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Mueller Questions Russian Oligarch About Payments to Michael Cohen; Interview With California Senator Kamala Harris. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 16:30   ET



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I will not vote to confirm her as the next director of the CIA.

And -- and I will tell you why, Jake. I mean, first of all, let's just set the table. The work of the men and women of the CIA is noble, important work. They do it at great sacrifice, with incredible service.

If you have ever been to that building, you will know that there are stars with no names of those who have fallen in service to our country.


HARRIS: So they do it without any expectation of award or reward, and they should always be honored.

And the mission of the CIA should be honored. This is an issue that is not about the integrity of the men and women of that agency or its mission. This is an issue about whether this particular person should head that agency.

And it's really important to understand that, when we make that decision, it will be a statement, it will be a signal about our values as a country in terms of how we value the rule of law, how we value transparency, how we value our moral authority.

And I'm concerned that she is not the best signal to the work force of that agency, to the American people, or to our neighbors around the globe.

And so I'm going to vote against her.

TAPPER: What specifically is there in her record that you object to?

I'm sure I don't need to tell you she would be the first woman CIA director.

HARRIS: Of course.

And there is so much reason to always take great pride. I have been the first woman in many positions I have held. It is very important to have women in all these positions.

But I'm not going to accept a false choice, that you either accept a woman, or you -- or you accept someone who has not admitted that torture is morally wrong. I think we can have both.

There are plenty of qualified women in the CIA who should -- whose names should be put forward for the nomination and certainly for higher positions within the agency. This is not that question.


HARRIS: This is a question of whether we're going to have someone who heads up that very important agency who has the ability to make decisions that for the most part will be made in secret, and for the most part will be decisions that must be made in the heat of the moment, and that they will have the center, they will have the ability and the conviction to make the right decision, even when no one is watching.

And for this nominee, we don't have to speculate about the scenario. We actually have an example, which is what happened after 9/11. And, frankly, on the test of where she would make a decision in terms of whether it is morally right or wrong, she failed.

TAPPER: So it was really her answer, or rather lack of answer, to your question, which is basically is, is torture morally wrong, are enhanced techniques -- quote, unquote -- "morally wrong," her inability to answer that, that leads you to this conclusion that you are not going to vote for her?

HARRIS: Well, there is more than that. There is what we discussed in a classified setting.

And there's something else which we discussed in the open hearing. She admitted that she is the one making a decision about whether the American public has access to information about her professional background. She is the one who is making the decision about whether or not the American public will hear things that may not be favorable.

And so my question to her was whether she would be willing to recuse herself from making that decision to avoid an appearance of conflict, so that the American public can judge for themselves whether they believe that her record of work supports the idea that she would be a good leader.

And she was not willing to say that she would recuse herself. I asked her as a follow-up, because I have submitted a letter actually suggesting that, instead of her making the decision about what should be classified and unclassified in terms of CIA reports, that instead that would go to the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.

And she wouldn't agree that he should make the decision, instead of her, because of an appearance of conflict. These are problems, because it is not only about her background. It's about her willingness to be transparent where transparency is an option. TAPPER: Senator, as you know, many intelligence chiefs from Democrat

and Republican administrations are supporting Gina Haspel's nomination, including General James Clapper, who worked under Obama, John Brennan, who worked under Obama, Mike Morell, who worked under Obama.

Would you be opposing Gina Haspel if she had been nominated by President Obama, which, by the way, I find credible that he could have nominated her, given the fact that there seems to be such support for her among these Obama officials? What do you think of that?

HARRIS: I think that each candidate, each nominee should be judged based on their record, regardless of who appoints them, period.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Jake. Take care.

TAPPER: Let's go right now to Phil Mudd, one of our commentators here on CNN.

Phil, you have just heard Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, a rising star in her party, saying she will vote against Gina Haspel for CIA director.

You used to work for the CIA. What is your reaction?


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: She spoke about American values and she spoke about rule of law.

I appreciate what she votes on. She can vote however she wants. I don't appreciate the collective amnesia. Let's go dirty and let's go ugly. I was among the CIA officers 15 years ago who spoke with the Congress in detail about the techniques we used.

I spoke about the techniques that were authorized by the Department of Justice. I spoke to Republicans and Democrats. They were either silent or supportive. We have talked to the people who represent rule of law. I can't help that they were Republicans. They were voted on by the American people when they voted for a Republican president.

They were the highest lawyers in the land, including the attorney general. They told us this was not torture, that it complied with the Constitution and that it complied with U.S. law. You can vote against Gina Haspel, but don't give me the collective amnesia about how it is on CIA.

