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DOJ Asks Watchdog to Probe Trump Campaign Surveillance Claims; NYT: Trump Jr. Met with Gulf Emissary Ahead of 2016 Election. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired May 21, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump demanding the Justice Department review the Russia probe's surveillance tactics.
[05:54:31] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This claim that there's a political spy embedded in the Trump campaign is nonsense.
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I believe, if there was an embedded person, that person cleared us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to protect sources and methods. People's lives depend upon it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Giuliani said Robert Mueller told him that the investigation could end by as soon as September 1.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really just wants to look as though he is fighting back, and that's what this is about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come here with hearts that are aching, knowing that there are parents today without children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot sit back and say it's the gun. It's us as a nation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been happening everywhere. I've always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, May 21, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn, I don't know what enamored of Anglophile culture, stayed there. Trying to get her back.
Once again, you bring news. Here's our starting line.
President Trump raging on Twitter about the Russia investigation, demanding that the Justice Department look into whether it or the FBI spied on his presidential campaign for political purposes. The department asking its internal watchdog to look into the president's concerns.
Rudy Giuliani saying that Special Counsel Bob Mueller could end his investigation of President Trump by September if the president agrees to an interview. Giuliani says that's the impression he got during negotiations with Mueller's team over a possible sit-down.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, a second Trump Tower meeting is under scrutiny. "The New York Times" says that Donald Trump Jr. and other aides met with a Gulf emissary months before the 2016 election. "the crown" prince of the UAE and Saudi Arabia wanted to help Trump win.
And Santa Fe, Texas, this morning still reeling from Friday's high school shooting that left 10 people dead. The governor is calling for a statewide moment of silence to honor the victims today. The Texas lieutenant governor is taking heat for saying that cultural violence is to blame for this shooting and shooting tragedies overall, not guns.
A lot to cover this morning, as you can see. Let's go first to our Kaitlan Collins. She is live for us outside the White House. So many developments, Kaitlan. Walk us through them.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it was a weekend of venting for President Trump, who tweeted nearly a dozen Times about his political enemies, the Department of Justice and the special counsel's Russia investigation.
But it was his last tweet that is getting so much attention, because it crossed over from the president's usual tactic of airing his grievances online into pressuring the Department of Justice to do his bidding, a place that few presidents have gone before.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump making good on his threats to get involved at the Justice Department, demanding an investigation 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."
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I'm not seeing any evidence of that kind of truth of the claim the president's made. The first thing you learn when you get involved with the intelligence community is you have to protect sources and methods. People's lives depend upon it.
COLLINS: Hours later, the Justice Department announcing it's asked its internal watch dog to expand the ongoing inquiry into surveillance during the campaign to address the president's concerns. With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noting "If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action."
President Trump's stunning move after "The New York Times" reported that a confidential intelligence source interacted with Trump campaign advisors Carter Page and George Papadopoulos during the 2016 election. "The Times" describing the confidential source as an American academic who teaches in Britain.
U.S. officials have told CNN that the source wasn't embedded in the Trump campaign, despite statements from the president and his allies suggesting otherwise.
GIULIANI: For a long time we've been told that there was some kind of infiltration. I believe if there was an embedded person, that person cleared us.
COLLINS: The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling CNN that Mr. Trump won't be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators until he has more details about the source.
Giuliani also is saying that, during negotiations with Mueller's team over the potential interview, investigators said their obstruction probe could wrap up by September 1, if the president agrees to sit down and answer questions.
This as a "TIME" reports that Mueller is looking into another controversial meeting at Trump Tower, involving the president's son three months just before the election.
Prominent Trump supporter Erik Prince arranged the meeting with Gulf emissary George Nader, who told Trump Jr. that princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win the election.
Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel also attended the meeting, pitching a multi-million-dollar proposal to help elect Trump. His lawyer denied he offered or received anything. A source tells "The Times" that the president's son responded approvingly to Nader, who became a close campaign ally.
Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer tells CNN that the president's son "was not interested, and that was the end of it." President Trump responding to the report by sending a flurry of tweets, criticizing Mueller's probe and insisting the witch-hunt finds no collusion with Russia, so now they're looking at the rest of the world.
[06:05:07] COLLINS: So the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, ratcheting up the pressure on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to wrap up his investigation over the weekend. But you'll notice that, in the president's dozens of tweets, he did not challenge the accuracy of the "New York Times" reporting.
Now, this morning the president is going to go out to Langley, the CIA headquarters, where he's going to swear in his new CIA director, Gina Haspel.
CUOMO: All right, Kaitlan. Thank you very much.
The president doesn't usually pull out the "F" word of "fake news" unless the news is working against him. Right now, this narrative about what was done during the campaign with a confidential informant or not is working for him, so he's going to milk the media right now.
Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates. You have can he do this and should he do this? Let's start with can he do this.
Laura Coates, is this a request the president can make, and what happens next?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the president does run and oversee the executive branch, under which the Department of Justice actually falls. So he does have the authority to instruct. But he can't do so for a political purpose solely.
And whether he should do is a very different. I agree he should not. The last time you had a president of the United States try to override the authority of the attorney general, in this case deputy attorney general, you have the Watergate and Saturday Night Massacre happening. And there's a reason for that.
You want the independence of the Department of Justice. And you want them to be able to, if these accusations, is to say we would like you to investigate yourselves. Well, there is a mechanism already in place. It's called an inspector general, and their role can be to do that very thing to ensure there's not an inappropriateness behind any of their investigation.
In this case they're trying to do just that. But the president already warned us that, "You know what? I may have to, at some point, get involved and use my executive power." It seems that this is his time.
HARLOW: Rod Rosenstein, here's what he says, because this is being referred to and added to the I.G.'s investigation into all of this. He came out over the weekend. He said, "If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for political purposes, which would be, i.e. political purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action."
David Gregory, to you, the question becomes, A, is that enough to inoculate Rosenstein for now against the president, and what does Jeff Sessions do?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Jeff Sessions has been in a difficult position all along, as somebody who was part of the Trump campaign. So he has recused himself. And he has, you know, understood that the integrity of his position is bigger than politics, something that the president does not seem to understand or care about.
I think Rod Rosenstein in this instance is doing whatever he can to placate the president, keep his job, and avoid a larger battle, which he's already been having with Republican House members like Devin Nunes, who has been trying to get information about this informant.
You know, it goes back to the original point that Chris was making. This is politics on the part of the president, on the part of his lawyer. Delegitimize this investigation, make himself out to be a victim.
But we need to take a step back and recognize this is why it's so dangerous when a foreign country launches an information-based attack on our democracy and on our election that anything you do can be seen as political. The previous administrations didn't come down hard enough on Russian, because they were worried about looking like they were helping out Hillary Clinton. That was clearly a mistake.
Now you have the FBI investigating. Don't you want your government investigating how a campaign could potentially be undermined or infiltrated by the Russians when they want to help a certain candidate win? I mean, I think it's remarkable that supporters of the president don't pull back and say, "My goodness, if this was a President Hillary Clinton ordering the Justice Department to do something like this, there would be outrage."
And then people just selectively put that aside. I think this is what, frankly, people in a democracy should be worried about the president sounding off like this, making these kinds of orders of the Justice Department. It's just wrong. I think we should want the government investigating this kind of meddling, wherever that goes.
CUOMO: Look, we know, Laura, that the president could have done this very discreetly if he wanted to. You're 100 percent right, in terms of his oversight of the agency. He could have called and said, "I want to know. Come in and brief me."
And if anybody is going to say, "I'm interfering. I'll deal with that. That's just media yap anyway."
What do you see in these calls for a probe? Do you believe this is flooding the zone with a more favorable narrative for the president? Or do you have concerns with what you've heard about what was done by the DOJ during the campaign with this C.I., the confidential informant?
