Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Lawyers Question Mueller's Subpoena Authority; Trump's Doctor: Candidate Dictated Own Health Report; More Scandals Facing Scott Pruitt. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 06:00   ET



EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The president's legal team is getting ready for a standoff.

[05:59:40] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president will decides if he wants to roll the dice and sit down with Bob Mueller's team or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The public does not believe that there is evidence so far that the president has colluded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We may be seeing some attempts of both sides to flex their muscles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This presidency is kind of like a choose-your- own-adventure where every ending ends in a constitutional crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rod Rosenstein has an obligation to follow the law. That's all we want him to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impeachment of Rod Rosenstein would be a pretty good way to assure the defeat of a lot of moderate Republicans in the House.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 2, 6 a.m. here in New York.

And here's our starting line. President Trump's legal team is bracing for a showdown with the special counsel. Why? Well, CNN has learned that Robert Mueller recently raised the possibility that he could subpoena Donald Trump if the president refuses to talk to his investigators. This would set up a legal challenge. It would probably go to the Supreme Court.

But there is a lot of precedent in this area. Now, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein taking aim at House Republicans who are threatening to impeach him. Rosenstein vowing the Justice Department is, quote, "not going to be extorted" as the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus says Rosenstein should step aside if he won't comply with turning over documents to Congress.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And President Trump's embattled EPA chief is facing an avalanche of ethical scandals. There's this new report that raises questions about a $100,000 trip that Scott Pruitt took to Morocco that was arranged by a lobbyist. Two of Pruitt's top aides have unexpectedly quit. One of them will meet with congressional investigators today.

And now this story, a CNN exclusive. President Trump's long-time former doctor now says the president dictated that glowing health letter in 2015, vouching for then-candidate Trump's physical health and stamina. Dr. Harold Bornstein claims that his offices were raided by allies of the president. He says they seized 35 years of Mr. Trump's medical records. The White House disputes this.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House with our top story. Abby, what's the latest?


We are learning more today about the high-stakes negotiations between President Trump's legal team and the special counsel over whether or not the president will sit down for an interview.

CNN has learned that Robert Mueller has raised in recent conversations the prospect of a subpoena that could eventually send this whole legal battle to the Supreme Court.


PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump's lawyers gearing up for a legal showdown with Robert Mueller. Sources tell CNN that the special counsel raised the possibility of subpoenaing the president if he refuses to voluntarily answer questions related to the Russian probe.

The chances that President Trump will agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller's team growing dimmer, despite the president's past statements insisting he would like to testify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?



TRUMP: I would like to.

PHILLIP: One source tells CNN that the president's opinion about speaking with Mueller made a seismic shift after the FBI seized records from Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. However, the door has not been shut for a possible agreement.

Multiple sources say the president's lawyers don't think Mueller has the authority to force the president to appear before a grand jury. But many legal observers disagree, citing past Supreme Court rulings requiring other presidents to comply with subpoenas.

President Trump could choose to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid answering questions, although he has been very critical of that move in the past.

TRUMP: The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

PHILLIP: Sources say Mr. Trump's lawyers think many constitutional challenges would have to be met before the possibility is even considered.

Regarding the political optics, the president's lawyers believe time is on their side and Mr. Trump has done a great job describing Mueller's probe.

TRUMP (via phone): They have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn't be there. They have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on.

PHILLIP: This as a man overseeing the investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, pushes back against some House Republicans who have drafted articles of impeachment against him.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think they should understand the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We're going to do what's required by the rule of law.

PHILLIP: Republicans Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, close allies of President Trump, have criticized the Justice Department for failing to turn over a number of documents related to the Russia probe.

Meadows firing back at Rosenstein, saying, "If he believes being asked to do had his job is extortion, then Rod Rosenstein should step aside and allow us to find a new deputy attorney general."


PHILLIP: And all of this is happening as there is a new development in one part of the special counsel probe, where Robert Mueller and a lawyer for the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have requested two more months before Flynn is sentenced because of this ongoing investigation.

[06:05:07] Now, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in that investigation.