I want to talk to the senators who told us that they represented American values, and conveniently, in 2002 and 2003, this represented American values. Now that we don't face the same threat and that we have different senators, it's OK to attack one of my former colleagues.

I'm pissed off. This is collective amnesia. We didn't do it. America did it. Get over it.

TAPPER: So, just in Kamala Harris' defense, Senator Harris' defense, she's a freshman member of Congress. She was not there. She was not among the Democrats and Republicans that you are talking about just individually.

I just want to make that point.

But let's branch this out to others in the panel.

John Avlon, you heard Phil Mudd there objecting, the idea that Gina Haspel is being held accountable for decisions made at the CIA that were approved by the U.S. Congress offends him, and I'm sure offends other people as well.

Your response?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. Look, righteous fury from Philip Mudd and people in that immediate 9/11 period, it is important to see things in context.

I think America has had a conversation about the wisdom of torture in the wake of 9/11 and come out on the right side, which is that it degrades our moral authority.

For me, the question about Gina Haspel -- and these questions are legitimate, questions about when she was running the CIA black site in Thailand, what occurred there, questions about the destruction of videotapes -- those are all legitimate questions and inquiry.

But for me, it is also significant that you have so many Obama CIA era chiefs, Leon Panetta, Brennan, Morell, who are saying she's eminently qualified. This is not a qualified argument. This is not a Ronny Jackson repeat.

You can say that her involvement was troubling. distasteful. You can press her on the points. But I don't think you can have a debate about whether she's qualified. She is.

Will this be a partisan vote? Sure. If Obama nominated her, would be some progressive Democrats oppose on the grounds of the black site and other things? Probably.

I think the vote is probably going to come out in her favor. These are questions that demand tough inquiry, whether she would follow an order from Trump. But I think we got to find a way to impose that context that Philip Mudd so righteously says we need to do in judging somebody's actions.


MUDD: No, I think Jon is right.

Let's make sure we understand the two different questions. America is in a different place both in terms of its ability to reflect on what we started to do 16 years ago, when we first captured the first major al Qaeda prisoner in the spring of 2002, and what America thinks today.

Perfectly appropriate and the Congress has passed different laws. It's also appropriate to say that people, including Kamala Harris, are uncomfortable with where America was 16 years ago.

But to go back and say this person did something -- that is Gina Haspel -- did something that reflected where the American psyche was and therefore I will judge her today and pretend that somehow CIA in isolation didn't represent American values, I reject that.

Jon is right. I do not agree with Senator Harris in her characterization of history 16 years ago. It wasn't that way.

TAPPER: So, Laura Coates, let me bring you in.

Obviously, there were people within the CIA, within the intelligence community, even within the Justice Department at the time who disagreed with the interpretation that enhanced interrogation techniques were acceptable. They maybe didn't prevail initially, but they did ultimately prevail.

Should Gina Haspel be held to account for decisions that were agreed upon and then basically the government changed its mind?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think in part, yes. I think that it is probably inappropriate to ask her about questions of morality, when there are national security interests at stake, which is one of the reasons people find this to be quite a conundrum.

The idea that you would impose a moral compass when you're talking about enhanced interrogation, AKA, torture, water-boarding, walling, sleep deprivation, a whole host of things, is almost a strained interpretation of what the role of the CIA was at that time.

But I must say, I have to agree with Phil, in the sense that you don't have to go back 16 years about the torture techniques, which I disagree with. And I also disagree with the fact that both of the men who were under the torture techniques are still at Guantanamo Bay right now as we speak.

The larger issue is that, in 2011, when there was an investigative report about the techniques, also about the destruction of the videotapes that actually confirmed what was happening at that time, especially as the photographs of Abu Ghraib emerged, there was not even a follow-up question from the Democratic congressman or even the White House.


And so to that degree, I think at this point in time it seems to be particularly hypocritical and untimely to question it now.

TAPPER: I want to change the subject, if we can, to the other big story of the day, which has to do with Michael Cohen taking this giant payment from an investment bank with ties to a Putin crony and Russian oligarch, as well as from other -- other several other corporations in this company.

Margaret Hoover, let me bring you on this.

When you look at the arrangement -- and, granted, we don't have all of information right now -- you know as well as I that influence peddling is an age-old tradition in Washington. Now, do you have to register as a lobbyist if do you it? And if you don't, that is against the law.

But just as a matter -- as an ethical and moral matter, not legal, if he was not registered as a lobbyist, is there anything necessarily nefarious going on here with Michael Cohen taking all this money from an investment bank with ties to a Putin crony, as well as these other corporations?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Straight on the top of the reporting on the surface of it, not necessarily.

