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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Submits Answers to Robert Mueller; Democratic Investigations Worrying Trump Organization?; Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired November 21, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.
Rudy Giuliani telling CNN that President Trump would consider any follow-up questions on possible Russian collusion after the president submitted written answers to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, yesterday.
Giuliani cautioned, though, that any questions about obstruction would likely go unanswered, arguing that the president is protected by executive privilege.
CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us now live.
So, Alex, does this mean that the Mueller probe is coming to an end without that long-discussed presidential sit-down interview?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, on that question, the Mueller side has been very quiet. And in reality, the ball is in their court.
And so what this round of written answers shows is that President Trump is being accommodating for now, but that may be tested by what Mueller decides to do next.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): After months of legal back and forth and tense negotiation, special counsel Robert Mueller has finally received President Trump's written answers, responses to questions on possible collusion with Russia in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The written answers to the witch-hunt that's been going on forever, no collusion, no nothing, they have been finished. I finished them yesterday. The lawyers have them.
MARQUARDT: Among the questions, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said was what Trump knew about his son Don Jr.'s 2016 meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower, as well as the president's own comments calling on Russia to dig up Hillary Clinton's missing e- mails.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
MARQUARDT: But Giuliani is now warning that Mueller may not be done yet, saying he could come back with more questions related to possible obstruction of justice.
"It's not on the table," Giuliani told CNN, "but could be put back on the table."
Giuliani signaled they are willing to answer follow-ups within certain bounds. "We will consider them and answer them if necessary, relevant and legal," he said, "if it was something that would be helpful, relevant. Not a law school exam."
Questions about obstruction, however, would be outside those bounds, Giuliani said, because that would deal with the presidency, and would violate executive privilege, raising the possibility that, to get what he wants, Mueller would have to subpoena the president for an in- person interview, something the president's team has said they will fight and the president himself now says is unlikely.
TRUMP: We gave very, very complete answers to a lot of questions that I shouldn't have even been asked and I think that should solve the problem, I hope it solves the problem, if it doesn't, you know, I will be told and we'll make a decision at that time. But probably this is the end.
MARQUARDT: And, Jim, Rudy Giuliani has also said that the special counsel's office has indicated they will respond quickly, within a week to 10 days, they say, to these written answers from the president.
And in that time, the special counsel's office will determine whether more answers are needed from the president -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.
Let's discuss now with our legal experts.
And, Jennifer Rodgers, if I could begin with you, we have been talking, the president has been talking for months about how happy he would be to sit down across from the special counsel. That seems less likely now.
And you have a sitting acting attorney general the president appointed who has criticized this investigation, who would have to approve of a subpoena for a presidential sit-down.
In your view, is that issue effectively dead now with Whitaker in that spot and these written questions now submitted?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it depends on what Mueller decides to do. It's at some level a strategy game. He will have to see what he gets from the president and whether it's
worth it to enter into what may initially, as you said, be a fight with Whitaker about whether to issue the subpoena in the first place and then certainly a very protracted legal battle, which will go all the way to the Supreme Court, take a whole lot of time.
And the question is, at the end of the day, you know, is the president just going to take the Fifth anyway and not answer any questions? So Mueller and his team are going to have to sit down and just see whether this is a fight worth having or whether they want to move on with the loads of other evidence that they have been collecting from all sorts of sources on collusion and on obstruction.
SCIUTTO: Yes, we should note that really virtually every close adviser to the president has said do not sit down with the special counsel, knowing the president's sometimes difficulty in giving straight answers to questions like that.
Elie Honig, you have Giuliani making this argument here that questions about the firings of James Comey and others, that the president and his team views those as falling under executive privilege, that this is something the president has the power to do. From a legal standpoint, does that hold water?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so.
It's not necessarily a cut-and-dry decision. But Rudy, characteristically, was full of bluster, saying, I think we would win that executive privilege easily in the courts.
