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Trump and Netanyahu Heap Praise During Trip; Trump Talks Russian Intel; Trump Visits Wester Wall; Flynn Refuses to Cooperate; Flynn Declines Senate Subpoena; Comey to Testify. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We were watching two major stories for you breaking at this moment. The first, President Trump's fired national security adviser says he will plead the fifth and is refusing to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee over questions about the campaign's ties to Russia. Much more on that in a moment and what this means for the investigation.

But first, moments ago, President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced reporters at this joint appearance during the president's first overseas visit as commander in chief.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I believe that together we could roll back Iran's march of aggression and terror in this region and we can thwart Iran's unbridled ambition to become a nuclear weapons state. I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region. Because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partner. And that's where we see something new and potentially something very promising. It won't be simple, but for the first time in many years, and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm encouraged that they've pledged cooperation to confront terrorism and the hateful ideology that drives it so hard. America welcomes the action and support of any nation willing to do the hard but vital work in eradicating the violent ideologies that have caused so much needless bloodshed and killing here and all over the world.


BALDWIN: This visit there in Jerusalem between the two leaders focused on President Trump's foreign policies, this historic visit. Here it is, to the Western Wall. This is the first sitting president to do so, U.S. president. And he's getting somewhat of a break from questions about the Russian investigation and scandal hanging over the White House. But, earlier today, an unprompted President Trump appeared to deny he damaged the U.S. relationship with Israeli intelligence officials when he revealed highly classified information to Russian operatives that he hosted in the Oval Office.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just to you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned it during that conversation. They're all saying I did. So, you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.


BALDWIN: Here's the thing, though, no one ever reported that specifically. To be clear, these accusations never suggested that President Trump told two top Russian officials that the information specifically came from Israel. Instead, the information the president revealed is thought to have been so specific that its origin was clear.

Let me get right to Jim Acosta, our CNN senior White House correspondent.

Jim, listening to you a moment ago, you were talking just watching the visit between these two world leaders, you called this the art of the deal in the holy land.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, you hear the president talk about any kind of negotiation that he enters into in sort of these real estate deal terms and it just sounded like that a few moments ago when you heard the president wrap up those remarks with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and he talked about this being something he's heard about being one of the toughest deals of them all.

It is interesting to note that language, Brooke. That is a dialing back of what you've heard from the president earlier this year where he said, well, maybe it won't be so difficult after all to achieve Middle East peace. I think as he's getting into this part of the world where things are a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface, that he is beginning to understand this may not happen overnight, this may not be as simple as a real estate deal that he might cut for opening a golf course or a hotel.

Having said all of that, I think what you're seeing from the Israeli prime minister, and it is something that we saw in Riyadh 24 hours ago, is a very different reception, at least from these two governments, for this new president. Obviously President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu did not get along with one another. They had very big disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal. You are not seeing as much of that on display - hardly any of that on display here with the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The president has time and again - he did it in Saudi Arabia to sort of make common cause with the Saudis, and he's doing it here in Israel to make common cause with Netanyahu to say this Iran nuclear deal is something that is damaging to the - this region's security. And it is interesting to see the president attempt, and I think that this is part of their - their strategy here in terms of achieving Middle East peace, at least getting the ball moving in that direction by saying, listen, you know, the enemy of the enemy is my friend here. And so it does sound a bit like the art of the deal hits the holy land.

[14:05:00] But as you and I both know, Brooke, these things are a lot more difficult. And you heard the prime minister mention that yesterday. The president is not going to have the same reception or the same kind of conversation with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, when that happens tomorrow. It is going to be a very different conversation.

But getting back to that news you were showing earlier today, it just goes to show you when the president was talking about that intelligence issue with the Russians, it just goes to show you they can carefully stagecraft these trips as much as possible and put up all the pomp and circumstances as you want, but when the cameras go on and a question is asked of this president, he can make news expected and unexpected. And my suspicion is, is that folks inside the White House cringed a little bit when they heard the president describe things in that fashion, Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's the unscripted moments that the world is watching for, especially in this part of the world.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta in Jerusalem. It's 9:00 at night your time. Thank you so much. We'll see you next hour.

Let's bring in now and have a bigger discussion, Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institute and author of "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy," and David Andelman is back with us, contributor for opinion, editor emeritus for "The World Policy Journal," and a columnist for "USA Today."

