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Trump Repeats Unproven Claims of Campaign Spy, Calls It "Spygate"; Michael Cohen's Business Partner to Cooperate with Investigators; Trump Appears To Back Off Demand For North Korea To Denuke Immediately; Trump guarantees Kim's Safety If He Gives Up Nuclear Arms; Abram Makes History, Wins GA Dem Primary For Governor. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CUOMO: Tonight.

CAMEROTA: You did? Did you bring any extra here for breakfast?

CUOMO: There isn't. Do I look like there's ever extra?

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Good point. There's no leftovers here. Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman and Poppy Harlow. Enjoy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Breaking this morning, the president has given the beginning of the Russia investigation a new nickname. He calls it "spygate" and also one of the biggest scandals in history.

Now as a student of history, the president no doubt knows that spygate was used to describe the cheating allegations against the New England Patriots, perhaps President Trump is suggesting that Robert Mueller is about to win the equivalent of five Super Bowls.

HARLOW: Perhaps. The president is throwing bombs this morning, bombs accompanied by zero evidence and zero proof. A circus of distraction is what David Ignatius calls it in the "Washington Post," but if the president thinks he's winning at least the PR battle over the Russia probe, does he even care? And what will he say when we see him this afternoon?

Plus, in just minutes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faces questions on Capitol Hill just hours after the president publicly cast doubt on that planned summit with North Korea's leader. We'll bring you that in a moment.

First, though, let's go to the White House. That's where we find Kaitlan Collins.

Wow, he's saying a lot this morning. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is, John and

Poppy. This morning the president repeating his unverified claims that his campaign was spied on by the FBI. The president tweeting several times about this saying that things have turned around on the criminal deep state. That is the president referring to the Department of Justice going on to say, "They go after phony collusion with Russia, a made-up scam, and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal the likes of which this country may have never seen before." Then later he adds, of course, "Spygate could be one of the biggest political scandals in history."

So the president has moved on, John and Poppy, from saying that the potential that his campaign was spied on by the FBI was a possibility to now saying it is a fact even though several U.S. officials have said that's simply not the case. There was this confidential intelligence source, that this one someone who was helping the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the election got underway.

This is who the president has repeatedly called a spy, informant. We've seen his fury over this person in the last few days. We do know that this person did speak with several campaign advisers, Trump campaign advisers, one of those being Carter Page. Here's what Carter Page had to say last night about his interactions with this intelligence source.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was there anything unusual about your conversations with this guy?

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AID: I never found anything unusual whatsoever. He's someone who is, you know, a long-term, someone who had been in part of the establishment in Republican politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now even there in that interview with Anderson Cooper, Carter Page wouldn't call this person a spy saying he doesn't make accusations like that without the hard facts. Of course, the president does not seem to share that same thinking there.

We do know that tomorrow congressional leaders, specifically Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes, will be briefed by top law enforcement officials on these documents related to the Russia investigations, something that has been at the center of a controversy here. That is a meeting that was brokered by the White House chief of Staff, John Kelly. He will not take place in that meeting as will no one else from the White House but also no Democrats have been invited to that meeting, something that has caused a lot of ire on Capitol Hill since that meeting was announced.

But Press Secretary Sarah Sanders justified this by saying that no Democrats expressed interest in being in a meeting like that but we know that on Monday Chuck Schumer said he believed any meeting, any briefing on these classified documents should be bipartisan and should include Democrats, but John and Poppy, it doesn't look like it will.

HARLOW: Nope. Also before you go, the president's legal team is talking more about trying their hardest to limit the scope of a sit- down with Bob Mueller. What do we know at this point?

COLLINS: Yes. This is a new thing we are hearing from the president's legal team saying if the president does sit down with Robert Mueller, with the special counsel, that they want any questions for the president to be limited to Russia related activities before he was elected president. They want to be able to limit or eliminate any questions regarding the president's activities since he took office.

Of course, that is the president's legal team thinking we've heard nothing from Mueller on that, whether or not he would agree to that. So at this point that could simply be wishful thinking.

HARLOW: OK. Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thanks so much.

Also this morning "The New York Times" reporting Michael Cohen's longtime business partner is cooperating with prosecutors as part of a plea deal. It could be very bad news for Michael Cohen, perhaps for the president. We'll see where it leads.

Joining us now our Brynn Gingras with more. Tell us about this.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. Evegny or Gene, as he goes by, Freidman is Michael Cohen's dear, dear friend. That's what he calls himself. And it's that friendship that maybe he will possibly help state and federal authorities learn more about Cohen and his business practices and possibly like you just mentioned some insight into his relationship with the president.

