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Former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes Dead At 77. Aired 9:15-9:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 09:15   ET


[09:00:05] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy is on assignment.

The breaking news this morning. Special doesn't always mean good. Not for the President. President Trump just lashed out at the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia's meddling in the election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. He wrote, "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration, there was never a special councel appointed." Followed moments later with, "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."

First, there has never been a "special councel" appointed in the history of the world, not spelled that way. Second, the counsel, with an "S," was appointed by the Trump administration, a man he hired. Can you witch-hunt yourself? And third and most importantly, why did he break from the relatively reserved response from the White House on this subject? And how will that affect this investigation?

Let's go straight to the White House right now. CNN's Joe Johns is there with the latest. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. I certainly can't answer a lot of those questions, but I can tell you about Robert Mueller, the man who has been appointed as special counsel, spelled with an "S," to investigate the connections between Russia and the last election, including whether there was any collusion between the campaign of Donald Trump and the Russians.

Bob Mueller is well known in this city as the longest serving FBI director, second only to J. Edgar Hoover. Now, as you said, last night, there was a very reserved statement that was put out. This was after the President sat down with his advisors and carefully crafted something. It was almost noncommittal. I'll read it to you.

"As I stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, that there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."

So last night's statement coming once again after the administration had to react as opposed to direct events that were occurring in the news. The administration actually being told and not asked that Bob Mueller had been appointed by Rod Rosenstein. It is interesting also to point out that both the Attorney General and the White House itself got very short notice before all of this was made public.

What's the President going to say about all of this once he gets in front of a television camera? Anybody's guess. But he will go in front of television cameras today. We're told the President of Columbia, a meeting here. They're going to hold a news conference. An opportunity to get a couple questions to President Trump. Back to you, John.

BERMAN: Yes. It will be interesting to see if we get the reserved- like statement from the White House that we got last night, or if we get the Twitter attitude that we got this morning.

Joe, to be sure, there was other news that bubbled out overnight from "The New York Times" reporting the Trump administration, more accurately, the Trump transition, knew that Michael Flynn was under investigation for his foreign ties. Nevertheless, the President, or the President-elect at that point, still tapped him to be national security adviser. What happened here?

JOHNS: Well, that's a good question. But as reported, "The New York Times" suggesting, yes, Michael Flynn did alert the transition team that he was under federal investigation because of his role with Turkey. He got about half a million dollars, not directly from the Turkish government, rather from a company that could be viewed perhaps as an intermediary. So more reporting on that. The bottom line, why would he be put into the job of national security adviser if he told the transition he was under federal investigation.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe, thanks so much.

News of Bob Mueller's appointment sparking a rare thing in Congress, bipartisan praise. Democrats and Republicans alike are hailing the move even as some believe, they said or had said, that a special counsel was not need.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins us now from Capitol Hill. This takes a lot of pressure off of Republicans up there, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. And if you can imagine that there is a sense that Republicans and Democrats could come together on something, this is that issue here, the special prosecutor or the special counsel.

You've got people all the way on the left from Representative John Connors saying that this brings more seriousness against the allegations against Trump and his associates, to someone on the right like Senator Richard Burr of the Senate Intel Committee talking about, look, they can go home to the American people and provide more certainty that this is not going to be an investigation that has political influence.

[09:04:55] Part of this, of course, is who they have selected as a special prosecutor, the former FBI Director Bob Mueller. And this is somebody who is very well respected, has a lot of credibility. And so what you're hearing just over the last 12 hours, and the last hour or so, if you will, is a sense that, yes, they want to move forward, and they want to support this in a bipartisan way.


REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I said last week, right after the firing of Director Comey, that there was an inevitability to some type of an independent investigation. I was thinking more along the lines of an independent commission along the 9/11 style. That was my thought, but I do accept and respect this decision.

Special prosecutors tend to take on a life of their own. But Director Mueller has impeccable credentials. I think this is the right thing to do. And I think this will help the situation.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: It sounds to be a great choice and is the right move and a great choice to put some confidence back. You know, as someone was saying, Winston Churchill says, don't worry, the United States will always do the right thing after they tried everything else. Well, we're on the right track.

And this is a good thing. I think the public should have confidence in what's going on. The intelligence community is going to do its job, and the special prosecutor will do his job. And we'll see where it goes, but we are going to make sure that we uncover and have transparency and whatever is there is there. Let the intel take you to the facts, and the facts will take you to the truth.


