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Trump Undermining Travel Ban in Tweetstorm?; FBI Director to Testify About Trump Meetings; President Trump Attacks Mayor of London. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 5, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, the president has decided that he's not going to do that.
Of course, that was not the end of some pretty tough questions for Sanders today. Obviously, the president's tweetstorm that he's been on for the last 24 hours or so in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in London tees up a fair number of difficult questions for this White House.
First of all, there are those tweets that the president directed at the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, basically mischaracterizing what he had said in the aftermath of that attack, that people should not panic and remain calm.
The president twisted those words and tried to suggest that people should remain calm and not get too upset about a terrorist attack, when that's not what the mayor said at all.
During the briefing today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, no, that's not the case, the president was not attacking the mayor, that he was just simply trying to stand up for securing the country, securing the world.
Now, there was another back and forth, Ana, over this subject of the travel ban. For months, the administration has been telling us -- and, in fact, they have been saying it at the podium in the Briefing Room -- that the president was not trying to impose a travel ban in that executive order that seeks to block travel from six majority- Muslim countries.
They were calling it travel restrictions for months and months. Sean Spicer did so from a briefing on January 31. And then, all of a sudden, the president starts tweeting in the aftermath of London we need a travel ban, we need a travel ban. I don't care what anybody call it is. I call it a travel ban.
And then today Sarah Sanders basically started to adopt that language incredibly in the Briefing Room, just sort of turned on a dime and adopted that language. Here's more of what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I don't think the president care what you call it, whether you call it a ban, whether you call it a restriction.
He cares that we call it national security and that we take steps to protect the people of this country. It's real simple. Everybody wants to get into the labels and the semantics of it, but the bottom line is, he's trying to protect the citizens of this country.
The danger is extremely clear. The law is very clear. And the need for this executive order is very clear. And the president's priority in protecting the people is very clear, full stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: But, of course, what is also very clear is that the president referring to it as a ban could jeopardize his chances at the Supreme Court.
And Sarah Sanders did confirm to reporters that the Justice Department, that the administration is seeking essentially an expedited review at the Supreme Court of these ill-fated travel restrictions that the president has been seeking over the last few months. They have tied up in the courts, of course.
And now the president wants to have them reviewed at the highest court in the land. And of all people, George Conway, the husband of counselor Kellyanne Conway, was tweeting -- he was up for solicitor general, as you know, and a Justice Department position within the administration -- and he was tweeting that these tweets from the president earlier this morning could in fact jeopardize that case, Ana.
So the president may find out -- it doesn't always happen with this president, but sometimes his tweets do come with consequences -- Ana.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: But we also heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders say he made no mistakes in those tweets.
ACOSTA: That's right.
CABRERA: Jim Acosta, thank you.
Now on to our other breaking news in the London attack that left seven people dead and more than 40 others injured. London's Metropolitan Police have now identified two of the attackers. They released their pictures.
You see them there. Authorities have detained 11 people, including seven women, after a wave of anti-terror raids. But as London grieves, the president of the United States is lashing out at the city's mayor, as Jim was talking about.
Here are the tweets from the president. "Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had to think fast on his no reason to be alarmed statement." This came on the heels of another tweet in which the president wrote: "At least seven dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and mayor of London says there's no reason to be alarmed."
Now, a spokesman for the London mayor responded to those tweets saying the president was ill-informed and added some context to the back and forth. Here is what the mayor originally said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SADIQ KHAN, MAYOR OF LONDON: Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. No reason to be alarmed.
One of the things the police and all of us need to do is make sure we are as safe as we possibly can be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And just a short time ago, the mayor spoke out again about the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why was the president picking a fight with the mayor of London right after his city was hit by a terrorist attack?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't see it as the president is picking a fight with the mayor of London at all. I think that again the president's point is something he said frankly back, gosh, it's been almost two years now, a year and a half ago, when the president talked about how we have to be more committed to national security.
One of the reasons we have the travel ban here through that executive order is a focus on national security. That was the point he was trying to make.
QUESTION: But the president is saying that the mayor said there's no reason to be alarmed by the terrorist attack. That's not what the mayor said.
The mayor, in fact, said that the threat level remains severe, that the chances of another attack are highly likely. He was saying don't be alarmed by the armed police presence on the street. And the president directly misrepresented what the mayor of London said.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think that's actually true. I think that the media wants to spin it that way.
