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Another Trump Judicial Nominee Stumbles in Confirmation Hearing; Sources: FBI Sought 'Access Hollywood' Communications in Cohen Search; French President: 'Proof' Assad is Behind Syrian Chemical Attack. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 07:00   ET


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But I'm thinking Susan Collins, you know, we'll see with only 51 Republicans.


[07:00:11] TOOBIN: No John McCain. It's going to be close.

CUOMO: This is one to watch. You look so good this morning, so cogent. Will you stay for the top of the hour?

TOOBIN: I certainly will.

CUOMO: Thank you very much. All right. So thanks to you, as well, our international viewers. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, this is a big news day.

NEW DAY continues right now. Let's get after it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: FBI agents were looking for communications about efforts to prevent the release of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The topic of "Access Hollywood" infuriates and touches a real nerve for the president.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has very deep concern about the direction of the special counsel, another investigation taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president fires Mueller, that would be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think it's very obvious he's going to go to war on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve Bannon understands the president's psychology. He's appealing to that anger, and he's saying, "Here's a path out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's been a little bit of a difficult marriage from the beginning. REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm confident we can

have this majority.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The blue wave is coming. Paul Ryan got out of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a new CNN exclusive. The GOP preparing a campaign to discredit James Comey ahead of the release of his tell-all book.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. How are you doing? This is your NEW DAY. Up first, sources tell CNN that federal agents who searched Michael Cohen were looking for communications between the president and his long-time lawyer, in part about the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape. This is the first known warrant directly naming the president of the United States.

The White House getting some unsolicited device about this deal with all this from ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon. He is pitching this plan to fire Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the Mueller probe.

CAMEROTA: And Russia dialing back the rhetoric on Syria, the Kremlin says there is dialogue going on with the U.S. on that deconfliction phone line. The president tweeting this morning that he never said when an attack on Syria might take place, if at all.

And CNN with an exclusive new report on how the president's allies are preparing to do battle with fired FBI Director James Comey as he prepares to go on a media blitz for his new tell-all book.

So let's begin with Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. What's the latest there, Abby?


We are learning some new details about why President Trump might be so angry about this raid on his personal lawyer's office and home in this week. The warrant that was issued to authorize that raid named President Trump. The first time we've gotten any indication that a warrant in this Russia probe has named him by name 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. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I don't even wait. 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.

[07:05:09] 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: President Trump this morning is already tweeting once again about the Syria situation. After yesterday saying that missiles were coming, he's now back on Twitter, clarifying that maybe they're not coming as soon as people thought. Here's what he said. He never said when an attack on Syria would take place. 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? Now, the president's national security team plans to meet today to talk through the options on Syria. And our sources told CNN this week that when the president tweeted that yesterday, the decision hadn't been made yet.

And the talks are still ongoing, not just inside the United States but also with our allies in Europe, as well, Chris.

CUOMO: Abby, thank you very much.

Let's go now to a CNN exclusive. The GOP preparing an extensive campaign to discredit fired FBI Director Jim Comey as he embarks on his media tour for his tell-all book.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Washington with details on the RNC's battle plan. At least there's one plan we know about. What do we know?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Indeed. Good morning, Chris. We are learning this morning that President Trump's allies are preparing an extensive campaign to fight back against James Comey's publicity tour, as you said, trying to do this, to undermine the credibility of the former FBI director. Now the White House and the president. I'm told, signed off on this plan and reviewed it last evening.

They're attacking the character and credibility of James Comey. The nation's former top law enforcement official. They are trying to brand him a liar and a leaker. But perhaps the most important thing of all here: the criticism they're using is from Democrats. They're trying to remind all Americans what Democrats said about James Comey only a year or so ago. Here's a clip of what they're planning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats have been very critical of James Comey. And many of us did did call for his resignation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was appalled by what Director Comey did.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Comey acted in an outrageous way.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: He made a mistake. Maybe he's not in the right job.


