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Sources: Trump Considering Firing Rod Rosenstein; FBI Raid Could Be Prelude to Charging Cohen; Trump Blames Russia Tensions on Mueller Investigation; Zuckerberg Faces House Lawmakers on 2nd Day of Testimony. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired April 11, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:33:43] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, is in President Trump's cross hairs right now as the president tries to contain the widening Russian investigation. Sources say the president is considering whether to fire Rosenstein. And the White House says the president also believes he has the authority to fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst, April Ryan, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, why target Rosenstein right now? What is going on in the president's thinking?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it's easier than targeting Mueller. And secondly, he believes that Rosenstein was the person -- and he's right about this -- who signed off on the raid of his very good friend and attorney, Michael Cohen. I've been told by a couple of people who have been talking to him about this, that he sees it as an extreme violation of attorney/client privilege, and that he thinks it has nothing to do with the Russia probe. And we don't know the answer to that. We don't know whether it does or doesn't at this point. And I was told that he thinks it crosses that red line, that he mentioned to "The New York Times" months and months ago. So if you put all of this together, he needs somebody to blame. Because that's what Donald Trump does. And he's mad at Jeff Sessions. And he's mad at Rod Rosenstein. And I was told by one source that, currently, today, he's angrier at him than at Mueller. Of course, that could change at any moment.
[13:35:21] BLITZER: If he were to fire Rod Rosenstein, Dana, there's been some speculation there would be a new acting deputy attorney general to oversee Mueller's probe. And once Mueller concludes his probe and presents the report, it would be up to that new person to decide whether to submit it to Congress or make it public. It might never see the light of day.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Look, there's so many ifs, what ifs, which is why there's so much unchartered territory here. But also why there is a very, very deep concern about the notion of the president firing Rod Rosenstein. Because he is the one who appointed Robert Mueller, because he is the one who was in charge of the Mueller investigation. Question, open question -- I was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking to some of the president's fellow Republicans who have a vested interest in this, many of whom think he'll never fire Rosenstein, but they also didn't think he was going to fire James Comey -- who would even be in that job. Rachel Brand was the number three. She left, in part, because she didn't want to be put in this position, let's be honest. And the other way to answer your question is that Senate Democrats, at least in the short term, have already begun discussions about ways to make sure that what the work -- that the work Mueller and his team have done is preserved in the event of any firing of anybody. And the question is whether they get to that point. But they're already thinking about it.
BLITZER: The White House having dinner tonight with congressional leaders. They will clearly have a decisive hold on all of this down the road.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. They're not -- particularly Republicans, who have been supporting Sessions, they are not happy with all of this going on. And let's be clear, when the president is looking at these changes, this musical chair situation, if you will, at the Justice Department, it's about trying to find someone loyal to him and his ideology, and loyal to the fact that he does not want this investigation to continue. There was a chance -- there was a time that the president could have fired Rosenstein, but he didn't. And now if he does anything, even before congressional action happens, if he does anything, it makes it look more like obstruction of justice or a constitutional crisis, what have you. But tonight, that is definitely on the table, along with other issues. There's so much at stake and on the table, but that is definitely -- I would say that's the entree on the table tonight.
BORGER: I've also been told by attorneys who are dealing with this, quite honestly, that they want the president to hold his fire. And the reason is, they think they have a very good case to make against Rosenstein because he is a material witness in this case, because, don't forget, he's the one who wrote the memo firing Comey. And so they believe that they can make a case that Rosenstein is conflicted, should never have been in that job. And they've already made the case, they think, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, that the FBI is completely contaminated. So if you put those two things together, they say the president, you know what, we have a case to make sheer, so we can get this thrown away, so maybe -- or take it to the Supreme Court. But maybe you just ought to not do a thing.
RYAN: You may have a case, but the question is, is it a winning case? There's so much murky water here. Comey was fired, now you want to fire Mueller. What is going on?
BLITZER: Go ahead.
BASH: No. You used a term before, constitutional crisis. That's a very, very real thing. RYAN: Yes. It is.
BASH: We're all talking understandably about the what ifs in terms of the investigation, who would come next. But if you take a step back, what it would mean for the country would be huge. Not exactly analogous to the Saturday Night Massacre during the Nixon years, but pretty darn close. And you can't overstate the seismic effect of a firing at this point of any of those characters.
