Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller's Questions for Trump Leak; Rod Rosenstein Speaks Out; Deputy AG on Impeachment Threat: DOJ Won't Be "Extorted"; NYT: Mueller Wants Trump to Explain Flynn and Comey Firings. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in our politics lead.

An extraordinary remark this afternoon from the man supervising the Mueller investigation, speaking out in a way we have never heard him do so before. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein responded to a question today about articles of impeachment against him that have been reportedly drafted by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, alluding to other attacks, presumably from the president himself.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can tell you that there are people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time. And I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.


TAPPER: "The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted," he said, a strong and rather stunning message from the deputy attorney general presumably to members of the House of Representatives and to the president of the United States.

This all comes as the Russia investigation is heating up with 49 questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask President Trump being leaked to "The New York Times." The questions range from collusion to obstruction of justice, to the president's businesses.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" fact-checkers have just updated their tally of President Trump's false or misleading claims during his time in office. It has been updated to 3,001. When "The Post" started the project of monitoring the president's claims, he was telling about five false claims a day.

The number, "The Post" says, has been creeping up, and in the last months, the president has averaged nine false claims a day. This is a major concern, of course, for the president's legal team, as they weigh whether he should willingly answer the questions from the special counsel and in person.

The president is already making false statements about the Mueller questions that leaked. He said there are no questions on collusion among the 49. That is patently false.

Just one of the more than 10 questions dealing with conspiracy and collusion reads -- quote -- "What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?"

The president also tweeted that it would be difficult to obstruct justice if no crime had occurred. According to legal experts, that is also false.

We have an extraordinary day in the legal matters surrounding the president to cover today. We have all angles of this story covered.

Let's begin with CNN's Sara Murray.

Sara, rare and stunning remarks from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein who supervises the special counsel's investigation.


I think Rod Rosenstein is making clear he certainly isn't oblivious to the attacks that have been aimed his way. But he's saying the Department of Justice is going to soldier on.

And that certainly seems to be what special counsel Robert Mueller is doing, as we learn that he has a very long list of questions that he wants to ask the president.


MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, a new glimpse into some of the areas special counsel Robert Mueller wants to cover in an interview with the president, according to a list of questions obtained by "The New York Times."

Among them, why did President Trump decide to fire FBI Director James Comey? What did candidate Trump know about Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign? And when did Trump learn about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, top campaign aides and a Russian lawyer?

Trump lashing out today, tweeting: "You have made up phony crime, collusion, that never existed," and, "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened. Witch-hunt."

Legal experts say that argument doesn't hold up.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You absolutely can obstruct a crime that never occurred.

MURRAY: Sources tell CNN Trump's legal team outlined nearly 50 questions based on conversations with Mueller, spanning issues from collusion, to obstruction of justice, to Trump's business dealings in Moscow. While Trump is adamant his campaign never colluded with the Russians...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at how these politicians have fallen for this junk. Russian collusion. Give me a break.


MURRAY: ... Mueller still wants to know whether Trump knew about any outreach to Russia by his campaign or his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

As Mueller probes whether the president tried to obstruct justice, he wants to know what Trump meant when he said this about his decision to fire Comey:

TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

MURRAY: Plus, what did the president mean when he invited Russian diplomats to the Oval Office in May 2017 and told them he faced great pressure because of Russia, but that was taken off after he fired Comey.

And what is it the president wanted from the attorney general he now publicly criticizes?

TRUMP: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself.


MURRAY: Did he expect Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia probe, to protect him? Did President Trump refer to previous attorneys general protecting the presidents they served?

The special counsel's wish list probes a wide range of the president's contacts with top administration officials, campaign aides and advisers, including Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, personal attorney Michael Cohen, and longtime adviser Roger Stone.


MURRAY: Now, will the fact this list came out have any impact on whether Trump willingly sits for this interview with Robert Mueller? That remains to be seen.

Obviously, we have seen the president fuming over this on Twitter. But the reality is, he has kind of soured on this notion of willingly sitting for an interview ever since the raid on his personal attorney's home, office and hotel room -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much. I want to bring in FBI Supervisory Special Agent Josh Campbell, also a

former special assistant to James Comey, and also with me in studio, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, I want to get your reaction to what I took as a very stark remark from the deputy attorney general. He's supervising the Mueller investigation. President Trump has been attacking him for months and months and months.

Now we have members of the House drafting articles of impeachment against him, although I don't know what exactly he supposedly did wrong.

So Rosenstein said just a few minutes ago: "I can tell you there are people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time. And I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted."

Shocking remarks, and, clearly, the president of the United States is one of the people making threats privately and publicly.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This internal fight within the administration is extraordinary.

