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Reporting Indicates H.R. McMaster will Leave White House; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes; Special Counsel Bob Mueller Subpoenas Documents from Trump Organization; Trump Business Associate Speaks Out About Russia Ties. Aired 8-8:30a

Aired March 16, 2018 - 8:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special counsel is looking now into Trump businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's investigation 101 to follow the money.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there was no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no individual in the United States who is above the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was loud. It sounded like a bomb. When I looked closely, cars were squashed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all want to do our best to find out exactly what happened here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Friday, March 16, 8:00 in the east. Sources tells CNN the turmoil inside the Trump administration is nothing short of total disarray. CNN reporting that President Trump is ready to oust his national security adviser General H.R. McMaster and is considering even more changes to his embattled cabinet.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A major development in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Bob Mueller has subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization. "The New York Times" reporting that the Mueller team has been asking witnesses about a potential real estate deal in Moscow. Now, coming up, we're going to talk to a man at the middle of that potential deal, a Russian-born businessman who says he was trying to help broker a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And get this. He also claims to be an American spy.

CAMEROTA: We have a lot to talk about now with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Good morning, Congressman.

REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about H.R. McMaster. Are you concerned that his position appears to be precarious, particularly at this time of national security concerns?

HIMES: Yes, I'm very concerned, Alisyn. And I'll tell you what I'm concerned about. It is the fact that the adults are leaving the building. With Gary Cohn leaving, with Rex Tillerson leaving, with H.R. McMaster leaving, these are the people that a guy like me and quite frankly the American people would look at and say you may have the Anthony Scaramucci's of the world runs around but at least you have some adults in the room.

And of course the thing, Alisyn, that a guy like me worries about, obviously the domestic turmoil is one thing, but the possibility that the president wakes up one morning and decides it's time to go to war with country A, B, or C because of something he saw on FOX News, I think it's Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster and the adults in the room that have talked him down. It's scary to see those guys leaving.

CAMEROTA: And so what do you think it means there is this turmoil before President Trump gets ready to sit down with Kim Jong-un?

HIMES: It's not surprising that there's this turmoil. We've sort of become inured to the fact that the president wakes up and makes policy in all caps tweets without consulting the State Department, without consulting his people. And a guy like H.R. McMaster, a guy like Rex Tillerson who grew up in organizations where decision making is done very, very carefully and with real prudence, they're not going to thrive in that kind of environment.

What is scary here -- you asked about North Korea -- is that there aren't a lot of foreign policy challenges where we know less about the person who is sitting across the table in which sort of subtlety and care and steady application of pressure are probably more nuanced. This is diplomatic brain surgery. This is not something you do spontaneously. And as I said, the adults are leaving the building. That is not good timing.

CAMEROTA: OK, moving on to Russia. Are you heartened that the administration has now imposed sanctions on Russia that were mandated by Congress?

HIMES: Yes, it's a small step in the right direction, but it's not enough. And I don't just level that criticism at the Trump administration. I level that criticism at the previous administration as well. We had a very serious attack on the mechanism of our democracy and we responded with a little slap on the wrist. The previous president shut down two diplomatic facilities, kicked a bunch of Russians out of the country. And now a year into this administration, the president isn't speaking with a vigorous voice against Russia, but, yes, we see these fairly light sanctions.

But if we want this not to happen again, Vladimir Putin understands power and the exercise of power and not much else. We need to do more to make it clear that we won't tolerate this kind of thing or that we won't tolerate what we saw in the United Kingdom, the murder of an ex- spy by Russian agents.

CAMEROTA: But when you say we need to do more and this isn't enough, what would more look like?

HIMES: Well, you would do this carefully. And I understand this was controversial in the last administration, but had I been in the administration when this happened, I would have urged an exercise of our own cyber capabilities. And I wouldn't have done it in a way that would have created casualties in Russia, but you can imagine any number of things, half of Moscow arriving at the office to find out that their computers don't work for two weeks or a number of people in Moscow with ill-gotten gains discovering that their bank balances are zero, whatever it might be.

