Return to Transcripts main page


Ethics Office Refers Trump's Cohen Payment To Justice Department; Senate Panel Breaks With House GOP On Russia Election Meddling; Interview with Rep. Chris Stewart; Mueller Investigation Reaches One Year Mark; Rudy Giuliani Said Mueller's Team Told Them They Can't Indict a Sitting President. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:14] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Breaking this morning, the president admits that the Russia investigation could be bigger than Watergate. Bigger than the scandal that led to the only resignation of a president in history, bigger than the moment that defined American politics for a generation, bigger than all of that.

Of course in a through the looking glass moment the president is talking about the investigation being a scandal, not the results it has already yielded.

HARLOW: 365 days, a year of investigating that has yielded 75 criminal charges against 22 different people and companies and five guilty pleas. Today marks one year since the Mueller probe began.

Let's go straight to our Abby Phillip. She joins us live from the White House.

And Abby, the president this morning marking the anniversary.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John and Poppy. Today on the one-year anniversary of this Mueller probe we were supposed to have an opportunity to question President Trump at the White House. There was a press conference scheduled between him and the NATO secretary-general for this afternoon around 3:00, but instead the White House has scrapped those plans.

And sources say it's in part to keep the president on script when it comes to the Mueller probe but meanwhile the president has taken an opportunity to weigh in himself on Twitter and he tweeted this morning multiple times but this one specifically calling out the anniversary of the probe saying, "Congratulations, America, we are now into the second year of the greatest witch hunt in American history. There's still no collusion and no obstruction. The only collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an election despite the spending of far more money."

Now the president has not been sort of -- is not planning to be in the public eye today and under the scrutiny of reporters for questioning, however his aides have been on television this morning reiterating the same message. The president wants the American people to know today that he believes this is still a witch hunt. And they're really pushing the point that they believe the Mueller probe is really not justified at the same time President Trump also has a lot of other things on his plate including North Korea and that same source tells CNN that the White House is also trying to keep a wraps on his comments about that brewing issue under the surface here, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you for the reporting.

Let's go now to our Jessica Schneider. She joins us in Washington.

And Jessica, look, the president's newest attorney, Rudy Giuliani, back on television, FOX News, claiming look, President Trump cannot be indicted in the Russia probe. It seems like his focus on indicting the president or not is a diversion from the other I word, impeachment.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And, you know, Rudy Giuliani is really saying, you know, impeachment could even be possible. He's saying that the special counsel here could write a report so that really Rudy Giuliani is attempting to draw really clear lines in the legal landscape here. So he says that the special counsel's team has concluded that they cannot indict a sitting president and they've informed the president's legal team of that legal conclusion.

And Giuliani says that really only means one option for the special counsel if this moves forward, it would be to write a report that could then be referred to Congress for any possible impeachment proceedings. And interestingly, Giuliani is going even farther than that. He's saying not only can the special counsel not indict but he argues they also have no legal authority to even subpoena the president. Take a listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: We're going to see what kind of legal remedies are available to us, including if they subpoena us, challenge the subpoena. The same reason they can't indict him, they can't issue a subpoena to him.


SCHNEIDER: All right. So if you follow the logic there from Rudy Giuliani, it's that under the legal team's view of the law the only way the special counsel could force the president's testimony is to show that they need to investigate a crime of great significance. So the logic is if you can't indict a president for any crime, maybe like obstruction of justice, then there's no crime to justify a subpoena.

That's the logic Giuliani is using there but it doesn't necessarily square, of course, Poppy and John, because subpoenas are issued all the time for witness testimony.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHNEIDER: It's not only this tool used for the target potentially of a crime.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider for us in Washington. Jessica, thanks so much.

Joining us now CNN political commentator Errol Louis, CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, and trial lawyer, a former prosecutor Anne Bremner.

Guys, let's try to navigate the legal and political logic here of Rudy Giuliani. You know, the debate over whether or not a sitting president can be indicted is a fascinating discussion for a constitutional law class. I don't think that's what Rudy Giuliani is doing here. I think he's trying to make a political case. What does he get out of this, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what he's trying to do is make sure that his client, the president, doesn't go anywhere near a grand jury, doesn't put himself under oath, doesn't put himself in danger of being accused of perjury or obstruction. And so he's doing what a good lawyer should do.

[09:05:02] On the other hand, it's not as cut and dry as Rudy Giuliani makes it seem. We've come close to this point before in the Clinton impeachment case, in the Nixon Watergate case, but we never really sort of worked through this and the point is that we have principles and we have institutions and we have traditions that enable us to kind of walk through these.

