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Texas Serial Bomber; Trump Attacks Mueller; Interview with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Facebook Orders "Comprehensive Audit" of Trump 2016 Data Firm; Facebook Will Conduct Audit of Data Firm Used by Trump Campaign; Trump Admin Seeking to Block AT&T, Time Warner Merger in Court. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump's brand-new lawyer wants you to know that the FBI and Justice Department tried to frame President Trump on a phony crime. Sure. Why not?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Days of rage. He's tweeting in caps, mentioning Bob Mueller's name for the first time, and fuming over the Russia probe, as even more Republicans are warning President Trump to leave the special counsel alone.

Fifty million Facebook users' personal data reportedly exploited by a firm connected to the Trump campaign, and it was not even because of a hack.

Plus, it is official. A deadly serial bomber is on the loose, and the bombs are getting more sophisticated and terrifying. What police are today saying about the latest explosion in Texas and how close they may be to finding the killer.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead, and President Trump signaling today a phase to his response to the Russia investigation that will clearly be even more aggressive, including hiring a lawyer this afternoon who is openly claiming that the FBI and Justice Department are trying to frame the president.

We will get to that stunning news from the White House in a moment.

But it is all of a piece, with President Trump claiming earlier today that the Russia investigation is -- quote -- "a total witch-hunt with massive conflicts of interest."

Just the latest in President Trump's now three-day-long Twitter rants alternating between boasting about former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe being fired and fuming about the special counsel's Russia investigation, in which the president named Mueller specifically for the first time and complained the need for the investigation at all, an investigation that, by the way, is empirically hardly a witch-hunt, having yielded charges against 19 people and three companies so far, including five guilty pleas.

That includes four Trump associates, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump campaign officials George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates, as well as 13 Russians since sanctioned by the Treasury Department for election interference.

Before the president went after Mueller by name this weekend, it was his lawyer John Dowd suggesting this law enforcement investigation needed to be ended, prompting Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is hardly a Trump critical to say on FOX News, hardly an anti-Trump channel, the following warning:


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.


TAPPER: Dowd's comments and the president's comments came as "The New York Times" reporting that team Mueller had submitted questions for the president to Trump's legal team.

And it has all prompted concerns among members of the president's own party that the president might be looking to fire Mueller. And every Republican senator who appeared on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" told me that would not be a wise decision at the very least.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Once he goes after Mueller, then we will take action.

I think that people see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.


TAPPER: Just moments ago, more Republican senators speaking to CNN cautioned against the president firing Mueller.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: That would be the stupidest thing the president could do is fire him.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think he needs to leave Mueller alone.

QUESTION: How would Republicans react if he fired Mueller?

CORKER: I think it would be a total upheaval in the Senate. QUESTION: You think it would be a total upheaval in the Senate?

CORKER: Yes, no question.


TAPPER: But with the president's inner circle of level-headed voices shrinking, seemingly by the hour, and President Trump's temperature clearly rising, and a new week dawning, we are all wondering if this might be the week the president crosses that massive red line and orders the firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

We learned just this afternoon that the president has taken another action that is raising eyebrows regarding his defense.

And CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now live from the White House with that story.

Jeff, if there was any doubt of how the president feels, he has now decided to hire a D.C. attorney well known here in town who claims President Trump was framed for a falsely created crime by individuals in the FBI and the Department of Justice.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, certainly the biggest sign yet that something has changed, the president's mood has changed.

Let's go back eight days ago and look at something the president said at that point. He said reports about him hiring a new lawyer were simply not true. He said it was wrong, not going to happen. I'm very happy with my own lawyers. He tweeted that out.

Today, of course, it did happen. He did announce he is hiring a new lawyer, Joe diGenova, a longtime Washington lawyer who did indeed catch the president's attention, where else, by appearing on FOX News, talking about a conspiracy theory between the FBI and some members of the Department of Justice going against Donald Trump during the presidential campaign.


Jake, take a look at this clip from January when Joe diGenova talked to Tucker Carlson on FOX.


JOE DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime. Make no mistake about it. A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump.


ZELENY: So, unclear if that was a job interview or what, but it certainly got the president's attention there, as the president has been fuming in recent days, not happy with some of his lawyers, particularly not happy with a laid-back strategy, if you will, a cooperation strategy with the special counsel's office.

Jake, of course this is all coming to a head here as, at some point, the president and his lawyers will have to make decision if he should sit down with Bob Mueller and his team or not. It is still not been answered. All of this is coming as the White House once again pushed back on the idea that the president would try to get rid of the special counsel.

