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CNN Sources: Trump Debating Sacking Rosenstein; Trump Warns 'Get Ready, Russia," Missiles Coming to Syria; Mike Pompeo Faces Confirmation Hearing Tomorrow. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What is -- why are you so excited about what happened over the past 48 hours?

[07:00:05] MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, I don't know that we're excited about what happened.

CAMEROTA: You know what I mean. Why are you so bullish on what's happened over the past 48 hours about your case?

AVENATTI: Well, because I think what we see is the noose tightening around Michael Cohen as it relates to this $130,000 payment, the agreement, what the president knew, when he knew it, what he did about it.

I mean, this is becoming far more complicated for Michael Cohen and Mr. Trump as it relates to our case, this agreement, and the payment. I mean, any time you have three search warrants executed on homes and offices of a personal attorney to the president, who less than 36 business hours previously basically told everyone "That's who you need to talk to," that's a very serious matter.

CAMEROTA: Michael Avenatti, we appreciate you coming on NEW DAY. Thanks so much.

AVENATTI: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We begin with President Trump seething about the Mueller investigation. CNN learning the president is once again considering getting rid of Mueller and certainly firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Politically could be a dangerous move. Does he have the right legally to make these kinds of moves? That gets a little bit complicated, as well. Certainly, the focus is impacting the probe.

CNN also learning that the president and his team have been figuring out what they can do here for months. The White House insisting Mr. Trump does have the power to directly fire Mueller. CAMEROTA: The president's long-time attorney and fixer, Michael

Cohen, breaking his silence after the FBI searched his home, hotel room, and office. Cohen calls it upsetting but admits the agents were professional and courteous, contradicting the president's claims of a break-in.

So let's begin with CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza; and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. He served as Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Department of Justice.

CUOMO: All right. So let's tee up our conversation, fellows, by looking at what the president is doing this morning.

"Nothing yet on the all-important Wilma or Betty question. However, so much fake news about what is going on in the White House. Very calm and calculated, with a big focus on open and fair trade with China, the coming North Korea meeting and, of course, the vicious gas attack in Syria. Feels great to have Bolton and Larry K." -- Kudlow -- "on board. "I/we are doing things that nobody thought possible, despite the never ending and corrupt Russia investigation, which takes tremendous time and focus. No collusion or obstruction, other than I fight back, so now they do the unthinkable and RAID" -- all caps -- "a lawyer's office for information." -- all caps -- "BAD."

Chris Cillizza, your take?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Look, I think that he continues to frame a reality for himself that is not entirely and, candidly, not really at all connected to the reality that is accepted.

Let's take the calm, everything is normal. Forty-nine percent of his senior staff, cabinet-level staff have left between January 20, 2017, and today. That's 446 days. That's three times the rate that people left the Obama administration in that period of time. Double George W. Bush's time. So there's a lot of churn just on the staff level.

But the other things here, I mean, we're talking about the -- Donald Trump is seeking to cast this raid of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen's office and home and a hotel he was staying in as some sort of extrajudicial move. It wasn't. There was a search warrant. A judge agreed to it.

And in fact, I think it's very worth noting, and Chris, I know you know this, that privileged documents were seized. There's a very high bar for a judge to allow attorney/client privilege to be violated and privileged documents to be seized. That has to be met prior to that happening.

So the fact that it did happen, I think speaks to what the FBI was looking for and the strength of the case they were able to make. So the facts, again, it's not a partisan thing. The facts simply do not line up with Donald Trump's tweets.

CAMEROTA: So, Michael. How do you think the search of Michael Cohen's home and office changes the stakes of the Mueller investigation?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's made the president angrier. And an angry president is not necessarily the correct state of mind to make tough legal decisions in. So I mean, we have an agitated president. And hopefully, his counsel will tell him to calm down and let this matter proceed.

I don't think he possesses the power to fire Mueller directly. I think the law is pretty well-settled. The power of removal follows from the power of appointment. The power of appointment here is set out by 28 U.S. Code 1515 and the implementing regulations. That resides with the attorney general.

[07:05:16] So hopefully, Don McGahn and Ty Cobb will explain to him the law that governs his removal power and not set up a constitutional problem.

