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Trump's Lawyers Argue President is Above the Law. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired June 4, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Pardoning himself would just be unthinkable. It would lead to an immediate impeachment.

[05:59:28] BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it were a Democratic president and these facts were present, most people I know in Washington believe impeachment would have begun already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is above an investigation. He can fire anyone. He can shoot the FBI director.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sounds like we have a king in the office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This sounds like a dictator.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said the president had nothing to do with that statement. And it turns out that's completely untrue.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting along. You see the relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim is still his own man, and if he wants to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, he will.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here Kim is inviting a war criminal to North Korea. He's probably expecting Donald Trump to keep quiet, because the president so badly wants this summit to go ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, June 4, 6 a.m. here in New York. Did you have a good weekend?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I had a great weekend. I was up in Boston, the greatest city on earth.

CAMEROTA: I love that city. We bond about this. BERMAN: It's the best. Red Sox, 1-1. It's been great. It's been all good.

CAMEROTA: That is your kind of weekend, John Berman.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's get to our news. We have a lot to tell you about. Here's our starting line.

President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wants you to believe that the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice. Giuliani also claims the president has the authority to pardon himself. Giuliani even suggested in a new interview, that if Mr. Trump shot James Comey, Mr. Trump could not be prosecuted. So is the president of the United States above the law?

And a 20-page letter sent by President Trump's legal team to Robert Mueller back in January acknowledges for the first time that the president did dictate that misleading statement about his son's controversial meeting at Trump Tower. You'll remember the White House and the president's lawyers have repeatedly denied that the president was involved. If they lied about this, what else will we discover was a lie?

BERMAN: Meantime, the president smiling and chummy with members of the brutal North Korean regime, getting ready to meet with supreme leader Kim Jong-un while alienating and infuriating U.S. allies, including Canada and the European Union, over tariffs. So Canada, France, are they really security threats?

And first lady Melania Trump has not been seen in public for weeks, not since she had a kidney procedure. We're told she will be at a White House event tonight, but we won't see her. The event is closed to the press.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, live at the White House -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what we saw this weekend is what we have suspected all along, that when it comes down to the wire with the special counsel's investigation, the president and his legal team are prepared to argue a broad extent of executive power for the president, so broad in fact, that they're prepared to argue that the president himself is above the law.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's legal team making a bold new claim about their expansive view of his executive power in an attempt to justify why he shouldn't face any legal liability in the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, telling "The Huffington Post," it's impossible to subpoena or indict a sitting president, no matter the offense, claiming, "If he shot James Comey, he'd be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him." Giuliani also raising questions about the extent of the president's

pardoning power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you and the president's attorneys believe the president has the power to pardon himself?

GIULIANI: He has no intention of pardoning himself. But he probably does. That doesn't say he can't.

COLLINS: This just hours after the "New York Times" published a confidential letter that attorneys Jay Sekulow and John Dowd sent to Robert Mueller in January, asserting the president can't obstruct justice, because the Constitution gives him the authority to, quote, "terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired," an argument that is far from settled.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: It's an outrageous claim. It's wrong. They were trying to make a broad argument.

COLLINS: His lawyers argued there is no need for the president to sit down with Mueller, and he can't be compelled to testify, foreshadowing a potential subpoena fight, especially if the probe extends outside the bounds of the initial investigation into collusion.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Let them walk through their investigation. But I think if there's no collusion, it's time to wind this down.

COLLINS: Also in the letter, a bombshell revelation: that the president's lawyers acknowledge the president dictated the misleading statement from Donald Trump Jr., a statement the lawyers called accurate, about the purpose of his meeting with Russians at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, despite an explicit denial from the White House last summer.

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.

COLLINS: One month earlier, Sekulow strongly refuting the claim multiple times in July after it was revealed that Donald Trump Jr. took the meeting with the promise of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, not as he initially said, to discuss adoptions.

SEKULOW: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president.

The president didn't sign off on anything.

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.

