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President Trump's Legal Team Admits President Dictated Response to Reports of Donald Trump Jr. Meeting with Russians; Rudy Giuliani Suggests President Trump Cannot be Indicted; Planning Continues for Summit with North Korea; Trump Lawyer Argues President Is Above The Law. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired June 4, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A sitting U.S. senator.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. OK, so stick around for that.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Monday, June 4th, 8:00 in the east. Today marks President Trump's 500th day in office. His attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice by definition. Giuliani also claims that the president had the authority to pardon himself, and Giuliani even suggested in this new interview that if Mr. Trump were to shoot James Comey he could not be prosecuted. So is the president of the United States above the law?
BERMAN: And this 20-page letter sent by President Trump's legal team to Robert Mueller in January admits for the first time that the president dictated that misleading statement about his son's controversial meeting with Russians at the Trump Tower, that is the one where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. You will remember the White House and the president's lawyer repeatedly denied that the president was involved. Now we know that those were lies. So, if they're lying about that, what else?
Let's begin with CNN Kaitlan Collins live this morning at the White House. Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, that's a great question. And what we witnessed this weekend is what we have long suspected, and that is when it comes down to it, the president and his legal team are prepared to make this argument that there is a broad extent of his use of executive power, so broad, in fact, that they are prepared to make the argument that the president himself can be above the law.
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 the sitting president no matter the offense, claiming if he shot James Comey, he would 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 believe and the president's attorneys believe the president has the power to pardon himself?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He has no intention of pardoning himself, but 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 CHRISTI, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It's an outrageous claim, it's wrong. They were trying to make a broad argument.
COLLINS: His lawyers argue 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) 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, like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.
COLLINS: One month earlier, Sekulow strongly refuting the claim the 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.
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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 wasn't 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 wasn't wrong. This is the reason you didn't let the president testify, if our recollection keeps changing. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So Giuliani making the argument that the president can pardon himself but he won't because, one -- it raises two questions, one, why would the president with pardoning himself for since they have maintained he hasn't done anything wrong, and two, it's actually not clear that he would be impeached because so far the Republican-led Congress has not given any indication of what their red line for the president here is.
Now, all of that is going on while the White House is also dealing with speculation about the first lady's whereabouts. She has not been seen in public in three weeks since she underwent that medical procedure at Walter Reed. Today she's kind of making her first public appearance back when she attends an event honoring gold star families here at the White House, but we won't see her because they are not having cameras involved in that event.
[08:05:07] Now, that comes with news that she's skipping two very big summits for President Trump this week, one in Canada, and of course the second one in Singapore. So a lot of questions here, John and Alisyn, but not a lot of answers about the first lady.
BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning, thank you. Keep on asking those questions.
We're joined now by CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN senior legal analyst Mark Preston. Jeffrey, Giuliani says the president could shoot James Comey if he wanted to and get away with it, he can pardon himself and there's no possibility for him to obstruct justice. You say there's something much bigger going on here.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. What's going on is that they're basically taking on the core of the Mueller investigation in saying even if he did everything that you accuse him of, that he fired James Comey to protect himself, that doesn't matter because he has the power to do it. And that, I think, is the real core of the issue here, is that does the president have the right to obstruct justice because he's the head of the executive branch that runs the justice system, at least at the federal level.
CAMEROTA: Just to stick with you one more second because it's a legal question, it sounds like in this 20-page letter that was sent to Mueller in January from the Trump legal team that the Giuliani argument is the president cannot obstruct justice because he has the power to terminate the investigation all together. So if you have the power to terminate the investigation, whatever the investigation finds, you can -- if you could have terminated it -- follow the circular logic -- then you can't be indicted. I think that's the argument.
TOOBIN: Yes. And I think it's important to recognize just how different that is from historical arguments we've had. For example, during Watergate, the smoking gun that did in Richard Nixon was a White House tape where Nixon said tell the CIA to stop the Watergate investigation, pretend that there's a national security reason to stop the Watergate investigation. If you believe the logic of this letter, Nixon did nothing wrong because he was in charge of the CIA, he was in charge of the FBI. He could have fired the head of the CIA and FBI. That's what's so different. And it was an argument that Nixon's lawyers never even made.
