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Mueller Wants Obstruction Questions Addressed in Person. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 2, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: He's been always been interested in testifying. We haven't stopped negotiating.
[05:59:07] REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: The special prosecutor has every right to subpoena him and get his testimony, whether he likes it or not.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: It's obstruction of justice. It's an instruction to Jeff Sessions that he should get rid of Bob Mueller.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's not an order. It's the president's opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seconds after take-off, impact.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it was happening, I really just felt like this -- this can't be true; this can't be true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a group effort by all of us to get out of there alive.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to be speaking to two of those passengers who survived that fiery plane crash. All of them survived. That's remarkable.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: The video, to keep watching it over and over again, is remarkable. Thank God they were close enough to the ground and there wasn't a lot near the airport. That's a key point.
CAMEROTA: That's true, but we're also going to have Mary Schiavo on to talk about tips for how to survive, things that you can actually do that are very practical that you can survive a plane crash.
All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, August 2, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Berman is off. David Gregory joins me.
GREGORY: And we've already been talking. There you -- this is really a show already in conversation. CAMEROTA: Fantastic. Here's our starting line.
The negotiations between Robert Mueller and team Trump continue. Sources tell CNN that the special counsel offered to reduce the number of questions about obstruction of justice, but in exchange, Robert Mueller wants the president to answer questions in person, not in written answers. "The New York Times" reports that the president is still pushing for a sit-down interview, though his lawyers advise against it, because the president believes he can convince Robert Mueller's investigators that their own investigation is a, quote, "witch hunt."
Plus, the White House and Trump's legal team are in clean-up mode after the president's tweet, calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation right now. Some lawmakers say that tweet is Exhibit A of obstruction of justice.
GREGORY: Can't you imagine the written back and forth. You know, "Here's my question." "Here's the answer." Then a couple of days later, "No, but what I wanted to know is this." In person is a lot more practical.
CAMEROTA: All right.
GREGORY: Meanwhile, the trial of Paul Manafort is moving quickly. We've been talking about it all week. So far nine witnesses have testified. Many of them say Manafort paid them millions of dollars for luxury items and services through international wire transfers from a shell corporation.
While the White House tries to distance the president from his former campaign chairman, Mr. Prump [SIC] -- Mr. Trump, rather, can't help himself. He's arguing now that Manafort is being treated worse than notorious mob boss Al Capone.
And what we've been talking about since the beginning of the broadcast. This is just video you have to see to believe. Passengers aboard that doomed Aeromexico flight capturing the moment that their plane crashes after take-off. We see their frantic efforts to get out alive. Miraculously, everyone did survive.
The woman who shot that video joins us on NEW DAY.
We're going to begin our coverage this morning, however, with CNN's Abby Phillip. She's live at the White House this morning.
Abby, good morning.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, David.
Obstruction of justice, that's increasingly becoming the sticking point in negotiations between the president's legal team and special counsel investigators. The president's own comments as late as yesterday contributing to these questions of obstruction of justice as he and his legal team increase their attacks on the special counsel. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GIULIANI: I'm not going to give you a lot of hope it's going to happen, but we're still negotiating.
PHILLIP (voice-over): The back and forth over a potential interview between President Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller resuming, with sources telling CNN that Mueller has offered to reduce the number of obstruction-related questions but is insisting they're answered in person.
The president's lawyers have previously offered to provide written answers to obstruction questions but are aiming to limit a sit-down interview to questions largely involving Russian interference in the election and potential collusion.
CAMEROTA: You're saying that one of your conditions is that he will not answer questions about obstruction of justice?
GIULIANI: It is not -- yes. But maybe if they could show us one or two there, we would consider.
CAMEROTA: One or two what?
GIULIANI: One or two questions that they really need.
CAMEROTA: You would consider it.
GIULIANI: We would consider it.
PHILLIP: Rudy Giuliani telling NEW DAY on Monday that the odds are against a sit-down interview, despite the president's eagerness to go through with it.
TRUMP: I have always wanted to do an interview because look, there's been no collusion.
GIULIANI: It's us, meaning a team of lawyers including me that have the most reservations about that.
PHILLIP: "The New York Times" reports that in recent days the president has pushed his lawyers to continue negotiating, because he, in effect, believes he can convince the investigators that their own inquiry is a witch hunt.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: It's time for this inquiry to come to an end.