COLLINS: Giuliani arguing that the shifting explanations are just another reason the president shouldn't testify. GIULIANI: I think Jay was wrong. I mean, this is the reason you

don't let the president testify. If, you know, our recollection keeps changing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: So Giuliani making the argument there that the president won't pardon himself, even though he can, because it would lead to his impeachment, though that's not exactly clear, because so far the Republican Party, which controls Congress, has failed to draw any kind of a red line for the president regarding the special counsel's investigation.

[06:05:14] Now, all of that is going on today while also all eyes are looking out for the first lady, who has not been seen in public since she underwent that medical procedure at Walter Reed three weeks ago today. But the White House is now saying she will attend an event here today honoring Gold Star families.

However, we won't see her, actually, because that event is closed. And I should note that, while that is going on, speculation is being raised, as well, because she's not going to attend any of the summits that the president is attending in the next week or so, and she also did not travel to Camp David with the president and several other members of his family this weekend -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. A lot there. Certainly, questions to be asked.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero. She's a former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. And CNN political analyst David Gregory.

You know, Carrie, the president apparently could kill somebody, can't possibly obstruct justice, and he can self-pardon without going blind. Are this on firm legal footing here?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I have to say that I think Rudy Giuliani's statement is really reckless, it's really an irresponsible, even just example to put out into the public sphere.

But the arguments that they're making, I think, have to be looked through the lens that they are making these arguments publicly. And the memo that was drafted was drafted many months ago. These were arguments made to special counsel's office many months ago. And so these were arguments that they made to the special counsel's office many months ago. They obviously haven't made any progress in their negotiations with the special counsel since that time. In other words, their memo was not persuasive.

The president has changed his legal team. And now they're making a public case. They 're trying to influence members of the public and members of Congress, because I think they really are running an impeachment -- a counter-impeachment strategy, trying to influence political players, because they -- they think that that is where this is going to end up. CAMEROTA: Yes. But, David, here's what they seem to be hinging their

argument on, Rudy Giuliani, the fact that a president, any U.S. president cannot be indicted.

So here's the memo from 2000, the Department of Justice memo that spells it out. "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would be unconstitutional, because it would impermissibly interfere with the president's ability to carry out his constitutionally-assigned functions and thus would be inconsistent with the constitutional structure."

So that's well before the Trump administration. So that spells it out, that a sitting president cannot be indicted. I know it hasn't been tested with the Supreme Court, but that's what they're basing it on.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the point. They're making an argument. And perhaps if it came to that, the Supreme Court would have to resolve this question. I don't think anybody expects that it would come to that. I don't think anybody expects that this special prosecutor is going to indict the president or is going to subpoena the president. He wants to get him to answer questions to be interviewed in the way that Bill Clinton offered testimony at the White House during the Lewinsky scandal.

CAMEROTA: Right. But -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but we have heard that, if the president isn't going to do that, then the special counsel will subpoena.

GREGORY: Well, I mean, maybe he will. We don't know what we don't know. We also don't know what the special prosecutor actually knows and has on the president or those close to him.

But I think Carrie is exactly right. And I think everything we're seeing is about a political process here.

You know, you heard Kevin McCarthy who is in line to become the next House speaker, say, "No, there's no collusion here." And that's really the whole ball game. Which is a way of saying that congressional leaders, Republicans, don't think, is there anything to obstruction? Why does that matter? They're not lawyers.

It matters because the arguments about obstruction or an obstruction charge or information about obstruction of justice could simply be information that's in a report by the special counsel to the Congress for potential impeachment proceedings. And you're seeing a lot of signaling in advance that they don't think that there's any "there" there. That's what's important. Because this will largely be a political process. And the -- the Trump team is working every day the political angle for the midterm elections to have this as an issue and for whatever happens in Congress.

BERMAN: Look, you know it's a political argument, because they're basing their legal claims on things that are just not settled law. And they're pretending that they are. As far as indicting a president goes, look, you know, right now

prevailing conventional wisdom is maybe you can't indict a president. But it is not settled law. Ken Starr wrote, at the same time the Justice Department was writing the president cannot be indicted, Ken Starr, who was the special counsel, or independent counsel, back in 2000 said, "It's proper, constitutional and legal for a grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that go on and on and on and on. No one is above the law." He says it hasn't been determined yet.

