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Trump: "Disgraceful" Mueller Questions Leaked to Media; WAPO: GOP House Members Draft Rosenstein Impeachment Articles; Cohen Responds to National Enquirer Story. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- questions about collusion. There are. And he declared it is very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened. Actually it's not.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Whatever he's saying, it is clear he's responding at least in some way, Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He's lashing out at these questions, John and Poppy. He's not pleased that they're published at all. Saying it was disgraceful. Of course, these questions really give us some insight into what Robert Mueller wants to know. He wants to know the president's thinking on several issues, including the firing of Michael Flynn, the firing of James Comey, his relationship with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president falsely said that there were no questions about collusion, but spoiler alert, there were. And there were actually several questions about that today and these questions released including, when did the president become aware that Trump Tower meeting that involved the Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. Robert Mueller wants to know, what involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails. Of course, that was in regards to that statement that falsely said the meeting was about Russian adoptions and then they later admitted it was not. It was because Donald Trump Jr. believed they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And Robert Mueller also wants to know about that trip that the president made to Russia, and what communication he had with the Agalarovs and the Russian government official. So, that shows that Robert Mueller is still investigating if there was any potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
And then in regards to the firing of James Comey, Robert Mueller wants to know, what did you mean when you told those Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after you fired Comey, when you said that it took the pressure off. He also wants to know when you fired Mr. Comey, what -- when was that decision made, why, who played a role? That will be very interesting, John and Poppy. Of course, we know that they have begun drafting that statement on firing James Comey several days before they actually made the decision to fire him.
And, of course, the White House maintained for 48 hours after they fired him that it was only because of the recommendation of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But clearly, the president, John and Poppy, not happy that these questions have been leaked, but they really do give us a detailed road map into this investigation, an investigation that has been very close knit, that hasn't let a lot come out, at least, on their side. And clearly, the White House is not pleased about this. But the president could base questions about this when we see him, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary certainly will when she holds a press briefing later on this afternoon.
BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you.
Let's try to understand more about this. Joining us, CNN legal analyst, Ann Milgram. Ann, you know you got a chance to look at these questions. What is your big takeaway?
ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, I think there are a few things. First of all, it is extraordinary to have questions like this, given to somebody who's going to be a witness in an investigation. It just never happens. So, it is important to remember how extraordinary this is.
The second thing is that everything we have been talking about from conspiring with the Russian government to influence the election, to obstructing justice, all of that is here. And it is really important to note that all of the things that the president is being investigated for there are questions as to all of them. So, any suggestion that Mueller and his team are not still investigating, whether or not his campaign colluded, that's not the right word, it is really conspiracy or aiding and abetting, but whether or not they did that. There are a lot of questions in there.
What is particularly interesting to me, there are a couple of questions where - and by the way, I think the special counsel knows the answer or has evidence on all of these questions, so we should say that. -- He's a good lawyer. So he's done his homework. The one question that really struck out to me was the one, what did you know about Paul Manafort's outreach to Russia.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We have that.
MILGRAM: And that's not something that, you know, has been known I think, publicly before that Manafort was making.
HARLOW: Aside from the fact that it has not been previously reported, if there was outreach from Manafort to Russia, what does that question tell you that Mueller is really digging into?
MILGRAM: I think it tells us two things. One, I think it tells us that there was outreach by Manafort to Russia and I think the second question is, you know, to conspire with the Russian government, to influence the campaign, one of the key questions will be communications between them. We know the Russians attempted and in fact did influence the American election. What we don't know -- we know there were a number of efforts by members of the campaign to get -- to coordinate with Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. So, what was he doing there? It is particularly interesting. That's him reaching out to them.
BERMAN: There are questions about collusion. So the president just flat out wrong when he says there are no questions on collusion here. It also -- it is interesting to me, in this case, that the Special Counsel's Office has spoken to Michael Flynn, has Rick Gates cooperating, has George Papadopoulos cooperating. Can you see evidence of their cooperation within these questions?
MILGRAM: Yes. There is no question about it. So if -- remember that there are 18 days after Flynn is interviewed, when we know he's not truthful with the FBI. 18 days after that before he's fired. So it is always been an incredible question, which is who was he communicating with, what did the president know, what did other members of the president's team know. Here we see from the questions they're asking all kinds of questions, who did you speak with, who was in the room when you made decisions, whether it is Flynn or Comey, all of that is informing these questions.
[10:05:04] And, remember, again, the Mueller team will have information from those interviews with Gates, with Flynn, from Comey's memos. They'll have information that is leading them to ask these specific questions.
BERMAN: I want to put up one other thing that the president said this morning about this, his review of this, obviously, not someone who has been at law school. He says, "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch-hunt!"
