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President Trump Claims He Has Absolute Right to Pardon Himself; North Korea Summit Discussed; Interview with Rep. David Cicilline. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 4, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, 9:00 a.m. Eastern this Monday morning and we begin with breaking news. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And from the president this morning as he marks 500 days in office, he claims that he has the, quote, "absolute right to pardon himself." He goes on to write, "But why would I when I have done nothing wrong." This comes after a weekend of extraordinary disclosures, debates and admissions about presidential powers versus the power of the special counsel.

Let's go to the White House, let's begin our coverage with Kaitlan Collins who joins us there.

This just came moments ago from the president. What else can you tell us?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, a stunning statement here, Poppy, from the president openly declaring that he believes he is above the law. The president here saying that he is quoting numerous legal scholars. He doesn't say which ones. And then he says, "I have the absolute right to pardon myself," but then he adds the caveat, "Why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong". Then he goes on to say, "In the meantime, the never-ending witch hunt led by 13 angry and conflicted Democrats," Robert Mueller is a Republican, "and others continues into the midterms."

So the president there declaring that he has the power to pardon himself if he does so choose. That argument that was being made by his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, yesterday in several interviews, one where Giuliani stated very clearly their thinking on this is, when he said essentially that the president could shoot the former FBI director James Comey if he wanted to. Rudy Giuliani told the "Huffington Post," "If he shot James Comey he'd be impeached the next day. Impeach him, then you can do whatever you want to do to him."

So Giuliani making the argument there that while the president is the president he would be above the law if he did something as serious as shoot the former FBI director. But then once he was impeached then he could get in trouble for shooting James Comey.

Quite an unusual comment for Rudy Giuliani to make, but that came on the same day as he was making these arguments about the president's sweeping constitutional powers and what the president's legal team sees this as.

Now, Poppy, this is something we have long suspected is the thinking of the president and his legal team but here we are now hearing it just out in plain language from the president himself.

HARLOW: And you asked Kellyanne Conway, the adviser and senior counselor to the president, about this point blank, why do you think -- why does the president think he's above the law? What did she just tell you?

COLLINS: Yes, we saw Kellyanne up here on the North Lawn, on the driveway just minutes after the president made this stunning statement on Twitter and I asked her why does the president believe that he is above the law, and he's the chief law enforcement agency in the United States. But she said, excuse me, she said that the president -- she asked why he would need to pardon himself if he hasn't done anything wrong. But that's certainly the question people were asking yesterday after Rudy Giuliani was making the argument that he could.

But Kellyanne Conway said this is simply an exercise in hypotheticals. Did not allude anymore to why the president would make a statement like he just did about how he believes he has the power to pardon himself here -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much from the White House this morning.

So also what we saw and read and what was disclosed over the weekend is this 20-page letter from the president's lawyers to Bob Mueller's team. It was sent back in January but for the first time we're able to read it. And there's a really important part of it that shows dishonesty. It says that the president dictated, not just weighed in on, but dictated the initial untruthful response to that Don Jr. meeting and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort meeting in Trump Tower with that Russian lawyer.

Our Shimon Prokupecz has that. Good morning, Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, Poppy. That's right. And that meeting of course was set up on the belief that a Russian lawyer was going to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The controversy surrounding the purpose of the meeting and more importantly really the initial lies that the president and Don Jr. made in statements to the media claiming that the meeting was about adoptions. And as you said for the first time in this 20-page letter, the president's lawyers admit that he, the president, dictated one of those misleading statements despite repeated denials from the White House and his lawyer.

Now Giuliani yesterday sort of blaming it on poor recollection, saying that this is why, one of the reasons why he doesn't want the president talking to Mueller about this issue. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I mean, this is the reason you don't let the president testify. It's, you know, our recollection keeps changing or we're not even asked the question, and somebody makes an assumption. In my case, I made an assumption, then we corrected it and I got it right out as soon as it happened. I think that's what happened here.


PROKUPECZ: And, you know, Poppy, despite that argument and the sort of claims of poor recollection, we counted several instances from the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, and of course White House -- the White House Sarah Sanders denying the president dictated the statement. And here's that.


