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Ty Cobb Leaves Legal Team; Trump Rips Justice System; Impeachment Lawyer Joins Trump Team; Trump Calls Questions a Trap. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:12] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Where you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with breaking news.

A major shakeup of the president's legal team, just as a showdown looms between the White House and the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A White House official now telling CNN that the attorney Ty Cobb is leaving. He becomes the second major member of the president's legal team to leave in the past month and a half. John Dowd quit in late March.

The departure of Ty Cobb comes just as we hear that Robert Mueller may resort to a subpoena to get the president to answer questions in the Russia investigation. The president tweeted this today, and I'm quoting now, there was no collusion. It is a hoax. And there is no obstruction of justice. That is a set-up and trap.

He also just took a shot at the Justice Department saying, and I'm quoting, once again this is the president, at some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved, end quote.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, talk about the president's legal issues right now. Who is taking over for Ty Cobb? This is another major legal shakeup on the president's team.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, Ty Cobb, the president's inside attorney you could say over here at the White House, not one of his outside lawyers, but has been essentially at his side on the inside for several months now, is stepping down. Just last month, the president referred to Ty Cobb as his special counsel in a tweet defending his own White House team.

But Sarah Sanders confirming in a statement to reporters just in the last several minutes that Ty Cobb is stepping down. We can read that statement to you, if we put it up on screen. It says here, for several weeks Ty Cobb has been discussing his retirement and last week he let Chief of Staff John Kelly know he would retire at the end of the month.

Interesting to note, Wolf, some of the I guess time stamps in that statement saying that this was notified to the Chief of Staff John Kelly last week, that may be an indication that the White House would like to tamp down any speculation, because of course it's going to happen, we're going to be asking the question at the upcoming briefing with Sarah Sanders, whether Ty Cobb stepping down has anything to do with this tension that has been ratcheting up between the special counsel's office and the White House over the last few days after it was reported in "The New York Times." There are some four dozen questions that President Trump's outside legal team and his inside legal team are preparing for in the event that the president sits down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Most interestingly, the tweet that was posted by the president this morning that suggested that he may want to take some kind of dramatic action to try to shut down the Mueller investigation or to somehow opt not to sit down for that interview. The president's tweet here, a rigged system. They don't want to turn over documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? The president referring to House Republican demands that they see some memos that talk about the -- I guess the contours of what the special counsel is looking into.

But at the very end of that tweet, very important, Wolf, it says at some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved. That suggests that the president is thinking very heavily about either shutting down the Mueller investigation or perhaps getting rid of Rod Rosenstein, who obviously oversees the Mueller investigation, or perhaps not -- deciding not to sit down with the special counsel. It does sound as if, if you go by that tweet, either the president is puffing out his chest and this is some pre-heavyweight bout posturing that goes on between two fighters here, or the president is thinking about doing something dramatic and doing something to that Mueller investigation that obviously the Justice Department is not going to like.

What that has to do with Ty Cobb and his departure remains to be seen. We have not heard a statement from Ty Cobb up until this point explaining why he is stepping aside. But the White House, it looks like, trying to make it very clear in that statement that this has been under discussion for some time and that he notified the chief of staff last week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, another major shakeup in that legal staff.

All right, Jim Acosta, once you get more, we're going to get back to you.

I want to bring in our CNN analysts right now. CNN political analysts David Gregory, April Ryan, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, Gloria, what do you think? This is another big shakeup. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. It is not

unexpected. Ty Cobb was appointed to get all the documents together, to get -- make sure all the interviews occurred for the special counsel. That was all done. The document production was done.

He has told people that he wanted to stay on if there were going to be an interview with the president, with the special counsel, because he'd want to be part of that interview prep, obviously. He has been the odd man out on all of this. He has been saying, oh, you know, the president, let's not rule out that the president should sit down with the special counsel.

[13:05:17] The team now says, no, as we reported last night that the president's legal team, and it seems increasingly the president himself, is ready for a showdown now that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. That leaves Ty Cobb as the odd man out. So it is not surprising that he would be leaving at this point, and also being replaced by somebody, Emmet Flood (ph), who has a great deal of experience in the issues of impeachment and executive privilege.

And so, you know, I think Cobb will say that it was time for him to go. And I think people in the White House will agree that at this point, you know, it was over -- it was for him, that he disagreed with the strategy, and I think that that's always a good time to say your goodbyes.

