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DOJ to Meet with Sterling's Family; Texas Officer Fired; Comey Testifies on Trump/Russia Investigation; Yates Testifying about Flynn; Clinton on Election Loss; Palestinian Leader Meets Trump. Aired 9:30- 10a

Aired May 3, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:51] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, just in to CNN, we have learned that the family of Alton Sterling will meet with the Justice Department later this morning amid media reports the officer who fatally shot and killed him last July will not face federal charges. Now, CNN has not confirmed those reports, but we do know there will be an announcement from the Justice Department today. Sterling's shooting was captured on cell phone video. The footage, which is graphic, was caught on bystanders' cell phones outside of a convenient center on July 5th.








BERMAN: All right, Sterling's family is upset that they did not hear from the Justice Department before the reports that they will not charge the officers in federal cases. CNN's Nick Valencia is in Baton Rouge.

Nick, you spoke with the family. What can you tell us this morning?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Last night we spoke to Sandra Sterling, who's effectively the mother of Alton Sterling, and we caught her just a few moments after she read that "Washington Post" report. She was inconsolable, John, having a really tough time putting together a sentence. And as you mentioned, she's frustrated and angry of how this process has all worked out. They were supposed to hear from the Department of Justice directly, not read about it in the papers, but that's exactly what happened. You mention that we don't have confirmation exactly what the details

will be, but we were told earlier today from a high state level official here that there will be an announcement at the Department of Justice. And if there's any indication of what kind of response is expected outside of the federal courthouse, there had been barricades put up around this federal courthouse earlier this morning. We also spotted some bomb sniffing dogs surrounding the area.

There has been a lot of anxiety, a lot of tension over the course of the last 10 months here in Baton Rouge. This shooting caught on cell phone video just hauntingly graphic and disturbing for so many people who have watched it. The officers involved in this shooting have also received death threats. Their families have been affected by this as well. We understand Blake Salamoni and Howie Lake have not spent time - for more than two weeks at a time in one place. Also, even though the Department of Justice expected this announcement, they're not quite out of the woods just yet. A state level investigation is expected to get underway as soon as the Department of Justice announces their findings.


BERMAN: All right, Nick Valencia for us in Baton Rouge. Nick, thanks so much. We're going to keep our eye on that courthouse for an announcement.

The Texas police officer who fired a rifle into a car full of teenagers, killing a 15-year-old boy, has been fired. The chief - police chief of that town says that Officer Roy Oliver violated several department policies when he shot several times into the vehicle that police now say was heading away from him. Police were responding to a party where there were reports of underage drinking. That bullet struck and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. Edwards' family has appealed for peace as this investigation unfolds.

I want to talk about both of these stories right now. I'm joined by Joseph Giacalone, a law enforcement trainer, former sergeant with the New York Police Department, and also Wesley Lowery, a CNN contributor and political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Wes, let me start with you.

Obviously the family of Alton Sterling really angry overnight that your paper broke the story from leaks from the Justice Department that there would be no federal charges in this case. Very angry that they're learning in the papers about this case so close to their hearts.

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Well, angry that the Justice Department did not tell them before they found out elsewhere, right? And it's interesting because this is the first case being handled by Jeff Sessions' Justice Department. This is a - which brings some extra attention to it. This is the first announcement of this nature we'll see under the Trump administration.

This is a very closely, heavily watched case. We remember the shooting of Alton Sterling last July. It prompted massive protest and unrest in Baton Rouge. Later on, assassinations of police officers, which many have linked to the unrest there. And it came at a time when we were having an intense conversation about this. We had the day after Alton Sterling's death, Philando Castile's death in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and then the shootings of the Dallas officers the day following that. And so there certainly has been some tension.

It was reported almost a week ago now that this decision was eminent. And at that point it was only a matter of time before some reporters or someone figured out what the decision was and it was reported. And so there's certainly been some frustration, not only from the Sterling family, but we've also heard from a lot of local officials there who are frustrated again that they had not heard from the feds what was going to happen before some of us in the media were able to figure it out.

[09:35:15] BERMAN: You know, Joe Giacalone, from what you have seen on that videotape and what we now know of the investigation, the decision not to push for federal charges, is it surprising?

JOSEPH GIACALONE, LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINER: No, it's not surprising. I mean they - just take a look at the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham vs. Connor (ph) and the reasonablness standard and they see that it - you know, you can't Monday morning quarterback these things or, you know, have 20/20 hindsight. You know, police - police involved shootings are never pretty and they're either justified or not. There's no such thing as a good police shooting. So what we watched and unfold in front of our eyes, it looked terrible, but the question always comes down to, was it - was it within - justified within the law. And, you know, he is armed with a gun and they would - they just determined that this was, you know, a justifiable shooting.

