Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Rod Rosenstein Speaks Out; White House Press Briefing. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

QUESTION: You said something about James Shaw Jr. last week. But is the president himself going to reach out to him? Will he come to the White House?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My understanding is that there has been an outreach effort to bring him here to the White House, and I will keep you updated on that as I have more information.

QUESTION: OK.

And second question. Chaos, hush money, Russia trolls, Facebook, WikiLeaks, DNC hacks, Comey e-mail investigations on the eve of the election, allegations of collusion, do these issues give support to those who say -- who offer questions about the president's legitimacy?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure I follow the question.

But I think the fact that millions of Americans came out and voted for and continue to support this presidency makes him pretty legitimate.

Steve.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) how is that affecting the president's thinking about what to do about the Iran nuclear deal?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the fact that the deal was made under a false pretense is problematic, but the president has been very clear that he thinks the deal is one of the worst that we have ever seen, and we will keep us posted when he's made a final decision on that front.

QUESTION: And when did the president first hear about this? Was it in early March, when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of the exact date that the president was made aware, but we were -- the White House and the president were made aware prior to Israel's announcement yesterday.

QUESTION: Lastly, was this coordinated yesterday with the White House? Did Netanyahu say -- give you a heads-up and say, this is coming? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, this was something that the Israelis did.

However, they did give us a heads-up that it was going to take place prior to the announcement.

QUESTION: Sarah, back to the president's tweet this morning, he said there is no question on collusion.

But when you look at the specific questions about outreach by the campaign to Russia, isn't -- aren't these questions about collusion?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, I'm not going to get into a back and forth about questions leaked or anything having to do with the special counsel. And I would refer you to the president's attorneys.

QUESTION: And just one more. Does this list factor at all into whether or not the president will or will not speak with the special counsel?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

QUESTION: But in terms of that, though, the president has said before several times he would like to sit down with the special counsel. Where is he on that? Do you believe he's made up his mind on that?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel to...

QUESTION: Will this impact it at all, do you think?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into a back and forth on any matters related to the special counsel.

QUESTION: Let me try a different topic, if I can.

On the NSC, the NSC says it was a clerical error. But how does a mistake like this get made? And do you believe that the White House has a credibility problem around the world with the statements like this? Do you take this seriously?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely, which is why we immediately corrected it.

But, again, I think the biggest mistake is the fact that the United States ever entered into the Iran deal in the first place. That, to me, seems to be the biggest mistake in this process, not a simple typo that was immediately corrected and notified individuals as soon as we knew that it had happened.

QUESTION: But the White House never sent out a corrected statement. They put it on their Web site, but they have never sent out a corrected statement. Why is that?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We responded to every journalist inquiry that we received that we're aware of or to the best that we could responded to each person that asked about that. QUESTION: Sarah, the president yesterday talked about holding his

meeting with Kim Jong-un in the DMZ. And he said there are some people that don't like the look of it.

Has the location of this meeting and doing it in the DMZ been the subject of some debate internally? And what qualms might some members of the staff have about holding the meeting there?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the deliberations on this at this point.

But the list has been narrowed, as the president said. And we expect to have an announcement on that soon.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more follow-up on Iran?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sure.

QUESTION: You said twice now that the Iranian nuclear deal was made under false pretenses. But as is clear from the historical record, the U.S. and its partners made this deal with Iran precisely because they knew Iran wasn't truthful about its military nuclear program.

So, are you suggesting that, back in 2014-'15, we believed Iran?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm suggesting that the deal never should have been made in the first place, and even the fact that they had been known to be bad actors to some degree, the degree to which they were not being honest was not fully known at the time the Iran deal was made, is our understanding.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

Two questions. One is about the lawsuit filed today by California and 17 other states over their right to have EPA fuel standards in cars. They're fighting the administration on this.

I wanted to know your response to the lawsuit, and also the broader question that this administration seems to be on the other side of the traditional Republican argument on states' rights on a number of cases. Is there any apprehension internally about having such a heavy hand with the states?

[15:05:00]

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the administration supports state rights.

In regard to the specific lawsuit, we're reviewing that and we will let you know when we have a statement out.

QUESTION: And the second question was about the NRA meeting this week. There are a lot of Americans who say this is an insensitive time to be speaking to the NRA, given the epidemic of gun violence which the president himself has talked about. What's the administration's response to that? Why make the decision to speak at the NRA now? As the president has

said before, a lot of presidents have not spoken before the NRA at their annual convention.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, as we have indicated on many occasions, safety is a big priority. Security is a big priority for the administration.

