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Giuliani on Trump Indictment; Trump Junior Called Blocked Number; Cohen Promised Access for Money; Petition to Take Up DACA Vote; Zervos Lawsuit Moves Forward; White House Press Briefing. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET
Aired May 17, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're also hearing from the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani. He says there was nothing illegal about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York City involving Donald Trump Junior and Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The headlines today, CNN always -- was a -- John -- Don Junior admits he was looking for dirt on Hillary from the Russians.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Oh, wow, and they weren't looking for dirt on Donald Trump? Even if it comes from a -- from a -- from a Russian or a German or an American, it doesn't matter. And they never used it, is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our CNN senior White House correspondent. He's standing by in the briefing room getting ready for the press briefing.
You know, Giuliani is also weighing in on whether the president can be indicted. Let's talk about all these developments. Set the scene for us.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is, indeed. Rudy Giuliani, who's the president's lawyer, been on his team for a couple of weeks or so, about three weeks or so, he is trying to set the stage here certainly in a political sense and a legal sense as well on this one-year anniversary of the beginning of Bob Mueller's Russian probe here. He is saying that the president cannot be indicted. That, of course, is the word from the Justice Department, he says.
And following the protocol that the Justice Department has had since the Nixon administration. So saying the president cannot be indicted, trying to make the argument, the beginnings of the argument, you know, that if he can't be indicted, perhaps there is nothing to this investigation. But that doesn't mean that the president would be out of the woods. He could still be in hot water, of course. The special counsel could make a referral to the House of Representatives. He could make a referral elsewhere.
So the -- you know, what Rudy Giuliani is trying to do is set the table here as the president is -- we're not hearing from him, but we're reading his tweets today, really going after this investigation once again as a witch hunt, saying, you know, it simply is going after nothing. It's a politically motivated investigation here.
So, Wolf, marking the one-year anniversary, the lawyers assured the president this would be over a long time ago. Remember, it was supposed to be over at Thanksgiving time, then Christmas time. Well, here we are, nearly the middle of May, and this investigation, Wolf, is still alive and well.
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani suggests the president can't be indicted. If you believe what he says Mueller told him. But Rudy Giuliani himself believes the president can be subpoenaed. Back in 1998, during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky impeachment developments, he was asked if a president can be subpoenaed. If he's subpoenaed, is he forced to testify? Giuliani, at that time said, you got to do it. I mean, you don't have a choice.
So, presumably, even though the president, according to Giuliani, can't be indicted, he still can be subpoenaed and forced to testify.
ZELENY: He sure could be subpoenaed and forced to testify.
And the difference that Rudy Giuliani is making in this case is that the Clinton case was a civil matter. He -- you know, since this is a potential criminal investigation, Rudy Giuliani believes that the subpoena might be different.
But, Wolf, the reality here is, we have to keep this in mind repeatedly. Rudy Giuliani is putting out his case of this. He is talking to reporters, really every reporter in Washington and beyond about this, because we know that Bob Mueller's team does not talk, does not leak, does not put their side of this out. So he's definitely trying to frame this discussion, if you will, as, you know, a sense that it's time for this investigation to be over.
But, Wolf, we still don't know the answer to the basic question, is the president going to sit down and take questions from Bob Mueller's team or not? This seems to be that Rudy Giuliani is setting the table for him not to do that. But, again, that remains an open question in this investigation that is also very much open, Wolf.
BLITZER: Does it look like this briefing is getting ready to start, or is it going to be delayed for a while?
ZELENY: Well, that's a good question. The briefing room is filling up here, but these White House briefings are often delayed. The president is meeting with the NATO secretary general this afternoon. There was a press conference scheduled at 3:00 initially. That has been taken off the schedule overnight. So we're not going to be able to ask the president questions today. But he will be seen briefly in the Oval Office here.
So I would suspect, Wolf, he might have something to say as he's been tweeting all morning about this one-year anniversary that he, of course, would like not to mark.
BLITZER: Yes, good point.
All right, Jeff, we'll stand by for the press briefing. Sarah Sanders will be answering reporters' questions. And we know there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.
There's a mysterious gap in the Russia investigation story. It's part of the Senate Judiciary Committee's release on that very sensitive Trump Tower meeting back in 2016 involving Donald Trump Junior and Russians. In his testimony, the president's son said he didn't remember speaking to his father about the meeting, either before it took place or after. But there are a number of calls around the same time, some right after he spoke to others about the meeting, made to a blocked number. When asked about that, Donald Trump Junior said he didn't remember who he called.