BERMAN: Look, the layman's way of saying this is the president can do whatever he wants.
CAMEROTA: He is above the law.
BERMAN: The president can do whatever he wants. And Mark Preston, that sounds sort of dictator and tyrannical, like the definition of such things, and sort of the basis of what that revolution was all about.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the whole idea that the Revolutionary War back started in kicking King George out because of the tyrannical rule. You've kind of hit on a point there. The only resolution to this, though, and I leave this up to Jeffrey when you get to the legal matters, but really the only resolution to this could be what does Congress do. That's the way the government was set up in a way for Congress to have oversight over the administration, oversight over the White House.
But you have to step back and think to yourself, all the things that we've heard Rudy Giuliani say over the last couple of weeks, specifically in the last couple of days, in some ways they're almost acknowledging guilt. And by saying that, they're trying to take any responsibility off of their backs, saying that in fact that they cannot obstruct justice.
So, listen, we have a mid-term election coming up, and if the American people do not think that the Republican Congress is doing enough, then they can weigh in. And that's really what our first yardstick is going to be about where the American public is on this investigation.
CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, when Giuliani says about Trump possibly sitting down with Robert Mueller, well, he can't because our recollection keeps changing, does that work in a court of law when a defendant says my recollection keeps changing?
TOOBIN: I have to say this is so extraordinary, that comment, it almost makes you laugh, because, then don't change your recollection. Facts are the facts. It is of course not a crime to have a failure of recollection. People don't remember things all the time. But the notion that you shouldn't have an interview because people have different recollections, that's not a reason.
And the fact is they deep changing their stories about key issues. The Trump Tower explanation that, as we've been playing this montage all morning, they say Trump had nothing to do with it, Trump didn't dictate the letter. Now we see that they acknowledge he did dictate Donald Trump Jr.'s response to the meeting.
[08:10:00] BERMAN: That international is what Rudy Giuliani was saying, our recollection keeps changing. Let's listen to the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow here --
CAMEROTA: To refresh our recollection.
BERMAN: Deny, just flat out denying that the president dictated this letter. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyer. That wasn't written by the president. The president didn't sign off on anything because the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate. But, like I said, he weighed in and offered suggestion like any father would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: It doesn't sound like a changed recollection. That sounds like a lie. Either Jay Sekulow or Sarah were lying, or it is possible the president flat out lied to them, which is something that Sam Nunberg suggested to me earlier.
PRESTON: That very well could have happened too, but there were several people, from our understanding anyway, that were around in that circle, so the idea that Jay Sekulow would go out there and do that and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, mind you, standing at the lectern of the White House press office speaking on behalf of the leader of the free world, it is very outrageous that they think they can get away with it.
Now having said that, I hate to say this, but I go back to this court of public opinion thing, right now they are getting away with it. People do have exhaustion from this Mueller investigation, but that exhaustion is due in part because you have Donald Trump and his allies really going after Mueller and going after this investigation in a way that really is ugly and untruthful quite frankly.
TOOBIN: But Mark's point, I think, is especially acute when it comes to the Republican Party. We have a completely unified Republican Party around Donald Trump. There is no dissent of active office holders when it comes to Trump's behavior. So yes, the White House can lie, and there are no consequences, at least as far as the Republican Party is concerned.
CAMEROTA: One of the things that we repeat, and it's out there sort of as, I don't know, conventional wisdom, is Robert Mueller's team doesn't leak, there are no leaks from Robert Mueller's team.
TOOBIN: I've tried.
CAMEROTA: A lot of people have tried. So this is based on experience and reality, but this 20-page letter from the Trump team to Robert Mueller's team has been leaked. So do we assume -- the people who wrote this letter are Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, at the time his lawyer. They're leaking this? What's the point of leaking this?
TOOBIN: The point of leaking this is to lay out what the president's position is, lay out a legal justification for his behavior, for his reaction. I think it was a smart move for them to leak it because as always, the Republican party falls into line with whatever the president himself or his team puts out there.