What's important is not whether there's a report, what's important is not whether or not there's a particular indictment or frankly whether there's an impeachment. That's what the president is worried about understandably. For the rest of us we should be concerned about, do we have a way to respond -- do we have a way of finding out the actual truth? Do we have a way of responding to it with all of the different mechanisms? And it includes impeachment but it also includes elections.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: It also includes laws that could be passed to make sure that whatever went wrong here doesn't happen again.

HARLOW: Jackie, the use of the word report, sure, Mueller can write a report is essentially what Rudy Giuliani said. I mean, like this is a fifth grade social studies essay report that's going to be turned in. This would be a report recommending or laying out all the facts to Congress and talking about impeachable -- potentially impeachable offenses, not innocuous.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No innocuous at all. Especially when you consider the ears that it might be hitting. Right? We don't -- he will not have the same Congress that he has now. Whether or not there are more Republican or more Democrats at this point.

HARLOW: Right.

KUCINICH: We don't know. But no, this does have repercussions. What those will be again is a big question mark because again -- Democrats don't want to talk about impeachment right now. I'll say that.

HARLOW: They don't want to run on it.

KUCINICH: They don't want to run on it. They don't want to talk about it. They want to talk about the -- a whole, you know, plethora of other things. That said, the idea that this would not land in their lap should Democrats take over Congress, it isn't that far- fetched.

BERMAN: Yes. And Mueller continues to be (INAUDIBLE), reporting a lot of it could be scathing and have huge repercussions. And to the legal point, which maybe the biggest jump that Rudy Giuliani makes here is well, if you think a president can't be indicted, that means he's not subject to any subpoena.

ANNE BREMNER, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, exactly. And the fact is it's like Giuliani is coming out like only lawyers and painters can turn black to white. He's coming out with the statement basically saying, believe me, this is the way it's going to be. There's not going to be an indictment. They say there won't be an indictment. And they can just write a report like what I did on my summer vacation. Right? Or something like that.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

BREMNER: Something like on social studies. But the fact is, subpoenas can issue and a subpoena can be issued in this case. And he can't set the stage for this for Mueller but he's setting a stage publicly for his client. And I think he's doing a good job right now in framing those issues but at the end of the day a subpoena will be issued and there's going to be a report. It could be scathing.

HARLOW: And he also doesn't have, Errol, history on his side.


HARLOW: There's no history to show that a president hasn't had to eventually abide by a subpoena, whether you go to Nixon or you go to Clinton eventually voluntarily sitting down in front of the grand jury via video. And Rudy Giuliani himself, then attorney, still attorney but with a very different view of the law I suppose, here's Giuliani in '98 on this issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president is asked to testify, subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and says no, not going to do it.

GIULIANI: You got to do it. I mean, you don't have a choice.


HARLOW: Change of opinion to be politically expedient, I suppose?

LOUIS: Well, yes. Well, that Rudy Giuliani had different aims, different position and didn't have a client who was facing this very sort of sticky proposition. I think what we're going to find, though, is that -- what ends up happening for audience members who don't know is that they kind of dance around it. In exchange for not subpoenaing the president, he agreed to sit down and --

HARLOW: You're talking about Clinton?

LOUIS: Yes. And give information under oath.

HARLOW: Only after a subpoena came, though. Only after his hand was forced.

LOUIS: But, you know, the notion of whether or not he has to respond to it, obviously the president -- President Trump can fight against this. It can go to the Supreme Court, it can bounce around. There's no particular reason to prejudge where it's going to end up. I think we'd be -- we all agree that we'd be in a bit of crisis if that were to happen and Rudy Giuliani should be trying to steer his client away from that. I mean -- but to simply announce that it can't happen, absolutely wrong.

KUCINICH: And does the president want to tie this up in the courts and make himself the center of attention and have this legal battle, maybe, but there's also the idea of him giving a statement or having an interview with Mueller, he's a uniquely flawed individual in that case because he has trouble staying on task, telling the truth and when you're talking to the special counsel that can be a really big problem and put him in potentially some legal jeopardy.

HARLOW: Guys, stay with us. We have a lot more to get to. Also this story breaking this morning, the anonymous source that leaked Michael Cohen's bank records to the press is now coming forward claiming they did this because they were worried that important financial documents which may contain suspicious financial transactions were being purposefully, possibly hidden from investigators.

MJ Lee joins us with this story.

