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Trump Expresses Desire to Talk to Special Counsel; Interview With Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley; In New Audio, Trump Calls Obstruction "Fighting Back"; Trump: We're Going to "Morph Into" Citizenship For Dreamers. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 24, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: People who were brought to the U.S. at a young age from various countries that are here in the United States.
And there's been a big question what's going to happen with them. And the president said here at the White House that he would be open to giving them permanent citizenship in 10 to 12 years.
And we were told on background by an official that the plan that's going to be unrolled from the White House next week is to give them a legal status in the meantime and then, eventually, in 10 to 12 years, if they behave, we're told they would be given permanent citizenship.
That is new. We have not heard that directly from the president before that that is something he's considering part of an immigration bill. He also talked about funding for the wall. He said that he believes he will get $25 billion to build the wall that we hear so much about.
As you know, Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, called the White House a couple days ago saying he was going to rescind funding for the wall as part of the deal, but the president very stern saying he's going to get the funding, $25 billion, he's going to save the money.
Now, talking about the visa lottery, something we have also heard president discuss time and time again, he also said that he may want to do away with it. He wasn't exactly clear in terms of what's going to happen there. But he insinuated that it may be something the White House wants to do away with altogether.
But, Wolf, he was very clear. He said, we're going to get the deal done. Something is going to happen. At one point, he looked at his chief of staff, John Kelly, and said John, by the time I get back, you better have a deal done.
Of course, that's only a couple of days. Pretty unrealistic, given the divide between Democrats and Republicans on reaching that deal. I asked him directly. I asked him about Chuck Schumer, whether he would invite him back to the White House to negotiate the deal. He said, sure, I would invite him back. I like Chuck. We also asked him, Wolf, about Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director,
and the reporting he asked him in the Oval Office who he voted for. The president told us he doesn't remember asking Andy McCabe that question. We also asked him about Robert Mueller, special counsel, what he plans to do with the special counsel and being interviewed.
He says he wants to sit down and be interviewed by Robert Mueller. That he's totally open to it, and he said, Wolf, he would do it under oath. He said he would be happy to speak to Robert Mueller in person under oath, but that first he would have to go with the advice of his lawyers.
We asked him does he thinks Robert Mueller will be fair to him, and he said, we will have to wait and see. Several headlines coming the president at the White House today -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very important stuff.
I take it this was just an informal gathering with White House companies, Pamela? Were there cameras inside? Was this prearranged? How did it unfold? I ask the question because we anticipate sooner rather than later he's going to be asked by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, to sit down and answer questions.
BROWN: That's right.
It was impromptu. There weren't any cameras there. The reporters there were in a meeting learning about the immigration plan that the White House plans to unveil next week once the president is back from Davos. And a few minutes into that, the president opened the door and walked in, much to the surprise of the reporters in there.
And, of course, we immediately started asking questions. Fortunately, we were already recording on our phones, so we were able to capture anything. He seemed to talked to us for I believe 10 to 15 minutes, Wolf, and he talked to us there on the record. You know, it was very clear.
He wanted to make the point about the immigration plan that's going to be unveiled, what he wants and what he believes the Democrats and Republicans will be able to agree on in terms of a deal and he was really specific. He added more specifics, like the citizenship, permanent citizenship for dreamers down the road than we have heard from this president.
So it's clear he wanted just to make his message clear and then of course we covered a range of topics before he left the room -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that notion eventually of dreamers getting permanent citizenship in 10 to 12 years, that's seen by some of his conservative supporters, especially in the House of Representatives, as amnesty and they're adamantly opposed to citizenship down the road for these dreamers.
So that's very, very significant. On the issue of his willingness to testify, to appear under oath before Robert Mueller and his investigators, did he say under what circumstances if they came over to the White House, would he do it before a federal grand jury with his attorneys present? Did he get into any of that?
BROWN: He would only say, Wolf, that he was more than happy to sit down and talk face to face with Robert Mueller under oath.
He said that time and time again. He said he doesn't know the time frame. Now, he was very careful to say, look, I'm going to do what my lawyers advise.
But we can tell you, Wolf, just from the reporting we have done, that the president has told people around him, he wants to get in front of him. He believes he has done nothing wrong. He said in this gathering with reporters time and time again, there was no collusion, there was no obstruction of justice, and he wants to convey that to Robert Mueller.
Now, of course, the terms of what is actually going to happen is still being worked out. And our sources tell us that his lawyers would prefer for written answers, rather than an in-person interview. So we will just have to wait and see what happens.
But he wanted to make it clear he believes he has nothing to hide when it comes to collusion and obstruction of justice and he wants to be able to tell Robert Mueller that directly under oath -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Just two hours or so from now, Pamela, he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews and flies off to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.
Give us a little bit of his mood during that 10- or 15-minute exchange you and other White House correspondents had with the president. What was his mood?
BROWN: He seemed actually pretty jovial. He seemed like he was looking forward to the trip to Davos, a quick trip. He talked about the recent trade arrangements his administration has made, slapping tariffs on solar panels and washing machines and how this is a good thing, and how he's going to convey at Davos America first and that message and if the American economy is doing well, then the world economy is going to do well.
That is really what he said to the reporters of what he wants to convey in Davos. And he really did seem to be in good spirits talking to the reporters. You know, we kept asking questions and he kept seeming to wanting to answer those questions for, like I said, 10 to 15 minutes or so.
BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting. We're going to get back to you. I know you got an audiotape of what the president said. I want to hear chunks of that.
But stand by. I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin, our chief legal analyst, to join us as well. Jeffrey, all right, so the president says he's more than willing to sit down with Robert Mueller and his team and answer questions under oath. That's a significant breaking news development.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, but he also left himself an out. He said, I will do what my lawyers say. So he is sort of having things both ways, but this is definitely a more definitive statement than we have had from him before, but it certainly doesn't seem like he is locked into anything at this point.
I think we are dealing here with the art of the deal a little bit about this testimony. He has often said he wanted to testify. He has also said that he wants to listen to his lawyers. On another occasion, he said well, since there was no collusion, I don't know what point there would be to testifying.
So, I don't think there's any doubt at this point there will be some form of testimony. But whether it's under oath, who's present, for how long, what are the subject areas, all of that is still to be determined and the president's statements today didn't lock him in on any of that.
BLITZER: But he is the president of the United States, Jeffrey. If he wants to testify and appear and answer questions under oath, no matter what his lawyers recommend, he can overrule his lawyers and say you know what, I'm going to do this because I want to do it.
TOOBIN: Of course he could. He could definitely overrule his lawyers. But he also said that he was going to listen to his lawyers.
So, you know, he left himself considerable flexibility in what the ultimate resolution of this is. He very successfully I think tried to show that there was -- he felt he had nothing to hide, but that's a very different thing from specific agreement to testify for X-number of hours under oath with a transcript taken about the following subjects.
All of those issues remain on the table, and you can be sure there will be complex negotiations between Mueller's team and the White House lawyers.
BLITZER: And assuming -- I assume and I think you assume that Mueller is getting closer and closer to this final decision to bring in the president for some serious questioning. He's interviewed almost two dozen other senior White House officials already.
TOOBIN: You know, I think you know, White House lawyers have been saying literally for months that Mueller is wrapping up his investigation.
If in fact they are approaching the question of when they are going to speak to the president, that really means they are wrapping up their investigation. There is no way that Mueller's team is going to get more than one shot to interview the president.
So if they feel like they have all the documentary evidence, all the e-mails, all the recordings, all the foreign surveillance audiotapes that they think they're going to get and can use it to examine the president, that really does suggest that the Mueller investigation is nearing an end point.
And I think that's good news for the White House and the Republicans.
BLITZER: Yes. And I want you to stand by, Jeffrey, because we're going to get the audio. The president has this informal exchange with White House correspondents, including our own Pamela Brown.
There were no cameras inside, but they all had their cell phones and they recorded what the president said. We're going to play that recording for you this hour. We want to hear precisely what the president is saying on these very, very sensitive issues involving the overall Mueller-Russia investigation, as well as what he's saying in his new willingness to accept a pathway to citizenship for some 800,000 dreamers, the DACA recipients here in the United States.
A statement that clearly will irritate some of his conservative supporters, Republicans in the House of Representatives, who see that citizenship path as amnesty and they strongly oppose that.
I want to quickly bring in our CNN legal analyst, Preet Bharara. He was fired from the job, his job as the U.S. attorney in New York by President Trump.
Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
Are you surprised to hear the president say he's looking forward to speaking with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and that he would speak with him under oath, but he's also waiting to get the recommendations of his attorneys?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I was listening to your conversation with Jeffrey Toobin, and I agree with what Jeff said, that the president is making it look like he's looking forward to talk, which is what a high-profile person wants to do if you want to give the impression you have nothing to hide and you're not afraid of anything.
That's a normal, standard operating procedure for people like that. But at the same time, he has left himself some wiggle room if he thinks a good deal has not been arranged or he can use his lawyers as scapegoats to say, I want to tell my story, but for legal reasons, my lawyers say not to do it.
As we also all know, the president sometimes listens to his lawyers, sometimes doesn't. And, in fact, probably it's the case any reasonable person would think that his lawyers have been telling him for a long time that he should keep more quiet about various issues. He probably should not have done that Lester Holt interview that has been much talked about.
He probably shouldn't be tweeting about various things, whether it's in relation to the Russia investigation or the travel ban. His statements have been used from Twitter and from other circumstances in actual court proceedings that have been unfolding around the country to his detriment.
Not only do we know he's capable of overruling his lawyers. In all likelihood, he has done that, but this gives him the opportunity to say he wants to tell his story, there's nothing to be afraid of. But at the same time, the devil will be in the details, I think.
BLITZER: The president said that, whatever he wants, he will follow the advice of his lawyers. Is there any chance he doesn't submit to an actual interview? Because he's saying he is looking forward to it. He is the president. If the lawyers recommend don't do it, he could still do it if he wants.
BHARARA: Sure, and the reverse is also true.
We know about the track record of this president, whatever you think of him politically, is that he changes his mind. A lot. I have some personal experience with that. So this is a person who can say one day, I want a particular deal. The next day say, I don't want that deal. One day say he likes Steve Bannon. The next say that Steve Bannon had nothing really to do with my success in winning the election.
And the same I think is true for this. Jeff pointed out a couple of bases on which the president might say I don't want to come testify. He could also say, look, my lawyers have been negotiating. They're not being dealt a fair hand. They're asking for -- the special counsel's office is asking for too much. I don't think I'm going to get a fair shake. It's all corrupt.
