Return to Transcripts main page


Trump on Mueller Interview: Don't Want "Perjury Trial"; Obama Delivers Rare Rebuke of Trump in Midterm Plea; Lindsey Graham: Op-Ed Means No Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion; CNN: Sessions Realizes Tenure with Trump Won't End Well; Trump Wants A.G. Sessions to Investigate Op-Ed Author. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D), DELAWARE: -- if they're coming to the conclusion that they just can't put the president on the witness stand in front of Special Counsel Mueller or even have him provide written testimony, that suggests something that reinforces some of the more disturbing allegations in the recently released book by Bob Woodward that the president can't keep to a consistent line in describing the events of 2016 that are being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I don't know if you listened to the one-hour- plus speech that former President Barack Obama just delivered in Illinois, but he was really tough on the president. Point after point after point, going after him. This is really the first time he's delivered a campaign-type speech like this since leaving office. I wonder if you want to give us your reaction, if you think the former president was right in slamming the current president.

COONS: Well, Wolf, it's unfortunate that we're in a place where President Trump routinely personally and sharply critiques, criticizes attacks of former President Obama. And for much of the last 18 months, President Obama has largely remained off the political stage. This just highlights the extent to which the upcoming midterm elections in November will largely be all about President Trump. And I wish that we could have elections that really focus on the needs and the concerns of people in our states and our districts rather than having it all be about the contest between the current and former president. That's where I suspect this is going to head. It's my concern that we're veering away from what the average American wants us to do here in Congress and in the upcoming election, which is to focus on their concerns and their needs rather than what we've learned in the last year and a half, is that we've got a president who is really adept at making the day about him, day in and day out. My concern here, Wolf, is that President Obama may simply be feeding that dynamic where it is all about President Trump.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague from South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham, says he has a new theory on this article by this unnamed senior Trump administration official that was published in the "New York Times." Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This op-ed piece about the personality of the president, suggesting that he's unhinged and is uncapable of being a good president without being minded, tells me a lot about the Mueller investigation. This, to me, is a signal that if there's -- there's nothing there with Russia in terms of the president working with the Russians during his campaign. The next line of attack is the man is unfit for office, he's crazy.


BLITZER: What do you think of Senator Graham's theory?

COONS: Wolf, I don't quite get the point he's making. The implication seems to be that he believes that editorial in the "New York Times" was written and placed not by a senior administration official, who while loyal to Trump's agenda, has concerns about Trump's behavior, but instead that somehow it was created by the Mueller investigation. Look, I have a lot of respect for Senator Graham. We work together well on some important foreign policy issues and some legislative issues. But I'll have to go back and listen to that again. That strikes me and more conspiratorial than I'm used to hearing from my colleague from South Carolina.

The Mueller investigation has demonstrated that it's not a witch hunt, and it's not a group of unhinged Democrats. I'll remind you, Robert Mueller is a life-long Republican, a decorated Marine Corps veteran, and someone who's leading a team that has so far delivered felony convictions of the president's former campaign manager and a plea to a felony charges by the president's long-time personal lawyer. So I view the Mueller investigation as legitimate. And I think it should be left alone to reach its conclusion, whether that means there's or isn't compelling evidence of collusion.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have a lot more on this.

Senator Coons, I know you have a lot going on in the Senate right now. I'm going to let you go. Thank you so much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you.

[13:34:12] BLITZER: We're getting some new information right now on the future of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. We're going to update you on that.

And will President Trump respond directly to former President Obama? The current president getting ready to speak live. You're looking at live pictures.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: The attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, may be embracing the reality that his relationship with President Trump probably will not end well.

I want to go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, you're getting new information. What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. As the president is calling on Jeff Sessions to investigate this anonymous White House staffer that criticized him, this comes as Jeff Sessions is telling people that he realizes his relationship with President Trump is not going to end well one way or the other. Of course, you noticed last year when President Trump first started attacking him, Jeff Sessions kept his head down, kept doing his work at the Justice Department, and later on as those attacks continued and got worse, he started pushing back a little against President Trump. But now, Wolf, in recent weeks the attorney general is readily conceding to people that his relationship with President Trump has sunk even lower in the last few weeks. He's even taking to joking to people, Wolf, that he checks out the president's Twitter feed to see what his job status truly is.

Now with the president calling on the Justice Department to act at his political will, as he did as far as those indictments of those two Republican Congressmen go, President Trump criticizing Jeff Sessions for bringing those indictments, now Jeff Sessions is telling people that he is prepared for whatever the outcome is going to be with President Trump, even, Wolf, if that includes President Trump firing him.

[13:40:14] BLITZER: Good reporting, Kaitlan. Thank you very much.

Let's get some analysis.

Carrie Cordero, you're our legal analyst, used to work in the Justice Department on national security issues.

The president of the United States is now telling Sessions, I want to know who wrote that article in the "New York Times," because potentially legal action, national security issues are at stake.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I read the op-ed several times. I can't see anything in it that actually would have a national security justification for any kind of legitimate investigation to be conducted. The attorney general has withstood tremendous pressure from the president to conduct investigations not based on actual information that normally would justify an investigation. And in this case, there just is nothing apparent that would justify the FBI actually opening an investigation under their guidelines. They have rules they have to follow before they start investigating anybody. And so really, it's another instance of the attorney general probably having to withstand this political pressure that the president places on him because there's just no -- it might be unpleasant for the White House, it might mean there's a person who White House officials might not feel trust in that individual, whoever they are, but there doesn't appear to be any national security reason for the FBI or Justice Department to get involved.

BLITZER: And it's amazing, David, how this president, not just over a few days or a few weeks, but for a year, maybe even longer has gone after, humiliated, berated, attacked publicly the attorney general that he named, the first U.S. Senator that endorsed him, making him look, you know, awful. This is -- I've covered Washington for a long time. I don't think I've ever seen a cabinet member attacked by a sitting president along these lines.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's unbelievable what he's done, and particularly when the attorney general is supposed to have some independence from the administration, whereas this president in a kind of caricature of what a president is supposed to be wakes up with a to-do list for Jeff Sessions of all the things he ought to be investigating. As President Obama said in the last hour, you know, you don't use an attorney general or a Justice Department as a cudgel against your enemies. And that's what the president would like him to do. The unforgiveable sin in the president's book is Sessions recusing himself and allowing this Mueller investigation to do forward.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so if you just track the history of this, if you follow the president's words and his tweets, Jeff Sessions was supposed to get Robert Mueller off his back, put Hillary Clinton in jail, back off two Republican congressmen, who, if you read those indictments against Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter -- they're innocent until proven guilty -- but it you read those indictments, wow, is it stunning, brazen, horrible corruption, if they are guilty. And now investigate the leaker.

To David's point, and you heard former President Obama saying this is not normal, it is just not normal, whether you're a democrat, a Republican, an independent, not sure what you are in politics. It's not normal for a president of the United States to tell the Justice Department what to do and what not to do. Is he involved on sentencing, drug policy, on prison reform? Sure. But on picking and choosing, put my opponents in jail, go easy on people who like me? That's not the way it's supposed to work, period.

BLITZER: And it's not normal, Abby, for a president of the United States to accuse someone. He obviously is not happy this senior official attacked him the way he did. But accused this individual of treason, which is a specific legal charge that carries with it potentially the death sentence.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and he's accused a lot of people of treason. To my knowledge, none of those people have done anything that would qualify as that. According to Woodward, he actually considered Gary Cohn's threat to quit treason. This is a president who uses that word pretty flippantly.

But it's also worth pointing out that whoever this person is that wrote this op-ed didn't, to my knowledge, leak anything. There was nothing of real substance in this op-ed. There was no sensitive national security information. There were some opinions about the president's temperament he didn't like, but now President Trump is saying, I want Jeff Sessions to investigate this person, and this is one of the reasons why I'm concerned about security clearances. This is a president who keeps mixing up issues that are really unrelated to each other, in part, because he doesn't seem to understand the foundations of some of these things. This is not necessarily leaking. This does not necessarily have to do with someone's security clearance. And this is no place, apparently, for the Justice Department to weigh in.

KING: As he keeps attacking a book and an op-ed that say he's erratic and doesn't understand how things work in Washington, he keeps being erratic and showing he doesn't know how things work in Washington.

[13:45:01] GREGORY: It is interesting that just as former President Obama attacked Republican leaders for not standing up to the administration, how about the attorney general of the United States. His first supporter in this as a Senator, someone who's roundly criticized on the left for other policy positions and general ideological views, has stood by the integrity of what it means to be the attorney general in the Justice Department. I would be surprised if he went anywhere before the Mueller investigation is done because he wants to protect the integrity of that investigation.

BLITZER: You know, I want to take a quick break.

We're getting a lot of reaction to former President Obama's speech. He spoke for more than an hour, didn't mince any words. He went after President Trump on point after point after point. And we're standing by to hear now from President Trump. He's getting ready to deliver a speech. You're looking at live pictures from Fargo, North Dakota. We'll have coverage of that.

