CNN's Cuomo on Trump Pardons: 'It Seems Like You Want to Send the Message Lying Is Okay'

June 5th, 2018 8:35 PM

During the first formal episode of CNN’s Cuomo PrimeTime (following two trial runs), host Chris Cuomo engaged in a lengthy back and forth with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a member of President Trump's legal team. Part of that discussion focused on Trump’s pardons of Dinesh D'Souza, Scooter Libby, and Joe Arpaio and his potential pardon of Martha Stewart. 

According to Cuomo: “It seems like you want to send the message lying is okay. Lying is okay sometimes. That’s why we’re pardoning these people.”

The hysteria first began when Cuomo brought up a statement from President Trump asserting that he could hypothetically pardon himself. Cuomo repeatedly tried to convince Giuliani that the President could not pardon himself while Giuliani countered that while Trump has the authority to pardon himself, he would not do so without suffering political consequences.



Eventually, Giuliani brought up President Clinton’s controversial pardon of tax cheat and pal Marc Rich. Giuliani mentioned Rich in an effort to illustrate the large scope of the presidential pardon powers. 

Giuliani, who used to head the Pardon Attorney Office during the Reagan administration, defended the President’s pardons and the potential pardon of Stewart as “highly justifiable.”

Cuomo then implied that sinister motives served as the impetus for the pardons Trump has handed down thus far: “It seems like you want to send the message lying is okay. Lying is okay sometimes. That’s why we’re pardoning these people.”

As the exchange continued, Cuomo reiterated his talking points from earlier in the show: “Dinesh D’Souza admitted that he lied and broke the law. Scooter Libby lied. Joe Arpaio flouted the justice system. I can’t believe Rudy Giuliani would pardon these people.”

After a brief response from Giuliani, Cuomo used the recycled talking point that these pardons are meant to serve as a signal to anyone who faces criminal charges facing charge as a result of the Special Counsel investigation.Giuliani disagreed with that analysis, reminding Cuomo that “every single one of these cases, at the time, was highly controversial.”

As the discussion came to a close, Cuomo tried to make the case that Giuliani’s work for the Trump has put his reputation in jeopardy, citing the fact that he got booed at Yankee Stadium: “Are you worried about your legacy that the mayor of America…the man who carried our heart through 9/11 is now tangled up and saying it’s okay to pardon people like Dinesh D’Souza?”

Giuliani responded: “I am a lawyer, and it’s my job to defend my client. I’m proud of what I’m doing. I’m proud of my client.”

To see the relevant transcript from CNN's Cuomo Prime Time on June 4, click "expand."

Cuomo Prime Time


09:18 PM

CHRIS CUOMO: The President says “I absolutely can pardon myself.” You know that if we were looking at it in an absolute sense, he absolutely could not, because a man cannot be their own judge. There is no Supreme Court precedent. There is no advisory opinion from any agency that goes near it. Why would you let your client offer up that kind of suggestion? Grassley, Senator Grassley says “boy, oh boy is that crazy.” And if he were my lawyer, listen to what he says.

IOWA REPUBLICAN SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: If I were President of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I’d hire a new lawyer.

CUOMO: You don’t…you don’t think the President…you don’t think the President can pardon himself? You don’t think it’s right. And you don’t think it’s right under the law. Be honest.

RUDY GIULIANI: I can tell you, I can tell you as a lawyer, the pardon power is complete and there is no limitation on it. Would somebody impose a practical limitation on it? Absolutely.

CUOMO: Section II puts a limit on it.

GIULIANI: The practical limitation is…the practical limitation is it would be suicide to pardon yourself.

CUOMO: That’s the political limitation, that’s the political limitation.

GIULIANI: So then we’ll never reach it.

CUOMO: The practical one, if you don’t pardon in the case of an impeachment, and that’s what he would be doing.

GIULIANI: It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

CUOMO: Good.

GIULIANI: And pardon doesn’t…pardon doesn’t get you off impeachment, so you can’t pardon yourself from an impeachment. So, pardoning is not…he’s not going to pardon himself. If you want to have a nice issue, you know, about this very, very hypothetical point, is that power so broad? There’s nothing that says yes, and there’s nothing that says no. Nobody ever thought of it. Maybe that’s a good argument he can do it. Maybe there’s a good argument that he can’t.

