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The Mueller Investigation is Hoping to Interview the President and May Include Questions to Determine if There was Obstruction of Justice; Interview with Senator Joe Manchin; Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 08:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN that Robert Mueller wants to interview President Trump or to question him about the decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Another sign the Mueller probe is ratcheting up and perhaps somehow closing in on the President. The Special Counsel questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions for hours we're told last week. We also have exclusive reporting about a former Trump associate who may be thinking about cooperating with the Special Counsel.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: "The Washington Post" is reporting shortly after President Trump fired Comey, he asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to come to the White House and then he asked him who he voted for in the 2016 election. That was in an Oval Office meeting. He then be rerated McCabe for donations that his wife had taken from Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat in his organization. McCabe told the President he did not vote which is not unusual in that community. But he also said he found the conversation disturbing.

CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now is the reporter who broke that story. We have CNN Political Analyst and White House Reporter for "The Washington Post" Josh Dawsey. Hi Josh.


CAMEROTA: I'm well. Let's start with the question that President Trump put to Andrew McCabe which was, was it as simple as who did you vote for in 2016?

DAWSEY: Right. Well, it was a get-to-know-you meeting. It was right after he has pushed FBI Director James Comey out. He was thinking about making McCabe Acting Director. And, it was clear he was looking for loyalty. He wanted to know who did you vote for, he berated him about his wife's taking political contributions from a Clinton supporter and made clear to Mr. McCabe, you know, I want to know what your political leanings and affiliations are. And, the people around me have told me that they're Democratic, and I don't really like the sound of that.

CAMEROTA: Okay, so was he that explicit? So, did he say, "I want to know what your political leanings are?" DAWSEY: I mean, he said, "Who did you vote for in the election? I

think that's, you know, a pretty specific question. He wanted to know did you support the Democrat? Did you support me? Did you support Clinton? Did you support me?

CAMEROTA: Okay, because the reason I ask and I press on this is because you see it or he saw it, I guess, as a loyalty test. Lots of people do. But we just had the RNC Chair in, Ronna McDaniel, who said he's just making conversation. That was just a get-to-know-you meeting he had with Andrew McCabe. And that's how the President makes conversation.

DAWSEY: Well, I heard her say that. It's unusual our sources and experts said to us last night for a President to ask a civilian servant, a FBI official, a nonpartisan person who they voted for. That was followed up by criticizing him for his wife's political donations from Democrats that's affiliated to the (ph) Clintons. So, I guess he could have just been making small talk, but those two things together certainly intimated to us that he was looking for some sense of he felt politically

CAMEROTA: How did Andrew McCabe take it?

DAWSEY: Well McCabe later told folks it was disturbing and it got circulated through the FBI. Here was this conversation he had with the President. He went in and the President asked a number of political questions. Several people in the FBI described it to my colleagues as he was disturbed by the conversation.

CAMEROTA: And it was interesting to hear Andrew McCabe, as you report, say that he didn't vote.

DAWSEY: But --

CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.

DAWSEY: -- that's pretty normal. A lot of top FBI officials just like many journalists who are involved in this world don't cast ballots in Presidential elections or are not affiliated with a party so you won't have those concerns of partisan political activity. As you know, when those concerns are there it kind of taints the findings and it taints the work.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean so now we have learned and we've heard from our legal experts today that that's customary because if you're involved in an investigation, you don't want to be seen as partisan somehow, so you sit it out and don't exercise your civil duty or your civil right. And, did that satisfy the President when Andrew McCabe said he didn't vote?

DAWSEY: Well, it's unclear. He brought him back in again for a perfunctory interview to become the permanent FBI Director and obviously chose Chris Ray. Since then the President has vented on a number of occasions through aides about the money that he took, about the fact that he thinks he's a Democrat. We've even seen him taunt Andrew McCabe on twitter on several occasions. So Andrew McCabe is far from the President's favorite person and I don't think his answers must have satisfied him if all the President's subsequent comments are an indicator of that

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about your other reporting that CNN has (inaudible), that Robert Mueller is preparing, getting ready to interview President Trump and vice versa. Do you have any sense of what that will look like? Is that a sit-down in person? Is that a submission of written questions and answers?

