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Source: Flynn to Plead 5th, Decline Subpoena; Republicans Distancing from Trump as Mueller Takes over Russia Probe; Awaiting Trump/Netanyahu Joint Statement. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] THOMAS RICKS, FORMER REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL & AUTHOR: And you can kind of smell obstruction of justice charges down the road. Nonetheless, he is a kind of a naive guy, and I think not really a central figure in the deep troubles, I think, that the Trump administration has about ties to Russia.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, what do you make of also this latest reporting coming from "The New York Times" that President Trump called James Comey a nut job, according to the "Times," and then also said that he faced great pressure because of Russia and with that firing, that's taken off? A lot of interpretation of these words, right, since this has come out? Do you think this is maybe a simple negotiating tactic or another very damaging leak?

RICKS: I think it was wishful thinking on the part of President Trump that he is going to get out of the Russia problems that easily. I think these Russia problems are deeper than people understand, and I think what ultimately comes out will be far worse than anything we know now.

BOLDUAN: Here's how both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and also the president's current national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, how they explained this. They did not deny this report, but this is how they explained it over the weekend. Listen to this, Thomas.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think what the president was trying to convey to the Russians was, look, I'm not going to be distracted by all these issues that are here at home that affect us domestically. I'm not going to let that distract from our efforts to see if we can engage with you, engage with Russia.

GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he's hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news. And that was the intention of that portion of the conversation.


BOLDUAN: Again, neither of them are denying that the "nut job" exchange took place, but I'm struggling with this one. When you hear that, are they saying the same thing? How exactly are they explaining it?

RICKS: I think they're both whistling past the graveyard in their own ways. Tillerson really I think seems to not understand what his job is. McMaster seems to interpret his job as national security adviser, is also speaking on behalf of the president because the president's own spokesman, Sean Spicer, has no credibility anymore. So McMaster is up there expending a little bit of his own hard-won credibility.

I've known H.R. McMaster for a long time.


RICKS: Since he was a major. I wonder how long he's going to get up there and defend the president on camera in a way that amounts to quibbling. And quibbling is a military term for appearing to speak the truth while not really speaking the truth.

Remember here that H.R. McMaster has remained on active duty as a general. He has not retired from the Army. And he remains subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That makes what he does a little bit more difficult than it would be for the average Washington bureaucrat who gets a job like national security adviser.

BOLDUAN: So, Thomas, are you saying that you see H.R. McMaster leaving the job?

RICKS: I think I saw H.R. McMaster sell a little bit of his soul over the last 10 days or so.


RICKS: And he is a man of great soul. When you talk to him and he gets emotional, his voice thickens, his shoulders roll. Unlike David Petraeus, who kind of always presented a hard, shiny facade, H.R. McMaster is a very sort of emotional guy. I think he must feel under enormous pressure, and I think he must be staying in the job so they don't get some Bannonite to replace him, some yahoo from that side of the Trump administration. So, I think he's doing the country a good duty by staying on as national security adviser. But you can see these people's souls leaving them the longer they're into these difficult jobs. I don't think that Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer has much soul left.

BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, I appreciate your commentary, but I can assure you that, I would assume H.R. McMaster, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer would take exception to that description, but I will ask for them to come on so we can continue that kind of a conversation, though.

But thank you so much, Thomas, for coming on. I appreciate it.

RICKS: You're welcome.

[11:34:28] BOLDUAN: Coming up, more on our breaking news. An awkward moment as the president and Israeli prime minister -- as the president and the Israeli prime minister face the media. President Trump commenting on the reports that he revealed classified information to Russian officials inside the Oval Office. We'll have much more on this coming up.


BOLDUAN: Some Republicans are now publicly creating some distance with President Trump over the constant cycle of crises over the Russia investigation. Republicans' latest fears come as special counsel, Robert Mueller, he begins his investigation into the Trump campaign and takes over the investigation.

Take a listen here to Marco Rubio, Senator Marco Rubio on CNN's "State of the Union."


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA: If any president tries to impede an investigation, any president, no matter who it is, by interfering with the FBI, yes, that would be problematic. It would be not just problematic, it would be, you know, obviously, a potential obstruction of justice.


BOLDUAN: And Rick Santorum here saying he could see Republicans breaking from Trump.


RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Unlike Democrats, who will never break with a president, no matter what they do, I mean, I don't care, you can find them with a smoking gun and a picture, they wouldn't break with him. Republicans will. And so, I would say this to President Trump, this can't continue for a whole lot longer.


BOLDUAN: With me now, the panel today, Angela Rye is here, CNN political commentator, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus; David Drucker, CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner"; and Paris Dennard, CNN political commentator and former director of black outreach for the George W. Bush White House.

David, you've been doing some reporting on this. How real is the fear, trepidation or fear right now amongst Republicans with what's going on with the president?

[11:40:29] DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're very concerned and I think they're frustrated. And I think the way to look at this is to understand that they've seen President Trump survive a lot of scandals or a lot of, let's just say challenges.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, sure.

