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Trump Attacks FBI After Flynn Pleads Guilty; Axios: Trump Lawyers Claim President Can't Obstruct Justice; Trump Endorses Accused Child Molester Roy Moore. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 4, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Trump still appears to be in a fighting mood today. Coming from his weekend tirade, he's taking it now off Twitter and in front of the cameras defending today his disgraced former national security adviser calling charges against Michael Flynn very unfair.
Despite the fact that Flynn, of course, admitted to lying to the FBI, apologized for it on Friday and is now -- and now says he's working with the special counsel investigating the Russia matter. Regardless of all that, the president paints Michael Flynn the victim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel badly. He's led a very strong life and I feel very badly, John. I will say this, Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI, nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame.
Hillary Clinton on the fourth of July weekend went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone has ever seen, she lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So, that is definitely one way to follow up on his onslaught against his own administration over the weekend saying on Twitter that nation's top law enforcement agency the FBI is in tatters, worst in history.
And now the president's personal attorney in response to another tweet over the weekend, declares to Axios no matter what, quote, "The president cannot obstruct justice."
Let's test that theory and discuss it all with CNN's Joe Johns at the White House. So, Joe, the president has said that Flynn lied to all of them at the White House and that's why he had to fire him, but today, something different. What is the White House saying about this and what the president said? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is an interesting set of events, quite frankly. The president, essentially or others, we have to say, who had access to his Twitter account, seemingly making this big admission that, in fact, the president was aware that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired Michael Flynn.
Now since then the attorney for the president said he's the one that composed that tweet and it was transmitted by the president's social media director, but the significance of this, of course, is if the president did, in fact, know that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI.
And later shortly after that, asked the FBI director to let the investigation of Flynn go, then fired the FBI director, James Comey, sometime after that, at least in theory, you could construe an obstruction of justice case, some have said.
The attorney for the president, of course, indicating in his view no obstruction of justice case can be made here and that's going to go back and forth for a while. But overall, Kate, I think the important thing to look at when you look at this, is the president's willingness to wade in again and again on issues under investigation by the special counsel.
He's not the first president to talk about a case, but this case involves the president's campaign as well as his administration now since Michael Flynn has been indicted. So unusual for a president to weigh in a situation like this and he does it again and again and again -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Unusual to say the very least. Great to see you, Joe. Thank you so much.
So now to what sounds a simple question but clearly at this moment is not, is the president above the law. An important and revealing interview from the president's personal attorney, John Dowd, with Mike Allen of Axios.
Crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is here with me now for much more on that. This all comes down to, Joe is perfectly teeing it up, obstruction of justice. What are you learning? What did Dowd said?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Right. So, Dowd, basically, obviously, people are pretty shocked by this statement. It came out of nowhere. This idea that president can't be investigated, you know, and I think the other thing he adds in the line sort of like that the president has every right to express his view of any case, certainly does.
PROKUPECZ: But this is what the whole special counsel was brought in to look at, brought in to look at a possible obstruction. It wasn't until Comey, the former FBI director, was fired that the deputy attorney general decided you know what, we no longer can investigate this. We need to bring in a special counsel to start looking at this.
So, you know, the idea that he didn't know that Michael Flynn was under investigation, well, that depends on if you believe the former FBI director because when he met with James Comey at the White House, when he met with the president at the White House, the president said to him, you know, sort of I'm paraphrasing here, you know, can you see your way out of this --
BOLDUAN: Let it go.
[11:05:03] PROKUPECZ: Let it go sort of. So, he -- there is -- if you believe the former FBI director then there is some awareness from the president that the FBI was looking at Michael Flynn. Whether or not -- I think the issue is whether or not you can charge a sitting president. Whether or not you can indict a sitting president.
That's a whole other legal issue that stands with the Department of Justice and that's something that's completely separate, I think, from what Dowd is saying today. Also keep in mind, this comes after a weekend of tweets and tweet storms --
PROKUPECZ: -- where now Dowd is claimed, claimed that he, you know, helped write this tweet where the president says, I knew Michael Flynn was lying, which now, obviously, opens another door, another piece of evidence perhaps, into obstruction. So, you know, I think it would be best if everyone stopped probably talking and you would think lawyers would not want to talk about it.
