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Trump on Hiring Sessions; Trump on Roseanne Drama; Crowd against Press; Lawyer Asks for Cohen Recordings. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 30, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
He's called him everything from beleaguered to Mr. Magoo. Now President Trump says he wishes he didn't pick Jeff Sessions to become the nation's attorney general, as we learn of a potentially explosive request by the president.
Plus, a Republican congressman blows up the president's conspiracy theory that an FBI spy infiltrated his campaign. Why Trey Gowdy now says that claim is bogus.
Plus, canceled but not quiet. Roseanne Barr blaming her racist twits on Ambien. And now the president has responded.
All that coming up.
But first, we're following new developments involving recusal, regret, and the Russia investigation. President Trump's battle with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is under scrutiny by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his investigators. According to "The New York Times," Mueller's team is looking into a March 2017 meeting between Sessions and the president at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The report says Trump berated Sessions and pressured him to rescind his recusal from the Russia investigation. And in a tweet today, the president said he regrets choosing Sessions as his attorney general. He quotes Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who said, quote, there are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked somebody else, closed quote, to which the president replied, and I wish I did.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, what more does all this tell us about Mueller's investigation?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, beyond anything, I think it confirms the president's frustration with this investigation, and certainly the point about the potential line of inquiry about obstruction of justice. Now, the president calls this investigation a witch hunt repeatedly,
over and over, saying there was no collusion. But the obstruction of justice part of this investigation is equally important, perhaps more so. So this certainly is the president going after his attorney general, as he has done so often.
But certainly the fact that he is still keep thing up, some 14 months later, is a sign that he is frustrated for a reason. Always important to keep in mind, the president and his lawyers know so much more about what the special counsel is looking at. So much more about the time frame of this. So it certainly would seem to indicate the president is upset for a new reason, perhaps it's because of the obstruction of justice.
But, Wolf, important to remember, the attorney general serves at the pleasure of this president. He has expressed his frustration, saying he wish he would have hired someone else, but he has not yet fired him. And one of the key reasons for that, so many Republican senators on Capitol Hill have said they will not confirm a new attorney general if Jeff Sessions, of course the former long-time senator from Alabama, is fired. So that is one of the reasons the president, up until now, has been reluctant to fire him. We'll see if that holds, Wolf.
BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Jeff, the president has, all of a sudden, suddenly, after a long silence, weighed in on ABC's decision to cancel Roseanne Barr's TV show because of her racist tweets. What is the president saying?
ZELENY: He did, Wolf.
Of course, yesterday, the White House was uncharacteristically silent about this. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president is simply too busy focusing on other matters. He did not talk about it at a rally last evening in Tennessee. But he did, of course, weigh in this morning online.
Let's take a look at what he said. He said this, Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC (INAUDIBLE) the call.
So, Wolf, a couple of things going on there. The president seeming to make this about him. You know, certainly not weighing in on the substance of the matter. Valerie Jarrett, of course, is a former Obama official who Roseanne Barr went after just a couple of days ago, essentially suggesting she was an ape.
You know, the racist comment not repudiated by this White House, not addressed by this president, the substance of that. He simply used it as an opportunity to talk about himself, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did.
All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much. A lot to discuss with our panel. We have our CNN legal analyst,
Michael Zeldin, with us, our CNN political analyst, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Julie, you co-wrote the important article in "The New York Times" that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his Russia investigations are now looking into this conversation that the president had with Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, in which the president, you guys write, suggested he reverse his recusal and get back and oversee this Russia probe.
[13:05:11] JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean we know that he was really enraged when Jeff Sessions made this decision to step aside from the investigation. But by the time they sat down at this dinner, he was also angry at Jeff Sessions for other reasons, including that his travel ban had to be revised. He thought it was a watered down version. He didn't want to sign it. He was just angry in general.
But he had also been talking since Jeff Sessions made the decision to recuse himself with his aides about, well, is this reversible? Could he step back in and take control back of this? He had been told, no, he can't do that. That's not possible. He stepped aside. This is a legal situation now where, you know, you don't just grab back control of an investigation that you've said you're essentially conflicted out of. But that did not stop the president from asking and he continued to ask over the many months, and, obviously, to rage both in public and private about the fact that Jeff Sessions made this call.
