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President Trump Lashes at Leaked Mueller Questions to Media; Cohen Responds To "National Enquirer" Story; Stormy Daniels Files Defamation Suit Against Trump; Kelly Says Report He Called Trump An Idiot Is "Total BS". Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:02] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Breaking this morning, the president says he's really mad that someone leaked the questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask him. So disgraceful, he says. Leave aside that there's every indication that this leak came from within Trump world.
The president also says there are no questions on collusion. Now leave aside the fact that there are. Actually don't leave it aside, there appear to be big questions on collusion.
HARLOW: Major questions on collusion. Maybe the president just didn't read all of the questions, maybe his attorneys just didn't tell him about them, but this is a fact. Of the 40 plus questions that Bob Mueller has sketched out more than a dozen deal with the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia. Also potential obstruction of justice is another major focus of this line of questioning especially regarding the president's dealings with his former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, former FBI director James Comey, and his current, for now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Abby Phillip, is at the White House with more.
I mean, truly, every sign points to this coming from someone, some folks behind you, not on Mueller's team?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Someone on this end of that whole investigation now we know that in March the president's lawyers talked to Robert Mueller's team about the potential topics that could be asked if the president decided to sit down with investigators and from that meeting "The New York Times" has now obtained the list of dozens of questions that the president's own lawyers drafted after meeting with Mueller about what is the president might be asked about, and those questions really give us an indication that Mueller is interested not just in the issue of collusion but also with obstruction of justice as well.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is interested in asking President Trump at least four dozen questions as part of their Russia probe, according to notes transcribed by the president's lawyers and obtained by "The New York Times."
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
TRUMP: I would like to.
PHILLIP: A large portion of the questions appear to center on obstruction of justice, including the president's high profile firings of National Security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey. The questions specifically site a number of the president's own statements including these remarks.
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it and 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 --
PHILLIP: The special counsel also seeking insights into the president's response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's recusal from the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in.
PHILLIP: "The New York Times" reports that another category of questions deals directly with Mueller's inquiry into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia including the now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
TRUMP: It must have been very important -- must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.
PHILLIP: Mueller's team is seeking about the president's involvement in crafting the misleading initial statement about the purpose of the meeting.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had.
PHILLIP: The "Times" reports that investigators are also interested in learning about what the president knew about Russian hacking and communication between longtime adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
PHILLIP: One question raising intrigue, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? No such outreach by the president's former campaign chairman has been reported.
Manafort's former deputy Rick Gates is cooperating with Mueller's probe. The special counsel is also pursuing information about President Trump's knowledge of his son-in-law Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a backchannel to Russia during the transition.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY: He was a conduit and to leaders and that's until we had a State Department. And a function place for people to go.
PHILLIP: The president's businesses also under scrutiny with Mueller seeking information about Mr. Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow and discussions he had with his personal attorney Michael Cohen about Russian real estate developments during the campaign.
Cohen is now the subject of a separate criminal investigation. The FBI seized records from his home, office and hotel room last month.
PHILLIP: John and Poppy, the president is now using this leak to further discredit the special counsel probe.
[09:05:05] But there is also this unanswered question about whether or not he will eventually sit down with Robert Mueller at all. You have to wonder whether this leak is maybe a signal to him that he probably shouldn't do that. It's unclear where exactly this is coming from, but it seems to be sending a signal to the president himself -- John and Poppy.
HARLOW: All right. Abby Phillip, for us at the White House. Abby, thanks very much.
Let's try to digest this now. CNN political analyst David Drucker, Jackie Kucinich here, and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu is with us as well.
You know, Shan, you're the one with the law degree. So give us a sense, you see all of these questions laid out in one place. Big picture, what does it tell you?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Big picture tells me that the prosecution is very interested in inviting the president in to talk to him. These are not perjury trap questions. If you look at the format, these were all what we call in the trade direct questions. Everything begins with open-ended words, what, when, how, these are not cross- examination questions designed to trap you, like did you or didn't you, isn't it true that, they're very open. They're seeking information.
HARLOW: So, David Drucker, to you, the president said in his response on Twitter this morning, look, no questions about collusion. He's wrong. Maybe he didn't read all the questions, just this one, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? Now we should note what's new about that is that there's been nothing
reported publicly at least about any Manafort outreach to Russia, putting that aside for a second, although it's very important, what does this tell us about what Mueller is clearly looking at despite what the president may think this morning?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think Mueller is clearly trying to figure out what sort of meddling Russia might have been engaged in and at what level, Trump or any of his subordinates in the campaign might have been working with them to try and defeat Hillary Clinton.
There's a very interesting piece of reporting in the "New York Times" story which laid out this list.