I don't agree with that. The main decision on this comes from Richard Nixon in 1974, U.S. v. Nixon, when the Supreme Court decided unanimously that, yes, executive privilege does exist, but, no, you may not use it here, President Nixon, because it's designed to protect military secrets and national intel. It's not designed to insulate a president against potential criminal liability.
So my betting would be on Mueller prevailing if this were to go to the Supreme Court.
SCIUTTO: Amazing how often the Nixon precedents come up discussing the current legal predict for this president.
Jennifer Rodgers, the other argument you're hearing here from the president's legal team is that because the president answered some of these questions, they say, in the form of tweets and news interviews, that a subpoena therefore is not necessary.
Legally, does that argument hold water?
RODGERS: No, not at all.
I mean, a subpoena is for trying to gather information from someone, information that you want them to give you, not just information that they want to provide you. So the fact that the president tweets, you know, vociferously doesn't mean that they don't have questions that they're entitled to ask him about these matters.
SCIUTTO: Final question, Elie.
Is the president out of legal danger here, in your view?
HONIG: No, not at all.
I think he's still got significant exposure for obstruction. Look, the tweets and the news interviews, it's a perfect example of why Mueller needs to get a sit-down with him or get him in a grand jury. He's tweeted on all sides of every different issue.
Look at the Comey firing. He's tweeted and said publicly he did it because Comey mishandled the e-mails. He tells Lester Holt that he did it because of Russia. And so he's been on all sides of all issues. This is exactly why Mueller needs to pin him down.
So, no, the president is far from out of the woods.
SCIUTTO: Elie, Jennifer, thanks very much, as always.
An exclusive look coming up at what the Trump Organization is doing to prepare for one of their worst nightmares that just came true.
SCIUTTO: As President Trump tries to keep the special counsel at bay, his family-owned business is bracing for a nightmare to come.
With Democrats taking control of the House in January, and vowing to investigate almost every aspect of his life, sources tell CNN exclusively that the Trump Organization is thinking about beefing up its legal defense team.
I want to bring in CNN's Cristina Alesci in New York.
Cristina, the Trump Organization, I know you have been covering it closely for the last several months. It does already have a legal team. But they're concerned they need more help now?
CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's because a Democrat-controlled House presents a unique and distinct risk to the Trump Organization.
I'm told, in the days following the midterms, the Trump Organization executives got on calls to discuss the potential barrage of investigations from the House Democrats. They told -- they reminded staff to preserve records and then they discussed this idea of bringing in additional counsel, additional lawyers who have a specialization in government investigations.
Now, that would be a big move for the Trump Organization, because it's traditionally relied on a relatively small group of attorneys. And those attorneys are handling lawsuits, they're handling state and federal investigations, and they're pretty busy right now, if you look at the Trump Organization and what it's facing.
For example, New York state tax authorities are looking into potential tax fraud. You have the Southern District prosecutors looking into potential campaign finance violations. And so that team is handling those things.
They would pretty much be -- they're pretty much busy as it is. Layer on top of that congressional investigations, and they could pretty easily become overwhelmed.
That said, people close to the Trump administration -- Organization did tell us that they may not need additional attorneys, because maybe the Dems will go a little easier -- perhaps that's optimistic, perhaps that's wishful thinking -- because there is some political risk to the Democrats in going really hard after the company -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Of course, Michael Cohen who knows the ins and outs of the Trump Organization, he has now turned state's evidence in effect there. I'm sure they're watching that closely. Cristina Alesci, thanks very much. Back with the panel now. Nina Turner, if I could start with you. I know there was concern in the party and from those outside the party that the Dems are going to overplay their hand here now that they've won the House. But I suppose you could make the argument that that's what voters elected Democrats for was to give oversight to this President.
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jim, absolutely. The Congress itself is supposed to be the check and balance on the president, but certainly with Republicans in control that has not happened. But the Democrats do have -- they do have to be very careful. Again, are we going to implement policy, investigate, or impeach, or a little of all of the above. But the president can expect that his actions are going to be scrutinized and now the Democrats have the power and the leverage to be able to do it.
