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California Protests Over Police Shooting; Did Trump Lawyer Float Presidential Pardons in Russia Probe?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We continue on with the breaking news this hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

Breaking out of "The New York Times," they're reporting that John Dowd, the former head of President Trump's personal legal team who stepped down just a couple of days ago, floated the idea of pardoning former aides Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort over concerns that they may cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Moments ago, when White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about this, she referred to and read a statement from the White House counsel, Ty Cobb.


QUESTION: Pardons on the table for anyone involved in the Russia probe?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I would refer you back to the statement from Ty Cobb in the report that you're asking about, in which he said: "I have only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the recorded that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House."

QUESTION: Can you say unequivocally that no one here has discussed pardons in this case?

SANDERS: I can say that Ty Cobb is the person that would be most directly involved in this. And he has got a statement on the record saying that there's no discussion and there's no consideration of those at this time in the White House.

QUESTION: Does the White House worry about what Paul Manafort might tell special counsel Robert Mueller?

SANDERS: Look, as we said pretty much every day since we got here, because you guys have continued to ask about this topic every single day, there was no collusion. And we're very confident in that and look forward to this process wrapping up.


BALDWIN: So, let's go to Amy Fiscus, national security editor for "The New York Times."

Amy, all right, when you read this piece, this scoop from your paper, it says that John Dowd denies ever floating this notion of pardons. But tell me more about these alleged conversations that took place.


John Dowd does deny having these conversations. But we are reporting, based on weeks of reporting and talking to sources, that last year that Dowd talked to lawyers for two of the president's former top aides, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, and broached the subject of possibly pardoning them.

And this was at a time when the special counsel was closing in on them. This was before Manafort was indicted and before Flynn eventually agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel investigation.

BALDWIN: And why is the timing significant here of when these said conversations were alleged to have taken place?

FISCUS: Well, I think it's important to just keep in context that the fact that this happened before an indictment and a guilty plea suggests that the president, or at least his lawyer, was worried about what Manafort and Flynn would tell the special counsel, what they might reveal.


FISCUS: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BALDWIN: No, no, I'm sorry for jumping in.

Was there any indication that going by "The New York Times" reporting that Dowd ever had a conversation with the president about floating the idea of pardons?

FISCUS: It's not clear that Dowd did talk to the president about this. You could also see the possibility that he did. It's hard to see clients freelancing with such a dramatic offer. But with this president, it's also hard to predict just about anything.

BALDWIN: What do you make of their denials of this ever happening?

FISCUS: Well, we stand by our reporting and we are confident that what we are reporting is true. We have five great reporters on this and we have been chasing this story for weeks, as the story said, months, actually.

BALDWIN: Amy Fiscus with "The New York Times," thank you so much.

We are going to analyze all of this with my next two guests. With me, two former federal prosecutors, Lis Wiehl. She's actually an actor at And CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin.

Good to have you both of you on.

Michael Zeldin, let me just begin with you. The whole notion that the Trump lawyers and John Dowd specifically was broaching this idea, dangling these pardons for Manafort and Flynn, what does that tell you about any kind of concern team Trump would have had as the Mueller team was closing in?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of course it makes sense that if you were pardoning people who had a story to tell that was disadvantageous to your legal situation, that you would think about pardoning them.

What is not clear to me here is whether this was a pardon discussion between the president and his legal counsel about the broad scope of his pardon powers generally speaking, which would be appropriate, or the possibility that they were talking about pardoning with the prospect of witness tampering or obstructing justice or abusing their office.


And there's a lot of facts that need to be determined about what it was that was under discussion, assuming was under discussion, and what the intent of the president might have been in respect of that pardon contemplation.

BALDWIN: Lis, I see you nodding.

LIS WIEHL, LEGAL ANALYST: Right. That's exactly the point.

That's exactly the point, because the president has wide discretion to pardon someone for really almost anything. And it's one of those things that, you know, we as citizens think, well, you know, is that really proper, the pardon power?

And we can have debates about that. But under the Constitution, really, the president does have that wide power.

The question is the timing and the discussions about why, why, and the obstruction of justice So that is the real critical issue here, the timing.

