Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Special Counsel Appointed in U.S.-Russia Probe; Putin Defends Trump, Denies He Shared Classified Info; Justice Department Names Special Counsel in Russia Investigation. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


[23:59:57] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thank you. It's the end of the broadcast.

Thank you both. Thank you -- Adam. Thank you -- Alice. I appreciate it.

That's it for us tonight. Thank you so much for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow night, everyone.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to NEWSROOM L.A. I'm Isha Sesay.

We are continuing our breaking news coverage of the rapidly changing developments in the White House political crisis. The "New York Times" is now reporting Michael Flynn told President Donald Trump's transition team he was under investigation for secretly taking paid work as a lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. Despite this, Mr. Trump still appointed Flynn his national security adviser.

And in another bombshell, the Justice Department has appointed an independent special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

Pamela Brown has all the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: In a significant move, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has now handed the reins of the Russia probe to former FBI director Bob Mueller.

In a statement, Rosenstein said he thought it was important in the public interest. And he said that the fact that he is doing this is no indication a crime has been committed. But of course, this comes on the heels of the revelation that the former FBI director James Comey had a discussion with President Trump and documented it in a memo where he alleged Trump asked him to essentially end the probe into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.

Now it's unclear how much that factored into Rod Rosenstein's decision. We can tell you shortly after Comey's firing, according to sources, Rosenstein started considering a special counsel. But last Friday, he was telling people close to him he did not think it was necessary. Clearly, something changed. So it raises the questions whether the revelation of the memo changed the calculus for him in terms of appointing a special counsel.

Now for Bob Mueller, he will oversee this investigation. He will have the same authorities as an attorney general. He can convene a grand jury. He can issue subpoenas. He can even interview the President.

Pamela Brown, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, joining me now, attorney Randol Schoenberg, former FBI special agent Bobby Chacon, Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican strategist and talk radio host Andrea Kaye -- another night, another full house. Welcome to you all.

Randol -- let me start with you, the legal mind here. Let me read part of the deputy attorney general's statement. Let's put it up on screen for our viewers. "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

Randol -- CNN is now learning from a source that Rod Rosenstein had not read the Comey memo as of last night. So what is it that got him to this point? What do you think?

RANDOL SCHOENBERG, ATTORNEY: My thinking already last week was that this was in the works. Rosenstein, if you see how it played out with the firing of James Comey, he had to know that this was going to be the next step.

And I think a lot of people were very critical of him, but I think too soon. He needed a few days at least to mull things over, to consider them and prepare this next step. He obviously had to speak with Bob Mueller before announcing that Mueller was going to be appointed the special counsel.

So that must have taken place over the last several days. And I think this was Rosenstein's plan from the very beginning. That's my guess.

SESAY: All right. Andrea -- to you, on Monday, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about a special prosecutor. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is, frankly, no need for a special prosecutor. We've discussed this before. You have two Senate committees that are looking into this. The FBI is conducting their own review. And I think if you even look at what acting director McCabe said last week, he made it very clear that they have the resources that they need and that the work continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Ok that was Sean Spicer on Monday.

Now there is a special counsel that has been appointed. The President responds in a statement. Let's share that with our viewers before you respond. This is what the President said. "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."

What is your sense of the legal and political stake for this White House?

ANDREA KAYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the stakes are huge because I think what this is about, this is about an attempt to undermine a free and fairly elected president of the United States.

You know, what a difference a party makes. A year ago we had a clandestine meeting of an attorney general with the husband, a former president of the wife of someone that she was investigating, and there was no call for a special prosecutor at that point. And then James Comey turns right around assumes the role of attorney general, says that no prosecutor would prosecute crimes that were actually uncovered. And yet still no special prosecutor.

[00:05:07] Here there has been no crime that Donald Trump has been accused of. And in fact I'm glad we might actually, with Comey out of the way, have a real investigation because I would like to know.

And it has not been explained to me what the probable cause was that justified a sitting Democrat president to have his administration or anybody in it investigate an opposition party candidate and his team.

Furthermore, what evidence is there that there was any collusion with Donald Trump? What evidence is there that we even know that there was Russian hacking?

SESAY: I think that's what they're trying to find out -- right. That is what they're trying to find out.

KAYE: Yes, but you know what -- but aren't we supposed to have a special prosecutor on the heels of finding out that there has been a crime and investigating a crime first? That hasn't happened here.

