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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
London Terror Investigation; Russia's Health Crisis; Trump's Tweets. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired June 6, 2017 - 4:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Turning back to our world lead, as we reported earlier in the show, President Trump firing off a series of tweets, claiming credit for what could be the worst diplomatic crisis to hit Gulf Arab in quite some time, after six countries severed ties with key U.S. ally Qatar.
But just two weeks ago in a meeting with Qatar's leader, President Trump called the oil-rich nation a crucial strategic partner.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins me now.
And, Barbara, could the commander in chief's insertion into this rift have an impact in any way on the 11,000 U.S. troops who are stationed at the U.S. base in Qatar?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think it's fair to say right now the Pentagon and the State Department certainly hope not.
Even today, the Pentagon spokesman told reporters off camera that the Pentagon was grateful for Qatar's support for having those 11,000 troops there in Qatar. That's where they run the air combat missions out of for missions over Iraq and Syria.
So, it's vital. The State Department very much focusing on the diplomacy, being very diplomatic in its language, saying that it appreciates what Qatar has done on the terrorism front, but that it had a lot more work to do.
So what this really underscores it is what everybody really knows. The Middle East is not an easy place. Qatar does have a relationship with Iran, and the big concern, I would say, right now is will President Trump's remarks perhaps, perhaps, push Qatar even further into the Iranian camp, exactly the opposite of what the U.S. and the allies in the region would like to see happen, Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.
Our ears perked up this afternoon when Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, was asked if President Trump has confidence in his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the attorney general, Jeff Sessions?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.
QUESTION: Last time you said that, there was a development.
SPICER: I'm just -- I'm asking -- I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.
QUESTION: So you can't say if he has confidence in his attorney general?
SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: As Major Garrett from CBS was alluding to last time he said that there was a development, compare that to Spicer's answer when he was asked the same thing about FBI Director at the time James Comey in May, mere hours before he was fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Does the president still have confidence, full confidence in FBI Director James Comey?
SPICER: I have to reason to believe -- I haven't asked him, so I don't -- I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's bring in the panel.
Bill Kristol, this was -- you're the one that reminded me of this. Do you think that Sessions is legitimately in trouble?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think actually Spicer may have said the same thing shortly before Mike Flynn was fired as well.
TAPPER: Look, it was Stephen Miller, actually, the White House aide Stephen Miller who said something along those lines.
KRISTOL: The president doesn't -- yes.
I think the default answer if asked if you have confidence in your attorney general is, yes, until you don't. I don't know. It seems inconceivable that President Trump would choose to fire his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was close to him during the campaign. And generally speaking, it's not a good idea to fire attorneys general after you fire FBI directors and all that. But I guess he's furious that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, which led really indirectly to the special counsel.
And I was talking to someone who was close to Bill Clinton when he was president today just randomly about something else. And he said don't underestimate the pressure that having the special counsel puts on a president. It just changes everything.
Suddenly, a guy who is not in your control is investigating your White House with full ability to put people under oath, to get e-mails. And if you have some notion that, as Bill Clinton had reason to have notion, that you have done something wrong, whether it's personal or legal or whatever, suddenly, the whole level of sort of pressure on you changes.
TAPPER: And, Abby, the president does seem, and all reporting indicates, that he is upset that Jeff Sessions recused himself, which in a way seems kind of like an odd thing to do. Jeff Sessions was trying to do something ethical and step away from an issue that people thought he needed to step away from.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
And I think it's worth remembering that at the time, when Jeff Sessions did this or shortly before that, the president tweeted and talked about the idea that he didn't think Sessions had anything to recuse himself from.
So he's been very transparent about how he feels about this whole situation and that he wants this entire Russia investigation which has now ballooned into a special counsel, which, as you noted, can go literally anywhere, it can go into, as it did with Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky territory, which is what entangled him in the '90s.
So the White House is dealing with a president who is on edge, but it actually does take a lot for Trump to fire someone. I don't think that we should read too much into the annoyance or anger with Jeff Sessions in this moment, because, remember, with Mike Flynn, it took a long time.
It took a lot of public pressure and a lot of really damaging media stories for him to get there. And it took several weeks between the time that he found out that Michael Flynn had misled the vice president and when he actually fired him, so I think we have a long way to go here with Jeff Sessions.
TAPPER: Michelle, some people are raising the question about, given that Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, the two senators from Florida and Arkansas, will be among the president's dinner guests this evening, and they both sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which obviously is going to have a hearing tomorrow and a hearing on Thursday with Comey, whether or not that's appropriate, although I suspect it's very difficult to turn down dinner when the president invites you to the White House.
