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Trump Attacking Sessions Again; Gowdy Upends Conspiracy Theory; Criminal Charges for Missouri Governor. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:35] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

President Trump is once again attacking his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. This morning's attack comes after "The New York Times" overnight reported that the president tried to convince Jeff Sessions to take back control of the Russia probe, but that probe now includes digging into why the president tried to do just that and if it is obstruction of justice.

Our Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington with more.

The president not holding back on this one.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: No, and he certainly hasn't held back. You know, in the latest series of tweets, he essentially says that he wishes he had picked a different attorney general. Now "The New York Times" reporting that the president in March 2017, just after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigations, that when Sessions flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump, they had dinner and that Trump there at that dinner berated the attorney general and told him he should reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Now "The Times" says that that was an unusual and potential inappropriate request and that Jeff Sessions refused Trump's request.

Now "The New York Times" says a part of the special counsel's investigation is looking at this meeting. It's part of its obstruction investigation, as well as the repeated attacks on Sessions by Trump in the media and on Twitter.

And, you know, Poppy, as we've been reporting here at CNN, Trump's lawyers are trying to keep Mueller from questioning Trump about these interactions with Sessions, certainly some of the obstruction issues and about the firing of Comey.

HARLOW: Shimon, thank you for the reporting.

With me now to look at the legal side of this is our legal analyst, formal assistant to Robert Mueller when he was at the Department of Justice, Michael Zeldin.

Michael, thank you for being here.

So this -- the president this morning is responding to Trey Gowdy, head of the Oversight Committee, saying on CBS, look, there are a lot of lawyers. The president could have picked someone else to be attorney general. Then the president writes, I wish I did.

This all ties into "The New York Times" reporting that Shimon just laid out because "The New York Times" reporting that the president tried to get Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia probe because of the issues there causing him to recuse himself is reason for Mueller to look into obstruction of justice here, not just with the firing of James Comey, but with how the president has handled Jeff Sessions. Legally, what are the obstacles here for the president?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So there are a couple of things that this story raises. First, of course, is that Jeff Sessions did, in fact, do the right thing. The guidelines that he is under as a Justice Department employee require him to recuse himself from an investigation where it is of a campaign that he was a senior member of. So he has no choice but to follow the regulations. And he's doing that properly.

The president really has no business asking him to essentially violate the code of federal regulations governing recusals and asking him to quote/unquote, unrecuse himself. So I think the president is out of bounds asking recusal from -- unrecusal from the recused attorney general.

HARLOW: So, one of the things that "The New York Times" points out that's interesting is of the four dozen or so questions that the Trump team compiled, and "The New York Times" reported on after these conversations with Mueller's team, eight of them relate to the attorney general, relate to Mr. Sessions. And here's a key one, quote, that Mueller would ask the president, what efforts did you make to try to get him to reverse his recusal? What is Mueller trying to get at here, intent?

ZELDIN: Right. Exactly. And what we've talked about in the past is that obstruction of justice, or in this case really probably abuse of office, because there's a question about whether you can obstruct justice if you are doing things that you're constitutionally permitted to do. So if there is an abuse of office inquiry, that inquiry is really a mosaic of various components. The firing of Comey, the asking of Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, and now we have this additional group of pieces that all involve whether or not there was undo pressure put on not only Sessions but also White House Counsel Don McGahn --

HARLOW: Right.

ZELDIN: To get Sessions --

HARLOW: Right.

ZELDIN: To undo himself --


ZELDIN: Because of the thought of just -- as I just -- because of the thought that if he had the right guy, then they could stymie this investigation.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:35:06] ZELDIN: That's what piece -- that's what underlies this.

HARLOW: And the -- and the talk about, you know, comparing him to Holder and saying, well, Holder protecting Obama, et cetera, and that that's what he wanted from Sessions.

Just before you go, Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, his defense to "The New York Times" in all this reporting is important. Here's what Giuliani says. Unrecused doesn't say bury the investigation. It says on the face of it take responsibility for it and handle it correctly.

Good enough? I mean is that going to fly with Mueller's team?

ZELDIN: Remember, Giuliani was a guy who said a couple of weeks ago, he's only partially there in terms of learning the law and facts. Well, he's still partially there because, as we started at the top of this segment, the law requires Sessions to be recused from an investigation of a campaign on which he was a senior member. So there is no partial pregnancy here. He is pregnant with conflict and he has to recuse himself.