BOLDUAN: You just said that about four months, five months, six months, 11 months ago.
PROKUPECZ: But they're not -- certainly not helping their case here and certainly, the president is not helping his case. Look, he also went after the FBI and these are the people that are investigating him, the people on the special counsel, they are FBI agents that are investigating him and the people who are working on his campaign are the ones that are helping bring these charges, and he's attacking them.
BOLDUAN: All of the -- I mean, it's like if you blinked once this weekend --
PROKUPECZ: I worked all weekend. It was insane.
BOLDUAN: And you're not going to stop working any time soon. Let's try to piece it all together. Thank you, Shimon. It's great to see you.
OK. We're going to try to piece this all together and try to make some sense of it. Good luck to all of us. Michael Shear, a White House correspondent for the "New York Times," Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor, Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst, and former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa is here as well. OK. So, Michael, this is kind to my point, if you blinked this weekend, you missed a tweet and a different explanation for the tweet coming from the White House. So, it first came to -- the way it first came out with the tweet from the president is, he didn't write the tweet, when -- the tweet in question if you will.
Then it was, and whoever wrote it, they wrote it by mistake or it was misworded. Now, it seems with this interview with Axios no matter what was written in that tweet it doesn't matter because now the president can't obstruct justice. Can all of these things be true, Michael? What's your view on this?
MICHAEL D. SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think what the changing stories reflect is a White House that was really struggling to get its story straight. The idea that Dowd was trying to convey, I think, this morning was not so much the kind of who did what when, but rather the bigger picture.
He was trying to take a step back and say regardless of what you might think that tweet meant, can the president, can a sitting president, be actually indicted for crimes while he's president. That's never been tested before.
If you rounded up a lot of lawyers and put them in the room, you would find a lot of different answers. I think, though, the thing that the White House is really playing fire with here is the fact that the legal -- the legal jeopardy is not his only jeopardy.
The idea that is -- that the political jeopardy might be worse and regardless of whether or not he can be indicted, remember, Nixon was not indicted, he was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator and that ultimately led to his resignation. So, that's the problem and a danger for the president.
BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. OK, so, now, Renato, this is not -- this is one thing I think is important about this conversation right now, this is no, not the White House communication and team and message they're sending out, this is the president's personal attorney who is involved he says in sending these tweets out and in the explanations after the fact. What do these explanations mean to you? What's your take?
RENATO MARIOTTI, PARTNER, THOMPSON COBURN: Sure. Well a couple things. First of all, it tells you that the president's legal team is concerned the president obstructed justice. There is absolutely no reason for the president's legal team to go out and claim that the president cannot obstruct justice unless they're concerned that he may have liability for that. That's the first thing. That's pretty amazing, right?
The second thing is I think the argument that Dowd makes goes even further than what we've discussed. What he says is essentially the president cannot obstruct justice because he has the power to hire and fire whoever he wants in the executive branch.
The argument is, he could fire all of the FBI leadership in order to benefit himself and that would not be obstruction of justice according to Mr. Dowd because he has the power to do it. Look, the president has the power to do a lot of things, the president has the power to take bribes, for example, you know, or excuse me, he could fire somebody in exchange for a bribe, that doesn't necessarily mean it's legal to do so.
So, I think that folks at home, their common sense would tell them that, you know, even though you have the power to fire somebody, firing somebody for the wrong reasons, whether it's because of racial animus or a bribe or in this case because it's going to help you and your friends in an investigation that's not a legal thing to do.
[11:10:12] And I think it's actually a very dangerous concerning argument to make. Because if the president was -- if courts really found, which I don't believe they would, but if that was the case the president could fire the FBI whenever they were investigating him, you would literally have a president, as you put it earlier, who would be above the law.
BOLDUAN: So just the -- one of the many tweets in question, just to make sure we're all -- everyone is caught up if you will, this one from over the weekend, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. That's the key point, that he lied to both.