MICHELLE COTTLE, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes.
And I think, you know, look, does it look terrible? Does it look like a huge conflict? Absolutely, but this president doesn't care. In fact, he kind of revels getting people worked up about appearances and doing things that are seen as inappropriate.
So, I wouldn't look for him to back down on this. If anybody says anything, I expect him to have a great 3:00 a.m. Twitter tantrum on it.
TAPPER: And, though, I mean, we should point out, the president, at least according to James Comey and according to the president himself, is known to bring up topics that other people might find inappropriate at meals like this.
I mean, I think this dinner is real tricky for these senators, because we know that he -- he will bring up complete non sequiturs at a dinner conversation, this kind of very small circle of people.
I think it's very risky for them, because the other part of this is that almost everything that happens in this White House leaks. So if there is some sort of untoward conversation or overture from the president, I imagine we will find out about it.
TAPPER: Do you think -- I mean, you're an admirer of both Cotton and Rubio.
KRISTOL: I am.
TAPPER: Do you think that they should not got to the dinner?
KRISTOL: I think if the president raises something about Comey's testimony, they might just say, Mr. President, we shouldn't discuss that and repeat that about five times, so that many people who are the dinner can testify that they have said that.
The Comey hearing is interesting is so interesting, because, on the one hand, I would say the media, in my opinion -- there have been a lot of leaks by friends of -- supporters of Comey, the one-on-one meeting with the president, the alleged request to go easy on Flynn and all that.
But the meeting -- we're sort of all assuming that we kind of know what Comey is going to say. But, of course, that's not true.
KRISTOL: There could be other meetings we don't know anything about.
There could be phone conversations with Reince Priebus that we don't know anything about. There could be meetings with the attorney general. I'm not saying I know about any of these things at all. But I think people are underestimating the possible impact of the Comey testimony.
Trump defenders will say, look, he didn't resign. He's a man of honor. If he had been asked to do something he really felt he couldn't do, he would have quit. He didn't quit. He seemed to be looking forward to going ahead with his investigation, so by definition almost that means that everything was basically OK.
Otherwise, Comey would have quit. So, it would be interesting to see whether that narrative sort of prevails on Thursday. At the end of the day, if Comey was comfortable going ahead in his job, who are we to say that there was an obstruction of justice or anything really untoward?
Or do we learn new things that people say, oh, my God, it was more pervasive than I realize?
TAPPER: I think the potential for news to be made there is, according to a source close to Comey with whom I spoke just a few minutes ago, is that how Comey felt about the conversations he had with Trump when Trump asked for him to pledge his loyalty, when he asked him to lay off Michael Flynn, how he felt about that and his success in putting that away and containing it, is different now that he has been fired, that the president told Lester Holt on NBC that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made the decision to fire him, that he told the Russians in the Oval Office allegedly that the pressure has been relieved from him on the Russia investigation because he fired Comey, that things look different, although I still think that, based on my reporting, he's not going to say it's obstruction of justice.
And I think one of the things, kind of the flip side of what you're talking about, is expectations are being raised so high. I mean, this is a three-ring circus at this point. They have talked about, you haven't seen this kind of...
TAPPER: We have a countdown clock.
COTTLE: You have a countdown clock.
TAPPER: There it is.
COTTLE: So, unless Comey comes out and says he saw, you know, Trump slow-dancing with Putin during the campaign and, you know, all these things, these secrets were exchanged, Trump is going to get on and declare victory.
That's just -- expectations have been raised so high that unless there is a huge smoking gun, that's exactly what he's going to do. It's going to be like, see, I told you.
PHILLIP: The interesting thing about Comey is, I'm always amazed by the way in which he's able to make these testimony moments very theatrical.
And I expect that to be the case on Thursday. This is not someone who sits in front of the senators and just answers yes-or-no answers. He gives the whole chapter and verse. And I think that we're going to get a bit of a show here.
He is not beholden to anyone right now, and in some ways that's perhaps almost as damaging a what he actually has to say, because we know that that gets underneath's Trump's skin. He talks about how much he hates that about Comey. He's a showboat, he's a grandstander.
PHILLIP: So that's the part of the Comey testimony that I think we're going to -- that's going to provoke some...
COTTLE: And he will be live-tweeting it, right.
TAPPER: Yes. And that's the thing.
COTTLE: Trump will be living-tweeting it.
