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Daily Beast Reports, Gaetz Associate Wrote in Letter that GOP Congressman Paid for Sex with Minor Who was 17 Years Old; FBI Warned Giuliani He was Target of Russian Campaign; Biden Facing Big Hurdles as He Pushes Price Economics Plans. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Friday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Rudy Giuliani and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, two of President Trump's -- former President Trump's close allies, both facing federal investigations now, with new developments this morning.

First, a report from The Daily Beast says that Joel Greenberg, he's a central figure in the ongoing federal investigation into Gaetz, wrote a letter stating that Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women, note this, including minor who was just 17 years old at the time.

We should note, CNN has not seen that letter. We have not verified the details as reported by The Daily Beast.

A spokesperson for Gaetz is denying the allegations and Joel Greenberg's attorney has declined to comment. We're going to bring you all of the details in a moment.

There is also this. Former Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani has spoken out for the first time since federal agents raided his Manhattan home and office. He says he did nothing wrong. This as The Washington Post, in another story, has learned that the FBI directly warned Giuliani that he was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign. He did not take that warning.

We're all covering all the angles of both these stories with our reporters, correspondents and analysts. I do want to begin with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. He is following developments surrounding Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Manu, walk us what we know about the letter and the context of the letter, because the letter sent, was it not, for his associate, Joel Greenberg, trying to get a pardon from the outgoing president?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Joel Greenberg in this letter admitted that he and Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women, including a minor who was 17 years old at the time. Now, the letter was drafted after Greenberg asked Roger Stone, of course, he's that close Trump ally, longtime friend of the former president, for how obtaining a pardon during the final months of the Trump administration.

Now, in an earlier draft of the letter that was obtained by The Daily Beast, Greenberg claims he and Gaetz thought one woman was actually 19 years old but later learned she was actually underage.

Now, greenberg reportedly claims that he -- when he learned of this, he called the congressman, he urged him to steer clear of this matter.

And CNN, as you mentioned, Jim, has not seen this letter. So we can't verify the details of The Daily Beast story. But we have spoken to several women who were involved with these two men and we have reported in the past that Greenberg paid women on behalf of Gaetz after some sexual encounters.

Now, Roger Stone, that Trump ally, did speak to our colleague, Chris Cuomo, last night. Stone says he doesn't recall any letter. He says that he never heard Greenberg implicating Gaetz, and that he never tried to get Greenberg a pardon. Stone told The Daily Beast he never asked nor received any payments from Greenberg. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Gaetz's response to all this this morning?

RAJU: Well, they're denying this, as they denied all along, with the spokesman for Congressman Gaetz said in the statement, which I'll read to you. Congressman Gaetz, has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17-year-old as an adult.

The story goes some way to showing how Congressman Gaetz was long out of touch with Mr. Greenberg and has no interest in involving himself in Mr. Greenberg's affairs.

But as we've reported, and we have seen Mr. Greenberg was involved in Congressman Gaetz's affairs, as Greenberg is currently in jail facing 30 federal charges, including sex trafficking.

And sources tell CNN that Greenberg has been cooperating with federal authorities since last year. And he has shared with them information about his encounters with the -- he and the congressman and the women were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex.

Now Mr. Greenberg is expected to file a plea deal with investigators in the coming weeks. And Congressman Gaetz, of course, Jim, he is still a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He has not been punished in any way by the House Republican Conference. The Republican leader has said he has a chance to argue his case. He's denied these charges. He's assured him he hasn't done anything wrong. And the conference won't take any action unless he is indicted. Jim?

SCIUTTO: A concern is that when folks are cooperating with federal investigators, they often ask, were you working with anybody else. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

This morning, The Washington Post says that the FBI directly warned former Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani that he was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at interfering in the 2020 election. This new report just days after federal agents raided his Manhattan home and his office.

CNN's Kara Scannell is following this. Kara, Giuliani went on Fox News last night, a friendly outlet, what was his defense?

[10:05:01]

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Jim. So we heard for the first time Rudy Giuliani speak since his apartment and offices were raided by the FBI on Wednesday. And this is part of an investigation that Giuliani has known about for two years. He said he has tried to speak to authorities about it at least twice in that time period.

