Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Demands DOJ Look Into Whether or Not the FBI, DOJ Infiltrated or Surveilled the Trump Campaign; Giuliani: Mueller Could End Obstruction Probe by September; "The New York Times:" Trump Jr. Met with Gulf Emissary Ahead of 2016 Election. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

It could come at any minute, the president's official statement opening an investigation into the investigation of him. The president promised it would come today. More than a promise it had the sound of a royal decree. I hereby demand, he said, metaphorically banging his Twitter scepter.

"I hereby demand that 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."

Now there's not a shred of public evidence the campaign was infiltrated nor any public evidence that any surveillance or contact was for political purposes. Nevertheless, the president's demand has already been met by some action.

Now we will hear from the president shortly as he visits the CIA. The last time he was there he caused all kinds of different controversy.

In the meantime, let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us this morning at the White House.

Kaitlan, what's the latest from there?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the president making good on his threat to get involved at the Department of Justice by tweeting this demand that they investigate if anyone surveilled or infiltrated his campaign as he seems to believe that they did.

The Department of Justice actually responded quite quickly to this demand from the president on Twitter yesterday with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying they are going to expand a current inquiry into whether or not there was any surveillance going on there to include the president's latest demand. And Rosenstein who is certainly not the president's favorite, adding, "If anyone did infiltrate or surveilled participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action." Now it's unclear if that move by the Department of Justice is going to

be enough to satisfy the president. The question here is now, John, is that we are in between -- or in for a bigger showdown between the White House and the Department of Justice, that is to be determined at this point.

As far as the president this morning he has been tweeting very critical of the former CIA director John Brennan. And I have to note that this comes as here in the next hour he is going to go to Langley for the first time since that disastrous speech last January for the swearing in of his new CIA Director, Gina Haspel.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House.

We don't know if John Brennan will be there, by the way. He did support Gina Haspel's nomination. He is a past director in the past this type of person who may have been to that. We will watch that very closely.

All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

Let's go our justice reporter Laura Jarrett for much more on what the president has asked and how the deputy attorney general in a way has already responded -- Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, good morning, John. Putting aside for the moment how the president went about his latest demand on the Justice Department, the request actually fits squarely with what Michael Horowitz, the inspector general over here at the Justice Department, is already looking at.

For months you'll remember House Republicans had been saying that the Justice Department and the FBI were not fully transparent in the way they went about obtaining an order to surveil over former campaign aid Carter Page. They called it FISA abuse. You hear that term a lot. And so the inspector general announced actually back in March that he was looking into exactly how they went about obtaining those surveillance warrants as well as the FBI's relationship with Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier on Trump and Russia.

But of course the big question as Kaitlan said is whether President Trump will be satisfied by this latest move. You'll remember back in late February when Sessions actually announced that Horowitz, the inspector general, was looking at FISA abuse the president lashed out, calling Horowitz a, quote, "Obama guy" even though he has served under multiple administrations saying he has no prosecutorial power, even though of course he can refer cases to the U.S. attorney's offices for prosecutions as the Justice Department pointed out last night. And no word or official decree from President Trump this morning, John, but of course the day is young.

BERMAN: The day is indeed young, and it is a key question, Laura, and we will watch very carefully if Rod Rosenstein is already satisfied what the president is asking for or not.

Joining me now CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst, Bob Baer, and criminal defense attorney Caroline Polisi.

Caroline, I want to start with you here. Let's just take a step back. The president is not asking. He is demanding that the Department of Justice investigate an investigation of him.

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right. And he sounds more like a dictator than a leader of a democratic nation in that tweet, John. Now the legal issue is the constitutionality of this demand. And he is correct in the sense that the Justice Department does fall within the executive branch, obviously. But there is long standing historical precedent in this country that the Oval Office and the Department of Justice stay in their separate lanes. And we haven't seen anything like this. I mean, really approaching it since Nixon. And it's just amazing and it's unprecedented.

[09:05:02] BERMAN: And in the past, when we have seen it, we have seen reaction from those inside the Department of Justice who have refused to comply.

POLISI: Right.

BERMAN: Up to a point or quit.

POLISI: Which I think -- yes, and I think Rosenstein's, you know, response was measured and being conciliatory on one point but also not, you know, inciting a showdown.

BERMAN: We'll talk about that much more in a second.