And Rosenstein knows he's been the target. And he seems to have determined, if he's going to go out, he's going out in a blaze of glory. They're just -- they're going to have to fire him for doing his job, but he is not going to change his behavior, change Department of Justice policy to keep his critics, even his critics who are in effect his bosses, keep them happy, to keep them happy.

TAPPER: Josh, I want you to take a listen to part of what Rosenstein said when asked about members of the House Freedom Caucus drafting these articles of impeachment. Let's roll that sound.


QUESTION: Any reaction to the news that certain members of the House Freedom Caucus have talked about drafting up articles of impeachment, despite your best efforts to comply with their document requests?

ROSENSTEIN: They can't even resist leaking their own drafts.



QUESTION: Would you care to elaborate on that?

ROSENSTEIN: I saw that draft. I don't know who wrote it.


TAPPER: So, he says the Justice Department is not going to be extorted. He kind of makes fun of House Republicans leaking their own drafts. What is your reaction, Josh? JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I disagree with

Jeffrey there with respect to Rod Rosenstein not changing his behavior, because let's not sugarcoat it, he has changed behavior.

And I think what he's seeing is, in Washington, he's violated his own principles, I think, and now he has got a target on his back because he's trying to be all things to all people.

If you look back to, I think it was late 2017, you had Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman over at "New York Times" wrote a story about this original memo that the president drafted with his real reasons for wanting to fire James Comey. And then that was provided to Rosenstein. Rosenstein came and said -- well, he got a copy of it.

He created the official word that came out, which provided this pretextual reason. I think he was trying to ingratiate himself with the president. Somewhere along the way, he found courage and obviously he was responsible for the appointment of Bob Mueller.

But he is now the target of a president and a White House that is obviously upset with him. So, this is what happens in Washington when you don't stand on principle. You try to be all things to all people. I think it's coming back to bite him.

TAPPER: Today, Sarah Sanders was asked about the impeachment moves. And she said simply that there were no personnel announcements.

Now, Jeff, clearly, this is something that the White House could have shot down if they were going to. She just said that they had no comment.

TOOBIN: Well, and it just shows how Rosenstein still has a target on his back.

Whether he's behaved appropriately, whether he's behaved inappropriately, he is obviously deeply loathed in the White House and the White House holds him responsible for the appointment of Comey and -- I'm sorry, for the appointment of Mueller.

TAPPER: Appointment of Mueller.

TOOBIN: And they are still weighing whether they're going to punish him and they haven't resolved that.

TAPPER: And let's go to the question about whether or not the special counsel had submitted questions about collusion.

The president tweeted that there were no questions on collusion. That's not true.

One question that we read earlier has the special counsel asking the president: "What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by campaign chair Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?"

Josh, would the special counsel submit a question like that if he didn't have evidence that Manafort and others in the campaign had reached out to Russia?


CAMPBELL: Well, it is a good point.

And you have to remember, he's got people that are cooperating with him. There is a large body of evidence that we're not privy to here that Mueller's team is.

So if you look at scope of these questions, obviously, there are going to be questions in there he already knows the answers to. And if you look at, as any FBI investigation -- and Jeffrey knows this as a federal prosecutor -- would look at, you are going to have questions that you generally want the answers to and you are going to have questions that you already know the answers to.

And the goal is to determine, is this person being truthful with us as we continue to gather the information we need?

I will say, as we look at the questions -- and I read them all -- none of these should surprise the president and his legal team. If you look at what has been reported in the news, if you look at obviously some of the witnesses who have been interviewed by Mueller's team, they could have come up with this list.

So this shouldn't be a surprise. I think what should be possibly concerning to the president is that now that this information is out there, it essentially boxes him in. I don't think it was leaked by Mueller. Mueller's team doesn't leak. Obviously, there is a question surrounding, how did this information get out there?

But I think now that the American people have seen these questions, and with the public interest surrounding this case, it will be very difficult for the White House and the president to say, we're not going to answer these questions.

TAPPER: And we should point out we should just put up a full screen.


TAPPER: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, it might be difficult, but I don't think there is any way the president is going to answer these questions.

TAPPER: You think they're going to refuse?

TOOBIN: I think he is going to -- he may well exercise a legal fight, which I think he will probably lose.

But if he loses a legal fight, saying that he's immune from a subpoena, I think he will just take the Fifth.


CAMPBELL: Yes, I would agree. TOOBIN: He will just say, this investigation is a sham, it is a

witch-hunt. I'm not going to indulge it, so I'm taking the Fifth.

Now, a lot of people, including Donald Trump, has drawn hostile inferences from people who take the Fifth. But I think he's willing to face the heat.

