Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Legal Team Prepares for Showdown with Mueller; Deputy A.G. Rosenstein Hits Back at Impeachment Threat; Embattled EPA Chief Faces Avalanche of Scandals. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- reasonable suspicion and the current state of play, they wouldn't have changed the White House statement from "has" to "had."


CUOMO: That's all I'm saying. The politics and the intel seems to be at odds. That's all I'm saying, Michael.

ROGERS: That's completely true.

CUOMO: Right. But your points are well taken. Your perspective is always valued on this show. And to be honest, it's just good to see you. Thanks for being with us.

ROGERS: It's good to see you, and I enjoyed your legal dissertation this morning.

CUOMO: It worked, right. Keep it simple. Keep it simple.

ROGERS: I'm taking the bar next week just based on that.

CUOMO: That's all you need. You could have passed it just with your instincts.

All right. Thanks to Mike Rogers, and thanks you you, our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN talk is next. For our U.S. viewers, there is a lot of news on this hump day. What do you say? Let's get after it.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The special counsel raised the potential of a subpoena.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the Trump team pushes this to a legal fight and keeps it there, that's probably to his advantage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's incredibly perilous for him to take the Fifth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is stuck whichever which way he turns. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Department of Justice departed from the law.

Now they want to evade oversight.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are people who have been making threats. We're going to do what's required by the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you fire him, you're going after Mueller and the heart of the investigation.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president's former doctor says Trump dictated the glowing letter about his own health.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it all makes sense. It's another one of those examples and how little regard he has for the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly were they looking for?

DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, FORMER PERSONAL DOCTOR FOR DONALD TRUMP: Medical records. I feel frightened and sad.


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

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

President Trump's legal team bracing for a showdown with the special counsel. CNN is reporting that Robert Mueller recently raised the possibility that he could subpoena Donald Trump if the president refuses to talk to investigators. That could set up a legal challenge that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

CUOMO: Meantime, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein taking aim at House Republicans who are taking aim at him and threatening to impeach him. The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus says Rosenstein should step aside if you won't comply with turning over documents that they want.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House with our top story. Get us going, Abby.


This morning we're learning that the president and his legal team, those negotiations that they've been having with Special Counsel Robert Mueller has really been heating up. Mueller has, in recent meetings, threatened to potentially subpoena President Trump in order to compel an interview. But doing that would test presidential powers and perhaps send this entire legal fight all the way 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 that 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 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.

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."


[07:05:09] PHILLIP: Meanwhile, the president's former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI months ago, is still awaiting sentencing. And now Mueller and a lawyer for Flynn have requested a two-month delay in his sentencing, citing an ongoing investigation. Perhaps a sig that this thing is not anywhere near its conclusion.

In a couple of hours, we'll see President Trump. He's heading to the State Department for the swearing in of his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all that background.

Let's bring in CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza; and CNN legal analyst and former special assistant Robert Mueller, Michael Zeldin.

OK, first the legal questions, Michael Zeldin. You know Robert Mueller. Is it any surprise to you that he would be considering subpoenaing the president if the president is not going to sit down for an interview? Isn't that the logical next step?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I think what we saw was a breakdown in communications between former attorney Dowd and Mueller, where Mueller and Dowd were trying to work out a deal for the voluntary testimony. Dowd wouldn't budge. Mueller said if you don't budget, I'm going to subpoena you. That subpoena is something I think I will prevail on.

And so make your choice. And that's where we are. The president has to make his choice, whether he wants to fight a subpoena, whether he wants to voluntarily sit down or not.

CUOMO: All right. Fact counter to the redoubtable Zeldin. Chris Cillizza, if he is right about his analysis about Dowd, Dowd is gone, replaced but a name called Rudolph Giuliani, who supposedly went in with Mueller and had a good and productive discussion and flanked by the Raskins, who are very well-respected by people like those on the Mueller team. So how do we know where this precipice of to subpoena or not to subpoena.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, so we -- you have competing sort of narratives, Chris. We know that Dowd was the person most aggressively opposed to Donald Trump sitting down with Bob Mueller. He is gone.

