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Robert Mueller Pushed for Rich Gates' Help on Collusion; Utah Prosecutor John Huber Examining Possible FBI Abuses; Interview with Representative Mike Turner; Russia Test Fires "Satan 2" Missile; Kremlin: Russia Was "Forced" To Expel U.S. Diplomats; Veterans Groups Sound The Alarm On Trump's Pick For VA; Trump Spending Easter In Florida As Scrutiny Over Staff Grows. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired March 30, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has been following every development, is joining us now to explain the connection.
So, Shimon, why is it significant that Rick Gates is now cooperating with Mueller's team on this part of the investigation.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. And you're right. I mean, it certainly is a significant development here. One of the things that makes this so significant is that all along we have thought that he perhaps was cooperating and helping in the Manafort investigation, but we've now learned based on our reporting that this really doesn't have anything -- his cooperation doesn't really have anything to do with Manafort, and it more has to do with the central mission of the special counsel investigation into Russia collusion and Russian interference.
Now as we know based on court documents that were released this week, Rick Gates was communicating with a Russian intelligence official during the -- during October 2016, during the height of the campaign, and this alleged Russian agent is also an associate of Paul Manafort. He was doing work for Paul Manafort in the Ukraine. So all of this connection certainly a key significant fact in the Mueller investigation.
CABRERA: What might Gates actually know?
PROKUPECZ: Well, he -- one would presume and certainly the suggestions are that he knows a lot. He was Paul Manafort's deputy on the campaign. He had a seat at the table. Though there's no indication, really the word is that he wasn't very close to the president when he was running the campaign, but you know, he was, as I said, Trump -- Manafort's deputy. He was also involved in the inauguration committee with a man, a fundraiser who is a close friend of the president, Tom Barrack. Certainly he would be in some of the finances that went behind the campaign, that went behind the inauguration. And all of this, all of this is part of the special counsel's investigation.
CABRERA: All right. Shimon Prokupecz reporting. Thank you for that update.
Let's bring in our legal analyst, Michael Zeldin. He was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department.
So, Michael, I guess the big question here is, does this show there is still no conclusion on the issue of collusion?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Ana. Thank you. I think that it is fair to say that Mueller is acting pursuant to his primary mandate objective which is to carry on the counterintelligence investigation that Director Comey testified to back in March which was coordination between the Trump campaign and efforts on the part of the Russians to interfere with the election. So overarchingly Mueller is focused on that.
Included within that mandate are other matters. But what we see in the Gates -- pursuant to what Shimon just presented -- is the effort by Mueller to determine whether or not there was coordination with an effort by the Russians or other outside forces to meddle in the U.S. election. That remains front and center to what he's doing. And that's why Gates' relevant testimony about communications with someone alleged to be a Russian intelligence operative is so important.
CABRERA: Why do you think we're learning about this part of Gates' involvement in the investigation in Mueller's probe right now?
ZELDIN: So that's so something because it arose in the public domain as a sort of throw-away line in a sentencing memorandum against this fellow Van der Zwaan, the young lawyer from Skadden who pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement in respect to a report that he was working on with Manafort and Gates related to the Ukraine. His sentencing is upcoming. Mueller filed a memorandum explaining the lie and why they thought that it was serious and material to his investigation and in that pleading we hear for the first time that Gates is communicating with this Russian intelligence officer who was the head of the Manafort consulting firm in Kiev, Ukraine.
So one could posture that the reason that that is in there is to again send a memo to Manafort's attorneys saying we know way more than you know. You're going to be convicted of the charges that you've been indicted for. Come home, cooperate with us and we can work out a better deal because Manafort really may be the linchpin to understanding what if any communications there were between the Trump campaign and outside foreign forces.
CABRERA: So as this investigation continues, the president is still silent on this issue this morning but we know he has blamed his attorney general for the special counsel investigation to begin with since Jeff Sessions recused himself. And now despite GOP calls for a second special counsel, Sessions has instead appointed a federal prosecutor to look into possible abuse of power in the FBI and Hillary Clinton's ties to a Russian nuclear agency commonly referred to as Uranium One.
[09:05:13] Why go that route with the prosecutor instead of the special counsel? ZELDIN: The special counsel regulations really are intended to be
used for exceptional circumstances. There have been essentially two or three of these special counsel appointed since the regulations were put into effect. It is not something that you want as a law enforcement matter to be the routine part of the way the Justice Department operates. And so good for Jeff Sessions for saying, look, we don't need someone outside of the department to investigate something which the department can properly investigate itself.