DAWSEY: Well, the negotiations are at pace now. President Trump's lawyers are obviously looking to make an interview as accommodating to him as possible, whether it's some written, whether part is videotaped. What Bob Mueller's team has told the President's lawyers though, is they're interested in two parts, the firing of Mike Flynn early in the Administration and the firing of James Comey later in the Administration. Those are kind of the bucket areas, and what the President was thinking, the preceding events, what happened afterwards, basically what precipitated the President to take both of these moves. The negotiations are beginning now. His lawyers are obviously going to the President and saying here is what we want. Mueller's team saying here is what we want and we expect this to happen sometime in the coming months.


CAMEROTA: So coming months, not couple of weeks?

DAWSEY: Well, it depends. These negotiations could go well. I think President Trump's lawyers are expecting to start talking to Mueller's team as early as next week. It depends how they could go. They could in a few days figure it out or it could take some time.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Josh Dawsey. Thank you very much.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you.

CUOMO: All right, joining us now are former Federal Prosecutor Reynaldo Mariotti and CNN Political Analyst David Gregory. Renato, the timing of moving in to want to interview Trump, having done Comey and Sessions, what does that tell you?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It tells me as to the obstruction piece of Mueller's investigation, he's getting closer to a conclusion. A prosecutor does not interview a key subject in a probe like this until very close to the end, after he's already gathered all the key documents, spoken to the less important or more peripheral witnesses. I mean, whatever the President says about his firing of James Comey will dramatically impact Mueller's investigation of obstruction.

So this is sort of where all of the rubber meets the road, so to speak. So what it tells us is that Mueller has gotten very far along on the obstruction piece. Now obviously we've heard, and CNN has reported over the past months, of various other aspects of Mueller's investigation, from Facebook to the Trump tower meeting and so on. This doesn't mean that Mueller is not going to be investigating the other pieces, but it means as to this portion of the investigation, it's very far along.

CAMEROTA: David, it's interesting to think about the President sitting down with Robert Mueller. That's an interesting scenario to imagine. Polls suggest that most Americans want Robert Mueller to get to the bottom of this. If the President were to somehow avoid a face- to-face interview, do you think there would be political consequences?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't necessarily think there would be political consequences. I think the President very much wants to meet with Robert Mueller. I think his lawyers may be concerned about how undisciplined the President is. I can't imagine a more undisciplined figure to be deposed or to be interviewed which is why I'm sure they'd want a combination of written answers and some face- to-face. Let's also remember, the obstruction area is certainly an area of inquiry by the special counsel, but it's not only that.

Whatever he's doing with regard to Paul Manafort and his deputy, Mr. Gates, there is a wide area here that the President could be questioned on, and I think that's important to remember. And I also think in fairness to the President, we have to point out that he could do himself a lot of good. There may be things that he can corroborate, that he can help the special counsel with that will validate what the President has said about not knowing certain things, being removed from certain questions. Remember, Hillary Clinton of course, as other figures have been, was interviewed as part of the e-mail probe and that didn't lead to any charges. So I think we have to consider all sides of this.

CUOMO: Renato, what piques your interest in terms of questions for the President? and are you interested in this latest anecdote about how he interviewed McCabe when he was in his office as acting FBI Director and said who did you vote for, what's up with your wife and all this Democratic money?

MARIOTTI: I will tell you -- let me start with the second part of that question first. I thought it was very interesting that the President apparently asked Mr. McCabe about who he voted for. That is very unusual, and I have to say, I find it absolutely unbelievable that there's a suggestion that this was just small talk, like asking about baseball or the latest movie you watched. It is very unusual to be asking people in the FBI who they voted for, who their partisan political leanings are.

He clearly according to the reporting we just heard a moment ago, followed that up with questions about his wife and her political leanings. The President later called out McCabe on twitter for alleging he was partisan. What it suggests is that the President believes that people should either be on his side or not on his side. If you use the FBI as people who are either for him or against him, and that's not what the FBI is supposed to be.

They're supposed to be neutral investigators of the law. That's very concerning. And I think it's something Mueller could ask him about because it goes to the idea of loyalty that Comey talked about when he testified before the Senate, the Senate committee, where he said that the President wanted essentially -- his interpretation was that the President wanted him to be personally loyal to him.

Now, in terms of questioning, I think really what Mueller is going to be asking about is the decision-making process that caused the President ultimately to fire Comey.

[08:10:00] He's going to ask about the conversations with Comey in great detail to see what areas of true disagreement are there between Trump and Comey about what was said during those meetings. Trump may ultimately agree with Comey as to many of the points about what were said during the meetings. That ultimately could aid in his investigation.

