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Trump Unleashes on Twitter; Trump Unleashes on Special Counsel; Macron Arrives in the U.S. for Meetings. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 23, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:18] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 1:30 a.m. Tuesday in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

As the pressure mounts, so does the president's anger. In a series of tirades, President Trump suggests Robert Mueller's investigation is illegal. You're going to hear why.

Also, a curious defense of his personal lawyer, who's under criminal investigation right now. Why the president says Michael Cohen won't flip and implies prosecutors will try to get him to lie.

And an intense manhunt underway right now for the killer who opened fire inside a Waffle House. This as we learn disturbing new details about the suspect's past, including a run-in with the U.S. Secret Service right here in Washington.

But let's start with the president of the United States on Twitter once again. With the prospect of the legal walls closing in, the president fired off around 20 tweets over the weekend on a number of topics, most notably the legality of the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation and the ties to former FBI Director James Comey.

But also this, on personal attorney and close friend Michael Cohen, saying, and I'm quoting now, Michael is a businessman for his own account, lawyer who I have always liked and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible witch hunt and the dishonest media, closed quote.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's outside on the White House, on the North Lawn of the White House.

Jim, the briefing expected to start in a few moments. What's the feeling there in the wake of the president's Twitter barrage?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think what we're hearing from people close to these discussions inside the president's legal team is essentially where we have been, and that is at this point there is not a concern that Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, will flip against the president and start working with the prosecutor's office up in New York or with the special counsel. I talked to a source familiar with these discussions just a short while ago, and this person said, you know, they remain concerned about the raid itself on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room. They feel like that was over the line.

But at the same time, they still feel that Michael Cohen is the kind of loyal associate of the president that he's counted on for so many years that they don't see that as being a concern. And they also are taking these assurances. Remember last week, Wolf, when we were reporting this, the Justice Department went over and told the president, told the president's legal team, that essentially at this point he's not a target of that Michael Cohen investigation. That came from Rod Rosenstein himself, according to our sources. And so at this point they are banking on that information.

Now, of course, this source did say that they are preparing for all possibilities, but this person was saying that that's obviously what attorneys do in this case. And, of course, they're doing this with a beefed-up legal team. Rudy Giuliani coming on board and others. And they feel at this point that they've got a pretty strong legal team to take care of this moving forward.

BLITZER: There's a lot of issues on the agenda right now for the president. He's got a big week of diplomacy right now. He's got major issues involving Syria and North Korea, other hot spots around the world. How does all these legal issues, the Robert Mueller investigation, the separate criminal investigation in New York of his long-time lawyer and friend Michael Cohen, how does that play into all of this?

ACOSTA: Well, obviously, Wolf, we're going to see at the briefing coming up here in a few moments that, you know, this is obviously still dominating the discussion. Sarah Sanders is obviously going to be asked about this, you know, in the briefing here in about 15, 20 minutes or so. She was asked earlier this morning about whether or not the president would consider pardoning Michael Cohen earlier this morning. She wouldn't really commit to that.

Take a listen to this. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump tweeted over the weekend that he doesn't expect Michael Cohen to flip. Has he been offered any assurances from Michael Cohen?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not sure about any specific conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have they spoken?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When have they spoken last?

SANDERS: I'm only aware of the conversation from a couple Fridays ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And a lot of people -- a lot of people noted --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the president --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, what is he worried --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is he worried Michael Cohen could flip over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: is that he's going to flip over.

SANDERS: I think he said even in that, that there isn't anything there for that to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And so you heard the press secretary there echoing what the president tweeted over the weekend, that he's not concerned about it. But, Wolf, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is coming in tomorrow for a state visit and press conference with the president. He's actually arriving in Washington today. And top of the agenda for both of these two leaders will be, of course, dealing with Russia and, of course, the prospect for these high-stakes talks that the president has been hinting and teasing for several weeks now with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

[13:05:08] Obviously the European leaders would like to see the president take a tougher posture when it comes to dealing with Russia. But as you heard last week, the president insisting that nobody's been tougher on Russia and Vladimir Putin than he has.

But I think we're going to hear a whole host of questions about this Michael Cohen matter at the upcoming briefing here in a few minutes, Wolf. It just seems to come up at every turn no matter what the president tweets or what the press secretary says or what sources inside or familiar with the president's legal team are saying. It just is an ongoing, nagging issue for this White House. And until we see that come to some sort of conclusion, I can't imagine that those questions are going to go away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's take a quick break.

Momentarily, Sarah Sanders will meet with reporters. There's a lot of questions reporters have on this day. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:10:02] BLITZER: We've got a live picture coming in from Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington D.C., in suburban Maryland right now. There you see the aircraft, the plane bringing in the French president, Macron, to the United States, Emmanuel Macron. He has -- had just arrived. He'll be walking down those stairs momentarily getting ready to meet with the president and the first lady. Later today they'll be going over to Mt. Vernon for dinner outside of Washington, in suburban Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia, a little bit more precise. There will be a state dinner tomorrow night, a joint news conference. He'll address on Wednesday, Macron, a joint session of the U.S. Congress, a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress as well. A very, very warm welcome for the French leader here in Washington.

We're going to have a lot more on that coming up.

In the meantime, let's continue the conversation as we await the start of the White House press briefing. Sarah Sanders getting ready to brief reporters momentarily.

Among the president's numerous tweets over the weekend was another shot at the former FBI director, James Comey. Quote, James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a special counsel. Counsel misspelled, by the way. Therefore the special counsel once again, counsel misspelled -- was established based on an illegal act. Really, does everybody know what that means?, closed quote.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero. Also our CNN political analysts are Rachael Bade and Karoun Demirjian.

Carrie, what does that mean, basically, from your perspective, when he says here -- what the president says about that, that perhaps this whole special counsel investigation is illegal?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: OK. Well, first of all, this is really just an effort -- another effort on the president's part to try to cast doubt about the legitimacy of the special counsel investigation. I have not yet seen a credible allegation that the former FBI director leaked classified information. In Jim Comey's book, he says that he provided one unclassified memo to his associate that then relayed some information in it to a reporter after he was fired.

Now that some of these memos have been released after the Department of Justice provided them to Congress, we have learned that some information in some of the memos, and it's not yet clear which -- whether those were actually ones provided, one of the ones provided to his associate, some information has been retroactively classified.

This does not mean that the former FBI director, quote, unquote, leaked classified information and committed a crime, and it also does not mean that the special counsel's investigation, which was commissioned by the deputy attorney general after the FBI director was fired, in order to provide a neutral continuation of that investigation, it doesn't mean that the special counsel's investigation is no longer legitimate, in my assessment.

BLITZER: No. The president says it was based on an illegal act.

Karoun, how do you see it?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean certainly that's the argument that he's -- he's trying to make. But as Carrie just laid out, you know, it depends on what was classified when and -- with the understanding of, you know, what the information was that actually was put out there, versus the -- what we're looking at right now.

I mean the president is trying to spin this to various extents. I think the first time that, you know, when we first saw these -- the content of these memos, it was a, look, this proves that there's no collusion. Now it's, no, OK, well, this is -- this is illegally done and it was a setup to be able to create the special counsel, which is actually returning to an earlier argument that he's made, which is that this entire probe is completely illegitimate. So it's -- it's the president's concerns, basically, about the -- which have been long term about the actual Russia investigation against him that questions the legitimacy -- he fees that that questions the legitimacy of his presidency as well and he's lashing out now and it's easy to do that with Comey because there are these questions right now about what -- who had what when. And, you know, also because Comey's out there on the circuit right now promoting his book. So this is a fixation point.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But let's also remember, it wasn't just the Comey memos that, you know, triggered this special counsel. President Trump himself went on TV and said point blank that one of the reasons he got rid of and fired Comey was because he didn't like the Russia investigation and he wanted it to go away. You can't do that no matter if you're president of the United States. And so that's like the main reason for the creation of the special counsel.