MILGRAM: That's just not true. I mean, look, I think we all know it is often the cover-up, not the crime that gets people in trouble. This is a great example where -- there are countless examples where the government is investigating something, they ultimately can't prove that crime, but they can prove that someone obstructed justice. And, remember, that's so important because the government can't figure out -- there is no way for us to know whether crimes have been committed unless we're allowed to do an investigation and get information.
BERMAN: A lot of the questions begin with, you know what did you think when, what did you think in reaction to the story that you were trying to fire the special counsel, you know, what did you feel or what was going on in your mind. What does that get to? Does it get to the issue of intent?
MILGRAM: Yes. So, it was obstruction of justice you have to prove corrupt intent. And so, for all the evidence I think the special counsel has, he still needs to hear the president say what he was thinking and intending. Now, it may turn out to be false exculpatory meaning he may lie to Robert Mueller and not tell him the truth about what he was thinking and there may be evidence that the special counsel already has contrary to that, but they all go to what he was thinking.
BERMAN: So, if you were serving as a lawyer for the president and a million billion years after seeing these questions, would you let him or advise him to sit down and answer them. MILGRAM: I think -- the short answer would be no, but the longer answer is this is complicated because he has been stating publicly that he has nothing to hide. I do believe that Robert Mueller may issue a subpoena to get him before the grand jury. I know that Mueller wants his testimony. And so, he has to weigh -- he is to weigh these options.
BERMAN: Anne Milgram, fascinating discussion. Thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate it.
Want to discuss a little further, joining us, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's on the House Judiciary Committee. So, he's been looking into or involved with these matters for a long, long time. You've had a chance -- I take it, to take a look at these questions now. I wonder if you thought about how they came to light. In "The New York Times" says that these questions were read aloud to the Trump team attorneys who wrote them down, who took notes and then they were provided to the "Times" by someone outside that legal team. So, it appears they were connected to the president somehow. What do they get out of this?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes, I mean, it is -- good morning. It is hard to figure out why they think this is advantageous to them other than maybe to try to accuse the special counsel of releasing them. Obviously that's not true. This special counsel has -- had really no leaks at all, has spent hermetically seals really. And so, this would be a departure from all of the practices of Robert Mueller.
So, I think the only fair references that came from someone in the Trump orbit, hard to figure out why they think that is a good thing. Because these questions demonstrate this is a serious investigation with lots of unanswered questions about the president's participation and his knowledge, both in the conspiring or colluding with the Russian government and the campaign, and obstruction of justice efforts.
So, I'm not sure how they benefit from this, but it is a reminder of why we have to be sure that Mr. Mueller can continue this work uninhibited with the resources he needs, with no political interference to get the answers to these questions.
BERMAN: "The New York Times" says that John Dowd, who was the president's personal attorney, resigned or quit, about a week after seeing these questions. We know there is a few. John Dowd was saying don't testify or don't answer questions to the special counsel. The president allegedly wanted to answer the questions. Could this leak be some message to the president, hey, these are serious, listen to how people are reacting to this, really, you don't want to testify?
CICILLINE: It may be. I mean, if in fact that's the strategy to release it so that the president hears from other advisers that John Dowd was right, that it is dangerous for him to go voluntarily and answer the questions. Maybe that's the objective. But I think there is no question that we can conclude they came from somebody in Trump orbit trying to figure out why they did it may be difficult. But I think if you look at the questions, they demonstrate that the president has a lot of very difficult questions to answer, and it shows that this investigation is ongoing, both with respect to Russian participation and you know collusion with the Trump campaign, and the ongoing efforts of the president to impede, undermine, obstruct or stop the investigation.
BERMAN: So, the reason I'm asking you this question, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is if the president ultimately doesn't, if he refuses to speak to Robert Mueller's investigators, what will you do about it? Does Congress then have a role? Will you ask Congress to step in?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean, I think Robert Mueller has tools at his disposal to compel the testimony of the president. The president is not above the law. And Robert Mueller had the ability to issue a subpoena to bring the president before a grand jury if he thinks that's appropriate.
[10:10:05] I think if the president refuses to comply with that, that's a challenge of a whole different dimension. But I think Robert Mueller to the extent he needs the answers to these questions and needs to hear from the president that he will in fact have the opportunity to hear directly from the president, whether it's voluntarily or as a result of the subpoena.
I think - and as mentioned earlier, it is also very significant that these questions were provided or these areas of inquiry were provided to the president's counsel before the interview. That's a very unusual courtesy offered to the president of the United States. Not offered to most witnesses in any ongoing investigation.
BERMAN: You introduced this Special Counsel Transparency Act in April, which would preserve the special counsel's work. Why do you think that's necessary?
