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Interview With Senator Richard Blumenthal; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; Did White House Lie to Public About Trump Tower Meeting?; Source: Trump-Kim Summit Will Be More of a "Meet and Greet". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 4, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Can administration officials be believed?
Questioning the law. The president insists that Robert Mueller's investigation is -- quote -- "totally unconstitutional," a claim at odds with the facts and the law. What might have triggered his new tweeting frenzy about the Russia probe?
And meet and greet. We're learning more about the administration's diminishing expectations for the Trump/Kim summit next week. Will there be any substance behind the handshakes and the smiles?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the White House is furiously dodging questions about whether President Trump might actually consider pardoning himself after declaring that he has the absolute right to do so.
We're following a series of bombshells coming from the president, Rudy Giuliani and a newly revealed letter from the Trump legal team to Robert Mueller. And it's all adding to a very disturbing portrait of a president who appears to think he is above the law and an administration that can't be trusted to tell the American people the truth.
I will get reaction from former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who once worked for -- as a prosecutor under Rudy Giuliani, and from Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal. And our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, once again, a lot of critical questions for the White House. A lot of critical questions that certainly did not get answered.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They have not gone away. The White House spent much of the day making some questionable
constitutional claims about the president's powers, that he has the power to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel is unconstitutional.
But the White House didn't devote much time to explaining those claims. And when asked why the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, gave false information to the public, incredibly, she referred those questions to the president's outside legal team, even though it was her own bogus statements that she was being asked about.
It was a performance that was hard to pardon.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At White House today, there were more talking points than actual answers. When asked about the president's tweets that he has the absolute right to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel is totally unconstitutional, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly turned to prepared responses.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong and wouldn't have any need for a pardon.
Once again, thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong and therefore wouldn't need one.
ACOSTA: The questions came in response to the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, who initially made that claim over the weekend.
QUESTION: Do you and the president's attorneys believe the president has the power to pardon himself?
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: He is not, but he probably does. He has no intention of pardoning himself. But, yes, he probably does.
ACOSTA: Not only do fellow Republicans disagree.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.
ACOSTA: Back in the 1970s, the Justice Department wrote just before the resignation of Richard Nixon that a president cannot pardon himself, adding, "No one may be a judge in his own case."
They White House also sidestepped questions about its own explanations for Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the time, both the president's lawyer and Sanders said Mr. Trump did not dictate a response to "The New York Times" about the meeting. JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That was written by
Donald Trump Jr. and -- and I'm sure with -- in consultation with his lawyer. So, that wasn't written by the president.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate. But he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do.
ACOSTA: Now Mr. Trump's lawyers say the opposite, telling the special counsel's office in a January letter the president dictated a short, but accurate response to "The New York Times" article on behalf of his son.
When asked to explain her own false statement, Sanders dodged big time.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: This is from a letter from the outside counsel. And I direct you to them. It's also pertaining to a letter from the president's outside counsel, and, therefore, I can't answer.
ACOSTA: Giuliani conceded the Trump Tower meeting demonstrates why the president may not ever talk to the special counsel.
GIULIANI: This is the reason you don't let the president testify. It is every -- our recollection keeps changing.
ACOSTA: The White House also didn't want to touch this outlandish comment from Giuliani to The Huffington Post, claiming the president cannot be indicted while in office. "I don't know how you can indict while he is in office," Giuliani said, "no matter what it is. 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."
(on camera): Is that appropriate language coming from the president's outside lawyer, to be talking about the president shooting Jim Comey in that fashion?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: You would have to ask Rudy Giuliani about his specific comments. But, thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong. And so we feel very comfortable...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Go ahead, Josh.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry. I'm going to keep going.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Not today, Jim.
ACOSTA: ... another long briefing sometime, Sarah?
ACOSTA: And we didn't get that follow-up question.
But one of the president's outside lawyers, Jay Sekulow, released a statement to CNN about that Trump Tower meeting, saying -- quote -- "The statement in the January letter to the special counsel's office reflects our understanding of the events that occurred."