CUOMO: I think if it were a law school exam, you would want to come down on the idea of “no, he can't” based on what we know about the law and justice. But the President is saying he can.

GIULIANI: I wouldn’t do that.

CUOMO: If he’s not going to do it.

GIULIANI: If it was a law school exam…Chris, Chris, Chris, if it was a law school exam, I would say this.

CUOMO: Yeah.

GIULIANI: The pardon power is complete. Nothing in the Constitution says that he can’t pardon himself.

CUOMO: True.

GIULIANI: Nothing in the Constitution says that he can pardon himself.

CUOMO: Right.

GIULIANI: So, I would…if a law school exam I’d give you an A if you said it’s an open question.

CUOMO: I’ll take that.

GIULIANI: If you came down on either side of it, I’d give you an F.

CUOMO: Well, but the President came down on one side of it, so he gets an F.

GIULIANI: He’s not a lawyer.

CUOMO: Oh, come on. He’s the President of the United States.

GIULIANI: He’s not a lawyer. He is not a lawyer.

CUOMO: He says experts tell me I have absolute authority to pardon myself. Another bad recollection?

GIULIANI: I bet there are. No, there are lawyers who believe that. There are lawyers who believe the opposite.

CUOMO: An absolute ability to do it? And why is he bringing it up if he’ll never do it?

GIULIANI: I think, I think to probably illustrate and create the discussion about how complete the pardon powers. He hasn’t done a Marc Rich. I mean, you want to talk about pardons that stink up the whole system of justice, it’s Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

CUOMO: Good segue, good segue.

GIULIANI: I used to be in charge of the Pardon Attorney Office.

CUOMO: I know you did. I know you did.

GIULIANI: I used to be in charge of the Pardon Attorney’s Office.

CUOMO: I know you did.

GIULIANI: And the reality is the pardons he’s given so far are highly justifiable.

CUOMO: Rudy Giuliani would pardon Joe…not within his power, let’s talk about justifiable. We know he can do it, he can pardon a ham sandwich if he wants to. Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, Dinesh D’Souza, maybe even Martha Stewart, Rudy Giuliani pardons these people?

GIULIANI: I recommended pardons probably in worse cases like that to Ronald Reagan.

CUOMO: Would you pardon all these people?

GIULIANI: I think Ronald Reagan did over 900 pardons. I would…each one of them, yes. Martha Stewart’s prosecution by Jim Comey was a publicity stunt. Never would have happened if it wasn’t Martha Stewart. You don’t indict on a trapped perjury case where the person didn’t commit the underlying crime. That’s a damn game to get yourself in the newspapers, which may have been the beginning of the Jim Comey who eventually illegally leaked the memo. Arpaio, I don’t know the case that well, except it seemed to me it was highly, highly political, as was D’Souza. And Scooter Libby had already been commuted. That investigation is completely wacko because they knew who the leak was when they started the investigation.

CUOMO: Rudy…

GIULIANI: The investigation existed for the purpose of creating perjury on somebody and maybe, just maybe that’s what Mueller is doing.

CUOMO: Rudy, Arpaio openly flouted the law on purpose, even when he was told not to. Dinesh D’Souza signed a plea agreement admitting that he broke the law, admitting that he lied. Martha Stewart, I covered every day of that trial, she was a convicted liar. It seems like you want to send the message lying is okay. Lying is okay sometimes. That’s why we’re pardoning these people.

GIULIANI: Lying is not okay. Pardons, pardons are perfectly appropriate. It sure beats the terrorists that Clinton pardoned.

CUOMO: That’s our new standard? Anybody’s better than a terrorist?

GIULIANI: No. These are political cases. I mean, there are law review articles being written about how highly politicized the criminal justice system has become. And I think what the President is doing…

CUOMO: Dinesh D’Souza signed an admission of guilt, Rudy.

GIULIANI: Oh, but the only reason he was prosecuted for a, for a situation, campaign finance, that usually results in a fine to somebody that isn’t a conservative activist.

CUOMO: They tried to put on evidence that this was selective, selective prosecution. It didn’t fly. If it didn’t fly, then, why does it fly now?

