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AG Sessions Plans to Testify Tomorrow; Maryland, DC to Sue Trump over Foreign Government Payments; Comey Friend Expected to Address Leaking Memos; Lawmakers to Trump: Release Comey Tapes if they Exist. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 12, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- whether the hearing will be public or behind closed doors. Let's go to Phil Mattingly. He's on Capitol Hill with more. So, it's this weird sort of flip-flop. He was going to testify in front of different subcommittees. Now, he's sending his deputy to do that. He wants to talk to Senate Intel, but we don't even know if we'll be able to see it. What are you hearing?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a little bit of a wild day yesterday when Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, sent a letter to the two committees he was supposed to testify in front of tomorrow, appropriations panels, Poppy, that have nothing to do with the Senate Intelligence Committee or the Russia investigation matters. But Democrats on those committees, Poppy, had made very clear those were issues they planned on asking him about. So, yesterday Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, sent letters to Capitol Hill, saying because of that and in the wake of Jim Comey's testimony where the attorney general's name came up a number of times on several specific issues, he was volunteering to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Here's the issue. Nobody actually told the Senate Intelligence Committee about that, according to sources that I've spoken to. As a matter of fact, it stunned most members. They hadn't been planning on that. They hadn't made kind of -- they hadn't set up the possibility of this occurring. So there's been some scrambling behind the scenes here.
Now, you hit on a couple key questions here, Poppy. If that testimony does go off as the attorney general has requested, would that be in public or in private? I've talked to several staffers for Democrats who have made very clear. They believe this testimony needs to be in public. Now, it's interesting to look at the issues that he's going to be asked about, Poppy, and obviously, a lot of this came up from the Jim Comey testimony, not just publicly, but also behind closed doors, the classified session where sources tell us that Jim Comey talked about specific intelligence from Russian intercepts that talked about a potential third meeting between Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
Now, it's important to note, the Justice Department has said that meeting never took place. Jeff Sessions has said that meeting never took place. But that is something that Democrats want to ask him about and they'd like to do it in public session.
On top of that, there's also the issue of Jeff Sessions' recusal. How wide-ranging was it? How much did Jim Comey know about that recusal? This is something Kamala Harris, senator from California, made very clear with something she was interested in. All of those issues, Poppy, are issues that Democrats want to be able to speak about in a public forum, ask the attorney general about in a public forum. The real question now is. Is that going to happen and frankly, is this hearing at all going to happen as Jeff Sessions would like it to?
HARLOW: Yes. If it does, it would be tomorrow and many people hope, in public. Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Thank you. Meantime, the president's daughter and one of his chief advisers, Ivanka Trump, is speaking out for the first time this morning, talking about the James Comey testimony on Capitol Hill, largely echoing her father's talking points. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVANKA TRUMP, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Well, my father felt very vindicated in all the statements that he's been making and feels incredibly optimistic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Ivanka Trump's more measured words in stark contrast to her father's latest broadside attack, tweeting "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very cowardly!" Ivanka Trump said that. Let's go to Jason Carroll, who is live for us at the White House. Good morning.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Poppy. You know, you heard it there. I mean, basically, this president really making an effort to go after the former FBI director, James Comey. You saw there in the tweet, basically saying if what he didn't do was illegal, at the very least, according to the president, what he did was cowardly.
As you know, Comey, for his part, basically testifying last week, going over in really specific detail about that conversation that he says took place between himself and the president, where he says the president asked him to let the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, to let it go. Trump, of course, denies that.
But then you had his son, Donald Trump Jr., who seemed to contradict at least some of what Trump said in an interview a little earlier today. You have all this going on, Poppy, when at the same time, then you have another character entering this whole sort of realm of what's been going on, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who too says he had some sort of uncomfortable conversation with the president where he says it seemed as if during a phone conversation that the president was trying to forge some sort of a relationship between the two. Of course, he was fired a short time thereafter. You know, you have at this point a number of GOP lawmakers that want the president to simply stop talking, stop tweeting about Comey. And then, you also have a number of lawmakers actually on both sides of the aisle who say, just let the tapes come out.
