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AT THIS HOUR

Source Says Rod Rosenstein Submitted Resignation; White House: Rosenstein Talked of Resigning but Is Still Deputy A.G.; What Happens to Russia Probe is Rosenstein Resigns; Conflicting Reports on Rosenstein from DOJ & White House. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Are we watching a Saturday night massacre in slow motion here?

I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks so much for watching us today.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We're going to continue with the breaking news, really an amazing development this morning, on the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Robert Mueller, who kick-started the special counsel's Russia investigation. A source tells CNN that Rosenstein has submitted his resignation. This comes after a bombshell report in the "New York Times" Friday, reporting that Rosenstein discussed secretly recording conversations with President Trump and also discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office last year in the chaotic days after President Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein, since that reporting came out Friday, has denied the story twice. But now, we're here.

Let's get over to the White House. Kaitlan Collins is there.

Kaitlan, what's the latest that you know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So there's a lot of conflicting reporting right now. So many reports coming out. But what we know, Kate, is Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, offered to resign to John Kelly. It's unclear when exactly that happened, whether it was yesterday or today. That's what we're figuring out right now. We do know he's offered his resignation to the president's chief of staff.

Of course, Kate, that comes after that bombshell reporting that he had considered wearing a wire to meet with the president or encouraging other members, like the vice president, the attorney general at the time, the DHS secretary, to help invoke the 25th Amendment and forcibly remove the president from office. Those are allegations that Rod Rosenstein has denied vehemently in two statements on Friday alone. But what we know is that that second statement from Rod Rosenstein we got, denying he had any conversations about having someone wear a wire to meet with the president or anything about the 25th Amendment, that came after the White House said his first statement was not strong enough. It wasn't strong enough of a denial of the bombshell "New York Times" reporting. So then he issued a second statement saying as much.

Clearly, Kate, this has been a big discussion in the West Wing over the last few days. The president and the deputy attorney general have had a very -- a lot of tension in their relationship at times over the time that they have both been in office. And now it seems that relationship has come to an end and that Rod Rosenstein didn't think he could stay in this position anymore.

And of course, we have reporting from Laura Jarrett that a lot of this had to do with the fact that he thought he was going to be fired after that story came out, which seemed like a pretty sure thing to most people who read that story and know how the president feels, that there are people in this administration who are working to undermine him.

But we haven't seen such a strong reaction from the president in public that a lot of people thought they would see after that story came out. We had that one comment from him at the rally in Missouri on Friday night when he said there's a lingering stench at the Justice Department and that it was -- they were going to get rid of it. But we know that in private, the president actually has been pretty consumed with the drama surrounding his Supreme Court nominee over the last few days and hasn't focused on the Rosenstein story as much as people predicted he would. Now, that doesn't mean he hasn't focused on it at all. It clearly was a big topic of conversation among senior officials over the weekend discussing how they move forward with this, how it's tenable to keep him as the deputy attorney general when they have reports of conversations about removing the president from office. And clearly, Rod Rosenstein has been having conversations like that of his own and he's offered to resign to the chief of staff, John Kelly, at this time.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. All right, Kaitlan, stick close with me.

For our viewers as while we're looking at this awkward shot of a rainy day at the White House that you're seeing. This would be the angle over the fence where we would see -- if we did see Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. We could possibly catch a glimpse of him going into the White House if he were heading there. We're keeping an eye on that.

At this moment, let's get over to justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, with new reporting on all of this.

Laura, what do you have?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, there, Kate. We're learning a little more about what happened over the weekend. And it might explain why there's a little discrepancy in some of the reports that we're seeing just breaking right now.

I'm told by a source familiar with all that has transpired here is that, over the weekend, on Saturday, the deputy attorney general spoke to John Kelly, and that he talked about resigning. He talked about what that would look like. But he did not actually resign. He just talked about thinking about it. But he wanted to work out the timing and some other matters surrounding it. And the White House didn't do anything with that. But then, he went over there today, and we're going to have to see what happens. But he has not actually resigned. The White House, as I understand it, would not agree to some of the conditions he was setting out, like timing. That's why you see something of a standoff happening right now. But as of this moment, there's still a deputy attorney general, and that person is Rod Rosenstein.

What happens in the next few seconds, I can't predict, but as of this weekend, he had not officially resigned but he had talked about it with John Kelly. So that might explain a little bit of how we're seeing some of the conflicting reports playing out here -- Kate?

[11:05:02] BOLDUAN: Laura, real quick, when you say some of the conditions that were being discussed regarding a possible resignation, coming to timing, are you getting any indication, any more detail about that?

