Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Moves Embassy; Trump Debates Jerusalem Announcement; Manafort Violated Bail; Testimony Of Ex-Trump Advisor. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Is the president of the United States above the law? His team of lawyers sending conflicting messages about their strategy, as President Trump is facing accusations that he obstructed justice.

Plus, Republicans pulling a complete 180 right now in the fate of the accused child molester, Roy Moore. Why the RNC, the Republican National Committee, is now flocking to the embattled Senate candidate.

And Bracing for violence. Allies warning the White House of the fallout over the president's potential decision to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We'll take you there live.

But let's begin with the apparent disarray among the president's legal team right now, as the Russia investigation clearly intensifies. President Trump's personal lawyer is sparking a fierce debate after suggesting that the president can't obstruct justice because he is the president.

And later, a White House lawyer contradicting that statement, saying that wouldn't be the president's defense, insisting instead they would be relying on the facts to defend -- to defend the president of the United States.

Clearly, there are very dramatic developments unfolding right now in this entire investigation. And that has been very, very apparent for some time. It clearly appears to be escalating.

Joining us now, CNN Reporter Kara Scannella has been doing some excellent reporting on all of this. What's the latest that you're hearing, Kara?

KARA SCANNELLA, CNN REPORTER: The latest that we're hearing is Ty Cobb, the president's lawyer who's dealing directly with the special counsel's office is now saying what John Dowd, his, kind of, partner in this, saying that's not our legal strategy. We're not relying on this notion that the president is, in a sense, above the law and can't be prosecuted for this. He's saying that we're going to rely on the facts. We're going to deal with this on the facts and that it's really going to be an issue about the facts. And it's not relying on this more controversial strategy.

BLITZER: It's pretty unusual, though, to be getting different legal opinions from the White House counsel who represents the president of the United States and from the president's private attorney.

SCANNELLA: It's very unusual and it's not clear why they're doing that. If this is more of a reaction to the client who was tweeting and then they, kind of, have to scramble and come up with a new strategy.

Or it could be that they're throwing out trial balloons and trying to get a feel for what people are going to react to it.

But it is unusual to see this, sort of, scrambling on a -- such an important issue.

BLITZER: And I suspect that scrambling is only just beginning.

Kara, thanks very much.

There is also growing friction in the U.S. Senate right now over the Russia investigation, as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee may be questioning the commitment of the committee's Republican chairman.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill. Manu, what's the allegation here?

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the concern of Dianne Feinstein is that the Republican chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley, may not be willing to do a deep dive into this Russia meddling investigation.

She has sent a number of letters out to Trump associates, everyone from Carter Page to Roger Stone as well as senior White House aide, Rick Dearborn. Letters that have not been signed on by the committee chairman.

Moreover, they have talked about having a public hearing with Donald Trump Jr. for months. That still has not come to pass either.

So, yesterday, when I talked to Feinstein, I asked her directly, does she have concerns about Chuck Grassley's approach? And she said this. She said, we want him to sign on. I think there's an effort, subtle, not to go deeply. I hadn't realized it before, but I realize it now and we'll have to figure out a way to deal with this.

Now, I asked Grassley about this this morning, Wolf. He pushed back. He said, look, we have been working on a number of issues on a bipartisan basis. We -- some things we work on individually. Some things we work on together. And he said that he is not slow walking this investigation. But, Wolf, a sign of the partisan tensions of one of the three investigations going forward and a real question about whether they can come to any, sort of, consensus to figure out what happened in last year's election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There is another development that's developing right now and it's very disturbing presumably for the White House. Serious questions emerging about the testimony given by the former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland who's now been nominated by the president to be the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore. What are those questions?

RAJU: Well, she testified, earlier this year, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And she was asked directly by Senator Cory Booker in written correspondence whether or not she had any communications with Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, about Sergey Kislyak. And she said in response, I am not aware of any such conversations.

Now, Wolf, it turns out, according to the court documents that are unsealed Friday, that a senior transition official did have a conversation with Michael Flynn about Sergey Kislyak. And we have learned from our reporting that that senior transition official was K.T. McFarland, and that occurred in late December.

[13:05:06] Now, I had a chance, just earlier, Wolf, to talk to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker. And I asked him, what kind of impact is this going to have on her nomination? Here's what he said.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE, CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: If she did testify inappropriately, obviously that's a big, big problem. I just don't know.