But we also support the Second Amendment, and strongly support it, and don't see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association's meeting.

Ayesha.

QUESTION: Thank you.

You mentioned earlier where you were asked about the VA secretary. Where does the White House stand in that decision-making process? Are you guys talking to potential candidates now about that position?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We are. And the president will be meeting with a number of individuals over the next couple of weeks, and we will keep you guys posted as we get further in the process.

John.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

In his recent appearance on "FOX & Friends," the president offered a vague criticism of the Electoral College and suggested reform was in order. Several pundits after interpreted this as support for the controversial National Popular Vote plan, in which states give their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationally.

Is that what the president meant? Could you offer a more...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... definition?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't have any policy announcements on that front or something that we're looking to do, but certainly want to always look for the best way to preserve the integrity of our elections.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Also, yes, was he aware that the Republican National Committee in May of 2011 had a resolution condemning that National Popular Vote plan?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure if he was aware, but I am pretty sure that the president is more than happy at times to say what he thinks is right, whether or not that there was a statement made many years ago contrary to that.

Olivier (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

I have got a couple on foreign policy. You mentioned the Afghan attack. When President -- when Senator Rand Paul came out and said he was going to support Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, he said that he was doing so because Mike Pompeo now agreed with the president that the time is now to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Does the president agree with that characterization of his views?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't have any updated policy guidance on that front. We laid out our Afghanistan strategy just a few months ago, and there is no change to that policy at this point.

QUESTION: And then on Iran, the question of what it means to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement has come up a couple times. In the president's mind, does that mean immediately reimposing sanctions, doing what is called snap-back, or does it mean something else?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of anything the president may or may not do, and once he makes the final decision, he will make that announcement.

Last question.

Brian (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Sarah.

When the president spoke with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, did the Israeli trove of documents about Iran's nuclear program come up, and did the president encourage Israel to release those documents on Monday?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure beyond the readout of the call, but I do know that we had discussions with Israel about their rollout and we were notified prior to their announcement being made yesterday.

QUESTION: Did the White House have -- encourage Israel on the timing of the release?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of specific coordination on the timing, but we certainly supported their announcements and supported their efforts.

QUESTION: Was there a desire by the White House to have Israel release these documents in order to influence the domestic debate here in the United States in order to paint the deal in a different light?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think there was a desire to make sure people understood the truth and had all of the information that was out there.

Thanks so much, guys.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so a bit of news made there, Sarah Sanders.

I have got a number of people, but I want to jump straight to this whole story that has come out. This is all regarding the president when he was private citizen Donald Trump, his physician Dr. Harold Bornstein.

And this is key because this whole story has come out about reportedly there was some raid, he's claiming, on his office. This was February after the president was elected the previous November, where he is describing feeling raped, his word, by Keith Schiller, the president's body man at the time.

[15:10:03]

This is the doctor, a lawyer and a third person coming in and raiding his office for the president's personal medical records. And so Sarah Sanders saying this, that she confirmed that the White House Medical Unit did indeed take possession of the president's records, but she also went on to say it was her understanding that it was not a raid.

She said it was standard procedure for any president's records to be in possession of the White House.

So, with that, let's go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, who had quite a fascinating exchange with this doctor some months ago on the campaign trail.

So, Drew Griffin, please weigh in on what you thought of how Sarah Sanders characterized this whole thing. And what's your news?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we got a lot more information.

A source very familiar with this very meeting that took place, Brooke, said that this is being totally mischaracterized by Dr. Bornstein. As this person describes it, Keith Schiller did go to Dr. Bornstein's office. He was accompanied by a Trump Organization lawyer, Alan Garten.

They came with supposedly a letter from the White House physician asking for the president's medical records. They didn't want them FedExed or mailed, they said for obvious reasons. So, they showed up in person and asked for these medical records to be turned over.

They don't describe it as anything other than a business meeting. They sat down with Dr. Bornstein. One person said, this source said that the doctor overreacted, made a very big deal about the request, and then couldn't get his photocopy machine to work.

A source described the doctor as being very flustered. And there was some negotiation that went back and forth. And Keith Schiller eventually left the doctor's office with the original files from President Trump's medical records, not a copy, but the original files that were handed to him by Dr. Bornstein.

There was no rifling through records or anything like that. Again, this is according to a source familiar with the actual meeting that took place. It was about 20 minutes in the office, from what I understand.

