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Trump on Pardoning Himself; Trump Tower Statement; Supreme Court Rules for Baker; North Korea Replaces Military Officials. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 4, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Affecting his decisions on approach to China, too.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Well, calling it -- calling it as it is, not just as you see it, but calling it as it is, is important.

Congrats to the secretaries there.

Wolf Blitzer starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

President Trump calling the appointment of the special counsel unconstitutional and insisting he has the absolute right to pardon himself. What prompted those tweets today? And just how far do his presidential powers go?

Former President Bill Clinton getting heated in a new interview when asked about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He says he doesn't owe her a personal apology. You'll hear why.

And some of America's closest allies fighting back today, slamming the president's tariffs on steel and aluminum. Canada calling them just plain insulting. So what could the long-lasting affects be?

All that coming up.

But first, power play. The Trump legal team claims he has the sweeping authority over all federal investigations as President Trump attacks the Russia probe on constitutional grounds. He tweeted this, this morning. Quote, the appointment of the special counsel is totally unconstitutional. Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong, closed quote.

The tweet follows an assertion by the president and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that the president has the power to pardon himself.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: I mean that's another really interesting constitutional argument, can the president pardon himself? I think the political ramifications of that would be tough. Pardoning

other people is one thing. Pardoning yourself is another.


BLITZER: The president was less circumspect. He tweeted, quote, as has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, those comments are part of a larger strategy clearly by the president's legal team to assert almost unlimited executive powers. Tell us a little bit more about that.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And we've been hearing this from the president's legal team for months. They view that the president has almost sweeping, unchecked powers when it comes to running the executive branch of government. They feel as though the president, because he is the head of the executive branch, can fire whoever he wants. And in some cases, it sounds like from the rational laid out by Rudy Giuliani and the president, that to some extent they feel that the president is above the law. The president tweeting this morning that he believes he can pardon himself.

Of course, Wolf, we should point out the history in all this. When Richard Nixon was in hot water back in the 1970s, the Justice Department, right before he stepped down from office, said that the president could not pardon himself because that would essentially put the president above the law. But you saw President Trump, though, this morning going on another one of these tweet storms saying that the special counsel investigation is unconstitutional, that they're cooperating as much as they possibly can and so on. That seems to be one of the talking points coming out of the White House this morning, that they've been cooperative throughout this entire investigation.

Of course, Wolf, you have to ask the question, how is it cooperative for the president and the executive branch, how is it -- how can they say that sort of thing? How can they lay out that kind of argument when, at the same time, as we -- as we both know, Wolf, the president has been going after Robert Mueller, the special counsel's office, the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, there have been talks of threats of firing the deputy attorney general, questions almost on a daily basis as to the future of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. You know, how is that cooperative? I think that's another question that needs to be asked.

But no question, Wolf, this is a legal and political strategy when you talk to sources familiar with conversations that go on inside the president's legal team. They have definitely shifted from a posture of cooperation with the special counsel's office to attack, attack, attack and this appears to be another one of those instances over the last 24 hours whether it be the comments from Rudy Giuliani or from the president himself. They seem to be following that approach and sticking to it. Just about every hour a tweet comes out, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, and Chris Cuomo is going to be hosting Rudy Giuliani,

questioning him, 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight on the premiere of his new show. We'll be anxious to see that.

Jim Acosta at the White House, I know you have a press briefing coming up with Sarah Sanders. We'll have live coverage of that as well.

In the meantime, let's get some perspective on the presidential power play. We have CNN political analyst Molly Ball with us, CNN political commentator David Urban, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

The president says, Gloria, he has the absolute right to pardon himself. What do you make of that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I think he needs to read a 1974 memo from the Office of Legal Counsel which states very clearly that no one may be a judge in his own case and says that a president can't pardon himself for that very reason.

[13:05:03] Now, there have been legal scholars who disagree with that. Solicitor General Robert Bork back in the day disagreed with that.

But then let's take a step back further and try and figure out why this is all going on right now. Rudy Giuliani is out there saying the president can do anything he wants. This legal memo was leaked over the weekend, a 20 page memo, detailing why the special counsel basically can't touch the president in any way, shape or form. So it makes you wonder whether they're sending this outside signal to the special counsel that people are with us here, so you better be careful because you don't have public support and you better not try and subpoena the president. And I'm told, my sources tell me, that they believe he doesn't want to -- Mueller wants to avoid a subpoena of the president, but we don't know for sure. So what they are doing -- and I believe directed largely by the president and the mouthpiece is Rudy Giuliani, what they are trying to do is send these signals to Mueller that if you try and do this stuff, if you try and subpoena us, we're ready.