[09:05:02] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all nor was the president. The president didn't sign off on anything. But I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.


PROKUPECZ: And really, Poppy, the president's lawyers in this letter to Mueller who wants to ask -- Mueller's team, they want to ask Trump about that statement and the claim the statement -- you know, the lawyers are claiming, the president's lawyers are claiming that this is a private matter and not something that the special counsel has a right to investigate.

HARLOW: Shimon, thank you for the reporting.

Let's discuss all of this because there is a lot to get to this morning.

Steve Vladeck is with us, professor at the University of Texas School of Law, and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Gentlemen, nice to have you here and boy, do we have a lot to talk about.

Paul, let me begin with you and the president's claim that legally he has the absolute right to pardon himself. Does he?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not buying that. Under Article One, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution, the way the founding fathers set it up is they talked first about impeachment but they clearly then follow with the concept that a president can be prosecuted under the Constitution. And of course there's no mention anywhere in the Constitution that the president has the right to pardon himself. So I just don't think that that's a legitimate claim.

HARLOW: Steve, what do you think?

STEVE VLADECK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: Yes, I mean, I think Paul is probably right. Practically, though, you know, I think whether the president can pardon himself or not, it may not ultimately matter because if we ever got that far -- you know, the one thing that Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that I completely agree with is that would be the moment at which he would really have to look at Congress for pursuing impeachment proceedings.

I mean, any president who thinks he has the power to pardon himself, whether he's right or not, Poppy, you know, that's the point at which the Constitution creates a clear mechanism for the president's removal.

HARLOW: You know, Kellyanne Conway just said to our Kaitlan Collins, you know, you guys, the media likes to bring up all these hypotheticals when Kaitlan asked point blank why did the president think he's above the law. The reason the pardon conversation started again over the weekend is because it is mentioned by the president's lawyers in that 20-page letter to Mueller's team.

They bring it up. And then Giuliani is talking about it and asked about it over and over again yesterday. So I'm just sort of confounded that Kellyanne Conway thinks this is hypotheticals when their team brought it up.

I want you both to listen to, you know, a man who's a big supporter of President Trump, former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, also a prosecutor. Here's what he said when he was asked yesterday, you know, about obstruction and whether the president is above the law.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It's an outrageous claim. It's wrong. They were trying to make a broad argument. Lawyers do that all the time.


HARLOW: You know, that's significant, Paul, that he said it's an outrageous claim and there's just no legal basis.

CALLAN: Yes, and you know, it's really -- it's bizarre, you know, as you've just observed also that they constantly raise this idea that the president can't be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Of course he can if the obstruction is an obstruction with corrupt intent. In other words, if he's obstructing the investigation of himself, he's not immune from the law. And then for the president, through his lawyers, to throw out the fact that, hey, don't bother prosecuting me because I'm going to pardon myself, I mean, try to picture an ordinary criminal who committed a crime saying that, I can do whatever I want and by the way I'll pardon myself. You sound like you're guilty when you say that. HARLOW: By the way, Steve, there is an outrageous hypothetical that

was thrown out there by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in an interview last night to the "Huffington Post" and let me read you the quote. He said if he, the president, shot James Comey, he'd be impeach the next day. Impeach him and then you can do whatever you want to him. He was saying, look, even if the president shot someone, and he chose James Comey who we know the president doesn't have much care for, he still couldn't be prosecuted. Any legal basis in that?

VLADECK: Well, you know, Poppy, as you know, there are these conflicting legal analyses, one by the Justice Department and one by Ken Starr back when he was the independent counsel --


VLADECK: -- investigating Bill Clinton about whether a sitting president can or cannot be indicted. It's an open question. But I think it's important that we step back for a second. I mean, the purpose of these letters that we've discovered, that we learned about over the weekend was basically the president's legal team telling the special counsel we don't have to comply with your investigation, we don't have to meet with you on your terms because we have all of these greater powers. Basically the greater includes the lesser.

