultimately Sessions overruled whatever arguments were presented to him. If I was a President in that situation, I would be disappointed. But Sessions had to do what he thought was right. You can be disappointed and furious, but it doesn't mean you're going to encourage him to break the law. We have all been there and dealt with lawyers and had the ball bounce the wrong way for us.

KAREM: this is not the same thing.

ZELDIN: One sentence here, it says here, Jack, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation for which he has a personal or political relationship. It is quite categorical, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship. That is exactly what this is.

KINGSTON: How does that work with Peter Strzok or Andrew McCabe?


BROWN: Right after this break. Everyone stick around, up next, the potential for travel of investigators dig into Donald Trump business dealings with Russians. Plus, why do a pair of Republican Senators say the man behind the Russian dossier should face criminal charges.


[23:47:09] BROWN: We're back with our panel, President Trump is spending late night tweets attacking Steve Bannon and Michael Wolff, the author of the book fire and fury. Everyone I want to get your reaction to this - what do you put out. He said Michael Wolff is a total loser that made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He use sloppy Steve Bannon who cried when he got fired and begged for his job, now sloppy Steve has been dumped by a dog by almost everyone. Too bad.

SCIUTTO: I have to say we're used to these tweets, but you have to say this is an official Presidential statement, is it not? And the word total loser, really boring, sloppy Steve, dumped like a dog, begged for his job, cried when he got fired. It's remarkable.

BROWN: Let us put this into context in here. Jack Kingston I would like you to weigh in first, because I had to cut you off at the last segment there, this is the same person that says he only brings on the best people. He said he was one of the best.

SCIUTTO: And as recent as October he said he is doing well, one of the best.

BROWN: Now he is saying she a total loser and you know calling him sloppy Steve. Does that make the president look good? KINGSTON: Well I think the president speaks the language of the

straight and ethnic, that is one reason he connects to people.

KAREM: Which street is that?

KINGSTON: Maybe you can go for a walk with me in New York, or Washington or even Savanna. I can promise you --

KAREM: He lives in the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is President of the United States, he can conduct himself a little bit more --

KINGSTON: OK. Let me say this, you are an expert, you know everything, but you got elected, neither you nor I were elected. The reason why Trump, a billionaire from New York City connected with people in the heartland is because he spoke their language. I want to know who asked the question.

BROWN: You are making a bigger point. You're focusing on the language, but the bigger point here is, Jack, that the President touted how he would bring on the best people. He fire a number of them, I lost count. Now he is firing a guy that he said was so great and wonderful just a few months ago, Sloppy Steve, you know he was begging for his job.

KINGSTON: I'm disappointed. As part of the campaign, I worked somewhat under Steve Bannon. He a brilliant strategist. I think he didn't like some of the Trump family members getting in position of authority. It is known that he wanted the big chief of staff and by April he had not found a portfolio in the White House and he was unhappy. I think the riff just got worse and worse until he finally left, but I don't think any of us knew, and I'm not trying to act like I know from the inside what it is, but I don't anybody had any idea how mad he must have been to talk like this in public.

[23:50:09] If you look back at some of the great presidential staffers, I think that is one of the thing that is a great disappointment, why did he have to go out and say all these things?

SCIUTTO: Michael, you wanted to add.

ZELDIN: I just want to add one things which is, as I listen to this trying to devoid myself of political points of view but just legal, it strikes me this fits into the narrative that Comey has articulated, which is, this President demands loyalty and if you don't give it, you end up with sloppy Steve as your nickname. It is corroborative in a sense that loyalty matters to him more than anything else and he is going to demand it and if you have don't give it to him, you're going to suffer the consequences.

SCIUTTO: I do want to get to one thing because this is another development today, Evan Perez, Republican senators Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham they sent a criminal referral to the Department of Justice on Christopher Steele, the former British MI6 agent, who is the author of the Russia dossier. How serious should we treat that referral? PEREZ: Look, these men have gone in apparently and looked at

classified documents. We don't know exactly what it is they're referring to. They seem to be indicating some kind of false statement made by Christopher Steele to the FBI. You'd have to say the FBI is aware of all of this. They know what information he has provided to the journalists and so on. So I'm not sure they're telling FBI something the FBI already doesn't know. There's part of this that is a legal thing and the other part is political and these two Senators are working in a political sphere. Obviously the President is under attack and they believe this entire enterprise has been a political enterprise. That is what they're operating under.

KAREM: The biggest point to make where I say covering on a day-to-day basis, it looks, I mean the President has painted it and called it a political witch hunt and the GOP has circled the wagons and everybody who is supporting the President gives talking points out weekly and everybody is auditions to end up working in the White House who defends it without looking at it as it really is. There are two components, the political component and legal component. Going back to your comment earlier, not only has he thrown people under the bus who hasn't shown him loyalty, he is even throw people under the bus that he has.

BROWN: Do you feel that he gives loyalty in return at all?

KINGSTON: I can tell you unequivocally during the campaign Nikki Haley was not consistently on our team, if she was ever on it. I can say this as somebody who was doing a lot of media during the week following "Access Hollywood" that Nikki Haley was not there and yet she ended up with one of the plummest jobs that a lot of people wanted and even in that position she hasn't always been on page. I think he recognizes that people have a right to their own right to opinion. There's been a lot of discussion about Rex Tillerson making statements, but he is hung in there with Rex Tillerson.

KAREM: Do you think Rex Tillerson made the comments, disparaging against the President?

KINGSTON: There has been a lot of discussions on this. Let me say this, in terms of Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, particularly Lindsey, who I know very well, he has not been lock step with the President on Russia and in many other things as well. He was out there busting the President on a lot of things. These are not two of the partisan people who is been involved in this investigation. That is why I would say despite the fact they're both Republicans, I think it's a very serious letter.

SCIUTTO: And Lindsey Graham during the campaign was downright disparaging about Donald Trump, using the word kook more than once.

KINGSTON: he says openly that I did not vote for Donald Trump.

KAREM: He has said that.

ZELDIN: To Jack's point there. There is a legal component to this and the legal component is that Grassley feels that Steele may have lied to the FBI with respect to whether or not the dossier was leaked to reporters. So it's a leaks investigation in some respect. And for the first referral out of any of these committees to go to the FBI is the potential leak of the dossier by Christopher Steele speaks to me about politics way more than law.

[23:55:05] SCIUTTO: Can the FBI investigate a foreign national?

BROWN: I was just going to bring that up.

ZELDIN: Well, yeah, sure. They sure can. They don't have jurisdiction to bring him in.


Is to charge him or to bring him on trial.

KAREM: Mike, your point about the leak, that is all about intimidating -- that is another part of the intimidating of reporters and making sure what we do, they want to jail us. We've been called the enemy of the people. There's a national shield law that Congressman Jamie Raskin from Maryland has introduced, which is very much like Mike Pence's shield law that came in years ago and there is a big push back against that, because they don't want to protect reporters. They want to make sure if stuff like that is leaked, they're able to keep it from draining.

BROWN: They haven't taken it off the table to go after reporters.

SCIUTTO: I want to give you more time. But unfortunately we're going to have to leave it there, because we're out of time tonight. Thank you to the whole panel and thanks to all of you by joining us tonight. Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto here, the news continues next here on CNN.