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CNN: Some GOP Lawmakers Refuse To Back Trump Re-Election; Interview with Rep. Charlie Dent; Trump Won't Say If He'll Fire Mueller, Rosenstein; CNN: Trump's Ex-Lawyer Warns Him That Cohen Could Flip; Cohen Drops Defamation Lawsuits Over Infamous Dossier. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:07]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. It is almost as certain as the sun will rise tomorrow along with debt and taxes, of course. A sitting president announces that he's running for re-election. The politicians in his party will back him. So, consider this day another historic first. A slew of Republican lawmakers cannot or will not say if they're backing President Trump for a second term.

CNN's Manu Raju has spoken to more than two dozen Congressional Republicans who are not ready to endorse the president and leader of their party. Here is one awkward exchange on CNN earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: If he is the nominee, will you support him?

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Again, if he's the nominee, meaning he's won the primary --

CAMEROTA: If he runs for re-election, are you going to support him?

CORKER: I want to know who else is in the field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: OK. Manu Raju is joining us now from Capitol Hill. Manu, I chuckle because it should -- I don't think it should be a hard question to answer, but welcome to today. What do these Republicans tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Republican after Republican could not answer that simple question about whether they would endorse the president for re-election. Even I'm talking about not just people who have been skeptical about the president, but even people who have been in line with the president's agenda, pushing through the agenda. Just saying outright, they don't know if he's going to run, they don't know what his -- what the world is going to look like, and they also just wanted to see what the rest of the field would look like if there are any primary challengers.

A far different cry than years past when it was typically pro forma for a member of Congress to automatically endorse a sitting president of their own party, but these days they're different. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Are you prepared at this point to endorse the president for re- election in 2020?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I haven't even thought about that election. I'm worried about the midterm elections.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I did not endorse the president for the Republican nomination in 2016. I supported first Jeb Bush and then John Kasich. So, again, I think it is far too early to make a judgment of that type.

RAJU: Will you support the president for re-election?

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Again, I'm focused on working and doing what I do. And so, talk about what might happen in that time is, I think, premature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Yes, and a lot of members, Kate, were saying, you know, I'm worried about my own race. I don't want to think about the race in 2020 or they said, you know, I want to worry about the midterm elections.

Well, what some members of the Congress told me that, look, we'll wait to see what happens in the midterms and if the Republicans have a bad day, if they lose the House, if they potentially lose the Senate, expect more Republicans to start saying perhaps we need a new candidate come 2020.

So, you're seeing considerable angst within the ranks, not just because of the president's unconventional style, but a lot of questions about where these investigations will end up, where the court battles are going to end up and what that may mean for the president's own political standing come 2020.

One reason why you're seeing Republicans, even surprising and awkward answer, not being able to say outright if they support the president of their own party, if he runs for re-election, which he's made abundantly clear he's doing raising money, hiring a campaign manager. Some Republicans still skeptical -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Profiles and courage, wait until 2018 and then I'll tell you what I'll do in terms of endorsement. Great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much. Joining me right now is one politician who won't be on the ballot in 2020 or even in 2018, retiring Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Congressman, it's great to have you here.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks, Kate. Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. So, we -- our many conversations that you've never been a huge supporter of the president, you call him out when need be, you support policies when they agree with yours. How do you answer this question? Will you back President Trump's re-election bid?

DENT: Just as Susan Collins said, like her, I supported JOHN KASICH in the primary. I did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016. And I'm not prepared to support him in 2020. And right now, as many have said, let's watch the midterms.

I think once these midterms occur, and if the midterms are -- don't go very well for my party, I suspect you'll see a number of Republicans talking about making some changes at the top of the ticket.

BOLDUAN: But even before then, what does it say that so many Republicans, and I think that -- I would put you and Susan Collins in one category, but then you have John Cornyn, John Thune, leaders in the Republican Senate, saying that they're not prepared, it is too early for them to even say. What does it say that those -- that those senators cannot -- cannot -- won't, say if they will support the president?

DENT: Well, it is clear to me, many of my Republican colleagues in Congress have reservations about the president's conduct in office.

[11:05:07] I think even though there may be agreement on some policies on the deregulatory moves or tax reform, there is concern on some policies like trade, a bit more broadly, there is a general concern about the dysfunction and chaos that we have grown accustomed to in the White House.

