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Mueller Raised Idea of Subpoena With President's Lawyers; NYT: Ty Cobb Out As W.H. Lawyer, Replaced By Emmet Flood; Wash Post: Lobbyist Helped Arranged Pruitt's $100K Morocco Trip; GOP Committee Chair Defends Handling Of Jackson Allegations. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:01] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, yes, his lawyers don't really trust that he can go into an interview like that and not perjure himself or somehow otherwise complicate his standing vis-a-vis the investigation. But in a way, the President we've seen likes to kind of use the Russia probe to drum up sympathy points with certain type of debate and going into the midterm elections, how do they think that --

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You know, that's really a good point. There's actually a new Monmouth University Poll that suggests that the President knows what he's doing in whacking at Mueller constantly and whacking at this probe. If you look at that, back in July of last year, on the right, it was 62 percent said that the probe should continue. Now, 54 percent say that it should continue. A big drop.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. It's a big drop. And I think it goes to him knowing the public. And certainly Republicans rallying around him. I mean, it will be interesting to see what the splits there in terms of Independence, in term of Republicans, in terms of Democrats. But he has branded this over and over again witch hunt. Almost every tweet he talks about it as a witch hunt and in some ways, it's working.

CARL HULSE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I do think, though, that the Republicans -- this is a different set of voters for the midterms, right? It's hard to separate these out. There's Trump's base, but there's also the suburban swing voters who are going to be the deciding factor in the midterms as opposed to a presidential election. So I think it works with a group of voters, but I'm not sure it's the right group of voters for this situation.

As far as the subpoena situation, you know, people look and say, the President can't be indicted. Well maybe, you know, there's more law about that. Subpoena, there is some precedents here that presidents can be subpoenaed.

BASH: President Clinton.

HULSE: And if you start resisting subpoenas, people say -- will think you're putting yourself above the law. And that's a really big, fundamental issue. (CROSSTALK)

DEMIRJIAN: The argument they're using for everybody like (INAUDIBLE). There's a great irony to this if that's the thing (ph) that's happening with the President after the GOP had gone.

BASH: Contradiction?


HULSE: It really gets to be tricky.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As Trey Gowdy said, the Republican congressman from South Carolina you're not acting like someone who has nothing to hide.


ZELENY: So I do think you're right, if this becomes a fight like that, that's why they're trying to discredit this investigation six ways until Sunday.

HULSE: He can always take the fifth.


BASH: The legal community is very much split. It has been over how this fight would end. Just listen to Alan Dershowitz on one side of the argument, our own Jeffrey Toobin on the other on CNN last night.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think the President has a way of short circuiting this entire process, and I think that's what he's going to do ultimately, which is take to fifth.


TOOBIN: There is nothing Mueller can do if the President takes the fifth.

DERSHOWITZ: Of course there is. He gives them immunity. Number one --

TOOBIN: He's never going to give the President immunity --

DERSHOWITZ: Let me tell you why he'll give the President immunity because immunity doesn't apply in an impeachment proceeding.


HULSE: That is a midterm messaging. Is it immunity or not.

HENDERSON: Immunity, impeachment. Yes, I mean, it's true. And you've heard Donald Trump's own words talking about what it means when somebody takes the fifth. I mean, legally, it doesn't mean you're innocent, but I think to a public, this guy who said he's innocent, this is a witch hunt, well prove it. Sit down and talk about it. Why would you take the fifth? I think the public, some voters at least might take it not so well.

DEMIRJIAN: And that's key, right, because we're all getting a very good legal education and the nuances of where things split or not. But ultimately speaking, what matters is, is the House going to flip? Because that's what the deciding factor would seem. Could this result in an impeachment or not. And the President has to be thinking about that, and if he's not, then he's kind of missing the crossword affairs (ph).

ZELENY: He is. I mean, he talked about that at the rally in Michigan on Saturday. He said, you know, there are some Democrats, and he brought up Maxine Waters and others. I mean, Republicans are pushing the impeachment message more than Democrats at this point trying to say the Democrats are.