ZELENY: So of course, it's an open question how successful Republicans will be making their case against James Comey, given the course that Donald Trump fired him nearly a year ago next month. But the White House is certainly bracing for all of this.

The media blitz, of course, is starting Sunday evening, continuing here next week on CNN. But White House aides are fearful of how the president is going to react to all of this and how that could influence the Mueller investigation. As for Comey himself, he of course, had this to say last month on Twitter.

He said, "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon, and they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not." Of course, that first interview with George Stephanopoulos Sunday evening on ABC where he apparently called the president a mob boss -- Chris.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All of this will be very fascinating, Jeff. Thank you so much for previewing it.

CUOMO: Let's discuss. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

David Gregory, so tee it up for us. What matters this morning?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, you've got the president, who is having to deal with questions about his conduct as a candidate, which is certainly unseemly, if not worse.

And that's what I think is the subject of the investigation. I mean, I've been thinking about where -- where does this all intersect? And it's hard when we look at pieces of this investigation and try to put it together. But I think, as Abby laid out just a couple of minutes ago, you've got circumstances here of events that are happening, some that are really embarrassing to the president, who as a candidate faced such peril because of these disclosures of the "Access Hollywood" tape or previous liaisons with women, that he wanted to quiet all of that and maybe distract people by putting out this kind of opposition research, which raises the question of where it came from and whether there was any collusion with the Russian government in so doing. So it's messy.

We also know that, as president, he has brought on problems on himself firing Jim Comey, seeking to interfere in the investigation. So I think they're looking at a pattern on all of this and seeing how it fits together. And for the president, who even out in the public is not afraid to engage in what appear to be, like, "House of cards" like tactics, you know, I think it's a little bold to say that "Oh, no, you shouldn't look over there, because that would be inappropriate." I don't think he's going to get away with that.

[07:10:17] CAMEROTA: OK.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I caught about 90 percent, which is never enough.

CAMEROTA: You need 100 percent.

GREGORY: I'll just start again. I think that --

CAMEROTA: OK. Here is my question, which is all the new details that we're learning about the search at Michael Cohen's house, the president's long-term fixer and attorney are interesting. And is there a different bar, a higher bar that had to happen in terms of getting a search warrant that names a sitting president?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Everything about this search is extraordinary. I mean, the mere fact that it was the search of a lawyer's office. Not a subpoena, which is -- they're averse to even subpoenaing lawyers.

But to search a lawyer's office with all the privilege issues that that raises, suggests that there is extremely important, compelling, damaging evidence in there. But we haven't seen it. And frankly, when I hear about the "Access Hollywood" tape, I think "What's illegal about that?"

CAMEROTA: How do we know. They're interested in it.

TOOBIN: Well, they're interested in it. I just think we need to be cautious because, as far as the public story goes, no money changed hands.

CAMEROTA: Yes, of course. Because we don't have enough information. And you're right. We do need to be cautious. What I find interesting is that, when you're the president's long-time fixer, as Michael Cohen is, that's what you do. So you try to -- if something like the "Access Hollywood" tape for coming out or try to fix that.

AVLON: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: But what's the crime? But what's the crime? I mean, you know, he calls NBC and says, "Don't do this. This is unfair. This is outrageous. We're going to, you know, never talk to NBC again." All the stuff that, you know, is involved in media manipulation. It's not criminal.

GREGORY: My question about --

CUOMO: The appetite to ask to speculate to suggest is how we get in trouble in a lot of these situations. Because a probable cause standard for a warrant, yes, even with the extra sensitivity because of the privileged communications that may be involved ain't meeting the burden of proof with a crime. As you know better than anybody. David, please go ahead. GREGORY: Well, I mean, just -- and I agree with the caveats here.

But this has been the danger throughout of us trying to extrapolate based on threads of information in terms of what it all goes to.

But I mean, you know, if you're looking at what's happening in a particular time frame, where you have hacked e-mails and then leaked e-mails, what's the source of that? It seems to me that it's relevant to look at other decisions and other pressure points on the campaign at that particular juncture.

