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Reports Indicate Special Counsel Mueller may Subpoena President Trump to Give Interview; Rod Rosenstein Comments on House Freedom Caucus Criticisms; Border Patrol in Process of Helping Some Central Americans Seek Asylum; Interview with Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] LLOYD GROVE, EDITOR AT LARGE, "THE DAILY BEAST": Michael Cohen knows everybody at "The Enquirer," has dealt with him in the catch and kill area, stories unfavorable to Donald Trump. So he would know what kind of message was being sent.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we just don't know if that will affect anything in terms of how he deals with prosecutors?

GROVE: Yes. Michael Cohen is having a very bad week.

CAMEROTA: Lloyd Grove, Stu Zakim, thank you very much for all of the insight into this.

STU ZAKIM, OWNER, BRIDGE STRATEGIST COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news so let's get right to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's legal team is getting ready for a standoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president will decide 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: You may be seeing some attempts of both sides to flex some muscle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This presidency is 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 ensure the defeat of a lot of moderate Republicans in the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 2nd, 8:00 in the east. President Trump's legal team bracing for a showdown with the special counsel. CNN has learned that Robert Mueller recently raised the possibility that he could subpoena Donald Trump if the president does eventually refuse to talk to his investigators.

The president lashing out on Twitter this morning saying "There was no collusion." We don't know that. "It is a hoax." That's what he thinks. "And there is no obstruction of justice." You can't know that because we don't know what the prosecutor is found. "That is a set up and trap. What there is, is negotiations going on with North Korea over nuclear war, negotiations going on with China over trade deficits, negotiations on NAFTA and much more. Witch hunt."

CAMEROTA: OK. Meanwhile, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein is taking aim at House Republicans who are threatening to impeach him. The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus says Rosenstein should step aside if he will not comply with turning over documents to Congress.

So there's a lot to discuss with CNN political analyst Josh Green and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. OK, Michael, let's begin with the president's tweets where it's fascinating, the president seems to have taken all of our pundits advice this week who said he should be focusing on negotiations with North Korea, with China, the trade deficit, NAFTA, what's going on at the border. He has been listening, clearly, to John Avlon, David Gregory, Chris Cillizza, everybody who's been saying please focus on that, Mr. President. But, of course, Michael, there's the Russia investigation that hovers. And so do you think that knowing Robert Mueller as you do that he will subpoena the president?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I believe that Robert Mueller will subpoena the president if they cannot work out a deal for the president to testify voluntarily. I believe that Robert Mueller understands that in order to complete his investigation, to fulfill the mandate that he stepped into, which is to complete the counterintelligence investigation begun by the FBI, testified to by then Director Comey, is an important matter for him and the country, and that in order to come to closure on that he needs the president's testimony.

Now the president, we have to understand, is not a target of Mueller's investigation, so this is an inquiry by Mueller as to what happened, how can you inform us so we can complete our work. So the notion that the president will not comply with that request is a bit, you know, odd to me because he doesn't seem to be in legal jeopardy unless he lies. If he can not lie, then he can withstand an interview. So I think that his lawyers are going to have to talk to him about this and they're going to have to make a decision that's both political and legal in its calculation.

CUOMO: It's 3,001 lies and misstatements in 466 days according to the "The Washington Post."

CAMEROTA: Therein lies the rub.

ZELDIN: The "New York Times" did a comparison with President Obama. They had Obama at 18 lies over both terms. So just in terms of a little bit of context of what may happen here. One quick follow-up legally for Michael Zeldin. If he's not a target of an investigation, does that mean he could not be found guilty of any crimes or indicted or charged?

ZELDIN: Oh, no, for sure, Chris, he could move from being a witness to a subject to being a target depending on what evidence he has to offer and how he presents that evidence. I'm just saying that at this point he doesn't sit in the criminal justice system as a person who is likely to be indicted by the president.

[08:05:03] So the notion that he's not going to talk is sort of undermined -- the legitimacy of that position is undermined by where he sits in respect to Mueller, which is to provide testimony with respect to what happened during the campaign. If nothing happened in the campaign, as he tweets out regularly, then he really has nothing to worry about and he should cooperate.

CAMEROTA: And Josh, do you think that it's notable that the president seems to be heeding the advice of pundits that he should pivot to all of the international news and the major issues of import that are on his plate as you see in that tweet he sent out moments ago?

