Return to Transcripts main page
Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued in Russia Probe; Trump Fires Up His Base Against Russia Probe; Grand Jury Issues Subpoenas In Russia Probe; Clapper: Firing Mueller "Would Be Watergate In Slow Motion". Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired August 4, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:18] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We begin with breaking news unfolding on two different fronts.
First on the economy. Moments ago the July jobs report just released and it is great news for the president and for many American workers. Unemployment down to 4.3 percent, the lowest rate in 16 years. 209,000 jobs created last month. The number better than expected. A number the president this morning calls excellent.
Just a reminder, folks, he called past job reports phony, though.
We're going to break all of this down in a few minutes. We begin, though, with dramatic new development in the Russia investigation and a sign that it is growing in scope and may also be gaining speed.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller issuing grand jury subpoenas and focus on last summer's meeting between the president's son, top campaign advisers and that Russian lawyer. Now the subpoenas seeking documents and testimony from those inside that meeting.
The probe also now crossing the president's so-called red line by examining his finances. The investigators want to know if the president, his family, his associates have financial ties to Russia.
Now the president has scoffed at the probe call it a witch hunt. He fired up the rally in West Virginia last night saying Democrats have made the whole thing up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That's all it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: We're covering all angles, so let's begin with justice correspondent Evan Perez and then we'll go to Joe Johns at the White House.
So, Evan, he says totally made-up. He points to Democrats. But doesn't point to the fellow Republicans who are supporting this investigation or the independent counsel.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. That's right, Poppy. Good morning.
The Special Counsel Robert Mueller is following the money as the investigation into Russia's meddling in 2016 election enters its second year. Now CNN has learned new details about what investigators are digging into. And that includes the finances of the president and his family.
PEREZ (voice-over): In a clear sign that the Russia investigation is advancing, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas related to the June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials, seeking both documents and testimony from the people involved according to a source familiar with the matter. This as the probe widens with federal investigators exploring the potential financial ties of President Trump and associates to Russia.
Sources tell CNN that financial links could offer a more concrete path to any potential prosecution. Investigators are looking into possible financial crimes including some unconnected to the election. For the president that's going too far. He's warned that delving into his businesses is a, quote, "violation."
Trump has maintained there's no collusion and he has no financial ties to Russia.
TRUMP: And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.
PEREZ: Now, one year into this complex probe, the FBI has reviewed financial records related to the Trump Organization, the president himself as well as his family members and campaign associates.
CNN has told investigators have combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump branded real estate properties. They've scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower in Manhattan reaching back several years. And officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN Mueller's team has examined the backgrounds of Russian business associates --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Moscow, it's Miss Universe --
PEREZ: -- connected to Trump, dating back to the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant that Trump hosted in Moscow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you to Aras Agalarov and the Focus Group for their amazing hospitality.
PEREZ: CNN could not determine whether the review has included Trump's tax returns. But even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.
Trump's team seeking to limit Mueller's investigation.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president's point is that he doesn't want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission, and the president has been very clear, as have his accountants and team that he has no financial dealings with Russia. And so I think we've been extremely clear on that.
PEREZ: CNN has learned new details about how Mueller is running his special counsel team. More than three dozen attorneys, FBI agents and support staff, experts in investigating fraud and financial crimes broken into groups focused separately on collusion and obstruction of justice.
There is also a focus on key targets like Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and General Michael Flynn, his fired National Security adviser.
[09:05:09] CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious of Manafort when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort to coordinate information that could hurt Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House according to U.S. officials.
In Flynn's case, the focus is now on his lobbying work for the Turkish government which he failed to initially disclose as required by law.
While both men deny any wrongdoing, the approach to the Manafort and Flynn probes may offer a template for how the focus by investigations on financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.
PEREZ: And the president's attorney Jay Sekulow told CNN in a statement, quote, "The president's outside legal team has not received any requests for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment, we would object to" -- Poppy.
HARLOW: All right. Evan Perez, great reporting by you and the team as always. Thank you very much.
There is a lot going on here legally. A lot of important nuances involved in this grand jury and these subpoenas. It's complicated to say the least. So let's bring in CNN legal analyst Paul Callan to break it down.
Nice to have you here.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Nice to be here.