If they exist, let them come out to set the record straight. Still unsure if that's going to happen, at least from this White House so far. Also, at this point, still unclear in terms of special counsel Robert Mueller what his fate may end up being.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The President of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive. But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel, inside the government as well as outside. And I am not going to speculate on what he will or will not do.
[10:05:00] But right now, the role of the president is to govern the United States of America. He's going to do that. He's going to leave anything else to the lawyers. But I can't imagine that that issue's going to arise. But that again is an issue that the president with his advisers would discuss, if there was a basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: And, Poppy, more legal troubles, possible legal troubles facing the president. You've got the attorney generals from both the District of Columbia and Maryland, who are going to be filing a lawsuit in just about an hour from now, basically alleging that this president violated the Constitution, violates something called the Emoluments Clause, which basically says that a president cannot profit while he's in office from foreign governments.
Both of these attorneys general say this is exactly what this president's been doing. They say he has not cut himself from his business ties. They say that his hotels and golf properties around the world continue to profit from the relationship between the president and these foreign governments. At the end of the day, what you're going to have here in this lawsuit, Poppy, is the push for the president to release his tax forms. As you know, that's been something he's been unwilling to do so far. Poppy?
HARLOW: Indeed, Jason Carroll at the White House. Thank you very much.
Let's talk about all of it. Karen Finney is here, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign and former communications director for the DNC. Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and former Ted Cruz communications director. And Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst and national reporter for "Real Clear Politics."
Rebecca, to you first, on the issue of the tapes, there is this growing divide. It seems even within the Republican Party. You have more sort of big-name Republican senators like Susan Collins saying, you know, what gives? The White House needs to be much more clear in all of this. Just tell us if there are tapes or not. Is this a growing problem for the White House to have that amid their own party?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER "REAL CLEAR POLITICS": Well, certainly, it doesn't help the White House to have Republican senators basically demanding this information from the White House, but this will be settled sooner rather than later, Poppy. We have the House Intelligence Committee requesting these tapes, if they exist. They set a deadline of later this month, so we'll see if the White House responds to that request. And then you have Bob Mueller, the special counsel and there is no doubt that as part of his investigation. He would be requesting these tapes and he will be able to determine through that request whether they do or do not exist.
So, we will be getting an answer very shortly, I would imagine, on this issue, whether the president wants it or not. He told reporters last week, of course, that he didn't want to tell them at this time whether the tapes exist. It might be because he was bluffing in his original tweet where he said they did exist or maybe the White House is worried about the legal implications of saying they do exist and the subpoena that would set up.
HARLOW: Let's just remember, no one would likely be talking about tapes if the president had not brought them into the conversation, tweeting about them in the first place.
HARLOW: Alice, I'm intrigued and confused about the strategy among some Republicans, some of the most trusted advisers around the president coming out and attacking special counsel Robert Mueller.
Newt Gingrich did it this morning in a tweet and here's what he said. "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring. Check FEC reports. Time to rethink."
This is someone who had not only served under Republican president and a Democratic president. But he's also someone who has been applauded by many Republican lawmakers when he was named as special counsel. What's the strategy to go after him now?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. I think -- I don't agree with the strategy. Clearly, that was the same way they went about dealing with Comey, to discredit his integrity and I don't think it's the right way to go about it. Mueller is someone who has tremendous character and reputation and integrity and I think they should focus more on the facts.
And look, to this point, it's critical to remember, I think Comey did a fantastic job with this testimony. I think he was very credible and very clear and concise. However, he did not prove any type of collusion or obstruction of justice in what he said.
So, I think it's in the White House's best interests to remain quiet and as Ari Fleischer indicated, don't be speaking too much about this on Twitter and certainly, don't be criticizing Mueller because it gets yourself into more legal trouble. And the White House would be best served to focus on their legislative agenda. They have a great week ahead and they should get back on offense, not on defense and let outside groups, the RNC and other groups, focus on the Russian intel investigation from here on out.
