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WORLD RIGHT NOW WITH HALA GORANI
Robert Mueller Appointed as Special Counsel; What Would Impeachment Look Like?; Graham: Russia Probe Considered a Criminal Investigation; Trump To Speak After Special Counsel Appointment; Mixed Messages From White House On Special Counsel; Trump, Colombian President To Address Reporters Soon; Former Fox News Roger Ailes Dead At 77; U.S.-Led Airstrike Targeted Pro- Regime Forces In Syria; Political Turmoil Overshadows Trump's Foreign Trip. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired May 18, 2017 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to your WORLD RIGHT NOW. I'm Hala Gorani.
Let's get you right to our breaking news this hour. We are awaiting Donald Trump's first public appearance since the latest bombshell to rock the
White House, the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
Now President Trump is trying to get on with business as usual today. Any minute now and this is a live image of the White House in Washington, D.C.
He is set to welcome the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos to the White House.
The arrival of the Colombian president was expected 2:00 p.m., but we have not seen that happen yet. Now we understand that at 3:45 p.m. Eastern, so
44 minutes from now, according to the schedule, both presidents will hold a news conference.
And obviously, we are expecting questions to be directed to President Trump about the appointment of that special counsel and other big headlines that
have made news around the world this week. We'll bring you all that live.
Even before President Trump approaches the microphones, we already have a good idea of how he feels about a special counsel. Mr. Trump is pretty
much an open book on Twitter obviously, and today, he did not mince his words.
The president says that he is the victim of the "single greatest witch hunt in American history," quote/unquote, and he points out that a special
counsel was never appointed during Hillary Clinton's campaign or the Obama administration accusing them without going further into detail of
committing, quote, "illegal acts."
What a difference a day makes, we heard something totally different from the White House last night, a carefully worded statement that the president
is confident that a thorough investigation will exonerate him.
Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman in Washington. So Tom, first of all, which president will we get today? Because as I mentioned, that statement
from the White House yesterday was in sharp contrast to the tweets we saw from the president today.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala. Actually it's what a difference everyday seems to make now. The positions are changing not
merely by the day but by the hour over there in terms of how they feel about things. Yes, we thought that the president was going to say, you
know, obviously, pushes back against this kind of thing.
But then when you put that statement out, it looked like, OK, they are going to take a little bit more philosophical view that the best thing that
could happen would be an investigation to find nothing. So which one will we get today, I don't really know, and based on what we have seen so far, I
am not sure the president's staff knows which one they'll get either until he steps up to the microphone -- Hala.
GORANI: Right. Because we have heard contradictory messages from his spokespeople and then the next day the president will contradict them, but
this news conference, talk to us about it. It's at 3:45 with the Colombian president, and the president gets to call on the reporters he'd like to
hear questions from, right, but are we expecting him to react to the news today?
FOREMAN: I would be surprised if he did not react, but he tends to react to almost anything about him, particular any kind of criticism, however,
however, a big caveat here, you could go broke fast if you bet on what you thought Donald Trump would do, because he seems to defy the odds many, many
I would think that he will say something about it. I think he will suggest that it is unfair, and yet let the chips fall where they may. He is sure
he has not done anything wrong, and the team has not done anything wrong.
But like I said I would not put a lot of money on that, because it is also fully possible that he will blow over those questions and say we are not
here to talk about that right now. We are talking about our relations with Colombia.
The reason he does that, of course, is because he's been somewhat successful of that, change the narrative and get a different story started
and get off of the one that's trouble.
GORANI: But we do understand, though, according to CNN reporting that the White House got a very -- just a half hour or so head's up that the special
counsel was being appointed. So they were blindsided.
FOREMAN: Yes, that is unusual thing, and I think frankly, Hala, that speaks to what may be the biggest danger for the Trump administration --
GORANI: Let me just jump in for a moment, we are seeing Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, arrive at the White House just about 4
minutes behind schedule. We are seeing the Colombian flag there on that limousine, and he is being greeted by the U.S. president, Donald Trump.
They will have a chat, and this is when we expect the two men to hold that news conference. Let's just look for a moment.
[15:05:08]All right. There we have it. Juan Manuel Santos inside the White House with the president right now. The two men will be having a
conversation and then will be addressing the reporters.
So, carry on there, Tom. We are talking about how the White House got very little notice that this special counsel was going to be appointed by
the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.
FOREMAN: Yes, and that maybe one of the biggest things that this administration has to fear. If it's becoming too isolated from all of
official D.C. and including other Republicans should get the normal sort of warnings and preparation time that a White House might expect.
This administration has not made a lot of friends in its own party in a lot of ways. So obviously, the Democrats oppose him, but the whole idea that
this special counsel had been put in place, and that there hasn't been any kind of outcry from other Republicans at any large level to say, no, that
The only person really calling this a witch hunt is the president and even though some Republicans may not like it, they are not rallying around that.
That's the thing this white has to look out after because when you become isolated in Washington, D.C., it's doesn't matter if you are right or
wrong, it can get difficult to move forward.
