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CNN NEWSROOM

Russia Investigation; Alabama Senate Race. Aired 10-10:30a

Aired December 4, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Top of the hour. This morning, President Trump says, he feels, quote "very badly" for Michael Flynn, despite Flynn admitting that he lied to the FBI. But President Trump's latest comments on the Russia probe are being overshadowed by the comments of his own lawyer, as outside attorney John Dowd telling Axios that whatever happened or didn't happen, the president could not be guilty of obstructing justice. Why? Because he's the president.

Now, if you know history, that will leave you scratching your head this morning as it had ours. More on that, in just a moment, but the President is on his way to Utah to make a speech this afternoon and he repeated in front of reporters his belief that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, got a raw deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life and I feel very badly, John. I will say this. Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame. Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath, it was the most incredible thing anyone has ever seen, she lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So we want to make one thing clear, James Comey testified under oath about Hillary Clinton's discussion with the FBI --

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: -- on July 4th. Let me read to you what James Comey said. We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI. So, Comey --

HARLOW: His words, under oath.

BERMAN: His words, under oath. Now, back to the matter at hand here which is the president and his fired national security adviser now convicted felon Michael Flynn, the president in a statement over the weekend that he put out on Twitter, seemed to hint that he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him. This matters. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz with us on that. Good morning, Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning. So yes, so there was a series of Tweets, right, and one of them included where as you just said, that the president was aware that Flynn lied to the FBI. Pretty significant and it certainly raised a lot of eyebrows because it goes to the heart of the obstruction case. That's why a special counsel was put together. In one way, it was to look at a possible obstruction case and that when the former FBI director was fired, did the president do that because of the Russia investigation, because, as we know, according to Comey, he said, can you let this go. The president said to Comey, can you let this go.

So then, the special counsel comes in. Look, this could all be used as part of a conspiracy, as part of a bigger case, which it seems a special counsel is building on whether people were lying, whether people were trying to mislead investigators and perhaps it stretches not just to the president, but there could be other people who are in on this so-called conspiracy to obstruct to prevent the FBI. They were for months trying to figure out why were so many people in the campaign reaching out to Russians? Why were the Russians reaching out to the campaign? And they saw this contact, but people were just not being truthful about it. And so the special counsel, you know, was brought in and just continuing to look at this. We'll see where it goes.

HARLOW: The one thing that we have seen the President tweet multiple times about this weekend is the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and the subsequent firing or not -- taking off of that investigation and the current Mueller-Russia probe, a very high-ranking FBI agent that is now known to have sent text messages showing a political bias towards Hillary Clinton.

PROKUPECZ: And those text messages came to light after -- during the inspector general investigation of leaks and whether Hillary Clinton's investigation is politicized. That his -- This FBI agent, Peter Strzok, is a very senior counterintelligence official.

These texts seemed to show a sort of negative view of the president during the campaign and were sort of pro-Hillary. We don't know the nature of the texts. But there was enough concern that when this information was brought to Bob Mueller, he said hey, we need to remove him and send him back to headquarters. This guy has been sitting in the human resources pretty much doing nothing. He's a senior, senior counterintelligence official. So, significant enough why they had to remove him.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Joining us now, Asha Rangappa, CNN legal analyst and national security analyst. She's also a former FBI special agent, so we'll get to some of these, you know, drama within the FBI, the president saying the FBI is in tatters in just a moment.

But let's get to the President's tweet on his account, whether it was John Dowd who wrote the tweet. It came out on the President's account, and it said that the president had to fire Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and lied to the FBI. So, not what's on your screen. We'll get to that in a moment.

But my question to you is, how significant is it? If the president did know that Flynn lied to the FBI and subsequently went to James Comey, the head of the FBI at the time and said I hope you can see your way to letting this Flynn thing go, Asha, how significant?

[10:05:13] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: If what the tweet says is true, it's very significant. It's a departure from the story that he had before, which is, that he just thought Flynn is a good guy, he wanted to help out his buddy, his pal, you know, that -- while may be inappropriate to do, is not necessarily a criminally-liable act.

However, going to the director of the FBI and asking him to drop an investigation which you know is one that concerns an actual felony that has been committed definitely, goes to what obstruction of justice is. So, that's the problem for the President.