He and his allies have been saying for some time because it's politically helpful to them, undermining the credibility of not just the FBI, and one of the FBI that has been removed from the team, but also Bob Mueller himself. People like Newt Gingrich go on television and say it all the time.
So I think there are various ways. If the president decides at some point that he doesn't want to talk to special counsel Mueller, notwithstanding what he said today, and we haven't heard the audio yet, I think he can say I don't want to do it anymore. He does it all the time.
BLITZER: We're going to hear the audio fairly soon.
What do you make of the timing, this timing? Why do you believe the president is saying this now?
BHARARA: Frankly, I have no idea why the president says particular things on particular dates and particular times.
It sounded like this was an impromptu -- from the report, this was an impromptu appearance by the president, unexpected by anyone and he talked about a lot of things, including immigration. And this, I don't know what prompted it. Maybe he saw something on a different network that caused him to want to come out and talk.
BLITZER: The president also says he doesn't remember asking then acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe how he voted in the presidential election in 2016. Do you believe him?
BHARARA: Look, on any particular issue of what the president said or did not say, I generally will defer to the other party of the room. That's true of Jim Comey. That's true of some other people.
But I don't know the particulars of that.
BLITZER: Would it be appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a career FBI official to ask how he voted or she voted in a presidential election?
BHARARA: I think it's a bad idea. I think it's a terrible idea.
I think it is of a piece with asking, not quite the same language, but of a piece with asking Jim Comey for his loyalty or saying about the FBI or the attorney general that that person's job or institution's job is to protect them.
For people to believe that the law is being enforced fairly without fear or favor, they have to believe that people are not acting politically. Some people have political views that they're supposed to keep to themselves while they have those positions.
And when a president overtly asks a question like who did you support in a presidential election or who did you vote for or are you going to protect me or will you have loyalty to me, it undermines people's faith and confidence in how law enforcement does its job.
And it sends a message to people if I want to keep my job -- and I don't think this is a worry on the part of someone like Andy McCabe, who I know personally, but it sends a terrible message about how law enforcement is not supposed to be as independent as it was meant to be.
BLITZER: I have heard that statement from a lot of career officials today. They think it was totally inappropriate if, in fact, the president asked McCabe how he voted in the presidential action.
Preet, I want you to stand by.
Senator Jeff Merkley is joining us right now. He's a Democrat who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, President Trump says he's looking forward to speaking with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, that he's willing to speak under oath, assuming his lawyers recommend that.
What's your reaction? I see you smiling.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, my reaction is, he didn't mean any of that.
What he meant was he's going to follow his lawyers' advice. He's going to be very, very careful about how he approaches this.
Listen, this is a president who has pressured three directors of the FBI while he's been president. If he's got comfortable, why is he pressuring them in this fashion? I think he's very concerned about it. He's going to follow his lawyers very carefully, while pretending he's not so concerned.
BLITZER: Because he says he will follow the advice of his attorneys. Is there any chance, you believe, that he won't submit to an interview with the special counsel?
MERKLEY: Well, I believe he will submit under very careful coaching and very careful agreements on how he does it. He doesn't want to end up in the situation that he's pulled into a grand jury-type setting.
So, I think there will be a level of cooperation very carefully pre- managed.
BLITZER: And I'm sure his lawyers would like to do it in written form. The special counsel submits written questions and the president would submit written answers.
I don't believe -- a lot of experts have suggested to me that Robert Mueller is probably not going to accept that. Right?
MERKLEY: That's certainly my understanding.
BLITZER: The president also says in this exchange he's had, this informal exchange he's had with White House correspondents, including our own senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, we're about to get ready to release the audio of that exchange.
It's about 10 or 15 minutes, according to Pamela. And I think our viewers here in the United States and around the world will find it very, very interesting.
He goes through a whole bunch of issues, but he also says in response to a question, according to Pamela, that he doesn't remember asking then acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe how he voted in the presidential election.
I will ask you what I just asked Preet. Do you believe him?
MERKLEY: I think that the president has many things he's done and said he'd like to forget.
BLITZER: So, what does that mean?
MERKLEY: That means he probably wants to forget that he asked that.
I really agree with the point that when you have a commentary about what was said and not said, I tend to trust the other people in the room, especially if there are several of them telling the same story. BLITZER: What's your big question right now?
MERKLEY: Well, my big question is whether we can actually get to the bottom of whether there was collaboration with Russia.
Now, realize what's going on right now. Russia has its botnet network working in close parallel cooperation with the Republican Party. They were putting out tons of social media out of their computers on the Schumer shutdown. And now they have proceeded to call for the report coming out of the House Intelligence Committee to be released.
And it's -- really, right now, the president should have been standing up in that interview today and saying, by the way, Russia is still influencing our social media and I'm going to fight Russia. I'm going to stop them. We are not going to allow Russia to influence what goes on here in the United States of America.
We're certainly not seeing that.
BLITZER: Senator Merkley, thanks so much for joining us.
MERKLEY: You're very welcome.
BLITZER: I want to get back to Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I want to remind our viewers on the breaking news that is occurring this hour. Just moments ago, the president met informally with a group of White House correspondents, including our own Pamela Brown.
He spent about 10 or 15 minutes speaking with them, answering questions, making news on a variety of fronts, but also suggesting he would be happy to sit down with Robert Mueller, the special counsel who's investigating the whole Russian meddling probe, and speak and answer questions under oath, but he had a caveat.
