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Sources: FBI Sought Trump Communications with Cohen on 'Access Hollywood' Tape; Will Congress Authorize Use of Military Force in Syria? Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 06:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: FBI agents sought communications regarding the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape. This could be about whether Michael Cohen was making an effort to suppress release of that tape.

[05:59:18] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is not talking about firing Bob Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a constitutional crisis in the making.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Ty Cobb and John Dowd had a radical theory. Let's totally cooperate and waive executive privilege. I think that's wrong.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a number of options, and all of those options are still on the table. The president has boxed himself in now. Once he makes these statements, he's got to now deliver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was your data included in the data sold to the malicious third parties?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got to rebuild trust with the American people.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, April 12, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

We have new details about the FBI raids on President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Sources tell CNN that investigators were looking for communications between Cohen and Donald Trump relating to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape. This is the first known warrant that directly mentions the president by name. And President Trump's ousted former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is reportedly pushing a plan to fire Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. "The Washington Post" reports that Bannon also wants the White House to stop cooperating with Mueller's team. And at the same time, a Senate panel is considering a bipartisan bill to protect Mueller.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So right now Syria's ruler, Assad, is addressing the public, saying that any military move on that country would destabilize the entire region. And Russia is also putting out a message that is dialing back the heated rhetoric over Syria, now insisting that the deconfliction line between the U.S. and Russia is being used by both sides. Will President Trump make good on his taunting tweets to fire missiles into Syria today?

Also, Mike Pompeo is going to be in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. In just hours, senators will begin that confirmation process. They will be grilling the secretary of state nominee. Will he get the votes to get his confirmation?

We have it all covered. Let's begin with Abby Phillip live at the White House -- Abby.


We have some new details about that warrant that was issued to raid Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer's office. And that warrant contained some new details about mentioning President Trump. The first time that a warrant has been issued that mentions the president in this Russia probe.


PHILLIP (voice-over): CNN has learned that FBI agents that raided the office, home and hotel room of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, sought communications between both men regarding the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape but captured President Trump making lewd remarks about women back in 2005.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful women. Just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

PHILLIP: It's the first known direct mention of the president in a search warrant in connection to the Russia probe, the warrant also references an investigation into bank and wire fraud.

The tape was published by "The Washington Post" on October 7, one month before the 2016 election. Minutes before the tape went public, U.S. intelligence chiefs blamed Russia for stealing and disclosing e- mails from the DNC. And minutes after the bombshell tape, WikiLeaks began tweeting links to hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Sources tell CNN investigators are searching for documents regarding any effort to keep the tape from going public. The White House lamenting that Mueller's probe is straying too far from its scope.

SANDERS: He has a very deep concern about the direction that the special counsel and other investigations have taken. This investigation started off as Russian collusion, of which there was none.

PHILLIP: A source tells CNN the president is still fuming over the raid on his lawyer but hasn't had time to study it or listen to his advisers while he grapples with how to respond to Syria's apparent chemical weapons attack.

This as "The Washington Post" reports that former chief strategist Steve Bannon is pitching a plan to the White House to cripple the Russia probe by firing Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, having the White House stop cooperating with Mueller and retroactively invoking executive privilege after several White House officials have already interviewed with Mueller.

BANNON: I think President Trump is going to go to war. I think it's very obvious he's going to go to war on this.

PHILLIP: But a source tells CNN Trump's legal team has been firm with the special counsel's office, pushing back on the aggressive approach being advocated by Bannon.

President Trump publicly raging about the Russia investigation. A source tells CNN the president could still sit down with Mueller if both sides keep their powder dry.

This as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to hold a committee vote on the bipartisan bill that would protect Mueller.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We want to make sure special counsels can do their job without political interference.

PHILLIP: But many Republicans voicing skepticism over the need for such a bill.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIR, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: I can tell you that he is not talking about firing Bob Mueller.

PHILLIP: And the Senate majority whip, John Cornyn, doubts the president would even sign such a bill if it passed.


PHILLIP: Well, as the Syria situation continues to heat up, the president's national security team plans to meet on that situation later this afternoon.

And on Capitol Hill, two of the president's cabinet members are going to be in hearings. Defense Secretary James Mattis testifying in the House, and Mike Pompeo, his current CIA director, nominee for secretary of state, is going to be in his confirmation hearings in the Senate. That's sure to be one for a little bit of fireworks today, Alisyn and Chris. [06:05:04] CAMEROTA: OK. Abby, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst and "Daily Beast" editor-in- chief, John Avlon; and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. He worked as Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department.

Let's start with you, Michael Zeldin, for the big picture. What does it mean that this is the first time that Donald Trump is named in one of these search warrants?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It means that he's been named in a search warrant. What we don't know is in what context was he named. That is, is his name one of a list of 20 names?