And I guess the question that the tweet that he posted this morning raises, and all of these requests of the attorney general and people around the president raised are, what did he expect would happen had Jeff Sessions kept control of this investigation? What's the object here of trying to get him to reassert control? Was he hoping that Jeff Sessions would somehow protect him from the results of this investigation, or, if not, why was he doing that? And I think that's the question that Mueller is trying to get at here.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Gloria, that the -- that the special counsel, Robert Mueller and his team, they're now looking into this conversation that the president had with Jeff Sessions? Earlier we knew that they're certainly looking into the president's decision to fire the FBI director, Comey.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I -- look, I think it becomes part of the theory of obstruction. And Jeff Sessions now, to me, seems to loom larger in this than maybe many of us originally thought. And I think that's why Mueller is interested in this and that's why Jeff Sessions has appeared, I believe multiple times, before the -- before the special counsel. And the question is, how much pressure was put on Sessions?
What's striking to me, though, is that even though we didn't know until your great story today about this meeting in which the president asked him to unrecuse, if that's a word, himself is -- is that can you obstruct justice in public the way the president has been sort of saying, I wish I had fired him, Jeff Sessions is beleaguered, he's awful, he's this and that and now -- and we know why, because he thought that if Sessions were still at the Justice Department, Sessions would have done everything he had asked him to do, including end the so-called witch hunt. So can you do that publicly? Maybe I could ask that to Michael Zeldin. I mean I've never sort of seen anything like this.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Richard Nixon sort of did that, didn't he not, in all of his --
BORGER: The tapes?
ZELDIN: Well, in all of his --
BORGER: No, that's private.
ZELDIN: In all of his attacks on this -- on his investigation, which he called a witch hunt.
There was a pretty frontal attack on Cox and then Jaworski. Clinton made a pretty frontal attack on Ken Starr. They were both charged with obstructing of justice. So I'm not sure that you can't obstruct justice in plain view.
BORGER: In daylight.
DAVIS: Well, I mean, this is also an important point though because when we asked Rudy Giuliani about this episode, which he said he hadn't talked to the president about, he made the point that, you know, he was just making the observation that, you know, this would have been -- it would have been better if, you know, attorney General Sessions had been in charge of this and he wasn't obstructing because it was just something that he believed. I think the president is actually trying to make this case in public as well. You've heard him say it before, I just push back. I'm not obstructing anything. I just -- when I get hit, I push back. And he is really making this out to be just a question of, you know, he personally felt like he was under attack and he was trying to push back. But the question is, there are obviously legal implications.
ZELDIN: Well, and -- well, and this goes to the heart of what we saw in those 49 questions, which was, what was the president's intent is asked a lot --
ZELDIN: Because you can push back. The attorney general serves at your pleasure as president. The FBI director serves at your -- you know, FBI director, at your pleasure. So he can do things constitutionally. But if he's doing that with corrupt intent with an intent to interfere with a witness or with an investigation, then it becomes different. And that's what Mueller has to decide. BLITZER: And the question also -- we're going to have more on this
later this hour, is, how much humiliation, public humiliation, can Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, take from the president? And it's been going on now for a year. I wish I did, meaning the president's tweet this morning, I wish I had never asked this guy to become the attorney general. Public humiliation is amazing, but this --
BORGER: Well, he could have the last laugh, Wolf, if he's testifying before the special counsel multiple times.
BLITZER: Yes. Yes. It's amazing, you know, the way the president repeatedly goes after his own attorney general, instead of just firing him. If he wants to fire him, fire him. If Sessions wants to quit, let me quit. But to see this kind of public humiliation going on and on and on, I don't remember a time when a member of the cabinet has been so publicly rebuked by the president, a president of the United States.
[13:10:11] Let's talk about something else, Gloria.
Trey Goody. He's a Republican congressman. He was in on one of those two very highly classified briefings that the Justice Department provided last week on the allegation by the president that the FBI was spying on his campaign. He knocked that down completely last night. Listen to this.
(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)
BLITZER: All right, so that's it. The president's spy allegations --
BLITZER: That they were spying on his campaign. Trey Gowdy, not exactly a huge Obama supporter, comes out of that classified briefing and says, not true.
BORGER: Paging Devin Nunes, right? Where is he? Where is he on this?
