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Trump Demands Investigation; Trump's Power over DOJ; Trump Praises Nunes; Don Junior Meetings; Stone Prepares for Indictment; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 21, 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] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Showboats, those people being able to vote for what they want. Conservatives voting for what they want and no policy being made. We've seen it before.
Thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. John's back here tomorrow. And "Wolf" starts right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Rome, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
The president of the United States demanding his Justice Department investigate claims of an FBI source interacting with his campaign. Now, new concerns of a constitutional crisis as the president blurs the lines.
Plus, Donald Trump Junior in yet another reported campaign meeting with a representative for two foreign powers inside Trump Tower in New York City. Was it naive, sinister or both?
And, did President Trump blink first in his trade standoff with China? As word of an early agreement breaks, the president on the defense.
But let's begin with the legal demand that threatens to become a constitutional crisis. At the center of it all, a tweet by President Trump. Over the weekend, the president tweeted that he would hereby demand -- his words -- hereby demand 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. The tweet stems from reports that a confidential intelligence source interacting with Trump campaign advisers about possible Russian ties. But officials tell CNN the source was not embedded within the campaign as the president suggests.
Let's bring in our CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
Jim, the Justice Department has asked its inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to expand an existing review to include the president's latest demand. Will that be enough?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It may not be enough, Wolf. You know, talking to a source who is close to the White House earlier this morning who advises this White House from time to time on its messaging and strategy was saying that the president is firmly convinced that his campaign was spied on before the 2016 election. Now whether or not any of that is tethered to reality remains to be seen and the Mueller probe may put some of those questions to rest. But that is how they feel inside this White House.
And I will tell you, Wolf, that there are questions about this informant's activities inside the White House among the president's legal team both inside the White House and outside the White House. I should say, I've talked to a source familiar with discussions that go on inside the president's legal team and this person was saying, listen, we don't know the full extent of this informant's activities before the 2016 election. And until we get those answers, they feel like they have some real concerns about what this informant was up to. And so until those concerns are addressed, they're not going to stop raising the question -- these questions. And this source was saying while the president's tweets may, yes, be hyperbolic, they do reflect concern inside the Trump legal team that they don't really know fully what this informant was up to.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House. We're standing by for more. I know you're working your sources. Thank you very much.
The former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is defending the FBI's use of confidential informants and slamming the president's Department of Justice today.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think that's actually a very disturbing assault on the independence of the Department of Justice, and I think when the president -- this president or any president tries to use the Department of Justice as kind of a private investigatory body, that's not good for the country.
A legitimate activity on the part -- and an important one on the part of the FBI. They use informants and have strict rules and protocols under this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So how far do President Trump's powers extend for his Department of Justice demand?
Ken Wehle is joining us right now to break it down. She's a former assistant U.S. attorney, was the associate independent council in the Whitewater investigation.
Kim, talk to us about the president's power over the Department of Justice to make a demand like this.
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure. So the president, under Article 2 of the Constitution, has the power to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. So, constitutionally, he has the power to direct the processes of the Justice Department. But, internally, for many, many years there's been a separation effectively between the president and the prosecutorial arm of the Justice Department because the idea is we don't want to politicize the criminal justice process. So there is lots of guidelines in place to ensure that there are limited conversations between the president and people within the Justice Department and that those kinds of decisions are made based on facts, made based on potential harm to the public and other neutral factors that are law and fact based, not politically based.
BLITZER: The president tweeted that this informant was actually spying on the campaign. U.S. officials are telling CNN that this was a confidential source who was not formally planted inside the campaign. Is there a significant difference?
[13:05:07] WEHLE: Well, I mean, spying is kind of a charged word. I don't think I've heard any reporting or suggestion out of the White House that there was any actual wrongdoing. So there are detailed, again, guidelines, processes within the Justice Department for having confidential informants. So we have people who provide useful information to the FBI and other investigators regarding possible criminal activities. They are generally vetted in advance and they have to be registered, et cetera. And there are thousands of them, potentially. And they are there for important reasons, that is to make sure that the American public is safe.
BLITZER: So if this confidential informant was asked by the FBI, the Department of Justice, to establish contacts with Trump campaign advisers, two or three of them, how high of an authorization would that require? Would the FBI director himself need of sign off on this? The attorney general need to sign off on it? Because it's one thing just to have confidential informants. It's another thing to seek information about a presidential campaign.