But to, you know, sort of prove a middle ground here, we'll appoint this United States attorney from Utah, this guy Huber, who was appointed originally by Obama and then reappointed by Trump, so he has a bipartisan resume, to look into these questions and make a report to the Justice Department. Included in that report will be a determination of whether, in fact, a special counsel is now needed or not.
So I think this is a good first step. I'm not sure that these matters are worthy of investigation to begin with. But assuming they are, I think this is the better way to proceed than appointing a new special counsel.
CABRERA: All right. Michael Zeldin, as always, thank you for your insight and expertise on this. I want to bring in Congressman Mike Turner now, a Republican of Ohio, he's a member of the Armed Services Committee and Select-Committee on Intelligence.
Congressman, good to see you. Does this new reporting on Rick Gates indicate to you --
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), OHIO: Good morning, Ana.
CABRERA: -- that Mueller is still focused on this question of collusion?
TURNER: Right. That is his mandate. And, you know, as the Intelligence Committee took a look at this, as you know, you know, we had Comey and Clapper and Brennan and everyone who had initiated the investigation coming forward and saying that they have no evidence of collusion or collaboration, but they have questions. And that certainly was the mandate that was given to the special counsel.
I don't think anyone should prejudge what's coming out of the special counsel one way or the other. I think we need to let the investigation go forward. I think, you know, throughout the investigation there will be steps in which we will look to, as you just did, your own legal analysis, to try to give us perspective. But I think it's premature for us to determine at all either way as to what the special counsel is finding or what they're undertaking other than understanding that is their mandate, including looking to Russia meddling in the election.
We need to stop that. We need to make certain that we find out exactly what occurred in the election and that we take actions to prevent that type of action in the future. CABRERA: Do you have a problem with some of your Republican
colleagues going after Mueller and suggesting that he is out of the scope of his investigation, especially when you see evidence that he is getting right at the heart of his mission, looking into collusion and potential Russia election meddling involvement with members of the Trump campaign?
TURNER: I don't think anybody who is in a responsible position, and that being a position that's actually looked at the information and material undertaken, aspects and responsibilities of the election, review of what Russia meddling was and of the Trump campaign, has called for an end to the special counsel. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite. I think everybody understands that their function is different. The tools that they have available to them are different. And I think this is an important question overall for a country to get answered.
What was the activity that was undertaken by Russia? How do we stop it in the future? What actions were undertaken with both campaigns. And certainly I think it does bear scrutiny as to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee funding opposition research that made its way into the FISA court as evidence against the Trump campaign. That's wrong. It shouldn't happen. I drafted a bill to prevent that in the future and it absolutely bears a special counsel review.
CABRERA: I do want to ask you about Sessions' appointment of this new federal prosecutor to look into some of the issues you just brought up. But real quickly, to kind of tie a bow on the Rick Gates reporting, were you aware of his contacts with this former Russian intelligence person, operative? And why didn't you call Rick Gates before the House Intelligence Committee in your investigation?
TURNER: Well, you know, I'm not going to comment on the information, on the classified materials that are -- at the Intelligence Committee that were reviewed. But I will tell you that the investigation the Intelligence Committee did was very thorough in the mandate that we had. And I think the special counsel's mandate is different and what he's undertaking. I think it's important. I think neither one of them should be viewed in -- as in conflict with the other. And so the special counsel should continue. And whatever we find as a result of their hard work, I think the American people will be glad to have the answers.
CABRERA: So are you saying the House Intelligence Committee simply didn't even look into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
TURNER: No, I did not say that. And you know that not to be the case. In fact, what I said in the beginning of the interview is we had witness after witness that we questioned including Comey, Brennan, Clapper and all those who initiated the investigation and asked them specifically, do you have evidence of collusion or corroboration between the campaigns, and all of them answered in the negative.
[09:10:16] They said that there was sufficient information for questions for which the investigation was born. And even on your own news channel, those individuals have come forward and said there was at the time no evidence that they had of corroboration or, you know, that type of connection between the two campaigns. And that's the evidence that we found. We asked each one of these individuals this, and that --
TURNER: I think is the point at which our investigation stops and the investigation of special counsel begins.