Gentlemen, great to see both of you.

And, David, beginning with you, just coming off, you know, Jim Acosta and talking about this visit in Israel with the prime minister there and a tweet from some other guest on this show, Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center, his tweet, "in knowing and working with Netanyahu for decades, never, and I mean never have I seen him so relaxed in the presence of a U.S. president." Why do you think that is?

DAVID ANDELMAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN.COM OPINION: Well, sure, he has - he knows he has a president in his hip pocketbook basically saying all of the things that he would want any American president to say, particularly, remember, three days after a memorable, historic election in Iran where -


ANDELMAN: The liberals have suddenly come to the for and suddenly we have this American president completely ignoring 57 percent of the Iranian people who say they want change, they want to become part of the international community again. They don't want to be known as the, you know, the harbinger of terror. All of a sudden, Trump just goes 20 years in the past and goes exactly against what the trend that the Iranian people are really moving towards, which is to say something that should be very receptive - should b received so well by an American president.

BALDWIN: So you're saying he has ignored that population of Iran.

ANDELMAN: Ignored them completely.

BALDWIN: Totally ignored them.

Michael, to you on - you know, listening back and forth and the president earlier today said, I never mentioned the word Israel in that meeting. And we should be clear, we listened to, you know, the current NSA saying, you know, the president wasn't even aware of the source of that intel when he divulged it to the Russian ambassador and Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, in the Oval Office. But, still, you know, despite what I've read about even former, you know, Mossad guys out of Israel saying it was horrifying that he did that, Mr. Netanyahu has said nothing.


Well, first of all, if I could make a quick comment in regard to David. I don't think it's quite so concerning as to say that President Trump is ignoring 57 percent of Iranians, because he is respecting the joint comprehensive plan of action. He doesn't like it. He has said it's a bad deal.

BALDWIN: The Iran deal.

O'HANLON: But he is actually sticking with it, which is the basic key to the whole change of the relationship. And, by the way, those 57 percent of the Iranians may not be happy with the hard line elements in their own security forces that are behind a lot of the problems in the U.S./Iran relationship. So it's not as if Iran is a single model. David knows this and he may or may not disagree, but I just wanted to underscore that point. I'm - I'm with President Obama on the Iran deal, but at least Trump is complying with it so far.

On the issue of this, you know, intelligence spat, you wonder why President Trump wouldn't just stay out of it. He's overseas. He's having a pretty good weekend and early week so far. It seems to me that he should welcome the opportunity to stay out of some of this Washington fish bowl stuff, which he keeps plunging himself back into, even when he's 7,000 or 8,000 miles away. So the point he made may or may not have been technically right. I guess it was technical right. But I would, if I were in his shoes, just try to change the subject all together, build on this Netanyahu/Trump relationship, see if we can begin talking about strategic realities in the Middle East instead of what happened last week in Washington.

BALDWIN: All right. Michael, let me just stay with you because, show the pictures again of the president of the United States visiting the Western Wall. This is the first sitting U.S. president - yes, Barack Obama did it as a senator and others, but as a U.S. president. This is a - it's an important picture to show the world. It is a symbolic moment. Do you give the president credit for taking the time to do this and what are your bigger overarching questions?

O'HANLON: Well, yes, you know, I mean, I - I didn't like his positions about Israel and the Palestinians last year, but I have to say he's modified a number of them and I think his overall approach so far in terms of the atmospherics is not bad. So his administration is now - is now against Israeli settlements or at least against, you know, uncontrolled Israeli settlements. He's shown much less haste to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. You know, but he's also symbolically showing respect for the various religions, including, of course, Judaism.

[14:10:23] So, you know, I have no big problems with how he's handled himself on this trip. I think it's been OK. I think it's been solid. It's not spectacular. It doesn't necessarily unlock the peace process or make any of the obstacles to that easier to overcome. But, you know, it's the right - the right way to handle the first 24 hours in Israel.

BALDWIN: David, I think Michael hit on it. I mean ultimately it's what he said in public. Can he deliver on the deal, as next he's meeting with the leader of Palestine, Abbas. Can he deliver on that?

