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Sources: Mueller Wants to Question Trump on Comey & Flynn; Trump Asked Acting FBI Director How He Voted in 2016. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 06:00   ET



JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: If they are trying to interview the president, that is very good news for the president, because it means they are starting to wrap up.

[05:59:11] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to be fully cooperative with the special counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attorney general and James Comey, they have both been interviewed by the special counsel's office.


PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is not appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a federal official who they voted for.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He doesn't understand the separation of powers.


TRUMP: Let's see how it all works out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people hostile to the president have not been conducting themselves in a manner that befits the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all part of trying to save this president's bacon by damaging the FBI and the Department of Justice.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's Wednesday. You know what that means.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What? You're exhausted.

CUOMO: Not coffee. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 24, 6 a.m. here in New York.

This is what we have on the starting line. Significant developments in the Russia investigation.

First, sources telling CNN Special Counsel Bob Mueller wants to question President Trump about his decisions to fire FBI Director Jim Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Also, we're learning Mueller's team has already interviewed Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Hope Hicks, key presidential adviser. What does all of this reveal about the direction of Mueller's investigation and a possible end game?

CAMEROTA: "The Washington Post" reports that, shortly after firing FBI Director Comey, President Trump, quote, "pointedly" asked acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, in an Oval Office meeting who McCabe voted for in the 2016 election. Officials say McCabe told the president he did not vote but found that conversation disturbing.

McCabe, of course, has been a frequent target of angry President Trump tweets regarding the Russia investigation. And the White House says that Mr. Trump has not fired the special counsel, in part because of how the press would react.

Sarah Sanders telling reporters the president is well aware of the ramifications of any move against Mueller, despite calling the investigation a witch-hunt. So we have all of this covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She is live at the White House -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, it was a day of bombshells here at the White House yesterday, and CNN has learned that, after months of interviews, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is now setting his sights on President Donald Trump himself and that negotiations are under way between Mueller's team and the president's lawyers after Mueller has expressed interest in sitting down with the the president.


COLLINS (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller expressing interest in questioning President Trump about his decision to fire former FBI director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to sources.

SANDERS: We're going to be fully cooperative with the special counsel, but we're also not going to comment on who may or may not or could be interviewed at any point. But we're going to continue to be fully cooperative with the process.

COLLINS: The Russia probe also closing in on the president's inner circle. A source close to Jeff Sessions tells CNN Mueller questioned the attorney general for hours last Wednesday. Sessions is the first cabinet secretary and the 16th current or former Trump administration official to be interviewed by the special counsel.

President Trump telling reporters he hasn't talked to Jeff Sessions about the conversation.

TRUMP: I didn't, but I'm not at all concerned.

COLLINS: But a source says topics likely included Russia meddling in the election and what Sessions knows about the president's decision to fire Comey, a matter Mueller is investigating for obstruction of justice.

Last year the president said this about his decision.

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

COLLINS: CNN has learned that Mueller already interviewed Comey last year. The "New York Times" reports that the former FBI director was questioned about memos he wrote about his interactions with the president.

Last May, Comey testified that Mr. Trump asked for his loyalty and told him he hoped he could let the investigation into Flynn go.

TRUMP: I didn't say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of...

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

COLLINS: Mr. Trump's alleged request for loyalty resurfacing amid a new "Washington Post" report that shortly after firing Comey, the president asked Comey's replacement, then acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who he voted for in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump reportedly also expressed his anger at McCabe over hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations his wife received from a political action committee run by a close friend of Hillary Clinton.

Since then, the president has repeatedly gone after McCabe. And CNN has learned that Sessions encouraged the new FBI director, Christopher Wray, to replace him, prompting Ray to threaten to quit if McCabe was removed or reassigned.

TRUMP: He did not, even a little bit. And he's going to do a good job.

COLLINS: Mueller's Russia case steadily progressing, as CNN learns that former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has quietly hired a prominent white collar attorney, signaling that Gates may be negotiating with Mueller in the face of eight charges of money laundering and failing to register foreign lobbying in other businesses. Despite these developments, the White House continuing to insist that

Mueller's probe is a witch-hunt, but that Trump hasn't fired Mueller due to potential backlash in the press.

SANDERS: I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that, and I don't think that's helpful to the process.


SANDERS: So Alisyn, a day of intense drama here at the White House. And the president is continuing to target the probe and the FBI, attacking the bureau on Twitter over some missing text messages between two former members of Mueller's team.

[06:05:08] And all of this comes as the president is preparing to depart the White House later tonight so he can attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan. Thank you very much for all of that background. Remember in the old days, Chris, when we used to have that quaint expression, "a slow news day." And we haven't had that for two years. I mean, look at all the developments that happened yesterday. Because some of these are big ones. So you know, I mean, Kaitlan just went through it, but obviously, knowing that Robert Mueller is preparing to interview the president and the president's team is preparing for that. You know, that -- that's reaching the Rubicon.

CUOMO: Right. Look, it had to happen. There's no way that the special counsel could look at these questions and not talk to the president directly and remember what the reason for that is.