BLITZER: He's been silent since he --
BORGER: You have --
BLITZER: He was in that briefing as well. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He hasn't said a word.
BORGER: Right. And, you know, Trey Gowdy has -- has -- you know, here's the man who is a partisan Republican. He is retiring, but he's a partisan Republican, ran the Benghazi investigation, coming out and saying, this is what you should want. This was not about spygate or spying on the president. These were people doing their jobs.
The president himself took another part of Gowdy's transcript about his frustration, et cetera, et cetera, and retweeted that, but paid absolutely no attention to the fact that the president was clearly weaving some conspiracy theory that Gowdy debunked on Fox News, of all places.
BLITZER: And you were there at the rally in Nashville last night when the president said this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, 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? Would you please raise your hand? That would take courage, huh?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so the president totally, totally dismisses what Trey Gowdy himself said.
And at the rally you tweeted this, because this is pretty disturbing, especially to those of us in the news media, Julie. You were there. You tweeted, depressing sight at Trump rally in Nashville. Adorable, young boy, probably about my son's age, pointing iPhone at me and other reporters and snapping pics while screaming "fake news," a child who will grow up believing a free and fair press is the enemy. A bad thing to be mocked and hated.
It sort of comes with the territory now. You guys are in the press area and people are really going after you.
DAVIS: Yes. And, I mean, the president himself kicked off the rally by, you know, yelling "fake news" and pointing at us and saying, look how many of them are back there. It's fake news.
And actually I think this ties back to, you know, this -- what the comment that he made about infiltrating the campaign. He is -- he has this narrative around what happened with this FBI informant, who, as Gowdy points out, and who others have pointed out in our reporting, in other publications and other outlets, you know, was basically looking into information that law enforcement -- federal law enforcement had that Russians were trying to interfere in our election. But that's not what the president's saying. He's sort of weaving his own narrative.
And to the degree that he wants to be able to do that, this charge of fake news and having a group of supporters, young, old, you know, women, men, from all walks of life, believing that is helpful to him because he is able to stand up there and say, you know, this is what happened. And people do not believe -- and this little kid was a -- was a pretty depressing example of that, what they read in the mainstream media about this. So he has this ability to kind of re- create the reality of what this is. And I think that's what we're seeing unfold.
BLITZER: Yes, all right, guys, stand by, there's more -- unfortunately, there's more serious developments unfolding right now, including Roseanne now blaming Ambien for her racist and anti-Semitic tweets that led to her firing. You're going to hear what she said about her cast members.
Plus, moments ago, Stormy Daniels' attorney implying that there are recorded conversations between Michael Cohen, the president's long time personal lawyer, and his clients. You're going to hear what happened in court today. Stick around.
[13:18:40] BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to CNN. A rather ominous message from the porn star, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. He writes this, quote, the Trump tapes -- let me repeat that, the Trump tapes that were just disclosed in court as a result of our efforts should be released immediately, not tomorrow, not next week or next month, now! Nixon 2.0, closed quote.
All of this unfolding while President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, he just had a hearing that wrapped up in New York City.
CNN's Brynn Gingras is on the scene for us at the hearing.
So what is Avenatti referring to when he talks about "Trump tapes?"
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened in court today was Michael Cohen's attorneys basically admitted that there are recordings out there, that they're under, quote, lock and key. He didn't say who was on those recordings, or what those recordings were about. But Avenatti basically went on this -- basically said that, you know what, I know what's on those tapes. I've heard about it from a reporter even. And he claims that those tapes include conversations between Stormy Daniels' former attorney, Keith Davidson, and Michael Cohen. He's been making claims for a while that the two had conversations prior to making a nondisclosure agreement about Stormy Daniels' alleged affair with President Trump.
So he basically is saying, there's Trump tapes. There are recordings and that they should be released to the public. Take a listen.
[13:20:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Mr. Cohen and his attorney, Mr. Ryan, should release all of those audio recordings to the American people and to Congress so that they can be heard by all. And people can make their own determinations as to their importance relating to the president and what he knew and when he knew it, and what he did as it relates to conspiring with Michael Cohen to commit one or more potential crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRAS: And we know that there are still more evidence that needs to be reviewed in the criminal investigation that is going on against Michael Cohen and his business practices. We know that a special master assigned to this case has turned over more than a million items from three cell phones of Michael Cohens and there's much more to do.