BLITZER: Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, just said at this dinner that he and some of his colleagues are having with the president tonight, he's not going to bring up this whole issue of the possible firing of Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. They're not even going to bring that up, at least he's not going to.
BORGER: So there's going to be this elephant in --
BASH: He has to bring some Tums.
BORGER: So there's this elephant there. And there are Republicans like Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who I believe said yesterday it was political suicide for the president to fire Mueller. He wasn't referring to Rosenstein, but it was Mueller. And I think what would happen in the case of Mueller is that Republicans would have to take sides. They would have no choice.
[13:40:14] BLITZER: April, yesterday, at the White House briefing, you asked a question. This is Sarah Sanders' answer. It's received a lot of buzz. I'm going to play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Has the president at any time thought about stepping down before or now?
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOIUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, and I think that's an absolutely ridiculous question.
We're moving on.
RYAN: It's not ridiculous.
SANDERS: Jordan, go ahead.
RYAN: It's not ridiculous. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We heard you say, it's not ridiculous. So what, A, prompted you to ask that question, and what's been the reaction?
RYAN: What prompted me? We all have sources, we talk to people. And when you have turmoil or conflicts constantly coming up, or making major decisions where people are investigating you, there is always a scenario at the White House where there is plan A, B, C, D, or E. And it's been on the table. The issue is, and it's been on the table from what I'm hearing from my sources, that was one of the possibilities. So I asked that question, in the midst of the fact that the president's personal attorney had his properties raided to get information from a search warrant about what is going on with Stormy Daniels and others and the trail of money. And this right now is a very tough time for the president. He's kind of backed in a corner. If he does pull the gun on certain things, it looks like he's creating a constitutional crisis or obstructing justice. Those questions asked during the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, you were there, you were there. We've seen this. We've heard of the history of Watergate. You know, Republicans came to Nixon and said hey, either you resign or we go through impeachment proceedings. That is not illogical, irrational. It is a real question on the table that a White House does not want to deal with, because they're trying to craft the picture, the winning image, and there is no winning picture at this moment.
BLITZER: What's been the reaction that you've received since asking that question?
RYAN: The reaction has been very -- there are people who support -- I mean, the reason I asked the question was not about Democrat or Republican. It was not a partisan thing. It's was a reporter asking a question. But people have gone into their tribes and some are saying it was a great question. Mostly people who do not support this president. And those who support this president are outraged, are angry. I've been getting death threats and we've been calling the FBI. I put one on social media. And this is real. I asked a simple question. I asked a question. I did not point a finger, I asked a question, and now my life is in jeopardy because of a question. But I'm going to continue to do my job.
BLITZER: I know you are. I hope everything is going to be all right.
RYAN: It will be.
BLITZER: April, thank you very much for your expertise. I know you've been covering a lot of White Houses over the years. And you don't ask a question like that unless you have a reason to believe it's a logical question.
Appreciate it very much, your joining us.
Ladies, we'll continue our special coverage of the president's reactions and behavior over these raids and investigation. Is he adding to the obstruction case against him? I'll ask the former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn. He is standing by. I'll ask him how all of this might unfold.
[13:47:58] BLITZER: President Trump is said to be seething inside the White House right now after FBI agents raided the office, home, and hotel room of his long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Legal analysts say the move is not only stunning but aggressive.
Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a CNN legal contributor, would have likely handled that raid, by the way, had he not been fired by President Trump. Preet had this prediction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I predict, as we saw with Paul Manafort, that if they had enough evidence to engage in a very aggressive move, that the likelihood that Michael Cohen is going to be charged is high.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about this and more with that prediction with the attorney, Jack Quinn. Jack served as White House counsel under President Bill Clinton, a long-time Washington lawyer. Lots of experience in this area.
Jack, thank you very much for joining us.
You agree with Preet?
JACK QUINN, ATTORNEY & FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Absolutely.
BLITZER: Why do you say that? Why do you think that this raid suggests there will be potentially criminal charges?
QUINN: As you indicated, it is rare that you conduct a search of an attorney's office. That does not happen every day of the week. It's highly unusual. It has to be done with the approval of a chain of people in the Justice Department. And importantly, a judge has to find that there's probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed, and that evidence of that crime will be found at the place where the FBI and the prosecutors want to search. So they made a good showing, not to one person, but to a whole line of people here. So there is a very high reason, a great reason to believe that they made a sufficient showing that a crime has been committed.
BLITZER: A crime was committed by whom?