But even that statement does not explain the false statements initially given to the public about that Trump Tower meeting. Wolf, it felt as if today, watching this briefing unfold, that they have been caught in a lie about the Trump Tower meeting and they just had no good answers to get out of it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.
Let's dig deeper right now on how the Trump legal team is cooperating with the special counsel, even as the president calls the Mueller investigation unconstitutional.
We are joined by our crime and us reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, this is a new line of attack, the president calling the appointment of a special counsel unconstitutional. Explain what is going on right now.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it is a new line of attack, Wolf, this coming in a tweet today, certainly in this 20-page letter that was published by "The New York Times" over the weekend, illustrated some of that argument.
The letter, the lawyers there going as far as calling the president the chief law enforcement officer, talking about pardons. And essentially, today, the president again doubling down, saying that he can pardon himself if he wanted to.
So, certainly, this is what we're starting to see. And this is sort of some of the behavior that we expected from the president since new lawyers came on board. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that is ongoing.
But these attacks, these lines of sort of calling the investigation unconstitutional, other lines of attack towards the special counsel, all has been expected from the president. And, really, this is more becoming a political fight, a public fight by the president here against the special counsel, because they seem to think it's working.
Now, we don't know exactly what the special counsel is thinking, because they're not responding to anything. In fact, what we have also been told is that even this 20-page letter that was written back in January, the special counsel never responded to.
Certainly, this does tell us that this is not going to stop in any way. The president is going to keep attacking the special counsel while their just work continues. For all we know, they're just doing their jobs and still bringing people into the grand jury, still interviewing potential witnesses.
BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz helping us better appreciate this.
And to be precise, the president said the appointment of the special counsel is totally constitutional, not just unconstitutional.
Thanks, Shimon, for that.
And joining us now, an outspoken Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.
BLITZER: You tweeted this, this morning on the possibility of the president pardoning himself.
You said this: "Only in a two-bit tin horn totalitarian dictatorship could the president even consider pardoning himself from all accountability. It's unthinkable in this great country, and already legally indisputable."
Why do you believe the president is asserting his -- quote -- "absolute right" to pardon himself?
BLUMENTHAL: I take it that the president feels that he may be in need of a pardon, that he likely has done something wrong.
All of these statements are typical of somebody who has something to hide or has done something wrong. Legally, there's absolutely no question, Wolf, that the president of the United States cannot pardon himself.
There was a reference earlier to the Department of Justice opinion, which says -- and I have it with me -- that the question should be answered in the negative, the question being, can the president pardon himself?
And it is actually filled with legal reasoning, unlike the president's memo, which is really a nakedly, blatantly political ploy, not a legal document.
BLITZER: The special counsel's investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller, he was appointed last year on May 17, 2017, by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
The president has now had more than a year to cooperate with Mueller's investigation. He now says it's totally unconstitutional all of a sudden. Why do you think he is making this argument all of a sudden now?
BLUMENTHAL: I am the last person to try to read Donald Trump's mind. But I think this attack, part of a continuing pattern on the special
counsel, is an effort to discredit the investigation before it concludes its report, to demean the special counsel in the eyes of the public. Again, we're not dealing with a legal argument.
The constitutionality of a special counsel has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court when there was actually a statute that was even broader than the regulation that has given rise to this special counsel.
So, I think it is part of a pattern of trying to attack the investigation because it's the president who is under investigation.
BLITZER: It was just upheld by a federal judge in the Paul Manafort case as well.
Rudy Giuliani going one step further, the president's personal lawyer, saying the president can't be indicted while he is still in office -- quote -- this is what he told Huffington Post -- "If he shot James Comey, he would be impeached. Impeach him, and then you could do whatever you want to do to him."
What do you make of that reasoning?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, first of all, I am dismayed by the reference to shooting anyone, especially days after the Parkland High School graduation.
The last thing in the world we ought to be talking about is that kind of gun violence. But take the statement itself that the president is above the law. Only in two-bit, tin-horn dictatorships do people talk about the monarch or the reverend leader being above the law.