BERMAN: Also you want to get the information out on your own terms when you can. I don't know if they leaked this or not, but getting the notion that they had lied about the president dictating that letter, they would want that out now before, say, the president actually testified, or before the Mueller team put it in a report.
CAMEROTA: Why would you want the American public to know that the president lied?
BERMAN: They're going to get it out, they're going to find out eventually. You get the bad facts out yourself. That's crises management, although this White House does it a little bit differently.
CAMEROTA: Mark, your thoughts?
PRESTON: I think Jeffrey's right and John's right. Get it out now, soften the blow. What you don't want this to happen is you don't want this to explode in September or October right before the midterm elections and take what Jeffrey has eloquently said about how the Republican Party has been very, very unified on this. You don't want them to break up right before the midterm election which could get very ugly not only for the Republican Party but for Donald Trump.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you for your perspectives on all of this. Please come back any time.
Meanwhile CNN has just learned the high stakes summit between the United States and North Korea will apparently be more of a, quote, meet and greet than a hammering out of any denuclearization deal. CNN's Michelle Kosinski is live at the State Department with all of these breaking details. Michelle, what have you learned?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. At least it's not expected to lay out all of these details. One source with familiarity with the discussions and the process described this as being potentially like a meet and greet or a meet and bond, and that seems to be a lot different than how it was originally described to us by the State Department. Last week the State Department was telling us if there was going to be a successful summit here between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, then the North Koreans had to do something that they've never done before. Between now and the summit, they're going to need to spell out what exactly they're willing to do to denuclearize.
Then less than 48 hours later we hear the president say there is going to be a summit and nobody is talking about getting any kind of commitment in the near term from the North Koreans and that instead it's going to be the very beginning of what could be a very long process.
So this source with familiarity is telling us that really only the president thought that there was some chance of getting unilateral concessions from North Korea before the summit.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then proved that that was not going to be possible. The president then decided to go ahead with the summit anyway.
The thought now is that maybe they can get some kind of broad agreement that North Korea will denuclearize at this summit. Remember, North Korea has been telling South Korea that it is committed to denuclearization.
It's put out statements in writing to that effect. The problem is we just don't know what exactly they mean by denuclearization. Are they in any way on the same page as the U.S. is and you know, they far from signed on the dotted line on this.
So, it's possible they might get again a broad agreement at the summit, but the plan or the thinking is for them to go to the State Department where they're assembling a team of North Korea experts. They'll handle the negotiations which could take years -- John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It raises the question, is meeting good in and of itself. This will be discussed for the next week. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much.
Rudy Giuliani says that President Trump cannot be criminally prosecuted even if he shot James Comey. So, is this true? We'll speak to former House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers next.
BERMAN: President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claims the president could have shot former FBI director, James Comey, to end the Russia investigation and not face prosecution for it while in office.
[08:20:07] Giuliani told the "Huffington Post" "in no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. I don't know how you can indict while he's in office. If he shot James Comey, he'd be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to him."
Let's bring in CNN national security commentator, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. Mr. Chairman, always great to have you. Just your overall reaction to that comment from the former mayor of New York City that the president could have shot James Comey and gotten away with it.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Not a chance. Not a chance. Listen, I know Rudy Giuliani, I think he's a great attorney. I think he's on tv every weekend for the sole purpose of trying to set the table in this investigation.
Even the document that was leaked was all about trying to prepare what comes in the next probably few months on the Mueller investigation. So, there is no way -- as a matter of fact, this precedent, by the way, John, was set in about 1792 when George Washington established the end the public interest consideration and the duties of the president.
So, there's long precedent on the activities of the president. So, you can't do something that is not in the public interest as president of the United States. I think that gets to the pardon issue. It gets to certain executive issues and it gets to this notion that you cannot be charged for murder.
BERMAN: And leave murder aside because that's absurd. Rudy Giuliani -- well, the lawyers, Jay Sekulow, who wrote the letter in January essentially say the president can't obstruct justice. Let me read you the clip here, "It remains our position that the president's action by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally or legally obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself." Do you agree the president can obstruct justice?
