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Trump Claims Justice Can't be Obstructed If No Crime; White House Walks Back Major Statement on Iran's Nuclear Program Status; Netanyahu Insists Iran Lying about Nuclear Ambitions; Interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen; Trump & Kelly Deny Another Clash, New Tensions. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: -- will not be able to resist that interview. So he goes a year and a half fighting it and then he submits to the interview, it doesn't look good for him. It looks like he was hiding something. If both sides can agree to scope and duration, then we know what the topics are, and we can move forward. And hopefully, Marty and Jane Raskin and Ty Cobb can answer the questions honestly.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's the president's personal legal team, Jay Sekulow as well.
BLITZER: One of Mueller's questions jumped out at me. "When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?" Referring to the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with some of the president's own relatives, his son, his son-in-law, Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, and the Russians. Why is that question so important for Mueller?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this goes to whether there was or wasn't any type of coordination that aides and family members were actually knowingly going to a meeting to get dirt about Hillary Clinton offered by the Russians. If he knew about that or condoned it or even had it in his head when all of this was playing out, that is a key piece of information.
BLITZER: It does seem Mueller is interested in what the president denies, collusion.
HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Absolutely. Also, we know Mueller knows the president was involved in crafting a statement, later on, about what that meeting was and what it wasn't, that later proved to be false. They said the meeting was about adoptions. We now know through Don Jr's e-mails that it was about more than that, and this information was being offered up, and the president's son was interested in obtaining it. Mueller will want to know exactly whether Trump knew about it, whether he directed it in any way and whether he tried to cover it up later.
BLITZER: Another question that seems to suggest possible interest in collusion on the part of Mueller, a question about the activities during the 2016 presidential campaign, what Candidate Trump knew about the communications between Roger Stone, a long-time adviser to the president, and WikiLeaks, which was about to release a lot of very sensitive damaging information involving the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democrats.
ZELDIN: Right. So part one of the counter-intelligence investigation we saw was a social media indictment against the Russians. Part two, as represented in these questions, may be the hacking of those servers, DNC and Podesta, and then the coordination with Roger Stone or anybody else into distributing that hacked information. So that question is loaded with counter-intelligence, obstruction, conspiracy to defraud aspects.
BLITZER: Another question, Kim, and it's a significant question to the president. I could only imagine what he would say in his answer. "What communications did you have about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?" Why is that potentially an ominous question for the president?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: One of the big issues, the threats through this entire investigation, is a question of whether there was a quid pro quo. Whether the president and his team basically said, listen, you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back. This gets to the question of whether the president had some interest in working something out with the Russians that wasn't necessarily in the best interests of the American public.
And in response to the point with respect to the meeting in Trump Tower, that question, if accurately coming from the Mueller investigation, is framed, when did you know about it. So Mr. Mueller is taking the position he did know about it. The question is when. The president said all kinds of things about it on Twitter and other things where he could contradict himself.
We also have questions in here relating to whether he spoke to potential witnesses. That's another can of worms, witness tampering, very serious. Something that got Nixon in trouble. As I mentioned before, there is not any clear path for a defense attorney to really protect his or her client in this instance, which might be why Mr. Dowd resigned.
BLITZER: Yes. You may be right on that. Your newspaper, the "New York Times," has done some excellent reporting on this.
One of the questions, according to the "Times" -- and they have a whole list of these questions -- Robert Mueller wants to know about the Trump relationship to a wealthy Russian family, the Agalarovs, and, specifically, the relationship that developed during the 2013 Trump visit to Moscow. Which, to me, once again, says Mueller is interested in collusion.
HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, he is. I think he's also interested in the degree to which Trump and the people around him in campaign may have been used in ways that maybe they didn't know about or didn't fully understand in the context of this broader counter-terrorism investigation. Don't forget, the broad topic that Mueller was brought in to examine was Russia's meddling in the election. So they'll be looking at all different aspects of this. To the degree there is a crossover between the people Trump knew and was friends with and had dealings with that may have seemed to be completely divorced from politics, divorced from the campaign, and what we now know happened during the campaign and what Russia did to try to influence the outcome, that's very important for him to know. If in any way Trump played into the hands of this conspiracy, then that's an issue. It doesn't have to be necessarily that he directed a collusion campaign from the 26th floor of Trump Tower.
[13:35:27] BLITZER: Very quickly.
ZELDIN: Two things. One is the Agalarovs are the ones who robbed Rob Goldstone represented, who set in motion the whole June 9 Trump Tower meeting, so he's going back to the origins of that relationship.
And to your point about quid pro quo, there are specific questions about the change in Ukraine policy and questions about sanctions, which goes back to that point of was there a relation between the Trumps and the Russians that said, if you help us, our quid pro quo with sanctions relief or Ukraine policy.