BLITZER: So you -- so what I'm hearing from you, Gloria, you think Ty Cobb wanted the president to sit down with an interview with Robert Mueller --

BORGER: I think he --

BLITZER: And his team, but increasingly now, even though the president often --

BORGER: He didn't rule it out.

BLITZER: Often -- the president often said he 100 percent he wants to do it, ready to do it. Now, increasingly, it looks unlikely that he willingly will do it.

BORGER: Well, after the Cohen raid, the president went from, yes, I want to sit down, to, no, I don't want to sit down. I mean that was kind of the moment.

And now you've brought in new attorneys. He always clashed with John Dowd on this, who is -- who is now also gone. So, yes, I think Ty Cobb was sort of holding out.

And, look, it could still happen. Anything can happen. But I do believe that he thought this was the right moment to leave. And they probably agreed with him.

BLITZER: It's such a sensitive moment, April, right now.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes. BLITZER: You know, these legal teams, they've been working on this for so long and it looks like Robert Mueller is now getting to the point he wants to sit down with the president.

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: And for these lawyers, whether John Dowd or Ty Cobb, to suddenly, at the sensitive moment like this, quit, that's a big deal.

RYAN: It's a huge deal. Ty Cobb understood the rule of law. He understands the rule of law. And what happens is, if you do not sit down with the special counsel, what's next? What is next? Subpoenas that could lead to an indictment or it could lead to what else. What we saw with Bill Clinton. We could see an impeachment proceeding. We could see something happen that would cause the Republicans to say they have no choice to push an impeachment proceeding.

So the bottom line is, this is a very sensitive moment. You had Rudy Giuliani, who was trying to work out this deal with Mueller, and you had Ty Cobb and the rest who were saying, no, they were going along with the president, with his emotions and his feelings. And what is -- you have emotions and feelings versus the rule of law. And it seems the emotions and feelings might lead us down that road, a constitutional crisis, if he tries to push Mueller out and shut down the investigation, or it could ultimately lead into impeachment. This is a moment that we have to really gaze and watch.

BLITZER: You know, a month ago, less than a month ago, on March 11th, David, the president tweeted this, this is the president's official statement, quote, the failing "New York Times" purposefully wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and I'm going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am very -- all caps -- very happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job.

Now, John Dowd is now out. Ty Cobb is out. Jay Sekulow, still there. They've added another lawyer, I believe his name is Rudy Giuliani. He's part of the legal team right now. So clearly what the president tweeted in this official White House statement a month ago was inaccurate.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And it wouldn't be the first time. I think he was deflecting there at that moment. And, obviously, this has been shifting sand for him.

I think the challenge for the president is he has legal exposure and he's got political exposure. And because he's facing both a legal process and a political process at the same time.

So, you know, he's notoriously a horrible client, which is not a surprise because he doesn't listen, he doesn't pay. And, you know, most top flight (ph) lawyers in this town aren't going to put up with that.

In this case, he's got somebody that's interesting in Emmet Flood. I was looking through his material. You know, he's done executive privilege work for former President Bush after he was out of office. He worked in the White House Counsel's Office. He has that experience. And, of course, he has the impeachment experience. So all of those things would be relevant.

And I think President Trump right now is really fixated on this question of, too cooperate with Mueller or to not cooperate. You know, it's -- it's a little bit like the O.J. Simpson case. And I say that because of Alan Dershowitz always being out there. And that the case with O.J. Simpson. So I think he's in a mode where he's getting a lot of outside advice on how to position himself visa vis Mueller and then the political game that's likely to come afterwards.

BORGER: You know --

[13:10:08] BLITZER: And on top of all of this, Gloria, the president, today, also took a swipe at the Justice Department, his Justice Department. His attorney general, who's a Republican, Jeff Sessions, the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, who's a Republican, the FBI director, the new one, Christopher Wray, who's a Republican, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, a Republican. This is what the president tweeted. A rigged system. They don't want to turn over documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal justice? At some point I will have no choice but to use the powering granted to the presidency and get involved. That sounds like a threat to his Justice Department.

BORGER: Well, and you heard what Rod Rosenstein said yesterday on the documented fight that he's having with Congress, which was that the Justice Department was not going to be extorted, the word that he used. So you have -- you know, you have that fight going on.

Look, and it's not easy for any attorney who represents a client who is fighting with the -- his own Justice Department constantly. And I know that that was something that rankled, quite frankly, Ty Cobb, who had a good relationship with the president, but it eroded because Ty Cobb and John Dowd kept saying to the president, don't worry, Mr. President, this is going to be over. This is going to be over in November. This is going to be over in December. This is going to be over in January. And then it wasn't. And then the president got more and more upset. And I'm sure Ty Cobb took -- you know, took a lot of that.

