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Trump Suggests Legal Action Coming Against Mueller Team; Nunes Threatens to Hold Sessions in Contempt over Russia Materials; Trump to West Virginia Voters, Reject Don Blankenship. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Pacific. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us.

Executive time in full effect, apparently this morning. The president unleashing on Twitter on the Russia investigation, even suggesting legal action against the team leading the probe. The president writes, quote, "Angry Democrats on Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team could themselves face legal action over alleged," quote, "conflicts of interest."

Let me remind you of an indisputable fact, and that is that Special Counsel Mueller is a registered Republican. This follows Rudy Giuliani's latest media blitz. The president's new attorney adding more fuel to the growing controversies on the Russia probe and Stormy Daniels.

Our Kaitlan Collins and Dana Bash are with me, following it all. And, Kaitlan, let me begin with you at the White House. And a little bit more on what the president is saying and why he's doing this this morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Poppy, the president was relatively muted on Twitter over the weekend. But that does not seem to be the case any longer. Several tweets from the president this morning lashing out saying that he believes the special counsel's investigation is losing credibility, saying, the 13 angry Democrats in charge are starting to find out that there is a court system in place that actually protects people from injustice.

Now, that tweet there seems to be a reference to what that federal judge in Virginia said on Friday regarding Paul Manafort's prosecution saying that he believes Mueller was using that to get to the president, but Trump also saying that he believed they're losing credibility. That comes after we reported last week that the president's legal team thinks he has done a good job of discrediting the investigation but also the investigators and the investigation that seems to be what he's referencing there, saying they're Democrats. Of course, as you noted, Robert Mueller is a registered Republican. The president also saying, is the phony witch-hunt going to go on and affect the midterms saying that Republicans better get tough and smart before it is too late. Now, Poppy, I should note that the president actually met with Rudy Giuliani over the weekend. Giuliani telling "The Washington Post" that they concocted this plan where the president would stay focused on more pressing issues like Iran, North Korea, while he would handle the investigation and get in touch with the president if he needed to. But clearly, Poppy, very evidence by the president's Twitter feed this morning there is something else on his mind rather than North Korea and Iran.

HARLOW: Very, very good point. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you for that.

Let's get straight to our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. So, Dana, I know you were at a wedding this weekend because I was there with you, but apparently you were working while you were at the wedding because you talked to Rudy Giuliani and got a lot of interesting insight saying I'm more focused on the law than the facts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: After I got home, but, yes that is true. I spoke to the former mayor of New York following his very freewheeling interview on ABC, but specifically wanted to know about really what is still an unanswered question from Friday, when the president seemed to just completely throw Rudy Giuliani under the bus saying that Giuliani still hasn't had time to get up to speed on the facts.

On that note, this is how he responded. He said, first of all, he just had been on board for a couple of weeks, but then said, "I haven't been able to read the 1.2 million documents. I'm focused on the law more than the facts right now. A couple of things were fairly easy to dispose of. 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."

So what Giuliani was saying to me, Poppy, effectively was he's trying to do -- to look at the big picture, that it seemed to me what he meant by I'm focusing on the law and not the facts. But he and the president are still trying to clean up a very confused, chaotic message that happened throughout the entire week last week by Giuliani who is brought on to talk about and to focus on the legal strategy for Russia but waded into Stormy Daniels. And I can also say, Poppy, that I said what about that, you were supposed to focus on Russia. And he responded, I thought that too.

HARLOW: Right, OK. Did you get any indication from him, Dana, that he is certain that the president is pleased with his performance and is -- has every intention of keeping him on board?

[10:05:06] BASH: He certainly gave no indication that the president gave him any kind of warnings at all. I talked to him after he met with the president yesterday at the president's golf club in Virginia. He said we have an agreed upon plan. It is flexible, rather, it depends on how the special counsel acts. In fact, he said to me, similar sort of thoughts that he gave to "The Washington Post" about this agreement that they have, which is that he's going to focus on the legal strategy, the president is going to focus on the bigger things that he has in front of him, like Iran and North Korea. But Kaitlan is absolutely right. The president obviously has a different point of view on this. Based on his Twitter feed this morning and we have seen so many characters from the Trump world kind of go down the path that Giuliani seems to be going on now, getting out in front, and the president losing patience. He, Giuliani, is a different person and maybe a different category because of his unwavering loyalty to the president throughout this entire campaign. But you never know.