We want all communications between Michael Cohen and the following 20 people whether or not there is known communications or not, or is it targeted? We want communications between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump on October 7, the day that WikiLeaks were released or the "Access Hollywood" tapes were released. It depends on context. So right now, we know his name is in there, but we don't know how significant that is from a legal standpoint.

CUOMO: Hey, Michael, let me ask you something. The president just tweeted two minutes ago, "If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by 'The New York Times,' I would have fired him." He says "failing," but I leave it out, because the paper is doing better than ever. "Just more fake news from a biased newspaper."

One, that the president insists on dealing with, by the way, and does many interviews with. So do you think that's true? Do you think he could have fired Mueller back in December? This is an interesting question. Right? They used to leave it alone. Then Sarah Sanders comes out and says the White House thinks they could. Now the president comes out and says, "Yes, I can fire Mueller, and I would have, essentially."

Do you agree with this analysis, Michael?

ZELDIN: No. I don't think he has the legal authority to fire Mueller by himself. The statute that was used to appoint Mueller designates that as an attorney general power, and the attorney general is the only one, I believe, constitutionally that has the right to fire Mueller.

The power of firing follows the power of appointee. Because the power of an appointment stays with the A.G. by statute and regulation. It's only the A.G. that can do it and, under those regulations, it can only be done with good cause or dereliction of duties. So I think there's a lot of talk about this and a legal strategy, but I don't think it would be availing if it went to court.

CAMEROTA: OK. John Avlon, back to one of the big headlines, which is the "Access Hollywood" tape is back.


CAMEROTA: It's back with a vengeance. Because apparently, investigators are trying to figure out if Michael Cohen, who is the fixer, would have tried to suppress that in the way that Stormy Daniels was paid hush money. And if you're the fixer, why wouldn't you try to suppress that "Access Hollywood" tape?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, look, there's the normal realm of the campaign aide or personal aide trying to suppress bad information. That's what campaign operatives and aides do every day in high-stakes situations.

The question is this is especially high stakes. Because you have the president named in a -- in a warrant. You have questions about what was done, was money exchanged? And behind it all is that incredibly impactful day during the campaign. When rewards (ph) gets released saying Russia is trying to --

CAMEROTA: Let's pull up the timeline. OK? So October 7, 3:30 p.m. The U.S. officially blames Russia for the DNC hacked e-mails. At 4:03, half an hour later, the "Access Hollywood" tape is released. At 4:30, half an hour later, WikiLeaks releases the Podesta e-mails. So what does all that mean to you?

AVLON: In one hour you have all the drama of October surprise and really the campaign compressed. And one of the questions may be whether there was any communication by anyone in the Trump orbit about releasing the Podesta e-mails, which had been teased by people like Roger Stone previously. If there's any communication to that with anybody, that's a real problem. But that's a lot of supposition. We don't know why they're looking for this information.

CUOMO: Right. So Michael, let's get back to you, because that comes, right, the dovetailing of media and law, right?

Media loves open-ended speculation, right? The questions is what fuels the, "Well, what about this?" But on the legal side, you have this "So what?" question. You know, when they do a sweep like this, which seems to be a broad net that they've put down in this warrant of looking for the "Access Hollywood" tape, looking at the medallions, it seems to me that, until we see the affidavit, at least I get to read it myself, it seems like they were looking for anything that might be a vehicle or an opportunity for a wrongful transfer of funds to promote the political campaign.

How does it look to you?

ZELDIN: Well, in general -- general terms, I think that's right. The only thing that is a sort of governor on that is that, when you file an affidavit for a search warrant -- as part of a search warrant to search an attorney's office, it's a pretty exacting standing -- standard, which is to say that you need to show that the evidence that you need is there and viable in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation. It doesn't exist any other place. And that you've taken all other steps to try to acquire that evidence prior to the search warrant. So there may be a particularized knowledge base that led to that

search warrant as it relates to these WikiLeaks communications or the Stormy Daniels payment, or the "Access Hollywood" suppression. It's not so broad when it comes to search warrants and attorney's offices that it could be sort of a fishing net type of operation.

Usually, it's more targeted, which leads me to believe that they have some underlying knowledge of wrongdoing here. Such as a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, hacking and in coordination with that, that gave rise to this search warrant. That remains to be seen.

CAMEROTA: OK. And "The New York Times" is reporting that there is another communication that investigators are looking into, and this involves "The National Enquirer" and Michael Cohen. So let me read this passage from "The New York Times." "A search warrant federal prosecutors of New York served to Mr. Cohen this week requests, among other things, all communications between him, Mr. Pecker" -- of "The National Enquirer" -- "and Dylan Howard, the business chief content officer of 'National Enquirer.' The company was in touch with Mr. Cohen, 'The New York Times' previously reported, as it pursued its deal to acquire the rights to a former 'Playboy' model's stories about an affair with Mr. Trump." That's Karen McDougal that they're talking about.