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think going back to your initial question -- Sean Spicer has not only lost complete credibility, but he is totally incompetent. I mean the fact that the White House is openly contemplating hiring a different press secretary, and also in conjunction with that, overhauling the entire White House staff as reported by the "New York Times", Politico, CNN -- I think all underscores the fact that the President has lost complete confidence in Sean Spicer and the entire communications apparatus of the White House and his senior staff.

But I think this underscores the broad turmoil that you're seeing within the White House, the ongoing disarray, the confusion, the chaos. And it's reflective of what we saw in the Trump campaign.

SESAY: I do want to play, Bobby Chacon, I haven't forgotten that you're here -- but I do want to play a sound from the President. He gave a commencement speech on Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy hours before the announcement that Robert Mueller had been appointed. Take a listen. This is clearly a President that was bristling from all the controversies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.

Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. I guess that's why I win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Bobby Chacon -- to you, that's a defiant president there saying fight, fight, fight. But he is in a big fight now that there is a special counsel that has been appointed. What do you make of the fact that the White House was not even told this was happening until the order was signed by Rod Rosenstein?

BOBBY CHACON, FORMER FBI AGENT: I think that's a result of the way things have played out, you know, in the past. The abrupt firing of Director Comey, I think, took everybody by surprise. It certainly took the Deputy AG by surprise, especially when the White House used his memo as justification and we all know how upset he was about that.

So I think he -- you know, I don't think he wanted to give them or to give the White House any chance to interfere with this process and any opportunity to start factoring on things and to try to prevent him from doing it.

And so I think it's a direct outgrowth of the way that the White House summarily dispatched Director Comey without really consulting the Deputy AG, even though the Deputy AG wrote that scathing memo but then walked that back a bit, you know, when the White House started to use it as justification for Comey's firing.

SESAY: All right. Randol -- to go to you, I want to pick up on what Andrea said right at the beginning. Andrea seemed to be saying that there is an element of impropriety here in the appointment of a special counsel in this sequence before it's been determined that something of a criminal nature had gone down and here we have a special counsel.

Give us your perspective on that? Respond to Andrea.

SCHOENBERG: Well, I think Rosenstein was concerned with a lot more than just speculation. We have to remember that in July of last year, during the campaign, it was candidate Trump who called on the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. They ultimately did that with her campaign manager John Podesta and released those e-mails later.

There are no fewer than four senior Trump advisers from the campaign who it's pretty clear had significant Russian ties that includes Flynn, Manafort, his campaign manager Roger Stone and Carter Page. All four of those have been really very, very accurately I think accused of having improper ties and done improper things.

For example, Michael Flynn, the national security adviser before he became national security adviser, had a conversation with the Russian ambassador where they talked about lifting sanctions. That really is what has led to his firing in February. And so I think there is a lot more than just smoke here. There is real fire with regard to those Trump aides.

What we don't know yet is how involved Donald Trump was in any of those contacts. And we still need an investigation now into whether Trump attempted to cover up anything that his advisers had done.

[00:10:01] And the revelation in just I think it's the last 24 hours of Director Comey's memos of conversations with Donald Trump where he tried to get the director of the FBI to lay off his friend Michael Flynn, even after Flynn had been terminated. Those raised a lot of questions that I think Mueller is going to have to investigate. And we'll see where that investigation leads.

SESAY: All right, Andrea.

KAYE: Yes.

SESAY: This is a statement from the Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Listen to what he had to say in the statement. Let me read that.

"The decision by the deputy attorney general to appoint former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel confirms that the investigation into Russian intervention into our election will continue as stated last week by acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will also continue its investigation into this matter."

We talked about the White House perspective on this. But let's talk about Capitol Hill and the Republicans. I mean before the appointment of Mueller, this was not something they wanted to entertain. They did not want to be talking about a special counsel or independent commission. And here we are.

KAYE: Yes, here we are. And I feel like what they have done is they've kowtowed. What Rosenstein did with appointing the special counsel in my opinion has basically been a worn-down mother at the checkout line who gave her kid a candy bar because he was throwing a temper tantrum.

You know, let's talk about this Comey memo. Is the ink dried on that yet? Did he write this memo after May 3rd when he went under oath and said that he had not been pressured in any way by the Trump administration regarding the investigation -- something that he confirmed to Chairman Burr the day before he was fired?

In the words of the great Judge Judy, don't come into my courtroom with dirty hands. Comey has dirty hands involving this investigation.