I mean, you look at it. There are some training issues that need to be addressed here. I think the DOJ has an opportunity to help fix some of the problems that we see in law enforcement with use of force and I hope that they do. You know, we just can't look at some of these incidents and say, could have been preventable. And that's what, you know, I'm an advocate for. I think we need to provide better training for our officers and we need to make sure that they're schooled in what the law allows and what it doesn't allow.

BERMAN: You know, Wes -

GIACALONE: We can avoid some of these things.

BERMAN: Just over the last 24 hours you've seen sort of every level of response in this case, the federal government not pressing civil rights charges in the Alton Sterling case. In South Carolina with Michael Slager there was a plea guilty. He agreed to plead guilty to federal charges. And then in Texas, which isn't yet a federal case in any way, the local police department fired the officer there. So you're seeing a range of responses here.

LOWERY: Of course. And it's interesting. You know, again, this is a conversation that's kind of constantly ongoing. This is something we're paying a lot of attention to in 2014 and 2015, perhaps a little less attention to now. But what we know is that there is still about three fatal police shooting every single day. And so at any given point in time, there are various cases at various junctures of the political process. What we've seen in Texas in the shooting over the weekend of a young 15-year-old boy, shot and killed while riding passenger seat in a car, we see a department that's firing the officer. Now, that's something that does not happen all the time, but it's something that many reformers say should happen more often. It will be interesting to see moving forward is if any charges are brought against that officer because again, as is the case in Baton Rouge and is likely going to be the case in Texas, the way the law exists now, most police shootings, the vast majority of police shootings, are legally justified. The question of whether or not they were preventable or should have happened is a different question.

BERMAN: You know, Joe Giacalone, in the case of Texas, it seems as if the young man may have been driving away from the officer who shot him with the rifle. And you know from New York, that's against department policy here, at least in New York, Joe.

GIACALONE: Sure. And the New York City Police Department has made it strict about when the officer can shoot at a car. And the difference becomes, you know, like where these locations happens. New York City we understand why. We have so many people living in a closed in area and if you shoot at a car and the car goes out of control, you can end up, you know, hurting other people.

But, you know, here is an opportunity where the police department had where they realized that through the body cam that they contradicted what the officer had stated about what happened in the shooting. So that's the reason why he was fired. And you know what, I give credit to the chief to act quickly and swiftly on this, but that doesn't mean that they're done. I mean they have a lot of issues to be looked at -


GIACALONE: About why this even happened.

BERMAN: All right, Wesley Lowery, Joseph Giacalone, thanks so much for being with us, guys. I really appreciate it.

GIACALONE: Thanks for having us.

LOWERY: Thanks for having us.

BERMAN: I want to take you back to Washington right now. We have some live pictures from inside the Senate Judiciary Committee room right now. Very shortly the FBI director, James Comey, faces new questions about his investigation into Russian ties to the Trump campaign and this comes as CNN is reporting that the FBI director is excited to testify about his decisions in handling the Hillary Clinton case during the election. There are things he wants to get off his chest, we are told. What are they? Stay with us.


[09:43:17] BERMAN: All right, we're just a few minutes away from hearing from the FBI director, James Comey, the man in the middle of a firestorms or firestorms more accurately. You're looking at live pictures right now from the Senate Judiciary Committee. That committee will no doubt ask about possible ties between Russian officials and President Trump's campaign. Again, looking for new details on that investigation, not to mention the FBI's director's decision to go public with aspects of the investigation into Hillary Clinton. An investigation that Hillary Clinton just said cost her the election.

Joining us now is Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He's a member of the House Oversight Committee, he's a Democrat, which is also conducting its own version of a Trump/Russia investigation.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

You, like the rest of us, are not a participant in today's hearing as it is on the Senate side. You will be an active observer along with us. What do you want the FBI director to address when it comes to Trump campaign associates and Russia?


I think we need to get to the bottom of what are the Trump White House's ties to the Kremlin, what are the affiliates of Donald Trump's ties to the Kremlin. I think that's what we need the director to address. On the House Oversight Committee, we're doing the exact same thing except with Michael Flynn and others. And, you know, I've reviewed various classified documents and they're raising tremendous questions about, you know, was Michael Flynn, Don Corleone or Fredo? Was he the godfather or a duke? And we need to get to the bottom of exactly what the heck's going on here.

BERMAN: If the only choices are Don Corleone or Fredo there, that's a pretty stark comparison right there, congressman.

Look, CNN is reporting that Michael Flynn - on the Michael Flynn case that the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates will testify next week that her version of the story of how Michael Flynn was dismissed is very different than the White House is portraying. She says she warned the White House early on that what he was saying was not true. Your committee has been investigating him. Do you believe that to be the case?