And, you know, Mueller has read the memos. We're not quite sure if he responded to this memo. But now they're saying, well, now the American public has it and they know our arguments and so it's there -- you know, in politics we talk about pre-buttals. This is the delivery of that -- and making their discussions with Mueller almost public.

BLITZER: Yes, I mean, whoever leaked that 20-page memo to Mueller from the legal staff, the then lawyer John Dowd, for the president clearly was trying to send a message to the president's supporters, here are some talking points, here are some arguments for you.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Laura, I want you to listen to what Rudy Giuliani said on ABC yesterday because something jumped out at me, even though we suspected this, he has officially confirmed the president is now a subject of this Mueller investigation. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: You've got everything you need. What do you need us for? In fact, most prosecutors don't have the subject or target or whatever you want to call the president, although he's only a subject right now. And I think will remain that.


BLITZER: So he says the president's a subject, only a subject right now. We checked with the Justice Department. A witness is clearly somebody who has some information that could be useful. A target is someone who's a target probably of a criminal investigation. But a subject, according to the Justice Department, is a person whose conduct is within the scope of a grand jury's investigation. So we have reported he was probably a subject, but now he is officially saying the president of the United States is a subject of this investigation.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you have to wonder to how much of this Rudy Giuliani is aware of or perhaps getting into semantics based argument in his own head. You have to wonder about that. But in all honesty, of course he is a subject of the investigation. It is his campaign that they are looking into about counterintelligence with Russia and possibly collusion. This should surprise no one as an epiphany.

What is surprising as the epiphany that only the Trump administration or Trump legal team has come to is this notion of being above the law. And I really had this idea that the trump legal team is running around a house trying to close every single window for Mueller, but Mueller already has a key. It's called a grand jury subpoena. He can go into the house. He can try to execute information. He can understand what's happening here and he can get the information there.

And I agree with you, Gloria, the notion of the 1974 OLC opinion. And the reason it's so important to focus on that, Wolf, is because, remember, it has been the Trump strategy and Trump's legal team's statement that we have to rely on the fact that a sitting president, based on those OLC opinions, cannot be indicted in office. And you cannot, on the one hand, say it's important, and on the other hand ignore the one that says you're not above the law and you cannot pardon yourself in an impeachment. We've already seen this version of King George III again through Nixon. It wasn't successful the first time. It should be again.

BLITZER: In that 20-page letter that "The New York Times" published, David, the letter assets, quote, the -- this is from the president's lawyers, the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia's election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, if he wished, terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon.

You're a former Trump campaign strategist. What do you think of this strategy now of going public with all these arguments? DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, so, look, I think it's --

it is a legal argument and there's a -- there's a political argument, right? The legal argument they make, I think, is probably on more solid ground than the political argument. I think the president does have pretty unfettered and not unquestioned but pretty unfettered ability to pardon with the exception of impeachment. And what the president could do here, Laura and I talked about this briefly before, the president could, you know, they could invoke the 25th Amendment, the president could step down for a day, the vice president could be the president.


URBAN: He could president -- he could pardon the president. And then the next day the president could come back to work. So there are -- you know, the ability to pardon I think is -- you know, we're -- we're -- how many angels can dance on the head of a pin at this point? The question I think of whether this -- we have to kind of step back and take a look, does any of this rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, right? Is any of this going to be an impeachable offense because -- because --

[13:10:17] BLITZER: That's what the U.S. House of Representatives will have to decide, if it comes down to that.

URBAN: Because that's where this is going to end up.

Yes, make no mistake, this is not going to end up in the southern district of New York, or the northern district of Virginia. This is going to end up on the lap of the folks in the House of Representatives. At the end of this, Director Mueller is going to complete his report. He's going to hand it to the attorney general, who then is going to hand it to Rod Rosenstein and they're going to publish it, I'm guessing, at some -- at some point because they're not going to be able to keep that -- it will leak within five minutes if they don't publish it. And then it's up to the House of Representatives.