SESAY: The Comey memo, according to sources that have spoken to CNN, the Comey memo was known by people close to him after he had his encounter with the President. People knew about it. He talked to people about it.

KAYE: Then why did he deny it?

SCHOENGBERG: He's also got a history of methodically writing notes.

SESAY: -- of keeping these contemporaneous --

KAYE: Well then, why doesn't he come forward with his memos other conversations like with Loretta Lynch after the tarmac? This memo is -- and if he believed that Donald Trump had tried to obstruct justice with him back in February, why did he hold on to it? Why did he bury it? Why did he wait until after he was fired?

SESAY: And that is a legitimate question.

JACOBSON: Yes, I think those are totally legitimate questions that need to be answered. But look, at the end of the day, increasingly you're seeing a wave of Republican senators and House members. You've got John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, a number of other senators -- you've got Steve Knight, Tom McClintock, Darrell Issa and California house members, all of which supported Donald Trump, by the way, in the general election. All of those folks increasingly supported an outside independent prosecutor.

SESAY: They were in the minority, right. They were in small numbers.

JACOBSON: They were in the minority but now you've got four congressional investigations where you have the intelligence committees and the Senate and the House, you've got the judiciary committee in the Senate, the House oversight committee which, by the way, Jason Chaffetz who chairs that committee from Utah said that he is willing to if he needs to subpoena the FBI to get those notes.

He wants to see them, he wants to put a bright spotlight on those because you raise some legitimate questions that need to be answered. But all of which I think is only the beginnings of what we need to do.

We also need an independent outside commission similar to what we saw with the 9/11 commission to look at the scope of this.

KAYE: Based upon what? I mean what is the actual crime?

SESAY: Obviously the Attorney General feels that there is not enough here and it warrants appointing a special counsel and that has been done.

Let me put up Chuck Schumer's statement. Chuck Schumer of course, the minority leader for the Democrats in the Senate. This is what he said. "Former director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job. And I have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."

I guess this is my question to both of you -- Andrea and Dave. Andrea -- I hear your exasperation. But doesn't it just come down to following the facts to wherever they lead?

KAYE: Absolutely. And that's really what makes me exacerbated -- exasperated because I'm not seeing that. I'm hearing things like this Comey memo being put forward as fact as though it's absolutely fact that Donald Trump tried to obstruct this investigation when we have the acting FBI director say that that's not true.

When we have under oath, Comey himself said that was not true. That he had not been pressured in any way by Donald Trump or anybody in the Trump administration. And I'm saying as well as most Republicans are saying if we want to have an investigation, let's do a proper Russia interference investigation --

SESAY: Does this not meet your standards? This special counsel is this not good enough for you?

KAYE: Well, it's not even about the appointment of a special counsel that concerns me. It's the fact that I find out that the FBI was not the ones who actually reviewed the DNC servers to find out whether or not Russia hacked it. It was some handpicked company called Crowd Strike.

SESAY: Well then --

KAYE: It wasn't even our own investigation so I'm saying let's have an investigation but let's have it be properly done. Maybe with Comey out of the way it might happen.

SESAY: Dave?

JACOBSON: Here is a key element that is not being discussed here. Donald Trump fired Jim Comey a week ago essentially, or eight days ago. But one thing that he did just days later on an interview on NBC with Lester Holt is he said that Russia was on my mind when I fired the FBI director. So it raises real questions of obstruction of justice.

Now we need to hear from the President for sure, no doubt about that. But it does raise the questions.

SESAY: Randol -- Andrea, of course, to you. Let's talk about that. You know all these different elements. The firing of Comey, the fact that the President said to Lester Holt I had this Russia thing on my mind, the fact that we now have this memo.

[00:15:00] I mean, talk to us about from where you sit, your perspective on the mandate for Mueller and the scope here. Because the thing about these special counsels and these investigations are that they can become something else. They could grow into something else. Correct? SCHOENBERG: Well, that's what's really unclear right now -- it's a

great question -- because Rod Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general. Ordinarily it's the attorney general who would appoint a special counsel. Now why did Rod Rosenstein do it? Because the Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself, because he was on the Trump campaign, from anything to do with the Russian investigation.

So if you look at the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's letter today announcing the appointment of a special counsel, he is very careful to stay within the lines.

In other words, he only gives Mueller authority to investigate Russian interference with the election, exactly what Jeff Sessions has recused himself on and anything related to that, but nothing more.