I think that has become very unsettling and challenging for members of my party. Take, for example, too, the recently enacted budget agreement and spending bill, which was negotiated with the White House and the administration, only had the president come out and say he didn't support it.

And he ended up signing it, but those are the types of things I do believe get members upset or with the health care bill, you know, when I oppose the House health care bill and the president was pretty direct to me about, you know, his displeasure with me for opposing it only to call the bill mean later.

BOLDUAN: Yes. But it is presenting -- a surprising moment where Republicans cannot say if they have supported president and speak out supporting him, they cannot say that they would support him, kind of punting it to say we don't even know if he's going to run for re- election when we absolutely do. Listen to Senator Ron Johnson, if you will, please, Congressman.

DENT: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: It could be a completely different world by 2020. We have a 2018 election first. So, listen, I understand the kind of gotcha question you're engaging here, but this is way too early to be talking about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: How is this a gotcha question? Please tell me.

DENT: It is not a gotcha question. It is a pretty straightforward question. The fact is many of my Republican colleagues have very serious reservations about President Trump's performance in office. It is that simple. Even if there may be agreement with some of the broader policy issues.

BOLDUAN: Is this one of the reasons you're retiring?

DENT: It is a reason that I'm retiring. It is not the reason I'm retiring. I've had -- I've been in office now for 28 years between state and federal service. I run for office 13 times, 13-0, no sane person should run for office more than 13 times.

Bottom line is, I had a -- I just felt it was the right time for me to do other things, but, yes, this dysfunction, this chaos, this never- ending drama is frustrating, and to be candid, it predates Donald Trump. I don't want to put it all on him. It wouldn't be fair.

Congress had a tough time dealing with some of the basics and the fundamentals. I've noticed this -- just getting -- the extremes in both parties are such now that they dominate, and it seems that the American political center is underrepresented in Congress right now.

We need people who have the capacity to get the yes. More pragmatic members of Congress, too many find political safety on the base and they listen too much to the fringe elements of the base.

BOLDUAN: More of the political center, you are all retiring. So, you have announced, of course, that you were not running for re-election. But you also just said that you're going to leave earlier than a lot of folks anticipated. What changed for you, Congressman?

DENT: Well, since I announced in September, I've been exploring various professional opportunities, and it just seems that, you know, those discussions have progressed, and I have not finalized anything, I would prefer to make those final decisions when I'm out of Congress rather than when I'm in.

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of people would respect that and appreciate that. Focus on the job at hand first, if you would. You are one of the House sponsors of the bill to protect Robert Mueller, the special counsel -- this special counsel and the Russia investigation. Here's what the president said about firing him. Here is what he said just yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They have been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Does that change anything for you?

DENT: Well, look, the president should not fire Director Mueller, plain and simple. It would be terrible for country, bad for the American people, and candidly it would be bad for the president himself. This would be an Archibald Cox moment, a so-called Saturday night massacre.

It would just -- it would impact Republicans in the midterm elections in very negative ways. So, there is no good reason for him to fire Director Mueller. It would certainly have an impact on the rule of law, people's confidence in our system of justice. So, he needs to stop thinking about it and let the -- if he's -- he feels he's innocent, he should act like he's innocent. It is that --

BOLDUAN: You don't think he's acting that way now?

DENT: Well, I think Trey Gowdy said it pretty well not too long ago. The reason we introduced the legislation, we have no expectation that this legislation would become law because it would require presidential signature.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

DENT: We're sending a message. Sending a message to the president that there are a number of us in both parties who think it would be a mistake, even Republicans who haven't co-sponsored my bill, many feel that it would be a terrible mistake to fire Director Mueller.

[11:10:07] BOLDUAN: So, in this moment where we're asking these -- I guess we call them gotcha questions now, I know you agree it wasn't, you can count Charlie Dent is not endorsing President Trump for his re-election is what I hear today.

Charlie Dent, it's great to see you. I also heard you say in another interview, you were finishing out your term unopposed and unindicted, in this day and age, that's a double win.

DENT: I stole that line from my former colleague, Tom Davis. That was his line.

BOLDUAN: Good. I like attribution. Big fan of it. Thank you so much, Congressman.

DENT: Thanks. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, he's been the president's loyal fixer for years, but could Michael Cohen flip on Donald Trump? The new warning now coming to President Donald Trump.