The president has been his own problem. There probably would be no special counsel if Donald Trump hadn't fired Jim Comey. His actions with McCabe, his actions with Sessions. These are the types of things that sniff of obstruction of justice and require probing.

The second problem you're going to have here is political prosecution of opponents. This FISA memo that -- you know, release it, but they're not releasing it. You know, they're in control of...

CAMEROTA: There's all sorts of intrigue around it.

CUOMO: They won't show it to the FBI. That is a political, prosecutorial measure. And the danger is if you say they're hiding texts, but you can't prove it. If you say they're asking for visa's -- FISA warrants but can't prove it, it becomes a political prosecution and undermines the Department of Justice. And then what do you have?

CAMEROTA: All right. So we're going to get into all of that, because we have new information about this former Trump associate who may be thinking about cooperating with the special counsel? All of that is next.


[06:10:29] CUOMO: Major developments in the Russia investigation. Let's take Special Counsel Bob Mueller's probe to a critical point now by looking at one of these big developments, OK.

All of this happened in one day. You know, what does that mean? It means it happened in one day. We don't know what the significance of that is, but it was an unusual amount of volume. Let's put it that way.

The big one is that we now know that Mueller is going to question President Trump. The question is when. What is not a question any more is why. The focus supposedly will be why he fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director Jim Comey.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin formerly served as Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Department of Justice.

Counselor, it is with no small measure of irony that we must remind the reason there is a special counsel, in large measure, is because of the actions of the president, especially his firing of Jim Comey.

So I assume you're not surprised by this. But what it is of interest to you in this potential interview?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So what's of interest to me most, Chris, is the narrow scope of it as reported by "The Washington Post" and, I think, confirmed by CNN that he's interested at this stage of speaking to the president about the firing of Flynn and the firing of Comey. Because we've been talking for several months about a broader sort of collusion conspiracy inquiry as well as a potential financial crime of slash money laundering inquiry.

So unless Mueller is going to sort of bifurcate his interviews with the president, and that's what Ken Starr did with respect to Clinton, it's a little bit surprising to me that it is as narrowly positioned as it is. But maybe we're wrong, and there was no financial crimes inquiry and that this is really all about collusion and obstruction.


CAMEROTA: OK. It does feel as though something that we're reaching the Rubicon in some way. Because obviously, people like Michael Zeldin have always told us that the investigators wait for the top of the food chain, the big fish toward the end. What does it mean to you that Rick Gates, this top Trump campaign aide, has hired a new lawyer?

AVLON: That's significant to the extent that, if Gates is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, that's another inside man. Doesn't get closer to Manafort than Gates. And they worked together in the campaign side by side. So any information that Gates is giving if he's cooperating really shows that, you know, they're going to have real deep insight into Manafort and Trump. And presumably the question of collusion, separate from any money laundering charges that may have been launched against Mueller and Gates. But I think the macro point we've got to keep our eye on is that the

big fish is on the line. It has all been building to this. Whether or not this inquiry is focused solely on obstruction, the president of the United States is going to sit down with a special prosecutor.

Now, the question is where. The question is when and how. Will some of it be written? Will some of it be in person? Already Trump campaign aides and other allies are saying this is a death trap, because it's an invitation to perjury for a person like President Trump. But this is a significant moment in the history of any presidency, let alone this investigation.

CUOMO: So, Counselor, what do you make of him adding a lawyer to his team and that lawyer meeting with Mueller? I mean, you know, the point isn't, you know, once they cross the Rubicon, then you have an all-out battle on your hands. Is there any signal of that to you?

ZELDIN: Well, it seems to me, and I've thought this, Chris, since the end of last year when I was looking forward to what we should expect in 2018 that Gates would cooperate or plead guilty and cooperate.

And that's what I think the hiring of Tom Green, an institution here in Washington, a terrific warrior who will fight the fight or work out a very good deal. He was one of the lawyers on my independent counsel investigation. He is a first-rate guy.

So if it is that they're trying to work out a plea deal with Gates and also a testimony deal, then, one, that's not good for Manafort but, two, it may also not be good for the president.

Because, remember, Gates stayed on with the president's team, the transition and the election after Manafort was fired. So he's got a much longer tenure with the president. And if there were talks about collusive agreements with Russians and WikiLeaks, et cetera, Gates may be privy to that.

[06:15:03] CAMEROTA: OK. We have many more questions for you guys. Stick around, please.

CUOMO: So did President Trump go too far when he asked acting FBI director Andrew McCabe whom he voted for shortly after firing Jim Comey? We discuss next.


CAMEROTA: So "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump pointedly asked acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, in an Oval Office meeting, who McCabe voted for in the 2016 election. Officials say that McCabe told the president he did not vote, but he found that conversation disturbing. So this conversation happened shortly after the president fired James Comey.

Back with us now, John Avlon and Michael Zeldin.

