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Shadow War Between Israel & Iran Heats Up in Syria; NYT: Mueller Gives Questions for Possible Trump Interview. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The idea of disclosure, Iran won't tell the truth. "We had to go in there," you know, is Israel's position, "and steal this information so we can know the truth." Disclosure as an issue should work every way. The United States should say what it has. You know where I'm going with this.
[07:00:18] A yes-no question for you. Does Israel have nuclear capabilities and nuclear weapons, yes or no?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We've always said that we won't be the first to introduce it, so we haven't introduced it.
CUOMO: But that's not an answer to the question. Do you have them or do you not?
NETANYAHU: -- in the country. It's as good an answer as you're going to get. But I'll tell you one thing, Chris, and I think it's important. You know, Iran signed an NPT. Iran signed all sorts of commitments. Iran said that they don't have this nuclear weapons program, and Iran calls daily for the annihilation of my country.
NETANYAHU: We don't do that.
CUOMO: We understand that Iran is known for lying on this issue. That's one of the big motivating factors for the deal in 20 -- 2015 as it was explained to us.
But what I'm saying is if disclosure matters so much, what message does it send when you won't confirm something that is widely believed by the entire international community? How does that inspire the spirit of disclosure?
NETANYAHU: I said that -- I said that it's not the spirit of disclosure. It's commitment, specific written commitment by Iran as part of the deal to disclose what it has. Iran undertook that specific commitment.
CUOMO: I understand. But you know what their take on it is, is that you won't confirm that you have nuclear weapons when the world already believes that you do. Why? Why keep that quiet?
NETANYAHU: Well, you -- you can make all your assumptions. One thing is clear, Israel is not threatening the annihilation of any country.
And you know, it's interesting that the nuclear arms race that I predicted would unfold once this deal was signed because everybody knew that they were just kicking the can forward for a few years and as time passes Iran will get a nuclear arsenal. Now you hear other countries in the region saying, "We want nuclear weapons, too." Or rather "We want unlimited enrichment -- nuclear enrichment of uranium the way Iran gave it. If Iran has it, why shouldn't we have it?"
So in fact, what this thing is doing, nobody said that about Israel. You may think about Israel what you want for -- for decades. Nobody cared. But as soon as they understood that this regime in Tehran, this murderous terrorist regime that wants to conquer all the Middle East that's sending its terrorist tentacles throughout the world, the minute they understood that it has a clear path to a nuclear arsenal, everybody now in the Middle East is trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Not a good idea.
So if you want peace, the crucial thing is don't let Iran get a clear path to the bomb. That's what that deal does. And I think if you want to ensure the peace and security of the Middle East and the world, you can't let that happen.
CUOMO: Listen, you know, you make a lot of strong points about that. Obviously, less is the only direction to go with nuclear capabilities. Not more. And your points about the risk that Iran poses in the region let alone with its nuclear capabilities are well known and echoed by many of your allies.
My point is if we want everybody to come clean about things, everybody should be open and honest and it will create a different kind of pressure on what kind of dialogue is expected. But your points are well taken, Mr. Prime Minister.
It's good to have you on the show, Benjamin Netanyahu. Thank you very much for taking the opportunity.
NETANYAHU: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
CUOMO: Thanks to you, our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.
See how fast it was? Good morning.
CAMEROTA: That was fast.
CUOMO: And welcome to your NEW DAY. We now know some of the questions that Special Counsel Bob Mueller supposedly wants to ask the president of the United States if the president agrees to sit for an interview.
The questions were first provided to President Trump's legal team. We understand it as some kind of conversation where notes were taken. But then they got leaked to "The New York Times." "The New York Times" says they did not get it from a member of the legal team. So, who gave it to them? What's the motivation in getting these informations [SIC] -- this information out to you? We'll discuss that.
But there's a focus on a few things, the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. High-profile fires. And whether the president's actions and motivations could amount to obstruction of justice.
CAMEROTA: OK, so how do we know these questions? As you said, "The New York Times" obtained this list of nearly four dozen questions. They cover several categories. The firing of Michael Flynn, the firing of James Comey and the recusal of Jeff Sessions and President Trump's knowledge of campaign communications in business deals with Russia. So, really the whole umbrella. The president just tweeted about this report.
