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NYT: Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization in Russia Probe; Pedestrian Bridge Collapse in Miami, Rescue Underway. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:26] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin this afternoon.

Our breaking news this hour, special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization now to turn over documents, including some related to Russia. Now, this is all according to "The New York Times" and it marks the first-known time that Mueller has requested documents directly related to the president's businesses.

Our Jessica Schneider is with us, as well as Jeff Zeleny standing by.

I want to start with you, Jeff, as we're getting ready for a press briefing at the White House. This news just comes out. What with do we know?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We do know, of course, at least "The New York Times" is reporting that there's a subpoena going out to the Trump Organization really for the first time, this would be going after business records directly. The Trump Organization, as they relate to Russia. Certainly signaling that this, A, investigation is far from over as the president has been hoping it would be and, B, showing that it is going even more at the heart of the Trump Organization and closer to the president.

So, that's what we know for now. Of course, we'll be looking for White House reaction at that briefing, as you said, coming up this hour.

CABRERA: And, of course, our Washington team is all going fast and furious right now, trying to confirm more of the information "The New York Times" has reported.

But, Jessica, this comes on the heels of sanctions announced today against Russia for their election meddling and also is giving us more insight into the Mueller probe. Put us into context for us.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we have seen just how wide-ranging this probe is from the special counsel Robert Mueller. As Jeff mentioned there, you know, the Trump White House was expecting and even talking about the fact that this investigation might have been wrapped up by the holidays at the end of last year, hoping it might be wrapped up in the beginning months of this year. But as we're seeing with this "New York Times" reporting, saying that Robert Mueller's team has subpoenaed the Trump Organization, this investigation is still extremely wide-ranging.

And what's interesting, as well, is the fact that the president talked back in July to "The New York Times" when he had that interview about Robert Mueller potentially crossing what he called a red line, if Mueller's team delved into the finances of the Trump Organization or Trump family business dealings. And, of course, that's exactly what's happening right here. These subpoenas, going in-depth to the Trump Organization, whether or not they may have had any financial dealings with Russia.

Of course, the president has repeatedly said he has no financial dealings with Russia. But as we have reported in previous months, of course, there were those e-mails that were from Michael Cohen, the long-time lawyer for the Trump Organization. He hasn't gone to the White House.

But he did talk about a possible deal for Trump Tower in Moscow, some licensing, perhaps. We know it didn't go through, but those communications existed. We know that Michael Cohen had corresponded with a spokesman for Russian spokesman Vladimir Putin.

So, all these details that have been sort of drummed up over the past few months, now it appears that Mueller's team wants the exact details by subpoenaing the Trump Organization itself and, of course, that going directly to President Trump and his family's business ventures -- Ana.

CABRERA: Right. Jeff, talking more about family and financial dealings.

ZELENY: Right.

CABRERA: This comes weeks after Jared Kushner's business dealings have been under the microscope as well.

ZELENY: No question at all. And that is something, of course, we -- you know, as we look back at a timeline that, June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that Jared Kushner was one of the people that helped organized. We know that that is still the subject of inquiry from investigators.

But as Jessica was saying there about the red line, this is something that is very key here at this moment. If the president believes that Bob Mueller and his special counsel team are crossing what the president sees as a red line into other areas of the investigation, even though Bob Mueller has a broad mandate to essentially follow this as it goes, this could play into something we've been seeing all week here in Washington. The president has been in a firing mood. He fired his secretary of state just earlier this week and, of course, we know well that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on the outs with the president. The question here will be, does something like this, does a subpoena

of business records like this push the president, encourage him to take that step that many advisers have urged him not to do and fire the attorney general? Of course, that would set a wave of things into motion here. Would an acting attorney general potentially try to fire the special counsel?

[14:05:01] Again, too early to say that. But as we play this down the line, all of these are interconnected here with the president's mood, with what he's thinking, and this revelation today will certainly be, you know, some more fodder for as he decides what, if any, staff changes to make.

CABRERA: Of course, Sarah Sanders will be asked about this, I imagine, as she approaches the podium there at the White House press briefing expected to happen some time around 2:30. We'll, of course, stay on top of the timeline on that front.

But meantime, Jessica, let me ask you about this issue of the subpoena for these documents. He didn't have to subpoena the lawyers or the Trump Organization, or any individual. He could simply ask them for that.

Does that suggest that they were having trouble getting documents or getting the information that they may have previously requested?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you're exactly right, Ana. That does present a bit of a wrinkle in this. The fact that Mueller's team seemed to have gone directly to issuing the subpoenas in the Trump Organization. I believe that "The New York Times" talked about it wasn't clear why Mueller's team issued these subpoenas instead of going directly to the Trump Organization.