[09:45:16] KRISHNAMOORTHI: You know, we have to get to the bottom of this. It's very disturbing that Sally Yate's statements are in direct opposition of what we're hearing from the White House. It's all the more reason why I called for a 9/11-style non-partisan commission into this issue. Our own committee has asked for various documents from the White House. They haven't produced them. We're hoping that they'll cooperate and produce them with regard to the vetting of Michael Flynn and basically everything related to Michael Flynn. If they don't produce them, we're going to have to subpoena them.

BERMAN: Now, one other thing that the FBI Director James Comey is certain to be asked about today are his decisions in regard to Hillary Clinton prior to Election Day, his decision to release a letter saying that they were reopening aspects of the investigation prior to Election Day. Do you think he needs to explain himself on that?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I do think he needs to explain himself. At this point in time, however, we also need to figure out, you know, what are the Trump White House's ties to the Kremlin? Has our national security been compromised in any way? And how do we protect ourselves going forward? I mean that - I think those are the number one, two and three questions that I have today.

BERMAN: Separately from the FBI investigation into Trump associates and Russia or whatever he was investigating during the campaign involved with Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton, who was your party's nominee for president, yesterday said that had the election been held on October 27th, she would have won. Is it that simple? Is it that simple to say that if not for the James Comey letter, that Hillary Clinton would be president right now?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It's not clear. I think right now, again, I come back to the issue of the moment, which is, you know, we've got to get to the bottom of what are the Trump White House's ties to the Kremlin.

BERMAN: Look, and that's what the investigation is. But again, as a Democratic Party member, completely aside from the investigation into Trump associates and Russia, what do you want from the party going forward? Is the party looking inward enough to explain what happened in this election? Do you need to look beyond an FBI letter and maybe look at how you're connecting with rural voters?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Absolutely. I was elected on a platform of growing and strengthening the middle class and making sure that Americans remain and grow prosperous in this economy, and that our economic growth is inclusive. I think that's really where our parties should be focused right now and we have to make sure that all folks, whether they're in rural areas, urban or suburban areas are included in economic growth and we've got to adopt a very - a very working family centric agenda.

BERMAN: So when, you know, the former Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, says, had the election been held on October 27th I would have won, does that help your case to look inward and sort of reach those orders you were just talking about reaching?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, look, I'm very much focused on the issue of, you know, how do we make sure that we connect with those voters going forward. You know, in Congress right now, unfortunately, we're distracted by a lot of different issues. Unfortunately, my friends on the other side of the aisle are trying to repeal Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act right now instead of trying to mend it and improve it and fix the health care system. And we've got to have some bipartisanship here to make some significant reforms going forward, not only in the health care system, but on other issues. And we have to make sure that our economy works for all Americans.

BERMAN: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time this morning, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you so much, sir. BERMAN: All right, President Trump's foreign policy agenda is in the spotlight today. This again as we are waiting for this key hearing on Capitol Hill with the FBI director, James Comey. The president has a big meeting on his plate. He'll meet with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Stay with us.


[09:53:32] BERMAN: All right, live pictures from Capitol Hill. Just minutes from now, the FBI director, James Comey, will be in that room facing questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his investigation into alleged Trump associate ties and connections with Russia. We also understand he wants to discuss, he's looking to get off his chest some issues dealing with his investigation into Hillary Clinton during the campaign. So stay tuned for that.

A big day at the White House, as well. President Trump set to meet with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. That happens in a little while. CNN Washington correspondent Joe Johns joins me now.

And, Joe, the president has called peace in the Middle East the ultimate deal that he would like to forge.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, and the challenge is just how much they're going to accomplish, how much they're going to accomplish today, John.

Mahmoud Abbas arrives here in Washington with a public relations message that says he's committed to peace, but there are questions about his power base. He's being challenged back home about Hamas and questioned about how much he can deliver for the Palestinian government under these circumstances. Also questions for President Trump and how willing he is to stand up and demonstrate his support for Israel as he stated on the campaign trail. He's being pressured by members of Congress, among other things, to pressure the Palestinian government to stop making payments to individuals who have been committed - who have been convicted of committing crimes against Israelis.

[09:55:06] There's also that key question of moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is another hard question that could affect all of the negotiations.

We're expecting Mahmoud Abbas here in about two hours. And we know they'll issue a statement, John, on paper. It's not clear whether they'll take questions.

BERMAN: We'll keep our eye on that. Joe Johns at the White House, thanks very much.

In the meantime, we're moments away from FBI Director James Comey. His testimony on Capitol Hill before the Senate, facing questions on Russia, on the Trump campaign, also on Hillary Clinton. Stick around.


[09:59:53] BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. John Berman here. Poppy Harlow is on assignment.

The breaking news this morning, this will be a pretty remarkable morning on Capitol Hill. You're looking at live pictures right now from inside the Senate Judiciary Committee. Any minute the FBI director, James Comey, will sit down and he will testify.