And the president is not above the law. I really hope -- and here is my main point today, Wolf -- that my Republican colleagues will agree with Senator Grassley that lawyers who give that kind of advice ought to be fired.
And I hope my Republican colleagues will speak up and stand up, because nothing less than the rule of law is at stake in this debate, in this week and months ahead, because, clearly, the president is seeking the last resort and last refuge of someone who believes possibly in his own guilt. Namely, attack the investigators, attack law enforcement, attack the special counsel.
BLITZER: And we know the special counsel is closely looking at that statement released by the White House after"The New York Times" reported on that controversial Trump Tower meeting between the president's son, the son-in-law, his campaign chairman, and a Russian lawyer.
The statements that they put out, Jay Sekulow, his lawyer, the White House press secretary, they were wrong. According to this 20-page letter in January from the president's lawyer to Mueller, the president actually dictated that statement.
Why do you think they were trying to mislead? If the president actually wrote that statement, dictated that statement, why would they suggest something else?
BLUMENTHAL: The president dictated that statement in order to mislead the American public, but also the investigators. The statement was about the Trump Tower with meeting Russian agents that was attended by his son, his campaign manager and his son-in-law, when they were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And the president concocted this statement to mislead and deceive. And that indicates a state of mind that could be and probably is evidence of obstruction of justice.
Now, I think that memo is a grave disservice to the president. It's a stunning admission. But, also, the memo miscites statutes, 1505, instead of 1522, of the United States Code. It, in addition, engages in this kind of magical legal thinking.
And I think it will be cited as probably among the worst lawyering the president of the United States has ever been provided.
BLITZER: In that statement that the president dictated, he said the meeting was not a campaign issue at the time, even we know the meeting was the result of a promise from the Russians to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign.
I'm sure Mueller is looking into that as well.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Just ahead, we will get more reaction to the shocking possibility raised by the president that he might try to pardon himself. And Rudy Giuliani is going to new lengths right now in his defense of the president, suggesting he couldn't be prosecuted for an outright murder.
I will get reaction from someone who worked with Giuliani when he was a U.S. attorney, the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He will join me live.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the White House attempt to tap-dance around two outrageous new claims by President Trump, that he has the power to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is totally unconstitutional.
Joining us now, the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, served during the Obama administration. He is also a former trial lawyer and prosecutor. He actually once served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York under Rudy Giuliani.
Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Wolf, thanks for having me here.
BLITZER: You have got a lot of legal experience. I want to pick your brain right now.
When the president argues that he has an absolute right to pardon himself and that the special counsel's appointment was totally unconstitutional, what do you think?
JOHNSON: I think it's all posturing, frankly.
I think it's posturing in an effort to get to a place acceptable to Trump's lawyers where he can do an interview. The special counsel has the trump card, if you will, of a subpoena.
Mr. Trump's lawyers want to stake out equally aggressive ground by staking out the most aggressive imaginable presidential power, so that they create for themselves the maximum negotiating space on the contours of an interview of some sort.
I tend to believe that President Trump wants to be interviewed by the special counsel, but his lawyers, appropriately, wanted to have safeguards, time limits, limits on subject matter. So, they have staked out this very, very aggressive view of presidential power, as aggressive, if not more, than what Nixon said to David Frost in 1977: If the president does it, it's not illegal.
BLITZER: But even if it's just posturing, doesn't that send a horrible message to the American public?
JOHNSON: My read of this is that they are negotiating.
And I think even the president's lawyers recognize that he cannot and should not ever be in a position to pardon himself.
BLITZER: You once worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for Rudy Giuliani, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
What do you make of his reasoning -- and we've seen him on television a lot -- that the president can't be indicted for anything?
JOHNSON: Look, lawyers do this.
I have been a lawyer for 36 years. Lawyers do this in an effort to get to what they believe is an appropriate compromise. They stake out the most aggressive position initially. And then they work toward the middle. And that's what's going on right now. And Rudy obviously took a position that for Mr. Trump's lawyers is the
most aggressive position imaginable. And they will work toward the center over the coming weeks and days.