Much more on all the breaking news right after this.


[13:50:35] BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by to hear from President Trump. We'll see if he reacts to the strong condemnation that former President Obama just delivered in a more than one-hour speech. Looking at live pictures from Fargo where the current president is about to speak. We'll, of course, have coverage of that.

But there's a lot of breaking news unfolding right now.

I want to get some serious analysis. Once again, Carrie Cordero is still with us. Also joining us is Norm Eisen. He's a CNN contributor, former special assistant on ethics under President Obama, and he is also author of a wonderful new book entitled "The Last Palace, Europe's Turbulent Century and Five Lives and One Legendary House."

Norm, let me start with you.

We'll get to the book in a moment, but I want to get your thoughts on now the president is suggesting questions of obstruction of justice, perjury. That won't be on the table if Robert Mueller does want to question him on those issues maybe in a direct interview or everybody written form.

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I've been on the record for months in the "New York Times," the president is never going to answer questions about obstruction of justice. There's overwhelmingly substantial evidence of a violation there. And he is trapped between, on the one hand, telling the truth and stumbling in, helping build the obstruction case, or lying and establishing perjury. Having worked with and against Bob, you can see the walls closing in on the president from all directions. But he would only make his situation worse. John Dowd was right to walk out when the president wanted to testify. And we're in a sad situation though when the president of the United States cannot honestly answer questions without admitting to a crime or lie and commit perjury.

BLITZER: Because what Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, is suggesting, maybe he will answer some questions in written form on what happened during the campaign, allegations of collusion or conspiracy with the Russians for example. Maybe he will answer some written questions on that. But he certainly is not going to do an interview on anything that has happened since taking office, since that would violate protocol.

CORDERO: Well, first of all, I still can't think of any good reason that the special counsel's office would want to accept written answers from the president if they have specific questions to ask him because obviously the lawyers will write those and the special counsel's office would know that.

BLITZER: They point to the precedent of Ronald Reagan when he was asked for answers during Iran/Contra by independent counsel, he did it in written. It was accepted then.

CORDERO: They can use that as an example, but given the different things that are an issue in this particular investigation, and obstruction being the aspect of that investigation, that is most closely tied to the president's intent. I mean, the key aspect of that is what he intended to do through a variety of activities that he took throughout his presidency and whether or not he was trying to shut down or derail different parts of the investigation.

BLITZER: What do you think of the president's call today for the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch a formal investigation into who wrote that op-ed in the "New York Times"?

EISEN: Wolf, I have a new op-ed up on CNN talking about this. There's no crime. As Carrie said earlier, in a democracy you do not sick the attorney general on your political adversaries and the media especially in the absence of a crime. So I think it is outrageous. Frankly, it goes to the First Amendment because this is a form of government retaliation against speech.

BLITZER: Tell us about the new book, "The Last Palace."

EISEN: When I was sent to Prague as our ambassador, Wolf, I looked under a beautiful antique table in the magnificent house where the U.S. ambassador lives in Prague, and I discovered a swastika. And that discovery under the table for me, as the child of a Czechoslovak Holocaust survivor, kindled in me a curiosity to discover what happened in this magnificent house where the ambassador lives. "The Last Palace" is the result. It tells the story of five people, four of whom preceded me in that house, its Jewish builder, a Nazi general, an American Cold War ambassador, and another American ambassador who ended the Cold War, helped, Shirley Temple Black.

[13:55:02] BLITZER: And there are lessons in this book that all of us still need to learn today.

EISEN: We're in a moment -- over and over again, my protagonist fought for democracy. Even the German general turned on the S.S. at the end of the war and invited Patton to Prague. What we're seeing in these weeks is this same trajectory. The fight for democracy now unfolding in the United States and the struggle between Trump's autocracy and illiberalism and the mechanisms of American democracy. By the way, anonymous is one. I think anonymous is a hero, as I explain in my op-ed --

BLITZER: And let me put the book jacket up on the screen once again. The book is entitled "The Last Palace, Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House."

Congratulations on writing this book.

Norm, thank you very much.

EISEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carrie, thank you to you as well.

The president of the United States getting ready to speak any moment now after former President Obama's very, very tough criticism of his policies, his posture, his statements. We'll have a special coverage. It will continue right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[13:59:51] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are ware watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. Thanks for being with me.

As I begin, I want you to keep this in mind. President Trump and his predecessor have not spoken a single time since the inauguration. Not once. And yet, some eight weeks away from the midterms, today, both are publicly making their case for the future of America. In --