COATES: I think it's likely the former, flooding the zone. The idea that there was somebody embedded has not been proven out. It seems to me that the notion of a plant there who had a nefarious purpose to try to entrap anybody. That's a very different scenario.
[06:10:03] But you have to focus, too, on the idea of what kind of conundrum Rod Rosenstein finds himself in. It is the quintessential version of a rock in a hard place. If he were to try to simply say, "You know what? I am going to follow the predecessors or the precedent that's been set in the Saturday Night Massacre, and I'm going to walk away. You don't order this Justice Department to do anything, and we will not be extorted," which was his comment a couple weeks ago.
Well, guess what? Maybe he does exactly what President Trump wants, which is no longer to be in the position to oversee the Mueller probe. And so he has to placate in a way that's strategic and say, "I'm going to refer to the I.G. I'm going to expand that notion of whether the surveillance information in the dossier was somehow a problem, with respect to Carter Page and others. And I'm going to retain my position in a way that does not set up a constitutional showdown that would take place. The head of the executive said "Wait. You can do -- you have to follow my orders, as long as it doesn't mean you're investigating me."
He is really between a rock and a hard place, and I think he did a good thing strategically here, but how long it will last, Chris, Poppy, you just don't know.
GREGORY: One other point. Look, let's remember, Chris raised the president's guy as the FBI director, who has not complained about any part of how this investigation went down.
And now they're saying, "Well, we need an independent actor to look into this, because everybody else is politically compromised." They are not politically compromised.
And the truth is that there was not an effort to publicize the state of the investigation into potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign when it was all happening, at a time when the -- when the FBI was leaking information about Hillary Clinton. So you know, these are tough investigations by the very nature of what they're investigating. Meddling in an election that could benefit one side or the other.
And I will say that, partly what allows Trump to push on this open door with a lot of his supporters who are willing to believe that our institutions of law enforcement are compromised was Jim Comey, as head of the FBI, putting his thumb on the political scale while insisting he was not. You know, when he says that "I didn't want to make a political decision," he was counting on Hillary Clinton winning --
GREGORY: -- and was trying to shore her up. That was a mistake in his thinking and led to all kinds of bad actions. And I think the president is just trying to exploit it.
But I think we have to keep our eye on that piece of it. The president is out here as a tactical matter, just trying to delegitimize every piece of this investigation to look like a victim, to publicly pressure Robert Mueller. And, you know, I think -- I think Mueller can withstand all of that. But we still have to call it what it is.
HARLOW: It's an important point. Laura, look, David rightly brings up Christopher Wray, the president's guy, put in place to head the FBI. Let's not forget his warning a week ago, in his testimony. "The day we can't protect human sources is the day that the American people become less safe."
But to be clear, you have the president and the Republican head of the House Intel Committee teaming up together, and they want to see just that. They want to see this -- call it an informant, confidential source put forward. How do you square the two?
COATES: I think you cannot. If you are in a position to head either the authorities that they are, President Trump or Devin Nunes, you cannot take gratuitous actions that will undermine the future of the FBI or our investigative bodies.
The idea of informants and sourcing is so critical. We actually need to have coordination between members of the public and people who are in law enforcement to be able to strategically advance our judicial system. We have -- it's a dirty little secret, but we need each other. And so for them to try to compromise the identity with the gratuitous notion that it will help them right now without looking forward to figure out maybe this person is an informant on other matters, it would need another intelligence investigations, is so short-sighted and could be fatal and compromise a great deal.
There's also the personal safety aspect of it, Poppy. If somebody has been in that position, well, it may be compromised in terms of security issues.
Now, it's interesting to note that the president of the United States has already kind of shown his hand about how he feels about the exposure of somebody's identity when he pardoned Scooter Libby just a few weeks ago related to Valerie Plume. So the idea that he has some overarching disdain for confidential information to be leaked is very different than what it should be at this point in time.