[13:05:07] Joining us now, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's a Democrat and a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Those questions about those calls to that blocked number, they keep coming up in this investigation. What do you know, if anything, about them?
SPEIER: Well, we don't know anything about the blocked calls because, again, our committee was hamstrung by the Republicans that really didn't want to find out. But we should have subpoenaed the telecom company to get that number for the blocked call.
I would say that what happened, in my view, is on the 3rd, the e-mails and the phone calls took place between Donald Trump Junior and Agalarov and the other intermediary. On the 7th, the president, then the candidate, Donald Trump, was announcing in New Jersey his win and saying, now that we are the actual nominee by the Republicans, I'm going to give a very important speech next Monday on how and why Hillary Clinton is a horrible candidate to be president.
On the 9th, that meeting takes place, and there was no dirt coming from it, so that speech never took place. So I'm convinced that Trump Junior went to his father immediately by phone or in person going up one flight of stairs to talk to him about what they were going to get.
BLITZER: And we do -- we do know from Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager, that the phone at Donald Trump's personal residence over there at Trump Tower was a blocked phone number. We don't know -- once again, we don't know who Donald Trump Junior was calling, but we do know it was a blocked number.
Do you believe, by the way, congresswoman, that the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, he knows who Donald Trump Junior called?
SPEIER: I believe he does, only because he has access to virtually any information he wants to get and isn't hamstrung as certainly the House Intelligence Committee was in terms of getting information to do its due diligence in the investigation.
BLITZER: I want to ask you about the latest comments from Rudy Giuliani. He's the president's personal lawyer right now, who says the special counsel can't and won't try to indict the president.
But here's what Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said to me about that. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: But the president is not above the law. And an indictment, if that's the course that Robert Mueller chooses to go, I believe would be upheld by the courts. It would go to the United States Supreme Court. It's an issue that has never been resolved in that way. There is a Department of Justice opinion to the contrary. I happen to think that he could be indicted even if the trial's postponed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Could you see this potentially going to the U.S. Supreme Court, whether or not a sitting president of the United States can be indicted?
SPEIER: Well, it's an area of the law that has never really been fully vetted. So we don't really know. And that's why everyone is coming up with their particular idea of what can and cannot be done.
But, truthfully, what has to happen, is Robert Mueller needs to make his findings available. And once that becomes public, the Congress of the United States has an obligation to evaluate those findings and determine whether or not they were impeachable offenses.
So I would think that from a congressional standpoint, that is our pathway. Certainly the judiciary system is different.
If he were indicted, I think that it would have to be postponed until he was out of office, whether it was because he actually resigned or his term was up.
BLITZER: We're hearing a lot about payments the president's -- to the president's long-time fixer, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who promised access or insight into the new Trump administration and to the president, for that matter. "The Washington Post" now reporting that Cohen solicited a $1 million payment from the Qatari government for that kind of access and insight. They declined, the Qataris. What do you think of the demand of a million dollars, though, from a foreign government for access, potential access to the new president?
SPEIER: Well, what it suggests to me is all the rhetoric of the president as a candidate to drain the swamp was misplaced. What he is doing is filling the swamp. And that is very consistent with what Michael Cohen was doing. He was going to shake the money tree.
And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there wasn't some side deal between the president and Michael Cohen for a finders' fee or something. It's all about money in terms of the Trump Organization and Michael Cohen.
[13:10:02] BLITZER: Well, I want you to explain that, congresswoman. What do you mean about a finders' fee? If -- let's say -- let's say Michael Cohen did get a million dollars to represent the Qatari government. Are you suggesting that he would hand over a percentage of that to the president?
SPEIER: I'm just saying, as part of the Trump Organization, which I guess he no longer is, certainly, I think, there could be some arrangement within the Trump Organization that any clients that he was successful in getting would also benefit the Trump Organization.
You know, we're just finding out now that the Qatar government is about to bail out the Kushner property in Manhattan. So, you know, again, it is about the opportunities for these families to make money off the positions they hold in government. And that is a violation of our duty as being elected to office.
BLITZER: Yes, you're referring to a "New York Times" story which just moved which has this large company and one of the biggest investors being the government of Qatar, going ahead and trying to close a deal with the Kushner family to help bail out a property they have in Manhattan right now.