[08:05:07] You can imagine that the United States has strong capabilities in this area, and I would have made the Russians hurt in that area to demonstrate our capabilities and to send a very clear warning that we won't tolerate this kind of meddling attack on our elections.

CAMEROTA: Guess what, those are the very things that it sounds like they are attempting to do to our infrastructure. The Homeland Security Department just announced that they attempted this cyberattack on our various sectors, so energy, aviation, nuclear, water, commercial. What are we to make of that?

HIMES: Not a surprise, Alisyn. It's not just the Russians, of course. We're living in this wired world where it's not just the power company, it's actually your refrigerator and toaster that are talking to the internet. And we have a lot of work to do for people to understand the vulnerabilities there, for the government to do what it needs to do to keep our network safe.

But look, back to Russia. For decades we did not have a nuclear war with Russia because we all understood deterrents. That's why I go back to the notion that there should have been a stronger response in the cyber realm with the Russians to say, hey, you bring a knife to this fight, we'll bring a gun. That's the kind of language that Putin understands and I'm not sure he understands any other language.

CAMEROTA: What does it say to you that the press secretary and the White House could not exactly answer the question of Russia friend or foe? Watch this moment. Hold on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In simple terms, is Putin a friend or foe of the United States?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or bad actor. I think you can see from the actions we've taken up until this point, we're going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: What's you response to that, congressman?

HIMES: Shouldn't be a hard question. And I think Sarah Sanders probably looked at Rex Tillerson, probably looked at H.R. McMaster and said one of the quickest ways to get fired in this building is to say tough things about Russia.

But let me let her off the hook partly. The reality is that Russia is very interested in our country being in chaos and all sorts of people losing faith in our country. But let me throw her a lifeline and say Russia is also really important to us as we negotiate with North Korea. Russia is important to us in terms of keeping the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon. I would say that they're a dangerous antagonistic power. But like it or not, like the Chinese, we're going to need to work with them to keep the peace in the world.

CAMEROTA: OK, good to get your nuanced perspective on all that, congressman. Thank you very much.

HIMES: Thank you, Alisyn.

CUOMO: We're following breaking news here. The death toll is rising in that pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University in Miami. Police will brief the media in the next hour on the recovery efforts. CNN's Rosa Flores is live at the scene with breaking details. We know that they've been working through the night. What's the latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we just learned from police that at least five victims are still pinned in the rubble that you see behind me. This is 950 tons of concrete. And engineers and homicide detectives are working side by side to try to get to the bodies and also to preserve evidence. But they say that this is going to be a painstaking process.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, knowing that there are still people pinned in there is just a horrible development. Rosa, thank you very much. Please keep us posted.

CUOMO: And we know they're working very hard because whether it's search and rescue, which means they believe people are alive, or recovery where they believe people have died, it's so important to the families to get closure. We know it's going on. We know they're working very hard. We'll take you through any developments as we get them.

Another story this morning, Special Counsel Bob Mueller slapping the Trump Organization with a subpoena. We're going to speak with a Russian-born businessman who is at the center of much of the intrigue involving the Trump organization and the Russia probe.

CAMEROTA: OK, also, you know the expression time's up now, and me too. So now this group of female journalists are coming together to change our business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a feeling that we're not crazy. This isn't one network. This problem is systemwide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: They are vowing to press forward, as they say, in their fight against sexual harassment. My conversation with them and what their plans are ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:13:25] CUOMO: Special Counsel Bob Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, some of which we because are related to Russia. We know that. We know it's one of the search terms in the subpoena. Our next guest is a Russian-born American citizen and a businessman affiliated with the Trump Organization who tried to broker a deal between Trump Organization and authorities in Moscow to build a Trump hotel. It didn't happen but it is certainly important to this overall story and the Russia probe. Joining us is that man, Felix Sater. Thank you very much for joining us.

FELIX SATER, RUSSIAN-BORN BUSINESSMAN AFFILIATED WITH TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Thank you, Chris for having me.

CUOMO: First thing I tend to ask people in these situations are, you have made the decision to come forward and speak why? Because ordinarily counsel will advise people don't talk until this is all over. But you want to speak now why?