So this is all really -- all these arguments are really political arguments. They're not -- they're somewhat legal, but they're really being made for political -- for political purposes.

BLITZER: There was another element in that 20 page letter that "The New York Times" reported on, Molly, that the president actually, according to the president's lawyers, dictated that statement to "The New York Times" about that very controversial Trump Tower meeting that his son, son-in-law, campaign chairman had with Russians back in 2016.

I want you to listen, though, to what some of the president's lawyers and aides said contradicting this notion that the president dictated the statement.


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: 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.

The president didn't sign off on -- on anything. 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: And if you read those statements, I went back and took a look at the statement that the president dictated, which his aides have denied he did it, but among other things it said in the statement that it was not a campaign issue at the time. There's the statement right there. It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government. But it was not a campaign issue at the time.

It was a campaign issue at the time because the Russians promised, quote, dirt on Hillary Clinton. That's why the president's son and son-in-law and campaign chairman went to that meeting.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, although that is also something that they initially denied because we have had these evolving and contradictory and ever shifting rationales that have been offered. This is a remarkable admission in that memo. But it is not the first time that we have heard admissions following denials, following, you know, arguments that, well, it doesn't matter any way, even if this was done that, you know, that it's OK. So these -- but I -- as David was saying, all of these shifting rationales add up not to any kind of sustained or consistent legal case, but to trying this case in the court of public opinion because the Mueller team isn't doing that. The Mueller team is completely silent. When they speak, it is through actions. It's through the legal filings, often surprising ones, that we don't know are coming or that bring people into the investigation, make charges that the president's legal team didn't know was coming, much less the public.

And so you have this very lopsided process where one side is dealing strictly in the legal realm and the other side is dealing almost entirely in the political realm because, as David said, they know that their defense is not going to be whether or not a judge or a court believes their legal argument, it's going to be whether the Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives decide that because of public opinion they must back up the president.

BLITZER: And we do know, Gloria, that the Mueller team is investigating that statement that was put out.


BLITZER: Because it potentially could be some sort of obstruction argument. BORGER: Well, and we also know that Senator Chris Coons is saying that

Don Jr. lied before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I have what he said here and he kind of was wiggling around this. But -- but, you know, my question is, why is the president's attorney and Rudy Giuliani talking about impeachment so much? I can't really understand that. Why is he so sure that this is, in fact, political and not legal? Does he know that?

COATES: I think that he is misconstruing every argument. He believes this is, as you're talking about, only a political issue. But it's only political if you abide by the principle that a sitting president cannot be indicted of a crime. Well, if he's impeached, he's no longer sitting, then it could end up right there in a SDNY or in Virginia or other cases. So it's very short sighted to think about impeachment because the end result could very well be a criminal prosecution.

BLITZER: All right.

URBAN: This is -- well, I -- we --

BLITZER: Very quickly.

URBAN: We were all here for the Clinton -- for the Clinton impeachment. It's not -- it's not a pretty sight. It's not -- this is not going to happen. I predict this is going to wrap up. We'll see -- I'm just saying, they're not going to have an impeachment. It's big political.

[13:15:00] BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Guys, thank you very, very much.

There's more news we're following, the U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled on a case that pitted religious liberty against gay rights. The justices deciding in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker claimed doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue is joining us right now.

Ariane, this ruling came down in favor of the baker, but it isn't necessarily the broad ruling many were expecting. What exactly did the court say?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, Wolf, as you said, this has always been this collision between religious freedom claims and LGBT rights. And here the court did rule narrowly in favor of the baker. Remember the baker refused to make that cake. The couple sued. A lower court ruled in favor of the couple. And today Kennedy reversed 7-2.

And this is what he did. He said that the state violated the baker's religious freedom by showing hostility to his religion. And Justice Kennedy pointed to one specific hearing held by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission where he said -- where one commissioner said, look, Phillip's beliefs amounted to discrimination. And Justice Kennedy said that those comments showed that the commission wasn't applying this with the religious neutrality that it need to.

So it is a win for Philips and it's a win for religious liberty, but it's not necessarily that big, religious liberty case some people focused on. Kennedy was straddling two sides of his jurisprudence. Remember, he's the guy who wrote the Obergefell decision, cleared the way for same-sex marriage nationwide. But, today, he gave a nod to religious freedom, religious concerns. He said the commissioners' hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.

So there you have it. He gives this victory. It's a narrow victory, but it's for the baker.

BLITZER: Ariane de Vogue, good explanation. Thank you very much.

Other news, diplomats are working around the clock right now preparing for that meeting between President Trump and the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. Ahead, why some say the Singapore summit may be more of a meet and greet.

Also ahead, former President Bill Clinton on the defensive right now. He says he doesn't owe Monica Lewinsky a personal apology.


[13:21:24] BLITZER: This just in to CNN. Former President George H.W. Bush has been released from the hospital. The 93-year-old, who's in Maine for the summer, was admitted to the hospital just over a week ago. A spokesman says the former president was suffering from low blood pressure and fatigue, but now he's back out of the hospital. We wish him, of course, only, only the very best.

And now to the high stakes summit between the United States and North Korea, just eight days away. And we're learning it will be less about deal making, more potentially about meeting and greeting.

And Kim Jong-un is quickly becoming the man many want to meet. The Kremlin says the North Korean leader has been invited to visit Russia in September, meet with President Putin. And North Korea's state news agency says Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, is planning to visit Pyongyang in North Korea.

This as there's word of a major shakeup in North Korea's military leadership. Three top military officials are out and younger Kim loyalists are now in.

To talk about that and more I'm joined by our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, you've been learning a lot about the preparations that are underway and the lowering of expectations.

MICHELLE KOSINKSI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think we started to see some signs of this last week. I mean it was less than a week ago the State Department told me that for a summit to be successful, the North Koreans are going to have to do something that they've never done before. And that between now and the summit they're going to have to spell out what they're willing to do. We're looking for some big gesture, something historic. Not words, but action.

And then less than 48 hours after that, the president was saying, oh, we're going to do this summit. But this is just the very beginning of what could be a long process. So it's pretty clear that whatever they were looking for so emphatically in those meetings before the summit was announced didn't quite happen.

And so now we're hearing from a source familiar with the discussions that it was pretty much only President Trump who thought maybe they could get some kind of unilateral concessions from North Korea. Pompeo's discussions, secretary of state, his discussions with the North Koreans proved that that wasn't going to happen. So now, when they do this summit, sure, they're going to be looking for maybe some broad agreement on denuclearization. And, remember, the North Koreans have been telling the South Koreans, they've been putting it in writing that they are committed to denuclearization, but it's known through intelligence sources that what they view as denuclearization is still quite a bit different it appears than what the U.S. sees.


KOSINSKI: So maybe they could get that. But as far as negotiating out the details of what denuclearization is really going to be, if it is to be eventually, that's going to be the State Department and a team they're assembling of North Korea experts. And those negotiations could take years, Wolf.

BLITZER: Years and years and years they say.

You saw Barbara Starr's report, our Pentagon reporter, over the weekend that the explosions at that nuclear test site in which the North Koreans invited international journalists to, may have been less there than meets the eye. That may have simply been for show, rather than a substantive destruction of some sort of nuclear capability.

KOSINSKI: Yes. And to many observers, no surprise there, that they didn't quite deliver what they said they were going to deliver. And, again, these intelligence reports that CNN has reported on showing that when North Korea -- when Kim Jong-un himself talks about denuclearization, really he still wants to hold on to some capability. And that is the opposite of what the U.S. wants. So there are a lot of indications that they're not exactly -- not anywhere near where the U.S. is on what they would like when we're talking denuclearization. So the summit is on, but what comes out of it, of course, is a big question mark.

[13:25:05] BLITZER: I'm curious to see if -- one thing potentially that could come out of it, some sort of diplomatic relationship between the United States and North Korea --


BLITZER: If they open up intersections in their representative capitals or if they have full diplomatic relations, an ambassador. We'll see what happens on that front.

Michelle, thank you very much.

KOSINSKI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, former President Bill Clinton says he does not owe Monica Lewinsky a personal apology. There was a heated interview. We'll have some details.

And eight states are holding primary elections tomorrow with California considered the biggest battleground. What will it take for the Democrats to deliver that so-called blue wave they desperately want in November? That and much more when we come back.


BLITZER: Former President Bill Clinton on the defensive today over how he handled his affair with then White House intern Monica Lewinsky 20 years ago. It was a scandal that led eventually to his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

[13:30:07] Here's his response in an interview earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I asked if you'd ever apologized, and you said you had.