Plus, this, President Trump says no one is tougher on Russia than he is. So, why did he decide to not sanction Russia? Be right back.

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[11:15:02]

BOLDUAN: Could the fixer be flipped? Two major developments this morning with President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. CNN has learned that President Trump is going to some old friends and advisers now for advice on that investigation and the advice is, don't trust Michael Cohen. This comes as Cohen is making some big legal moves of his own. So, what is going on here?

CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz is here with much more of this. Let's start with the warning that President Trump's former attorney was offering up about his current attorney. What did he tell the president about Cohen possibly flipping?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Kate, you're absolutely right. This is from perhaps decades ago, this is A New York lawyer, Jay Goldberg, long time New York guy, lawyer for Donald Trump who negotiated Trump's divorces from decades ago.

And he told our CNN's Gloria Borger that he received a call from the president last Friday, seeking advice, and he warned the president to be careful about Michael Cohen because he predicted Michael Cohen could end up cooperating in the investigation.

Now Goldberg also said that he warned the president that Cohen may even wear a wire and then finally, Kate, he told the president that he should not speak to the special counsel.

BOLDUAN: He shouldn't speak to the special counsel. Great reporting by gloria. The fact he spoke on the record, that Goldberg is speaking on the record on this is another amazing fact. About the -- there are a lot of lawsuits. Easy that we should excuse anyone who gets confused, how many lawsuits are flying around with regard to all of this. What lawsuits is Michael Cohen dropping today?

PROKUPECZ: This is the lawsuit he filed in New York, A defamation lawsuit, lawsuit he filed against Fusion GPS and "Buzzfeed," regarding the production and publication of the Trump dossier. Cohen had sued Fusion GPS, a research firm, and the media company "Buzzfeed" in January.

And he had alleged that assertions about family ties he had to Russians, which were published in the dossier, and then, of course, the very much talked about claim that he took a trip overseas to Prague that was mentioned in the dossier were wrong. They damaged his professional reputation. Now, today, his lawyer announced that they are dropping that lawsuit, in part, he says, because of some of the unfolding events, perhaps the new concern over potential criminal prosecution, we know that Michael Cohen is obviously under criminal investigation by the FBI, by the federal prosecutors in New York.

And it seems that all of that is going to take up a lot of Michael Cohen's time, so that's the argument that they're making for why they're dismissing this lawsuit.

BOLDUAN: All right, great to see you, Shimon. Thank you so much.

Here with me now, CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin. Great to see both of you. Michael, does this surprise you, first and foremost, that he's dropping the lawsuits?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, because in a defamation lawsuit the defense is truth and so in a civil lawsuit, they would be trying the proposition that is whether or not it is true that he had ties to Ukraine or that he had dealings in Prague.

And so, if he has to defend that in a civil lawsuit, and in a criminal lawsuit running concurrent to it, he wants to take a Fifth Amendment, he has a big problem there. It is not at all surprising to me that he would drop this lawsuit. And I'm surprised frankly he hasn't dropped the lawsuit involving Stormy Daniels as well, but we'll see what happens next.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Let's wait one moment and one day and we'll see there will be new turns there. Michael, one more quick one for you. What is the -- what surprised a lot of people, that might not be a surprise, it did surprise a lot of people, though, this conversation that Gloria Borger was speaking with about Trump's former attorney and his advice that he gave the president, which essentially was do not trust Michael Cohen. And Goldberg, Jay Goldberg said he was almost 100 percent sure that Michael Cohen was going to flip and work with prosecutors. Do you think that he's right?

ZELDIN: Well, I think we have to understand there is a presupposition that underlies that advice or anything else related to whether Cohen will flip and that there is underlying criminal conduct or potential criminal conduct by Donald Trump as to which Michael Cohen could offer testimony.

BOLDUAN: Or even any evidence that there is real -- any crime that Michael Cohen himself has committed, which we don't have evidence of yet.

ZELDIN: But Michael Cohen won't flip on himself. We're talking about so much whether or not he's flipping on Donald Trump and --

BOLDUAN: OK.

ZELDEN: And to flip on Donald Trump presupposes that there is something on which to flip. There is no evidentiary basis for that. So, I would be, as a lawyer, quite cautious about assuming facts that we don't have any proposition to support.