SATER: Some documents have been unsealed about my work with the various national security agencies on behalf of our country. And I was approached by two reporters who said there are pieces of this who are coming out and it's going to come out, and you have to sit down and tell the truth. Otherwise it's going to get piecemealed. And after 20 years of work protecting our country, I didn't want it to come out the wrong way and I wanted to give a full picture of everything that I've done in protecting our country.

CUOMO: So there is this whole intelligence assets/spy story that goes along with your involvement here. And it's interesting and we'll talk about it. But it is interesting to me that that's motivating you to come out, not all these other questions that have been swirling around about you. To this point, whom have you gone and spoken to from the government about your involvement with Trump and any potential connections to Russia? Have you taken to Mueller's investigators?

[08:15:00]

SATER: Well, I can't -- I'm not at liberty to discuss any ongoing investigations that the U.S. government may be having.

CUOMO: Well, you could say who you've spoken to. They usually direct you not to talk about the content of what you've discussed.

SATER: Without checking up what I can and can't say, or what I can and can't discuss, speaking about existing investigations, I can only say that I have, in fact, testified in front of the Senate, in front of the House Intel Committee, but the rest of it I can't discuss until it actually comes out.

CUOMO: But that does come to the conclusion that if you don't say that I haven't spoken to the Mueller investigator -- because certainly you could tell me if you haven't. Right? There's no penalty to saying, I didn't speak to Mueller's investigators. So if you're not telling me I haven't spoken to the investigators, the assumption is that you have.

Do you allow that analogy?

SATER: It's an interesting analogy. The most important analogy is I was doing a real estate transaction in Moscow.

CUOMO: But let me just clear this out.

SATER: Sure.

CUOMO: If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. But let me just go back --

SATER: I can't answer -- I cannot answer about anything that may be an ongoing investigation.

CUOMO: True, except you could say if you haven't spoken to the investigators. You could say that because then there's no relevant information that you could compromise.

SATER: Then I guess I want to say I choose not to.

CUOMO: OK. All right. So now let's talk about why they would be interested in you. If the information about this subpoena is accurate and they want to know about this Trump Tower deal. Part of the intrigue there is how it was explained by you in an e-mail.

SATER: Yes.

CUOMO: That this could be something where Putin -- we'll get Putin on board and he'll help bring our boy, as you were describing then Candidate Trump, help him win. You know, buddy boy -- buddy, our boy can become president of the United States, we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this. I'll manage this process. It is provocative of the idea that Russia was trying to help elect this man president.

Is that the truth of the matter asserted?

SATER: Chris, I came here as a 7-year-old immigrant. I grew up in this country. Went to elementary school, junior high school, high school. I believe I'm the furthest thing from Russia. And in fact, I wasn't even born in Russia. I was born in the Soviet Union which has, thank God, since collapsed.

The e-mail that I wrote was to a friend that I knew since childhood, Michael Cohen. The excitement about having had worked with someone who is now running for president, especially for an immigrant kid like myself, I was beyond enthusiastic about it. In terms of who would or would not have gotten on board, I was trying to use this opportunity because I had tried to build Trump Towers in Moscow as well as London and Paris, and a whole bunch of other cities.

CUOMO: And you did licensing agreements involving the Trump name also, which was a huge revenue flow.

SATER: Absolutely. I did it in New York, I did it in Ft. Lauderdale. I tried to do it in Phoenix, Arizona.

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: I worked on numerous Trump deals in my career.

CUOMO: I get it. But what does that have to do with whether or not this was true? Was this true what you were saying, that you had some access to Putin and that he had an interest in trying to help Trump?

SATER: I don't know Putin. I've never met him. But if this deal was going forward, I certainly would have started working the phones as a real estate developer which as I've said on a previous interview is three parts enthusiast, one part realist. You look at a piece of dirt and you envision a beautiful building standing in front of you. The building of that size, the tallest building in the world or the tallest building in Europe as what I envisioned and what we were trying to accomplish, you would have needed buy-ins from governments, from finance institutions, from architects and everybody else.