BALDWIN: Wow. OK. So what you're hearing from your source totally jibes with what we have heard from Sarah Sanders.

David Chalian, is this just ridiculous?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What I thought was interesting was a different approach here to any questions about the Mueller -- potential Mueller-Trump interview or questions that may be asked there.

She completely shut down every one of those questions, saying, hey, you got to talk to outside counsel about that.

This, she wanted to completely sort of embrace the process and system here, because, obviously, she thinks she's got the facts on her side, and say, this is what previous administrations have done, this is following procedure, new presidents get to collect their medical records, and that's precisely what when on here, very different than how she handled any of the questions on the other big story today of the Mueller -- Mueller questions.

BALDWIN: Right. So, on the Mueller questions, Maeve, to you on this.

I mean, this was one of those briefings where you could have almost played a game for how many times you heard, well, I'm going to refer you to this person or to that person or this lawyer or that lawyer.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And my notes that I...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: They were on point on message discipline, because they -- she said she wanted to say nothing with any regard to special counsel investigation.

RESTON: Yes.

I mean, it was clearly she wanted to steer away from that subject. And this White House probably needs a little bit more of that. I mean, her biggest problem in her job is that her president -- the president is constantly tweeting about this, you know, tweeting about the Mueller questions and the investigation, constantly sending the entire White House team scrambling off-message, keeping in many ways the American people from focusing on the issues that they would like to focus on. Particularly, this week, we saw that over and over again. Obviously, this is a story, however, that is of intense public interest. And so I think she wanted to just steer away from it as directly as she could and did a pretty good job batting away those questions today.

BALDWIN: She also got a lot of questions, Juliette, on what we were just discussing before the briefing, on Iran.

You were saying the has vs. had shows a complete lack of respect. the way -- to hear how Sarah Sanders characterized it, it was a clerical error. She said it was a typo. They continued to slam the deal.

But when she was pressed, how does the White House feel after this whole correction that came out last night, I never heard her say if Iran is in compliance.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right.

I mean, she turned it over to the deal itself and the Obama administration ever time she was asked.

BALDWIN: Yes.

KAYYEM: That they somehow were responsible for the clerical error.

So, this is why I think it's fair to be suspicious that that was in fact originally a typo, because, as was noted in the press conference, they did not actually reissue a statement. They just fixed it. And she said that she answered reporters' questions.

[15:15:00]

It's not the same thing. That statement is a statement from the White House to the world. It's not for the press room. It's to the world. And just fact that it hadn't been corrected, that there hadn't been a statement by the new national security adviser saying, this was a mistake, here's where we are, and guess who is getting fired, whoever that intern was, and that's why I think it's just -- I think it's just important to say I don't know if I believe their story.

I think that there is a lot of sort of intelligence rifling around, I guess I would say, or politics going on about this Iranian deal. And they were criticized. And so they changed a letter. But I think the story still does not make sense to me.

(CROSSTALK)

RESTON: In any typical White House, you would have so many sets of eyes on a statement of that level of importance. I mean, that's basic.

(CROSSTALK)

RESTON: Yes.

BALDWIN: I know you're being facetious, but not an intern. That's why this is so, so important, right?

RESTON: Yes.

BALDWIN: That this is going out to the world on how the White House feels on the Iran nuclear program.

Go ahead, Maeve.

RESTON: Yes. It's just a question of -- the question that they were trying to get at in the briefing is, what is the procedure here for something of this level of importance? Who is reviewing it at the very top level?

So, for that to just be a typo, I just think is incredulous. It's -- you -- there's no way explain that. If there was a simple explanation, I think we would have heard it in the briefing.

BALDWIN: And she also did confirm -- we know that the president had talked to the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saturday before he went on to speak with Mike Pompeo on that Sunday, but that the White House did support the release of the documents and that whole PowerPoint presentation that the world witnessed yesterday.

David Chalian, to you.

She says that the president and John Kelly, all good. You know, he's not up for the VA secretary job. Bye-bye. Nothing to see here.

CHALIAN: Yes.

Well, obviously, there's something to see here, which is -- and we have been reporting for quite some time about the deterioration of the relationship. That is worth looking at, when the relationship between the chief of staff and the president deteriorates.

Now, he may not be imminently on his way out the door. As you know, we have gone through this with every sort of official that has left the Trump administration, sort of hanging out there by a thread and when do they go?