This is a law enforcement source coming forward. What are they saying?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, you know, Poppy, these documents are called Suspicious Activity Reports and they are exactly as they sound. These are reports that banks are required to file with the Treasury Department if they suspect that there is something suspicious going on at their bank.

[09:10:07] Now one of the banks that filed such a report is First Republic Bank. Remember this is the blank that Michael Cohen used to set up a bank account for his company Essential Consultants. This is a bank account that he used to pay Stormy Daniels and we now know he used to also receive a lot of money from companies that he was trying to do business consulting deals with.

Now one law enforcement official now tells the "New Yorker's" Ronan Farrow that he noticed that two of these SAR reports were missing from the government database and he found this to be so alarming that he decided to leak the rest of the SAR reports to the press.

Now here's Ronan Narrow on "NEW DAY" this morning sort of taking stock of what he thinks all of this means.


RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NEW YORKER": It's possible that the prosecutors we talked to and people experienced with database that we talked to said that, for instance, the Southern District of New York or Special Counsel Mueller went in and said, please quarantine these, restrict them in some way. But what I'd highlight, Alisyn, is every expert we spoke to said that that almost never happens, they didn't know of a procedure for doing that. So if indeed that's the case, it suggests that there is something very, very sensitive in these remaining reports.


LEE: Now this law enforcement official is emphatic that for these SARs reports to go missing that that should be very, very troubling. Here's a part of what he told Ronan. He said, "I have never seen something pulled off the system. That system is a safeguard for the bank. It's a stockpile of information and when something not there that should be -- something is not there that should be, I immediately became concerned. That's why I came forward. Why just those two missing? That's what alarms me the most."

Now in terms of how he is personally doing right now, he simply says that he's terrified. He told Ronan to say that I'm terrified right now would be an understatement and that this is a terrifying time to be an American to be in this situation and to watch all of this unfold. So making it clear that he knows that he has taken a big personal risk but he felt that it was important to do it anyway.

HARLOW: MJ Lee, thank you for the important reporting.

Let's go back to our panel, and Anne, let me begin with you from a legal perspective, given what she just said and even the most benign explanation that Ronan laid out there this morning still is a world of trouble for Michael Cohen that there were these Suspicious Activity Reports.


HARLOW: Multiple ones about $3 million worth of transactions. If you're investigating this, if you're the prosecutor looking at this, what are you looking at most?

BREMNER: Well, I'm looking at basically a cover-up. I'm looking at whether or not there's been some cover-up. I mean, to go to this level to get rid of evidence and obviously talking about being terrified maybe that's where he is right now in terms of his legal position. And desperate men can do desperate -- take desperate measures. But as a prosecutor, my antenna are up and ready.

BERMAN: You know, when you hear missing records, all of a sudden that's (INAUDIBLE).


BERMAN: Now look, Ronan does say the other possibility is that maybe Robert Mueller or the -- you know, the Southern District of New York tried to quarantine those records but they say they've never seen that before.


BERMAN: And if it did happen it would mean that they're so important that there's another world of hurt for Michael Cohen. Right?

BREMNER: Well, exactly. And so, I mean, there's just no good end to this right now for him I think. And of course, on the end of a lot of other troubling things that we're seeing.

BERMAN: Errol, I want to ask you about "The Washington Post" reporting also about Michael Cohen that Michael Cohen solicited $1 million from the government of Qatar for access and basically advice on the Trump administration. So, you know, now we know he went after a drug manufacturer, he went after a telecommunications giant but now we're talking about a foreign country here.

LOUIS: Yes. And the beauty of it is that he appears to have provided nothing of any real value to any of these clients. Right? So that raises the question of what was this all about? Were you trying to rip them off? Which is itself not quite legal depending on how it's done. It can end up being something akin to extortion? Or were you trying to sort of funnel money to somewhere else? I mean, were you soliciting a bribe? What was this?

If there's no tangible service that you can reasonably be expected to offer, or was there? Or was there some implied kind of connection? Hey, I am the president's lawyer right now. I handle his personal business. Pay me a lot of money and what I do for you down the road we'll figure that out later.

This is all very, very unsavory and can easily cross some legal lines. So again Michael Cohen has made more problems for himself. You know, perhaps out of simple greed, perhaps out of not really understanding how the law works, or more likely out of some combination or some environment in which somebody wanted to profit off of this presidency.