He has pled guilty to the lies. It's a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful and there was nothing to hide." Had to fire him because he lied to the FBI. So, Paul, at its most basic, what is your take on this? The White House seems to be at minimum changing its story, right?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. The -- there's a major change in story here because originally it was thought that when the president had that conversation with Comey, the thing he was concerned about were some minor issues that had been -- that Flynn had been investigated about in filling out forms. He didn't reveal relationships with some foreign governments.
But now, this most-latest tweet, indicates well, he seemed to have known that Flynn lied to the FBI which is a federal crime, a much more serious situation, and then he fires Comey shortly thereafter, so it looks like an obstruction of justice. I want to circle back to the idea where does Dowd get off saying the president can't be indicted.
BOLDUAN: Is the president above the law? What's your --
CALLAN: Well, here's the issue on this, the president is in charge of the Justice Department. He's in charge, he's the guy the constitution says is in charge of investigations. If he orders the head of the FBI to terminate an investigationand use the resources elsewhere, the president would argue, well, I'm just exercising my authority as the person in charge of the FBI.
And therefore, I'm not obstructing justice, I'm doing my job. Now I don't happen to agree with that theory and I think most legal scholars would not agree that the president could obstruct an investigation of his own office because then it's personal. It's not him just doing the job to help the country. It's him obstructing justice directly.
BOLDUAN: Just as you're saying this it's starting to dawn on me the fact that they're throwing this out there now, regardless, no matter what, the president can't obstruct justice, as you lay it out, I'm wondering now what that actually says.
Asha, I want to turn in the limited time we have, I want to get your take on all of it, but I also want to get your take from your time at the FBI, the president attacking the FBI over the weekend with a tweet, "After years of Comey with the dishonest Clinton investigation and more its reputation is in tatters, worst in history. But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness."
Interestingly, since this came out over the weekend, people who have come to the FBI's defense include the former Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI Agents Association, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and the Sunday talk shows, people no one has heard from yet, though, despite the attack from the president, the current FBI director and the current attorney general. Can they stay silent in this?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that there is a risk if they speak out at this point. It seems like the president is very nervous and it's unclear what he could do if they take a strong stand.
And I think it's worthwhile pointing out, I don't know what attorney General Sessions' motive is in not defending his agency, that's not great for morale, but he is a huge buffer between the president and Mueller.
If the president got rid of Attorney General Sessions and replaced him, he would essentially have a more direct line between himself and Mueller. So, I would say that as someone who has not been pleased with what the president has said about the FBI and has been surprised that the attorney general hasn't spoken up, I do think there is a "be careful what you wish for" because there could be a row of dominos that fall if the president gets too angry at the attorney general.
BOLDUAN: Yes. But still, I mean, we know that the FBI director is supposed to be testifying on the Hill on Thursday, but I think that seems like a world away if the FBI director is silent until Thursday when the president of the United States says your agency is currently in tatters. Stand by. Check the tweets. We'll see. Michael, Renato, Paul, Asha, thank you guys so much. I really appreciate it.
So, a lukewarm endorsement now has turned piping hot. President Trump making it crystal clear that he is now endorsing and backing Senate Candidate Roy Moore who, of course, is accused of child molestation, from 30 plus years ago in this Alabama special election. New polls are showing right now it's anyone's race. We're going to take you live to Alabama for the very latest.
Plus, Republicans in Congress are racing against the clock to avoid a government shutdown. Of course, this is a clock they all set for themselves and like to point that out again and again, to pass the biggest tax overhaul -- and pass the biggest tax overhaul in some 30 years.
[11:15:11] We are going to breakdown what this means for you and your wallet. That's coming up.
BOLDUAN: After weeks of beating around the bush, there are no questions any longer that the president just made it very clear who he thinks the people of Alabama should be voting for in the upcoming special election next week.
President Trump tweeting this morning the following, "We need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote." This in the wake, of course, of multiple women accusing Roy Moore's inappropriate behavior and he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. Two women accusing him of sexual assault while they were teenagers, one was the age 14.
[11:20:05] CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live from Birmingham right now with the very latest on the race. So, Kaylee, what impact do you think this endorsement will have here?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we heard so much outrage on Capitol Hill following these explosive allegations against Roy Moore and President Trump proceeded to dance around this race being very careful not to explicitly endorse the Republican here.
