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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Meets With Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray; Is Newly- Reported Trump Jr. Meeting on Mueller's Radar?. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 21, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news.
President Trump just wrapped up his meeting with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, with whom the president has been engaging in open political warfare over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The three men were set to discuss, among other topics, an FBI source who met with at least three Trump campaign staffers in 2016. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray were concerned that providing the House Intelligence Committee with information about this source would put the source's anonymity and safety at risk.
But over the weekend, the president took the unusual step of siding against his own administration, tweeting -- quote -- "If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal. Only the release or review of documents that the House Intelligence Committee, also Senate judiciary, is asking for can give the conclusive answers. Drain the swamp."
The president responding to a conspiracy theory out there that this was an individual implanted into his campaign to spy on his campaign, though officials tell CNN that is not the case.
CNN has learned that the president's aggressive move this weekend is part of a new strategy. It's being pushed by a loose and informal group of advisers outside the White House, including former White House senior strategist Stephen Bannon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie, and president of the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council and CNN commentator Steve Cortes, among many, many others.
Part of a push to paint the president as the victim of a deep state conspiracy. The campaign is about convincing Trump-friendly media and the president himself to take a more adversarial position towards Rosenstein and the FBI. One member of the group told me -- quote -- "Outside supporters don't
believe that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or White House counsel Don McGahn are being aggressive enough in defending the president" -- unquote.
Over the weekend, it appears the group won their battle against the White House insiders advising otherwise, when the Justice Department told the House Intelligence Committee that it couldn't risk placing the specific individual in danger by releasing his identifying characteristics to the House.
They said that decision was reached after consultation with the office of the director of national intelligence, appointed by Trump, the FBI director, who was appointed by Trump, and the White House.
But President Trump, eager to discredit the Russia investigation as a deep state plot to undermine him, asserted a different position over the weekend with the help of loyal former aides Bannon, Lewandowski, Bossie and more.
Trump administration, law enforcement and intelligence sources tell CNN that what is fundamentally at issue here is the attempt by the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election and that any law enforcement investigation into that interference was done to protect the interest of the United States. They see these moves as being done to protect the president politically, with those other consideration being disregarded.
Let's go right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is at the White House.
Jeff, it has been speculated that Rosenstein and Wray might sooner resign than reveal the identity of this confidential source.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it has.
And that certainly underscores the severity of all of this. Now, just a few moments ago, we did see them as they left the White House here just a few moments apart after meeting for about an hour or so here at the White House.
And they were smiling and laughing. We don't know what happened in that meeting, but we do know that this is the first confrontation of this kind really in about a year or so. And, of course, if they would resign, a big if now, the question is, what would that mean for the Russia investigation?
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump waging war again with his Justice Department. He's ordered an investigation into the Russia investigation, an unprecedented move that could spark a constitutional showdown.
At the White House today, the president meeting privately with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel's probe. It comes a day after the president took to Twitter saying he demands
the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI, DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama administration.
He's railed against his Justice Department before, but this goes well beyond where previous presidents have gone, by threatening to apply political pressure on the Justice Department.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that is actually a very disturbing assault on the independence of the Department of Justice. And I think when the president, this president or any president tries to use the Department of Justice as kind of a private investigatory body, that is not good for the country.
ZELENY: It is far more of a political fight than a legal one, trying to discredit the Russia probe by suggesting the FBI infiltrated or surveilled his campaign.
The president, at odds with the U.S. intelligence community over Russia interference in the 2016 election, making a rare visit to the CIA headquarters today, where Gina Haspel was sworn in as the new director.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our enemies will take note, Gina is tough, she is strong, and when it comes to defending America, Gina will never, ever back down.
ZELENY: The president giving a glowing shout-out to Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who once recused himself from the Russia investigation in Congress.
TRUMP: And a very courageous man, it is courageous, Congressman Devin Nunes.
ZELENY: He's now leading the fight with the Justice Department over revealing the identity of the confidential source. The department has refused. But the DOJ inspector general is looking into whether that source was politically motivated.
Democrats say a constitutional crisis is looming.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Should Bob Mueller follow the money, should Bob Mueller get too close to what the president thinks would completely could compromise him, you could see him firing Mueller or firing Rod Rosenstein. So we may be on that slow-moving path to a Saturday Night Massacre.
ZELENY: And, Jake, that certainly is something that is being discussed very much in Washington today. Is there going to be a firing this week? Is something else going to happen? We do know again this is more of a political fight. Just a few
moments ago as well, the Trump reelection campaign sending out word of all of this. They're calling it the greatest political scandal in all time.
