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Trump Attacks Robert Mueller After the Special Counsel Breaks His Silence; Trump Unleashes Flurry of Allegations After Mueller Statement. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] BERMAN: Democrat after Democrat say that the sands are shifting a little bit. The ground is shifting, that maybe they'll consider impeachment where they haven't before.

CNN's special coverage of all this continues with "NEWSROOM" right now. '

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Thursday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto.


No shortage of news from the White House this morning. You just heard the president attempting once again to get the final word on the Russia probe and a whole lot more this morning. He claimed Russia did not try to get him elected, thus contradicting his own statement from a few minutes earlier on Twitter. Then he blasted Robert Mueller, the special counsel, as a never Trumper who had an ax to grind.

SCIUTTO: Make no mistake here the president on the White House lawn there recited a series of claims, long debunked claims not based in fact, easily contradicted and fact-checked. He said that Robert Mueller was conflicted. This after a couple of weeks ago he said Robert Mueller was an honorable man when his reading of the special counsel report was that it was in favor of him.

He said that President Obama never confronted Russia on election interference when, in fact, we know the president at the time directly confronted Vladimir Putin in a way that this president has not. And you'll remember that this president stood next to Vladimir Putin and accepted his denial of interference in the election.

HARLOW: And just -- and just had that call with him and didn't bring it up.

SCIUTTO: And did not bring it up. Repeatedly. Oddly enough he does confirm a story which the Navy had contested and that is that U.S. Navy made an effort to block the name of the USS John McCain, John S. McCain, which is named after both John McCain's father and grandfather.

HARLOW: Yes. SCIUTTO: The first two father-and-son pair to hold the rank of four-

star admiral. He said, the president, they thought they were doing me a favor. The president apparently confirming that --

HARLOW: That someone in the White House did that.

SCIUTTO: -- U.S. Navy officers, on direction from the White House, felt the need to block out the name of a U.S. naval warship because it might insult the president in some way.

This is the world we live in today.

We've got a panel of very smart people around us here.


SCIUTTO: But we've got Abby Phillip at the White House, she was there with the president.

Abby, what stood out to you there from what was really a greatest hit list -- greatest hits list of the president's claims?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim and Poppy, where do we even begin on this one? I think what really struck out at me was how angry the president was at Robert Mueller. I think he's come really full circle on this. In the days after the Mueller report was released he acknowledged that Mueller acted honorably. Today when he was asked, do you still believe that Robert Mueller acted honorably, the president not only did not say that but he accused Mueller of being conflicted.

He brought up this case in which Mueller had some dispute with the president's golf club. He called Mueller a never Trumper. And I think that in his comments today the president has really shown how irritated he has been by what has transpired over the last 24 hours. He said that Mueller was basically, you know, a part of the never Trump movement, part of the movement of people trying to take him out of office. He questioned why he didn't investigate people like James Comey and Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

And then he went on to talk about impeachment which he called a dirty, filthy, disgusting word. Those were his words exactly, dirty, filthy, disgusting word. He said he's not sure that the courts will even allow the Democrats to impeach him. He said this because he believes that Mueller basically exonerated him of all crimes. He said Mueller was not able to bring charges against him on collusion, conspiracy and obstruction, and that is essentially an exoneration for him.

So the president is doubling down. He is, you know, strongly going against Mueller in this situation, even as his White House is trying to say that the case is closed. Clearly in the president's own mind the case is not closed and in a lot of ways he's misrepresenting what Mueller is saying and what the Mueller report found particularly as it relates to what Russia was trying to do in the 2016 election -- Jim and Poppy. SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, he's also making things up. I mean, he says

that Mueller wanted the FBI job when, in fact, Steve Bannon testified that it was the White House who invited Mueller in those days then to offer perspective on the FBI. So the president lied there making that claim as he attacked Robert Mueller.

HARLOW: He did. Do you know what also is so interesting, Abby, is that the president just used those words to describe impeachment, you just laid them out, disgusting, et cetera, but his own team says go ahead and impeach the president, it's going to help us win the election in 2020? Ironic.

PHILLIP: Yes, and I think that there is a kind of duality to this in which the president -- he hates this idea that he might be impeached. In his view Democrats are the ones who committed the crimes, but at the same time his aides believe that this could be -- if they have to face impeachment, it could be a potential political boon to him and sources told us yesterday that the president himself, you know, when he is talking to his friends and his advisers, he says bring it on essentially.

[09:05:05] He says if the Democrats want to impeach me, the American people will essentially understand this to be a scam. You know, we'll find out whether that is the case or not, whether impeachment even happens and whether he will win out, but I think he's experiencing both thoughts at the same time in which he thinks impeachment is wrong, Democrats can't do it to him, but at the same time if they do that he will win out at the end.