GREGORY: Let's also remember, I think it's patently ridiculous that the basis for the President firing Comey, since he made it so clear that he was unhappy with the Russia probe, but as it pertains to the investigation, the President and his lawyers may assert and may be right that, look, they had a basis for removing him from the Deputy Attorney General who basically went through the underlying causes to do so.

MARIOTTI: Except Trump said he was going to do it anyway.

GREGORY: Right. This is why the investigation would have to happen. But I think it's important to remember that he had that basis, according to the administration.

CAMEROTA: Renato, what do you see in the fact that Rick Gates, this top campaign official -- aide to Donald Trump at the time has now hired this high-powered attorney that suggests that something is closing in on Rick Gates?

MARIOTTI: Well, it certainly suggests that Gates may be wanting to go in a different direction in the way that he is handling the investigation. I will tell you that as somebody who has been both a federal prosecutor and now on the other side of it, given the array of charges against Gates and the years he's facing in prison, cooperation is very much logically the best move for him given that federal prosecutors usually secure convictions. It doesn't surprise me that Gates might be cooperating, and I think that's really bad news for Paul Manafort because that just makes the evidence against him even stronger because Mueller is going to know everything that Gates knows. And when I say everything, that's really important I think for everyone in Trump's camp because Gates was obviously part of the campaign and Gates will be sharing what Mueller has knowledge on a variety of subjects.

CUOMO: Not good news for Manafort, that's for sure. David Gregory, you advanced a theory early on that now has more meat on the bones of it which is, boy, political moves to discredit the Justice Department may wind up leading to a crisis when the Special Counsel delivers his findings to Rosenstein. Sure enough, now we see the memo released that there was bad surveillance by the Justice Department. The President redoubling his efforts to say that it has the worst reputation ever and everything is toxic there. The missing texting between two of the people involved in the probe, Ron Johnson, sitting Wisconsin Senator -- little bit irony, that's where Joe McCarthy came from also saying secret society meets off campus. That's what an informant says, but no real proof. How high is your concern now?

GREGORY: Your interview with former Attorney General Gonzalez I thought was interesting. It is upsetting to anybody connected with the Justice Department, the FBI and to American citizens to hear this kind of thing, because there's so much innuendo. And we cannot forget what good and important job FBI agents do and employees political and non- political of the justice department. It's important for citizens to have faith in those institutions, faith that is well-placed, by the way, even though they make mistakes. They could very well have made mistakes here.

Let's also remember this is a political process now. Just as the Clinton Administration and their allies beat up on Ken Starr and his investigation, so, too, are they going to do that here. This is where Mueller has got to account for his investigation. But remember, the FBI chief who Trump put in place has stood up for his people and so have people at the Justice Department.

CAMEROTA: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much for all the analysis.

So lawmakers say that they're ready to tackle immigration reform. Will there be a bipartisan solution? Senator Joe Manchin met with President Trump about it this week. So we'll talk about that meeting next.


[08:17:59] CUOMO: New signs that the special counsel is heating up his investigation. Sources tell CNN he does want to question the president and soon, and he wants to talk to him specifically about decisions to fire former FBI director Jim Comey and former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn.

We also now know that recently the special counsel has interviewed the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the former FBI director Jim Comey.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a member of the Senate Intel Committee.

Joe Manchin, you and I have known each other a long time. I've seen you handle the worst of situations and be a true advocate for your people as governor and senator in West Virginia. I have never heard you say that anything sucks before I read that "New York Times" piece. Obviously you've had it.

What sucks, my brother? Senator, tell us why you said that.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Chris, I got to the point -- you know, so many good people up here, both Democrats and Republicans. They're all my friends. I work with them. When you get us together, it sounds like we make sense. We want things to work. And all of a sudden all the power transfers to two people. It transfers to the majority leader and minority leader who makes a decision what moves and doesn't move.

And in the majority, the majority sets the agenda. I've said I think -- I keep thinking of my beloved Robert C. Byrd laying in his grave, he's got to be twisting and turning, thinking how did we get to this?

So we've got to come back to some regular order and to where other senators have input and where our voices are heard. We're able to move the dialogue. So that's where you saw the commonsense coalition come together with Susan Collins and so many Democrats and Republicans.