Again, I don't know. Is it just -- are you just looking at a fact pattern where there were motives, where there were opportunities, or does, you know, trying to suppress a tape like this or money is changing hands, maybe it's just a campaign finance violation with regard to the payoff. So I don't know. I just think looking at all the pressure points in this period of time that we're talking about appear to be relevant.

At the same time, there's no question that this is fodder for those close to Trump, to argue that all of this is going off the rails.

TOOBIN: Let me just add to one thing David said there about timing. Because it is important to remember that the "Access Hollywood" tape was released the same day.

CAMEROTA: The same hour. We have a graphic.

TOOBIN: Yes, the same --

CAMEROTA: Let us show people, in terms of the timing and the chronology. At 3:30 p.m., the U.S. officially blames Russia for the DNC hacks. OK, so at 4, half an hour later, the "Access Hollywood" tape is released. At 4:30, WikiLeaks then releases its Podesta e- mails. That was a busy hour.

But we have no idea if those threads are connected.

TOOBIN: It's connected. But if, for example, there was evidence that Michael Cohen was coordinating with WikiLeaks to distract from the "Access Hollywood" tape. That could be an argument that there was some sort of conspiracy or collusion.

But I want to emphasize that there is no public evidence of that. But that could be one reason why they would be looking at "Access Hollywood."

CUOMO: David, to a point that you made earlier, I -- this is not going to be satisfying in terms of the nexus between all of these different threads that we hear about piecemeal.

However, knowing that there is a significant wire transfer banking type of focus in this investigation, does give you a window into why they were looking for the things that they were, at least with respect to the president's lawyer.

The medallions. "Access Hollywood." Different types of communications about transfer. What do taxi medallions have to do with Stormy Daniels? They seem to be looking for vehicles for potential transfer of money under the radar. That's what it seems to be going.

[07:15:06] The problem is you don't know why they're looking for that, what they already know, which would have been part of their application to the judge.

GREGORY: Right. Can Toobin hear me OK?

TOOBIN: Yes, I can.

CUOMO: He pretends not to.

CAMEROTA: Say something brilliant.

CUOMO: He pretends not to hear you. He's done it to me before.

GREGORY: Right, exactly. What I was going to say is, I mean, this for me is wading into water that is worth Jeffrey's expertise.

But I do think that, you know, if part -- we're -- we can't assess weight to some of these things, right? So there could be shreds and branches of this investigation that maybe are really intended to lead to something else. So perhaps if they have some, you know, wire fraud evidence, if there are even campaign violations, you know, maybe that's a building block to something else in the investigation and they're gathering up what they can and perhaps trying to prove what they can that, again, maybe relates to timing.

You know, why commit, you know, a fraud here, a wire fraud, bank fraud? Maybe it's because you were under so much pressure, and that led you to take action with regard to the time line on leaked e-mails which may get to something that's more germane to what we consider to be the heart of the investigation.

CAMEROTA: And as if it's not sordid enough, let's bring in "The National Enquirer," because we also have information from "The New York Times" that --

TOOBIN: I believe "The New Yorker"?

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry.

CUOMO: A home with Toobin.


TOOBIN: Ronan Farrow in "The New Yorker."

CAMEROTA: OK, because I might not be going in the direction.

TOOBIN: OK, I apologize. Well, I was just looking to plug the magazine.

CAMEROTA: I can see that. Well -- CUOMO: Ronan Farrow has information on another attempted hush payment.

TOOBIN: That's why I shouldn't interrupt you, Alisyn.

CUOMO: Always a mistake.

CAMEROTA: "The New York Times" is reporting that they're also looking into the fact that "The New York" -- that "The National Enquirer" paid Karen McDougal, who says that she had an affair with the president. Was that a campaign -- an in-kind campaign contribution? Did that violate efficacy? That's what they're also looking at.

TOOBIN: I find that very hard to imagine that you could say -- I mean, the "National Enquirer," which has, you know, interests in -- they also were paying her to be a columnist for their fitness magazines.