There's other information that I want to get to as well, information about those payments that Michael Cohen was receiving from various major businesses. Apparently it came from leaked material. I don't know if you've seen this article by Ronan Farrow in "The New Yorker Magazine." We're learning in that article that it actually came from a whistle blower, a government whistle blower. He says he noticed that bank records involving Cohen had mysteriously disappeared from the Department of the Treasury database.
What's your reaction to that?
SPEIER: Well, I'm -- I'm shocked by it and very disturbed by it. Any suspicious activity report is supposed to be available on that database. The fact that that -- those reports were available and then all of a sudden they are missing is very suspect to me. And I would think that we would want oversight committees within the House to investigate that issue. It would suggest tampering with evidence, and that is a very serious offense.
BLITZER: Let me get to another issue, a sensitive issue, that you guys in the House of Representatives are dealing with right now involving the dreamers, the young people brought here to the United States by their parents, undocumented immigrant. Two more Republican members of the House, they've now signed on to a petition to try to bring several of these so-called DACA bills to the House floor for formal votes against the express wishes of the House Speaker Paul Ryan. That would make about 20 Republicans right now total. If five more sign on, along with all of the Democrats in the House, it will actually force the speaker's hand.
Will you get those five more Republicans and force a vote on this sensitive issue?
SPEIER: I think it really depends on the polling that they're seeing in their districts. I really do think it's self-preservation at this point from any of the Republicans, and that's why you see them willing to join on.
It's a fairness issue as well. These DACA kids, everyone agrees, a vast majority of Americans agrees that they have a right to stay in this country and enjoy a pathway to citizenship as long as they haven't committed any crimes and were brought here before the age of 16. So it's something the president himself has said he was supportive of.
So it's time for us to act. That's the biggest problem in Congress right now, is the inability to act on very important issues.
BLITZER: The president said he would support allowing those dreamers to stay in the United States and eventually even have a pathway to citizenship, but only if you and the House and the Senate approve billions of dollars to build a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and took other steps curtailing immigration into the United States. You're not ready to do that, right?
SPEIER: No. But I have said publically before that if what we're doing is build a useless wall for a couple of years that we can then tear down, I'm willing to pay that price to make sure these DACA kids can stay in the country. I'm not willing to put new immigration restrictions that will split up families and the like. But if it's just the wall, I would certainly entertain that.
BLITZER: Yes, I've heard that from several of your other Democratic colleagues as well.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, as usual, thanks for joining us.
SPEIER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Any minute now we're going to go back to the White House. This will be the first briefing, press briefing, since Monday. We'll have live coverage of that.
And this just in, more legal headwinds facing the Trump legal team. The former "Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos' case against the president is moving forward. [13:14:49] Plus, five guilty pleas, 76 criminal charges, and dozens of
interviews already conducted. Where are we one year since Robert Mueller took over the investigation into Russia's election meddling?
BLITZER: We're standing by for today's White House press briefing and we anticipate lots of questions about the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Today marks exactly one year -- one year since it began. We're going to bring you the briefing live as soon as it begins. You're looking at live pictures right now. Stand by for that.
But we're also following breaking legal news involving the president of the United States. Following the breaking news involving a New York appeals court that has just denied a motion by the president's attorney for a stay in the Summer Zervos case. Zervos is the former "Apprentice" TV contestant who is suing the president for defamation.
Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, and former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle.
So, Kim, explain, this is a setback for the president and his legal team, this decision in New York. Explain what's going on.
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: So what's going on is Summer Zervos sued the president for defamation for making statements inconsistent with her claim that she was groped by him. And so she sued and said that that defames me, that hurts my reputation and he moved to dismiss the case. He said, listen, I'm the president, I get immunity. You cannot sue me. And here we have the state appeals court affirming the lower court which said, no, the president can be sued.
[13:20:22] So the next step is what we call discovery, which means the president can get hit with some subpoenas, maybe a deposition to tell his side of the story. And his defense to defamation has to be truth. So the question is going to be, did he actually grope her or not? That's what is now going to go to the fact-gathering process and ultimately potentially to trial.
BLITZER: So, Michael, if the president is hit with what's called discovery, they want to question him, can he say, look, I'm the president, forget about it?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. And, in fact, we saw that exactly play out in Clinton versus Jones. That's exactly what Bill Clinton tried to say in respect to the Paula Jones' request for a deposition. The court upheld her right to take that deposition, just as has done now in Summer Zervos. He went into that deposition. He lied. It gave rise to his lying in the grand jury and his impeachment.