BLITZER: People who once worked with Rudy Giuliani -- I know you did back in the late '80s, early '90s -- they say this is a different Rudy Giuliani that they knew then. Do you agree?
JOHNSON: I will say this about Mayor Giuliani.
September 11, 2001, I was immensely proud of all New Yorkers. I'm a New Yorker. And I was proud of him as our mayor. I thought he set a terrific example as a leader during that crisis, one that I tried to emulate when I was secretary of homeland security.
And I don't mind saying that Rudy and I have remained friends ever since.
BLITZER: So, you are not answering the question.
BLITZER: Is it a different Rudy Giuliani that we are seeing on television today that you saw after 9/11 or that you saw when he was the U.S. attorney?
JOHNSON: Yes, it is.
Let's talk a little bit about what -- a pretty outrageous statement that he told The Huffington Post, that if the president shot James Comey, the fired FBI director...
BLITZER: ... he couldn't be indicted until he was impeached and out of office.
Even that reference to shooting James Comey, what do you make of that?
JOHNSON: So, horrible hypothetical to try to make a point.
But I will say this. What I tell young lawyers, bad facts make bad law. Good facts make good law. If there's legal uncertainty that exists somewhere, bad facts will mean that the law is going to come out against you. If you have bad facts to carry a case, the law likely is going to work against you.
And so I don't think it's in the president's best interest to stake out hypotheticals like that. The lawyers in their letter have staked out this extreme legal position, which I don't think will ever come to pass. BLITZER: But that's not just a hypothetical. That's Rudy Giuliani
saying that if the president shot James Comey -- I mean, that's not the -- you say this is a different Rudy Giuliani. Can you imagine him saying something like that when you worked with him?
JOHNSON: No, frankly.
And it's a terrible hypothetical, given the current context. Pick another one. Try another one that is truly hypothetical involving people we don't know and recognize.
BLITZER: You don't want to make comparisons, hypotheticals involving shooting the former FBI director.
Whether or not you agree with him or disagree with him, you don't even want to raise that possibility.
All right, you worked in the Southern District of New York, not just with Rudy...
JOHNSON: Public corruption cases.
BLITZER: Yes, not just with Rudy Giuliani, but you worked with James Comey.
BLITZER: You worked with Patrick Fitzgerald.
Do you think the president is sending a message in these most recent pardons that involved cases that they were involved in?
JOHNSON: Yes, I do.
I think that the cases in which he has granted a pardon or is supposedly considering a pardon send some kind of message to Jim Comey, to other lawyers that have been involved in these cases. And it's probably the president, in a way, acting out, because he has almost unfettered authority in this area.
And it's a way for him really to kind of flex his muscles. I think that is what is going on here.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the issue of immigration.
You were the secretary of homeland security. And now we're seeing the attorney general and other administration officials say, as a deterrent, if you try to cross into the United States and you are a mother with a child or children, we are going to take your children away, put them someplace else and you are going to be detained someplace else.
What was the policy when you were secretary of homeland security?
JOHNSON: Wolf, when I was secretary for three years, we probably deported, returned, repatriated about one million people. It's not a happy job, but it's our obligation. To this day, when I
give a graduation speech, there are still students who will stand up and turn their back on me because I had the responsibility to enforce our immigration laws.
One thing I would not do and could not do is separate a child from his or her mother and father. I just couldn't do that. There are ways in which we can secure our border without having to resort to something like that, which is so extreme and in my view deeply inappropriate.
And I just could not do that.
BLITZER: Because we did see pictures of children in these cages that were taken during the Obama administration.
JOHNSON: Yes. Many, many families have crossed our border.
The illegal migration is a fraction of what it used to be. In FY- 2000, 18 years ago, 1.6 million people were apprehended on our southern border. Today and in the last several years, it's a fraction of that.