GORANI: Tom Foreman, thanks very much in Washington. We are going to talk more about that, about the reaction from the GOP, from the president's own
And you also may be wondering exactly how a special counsel changes the investigation. Well, for starters, it is supposed to remove the politics
from the equation so the result is not tainted by partnership.
Robert Muller who has been appointment as special counsel will have sweeping powers to subpoena documents including Mr. Trump's tax returns if
he deems the necessary.
And he can take the investigation wherever he sees fit meeting it doesn't have to stay focused on Russia if other potential crimes are uncovered.
Let's more now on all of this. We are joined by CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, and CNN senior
political analyst, David Gergen, who was the adviser to four former U.S. presidents.
David, I want to start with you, what do you make so far of the Republican reaction after the announcement that a special counsel was being appointed?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they've been smart. They recognized that this is going to be reassuring for the country. They
are breathing a sigh of relief that they are off of the hook for now in terms of -- when they are going back home, what about President Trump and
what are you going to do about it?
Well, it is in the hands of a special counsel, and one of the men who is regarded as the fairest and the most impartial investigators in the
country, and we will have to wait and see.
And that is a very much more comfortable position for a Republican senator or congressman back home than is saying, well, I have to make an evaluation
everyday of what the president is doing, and his latest tweet and all the rest.
GORANI: But if we, Paul -- I should say, David, let me ask you a follow- up, if we keep lurching from crisis to crisis, how long can the Republican politicians as the midterms approach next year continue to support the
president or even stay silent?
GERGEN: Well, let me follow up on that briefly and Paul can jump in. Listen, the cloud over the White House has not gone away. It is going to
remain over the White House into very likely the election season when one- off year elections in 2018.
The Democrats are certainly going to be make this a central issue, do you really want to leave both chambers in the control of the Republican Party
when you have Trump in the White House, and they think they can get their voters out in droves.
The underlying strategy for a lot of Democrats is this. Continue pressing every day and see where this leads because they sense there is a fire there
underneath all of the smoke, and when we uncover it, it is going to play into our hands.
And by the way, it is good for the country to see the fire, but their view is to keep the pressure on and make 2018 a referendum on Donald Trump, and
see if they can take back the House of Representatives.
If they take back the House of Representatives, I can almost guarantee you there will be an effort to launch impeachment proceedings against Donald
Trump by the Democrats in the House, and that is where the impeachment proceeding does begin.
And, you know, there will still be blocked in the Senate, but that will then obviously going to change the dynamics for the presidential race in
So this is the -- we are very -- this is very serious stuff that's going on and really important to the direction of the American politics, and frankly
the leadership in this country.
GORANI: And Paul, I want to bring our viewers up to date, and familiarize them with the role of special counsel. It is a big bombshell announcement
obviously yesterday, but this is the beginning of an extremely long process?
[15:10:04]PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it could well be. I have been looking into the history of special prosecutors and independent
counsel investigations. They range in length from on the low side to around 18 months, but there is even one that went on for almost five years.
So I would say on average, they take about two years. So this could be a long investigation. It's a black cloud hanging over the White House as
David said, and I mean, the mechanics of it are that anybody who works for the Trump administration is going to be looking over their shoulders saying
am I called in by the special prosecutor?
Will my records be subpoenaed? Because his directive is to investigate possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and wherever that
evidence takes him. So he really has a wide directive in terms of what he is investigating and the possibility of it being disruptive of the
administration is quite substantial.
GORANI: And if wrongdoing is uncovered then what happens?
CALLAN: Well, he then goes to the deputy attorney general and he has to advise the deputy attorney general that he is going to proceed with a
prosecution of whoever he thinks to be guilty of a crime. And that can be vetoed by the deputy attorney general, however, there has to be a report to
Congress and I can assure you that would be a huge scandal if that occurred.
I think the one thing that President Trump might hope for here is that because Robert Mueller is such an incredibly well qualified guy. I mean,
he was director -- he's the longest sitting director of the FBI since Jay Edgar Hoover.
He knows how the bureau works. He knows how the push an investigation quickly, and this is an investigation that has already been underway for
quite a while. So maybe this will be a fast investigation by special counsel, and that is the best really that President Trump can hope for.
GORANI: And David, Donald Trump says -- and yes, but I was going to say, that he is saying this is a witch hunt, and he is saying this is the
greatest witch hunt ever against any president, is what he's tweeting.
GERGEN: I know he is out there. I think that a number of people who have been on CNN the last few days are thoroughly schooled on the law have been
arguing that Donald Trump needs to get his own lawyer and his lawyer will tell him to stop tweeting. It would be in his best interest.
Let me say one other thing about the mandate of the special prosecutor and what has happened here is that not only do we have a special counsel now
appointed, but that the mandate for investigation has widened.
