Return to Transcripts main page


Supreme Court Rules on Wedding Cake Case; President Trump Above the Law?; Did White House Lie to Public About Trump Tower Meeting?; Supreme Court Sides With Baker in Gay Wedding Cake Case; Interview with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 4, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he has the power to pardon a different cast member from "The Apprentice." This one is named Donald Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Above the law? President Trump says he has the absolute right to pardon himself. Does Mr. Trump think he is beyond Robert Mueller's reach?

The battle between religious freedom and freedom from discrimination. The fight between a conservative Christian baker and a gay couple. The Supreme Court makes a decision in one of the key cultural battles of our time.

Plus, the Lewinsky affair through the prism of MeToo -- what President Bill Clinton said today that has critics saying he's still getting it all hopelessly wrong.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today and the president of the United States asserting one of the broadest interpretations possible of the powers of the executive, suggesting that, if he so chose, he could not be held liable for any federal crime as president.

He began his day by tweeting in part -- quote -- "I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?"

Critics on the left and the right pushed back on the president seeming to suggest he is above the law. But this was just the latest of a series of stunning claim claims recently made by the president and his legal team, with the publication by "The New York Times" of a 20-page confidential January lawyer from current Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow and former Trump lawyer John Dowd to special counsel Robert Mueller, in which the lawyers argued that the president, because he is the chief law enforcement officer in the land, he simply cannot ever obstruct justice, since -- quote -- "That would amount to him obstructing himself" -- unquote.

Even some Trump allies with experience in the legal field, such as former U.S. attorney Chris Christie, took issue with that assertion.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It is an outrageous claim. It is wrong. They were trying to make a broad argument. Lawyers do that all the time.


TAPPER: As for the assertion by President Trump that he can pardon himself, well, scholars are divided. A Watergate era 1974 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel says that the president cannot pardon himself because -- quote -- "No one may be a judge in his own case."

But others disagree. Consensus would seem to be that, politically, however, it would be rather unwise. Alexander Hamilton writing in "The Federalist Papers" about the pardoning power discussed the need for it so a president might -- quote -- "restore the tranquillity of the commonwealth, need be."

It is hard to imagine that the effect of a Trump-pardoning-Trump action would be tranquillity.

But don't take my word for it. Here is Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, a strong Trump supporter.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If I were the president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.


TAPPER: One thing that is clear in all of this, President Trump and his team are now taking a stance that is reminiscent of President Nixon's assertion to journalist David Frost.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.


TAPPER: Also of note in the Trump legal team letter to Mueller is a huge admission, that President Trump himself dictated -- dictated the highly misleading statement about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting between top members of the Trump team and someone described as a Russian government lawyer.

Now, the statement, you will remember, attributed at the time to Donald Trump Jr. suggested that the meeting had been introductory and that -- quote -- "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children." Now, that statement of course covered up the true intention of the meeting, that Donald Trump Jr. had been promised from a -- quote -- "Russian government attorney" information that -- quote -- "would incriminate Hillary and would be very useful to your father, part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump."

Donald Trump Jr.'s response at the time, of course, "If it is what you say, I love it."

So let us be clear about what we are talking about here. President Trump, according to his lawyers, was primarily responsible for a statement to be so misleading as to be veering into the territory of a lie about that meeting involving his son, his campaign chair and his son-in-law meeting with someone presented to them as a Russian government lawyer with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And compounding that extremely deceptive statement, we were told for months that the president did not dictate that statement.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate. But he -- like I said, he weighed in, offer suggestion, like any father would do.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president.

The president didn't sign off on anything. But I do want to be clear. The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.



TAPPER: So now we know none of that was true.

When asked about the shifting explanations for the statement, the president's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, gave yet another stunner.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I mean, this is the reason you don't let the president testify. It is every -- our recollection keeps changing.


TAPPER: "Our recollection keeps changing."

I'm not sure recollection is the word you are looking for there, Mr. Mayor, but I think we all take your point.

CNN's Pamela Brown now joins us from the White House. And, Pamela, how did Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary,

explain the fact that the president's lawyers are directly contradicting what she said last year when she said the president did not dictate that statement from Air Force One?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was an exercise in obfuscation at the podium today, Jake.

Sarah Sanders was pressed repeatedly by several different reporters on this discrepancy, and she repeatedly replied that she wanted to refer to outside counsel because they were referring to this 20-page memo that clearly states the president did dictate that initial misleading statement, even though Sarah Sanders several months ago said that he certainly didn't dictate, but weighed in, as any father would.

