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Trump Testimony for Special Counsel; Immigration Standoff Threatens Budget Deal. Oprah Intrigued About Running; HHS Nominee Faces Hearing; Bipartisan Meeting on Immigration. Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired January 9, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Face. Will it be on camera? Would it be written responses? Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington with more.

This tells us a lot but also leaves a lot of open questions.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly does. And all those options you mentioned are certainly on the table. And, you know, this anticipation, perhaps, of this interview is coming off a recent meeting the president's lawyers had with the special counsel. And now CNN is told that some of the options being considered are whether Trump need to testify under oath, whether Trump can provide written answers. Perhaps in advance the special counsel would give him questions and he would provide written answers to those. Or, you know, a significant here thing is whether this testimony would be recorded in some fashion. Those are all the options, at least that we're told, have been considered and researched.

The interview, it's important to note, would be conducted by the FBI and prosecutors for the Mueller team, and we're told that no date has been set. But the very least, the lawyers for the president are researching and preparing for these options.

And, Poppy and John, and as any good lawyer would want to do, the president's lawyers are hoping to limit the scope of the questioning.


PROKUPECZ: Most importantly they don't want this to become some kind of a fishing expedition by investigators.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No, everyone -- every lawyer wants less exposure for their client to be sure.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor.

Thank you so much for being with us, counselor.

You say that Robert Mueller would not be doing his job if he did not look to interview the president. Why? What does the special counsel want from the interview?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he's going to want the president's own account of his words, his actions and his intent during the relevant time period. So we all know at this point that Robert Mueller is investigating, for example, the firing of James Comey. And in order to investigate whether or not that was a crime, he needs to determine what the president's intent was at that time. Did the president intend to fire Comey because he was doing a bad job or he felt like he was not a good FBI director, or was he -- did he fire James Comey because he was trying to unlawfully impede an FBI investigation? And to do that, he's got to figure out what the president's thoughts were, actions, intent, et cetera. And, you know, he's got to ask the tough questions to do that. So no prosecutor would investigate a matter like this without asking the person who's ultimately at the center of it.

HARLOW: You know, one of the things that I think is interesting that you tweeted -- and you tweet a lot, my friend, many, many long -- many, many long threads. But one point that stood out to me is you said it could actually be good for Mueller and his team if the scope were limited to obstruction. Why?

MARIOTTI: Well, because essentially what he could do is -- you know, typically, what a prosecutor wants to do is they want to ask all -- ask some -- ask the -- sort of the main or the central person questions after they've already obtained all of their other evidence in the case. So, you know, we know Mueller is investigating a lot of different things. You know, in addition to this issue of obstruction, there's also the Trump Tower meeting or there's a FaceBook search warrant or a number of other financial issues that he's been investigating. He may not be ready to explore all of those issues at this point. And so what he really, I think, at this point, is going to be doing is focusing on the obstruction issue. If he had to ask questions on every subject, now he may not be prepared to do that. What it may mean is, just like President Clinton, you know, President Trump might be interviewed multiple times.

BERMAN: Put yourself on the defense now. You're a prosecutor, but put yourself inside the White House as one of his lawyers. How do you try to limit this questioning? What are you most nervous about?

MARIOTTI: Well, I've been on the other side, too, on the defense side, and I will tell you, usually what you're trying to do is sort of play nice with the prosecutor, chitchat and get them talking about what, if anything, they're going to say during this -- during this interview. And typically a prosecutor will give you some broad, general categories of questions.

Well, of course, you know, if you could imagine a prosecutor -- someone on Mueller's team saying, of course we're going to ask him about the firing of James Comey. We'll ask about the firing of Michael Flynn. We'll ask him about x and y. You know, a very high level.

But the devil's in the details and they're going to try to get as much detail as possible. They're going to try to say, you know, hey, we're not -- we're not going to -- what I might say is something like, I'm not going to prepare my client to answer any questions about, you know, this financial dealing or that financial dealing, making it clear that, hey, these are the only subjects we're going to talk about. They'll try to feel it out and try to limit it as much as they can, but it's very hard to do. And once you get your client in the room with an FBI agent, it's really -- there's a lot of down side there, let's just put it that way.

HARLOW: So, on camera or written? President Clinton, it was on camera, deposed on camera, and then it was eventually released to the public. For President Reagan it was written answers. What do you think Mueller would do here? Would he ever go for written answers?

[09:35:07] MARIOTTI: I don't see written answers happening here in this particular circumstance. You know, typically, prosecutors don't like written questions and answers because, look, viewers at home can imagine, if you -- if you get written answers -- questions in advance, you can ask for help, right? You can -- you know, you can get other people to help you out and, of course, in this case, the president's got a bunch of lawyers who could help him craft the perfect answers to those questions. And typically what prosecutors want is they want to ask you spontaneous questions, get your natural reaction to them, ask you follow-up questions. That's when you get, you know, really at the truth and learn what's going on. So I suspect that's what Mueller will do. I don't expect it will be videotaped. I suspect it will be an interview between him and FBI agents at the White House in some place there.