PHILLIP: The president's anger over Mueller's probe boiling over on Wednesday after a source says he received updates from his legal team. Mr. Trump declaring that "Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop the Mueller investigation right now," despite the fact that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation last year.
NADLER: When someone tells a subordinate officer "You should do something," it normally is considered an instruction. This tweet itself is probably more evidence of an ongoing obstruction of justice.
PHILLIP: The tweet putting the White House and Mr. Trump's legal team in clean-up mode.
SANDERS: The president is not obstructing. He's fighting back.
GIULIANI: He expresses his opinions on Twitter. He used the word "should." He didn't use the word "must." And there was no presidential directive that followed it.
PHILLIP: That characterization at odds with this explanation of Mr. Trump's tweets last year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are President Trump's tweets considered official White House statements?
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president is the president of the United States, so they're considered official statements by the president of the United States.
PHILLIP: Later this afternoon President Trump is going to head to Pennsylvania for a campaign rally. He'll have another one in Ohio on Saturday. And aides are telling CNN that they are hoping to schedule more and more campaign rallies and one -- in an effort to keep President Trump in a little bit of a better mood amid all of the special counsel investigation.
The president also heading to Bedminster, New Jersey, for what amounts to a summer vacation for about a week. It's unclear whether the golf will help his mood or perhaps give him a little more -- a little bit more time to think -- David and Alisyn.
[06:05:02] CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much.
Joining us now is CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, and CNN legal analysts Laura Coates and Carrie Cordero. Great to see all of you.
Laura Coates, when Rudy Giuliani was on NEW DAY with us this week, he said that Robert Mueller had told him that September was his goal for wrapping up the investigation. We don't have that confirmed, but that's what Rudy Giuliani shared with us.
Are you seeing signs, given that it seems to be that the president's team and Robert Mueller's team are in sort of final stages of negotiations? Are you seeing signs that something is wrapping up?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm seeing signs that they're making an effort to do so, but the president's tweets is -- are counterproductive. Every single tweet that he makes about the investigation and that tend to look like obstruction or smell like obstruction in some way, shape or form, the investigation is prolonged based on that premise alone. Also, if there is a conversation that the president is having about
wanting to go ahead and speak with Robert Mueller and the special counsel team, and his attorneys are trying to massage away, to do so through a compromise of a combination of both written answers and follow-up questions while his obstinance somehow presents a hurdle to that very thing happening.
So if the president's attorney believes it's wrapping up, perhaps he should counsel his client to stop speaking so that it can.
GREGORY: Carrie, I'm curious about what's going through the president's head on these things. And this question of obstruction. Because, you know, to be, I don't know, more sympathetic to him, take the other side, he's railing against the investigation to Jeff Sessions, who he knows doesn't have the power to shut this thing down. So it really could just be seen as opinion.
And yet, we know repeatedly what his state of mind is. That he wants people to take action based on his opinions. Whether it was Jim Comey and how he treated Michael Flynn, or you know, when -- whether he sounded off to Comey on other occasions with the Russia investigation in his mind and what he did to Sessions yesterday. How do you see it?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is precisely why senior officials recuse from an investigation that they have an interest in. So he shouldn't be commenting. If this were a normal scenario with the president who respected the norms and traditions of the office, he wouldn't be commenting on the investigation at all.
But we know from the past year plus of activity with the president, that he wants the investigation to shut down, and so every time it appears publicly that he becomes agitated about the investigation he relays that information publicly.
With respect to the defense that his statements on Twitter are just his own opinion, that's really not correct as it relates to the presidency. A federal court has actually found, based on a case that the Night Institute of Columbia brought, that his Twitter account is a public forum, and the National Archives says that his Twitter statements should be retained as presidential records.
So these are statements of the president, but the attorney general is not going to act. Attorney General Sessions has accused himself rightly, and that just continues to anger the president, it would seem.
CAMEROTA: John, one of the most interesting parts of the reporting today -- and I think this was in "The New York Times" -- was that the president does still want to sit down with Mueller's investigators, because he wants to convince them of the folly of their own investigation. And he thinks that he can do that.
I mean, this is sort of what we've seen with the diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, with Putin that when you get into a room, and listen, the president is a charismatic person one on one in a room. He is a persuasive person one on one in a room. I've have that experience. There is a power that myself to his sort of personal touch one on one, tete-a-tete. So he thinks that if he can do that, he will convince them that they -- all of this has been a horrible mistake.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I appreciate the president's belief in his own powers of persuasion. I think it's unclear it's worked in the case of North Korea. And it's unlikely to work in the case of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Whatever fantasy scenario it is where the special counsel just comes out of the meeting and says, "You know what, folks? We give up." Ain't going to probably happen.