And they're looking for supporters to sign a petition, so clearly a sign that the Trump reelection campaign also involved in this, as those outside advisers that you reported have been -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.
My panel is with me.
Phil Mudd, you worked for the FBI. What is your take when you hear that there was a confidential source inside the FBI, he met reportedly with at least three different Trump advisers? President Trump says a spy was implanted. What is your take?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yawn.
If you're going to conduct an investigation, there are two ways you conduct an investigation before it goes public. Once it goes public, you can subpoena a witness, you can get documents. But before the investigation goes public, you don't want to obviously inform the people you're investigating.
We called it sources and wires. You put an informant in the investigation or you listen to somebody's phone, you tap their e- mails. The difference in this case, obviously, it's a presidential campaign.
I think the problem with what the president is saying is he's suggesting there is a spy in the campaign. The way I view this is, this is bread and butter investigating. They are putting somebody in to say we have valid reason for concern about whether you have contact with Russians and we are going to put an informant in to ask about it.
That is what we call political corruption. The FBI investigates that every single day.
TAPPER: David Urban, the president seems to be suggesting that there is this big deep state conspiracy, people looking to undermine him.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
Well, look, Phil, you call this not a spy. You call it an informant. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. The president -- listen, the FBI I.G. did a report. They came out with some serious allegations against Andrew McCabe.
There is going to be an I.G. here to turn over some other rocks. There have been FBI agents tweeting, sending e-mails that are very disturbing. I think the president has every right to find out what is going on here. And the American people deserve to know what is going on as well. It really does speak to the integrity of what is going on in this investigation. I think Director Mueller, everything -- people say we want to get to the bottom of it. I think we need to get to the bottom of this as well.
TAPPER: Well, Andrew McCabe, just for point of fact, Andrew McCabe was invested by the I.G. and reprimanded for leaking information that was actually damaging to Hillary Clinton.
URBAN: Right. But I'm saying this entire campaign, there has been this drip, drip, drip of things that went wrong or awry, one way the left doesn't right, one way the right doesn't like.
This is another point that just deserves some sunlight.
TAPPER: What do you think?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think that the FBI is above criticism. So I think it is fair to say that there are things that people have been upset with the FBI about. Certainly, Democrats are upset with how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation -- how they handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.
But I don't think -- I think this is going beyond just criticism or concern and to really distorting what happened here. And so there is no spy.
Nobody infiltrated the Trump campaign. And so for Donald Trump to be insinuating that, for even to you sort of suggesting that, it is just not what happened. It walks like a duck. What are you talking about?
POWERS: No, it is not. It is not somebody how is embedded in the campaign. It is somebody who had a couple meetings with people who work on the campaign. That doesn't make you a spy.
URBAN: So, somebody who is working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation going into a U.S. election, pretty serious.
MUDD: Could we have some clarity here? Let me take you inside the spy business.
MUDD: Let me take you inside of the spy business. Two elements here.
Number one, if you had an individual who was investigating the Trump campaign with questions like, what is your campaign strategy against Hillary Clinton, that is a national security problem and a bigger problem for the democracy. Number two, you have an individual, in this case an American citizen,
who spoke to an Australian diplomat about inappropriate contacts with Russians. And you ask an informant, can you determine whether that inappropriate connection was actually illegal or what evidence you find?
I mean, we're talking about spy like there is no difference between investigating your campaign strategy and investigating...
MUDD: Explain to me how it works.
URBAN: I'm not going to explain. That's what you did. I'm not going to -- you were a spy. I wasn't.
URBAN: I'm not going to be so bold.
But my point is that this is -- could be the tip of something. We don't know what is there. Let's investigate it. Let's have a full...
TAPPER: The president called for an investigation into what happened.
TAPPER: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein folded that all in, in a statement into the inspector general report. There is another investigation going on.
The Democratic chair -- the Democratic -- ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he didn't care for that.
Take a listen to what Adam Schiff said about the call for an investigation and Rosenstein's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: They know that's nonsense. And I hate to see them say anything to give it credence.
There is not concern within the White House about this. There is a sense of opportunity. Let's exploit anything, any doubt we can create. This is a defense strategy. Put the government on trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think? Does Schiff have a point, or do you disagree?
The whole point of this is to raise questions about whether you can trust the FBI and whether or not this investigation has a political bias.
And so Rosenstein is going along with this. I don't believe that he thinks this. And I think there is a question about what is going on with Rosenstein. I don't -- why are you going to ahead and -- now, he didn't give the president exactly what he asked for, but even the idea that this merits an investigation, there -- nothing happened.
