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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Ordering Troops to Border; Mueller Targeting Trump?; U.S. Markets Rattled After China Retaliates on Trump's Tariffs. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Did the special counsel just lay a perjury trap for President Trump?

THE LEAD starts right now.

We have lots of breaking news on the Russia probe, including Robert Mueller sending a message to President Trump's lawyers, one that could land him under oath. How his struggles with the truth might get him in trouble.

Breaking news, moments ago, the White House said President Trump is ordering troops to the border as soon as tonight. Where? How many? And why now?

Plus, fake cell phone towers tracking you and possibly letting spies listen to your call. What shadowy figures might be behind this?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin this afternoon with a series of developments in the Russia investigation, one court appearance by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, one Senate Intelligence Committee interview with former Trump business partner Felix Sater, the fixer who worked to facilitate deals for Mr. Trump in Russia, and some new reporting offering what could be the clearest picture yet of the peril President Trump may face if he testifies before Robert Mueller.

Sources familiar with the conversations tell CNN that special counsel Mueller informed the president's legal team that the president is not a criminal target right now, but is considered more than just a witness. Mueller is still pushing for an interview with the president about the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey, as well as the president's efforts to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

Legal experts, including allies of the president, caution that Mr. Trump, given his past struggles to consistently adhere to facts, could possibly talk his way into becoming a target of the investigation.

Let's bring in CNN's chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was just asked about

whether or not the president will give an interview in the briefing. What did she have to say?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: She would not comment on that, in effect, and on the larger issue of being a subject, rather than a target. She said none of this comes as a surprise.

She returned to the talking the point that you often hear from the president and from the White House that there was no collusion. But as even a Republican such as Trey Gowdy noted today, that being a subject of investigation does not mean you cannot become a target and that depends on what the investigation finds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): President Trump is not a criminal target in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation right now. This according to sources familiar with the matter.

However, his legal team believes he remains a subject of the probe due to his involvement in some of the matters being looked at. It's a distinction that legal experts say does not mean that Trump is safe.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The president sits there in the middle of this car wreck as a person of interest to the grand jury. That's what he started out as. There's no guarantee if you start out as a subject, you don't end up as a target.

SCIUTTO: Trump's attorneys learned of the president's status during discussions with investigators last month over a potential interview with the president. Trump has not settled on whether he wants to speak to the special counsel, but according to one source, he considers it a positive development that he is not currently a target of the investigation.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was no collusion and we will continue to be cooperative until it comes to a full conclusion, which we hope is soon.

SCIUTTO: Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, however, cautions it does not put the president in the clear.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: One witness can take from you being a subject to a target. If you have nothing to hide, sit down. Assuming a fair prosecutor, and I think Mueller is, sit down and tell him what you know.

SCIUTTO: Several Trump associates continue to be questioned in the ongoing Mueller and congressional probes. Today, former Trump business partner Felix Sater is being interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee investigators, who are scrutinizing his communications with Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

In 2015, Sater, who is Russian-born, was brokering a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, though the project stalled shortly before the 2016 primaries. In interviews, Sater has denied any wrongdoing relating to the election and said that he never served as a link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

And new tonight, CNN has uncovered audio from August 4, 2016, of Trump associate Roger Stone on the Infowars radio show predicting devastating disclosures about the Clinton Foundation.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he is going to furnish it to the American people.

SCIUTTO: His prediction came more than two months before WikiLeaks would release more than 20,000 pages of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e-mails, e-mails stolen by Russia.

Stone's radio appearance came the very same day he sent an e-mail claiming he had dinner with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange the night before, this according to a source familiar with that e-mail exchange. Stone now denies that he met with Assange.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: This, of course, not the only coincidence of timing during the campaign. You may remember before that June 9 Trump Tower meeting in 2016 on June 7, two days before, the president had said he was going to give a major about Clinton with some revelations.

[16:05:06]

Now, whether these are just coincidences or they actually indicate something is of course something the special counsel is going to looking into and we will learn which it is in the end.

TAPPER: Curiouser and curiouser. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

I want to bring in my panel.

Let me start with Laura Coates.

Mueller told the legal team that President Trump is not a target of the investigation at the time. As a former federal prosecutor, legally, does that mean anything?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is about semantics.

If you are somebody who may be a defendant one day, you don't want to get into a semantics-based argument about whether or not you're a target or you're somebody who is simply a subject.

Technically speaking, if you're a subject, it means your content, your conduct in some way is in the wheelhouse of what the grand jury is supposed to be investigating. You become a target if they actually have evidence to connect to you something that goes into what the grand jury is testifying or hearing about.

So you can very quickly move from that fluid notion of being a subject to a target. It all depends on what you say.