Meanwhile, President Trump today is headed to the State Department for the swearing in of his new state -- his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo -- Alisyn and Chris.

CUOMO: Abby, thanks for getting us off to a strong start, as always. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa and CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli. This is a good panel to get after it on this one.

All right. So the first big issue is the obvious one. If it is true that Mueller's team may have to go the route of subpoena, how does that play out?

So the first move, Asha, would be they say, "All right. You won't sit down voluntarily, Mr. President. That's your choice."


CUOMO: The subpoena, what do you think their -- what is the basis for doing that to a president?

RANGAPPA: Their basis for doing that is that he has evidence, potential evidence of -- in this criminal investigation that they cannot get through any other means.

We know that Kenneth Starr served President Bill Clinton with a subpoena. Now, he then complied with it, so we haven't yet seen what happens if a president decides not to comply.

CUOMO: We do have the Nixon precedent. And what does that inform us as to?

RANGAPPA: Nixon president went to whether or not President Nixon had to turn over his tapes from the Oval Office. And he tried to assert executive privilege. And what the Supreme Court said is you can't use that evidence to shield evidence of criminal activity. Now that wasn't testimonial. It was about, you know, documents and evidence. So it still remains unsettled whether that would extend to the president's own testimony.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, Ken, if he can be subpoenaed, then is the next move for the president's legal team, if they don't want to share anything, to plead the Fifth? And then where does that leave everyone?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, certainly, you know, if you're Mueller, you've got to make the decision of whether you do more damage to your credibility by issuing the subpoena in the first place.

CAMEROTA: Well, why was that -- just stop there for a second. Why was that --

CUCCINELLI: -- get it enforced.

CAMEROTA: Sorry to interrupt you. Why would that damage the special prosecutor's credibility?

CUCCINELLI: Well, we -- you know, we now see -- and I'm not speaking formally. I'm speaking in terms of the public's perception and Congress's perception, frankly.

We've just recently, in the last couple of days, seen the questions that Mueller would like to ask. Only about a quarter of them really relate to the Russian involvement and the election. The rest of it looks like, and I agree with Alan Dershowitz on this. It looks like efforts to trip up the president under the guise of seeking his perspective on things that the special counsel undoubtedly already knows.

Now, good lawyers already know the answers to questions they ask. It doesn't mean you know them all. But we see a lot of that in the list of questions that Mueller has laid out.

CUOMO: It's interesting, Ken. I hear your argument. I hear your argument. It's not a legal one, though. It's a political argument. I think that's why --

CUCCINELLI: I said that.

CUOMO: I think that's revealing of something, because the audience should know you. They can Google you if you want. Ken Cuccinelli is a very redoubtable, respected attorney. So clearly, you know that's not going to help you in court. That if you want to fight this subpoena, you're going to need better grounds.

If you can't fight the subpoena, and you are compelled to comply, then his only opportunity is to plead the Fifth. That will also result in litigation. Because?

CUCCINELLI: I think there will be -- there will be an intermediate step.

CUOMO: So let's hear what the intermediate step is, Asha?

RANGAPPA: Go ahead.

CUOMO: What's the intermediate step?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I'll be quick and get out of Asha's way. I think it is that the Trump legal team would attempt to go to court. They'd make the motion to quash the subpoena. But what they'd really be making an effort to do is limit it. Whether it's time limited, which is a big issue when you've got this sort of extensive material, or subject matter limited in front of a judge. And they may succeed with some of that.

CUOMO: Sure. Sure.

CUCCINELLI: But ultimately, they're going to -- their client would end up sitting down and facing the questions. Then you get to the Fifth Amendment question.


RANGAPPA: Right. And I don't think there's any question that Mueller would try to accommodate, you know, with President Bill Clinton. Again, they -- they did it at the White House.

CAMEROTA: They issued a subpoena.

RANGAPPA: They issued a subpoena, and if he was even allowed to have his counsel there, which is not typical of a grand jury proceeding. But he can't -- I think there's two problems with the Fifth Amendment. He can't -- there's 49 questions. You saw the scope of those questions. You can't just assert the Fifth and say, "I'm not answering any of it."