DRUCKER: Which is that, Mueller's team gave Trump's legal team a list of questions that he wanted to ask the president, that legal team did not leak the questions to "The New York Times," but by getting to Trump's legal team it would strike me that with Trump's wider orbit of supporters and people that he talks to, it's very likely or at least it would make a lot of sense that the leak would come from Trump world.
The reason is, Trump stands the most to benefit from a leak because you can then try to attack the Mueller team for double dealing and not trying to run on aboveboard investigation and it allows the president then to get out a narrative that they're on a fishing expedition, not on a very strong investigative posture.
And one last thing here, the president in the past couple of days, actually, said that the woman that was in the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian, that Putin may have sicken her on him to change her story because he's not happy with Trump policies toward Russia and the president has an interesting point, because his policies have actually in a weird way been pretty tough but that's an acknowledgement that the Russians were meddling.
DRUCKER: And trying to entice the Trump campaign to help them defeat Clinton.
BERMAN: No, this also seems like it possibly could have been leaked by someone wanting to, you know, have the president watch television over the next few days and essentially say he can never testify.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. So we don't know yet, right, was this -- this was to get the president's attention but was it to encourage him to testify? Possibly. Like you know the answers to these questions. Or is it to say, you know, to give him exactly what you saw this morning in the tweets, give him a reason not to testify. This is a witch hunt. Look, they're the ones who are leaking when by all accounts this does look to come from the president's side of the ledger. BERMAN: It absolutely does. I mean, it really --
KUCINICH: That's right.
BERMAN: This can only come from inside Trump world. These notes were transcribed by his legal team. You know, leaked by someone who had access to them.
HARLOW: In (INAUDIBLE) form.
KUCINICH: Well, the other thing that struck me there are some of these where the president could claim executive privilege.
KUCINICH: There are a whole another set that he couldn't because he was a candidate then, even transition.
KUCINICH: Moments in the transition, he was not president. You don't have the same privilege. His lawyers might try to argue that, but you just -- you don't.
HARLOW: So, Shan, awkward moment here if the president does sit down with Mueller on this point because there are questions about what the president was thinking when he ordered those on his legal team to, you know, try to fire -- to get Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, here's one of the questions. What did you think and do in reaction to the January 25th, 2018 story about the termination of special counsel and then Don McGahn the White House lawyer backing you off the termination basically telling you do not have him fired or I will leave.
Not only is that interesting but so many of these questions start with what did you think, what were you thinking, what did you mean? Why is that significant?
[09:10:01] WU: It's, first of all significant because they want to know his motivation and before you can even get to the question of intent, you have to know his motivation/
WU: And of course he's the only person in the world that can answer those questions. You can't dream those with documents or even from people who may be cooperating, or the witnesses --
HARLOW: So intent. Intent, right?
WU: Right. Yes, only he knows what his intent was and they want to appear fair and they really just want the information. They want to give him a chance to tell his side of the story and, you know, prosecutors don't care what your answer is. They want to ask their question, whatever your answer is, you live with that. They just want the answer. BERMAN: So, Jackie, another question here, what efforts were made to
reach out to Mr. Flynn, Michael Flynn, his National Security adviser, about seeking immunity or a possible pardon? Again that's the type of open-ended question there that Shan was talking about.
You know, with your vast knowledge of the president's creative use of language and reality and the truth here, I mean, Shan says it's not a perjury trap but it seems to me there's a tremendous amount of risk here in any way the president answers a lot of these questions.
KUCINICH: Particularly if Mueller already knows the answer to that question. Maybe he doesn't know the intent. Right? Flynn has spoken to him, apparently.
KUCINICH: So he has a set of facts and the president does -- this is exactly why John Dowd, the president's former lawyer didn't want him to go -- to talk to Mueller, to do the interview, because the president does have a tendency to go off into tangents and to not stay on task. And who knows what he may say when asked that question.
DRUCKER: And that's why it's a political minefield for the president.
DRUCKER: And I think why so many people are urging him not to sit down with Mueller. You know, when you go back to the last special counsel that questioned a president it was Bill Clinton and he was ridiculed, and we all laughed about, it depends on what the definition of is, is but that was a lawyer being very careful about what he said and what he didn't say and Trump is likely to freelance.
These are open-ended questions that as Wu Shan said doesn't necessarily said they're trying to trap him but Trump could end up trapping himself.
HARLOW: But, Shan, is there any -- the only way, perhaps, to certainly avoid a perjury trap if one is going to perjure themselves is to right the answers. And not allow --
WU: Yes --
HARLOW: That doesn't allow for any follow-ups.
