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tv   CNN Newsroom With Brooke Baldwin  CNN  May 18, 2017 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT

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incidents, everything from hurricane sandy and matthew to the boston marathon bombing to the ebola and long lines at tsa checkpoints at the airport. and what i really had to do, though, throughout my job was build relationships with elected officials, with policy makers on both sides of the aisle. and that meant that, you know, we had to work as well with texas governor abbott as we did with new york governor cuomo. they were equally important to us. >> sure. i've got you. forgive me, we need to start the next hour. >> sure. yeah. >> i hear you and understand exactly the scope of your job, how you feel, how you hope he doesn't get your job. we'll all wait and see what the secretary of homeland security said. phil mcnamara, thank you. >> thank you so much, brooke.
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all right. here we are continuing on. you're watching cnn. i'm brooke baldwin. two major live events happening this hour. one, live pictures there at the west wing. the president will speak from the white house for the very first time since news broke. the special counsel will now investigate whether his campaign had ties to russia. so we're watching and waiting for that. he's doing that with the colombian president. meantime, up on capitol hill, you can see the microphones set up. we're hoping to hear from some of the senators. the man who appointed robert mueller is the deputy attorney general rod rosenstein and he is briefing all 100 senators in a closed-door meeting as i speak. and he is expected to reveal what he knows about why president trump fired former fbi director james comey. but first, let's get to more breaking news because sources are telling cnn that former senator joe lieberman is the front-runner to replace comey as
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fbi director. let's begin there with our senior white house correspondent jeff zeleny and phil mattingly on capitol hill. jeff zeleny, first to you, what are we hearing from these senior administration sources on the president's thoughts on senator lieberman. >> brooke, we know that the president would like to name an fbi director before he leaves washington which is exactly in 24 hours or so. so we are learning from several sources that joe lieberman is right now, at the moment at least, the leading contender this position. it was less than 24 hours ago, just at the end of the day yesterday, where senator lieberman was here at the white house having an interview. his first and only interview with the president on this. and mr. lieberman said that this came out of the blue. he was somewhat shocked to be approached about this but indeed he was. so look, this is someone who, if nominated, would likely be
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confirmed because of his long relationship with senators on both sides of the aisle. but it is interesting to point out the president said he wants to get this done but he wanted initially to name john cornyn, the number two republican in the senate. manu raju and i reported this yesterday that this was the president's top choice for this. so senator lieberman would be sort of the second but that does not, you know, discount this at all. the president is eager to get this done. now with a special counsel hanging over us, it changing everything in terms of the fbi, the russia investigation, et cetera. but expect the president to be asked about this this afternoon when he has that news conference in a short time in the east room. >> we'll listen in live at this hour. on the other side of constitution avenue, we have you, phil, covering this rod rosenstein closed-door meeting. what are some of the questions? he'll be talking to the full
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senate. what are some of the questions that you think will be asked of him today? >> brooke, you hit on the key element. senators -- and this isn't a democrat thing. it's a bipartisan thing. senators want answers as to what led up to the comey firing. there was a three-page letter as to why james comey should be fired. he didn't necessarily recommend that. that was the memo that was cited for the rationale of his firing. and then you have the president come out a day later and say i was going to fire him the entire time. was the white house influence experted on that process? why did that occur? and just in the last hour or so, when rod rosenstein walked in, he did not respond to questions that were shouted at him. he's not expected to speak to members of the press at all.
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they want to make sure that robert mueller who is respected on a bipartisan basis will have the autonomy he needs to conduct himself in that way and they want to make sure that because this is more or less housed inside the justice department that nobody from the trump administration will have oversight on that. that's something i have picked up as a key question and commitment that they want answers to at this briefing. but i do think, as we've all been paying attention to bombshell after bombshell after bombshell, how the comey firing happened and what the white house and president's role is in it. >> we know there are questions that will be asked of the president. we just saw the colombian president arrive with president trump welcoming him. so as jeff mentioned, that news conference will happen and they will get some questions. we'll wait and see if any of those pressing questions are asked of president trump. let's have a bigger
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conversation about all of the above today. i have the founding director of the nixon presidential library and museum with me. also, carl bernstein of the fame woodward and bernstein who broke open the watergate story for "the washington post." carl, let me begin with you. it sounds like senator joe lieberman could be the pick for the fbi director. your thoughts? >> well, i think it's possible to be a bit cynical about the choice for the following reasons. lieberman is someone that trump likes. jeff sessions likes joe lieberman. they know each other. he comes from a law firm that has done work for the president of the united states in his private life. it's clear that this president wants to hold on to as much influence and control and affect the investigation to whatever
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degree that he can. there has been a coverup that's been going on. doesn't mean he's obstructed justice but there's no question that there's been a coverup going on in which the president of the united states has tried to impede, obstruct, demean a legitimate investigation. and now i cannot imagine he doesn't want to continue to have whatever influence and contact with the investigation he possibly can. and perhaps he is thinking and sessions is thinking that at least with joe lieberman, it's a somewhat friendly figure who would be the head of the fbi. but also he has a really distinguished record. when he was a democrat, another reason i think he's viewed favorably by the white house, he did become an independent and moved away from the democratic party but i also don't want to
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be too cynical about this because i cannot imagine that lieberman, if he were in that job, would not take it seriously and go for the letter of the law and spirit of the law and particularly with robert mueller as the head of the investigation, as the special counsel. and what has really happened here is that rod rosenstein has thrown a monkey wrench into this coverup and into the ability of the trump white house to stonewall and put impediments into the investigation. >> let me get to that monkey wrench in a second. but carl, i want your two cents because lieberman was a democrat. that's great for bipartisan support. but listen, the president needs to shore up support in his own party. it doesn't hurt that he's close friend with the likes of senators mccain and graham? >> i learned a long time ago never to second guess carl bernstein's political instincts. >> smart man.
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>> but one of the things we've seen where a white house has done that and the assumption was this southern democrat, he's not going to ask this question but he did. >> i don't know senator lieberman, a man who wanted to be vice president of the united states came very close to being vice president of the united states would have the bigger picture in mind and see the opportunity to be remembered for getting to the bottom of a scandal that isn't just -- a domestic scandal but with international implications. you get lieberman, a man with respect on both sides of the aisle, you combine that with mueller and you have the likely scenario for a deep, serious investigation of the russia hacking and possible collusion scandal. >> point taken. carl, back to your monkey wrench point. rod rosenstein, deputy attorney
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general, behind closed doors right now answering questions with the full u.s. senate he is also the reason why the president is irked today because he appointed bob mueller as this special counsel. the president has responded. we can throw the tweet out. there were two tweets. one from the president saying that this is a massive political witch hunt. how sure are you that the president will comply with this investigation? >> i think it's a question of whether the president of the united states has the ability to understand what is really going on around him. one of the things that we've seen from hearings on capitol hill, there's real questions among some of them about his fitness to be president of the united states. that these tweets, including the one from today, are indicative of the lack of understanding about what the office of the presidency is, about our
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history, about what the witch hunts in this country have really been about: the president of the united states has shown himself to be of a singular out of sync in this office. that's what is striking more and more republicans as they watch his handling of these events. the question of collusion with the russians -- and i think tim's analysis, incidentally, about lieberman is absolutely very smart and particularly as well because lieberman has shown such disdain for the soviet union and the russians. he has a great understanding of their playing in world politics and their desire to destabilize
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the united states and what we've seen is the president himself dismisses the unanimous view of the community that the russians really seriously tried to destabilize our elections. he gives lip service to it every now and then and then goes back to being a victim as he expressed himself in his tweet today. so we have two things happening time tan yously. what mueller is going to do is follow the law and see whether or not the president and those around him have colluded with the russians but more than that he's going to take a look at the trump finances, the trump family finances, organization finances because so much of that is related to russian money, according to trump's own sons. and according to the money that
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other investigators have followed. >> you said the president feels like a victim and he does, delving into the tweets. that these are self-inflikcted wounds. we've been talking a lot about watergate but let's bring up whitewater. it started as this land purchase in arkansas that mushroomed into what we now know as the monica lewinsky scandal. >> right. >> is this something at the back of president trump's head and he's thinking that's what happened there. maybe this is part of the reason he's tweeting the way he is. >> but he tweeted that there wasn't a special counsel during the clinton period and he completely forgot that the clinton administration was one long investigation. i think -- to the extent that any of us could get into the ba being or even the front of the president's head or mine, i would suspect that the president realizes that this sleelection
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robert mueller is a big problem for him because this is not someone that is going to respond to his charms. this man's reputation rests on the fact that he follows data wherever it goes. >> okay. gentlemen, we've got to break away from both of you. hang on, carl. forgive me. i never like to cut you off. but i've got -- there will be indeed. i've got breaking news. wolf blitzer is now standing in front of the camera, i'm told, because he's just met with the president of the united states. there you are at the white house. wolf, what did he share? >> we had an extensive luncheon with the president but one part of that exchange that we had with the president dealt with his reaction to this decision for a special counsel, former fbi director robert mueller, to take change of the entire russia investigation and related aspects of that and the president did offer us an on the record off camera statement
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about that, how worried he is about this decision because he believes it hurts america. let me read to you the entire statement. this is on the record from the president of the united states about this appointment of a special counsel. "i believe it hurts our country terribly because it shows we're a divided, mixed up, not unified country. and we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it's trade deals, whether it's military, whether it's stopping nuclear, all of the things that we discussed today and i think this shows a very divided country." the president then said this, "it also happens to be a pure excuse for the democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the electoral college being slanted so much in their way. that's all this is. i think it shows division. and it shows that we're not together as a country and i
