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Conflicting Reports on Rosenstein Leaving from DOJ & White House; Rosenstein Summoned to White House. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:32:38] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing to follow breaking news out of Washington, the uncertain fate of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Is he resigning today? Is he being fired today? It is uncertain. It is unclear. He's being summoned to the White House. He's on his way there.

We have new reporting coming out of the White House right now. Let's go over to White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, with that.

Kaitlan, what are you picking up?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we know that Rod Rosenstein is on his way to the White House. It's unclear what exactly is going to transpire when he gets there. But we know he's going there to meet with the chief of staff, John Kelly, to have further conversations about what exactly it is that's going on here and what his future here in Washington is going to be. Now, this is a little unusual because John Kelly is one of the few senior staff who is not in New York right now with President Trump. President Trump hasn't been back to the White House in several days now. He was in Las Vegas last week, then he went to Missouri, then he spent the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, before going to New York for the first days of this week with all the meetings with the world leaders. John Kelly is one of the few people not up there in New York with President Trump and instead is back at the White House.

We know Rod Rosenstein and John Kelly met on Friday. That's when we reported the White House wanted Rosenstein to issue a firmer denial after the "New York Times" reporting. Rod Rosenstein did put out a second statement despite saying originally to the "New York Times" he wasn't going to comment further.

We know the deputy attorney general and the chief of staff have been having conversations for several days now, since that bombshell story broke. But it's unclear where they stand right now. If they're on two pages or not. And that's what they're hoping to get together once they sit down at the White House, whatever is going to come out of that, is they're trying to get on the same page. We're hearing two different things from the White House, from the Justice Department.

But what we do know to be true is that John Kelly and Rod Rosenstein are going to meet. We know that comes amid the questions in the West Wing about his future there in the White House, in the administration. What was going to happen going forward.

But, Kate, we also know that, over the weekend, President Trump was much more focused on the drama surrounding his Supreme Court nominee than he was this Rosenstein story. That came to the surprise of a lot of people in the White House who thought the minute that story dropped, it was going to be some kind of bombshell reporting that is going to infuriate the president, who has had a very tension-filled relationship with the deputy attorney general. So it's unclear exactly what's going to happen going forward, but we know they're going to meet. Hopefully, the White House will put out a statement after. If not, Kate, we'll figure out what was said between the two in that meeting at the White House happening shortly.

[11:35:11] BOLDUAN: We will, and it will come from you.

Kaitlan, thank you so much. We'll get back with you in a second.

As she was talking about the timeline of how things transpired and how things have developed since the bombshell "New York Times" report first came out on Friday night.

Laura Jarrett, our justice reporter, has more on what has played out since that report was released.

Laura, what has happened? How did we get from there to today?

LAURA JARRET, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, the short story is this is not a done deal yet, I should say, and there's still a deputy attorney general over here at the Justice Department, and that person is Rod Rosenstein. There has not been a resignation. There has not been a firing. We have not seen a statement officially out from the Justice Department or the White House.

But we are getting a better picture of the timeline of what happened here. Just to take us back to Friday afternoon, the "New York Times" issues that bombshell report on Rosenstein musing about the 25th Amendment and about wearing a wire. The Justice Department pushed back on that hard, but we do know that Rod Rosenstein met with John Kelly over at the White House on Friday evening and was forced to issue that firmer denial. There were also conversations over the weekend where the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein talked about resigning, talked about the conditions under which he would do that, but he did not actually resign. He just discussed it with John Kelly, at least is our understanding right now. And the White House didn't agree on any of those conditions. Our understanding is they said, let's wait and see how all this plays out on Monday. My colleague, Ariane De Vogue, said they were focused on Kavanaugh. That leaves us where we are this morning, where a source told myself and others that he's expecting to get fired but he has not officially resigned yet, Kate.

Obviously, he's expecting to meet with John Kelly shortly, if he isn't already. We'll see what the read out is after that meeting. Things are moving very quickly. We'll have to wait and see how all of this gets resolved.

But I should mention, in the event that he actually does quit or is out for whatever reason, there's a succession plan here at the Justice Department. It doesn't mean there's nobody here to run the Mueller investigation. And based at least on how the Justice Department is thinking about this right now, things could still change. The solicitor general, Noel Francisco who currently argues before the Supreme Court, would be the one to take over as the acting attorney general for the purposes of overseeing the Mueller investigation. We aren't there yet. We do still have a deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: At least for the moment.

Thank you, Laura.

