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Trump Considering Firing Rod Rosenstein. Aired 6-6:29a ET
Aired April 11, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Firing Rod Rosenstein would provoke outrage and intense opposition.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Rod Rosenstein has done nothing wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants this investigation to come to an end. He doesn't respect the rule of law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be suicide for the president to fire him.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly believes he has the power to do so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This raid is about scaring the hell out of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Manhattan federal attorney's office sought information about Karen McDougal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The likelihood that Michael Cohen is going to be charged is high.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data from 87 million Facebook users. A decision was made not to notify the users.
MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO/FOUNDER: In retrospect, I think we clearly view it as a mistake.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I was mildly disappointed. I don't want to regulate him. By God, I will.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Wednesday April 11, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.
Sources are telling CNN that President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That, of course, the man who oversees Bob Mueller's Russia investigation. A move gaining urgency after the FBI searches targeting the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
CNN also learning President Trump and his team have been talking about how to get rid of Mueller for months. The White House now says the president does have the power to do it. This is going to be a complicated legal issue. "The New York Times" learning that the president wanted to fire Mueller back in December but backed down once again.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And Michael is speaking out to CNN about the raids on his home, hotel room and office. Cohen calls them "upsetting," but says agents were professional and respectful, and he contradicts the president's claims of a break-in.
This as the attorney for the porn star Stormy Daniels reveals that she is now cooperating with federal investigators. He will be here with more info.
And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg back on Capitol Hill today after spending hours taking questions from senators. Zuckerberg apologizing for the data breach scandal and confirming that Facebook is cooperating with the special counsel's investigation. You're going to hear that a lot today.
It's a very busy morning. Let's begin with Abby Phillip. She's live at the White House. What's the latest there, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.
President Trump continues to seethe about the latest developments in this Russia probe. But CNN is learning some new details about the deliberations within the White House about firing Mueller and why President Trump is considering getting rid of the man who oversees the probe.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Multiple sources tell CNN that President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a move that's gaining urgency as a way to check the power of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Many in Trump's legal team believe Rosenstein crossed a line when he approved the FBI's raids on Mr. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. They believe Rosenstein has a conflicted interest, because he's a potential witness in Mueller's probe for writing the memo that justified the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The White House dodging questions about Rosenstein's future.
SANDERS: Certainly, the president has voiced his frustrations. But beyond that, I don't have anything else.
PHILLIP: Another option President Trump is weighing: firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Mr. Trump still bemoans for recusing himself from the Russia probe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Attorney general, have you spoken with the president today?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Not today. Roll Tide.
PHILLIP: This as CNN has learned the president and his aides have discussed the legality of firing Mueller for months.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe he has the power to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Does he believe that's within his power?
SANDERS: He certainly believes he has the power to do so.
PHILLIP: And "The New York Times" details a second attempt by the president to fire Mueller back in December, angered by reports that new subpoenas from Mueller were seeking information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank. The president backing down after learning the reports were wrong.
A source tells CNN aides see this as a turning point for the president, whose anger about the Russia probe has surpassed any previous tantrums. But Republican lawmakers urging restraint.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: I think it would be suicide for the president to fire him. I think the less the president says about this whole thing the better off he will be.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: Let Director Mueller do his job.
It would be a mistake to fire him, so I don't think his job is in jeopardy.
PHILLIP: A White House official tells CNN the president now reevaluating whether he'll give Mueller an interview.
This as Michael Cohen reveals how he felt about the raid at his home and office, telling CNN, "Member of the FBI that conducted the search and seizure were all extremely professional, courteous and respectful," starkly different from President Trump's depiction, calling it a break-in.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch-hunt.
PHILLIP: CNN learning the raids took place on the same day that Trump's lawyers met with Mueller's team, with a source saying FBI agents sought documents for payments to ex-"Playboy" model Karen McDougal, who claims she was paid $150,000 by the company that owns the "National Enquirer" to keep the story about her alleged affair with Trump from being published. Representatives for Trump have denied the affair.