Spokesman Hogan Gidley said that is not in the conversation at all. Bobble Mueller's team will stay. We tried asking the president this as he left the White House earlier today going to New Hampshire. He had a lot to say over the weekend, Jake, but he had nothing to say to us today.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us,thanks so much.

My panel joins me now to talk about this.

Kaitlan, the president's lawyer were originally telling him the investigation would wrap up by Thanksgiving, then by Christmas, then the spring. Clearly that was wrong. Now president signaling he wants to take a new tack by hiring Joe diGenova, who is really out there by saying that the FBI and the Justice Department have been trying to frame the president.


They were trying to target him, clearly had no evidence. But certainly we are seeing this as a source of the president's frustration, as his lawyers have told him for so long that this investigation is wrapping up and they can no longer pacify him with that, because no longer does it not only seem to be wrapping up. It seems to be accelerating and moving at a greater pace, which is probably why we saw the president ignore the strategy they have tried to have him follow for the past every months to not directly attack special counsel Robert Mueller.

Obviously, he did that on Twitter this weekend for the very first time, mentioning his name. So, certainly the president -- two things. He seems to be growing more comfortable in the role, doesn't feel the need to take advice from other people. But also he seems to be getting very frustrated with his legal team, even though, just as Jeff pointed out, eight or so days ago, he said he was perfectly happy with his legal team. He wasn't adding anyone.

And now here today we have a new lawyer.

TAPPER: Yes. He attacked Maggie Haberman's reporting and obviously Maggie was per usual on target and the president was crying fake news about something that turned out to be true.

Bill, how do you see this? You know Joe diGenova. When you watched him on Tucker Carlson's show making that argument, you can almost picture him before a jury making a Hail Mary pass, as it were. BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think beneath all the

zigs and zags of Trump's mood, he's been more comfortable with this and he's cheered up by that or he's angry about this, he's been extremely consistent.

He hates this investigation. He hated it when he was sworn in. He had Jim Comey over, the FBI director, for a one-on-one dinner the first Friday night one week after having been inaugurated. He was obsessed on Air Force One with a statement about the Trump Tower meeting. He fired Comey and he would like to either fire Mueller or discredit the investigation enough that he has support when the report comes out.

I think he's very consistent. He is scared of this investigation. He hates it. He will do everything he can to discredit, limit it and ultimately maybe end it.

TAPPER: And, Karine, we heard some Republican senators. Orrin Hatch said it would be stupid, the stupidest thing he could do to fire Mueller. You heard Bob Corker say it would sent the Senate into upheaval. Jeff Flake said it is a big red line.

What do you think would actually happen? That's a lot of words. What do you think would actually happen?


It is great that a few Republicans are coming out and that's a good thing and I'm glad they're doing that.

TAPPER: Five or six.

JEAN-PIERRE: Five or six. Not much, right?

But where's the leadership? Where's Paul Ryan? Where's Mitch McConnell? What is happening right now is Trump is testing the waters. He is trying to see, how far can he go? And right now the leadership in the Republican Party is allowing him to go pretty far.

They are being silent. They're the ones who should be in front of the camera saying, no, this is the red line. You cannot cross this. One more thing. On the framing, I don't know how anybody could be framing Donald Trump when some of his top officials have already pleaded guilty to a federal investigation.

So it just seems all kind of crazy.

KRISTOL: Don't you think the Democrats could do more?

There's an omnibus spending bill this week. It is going to need Democratic votes to pass in both the House, where the Freedom Caucus Republicans won't vote for it, and in the Senate where you need 60 votes anyway.

They could insist on a vote on an amendment, probably not a legally binding, but at least a sense of the Senate, a sense of Congress that the Mueller investigation should allowed to be concluded unimpeded, un-messed around with.


Better language I'm sure they could devise. And just say, we're not going to pass this. This is very important. We can't depend on a few random comments in the hall.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi could also step up here.


KRISTOL: Put the Republicans on the spot. That's a tough vote for some of the pro-Trump Republicans.


JEAN-PIERRE: Democrats have put Republicans on the spot. Republicans are leading the Congress. They have the leadership.


JEAN-PIERRE: Why won't they censure Trump?


TAPPER: He's trying to give your side a tip.


JEAN-PIERRE: OK. We will take tip. But to say that Democrats aren't doing enough or should be doing more, that's just not true.


TAPPER: Do you agree with Karine that the president might be kind of just like testing the waters?

He did go out further. He's never called out Mueller by name before. Now he is. Hiring diGenova, especially remember, early on, there was a split in the legal team. Kasowitz and Sekulow wanted to be more aggressive. Cobb and his other attorney, what's his name, Dowd, wanted to be more cooperative.


TAPPER: Now it seems like he's really going all in on the more aggressive.

COLLINS: I think he certainly could be testing the waters with this.