Last year, it was about 315,000, 320,000. My second year in office, it was 330,000. But it's a fraction of what it used to be. But the demographic has totally changed. It's no longer the single adult from Mexico. It's now women and children, families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
And unless we address the underlying conditions in those countries which cause these women and children to flee in the first place, we are going to be banging our head against the wall trying to secure our own borders.
BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking to think of these mothers being separated from their children as they come into the United States. But that's what is happening.
JOHNSON: When I was the secretary, I visited South Texas probably 10 to 12 times.
And I spent hours with these kids asking them why they came here to understand what motivated them to leave. Those of us here in Washington have an obligation to enforce the law. But I think we need to understand the consequences of our actions on a very personal level.
And I know, from my own personal experience, I could not separate a child from its mother or father. I just couldn't do that to secure our border.
BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking.
While I have you, quick reaction. Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama's deputy national security adviser, he has got a new book that just came out. There was an excerpt in "The New York Times."
And the reaction from President Obama to Donald Trump's winning the election, this is from the book.
BLITZER: "'I don't know,' he, the president, told aides. 'Maybe this is what people want. I have got the economy set up well for him. No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.' He then added, 'We're about to find out how resilient our institutions are at home and around the world.'"
And he even suggested maybe he was 10 or 20 years ahead of his time.
JOHNSON: Give you a little piece of history.
Benjamin Mays, president emeritus of Morehouse College, my alma mater, delivered the eulogy for Martin Luther King April 5, April 6 or 7, 1968. He said, people said Martin Luther King was ahead of his time. And Dr. Mays said, no man is ahead of his time. Every man lives within his own time and has an impact on it.
I believe that was true of Barack Obama as well. On his election, our country made major steps forward toward a more perfect union. And our country, its systems of government are stronger than any one man, any one president, Wolf.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks so much for coming in.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Hope you will come back soon, Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security.
President Trump calls the Mueller investigation totally unconstitutional. Why is he cooperating with a probe he believes is illegal?
Plus, former President Bill Clinton's controversial new remarks about Monica Lewinsky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You didn't apologize to her.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have not talked to her.
QUESTION: Do you feel like you owe her an apology?
CLINTON: No. I do -- I do not -- I have never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry.
That's very different. The apology was public. (END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we saw the White House press secretary dodge and deflect on multiple topics, including the president's brazen and widely rejected claim that he has the power to pardon himself.
[18:33:36] But one question hit especially close to home for Sarah Sanders, as she was asked about her denial that Mr. Trump dictated the initial misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer back in 2016. We now know that she -- what she said was flat-out false.
Let's bring in our team of experts to assess.
And Gloria, let me play the various clips from the president's lawyer, Sarah Sanders on that statement that was released to "The New York Times" following the disclosure of that Trump Tower meeting.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: That was written by Donald Trump Jr and, I'm sure, with consultation with his lawyer. So that wasn't written by the president.
The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20. The statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved in that.
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 you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.
BLITZER: So what's the impact of the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, making those statements and now, in this 20-page letter from the president's former lawyer in January to the -- to Robert Mueller, the special counsel, saying that the president actually dictated that statement?
BORGER: Well, somebody is lying. And what we don't know, was Jay lying or was somebody lying to Jay Sekulow? Jay Sekulow is an attorney. You have to presume that he was asking what occurred before he went out on television shows. He wasn't born yesterday. And so the question is, did somebody lie to Jay Sekulow, or did he do this on his own?
And I think that when you look at that 20-page document, it's very clear that what's in that document was something the lawyers among themselves had discussed, perhaps with their client, and with others who had clearly testified before -- before Mueller. And so, you know, I think we need to get to the bottom of this. And I presume that Mueller is.
BLITZER: Yes, Mueller is clearly looking at it.
BLITZER: Does it raise new questions, though, Sabrina, about the president, because he heard what Jay Sekulow said. He heard what Sarah Sanders said. He knew the truth. According to his lawyers, he dictated that letter. Should he have come forward and at least acknowledged, "You know what? I dictated the letter. Those statements were wrong"?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, certainly, it's been clear from the outset that neither the White House nor the president were forthcoming in revealing the true nature of that meeting.