HARLOW: Oh, you don't think it will be taped?

MARIOTTI: I don't think at this point. I mean when President Clinton was taped, that was grand jury testimony. I don't think that the president's lawyers are going to force Robert Mueller to issue a subpoena. I mean that's what they would be doing if they try to force him to play hardball, but I don't --


MARIOTTI: I don't think Mueller will be in that situation.


We appreciate you being here. Renato Mariotti, thank you.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

HARLOW: So the same Congress that managed to pass a historic tax bill is trying yet again to pass an ordinary government spending. Just keep the lights on and the doors open, folks. Still, well, now it is incredibly complicated. And we're told, frankly, discussions are a mess right now when it comes to including a deal for dreamers. President Trump is bringing in the lawmakers to talk about it.


[09:40:43] BERMAN: All right, very shortly, what could be a crucial meeting at the White House. President Trump meets with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss immigration, what to do about the 800,000 dreamers in the country, what to do about the border wall that the president has promised.

HARLOW: Joining us now is a Democrat who will be in that meeting, Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas.

It's nice to have you here, sir. Thanks for joining us before this meeting.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: You're involved -- you're involved, and someone else involved in these talks frankly put it, look, this is a mess right now in their words. Do you agree?

CUELLAR: Well, I think -- I'm hopeful. I'm an optimist. I think we can still work things out. And it's possible. If people just give in a little bit to address the issue. DACA's very important to us and at the same time so is border security. But there are some people that feel, some of my Republican colleagues, along with the president feel that the only way you're going to have border security is to have a wall.

The wall does not equate to just border security. You can use sensors. You can use cameras. You can use more personnel down there.

And one of the issues that people are not really looking at is, for example, you look at border patrol. Did you know -- did you know that right now Border Patrol is losing more people than they actually are hiring. So they're getting a net loss on this. And people are not paying attention to the real things that we have on the border.

BERMAN: Well, let's talk about it. You brought up the wall, so let's talk about that first.

The president says no deal without a wall. A lot of Democrats say no deal with the wall.

HARLOW: With a wall.

BERMAN: Couldn't you figure out some way where the Democrats could say, hey, you know what, the president didn't get the wall --


BERMAN: And the president could say, hey, look, I got it.

HARLOW: I got the wall.

BERMAN: You know, maybe a fence or a shed or a camera or a human chain with, you know, border patrol agents holding hands? Is there something creative that you could come up with where both sides could declare victory?

CUELLAR: Absolutely. For example, down in the valley (ph), back under the Bush administration, Senator Cornyn, myself and a Democratic country judge there, we came up with the issue of a levee wall, which is, in certain areas, there's flooding because of the Rio Grande. So what we did is we put a cement wall with a low fence on top with cameras and we were able to save thousands and thousands of dollars of premiums for people that had to pay flood insurance. So there are creative ways.

The problem is that you have people from other parts of the world -- I mean other parts of the country that go and spend -- you know, and I'm talking about both Democrats and Republicans, to be fair, they go and spend a few hours and they think they know the border better than some of us that have lived there on the border all our lives. I think we ought to listen to the people that live on the border that understand how we address some of those issues.

HARLOW: You said about a month ago this, talking about whether it's worth it to shut the government down over DACA. With all respect, even though I'm a strong supporter of DACA, I don't think it's the right way of doing it.

Do you think the Democrats should take the shutdown off the table in these talks?

CUELLAR: Well, look, quite honestly, there's a lot of diversity of thoughts in the Democratic caucus, just like there was a lot of diversity when the Republicans shut down the government over health care. Some Republicans wanted to do it. Some Republicans didn't want to do it. The same --

HARLOW: But what do you think?

CUELLAR: Well, let me get to the point. So the same thing on the Democratic caucus. My position has been the same. I don't think one single issue should shut down the government.


BERMAN: So your advice, you know, to the Kamala Harris' of the world, to the other Democrats, and there are many --


BERMAN: Who say, we should be willing to push us.


BERMAN: We should shut this down. You say no?

CUELLAR: Well, again, they've got to do what they think is right. I'm going to do what I think is right. Again, with all due respect, I live on the border, but I've got veterans to think about, I've got transportation, I've got educational issues, people that depend on the federal government. And to shut it down over one issue, again, with all due respect, even though I'm a strong supporter of DACA and I've been for this for longer than some people who are now new into the game, I don't think we ought to shut down the whole government over one single issue. It was health care some years ago. Now it's DACA. I think we ought to

look at this in a big picture type of frame.

HARLOW: So, as you know, in 18 months this administration will end the temporary protected status from -- of about 200,000 people living in this country from El Salvador. They've had it since 2001, after that series of earthquakes. This follows the same line what the administration did with those from Haiti here under that.