POWERS: It's not -- no, even this idea that Trump supporters always say, there is no problem and just things are happening and drip, drip, drip and let's just have an investigation.
It's like, no, that is not how it works. You don't have an investigation because the president goes out and Giuliani goes out and distorts...
TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to what the FBI director, Christopher Wray, had to say just a few days ago when asked about the push to release this information as to who this confidential source was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And the day that we can't protect human sources is the day that the American people start becoming less safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Your response?
URBAN: Yes. So, I -- it is better to ask Phil. Right? He's a tradecraft guy.
I think that obviously is problemsome. That gentleman's name is obviously in the media now. If you Google it, you can read it online. So, I'm not so sure that he's -- I don't know. I can't say. Phil probably knows better as to his safety. I'm sure it is not a great thing to have happen.
But, look, here's the question that needs to be answered. Who authorized this. Right? This has to be authorized at a very high level, somebody. And those are the kinds of questions and why was it authorized? Was the House and Senate, were those Intelligence Committee briefed on this?
This is a presidential election, pretty highfalutin stuff. And Phil knows from being out there.
TAPPER: Phil is going to answer those questions right now. You're asking those questions. Phil is going to answer them. We're going to take a very quick break.
Phil's answer when we come back.
[16:17:21] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.
Let's continue the conversation with my panel.
Phil Mudd, before the break, David was asking in order to have somebody go in as a confidential source and talk to different Trump campaign advisers who intelligence were picking up had maybe talked to people with relationships with Russia, so this confidential source was sussing it out, what kind of sign off do you need? Does that need to go all the way up to the director of the FBI, to get somebody to go into a presidential campaign and talk to advisers?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: In this case, I bet on that. Look, let's do reality. If you're in the FBI, confidential sources are run every day. They're run out of local offices.
This is not a local office operation. You can look at this operation and say, look, the local office will have used headquarters in consultation with the director is going to say, we understand this is a little bit high level, it's a presidential campaign.
That said, there are suggestions that the Obama administration, including the White House, would have directed the insertion of an informant. That doesn't happen.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And who was the director of the FBI then I wonder? Who was that?
TAPPER: It was James Comey.
URBAN: Oh, shocking.
MUDD: Oh, you think Comey went to the White House and said --
URBAN: No, but I'm just saying --
MUDD: Oh, come on.
URBAN: -- it's all one twisted --
MUDD: The White House does not direct how to run an informant --
URBAN: No, I'm not suggesting the Obama administration did it. I'm not suggesting that at all.
I'm saying that Comey -- you know, Comey who's got a vested interest in all this. (CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: But let's be honest, Kirsten, what President Trump is alleging is --
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
TAPPER: -- that President Obama ordered because he said in one of his tweets, Obama did this and sent somebody in there to do this.
What I don't understand about this conspiracy theory is, what did this Obama plant do to destroy Trump's campaign? Held it as a secret? For through the election?
TAPPER: And told "The New York Times" that there was nothing to any of these investigations?
POWERS: Right. It doesn't make sense. And even though -- again, if you have to say that somebody infiltrated a campaign and they had meetings with people -- that is not an infiltration by any measure of the word. So, I just think it's creating --
URBAN: That is surreptitiously.
POWERS: What do you mean surreptitious? He had meetings --
URBAN: It is false pretenses. I mean --
TAPPER: He's a confidential source.
POWERS: Right. But this is how the FBI does business. I mean, I don't understand -- like I don't -- is there something wrong with that? Are they not supposed to have informant?
URBAN: On a presidential campaign.
TAPPER: Talk about the timing of all this.
MUDD: This is the missing story here. So we look at this and now in may going into June, July, and August. The FBI and the special counsel will not run this operation into midterm elections. My guess if I'm betting in Vegas is that they will close this out before midterm elections. The I.G., the inspector general of the FBI will take several months to investigate what happened here.
My point is if the special counsel comes out with results of the investigation, including potential indictments or non-indictments.
[16:20:04] By June, July or August, this will get blown out of the water. This will become irrelevant. So, if you're the deputy attorney general saying, why don't we have the I.G. look at this? I think at the back of his mind, by the time the I.G. looks at this, we'll know what the special counsel is doing.
TAPPER: And Manafort goes on trial in July?
URBAN: The Paul Manafort case is done previous to that presumably and for folks who are watching this, I would suspect that Paul Manafort will plead to something at that point.
TAPPER: You think he's going to plead.
