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With The President's Answers Written Down And Submitted, His Legal Team Waiting For The Next Move In The Russia Investigation; The Politics Of Revenge And The Potential Abuse Of Power By A Sitting President; President Trump Siding With The Saudis Over The CIA On The Murder Of A "Washington Post" Journalist. Aired: 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 11:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, hello. I'm Pamela Brown in for Kate Baldwin. With the President's answers written down and submitted, his legal team waiting for the next move in the Russia investigation. Just minutes ago, I spoke on the phone with Rudy Giuliani, one of the attorneys representing the President. He says the process is not over and the Mueller team could still come back with obstruction of justice questions.

Whether or not the President and the legal team will answer those questions, it is still an open question. So what was the President asked in this latest round? The statements candidate Trump at the time during the campaign, his own statements under the microscope.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia if you are listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


BROWN: Well, Rudy saying the questions were laid out like a law school exam. He said the questions were complex with a lot of sub- questions. So let's continue this discussion.

Joining me now, Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former Federal prosecutor; Seung Min Kim, he is CNN political analyst and white hour reporter for "The Washington Post." And Simone Procupecz, CNN crime and justice reporter. Great to see you, guys.

Chan, I want to start with you, what is your response to Rudy Giuliani telling me that basically if there are any follow-up questions from Mueller's team that they will decide whether or not to answer them. Is the ball really in their court here?

SHAN WU, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: The ball really is in Mueller's court. They have dragged it out as long as they can. It's a good move for them to answer things in writing first. But any follow-up questions are going to be determined by Mueller's team and also sort of the enforcement aspect of whether they can make him come and give verbal answers or not is definitely in Mueller's court at the moment. I mean, they can certainly claim we are going to refuse to answer this

and then the next step is, will there be some sort of a legal enforcement issue which ends up in the courts over there, is there executive privilege for example.

BROWN: Right, and that was a big point of emphasis in my conversation with Rudy Giuliani because, of course, I asked, what is your view on obstruction that the latest round of questions didn't have to do with obstruction? It dealt with all the activities before the inauguration, having to do with collusion. He made clear that look, they can still come back and ask about obstruction, but that it would be covered under executive privilege. Is it that clear cut to you?

WU: No, it's not that clear cut at all. I mean, the whole area of executive privilege is a really amorphous one because there just hasn't been that much litigation about it. I mean, there are some in the old SP situation and also of course in Watergate, but it's not clear that is covered underneath that, and I think it's interesting that Giuliani says that. If we assume he is telling the truth about that then it may be that Mueller wants to focus first on the campaign aspects of it and for now they are leaving aside the naughty question of will the President answer questions about obstruction or not.

BROWN: Right, it was clear that that is not necessarily off the table. There isn't some sort of agreement between the two sides. And Simone, on that note, it sounds like team Trump feels that the President definitely won't sit down with Mueller. They keep saying, "Look, Mueller is not going to want to start a subpoena fight. This wouldn't work well for them." Is that the final word?

SIMONE PROCUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: We don't know the final word until Mueller submits the report or if they go ahead and move towards subpoenaing the President.

We've not been given any indication that the Department of Justice, that Mueller will not subpoena the President if he doesn't cooperate or if they will subpoena the President. We just don't know, and like with most things with Mueller, we never know exactly what is going on. So what we are getting is really a one-sided view that is from the President's side and most specifically is Rudy Giuliani who keeps spinning things differently depending on the day, depending on what's asked.

So we don't know where things stand. Yes, it's a huge step that Mueller has these questions finally. We have all been waiting for this to happen. We have been waiting for this day, and certainly, Mueller has been waiting for this day and what the next steps are, quite honestly, we just don't know. Will there be follow up? Will there be a demand from Mueller that the President answer the obstruction question?

BROWN: And what is interesting to me is, Seung Min is that some of these questions in this latest batch had to do with the President's then-candidate Trump's own comments he made when he had the press conference saying, "Hey, Russia, if you are listening," when he talked about the fact that there could be something coming out on Hillary Clinton after the Don Jr. Trump Tower meeting and that of course never came to fruition.