Again, we don't know the extent of this, though. Influence peddling happens. The problem you get at initially is that hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics. And Donald Trump ran on draining the swamp.

And instead of draining the swamp, he has brought in his own guys who are enriching themselves potentially. What it looks like is, at least, at the very least, in the most innocent version, his own people are enriching themselves based on their closeness to him and the presidency.

That's the best-case scenario.

TAPPER: So, the best interpretation is that it is swampy.

Laura Coates, let me ask you a question.

We know that the Mueller team questioned that Russian oligarch about this alleged half-million-dollar payment to Michael Cohen. Does the fact that the Mueller team knew about this, but still referred the Michael Cohen case to the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, presumably because it is outside of the purview of the Mueller investigation, does that suggest to you that this has already been investigated and it has nothing to do with Russian election interference or collusion, or not necessarily?

COATES: Not necessarily.

Remember, the special counsel does have within its mandate the ability to investigate all matters that it comes across that may have some ties or they have come across that has a connection to their collusion investigation or the finances of other people.

And so it may be that this right now is not under the purview, but he could actually take it back at some point in time and say I'm now interested in this particular course of action.

But it is very important to acknowledge that right now Mueller -- this was one of two Russians that they stopped at that airport outside of New York. They looked at the files. They asked questions. They probably took the phone when they were under the jurisdictional power of the United States of America.

There may be things still in the works here. And I'm sure if I'm part of Mueller's team, they are probably a little bit perturbed that Michael Avenatti has disclosed a heap of information about things that may have had to do with their overall investigation.

But the fact that has been farmed out in one category does not mean that it is not of interest in other areas that have not yet materialized for Mueller and his team.

TAPPER: John Avlon?


Look, we have got to not normalize this. So, I will disagree with (INAUDIBLE) a bit on this one.

Look, this is not simply Washington influence peddling. This is simply not restocking the swamp. This all occurs after we know that Russians tried to influence the election on Donald Trump's behalf. And his personal lawyer gets a payment from a company associated with a Kremlin-associate oligarch for a half-million dollars for services basically unknown at this point.

Politics is perception. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. If you are the president's personal lawyer, you probably don't jump at that money, because it is going to create a ton of problems for the president, for yourself and really for issues of the national interest.

So if greed overrides good judgment, that speaks to the culture and the character of the individuals involved. And so this should not be normalized as simply K Street moved up to Upstate.

TAPPER: So, we're going to talk more about this after the break, but we're going to squeeze in one quick break right now, if we can.

Stay with us.

They spent months behind bars in North Korea. So, what will the three Americans who are right now flying back to the United States, what will they be able to reveal to U.S. intelligence officers?

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A welcome day for three families and a major achievement for President Trump on the world stage. As we speak, his new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed back from North Korea. On his plane, three American detainees previously held by Kim Jong-un's regime. Tony Kim, arrested in April 2017, Kim Hak Song, detained may of 2017, and Kim Dong-Chul arrested in October of 2015. President Trump is preparing for their arrival while also hoping this bodes well for his upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader though he also acknowledged today that anything could happen at the summit, good or bad. CNN's Pamela Brown filed this for us from the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People never thought a thing like this could happen.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Team Trump is flying high this afternoon after success in North Korea.

TRUMP: We're honored by the fact that the three gentlemen are coming home.

BROWN: Three American prisoners held by North Korea's regime are heading home as free men which Trump announced in the surprise tweet. I'm pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the three wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Their aircraft seen here at an early morning stop in Tokyo will land at Joint Base Andrews tomorrow in the early morning hours. The President and Vice President will personally greet them.

TRUMP: It will be quite a scene and it will be -- to me it's very exciting because it represents something. It represents something very important to this country. Nobody thought this was going to happen. And if it did, it would be years or decades frankly.

BROWN: Newly released detainees Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim were arrested last spring as relations between Pyongyang and the Trump administration grew more tense.

TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury like the word has never seen.

BROWN: The two employees at Pyongyang University were accused of carrying out hostile acts against the regime. The third American, businessman Kim Dong Chul had been held since 2015. Already some Republican members of Congress are calling for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

[16:50:15] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You deserve the Nobel Prize don't you think?

TRUMP: Everybody thinks so but I would never say it.

BROWN: A single day summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un now appears firmly scheduled. The date and place to be announced within days.

TRUMP: We have a really good shot at making it successful, but lots of things can happen.