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think it's a very, very negative thing and hopefully this can go quickly because we have to show unity if we're going to do great things with respect to the rest of the world." that on the record statement at length giving us his reaction, a very angry reaction to this decision, which clearly took him by surprise, to go ahead with a special counsel named by the deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. that's his reaction. a very strong reaction. he says, i believe it hurts our country terribly because it shows we're divided, mixed up, not unified country." that statement, brooke, from the president of the united states. >> wow. so it takes you back to the election and says it's an excuse for the democrats having lost and says that the special counsel hurts the country. what else, wolf? what else can you share about this meeting? >> well, you know, most of the meeting was on background and a
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lot of it was what we call off the record. i've been coming to the white house for meetings like this, luncheons with presidents of the united states for many years and very often they feel much more comfortable speaking either off the record with network anchors or on background. this is significant. the first stop on his trip -- he leaves tomorrow for saudi arabia. we did learn from u.s. officials during the luncheon that an important agreement will be signed with saudi arabia. that's the first stop on the trip. it calls for the saudis over the next ten years to purchase $350 billion worth of u.s. military equipment over the next year alone, 109 -- >> excuse me, wolf. let me go to lindsey graham out of this rosenstein hearing. >> it's now considered a criminal investigation and congress' ability to conduct
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investigations of all things, russia has been severely limited. probably in an appropriate fashion so i think a lot of members want the special counsel to be appointed but don't understand that it's -- you're pretty well knocked out of the game. and that's probably the way it should be. it was a counterintelligence investigation before now. it seems to me now to be a criminal investigation and what does that mean for the congress? i find it hard to subpoena records of somebody like mr. flynn who may be subject to a criminal investigation because he has a right not to incriminate himself. as to mr. comey, the former director of the fbi coming before the committee, if i were mr. mueller, i would jealously guard the witness pool. so one of the big losers in this decision is the public. we had a really good hearing with yates and clapper where the public could hear what happened.
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i think that opportunity has been lost. maybe for the greater good, but there are a lot of people in that room who are shocked that when a special counsel has been appointed, that congress has limitations on what we can do. so i've always believed that a count counterintelligence investigation did not need a counsel. a criminal investigation might. the deputy attorney general decided to appoint a special counsel and one of the results of that, the ability of congress to call people who may be witnesses in an investigation conducted by mr. mueller is going to restrict what we do. >> can you confirm that it's now a criminal investigation? >> i never got to ask my question specifically about that, but the takeaway i have is that everything he said was that you need to treat this investigation as if it may be a criminal investigation. so i think the biggest legal change seems to be that mr.
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mueller is going to proceed forward with the idea of a criminal investigation versus a counterintelligence investigation. there was no facts laid out as to why you would change that but appointing a special counsel has created a dynamic for congress that's going to have to be very leery of crossing into mr. mueller's lane. >> the judiciary committee won't be able to get moemos required yesterday? >> i think mr. mueller will tell us what we can get and not get. >> while you're inside, you may not have heard that joe lieberman's name has emerged as a top contender. what's your reaction to that? >> good choice. one of the winners of the new fbi director because they don't have to deal with this. i think joe lieberman is a pillar of credibility and he'd be a good choice. now the fbi director does not have to worry about an investigation of over the man
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who appointed him. >> senator, did you -- >> it hurts our country terribly. >> he's entitled to his opinion. i would suggest to the president that one has been appointed. honor that decision, cooperate where is appropriate. fight back when you have legal ability to do so. i've been through this once before with the clinton administration. clinton hired an independent lawyer to deal with all things related to ken starr so the white house could conduct its business. i would focus on defending the nation and trying to get the legislative agenda through the congress. one of the side benefits of this is that now congress has been sidelined, not completely but pretty much. we can go back to dealing with legislative matters that affected the american people. the bottom line is, the president may not have liked this decision that was made. i have questions about it, i honor it. i think most people in that
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meeting are generally okay with the idea of a special counsel. but what they don't quite understand yet is that this dehas really limited to what congress can do. i find it hard, i would be reluctant to subpoena someone or a document in their possession if i truly believe they may be subject to a criminal investigation. that's not fair to them. >> did you get a satisfactory explanation from rosenstein about why comey was fired? >> i think mr. rosenstein viewed the whole process as something mr. mueller will speak on, not him. >> are you satisfied with the answers you received about the firing of former fbi director comey? >> mr. rosenstein talked about why he voted -- wrote the memo, the fact that he briefed that what the fbi director did in june was inappropriate, that he stepped out of his lane. >> was he tasked to write that memo? >> he did not. i'll let you ask him that question. now that we have a special counsel about all things related to the process of the memo, i think you'll need to talk to mr.
