Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Rudy Giuliani Attacks Same DOJ He Once Represented; Nunes Presses DOJ for Sensitive Documents He Doesn't Read; New Scandals Add Trouble For EPA Chief; Lava threatens Homes As Hawaii Volcano Erupts. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 4, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Rudy Giuliani as an outspoken, very visible member of the Trump legal team, it's not a surprise. But those who knew him way back when, well, some of them may be cringing at his recent attacks, particularly on the Justice Department, the very place where Giuliani rose through the ranks as a federal prosecutor, the man who hired James Comey but now says he wants to punch in the nose.

[16:30:09] As CNN's Tom Foreman explains, the Giuliani we see today attacking the Mueller investigation and referring to the FBI as stormtroopers is nothing like the Law and Order Giuliani from back in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We love Rudy. He's a special guy. What really understanding is that this is a witch hunt. He understands that probably better than anybody.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Certainly, Rudy Giuliani could understand, after all, he started his career decades ago as a crusading prosecutor.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER PROSECUTOR: This country is in serious trouble, domestically from the problem of crime.

FOREMAN: And he rapidly embraced the idea of hunting down white- collar criminals abusing, their wealth and power through inside trading on Wall Street.

GIULIANI: Both the civil and the criminal cases helped to create a deterrent impact and to stop people from capitalizing on their special position.

FOREMAN: And an unprecedented drop in crime in New York City while he was mayor in the '90s and his leadership through the tumult of 9/11 would earn him a serious shot at the presidency, but today --

GIULIANI: You guys are so darn unfair to Trump -- I swear to God.

FOREMAN: The former law and order champion is ripping into the very agencies and officers he built his career alongside. While he once stood with the head of the FBI pointing the plan for taking down the mob, he now seems to equate parts of the Russia probe to the work of Nazi stormtroopers.

GIULIANI: This is a completely tainted investigation.

FOREMAN: Never mind that fired FBI Director James Comey says the Trump team operates like a crime family.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: All focused on what is best for the boss, loyalty to the boss, and not connected to any of the ethical values outside of the boss.

FOREMAN: Giuliani's take --

GIULIANI: I know James Comey. I know the president. Sorry, Jim, you're a liar. A disgraceful liar.

FOREMAN: Giuliani does know Donald Trump. And the two New York power players have been allies for 30 years, Trump supporting Giuliani's political campaigns, Giuliani praising Trump in return, even joining forces for a farcical video at a media dinner.

TRUMP: I like that --

FOREMAN: And if Giuliani seems to have forgotten many of his past friends, he has no trouble remembering who his presently in charge.

GIULIANI: This is our best president in my memory.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Why has Giuliani gone this way? Maybe he truly thinks President Trump is right and the investigators are wrong. But it is worth noting the president has given him a path back from the political waste lands into the halls of power and the cost has always been open, unwavering and fierce support for the boss in Trump land -- Jake.

TAPPER: Although, he wanted to be secretary of state and Trump did not nominate him.

FOREMAN: That didn't work out.

TAPPER: To be that.

Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Coming up, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes has been on the warpath demanding documents from the Justice Department and the special counsel. But when he apparently got some documents, it seems he skipped one important step. What is that step? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:18] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead today.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Republican of California, is one of the loudest critics of the special counsel's Russia investigations. He demands documents and records explaining what's going on. But when given the chance to read some of those highly sensitive documents, sources tell CNN's Manu Raju, he did not actually read them.

CNN's Manu Raju brings us the story now and he broke it.

Manu, Nunes obviously has been pushing to see these documents. You have four sources who told you he didn't read them. What is Nunez or his staff have to say to that?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, they're actually not saying anything one way or the other. We confronted Nunes on multiple occasions and asked him directly, did you or did you not read these documents and he would not say. And then his staff, we asked did he read the documents and why didn't he read the documents, and they didn't say either, instead sending a statement criticizing us for asking the questions.

But, Jake, these were documents that had he been demanding for a long time, detailing the start of the Russia investigation, something that he actually been threatened to hold Rod Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even possibly face impeachment if he didn't get him access to the documents. But we're told that when he showed up and was eventually given access to these documents, he and Trey Gowdy, the Republican from South Carolina, that Nunes didn't read the documents, but Gowdy did and that's one reason why this is raising some questions about after demanding these for so long, how come he didn't read them when they had a chance.

TAPPER: So, Gowdy read them, and what was the impact on Gowdy if anything?

RAJU: Well, Gowdy actually has a slightly different interpretation than Nunes. Nunes came out afterwards after being briefed on the content, said there were major problems, major questions about why this investigation even started in the first place, there was no intelligence to back that up. But Gowdy says he fully supports the Mueller probe and he has some more questions but he's not going as far as the criticism from Nunes, Jake.

TAPPER: So, reading documents actually might have an impact on what you know and what you think about the Mueller investigation. Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Joining me now, we have Kim Wehle, she's former assistant U.S. attorney, and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

Let's turn to the Mueller investigation. CNN has a new reporting that Trump's legal team and special counsel Robert Mueller are making a final push towards a decision about whether or not there will be an actual presidential interview. A source familiar with the discussion says there is a 50/50 chance that the two will sit down. Take a listen to what President Trump had to say about this earlier

today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Nobody wants to speak more than me. In fact, against my lawyers because most lawyers say never speak on anything. If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you think he's setting the stage to not talk to Mueller or do you think ultimately he will override his lawyers?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL IN WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Well, I think his lawyers are telling as he indicates not to talk to Mueller and that makes sense because there is a lot of ways to get himself in trouble, perjure himself, making inconsistent statements. He understands and his lawyers don't understand the scope of what Mueller has in terms of the facts and the narrative.

[16:40:05] I think what will happen is if Robert Mueller decides that he needs to talk to Mr. Trump, like what happened in Whitewater where I worked, he's going to subpoena him and then we could potentially have a constitutional showdown in the courts and, you know, maybe that is where it belongs at this point. And with Article 3 judges who have life tenure and salary protection and are not politicized because this entire investigation has become so highly politicized in terms of the integrity of the Justice Department that I think it's damaging our democracy really.

TAPPER: Do you think President Trump, given the fact that Bill Clinton ultimately had to offer testimony, that Ronald Reagan did in Iran Contra, that Hillary Clinton did in her e-mail investigation, do you think that President Trump could refuse it given the fact that the president clearly seems to be -- no matter who you are, man or woman, you're not above the law.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he will try to refuse it, but he Supreme Court will be the final arbiter in this and may have already spoken in Clinton v. Jones, and the U.S. v. Nixon and taking about not only is the president not above the law in terms of whether he could commit a crime, it's also that he heads the executive branch whose job it is to actually enforce laws as written.

So, to say that you are going to just simply thumb your nose at due process and a quest for information in a criminal prosecution would be unheard of and also misguided according to the logic here. But I also think that Donald Trump is anticipating the Fifth Amendment as part of if he were to testify because normally it could be political suicide to say a sitting president of the United States will plead the Fifth if he were to sit down. But he's establishing such political cover, laying the foundation for a witch hunt, it is not an objective arbiter or investigation, it is all been rigged. Why would I talk to you? I'm pleading the Fifth not because I want you infer my guilt because I want you to confirm that this is not a good system. I think he's laying the found work there and his lawyers are doing

other work to think about that executive privilege.

TAPPER: When you look at what the president is doing, Kim, in terms of removing from his orbit the attorneys who are recommending more conciliatory approach like Ty Cobb, who apparently has suggested that president should sit down and bringing in people like Rudy Giuliani who refers to the FBI as stormtroopers, who calls the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. Isn't that the tell? He's changing his lawyers, he's bringing in a team that is saying no. Don't do it.

WEHLE: Well, I mean, there are lawyers and then lawyers. I'm also a law professor and I train people to do those things, and I don't think really Rudy Giuliani in this instance is actually functioning as a good lawyer, a strong lawyer. And in that instance, you know, the job is to protect your client from additional liability and to essentially move things forward so they could go on with their lives.

And that's not what is happening here. We're getting deeper into the muck and we'll see what the new lawyer from a law firm in D.C. is -- whether he could bring some measured judgment and some integrity and some smarts to this process which is getting out of hand.

TAPPER: And Rudy Giuliani this afternoon released a statement trying to clean up the muck that Kim refers to. One of the things said in part, my references to timing about when President Trump learned about the payment and the reimbursement, et cetera, were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge, but instead my understanding of these matters. In other word, he's saying even though the president said this or president learned this, he wasn't actually describing the president, he was talking about himself.

Do you buy this at all?

COATES: No, not at all. I also don't want to buy a bag of beans to get to a giant in the sky, because this is all complete hypocrisy and ridiculous. There is no need to give Rudy Giuliani, the former district attorney of the Southern District of New York, and the mayor of New York City the person a learning curve that every other lawyer has to have at day one. They are all presumed to be competent. What he's doing is trying to act like he's both a PR person and he's using the media and other lawyers to be his focus group.

Will this stick? Do you like that answer? Is that going to give me cover and you're believe this is not a campaign finance violation? OK, I'll try again on the morning on "Fox and Friends". How about now, focus group, do you like this particular commercial?

None of that that is how you actually operate as an attorney and Kim is dead on, the notion of he appears to be functioning as somebody who is an adviser. And you know why you never heard from Ty Cobb? Because Ty Cobb was the counsel for the office of the presidency. And now, you have Giuliani replacing that role which means his job is to protect the actual office, not the incumbent. You are not seeing this here. You're seeing a focus group.

TAPPER: Kim and Laura, thank you so much. You guys are great. I really appreciate it.

What do you do if you are the head of the EPA and the subject of a growing list of scandals? Well, you could have an aide plant a damaging story about a different cabinet level secretary. What happened and who was the target of the rumor mill? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: A staffer for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is under fire for trying to take heat off his scandal-ridden boss. According to the Atlantic Magazine, a member of the Pruitt's press team tried to plant negative headlines about a different Trump official to divert attention away from Pruitt, but as CNN's Sara Ganim reports, not only did the media find out, so did the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is just one day of headlines for Scott Pruitt. And an Atlantic reporter has discovered that one of Pruitt's communications staffers tried to take off the heat by planting a negative story about fellow cabinet member Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: A press aide at the EPA was trying to pitch a story to different reporters. He alleged that a press aide in the Department of the Interior was trying to leak damaging stories about Scott Pruitt as a way to prop up his own boss, Secretary Zinke. So this EPA press aide in return tried to do the same thing.

[16:50:10] GANIM: When the White House found out, the Atlantic reports someone from the Office of Presidential Personnel called enraged and wanted to find out if the staffer could be fired. A different EPA spokesperson denies this ever happened. This as a CNN exclusive analysis has found that Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 in reimbursement from his two campaigns for Oklahoma Attorney General in 2010 and 2014 without properly explaining the expenses on his campaign finance reports. The expenditures are so vague that at times there is no way to know what they are for. An EPA spokesperson said these were standard reimbursements. But an election watchdog told us they raise serious questions about legality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GANIM: Jake, today, we also learned about the departure of the EPA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Affairs. This was the man who oversaw Pruitt 's initiative such as censoring climate change science. He is the fourth staffer to leave unexpectedly this week alone. Meanwhile, Pruitt will be back on Capitol Hill, we're learning, on May 16th potentially facing more questions about recent scandals. Jake?

TAPPER: Sara Ganim, thank you so much. Molten lava dangerously close to dozens of homes as a Hawaii volcano erupts. And now, there are concerns about what else is spewing into the air. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Breaking news in our "NATIONAL LEAD." Now thousands of people have been forced to evacuate parts of Hawaii big island as a volcano erupts. It's dangerously close to homes. One woman captured images of molten lava spewing from a crack on a neighborhood street. The time lapse video gives another perspective. New eruptions at the Kilauea Volcano came after reports of nearly 500 earthquakes. And joining me now on the phone from Hilo, Hawaii is Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who represents parts of Hawaii. Congresswoman, thanks for joining us. We're learning that the Hawaii National Guard is providing security in areas around the volcano. What is your message -- the message of the government there to people near the volcano? What do they need to know?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Well, Jake, as soon as the first eruption happened last night -- yesterday, actually, the county and state quickly mobilized. The National Guard was activated to help evacuate people out of this area, this neighborhood, Leilani Estate and (INAUDIBLE) gardens. They're close to 800 homes in this subdivision and almost 2,000 residents. So the focus was on mandatory evacuations to get people out of this area since that first eruption. There were two others, at least one of which is still active. The sulfur dioxide gas in the air, an emergency alert was just sent out to cell phones here in the area to get -- again remind people to evacuate the area because this sulfur dioxide glass can be so toxic and thick in some areas that it can be fatal, especially to those with respiratory illnesses. So the National Guard is out there trying to help people who have not yet evacuated but also secure the area so that other folks are not going into the danger area where if things continue to worsen, even first responders are not be able to get in and help.

TAPPER: And Congresswoman, are people in the area are well aware of the potential of this volcano? Are they heeding the warnings?

GABBARD: So far there has been at least a few hundred people who evacuated. They're still trying to get the exact numbers on how many people may be left in the area. But it seems like a lot of folks have left and either gone to Red Cross shelters, local churches have opened doors or just gone to stay with family and friends.

TAPPER: Is the toxic gas more dangerous than -- I mean, more of a concern I should say than the lava?

GABBARD: You know, in some ways it is. The lava in these eruptions have already taken out a few homes this morning, but the lava moved relatively slowly and in some places after the eruption, it stopped. It's not flowing further. But the sulfur dioxide gas is very thick. The wind can push it in different directions so that's a very serious concern given the high levels and you know, people don't necessarily have the kinds of protective gas masks that they would need if they were right in the thick of this gas.

TAPPER: Hawaii is obviously huge when it comes to the tourism industry. Is this affecting tourist destinations as well? GABBARD: I don't think so, at this time. You know, those obviously who were coming here to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are not right now. People need to stay away from that area. But the big island is quite a big island and there are a lot of other places that folks are going to visit. This is a tight-knit community and the community are really coming together sharing their aloha with each other, donating food, clothes, other things that those who left in a rush needed. I think the challenge that this community is kind of used to with living near an active volcano is stress but the fact that this one is -- the eruptions are literally popping up unexpectedly in the middle of this community, so the unpredictability and the uncertainty of not knowing where the next eruption could occur is a again another reason why this entire subdivision really just had to evacuate as quickly as possible.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, stay safe. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff.