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New York Times Story Says Rosenstein Considering Invoking The 25th Amendment to Remove Trump; Rosenstein Says It Was Not Discussed. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[15:00:00] LAURA JARRETT: That's right, Wolf. This is explosive new reporting from "The New York Times" and he mentioned it to FBI and justice department officials, in particular embattled former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who documented those conversations contemporaneously in memos, just as former director, FBI Director, James Comey did, and according to sources that I'm told familiar with the matter, he then distributed those memos to the special counsel Robert Mueller, but I want to read to you a statement directly from the deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who is pushing back against this entire reporting, and I want to read it to you in full, Wolf. He says: "The New York Times" story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this," he says, Wolf, "based on my personal dealings with the President there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."

Now, on the wiretapping issue, I'm told by a source familiar, Wolf, that he was just joking about that, he was not serious, but, of course, "The New York Times" paints a very different picture in that he said it, that he was serious. So, we will have to obviously see how the White House responds to this, this comes at a very tenuous time for Rosenstein as he is overseeing the special counsel's investigation which looms large for this White House, but at least so far, the last time I checked no word from the White House yet, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I quickly want to go to Jim Acosta our chief White House correspondent who is getting reaction at the White House as well. This is a bombshell if this "New York Times" story is true, that the deputy Attorney General actually secretly recorded conversations with the President of the United States, and actually discussed with other members of the cabinet the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to the constitution to get rid of the President because he felt that there was chaos going on. What are you hearing over there, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN Chief White House Correspondent: Wolf, I just went into the office of the deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley here who is essentially minding the fort when it comes to dealing with the press. The press secretary Sarah Sanders is with the President right now on this trip, he was in Las Vegas last night for a rally, he is in Missouri in just the next hour or so to talk about veteran's issues. He is at a VA hospital there. We're expecting to hear some comments from him shortly, Wolf. It would be extraordinary if the President were to weigh in immediately on all of this. I can tell you that Hogan Gidley said that for right now the White House has no comment. He seemed to be reading the article on his desktop computer just as we were all reading the article on our phones.

These are very explosive allegations and details, Wolf. Obviously if the man who is overseeing the Mueller probe felt a year ago that the President should be removed from office using something as drastic and dramatic as the 25th Amendment, that is obviously, Wolf, I can just tell you right now without even, you know, talking to people who are supportive of the President, they are going to say -- and I expect these kinds of comments to come in the next hours or perhaps the next couple of days -- people are going to say that Rod Rosenstein should be tossed out over something like this and it's obviously going to fuel the theories that go on inside the President's mind. He's very prone to believing conspiracy theories and so are some of his supporters, that there was some kind of coupe, deep state plot to remove had I'm from office. If the President doesn't make a comment coming up shortly he will be tweeting about it in short order.

This is obviously something the President has been very fearful of and has talked about from time to time. He feels that there is some kind of conspiracy against him. Obviously, the deputy Attorney General may have had valid reasons for all of this. We don't know all the details in terms of what was going on, but there is -- I can't think of anything more extraordinary in terms of a government official seeking to have the President removed from office in this kind of fashion. It is just not something we're accustomed to seeing come out in a news report in this era. It just goes to the very dramatic almost breakneck, you know, pace of just unbelievable developments that happen here at the White House on a regular basis, but this just may be the most extraordinary thing I've seen in a very long time, Wolf. We definitely need more details about it.

BLITZER: And if "The New York Times" report is true, it's not just the discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment to the constitution where you have a majority of the cabinet recommending to the house of representatives and the senate that this President must go, but it's also the fact that according to the "New York Times" there was a secret recording of a conversation that Rosenstein had a secret recording. That, I'm sure if the President believes that to be true, that's a fireable offense. Evan Perez, you cover the justice department for us. This is all very explosive.

[14:05:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is explosive. I mean, let's just back up a little bit here. There actually wasn't -- nobody is actually saying that there was a recording, according to the "Times" and the people that they spoke to, even Rosenstein is now saying that this was a joke, that there was nothing ever suggested, something that they would --

BLITZER: Let me reread the lead of the "New York Times." the Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein suggested last year that he secretly record -- secretly recorded President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos.

