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Trump Could Meet Putin at Vietnam Summit; Mueller Probe Focuses on Michael Flynn, Son; Senate Unveils Own Tax Reform Plan; John Kelly Pressured Elaine Duke on Refugees; New Chilling Details on Texas Church Shooter; Menendez Awaits Verdict in Corruption Trial. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired November 9, 2017 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:32:43] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump could meet tomorrow with the Russian President Vladimir Putin on the side lines of a summit in Vietnam. A Russian presidential aide is quoted as saying the meeting will, in fact, happen. U.S. officials say they are still trying to nail downs details determining whether to move forward with the meeting. Let's see if it happens.
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, is joining us. He's a key member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
JEFF MERKLEY, (D), OREGON: You're very welcome. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Do you think the president should meet with Putin right now?
MERKLEY: I think that the -- he should if he will be a watch dog for America. Tillerson has said that there would be discussion of Russian interference in our elections and my fear is that the president will say thank you. What he should be saying is this is unacceptable, it cannot happen in any other form, your interference in our social media trying to drive divisions, all of it is totally unacceptable.
BLITZER: Administration officials say he wants to talk to Putin about Russian help as far as North Korea, Syria, the Russia involvement there, Ukraine, Croatia. There are other issues that are critically important right now. Would that be enough if he doesn't bring up the Russian meddling?
MERKLEY: Well, certainly the issue with North Korea does require Russian cooperation. They also have an oil pipeline in North Korea. So if China turns down the oil as part of the pressure and Russia turns up the oil, we've accomplished nothing. So that is a key point that needs to be worked on. In fact, the whole issue with North Korea is that in order for them to stop their nuclear warhead test, to stop their long ballistic missile tests, it takes a lot of international cooperation and very consistent application of pressure and so farther administration has not shown the ability to bring that forward and in fact undermined it significantly by failing to recertify the Iran nuclear deal.
[13:34:52] BLITZER: In the last few weeks, since the president met with Putin at the G-20 summit in July. In the last week and a half, Paul Manafort has been indicted, a former policy adviser, has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. And now sources are telling CNN that the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is increasingly concerned about his son's potential legal exposure in this Russia probe. What is your take, Senator, on where the investigation stands right now and where it is headed?
MERKLEY: There is a picture published recently that showed the foreign policy adviser sitting in the room and, of course, he has conveyed that the did raise the question with the Trump campaign team on ways to meet with Putin, and certainly a piece of this was about cooperation. So I think we're just going to learn more and more as different pieces come forward. There are a lot of very nervous people in the Trump administration, including Donald Trump. And that is why he was so upset about the appointment of the special prosecutor.
BLITZER: On the tax issues, what is your biggest concern about what the Republicans have in store, especially the Senate version of the tax reform?
MERKLEY: Well, so there was a Republican caucus meeting this morning to go over the details. All that we know right now is that it sounds very likely that they will delay the corporate tax for a year. And that they are going to double tax state and local taxes in order to create more money to be inside the $1.5 trillion deficit ceiling. But while we are discussing those details, here is the big picture. The big picture is that this is a multitrillion dollar heist of the American treasury to deliver those benefits to the very richest Americans. And this is not the way that you build a foundation for families to thrive 37 we need to invest in jobs, health care and education, not increasing the income and wealth disparity that already haunts us.
BLITZER: And a story that is breaking right now, I want to get your quick reaction. Sources telling us that the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly actually pressured the acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to end what is called the protective status for tens of thousands of Honduran refugees now here in the United States, leaving Duke, according to some sources, distraught and disappointed and actually ready to leave the department. I don't know if you've heard about this. You know anything about it. But what is your reaction?
MERKLEY: I wasn't familiar with the details inside the administration, but we all have been aware the administration did put out that they want to end this protective status. This is largely the vast majority are folks from central America who have horrific circumstances back home and they ever he been here long enough that they now have connections that would make it extraordinarily difficult to return under the best of circumstances. And so I think it merits a very robust debate about the role of the program and certainly the plight that these individuals will be placed into.
BLITZER: We're told she rejected all that pressure, all that recommendation and at least for the time being they will continue to have that protective status. Senator Merkley, thanks for joining us.
MERKLEY: You're very welcome. Take care.
BLITZER: Coming up, a missed warning sign. Troubling new details emerging about the Texas church shooter and how he used animals for target practice.
[13:42:47] BLITZER: New chilling details emerging about the gunman in the church massacre. A former Air Force colleague says that Devin Kelley bought dogs and other animals off Craigslist to use them as target practice. Colleague also says Kelley was fascinated by mass murders and joked about killing people.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher is joining us live from Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Dianne, you've been looking in to the shooter's background. What else have you discovered?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is just another one of those dots that seems to have not been connected in his past. We know about the one-year conviction in military prison because he assaulted his now ex-wife and infants stepson. The animal cruelty charges. And this may be the most disturbing from a colleague that worked with him at Holloman Air Force Base. She said while in the service, he threatened to kill himself. He was worried about attacking or killing others and that he seemed fascinating with mass murder. Now, she maintains take the Air Force did get him help, psychiatric and chaplain counseling, but she says they reconnected on Facebook in 2014, once they were both civilians when he was looking for a reference for a job. They were talking through messenger, like people often do and said at that points, and he started saying things like he would buy dogs off of Craigslist for the purpose of killing them. And she said, Wolf, that after a white supremacist went into a Charleston church and killed nine worshippers, Dylan Roof, that he told her he thought that was cool and that he would not have the nerve do that, though he wished we would, he could probably only kill animals. Of course, we know that he went in to a church on Sunday and killed 26 people, including an unborn child. It really is chilling to hear it.