And the question will be will Mueller now request other authority to go into other items? For example, there are allegations coming out today about the Trump campaign knowing about Flynn's involvement with Turkey before he was appointed as national security adviser.

Those things arguably come outside of the Russia investigation, but are so integrally related to that investigation that they might then be folded into what Mueller is looking into.

So we're going to just have to see how far Mueller will take this.

SESAY: All right. All of you stay with me. This conversation continues.

We're going to take a very quick break -- especially you, Andrea. We're going to take a very quick break. More on our breaking news. We're going to be right back with the panel and more on the special counsel appointed to investigate the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And later, a presidential historian lays out his case for impeaching President Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Welcome back, everyone to our breaking news.

Former FBI chief Robert Mueller will now lead the investigation into whether Donald Trump's campaign had any ties to Russia. Mueller began serving as FBI director a week before the 9/11 attack in 2001. He led the agency until 2013. He is the second longest serving FBI director in history. Mueller is also a former marine, decorated for his service in Vietnam.

You'll be pleased to know that my rowdy panel is still with me. Attorney Randol Schoenberg, former FBI special agent Bobby Chacon, Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican strategist and talk radio host Andrea Kaye. Thank you for staying with me.

And Bobby Chacon -- let me start with you. What does the appointment of Robert Mueller mean for the ongoing FBI investigation? Does he come in and start everything from scratch?

CHACON: No, not at all. I think it will bring a refocus and a revitalization I think to that room, the investigators.

[00:20:02] No, this investigation has been going on for some time. And it's being conducted by people with a lot of experience in Russian matters.

First thing he is going to do is sit in that room and say basically, what do we got? He is going to say let's put up on the board a list of all the violations, potential violations that we're looking at and tell me who we think committed them and what evidence we have that leads us in that direction.

Now that scope can expand or contract depending on how the evidence comes in. You know, I know it's frustrating that we don't have any information that this happened or that happened. But that's the way these investigations are supposed to be conducted.

This investigation has been covered far too much in the public eye. And I hope we don't hear anything from these people for months because that's the way an investigation goes.

You have to do it in secrecy. That's how you get witnesses to cooperate. That's how you get people comfortable enough to talk to you. You need, you cannot politicize this investigation. You cannot do it in the public.

They know a world lot more than we know. They may have certain evidence that we don't know, and that's way should it be.

SESAY: All right. Randol -- to ask you, you heard what Bobby said there, that this investigation should be conducted in private. The expectation is with the special counsel that that is the case, that everything is held and that there will be no leaks.

That being said, if at the end of it, Robert Mueller decides that there are no charges to be brought here, no prosecutions to follow through, is there a chance we could never discover what he uncovered throughout all of this?

SCHOENBERG: Well, I think there is a possibility. But we're going to have, I agree, not as much information leaking out about this investigation with Robert Mueller involved. But there may be some clues.

So as I understand it, within 60 days, he has to request funding for his special counsel office and staffing. We may find out about that. We may get a little bit of a clue as to how many people are going to be involved and how much resources he is requesting.

At the end, if there is an end of his investigation, he does submit a report to the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General in this case. And it will be up to the Deputy Attorney General how much of that report gets released. One interesting aspect of this is this, as I understand it, is not only a criminal investigation, it's a counterterrorism terrorism -- or counter espionage investigation, counterintelligence. We're trying to determine how the Russians may have interfered with our election.

That may not result in prosecutions because the people responsible may be outside of the jurisdiction of the United States. That -- I think that Mr. Mueller's report could certainly go into that aspect of it, even if it doesn't result in prosecution. We may find out about those elements of the report because that is also one of the purposes of this investigation.

SESAY: Yes. Andrea, let me read you the statement from Speaker Paul Ryan. Let's put it up on the screen. "My priority has been to ensure thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts where ever they may lead. That is what we have been doing here in the House. The addition of Robert Mueller as special counsel is consistent with this goal, and I welcome his role at the Department of Justice. The important ongoing bipartisan investigation in the House will also continue."

The speaker welcoming the appointment of Mueller there -- Andrea. But the question that many people have been contemplating, at least many media watchers is GOP support for the President cracking? Is this the moment with this appointment of Mueller?

KAYE: No. And in fact, what I hear from my Republican friends within the media and outside is that they're not concerned at all that Trump has committed any crimes because there hasn't been any proof of that. What they're concerned of is that the investigations so far have been one-sided. It's been like a witch-hunt.