CUOMO: All right. You guys are so good, stick for another block. Because we have developments in the Russia investigation, which kind of shed light on why the president was in such high dudgeon on this weekend.
Rudy Giuliani says the special counsel could end the obstruction part of his investigation -- remember, that's the part that centers on the president -- by September. What's the "get" with that give? What would the president have to do to make that happen? We're going to discuss.
HARLOW: So of course, we're remembering the victims in the Santa Fe, Texas, high school shooting. A statewide moment of silence is planned for this morning. We'll have a live report just ahead.
[06:18:53] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, over the weekend saying the special counsel's probe, the Russia probe into the president, could -- could -- wrap up by September 1. He says in his discussions with Robert Mueller's team it all hinges on whether or not the president will sit down for an interview with the special counsel.
Back with us, David Gregory, Laura Coates.
Laura, it's interesting. He said, "Well, wait, if the president sits down." We know that Giuliani, all the lawyers don't really want the president to sit down.
And then Giuliani went on to say it would depend if they subpoena him. He went on to say, if they subpoena him, that will be litigation, and that will take a long time. Making very clear, once again, that they would fight any sort of presidential subpoena. This timeline has been extended, and extended and extended. What
COATES: Well, you know, the president of the United States seems to fail to understand that it's his own actions, honestly, have delayed and prolonged the investigation, not only because of his refusal to sit down. But if he were to fight a subpoena, it would elongate it, as well.
But also because every time he tweets. Every time his counsel goes out on his behalf and makes contradictory statements. Every time he invites additional scrutiny, which is what happens every time he does that, there are new avenues of investigation to pursue, new corroboration that needs to happen. And new information has to be uncovered by the investigative team.
[06:20:04] So what you're seeing is Giuliani perhaps finally recognizing that they have shot themselves in the foot for a very long time and that they will now begin to stumble as a result. It all hinges on whether or not they're going to be cooperative. But if they were to prolong, which is the inevitable, whether he'll actually testify either voluntarily or under a subpoena, well, they have some control. Not a whole lot of bargaining power but control in that.
And by the way, Poppy, it could very well be that, even if he were to testify, if he says enough information that somehow undermines or enhances somebody else's testimony, it may be even longer to live all the answers they need.
CUOMO: Big David Gregory point is always that also, what he did was, by making that move on Flynn, you know, of asking Comey what to do and then firing Comey, that's how we wound up with a special counsel in the first place.
CUOMO: Which you always point out.
You know -- have you picked up, David, how careful Giuliani is in talking about what would end, the obstruction piece of this would end. What matters most to Trump is what would end. But all of the probing of the people around him and everything else, they don't seem to be including that in, you know, what the give that they're asking for is here.
GREGORY: Right. It's -- I guess what occurs to me as we're talking, is that there's two circles around Trump. And that inner circle is the one that he created, which is how did he respond to all of this once information became known?
And we know what actions we know about, right? We know that he fired people like Comey. We know all the things he's popped off about on Twitter. And we know what could inform that inner circle. All the people around the president, who could report on how the president might have been involved in drafting a statement about his son, Don Jr.'s, meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower. That outer circle is what you're referring to, which is all of the
other prosecutions about potential meddling, or areas of compromise between the Trump organization, the Trump campaign and Russians that may or may not have known about and been known about by the candidate, by now the president of the United States.
So there's this whole area of what we don't know about that Mueller may have. And then there's what we do know about it. And what we do know about it, at the very least, could be fodder for a report to Congress about the president obstructing justice. And perhaps a Democratic House could do something with that in an impeachment proceeding.
But you know, Giuliani spent all of this time trying to pressure Mueller, undermine Mueller, insulate the president so that he gets as watered-down an interview as he can possibly get. I mean, I can't imagine they don't do an interview at this point, given all of the talking that they've done about it. And I think, for lots of reasons, that are mostly public relations reasons, the president and his team want him to sit down if they feel that he can do it safely.