HARLOW: Karen Finney, over the weekend, Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, did his first interview with ABC and he went on the attack, talking about some pretty uncomfortable situations that he could relate to Comey on. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: So, they're very unusual phone calls and it's sort of -- when I've been reading the stories about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time, it felt a little bit like Deja Vu.
[10:10:00] I said it appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship. It's a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation, without the attorney general, without warning, between the president and me or any United States attorney who has been asked to investigate various things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: OK, do you think, Karen, that his attacks and his questioning of the president on all of this would be more effective had he not been tweeting his very personal thoughts about the president leading up to this?
KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER HILLARY FOR AMERICA: I think what Mr. Bharara said was incredibly effective, because what it starts to establish is a pattern with this president and we've actually seen this and heard this, frankly, from people a number of times. This idea that he requires loyalty and that he's got sort of a sense of paranoia, almost, in trying to, you know, forge these relationships with these two men who were in jobs where their job was to be independent.
And not surprisingly, those two men were also fired when they refused to you know, meet the president's request for loyalty and again said, look, I'm going to be loyal to the job and to what I'm supposed to be doing. And again, remember that Preet Bharara was also investigating. I believe it was -- you know, one of the secretary -- one of our cabinet secretaries and had purview over a number of things -
HARLOW: You're talking about Secretary Price, HHS Secretary Price.
FINNEY: That's right and could have been problematic for this administration. So I think it's a very disturbing pattern. Attacking these men in the way President Trump does on Twitter, that's very cowardly. If there are tapes, release the tapes. Don't say it and then pull it back.
If there is more evidence that would defend what the president is saying, he should be willing to put that out there as openly as he is willing to put out there on Twitter his thoughts and his feelings, because it is damaging to this country. It is damaging to people's belief in -
HARLOW: Let me jump in -
FINNEY: -- our system of government.
HARLOW: Let me jump in because I want you on one other thing, Karen, but I want to get Rebecca in here for this in just a second. Rebecca, middle of this, there are some interesting poll numbers if you dig into the president's base, right? So much of what he's doing, especially lately pulling out at the Paris accord, it's for his base.
Look at this Quinnipiac Poll, when you look at white voters that are non-college educated, 60 percent in March thought the president was doing a good job. They approved of how he was doing as president. Now that's already fallen to 46 percent. If you're sitting in the White House around the president, you're looking at these numbers, what are you saying this morning?
BERG: Well, it should be cause for concern, no doubt about it, Poppy. And if you look at the approval rating for the president among Republicans, so self-identified Republicans, not including independents who were also a big part of President Trump's base, that approval rating has also gone down over the past few months. It's gone from the high 80 percent range to now the low 80 percent range.
So, across the board you're seeing polling problems for the president and this is at, you know, really just the start of a whole summer of Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, House Intelligence Committee hearings, Robert Mueller's investigation is just getting started. Those stories are not helping the president at all, not only because of the revelations that are coming from these investigations, but also because they're distracting and detracting from what the president and the administration are trying to do. --
HARLOW: The agenda. Look -
BERG: -- the legislative goals. They're not getting anything done on that front.
HARLOW: Last week was infrastructure week. That didn't get a whole lot of attention. This week they're talking about apprenticeships and jobs, which are so important and that's not what a lot of the headlines are.
Before we go, Karen Finney, I did want to get you on this. Bernie Sanders made a lot of headlines in Chicago this weekend when he came out and talked and he knocked the Democratic Party. He said, I'm often asked, why did Donald Trump win. Here's his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my answer is that Trump didn't win the election, the Democratic Party lost the election. The Democratic Party must finally understand which side it is on!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Karen, is he right? I mean, given your prominent role within the party, is he right? Does it need to reconcile these wings and come together or risk 2018, 2020?