CAMEROTA: But Michael, just to be clear, because we had Asha on before with this same question, because you don't see it as a guideline in terms of removal. You see it as a law.

ZELDIN: It is a law. It's a statute; 28 U.S. Code Section 1515 gives the authority to point to the attorney general. And it's implemented by the CFR that governs it.

CUOMO: All right. But they've been thinking about this, and they say, but ultimately, the president has power over the executive, it's constitutional in its nature, which would come up before this statute.

But look --

ZELDIN: Can I just add one thing, Chris?

CUOMO: Go ahead.

ZELDIN: I mean, it's an important legal conversation that shouldn't just be loosely left. I think there are cases, Exwell Hannan (ph) in 1839, Morrison versus Orson -- Olson, rather.

All these cases speak to the inability of the president to remove. I know there's debate about this. I think it's pretty clear that he doesn't. And/or if he does possess it in some marginal way, it would take the Supreme Court to decide in that way. He will face two years of constitutional litigation.

If I were Mueller, I wouldn't leave the position. I'd say you have no authority to remove of me as what happened with Stanton back in the Johnson administration.

CUOMO: But he doesn't need to do that. None of this needs to happen. If he removes Rosenstein, which he certainly can, he winds up in the same functional position, doesn't he? Which is --


CUOMO: Why not? ZELDIN: Because if he removes Rosenstein --

CUOMO: Right.

ZELDIN: Then Francisco, the solicitor general, takes over. For me it's hard to imagine that a seasoned attorney like Noel Francisco (ph) is going to capitate the Mueller investigation and risk, you know, the ire of the entire legal community for -- for doing that.

CUOMO: What if he hires another deputy A.G.?

ZELDIN: Well, he can. There are powers by which he can appoint somebody.

CUOMO: Right.

ZELDIN: But generally speaking, he's going to need someone to goes through Senate confirmation. And just as with Elliott Richardson, when Elliott Richardson was appointed to be the attorney general during the Nixon administration, he made a promise to the Senate, which said if he is given a legal order to fire Archibald Cox, he would resign rather than do that, which is exactly what he did.

And I expect that that's what the Senate should and would do with respect to anyone who replaces Rosenstein. I just think constitutionally and politically, this is a terrible idea.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Chris Cillizza, beyond that byzantine legal process that would have to happen, there's the political consequences. And so yesterday you heard Republicans trying to -- it seemed, through television, caution the president about this. So listen to them.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: 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: But I do think it's important we continue with the investigation.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: And 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.


CAMEROTA: Do those carry weight with the president?

CILLIZZA: Eh. I mean, yes, sure. I mean, if Donald Trump didn't know that it would be a problem to fire Bob Mueller before, he hadn't been paying attention. I mean, you heard everyone say this before. They've all said this before. When reports came out that he had decided to hire him prior to last summer but then had decided against it.

You know, you heard all these same voices say it would be everything from political suicide to "We would look poorly upon it." I'm -- I don't know that him doing it -- I should say this. I'm interested to see what, if he did it, fired Mueller, what that would actually occasion in the Republican Party.

I would remind people the Republican Party is now 100 percent given over to Donald Trump. There are -- sure, there are a few outliers. John Kasich, Jeff Flake. Those people have largely been marginalized. People who have stood against Donald Trump and said, "This is not who they are."

So every time they've drawn a red line, they've sort of crossed it. I mean, Paul Ryan disowned Donald Trump during the campaign more times than I can recall. He still wound up accepting that he was president of the United States in attempting to work with him.

Is this the bridge too far? Maybe. But I -- I'm skeptical, at least just based on their statements, that this is iron-clad. That if Donald Trump fired Bob Mueller we would suddenly see Democrats and Republicans working together to impeach him or something like that.

[07:10:04] CUOMO: All right. Chris, Counselor, thank you very much. Appreciate it, fellows.

CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news for you right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: President Trump appearing to taunt Russia in a new tweet moments ago. He says, "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia. Because they will be coming. Nice and new and," quote, "'smart.' You shouldn't be partners with a gas-killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" exclamation point.