HARLOW: OK. Abby Phillip, thank you very, very much for all of that.

Let's bring in our experts and we have many of them.

Jeffrey Toobin, let me begin with you. The fact, Mueller is a registered Republican, someone unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2001, 2011, the head of the FBI. The president may think he is a never Trumper, he never went to the White House looking to be FBI director. Those are all important facts.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I thought those 17 minutes were an excellent case study in the difficulty of covering Donald Trump because there were so many lies, so many lies, one on top of the other, that if we're doing our job, which is, I think, to try to tell people what the truth is, you know, we would spend the entire hour just going through them.

You know, the fact that he's not -- he's not a never Trumper, he never asked for the FBI job, he did not have a conflict of interest about business, he did not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice. I mean, all -- and that's just part of --

HARLOW: But, Jeffrey, you're right. What's interesting, though, is that the president wouldn't spend his time attacking Mueller in that way with those lies if he didn't still see him as a threat. So even though Mueller doesn't want to testify, your point is, too bad.

TOOBIN: Well, but --

HARLOW: You should and you likely will, but the president still sees him as a threat.

TOOBIN: Well, clearly he still sees him as a threat. You know, I don't know exactly what the -- you know, to explain the reasons for the lies, you know, sometimes people lie because they're liars, because that's just how they interact with the world. Sometimes they lie because they have a political or a monetary or some sort of motive, but the extraordinary number of falsehoods that he told there, I mean, that to me has got to be the headline because that's got to be our job.

SCIUTTO: You know, Jeffrey, I'm going to push back for a moment because clearly fact checking the president does work if that is the right word, it does have an impact because the president's trustworthiness ratings are extremely low for a president. So Americans know. The question is what is the political effect ultimately, right?

And John, I wonder if -- OK, you have one Republican, one sitting Republican lawmaker who has said the president obstructed justice or there's evidence and that of course is Justin Amash. You have a lot of former sitting Republican lawmakers willing to go there occasionally, a conservative media columnist.

Does any of that change after hearing from the sphinx yesterday, Robert Mueller, for the first time in two years?

HARLOW: The sphinx.

SCIUTTO: To say in person things he already said in written form, but to say in person and that matters including contradicting the attorney general on evidence of the president's wrongdoing.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's about changing minds in the short run but he highlighted the key takeaways and the contradictions between what Bill Barr said about, for example, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that the president was never going to be indicted by the special counsel because of their reading of Justice Department guidelines. And there's one of the huge ironies of the outburst we just heard, the unhinged outburst from the president of the United States directed at Robert Mueller.

President Trump's bacon was basically saved by Robert Mueller's commitment to the rule of law and a sense of personal decency. And that is a huge deal. He -- when he called him an honorable man he got it right the first time, but this venting of spleen and unhinged attacks and lies directed at Robert Mueller ignores the fact that the reason he has not been indicted is because Robert Mueller played it so by the book with regard to that Office of Legal Counsel --

SCIUTTO: Did he fail as a result of that?

AVLON: I don't know that he failed, but he is the last honest man in a world of political grifters confronting a blizzard of lies. HARLOW: You know, the president may have been very honest this

morning on Twitter. Let's pull up for you his tweet in the last half an hour or so. All right. So let me read this to you. It's a little far away from this area here. Look at the highlighted part. "I had nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected." OK? Jim e-mailed the moment that came out.


HARLOW: I mean, he's saying that Russia helped me get elected.


HARLOW: OK, that was like 30 minutes ago. Here is the president like 20 minutes ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia did not help me get elected. Do you know who got me elected? Do you know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help me at all. Russia if anything I think helped the other side.


SCIUTTO: Well, that's not based on anything whatsoever.

HARLOW: Errol --


TOOBIN: It's not based on anything, it's just a complete lie.

HARLOW: But which one?

TOOBIN: I mean, it's just --

HARLOW: Hold on, which one? Was he being honest --

TOOBIN: The fact that that Russia helped --

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We could certainly point out --

HARLOW: Right. Right. Yes.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry, let Errol --

LOUIS: You could point out in passing it's extraordinarily ungracious not to credit his voters with making him president. Right? He says he did it. OK, fine, he did it. We have -- let's see, we have out of the words of the mouth of Putin that this was his favorite candidate. We have all of the intelligence agencies, we have this exhaustive report and we have the president half an hour ago all saying Russia wanted Trump to be elected. We have the whole premise of the Trump Tower meeting. HARLOW: Well, helped, helped me.