The FBI also collecting information related to porn star Stormy Daniels, who is now cooperating with investigators. (END VIDEOTAPE)
PHILLIP: President Trump tonight is going to have dinner with congressional leaders here at the White House. And yesterday, the White House announced that he had canceled his long-planned trip to Latin America for the Summit of the Americas, saying that he was going to stay back to deal with the situation in Syria, to figure out next steps as a result of that alleged chemical weapons attack. But sources tell CNN that the president also wants to decide on the next steps for the Justice Department -- Alisyn and Chris.
CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, Abby.
CUOMO: Appreciate it. Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa.
[06:05:00] So once again, dovetailing of politics and law. I think the big headline is there wasn't just one time that they were thinking about getting rid of Mueller, which makes sense. Right? If you want to get rid of him once, it's only gotten worse. You'd be thinking about it all the time.
But Asha, the idea from Sarah Sanders, she didn't misspeak. She wasn't incorrect. They believe the president can remove Mueller directly, that this guideline that it's supposed to be done by the DOJ, that's in the federal guideline -- yes, it's a guideline -- that guideline doesn't supersede his authority. Your take?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So as you said, Chris, this keeps getting worse, which means that if he had really wanted to do this firing, he should have done it a year ago. Because it gets more and more self-interested as we go on.
What you're talking about is a theory called the unitary executive. We've talked about this before. Basically, the president has all the power to do whatever he wants in the executive branch and what you're saying he could do it directly without even following the rules that his own branch has for him.
And you know, at that point, I think what you will get is a constitutional crisis/no man's land. Because what you -- the provision he would technically be violating, if he wanted to get into it, is his obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. And those laws include the rules that his own department created to hire and fire people.
CAMEROTA: The president is upset. Understandably. His close, close longtime attorney Michael Cohen's home was raided, for lack of a better word, for documents seized. Of course, the president is upset. It's just because he's considering them doesn't mean he's going to do it. But it sounds like he's also -- I mean, he's considered sort of openly firing Sessions.
AVLON: Yes. CAMEROTA: Mueller, Rosenstein. I mean, he's sort of trying to figure
out how to vet all of those.
CUOMO: Two or three of those they can definitely do. These are things he has long contemplated, particularly on bad days when the president is angry and feeling impulsive. He floats firing Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller. He has been restrained from doing that, by people including his own White House counsel and his legal counsel and the Republican senators is saying as recently as yesterday, Chuck Grassley saying this would be presidential suicide.
The question is at what point will he decide, "I'm going with my gut"? I've got executive power. And, you know, let the chips fall where they may. I think it would be a disastrous situation for the country. It would precipitate a constitutional crisis. But he will, in a moment of pique, may pull that presidential power card.
But let's not forget where we are. Take a step back for a second. We are a million miles from Normalville. We have president's aides being raided by the FBI, a president at war with his own Justice Department and law enforcement.
Feeling like the walls are coming in and being described as being in, quote, "meltdown" by members of his own staff. These are not -- these are high-stakes days, folks, for our republic.
CUOMO: So the word "raid" is really his word. This was not a raid. Michael Cohen, I spoke to him. He spoke to other reporters. He doesn't say he was raided. This wasn't a break-in.
But that is important language for the president's perspective. Right? He wants people to think that this was a violation of rights, that this was wrong. That's fundamental to his case.
So if he wants to deal with this, isn't going after Rosenstein something that's within his purview, certainly. And it would take him to the same place. Because if he puts you in, unlikely after the analysis you gave. But if he were to put you in, and he says to you, by the way, when you take this job, you have to swap this guy out and, in fact, end the whole thing. He gets to the same place, right?
RANGAPPA: That's right. And it's a savvier move for a number of reasons. Because Rod Rosenstein, or the person who would replace him, would effectively oversee the investigation. This search warrant that was executed was approved by Rosenstein.
So you have somebody who could kind of block moves in the investigation, slow roll it, decrease the funding, do things that they really wanted to, you know, push back on it. That would have to be reported to Congress, by the way, if he did that.
But it would at least give the president sort of the cover and Republicans that he is following process to some degree and leaving that discretion. Whereas if he goes directly, he's basically tossed all the rules out the window and says, "I just don't don't believe that any rules can constrain me." CAMEROTA: Look, even if it's possible, there are a host now, a
handful, I'd say, of Republicans who are telegraphing their views to the president via television. So here are some Republicans saying, "Do not do this."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORNYN: My advice to anybody would let Director Mueller do his job. It would be a mistake to fire him. So I don't think his job is in jeopardy.