And so it is perplexing, Jake, why she couldn't talk about something that she talked about several months ago when she did say he didn't dictate, why that has changed now.

And you would think that, if it is inaccurate, that she would want to correct the record. Jay Sekulow, the president's attorney who initially did say he didn't dictate on at least four occasions, released a statement today saying that: "Our letter, as in that 20- page memo, does reflect our understanding of events that occurred."

Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, also answered reporters' questions about the president's tweet that he has the absolute authority to pardon himself. It was clear that the White House strategy on that point was to say continually that the president hasn't done anything wrong, and that therefore it doesn't matter whether he can pardon himself.

But then she was pressed whether he believes he is above the law. Here is what she said.


QUESTION: Does the president believe the framers envisioned a system where the president can pardon himself, where the president could be above the law?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the Constitution very clearly lays out the law. And once again the president hasn't done anything wrong and we feel very comfortable in that front.

QUESTION: Does the president believe he is above the law?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, no one is above the law.


BROWN: And the Constitution, Jake, does not explicitly lay out whether or not a president can pardon himself, but a Department of Justice memo which has binding authority does say that the president cannot pardon himself because no one can be a judge in their own case -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House for us, thank you

so much.

Let's bring in my panel to talk about this more.

Amanda, take a listen to Kellyanne Conway, the senior counsel to the president, talking this morning about the president's tweets when our own Kaitlan Collins went over to her.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why does the president think he's above the law, Kellyanne?


COLLINS: Why does the president think he's above the law?

CONWAY: Well, why would he need to pardon himself when he has done nothing wrong?


CONWAY: You just like to engage in these hypothetical exercises.


TAPPER: We just like to engage in these hypothetical exercises.


TAPPER: Because we, of course, are the ones that wrote the tweet from the president's passage.

But what does it tell you that we're even talking about this and the president's lawyers are writing assertions to Mueller saying that the president is unable to obstruct justice basically because he is justice?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I call this the Cartman legal theory. I do what I want.

The president's aides are saying essentially the president can fire that FBI director, maybe even shoot him, that he can end the investigation. He doesn't have to comply with a subpoena.

But this whole defense is that he won't have to pardon himself because he didn't do anything wrong. Throw that out. We do know that the president will pardon people for certain crimes, because he has. He has pardoned Dinesh D'Souza for campaign finance violations. He has pardoned Joe Arpaio for criminal contempt.

He has pardoned Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice. And so perhaps instead of asking -- going along with the idea that he hasn't done anything wrong, say, would he pardon his aides for these crimes, given that he has pardoned other people? I think we need to narrow these arguments more, because like what Giuliani is throwing out is that the president can do whatever he wants. That is just a mess. It's nonsense. We need to be smarter about our questions.

TAPPER: Phil, do you think that we're moving into a new stage where the president's lawyers are preparing for some really nasty stuff to come their way from Robert Mueller?


I think we're looking at this too narrowly. I think that new stage started with the hiring of Rudy Giuliani. He's not there as a legal counsel. He's there as an attack dog to say, if there are charges -- forget about Robert Mueller -- think about Congress and the American people in the event of additional charges, for example, against family members.

What are we going to say? What they have said so far, especially with the Giuliani hire, is, we're not going to be subtle about this. We're going full frontal against the integrity of the investigation of Robert Mueller.


And if push comes to shove, not only is the president himself exempt, but I have got to believe that is a message to other people who might be charged.

If he's exempt, they have got to be exempt too. I think we're guesting to endgame, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, the president's attorneys in their memo to Mueller say that he couldn't have obstructed justice -- quote -- "because that would amount to him obstructing himself" and that "he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon, if he so recognized."

Do you recognize this version of the presidency?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: No. I think that that would make the president ultimately above all law, right?

This idea even that Giuliani put out there that he could even shoot James Comey, and then he would need to be indicted or something like that. And it is like he is not above the law. And the idea that he thinks that he is, is troubling, but also I think, to what Amanda was kind of getting at, that he feels he needs to be, right?

So why are they going out of their way to make this argument if he didn't do anything wrong? Why do they need to do that?

You have now one of the founders of the Federalist Society is making the argument that the entire investigation is unconstitutional, that Mueller shouldn't even be doing this. And they are doing that, of course, because they have complete control over Donald Trump and they're able to get every judge that they want.

But these are being criticized by other members of the Federalist Society, saying, it is complete nonsense.