This in response to a threat from the Kremlin to shoot down any U.S. missiles in Syria.

So let's go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He's live in Damascus, Syria, with all of the breaking news.

Fred, what's the latest?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn. There's certainly some very, very strong words from the U.S. president here. We can really see that escalation that also came in from the Kremlin, as well. I think one of the things that's important to point out, for the statement, they're not only threatening to shoot down missiles that are threatened towards Syria. They're also threatening to fire back at the bases where those missiles are fired from. Now, of course, it's anybody's guess what that can mean. Whether that

mean American ships, whether that means American planes. But it certainly seems like this situation here is dangerously escalating. One of the things that we're seeing here is Syria. The folks here on the ground, whether it's the Syrian military, Syrian civilians, get started to sink in with -- this is a very real possibility there could be an American strike back after this alleged chemical attack and that that strike could happen very soon.

There are reports that the Syrian military is moving hardware around. There's also reports now that air traffic controllers in the eastern Mediterranean are warning planes there that they should exercise caution.

I just want to walk you guys through one thing really quickly. I've been covering Syria for a very long time, the Russian military, the Syrian military. And one thing we need to keep in mind is that the Russian military has a lot more assets here than many people think. They have their air base in the north of the country. I'd say they have about 50 planes there. They have a port in Tartuffe. They have a lot of regular and irregular soldiers.

But they also have submarines and ships. In fact, I was on a Russian destroyer late last year when we were out in the Mediterranean. All of a sudden, two Russian submarines turned up and started firing cruise missiles at ISIS. So they certainly have a formidable presence here on the ground.

And the other thing is, they also have modern weapons as well, guys.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much. Fred, you were in the right place at the wrong time. Be very safe there, you and the team. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is the former secretary of state and author of "Fascism: A Warning," Madeline Albright.

Always good to have you.


CUOMO: And we need you today. The president just tweeted something that is the most direct and aggressive language we've heard about the situation in Syria, vis-a-vis Russia, as you know, through its ambassador to Lebanon, said any U.S. missiles that come into Syria, we will shoot them down. The missiles, not the planes. But still a threat.

The president responds, "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming. Nice and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas-killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

Correct response?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I have to say I agree with President Trump in his description of Putin. There is no question that he has been culpable in this.

But the thing that I'm concerned about is as far as I can tell, there is no strategy. It is one thing to take action on this particular really egregious issue on the chemical attack.

But I think we need a strategy of some some kind. And I'm hoping very much that there is work going on on that. Because I do think we're facing a very serious situation. But at least the president has recognized that Putin is not a friend. He is somebody that has very different plans for the middle east and generally, in terms of what he's doing in undermining democracy in various parts of the world.

CUOMO: A quick style point, and then I want to drill down a little bit on your premise about the strategy. He doesn't name Putin. Does that matter?

ALBRIGHT: Well, he had named Putin yesterday.


ALBRIGHT: And I do think that having some recognition of that is important. The other part I have to point out, Chris, there is some attempt to do things at the United Nations.

But there is nobody better than understanding about how to undermine resolutions of the United States than Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister. Because I dealt with him when he was ambassador. And so it is very hard to figure out how the United Nations can act, what action can be -- has to take place.

And I hope the administration is looking at something other than using just the United Nations because something has to be done.

CUOMO: Now, look, there is a deeper discussion that were -- is not ripe yet about -- well, is it lawful? Just because using chemical weapons violates international law, it would still, some would argue, has to be triggered by U.N. resolution to call for some kind of return action.

[07:15:12] The U.S. unilaterally going into Syria and saying, "We don't like that you chemically gas your own people. We're going to strike you. Some would argue, you know, you need some kind of legal authority for that that doesn't exist without the U.N.

However, again, it's not ripe yet, because we don't know what the plan is. I hear from a lot of savvy people that the military action is not enough. What they did, the Trump administration with the airport wasn't enough. We need a plan. They say you guys had no plan with the Obama administration. In fact, President Obama came out and said this nation building, this boots on the ground, there is no advantage for America in doing that. It is not in the keeping with the will of the American people right now. We're not going to do that. And certainly, America did not at that time.