And the truth of the matter is, had this project moved forward, of course I would have started working the phones, started contacting my business contacts.

CUOMO: But you didn't know anybody close to Putin or connected to Putin who was telling you they wanted to help Trump become president of the United States.

SATER: No, I did not.

CUOMO: And you didn't have any knowledge of any government actor in Russia who wanted to help get Trump elected president?

SATER: I wouldn't involve myself with a government actor or any other government against our country for any reason, Donald Trump or anyone else.

CUOMO: So this was just hype and enthusiasm, it wasn't a legitimate offer? That's what you're saying now.

SATER: This was beyond enthusiasm. But it wasn't hype because at the end of the day, if the project was moving forward, believe me I'd start working the phones, I'd start calling --

CUOMO: These people -- SATER: I'd start finding people that knew Putin. I'd start finding

people that knew -- that could get Donald on top of this project. I would have, believe me, turned over every rock to make sure that everyone was involved.

CUOMO: I get you. I get you, but look, the danger and the suggestion is that it would be proof that there were people connected to Putin or close to Putin that had a vested interest in trying to help motivate Trump's campaign.

[08:20:05] If you're saying that that's not what it was about, we'll take you at your word until any other proof comes out about it.

SATER: Chris, I am more than happy for all of the proof to come out. I was trying to build a billion-dollar project.

CUOMO: And it didn't happen. Right?

SATER: It did not happen. No.

CUOMO: And so there was never any money exchanged, there was never any type of relationship developed in this regard between Putin or anyone close to him and the Trump Organization to your knowledge?

SATER: To my knowledge and anything that I was involved with, absolutely not.

CUOMO: Michael Cohen says he never even went to Russia on this deal. Is that true?

SATER: He did not go to Russia on this deal with me.

CUOMO: OK. And the idea that you went to Russia with Trump's children to advance business interests. Is that true?

SATER: That is true.

CUOMO: Because you know the GC, the general counsel of the Trump Organization says it's not true, Felix was just in Russia at the time that the kids were there, it wasn't coordinated. Is that true?

SATER: The president asked me to be in Russia at the same time as them to look after them.

CUOMO: The president asked you?

SATER: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: Directly?

SATER: Directly.

CUOMO: Why do I ask you? Because the president has seemed to distance himself from you and says if the guy was in this room right now, I wouldn't really know who he was. Is that true?

SATER: I'm sorry, you'd have to ask the president why he said that.

CUOMO: But is that true? Do you think if you were in a room with the president, he would know who you are?

SATER: You'd have to ask the president. I'm sorry.

CUOMO: I'm asking you. If he was in this room right now, did you think he'd think there's a better chance that that guy standing over there is Felix Sater than you?

SATER: If he was in this room, I'd know who he was. But I can't answer for him.

CUOMO: Why are you being so protective?

SATER: I'm not being protective.

CUOMO: You have a business card, everyone knows you had residence in Trump Organization. You know we know a lot of the same people here in New York City. I've looked into you. There is no question that whether it was when you were with Barock back in the early 2000s and you went to Trump and started doing licensing deals for him and then other commercial opportunities, or when you got back into the business after some hard times, you were in residence at the Trump Organization, and had a business card that call yourself a senior adviser.

SATER: I didn't call myself as a senior adviser. The Trump Organization issued me that business card.

CUOMO: Fine. But you know Donald Trump, yes or no?

SATER: I know Donald Trump.

CUOMO: You have met him in person.

SATER: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: You have shaken his hand?

SATER: Many times.

CUOMO: You've looked him in the eye.

SATER: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: You've spoken to him on the phone?

SATER: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: He knows you.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: You know, Felix, I'm telling you, if you want to tell the truth, you've got to -- (CROSSTALK)

SATER: I'm tell you --

CUOMO: Because we're living in this age where people don't know, you know, what's fact or fiction anymore. Either you know the guy or you don't.

SATER: Chris, you're asking me about what someone else said. I will not answer what somebody else said. I can only answer for myself.

CUOMO: But it's the president of the United States and him saying, I don't know who this guy is smacks of trying to distance himself from facts. And that's why I'm asking you, Felix, it's not to bust your chops. It's just to try to create a record of what we should actually know in this situation. So that's why I'm asking.