And I just want to point out, John and Poppy, that he continues to make the case for Mueller himself. From the get-go, this entire thing is unrelated to Russia in the sense that it exists completely independently and was completely self-created.

BERMAN: Right. And you can obstruct justice independent of whether or not Russia tried to meddle the election, that's how you behave about that investigation, which may now be the subject of an investigation.

John Dowd, though, the president's attorney, is telling Axios this morning that the president can't obstruct justice. It's impossible for the President to obstruct justice. He says, the president cannot obstruct justice because he's the chief law enforcement officer under the constitution and has every right to express his view of any case. This seems to be like the Nixon argument to David Frost. It's not illegal if the president does it, Asha.

RANGAPPA: The President is not above the law. Period. And it's telling that Dowd is making this turn because I believe he can no longer argue the fact so he's going to challenge the law. So that's what he's going to do as a lawyer.

But as a legal matter, he is incorrect. In fact, he kind of makes the case against himself. Because it is true that the President can express whatever view he wants of a case, but precisely because of that, he can't interfere in them. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees everyone equal protection of the laws so you can have a president who has his own views directing investigations and shutting some down and starting them. We got rid of King George III so --

HARLOW: That's how things work.

RANGAPPA: Yes.

HARLOW: Let me get your take Asha because you worked inside the FBI, so the President this weekend, multiple attacks on the FBI on Twitter, including saying the agency is in tatters. The former U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara wrote this, this morning, quote, "praise to high heaven, Putin, Duterte, Erdogan" talking about you know, dictators of you know, of the Philippines, and you've got Erdogan of Turkey, and Putin of Russia, "heap scorn and contempt on your own FBI." This is called in his words ass-backwards. How do you see it?

RANGAPPA: I have to say, I think it's a very poor form for the President to be making those statements about what is the premier law enforcement agency in the world, which trains other law enforcement agencies. But, you know, again, I think this is a signal, the president gets nervous fingers whenever he feels that something is creeping a little too close to him.

And the FBI has proven time and time again that it is not in tatters and, in fact, that it can objectively investigate presidents. It's done so with both administrations from Iran Contra to Clinton to the Scooter Libby investigation. They've done it with professionalism and, you know, I think that this is him trying to delegitimize the investigation.

BERMAN: Asha, these politically-charged texts that may have been exchanged between an agent and a lawyer working on various investigations, first the Clinton e-mail investigation and the special counsel, how problematic are they?

RANGAPPA: Well, they're going to continue to be used against Mueller as evidence that he has a biased investigation. But, you know, any agent knows that you can never ever create, even the perception of bias when you're working on a case and you never text or communicate on any public forum about a case you're working on. So that was a poor judgment on his part. And I think the fact that Mueller took action immediately, shows that he is being very careful about the objectivity of his investigation. But I'm sure it's going to be, you know, used as evidence that he's not.

BERMAN: Already is. Asha Rangappa, great to have you with us. Thanks so much counselor.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Also new this morning, the President is endorsing accused child molester and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. The President before said, he believes Roy Moore's denials or he said that Roy Moore has denied it several times. He's pointed that out repeatedly. Today, he seemed to go even further. He wrote, Democrat's refusal to give you even one vote for massive tax cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama.

[10:10:01] HARLOW: All right let's remind you, eight women have come forward with credible accusations against Roy Moore, four alleging sexual abuse or assault, four more saying they were pursued by Moore when he was much older and they were teenagers. One, of course, accusing him of child molestation when she was 14 years old. Joe Johns is at the White House. So what is the thinking behind this? Why is the President all of a sudden this morning ready to come out and say full stop, Roy Moore is in your man?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well they haven't given us a reason, but I can tell you, the polling has -- that has been all over the place, suggests at least the Washington Post polling suggests that Doug Jones, the Democrat in Alabama is ahead in that race. Though within the margin of error, a very close race, 50% to 47%, as the "Washington Post" has it.

