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Report: GOP Congressman Calls for EPA Chief to Resign; Pruitt Is One of Trump's Most Effective Cabinet Members; Trump Says Nobody Has Been as Hard on Russia As Himself; Wife of Fired FBI Deputy Says Trump Attacks A Nightmare. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: A Republican congressman is now calling on EPA Chair Scott Pruitt to resign, questionable housing arrangement in Washington. The White House is looking into ethical concerns after Pruitt rented this condo in Washington for just $50 a night from a family linked to a powerful lobbying firm. That same family donated money to Pruitt's 2014 campaign for Oklahoma attorney general. And "The New York Times" reports that same lobbying firm got a pipeline expansion project approved while Pruitt was staying at said condo. Under that whole cloud of potential controversy CNN has learned that Trump called Pruitt last night to say to him, got your back. But today the president did stop short of throwing his full support behind the embattled administrator.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott Pruitt, sir, do you support Scott Pruitt?

TRUMP: I hope he's going to be great.


BALDWIN: Elaina Plott is with me. She is a staff writer over at "The Atlantic" who's been covering all things Pruitt. And so, Elaina, nice to see you. I read your piece. You dig into, in addition to the condo, this other issue of Pruitt and these two staffers who he brings to Washington from Oklahoma, wants to give them raises. Goes to the White House and asks for the raises and they say what?

ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": So, yes, in early March, Pruitt goes to the White House says, hi, these are two of my favorite aides, I would like tens of thousands and a pay raise for them. White House says no. And keep in mind for this personnel office to turn down a salary increase is pretty

remarkable in this administration. The White House says no. Pruitt goes back to his team and they find another way. The EPA has this provision called the Safe Drinking Water Act. There's a loophole there that allows them to bring in up to 30 people on their own accord, that is to say without White House or congressional approval.

Pruitt realized he could just skirt around the White House by bringing them in through this loop hole, essentially rehiring them, reappointing them and determining the raises themselves.

BALDWIN: And they get the raises and just to quote one EPA official, you had on condition of anonymity, saying this whole thing has completely gutted any morale I have left to put up with this place. In a normal world, Elaina, what would --

PLOTT: We're not in a normal world.

BALDWIN: I mean under other circumstances, what would the consequences of this kind of defiance be?

PLOTT: In a normal world the IG would most likely, that is to say the Inspector General would most likely issue a report saying this is unethical use of this hiring authority and, you know, in a case like that, congress could propose an amendment to say clarify precisely what exactly this act could be used for vis-a-vis hiring.

I'm not sure if it would actually get to that point. I can report in the last hour the EPA confirmed to me via a spokesman that my story is accurate and that they're tossing this over to PPO to see if they would like to review it further. Brook, I'm sure as you can intuit it's a little silly. Because the whole point of the exercise was to avoid PPO and the White House to begin with. It would be interesting to see if the salaries stay in place. On one hand if they do, it means that Pruitt had a chat with the White House and PPO and said OK, we'll let him stay. And if not it's definitely a blow to him.

BALDWIN: Elaina Plott from "The Atlantic," thank you very much.

PLOTT: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Pruitt is remaining silent about the scandal surrounding him, ignoring a slew of questions from reporters today. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have the president's support?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he call to tell you your job is secured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it a mistake to rent the apartment?


BALDWIN: All the questions, not saying a whole heck of a lot. CNN is learning that Pruitt is trying to get back in the president's good graces, suggesting new import restrictions on fuel to strengthen President Trump's stance on trade.

That of course is what Pruitt does best fulfilling the president's agenda and that could keep them in the White House in his job. So, Tom Foreman it is standing by. And Tom, Scott Pruitt may just be President Trump's most effective cabinet member when it comes to policy.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president said he was going to slash regulations. On that front, Pruitt has really proved to be sort of his hatchet man. Look at these different things he has taken on here. Air pollution. Basically, said look, we'll take some different controls on that, go back to other standards we had before, not the more stringent ones.

You mentioned the fuel controls. Of course, that's a plus a green light for the Trump administration. For environmentalists, not so much. Super fund sites. We need to focus on the worst ones, the top ten. Maybe that looks good except then they drained money off of sites, to try to deal with the top ten according to environmentalists.

Drinking water, he said we have an infrastructure crisis in this country. Not just with roads and bridges but drinking water, too. We need to do something like that. In the process rolled back a lot of the Obama regulations on cleaner drinking water.