And the question, of course, is why. If there was nothing nefarious about this meeting at Trump Tower, then certainly they wouldn't have to hide that there was more than just adoptions that was discussed. That there was some conversation between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians in terms of the pretense of this meeting, the Russian government offering incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
And you know, the president, of course, his team has said that he did not know about this in real time. So who put the idea in his head that this meeting was, in fact, about adoptions? Is that something that he did learn shortly after the meeting? In which case, he would be implicated in something that his team has said he had no knowledge of. Those are some of the unanswered questions.
And by the way, there's nothing innocuous about just discussing adoption policy. That is, of course, related directly to U.S. sanctions on Russia. And to some people, that also looks like, potentially, evidence of quid pro quo.
BLITZER: Yes, but when the president dictated that statement, according to his lawyer, the statement said that that meeting was not a campaign issue at the time. Even though the meeting was set up as an opportunity for the Russians to hand over, quote, "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
BORGER: And don't forget: our reporting shows that there was another version of this statement that had been written by attorneys, which was apparently more truthful. But then Donald Trump got on the airplane, and it was thrown away. And another statement was written, which is the one that was completely misleading and false.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, you're our legal analyst. The president asserting he has the absolute right to pardon himself. His lawyers arguing that the sitting president can't be indicted. Are those real possibilities that they're actually preparing for now?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is an uncertain legal question about whether a president can pardon himself. That -- that has never been resolved.
You have to ask yourself why he's even raising this subject. I mean, like, is there a guilty conscience at work? I mean, this is just a bizarre subject for him to start -- to start tweeting about.
At the same time, the issue of whether a sitting president can be indicted is a live legal controversy. The Justice Department policy is that there -- the president cannot be indicted. Kenneth Starr, when he was the independent counsel, he had a legal analysis that reached a different conclusion, that said a president could be indicted. It's never been resolved.
But the fact that the president is obsessing about these issues -- can he pardon himself, can he be indicted -- I mean, what's going on? It's just weird.
BLITZER: Yes, look at this, Phil Mudd. The president's language about this whole Mueller probe. I'll give you some examples. He says there are "13 very angry and conflicted Democrats and others" doing the investigating; "so bad for our country"; "very expensive witch hunt hoax"; "leaking my lawyers' letter"; "Department of Justice never-ending witch hunt"; "totally unconstitutional."
What's the impact of those kinds of statements on the American public when they hear the president of the United States smearing this investigation the way he does?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think they understand how profound this is. Among all the reprehensible things I've seen this president do, undercutting the Americans' faith in American government has to be near the top of the list.
Simple reason why: I joined the CIA in 1985, and I spent most of my time traveling around when I was overseas in the third world. One of the first things people will say to you in environments that are not democratic is that politicians in our society aren't fair. They put their fingers on the scales of justice.
What the president is telling us is, "You can't trust the scales of justice. Just like you can't trust them in the third world. I'm the only arbiter of truth."
I'm telling you, Wolf, if you had polled people three years ago and said the president of the United States would be charged, potentially, with obstruction of justice in a criminal case, they would have said, "Unbelievable." In America, now the president has said, "Not only is that not unbelievable, but if it happens, I can decide to pardon myself." We've changed in three years, two years.
[18:40:05] BLITZER: Yes. It's an important point you're making.
Now Gloria, a different subject. Former president Bill Clinton, he was on TV earlier today, speaking about the #MeToo movement. Let me play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like the #MeToo movement. It's way overdue. I think that -- it doesn't mean I agree with everything. I still have some questions about some of the decisions which have been made.
CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS: Looking back on what happened then, through the lens of #MeToo now, do you -- do you think differently or feel more responsibility?
CLINTON: No. I felt terrible then. And I came to grips with it.
MELVIN: Did you ever apologize to her?
CLINTON: No -- yes. And nobody believes that I got out of that for free.
