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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Explosions in Belgium; New Questions Emerge in Russia Investigation; Interview with Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 20, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We will begin with breaking news just into CNN. You're looking at live shots from Brussels, Belgium, witnesses there reporting explosions and gunfire, as locals ran in panic from the city's center train station.
We are seeing -- you can see an explosion there. That's an image of an explosion from inside the central station. We're seeing heavy police presence right there right now. Belgian media is reporting that a possible suspect has been "neutralized" at the scene.
Let's go live now to CNN's Erin McLaughlin, who is in Brussels.
And, Erin, what's the latest?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake.
Well, it seems that the situation is under control, that according to the police. It unfolded about over an hour ago at Grand Central Station, one of the main train stations here in Brussels. You can see it's just down the road that way.
Eyewitnesses reporting seeing some sort of explosions, a couple pops, small explosions, and then, according to police, the suspect, a private individual, has been -- quote -- "neutralized."
Unclear how they managed to neutralize the suspect in this case, but you can see that they are taking this incident extremely seriously, and they have cordoned off the street surrounding the train station, not letting traffic through.
You can also see a very heavy military presence out on the street. This is a city under a heightened state of alert due to the terror threat that is persistent in this country. They are taking no chances here in Brussels tonight, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much.
As we learn more information about what's going on in Brussels, we will bring you that.
But let's turn to our politics lead now. This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held an on-camera briefing and took reporters' questions. That is something that in and of itself should not be news, but in this case it is because the Trump administration has been keeping reporters at bay for more than a week.
In important ways, the Trump administration has been less transparent than its predecessors. It's just an empirical fact. Even for those who thought the President Obama's administration never lived up to its ballyhooed promises of transparency, President Obama did release his taxes, as has been standard for presidents for years. President Trump has not yet released his.
President Obama eventually acquiesced and released most of his White House visitor logs. But President Trump does not share any of them, literally nothing about who is coming to see him. President Obama golfed quite a bit, as does President Trump, but the Obama House would tell the public when he was hitting the links and with whom.
This White House, for whatever reason, keeps that information private. Even the White House briefings are now shorter with more nonanswers, and a new trend of not allowing cameras or even audio recordings of what your White House is saying on any given day.
People in power like to hide things from the public. We called it out under President Obama and now it is empirically worse and more opaque. You have a right to know what is going on in the people's house, whether related to the Russia crowd that continues to hamper President Trump's agenda or his plans for Afghanistan or tax reform or health care legislation, all of it.
Let's go right to Jim Acosta, who is at the White House and attended today's briefing.
And, Jim, originally, this was not on the schedule for today.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
It was out and then it was in. The White House, though, Jake, did return to somewhat normal behavior in answering questions from reporters on camera today. But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to create some news of his own at today's briefing when, incredibly, he said he did not know whether the president believes Russia interfered in the election, something that did happen, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was lights, camera, action for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who held his first on-camera briefing in more than a week. But Spicer declined to provide any real answers to a key question nagging this White House, whether the president believes Russia interfered in the election.
QUESTION: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specifically.
ACOSTA (on camera): Didn't the president say that Russia was fake news?
(voice-over): On North Korea, the White House tried to deflect any blame over the death of American Otto Warmbier. During a meeting with the president of Ukraine, Mr. Trump suggested the Obama administration was responsible.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a total disgrace, what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen.
ACOSTA: But the president seemed to concede his efforts to prod China to put pressure on North Korea failed, tweeting: "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried."
A former Obama administration official defended the former president's attempts to secure Warmbier's release. "These tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration. It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on this behalf never ceased."
At the briefing, Spicer appeared to blame the Obama administration.
SPICER: The president knows, believes that, had it happened sooner or quicker, potentially, there might have been additional medical resources that could have been provided.
ACOSTA: On the pressing domestic issue of health care reform, Spicer acknowledged the president has criticized the House bill aimed at repealing Obamacare behind closed doors as heartless.
SPICER: The president clearly wants a bill that has heart in it.
ACOSTA: Democrats have seized on the president's criticism to slam Senate Republicans for crafting their own version of the bill behind closed doors.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump likes to end many of his tweets with one word, almost like punctuation. Sad. Unfair. Wrong.
Well, it turns out that the president has one word to sum up his health care plan as well. Mean. For once on the topic of health care, I find myself agreeing with the president. His health care bill is mean.
ACOSTA: Even some Republicans have had it. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We used to complain like hell when
Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act. Now they're -- we're doing the same thing.
ACOSTA: As for Spicer, he appeared to confirm the White House is looking at moving him out of the Briefing Room and into another role.