Yesterday's tweet is significant, though, to the extent that, first of all, Twitter does apply to great transparency. We know where the president's head is at.
Two, he knows that Mueller is looking at his tweets for evidence of obstruction.
Three, he knows that Sessions has already recused himself, which is a source of great frustration. So that order just digs himself in a deeper hole.
GREGORY: But it could also show that he is aware that he could rant to the attorney general, who has recused himself. So it's ranting.
CAMEROTA: Right. It doesn't matter.
GREGORY: As opposed to a directive. He can't direct Sessions to do it, because he's recused himself. The guy who can do it is Manafort. I mean, not Manafort. Rosenstein.
AVLON: It's Rosenstein.
CAMEROTA: It's all very complicated.
AVLON: I think you're applying a degree of strategy to his thinking that maybe is --
[06:10:02] GREGORY: But Laura, I still want to understand what -- what is the trigger for -- for obstruction, in all of these circumstances. We know that Mueller has been examining the tweets. He perhaps has another one now to look at, depending about how they -- how they view this.
I'm trying to get inside what is he looking at and what does he want to question the president about that advances his thinking about whether to say -- because he's not going to charge obstruction criminally -- but he could put it in a report to Congress saying that he would, if he were ever to bring him to -- to trial.
COATES: Well, what they're looking for is evidence of what's called corrupt intent, meaning what you were saying and what you were intending was some nefarious means. They were trying to influence, intimidate or impeded or undermine an investigation that we all know is ongoing. You don't normally have that exact intent statement that says "I
intended to influence, impede, undermine an investigation.
What you do have are contextual clues and a pattern of behavior that serves as circumstantial evidence of the underlying crime and your intent.
And so what they're trying to gather if from his statements to Lester Holt on NBC, so many months ago, up until his tweet just yesterday about what A.G. Jeff Sessions should or should not do.
They're trying to gather those contextual clues and understand, maybe to his benefit or perhaps to his detriment, what it is he intended specifically.
But remember, if you're the person being investigated, you're the person being questioned, what you don't want to get into is a semantics argument that says, "No, no, no. When I said 'should,' I didn't mean 'shall'."
In many ways, we're back to 1998 when you had President Bill Clinton. It depends on a definition of what "is" is. This is not territory he wants to be in if he wants to remain ahead of the game from --
GREGORY: He has the ability to fire these people himself. He doesn't need "should" or "shall" anybody. He can do it himself.
AVLON: Except Jeff Sessions, right? And he knows the political thicket it will create.
AVLON: The 1998 parallels are striking, right? Not only because we are back in a semantic game, it's clearly just clean-up, by the way. You know, if you ever worked in government or any large organization, the principle goes off the reservation, everybody else does a facepalm and tries to figure out how to fix it. That's what's going on here.
But the second thing is, you know, even in 1998, because the thing hanging out there is the threat of subpoena by Mueller. Now where you stand is often a matter of where you sit. But that threat is hanging out over there as they negotiate over the details.
CAMEROTA: Carrie, when Rudy Giuliani was on with us, and we appreciated how much information he gave when he came on NEW DAY, because what he told us when he sat down with us on Monday was that they had sent their latest round of negotiations in a letter to Robert Mueller, saying he said that it had been ten days since Mueller's team had responded, and he was quite annoyed that it was taking them so long. And he felt that that meant the negotiations were breaking down.
Well, he's now saying that after that, Mueller's team did respond, and he talked about that yesterday when he was in Portsmouth. So perhaps we have Rudy Giuliani again opening up sort of, you know, the curtain on how these negotiations are going. So listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: We believe that the investigation should be brought to a close. We think they're at the end of it. They should render their report. Put up, I mean, I guess if we were playing poker, put up or shut up. What do you got? We have every reason to believe they don't have anything. The president didn't do anything wrong. Nor do they have any evidence he did anything wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So, they have not stopped negotiating, he says, and in fact, they are in the process of responding to the special counsel's proposal that, "Yes, we'll limit the number of questions for obstruction, but he has to sit down."
CORDERO: Well, first of all, it's a little unclear whether, when Rudy Giuliani says that he's looking for it to wrap up, whether they're talking about just the obstruction piece of the investigation, as it relates only to perhaps the president, or some other individuals in his circle, but really, the president or whether they're talking about the broader investigation that the special counsel is conducting into Russian influence in the election.