BALDWIN: So I understand.


ZELDIN: The president's intent.


BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. Sure.


WIEHL: They go together.


BALDWIN: If the president was aware, was Dowd freelancing, was this a conversation with Trump? That's yet to be determined.

But if you are -- and, again, the power of pardon is unique to the president.

WIEHL: Right.

BALDWIN: But, Michael, if you are pardoning two key players in this investigation, one of whom has now pleaded guilty to lying and is cooperating with team Mueller, how would one determine if you wanted to pardon in order to impede that investigation? Would that be wrong with the president?

ZELDIN: The way you would find that out is when you put the president under oath in an interview, which is why it's, I think, fanciful to think that special counsel Mueller will not have a sit-down interview under oath with the president, because all matters of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, witness tampering are crimes of intent.

And you can only divine the intent -- or the best way to divine the intent of the actor that you're discussing it with is to ask them questions about it.

There will be some objective circumstances surrounding it, but not without the word of the president will you know what he was really endeavoring to do here.

WIEHL: That's the issue with whenever you have sort of an intent crime is you have to go into the mind of a person.

And the way to go into a mind of a person usually is through an interview or a deposition or sometimes a confession, which is not going to happen here.

BALDWIN: But Michael said, and, Lis, I would love to here you weigh in, because Michael said a second ago that a development like this would make it unlikely for the president to sit with Mueller.

WIEHL: Right.

BALDWIN: Do you agree?

WIEHL: I do agree.



WIEHL: Why would the president expose himself to an interview at this point, when now it's been -- you know, we're raising the issue of obstruction of justice, because how do you get to intent? You can get to intent by circumstantial evidence, by saying -- raising

the question we're raising right now of the timing and, well, why would these questions have been raised? Why would we even be asking about pardons, if not for the fact that he wanted to keep people quiet?

But you could raise the questions, but you could answer the questions only perhaps with a witness, with a president in this case, by saying, yes, I did this and this is the reason I did this. Why would expose himself to that with an interview? He wouldn't.


ZELDIN: One thing, just to clarify my statement.

BALDWIN: Please.

ZELDIN: I think that it might be disadvantageous to his legal position to sit down for an interview, but I think in the end the power of the grand jury to subpoena the president...

WIEHL: That's different.

ZELDIN: ... will prevail and that, notwithstanding what lawyers may say to him, it would be better for you not to testify, I think he's going to have to testify, unless he takes the Fifth Amendment.

WIEHL: Unless he takes the Fifth. That's exactly right.


BALDWIN: I'm curious, Lis, while maybe not surprising, you have the denials from John Dowd, you have the Ty Cobb statement which in part in the end says, "I have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or consideration at the White House."

What do you make of that?

WIEHL: Well, I'm not surprised by that, that he would deny it.

And I'm not saying one way or the other what happened. But the denial doesn't surprise me. But the only way to be able to find that out now, to really answer the question, if he does not sit down for an interview, would be via the grand jury, where he either has to answer the question or take the Fifth.

And then you go back to sort of, what precedent do we have for that? The precedent for the president is Bill Clinton and the grand jury there, where we had the grand jury, he did have to go into the grand jury, and there we had some answers, but what ultimately of course led to the impeachment of President Clinton.


ZELDIN: Right, although Clinton went in voluntarily. He wasn't forced in. WIEHL: Right.

ZELDIN: And the question would be, if this president said, you know what, I am not going to sit down, then you have got two years of litigation and Nixon vs. United States all over again.


WIEHL: And then you have optics. Then you have just how it looks to the American people.


BALDWIN: Michael and Lis, we could keep going. We got to break in. I appreciate both of you. I'm sure we will keep going on another day.

Guys, thank you so much to have you on.

WIEHL: You got it.

ZELDIN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, on other things legal, is it a stunt, is it a legal strategy? Stormy Daniels' attorney files a motion seeking to depose President Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen, and they say -- we were just alluding to this separately here -- is such a precedent Bill Clinton's deposition in '98? Will that work?

Also, outrage in Sacramento. Residents shut down a city council meeting, demeaning answers after the deadly police shooting of an unarmed black man. The White House was asked about this several times over moments ago, referring to these high-profile police shootings as local matters.