Why do you need more of a plan right now if the American people don't want their blood and treasure increased at all in that region? ALBRIGHT: Before I answer that, let me just say, one of the issues

about the legality of using force, this is something very similar to what happened on Kosovo. The Russians were going to veto whatever we were going to go through the United Nations. And so we went through NATO. It was a multilateral action. So I do think there is precedent in trying to figure out how else to respond.

CUOMO: Syria is not part of that alliance?

ALBRIGHT: No. But it doesn't -- it's us working as NATO partners or with some other organization that is multilateral. And so I just used Kosovo as an example.

But I do think the following aspect is part of the issue in the Middle East is not brand-new. There are many different problems that actually started a long time ago but very specifically with the war in Iraq. And then it spread into Syria. And I think that what has happened is the United States has got to be more involved. It's unfortunate.

President Obama did have a plan. I do think that -- and I have spoken to this, is that I do wish that there had been more of a reaction after the red line was crossed. But President Obama was trying to stay within the law and went to Congress to try to get support.

CUOMO: They likely would have let him do it, right? This is something we've been pounding on the show. Congress's abdication/punting of its constitutional and legal duty to weigh in on these matters. They've been giving it to administration after administration.

You know this better than I do. President Obama took a different route. And then we wound up in a situation where we had Russia in charge of whether or not Syria respected the turning over of its chemical weapons. Look what that got us. That wasn't a great plan.

ALBRIGHT: I mean, but part of it is we have been trying to figure out ways to work with Russia on issues that we have in common. And you would think that dealing with chemical weapons and continuation of what is an international approach to not have chemical weapons.

And the problem is that what has now happened is the Russians have given cover to Assad for doing illegal things. Assad has committed an international crime by killing his own people. And so --

CUOMO: Multiple times. And he's done it -- chemical weapons we focus on, because somehow, it's particularly outrageous to people. But he's done it plenty with conventional weapons, as well. Maybe in the tens of thousands to get some estimates from people.

ALBRIGHT: I mean, it is appalling. There's no question. But I do think that this is going to require a strategy of some kind. I do think we have to respond, that we have to find countries that we can work with and to show the American people that this is something that we have to deal with. It is a tragedy in so many ways. But often, if we don't deal with problems, they do come home to

America. And what we're seeing, and one can point out this way, there are a lot of refugees from Syria and how do we deal with all of that. So all of these things are tied together. And we do need a strategy.

CUOMO: So first of all, let's not rush. I need you to -- this is good fortune, having you here this morning, given what the president is doing. So let's take another beat on on this. I'll take a break, and we'll cover the book and what's going on with Mike Pompeo. Because you have a unique perspective on that, as well.

So the president did something here, let's say, tactically that I'd like your take on. He has said in the past, you know, "These people all show their hand. They always say what they're going to do. And 'We're going to do this militarily,' and I won't do that. I'll never show my hand."

So he says, "Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming." Is that violating his own rule or do you believe that the premise is silly and, you know, Russia anticipates what's going to happen, and it's not about showing your hand anyway?

ALBRIGHT: Well, he showed his hand last week when he said we were pulling out. And that is one of the aspects in terms of -- I agree with Senator McCain, who said that that emboldened what Assad was doing. And so I do think that he has shown his hand, and he just uses what he doesn't like in some way at a particular time that may not be accurate. But he did show his hand on saying that we were pulling out.

[07:20:09] CUOMO: So inaction can be as telling as action that you're going to take.

Do you subscribe to this notion that Russia is playing this situation and when informed that America was thinking about pulling out, agitated in favor of taking action to kind of tease out and show the weakness of the United States versus Russia? Or does that sound like mumbo jumbo?

ALBRIGHT: no, I do think what has been going on is the Russians have been trying to exert their influence there. And I found very interesting that the Russians and the Turks and the Iranians had a meeting about what was going to happen in Syria. No America.

And I think this is one of the larger issues. I happen to believe that America is a -- the most important country in the world. That we are great. That there are some things that we have some responsibility for and want to do something. And when we're left out, when we become an isolationist country, I think that bad things happen.