But it's, you know, very much an open question. So we don't know politically how this will play out. But what he should be concerned about is legally, because that has far higher stakes for this President.

BASH: I just want to play one more clip and this is from Joe diGenova's wife, another lawyer, very well known lawyer here in Washington, Victoria Toensing, talking about the idea -- let's bring this conversation full circle -- the idea of the President testifying. And she kind of speaks for the majority of people who have the President's ear.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were advising him right now, would you say Mr. President, sitting in a chair opposite Bob Mueller is the last place you need to be.

VICTORIA TOENSING, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I would say, as I have said to other clients, if you want to go down there, I'm going to go stand in the door, and you're going to have to go over my dead body to go down there. And I have said that to other clients. And then they didn't go. And they thanked me later.


ZELENY: So that makes the Ty Cobb comments, you know, sort of perspective. But why are all these people going on Fox? So the President sees them.

HENDERSON: Yes, exactly. Totally.

[12:35:04] BASH: Exactly. But we have some more developments, if you can believe it. Yes, you can believe it. We're going to take a quick break and we'll bring them to you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: This just in. The New York Times reports that White House Special Counsel -- excuse me, White House Lawyer Ty Cobb is leaving the administration. President Trump is planning to hire Emmet T. Flood, a long-time Washington lawyer, with a long list of high profile clients, including Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney. Wow. So this is a big deal.

[12:40:00] We were talking not so long ago, feels like a couple of minutes ago about Ty Cobb calling in to a podcast on ABC giving some rare remarks, and now we know why, because Ty Cobb is leaving. He made that clear in this phone interview that he did with The New York Times, saying that it's an honor to serve in this capacity. I wish everyone well moving forward. That's one bit of news.

But the big news is Emmet Flood. Emmet Flood is a power house, no nonsense big-deal Washington attorney. He's the guy, one of the guys that you want if you are the president in this situation that the President is in.

HULSE: Things move fast in Trump's Washington, I think we have to say. I think this resolves a problem that a lot of people in Trump's inner circle and elsewhere have been saying, they didn't have a real heavy hitter, a serious Washington lawyer. You know, these things are real specialties, these kind of Washington cases. And if you're going towards impeachment or somewhat in that direction, you want somebody who really, really understands the nuances here.

And you know, I think there was a lot of concern that the legal advice the President was getting, you know, wasn't strong enough legal advice for the situation he's in.

ZELENY: Emmet Flood has worked on both sides of this. He's worked inside the White House, outside the White House. So we are just now confirming this from a White House official as well. And they'll be putting out a statement shortly.

But Ty Cobb was saying I've been planning to retire. And basically he was somewhat of a package deal with John Dowd. I mean, this was done at a very different time in this investigation. He was brought on board at a very different time. He's had a, you know -- sometimes friendly, sometimes not so friendly relationship with this President, as everyone who works for him has. But this signals to me that the President is getting advice to, you know, sharpen things up and fight.

And we should point out that he's had a hard time finding lawyers. A very hard time finding lawyers. But now, in the last really couple of weeks or so, has really lawyered up in a significant way. And they're being paid by the Trump re-election campaign. It's a, you know, 20 percent of the -- of money he's raising is being spent on lawyers, at least it was in the second quarter of this year. So this is a sign that it's getting much more serious, and perhaps urgent to the President.

BASH: And you raise a really important point, that part of the issue with the President's legal team has been their inability to hire lawyers. Whether it is lawyers who work for big firms who say that they have a conflict because they already have a client in their firm who is caught up in the investigation, or just people who don't want to do it for lots of reasons. Emmet Flood was one of those people who, according to our reporting, was reluctant to go in. So the question is, and as we kind of, you know, dig into this, why now?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. How did they convince him or why did he change his mind? And because it's a coup for a team that was struggling to actually bring legitimately respectable names on board, to have somebody like this who has, you know, been on, as you said, both sides of the spectrum, defended a Democratic president, and now he's going to be going for a Republican president. And he's a very big hitter. So I think we'll have to learn the details in the coming hours and days.

ZELENY: One thing that's changed though, he's not alone. I mean, one of his, you know, reservations for going in initially we were told, no one wants to sort of go in alone and do this. But now there is more of a legal team. Some Miami lawyers, Rudy Giuliani of course, Jay Sekulow of course is still on here.

But let's keep in mind the other side. Bob Mueller has built a very specialized team here that's been working for so long. So, you know, it explains why he needs lawyers like this. But Emmet Flood, I mean, he is about as serious as you can get that I can think of in this town.

HENDERSON: You know, it will be interesting to see if there is any change on the President's behavior, right? I mean, that was some of the reluctance in terms of lawyers joining this team. But it always seem like Trump thought he was his own best lawyer. And we know what people say about people who think they're their own best lawyer.

So does his behavior change? Does he like it's going to be more adversarial? Does he tweet less? Is he more disciplined? I mean, we sort of --

ZELENY: I think that's one thing that I'm safe to say he will not change.


BASH: Did you say tweet?


BASH: Yes. No. But he did tweet about this subject in March, which I guess is like 10 years in Trump years --

HULSE: Trump times.

BASH: -- ago. But he did say, this is aimed at you, Carl, "The failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and I'm going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am very happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb, and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job." Two months later -- not even two months later -- Jay Sekulow is the only one there.

HULSE: Well he's meant (ph) to hang on. But I do think there's a risk with this kind of hire, because it's so high profile. If things go bad, you know, there's going to be a lot of attention focused on this. This would be, you know, a final display that the President really can't deal with the kind of lawyers that he needs.

[12:45:07] So I do think there's a risk involved here with bringing this guy on.

BASH: Is there more of a risk than every other risk the President is taking every --

HULSE: But, I mean, is he going to change his behavior? Because everything we've seen is that he never changes his behavior.

DEMIRJIAN: Well this is the bigger question for if he changes his behavior in this country (ph). Remember, this is not the only legal trouble the President is having across the board. I mean, this focus on the Mueller probe is the most serious one. But, you know, back a few days ago we were talking about Stormy Daniels issues and --

BASH: I forgot about that.

DEMIRJIAN: I know because (INAUDIBLE) to happen, right? But -- I mean, look, a lot of the President's closest confidants in other matters are getting wrapped up and pulled away. So does that mean that he's actually going to maybe change tact a little bit to listen to these other advisers that he wasn't listening to before? Remains to be seen.

BASH: So this is one giant distraction from the point of the President, but something that he's dealing with. And then there are things that are going on inside his own administration. For example, yet another whiff of scandal from the head of the EPA. Eleven federal investigations are under way.

Will the President continue to stand by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt? That's next.


[12:50:24] BASH: And we just got a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders who says, "For several weeks Ty Cobb has been discussing his retirement and last week he let Chief of Staff John Kelly know he would retire at the end of the month." So that's there.

And we want to turn now to the embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who, for weeks now, has been a lightening rod for controversy. He's been building up a small mountain of bad press for the Trump administration, not to mention himself.

Just take a look at this. The latest headlines, a lobbyist for the Moroccan government helped Pruitt plan a trip there last year, costing taxpayers more than $100,000. And Congressional Democrats say that before Pruitt was confirmed, a top aide asked the EPA to consider opening an office in Pruitt's hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. One capable of accommodating secure communications in his round-the-clock security team.

On top of it all, and you saw that mountain, two of Pruitt's top aides have announced they are leaving the agency amid questions surrounding their role in some of his controversies. So far, the White House is keeping quiet on Pruitt's conduct, but that strategy may not last. He is now the subject of at least 11 federal probes into possible misconduct. Any one of those would be crushing. It would be a career ender.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: And he's got 11 and he is still hanging on. Jeff Zeleny, what are your sources telling you about how long this could last?