BLITZER: There is one question on why the Republican Party platform at the convention was softened, some of the language as far as Ukraine is concerned to the advantage, potentially, of the Russian position.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around.
There's more news we're following. Recertify or abandon. The deadline to decide on the nuclear deal involving Iran is looming. This, as the White House issues its Iran statement with one very, very consequential typo, as they're calling it.
Plus, President Trump postpones his deadline on imposing tariffs on several key U.S. allies, pulling back on a major trade threat. We have new details. Stick around.
[13:40:57] BLITZER: There are now less than two weeks left until President Trump has to make a critical decision on the Iran nuclear deal, whether to recertify it or abandon the deal, which was worked out in 2015. The issues are complicated. They were certainly complicated when the White House issued a statement last night saying that Iran, quote, "has a clandestine nuclear weapons program." But very quickly, shortly thereafter, the White House had to correct the "has" to "had," calling it a clerical error.
Here with us right now is the Maryland Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen.
Senator, thank you for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: Good to be here.
BLITZER: What did you think when you saw the wording of the original White House statement suggesting that Iran has a clandestine nuclear program underway right now despite the 2015 agreement?
VAN HOLLEN: For a second, I thought, here we go again, because I remember in the lead-up to the Iraq war, all of a sudden, you had a misinformation campaign about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I'm glad they corrected it quickly. It clearly proves the point because Iran did have a nuclear weapons program. That's why it's so important to keep the Iran agreement in place because it cuts off Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons. That should be our goal. Backing off of that would give a green light to the Iranians to go ahead and enrich away.
BLITZER: You want the president to continue to support the 2015 agreement that was worked out with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China and Germany?
VAN HOLLEN: Yes. I want the United States to keep its commitments here. They are commitments in our national security interests. That's why we've seen the president of France and Merkel coming here and urging the president to keep that in place. And Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo, when he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing a few weeks ago, he confirmed that there's absolutely no evidence that Iran is violating the agreement. In other words, Iran is complying by the terms of the agreement.
BLITZER: There was a very strong presentation, a very tough presentation that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made yesterday. We have live coverage of that here on CNN. But since then, many have come out and said there is no evidence that Iran is violating the agreement right now.
I want you to listen to Michael Hayden, former CIA director, who was on CNN earlier this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE & FORMER DIRECTOR, NSA & FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: With all due respect to the prime minister, and I realize he's not an intelligence source, all right, but we have certain labels, certain caveats we give to some sources. And for some sources who actually report good information, we also have to point out, so that you understand the motivation of the source, we believed his remarks were designed to influence as well as to inform. And I think that might apply to what the prime minister said yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There are others who are suggesting that the information that Prime Minister Netanyahu released yesterday really didn't shed new light, this was old information going back years when Iran was working on a nuclear program.
VAN HOLLEN: Right. And there's absolutely nothing new here. There are more details, but in terms of the finding, there is nothing new. We were well aware of the Iran nuclear program. In fact, Pompeo, in a statement just the other day, confirmed that Iran ended that program in early January 2004.
I should point out that Netanyahu also testified in front of the House back in September 2002 and said that Iraq was heading towards getting a nuclear weapon, and that's why we need to go after Iraq and Saddam Hussain. He was wrong then and he's provided no new information now.
BLITZER: So you think he's wrong right now. Because he wants President Trump to walk away, rip up this deal?
VAN HOLLEN: Yes. He opposed the agreement from the very beginning. Clearly, he's trying to influence President Trump's decision to get him to rip up the deal. I think it would isolate the United States, not Iran. And it would also allow Iran to proceed with more nuclear enrichment and with no inspectors, so we would be flying blind and we would be giving a green light to Iran. Very dangerous.
[13:45:06] BLITZER: You heard what the president said the other day. If he walks away from the deal, rips it up, and the Iranians restart their nuclear program, he warned, in brutal terms, they will regret this, they will suffer like no other country has suffered in a long time, suggesting a real threat of U.S. military action.
VAN HOLLEN: Right. But the whole purpose of the Iran nuclear agreement was to accomplish the goal of making sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon without having to use military force. So why President Trump would want to go to war to stop something that the agreement is right now preventing, which is Iran from getting a nuclear weapon -- and if Iran chooses to violate the agreement, we will know it because we have inspectors. We'll have time to respond. And we have all the alternatives at our disposal. As part of that agreement, Iran agreed not to get a nuclear weapon and agreed to comply to the nuclear --
BLITZER: But you're not happy with the other stuff the Iranians are doing, promoting terrorism, all these other allegations?