WU: Yes. And allows --
HARLOW: Is there any realm of possibility where that happens? I can't imagine it.
WU: His lawyers could certainly offer that and that --
HARLOW: Right. But would Mueller agree to it? Would Mueller ever agree to that? WU: If I were on Mueller's team, I would agree to accept those
answers but not necessarily as a substitute for the in-person interview where you want to follow up.
BERMAN: Hey, Shan, does Robert Mueller and his team, do they know the answer to a lot of these questions they're asking? We always assume that investigators and lawyers and prosecutors, they wouldn't ask anything they don't already know the answer to. They've spoken to Michael Flynn, as Jackie was saying, you know, and Rick Gates has been testifying. How many of these questions do they already know something about it?
WU: And I'm not divulging anything confidential.
BERMAN: I'm sorry. Yes. We should say, Shan -- and support. You know, Shan actually represented Rick Gates for a time during the time of the special counsel. We know. I'm not asking specifically about that but I'm asking more generally.
WU: Generally speaking they will know the answers to nearly all of the questions with the important exception of what was the president thinking.
HARLOW: One final question for you, is there any way for the president, his team to know with 100 percent certainty every one that Mueller has talked to?
WU: No, not with 100 percent certainty. I think his legal teams very skilled. They will put out the inquiries and figure out who they have spoken to, whether or not he listens to their briefing in some reason is a different question.
HARLOW: A different question indeed.
Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
Stick around because we have a lot more to talk to you about and a lot ahead in this hour. In the middle of all this talk, will the president's personal attorney flip? Well, today a pretty strong sign that the president may be turning against Michael Cohen. See what Cohen told CNN about just that.
Plus, this was one heck of a typo. The White House revises its statement on Iran. First it said Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, now it says Iran had one. Big difference.
BERMAN: And the administration delays a decision to slap tariffs on imports from key allies. Why?
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, "The National Enquirer" has long been in President Trump's corner, that we knew, but now indication that's the latest cover story which is on the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is a sign that the president very well may be turning on Cohen.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the headline, you can see it right there, says Trump's fixer secrets and lies. That sends a pretty clear message. Our M.J. Lee following this story for us. CNN has some reporting on what Michael Cohen thinks about all of this -- M.J.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, you know, we already know that Michael Cohen is in a lot of potential legal trouble and the question now is whether he's now also in trouble with his boss, Donald Trump.
We have this new "National Enquirer" cover story with that headline that you just showed, "Trump's fixer, secrets and lies," and that headline might actually be quite telling. Keep in mind that David Pecker is the publisher of "The National Enquirer" and he's a long- time friend and supporter of President Trump.
And what we are told is that David Pecker would not have published this story with that cover headline if he had not gotten the blessing from Donald Trump and just keep in mind, too, sort of the bigger role that American Media, Inc., this is the parent company of "The National Enquirer" has played and potentially unflattering stories about Donald Trump.
There was that story about Karen McDougal, the former "Playboy" model and her story about her alleged ten-month affair story with Donald Trump. There was a story with the Trump doorman who allegedly had a story about a secret love child that Donald Trump had.
Those stories were all buried but American Media, Inc. Now Jim Acosta, my colleague, asked Michael Cohen yesterday, do you think that Donald Trump is trying to send some sort of message with this headline and he simply responded, what do you think?
[09:20:07] Well, I think a lot of people are inclined to think that this cover story and this headline was not a mistake from Donald Trump.
HARLOW: Also, Stormy Daniels has filed a defamation lawsuit now against the president, filed it here in New York, what can you tell us?
LEE: Yes. This is a brand-new lawsuit from Stormy Daniels, it's a defamation lawsuit filed in a federal court in New York. She is saying that alleging in court that Donald Trump tried to tarnish her reputation and her credibility.
And at the center of all of this is that now famous composite sketch of a man that Stormy Daniels says tried to threaten her in 2011 as she was pondering whether to tell her story to "Intouch" magazine. There's that sketch right there.
Now Trump tweeted after this sketch was released, basically, saying, this was all nonsense and he called all of this a total con job. Now, I want to play a sound of Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer talking about that very tweet on "NEW DAY" this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: If he didn't have anything to do with Stormy Daniels and he didn't know anything about what happened in 2011, and he never had anything to do with the agreement or the $130,000, which is the nonsense that they're trying to sell the American, public on, then how would h know whether there was a nonexistent man or not?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Now obviously the other lawsuit that is in California, that has been on stay, so it is being delayed for a little while, but this lawsuit is certain to keep Stormy Daniels in the headlines for a little bit in New York and a whole separate lawsuit, again, against the president himself -- John and Poppy.
HARLOW: OK. M.J. Lee, thank you very much.
