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Trump Meets With Rod Rosenstein; Texas School Shooting Aftermath. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 21, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And they're going to talk about that confidential source that led the president to order an investigation into the investigators of the Russia probe.
This meeting was scheduled before the president's explosive tweet on Sunday.
Let me read that for you, in case you missed this.
This is what the president tweeted: "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama administration."
That's the tweet.
Now, the president is reacting to unproven claims that the FBI confidential source in the Russia probe could have been a spy by the Obama administration to damage the Trump campaign.
However unfounded the reason, the Justice Department is now reacting on the record. It's now officially asked its inspector general to review the president's surveillance accusations.
So, to the White House we go, and to our senior White House correspondent there, Jeff Zeleny, on this meeting taking place right now.
What do we know about the meeting?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, good afternoon.
This certainly does set the table for this meeting. Yes, it was pre- scheduled, but there's no question that this will dominate the meeting.
Now, we do know the, president, of course, has had very fraught relations with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. He did arrive here moments ago, as you just saw there, meeting in the Oval Office, if not now, shortly. And, of course, the president is waging a political fight here, perhaps more than a legal fight, certainly trying to go after -- essentially investigating the entire Russia investigation.
So, this is coming as it would seem, Brooke, that he knows something more. His lawyers see something coming here in the investigation. It's -- we don't know if it's at the end, but it certainly is entering its second year here.
And the fact that the president was so engaged on this yesterday, trying to blow all of this up here, so what happens with that meeting will be certainly interesting. There are some confidants of the president on Capitol Hill who are quietly agitating against Rosenstein.
So it is not out of the realm of possibility that something about his future may be questioned as well here. So, as we begin this week here at the White House, certainly, this is something that we don't know how the week will end. We don't know if everyone will still be in their positions at the end of the week, if he will try and fire someone.
But certainly there are so many questions here about this at the White House, Brooke.
BALDWIN: As we wait for some reporting out of this meeting, Jeff...
BALDWIN: ... let me ask you a moment. A moment ago, the president at the White House hosting the NASCAR champion...
BALDWIN: ... took the opportunity to actually bring back up the national anthem controversy. Give me the context.
ZELENY: He did, Brooke.
That was just a few moments ago here on the other side of the White House, on the South Lawn of the White House. And the president, of course, has talked so often -- it's been a while -- about the national anthem, but he raised that again just a few moments ago. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I will tell you, one thing I know about NASCAR, they do indeed, Brian, stand for the playing of the national anthem. Right?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: They do indeed.
Somebody said, maybe you shouldn't say that. That will be controversial. I said, that's OK. NASCAR is not going to mind it at all, right, fellows? They don't mind it at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, Brooke, it sounds to me like that was a message directly to Trump supporters.
Of course, many of them overlap with NASCAR fans as well here, but the president going out of his way to revive a controversy he always thought helped him politically with his base of supporters at least, that happening just a short time ago, Brooke.
BALDWIN: All right, Jeff, thank you so much.
BALDWIN: Let me turn now to CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa. She teaches national security law at Yale and was an FBI special agent.
So, Asha, nice to see you.
And we walk through all these details of what Trump -- investigating the investigators, basically. But I want you, with your own experience, walk me through, what is a confidential source, one?
And how often with the FBI deploy one in a presidential campaign in a lead-up to an election?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: OK.
So, let's break down some terminology. We have been hearing the term informant a lot. That's typically used in criminal investigations. In counterintelligence investigations, you use an asset or a source.
And in a counterintelligence investigation, what you do is, you investigate contacts that foreign intelligence officers are having with people inside the United States. You want to find out what they are doing.
And you may use an asset or a source to get some of that information, to kind of suss out what is exactly going on there. It's partly to keep the investigation itself confidential, because you may not want to alert the foreign intelligence service of what's going on.
And it can generate more intelligence, because, if that interaction between the source and the target is then picked up, say, on the other end, in this case, Russia, then you are verifying that there is some communication going on.
It's not an unusual step to take.
RANGAPPA: And in the context of a political investigation, there would be many additional approvals that are obtained, because it does concern First Amendment activity.
BALDWIN: OK, so not unusual, and would have gotten all kinds of approval to do this.