BLITZER: You know, Brynn, we had known that Michael Cohen routinely was recording phone conversations he had over these many months, and maybe many years. What seems to be rather new, and potentially very explosive, if someone of those phone conversations that he recorded included phone conversations he had with Donald Trump, either as a candidate or as -- simply as a client or as the president of the United States. That seems to be what Michael Avenatti is suggesting.
Do you know that there are audiotapes -- is Avenatti flatly saying there are audiotapes of phone conversations between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump?
GINGRAS: It's not clear exactly what those audio recordings are at this point, Wolf. He has made those claims.; Are they between Cohen and Trump? Are there also between Keith Davidson and Michael Cohen? There seems to be a trove of evidence in this case that's still being sifted through. And just the sheer fact that Michael Cohen's attorney says, yes, there are recordings out there, that's what Michael Avenatti sort of used to bolster all his claims. And it's still unclear what exactly tapes there are and what's out there and what information is on them, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brynn, thank you. Brynn Gingras in New York.
You know, Michael Zeldin, if there are phone conversations that were recorded between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, and you saw in his tweet, Michael Avenatti said, Nixon 2.0., seems to be suggesting that there may be these kinds of taped conversations potentially that could be explosive.
ZELDIN: Well, it depends what's on the tapes and it depends on what they relate to, of course. So there are two lawsuits that are going on here. One is Avenatti's Stormy Daniels I want deposition testimony of the president because it relates to my client's nondisclosure agreement. If those tapes bear on that, and when the 90-day freeze on that case is lifted, presumably Avenatti will get to ask the president, if he gets the deposition, what's on those tapes? So there's a forum for which those can be released.
Then there's the southern district of New York case, which if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the judge is not going to release them to Michael Avenatti. They're going to be given to the prosecutors and they're going to be part of the evidence that they put together in determining whether or not there's a criminal indictment that's worthwhile. That's when they'll come out in the course of that, you know, either indictment or trial.
So Michael Avenatti, in this one-man public relations campaign, I think is laying grounds for communications among reporters and the like, but is not going to convince either judge to release them under the terms that he wants them to be released.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, we did know that Cohen recorded conversations.
BORGER: We did.
BLITZER: That there -- in the FBI raids on his home, his hotel room --
BLITZER: His office, his safe deposit box, they've got those phone conversations.
BLITZER: The question is, are there phone conversations with Donald Trump? And if there are, are they explosive?
BORGER: Right. And, you know, the recorded conversations, if they're -- if they're in this cache that they took, between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels' first attorney where they were clearly talking about the sort of payoff, you know, the question is, what was said between those two people? And we know that Davidson now is cooperating with the government. So we -- you forecast, I think Avenatti, who, by the way, withdrew his motion to appear in court because he knew he was going to lose the question of standing today, so he (INAUDIBLE) --
ZELDIN: Well, but she also said, if you want a seat at this table, you're not going to do this talking.
ZELDIN: That she's put a gag order on him. He'd rather talk than have the gag order.
BORGER: Right. So, you notice he was outside of court making these charges, and he will continue to do that and beat the drum on that, although he's not going to be allowed to do it in court.
BLITZER: An intriguing development. We'll stand by to see if we get more on this.
Guys, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, the president breaking his silence on the drama involving Roseanne and her racist and anti-Semitic tweets. This as Roseanne lashes out on Twitter against her cast members and blames Ambien.
[13:24:59] And he was reported dead yesterday, but today a Russian journalist and critic of the Kremlin shocks the world by showing up at a press conference in what's being called a sting against assassins.
BLITZER: President Trump is breaking his silence on Roseanne and the whole controversy, and not to denounce her racist comments, but to slam the media, saying this, quote, Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments made -- comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call, closed quote.
[13:29:49] All of this while the star is firing off countless tweets and retweets after ABC canceled her hit sitcom. The tweets are all over the map. And that's not even all of them. She's apologizing to her fans, telling them not to boycott ABC, blaming her late-night racist rant on Ambien, criticizing her co-stars for speaking out against her, promoting more debunked conspiracy theories.