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Special Counsel Raised Possibility of Trump Subpoena in Meeting; Ex-Doctor Says Trump Dictated Glowing 2015 Health Letter; Pence Praises Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, "Champion" Of The "Rule Of Law"; WAPO: Lobbyist Helped Arrange Pruitt's $100,000 Trip To Morocco. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Are those words this White House might soon have to grapple with? What would that mean for the presidency, the courts, the Congress? These are no longer abstract questions this morning as President Trump gets ready to make his first public appearance since the reports that the special counsel may, may subpoena him in the Russia investigation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. In what would be a truly stunning if it happens move, the president's legal team is bracing for this possibility. Mueller it turns out has actually raised the possibility of a presidential subpoena in at least one meeting with the president's lawyers and if it happens, it will be a court battle that tests the limits of presidential self-protection all the way up to the Supreme Court. In response this morning, the president once again calls the whole thing a hoax, a setup and a trap.

Let's go to the White House, our Abby Phillip is there. Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Well, this is the latest development in an ongoing saga over whether or not President Trump will eventually speak to the special counsel in the form of an interview.

Now we have learned as you just mentioned that Robert Mueller raised the potential for a subpoena to potentially compel President Trump to testify if he refuses to do so voluntarily. Now the president's lawyers view this as something that would be perhaps beyond Mueller's mandate, something that he would have to go through either a lengthy legal process or pass a constitutional muster in order to be able to do, but there are other legal experts out there who have said that the Supreme Court has upheld that the right of prosecutors to compel the president of the United States to testify in the form of a subpoena.

The other big question here is whether or not President Trump will plead the Fifth. He has the right to not testify, to remain silent in a case in which he is a part of but he has also in the past said that when people do that it's because they have something to hide, because they are guilty. That poses even more of a potentially political problem for President Trump as well, and this morning, President Trump weighed in on all of this in a new tweet raising the prospect that the entire Mueller probe is, in his words, a setup.

He said, "There was no collusion. It is a hoax and there is no obstruction of justice. That is a setup and a trap. What there is, is negotiations going on with North Korea over nuclear war, negotiations going on with China over trade deficits and negotiations on NAFTA and much more." He calls it a witch hunt.

What's significant here is the president using this idea of a trap which is something that his outside advisers, people who are allied with him outside of the White House have been saying for quite some time. In the last couple of days we've seen some of the questions that the president's lawyers have drafted up as a result of their conversations with Mueller about what kinds of things they might want to ask the president.

And a lot of people on the outside are saying, Mr. President, these questions are a sign that everything is a trap, that all of this is just trying to compel you to get in front of Mueller and incriminate yourself.

It seems very much, John and Poppy, that the president is starting to listen to that and is repeating that very same language in this tweet this morning.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip, at the White House. Abby, thanks so much.

Joining us now Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst.

Laura, great to have you with us. The subpoena, it's the biggest hammer in Robert Mueller's tool belt. So when we hear that it came up at least once in a meeting with the president's lawyers, big picture, what's your reaction?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it should shock no one that he would actually point to that hammer in his tool belt and say I always had this power and if you do not volunteer your time we can always use it.

Now remember both sides have a very invested interest in trying to negotiate a voluntary sit-down. If you're Trump, you want your lawyers there. You want to be able to put a harness on you or reign you in in some way or potentially a muzzle, and a way that you can't do it in front of a grand jury because lawyers can't be in the room.

And if you're Mueller, you don't want to go out through the whole protracted litigation experience of trying to compel the president, if he thumbs his nose at the subpoena. But it's a very large tool. I suspect he will use it. And there is precedent for it. Remember Ken Starr subpoenaed then sitting president Bill Clinton. He later withdrew it when he volunteered to actually testify in front of a grand jury via videotape but there is precedence for this.

HARLOW: You do note, though, Laura, and probably there's a difference in terms of the precedent for a civil case versus a criminal case. Can you just walk us through what this would look like as it would likely, could likely make its way all the way up to the Supreme Court? COATES: Certainly. Now every case is important. A civil case versus

a criminal case, we do tend to favor in terms of the court of law, in terms of the deference we gave to the testimony, the prioritization of criminal-like cases because it can lead to incarceration as opposed to potentially monetary finds or otherwise.

We always try to prioritize those cases so if a court has already given the baseline go ahead that the president is not above the law, that the president of the United States is able to sit in a civil deposition regarding a civil matter, surely the person who is in charge of the executive branch whose job it is to enforce the criminal law code as well would be the person to also say, you can sit for that as well.