Originally, this was an investigation that focused upon possible collusion as we all know between the Russians and Trump associates. That mandate is
as specified by the Justice Department when the deputy attorney general hired or appointed this new special counsel now has broadened to include
any efforts by anybody to impede or influence the investigation in some corrupt way.
And the memo of that came to light which if it is true says that Donald Trump advised the FBI Director Comey and then director to drop the case
against Michael Flynn, I know it is complicated, but advised him to drop the case.
That is being interpreted widely as a potential, potential, and he needs the day in court, but a potential interference that is called obstruction
of justice. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and the impeachment proceedings that were launched against them both were accused of obstruction of
That was one of the central complaints, so potentially, and it is very, very early to be drawing large conclusions, but potentially this
investigation -- the president, himself, could be under investigation for not just the collusion question, but the question of whether he tried to
wrongly influence the investigation itself.
GORANI: And lastly, Paul, I mean, we mention this before coming to both of you, but this special counsel, the special investigator has the power to
subpoena documents such as the president's tax returns. Is that right? He would be compelled to produce those if requested under a subpoena?
CALLAN: Yes, absolutely. He has the right to issue a subpoena --
GORANI: Even though he is the sitting president?
CALLAN: Yes, the president is subject to subpoena and can be forced to testify. Bill Clinton learned that in the investigation that preceded his
impeachment, and these documents can be subpoenaed. Now you could have a situation here, because remember, this is a special counsel who actually
works for the Justice Department, and the president is the head of the Justice Department. He could fire the special counsel.
[15:15:01]That's what Richard Nixon did, by the way, and which ultimately led to Nixon resigning from office. But the power is there, he can
subpoena those tax records, and he may say they are relevant because he wants to find out if Trump had relationships of a financial nature with the
Russians or the Russian government.
GORANI: Paul Callan, thanks so much. David -- yes.
GERGEN: Can I ask Paul a question?
GORANI: Yes, go ahead, David.
GERGEN: In the Nixon case, the special counsel subpoenaed him for his tapes and he refused and that is what led to the Supreme Court decision.
In this case, if the special counsel goes after president Trump's tax records, does President Trump as a citizen, as a president have right to
withhold those and challenge it in court or is that something the Treasury Department automatically turns over because that is where the records now
CALLAN: Well, if the subpoena was issued to the Treasury Department, the president certainly could challenge that in court. He would have standing
to go into court and say I have a privacy right to those records and the Supreme Court probably would wind up deciding it eventually.
But of course, just to make it more complicated, David, the Treasury Department is also an entity of the executive branch, and they work for the
president as well. So technically he is in charge of this entire investigation, and he can put a stop to it if he wants to at great
political cost, maybe at the cost of the presidency.
GORANI: Very interesting. Thanks to both of you.
And I also want to update our viewers, by the way, this is just coming into us from our own Jake Tapper that President Trump told network news anchors
at a White House lunch that this special counsel investigation hurts the country terribly because it is shows we are divided, mixed up and not
unified country, according to the president.
Thanks to David Gergen and Paul Callan there for joining us on this breaking news story. Still to come tonight, one of President Trump's most
prominent supporters in the media has died. Roger Ailes was 77 years old. We will look at his career and the scandals that brought him down next.
GORANI: Roger Ailes, the man who transformed Fox News Channel, literally one of the founding figure, transformed it into a conservative television
empire that has influenced politics and frankly society in America for decades is dead today at the age of 77.
Our senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, joins me now live from New York. So he's dogged by scandal, it's what took him down at the end, but
this is one to the most significant media figures in a generation in America.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He was. The only thing more incredible than rise was his sudden fall last year. But let's go back
to the mid-1990s when he launched Fox News, Ailes had already become a GOP mastermind and helped presidents like Nixon, Reagan and H.W. Bush.
[15:20:05]He had already run television networks like CNBC and then Rupert Murdoch made him an offer to launch Fox News, a rival to CNN. Back then,
Hala, it was only CNN on cable news. There was no Fox News or MSNBC.
There certainly wasn't the worldwide web in the form we know it today. Ailes was able to could create a rival to CNN, but really a rival to the
entire television news media in the United States saying the rest of you, you got it all wrong.
You are too biased. We are going to present an alternative. He identified that niche and you know what, he did it long before someone like now
President Trump. He was actually programming for Trump voters well before there was a Candidate Donald Trump.
GORANI: And you could argue that he has shaped opinions in a way that has helped presidents get elected. In fact, former President Bush 41, George
H.W. Bush, tweeted this, he said of Ailes, "He wasn't perfect, but Roger Ailes was my friend and I loved him. I am not sure that I would have been
president without his great talent, loyal help, RIP." Interesting.
STELTER: It's such an incredible statement from a former president, not sure I would have been elected without Roger Ailes, and I think if
President Trump were here, and we're being honest, he would say the same thing.
A senior staffer over at Fox say to me that Ailes was able to tap into the anger, the resentment, and the mistrust of the media, all of those
attributes that Trump took advantage of two years ago when he entered the GOP race.
