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President Trump Pardons Dinesh D'Souza and May Pardon Martha Stewart and Commute Sentence of Rod Blagojevich; President Trump to Receive Letter from Kim Jong-un; How Vulnerable is Devin Nunes in Reelection Bid? Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Talking about his conversation with the president where the president really shed new light into what motivated him to grant this pardon.


DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE FILMMAKER AND AUTHOR: The president said, Dinesh, you've been a great voice for freedom, and he said that I got to tell you man to man, you've been screwed. He goes I've been looking at the case. I knew from the beginning that it was fishy, but he said upon reviewing it he felt a great injustice had been done, and using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there to be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, we'll talk more about at that. The president is also signaling that two former "Celebrity Apprentice" stars, Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich, could be next for pardons. This is raising questions about who he's pardoning and why and whether it's about settling old scores or a quid pro quo or what's behind it. The president is signaling -- could he be signaling something to the people in the Russia investigation as well? CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House with our top story. What have you learned, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the president does seem to be in a forgiving mood. And all of the people he has pardoned or seems to be considering pardoning have a few things in common, that is perceived enemies from the president and unfair treatment by the U.S. justice system according to the president. And it raises a question whether or not the president sees a little bit of himself or his allies in them.


COLLINS: President Trump on a pardoning spree, hinting he may pardon Martha Stewart and commute the sentence of disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. The president defending the two former "Apprentice" contestants, insisting they were treated unfairly.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Martha. I've always liked Martha. I still like Martha.

COLLINS: In 2004 Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice, lying to investigators, and conspiracy, after a probe into allegations of insider trading.

TRUMP: So, governor, you have a hell of a lot of guts, I have to tell you that.

COLLINS: In 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of 17 public corruption charges, including trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat. He's currently six years into serving a 14-year sentence. This coming just hours after the president issued his fifth pardon for the contentious conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to campaign finance violations in a straw donor scheme. President Trump once again bypassing the Justice Department to fast track his pardon, arguing that D'Souza was treated unfairly by the government despite D'Souza acknowledging that what he did was wrong. D'Souza claimed he was targeted because he made inflammatory remarks about President Obama.

DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE FILMMAKER AND AUTHOR: My case is quite clearly a political hit.

COLLINS: But all three cases tied in some way to the president's critics. Stewart's case was prosecuted by former U.S. attorney and fired FBI director James Comey whose close friend Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuted Blagojevich. Comey also appointing Fitzgerald to investigate the Valerie Plame leak case, which resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, who Trump pardoned in April. And it was fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara who prosecuted D'Souza in the southern district of New York. Blagojevich' wife drawing comparisons between her husband's conviction and the Russia investigation.

PATRICIA BLAGOJEVICH, WIFE OF ROD BLAGOJEVICH: These same people are trying to do the same thing that they did to my husband, just on a much larger scale. They were emboldened. They took down a governor and now they've got their sights much higher.

COLLINS: Critics arguing the high profile pardons could be a signal to the president's allies who are under federal investigation, like his personal attorney Michael Cohen and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner tweeting "The possibility that he may also be sending a message to witnesses in a criminal investigation into his campaign is extremely dangerous." The White House denying the pardon is any kind of signal.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Each of the president's actions on pardons or on other things should be judged on the merits, looking at the facts and the circumstances surrounding that case. The president felt it was warranted.


COLLINS: These pardons often come unexpected, even to the president's own staff, so stay tuned to his Twitter feed for more. In the meanwhile, the White House is waiting for a delivery that could save that summit in Singapore. Kim Yong-chol, who is Kim Jong-un's right hand man, is expected to bring a letter from the North Korean dictator to Washington today for President Trump. We are waiting to be see what that letter says and if it says anything about that potentially historic summit in Singapore.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Kaitlan, thanks very much. Let's bring in CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Maggie, you were with the president yesterday on this trip where he made the announcement that Dinesh D'Souza was getting the pardon, speculated that Martha Stewart, Rod Blagojevich might be next. What's your sense of the strategy behind this if in fact there is a strategy?

[08:05:12] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that is well put. And yes, I was one of the pool reporters on Air Force One yesterday. The president was in a very good mood about these pardons. He wanted to talk about them. He was talking about Dinesh D'Souza, and then he suddenly brought up Rod Blagojevich, which surprised I think all of us. He's not talking about a pardon of Blagojevich yet anyway, he was talking about a commutation, and then he mused about Martha Stewart, whose case I know his lawyer Rudy Giuliani has mentioned recently as an example of somebody who Giuliani said walked into a, quote-unquote, perjury trap.