ANDELMAN: Look, I would go back 50 years on relations between Israel and Palestine and it's not any easier - it doesn't get any easier. There's no doubt about that. And I'd like to come back just briefly to the Iranian deal.

Remember that Trump actually did not say - when he came into office, he said, I'm going to rip up this deal completely. Throw it way.

BALDWIN: He ran a whole campaign on that.

ANDELMAN: A whole campaign based on that. And all of a sudden now suddenly that deal is - is going to continue. And one of the reasons is the Israelis apparently have let it quietly be known to the U.S. - and people have told me this from Israel - that they're not prepared at this point to go to war over this. They know this is something they can't win. They cannot get rid of the - if that deal was torn up, the Israelis cannot go in and neutralize any of Iran's nuclear options, if you will. So there's something - there's some play in that. It's not necessarily very clear cut that, you know, he's embraced this deal. He hasn't. But he's also been told, let's leave it, you know, in abeyance in for a moment.

BALDWIN: David Andelman, thank you very much.

Michael O'Hanlon, thank you as well here. We have more on that.

O'HANLON: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

But more breaking news. The president's fired national security adviser says he will plead the fifth in this investigation into potential ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. What General Michael Flynn's refusal to cooperate means for his fate and the fate of the investigations, plural.

Plus, the fired FBI director will testify, but what can James Comey reveal publically and will he respond to the president's personal attacks?

You're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:16:32] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news in the investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. A source tells CNN the president's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will plead the fifth and will refuse to hand over any records. It is quite a turnaround from just two months ago when General Flynn's attorney revealed his client wanted to cut a deal for immunity.

Remember that attorney's statement sent out in March? Let me read you just a piece of that. It read as follows. Quote, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell. And he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit. No reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution."

So, let's go to Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice producer, for the detail there.

Shimon, what more are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, what we were told is that Flynn, you know, really, well, though he may have a story to tell, right now because there are all these investigations that are ongoing, the FBI investigation, certainly the FBI is deep into their investigation. As we reported just a few weeks ago, records have been subpoenaed. A grand jury subpoena was issued with regard to business records relating to Flynn. So it's not, you know, abnormal for Flynn to - his lawyers to basically say, hey, you know, we're not going to put him out in public and open so that he can open himself to even more potential charges. So that's sort of where things stand.

The other issue is the subpoena for documents. It's really not clear that Flynn is going to have any kind of protection against that. You just don't get protection from subpoenas. If you are subpoenaed, if your documents are subpoenaed, usually you're supposed to turn them over. So it's uncertain what legal course the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to have with that. But it's certainly something they're going to continue to seek.

BALDWIN: I'm glad you brought up - that up. We'll bring up the difference between testimony and documents here with my - with my experts. Shimon, thank you so much.

Two gentlemen standing by, waiting in the wings. Let me bring them in. Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor, who used to be former FBI Director Bob Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department. Mueller, as you well know, is the special counsel leading the Russia investigation. Also with me, Nick Akerman, also a former federal prosecutor who once served as assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation.

Good to have both of you.

And, Nick, let me just turn to you first.


BALDWIN: Just your first read on hearing, he's going to plead the fifth. What does that mean? What does that tell you?

AKERMAN: Well, it tell me that he's got something to hide. He obviously has a reason to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege. Basically what he is saying is, any truthful answer I would give could be used against me and so he's refusing to answer on that basis.

BALDWIN: Because he wanted immunity. That was rejected. Therefore, now he's saying I'll plead the fifth.

AKERMAN: Right. And with respect to the documents, though -

BALDWIN: That's a different story.

AKERMAN: Totally different story because there is no Fifth Amendment privilege over business records. The only kind of documents on which you could assert a Fifth Amendment privilege would be personal diaries, statements that you wrote down about what you were doing during the day, your impressions, but certainly business records, the Supreme Court has made it very clear the Fifth Amendment does not cover those.

BALDWIN: Does not protect. OK, it's important you bring - bring that up.

[14:20:03] Michael, so this is - we were talking immunity a second ago that - you know, he - apparently, according to this attorney, you know, once upon a time, had a story to tell. That immunity was rejected. My question is, looking ahead, what happens with regard to this special counsel Bob Mueller investigation. If he's pleading the fifth now, what does that mean for the Mueller investigation down the road.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER AT JUSTICE DEPT.: Well, a couple of things. First, I expect that his attorney, Kelner (ph), would still accept a deal for immunity and let his client talk to the committees under that circumstance. But the committees are not going to give him immunity. So he has no choice there. So faced with that, he has to take the fifth because he doesn't want to put himself in jeopardy given that Mueller is waiting in the wings to look at him for a criminal investigation.