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mueller about. i've got to go. >> thank you very much. >> senator lindsey graham with lots of questions. there's been a closed-door meeting with rod rosenstein, the person who appointed the former fbi director robert mueller to be the special counsel in this russia probe and so carl bernstein, tim natali, you guys are still with me. the headline out of that, carl, is that senator graham says it seems no longer will this probe be seen as counterintelligence but as a criminal investigation. that seems significant to me. your take? >> i think that's absolutely right that the gravity of the criminal investigation has taken precedence over a public -- more public investigation by the congress of the united states. but i think we ought to look at this in terms of what the president of the united states
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said to the anchors, including wolf blitzer, which was extraordinary. that looking at a legitimate investigation as evidence of a divided country and a kind of sadness without, once again, taking into consideration what apparently has occurred with the russians and their attempt to destabilize american elections and whether people around president trump or president trump himself was involved which is partly what this criminal investigation is going to be about. but an important part here about both mother a both mueller and lieberman, we spoke about the whitewater case that led to monica lewinsky. one thing about mueller, you have an understanding of how some special prosecutors abused their authority. i don't think there's a chance in hell that he will do that with a fishing expedition, nor
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would joe lieberman go there. yes, we'll see him perhaps look at donald trump's finances and do forensics on his business ties and whether something might have to do with something that happened with the russians. yes. but is he going to allow this thing to go all kinds of latitude that is nothing but inappropriate fishing? not going to happen. the facts are as he maintains and there's no there there. >> again, is we're waiting to hear from u.s. senators as rosenstein testimony has been going on in front of the full u.s. senate. senator lindsey graham, a republican there, just basically saying it appears to him that this probe is now a criminal investigation. here's more senators. let's listen. >> concerning comey's dismissal
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because he's anxious to give wide latitude to robert mueller to determine where this investigation should go and what it should include. as a former prosecutor, i respect that decision. he did acknowledge that he learned that comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo. >> can you say that again? >> he knew that comey was going to be removed prior to comey writing his memo. >> i'm somebody who has spent a lot of time in law enforcement and this is a moment where we need a law enforcement professional who has never campaigned for a presidential candidate, never campaigned for office, never worn a party label to head the fbi. >> what is your takeaway of what his recommendation was going to be? >> well, i think the facts speak for themselves. i'm going to not comment any further because we still don't
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have all of the facts. we don't have the documents. we don't have sworn testimony. but he was very careful about not going into any details surrounding the removal because he wants to give robert mueller the opportunity to make his independent decision as to where the investigation is going to go. >> what about the congressional investigations? >> there were a lot of questions about him cooperating with the congressional investigations with the caveat that he's no longer in charge and wants to give robert mueller the opportunity to deconflict with those conducting the investigations. i think he generally, obviously, expressed a desire to cooperate with congressional investigations. >> senator lindsey graham has just told us, based on the briefing, that this investigation has crossed some important thresholds from a ci case to a criminal case and may limit congress' ability to get evidence and bring in witnesses to testify. >> well, lindsey a former prosecutor, also, and i'll let his comments speak for themselves.
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what i sense from him was an overarching desire to make sure robert mueller had complete discretion to take the investigation where he thought it needed to go. >> thank you. >> so another major piece of news there from senator claire mccaskill saying to reporters that rod rosenstein told these senators in these closed-door meetings that he learned that the then fbi director james comey would be removed prior to rosenstein's writing the letter to recommend the removal. all right. so carl bernstein, how does that jive with what we've heard from the white house and then later we heard from president trump in the interview with lester holt on nbc saying i didn't listen to anyone's recommendation, i wanted to do this for quite a while. >> i think it's been evident for quite some time that jeff sessions wanted to use rose sen
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someti rosenstein and as we now see with mueller's investigation and the decision itself to fire comey could be part of an investigation into whether the president of the united states obstructed justice. we don't know that's the case but it's certainly something that may be suggested in all of this and we know from some things that have been said by rosenstein in private to people on capitol hill, that he felt used and abused by what happened in his letter being used to justify what had already occurred. in other words, that he was hung out to dry, perhaps, by the president of the united states and jeff sessions. let me say one other thing. flares a possibility -- and i don't want to suggest that i know this is the case but
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certainly there is the possibility that jeff sessions could be one of those who is being looked at or may be looked at as part of this criminal investigation. it doesn't mean he's done anything illegal. or that he's the focus of anything. but he was the head of national security matters for the trump campaign. and that may or may not figure in part of the fbi's investigation and we should keep it in mind. i don't want to task any apersions only to say that it's relevant and one of the reasons he should have recused himself even earlier than he did. >> tim natali, you're listening to this important conversation and as graham said that he feels this has crossed the threshold into a flat-out criminal probe. >> let's parse that a little bit. if it was just a counterintelligence investigation, it would be an investigation of the russian covert action to undermine our democracy in 2016. if it's become a criminal
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investigation, it means that there is reasonable -- there's a reason to suspect collusion by americans. you're not going to pursue a criminal investigation against russian intelligence officers. if you have a criminal investigation, there's probable cause of suspecting collusion and they may be looking into obstruction of justice. the stakes have just gotten much, much higher for the trump administration. >> forgive me. carl roy is joining me, former assistant deputy general and knows both rosenstein and muller. rory, your response here to these two senators coming out of this meeting with mr. rosenstein and saying that it appears to be a criminal investigation territory and, b, it appears that rosenstein wrote the letter recommending the firing of comey after he had learned he would be