TAPPER: Yes. In fact, President Trump earlier today said the appointment of the special counsel was -- quote -- "totally unconstitutional."

I have to say that he felt a little differently during the campaign. He tweeted about Hillary Clinton -- quote -- "If I win, I'm going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been anything like your lies."

So, apparently, his concerns about the special prosecutor or special counsel law do not -- they are not consistent, shall we say.


MUDD: Well, there is an American standard here, and that standard is, you can look at the FBI and say, I don't trust the Russia investigation, but when I get out, go out and give speeches, when I talk to people, if you are subjected to a mail scam, if you are subjected to a child being abducted, if you are subjected to white- collar crime, people are still saying, well, it is nice what the president says, but where the heck is the FBI?

People ask me all the time, does this sort of undermine the integrity of the FBI? Not yet. Not yet. But I think that is at risk.

TAPPER: What is your view, as a conservative, Amanda, about this view of this presidency, this view of the powers of the executive? It doesn't -- I mean...

CARPENTER: It is bonkers. It's absurd. It makes it, I think, difficult for any rational Republican to go along with. And you set that up and in your opening in showing that Chris Christie isn't going along with it, Chuck Grassley isn't going along with it.

They're making such a bad defense, they are giving Republicans nothing to hang on to, except for the president's loyalty. It's not enough. It's not sustainable.

And even now, just -- I think we have to keep going back to this idea that they are saying the president won't pardon himself because he did nothing wrong.

Well, Sarah Sanders, we all saw that she's been a liar from the podium about the Trump Tower statement. We have seen Hope Hicks lie about it, Jay Sekulow lie about it. They didn't do that on their own. Someone told them to do that.

It is entirely reasonable to speculate that the president told them to lie about that. That is something wrong. That is why Robert Mueller has to sit Donald Trump down and ask him about it to finalize that report. And if he doesn't sit down with him and give him his side of the story for what happened in regard to that statement, that is an admission of guilt.

TAPPER: What do you -- go ahead.

POWERS: Oh, no, I was going to say, I also think we have to remember that there's a -- the main audience for all of this isn't really us.


POWERS: Trump supporters, right? So, this is just more...

TAPPER: And Republicans in Congress.

POWERS: And Republicans -- yes, this is just more of muddying the water, and so that they can say that, well, see, no, no, no, but the president can do this and the president can do that, it is right there, it's in the memo, and this kind of -- and so they sort of create this confusion. Right?

And I think that is one of the main reasons they're doing it.

MUDD: This is a really important point. I think one of the critical elements we have to look at and one of the places the president has succeeded is, whether the charges, if there are any, are significant, the president's success I think here has been if there are minor charges, he wins.

Mueller really has to get over the bar to beat the president on...


TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Two fundamental American values pitted against each other before the nation's highest court. Is the Supreme Court ruling on the same-sex wedding cake case the end or the beginning?

Stay with us.


[16:18:28] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Today, a ruling in one of the most anticipated cases by the U.S. Supreme Court, one that pitted religious liberty against gay rights. A strong majority, seven of the nine justices sided with a Colorado baker, a Christian conservative, who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the wedding of a same-sex couple.

CNN's Jessica Schneider explains what today's decision might mean for the debate between religious liberty and anti-discrimination.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Justice Anthony Kennedy just three years after writing the decision that cleared the way for gay marriage nationwide today coming down in favor of a baker in Colorado who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But the decision was narrow. It only applies to the baker in this case, Jack Phillips, and may not affect any future cases.

The couple who brought the case and married in 2012 promised a continued fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today's decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue. WE have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are.

SCHNEIDER: The couple told CNN after the Supreme Court argument in December that they first filed their complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2011 to take a stand.

DAVID MULLINS, PLAINTIFF: This case is about more than us and it's not about cakes. It's about the right of gay people to receive equal service.

SCHNEIDER: Baker Jack Phillips was inside of his cake shop today. His lawyer spoke on his behalf saying Phillips celebrated the narrow ruling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The court's decision today makes very clear that the government must respect Jack Phillip's beliefs about marriage.

[16:20:05] If we want to have freedom to ourselves, we have to extend it to those with whom we disagree.

SCHNEIDER: The majority of justices focus their criticism on the Colorado Commission's animosity toward the baker's religious beliefs. Justice Kennedy wrote the commission's hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.