Then, of course, you write astutely in "The Washington Post" the notion that, ah, irony, right, that the FBI and this confidential source were actually trying to protect Donald Trump at the time.
Because you're not looking at criminal activity, your goal is to actually find out what this other country is doing. You may do this under the radar. And I think they would want to do this under the radar when it comes to a political campaign, because, if they did it overtly, Brooke, if FBI agents stormed over to Carter Page or George Papadopoulos, to the general public and the media, that would raise a lot of questions.
Why is the FBI talking to these people? And it would create, I think, a suspicion that the campaign or maybe even President -- then candidate Trump was under investigation. And I don't think that was the case at that time.
This was in an early stage of the investigation. So I think they were trying to keep it on the down-low to kind of avoid creating a cloud of suspicion around the campaign.
BALDWIN: Now, to be fair, let's look at the other side, because you have seen the president's accusations. Is it possible, Asha, that an FBI confidential source could be politically motivated?
RANGAPPA: Not with the kind of approvals that you would need, Brooke.
So, there are certain classes of people. I mentioned the First Amendment activity. This, in counterintelligence investigations, is taken very seriously, precisely because of abuses that happened in the 1970s against political civil rights leaders, political people.
So, when you get to targets who might be journalists, religious clergy people, even lawyers or political people, you have to meet a very high bar. You have to show that these people -- you have to have a lot of evidence already that the people that you want to find out more about are in fact being targeted by a hostile foreign power.
So I think, in this case, the abuse would be pretty low, because you would have had to have gotten so many people to look at this and say that this was OK to do.
BALDWIN: Asha, thank you. Thank you so much.
RANGAPPA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: And as we wait for any further details here on this White House meeting over this FBI confidential source, let's look ahead.
The president's attorney Rudy Giuliani sure is. He says that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is aiming to wrap up the Russian probe by September.
My next guest predicts it will happen even sooner.
Nelson Cunningham was White House general counsel under President Clinton. He is also a former federal prosecutor. He just wrote a piece for Politico with three big predictions of what Mueller will do next.
Nelson, nice to you see you, sir. Welcome.
NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE GENERAL COUNSEL: Thank you very much for having me.
BALDWIN: All right, so prediction time. Prediction number one, Nelson, you think that this investigation will likely wrap up this summer. Tell me why you think that.
CUNNINGHAM: Well, first, there been -- first of all, Bob Mueller has been moving fast and hitting hard since he was appointed a year ago.
I was a white-collar prosecutor. I know how long it takes to build a case. And Mueller has moved so much faster than your typical white- collar investigation.
And he's been hitting hard. He's been going after people close to the president. He's been going after some people who are lawyers, as we saw.
And there have been signals in the last several weeks, if not months, that Mueller is moving to the final phases of his investigation, clearly one piece of which would be an interview with Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: Before we get to that, though, a quick follow-up. How much of the desire to end this or the timetable of ending that has to do with the midterms, in the mind of Mueller?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, Mueller has to know that he has the breath of history on his neck. People will be looking at what he has done for years.
And he certainly wants to avoid the fate of his predecessor in the investigation, Jim Comey, who had to write in his memoirs that he was discomfited by the notion that his actions could have affected the election.
It is an ironclad principle among prosecutors to do nothing in an investigation or the timing of an investigation or a prosecution that would affect a political campaign or a political election.
CUNNINGHAM: That creates a window in which Mueller has to act either before or wait until after the midterm elections. That's surely motivating him here.
BALDWIN: Prediction number two, you say that Mueller will interview Trump.
Why are you so sure? And what is the what-if scenario, if that doesn't happen?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, first of all, presidents for years, going back to Thomas Jefferson, our second president, have responded to court subpoenas.
President Clinton, of course, famously went all the way to the Supreme Court to try to avoid having to testify in the civil -- in the civil case brought by Paula Jones. That case, he lost that. The Supreme Court said, even if you're president, you must sit down and have a civil deposition, you must go to trial if a judge directs you.
It was in that deposition that he made the statements about Monica Lewinsky that led Ken Starr move to the Lewinsky investigation and his recommendations to impeach him.
And in that case, Bill Clinton spent six hours testifying before the grand jury. So, in my mind, it's absolutely clear, as a legal principle, that even a president can be called before a criminal investigation.