GIULIANI: Selective prosecution…because pardon is different than the ability to get evidence in. Selective prosecution is an extraordinarily difficult thing to really use as a defense. It almost never works, even though it might be justifiable. And the pardon power allows the President…if people did something that’s marginal, and I would say each one of these crimes in marginal…Martha Stewart couldn’t get prosecuted for insider trading, so they prosecuted her for perjury. I mean, you do that with Frank Costello, who used to be the head of the mafia, by the way. I’m getting older. But she’s not the head of the mafia. The lack of proportion should have been a warning that there’s something wrong…

CUOMO: They offered her a deal, she didn’t take it.

GIULIANI: That's the same guy that leaked illegally.

CUOMO: They offered her a deal. She kicked them out of her office, figuratively, and almost literally. She lied. They went to trial. She lost. Dinesh D’Souza admitted that he lied and broke the law. Scooter Libby lied. Joe Arpaio flouted the justice system. I can’t believe Rudy Giuliani would pardon these people.

GIULIANI: Everybody, everybody, everybody who is pardoned, the only reason you get pardoned is you committed a crime. Pardon doesn’t exist to wipe away the crime…

CUOMO: Oh, no. No. You could pardon even before he’s adjudicated, or she’s adjudicated. He’s chewing to do this, choosing to do this now, and it seems that the President wants to send a message…I’m doing this early on, during an investigation, where maybe lying will become a commodity.

GIULIANI: He’s not sending a message. Chris, every single one of these cases, at the time, was highly controversial. You can…I can give you “Wall Street Journal” editorials about each one of them, including the one with Martha Stewart, in particular, which they saw as a real perversion of justice, because she was trapped into perjury. Scooter Libby, the investigation never should have taken place. They should have moved to have that case dismissed on the grounds that if there was perjury, it was immaterial. They have caught…it would be like conducting a murder investigation after you caught the murderer, knew who he was, but didn’t tell anybody, which sounds a little bit like Spygate, but, you know I won’t…

CUOMO: Rudy…

GIULIANI: …that will take us the rest of the night.

CUOMO: Let me ask you something else while I have you, okay? Because you are putting yourself out there on this case. You don’t need to do this. You are plenty busy, as anybody who knows you understands. But you’re doing this. And you’re at Yankee Stadium the other night. You get booed at Yankee Stadium. I’ve never heard that happen before. It certainly wouldn’t have happened before you got tangled up in this. You got a Yankee ring on right now.

GIULIANI: See my ring? See my ring? See my ring right there?

CUOMO: You’re a huge Yankee fan. People in New York love you. I’m a Yankee fan. You’re not going to get any testing on me from that.

GIULIANI: …most of them. They were booing.

CUOMO: But that is only happening because of this. Are you worried about your legacy that the mayor of America…

GIULIANI: Oh, I am. Every night…

CUOMO: …the man who carried our heart through 9/11 is now tangled up and saying it’s okay to pardon people like Dinesh D’Souza?

GIULIANI: Every night I stay up all night worried about that. No, I have a clear conscience. I’m doing my job as a lawyer. This is what I do better than anything else.

CUOMO: You’re more than just a lawyer, though, Rudy Giuliani. You’re more than just a lawyer.

GIULIANI: But I am a lawyer, and it’s my job to defend my client. I am proud of what I’m doing. I’m proud of my client. He has done nothing wrong. And this is a horrible… not only a horrible perversion of justice, this has got to come to an end, this pursuit of Presidents. I thought the impeachment of President Clinton was terribly wrong, even though my party did it. I thought it was entirely political. And you have to stop this. Look, we do a lot of fighting politically, but I know the power of the criminal justice system, and it should not be used in these political situations.

CUOMO: Oh, that’s fine. Then tell your client to stop saying that all the Clintons need to be investigated by a Special Counsel, if it’s so bad. You know, if you want something to stop usually you’ve got to be the change you want to see. We don’t get a lot of that from this White House.

GIULIANI: I think…I think if you destroy…let’s not go over the Clinton case again.

CUOMO: No, let’s not.

GIULIANI: Thirty-four thousand emails.