If you look at detail of these questions, and the step-by-step progression that Mueller wants to know of why he made this decision, why he made this tweet, Donald Trump can't answer questions like that. That is not the way his mind thinks -- and -- his mind works -- and I just don't think there is any way he is going to submit to those sorts of questions.


CAMPBELL: I agree with Jeff.

This is a political calculation. Obviously, we have seen the president doesn't necessarily go along with what may be politically beneficial to him.

But, again, if you look at the American people and you look at them reading these questions, these are answers to which they should have -- they should have answered by the president. If it happens -- I doubt it actually will -- but that is the calculus that they are going to have to make at the White House.

TAPPER: All right, Josh Campbell, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks to both of you.

So, will President Trump actually sit down to answer any of these questions or others? The White House will join us next.

Stay with us.


[16:16:28] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with breaking news. A huge day in the Russia investigation. We're learning new details about what exactly special counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask the president. At the same time, the deputy attorney general, the man who oversees that investigation, said moments ago that the Justice Department will not be, quote, extorted.

Joining me now to talk about this and much more is White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

Hogan, thanks for joining us as always. Let me just read you this quote from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. He was asked about the articles of impeachment being drafted against him by conservative members of House and he said, quote: I can tell you there have been people who are making threats privately and publicly against me more quite sometime and I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

How do you interpret that remark? Do you think he's talking about President Trump who has very vocally criticized him?

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, obviously, you're going to have to ask Mr. Rosenstein about that. That has nothing to do with us. And obviously, you're going to have to ask Congress about their willingness to draft these articles of impeachment. But that has nothing to do with us here at the White House. We're moving along and cooperating in every way possible.

TAPPER: The president tweeted today, quote: no questions on collusion. In fact, if you look at "The New York Times" article that has all these questions that Mueller wants to ask the president, one of them is what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign. I know you're not going to comment on legal matters, but just as a matter of fact, this is a question about collusion, is it not?

GIDLEY: Well, here is the deal, Jake, and you've set me up for what I've got to say and you saw the briefing with Sarah Sanders, and I'm going to parrot exactly what she said, which is out of respect for the special counsel, I've got to turn you back over to the president's attorneys, both Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani.

TAPPER: The president has said in the past that he would be willing to sit down and talk to the special counsel. Is that still operative? Would he still be willing to do that?

GIDLEY: Well, I was actually in the room when he made that claim and he turned around and said to the group of reporters in General Kelly's office, and said, listen, I'm willing to talk to those folks. I'll do it. And then he said, but I'm going to have to defer to my attorneys.

So I think that the attorneys supersede any desire of what we plan to do.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about the statement put out by the White House last night on the Iranian nuclear program. This is after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making his presentation. The White House said that the -- the presentation by Rosenstein proved, quote, Iran has -- present tense -- has a clandestine nuclear weapons program. That was followed by another statement which put it in past test. Quote, Iran had a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Am I correct that you -- the White House is saying that this is simply a clerical error and this wasn't an attempt to argue that Iran currently has an operative nuclear weapons program.

GIDLEY: That's absolutely correct, Jake. What we've tried to explain and Sarah did today in the briefing, this, quite frankly, shows that the new information that Prime Minister Netanyahu put forth was that this is actually -- this Iran deal was so bad and the president has been very clear about that, but it's so bad that it created a pathway, quite frankly, to a nuclear weapon. It didn't prevent it at all.

And so, this is what should be most egregious and quite frankly most concerning is that in about a typo that was fixed instantaneously, what it is about is a deal that put at risk the lives of the American people and quite frankly our friends and partners and allies across the world. They are way further along in Iran to making a nuclear weapon than ever thought before. They lied to several inspectors.

[16:20:01] They lied to the IAEA. They said they only had a nuclear program as it relates to the civilian application.

TAPPER: Right.

GIDLEY: Instead, we found out it's military in nature. So, now, when the sunset happens seven years down in this horrible deal, Iran is way further along at enriching uranium and making a nuclear weapon. And that should be a dangerous thought to most people in the world.

TAPPER: But, Hogan, if they had a clandestine, active nuclear weapons program and they no longer have that, isn't that an argument to preserve the program? I understand in seven years, there's concerns about the sunset. And I get that and I'm not arguing that point. But if they had something that was a threat, and they no longer have it -- this is just based on the facts that the White House has acknowledged, isn't that progress? Isn't that a -- the right step?

GIDLEY: No, absolutely not. Listen, what we know now, thanks to intelligence gathering from the Israelis, is that Iran has been not just a bad actor. We know they're the largest state sponsor of terror but they completely lied to everyone involved. I mean, they have created an illusion that somehow they were woefully behind where they are at this point in time.

What the president wants to do is create a new plan potentially if he looks back and looks at the current Iran deal and decides he wants to get out of this, it's only because he wants a new stronger, tougher deal on Iran to prevent them from moving forward whatsoever.