If that's the recommendation of his attorneys, he will listen to his attorneys. When you hear that, I want to be precise. He theoretically could say, you know what, I really want to do it, I have got nothing to hide. There was no collusion. This is all a witch- hunt, but my attorneys are saying don't do it.
TOOBIN: Yes, I think you used the exact right word there. You want to be precise.
He doesn't want to be precise. He doesn't want to lock himself in on a commitment to specific testimony under oath for a given amount of time, for a certain number of predetermined subjects.
All that is going to be negotiated with his lawyers. Let me just say, he's the president of the United States. He is a constitutional officer of this country. His lawyers have every right to negotiate with Mueller's office about the terms of testimony. He is not simply a witness like any other witness. So, you know, the idea that there is negotiation to go on, there's
nothing inappropriate about that. However, the fact that the president is saying, I want to negotiate, I want to testify under oath, that does not mean that he's going to testify under oath.
And that is something that very clearly is going to be a subject of these negotiations. And there are lots of terms to be determined about this testimony if it takes place. And I don't think anything the president said today -- we will hear very shortly the exact words he used, but based on Pamela's summary, which I completely believe, he did not lock himself in to anything about whether and when this testimony takes place.
BLITZER: And we're getting ready that audio, that tape, of the conversation that the president had with White House correspondents and we will listen very carefully to his specific words, what he said, what he meant on a variety of issues.
He's getting ready to leave the White House fairly soon. He's going to head over to Joint Base Andrews aboard Air Force One. Fly off to Davos, Switzerland.
Phil Mudd and our panel are here.
What do you think of the way -- the report we're getting from Pamela Brown, how he phrased his willingness to address questions from the special counsel?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Who are we kidding here? I skipped going to the dentist for five years. It's not because I wanted to go to the dentist. He doesn't want to do this.
Can you tell me one positive, one plus side of him going to talk to investigators, particularly if the interview takes a couple of hours? Do you think he's going to persuade Robert Mueller after a couple-year investigation that, oh, this is all a hoax?
That's not going to happen. Furthermore, with a man who's remarkably undisciplined, I'm talking about the president of the United States, over that couple of hours after the accumulation of information like other interviews, he better not make a mistake by speaking off the cuff.
The reason he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth is he wants to tell the American people I'm cooperating, and his lawyers are saying if you're cooperating, be careful because you're going to step into it if you don't speak the right words.
BLITZER: What do you think his lawyers are going to recommend to him?
MUDD: They're going to try to tighten up as much as possible in terms of the terms of this.
You have talked, for example, about whether Mueller would take written responses. He can't take all written responses. They're going to try to control what areas they discuss. If I were them, I would try to control the duration of the interview.
You don't want to be there all day, but this is going to take hours. At some point, if they agree to do this, it's going to have to be in person and it's going to have to take a while. And I think the president is going to be vulnerable.
TOOBIN: Jeffrey, what do you think? In the best of all worlds, from Mueller's perspective, what does he want? What format?
TOOBIN: Eight hours under oath, like Bill Clinton did.
BLITZER: Bill Clinton did it in front of a federal grand jury.
TOOBIN: It was not directly in front of the grand jury.
BLITZER: By a video link.
TOOBIN: But it was essentially equivalent of testifying before a grand jury. I think that's what Mueller wants.
I think Phil raises a very important point here, which is the duration of the testimony, because Donald Trump is an extremely forceful person. He is also the president of the United States. He is going to be able filibuster in answers to these questions.
And in any sort of scenario, there's not going to be a judge present. It will just be Mueller's team and the president and his team, if he has lawyers present.
Who is going to stop Donald Trump from saying 16 times as he did in a recent interview there was no collusion? Trump can eat up a lot of time by simply talking about what he wants to talk about. And that's why I think the duration of this testimony is going to be extremely important.
If it's just an hour, if it's just two hours, the president could just talk for that long and Mueller could wind up with virtually nothing. So I think the amount of time is going to be a very, very important part of this negotiation.
BLITZER: I want to quickly go back to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, who was in this extraordinary exchange with the president and other White House correspondents just moments ago.
You're getting more information. What are you learning, Pamela?
BROWN: Right, just more about what the president said regarding Robert Mueller, his willingness to sit down and do an interview with him.
And he actually said to the reporters, "I'm looking forward to do it, actually." That is a direct quote from him, saying he's happy to do it and he said he would be happy to do it under oath.
But he was very careful to caveat that he would have to do it under the advice of his lawyers, what they want. So, he was very careful with that.
But he told the reporters that he believes he has nothing to hide, that there was no obstruction of justice and no collusion. He said that a couple of times, that he's basically said he wanted to be able to tell Robert Mueller that face to face, to convey that to him.
In terms of a timeline, it's unclear. He said maybe a couple weeks or something to that extent. But I can tell you, there is no exact date set. There's just been reporting that it could happen in the next couple of weeks. But he wanted to make it clear he's not afraid to sit down and talk to Robert Mueller under oath in an interview.
I can tell you, Wolf, from sources I speak to close to the president that they are, for the most part, advising against that. There is concern about what that might lead to. So the president may not necessarily be in agreement with his lawyers in terms of what's going to end up happening.
BLITZER: We now have the audio of that exchange you and your fellow White House correspondents, Pamela, had, the exchange on his willingness to answer questions to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
All of us are going to listen precisely to this exchange. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: Are you going to talk to Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually.
QUESTION: You want to?
QUESTION: Do you have a date set?
TRUMP: Here's the story, just so you understand.