PEREZ: According to "The Times" they never actually went through with it, but just the thought that they even discussed it, Wolf, and discussed it with having other people, FBI people, who were going to meet with the President to actually carry out such a recording is an extraordinary thing for -- to have actually happened. The idea that this was discussed -- what this puts the President in is in a very difficult position because now this is according to accounts that Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI who President Trump has called a liar, has called a leaker, has assailed repeatedly, you know, in his tweets, this is now -- the President is going to have to decide whether he believes Andy McCabe or whether he believes Rod Rosenstein. If you remember, going back to right after the firing of James Comey, Rod Rosenstein was in a very tough place.

His memo that he had written was being used by the President to explain why he fired James Comey. So, Rod was certainly very distraught, he thought that he was being used, set up, certainly that this memo was not -- was not his intention for it to be used this way. And so, he was very upset and he was telling friends and he was basically, you know, telling people, a lot of people, how he felt. So, I think that's the context in which these conversations were happening. We don't know exactly what Rod was sort of thinking necessarily about actually doing any of these things, but according to the "times" they didn't actually go through with any of this. They didn't go through with any discussions according to Rod Rosenstein. Didn't have any discussions of a 25th Amendment coup as you described. But certainly, I think this now puts the President in a place where he has to decide, do I believe Rod Rosenstein's denials? Do I believe Andy McCabe who was fired for allegedly leaking and for lying?

SIMON PROKUPESZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: You can decide it that way, that it's up to the President here, but this is all now with the special counsel. We talk a lot about this certainly legally, it's what's in someone's state of mind. What was going on in Rod Rosenstein's mind at the time where he felt that this was kind of necessary? This would have been an extraordinary, extraordinary move to go ahead, going to the White House, whether it would be Andrew McCabe, whether it would be another FBI official, whether it would be Rod Rosenstein that would wear a wire and record the President in any kind of conversation. Why did Rod Rosenstein feel that that was something that perhaps was necessary? And I think that's what we all need to understand here, too, is what was going on? And, you know, the department of justice our sources there could be saying, well, he was just joking at the time. Well, I think this article kind of lays out that he wasn't joking because someone asked him if you are to believe this story are you serious? And he said, Yes, I'm serious. So, something was going on. This was about two weeks into Rod Rosenstein's sometime when he started working at the Department of Justice as and full chaos.

If Andrew McCabe can't do it maybe someone else does it. So, Rod wanted something. There was something going on and now the fact that also Andrew McCabe went ahead and wrote this memo about it, again, we've seen memos before. James Comey, other department of justice officials, other people at the FBI who have written memos. Certainly extraordinary. This all now is with the special counsel. What are they doing with all of this information? BLITZER: Gloria is with us as well. Let me read the second paragraph

in this "New York Times" article and just a reminder of yours, Rosenstein is only two weeks on the job when all of this was unfolding. Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions supposedly about recording the President secretly and invoking the 25th Amendment. He made these discussions in the spring of 2017 when the firing of James Comey plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days the President divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the oval office and revelations emerged that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation of a senior aide. That sets the stage for this bombshell report.

[14:10:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, first of all, Rosenstein was thrust into this incredibly turbulent situation. We know from our own reporting that he was telling his friends that he had tracks all over his back because he writes this memo, the President asked him to write, about James Comey, clearly, he was not a fan of the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail situation during the election.

He writes it and then suddenly he discovers that the President is using it to validate his decision or as the explainer for his decision to fire Comey. So that's why he felt like he had tracks all over his back because he felt like he had been used. So, he was upset about that. And maybe he had been used by Jeff Sessions as well, who knows. But it was clearly he felt used. The piece also points out that -- so there was turmoil from Comey, but at the same time he was sitting in on the interviews that the President was having to replace the FBI director and maybe in the "Times" piece kind of implies this, that this gave him another view into how much the President knew or did not know about the way the FBI should operate. We know this over the last year that the President has one view of how the FBI should operate, that is, as his own personal general counsel, versus the constitutional view of how the FBI should operate, which is as an independent institution. So, you know, maybe at this point Rosenstein his head is exploding, right? He's been used, he's sitting in on this, he believes the President is not competent to pick an FBI director. He's not the kind of guy to joke about wearing a wire, would you think? I mean, you know him.