But it is possible, given the president's previous questions that he wanted Mueller to stay far away from his family's finances, from the Trump Organization itself. It's quite possible that Mueller's team went directly to subpoenas because they were anticipating that there might not be any cooperation from the Trump Organization. But, yes, that is an important note as well, that these subpoenas were issued and it's not clear if the Trump Organization was just asked for the documents.

Of course, the subpoenas being a very strong step. If you don't comply with these subpoenas, you could be found in contempt of court. So, these are high-stake subpoenas for Mueller's team that presumably now the Trump Organization has to fully comply with. Of course, that will be the next step with those looming questions there, Ana.

CABRERA: Stand by -- go ahead.

ZELENY: And, Ana, it certainly comes -- it certainly comes on a day when the administration is actually taking its toughest action yet with those sanctions. But this certainly raises the question.

We know that Bob Mueller has financial experts on his special counsel team. Steve Bannon, of course, the former chief strategist here, has said he believes this is all about finances, potentially money laundering. So, that is what we're talking about here. Not election meddling, necessary, but finances.

So, this is all coming on a day when the president is actually doing more than he has before on Russia. But, clearly, it's a sign that this regulation is broadened way, way beyond that.

SCHNEIDER: And to Jeff's point --


CABRERA: Jeff Zeleny and Jessica Schneider, I've got to squeeze in a quick break, guys. But stand by.

We're going to have more legal analysis on all of this, next. A major development in the Russia investigation.

You're watching CNN. I'm Ana Cabrera. Stay with us.


[14:12:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: More now on our breaking news. Special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaing the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia. And this is all according to "The New York Times" and their report. It would mark the first-known time that Mueller has requested documents directly related to the president's businesses.

And joining us now to discuss, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, as well as CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.

So, Jeffrey, I'll start with you. I know you're on the phone with us. Your initial reaction, is this a surprise?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Not at all. This is at the core of Mueller's jurisdiction. The question of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia raises the obvious question of was there a motive for collusion? And, you know, the Trump family has bragged that there were extensive business contacts between Russia and the Trump organization. That certainly suggests a motive, a possible motive.

And so, Mueller's interest in uncovering just what that financial relationship was between the Trump Organization and Russia is certainly highly appropriate and relevant to what Mueller has been doing.

CABRERA: Carrie, do you agree? What's your reaction?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, I do agree with Jeffrey that it's definitely an important development. And it indicates a few different things. It indicates that, as we thought, the special counsel's investigation is looking at a few different aspects, including potentially money laundering, potentially obstruction and, of course, the Russian influence on the election.

And the Trump organization's financial relationship with either Russian government entities or Russian oligarchs or Russian government-connected businesses is really central to why the Trump Organization and Donald Trump and his family, which it's a family- owned business. We should remember the Trump Organization. Why they would be willing to take meetings with Russian government officials or Russian government surrogates? Why they were potentially willing to receive information or if there was any cooperation, why they would be willing to do that?

Whether they had financial entanglements, financial debt that would have influenced how the president has spoken about Russia over the course of the last year and a half in terms of his unwillingness, frequently, to be critical of Vladimir Putin or of Russia, his unwillingness to accept the intelligence community's assessment that there was Russian intended influence over the 2016 election.

[14:15:07] And so, money and whether or not the Trump Organization has information that can shed light on whether there are financial entanglements is highly relevant to the special counsel's investigation.

CABRERA: Especially as they look into whether Russia or anybody in Russia has any kind of leverage over this administration because of those financial dealings, if there are financial dealings.

But, Jeffrey, we remember the president's comments about a red line Mueller could or couldn't cross and this is what he said in the past about that.


SCHMIDT: If Mueller was looking at your finances, your family's finances, unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don't -- I don't -- I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something. So, you know, I sell a lot of condo units and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia.


CABRERA: Jeffrey, is this the red line he's talking about?

TOOBIN: Well, it would depend on what the subpoena actually said. The question, I mean, it was an imprecise exchange. But it suggests that if the subpoena sought information related to the Trump Organization and Russia, that would not be a red line. If it were further afield, that conceivably would offend the president to the extent that he might try to take action against Mueller.

But since we don't know the precise contours of the subpoena, it's hard to say whether it violates any red lines.

CABRERA: Carrie, quickly, given it was a subpoena and not just a simple request for documents or information. What does that tell you?

CORDERO: Well, it tells me that either the special counsel's office broached the subject of requesting documents and the organization was stonewalling in some way, which I think is less likely, but possible, or the more likely scenario, which is that the special counsel's office decided to issue a subpoena so that information would then have to be preserved. If a subpoena is issued from a grand jury immediately the receiving entity, in this case the Trump Organization, is required under the grand jury to preserve any information. In other words, not to delete any e-mails, not to shred any files, to hold on to all that information.