But these attorneys don't like to see these tweets. And they try to bar the door for a very long time. And then finally they couldn't do it anymore. And they couldn't control the president from tweeting against his own Justice Department.

GREGORY: But let's also remember how inappropriate this is --

BORGER: Yes, totally. Totally.

GREGORY: For the president to be intervening in the Justice Department and the FBI.

RYAN: Yes.

GREGORY: There's -- there should -- there's an appropriate amount of independence that these agencies have from the president and have had.

RYAN: And have had. Yes.

GREGORY: You go back to President Clinton, who was impeached, who named Louie Freeh, his FBI director, with whom he did not get along and had issues, substantive policy issues, decision disagreements and, of course --

RYAN: And he didn't get along with Janet Reno.

GREGORY: And Janet Reno, with whom he didn't get along.

RYAN: Yes.

GREGORY: So that part's not unprecedented. But for the president to be threatening that he's going to take some action is really, really dangerous and Republicans ought to -- ought to stand up to it.

RYAN: Constitutional crisis is on the -- the constitutional crisis is on the table. This threat could be his reality.

This president seems not to be able to help himself. He has knee-jerk reactions to feelings, instead of honoring what has been in place, the traditions that there's a separation between justice and the executive, and the White House. And this president, if he does try to change, fire, or impeach Rosenstein or do something to Sessions or do something to Mueller, there's a constitutional crisis here. Republicans, his own party, will have to be in --

BLITZER: One question, Gloria, because I know you -- you do a lot of good reporting on this.

The difference between that tweet, March 11th, when the president said he loves his legal team, there's not going to be any changes.

BORGER: Right. Right. Right.

BLITZER: The failing "New York Times" doesn't know what it's talking about.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Obviously the failing "New York Times" knew what it was talking about.

BORGER: Not failing, right.

BLITZER: But the big difference between then and now, one of the big differences, Rudy Giuliani has been brought into all of this. How does he play with these other lawyers?

BORGER: Well, we don't -- you know, well -- so it is interesting. We know that Rudy Giuliani has been in a meeting with Mueller to kind of feel out what's going on. We know he is a part of the legal team, and that has been controversial. Not every lawyer wanted him in. The Raskins, the husband and wife legal team everybody agrees were terrific. I was told by one source that the president wanted Rudy there because he wanted star power on his team as he was casting his team.


BORGER: The Raskins are good lawyers, but they're not famous.

BLITZER: These are the Miami lawyers, yes.

BORGER: Yes, but they're not -- they're not household names. My question with Emmett Flood is, and I'm trying to report this out, is, what role will he have? You know, Ty Cobb's role was inside the White House, special counsel to the president. He was not in on the negotiations with Robert Mueller. That was not his job.

The question that I have is, Emmet Flood coming in to be on the legal team or is he coming in, in a different role in the White House? Could he be an eventual replacement for Don McGahn, which whom the president has had his difficulties, as you know? They do not get along and haven't -- I'm told haven't spoken to each other in quite some time. So what would Emmet Flood's job really be visa vis the legal team or inside the White House?

BLITZER: All right --

RYAN: If he was -- look, the Clinton impeachment. There's a key with Flood, that Clinton impeachment. And I think that really overrides anything for Flood.

BLITZER: All right, everybody hold their thoughts. There's a lot more we need to cover.

We're getting more breaking news, including Robert Mueller raising the possibility of a subpoena for the president of the United States. There are new developments on that front.

[13:15:09] Plus, critics calling it fraud after the president's long- time doctor says then candidate Donald Trump dictated the glowing statement about his health and stamina. We're going to discuss that as well.

And, how many lives does the EPA Chief Scott Pruitt have? New trouble erupting right now, including a lobbyist and an alleged idea he had about his hometown.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The president's lead lawyer, Ty Cobb, is now officially out. He says he's retiring. And now reports that an impeachment lawyer, who used to work for President Bill Clinton, will take his place.

I want to bring in someone who's incredibly familiar with Bill Clinton's legal team during that entire impeachment process. He also served on that White House Council staff. Jack Quinn is joining us.

Jack, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: So what can you tell us about this lawyer, Emmet Flood, who's being brought into the White House?

QUINN: Emmet Flood has an incredibly impressive legal pedigree. I mean he's a partner at Williams and Conley, which has been involved in innumerable cases that are relevant here. As you pointed out, he worked for President Clinton in the impeachment proceedings. He also worked for Vice President Cheney. So he works for Republicans, as well as Democrats. He knows what he's doing. He knows his way around. And I think he will be a good addition to this team.