JARRETT: Yes. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Let me bring in right now CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, at this moment, it's important to remember the long road and evolution in the relationship, if you will, between President Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and you know, it hasn't been an easy relationship. First of all, he didn't think a special counsel ought to be appointed. Of course, Rod Rosenstein, who was appointed by Jeff Sessions, another person he has no love for, appointed the special counsel. And then there's a sense inside the White House, particularly by the president, that Rod Rosenstein has let the special counsel run amuck. We know that House Republicans want to call him on the Hill and redact memos that he has fought about redacting.

And one thing to keep in mind here, which I don't think we have mentioned this morning, Kate, is that the president was incensed with Rosenstein after the raid of his lawyer's office, Michael Cohen, because he knows Mueller couldn't do something like that without getting Rosenstein's approval. So once he knew that Rosenstein approved raiding the president's lawyer's office, he was furious about it. And then there was a whole bunch more stories about whether he was going to fire Rod Rosenstein. Things have calmed down.

And I think what we're seeing play out now is the kind of chaos inside the White House. The president himself, I'm told, and some of my colleagues are getting the same kind of reporting, the president himself doesn't want -- believes he could be being played. That if any of the "New York Times" stories on Friday came from any memos from Andrew McCabe, whom he dislikes and doesn't trust and has tweeted about enough, and whom Sessions fired, why would he believe that? I mean, there may be a sense that, you know, that he feels like he's being set up on all of this. Even though he would like to get rid of Rosenstein, maybe he believes now, as we were also told Friday, I was told by a source, that the president didn't want to do anything about this until after Kavanaugh issue was resolved, that he didn't want two big messes on his hands at the same time. Which is why we have seen his restraint on Rosenstein on Twitter. So it's an incredibly chaotic situation.

Kelly and Rosenstein have been close. And I'm told by one source that, you know, Kelly has protected Rosenstein over the last months. So maybe this is just I quit/you're fired. Maybe Rosenstein has had enough of this and has decided to leave. As you have been talking about, there's a difference between being fired and resigning. If he resigns, the president has more leeway about what he can do and who he can appoint to replace him.

So it's just one of these convoluted situations that we're just going to wait and see how this final act plays out. But it's been an unhappy situation for a very long time.

[11:41:00] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. One thing, and I can always be wrong, but one thing seems certain, something is going to happen. We're just not sure what road we're going to be walking down or reporting on --

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BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- in the next few minutes.

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, great to see you. Thank you so much.

BORGER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, very important voice in the next steps ahead, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, of New York. He's the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for being here.

REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Completely different topic than I thought we would be discussing.

NADLER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: What's your reaction, just in what we're watching play out right now?

NADLER: Well, it's very upsetting. This is the next step in a slowly evolving, slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre in which the president is getting rid of all the people who are involved in initiating or carrying out the investigation of obstruction of justice by him.

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Do you have any word yet if there's conversations about a resignation or firing?

NADLER: No. I have no information other than what I'm hearing from CNN and other news sources.

BOLDUAN: We're happy to help wherever we can.

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BOLDUAN: We would love to know from you.

NADLER: This started with the firing of Comey, the firing of McCabe, the incessant attacks on the Attorney General Sessions, the incessant attacks on the FBI and people like Bruce Ohr, on others, incessant attacks on the institutions we depend on to do our police work and protect the integrity of our system. And this is, I think, just another step in the unfolding slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre. And it all started, remember, the "New York Times" article from last week about whether he did or did not suggest --

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BOLDUAN: Suggest wiring.

NADLER: -- suggest wiring. All that was in the context of Rosenstein's initiating what became an investigation of possible obstruction of justice by the president. And that initiation being in the immediate aftermath of the firing of Comey, which was seen as -- which I think is a part of that obstruction. So all of this flows from that. And this looks like another step designed to frustrate or maybe even shut down an -- to obstruct the investigation --

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BOLDUAN: I have asked you many times when you have been on, you're asked at every turn, but it's now more a real possibility than it has ever been before. If Rod Rosenstein is fired, if he is gone, what -- do you think that is an impeachable move?

NADLER: The question isn't whether firing Rosenstein is an impeachable move. The president has the right to fire Rosenstein or anybody else, obviously. The question is, is the entire series of actions, starting with Comey and firing and other things and asking for Comey's loyalty, you can look at a whole list of actions, do these all amount to an attempt at obstruction of justice? That's the judgment that will have to be made.

BOLDUAN: Friday night, after this report, the "New York Times" report came out, you had said that if Rosenstein's gone, you said something to the effect of everything would be on the table. Come January, if you were -- Democrats were in the majority and you could be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is that what we're looking at right now?