That could very well mean that Mueller's team is still paying close attention to what the President is saying even now about the probe as it pertains to obstruction.


SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Exactly, I mean we've laid out the facts here that the bulk of the written questions from the special counsel did center on activities during the campaign. But according to "The Washington Post" reporting there are about a dozen questions spanning over kind of five general issues, so clearly, Mueller asked about what the President knew about the Trump Tower meeting, the Special Counsel also asked about what his associates knew about the interactions with Russian officials in general.

So while the questions may be focusing on the activities of the Trump campaign, Simone is right that we don't know how much further Mueller will go and I think we will just have to wait and see as to the next steps to the special counsel.

BROWN: And it does make you wonder. We have seen the Mueller investigation become politicized in terms of public opinion. Most Americans view it through a partisan lens. How would a subpoena fight between Trump and Mueller change things, Seung Min?

KIM: Well, that's what been a lot of Rudy Giuliani's strategy. We have seen once the President brought him on to his legal team that he has taken this very aggressive bull dog approach to the campaign or to the special counsel probe, to kind of shape the public narrative of the investigation, and I think that is also the President's tactic here when he tweets angrily about the corrupt Democrats who are working for Mueller's campaign which is also not accurate.

And you have seen public polling kind of drop in terms of the confidence in law enforcement in general and also the campaign. I think that is what really congressional Democrats are worried about.

I mean, we remember that the House will be in Democratic control next year, protecting the Mueller investigation, however long it goes. It is going to be a major focus for them. But don't discount the drama that we will see over protecting the special counsel probe in the coming weeks of this Congress. You have Senator Jeff Flake who is retiring but a very vocal critic of President Trump willing to block dozens of judicial nominees that the Senate wants to take up before the end of the year and to try to force a vote on legislation to protect the special counsel.

So you have this very contentious partisan fight unfolding on Capitol Hill. We'll see that continue to develop in the coming weeks

BROWN: Yes, right, so even if the Mueller probe wraps up there is still the threat of investigations on this on Capitol Hill. What is interesting Shan is, you see this sort of PR strategy playing out publicly. The President just yesterday once again saying the Mueller probe is a witch hunt. Rudy Giuliani echoing the same kind of sentiment saying that there are angry Democrats working for him and so forth.

You have to wonder what it is like behind the scenes. Rudy Giuliani said publically it is not awkward, but you do have to wonder how that plays out behind the scenes.

WU: You do. That's a really good point, Pam, because the issue about whether the Mueller probe has become politicized is really important to distinguish that the politics around it, the public opinion is incredibly politicized at the moment.

But the probe itself is remarkably pristine. They have not spoken to the President or given views as Simone was saying, we never know what is going on there, so by all indications and from my limited exposure with them when I used to represent Rick Gates, they are extremely professionally focused without any public interaction and therefore without any politics.

So I would suspect that behind the scenes over there in Mueller's shop, it is still a very intense atmosphere, but business as usual. I really don't think that they are being affected by the public issues at all, but certainly, the public and political sentiment is at an all-time high right now.

BROWN: All right guys, stick around. Simone, I have more questions for you. I know I didn't get to you much in this last block, but a lot more to discuss including the bombshell reports that President Trump wanted to use the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey.


BROWN: The politics of revenge and the potential abuse of power by a sitting President. This morning CNN has learned that the President wanted to weaponize the Justice Department and turn it loose on political rivals. A source telling CNN the President wanted Hillary Clinton prosecuted and repeatedly raised the issue with top officials in the Justice Department.

And according to the "New York Times" he also wanted to order the Feds to prosecute James Comey, the former director of the FBI who he fired. I want to bring in my colleague, Laura Jarrett of the Justice Department. We have been working together on this reporting for a couple of days now, Laura. So set the stage for us, how did this all go and how often did this happen?

LAURA JARRETT, JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: Well, Pamela, what we now know is what the President has been saying publicly for months, calling for investigations into both Comey and Clinton mirrors what he was saying privately to his then White House counsel, Don McGahn.

