Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Democrats Reject Joe Lieberman as FBI Director; Trump Advised to Bring in Outside Counsel over Russia Probe; Weiner Pleads Guilty in Sexting Case; Critics Say Trump Playing Victim in Russia Probe; Rosenstein Knew of Comey Firing the Day Before; Trump Prepares for First Foreign Trip as President. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT- LARGE: My guess is, if they nominate Lieberman, he is almost certain to get all of the Republicans, maybe he peels off a Democrat or two, and would make it. So, in some ways, it's a lot of sound and fury signifying not all that much, other than Joe Lieberman is not -- for a guy who was the vice presidential nominee in 2000, he is not the beloved figure in the Democratic Party that I think maybe the Trump administration thought he would be when they floated his name.

KATE BODLUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's one of those classic things. As you leave politics, everyone talks about how wonderful your career has been, but if you start entering the Washington swamp once again, they bring everything back up once again as well.

CILLIZZA: Well, yeah. And just very quickly, look, I always thought of Mitt Romney -- remember he was thinking about running for a third time in 2016, floated his name out there, and everyone was, oh, Mitt Romney, wow, what a good guy, at the end of the 2012 campaign. If he had run again, all the things that annoyed people about Mitt Romney would come running back. And this is the problem, the one politicians and regular people love the most is the one not in politics.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Your numbers are never higher once you leave office.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Thanks to see you, Chris. Thanks so much.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, the president is looking for outside lawyers to beef up his legal firepower in light of this new special investigation. What can they do that White House counsel cannot? I'll ask Nixon's former counsel. We'll be right back. I'll have that when we come back.

Plus, this, one Democrat says Donald Trump has gone from tough guy to, quote, "president snowflake." We're going to discuss if the president is playing the victim, as his critics say. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:35:52] BOLDUAN: "We need to bring in some firepower" -- that from the president's inner circle about adding lawyers from the outside as the special investigation over Russia is really now just beginning.

Let's discuss right now with CNN contributor and former White House counsel to president Nixon, John Dean, who was a central figure in the Watergate scandal.

John, great to see you again.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So, lay this out for me. Does the president need an outside legal team for this?

DEAN: He does. The White House counsel post-Watergate has been made very clear by the rules of professional conduct. When representing an entity like the office of the president, the president himself is not the client. It's the office of the president. So, he has to turn to outside counsel to get personal advice. White House counsel, they represent the office of the president.

BOLDUAN: So, what can outside counsel do that White House counsel can't then?

DEAN: Well, really nothing. He can personally -- he will personally look at Trump's case and deal with it, just as Trump, and not care a hoot about the office of the president. So, that's where the conflict comes in. In other words, they can be at odds. What's good for the president himself versus what's good for his office can often be very different.

BOLDUAN: And that's a really fascinating, important way of putting it. So, if this is the case, how do they silo these things? Because I do wonder, how hard is it to compartmentalize the everyday work of the White House, right, with all of this going on around you and also the work surrounding an investigation that could potentially reach the president? How do you do that?

DEAN: The Nixon White House was very surprisingly compartmentalized. I'm told the Clinton White House was similarly done. In other words, people operated in their sphere of activity, and others just didn't get involved unless they had a need to know. So, things actually in both those White Houses, notwithstanding the heavy investigations, ran well and did not falter at all because of the investigations.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating stuff. Well, we'll see exactly who they bring in, then you can give me your opinion of what you think of that attorney.

Great to see you, John. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, is former Vice President Joe Biden not backing Hillary Clinton right now? What did he mean when he said he never thought she was a great candidate.

Plus, do-or-die. Washington officials set high stakes for the president's first trip abroad. After weeks of turmoil, will the trip offer a reset or more of the same?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:42:48] BOLDUAN: Some more breaking news right now. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner pleads guilty in court to a charge of transferring obscene materials to a minor.

CNN's Jean Casarez has been following this and joins me now.

Jean, he was in court today. What do we know?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He just pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor. And for the first time, we have on the record exactly what the facts are. They say that last year, from January until March of 2016, that Anthony Weiner communicated with Internet messaging and video chat with a minor under the age of 16, and in doing so, sent her obscene material. It also says in the facts, in the complaint here, that she actually returned to him a sexually explicit photo or video, and even the term "live" is used in regard to being sent live to him.