He hasn't made a decision yet. He's still looking at it. He's talking to our partners and allies. But quite frankly, a nuclear Iran is a dangerous thought.

TAPPER: I'm not disagreeing with the idea that a nuclear Iran is a dangerous thought but I wonder if tearing up the deal is better than at least a deal that is preserving them not having an active clandestine nuclear weapons program.

John Kerry, the former secretary of state under Obama who -- you know, this was his baby, this deal, he argues if you tear up the deal, then you go back to when they did have an active nuclear weapons program. But if you keep the deal, then that program is in the past.

GIDLEY: Right. But it's not. That's the whole point.

The premise that the deal was negotiated upon in the first place was that they were so far away from creating anything in a military nuclear method. Instead, they have ballistic missile capability. We know they are so much further along. That puts the entire world at a much greater risk. That's what the president is focused on now. We have a deadline to

make this decision on what we're going to do on the deal. The president is clearly looking at it. He wants to ensure safety for this country and for the rest of the world.

But the fact that Iran lied to everyone really shouldn't be a surprise. I think everyone knows Iran lied. It was just kind of the degree in which the lie was told, which is if they get out of this deal -- if the sunset occurs and they could just start to pick up a nuclear program -- immediately, it's a dangerous, dangerous thing for the world.

TAPPER: But that's my whole point, is the sun sets in seven years and I understand you want to change it and the sunset needs to be renegotiated.

GIDLEY: Right.

TAPPER: But if you tear up the deal, then all of a sudden, it's not seven years, it is now. Now, they're going to do whatever they want.

GIDLEY: But the current deal has no teeth, especially as it relates to -- to looking into --


TAPPER: They no longer have it --

GIDLEY: Right. But if they've got days to prepare for any inspections, they could continue to lie this entire time. You're operating out of the premise -- people are operating on the premise, I should say, that Iran are good actors. They're not. The world knows that. So, pretend -- to pretend as though this deal which doesn't have much teeth as all --

TAPPER: But the inspectors can go in --

GIDLEY: Yes, they can. Once they've tipped everyone off to what they are doing. Iran clearly has been lying in this entire process. We know that and they are doing it at higher degrees than they ever did before.

TAPPER: Yes, I'm not taking issue with the idea that Iran can't be trusted and Iran has been lying. I'm not taking issue with any of that. I'm just wondering if the status quo is better than tearing it up because at least their inspectors could go in and if you tear it up, there are no inspectors that could go in.

GIDLEY: Right, but the status quo means a nuclear Iran. That's a problem and that's something that if it needs to be changed, this president will do it.

TAPPER: All right. White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, thank you so much. We always appreciate you coming on.

GIDLEY: Thanks, Jake. Anytime. TAPPER: Who is behind the leak of the Robert Mueller questions? There is speculation that it might be a familiar face. Stay with us.


[16:28:24] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

Let's dive into all of everything going on with our political panel.

So, Kaitlan Collins, we now have a sense of what special counsel Robert Mueller hopes to question President Trump about, which includes the firing of Flynn and Comey, his conversations and demands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his contacts by members of his campaign with Russia, among many other matters.

I know you don't know, or maybe you do, who leaked this. But why do you think it was leaked? What is the purpose of leaking this? If it -- it seems to have come from the Trump team since the Mueller team doesn't seem to leak.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's the question, of course, with the president's tweet this morning. He was saying it is disgraceful that someone leaked it, but it wasn't the special counsel who leaked it and "The Times" made that very clear in their reporting. They said that the special counsel read the questions to the president's legal team who then compiled a list and then the list was provided to someone at "The New York Times" by someone outside of the legal team.

That means it was not coming from Mueller's team. That means it was coming from someone on the president's side which raises questions about who it could be.

TAPPER: And why.

COLLINS: And why they would do that, what the tactic was there. I don't know what they hope to accomplish. Of course, we do know that Rudy Giuliani who is the latest addition to the president's legal team, did meet with the special counsel just last week. So, I'm not saying that Rudy Giuliani leaked these questions, but it does raise questions about who they came from and it kind of flies in the face of the president saying, it's disgraceful that they were leaked when it does seem like it came from someone with the president.

TAPPER: Why do you think someone would leak this if it was an ally of the president? Is it to make Mueller look ridiculous, r look at all the crazy questions he has? Is it to put them out there and encourage the president to participate since the president might look at a list like this and think, oh, I can answer these?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I had -- I had a different thought, which is essentially what the president was doing this morning in tweeting, what he was doing is essentially trying to build an argument that if he's charged with obstruction of justice, and they haven't proven the underlying collusion, that is not --