TAPPER: Bob -- Robert Costa from "The Washington Post" says he talked to two White House sources who said it's possible that Trump is going to be sitting there live-tweeting this event.
And this is, of course, in the middle of this debate, public and private, about his use of Twitter. His director of social media, Dan Scavino, tweeted a graphic talking about how great -- there it is -- how great the president's impressions are, how great his reach is on social media.
That, of course, does not take into a fact what kind of impression he's making with these impressions. If you were his senior adviser right now, would you say go ahead, be yourself, live-tweet it, or what would you do?
KRISTOL: No. I think maybe less tweeting would be wise, both in foreign policy, where have you a delicate situation with Qatar and the Saudis and all that, and with respect to this testimony.
But, again, I come to Trump could be annoyed or not annoyed. Comey could be a very theatrical witness or a compelling witness, but, again, we just don't know. What if he says, you know, putting it back together, I'm worried about a conversation I had with Attorney General Sessions on X-date, and Sessions sort of hinted something to me I didn't quite understand at the time, now I see where he's getting it?
Then they can call Sessions to testify. Right? He's the attorney general. He testifies before Congress. Did you discuss this with President Trump? And then we have executive privilege issues.
I just think the number of strings you can start to pull on, once you get this testimony, kind of could increase exponentially from where we are... (CROSSTALK)
COTTLE: And I think you really want Trump live-tweeting that.
TAPPER: You want it. You want...
COTTLE: I really -- when he's complaining about the mainstream media not wanting him, the fake media not wanting him on Twitter, he's not talking about me. Baby, I want him out there.
KRISTOL: Didn't you tweet that or something?
TAPPER: I don't know one reporter who wants him to stop tweeting. It's the greatest thing in the world.
KRISTOL: It's just the actual secretary of state, secretary of defense, the CIA director who don't want him to tweet, but if we want him to, he should.
TAPPER: It's a direct conduit from the president's psyche to the rest of the world.
TAPPER: Why would we not want that? We never get that. Thanks, one and all.
Bill Kristol, Abby Phillip, Michelle Cottle, appreciate it.
Be sure to tune into CNN Thursday for our special coverage of former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. That all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.
Two of the London terrorists were already known to authorities. Now there are new questions about intelligence failures before the deadly attack over the weekend -- that story next.
And then you hear about Vladimir Putin controlling the media's message in Russia all the time, but what is it like to actually live there? An inside look at the growing health crisis in Russia that the government is not talking about.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD". Authorities in Paris say that they have opened a terror investigation after a man attacked the police officer today with a hammer. This happened right outside the Notre-dame Cathedral. Police say the man yelled, quote, "this is for Syria" as he walked up to officers and pulled the hammer from his backpack. Another officer quickly responded shooting the attacker in the chest. Hundreds of people were inside the cathedral when this all of this unfolded. Some snapped photographs of people with their hands up as police tried to determine that no one else was a threat. The officer were told was not badly hurt. The attacker is in the hospital. France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks when 130 people were killed. Today's attack in Paris might increase anxiety or some in Europe with counterterrorism a top priority. Officials are acknowledging that intelligence sharing among European countries could be much better. This as authorities Britain learned terrorists behind the London Bridge attack over the weekend were on their radar well before Saturday night's rampage. CNN's Alex joins us no live from London. And Alex Marquardt, one of the attackers was on a watch list, another sources say, might have been one of the most dangerous extremists in the U.K. What are London officials saying about what seems to be a glaring intelligence failure?
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. One of the attackers was known to the Italian authorities, the other to British authorities. 27-year-old Brit Khuram Shazad Butt was born in Pakistan, he was a British national, he had been investigated by British authorities starting in 2015 because of his membership in an extremist group that was sympathetic to ISIS. Eventually, that investigation was downgraded because there was no evidence that he was going to carry out an attack. The Brits had considered him a major player in that group that they were trying to dismantle. Today they're defending themselves saying there is nothing to indicate that poor decisions were made.
MARQUARDT: The identities of the London Bridge attackers all revealed, but now the question how much did authorities know about them? The latest name, Youssef Zaghba, he was a 22-year-old man thought to be an Italian of Moroccan origin whom Italian authorities say last year tried to travel to Syria. Instead, he was intercepted by the Italian authorities at airport before his flight to Turkey, extremist material found on his cellphone. He wasn't arrested but placed on Italy's terror watch list. Zaghba wasn't a person of interest in the U.K. so the question now is, did Italian authorities alert British intelligence officials, and if so, was anything done?