CNN's Abby Phillip is live at the White House with all of the latest. What's happening there, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn. As you just mentioned, a couple of weeks ago the president's legal team sat down with Mueller -- Mueller, special counsel, attorneys to talk about this potential interview. And they drafted up some notes about some potential questions based on the questions that the Mueller team presented to them. Those questions are now out.
And the president is apparently very upset about it, calling it a disgraceful leak. He said in a tweet this morning, "There were no questions about collusion. Oh, I see, you've made up a phony -- you have a made up phony crime, a collusion that never existed and an investigation that began with a legally classified information."
There are a couple of factual inaccuracies in there, but the most important being that there are no questions about collusion. That's exactly one of the things that Robert Mueller is particularly interested in based on these questions.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is interested in asking President Trump at least four dozen questions as part of their Russia probe. According to notes transcribed by the president's lawyers and obtained by "The New York Times."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would?
TRUMP: I would like to.
PHILLIP: A large portion of the questions appear to center on obstruction of justice, including the president's high-profile firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey. The questions specifically cite a number of the president's own
statements, including these remarks.
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, "This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."
PHILLIP: The special counsel also seeking insights into the president's response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's recusal from the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself. Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in.
PHILLIP: "The New York Times" reports that another category of questions deals directly with Mueller's inquiry into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, including the now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
TRUMP: It must have been very important. It must have been a very important meeting, because I never even heard about it.
PHILLIP: Mueller's team is seeking information about the president's involvement in crafting the misleading initial statement about the purpose of the meeting.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.
PHILLIP: "The Times" reports that investigators are also interested in learning about what the president knew about Russian hacking and communication between long-time adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
PHILLIP: One question raising intrigue: "What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?"
No such outreach by the president's former campaign chairman has been reported. Manafort's former deputy, Rick Gates, is cooperating with Mueller's probe.
The special counsel is also pursuing information about President Trump's knowledge of his son-in-law Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was a conduit to leaders, and that's until we had a State Department, a functioning place for people to go. PHILLIP: The president's businesses also under scrutiny, with Mueller
seeking information about Mr. Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow and discussions he had with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, about Russian real-estate developments during the campaign.
Cohen is now the subject of a separate criminal investigation. The FBI seized records from his home, office and hotel room last month.
PHILLIP: So based on the president's tweets this morning, it seems that he is concerned that these questions were leaked by the Mueller probe. But given they are notes from his own lawyers, it certainly raises some questions about whether that is, in fact, the case. And all of this raises even more questions about whether he is going to eventually even sit down with Mueller at all. They've been going back and forth on that issue. And these questions are clearly not designed -- don't seem to be designed to get him in that room with Robert Mueller -- Alisyn and Chris.
CUOMO: Quick question, Abby, for you that Alisyn just raised. How do we know that what was leaked is the set of notes from the conversation with Mueller's lawyers and not something that could have come from the Mueller team itself?
PHILLIP: Well, it seems, based on what "The New York Times" has reported and what we have reported here at CNN, they had that conversation. The president's lawyers drafted up notes about their conversations with Mueller and the questions that they believe Mueller would ask, based on what Mueller told them. And "The Times" says that the president's lawyers drafted up these notes based on some conversation with the Mueller team.
So, it seems pretty clear that these are notes from the president's lawyers/ Whether they are verbatim questions or not is one of the things that we don't know. But they don't appear to be notes directly from the Mueller investigators themselves.
[07:10:19] CUOMO: All right, Ab. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.
All right. So let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who also served as Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the DOJ.
Now, Michael Zeldin earlier, Josh -- you weren't part of the panel -- he said, "I don't think these are verbatim questions. They're not written the way those kinds of questions would be. They seem to be a function of notes taken by the legal team." "The New York Times" reporting a suggestion of that, as well.
The president doesn't seem to buy it, Josh Campbell, in his most recent tweet, if we have it to put up: "So disgraceful the questions concerning the Russian witch hunt were leaked to the media. No questions on collusion. Oh, I see. You have made up phony crime, collusion that never existed. And an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice."