What we're seeing now is a loud debate over the terms of that. How long the interview be, how many subjects, how many questions, will he have his lawyers there, will they -- will it be under oath?
But, right now, we're really just having an argument over the scope and scale of the interview. At the end of the day, Robert Mueller has something in his hand called a grand jury subpoena, which begins, you are commanded to appear at the district court at the time and date below, and to remain there until a district judge of this court relieves you.
That applies to Donald Trump just as much as it does to anyone else.
BALDWIN: Prediction three, Nelson. You say all signs point to Paul Manafort pleading guilty in the coming weeks. Why now?
Well, Manafort -- Manafort is the most difficult place a criminal defendant can be. The charges against him are very straightforward. He took millions from the Ukrainians, and then he failed to pay taxes on it and there are allegations that he laundered those funds to hide the source.
That's a fairly simple thing to prove as a white-collar prosecutor. He has two weighty sets of charges against him. His junior partner in this, Rick Gates, who was also his deputy campaign manager, was indicted with him. He's already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the prosecutors. Paul Manafort is 69 years old. He's looking at possibly spending the rest of his life in jail unless he agrees to plead and to cooperate with Mr. Mueller.
Now, right now, Mr. Mueller is looking to get Manafort's cooperation because he wants to wrap up his investigation, for the very reasons that we discussed before. He needs to wrap up by July, possibly August.
He needs Manafort to plead and to cooperate, and Manafort frankly needs to find a way to avoid spending the rest of his life in jail.
BALDWIN: Nelson Cunningham, thank you.
CUNNINGHAM: My pleasure.
BALDWIN: Coming up next: President Trump's evolving defense on the Russia investigation. We will take you through the myriad ways he's defended his campaign's dealings with Russia.
And the lieutenant governor of Texas blaming a half-dozen things for the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, guns, however, not on his list.
And stunning pictures of the dangerous volcanic eruptions in Hawaii right now. Look at this -- the latest threat, lava oozing into the oceans, spewing hydrochloric acid and volcanic glass into the air. We will take you live to Hawaii coming up.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani says special counsel Robert Mueller told him that he hopes to have this whole investigation wrapped by September 1, if the president agrees to an interview.
Giuliani also said waiting any longer risks influencing voters ahead of November's midterms. But this isn't the first time Giuliani has floated a seemingly arbitrary timeline for the Mueller investigation.
This is part of this constantly evolving defense strategy that we have seen from the White House.
And CNN political reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza has been keeping track.
Hi, Chris Cillizza.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Welcome back, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Thank you. CILLIZZA: Yes, though where you were seemed like nicer than a studio in New York City.
CILLIZZA: But let's jump right to it.
CILLIZZA: At least five that we can count, five evolutions of the defense strategy on all this.
So, let's start with number one. This is defense 1.0, deny, deny, deny. Hope Hicks, you will recognize, former communications director, "It never happened" about any conversation between Donald Trump, Trump associates and Russian officials.
"There was no communication between the campaign and any, any foreign entity during the campaign." That's November 11, 2016.
Now, she's not the only one who said it. Somebody by the name of Donald Trump also talked about this. Let's go to that sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CILLIZZA: So, "to the best of my knowledge" is doing a lot of work in that sentence, Brooke, but that was the initial.
Now let's move to 2.0, downplay the significance. You will recognize that guy. That is Don Trump Jr. Once it came out that they in fact had had a June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, as several other Russians -- Don Jr. was there, as was Paul Manafort, as was Jared Kushner -- it was and short and introductory meeting.
Primarily, they discussed adoption. I believe there's more Don Jr. on the next slide, where he's talking more about it. Can we go to that?
"I didn't think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no."
So this is moving of the goalposts. Make no mistake about that.
Let's go to the third Trump defense. OK, this is, I think, candidly, my favorite one, which is all of these people, many of whom had every senior roles in the campaign, Brooke, they didn't matter.
OK, Michael Flynn, the guy who introduced Donald Trump at every rally at the end of his campaign, and the guy who was the national security adviser, he was only there for 25 days. Well, he was the national security adviser.
He called George Papadopoulos famously -- they referred to him a coffee boy. Paul Manafort, the man brought in to win Donald Trump the nomination in 2016, the campaign chairman, short period of time he worked there.