There's be no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.
I do worry, when I look at all of the things that you people don't report about, with what's happening if you take a look at, you know, the five months worth of missing texts. That's a lot of missing texts.
And, as I said yesterday, that's prime time. So you do sort of look at that and say, what's going on?
You do look at certain texts where they talk about insurance policies or insurance, where they say the kinds of things they're saying, and be concerned. But I would love to do that. And I would like to do it as soon as possible.
Good luck, everybody.
QUESTION: Do you have a date set?
TRUMP: So here's the story.
QUESTION: Do you have a date set, Mr. President?
TRUMP: I don't know. No, I think -- I guess they're talking about two or three weeks. But I would love to do it.
Again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that. But I would love to do it.
QUESTION: Would you do it under oath, Mr. President?
TRUMP: You mean like Hillary did it under -- who said that?
QUESTION: I said that.
Would you do it under oath?
TRUMP: Oh, you said it. You did say it. You say a lot.
Did Hillary do it under oath?
QUESTION: I have no idea.
TRUMP: I think you have an idea. Don't you have an idea?
TRUMP: Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. Do you not have an idea? Do you really not have an idea? I will give you an idea. She didn't do it under oath.
But I would do it under oath. But I would do it.
QUESTION: You would?
TRUMP: And you know she didn't do it under oath. Right? If you didn't know about Hillary, then...
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so you heard the president saying, "Hillary Clinton didn't do it under oath. But I would do it under oath."
Pamela brown is still with us. And he also said they're talking maybe within the next two or three weeks, the president saying, this exchange, this interview, with Robert Mueller and his team could take place.
And let me just read precisely what he said, because this is very significant. "I have to say subject to my lawyers and all that, but I would love to do it."
And then he went on to say, "And I would do it under oath."
Go ahead, Pamela.
And I will say, talking to people close to the president and close to this process, the two- to three-week timeline in terms of an interview is a bit optimistic. There is no date set at this point, we're told by sources.
But we have been told the president is eager to get this done with. He believes that if he sits down with Robert Mueller, that perhaps this will all wrap up. You heard him there talking about he would love to sit down with Robert Mueller and do it under oath.
Now, whether or not that is the reality is unclear. Of course, he wants to convey to everyone that he believes he has nothing to hide, that there was no collusion, that his campaign did not collude with the Russians, and that there was no obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey.
So, clearly, he wants to convey that by saying, look, I will sit down and tell Robert Mueller that face to face under oath. I have nothing to hide. But, of course, I will do it on the counsel of my lawyers.
But I can tell you, Wolf, there is a lot of back-and-forth negotiating right now between Robert Mueller's team and the president's legal team in terms of what a possible interview will look like, what shape, whether it be in written form or perhaps in person.
I can tell you the lawyers would use the in-person interview. That would be a last resort for the president's lawyers. But the president himself has told them as well that this is something he wants to do.
We will have to wait and see what happens, how this plays out, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have more of the audio from this exchange that you and other White House correspondents had with the president. We're standing by for that.
Pamela, I'm going to get back to you in a few moments.
I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney fired by President Trump, Preet Bharara.
So, Preet, you heard precisely what the president said. He would love to be interviewed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, "subject to my lawyers and all that. But I would love to do it," he said. And then he said, "And then I would do it under oath." Your reaction? [18:30:24] BHARARA: Yes, so that's a big caveat, isn't it? "Subject
to my lawyers and all that." That to me sounded a bit more like a posture than an ironclad commitment. Then there's this all that. And all that could be literally anything at all, if he thinks he's not getting a fair shake.
In the course of the audio that we just heard, he also made reference to whether or not Hillary Clinton testified and was interviewed under oath. He also had reference to the text exchange between an FBI agent who used to be on the Mueller team.
So he's -- at the same time that he's suggesting that he wants to come forward and he's got nothing to hide, and he wants to do the interview, he's also seeding sort of the public with all sorts of reasons why it may not be a great idea, and he shouldn't be subjecting himself to it. So I think it's -- I think we wait and see.
BLITZER: When he says that Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her and the server and the e-mail and all that, she didn't do it under oath. Are you familiar with the ground rules? What the ground rules for her were?
BHARARA: Yes, so a lot has been made of this. And it is a natural thing in America, because we watch television, and we watch crime dramas, and we watch movies about putting people under oath. And there's a reason you do that, particularly in open court proceedings and in grand jury proceedings and in depositions.
But lots and lots of investigations, including investigations that I oversaw in my office that involved people and, in particular, people in the public eye. We often, standard operating procedure, was to conduct a voluntary interview with FBI agents and federal prosecutors; and people were not put under oath. In fact, people testified sometimes in front of Congress without being under oath.
It is still a crime to lie in the context of that interview, whether you're under oath or not. It's still a violation of 18 USC-1001, which a statute that Bob Mueller has already used in connection with this case. I think two people, at least, have already been charged and pled guilty with 1001, which is a false statement.
So it's a distinction without a difference, largely. 0 Putting someone under oath will allow you to charge them later with a separate crime of perjury. But for all intents and purposes, the fact that it's an ongoing proceeding, that federal agents are doing the questioning and someone not being put under oath doesn't matter. It's a symbolic point and a rhetorical point that the president and others keep making, but it doesn't matter.