BROWN: The spotlight on North Korean relations comes just one day after President Trump's bombshell announcement.

TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

BROWN: That decision caused international outrage. Iranian lawmakers so furious they burned American flag and copies of the agreement on the floor of parliament.

TRUMP: They've got to understand life.

BROWN: Today, Trump responded with a threat sure to keep the world watching.

TRUMP: I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequences.


BROWN: Unclear what those severe consequences would be, the President ruled out the DMZ in terms of North Korea where the summit would take place leaving Singapore as a likely location for the summit between the president and Kim Jong-un. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House for us, thanks so much. My panel is back with me. So, Phil Mudd, it's not France or the European Union, planning a summit with North Korea, it's President Trump, it's not Russia pulling out of the Iran deal, it's President Trump, whether you like his decision or not, he's dominating the world stage.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I think yes but I think you have to look at this in context. Clearly, the North Korea progress is significant. I would say by the way, before we say too significant, this reminds me of a mission accomplished moment about -- what was that? You remember that 15 years ago when President Bush got on the -- let's not say mission accomplished. We're rewarding the North Koreans with praise for releasing hostages. It wasn't also that long ago when they sent home a man they murdered who was a U.S. citizen. But there is a broad --

TAPPER: Otto Warmbier.

MUDD: That is correct. Quickly the context here is American isolationism. If you look at TPP, the trade deal, if you look at climate change, if you look at Iran and each stage America first in my world means America isolated. We have stepped back from the Chinese, the Europeans, and others in an effort to say our interests are more significant. That may work but I think in a globalized world you have to question how as the world gets smaller we could be more isolated. I don't get that.

TAPPER: Margaret Hoover, President Trumps says that everybody thinks that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Obviously, that's not true. Not everybody does. We all hope that the summit works. Do you think there are elements of the Trump foreign policy that seems to be at least at this initial stage seem to be working? MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I don't

think its critics could actually even -- I mean, you even see critics, Phil just said it, you can't say that by doing things differently he hasn't produced different results. And that's true. You may disagree with the way he went about doing it, I would certainly would have prefer if he had renegotiated an Iran deal in conjunction with our allies especially (INAUDIBLE) France, but he is producing different results and this is -- you know, it potentially could lead to other outcomes. There is this other a flip side, you know, President Trump doesn't have a lot of experience on the world stage. The flip side is that he thinks he's one of the best negotiators going into this with North Korea and North Korea has sat across table from four American presidents and gotten exactly not given anything. And so it's unclear that just because we're sitting down with him there is going to be a massive victory in a denuclearized North Korea.

TAPPER: And that is one of the things that I wonder about, John, is that President Trump seems to sometimes give away leverage. You could argue that withdrawing from the Iran deal as he did, actually gave away leverage because right now the decision that the U.S. is facing is, is the U.S. going to sanction European country -- European companies in Iran? Is the U.S. going to make Boeing pull out of the deal with Iran? I mean, the tough decisions are right now for the President of the United States. Likewise, with North Korea, does President Trump have more invested in a success in the North Korean -- at the North Korean and South Korean summit than maybe Kim Jong-un does?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a great question. And clearly, I mean, you know, Xi in China and Kim have been speaking a lot. This is ultimately going to be a multi-lateral negotiation and that is why withdrawing from the Iran deal unilaterally creates real questions about American constancy. When it makes a deal, does it stick to a deal? I do think Trump deserves credit for reshuffling the calculus in that region. North Korea does seem to have responded to the big stick and the tough rhetoric from Donald Trump but we're a long way from getting this done. And so that needs to be kept in mind. There's no mission accomplish there here yet.

TAPPER: And Phil Mudd, just give us an idea -- these three detainees that are -- that are coming back are going to land in the middle of the night tonight East Coast time, what kind of information will intelligence officials be seeking from them to find out more about this rogue regime of North Korea? 2 [16:55:16] MUDD: Well, let's hold on a second here. My first question would be what is their mental and physical state and what chance they have to see family. I would have questions after that. For example, what questions did they receive from the North Korean hierarchy that talked to them? What misperceptions did they see from the North Koreans? I mean, that is such a closed society. Their window into how North Koreans think I think would be substantial partly because as you know, we don't have a diplomatic presence there. So any sense of how the North Koreans view us and what kind of questions they are asking detainees will give us a window on what North Korea thinks about America. I think that will be valuable. TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. In just moments, it will be

exactly one year since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The FBI agent who was with Comey when he found out will join Wolf Blitzer next in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Stay with us.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, bringing Americans home. The new Secretary of State gains the release of three Americans held by North Korea --