[09:05:04] But how it will look is this. The president will first have to say, A, Mueller cannot subpoena me, he does not have the authority to do so under his mandate. That would be a falsehood because he does have the grand jury subpoena power as special counsel. The second proposition that Trump would say is that, this person does not have the -- I can ignore it. You have to compel me to do it and at that point Mueller is in a bit of more of a conundrum.

There's not a precedent to say that a court of law has ever tried to compel the president of the United States to actually testify and so ultimately I think that Trump would lose this scenario but it would still require the court to reinforce what we already know in Clinton versus Jones and the Nixon case as well, that the president is not above the law and that he would have time to do his duties.

Now just to make one more point about that. There's much ado being made by the president and John Dowd apparently about how a subpoena or a grand jury testimony would disrupt the president's ability to do his job. The Supreme Court has already dealt with this issue, talking about these cases in "Clinton v Jones" and Nixon saying we have a cabinet to take on a lot of the other roles. It wouldn't take all of your time but a select portion of it. You could actually do this.

BERMAN: To be clear, though, the Nixon case was different because it dealt with the tapes not the president himself.

HARLOW: Documents. Yes.

BERMAN: The Clinton case insofar as it relates to the -- you know, the subpoena from Ken Starr, it never went before the court, so there is an element of the unknown here. The Supreme Court all the way has not had to rule on this specifically, so it is a little bit of an unknown, correct, Laura?

COATES: It is an unknown and that's the important part of why everyone -- this is all kind of new territory. But ultimately the underlying theme and the underlying motivation and reasoning the court had for their rational was the premises that the president is not above the law and the president has to do in terms of being the enforcer and the chief head of the executive, that he has a responsibility to be able to at least act like a normal citizen in the form of answering questions. It also begs the question of well, how far will the president of the

United States take it? The questions that were released by Mueller or whoever released it, the Muelleresque questions were categories of information. And so we're not quite sure where it's going to lead if you ultimately pushback all the way but so far, based on the rationale behind the court precedent, I think it's a pretty safe call that ultimately the president will have to give some form of testimony.

HARLOW: Laura, thank you so much. We have so many more legal questions.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: But we'll keep digging into them throughout this show and we'll have you back. Thank you.

Let's dig deeper on the political side. Ron Brownstein is here, our CNN senior political analyst and Errol Louis, our CNN political commentator.

Gentlemen, nice to have you here.

Ron, to you, this is the true intersection of law and politics and all norms should be thrown out the door because this is not a normal president or a normal presidency and I just wonder what you think the weight would be, if any, on this president of a subpoena, getting subpoenaed or, you know, pleading the Fifth if he were to do that or fighting the subpoena all the way up to the Supreme Court?

Normally that would be politically disastrous for a president, right? But would it be in this case?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, good to see you Poppy. It's good to have you back.

HARLOW: Thanks. Good to be back.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I think, you know, those are different options. I think pleading the Fifth for a sitting president would be, you know, dropping a grenade down your shirt politically. I mean I think that would just be an extraordinary move. Fighting a subpoena I think is also a problematic move. I mean, we have in the Clinton example as Laura noted Ken Starr subpoenaed President Clinton and they then negotiated an appearance outside of the grand jury which ultimately backfired on President Clinton because it was as you know, as you'll recall, it was videotaped and released.

HARLOW: Video.

BROWNSTEIN: But I think with that precedent of a president submitting to questions from an independent counsel, while there's no doubt that President Trump's attacks on the investigation has stirred more opposition to Bob Mueller among his base, a majority of Americans have consistently said they believe this is a legitimate inquiry and if he, I think, refuses to participate in it, I think it will generate a backlash among that majority of voters even though that circle has narrowed because the drumbeat of months and months and months from not only President Trump but also from Republicans in Congress, have hardened more Republican views on it, I think in the end, though, it is a very risky move not to cooperate.

BERMAN: All right. Let me give you a point, counterpoint here on this subject, on the point of whether or not the president could assert his Fifth Amendment rights, which he could do. If he loses in court, he could always assert his Fifth Amendment rights and not answer questions on some things. This is what the president has said about that in the past.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So they have five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right. You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent why you taking the Fifth Amendment?


BERMAN: All right. That's sort of the point here. And Ron made the point, Errol, that this will be politically damaging to the president. The counterpoint here is, this is a guy who didn't release his tax returns, and every candidate has done that in the part.

[09:10:04] This is a guy who has quite successfully and without serious damage flouted political norms in the past. If he can get away with all those other things why not this?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. And this is the same as a candidate person who possibly in that same speech said, I could shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue and my base wouldn't desert me, and politically that's more true than not.