HARLOW: The "Wall Street Journal" broke the story and they quote a constitutional scholar in it and a legal scholar who said the way he sees it is that this shows, these additional subpoenas tied to the Don Jr. meeting show a, quote, "long-term large scale series of prosecutions being contemplated."
Do you see it that way, long term, large scale?
CALLAN: Yes, I do. And -- historically when you create a special purpose grand jury like this, and Evan's report just indicated three dozen attorneys, FBI agents and investigators.
HARLOW: Yes. It's big.
CALLAN: You've created a bureaucracy. And what does that bureaucracy exist for? One purpose. To investigate links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And to justify their existence they're going to be very thorough and necessarily it's going to go on for a long time and be a detailed investigation.
HARLOW: What do we know about grand juries and their history? Obviously we'll see what happens here. But generally do grand juries hand down an indictment?
CALLAN: That's a great question. And statistically there's actually been some analysis of that.
CALLAN: When a prosecutor seeks an indictment, they indict more than 99 percent of the time.
CALLAN: Yes. They do what the prosecutor wants them to do. Now stepping back. It's a little hard to get into the mechanics of what goes on in the grand jury room, whether it's the grand jury's idea or the prosecutor's idea. So --
HARLOW: So there's no cross examination, for example. So it's sort of one-sided.
CALLAN: It's one-sided. And what happens is the prosecutor is working with the grand jury every day. It's like you go to the work in morning and there's Mr. Mueller or his assistant U.S. attorneys. You get to know them, you get to trust them. So they tend to rely on what gets recommended.
HARLOW: But an indictment does not mean a crime has been committed. It means just probable cause to investigate, to take this to a jury trial.
CALLAN: Yes. And by the way, just because when I say 99 percent of the time they indict when the prosecutor recommends it, if the prosecutor recommends the other way, don't indict.
HARLOW: Right. Right. CALLAN: They follow that recommendation, too. And Mueller has a
reputation for integrity and presumably we hope he will make a recommendation that's based on the evidence.
HARLOW: So there was already a grand jury seated a while ago around Michael Flynn.
HARLOW: The ousted National Security adviser. And subpoenas issued for that. These subpoenas as we learned from our Pamela Brown's reporting are different. They are tied to the Don Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer which we just found out about in the last month. Significance of that to you?
CALLAN: Well, you know, I think you're seeing an immediate focus on the Don Jr. meeting in the Trump Tower and so this is a laser beam focus really on what's the most relevant thing. Was there a really link between the campaign and the Russians? So I'm not at all surprised that that's really where they started with the subpoenas.
HARLOW: Still a gray area legally. You're going to stay with us. We can get back to this more in the next panel. But a gray area legally on whether or not you can bring criminal charges against a sitting president?
CALLAN: Constitutional scholars I think the majority say no. You can't indict a sitting president. You can impeach them.
CALLAN: And then you can go after this criminally. There's a minority view, though, that presidents are not above the law and they can be subject to indictment. It's never been done, though. No president has been charged criminally.
HARLOW: There are a lot of things that would set precedence here that we're walking certainly.
CALLAN: Absolutely. OK.
HARLOW: Paul Callan, thank you very much. We appreciate the expertise.
Stay with us. Again, Paul will be with us after the break.
The president turning up his attacks as the Russia probe intensifies. If you were watching last night when he was in West Virginia, he was certainly on the offensive, firing up his base insisting the entire thing is in his words a fabrication.
Let's go to the White House. Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is there.
[09:10:02] Look, Joe, the president spent a good five minutes talking about this last night. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And
beefing up his campaign rhetoric I think the campaign style rally. This is the second time he's actually been in West Virginia, which is a state the president won by more than 40 percentage points. Of course this time it was not a rally of huge numbers of Boy Scouts. This time, it was loyal supporters of the president arriving there at the big Sandy Arena in Huntington, West Virginia, to hear from the president.
Many of them put him into office and for those five minutes, the president talked about the Russian investigation among other things, asserting that the Russian investigation was a ruse, as he said before, indicating that, in his view, this was something being done to the voters who put him in office. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians? They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future they you won. Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: The president was so impressed with the turnout that he tweeted about it this morning.
Now for their part, the president's lawyers put out a statement just yesterday after the news of the grand jury being impaneled by the special counsel went public. Ty Cobb's statement saying, "Grand jury matters are typically secret. The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller."
