Lieberman: Not even the president is above the law

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World," April 11, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: With us now, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as well, expert on all these foreign policy matters. And they're coming at us fast and furious.

Senator, very good to see you.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Good to be here, Neil. Thank you.

CAVUTO: It seems that the president is hinting at some action, not timing it. But do you think the tweet this morning was a mistake?

LIEBERMAN: I don't -- this is an unconventional president.


CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: But, in this case, he's -- he's dealing with some rough customers on the other side, beginning with Assad.

But now he has got Russian, who saw the vacuum left by the Obama administration and rushed into Syria. And they're going to act like bullies. And I think he has got to show them that the United States will now not allow itself to be bullied by Russia and certainly not by Iran or Assad.

CAVUTO: What is the proper response, then, senator? If not to be bullied, to do what he did last year, which was widely heralded at the time as a proper pinpoint attack on an air base...

LIEBERMAN: Right. Right.

CAVUTO: ... from which a lot of these chemical attacks apparently were launched, what would be more in order this go-round?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think by using chemical weapons again -- and, in my opinion again and again -- Assad is showing that he didn't get the message.

So, I think, for it to be effective this time, both in the interests of the people of Syria on a humanitarian basis, which President Trump has gone to, but also to make clear to the Russians and the Iranians we're not going to sit back and let this -- let them and come in and dominate the region, this strike by the United States and hopefully allies has to be stronger than it was last year, and probably be more sustained.

I would -- for instance, we have the capacity to knock out most of the Syrian air force, keep them out of the skies. We have...

CAVUTO: What would Russia do? Would it just sit idly by?

LIEBERMAN: They have sat -- notwithstanding their own Russian rhetoric in the last couple of weeks, last couple of days, in fact, they have stood by while a lot of attacks have gone on, the one that President Trump ordered last year.

CAVUTO: We gave them a heads-up last year.

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Yes, right.

The Israelis have attacked targets in Syria over and over again when it...

CAVUTO: What did you think? The Russians just issued a stand-down order to the Israelis today. What did you make of that?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Well, the Israelis have to protect their own security, so they're not going to listen to that.

But it is different. Up until now, every time the Israelis have struck -- and they have struck because they have seen the Iranians doing something that the Israelis think will threaten them -- they have gone in and knocked it out, and the Russians are haven't done anything about it.

So, we can't -- the Russians shouldn`t be there. They saw a vacuum left by the Obama administration.

CAVUTO: Well, they say no chemical attack even occurred.

LIEBERMAN: Well, the president was right in calling Assad an animal.

He saw enough intelligence to believe a chemical attack occurred. I have seen enough evidence, and that`s certainly less than the president.

CAVUTO: Is it undisputed evidence? I just think, when you risk American lives to force that point, I just assume -- is it...


CAVUTO: I assume the president knows more than I do.

LIEBERMAN: Right, and more than I do. Right.

CAVUTO: That there's plenty of evidence to support that theory. I just worry, if there isn't or if the Russians have maybe suckered him into something.

LIEBERMAN: No. I think, knowing Assad, he has got a track record here. He's done this over and over again.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: Listen, he's killed his people in a lot of different ways.

CAVUTO: Absolutely.

LIEBERMAN: And gas is the one that offends us most.

CAVUTO: But is the problem him, Senator? But do you think, senator -- and I know you were raising this when we talked about something similar last year at this time.


CAVUTO: That the problem is Assad, that he`s in power, that`s it?


LIEBERMAN: The problem is Assad. He is a -- he`s just a brutal dictator.

And unlike the leadership in Tunisia and Egypt, when their people rose up, his reaction was to turn his government`s guns on his own people, and about
500,000 of them, as a result, are dead.

And Assad, in my opinion, would not be in power today were it not for Iran and Russia. So, they're responsible for keeping him there. And the rest of the world doesn't have to sit back and watch them dominate this picture.