All right. So he's got all his talking points in there, but is he on the wrong track about who would have leaked this information?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, so I think he has a point with respect to how concerning it is that these questions are out there. I mean, I think he might have an in-house problem. I doubt that this came from Mueller. Mueller doesn't leak. His team doesn't leak.
But the reason why this should be concerning is because now the American people have seen the questions. They have seen what it is that investigators want to answer, and it's going to make it a lot more difficult for the president and his team to say, you know, the public, Mueller, the Department of Justice, they don't deserve answers to these questions.
Now, if it had happened the other way around, where, you know, say the president refused to interview and then later on we found out there was this list of questions out there, you know, it wouldn't have as great an impact. I think it's going to be very difficult for the president and his team to look at those list of questions with the public interests surrounding this case and say, "I'm not going to answer those."
CAMEROTA: Let's let the public see some of these questions, Michael Zeldin. We can only get through a few of the more than 40. But here are some key ones.
This is about the meeting with James Comey and the president where the president reportedly, according to James Comey, said, "I sure hope you can see your way through to clearing Michael Flynn. He's a good guy." So here's the question: "What was the purpose of your February 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey and what was said?" Obviously, they want to check that against what James Comey has said.
Here's another question. This is about the Lester Holt interview. "What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?" That's where he said, "I was going to fire Comey knowing --" well, I'll just let the president say it himself. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So the question: what did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia, that seems like an important question. What do you see, Michael, when you look at these questions?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we see that there are a lot of broad topics that Mueller probably relayed to the White House counsel's office and said, "We want to talk about this," and that then questions were put forth from White House counsel to the president's, you know, inner circle to say, "This is what we likely would talk about."
With the questions that you just highlighted, you have, essentially, the loyalty request of Comey, the firing of Comey, the Russia explanation for that firing, the reaction earlier to Comey's testimony that there's a counterintelligence investigation involving the president and his campaign. All those things get bundled into one topic that Mueller is interested in. And I think that's how you read these questions in terms of topics.
There's financial crime topics. He wants to know about the Seychelles meeting and business dealings with Cohen and Sater. There are the so- called quid-pro-quo questions, which is he asked questions about sanctions specifically and changing Ukraine policy.
Remember, that thought that there was an effort by Russia to help Trump in exchange for sanctions relief or Ukraine policy changes, those questions are in there. So you've got this quid pro quo sort of topic.
So you look at these things as topics, and then you try to extrapolate from that what specific underlying questions may arise from them.
CUOMO: So two points, Josh. The first one is the mandate of the special counsel isn't just proof of crime; it's proof of coordination. So some of these questions don't go, even really to potential criminality. It's just could go to whether or not Trump and/or anyone connected there, too, had anything to do with coordinating of efforts that they want to be able to identify and document and pass along to the deputy A.G. in this regard.
[07:15:08] And then you have what we have to remember. All due respect to you guys with what you do on behalf of the government, used to do on behalf of the government. I have no reason to believe that these questions in any kind of conversation that were passed along. that the point of this was to tell Trump's lawyers everything they have.
And all of these questions, Josh, to me beg that there are going to be follow-up questions. That has to be the risk here, is that this isn't all they want to know. These are just the areas, and the answers are going to dictate where the questions go.
CAMPBELL: That's right, Chris. If you look at the broad nature of these questions, first of all, I mean, first of all, they should not be surprising to the president's team. I mean, Washington is a Q&A town. Right? I mean, whether you're a member of the city council or a freshman member of Congress or the president of the United States, you have a staff whose job it is to collect information and to predict what it is you're going to say.
So as you look at the scope of these questions, they're not surprising. The second part, like you mentioned, I mean, as an FBI agent, whether you're a prosecutor, I mean, it's the follow-up questions that are usually key.
I've been reflecting on some of the most consequential interviews I did when I was in the FBI as I thought about it. I mean, none of the best pieces of information came from that opening salvo. It came from the follow-up questions. That choose your own adventure. OK, defendant. OK, subject. You take this interview where you think it's going to go, and then I'll ask you.