So Giuliani's notion that he could partially manage this is just inconsistent with the regulations that govern Sessions' behavior. And good for Jeff Sessions for following the regulations and resisting the calls for him to come back on to the case.

HARLOW: And, by the way, executing so many of the president's wishes. Perhaps the one in his cabinet who's done that the most, just looking at some of the key things like immigration for this president. Really interesting Jeff -- Michael Zeldin. Thank you very, very much.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: So ahead for us, conspiracy challenged. A top Republican lawmaker delivers a stinging takedown of the president's repeated, unfounded claims that a spy was planted in his campaign.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.



[09:40:54] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: House Oversight Chairman and top Republican Trey Gowdy defending the FBI on Fox News last night, upending the president's repeated and unfounded claims that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign. Gowdy's comments also striking because he's one of the select few who's actually been briefed on the FBI's confidential source.

Joining me now to discuss this, we have CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson, and CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga.

We only invited people on today who's name rhymes with mine. That's how this is working -- that's how this is working today.

So, Eliana, I wonder how significant you think it is that Trey -- I think a lot of critics certainly of Trey Gowdy's would be surprised. Liberal critics would be, wow, he's really breaking with President Trump. This is a big deal.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is a big deal. Trey Gowdy, of course, was the House Republican who led the Benghazi investigation. He was a fiery critic of Hillary Clinton. And the question about, is this FBI a mole or a spy has been, was he conducting -- was he part of a rightful and just FBI counterintelligence investigation or did this counterintelligence investigation verge into something not quite right that was actually looking at Donald Trump. And Gowdy is saying this was a perfectly normal FBI counterintelligence investigation looking into Russian interference in the Trump campaign that they then warned President Trump about. Gowdy, on the conservative side of House Republicans, I do think that this hurts President Trump.

KEILAR: And, Bianna, it's important to note that Gowdy knows what's going on here. He has the facts. He has been briefed. Devin Nunes has been briefed. And they come to very different conclusions about this.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He has the fact. And Eliana is right, this is a big deal. But if you step back and look at it from a nonpolitical perspective, it shouldn't be a big deal because Trey Gowdy is a former prosecutor. He knows how investigations are run. And he's doubled down this morning. On CBS this morning he said that he's never heard the term spy used in these types of investigations and that informants are used by law enforcement all the time in these matters.

So, once again, he's stating the obvious. What's not obvious is for the majority of Americans to understand how these investigations are run. So when you have only a select few of people coming out and explaining it, you can see why the president is being successful in at least attempting to muddy the waters by using the term "spy."

Trey Gowdy again confirming that he doesn't use the term spy. He's never heard the term spy used. And that informants are, in fact, standard operating procedures in law enforcement investigations. KEILAR: You hit exactly on the reason why who President Trump is

really talking to here, including in a rally that he was at last night in Nashville. Let's take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? People infiltrating our campaign. Is there anybody in this big, beautiful arena right now that's infiltrating our campaign? Never in the history of our country has something taken place like took place during this election.


KEILAR: It seems, Eliana, that no matter what the president -- no matter what Trey Gowdy says, even though this is, as you say, very significant, President Trump is going to make some people believers here.

JOHNSON: Yes, Donald Trump has a bigger megaphone than Trey Gowdy. He's the president. I was at that rally in Nashville last night and I have to say, Trump has a real skill at boiling complicated issues down into very simple tropes and he's done that with the Mueller investigation where I think the Democrats have really lost the threat. It's gotten very, very complicated. And Trump has made it into an issue of Obama administration government overreach, trying to undermine his campaign. And I think he's made that very simple for his supporters.

KEILAR: I want you to listen --

GOLODRYGA: And let's not --

KEILAR: Sorry, go on. Go on, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, and let's not forget who else infiltrated a campaign and attempted to infiltrate the election, and that is the Russians. And that is something we don't hear the president talking about at all throughout this time period despite the fact that you have intelligence chiefs telling him unanimous that they did in the past and they will attempt to do so in just a few months during the midterms.

[09:45:19] KEILAR: Well, that's exactly right because Trey Gowdy -- and he really touched on that. He actually said -- and I don't know if -- I don't know if he's correct in this, but he said that the president is going to be glad that we have an FBI that took seriously what they heard. He was never the target. Russia was the target.

But, Bianna, he's still -- and we've seen this over and over -- he can't separate this investigation about Russian interference in the election without taking it personally and a challenge to his legitimacy as a leader.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, he can't separate the two. And keep in mind that he is now the leader. He is not a candidate. He's not running for office. He won. He is the president of the country and his job is to defend the country from Russians once again trying and attempting to do what they did in the past.