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I do think it's important we continue with the investigation.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: But I think it's in his best interests if he does not.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The best thing that can happen for the president and the country is for Mueller to be able to finish his work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So John, what is the significance and the power, if any, of Republicans telling the president?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Republican senators are all singing from the same script on this one. They're saying, "Mr. President, don't go there." As Lindsey Graham said a while ago, it would be the beginning of the end of your presidency. They don't want that constitutional crisis. They don't want what happens next, and they're forced to confront it.
The fact that they're speaking from the same script I think is significant. They've spoken about this. Their concern about the president taking this action. The question is whether they'll take an additional step to try to make it more difficult.
CUOMO: So how do you understand the logic? OK?
"Hey, he may remove this person."
"Oh, what do you think of that?"
"That's not good. Don't do that."
"Well, then why don't you make sure that he can't do it by putting forward this legislation. Don't need to, because I don't think he will do it." They all said that.
Now, there are other GOP lawmakers who have worked on even bipartisan moves to protect the special counsel. But not these, who were just interviewed. How do you put those two together? I don't think he should do it. It would be a problem if he did, but I won't protect against it. AVLON: Yes, it's wishing and hoping. An ostrich-like approach to the
problem, because they don't want to deal with it. Of course, there should be a bipartisan bill -- Tillis-Coons is one -- to try to protect the integrity of the Mueller investigation.
But the real question's about that, whether that would be sufficient? How much authority can the president claim over his own Justice Department? What can happen?
You know, even the Saturday Night Massacre precedent has limited applicability, because Nixon kept the staff in place. There's no assurance that Trump would do that in this case. So we are in uncharted territory.
But simply trying to telegraph to the president through television is insufficient. They have a co-equal branch of government. They should try to make it a little bit more difficult for the president to do something. It would be disastrous to them, their party, and the country.
CAMEROTA: Asha, how do you think that this factors into whether the president is going to talk to Robert Mueller's team or Robert Mueller directly?
RANGAPPA: You know, it -- his lawyers are smart. They're not going to let him talk to Mueller. Hopefully, you know, it will still go forward, because he needs to wrap up that part of the investigation. But I think that what this does is now give him, as you mentioned before, this is not a legitimate course of action. Now he has kind of this personal political reason, because otherwise, it was going to make him look like he has something to hide.
CAMEROTA: So you think it gives him coverage to say, "No, I'm not going to talk to you now."
RANGAPPA: Right. I have to say, I think from a legal perspective, if Mueller wants to talk to the president he's going to continue in every avenue to talk to the president, including trying to issue a subpoena. And once again, we're going to be back into another constitutional thicket trying to untangle what he can and can't do.
AVLON: And I think that's one of the -- one of the ironies we need to keep in mind at this moment, is the president was apparently preparing to get ready -- prepare for his testimony to Mueller. He wants to do this. He feels he'll be vindicated. And I think that's admirable on the president's part, you know, to go out and say his piece. It's a way to certainly put this to bed, if he feels he has nothing to hide.
But if this makes it more -- less likely the president will take that step. That itself puts the situation --
RANGAPPA: Absolutely. It's going towards, I think, a constitutional confrontation of some kind, one way or the other.
CAMEROTA: All right. Asha, John, thank you both very much. Michael Cohen, the president's attorney, telling CNN what it was like to be raided? What's the word we should use?
CAMEROTA: Searched by the FBI. As we uncover new details about what the feds were looking for. Next.
[06:16:45] CAMEROTA: President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, talking to CNN about the FBI's search of his home and office. Cohen says FBI agents were professional, courteous, respectful. That contradicts what the president declared as a break-in. But Cohen admits he is worried about what happens next.
Let's bring back John Avlon and Asha Rangappa. Should Michael Cohen be worried about what happens next?
RANGAPPA: I think he should. The standard that would have had to have been met in order for the FBI to be able to execute the search both internally with the Department of Justice to gather -- and go through this investigation and for a judge who's looking at it who's going to say, "You're going to do what? You want to go into the president's attorney's office?" It means that there is something very serious here. And he needs to take this seriously, and you know.
