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Trump Wanted Justice Department to Prosecute Comey and Clinton; Mueller Not Done Seeking Answers; Republicans Slam Trump; Trump's Autocratic Tendencies. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Don't go anywhere. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, using his power to target his political rivals. Did the president go too far this time?

Rudy Giuliani reveals two of the questions Robert Mueller asked of the president, including one about Donald Junior.

The new fury over the president pardoning the Saudis in a murder comes from his political allies.

And what about the troops on the border away from their families for the invasion that is not. The president's telling response.

Up first, keep your friends close and your enemies under investigation? A source says that President Trump asked Justice Department officials on several occasions whether there was progress in looking into Hillary Clinton's dealings, and he wanted White House Counsel Don McGahn, then White House counsel, to ask the Justice Department to prosecute her.

"The New York Times" first reported on Trump's request to prosecute Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett joining us now on this.

What more do we know about the president's actions and also how officials responded to them?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think what this reporting sheds light on is not only how McGahn actually rebuffed him, warned him of the dangers of doing something like this, how it could cross a red line, but how the president has still sought to keep tabs on what is going on with Hillary Clinton at the Justice Department.

My colleague, Pamela Brown, and I reported yesterday that the president has actually made inquiries of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, who we've heard a lot about in recent days. He was then Sessions chief of staff. And Whitaker would actually come in prepared with questions and answers. He knew it was all coming. And so he would come in ready to talk to the president about this.

Of course, the president's critics say this is all highly inappropriate. But take a listen to what the president said on the campaign trail when he previewed he would do exactly this.


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.


JARRETT: Well, there you have it, Brianna, he said he was going to do it and he's tried to do it.

In the meantime, we're learning more -- a little bit more about Matthew Whitaker's financial dealings. We saw his financial disclosure forms for the first time yesterday. And what it showed is that he's making nearly $1 million from a conservative group. And what did they try to do? Agitate towards the investigation of Hillary Clinton.

KEILAR: Oh, my goodness.

Laura Jarrett, thank you so much for that reporting.

President Trump is turning in his homework. So what happens now? The president has submitted handwritten answers to questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators. But the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN that Mueller could still try to get more answers about potential obstruction of justice.

Giuliani also revealed some of the questions the Mueller team asked. Among them, whether the president knew about son Don Junior's meetings with the Russians, the president's own comments about finding dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his comments asking Russia to find Clinton's missing e-mails. You'll remember that from the campaign trail.

Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in West Palm Beach, near where the president is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at Mar- a-Lago.

What more do we know about the status of this investigation, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, good afternoon. As the president spends a little time on the golf course here on the day before Thanksgiving, we do know that his lawyers have submitted those questions.

But Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, is saying, look, it's very likely that this is not over. He told our Pamela Brown earlier this morning that he said it's very likely that Robert Mueller's team, the special counsel's team, is likely to ask more questions, you know, potentially dealing with obstruction of justice and the time during the transition to the presidency and the presidency itself.

Now, Giuliani says that his legal team would fight that. They said that would be a violation of executive privilege. That they would indeed fight that.

But, Brianna, it just underscores the reality that even as the president finally submitted all of those questions, this is not likely the end of the road there.

Now, as we head into the, you know, beginning of the holiday season, important to point out, this probe, this investigation, still very much hanging over the president's head, as it was last year. So while some of those questions are in, it's definitely a sense, at least for Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, that more might be to come here. The president again blasted this as a witch hunt yesterday as he left the White House. So far today he's been quiet about this investigation, Brianna. We'll see how long that lasts and a sunny vacation here, six days. Of course the president spending time on the golf course, as well as likely on Twitter.


[13:05:02] KEILAR: That you can bet on. Jeff Zeleny in West Palm Beach, thank you.

There's a chorus on Capitol Hill of members of Congress slamming the president's soft stance on Saudi Arabia. Without apology or remorse, the president saying that U.S. financial and diplomatic interests far outweigh the government sanctioned and orchestrated murder of a journalist and resident of the United States. The strongest reaction so far may be from Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard. Quote, hey, @realdonaldtrump, being Saudi Arabia's b word is not America first.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joining me now.

What are we hearing, or not hearing, from Republicans?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is some pushback from Republicans, particularly ones who have pushed for the president to go further than he has so far and to at least repudiate the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps impose some sanctions. One being Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, I never thought I'd see a day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. He has signed on to a letter with the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demanded a determination within 120 days about whether or not the crown prince deserves to be sanctioned under the federal Magnitsky Act. So the president will have to make that determination.

But some of the president's allies, too, going after him as well, including Lindsey Graham, who is soon to be the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, saying I firmly believe there will be a strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family. He goes on to say, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms. When we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.

Now, Graham and Corker, however, are in the minority because, Brianna, most Republicans have been silent, including the two top Republicans in this Congress, both Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, as well as Paul Ryan, the House speaker, have yet to issue any statements about whether they agree with the president or whether they agree with Corker and others who are demanding tougher action.

