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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Jurors in Cosby Trial Defend Verdict; Will Mueller Subpoena Trump?; President Trump's Top Lawyer Quits; Trump Threatens: I'll Have No Choice But to Get Involved in DOJ. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake today.

We begin with the politics lead and another legal team shakeup, signaling perhaps a more aggressive approach to the Mueller investigation.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb is out, with a source telling CNN that the president's lead lawyer had been clashing with Mr. Trump for weeks over his combative stance towards the special counsel.

And Emmet Flood, the man who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment process, he is expected to join the president's team. A source familiar with the president's thinking telling CNN, playing nice hasn't gotten them anywhere, and calling Rudy Giuliani, another recent Trump hire, a professional assassin who is more likely to play hardball with Mueller.

This all comes as President Trump's legal team is bracing for the possibility of a presidential subpoena, this after Mueller raised that possibility in at least one meeting with the president's lawyers. This is according to sources.

We have all angles of this story covered from the White House to the legal implications.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the White House claimed here that Cobb had been planning to leave for some time, he was planning his retirement, but, in fact, sources telling CNN that this was something of a dispute with the president about his approach to the investigation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, we're learning there may be more than meets the eye to Ty Cobb's departure here.

The White House says he did a terrific job and that he's retiring at the end of the month. But there is no denying that the one lawyer handling the Russian investigation from inside the White House is leaving while we're still in the middle of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's top lawyer, Ty Cobb, is out, replaced by Washington veteran Emmet Flood, a sign his approach to the special counsel's investigation could be changing.

Rudy Giuliani, another recent addition to the Trump legal team, telling "The Washington Post": "Jay Sekulow felt that he needed someone that was more aggressive. That is not a criticism of Ty, but it's about how we are going to do this."

Cobb joined Trump's legal team last summer and took the lead in dealing with Robert Mueller. The White House said today that he's retiring. But a source close to Cobb said he recently grew uncomfortable with the president's Mueller tweets, saying he didn't want to be part of a mudslinging campaign and that Flood, who is replacing Cobb, represented then Bill Clinton during his impeachment process in the late 1990s.

He also worked in George W. Bush's administration and personally for Dick Cheney. All this as CNN has learned that the president's legal team is now preparing for a showdown with the special counsel, bracing for a possible legal fight after it was revealed that Mueller raised the possibility of a presidential subpoena.

Trump was once eager to sit down with Mueller face-to-face.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually.

COLLINS: But now Giuliani tells "The Post" any interview would have to be two to three hours maximum, with a narrow set of questions.

In the meanwhile, the president seething on Twitter today, writing: "There was no collusion, it is a hoax, and there is no obstruction of justice. That is a setup and trap," once again uttering the new White House catch phrase witch-hunt.

Trump also attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, tweeting: "A rigged system. They don't want to turn over documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal justice? At some point, I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved."

The president escalating a long-running feud between the Justice Department and conservative lawmakers who say Rosenstein is refusing to hand over a number of controversial documents.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jim, the Department of Justice declined to comment on the president's tweets today, but we should note that the deputy attorney general did say yesterday that the Department of Justice would not be extorted.

Of course, this is clearly an angry president, as his legal team is in limbo. And sources have said to CNN that the ouster of Cobb and the rise of Rudy Giuliani could signal a more adversarial approach to the special counsel's investigation.

That was something that Cobb repeatedly told the president was going to quickly wrap up, but now, Jim, we're seeing Ty Cobb's time in the White House come to an end before the special counsel's investigation.

SCIUTTO: Perhaps long before.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

Let's go right to Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, on this issue here, Ty Cobb had encouraged this more cooperative approach to the investigation. You heard there Rudy Giuliani, one of the lawyers on their team, a professional assassin.

Does it signal to you that they're going to change tack?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

The -- there is a scene in "Godfather II" where they talk about, it is time to go to the mattresses, like, this is the time to go to the mattresses. They are done cooperating.

Ty Cobb was very successful in avoiding any problems in terms of turning over documents, in terms of scheduling interviews for White House personnel. All of that is done.

[16:05:07]

I mean, all that is turned over. And the issue that remains is the president's interview, which it looks like there is going to be no cooperation on. And they're going to, it looks like, fight it out in court.

SCIUTTO: Laura Coates, Rudy Giuliani told "The Washington Post" this afternoon that Trump, if he were to do an interview, at least holding it out there as still a possibility, it would have to limited to two or three hours maximum.

Do the president's lawyers have the ability to limit the question time that Mueller might have with the president?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Only in a world where pigs fly, because, actually, it is Mueller who will dictate and the prosecutor in this case who would say, the length and time.

They could be able to say and limit it, the way Clinton did. I think it was like four hours to be able to you. But about having to have the audacity to say we will dictate all of the terms, us, and we're going to cooperate with, and he has the ultimate grand jury subpoena power in his back pocket, it is a fantasy to think that they could dictate every single term.

But, again, it is part of the Rudy to the rescue strategy that has been played since he actually joined the administration.

TOOBIN: But it is not crazy to think that there would be a time limit.

COATES: As I said, with Clinton, it was four hours.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: That's right. And two or three hours is too short. But it is not that different from four, which is what Clinton agreed to.

But if you just look at the whole demeanor of how the White House is handling this, the odds that they could actually reach any sort of agreement on time, on subject matter seem increasingly remote.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: And it fits with the way Trump has dealt with litigation throughout his business career. Right? It is fight, fight, fight.

On question of an interview, Laura Coates, we know that Robert Mueller raised the possibility at least of a subpoena with Trump's lawyers if the White House, if the president were to refuse. Is a subpoena to the president, is it bulletproof or is this a question? Is this still an open legal question as to whether that is enforceable?

COATES: Well, the subpoena power that Mueller has is absolute. He can subpoena the president of the United States. There is precedent for it, even in the Clinton years, when Ken Starr first gave him one and he withdrew it, and he volunteered to actually cooperate at that point, which, by the way, was a much different case, which four hours may have made more sense, as opposed to 49 different topics you have here.

But it is not that it is not bulletproof or it's bulletproof or not. The question really is whether or not the president has the right to thumb his nose at it and if he can go to a court to have it enforced.

There is no precedent for anyone asking a court of law to hold the president of the United States in contempt for failing to abide by the terms of a subpoena. And that is the real question here.

SCIUTTO: When -- if you look at the cases of Nixon or of Clinton, two presidents who did not love the idea of being interviewed in investigations, but did end up going, didn't the court decide that a subpoena was enforceable...

TOOBIN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: ... the president? TOOBIN: In the Paula Jones case, they went the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, the president has no right to refuse a subpoena in a civil case.

The courts are always much more sympathetic to prosecutors than they are to civil lawyers. So, if a president can't refuse a civil subpoena, it certainly seems unlikely that he could get even conservative votes on the Supreme Court for the idea that he could simply defy a grand jury subpoena.

Now, the circumstances of that interview, the length, the subject matter, certainly the courts would say that Mueller has to negotiate. You can't just say...

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: The president is a busy man. He has got other duties.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: ... for two, three days.

SCIUTTO: Gotcha.

TOOBIN: But some sort of appearance before the grand jury, he can't avoid it.

SCIUTTO: Well, Laura, the other headline change here is that Trump is bringing in Emmet Flood to replace Ty Cobb, Emmet Flood, experience with Clinton's impeachment proceedings.

Is that a signal perhaps about what the White House could be preparing for here?

COATES: I think it is, because, remember, there's two different points here.

You either have the impeachment process through Congress or you have a potential criminal probe with Robert Mueller. So if they are preparing and being very prudent overall, they're going to prepare on both fronts, the idea that there may be criminal exposure for somebody on their team or the president himself, or also may refer, because, remember, Mueller is going to write a report at the end of this.

It will go to Rosenstein. It will decide whether or not they want to refer it to Congress if, in fact, there is a high crime misdemeanor threshold they've already met. So maybe they are already looking ahead to that very point in time.

So, I think that is part of it. Also, the Fifth Amendment aspect of this, if the president of the United States were to comply with the subpoena and do so "voluntarily" -- quote, unquote -- and then plead the Fifth, well, you have got a different range here about impeachment and what could mean to an impeachment proceeding.

So, they are preparing on all fronts. It's prudent to do so, but they are in a lot of trouble at this point in time.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, I'm sure you noticed some of the president's tweets this morning about the power...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I do. I always notice the president's tweets.

SCIUTTO: ... he might have over his Justice Department.

Let me quote them back, because, in one of those tweets, he quotes Joe diGenova. He's a former U.S. attorney that almost, our understanding is, joined Trump's legal team.

And he said the following, that the questions, referring to the Mueller questions that had been first reported by "The New York Times," "are an intrusion to the president's Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any executive branch employee. What the president was thinking is an -- outrageous as to the president's unfettered power to fire anyone."

[16:10:13]

On that issue, what is your view? Does Article 2 give the president the right to fire everybody? And does that therefore close this question, which is, did the president do something improper by firing James Comey?

TOOBIN: Absolutely not.

I think that argument is legally, factually and morally wrong. If a president of the United States is given a suitcase of cash in return for firing the FBI director, does anyone think that is legal because he's the president and on this Article 2 powers?

It is the same question in this investigation. Of course he has the right to fire James Comey, but he doesn't have the right to fire him with a corrupt motive.

SCIUTTO: Right. And the corrupt motive here would be?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Would be to save his own skin.