I think what we have to do throughout this entire process and we don't know how much of a crisis we could end up seeing here is stick to the principle. Right? So I mean, you were right to raise this issue of the Fifth Amendment. The Constitution is all we have. You cling to that principle. He does not have to testify if he doesn't want to. Politically it will cause him huge problems.

He does have to answer to the Department of Justice. He has to answer to the special prosecutor about what he knows. That too is a principle. We've established these principles. If we stick to the principles and not jump ahead to the political conclusion that many people fear, I think we're going to get through this just fine. I think we're going to find out as is clear and reflected in the polls, I think a lot of people understand this now, the president has something to hide.

I mean, it is not a witch hunt. You read through the allocution, the statement of offense of people like Michael Flynn who have already pleaded guilty, they say what they did, that they hid material information about Russian involvement in the election. I mean, it is not a witch hunt.

HARLOW: Politically -- go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, whenever we talk about the political implications of anything for President Trump, the reality is 2020 is a long time away and many things will happen between now and then that will either raise or lower his fortunes.

HARLOW: But what about the midterms?

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly. That's the point. Where this really has consequences and where this really has bite is thinking about the midterm election because, you know, as we have seen over the period of his presidency, the Republicans in Congress have increasingly made the choice to kind of lock arms, circle the wagons around them, view themselves more as kind of a defense effort than as any kind of oversight or restraint and the more President Trump kind of violates those norms the more energy flows into those who are unnerved by the possibility of him operating without constraint.

And I think if you look at the special elections and regular scheduled elections since 2017, without doubt the most powerful force has been the intensity among the voters who believe that Trump is outside of the norms and need -- and Congress needs to be offering more of a restraint and a check line. And if he goes down this road it may or may not cause him more trouble in 2020. I think you can guarantee it will cause more turbulence for Republicans in 2018.

BERMAN: All right. Ron Brownstein, Errol Louis, we're not going to let you go anywhere. We've got a lot more to discuss because remember that glowing health letter claiming that then --


BERMAN: -- candidate Trump would be, quote, "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Now the president's former doctor says he did not write it. We'll let you guess who did. More on that CNN exclusive.

Plus, the scandals keep on piling up for Scott Pruitt. A new report raising yet more questions about the EPA chief and a $100,000 trip to Morocco.

HARLOW: Also the battle at the border despite the president's attacks on that migrant caravan, dozens of them seeking asylum have already been processed. Next.



BERMAN: All right. This morning, a CNN exclusive, the doctor who penned that glowing letter saying that Donald Trump will be the healthiest person ever elected to the presidency now claims that that letter was actually dictated by Donald Trump himself.

HARLOW: It's a pretty stunning development. Alex Marquardt broke the story. He joins us now. I mean, it really sounded like the president, right, his words, the healthiest person ever to be president, but now we know that it actually came from the mouth of the president, according to his doctor.

BERMAN: He has the best words.

HARLOW: The best.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, John and Poppy. That's right. If you listen to the language and look at the language, it might not come as an absolute shock that it was actually Donald Trump's wording and phrasing that was behind it.

You know, CNN had asked Dr. Herald Bornstein in 2016 when Trump was running for office whether he had written it and he said yes. Now he is changing his story a little bit. He's putting a finer point on it.

Now what he told us right here, right outside his office, just off of Park Avenue is that Donald Trump dictated this letter to him, the exact quote was he dictate that whole letter, I didn't write that letter.

And the way that he said it went down was he was in the car coming here to the office, driving across Central Park with his wife, and on the phone with then-Candidate Trump in December of 2015 and Trump was dictating to him what should go into that letter and Bornstein was responding, saying, all right, you can include this, you can't include this.

Bornstein then came to the office, wrote it up, signed it and the Trump office then picked it up and that's the letter that we then came to know and have been talking about all these years.

Let's just remind our viewers what was in this extraordinary letter. He wrote -- Trump wrote, if elected Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.

Now John and Poppy, Dr. Bornstein did admit that he took some creative license with this letter. He used what he called some of his dark humor and he compared it to the movie "Fargo" saying it takes the truth and moves it in a different direction.

BERMAN: Fleeing the interview. He's fleeing the interview. All right. Alex Marquardt, I just quoted "Fargo." I'm not sure that Dr. Bornstein did.

Let's bring back the panel, Ron Brownstein is with us, Errol Louis as well. Errol, look, on the one hand the fact that Donald Trump dictated this letter is the least surprising thing ever. On the other hand, shouldn't it be surprising that a candidate for a president of the United States self-diagnosed his -- fake self-diagnosed his own relative health?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, throughout the campaign there were indications that there was more than the usual amount of artistry in this campaign, right. When he came down the escalator to announce his candidacy, there were a lot of cheering people there and later came out that they were extras that were hired the way you hire movie extras.