[09:05:01] So we really may see a somewhat domino effect of help with investigators because of course that has always been the big question, right? Will Cohen, if charged by New York's Southern District, cooperate with investigators when it comes to the special counsel's investigation?

So what happened in Albany yesterday, let me tell you. Well, Freidman admitted to tax fraud, to not paying $5 million in MTA surcharges to New York state for the taxi empire he runs. And he was facing a lot of jail time for that. And according to the "New York Times," in exchange for having to pay the money back and probation, he will cooperate with investigators on their separate cases. And this really is timing. It comes just days after news broke that Jeffrey Yohai, the son-in-law of former Trump campaign chief, Paul Manafort, also reached a plea agreement.

Now Freidman's business consisted of managing taxi fleets for those who own medallions which is what gives the taxis values here in New York City and one of those fleets he managed belonged to Michael Cohen. So they really have known each other for a long time. They've been in business together and clearly investigators believe his knowledge will be useful as the DOJ continues its investigation into Cohen's business practices.

We should say that Michael Cohen's attorneys had really no comment on this plea deal that was made with Freidman yesterday -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Brynn, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst, CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza, and CNN contributor Salena Zito.

Ryan, so in addition to saying things that are not backed up by the available facts here the president is also calling career investigators criminals. Your thoughts?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he's basically turning standard criminal investigative techniques into a scandal, right? And so, look, I imagine a few -- if anyone's personally investigated it seems extremely intrusive and it's not a lot of fun. Criminal investigations aren't a lot of fun. But everything that we have seen that he has complained about so far seems pretty ordinary.

The FISA warrant against Carter Page which has been turned into this major scandal doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary. The use of an informant rather than a more aggressive tactic. Remember, the "New York Times" reported recently that there were people at the FBI that wanted to be much more aggressive in the investigation of the Trump campaign and the FBI was hesitant. They were worried because this was -- there were serious political implications here.

So they used this third party person to sort of casually approach some of the peripheral figures of the campaign to figure out what connections they had to Russia. Now the president has turned that into spygate. These were not spies. And I think a lot of people --

BERMAN: And it may not be a gate either, by the way. Neither of those things may be true.

HARLOW: Yes.

LIZZA: I think the thing that is shocking to me is that Russia used real spies, and spy craft and developed an entire campaign to penetrate the Trump campaign to hack e-mails and dump them. They were real spies. They were Russians. And the president is more concerned about American so-called spies than Russia spies.

HARLOW: Which is the whole reason that this confidential source is used in the first place to get to the bottom of that on the part of the Russians.

Salena, Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been running a bipartisan investigation, wrote this. "The idea that this is all some sort of plot to take down the president is completely contradicted by every known fact about the investigation."

However, his hands are tied here. Right? Sort of like Mueller's hands. They cannot put forth that evidence at this point in time. They have not publicly displayed this. So is the president effectively winning a one-sided fight at least in the, you know, public relations realm right now? SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think possibly -- I think two things

are happening right now. I think yes, among his voters he is probably winning a one-sided fight because they're not speaking, because they're not talking about it, because they're constrained by the rules that they can't, but I also think -- if we're going to talk gates, I almost feel as though we're in the middle of tuned out gate. Right?

That people are just so overwhelmed by everything that's going on and the information going here and there, and they've reached this point where like, OK, just let us know when it's over and we'll make our decision once that evidence is presented.

BERMAN: Interesting. Tuned out gate. I like the use of gate on that.

You know, Paul Callan, does the situation exist right now because Rod Rosenstein, you know, directed the inspector general to look into this? Has he enabled or given cover for the president to write this type of thing today?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think Rosenstein did what he had to do. Remember, the president is technically the head of the Justice Department and even the FBI, and he certainly has the right to issue a directive to Rod Rosenstein and I think Rosenstein's decision to just go with the inspector general, which is a much lesser approach to it than setting up a new independent prosecutor which is what you might have in the end if something serious arose from, this.

[09:10:09] But nothing serious is going to arise from this because you're talking about minor confidential informants who were looking at possible penetration of a presidential campaign by a foreign power, by Russia, and certainly you would expect the FBI to be on the lookout for that and normally a presidential candidate would be grateful to get that information and be warned, but Trump in those days, remember, wasn't even willing to speak to intelligence.

He wasn't attending the intelligence briefings. He wanted nothing to do with them because of this deep state conspiracy he thinks exists against him.

HARLOW: Paul, to finish that thought that I read at the beginning from David Ignatius's column this morning. He says Trump is running a circus of distraction and then he says but at the center of the ring remains Mueller silent and unblinking, and that's the way that Mueller has to remain. Right?

CALLAN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Silent. I mean, meaning he cannot come out and defend himself or his team against any of this.