Bob Baer, I want to ask here. And again it is not as if there has been evidence of this, but what is the difference between a spy and an infiltrator which is a language that Rudy Giuliani, the president, and his allies are using. What is the difference between that and a source or an informant?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, look, first of all, Giuliani and the president are being disingenuous about this, John. The FBI when it got a lead that Carter Page was possibly a Russian agent at that point was legally obligated to open an investigation which included putting a tap on his phone, on his cell phone, and also running a confidential informant into Carter Page and a couple of other suspect Russian moles.

This is what the FBI does. But I guarantee you the president, President Obama, did not call up the FBI and say open up a political investigation into Donald Trump. It just did not happen. And so he's conflating these two things, a counterintelligence investigation and political, you know, dirty tricks.

BERMAN: And again, Rod Rosenstein in his statement where he said the inspector general was going to look into this, he said if anyone did infiltrate or surveilled participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes we need to know about it. That phrase "inappropriate purposes," Bob, again is there any public evidence this was for inappropriate purposes? BAER: Well, no, it's exactly like when Trump said my phones at Trump

Tower were tapped. He said I know that for a fact and as it turned out that did not turn out to be true. You have a president that truly believes there is such a thing as a deep state. The FBI is at the center of the deep state and is out to get him. There simply has been no evidence brought forth to support that. There is no deep state of course, John. But, you know, what can you do?

BERMAN: Exactly.

Caroline, the question now is, did the deputy attorney general diffuse this by putting this in the inspector general's lap or is it sort of a tacit affirmation that there is a question of impropriety here or I guess option C is both?

POLISI: I think a little bit of both. Look, Rod Rosenstein has stated publicly before that the Justice Department will not be extorted. So I think he has a fine line to play whether or not this is going to be sort of a showdown of constitutional proportions or whether or not he can kind of, you know, conciliate to the president by saying look, the IG inspector general is already, you know, conducting this investigation. Yes, let's throw this in there to include that in the ambit.

Obviously if there was impropriety, you know, afoot they would want to know about it. So that's kind of a throwaway statement. I mean, it's like saying, yes, we are concerned about crime being committed. So, you know, I think he's towing a line here. He's between a rock and a hard place, he doesn't want to lose his job but he's not going to be a yes, man.

BERMAN: Just trying to push this off.

Caroline, I'm not sure it's even about his job. I think he wants to push off a confrontation.

POLISI: Yes.

BERMAN: Because of possible implications it can have long term there.

Bob Baer, this source, right, this confidential source that was used by the FBI, he's already been identified in some outlets. How dangerous is it to have the identity of someone like this made public? Because it has in a sense been forced by people in Congress among others.

BAER: Yes. Exactly. He is undermining the FBI, Trump is. And if you start exposing sources for whatever reason you start down the path of destroying the FBI. And what's next? Steele, Chris Steele, the guy that 2wrote the dirty dossier he had Russian sources, which the FBI knows. Why not ask who these Russian sources are and if those Russia sources are in Russia they will be assassinated or put in jail. Yes, this is -- you don't want to go there but they apparently are going to try.

BERMAN: And, Bob, just very quickly, institutionally speaking, are you glad the deputy AG is saying this will be investigated or do you wish he had just shut it down completely?

BAER: No, it's fine. You know, you go to Horowitz, the IG inspector general, and you say look into this. He comes out with the facts and then I hope this all goes away once he presents them to Congress and the president.

BERMAN: And Caroline, let me ask you about a little bit of other news that was made over the weekend. Rudy Giuliani who is the president's lawyer, claims or states that he was told that Robert Mueller promised to wrap up this investigation, the Mueller investigation, by September if the president testified here.

POLISI: Right. Right.

BERMAN: Interesting that we're hearing this from one side and one side only.

POLISI: It is interesting. We only hear really from one side. We don't hear from -- I think the Mueller team declined to comment on the sort of the veracity of that statement. And of course now we have Giuliani stating that well, he's actually not going to recommend an interview if they don't get more information about this confidential informant and what they have.

[09:10:06] That's just not the way that federal criminal investigations work. You don't get sort of evidence turned over to a witness prior to them going into testify. I think we have heard a lot of sort of chest puffing on the part of Giuliani since the inception, since he got on the case. Remember when he first started he said that this investigation was going to wrap up in a couple of weeks. Well, now it's getting further and further out.

I think that maybe it is true. I think that we could see at least the obstruction portion wrap up by September. It's not sort of a crazy idea but this idea of sort of back and forth negotiation, you know, I don't see the efficacy of it. I don't see where that --

BERMAN: How do you think Mueller is likely to respond to Rudy Giuliani making all of their negotiations public in a one-sided way?