MALVEAUX: And, John, of course, that's what Congress is trying to get to, is the truth. Later this afternoon, we are going to hear from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He is going to go before the full Senate to brief them.

Originally, it was scheduled to talk about the Comey firing and what was behind that, what did he know. Now, of course, being the person who actually appointed this special counsel or special prosecutor, that will be the real issue, the real focus. What will be next for that investigation? John.

BERMAN: It might be a lot less of a hostile reception from Democrats than it might have been before the appointment of the special counsel. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for being with us.

Let's discuss. With me now, CNN Justice Reporter Laura Jarrett; Nick Akerman, former assistant special Watergate prosecutor; Bobby Chacon, a former FBI special agent; and Abby Phillip, CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

And, Nick, I want to start with you with these tweets from the President moments ago calling the special counsel or the appointment of a special counsel a witch hunt. He said, "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."

You, of course, were part of special prosecutor's investigation. First, do you recall, I guess, Richard Nixon ever attacking your investigation quite the same way? And two, is there legal jeopardy in doing that if you are the President?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, I don't ever recall even Nixon taking on Archie Cox or Leon Jaworski and saying it was a witch hunt. I mean, he may have had his surrogates do that, but Richard Nixon at least had enough political sense to know how to go about attacking a special prosecutor.

In fact, we pretty much organized our office and took actions with all of those things in mind. We were always conscious of the fact that whatever we did, we would raise questions, and we wanted to make sure that we always followed the rules, always did it by the book.

In terms of what Trump did here, I mean, if he thinks he is going to be able to intimidate Mueller, he's in for a big shock. He can say all he wants about Mueller, he can say all he wants about the investigation, but I can guarantee you that this investigation will go ahead regardless of what the President says, regardless of what he tweets. And I think it will be fair and thorough.

BERMAN: You know, Laura Jarrett, to that point, Robert Mueller, former FBI director, what makes him so acceptable, beyond acceptable, you know, a great choice according to both Democrats and Republicans?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: I think it's the idea that this is a dogged prosecutor, a career person within the FBI. He's a known quantity. This is not someone who leaked or leaks as Phil Mudd said on our air earlier. This is not someone who's going to be out there talking to the media. This is someone who's going to take their job seriously and who has wide bipartisan support.

As you said earlier, John, people on both sides of the aisle respect him enormously. He was appointed under Bush but then Obama extended his term. So this is truly someone everyone can get on board with.

BERMAN: You know, Bobby Chacon, former FBI agent, you served, I imagine, under Bob Mueller. Your thoughts, your impressions? What kind of investigation do you expect him to lead now?

BOBBY CHACON, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: A strong investigation but also a very private investigation. I don't expect a lot of leaks, and I don't expect a lot of news coming out of this investigation for some time.

I think that that's what's needed. I think that the polarization of the investigation to date, I think, was a little too much. Although I think that the investigators look at that as some level of white noise, they plow through that, but this provides a little bit of a political distance between the investigation and the noise that takes place.

[09:09:59] So Director Mueller is a strong man. I worked for him for 12 years, very highly respected in the FBI. He probably knows the senior investigators that are on this investigative team by name. They probably know him. He knows the process, he knows how it has to happen, so he's going to

hit the ground running. And this is an investigation that's been under way for quite some time, so he's probably getting briefed. He's probably read up, and it's not going to take him very long to really start getting down into the weeds and getting these guys exactly what they need if they don't have it and to plow forward with this.

BERMAN: You know, Abby Phillip, you know, before 6:00 p.m. last night, all the talk was that these different committees in Congress wanted to see the memos written by former FBI Director James Comey. They were calling him to testify in public before these various committees as soon as next week.

Do you have any sense of the status of those requests? Do you think it makes it less likely that those memos will go public in the next seven days and less likely that we'll see James Comey?

ABBY PHILLIP, WASHINGTON D.C. REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, House Speaker Paul Ryan, in his statement last night welcoming the special prosecutor, said that he believed that the House investigation would continue, that he wants it to continue. So I think that, by that token, I don't expect that these things are going to go away. Jason Chaffetz has said within the last 12 hours, 24 hours that he still wants to see those Comey letters. He wants to know whether they exist or not.