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, not particularly I don't, because when Trump gets angry about special counsel as he has in the last few days, he's prone to start tweeting about the witch hunt and all the other stuff. The one thing we've seen about Trump is he hasn't managed to show the self-restraint and avoid tweeting about Mueller and the investigation as his lawyers have warned him not to do consistently. So I don't think there's any great meaning in this morning's --

CAMEROTA: I don't mean that he's saying witch hunt. I mean that he's trying to insert here North Korea and immigration and NAFTA and trade and all of the things that you hear pundits say he should be focused on.

GREEN: It might be important from the standpoint that if you look at what the arguments his lawyers have been making to Mueller's team that we've seen reported in the press, there were quotes I think in a recent "Washington Post" story from John Dowd, his now ex-lawyer saying, you are screwing with the work of the president of the United States. To the extent from a political standpoint that Trump can show that he's busy doing North Korea and focusing on NAFTA and China and these other things, maybe that argument would have a little bit more salience. But on the other hand, Mueller has an investigation to complete. He clearly would like to talk to the president, and that's really the issue at hand regardless of what else Trump might be tweeting about or working on.

CUOMO: It's also a generous assessment. The tweet starts off with the Russia investigation --

CAMEROTA: I'm just going right to the substance.

CUOMO: Yes, but I'm saying if he really wanted to focus on those things he wouldn't have written the first part.

CAMEROTA: The lead wouldn't be --

GREEN: He wouldn't be spending his time on Twitter.

CUOMO: That's true. But I'll give him that it is a legitimate way of having his own narrative out there, going directly to people. I'm not saying that Twitter is an inherent evil, although many people make it that. But I'm saying this tweet, I don't know that he gets full credit for moving on.

Michael Zeldin, the idea of this process, I don't have any reporting or any insight that suggests we're on the precipice of a subpoena being offered up, but even if there were one, this would be a very protracted, legitimate legal battle, would it not? The righteousness of a subpoena, the negotiation of an accommodation, the legal precedent for saying that you can't -- that you can subpoena a president, any assertion of the Fifth Amendment rights, that being qualified and negotiated. This could last a very long time, no?

ZELDIN: Yes. And I think, Chris, you're correct to say that we don't know that we're on a precipice. I do think, though, we are -- the matter has been joined with respect to Mueller's desire for the president's testimony and the negotiation of how that testimony is going to be acquired. So that matter is joined whether we're on the edge of a subpoena being issued -- I agree with you, we just don't know that.

However, if the subpoena is issued because the president elects not to voluntarily sit down as Clinton did with Starr, then, in fact, yes, we'll be in a court battle over whether or not Nixon versus United States and Jones versus Clinton and the other cases that follow it create the opportunity for the president to withstand that grand jury subpoena or whether those cases stand for the proposition that the president is not above the law and that the legitimate needs of the grand jury overtake his desire to protect his confidences.

Because there are not very many executive privileged style conversations here. This is not like Nixon where Nixon was communicating with his top team and tried to prevent the disclosure of the tapes on executive privilege. There's not much here that's covered by executive privilege because so much of this takes place before he was sworn in as president. So it's not an easy fight for the president to win in my estimation.

CAMEROTA: Josh, next topic, and that is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the beef that, or the rift or whatever that he appears to be in the middle of with the House Freedom Caucus. I want you to explain it to us, but first I want to play Rod Rosenstein who yesterday was at the museum talking about this in Washington, D.C. And this is a different bit of sound than we played last hour. This is where he seems to be making fun of the House Freedom Caucuses' efforts or at least threats to impeach him. So listen to his tone here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:10:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any reaction to the news that certain members of the House Freedom Caucus have talked about drafting up articles of impeachment despite your best efforts to comply with their document request?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: They can't even resist leaking their own drafts.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you care to elaborate on that?

ROSENSTEIN: I saw that draft. I don't know who wrote it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Josh, what's going on here?

GREEN: What's going on is that a group of Republicans loyal to Trump, recognizing that they can't control the legal process, are trying to control the political process. And what they're trying to do and have been trying to do consistently is to discredit Rod Rosenstein, to discredit Jeff Sessions, and to try and create doubts about Mueller and the validity of his investigation. That fight lately has taken a form of pressuring the Justice Department and Rosenstein to get documents from an ongoing investigation which they've had success in doing, but these House Freedom Caucus members, particularly Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, who earlier called on Sessions to resign and maybe be replaced by a more Trump friendly attorney gentlemen who wouldn't recuse himself from Russia and therefore sideline Rosenstein, all of these efforts I think are geared toward the same purpose. And Rosenstein clearly as we saw from that clip, is in on the joke, understands what's going on, and had said yesterday at that even the Justice Department will not be extorted. So he doesn't seem to fear the threat of impeachment or at least isn't willing to back down.