Getting back -- for example, the Lester Holt interview that Donald Trump did, what he was referring to there is we had an FBI director with the only crimes that we know have been committed so far were illegal leaks that have come out. And Comey refused to acknowledge that there was an investigation into that.

So if we are going have, and I agree with Paul Ryan, let's have an actual fact-based investigation which means let's subpoena the DNC who refused to let the FBI look at their servers and handpicked, I was talking about this earlier, handpicked a company out of the Ukraine with well-known hatred for Putin who actually had to backtrack already another allegation that they made for Russian hacking.

Let's get to some actual facts on all elements all around. My Republican friends are saying that's really what is needed here. And getting Comey out of the way might make that happen.

JACOBSON: Look, I think going back to your original question. This was a clear line in the sand moment between Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. It was a reflection of what we saw in the campaign where Donald Trump would say something extraordinarily outrageous and Paul Ryan would respond.

This was an endorsement of an outside special prosecutor. And I think it really fans the flames between the ongoing warfare, civil war between Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump.

[00:25:00] They've been doing his bidding because, you know, at a certain level you've got some political capital as a new president. But increasingly I think you're going see his legislative agenda come to a grinding halt.

And moreover, let's not forget he has had one legislative victory that he barely was able to get through the House, the repeal and replace of Obamacare, something that Republicans have campaigned on for eight plus years, right. And so I think this underscores more of sort of what we're going to see in the future.

The Senate hasn't even taken up -- you've got this 13-person senate working group in the Senate that is supposed to create their own health care bill essentially. That hasn't even gotten started because Senators are responding to the continued turmoil in the White House.

SESAY: Yes. Andrea -- just in response to what you said, there are all these investigations taking place on Capitol Hill that are led by Republicans, because Republicans control Congress. So the notion that this is all kind of spun by a Democratic web doesn't really stick I think.

KAYE: Well, it kind of does and let me tell you why. Because Trump's support, you've got to remember that Trump was picked by the voters out of 16 or 17 GOP establishment because the Republican base was really disheartened and felt betrayed by the Republican establishment which includes Paul Ryan.

So there have been many in the Republican Party that have felt as though there's two opposition parties when he took office. And they've been very unhappy with many of those within the GOP establishment and feel as though with the appointment of a special counsel and Rosenstein doing that is it again kowtowing to the left which is what the Republican Party to have done for years now. They give bullied by the left and they kowtow to it.

SESAY: All right. Andrea -- You'll be back for round two. Yes, you will.

Andrea and Dave, Bobby Chacon and Randol Schoenberg -- we've got to leave there it. But I know you'll be back with me next hour. So the conversation will go on.

And Bobby -- in that next hour I want to ask you whether this does restore the credibility of the FBI and DOJ. To be continued.

Still to come, Vladimir Putin offers to share transcripts of President Trump's meeting with Russia's foreign minister. Is the Russian president having the last laugh at a White House in crisis?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF Russia (through translator): Incidentally, I had a talk with Lavrov this morning and had to rebuke him, had to give him a telling off that he didn't share the secret with us; neither with me nor the Russian special services.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

The U.S. Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to pursue an independent probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Former FBI director Robert Mueller will lead that investigation. He will have broad authority to prosecute should he find evidence of federal crimes. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed the order, writing that it is necessary for public trust.

Meanwhile, the "New York Times" is reporting that the Trump transition team knew that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was under federal investigation when they hired him. He was being scrutinized for his secret paid work as a lobbyist for Turkey. Well, Flynn was later dismissed for lying about his contact with Russian officials to Vice President Mike Pence, who notably led the Trump transition team.

Well, Vladimir Putin is coming to President Trump's defense. Russia's president denies that Mr. Trump shared highly classified intel with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and says he is happy to provide a transcript to prove it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[00:30:10] VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We see that a political schizophrenia is developing in the U.S. around this. And I can't find any other explanation for the president supposedly revealing some kind of secret to Lavrov.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Well, joining me now is Robert English. He is the director of University of Southern California School of International Relations.

Robert, good to see you again.

(LAUGHTER)

So you've been here a lot in the days ahead. It does feel like a remarkable moment, to me, when you have the president of Russia coming to the aid of the president of the United States who finds himself in a bit of a jam. I mean, what do you make of it?