We're asking the question, are they totally missing the mark?



BALDWIN: We're back. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Question: Could allegations of an affair by a porn star force the president of the United States to raise his right hand and testify under oath? The White House again says they have addressed the allegations -- quote -- "extensively."

To be clear, that's false. The White House has continued to dodge questions and the president himself remains uncharacteristically silent. But that may not be for long if Stormy Daniels' attorney get his way.

Mr. President, did you have a sexual relationship with Stormy Daniels? Did you have knowledge of the alleged threats against her? Did you know your personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid some $130,000 to keep it all quiet? Those are the kind of questions that the president could face under

penalty of perjury.

Joan Biskupic, CNN Supreme Court analyst, is with me, and Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst.

Joan, first to you, good to see you.

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, he is arguing that the whole -- going back to the '90s and the Paula Jones case against President Clinton set this precedent -- I'm looking at your face -- set this precedent allowing a sitting president to be deposed in a civil matter.


BALDWIN: Let's get a little refresher on what happened there and how that could be applicable today.

BISKUPIC: Right. We are so back in the '90s, especially since the case had to do with sexual advances that Paula Jones claimed that President Clinton had made.

BALDWIN: Totally.

BISKUPIC: So, in 1990 -- so she sues. Paula Jones sues, saying that Bill Clinton, when he was the Arkansas governor, had made these sexual advances toward her. She sues for that, emotional stress and defamation in 1994.

And the case is pending and President Clinton says, no, I have presidential immunity. I can't be called into court at all. And the Supreme Court in 1997 ruled unanimously that, no, you can be forced to testify in a case involving behavior that took place before you were the president, if it's not going to take much away from your duties.

And in that case, the Supreme Court again unanimously thought this isn't going to take much out of Bill Clinton's duties. He can go attend to this, not knowing what was lying, waiting ahead with not just Paula Jones, but Monica Lewinsky. He goes and testifies and of course lied under oath and that set in motion the impeachment process.

But the main point, Brooke, is that there is this 1997 precedent out there that says that a president can be -- is not immune from liability for this kind of civil case.

Now, I should say, though, that's sitting out there. But it doesn't mean necessarily that Donald Trump is going to have to testify in this case.

BALDWIN: It doesn't?


BISKUPIC: No, because, look, it has to do with an arbitration agreement. I'm not going to predict what could possibly happen, but with Paula

Jones, it was actual behavior that was being alleged, you know, individually toward him.

In fact, this one kind of almost recalls much more the suit right now pending by Summer Zervos against Donald Trump that has to do with groping and defamation. In both, President Trump could be asked to testify, but there's a little bit more of a parallel with Paula Jones to the second case.

BALDWIN: So, Mark, with the motion filed in California in federal court by team Stormy, do you think the move, is it a total stunt from Avenatti or does this truly, truly get Trump closer to seeing the inside of a courtroom?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, what is going to happen -- my prediction of what's going to happen, they're going to compel arbitration.

The federal judge is going to grant the motion to compel arbitration. They are going to go over to probably ADR, which is a local L.A. dispute resolution place. That judge is going to impose sanctions under the arbitration agreement.

And Stormy Daniels is going to have not only to pay back the money that she got, but she's probably going to have to pay some amount of money for violating the agreement.

I just don't think that there's a whole lot here. And at the same time, what I think you see is happening is, I have to give Trump credit, President Trump credit. His ratings are going up. His approval ratings are going up.

And it does remind me of Bill Clinton. The more they went down the sexual road in the '90s, the higher his approval ratings went.

BALDWIN: Why do you think that is? Putting you on the spot.

GERAGOS: I think most people vote and -- I think that most people are more concerned with other things, especially in this case, where she has come out and said that it was a consensual relationship, she's not a victim.


And most people don't understand why we're dealing with something like this 13 years after the fact. Then you take a look at that "60 Minutes" interview. And it reminded me of Geraldo and the vault. There was nothing there.


BALDWIN: We haven't talked since that interview. Did you think it was a nothing burger? What did you think?