LOUIS: I mean, yes, that we have the whole premise of the Trump Tower meeting. Everyone knows this. Everyone knows this. So the question becomes, you know, following up on Jeffrey's point, why does somebody tell an obvious lie that everybody knows is just that? I think he's building a political case.

AVLON: That's right.

LOUIS: He's giving some kind of talking points to his die hard supporters who are not really interested in facts. They know they are going to support him. He's just giving them something that is sort of plausible to say.

AVLON: And why -- to that point why does he think his supporters are such rubes? Why does he have such contempt for the intelligence and the analytical ability of his supporters? And the feedback loop you see and hear between him and some of the opinion hosts on FOX News is extraordinary. It's actually unclear who's parroting whose talking points at this point.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, and sometimes those talking points are mimicked by Russia's talking points. You saw the Kremlin in the wake of the Mueller statement repeating a lot of phrases that you hear from the White House about, you know, this being about Russiaphobia, you know, the case is closed, et cetera.

Bianna Golodryga, you're with us as well. You know, it's interesting, John Avlon talked about this being an unhinged moment. I wonder if it's hinged --


SCIUTTO: In some way in that this is part of an ongoing strategy by this president, is it not? To undermine confidence and he knows that he's not going to convince the 54 percent who has already decided they disapprove of his job and that's a pretty solid number. He's just got to keep a 40 percent with a question about Mueller, et cetera, and as John said, smartly, give them kind of an excuse to themselves to continue supporting him.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, there was nothing that we saw or heard from Mueller yesterday that veered off of that initial report other than we heard from him. Right? And look at how that got under the president's skin. Six weeks ago when the report came out he called him an honorable man, today he called him some of the worst offensive language that we have heard him in reference to Bob Mueller. We have heard him use in reference to Bob Mueller.

So you clearly can see the impact of Bill Barr's initial four-page memo. I mean, imagine if we had just heard what we heard from Robert Mueller yesterday three days after that report came out.

SCIUTTO: Yes. GOLODRYGA: instead of hearing about the four-page report from -- and

the summary from Bill Barr. Imagine if we had just heard those eight minutes from Robert Mueller yesterday. The lines have been blurred, they've been muddied. I didn't hear Robert Mueller accuse the media of misinterpreting the Mueller report as we had heard from Bill Barr. You heard Robert Mueller thank the investigators, thank the FBI officials, thank the prosecutors that had worked with integrity. Obviously that being a reference to the president attacking this prosecutorial team for two years now.

And when it comes to Russia you have the administration arguing as they have been and in many respects they're right that this administration has been tougher on Russia when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to arming the Ukrainians.

SCIUTTO: Well --

GOLODRYGA: However, you see the power of the president still denying that Russia had an impact or influence on this election, where Vladimir Putin himself said that I favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Where Vladimir Putin himself said, well, maybe there were some Russian patriots that decided to, you know, hack some computers. We have very sophisticated, you know, computer savvy people in my country.

Donald Trump, by the president of the United States not addressing this head on, not saying that this is the one issue we're going to tackle in our election system, our democratic process will not be attacked by any country regardless of who they support, that speaks volumes. That speaks volumes to Vladimir Putin and that gives him the plausible deniability that he has used to this day.

HARLOW: Jessica Roth, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, if we were to sum up Mueller's 10-minute statement in two words from yesterday it might be impeach already and, P.S., lose my number. But as Jeffrey points out a lot of people don't want to go testify in front of Congress but they are compelled to or it's the right thing to do.

Did today just make Mueller's testimony before Congress even more important and maybe a little bit more likely?

JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I think it's always been likely that he's going to testify.

HARLOW: You do.

ROTH: I really don't think that there was any possibility he wasn't going to be called. What he tried to do yesterday was to tamp down expectations about what would happen in that testimony and I thought one of the most important things he said was I will not answer hypotheticals. In other words, I am not going to answer the question that everyone has been building up toward which is if you could have would you have indicted the president for obstruction of justice.

HARLOW: Sure. ROTH: So he broadcast that very clear and he said my report is my

testimony. I don't think what he said yesterday changes anything legally.

[09:15:00] It may change the political calculation in terms of how Democrats approach that testimony and how most effectively they're going to use his testimony. But you couldn't see a more stunning contrast in styles between Bob Mueller yesterday and the president --

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: That's true, that's a good point.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: And between Bob Mueller and let's be frank, Bill Barr the Attorney General, and not just style but also substance here. Because it is clear that Bill Barr -- and keep in mind, I keep saying this, it's the third time Robert Mueller has said Bill Barr did not accurately represent the report. He did it twice by letter and once now in person to say it was not the evidence that held me back from indicting, it was --

HARLOW: The guide --

SCIUTTO: Policy, which Barr intimated the opposite. Did he not?