I think there are a common of things going on here, John. I do think that there is the common thread of people who have been in his mind attacked or treated unfairly, quote-unquote, by people who he thinks have done the same thing to him. The prosecutions have some connections to James Comey, as well as Preet Bharara, the former southern district of New York federal prosecutor. Southern district of New York is where the Michael Cohen case is right now and we also know that Donald Trump fired Bharara along with a number of other U.S. attorneys.

But I don't think you can understate the celebrity aspect of this. a lot of this is these are people with connections to "The Apprentice," or these are famous cases. Blagojevich, Trump reminded us at some point, had been on "The Apprentice," and then there was this, oh, of course moment. He also knows Martha Stewart personally which he talked about. Dinesh D'Souza is the odd one out there, and that one I do think is a much more a play for his base and his supporters.

But let's be honest, I think Roger Stone said it to the "Washington Post," these are pardons that send a message to people who either have pleaded guilty in the special counsel's investigation into possible Russia collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or who could plead guilty in other cases and plead to a lesser offence, such as a Michael Cohen or a Paul Manafort.

BERMAN: I actually have that. Let me put that up on the screen if we can right now, because it is interesting what Roger Stone said. "It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert Mueller. Indict people for crimes that don't pertain to Russian and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers." HABERMAN: Remember this awesome power that Roger is referring to is

something that my colleagues and I at the "New York Times" reported a couple of months ago when the president's then main lawyer John Dowd had had conversations with lawyers for Paul Manafort and I believe it was Flynn as well about leaning into a pardon. This is before the Flynn guilty plea, I believe.

And so I think that when you put all of that together, it's pretty clear what's going on. This is not the first time when there has been a controversial pardon. Obviously Bill Clinton did political pardons. Mark Rich would be the notable one. He did it at the very end of his term when he was on his way out. Trump is doing it all sort of in plain sight as it goes, but this is not what the pardon power is supposed to be there for. It is supposed to be about sort of a lifting of a -- undoing a wrong. This is him undoing in his mind, I think, a wrong to him.

CAMEROTA: We also just had Joe Lockhart on who of course was press secretary during some of the Clinton controversial pardons, and one of his points was there's also a process for this. There's a protocol and a process. You work with the Department of Justice. President Trump isn't doing that.

HABERMAN: No, he's winging it, as we've seen him wing many things. As Kaitlan correctly said, his staff is often surprised. The Dinesh D'Souza tweet landed right as we were taking off for the first leg of his Texas trip yesterday, and there was a fair amount of surprise about it. But this is going around what the normal process is, as we have seen him do repeatedly. There could be lasting implications to this for other presidents. I think this is not necessarily a precedent that most presidents would want to set.

BERMAN: He's not using the Office of Pardons, the attorney general and Office of Pardons right now. That's not being used at all. I think there are some like 2,000 pardon requests pending.

HABERMAN: More than that I think.

BERMAN: More than 8,000 clemency requests. Instead what the president is doing is he's on Tivo watching reruns of "Celebrity Apprentice" I guess and making his picks there. I'm being facetious.

HABERMAN: Or getting phone calls from someone who knows someone and political connections. Making politically connected pardons is also problematic again, for a number of reasons. The Mark Rich pardon by Bill Clinton was problematic, but that was one of them.

BERMAN: We have Dinesh D'Souza. Dinesh D'Souza was on television this morning talking about this, talking about his phone conversation that he had with president Trump. Let's listen to that.


DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE FILMMAKER AND AUTHOR: The president said, Dinesh, you've been a great voice for freedom, and he said that I got to tell you man to man, you've been screwed. [08:10:07] He goes I've been looking at the case. I knew from the

beginning that it was fishy, but he said upon reviewing it he felt a great injustice had been done, and using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there to be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.


BERMAN: Go forth and preach, Mr. D'Souza, is that the president apparently told him.

HABERMAN: As we know, this president is very much about messaging, and in his mind this sets up some kind of a message and amplifies about the message he wants to send about his case. Again, this is not a complicated formula. It is what is good for him as opposed to what is good for the country or what is a good use of this incredibly unique power that the president has.

And this is one of the few abilities that a president has that really is just quick and easy. Remember, his view of executive power has always been that it will be something like this. He has discovered the realities of Washington is you have to go through Congress and that a lot can get thwarted. And this something he can just make happen fast, and I think that is part of the appeal.

BERMAN: I think that's part of it. He's doing it why, because he can.

CAMEROTA: And just to underscore one more time the message that he wants to get out from Dinesh D'Souza, we don't know exactly what it is, but we do know Dinesh D'Souza's Twitter feed and one of the messages that he sent in February was about the Parkland student and their grief after the school shooting. He said "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs." So that is the kind of vile message that Dinesh D'Souza expressed.

