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Will Trump Sit Down With Mueller?; Interview With Washington Congressman Adam Smith; Trump Criticizes New Attorney Rudy Giuliani; Earthquakes Rock Hawaii's Big Island As Volcano Erupts; EPA Chief Faces Mounting Allegations and Scandal. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 4, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Rudy Giuliani tries to defuse the bombshell he dropped about Mr. Trump's reimbursement of the Stormy Daniels payoff after he was undercut by his client, the commander in chief. This hour, the confusion caused by the clarification.
Advised against. The president says his lawyers don't want him to sit down with the special counsel, but he says he won't hesitate to overrule them if he wants. Tonight, an insider is offering odds on whether Mr. Trump will ultimately answer Robert Mueller's questions.
And lava flow. Red hot molten rock explodes from an erupting volcano, forcing residents to flee them their homes on Hawaii's Big Island. We're tracking the danger and a strong earthquake that is making matters worse.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: Breaking tonight, a source tells me the president's legal team is still in talks about an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, despite what's being described as Rudy Giuliani's quote "S-show."
The president's high-profile lawyer publicly undermined by his boss today. Mr. Trump says Giuliani did not have his facts straight when he revealed the president ultimately footed the bill for porn star Stormy Daniels' payoff.
After two days of shifting stories, we still don't have all the facts.
I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by.
First to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, a lot of backtracking by the president and, of course, Rudy Giuliani.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim.
This as we learn that Rudy Giuliani was given -- quote -- "very little information" prior to going on television to discuss the Stormy Daniels matter, according to a source familiar with the matter, who says he was not fully right in on the details of the paperwork surrounding the case.
The source saying he caused a firestorm. Now, Rudy Giuliani has said that he coordinated with the president before going on, but then the president came out today publicly undermining his new attorney.
BROWN (voice-over): President Trump on cleanup duty.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago.
BROWN: Walking back comments from his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Funneled through a law firm, and then the president repaid it.
BROWN: That comes after Giuliani appeared on FOX News and declared Trump had repaid Michael Cohen for $130,000 in hush money for porn star Stormy Daniels' silence.
TRUMP: Rudy knows it's a witch-hunt. He started yesterday. He will get his facts straight. There has been a lot of misinformation, really, people wanting to say -- and I say, you know what? Learn before you speak. It's a lot easier.
BROWN: Giuliani telling CNN Thursday: "You won't see daylight between me and the president."
But after suggesting on television the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels was made to help protect the campaign...
GIULIANI: Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.
BROWN: Today, Giuliani tried to walk it back, issuing a new statement, claiming: "My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge, but instead my understanding of these matters."
And yet the president flatly denies the story has changed.
TRUMP: We're not changing any stories. All I'm telling you is that this country is right now running so smooth, and to be bringing up that kind of crap and to be bringing up witch-hunts all the time, that is all you want to talk about, you're going to see -- excuse me. Excuse me.
QUESTION: No, you said on Air Force One that you didn't know anything about the payment.
TRUMP: Excuse me. You take a look at what I said. You go back and take a look. You will see what I said.
BROWN: Here's what he said.
QUESTION: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
BROWN: The president today also talking about a potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, against the advice of his lawyers.
TRUMP: I would love to speak. I would love to. Nobody wants to speak more than me, in fact, against my lawyers, because most lawyers say, never speak on anything. I would love to speak, because we have done nothing wrong. There was no collusion with the Russians. There was nothing. There was no obstruction. Everybody sees it now and it is a pure witch-hunt. Right now, it's a pure witch-hunt.
BROWN: Saying an interview with Mueller's team would only be possible if he was treated fairly.
TRUMP: Bottom line is, I want to talk to the people in charge, if they can prove that it's a fair situation. The problem we have is that you have 13 people, they're all Democrats, and they're real Democrats, they're angry Democrats, and that's not a fair situation.
BROWN: However, Mueller himself is a registered Republican. And members on the special counsel's team have made campaign donations to both parties.
TRUMP: All we hear about is this phony Russia witch-hunt. That's all we hear about.
BROWN: Trump calling Mueller's investigation a witch-hunt once again speaking before the National Rifle Association Convention.
TRUMP: Let me tell you, folks, we're all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BROWN: And the president also reiterating that he would love to sit down and do an interview with Robert Mueller if he was fair.
Unclear what it would take for the president to think that Robert Mueller fair, considering he consistently calls the investigation a witch-hunt.
And it was clear, Jim, even though he was at the NRA -- an NRA event, that he wanted to talk about a lot of other things, including the 2016 election. The president even spoke several times to the media on his own initiative today. He wanted to get a lot off his chest and be his own messenger, it seems -- Jim.
ACOSTA: He certainly did that.
Pamela Brown, thank you very much.
The president's anti-Mueller rant at the NRA Convention included a new twist.
Mr. Trump now is quoting a federal judge who said he believes the special counsel is prosecuting Paul Manafort with the hope that it will lead to the ouster of the president of the United States from office.
CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, joins us now.
Shimon, you're covering the Manafort case and the Russia probe. The president cited a CNN story about some of this today. What did the judge say? It was interesting.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was certainly interesting, interesting remarks from the judge, perhaps somewhat surprising, but not entirely surprising to those people who cover this.
This is Judge Ellis in the Eastern District of Virginia, really questioning the scope of the special counsel investigate , taking issue with really what the motives are as it relates to Paul Manafort, saying really in the end what they really want is for Paul Manafort to cooperate and turn and sort of try and bring charges or perhaps even impeach the president.
Here's exactly what the judge said.
This was arguing with the prosecution there. It says -- quote -- "You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud," the judge said. "Prosecution or impeachment, that's what you're really interested in."
And, quite honestly, these remarks from the judge are not entirely shocking, because it's a lot about what many of us have been reporting, in that there is this feeling that perhaps the pressure that is building on Paul Manafort is to get him to cooperate and certainly the judge not hiding from that sentiment, that feeling that most of us have reported on.
And the other thing, this judge had a lot to say today, one of the other things, just taking an overall position and the feeling towards the investigation by the special counsel, really trying to say, well, you just can't do whatever you want.
And then the judge went on to say -- quote -- "We don't want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It's unlikely you're going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants."
And, again, this goes to the argument that Paul Manafort's counsel has been making that the special counsel has gone beyond their scope. This supposed to be about Russia. And, in fact, the charges that are before the court or where this judge is making these comments have nothing to do with Russia, and that it has to do with bank fraud.
And then, of course, no surprise there the president seized on these comments at the NRA when he spoke, even citing a report from CNN. Here's what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A highly respected judge in Virginia made statements.
It says -- "Wall Street Journal," it says, judge questions Mueller's authority to prosecute Manafort.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: Now, Paul Manafort's a nice guy, but he worked for me for a very short period of time, literally for, like, a couple of months.
On CNN, they have a headline, judge in Manafort case says Mueller's aim is to hurt Trump. Do you believe that? This is what we're up -- it's called the witch-hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: And so there you go there quoting the CNN story which we posted online shortly after the judge made these remarks.
And really a lot of people expected this, Jim, right, that this was going to help the president, seizing on those comments a lot, and certainly, as you said, a lot of people were caught by surprise with these comments by the judge.
ACOSTA: And what should we read into this judge's comments? He strongly criticized the special counsel's office, not something we hear all the time?
Does it mean anything more than the judge is he saying to the special counsel's office, listen, you can't just do whatever you want?
PROKUPECZ: Yes, pretty much.
Legally, there didn't appear to be any issues with what the special counsel office is doing. But certainly the judge had some strong opinions, kind of editorializing what the special counsel was doing here.
But beyond that, it doesn't really appear to be any legal issues with what the special counsel was doing. ACOSTA: And the issue of that memo that Rod Rosenstein wrote in all
of this to describe the criminal allegations that Mueller's team could investigate, that also came up today. We're seeing some of it on screen. What does that mean? What happened with that?
The judge has ordered the special prosecutor here, the special counsel, to turn over that document. It's redacted. Publicly, it's been redacted. It's a classified document. And it goes through some of the case, some of the investigation, the special counsel, some of the stuff they're looking into.
And so the judge ordered the special counsel to hand in that document in to him. He wants to review it. Paul Manafort will not have access to the document.
Remember, this is also a document that members of Congress have been asking for and the Department of Justice has denied them permission to look at it. The judge will take a look at it. It's not entirely sure why he wants to take a look at it. But he asked for it.
And it appears the special counsel is going to comply with that.
ACOSTA: Interesting the judge will see that now.
Now, you're also getting new information about the Michael Cohen case. What can you tell us?
PROKUPECZ: Right. That's right.
So, this just came out a short time ago. The special master who has been assigned with reviewing some of these privileged documents or potential privileged documents that the FBI seized from the Michael Cohen raid filed her first report.
And in it, she basically says that a lot of the documents that the FBI, the boxes, some eight boxes that were seized and a lot of the documents have now been handed over to Michael Cohen's attorneys, to her, some of the electronics, media, the phones, iPads.
Some of that information has now been handed over. So, basically, what this tells us is that things are moving forward. It also tells us that his attorneys, Michael Cohen's attorneys, now have a lot of what the FBI seized in those raids. So they now know and should have a pretty good idea exactly what the FBI is looking at in this investigation.
ACOSTA: All right, very interesting. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.
And joining me now, Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, what do you think of the last 48 hours about the
credibility of the president of the United States and the White House after everything we have seen from Rudy Giuliani these last two days?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, that's the thing that really stands out is the fundamental dishonesty of the president of the United States.
And that goes to everything. That goes the credibility of our country. We are in the middle of some very, very complicated issues, but nationally -- both in the country and internationally, obviously the summit coming up with Kim Jong-un. We have an incredibly important trade discussion going on with the E.U. and China right now.
We have got the continuing situation in Syria and Iran. And who in the world right now can trust anything that the president says? He lies every other day. And the thing is, you know he lies because he is contradicting himself. It's not a matter of him saying something that we then have to prove is untrue. He said the exact opposite thing a mere matter of sometimes hours or days before.
So I think the credibility of the presidency has never been at a lower point. And that undermines everything we're trying to accomplish as a country.
ACOSTA: And he said today, go back and look at the videotape.
And we did. And, of course, he contradicted himself.
Congressman, some people say that this alleged affair fits with their view of the president's character before he won the White House.
ACOSTA: And you hear this often from Trump people privately and sometimes publicly that this has been litigated during the election. Why do you think it's so important to get to the truth on this?
SMITH: Well, two things about that.
Even if it was litigated before the election, if the president has this history -- and keep in mind, there's I think pretty close to a dozen different women who have accused him, not just of an affair, but of sexual harassment, sexual harassment of which of course he famously sort of bragged about doing.
So that's a fundamental character flaw. Whether it was present before the election or not, it is still a fundamental character flaw. And let's shift topics, because a lot of times, with President Trump, the hard thing is, he distracts you with everything.
Yes, you do not want a president who has had multiple affairs, who has paid hush money to people he had affairs with, and who has lied about it repeatedly. Again, the credibility of the office matters.
But getting back to the Russia issue, there is a mountain of evidence of some kind of conspiracy between people very, very close to President Trump and the Russians.
The meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian agent at Trump Tower being but one of them. Let's remember, Michael Flynn was fired for lying to the FBI about his interactions with the Russians. Even Attorney General Sessions, let's be generous and say he forgot about meetings he had with the Russians.
The connections between Cambridge Analytica, the connections with them seeming to know, the Trump people seeming to know when these e-mails were going to be released by WikiLeaks. The notion that this is a witch-hunt, and as the president keeps saying, as if a mantra -- I swear this is what he says to himself before he goes to bed at night -- no evidence of collusion, well, first of all, the issue is conspiracy.
The president is kind of right there's no such crime as collusion, but there is a crime of conspiracy and there's also a crime of obstruction of justice.
ACOSTA: Let me ask you about obstruction of justice.
ACOSTA: Because on the Mueller investigation, the president keeps saying, well, if he fights back -- and I think he said this just recently -- if you fight back, they say, oh, that's obstruction of justice.
As you heard him today, he likes to fight these battles. He doesn't see it as violating the law. How do you read that comment? What do you make of that?
SMITH: It's remarkably ignorant of the law.
Keep in mind, until a couple of days ago, apparently, the president was unaware of the fact that you can obstruct justice even if it turns out there was no underlying crime. If you think you are protecting against a crime that happened, then that can be obstruction of justice.
So, the president's knowledge of the law is apparently really rather limited here. But he's not just fighting back.
Look, he said on NBC TV he fired Comey because he didn't like where he was going with the Russia investigation. He clearly put pressure on Comey to take it easy on Michael Flynn. He has put pressure on a number of different people to steer away from the Russia investigation.
And there's two pieces to this. One, of course, is whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in it. But the second one that is important beyond that, Russia interfered in our election. The president continues to deny that and continues to do nothing to prevent it from happening again.
And that's a threat to all of us, independent of whether or not there's any criminal charges proven against the president.
ACOSTA: Well, Congressman, let me ask you about this looming showdown that I guess we're starting to see on the horizon here, the president, whether he will or whether he won't sit down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
The president said today he would love to speak to the special counsel. What happens if the president refuses? I talked to a source close to all this earlier today who said it's about 50/50 as to whether this will not happen.
What happens at that point? What would you like to see happen if the president says, no, I'm not going to do this?
SMITH: Well, I'm not sure of the legalities here myself. I will be honest about my ignorance. I'm not sure what right the president has to resist a subpoena. I think the law is a little bit unsettled there.
I think it's quite possible that he does have the right to say that he's not going to talk to Robert Mueller. And, look, if I was his lawyer...
ACOSTA: Even if the face of a subpoena, he can say that he's not going to do it, and you think legally he might be able to get away with that?
SMITH: My understanding it's that's unsettled, because it's a separation of powers issue. You have got the judicial branch going after the chief executive of the country or in this case the Justice Department. How does that balance of power play out? I'm not sure.
If he is compelled to testify, given the fact that the president is so incapable of telling the truth -- think about this -- take us back to the Clinton days and the fact that the Republicans impeached President Clinton for lying about an affair in a deposition. And keep in mind, the Starr investigation was supposed to be about, again, some things totally unrelated.
And ultimately what they impeached him for was lying about something that was totally unrelated to Whitewater and everything else. That was just one lie. Donald Trump lies like most people breathe.
If you get him in front of Robert Mueller, under oath, every lie he tells is a crime. How on earth does anyone think that President Trump is going to be capable of sitting through an interview like that without saying something that's clearly not true?
ACOSTA: Yes. SMITH: So -- but I would say it would be idiotic for him to testify
in front of Mueller, but then again it would be idiotic to hire Rudy Giuliani and put him on FOX News and have him directly contradict everything you have been saying.
ACOSTA: It sounds like a reality TV cliffhanger, I think. We're going to have to wait and see how it all pans out.
ACOSTA: But, Congressman Adam Smith, some very interesting comments on all of this. Thank you very much.
And just ahead: a disaster erupting on the Big Island of Hawaii, as a volcano spews fiery lava and toxic gas. And an earthquake is rattling the region. We will have a live report.
And we're tracking Rudy Giuliani stunning claims about the Stormy Daniels payoff and the backtracking after the president said his new lawyer got it wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When Rudy made the statement, Rudy is great. But Rudy had just started. And he wasn't totally familiar with everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Tonight, the more Rudy Giuliani tries to explain himself and the president's actions, the more confusing things get.
Mr. Trump's new lawyer attempting to rewrite some of his most stunning remarks over the past 48 hours after the president publicly urged him to -- quote -- "get his facts straight."
We're told other members of the Trump legal team are describing Giuliani's comments in vulgar terms that we can't repeat right now.
CNN national correspondent Athena Jones is sorting through it all.
Athena, it's been a whirlwind, more so than I think some days in Trump world. Are we any closer to learning the truth, though ?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, Jim. I wish we could say we are getting closer to learning the truth.
This back and forth is enough to make your head spin. You have the president denying any knowledge of this hush payment his lawyer made to Stormy Daniels. Then you have this admission by yet another of his lawyers that he did know about it.
Now we're seeing more reversals. With the story changing so fast, it's increasingly difficult to figure out who and what to believe.
QUESTION: How is Rudy doing, Mr. President? How is he doing?
JONES (voice-over): Tonight, constantly shifting explanations about the president, the porn star and the payoff. First, there was President Trump's firm denial aboard Air Force One last month that he knew anything about the $130,000 payment his personal lawyer Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
QUESTION: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. No. What else?
QUESTION: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you will have to ask Michael.
JONES: That denial contradicted Wednesday night on FOX News by one of Trump's new lawyers, Rudy Giuliani.
GIULIANI: That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I am giving you a fact now that you don't know. It is not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: So, they funneled it through a law firm.
GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm, and then the president repaid it.
JONES: And again Thursday morning, saying of Cohen:
GIULIANI: He was definitely reimbursed. There's no doubt about it.
JONES: While also attempting to clear up questions about what Trump knew and when.
GIULIANI: He didn't know the details of this until we knew the details of it, which is a couple of weeks ago, maybe not even a couple, maybe 10 days ago.
JONES: The president, who sources tell CNN spoke with Giuliani before and after his Wednesday night FOX interview, backed up Giuliani's explanation on Twitter Thursday morning, writing he reimbursed Cohen through the monthly retainer he paid to him for his services and adding: "Money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction." Tonight, the story changing yet again. Giuliani, who said Trump reimbursed Cohen through monthly installments of $35,000 each, now telling NBC he doesn't think Trump realized he had paid Cohen back until Giuliani made him aware of documents that show he did, saying when he told the president, Trump responded: "Oh, my goodness, I guess that's what it was for."
Just a few hours later the president again reversing course, suggesting Giuliani, who joined his legal team two weeks ago, didn't have a full grasp of all the facts.
TRUMP: Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago, but he really has his heart into it. He's working hard. He's learning the subject matter. He started yesterday. He will get his facts straight.
JONES: Adding before boarding Air Force One for Texas:
TRUMP: When Rudy made the statements, Rudy is great, but Rudy had just started, and he wasn't totally familiar with everything.
JONES: All while insisting:
TRUMP: We're not changing any stores.
JONES: Giuliani issued a statement this afternoon meant to clarify his comments about the payment and the president's knowledge of it, saying, in part: "My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge, but instead my understanding of these matters."
JONES: So even that supposedly clarifying statement is a real head- scratcher.
One would think that Giuliani's -- quote -- "understanding of these matters" would come from his own discussions with his client, the president.
As we reported, Giuliani talked to the president before and after that Hannity interview. So, this new statement doesn't really clear up anything -- Jim.
ACOSTA: It certainly doesn't.
Athena Jones, thank you very much.
Just ahead: President Trump says he'd love to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller. Tonight, we're learning new details of the negotiations that may make that happen.
Plus, a new earthquake rocks Hawaii's Big Island, as lava and deadly gas spew from the ground. We will get a live update on the spectacular, but dangerous volcanic eruption.
[18:32:28] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump just arrived back in the Washington area after the speech to the NRA and Dallas. His legal team is plowing forward negotiating a potential interview with Robert Mueller, and trying to move past any damaged done by Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor is walking back some of the most controversial comments he made in a series of interviews, comments of other lawyers defending the president are criticizing in private big time.
Let's bring in our team of legal and political experts. And Sara Murray, I go to you first. Rudy Giuliani saying, you won't see any daylight between me and the president. Today, the president said there was a lot of daylight, a whole bunch of daylight. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago. But he really has his heart into it. He's working hard. He's learning the subject matter. He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight. He's a great guy.
But what he does is he feels it's a very bad thing for our country, and he happens to be right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Sara, it sounded like a parent talking about their child who's working very hard, he's putting his heart into it, you know.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look there --
ACOSTA: We want the very best for them, you know.
MURRAY: They're on the same page in the sense that neither Rudy Giuliani nor the president seem to be particularly concerned about, you know, the facts or what actually happened before they decided to go out on television and talk about it.
And that is why we are now in this mess and well, yes, the rest of the president's legal team is privately cringing because now nobody really knows what's going on. And they are saying, OK, we've now, like, given three versions of the story. We can't get on the same page. We're not exactly sure what this is going to mean for us legally.
So in many ways, Rudy Giuliani not exactly helping the president with his very flashy (ph) debut. But you can see the president's affection for him anyway if he talks about, you know, he's doing his best.
ACOSTA: And after you and I covered the campaign, it's situation normal, basically, is what you say. Yes.
MURRAY: Pretty much, pretty much.
ACOSTA: Joey Jackson, Rudy Giuliani tried to clear things up and he put out the statement, we can put a portion of it up on screen. "There's no campaign violation," Giuliani says. "The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the president's family. It would have been done in any event whether he was a candidate or not." Of course, Rudy was talking about this in the context of October 2016.
But, Joey, the alleged affair happened in 2006. They had 10 years to make this payment or to talk about a payment or -- what do you make of that?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Therein lies the issue. If you're inquiring about it, don't other inquiring minds want to know, isn't the timing suspicious and does that not cause a connection between the campaign?
Look, here's the point, what happened with Rudy Giuliani is inexcusable. Now, perfection eludes us all, I get that. But as lawyers, we have one job, right? And as lawyers, we spin the facts, we massage the facts, right?
[18:35:08] We take a good fact and a bad fact, because in any fact pattern, there's both and we highlight the good fact that we, you know, we subvert the bad fact, but we present the facts. When you don't, as a base, know exactly what the facts are, that's problematic. Or maybe you do know what the facts are but you realize that the facts hurt your client.
And what I find even more just incredible, Jim, is in the clip from the president, the president is covering for his client, right? Generally speaking --
ACOSTA: So, the other way around? Yes.
JACKSON: Exactly, right. The president is covering for, you know, for Rudy Giuliani. Shouldn't it be the lawyer that covers for you? And so, the bottom line is that that's very troubling to say the least.
ACOSTA: He was working very hard and he had his heart into it, you could say of the president today.
Sam Vinograd, speaking of somebody who's in pursuit of the facts, Robert Mueller, obviously would like to sit down with the president. I've talked to a source familiar with some of these talks today, who said they're still working on all this despite Rudy Giuliani's theatrics and whatnot.
What do you think the odds are for that? I was hearing 50-50 today. If the president -- the president sounded like he wanted to do it today, of course, we don't know if that's true or not. But, what do you think? How was this boiling down, do you think?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we did hear Giuliani and the president make statements about willingness to meet with Mueller, but then heavily caveated. And both of them actually insulted the Department of Justice right after these reported public negotiations. But, I do think that we see Giuliani, the president and other members
of his team make these public statements and try to negotiate publicly on a Mueller interview, on North Korea, on Iran. And the fact so the matter, Jim, is that these are all distractions. They obfuscate the fact that real work is being done, not in front of the TV cameras, between the president's legal team, I hope, and the Department of Justice or the president's foreign policy team and the North Koreans. Real negotiations don't happen from the cameras.
ACOSTA: All right. And Susan Hennessey, what did you make of this federal judge today who was handling the Paul Manafort case, really going after the government, going after Mueller's team and saying, well, you guys are just out to get the president, that you're using Manafort to get to president. That was pretty harsh stuff.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So it's pretty puzzling why he would feel the need to say that sort of based on the substance. Also on the substance, you know, prosecutors use evidence in other crimes to incentivize cooperation all the time. It's not clear why he would be suggesting that's somehow improper.
And this judge does have --
ACOSTA: Or something new.
HENNESSEY: Right. This judge does have a reputation for being tough on government lawyers, even if he ultimately rules in their favor.
Now, look, the president in the past has made the mistake of assuming that any judge that rules against him is somehow biased. I do think we should be careful not to make that statement stake (ph) here.
You know, presumably this judge felt like he needed to challenge the government on this position in order to get the information he needed. It's not immediately clear sort of how the logic might operate. But, I do think that we should give the court the benefit of the doubt until we actually see the ruling.
ACOSTA: And Joey Jackson, if the judge had said that to you today, what would have been your response today?
JACKSON: Well, I have to tell you this, listen, some judges are very activists and they have something to say to the prosecution as well as the defense. But generally speaking, judges are not waxing poetic about their thoughts concerning what your intentions are. The judges are making rulings that relate to the law.
And the fact is, is that if you have a legitimate case, I think for one that a judge, yes, you have your own opinions but the courtroom perhaps is not the place to express them. The courtroom is a place that you can make rulings that are legitimate based upon the case before you. So to be questioning why you're doing things and who you're trying to harm, or et cetera, I just don't think that's within the proper province of what a court should be doing in a federal courtroom.
ACOSTA: OK. Good discussion. Everybody, standby.
Just ahead, even some of the president's biggest cheerleaders are sounding frustrated by his shifting comments on the Stormy Daniels payoff.
And, Hawaii's big island shaken by a new earthquake in addition to an erupting volcano. We're live in the danger zone. Coming up.
[18:43:38] ACOSTA: And we're back with our legal and political team following the fallout from Rudy Giuliani's questionable attempts to defend the president in a series of interviews. And I think we'll label the banner here when you've lost Fox News.
Sara Murray, take a look at Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto with a rather stunning unstate TV like statement about the president. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: How can you drain the swamp if you're the one muddying the waters? You didn't know about that $130,000 payment to a porn star until you did. Said you knew nothing about how your former lawyer Michael Cohen handled this until acknowledging today you were the guy behind the retainer payment that took care of this. You insist that money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction. Of that, you're sure.
The thing is, not even 24 hours ago, sir, you couldn't recall any of this. They're using your own words to bash you. Your base probably might not care, but you should.
I guess you're too busy draining the swamp to ever stop and smell the stink you're creating. That's your doing. That's your stink, Mr. President. That's your swamp.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Sara Murray, when you've lost Fox News.
MURRAY: Well, it is pretty stunning because, of course, this is Fox. I think you're seeing a lot of the frustration we've seen from conservatives who hoped the president would sort of rise to the moment once he was in the White House and they wouldn't be dealing with things like questions about of paying off porn stars.
[18:45:09] But, you know, these are the same people who were cheerleaders for this man when he was accused of, you know, unwanted advances or touching by a dozen women. This is a same guy who went out and denigrated women on pretty much every ethnicity under the sun. So, you know, the notion that you're getting something other what you paid for in this sense, I mean, this is the guy you elected. This is what you get.
ACOSTA: Yes, there's no fine print with Donald Trump. It's all in all bold caps.
MURRAY: And people voted for him. They voted for him. He won the White House, you know, this is what you get.
ACOSTA: This is what we get. And I want to show what the "Wall Street Journal" had to say about this, because it's interesting. It's more and more cracks in the conservative base. It says Mr. Trump is compiling a record that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis, say a dispute over speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller or a nuclear show down with Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says.
Sam Vinograd, how big of a crisis of credibility is this becoming?
SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a crisis of credibility for the American people, but it's also crisis of credibility for any negotiations that we're having abroad. This whole notion of believe me this time isn't going to fly with Kim Jong-un or the Iranians. I think it's going to leave people on the other side of the table to hedge and try to get, get out of jail free card if Donald Trump changes his mind.
But, Jim, all of this tells me that Putin is sitting back tonight thinking, wow, it was really smart to back Donald Trump as a candidate because Putin's whole mission is to undermine the credibility of our institutions and at this point, if no one believes the president of the United States, I think Putin is having a mission accomplished moment yet again.
ACOSTA: And, Susan, as we head into the midterm season, it seems that and we saw this with the president's speech today with the NRA, that he's willing to tear down the public discourse all the way to the lowest common denominator to try to hold the House and Senate because he knows he's in trouble if he doesn't. I think that this turning point that we've seen this week is only going to make him want to do that even more.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURIOTY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think that's true. It's gotten to the point where you don't -- you can't believe or disbelieve anything. The president appears to relish the extent to which that discombobulates the media and his opponents. I think what we're seeing now is it's disorienting to his base as well, and that's going to have political consequences.
But to Sam's point, it's going to have real strategic national security consequences when he needs to draw on that reserve of credibility and reserve of trust with our foreign allies, from military action, and that's going to be the moment in which not just Donald Trump, but the American people really regret that we're in a situation.
ACOSTA: And, Joey Jackson, right now Donald Trump is your client. Go.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I have to tell you, Jim, the most frustrating thing about it is he doesn't listen. And so, it really wouldn't matter what I'd have to say to him because he's going to do his own thing.
And the fact is when you say things, there are consequences to what you say, and the consequence here is the lack of people believing what you say, and we are in -- I mean, these are very troubling times for him. We have this Mueller investigation going on, will he speak to him, will he get subpoenaed before the grand jury, will he lie? Will he testify in a deposition for Stormy Daniels case? Will he not do so?
I mean, it very much imperils him that he doesn't listen. You're a great businessman but leave the lawyering to your lawyers, and part of that is to stop talking. Stay off Twitter and stop getting yourself in these instances for which your words are just your worst enemy.
ACOSTA: And I can't believe that this happened this morning, where the president tweeted about the media this morning, calling us fake news, and then walked out in the front of the cameras outside the White House and said his lawyer didn't have his facts straight.
All right. Thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate the discussion.
Just ahead, a dangerous and stunning volcanic eruption and now, a strong earthquake. We'll go live to Hawaii.
[18:53:33] ACOSTA: A very dangerous situation in a vacation paradise. A series of earthquakes just now striking Hawaii's big island where an erupting volcano has been shooting lava and hazardous gas into the air.
CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us live from Hawaii, from the big island, with more on all of this breaking story.
Stephanie, what's the latest?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, what we're learning is that a fourth fissure has opened here on the big island. This as residents are dealing with flowing lava and also a swarm of earthquakes.
ELAM (voice-over): Volcanic eruptions spewing molten rock, ash and toxic gases on to Hawaii's big island, stemming from a series of cracks in the rift zone miles from the Kilauea volcano. Residents are fleeing as forests burn and break open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can feel the heat coming down. Yes, there's heat coming up out of this.
ELAM: Officials warn the sulfur dioxide levels are extremely dangerous. They've closed large sections of Hawaii volcanoes national park. More than 700 structures and 1,700 people are within the mandatory evacuation area. RANSON YONEDA, SUPERVISOR, PAHOA COMMUNITY SHELTER: Now we have about
100 people here at the facilities at the shelter. We just go another wave of them that got evacuated because the volcano and it's erupting more up on the street. At the center of the activity lies the community of Leilani Estates, a resident there captured this lava found shooting over 100 feet into the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It came around, and down the road. All we heard was a boom. What is up? All of a sudden, we smelled of sulfur, sulfur dioxide. We knew something was happened.
Within minutes, some smoke. And now, all this lava coming across the street and it's pumping right now, so this fissure is opening up and this is our next eruption.
ELAM: The eruptions are part of a massive geological event set by the collapse of the crater floor. That collapse led to hundreds of earthquakes this week which continue to jolt the big island.
GOV. DAVID IGE (D), HAWAII: The tough part about this is that it's unpredictable. We don't know which way the lava is going to flow and we are planning actively for every contingency we can think of.
ELAM: And, of course, dealing with volcano erupting is something that they have seen here before. They have used to dealing with it. But at the same time, they're telling residents to not mess around, to evacuate with that air quality being bad, with these earthquakes and with that deadly lava flowing toward places like Leilani estates with those fissures opening, Jim.
ACOSTA: Stunning images and a dangerous situation in a beautiful place. Stay safe. Stephanie Elam, thank you very much.
Now let's shift gears back here to Washington and what seems to be a daily scandal involving the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as still more about his spending and ethics are surfacing tonight. We're told Pruitt will give new Senate testimony on May 16th facing some lawmakers who are just fed up with his constant controversy.
CNN's Sara Ganim has the latest on that. Sara, what are we learning about Scott Pruitt tonight?
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Jim, internal turmoil in the EPA office continues. As we learn of the departure of the EPA associate director for public affairs, this is the man who overseen the initiatives like censoring climate change science. He's the fourth staffer to leave unexpectedly this week alone.
And for those left in Pruitt's inner circle, it appears the pressure is building up just as fast as the headlines.
GANIM (voice-over): This is just one day of headlines for Scott Pruitt. And an Atlantic reporter has discovered that one of Pruitt's communication 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 is same thing.
GANIM: When the White House found out, "The Atlantic" reports someone reports from the office of office personnel called enraged and wanted to find out if the staffer could be fired. A different aide denies this ever happened. This as CNN exclusive analysis has found that Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 in reimbursements 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 says these were standard reimbursements. But an election watchdog says they raise serious questions about legality.
GANIM: And new tonight, CNN has learned that the man responsible for Pruitt's security up until just a few days ago appears to have written this Facebook post with tips on how to sell a client security.
Jim, it reads like a playbook for everything that went wrong with Scott Pruitt, allegations against Pruitt include that he abused his status in order to fly first class and used lights and siren on his car to avoid Washington, D.C. traffic. Well, the Facebook The posting suggests this. Make protection feel like a perk and eliminate the usual annoyances of travel.
Pruitt has also come under fire for spending almost 2 million taxpayer dollars to beef up his security team when a whistleblower provided memos showing there weren't posts to back it up and a Facebook from his former security chief suggests cultivate a healthy paranoia.
We reached out to the EPA and to the former chief of security, but have not yet gotten a response -- Jim.
ACOSTA: It just doesn't stop there, Sara. I can tell you from being over at the White House, that there are people inside the White House who are glad that Scott Pruitt is reliable on issues like the environment and climate change, from a conservative stand point, but they're sick of these scandals.
Sara Ganim, thank you very much.
And I'm Jim Acosta. Have a great weekend for everybody. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.