TAPPER: Congressman Rogers, as a former FBI agent, what do you think?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I will tell you how we used to open up cases.

If you were going on open a case in the FBI, you had to have a subject of that investigation, which means you likely believe there was some criminal activity that could lead to an indictment down the road. I think the semantics are a lot smaller here than I think people are letting on.

You're definitely not a witness. He's taking out that you're a witness to all of this, all of what happened, that you are a subject, meaning there are people who are talking about you in the investigation. There are likely issues that they think could cross the line of criminality. You're just not the person that they're going to take to the grand jury tomorrow and get an indictment on.

I think this is a pretty serious call for where Mueller has been, vs. him saying, hey, there is nothing to see here. Now he's the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. I think that's pretty serious.

COATES: And remember the context here. You're talking about during the terms of negotiation of when they're going to actually interview the president of the United States.

If you're Mueller's team, you are going to say things to try to encourage the actual interview. Where is the legal jeopardy running? You can imagine his counsel saying, if I speak to you, what is my exposure here, and him making the distinction at that point.

TAPPER: And then let's talk about the interview.

Congressman, take a listen to your former colleague Congressman Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, discussing whether in his view President Trump should testify before Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOWDY: I would tell you, if you did not rob the bank, there is no reason for you to not sit down and talk to the FBI about the bank robbery. So only he knows what he knows.

If you have nothing to hide, sit down. Assuming fair prosecutor, a fair prosecutor, and I think Mueller is, sit down and tell him what you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree?

ROGERS: Well, again, from a law enforcement perspective, sure, you should come in and sit down and talk to me all day long.

If I were the lawyer for the president, I would say, we need find a way to really limit what these folks can ask you in an interview. He is a bigger-than-life personality. He has the propensity to believe that as long as he's talking, he's winning in a room like that.

And that's exactly how you say something that gets you in trouble. So I have two different schools of thought here. From the American public, I would love him to go in and straighten this out. From a personal legal defense for him, I would say, if I were his lawyer, I would say there's no way in God's green earth are you going in that room unless we have this pretty tight about what you're going to be asked and how you're going to answer these questions.

I just think given who he is, and the way he communicates, I think it would be fraught with trouble for him even inadvertently saying something that could get him snagged up with the FBI, including lying to the FBI.

TAPPER: And, Laura, there's also this question, "The Washington Post" was reporting that Mueller had communicated the idea that perhaps he was working on some sort of document addressing the issue of potential obstruction of justice.

That's not to say he is going to reach a conclusion, but getting into those issues. Do you think that it is more likely that he would, let's say he found wrongdoing by the president, that he would just write a document and give to it Congress and let Congress make up its mind about whether or not it want to act on that?

Or do you think he actually might theoretically bring charges?

COATES: I think it is more likely he will hand to it Rod Rosenstein, who will then make the decision whether to publicize it to Congress or the American public, which is part of his directive.

Remember, this is all acting at, not really the pleasure, but lack of a better term, of Rod Rosenstein who gives the sanction on all these different issues. It's conceivable that he may write a report that talks about potential obstruction.

But the entire point of him wanting to talk to President Trump is about the mental state. Did he have some intent about trying to obstruct? That's the piece of the puzzle that you cannot get from anyone else besides the perhaps cooperator who will give information about this or from the horse's mouth himself.

And so if that's the case, he can only get it from there and we're all waiting to see if he will do it.

TAPPER: And, Congressman, what do you think? What do you think Mueller is more likely to do if he has some sort of document about potential obstruction of justice by President Trump?

[16:10:05]

ROGERS: Well, listen, I will tell you that interview, they will prepare immensely for this particular interview, which is why it is so risky for somebody like Trump to walk into that interview. They are going to know more about him and what he did and what he said

and all of the people cooperating with the investigation are going to help guide the questioning for that particular interview.

And so I'm sure that they are going to want to get to the heart of was it deliberately, intentionally trying to get the investigation to go away? Or was it in the duties of the office of the president?

And I think from the defense position, that's a pretty high bar. You are going to have to get over it if you're a prosecutor. You are going to have get over the bar that he wasn't acting on the best interests of the country and the Department of Justice for a whole host of other reasons.

What they would have to prove in those interviews is that he had that intention, as Laura talked about, that he had the intention of trying to disrupt the investigation that related to him. And so I think that's the purpose of the investigation -- or the interview would be at that point.

TAPPER: All right, Chairman Rogers and Laura Coates, thank you both. Appreciate it.

Cleanup in aisle 45 -- from trade wars to real wars to sending troops where there are no wars, how the president's team is trying to play catchup after his statements.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:36] TAPPER: Minutes ago, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, announced that President Trump will sign a proclamation today deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Nielsen says she hopes the deployment will begin immediately, even potentially as early as this evening.

The president had teased some kind of action yesterday saying he would send, quote, the military. And on Twitter this morning, the president promised, quote, strong action.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

And, Jeff, you asked Secretary Nielsen, why this is happening so urgently. Why now? What did she have to say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, that's certainly is the question here. What has changed so dramatically that this needs to happen? I mean, she was talking about sending an unspecified number of troops for an unspecified duration of time at an unspecified price tag to the border. But again, we asked her, why so urgent?

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY: What responsibility does the White House or the department have for not urging Congress to do something more permanent rather than having National Guard troops down who are, you know, stretched thin already?

(CROSSTALK)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, no, it's a great question and I appreciate to have chance to clarify. We do want Congress to act. We had been hopeful that we would agree a bipartisan bill. The president has, you know, supported two of the four that were offered on the floor this last go-around, so what we were trying to do is give Congress an opportunity to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So she won't to say, Jake, that they have seen an uptick in border crossings, advertisements and other things in the month of April as the weather warms up, but never seemed to answer the question exactly why this is needed at this moment. You know, the House is in recess. The Senate is not here. The president is taking action on this.

We do believe based on our reporting that it is because of a FOX News report over the weekend where he saw, he had the dinner with Sean Hannity, you know, informal adviser here at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend. And since then he's been pressing immigration. Clearly, a sign that he wants to reach out to his base which is asking tough questions about this. But that sense of urgency, it feels like it here, but we're still not sure on the border to warrant any of this as soon as tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.

My political panel is here with me.

Jackie Kucinich, can it actually be right that the president saw this "Fox and Friends" report, or a FOX News report about a caravan of hundreds of individuals coming up from Central America, an annual activity, and he saw this, and that, plus the meeting with Sean Hannity at Mar-a-Lago, that's why all of a sudden the U.S. national guard troops are being sent to the border?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would add to that list, the fact the president was still bent out of shape that he had to sign this omnibus appropriations bill that did not have the amount of money that he wanted to build his wall. He said he was never going to sign anything like that again because it didn't and he tried to pressure Congress and Congress said no.

So I think the back lash he got from people like Ann Coulter, from members of his base, the fact that he signed it anyway, I think that also added to the fact and the rage that's kind of going into this new policy that's bringing troops to the border.

TAPPER: Symone, what do you think?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the White House has not been clear. So, one, the president cannot deploy the National Guard. That's something the governors had to do.

KUCINICH: Of course.

SANDERS: And he does folks, governors along the border that will go along with the get along, but I doubt Governor Brown of California will be doing just that.

Secondly, the White House is conflating on a number of issues. You have the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security saying that both illegal, quote/unquote, immigration is down, but also that the influx of folks coming this country. So, which is it? I think folks, they're trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

And this is problematic. The president is seemingly throwing a temper tantrum, because he did not get his money for the border wall, so now he's going to siphon off millions of dollars from the Defense Department that has been appropriated for something else to build part of a wall on military property. That should be concerning to everyone and I want Congress to wake up and do their damn job.

TAPPER: No, the idea that the president is motivated to do this because of what happened over the weekend, but also potentially because of the midterms seems like a cogent political argument. He's not going to be able to campaign on we're getting the wall done in the midterms. But he can say, look, we're doing something. We sent troops, National Guard troops.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this has more 22nd November and the president sensing that they could lose -- the Republicans could lose the House at that time.

[16:20:01] And so, this may be the moment, the summer may be the time for you to do anything with support from Congress.

And so, he is unilaterally going ahead. I think it's -- you know, it's open question. Where this money is coming from, as Symone pointed out, and the fact that they're openly saying we'll build military installations at the border without any consent from Congress, I find sort of alarming.

This question, is it a DHS facility? Is it homeland security? Is it an ICE facility?

TAPPER: The other question I think is when the president talked about sending the military, it was unclear what he meant.

SANDERS: I don't think he knew, Jake. I don't think --

TAPPER: You don't think he knew?

SANDERS: I do not think Donald Trump knew what he was talking about. He thought he could deploy the army I think to the border. And that is --

TAPPER: Sending the 101st Airborne in.

SANDERS: Sending the 101st Airborne right on down to Arizona. It does not work like that.

Civics is really important, but I'm concerned that Donald Trump does not know the difference between whom he is in fact in charge of. The president cannot deploy the National Guard.

KUCINICH: We also don't know if DHS asked for this or not. That wasn't clear by Secretary Neilsen's presentation there in the briefing room. You'd think if they did, there would be a little bit more information. We'd know how much this cost. We'd know how many troops were going down. We don't know any of that information right now.