But, look, it's a problem. Her nomination is frozen for a while until that gets worked out. And, you know, she knows -- she has to know that herself. And we'll deal with it at the appropriate time.


RAJU: So, Wolf, Corker making it very clear that McFarland has more questions that she has to answer to Congress.

But Democrats are even going further, saying that perhaps she even misled the committee. That's what Cory Booker said. That she gave false testimony to the committee.

And I just spoke with Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee. And he told me, very clearly, this nomination cannot move forward until they get more answers about why there's this apparent discrepancy between her testimony and as well as these documents that were released last week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Manu, just to be precise. Not only her nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore may be endangered right now. Potentially, she's facing a legal problem, potentially being accused of lying during her Congressional testimony.

RAJU: Potentially. Now, the question always goes to intent. Did she -- was she aware of those communications then when she said that I was not aware of those communications with Michael Flynn.

We don't have those answers at this moment, Wolf, which is why she's going to have to answer more questions on Capitol Hill to make sure that her testimony was, at that point, accurate, even if there are these discrepancies now.

The question is, did she intend to lie and deceive Congress? We don't have those answers quite yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Manu's working his sources up on Capitol Hill, as he always does. Manu, thanks very much.

Let's break all of this down with our legal panel. Joining us now, Jonathan Turley, he's a constitutional law scholar. Jeffrey Toobin, he's a former federal prosecutor. He's our Senior Legal Analyst.

Jonathan, you've argued that John Dowd, the president's private attorney, dug himself in a very, very deep hole right now. Why would this be such a big problem for him and, more importantly, for the president?

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, this is a place you don't easily come back from. I mean, dismiss it as sloppy drafting, as I call it Titanic (ph) and cautious navigation.

I mean, this is a very serious problem. He made a material admission against interest. Not speaking for your client, but actually in your client's name, as on Twitter. So, it's baffling for all of us.

What he did was he made himself a material witness. It was bad enough that he was trying to be a lawyer and a media flack. But when you add witness to that mix, it becomes intolerable. And so, he may have to withdraw. In fact, I think most attorneys would, at this point. To just say they're compromised as a lawyer.

There's no reason why Mueller should take his word for it. That the president did not know about this language or that this did not reflect his state of mind.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Let me just -- I'm going to agree with Jonathan about specifically what the -- why the tweet is so problematic is that it says, in Donald Trump's voice, I fired Flynn because I knew he lied to the FBI.

That raises the question of why did you go to Director Comey and say, go easy on Flynn when you knew he committed a crime? What the -- what the White House is now saying is that the tweet was inaccurate, that it was written by Dowd, not by President Trump.

But the -- how this tweet came to be written and based on what information is now a fact question of relevance to the Mueller investigation. And that's why Jonathan is saying that Dowd may have to get out of the case.

BLITZER: Yes and Dowd not only said, you know, I'm responsible for that tweet by the president, he's also suggesting that the president may be above the law. He can't really be charged with obstruction of justice. You're laughing.

TURLEY: Well, only because when you think things couldn't get worse, in terms of legal strategy, this is not the way to pivot out of the earlier tweet problem.

But this has been a long-standing debate among law professors, as to whether a president, first of all, can be indicted in office. But whether, in fact, he can commit obstruction, since he's, effectively, the head of the executive branch.

I fall on one side of that. I've always argued the president could be indicted in office and can commit obstruction of justice. But there's a good-faith argument here. I mean, this has been long debated. And I hope that we won't have to answer it in this administration. But the way that they're going, we very well could.

BLITZER: Because Richard Nixon, as you remember, was an unindicted co-conspirator.

TOOBIN: Correct. And both Kenneth Starr in the whitewater investigation, Leon Jaworski in the Watergate investigation, in their own research said, we believe that the president can be indicted. But rather than indict Clinton and Nixon, they presented evidence relevant to impeachment to the Congress.

[13:10:07] And that, I think, is a much more likely outcome. I don't think Mueller is going to test the constitutional question of whether a president can be indicted. It is a much safer constitutional course and lower risk for Mueller simply to present what evidence he has to --


BLITZER: Talk about the United States Supreme Court. The president got a win yesterday when the Supreme Court, seven to two, ruled that he can fully implement his travel ban, affecting mostly Muslim- majority countries.