So this is another part of the net that they're looking at again with, I assume, the FEC violations in terms of if there were payments.

AVLON: Exactly right. That's the question. This practice is called catch and kill. It's very rare; it's deeply unethical. So the question is whether there was actually any money exchanged, whether there was any kind of coordination in the context of a campaign that could violate.

CAMEROTA: But there was money exchanged. We do know that "The National Enquirer" paid Karen McDougal for the catch and kill that you're talking about.

AVLON: Exactly. Now, if it's solely done within the context of Pecker and American Media, that's one thing. If there's any coordination with a campaign to suppress that information. But if that money didn't come from AMI, that's a different issue. So I think that's the issue. Catch and kill is deeply unethical.

What they did was deeply unethical. But they could have a defense around it in the context of a presidential, unless there are communications or money's changing hands in a deeper way.

CUOMO: It's unethical if it is how we use the term "catch and kill," which is you suppressed it for a bad reason.


CUOMO: Right? But you guys have editorial discretion. You know, you run "The Daily Beast." I could say you had a lot of reasons that you didn't want something. AVLON: Yes. But also, let's not be too cute about that. You know,

they are catching -- they're spiking a story, because it's bad. It doesn't stand up. Then there's purchasing somebody's silence in effect.

CUOMO: I'm with you. I'm just saying, once you put it into a legal context, my rationale has become very operative, because you're going to have to prove that it was done for a certain reason. That's what they seem to be getting near.

Michael, am I wrong?

ZELDIN: No, I think that's right.

CUOMO: Thank you.

ZELDIN: The issue will be whether or not --

CUOMO: People say, "Yes, you're wrong" all the time on this.

ZELDIN: I find -- I find you to be pretty correct on these legal issues.

CUOMO: I'll take it.

ZELDIN: The issue here is whether or not this contribution was an in- kind contribution or an unreported campaign contribution. So this doesn't necessarily have to be, you know, coordination directly with the campaign. It could be that the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department, which has concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute these cases for willful violations. He's looking at whether or not these were in kind contributions undertaken, unreported contributions that were undertaken for the purpose of effecting the outcome of the election. So they have to look at the willful purpose for the payments in addition to any sort of other broader coordination with the campaign.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic, according to "The Washington Post," Steve Bannon is still lurking around. And he has a plan that he is reportedly, according to "The Washington Post," peddling to some of the president's aides for how to shut down this Mueller investigation.

The plan is to first fire Rod Rosenstein, deputy A.G. and stop cooperating with Mueller. Now John, we don't know if anyone in the White House is paying attention. In fact, there's some reporting that the president actually bristles when Steve Bannon's name is brought up. So hard to know if this is having any impact.

AVLON: Yes, I mean, look, he's gone from the Svengali of the Trump orbit to sort of the Box Car Willy of the administration. So I wouldn't put a lot of stake, necessarily, in what he's saying. But -- but I do think the fact he's floating this and he's trying to be aggressive. And Trump has a habit of bringing people back into the orbit.

Now, his sin was particularly bad, right, within the context of Trump world. But he's saying, "Look, it's time to be aggressive." This is a war footing, and that's got to be a feeling to where President Trump's head is right now.

CUOMO: We've got to go. But Michael, you're the lawyer. I want one quick take from you. A big piece, the most important piece of Bannon's strategy is to retroactively, effectively claim privilege and say all the interviews that have been done so far, none of them count with any of the White House staffers. Because we're not saying that they're privileged. Can you do that? Would that work?

ZELDIN: No. He's waived the privilege, if there was a privilege to begin with. Actually, I don't even think there was a legal privilege that could be asserted in this case. But once left unasserted, it remains unasserted, not assertable in retrospect.

[06:15:10] CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, gentleman.

CUOMO: It's good to have somebody who actually knows what they're talking about.

CAMEROTA: It really is. And rare.

CUOMO: I just play one on TV.

No decision yet from the White House on Syria. But that's a key piece of information, because the president has already warned Russia missiles are coming. So what is on the table? What are the other options? Is anybody thinking about what happens after any U.S. military action? Take that on, next.


CUOMO: Breaking news. President Trump tweeting about something relevant. Just moments ago, he took on the crisis in Syria. The president saying, "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place." Remember, he said to Russia yesterday, "They are coming." "Could be very soon. Or not soon at all. In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our thank you, America?

It comes as Syria's Assad says any action from the west could cause more instability in the region. Actually, he said it would destabilize the entire region. And the Kremlin is saying the deconfliction line between the U.S. and Russia is being used by both sides.

[06:20:02] Let's bring back John Avlon and bring in CNN political and national security analyst and "New York Times" national security correspondent David Sanger. Your take on where the state of play is and the context of this latest tweet and the one yesterday.