SCIUTTO: To save his own skin.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: And that is the question at the heart of this investigation, and the idea that his decision to fire anyone is completely unreviewable is wrong, in my view.

SCIUTTO: And the other thing that he tweeted about, he said this, kind of an ominous warning, as it were, a threat. "At some point, I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to

the presidency."

As you saw those words, Laura Coates, was that a veiled threat about his ability to fire other officials involved in this investigation?

COATES: Well, not so veiled and also ironic.

You mean to tell me right now he's not yet involved with the Justice Department? That is a shocker to me. He's been involved. That is one of the critiques of this presidency.

What it is, is an attempt, I think, that goes in line with what is happening with the Freedom Caucus about Rosenstein and the impeachment there to essentially say, listen, everybody is fair game for the president to show that you are serving at his pleasure.

It was not a veiled threat, but it was not one that really has actual legal teeth behind it. But he will continue to do so on Twitter because it makes news.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, some of his lawyers, including many who have now walked out of the door, have counseled the president not to fire Robert Mueller, not the fire the deputy A.G., Rod Rosenstein.

In these words here, particularly as he has more of a pit bull kind of legal team around him now, do you think that possibility is alive again?

TOOBIN: Oh, it is no question that it has increased.

Remember, Emmet Flood is from Williams & Connolly. Williams & Connolly is a famously aggressive law firm. They represented Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in the investigation.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

TOOBIN: People older than you will remember that Brendan Sullivan represented Oliver North in the Iran-Contra investigation. And he said famously, I'm not a potted plant. I'm going to interrupt.

Emmet Flood comes out of the world. It is more aggressive place. Whether they will fire Mueller, fire Rosenstein, I don't know, but certainly the chance has increased with his arrival.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Coates, thanks very much for breaking it down.

Does the shakeup of President Trump's legal team mean that he is taking his gloves off? Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, he's going to be here with me. And that is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:22] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

We are back as President Trump today attacked his own Justice Department on Twitter over the Russia probe. Was it a threat?

Here to react is former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Corey, thanks very much for taking the time.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Happy to be here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: As you saw the president tweeted today, the following on the Mueller probe. He said, quote, at some point, I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved, exclamation point.

Do you read this as a threat from the president to fire Robert Mueller or perhaps the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein?

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't see that as a threat. But I do see it as an opportunity for transparency and the question is, why hasn't the Justice Department turned over the documents to Congress so that Congress could review everything they've asked for? This president said he wants to cooperate, they've turned over tens of thousands, if not millions of documents to the special counsel, all of the campaign e-mails. They've cooperated. They made staff available.

I don't understand why the Justice Department isn't willing to share the information with an agency and a government body which has the right to have them.

SCIUTTO: Well, on that point, why would the Justice Department share documents involved in an ongoing investigation to which the president has an interest? Why would they do that?

LEWANDOWSKI: Because Congress has the right to have the information. They're a body equal to the administration. They have asked for the documents. This administration specifically, the president has said what are we trying to hide information for, there are oversight committees that have the right to see the information and this Justice Department for some reason under the Trump administration is refusing to turn over documents that Congress is asking for -- and they are saying let's do it.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, they have turned over many, but the argument is that documents relevant to an ongoing investigation where the president has a personal interest, they are not turning over those documents. Is that not a fair argument?

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Jim, wouldn't you -- aren't you as a news business, don't you want more transparency and don't you believe that Congress has the right to oversight?

SCIUTTO: Well, I believe -- the Congress's right to oversight, I'm not a lawyer. So --

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm not a lawyer either.

SCIUTTO: I do know that their argument is that it's an ongoing investigation and the president is a party to it.

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Jim, what does it have to do with turning the documents to a select group of individuals who have oversight over the Department of Justice to review this? What does that have to do with the president whatsoever?

Look, what's amazing is the administration -- the president is asking the Department of Justice to turn over the information and in the air of full transparency to the individuals in Congress who have oversight authority that have the legal right to review the documents.

I don't understand why the press would question this. They should be praising the president for this call?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this question. When he said I may need to get involved, exclamation point, what does he mean by get involved if he doesn't mean, as you say, firing, whether it be Mueller or Rosenstein?

[16:20:07] What does president for this call?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I think he means is he's going to have to encourage and/or demand that the Department of Justice turn over the documents and we have now seen this on more than one occasion. The Department of Justice refuses to give the information to Congress that has a legal authority to see, and the president, it was reported, had to call in the deputy attorney general and tell him to turn over the documents to Congress. The media should be praising the president for his desire to make sure that all of the information is shared and I don't understand why they're not.

SCIUTTO: The president, as you know, is replacing White House lawyer Ty Cobb with Emmet Flood as you know represented Bill Clinton during his own impeachment trial. Is that a signal in your view that president fears that he might down the road face an impeachment proceeding?