SCIUTTO: So Bakari, let's look at the sort of the top ten -- not the top ten but the greatest hits of Democratic targets here. You've got Nancy Pelosi, she's talking about going after the President's tax returns but long been an issue here. You have Congressman Adam Schiff, he's talking about looking in the money laundering particularly if Russians were laundering it through the Trump Organization. Then you have Elijah Cummings, he's going to chair the House Oversight Committee talking about what's known as emoluments but basically foreign government payments that may benefit President Trump and his businesses. You're plotting Democratic strategy here. What do you prioritize?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh none of those. I prioritize fixing the Affordable Care Act, making sure everyone has access to quality health care. I prioritize an infrastructure bill making sure that we put people to work and rebuild our roads and bridges, and I prioritize lower pharmaceutical costs and making sure that people have affordable prescription drugs. So I prioritize the American public first and foremost, and then as a caucus I prioritize making sure that we have a succession plan so that some of our younger members with visions actually get a chance to replace the Nancy Pelosis, the Jim Clyburns and the Steny Hoyers.
And so you can have those investigations. Those will come, that's oversight, but that isn't my priority. My priority is the American people.
SCIUTTO: Interesting. I mean, not dissimilar from what you saw in many House races during the Midterms on it. And as a Republican, you hear Bakari's strategy laid out there, smart one for the Democrats from your point of view?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think they have to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time. They're going to have some positive, affirmative priorities, but at the same time there needs to be some oversight and there needs to be some accountability. A lot of Americans voted for Democrats because they wanted checks and balances. That is why there has been a blue wave. Why Democrats got 8.8 at last count and still counting more votes in total than Republicans did and have flipped 40 seats or something to that nature.
And so they must do some accountability because Republicans have abjectly failed as a check and balance in the last two years. What they can't do is look vindictive and look petty. They need to pick their battles, they need to look professional, they need to look constitutional, and they need to be effective.
SCIUTTO: Doug, just quickly. It's not like the GOP when it controlled the House pulled their punches in terms of investigations here, but is there kind of a mismatch in expectations?
DOUG HEYE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: Sure. I worked in the House of Representatives at that time. It was not only an overreach, it was sport for us. We enjoyed the day that the report came out, the Starr report was a gleeful day for Republicans. And it shouldn't be that for Democrats. You can be aggressive and have oversight without overreach, but they should focus on issues. Well, right now I say, because you don't have to be a House member to be Speaker Bakari Sellers for speaker may be a good move. Sorry for the endorsement, Bakari.
SELLERS: No, no, no. I'm off of Jim Clyburn's district. I want to be able to live and get home. Leave that alone.
SCIUTTO: More to talk about it. It has been a good week to be Nancy Pelosi, the only potential challenger that she was facing for the House Speaker role just endorsed her. One of the congressmen who signed a letter vowing not to back her has since changed his mind. President Obama calling her one of the most effective legislative leaders in U.S. history and still no Democrat has stepped forward to challenge her for Speaker. CNN's Manu Raju, he's been following this, joins me now.
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, she was seen as being one of those potential challengers but she just took her name out of the ring.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And one by one, Nancy Pelosi is cutting deals, some side deals in winning over some of her skeptics and also some outright critics. The big announcement today of Brian Higgins, he's a New York Democrat, someone who sign that anti-Pelosi letter say he will now support her.
Now, Higgins told me earlier today that he spoke with Nancy Pelosi five times over the past 72 hours and she made some assurances to him. One she promised to move on a one trillion dollar infrastructure package. She also proposed to move on a bill to expand the eligibility of Medicare for people who are 50 years and older. And also he raised some significant concerns about that anti-Pelosi faction saying that they have no alternative.
He said this. He said, not only is there not a viable alternative, there is no alternative right now. He said, why is someone not willing to step up? I think if they game this out and they look to deny Nancy Pelosi on 2-3 ballots, the votes to become Speaker even if somebody else emerges, is that person necessarily better? I would argue they are undeserving because they haven't had the guts to stand up and say they're going to run.
