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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Another Defeat for Trump Travel Ban; Cabinet Members Praise Trump at Meeting; Trump's Tweets Come Back to Haunt Him in Ruling. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 12, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, these loyalty pledges did not happen behind closed doors.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Something of a surreal scene, a Cabinet meeting where officials went around the table, and some of them pumped up the president at a time when clearly he's feeling cornered, right after we learned that one of the people at the table will be testifying tomorrow before the Senate about his meetings with the Russians.

Also, breaking news: coming back to haunt him, the president's tweet costing him in court, as federal judges cite his tweet in their ruling against his travel ban.

Plus, the hidden front in the global war on terror, dangers few will ever know and fewer will ever face, CNN taking an in-depth look at these elite warriors and their growing mission around the world.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with the politics lead and with a president feeling under siege, as we get ready to hear from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in public testimony before the U.S. Senate tomorrow.

Today, President Trump set out to show the American people that his administration remains focused and positive with a Cabinet meeting, the likes of which frankly we have never seen before. It started with the president in now familiar fashion boasting of his accomplishments and attacking his rivals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I think we have been about as active as you can possibly be and at just a about record-setting pace. If we had the greatest bill in the history of the world on health care, we wouldn't get one vote from the Democrats because they are obstructionists. That's what they want to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But then Cabinet members were invited to speak, and that's when it all got a tad unusual.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Greatest privilege of my life is to serve of as vice president to a president who is keeping his word to the American people.

TOM PRICE, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you have given me.

ELAINE CHAO, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled to hang out watching the whole ceremony. I want to thank you for getting this country moving again.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you have given us to serve of your agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, the White House might say this is just a display of focus and loyalty and positivity, but critics suggested that the fealty display today was sycophantic and not a little disturbing.

Either way, the backdrop of the Russia investigation made this seem all the more stark and surreal, while other supporters of the president in the world of conservative punditry were busy out there trying to undercut a man today with an impeccable reputation for integrity, Robert Mueller, a decorated Marine who served in Vietnam, former U.S. attorney, long-serving FBI director, currently the special counsel heading up the Russia investigation.

With former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeting -- quote -- "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he's hiring. Check FEC reports. Time to rethink."

What a difference a month makes. Back then, Gingrich said -- quote -- "Robert Mueller is amount superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down."

Fellow conservatives Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and others also beginning to question Mueller and his investigation and his integrity for any number of reasons, perhaps belying the positive vibes that we saw in the Cabinet Room earlier today.

But let's focus right now on the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was thrown back into the center of this storm by James Comey last week. Sessions will also face the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow and the testimony will be public.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has all the latest on the Russia investigation -- Jessica. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jake, it's

fair to say that tomorrow's testimony, it will be intensified in the wake of James Comey's accusations last week that Sessions left him alone with the president and didn't respond when Comey told Sessions the president made him uncomfortable, but questions do remain about how wide-ranging Jeff Sessions' testimony will be and will the White House try to intervene?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's an honor to be able to serve of you in that regard.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions praising the president in today's Cabinet meeting.

TRUMP: You're right, Jeff. Thank you very much.

SCHNEIDER: It follows weeks of tensions between the two over Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation in March. Sessions will testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sources say he tried to arrange a closed hearing, but after objections from Democrats, agreed to speak publicly. The White House is still weighing whether to exert executive privilege to preclude some of Sessions' testimony.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It depends on the scope of the questions, and to get into a hypothetical at this point would be premature.

SCHNEIDER: Sessions faces a long list of questions from lawmakers.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: What were his contacts, if any, with Russian officials during the during the period of the campaign? I think that's that's certainly a question that we need to ask. Secondly, a question I'm interested in is, what role did he play, if any, again, in the Comey firing?

[16:05:10]

SCHNEIDER: CNN is told James Comey revealed to senators in a closed- door briefing last week that Sessions may have had a third undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016.

Sessions could also come under scrutiny for Comey's claim that Sessions did not respond when Comey told the attorney general he felt uncomfortable being left alone with the president. And questions linger about why Sessions left Comey alone in the Oval Office on February 14 when Comey contends the president directed him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Donald Trump Jr. seemed to confirm Comey's account of that conversation.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: When he tells you to do something...

QUESTION: Yes.

TRUMP JR.: ... guess what? There's no ambiguity in it. There's no, hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends. Hey, I hope this happens but you have got to the do your job. That's what he told Comey.

SCHNEIDER: Comey's memos about his interactions with President Trump could be turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, a friend of Comey's who shared the contents of the memo with media, has copies the committee wants.

The president continues to criticize Comey via Twitter. "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal. Very cowardly."

Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that that could get the president in trouble.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think what was said amounts to obstruction of justice.