[06:10:10] And Carrie, this claim that Rudy Giuliani made to "The Huffington Post" that you alluded to that was reckless before, you know, that the president could shoot James Comey: "If he shot James Comey, he'd be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you could do whatever you want to him."

You know, Rudy Giuliani says that like it's settled law. It's not. In this case, you know, there probably would be state murder charges, not to get too caught up in the absurd and reckless comment he's making there. But it just gets to this political argument here that is, by no means settled law.

CORDERO: There are, too -- first of all, there's different issues with respect to whether a president can be indicted while he's in office, versus whether or not he can be served with a subpoena. I think it's more likely that a subpoena could be served, that that actually would be litigated. If the special counsel served it, the president's legal team would fight it. It would go, probably, all the way up to the Supreme Court. And then we would have a decision on that specific issue. Because there is no actual case precedent for whether or not a sitting president has to be compelled to give oral testimony in front of a grand jury.

The issue of indictment, the prevailing legal opinion is that a sitting president can't be indicted. But again, the referral for an impeachment can be made. If he was impeached, it is correct that then he could be indicted afterwards.

But the bottom line is that the issue of whether or not the president can actually obstruct, that issue, of course he can. Of course, he is capable of committing something that would be found to be acts that could eventually make a case for obstruction. The question is what is the remedy for that? No one, even the president, is above the law.

GREGORY: But also, think about the obstruction piece, is you know, what do they admit in this letter? That he also contradicted himself when it came to whether he dictated this letter about the Don Jr. meeting. White House said he didn't. Well, it turns out that he actually did.

And Giuliani says, "Well, yes, that's why you don't want the president in front of the lawyers, because recollections can be all over the place."

So when it comes to this obstruction business, we don't know what President Trump said to people close to him about why he was firing Jim Comey. Don't forget: the special prosecutors talked to everyone around the president who may have information that's relevant here.

But I go back to this point that signal we've gotten from congressional Republicans is that they are not inclined to believe that there's anything to impeach the president on. And we don't even know what line he's cross that would get him cross-wise with Republican leaders.

So that is the strategy that they're running here, that I think is separate from the question of subpoena -- you know, legal questions around subpoena or indictment, is that if they have information, it's about obstruction of justice. What is Congress going to do with it? And so far they're indicating, well, if he wasn't actually colluding with the Russians, then we don't care about it

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you very much, Carrie and David. And we'll have a lot more on that Trump Tower meeting and the truth that has now come out.

BERMAN: Or the lies that have now come out.

CAMEROTA: Or the lies that have come out. Yes. Your choice. Our viewers' choice. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani will join someone named Chris Cuomo tonight on the premiere of "CUOMO PRIMETIME."

BERMAN: I thought he was gone.

CAMEROTA: No, no, he's still here at CNN. Yes, he's still here. Not only is Chris Cuomo still here, and you can watch that at 9 p.m. tonight -- he will be on NEW DAY. He's one of our special guests.

BERMAN: That's a good booking. That's a good booking.

CAMEROTA: I don't know how we booked him, but he will be on, so stick around for Chris after 8:30.

BERMAN: All right. This bombshell buried in a 20-page letter confirms President Trump dictated that fist misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, that meeting where he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, after months of denials. Can we believe anything from this White House?

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[06:17:42] BERMAN: So the 20-page memo written by the president's lawyers in January opens up a huge can of worms for the White House. Actually, not worms. It's more like a writhing hydra of dishonesty. And just like the mythical creature, you chop off one lie, and two more emerge in its place.

The January letter from the president's lawyers admits that the president dictated what they call "a short but accurate response" to the fact that Donald Trump Jr. met at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president dictated, it says.