We will see how it develops, Brooke, but it's significantly important. Again, they're pushing back very hard on specific words or specific stories, but not necessarily on the overall health of the relationship or John Kelly's role somewhat different than it had been. That is what we continue to look and what I think is really important to look at.

BALDWIN: All right, David and Maeve and Juliette and Drew, thank you all so much coming up out of that White House press briefing here.

More breaking news. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, speaking out at this event moments ago, defending the rule of law under President Trump, addressing whether a sitting president can in fact be indicted, and saying the Department of Justice will not be extorted in the face of critics calling for his dismissal, Rod Rosenstein in his own words ahead. And special counsel Bob Mueller has questions for President Trump, at least four dozen, to be exact. And now we have them, but will Mueller get the answers from the man himself?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:22:33]

BALDWIN: The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, taking questions just a little while ago in Washington, including one about whether he believes a sitting president can be indicted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, I'm not going to answer this in the context of any current matters, so you shouldn't draw any inference about it.

But the Department of Justice in the past, when the issue arose, has opined that a sitting president cannot be indicted. There's been a lot of speculation in the media about this. I just don't have anything more to say about it.

That's -- that's -- when the issue arose, somebody in the department reached a legal conclusion. And that's what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, with me, two former federal prosecutors, Jennifer Rodgers and Daniel Goldman.

We are going to go piecemeal through the different bits and pieces from Rod Rosenstein, who, remember, he is in charge of this whole special Robert Mueller investigation, because the attorney general recused himself.

The bit on current -- he wouldn't comment on the current president, but, as past is prologue, current president cannot be indicted.

We know that.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: That has been the understanding. That's an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that is out there. So, it's never been tested, but that is kind of what the current thinking is.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, that was, I think, a 2000 legal opinion from the Department of Justice legal arm.

And that's been -- obviously, there's been no reason, as Jennifer said, to test that. But it's interesting that he made a point of separating out the ongoing events when he said that.

He said that is the policy generally of the Department of Justice, but I'm not commenting and I'm going to keep to the side what is currently going on, obviously referencing the special counsel's investigation.

BALDWIN: Right.

Just to set up the second sound bite, we know that there are currently Republicans up on Capitol Hill, Mark Meadows and the like, who are apparently drafting these articles of impeachment for this deputy attorney general, and so he's asked about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSENSTEIN: I just don't have anything to say about documents like that that nobody has the courage to put their name on and that they leak in that way.

But 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.

We're going to do what's required by the rule of law. And any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:25:02]

BALDWIN: There's a headline, Daniel. The Department of Justice will not be extorted. Strong words.

GOLDMAN: There are very strong words, and the strongest perhaps that we have heard from either Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein, both of whom have been under attack consistently throughout the special counsel's investigation, throughout their tenure there.

And for Rosenstein to get up and to say so emphatically that we are going to do our jobs the way we do them, we're not going to be extorted by threats of impeachment or otherwise is a very, very important and strong message to say, hey, we are separate from the political process, we're going to do our job however we're intended to do our job, no matter what's going on, on Capitol Hill or in the White House.

BALDWIN: But let me jump in because this is also bigger than some Republicans up on Capitol Hill. You look at who has attacked -- and I want to get to this third clip of him -- who has attacked the rule of law in this country, the president of the United States.

So, here he is defending the rule of law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSENSTEIN: No. No, there are no such conflicts.

(LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I'm just saying that this is part of human nature and it's nothing peculiar to our time.

ROSENSTEIN: Right.

No, I -- the way we operates in the Department of Justice and the way this administration operates is not necessarily the way you see it caricatured in the media.

There's no doubt by anybody in the Department of Justice that we are complying with the rule of law, we are enforcing the priorities of the administration. And there have been significant changes obviously in some of the department's priorities.

But we apply them in a way that's consistent with the rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: But you can understand why he is being asked that, given what President Trump has said, tweeted many, many times.

RODGERS: Yes, of course.

I like this feisty Rosenstein, right?

BALDWIN: We don't often hear from him.

RODGERS: No, we don't. We never see him.

Look, he's one of these career guys. He's got his head down. He's doing his job. And that's exactly what we want him to do.

But I like that there's a little bit of fire there. He's saying, we are under attack from different directions. We're under attack from Republicans in Congress. We're under attack from the president. It doesn't bother us. We're doing our job. We're doing our thing. The rule of law will prevail. Everybody, calm down. We've got this.

And I like that attitude from him.

BALDWIN: All right, Jennifer and Daniel, stand by. Quick break.

More on our breaking news after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)