CAMEROTA: But Ken, seems to be suggesting that that is indicative of a fishing expedition. But isn't the -- didn't we understand that, if they find threads of illegality, they're allowed to go in that direction.

RANGAPPA: Not only that, but obstruction is specifically included in the third part of the mandate of the special counsel appointment, as it would be for any prosecutor, to be able to do that.

So you know, this is not going to go well for the president is going to essentially draw this out for much longer.

[06:10:04] And as far as what Ken said about taking time, et cetera, that was not a good enough reason to prevent the president from being deposed for a civil case, in Clinton, for acts that he did before he came into office.

I can't imagine, again, given these Nixon precedents, how important it is, the criminal justice investigations, that they would use that as a grounds to prevent the subpoena from --

CUOMO: I'll tell you what. You know what it does sound like for those who become familiar with the president and his passions and his methods.

He likes a fight, Ken. If this can be dragged out in a court for a long time, that's certainly --

CUCCINELLI: That's the problem! That's the problem. From the lawyers' standpoint, I mean, Chris, that is the last thing you want your client doing when you go in there.

You don't want them to fight the fight sitting in the chair. And especially when you're going to cover as much ground as they're looking at covering here.

It's not like -- frankly, for a normal human being, they wouldn't remember all the details of each of these subject matters sitting there in one go in the first place. And any time he says, "Look, I'm not sure of my memory on that," they're going to jump on him.

And I understand that, having, you know, managed prosecutions in the past. That's part of the process.

But at the same time, when you look at how this plays out for the president and his lack of discipline when it comes to his own language, that is something he has survived in the political arena. But in the legal arena, that sort of blase-ness and word choice and "what I remember today and what I don't" is not going to cut it.

CUOMO: You're leaving out -- you're leaving out one descriptive adjective, though, Ken. Which is mendacity, right, the legal word for lying. Even if they give him immunity, it usually does not cover perjury. So his lawyers have to be concerned that what he used to call truthful hyperbole, that's also known as lying. He sits in the chair and lies to us, that's one thing. He sits in the chair and lies to people like you in an official setting, that's a really different deal.

CUCCINELLI: Absolutely, absolutely. And you know, you go look at the Scooter Libby example. He can have -- let's all set our biases aside for a moment. He can have an honest disagreement with respect to remembering particular facts.

And if it's one person versus the president, and the decider of fact decides to believe the other person, then he's in a position of perjury that, in that instance, wouldn't be an accurate conclusion. But again, you know, how will he ever know, given the president's history of how he communicates. That's going to be a tough one.

CAMEROTA: Asha, let's talk about what's happening with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. So the House Freedom Caucus wants documents from Rod Rosenstein. And they say that he is either slow rolling them or redacting them too much.

So yesterday Rod Rosenstein was at this museum event in Washington, D.C. And he was asked about this tiff that he seems to be in with the House Freedom Caucus and whether he feels THAT they are sort of threatening him, so -- with, I guess, impeachment, is the word that they've been using. So here's his response.


ROSENSTEIN: I just don't have anything to say about documents like that that nobody has the courage to put their name on and that they leak in that way. But I can tell you that there are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time. And I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We're going to do what's required by the rule of law.


CAMEROTA: How remarkable is that to you?

RANGAPPA: I think it was strong. And I think -- I'm glad that he said that. I think that there are many people in the Department of Justice and the FBI who have been needing someone at the top to basically say that and say that "We're independent and we're not going to be harassed and intimidated with, you know, these kinds of requests to undermine the investigation."

CUOMO: OK. But you can't end the segment without allowing the reasonable counter here. Ken Cuccinelli, it is -- the counter for Mark Meadows and others is, "I'm not going after you because I don't like you."


CUOMO: "I'm going after you because you're not doing what we believe your job entails." Legitimate push?

CUCCINELLI: I think that's a very legit push. And understand in the context of the House Republicans. For eight years, they were stonewalled with respect to getting documents, whether it's Fast and Furious, go through the list. And now they're still seeing that when they expected to get more cooperation in the form of transparency.

That doesn't mean decisions would be made the way they necessarily wanted them to, but that they would be able to see information that had been blocked from them before, including information that courts have determined, you know, should be turned over.

So that's the context for this. I think Mark Meadows is in the right. I understand the desire of people in the Department of Justice to see Rosenstein kind of stand up and say, "No, no, we're independent." They need independent, but at the same time, they need to comply with requests for documents from the Congress.

[06:15:12] CAMEROTA: All right. We'll be diving into more of this throughout the program. Ken Cuccinelli, Asha Rangappa, thank you both very much. So Donald Trump's long-time former personal doctor is telling CNN he did not actually write that 2015 that got so much attention, raised so many eyebrows when it claimed that then-candidate Donald Trump will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. So who wrote it? That's a curious question. We have the answer in a CNN exclusive next.


CAMEROTA: Now to this. President Trump's longtime former doctor says it was the president who actually dictated his own glowing 2015 health report. The letter stated that then-candidate Donald Trump unequivocally would be the, quote, "healthiest individual" ever elected to the presidency.

Dr. Harold Bornstein tells CNN now exclusively that Trump dictated that whole letter: "I didn't write that letter. I just made it up as I went along." Shocking. That's so surprising.

Let's bring in CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and political analyst Brian Karem.

Brian, you'll remember when that letter was first released.


CAMEROTA: It was eyebrow-raising and bizarre, and it seemed to have some of Donald Trump's rhetorical flourishes in it. KAREM: You think?

[06:20:07] CAMEROTA: And people wondered who wrote that letter.

KAREM: No, nobody wondered who wrote that letter.

CAMEROTA: All right. Now, the point is, now we have confirmation, and the reason the doctor is speaking out about it now is because he feels so violated that Donald Trump's personal security guard, Keith Schiller, went in and, he says, raided the office for Donald Trump's medical records and took them all. And so now he says he feels humiliated, and he's speaking out about that.

Why would he have agreed to this years ago?

KAREM: Well, that's a good question. But I'd like to -- what he said is really kind of thematic for the entire administration. I just made it up as I went along. And later on, if I get it right, as you said, the letter itself takes the truth and moves it in a different direction.

These are all things from the entire Donald Trump administration. And the strong-arm tactics at the end have also been alleged by Stormy Daniels, among others. And so you're seeing the beginning of a pattern of behavior that's really kind of or alarming to all of us.

But it's a Captain Obvious moment. Because of course when it first came out, we all thought that Donald Trump wrote it. I mean, the most physically fit president ever in the history? How would you even know that? You couldn't. I mean, you'd have to exhume George Washington just to find out.

So, you know, it's -- what's scary and frightening about it is that it portends greater difficulty in obtaining truth from the president and from anyone else in this administration. They do make it up as they go along. And they do find that the truth is simply something they can manipulate, and they fooled a great many people.

And at least on the back end, people are starting to come forward. But where was your -- where was your sense of moral outrage from the beginning? Why did a doctor even take -- do that? That's the question you have to ask.

CUOMO: Right. And, you know, this is coming in the context of another claim. Before I slice it like cheese, let's hear it. Here's the larger context of concern.


DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, FORMER PERSONAL DOCTOR FOR DONALD TRUMP: I feel raped. That's how I feel. Raped, frightened, and sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly were they looking for?

BORNSTEIN: Medical records, his pictures, anything they could find. They must have been here for 25 or 30 minutes. They created a lot of chaos.


CUOMO: All right. So Cillizza, let's tick through the negatives here. First, this man was never believable on any level, this doctor.


CUOMO: It was a joke at the time. We just had to go with it, because it didn't matter that much. There was no big indication that Trump may be masking a real illness. And it was entertaining.

Two, he now has animas against the president. He doesn't like that they came in his office. He doesn't like what it did. So now it's convenient for him to tell the truth about what happened with the letter.

Third point is this. Who cares? Especially on a day where you know that Pruitt's people are coming out now with concerns how he's been responding to these some 11 investigations and all the other big news. Is this a moment where you play into Trump's hand by running with a story that ultimately doesn't matter?