HARLOW: That's true. But he's taking a lot of the spotlight. I was stunned to see him do another round of interviews this weekend. Dana, I'm glad he talked to you, though. Thank you for the --

BASH: Me too.

HARLOW: Thank you for the reporting as always.

With me now is CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Shan Wu. Shan, thank you for being here. There are so many legal things to go through. Probably the biggest legal headline out of the Giuliani interview on Sunday morning is that he says that legally the president does not need to comply with a -- subpoena from Bob Mueller's team if one were to come, legally is that true?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Very unlikely that the president would win that battle. I mean, that's basically a two-pronged defense Giuliani is referring to. First, he's suggesting they may raise executive privilege. We all know that didn't go so well for President Nixon when he did that. And in contrast, when President Clinton had to testify before grand jury, first of all, let's note that President Clinton called for the appointment of the independent counsel there. And then taking that kind of high road he and his lawyers were able to negotiate and have a lot of control over the circumstances of the grand jury, remote appearance, having the lawyers in the room, et cetera.

So, taking a very aggressive action to say that they're going to evoke executive privilege, unlikely to succeed in light of the historical precedent even if it does go all the way to the Supreme Court. The second possibility would be when he raises the Fifth Amendment.

HARLOW: Right. And so, Giuliani did not rule that out this weekend, he was asked by George Stephanopoulos, is there a chance the president may plead the Fifth? If it comes to that, he said he can't rule that out. What would that -- walk us through what this would look like if that were to happen?

WU: Well, the Fifth Amendment basically protects you against compelled self-incrimination. And they would need to get a judge to buy in on the fact that there is something that the president might incriminate himself about. And that, of course, is the rub because politically that's really suicidal to do. As the president himself has said in the past, it is the mob that evokes the Fifth Amendment. So they might be able to argue that there is sufficient legal jeopardy here that he might incriminate himself, but politically that seems like a very farfetched move to do, although this is a president who does not go with the usual tide of politics.

HARLOW: Stormy Daniels, Attorney Michael Avenatti wants Giuliani to keep on talking and just keep going. Here is what he said this weekend.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The more they talk, the better our case gets and here's why. Because they can't keep their story straight 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 that he will have a better shot at getting to depose the president and do so under oath if he and his surrogates keep speaking publicly and making statements like this?

WU: I don't think so. I think that certainly Giuliani's remarks are all over the map. I mean, reminds me of that Katy Perry song, you're in and you're out, you're hot and you're cold. He says he knows the facts, he doesn't know the facts, he's all over the place. But the point of using surrogates is so that the principal doesn't get caught saying something that may trap him later. So, the fact that they're presenting a terribly confused strategy at the moment, I don't think necessarily it means it is more likely that Trump will be deposed.

HARLOW: The principal isn't silent on this. I mean, he sent out a series of tweets about this and the legal argument at the end of last week.

Another topic, a very important topic, the federal judge overseeing the case against Paul Manafort in Virginia came out with a scathing attack on one of the prosecutors from Mueller's team on Friday, and he said that, look, their intent here is to go after the president. Let me quote the justice, "You don't really care about Manafort's bank fraud." He went on to say, "Trump's prosecution or impeachment, that's what you're really interested in."

[10:10:06] How significant is that and what does it tell you legally what may happen? Is there any chance this thing gets thrown out?

WU: I don't think there is any chance that the case itself would be dismissed. I think Judge Ellis is speaking to perhaps some impatience with not seeing the full copy of the memorandum regarding their mandate. I do need to add anything I say about the Paul Manafort case, I'm not basing it on any inside information, I'm just looking at it from the outside -

HARLOW: Because you represented Rick Gates who was indicted along with Manafort.

WU: Right. I will say that this does perhaps sound one of the first victories for the Manafort team in that they, as everyone knows elected to take their case to Virginia rather than stay in D.C. and sounds like they may have found perhaps a more sympathetic court.

HARLOW: Yes. Shan Wu, appreciate the legal expertise, thank you.

WU: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Still to come for us, a lot ahead this hour. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee threatening to subpoena the president's attorney general, Jeff Sessions. We're talking to a member of that committee ahead.

Also, Senator McCain, known as the maverick, as he continues that spirit while battling cancer. Much more on his plans, regrets and hopes.

And toxic gas is now threatening residents on the big island of Hawaii after this volcano erupted and is continuing to spew lava, wiping out dozens of homes.


[10:15:31] HARLOW: Welcome back. The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is threatening Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Congressman Devin Nunes plans this week to urge his fellow lawmakers to try to hold Sessions in contempt for failing to hand over some classified materials related to the Russia investigation. But, it is important to note just a few days ago the Justice Department told Nunes that providing information on a, quote, "specific individual could pose grave implications to national security."

Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington joins me now. It's nice to have you here sir. Let's begin on that news because you haven't been exactly complementary of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, you've said he has quote, "selective amnesia" after his testimony last year. You said he never seems to remember that things that may incriminate him. So, would you support Nunes' move to try to hold him in contempt?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: First of all, let me say that I'm surprised that Chairman Nunes doesn't have more sympathy for Attorney General Sessions insofar as they were both required or compelled to recuse themselves from the Russia investigation because of alleged misdeeds. Secondly, the truth of the matter is, Poppy, if this thing goes anywhere, I'll get on a train and come to New York and buy you lunch at a restaurant of your choice, because it is just a distraction. We're going down another rabbit hole that has nowhere, no constructive end in sight. I'm a little bit surprised, frankly, and bluntly that Chairman Nunes doesn't spend more of his time working on issues like trade that affect the sale of agricultural products from his district or water policy because they have a water policy out there or join with us in a constructive national infrastructure rebuilding program. You know they have a fairly controversial gas tax increase out there because the federal government failed to fulfill its partnership role.

HARLOW: Appreciate the lunch offer. As you know, I wouldn't be able to take you up on that, but I hear your point. Let me ask you about this, new reporting that Israeli operatives were targeting Obama administration advisers, Ben Rhodes among them, key people who worked on the Iran nuclear agreement and in an effort to discredit them and discredit the agreement. What the observer is reporting in the UK is that aides of President Trump, Trump aides were behind this hiring. If that's true, and we don't know if that's true, the optics are certainly not good, right? Foreign agents hired to look into, dig into, dig up dirt on American citizens. What is your reaction?

HECK: Well, first of all, if it is true, it evidently didn't go anywhere because the allegation is that it started last year. We haven't heard a peep out of the people that were undertaking this, assuming that they were. Secondly, I think frankly pretty sadly, Poppy, it is a great big giant flashing neon exhibit a and how low politics can become in this country where people resort to the demonization and character assassination of people with whom they simply disagree. Can't be about the policy argument anymore. It has to be about destroying their character and I find that sad.

HARLOW: A significant development in the case against Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump, the federal judge, who is overseeing the case against him, the bank fraud case against him, came out and lashed Mueller's team, Mueller's prosecutor in the courtroom on Friday, and essentially said this isn't about Manafort. This is about you guys trying to get Trump. Here's what he said, "You don't care about Manafort's bank fraud. Trump's prosecution or impeachment. That's what you're really interested in." Is he right?

HECK: So, three things I think I've responded that with, Poppy. The first of which is let's remember that the special counsel's charge allowed him to pursue matters arising from this investigation. And what the special counsel was doing, we following the ties that Paul Manafort had with Ukrainian officials and Russian officials.

Secondly, insofar as this might have been a part of putting the squeeze on Paul Manafort, who has been indicted several times now, Poppy, that is an ages old practice of every prosecutor in the history of western civilization. -

HARLOW: But Congressman -


HECK: It is probably the 10,000th time the judge has seen it. Let me finish. Lastly, lastly, the judge seems to be saying, gosh, if you found criminal activity, wire fraud, bank fraud, in the conduct of your investigation, since it is not directly related to the president, turn your head, let him go. I don't understand the legal argument of denying the crime.

[10:20:05] HARLOW: -- Your fellow Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, even said on this network, 24 hours ago to Jake Tapper you know he has concerns when he hears that from a judge. Let's play it.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it does concern me if it includes the judge's review of the facts and the law. That seems to be the judge questioning the motives of the special counsel, yes, it is concerning that the judge would express this opinion.


HARLOW: You don't have to -- you don't share the same concern?

HECK: I share the concern of ranking member Schiff that what the judge said hear was probably inappropriate, and that the question here really ought to be whether or not -

HARLOW: That's not what Schiff is saying. Did you read the entire exchange?

HECK: Well, I saw the - Poppy, I saw the interview, I was sitting in my hotel room in Mitchell, South Dakota, and watched it. I believe that's what he was saying. I think this judge was considering recusing him.

HARLOW: You do. Why do you think this judge -- make the argument that this judge has to recuse himself?

HECK: I said I think he should consider it because I think this remark was highly inappropriate. He has no evidence that what Special Counsel Bob Mueller was doing was inappropriate whatsoever or outside of the bounds of his investigation.

HARLOW: Well, they want to see the underlying document of the scope of the probe.

HECK: And I'm sure that Bob Mueller in his time with the professionalism and the integrity that has been the hallmark of his career for 40 some years that that will all be revealed.

HARLOW: Congressman Denny Heck, we're out of time, thank you for being here.

HECK: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. So, the president's telling West Virginia voters this morning on Twitter not to vote for one of the Republican candidates and Republican primary tomorrow. Someone who is an ex- convict because the president says he cannot win the general election. But this the same president that backed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. What's changed?


[10:26:24] HARLOW: CNN is now learning that national security officials and some Republican lawmakers have a backup plan in case President Trump's pick for CIA director does not make it through confirmation. The president this morning, though, is weighing in, defending Gina Haspel. He writes, "My highly respected nominee for CIA director Gina Haspel has come under fire because she was too tough on terrorists."

This all comes just a few days before her confirmation hearing, that is set for Wednesday morning. It comes a few days after. Sources tell CNN that Haspel went to the White House and offered to withdraw her nomination. Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with more. This was already going to be a tight one, but clearly there is some backup plan in the works now.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Poppy. You know, think of it as Plan B if you will, looking at other candidates that they might put forward if Haspel falters on Wednesday at her confirmation hearing. All eyes really focused on that because Gina Haspel, very well respected as an intelligence professional, has served for decades, but she served also during the George W. Bush presidency when the CIA was involved in so-called enhanced interrogation, think of it as torture practices. And that is going to be a big problem for her by all accounts. She ran one of those black sights in Thailand where terror suspects were subject to enhanced interrogation techniques.

Now of course, that has all been repudiated during the Obama administration. President Trump never fully turning his back on torture techniques, and that will be the problem for Haspel during the hearing. If she is asked would you engage in this again, everyone is going to want to know what her answer is. Right now, it is not permitted. If President Trump were to reinstitute it, would she just follow orders, so to speak? Would that be a credible defense on her part and that is considered to be a lot of what they will be focusing on. What was her role in torture practices and would she ever do it again? Poppy?

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, that confirmation hearing, 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. She will face a lot of tough questions. Thank you for your reporting.

So, this morning, the president is urging West Virginia voters not to vote for Republican Senate candidate named Don Blankenship. He's a former coal company CEO. He just finished serving a one-year prison term for his role in a mining explosion that killed 29 people. Despite that, he's gaining in the polls against his two Republican rivals ahead of the election tomorrow. He's doing it with ads like these.


DON BLANKENSHIP (R), SENATE CANDIDATE: Mitch McConnell created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, the China family has given him tens of millions of dollars. One of my goals as U.S. Senator will be to ditch cocaine Mitch.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: You heard that correctly. He called the Senate majority leader "Cocaine Mitch." And he says that he has a so-called China family. Aside from being deeply offensive, what does this mean to the party and why is he surging in the polls?

Joining me now, Lanhee Chen, former public policy director for Mitt Romney and Nina Turner, CNN political commentator, former Democratic state senator from Ohio. Thank you very much.

So, Nina, the president takes to Twitter this morning and says, you know, don't vote for him, basically, it is really going to hurt us. The people of West Virginia have a really great chance to make a difference. The problem is Don Blankenship currently running for Senate can't win the general election. He's saying, look, you're going to leave the state in the hands of Joe Manchin, the Democrat there, we can't win if you elect Blankenship. This is also a president who supported Roy Moore until the bitter end. So is this a lesson learned?