Now, what the president did was inappropriate. But here is what is so frustrating for Republicans like me. You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Attorney General Jeff Sessions will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.

Senators, meanwhile, are still deciding whether Sessions will also be asked to testify in a classified briefing after that public hearing.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Republican Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among others.

Thanks so much for joining us, Senator. Appreciate it.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Absolutely. Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: I know you want to talk about your Saudi Arabia bill, and we will get to that.

But I do want to the ask you. Republicans are now going after special counsel Robert Mueller. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham others, suggesting various issues about a man who served with distinction in Vietnam, as a U.S. attorney, for more than a decade as FBI director under both Bush and Obama.

What do you make of this? PAUL: Well, you know, I think we have had special counsels in the

past that have politicized things. And I think we have had some who haven't.

You know, if it goes the way it's supposed to go, it's supposed to be done in secret like a grand jury and only if something ultimately is indictable do you hear anything. That actually would be fine with me and it's actually something that would probably be a good way of looking at this.

Now, I can't vouch for how it's going town fold or what will happen, but if it happens the way it's supposed to, I think I think the president will be cleared. Maybe -- I don't know what else happens out of it, but I think this is probably the best way to look at it.

TAPPER: So, just to clarify, you have described the allegations of any collusion between associates of Trump and Russia as a myth perpetrated by Democrats, but you support seeing the probe through and letting the facts lead where they may?

PAUL: Yes. I think the whole thing is sour grapes, to tell you the truth.

Did Sessions meet with the Russian ambassador? I mean, so, yes, I think it's all sour grapes. I don't think there's anything there, but I'm not against people looking at facts, but I think we shouldn't get carried away with things.

I think from Comey's testimony there were some pretty important things. Comey said that the president was not, you know, the point of any investigation, and the president responded petulantly probably and said tell everybody I'm not the object of your investigation, and you can see where there are would be annoyance.

But even by Comey's testimony, he's saying he told me he hoped I would finish it. Certainly doesn't sound like obstructing any kind of justice when you tell somebody that they hope they will finish their job.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Rand Paul, stick around. We've got lots more to discuss, including the conflicting stories from President Trump and his former FBI director, as we were discussing.

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:06]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Lots more to talk about with Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Senator, you're against President Trump's $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on your legislation to block the deal. Last week, the Saudis and other Gulf nations cut off ties with Qatar and accused that country of funding terrorism in the region.

President Trump seems to clearly be siding with the Saudis. Are you concerned at all that he's emboldening a country that itself has a long history of supporting terrorism?

PAUL: Yes.

I think one of the most important e-mails and information that we got from the leaked e-mails from Hillary Clinton was an e-mail she sent to John Podesta, and in it she said we need to put pressure on the Saudis and the Qataris because they are giving financial and logistical help to ISIS.

So we're going to give, ourselves, $350 billion worth of weapons to a country that the insiders were saying were actually giving weapons to ISIS? That's a real problem for me.

If you follow Bob Graham and the 28 missing pages in the 9/11 investigation, there's a lot of information that suggests Saudi Arabia was involved. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. They have a terrible human rights record.

I can list 20 reasons why I'm very concerned about giving them weapons, but one of those things is also coming up this week is we're unhappy with Iran for developing ballistic missiles. Well, guess what? Iran develops them in response to Saudi Arabia getting more weapons.

It's an arms race over there, and we're fueling it.

TAPPER: Let's talk about tomorrow, when your former colleague, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The White House suggested today that Sessions might invoke executive privilege depending on the questions that are asked. Do you think that that might be a mistake?

PAUL: I guess it depends on the questions. I don't really know what that will be about, necessarily.

I still think that, you know, we have got a special counsel. Let's let them do their job. The rest is all for show. This is political theater. And, really, those committees aren't getting anywhere.

[16:15:02] If there really was anything done wrong, it will come out of the special counsel, and my suspicion is very little, if anything, will come out of there. There may be some people who didn't file their paperwork appropriately or didn't file to be registered as foreign agents.

But I kind of doubt there's going to be anything that -- look, Jeff Sessions, known as a hardliner on Russia, so it's kind of crazy to sort of say, oh, he must have been meeting with them in some secret deal with the Russians. You know, he was known as a hardliner, all right? And so, I don't think that any of that is going to go anywhere, but I think we keep going after it. But I think there's a political operation going on and I think dwelling some on this stuff.

TAPPER: The White House and President Trump, both of them refused to confirm whether or not there are tapes that might clear up the different stories we have about his conversations with Comey. I want you to take a listen to what your colleague Republican Senator Susan Collins said on "STATE OF THE UNION".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: This is an issue that the president should have cleared up in his press conference. He should give a straight yes or no to the answer -- to the question of whether or not the tapes exist, and he should voluntarily turn them over not only to the Senate Intelligence Committee but to the special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree, Senator?