And so this is part of a much larger question about what is America's role in the 21st Century.

CUOMO: That could not be a better segue to what you cover in your new book about exactly what you see as the cost of the current American political disposition in its role around the world.

So let's take a break. Please stay with us. And when we come back, we're going to talk about the changeover with Mike Pompeo. He's getting ready for a confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of state. Will he get confirmed? What are Madeline Albright's concerns? Next.


[07:33] CUOMO: All right. So here is the headline. Mike Pompeo, who was at the CNN -- he was in Congress before that -- but now, he's getting ready for his confirmation to become the next secretary of state. It's going to start tomorrow. And boy, there are going to be some heady questions for him, based on what's going on with Syria and elsewhere.

So let's discuss this with someone who knows that process and the practicalities. Former secretary of the state, author of a brand-new book called "Fascism: A Warning," Madeline Albright.

Thank you for staying for a second segment this morning.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

CUOMO: First little insider question you may not want to answer. We know that Mike Pompeo has reached out to people in the past for help with preparation. Has he reached out to you?

ALBRIGHT: He called me once he was named. And just to say thank you for various things that I had written. But we have not talked, obviously, about his confirmation.

CUOMO: Would you advise him if he called you and said, "I need some help with some of these areas." What would you say?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I believe in the importance of the State Department, and I would like to make sure that the State Department really comes back. Because we need diplomacy more than ever.

I would advise him in terms of confirmation, you really have to study for that. Because the questions are all over the world. And I look forward to listening to the hearings.

CUOMO: You can't just fake your news -- fake news through a confirmation hearing. Although maybe you can with the current vote structure in the Senate.

Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state, yea or nay for Madeleine Albright?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I -- it's not up to me. But I really do think --

CUOMO: It is this morning, Madeleine. What do you say?

ALBRIGHT: I think that I want to hear what he has to say. Because he is somebody -- it's interesting. We were talking about Congress before. He has been a member of Congress. I think that's a very interesting aspect in terms of understanding executive legislative relations.

He has had an important job where he theoretically has learned a lot about a lot of countries. But I think that I want to hear what his answers are to a lot of questions in terms of where the State Department's going, legality. What are his views on torture? A number of different questions. And I hope that this is -- this is constitutional. It is their job to provide advice and consent on the confirmation of cabinet members.

CUOMO: So your perspective may be something that is not shared by those who will be the deciding votes on the Republican side, though. Because outwardly, they like what's happening at the State Department, collapsed different areas. Too much redundancy. You know, scale it down. We don't want to be reaching out as much anymore. Very different than what your prerogatives were when you were there.

So how important to you is that aspect? What do you think of the current state of the State Department?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm very depressed about it. I loved being the head of it, and our diplomats are the most remarkable people who are loyal Americans, hard-working public servants. And to see what has happened in the first year of the Trump administration, where the budget for the State Department was cut down. And then former Secretary Tillerson not only agreed with it but was fine when it was there.

When members of Congress wanted to give him more money, he said no. And so I think it's a lack of understanding of what the United States is about. We -- every great country has a toolbox. Diplomacy is a major tool, and we have undercut that with what has been going on. So I hope that Pompeo is confirmed that he makes a very strong step to resurrect the State Department is an essential part of our foreign policy, obviously.

CUOMO: So the counter criticism is that government equals waste. And this is the businessman's world now, and you have Trump at the top. And you had Tillerson in there, ran Exxon. And he believes in efficiency and true management. And this place was bloated, and inefficient, and not part of the mandate in terms of this "America first" policy. We don't have to reach out the same way we did. Shrink it down.

You say, which I was shocked to read, by the way, in the new back "Fascism," the -- you're a worrier. Why does that worry you, that we're going to be efficient, we're going to cut it down, we're going to save people their tax dollars?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm an optimist, but I do worry a lot. And part of it is that I think that what is happening in this administration is a lack of understanding and respect for democratic institutions and how we operate; how, in fact, we try to explain our policy to the American people; and undermining the various institutional structures, including the State Department and, most obviously, the judicial branch of our government.