I think the second question, whether James Comey will actually testify, sort of depends on whether or not Congress decides to compel him to. I think there are a lot of members of Congress who would like to see him come out and clear the air a little bit, especially after these revelations seem to be one sided, especially for the allies of the President in both Houses of Congress.

So I still think that we'll see a lot of activity on Capitol Hill. But for a long time now, people on both sides of the aisle have been sort of wondering whether these investigations are moving with enough speed, whether they have enough resources on Capitol Hill, and whether they can really do what the FBI is now going to be able to do with the special investigator looking into all of this.

BERMAN: You get the sense that Robert Mueller will get the resources, any resources he wants for this investigation.


BERMAN: Nick, you know, the order signed by Rod Rosenstein, the language here is actually very, very interesting. You know, Bob Mueller has been charged to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump." But then this next line, this is the kicker here, "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." That opens the door to a whole lot of things.

AKERMAN: Well, that is extremely significant. In fact, that was my first question when I heard that there was this appointment. What was the charge for the special prosecutor? And what that would include would be this obstruction of justice by Trump in firing Comey --

BERMAN: Alleged obstruction of justice.

AKERMAN: Alleged, of course.


AKERMAN: But certainly, in terms of asking Comey to stop the investigation into Flynn. So it really is a fairly broad charge, which I think is good. I mean, I think we absolutely needed that. I was concerned that it would just be limited to the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but now I think this gives, I think, everybody a lot more comfort.

BERMAN: And look, you only need to look at history to see the impact of that potentially. Obviously, it was an independent counsel investigating President Clinton at that point, but, you know, Ken Starr was involved with the White Water investigation. That then became the investigation into Monica Lewinsky, which is a vastly, vastly different thing.

AKERMAN: Yes, exactly. I don't expect this to become a sex scandal.

BERMAN: No, I'm jesting.


BERMAN: What I'm saying is, you know, what begins as an investigation into one thing can end as an investigation into something else.

AKERMAN: Right, but this, I think, is going to be very focused. I mean, look, any kind of alleged obstruction of justice by the President certainly relates to the Russian investigation, to his firing of Comey, to his hiring of Flynn, and the whole connection between the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, and the Russian government. So I think that focus is going to be laser set, and I think it's going to compass a lot of different potential criminal activities.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip, we got about 20 seconds left. An FBI Director still needs to be appointed. It could happen in the next few days, maybe not. Do you think this makes it easier to get whoever that director is confirmed in the Senate?

PHILLIP: I think it does. I think it eases some of the pressure to appoint someone who is wholly nonpartisan. It gives the President a little bit more leeway, but I don't think we should go too far here. I still think that this person needs to have quite a bit of bipartisan support, needs to have a pretty clean slate going into this job.

BERMAN: All right. Laura Jarrett, Nick Akerman, Bobby Chacon, Abby Phillip, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

We do have some breaking news today on another front. Fox News titan Roger Ailes, he has passed away less than a year after he resigned from that cable network. We'll have the latest on that. [09:14:50] Plus, did you hear the one about President Trump being on

Vladimir Putin's payroll? That was a sort of joke told a year ago by the House Majority Leader. At least he says it was a joke. The question is who's laughing now?


BERMAN: All right, breaking news this morning, the former CEO and chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes has died. Ailes really built Fox into the massive commercial success that it was, a voice for conservative causes. He resigned less than a year ago amid a sexual harassment controversy.

CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, takes a look at his life.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A television titan and GOP king maker.

ROGER AILES: Find something you love to do. Find somebody that will pay you to do it.

STELTER: Whose career ended in scandal. Roger Ailes was born in Ohio in 1940. His hemophilia sent him to the hospital often as a child making him a natural born fighter who dreamed of a better life.

AILES: I always thought, you know, the only way to do it is hard work and you've got to be better and smarter than the next guy.

STELTER: Ailes graduated from Ohio University in 1962 then worked in local TV eventually becoming executive producer of the "Mike Douglas Show." There he met Richard Nixon who later hired him as a media advisor.

[09:20:05]Hailed as a TV wizard, Ailes also worked for Presidents Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush. He helped create this infamous resolving door act for the 1988 campaign attacking Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis as soft on crimes.

Ailes went back to the TV business in the early 1990s becoming president of CNBC. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime, media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, tapped him to lead the Fox News Channel and a stamped out what he thought was rampant liberal media bias.

AILES: We just expected to find balanced journalism.