[09:20:02] It didn't really change all that much. He has done, from time to time, he's done these interviews we know from his precandidate days where John Barron, a publicist who sounded a lot like Donald Trump would call people and -- call journalist and spread all kinds of different rumors that were always favorable to his client, Donald Trump. There is no John Barron.

You know, somebody actually tried to run it down and looked in different companies and so forth, there is no such person and if you hear the audio, it's obviously Donald Trump. This is who he is. This is what he does. A lot of people knew it well before election day.

HARLOW: So, what happened after this doctor, the president's doctor wrote the letter, but also said that the president uses Propecia to grow his hair, some of the president's aides went to his office, took files, paper work of the president's, et cetera.

He didn't much like that and now he's lashing out against the president, but this is not as John reminded me this morning exactly the equivalent of assault. This is not the physician that came up with the polio vaccine. This guy's got credibility issues.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, I'm wondering whether it was "Fargo" the movie or series as you were talking. But look, I think, you know, on the one hand, there is a danger of becoming numbed to these kinds of serial expressions of lying and misdirection and accepting it as par for the course when that is a really dangerous thing to do given the gravity of the words of a president.

On the other hand, it isn't really true that the public completely ignores this. If you asked yourself, why is Donald Trump's approval rating somewhere around 40 percent when unemployment is around 4 percent when you would expect it to be significantly higher?

The reason overwhelmingly is that you have somewhere between 55 percent and 60 percent of the country that believes it on personal grounds, values, morals and the way he comforts himself. He is simply not fit to be president.

So, on the one hand, there is clearly, as he has said, an audience that will stick with him no matter what and do not view these kind of violations and more important violations of norms like interfering and threatening law enforcement as a reason to abandon him.

On the other hand, it is wrong to say that the country is simply ignoring it. I think if you look at the polling very clearly those doubts are the reason why he is so much below what you would expect given the conditions in the economy.

BERMAN: All right. Errol Louis, there was a moment that caught a lot of peoples' eye yesterday in Arizona. Vice President Mike Pence was at an event and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio he was in the room. Remember, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to stop racially profiling Hispanics. This is what the vice president said.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I just found out when I was walking through the door that we were also going to be joined today by another favorite, a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law, spent a lifetime in law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I'm honored to have you here.


BERMAN: All right. I'm honored to have you here, Errol. President Trump did pardon Sheriff Joe, but that doesn't eliminate, you know, the fact that he was convicted for the crimes he was convicted of. How do you take?

LOUIS: Yes. Well, it's very sad because there was -- there were deaths in custody in the lockup. There were people who were frankly tortured. There was rampant misconduct that led to the investigation which in turn led to the crimes of which the Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted.

It is a very sad day when simply because he's politically popular you'll find someone like the vice president of the United States heaping praise on someone who, for a lot of people, frankly is despicable.

I mean, what went on, on his watch was a disgrace. It was a disgrace. People lost their lives and their dignity, and it didn't happen once or twice, it happened over and over again, and he built a political career on that kind of behavior.

BROWNSTEIN: I agree with everything Errol said, there's a political twist here which is that former Sheriff Arpaio is one of the three Republican candidates in the Senate primary to fill the open seat by Jeff Flake.

Republican leadership overwhelmingly would refer Martha McSally, who is kind of the more center right, although she's pushing it conservative, you have two people from the Trumpian right, Kelly Ward and Joe Arpaio.

There was a recent poll that showed Kelly Ward ahead which is a pretty ominous result for the Republican leadership because I don't think she can win a general election and perhaps they were promoting Joe Arpaio as a way of splitting that far right Trump vote and given Martha McSally a better way to come through the center and be the opponent against (inaudible).

HARLOW: All right. Ron, Errol, appreciate it. Thank you, guys.

So, four days, $100,000, a potentially one very big political scandal, the new question surrounding EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and a pricey trip to Morocco arranged by a lobbyist.



HARLOW: This morning yet another scandal surrounding EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. A new report says that he took this $100,000 trip to Morocco. Well, it was partly arranged by a former lobbyist, a longtime friend who went along with him.

BERMAN: Yes, and that friend became a registered foreign agent for the Moroccan government in his role in this trip is raising new questions this morning. CNN's Rene Marsh has more -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Poppy, we're also now learning that Pruitt's trip to Morocco was twice as expensive as originally thought, this all according to "The Washington Post."