LEWANDOWSKI: No. I think what -- look, the only way the president is going to face an impeachment proceeding is if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives which I think is their goal. Their goal is to take over the House of Representatives so they can move to impeach the president.

But changing the attorney is probably par for the course when you have Rudy Giuliani, Mayor Giuliani is coming on to the legal team and he's bringing his people in that he wants to work with to have a different look and a different opportunity to review the materials. That is very common. Ty Cobb and others have been there for almost a year now.

And it looks like what they told the president, that the investigation was going to end originally in November of last year, then December and then January, it is still going and the president obviously wanted somebody new to come in and take a look at it.

SCIUTTO: Why did the president tweet a little over a month ago he was happy with his lawyers and at the same time accused "The New York Times" of purposely writing a false story when they said that these very moves -- these very replacements were under consideration.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, the president obviously is so happy with Jay Sekulow. He's still the lead attorney at the White House. He's still working for --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: So he has one of the three. So, Dowd and Ty Cobb are gone -- so when he was saying he was happy with his lawyers, plural, he was just talking about Jay Sekulow, not the two that's gone out the door.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, look, I think Ty is retiring, so I think he's entitled to do that. He has a long and distinguished career and so, him retiring is perfectly available. Look, he is not leaving the door today. He's leaving at the end of the month, so he's giving 30 days notice and so, he's still on the team and they're going to continue to bring in additional people so the president could be well represented.

SCIUTTO: CNN is reporting he had real disagreement as to how he handled the special counsel.

I do want to ask about the leaked questions that we saw that give an indication of the topics that Robert Mueller wants to ask the president about if they are able to sit down. One of them was this one, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign.

You were campaign manager until June of 2016. What did you know about Manafort's contacts with the Russians?

LEWANDOWSKI: I know nothing. And the first time I knew Paul Manafort offered to provide a private briefing was when the e-mails were published in one of the publications and that is the first I ever knew of.

I can tell you this: I never had any contact with Russians. Nobody I knew had contact with Russians and if Paul Manafort was having some type of communication, then he should answer for that. But I don't know of anybody who ever contacted any Russians on the campaign.

SCIUTTO: Just on that issue, have you been interviewed by the special counsel or asked to be interviewed by him.

LEWANDOWSKI: No. And, Jim, look, let me be clear, I volunteered to go before the House and the Senate. I made myself available to anybody that wants to ask questions. I have nothing to hide. I've been very clear about that.

If the special counsel wants to talk, I'm obviously willing and able to do that, but that's up for them to decide because what they know from my perspective because they have all of the e-mails from the campaign, I had nothing to do with any outreach to Russia. During my tenure as the campaign manager, I knew of nobody who was doing any outreach to Russia and if they have information that shows that people were inappropriately reaching out to Russia, I'm sure they are talking to those people but they know it wasn't me.

SCIUTTO: Corey Lewandowski, thanks very much.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you.

Well, the new addition to the Trump's legal team has experience, as we said, handling impeachment proceedings. Should President Trump be worried about that possibility?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:20] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

We are back with our political panel now.

Hilary Rosen, you look at changes here and you certainly have far more aggressive lawyers on this team. Do you read that as a sign that the president is worried about where this investigation is going?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think you have to read it as though the legal team is actually catching up with where the president has been. He's been much more aggressive over the last several months. And behind the scenes we know that Ty Cobb and others on the team had been sort of cautioning to keep it down, let's cooperate with Mueller, let's not inflame the situation and the president has been jumping out ahead consistently.

He finally got some lawyers who are going to do what he wanted, I guess.

SCIUTTO: David Urban, do you agree with that? Is this a sign of confidence? Can you read this as a sign of confidence?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Emmet Flood is an incredibly gifted lawyer, was around obviously through impeachment, did -- also did a great deal of House investigations, over 700 investigations. And if and when the House flips to be Democrat, I think regardless of whether you see impeachment or not, you're going to see tons and tons of oversight come out of the House.

So, Emmett is perfectly situated for that as well. I don't think this is -- it is anything -- a giant shake up. They are bolstering a really good legal team already.

SCIUTTO: Abby Philip, you cover the White House. When you hear that someone -- a lawyer, Emmet Flood who Dave mentioned there with a past defending Bill Clinton in his own impeachment proceedings, do you hear from people inside the White House that that's become part of this administration's calculation?

ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is no question that people both inside and outside of the White House view impeachment in two ways. Both as something that is a likelihood considering the climate and what might happen in November, and also as a potential political tool to galvanize a possibility I should say -- a possibility considering -- if as David said, the house flips in November, which even the smart Republicans will tell you is at the very least 50/50 right now their chances.