We had 25 senators about equally divided, D's and R's, who really want the place to work and make sense and understands there's a pathway forward. That's what we've been working on. So I said yes, the place sucks when it doesn't work. And I know it can work.

So I still have hope. But I get a little frustrated sometimes and I think I let it fly that day. I probably shouldn't have.

CUOMO: No, I like it. It's good.

[08:20:02] It's good for people to hear the frustrations and more importantly hear why, see whom to blame, whom to ask for better. So on immigration, Senator --

MANCHIN: Hold on, hold on one second, Chris.

CUOMO: Yes, go ahead.

MANCHIN: The blame game is what's the problem up here. The blame game really -- it just destroys the trust we should have in each other. It's nobody's fault, but it's everybody's fault. If I blame you, you're never going to sit down and try to fix it with me.

CUOMO: Fair point.

MANCHIN: I'm not going to blame my Republican friends or my Democrat friends that have a different view.

CUOMO: Fair point. I'm just talking about transparency, Senator.

MANCHIN: I got you. I got you.

CUOMO: It's good for people to understand.


CUOMO: Because it doesn't make sense to anybody who's not initiated in the process because it doesn't work like the way you guys do it anywhere else in society. It doesn't work in running a household, running a relationship with a spouse or a loved one or a business.

MANCHIN: You're right.

CUOMO: So on immigration, what is the suck factor there right now?

MANCHIN: Let me tell you about immigration.

CUOMO: You only have three weeks.

MANCHIN: Yes. There's not a person up here, 100 senators that I know, that does not want these children to have their home which is the United States of America.

CUOMO: Talking about the Dreamers?

MANCHIN: We're talking about the DACA children right now.


MANCHIN: Those children that came in undocumented, but no powers of their own, and they came here with their parents at very young ages. They're here. Everyone realizes this is the only home they have. We're not going to send them somewhere else that they don't know and put them in jeopardy. That won't happen. I truly believe it with all my heart.

With that being said, where do we go from there? What about the parents? And then they called them migration with many more people in the family. That needs to be tightened up and needs to be basically vetted properly. Just because you might get a pathway to citizenship, you become a citizen. The United States citizens and our whole citizenship is based around family unity.


CUOMO: Is pathway to citizenship even on the table?

MANCHIN: Pardon me?

CUOMO: Is pathway to citizenship even on the table?

MANCHIN: For DACA, it is. You saw -- it's a 12-year pathway. They get two years' credit for DACA since they've been here all their lives and it's still a 10-year process.


MANCHIN: Do the parents that are trying to work things out? That's what's holding it up. It's not holding up do these children belong in America or not. It's what else can you close. And then you have the border, the border security, border wall, whatever you want to call it. They're getting into a tiff about this, Chris. We have to have border security. We know that. So if the president calls it a border wall, we do need wall. We need to repair some wall, we need to build some new wall. We need other technologies, too.

CUOMO: Well, it's messaging.

MANCHIN: Border is everything. CUOMO: It's messaging because you Democrats are going to have to

swallow him rubbing your face in it and saying, I got the wall, you lost.

MANCHIN: That doesn't matter.

CUOMO: But it matters politically and that can create energy. And then you have the president also who's fighting your assumption a little bit. You're saying the men and women up there want to help these people.

You know, Mick Mulvaney was on here and the president echoed his own statement that I'm going to give on DACA only as much as I get in return.

MANCHIN: And let me tell you.

CUOMO: That's not compassion. There's no such thing as calibrated compassion.

MANCHIN: Chris, I met with him two days ago, sat in his office. Myself and Doug Jones went over there and we sat with the president and talked to him. I can tell you sincerely he believes these children need a pathway forward. He's sympathetic towards that.

Now there might be people around him that aren't quite as sympathetic as he is. But my gut tells me the president wants to get this done. I am willing to continue to keep working with him in a bipartisan way, be an honest broker, tell him what I think what work and what won't work. We need to get past all this.

CUOMO: Good.

MANCHIN: The rhetoric, the rhetoric is what it is. The president is going to say what he's going to say. That doesn't upset me as long as we have the final product and we got a pathway forward. And we can do this. So we're going to continue to keep working. The commonsense coalition is going to stay together. And we're going to see if we can work this thing out. We have a hard deadline. March 5th these kids start moving out technically if we don't do something.

CUOMO: Right.

MANCHIN: February 8th, the government shuts down again if we don't have a deal. So there's no time to waste here.