And the fact that Hillary Clinton wasn't put under oath doesn't mean a lot either, and my guess would be that the Mueller team would not be requiring the president to be under oath. And my understanding is, even though I don't know for sure, that some of the other people that have been interviewed by the Mueller team have also not been put under oath. So I don't think there's a double standard here at all. BLITZER: Is it -- one thing, I know it's a crime to lie to the FBI,
whether or not you're under oath or not, as part of a federal investigation. But is it also a crime to lie to prosecutors, to lawyers who work in the special -- for the special counsel?
BHARARA: Yes. Yes, lying to an assistant United States attorney or to the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent is one and the same.
BLITZER: The same thing. All right, Preet, I want you to stand by. I want to get some more reaction.
Phil Mudd, what's your reaction? You now heard the precise words of what the president of the United States said. Just to remind our viewers, he said he wants to testify. He wants to testify under oath. But then he added the words "subject to my lawyers and all. But I would do it under oath."
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: There's one clue in there that I think is really significant. And there was a conversation Pamela mentioned in about time frame, matter of weeks.
We're in end game here. End game because if you look at the people who have been interviewed in this and the recent interviews, you're talking about the attorney general. Looks like Steve Bannon is getting teed up for an interview. Those are the biggest fish in the pool here and, obviously, as we talked about, Mueller doesn't talk to the biggest fish until the end game.
The White House has said repeatedly they want to close this out. Get this over, move on to other things. Bottom line, Wolf, if they want to get this over, I would say by the end of February, the president ought to be in the chair, because if they're still negotiating terms there, the question is, if you're so willing to talk and if you want to get this over, what's the delay? Sit in the chair and have the conversation.
BLITZER: We're getting some more audio from what the president said in this exchange with White House correspondents.
Pamela Brown is still with us. I know we have another chunk of that exchange. What else do you have, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president also brought up the five months of missing text messages by the FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was under fire for criticizing Trump during the campaign. He was part of the Mueller investigation, and then was removed several months ago. The president brought that up, so I followed up with just asking him what he thought about the FBI.
Here's that exchange.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would do it under oath. Absolutely.
BROWN: Do you trust the FBI? Do you trust the FBI?
TRUMP: We're going the see. I mean, I am very disturbed, as is the general, as is everybody else that is intelligent. When you look at five months, this is -- Rosemary Woods, right? A step, right? This is a large-scale version.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighteen minutes.
TRUMP: That was 18 minutes; this is five months.
[18:35:18] They say it's 50,000 texts. And it's prime time. That's disturbing. Say hello to your friends. Good-bye, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should McCabe go, Mr. President? Should McCabe go?
TRUMP: Well, McCabe got more than $500,000 from essentially Hillary Clinton, and is he investigating Hillary Clinton?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So should he go?
TRUMP: Do you remember, did anybody hear many of my speeches, where I talked about McCabe? He was the star of my speech. This is a map. And I said a man who was more or less in charge of her got -- the wife got $500,000. From Terry. Terry is Hillary. And yes, I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you regret having him as your acting FBI director then?
TRUMP: You know what? I keep out of it. You'd find that hard to believe. I keep out of it. That's the way it fell. He's been there. It's one of those things.
But he was the star of many of my speeches. Because he got from five to 700,000, whatever the number was. Got that money for the wife. And you know, in Virginia -- in Virginia, very interesting, wait. In Virginia, you don't have to spend the money. So I never checked as to whether or not they spent the money on the campaign. How much of the money did he spend on the campaign, do you know? She.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She.
TRUMP: How much -- how much was made? How much of the money was spent? You know. How much...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ask McCabe who he voted for? Did you ask him that?
TRUMP: I don't think so. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't think you did?
TRUMP: No, I don't think I did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did not? TRUMP: I don't know what's the big deal with that. Because I would ask you, who did you vote for? I don't think it's a big deal, but I don't remember that. I mean, I saw that this morning. I don't remember asking him that question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible you did?
TRUMP: I don't remember asking him the question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't remember?
TRUMP: I think it's also a very unimportant question. But I don't remember asking him the question.
Hey, Chief, will you do me a favor? When we come back, when we come back, I want you to have a deal, OK?
BROWN: Of course, he's talking to his chief of staff, John Kelly, there at the end, saying he wants a deal on immigration when he comes back from Davos. Very unrealistic there, given the divide between Republicans and Democrats in that short time frame to come to a deal.
I did ask him there, as you heard, why he kept Andrew McCabe in the position of acting FBI director when he fired James Comey. He said he stayed out of it. But it was his decision at the time, after he fired James Comey, that night he did make the decision to make Andrew McCabe the acting FBI director for a time.
And you heard him say there that he doesn't recall asking Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the Oval Office, but he sort of shrugged it off like it wasn't a big deal.
And Wolf, also, just to recap this, he said that he would love to sit down and talk to Robert Mueller face-to-face. Something that is being worked out, the terms of that negotiation. I can tell you, his lawyer has even said publicly that that could open him up to perjury. That is the concern, that if the president sat down face-to-face, that it could open him up to some sort of perjury.
He also brought up Hillary Clinton. He said he would do an interview under oath, unlike Hillary Clinton. I can just tell you, just for context, I know you were talking about this, Hillary Clinton did do a voluntary FBI interview that was not under oath. But it is a federal crime to lie to the FBI there.
So really, a lot of headlines coming from the White House today as the president covered a number of topics, including the immigration bill; and he is saying, Wolf, that he believes he will reach a deal soon.