I do think this whole question about whether any of the documents that Comey leaked or, you know, gave to an associate who then gave them to the press to sort of trigger this conversation, if any of that was classified. I think that this, you know, really does hurt him and it gives Republicans a line of attack that I think even -- not only allies of President Trump are going to use, but also we're seeing some Republicans who are moderates who are supporters of the special counsel. They are sort of chastising Comey right now over this. Or, why did he do this now? He should have been more careful. Wait until the investigation is over. I don't think you're going to see any Republicans go from supporting the special counsel to not supporting the special counsel because of this question, but it certainly gives the president a dig that he's going to keep going after.

[13:15:11] BLITZER: Maybe he's tweeting almost nonstop.

Let's take a quick break.

We're standing by for the White House press briefing. Sarah Sanders getting ready to brief reporters.

Also standing by to see the visiting French president, Macron. His plane has just landed at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington.

Lots more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

You're looking at live pictures.

On the left, Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. The aircraft bringing the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to the United States. That plane has landed. He has not yet walked down those stairs. We'll stand by and watch those stairs very, very closely. His wife, Brigitte Macron, will be accompanying him.

[13:20:09] On the right, the White House Press Briefing room. It was supposed to start a few minutes ago, but a bit delayed. We'll have live coverage of Sarah Sanders answering reporters' questions. I assume she'll open up with a statement. We'll see if she brings anyone into the Briefing Room for additional information as well.\

So there's lots coming up.

In the meantime, let's continue with our panel and talk about the president of the United States and his long-time friend, his lawyer, Michael Cohen. They've been working together for a long time now.

You see the doors have just opened and he's going to be walking down, we assume, momentarily. Let's watch this for a moment. And we can discuss as we await.

You know, and, Karoun, this is an important first official state visit by someone to the United States on behalf of France.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, it's very important also because it seems like --

BLITZER: Here they come, Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, walking down those stairs.

Go ahead.

DEMIRJIAN: The president and the president of France seem to have established a pretty good rapport when Trump was in France last year. And it's interesting just because clearly Macron is a very influential figure in Europe. There's been questions about how the president is going to be dealing with Europe going forward. You've got a good launch off, having done these Russia sanctions a few weeks ago. But if anybody seems to have the president's ear among European leaders, it's this -- this leader.

BADE: It's interesting because it hasn't always been like this, right? I mean remember President Trump actually had a lot of positive things to say about Macron's far right challenger when they were running for election. And there was -- remember that first meeting where the two locked hands and their knuckles turned white and there was this sort of -- see who was more masculine, who would let go first.

But since then, you know, the president went to France. He, you know, clearly likes Macron now and Macron had said nothing but positive things about Trump since then. And now they're getting ready to see if they can take this friendship to a new level in coming to, you know, some sort of agreement on what to do about Syria. Also the Iran nuclear deal is a big thing -- a big deadline coming up for Europe and the United States on that. Macron's going to try to keep Trump in the Iran nuclear deal when clearly he wants out right now.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean it's a sensitive issue, Carrie. They did agree on these airstrikes against these Syrian chemical weapons strikes, the U.K., France and the U.S., working together on that. But there's a major difference when it comes to re-upping the Iran nuclear deal right now. The Trump administration, the president, clearly opposed to it, but the president of France, President Macron, he's -- he wants to continue. He says it's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.

CORDERO: Well, he does. And one of the questions for the foreign policy community is, sometimes this administration and this president in particular tend to be unpredictable. And so what his policy will be going forward with respect to the Iran deal, whether he will -- you know, he doesn't currently have a secretary of state, so it will be interesting to see if he gets his choice of secretary of state so that he can have someone who can work on these issues for him, that he has confidence in.

And with respect to Syria, ongoing questions about really what the United States' policy is on Syria. And so I would imagine that those are all items that are going to be on their agenda.

BLITZER: They've got some serious disagreements on trade-related issues, as well as -- especially the tariffs that the U.S. recently imposed on imports of steel and aluminum, among other issues.

DEMIRJIAN: Of course. No, that's certainly something that, you know, it will see -- that Europeans do not agree with the moves that Americans has made. There's a lot of criticism about potentially starting a trade war.

I think that you can't understate that and you really can't understate the urgency of the Iran negotiations, too, just because that's a May 12th deadline that we're looking at. There probably will be a secretary of state by then given the way the votes are shaking out right now on the Senate floor.