The consequences for us, you can't get away from it. The Europeans are already dealing with a tremendous refugee flow from this region as a result of the war in Syria. The Iranians are working on missile development that will threaten us here at home.

CAVUTO: And which is what has agitated the Israelis to do what they have been doing.

Let me switch gears, if you will indulge me, senator.


CAVUTO: A lot continues on this ongoing FBI investigation that has now roped in the president's personal lawyer in the raid of his offices here. A lot of people musing about the possibility the president fires Bob Mueller. What do you think?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I heard what John said.

And I hope the president doesn't do that, because -- I understand why he's angry at Mueller. I understand why he thinks he's being treated unfairly.

But, in our system, the law is above everyone, including the president. And if he fires the guy who is investigating him, it looks like he's putting himself over the law.

CAVUTO: But his point is that the guy investigating him is going way too far...


CAVUTO: ... and using Gestapo-like tactics to raid offices, Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and now his personal lawyer.

And we`re told that he`s just apoplectic about it.

LIEBERMAN: So, I understand why.

But I think the consequences of him firing Mueller, maybe even Rosenstein, will be more harmful to himself and to our system. Look, he's still got the right of appeal in court. And if this should ever go to an impeachment, they have still got to get a majority in the House and two- thirds in the Senate. And that is tough.

CAVUTO: So, he's facing trouble one way or the other, if it ever came to that. If the Democrats were to seize the House, all bets are off.


CAVUTO: Whatever is coming of this investigation, they're going to rake him over the coals. Right?

LIEBERMAN: Probably.

I mean, you never know.


LIEBERMAN: Listen, I say this about Bob Mueller. I don't know him real well, but I know him. It certainly seems like he's on the move in a very serious and aggressive way.

But I said from the beginning that this is a -- this guy is a straight shooter. If he decides he doesn't have enough to really charge the president -- he might charge somebody else -- or he thinks it's improper for him as special counsel to actually charge the president of the United States...

CAVUTO: But he blessed this raid. Right? So...

LIEBERMAN: Well, he -- yes. Apparently, he turned it over to the prosecutors, including the U.S. attorney.

CAVUTO: So, if last week, the president was -- you know, wasn't the target, per se, but being investigated, are things a little different now, a week later?

LIEBERMAN: This one is a -- this latest development with Cohen`s office and residence, something else is going on there.

CAVUTO: So, in other words, he went from being a subject of interest, you know what I mean, to something more?

LIEBERMAN: Right. Right. Right. Who, the president?


LIEBERMAN: Not clear.

Look, this is -- this was a controversial thing they did among lawyers.

CAVUTO: Absolutely. Absolutely.

LIEBERMAN: Now I`m going to speak as a lawyer.

The attorney-client privilege would normally stop something like this. Now, so you have to ask yourself, and I don`t know, what is the evidence that led lawyers like Rosenstein and then the U.S. attorney...

CAVUTO: Now they're looking back at the time of the 'Access Hollywood' tape.


CAVUTO: This is really running far afield from whatever was thought to be the original case.

LIEBERMAN: Well, that's what happens with special counsels.


LIEBERMAN: Ask the folks who were dealing with Iran-Contra and Whitewater.

CAVUTO: Absolutely. They do run afield.

Are you worried that this is getting way out of hand, though?

LIEBERMAN: I will tell you, it would the best thing for the country if -- it's got to come to a conclusion.

What I started to say before is that I think Mueller is -- has enough confidence in himself to announce at the end that, when it comes to the president, there`s not a chargeable offense here.

He might just issue a report on the president's behavior to Congress and let Congress decide. I think he has enough -- I don`t know this. I`m just speculating.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: He has enough respect for the office of the president that the idea of charging the president with a crime really goes very far.

Now, that is different.

CAVUTO: But do you think the timing of these things is coincidental, senator?

You could argue, whether you like him or not, whether you support him on this or you have questions about his conduct in the past, all of this went down on the very same day, this raid, when he's contemplating going to war in Syria.