GERAGOS: I mean, look, that supposed threat in the parking lot seven years ago, give me a break. Come on. The whole thing was...


BALDWIN: You don't believe it? You don't believe her?

GERAGOS: I'm sure that she probably thinks that there was a threat.

The idea that somehow that seven years later is going to mean anything is -- I will just be charitable with it. There was nothing to it. And the whole thing, I think, borders on the ludicrous.


Mark Geragos and Joan Biskupic on Stormy and going back to Clinton in the '90s, guys, thank you so very much.

Tonight, there are more protests planned in Sacramento after an unarmed black man was killed by police. The White House was asked to weigh in on this story and others moments ago -- their stunning response next.



BALDWIN: More protests are expected across Sacramento tonight after the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot and killed by police.

For the second time this month, angry demonstrators shut down the entrance to a Sacramento Kings game. One woman walked up to the arena door wearing a T-shirt that read, "I won't keep calm. I have a black son."

But the most vocal protest came during the city council's special community meeting. Stephon Clark's brother interrupted the proceedings with this emotional outburst.


STEVANTE CLARK, BROTHER OF STEPHON CLARK: The chief of police got my brother killed.


CLARK: He didn't even care. He shows no emotion at all.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stevante? Stevante?


CLARK: Thank you. Tell him to shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up, please. Tell him we don't hear him talking. He's not the mayor no more.


BALDWIN: Those protests forced the mayor to cancel the rest of the meeting and reschedule over safety concerns.

And moments ago, the White House was asked to comment about the division between law enforcement and communities of color.

CNN political analyst April Ryan was there. She brought up Clark's case and also yesterday's decision in Louisiana for the attorney general not to charge those police officers in the death of Alton Sterling.

Here is the White House's response.


SANDERS: Certainly, we want to make sure that all law enforcement is carrying out the letter of the law.

The president is very supportive of law enforcement. But, at the same time, in these specific cases and these specific instances, those would be left up to local authorities to make that determination, and not something for the federal government to weigh in on.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Eric Garner that cried out 11 times, "I can't breathe," his mother is still looking for something, an indictment of the police officers in New York. Does the president -- he has asked them what the status, if something is going to happen? What?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any specific action. Once again, these would be local matters that should be left up to the local authority.


BALDWIN: I wanted to talk to April about that exchange.

She's with me now there at the White House. She's also White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.

And, April?

RYAN: Yes.

BALDWIN: A local matter. What was your reaction to that?

RYAN: Well, it's not a local matter.

You know, Stephon Clark, the California attorney general is looking at it. And then, when you have -- when you go to -- and that's a state issue, as well as a federal issue, not just local. And when you go to the situation with Eric Garner, who was in a police

choke hold and said "I can't breathe" 11 times and died on the scene, the federal government is now looking at that.

And, you know, I talked to a former high-ranking official at Justice who said there should have been an indictment on that by now. And that is in the criminal section of the U.S. Justice Department.

So that's not a local issue. And it's not local when it goes national.

And, Brooke, when we look at history -- and this is where history plays a part yesterday, today and tomorrow. The fact is, is that there have been problems with the black community and police since black people were brought on slave ships here to this nation. They were called slave patrols.

And when you have -- and it's gone on for years and years and years. There were whispers about, oh, this has happened, this has happened. But now you have the visuals of the accountability piece with these cell phones, with whatever device you have or your tablets, what have you.

And people are seeing, what is happening, it's not whispered anymore. It's real. It's not myth. It's not conjecture. It's real.

So, now the question is, what do you do? And I remember talking to Jeh Johnson, the former head of Homeland Security in the Obama years. And he said, when you have tensions between the black community and police, there's a national security issue.

And he described the national security issue being that, when you don't trust, when each side has a lack of trust, they don't trust one another. Like, if the police ask you in the community if you see something, say something, you're not going to be -- you're not going to be ready to say that. And the police will not basically trust you as well.

So, it's -- there is a problem there.

BALDWIN: Isn't, though, part of it just it's a -- it's a moral issue, it's a moral question?


RYAN: Yes.

BALDWIN: This, of course -- of course, this is a national issue that requires leadership.