So this is very dangerous territory for the president because, as Kim says, the defense here is, I didn't have that act in (ph). I didn't grope her. It's truth. That's all it is. And so if he says that didn't happen and she says it does happen, and she can prove that it happened, then he's lied. That's a big problem (ph). BLITZER: And lying in that deposition in the Paula Jones case, that was part of the reason he was eventually impeached in the House of Representatives.
BLITZER: Not convicted in the Senate, but impeached in the House.
ZELDIN: Exactly right, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, so there's a lot of history right here.
We're going to take another quick break.
We're going to -- when we come back, we assume this press briefing will be getting underway. We'll have live coverage of that after this.
[13:25:12] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you all know, President Trump is deeply committed to our veterans. These brave men and women have given so much to our country and deserve our absolute best. Which is why this president is fighting for reform and accountability at the VA.
In keeping with his campaign pledge, the president donates his salary on a quarterly basis to further important projects. Today the president is proud to donate his 2018 first quarter salary to the Department of Veterans Affairs to support their caregiver programs. Acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilke, is here to accept the check. I'd like to bring him up to say a few words about how these funds will be used and make sure that I give you the all-important actual check.
: Thank you very much, Sarah.
Thank you very much, Sarah, and good afternoon.
Before I address the president's generosity, I want to say a couple of things about what happened in the -- in the House yesterday. I want to send my thanks and the thanks of Veterans Affairs to the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Dr. Rowe, and thank him for the bipartisan coalition that he forged together. The vote yesterday was overwhelming, 347-70. And this is long-awaited legislation that our veterans have been waiting in anticipation of.
This takes seven community care programs that we've been using for the last 15 to 20 years and condenses them into one. It also makes it much easier for our veterans to obtain care that they need at the moment that they need it in homes and in facilities closest to where they live.
This also opens up the caregiver program to long-waiting communities within our veterans' world. Those veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War who have not had access to a community caregiver program that was opened up for those who have served in the military since 9/11.
So with this strong bipartisan support, we urge the Senate to take up the House bill and give it to President Trump hopefully before Memorial Day.
But I also want to single out the major veterans service organizations. Thirty-eight of them signed a letter in support of this legislation to the House and Senate leadership. Their people have been walking the halls of the Congress for the last week. They will be in the Senate next week. And we can't thank them enough for their support for our nation's 20 million veterans.
And, Sarah, I want to thank you for the announcement. I want to thank you for President Trump's generosity. The president's gift underscores his promise to do all that he can for veterans, which includes supporting those who care for our veterans, not just those of us at VA, but the husbands, the wives, the families and the community caregivers who are out there, day in and day out, making life easier for those who have borne the battle.
President Trump understands the critical role of caregivers in meeting the essential needs of America's veterans. So we have already earmarked this gift for caregiver support in the form of mental health and peer support programs, financial aid, education training and research.
I am deeply grateful to President Trump for providing me the opportunity to serve America's veterans and for his generosity in supporting them.
So, thank you, Sarah, and thank you to President Trump. I know how much this means to America's veterans.
SANDERS: Thank you so much.
Thank you very much.
Lastly, this week is set aside each year to honor those across our country who wear the badge. In the spirit of Police Week, I want to read a quick letter from Samuel of San Antonio, Texas, that he sent the president.
Dear Mr. President Donald J. Trump. Last year I raised about $375 for our police. I went down to McDonald's and bought 75 $5 gift cards so the police officers could get coffee or lunch. It would be really cool to meet you. I wish I could vote for you but I'm only 11. But my mom voted for you. I'm starting a fundraiser called A Break for the Blue. I listened to your talks and I went to the inauguration and saw you. You're awesome. Sincerely, Samuel.
Thankfully, I had the honor of meeting Samuel earlier today. He was adopted by his family in Guatemala. He's incredibly grateful to be an American. And he's very grateful to all of the law enforcement officers around the country. The president is very proud of Samuel and believes our country needs
more young people like him who give back to their communities. And he's a really, really great kid and it was great to meet him.
[13:30:01] And with that, I will take your questions.
QUESTION: Sarah, we haven't had a chance to hear any kind of an in- depth analysis here.