Remember, Flynn has got a lot of issues that are out there. He's got failure to disclose on his financial statements. He's got the failure to notify the defense intelligence agency. He's got his lobbying on behalf of Turkey and the failure to disclose it. So he's got a - and potentially Russian conclusion. So he's got a lot of stuff in play here. And his counsel is a capable attorney, a very capable attorney and he's doing exactly the right thing for him. The question will be, will Congress turn around and try to immunize him or somehow force him to testify? That would be a terrible mistake from Mueller's standpoint because of the Iran Contra Supreme Court decision where Oliver North's immunized testimony lead to - despite his conviction, it being overturned on appeal.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me move off of Flynn, though, and let's go to Comey, former - now fired FBI Director James Comey, as he's supposed to testify. A source says Comey now believes that President Trump was trying to influence his judgment in the Russia investigation. Comey's supposed to testify next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Nick, what can Comey say and what should - as a private citizen, what should he not?

AKERMAN: Well, you can't just take him away from being a private citizen. That's the problem.


AKERMAN: And if I were Bob Mueller, I would not be too crazy about having Comey lay out everything on testimony at this point before I had an opportunity to really speak to him and get down everything that he's going to say. Don't forget, he's going to be a key witness in this case, whether it's against Trump or others. So he's really made himself a witness. And when you're a witness and you're a prosecutor, you want to make sure you have control over that witness.

So in a sense that he comes out and lays everything out before any of the Senate committees, he's really putting in stone what he's going to say before Bob Mueller really has a chance to -

BALDWIN: Out there on lock.

AKERMAN: Right. It's going to be all there locked into stone. That's not a position a prosecutor want to be in. On the other hand, if you had to take anybody to be a witness who would lay it all out, I think I probably would trust Jim Comey more than most witnesses. So there's a balance there.

BALDWIN: OK. We were just - Michael and I were just talking on Friday when "The New York Times" news dropped about apparently the president, you know, referring to Comey as a nut job to Russians in the Oval Office. So my question to you, Michael, would Jim Comey be looking to clear his name, settle the score in testifying?

ZELDIN: Well, maybe. I agree with Nick, that this is a very difficult situation for Bob Mueller to be in. And I would expect there is going to be communication between Mueller and Comey and I wouldn't be surprised if Mueller pleads with Comey to please not testify because it does not help Mueller in any way, shape or form to have that testimony.

That said, if Comey is adamant on testifying to clear his name or clear the record of whatever, he is a private citizen. He can't talk about anything which is classified. He can't talk about the nature of the investigation that's ongoing. He can talk in high level matters about like why is it that he memorializing his notes when he has interviews with people that make him nervous. What is the standard practice when it comes to this or that type of behavior. But I don't think he really can and should be talking about the minutia of what will form the basis of both the committee's work with respect to the collusion and Russian interference and Bob Mueller's work with respect to the possibility of obstruction of justice. I think he has to steer clear of the facts of those and stay pretty high level if possible.

BALDWIN: OK. Again, this is all supposed to be next week in front of Senate Intel.

Michael and Nick, thank you both very much.

AKERMAN: Thank you.

ZELDIN: Thank you for having us.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Pleading the fifth. Does that imply guilt? Here what candidate Donald Trump said about pleading the fifth not too long ago.

Also ahead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson holds a press briefing while in Saudi Arabia. But guess what, American press not invited. The State Department's explanation of that, next.


[14:29:20] BALDWIN: More on our breaking news today. Sources are telling CNN that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn plans to plead the fifth and will not then testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about what he may know about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

So, let's discuss with CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He served as a spokesperson for both the State and Defense Departments during the Obama administration.

So good to see you, sir.

And CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza.

So, gentlemen, let me just begin this conversation with a little sound from Mr. Trump during the campaign trail. Roll it.

[14:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She has people taking the Fifth Amendment. Four people plus the guy who illegally did the server. You know, he put in the illegal server. So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes --