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"New York Times" Reports Trump Warned of Impeachment If He Pushed to Prosecute Rivals; Chief Justice Roberts Delivers A Rebuke of Trump's Remark About Federal Judges; Top Republicans Slammed Trump for Siding with Saudis. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Now comes the report on how Trump tried to use political details against his opponent. He wanted White House counsel White House counsel Don McGahn to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton on a number of occasions, but it was McGahn who rejected the request. "The New York Times" also reports that the President wanted to order the prosecution of James Comey, the former FBI director, who Trump fired, but was strongly advised not to do so, again by McGahn. Certainly, it's no secret the President wanted prosecutors to move in on Clinton and Comey, more than a dozen or so of his tweets expressed that sentiment, such as this one, quote, "So many are asking why isn't the AG, or special counsel looking at the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes? And remember this, this was before the election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. And we're going to have a special prosecutor.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: 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'd be in jail.


BALDWIN: Remember that? Now for the first time we're understanding just how much Trump apparently tried to use the power of the presidency to make that happen. It got to this point as described by the "New York Times", quote, "Mr. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Trump morning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences including possible impeachment. We start with the CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny who is following the President as he spent the holidays here in South Florida. Pamela Brown, I'm starting with you. You just sat down and talked with Rudy Giuliani. He told up he does expect more questions from team Mueller. PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely

the expectation. As you know, yesterday the President and his legal team submitted the responses to the latest batch of questions from Robert Mueller. I asked Rudy Giuliani, do you think this is it? He said basically it is very likely that Mueller's team will come back with more questions. He said at that point they'll look at the questions to see if they should answer them, whether they're relevant, whether they could be helpful. But an open question is what will happen if Mueller's team comes back with obstruction of justice questions. This latest batch only dealt with Russia-related collusion matters before the inauguration. So now the question is what will happen if Mueller's team comes forward with those questions? Rudy Giuliani telling me that's really not off the table, but that Trump's legal team is going to fight back that anything having to do with after the election is protected under executive privilege. We're learning more, Brooke, what was in that latest batch of questions from Robert Mueller, including questions about the President's own comments.

You'll recall the press conference during the campaign where he called on the Russians to find Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails. They were asked about that. The press conference he held after Don Jr. Had that meeting at Trump Tower to find dirt on Hillary Clinton where he said something was going to come out about Hillary. Never came to fruition. He was asked about that as well. Still unresolved is whether there will be a sit down interview between Robert Mueller and the President. That has not been settled yet but sources close to the President do not believe that the now acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker would ever approve such a subpoena for the President to sit down for an interview.

BALDWIN: So now that we have these reports that at some point Trump wanted to prosecutor Comey and Clinton, Jeff Zeleny to you, how is the White House responding to all of this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House has not responded at all. The President has not responded at all. He's playing a round of golf here in West Palm Beach at the Trump International Golf Course with Jack Nicholas and some family members.

He has also been tweeting throughout the day on a variety of things. But they have not responded at all to this report, which is now almost 24 hours old about the fact that the President indeed wanted to prosecute his former rivals. This is something that of course if the President does not like a story or agree with it, they often push back. So, the reality is they know it's true because the President has been talking about this throughout.

As Pamela knows as well, this was not just a one-off asking Don McGahn for a legal opinion and then moving on when he said, no, that's a bad idea, he has in fact been fixated, the President has, on the idea of prosecuting or going after his rivals. Several times an anchor from Fox News has suggested a special counsel looking into something of the Clinton organization or campaign. The President seized upon that. [14:05:00] Brooke, what this is all about is this -- it's about having

more investigations, more special counsels involved, which could obfuscate the actual special counsel's investigation and the Russia investigation. That's why the President has talked extensively privately for the last year or so about trying to investigate his rivals. As for this moment the President, the White House, silent about all of this.

BALDWIN: Jailing political opponents is something autocrats are known for doing. CNN reports that President Trump wanted to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and a lawyer for former White House counsel Don McGahn said, quote, "Mr. McGahn will not comment on his legal advice to the President. Like any client, the President is entitled to confidentiality. Mr. McGahn would point out, though, that the President never, to his knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey."

With me now former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers and former prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Jennifer, starting with you. The fact that Trump wanted to prosecute these two that essentially McGahn had to step in and slow his role and say, sir, you don't have the authority to do so. The fact that the president actually wanted to do this, does that speak to intent?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does. But remember we're talking about impeachment, not about the criminal code. It's not like there are strict guidelines on what is impeachable and what isn't? It is not like you are in the criminal code section looking for intent because it is an element of the crime. What does Congress consider worthy of impeachment? It could be this if they decided this constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor. It certainly would if he issued an order to prosecute someone illegally.