QUESTION: You think the mayor was saying there's no reason to be alarmed by an attack on his city? You think that is what he was saying? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think that the point is, is there's a reason to be alarmed. We have constant attacks going on, not just there, but across the globe.
And we have to start putting national security and global security at all-time high. President Trump has been very clear that's his priority. And he's not backing away from that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in Nic Robertson. He's outside 10 Downing Street.
So, what's the reaction there, Nic, to this feud with the London mayor?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes.
Look, this is another case of this is another case of perhaps unintended consequences for President Trump. He has said that he supports the British prime minister, Theresa May. He says that he supports the British people at this tragic time for them.
But the effect of what he's saying is, Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, is seen by the U.S. deputy ambassador here, who has spoken about it, Lew Lukens, as saying that he's doing a good job, has commended him for being strong at this difficult time here.
The reality is, is that we're now just a few days away from an election. The British prime minister, Theresa May, has positioned herself very closely with President Trump. Anything he says or does that can be viewed in a negative light in Britain will reflect very badly on her.
The leader of the opposition has picked up on this already, this criticism by President Trump of Sadiq Khan and has said that the president clearly doesn't have a grasp and an understanding of the situation here in London or what the mayor of trying to do.
The leader of the opposition is criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May for her time in office and power here as cutting down on the police force, has criticized her for not criticizing President Trump's climate climb-down on the Paris accord last week, has criticized her over the travel ban that came up several months ago.
Over here in Britain, what President Trump can be quite toxic and is being used by the opposition against the prime minister, Theresa May. And we go -- Britain goes to the polls in a few days. And the race is narrowing between the opposition and the prime minister.
So, while President Trump supports her, when he criticizes the mayor, that plays badly for him and potentially effects the outcome of the election for Prime Minister May.
CABRERA: The timing is everything. What is the latest, Nic, on the investigation? ROBERTSON: Yes, well, the police have named two of the suspects, Khuram Butt, 27-year-old British national born in Pakistan.
Interestingly, the police are saying that he was known to the police and MI5, the British intelligence service, if you will, equivalent to the FBI. He was known by them, was on their radar.
The other, Rachid Redouane, he was 30 years old, said that he was a Moroccan Libyan national, also had an alias of -- using an alias of a 25-year-old man as well. But the police now desperately trying to get more information about who that third attacker was, figure out who was -- of course, they are open to criticism because this attack, the last attack and the previous attack, the attackers had been known to the police previously.
What the police are saying is that right now 3,000 sort of radicalized counterterrorism subjects are under watch. In the last few years, there's been 20,000 of them.
ROBERTSON: And 500 different counterterrorism plots being followed at this time.
The scale of the problem in Britain is massive. But no doubt the police will face more scrutiny over the fact that they knew one of the attackers and the attack got through -- Ana.
CABRERA: It's all so disturbing. Those numbers you just told us are alarming. Nic Robertson, thank you.
From James Comey to the attack against the London mayor and the president's tweetstorms, we will discuss all this breaking news.
Plus, a surprising critic of the president tweeting today, Kellyanne Conway's husband. Hear what he says.
CABRERA: More now on our breaking news.
The White House says President Trump will not block James Comey from testifying on Thursday during this highly anticipated hearing, Comey's first public words since being fired. Comey is expected to open up about his interactions with President Trump, including allegations that Trump pressured him to stop his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
This historic moment of truth will happen now that the White House just announced the president will not try to block Comey's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's power to exert executive privilege is very well-established. However, in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James Comey's scheduled testimony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Joining me now, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.
So, Dana, we Nation heard that big announcement by Sarah Huckabee Sanders Essentially removing all the questions. Now, legal experts have argued whether or not invoking privilege would have even worked. But was this expected or not?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're exactly right.
There was the legal deliberation, which was one thing. But then there's the political calculation. And the legal question might have been debatable, whether or not he even could invoke executive privilege.
But, politically, to say, no, no, no, we don't want James Comey to testify, that would clearly suggest that the president has something to hide.
And people who I have talked to who are familiar with some of the decisions that the president has made, namely, firing James Comey in the first place, they say that they have learned some lessons and that the president himself misread the politics.
Kind of hard to believe how he could read it any other way than thinking it's not OK to fire the guy who is investigating you, but he misread the politics because he assumed the Democrats would be cheering about firing the guy, James Comey, that they didn't like.
CABRERA: He's never misread politics before.
BASH: Right. Exactly.