CAMEROTA: Just follow that line for me a little bit further. Meaning, well, first of all, should we still be calling him the president's attorney? Can he still be -- if he is now under investigation himself. And we don't know, I don't think, that he's the target of anything, can he still function as the president's attorney today?
RANGAPPA: I'm going to say no. I think that, given what we know that they've collected here or at least some of the things that we're after. We're about communications between Trump and Cohen himself. means that they're interested in some kind of interaction there, which makes one of them a witness against the other, potentially. They're interest adverse conflict. He can't do that.
AVLON: And just to add to Asha's point, the bar for getting justice to approve even a president's lawyer, any lawyer.
CAMEROTA: Any lawyer.
AVLON: Is very high. The one precedent to look for, he's got to go back to Lynn Stewart, who is the lawyer -- the blind sheikh, who is believed to be passing information with a terrorist in prison. And even then there was a major debate, whether it was appropriate. So that's the kind of bar we're looking at, just with perspective.
That's, I think, Cohen's comments to Chris and Don Lemon and others were incredibly respectful. It was the tone the president should have taken. This was not about demonization. This was about -- they were respectful, and that was the way that law enforcement should be treated.
CUOMO: You're going to be a little bit more civil when it's your ass that's on the line, also. It's easy --
I'm sure that if he gets closer to doing an interview with Mueller, he won't be beating up on Mueller the same way.
AVLON: The tone comes from the top. And Cohen and Trump are tight. And he has learned at his heels. And the fact is, he was praising the professionalism of law enforcement, which is what you generally see, not only from subjects but from people in the government.
CUOMO: Right. Look, you know, and you have to -- you have to be respectful of the -- the overall presumption of innocence.
CUOMO: Probable cause is not the most impressive legal standard in the world. And even though this is sensitive going into where you'll have attorney/client privilege, they have a tank team on whether or not Cohen's attorney had to push for the same team or whether or not it was automatically assigned is an open question.
But they don't have any case against this guy that we know about. They had a concern that they might not be having all the materials that they wanted. Right? I mean, that's what triggers this kind of warrant, that there's a probable that a crime may have been committed based on information that they don't yet have.
RANGAPPA: Here's the case on somebody. They would have had to have collected the evidence to present as a part of the search warrant.
CAMEROTA: And evidence before the search warrant.
RANGAPPA: Under Department of Justice guidelines, you have to have what's called a full investigation before you can engage in a full search warrant like this. So they have some serious case open right now. Who the target -- who the subject is, we're not sure. But we know that there is something active. So --
[06:10:20] CAMEROTA: And if Michael Cohen is, quote, "cooperating," and who wouldn't cooperate with the FBI and feds, I mean, at some point again, when you hear that sort of more conciliatory language, so if he's cooperating, then what does that mean? Does that mean that your attorney can -- let's pretend. We know that President Trump is a subject. We don't know if he's a target. Can your attorney --
CUOMO: Mueller says he's not a target.
CAMEROTA: OK. Can an attorney be flipped, so to -- so to speak?
RANGAPPA: If it's regarding criminal activity, yes. I mean, that privilege doesn't extend to any kind of commission of a crime or covering it up. I do have to say that what Mueller might be after here, though, is more pressure on Manafort.
Let's not forget that Cohen has, you know, extensive connections with Ukraine, with a lot of the people that were in these circles. And so he -- maybe we're even -- you know, it's not even about the president. This could be about other kind of funding, lots of money that he wants. Because we know that he definitely wants Manafort's information.
CAMEROTA: Good point.
CUOMO: I've got to tell you, though. There is a calculation being done here, right? Mueller's purview, and that's part of the beef, right? Where we get more and more to the weeds. You know, what's he allowed to look at. What is he not allowed to look at.
Trump was going to move on Mueller about those indictments into the banks, until he understood what they were. And then he wasn't as threatened, so he stopped moving on him. Here I think that applies to Cohen, as well. Is that you can go and look for information.
But at the end of the day, if you don't find crimes, this will wind up fueling a counternarrative that this was a witch-hunt. And that's why it's a balancing test even for the prosecutor.