SANDERS: Also, how long? Also, how long?

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Like a blindside, her making this huge announcement from the podium at the White House while Congress is in recess.

KUCINICH: Right.

CARPENTER: She mentioned that she's been talking on governors but I wonder how much she's been talking on Congress and I don't mind them getting a little bit of pressure. Listen, the wall has been authorized since 2006.

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: They dragged their feet on it. They haven't gotten it done. So, I don't blame Trump for trying to move forward and do something.

But the fact it doesn't appear to be in consultation with Republican members of Congress, given that he has so many, you know, people along the southern border that do support him, I find strange.

TAPPER: And just to be clear, President Obama and President Bush both sent National Guards to the border but they did so with an interagency process, consultation with the states and consultation with Mexico.

SANDERS: Absolutely. And also, Jake, I just like to note that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got up the other day and she started with quotes from MLK saying the president believes all folks are equal. And from that exact same podium, on the 50th year anniversary on the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin King Jr., you had the secretary of homeland security demonizing immigrants and undocumented people.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I mean, there's not a (INAUDIBLE) saying that we should have complete open borders. I mean, I think -- SANDERS: No on is saying that.

CARPENTER: -- that's where the progressives run a little bit afoul. I mean, who is in favor --

SANDERS: Who has you overheard saying that we want open borders?

CARPENTER: I don't know, do you think that --

SANDERS: I do not think that we should have open borders.

CARPENTER: -- the secretary saying we should do something to stop illegal crossings as somehow demonizing immigrants? I don't.

SANDERS: I think she got up there and alluded to the fact there were just hordes and hordes of individuals spilling into our country. In the same vein, she noted that she --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: In the same vein, she noted that immigration, quote/unquote, illegal immigration was down.

CARPENTER: It is down, but they were noting that there's more people coming from Central America gaming the system.

(CROSSTLAK)

KUCINICH: -- on claims rather than coming across the border, that stay here illegally and overstay their visas.

CARPENTER: Sure, and visa overstays. I do think the package of reforms the secretary alluded to, that she wanted to work Congress. I mean, that should obviously be a part of it. And it is weird to me that they said, we have this whole package of reforms we want to talk with Congress about but we'll tell you about that later.

SANDERS: They didn't have any numbers about how much it costs, who it is, how long folks are going, I think this was rushed. So, I find it -- I'm hard pressed to believe that there was in fact a plan, that there is, in fact, a real package. And again, this is not a reaction to something that was said on FOX News. This is not how we should run a government.

CARPENTER: It was more thought out than a tweet.

SANDERS: Look, if this is the Obama administration, I just like to know folks would be up in arms. And so, I'd like us to just apply the same standard across the board.

TAPPER: All right, everyone. Stay here. We've got a lot more to talk about.

The president's advisers also scrambling after China takes this trade war directly to Trump country. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:55] TAPPER: Just minutes ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said short term pain on Wall Street is going to lead to long term success. That after a rollercoaster ride today after China spooked investors by retaliating over the president's new tariffs, threatening tariffs of their own on 106 American products, including soybeans and cars.

On Twitter, President Trump didn't back down, saying, quote, we are not getting into a trade war with China. That war was lost many years ago by the foolish or incompetent people who represented the U.S. Now, we have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year, with intellectual property thief of another $300 billion. We cannot let this continue.

Of course, the president has previously said, quote: Trade wars are good and easy to win.

Bellicose rhetoric when the president's advisers are looking to ease fears on Wall Street about a trade war.

Let me bring back my panel.

And, Jackie, today, the president's brand new top economic adviser Larry Kudlow tried to calm concerns, saying he doesn't think people should react right now. He thinks this is just a tactic.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I would take the president seriously, you know. There are carrots and sticks. But he is ultimately a free trader. He said that to me. He's said it publicly. He wants to solve this with the least amount of pain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's a little different from the trade wars can be won and they're easy to win.

KUCINICH: It's his first week, by the way. Larry Kudlow is having a heck of a first week. The fact that he's on the lawn talking about this.

That said, yes, it does sound different. And again, you see his advisers trying to put this into terms that doesn't spook the market and that doesn't make things worse with the Chinese. We're talking about before the panel, the Chinese need to be held to account for manipulation.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Absolutely, currency manipulation, intellectual property.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. But there's a way to do this that doesn't cause retaliation against a lot of states, by the way, that the president won. The Chinese know what they're doing. They're looking at this through a political lens and exacting their displeasure on states that the president won.

TAPPER: I want to bring in "The New York Times'" Jim Tankersley now.

Jim, thanks so much for joining us. I want to read you this tweet from President Trump and ask you what you think.