Ailes recognized those a long time ago and then kind of tapped into them, and created a channel all about that. That was helpful to Trump as he ran
for president. But of course, by the time Trump was elected, Ailes was out.
He resigned in disgrace last summer amid sexual harassment allegations by a number of women. He had been in relative seclusion in recent months, but
he had been thinking about the future and maybe thinking about trying to launch a new channel, however his health was poor.
And last week he slipped and fell at his home in Palm Beach, and ultimately slipped into a coma several days ago and died this morning.
GORANI: Brian Stelter, thanks very much for joining us.
Air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition has just struck pro-Assad forces in Syria. This is significant, it happened in an area that's labeled as
deconfliction zone, in the desert border area north of the border between Jordan and Syria.
Let's get right to the Pentagon and CNN's Ryan Browne to walk us through the story. So this is a U.S. strike, right, that hit pro-Assad forces on
Syrian territory that were advancing toward a coalition base, correct?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: That's correct. This is a coalition strike conducted against what were militias allied to the regime in
Damascus, and largely believed that the militias operating in that area are Shia militias backed by Iran allied to the regime in Syria and Bashar al-
Now these kind of strikes against regime, pro-regime forces are very rare indeed, and the Pentagon officials here are telling us that this was
carried out in the self-defense capacity because they had established this deconfliction zone with the Russians.
Stay away from a certain distance from this base where the U.S. and the allied advisers train Syrian rebels. So they even had this perimeter kind
of communicated with the Russians via this deconfliction channel.
U.S. officials are saying that the regime allied forces violated that kind of buffer zone, continue to approach despite Russian efforts to kind of
ward them off, and despite a show of force from U.S. aircraft, and despite the warning shots, the convoy persisted.
And so therefore the coalition decided to strike hitting what one official tells us was a tank and a kind of a construction type vehicle that was part
of that convoy.
GORANI: All right. We will bring you more details on this story as they become available. Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thanks very much. Pretty
significant development there with U.S. strikes against pro-Assad militia, force in Syrian territory as they were advancing toward a coalition base
Just a reminder that we are keeping track of President Trump's movements this hour. We are expecting to hear from him directly in about 20 minutes.
You're seeing here a live image from the White House. We are expecting him to hold this news conference in the east room in the White House. Now this
will be his first public comments since the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible ties between his campaign and Russia.
The president already has a lot on his agenda. He is meeting with the Colombian president now. We will bring you that news conference as soon as
it starts. If he takes questions from reporters who will ask him questions or press him on the appointment of the special counsel, it will be very
interesting to hear what he has to say.
But we already heard from him on Twitter today, and also heard from him at a lunch that he held with news anchors at the White House saying he
believes this special investigation is going to hurt the country terribly.
[15:25:10]And on Friday, he takes off on his first overseas trip, take a look at his ambitious itinerary, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican,
Brussels, and he'll finish in Sicily for a G7 Summit. He'll meet a host of world leaders at that summit.
Let's discuss all of this with John Kirby, who is the former spokesperson for the State Department and before that for the Pentagon. He is now a
CNN contributor and he joins me now live from Washington.
Thanks, John, for being with us. So first of all, he is going to Saudi Arabia and he is going to give a speech on Islam. I mean, that is risky
for anybody, right, because you are going to go to a part of the world where Muslims, Muslim majority countries there are extremely suspicious of
the United States and unhappy with those attempted travel bans that targeted seven Muslim majority countries, what will he get out of a speech
on Islam right now?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I applaud the effort, and I think it is smart for him to do this and go right to Saudi
Arabia which is such a centerpiece of the Muslim faith, and to give and to be honest that you are going to give a speech about Islam is commendable.
Now, obviously, we have to wait and see what he says. But I think this is an opportunity for him to talk to a couple of things. First, the shared
effort in the region by everybody no matter the faith is to counterterrorism, particularly a group like ISIS and that we need to
continue to do that.
Number two, a shared effort to continue to look for peace and security in the region from a geopolitical perspective and try to tamp down the
tensions existing between the Shia and the Sunni, particularly, Tehran and Riyadh.
And number three, to really put into context what he is trying to do with this immigration ban that he continues to try to push. I mean, obviously,
it was received very, very badly and continues to be challenged by the courts because it is seen as anti-Islamic, and so this is a chance for him
to try to put that into some context. I actually applaud the effort, and I wish him well.
GORANI: Well, Steven Miller is apparently one of the individuals who is going to help him draft the speech, and this is the man whose wording of
that travel ban was considered anti-Muslim by some judges. Also he considers jihad to be a war of religions. He led a group in college as
well against Islamofascism.
I mean, it is a little puzzling that in particular this Trump staffer would be the one to help him to draft a speech on Islam inside Saudi Arabia?
KIRBY: I share those concerns. I absolutely do. I did not get a chance to get that in my last answer, but I do. I think based on what he has
written in the past and the views that he has expressed publicly, I do not believe Mr. Miller is the proper person to be writing this speech.