STELTER: It launched in 1996. Less than six years later it was number one in cable news.

AILES: I think that my primary qualification for running this channel is that I don't have a degree in journalism.

STELTER: Fox cemented Ailes' reputation as a TV legend and changed the political landscape. He ran the channel almost like a permanent campaign, lifting up Republican candidates and supporting conservative policies.

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: He found what the economistic call a market inefficiency. An audience was not being serve.

STELTER: Many media watchers believed that the conservative influence of Fox News paved the way for the election of Donald Trump. But Ailes was not able to savor the victory, four months before the election, former Fox News host, Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes, accusing him of sexual harassment.

Although he strongly denied the allegations, multiple women within Fox including Megan Kelly came forward with similar stories. His wife, Elizabeth, stood by him, but two weeks later he was out of a job.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with some breaking news, a media bombshell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shockwaves as one of the most powerful men in the history of television and politics is ousted.

STELTER: Fox News eventually settled sexual harassment complaints by several women including Gretchen Carlson. It was a staggering fall for the mastermind behind the cable news juggernaut. His golden parachute $40 million. But his legacy lives on the channel he built and through the media revolution he launched.


BERMAN: All right. Brian Stelter joins me now along with CNN media analyst, Bill Carter. You know, Brian, obviously, you know, we know about the controversy of the last couple years surrounding Roger Ailes. We'll get to that in a moment, but first his legacy in terms of being a media icon.

STELTER: Roger Ailes changed America. Whether you believe he changed America for the better or worse probably depends on your political stance or affiliation. But the fact that he was able to be in a country where he could create a media powerhouse and affect American politics is something that I'm thinking a lot about this morning.

That he was able -- we were describing that obituary, humble roots, take over for CNBC, then create Fox News and turn it into this bashing of conservative media, this virtual public square for the right in the United States.

It is an extraordinary accomplishment no matter what else happened. You have to hold multiple thoughts in your head at the same time thinking about Roger Ailes, but John, the few times that I met with Ailes, every time I came away thinking he's truly a genius of television.

BERMAN: He was a genius of politics as well, you know, helped put George H.W. Bush in the White House with some of the most memorable ads ever. But Bill Carter, there is that other side, his legacy now means something else because of the way his career at Fox News ended. BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: There is no question about that and, you know, you can give him all the credit in the world because he did change television as no one else has probably in the last 50 years.

But his methods were often ruthless. Not just the sexual harassment, which was really offensive but he was very different that he made attacks on people that were sometimes very unjustified.

You have to take that as part of his legacy. He left behind this incredible monument, who, you know, the conservative voice in America, yes, but the way he did it was often really questionable. Not every genius is a positive genius, I guess.

BERMAN: That doesn't excuse the inexcusable behavior, you know, accused of sexual harassment by now by a growing list of people including people we know and love quite well here. You know, Brian Stelter, any word on what his state of mind has been in the last year since he was let go by Fox News?

STELTER: You know, he has been in a state of public silence. He has not addressed directly the allegations against him except to have his lawyer repeatedly deny, deny, deny. He has been estranged from some of his family members and closest friends.

He's been sort in a life of relative seclusion. He was someone who was in President Trump's inner circle this time last year talking all the time with then Candidate Trump. Now, the two men apparently do not talk.

What we don't know yet, John, is the cause of death. But he was believed to have been pretty sick, even though it was in private and hadn't been speaking to a lot of people, so we don't know a lot yet about the details.

[09:25:02]We have a statement from his wife that we can put on the screen, Elizabeth, who stood by Roger's side last summer. They were seen leaving the building. It says, "I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report my husband passed away this morning. Roger was a loving husband to me, his son, Zachary, and a loyal friend to many."

The statement went on to say that, "He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity, to work hard, to rise and give back." The statement there from Roger Ailes' widow.

BERMAN: All right, Brian Stelter, Bill Carter, thanks so much for being with us. Again, the news Roger Ailes passed away at the age of 77. That word coming just this morning.

All right, we are moments away from the opening bell. You know, investors, they are rattled. Christine Romans watching the markets before the bell -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The calm was broken yesterday after reports of that Comey memo and you saw the Dow simply dive. But there is a whole new news cycle this morning and now you have word of a special prosecutor, perhaps there could be a bounce back. Don't hold your breath. I'll have the opening bell right after the break.