[11:20:03] But, assuming hypothetically that there was underlying pre- existing criminal conduct about which Michael Cohen knew that related to Donald Trump, then I think Jay Goldberg's advice to him to be cautious that Michael Cohen might not be as trustworthy as you would hope is good counsel.

BOLDUAN: Nia, what do you make of the simple fact that the president is calling his former divorce attorney for advice on how to deal with the Cohen investigation?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think it is classic Donald Trump reaching out to old friends for counsel. In this case, an old divorce lawyer. He is in many ways a person whose circle is shrinking. Some of the lawyers that have been helping with the Mueller investigation have left, they're trying to get more lawyers.

And Michael Cohen, presumably someone he would seek for legal advice and legal counsel and now Michael Cohen is under some sort of investigation himself. It is not really surprising that he is doing that. It is something he tends to do.

Also, I think, it shows why he's having difficulty adding people to his legal team if he's casting about for legal advice to, in this case, a former lawyer and he clearly has some counsel around him, that might make it a little difficult for people who his lawyers to feel like he's following their advice and that they're keeping close counsel.

But this is a president who in some ways thinks of himself as his own lawyer and we know that old saying about a man who thinks he can be his own lawyer, essentially as a fool for a client. But this is something that we'll continue to see from this president reaching out beyond people who are right around him and hired to do a certain job to seek additional advice.

BOLDUAN: And the fact that Jay Goldberg is speaking out on the record what do you think, is that just because he is an audience of one that he's trying to speak to?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, it is odd. He obviously had this -- you would imagine if you're the president, ideally would be a private conversation with him reaching out to him, this is sort of a friend of his and there he is going on the record to the "Wall Street Journal" and, of course, to Gloria Borger too, likely not helpful to anything.

But you do see time and time again people going out and talking to the media as to, again, get the president's attention about what he should do, whether talking to Mueller, talking to Cohen in this case.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating times, my friends. Great to see you. Thanks so much.

Coming up for us, the president decides against sanctioning Russia and then the administration calls the Russian Embassy to let them know. All while Nikki Haley seemed to be twisting in the wind. Why? That's next.

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[11:26:57]

BOLDUAN: Who knew what and when? That's still the question about planned and shelved sanctions against Russia over the chemical attack in Syria. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said they were coming. The White House said she was confused. Haley responded to her colleagues with a whopper of a one liner of "I don't get confused" and President Trump is now weighing in publicly. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it. We will have -- that is a question. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Does that answer it all? With me now, CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former adviser on President Obama's National Security Council. Great to see both of you.

Elise, your reporting is that Donald Trump is the one who decided to hold back on sanctions. It was his decision, but are you hearing when he decided and why Nikki Haley wasn't informed?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think that he decided over the weekend, we're not really clear whether it was before Nikki Haley went out on those Sunday talk shows or afterwards. I think that, you know, essentially, she was on the understanding that sanctions were coming.

It is usually treasury that lays out those kind of sanctions, maybe nobody expected from my understanding that she would kind of preview that the sanctions were going to be announced. So, you know, possibly no one thought, you know, to tell her about the actual day.

I think it is really, Kate, a note to self for Nikki Haley and any other member of the Trump administration. You know, don't preview exact dates or exact times or exact policies because President Trump can change his mind in an instant.

BOLDUAN: Previews are a challenge and risk. It seems right now for sure. Samantha, another part of this is that we're learning that the administration notified the Russian embassy that sanctions were not going to be coming. I have no idea, is that standard procedure from when you were in the NSE?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's a hard no. This is not standard operating procedure. Typically, you would inform an embassy about something bad happening so that they could have time to get their ducks in a row or you could inform them you're not going to punish them if they have done something to deserve this get out of jail free card.

But we have no indication between Friday night, when President Trump said in front of the cameras that he was going to use all instruments of U.S. power to punish Assad and his backers, and Sunday when the White House called the embassy and said, don't worry, sanctions aren't happening, that Russia changed their behavior in any way.

So, they did nothing to deserve the lack of punishment and all that happened is we had a policy process train wreck and the president took his foot off of the gas pedal again and putting pressure on Russia.

BOLDUAN: Elise, at the very same time, the president is now saying of his coming meeting with Kim Jong-un that he's ready to walk away. You heard it, of course, for our viewers, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: If we don't think it is going to be successful, we won't have it. We won't have it. If I think that it is a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we are not going to go. If the meeting --