CUOMO: Michael Zeldin, you know Bob Mueller, you know how runs his ship, you know how he functions as a human being. Is it true that hearing that you stink at your job, you have nothing, this is a hoax, you're wasting time, you should get thrown out, you're terrible, is it even possible that they will ignore all of that, that it won't play in to how they are when they sit down at any interview, that it won't affect the diligence that they're applying to this investigation?

ZELDIN: I think not. I think that the Mueller team of prosecutors are consummate professionals and that they understand that in an environment such as this there's a lot of political posturing and that goes with the territory. But when the interview begins or the grand jury session begins, they will just focus on the facts so that they can fulfill that which they've been empowered to do, and they'll issue their findings whether it be in the form of an indictment or a report to the attorney general about who they indicted and who they didn't indict, and that's where we'll be.

CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen, Michael Zeldin, Josh Green, thank you very much.

Now we want to get to the latest in the border showdown. Border Patrol officials say they are in the process of helping 28 Central Americans seek asylum over just the past two days. About 125 others who have trekked across Mexico are still waiting. CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Tijuana, Mexico with the latest. Those 25 or so, Leyla, who have been processed, it's still like a six-month long process. We don't know how many of these 150 to 200 will ultimately be granted asylum. So what's the situation there?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the chances if you look at the numbers are really quite low. If you look at 2011 to 2016, of those who applied for asylum from Central America, from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, three quarters of them were denied. So they are very well aware here that the chances may not really be in their favor.

That said, every single person I've talked to over the last few weeks, especially over the last few days, they are standing their ground, saying we want to seek asylum because we are fleeing some pretty extreme poverty and violence in Central America.

So let's walk through what will happen now. For those who are being detained right now, being processed as they're seeking asylum, they will have to go through what's called a credible fear interview in which they will be asked a series of questions to see if this case -- if their case may be legitimate enough to move on to an immigration court. That's what's happening right now.

And I also want to give an update. We have been following the story of a woman, a mother of two, her name is Gabriella (ph). I just heard from a family member of hers who tells me that she's heard from officials here that they are doing OK as far as the mother and the two kids. It's the first sort of indication that we have heard of any communication between officials and family members of the migrants that are currently being processed, Chris.

CUOMO: Leyla, important information, thank you very much. This is not going to be easy and it's not going to be fast.

All right, Rod Rosenstein making it pretty clear that the Justice Department will not be extorted. In fact, he said exactly that. What will that do to his critics? We'll ask a ranking member in Congress next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:00] CUOMO: Rod Rosenstein making it pretty clear that the Justice Department will not be extorted. In fact, he said exactly that. What will that do to his critics? We'll ask a ranking member in Congress, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There were people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time and I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: That's Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sending a defiant message to Republicans threatening to impeach him for failing to turn over documents related to the Russia investigation.

Joining us now with the state of play is Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, relevant committee because they have jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings.

Good to see you as always.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Good to see you.

CUOMO: So, how real is this in your mind?

NADLER: Oh, this is absurd. These are the most ulter (ph) of the ulter (ph) members of the Republican conference making ridiculous threats over ridiculous allegations. He didn't turn over -- they demanded all kinds of documents, which he shouldn't turn over because they're part of an ongoing criminal investigation. He turned over some of them any way.

They're saying he should be impeached because he didn't fire two FBI agents who didn't work for them, he had no power to fire them, they have no reason to, even if he did.

They're saying he should be impeached because he didn't give -- other ridiculous reasons and we know the real reasons.

[08:20:06] CUOMO: Well, you know some of this -- you know some -- all right. So, let's get to that. But you know some of this because they have drafted articles of impeachment as a last resort, they are making a case. You say we know the real reason.

So, while you're not particularly concerned about Meadows and the far right cabal, are you concerned in general that there could be a move on Rosenstein either congressional or presidential?

NADLER: Oh, yes, quite concerned about that and this Meadows thing and Jordan thing is part of just softening him up as part of blackening his name. Yes, there's -- there have been threats against him. If he were fired and someone else put in, they could throttle the investigation without even knowing about it. The new person could fire Mueller, that we know about or he could say to Mueller don't look at this or that because he completely controls the investigations. He could either fire Mueller by chopping off his head or putting a straitjacket on him.

CUOMO: But that is presidential power. He gets to decide who works in his DOJ. What can you do to stop that?