But last July, his attorney, Jay Sekulow, said --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEKULOW: That wasn't written by the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He also said --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEKULOW: The president didn't sign off on anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And just for good measure, he added --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEKULOW: The president was not involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So dictating without being involved is quite a trick. But just in case you think there is some linguistic wiggle room there, last August, Sarah Sanders said --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: But, wait. His lawyers says, "The president dictated."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The president dictated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Certainly he did, so say his lawyers.

Now, there's a lot of talk about the difference between a lie and a falsehood or untruth. Here, someone is lying. Either the president lied to Jay Sekulow and Sarah Sanders or they lied to us.

Now, it's not a crime to lie to the press or the American people. It is a crime to lie under oath. And Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony on this subject is pretty suspect. Leave that aside for now and forget for a second that the statement the president dictated is wildly misleading in itself, saying the Trump Tower meeting was largely about adoption when the reason it was set up in the first place was to get dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton.

But that aside, what's astounding today is Rudy Giuliani's explanation for all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Our recollection keeps changing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Your recollection keeps changing? Your recollection? Are you suggesting someone forgot something? What exactly did they forget when Jay Sekulow said the president wasn't involved? He forgot that he actually was? When Sarah Sanders said he certainly didn't dictate the letter, she did not recollect that he certainly did?

It seems, Mr. Mayor, the biggest failure in recollection was the recollection to actually tell the truth.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's discuss with CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory.

John Avlon, the president dictated the letter.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

[06:20:04] CAMEROTA: We now know, as John so beautifully pointed out and walked us through all of that. And so the fact that they're now admitting that, after having lied consistently about it, does that tell us that someone like, say, Hope Hicks has been interviewed by Robert Mueller, and now they have to tell the truth? It only got to the point where they had to tell the truth, because Robert Mueller knows something?

AVLON: Telling the truth is not the first instinct of this crew. And the question does become were there enough interviews that they were backed into it?

What I find particularly fascinating isn't just the denials by Sarah Sanders and Jay Sekulow that we now know are a lie, as John pointed out in dictation. But even in the admission, they say it's a short but accurate statement, which is itself a fundamental falsehood. They can't help themselves with this stuff.

BERMAN: It's a lie. Jay Sekulow, his lawyer, lied repeatedly to the American people. Unless the president flat-out lied to him, which is possible. But someone is lying there.

And David, I said, you know, forget for a moment that it's about this meeting. But this is dishonesty about something that is crucial to the entire investigation. It's the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. They are telling lies about that crucial meeting. GREGORY: Right. And so if you're an investigator or you're a special

prosecutor looking into this, you'd like to question the president about the the circumstances of the meeting, what he knew, what he didn't know. And given the lies surrounding it, it becomes something that you grow even more suspicious about.

And we don't know, as you say, there's Hope Hicks. There's lots of other people who worked in the White House around the president who could shed light on what the president both knew, what motivated him to fire Jim Comey, all of which could be the basis of bringing information that the president obstructed justice in the view of the special prosecutor. The question is what does Congress do with it?

I come back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago. All of this right now is a political process. It is a political argument against what they see is the overreach of the speller prosecutor, of Democrats, of the whole specter of the idea that there is -- you know, is there collusion. If there's no collusion, as if we know that's the conclusion, which we do not, because we don't know the information the special prosecutor has or does not have. But this is what's starting to gel as an argument among Republicans, even among Republican leaders.

And I'll be honest. Let's go back to our recent history. I mean, this is basically the team around the president saying, "Hey, look, Bill Clinton lied about all this stuff. Go back to his testimony." You know, it depends on what the meaning of "is" is. And it's not a crime to lie to the press. You may not like it, but it doesn't get him crosswise with lawyers.

But I mean -- but that's the direction they're going. I'm not saying whether it's successful or not.

BERMAN: Look, I will say, again, it is a problem. It is a crime to lie to Congress. And Donald Trump Jr. testified about this.

Let me just read this quickly and move on. "The Washington Post." Donald Trump Jr. was asked, "'The Washington Post' has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8 statement. Is that correct?"

He says, Donald Trump Jr., "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it." Well, the president's lawyers are saying the president dictated it. Donald Trump Jr. --

CAMEROTA: Right, but maybe John Jr. didn't know that?

