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AT THIS HOUR
Trump: "No Questions On Collusion" (But There Are); Trump Makes Disputed Claim About Proving Obstruction Of Justice; NYT: Mueller Wants To Ask About Manafort Russian Outreach; White House Chief Of Staff Kelly Denies Calling Trump An "Idiot"; Stormy Daniels Sues President Trump For Defamation. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Anyone up for a game of 20 questions or how about 49? That's the number of questions "The New York Times" has obtained that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask President Trump. They run the range from collusion to obstruction to his businesses.
And no surprise the president has something to say about all of this and taking to Twitter with this, "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened. Witch-hunt." We'll fact check that in a second. More tweets to get to first.
Then there's this, so disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russia witch-hunt were leaked to the media. No questions on collusion. But, again, collusion is a focus of the questions including one of the most intriguing questions, like this, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign.
Let's get to it. Let's dig into all of it. We'll start with Shimon Prokupecz with the very latest. Shimon, let's start with the question about -- I'll get to the question about Paul Manafort in just a second. But what of these questions stick out to you?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly, the Manafort question is a big one. Obviously that one goes to the heart of collusion. We have done a lot of reporting concerning Manafort and outreach. There is information in the intelligence world that Manafort or someone was trying to either communicate with Manafort or Manafort was communicating with someone about potentially help in the campaign, Russians, helping the campaign.
But you know, in these 49 questions, there is a lot of little ones kind of that really paint a bigger picture of exactly what Mueller has here and what he's looking at. Certainly, it goes to the question of obstruction, right, and that has to do with Comey and the firing of the former FBI director.
But specifically, what Mueller is asking for here is regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey, when was it made, why and who played a role in it. That is an important part because it was over a weekend in New Jersey, the weekend before he was fired, the FBI director, and people were there with the president before he made that decision.
It was Jared Kushner and Steven Miller. So, that has certainly come up in our reporting as well. The other thing this really shows us is that there are questions about his business dealings during the campaign, potentially, with Russia.
And that's relating to Michael Cohen who is now obviously in the news -- facing potential criminal charges, Felix Seder, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, and others including foreign nationals about this Russian real estate deal that they were talking about, development in Russia during the campaign.
And then lastly, obviously, we have all these questions about collusion. And that is the communications, this is why I think Roger Stone thing here stood out to me is that he's asking the president essentially what do you know about these communications between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks?
And obviously, that has been in the news a lot lately because there's been a lot of reporting that Roger Stone may have been communicating. Roger Stone is denying that he communicated with Wikileaks.
BOLDUAN: You mentioned, there is interest in Donald Trump businesses during the campaign, but there's also it seems the interest in Donald Trump's businesses prior to that.
PROKUPECZ: That's correct. Now this goes to the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, which we have also done a lot of reporting on that, Mueller has gone that far back to look at some of the relationships that Trump built in 2013 specifically it is Agalarovs.
Now why the Agalarovs are important is because that has to do with the Trump Tower meeting. They were instrumental setting up that Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer. So that is also of interest obviously.
BOLDUAN: And it really shows what you're highlighting, the range that they're hitting.
PROKUPECZ: Yes. I mean, this goes back as far back as 2013, even further back which doesn't seem to come up in this questioning, but we know the FBI has been digging far back into Trump's business dealings and his family and his associates.
BOLDUAN: Shimon, stick around with me because I'm going to depend on your reporting on some of this, but also adding to the conversation is Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst and former FBI special agent, and Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor.
Mimi, before I get to anything else, I want to ask you first about Donald Trump's kind of response to all of this, if you will. Part of his response, it gets to his tweet, which is it would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened, witch-hunt. How does this fit into the legal definition of obstruction? That's been a big part of the conversation this morning.
MIMI ROCAH, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE, PACE LAW: That is inaccurate what he's saying there. You absolutely can obstruct a crime that never occurred. The way that it works is, you know, somebody can think that they have done something wrong, illegal or just wrong, that they don't want people to find out about.
The question is not whether there is an underlying crime that actually was committed. The question is whether there was a crime that was being investigated, and in this case, that is very clear. We had this investigation going on.
Sometimes, you know, you'll have a case where it is not quite so clear that there was an actual sort of FBI investigation. That's crystal clear here. So, it is really about was there an investigation going on and did the person try to obstruct, to impede, to delay, you know, all sorts of different verbs you can use.