DRUCKER: That would have felled a more conventional politician. And so, they've learned to roll with it and they've learned to expect that what would kill them won't kill him. But I think over the past couple of weeks they've reached a point where they no longer have patience for his unusual way of conducting himself from time to time, and they think that this is the kind of behavior and the kind of problem when you wrap up Comey with the meeting with the Russians in the Oval Office and so on down the line, that could really cause him problems that he can't get out of and them problems that they can't get out of. They were initially pleased to see the Mueller appointment because they thought, all right, people will stop asking us about this, Mueller will take the investigation and we can move on. And now what they're worried about is you never know where a special counsel investigation goes, and this could land right in their lap right before the 2018 elections.

BOLDUAN: Be careful what you ask for!

Paris, the Russia investigation so clearly is not going away. From your perspective, what do you think the president can do in the meantime as the investigation continues to unfold to try and reassure Republicans?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the president needs to do exactly what he's doing, and that is having a successful foreign trip that for all intents and purposes, the trip to Saudi Arabia was a success. Former Congressman Jane Harman said so, a Democrat. And many others have praised that trip. He's going over right now as we've seen the images coming across CNN in Israel, and these are tough things that he's doing. He could have just gone, it would be easy to go to Canada and Mexico, but he goes to the Middle East, Israel as well as the Vatican, the three major religious centers in the world. And so, he needs to focus on that, focus on trying to broker peace, trying to eliminate is. And then when he comes back, focus in on the budget, focus on things that are positive that can be wins for him. The president is a winner, and he wants to have wins. He just needs to focus on his agenda, stay on message, and not be, you know, side- tracked by this Russia investigation which a lot of it is just perpetuated by the media. The American people are looking for him to be a leader.


BOLDUAN: I mean, come on.


BOLDUAN: Come on, Paris. Perpetuated by the media? We just have news that Michael Flynn is going to plead the Fifth. That's not perpetuated by the media. That's called reporting the news.

DENNARD: And we could also report on other things in the news, like the positive things that are going on in Saudi Arabia that the president has done.


BOLDUAN: There was extensive coverage of this, Paris. Let's not get into like editorial judgment on the rundown of my show at this very moment.

DENNARD: No, no, I'm not talking about editorial judgment. What I'm saying is the American people are looking for this president to stay on message and for us to highlight the things that are positive. That is how he can win over the confidence of the Republicans that are running for Congress in 2018, because they know that this negative media coverage 24/7 news cycle is not going to help them in the long run, so he has to stay on message and stay focused on the positive things, and hopefully, those things will be reported.

BOLDUAN: Angela, what's your take on this?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, a couple of things. One is I don't think that the American people are looking for Donald Trump to stay on message, Paris. I think you corrected yourself later and said that is the hope of folks on the Republican side of the House who are running for Congressional seats in 2018. But I think right now, the American people are looking for an opportunity to get to the bottom of everything Russiagate. If you look at polling numbers, they indicate very clearly that most Americans do not approve of how Donald Trump is handling this scandal. If you look at the numbers of even white men who supported him in the election, they're actually very frustrated with how he's handling this overall and his job writ large. If we're talking about this latest trip, and we're going to start calling this success, what I think in the back of my mind is something, Paris, you know very well, which is that big "mission accomplished" sign behind President George W. Bush when he was president. There's no mission and there's no accomplishment now for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: They're somewhere in between. I think Donald Trump --

RYE: No, but what I'm saying is, what I'm saying is --

BOLDUAN: In his defense, there's no mission accomplished banner behind him so far.

RYE: So, what I'm saying is it is a figurative banner that Paris just painted. I'm not saying that's a real thing. I'm actually saying it's a fake thing. So, there's fake news coming from the mouth of my good friend, Paris. There's no fake news happening on this show, though.

And my whole point is this, the only person who can steal Donald Trump's thunder on his Middle East trip is him, and he just did it in the presser with Netanyahu. He said, nobody said Israel. Nobody said that you did. So, it's like that little kid argument, where it's like, well, nobody said that I said that, well, nobody said that you said that you said that! It's crazy. He's doing that himself.

[11:45:18] BOLDUAN: OK, let's go to the news that I did bring up about Michael Flynn now. CNN's reported that Michael Flynn's expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment, his Fifth Amendment rights, and not testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding all of the subpoena that they have issued to him. So, the Fifth Amendment, this is something that we have heard before, not so long ago with regard to the campaign trail, right?

We have President Trump who said that absolutely Michael Flynn should ask for immunity. I do wonder what President Trump will say about Michael Flynn invoking the Fifth Amendment after he said this on the campaign trail --


TRUMP: She has people taking the Fifth Amendment. Four people, plus the guy who illegally did the server. You know, he put in the illegal server. So, there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?