BALDWIN: So just to jump in, what is the difference, just turning to you, Paul, what is the difference between him saying to his counsel I would like to prosecute versus calling up the DOJ and ordering them to do so?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's a major difference. Just thinking about doing something is not a crime and frankly it's not an impeachable offense either. I think, on the other hand, using Presidential power improperly and abusively to go after a political opponent would clearly be a legitimate impeachable offense. When Richard Nixon was being evaluated by Congress and the subcommittee of the Congress had voted impeachment articles, of course, he resigned before they were put to a vote, but that included abuse of power. He was abusing the FBI, the CIA and the Internal Revenue Service with his enemies list. He was going after political opponents by using the government. I think it's an impeachable offense. It would be appropriate here.

BALDWIN: the president has spoken very publicly about how he feels, frustration with the DOJ. Remember this?


TRUMP: The saddest thing is that because I'm the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing and I'm very frustrated by it. I look at the Justice Department. Why hadn't they going after Hillary Clinton with the e-mails and the dossier?


BALDWIN: So that was a year ago this month. McGahn had to take it a step further and had White House lawyers right up this memo asked the DOJ that he had been asked to investigate Comey and Clinton, that Trump would face impeachment. And for McGahn to create that sort of paper trail. You think he was just being prescient in thinking just in case, I need to cover up.

RODGERS: His job is to advise the President in what he can and can't do. He's putting that in place. Who knows who's coming after him meaning Don McGahn when Don McGahn leaves. This President is not to change his mind and to I guess forget or ignore what people have told him that he should be doing, so I think Don McGahn is just being careful and saying we're going to paper this, tell him exactly what he needs to know because we know he wanted to do the opposite, if you listened to what he was saying on those recordings. So McGahn is just doing his job there.

BALDWIN: Also, from Rudy Giuliani, he said questions included what Trump knew about Don Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting and about Trump's comments about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton and also his comments about you know, remember when he asked Russia for help on Hillary Clinton's emails. Would those be easy for Mueller to prove?

[14:10:00] CALLAN: Well, they might be in a situation different from this. And I say that because Don Jr. obviously discussed with his father what he said to the Mueller investigators. So, the President and his lawyers are completely aware of what Don Jr. said, and can tailor the responses to make sure they're not contradicting Jr. And getting him in trouble and at the same time not incriminating the President. There is nothing like Having a team of lawyers to craft your answers to a prosecutor's questions, it really kind of makes easy to skate by different areas.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much. Happy thanksgiving if I don't see you.

Chief Justice Roberts pushing back against President Trump, talking issue with the President's criticism that federal judges are politically biased. Also, President Trump appears to be ready to give Saudi Arabia a pass for murdering a U.S.-based journalist. But will Congress do the same? A number of top Republicans are speaking out, breaking with the President on this heated issue and demanding answer.

And the U.S. warning on romaine lettuce is having a major impact. We have that for you. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: Welcome back, you're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Just in to CNN, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has issued this rare rebuke today after President Trump's comment about a, quote unquote, "Obama judge." Quoting Chief Justice Roberts here, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right."


TRUMP: The ninth circuit, we're going to have to look at that. For all intents and purposes, they file it in what they call the ninth circuit. This was an Obama judge. I'll tell you what, it's not going to happen like this anymore.


BALDWIN: The President was speaking in reference to the judge who temporarily blocked the Trump administration from barring migrants at the border from seeking asylum. CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is with me now. How rare is this?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: It is very rare. It just doesn't happen. The chief justice had to think long and hard about doing this. Chief Justice John Roberts has been watching since Donald Trump was a candidate in 2016, listening to him denigrate judges. Remember he complained about a judge hearing his case, complained because he was of Mexican heritage. He referred -- Donald Trump referred to another judge who had ruled against his Muslim ban early in his tenure as a so-called judge. He has denigrated the judiciary on and on and on, and John Roberts said nothing until now.

I think the kind of criticism you just played hits the chief justice in two ways where he lives. First of all, to talk in terms of wins and losses as the President did, I know bothers him. And also, to refer to the judge who ruled against the administration's asylum policy as an Obama judge. The chief justice does not like to have members of the third branch designated by their political affiliations nationwide but also on his own court. You have to remember, Brooke, that he's presiding over a court that's very tightly divided 5-4. The five conservatives were all appointed by Republican judges, the four liberals by Democratic judges, so he himself is constantly hearing criticism not from the President, from others about how political the court might be. And I think this time he just decided to step in and try to offer a counter message.

BALDWIN: Now, we know that the chief justice has been a target of the President's ire or frustration in the past on the issue of Obamacare. With this rare rebuke, do you think Trump will respond?

BISKUPIC: OK, from everything we know, Brooke, about the President of the United States, it's hard to think that he won't respond in some way and what you're referring to on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, back in 2012 when John Roberts cast a very surprising vote with the four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump was right out there tweeting then complaining about John Roberts and he's complained about that vote of his many times since. I don't know if Donald Trump would allow the chief justice to have the last word on this. Do you?