SPICER: I'm right here. We're always looking for ways to do a better job or articulating the president's message and his agenda.
ACOSTA: A job at least one conservative mentioned as a successor doesn't want.
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, I'm not sure the secretary thing is something I'm dying to do.
ACOSTA: There were still no answers to the question of whether the president has recordings of his conversations here at the White House. Spicer once again said the president will make that announcement when he's ready. So, Jake, the answers still exists. Where are the tapes, Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you so much.
New questions about fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and trips he took to the Middle East in 2015 -- the very latest on the Russia investigation next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, sticking with politics.
As the White House tries to shake off the Russia cloud and tries to fend off transparency questions, President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn find himself under renewed scrutiny.
House Democrats are demanding more information about two trips that Flynn took to the Middle East in 2015, one he failed to disclose on his security clearance renewal form.
CNN's Jessica Schneider reports.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats want to know the details about Michael Flynn's trip to the Middle East in the summer of 2015 and why he didn't disclose it on his security clearance form.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Flynn.
SCHNEIDER: House Democrats are demanding documents from Flynn about the trip, where he worked to secure an energy deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and another one in October 2015 which he disclosed, but left off significant details.
Key Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse speculated Flynn's silence so far means there could a deal in the works.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: All the signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time.
SCHNEIDER: It's a possibility fired FBI Director James Comey alluded to during his testimony June 8.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: No, unlikely, except to the extent -- there is always a possibility if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring it and squeeze them, you flip them, and they give you information about something else.
SCHNEIDER: But law enforcement sources have not indicated if Flynn is cooperating or not. House investigators don't know precisely when Flynn traveled to the Middle East, but they cite a discrepancy between this June 10, 2015, testimony he gave to the Foreign Relations Committee...
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I just came from a trip, fairly extensive trip to the Middle East, and this was one of the big issues that came up.
SCHNEIDER: ... and the fact that he listed an August 2015 start date on the financial disclosure form he submitted after he was fired as national security adviser.
Flynn's attorney declined to comment.
Reuters is reporting the FBI is also looking at Flynn's business partner, Bijan Kian, in its inquiry of whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn's consulting company were lawful. Kian played a central role in Flynn's contract with a company controlled by a Turkish businessman that Flynn initially failed to disclose.
It's not clear whether Kian is a target of the criminal investigation or if federal agents are just trying to build a better understanding of how Flynn's company operated.
QUESTION: What do you want to get out of Bob Mueller tomorrow when you meet?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Oh, I'm not going to go into it.
SCHNEIDER: Special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to meet with senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others on the Hill this week to make sure there are no conflicts between his investigation and their own probes.
SCHNEIDER: And, meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee just found out they will be getting data access or access to data from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Unit.
Committee member Ron Wyden says it's the best way for them to follow the money when it comes to digging into any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian financiers -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
Is Michael Flynn actually cooperating with Congress' Russia investigations? we will talk to a member of the House Intelligence Committee next.
Stay with us.
[16:18:40] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Sticking with politics and some negative numbers on the president's handling of the Russia investigation. A new CBS News poll out today finds that just 28 percent of those polled approve with how president Trump has handled the probe, while 63 percent disapprove.
Joining me now is Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, good to see you as always. I want to talk about Russia in a moment, but first, you rather heroically attended to Congressman Steve Scalise last week after he was shot during that horrific attack at baseball practice last week. House Speaker Paul Ryan today said that Scalise is doing much better.
What can you tell us about his condition?
REP. BRAD WENSTRUP (R-OH), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, exactly what the speaker said. He is doing better. And, you know, the family and the doctors there will give a full report at the appropriate time. But it's normal for this situation, for a patient to have to undergo multiple procedures. You stage these things, and Steve has come through them very well.
So, we're very encouraged that by the grace of God, he got blood in time to sustain his life and get him into care. And we're grateful for that and for all the support we've seen across America for Steve's well-being and the others that were injured.
TAPPER: Thank God for the two Capitol Hill police officers and, frankly, sir, for your presence as well.
WENSTRUP: Thank you. TAPPER: Let's turn to the Russia investigation. You've been very focused on the main purpose of the House Intelligence Committee investigation, Russia's interference in the U.S. election. But I wonder, with President Trump calling the probe a witch hunt and phony, with his allies now attacking special counsel, Robert Mueller, do you worry that the president is undermining these very serious investigations?
WENSTRUP: Well, what I worry about the most is, it is a very serious investigation, but I worried about the most, this is an American thing. It's not a Republican or Democrat thing. This has been going on since the Soviet Union where they tried to interfere with our system and our way of life, and they've done a pretty good job of it, to be honest with you.