At the same time, Donald Trump appears to be moving more away from the idea of sitting down with Bob Mueller. His public comments notwithstanding, we've heard reporting out of the White House that says, "Well, now this is going to make it less likely. The questions being revealed are going to make it less likely."

So I think, as with all things, Donald Trump related, he's going to probably just make the call one way or the other.

I think the subpoena thing would obviously set up a potentially protracted legal fight but definitely a very high-profile legal fight, make it look as though Donald Trump has something to hide. He's not willing to sort of answer questions. He doesn't want that. Remember, he -- perception to him is reality.

But he also doesn't want the alternative, which is I don't think he necessarily wants to go into an open-ended conversation with Bob Mueller. No lawyer in the country, I think, would advise him to do so, given his proclivity to just say stuff.

CAMEROTA: Michael -- yes.

CILLIZZA: I think he's kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. And I don't think there are any good solutions. And what usually happens when Trump finds himself cornered like this, he lashes out even more. I would stay tuned for more of that.

CAMEROTA: Michael, isn't the larger question can a sitting U.S. president be indicted? Because if not, isn't all this an exercise in futility? I mean, obviously, Mueller is indicting other people, and people are pleading guilty. But if the president can't be indicted, what's the end game if Mueller finds something?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a good question. The answer is we don't know exactly. We know that the Office of Legal Counsel, which is a Justice Department sort of think tank, advised in 2000 that a sitting president, in their estimation, couldn't be indicted.

CAMEROTA: Could not be?

ZELDIN: But that's their opinion. The attorney general -- cannot be indicted, correct. And the attorney general can overrule them if they want, or they could revisit it in 2018 and make a new determination about that.

If, however, that stands, and a sitting president cannot be indicted, then Mueller, if he determines that the president should be indicted, would make a report to the attorney general and say, "This is why I declined to indict the president, because OLC precludes me from doing so. But he should be indicted. So we can do a couple of things. We can indict him now under seal that no one knows about. We could wait until he leaves office and then indict him. Or we can refer the matter to the House of Representatives for their consideration to see whether or not that which we think could have led to an indictment should be evaluated under the high crimes and misdemeanor standard that relates to impeachment.


ZELDIN: So those are the options here.

CAMEROTA: That's really helpful. That is really helpful to know what could happen if -- if -- and we're a long way away from it -- that's where the trail leads.

CUOMO: But look, well short of that, the reason you need the president to talk about these things is in the interest of truth. That's -- that's the main reason that he should have to give his version of what happened here, in whatever form it winds up manifesting in.

[07:10:13] However, the legal exposure really should be tantamount to the political exposure. You know, what Michael's talking about, high crimes and misdemeanors, this phrase that means everything and nothing, that Madison threw into the Constitution just to make it seem like there was a standard, ultimately is a political standard.

But if the Democrats were to win the House, and they still wanted to impeach, they'd still need a reason. I know it comes down to votes. I know it's practicality and that all the trappings of litigation are just that; they're just trappings. But the more that Mueller has to go on that is based in fact, the better for all of us in terms of understanding the exposure here.

CILLIZZA: And Chris, just to add, you know, we get so caught up, and me more than many, get so caught up in the day to day of this, what Donald Trump tweets, what the questions have been. But then let's take a step back in terms of this investigation was launched because Russia actively sought to interfere in the election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, according to the unanimous judgment of our intelligence community. And they will -- they may be and will seek to meddle in future elections.

So the president of the United States, let's say there is no collusion, no obstruction. We still, to get a full picture of this, to help prevent future attacks, to prevent future attempts at interference, he is a piece of that, even if, legally speaking, he's 100 percent in the clear. He is still a major -- one of the two candidates in the election. It's important, I think, that we do that for the health of democracy going forward, putting aside sort of Donald Trump's potential legal imperilment.

Now, he won't do that, I don't think. I think he will think of himself first. But I do think there is a justification for why he should talk regardless of whether or not he can be indicted or, you know, charges can be brought against him.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic. Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein. So he is not releasing documents, according to the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative Republicans in the House, in a timely fashion. And if he's doing so, I believe that they are redacted beyond where their comfort level is. So they have floated the idea of impeaching him, Rod Rosenstein.