NADLER: I'm not sure what you mean. BOLDUAN: What do you mean by everything could be on the table?

NADLER: Literally, everything would be on the table. We would have to see --

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BOLDUAN: Because that's going further -- you're very careful on the issue of impeachment.

NADLER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: You're very cautious --

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NADLER: We don't know -- we don't know at this point what evidence there will be, what evidence of what misdeeds there will be. But you cannot rule it out. You cannot rule anything out at this point. Especially if the president takes more actions that add up to evidence of obstruction of justice.

BOLDUAN: If he's fired, do you think it adds up to obstruction of justice?

NADLER: I think that's another step that would be evidence toward that conclusion.

[11:45:02] BOLDUAN: Noel Francisco, what do you think of him? He's potentially the next in line.

NADLER: I don't know much about Noel Francisco. I'm not going to comment on him now. He's a very good lawyer, apparently. He's the solicitor general. He's very conservative, I'm told, having been active in various Republican circles, but nothing wrong with that. Beyond that, I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Do you believe Rod Rosenstein's denial coming from the reporting from Friday night?

NADLER: Yes, I tend to believe his denial. He's always been a very honest man of great integrity. And there were people who said it was obvious his remark was obviously sarcastic. But the bottom line is, nothing was done. Regardless of what he said, nothing was done. Nobody wore a wire. Nobody did any of those things. And the real question, therefore, isn't that. The real question is to protect the integrity of the investigation, the integrity of the investigation of possible collusion with the Russian attempt to interfere in our election, and of the obstruction, the possible obstruction of justice in trying to impede that investigation.

BOLDUAN: Do you think, if Rod Rosenstein is gone, the Russia investigation is going to be shut down?

NADLER: I don't think they'll shut it down immediately, but the danger obviously is that whoever supervises Mueller could act in such a way as to impede that investigation in different ways. I don't think they would have the nerve to just shut it down, but maybe they would.

BOLDUAN: Does it matter to you if he resigns or if he's fired? Is that a distinction without a difference to you?

NADLER: I think it's largely a distinction without a difference because clearly the president has been doing everything he can to force him out, and if he resigns rather than is fired, he's resigning under great pressure. It's equivalent to the same thing.

BOLDUAN: Sean Hannity on Friday night, after the report said when there was talk of others saying Rosenstein should be fired immediately, he said that, "The president needs to know that this is all a setup, that Rosenstein should not -- that the president should not fire anyone right now."

Do you think that -- do you see that as a possibility?

NADLER: Well, I hope that the president takes Sean Hannity's advice on this occasion. I don't think anything is a setup, but if he wants to believe that, that's fine. As long as he doesn't fire Rosenstein. Or so pressure him that he feels impelled to resign.

BOLDUAN: As the committee with oversight over the Justice Department, how do you -- how are you made aware if whatever goes down at the White House today, how are you made aware of it? Are you expecting -- are you going to be hearing from Rod Rosenstein yourself?

NADLER: I don't know --

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BOLDUAN: Do you bring him to the Hill to have a conversation about how this all went down?

NADLER: If I were chairman, I would do that. I'm not chairman. The Republicans control the committee and the Congress, as you know. I would think that Rod Rosenstein should certainly, if he's no longer in that position, should certainly come in and testify and be subpoenaed, if necessary. We have to get to the bottom of what seems to be an ongoing obstruction of justice.

BOLDUAN: What's the most important thing you can learn in the next -- it looks like right now, Congressman, as we're looking at the shot, it looks like someone could be getting out of the SUV that could be Rosenstein, we could be looking at him walking into the White House or not.

What's the most important thing? What are you listening for, what do you want to know in the coming hours? It seems like something is going to give. We don't know what it is.

NADLER: Well, I don't know. The important thing is not -- is not what we learn today. The important thing is to ensure that the integrity -- that the investigation of the Russian collusion and the investigation of the ongoing obstruction of justice in its many facets and forms not be impeded and go on. And I --

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BOLDUAN: How do you insure that? Republicans leaders have shown

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BOLDUAN: Republicans leaders have shown no openness to passing any legislation to protect the investigation.