He will be sentenced in September, but the prosecutor is saying 21 to 27 months in prison they are agreeable to. He also has to comply with a registered sex offender register. So, it appears as though at sentencing he will become a registered sex offender.

Now, what is in it for Anthony Weiner? He can no longer be prosecuted for this particular incident with this one girl. This one count that he pleaded guilty to is it. However, it also says that he can be subsequently charged with other offenses, even tax offenses, it says. Appearing to be an investigation in that area.

So, once again, Anthony Weiner has pleaded guilty in federal court in New York City just minutes ago, transferring obscene material to a minor -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jean Casarez, thanks for bringing us the headlines. Amazing, another headline from Anthony Weiner popping up right now. Thanks, Jean. We'll look for updates on that one.

It's the tale of two presidents coming out of the White House right now. On one hand, the take-no-prisoners, hits back harder, counterpuncher, President Trump. And then there's this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:44:58] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now, some of the president's chief critics say the president is playing the victim and are jumping on this new tone, if you will.

Here's Van Jones.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTTOR: What's interesting is a different Donald Trump. When he ran, he was this tough guy, this guy who's going to get things done, this great negotiator. He was Trumpzilla. He was going to make Washington bow down. He was going to drain the swamp. Now he's president snowflake, OK? Everything, he says, oh, they're mean to me and they don't like me and I just don't understand it and it's not fair!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: With me now, Joe Borelli, CNN political commentator and Republican New York City councilman; and Keith Boykin, CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House aide.

Let's go for it!

Joe, do you think the president -- it is a different tone that you hear from him.

JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

BOLDUAN: Do you think he's playing the victim?

BORELLI: No, I think the situation has changed with the appointment of a special counsel. I mean, that's something that is a significant development in this, and we saw even his messaging and some discipline in his messaging when he was speaking with the president of Colombia, where he was asked about the Comey firing and he said briefly, no, next question. We've seen him get in problems where he's gone off on this tangent. Now, what he said about the witch hunt might actually be true. You know, we're on day three or four of this Comey memo where we're still relying on secondhand sources, where no one's actually seen it, and at the same time, we're discounting and dismissing the on-the-record comments from both the acting attorney general and the FBI director who gave contradictory statements to what's allegedly in this memo, and that's being dismissed outright. So, he has a right to be saying they're on somewhat of a witch hunt.

BOLDUAN: To Joe's point, Keith, if the president is being accused of something he denies, he says he did not do, then what else is he supposed to say, other than I am the victim?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What is it that he did not do? He's been accused of so many things over the course of the past several months, it's hard to figure out exactly where the focus is. I mean, the Comey memo, the president never denied that memo for days on end. It wasn't until yesterday when he was asked a question at the press briefing, as far as I can recall, that he actually denied it. He didn't go on Twitter and call it fake news or anything like that. So, to say this is a witch hunt misunderstands the process for appointing a special prosecutor. The special prosecutor was appointed by Donald Trump's own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. How is this a witch hunt when your own person, your own hand-picked deputy A.G. is appointing the person who appoints a special prosecutor! That's not a witch hunt.

(CROSSTAKL)

BOYKIN: That's a democratic, legal process --

(CROSSTALK)

BORELLI: We've had an investigation officially by both members of Congress, unofficially by a gaggle of hungry journalists who have been looking into it, and this is for months now. And to date, there's been no evidence brought to bear of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that's something that Democrats have said on the Hill, that's something that Republicans have said on the Hill --

(CROSSTAKL)

BORELLI: And that's something former law enforcement officers, familiar with the case, have said.

BOYKIN: You're getting ahead of yourself here, because the reality is we don't know if there is collusion yet.

BORELLI: Tell that to Dianne Feinstein.

BOYKIN: Let me finish. Watergate took 18 months, I believe, before we were able to find out what happened. And it was "The New York Times" and the "Washington Post" and that led the effort to get to the bottom of that information. So, the fact that we don't have all the information right now doesn't mean that we won't have more information in the future.