This is a chance for the president to really go big and large and strategic on something that really matters to everybody in the region. And to make
it a small speech, and a petty speech, and exclusionary speech would be a mistake.
So I hope that while Mr. Miller may have the pen, I hope that other more mature, thoughtful and strategic people are going to be look at that draft
and helping it along.
GORANI: And what about then a trip to Israel.
GORANI: He is then going to the Vatican. He'll be meeting with Pope Francis, Brussels, NATO and Italy G7 so let's skip those trips, because
this is going to be his opportunity to meet face-to-face all these world leaders. He's established -- he already met with Angela Merkel.
And by the way, in Europe, that did not go down well because he was seen as having disrespected her. So we'll see how he interacts for instance with
the new French President Emmanuel Macron.
KIRBY: Yes, I think this is another great opportunity for the president to think in long, strategic terms here and we'll see whether he's up to that,
but I mean, there's a lot of nervousness in Europe about what is going on here in the United States in our political and domestic situation.
But just as critically as you well know, a lot of the tension and worry about where things are going with Russia, not just in terms of the U.S.-
Russia relationship, but the Russia's continued aggressive behavior there in Ukraine.
So there's a lot of work to be done. Also, he has an opportunity here to - - we have made the point that we want our NATO allies to contribute more and meet their 2 percent GDP funding for spending on their military, we
don't need to keep bashing and beating them up on that.
They know that. They've got the message. This is a chance for the president to talk about these multilateral, multinational institutions like
NATO and the E.U. and to really bolster them and make it clear that we will remain a part of those institutions going forward.
GORANI: Well, he bashed them a lot during the campaign, and we will see how he talks about them during this trip. By the way, I want to show you
this video that many of our viewers have seen that happened outside of the Turkish ambassador's residence in D.C.
A State Department official is now saying it appears that a mix of embassy security and members from Erdogan's own team attacked these protesters that
the embassy says they were associated with the PKK (inaudible). This was happening while President Trump was hosting President Erdogan.
[15:30:12] And the White House hasn't said anything about this. Do you find that surprising?
KIRBY: I find that very disappointing. It's despicable. And that those kinds of things should never, can never happen here in the United States.
It shouldn't have to happen anywhere, but certainly not here, in our nation's capital where we have peaceful protesters who were being peaceful
and demonstrating peacefully to be attacked like that, particularly by people who were attached to President Erdogan's security detail.
I mean, again, this has been a concern for me, the relationship we have with Turkey and the fact that, under this administration, we haven't been
willing to say the things that need to be said about the way he treats his own people. So I'm very, very concerned.
Now, just before coming on with you, I saw a report that the State Department summoned the Turkish Ambassador in the United States to the
State Department to protest, in person, face-to-face. I think that was very smart. I'm glad to see that they did that. I would like to see our
President be more vocal as well.
GORANI: All right. Those were some shocking images. John Kirby, thanks so much for joining us on CNN.
KIRBY: My pleasure, Hala. Thank you.
GORANI: Still to come, we have much more from Washington as we wait for President Trump to speak at a news conference. Stay with us.
GORANI: It's been an incredible week in Washington as the White House lurches from crisis to big crisis. And in the past few minutes, President
Trump said a special counsel investigation, quote, "hurts the country terribly," unquote.
By the way, these are live images from the White House coming to us. Not long ago, President Trump welcomed the President of Colombia. In a few
minutes, we will hear from Mr. Trump for the first time since that special counsel was appointed to probe possible collusion between Russia and his
And the man who will probe that collusion is someone you're going to hear a lot about. His name is Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI.
CNN's Gary Tuchman tells us more about him.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the summer of 2001, President George W. Bush declared --
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my honor to nominate Robert S. Mueller of California to become the director of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): And it was one week before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that Robert Mueller began his tenure as director of the
FBI. Mueller, a Princeton grad, with a Master's Degree from NYU, joined the Marine Corps after college where he served with honor in Vietnam as an
officer. Following his military service, he went to law school, then became a litigator, and ultimately became a federal prosecutor.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, Director Mueller said this --
[15:35:03] ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Our first objective is to determine, identify the hijackers
on each of the planes. Having identified the hijackers on each of the planes, we then have sought to identify any of their associates remaining
in the United States.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The nation was in chaos. Weeks after the attacks, Congress passed and President Bush signed the controversial Patriot Act
which enhanced law enforcement investigative tools, including domestic surveillance and increased the opportunity to punish terrorist acts in the
Three years later, though, the bill's passage led to a showdown involving Mueller. He received a call from Deputy Attorney General James Comey late
at night, that President Bush's counsel, Alberto Gonzalez, was on his way to the hospital to persuade a seriously ill Attorney General John Ashcroft
to reauthorize a key part of the Act dealing with the domestic surveillance program. But the Justice Department had determined it was against the law.