FINNEY: Well, here's what I would say to that. As someone who has actually done the work as part of the Democratic Party, made phone calls, knocked on doors and you know, every time -- when he attacks the party, one of the things that I take issue with, he is attacking those rank and file people who do the work day in and day out, local elections, statewide elections. We're not just talking about a presidential election and we're talking about people who volunteer their time for this party because they care about it.
Bernie is certainly welcome to his opinion and I know the bros are going to get all whipped up on Twitter when I say this, but he's not a Democrat. So, while he has every right to his opinion, I don't take his opinion. But look, I think our country is facing a much greater challenge when we look at a president who has a propensity to lie and not tell the truth and we're looking at the possibility of potential collusion with a foreign government that is hostile to this country. That is something that every American should be concerned about and I think it is a far more serious issue than, you know, what Bernie Sanders does or doesn't say about the Democratic Party.
[10:15:06] HARLOW: I think, Karen Finney, you will get a lot of responses, then, on Twitter, because he ran on the Democratic ticket and certainly got a lot of Democratic votes. I'll let the Twittersphere do what that -
FINNY: And then became and independent, but OK, back to being an independent.
HARLOW: All right, guys, thank you very much, Karen Finney, Alice Stewart, Rebecca Berg, we appreciate it.
We have a lot ahead this hour. The controversy over Comey exposing cracks within the Republican Party. What is the GOP strategy moving forward?
Plus, hundreds are detained in protests, challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin today, all over Russia. We are there live.
And the preliminary hearing underway right now for those charged in the Penn State hazing death. We're hearing a key piece of evidence today of video of the teen's last moments will be shown in court.
[10:20:05] HARLOW: A big question this morning on and off Capitol Hill is, are there tapes? Are there tapes of the conversations between the president and former FBI director James Comey?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say, look, the White House should just come clean, tell us, are there tapes or aren't there? This as the Russia investigation ramps up. Special counsel Robert Mueller as well as Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, expected to meet with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.
Suzanne Malveaux is live on Capitol Hill with more. What are you hearing?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, we know that the Senate Intelligence Committee, various members and other committees as well are trying to create what you might call artificial deadlines, but really a sense of urgency here to get whatever exists in their hands. And first and foremost, they are trying to put pressure on the president, if there are tapes that exist between the president and his conversations with Comey, to hand them over.
We have heard from Senator Susan Collins, Republicans saying, look, you know, they shouldn't have to subpoena these tapes, but if they have to, this is something that they are definitely debating and considering. We have heard from Senator James Lankford who has suggested that perhaps these tapes don't even exist. Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer saying, look, it is time for the president to stop playing games. So, there is definitely a sense of pressure to get that in those committee hands.
Another committee working on this, the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pushing to get the Comey memos, those Comey memos from the professor, the Columbia professor, his good friend, Daniel Richman, who Comey was working with, to get those in the hands of the media, to leak it to the media. They gave him a Friday deadline. A source is telling CNN that he is cooperating with the committee and that there is likely some sort of movement to happen with those memos later today. So, that is something that they are working on as well, trying to create a sense of urgency and accountability on the White House part as well as Comey and his associates. Poppy?
HARLOW: Suzanne Malveaux on the Hill. Thank you very much.
And while some Republicans are urging the president to clear the air, others are struggling with how to keep defending him. Where does the party go from here on that front? Let's discuss with CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley. He's also a History professor at Rice University and presidential historian, Allan Lichtman, who's the author of the book, "The Case for Impeachment." It's nice to have you both here.
ALLAN LICHTMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR "THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT": Thank you.
HARLOW: Douglas, let me begin with you. Suzanne outlined some of what Republican lawmakers are saying this morning. But if you look at it in total, you've got more and more Republican senators sort of pulling away from the president on some of these issues.