Our panel is back with us. And Shan, let me go to you and get your reaction to one more thing before we move on to what M.J. just reported and that's how the president continues to respond to this list of 40-plus questions from the Mueller team being leaked out seemingly by someone on the Trump team.
Here's what he wrote, "It would be very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened. Witch hunt." He seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the fulsome definition of obstruction of justice.
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He certainly does. You can obstruct justice without there being the underlying case or underlying case coming to fruition in this part so that is just a layperson's misunderstanding of that.
BERMAN: He's wrong?
WU: He's wrong.
BERMAN: He's just flat-out wrong when he sends that out and it's the second tweet within a ten-minute period where he's wrong about the nature of this investigation saying there are no questions about collusion there.
All right. Jackie, let's move on to this "National Enquirer" thing. David Pecker, the CEO of AMI, good friends with the president, very good friends, apparently does things for the president at times.
Every reason to believe that this cover is done to help the president. Michael Cohen was asked directly by our Jim Acosta whether he thinks the message was being sent here, his answer was, what do you think? Yikes.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, he recognizes some of the threats he made for other people. Michael Cohen, he threatened "The Daily Beast" reporter about a story that we were writing at the time. Michael Cohen is seeing his life turned upside down and game recognizes game, I guess.
HARLOW: Yet another headline that I thought would be the lead this morning until these questions all came out late last night is chief- of-staff, David Drucker, John Kelly, has called the president a, quote, "idiot" on multiple occasions. NBC cites four people, four officials who say they witnessed the comments, not just they heard them secondhand. Kelly calls this story b.s., so now what?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: By the way, I just have to say the president's allies are using "The National Enquirer" to go after his enemies, which is a pretty sort of starling development for the presidency, and it's very interesting --
HARLOW: Very 2018.
DRUCKER: It's true, very 2018 infinity. Look, with Mr. Kelly, the reporting is thorough, and I think the reporting is solid. It's a very convenient story for Kelly's enemies inside the White House if you want to get rid of him.
Trump does not like disloyalty. We know from the Rex Tillerson affair he does not like being called names and having his intelligence questioned. So, this is the kind of thing that if you heard Mr. Kelly talk about this and say things like this, you want to make sure the story gets out.
Because as with everybody else who sort of goes through the gristmill of the White House comes in squeaky clean and ends up coming out with all sorts of problems, Ronny Jackson, now Kelly, Rex Tillerson, all of them.
This is a perfect way to dispose of Kelly and I don't think how these two can exist anymore especially because the president has been operating really as his own chief-of-staff and trying to manage all of his affairs, which is what he is most comfortable doing.
BERMAN: But this is not the first, you know, John Kelly and President Trump feuding story or President Trump unhappy with John Kelly, John Kelly unhappy with President Trump. This seems like this has been going on for months.
[09:25:09] KUCINICH: We saw this when they were talking about immigration. Remember, John Kelly said he had evolved on immigration. He didn't understand it I believe at one point which is something that John Kelly, who was the former Homeland Security secretary knows quite a lot about. So, we've seen shades of this in the public as well. It's not a leap.
BERMAN: Can it last, though? I mean, how much longer --
HARLOW: Can the marriage last?
DRUCKER: No marriage lasts with Trump. By the way, another piece of that NBC story that Kelly supposedly had to talk the president out of just withdrawing our troops from the Korean Peninsula and just calling it quits. HARLOW: Facts check, the president is married, David Drucker. This marriage has lasted about ten years.
DRUCKER: His marriage with Kelly.
HARLOW: Shan, to you, separate story but important. Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus members, Mark Meadows and other have drafted up according to "The Washington Post" articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who, of course, is leading all things on the Russia investigation. How significant and can Rod Rosenstein just keep on day-to-day going to work with something as stunning as this developing?
WU: Well, I certainly think that Rod can do that. He's a very seasoned professional and I don't think that sort of thing really bothers him from his day-to-day work at all. He'll just keep his eye on the goal that he's working on, absolutely.
HARLOW: Is this stunning to you, the fact that these have been drafted? They call it a last resort.
WU: No, not stunning given this political climate. I think it's more of an optics strategy than it is really a substantive legal strategy at this point.
BERMAN: All right. David Drucker, Jackie Kucinich, Shan Wu, great to have you with us. Double dose of a fantastic panel. Appreciate it.
The prime minister of Israel says he has new proof that Iran can make a nuclear weapon at any moment.
HARLOW: You'll hear from him.
Also, we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow set for a bit of a lower open. Trade tension worrying investors as the president's team heads to China. Can the president delay setting those tariffs on our allies for aluminum and steel?