TURLEY: Right. Jeff and I have talked about this case in the past. I've been very critical of the challenge. And I actually thought on the second round the Supreme Court was going to rule for the Trump administration.

It's clear that they have further solidified that. This isn't a ruling on the merits. I mean, the court of appeals can still hear the case. But the standard for this type of injunction is whether the court believes you are likely to prevail on the merits.

So, it's a deadly type of standard for the courts that pull out these injunctions and say, not only can they go forward, they can go forward in full, in terms of the enforcement of the orders.

BLITZER: It's going to be appealed in lower courts. But it looks like the Supreme Court, at least for now, is on the president's side.

TOOBIN: It is a very good sign for the ultimate ratification by the Supreme Court of this.

By the way, I was in the Supreme Court this morning.

BLITZER: I want to talk about that in a moment.

TOOBIN: Right. OK.

BLITZER: But finish your though on that.

TOOBIN: Well, I just think by the third try, I think the administration did come up with an order that will -- that will pass legal scrutiny in the Supreme Court. And yesterday's ruling, though not on the merits, is certainly a sign that the Supreme Court is leaning in the administration's direction.

BLITZER: Now, an important case that -- you heard the oral arguments before the justices of the Supreme Court this morning. You're just back here in our studio from the Supreme Court. Tell us about that case.

TOOBIN: Well, this is really -- it's just a fascinating case about a bakery in Colorado where the baker has a religious objection to same- sex marriage. And a same-sex couple, two men, came in and said, we want a wedding cake. Please make a custom wedding cake for us. And the baker said no because I have this religious objection.

Colorado has a law, as the United States as a country does not. Colorado has a law that says you can't discriminate against gay people in business. The case here is a challenge between the rights of the baker to express his religious and free speech views, versus the right of Colorado to ban discrimination against gay people.

The case, as so often, appears to come down to Anthony Kennedy. Four justices seem very sympathetic to the gay couple. Four justices seem very sympathetic to the baker. Anthony Kennedy gave conflicting signals.

If I had to guess, I would say he would actually come out on the side of the bakery which is the side endorsed by the religious conservatives, by the Trump administration. Noel Francisco, the Solicitor General, argued on behalf of the bakery.

But it's a very close case and the justices were engaged.


TURLEY: Well, I would like to add, Jeff, it's not just those groups. Free speech advocates, like myself, believe that this is a free-speech case. That this the collision that we've been heading towards for years between anti-discrimination laws and religious views. And most of us do view this as a free-speech case.

Anthony Kennedy happens to be strong on both gay rights and free speech. And he will, indeed, be the turning point in the case.

BLITZER: So, we'll know sooner rather than later what these justices have decided.

Guys, good discussion. thank you very, very much.

Robert Mueller accusing the president's former campaign chairman of violating his bail and it involves contacting a Russian. You're going to hear what Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, allegedly did.

Plus, the world is warning the president of the United States right now over his looming decision to potentially move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

We're now learning there's still a fiery debate apparently going on inside the White House over this extremely sensitive issue.

And an about-face from Republicans who are now running back to support Roy Moore in Alabama, despite the molestation and assault allegations against them. Their reasoning and what it means if he wins the Senate seat.

Stay with us.


[13:18:45] BLITZER: We're just getting word that President Trump spoke on the phone today with several Middle Eastern leaders, including the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, set to inform them about his intention to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Let's go to CNN correspondent Ian Lee. He's joining us from Jerusalem right now.

Ian, clearly the administration, the Trump administration, has been warned now by multiple allies of a backlash from a move like this. First of all, what's the reaction you're getting from the Israelis and the Palestinians?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, really a split, Wolf. You have the Palestinians who are coming out very strongly warning of potential clashes, violence and destabilizing of the region if this move does go forward. On the other side you have the Israelis. We heard from the defense minister and the mayor of Jerusalem who have welcomed any sort of move. And for a long time Israeli officials have enthusiastically advocated for this move.

But it's not just these sides. We also have other regional leaders reaching out to the president, warning him of the consequences recently. We know that the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, spoke with President Trump and he stressed that the adaptation of the decision will have serious ramifications and implications on the security and the stability in the Middle East.