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: People are going to look at the front pages today, and they are going to say, you know, how on earth could we have let this guy or possibly more through the net?
MARQUARDT: The only attacker British Authorities say they knew about was Khuram Butt, a Pakistani-born British national. He was linked with the British pro-ISIS group Al-Muhajiroun and even appeared in last year's documentary, the Jihadis Next Door.
In 2015, an investigation was opened into Butt. When no evidence was found that he was planning an attack, his case was downgraded to the lower echelons of investigations, meaning he wasn't a top priority. The third attacker, Rachid Redouane, wasn't known to authorities at all, and on Saturday all three joined together to carry out a basic devastating terror attack that has shaken this country.
[16:50:37] MARQUARDT: There are some 3,000 people on the terror watch list here in the U.K. The Mayor of London says 400 fighters have come back from Iraq and Syria, half of whom are here in London. Monitoring all of them is, of course, Jake, is a monumental task.
TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.
President Trump's hotel company seeing green acres in red states, the plan to build hotels for people on a budget far away from the big city and closer to his political base. Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: Turning to our "HEALTH LEAD" now, we know that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a tight grip on the Russian media and his government, of course, has been accused of being behind the murder of journalists who reported stories that reflected negatively on the Kremlin. That may be why we don't hear much about an HIV epidemic that's sweeping across Russia according to health experts. More than a million Russians are infected. The World Health Organization says the HIV crisis is one of the fastest growing in the world. What is pushing the epidemic to a dangerous tipping point? CNN's Ivan Watson goes inside Moscow for answers.
IVAN WATSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's Friday night in Moscow. Anna (INAUDIBLE) is headed out to work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to the pharmacy. There are all the drug users and we are making outreach there.
WATSON: works with a small charity that runs the only clean needle distribution program in Moscow. They give free syringes to injecting drug users. Some of the people most vulnerable to the HIV epidemic that's sweeping across this country. There are a lot of people shooting up on this street corner.
This area is littered with used syringes and empty bottles of tropicamide. That's an over-the-counter eye drop used normally to dilate your pupils. Drug abusers inject it into their veins and reuse of dirty needles is contributing to the spread of HIV in Russia.
VINAY SALDANHA, JOINT UNITED NATIONS PROGRAMME ON HIV/AIDS: Globally, the Russian Federation has the third largest number of new HIV infections annually.
WATSON: Over the last five years, Russia's HIV infection rate grew at an average rate of 10 percent a year, reaching a peak of more than 1.1 million diagnosed cases in 2016. Experts say the real number may be so much higher because so many potential patients are afraid to come forward for testing.
SALDANHA: We're talking about an HIV epidemic, but what we're really seeing is an epidemic of stigma and discrimination.
WATSON: Take Marsha, for example. She's a mother and longtime heroin addict who first tested positive for HIV in 2003. When she went to a doctor recently to treat the drug-related Ulster on her leg, Marsha says he kicked her out of the office and refused to treat her because she has HIV. Marsha and her friend Anya both desperately want to kick their addiction to illegally injected opioids but methadone clinics which provide safer oral substitutes are illegal in Russia and the women say they are afraid to go to a government rehab center for fear the state will take away their children.
Would methadone clinics, would needle distribution programs make a change in the infection rate, do you believe?
WATSON: Last year the Russian government announced a new plan to fight the spread of HIV, but in a separate move, the government labeled the small nonprofit organization Anna (INAUDIBLE) works for a foreign agent because it accepts foreign money to fund its work.
Yes, are there other needle distribution programs?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no.
WATSON: This is the only one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
WATSON: One bus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. (INAUDIBLE)
WATSON: These activists on the frontline of Russia's war against HIV now fear their own government may shut them down. Ivan Watson, CNN, Moscow.
TAPPER: And our thanks to Ivan Watson for that report. The "MONEY LEAD" now. The Trump brand now is diving into Trump country. It's our latest in "CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH." President Trump's business empire has plans for a new chain of hotels with less gold plating and without the name, Trump, stamped on top. Budget-friendly hotels under the name American Idea. The Trump Hotel Organization says the brand will be quote "rooted in local history and neighborly service." The first three American Idea hotels are planned for the Mississippi Delta, Mississippi, of course, is a state that Trump won running away. President Trump handed control of his businesses to his adult son when he took office but he never sold his ownership stake, only placing it in a temporary trust meaning as President he will be profiting off of these hotels catering to states that supported him. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, wishing Comey luck.