AVLON: Six times --

SCIUTTO: He was pressed on this.

AVLON: He was asked directly by CNN's Laura Jarrett at the press conference --


AVLON: He said it in writing. Over and over again, he said OLC guidance had nothing to do with the conclusions --

SCIUTTO: Office of Legal Counsel --

AVLON: Yes, that the fact that Mueller couldn't make a decision on whether to prosecute the president for obstruction, that's simply not true --


AVLON: According to Mueller's own words.

HARLOW: All right, so none of you get to go anywhere. No one gets to get breakfast. There's a lot more to digest, stay with us, much more on the president's 17-minute very fact-less rant ahead.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back, we're joined by John Avlon, Errol Louis, Bianna Golodryga, former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth. There is so much to digest here. And once again, the president recited a series of lies, repeated frankly a series of lies, easily debunked -- we've debunked him before, fact-checked him before, hard to pick where you start. In that list here --

HARLOW: You pick, I can't pick this morning --

SCIUTTO: Let's start if we can on the president's attacks on the special counsel Robert Mueller, a man who he called honorable when the president perceived that the Mueller report had exonerated him, now he's no longer honorable. Sometimes, I hesitate to play these because they're so full of falsehoods, but let's play it so that we could tick off each of the falsehoods in this statement by the president on Mueller.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's totally conflicted because, as you know, he wanted to be the FBI director and I said no. As you know, I had a business dispute with him after he left the FBI, we had a business dispute, not a nice one, he wasn't -- he wasn't happy with what I did, and I don't blame him, but I had to do it because that was the right thing to do, but I had a business dispute.

And he loves Comey. You look at the relationship that those two -- so whether it's love or a deep like, but he should -- he was conflicted. Look, Robert Mueller should have never been chosen because he wanted the FBI job and he didn't get it, and the next day he was picked as special counsel.

So you tell somebody, I'm sorry, you can't have the job, and then after you say that, he's going to make a ruling on you, it doesn't work that way. Plus, we had a business dispute, plus his relationship with Comey was extraordinary.


SCIUTTO: So just to be clear there, there are three easily debunked claims there. He did not want the FBI job, Steve Bannon testified that the FBI invited Robert Mueller in. They reached out to Robert Mueller in Bannon's words to offer perspective on the FBI. But the business dispute is --

HARLOW: It's about a golf --

SCIUTTO: He was in a golf club --

HARLOW: Course fees that --

SCIUTTO: Golf course fees --

HARLOW: That Bannon said Mueller wanted a little bit back.

SCIUTTO: The loving Comey line, listen --

HARLOW: They weren't that close.

SCIUTTO: Comey, Mueller worked together at various times in government institutions, yes, by all accounts not particularly close --

HARLOW: It was not an extraordinarily close relationship.

SCIUTTO: Right, and yet he makes those -- he makes those claims. Anybody want to pipe in on what we do about this as a country when the president repeats claims like this?

AVLON: The president is going back to his basic talking points, trying to attack the character of a man he once called honorable whose own discretion over the report he handled ended up making sure the president was not, in fact, indicted. What I think is extraordinary and a little bit sinister is the way you get mission creep in the president's sort of bloviating lies.

So all of a sudden he started to say some things that are a little bit new, the idea that an insurance policy that the Russia investigation was intended by Democrats to be an insurance policy if Donald Trump in fact won --

SCIUTTO: That's stolen from the Strzok page text.

AVLON: Correct --


AVLON: But that all of a sudden is saying it's being amplified by a lot of conservative media to justify and amplify the investigators for treason charge which now Bill Barr is going forward on. You could see --

HARLOW: Yes --

AVLON: He said in that rant that this is going to be his greatest accomplishment. This is not behavior becoming of an American president. It's behavior we've seen from other autocratic leaders about their countries. Now, the president is constrained by the constitution. But this is not a man who is being constrained by conscience or dignity or decorum of the office to date.

This is a guy who unspooled in front of cameras for a second --

SCIUTTO: And you cite a real consequence --

AVLON: Correct --

SCIUTTO: Of the president's accusation there, which is now the Attorney General is following through, he is going to investigate the investigators --

AVLON: Really --

HARLOW: Absolutely -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He looks to me like a guy who is in trouble.

HARLOW: I was just going to ask you, Errol, I think the question I have this morning watching that as we were coming on set for the show is the why? Is this a president feeling boxed in? Is this a president who is scared of the testimony that will come before Congress? Is this a president who is looking at day-by-day an impeachment potentially more likely?