But that door was opened for President Trump to put all of his weight behind Roy Moore yesterday when Senator Mitch McConnell said that you've got to let the people of Alabama make the call in this race.
And saying, if Roy Moore is elected, it will be up to the Senate's Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations against him. So, in this state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in a quarter of a century.
At a time when the polls could not be closer, the latest "Washington Post" poll having a very slim edge for Doug Jones here, three-point lead within the margin of error of that polling, you see President Trump putting the full weight of his endorsement behind Roy Moore.
And it wasn't just that endorsement as you read in the tweet but also, of course, another attack on the Democrat Doug Jones as President Trump tweeted "Putting Pelosi Schumer liberal puppet Jones into office in Alabama would hurt our great Republican agenda of low on taxes, tough on crime, strong on military and borders, and so much more."
So, in this state that has been so dependably red for so long, Kate, you see President Trump putting his full weight behind Roy Moore and while the White House said that President Trump wouldn't come here to stump for Roy Moore, we now know that he will be coming very close to the state line just 25 miles from it in Pensacola, Florida.
You can believe that President Trump's presence will be felt and heard by the many people in the state of Alabama who voted for him. BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. He's in Pensacola, in the same media market as Mobile, 20 miles from the Alabama border just become a full-fledged Roy Moore rally one can assume. Great to see you, Kaylee. Thank you so much.
At the very same time this is happening, President Trump getting slammed by former tv host, Billy Bush, after President Trump questioned the authenticity -- reportedly questioned the authenticity of that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape even suggesting behind closed doors and in private according to the "New York Times" that it is fake. It was not his voice on that tape.
Billy Bush whose voice was also heard on that tape had something to say about that. The whole experience to be quite honest. In "The New York Times" in an opinion piece, "Of course, he said it. And we laughed along without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America's highest-rated bloviator.
Along with Donald Trump and me there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass stand-up act. He was performing, surely, we thought, none of this was real. We now know better."
As if you need the context we will offer it to you right now, here's Donald Trump in his own words.
BOLDUAN: Of course, Billy Bush, lost his job at NBC over that tape. Candidate Trump, of course, went on to win and become President Trump.
Joining me now to discuss all of this, Ed Martin here, CNN political commentator, author of the "Conservative Case for Trump," Hilary Rosen, a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, and David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida. Great to see all of you.
So, Ed, let us start here. Let us start with Roy Moore. So, he was all -- he all but went there before when it came to Republican Senate candidate down in Alabama. Now one week before the election, the president this morning is putting his full weight and endorsement behind Roy Moore. Are you happy with that, Ed?
ED MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I never left supporting Roy Moore and I think that one caveat that needs to be put out there is, there's a big difference between say the conduct of Al Franken or Conyers or even this FBI agent over the weekend, they all admitted that they did something wrong.
Roy Moore said he didn't. And I think what the president has said is what I said from the beginning is that the people of Alabama deserve to not be treated to a political hit in the last month of the campaign. If it turns out that these women actually have a case to prove there will be an avenue for that as --
BOLDUAN: Please, just get past that point, because there isn't at this point. It's either you believe the -- you either believe the women's word or you don't. We've gotten past this point. There's no investigation that's going to happen between when this came out and now so don't hide behind the fact that if these women's accusations bear out and are true then you will then believe it. It's either you believe it or you don't.
MARTIN: Well, as I've said before, first of all, there's two things that are in conflict. I've said from the beginning I don't know the women to say that they're not telling the truth. I don't know how I could know that and most people do. The second thing you and every other major news outlet said that Al Franken is OK to go to the Ethics Committee to get an investigation.
BOLDUAN: I haven't said it. Don't do that, Ed.
[11:25:13] MARTIN: Well, CNN has. Everyone has. That's a proper venue for something to happen. It won't be much in Al Franken's case but why should the people of Alabama have to listen to people tell them what the facts are when they can't judge. They know Roy Moore and the people. I mean, what's the -- they're going to make a vote on that, right.
BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Hilary.
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is the problem with this false equivalency and I think honestly the Democrats screwed this up with Al Franken, but --
ROSEN: The fact that you -- that you justify saying that Roy Moore, who these women were credible, they were public, they have nothing to gain, and by the way, they were Republicans, still are Republicans, the fact that you say -- well, it's OK for Roy Moore to be in the Senate because Al Franken is there, is just appalling.