ROGERS: No. I think there is a legal fine point here and I think it's this. If the president in the normal course of his duties, let's say firing James Comey, for the purposes that he had done something inappropriate, the director of the FBI, even if there was an investigation I think they could make the case, hey listen, I'm doing my job as president, it has nothing to do with anything else.
What we saw in the Nixon case was he destroyed evidence that would have implicated him in possible illegal crimes. The Supreme Court came back and said, no, you can't do that. I think there's good precedent on all this.
Again, I think it gets back to what is in the public interest for the duties of the president. I think it would be hard pressed if there was information that led -- could I think implicate the president of the United States and he tried to do something different from that, that's not in the public interest, that's in the self-interest and I think that's the line that I think the public certainly won't allow.
BERMAN: Broadly speaking you talk about the public interest, is it in the public interest to have the White House and even the president's lawyer lie, publicly, blatantly lie?
ROGERS: Well, listen, I never think lying is a good idea. I think what the legal team is trying to do is put out the best case that they can up front. Again, if lying were a crime, there wouldn't be, I don't think, three people left in the United States Congress, right --
BERMAN: In this 20-page letter, the president's lawyers in January admitted that the president dictated Donald Trump Jr.'s response to the Trump Tower meeting where he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, repeatedly and publicly said the opposite for like a month last year. Sarah Sanders flat-out said he certainly did not dictate the letter. Now we know the president certainly did dictate the letter. So, either the president lied to them or they lied to us. There's really no Option C here, correct?
ROGERS: I think that's correct. If I were betting I think the president probably would say, hey, my recollection on if I did or didn't was wrong and I informed these people, is probably the road that he'll walk on. I agree though, the notion that you have to lie to conduct the business of the White House is not healthy.
It's not healthy for the White House. It's not healthy for the office of the presidency. It's certainly not healthy for the United States of America. We're going to have to shake this thing out.
BERMAN: Put your old FBI hat on then and you are chairman of a committee with investigatory powers. If you see a pattern of dishonesty, in the course of your investigation what has turned out to be a lie, what does that raise to you? What alarm bells would that set off?
ROGERS: Well, clearly, they knew that they had done something that was inappropriate. That's why they lied about it. As an old investigator, you're going to focus on that like white on rice. That's your focus. You want to understand exactly why you believe that you should lie about something you knew to be true.
What else is behind it? They'll spend some time -- I'm sure Mueller is trying to figure out the motivation of that. Clearly, it was because the president shouldn't have been involved in drafting a memo on a meeting that he wasn't even present at.
He was clearly trying to defend something where he believed it was either harmful to him or his family at that point.
[08:25:08] BERMAN: Is that in and of itself then worthy of investigation? The reason I ask that is because the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, over the weekend in an interview basically said he sees no evidence of collusion, and because of that this whole thing should be done right now.
ROGERS: Well again, I didn't see that particular interview. I do worry about this, the collusion piece I think needs to come to some conclusion. Mueller either needs to say, yes, there was collusion, or here is exactly what the Russians were doing to try and influence U.S. elections.
I think that second part of that by the way, John, nobody disputes that. Everybody understands, Republicans, Democrats, all the intelligence agencies say, yes, the Russians were attempting to influence the elections and try to get Americans at each other's throat.
I would argue they may have done a fine job of that. So, that piece I do think needs to wrap up. All of these other actions of the president certainly rattles your faith and trust and confidence that they're going to be truthful when it really counts, when it really is important for the best interests of the United States of America, and I think that's what has people rattled with the way this thing has unfolded.
BERMAN: I didn't hear rattling in Kevin McCarthy's voice there, but I'll take your word for it. Mr. Chairman, Mike Rogers, always great to have you. Thank you so much.
ROGERS: Thanks, John.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: An outspoken U.S. senator who has been critical of the Trump administration's policy on separating children from their parents when they show up at the border, well, that senator was just banned from visiting an immigration center in Texas to check on the children. Why? We talk to him live, next.