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removed. >> well, i want to go back and correct one thing. he did not recommend that comey be fired. in fact, this letter said very clearly that the decision to fire the fbi director should be taken with great care and study and thoughtfulness and he refrained from recommending it. >> but didn't he recommend new leadership in the letter. >> well, what he said was we need an fbi director that has the attention and command and respect of everybody. it turns out, comey had that respect. i think what rod wrote in that letter is what he really believes and i've known him for many years, as i've known bob mueller, they are people with deep integrity and independence. a lot of people believe comey did not handle all of the public appearances that he made traditionally with regulations. rosenstein was very careful to say this should be done thoughtfully and maybe we need new leadership and, president, that's your decision. >> but carl bernstein said it
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himself, that this almost furthers the proof that rod rosenstein was more or less the window dressing to the president's desires to oust jim comey. >> we're probably going to get a fresh start at the fbi and the selection of bob mueller indicates where rod's feelings are here. bob mueller was director of the fbi for 12 years. he's a long-time, experienced special prosecutor. he has the respect of the fbi as a special counsel and so i think rod selected somebody who, frankly, comey replaced bob mueller and a lot of people thought they were the same person. so i don't think the president bought himself any special loyalty by firing jim comey. >> can you talk, rory, to me about the relationship between bob mueller and jim comey?
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we know that comey was deputy attorney general when mueller was the top brass at the fbi. they were both involved in the ashcroft hospital room scenario and knowing that at least mr. mueller, what do you think the likelihood is of mr. comey testifying? >> well, in the special counsel investigation, as to whether he'll testify in congress, my guess is he will testify in congress if he is still invited but i don't think you'll see jim comey take the fifth amendment or anything like that. all of these things go back to david margolis in a sense was the friend that links all of these people. they are all special, long-time career public servants who have always put the interest of the
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american people and justice system ahead of a political party. in that sense, i think comey will do what he thinks is right and i think mueller will do what he thinks is right. i don't think you're going to see any -- >> here is senator marco rubio. >> all of those are in the hands of director mueller. he is widely respected and he'll conduct a fair and thorough investigation. i have full confidence in the counterintelligence side of the matters. >> based on the briefing, senator, is it your belief that this has crossed a threshold from a counterintelligence situation that typically does not result in criminal charges to a criminal matter and that will impede congress' ability to call witnesses and obtain evidence? >> i can't comment on the
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justice department's efforts. it's now in the hands of a special counsel who i have full confidence in. the counterintelligence matter goes forward. i hope they won't be in conflict with one another and i don't believe they need to be. >> is it your understanding that rosenstein knew that he was going to be fired before he wrote the memo? >> i'm not sure he said that with clarity. >> is an acceptable nomination of lieberman for you? >> i think he can do a fine job. ultimately, that's the president's decision to make. >> appointing a special counsel, the president says, hurts our country terribly. is that an assessment that you agree with? >> we're a nation of law. we're going to follow the laws. everyone should fully cooperate so they can conduct their work and put forth an investigation that is fair. >> the president also called
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this a witch hunt. >> we're a nation of laws. >> does that hurt the process? >> the president is entitled to his opinion. that's not a criticism of the president. that's a reality that our institutions work. the acting attorney general has the authority to appoint a special counsel and has done so and in that -- the acting attorney general in the fact that he's refused on russia matters and in that capacity, he has appointed a special counselor, a person of high esteem who i have tremendous respect for. i have full confidence that he will conduct a full, independent and fair investigation. the senate will be doing its work on its aspects in this matter. everyone should fully cooperate with both. >> based on what you heard today, are you more comfortable or less comfortable with what has transpired in the last week? >> i don't know if it's a level of comfort. we are a nation of law and we have institutions irrespective of our politics or people's
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political views. those laws and rules will be followed. that's what is happening here now. there is a special counsel who i believe will conduct a fair and thorough investigation that will establish facts and lead us to the truth, wherever that may be. i have full confidence that they are continuing to conduct its investigation on the counterintelligence aspects of russia interference and everyone should fully cooperate with both. >> that's outside the purview of what we're here to talk about. >> what do you know about the comey memo? >> again, he's very careful in everything he said, very limited in what he said because, as he said, didn't want us to come out here and tell you. so, look, i understand the desire of those in the justice department to ensure that no american is streettreated unfai. i understand that congress has an important role to play both in oversight and constitutional authority and that should not be impeded and hopefully there will
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not be conflict between the two roles and there should not be. i really have to go. >> all right. so we're hearing from the different members of the u.s. senate. we're about to hear from the president of the united states standing alongside from the president of colombia at the white house. so for that, let's go to my colleague jake tapper who is standing by live in washington. jake? >> good afternoon. i'm jake tapper. at any moment we'll hear from president trump in a news conference with the colombian president santos. there's been a cascade of revelations about his conduct and russia investigation including quite consequential decision by the attorney general to appoint robert mueller as special counsel to head the investigation into any possible collusion between the trump campaign and the russian government. at the very least, that decision ensures that questions about