If they're only talking about the obstruction piece, then -- then his interview is a critical point, because as Laura described, intent is such a key element of the obstruction. And that's why written answers would not be sufficient, because those would be written by the lawyers and would not give the investigators a chance to observe the president's statements and reactions in person.
GREGORY: That's what's striking is, that what's increasingly true that Rudy Giuliani is talking about is specifically the president's actions here as president in terms of how the investigation is conducted, whether it's shut down but also what knowledge or role he might have played in potential collusion.
So that -- that's a question. We'll keep talking about that as the morning wears on.
Thank you all very much. More to come on this.
Prosecutors, meantime, making their case against Paul Manafort. Witness after witness laying out Manafort's lavish lifestyle and how he paid for it. Why is that important to the case? Details coming up, next.
[06:18:44] GREGORY: To the Manafort trial we go. Prosecutor plan to question Paul Manafort's bookkeepers and accountants when his trial resumes today in Virginia.
Wednesday, prosecutors focused on the former Trump campaign chairman's lavish lifestyle again and how he paid for it.
Joining us here again now are senior -- whatever he is, John Avlon.
GREGORY: John Avlon. CNN legal analysts Laura Coates and Carrie Cordero.
Carrie, can you just remind people again why there's such a focus on the lavish lifestyle? And why you think Judge Ellis in the federal courtroom in Northern Virginia is pushing back against prosecutors, saying, "Look, we don't prosecute and convict people based on blowing a lot of money."
CORDERO: Great question, David. Because that did get so much attention after the first couple days of the trial.
The reason there's a focus on the lavish lifestyle and all the really, really expensive things that Paul Manafort bought is because he is alleged to have bought those things with money that he should have been paying taxes on.
So he earned millions of dollars, and then, instead of paying taxes, federal taxes, he shoved that money into other places, including foreign accounts, but also including real estate and a lot of stuff.
CAMEROTA: And --
[06:20:00] AVLON: The added degree of weirdness, obviously, isn't just spending almost a million dollars on suits or rugs, but the fact that his suit-maker kept saying, you know, "I kept getting paid through foreign shell corporations," which is not normally how humans pay for things. A tell.
CAMEROTA: And yet -- so we know all of this, and we're talking about all of it, but Laura, and yet the judge wouldn't let them show photos, I think -- correct me if I'm wrong -- of the ostrich coat. Where is the fun in that?
COATES: First of all, we all want to see that coat. I'm trying to picture the ostrich skin coat. Is it the feather. Is it -- I don't know what he had on. So I would like to see that. But the judge did not want -- oh, there it is -- wait a minute.
AVLON: That's not ostrich, people.
CAMEROTA: Wait a minute.
AVLON: There we go.
CAMEROTA: This is not -- there it is.
GREGORY: Not your run of the mill --
CAMEROTA: Come on, this is why we need it to be --
AVLON: That's the ostrich coat.
CAMEROTA: That's the ostrich coat. Really?
GREGORY: If it's not, it should be.
AVLON: Maybe snakeskin, people.
COATES: Although I will see that reminds me of a Members Only jacket. You could probably get it for less than $15,000.
CAMEROTA: Oh, my -- ouch. Ouch!
COATES: I'm not going to judge. I'm not going to judge the fashion sense about it. But I will say, the reason the judge won't let people look into that issue so wholeheartedly is because the crime is not whether you are a frivolous spender. That's beside the point. M any people live beyond their means.
The question is whether you told Uncle Sam what your means are accurately.
COATES: And whether or not you had to pay. And of course, in the area of the country that he is being prosecuted is an area called Alexandria, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C. Not the poorest of areas you could find in America.
So the idea that somebody may have made expenditures that are outside what the normal, quote, unquote, "American" would have made is not the point. The question is whether or not this person felt that they didn't have to pay taxes the same way that everybody else had to do so.
And so the court is very, very concerned about this being an issue, which is raking him over the coals for being rich, when the focus should, justifiably, be on either you told Uncle Sam what you were actually making or you did not. That's why the document-heavy case is often an easier case to prove.
GREGORY: And yet we're also learning from prosecutors that Rick Gates, who is cooperating with the government and providing a lot of material that they're using, a lot of evidence against Paul Manafort, may not actually take the stand. And we know because the defense has made it very clear that they're going to go after Rick Gates so they may not put him on the stand to be subject to all of that, because they've great documents that they want to use, John, and may not need to subject Gates to that.
AVLON: Yes. It's a fascinating move. It took Judge Ellis by surprise, said, "That was news to me." And it appeared also to possibly be in reaction to what was the defense's theory that -- theory of the case, which is that, look, Manafort was terribly taken advantage of by his deputy. This is really a Gates problem. He'll say anything to save his skin.
So whether or not the prosecution's reluctant to put their star witness on in reaction to that strategy or whether they simply feel they don't need to is sort of, you know -- we'll find out. The judge was very surprised by that, as were a lot of observers in the courtroom.
CAMEROTA: Me, too, Carrie. So what do you think? I mean, with not having your star witness on the stand, what's -- how does that make sense to you?
CORDERO: Well, Gate, he was listed as a potential witness. And so my understanding is the prosecutor said that they're not required to put him on. It's hard to tell whether or not they legitimately are leaning towards not putting him on the stand, or whether the prosecutor just sort of put that out there to keep the defense on their heels a little bit, since in the defense's opening statement they went so heavy against Gates.
So it's hard to tell if this is more substance or a little bit of strategy, as well. But I agree that the case itself is really a documents case. And so while the witnesses provide context and provide explanation, and we'll probably provide a lot of color to the trial. The real meat of it is in the documents themselves.
GREGORY: Right. Because it could be just strategy, but part of that strategy could be why, if you're the government, do you want this to become for the jurors Manafort versus Gates? It should just be Manafort versus the evidence against him.
CORDERO: And that's exactly right, David, because remember, the timing of this is so important.
The only reason that the prosecutor made that statement is because the judge told him that, in the court of an interview of a witness, that this is unnecessary if you're going to call Gates, trying to derail his opportunity to question one of his witnesses.
So in response, he said, "Well, we may call that person, or we may not, but I want to have the opportunity to develop that case fully for that very reason." They don't want it to be a simple "he said, he said, when credibility may be an issue, whether or not the minion betrayed the leader or vice versa in some way. And so the timing of this response is what needs to be focused on. He has every right as a prosecutor to develop his case and not hang his hat on one hook.
CAMEROTA: John, let's also talk about Paul Manafort and why he worked for the Trump campaign in the first place.
CAMEROTA: Because Donald Trump is now saying, "Hey, he worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for President Bush. Why am I the one getting heat?"
But correct me if I'm wrong in terms of the chronology. It was after that that Paul Manafort is accusing of doing some of these things and bank -- I mean, acquiring some of this gold mine.
[06:25:07] AVLON: When his company was called the torture lobby was in the late '80s, early '90s, before the Dole campaign but after he really made his name working for the Ford campaign in '76 and really helping marshal those delegates, which is what he was known for.
He was brought on the Trump Co. will now tell you, look, four months, it's nothing. In the context of a presidential campaign as chairman, that's actually a lie. The average presidential campaign is going to be 18 months if you win the nomination.
So this was a powerful position. It was widely known that he had shady business dealings. That was part of his, frankly, appeal. The reference is presumably partly Roger Stone, not exactly paragon of virtue. You know, that's understandable.
CAMEROTA: Isn't it interesting, John. So they could have, with a Google search or just through knowing people --
CAMEROTA: -- have known that he had this reputation. But on the flip side, isn't it interesting that Paul Manafort took such a high-profile position. I mean, the hubris that is required if you think that something might be revealed in your past to take on the most high- profile political position in the country, you must feel very secure that none of this will ever be unearthed.
AVLON: I think hubris is the coin of the realm here, people. I mean, this is what makes people feel they are invincible. There is a lack of self-awareness, if you're constantly living in a reality distortion field.
What I think is significant from here, knowing what we know now and they didn't know then is that -- this is worth just focusing on. Sixty million dollars that he's alleged to have gotten, and didn't pay taxes on, largely came from a Ukrainian candidate who was backed by Putin.
So this was, you know, ultimately probably Russian money filtered through a Ukrainian presidential candidate. That is one of the reasons it's resonant. This is not simply torture lobby stuff, but he was known to have a complicated and compromised past well before he became campaign chairman.
CAMEROTA: OK. Carrie, Laura John, thank you very much. You have to see this. Passengers on this flight captured the very moment when their plane crashed. OK? After you see this, you won't believe that every single person got out alive, but they did. And we're going to be getting some tips for how to survive, next.