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U.S. Laptop Ban Could Be Expanded; Fallout of Comey Firing; Sessions Pushes Stricter Criminal Sentencing; President Trump, the Media and Comedy; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:13] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, news this morning that will affect a whole lot of travelers. The United States is considering expanding the laptop ban, expanding it to flights coming from Europe.

Now this move is already being blasted by the airline and tourism industry. This would, again, expand a ban that right now covers 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has new details on this.

Rene, what's going on here?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, all indications are that this is going to happen and it's going to happen soon. It will undoubtedly mean inconvenience for passengers going from Europe to the United States. It will also mean long lines at those international airports.

Right now, as you mentioned, the ban is in place for flights from 10 airports in Muslim-majority countries. Now the new focus is Europe. And while a decision has not been announced yet, we are told that deliberations are still ongoing about whether to institute the ban at select airports in Europe or across the board.

Now a ban across Europe for all U.S.-bound flights could impact more than 350 flights a day. The Europe-to-U.S. track is the world's busiest international traffic corridor. Delta, United, as well as American Airlines, are all of the U.S. carriers that would be impacted the most. They have the most flights flying that route.

I'm told in about a week or so, the Department of Homeland Security will announce that it is expanding the ban. Of course, the reasoning behind all of this is that intelligence, according to DHS, suggests that terrorists have perfected their ability to hide explosives in battery components of these electronic devices.

The airline industry does not like this idea of a ban altogether. The industry does prioritize safety and security, but they want an alternative, perhaps checking people at the gate for these electronics, but trying to avoid an all-out ban. But again, my sources are telling me it's a no go for them, despite their argument and their pushback, this ban is going to happen, John. One other note to add. We do know that the Department of Homeland

Security had a conference call today with several European officials. My source tells me that the purpose of that conversation on that call was to lay out the thinking as to why they want to go ahead to expand this ban and in an unclassified manner, share with the Europeans the intelligence that they have been looking at.

BERMAN: All right. It will be interesting to see the justification for that. It is a big, big shift.

Rene Marsh, thank you very, very much.

In moments, a Colorado mother will walk free from the church where she spent the last 86 days. She says she was avoiding deportation. Immigration officials granted Jeanette Vizguerra a temporary stay until 2019. She moved to the church in February. She was afraid to be separated from her children who are U.S. citizens. She was undocumented.

Vizguerra was named one of "TIME" magazine's 100 most influential people last month for her current stand in her decades of activism for immigration rights.

His deputy is in the middle of the firestorm surrounding the firing of James Comey. Any moment now, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, will speak. Will he address the controversy? Stay with us.


[10:37:41] BERMAN: We have new details just into CNN about the one- on-one dinner between President Trump and the now-fired FBI director, James Comey. A source tells our Jake Tapper that the president requested that dinner about a week after the president took office, and Jake is reporting that sources close to James Comey say the fired director was, quote, "taken aback" by a request from the president for a personal assurance or pledge of loyalty. Taken aback.

The FBI director, we are told, said he could not make that pledge. He did promise to be honest with the president. We're told the president pushed for honest loyalty, which Comey said he would agree to. Not quite sure the definition of honest loyalty, how that plays in, but it may develop over the coming days and weeks.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is about to speak at an awards ceremony at the Justice Department. All of this is coming as he faces criticism surrounding his involvement in the firing of FBI director James Comey. He's receiving an award for law enforcement. You see him at the podium right now.

You may remember that the White House originally said that the president made the move to fire Comey on the recommendations of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general. The president would later say it was his decision to fire the FBI director. Still, the problem here is that the attorney general, who, again, is speaking live right now, he promised he would steer clear of any investigation related to Russia's involvement in the presidential campaign.

All of this is happening as the attorney general sent a new memo, which paves the way for stricter sentencing in criminal cases. That is what he might talk about today. The memo is pushing for prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense they can prove. This is a big shift from the Obama administration. It could lead to much stricter and longer sentences for defendants.

So, as questions surrounding Jeff Sessions swirl, my next guest says that President Trump's decision to fire James Comey was worse than breaking the law.

Joining me now is Norm Eisen, former White House ethics czar under President Obama.

Norm, worse than breaking the law. Why?

NORM EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR: John, thanks for having me. Breaking the law is bad, but the laws exist for a reason. The underlying ethics of the laws, the values, the principles that animate them. And by attacking the independence of the FBI, and so transparently attempting to limit an investigation that could touch those around him and even the president himself, he's violated the most fundamental principle of American law, that no person is above the law.

[10:40:20] He's attempted to put himself above the law. That is even worse than breaking the law, which is bad enough.