And the opinion acknowledged that the issue is still unsettled when it comes to whether merchants may refuse certain services to gay couples on the basis of religion. The outcome of cases like this and other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, and without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs and without subjecting gay person to indignities when they seek services and goods in an open market.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The baker claimed he was not just an ordinary business person. He was an artist. He was like a painter or a sculptor or a poet and it would violate the First Amendment if he were forced to create a cake like a novelist would be forced to write a novel.


SCHNEIDER: And so, now, the question becomes, will other artists or even business owners point to their religious freedom if and when they choose to refuse services to gay people. That, of course, is the issue the Supreme Court avoided deciding this case.

But, Jake, you know, this issue could come to the forefront in future cases especially if other couples or people who feel discriminated against bring their case to any court and maybe eventually the Supreme Court.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Was an aide running personal errands for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, such as buying a used mattress from a Trump hotel? Is that what taxpayer dollars are supposed to be used for? Those kinds of errands? The director of the White House Budget Office joins me next.


[16:26:07] TAPPER: In politics today, new scrutiny for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. House Democrats are pushing to subpoena records that they believe will show that Pruitt used his staff, his official staff to run personal errands on the taxpayers' dime, such as finding him an apartment to rent or personally tour the properties, even to call a Trump International Hotel in Washington to see if he could buy a used mattress.

I'm joined now by another member of President Trump's cabinet, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, here to discuss the president's first 500 days in office.

Director Mulvaney, thanks for being here as always.

I'll get to the 500 days in a sec, but I do want to ask you -- you are there both in Washington as a member of the House as I recall you and also at OMB to be a steward for the taxpayers of this country. It feels as though every day, we learn a new way that Administrator Scott Pruitt is spending taxpayer dollars questionably, whether agency staffers running personal errands for him, $1,500 for a dozen fountain pens, $43,000 for a sound proof phone booth, does this not offend you?

MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR: There are rules and to the extent that if any rules have been broken, I'm sure we'll have to deal with that.

The Office of Management and Budget does review the GAO reports that have come out regarding Administrator Pruitt. We'll continue to watch it. I've read today about the mattresses. That doesn't bother me, I used to sleep in my office over in Congress. They wouldn't let me do it here at OMB.

So, you know, there are rules and we all have to play by them. Everybody knows that and we'll get to the bottom and see what actually happened.

TAPPER: Let's talk about trade because that's causing some real problems and disagreements. Today, the prime minister of the U.K., Theresa May, told President Trump, according to a readout from 10 Downing Street, that new steel and aluminum tariffs were, quote, unjustified and deeply disappointing. The office of French President Emmanuel Macron called the decision for new steel and aluminum tariffs, quote, not only illegal, it is a mistake. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the tariffs insulting and unacceptable, that his country is somehow deemed a national security threat to the U.S.

Is the Trump administration ruining or at least damaging relationships with our allies in the process of trying to put America first? Might there not be a better way to do this.

MULVANEY: To answer your questions, no, we're not ruining these relationships. In fact, earlier today, I had a signing ceremony with my counterparts from Canada in the Office of Management and Budget on how we're going to work together with them to align our regulatory policy. So, the relationships between, for example, the United States and Canada are still very good. We continue to work at a bunch of different things in addition to the discussing a renegotiation of NAFTA. Those discussions are just part of the very varied relationship or the very complex relationship between two very large developed countries.

As for President Macron, I hear what he said. I disrespectfully disagree with his interpretation of American law, that the steps the president is taking is not illegal and I would much -- I'll defer to my own Department of Justice versus the French president over what the president of the United States can and cannot do.

But the bottom line is this: the president said a couple of things. He said he's going to protect American industries. He's going to protect American families and that's part and parcel of this.

So, I don't think anybody should be surprised at this. I saw the president speak last week in Nashville, Tennessee and the banner behind him said promised made, promised kept. This is what he said he was go9ing to do. So, we give him credit for that.

He's actually keeping to his promises everything that we've done since we've been here. It's been good for American families and American businesses. And at the end of the day, the trade policies will be as well.

TAPPER: A lot of people on Capitol Hill from your party disagree with you. There is almost a revolt brewing among Republicans on the Hill on this issue. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, a big Trump supporter, says, quote, these tariffs are hitting the wrong target. When it comes to unfairly traded steel and aluminum, Mexico, Canada and Europe are not the problem, China is. This action puts American workers and families at risk.

Are all of these Republicans in the House and Senate who disagree with the president on this, are they all wrong?

MULVANEY: Well, Kevin is a good friend of mine. You're not going to get me to say something bad about him on national television.