And Poppy, there's a basic flaw there which is even if the president's right that he has these extraordinary powers, and I think Paul is quite persuasive that in many cases he's not, he hasn't exercised them. And so until and unless he does, why they say that they can threaten the special counsel.

HARLOW: Well -- yes.

[09:10:05] VLADECK: And try to basically bully him into not sitting down with the president, I think is really the big perspective here.

HARLOW: Which seem -- it's one thing and notably different for them to sort of bully the special counsel in the court of public opinion on cable news for the president's surrogates to do that, it's another thing for the lawyers to do it in that letter directly to Mueller, which is what they did.

Guys, talking about Mueller, the president just wrote this, quote, "The appointment of the special counsel is totally unconstitutional despite that we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong."

Paul Callan --

CALLAN: I just --

HARLOW: Is the appointment of the special counsel unconstitutional?

CALLAN: No. It's totally constitutional and I wish he would learn how to spell the word counsel. He misspells counsel in that tweet.


CALLAN: Something that's such a focus of his life. You know, a president who's claiming that he has no right to be investigated, that he would pardon himself if convicted, that he can commit an obstruction of justice, that's a president who doesn't understand politics or the law because it's bad politics and bad law to claim such things.

HARLOW: Steve, remind us why the appointment of the special counsel, Bob Mueller, is constitutional.

VLADECK: Sure. I mean, so the special counsel was appointed consistent with both the existing statutes governing the Justice Department and with regulations issued by the attorney general under the president's name.

You know, Poppy, there's already been one court challenge to Special Counsel Mueller's appointment by Paul Manafort. That was rejected by a D.C. federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, in a 37-page opinion last month. So, you know, this argument is out there, I think, among really far-right conservative legal thinkers.

It's really not much of an argument. It's one the courts have already considered and it's one they've already rejected.

HARLOW: The fact that clearly the president's team lied about who dictated that initial statement about the Trump Tower meeting, Paul Callan, you know, it's not illegal to lie to the public but lying to the public was included in the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon and against President Clinton, so legally how does that shake out?

CALLAN: Well, I mean, you know, I'm not sure first of all who's responsible for the lie. The president could very well be responsible for the lie and could have communicated this to his legal team. And I will say as a lawyer, I would never go out on a limb and make a statement that was made, say, by Sekulow about -- and that was an explicit that the president had nothing to do with dictating this. A lawyer would go back and speak to the client and say listen, I'm going to make this statement on your behalf.

So I think clearly that the president was involved in that. And is it relevant? Yes, it's highly relevant, and indictments in the past for cover-ups and obstruction of justice, frequently the public position that is articulated is used in the prosecution to show that there was a propensity to lie, to try to obstruct, you know, an investigation. So this could backfire on the president.

HARLOW: Quickly, Steve, on that point.

VLADECK: Yes, I mean, it could backfire. I think, Poppy, the million-dollar question here, and I think the thing that we really have to talk more about is where is Congress and where are congressional Republicans. Because at the end of the day the Constitution is pretty clear that many of the powers the president now claims he can abuse are supposed to be reigned in not by the courts but by Congress through the power of impeachment. HARLOW: Thank you both. Steve Vladeck, Paul Callan, appreciate you

rolling with us on all that breaking news that just came in.

Historic action or just a meet and greet? What we're learning about the high stakes June 12th summit between President Trump and Kim Jong- un. Is this administration lowering expectations?

Also, fighting back. U.S. allies slamming the president's steel and aluminum tariffs. Republicans slamming them as well. And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says they're just plain insulting. What will this mean long-term?

Also, former president Bill Clinton weighing in on his affair and sexual misconduct allegations against President Trump. Does he think the current president is getting a pass? You will hear his answer straight ahead.


HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. Now that the Summit with the North Korean leader and President Trump is back on, it seems like the president and his team are lowering expectations. On Friday, the president said, "it's more of a getting to know you meeting." And this morning as source tells our Michelle Kosinski, the Summit will be more of a, quote, "meet and greet then a realization of any historic action. Michelle joins us now from the State Department, and that is significant. The strategy here, what is it?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI: Hey, Poppy. Right, they're describing it as more like a meet and greet or a meet and bond, but that's much different than the way the State Department described the goals of it just last week. I mean, they were saying that in order for Summit to be successful, the North Koreans were going to have to do something that they've never done before, that this meet is to be actions, not just words, some kind of big gesture or historic action on the part of the North Koreans.