URBAN: I think listen. I think facing an extremely long jail term, right, he's going to look at things. And as you know, the government always has more money than you do and could carry this case on for ever and for ever and bleed him out. So, I think they'll make him an offer. I think the day before trial, the day of trial I think he pleads guilty.
TAPPER: Really? What do you think?
MUDD: Oh, heck, yes. This is like looking at an SEC football team in college football that scheduled a patsy in round one, they're going to win. I mean, my point is Manafort is looking at the bunch of years. He's trying to figure out what is the best deal I could get and I completely agree with David and say, OK, I did my best here,. otherwise he goes in and the government is going to crush him.
TAPPER: But can I ask something, Kirsten, I think this campaign of the president against Mueller and the investigation is working beyond just his base. I'm hearing from relatives who live beyond the beltway who are saying, time to wrap it up, time to wrap it up. The repetition and the arguments out there are working I think.
POWERS: Well, I don't know if it's that or I don't know if it's the fact that we just talk about it all of the time and people are tired of hearing about. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't talk about it, I think it's important.
But I certainly have heard that even from my mother who's a die-hard Democrat. She's like, enough with the Russia. You know what I mean? So, I don't know --
URBAN: I'm glad to hear that.
POWERS: She isn't buying into Donald Trump's argument. I think maybe she's getting tired of it. That doesn't mean that in the end, that it is not going to matter. And I do think in terms of the timing, I just disagree with this. I think it depends on what happens. I mean, if Donald Jr. gets indicted, or something like that, that's a matter of when they do that --
URBAN: That is right, Cohen in is the Southern District of New York, right? Those things are being pushed outside of Director Mueller's scope.
Look, he's thorough if you look back at the investigation for the NFL, I mean, it was meticulous and thorough. I think he's doing the exact same thing here. He's not going to be rushed. He'll turn over every rock. I think the American people have every right to believe in what he
produces. He's not someone who's going to go willy-nilly and do something crazy. He will turn his report over to the deputy attorney general and then we'll go from there.
TAPPER: All right. Stick around, everyone.
It turns out that Donald Trump Jr., speaking of Donald Trump Jr., he had another campaign meeting, one that is reportedly being examined by Robert Mueller and with foreign nationals. Stay with us.
[16:26:59] TAPPER: The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, signaling that if special counsel Robert Mueller wants President Trump to sit for an interview, the Justice Department had better provide access to information about the confidential FBI source who met with at least three Trump advisers during the 2016 campaign. Giuliani also told CNN that Mueller could -- could wrap up the investigation into possible obstruction of justice defenses by the president by September.
This as we are learning Mueller may also be investigating another meeting at Trump Tower involving Donald Trump Jr. and foreign powers offering assistance to the Trump campaign during the height of the presidential race. Not the one he had with Russians but a different one.
CNN's Jim Sciutto has more.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's lawyers have predicted the end of the special counsel investigation before and then repeatedly wrong. Now, Mr. Trump's newest attorney Rudy Giuliani says that Robert Mueller told him the obstruction of justice piece of the probe could be done by September, before the mid-term elections. Although even Giuliani hedged saying it sounded more like the investigation could wrap up if the president agreed to an interview with Mueller. Giuliani says he's strongly advising against an interview, arguing that the special counsel is simply hoping to catch the president in a so-called perjury trap.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: A perjury trap is when you get somebody to lie about what you're telling the truth. Which is the president would testify tomorrow if it was about the truth. The truth is he had nothing to do with Russia. I was on that campaign. He didn't talk to Russians. He had nothing to do with Russia.
SCIUTTO: And now coming to light, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with representatives of two own foreign governments during the campaign, governments offering to help his father's election. "The New York Times" is reporting that Erik Prince set up a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Jr. and George Nader, an emissary for two gulf princes, as well as an Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel. All these just three months before Election Day. According to "New York Times", Nader told Trump Jr., quote, that the
princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president.
In a statement to CNN, an attorney for Trump Jr. denied any wrongdoing, saying, quote, prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of.
The ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees however called news of the meeting disturbing.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIR: If "The Times" story is true, we now had at least a second and maybe a third nation that was trying to lean in to this campaign, and I don't understand what the president doesn't get about the law that says if you have a foreign nation interfere in an American election, that's illegal.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: You also have to be concerned, why are so many foreign powers during the campaign and perhaps thereafter that the Trump family is willing to play ball.
SCIUTTO: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lost a battle in his ongoing legal proceedings. He attempted to have one of the charges for failure to report a foreign bank account dropped. He said the statute of limitations had gone.