QUINN: Not sure. But they had to making a showing that evidence of that crime would be found in the premises they identified.
[13:50:00] BLITZER: Would Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, longtime friend, fixer, as they say, for more than a decade, be considered, in your analysis, a witness, a subject, or a target of this investigation?
QUINN: I think he is at least a subject. And --
BLITZER: Because a subject may or not eventually be charged but a target almost always is.
QUINN: In the case of a subject, there's a suspicion he's involved in criminal wrong doing or he may be involved. If he is a target, the word means just what it sounds like it means. They are aiming for him. They mean to bring him down. They mean to prosecute him. I think that there's a very high likelihood here that the raid was conducted because of a belief that Cohen engaged in or has been -- or is continuing to engage in criminal activity which should be prosecuted.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to this tweet that the president posted earlier today. And he blamed basically the tensions with Russia right now on this investigation. "Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by the all-Democrat loyalists or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein, who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion so they go crazy."
What's your reaction when the president of the United States levels these charges at individuals.
QUINN: I think it's bizarre. The prosecutors for the most part happen to be Republicans, although that's not relevant. Their political affiliation doesn't matter a darn. But additionally, you remind me in reading that of the president in the Oval Office talking to the Russians about how relieving James Comey of his job was going to get rid of this investigation. How did that work out for the president? Now firing people may be within his power, may not be within his power, but firing people, getting rid of them, starving the budget of the prosecutors, he can do these things. He can interfere with it. He can attempt to obstruct it. But the investigation will not go away because the case, whatever it may be, is there. The case is not going anywhere. The investigation will not go anywhere. It will continue. As with the firing of James Comey, firing any of these people will not work out for the president. And, indeed, it's manifestly contrary to his best interest. This is not the behavior of an innocent man.
BLITZER: Axios is reporting in this ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos, the president of the United States - that James Comey compared the president of the United States -- James Comey, the fired FBI director -- as being sort of like "a mob boss." He used the words, "a mob boss." Your reaction?
QUINN: I don't want to characterize the president in that way. He is clearly a subject of this investigation. I think that the prosecutors have reason to consider him a subject of this investigation, and we'll see where it goes. But he's digging the hole deeper with these kinds of comments that he made this morning and with his refusal to cooperate. Related to this is the whole question of whether he will cooperate, whether he'll subject himself to an interview. Again, the resistance to doing that is not the action of an innocent man. And at the end of the day, he can't avoid it. He can refuse, but the only way he's going to not testify is by invoking the Fifth Amendment. That will happen after he's served with a subpoena to compel his testimony. And he is simply putting himself in a terrible light in the manner in which he's handling this.
BLITZER: Jack Quinn, thanks very much for coming in.
QUINN: Thank you.
[13:54:09] BLITZER: Lots to assess. We'll move forward.
Coming up, by the way, round two for Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO continues his mea culpa before the U.S. Congress, makes a surprising admission about the company's data scandal.
BLITZER: Right now, Mark Zuckerberg entering his fifth hour of answering questions of House lawmakers. Earlier today, the Facebook CEO revealed his personal information was shared in the data scandal and was taken to task over his company's handling of user data.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FRANK PALLONE, (D), NEW JERSEY: Will you make the commitment to change all the -- to changing all the user default settings to minimize the greatest extent possible the collection and use of user data? I don't think that's hard for you to say yes to, unless I'm missing something.
MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: Congressman, this is a complex issue that I think is -- deserves more than a one-word answer.
PALLONE: Well, again, that's just disappointing to me.
REP. MIKE DOYLE, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Why should we trust you to follow through on these promises when you have demonstrated repeatedly that you're willing to flout both your own internal policies and government oversight when the need suits you.
ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, respectfully, I disagree with that characterization. We've had a review process for apps for years. We review tens of thousands of apps a year and taken action against a number of them. Our process was not enough to catch a developer.
In general, we're not in the business of providing a lot of information to the Russian government.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R), ILLINOIS: The data from accounts in or operated from those countries in terms of Russia or anything, or does it include Facebook's global data? ZUCKERBERG: Well, Congressman, in general, countries do not have
jurisdiction to have any valid reason to request data of someone outside of their country.
KINZINGER: But where is it stored? Where is the data? Do they have access --
[14:00:08] ZUCKERBERG: We don't store any data in Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Much more on this story coming up throughout the day here on CNN.
That's it for me.