But there are a lot of concerns about polling in Alabama right now for this race, especially because this is a special election. Special elections don't occur regularly, so they're hard to poll for. This one has the allegations of sexual misconduct, which could create a huge variable. Those allegations that you just mentioned at the very top, now Alabama generally has been a place that's tough to poll in. Also, this is during the holidays, that's another variable, and the biggest one perhaps of all, is the Bradley effect that some people are embarrassed, perhaps, to admit who they plan on voting for. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns for the White House, thank you very much. Meantime, former TV host Billy Bush breaking his pretty much year-long silence, he was the other voice on that Access Hollywood tape he is speaking up, speaking out, in a new opinion piece. Because the President has reportedly on multiple occasions, questioned whether it was even his voice on that tape. The New York Times op-ed Bush pushes back, saying yes, Mr. President, it was you. Listen to those remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH, FORMER TV HOST: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the [bleep]. You can do anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Let's bring in senior media correspondent host of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, you know, Billy Bush basically writing the President's not being honest if he's suggesting he's not on that Access Hollywood tape.

BRIAN STELTER, SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and Bush is going further, saying he believes the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Here's part of the op-ed in this morning's New York Times. Bush says, "President Trump is engaging in some revisionist history. He says, reportedly telling allies including one U.S. senator, that the voice on that tape was not his. This has hit a raw nerve with me. I can only imagine how it has reopened the wounds of the women who came forward with their stories about him and did not receive enough attention. This country is currently trying to reconcile itself to years of power abuse and sexual misconduct and its leader is wantonly poking the bear."

So, Billy Bush presenting himself against Trump, as he starts to mount a comeback. He would like to be back on TV. After all, some people think it was weird that he was fired by NBC while Trump was elected president. So tonight, he's going on the Late Show with Steven Cobert. Seems like he's trying to start a comeback.

BERMAN: Indeed, all right, Brian Stelter, for this thank you very, very much. As we said, the President endorsed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, his daughter-in-law making phone calls that are going into Alabama. The full Trump support now in that race.

HARLOW: And Donald Trump, Jr. will testify this week before the House Intelligence Committee. It will be behind closed doors for now. We are speaking with a member of that committee who will question the president's son. Also, after a big national fight, the president is set to shrink two national park monuments. Why? And why is it so controversial? We are there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:18:10] HARLOW: This morning, President Trump throwing his weight behind Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore despite credible allegations of child molestation against the candidate.

BERMAN: We want to bring in Amber Phillips, political reporter for The Washington Post and Selene Zito, CNN contributor, national political reporter for the Washington Examiner also a columnist for the New York Post and she's with us. She's so very busy.

Selena, I'm going to start with you, so why do you think the President said it in words out loud this morning? You know, he's implicitly done this for a few days, he danced around it. Now he's saying, go vote for Roy Moore in Alabama?

SELENA ZITO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well I think, possibly, you never know what's in the mind of the president, right? But I think what sort of opened this door up for him was that the majority leader Mitch McConnell said, one of the Sunday shows, I'm not quite sure which one, that, you know, it's up to the voters of Alabama to make this decision. Technically, he's right. Probably McConnell is thinking look, if, you know, people don't get to take my word, you know, I'm not the most beloved person in Alabama.

Part of the reason why people in Alabama voted for Moore over Strange is because they're very anti-establishment. So I think that the President saw an opening there, you know, and he saw the fight and all the drama that went down with trying to get the Senate to pass the Tax Reform bill and he thought, you know, what the heck. I'm just going to throw it out there.

Now, having said that, the Alabama voters certainly didn't listen to him in a primary election. They voted, they supported Moore over Strange, the President went into Alabama and supported Strange and did a big rally for him. So, I guess we'll see. The polling I believe has been all over the place.

BERMAN: It has. ZITO: I don't know, you know, I don't think any of us really know

where this is going to go even though we can speculate, you know, depending on the day where this election or this race is.

[10:20:05] HARLOW: So Amber, the President's reasoning this morning on Twitter, why he is endorsing fully full stop out loud Roy Moore is because of in his words, quote, "Democrats refusal to give even one vote for major tax cuts." So, is there any other way for the American people to read this, other than you should not believe eight women who have come forward with these credible accusations against Roy Moore, and by the way, you should vote for him despite what they say because we want our agenda through?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: I think you hit that spot on, Poppy. And not only that, the president has been really open, that's exactly what he feels. He has consistently expressed his disdain for the Democrats before he officially endorsed the Republican in this race by saying he's a Democrat, wouldn't help us pass tax reform, he's not going to help us on any of our issues, we don't want a Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer type of Democrat in the Senate right now.