HABERMAN: Dinesh D'Souza has a very long history of saying vile things both on TV and on Twitter. I also think it is important to note that in the case of Dinesh D'Souza and Rod Blagojevich, these are people who pleaded guilty to what they did. There were allocutions about what they did. This is not as if they were convicted in a jury trial and that had been protesting their innocence the whole time. The concern for a lot of people in law enforcement is what the president is sending a message of it really doesn't matter what you do in terms of the law because you could get a lucky break, and I think that is a huge concern.

BERMAN: Maggie, stick around. In just of hours, President Trump will get a hand-delivered letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Will it reveal whether the Singapore summit will happen? That's next.


[08:16:05] CAMEROTA: Just hours from now, North Korea's former spy chief will be in Washington. Kim Yong-chol left New York hotel here just a short time ago. As you can see, he is expected to hand-deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump at the White House.

We are joined again by CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

So, Maggie, the president must be feeling pretty bullish about the summit happening, maybe even June 12th at this point?

HABERMAN: Yes, I think he is. I think the question remains and look, if the summit happens, it will be a significant moment.

The question is, what exactly does success look like out of this summit? I think you saw the president told Steve Holland of "Reuters" that he might need multiple meetings with Kim in order to figure out whether there can be a deal, or whether there should be a deal, or whether there will be a deal.

I mean, I think a lot of this as you see is a president who likes to rely on his own instincts and it shunning advice that he is being given by not just the foreign policy community, but some of his own advisers and doing it himself. We have no idea what is going to be in this letter.

I don't think the White House has a clear indication of that. And so, we shall see.

BERMAN: I think for the president's success is the summit. I mean, to a large extent, success will be getting to Singapore and sitting down, and, you know, getting a picture with Kim Jong-un.

HABERMAN: In his mind, in his mind, that's success. I think that there are critics who think that he's elevating Kim Jong-un by doing that.

BERMAN: Definitely.

Another subject, Maggie, Fareed Zakaria sat down with Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for the president, former senior adviser at the White House, and there's an issue of Jeff Sessions, right, should the attorney general have recused himself. We know now from CNN reporting that the president pressured him to unrecuse himself several times.

But interestingly enough, Steve Bannon has a completely different view on all this. Listen to what he told Fareed.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Donald Trump now says he wishes he had picked another attorney general. Is Donald Trump right?

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think the president is wrong. I think the president is wrong -- been wrong from the beginning about -- if I can respectfully disagree with the president of the United States. I think that the -- I think the whole concept of recusal is not even an issue. I think that Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie or Jeff Sessions, anybody associated with the campaign would have had to recuse themselves before Grassley's committee even voted them out to go to the floor for a vote. So, I think the recusal is an issue -- yes, an issue that was dealt with and had to be dealt with.

And whether you picked Rudy or Christie, and by the way, this thing about Sessions was not the first pick. Rudy was always the first pick. Jeff Sessions and Rudy, (INAUDIBLE) secretary of state, OK? So, even Rudy knew at the time, there was going to be this issue of recusal.

So, I think the president is wrong. I think if you look at what Jeff Sessions' done on immigration, on migration and all the key issues of the Justice Department, I think Sessions has personally done an excellent job.


BERMAN: Look, it's always interesting, I mean, when you're talking about Steve Bannon and the role in the Russia investigation that first year, how many times Steve Bannon likes to point out that he was uncomfortable several times over the first years by his own admission so who knows for real there, but he says, hey, Sessions should have recused himself. The president, Maggie, obviously, has a very different view.

HABERMAN: Right. I actually think Steve Bannon is right, but I think he said something -- Sessions clearly had to recuse himself, he said something interesting and I don't know if he meant to say it, but he said that anybody, whether it was Christie, Rudy or Jeff Sessions would have to recuse even before the confirmation vote came out of committee.

That's not really what Sessions did, right? I mean, we didn't see him do a very public recusal until after it emerged he had omitted information in his confirmation hearings about his own conversations with the Russian ambassador. So, while the president repeatedly pressuring both Jeff Sessions and then people around the president to reach out to Sessions about the recusal is going to raise enormous questions and the president was warned by people in real-time that this is problematic when he was doing that, some other people would just ignore him.

[08:20:01] The fact that Sessions may not have handled the recusal in a sterling way is a real issue. President was warned by people in real-time that this is problematic when he was doing that, some other people would just ignore him. The fact that Sessions may not have handled the recusal in a sterling way is a real issue. Sessions was very involved in the transition over the legal aspects of the White House when between the period of the election and the inauguration.