Most people, nobody really, serious of matter is questioning the authenticity of the election. What they are concerned about is Russians repeating -- and not just Russians, by the way. You've got the Chinese. You've got Iranians, a lot of other countries now are trying to do the same thing. And we don't hear the president address these issues at all. And that is what's a bit alarming because, at least from what we know, nothing has been done to remedy the situation from happening again.

KEILAR: Yes, we've heard his intel chief say, this is a real, ongoing threat. And they've also made it clear that not enough -- not much is being done. They don't have the authority they need.

Bianna Golodryga, thank you so much.

Eliana Johnson, really appreciate you being with us.

Coming up, you're on your own. Hawaii issues a dire warning to residents who refuse to evacuate as the lava from a volcano spreads. More than 70 homes destroyed at this point. We're going to bring you an update, next.


[09:51:28] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And next hour we could learn more about the pending criminal charges facing embattled Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. Just yesterday he resigned amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and also misuse of campaign finances.

Our Ryan Young is in Missouri with more details.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, a lot going on here.

Look, the circuit attorney's office says that in the next hour they will have a news conference to say what deal was struck between Greitens' attorneys and that office in terms of that charge that he was facing there.

So, look, there's a lot of conversation about this because, look, less than three weeks ago the governor was standing out on the steps saying he believed this was just a witch hunt and that he would move forward through this. But then you saw him step down yesterday.

This all goes back to the affair that he had with the hairdresser. He admits to the affair. But the woman says that while they were downstairs, she was tied to a piece of exercise equipment, that he took a picture and told her that if she ever came forward that he would share this picture with everyone. That ended up being a point of -- of just -- they had a conversation about this consistently.

Listen to what the governor had say about how this has been a flashpoint in an ever going campaign to get him out of office.


GOV. ERIC GREITENS (R), MISSOURI: This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family. It's clear that for the forces that oppose us, there is no end in sight. I cannot allow those forces to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people that I love.


YOUNG: Now, look, depending on who you talk to in this case, some people never thought the governor would step down. You're talking about a former Navy SEAL. You're talking about someone who had a bright future ahead of him when it came to the political theater. But now this has obviously taken a turn.

The lieutenant governor will be taking over on Friday. The conversation now, what happens to the charges that he faces? Of course, we'll be seeing that in the next coming days.



Ryan Young, appreciate the update on that one. Thank you very much.

Brie (ph).

KEILAR: Well, searchers in Maryland have found the bod of a National Guardsman swept away in historic flooding earlier this week. Witnesses say Edison Herman was trying to help a woman to safety during storms in Ellicott City Sunday while he was swept away by rushing water. His family says, while they are grieving, they are comforted by his courage, strength and selflessness.

In the meantime, the city is facing new challenges as it tries to clean up from those storms. A sewage main broke and overflowed nearby spilling waste and leading to a health alert.

And there's a new policy for residents on the big island of Hawaii. The Hawaii County mayor said first responders will no longer go door to door to rescue residents who refuse to evacuate. He said if they refuse to leave once final evacuation orders have been given, then they will have to fend for themselves.

Meantime, more than 400 electricity poles have been damaged due to lava flow. There are hundreds of power outages in lower Puna. And it's not clear when power will be restored.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is supposed to head to China this weekend for trade talks, but that may not happen now according to "The Wall Street Journal." Despite the U.S. and China's agreement to hold off on tariffs in recent weeks, the White House reinstated tariff and other sanctions against China. The White House is ready to slap a 25 percent tax on about $50 billion worth of Chinese good, but now China says they're ready to fight back. Their foreign ministry spokesperson said, quote, we want to reiterate that we don't want a trade war, but we aren't afraid of fighting one.

[09:55:05] Coming up, the Roseanne fallout. The comedian blaming Ambien for a racist tweet that she sent out, and then she says she was fired because of her support of President Trump. We'll have a look at her excuses and the apology that she offered overnight.

HARLOW: Plus, the president's self-proclaimed fixer, Michael Cohen, headed back to court this morning as we're learning the feds are poised to try to get more than a million files seized from his phone. We're following it.


[10:00:01] KEILAR: Good morning. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us this hour.

New this morning, the president wants a new attorney general. He made that explicit on Twitter just a short time ago writing, he wishes he did pick someone other than Jeff Sessions.