I've asked both of their offices to comment. Neither of them have provided one yet, saying they will see if -- they do weigh in. But -- well, this could impact things going forward, Brianna, because if only a handful of Republicans want to move forward, but the leadership is not prepared to go after -- push the president to take a firmer line, perhaps the president won't do that. But that big determination, within 120 days, whether or not any additional sanctions will be imposed. That -- the administration does need to make that choice. And we'll see how Congress responds after that happens, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Manu, thank you.

President Trump's calls for his political adversaries to be investigated and even prosecuted is raising concerns about a possible abuse of power. A former official involved in Watergate says even Richard Nixon would be troubled by President Trump's actions. Here's what CNN contributor John Dean told our John Berman.


JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If I had to channel a little of Richard Nixon, I think he'd tell this president he's gone so far. This was the sort of stuff of a banana republic. This is what an autocrat does.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY" You, of course, were involved with Watergate and you just said that Richard Nixon would tell Donald Trump he's going too far?

DEAN: I think he would.


KEILAR: That is very interesting.

Jack Quinn, former White House counsel in the Clinton administration, here with us. He is also a CNN legal analyst.

What did you make, Jack, of John Dean's comment there?

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: I agree with him 100 percent. I mean, you know, Richard Nixon was impeached for a number of different things. One of them was obstruction of justice. Another was abuse of his office to protect himself and his corrupt colleagues who had engaged in wrongdoing leading up to the impeachment. The same thing is going on here. Remarkably enough, President Trump's

lawyers seem to think that the president is incapable of obstructing justice, is incapable of breaking the law because he's president. This is not Saudi Arabia. This is America. No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And he will be held to account for anything that is tantamount to obstructing justice or otherwise breaking the law.

And let me add to this. Mr. Whitaker, if what he's doing here is channeling inside information from the special counsel's investigation to the president for the purposes of undermining that investigation, he will be in serious trouble as well.

KEILAR: And what makes you think he may be doing that? Is it the tweets following Whitaker's appointment?

QUINN: Once -- well, look, I don't -- I don't have evidence that he's been doing this. That said, it's interesting that once he was in place, the president's temperature clearly went up and he was in a fit, a peak, really irritated. And, you know, with Whitaker in place, he has something of a line of vision into the investigation.

[13:10:21] As a legal matter, the special counsel's office reports to Matthew Whitaker. Matthew Whitaker, before getting that job, expressed opposition to the investigation, said that Hillary Clinton's the one who should be investigated for links to Russia. I mean real nonsense. But he was clearly and without any doubt opposed to continuing this investigation.

So he's got a line of vision into the -- the president has a line of vision into the investigation through Whitaker if he and Whitaker choose to use it as such. What I'm saying is, if that provides information to the president, which can be used to obstruct the investigation or hinder it or result in starving it to death, that in itself could well be -- if my opinion, would be obstruction of justice and trouble for both Mr. Whitaker and the president.

KEILAR: While I have you here, I want to ask you about Saudi Arabia. The president siding with Saudi Arabia when it comes to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a "Washington Post" journalist, a resident of the U.S.

You, and it's important we say this, you've represented 9/11 families who have wanted to sue Saudi Arabia but have been unable to do so because of the actions of the U.S. government. President --

QUINN: I still do.

KEILAR: You still represent them.


KEILAR: President Obama vetoed the idea, being that this would open up the U.S. to lawsuits. The families feel very much that Saudi Arabia is being protected. With your extensive knowledge of Saudi Arabia, what do you see -- what

is your concern with the president siding with Saudi Arabia and what you feel has already been the deck stacked for them?

QUINN: Yes. Well, our lawsuit goes on. It is still active in the Southern District of New York. We're not going anywhere until these families get justice.

The president's behavior toward the Khashoggi killing is baffling, inexplicable, and I'm sure that the new Congress will want to get to the bottom of it.

First of all, he keeps -- he, the president, keeps repeating that we're getting hundreds of billions of dollars of business from Saudi Arabia. That's baloney. There's simply no truth to it.

What he's talking about are some defense contracts that were initiated in the Obama administration. And we have still only seen only a fraction of the deals that were promised to President Obama. This idea that there's lots and lots of contract work going to American defense companies and others is simply not true. There's no $450 billion. At best so far we've seen $15 billion. Fifteen is a lot smaller than 450.

Secondly, and importantly, in terms of -- he -- the president is counting investment that the Saudis said they will make in the United States. Where are the Saudis going to invest their money if they don't invest it in the United States? Every country in the world wants to invest in the United States. I mean are they going to put their money in Russia? Are they going to put their money in China? I don't think so.

And, lastly, in terms of, you know, buying arms from the Russians or the Chinese, who's going to service them? Saudi Arabia is already well armed with American equipment. If they want replacement parts, they can't get them in Moscow. They can't get them in Shanghai. They have to get them right here in the United States.


QUINN: So all of this -- this argument, this commercial argument, doesn't hold water. It makes you wonder what's really going on. And I hope that the new Congress will get to the bottom of it.