Rick Gates, who is Manafort's deputy, this all happened prior to the campaign. And then, of course, Michael Cohen, a tiny, tiny fraction of Cohen's business was Donald Trump. This is Donald Trump's personal fixer and attorney.
Let's go to explanation 4.0.
CILLIZZA: OK, Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump attorney, this is, what does collusion actually mean? There is not a statute that refers to criminal conclusion. There is no crime of collusion.
Legally true, but they're arguing -- this is a straw man argument.
And I believe we have -- you will recognize no collusion from again Donald Trump. I think we have some sound of Donald Trump mentioning that term once or twice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There has been no collusion.
They all say there's no collusion, and there is no collision. I can only say this. There was absolutely no collusion.
There is no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia, other than by the Democrats.
But there has been no collusion. They won't find any collision. It doesn't exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CILLIZZA: Not totally clear, but I think he's suggesting there was no collusion.
OK. So, now we go to Trump defense 5.0. This is our most recent. This is Rudy Giuliani, the new face of the Trump legal team. "The investigators do not have the power to subpoena the president. You cannot indict a sitting president."
Now, I will -- that is a legal argument, right, that is up for debate, a constitutional argument, but one that we hadn't really heard before.
So that is Giuliani, the newest iteration, the newest shiny penny in Donald Trump's sort of world making that case.
So that is five total explanations over the year and plus of the Mueller investigation.
BALDWIN: OK. Keep the slides. That's -- we're at 5.0. We will we how...
CILLIZZA: The big thing is, there's also another graphic, Brooke, that we can do 6.0.
BALDWIN: I have a feeling we may be doing that.
And to this tweet, Chris...
BALDWIN: ... the tweet where the president is calling for the DOJ to investigate whether it or the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign with the words "I hereby demand."
So, this came Sunday. You will see it -- "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice" -- you know how the rest goes.
So, first of all, it's not entirely clear like what this means, that he demands it. There's not like a paper you fill out where you check like hereby demand and then it's done.
But this phrasing -- Donald Trump, we know he has a way with words -- he's used it before. OK, here's Donald Trump in June 2016: "Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record-setting Trump campaign" -- another favorite of his, record setting -- "we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest 'Washington Post.'"
And then we have this one from March of 2017: "I hereby demand a second investigation after Schumer of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia and lying about it."
It evokes the image for me, Brooke, of him sort of like banging a gavel and say, hereby, this is decreed, which -- or ringing a bell of some sort.
BALDWIN: Maybe he tuned in to the royal wedding. It's very, like, royal, family, king and queen. I demand.
CILLIZZA: It's a word he likes. But I don't understand.
Again, there's no process by hereby requesting something of the Department of Justice.
BALDWIN: OK, duly noted.
Chris Cillizza with the 5.0, to be continued. Thank you so much. Good to see you.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Good to see you.
Coming up next: Gina Haspel, she was sworn in today as the first female CIA chief. Hear the story that she shared about two young girls who wrote letters to her.
BALDWIN: Last Friday, the high school in Santa Fe, Texas, became the 288th school to have a shooting in this country since 2009. Just some perspective.
Consider the other numbers right there on your screen. During that same time period, Mexico had eight school shootings. Russia, Germany, Greece, China each had one.
Two hundred eighty eight. Begs the question, why so many school shootings in the U.S.?
Well, the lieutenant governor of Texas has blamed a lot of things for this shooting, except guns. Among the reasons, violent video games, kicking God out of school.
Here is more of Dan Patrick says could be responsible for so many shootings in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R), TEXAS: There aren't enough people to put a guard at every entrance and exit.
Had there been one single entrance possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped.
Gun control, I believe, starts at home, George. Every person who owns a gun must be accountable for their guns at home. We don't know all the facts yet, but this particular young man got his guns in some way from his parents' home. You should have your guns locked up.
We need our teachers to be armed. We -- you know, when you have -- when you are facing someone who is an active shooter, the best way to take that shooter down is with a gun.
But even better than that is four or five guns to one.
Should we be surprised in this nation? We have devalued life, whether it's through abortion, whether it's the breakup of families, through violent movies and particularly violent video games. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The incoming president of the NRA is weighing in with reasons of his own, including the drug Ritalin.