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russia will continue to dog the president for months to come. now, just moments ago, president trump told some journalists, including myself, that the appointment of a special counsel is, quote, a very, very negative thing. he said, quote, i believe it hurts our country terribly because it shows we're a divided, mixed up, not unified country and it happens to be a pure excuse for the democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the electoral college being slanted so much in their way. that's all this is. that's after tweeting this morning, "this is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in american history." president trump says he is making progress on replacing james comey, the fbi director, with a new fbi director. a source telling cnn that the front-runner is former senator and vice presidential candidate joe lieberman. that's not all. the president also may face questions about a "new york times" report that even before michael flynn officially became
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trump's first national security adviser, he informed the white house that he was under investigation for having improperly lobbied for the government of turkey but the white house kept him on anyway. a decision that a lot ofeven republicans are questioning today across the way on capitol hill investigators are not letting up on their inquiries. rod rosenstein just briefed senators about his role in the fires of fbi director james comey and cnn's sunlen serfaty is joining me now from the capitol. senators are coming out from this meeting, this closed meeting with the deputy attorney general. what are we learning from them? >> reporter: well, certainly some details are starting to trickle out that senators are coming out of that classified meeting. we just heard from senator claire mccaskill. she said during -- sorry. right now we're listening to another senator. >> gained a lot of support from his decision last night to appoint bob mueller as the
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special counsel when it comes to this investigation of the russian interference in our election and any involvement by the trump campaign. mueller is widely respected. he is smart. he's principled. most of us who know him and have worked with him for years believe he will always put the country first. that's critical for credibility. mr. rosenstein answered a lot of questions today but also deklaind declined to answer a lot as well because of his concern to interfere with the investigation by director mueller. we left with more information but not all of the information that we were seeking. >> based on what you heard today, sir, do you believe that the deputy attorney general knew before he wrote that memo that james comey was going to be fired? >> yes. >> what was it that he said that led you to -- >> he knew it the day before. >> was he pressured into writing that letter? >> no. >> we heard from senator graham
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who said, based on the briefing, this has crossed from a counterintelligence investigation to a criminal investigation. is that also your assessment? >> that's the ultimate responsibility of director mueller to determine whether any law has been broken and crimes have been committed. we have to leave it to him and i trust him. i want to make that extremely clear. i thought deputy attorney general rosenstein faced a very stark decision. he could either appoint someone with the stature of director mueller or resign to protect his own credibility as a professional prosecutor. he made the right decision in appointing mueller. mueller now has the job of deciding whether laws were broken. >> i'm sorry? >> did he explain why he decided to appoint a special prosecutor? >> yes, he did. to make sure that the integrity of the department of justice was protected and make certain that the american people felt this was going to be handled fairly
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and justly. >> did he say how he knew that he was going to fire him before the memo? >> he didn't say that. other than that may 8th he learned. >> does this take a back seat to -- >> there is counterintelligence investigations which go beyond any violation of law or any commission of a crime and those are critical investigations and i trust they will meet their responsibility. i think there's more to be done. i think there should be a bipartisan and independent commission that asks a fundamental question, what are we going to do the next time putin decides to come after us on an election. >> there were a lot of questions about details and the role of jeff sessions and other things but he made it very clear to us that he felt that this had the danger of going too far. >> the president has referred to the special counsel as a witch hunt. what do you make of that? >> i think that's an outrageous
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statement. anybody who knows robert mueller, as a federal judge and director of the fbi. to characterize any undertaking by him is a witch hunt and is totally unfair. >> did he shed any light on the comey memo? >> the comey -- >> effectively talking about -- >> no. no conversation about that. >> was he asked about that? >> not directly. >> thank you. >> mccain is coming, guys. >> senator durbin there giving a lot of questions about what was revealed in this secure briefing and we heard from senator claire mccaskill a few minutes ago and she said one of the big things coming out of that meeting was that the deputy attorney general knew that james comey was going to be fired before he sent that memo that was sent up by the white house really outlining why they were going to fire him. of course, that, jake, was used as original justification coming
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from the white house why comey was going to be fired and a few minutes ago we heard from a senator lindsey graham, who believes this has shifted to a criminal investigation. >> sunlen, thank you. >> it was a good decision to pick a special counsel. a lot of confidence in mr. mueller. the shock to the body is that this is now a criminal investigation and congress' ability to conduct investigations of all things russia has been severely limited, probably in an appropriate fashion. >> you heard there one of the chief criticisms coming from one senator, lindsey graham, that he believes that this appointment of a special counsel will potentially hamper or potentially solve the numerous congressional investigations going on up here on capitol hill. but chairman of the senate
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committee and on the house side say they will continue their work and their investigations will go on. jake? >> sunlen serfaty, thanks. let's bring in cnn's jeff zeleny. we're going to monitor what is going on at capitol hill. i apologize if i have to interrupt from you. the president could be making a big announcement in naming a new fbi director very soon. any minute, really. >> reporter: indeed, jake. as he told you and other anchors earlier today, he is very close to making a decision and told reporter as few moments ago that joe lieberman, the former democratic senator and former vice president candidate is it h is leading contender. senator lieberman did not know about this 48 hours ago. he was summoned to washington for a meeting with the president. they met for less than 30 minutes late yesterday afternoon and we believe that he's the finalist for this job now.