So Michael, is that out of bounds? Is it illegal to ask the acting FBI director who he voted for? [06:20:00] ZELDIN: I don't know if it's illegal, but it certainly is

inappropriate, and it follows a pattern of behavior by the White House in respect of its conversations with the FBI. Whether it's the loyalty oath, the meeting in the Oval Office, the first responders' meeting. All of those types of communications between the White House and the FBI director, and this time McCabe is acting FBI director, seems to be inappropriate in respect of the White House, keeping its distance from the FBI to make sure that they act independently of any political pressure.

This is what, to Chris's point in the setup, this is what has been the problem with the president all along and is what has created, if you will, this obstruction of justice investigation for him. He keeps making mistakes along these lines, which is further evidence for Mueller to look at whether or not he has the intent to interfere with this investigation.

CUOMO: What do you think about the political pushback from the other side on this? Whether it's the FISA memo, release it, don't release it, all the hype and intrigue around that.

The missing texts between Strzok and Lisa Page. And this overall narrative that the FBI is dirty. I don't think -- the president can every once in a while take back of that. But Raj Shah put out a statement right after the president, said everything's fine at the FBI, saying it's toxic in all its senior leadership.

What do you think of that pushback campaign by the right? What's toxic is the environment that's been created by the president in politicizing and demonizing law enforcement.

CUOMO: It's not just him, though. He has lots of help.

AVON: That's exactly right. But remember, tone comes from the top. And conservatives and Republicans have always prided themselves on being the party of law and order. They've got law enforcement's back.

And so it's absolutely extraordinary to see that narrative and that distinctive loyalty get shifted on a dime in defense of a president who's seeking to protect himself from law enforcement inquiries.

And so the fact that the conservatives on the Hill and folks on -- talking heads on TV are going after and questioning not just the integrity of the FBI and law enforcement but really, in some cases, comparing them to the KGB is that utter reversal of their alleged longstanding belief. And it shows the corrupting influence on the Trump campaign -- Trump administration on the conservative movement and Republicans on Capitol Hill. It's a character test, and almost all of them are failing.

CAMEROTA: It was really interesting, Michael. Yesterday in the press room, Sarah Sanders was asked, you know, if the president thinks this is a witch-hunt. Why doesn't he just fire Bob Mueller? Why doesn't he just get it over with, you know, put everybody out of their misery?

CUOMO: FOX asked that question. No small measure of irony there. CAMEROTA: It's interesting how she explained it. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why doesn't the president just get rid of Bob Mueller, just fire him? Mr. Giglioso (ph) said today that it's wasting taxpayers' money. In that regard, why doesn't he just end the investigation, because it's wasting the taxpayers' money?

SANDERS: Well, we want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that. And I don't think that's helpful to the process.


CAMEROTA: What did you think of that, Michael? But it's because reporters, the hue and cry from journalists.

ZELDIN: You know, it's naive, maybe, at best. The reality is, and we can ask John Dean how well it worked out for President Nixon when he fired Archibald Cox.

AVLON: Right.

ZELDIN: It was not the end of an investigation when you get rid of the lead investigator.

A second one comes on, and the investigation continues with a new aspect to it, which is why was the first guy fired? So it's just silly talk on her part to say that the press is what's driving the decision not to fire Mueller. What has to drive the decision not to fire Mueller is an obstruction of justice inquiry by the special counsel's office.

AVLON: Yes. That's true. But she also told the truth for a second in that the press is playing a constraining role in holding the president accountable from some of his worst impulses, potentially, because of the blowback. That we do play a role in the process.

But the other part is, if that's the only thing holding back the dam, then also members of Congress who are going to pass a law to constrain Trump's ability to fire Mueller should probably giddyap on that, as well. Because if it's just about good faith, let's now assume there's not such a large reservoir of that.

CAMEROTA: Any time you can sneak in a giddyap reference is a good day. John Avlon, Michael Zeldin, thank you.

CUOMO: What we see is that this toxic environment, left versus right, bleeds into everything. Look at the immigration negotiation. That only has 16 days. Very rocky start. Senator Chuck Schumer says, "Hey, the wall funding that was on the table, now off the table." The president, of course, responded in kind, saying no wall, no DACA. Where does that leave us? Next.


[06:28:56] CUOMO: Negotiations on immigration have a very short window, and they're not off to a good start. Why? Well, Senator Chuck Schumer started first, saying, "Hey, this offer to fund the wall is off the table." The president fired back with this tweet: "Crying Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no wall, there is no DACA. We must have safety and security, together with a strong military, for our great people."

Here to unpack all of this, John Avlon and CNN political commentator Errol Louis. Is this a typical just beginning of negotiations, or are we off to a bad start?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we're off to a bad start. It's hard to imagine why this would be better than the many attempts over the last decade to try and resolve a lot of these very difficult issues.

I mean, DACA itself, you have to remember, is sort of a work-around. Right? I mean, it's an attempt to sort of make some unintended consequences of our immigration policy rational, and humane and fair. And to sort of see it get off to this start, with like, the name- calling, the childishness, the tweets, it's -- it's hard to imagine that they're going to get this done by February.

CAMEROTA: I'm confused. Is it Shutdown Schumer or Crying Chuck?

AVLON: You know, I think you've got to pick one nickname and stick with it.