And he is rejecting that call. He gave a, I thought, remarkable speech yesterday, answered a question at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. So here's what he's saying about some leaked documents that came to his attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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: What did you think about that, Michael?

ZELDIN: I think good for Rod Rosenstein.

The matter here is that the House, in my estimation, is asking for documents that they don't need for their congressional oversight responsibilities. They're asking for documents in an effort to pursue political attacks on opponents or support the political, you know, aspirations of the president in respect of Mueller. I don't think that that's what they should be doing.

And I think Rosenstein has said, "That's not what we will do, because that is not what is required of us from you for oversight purposes. And so stand down and let us do our job, and everything will work out fine if you just back off."

CUOMO: Also --

ZELDIN: That's right -- that's the right answer.

CUOMO: Also, toxic politics on display, right, Chris Cillizza? You know, you have the Republicans who are saying, "How can they even bring up the specter of impeachment for anything surrounding Russia? We know so little."

But then, their own guy. And let's not forget, Rosenstein is there under the direction of the people that the president of the United States, named Donald Trump, put into the DOJ. They're saying, "We don't like what you're going to do. Maybe we'll impeach you just for that."

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean, I think when Democrats right now say, "We should impeach the president of the United States," I would say -- and I certainly say this for the House Republicans talking about impeaching Rosenstein, it -- I think it's dangerous to throw around the impeachment idea too lightly. I mean, you know, we're talking about high crimes and misdemeanors. When proven, absolutely that should be a vehicle. When used as a political tool, which is where we are right now, it's -- I just think it's dangerous.

These people were either appointed to these offices or elected to these offices. You know, the idea that, because they are not doing exactly what you think they should be doing, they should be impeached, I think in the case of House Republicans, speaks to the broader misunderstanding that Donald Trump either ignores or doesn't know about. Which is just because the Justice Department is within the federal bureaucracy, doesn't mean that they are at your beck and call at all times. And that their job is to be independent and to govern by the rule of law, not do what's in your personal best interest.

[07:15:17] CAMEROTA: All right. Chris Cillizza, Michael Zeldin, thank you both very much for all the info.

CUOMO: All right. Embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt is in hot water. He is facing an avalanche of ethical scandals. He has two top members of his staff who are leaving. Why? What does it mean about what is true about the man on your screen? Let's dig in, next.


CUOMO: Congressional Democrats tell CNN that a top aide to EPA Chief Scott Pruitt directed staffers to consider opening an office in his hometown in Oklahoma two weeks before being confirmed.

It's one of what seems like an avalanche of ethical scandals facing Pruitt. "The New York Times" reports that Pruitt is now the subject of 11 federal investigations. And you've got to remember, Republicans are running these congressional committees that look into these allegations.

[07:20:00] Joining is now is CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum.

This is an interesting case of political psychology going on here, as opposed to science. He's got his own people, Pruitt, coming forward questioning his motivations in situations. There are plenty of allegations that have factual bases that need reckoning. Why stand by Scott Pruitt when this administration just threw Ronny Jackson under the bus for unproven allegations?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because I think most of these allegations are either insignificant or really unproven or certainly explainable. I mean, the idea that there's now a rumor that -- that someone who wasn't on the staff of the EPA before he -- before he was a staff member made an inquiry as to whether there could be an office in Tulsa, which is where Scott Pruitt lives and his family is. And he does go there on weekends. I mean, his family, my understanding, still is in Tulsa. The idea that there would be an office there, where he could hold meetings and conduct business, doesn't sound like a very outrageous thing. They didn't say, "Spend $50 million on it." They just said, "Hey, let's take a look and see if there's an opportunity where, because Mr. Pruitt's family is going to continue to stay in Tulsa, that we can have a place where he can conduct business."

CUOMO: Right.

SANTORUM: I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask. I mean, that's a perfectly reasonable thing.

CUOMO: Well, look, we'd have to know the context of why it was asked and what the aims are. But you know what? I agree with you, Rick. I think it's -- I think that's one of the lesser situations here. There are much more grave ones. And when you take them in total, assuming they're not all bogus. Right? And now you have his own people talking about them and its credibility, and there are factual bases, as well, they're just bad decision making on display and swampy by definition.