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he's not the first person the president wanted. earlier this week, we are told by sources, manu raju and i reported this yesterday, that john cornyn, the number two republican in the senate was the president's top choice. he declined that so now joe lieberman is the second. certainly a very different kind of pick here. but the president would like to make that announcement before he leaves tomorrow about this time for saudi arabia and the beginning of a five-country tour, jake. but the reality is that the new fbi director does little to blunt or he's the frustration the president expressed to you and others about this special prosecutor, this special counsel that's investigating this russia decision here. the president clearly saying politics deeply, deeply involved in that. he's seething by that and they are trying to gather their way forward here because they know this will be with them for months to come, perhaps years to come as these special
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investigations often are, jake. >> that's right. the president said that he thinks this, quote, hurts our country terribly because it shows we're a divided, mixed up, not unified country. he also, of course, referred to the witch hunt. >> right. >> which he included the independent counsel, the special counsel and all the investigations. meanwhile, as you know, white house aides are getting ready for this big first international trip of the president, which starts tomorrow. do you think that naming an fbi director before the trip might quell concerns from fellow world leaders when he faces them overseas? >> i'm not really sure that it does, jake, because the reality is, the weeks started with the firing of the fbi director was the biggest thing but now the reality here, the blunt reality in washington is this special counsel has surpassed all of that. the head of the fbi is not something that really is
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dominating this story line. as the president, he's distracted by this, he's angry by this and that is what some of his advisers here in the west wing are worried about, quite frankly, his state of mind, his mindset going into what certainly is a challenge for any president, having these meetings with the world leaders. he's not traveled outside of the country as the president. in fact, he's>> he has done lit like this at any point in his life. it is an interesting and trying moment. the fbi director, one official said if he makes the announcement before tomorrow that's great, he would like to, but the reality here, jake, this was all going to be waiting for the president when he comes back. >> all right. jeff zeleny, stick around. let me go to sara murray now who is in the room waiting for the president and the president of colombia to come out. sara, president trump i'm sure will be asked about the big
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developments, the former fbi director claiming that the president asked him to ease up on the flynn investigation, to let it go, and then, of course, the appointment of a special counsel. >> reporter: that's right. there are a number of questions for the president about just the events that have unfolded over the last few days. of course, jake, as you know, these sort of bilateral press conferences can be a little challenging to predict. each side gets questions in, so the colombian press will have an opportunity to ask questions of the president as well as of the colombian leader. you can bet the question coming from american press will be more about how the president feels about this decision to appoint a special counsel. i think also just whether he bears any responsibility for the way these events have played out. i mean ultimately it was his decision to fire the fbi director and, you know, based on your reporting, the reporting of our other colleagues it was the president's decision to suggest to jim comey that maybe he back off the flynn investigation, the russia investigation.