BLITZER: He said within two or three weeks he anticipates this interview with Robert Mueller and his team could take place. He says he wants to do it, he'd love to do it, subject, in his words, "subject to my lawyers and all that." Precisely that.
Stand by, Pamela.
Jeffrey Toobin, I want to get your reaction to this other excerpt from this exchange that the White House correspondents had with the president.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The excerpt is really pretty remarkable for the number of inaccuracies, conspiracy-mongerings and outright just strangeness.
First of all, Hillary did not give any money to -- to McCabe's wife when she ran for the state Senate in Virginia. It was Terry -- it was Terry McDonnell [SIC]...
BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe.
TOOBIN: McConnell [SIC]...
TOOBIN: ... who was the governor. McAuliffe, I'm sorry. McAuliffe, who's the governor of Virginia, who is yes, he's a friend of the Clintons, but he obviously is very much involved in Virginia politics and would have every reason to support a Democrat in that seat.
The -- I'm trying to keep track of all the things he said. I mean, there was not any -- gosh, I'm sorry, I lost my -- I lost my train of thought in there. Come back to me on this, and I will -- I'll fill you in further.
BLITZER: Well, the other thing that the president said, Phil Mudd, and you were listening carefully, as well, that the -- the exchange, the text messages between these two FBI officials disappeared from December until May. And he says that's worse than Rosemary Woods during Watergate, the 18-minute exchange that went missing.
[18:40:27] And we've reported now and the FBI is saying -- and you used to work at the FBI -- apparently, there was some new Samsung phones that were brought in, and there were thousands of these phones -- maybe 10 percent of the FBI, new phones -- that had a technical glitch, and they didn't save those kinds of e-mails and messages during that period.
MUDD: Shockingly enough, the Federal Bureau Of Investigation and the federal government, writ large, are not always great at I.T.
When I was there, we were recovering from $180 million investment in computerization at the bureau. Money down the drain. We couldn't absorb that technology fast enough.
I think the story here is going to be boring, as you just suggested. They lost the messages because the technology had glitches.
There's one other piece of this, Wolf. Let me take you inside the U.S. government. If you want to have a conspiracy where you're trying to erase messages, you need 50 to 100 people. Two people can't do this. BLITZER: All right. Stand by. There's more...
TOOBIN: If I can just -- I'm sorry.
BLITZER: Hold on. Stand by.
TOOBIN: It just came back.
BLITZER: I'm going to take a quick break. We're following all the breaking news and there's lots of it unfolding. More excerpts from the president right after this.
[18:45:59] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following the breaking news, the president meeting informally with White House correspondents and making major, major news, including insisting he's ready to testify, to answer questions to Robert Mueller under oath, subject, he says, subject to my lawyers' willingness to go along with that.
But there were other changes he had with the White House correspondents. Listen to this one.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: One more quick one. Do you believe Robert --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I only repeat for the purposes of making sure you understand.
REPORTER: One more quick one, do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?
TRUMP: We're going to find out. We're going to find out.
REPORTER: Are you concerned of that?
TRUMP: Because here's what we'll say and everybody says. No collusion. There's no collusion. Now they're saying oh, well, did he fight back? Did you fight back? Said -- fight back. Fight back. Oh, it's obstruction.
So here's the thing. I hope so.
REPORTER: How do you define collusion? And Maggie asked this earlier during the briefing to Sarah. But how do you --
TRUMP: You're going to define it for me, OK? But I can tell you, there's no collusion. I couldn't have cared less about Russians having to do with my campaign. The fact is, you people won't say this, but I'll say it. I was a much better candidate than her.
You always say she was a bad candidate. You never say I was a good candidate. I was one of the greatest candidates. Nobody else would have beaten the Clinton machine, as crooked as it was, but I was a great candidate. Some day you're going the say that. Good-bye, everybody.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Another exchange the president had with these White House correspondents.
Rebecca Berg, what's your analysis of what we just heard from the president on a whole host of issues?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That statement you just played, Wolf, is an incredibly revealing statement when it comes to the president, his frame of mind and particularly, his thinking around this investigation that is ongoing by special counsel Robert Mueller. The president clearly is still focused on what this says about the legitimacy of his presidency, the legitimacy of his victory in the presidential election. He mentions there that the press won't say he's a great president, or a great candidate, was one of the greatest candidates of all time. Clearly, that's his focus even at this late stage, even as this investigation has progressed and gone very serious and is closing in on an interview with him.
BLITZER: Sabrina, what did you think? Sabrina Siddiqui with "The Guardians" is with us as well.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, REPORTER, THE GUARDIANS: Well, I think the it's clear the president is more fixated, as Rebecca said, on the perception of him and his presidency, throughout the course of this investigation. He has not even acknowledged what is the widespread consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 election.
I think the biggest challenge for the president is if he does sit down with the special counsel will be consistency. There has not been consistency around his decision to fire Michael Flynn, where initially they said it was because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. The president later suggested a tweet it was because Mike Flynn lied to the FBI.
I think the question about the June 26th meting at Trump Tower will also be a pivotal meeting for the team. What did the president know when candidate Trump about the meeting, what came of that meeting and also what about the highly misleading statement the White House put out about the nature, initially suggesting it was about adoptions. Later, of course, it was because they were promised damaging information about Clinton.
This is a president who's had a problem with the truth, so I think that is the biggest concern of his legal team and why they're trying to limit the constraints of this interview.