CALLAN: No. Not at this point. And also, with respect to confidential informants, the agency and the Department of Justice have strict rules about protecting confidentiality and the reason they do that is that people can lose their life if, for instance, it's an organized crime confidential informant, if it is somebody in a counterintelligence situation, you also can have loss of life involved. So you have to be very, very careful about what is publicly revealed in this area.

LIZZA: We don't know what other cases this gentleman has helped or assisted the FBI with that could be more in line with what you're talking about.

CALLAN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Yes, I will say every time we put up on the screen there the word spy and every time we use the word spygate, you know, the president wins a little bit. Right?

LIZZA: Hundred percent. This is the depressing part of this.

BERMAN: Yes.

LIZZA: Is every study shows that fact checking -- when you fact check you have to repeat the lie and unfortunately what happens is people often remember the lie rather than the fact check.

BERMAN: Salena, let me ask you one other thing that we've now learned, which is that when these people at the Justice Department provide this evidence to congressional, you know, sources, it will be Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes. There will be no Democrats in the room there.

What kind of look does that give? Does that help sell this as something that's not a partisan battle?

ZITO: Well, it would certainly be better if there were Democrats there. I mean, you know, I think it's important that all of these issues are looked at bipartisanly. Although I would say that Trey Gowdy is probably the least sort of very supportive person, you know, of the president and always has his back so that gives that sort of edge to speculation and the willingness to look at the whole picture rather than look as a team member looking at a team members problem. So in that, for that, I think that's a good idea.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Paul --

ZITO: I mean, I think that that's better, that's not great, but that's better.

HARLOW: Right. Paul, Gloria Borger on our team reporting last night that the president's team is trying very hard to narrow the scope of Mueller's questioning, narrow it so much that it would only pertain to before he was in office, before he was president and that would take obstruction completely off the table, right?

We know that Mueller's team has been looking into the firing of James Comey and these key elements of potential obstruction of justice. Is there any world, any planet on which Mueller would agree to such a thing? CALLAN: You know, you may be surprised by my answer here, but yes,

there is and I'll tell you why.

HARLOW: Why?

CALLAN: What Mueller's looking at if the president continues this resistance to talking to him is serving a subpoena to force him to testify in front of a grand jury which will wind up going to the U.S. Supreme Court. Can a president be forced to testify in person as opposed to turn over documents? And the president, of course, also has the right to assert the Fifth Amendment.

Now most people would say, well, the president would never assert the Fifth Amendment, but Trump flouts conventional approaches to things and he hates the judiciary and the criminal justice system. The prosecutor Mueller on the other hand might in the end be confronted with, well, at least I'll get some kind of a statement from him, at least I'll get something in writing that may turn out to be useful later as opposed to nothing.

HARLOW: To nothing.

CALLAN: And something's better than nothing. So if I were prosecuting in the end, I'd negotiate hard, but I might go along with an audio taped statement and something more limited just to get something on paper as to what Trump's version is.

BERMAN: Interesting. Paul Callan, Ryan Lizza, Salena Zito, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

ZITO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on Capitol Hill right now. This after the president has raised doubts about this imminent meeting -- or is it so imminent meeting -- with Kim Jong-un. Is it in jeopardy or is this just the president building suspense?

And CNN is in North Korea. Our Will Ripley in the middle of a 20-hour journey to this nuclear test site that is set to be dismantled allegedly over the next few days.

HARLOW: Plus overnight, progressive women and political newcomers scoring big in Tuesday's primaries. But can they turn those red states blue?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I look forward to making even more history for real Georgians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All in one would be nice, I can tell you. I'm not going to go beyond that. It would certainly be better if it were all in one? Does it have to be? I don't think I want to totally commit myself, but all in one would be a lot better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All in one. He's talking about denuclearization for North Korea. All in one would be better, but all of a sudden not required. That's a significant statement from President Trump.

Is he backing off this demand from North Korea to instantly denuclearize even before the two countries even meet?

HARLOW: So, you can bet there will be questions about that as we're about to hear more about the president's still scheduled, but increasingly on-the-fence June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un.

This hearing just underway with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Our global affairs analyst Elise Labott is joining us now with more. This is the big focus, this and Iran today.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, Poppy. You saw that Secretary Pompeo, even while he was CIA director, really taking the lead on communications with the North Koreans. He's been there twice in the last month.

[09:20:10] So, I think as these preparations are continuing, obviously, he's going to be in the lead with National Security Adviser John Bolton, but I think Secretary Pompeo yesterday was trying to put much more positive spin on whether the talks are going to take place, saying that the administration is moving forward, hopes to have the summit on the 12th, but, certainly, President Trump has been casting cold water on that.