KEILAR: Jack Quinn, thank you so much forgiving us your expertise.

QUINN: Thank you.

KEILAR: As the president sides with the Saudis, one senator says this shows the president's autocratic tendencies and his weakness on the world stage. He will join me live, next.

Plus, just in, Chief Justice John Roberts speaking out in a rather rebuke of a sitting president. Hear how Roberts addresses the president's attacks on judges.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:18:54] KEILAR: President Trump's friends and enemies. The president talked about the importance of his relationship with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. So important that he'll ignore the murder of a U.S.-based journalist.

There are also kind words for North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un, who has ordered the execution of his own family members. And don't forget his bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the other side, the president has taken aim at the man who orchestrated the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, retired Admiral William McRaven. He's hammered members of his own party for not kissing his ring on the campaign trail and has attacked the media again and again and again and again.

Joining me now is Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. He's a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's also on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Thanks for being with us.

And I want to read part of your statement which is unusual to read your words back to you, but they're so, I think, significant that I want to do this.


KEILAR: You said, this White House statement is a stunning window into President Trump's autocratic tendencies, his limited grasp of world affairs and his weakness on the world stage.

It's interesting because there are Republican lawmakers who agree with you on this. So what can Congress do?

[13:20:08] REED: Well, Congress can step up. We have legislation that would require a thorough review of the killing of Khashoggi by an international independent authority. We can't trust the Saudis to investigate themselves. They've been manufacturing more and more stories about what took place in their consulate in Turkey. It's baffling.

They're not going to investigate. So we need an international investigation. We need to have sanctions directed against not just a few underlings, but the ranking members, the people that ordered this. And it looks, based on our intelligence, that it was all the way up to the crown prince. And today, or yesterday, my colleagues, Senator Corker, Senator Menendez, sent a letter under the Magnitsky Act asking for a definite conclusion about the involvement of the crown prince. I think that's appropriate, too.

So we can take steps. We must take steps because otherwise the president is just not only ignoring this grotesque incident, but encouraging more. As you pointed out, he was very friendly with Kim Jong-un, who had his brother killed, his half-brother killed in Malaya. He was fawning over Putin in Helsinki and Putin has a lot of blood on his hands. This is not the way to conduct foreign policy. KEILAR: But let me ask you, because if you do something, if the Senate

-- if the -- well, if the House, let's say -- I just wonder, looking at the Senate, still controlled by Republicans, it's hard to think of a situation where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would jam the president, where he would take something and think he could force the president to sign it. I mean he doesn't generally move forward if it's something that the president isn't going to sign. So what would you do?

REED: Well, first of all, if there was the momentum coming out of the House, and then together with the bipartisan support already evidenced by senator Corker and several others, Senator Graham, that's hard ultimately to ignore by Senator McConnell or others. It's the right thing to do, by the way. Not only is it -- is it politically appropriate at the moment, it's the right thing to do.

And there also is a situation of our ability to approve transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia or other countries. And I think it would be very difficult to get congressional approval of those transfers unless something is done by the president, by the administration.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about this "New York Times" report that says President Trump wanted the Department of Justice to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director Jim Comey.

When you look at that, he was rebuffed by some of his aides and by officials. But if he had been allowed to do that, would that be an impeachable offense?

REED: Well, it certainly would have been a shock in a -- to the system, our legal system, and I think he got wise counsel by Don McGahn and others that it would be inappropriate, both legally and even politically.

It would have triggered, I think, a significant reaction in the Congress and in the country. And that's more important, in the country. And, as a result, I would hope he would abandon those notions of trying to go retaliate against former political foes.

At best he could have asked for an investigation. And, in fact, as Don McGahn pointed out, the FBI could have simply refused by saying there's insufficient evidence even to conduct an investigation.

But, again, it shows this incredible sense of self-entitlement, of being able to lash out at will, be able to ignore the facts and the law. You know, making a statement in that letter regarding the crown prince that he may or may not have ordered the killing, what does it mean? That is a stunning sort of statement by a president of the United States that, you know, the reality is unimportant if a leader of a foreign country orders an assassination? That's the type of behavior that people are becoming more and more uncomfortable with.

KEILAR: All right, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, we really appreciate you being with us.

REED: Thank you very much, Brianna.

KEILAR: Just ahead, the president asked about keeping troops on the border during the holiday despite the fact that there is no caravan emergency. Hear his response. It's really interesting.

Plus, a rare rebuke by the chief justice, John Roberts, against President Trump. Hear what Roberts just said.


[13:29:25] KEILAR: This just in to CNN. Chief Justice John Roberts issuing a rare statement, pushing back against the president for describing a federal judge who ruled against his migrant asylum policy as a, quote, Obama judge.

This is the statement from Roberts. It says, 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 to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.

On this even of Thanksgiving I think is what he's talking about there.

Now, joining me now we have Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich, and Republican strategist and former RNC Communications Director Doug Heye.

[13:30:07] Jackie, how extraordinary is this?