BERMAN: It may have a bigger impact, if that is what you're saying, on the United States. But to be clear, are you suggesting there could be a successful prosecution against him for what he has done to James Comey this week?

EISEN: Well, even since the op-ed that I authored with Professor Laurence Tribe and -- of Harvard and Richard Painter, the Bush-era ethics czar, that talked about the importance of defending the underlying norms, even in the 24 hours since that appeared, John, there's been new evidence suggesting that there may have been -- and I want to be very careful because the story is developing, CNN is reporting on this dinner.

But that demand for loyalty, it smacks of obstruction. And then the firing of Comey is just the final act. It does raise a very serious question, whether the president's intent was to subvert the investigation. If so, you may be looking at a violation of the federal obstruction of justice statute. We need to evaluate that as it evolves.

BERMAN: Again, and violating, you know, norms I think very important. The effect of threatening the FBI director has a serious impact, probably, you know, will seriously affect for a long time the relationship between the FBI and the White House perhaps. But again, the question is, you don't go to jail for violating norms, necessarily.


BERMAN: The question is, you know, it's a high bar to successfully prosecute obstruction of justice, because you can say, yes, maybe part of the reason he fired James Comey was because he wanted to stop the Russia investigation, which the president told us as much yesterday. But if it was also because he was a showboat, if it was because he was a showboat, is that enough?

Hang on one second. Jeff Sessions, Norm, ambassador here, is talking about right now what he is now calling for in criminal prosecutions. Let's listen.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: And consistency in our legal system and in the work that we all do. Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor and I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments. They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington. Rather, they must be permitted to apply the law to the facts of each investigation.

Let's be clear, we are forcing the laws that Congress has passed, that is both our fundamental mission and our constitutional duty. Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense as I believe the law requires, most serious readily provable offense. It means that we are going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness.

It is simply the right and moral thing to do. But it is important to note that unlike previous charging memoranda, I have given our prosecutors discretion to avoid sentences that would result in an injustice.

This is a key part of President Trump's promise to keep America safe. We are seeing an increase in violent crime in our cities, particularly in Baltimore, Chicago, Memphis and Milwaukee, St. Louis and many others. The murder rate has surged 10 percent nationwide, the largest increase in murder since 1968. And we know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do. The facts prove that so.

Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with a barrel of a gun. In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. That's a stunning number. According to a report by the "New England Journal of Medicine," the price of heroin is down, its purity is up, and its availability is up. We intend to reverse this trend. We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple.

If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct. We are talking about, for example, a kilogram of heroin.

[10:45:03] That's 10,000 doses of heroin on the streets. Five kilograms of cocaine, 10,000 kilograms of marijuana. These are not low-level drug offenders we in the federal courts are focusing on. These are drug dealers and you drug dealers are going to prison. Working with integrity and professionalism, attorneys who implement

this policy will meet the high standards required of the Department of Justice, and together, we will win this fight.

Once again, I thank our brave men and women in uniform --

BERMAN: All right, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, announcing what is a very important major shift for federal law enforcement, announcing that he will push for prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense that they can prove. This could severely change the sentencing procedures in the United States from what it was under former President Obama.

We're joined by Ambassador Norm Eisen here, a lawyer also, who can help us understand what's going on here. The significance of this change, Ambassador?

EISEN: Well, it is going to lead to more and tougher prosecutions, potentially to tougher sentencings. But, John, I couldn't help but be struck by the irony of this. CNN reporting on the one hand that Donald Trump demanded the loyalty of Director Comey, demanded the loyalty -- an implication not to follow the law, wherever it goes. And then you have the attorney general standing up and saying we're going to tell law enforcement to follow the trail wherever it may lead. And the attorney general himself promising that he would recuse from the Russia investigation and then, apparently under pressure from the president, barging in and saying, I want to fire Director Comey because now we know the reasons have been discarded one after another. The hypocrisy of it is stunning.

BERMAN: There are questions about how complete that recusal actually was. Again, the announcement from the attorney general just moments ago, they will seek to prosecute the most serious crimes, federal crimes, that they can, which could very well lead to much stricter sentences for many different types of defendants.

Ambassador Eisen, thank you very, very much for that.

EISEN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Quite an interesting day here at CNN, not just because of the news, but because of who is outside our offices. This happened a short time ago. Is that the real Sean Spicer? Oh, no. But the real story here worth waiting for. Come on back.



[10:51:54] BERMAN: Sean Spicer really is just like Natalie Wood. Sean Spicer is back, both the real and the "Saturday Night Live" version. Melissa McCarthy, she will be on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. And what was this? Oh, my goodness. This was outside our office about an hour and a half ago. That is Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on the portable White House lectern. You saw it here first, folks. You don't have to wait for "Saturday Night Live" to see that. Pretty remarkable stuff. All right, that was pretty amazing.