But what matters is convincing Trump. And he's here now. You've got to get an agreement between the Europeans, which is basically the U.K., France, Germany, the EU and the Americans if you're going to sell that to all the parties of that deal and get something through Congress before that deadline. And so this visit really matters because if you can't turn the president -- mean Pompeo's been in the president's inner circle for a long time and he's more comfortable with the idea of that falling away than a lot of other people are who are no longer part of the administration.

So --

BLITZER: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: And the one thing that Macron really has that's important to note is that he never was president when Obama was the president of the United States. And so he does not have that memory of, well, you dealt with the guy that I don't like, my predecessor. We know it's well established how much the president, Trump, does not like things that Obama did. Macron is not tainted by that, with apologies for that word, but --

BLITZER: Clearly there are differences, but at the same time they do have a good personal relationship. That's clear in the public statements both of these leaders, President Trump and President Macron, have made.

[13:25:06] BADE: Yes. And, actually, I think I've read a number of stories where France -- French officials have said that Macron has actually studied President Trump and did a deep dive into his personality to try to figure out how to move this president and to convince him. And basically it's ready to pull out the flattery and has been showing that he's willing to do that.

Remember also back when President Trump visited France, that's where he got the idea about the military parade, too. And it seems like that sort of show of, you know, masculinity and aggressiveness and pride in the military was one of the things that really won him over to Macron.

But, again, we're just going to have to see, Macron is trying to convince Trump to do two major things that Trump doesn't want to do when it comes to Syria, both the U.S. involvement in Syria and staying in Syria when the president wants to bring the United States out. And then also the other thing was, and I'm having a brain fart right there, Syri,a trade --

BLITZER: Well, yes.

DEMIRJIAN: Syria, trade, Iran and then just --

BADE: Yes, Iran. That's right, Irian.

DEMIRJIAN: What's the Iran (INAUDIBLE) Russia strategy also. I mean, look, you've got -- that's the undercurrent of all of this, right, is where -- where is the president going to go in Russia? Is he going to continue to go with the momentum of the coordinated dismissals or will he backtrack? And I think Macron had an important voice here.

BLITZER: Let's pause for a moment as they play the national anthem of the United States.

All right. The president of France, the first lady of France, President Emmanuel Macron, Brigitte Macron, they have arrived here. All the official -- the dignitaries are there, all the pomp has concluded. They're going to get in a limousine and head over -- I think he's staying over at Blair House, which is the official residence for foreign leaders, right across the street from the White House. They'll be at Blair House for a few days. Once again, on Wednesday, he'll be addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, which is not, you know, something that happens every day.

He's speaking now. Let's listen in to see what the president of France is saying as we also await the White House press briefing.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, FRANCE: We're very, very happy and honored to be here with my wife, Brigitte, (INAUDIBLE).

This state visit is very important for our people and very (INAUDIBLE). We will (INAUDIBLE) several discussions with President Trump this evening at Mt. Vernon. (INAUDIBLE) White House. I will deliver a speech at the Congress on Wednesday. And during the state visits, we will (INAUDIBLE) discuss a lot of bilateral issues and to discuss about our security, about trade and a lot of (INAUDIBLE) issues very important to our countries and beyond our two countries. This is a great honor, and I think a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment.

(SPEAKING IN FRENCH)

BLITZER: All right, so the brief remarks from the visiting president of France, President Macron. He's getting ready for a state visit here in the United States. Important meetings for the president. Dinner tonight at Mt. Vernon, outside Washington. Tomorrow, a joint news conference. A state dinner on Wednesday and an address before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.

We were talking about the secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo. It looks now, even if he won't get confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it looks like there will be enough Democrats who will vote in favor of his confirmation to get him narrowly by.

[13:30:00] DEMIRJIAN: Yes. So basically he needs -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not the end word on this subject. If he doesn't get a positive vote there, they can still push it to the floor without a positive recommendation.

BLITZER: Pretty extraordinary to do that for a secretary of state but it's doable.

DEMIRJIAN: It is. It would be the -- it will be the first time in almost a century. So it will be history-making.