And between now and the time of the Summit, they needed to spell out exactly what they were willing to do. Then 48 hours later - actually less than that, the president announced that the Summit was going to take place. There was no word of North Korea committing to do anything or no word of this historic action. Nobody would even answer the question what happened to that requirement, and there was talk about it being, well, just the beginning of a very long process.

So according to our source with familiarity with the discussions, the thinking is now that it was basically only President Trump who thought that there was a possibility of getting unilateral concessions from North Korea ahead of this Summit, and that that went to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Now he's going to handle the negotiations over whatever will happen down the road, but that could take years.

So at the Summit, the best they think that could happen would be some broad agreement to denuclearize, but, of course, nobody knows how much space there is between how the U.S. views denuclearization and North Korea does, Poppy. HARLOW: And Michelle before you go, we're going to address that with the lawmaker we have joining us next. But tell me more about this phone cal between President Trump and Emmanuel Macron. We know have forged a pretty solid relationship, but apparently not on one fund.

KOSINSKI: This is about trade and the tariffs that are affecting Europe. I mean Europe thought that they would be exempt after that initial period was over. So thy had this phone call on Thursday, the White House put out a very very short three line summary of that call.

But we're hearing from a source now that it was bad and terrible that Macron thought because they had established this kind of blunt talking relationship the two that he could speak his mind but apparently Trump didn't like being criticized. And he can expect anther tough call possibly as soon as today from British Prime Minster Theresa May - Poppy.

HARLOW: Michelle, thank you, joining us from the State Department.

So with us now to talk about all of this is Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He is on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committee. Congressman, thank you for being here and I do want to begin with North Korea.

What do you make of the reporting from Michelle? And we heard it really from the president last week saying this is going to be more of a meet and greet. Now Michelle's source is saying this is not going to be the realization of something historic, this is gong to be basically a get to know you meeting.

The risk there is that this is a really good photo op and propaganda play for the North Koreans, right that they're legitimized by having this meeting between Kim and the president. So the risk benefit analysis in your mind, what is it?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE, D-RI: Well, I mean I think that's exactly the problem. There's no question that this is a serious crisis and will challenge for our country and for much of the world. And it requires a diplomatic solution.

But from the vey beginning, the president has treated this like another cliffhanger on a television show. First he said, breakthrough, the North Koreans have agreed to meet with me.

Well, the truth is Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather all sought a meeting with the president of the United States because it raises, it elevates this brutal dictatorship on the world stage. And so that wasn't a breakthrough.

And usually that would happen if there were some concessions or some expectation of some agreement. The president's finally acknowledged this I basically a photo op, this is a get t know you meeting with one of the most brutal dictators on the planet-

HARLOW: So, it sounds-

CICILLINE: And the real fear is - yes?

HARLOW: It sounds like you're saying he shouldn't have that meeting, is that hat you're saying?

CICILLINE: No, look I'm - no, I mean look - this requires a diplomatic solution. I am hopeful that something surprising will come out of it. But we have to approach it with a very skeptical eye, we have to look at the history of the North Koreans who have done this before, made promises they haven't kept.

And while they're engaging in these negotiations, they're continuing with their programs. So what I worry about is the president needs to go in to this well prepared, understand the history of the Korean peninsula, be very skeptical about it and understand what's at stake here.

And I think he's treating it like a reality show episode, everyone's waiting to watch, the deliver of the big envelope. I hope I'm wrong, I hope something comes of it. But we have very little reason to have confidence that something will come out of this that's good for our country and good for the region.

HARLOW: We learned this morning that the Kremlin has invited Kim Jong-un to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin. What is the risk of that and do you think the administration is prepared for - we know Russia's intentions with North Korea, right? So, if Kim does go have this meeting, I don't know what the timeline would be, but des it concern you-

CICILLINE: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And we've also learned that the North Koreans will be welcoming Bashar al-Assad as the first foreign visitor of North Korea. So think abut that, the meetings are with Vladimir Putin, with Assad and with President Trump.