NADLER: That's right. We ought to pass that legislation. Obviously, I'm a sponsor of it. They are -- one of the -- one of the points I would make campaigning for Democrats Congress is that the Republican Congress has been absolutely derelict in its duty under the Constitution to provide a check and balance to the executive. In this case, to the Trump administration. They're not investigating anything. They're not looking into anything. They're not holding the administration's feet to the fire, which is our constitutional obligation. Therefore, the administration can do almost anything. And the news media seek to explain what's going on, and the news media gets attacked. One of the big problems now is the attempt to attack the news media and the FBI and the Justice Department. All of this is -- are attacks on the democratic form of government. But hopefully, if we have a Democratic congress, we'll be able to hold the proper hearings and call in the proper witnesses and put some pressure on the administration.

[11:50:18] BOLDUAN: Long before then, and midterms are fast approaching, we need to figure out what's happening at the White House at this moment.

Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Appreciate your time. Thank you.

We continue following breaking news. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, what is his future today? It's more uncertain than ever before. Being summoned to the White House to meet with the Chief of Staff John Kelly. Is he resigning? Is he being fired?

We'll be right back.

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[11:55:16] BOLDUAN: We continue following breaking news. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the way to the White House to meet with Chief of Staff John Kelly about his future. There have been conversations about his resignation. There are reports he is expecting to be fired. Where do things stand right now, literally at 11:55 and some seconds?

Let's get back to White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, for the latest.

Kaitlan, where are things right now?

COLLINS: That's a great question, Kate. That's what everyone is trying to get to the bottom of it. There's mass confusion right now. He is going to the White House.

What we do know is he is going to the White House. He is going to meet with the chief of staff, John Kelly, one of the few senior staffers left in the West Wing while other staffers are traveling with the president in New York for the United Nations meeting happening this week.

We also know that Rod Rosenstein offered to resign to John Kelly last week when they met and they were discussing -- that was that same Friday that Rod Rosenstein published the second statement at the White House's request offering a firmer denial of the "New York Times" story that he had floated conversations of wearing wires and he floated conversations about invoking the 25th Amendment. He denied that across the board. He issued two statements doing so. But that has been a big conversation in the White House this weekend since that story published on Friday about what his future is going to be. That is what we are expecting him and John Kelly to hash out during this meeting while President Trump is in New York. Likely having conversations with John Kelly about what it is that is happening right now during this West Wing meeting, John Kelly and Rod Rosenstein. We hope to get more on that going forward. We can expect the White House to publish a statement saying what it is their position on this is. So far, Kate, they haven't said a word on this. The White House has not put out any statements that he offered to resign to John Kelly. That's what we are waiting to hear.

Another thing we know, Kate, is this wasn't the biggest thing on the president's mind over the weekend. He was much more focused with the Kavanaugh drama surrounding the Supreme Court pick, what was going to happen with that and those allegations, which we heard him talk about at the United Nations meeting this morning. But Rod Rosenstein was not at the top of the agenda. Though it was the big conversation among senior White House staff, what they were going to do and what his position was going to be and whether or not he was going to stay on in this administration.

Right now, this concern and confusion over whether or not he resigned, been fired. What is happening in the meeting with John Kelly, that is what we are trying to find out. But, Kate, we do know he offered to resign to John Kelly last week.

BOLDUAN: Offered to resign, so the status of his employment, we could have having an update very soon. As we keep our eye, again, on the White House to see if the deputy attorney general is arriving. I keep watching people go in and I have not seen him yet.

Thanks, Kaitlan.

Let's go over to CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, for more.

Evan, I think a lot of people have been wondering and there's so much conversation within the White House and beyond after the reporting came out on Friday night, and Rod Rosenstein's two denials that came out on Friday night. Are you hearing anything of his state of mind and what he has been thinking and talking about since this came out and where things are today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I think the confusion comes from the fact that, as Kaitlan was reporting, there was this conversation and he did issue a second denial on Friday night about the stories that he had tried to invoke the 25th Amendment and tried to record the president, offered to record the president. I'm told from people close to the deputy attorney general, as of Saturday, he did not think that he needed to go immediately. As you mentioned, he just offered the denials on Friday. He thought that those denials were sufficient, at least to keep him in the job for now.

The reason why I say for now is that Rod Rosenstein like his boss, Jeff Sessions, was fully expecting this day was going to come. It was going to come soon after the midterms. The expectation was that the president was going to clean house at the Justice Department after the midterms and the expectation was Rod Rosenstein would be one to leave after the midterms.

The question of when this resignation offer, and whether or not he offered to resign and when that would be effective, that's the big question that a lot of us are trying to work out. As Kaitlan said, people inside the White House thought that Rod Rosenstein had offered his resignation during those conversations -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: What will be happening with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? How much longer will he be in the job? Is he offering his resignation today? Will it be accepted? Will he be fired? All questions on the table right now.

Thank you so much for joining us.