Look at what John Dowd said over the weekend. He issue a statement saying at first he was speaking on behalf of the president saying that the Russia investigation should come to an end. Then he later backtracked and said he was speaking on just behalf of himself, not the president, but never really gave an explanation for the comments.

And very rarely does something like that make a comment like that without speaker to the president first.

But I do think Trump is testing the waters here. And what are Republicans going to do about it? Because Mitch McConnell has not said a word since the president's attacks on Robert Mueller over the weekend. There is bipartisan legislation that is out there that was introduced eight months ago and they have done nothing on it.

And we have got people like Senator John Cornyn saying they don't feel a need to have legislation that would protect Mueller because they don't think the president is going to go there, which is not certainly what anyone else thinks, because, as we know, the president tried last year to fire the special counsel.

He's talked about it since then. Certainly not what anyone else who has actually spoken to the president seems to think.

TAPPER: One other thing the president has done to try to discredit Mueller was this weekend, he tweeted -- quote -- "Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats," not sure that is, "some big crooked Hillary supporters and zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added. Does anyone think this is fair? And yet this is no collusion."

OK, first of all, obviously, Rosenstein, Comey, Mueller, all of them Republicans. The FBI director given money to the Republicans. But there are some on the Mueller team who have given money to Democrats.

You know who else has given anyone Democrats? Donald Trump. President Trump. So I think I read that in "The Weekly Standard." If that's disqualifying, you have bad judgment because you gave money to Hillary Clinton, then President Trump, doctor, heal thyself.


KRISTOL: Robert Mueller, I think he's genuinely a nonpartisan prosecutor.

TAPPER: But he's a registered Republican.

KRISTOL: But he served as the FBI director, was appointed that by President Bush, served the entire Bush administration, was kept on by President Obama until his term ran out.

So Robert Mueller has done an awful lot more for Republican administrations than Donald Trump ever had until he became president.

COLLINS: And one more thing we should note. This morning, the president tweeted that there were conflicts of interest with the special counsel's investigation, despite the White House and the White House lawyer Ty Cobb saying that the president is not considering or discussing firing the special counsel.

But then why is he building a case for why he could be able to fire the special counsel?


KRISTOL: Or maybe he just wants to discredit the report.


KRISTOL: Yes, don't you think to let his people on the Hill say, what do you expect? This report isn't serious. what do you expect from a biased, interest-conflicted...


KRISTOL: I totally agree with you. This is why I'm saying even the Democrats could do a little more to hold the Republicans' feet on the fire.

It should not be acceptable after the last weekend and the last week for a few Republicans on the Hill to say something nice and a few of them in the hallway to kind of mutter something about he shouldn't do this.

I really do think they should be forced to go on the record and say, this investigation needs to be allowed to be completed and unimpeded.


TAPPER: It is astounding to go a back year-and-a-half in your brain. James Comey, 10 days before the election makes the announcement, the idea that the FBI was trying sabotage Donald Trump at that moment, it's pretty remarkable.

Everyone, stick around.

Are we hurtling toward a constitutional crisis? We're going to talk to one member of the U.S. Senate. That's next.


[16:18:10] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with more on the politics lead.

Will Congress take any action to at least voice support for the special counsel Robert Mueller, much less protect him?

The White House insists that President Trump has no current plans to fire Mueller but the barrage of tweets from the president this weekend raised a lot of alarm among conservatives and Republicans.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of the great state of New Hampshire.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nice to be with you.

TAPPER: Now, President Trump has added former U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova to his legal team. DiGenova has gone on TV and said, quote: make no mistake. A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime. What do you make of this new pick?

SHAHEEN: Well, that's just wrong, that's just not true. The fact is the FBI was looking into what was going on in the 2016 elections and what Russia was doing before the election even happened. When I was, I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee. I called for the committee in September of 2016 to do a hearing on what was going on. So, it's not true.

If Donald Trump has nothing to hide, then he should be interested in seeing this investigation move forward and conclude. We know there have been 19 people indicted. A number of them have already pled guilty, people with ties to the Trump campaign. So he should want this investigation to go forward and see what it produces, if he has nothing to hide.

TAPPER: Senator, we've heard warnings from your Republican colleagues about the possible firing of Mueller. We've heard from Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, and others, Bob Corker. But House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a short paper statement voicing support for Mueller.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stayed virtually silent.

Do you think that your fellow Republicans, more of them, including leadership needs to say more to protect Mueller?

[16:20:00] SHAHEEN: Well, I do. I've been disappointed that more people haven't been willing to speak up and to speak out in a stronger way. I was pleased to see both John McCain and Lindsey Graham over the weekend, along with Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, all saying that they had concerns about what was happening.