CILLIZZA: So let me -- let me push back a little bit. I don't disagree with you about Scott Pruitt. Obviously, the questions that -- or the categories that Bob Mueller wants to talk to the president about, the possibility of --

CUOMO: A subpoena?

CILLIZZA: All of those things matter more than this. But I don't think this doesn't matter, and I'll tell you why, Chris. I think it's context.

I think Brian makes a good point. And I'll go back to that time. Donald Trump was trying to make the case that he was fit, able, ready for the job, and Hillary Clinton was not. You'll remember, he made on the campaign trail, he made a huge issue and tried to make a big issue out of her health. She was not -- she didn't have the endurance; she didn't have the stamina. He would say that over and over again. And I'll remind you that he's the oldest person ever elected to a first term as president.

So the fact that the thing that we took as -- because we didn't have any option. The thing we took as sort of the definitive, I guess, proof, that he was fit and ready and that, therefore, he used to make an argument against Hillary Clinton was something that was dictated by him. I mean, I think it speaks to his willingness to use artifice, his willingness to do things that no candidate, certainly no president would do before. It is not as important as those stories you ticked off. That doesn't mean, I don't think, however, it does not tell us something about the president.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I think it matters. For the reason that Brian said -- we have to move on. But I think that, exactly. It's Exhibit A. It's Exhibit A of the lies, of the manipulation, of people going along with it. And I think that it's just handy that way.

CUOMO: I mean, look, we can do a lot better as Exhibit A of lies with the president. Things that have come out of his mouth that are demonstrably false. This guy is now compromised. That's all I'm saying. And it's not the hair. He was compromised from jump, because his assessments seemed absurd. His behavior was absurd.

[06:25:05] So now he's got a grievance, and he's stating what we all knew at the time. I just don't know that he changes our reckoning that much.

CAMEROTA: Are you sure it wasn't the hair? All right. Let's move on to --

CUOMO: I'm pro-hair.

CAMEROTA: You are.

CILLIZZA: I like the hair.

CAMEROTA: Let's move on to Scott Pruitt, who -- it just continues. Here's a list that we have of the ethical dilemmas that he's facing. Here are the Pruitt headlines.

Two top aides have now resigned amid the ethics investigation. The "Washington Post" says he -- a lobbyist helped arrange a trip to a $100,000 trip, paid by the taxpayers, to Morocco for Scott Pruitt. The head of a conservative law group planned his trip to Italy. Pruitt is now seeking to set up a legal defense fund. Not sure who would contribute to that, but if energy companies do, that's a problem. Lobbyists asked to get three people appointed to the EPA board. It goes on and on and on.

Brian, where are we with Scott Pruitt?

KAREM: Well, Scott Pruitt may be the most morally bankrupt, criminally irresponsible man that has ever held public office. And there's just no way around that fact. And the president is going kind of, as someone else said, "Brokeback Mountain" with him. He just can't quit him, because the simple fact is that Pruitt aligns himself with the president and does everything that the president wants.

But the simple fact of the matter is this man is an abomination. And he had, what, 11 investigations, federal investigations.

But if I can digress just for a second, and if you want Exhibit A, Chris, I will tell you this. You want Exhibit A? Look at this very pointedly. Today the president of the United States -- the president of the United States -- in 2018 would rather is sit down with a dictator from North Korea than sit down with a member of the U.S. Justice Department. There's Exhibit A.

CAMEROTA: On that note --

CUOMO: All right. Cillizza, we owe you a button. Let's do it in the next segment. You get to start. CILLIZZA: Sounds good.

CAMEROTA: All right. Very good.

Brian Karem, Chris Cillizza, thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Another story that is culturally relevant, I guess, is Kanye West igniting a firestorm.

CAMEROTA: Why do you keep guessing about our stories?

CUOMO: -- with this -- this guy. All right. Here's what he said.


KANYE WEST, HIP-HOP PERFORMER: You hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sound like a choice.


CUOMO: All right. The rapper is now trying to defend the indefensible. How? What does it mean? What happened to Kanye and will it shut him up? Next.