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Trump Immigration Plan Angers Both Sides; Source: Trump Tried to Fire Robert Mueller. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 3:00   ET

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


[15:00:27]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are in hour two now. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

Just in a couple of hours, the president will be back in the U.S., where he will face the biggest bombshell in a week of stunners all coming from this Russia investigation.

A source says President Trump tried to fire the man leading this entire case, that man being Bob Mueller, the special counsel, and the only reason the president didn't actually go through with this, according to the source, is that White House counsel Don McGahn refused to do so, disagreeing with the president's reasoning.

Today, the president had this reaction when asked about the explosive account, which took place in June of last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Robert Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fake news, folks. Fake news

QUESTION: What's your message today?

TRUMP: Typical "New York Times" fake stories.

Thank you. Thank you.

Fake news. Fake news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, there went the president dismissing the report. But this is what his attorney, Ty Cobb, said.

Let me read the statement: "We decline to comment out of respect for office of the special counsel and its process."

CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Davos, Switzerland, where the president attended that World Economic Forum.

And, Jim, I heard you were running around and grabbing several of the president's top advisers, top aides, just to get their reaction to this huge story.

What did they tell you?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's remarkable covering Davos, Brooke, because you do have sort of this confluence of movers and shakers among the global either gathered for this economic forum.

And among those people milling around at this forum in Davos were several Cabinet secretaries in the Trump administration, people like Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and so on.

And we tried to ask these various officials how this cloud of the Mueller investigation and this latest bombshell revelation that the president tried to fire the special counsel last June, how that was affecting the trip here, and here is what these various Cabinet officials had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: It's doing wonderful and the speech will be enormous.

ACOSTA: And how do you think the Mueller news is going to affect this trip, sir?

ROSS: Oh, you will see. Nothing is going to change. The president is in very good spirits.

ACOSTA: Are you concerned how this Mueller investigation is affecting the conference? Is it putting a cloud over things here, would you say?

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: No.

ACOSTA: And are you concerned that the president tried to fire Robert Mueller?

TILLERSON: I know nothing about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And, as you saw there, Brooke, they really didn't have anything to say with respect to the actual content of the story, that the president apparently tried to fire the special counsel.

They were essentially saying that it was not going to have an impact on this economic forum. And you did hear the president express some of his frustrations during that speech in Davos when he went off again on what he considers to be fake news.

We should point out, though, when he made that remark, Brooke, even though he was pretty warmly received from an economic standpoint, the movers and shakers here, the bigwigs, they liked all the talk of cutting taxes and deregulation and so on, but that was one moment during his speech where there was boos and hisses in the audience.

I was sitting in the audience when that happened. And it was pretty clear that people gathered at this forum were not pleased with the president's remarks -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta in Davos.

With me now, someone who has an inside take on prosecuting Donald Trump. Tristan Snell used to serve as the assistant attorney general for the state of New York, and he spent three years leading the investigation into -- prosecution into Trump University and the Trump Organization, as well as the man himself.

Tristan, nice to see you.

TRISTAN SNELL, FORMER NEW YORK ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nice to see you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: First, just on the news that Trump wanted to have Mueller fired as of last June, just given everything else we know as part of this massive mosaic that is the Russia investigation, do you think that this potentially -- does the case for obstruction get stronger because of it?

SNELL: That's really what it looks like there. Obstruction is difficult with intent as the issue there. That's really the key thing in any criminal case, is being able to prove intent.

BALDWIN: Because even though he wasn't successful...

SNELL: It bears on his state of mind, potentially.

A lot of people have been talking about exactly what the chronology is going to be, and that that's going to be Mueller's key thing to be able to prove, is to be able to lay out the chronology.

Making a case, whether it's civil or criminal, is really all about laying out the chronology. That's especially true when you're trying to figure out something like intent.

BALDWIN: What about chronology in terms of pattern? I was just -- mad a list, Trump's pattern of behavior.

He told Comey to stop looking into Flynn, right? This is according to what Comey testified -- the fact that he fired Comey, the fact that the president was angry that attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia investigation, Trump trying to have Mueller fired, and then lastly also in this bombshell "New York Times" reporting that the president also considered firing the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

[15:05:23]

What does -- does that pattern indicate anything to you?

SNELL: It's going to be an interesting case. I think they have got a lot here. Now, this is one more brick in the

wall, so to speak, if you're trying to build out this puzzle, you're basically trying to put as many different points in that timeline.

You literally graph it out a lot of the time as an attorney. You're trying to figure out, OK, exactly when did this happen, when did this, this, this? And it's a chronology and it's about a pattern.