BLITZER: He is a former U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

BORGER: He is a very serious guy. A very experienced in law enforcement. And this notion, Laura Coates, you are our legal analyst, of invoking the 25th Amendment -- basically there are two ways to forcibly remove a President from office, the impeachment process through the House of Representatives and then the Senate but also the 25th Amendment to the Constitution if the President is deemed by a majority of the cabinet as being inept, unqualified to be President of the United States.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And to suggest both, I mean, impeachment is really a serious thing to invoke, let alone the 25th Amendment that came shortly after the assassination of Kennedy. You are not talking about a time that is used lightly to invoke the 25th Amendment. Also remember that Rod Rosenstein is particularly vulnerable. There have been questions looming throughout his entire tenure as the Deputy AG who was essentially the role of Jeff Sessions who the President has just said this week he has no Attorney General because he does not believe that he has loyalty in the office or somebody who is focused on issues that he wants to put forth. So, Rod Rosenstein already has this complex relationship as the person who is overseeing the special counsel probe, he is the person who was the gatekeeper and ultimate decider on whether or not there are -- there are indictments that are pursued, that there are going to be grand jury operations that take place. He will receive the report from Robert Mueller and have the wherewithal to turn it over to congress or not. He is in a very, very key position. Remember, around this time they've been wondering, people from Roger Stone's assistants in the past to the advocacy of Rudy Giuliani has talked about the notion that Rod Rosenstein is not given oversight over Mueller's investigation so that renders the entire thing a witch-hunt. The timing is important in the context of why he is already vulnerable, now you add this to the pile of witch-hunt fodder.

BLITZER: Evan, I want to read the so-called denial, the formal statement that Rod Rosenstein put out because I've covered a lot of so-called denials, nondenials, denials. This is carefully written. We will put it up on the screen one more time. This is Rosenstein's reaction to 'The New York Times" story. "The New York Times" story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda, but let me be clear about this, based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment. So that doesn't sound like a firm denial, I never recorded anything, I never even raised the possibility of the 25th Amendment. This is what they often call a nondenial denial.

[14:15:00] PEREZ: It is. Rod is a very good lawyer and he has definitely written a lawyerly answer. It's really the only answer he can give. I think if you contrast -- I think these comments allegedly were made and certainly Andy McCabe and others who witnessed them, they heard these in a certain context. Again, these are the opening days of Rod Rosenstein's tenure as a deputy Attorney General. You fast forward since then and from what I'm told Rod Rosenstein and the President actually have a decent working relationship, certainly better than Jeff Sessions has with the President. So, I think what Rod is getting at there is that his interaction with the President since then he's certainly come to think that he has a better working relationship with the President, the President seems to appreciate him, certainly thinks that he's substantive and has good interactions with him.

Certainly, better interactions than he has with Jeff Sessions. So that's where I think the latter part of that statement, which says, you know, based on my interactions with him I don't see any reason for the 25th Amendment. That's what he's getting at there, but it doesn't address exactly what you're saying which is he doesn't address that he may have made those comments, again, in the opening weeks of his tenure, that he may have suggested that he recorded other people should record the President and certainly that he may have suggested this 25th Amendment. BLITZER: Don't forget the President has also tweeted a lot about Rod

Rosenstein.

BORGER: That has stopped. Now he is so focused on Jeff Sessions and don't forget in terms of the Russia investigation it is Rod Rosenstein, this is another complicating factor, it is Rod Rosenstein who has to make a lot of important decisions such as if the Special Counsel Mueller goes to Rod Rosenstein and says, I need to subpoena Donald Trump to testify, Rod Rosenstein, correct me if I'm wrong, has to sign off on this?

JARRETT: Not just Donald Trump, any witness.

BORGER: But whether the President, you know, should or should not be subpoenaed to testify is such a key thing.

PEREZ: But keep in mind also remember the other part we're for getting is that they've raised -- people certainly in the President's camp have raised the issue that Rod Rosenstein is a witness and how is it that he's in charge of this investigation when he is a key witness who witnessed some of these very big moments at the beginning of this.

BLITZER: The story is clearly going to deeply anger the President of the United States. I suspect there will be some significant fallout. If you remember if you watched the President's political rally in Las Vegas last night, as I did, there was one moment where he paused and he just said the Justice Department and there were boos and he was really railing in that moment. I mean, this was a moment when you see the President of the United States slamming the Justice Department -- in front of thousands of people at a political rally. You have to wonder what is going on.

BORGER: But this story will only confirm his suspicion about the deep state.

JARRETT: But he's very consistent about not liking anonymous sources. Rod Rosenstein has talked about this in previous press conferences before about not wanting to rely on that, but it's also the party line of the President with respect to the op-ed recently published.

BLITZER: Get ready, there's going to be significant fallout. We'll cover it every step of the way. We will have a lot more on this bombshell news, the breaking news, much more right after this.