MELVIN: Do you feel like you owe her an apology?
CLINTON: No, I do -- I do not -- I've never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That's very different. The apology was public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Gloria. What strikes you about those comments?
BORGER: Well, I just think he's completely out of touch. He's unable to apologize to her personally. We gather that he's going to address this again soon, Wolf, tonight. So I'll be interested to hear what he says.
He still is sort of -- is unable to come to terms with it. She has. She's been -- you know, she's been -- Monica Lewinsky has been out there talking about how she was treated.
And I think, you know, this gives you a clue as to why Democrats are worried about putting Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail, quite honestly, because he can't address this. He still cannot address this. Maybe tonight he will revise and extend his remarks. I would hope so.
BLITZER: You want to --
SIDDIQUI: Just that the president was very defensive.
SIDDIQUI: Because he said that he worked to elevate women and pro- women policies. But that does not absolve someone from having to address, potentially, their own mistreatment of women.
And he's giving this interview at a time when there's been this watershed moment of reckoning around sexual harassment and misconduct. And so pointing the finger at others to try and minimize your own behavior, that is not acceptable. BORGER: And by the way, portraying himself as a victim somehow in
this, because it cost him $16 million. I'm sorry, he's not the victim.
BLITZER: Let's see what he says later tonight.
Just ahead, the Trump administration's limited expectations for the president's summit with Kim Jong-un. We're going to tell you what we're learning.
[18:47:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, the White House says the president is getting daily briefings on North Korea as he gets ready for his big summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore next week. As the preparations intensify, the expectations for the summit have diminished considerably.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
Jim, apparently, early hopes for a major breakthrough seemed to be slipping away.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, often, before summits like this, you have a managing of expectations. But this has been a massive downgrading of expectations. Not our expectations, but the president's own expectations for the summit, at least as described by him and senior advisers recently last week. No longer expectations pushing for a major agreement. Now described by the president as largely a meet and greet summit.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): From the moment the president first suggested a summit with the North Korean leader, his goal had been ambitious and clear.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTE OF THE UNITED STATES: If the meeting, when I'm there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.
SCIUTTO: Just last week, as he met in New York with his North Korean counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the president's intentions.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
SCIUTTO: No longer. Now the goal of the June 12th meeting in Singapore, just a meet and greet between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, this according to a source familiar with the discussions.
President Trump said the same publicly on Friday.
TRUMP: It's really a get to know you kind of a situation. SCIUTTO: The plan, a source tells CNN, is to come to a broad
agreement on North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Then, negotiations would be handed over to Secretary Pompeo for discussions that could take years.
This even as the U.S. still has received no assurances that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons.
POMPEO: I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision.
SCIUTTO: With a downgraded agenda, there is concern growing in Congress that this summit is just for show.
SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We're not going to extract concessions by made for TV diplomacy, by the photo op that Kim wants and I think that Trump wants as well.
SCIUTTO: Of course, there are other interested players in these talks, even though they won't be present in Singapore, certainly China and certainly South Korea as well. And they have different arguably definitions, even U.S. ally there, South Korea, of different definitions of success for the negotiations as they go forward.
BLITZER: And, all of a sudden, Kim Jong-un, he's out there on the world stage.
SCIUTTO: And this is the thing, we have to remember, that is a win for him.
[18:50:00] He, his father, his grandfather before him, they sought international recognition by face-to-face meetings with world leaders. They're getting it now with the U.S. president. They're going to get it with the Russian president. They've already had it with the Chinese president. They're getting that prestige before they've given anything up.
BLITZER: They're apparently inviting Bashar al Assad of Syria to visit as well North Korea as well.
SCIUTTO: Rogues gallery.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much for that.
All right. Just ahead, Chris Cuomo, he has a brand-new program here on CNN and a big interview with Rudy Giuliani that's coming up. Look at that smile. Look at that smile from Chris Cuomo. We'll talk to him when we come back.
[18:55:14] BLITZER: Just when you thought you heard everything from Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer is claiming that Mr. Trump couldn't be prosecuted even if he shot James Comey.