POLISI: I mean, it's so interesting because, you know, Mueller by all accounts has blinders on, just sort of keeps his head, the nose to the grindstone, keeps doing his work, keeps pumping out by all accounts quickly, you know, indictments and guilty pleas. So he's doing his job, doesn't seem to be affecting him. He really has his eye on the prize.

BERMAN: Caroline Polisi, Bob Baer, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Also happening right now the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is giving his first major policy speech. He is announcing what is being called the administration's plan B on Iran. This comes just two weeks after the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. State Department officials say this new plan would be wide-ranging taking aim at not only Iran's nuclear program but also its dealings in the Middle East, other countries including Syria.

We're watching all of this and will bring you the highlights as they come in.

So reports of another Trump Tower meeting raising serious legal questions. Who Donald Trump Jr. met with this time? Plus it's not just molten lava still flowing in Hawaii. Now residents have to worry about what happens as this lava hits the ocean and creates dangerous laze.

And they don't agree about much but they do agree on one key area. CNN's Van Jones on his meeting with President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. We will hear from the president of the United States very, very shortly. This comes less than 24 hours after he demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI was spying on his campaign. He wants to basically investigate the investigation into him.

Joining me now is Amie Parnes, CNN political analyst, and Perry Bacon, senior political writer for "FiveThirtyEight".

And, Perry, the president's statement, again, I don't think we should let this slide by begins "I hereby demand." What do you make of the language that he is choosing to use here?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": It's unusual and, I think, unprecedented in a lot of way for the president to demand the Department of Justice investigate anything.

It's not illegal; it's not unconstitutional. But the general principle is that the president stays out of law enforcement matters. So, he is not being particularly subtle here.

He is saying I demand, I request. It's not a suggestion. This is like a little further than we've seen in the past.

And I think it's important to note too is Rosenstein basically said we're going to look into this a little bit. So, he seems to have complied with the request, but he also kind of yes to the president - he sort of said we are already looking into it.

And we're getting to the point where Trump has said enough things in this investigation where I'm not sure Rosenstein kind of pretending to comply with him but really blowing him off is going to work.

Trump wants to sort of really break and end this investigation. And I'm not sure how long Rosenstein can continue to somewhat obstruct Trump's ideas.

BERMAN: Hold that thought. We're going to come back to that. Amie Parnes, you've been talking to people inside and who have just left government talking to your sources about this, the unusual nature of this. How is this being seen? AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's being seen as a little awkward because what it does it sets the wrong precedent. When you're kind of going into political territory, it's making people uncomfortable there.

And a lot of people that I have talked to are saying there is not a lot of evidence for him to kind of make this case, to kind of come out and say that this needs to be investigated. So, this is making - it's going to make the department look bad.

One person I talked to said someone needs to come out and say this isn't a political organization. We don't do this and make that kind of bold statement to reassure people that this isn't just about politics.

BERMAN: Is it a trap? Did Rod Rosenstein set a trap, in a way over the last 24 hours, by saying the IG is investigating this? What happens if, or perhaps when, the inspector general comes forward and says there was nothing political here?

PARNES: That's the thing. Trump is going to say, but there was. And everyone is kind of taking their own side right now.

And a lot of people think that there is some conspiracy here. But what he's trying to do is he's trying to change the subject and trying to make it about politics. And a lot of people who read between the lines can kind of see that.

BERMAN: So, has he won, Perry Bacon? If the goal of the president here is to throw shade on the entire investigation into him - he's got his allies. He's got Fox News. And when I say that, he's got powerful members of Congress now demanding this.

Has he already succeeded in raising these questions?

BACON: You have seen some polling showing that more and more Republicans doubt the investigation, think it's a political probe and so on. He's getting there.

I think the motive is a little deeper than that, though, John. I think what's going on here, if you look at what Nunes is doing, if you look at the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, members of the - Trump himself, they keep demanding more and more things from DOJ. Can you hand us this paper, can you give us this paper, can you give us this document? All of the things DOJ normally would not give up.

What I think really the goal here is to ask for something that Rosenstein actually feels very uncomfortable giving and then he refuses to give, which I think might be the predicate to look to remove him from the office.