This time, they understood the politics were pretty clear. If you say no, people are going to say red flag.
CABRERA: It seemed like she was very much prepared for that question.
CABRERA: She like basically read it off a piece of paper a very prepared statement about him not going to invoke executive privilege and indeed wanting the investigation to move forward, to get to the bottom of it.
Matt Lewis, however, the White House has at times tried to hit Comey's credibility. Will that work? MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it will work,
but I definitely think it's the strategy.
I think that they are going to try to do sort of what Democrats and Hillary Clinton and the Clintons, Bill Clinton, did to Ken Starr, which is put him on trial. It shouldn't be about Bill Clinton. It should be about Ken Starr, as he was obviously the prosecutor.
In the case, you got the former FBI director. They want to put him on trial. They are already saying -- Kellyanne Conway this morning saying nobody liked him in Washington. Donald Trump has called him a showboater.
I think that you're going to see more of it ramping up this week. They are going to go after him, try to impeach him as a witness and take him down. And they are going to call him a showboater. They are going to say that, well, if he felt like this was -- he was being intimidated, why didn't he say something at the time? Why did he wait? And that's going to be the big question for James Comey, I think.
It's to answer that question.
CABRERA: All right, stand by, guys. We have you back in just a moment.
A reminder: CNN's special live coverage of James Comey's testimony on Capitol Hill starts this Thursday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. You can watch it live on air or stream it live on CNN.com.
Up next: The president goes after the mayor of London, his own Justice Department, pretty much undermines his own legal team, all in a series of tweets. What led up to these rants? We will discuss.
CABRERA: Once again, President Trump is taking his grievances to Twitter, dumping on his own Justice Department, the mayor of an allied city that just suffered a terror attack, contradicting his own press secretary, and complicating his own legal case for a travel ban, all before 6:45 this morning.
It's the latest tweetstorm that his administration insists are just tweets and shouldn't be taken so seriously. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.
QUESTION: That's his preferred method of communication with the American people.
CONWAY: That's not true.
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's not policy.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Of course it is.
GORKA: It's social media, Chris. It's social media.
CUOMO: It's not social media. It's his words, his thoughts.
GORKA: It's not policy. It's not an executive order. It's social media. Please understand the difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And just minutes ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary, gave a different explanation for the president's tweets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that they matter in the sense that it gives him a communications tool again that isn't filtered through media bias.
But, at the same time, I do think that the media obsesses over every period, dot, as John was a perfect example earlier. He made a mistake. His colleague politely corrected him. If somebody from our administration had done the same, all hell would have broken loose and it would be that it's just total like chaos and conundrum here at the White House.
So, I think it's just the obsession over every detail of the president's tweets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Back with me to discuss, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis and Dana Bash, CNN's chief political correspondent.
Also joining thanks, Thiru Vignarajah, former Maryland deputy attorney general and a former federal prosecutor.
Dana, how should we take these tweets? Are they official presidential statements?
BASH: Of course they are, absolutely. It is the modern-day statement.
And it's probably the most raw illustration of what he's thinking. There's no question about it. And as much as his aides want to say that they are not really that important, they are important.
And even the president himself has said time and time again he sees them as important, because as one of them -- maybe I think it was Sarah -- said, he sees it as a way to get out unfiltered.
And, by the way, the filter isn't just us. The filter is oftentimes people in his own administration that he disagrees with. And clearly in this case, it's his own Justice Department that he disagrees with.
I have talked to Republican after Republican, including one senator I saw earlier today. And I mentioned the word Twitter. And he started to sweat. They just want him to stop. They have begged him in person time and time again to stop. I know people from his administration have too. And he won't.
CABRERA: And she was asked at that press conference, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked, is there any vetting of his tweets going on before they are being sent out, because there was some discussion about that possibly happening? And her answer essentially was, well, I'm not aware of any vetting and moved along, kind of deflected that question.
But, Matt Lewis, remember, it wasn't that long ago where we have heard a lot of his spokespeople say his tweets speak for themselves, really saying those are the bottom line.
LEWIS: And I think they are. And I think Dana was absolutely correct. This is who he is.
There's a Bible verse that says out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. That means is whatever you really believe, eventually, you're going to say. I think the new version is out of the abundance of the heart or his heart, the hand tweets.
LEWIS: That is who he is. That's what he believes.