And at the same time, he'll also be asked questions about Iran. And given the fact that the president is now saying that denuclearization could be in steps, that's exactly the kind of deal that he just withdrew from on the Iran deal.

So, I think there'll be a lot of questions from lawmakers about exactly what the president is looking for from North Korea.

BERMAN: All right. Elise Labott for us. Elise, thanks very much. Joining us now CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd.

Sam, this idea that the president all of a sudden saying that maybe it doesn't have to be all at once for denuclearization, how much of a concession is this less than three weeks before this proposed meeting?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's a huge concession, but the president shot himself in the foot when he made the requirement for going essentially going to the meeting complete denuclearization back in March when he agreed to do this meeting. And this press conference yesterday was so bizarre. It was like the

president was going through all the details that he should have been going through privately with his own team, with his experts before accepting the meeting, but instead he was doing this in front of TV cameras when the summit is now under three weeks away.

HARLOW: He also chose to say something pretty extraordinary about guaranteeing the safety of Kim Jong-un. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will guarantee his safety, yes. We will guarantee his safety. And we've talked about that from the beginning. He will be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So then our Pamela Brown at the White House briefing asked Sarah Sanders about that given the fact that an American college student, Otto Warmbier, died at the hands of the regime. They held these American detainees until recently. Total non-answer from her on that.

I mean, how does this read?

VINOGRAD: We know why he did it. This is the one thing that Kim Jong-un is deeply fixated on.

But I just have to do a thought exercise here. Let's say we gave Kim Jong-un security assurances related to denuclearization. Is that forever for everything? Are we saying that Kim Jong-un can go and murder his own people, like Gaddafi did, and we're not going to do anything to stop him?

I think it sends a dangerous precedent about what we're willing to tell people -

HARLOW: Or that the US would send forces in to secure him. Would it go that far?

BERMAN: That's an extraordinary statement. Some kind of security guarantee for Kim Jong-un when we don't make that guarantee to half the country.

VINOGRAD: It's a carte blanche to do anything anytime and get off scot free.

BERMAN: That's why you have to be careful with your words sometimes. There is this testing facility which allegedly will be destroyed today.

US defense officials told CNN that they think the closing of this site is a PR stunt. What do you make of it?

VINOGRAD: I agree. I mean, journalists are going. And it's very telling that weapons inspectors aren't going. So, there is no way that anybody can verify what the site actually is or actually isn't, whether it was damaged and that's why it's being shut down.

And, remember, Kim Jong-un is not shutting this down because he's trying to do us a favor. He's said that he's already achieved a nuclear capability, so he's shutting down something he doesn't need in front of cameras and he's getting a lot of attention for it.

HARLOW: Can Kim Jong-un afford to lose this summit? Meaning we know the president wants it. He's very eager. Maybe too eager, some analysts say, to have this happen. What about Kim?

VINOGRAD: I think that Kim could afford to lose this summit because, right now, the momentum is behind him. He is setting the tone for what the summit looks like.

Remember, he's the one that made a commitment to denuclearize. Now, he's not going to denuclearize anymore. So, it's really a question of whether and what Kim is willing to do.

And the president looks like he's responding to Kim Jong-un instead of in the driver seat.

BERMAN: All right. Is it going to happen?

VINOGRAD: I think that it will. My money is on it happening. I think that the president wants it to happen and I do think that John Bolton probably wants it to happen too at this point.

He said a few days ago, in contrast to the president, that the summit would go forward. And I think that John Bolton and others may view this as a necessary step to looking at other options. They can say we tried diplomacy. It didn't work. Now, what other options are on the table?

HARLOW: Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it. Good to have you.

All right. Historically deep red states saw big blue wins overnight in the primaries. The Democratic women breaking barriers, making history next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR NOMINEE IN GEORGIA: This is just the tip of the iceberg because we are building a coalition of voters, a coalition of white voters, of voters of color.

Our mission is to bring together Democrats of every wing of every community as well as independent thinkers.

I look forward to making even more history for real Georgians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That is Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams. She's the first African-American woman to become a major party nominee for governor of any state. Just one of the fascinating results overnight in races around the country.

HARLOW: Joining us now Harry Enten, senior political writer and analyst, and our political director David Chalian.

It was a big night. It was a night of history-making races. David, just about Georgia and Stacey Abrams, as John just laid out, she won huge. I think by 50 as Harry was just telling me.

What does the race tell you? What does the margin tell you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the race tells me that here's a Democrat - and I would just say this all about last night, guys. The information we got last night told us a little bit more I think about where the Democratic Party is right now, where that Democratic electorate more than it necessarily tells us about what's going to happen in November.