[09:45:11] Congress could stop this, right? I mean Congress could rectify this, if you will. Should Congress step in here?

CUELLAR: I mean, definitely. If the president wants to go that direction, Congress should be able to address this issue.

But, as you know, Congress is just -- overall is just afraid to take the tough votes. I mean, I'm ready to take the tough votes. People are just -- when it comes to immigration reform, just look at the history of immigration reform over the years. I'm not talking about the last two or three years. Over the years, people are just afraid to take the tough votes and we need to take the tough votes because immigration reform should be seen as a positive and not as a negative, the way some people see immigration reform.

My father came in from Mexico. He became a legal resident, then became a naturalized citizen. There's processes that we can address this, but it's up to Congress to address this issue.

BERMAN: Now, we know you have to get into this meeting with the president very shortly. One issue that will not likely come up inside this meeting is Oprah Winfrey and whether or not --

HARLOW: Probably not.

BERMAN: She will run for president, maybe seek the Democratic nomination. Her best friend, Gayle King, today said that Oprah is intrigued by that notion of running for president. Are you intrigued by that notion?

CUELLAR: Well, it -- what, you know, certainly -- certainly I don't think that issue's going to come up in the White House. But, again, I mean I've got my other favorite candidates. There's a lot of candidates that are looked at there. But, again, I'm willing to look at all the different candidates that can provide -- the Democratic candidates that can provide something to the table and make sure that in 2020 the Democrats win the presidency back.

HARLOW: So I'm going to try that because we have one minute left. I'm going to try that one more time. What do you think about Oprah for president and do you see a Democrat that could beat her right now?

CUELLAR: Well, again, there's a lot of candidates out there. You've got the -- well, without naming any of the names, yes, we've got a lot of Democrats out there that are ready to take a look at it (ph).

HARLOW: No, go ahead. Name the names. Name the names. CUELLAR: Oh, you know, well, I'll leave it to another time. But,

again, there's so many Democrats out there that have run before and that I think will have a good shot next -- in the 2020 primary. But, again, we'll see who announces at a later time.

But, again, yes, Oprah, yes, it's somebody that we can consider. I'm one of those sort of traditional Democrats and I like to see people that can come up with policies, that can address the real issues, practical solutions to the real problems that we have.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, thank you so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Good luck at that meeting going forward.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right, a prescription for success or bad medicine? The president's nominee for health secretary on Capitol Hill this morning. These could be very contentious hearings based on his history in the drug industry.


[09:52:25] BERMAN: All right, very shortly, the president's pick for health secretary will face Capitol Hill members, asking him a series of questions, no doubt. A confirmation hearing for Alex Azar about to get underway.

HARLOW: He is a former top executive at the drug giant Eli Lily. A lot of these questions will be tough ones because of his past at the company.

Rene Marsh is following the latest from Washington.

Good morning, Rene.

He was like president of their U.S. division, right? He had a huge role there for a while.


And Alex Azar, as you mentioned, is President Trump's pick to replace Tom Price as health and human services secretary. He will be before senators in the room that you're looking at right to the right of your screen for his confirmation hearing in just really a matter of minutes, and he should expect those tough questions. They're going to be asking about drug prices and what he'll do to make sure that they remain low or that they are lowered. They'll also be questioning him about Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, and his plans for those programs, as well as his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Azar, as you mentioned, he served as a top executive at pharmaceutical company Eli Lily. And the company has raised prices on medications, including insulin. and according to "Politico," while he was at this company, it also tested an erectile dysfunction drug on children. It was a strategy, critics say, to get an extension on the drug's patent that was about to expire. A strategy that essentially gained the company a six-month extension for the lucrative drug that makes about $2 billion a year.

But despite being hammered by Democrats, all of that, we do expect that the Republicans will show him unanimous support as this confirmation hearing is set to get underway in just about five minutes or so.

BERMAN: All right, Rene Marsh for us in Washington.

Rene, thank you very, very much.

So, as the questions about the president's fitness for office continue to be raised by Democrats mostly, moments from now House Speaker Paul Ryan will answer questions. Will he be asked about it? What will he say?


[09:59:09] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Right now negotiations over government funding and protections for dreamers in this country. According to a quote in the middle of these talks, well, they are a mess. Next hour, will that change? A big meeting underway with the president in just moments.

BERMAN: Yes, the president sits down with 14 senators, six representatives, to try to work out a deal, but is a deal even possible with the president saying that he must have a border wall and Democrats saying he can't have a border wall?

Also, any minute we'll hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He will speak live and answer questions. We might hear his take on a possible deal. We also might hear his take on the president's self-proclaimed genius and stability. We will wait for that.

First, though, let's go to the White House. CNN's Abby Phillip is there.

In advance of this big meeting, Abby, what can we expect?

[10:00:00] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy.

Well, in just about an hour, the White House is going to sit down with congressional leaders to try to bring both sides to the table.