So Comey, with Mueller's blessing, raced to the hospital to stop Gonzalez.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a
very sick man who did not have the powers of the Attorney General because they have been transferred to me.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Both Mueller and Comey threatened to resign over the incident, but were persuaded to stay once President Bush decided against
pursuing the controversial surveillance program. Enjoying bipartisan respect, Bob Mueller served as FBI director for 12 years for two
presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank your outstanding director, Robert Mueller.
OBAMA: Not just for the introduction, but because Bob has led the Bureau during incredibly challenging times.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mueller has most recently been a partner in a private law firm and a visiting professor at Stanford. He will now leave
those positions to take on this new and important responsibility.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.
GORANI: Well, in case you missed all the fireworks, on Monday, we learned that President Trump had revealed sensitive information to Russian
officials. And then we found out that the intelligence reportedly had come from Israel. Another bombshell was still to come on Tuesday in the form of
excerpts from a memo now fired FBI Director James Comey wrote stating that Mr. Trump had asked him to shut down an FBI investigation into Michael
Flynn. A day later, the Justice Department announced the appointment of that special counsel who you just saw a profile of.
But that wasn't the last of it, though. The "New York Times" followed that up by quoting sources, saying the President's transition team knew Michael
Flynn was under investigation before he was hired as national security adviser. Now, more and more, I should say, Democrats are using the I-word
CNN Politics Managing Editor Zachary Wolf is with me from Washington. So, I mean, talk us through what is going on, first of all, because we're a
very, very, long way away from any effort to do such a thing in Washington.
ZACHARY WOLF, CNN DIGITAL POLITICS MANAGING EDITOR: Yes, that's the key thing to remember. We are a long way away from any kind of impeachment
effort, but more and more, you do hear Democrats, mostly backbenchers. Congressman Al Green, for instance, yesterday, used it on the House Floor.
That was a first, but some other people.
And then, you know, some historians have said we're getting into impeachment territory here, sort of looking at the track record of the
Trump team and his White House and particularly, whether or not he asked James Comey to stop this investigation. Is that obstruction of justice?
So this would be an extremely long process. You could see it precipitated by Bob Mueller, the former FBI director. He could come back from his
investigation, his special counsel inquiry, and say, you know what, these are impeachable offenses, and that would be one way to start this.
GORANI: But even then, I mean, you need Congress to go along. You need the Senate to then also, you know, agree with that decision. I mean, we're
talking about here about every single Democrat and then a sizable portion of Republicans.
WOLF: That is right. It would have to go through the House, a special committee in the House, the Judiciary Committee. They would do an
investigation. They would have to vote. And then there would be a public trial in the Senate.
But it's hard to imagine any of that actually happening when Republicans, peoples from Donald Trump's own party, control both Houses of Congress.
You'd need a simple majority in the House, so you wouldn't have to peel off many Republicans there. But over in the Senate, you'd need 67 people to
vote to convict a president, and, you know, Republicans have more than 50 right now, so there would have to be such amazing groundswell to make that
happen. It's hard to imagine right now.
GORANI: Now, in the court of public opinion, according to a recent Monmouth poll, six of 10 Americans believe that Donald Trump fired Comey to
slow down the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russia. That is interesting in itself.
[15:40:03] WOLF: I think it is. You know, that's not two-thirds, though, which is the number you'd need in the Senate to impeach, so I don't think
even the public would be behind that, you know, to put those two things together. But certainly, I think there is this sense that, you know, among
Republicans and people looking at some of these House races that are going to happy to fill open seats, that the public opinion is certainly turning
or has turned on President Trump. And that could have real repercussions, particularly for Republicans.
GORANI: And what about the Mike Flynn controversy, which not only is not dying down but a new layer seems to be added to it on a regular basis?
WOLF: And, you know, the reason we think Comey was basically pushed out or, you know, possibly, is that he had said the investigation was, in fact,
intensifying. It wasn't dying down. So there is potentially more shoes to drop there.
We reported today that Mike Flynn was doing things as national security adviser that, you know, sort of benefited Turkey. Before becoming national
security adviser, he had been employed by Turkey. That was one of the things he didn't tell everybody, you know, or there are some questions as
GORANI: As a lobbyist.
WOLF: As a lobbyist.
GORANI: As a paid lobbyist, yes.
WOLF: As a paid lobbyist, hundreds of thousands of dollars. So there's some question about that. You know, clearly, the shoes keep dropping with
the Mike Flynn situation, and it gets worse and worst. And, you know, Trump clearly still likes this guy. He has defended him in the past, said
he's a good man, so he clearly doesn't want to totally throw him under the bus, which, I think, is also interesting.
GORANI: And the stand by, Zach. CNN Presidential Historian Timothy Naftali is in New York and I want to bring him into this conversation.
I mean, we've reached, you know -- I don't know -- code red crisis when it comes to a Western democracy and the kind of crisis that every single day
seem to be rocking the executive branch here. Is there any historical parallel?
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, well, of course, there is a historical parallel, which is the constitutional crisis that occurred in
the early 1970s, Watergate. It's not the same. It's not exactly the same.