So I think the takeaway from last night's rally in West Virginia, Poppy, if anything else is that this president does not intend to stop talking about the Russia investigation. He's very much casting in political terms right now.
HARLOW: Yes. He does not indeed. Joe Johns at the White House this Friday, thank you, my friend.
Special Counsel Bob Mueller's latest moves railing -- riling, I should say, critics. Also raising a lot of questions. Our experts are standing by.
And this morning, breaking one million jobs so far in his presidency, a strong jobs report pushing Trump presidency over that key milestone.
Plus captured. A fugitive wanted for sexually assaulting a minor is nabbed just days after being profiled on the "Hunt" with John Walsh.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:16:54]
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. To a new twist this morning in the Russian investigation. In addition, to Special Counsel Bob Mueller issuing these additional grand jury subpoenas, his team is also chasing the money literally examining the financial ties, if there are any between the president, the president's associates and Russia. What does this mean for the White House?
Back with us, Evan Perez and Paul Callan. We are also joined by Michael Warren, senior writer for "Weekly Standard" covers the White House, and Abby Phillip, CNN political analyst and also White House reporter for the "Washington Post." Nice to have you all here.
Evan, interestingly, last night the way that Newt Gingrich has been a big ally of this president put it, to quote him, "The Mueller threat is probably the most deadly." Now he went on to say he thinks Mueller and all of this is just part of what he calls the deep state, bureaucracy against the president.
Putting that aside, he calls it perhaps the most deadly. This follows on your reporting that what right now what investigators digging into is any final ties between the president, his associates and Russia. This is about the money trail and now you have allies of the president saying this could be deadly.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're right. I mean, this is the issue for this investigation, that really goes to the central charge that they have, which is to try to uncover whether or not there was any legal coordination with the Russian security service to influence the election last year.
And to get to the bottom of that you do have to examine the money. I know that the president and his allies and his legal team are all sort of drawing questions as to whether or not Mueller has exceeded what he was charged to do.
But this kind of goes right to the center of what he was charged to do, which is to understand whether or not perhaps anybody connected to the president or maybe the president himself was subject to blackmail or any kind of pressure from the Russians.
Whether anything perhaps four or five years ago, a financial transaction played a role into any of this. And so, if these investigators didn't do this, they wouldn't be doing their job, Poppy.
HARLOW: Right. Michael, the president calls this a red line. Now he asked Republican senators and they scoff at that idea, right? There's no red line. It's like saying that Ken Star had a red line in whitewater. Obviously, clearly, he didn't looking at things ended up.
But you've got now this push from Republicans, the bipartisan push to protect the special counsel. Two bills put out in the Senate this week bipartisan support basically making the courts review if Mueller were fired, significant? I think so. There's all sorts of factors here that are I think limiting the president's ability to do something himself to limit this investigation. You have this congressional push from senators including Republicans, as you point out.
MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": You've got John Kelly, the new chief of staff, who I think is really in a position and is acting in a way to limit the president's, you know, faints towards say getting rid of Jeff Sessions. He called Jeff Sessions and said you're secure in your job.
They were very close when Kelly was the DHS secretary, went on a couple of trips together to the border so they know each other. So, these limits and as well as the political of it, now that there's a grand jury, it becomes so much harder for the president to do something about this.
You have that pushing against a tighter probe into his finances, which is going to anger the president. It's already angering the president. I think this is a clash year.
[09:20:10] We don't know how it's going to end up, but it's harder now than it has been in the past.
HARLOW: Listening to the president last night in West Virginia and listen to this, because he seems to have changed his tactic slightly but in a very important way. That is not just to dismiss the investigation, but to take on the honesty of it. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Paul Callan, significant to you?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is significant. I think the president's position has always been this is absurd. There's no connection between my campaign and collusion with the Russians. But I think he's ignoring what is the biggest danger to him.
And that is while this connection is being investigated, will something be uncovered about the Trump financial empire that indicates illegalities or connections by underlings of his to the Russians.
That's where the area of embarrassment for the administration and maybe even possible criminal charges lies. That's the area that he's not talking about.
HARLOW: Abby, did you see it as a shift for this president instead of dismissing it as an excuse by Democrats like he says to make up for not winning the election. Did you see last night as a shift where he was actually trying to undercut the integrity of the investigation itself?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Absolutely, Poppy. I mean, one of the things to remember about last night's rally is that it was actually a campaign rally. So, the intention here is to really bolster his base.