WEHLE: You know, I -- I don't have specific information on that. I would assume, given as you suggest, the -- the fact that this goes to the higher -- highest levels of the executive part -- branch of government that the FBI dotted all their i's and crossed all their t's in this regard. And certainly the guidelines are extensive and very carefully lay out the kinds of advanced approvals that are required before an agent can actually use a confidential informant. But they're routine and they're actually central to our ability to, as a democracy, to make sure that the justice system works.
BLITZER: Kim Wehle, thanks very much.
An important part of the FBI's mission, that's how former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, described the action during the campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is one of many techniques you can observe -- you can use or bring to bear, the FBI can, in the interest of determining whether there was active efforts on the part of -- by the Russians to infiltrate the campaign. Whether it was his campaign or any other campaign. The important thing here is a foreign nation, particularly an adversary, trying to influence a political campaign. And that's not good for the country. In fact, we ought to think about it as part of the effort of the FBI to keep the nation safe and secure and protect our voting process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here with us now is California Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
So what do you think about this demand from the president yesterday, I hereby demand that they look into this, to try to find out if this informant, or what he called a spy for all practical purposes, was authorized to go ahead and establish these contacts with Trump campaign officials?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think second to the firing of Comey, this is the most direct assault on the independence of the Justice Department, the most direct effort to interfere with this investigation of the Trump campaign.
It's deeply disturbing. Obviously it puts the Justice Department in a very difficult position. Normally you would expect if the Congress were trying to erode the department's independence or compromise an investigation that the president would protect the department, and conversely, if the president were trying to do it, the Congress would protect the department. But here we have a weak speaker. We have members of Congress that are only too happy to be complicit with the president and beating down the independence of the Justice Department. And this is a major threat to a rule of law.
BLITZER: Because he said in his tweet yesterday, and I'll read it again, 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.
We now know that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has ordered that the inspector general take a look at this.
SCHIFF: Yes. And, you know, I think they're trying to figure out, how do they skin this cat at the Justice Department, how do they not be, on the one hand, insubordinate to an order of the president. But on the other hand, make sure that they don't erode the independence of the Justice Department. So they've kicked it to the inspector general. I have to say, I am concerned with some of the comments of the deputy attorney general suggesting, well, we'll look into find out whether there's any legitimate concern about a politically embedded spy. They know that's nonsense and I hate to see them say anything to give it credence.
BLITZER: Tell us why it's nonsense.
SCHIFF: Well, because it simply didn't happen. And when you hear reports, as was just related, that there is concern within the White House about this, there's not concern within the White House about this. There is a sense of opportunity. Let's exploit anything, any doubt we can create. This is a defense strategy. Put the government on trial.
[13:10:01] When the evidence looks increasingly incriminating of your client, in this case the president, put the investigators on trial. And that's all they're trying to do here. And the question is, will the Congress go along with it? And, sadly, you have a few members of Congress who are actively helping the president in this. And then the rest, in terms of the governing party, are remaining silent.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who's now been charged with looking into this?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I -- he has a good reputation. I have to say, though, I'm concerned with one of the decisions that may have come out of his office already, and that is, there was a decision to accelerate the investigation into Andrew McCabe so that he could be fired --
BLITZER: The fired deputy director of the FBI.
SCHIFF: Yes. So that he could be fired before his pension vested.
Now, it's -- there's nothing irregular with his being a part of that broad investigation, but it is very unusual to say of this broad investigation, we're going to pick this one piece, this one individual, and we're going to put it on a fast track so he can be fired before his pension. And the fact that the president was openly calling for him to be fired before he got his pension looks like it had its intended effect. And if that's the case, then then independence of the inspector general is at risk. And so there are lots of concerns, both in terms of the department, its inspector general, but, more broadly, we see a wholesale assault on the rule of law and the ability of Bob Mueller to get to the truth.
BLITZER: Some have suggested there could be a constitutional crisis as a result of this order from the president. Do you see that?
SCHIFF: It's very possible. This president gives every indication that as the evidence mounts against him, he is willing to take more and more dramatic steps to protect himself, to protect his family. Right now that means ordering an investigators of the investigators.
Should Bob Mueller follow the money, should Bob Mueller get too close to what the president thinks would completely compromise him, you could see him firing Mueller or firing Rod Rosenstein.
So we may be on that slow moving path to a Saturday night massacre.
BLITZER: According to all the reports, this confidential source, an academic in American -- academic in Britain, was instructed to go ahead and establish contacts with two or three Trump campaign officials to try to find out what they know about Russian interference in the presidential election and hacks of Hillary Clinton e-mails, DNC e-mails. Was that appropriate?
SCHIFF: I can't comment on any allegations regarding a source or sources. The Department and FBI have said that even discussing that could put people's lives at risk. I can say this, though. I've seen no evidence of a political spy
embedded in the Trump campaign. I think that's complete nonsense. And from everything I've seen, and I've seen as much as anyone in the Congress, the FBI acted appropriately. Indeed, if the FBI and the Justice Department did not investigate the credible allegations that it was receiving that a campaign may be compromised by a hostile foreign power, they would have been negligent in the service of this country in protecting our national security.
BLITZER: Is it -- at what level would such an operation, asking this informant to establish contact with these Trump campaign advisers, at what level would that need to be authorized by the Department of Justice or the FBI?
SCHIFF: Well, I don't know except, you know, I think we have seen that this investigation that was ongoing beginning in July of the election year was kept at such a high level within the Justice Department and the FBI, it was compartmentalized so that it could be kept secret. That any decisions affecting that would have been made at a very high level.
And here's the irony of this attack on the Justice Department and the FBI, this desire by the president and Giuliani and others to paint them as corruptly in the camp of Hillary Clinton. They compartmentalized this so they could keep it secret during the campaign, so that it wouldn't influence the election in any way. And contrast that, of course, with the very open handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. And you see if there was a bias that you would make an argument about, it would be a very pro-Trump bias in that one investigation was kept secret, the other wasn't. So on its face the president's claim is spurious. But, nonetheless, it's doing damage to these institutions.
BLITZER: At the swearing in of the new CIA director, Gina Haspel, today over at CIA headquarters in Virginia, the president opened up for all practical purposes, he pointed to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, your chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And a very courageous man. He's courageous. Congressman Devin Nunes. Thank you very much, Devin, for being here. Appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You think he's a very courageous man? Because he's demanding documents from the Department of Justice right now in a whole host of areas.
SCHIFF: You know, courageous is certainly not the word that I would use.
[13:15:01] But, look, there are essentially four horsemen for the president in the House of Representatives. There's Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy. There's Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows. And they do the president's dirty work in the Congress. In this case, it is demanding information they have no right to see in an effort to interfere with the Mueller investigation, in an effort to give the president cause to fire people, to feed information to the Trump defense team. And we have a weak speaker who's not willing to stand up to them. And I think when the history of this chapter is written, it will be very critical of how complicit the Congress was in this all-on attack on the rule of law.
BLITZER: I want to take a quick break, but a quick question before I do, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said the other day, if the FBI, or the CIA for that matter, is forced to reveal the identities of confidential sources, lives could be at risk. Do you agree?
SCHIFF: I do agree. And I think we're lucky to have Christopher Wray at the head of the FBI. I think he has a lot of respect and is working hard to maintain the integrity of that institution. And I'm very proud of the men and women of the bureau who I think do incredible work. But they're in a very difficult position right now and I think that Christopher Wray has handled himself enormously well and what he said in that testimony is exactly right.
BLITZER: Yes, and he says it's not a witch hunt, this Russia probe, in contrast to what the president says almost every day.
There's more we need to discuss. Congressman, I've got to take a quick break.
New details are surfacing over a reported meeting just three months before the election between Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of two foreign powers who offered to help his father win the election.
Plus, a stern warning from the U.S. secretary of state. The U.S. will crush Iran unless it changes its behavior in the Middle East.
[13:20:55] BLITZER: There are new questions being raised about another meeting attended by Donald Trump Junior during his father's 2016 presidential campaign. "The New York Times" reports that Trump Junior met with businessman George Nader who said he represented princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Also there was Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media specialist, who attended the meetings as well. Both of them reportedly offered help to get Donald Trump elected president.
Back with us right now, the House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff.
So what do you think, congressman, is there anything wrong with Trump campaign advisers, including the president's son, meeting with these guys?
SCHIFF: Certainly if it's for the purpose of obtaining help from a former power, friendly or unfriendly, during the election is a big problem. And I have to imagine that the special counsel is deeply interest in this, not only of its own right, this might be a separate violation of U.S. law, but it also sheds light obviously on the president's son and campaign manager son-in-law and their intent in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.
You also have to be concerned is, why are so many foreign powers of the opinion during the campaign and perhaps thereafter that the Trump family is willing to play ball? Basically, if we give you help in the presidential election, or we support you thereafter, what are you willing to do in terms of U.S. policy on sanctions in Ukraine, on our fight with Qatar, with respect to ZTE in China, is U.S. policy basically for sale? And if Mueller is looking into this, great. If he's not, someone in the Justice Department and oversight committees in Congress need to be looking at these issues and making sure the president has our interest at stake and not his own financial interests.
BLITZER: Did your investigation in the House Intelligence Committee look into this meeting with George Nader, as well as with this Israeli social media expert, Joel Zamel?
SCHIFF: Well, we looked into it in the sense that we had some of -- at least one of the participants in that meeting, reportedly Eric Prince, come before our committee. We were interested not only in this meeting in the Seychelles that Prince claimed was completely -- well, fortuitous and that he wasn't expecting to meet this Russian baker. There are now public reports that in fact Nader set that meeting up and it was with the expectation of Prince meeting with that banker.
But we also asked Prince about other meetings that they had in the campaign, other meetings with Trump Jr. And if these allegations are true, it looks like his testimony was either false or misleading.
BLITZER: Were there other meetings besides the meeting in June at Trump Tower with these Russians, and the meeting in August, with George Nader and Joel Zamel and these other guys?
SCHIFF: Well, this is what we were trying to determine. We wanted to bring George Nader before our committee but the Republicans refused. They really don't want to know the answers. So we were hamstrung. Now we're continuing to try to find out, but we don't have the subpoena power. And, of course, we're up against a Republican minority that is affirmatively trying to disrupt the investigation rather than help with it.
BLITZER: Roger Stone, a long-time associate of Donald Trump, he's been outspoken, as you well know. He also thinks he's likely to be indicted in the not too distant future. Listen to what he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP POLITICAL ADVISER: I can guarantee you they have found no evidence whatsoever of Russian collusion, nor trafficking of allegedly hacked e-mails with WikiLeaks. It is not inconceivable now that Mr. Mueller and his team may seek to conjure up some extraneous crime pertaining to my business, or maybe not even pertaining to the 2016 election. I would chalk this up to an effort to silence me. So I am prepared should that be the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you make of his claim?
SCHIFF: Well, I don't know what the special counsel has in mind in terms of Roger Stone. It certainly wouldn't give me any comfort, the fact that I had not yet been interviewed. If I were Stone, that may mean that he's a target of the investigation.
I think it's certainly true that statements he has made publically are at odds with what he has testified privately. And they -- both can't be truthful. At times he has said he was in direct communication with Assange. At times he said he was in indirect communication. At times he's said he'd never had the communication. He was intermediaries of the Russians or WikiLeaks. This can't all be true because, of course, we have, no thanks to him, private direct messages between him and WikiLeaks. So there are a lot of questions that, obviously, special counsel's trying to answer that we indeed tried to answer in our committee as well. We wanted to use compulsure (ph) process to get any private communications via Twitter that he had with WikiLeaks, but, of course, the Republicans refused.
[13:25:41] BLITZER: Just to be precise, so you don't think he's necessarily a witness or a subject, he's a target of the special counsel, and, as a result, targets are not immediately called to testify?
SCHIFF: I don't know. I mean he could be a witness or he could be a target. You might leave him for the end if he were a target. You might not bring him in at all as a witness. Or if he were a very important witness, you might want to make sure that you interviewed everyone around him first so that you could confront him with certain information. So it could be either scenario, I really don't know.
But I think one of the challenges that the Mueller team probably has with him, and Carter Page and many others, is they have dissembled so often. Their statements are so conflicting and inconsistent that going after these people on perjury is tough because, you know, do you look at this statement, which is in conflict with this statement, which was in conflict with another statement. Indeed the president has this same problem. When you multiply the number of falsehoods, it's really difficult to focus in on any given one.
BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Still ahead, U.S. stocks in a tear today as tensions cools over a potential trade war with China.
And right now Texas authorities are combing through footage, trying to piece together how exactly a gunman was able to kill 10 people, injure more than a dozen others, at Santa Fe, Texas, high school. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)