Who better to press that on his over-the-top defense of the president than CNN's own Chris Cuomo? His new program, "CUOMO PRIME TIME" debuts tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Giuliani is one of his high profile guests.
Congratulations on the new show, Chris. We've heard a lot of new arguments from Trump, from Giuliani over the past few days. Is Giuliani advancing those arguments, or is he doubling down?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Well, Captain, thank you for the opportunity. Always good to be on your show.
I think that what we will see tonight with Rudy Giuliani is that he owns the president's point of view, even when that comes as a significant cost to legal reasoning. That's the bind for Rudy Giuliani.
So, tonight, he has to answer for that James Comey line. He could have made that hypothetical any way he wanted to, a thousand different ways to arrive at the same point, which is the nature of process with the president is different than it is for Blitzer or Cuomo. You would impeach him first before there would be any prosecution, no matter what the criminal action was.
But he could have made that hypothetical lots of different ways, he chose to do it in a hyper-aggressive way. Why? We talked to him about that. We talked to him about the idea of self-pardoning, the pardons that have happened, the legal basis for the idea that the president is beyond reproach when it comes to obstruction of justice. So, there's a lot there and it's a deeper dive into those issues.
BLITZER: Really looking forward to it.
What do you, Chris, that -- what do you think the president is now saying that the appointment of the special counsel and the president's words that he tweeted this morning, was totally unconstitutional? That appointment was made more than a year ago. Why now?
CUOMO: Well, because it's convenient, right? I mean the problem with the hot talk the president puts out most often on Twitter is that it's more feeling than fact. OK?
Just think about it, Wolf. If the president truly believed that this was unconstitutional, wouldn't he be violating the oath that he took to uphold the Constitution by allowing it to continue within his own Department of Justice? Wouldn't he have to immediately stop it? Why hasn't he done that?
And if it is unconstitutional, why did he call for the exact same thing on Hillary Clinton? You know, it's convenient thinking. It's political talk. It's building a narrative that he's being done wrong, so no matter what Mueller comes up with, he has cover with his base. But there are costs to this narrative.
BLITZER: After almost a year of denying that President Trump had any role in drafting that statement about that controversial Trump Tower meeting in 2016, we now know the president actually dictated the public statement himself. But the White House wouldn't set the record straight today in the press briefing.
What message do you believe that sends?
CUOMO: Well, I think the message is pretty clear, Wolf. I'm sure most people do. It's the oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Now, Rudy Giuliani is in Jerusalem for this interview, and he actually swore to God on this issue, in the Holy Land, that this wasn't about deception, they're just mistakes. And I told him, Wolf, be careful swearing to God about something like this, when you're in the Holy Land. And he looked up and he said, yeah, I think I may have heard just a crack of thunder.
Now, he's making a joke, but it's not funny, because it goes to the basis was credibility of this team. How did Jay Sekulow not know? How did Sarah Sanders not know? How did Sekulow arrive at the conclusion that it was dictated when he started out having nothing to do with it?
Somebody's not telling the truth. Even if it doesn't create legal exposure, it creates a responsibility to the American people. You know, this whole dialogue, Wolf, has been about why the president should have limited legal exposure to these proceedings. I think the opposite argument is more compelling, that he legally and from a responsibility standpoint as president of the United States has more of a responsibility to be transparent, to not need to be subpoenaed, to not plead the Fifth, to sit and do the interview.
I think there's as much responsibility there. Rudy Giuliani fights that notion strenuously tonight.
BLITZER: In a sentence, because we don't have any time, what's the mission for "CUOMO PRIME TIME"?
CUOMO: Test power, hold it to account, force lawmakers to lay out their arguments, seek common ground, and do something about it. Get lawmakers to do their jobs, hold power to account, when there's breaking news around the world, run out there with Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: We're looking forward to the show tonight. Looking forward to it every night.
"CUOMO PRIME TIME", 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
Congratulations, Chris. A very, very exciting news for all of our viewers.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.