And so, that is one mechanism that the subpoena offers that a voluntary request would not.

CABRERA: Carrie Cordero and Jeffrey Toobin, thank you both. I want to get in another quick break before the White House briefing.

Much more on this breaking news. "New York Times" reporting the Trump Organization has been subpoenaed to turn over documents related to the president's former business, the Trump Organization and also pertaining to Russia.

Don't go away. You're watching CNN.


[14:22:28] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: Stay with me, folks.

We have more breaking news this hour. This time, out of Miami. Come take a look at your television right now.

This is a pedestrian bridge that has collapsed at Florida International University. You can see search and rescuers are there on the ground right now accessing the situation. What we have been told is that there are an unknown number of injuries at this time. No word on exactly how many people maybe involved, what those injuries may look like.

But you can see from the pictures, this is a significant bridge. And our understanding is that there are cars underneath that bridge as well. You see one of them on the bottom right sticking out, harshly. It's unknown if there are additional vehicles underneath. You can see rescuers on top of the bridge doing some work.

We have seen workers, apparently, taking people away from the scene on stretchers, presumably, to the hospitals, to treat those injuries. But, again, this is coming to you out of Miami, Florida, right now, a bridge collapse, a pedestrian bridge that has fallen. You can see a lot of rubble. They're zooming in on one of those vehicles that was crushed. And,

again, we want to be very sensitive to the situation, because we don't know whether people are still inside that vehicle or if there are people underneath that bridge who are trapped as well. But there are rescuers from the Miami-Dade fire rescue crew there, trying to help those people who may be involved in this situation and they'll continue to assess the scene.

We will also, of course, get more information and bring that to you just as soon as we have it. Again, from Florida international university.

We'll take a quick break. And we will continue to follow this story as well as the other breaking news this hour. Much more on Robert Mueller, the special counsel subpoenaing now the Trump Organization for documents.

I'm being told we have Art Roderick, joining us now as we look at this scene out of Miami, Florida.

Again, this is obviously a breaking news information. We don't have a lot of information. But based on what you're seeing here, what's going through your mind? What's your assessment?

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Just the quick review I did of this, it looks like this bridge was recently set up for students to walk across and head over to the Sweetwater neighborhood. What's happening now is more or less a triage situation where they're looking at the injured but also trying to get this bridge up because of people trapped underneath, to find out what the injuries are to those particular individuals.

But, of course, this looks like it's right after the lunch hour and, you know, classes are in session there.

[14:25:04] So, it's unknown right now if the bridge collapsed due to weight on top of the bridge but seemingly because it was just recently put in, it could be some structural issue as opposed to an issue with crossing the bridge.

CABRERA: And we're watching the scene, we have seen people on top of that bridge. My initial thought was if there are people underneath it, they're just adding more weight on top. Does that give you any sense or indication about whether there are people trapped underneath, would they be getting on top of the bridge if that were the case?

RODERICK: Yes, I mean, the initial report we saw from witness statements that have been given to the local press, it sounds like there are people trapped under there, both on foot and in vehicles. Of course, again, this is early on and we don't know information is usually very sketchy or incorrect at this point in time. But, it looks like -- you know, obviously, it looks like we've got a big rollout from both law enforcement and rescue units to try to get as many people as they can out of that area.

CABRERA: We're continuing to just watch these pictures. You're right, you see many flashing lights, a lot of rescue vehicles on scene, including ambulances and fire trucks as well as police vehicles there. But it doesn't seem like they're making much progress in terms of lifting that bridge. Obviously, it's extremely heavy.

But does it surprise you that they haven't been able to get any vehicles or tools in there to start that process?

RODERICK: It doesn't look like that. I mean, it looks like they're bringing in a heavy crane to lift as much as they can. Just from viewing this, the bridge is in pieces right now. So, they should be able to do this relatively quickly. Also be able to determine, you know, how many victims they have underneath this collapsed bridge.

CABRERA: It also tells us that this just happened, the fact that they're still bringing in those appropriate vehicles. We're now seeing a tweet from Miami-Dade Police, urging people to avoid this area to Miami trail and Southwest 107 Avenue until further notice. They're trying to get the word out to be able to do their jobs and bring in the necessary vehicles and tools to get under that bridge to rescue those who may be trapped in vehicles or, you know, worse.

Thank you, Art Roderick, for being there for us, to be able to assess the situation.

We'll continue to follow this news again. Again, this is at Florida International University where a pedestrian bridge collapsed. That's what you're looking at. Right now, there are reports of vehicles crushed underneath the rubble as investigators and rescuers get to the scene to triage the situation.

We'll be right back with much more here on CNN.