Similarly, another big point of intrigue is that you meet with your friend Michael Cohen and somebody else. He takes the meeting because he knows you, Cohen says.

SATER: Yes.

CUOMO: And at the meeting you make a proposal for a Ukrainian piece, right.

SATER: Yes.

CUOMO: And this is what we need to do to stop it, here's a proposal, you give it to Michael and you say, would you deliver this to Michael Flynn. Is that the truth of what happened at that meeting?

SATER: Close. I gave the proposal to Michael Cohen who said he would deliver it to Michael Flynn.

CUOMO: And what was in that proposal? What was that about?

SATER: The proposal was -- I was working at that time on a very large deal to fix and rehabilitate the nuclear power plants in the Ukraine which are basically Chernobyl-ready, which is -- could cause catastrophe. The funny part is, it was the most anti-Russian transaction you could possibly work out because it was a way for ukraine to become energy independent from Russia as well as sell excess energy over to Poland and the other Eastern European countries which are now in the chokehold of Russian energy policy.

CUOMO: Who was the other man at the table?

SATER: Andre Artemenko who is a senator from the Ukraine.

CUOMO: Is it true that he has connections to oligarchs in Russia and people who move money in ways that the U.S. doesn't accept?

SATER: I'm sorry, I don't know. I just don't know. I really don't know.

CUOMO: Is it true that he had business interests involved with what was going to happen in the ukraine?

SATER: I'm sure he does have business interests. But he had approached me through a business contact about the power plant deal. And that's all I was working on. And the power plant deal would have caused Russia basically to collapse. So it was the most anti Russian deal ever. During the course of all of those negotiations and working on the nuclear power plants, Andre comes to me and says, Felix, people are being killed in Eastern Ukraine.

CUOMO: It's true. I've been there. It's true. When that plane got shot down and people thought that that was the beginning of the situation, it was obviously an introduction to into an ongoing civil war that is largely motivated by Russian resources. So that is the reality there. Do you know if anything ever happened with the administration and that proposal?

SATER: I don't know. As far as where my involvement ended was, Andre said we're working on this deal, but people are getting killed.

[08:25:07] I have a proposal for a peace plan. It's a way to sort of break the logjam of Crimea because Russia is never leaving Crimea. Sanctions will never be lifted while they're in Crimea. I think that's sort of a Hong Kong style transaction where Hong Kong is independent for 50 years.

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: They vote on their own independence and who they want attach it to. Can you get this to the administration to which I answered no. I can get it to Michael Cohen and he's close to the administration.

CUOMO: And that's as far as it went? As far as you know?

SATER: And that's as far as it went as far as I was concerned.

CUOMO: Let me ask you one other thing. Because once this is all settled, you need to come back on and tell your story about your involvement with the American government because it's very fascinating on its own. And it will surprise some people.

However, there's a connection to that -- the last question which is this. What insight can you offer as to why Donald Trump, a man you know very well, regardless of what he says, is so anxious to take on opponents, so anxious to be strong, be forceful and to be seen that way, but not when it comes to Russia? Why when it comes to Russia does he always have a light touch?

SATER: The conversations that I have had with the president many years ago about Russia were not about a light touch, were not about coddling them. It was about bringing U.S. oil down to $25 a barrel which would spark an economic revival in this country unseen in the last 100 years and at the same time cripple Russia. So suggestions of him liking them, I don't know.

From my conversations, I know that it was always the idea of make America -- have an amazing economic resurgence and cripple Russia in the process. Those are the conversations I remember.

CUOMO: Felix, there's a lot more to your story but we wanted to allow you to create a record on the suggestions that are out there about you with respect to the Russia probe. Again there's more to the story and we'll continue this conversation.

Thank you for this first step. Appreciate you being here.

SATER: Thank you so much.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Chris, now to another continuing conversation in the country -- what is the next step in the me too movement? A group of women in TV news who had run-ins with Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin and more, are coming together for the first time ever to fight bad behavior. Their plan next.