VAN HOLLEN: No, not at all, Wolf. And we should be working with our allies to confront the Iranians on their activities in the greater Middle East with respect to their missile program as well. But the conclusion of the Iran nuclear agreement was a nuclear-armed Iran doing all those bad things is much more dangerous than an Iran doing those things without a nuclear weapon. So let's keep the agreement in place. Then let's work together to address and confront all the other Iranian conflicts.
BLITZER: What do you think he's going to do? He has to make a decision by May 12. He hates -- the president of the United States -- he hates this Iran nuclear deal, as he said in his campaign, and says all the time ever since.
VAN HOLLEN: He did. I hope he will listen not only to our allies, but people within his own administration. Secretary Mattis, secretary of defense, and others have testified this agreement is in our national security interest. He said that to the Congress last fall. It is in our national security interest. Pulling the plug on this and giving it a green light for the Iranians to start again is a very dangerous path and, potentially, a recipe for war. Donald Trump, during the campaign, also said he didn't want the United States having to intervene everywhere around the world, and this would make it much more likely that that could happen.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right. Secretary Mattis wants to cool things down. We'll see what the president's new security adviser, John Bolton, who has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal as well, we'll see what impact he has on this.
VAN HOLLEN: And Bolton has talked about using military force against Iran. Why do that when we have in place an agreement that prevents them from moving --
VAN HOLLEN: And if they violate it, we still have --
BLITZER: Especially at a time when the U.S. is trying to get a nuclear agreement with North Korea at the same time.
VAN HOLLEN: That's right. If you're negotiating with North Koreans and they see you're violating the other agreement --
BLITZER: Thanks, Senator. Thanks so much for coming in.
VAN HOLLEN: Good to be here.
BLITZER: Still ahead, the breaking news we're following. President Trump's long-time former doctor, personal physician, for more than three decades says his office was raided and the president's medical records and his files were taken by the president's long-time bodyguard and another man. Stick around.
[13:52:31] BLITZER: President Trump and his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, are slamming reports that they are caught up in another clash. A new report says Kelly called the president an idiot during an immigration meeting. Kelly says it's all, quote, "B.S." And Trump tweeted his own denial. Tensions between the two are said to be brewing for months now.
CNN's Chris Cillizza is joining us with details -- Chris?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: That's right, Wolf. This relationship looks has been fraught for some time. But it looks like it may be even more downhill of late. On Monday night, we got reporting that General Kelly used very unfavorable terms to describe Donald Trump, his boss, "idiot" being one, "unhinged" being another. It's worth noting, Kelly pushed back very aggressively once these were
published. He put out a lengthy statement. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but I do want to highlight parts here. It says, "He spends more time with Donald Trump than anyone else, they have a strong relationship." This is important. "He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total B.S."
Potentially, sure, that's not a full denial. They clearly have a contentious, candid relationship. It depends whether you think that's a good thing or not.
Let's go, this has been a roller coaster for the two of them. John Kelly, we know from James Comey, the fired FBI director, John Kelly called James Comey and said what had been done to him, being fired, was dishonorable, that he did not want to work for dishonorable people, and he was considering resigning. Comey said, don't resign, we need you. Well, he's still in office, so he either reconsidered or took Comey's advice.
But the relationship has not been terrible always, Wolf. Remember back to Ladavid Johnson, who was killed overseas. Kelly stood up for Trump. Trump called the widow. The widow said the call did not bring her comfort. And Kelly stood up and made a very strong defense of both Donald Trump's reaction, and he made some comments about the widow as well as the congressman from Florida who was in the car at the time, that clearly bolstered Trump in a moment of weakness.
But this is a relationship that has repeatedly been stuck in the "will he or won't he quit." Kelly has been threatened to resign, potentially resigning multiple times over his time in office. He keeps citing patriotic duty. He says he feels as though he owes it to the country to stay. Not sure how much longer that will last because we know the relationship between Kelly and Trump, even before Monday night, has really started to deteriorate. We know Trump is using his personal cell phone a lot more. John Kelly tried to restrict that usage when he came in as chief of staff. We know Kelly has been missing from key meetings that you would think he would be in, not always traveling with the president to Mar-a-Lago and other places when you think he would. And now this reporting Monday night of name calling, of dissatisfaction on John Kelly's part towards Donald Trump. And I can guarantee you that that will not make Donald Trump happy. Stay tuned. But it seems as though this relationship may be on the way to fracturing in the very near future.
Back to you, Wolf.
[13:55:48] BLITZER: All right. We're staying tuned.
Chris Cillizza, excellent report. Thank you very much.
We're only moments away from the first White House press briefing since that controversial comedienne took the stage at the Correspondents' Association Dinner over the weekend. How will Sarah Sanders respond to that? Stand by.