I think reading between the lines of what the president said right now, you kind of get the sense that there's some concern that as this is all going on, that some of these investigations and the questions about what might have happened during the campaign and prior to that are seeping into the president's base.
And this was an effort to prevent that from happening by undermining the credibility of the special counsel. That message was directed at Trump supporters. It's revealing because I think up until this point they had sort of thought that the kind of fake news allegations, the witch hunt allegation would be sufficient.
And clearly, it is not. And you know, I think that the president was going really offensively last night in a way that I hadn't heard him do despite all of the tweets and all of that stuff.
Making a really clear that it's not just the Democrats, but it's also the Republicans and everybody in Washington who's protecting the special counsel that's enabling this activity. That's a pretty broad case that I don't think we've heard up until this morning.
HARLOW: It's interesting, Evan, that you had James Clapper, who, you know, was former director of National Intelligence, served under five different administrations both Democrats and Republicans called it Watergate in slow motion last night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Whether this leads to firing of or attempt to fire Bob Mueller, I think that would be a very dangerous thing to do. I think this would create a real constitutional crisis. This would be Watergate in slow motion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Evan, those are strong words, but one also remember, you know, Watergate, this didn't happen overnight. This was a two-year build-up process.
PEREZ: Right. Exactly. This is a long process. I think that's what we're facing here too, Poppy. We are entering the second year of this investigation. And look, a lot of what the FBI has done so far, Mueller is going through it, and checking everything out and seeing whether or not there's something that needs to be redone.
Maybe there are things that the FBI looked at before and put aside that maybe will get new attention. I think part of the issue here is that, you know, I think there is a lot of concern as to whether or not the president was trying to force sessions out so that he could put in somebody who is not conflicted and perhaps would then able to remove Bob Mueller and make essentially Mueller's place redundant.
And I think what you saw in the last few days, including from the Senate, they voted to make sure that there was no chance of a recess appointment. This kind of closes the door a little bit for the president, limit some of his options because I think there's a lot of concern here that the president could go down a road that really would set us up for some kind of constitutional clash.
HARLOW: It is telling when you have your own party, the president's own party closing these doors around him limiting his options on this sort of stuff. I have to get you guys onto something fascinating that one of the people most loyal to the president said last night in Ohio.
[09:25:01] Corey Lewandowski, the president's former campaign manager, said a lot and let me just paraphrase it for you. He said, "I'm a friend of the president, but he has to be held accountable if he doesn't follow through on his promises.
And those promised include repealing Obamacare, largest tax cuts in history, trillion dollar infrastructure plan, building a wall." I mean, Michael, Corey Lewandowski pointing out that the president hasn't done any of this, and then telling people to hold him to account come 2020?
WARREN: I think that's pretty interesting. But again, notice what he's not mentioning, he's not mentioning the Russian investigation. I think this is an effort by a former aide, a very former aide to re- orient the conversation toward policy.
HARLOW: Couldn't he have done that and said look at all the things the president is working towards? Instead he told people to hold him to account.
WARREN: Yes. I mean, I think this is -- I don't know. I think it's a little bit of trying to re-orient the conversation. I think it is interesting because he can't say something like that. He can't say look at all what the president's done. That's a very difficult place now six and a half months into the administration where what can they point to? Neil Gorsuch, some of the executive orders --
HARLOW: Which is big.
WARREN: It's very big, absolutely among conservatives in particular, some regulations, but they do have a problem here with getting legislation through and getting some of this legislative agenda through.
I think it's holding the president accountable, but also the Trump campaign and Trump world really wants to put the focus as well on Congress and make Trump supporters sort of focus their energies towards saying Congress get something done on behalf of the president.
HARLOW: Clearly, that was his message this weekend, his message in West Virginia last night throwing it all at Congress's feet including everything, by the way, that's wrong with the Russia-U.S. relationship which he did yesterday. Thank you all very much. Michael, nice to have you. Paul, Evan, Abby, we appreciate it.
Ahead, a 16-year low for the unemployment rate in this country. A million new jobs added now under President Trump. That is a great number for Americans workers, how our market going to react after a record week for the Dow. The opening bell in just a moment.