MARTIN: I didn't say that.
ROSEN: That's literally what the Republicans have done. Mitch McConnell and Cory Gardner, the chair of the Republican Campaign Committee, said just two and a half weeks ago, that he should not be in the Senate.
What happens yesterday, you know, we need a vote for tax reform. We need a vote for -- we need votes. That's disgusting. The idea that Mitch McConnell walked back his claim that Roy Moore should not be in the Senate and gave the president permission somehow to do the same thing.
You guys should be ashamed of yourselves to suggest that because Al Franken put his hand on a women's ass that Roy Moore should also be in the Senate -- sorry.
MARTIN: I never said that.
ROSEN: You should be ashamed of that. MARTIN: I never said that.
BOLDUAN: It's cable. Don't act like that actually hurts your feelings. Go on.
MARTIN: I'm ashamed on national tv you use that kind language. All of I've said was that from the very beginning --
BOLDUAN: We -- let me just be clear, let me be clear, you can actually say that word on cable.
ROSEN: It's OK to say --
MARTIN: That's not what Al Franken did. The picture shows something different. But let's go back to the --
ROSEN: I'm not defending Al Franken, but you shouldn't defend Roy Moore.
MARTIN: Well, I'm saying that the people of Alabama, five weeks before an election, are treated to a litany of people who say one thing and by the way, you're not telling the truth, Hilary, when you say that all of the people accused him have been credible. There have been people shown not to be credible.
ROSEN: No, they haven't.
MARTIN: All I've said from the beginning is we can't tell who is telling the truth, but we can let the people vote and then as you and others have said about Al Franken, let the thing go forward after that. We'll see.
BOLDUAN: David, David, jump in on this, I want to get your -- I don't know what I want to get from you now, David.
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN, FLORIDA: Let me --
BOLDUAN: Why just don't you give me your take.
JOLLY: Let me try to build a bridge if possible in this one. Look, I believe the women and I don't think Roy Moore should be in the Senate nor should he be in the Republican party. But Hilary was right, we saw a significant shift in the Republican Party's approach to this this weekend and it's very significant.
Just a few weeks ago, people were suggesting that -- Republicans were suggesting he shouldn't be seated if he won. Now we're seeing a full- fledged endorsement by the president, Mitch McConnell equivocate and silence from Cory Gardner and others regarding this Roy Moore situation.
I would say Republicans this morning woke up and I was one of them that woke up feeling disappointment. Outrage for several weeks but disappointment that this is now the face of the party. Donald Trump endorsing Roy Moore. There are those like Ed who cheered this endorsement that think it's the right thing. This is a family conversation within the party. I will say where I probably agree with Ed, is if the people of Alabama having all this information do popularly elect Roy Moore, he should be seated.
Now should he be subject to an Ethics investigation? Yes, probably so. But we don't want a precedent where the United States Senate determines whether or not to accept a popular vote of a senator from a state in the United States.
BOLDUAN: Let me play just because this has been a big part of the conversation right now, let me play what we're talking about in terms of a change over the weekend. Mitch McConnell, speaking on the weekend talk shows, asked about his -- what has been a consistent position that he had that Roy Moore should drop out.
And he also has said very clearly that if he made it to the Senate he would likely go through -- see himself going through proceedings to expel. But then this is what Mitch McConnell said over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you insist on referring his case to the Senate Ethics Committee?
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think we're going to let the people of Alabama decided a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate and we'll address the matter appropriately. I've already said in the past, that I thought this was a matter that would have to be considered by the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Judge Moore should be in the Senate?
MCCONNELL: I will let the people of Alabama make the call. The Ethics Committee will have to consider the matters that have been litigated in the campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said you believe Roy Moore's accusers. What about the president's? At least ten women have come forward accusing him. Do you believe them and should that be investigated?
MCCONNELL: My job is to be the majority leader of the Senate and we have jurisdictions over these matters when there is a senator accused of some wrongdoing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: I really want to get both sides and your take. Hilary, what do you think changed from this?