It's important to remember that, you know, FBI agents and prosecutors, they're not big fans of checkers, but they do play chess. And so, you know, an interview of this import is going to be strategized probably weeks in advance. They're going to, you know, predict everything down to, you know, if they move their rook here, we'll do this. If they move their knight here, we'll do this. And so it's something that they're going to strategize.
The metaphor there has limitations in this way. First of all, Mueller is not playing a game. This is serious. This has to do with American national security.
And the second thing is unlike chess, where the goal is to take down the king, Mueller is not out to get the king. If the king falls here, it's going to be his own doing.
CAMEROTA: In terms of that chess metaphor, Michael, who does this benefit? Who does it benefit to put these -- have these questions out in the public sphere? And I know that you say you know Robert Mueller. Obviously, you worked on his team. You worked with him closely and you say Robert Mueller doesn't leak. But maybe somebody on his team does?
ZELDIN: I don't think so. I think that, again, these are put out into the public domain in an effort to help the president form an opinion about what he wants to do in respect to Mueller's probable request for an interview or a possible grand jury subpoena.
I think that there's just big debate within the White House inner circle about how to do this. And I think that this is a trial balloon in some sense to have the president decide which way he wants to proceed and so that the lawyers who are representing him know how to begin to prepare, either for an interview or a court fight, in an effort to resist that request for an interview.
CUOMO: And also, you know, look, we don't know where they came from. It is suggestive that it seems like these are notes from a conversation that makes it more likely that it came from the Trump side than the Mueller side, but it's not dispositive.
We do know this. The president's tweet is once again wrong. "No questions on collusion"? There are lots of questions on collusion. Remember, collusion is not a crime. It's just a suggestion of a type of activity. Conspiracy would be a crime. Obstruction of justice would be a crime. But there are lots of questions that go to those areas.
CAMEROTA: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. Great to get your expertise.
So what potential legal trouble could the president face based on these questions? We know that Robert Mueller wants to ask all of those. Those are fine print. We'll explain more, and we have our legal experts here next.
[07:22:34] CAMEROTA: "The New York Times" obtained a list of more than 40 questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask President Trump if the president were to sit down for an interview with investigators.
So let's discuss the implications of all of this with CNN legal analyst Laura Coates and CNN legal commentator Jim Schultz.
Jim, I want to start with you, because you were a former White House lawyer for President Trump. If you saw, or I should say when you read this list of questions today, would you would be inclined to allow the president to sit down with Robert Mueller's team or after seeing these questions, would you tell him not to?
JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the first thing I thought was why would the work product of a lawyer for the president ever make its way into the public domain if that is, in fact, what this is? That's the most disturbing part of this, is that attorney work product, if it is attorney work product, whether it's just notes from a meeting with Mueller's team and, you know, a scope of questions, it's just -- it's very troubling to me that these questions would be in the public domain.
CAMEROTA: What's the answer to that?
SCHULTZ: Secondly --
CAMEROTA: Hold on. Before that, what's your theory on what's the answer to that, Jim?
SCHULTZ: I don't know what the answer to it is. If it is, in fact, the legal team for the president's work product, I don't know how that gets in the public domain except for someone close to the president. If it is, in fact, something that was -- that was written by the Mueller team, then perhaps it's the Mueller team. But we don't know the answers to any of those questions.
As it relates to the information in there, I don't think there's any surprises whatsoever. I think all those questions are within the scope of what we would expect the president to be asked as it relates to the Mueller investigation.
I think, you know, no doubt they were going to ask about obstruction. They were going to ask about why he fired Comey. They were going to ask about meetings that Flynn had. They were going to ask about the relationship with -- the comments that he's made about Jeff Sessions. There will be a number of things that were asked that are no surprises here. So as it relates to, you know, whether he's interviewed or not or
whether he agrees to be interviewed, I don't think this is going to be surprising to the legal team whatsoever.
SCHULTZ: What it does is allows the president and his legal team to really start thinking about narrowing the scope of that interview and the time frame within that interview.
CAMEROTA: Yes. OK, so Laura, when you read through these questions, what's your thinking?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My immediate thought is self- inflicted wounds, Alisyn. All those questions had to do with the president's own self-inflicted wounds, from the tweets to the comments he's made in television interviews, to discussions that his surrogates have said.