CABRERA: And I know other members of the House Intelligence Committee, other Republicans have commented on the fact that they didn't actually call before the committee a lot of these members that we've now learned from the Trump campaign who are part of Robert Mueller's campaign like Papadopoulos, for example. Rick Gates is another example.
But let me pivot to other news out of the Department of Justice because I want to get your reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' appointment of this U.S. attorney from Utah to investigate the potential FBI abuses of power and how the Clinton investigations were handled. I know you wanted to see a special counsel, didn't you?
TURNER: I certainly do. I think that the FBI and the Department of Justice do not have the ability to investigate themselves. That's the tool for a special counsel. That's why we look to appointing a special counsel, where we believe that there's a conflict in the ability to undertake an investigation and come to a conclusion.
In this instance, we have a serious disagreement as to processes at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. As you're aware, they used political opposition research, research that was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary campaign against an opposing presidential campaign. They did so rejecting that there was any conflict there in the materials that they had. They didn't use it to go find other evidence. They actually presented it to the court as evidence, even notifying the court that this was funded by the opposition campaign.
CABRERA: Right. I know that's what you weighed out in the memo --
TURNER: That's what --
TURNER: The protections that we should have in FISA.
CABRERA: I apologize for stepping on top of you. I know there's this delay in our satellite transmission. But just to get back to again the fact that this person was appointed, I mean, he is going to look into what you have just discussed. Why can't he do as good of a job as a special counsel would? What's the problem that you have with this U.S. attorney?
TURNER: Well, as we were just saying, in this instance he's asking a person within the organization to investigate the organization. We want special counsel that's independent, that has full ability to pursue these issues to wherever they go. This is -- goes to the heart of our trust of the surveillance system that the FBI and the Department of Justice has.
Remember, this is where they undertook surveillance of an American citizen by using information that was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary campaign. That should never happen again. I mean, it certainly -- you know, if it should happen, then the Trump campaign in the future can do the same as they sit as an incumbent against their next opponent in 2020.
It's wrong. It's a corruption of the system. It takes us, you know, one step closer to being very concerned about democracy. And that bears a special counsel. When you have those types of elements, you know, surveillance of an American citizen, our constitutional rights, campaign money being used for dirt that's later presented as evidence, and the issue of our democratic system, those bear a special counsel.
CABRERA: All right. Congressman Mike Turner, I appreciate your time. Thank you for bringing your thoughts to us.
Russia test firing a new missile nicknamed Satan 2. The latest from Moscow. Plus the president's VA pick facing growing skepticism and his current EPA chief also under fire for unprecedented security costs for personal trips.
We're going to stay on top of those latest headlines. And this morning, more questions than ever and then answers after an SUV is found upside down at the bottom of a California cliff. Five members of a family killed, but three are missing. And now some neighbors are speaking out.
CABRERA: We are following breaking news this morning, Russia test firing its new intercontinental ballistic missile nicknamed "Satan 2." Now Russia has released this video of what they say is this test morning, saying it's capable of striking targets from the north and south poles making it harder for the U.S. to target it. This as U.S. tensions with Russia continue to grow.
Joining us now live from Moscow with the latest, Phil Black. Phil, what can you tell us?
PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Ana, this particular new delivery vehicle, an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile designated by NATO as "Satan 2." This is something that's been under development by Russia for some years now. They started actively testing it towards the end of 2017.
But you're right, they've tested it again today in what's going to be one of the worst weeks of relations between Russia and the west. We don't know if there's any connection there, but because these programs have been going on for some time. It takes time to organize a test such as this, but the timing will raise eyebrows certainly.
Because Vladimir Putin very recently, just a few weeks ago, was boasting about the capabilities of this missile, its size, its power, multiple warheads, its range, its ability, the Russians say to get through antiballistic missile systems. They've tested it again in what they say is yet another successful test of its performance -- Ana.
CABRERA: When you talk about timing, we know Russia has been in a bit of a tit for tat with the U.S. over expulsion of diplomats. Russia now saying this morning they were forced to expel U.S. diplomats.
BLACK: Yes. It's a continuation of the Russian narrative in this, really, that Russia is the victim.
[09:20:05] Russia unfairly accused of using chemical weapons without evidence, Russia unfairly ganged up on by the U.S.-U.K. and its allies and expelling Russian diplomats around the world. So, today, President Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov had this to say when he was talking to reporters.