BERMAN: Really?

CAMEROTA: I don't know.

GREGORY: Maybe -- it doesn't sound like he lied to Congress if he said he didn't know.

CAMEROTA: I'm just saying that, unless he was on Air Force One.

BERMAN: That's a stretch. I mean --

CAMEROTA: We know Hope Hicks was.

AVLON: But -- but the whole chronology of this is lie upon lie upon lie. And that's what's important, right? First, this meeting didn't happen. Then it was about adoption. Then there were incriminating e- mails that showed it was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.

I mean, you know, the fact pattern here is at first, you know, the first impulse is to lie. And then it's a cascading, you know, effort to confront the truth when they're forced to do it.

But they've got fundamental problems. Look, I mean, their strategy seems to be, look, impeachment is the only way to bring the power to the president, and they know that, politically, that's unlikely because of the Senate threshold.

But that itself contradicts things that people like, you know, during the Clinton impeachment when people said that the president is not above the law. You know, that was the conservative line at the time. Now that the role's reversed, a Republican's in office, they're arguing the same thing. It's back to Nixon. If the president does it, it's not illegal.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's move on to policy. President Trump has angered U.S. allies -- Mexico, Canada, the E.U. -- with saying that his plan is to impose these steel and aluminum tariffs. Just as the president is shaking hands and enjoying this meeting with the North Korean former top spy here, he is alienating, or at least angering, some of our allies. Here's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about these tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: The idea that the Canadian steel that's in military -- military vehicles in the United States, the Canadian aluminum that -- that makes your fighter jets is now somehow a threat? The idea that we are somehow a national security threat to the United States is, quite frankly, insulting and unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: David, what do you make?

[06:25:00] GREGORY: Well, it is -- it is insulting and unacceptable. And those are the grounds for these tariffs, according to the administration. Out of one side of their mouth.

On the other side they say, "Oh, well, they are overreacting to this. This will probably all work out."

I mean, what we've seen in the short history of this trade war fight from the administration, is that even the imposition of tariffs is still part of the negotiation. And it doesn't sound like it's a settled matter yet. It is certainly contrary to our good agreements with our allies and

with the concept of fair trade. In the end, does it work out, because this ends up getting a better deal that the administration thinks is possible on NAFTA? We'll find out. But it's certainly -- it's certainly going to hurt our relationship in the progress.

BERMAN: It is hurting the relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau, we heard; Emmanuel Macron, the president of France. We're talking about handshakes and whatnot. We know the president likes to touch Emmanuel Macron. But -- but it's -- well, they like to hold hands and, you know --

CAMEROTA: For a long -- extended time.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, there's touching. There is touching. But something is amiss in this relationship right now. And Michelle Kosinski, our Michelle Kosinski reports that the phone call the two leaders held last week, let me read this, was "Just bad. It was terrible. Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind based on the relationship" -- i.e., the touching -- "but Trump can't handle being criticized like that."

So, you know, John, alienating one of your greatest international friends.

AVLON: Yes. It really does bring to mind -- remember Sarah Palin's criticism and the conservagentsia's criticism of Barack Obama? That they're alienating our allies and embracing our enemies?

That is literally what is happening right now. There is embracing of North Korea and alienating Canada, with whom we share a massive border.

BERMAN: Which is really hard to do. I mean, honestly --

AVLON: I know.

BERMAN: -- you can't alienate Canada anyway.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

AVLON: We do share a border.

BERMAN: Very angry Canadians.

CAMEROTA: But to your point, Republicans are taking notice. So Republicans like Bob Corker are taking notice and saying that they are going to prepare something to push back, whatever that looks like.

AVLON: Yes, but this is stunning. Bob Corker over the weekend tweeting that certainly, these actions on the administration on tariffs look like they come came out of Venezuela. This is not a criticism you usually hear from Republican senators about the Republican president.

CAMEROTA: OK. David Gregory, John Avlon, thank you very much. Now to this. An FBI agent's dance moves get him in trouble when his gun goes off in a nightclub. What happened? We'll show you next.