[09:20:01] This is what, I think, is going on here, is you keep ratcheting up the pressure on Rosenstein. At some point, does he break? Does he say, no, Mr. President? And then, what happens? That's what I'm looking to see what happens next. BERMAN: What does Rod Rosenstein think about all of this? Well, moments ago, we did hear from the deputy attorney general. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Deputy attorney general, very low profile. Tend not to be recognized. If they are remembered at all, it's usually for memos they write about corporate fraud as many of my predecessors were known for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's the deputy attorney general with a new comedy routine, Amie, talking about how deputy attorney generals normally keep a low profile; and if they're known, they're known for their memos. He, of course, wrote a very famous memo outlining why James Comey should be fired there.

But Perry raises the very big question here, which is we don't know yet if this action by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - he was joking right there - will be enough to satisfy the president.

Rosenstein doesn't look worried about it today.

PARNES: I don't think that's his concern. His concern - and I think even Jeff Sessions' concern right now - is to kind of uphold the department and say this isn't what we are about.

And kind of what my source was telling us about earlier that we kind of need - they need to kind of say that. So, I think he doesn't seem very worried about it.

You think about the relationship that he has with President Trump. President Trump has talked about firing him before. And so, I think he's going to talk it up to politics if that does happen.

BERMAN: Perry, I want to ask you about Rudy Giuliani, his comments that Mueller promised to wrap up the investigation by September if he got the interview he wanted, not so much about the facts surrounding that, but about what's happened here.

You have Rudy Giuliani consistently talking about what's going on in these negotiations, consistently making charges here, and in a way because he knows the special counsel cannot respond publicly for himself here.

Has the president's team here hit upon something that's effective? They are fighting a one-sided battle.

BACON: Yes, John. It's a complicated story for, I would argue, Mueller and Rosenstein because Mueller and Rosenstein - Mueller never speaks in public. Rosenstein speaks in public, but never about the investigation. He tells awkward jokes. He talks about the rule of law broadly. He doesn't really talk about this. So, Giuliani knows he's giving a one-sided case. And I think it's a

question for the media too. Should we be giving huge - I'm not saying this show necessarily, but "The New York Times" story was aggressive in saying the probe will be over, Giuliani says.

And I wonder if Giuliani, based on what we've seen in the last few weeks, is a particularly credible commentator on much of anything, but it is a powerful tool that you have if you're sort of in a one-sided argument where you're saying - even like if you look at what Trump is doing.

Trump and Giuliani and the allies are all attacking the investigation and Mueller says I do not comment. And that's like a one-sided battle that's really hard to win because we really are in a debate about public opinion right now because, ultimately, Congress has a big role here. The public does because if Mueller and Rosenstein want to continue this probe, they have to have some support and them not speaking is a problem in my mind.

BERMAN: Perry Bacon and Amie Parnes, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

Reports this morning that Donald Trump, Jr. had another controversial meeting at Trump Tower three months before the election. This one also has Robert Mueller's attention.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:27:51] BERMAN: All right. This morning, a second Trump Tower meeting involving the president's son is reportedly under scrutiny by Robert Mueller and the special counsel's team.

"The New York Times" reports that Donald Trump, Jr. and other aides met with a Gulf emissary months before the 2016 election who said the crown princes of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to help Trump win.

An Israeli social media specialist also reportedly attended this meeting, pitching a multi-million dollar proposal to help elect then candidate Donald Trump.

Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer tells CNN, the president's son was not interested and that was the end of it. Is it?

With me to discuss, Congressman Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

The second Trump Tower meeting, what do you make of this meeting, sir?

REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I think we now know why Donald Trump Senior was so agitated over the weekend in that Twitter storm about the Mueller investigation.

Because now the investigation is honing in on his son Donald, Jr. And what's he honing in on? Illegal foreign interference with the United States election, which was apparently welcome by Donald, Jr.

It is against the law to accept foreign help in an election in the United States and it's against the law for a foreign government to interfere in an election in the United States.

Now, we know there was not only Russian interference, but apparently offered, if not proved, Saudi and UAE and maybe Qatar interference. And, of course, operatives from Israel also offering to be of assistance.

It's a very troubling development.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" reports that help was offered and Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer says not interested, that was the end of it.

And when I say offered, Gerald, George Nader who is this international sort of operative suggested that Saudi Arabia and the UAE wanted to help, but unclear that it went beyond that. Is that in and of itself illegal?

CONNOLLY: Well, they can deny all they want, but they've lied before. Remember, Donald Jr. characterized the first meeting originally as about Russian adoption. We now know that was not true and he had to retract that statement.

So, we have no reason to believe his initial denial of the intent and purpose of this meeting is any more accurate than the first denial.

We also know that money exchanged hands.