ZELENY: The President doesn't like the headlines, no question about it, but he likes what he hears from some of his donors, many of them were in the oil and gas industry, who say we like substantially what Scott Pruitt is doing, so stick with him, stick with him. It seems to be fairly hard to believe that that is going to be the outcome here. The White House essentially, at least in their public face, has gone from defending him to basically not saying anything. We'll see what the reviews are doing.

So the President has been hearing a lot about they like, you know, the rollback of things, but it's also being pointed out to him that pretty much anyone he would appoint would do similar things.

BASH: Yes. Exactly. And that --

ZELENY: Is he worth it. And the President, as you have talked about when you talk about, he does not like when people profit off of him, and that's what this sort of looks like, that he is abusing his role here. So hard to see how he withstands it. Who knows when --

BASH: Also that is like the swampiest excuse we've ever heard, right? I mean, yes, he has all of these allegations, now almost a dozen against him, the federal probes, but he really is doing a good job. Like that certainly wasn't the Trump 2016 message.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean, there's a lot of things in the Trump 2016 message that haven't been brought out in the Trump presidency. But, look, the thing is that Pruitt got a chance to buy himself some time when he was before lawmakers in Capitol Hill last week. He did a pretty good job. He said the right things, he kind of played a little hardball which the President likes to see as well.

But he's not going to get another chance like that any time soon. That was important, because in several hours where of the cameras on him he could make his case. And we keep seeing things coming out that reinforce the bad behavior, the bad outlook of how he could use and manipulate his job in ways that cost the taxpayers money. And if Pruitt does not have a similar venue to do that, we have not seen him like call a press conference or anything to do the same, he can't actually withstand this pressure as it builds the same way. BASH: And Carl, look at this Quinnipiac poll about the approval rating that Pruitt has among Republicans. It's 51 percent, which is a majority, it is barely a majority. And if the base was so happy with all the things he was doing, this would be way higher. What are you hearing from republicans on the Hill?

HULSE: You know, I think that there's a little bit of an ethical toxic waste dump at the EPA, right? And that people who want to see --

BASH: Bad joke.

HULSE: -- they want to see it cleaned up. But I think that, you know, we reported that there was some things in Oklahoma that he had done. This was a pattern of behavior, again, kind of goes to the vetting. They'll stick with him as long as the President sticks with him. But, you know, if there were signs from the White House --

BASH: So that's one cabinet area that he's got a problem. Another is a vacancy at the V.A., which is no small thing. The V.A. is obviously incredibly important. Big controversy over how Ronny Jackson went down. The President blaming the top on the V.A. committee Jon Tester, but the top Republican Johnny Isakson is saying he's not playing that politics. He's saying, uh-uh. Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), CHAIRMAN, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I did my job and every senator has the responsibility if they're presented with accusations to try to seek the truth. And that exonerates everybody who seeks the truth. So if you're seeking the truth, then you're covered. If you're not seeking the truth, or if you're fractionalizing the truth or if you're twisting the facts, that's something else. But I don't think that was done.


[12:55:15] BASH: So he's defending --

HENDERSON: He is defending him, and he sort of tacitly approved of what Tester did there in terms of revealing some of the testimony that they were getting from people who had problems with Jackson. You're going to see this play out in that race in Montana. There are ads already. But the problem is, Jackson doesn't have many defenders. He basically has one.

ZELENY: But the Republican Senatorial Committee is taking a different view from Senator Isakson. They are running the President's words there in ads. So Republicans are going to seize the opportunity to try to get that seat. We'll see if it works.

BASH: And by the way, amid all of this, there's still no V.A. head.

ZELENY: This is the most important of all.

BASH: It was just the most important thing. The President's meeting with former Congressman Jeff Miller about today. We'll see if that gets anywhere.

Everybody, thank you so much for joining me today in this rock and roll Wednesday. Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. I'll be back right here tomorrow. And "WOLF" starts right after a quick break.