Lindsey Graham saying, you know, just stop talking or you might walk into a perjury trap. You've got Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma saying that the conversations that the president allegedly had with Comey were quote, "very inappropriate." Susan Collins of Maine saying, you know, just show us the tapes, stop giving these mixed messages. Mike Lee of Utah about Comey's testimony, asked if he believed him, saying he doesn't strike me as someone who would lie under oath.
If you're sitting in the White House this morning, are you worried about this growing divide?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND HISTORY PROFESSOR RICE UNIVERSITY: I would be, if I were Donald Trump. That you're going to start losing too many Republicans. I mean, the tape issue here is just incredible. I mean, here, I spent a lot of my career, Poppy. I was director of the Eisenhower Center. I wrote a lot of books on World War II. Donald Trump constantly talks about Douglas MacArthur and General Patton.
Can you imagine MacArthur and Patton playing namby-pamby games with tapes, like maybe I have them, maybe I don't, in a kind of clownish routine, hijacking all of our national discussion over whether he has these tapes or not? Put up or shut up. It's that simple for Donald Trump and I think that's what you're starting to hear a lot of Republicans say and that chorus is going to grow, because it's really unconscionable we're being jerked around of whether he tape recorded his meeting with Comey or not. He either did or did not, tell us. And if he did, cough them up. Otherwise, a subpoena's coming the president's way soon.
HARLOW: Right. Allan, to you, you pointed the example of a president who did get impeached. And that is Andrew Johnson, arguing there's a lesson there in him, very long ago, but there's a lesson in terms of not having deep ties to congressional Republicans. What is it?
LICHTMAN: That's right. Andrew Johnson was much like Donald Trump, a maverick in his own time, a guy who said that Washington was a few square miles surrounded by reality. He had no relationship with Republicans in Congress and he clashed with them and that motivated them, of course, to move forward to impeachment.
I have a piece of advice for Republicans today and that is follow what Republicans did in Watergate. Put patriotism above party. The House voted 410-4 to authorize an impeachment inquiry.
[10:25:00] It voted 33-3 to subpoena the Nixon tapes. And more than a third of Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee voted for at least one article of impeachment against Richard Nixon. That patriotism did not save Republicans in the short run in the midterms of 1974 or in the presidential election of 1976. But Republicans came roaring back in the midterms of 1978 and of course, in Ronald Reagan's big victory in 1980. Don't go down with this sinking ship, Republicans. Put patriotism over party. It's the only viable strategy and it's the right thing to do.
HARLOW: Douglas Brinkley, do you think there is a more partisan divide now, today, than there was then under, when the example that Allan just gave of Andrew Johnson? Is he right that this is more partisan than ever as we look at this Russia probe and talk of investigating obstruction of justice, potentially? BRINKLEY: Well, of course during Andrew Johnson's time there was a partisan divide. The Civil War had just ended.
BRINKLEY: He came in, Johnson, because Lincoln was killed. So it's a very brutal situation back in the Johnson period. But when Nixon, you know, the movement to impeach Nixon, it was Republicans that turned on Nixon. I mean, everybody always talks about Howard Baker, but to me -
HARLOW: Yes that moment.
BRINKLEY: -- on the Nixon tapes, the big moment in my mind is when Barry Goldwater, the head of the right wing of the Republican Party, looked at Nixon and said, you lied. You lied to me. I want nothing to do with you. And when Goldwater walked the hard right turned on Nixon and he was left very vulnerable.
So, it's a moment here for profiles in courage in the Republican Party. Lindsey Graham is showing himself to be that person and Susan Collins this past week. If they put some pressure on Donald Trump, they may be helping him in the long run get through this.
HARLOW: Douglas Brinkley, Allan Lichtman, we're out of time, but I appreciate you both being here. Thank you very much, for the history lesson as well.
BRINKLEY: Thank you.
HARLOW: Next, a crackdown in Russia. Protesters hit the streets all over the country, 200 different protests today taking a stand against corruption. Hundreds of people arrested, including an opposition leader, a live report from Moscow, ahead.