BOLDUAN: Guys, I'm just getting some news in, and I want to read to you and get your point. This gets to approximately what this is all about, James Comey, firing James Comey, what we know and when we know it. Rod Rosenstein, we just had DOJ release Rosenstein's opening statement to the Senate and the House in these House briefings. In this opening statement, Rosenstein told lawmakers that he learned on May 8th -- that would be the day before the firing -- that Trump intended to remove Comey and that Trump sought his advice and input. And here's a quote, "Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey," he said "I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader." He says that he chose the issues to include in my memorandum."

So, we are now getting -- this is some important, new information, because the key has been when did -- what was the reasoning behind the firing of James Comey, right? We've heard two different things from the White House. One thing came out from the White House, that it was Rod Rosenstein's memo, and then the president, of course, said he had Russia on his mind and he was going to do it regardless. This seems to suggest the latter, that Rod Rosenstein said they knew he was going to fire him before the memo came out.

BOYKIN: This is really troubling. I'll let you go, Joe, in a second, but let me just say one thing.

BOLDUAN: Wait a second. There's a caveat here.

BOYKIN: I want to say one thing. We are at point now where the collusion is almost not as big a deal as the cover-up. The fact that Donald Trump is admitting that he fired James Comey knowing that it wasn't because of the Hillary Clinton issue but knowing because Russia was on the agenda, and now Rod Rosenstein is essentially saying that he may have allowed himself in, that's a very disturbing development about the issue of a cover up going on in the White House.

[11:50:11] BORELLI: But what I just heard was that the president sought the advice and counsel of the person who's going to, within 24 hours of this notice, become the director of the FBI. That, to me, sounds actually reasonable and THE responsible thing to do. Maybe you want to give this person a heads up.

BOLDUAN: But he intended to remove him.

(CROSSTALK)

BORELLI: Certainly, giving the person who would take over the FBI a bit of a heads up that he's potentially taking over the law enforcement agency.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He's not taking over the FBI.

(CROSSTALK)

I totally understand what you're saying.

But this is the point. That this seems to contradict very directly what the White House was putting out at first. We now are hearing a very different consequence sequence of events. Why is it difficult to have a clear answer of what was the reason for firing James Comey? That seems -- that's what I wonder, when you've got dates and a memo and when was the memo written and was Russia on his mind or not. And on the most basic level, I wonder when it's a major decision like this, why can't the president be clear on exactly why he fired him?

BORELLI: I'm not sure. From what you said, I don't see anything inappropriate from this breaking news that just happened. I also recall DOJ wasn't consulted about the travel ban, and the memo was produced after we went into media hysteria over that.

(CROSSTALK)

BORELLI: We also heard about Rosenstein threatening to resign.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We're going to continue to fight this on the break.

I've got to get going. We've got more breaking news we're going to follow. So stay with me. Welcome to the 11:00 show, always breaking news. Lawmakers in the House walking out of a briefing with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, about the firing of James Comey. Hear what they're saying now, and now as we're learning more about what Rod Rosenstein reveal. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: As a medic with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, this week's "CNN Hero" put his life on the line for his men in some of the toughest battles. After he got home, he endured another fight, struggling for years with alcohol, drugs, and PTS. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: I began to see veterans on the street. Marines do not leave anyone behind. We take our dead and our wounded with us, or we don't go. And that pledge means the world to any one of us. And so to see that code being broken shocked me into action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: To find out more about his story, go to CNN Heroes.com.

Moments from now, President Trump will depart on his first overseas trip of his presidency, and it is an ambitious schedule for any president. Trump is visiting five countries in eight or nine days. One White House official saying this trip is do-or-die. President Trump prepping for the days ahead, tweeting this, "Getting ready for my big foreign trip. We'll be strongly protecting American interests. That's what I like to do."

Let's discuss that with Robin Wright, a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. She's also contributing writer for "The New Yorker." And Michael O'Hanlon is here, a Brookings Institution and author of "Bending History, Barack Obama's Foreign Policy."

Guys, with the time we have left, what is the most important thing, Robin, that you are watching for on this very big trip?