What prosecutors are looking into here is a foreign lobbying violation, whether Rudy Giuliani should have disclosed that he was lobbying on behalf of a foreign individual. In this case, this investigation is focusing on GiulianI's efforts in Ukraine, his push to remove the U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who was the ambassador to the Ukraine, and whether he was doing that at the benefit of his client, then-President Trump, or if he was working on behalf of Ukrainian officials who wanted her gone.

On Fox last night, Giuliani denied that he had done anything wrong and he also said the evidence on these seven or eight devices that were seized would exonerate him. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP's FORMER PERSONAL LAWYER: Yes, the evidence is exculpatory. It proves that the president and I and all of us are innocent. They are the ones who are committing -- it's like projection. They're committing the crimes.

The search warrant is purportedly based on one single failure to file for representing a Ukrainian national or official that I never represented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCANNELL: Now, Giuliani is also teeing up that he may be in the midst of starting a fight with the prosecutors over access to these records and electronics that were filed. He said his constitutional rights were violated because prosecutors have obtained electronic communications from his iCloud account in 2009 when he was working with then-president on the impeachment defense. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Okay. The other news, The Washington Post reporting, the FBI went to Giuliani in 2019, warned him directly, Russia was attempting to meddle in the presidential election and, in effect, use him, Giuliani went on to meet with Ukrainians connected to Russia. What are we learning?

SCANNELL: Yes, Jim, that's right. So, CNN had previously reported that the FBI counterintelligence division had briefed the White House and Congress about this Russian disinformation campaign spreading falsehoods about then candidate Joe Biden. What The Washington Post is reporting is that Rudolph Giuliani was directly briefed by the FBI counterintelligence about that.

Giuliani has not responded to our request for comment on that today. He had previously denied to CBS News that he did receive a briefing in person. And, as you noted, after this briefing occurred, according to The Washington Post, he then continued his travels to Ukraine to meet with some of those officials. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Understood. Kara Scannell, a lot to cover there, thanks very much.

For more on the political and legal implications of all this, I'm now joined by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, as well as former State and Federal Prosecutor Elie Honig. Thanks very much to both of you.

Elie, I just want to begin with you with the legal question on the content of this Washington Post story. Would it be a crime to get a warning from the FBI saying, hey, the Russians are going to try interfere in this election through you, be aware, and then basically ignore it and go on to meet with known Russian agents. Is there criminal exposure there potentially for Giuliani?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Jim, here is how I would try to use that piece of information as prosecutor to show Rudy GiulianI's overall state of mind and his bad intent, which could go to any number of other crimes. Because if he was warned in that clear way and he went ahead and did it anyway, I would argue to a jury that shows he doesn't care about national security, he doesn't care about doing the right thing. In fact, he has a one-track mind, which is to do whatever is necessary, legal or illegal, to help Donald Trump get re-elected in 2020.

SCIUTTO: Dana, politically here, Giuliani was working on behalf of Trump. I mean, as his personal lawyer, Trump was encouraging him to go there. Trump and many of his allies were advertising this supposed dirt that deliberately targeted Trump's opponent in that election. What is Trump's exposure here, not legally yet, but just in terms of what it shows he and his allies were willing to do?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think had we not gone through the second impeachment of the now former president, the exposure would be much more great and much more problematic. But because this whole question of Giuliani and his relations with the Ukrainians and what he was trying to get, the dirt, as you said, all of this, this is why, or this led to -- excuse me, first impeachment -- this led to the first impeachment. And so it's all wrapped up in that.

And so, politically speaking, it was very much baked in to how people in this country, voters in particular, approached the president. And, you know, I'm not sure that at this moment in time, if people here, you know, alleged nefarious things about the former president tried to get information from Ukraine, you know, and so on and so forth, it's going to be much of a surprise.

[10:10:07]

SCIUTTO: Yes, understood. Okay.

Lots to tick through, guys. Sorry to have such a long list of legal things, but let's go to Matt Gaetz now.

Elie, you've been involved in a lot of prosecutions and investigations here. So, Joel Greenberg, we know, the guy is in jail, right, he's being investigated already. He wrote this letter trying to get a pardon from President Trump. And in it, he brings up Matt Gaetz. He says Matt Gaetz was in on this stuff too, including paying sex to a minor -- paying money for sex with a minor. The legal significance of this for Matt Gaetz?

HONIG: Well, Jim, first of all, the already bizarre is getting even more bizarre, and, boy, do I have questions. Why on earth would Joel Greenberg, who at the time was charged with very serious federal crimes but not yet convicted, write out a confession and send it into the government?

Here's the only possible way I can make sense of this assuming The Daily Beast reporting is correct. This was an effort by Joel Greenberg and Roger Stone to send a signal to the White House, you better pardon him or else, because he has the goods on your buddy, President Trump, Matt Gaetz. And he is going to be -- Joel Greenberg is ready to admit to really bad crimes. And if it comes to that, he's going to turn on Matt Gaetz too. And they even suggest he's got the goods. He's got the Venmo receipts.

So I think the message is pardon him, you're going to save Gaetz. Don't pardon him, he's going to do what he has got to do.

SCIUTTO: And he didn't bother them (ph) in the end.

Dana, is there any weakening of Republican backing for Matt Gaetz here? As Manu noted, he still maintains his position on the Judiciary Committee, notably, with Republicans saying well, listen, you know, McCarthy and others, he's denied it, give him a shot.

I mean, behind the scenes, are there more doubts?

BASH: There are so many doubts, Jim. And I'm sure you're hearing the same thing. I am. It's not as if Matt Gaetz has this, you know, huge reservoir of support even among his fellow Republicans. But right now, it's about precedent setting and even people who really, really would prefer in the heart of hearts to see him go don't want to -- as long as he is denying these allegations, which he is, vociferously denying these allegations, they don't want to push him off the Judiciary Committee or even further until and unless he is actually indicted, until there are actual charges brought against him. If that happens, that's going to be a whole different ball game for him, not just legally but also politically with regard to his seat.

SCIUTTO: Dana, as you know, there are ongoing investigations that could -- I mean, they involve at this point Trump, and particularly if you go to the Manhattan D.A. looking at business practices there. What is the level of concern in the Trump inner circle that he could face some legal liability next?

BASH: A lot of concern, yes. No, in a big way, that concern, of course, started when he was in the White House and then lost the election and was heading out of the White House into the world of being a private citizen where he doesn't have the same sort of protocols and protections legally that he did when he was president of the United States. We don't know how exposed he is to any -- anything that's going on, particularly when it comes to never mind federally but in the state of New York and in particular in the city of New York.

There are lots of potential avenues for them to be investigating the former president and that is something that obviously is of concern legally, but also maybe to your earlier question also about the politics is this, he is not going anywhere. And that is, you know, painfully obvious in watching the Republican Party twist itself in pretzels every single day trying to move on but also know that they're still tethered to this man in a very, very strong way.

SCIUTTO: Yes. See the comments of Mike Pence, right, tethering himself very publicly to this man who didn't call him as the insurrectionists were storming the Capitol. Dana Bash, Elie Honig, thanks very much to both of you.

BASH: Thank you.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, President Biden hits the road again today to pitch his massive and costly economic plans. Will Americans and a divided Congress buy what he is selling?

Plus, U.S. troops begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan today. There is a new warning as that happens from Al Qaeda.

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[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Soon, President Biden will leave the White House, head back out on his tour to promote his several big legislative plans. Today, he'll be in Philadelphia where he hopes to garner more support for two bills that would cost trillions of dollars if passed. One bill aims to help working families, the other tackling infrastructure.

Right now, however, he faces big hurdles on Capitol Hill to get both done, almost unified opposition from Republicans, even from some moderate Democrats, such as Joe Manchin and Jeanne Shaheen.

With me now to talk about the president's ambitious agenda, someone who knows his life weel, Evan Osnos. He is the author of the book, Joe Biden, the Life, the Run and What Matters Now.

[10:20:01]

Evan, good to have you on this morning.

EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Thanks for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, his first 100 days, I mean, already include some accomplishments, including getting the pandemic under control and the COVID relief bill. Now, we're seeing a series of others, the infrastructure bill, the family bill. They're enormous proposals, they're ambitious, they're also very expensive. And they do go beyond at least the billing of Biden as a candidate, as a moderate, somewhat middle of the road candidate. I just wonder, has he overestimated his mandate?

OSNOS: Well, in a way, it may be that we never fully understood what he was envisioning when he said on inauguration day, remember, I'm putting my whole soul into bringing this country together. I think the default understanding a lot of us had was that means you go for the easy wins, you go for the small ball, things you know can you bring people together around.

Actually, there is another theory in the case, and I think this is what you'll hear underlying a lot of what he is doing these days, is that he thinks that if you can appeal directly to the public, it's part of the reason why he is out in Philadelphia, Georgia, places like that, is that he thinks if you can appeal directly to the public on thing that they want, and the polling data shows that they want some of these things, that you can actually begin to bring them together in theory around the idea that government can deliver again. It can perform.

The problem, of course, is the shear challenge of the legislative process it would take to get. And, Jim, I'm reminded of something that Joe Biden has believed for a long time. I mean, he has, even before he was president, what he calls the first lesson of being president, which is that you can set an agenda but then it's impossible to be able to follow it day to day, simply because of things coming down the pike, the things you can expect. And in this case, there is a level of legislative unpredictability, which he is now contending with that is going to make it very difficult.

SCIUTTO: I wonder if you believe that he is pushing back a bit at this sort of caretaker idea, that here is Joe Biden, veteran politician coming in, just quiet things down post-Trump, hit singles and doubles, not homeruns, in effect, and saying, you know what, I got a legacy here. I don't care what you guys say about me. I'm going big on family stuff, health care, gun reform, immigration.

OSNOS: Yes, I think so. And it's interesting, Jim. I started to hear that tone from him last summer when I was interviewing him in the midst of COVID pandemic and, of course, the protests around racial injustice. He had started the campaign, as we all remember, saying he wanted to be this caretaker transitional president. And what he was saying by then was, no, I see myself very much in the tradition of the -- in the challenge that FDR was facing. And I think at the time, people said, well, how does that actually work? But, look, as we know, he's been looking -- thinking about the presidency for half a century. And this is something he does not want to go down in history, as somebody who didn't meet the challenge, didn't meet the moment.

And that is why you begin to hear from him this much more ambitious, in some ways, as he often says, once in a generation kinds of investments in ourselves and trying to not just change things around the edges but fundamentally try to mark a pivot and the tone, the nature of American political culture.

And theory is that he can do it because, as Mike Donilon, who is one of his advisers, said to me once, he said, look, Joe Biden thinks a lot of people in Washington do things precisely backwards because they start the negotiation by enumerating all the ways they disagree. And he says, look, if I sit down say to somebody, we can trust each other, maybe there is a way to make a breakthrough there.

SCIUTTO: We'll see. Listen, he was elected hoping, promising bipartisanship. The biggest hit he takes from Republicans is he's not even trying to talk to us, compromise, et cetera. You and I know the reality in Washington, that the political incentives in this town, frankly, go against bipartisanship, right? A lot of the folks will be punished in their races if they do anything, you know, work in any way with a Democratic president here.

That said, Biden has stuck to his guns in terms of his ambitious goals on a lot of these packages. Whose fault is it that bipartisanship is not happening? Do they share it? Is it more the Republicans? Is it Biden?

OSNOS: Well, look, I mean, the truth is -- even though people are determined on the other side of the aisle to make it hard for him to knock legislative achievements, you do see people talking to him. I mean, just this week, he got on the phone with Shelley Moore Capito, an important Republican senator from West Virginia. She's somebody who proposed an alternative in infrastructure bill. They are very far apart.

But the idea that they're having the conversations, honestly, sometimes the process is just as important as the result, because for somebody like Joe Manchin, who is this very important Democratic senator, also from West Virginia, he cares about the idea that they are making efforts at bipartisanship. It may not be that that ends up with striking some golden deal but they have to show that they are taking seriously the idea that the other side of the aisle has an opinion, that they have point of view. And you see them going into that process pretty earnestly.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The sad fact is though there are dangers of that too. Just a single fist bump between Cheney and Biden on the floor has made her an even bigger target among some Republicans.

[10:25:02]

Evan Osnos, great to your point of view here. Thanks so much.

OSNOS: My pleasure. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: New this morning, as the U.S. begins pulling troops out of Afghanistan, after nearly 20 years, Al Qaeda is now vowing its war with America is not over, daunting words. We'll have more.

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[10:30:00]

SCIUTTO: This morning, as the U.S. and NATO troop withdraw from Afghanistan is now officially under way.