In addition to that, as we said, Sean Spicer, he will be at the White House for real again today after a two-day break in his spokesperson duties. There was some talk he was benched. There was other talk he was serving, you know, his Navy Reserve duties at the Pentagon.

Joining me now to discuss, Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Dean Obeidallah, host of Sirius XM Radio's "The Dean Obeidallah Show," and opinion contributor.

It's kind of crazy to see Melissa McCarthy outside the office today. I mean, you get a sense that that is what this weekend will be about for them is Sean Spicer.

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN.COM OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: It's crazy-slash- amazing and great for comedy. The entire Trump administration's make America laugh again, and that's one of the upsides is Melissa McCarthy. I wonder if she's going from here to honestly go in front of MSNBC or the "New York Times" as part of the open of the show.

I worked at "SNL." Friday' is when you pre-tape generally things that are going to be used in the show. This very well could be part of the cold open. So I think, America, we're looking forward to it. It's going to be funny. I can't tell where Spicer ends and McCarthy begins anymore. This is insane.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: And remarkably this was booked months ago.


STELTER: McCarthy was booked to be the host of this week's "SNL" several months ago. It's towards the season finale coming up next weekend, so the timing's perfect for "SNL," given that Spicer's in the news in a not-so-friendly way this week.

BERMAN: And again, the press office is in the news in a really unprecedented way, because what they were telling us earlier in the week, it was not true. And it's been proven false by the president himself again. And this I'm sure will be made fun of this weekend by "Saturday Night Live," but it's a consequence beyond just comedy, you know.


BERMAN: And Brian Stelter, Sean Spicer, after his two-day hiatus, not on the podium, is going back today. What do we know?

STELTER: Yes. There have been talks that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be filling in for the rest of the week as Spicer was at the Pentagon doing his Navy Reserve duty. Now however that's changed. He will be at the podium this afternoon, 1:30 Eastern Time. It'll be live here on CNN. It's going to be notable to see how Spicer answers questions versus Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday. You know, this was described by sources as sort of a tryout for Sarah

Huckabee Sanders. It could be maybe Spicer had been benched, that Trump was paying close attention to how Sanders was doing. Yesterday was a tough, tough job for anybody at that podium. Today is also. There is no way to escape the reality of what's going on at this White House right now.

BERMAN: And again, and sometimes it is hard to see where politics, the White House, and comedy, you know, where one ends and the other begins. And another example of that has to do in this back-and-forth between the president of the United States and Stephen Colbert. The president criticizing Colbert in an interview with "TIME" magazine, and what did Colbert do with it? I mean, he ran like hell with it. Let's listen.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The president of the United States has personally come after me and my show.

[10:55:06] And there's only one thing to say.



COLBERT: Yay. Yay. Mr. Trump, there is a lot you don't understand, but I never thought one of those things would be show business. Don't you know I've been trying for a year to get you to say my name? And you were very restrained, admirably restrained, but now you did it. I won.


BERMAN: So he's joking, but not really, Dean.

OBEIDALLAH: No, this is comedic issue. He's using Trump going after it and is doing a reverse trolling of Trump. And to be honest, when Trump attacks you, it's no longer scary. When he attacked "Vanity Fair," subscription went up. He attacked "SNL," ratings went to a 25- year high. Colbert is doing great.

I want Trump to attack me. I'm the Dean of comedy.

STELTER: I don't know.

OBEIDALLAH: Hashtag, "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on Sirius XM Radio. There's no more -- I'm not kidding. The more he attacks people, he's deluded that power.

BERMAN: Brian?

STELTER: I see it on two different levels. On one level yes, it's fun. On another level, whenever the president of the United States attacks a media figure, especially journalists, but even comedians, it's inappropriate. Yesterday he also attacked Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon from this network and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC.

I thought the CNN statement was really notable. CNN said, "These comments are beneath the dignity of the office of president." So it's funny on one level, I agree with you. His words don't have that much power in some cases, but it's also --


OBEIDALLAH: If you're going to attack a comedian, you've lost automatically. You've lost already. You should not be attacking comedians ever. And the media's scared, but comedians, you're going to lose, we're going to use it. It's going to help our careers.

BERMAN: Dean Obeidallah, Brian Stelter, thanks so much.

Do not miss "RELIABLE SOURCES" with Brian this Sunday.

STELTER: Along with "SNL."

BERMAN: I think there might be a few things to talk about, I'm just saying.

All right. President Trump on Twitter this morning, really it's more important than just Twitter. He threatened the FBI director that he just fired. He threatened to cancel all press briefings and he is defending this morning's inaccuracy. Stay with us.