ROBERT ENGLISH, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: I'm not sure he is really coming to his aid.

SESAY: No, well --

ENGLISH: I mean, he was enjoying a moment of levity. But I think he is probably scratching his head as much as we all are over this entire imbroglio. But support from Putin is the last thing, at least open friendly support that Donald Trump needs right now with all the suspicions that he is in Putin's pocket. So that was just a joke for the domestic audience.

SESAY: Yes, indeed. I mean, as the point has been made, any record Putin has of the exchange from the Oval Office could hardly be trusted.

ENGLISH: You know, as a historian, I can't help but keep remembering previous incidents. And we're seeing all the foibles of the cold war repeated in about a month under Trump, including a famous case from the 1970s when in fact the Russians, the soviets at that time in arms negotiations came to our diplomats and said can you please share some intelligence with us, because our own military will not tell us about our own missiles.

Therefore, we're not qualified to engage in the discussions. You know from your spies, from your intelligence, can you please help us out? And we did. So there has been all kinds of strange intelligence sharing, both witting and unwitting in the past.

SESAY: You mentioned that Putin's comments were likely for domestic enjoyment. What is he gaining from this moment? I mean, how much of a boon is it to him domestically?

ENGLISH: Not much right now. I mean, the Russians of course were not happy with the prospect of Hillary Clinton, who has been so tough and had very poor relations with Putin. Then they were of course excited at the prospect of Donald Trump and maybe a sharp improvement in relations. That's all been dashed.

And even though Trump is president, he is crippled in every respect, particularly on foreign policy making. So they're just sort of waiting out the storm. And perhaps they join us in relief that we'll finally have an objective investigation and we can replace speculation and rumor with objective facts. And wherever the chips fall, they will finally fall. And we can go forward. Because up until now, we've been paralyzed.

SESAY: Yes. If you are President Putin, and you're watching this U.S. president embroiled in one crisis after another, as it has been for the last couple of days, is this a moment for you to take advantage of the fact that America has its attention turned elsewhere?

And if so, what are you doing in this moment when America and American president isn't really paying attention?

ENGLISH: Under normal circumstances, if your chief adversary were distracted, you might be tempted to see what you could snatch, what advantage you could gain. But with Donald Trump, I think they're afraid to. I mean, he did fire off impulsively some cruise missiles. He has issued various threats. And they don't know when he might again lash out in anger impulsively. So I think that in fact they will not try to exploit the situation and do something precipitous. Of all times now, it's just too dangerous and unpredictable. SESAY: Fascinating insight. Robert English, we appreciate it. Thank you.

All right. Coming up after the break, a constitutional scholar explains why the appointment of a special prosecutor could be good news for the Trump White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:36:15] SESAY: Our breaking news tonight, the U.S. Justice Department has named a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Many lawmakers, mainly Democrats, have been calling for outside help. And now they will get it. But at least one congressman says he is already had enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GREEN, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT: This is about what I believe. And this is where I stand. I will not be moved. The president must be impeached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: So what exactly is impeachment? How does it work? Well, Article II of the U.S. constitution provides a removal of the president from office on, quote, "on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Then it's up to Congress, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach the president with a simple majority vote. The process then moves to the Senate, where a trial is held with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. It takes a 2/3 vote by the Senate to convict the president. And if convicted, the president is removed from office and the vice president is put in power.

So where do we stand with President Donald Trump? Do his actions or accusations against him rise to the level of impeachment?

With the answers, I'm hoping, I'm joined by Allan Lichtman, legal presidential historian and author of the book "The Case for Impeachment."

Allan, thank you so much for joining us.

ALLAN LICHTMAN, LEGAL PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Sure.

SESAY: You have said that the proper constitutional remedy to the issues at hand is not a special prosecutor but rather an impeachment investigation. Explain why you feel that way.

LICHTMAN: Yes, I lay all this out in my book "The Case for Impeachment" and I still feel that way. Here are some issues with a special prosecutor. Number one, a special prosecutor investigates criminality. But impeachment is not limited to criminality. It could deal with broad abuses of power.

Number two, special prosecutors often take years to do their work. The special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra Scandal under Ronald Reagan didn't issue his first report for some two and a half years after Ronald Reagan had already left office.

In addition, the president can of course fire an independent counsel, as Richard Nixon did with Archibald Cox. And finally, the work is done in secret. It's not laid out to the public.