He said this, "You know that Russia was forced to take retaliatory steps in response to those unfriendly, non-constructive and unlawful actions in this case related to expulsion of our diplomats and the closure of the consular post. Russia remains open to establishing good relations, we want these relations."
So, Russia says it had no choice. The action that it says it has no choice about is continuing as we speak. There's something of a que forming outside the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning as ambassadors and senior diplomats from all of the countries that have expelled Russian diplomats or suspected spies in recent days are being called in to be told that they now have to kick out some of their personnel in return -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Phil Black in Moscow, thanks for that update. We are following more breaking news right now. A U.S. official now tells CNN one U.S. service member has been killed in Syria after an IED attack yesterday. Two members of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria were also killed and five were wounded. The U.S. maintains about 2,000 U.S. troops there in Syria, mostly working with local allies fighting ISIS.
So, the president is back at Mar-a-Lago after a week spent almost entirely off camera, during which the administration expelled Russian diplomats. The president fires the head of the government's second largest department.
He tapped the White House physician to now head the government's second largest department and he survived at least for now a deposition motion from the porn star who says they had an affair.
CNN's Abby Phillip is in West Palm Beach. So, Abby, let's start with the fallout now from this VA overhaul. What's the latest there today?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Now that President Trump has finally made a decision about who he wants to lead the VA, questions have been turning to the qualifications of Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, who is a rear admiral in the Navy.
While he has quite a bit of experience as a physician, he has almost no experience in the management sector. Now the VA as you just mentioned is one of the biggest federal bureaucracies out there.
It is also one of the most troubled and one that requires someone with some kind of management experience to really -- to shepherd that massive agency and thousands of federal workers.
There has been some pushback both from Capitol Hill and also this from a former CIA Director John Brennan who wrote that the president's decision could be a bad thing both for Ronny Jackson and also for the VA.
For Jackson, also, there are questions now about what his actual views are about the future of the VA. For example, David Shulkin, the outgoing VA secretary noted that one of the big reasons behind his ouster was a dispute within the agency about whether or not it should be privatized, the services that are provided by the VA.
And we know nothing at all about what Ronny Jackson's views are on that crucial issue. The president himself has not really been crystal clear about what he wants from that either. So, all of these questions are really going to be at the center of what happens going forward as he goes into a potential Senate confirmation process.
CABRERA: Abby Phillip, thank you for that.
Up next, major new developments on the Russia probe. We are learning more about what Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to learn from former Trump campaign staffer, Rick Gates, about his contacts with Russia. Stay with us.
CABRERA: With no public events in sight, it seems President Trump is hoping and planning to keep a low profile in Mar-a-Lago this Easter weekend until he changes his mind. But there has been a lot of drama back in Washington. So, will he stay quiet? That is the big question.
Joining us now is Molly Ball, CNN political analyst, Tulu, White House reporter for "Bloomberg News," and Salena Zito, CNN contributor. So, Molly, President Trump is in Mar-a-Lago, had a pretty low-key week. He hasn't been out there and hasn't been busy on Twitter, at least on the most controversial or salacious news that has come out this week. What do you make of his relative silence or quietness?
MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he did have a public event. He went to Ohio and he gave a speech. So, he has been out there speaking to the American people and he's been tweeting here and there. I think it depends what your expectation is, but we certainly have seen that --
CABRERA: Everything is relative when it comes to President Trump.
BALL: When he goes to Mar-a-Lago on the weekends is when we've seen him be relatively unsupervised and unfiltered, often having the most to say on Twitter under those circumstances. He's probably got a lot on his mind, right. He just fired another cabinet member. There's a lot of controversy over the appointment who was made in his place. There's a lot of controversy over a lot of things.
The stock market is gyrating. He started this fight with Amazon. Nobody knows where that's going to go. So, I wouldn't be surprised. New developments in the Russia investigation always seem to bring him out to comment. So, I wouldn't be surprised if we hear from him.
CABRERA: We will wait for that. Meantime, Salena, we have seen Trump publicly as mentioned a couple of times including when he said goodbye to Communications Director Hope Hicks yesterday, gave her a kiss on the cheek. Pointed at her in front of the cameras.
Now she becomes one of eight big departures at the White House in just the last 30 days. Also, on the list, a few White House aides, Cohn, Tillerson, Dowd, McMaster, and now Shulkin, of course. He said he was going to have the best people on his team, but he can't seem to stick with anyone, Salena?