CAVUTO: And I just wonder, that's kind of weird.

LIEBERMAN: Well, my guess is, in that case, that there's no connection that the prosecutors weren't thinking about it.

Remember, the final decision was made in an office that is run here in New York by somebody that President Trump himself made U.S. attorney for the Southern District.

CAVUTO: Right. No, you're right.

LIEBERMAN: So, it's an unfortunate coincidence.

I'll tell you, Neil. I have been thinking about that. This president is an unusual man. He's a strong man. Think about the stress he's under as a person. We don't think about that. But I'm thinking he's got these enormous decisions, consequential, life and death about Syria, what to do.

In the meantime, his personal lawyer and longtime friend, Michael Cohen, gets his offices raided. So, there's a lot happening.

CAVUTO: Which is why he calls this a witch-hunt.



So, as I said at the beginning, I understand why he's upset about it. I hope that he doesn't take what might seem like a logical stop, but probably will hurt him more in the long run, which is to fire Mueller. Let it come to a conclusion. He has got a lot of ways in which -- first off, nobody should prejudge what Mueller is going to do with regard to the president.

He may do something to Manafort. He may do something with regard to Cohen. Don't prejudge him. And then, whatever happens, the president has all the powers of appeal, both to American public opinion, to the courts, and, if it happens, to the Congress.

CAVUTO: Real quickly, while I have got you here, with Paul Ryan announcing he's not going to run for reelection, he makes the 41st prominent Republican who isn't sticking around.


CAVUTO: Not that that necessarily means doomful things for the party in power.

But you do get a sense that there's almost a jailbreak going on here.


CAVUTO: What do you think is happening?

LIEBERMAN: So, I think it's a combination of things. But, here, I'm speculating.

One is that it looks like it's going to be a Democratic year in the elections, particularly in the House, though the more recent polls show it getting closer than before. So don't assume anything.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: Anybody who assumes anything after the results of the 2016 presidential election is heading in a direction that they shouldn`t head.

The second thing is, I think, for a lot of people, service in the Congress is not what they hoped it would be. It's frustrating. They're under the klieg lights. So, there's another way...

CAVUTO: That was your big thing, right? You had it and said, the hell with it.

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Yes. Of course, I was there 24 years.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: And so I think that`s part of it.

Part of it may be all the controversy every day about the president and this constant battle with the media. And there's a certain point at which people say, you know what? I want to live my life in a different way, as Paul Ryan said today.

CAVUTO: Right.

LIEBERMAN: I have a lot of admiration for Paul Ryan. And he's a Jack Kemp Republican.

CAVUTO: That`s right.

LIEBERMAN: And I loved Jack Kemp.


LIEBERMAN: And I have the greatest admiration for him. So I think him leaving is a loss, but I understand it completely.

CAVUTO: Do you think right now, the way things stand right now, that the president can weather this? Do you talk to him enough? Do you get a sense from him that he's holding up, or that he's just overwhelmed, this is driving him nuts, the investigation, all the crosscurrents, the whole nine yards?


Well, I -- I don't talk to him a lot. But I -- my impression from others who do is that he feels this. He's not one of these guys who conceals his emotions, you know?


LIEBERMAN: But he has a strength to him. And he's a battler. He's competitive. So...

CAVUTO: Well, it what got him elected in the first place.

LIEBERMAN: Yes. And maybe he has the ability to withstand all this because he does let it out, you know, if I may be...

CAVUTO: Well, that's interesting. Yes, I hear you.

LIEBERMAN: Yes. I'm being...

CAVUTO: You bottled it up. You were a...


LIEBERMAN: Yes, I know. I know.


CAVUTO: All right, Joe Lieberman, always fun seeing you.


CAVUTO: Thank you for taking the time. We had a lot to discuss with you.

LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you.

CAVUTO: And appreciate your patience.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

CAVUTO: All right.

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