CAMEROTA: Hard to make that case. That they --

TOOBIN: That that would be a campaign contribution. I mean, it's a hard case in any situation, but the Michael Cohen money to Stormy Daniels is a much more at least plausible case of the campaign contribution than American Media. That is "The National Enquirer."

CUOMO: We've got to go. But people should remember, FEC cases are hard to make. The last one they made was again John Edwards, high profile, and they lost.

CAMEROTA: OK, gentlemen, thank you both very much. Our President Trump is tweeting this morning that he never said when airstrikes would happen. This comes as we're just learning that French President Macron says he has proof that the Assad regime is behind the chemical attacks.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Northern Syria, all of the breaking details. What do you have, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a remarkable statement from Emanuel Macron. Quote, "We have proof that last week, 10 days ago, chemical weapons were used. At least chlorine was. And they were used by the Assad regime." He goes on to say that there will be an effective response at some point.

Now, this is important, because it's the nature of the gas that goes to the heart of the nature of the international community's response. Remember, the last time military action was considered was in April of last year when sarin gas was later confirmed to have been used in Han Shakun (ph).

And back in October 2013, again, it was sarin, a nerve agent, a very serious chemical weapon that was used in eastern Ghouta. And you had the Barack Obama red line being crossed. It led to no military action. But Russia telling Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons program. It clearly didn't happen. What we're hearing now, though, is that they think at least chlorine has been used. And that tallies what aid workers on the ground we heard from smelt. They smelt chlorine. But it doesn't necessarily fill in some parts of the picture.

Well, we heard from other people observing terrifying videos that were struck by this gas. Certain muscular spasms that would normally suggest the use of a nerve agent. That's led some to believe what we're dealing with is a rather troubling mixture of chlorine and something more deadly.

But it is the nature of the gas that's key, because chlorine has been used many times before in this war, allegedly, by the regime but also allegedly by the access, too (ph).

So this is a key development. But it comes into a whirlwind statement today. We have heard from the Kremlin saying that the deconfliction line between them and U.S. forces on the ground here -- the U.S. forces are very close to where I'm standing here in Northern Syria -- that that is still very much open. They'll be keen for that to continue to be the case, because frankly a lack of communication or honesty, frankly, in February led to an intensive clash between U.S. forces and what turned out to be Russian mercenaries that left dozens dead.

We're also, though, hearing importantly that Turkish President Erdogan is playing a bit of a role here. He spoke to Donald Trump, the president, last night and is due to speak to Vladimir Putin, Kremlin head, at some point today. Is he going to try and find a diplomatic way out of this? Unclear.

[07:20:09] I have to say, the feeling, really, here in Syria is that we're inevitably heading towards some kind of military response. The question is, how wide and how sustained is that? Is it backed up by sanctions? Who also plays a role here? The longer the goes on, the longer the Russians, the Syrians have to prepare their forces to be least damaged by this. And of course, the greater complexity both Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Emanuel Macron get into in explaining their course of action, the evidence behind it, to their own legislature and their own public.

Complex times here. Back to you.

CUOMO: It's an interesting plus/minus to that. You need to have the proof that Assad is linked to this to justify military action. You actually need more than that.

And as Nick Paton Walsh just pointed out, the American audience is going to be surprised to hear that Russians and Americans have come into conflict before and people, their lives were lost. Because that information hasn't been coming through the administration with a very loud voice for obvious reason.

We heard from David Sanger from "The New York Times." You know him -- this morning. He was saying that there is proof in Syria on the ground that they are already moving sensitive aircraft and material onto Russian bases. Have you seen indications or heard indications on the ground there that they are making preparations and putting things closer to Russian assets?

WALSH: I'm not so sure about the movement towards Russian assets. But it has been clear Syrian forces have been on a higher state of alert. And certainly, activists have reported movements of military vehicles around here.

But frankly, you know, the Syrian air force has been massively diminished by the war here, by attacks by Syrian rebels, trying to shoot the planes out of the sky. They've been in a six-year battle. They weren't in that great shape even before it even started. It's been the Russian air force coming in that's given the Syrians an extra boost.