[15:35:00] Obama-era climate regulations, this really is something he has gone after, making the president very happy. He has questioned the science behind global warming. He has basically said we need to study it more. He has pulled back really far from where the Obama administration was headed and said let's look at a broader sense of what it means to have clean air and safe environment.

And here is a really important part. He has emphasized a lot of meaning with industry leaders as opposed to environmentalists saying they have a real stake in all this and he's pushed more power to the states saying let them come up with the answers, all of which has environmentalists saying you're giving control to people who either don't want control or just have much more lax standards.

And all of this is happening while there's been a general pulling back of the idea of funding. A lot of the work of the EPA and, as you mentioned. All these other things going on, this idea of renting this house in a very, very discounted rate from a lobbyist. The use of first-class travel, which he has been in trouble for a lot, using very expensive flights.

He has had a very robust and expensive security team for a cabinet member because all of this has helped turn him into more of a lightning rod for threats out there against him. You have to do that, but it does cost a lot of money. Questionable pay raises for aides. And this is just a tiny portion of the many complaints against him, Brooke. The question is, does his role as the president's hatchet man on policy still balance out all these bad press items that are chasing him?

BALDWIN: Well, according to our sources at the White House, the president is more irritated by all this bad publicity than the bad behavior itself.

FOREMAN: it's one of those what have you done for me lately?

BALDWIN: Exactly. Tom, thank you.

Next, President Trump claims nobody has been tougher on Russia than him. This, as the first person is sentenced in a Special Counsel's investigation into Russian meddling. Where the Mueller probe goes from here.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ideally, we want to be able to get along with Russia. Getting along with Russia is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, maybe we will and maybe we won't. And probably nobody has been tougher to Russia then Donald Trump. Getting along with Russia would be a good thing, not a bad thing. Just about everybody agrees to that, except very stupid people.


BALDWIN: As the president claims, nobody has been tougher on Russia than him. We are getting news that the very first prison sentence has been handed down as part of this whole FBI inquiry into collusion between Donald Trump's presidential campaign team and Russia. This Dutch lawyer, with ties to Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, getting 30 days behind bars and a $20,000 fine for lying to officials in Robert Muller's Russia investigation. And Mueller's team warns this should serve as an example for what happens when you lie to investigators.

This comes as we get a bombshell from the Special Counsel himself. A memo written back in August 2017. But attached to a brand-new court filing right here shows Mueller was explicitly authorized to investigate whether Paul Manafort colluded with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election. And what's key, the green light coming from directly the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. Joining me now, Mimi Rocah former federal prosecutor and distinguished fellow distinguished fellow in criminal justice at Pace Law and Garrett Graff, CNN contributor and author of "The Threat Matrix Inside Mueller's FBI."

So welcome to you both. Garret, first up to you, the fact that we're learning about this in these court documents and not through sources. Why is that significant?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND AUTHOR: Well, what's significant about it is, you know, Bob Mueller is keeping a leak-free ship, you know, that what is so interesting about those memos and this window into the legal strategy is it shows just how careful Bob Mueller is being behind the scenes, using that ability to go back to Rod Rosenstein to get explicit permission to expand to the parameters of his investigation and that he's doing that judiciously, to make sure that when something like this Paul Manafort case arises, he is well within the bounds of his legal mission.

BALDWIN: And, Mimi, if Rosenstein is telling Mueller he should investigate allegations that he was, quote, colluding with Russian government officials to interfere in the election, is collusion the charge or is it something else?

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Collusion would not be the charge. There's no criminal charge of collusion. The criminal charge will probably be some sort of conspiracy, which is just an agreement to commit a crime. Mueller, in the indictment of 13 Russians, has already charged a conspiracy. It's conspiracy to interfere with our electoral process, one part of it. The collusion could here apply to people like Manafort or others. If they conspired, agreed, worked with, helped, facilitated, aided and abetted the Russians in what they were doing on social media or with the Democratic e-mail hack, they could shall charged as part of that conspiracy.

BALDWIN: And, Garrett, the fact that -- I don't want to brush over this, the fact that it's the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has been criticized many times by Trump and others, you know, he's overseeing this because Sessions recused himself. He's the guy who gave Mueller the green light to look into this. That's also a big deal.

GRAFF: Yes. And I think, you know, as Mimi was laying out there, we can also assume that Mueller must have presented some interesting potential evidence to get permission to do this.

[15:45:00] Bob Mueller is just not calling up and saying, hey, Rod, buddy, I've got some crazy goose chases that I want to run down.

BALDWIN: He's like, I've got some goods. Is that what you're saying?