NAFTALI: But when you bring a special counsel in to investigate the President or at least the President's campaign and the possible collusion
with a foreign state, a new chapter has started. The Comey memos were a game-changer. Until the Comey memos, one could perhaps argue that the
President removed Comey for reasons other than the Russia investigation.
But if the Comey memos -- and there's no reason to doubt them. If they are turn out to be accurate, then the President put himself in the middle of
the scandal by inappropriately talking to the head of the FBI. And so the selection of Robert Mueller, I think, was a natural consequence to the news
that the Comey memos exist. And at this point, the stakes are very high for the Trump administration.
GORANI: But of course, there are parallels and there are huge differences. I don't have to tell you. You're a presidential historian and one of the
foremost experts on the Nixon presidency. But Richard Nixon was in his second term, well into his second term, an established politician, a solid
foreign policy record.
Here's a president who has been in office 120 days, Timothy, I mean. And we're already at the stage where people are sort of, you know, discussing
the I-word when it comes to his presidency. In that sense, it's unprecedented?
NAFTALI: Well, the timing is -- I mean, yes, this appears to some to be a, you know, Watergate on speed. But let's not lose sight of the fact that we
have been talking about Russian intervention in the 2016 election for some time. That's not new. It pre-dates the President taking the Oath of
And so it's been a number of months that we've been talking about this. And what President Trump has done whether because he wanted to obstruct
justice or whether because he is just clueless about what one should or should not do as president, he has injected himself into the middle of this
investigation by the way in which he managed the head of the FBI.
And, yes, it took longer in the Nixon case. Although I would argue that Nixon committed crimes well before his political espionage team was put
together in early 1972, but he just didn't get caught. So Nixon could well have had this kind of trouble much earlier than 1972, '73, and '74. He
managed to cover up very well.
[15:44:56] GORANI: Because he wasn't tweeting at the time. But, Zachary, let's talk a little bit about the time line because I know that critics and
opponents of Donald Trump, when they heard the news of the appointment of the special counsel, thought, OK, here we go. This is going to be the
beginning of a process that will uncover wrongdoing. But even if it does, we're talking about the months, possibly years, here.
WOLF: Oh, certainly, and that's kind of the interesting thing. You mentioned tweeting. They appointed Robert Mueller. It's going to take him
some time to set things up. He can take over from the FBI. It's not going to be an overnight process. But then, yet, Trump comes out this morning
and calls it a witch hunt already, so he is clearly going to help keep, I think, in the news.
But let's just pretend, you know, hypothetically, that Robert Mueller or somebody else said that there should be an impeachment. It would take
months after that, I think, in the House of the Representatives and through the Senate. You saw that with the Bill Clinton impeachment. It's not an
overnight process. This is not going to happy today or tomorrow certainly.
NAFTALI: And, Hala, today, Lindsey Graham came out of a meeting with Rod Rosenstein, saying that the investigation has moved from a counter
intelligence investigation to a criminal one. This means that it's extraordinarily serious. And you don't have a criminal investigation if
you're just looking at Russian intervention in our elections. You have a criminal investigation if you suspect collusion and perhaps obstruction of
GORANI: Timothy Naftali, Zachary Wolf, thanks to both of you for joining us. We appreciate it.
And you can see there the live images coming to us from inside the White House. We expect the President and his Columbian counterpart, Santos, to
address reporters and hold a news conference in the East Room. And we are going to wait and see if the President addresses the appointment of the
special counselor directly. He'll certainly be asked about it if he takes reporter questions, which he's expected to do.
We'll be right back. Stay with us.
GORANI: Well, you heard one of our guests mention it a few minutes ago, but Senator Lindsey Graham in the United States says he now believes the
Russia probe should be considered a criminal investigation into whether or not the campaign of Donald Trump last year colluded with Russia. So that's
a very significant development there coming from Washington, D.C. Every day seems to add another building block to this story, a day after the
appointment of that special counsel to look into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
We are waiting for the U.S. and Colombian presidents to make their way to the podium, by the way. As I mentioned, this video came into CNN moments
ago of the leaders handshake in the Oval Office. There they are. Their joint news conference will be the first time President Donald Trump faces
reporters since a special counsel was tapped to lead the investigation into possible campaign ties to Russia.
Did I miss the handshake or has it not happened yet? Didn't see it. They're in the Oval Office. Presumably, they shook hands.
[15:50:02] Let's get more analysis from CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin. What is the expectation? I know
this is very difficult to answer, but the expectation when it comes to Donald Trump and this news conference. Obviously, he is going to be asked
about the special counsel appointment.
JOSH ROGIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the White --
GORANI: Oh, there is the handshake.
ROGIN: Ah, there it is.
ROGIN: The White House has two goals here. One is to insist on their innocence, and two is to portray President Trump as the victim and lash out
at those accusing him. And I think if there's one or two questions after these press statements by the two presidents, that's what you'll hear
Donald Trump say. He'll say that he is the target of an unfair campaign, that he intends to fight back.