[11:05:12] So, his tweet is absolutely incorrect. You know, I think we don't know here yet. It is also incorrect as a factual matter because we have absolutely no idea whether there is an underlying crime yet.
In fact, these questions which are very telling, even without the answers, seem to suggest that Mueller thinks at least some people are committing crimes. But as a legal matter, it is also incorrect that you cannot obstruct an investigation where no crime was committed.
BOLDUAN: Asha, let me ask you about this one, asking about Paul -- asking about outreach from Paul Manafort, which I mentioned up at the top, Paul Manafort to Russia for potential assistance to the campaign, so far there hasn't been anything really reported about Manafort reaching out to Russia for help. To you does this mean that Mueller has something there or could they simply just be asking because Manafort is in a whole bunch of other trouble?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, pretty basic rule of interviews like this is that you already know the answers to the questions that you're going in to ask. You still owe -- ask them in an open-ended way, so the person can give their own version of it. But I suspect that they probably have some evidence of coordination between Manafort and Russia.
I mean, this only makes sense in terms of what we already know about Manafort, who is a subject of two FISA orders, which you can only get if you know that the -- if you can show a court that the person was acting, knowingly, on behalf of a foreign intelligence service.
So, we know that they have some evidence there already. The question is, was he doing any of that while he was in the campaign? And it is definitely a question that goes directly to the heart of collusion of direct assistance being solicited from Russia.
BOLDUAN: About this whole thing kind of coming out now, Shimon. I mean, the Mueller investigation has been kept so quiet. What they have, what they don't have, where they are headed until now. How the "New York Times" describes kind of how this all came about I thought was so interesting.
According to "The New York Times," "according to questions read by the special counsel investigators, to the president's lawyers, who compiled them into a list. That document was provided to the "Times" by a person outside of Mr. Trump's legal team." So, where does this come from then?
PROKUPECZ: That's a good question. You know, the Mueller team is pretty tight. I know just in having spent, you know, over a year now reporting this.
PROKUPECZ: But we know based on some of our reporting that when the teams met, the Mueller team and the Trump team met to discuss about possible interview, they gave them buckets sort of topics. This -- our understanding is that this came up, a lot of this came up as a topic.
And that the president's legal team then decided to kind of -- with the special counsel craft some of these questions. But I want to touch on something about Paul Manafort because I think this is important, this question about collusion and whether this outreach, Manafort is a very central figure in this entire investigation.
And in many ways, it is why there has been so much pressure on him with these charges by the special counsel. In the end, it is everyone's belief that they want Paul Manafort to cooperate in this investigation for this very reason.
There is intelligence, there was -- that was gathered by investigators, that indicated that Paul Manafort and we have done this reporting, either was communicating, outreach or something between Paul Manafort and people with connections to the Russians.
And that has always, we believe, been a concern for the special counsel and I think quite frankly they want to know more, more about that. We have been doing a lot of reporting on that. And it shows you that really Manafort is a central figure in this investigation because of his extensive ties really to the Russians in the end. He was a chairman of the campaign at one point.
BOLDUAN: That's right. Even though they like to downplay how long he was with the campaign and his role. Mimi, you are kind of getting to this, when you take the totality and the theme and how the questions are crafted and what looking at here, does it tell you anything about exactly what Bob Mueller is looking for from the president? Does it tell you anything about what they might have already concluded?
ROCAH: Well, a couple of things. First of all, I don't know that Mueller crafted these questions, right --
BOLDUAN: Also, that's --
ROCAH: That's important. He probably gave topics and the lawyers wrote the questions. But, yes, the information in the topics and the questions tells me that he's trying to get at what Donald Trump knew about actions and words and things that other people did.
And it sounds like he has, I mean, this is reading tea leaves and you know, I could regret saying this later, but it sounds like he has or is concluding things about things that other people have done.
And, I think Trump doesn't understand conspiracy law because he's saying, this isn't about me, basically. No collusion. But in fact, the way the law works is that if you knew that other people did things.
[11:10:08] And you in any way, you know, facilitated and knowing that that was going on, even if it is a small act, you know, you can be part of that conspiracy. And so, I think it is very interesting that even though what he's constantly -- these questions are constantly geared toward, you know, what did you know about Manafort, what did you know about Kushner's actions?
But that's important and that's exactly what a prosecutor, you know, wants to get at and know about his knowledge.