JARRETT: We're trying as hard as we can to figure out when he said he would do it, but all I know is that the White House wouldn't agree to it. And that is part of why you see this back and forth playing out right now. But again, he's expected to be at the White House later today. And we still have not seen a statement from the president, who is the person who would be the one to fire him, not John Kelly -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Excellent point. All right, Laura. And remember, the president is here in New York. Rod Rosenstein would be at the White House in Washington, D.C. Let's take one step at a time and figure out where we are at this moment.

JARRETT: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Laura, thank you very much. Let us know.

Laura is getting a ton of great reporting coming in.

A big question about this is, what are the ripple effects, the domino effects? That leads to, what does it mean for the Russia investigation.

Crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is joining me for more on that.

Shimon, what's your take?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: So, I think the reason why we're seeing this sort of back and forth, fired versus resigned, there's an important distinction. What's important is how this investigation proceeds, the Russia investigation, how things move forward. Also, if the deputy attorney general is fired, could that perhaps, and this is important, be viewed as obstruction by the special counsel, by the Mueller team? Because we know that the president has publicly sort of hinted that he's wanting to fire Rod Rosenstein. He's wanted a complete change at the Department of Justice. And one of those reasons is because what he believes is this ongoing witch hunt in the Russia investigation. That's why I think there's this whole back and forth. They, of course, the White House, probably would prefer that Rod Rosenstein just resign and go away. Rod may be holding down and saying you know, no, if you want me to go, you have to fire me because he's denied this report in the "New York Times" that he was serious about recording the president in some way, either a wire or some other secret method.

Now, if Rod Rosenstein is no longer the deputy attorney general, there's another person there, the solicitor general, who would essentially take over the Russia investigation, and then the special counsel, Robert Mueller, would report to him. What's important here is Rod Rosenstein has been with this investigation since he was appointed as the deputy attorney general, since Robert Mueller had taken over the investigation. And Mueller has been reporting to him, has been briefing him, has been giving him information about where the investigation is going. Rod Rosenstein has been signing off on indictments, on subpoenas, on other actions that the special counsel has been taking.

And of course, the big thing is what's going to happen to that interview that the special counsel wants to conduct with the president. You know, ultimately, there was some talk of perhaps subpoenaing the president. Rod Rosenstein would be the ultimate decider of that, so with a new person who takes over for rod, would that person sign off on something like this? There's a whole host of questions that really we just can't answer until we know for certain that a new person has been appointed and that new person will oversee this Russia investigation.

Perhaps there has always been concerns that whoever the new person comes in would shut down the investigation. Probably highly unlikely because then we would see a whole host of events and a whole chain of events that would unfold if that was to happen. But certainly, this now brings up a whole new issue, a whole new set of facts in this entire Russia investigation.

If in fact, especially, Kate -- just one last point, if in fact, look, the special counsel knows about this meeting that Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director, the FBI director, had with Rod Rosenstein where this idea of perhaps recording the president came up. They have the memos. They probably have to talked to people who have been in the meetings or at least they can. And if they, in fact, determine that the deputy -- Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, was not serious about this and sort of was joking, and then the president uses this as an excuse to fire Rod Rosenstein, what does that mean in terms of the investigation? Can they see this as a way of trying to obstruct the Russia investigation?

BOLDUAN: A whole host of questions. And domino effect comes from whatever the next move is, we're looking at right now.

Shimon, thanks so much. We'll get back with you. Let me get over right now to our Asha Rangappa, CNN legal analyst and national security analyst and former FBI special agent.

Asha, what's your reaction to what we're looking at, at the moment, is some conflicting reports of an expectation that Rod Rosenstein expects to be fired, that he's discussed resignation with Chief of Staff John Kelly, and kind of where we are in this moment?

[11:09:52] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALST: Yes, so we have been pretty much expecting something like this ever since that "New York Times" story broke. I think the question was when, whether the president would wait until after the midterms to avoid a backlash.

So a couple of things, Kate. First, whether Rosenstein resigns or is fired could make a difference in terms of who could replace him as overseeing the Russia probe. If he is fired, the next in line would come into place. That would be the current solicitor general, Noel Francisco, although there are suggestions he may have a conflict of interest based on his work at firm, in which case, it would be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel. If Rosenstein resigns, the president could fill his position with a Senate-confirmed person from another cabinet. And that's a Vacancies Reform Act that has all sorts of technicalities. It's unclear whether that would come into play.

But as Shimon mentioned, this would effectively change the person who oversees the Russia probe. While that person doesn't supervise Robert Mueller day-to-day, that person does approve major steps taken in the investigation as well as potential expansions in scope of the investigation.

BOLDUAN: So that is where -- that is where that new person, their power would be felt almost immediately.