HARLOW: Qatar said no which makes it even sort of more interesting.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: That he aggressively went after this and they're like, no, no, we got it. We're good. The Office of Government Ethics came out with the president's disclosure forms for 2017 which he has to detail any liabilities he has, any debts he owes anyone. And the payment and debt to Michael Cohen ostensibly for the Stormy Daniels payoff was included but the OGE wants to make it very clear that this was not disclosed in the previous filing, in the 2016 numbers, and they laid that out in their explanation.

Do you feel like, Jackie, the White House or the president or anyone around him has yet given a very clear explanation of the payment to Stormy Daniels?

KUCINICH: Well, they seem to think that that didn't have to be disclosed. Obviously, OGE disagrees with that. And now we know why Rudy Giuliani decided to just spit this forth during an interview -

HARLOW: Except his numbers are double what the numbers are on this report.

KUCINICH: Which is why they have some explaining to do. They have not explained why the numbers are double. They have not explained why this wasn't on the initial disclosure forms because, I guess - because we didn't want to tell anyone isn't that great of an explanation.

BERMAN: It turns out that may not hold up in a court of law.

Finally, the president writing on things and I don't know if we have the tweet to throw up, but he's complaining about this "The New York Times" article which charts the Russia investigation to its genesis.

"The New York Times" is making the case that what was remarkable is how closed and tight the FBI and federal law enforcement kept this investigation, but the president and some of his allies are picking up on this notion, well, there was a government informant who was involved in speaking to Papadopoulos and also Carter Page here. This shows there was something insidious going on.

BREMNER: Showing what? I mean, what was insidious and where's the proof? I mean, where's anything that we know of substance with this?

BERMAN: Yes, it's interesting.

BREMNER: It's curiouser and curiouser talking about the rabbit hole that we talked about coming into this.

BERMAN: All right. Anne Bremner, Errol Louis, Jackie Kucinich, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

The Senate Intelligence Committee breaks with the House on Russian meddling. Senators say, yes, it happened and the Russians were trying to help Hillary Clinton, which the House says they saw no evidence - and they were trying to help Donald Trump. The Russians were trying to help Donald Trump. That's a big split.

And trade talks turn ugly within the president's own team. We're talking about swearing and shouting during a high profile trip to Beijing. So, what happened?

HARLOW: Yikes! Meghan Markle says her father will not attend the royal wedding. The latest on that ahead. This as military rehearsals begin in Windsor just days before the service.


BERMAN: All right. This morning, President Trump is calling the Russia investigation bigger than Watergate. Yes, it is the one year anniversary of the day that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over.

HARLOW: It is. Now, the president's comments this morning come a day after the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly issued this bipartisan statement concluding that, yes, Russia did interfere in the election with the intention of helping Donald Trump win the presidency.

Their assessment breaks with the findings last month of the House Intelligence Committee.

So, joining us now is Republican Congressman Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intel Committee.

Nice to have you this morning. Thank you for being here.


HARLOW: Let me redo part of the bipartisan statement that came out of your counterparts in the Senate yesterday. "The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton." Do you agree?

STEWART: I just don't think that we know for certain. And, look, there's only one person in the world, and I really mean this, there's only one person in the world who can actually answer that question and that's Vladimir Putin.

Because if he wanted to hurt Hillary, clearly by extension, he's helping Donald Trump. I think our committee - and my concern wasn't so much with whether he was trying to hurt Hillary or help Mr. Trump, because really they are different sides of the same coin, but have the same outcome, our concern was primarily did the CIA and those other associated intelligence agencies, were they careful in their analysis, did they go through proper trade craft, did they go through proper review of their conclusions?

And as you know, I think from our report, we felt like they didn't do a great job at that. And that was our primary concern is how was the process.

BERMAN: There's a big difference, here, though. You guys chose to say, chose to publicly doubt the assessment of the intelligence communities that Russia was in this to help Donald Trump. That was your choice. That was a big point in your report.

And now, we have the Senate Intelligence Committee, including the chair who's presumably as chair seen even more than you have here who says he has no reason to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community. That's a huge discrepancy.

STEWART: Well, I would counter two things with you. One of them is you say it's a big part of our report. It was really only one of 47 suggestions and recommendations and observations and we didn't emphasize it any more than the other.

And the second thing is, I don't know that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has seen anything that I haven't seen. And it'd be an interesting question.

Ask him, has he been out to the Cia like I have and spent hours out there actually looking at this information. We spent thousands of hours - and I'm not exaggerating for effect. Literally thousands of hours in the last week looking at this one question.

Because we agree with you, John, we feel like this is a very important thing to know and we wanted to be careful in coming to our conclusion. And I think that we were.