BOLDUAN: About the timing right now, Asha, I mean, there is 49 questions, these leak out now, the question, ahead of is Donald Trump going to sit down with Bob Mueller's team, will he face Bob Mueller. After seeing these questions published, do you think there is any chance that he will?
RANGAPPA: If his lawyers are smart, they will not let him sit for an interview. I think this covers so much ground, so much of it actually goes to not just what other people did, but his own tweets, his own interviews, his own words, his own actions, that can really get him into trouble because it is his own motive that will determine whether he obstructed justice.
You know, I think that we kind of don't really have a good place to go because if he doesn't sit down for the interview, then we start entering into unchartered constitutional territory where Mueller would have to issue a grand jury subpoena and then there might be a standoff and possible litigation. So, at this point anyone's call as you know --
BOLDUAN: It is just a shoulder shrug is how we're ending this one. Asha, Mimi, Shimon, thank you guys very much. I really appreciate it. A lot to dig through in what we've just learned.
Coming up, he says he didn't call the president an idiot, but reports indicate that Chief of Staff John Kelly isn't on great terms with his boss either. We'll get the very latest from the White House on the central relationship in the west wing.
Plus, the one letter with massive implications. Why a typo from the White House raised eyebrows around the world and could have dramatically changed the status of Iran's nuclear program if even for just a few minutes. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: I'm not unhinged, you're unhinged. That's the message from President Trump pushing back against reports that his Chief of Staff John Kelly called him unhinged after a meeting on Syria. According to NBC, called him an idiot after a meeting on immigration.
Donald Trump isn't the only one pushing back. John Kelly is as well. Answering reports of his name calling with more name calling, calling it total b.s.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White Bouse, she's no b.s. Kaitlan, what is happening there today?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, John Kelly coming out quickly and publicly to deny this report, shortly after it was published. He issued a statement, we don't often hear from John Kelly directly like this, but he did call this b.s.
He said that he spends more time with the president than anyone else and he said he always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total b.s. John Kelly said he's committed to the president and his agenda and the country and he said this is another pathetic attempt to smear the president.
But he's not just denying it publicly, Kate. We're also told he did so in a face to face meeting with President Trump in the oval office yesterday, saying that this report isn't true and though, CNN hasn't independently confirmed the idiot remark, we have reported that John Kelly has referred to the president as unhinged.
We know that the two of them, their relationship is not what it once was, it is quite deteriorated because of several reasons and that John Kelly is not involved in as many decisions as he was when he was first brought into this west wing.
But there is a difference here in this report, we reported the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the president as a moron, that was something Tillerson never denied. He never spoke to the president about explicitly to deny it, so certainly a difference here.
But, Kate, we both know this president is not someone who likes to be undermined, he doesn't like someone to question his intelligence. And hasn't publicly said anything specifically about John Kelly, no votes of confidence there yet.
BOLDUAN: Didn't he challenge Tillerson to an IQ test?
COLLINS: Yes, he did.
BOLDUAN: Three and a half years ago. Anyway, thanks, Kaitlan. Great to see you. Let's see what happens next. Let's bring in CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza, and CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" White House reporter, Josh Dawsey. Great to see you, guys.
Chris, this is -- on this episode, this has been a pretty forceful denial from both Donald Trump and John Kelly. What do you make of it?
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, so, I think, Kate, it is possible that maybe the word idiot wasn't used, but I don't think there is any dispute that John Kelly and Donald Trump are not what they once were. Obviously, John Kelly was touted by Donald Trump as bringing discipline, military man, better than what he viewed as an ineffectual Reince Priebus' chief of staff.
But I just think it is more evidence that Donald Trump is tough on the furniture, to use that idea, which is it is just hard to work for him. He doesn't really listen, he mostly does what he wants, he scape goats people, he says things that get out in front, you have to try to make policy around it.
It is just a very tough job. So, just Donald Trump is unhappy with John Kelly. My strong sense is that John Kelly is unhappy with Donald Trump and his style of management and leadership. I just don't -- whether you call him an idiot specifically or not, I don't see this lasting that much longer, that partnership.
BOLDUAN: You think Kelly is on his way out? You've been saying that for months?
CILIZZA: That is true. And John Kelly, by the way, has -- we have got reporting repeatedly, well, John Kelly threatened to resign or said he would resign and he didn't. Keep that -- I just think at some point here Donald Trump wears hard on people. I think, you know, six months is like six years with him.
[11:20:07] And I think that kind of timeline means that John Kelly is probably headed for the exits in the not too distant future.
