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Rudy Giuliani's Plan to Clear Up Legal Questions Surrounding the President Backfires; Trump Defends CIA Nominee Ahead of Senate Hearing; Oil Prices Rise as Investors Fear End of Iran Deal; Unemployment Below Four Percent for First Time Since 2000. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:20] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with me.

If Rudy Giuliani's plan was to clear up legal questions surrounding the president, it back fired. His media blitz feeding growing controversies on Russia and Stormy Daniels. Also this morning the president piling on suggesting legal action is coming against the special counsel's team.

All of this as sources tell CNN that National Security adviser and Republicans are prepping a backup plan if the president's pick to run the CIA, Gina Haspel, who would be the first woman to do so, if that falls through. The president is rallying and ramping up support today.

But first, let's go to Kaitlan Collins, she's at the White House with more. And let's begin with Rudy Giuliani and the Russia probe.

What can you tell us and what is the president himself saying this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, Poppy, the president was actually relatively silent about all of this over the weekend. But his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, certainly was not. He did several interviews in an attempt to clarify that bombshell remark he made last week about the president reimbursing Michael Cohen for that payment made to Stormy Daniels.

And after the president said on Friday essentially that Rudy Giuliani needed to get up to speed, Giuliani was quoted saying, "I haven't been able to read the 1.2 million documents, that's in relation to the special counsel's investigation," but he said, "I'm focused on the law more than the facts right now." A comment that certainly has raised some eyebrows.

He continued, "The whole situation of the $130,000 doesn't require an analysis of the facts because it wasn't intended as a campaign contribution, it was intended as a personal embarrassing harassing claim." Of course the president said that Rudy Giuliani needed to get his facts straight.

Now he also raised some eyebrows when he essentially said that he believed that the president would be able to avoid any subpoena if he was subpoenaed by the special counsel's investigation. Listen to this.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Are you confident the president will not take the Fifth in this case?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: How can I be confident of that? When I'm facing a situation with the president, I know all the other lawyers are, and which every lawyer in America thinks he'd be a fool to testify. I've got a client who wants to testify. Please, don't -- he said it yesterday. And, you know, Jay and I said to ourselves, my goodness, you know, I hope we get a chance to tell him the risk that he is taking.


COLLINS: So between that comment there, Poppy, and Rudy Giuliani also saying that the president could have paid off other women potentially that he wasn't essentially -- couldn't say for sure if he had not the president hasn't weighed in on that. This morning on Twitter he's been tweeting about the Mueller investigation saying that it's being run by Democrats. Of course we do know that the special counsel himself is a Republican, Poppy.

That's what is on the president's mind, though, clearly this morning saying it's a Russia witch hunt that he believes is rapidly losing credibility.

HARLOW: Trying to win on that in the court of public opinion at least.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

Joining me now Laura Coates, our legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor.

Laura, so glad you're here. There's a lot to get through. Let me just first start with Giuliani's assertion over the weekend in this interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC that the president, because he is president, would not have to legally -- you know, would not have to comply with the subpoena from Mueller's team. Is he right?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. He is wrong. And in fact the Supreme Court of the United States at least in one case has said that the president of the United States can sit and answer to a subpoena. That was a civil of "Clinton v. Jones," but the proposition essentially is the president of the United States is not too busy nor can he try to allude his requirements under due process law, under "Nixon versus the United States," by the president, excuse me, about that very issue.

He may still fight it under the Fifth Amendment privilege but he'll have to ultimately sit. What he does from there is anybody's guess. HARLOW: Look, Rudy Giuliani said that he cannot guarantee that the

president would not plead the Fifth. So another sort of bombshell there in that interview. One thing that struck me so much is when Giuliani was talking about facts versus opinion. And he said he is, quote, "more focused on the law than on the facts right now." Listen to this exchange.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You stated it as fact.

GIULIANI: Well, maybe I did. But right now I'm at the point where I'm worrying. And I can only -- I can't prove that. I can just say it's rumor. I can prove it's rumor but I can't prove it's fact. Yet. Maybe we will.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've said it as a matter of fact on Hannity and BuzzFeed. You talked --


GIULIANI: I don't know. I don't know how you separate fact and opinion.


HARLOW: Laura, as an attorney, doesn't the fact dictate whether your client broke the law or not?

COATES: Absolutely, Poppy. What you do not want to have your attorney doing is essentially saying that only the law matters, not the underlying fact.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:05:02] COATES: The law needs the facts to apply, and vice versa. The bigger issue I'm seeing here of course that he seems to be conflating a different principle. When he talks about opinion versus fact, it sounds like he may have his eye towards a defamation lawsuit which of course tries to distinguish whether you're saying factual statements or an opinion. Remember the president is facing information and facing a case about that very issue in at least two fronts. Some observers and (INAUDIBLE), maybe conflating two different concepts there.

But what you cannot do, Rudy Giuliani, is say you have a learning curve. If you don't have your sea legs that's fine but then don't go on a media blitz trying to see if you can walk a straight line.

HARLOW: And we'll talk about this more on the political side with our panelists in a moment, but I mean, he said to CNN, Giuliani, we are the ones setting the agenda right now. We're winning. So maybe this is a muddy the water strategy. I don't know. However, Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti saying it's just if Rudy Giuliani keeps talking. Listen to this.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The more they talk the better our case gets and here's why. Because they can't keep their stories straight. And with each passing day with more and more statements made by Mr. Giuliani, Miss Conway now, Michael Cohen's attorneys and others, the likelihood of us being able to place this president under oath I think has gone up exponentially.


HARLOW: Is he right on that legal argument that the more that Rudy Giuliani is out there talking about this the better chance they have of deposing the president?

COATES: Only with respect to Stormy Daniels' case in California is Avenatti correct. There are three different cases that we're talking about here.


COATES: But in California, yes. Because what he's done essentially has put into question whether the president of the United States was aware of the agreement, whether he was aware of the reimbursement and what he knew about whether it was a valid agreement or not. So all those things places the question therefore it's more likely he would. But we're a long way away from that. So we have a court hearing, what, in the end of May about that very issue, or in June.

HARLOW: Right. Let me ask you about this. Different topic, very important. The federal judge that is overseeing the bank fraud case against Paul Manafort came out on Friday with a scathing assessment of the intent of Mueller's team in this probe. Let me read you part of what the judge said in court, quote, "You," meaning Mueller's team, "don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud. He went on to say that the president's prosecution or impeachment, that is what you are really interested in."

How significant, Laura, is that in terms of a slap to Mueller's team and the case? What does it tell us? Does it indicate the judge could throw this thing out?

COATES: It's very significant here, Poppy. It's not unheard of for a federal judge to actually question a prosecutor. Notoriously difficult because there is a lot of weight behind U.S. versus somebody's name. You want him to do the right thing.


COATES: Also this feels a lot like deja vu to people because in Washington, D.C. this very argument was raised previously with a different judge and that judge then came back to hear a response about Rod Rosenstein hadn't actually expanded the scope of Mueller's probe to include Manafort's finances in the Ukraine. So here, this judge, in particular, now wants to hear it for himself. He wants to see the evidence before in his court, not read about it in the "Washington Post." But really this is actually a very big blow to Mueller's team but

ultimately it will not actually end in a dismissal, I don't believe, because you still have very clear documents apparently that support a bank fraud case. Ultimately, though, Poppy, what he is trying to say, this judge is, it appears from the media reporting perhaps that you're trying to simply throw on as much as you can to influence this person to flip.

But if the government never had any intention of Manafort, that they can just hand me the top fish, then the buck would stop there and judge would be wrong.

HARLOW: Laura, thank you. Appreciate the legal expertise.

COATES: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's talk about the politics of it now. Lynn Sweet is here, the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times" and CNN Contributor, Salena Zito, who also has written a new book, "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics," that, Salena, have you seen it yet? Five minutes ago the president tweeted about it. Did you know that?


HARLOW: Yes, he did.

ZITO: I did not know that.

HARLOW: He tweeted, "'The Great Revolt' by Salena Zito and Brad Todd does much to tell the story of our great election victory, the forgotten men and women are forgotten no longer." So that --

ZITO: Well, there's that.

HARLOW: There you go. There's that. Appreciate you both being here.

Lynn, let me start with you on this question. Rudy Giuliani told Rob Costa -- Bob Costa of the "Washington Post," quote, "We're setting the agenda. Everyone is reacting to us right now and I feel good about that because that's what I came to do." It's sort of an admission that he came to play PR more than the legal side of this for the president, no?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Yes. It's a startling admission given that he is hired to be a lawyer, not to be the surrogate, not to be a spokesman. And everyone who is what? Everyone who is watching him, is that everyone in Mueller's team? Everyone is talking about a lot of things including the Russia part of this probe, including just what they do about in their lives.

I would think that the -- you know, you've just discussed how different this case has made just this one aspect of what Giuliani is doing. There is no lawyer who would probably agree that that is a great strategy to go on and say we have some legal victory just because of the claim that everyone is talking about it. HARLOW: Right.

[09:10:03] SWEET: Being -- if you needed a lawyer, would you want a lawyer to win your case or be or be provocative on TV? I think we would know the answer and it's no different for Trump. It is just not clear how that legal strategy of claiming a win for the day or the week or the weekend advances the cause -- the legal cause in the case of President Trump.

HARLOW: But look at the front of the "New York Daily News" today, guys. Do we have that? Can we pull that up? Because look, it says wrong again, Rudy. Right? And he's talking about he doesn't have to comply with the subpoena that is false. He, Salena, dropped the bomb that the president may plead the Fifth. He even went as far as to say he doesn't know if there have been payoffs for other women from the president to keep their, you know, stories quiet if there are any. And is this aiding President Trump in any way? Salena.

ZITO: And so really, I think that what is happening in terms of his voters, OK, let's just think about them for a minute. I think that they have made this decision to wait and see what happens when the probe is over in terms of whether they're going to move or not away from him. But all this sort of confusion and almost circus like events that have been on television since Friday through the weekend.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

ZITO: I'm not quite sure who that helps. It doesn't seem as though there was a strategy behind it.

HARLOW: But what was really interesting yesterday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION" Jake Tapper had Republican Senator Roy Blount on. And here's what Roy Blunt said when Jake asked him look, doesn't it bother you that the president has a clear problem with telling the truth? Here is what he said.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: I was in Missouri all week. I did news conferences in 10 different cities all over the state. I saw virtually every TV camera in the state during those 10 cities. Not a single person asked about President Trump.


HARLOW: And so his strategy as a Republican as you head into the midterms is saying people don't care about this. Our voters don't care about this. No one has asked me about this. It's just you the media that's obsessed with this. You just wrote a book on this. Is Roy Blount right?

ZITO: Well, it's -- again, I don't think voters don't care about it. I just think that they are waiting to see what the end result is. And so for a lot of the daily things because I think they believe it. They see it every day. There is something new every day. There's some sort of drama every day, I think that they -- it's very difficult for them to maintain that heightened sense of what's happening every day.

I think they've made the decision, look, if this turns out to be that there is a problem, he is a bad guy, then we're going to deal it because Trump was not the result of this populist moment. I mean, he was the result of it, but he wasn't the cause of it. It's more about them. So it's not always just about him.

HARLOW: So, Lynn, Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, went on with Jake as well yesterday morning and there was a moment that I found pretty stunning. And that is trying to describe and define and explain what the president meant by no, when he said no, he didn't know about the payment to Stormy Daniels on Air Force One. Listen to this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: When the president said no on Air Force One, he was talking about he didn't know when the payment occurred. It's a very fascinating exchange between him and Katherine Lucie of the AP, I believe, and so he's saying he didn't know about it when the payment occurred and he found out about it after the fact.


HARLOW: Is this, Lynn, sort of getting into our heads that have already gotten into depends on what the definition of is is moment for this White House?

SWEET: I think, Poppy, we are in that neighborhood right now of, you know, revise and amend. Here is what he was thinking. It would be -- can you imagine, I'm just saying something to you and then there's like a thought bubble over my head, what does she really saying right now? What does she really mean? The thing that he said what he said, and I think if Kellyanne wanted to amplify and add to it, OK.

In the end if he was ever questioned of course we could get clarification. But what he said is not to be taken and dismissed as perhaps Kellyanne was trying to do is to minimize it. You know, so I don't think she took his first response and referring this matter to Michael Cohen and saying he didn't know anything, he didn't say I just -- he didn't qualify it.

And one other thing, we now have so many more statements after that that show that President Trump was involved more than he let on at that point. Certainly there were monthly payments to Cohen. So it's hard to just kind of let -- you know, she wants to kind of wipe the slate clean. Good try. I don't think it worked.

HARLOW: Right. Including "The New York Times" reporting citing multiple sources that the president knew about the payment months ago.

Thank you both. Salena, congrats on the book.

ZITO: Thank you.

HARLOW: And the tweet about it. Appreciate it.

Preparing a backup plan. Sources telling CNN that National Security officials and Republicans right now are looking into other options if the president's pick to run the CIA does not get the support she needs to get confirmed.

Also, reports that Israeli operatives targeted Obama advisers. Why? To discredit the Iran nuclear deal.

And on the same day her husband launches fresh attacks on Twitter on Democrats, the first lady announces her formal platform that includes being nice, not bullying on social media.


HARLOW: President Trump is defending his pick to lead the CIA. He wrote this morning, "My highly respected nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on terrorists."

This comes just a few days after sources tell us that Haspel on Friday offered to withdraw her nomination that stunned aides at the White House who rushed over to talk to her at the CIA, tried to convince her to stay in the running.

CNN is now learning that national security officials and even some Republicans are preparing backup options if her nomination fails. Josh Dawsey has this reporting. He is the White House reporter at "The Washington Post". He joins me now with more. Josh, can you hear me?


HARLOW: Yes. I got a little signal in my ear, so just making sure. Walk us through what you are hearing here in terms of how significant this is, especially following the debacle around the V.A. nominee Ronnie Jackson.

DAWSEY: Well, on Friday, Gina Haspel saw her nomination imperiled in her own mind. She came up to the White House for a meeting on (INAUDIBLE) she was going to withdraw.

Top officials rushed over to the CIA Friday evening. Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, among them to try to convince her to stay and it really took about 24 hours.

And now, what you have - you're at a cross roads where you have a razor thin majority in the Senate, you have questions from the left and the right on her role in the enhanced interrogation techniques, her role on potentially destroying the video tapes of the torture and she's going to have a tough hearing on Wednesday.

Even her biggest allies in the White House really think this could go either way. So, that's kind of where we are right now, 48 hours before she goes to Capitol Hill for her big day. HARLOW: The big thing this administration needs, Josh, as you know, is a smooth confirmation, right, for a big nominee like this. It doesn't like it's going to be smooth. Whether she gets it, we'll see.

In terms of a backup plan, I mean, this is some national security officials and some Republicans in Congress putting names out there, names like Susan Gordon who is a deputy director of the National Intelligence Agency. The fact that they are willing to even put names out there when Gordon has publicly supported Haspel.

DAWSEY: Yes. I don't get the sense that the president is at that point yet. The president over the weekend told his aides to go out and really back Haspel. There may be speculation in national security circles. That would not surprise me at all.

There could even be with inside the White House. I have not heard that, but there could be. But I don't think we are quite there yet to the point of new names being vetted.

I certainly think, after Wednesday's hearing, within very quick order, we'll know what our chances are.

HARLOW: There is a chance that some Democrats do vote for her. What are you hearing in terms of where that stands right now and the president's line of attack now on Twitter against Democrats on this issue? Could that hurt the nomination process for her?

DAWSEY: Well, it's hard to know. You have a number of red state Democrats who, in their state, President Trump is very popular. The last thing they want is his wrath on Twitter at a campaign rally.

And they've voted for some of his nominees like Mike Pompeo for secretary of state who was recently confirmed and got 57 votes, among them six or seven Democrats. So, there's a good chance she could get these.

I think what the president said on Twitter this morning in some ways is helpful to her and some ways is not. Him talking about - putting it on torture and saying people are hitting her because of her record on enhanced interrogation. That's a main concern for a lot of Democrats and for some moderate Republicans like Susan Collins. So, I'm not sure him making that the main fight is in her best interest.

That said, a lot of his supporters, the president has had time and time again, he supports torture, he supports going after these people that we captured on the battlefield. And for a lot of his supporters, the president looks tough, he looks like he is aligning himself with a woman who also supports torture even though many in his administration do not.

HARLOW: Josh Dawsey, thank you. Important reporting. We appreciate it.

Also this morning, the price of crude oil is over 70 bucks, the first time it's been there since 2014. Investors concerned that if the president pulls out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, what's that going to mean for oil prices. Iran is a bigger exporter of oil now.

With us, our Chief Business Correspondent, Christine Romans. So --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You have some of the big producers who are trimming their production just at the time when global demand is up. So, it's a sweet spot for you if you're one of the producers.

If you look at $70 a barrel of oil, this really caught a lot of experts by surprise, Poppy. They had forecast really $55, maybe $57 for the first quarter of this year. Now, you've got it above $70. And that's going to mean for gas prices, you'll feel that this summer.

Even before this recent speculation about the president pulling out of the Iran deal, you have the government forecasting $2.74 a gallon for summer gas this year. Compare that with last year when it was $2.41.

And GasBuddy, it's a group that tracks gas prices at gas stations around the country. They say add $0.30 to the gallon of gas this summer if the US pulls out of the Iran deal. That's their worst-case scenario. That would mean just over $3.

And Iran wouldn't be exporting oil legally. There could be new sanctions. Who knows what it would look like if they pull out of the deal. So, that's sort of the uncertainty there overall for gas prices.

The gas prices are a really important economic indicator for a lot of families. You feel it very first if you're filling up the tank to go to work.

HARLOW: On Friday, you were here live breaking the news of the jobs report. A very strong number for the president. Unemployment below four percent - 3.9 percent now. The White House touts it.

[09:25:05] How much credit does the president deserve?

ROMANS: It's a very big debate. And stripping the politics completely out of it, you know Poppy that presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy.

But just look at this chart, you can see, as they say in economics and in markets, the trend is your friend. The jobless rate has been declining for years now after a very painful 10 percent in the first term under President Obama.

I can say that when you look at 4 percent here, there is a mood among business leaders that they are confident, that they think that this is a pro-business president, especially because of tax cuts, especially what they're seeing for their corporate profits. As long as there is not a trade war, they're happy so far with this president and where they are.

But it was on the way down for many, many years. There is a pro- business move that allows the companies the flexibility to hire. We have not seen wages going up yet. And that is still the missing part of this.

HARLOW: Thank you, Romans.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Appreciate it. Still ahead, now we know that the president did pay back attorney Michael Cohen that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. But will he disclose that he paid back that loan on his financial report? My next guest says if he does not, that's a crime.