HARLOW: I understand that you've spent, in your words, days looking over this intelligence in a secure setting. I know you cannot disclose what exact intelligence you saw that you think the intelligence community missed on, but what area was it in? What topic was it about? What area did it cover? Where do you think the CIA, the intelligence community - you're saying they failed, they got it wrong. In what way?

STEWART: Well, again, just to be careful - I don't mean to pick at words. When I say I've spent days, I've been out there for days, but I don't want to indicate that I was out there for days and days and there for ten hours a day. I've been out there several times and I spent hours out there.

Now, to your more specific question, it was once again in the trade craft. They had a fusion cell that I think that they've talked about, but was that fusion cell isolated? Did they go through proper review which any intelligence analysis should?

[09:25:07] And especially something that I know that we can agree on, this is a very important issue. You're saying that one of the candidates for president of the United States may have been influenced or helped by a foreign government.

And I think if you're going to say that, you've got to be extraordinarily careful that you've gone through the right procedures and you've got a very thorough review of that analysis.

And once again, we didn't feel like they had been as careful as they should have been.

BERMAN: I think you're right. I think both sides of that argument are indeed true. If they were helping Donald Trump, we need to know that. You need to be careful in it. If they weren't helping Donald Trump, I would hope that your committee was equally as careful in the statement that you guys make. Can I ask you - because the president has weighed in yet again on this investigation this morning and specifically a "New York Times" report that came out overnight about the entire intelligence investigation which "The New York Times" reports was called "Cross Fire Hurricane" and it was launched after George Papadopoulos was bragging that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And he went through the Australian ambassador and whatnot.

The president in his tweet today is suggesting that somehow the investigation itself is a scandal, that it was bigger than Watergate. The fact that a government informant, according to "The New York Times" had discussions with Papadopoulos and Carter Page is somehow scandalous.

I don't know if you see the evidence the president is talking about there, but do you think there was anything scandalous in how tight the FBI kept this investigation in the early months?

STEWART: Oh, my gosh! There's so much to unpack in the things you've said and there are so many elements to this. And it's hard for me to kind of separate into bins or silos, if you will, the president's comments.

And by the way, I don't follow him on Twitter. The only time I've talked about it is when I'm asked about it by other people.

But I do think there's a couple of different elements to this. Number one is he's always called it a witch hunt because he has said - and the evidence to this point concludes there wasn't collusion, which was the impetus, the beginning of this investigation.

BERMAN: The evidence hasn't been released yet. The special counsel has not yet concluded that. But go ahead. Your committee did.

STEWART: OK. To be fair, maybe the special counsel will find something, but every indication is - and I think most people accept this. Every indication from him and others is that he hasn't found evidence of collusion.

If there was, I can promise you, and I say this kind of tongue-in- cheek, but I think you believe me, if there was, it would have been leaked because everything else has been leaked and there's no way -

HARLOW: Actually no. Actually, a lot from Mueller's team has not been leaked. They've kept a remarkable lid on information. But we're almost out of time, congressman, but I want to -

STEWART: This is important. If there was evidence of collusion, Mueller's team wouldn't be the only people who knew about that. Other people would be aware of that and I think they are the ones who would probably leak that.

HARLOW: Before we go, you said in your town hall this, and it struck us. "I think probably every president has lied and I don't think we can set that as the threshold. You were talking about impeachment.

But if you think every president has lied, are you worried that a president lying is just a new normal?

STEWART: Well, I hope not. And, look, to be fair, there are times when I have criticized the president. There's times when he has made my job much more difficult. He says things that I don't agree with and he says them in ways that I don't agree with.

But I could give you examples where President Obama was not honest with the American people. I could give you examples where probably every president we went back and looked in history wasn't entirely honest with the American people.

And I was just making the point - the questioner was saying you need to impeach him and I said for what. And he said he lied to us.

And my response to him was that if that's our threshold, then we'll never have a president who serves four terms of his office ever again because I just think that it's probably likely that presidents will continue to do that.

We want to hold them accountable. There seems to be a threshold that maybe is beyond what we would accept, but once again if that one lie is impeachable, then we're in a bit of (INAUDIBLE) a democracy, I would think.

BERMAN: I think it would not be a question if it's just one lie. But, again, I appreciate you being with us, congressman. I really do. Thanks so much.

STEWART: Thank you both.

BERMAN: The trade battle, not just with China, the president's own team now fighting each other. And sources say it got ugly.

BERMAN: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks are set to open slightly lower. The bond markets shakes investor confidence this morning. Fears about rising inflation and faster interest rate hikes.