And if what the president's mandate was partially about was draining the swamp, getting rid of the people who will choose preference over the legitimate exercise of power, why stand by this guy?

The Morocco example alone. Somebody setting up a trip for you to Morocco, and they wind up getting hired as a lobbyist by the same people who are there in the intersections of people asking you for things and giving you things. It's just bad. You would have stayed away from it reflexively. This guy doesn't.

SANTORUM: I would have stayed -- if I was aware of it, I would have stayed away from it. I have no idea what his knowledge was of the situation. What staff was doing.

But look, I understand that there are -- there's a lot of smoke here. But we had Scott Pruitt up in Congress last week, testified a couple of times. I didn't see any rash of folks running after this -- after that testimony, saying that Scott Pruitt would resign. I mean, certainly, Republicans weren't saying that.

CUOMO: Right.

SANTORUM: I saw, you know, his -- one of his great defenders who the last time I was on this show talking about Scott Pruitt. There was a question whether he was going to stand behind him. That was Jim Inhofe. And Jim has basically said, "Look, you know, he has a logical explanation for all of these things." And the things that are most egregious, quote, "aren't true."

So all I'm suggesting is --

CUOMO: That's not true. Right? I mean, they haven't come to conclusions. I'm just saying we know what's going on here. This is party over people. That's what it is. This is your guy. We like what he's doing in there. We like the rollbacks in regulations. Let's keep him. And we can't give the other side another one. Another guy can't be gone. There have been too many.

Let's just put for the audience. Just take a look at the list of these things. We've never seen a list of this many open and active investigations. And this is just this week, Rick.

Let's make a quick pivot to what we've seen before. Tom Price got thrown out for a lot less. Right? He got thrown out for a lot less. And now he's on the outside saying something I need your take on.


CUOMO: When the individual mandate was repealed, everybody who knows anything about the economics of health care said, "Oh, you're going to have problems with price spikes now. You don't have any reason to get young people who lower costs in the pool. They're not forced to do it, with the deterrent of the fines, they're not going to do it.

Now that's all coming to fruition, and one of the men who argued against that point the most was Tom Price. And now he's saying, "You know what? Price isn't going to go up, because that individual mandate is gone." How do you explain that?

SANTORUM: Well, first up, prices have been going up and been going up dramatically. The number of people on private insurance in the individual market has gone down since Obamacare. I mean, yes, more people are covered, but they're covered through government insurance, which is not what Obamacare promised.

What President Obama promised was that we would have a robust and healthy, you know, private insurance market and people would have choices. They could keep their doctor, not be shoved into a Medicaid program. And that's what's going on.

And so the idea that now, since the individual mandate was released, I agree. You take the individual mandate away, you have a younger, healthier population who now is being forced into insurance that is unaffordable and saying, you know, we're not going to force you to get insurance, they're not going to buy it.

CUOMO: Then why were you in favor of repealing it?

SANTORUM: Because I'm in favor of repealing the entire mess. I mean, and in fact --

CUOMO: If you could achieve that, why would you hamstring it in a way that the people are going to have to pay for now? Why it worse in your effort to make it better?

[07:25:03] SANTORUM: And -- and the answer is that we should have done something more comprehensive. And that's something I continue to -- I've been working on the outside now for -- for the better part of a year to try to get a more comprehensive --

CUOMO: Right. But it's not going to happen. And now you're going to the midterms --

SANTORUM: We will come back and talk about this in a few months. I think it's still very much in play because of what you just said. Because rates are -- you know, rates are going to start to be announced in June. People are going to be very upset. You're going to see 20, 30 percent maybe even more percent increase.

In part, I would agree with you because of the repeal of the personal -- because of the individual mandate.

CUOMO: Right.

SANTORUM: But also in part because the system has failed.

CUOMO: You have to be fair to the facts. This was always going to be hard. OK? This was always going to be hard. That's what the ACA was about, was trying to deal with a very intractable situation. You know, politics often benefits from complexity. If you simplify

things, sometimes it helps. Sometimes it hurts.