LOUIS: Well, that's right. I think he hears the footsteps that are behind him. I think he understands that even though everybody likes to disregard this, but when you look at polls and you see a recent Monmouth poll, 60 percent of Americans say they want somebody else to be the president.

At some point, you've got to really start to worry. And so what I saw him doing in that rant is kind of franticly trying to shore up his base, give them anything to say. This guy is a liar, this one is conflicted, 18 angry Democrats, he kind of rifts through all of these kind of things to allow his followers to go out and spread it on social media and tell themselves and maybe tell somebody else, well, you know, the whole thing was a hoax, it was a witch-hunt.

[09:25:00] And of course, you poke it with a stick, you read any part of it --


LOUIS: You even just look at the eight minutes we heard yesterday and the whole thing falls apart. And I think the president realizes it's going to be harder and harder for him to get from here to next November and have everybody swallow all that.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR : But the president will do that for anybody who he views as a threat, right? It's not just Mueller --

LOUIS: Yes --

GOLODRYGA: Specific, it's that it's his MO, it's what he's been doing throughout his presidency. And if there's one -- if there's one key theme that stood out from what we heard from Mueller yesterday, it was read the report. Read the report, read the report. If I haven't made myself clear, read the report.

HARLOW: Read the report --

GOLODRYGA: Everything I have to say and everything that I potentially would say before Congress which I don't want to appear before because all I will say is what I've written in the report. The report is my final word. How many Americans have read the report?

AVLON: How many members of Congress?

HARLOW: Yes --

GOLODRYGA: Right, and just hearing those eight minutes from him, just hearing him say if we had confidence the president didn't commit a crime, we would have said so. That in and of itself was so powerful.


GOLODRYGA: Much more powerful that when we first heard the report --

HARLOW: Like he didn't need to repeat that line and he chose to --


HARLOW: Obviously --

SCIUTTO: Many times, the other line he repeats is no one has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump in the third person. It's easily disproven, here is a president who has sought to water down some sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, but during the transition, that -- those were the discussions with Michael Flynn, that Michael Flynn lied about, felt the need to lie about was discussing softening those sanctions there.

He also said Obama never confronted Russia when he did twice, something the president has neglected to do. Jessica Roth, you made a very good point while we were in break about Mueller's message. Hidden, I don't know if you want to say hidden, but perhaps below --

ROTH: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The surface. Tell us what you think.

ROTH: Yes, so there were a couple of things he said explicitly, and then there were some things that I heard that seemed to be implicit. And one of those implicit messages I heard was that he did not anticipate that Attorney General Barr would make a statement that the president had not obstructed justice.

In other words, one of the lingering questions after the report was did Mueller anticipate, did he expect that Barr would make a decision about obstruction or did he anticipate that Congress would through the impeachment process.

What I heard from what he was saying yesterday and his discussion of the Department of Justice policy and how it bound the entirety of the Department of Justice, including his office, which resided within the Department of Justice, was that the Department of Justice could not make a formal accusation against the president.

That, that was reserved for the other process available which was impeachment. And he was delivering the evidence to Congress. He didn't say that explicitly yesterday, but that was the implication. And again, buried within that is the suggestion that he didn't anticipate that anyone within the Department of Justice including the Attorney General --

HARLOW: Would do that --

ROTH: Would make the call that he declined --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: To make.


GOLODRYGA: But Jessica, if I can even take this one step further. I think a lot of people were surprised, I know I was when Bill Barr sort of gave an excuse for had the president committed obstruction, here is why he would have committed obstruction --

AVLON: Right --

GOLODRYGA: Because --


GOLODRYGA: It was so unprecedented --

SCIUTTO: Did you take any step --

GOLODRYGA: No president had ever gone through --


GOLODRYGA: What this president had.


GOLODRYGA: So, if he had committed obstruction, it was only because he was so worried about X, Y and Z.

SCIUTTO: That was where Barr repeated some of the president's favorite phrases about the media and so on, piling on to him somehow --

ROTH: Well, actually, Barr was saying he didn't obstruct justice because he didn't have corrupt intent.


ROTH: Instead --


ROTH: He was essentially venting anger and frustration --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: And he didn't have corrupt --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: Intent --

SCIUTTO: Right, well, listen --

HARLOW: Stay with us --

SCIUTTO: Frustration -- let me tell you one thing we're going to do, we're going to continue to fact-check the president.

HARLOW: Always.

AVLON: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Any way we can, that's our job.

HARLOW: We'll be with you every morning at 9:00 a.m. to do just that. Let's hope we don't have to, right? Every day is a new day, we'll be right back.