HARLOW: Laura, big headline in "The New York Times," over the weekend, the "Times" finding out that Don Jr. had a meeting with an emissary representing two Arab princes, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And along with them, this guy Zemelkin (ph), who's an Israeli specialist and the word they kept using over and over again, social media manipulation. OK. Now --
HARLOW: There you go. There you go.
No, Don Jr.'s lawyer says nothing came of the meeting. Nothing happened. There's nothing to see here. Right? They just had a meeting three months before the election. However, others -- and the president's going off on Twitter about this -- others are pointing at this and saying, "Look, this is another sort of attempt, at least attempt by foreign government, foreign agents to influence the U.S. election to help Donald Trump."
On its face, from what we know, is there anything here that violates election law?
COATES: It could. Think about fundamentally, you do not have the right, if you are a foreign nation, a foreign national, to try to unduly interfere or interfere at all with the American electorate system. That is fundamentally a problem. We have laws against that.
So if you endeavor to do so, either as an American citizen or that foreign national, there is a problem with election law and election- related laws.
The idea that Donald Trump Jr. consistently professes the standard of, "Well, all is well that ends well" is not satisfactory to federal investigators. Because we have a whole host of crimes that could be considered to be, even if they're not yet accomplished, could still be a crime.
For example, even if somebody does not carry out a hit man's actual charge, you endeavor to do so. We still have a problem with that. So the all is well that ends well, nothing to see here is simply ineffective, and it continues to raise the scrutiny of federal investigators.
And remember, the theme is the same here. It's not simply because it was a geopolitical rival in Russia that Americans have a problem with interference. It's that a foreign nation that is trying to influence or interfere in a way that we do not want to have happen in a democratic society like we have. So it's the same theme. It does not seem to me to be a tangential issue. It's all under the same umbrella of what we do not take for granted.
[06:25:05] CUOMO: Here's Donald Trump Jr.'s response on this, by the way. Let's give him his fair say. Put it up on the screen.
"Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince" -- of course, the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary -- "George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it."
David Gregory, here's the problem even with that statement. You don't take meetings like this when you are close to the seat of power in a campaign or in government. Fair criticism?
GREGORY: Yes, 100 percent. I mean, "I love it." That was Don Lemon's quote when there was the prospect of him getting dirt from a Russian on Hillary Clinton.
So we don't have to speculate about the law in all these matters. I certainly don't, since I'm not a lawyer. But having followed the presidency and elections, I can tell you that this is just so dangerous.
And this is why, whether you support Trump or don't or you like the idea that he was an outsider, when you have people who don't have the experience in foreign affairs or elections, this is the kind of stuff that can happen. Where you have the president's son as a senior adviser, meeting with all these foreign officials, who want to either curry favor or somehow influence an incoming administration, you stay away from those meetings.
And when you have the candidate out there, as he was in the summer of 2016, you know, encouraging the Russians to hack and find DNC e-mails and Hillary Clinton's e-mails. It's beyond irresponsible.
And that's why people who actually know foreign affairs and national security should have been involved. And if they had been, they would have said to the candidate and his team, "You've got to stay away from this stuff."
HARLOW: It also makes people question, right, why then, a year later, last summer, the president was putting his thumb on the scale, tipping his hand in the favor of Saudi Arabia over this huge gulf ally, Qatar, in terms of our military presence.
CUOMO: That's why you avoid it, right?
HARLOW: -- have these questions.
CUOMO: The standard used to be semblance of impropriety. You didn't do anything that even smelled bad.
Also, Donald Jr. has to deal with this. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This is at least the second such meeting that he's going to have to explain.
HARLOW: Thank you, guys. David Gregory, Laura Coates, we appreciate it.
All right. Santa Fe, Texas, mourning, of course, the loss of those eight students, two teachers from Friday's high school shooting. What we're learning about the victims and the shooter, next.