You got rid of the mandate. You made it worse instead of making it better. Why were rates going up anyway? Well, first of all, since the ACA, the rate of increase in health care prices did not go up. But the prices still did keep going up. Why? Not everybody put the ACA into action. Not every state did it. They played politics with it. They tried to handicap it. And it worked.

So now we're not in a better situation since Trump came in. We're in a worse one. And now it's on your watch and your doing.

SANTORUM: Well, it's in a worst situation -- you're right. The rate of increase in health care costs overall did not go up dramatically.

CUOMO: At all.

SANTORUM: But -- but those affected -- but those affected by Obamacare, it did. Remember, we're talking about --

CUOMO: Because states didn't put the different principles into operation.

SANTORUM: No. The state -- every state put the private market -- the Title I regulations and the private market health care subsidies, every state has those.

CUOMO: To different degrees.

SANTORUM: What every state didn't do -- no, every state has them.

CUOMO: But to different degrees. I'm saying in terms of how many -- what they did to incentivize different carriers and providers to come in. In some places you only had one or two carriers because you didn't do the Medicaid part of it.

SANTORUM: Well, OK, so that's the difference here, Chris. Is that 19 states didn't expand Medicaid. But that's government insurance. That's not what the president promised when he passed the Affordable Care Act, which is to create options for people to be able to go out in the private market and buy insurance. That didn't happen.

And you're right. Certain states did expand Medicaid and did therefore expand coverage. But it also cost shifts. As you know, Chris, Medicaid is the worst pair of all the payer mixes. And when more people get on Medicaid, guess what happens? Doctors shift costs to private insurance, to Medicare and to other places.

So what we've seen is that Obamacare was intended to have a robust private market. It ends up with big government insurance, which shifts costs to the rest of the society. Not a good idea.

CUOMO: Well, but look, that's a political argument and it's a fair one to have. But what we saw was public sentiment was increasing about the ACA while you guys were trying to destroy it, because people were realizing what would happen to their prices. Now it's coming home to roost. We'll see what the political arguments and costs are on that.

Let's shift to another one where we have the same dynamic. Tax cuts. All right. You guys would argue all day long tax cuts are good any way you slice them. Marco Rubio went along with that. But here's what he just said. Let's put up a full screen.

"There's still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they're going to take the money they're saving and reinvest it in American workers. In fact, they bought back shares. A few gave out bonuses. There's no evidence whatsoever that money as been massively poured back into the American worker."

Now, point of fact, it's early. It's early. However, this is, again, you guys played politics. Tax cuts sounded good. Rubio was on board. And now that you're getting closer to election time and people are seeing that tax cuts were good for some but not for most, now what?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, Marco is not up for election. I mean, Marco just got elected, you know, two years ago. And so he's not saying this for his own election purposes. He's saying this because Marco is someone who has an honest disagreement about how some of these resources should be -- should have been spent in the tax bill.

As you know, he pushed very, very strongly -- and I was behind his push, by the way -- to expand the child tax credit. To get more money directly to families.

CUOMO: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. He fought for that and he won. He didn't get what he wanted, but he fought for it.

SANTORUM: And I think he continues to express frustration, as I agree, that we have to have program -- we have to have tax policy that's much more family positive.

CUOMO: That's not what you did with this tax cut.

SANTORUM: And I think that's what Marco is expressing. That -- that, you know, look, we could have done some things that got money directly into the hands of families that we really want to help.

CUOMO: You did not do that.

SANTORUM: We did it in part. And I think it's a legitimate complaint. Look, I can't -- I don't agree completely with Marco that the tax cut hasn't helped.

CUOMO: It's too soon. It's too soon to know.

SANTORUM: Too soon to tell, and we have seen tremendous growth that has looks --

CUOMO: We have seen growth in corporate earnings.

SANTORUM: Right. CUOMO: We've seen a lot of buybacks and we've seen smart business by corporations.

SANTORUM: And the long-term --

CUOMO: Give money to workers to justify the tax cuts, so they keep them coming. Although you guys already made them permanent.