BOLDUAN: Added to the file of if there is a tweet to a sound bite from the campaign trail --


DRUCKER: Something for everybody. Don't forget when Lois Lerner took the Fifth in the IRS scandal during the Obama presidency, Republicans were quick to point out, and probably correctly, well, there must be something there or she'd talk more. Look, this is going to, you know, for the time being, perpetuate the news in that there appears to be something going on with the Russia investigation. And I wonder if it doesn't all get back to Michael Flynn as the cancer in the Trump administration that he was forced to fire and still seems to regret it, because everything about Russia that we know of, at least, really gets back to Flynn and what he did and what he didn't disclose. There were some other things with Jeff Sessions and things like that, and he was forced to recuse himself from the investigation, but we now have Comey coming to testify --


DRUCKER: -- in the next couple of weeks. We now have this Flynn matter. And so, this is going to go on for a while.

And Angela did make a very good point. Trump has always been his own worst enemy. Most of what we think we need to look into in regard to Russian meddling in the election has come from what Trump has said himself or has been reported to say over the past couple of weeks. And every time he has a good moment, he fouls it up with some kind of tweetstorm that messes him all up, and so it's on him.

BOLDUAN: We have some very big moments that are going to be coming up.

David, Paris, Angela, thank you guys so much.

We're waiting for President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We're keeping our eye on Jerusalem. They will be speaking live from Jerusalem after their bilateral meeting, coming out to make a fuller joint statement together. We'll bring you that live as soon as it begins.

We'll be right back.





[11:52:19] BOLDUAN: Moments from now President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be giving joint statements in Jerusalem and we will bring that to you live. It is the second stop on the president's big overseas trip.

On Sunday, the president delivered a major speech to a room full of leaders from the Muslim world imploring them to step up the fight against extremism. Listen here.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear, barbarism will deliver you no glory. Evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be fully condemned.


BOLDUAN: With me now, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder and president of the Cordoba House and the author of "Defining Islamic Statehood" and "Moving the Mountain.

Imam, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Overall, I would love to get your review, your impression of the president's much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world Sunday.

ABDUL RAUF: Well, I think this is a very big story. Not only to the Muslim world. This story is a trick to the homeland of three faiths and he used the term. Of faith, Christianity and Judaism. He has met in Riyadh 50 of the Muslim world leaders representing the 1.5 billion, almost 25 percent of the world's population. And his visiting is real, and the Vatican and the pope. I'm hopeful that this is a sign of a big story that is being cooked. There are many hands involved with this, not just Trump, Jared Kushner, McMaster, the people in the U.S. administration. There's no doubt the hand of not only King Salman, his son, the crown prince who visited him, the prime minister played golf with him a couple years ago.

BOLDUAN: What do you hope the big story is, though? What do you think -- what do you see in that speech that gives you hope? ABDUL RAUF: First of all, as someone said, number one -- a few

things. The difference between Trump the candidate and Trump the president in terms of his discourse around Muslim and Islam. Secondly, the recognition that he needs the corporation of Muslims, Muslims around the world to combat ISIS and that while the battle has to be confronted on the military level, which definitely has to be done, it also has to be done in terms of intelligence, in terms of very important point, cutting the funding that the terrorists have access to and how to access arms. This is what sustain the conflict. And then the more work which has to be done, which he alluded to, which is where our work lies, is the ideology. Stanley McMaster - Stanley McChrystal -


ABDUL RAUF: Stanley McChrystal, in Afghanistan, did a report where it says we are winning the battle but we are losing the battle for hearts and minds. It's that battle that has to be raged.

[11:55:36] BOLDUAN: In that, do you welcome that call that he made to religious leaders to step up and to engage maybe more in the fight against the extreme ideology?

ABDUL RAUF: Absolutely. That's what they're already doing. Prime minister is cooperating with King Salman to advance moderation. It's not a one-person fight. You have to shift the discourse. The battle is not between Muslims and the West. The battle is not between Christians and Muslims. The battle front is between moderates or centrists and all faiths against the extremists. It's very hard to fight. Rouhani is a moderate, for example, and voted two to one against the hardliner. His most difficult battle is internal. The most difficult battles we have --


ABDUL RAUF: -- as Muslims is internal to our communities.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned the stark difference between Candidate Trump and President Trump. We have examples on example, but I don't have time to play them. "I think Islam hates us," is Candidate Trump. Then you heard, "This is not a battle between different faiths." Two very different messages. Which one do you believe?

ABDUL RAUF: I believe the latter. I have no doubt at all that this is the result of his interaction with people like, the prime minister of Jordan, the prime minister of Malaysia and other people --

BOLDUAN: An evolution.

ABDUL RAUF: -- who have informed him that this is not a battle between Islam and the west. We have to go to the extremists. We have to be together.

BOLDUAN: Imam, it's great to have you. Thank you so much.

ABDUL RAUF: Thank you. BOLDUAN: I would love to continue the conversation.

Thanks so much for joining us.:

Soon President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak live from Jerusalem. We'll bring you that moment live to you when it happens.

This is CNN's continuing special coverage. We'll be right back.


[11:59:51] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

A busy hour ahead as President Trump moves through a packed day of diplomacy in Israel. He's having dinner later this hour with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president is enjoying a very warm welcome despite several thorny issues in closed-door conversations. Already, but in history, Mr. Trump, the first sitting president to visit Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of the holist sights --