Apparently, McGhan rebuffed him, pushed back, tried to raise with him the risk of calling on the Justice Department to do something like this even according to the "New York Times" having a memo drafted up saying this could result in possible impeachment, but our reporting, you and discovered yesterday as we reported according to a source familiar with the matter that this actually went a step further and that the President had direct conversations with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein as well as the man who now serves as the acting Attorney General, Matt Whittaker and the President was making inquiries about existing investigations into Clinton and the Clinton foundation. What are those investigations? We know at least one is being probed into by a top prosecutor out in Utah, John Huber who has been looking at the connections between the Clinton Foundation and a Russian nuclear energy agency.


JARRETT: And while we haven't seen anything unfounded there - we haven't seen anything founded, I should say there, it hasn't produced anything, it is still ongoing, last that we uncovered. And to put a final point on all of this, Pam, his financial disclosures, Matt Whitaker shows that his vast majority of his income comes from a nonprofit group that has what? Called for an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

BROWN: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you for breaking it down for us. I want to bring my panel back in -- Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former Federal prosecutor; Seung Min Kim a CNN political analyst and White House reporter for the "Washington Post" and Simone Procupecz, CNN crime and justice reporter. Simone, to you first, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean told CNN last night that even Nixon would say these requests would go too far.

Put this into context for us, this whole idea of a President asking DOJ officials to investigate his political opponents. What is the significance of that?

PROCUPECZ: It is hugely significant, Pam, and given the fact that this is just not done, quite simply, no President in the history of the United States should be meddling in any kind of criminal investigation by the Department of Justice. President Obama, there is enough evidence to ever suggest that he did something like this.

The fact that the President is having meetings and bringing this up in these meetings with now the acting Attorney General with the Deputy Attorney General is a huge conflict. And I'm sure there are memos or at least, there should be memos about this. It is highly, highly unethical and should not be done. Whether or not it is illegal, that's a whole other issue and whether or not this is something that could potentially impeach the President, that's a whole other issue.

But the optics of this and the ethics of this are an issue and is troubling and should be documented by the Department of Justice in some way and some fashion. The other thing, Pam, just to make one more point is that, there is no indication here that the President is going to stop doing this no matter how many warnings he has been given by attorneys to stop doing this, it just seems time and time again that he continues this behavior and there is really no stopping him.

BROWN: And so on that point, Shan, what are the potential legal issues here. What are the protections, if any, in place to prevent a sitting President from ordering investigations into his political rivals? I mean, of course, DOJ is under the executive branch, but they are supposed to be independent.

WU: That is exactly right, Pam, and the legal aspect of it is a little bit murky because he is the head of the executive branch and theoretically, it might not be illegal to order them to open an investigation or even to prosecute. The problem is, this is like a juvenile justice clinic. I mean, the President has like this third or fourth grader's view of what it means to be President. The President can do anything. He completely ignores the whole structure of the government.

And to Simone's point, this is a terribly unethical situation and the procedures that exist to protect us against it have always been followed. The White House and DOJ stay arms' length from each other and stay arms' length for a good reason because it is an integrity issue. It's the integrity of a particular investigation. The President is obviously involved in the investigation as a subject, witness, possibly target so he shouldn't be weighing in on any aspect of other ways to defend himself in the investigation, and then the integrity of the institutions.

The reason they stay arms' length is because people will not trust the integrity of the law enforcement investigation if it is obvious that it is being directed with political means and political ends, rather.

BROWN: Seung Min, I want to go to you, this was a campaign promise of Donald Trump's.


TRUMP: If I win, I am going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it. We are going to have a special prosecutor.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you would be in jail.


BROWN: All right, so Seung Min, what is the political impact of this latest revelation?

KIM: Well, it's clearly while it's a stunning development, it does fit into the pattern of what the President sees as kind of the role of the Justice Department that this is a point made by a lot of critics and a lot of observers that he views the Justice Department as kind of an extension of his own kind of personal legal operation.

But I do think that while, you know, again, we are going back to the discussion about the changeover control in Congress that while the House Republicans might be losing control of the chamber next year, he still has a lot of allies who are in the waning days of this Congress looking into essentially what the President wants to them to look into essentially investigating the investigators.