And the follow-up question, of course, which I'm sure will be on reporters' minds, is, will he cooperate with the new special counsel investigation?
Will he hand over documents? Will he present himself and his staff for interviews, or will he fight this in litigation and draw out this process
as much as he can? That will set the tone of the interactions between this White House and the new special counsel going forward.
GORANI: But, of course, when President Trump is unscripted, you know, you never know what to expect.
ROGIN: Well, this is both a blessing and a curse for President Trump because he has the unique ability to change the news cycle. And if he
wants to, he can go on for minutes, hours, whatever he chooses, and say so many, you know, unexpected, sometimes unhinged things that he can drive
news cycles well into the evening, probably until tomorrow. He may take that opportunity.
His last major news conference was full of sort of rambling anecdotes, accusations, defenses that sent the news reporters all over Washington
scrambling for a very long time. So if he decides to, he can certainly focus the attention back on himself. Now that there is a special counsel,
there's assumption that the White House is going to encourage the President to be more reserved, more carefully think about what he says now that it
could be part of that criminal investigation that Senator Graham is talking about. But nobody can control President Trump. And if he decides to go
off script, that's exactly what he's going to do.
GORANI: And, typically, the President of Colombia will call on Colombian journalists, and the U.S. President will call on U.S. journalists. That's
how it works?
ROGIN: Yes. As the host nation, the U.S. will get the first question. There could be as few as two questions. And, of course, if it's up to
President Trump, if he feels in the mood, he can extend it literally as long as he wants. I'm sure that's what the U.S. press corps is hoping for.
GORANI: I'm sure they are. Let's talk a little about that overseas trip, because this is, here, something we're going to be covering very closely.
First top, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a speech on Islam. We understand, according to reports, that Stephen Miller, the man who drafted that travel
ban that was struck down by the courts that was seen as an anti-Muslim ban, is helping him write that speech. It's quite a risky move, isn't it?
ROGIN: Yes. Stephen Miller has a very troubled past, writing about issues related to Islam. However, the Trump administration's policy these days is
pretty clear. They're embracing the states of the Arab Gulf, and they want to announce a new security architecture that some White House officials
describe to me as an Arab NATO. They're going to announce a major arms deal up to $100 billion, maybe $300 billion, over 10 years for Saudi
So they're trying to embrace the parts of the Arab world that are willing to embrace them, and Saudi Arabia is at the top of the list. Now, the
messages that Trump sends on radical Islam, immigration from Muslim countries, those are going to be pretty controversial. But the Saudis are
not going to be the ones that are going to point out that controversy. The Saudis want to roll out the welcome mat for President Trump, and everyone
else who's offended by what he's going to say will just have to deal with it.
GORANI: And the Saudis were never one of the seven countries on that list either, so.
ROGIN: That's right.
GORANI: Thanks so much.
ROGIN: At least on that list.
GORANI: Thanks so much, Josh Rogin, as always.
ROGIN: Thanks, Hala.
GORANI: We'll talk soon. Quick break. We'll be right back.
[15:55:46] GORANI: We are waiting for the U.S. and Colombian presidents to make their way to the podium in the East Room at the White House. Zach
Wolf joins me again from Washington.
What is the expectation? Obviously, everyone wants to hear from the President since the appointment of that special counsel yesterday was
WOLF: Yes. He's appearing there with the Colombian President, but I can assure you that the U.S. press is going to have to ask about the special
counsel. I think we already know how President Trump feels about it. He called it a witch hunt this morning. He said a little bit later that it's
going to divide the country.
But I think we need to hear those words from his mouth and get a sense of whether his White House is going to, you know, work with it. Is he going
to cooperate with this thing, or try and stand in the way of it? That will be interesting to see.
GORANI: All right. And obviously, as we were mentioning there with Josh Rogin, he's not scripted. He could take two questions. He could take 10
questions. We don't know.
WOLF: That's right. He can do essentially whatever he wants. Traditionally, though, they'll take two questions from each side, but, you
know, there will be a heavy focus, I think, on domestic affairs.
GORANI: And certainly on that appointment of that special counsel. Zach Wolf, thanks very much. I just want to remind our viewers that we will be
taking this news conference live when it starts. We were expecting it to start, in fact, 10 minutes ago, according to the official schedule.
The Colombian President Santos arrived just a tad late to the White House, four or five minutes. Then they met in the Oval Office, shook hands,
addressed the reporters there. And there, you're seeing all the reporters in the East Room doing their pieces to camera and their lives with their
respective networks in anticipation of this news conference and in anticipation, especially, of what the President will have to say about the
appointment of that special counsel. And we were mentioning Senator Lindsey Graham in Washington saying this is, now, should be considered a
A lot going on in Washington. A lot goes on every day in Washington these days. We will leave you with this live image of the East Room in the White
This has been THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for watching. A quick break. After that, the news continues on CNN. Don't go away.