CUOMO: Right. Don't make Collins break out that stick. If she breaks out that stick, Joe, you're a big man, but she can swing that stick.

MANCHIN: Well, I can catch that stick, too. It's been thrown at me and I can catch that stick.

CUOMO: It wasn't thrown at your head, though.

MANCHIN: No. CUOMO: You weren't the one in front of the glass elephant, were you?

MANCHIN: No. That's a bunch of crap. You know, sometimes people's reflexes aren't as good as they should be.

CUOMO: Was it thrown at somebody's head or no, Joe? Come on.

MANCHIN: No. No. It was never thrown at anybody's head. We figured after that, well, we ought to go to a basketball because it's a little bit easier to catch. That's how --

CUOMO: And a little bit softer if it does hit you on the head.

MANCHIN: You got it.

CUOMO: Let me ask you about something serious while I have you.


CUOMO: And it does play a little bit into immigration. Do drugs come across the southern border? Yes, they do.


CUOMO: Is it the biggest way they come over? Probably not, looking at the estimates of what happens in tunnels and other large cargo. And it certainly isn't our biggest concern when we talk about something that is a specific concern to your state. You know, we need a documentary on this recently for HLN.

Opioids are only getting worse. It's good that the administration is talking about it, getting their hands around it. But it ain't enough. Money is not making it onto the streets and in communities where it's needed to combat this with treatment and enforcement.

What's your take and what's your request?

MANCHIN: Well, my request has been this.

[08:25:02] Make sure once you identify the front line of defense where the war really is taking place, West Virginia is the front line. We can't be just disburse out money to fight the war if it's based on the population base because we're less than 2 million people.

CUOMO: Right.

MANCHIN: If you base it on the incident and the recurrence and the death that we have per thousand, we're number one. Give us enough bullets to fight the war so we can stop the enemy from moving further in. That's what we're asking for and I think we're going to get that.

Opioids is going to be a big part of this that we're going to be doing -- opioid addiction, how do we fight it. It starts basically with the kids in kindergarten, education and prevention. It starts also with cleaning up the people that had been addicted and get them back into productive society. We have a long way to go, Chris. But we can do it. But it is -- it's

ravaging every state. There's not any state that's been spared.

CUOMO: And it really is the perfect storm. You know, Senator, just so people know.


CUOMO: The senator was talking to me about this, said it was something that we should pursue so we did. You and New Hampshire obviously stick out because small populations but big infestation.


CUOMO: And it's the perfect storm of a drug scourge.

MANCHIN: Hey, Chris.

CUOMO: Not only is it uniquely addictive and synthetic and shipped in from big pharma suppliers, but you have overprescribing, you know, as an aspect of this that we never had to deal with, with more illicit drugs and it's only getting worse so the urgency is there. We'll stay on it for you, Senator.

MANCHIN: Let me just say this here, Chris. First of all, when you talked about how drugs are coming, fentanyl, which is a deadly drug, it comes mostly through the mail.


MANCHIN: OK. Security, we talk about walls. We need everything.


MANCHIN: We need technology, we need drones, we need new agents, we need Border Patrol. We also need dock patrol basically where it comes through our ports. We need high-speed boats to intercept.

We're talking about all of this. So when you hear someone talk about just the wall, there's a lot more than the wall and we're going to do whatever it takes to secure this country.

CUOMO: Senator, when you're talking opioids, your argument does not suck. I will tell Senator Collins to spare you the talking stick.


CUOMO: Take care, Senator. Thank you.

MANCHIN: Thanks, Chris. Appreciate it.

CUOMO: Alisyn, I can't get enough of the stick.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I know, it's fantastic. I'm so glad she showed it to us because now I can visualize it being thrown.

CUOMO: I believe they were fighting with the stick.


CAMEROTA: Of course you do.

CUOMO: That's what I need to believe.

CAMEROTA: Because that's what you would be doing.

CUOMO: I need -- yes.

CAMEROTA: Had you have been in the room.

CUOMO: Yes. Yes. I would say let's go shot for shot with the stick. Whoever wins, they get what they want on the policy.

CAMEROTA: Right. Whereas I believe that somebody could just drop it or not catch it because that's where I come from.


CUOMO: You would not catch it but then you would talk anyway and you'd be insulted that someone threw it to you.

CAMEROTA: That's right.

Meanwhile, there's been a burst of new developments related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. So how significant are these?

We're going to ask Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, next.