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so i think there are going to be also questions about the president's role in all of this, and it certainly is coming at a time, as my colleague jeff zeleny was saying, when the president doesn't want to talk about this anymore. he's sick of talking about russia. they want to look ahead to the foreign trip, to their new fbi director. i don't think it would surprise us if we saw the president rush to make this announcement of a new fbi director just to change the news cycle. >> all right, sara murray, thank you so much. our political panel joins me for more. we will go to the east room of the white house there as soon as the president and the president of colombia come out. we are joined by jen sake and gloria borger. there's one point i want to make sure doesn't get lost in the news that comes our way. that is that the president is going abroad, he will be going to va saudi arabia and israel and the vatican. it was said that he would like
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to stay in nato but he would not stay in nato unless they make more progress, we will see changes to nato or form a different way of going about things. the ching, change, as we know, president trump has talked about other countries contributing more to their defense spending as they all agreed to. all presidents have been, since the nato alliance was formed, frustrated by other countries not pulling their weight, that's a legitimate point, president trump is right about that, but i never heard a president threaten to leave nato. >> he did during the campaign. general mattis came out and right out of the box said, nato is important. we're going to stay in nato. it is an important alliance that we would never leave. and so this statement comes as a surprise i would believe to many of our allies and perhaps to some people in the white house actually. and so i think the president needs to clarify what his position on nato is because until that came out we were all believing, i think, that the
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president had committed himself to nato. i mean don't forget he met with angela merkel, strong supporter, and there hasn't been in conflict coming out of those meetings in regards to nato. so -- >> although in those meetings by all accounts the president pushed for chancellor merkel to pay more on defense. >> right, and that's fine. you know, pay your fair share is absolutely fine, supported by a majority of the american public and a good idea for people to pay more, although she had a little disagreement with him on what her fair share might be, how much she should raise your contribution. but the threat of leaving nato now rears its ugly head again. >> generjen sake, when you were the white house, this is something that people that worked in international affairs with president obama complained about. i think there are 28 nato countries -- they just added one, correct me if i'm wrong. but only five according to the last county saw actually pay the 2% of their gross domestic product on defense spending, which is what they all agreed
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to. so this is a source of frustration. >> sure. >> but i never heard the threat we might pull out of nato before. >> that's right. this is something president obama raised privately and numerous times publicly. it is not a new ask. there's been a consistent ask by u.s. presidents over the course of time on this specific issue because the united states for a long time has been the primary funder of nato. we're in nato because it is an important skurecurity partnersh and there's a lot of give and take you get from that. it is important and valuable to the united states. it is not clear they're thinking about that. >> david urban, bringing you in here, you ran the trump campaign in pennsylvania. let me just ask you, when you see comments from the president or from people close to the president threatening to withdraw from nato, how much do you think that's real, he's really going to consider that or how much do you think this is -- this is just the art of the deal? he's putting out something stark so as to get germany and other countries to do what they agreed
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to do? >> jake, i think the president is serious about holding our nato allies' feet to the fire in terms of paying up their fair share. as jen said, this is something that's been on the table for a long time that we need to enforce. we need to make sure they pay up their fair share. the united states is not going to walk away from the gap in germany and leave kueurope exposed. the president is going to stand before a memorial commemorating the berlin wall, and we're not about to walk away but we are going to make sure people pay up their fair share and americans are taken care of. >> let's turn to some of the more scandalous allegations in the newspaper headlines. i want to bring in jeff tube in. jeff, the new york times is reporting michael flynn, the former national security adviser for president trump, informed the trump transition team he was under inquiry before he was named national security adviser. it seems like this is something of a scandal, at least the part
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of it dealing with michael flynn not having registered as a foreign agent as required by law until later, that they knew about that, although vice president pence in an interview with bret baier in march said he didn't learn about it until the story broke in the media. so he was -- he must have been just out of the loop. >> so it seems, although now that there is an active criminal investigation of everything connected to the trump campaign and russia, we need to start drawing distinctions between what's a potential criminal offense and what's potentially just a political embarrassment. i think the failure to do due diligence on michael flynn's background and the insistence on hiring him as national security adviser even though he seemed to have all of these problems that the white house was aware of, i don't think that's a criminal problem for anyone affiliated
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with trump. but michael flynn himself may have some problems because of failing to register and everything related to that whole issue. but as for, you know, the president and the vice president, i don't see this as a criminal problem for them, but it is certainly already a political embarrassment. >> well, it is a judgment one i guess people would say because if they knew that that was a problem perhaps, as i think jason chaffetz -- certainly no screaming liberal -- acknowledged today, he should not have been picked as national security adviser. barbara starr at the pentagon, i want to go to you because there's new news about michael flynn, first reported by the mcclatchy news syndicate. tell us what you know. >> jake, i think it under scores what everybody is talking about here, what were michael flynn's precise actions and what he did. we know he was paid by company
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with business interests in turkey. at the time this was going on and the time the president was taking office, the turks were very opposed to u.s. military policy regarding syria. they did not want the u.s. to arm the kurds. the turks are very much against that. they believe some of these kurdish elements are terrorists. they were also against -- at least the obama administration's plan to retake the city of raqqa in syria. the turks didn't want that to happen as it was laid out. now, neither of these things happened actually in -- in sort of a final form until the trump administration came into office. the reporting is that flynn put the halt on the administration plan to retake raqqa. not exactly true because the military campaign did continue on. the decision about whether to arm the kurds that the turks objected to, flynn is getting money from the turks, that actually has just recently been
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approved by the trump administration. so this is one of those key questions. it is very complex. there's a lot of nuance. the question will be was there some kind of influence on flynn by his getting money from the turks. did he inappropriately influence administration decisionmaking, all of these things, partly for the investigation to look at now. >> that's right. he was paid $500,000, i believe, from a company with close ties to the turkish government. i want to go back the white house and jeff zeleny who has some new reporting right now. jeff, what can you tell us? >> reporter: well, jake, we are getting word here at the white house that a team of outside advisers to the president have been meeting throughout the day to find an outside set of leal advisers to, in the words of one administration official, add more leal fire power to the representation of the president in this mat