So my position is while I'm not opposed to the appointment of a special prosecutor, that should not preclude what really needs to be done constitutionally, and that is the beginning of an impeachment investigation by the House Judiciary Committee. And in Watergate we had both the special prosecutor and the impeachment investigation. And an impeachment investigation goes well beyond criminality. It considers broad abuses of power, as our founding fathers wanted it to be, because they put impeachment in the Congress, not in the courts. And it could go way beyond just collusion with Russia. And consider other impeachable offences such as conflicts of interest, and violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution which isn't a crime but is impeachable.

SESAY: When you look at the temperament or the temperature rather on Capitol Hill right now, and you look at both Houses being controlled by Republicans, I mean, do you see any -- anything to hang that on, that desire for impeachment investigation? Because, I mean, the Republicans don't -- didn't even want to go down the road of a special prosecutor.

LICHTMAN: Here is the problem. I think the special prosecutor lets the Republicans off the hook. They can now say, oh, we'll leave it in the hands of Mr. Mueller. We don't need an impeachment investigation. And that would be very unfortunate.

I would call upon every Republican in the House to do what so many Republicans did during Watergate. Put patriotism above party and support an impeachment investigation. And so should Donald Trump.

[00:45:10] If what the president says is true, and he has committed no wrongdoing in his campaign or as president, then he should welcome an investigation to clear the air and make it public.

He should encourage every member of his campaign team and relevant administration officials to testify under oath. And he should release all documents, including if they exist presidential tapes. This should be an opportunity for Donald Trump rather than continuing what so far has looked like from the president a Nixonian type cover-up.

SESAY: OK. So if you're the president of the United States right now, you know, and you learned a short time ago that there has been a special counsel appointed, are you breathing a sigh of relief or are you panicking and worrying about what comes next? LICHTMAN: Well, I think maybe a little bit of both. On the one hand, you're kind of let off the hook now. You're not going to be subject to all of these same criticisms, Republicans won't have to defend everything you do every day. Mr. Mueller's taken care of it. So that's a very good thing for the Trump administration.

On the other hand, if there really is criminal activity involved in the Trump team or the Trump administration, this is not a good thing for the president at all.

Plus one of the critical issues here is how far is Mr. Mueller going to go in his investigation? Is he going to limit it to collusion, or is he going to go beyond collusion, talking of obstruction of justice to look at abuse of power, to look at conflicts of interest.

Special prosecutor, there's one good thing about them is their jurisdiction is not restricted. But we don't know at this point how narrow the investigation is going to be. If we have an impeachment investigation, because it is in a collateral branch and a separate branch of government, there is no limitation.

SESAY: OK. Final question. To date, as I've said before, Republicans have shown no interest, no appetite for any talk of impeachment. What would it take to get them to that point in your view?

LICHTMAN: I think the appointment of a special prosecutor makes it much more difficult to get to that point because they can say, oh, it's being taken care of. We don't have to consider an impeachment investigation.

But here is the one thing that might turn them. A Lichtman rule of politics is that the first requisite of office holders is survival. And if President Trump becomes a liability to the re-election of Republicans in 2018, they may turn against him.

To get a majority in the House, if the Democrats stand firm, you only need some two dozen Republicans. That's just 10 percent of Republicans in the House. And that many are approximately are sitting in districts won by Hillary Clinton, and many more in districts that are vulnerable.

I would also point to the Watergate situation where when you finally got a vote on articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, more than a third of Republicans did put patriotism over party and vote for at least one article.

SESAY: All right. So your case for impeachment is still very much alive by the sounds of things.

LICHTMAN: My book "The Case for Impeachment" right here is still essential reading for everyone.

SESAY: Allan, I appreciate. Thank you so much.

LICHTMAN: Thank you. Great interview. SESAY: You can't stop the plug.

Only two U.S. presidents have ever been impeached. The first was Andrew Johnson. He became president following Abraham Lincoln's assassination. In 1868, Johnson's battle with Congress in the post civil war U.S. led to his impeachment by the House. But Johnson was narrowly acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.

Richard Nixon was headed to certain impeachment in the Watergate scandal but he resigned in 1974 before that could happen.

Bill Clinton was impeached by the House in 1998. He was accused of lying under oath about an extramarital affair, but the Senate acquitted him. He served the rest of his term in office.

Well, that does it for us. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. "World Sport" is up next. Then I'll be back with another busy hour of news from all around the world. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WORLD SPORT)