It's very clear the president has put politics as his priority in the Senate race. That being said, there is some Senate Republicans who feel like it's a greater political risk to have Roy Moore in the Senate. Because just like a lot of them have to answer for every tweet the president says, will they have to answer for, you know, how they feel about having a man accused of making sexual advances against a 14-year-old in the Senate with them. Do they want to expel Roy Moore? What if one works on a bill with Roy Moore, do they agree with because that be called in question. I mean this could be a massive political headache to have Roy Moore in the Senate as much as what the president is arguing to have him not in the Senate.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting sort of a dual message being sent right from the president. Number one, either he doesn't believe the women --

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: -- accusing him or he doesn't care. And both, both will be a hard pill to swallow I think for some voters and maybe some Republican members of the Senate. You might ask where we have we seen this play out in history before, it's with the president himself.

HARLOW: The president.

BERMAN: And the election last year when 13 women came forward with bearing (ph) stories. One was on TV this morning, Rachel Crooks, who says that then-Donald Trump, who was on "The Apprentice" forcibly kissed her against her will. She came forward a year ago and told her story and she thought it would have an effect. Listen to what she told Alisyn Camerota this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL CROOKS, ACCUSED TRUMP OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN 2005: I mean I think it's been great. I'm so thankful that other women are having the courage to come forward. But yes, I do feel forgotten. I mean, you can't help but wonder why people aren't talking about Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It is interesting, Selena, she openly wonders you can't help but wonder why people aren't talking about the president when it comes to this discussion of various people suffering, consequences of bad actions in the past.

ZITO: Yes. So such a completely different world from a year ago, right? And I think --

HARLOW: Yes.

ZITO: -- what opened the floodgates was the Weinstein scandal. Right. And that sort of has changed the dynamics. In particular, in media, and in Hollywood. But lesser -- to a lesser extent, in politics, because the way we hire and fire people in politics, is by how we vote and -- and we have seen both leaders of the party, both Pelosi and McConnell to a lesser extent, but still, you know, standing behind whatever Alabama voters decide to do, in that, you know, they have been reluctant to rid themselves and use their powers as -- in leadership to get rid of people that have had accusers come forward.

Last year, before this broke, you know, had the Weinstein thing happened and then we had the election after that, in 2016, maybe Donald Trump wouldn't have not gone on to become president, but we don't know that.

HARLOW: Right.

ZITO: Because it's a completely different sort of mindset and approach to accusations against people.

HARLOW: I think, Amber, Selena makes an important point, maybe it wouldn't have been any different had, you know, had the Weinstein story broken before the election because it seems like members of Congress are not getting, you know, these accusations are not getting held accountable certainly as swiftly as those in Hollywood or in the business world right now. Do you think the president sees perhaps that, Amber, playing out and sees political cover here?

PHILLIPS: Yes absolutely. Absolutely. I think he wants -- he can say that he won the election fair and square with all his dirt out there. He has an election in four years which is a very long time from the Harvey Weinstein scandal. We always say an eternity in politics.

I think to some degree in politics, it's fair to be more cautious about these allegations of sexual harassment because as Selena pointed out, these people are popularly elected. And so, you know, even women's experts I talked to who consider themselves fully on the side of the women making these accusations say it's fine to have some caution before we kick out a popular elected official in Congress. [10:25:10] That being said, it's undeniable that especially in Congress, there are rules that benefit the person -- the accused rather than the accuser. And until that changes I think you're absolutely right, Poppy, the president has a lot of cover to kind of bunker down and hope this blows over by his next election.

HARLOW: Amber Phillips, Selena Zito, thank you.

The president's lawyer saying the president cannot obstruct justice. Really? Because, well, what do members of Congress say and history tell us? We're going to speak with one member of Congress about that and a lot more ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: This morning, the president's attorney says that Donald Trump cannot be guilty of obstructing justice because --