BALDWIN: Isn't it a pattern of looking to undercut this investigation, do away with key people?

SNELL: That's what it looks like, obviously.

It's hard to -- it's beginning to get hard to ignore the implications here that they were clutching at straws, looking for anything they could to shut this down.

We faced that in our case, where, you know, Trump and his team lashed out at the attorney general in New York here, Eric Schneiderman, who was my boss during that case, led the investigation. He did. And they lashed out at us a ton, at Eric, at the office. They lashed out at the staff.

They didn't actually name anybody, but they made a lot of noise about how -- things we heard done wrong, so forth on and so on. We faced a lot of this, too. This is not alien to me. It looks very, very familiar.

And they couldn't fire us. They had no control over us. They couldn't try to exert any pressure on us. They tried to do so through the media, but Trump is actually using the levers of power in Washington, or trying to, to see what he can do to shut this down.

BALDWIN: So, then what's your takeaway, from all of your experience, with everything you just outlined, looking ahead to ultimately, in the negotiating, how this is going to go down, this conversation, this interview between Mueller, and his team and the president?

What does that look like? Take us behind closed doors, based upon your experience.

SNELL: I mean, for the attorneys representing him, he's basically the client from hell.

He's not going to listen to anything that you do. You're there. You're working. Those guys are working hard. That team, they're working 14-, 15-hour days or more. And they leave. They take their cab home to go and try to get a few hours sleep at 3:00 in the morning.

And then at 6:00 a.m., the president is there tweeting again and undoes all the work they just did the day before. And everything that they were trying to plan, they would have it limited to written questions, and so forth and so on, he undid a whole bunch of that.

Now they're scrambling. Now they're going to be scrambling again. There's also the question, where did this come from? Who exactly leaked this? Who did "The Times" talk to there? Who actually coughed this up?

BALDWIN: Right.

SNELL: You're basically -- your biggest problem when you're doing any case like that or representing any client is working with the client.

At least you can try to pin the facts down and get the story straight. It's a moving target every day. You never know what the president is going to do.

BALDWIN: Client from hell. I had a lawyer sitting in your chair yesterday who said to me, Brooke, if I were the president's attorneys, I would have no hair left. I would be bald. That is what he told me.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Tristan Snell, a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for coming in from the legal perspective.

SNELL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Now for the political perspective, I have with me CNN political commentator Keith Boykin, a Democratic strategist who used to be an aide in the Clinton White House, and CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson, a conservative talk show host.

So, gentlemen.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Afternoon.

BALDWIN: Ben, first to you. Good afternoon.

The president, you heard him in Davos, fake news, fake news, so he says. He is denying this whole thing. Again, remember that this is a man who, according to "The Washington Post," said upwards of 2,000- false or partially false things in the first year of his presidency.

What do you make of this?

FERGUSON: Look, I think that there's a real possibility that when you feel like a prosecutor is coming after you and your family for things that are outside the scope of the Russia investigation, and you're technically the person who can hire and fire him, you certainly would probably have a conversation about, what in the world is this person doing? Why are they doing this? Can I fire him? Should I fire him?

Ultimately, though, let's be clear. We don't know if this is totally accurate. We don't know -- what we do know is that the president did not fire him. There is a whole lot of stuff that's being said here from sources, and the fact is, he's still in charge of the investigation.

So, for me, I'm not -- this is not that big of a deal because the president did not fire him, when everybody was going to act as if he did fire him. Look, he fired Comey. We know how that has ended things.

But moving forward, he has played this, I think, in the appropriate manner, letting there be transparency. Look at all the documents they have turned over. Look at all the information they have turned over. Look at all the people in the White House who have been interviewed by the special counsel and the prosecution here. And this president didn't fire him.

[15:10:05]

BALDWIN: OK.

I'm going to let Keith -- I know one could take issue with transparency and this not being -- Keith, is this that big of a deal?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, of course, not. It's no big deal at all.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: We agree finally, Keith. I love it. We agree.

BALDWIN: End scene.

FERGUSON: End of segment. We're done.

BOYKIN: Right.

BALDWIN: Bye-bye.

BOYKIN: I think what I just heard Ben saying was that, if he were in Donald Trump's shoes, of course he would consider firing Robert Mueller.

So, in other words, he thinks that Donald Trump is possibly lying when he said today that it was fake news.

So, thank you for agreeing with me on that, too, Ben.

FERGUSON: Not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is...

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: Just joking, Ben. You don't have to respond.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: OK. All right. Just making sure. I was going to say.

BOYKIN: I know you don't agree with me. But it was inconsistent. Anyway, the point is that this is a serious issue. And obviously Donald Trump knows it's a serious issue, because he keeps trying to fire or pressure the people who are running this investigation.

So far, we have the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been pressured. We know that the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was fired because of this. We know that U.S. attorney Preet Bharara was fired possibly because of his ability to investigate Trump.

We also know the FBI director was fired. We know that the new FBI director has been pressured to pressure the deputy director. And we know that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has been pressured. And now we know that Robert Mueller was under the possibility of being fired by the Justice Department.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BOYKIN: So, we have a whole series of different attempts, eight by my count, of the president of the United States attempting to obstruct justice in this investigation, either fire people or pressure who were people directly responsible for investigating him.

FERGUSON: Brooke, Brooke, Brooke...

BOYKIN: And that is irresponsible, inappropriate, an impeachable offense.

BALDWIN: That's a mighty long list. Go ahead, Ben.

FERGUSON: It's not impeachable. That's absurd to say it's impeachable. I'm glad the Democrats always go to the extreme on everything.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: OK. That's not the conversation we're having.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: It doesn't mean that you can impeach him.

Let's be clear about why the president is irritated by this investigation. First off, let's look at the facts we do know. We know there's people that were investigating Donald Trump that clearly had hated Donald Trump from their own text messages. We also know...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Oh, my goodness. Let's not even -- come on -- #conspiracy theory.

Continue.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Brooke, the text messages clearly show from these two FBI people that were involved, in their own words, that they had malice and disdain for Donald Trump.

BALDWIN: Ben, seriously? Right. And one of them was taken care of. Right. Move on. What else?

FERGUSON: They are still working at the FBI.

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: What else you got, Ben? What else you got? What else you got?

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Listen, the president clearly has the right to ask tough questions and to put pressure on people for answers when he feels like the scope of the investigation is far outside of collusion.

BOYKIN: But you don't ask somebody who they voted for when you're about to hire them for an investigative role at the FBI.

BALDWIN: OK.

BOYKIN: That's just irresponsible and inappropriate. And that's obstruction of justice.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: These are anecdotes the president denies.

Let me move on to those in the Trump orbit. Let me move on to those in the Trump orbit. This is Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, and even, of course, the president himself on the topic at hand.

Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The president has not even discussed that. The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller.

QUESTION: But will he commit not to fire him?

CONWAY: We are complying and cooperating with -- he's not even discussed not firing -- he's not discussed firing Bob Mueller.

TRUMP: I have not given it any thought. I have been reading it from you people. You say, oh, I'm going to dismiss him. No, I'm not dismissing anybody.

QUESTION: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is there any chance at all that the president will try to fire Robert Mueller?

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No. You know, I saw a couple people talking about that this morning. And the answer to that is no.

QUESTION: Are you still considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Keith, I'm going to let you close this out.

The obvious question to a lot of those other folks is, was that willful deception, or did they just not know the truth, what the president tried to do?

BOYKIN: It's hard to tell with this administration, because I think people often do go out and misrepresent the truth, as we saw from day one when Sean Spicer talked about the inauguration size.

But I don't know whether they're misrepresenting the facts or just didn't know the facts. But one of the things we do know is that Don McGahn, the White House counsel, has not denied the story from "The New York Times."

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You are correct. Conspicuous silence today.

BOYKIN: That seems to suggest that there is something to that story, or else he would have flatly denied it and the White House would have more firmly denied as well.

BALDWIN: Quickly, Ben, quickly.

FERGUSON: There's one consistency here. Everyone around the president said he was not going to fire him, and he has not fired him. My question is, why is this a big story when in fact the person is still employed, still doing his job?

[15:15:02]

BOYKIN: Only because Don McGahn talked him out of it. Four sources have confirmed this to "The New York Times."

FERGUSON: It's hard to talk Donald Trump out of many things, sir.

You're giving a lot of credit on that one. I think the president realized that he couldn't fire him, he needed to keep him in his position, even if he was going outside the scope of collusion investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: This is the man leading who is this investigation. As to whether or not the president was trying to fire him matters.

Keith Boykin, Ben Ferguson, gentlemen, thank you.

We have other breaking news, Hillary Clinton accused of protecting a campaign staffer who was accused of sexual harassment -- what her spokesperson is saying about the shocking report.

Also ahead, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is responding to these rumors that she had an affair with President Trump -- what she has to say about that is the story today.

And the White House rolling out its immigration plans. A lot of criticism from President Trump's own party. We will talk live with the head of a conservative immigration group who was the direct part of that conversation. And he will describe that, shall we say, testy -- it was a testy phone call he and his colleagues had with the president's adviser Stephen Miller.

More on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:15]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump has an immigration plan, a plan that is being shunned by both the left and the right. The plan includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, including the so-called dreamers.

But some hard-line conservatives see this as amnesty. And a lot of Democrats are upset over what the administration would get in return, including money for the border wall and major cuts to legal immigration.

This means an end to family-based immigration and green cards for the visa lottery. That would shift elsewhere.

So, with me, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mark, nice to have you on. Welcome, sir.

MARK KRIKORIAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: So, when it comes to the immigration framework that the White House has put forth, you, sir, have been quoted saying this: "I am starting to think that not only did the president not write 'The Art of the Deal.' I'm thinking he didn't even read the book."

Tell me what you mean.

KRIKORIAN: Yes. I mean, if this was supposed to be the opening gambit of a

negotiation, he has basically conceded significant amounts of ground to the other side.

The most notable thing is the number of people that would be covered by this amnesty. I'm actually in favor -- I'm positively in favor of amnestying the people who have DACA work permits. But that's about 700,000 people, maybe a little more, if you include the ones that didn't renew and let them lapse.

But it's a fixed population. We know how many they are. These are people who came forward, gave us their personal information. It makes sense. What the president's outline would do is talking about amnestying up to 1.8 million people, more than twice as many.

BALDWIN: Correct.

KRIKORIAN: Including people who could have applied for this DACA program, which was illegal, but that's a separate question. These people did it in good faith. These other people could have applied, but chose not to. Why should they be benefiting?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: So, you're saying, just so I'm clear on your position, you're saying the 700,000 or so people who came out of the shadows, who said to the U.S. government, I am here, and gave them their information, they should be able to be protected.

But the remainder -- I think the phrase you used was they should not be granted the same extraordinary act of mercy.

KRIKORIAN: Right, of course, because that's what we're talking. This is an amnesty, which just -- let's just admit it. Let's not play word games.

But what it is, is, like any other amnesty, you're giving people -- basically, you're giving them a break. It's an act of mercy. People who came forward, gave their information and in good faith got work permits, got lawful jobs, were hired lawfully, I'm not saying they have a legal obligation to it, but it's a prudent measure to give amnesty.

BALDWIN: Of course. Let me just jump in.

Listen, Democrats would say that, given the climate, a lot of those young people at the time didn't feel safe to come out of the shadows. And also just to add to that, even the president said -- and this is when he was -- he said that the White House had consulted with a number of Republicans to, you know, put this whole framework together.

This is what he told CNBC.

Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Cotton and Perdue and Goodlatte and the people that I have been dealing with, Cornyn, so many of the people, these are great people. These are people that really have shifted a lot. They have really shifted a lot. And I think they're willing to shift more, and so am I.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, to add to that, Mark, you have senator Tom Cotton, Republican, among the immigration hawks in the party says the plan is -- quote -- "generous and human, while also being responsible."

I understand you don't feel responsible with the 1.8 million. But don't you have to be flexible, both sides, to make a deal?

KRIKORIAN: Sure, but you don't get flexible before you even start the negotiations.

In a sense, this is like going in to buy a used car from Chuck Schumer and, you know, showing him your entire wad of money and saying, take my money. It's bad negotiating.

BALDWIN: But what about the funding?

KRIKORIAN: What the president should have done...

BALDWIN: But what about the funding? You know Democrats are irked at the notion of, A, funding this border wall and, two, this $25 billion, which, by the way, it doesn't take that much to build the border wall. The president has himself said it. And they're going to have to shift as well. It's not just the Republicans.

KRIKORIAN: Yes, if they're going to agree to this, it's true.

Honestly, the -- I don't understand why the Democrats, a year ago, didn't put forward money for the wall just in order to buy amnesty. I think the president would have leapt at the opportunity. They should have said, look, however much money you want for the wall, that's fine. We're Democrats. We spend money like water anyway. Let's -- you want more wall, give us more amnesty.

[15:25:12]

They're only now willing to even start considering that. And, frankly, I think it's a little late. There are some good enforcement elements in this bill. There's no question about it. There's some good legal immigration provisions, but there are some real problems.

If this is the actual starting negotiating point, it's a mistake. This is not the way you start making a deal.

BALDWIN: Wanted to hear your perspective.

Mark Krikorian, I appreciate you coming on, executive director of the Center of Immigration Studies. Thank you very much.

KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Supposed to hit the Senate floor the 5th of February, according to the Senate majority leader.

Coming up next: The efforts to make a deal on immigration have reportedly put President Trump at odds with his chief of staff -- what CNN has learned about the dynamics inside the Oval Office.