CICILLINE: Well, I think, you know, we wanted to be sure that if the special counsel is fired, or if efforts are made to replace any of the special counsel staff, in an effort to impede or interfere or interrupt this investigation, we want to be sure that the documents and evidence that has been collected is preserved so that whoever takes on that responsibility moving forward will have the benefit of all of those, documents and all that evidence collected, to protect the integrity of this investigation. When you have the president of the United States actively undermining it, mocking it, doing everything he can to stop, impede, end it, we want to be sure that those documents that have been collected by the professionals in the department are protected for use as the investigation continues.
BERMAN: The "Washington Post" is reporting, there are some members of the House Freedom Caucus -- some Republicans in the House have drafted articles of impeachment for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That would have to go through your committee. That would have to go through the House Judiciary Committee. What do you make of this move?
CICILLINE: I think it is a terrible message to the department, to the investigators, to the independent counsel. Look, this is a serious investigation. Our Republican colleagues should be working with us in a bipartisan way to make sure this investigation is protected from any political interference that has the resources it needs to complete the work. And that no one attempts in any way to interfere, by threatening Rosenstein, by doing his job, because they don't like what he's finding or they may not like the results of this investigation, 19 people have been indicted, five people have pled guilty already. The president as obviously growing more and more concerned about what ultimately will be his fate and they took an oath to the Constitution of the United States. We should protect our democracy, protect the process, protect the rule of law and I'm very disappointed that they would even suggest that they were seriously considering removing Rod Rosenstein. It would be a terrible message.
BERMAN: They say it's a "last resort," last resort to what remains to be seen. Congressman David Cicilline, Democrat from Rhode Island, great to have you with us this morning.
CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.
BERMAN: All right, Chief of Staff John Kelly denying a report that he called his boss, the president, an idiot. He says it is "Total BS."
Plus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has proof of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. But this morning, the global nuclear watchdog agency is pushing back.
And in his new book, Senator John McCain not holding back when it comes to President Trump and his hope for Washington as he puts it return to civility.
[10:17:30] HARLOW: The president again with the witch-hunt refrain this morning. This is after "The New York Times" published more than 40 questions that the Special Counsel Rob Mueller - Bob Mueller wants to ask the president. The president calls the leak "disgraceful," even though all signs point to the leak coming from someone inside the president's orbit.
Our political commentators Paul Begala, Scott Jennings are here, nice to have you here. I would say it is fair to say you both know a thing or two about leaks coming from the world of Washington. And that you come from so -- given that, Paul, to you, why? I mean it is very clear this is coming from someone in the president's orbit, so why? Who does it benefit and how?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it benefits the president enormously. I'm surprised. I think it may be feigned outrage. Who wouldn't want to know the questions before they take the test? This is unprecedented. You know, Scott and I both worked in the White House. Both of those White Houses are trying to defend a counsel looking into them. Certainly Ken Starr never sent Bill Clinton the questions in advance. I don't think Patrick Fitzgerald sent the Bush White House questions in advance. It is an enormous benefit to know where the prosecution is going. HARLOW: But one thing for the president to know and his team to know, the legal team had these for a while, it seems, it is another thing to have them out there. That's I guess what I'm asking about. Why have them out there?
BEGALA: I think that's the best way to lobby the president, it's through the magic box. He's watching right now. Mr. President, don't listen to all the lawyers, testify. You have nothing to hide, you've done nothing wrong. Go in there under oath, answer all those questions, you never lie. That's my advice to him.
BERMAN: So, Scott Jennings, let me establish for our viewers who didn't quite get the fact that Paul was being facetious there. To me, is the message to the president, look, you got to be very careful here. There are a lot of questions that could put you in serious danger. Does this, you know, really lower the possibility the president will sit down and answer questions?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's a good question. I mean, number one, if you look at the list, I don't think there is really anything in here that is unexpected. I mean, this is all the stuff we heard about, based on the events, the meetings, the players, the people that have been interviewed. I thought the list of questions was really, really predictable.
The PR guy in me wants the president to go in and answer questions, because he's maintained his innocence all along. And if he truly believes he's done nothing, then he should have no trouble answering questions. The armchair lawyer in me is super nervous because these questions appear to be very open ended, maybe designed to get the president talking as opposed to just saying yes or no. And then the dealmaker in me thinks maybe there is a middle ground, could these things be answered in writing.
[10:20:00] And that's where I think my mind is this morning. Were these things leaked to try to get president into a place where he tries to get a deal with the special counsel, to answer these in writing, which makes him responsive to the investigation, but less susceptible to getting trapped inside of a room with some very experienced investigators?
BERMAN: The real story may be the many voices in Scott's head talking to him at any one time.
HARLOW: Paul Begala, another big headline this morning is NBC's reporting on Chief of Staff General John Kelly and the fact that four people, you know, adviser -- people within the White House say they witnessed Kelly calling the president an idiot. On the broader story of Kelly's tension with Trump, they cite eight sources of people within the White House. This is a doozy for the White House to say the least. So how long does this marriage last?