BLITZER: We're also getting possible news of the Baptist church where you are. What are you hearing?
GALLAGHER: Yes, we're just getting this in. Southern Baptist Conference says that they have been speaking with Pastor Frank Pomeroy who lost his daughter in that shooting, and he said it would be his preference to tear the church down and put a memorial up in its place. They will let the church decide. But definitely, the pastor's preference probably not to have service there anymore, make it a memorial.
[13:45:18] BLITZER: Diane Gallagher reporting for us. Dianne, thanks very much. We're also standing by, expecting Senate Republicans to unveil the
specific details of their new tax plan. We'll bring that to you as soon as we have it.
Also, bribery scheme or just friends being friends? We're on the verdict watch in the corruption trial of Senator Bob Menendez. A live report from the courthouse and a lot more, that is all coming up.
[13:50:06] BLITZER: Right now, jury deliberations are under way in the federal corruption trial of Senator Menendez. The Justice Department's 18 counts public corruption indictment accuses Menendez of accepting more than $600,000 in political contributions, three rides at a private jet, and luxury hotel accommodations. In exchange, they say he took official actions to help donor with disputes. Deliberations started on Monday and Senator says he's fine with waiting for the verdict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D), NEW JERSEY: Listen, the jury has family, children, jobs. I get after nine weeks, 60 witnesses, hundreds of pages, they are doing their job. And they also have challenges at home. So, you know, I'm happy to wait for the jury to come to a just verdict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our legal analyst, Laura Coates, to discuss this.
You monitored this trial, the arguments on both sides. How strong of a case does the government have?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the government had a strong case until we learned a juror asked, "what's a Senator" and that question they asked in deliberations says there may be a disconnect what they were saying, and had character witnesses brought in in support of the defendant. Bob Menendez to talk about this issue, two Senators. So a question about how strong the case was. But all this really hinges, Wolf, of a previous case of a former elected official, Bob McConnell. And Supreme Court has been clear, look, you have a tough burden to prove that I get that you are going to benefit them in the future for a potential hypothetical official act, it has to be a very clear connection and you have to prove it's not a friendship, it's actually a quid pro quo sort of exchange.
BLITZER: So when this juror asked the definition or what's a Senator, the implication being that if a friend does something for a friend, even if that friend is a Senator, that's not necessarily wrong?
COATES: Not going to be -- really what it comes to if you are the prosecution in this case, your entire case is hinged on the notion Senator has a particular duty and must abide by certain terms. You and I have a fight, abuse it by getting a financial gain as part of public service. If you are a defense and hear that question what is a Senator, you are banking on the benefit of the doubt that you give to a seated Senator in office to say this is somebody who should be trusted, and he was trying to help, not only his residential geographic constituents but this person who has similar interests as constituents.
BLITZER: So, sooner probably rather than later get a verdict. We'll have coverage of that.
Another issue CNN reporting that Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, that his son could be caught up in Robert Mueller's investigation. Very worried about that. Explain the legal ramifications.
COATES: Well, he should probably be concerned because, again, he is facing Flynn the same that Manafort did with respect to different country, financial disclosures, in terms of turkey rather than in the Ukraine. And you have this thought before Papadopoulos I think his concern would have been a little bit more tenuous. But now you have a lower level person who has been a part of a strategy perhaps to have these meetings. You have the former chief of staff, Michael Flynn, his son, of his own organization, somebody a right-hand man, attended the trip to Moscow where Michael Flynn was shown next to Putin in that infamous Russian propaganda television footage. Now you have the concern someone who may have made false statements to an investigator may also face the same scrutiny and legal wrath as the bigger figures in this case. Although Michael Flynn Jr has talked about this in dismissive terms I'll be happy people realize I'm not going to go to jail in this case. But the concerns are valid.
BLITZER: You are a former federal prosecutor. Sometimes prosecutors, as you know, they go after a loved one to excuse their prime target, in this case presumably Michael Flynn.
COATES: Yes, you have better bait than someone own son facing ramifications. Not talking about the allegiance during people during a campaign. Talking about a relationship that has consequences in entire family. So I think that's more appealing bait to use. Bull remember of the game of big fish we have the national security adviser, the campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman. Michael Flynn Jr, Papadopoulos, lower rung on the totem pole but could be used as potential bait.
[13:55:06] BLITZER: Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his took, has excellent lawyers. They are working hard right now.
COATES: Remember, Wolf, Michael Flynn asked for immunity last year he was willing to talk and tell his story, according to his attorney. So you have to think when he was denied that immunity, what they were looking for and other things to try to convince him to be cooperative.
BLITZER: We'll watch this closely as well.
Thanks very much, Laura. Excellent analysis.
Coming up, Senate Republicans to unveil details of their new tax plan. Live to Capitol Hill.
Plus, the type of fall from grace on "House of Cards," but for Kevin Spacey, no escaping sexual harassment scandal. The new plans to remove him from a movie set that was set to be released in December.
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