BLITZER: You were the White House Council for Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: What -- when you say he worked for Bill Clinton's impeachment team, what was his job?

QUINN: He was -- he worked with David Kendall, his partner at Williams and Connelly, as part of --

BLITZER: Who was the -- then the lead of the --

QUINN: The -- yes, the trial team in the impeachment proceedings.

BLITZER: In the Senate, after he was impeached, the trial in the Senate or the impeachment in the House?

QUINN: That's correct. That's right, the trial in the Senate.

What's unclear right now is why he's being brought in. And that is to say, what role he's going to perform. If he's coming in to work in the White House Counsel's office, then he is a lawyer for the office of the president, as distinct from a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity. Those are two very different things. And, you know, it remains to be seen what his role will be, and how he will relate to others.

Is Rudy Giuliani still part of the picture? Is he leading the team? Is Emmet Flood leading the team? These are all incredibly important decisions in terms of what -- how this is going to unfold. Does the president want to negotiate the terms of an appearance before the special counsel or a grand jury? Does he want to fight, go to court, resist that? Or might he just ignore this?

BLITZER: What do you think of the decision, as now been widely reported by Robert Mueller to threaten the president with a subpoena if he doesn't voluntarily sit down for an interview?

QUINN: I've been saying for a long time, that was completely predictable. If the president thinks he's above the law and doesn't have to provide the evidence that the special counsel wants, he's wrong. And I believe that -- and I'm quite certain that if he litigates it, he will lose in court and he will have to provide evidence in some form or fashion.

BLITZER: Remind us what happened with Bill Clinton, because we all remember when he was questioned by the grand jury during the whole Monica Lewinsky uproar.

QUINN: Well, in the case of Ken Starr's proceeding --

BLITZER: He was the independent counsel.

QUINN: That's correct, he was the independent counsel investigating Whitewater, which led to the Lewinsky investigation and so on. Ken Starr said he was going to subpoena the president. The president headed that off by voluntarily providing testimony.

In a separate proceeding, in the Paula Jones civil litigation, the president actually did receive a subpoena and testified, you know, before a grand jury. He gave video testimony from the White House. The grand jury was somewhere else. But he was compelled to testify.

Again, I think that is an important precedent here. The president, President Trump, needs to understand that he cannot simply resist. He cannot simply say no. I don't think he yet, or some of the people on his legal team yet appreciate that the judicial branch is going to ensure that he not posture himself as being above the law.

BLITZER: Well one argument that I've heard from some lawyers, I don't know if the president's going to do this and it's -- it's probably remote, is he could plead the Fifth and not answer questions.

QUINN: I think the likelihood of that is almost nil. I mean, let's remember that this president said people who plead the fifth are guilty. That the optics of it, as a matter of public opinion, I think, would be terrible for the president. So I don't expect that to happen. But I do think that they're bracing, as it says here, for a showdown. I think they're itching for a fight. But at the end of the day, I think the president -- and I think, frankly, a lawyer like Emmet Flood is not going to let the president adopt a scorched earth approach to all of this.

BLITZER: Very quickly, his threat at the Justice Department today in this tweet this morning, what did you think about that?

QUINN: I think it's terrible. I mean I -- look, the president, in doing things like that, is essentially saying, I'm going to take the prosecutors off the field. I may fire Rosenstein, I may fire Mueller. And he's also holding out the prospect of eliminating witnesses by granting them pardons. Think about that. If you eliminate the prosecutors and you eliminate the witnesses, you eliminate the case, there's no way that the American system of justice will tolerate that.

[13:25:05] BLITZER: Jack Quinn, thanks so much for joining us.

QUINN: You bet. BLITZER: As he blasted Hillary Clinton over her health, the president's long-time doctor released a glowing letter about Donald Trump's extraordinary health. But it turns out, we're learning right now, the doctor says that Trump dictated that letter. So is it a fraud? There's lots to discuss and assess.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We have a major revelation about that odd letter President Trump doctor released during the presidential campaign. It's the one that claimed that Donald Trump would be the healthiest president in history if elected. It also gushed about his extraordinary stamina. Now President Trump's doctor tells CNN that while he signed that glowing letter, he didn't actually write it. Instead, he says it was dictated to him by then candidate Donald Trump himself.

[13:30:07] Let's discuss with CNN politics reporter, editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, who's over at the magic wall for us.