BEGALA: Well, I don't know. He's on his third -
HARLOW: I mean, Kelly calls it BS. BEGALA: Who is delightful? I actually -- she's my very favorite person in that White House. I hope she certainly outlasts her husband in this job, I don't know if that's possible, constitutionally, but what the hell. Yes, it is terrible. We never have seen anything like it. You go all the way back to the history books and, you know, Don Regan, President Reagan's chief of staff in his second term, would privately sometimes disparage the president and he got fired. Nancy Reagan actually fired him. You know, John Sunu was the first President Bush chief of staff, a little big for his preachers. The president's son, George W. Bush, fired him.
But I don't think we have ever seen a chief of staff deriding the president's intellect. By the way, echoing the General McMaster who reportedly called him an idiot and a dope, Gary Cohn who called him an idiot, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had adjective in front of idiot. So I think there is a reoccurring motif here in the Trump administration, people closest to the president don't think he's that bright.
BERMAN: Tillerson called him a moron. Just a fact check there --
BEGALA: Moron, sorry.
BERMAN: Moron there. Scott, if I can, I want to shift gears. I want to cover some more ground here and put up the "National Enquirer" headline, if I can, because the "National Enquirer." That's you know in the supermarket near you, this is the cover - "Trump Fixer's Secrets and Lies," talking about Michael Cohen, the CEO of AMI, which owns the "Enquirer" David Pecker, a good friend of the president, the "Enquirer" very supportive of the president.
Our Jim Acosta reporting that people close to the president think this is a very strong sign the president is turning against Michael Cohen. And Michael Cohen, you know, when asked if a message was being sent by this cover, Michael Cohen said what do you think, Scott? It's kind of a big yikes around that, isn't there?
JENNINGS: Yes, and there ought to be, frankly. Because with the Mueller investigation, we pretty much know everything. I mean, heck, we even had the list of questions now that the president is going to be expected to answer. But with the Cohen side of it, we know very little. We know his office was raided. We don't know exactly what they were looking for. We don't know exactly what they had. And these things, of course, predate the presidency so a lot of people around the president may not know what is mixed up with Michael Cohen in his work for Donald Trump. So the fact that this part of the investigation is extremely opaque is an, oh, yikes moment for anyone who supports the president and wants to see him succeed in his office because when you're flying - you know it is like flying an airplane and the instrument panel is down and you're in the clouds, it is really scary. I think with the Mueller stuff, there are a lot of transparency what they want to know, which in my mind makes it less scary.
HARLOW: Scott, quickly before we go, let me ask you this. Marco Rubio, Republican Marco Rubio comes out and basically bashes the Republican tax bill that many Republicans want to run on. Here is what he said. "There is no evidence whatsoever that the money's been massively poured back into the American worker."
Again, from Republican, Senator Marco Rubio, not the effective campaigning tool for this fall that many Republicans have hoped for?
JENNINGS: I totally disagree with Marco Rubio. I think Republicans are very happy with the tax cut. I think American workers are happy with it. With all due respect to the senator, there is a reason he did not win the Republican primary and if this right here. These tax cuts are working, the economy is humming. The president's number in the Gallup Survey is high as it has been in 11 months. These Republicans need to embrace two words, peace and prosperity. Prosperity comes from tax cuts and deregulation, which is what the president and the Republican Party have been doing. So get on message, Marco, let's go.
BERMAN: That was the fighter in Scott Jennings.
BERMAN: Not the PR guy - lawyer. All right, Scott Jennings, Paul Begala, thank you so much.
HARLOW: Thanks, guys. Israeli's prime minister says he has new information that destroys the foundation of the Iran nucland that wasear deal, but where is the proof? Did he put anything new forward? Next.
[10:29:01] BERMAN: New this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran can build a nuclear bomb at any moment if it wants to. He says, Israeli intelligence uncovered a hidden, quote , "arsenal of knowledge."
HARLOW: But is there any proof there, is anything really new in what he displayed? The global nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA says there is no evidence that Iran tried to develop nuclear weapons after 2009.
Let's go to Jerusalem that's where our correspondent Oren Liebermann is. Good morning, Oren.
OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. And The International Atomic Agency saying look they have seen a lot of the material that was highlighted in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's very theatrical presentation from last night and from what they have seen, there is nothing new. That being said, Netanyahu who was said, he will share 55,000 pages and 55,000 files, not only with the IAEA, but also with the other signatories to the deal. That's very much an attempt to push these countries towards Nyxing the Iran deal.
And yet, he very much have one target in mind and that was President Donald Trump. This was delivered first in English for a reason because it's Trump, it's the West who he was speaking to. He's certainly of the opinion that, had they known - had Netanyahu put forward this information at a different date, they never -