[13:20:11] We note that the Palestinians have called for three days of protest. The U.S. consulate, the U.S. embassies and U.S. diplomatic missions around the region have beefed up security ahead of any announcement.

Now, we do need to say that the president hasn't announced this yet. There is still time. There's 11th hour pressure being put on him by regional leaders. Also we know that the French president, Emanuel Macron, also reached out to the president warning him of this move.

But it really will come down to the president. Is he going to fulfill this campaign promise, or is he going to listen to regional leader who have been warning him about making this move to Jerusalem?

BLITZER: We'll see what he decides. That speech coming up from the president tomorrow.

Ian, thanks very much. Ian Lee reporting from Jerusalem.

Let's bring in our CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, this -- the fear among a lot of experts is this could further complicate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which isn't exactly moving along to begin with, but this could make it even more complicated.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, to say the least complicated, if not undermine it all together. And, in fact, that's what King Abdullah told the president in a phone call today, that this could have serious ramifications. And the U.S. is supposed to be a leader on this peace process. And you have multiple leaders in the region and elsewhere warning the president and the White House that this could undermine the process. It could undermine the U.S.' role in this.

I mean what we are hearing from foreign government is, why do this now? There are so many sources that we talked to that are just confounded by the timing of this, especially if the status is going to stay the same. If the president is going to announce that the capital of Israel being Jerusalem, but they will -- we are going to move the embassy, just at some indeterminate time, and still sign that waiver. And the capital, you know, the U.S. embassy is still going to be in Tel Aviv for the foreseeable future. So if that's the ultimate results in this waiver-signing process, then why do this now? And we're hearing that over and over again.

BLITZER: The president, as a candidate, he repeatedly said he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, like other U.S. presidential candidates have said, and he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

One argument that I've heard is that the Russian government, the Russian foreign ministry back in April, did issue a statement, didn't get a lot of publicity at the time, but did issue this statement, we reaffirm our commitment to the U.N. approved principles for a Palestinian/Israeli settlement, which includes the status of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. So what if the president of the United States were to follow the Russian example here and say, yes, east Jerusalem will be the capital of the future Palestine, west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

KOSINSKI: Yes, we --

BLITZER: And at some point down the road, the U.S. will move the embassy.

KOSINSKI: I mean we are expecting something like that. We just don't know how far it's going to go in trying to smooth this out because we know from our sources that there is concern inside the White House, even debate within the White House, as late as last night. I mean potentially hours away from a decision coming out of the White House, there is still that conversation within the White House as to how this should play out.

So, does the president make this a sort of split capital situation? Does he designate certain holy sites or certain parts of Jerusalem as, you know, as down the road, the Palestinian capital? Does he try to temper this in other ways? For example, maybe he'll talk about their needing to be a two-state solution.

So for all of that, and all of the possibilities that they could try to balance this decision, of course the question is still going to be, how much is that going to assuage these enormous tensions surrounding that?

BLITZER: That's a good point. And we'll see how far the president goes. Does he call for a two-state solution, Israel and a future state of Palestine? Does he differentiate between east Jerusalem and say the U.S. will move the embassy to west Jerusalem, recognize west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, not necessarily east Jerusalem? These are issues that are being debated and discussed I assume even as we're speaking at this late moment, but maybe the president's already made up his mind on all of the above.

Thanks so much, Michelle, for that report.

Is the president of the United States above the law? A member of the House Judiciary Committee will join us live to respond to the president's lawyer claiming that a president can't obstruct justice.

[13:24:53] Plus, Robert Mueller's team tells a federal judge Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, has violated his bail by contacting a Russian. You're going to hear the reason and why legal experts are now shaking their heads.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A ghost writer, a Russian and an unpublished op-ed article. All of these factors put together may cost former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort his bail agreement.

Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is joining us.

Laura, according to the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's team, Manafort was ghost writing an op-ed last month, as recently as last week, in fact, related to his political work for Ukraine with a Russian who has ties to Kremlin's intelligence eservice.

[13:29:59] So, Laura, explain what Manafort did wrong and how potentially it could affect his bail agreement.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, yes, Wolf, the biggest implication could be that Paul Manafort's chance to revise his bail conditions could be out the window.