NADLER: Well, the president is supposed to keep the DOJ in some sense independent because the DOJ, it's an executive agency but he's not supposed to interfere in criminal investigations in who gets investigated.

CUOMO: You could argue the opposite, though? He is in charge of all investigations --

NADLER: No.

CUOMO: He can start and stop any investigation. They work under him in the executive.

NADLER: They work under him in the executive, but the strong tradition is the president doesn't order that someone -- the president -- it would be a very bad imposition on liberty and a very bad danger to liberty if the president could say I think Chris Cuomo ought to be investigated or I think Chris Cuomo should not be investigated.

You don't want the head of the executive, the president, determining who is subject to criminal investigation.

CUOMO: You may not want it, it may be a tradition but it's not a law.

NADLER: That is true and that's one of the dangers of this administration. We depend for our liberties not only on the black letter law in the Constitution, but also a norms of behavior that you don't trash the judiciary, you don't seek to intimidate the judges. You don't seek to intimidate the press.

These are norms. One of the dangers of this president is that he's broken through all of these norms and it's a great danger to our system.

CUOMO: Depends on how you look at it, because there are people who voted for him who say I put him in here to be disruptive. We don't like the way you guys do business and cover for each other, put our second -- let him go in there and rattle the cage.

NADLER: Disruptive is one thing, but threatening the judiciary, threatening judges, threatening the press, no one who understands democratic government can support that.

CUOMO: So that takes us to the Mueller probe, the idea that we could be on the precipice of a subpoena from the special counsel, I don't see it frankly, Congressman. I think there's an ongoing negotiation. They just brought in Giuliani. He said he had a productive conversation.

Do you want to see the president of the United States subpoenaed? You lived through that once.

NADLER: Do I want to see it? No. But if it's necessary, it should be done.

CUOMO: What would make it necessary?

NADLER: If he refuses to answer questions that the special counsel deems necessary to be answered.

CUOMO: But you are a savvy legal mind. If you were counsel to anyone and you saw that list of questions and you had a good faith belief that they had nothing on you, you would pushback on what type of sit- down, any sit-down time, scope.

NADLER: I would certainly push back, but the key is that there's a maximum in Anglo-Saxon law that no man can be his own judge and no man is above the law, and the president no more than anybody else can be heard to say -- to tell the prosecutor you may not ask me that question.

CUOMO: But that's not really the state of play. It's I don't understand why these questions are relevant, I could tell you in writing. Let's limit the scope of these things.

If I'm not a target of the investigation, what are you asking me all these questions about potential criminality? I'm not even a target.

NADLER: Well, but he's the subject and subjects can become targets depending on what they find.

CUOMO: Do we even know that he is the subject of the investigation?

NADLER: I think that's pretty clear just from the nature of the questions.

CUOMO: He was told -- he was told by Comey several times he was not the subject.

NADLER: No, he was told he was not the target. He was not told he was not the subject.

CUOMO: But he was told and Comey basically affirmed that, yes, we were not investigating the president of the United States. What's the difference, semantics aside?

NADLER: Well, that would say he wasn't the subject but that may have been done. It's a long time ago. If they have more information, he's clearly a subject in that his behavior, his decisions are part of what they're investigating.

Clearly, he's not simply a witness, what did you hear about so-and-so who we're investigating.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see, right? I mean, there's a lot of unknown here but I appreciate you coming on and making the case and letting us test it. That's what we do. NADLER: Thank you.

CUOMO: Good luck to you going forward.

Alisyn?

NADLER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. The White House blaming a clerical error for a major mistake on a statement that could have major global implications.

[08:25:02] We examine the implications of a single letter in the nuclear battle, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: One single word in a White House statement set off a barrage of alarm and questions about Iran's nuclear capability. The initial statement said that Iran has, present tense, a robust nuclear weapons program. An updated statement sent a couple hours later said Iran had, past tense, such a program. The White House claims that was a, quote, clerical error.

Joining us now is the man who negotiated key parts of the Iran nuclear deal, former energy secretary under President Obama, Ernest Moniz.

Secretary Moniz, thank you very much for being here.

What did you think when you read that first statement in the presence tense that Iran has a robust nuclear program?

ERNEST MONIZ, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF ENERGY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the immediate reaction was s this is a blatantly incorrect. Now, I'm not going to talk about motivation. It was as you said, Alisyn, corrected later on. That statement did, shall we say, muddy the waters and as I say was a blatantly incorrect statement.

CAMEROTA: Do you have any idea how that went over in Iran?

MONIZ: No, I don't. But I think if -- in Iran, there was probably less concern about that slip.