GRAFF: Exactly. There's reason to believe that this would be material to the underlying case and that this also begins to tie together, potentially, in a way that we hadn't yet begun to see publicly. The idea that Paul Manafort's past business dealings might have very well had an impact on Paul Manafort's actions as campaign manager, that this -- that what we've seen publicly charged against Paul Manafort thus far appears to be retroactive looking business deals. This letter begins to say maybe that's not the case. Maybe this is actually much more closely related to the center of the 2016 election than we currently believe.

BALDWIN: Excellent note.

ROCAH: Brooke, on that point that Garrett just made about Mueller having the goods, the memo that's redacted that's now public, there's still a lot in there --

BALDWIN: There's a lot of black.

ROCAH: Right. And that's almost as interesting as what has been revealed. Because that is going to be about people other possible charges or information even about Manafort that have not yet come out. He may not be done with Manafort and other people that have not been revealed yet.

BALDWIN: What about the Dutch national son of a Russian oligarch sentenced to 30 days for lying to investigators specifically about his work in Ukraine with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. What's the message that the Mueller team is sending by throwing this guy in jail.

ROCAH: first of all, in addition to jail he will also be deported. I think that's important. Prosecutors take those things into account together. It's part of -- the prosecutors don't have control over it, but it is taken into account that that's part of sort of how he is going to have to pay for this, if you will.

BALDWIN: Got it.

ROCAH: I'm sure that's not his choice, to leave the United States right now. That's what he's doing. I think the message there is, obviously, what Mueller has been saying all along through the charges that he has brought, which is --

BALDWIN: Don't lie.

ROCAH: Don't lie. The Department of Justice depends upon the integrity of witnesses. People are asked all over the country every day to talk to investigators, to be honest. That's a foundation of our justice system. And if lawyers, in particular, aren't doing that, you know, that's a really bad thing.

BALDWIN: Mimi, thank you very much. Garrett Graff good to see you. We move on.

The wife of fired FBI official Andrew McCabe penned this pretty candid opinion piece in "The Washington Post." Speaking out for the first time about the president's attacks on her, her family, her husband, why she says allegations of corruption are utterly absurd.


BALDWIN: Jill McCabe, the wife of fired Deputy FBI Andrew McCabe wants to set the record straight about her run for the Virginia state house. For campaign contributions, the campaigns alleged connection to her husband's role at the FBI about the McCabe family reputation which she said the president tried ruin. In a compelling op ed, Jill McCabe called corruption allegations, and I'm quoting her, a false narrative and utterly absurd. She writes, quote, to have my personal reputation and integrity and those of my family attacked this way, way beyond horrible. It feels awful every day. It keeps me up nights. I made the decision to run for office because I was trying to help people. Instead it turned into something that was used to attack our family, my husband's career and the entire FBI.

Maeve Reston it is with me our CNN national political reporter. The first thing I read this morning and I think it is just, it is an extraordinary look at how this affected their lives.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. It really is. And it is an example of how the president's bullying and his tweets really do have kind of a personal effect on people. And perhaps a chilling effect on people entering politics. Jill McCabe clearly wanted to set the record straight. When she ran for office in 2014, she was recruited. She did meet with Governor Terry McAuliffe at that time but there was never any discussion of Hillary Clinton.

[15:55:00] The e-mail story had not even broken yet. And yet Trump went after the McCabes for quite a long time, suggesting that they were somehow tainted and obviously that snow balled into the firing of McCabe and he lost a huge portion of his pension after being a 21-year civil servant. A lot of people were shocked by that. It is the kind of thing happens in a banana republic and clearly, she wanted to rescue her family's integrity in all of this. The legal defense fund got a huge amount of donations on his go fund me page to the point they closed it down after they had gotten triple the amount of what the original goal was.

BALDWIN: Has the White House responded?

RESTON: Not that we've heard yet. You wouldn't expect president Trump would want to tread in these waters after someone talking about basically how he destroyed their lives, is what her view is.

BALDWIN: Thank you. On that, Jill McCabe, breaking news, President Trump suggests the U.S. military could be heading to the U.S./Mexico border calling it a big step. More on what that would entail. Was the Pentagon ready for the announcement?


BALDWIN: After a March full of upsets, UNC tear, a number one seed dominates in April. The Villanova Wildcats are national champions again, there are only the fourth team in the past 30 years to actually win two championship in a span of three years.

The Wildcats beat Michigan thanks to their surprise ace in the hole. The red shirt sophomore, Dante DiVincenzo who came off the bench and made 31 points. He normally averages 13 points a game so massive congrats to them. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.