Asha, let me ask you, if Rod Rosenstein would be out, regardless, be it firing or resigning, he is a witness in a lot of what this investigation is about. I mean, that's some of the discussion we have been having all along, is overseeing the investigation while he was witness to some of what is being investigated. So with him being -- if he would be out in whatever way that would be, what would that mean? Do you think that would mean he would be, I don't know, a cooperating witness?

RANGAPPA: In my opinion, I think that to the extent he is a witness in the obstruction of justice probe, that has been resolved or he's been interviewed or whatever Mueller needs from him has been taken care of. I think this has the potential to backfire on the president in a few ways. So when I mentioned before that the person who oversees the Mueller investigation can approve major steps or expansions in scope, it's important to note that the special counsel regulations state that if that person rejects any requests from the special counsel, they are then required to submit a report to Congress, to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, including the ranking members, explaining why they rejected this. This is to bring sunlight, to avoid having somebody behind the scenes quash an investigation. So if the House turns over after the midterms, that could lead to potential additional hearings or explanations from this new supervisor of Mueller if they try to quash the investigation.

As far as Rod Rosenstein, he could also come in and be asked to explain his view of the Russia probe, you know, to give some public testimony on how important it is or why he was participating in that way, and he would be able to speak more freely. He can't discuss classified information, but he could speak freely to a Democratic committee that called him in, than he can now. And that could not be what the Trump administration really wants at this point.

BOLDUAN: Asha, thanks so much.

Let me bring in for more on this CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson.

Nia, as you're -- it seems there's a waiting moment. I feel like I'm watching the shot at the White House to see Rod Rosenstein arrive. And then what comes from it is really unclear. But the ripple effects of Rosenstein leaving, be it by resigning or by being fired, I mean, how it happens really matters, but the ripple effect regardless is going to be huge on Capitol Hill.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And that's what a lot of the president's allies were so worried about, the kind of ripple effect. And that's why many of them, including people on FOX News, people like Sean Hannity, they felt like this is something that he shouldn't do. Certainly, not in the middle of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing that's going to continue on Thursday. So the idea was to wait until that is over, until ideally he's confirmed, according to Republicans, and maybe do something after the midterms because this, again, draws a lot of scrutiny to Russia. It draws a lot of scrutiny to the president's handling of the Russia investigation. And so the kind of mess that we're seeing now, even now with the sort of waiting game and lack of clarity in terms of did he resign, has it been accepted, has he been fired, will he be fired, this kind of drama at the last minute, even, I think, speaks to a lot of the mess that Republicans really wanted to avoid in getting the president to wait.

[11:15:09] BOLDUAN: Let me bring in CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, on this as well, Nia.

To Nia's point, Mark, it is really strange where we are in this very moment. Talk to me in two and a half seconds, and I'll say something different, but this moment, as Nia lays out, is he offering his resignation, is he resigning, is he getting fired? I'm confused why there's so much confusion.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And I wish I could help with your confusion, but I, too, am confused, with your confusion, as those watching are so confused. Listen, for the last two years we have all been confused by the Trump presidency. Not necessarily by his policies but by his actions and how he's acted. To see where we are at this point right now, in and of itself, is striking and historic. This is one of those moments where, if you're in your office right now, you would be huddled around a television saying, oh, my god, is the guy who is overseeing the investigation into the president, who may or may not have colluded with the Russians to become president, is about to walk into the White House to be fired. I mean, this is one of those aha moments, except the problem is, the whole presidency has been one big aha moment. So it's hard to grasp and understand what's happening right now. But people should be fully aware of what's happening, is that if he's fired, if Rosenstein is fired, then we're going to go down an entirely different path than if he walks in right now and resigns.

BOLDUAN: You are absolutely right.

Mark, great to see you.

Stick with me. We have much more on the breaking news. As Mark is laying out, conflicting reports, but things we have been told is that Rod Rosenstein, according to sources at the Justice Department, is expecting to be fired. Things we have also been told is Rod Rosenstein is on his way to the White House. And also White House officials told Kaitlan Collins Rosenstein has talked with John Kelly about resigning. Where do things stand now? We'll find out right along with you.

Stick with us. We'll be back with this breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:25] Welcome back. We're continuing to follow our breaking news out of Washington, which is we're waiting for the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to head over to the White House. There's that shot that we're going to keep our eye on. He's en route to the White House. We do not know the status, though, of his employment at this moment.

There's a lot of confusion over Rod Rosenstein after that bombshell report coming out Friday night in the "New York Times" that Rosenstein is offering up his resignation or if he's expecting to be fired or some combination of both. We're waiting for more detail on this.

Let's go, as we do that, let's get over to CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill.

