Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller Interviews Comey on Trump Meetings; After Government Reopens Schumer Rescinds Offer to Trump on Border Wall; Pence: No Pay of Hush Money from Trump to Porn Star. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 23, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course, the $64,000 question will be, will Mueller speak to the president --


ZELDIN: -- will he speak to him under oath, and will the president be truthful? That will be the last sort of brick in the wall in his outcome determine active thought process.

BALDWIN: That is the question. I was just asking Dana about that. I'm glad you weighed in. And no one knows what he will or will not do.

Jeff Cramer, Michael brought up something key here, Michael Flynn. Flynn has been talking, cooperating for at least a couple of months. Is he providing any kind of road map?

JEFF CRAMER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think he easily could, more than Papadopoulos. But Flynn has now cooperated. We're not sure what he's saying. It's certainly a road map, a fairway to put it. But if you're Mueller, you're gathering the information from people who are cooperating and people you've interviewed and using that to inform your last half dozen interviews. Flynn is crucial there. Interestingly, what we saw when Flynn was indicted is the White House come out as trying to distance themselves from Flynn. It all ties together of the thread of the White House trying to distance themselves from people who have been indicted, and trying to minimize the FBI, saying they're political. It all comes down to, perhaps, the White House making pardons or whether or not the president is going to cooperate. It is a pattern of practice and Flynn is absolutely part of that.

BALDWIN: Stand by, everyone. We're about to get White House reaction to all of this breaking news.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Back in a moment.


[14:36:15] BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

It's a busy afternoon of news. Number one, we'll get you back to the breaking story, the fact that we've now learned that the special counsel in this Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, has interviewed the fired FBI director, James Comey. More on what we know on that in a second here.

The other piece of news in the wake of the government finally reopening and back in business for now is the fact that we've learned that Chuck Schumer has withdrawn his offer, the one he offered up to the president last Friday in that Oval Office meeting, withdrawn the offer on funding the border wall.

Back to Dana Bash we go on what you're hearing from your sources on the move. Why would he do that? Is it about saving face with the base? Is it more than that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: My sense and my understanding in talking to source is that it is more than that. Minority leader Chuck Schumer went to the White House and by many accounts, Democratic and Republican accounts, he offered the president a lot of what the president has been demanding. The biggest prize in that offer was full funding for the wall. Then everything fell apart and Republicans and Democrats are back to square one in getting a deal done to allow these DREAMers to stay in the United States legally. I think it's probably fair to say it's negotiating 101 that you don't start from a place where you're giving the other person everything that they want. You kind of go back to the basics of what each side wants and that's a reality of where we are right now.

BALDWIN: Going back to ground zero?

BASH: Back to ground zero. Exactly. If you kind of take a step back, there are a lot of people and you alluded to this, Brooke, in the Democratic base, who are not only angry now that they think that the Democratic leadership, mainly Chuck Schumer, caved too soon and really got nothing for what they did with the shutdown. Even before that, they thought it was -- many people thought it was crazy to be negotiating anything to give the president anything in return for what is a 70, 80 percent issue, meaning that people in this country think that this specific subset of undocumented immigrants.

BALDWIN: No brainer.

BASH: Young people who came -- is a no brainer. All of that is an important backdrop. And just the basic human nature here, that Schumer is not happy. He was really angry about the fact that he had at least the outlines of a deal with the president himself, went back to the capitol and a few hours later, chief of staff calls and says never mind, because they were getting blowback from the base. His M.O. is, if you want to do business like that, OK, let's do it. All those factors, the base, this human nature and how you negotiate is all tied into this decision to say, OK, we're not starting with the wall right now.

BALDWIN: All part of the mosaic. Offer rescinded.

Given that, we have reaction from a Republican to leader Schumer's move. This is Senator John Cornyn. Let's listen.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R), TEXAS: Thankfully, the Democrats realized the mistake they made in shutting down the government over this unresolved issue of DACA. But they've kept additional hostages, money that should be appropriated the rest of the fiscal year to support our military and to give some predictability to our nation's national security. And also, they're holding hostage the money that the House passed, $81 billion, for disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires out west.

I hope the Democrats realize we're serious about working on a bipartisan solution to the DACA situation. The leader said we'll take that up in a fair and open process and we will. Meanwhile they need to release these other hostages that they took on the DACA issue.


[14:40:58] BALDWIN: Just a flavor of reaction from Republicans.

Dana, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.

Again, maybe the Senate Republicans made good on McConnell's intention, but the real big question is the House and how it moves forward there. We'll tackle that in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, back to our breaking news here. We've now confirmed here at CNN the fact that the former FBI director, James Comey, has been interviewed by the special counsel in this whole investigation, Robert Mueller. What that means as far as the speed, the breadth and depth. And the key question into what they're looking into, can they prove it? We'll be right back.


[14:45:41] BALDWIN: Back to breaking news here at CNN. Special Counsel Mueller has interviewed Comey about his detailed memos and the meetings he had with President Trump. You remember Comey claims Trump asked him for his loyalty and asked for the investigation into fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to be dropped.

Let's bring back Jeff Cramer and Michael Zeldin.

Michael Zeldin, first to you.

In this interview between Comey and Mueller, Comey shared these memos of personal conversations he had with the president. How would that help that obstruction case?

ZELDIN: Comey gets the call from the president, wants his loyalty, wants him to step down. He gets nervous and says dear files I just had a conversation with the president. He made me nervous for the following reasons. Then he gets fired. And then he leases those memos and those memos find their way to Mueller, who now has contemporaneous memory of what happened in those meetings and Comey live in person to ask him about it. So essentially, he has a piece of corroborating evidence and piece of live evidence about the nature of the president's objectionist, if that's Comey's words, behavior. It's a double bang for the buck, if you will, that Mueller has with Comey and his memo. BALDWIN: Jeff Cramer, to you, what would that tell you with the fact

that Mueller is pouring through these memos and how can he determine they're all truthful?