[14:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Erica Hill in for Brooke Baldwin today. More on that bombshell breaking news from "The New York Times." Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly discussed invoking the 25th Amendment last year to oust President Trump. Rosenstein already responding to this, calling the "Times" article, quote, inaccurate and factually incorrect. I want to bring in Laura Jarrett. Laura, what more are you hearing about this?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: Yes, we call reports like this bombshell pretty regularly, but this one is quite stunning. It depicts the number two official who was running the Mueller investigation, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, just panic stricken just days after former FBI corrector James Comey was fired in may of 2017, and according to the reporting from "The New York Times," the former deputy director Andrew McCabe outlined a series of just incredible conversations with Rosenstein during that time, kept contemporaneous notes that are now in the hands of special counsel, including conversations where at least according to this reporting he allegedly raised wearing a wire to record conversations with President Trump, suggested other officials like McCabe could wear a wire, and raised what it would take to invoke the 25th Amendment.

[14:25:00] Now, Rosenstein is pushing back on the record basis here to CNN and I want to just read the statement to you, Erica. He says: "The New York Times" story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda." He goes on to say, Erica: "But let me be clear about this. Based on my personal dealings with the President there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."

And I should also point out, Erica, according to our reporting here McCabe's lawyer is also addressing this entire situation. He is not talking about the substance of the memos, but he does say that the memos are now in the hands of the special counsel who interviewed McCabe more than a year ago and he gave all of his memos both classified and unclassified to the special counsel's office. A set of those memos also remained at the FBI when McCabe left. So, he is basically saying, this is not me, but they were -- they were out there is what McCabe's lawyer is saying. The special counsel's probe is looming, the President tweets with it every day calling it a witch- hunt. So, Rosenstein has been under a microscope and it really now pits his credibility against McCabe's, someone the President has also called a liar repeatedly. Now, no word yet from the White House, but you can imagine everyone over there is reading this right now.

HILL: I'm sure it is only a matter of time. We are literally just watching the clock to see when we first hear when that first tweet perhaps may drop. I want to clarify one thing, though, too. In this piece there is a lot of talk from the people that they speak with about a discussion about recording, but not -- it does not say that Rod Rosenstein, in fact, did record conversations with the President, correct?

JARRETT: That's absolutely right. I'm glad you emphasize that point. There is no suggestion that he actually wore a wire to record his conversations with the President. Now, one person who was in the room for this conversation pushed back on this recording. In a statement to me just a short time ago saying, I was there, I remember it, it was sarcastic. You can make your own judgments about whether that's, you know, credible or not, but then "the New York times" is reporting that other officials did take it seriously. But everyone agrees there was no recording, it's just a matter of whether he said it or not.

HILL: Laura, stay with us, Jim Acosta is at the White House. Jim, anybody talking yet? ACOSTA: Not yet, Erica. I mean, we can tell you that the President

is giving a speech right now on veteran's issues, we're waiting to see if he makes any comment on t but this bombshell report came out just as the President was taking the stage. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is with him right now so we will see if she has anything to say about it. I did try to talk to the deputy press secretary here, Hogan Gidley, he said at the moment the White House does not have a comment. I even saw Kellyanne Conway walking across the driveway in front of the west wing, she did not want to comment. I should point out to you it is not going to take long before the President and or his supports say that the President was somehow the victim of some kind of plot here.

Keep in mind this is from Donald Trump Jr. The President's eldest son just tweet this had out a few moments ago, shocked, absolutely shocked. Who are we kidding at this point? No one is shocked that these guys would do anything in their power to undermine real Donald Trump. Obviously, the President's Twitter handle there. So, the President's own son is now making this allegation and I suspect this is just the beginning. This is going to be a cascade of accusations that there is a deep state plot, out to get the President, and they are going to seize upon this "New York Times" story even though as Laura Jarrett was just mentioning a few moments ago Rod Rosenstein is saying that this is not accurate and it is not fair what's being reported. So I think this is just going to take some time for all of this to shake out, but -- and you can almost take it to the bank at this point, Erica, that the President is going to lash out and seize on this report, even though he has referred to the "New York times" as failing and called them all sorts of things, my guess is that this is going to be too tempting for the President. It's right in this very conspiracy minded wheelhouse that forces in Washington are out to get him and I suppose it's just a matter of time before he seizes on this story, Erica.

HILL: It is only a matter of time. In that vain everyone, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss after this quick break. Stay with us because you can bet something is going to happen in the next couple of minutes while we take that break. Stay with us.