[07:25:12] All of it leads back to Mueller saying, "We'd like to understand the nature of those self-inflicted wounds. Why you said it, what you were thinking." And it all gets to the question of motive. Because that's the one thing that you cannot try to get from other people. You can have, you know, circumstantial evidence as motive. You can have discussions about what you think it is. But they're trying to get it from the horse's mouth to actually say, "What were you thinking? What was your motivation, and what is your intent here?"
I am, too, surprised this would make it out into the public eye. However, it does not surprise me the nature of the questions. What does surprise me is that anybody would tip off the president of the United States who would be in the interview to say, "Here is what I'm going to ask you." Because if I'm assessing somebody's credibility and answering them, I do not want somebody who is so fully and comprehensively prepped that I do not get sincerity.
But what I could do is still have a trail that has my follow-up questions and figuring out where to go from there.
CAMEROTA: OK. So let's take a look at some of these examples. OK? To your point, Laura, they seem too often focus on the president's own tweets. Here's one from May 12, 2017. "What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet," the investigators want to know. Here is the actual tweet: "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
So, Jim, I mean, to Laura's point, had the president not tweeted that, the investigators wouldn't have that line of questioning.
SCHULTZ: Absolutely. Laura is absolutely right about this. Every time the president tweets, any time the president makes a comment relative to this investigation, it's going to beget more questions. It's going to cause more questions to be asked.
And that's -- a lot of the information that's out there in the public domain now is information that the president put out there via tweet or by interview. And those are the things, it seems, that the investigators are zeroing in on.
CAMEROTA: So Laura, back to what Jim said in terms of who this benefits, OK, this list that has been put out, well, I mean, if it helps the president own his answers and if it helps him limit the scope and if it helps his lawyers figure out how long these interviews should be that they agree to, does it stand to reason that maybe it came from somebody who was on his legal team at one time who may not be anymore, who's trying to get a message to the president?
COATES: Well, that would be the narrative, of course, if that was -- think of the timing of it. The timing of when this conversation would have initially been had, it was with John Dowd, who was initially the person who was going to negotiate the terms of that, if it was going to be a voluntary interview with Mueller's team.
He then resigned abruptly, and I guess it was because he thought that the president was not heeding his advice with respect to the interview. So it may be a situation where they're trying to get out to the president via the leak or via the information, via television or in print media that very thing.
But remember, in terms of benefit, it is a benefit to both Mueller's team and to the president of the United States and his legal team if they're able to craft a voluntary scenario where they're able to interview the president. Why? Because if it turns to a subpoena and a grand jury, if you're the president of the United States, your lawyer cannot be in the room to try to hone you in, to try to reign you in, to try to muzzle you in any way.
And if you're Mueller's team and you cannot get the president to comply with a subpoena for a grand jury interview, well, you've to go through the longer route of trying to get a Supreme Court or a higher court to be able to say, "I'm going to compel the president of the United States or hold him in contempt." It's never been done before.
Both sides have an interest. Both sides don't have an interest in getting the word out on the questions. But certainly, the interview itself, absolutely.
CAMEROTA: So, Jim, when the president -- very quickly, and then you can answer your own question. When the president this morning, a few minutes ago, puts out the tweet, "This is a disgrace. Someone has leaked these questions." Is it possible he's being disingenuous and that he appreciates this tip?
SCHULTZ: I don't know that he appreciates it. And the other problem here is this has a downside, as well. Now that this is in the public domain, the scope of the questions, it's going to be very difficult to try to narrow that scope beyond what's already out in the public domain. Now, specific questions and things like that, they can deal with in their negotiations.
But I agree, again, that it's in the interest of both sides to come to some agreement without some protracted legal battle. It's in the interest of the president to put this investigation behind him, to get on to his agenda and it's in the interest of the Mueller team to come up, to bring this to some reasonable conclusion, as well, for the American public.
CAMEROTA: For sure. And it's in the interest of the American public to have answers after all this. Jim Schultz, Laura Coates, thank you both very much.
COATES: Thank you.
CUOMO: Israel saying new information reveals that Iran is still operating a secret nuclear program. Moments ago, we spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he wouldn't say what that proof is, necessarily.