CUOMO: We don't want fishing expeditions where we come up with an empty hook. I mean, God forbid we have fishing expeditions in presidential investigations. I mean, we've seen that move before.
But that said, first of all, look, I think it's significant that this is farmed out effectively to the southern district
CUOMO: And then the guy recused himself, which is weird.
AVLON: Trump's own appointee. And Berman, the U.S. attorney. You know, this is Rudy Giuliani's former --
CUOMO: Right. But why would this be a basis of recusal in your mind? So he worked with Rudy Giuliani in a law firm.
AVLON: That wouldn't be the basis. The basis, presumably, in part is that he was a lawyer on the campaign and may have known Cohen in that context.
CUOMO: That's enough to step away?
AVLON: Well, it was, was enough for him to recuse himself. That's clearly not what Trump was hoping for the appointee in the Southern District. And this went forward anyway with Rosenstein's awareness.
So I think, look, this is not -- they're clearly separating it out. It apparently has to do with Stormy Daniels and McDougal.
CUOMO: It's outsized tax medallions also.
AVLON: Which seems bizarre to me, and I realize that's --
CUOMO: That was years ago. He was in the medallions business, Michael Cohen. Medallions are what they put on the taxis here, the effective license to own a taxi.
AVLON: That seems like how that rises to a federal purview is TBD. But they seem to be looking for information that pertains to Stormy and anything else involving payments made to McDougal directly or indirectly, possibly through American Media. We will see what comes of that.
But there is a separation here, and I'll just say the reason it's so high-stakes is that Michael Cohen is the president's keeper of secrets. And the president's got a lot of secrets to keep hid. That's one of the reasons for the ratcheting up for the exile.
Do you know what this does for Stormy Daniels's case? I mean, does it make it more legitimate. Because for a long time, as you know, her attorney would come on. And we'd say where is your evidence? What have you got to prove? The president says it didn't happen. Stormy Daniels says it did. Where else can we go? Does this change that equation?
RANGAPPA: I don't know if it changes the merits of her case, which is about whether there was a legal agreement formed. I think, as Chris and I discussed at the break, it could affect how fast that would move if some of these issues come up in a criminal, you know, case that moves forward.
But one thing I think the big picture to come back to, is there are a lot of threads that Mueller is investigating. And one thing that the American public and the president needs to understand, because if he gets rid of Mueller, he puts Rosenstein, these cases will continue to move forward.
CAMEROTA: I'm glad you're saying that. Because Jeffrey Toobin had a different take on that.
RANGAPPA: I disagree with him on that.
CAMEROTA: You think that even if somebody is not at the helm, spearheading all of this, the wheels are in motion.
RANGAPPA: The wheels are in motion. We have different agencies potentially involved, like the treasury. You know, looking at tax stuff. I mean, once the wheels of justice start turning, I think people don't understand that there is always a next logical step. And if you don't follow it, you have to justify it.
CUOMO: Right. But what if your boss tells you that's enough? Isn't that justification?
RANGAPPA: The, they're going to sign their name to a paper that will one day come up that they obstructed justice.
CUOMO: Obstructed justice, or they said I think --
RANGAPPA: They stopped multiple investigations without basis? Yes. I think that would be. And later -- I mean, it may be suppressed now. It will eventually see the light of day.
[06:25:08] CUOMO: I'm pretty sure Trump is not worried about how history is going to judge him at this point. CAMEROTA: Asha, John Avlon, thank you both very much.
Coming up in just minutes, we will have Stormy Daniels's attorney, Michael Avenatti, join us to talk about how his client is cooperating and what about that sketch that he promised to release and more.
CUOMO: All right. Mark Zuckerberg faced not a grilling. I would say there are some solid questions that came his way when he was with the Senate. What he told lawmakers about your privacy and what it also revealed about how little these senators understand about the Internet business, next.
CAMEROTA: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg back on Capitol Hill for a second day of questioning. He will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one day after dozens of senators questioned him for hours about the data breach.
CNN's Laurie Segall is live in Washington with more. What a day, Laurie. What jumped out at you?
LAURIE SEGAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Huge day for the company, for the next couple days.