And it has all sorts of ramifications, legal, P.R. ramifications, but this is Donald Trump, what he really believes. And I think it's just amazing. Twitter is having a moment today. You got the Kellyanne Conway's -- husband, George, who tweeted something. You had a Breitbart staffer who was fired for a tweet.
And we have had some journalists recently who have been fired or reprimanded for tweets.
I think we cannot underestimate what Twitter is doing to politics right now. It really is the modern-day statement. And you cannot dismiss it as social media. It is the way you communicate today.
I mean, since you brought up George Conway, Kellyanne Conway's husband, who was up for a Justice Department position, withdrew his potential nomination, he tweeted out this. "These tweets may make some people feel better, but they certainly won't help the Office of Solicitor General get five votes in the Supreme Court, which is what actually matters. Sad," which, of course, sad, referring to what the president often likes to put in there.
CABRERA: But, Thiru, from a legal view here, could Trump's tweets impact this executive order in front of the Supreme Court, this travel ban?
THIRU VIGNARAJAH, FORMER MARYLAND DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, it's a good question.
I can only imagine the level of exasperation among the president's lawyers at the Justice Department, which he directs and where they serve.
He is making an increasingly -- an already difficult case increasingly difficult to defend. Lawyers sometimes have defiant, unruly clients who are their own worst enemies, but it has to be special for the president's lawyers to have as their worst enemy the president of the United States.
CABRERA: Thiru, explain why you think he's making it harder for them to defend this case, because Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to think that it didn't matter what he wrote, that that would have no effect.
VIGNARAJAH: Well, every time the president seems to speak or fires off a tweet, he makes it increasingly clear to federal judges and to the rest of us that national security, his central defense, is a thinly veiled pretext to denounce an entire religion.
So, when the president criticizes the mayor of a major city after a terrorist attack who happens to be Muslim, he doesn't make us or our allies any safer.
And you can just imagine what we would expect from the president. We expect moral leadership. We expect a basic level of human empathy. And you can just imagine if the prime minister of the United Kingdom or the chancellor of Germany had criticized Rudy Giuliani the afternoon of 9/11, there would be outrage, and appropriately so.
Mayor Giuliani, love him or hate him, was working around the clock to hold the city together in a moment of crisis. Mayor Khan of London and the good people of that great city deserve the same.
CABRERA: Matt Lewis, is he undermining his own Justice Department in these tweets?
LEWIS: Yes, he is, and which is interesting, because he signed off on that executive order that he's criticizing the Justice Department for.
LEWIS: And he's also undermining his entire staff on different occasions.
They -- Trump will say something that is controversial. His team will clean it up, and say, well, what he really meant was this. And they will present it in a way that's much more irenic and palatable. And then Trump will come along and say, no, no, I actually meant this.
It's insane. And a lot of it is Twitter.
CABRERA: What do you make of George Conway, his tweet? You have been inside their house, I know. You did an interview, a sit-down interview with Kellyanne not long ago and got to know their family a little bit.
BASH: Yes. I did. I did.
And let me just give you a couple things on this. First of all, he's not somebody who enjoys the spotlight. In fact, when I interviewed Kellyanne, he wanted nothing to do, not with her -- he very much supports her, but he just doesn't like to be a part of the conversation.
I went back and looked at his Twitter feed. And he has not sent a tweet since 2015. And that was about football.
CABRERA: Two years ago.
BASH: And I think it was a year-and-a-half ago, the end of 2015.
That just goes to show you how passionate he is about this.
BASH: He not only sent a tweet, but multiple tweets. And he's a supporter of the president, but he's also a legal expert, especially on something like this.
And you could just see his frustration with the president and support for people in the Justice Department who are trying to make this case. The fact that he sent these tweets speaks volumes and speaks to what I was telling you before about the frustration among people who really like the president and want his policies to succeed, that he's undermining them with his tweets.
CABRERA: When I saw that tweet, I thought, oh, boy, I wonder if it the president will now take it out on Kellyanne, because this obviously is not something that is making the president feel good.
BASH: Yes, I'm actually a firm believer in there are a lot of power couples in Washington, that they kind of should speak for themselves. But -- and my guess is that the president will probably think the same since he saw the person who actually works for him on TV sort of explaining and defending. But we will see.
CABRERA: We will see. Thank you all.
More on the breaking news now. Two of the attackers in London are identified. And we have video of one of those terrorists from a documentary. Plus, the British prime minister toughening up her rhetoric, saying
enough is enough, but what does that mean exactly and how can you stop these terror attacks? We will discuss.