ROBIN WRIGHT, FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE & WOODROW WILSON CENTER FOR SCHOLARS & CONTRIBING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think a number of thing. First of all, we're trying to see what he's going to do in creating a new coalition, the so-called NATO version in the Arab world to do a number of things, whether to promote the peace process, fight extremism, ISIS, al Qaeda, to confront Iran, and create a new kind of regional coalition that is active in providing its own security rather than always relying on the United States. In Israel, we'll see if he's going to be able to get the Palestinians and Israelis to start on yet another path towards peace. This is going -- the president has said publicly that he thinks it's not quite as difficult as others have made it, which I think a lot of previous presidents might disagree with. In the Vatican, he's going to try to repair the kind of tensions with the pope. They've been engaged in a Twitter war or a Twitter kind of little conflict.

[11:55:45] BOLDUAN: Conflict.

WRIGHT: Yeah. And then, of course, he's going to go to NATO and ask for greater number of troops to fight in Afghanistan as the Taliban is resurgent.

BOLDUAN: Michael, I think I saw something written this morning, saying, in nine days, he's tacking five countries, three major world religions and two core American alliances. What could go wrong? What do you think is the most important stop?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKES INSTITUTION & AUTHOR: To quote Robin, trying to get out of his Twitter war with the pope. Who would have thought it would have come to this?

Robin laid out a great agenda. I would settle for something more modest at this point. I would settle for a generally mistake-free visit to these countries. I think he's capable of that. He's the president of the United States. It's going to feel pretty amazing to go on these trips with the kind of pomp and circumstance that goes along with the visits. Even though it would be great to see a peace plan for Syria or a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians, I don't expect any of those things on this trip. I would be content to see him act presidential and stay to his brief. I think he could do that. He's going to need to exercise a little more discipline than the Washington fish bowl tends to bring out to him. But on a foreign trip, there's a distinct possibility he could raise his fame at least to that bar.

BOLDUAN: Then, of course, it raises the question, Robin, taking everything into account, as Michael says, the Washington fish bowl, is this trip coming at a horrible time or couldn't come a moment too soon?

WRIGHT: Well, this is something that will as you said make or break the president. This is at a critical time. Richard Nixon tried the same thing in 1974 reaching out. He was the first president actually ever to go to Saudi Arabia and ever to go to Israel. And this was at a time of the escalating Watergate crisis. And he hoped that this would divert attention from the domestic crisis to achievements in foreign policy, but it did not change his fate. Two months after that historic trip, he was forced to resign. So the president is not going to escape even for eight or nine days the drama that's playing out at home. I think the big question is, he can follow a script. He can follow the teleprompters and read the speeches. The question is, what kind of statements will he make when foreign leaders ask him for things, whether it's the 37 leaders in the Arab world or at NATO?

BOLDUAN: About those speeches, a couple big speeches everyone is kind of looking forward to, Michael. If President Trump says "radical Islamic terrorism" in his major speech coming up in Saudi Arabia this weekend, what will the impact be? O'HANLON: Well, I think that he may be able to find words that the

Saudis like. He's going to be doing things like selling them a lot of arms, acknowledging the importance of the alliance with his very presence. They may have a bit of tolerance in the first instance for words they may not have chosen themselves. I'm a little bit more concerned about how it will be read across the region. There's a clamp down on dissent in places like Egypt. The temptation to align with strong men is problematic. It was frankly problematic for me in the Obama administration in regard to Egypt in particular. And of course, we're sort of stuck in how we're approaching the Syrian conflict where we still claim we want Assad to leave power at one level, or at least we haven't replaced that previous policy, but it's entirely unrealistic at another level, in the short term anyway. So I think he'll probably give a speech that's OK to Saudi ears but it may no resonate so well more broadly.

BOLDUAN: A lot of stops we'll be watching, a lot of opportunities for all of us to see how the president presents himself and the United States around the world.

Robin Wright, Michael O'Hanlon, always great to have you. Thank you so much for being here.

Keep your eye on Washington. Keep your eye on the White House, on Capitol Hill. A lot of breaking news today.

Thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR. We'll be following all the breaking news here. We'll take you back to Washington with John King and "Inside Politics." That starts right now.

[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate. Have a great weekend.

Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump departs next hour for a nine-day overseas trip, a big test on the world stage, complicated by his damaged political standing here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm going to Saudi Arabia --