I think we ought to be very concerned about what the discussions are between Putin and North Korea. They clearly don't have our interest at stake, they're one of our most important and significant adversaries, now two of them meeting together.

So, I think there's a lot of reasons to be concerned, that we want to be sure that he president is not facilitating this new relationship between the Russians and the North Koreans.

But this is just for evidence but this is very complicated, it requires lots of preparation, a real strategy be developed. And an understanding of a history of the peninsula and what the North Koreans are really interested in.

And I'm afraid the president hasn't demonstrated a lot of willingness to study and thin carefully about these kinds of things and sort of shoots from the hip which can be very dangerous in this context.

HARLOW: I want to get your take on what the president has just written. He's just put out a tweet which we've been told is the official stance of the White House, whenever the president tweets. Here that he writes, let's pull up the unconstitutional one, guys. The appointment of the special council - the other one, the appointment of the special council is totally unconstitutional despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the democrats, have done nothing wrong. First of all, the appointment of the special council is not unconstitutional, it is very constitutional.

But I wonder what you think the president is doing here. Is this a play to continue to muddy the water, to try to sway public opinion because we know that among his base and Republicans favor for the Special Council and our polling has been declining.

CICILLINE: Yes. I mean, there's not question the president - I mean, think about what we're talking about. The president, all morning, is basically again saying the President of the United States is above the law and is not required to comply with the Constitution or the laws of the United States. I mean, that is staggering. And then this final tweet that you just referenced is another example of the president attempting to undermine the investigation, to attack the Justice Department, to attack the professional men and women who are doing this work, now to attack the Constitution (ph), the Special Council all in an effort to prepare for his challenge to either giving an interview, being deposed in some way, testifying in some way, or when the report is done and Mr. Mueller's team presented Congress these findings to have set the stage to attack those findings because he's described this investigation as illegitimate. This is a president who if he had nothing to hide and did nothing wrong let the investigation be completed, start focusing on rebuilding the infrastructure of our country, making college more affordable, driving down the cost of health care instead of obsessing with this investigation.

HARLOW: You know, Congress -

CICILLINE: You have to wonder what is the president is so afraid of?

HARLOW: There are fellow - your fellow members of Congress, Republicans in the Senate and the House who have proposed legislation that would protect the office of the Special Council, that would protect Bob Mueller. But then, often it is crickets on tweets like this from the president from Republicans. Is this a line? Do you expect that we will hear more from your Republican counterpart throughout the day today in response to this?

I hope we will. The reality is I've co-sponsored that same legislation in the House to protect Robert Mueller from being fired and to protect the products - the work product he's generated in the event that something happens. But what's been really disappointing to me is my Republican colleagues have been almost silent on this. You know, they are responsible to stand with Democrats, to hold this president accountable, to make sure that this investigation can, you know, fought - follow to its conclusion, and find out what the truth is. The American people have a right to know the truth.

And what has been really disappointing to me is my Republican colleagues who have been unwilling in any way to signal to the president don't you dare interfere with this investigation, don't you dare try to stop it, that the American people have a right to know and the rule of law must be respected. And I hope that will change them, that we'll hear from some of my Republican colleagues. So the president and the country here that in a bipartisan way we are supporting the rule of law, we are supporting the principle that no one is above the law, that the president is obligated to comply with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

This is the founding principle of this country, you know, that no one is above the law. And the president's suggestion that he can't be investigated, that he can violate, you know, the law and be - not be held accountable is preposterous, and everyone needs to condemn that thinking and do it fast.

HARLOW: Again, some of the Republicans are the ones who put forth this legislation, but I hear you. We'll see what they say today. Thank you very much, Congressman David Cicilline. I appreciate it.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: All right, so also this morning the president stoking fears of a trade war, again, going after some of the countries biggest allies and trade partners with these tariffs. He says the U.S. has a history of bad deals. The opening bell in minutes.