[14:20:00] BALDWIN: Nope, I don't. Joan, who was literally writing the book on Chief Justice John Roberts, thank you very much. Coming up next here, President Trump sides with Saudis over his own intelligence agencies giving Saudi Arabia a pass on murdering Jamal Khashoggi. Lawmakers from Trump's own party are now demanding answers and threatening action. Moments ago, reaction from the former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta.


BALDWIN: Here's a quote. "Hey, President Trump, being Saudi Arabia's bitch is not putting America first." That is not coming from me, that is coming from a sitting Congresswoman and veteran, Tulsi Gabbard. And it is not just Democrats lashing out at the president after he sided with the Saudis instead of the CIA over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The President has refused to accept the intel agencies findings that the crown prince ordered the hit. Thee chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker tweeted, quote, "I never thought I'd see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia."

Keeping in mind that Corker is a Republican, and other Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham who has been quite loyal to the President said this is a missed opportunity in the middle east.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need them. It's not too much to ask an ally not to butcher a guy in the consulate. We've got an historic opportunity to tell the people in the Mideast there's a new sheriff in town and if you disrespect us, and trample over civilized norms, you're going to play a political price.


BALDWIN: Sahil Kapur is with me he is a political reporter for "Bloomberg." Since Trump isn't doing anything, what can Congress actually do?

SAHIL KAPUR, POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Let's start with what Congress has done so far. There has been a bipartisan group of 22 senators that has sent a letter ordering the president to investigate the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi under the Magnitsky Act. Just yesterday the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, who you just played and Bob Menendez followed up and demanded a specific determination from the President about whether the crown prince is responsible for that killing. They're not satisfied with the President's remark. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. They want an answer. From they'll make a determination. Lindsey Graham said the United States should pursue sanctions, said there would be strong bipartisan support for sanctions that would specifically target members of the royal family. And that will be a confrontation with Trump if Congress decides to go that road. But again, when you're talking Republican leaders in Congress and President Trump, be very skeptical because they don't like confrontations with this White House. BALDWIN: Within the whole Trump statement siding with the Saudis

yesterday, there was a piece that I think got overlooked.

Let me bring this back, this is what the president wrote, "I understand that there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me but only or if they are consistent with absolute security and safety America."

Sahil, my question is the President giving himself and out, is he leaving it up to someone else vis-a-vis Congress.

KAPUR: It seems like he's making clear what he wants to do and sending a signal that if Congress wants to force his hand in confronting the Saudis, he's going to push back strongly. There's a long bipartisan tradition in the White House and in Congress of looking the other way when it comes to overlooking Saudi Arabia human rights atrocities.

I think what is unnerving, members of Congress including some in the President's own party is that he has taken it to a new level. Unlike President Bush who talked about the importance of human rights and things like that, unlike President Obama, who was willing to criticize the Saudis at times President Trump is essentially saying it almost doesn't matter if the crown prince had a hand in the killing and butchering of this man that the Saudi/U.S. relationship in this view is too important to weaken.

Jamal Khashoggi was a lawful, permanent U.S. resident and worked for an American publication. This is not somebody you can simply dismiss at not having a connection to the United States.

BALDWIN: Correct. And this morning the President was back on this but specifically, you know, talking about oil, right? Thanking Saudi Arabia for lower oil prices. This was his tweet. "Oil prices getting lower, great. Like big tax cut for America. Enjoy." Thanks to you Saudi Arabia. I mean, to your point, we have never seen it quite like this before from a President of the United States to Saudi Arabia.

KAPUR: Not quite so explicit. Again, previous presidents also fit these things into consideration. President Trump was talking about oil, arms sales, the shared rivalry with Iran. In his view these things Trump moral considerations, which could include the butchering of a journalist. That's where the pressure points are. That's where some members of Congress, including in his own party, are now quite comfortable with this level of rhetoric at the very least I think they would like him to make it very clear determination as to the involvement of the Saudi royal family and offer some rhetorical condemnation.

[14:30;00] But we're looking at a Democratic House come January, maybe, they will start to push back and potentially force the hand of the Republican-led Senate. So, should be interesting to watch.

BALDWIN: I get it. Oil prices are important but again it's like money over morals. Sahil Kapur, thank you very much. Come back, good to see you.

In Washington it is not unusual for politicians to make promises and break them, President Trump certainly hasn't strayed from that. But the difference here per usual is the president always looking to do it bigger? The likes of which this world has never seen before? Right. Case in point. The midterm elections, what the President promised before November 6th versus now. First, the myth of the caravan invasion along the border.


TRUMP: At this very moment, large, well-organized caravans of migrants are marching toward our southern border.