So, our investigation, from my standpoint, is we want to get to the facts. What have they been able to do? They have a tremendous infrastructure and they stop at nothing. It's all about Russia.
And so, we need to find out where they've had influence, how they've done it and how we can stop it in the future. And then if there was any misdeeds done on this side of the ocean, then we need to know about that, too. And that's where I think that we need to be headed, and I hope that we as a country will focus on what we can do to prevent it.
TAPPER: But just -- I'll just try this one more time.
TAPPER: Would you prefer that the attacks on Mueller and the attacks on the investigations from the White House, would you prefer that they stop?
WENSTRUP: Well, I haven't really been paying much attention to that, to be honest with you. I'm focused on what we need to do. I think that all I want to do get at the truth, whether it's Mueller or whoever the case may be. I think that we need to somehow develop some trust in our country, and hopefully, this will be a way that we can do it.
So, I do think there needs to be an investigation. I don't see a need to attack unless I see a need to attack. And so, let's move forward with an investigation on our end, and let Mr. Mueller do his job as well. I don't care to comment because I think he needs to have the opportunity to do his job.
TAPPER: Speaking of the investigation, there are new questions today from Democrats on your committee about Michael Flynn traveling to the Middle East in 2015, apparently to help negotiate a deal between the Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Is Flynn cooperating with your investigation and do you know if he's cooperating with the FBI investigation?
WENSTRUP: I don't know the details of who he has spoken to. I have not had him in front of me personally in any of our briefs. If we feel the need to go there, I'm sure that we will. There is so much that we need to start looking into.
You know, you have the whole situation of leaks taking place, which, you know, our country -- that's not good for our country. We're destroying ourselves from within.
Russia has a plan. And right now, I think they're winning. It's heads I win, tails you lose. No matter what, it seems what they do or what we do, we are divided amongst ourselves.
Let's get to facts. Let's focus on what's taken place. If there is some wrongdoing, then let's be about truth, justice and the American way.
But in the big picture, that's what we need to focus on and we need to protect ourselves, whether it's Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, any other adversaries that want to involve themselves and disrupt the American system.
TAPPER: I want to ask you, sir. I know that Otto Warmbier, the American college student who fell into a coma while in North Korean in custody and died yesterday after being brought home, I know he was one of your constituents.
TAPPER: His family suffering unimaginable pain. The president said what happened to Otto Warmbier was a total disgrace and the U.S. will, quote, handle it.
What do you think that means and how do you think the U.S. should respond?
WENSTRUP: Well, I -- for one, I am grateful that at least there is some type of closure for the family. Otto was a good kid. As you might imagine, I heard from so many people who knew Otto from the day he was born, and he is a good man with a tremendous amount of potential. There is a lot of evil in the world and we have to confront it, unfortunately. And Otto has been a victim of that and his family has suffered greatly.
I intend to go home and try and be with the family later this week, and hopefully we'll bring some solace to them. But I will tell you, we have to, as a nation, decide how we're going to face all the evils that we're up against in this world.
TAPPER: All right. Congressman Brad Wenstrup, thank you so much. And please give pass on our condolences to the Warmbier family.
WENSTRUP: Thank you. I appreciate that very much.
TAPPER: Democrats are outraged about Republicans debating the Senate healthcare proposals behind closed doors, pulling stunts like this, driving through D.C. looking for a draft of a bill. But didn't Democrats do the same thing in 2010 when they were writing Obamacare? Stay with us.
[16:28:22] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
The politics lead now: you know you're on a need-to-know basis now, America. Republican Senator Mike Lee today took to Facebook to assail the secretive process through which the Senate Republicans' health care bill is being written by his fellow Republicans, even though Senator Mike Lee is supposedly to be a member of the working group drafting the bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: I haven't seen the bill. It's not being written by us. It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So, if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The secrecy in this process has been remarkable, and what's even more remarkable is how much Republicans assailed Democrats for the same thing a few years ago, such as for instance, this man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: This massive piece of legislation that sets to restructure one-sixth of our economy is being written behind closed doors without input from anyone in an effort to jam it past not only the Senate but the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of countless Republicans raging against the Democrats in the early part of President Obama's first term for ramming through the Affordable Care Act.
And make no mistake: some shady wheeling and dealing and red eye voting went on to pass that bill. Not lost in us is the fact that McConnell at one point had to speak on Christmas Eve 2009 when the Democratic-led Senate passed Obamacare, you know, when all of America is paying close attention on Christmas Eve.
But Obamacare also did face some debate, at least. The Senate Health Committee spent 13 days marking up the bill and the full Senate debated the bill for 25 days. Now, that process was not enough for then-congressman and, currently, the vice president, Mike Pence.