ZELDIN: Well, in the current moment, the president is getting ready to meet his national security advisers. They were all taken by surprise by his tweet yesterday.

And I think what you've seen in yesterday's and today's is a tremendous confusion, at least in the president's public communications about what our objectives are. So that tweet a few months ago referred to the U.S. effort to rid Syria and Iraq of ISIS. And that was a project started in the Obama administration, finished very well in the Trump administration. And not completely gone, but they're largely out of the territory. That's one set of objectives.

Then there's the question of do you do this attack in response to the chemical weapons attack over the weekend? That would be a humanitarian intervention.

And then there's talk within the White House right now about going after regime targets. That would be after Assad and his senior leaders. And that's an entirely different objective. That's one that has to do with whether you actually finally try to topple Assad. And of course, it's exactly what the president warned against in 2013 when he said that President Obama shouldn't go there.

CAMEROTA: So John, it seems clear from the tweet just now that the criticism that the president has tipped his hand to enemies, something that he said he would never do, and he went after President Obama for doing, is getting under his skin. That's -- that's what I hear the subtext here is. I never said when I would do it, though it sounded urgent and immediate. And he did say on Monday, "We'll be making a decision within the next 24 to 48 hours." But clearly, all the talk about, "He's telegraphing his plans seems to be affecting him."

AVLON: If the president is trying to clean this up solely in reaction to the buzz around hypocrisy or contradictions of policy, that diminishes the seriousness of the role of commander in chief in this context. This is why not only telegraphing but, you know, bluster via tweet is dangerous when it comes to matters in war and peace.

This caught not only our allies by surprise but the Pentagon. This actually got way ahead of the policy planning process. With a new national security advisor in place, John Bolton, and as David Sanger points out, he is applying a strategic lens on the president's thinking that doesn't necessarily seem to be there. This is about regime change. That contradicts everything the president's ever said. If it's about, you know, punishment for chemical weapons, well, there's a presser in the release of a missile strike on that.

But this reason, this administration does deserve credit for pushing back ISIS, but this escalation, what the president did on Twitter yesterday is a bad idea on almost every level.

CUOMO: Right. So you said the word "precedent." That he could do that. And you're right, there is. But what we don't know is whether it's good precedent or bad precedent. And that takes me to my question, David. Which I liked the tweets yesterday and today. Because it tees up something that people just aren't talking about.

It is another clear indication that Congress has to be involved with anything that this White House and the military advisers decide to do. They're being quiet again. Every time we ask them, are you going to debate this? Are you going to say you need to vote it? Are you going to say that the AUMF doesn't cover this, that the War Powers Act doesn't cover this?

They say, "Oh, yes, yes, yes." But they don't do anything. Isn't this a clear indication that, because of how, you know, uncertain Trump is about it, about how many different permutations there are once the military does that, that Congress has to debate and vote.

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You would think so. But that hasn't happened very much, Chris. Since World War II, as you know, there's a lot of precedent under both Democratic and Republican administrations in which this has been left to executive action. And, you know, we can debate about whether that's wise or not, but that's sort of where things have gone. It would be illegal.

ZELDIN: It could be. Could be. And it's even worse than you describe, because the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he hasn't even been informed. I mean, forget a vote.

CUOMO: But he's not -- also not saying, Senator Grassley, "You have to tell me. You need my authorization." Take a look at the War Powers Act. Take a look at the AUMF. You need us, unless we give you authority otherwise. They're not saying that. They're punting again. And this seems to have "bad move" written all over it in terms of not thinking it all the way through. Not voting, not being on board.

SANGER: Well, there's another reason this case is particularly important. While the target here is -- are Syrian targets, by and large. They are Syrian targets surrounded by Russians, right?

CUOMO: Right.

SANGER: So we've had evidence in the past 24 hours, or we're hearing some from the Pentagon. That the Syrians are picking up their aircraft that they don't want to lose and moving them to Russian bases so that we would have to make the decision, if we're going to strike those aircraft and get rid of them, about killing Russians on Russian bases if we did it.

[06:25:13] That's why there's conversation under way on that deconfliction line. And the more time it goes on, the more time the Syrians have to prepare to intermingle their own forces with the Russian forces. And that's the big danger here. Because the moment that they've done that.

And remember, just yesterday, you were hearing the Russians say that they would go after the missiles. And perhaps the launching platform. So the launching platforms in this case would be U.S. naval ships.

CAMEROTA: Right. But I mean, now it has deescalated, it sounds like. And that, you know, hotline behind the scenes is being used. And so who knows if maybe those tweets were a negotiating strategy, as Senator Ron Johnson told us yesterday. Whatever. Today, it seems to be a different tone.

David Sanger, thank you.

John Avlon, thank you very much. Day two, the Capitol Hill hot seat for Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO revealing he was personally impacted by the company's data breach. Those details next.