BERG: You know, let's not forget, I mean, the president is under investigation, Wolf. This, he won't admit it. He says, you know, there was no collusion. He's clear.
But the president is under investigation by the special counsel, and he at the moment is not focused on that but on the legitimacy of his presidency.
BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, let's not forget the president suggesting this meeting with the Robert Mueller could take place in two or three weeks. I'd love to do it. I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all that, but I would love to do it. Then, he would say, I would do it under oath.
That's the headline right now.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That is certainly a headline. And we'll see if that -- if that promise actually comes true, that there is an interview under oath.
[18:50:05] But, you know, in the last clip, he said something that was very interesting and legally significant that I haven't heard from him over, when he was talking about the issue of obstruction of justice, he said, well, am I not allowed to fight back? He used the term "fight back".
And I think that really tells you what the defense is going to be if someone asserts, as many people have, that the firing of James Comey was an obstruction of justice. That he fired James Comey to interfere or stop the investigation of Russia and thus him. He is going to say, and his lawyers will say, no, no, no, I wasn't stopping the investigation. I was fighting back against a conspiracy that was against my presidency involving apparently Andrew McCabe and Jim Comey -- Andrew McCabe the current deputy director of the FBI, and James Comey.
So I think that phrase, which I haven't heard before, fight back --
TOOBIN: -- is going to be an important part of his defense to obstruction of justice, which may be the most legal peril he's in, even more than the whole collusion area.
BLITZER: That's an important point.
Phil Mudd, you know, the president could argue, his lawyers could argue, you can call it obstruction of justice. We are calling it fighting back.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: And this is a message not to us, a message to the American people. I think Jeffrey is dead on. Let's play out one simple scenario. We get charges potentially related to obstruction of justice but no charges that suggest there were inappropriate or illegal contacts with the Russians.
I can guess what the president was going to say: of course, I fought back, I told you all along there were no charges, and now you are telling me that it was wrong to fight back against a two-year investigation that revealed there were no illegal contacts. How can you say that's obstruction? I think it's perfectly appropriate. That's his case to the American people. BLITZER: Yes. We're going to hear some more from the president.
More audio coming in, this extraordinarily meeting with White House correspondents, right after this.
[18:56:40] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.
The president of the United States telling reporters that he expects within the next two or three weeks to answer questions before the special counsel Robert Mueller subject to my lawyers and all that. But he says I would do it under oath. He also made other significant news. He also said he now supports a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMers, the DACA recipients, over 10 to 12 year period. Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you think you're going to get a deal on immigration, Mr. President?
TRUMP: I think so, yes. I think so. We're going to get a wall and we're going to get great border security.
REPORTER: What do you think it will look like?
TRUMP: In fact, I just wrote something out and you might talk about it, if you want, otherwise we do it for tomorrow. But I just want to wrote something out, we want greater border security. We want to do a great job with DACA. I think it's our issue. I think it's a better issue for the Republicans and the Democrats.
REPORTER: Do you want citizenship for the DREAMers?
TRUMP: We're going to morph into it. It's going to happen at some point in the future.
REPORTER: What does that mean, what's morph into it?
TRUMP: Over a period of 10 to 12 years. Somebody who does a great job, they've worked hard. It gives incentive to do a great job, they've work hard. They've done terrifically whether they have a little company or whether they work, whatever they're doing, if they do a great job, I think it's a nice to have incentive of after a period of years becoming able to become a citizen.
REPORTER: How many years --
TRUMP: We're looking at 10 or 12.
REPORTER: Ten or 12 years?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. There is a headline right there, the president now supporting a pathway to citizenship, not simply legal status here in the United States for those DREAMers, the immigrants who came to the United States as little kids by their parents, brought in illegally. And now he says we are going to morph into it. It's going to happen at some point in the future. He called it an incentive for these immigrants.
So that's going to alienate, that's going to upset, Rebecca, some of the conservative base, especially in the House.
BERG: Potentially, yes, Wolf, and also takes away an important bargaining chip for Donald Trump and Republicans. For him to just outright say at this stage in the negotiations part of his plan is to grant citizenship eventually for these DREAMers, that's something he could have give them for concession in exchange potentially for more money for border security, more money for his wall. Now, he's saying that's, you know, already taken care of. What else will Democrats now demand from him?
BLITZER: The conservatives, a lot of the hardliners in the House, they call that amnesty and they hate it.
SIDDIQUI: I think there's a faction of conservatives who think any legal status for undocumented immigrants is, quote/unquote, amnesty.
BLITZER: Especially citizenship.
SIDDIQUI: But the president knows that anything short of a pathway to citizenship is a nonstarter with Democrats. And if he's earnest about getting to a deal on immigration, he's going to have to put that on the table.
The question is what will he demand in exchange and what are Democrats willing concede in terms of funding for the wall? They'll probably be game of semantics, where physical barrier but not by definitional wall. Are they going to phase out visa lottery program? I've been told that they're working on maybe still keeping some visas aside for underrepresented countries. And so, there's going to be a lot of I think parlor games to see what are the specifics in a deal? But this is certainly a big step and sign that the president wants to be more clear about his position.
BERG: And conservatives really are the wild card here. What can the president, what can Republicans get through the House of Representatives?
BLITZER: Lots of headlines emerging from this informal exchange. The president had with White House correspondents. The big headline of course is that president says he's anxious, he's ready to testify before Robert Mueller, subject to what his lawyers recommend.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.