Manu, you can be sure a lot of folks are not reacting yet because they don't know what they're going to be reacting to. But this potential has been a topic of conversation for months on Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. Republicans have actually been urging the president not to take this step of firing Rod Rosenstein even after that "New York Times" report from Friday, saying that doing so right now would cause a major distraction for the party heading into the midterms. Something they actually cannot afford as they struggle to hold on to the House and potentially even the Senate. A message that has been delivered by the president's close confidantes over the last several days. And also quite publicly for several weeks and months as the president unleashed his anger to Rod Rosenstein, saying doing that could suggest that perhaps the president, the White House, are trying to meddle in some way with the Mueller investigation, which, of course, Rod Rosenstein oversees.

Now, again, we don't know exactly whether Rod Rosenstein is going to be fired. We were reporting he's expected to be fired or he's actually given his resignation this morning. It's unclear exactly how this is going to play out. But how it will play out will be critical in determining how members respond. But undoubtedly, a lot of unease among Republicans and Democrats alike about the implications of this move, and of course, how the Senate would have to respond to confirming another deputy attorney general, not an easy task, especially someone who would be in charge of this high-profile investigation. So a lot of questions that members are going to have to grapple with as they come back into town in the coming hours here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Manu, not even potentially being faced with another confirmation battle for another deputy attorney general. But the conversation about, and the legislation that has been proposed of protecting the Mueller investigation, that has come in fits and starts with obviously Republican leaders not wanting to put it on the floor. Where does that stand now? What do you think this would mean for that?

RAJU: Well, Republicans do not want to go there, the Republican leadership, in particular, because they did not want to provoke a fight with the White House. They have been saying all along, well, we're confident the president will not fire Bob Mueller because they have given some private assurances that that would be the case. However, undoubtedly, with this move right now, there's going to be a renewed effort, renewed push for the leadership to give a second look on the legislation. Now, I would not bank on the Republican leadership taking that step of pushing for this bill. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate, has had zero appetite to move forward on this. Neither has the speaker, Paul Ryan. Again, not wanting to provoke any sort of fight with the president at this critical time before the midterms.

But what does this mean for the Mueller investigation if Rod Rosenstein does in fact step aside or is fired? How does that impact things going forward? All unknowns, and it's all what's going to be prompting a lot of questions from the president's detractors and allies alike as we try to get a sense of exactly what's happened -- Kate?

[11:25:14] BOLDUAN: So quickly, the focus is going to move from that shot at the White House that we're looking at now to right where you are on Capitol Hill to find out what they're going to do about it, if anything, in response to this.

Manu, thank you so much. Let us know if you hear more reaction from Capitol Hill.

Let me bring back in Nia Malika Henderson.

Nia, we have seen a lot of Republicans since this fight has kind of gone on say that Bob Mueller needs to finish his investigation. And I do wonder how Republicans are going to see the potential of, and maybe it's different depending on what it is, if Rod Rosenstein resigns or if he's fired, if they're going to see that as an attack on the ability for Mueller to finish his job.

HENDERSON: Yes, it's unclear. You know, I think we have seen from Republicans, you're right, the sort of rhetoric that Mueller should be able to finish his job. We obviously heard from different committees on the Senate and House sides as well, and we'll see what they say depending on what the outcome of the meeting is at the White House between the deputy attorney general and the folks there. I guess the president isn't even -- is the president even at the White House? I don't think he's at the White House. I don't know what the meeting --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: No, no.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he's in New York right now.

HENDERSON: Right, in New York right now, so you know, I guess maybe he's meeting with the chief of staff or other folks, whoever is at the White House and not with the president in New York. So this whole bizarre scene playing out, I think in some ways plays into Democrats' hands. Democrats aren't necessarily running on front-and-center chaos at the White House and chaos in this administration, but it's sort of permeating everything in many ways. So this week, I think, is a textbook example of that, not only with Kavanaugh, but with this very strange slow-motion resignation or firing on all the news that broke on Friday, and the president responding, basically saying he wanted to clear the stench at some point and maybe that's what's going to happen.

At some point, his base will certainly be happy. We heard from people like Laura Ingraham, other people, Jeanine Pirro, saying fire him immediately.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: And so it took him a couple days. Maybe that's what's going to happen. We just don't know. And we'll see how Republicans on Capitol Hill respond. But my goodness, what a pickle they're in as they're trying to, on the one hand, keep the focus on Kavanaugh, protect the House, keep the Senate, as well going into these very tough midterms.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely.

We keep our eye on this shot at the White House to see if we can catch a glimpse as Attorney General Rosenstein -- Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein will be heading to the White House, summoned to the White House. We'll see what all this means. I do know one thing. If he is fired, this country is in unchartered territory.

We'll be right back with this breaking news out of Washington.

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