BOLDUAN: Josh, you spoke with Kelly's deputy about all of this. What does he say about the fact that people around the president are going to the press with stuff like this.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think inside the White House there say clear realization that John Kelly does not have the support of his staff that he once had, one that he put around the Rob Porter episode when different people thought John Kelly gave conflicting stories about how he handled it.
His staff is not disputing that people are telling the press this, just saying he didn't say it. Rarely speaks on the record to any reporter and yesterday did a whole round of interviews. Also seemed according to my sources in the White House a realization that they don't really trust the press shop and others to defend Kelly as much.
So, (inaudible) his own personal aide to do it. The central argument was John Kelly is a Marine. He is someone who respects the president. Of course, there are moments of frustration, whether the two of them clash and screaming matches in the oval office.
But he respects the president and carries out the orders of the president and did not call him an idiot. We also have not confirmed he used the word idiot. We know he frequently gets frustrated with the president and spoken in divisive terms about him at times.
BOLDUAN: We have heard him talk like that, even in interviews.
DAWSEY: Yes, I think Josh's point is really important, which is no one is really disputing the fact that they have a contentious relationship. Now Kelly is saying we have an open and frank relationship and, sure, that sometimes means that we're going to clash, but that's good.
And the negative side of that is they have a contentious relationship and it is not -- creativity and positive things do not come from it. It is mostly negative. But I don't think anyone is disputing that, that Donald Trump and John Kelly, first of all, are radically different people.
I mean, their backgrounds couldn't be more different. The idea that they would get along perfectly makes very little sense based on what we know of human nature. No one is disputing that they clash.
The issue is, is it clashing that is cut right? Is it clashing that gets in the way of John Kelly doing his job effectively or is it something that just, you know, is part of the daily day of dealing with Donald Trump.
BOLDUAN: Josh, what about the -- what does this all do to the reporting that we see in the "Wall Street Journal" that Kelly is being considered to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs? What does this do to that?
DAWSEY: White House officials have pushed back hard on that possibility and are saying that he's not up to be a finalist for that job. The president as we reported, others have repeatedly musings about people, what about this person for that or this person for that. It is hard to know how serious he is.
Our reporting indicates that that is not a very likely possibility, but it could happen at 5:00 p.m. today too and, you know, that would be what it was. So really hard to know sometimes with these personnel decisions. The president as we have seen time and time again, different things and leaves everyone guessing.
BOLDUAN: I do wonder what Rex Tillerson is thinking today. The other official who may or may not have said something about Donald Trump behind closed doors, but never denied it when asked directly about it multiple times. Guys, great to see you. I would never call you a moron.
Coming up next, the president, the porn star, and the new lawsuit. Stormy Daniels slaps the president with a defamation suit, a stunt or a real case?
BOLDUAN: Stormy Daniels filing a new lawsuit, this time against the president himself instead of his personal attorney. Now claiming Donald Trump tried to ruin her reputation after she released a sketch last month of a man she says threatened her and her young daughter in 2011 to stay quiet about Donald Trump.
The president followed that sketch with this tweet, calling the man not existent and the whole thing a total con job. Does Stormy Daniels have a case here and what is this all about?
With me right now, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan is here with me. Paul, also to be clear, you have a lot of questions about Stormy Daniels' attorneys approach on this, strategy on this, why?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is an extraordinarily difficult defamation case. You know, suing somebody for defamation, that is for attacking your professional reputation or accusing you of being a criminal and damaging that reputation is very difficult.
Even a strong case is difficult. But here, because you're suing about the statement made by the president in that particular tweet, she's is going to have a real problem. Because number one, Stormy Daniels has made herself a public figure.
She's just like a politician now and there is a higher standard involved in cases involving politicians. You have to prove that the president said this with actual malice. The president also has a defense that because he is a political figure, the First Amendment might protect him because he views this as a political attack on him, not just like two ordinary citizens fighting about something.
So, I think because of those two things he's got a problem. The third and final thing is that if you look at the actual wording of the tweet, he says it was a total con job. But he doesn't mention who is doing the conning. Is it the attorney, is it the sketch artist, or is it Stormy Daniels? So, it is vague, the wording that is listed in the tweet. So, a lot of problems with the case.
BOLDUAN: I heard you also raise the issue of whether a jury would award Stormy Daniels damages in this case and you brought up her profession, working in the porn industry as a complicating factor. Michael Avenatti, he was asked about that this morning, and he responded. I want you to listen to this.