But people need to be very definitive that this is unacceptable. We are, as Lindsey Graham said, a nation of laws. We believe that no one is above the law in the United States, including the president. And if there is wrongdoing found, then he should be held accountable. If there's not, great. We should all go forward. But we need to get the information out, we need to get the truth out, the American public needs to know what's going on.

TAPPER: You've said that if the president fires Mueller, would it spur a constitutional crisis. If it does happen, the president gives the order to the Justice Department and they fire Mueller, one way or another, and if the investigation is scuttled -- what options are left for Democrats and Republicans in Congress? What do you think would happen?

SHAHEEN: Well, I remember the Saturday night massacre when Richard Nixon was president. And that was one of the events that precipitated the impeachment proceedings. So I would hope that people would look at the serious implications of what a firing might mean. But I also hope that it's too early for that. I hope that we're going to continue to see Robert Mueller's investigation go forward as it's intended and that people will continue to support that. TAPPER: The president just wrapped up a speech in your home state in

New Hampshire where he talked about the opioid epidemic. He talked about a lot of issues. And one of the solutions he proposed was the death penalty for drug dealers. Take listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time. Just remember that. We're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.


TAPPER: What do you think?

SHAHEEN: Well, we've seen a lot of things that work to address the opioid crisis in New Hampshire. We need resources. We need to get people treatment and frankly to have a death penalty that after all the appeals, 20 years down the road, might make a difference at putting some drug dealer behind bars, and putting them away, is not going to help with the immediate crisis that we're facing.

What we need the president to do is to make good on on his rhetoric. And we've heard a lot from the president in New Hampshire. We've heard him talk during campaign about what needed to be done to address this opioid epidemic. Then we heard him go after New Hampshire because of the challenges that we're facing.

But we haven't heard him do is to put the resources behind his rhetoric, to say this is a crisis and I'm going on put everything I've got against it. That's what we did when we thought we were threatened by Ebola. We're losing over 63,000 people every year to substance use disorders and to overdoses. New Hampshire has the second highest overdose death rate in the county.

We need more than a rhetoric. We need a commitment that funding is going to be there to help law enforcement, to help treatment, to help recovery efforts, to help prevention, and frankly going after Affordable Care Act and trying to get rid of health care is the worst thing we can do for those people with substance use disorders.

The best thing in New Hampshire to help people get into treatment has been the expansion of Medicaid available under the Affordable Care Act.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, thank you for your time. Appreciate it, Senator.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Approximately one-third of the population has a Facebook account, one-third. And they say, the company says they're committed to preserving your privacy. So how did 50 million users data end up with a bunch of operatives who've been hired by the Trump campaign?

Stay with us.


[16:27:57] TAPPER: And in our politics lead today, Facebook has announced what they're calling a comprehensive audit of Trump 2016 data firm Cambridge Analytica after the shocking revelation that the organization harvested data from 50 million Facebook users, doing so, at least according to Facebook, improperly. The social media powerhouse has been reeling, saying its worst day in four years, with a nearly 7 percent hit today in the company's stock, dragging market down with it. Angry users around the world are asking whether Facebook is protecting your data in any way, shape or zone.

CNN's Laurie Segall joins me now.

Laurie, who is at fault here? Cambridge Analytica, or Facebook or both?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECH CORRESPONDENT: Good question. I would say, starting with Facebook, as it's pretty easy to point the finger at Facebook right now. You know, admittedly, talking to sources inside, they had policy in 2014 that they changed in 2014 that weren't great for user data when it came to privacy. It actually enabled developers to have more access to data.

So, this particular instance, Jake, when you talk about these 50 million users, all of us are scratching our heads and saying, how did they obtain this? Well, there's actually a survey that went around in 2014 for research purposes that any could fill out. So, if I sought out this personality trait survey that was connected to Facebook, it actually crawled my data. But if we're friends on Facebook, Jake, it also took your data.

Now, those policies have changed but they were able to get an extraordinary amount of data. So that was strike one.

Now, I think strike two happened when what happened to this data? This was supposed to be for research purposes, according to Facebook and what it thought the research was doing. But then it was obtained by Cambridge Analytica for political purposes.

So, you know, that's strike two in this. And, you know, how this data is used when it comes to micro-targeting, these personality profiles is the question I think we're all asking in an incredibly important one as we go into the midterms.

TAPPER: What kind of data are we talking about? What did this firm have access to?

SEGALL: It's really interesting. This personality test, you could take it. It took data like your music preferences, gender, demographic, your marital status, your likes. But what I don't think people realize, and I think it's fascinating about this, is you can tell so much about a person, it's what researchers have told me, about their --