Sessions should have had a clear sense that he was not going to be able to be involved and should have drawn a very bright line and he didn't. And so, that is -- while I think this is always an issue with the president where his reactions tend to be nuclear, but there is sometimes a core of something real there and in this case two things can be true at once, how the president has handled this is not ideal and how Jeff Sessions has handled this is not ideal, not for the reasons the president is complaining about.

The president, as we know, has felt as if Sessions should have been doing more to protect him. That is not Sessions' job. That's not the job of an independent Department of Justice. But it is Session's job to protect that Department of Justice and be as clear as he can and he wasn't.

CAMEROTA: OK, next topic and this one is doozy. We get to here Michael Cohen for the first time in his own inimitable style and colorful words basically threatening a "Daily Beast" reporter. "The Daily Beast" reporter was going to be doing a story on Ivana Trump, President Trump's first wife, making accusations of rape during their marriage, which she later retracted and so the "Daily Beast" reporter was calling Michael Cohen for comment and he gave him many comments and here is the audiotape of that conversation.

Listen to this.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I'm warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you can hide behind your pen because it not going to happen.


CAMEROTA: As you know, Maggie, there are more tapes, that Michael Cohen taped lots of conversation --


CAMEROTA: -- that he had with people.

But that one, I mean, wow, you got to see what the president got for the price of a pit bull.

HABERMAN: Right. I mean, it's also important to remember that that was -- yes, it's totally ironic about the taping, I was just thinking about that.

You have to remember that this phone call, I think, was about Tim Mak reporting or getting ready to report about an old claim by Ivana Trump, the president's wife about marital rape. And that is what elicited that response.

That response is never acceptable. I do not like people threatening reporters. There is zero chance the president would have been unhappy with that response, then citizen Trump. This is what he wanted Michael Cohen to be doing. It is so unwise to do that. And it is very dangerous when people threaten reporters that way.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, great to have you with us. Thanks very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. You can watch Fareed Zakaria's explosive sit- down. We just played a clip, a little portion of it. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

BERMAN: All right. House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes now in a spotlight as an aggressive defender of the president. Could his support of the president hurt his own reelection bid? We're going to speak to voters, next.


[08:27:13] BERMAN: Republican Intelligence House Committee Chair Devin Nunes has emerged as a political lightning rod for staunchly defending President Trump over the Mueller investigation. But do an eight-term congressman's ties to the president put his reelection bid at risk?

Our Nick Watt takes a look.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California's Central Valley is deep red farm country and a long-time lock for Devin Nunes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like his values. I like the way he's represented Central California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one just had a calf. So, they move from this pen as they get close. This is the maternity area --

WATT: The son of the soil, third-generation dairy farmer. In 2010, Nunes ran unopposed. In 2016, he pummeled his Democratic opponent by 35 points.

But there are now small weekly demonstrations outside his often empty district office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A congressman who has no interest in serving the seniors.

WATT: And three billboards outside Fresno funded by Fight Back California, a PAC cofounded by former Democratic Californian Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Lots of people are upset that he is, you know, as they said, in the local paper, Trump's stooge, spends most of his time playing Inspector Clouseau back in Washington.

WATT: Where he chairs the House Intelligence Committee that released a report from the panel's GOP members disputing the intelligence community's assessment that Russia tried to help elect Donald Trump.

Recently, Nunes also issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for documents about a confidential FBI source that the president falsely claims infiltrated his campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A very courageous man. He's courageous. Congressman Devin Nunes.

TAUSCHER: I think that Mr. Nunes can be beaten.

WATT: Here's his most likely challenger.

ANDREW JANZ (D), CALIFORNIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Devin Nunes, I believe, wholeheartedly, is a threat to our national security.

WATT: Andrew Janz, prosecutor, Democrat, political rookie who's raised more than $1.8 million for his campaign, nearly half a million since April 1st.

(on camera): Does Andrew Janz have a snowball's chance in hell?

TAD WEBER, FRESNO BEE EDITORIAL PAGE: Maybe what's most important is the voter registration. So, 42 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat, 20 percent decline to state. Now, maybe in that third group, Janz can pull some votes.

WATT: Yes, Andrew Janz is talking about education, veterans' affairs, health, and water here deep in farm country. But here in his campaign office in Visalia, it is very obvious what the number one focus is of this campaign.

JANTZ: He's forgotten us. He hasn't held a town hall since 2010, a real town hall.

WATT (voice-over): Nunes disputes that. Janz slams him on Russia.

JANTZ: I don't know if he himself has some sort of potential liability or if it's out of some misguided attempt to protect the president of the United States.

WATT: It's just possible Robert Mueller's report into Russian election meddling might provide California's 22nd district with an October surprise.