CRAMER: Contemporaneous notes are powerful. It's not just Jim Comey saying something and perhaps the president saying the exact opposite. These notes, which were written before he was fired, before Mueller even got his job as special counsel, they were written at a time when Comey couldn't have known what would play out. They're powerful from an evidentiary standpoint. Also the shall is not what Jim Comey thought. Although that's important. It's what's in the president's mind? Did he intend to obstruct? Jim Comey can help put some color on that, his son can put color on that as well as the son-in-law. What was in the president's mind? Here we see the president took certain actions. It is not really a long shot to try to gather the intent he was trying to obstruct the Russian investigation. Also when he wanted Jim Comey to let go of the Flynn investigation. That's an important point that will play out down the line.


BALDWIN: Please go ahead.

ZELDIN: I'd like to speak to that. This is also where Sessions fits in. Remember, Comey, after these requests from the president, went to Sessions and he said, can you please put a stop to this? We have a longstanding policy in the Justice Department where the White House steers clear of our investigations. This fellow, President Trump, is violating that, making me uncomfortable. Tell him to stop. You get not only contemporaneous memos but the request by Comey to the attorney general to say this is wrong. It does fit into a nice package of evidence for Mueller does it constitute obstruction? But you have three components in it now.

BALDWIN: And we now know as of today that Mueller's team sat down with the attorney general last Wednesday in what would only assume all of those points were brought up in that investigation, that questioning.

Back to the memos and one man's word over another. The president has vehemently denied quite publicly that what Comey wrote in those memos and later testified to on Capitol Hill is wrong. So what happens when it's Comey's word versus the president's word?

[14:50:23] CRAMER: First step, who do investigators believe. It's safe to say -- or logical, at least, given his background as a career prosecutor, truth teller, anyone that has worked with him would say that. He has a lot of voracity going his way with respect to the investigators. Whereas President Trump, historically, hasn't been a friend of the truth too often. That factors into it. That's just the prosecutor's decision.

We also have a legal hurdle to overcome here. In any sort of criminal prosecution, U.S. attorney's office, the law is clear. No one is above the law. You can indict somebody if you've got the evidence. Here, legal scholars are differing on whether or not a sitting president can be indicted. Now, you're indicted, I don't know if you continue to sit. That point the 25th Amendment might come into play. Robert Mueller has an individual on his team that you don't hear about a lot. Current deputy solicitor general, by and large the best Supreme Court appellate lawyer in the country. That's a good guy to have in your team when you're deciding whether or not to indict the president.


BALDWIN: Do you want to jump in?



BALDWIN: Go ahead.

ZELDIN: One thing, of course, is that we do not know what Flynn adds to this. We've got the memo, Sessions testifying to Comey asking the president to ask him to cut it out. This is hypothetical. The president said to Flynn at any point, look, don't worry. I'm going to get Comey to back down on this thing, another piece of evidence to add to Mueller's investigation about what to do and it's right to say there's constitutional conflict about whether or not the sitting president can be indicted but there's no constitutional conflict about whether if the president has committed a crime in the eyes of the prosecutor, it can't be referred to House of Representatives.

BALDWIN: Huge development today. Thank you for your expertise and thinking about this case as it moves forward with the special counsel in his office. Gentlemen, thank you.

Up next, also new developments involving allegations that the Trump campaign paid a porn star hush money. A watchdog group is seeking answers, including was there a violation of campaign finance rules involving this woman, Stormy Daniels?

Also ahead, the White House daily briefing. We'll take that live.


[14:57:29] BALDWIN: Vice President Mike Pence is flat-out denying reports that, at the time, private citizen Donald Trump had an affair with this porn star and had his lawyer pay her hush money.

While this porn star, Stormy Daniels, is capitalizing on her new notoriety, Daniels appeared at a strip club in Greenville, South Carolina, over the weekend.




BALDWIN: The owner won't tell us how much he paid her or how much she made but booked her as soon as he saw published reports on the alleged affair.


JAY LEVY, OWNER, THE TROPHY CLUB: Talked to her agent. They said the only thing she has open is this saturday night. I said done. At that point I didn't realize it was the inauguration anniversary or the other stuff going on. I'm not a showman. I'm a promoter. Tonight is a performance burlesque, if you will, a strip tease show, whatever you want to call it. There's no politics involved. I happened to be dumb lucky for when it's happening.


BALDWIN: Let's get to the political part. As for the alleged hush money, this watchdog group says it may have violated campaign laws pair of federal complaints to seek if Michael Cohen, president's personal attorney, alleged $130,000 payment was an unreported in-kind contribution to the president's 2016 campaign.

We go to Mark Geragos for this, CNN legal analyst and defense attorney.

Mark, the organization calling on the Justice Department and the FEC to fully investigate. The White House saying, meanwhile, all of this is baseless. Do you see signs of campaign violations here?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The only way it's a campaign violation is if they used campaign funds or it was routed through the campaign. They don't have to go very far because Jared Kushner's lawyer is Abby Lowell, who represented John Edwards in his campaign finance prosecution over paying off his mistress. So, he's well aware of what the laws are. I know Michael Cohen apparent, if you believe what's reported, set up a separate LLC, routed the money, the $130,000.

By the way, the $130,000 makes some sense. The reason that rings true to me is my guess is that she said I want $100,000 net into my pocket and her lawyer took the $30,000.

BALDWIN: Mark Geragos, I wish we had more time.



BALDWIN: Add a new job title for you.