PAUL: I personally am not a big fan of recording private information, private calls between people who don't know they are being recorded are, and so, many states have rules against this. The White House is in an unusual situation though, where basically they call it a unitary executive. The support is in charge and whether he ought to do something is one thing, whether he has to do something is another.

I don't think it was an appropriate thing to threaten Comey on it, but I think the interesting thing that is lost by some people about Comey's testimony is I think it completely vindicated everything the president had said. Comey said he wasn't being investigated. Comey said he kind of felt pressured but he really wasn't told directly not to do anything and the president said he hoped he hadn't done anything. I don't know when hoping you don't do something is an obstruction of justice.

So I think there's absolutely nothing here to go on, but eventually we'll get to the bottom of it through the special counsel. But this is sort of what happens. Both sides do this. Every time we get a new president, one side spends years and years attacking them and trying to gin up investigations, and then immediately it will happen in the other side. Both parties are guilty of it, but it is a distraction from a lot of things that we do need to do in this country that are much more important, I would say trying to fix the health care system, trying to look and fix our tax code, so we don't lose businesses overseas are way more important than I think a politicized look at this Russia thing.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, really appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.

PAUL: Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up next, Ivanka Trump says she's been surprised by the viciousness directed at the Trump family. Maybe she wasn't paying much attention to her dad during the last campaign. And coming up, Maryland and D.C. suing President Trump over his

business empire. Could they end up getting ahold of those fabled tax returns?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:10] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with the politics lead and some breaking news today. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has largely affirmed a Hawaii judge's decision against President Trump's travel ban, thus handing the president yet another court defeat, and once again, the president's tweets were his own worst enemy.

CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House.

And, Sara, legal experts, even many friendly to President Trump have suggested his tweets might be an albatross around his neck all the way to the Supreme Court.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jake. And senior administration officials here like to say that Twitter is the way for the president to speak to his supporters directly. They think it's been essential for certain points of his presidency, but this is definitely an instant where the tweets do not seem to be helping. That said, this administration insists that the president's travel ban will go through once it makes its way to the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Another whether for President Trump today as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules against Trump's travel ban. On the same day that Trump touted his productivity in the White House --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we've been about as active as you can possibly be, and at just about a record- setting pace.

MURRAY: -- the court dealt Trump a stinging defeat on a signature policy priority, largely agreeing with previous ruling that temporarily blocking all refugees and foreign nationals from six Muslim majority countries, likely violates the Constitution. The judges cited Trump's own tweets to back up their ruling, including one missive in which Trump tweeted: That's right. We need a travel ban for certain dangerous countries, not some politically correct term that won't help us protect our people.

It's a ruling that's all but certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's executive order to protect this country is fully lawful and ultimately will be upheld by the Supreme Court.

MURRAY: As Trump tried to stick to his agenda today, turning to his notes to tout a GOP health care bill, workforce development initiatives, and an upcoming announcement on the battle against ISIS, this week is still shaping up to be another one dominated by the Russia investigation.

Today, the White House once again refused to say whether Trump has tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.

SPICER: The president made clear in the Rose Garden last week that he would have an announcement shortly.

MURRAY: And in an unusually public cabinet meeting, Jeff Sessions sat across from the president, offering up his compliments.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's an honor to be able to serve of you in that regard.

MURRAY: While Trump in turn dodged questions about whether he still has confidence in his attorney general, just a day before Sessions is slated to testify on Capitol Hill.

REPORTER: Mr. President, are there tapes of you and Jim Comey in the Oval Office?

SPICER: Take your questions.

MURRAY: Today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether the White House would invoke executive privilege to prevent Sessions from discussing his conversations with the president.

[16:25:02] SPICER: It depends on the scope of the questions and it will be -- to get into a hypothetical at this point would be premature.

MURRAY: But it's clear the Russia cloud remains a distraction for Trump. On Sunday, he tweeted: I believe that the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very cowardly.

It's clear the Washington environment is weighing on the president's allies, too, particularly his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER AND WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It is hard and there's a level of viciousness that I was not expecting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, there's a certain amount of irony that comes with Ivanka Trump's comments. Of course, President Trump won the Republican nomination coming up with demeaning nicknames for his opponents throughout the campaign. He feuded with the pope and he insulted a Gold Star family. So, certainly, viciousness coming from all different directions -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, that's the abbreviated list you just provided.

Sara Murray, thank you so much at the White House. What did Attorney General Jeff Sessions think when President Trump

asked to be left alone with his FBI director? What to expect when Sessions speaks tomorrow. That story next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)