And yes, they are going to work hand in hand. We do know the Russian troops are moving into some sensitive areas like Douma to essentially complicate the job and where exactly the U.S. will and won't want to hit.

But remember, that deconfliction line back in the instance in February where the Syrian regime tried to take territory off of Syrian Kurds back when -- where I'm standing. The deconfliction line was open throughout those clashes. The Russians, according to the Americans officials I spoke to, simply weren't being honest about who's involved. They were killed by American fire power because they were advancing on a known American position.

So no matter what is said in public here, there is the capacity for a hidden element of any response. Great confusion and the subsequent possibility to make this snowball.

I have to say, though, Chris, this has been a proxy war for years, because people don't want it to be a direct war, so it would make an enormous step forward for both Moscow, Washington and Tehran to all decide they want this to be an open conflict.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for all of the reporting from Syria.

CUOMO: And if that doesn't make it how clear the stakes are in this situation. It's just one more reason we need to hear from the president. We need to know the plan. And Congress has to debate and vote.

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein giving House Republicans access to a document that launched the FBI's Russian investigation. We ask GOP Congressman Jim Jordan about it, next.


[07:27:09] CUOMO: All right. We have breaking news. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, just said that he has proof the Assad regime is behind the chemical attack. Is this setting up the stage for the U.S. and maybe allies to launch airstrikes as soon as today in Syria? Let's discuss with Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan.

We'll get to the Russian interference stuff and what Nunez was given and what you think of that. This matters more, frankly, in my opinion, Congressman.

If there is going to be imminent action, isn't it your job and your brothers and sisters in Congress to say, "Whoa, whoa, you don't do anything without our authorization. This doesn't fall within the AUMF. This doesn't fall within the War Powers Act. Come, tell us your plan."

We know, even though we never heard from the White House, Russian forces and U.S. forces have already contacted and exchanged lethal fire. They've got to make a case. You've got to vote on it.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Yes. No, you're right. That's the Constitution. And we're going to ask like this to a great degree, it seems to me, you've got to have a debate in Congress. That's what the Constitution clearly spells out. Let's have that debate.

I mean, let's have -- we should have a debate on all AUMFs. We've been functioning under one in Afghanistan now for, what, 17 years. And so it's time to re-debate all those. I totally think that's consistent and consistent with the Constitution and what should take place.

But I also understand that what Assad did. This is as evil and as wrong as it gets, and it deserves some kind of response. But you're right, Chris, we should debate it in Congress.

CUOMO: I mean, especially guys like you, Jim. That's why I'm bringing this up. Tim Kaine, Democrat senator, is going to be on tomorrow. He has said similar things. But then nothing happens.

So the concern is, fine, everybody thinks Assad is a bad guy. And now the French say he is what people expect, which is someone who will bomb his own people with deadly gas, which certainly contravenes international law agreements. OK. But the U.N. hasn't said that there should be this type of action taken. That resolution didn't get through with what they wanted in their last meeting. But still.

But then it doesn't happen, Jim. That's my concern. So then you go in there and you bomb. What if Russia does something in response? What if Iran does something in response? What if Syria does something in response? What if our men and women on the ground there get killed as a reaction? Who's going to own that accountability, if you guys let it happen without a vote?

JORDAN: Two things. One, it's less important about what the U.N. says and what the United States government, United States Congress says. The Constitution doesn't say we've got to wait for the U.N. to give us the OK to do something.

But you're exactly right. Something of this magnitude should be -- that's what the founders envisioned. They wanted a full debate so that the American people would be engaged, so that the American people could weigh in through their directly-elected representatives in the United States Congress and they -- we could decide when this happens, how it happens. So I am for that. I think that's appropriate. And most importantly, it's consistent with the document that founded this great nation, the greatest nation ever, the United States Constitution.

CUOMO: But then where is the leadership on it? I mean, look, we're about to have a conversation about the minutia of proof and exacting standards before an investigation can go forward. None of you guys are calling for the proof that Assad did this.