KIM: We know that the House Judiciary Committee which is going to be - for the next weeks, at least are still being led by Republicans, have been preparing subpoenas for Director Comey and the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the FBI and the DOJ investigations into matters surrounding the Trump campaign.

And I think it is notable, too that the incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is most likely going to be Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. We know he was once a Trump enemy, now a very stalwart Trump ally, and when we talked to him in the Senate hallways about kind of his agenda or his kind of plans on what he would do as a Judiciary Committee Chairman, on that matter, he says he would totally investigate those issues and Graham has also consistently called for that second special counsel that the President or back then candidate Trump had referenced two years ago.

BROWN: All right, thank you, everyone for your important insight perspective and reporting. We appreciate it. Coming up, President Trump siding with the Saudis over the CIA on the murder of a "Washington Post" journalist. Well, now even loyal supporters of the President are crying foul. That's next.


BROWN: President Trump is siding with the Saudis over the CIA about the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The President has signaled the US will not punish the kingdom or its Crown Prince even though the CIA has quote "high confidence" the Prince directed the killing. Why? Trump says he is putting America first.


TRUMP: Because it's America First to me. It's all about America First. Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I have kept them down. They have helped me keep them down.


BROWN: Well, this morning, the President doubled down on that line of thinking. But critics of both parties are accusing the President of putting money first over morality. I want to talk more about this with our two global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier and Max Boot. Max is also a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, and Kimberly writes for "The Daily Beast." Also with us, CNN military analyst retired Major General Spider Marks.

So much to discuss with this important story, and Max, I am going to start with you and how you responded to this on Twitter. You said all you need to know about @realDonaldTrump is that he is tougher on Admiral McRaven, Bill McRaven than he is on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman or Vladimir Putin on Kim Jong-un. Bottom line, is the President putting US interests over human rights in his response to this?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I don't think he really is putting US interests first here because I don't think it is in America's interest to kowtow to Saudi Arabia, the benefits that Donald Trump claims are largely an illusion. He just makes up these figures claiming that the Saudis are buying $110 billion worth of arms from us or investing $450 billion in the United States.

I mean, he just pulls those figures out of thin air. He talks about how the Saudis are helping us to contain Iran and that's true. But the Saudis are doing that because it is in the interest of Saudi Arabia. They are not doing it as a favor to us, they are not buying arms because it's a favor to us, either.

They need those arms to defend themselves and they can't just go to the Russians or somebody else because they are locked into American systems and oh by the way, the Saudis are not dropping the price of oil to be nice to Donald Trump. This is a result of global fears of a recession.

So he is just inventing a lot of these benefits from the Saudi relationship and I think what it really comes down to is it is Donald Trump first, it is not America first. He likes the Saudis because they rolled out the red carpet for him. He mentioned that he likes the Saudis because they buy apartments from him, so he thinks very favorably towards the Saudis and he doesn't care about the fate of one reporter who was murdered and dismembered.

BROWN: It is true that Saudi Arabia is a key part of his Middle East strategy. Now, when it comes to the arms deal, he claims it is a $110 billion deal. So far, the US has received $14.5 billion. Oil is something else he has been emphasizing here, Kimberly Dozier, just this morning he tweeted about that saying, "Oil prices getting lower, great, like a big tax cut for America and the world. Enjoy. $54.00 was just $82.00. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let's go lower."

Is it that simple? Of course, the President, it is in his interest for oil prices not to go up. Would they have gone up if he had taken a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, the thing is, OPEC has recently called for a drop in oil production because of a looming glut on the market and a fear that oil prices were going to fall lower. There are also links to the economy that a possible slowdown in economic growth has been signaled by a drop in oil prices.

So these are things that have nothing to do with the US government's relationship with Saudi Arabia, but what the government, what the White House fears is that things that are a hard ask, things like peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis or managing the terrorist situation in Yemen, those are things that they need the Saudi government's support on. And Mohammed Bin Salman has been the chief architect of the Yemen campaign.

BROWN: And let's not forget the big picture here, okay. There is also a war going on in Yemen.