And Jim, he asked Nancy Pelosi how long she plans to stay as Speaker and she would not tell him but she -- he came away from those conversations and thinking that she would only serve through the duration of this coming Congress. That means the end of 2020 and ultimately step aside.
[16:50:39] SCIUTTO: There's a political risk is there not for these Democrats who made election pledges these Midterms not to vote for her if they go back on those promises. Is the party setting themselves up for losses in 2020?
RAJU: That's the big risk for a number of these members who come from conservative districts. That's why we are looking at those freshman members. The pressure is on them intensely to stand by their pledges. And at the end of the day if 17, 18 members decide to vote against her. That means it could be problematic for Nancy Pelosi. But right now the betting is on that she will ultimately win come January, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, thanks very much. A former judge once in prison for breaking his wife's skull is now under arrest after she's been murdered. Why was he let out in the first place?
[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" today, a savage murder. A 911 call was cries from children and new questions today about whether the justice system failed a mother who was found dead in a pool of blood. Lance Mason was arrested while fleeing the scene of the murder of his ex-wife Aisha Fraser but has not yet been charged in her death. Mason, a former Ohio judge and Democratic state lawmaker served just nine months in prison in 2014. This after punching Frazier multiple times and breaking a bone in her eye socket. And despite his record, Mason was hired by the Cleveland mayor's office after his release.
CNN's Athena Jones is following this story. Athena, I mean, just some horrific details here and an apparent failure of the justice system. ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is
a really harrowing story. When you listen to the full ten minutes of audio from that 911 call and when you read through the details of this stabbing incident and of the previous violent attack on his wife in 2014. It's a case that raises questions about why so many obvious warning signs were seemingly ignored and whether that had anything to do with the fact that this man is a prominent figure in the community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need the police immediately. My brother is attacking his ex-wife. Please hurry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: The harrowing 911 call from Lance Mason's sister seems to leave little doubt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He stabbed her and he said she's dead. He walked and there's blood everywhere.
JONES: But the prominent former judge and Ohio State Representative has not been charged in the murder of his ex-wife Aisha Fraser. Police found her stabbed to death outside Mason's sister's home Saturday morning. Family members say Fraser had come to drop off their young daughters, one of whom can be heard wailing on the 911 call.
Mason was arrested at the scene not for homicide but for crashing into a police car "while fleeing the scene of a homicide in which he was the suspect." Mason had attacked his ex-wife before according to court documents. He repeatedly punched, her choked her, bit her, and slammed her head against a car window and dashboard in 2014, all in front of their children, causing a fracture to the bone in her eye socket that required surgery and an implant. Mason pleaded guilty to domestic violence.
Despite his actions high-profile supporters including Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, submitted letters of support for a judicial release hearing. He was requesting early release. Congresswoman Fudge's letter said Mason's actions were totally contrary to everything I know about him and he has assured me something like this will never happen again.
Mason served just nine months of his two-year sentence and was released in 2016. All the while, family members say his ex-wife lived in fear.
GEORGE FRASER, UNCLE OF THE VICTIM: Oh yes, deathly afraid of him. Nevertheless, the city of Cleveland hired Mason as an administrator shortly after his release. The mayor now defending the choice. FRANK JACKSON, MAYOR OF CLEVELAND, OHIO: And we have many ex-felons
who work for us. We have some people who have done time and who have committed some pretty heinous crimes and they have come to work for the city of Cleveland and they've done quite well for us.
JONES: Mason was fired after his most recent arrest. Back in Washington, Congresswoman Fudge says she condemns the crimes adding the person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me.
JONES: Now our last check, this case had not yet been transferred to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. Mason had not been charged and prosecutors said he does not yet have an attorney. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Goodness. It's just a horrible story there, an attempt to help him out and listen to what happened just shocking for the family. Athena Jones, thanks very much. Well, that's the story we're going to continue to follow. You can follow the show on Twitter @THELEADCNN. You can follow me @JIMSCIUTO. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, benchslap. In a rare and stunning rebuke, the Chief Justice of the United States smash down President Trump for insulting a judge who wrote against the administration.