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Source: Comey to Confirm Trump Pressured him on Russia; Nunes Issues Subpoenas in Unmasking Investigation; EU Chief: China Ready to Fill U.S. "Leadership Vacuum"; Trump Keeping U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, for now. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 1, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:25] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Former FBI director James Comey is coming back to Capitol Hill. A source tells us, Comey will likely testify publicly for the first time since he was fired as early as next week. Our reporting is that he is expected to confirm that President Trump pressured him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.
BERMAN: Yes, one big question this morning centers around executive privilege. Will the president try to block James Comey from testifying, suggesting their conversations were somehow protected?
All that and the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, facing new scrutiny, new questions over whether he failed to disclose another possible meeting with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, a lot swirling around the White House this morning.
Let's go there, where we find CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns. Good morning, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. President Trump is expected to announce his decision on the Paris accords in the Rose Garden this afternoon. Sources have told CNN, the president is expected to withdraw the United States from that agreement. Nonetheless, he's prone to changing his mind. Anything could happen.
Meanwhile, the thing playing in the background here, of course, all things related to the FBI investigation into collusion involving Russia in the last campaign. One of the big things, of course, is the possibility of the testimony of the former FBI director James Comey, on Capitol Hill, testifying, apparently, about his conversations with the President of the United States and memos he wrote about those conversations.
We're also told the FBI now paying much more attention to a gathering April 27th at the Mayflower Hotel right here in Washington, D.C. Questions about whether then Alabama senator, now attorney general of the United States Jeff Sessions, whether he may have had another undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador. He says he did not.
Meanwhile, the White House also hunkering down, sort of circling the wagons, if you will, indicating that all further questions about the Russia investigation will be referred to the president's personal attorney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the president engage in obstruction of justice?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are focused on the president's agenda and going forward, all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: So, they're going to refer all further questions. We're still trying to figure out how that's going to work and whether the attorney is actually going to pick up the call. The other question, of course, is whether the president is going to abide by all of that or whether he is going to, as he has in the past, start tweeting about the Russia investigation. Back to you.
HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House. Thank you very much.
Major developments also from Capitol Hill, a wave of subpoenas coming from the House Intelligence Committee targeting Michael Flynn and the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, as part of the inquiry into Russia's meddling with the election. Of the seven subpoenas that were issued, three of them came directly from Chairman Devin Nunes. They were about unmasking requests by the Obama administration.
BERMAN: This is the same Devin Nunes who supposedly stepped aside from this Russia investigation.
CNN's Phil Mattingly following this story for us from Washington. All right, Captain Mattingly, what's going on here? Devin Nunes separated himself from the investigation, but not so much really.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, separation, stepped aside, but not an official recusal is essentially the word we're getting right now.
Guys, if you look at these seven subpoenas, four were bipartisan. They actually put out a joint statement, the top Republican, leading the investigation, Mike Conaway and the top Democrat, Adam Schiff, talking about who they were targeting. And specifically on this issue, it's Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer and Michael Flynn, the fired former national security adviser. They're sending both subpoenas for personal records and kind of following suit with the Senate Intelligence Committee for business records as well. Something they believe will avoid any effort to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
But as you noted, there are also these three separate subpoenas. Now, does this mean there's some grand split inside the committee? Maybe not in the committee, but certainly with the committee's still chairman, Devin Nunes. What I'm told from committee sources, is Democrats had no knowledge that these three subpoenas were being sent out. Under committee rules, Devin Nunes as the sitting chairman has unilateral authority to issue any subpoena he wants. Now, the rules recommend that he consults with the minority, but he did not.
Now, why do these subpoenas matter? Guys, this goes to the heart of why Devin Nunes is no longer overseeing the Russia investigation. This was the issue that he had such a hard time with. He went over to the White House. We all kind of remember those few weeks here where the committee's investigation of Russia more or less came to a screeching halt over this issue.
Now, what is he actually looking for here? These three subpoenas are going to the NSA, the CIA and the FBI.
[10:05:00] And they're specifically seeking information about any unmasking requests from John Brennan, from Susan Rice and from Samantha Power, three Obama administration officials.
The question here right now is, were any of these unmasking requests, which are essentially un-redacting names in classified intelligence reports, done for political purposes? Obama administration officials have said absolutely not. Devin Nunes still thinks this is clearly an issue. So while the Russia investigation doesn't technically involve him anymore, there's a separate track, the Devin Nunes track and that involves unmasking, guys.
BERMAN: Yes and that certainly includes him. The Devin Nunes track includes Devin Nunes and he's making himself heard loudly and clearly.
Phil Mattingly, thank you so much for being with us.
Want to discuss all of this now with our panel. Joining us is Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania and CNN senior political commentator, Brian Fallon's here, CNN political commentator, former press secretary for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and Page Pate, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.
Page, I want to start with you because I'm sort of fixated on this notion of executive privilege. "The New York Times" raised it this morning about whether James Comey will be allowed to testify, saying that president could decide to try to invoke executive privilege here. Would that apply, especially given the fact that the president seems to have no problem talking about the conversations he may have had with James Comey?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, John, I think that's the most important point. Yes, the White House could try to assert executive privilege to prevent Jim Comey from discussing any sort of meeting he had with the president. But every time a White House has tried to raise executive privilege and a court reviewed it, the court looks for two things.
Number one, is executive privilege being raised for the public's interest or to try to protect the president? And number two, is executive privilege being raised on an issue that has already been discussed by the White House? I think in this case, both of those exceptions apply. So, if the White House tried to raise executive privilege, I do not think that the court would eventually uphold it.
HARLOW: Senator, politically speaking, a, how would it look for the president and this White House to try to assert executive privilege about something that he has discussed not only on multiple occasions but multiple platforms, Twitter, the NBC interview, you name it and that statement about why he fired Comey? And has he sort of in essence by doing those things made his own bed?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER FOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A quick answer is yes. A longer answer -
BERMAN: We like quick answers.
HARLOW: There you go, moving on now.
SANTORUM: To give you just a little longer answer, which is, look, this president should be at this point in time all about disclosure. I mean, I think Sean Spicer's comments, you know, that we're going to stick to the agenda, great, really happy to hear that. And on the other side, they should be about let's get this investigation over and let's cooperate as much as possible. Let's stop looking like we're guilty when, at least from everything I see, they're not.
So, let's just be cooperative. Let's not put up road blocks. Let's -- don't make that the story. Make the story what we're doing on climate today. You know, what we're going to do on trade. What we're going to do on the things that matter to the voters who voted for us.
BERMAN: And James Comey's going to be a story whether or not they try to stop his testimony, you know, anyway. I see your point there.
Brian Fallon, on a separate front, the reporting about Devin Nunes issuing these subpoenas today. President Trump tweeting about it. Let me read you what he wrote. He said, "The big story is the unmasking and surveillance of people that took place during the Obama administration," the president, obviously, at least thematically in lockstep with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
I'm sure you're critical of the move from the chairman, but Brian, what about the message this sends, that perhaps the unmasking questions are growing wider? He talks about he wants any information about unmasking requests from Samantha Power, from Susan Rice, from John Brennan.
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Well, as you just heard from Phil Mattingly's report, I think the nature of how these subpoenas were issued sort of betrays the motivation behind them. So, you had four subpoenas that were issued on a bipartisan basis. That tells you that there's a legitimate oversight purpose being served with the issuance of those subpoenas. And then, you have three that the Republican chairman Nunes acted alone in issuing and actually sort of violated his own previous commitment to step back from this investigation in order to do. So, I think that tells you everything you need to know about the lack of any legitimacy to this. There's been plenty said and plenty of national security experts have come forward to explain. That even though we don't know yet who might have been responsible for any unmasking that took place in this incident, if, say, someone like Susan Rice were to have sought it, it would have been entirely appropriate given the nature of what the U.S. government has been concerned about for these last several months, which is Russia's intrusion in our election, in our Democratic processes. And so, it would have been a complete appropriate exercise on her part if she had sought the unmasking. So it wouldn't even prove anything even if they go on this phishing expedition on Donald Trump's behest.
SANTORUM: With all due respect, bipartisan -- equating bipartisan to legitimate is ridiculous. I served in the United States House for four years where the Democrats controlled and there was nothing bipartisan about anything they did. The House is notoriously a very partisan body and that doesn't mean they're not legitimate. Devin Nunes' inquiries, particularly with respect to Samantha Powers, why is the U.N. representative unmasking anybody for any national security reasons?
[10:10:04] Those are all very legitimate questions. And just because it is not bipartisan, it's just the nature of the House.
FALLON: Well, Rick, why could they get widespread agreement, including from the Republican who took Devin Nunes' place when he stepped down on these four subpoenas, including the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, but not on the -- why is the Republican -- why did Devin Nunes need to step forward instead of his successor from Texas who took over the investigation in his name, if these were legitimate-issued subpoenas?
SANTORUM: Well, again, they're legitimate-issued subpoenas because he's the chairman and he's allowed to do that. So --
FALLON: But he stepped back.
BERMAN: Guys, guys --
SANTORUM: He's still the chairman of the committee.
BERMAN: We want to cover - a little bit more ground.
HARLOW: I think the question Brian Fallon is raising, Senator, and you guys can fight about it during the commercial, is it politically motivated? Yes, he has the authority to do so. What is the driving -
SANTORUM: I don't think -
HARLOW: You guys debate it.
SANTORUM: Everything is politically motivated. That's ridiculous. HARLOW: I've got to get on.
HARLOW: I've got to get on to something else, Pate -- but it shouldn't be. It actually shouldn't be an investigation. This is what we pay our lawmakers for.
Page Pate, to you, you know, in the travel ban, the president's 1.0, 2.0 that's now caught up in the courts, his own words have come back to bite him, right?
PATE: That's right.
HARLOW: And yet, he continues to speak and tweet about Russia pretty incessantly. And I just wonder, from an attorney's perspective, does that agitate or influence at all prosecutors as they look at this, investigators as they look at this? Meaning, does it hurt his case to be talking right now?
PATE: Well, Poppy, I don't know if it agitates him, but it certainly can be used as evidence against him. Any statement that he makes in public, anything he sends out on Twitter. All of that can be used as evidence to show motive, because I think motive and intent is going to become critically important as this investigation continues.
These meetings he had with Jim Comey, we know they happened. We're not sure what they said yet, but what's going to be critically important is what did he intend to do? Was he trying to obstruct the investigation? So, everything he says about Russia could be evidence of that intent.
BERMAN: All right. Brian Fallon, you knew it was coming. Your former boss, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, she did an interview yesterday. She said a lot of things. Among them is that she was not served well by the DNC data operation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I'm now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party.
WALT MOSSBERG, EDITOR-AT-LARGE "RECODE": What do you mean nothing?
CLINTON: I mean it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it.
MOSSBERG: This is the DNC you're -
CLINTON: The DNC, to keep it going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: -- Had to check to make sure that she was talking about the DNC. All right, Brian Fallon, number one, is it accurate what she's saying? Number two, is it helpful?
FALLON: I'm not going to point fingers at the DNC. I think that there is probably -
BERMAN: She did.
FALLON: Fair enough. I'm not going to join in that. I think that there are probably criticisms that could be fairly made against the DNC. There are also criticisms that can be fairly made against our own campaign. I think we're past the time of where we should be re- litigating our failures and it would be more productive to sit down with Tom Perez and folks at the DNC and focus on how we can rebuild our party from the inside out to be better prepared for this midterm elections in 2018.
But look, in Hillary Clinton's defense, I think a lot of people have gone around for years saying that she's inauthentic and seems scripted. This is what she legitimately thinks. You can't then turn around and criticize her for saying what she really feels about how the election went last cycle. Whether you agree with it or not, it is -- this is what she's saying in private to aides that worked on the campaign, to supporters of hers. This is what she truly thinks, so you were hearing from Hillary Clinton in a very unfiltered way yesterday.
HARLOW: And now, she's saying it in public.
Guys, thank you very much, Senator Rick Santorum, Page Pate, Brian Fallon. We will let you now go continue your debate.
We have a lot ahead. If the United States does pull out, as is expected this afternoon, from the Paris Climate deal, is China going to fill the leadership vacuum?
BERMAN: Look, this could be the most important testimony. Congressional testimony on Capitol Hill since, you know, Anita Hill, maybe since Watergate, in a long, long time. What will James Comey say? Will he feel the pressure? We're going to speak to one of his friends shortly.
And then, the NBA finals, after six months off, begin tonight and it happens under a cloud of controversy, racial slurs spray-painted outside a home of LeBron James.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, you know, being black in America is -- it's tough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:18:43] HARLOW: All right, this morning, world leaders and a number of CEOs of big U.S. corporations are making a final plea to President Trump. Do not leave the Paris Climate accord. BERMAN: It seems like these warnings, though, may be coming too late. 3:00 p.m., he's issuing an announcement from the Rose Garden where he is expected to announce the United States is pulling out of that agreement.
CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, live in London with really some pretty harsh world reaction. Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some very harsh world reaction. I can tell you guys, especially here in Europe, every leader here on the continent and probably elsewhere in the world is watching and we'll see what happens there at 3:00 p.m. And there are some pretty harsh words for the United States and for the current White House. There are some leaders who are pleading with President Trump to stay in the Climate Agreement. Even the leader of the United Nations is saying, look, we could maybe make amendments, but we really want the U.S. to stay in.
And then you have others who are threatening, like the head of the commission of the European union, who said look, you can't get out that easily, anyway. This is Jean-Claude Juncker saying, "The law is the law, and everyone must adhere to it. Not everything that is written into international agreement is fake news," he is saying. They're obviously making a reference to words that President Trump himself tends to use every once in a while.
That same man, Jean-Claude Juncker, also said, look, if the U.S. wants to step off the leadership stage here as far as climate is concerned, maybe China will want to move into that vacuum.
[10:20:07] And the state would have it the Chinese prime minister is actually in Europe right now. He's meeting with the economic powerhouse here with Germany. And Angela Merkel had some pretty kind words for the Chinese. Let's listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I first want to say that I'm pleased that China stands by the commitments laid out in the Climate Change Agreement. And especially with the visit to Brussels that follows, it will be important that the cooperation of the European Union with China in this area will play a crucial role, especially in regards to new technologies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: And you can really see when you follow the meetings that are going on right now between the Europeans and the Chinese, how the Chinese are really laying on the full-court press, trying to woo the Europeans to closer cooperation on especially the climate sector, also the industrial sector as well. That certainly is something that I think the U.S. is going to be watching very, very closely as well.
BERMAN: All right, Frederik Pleitgen for us in London following the world reaction to the climate deal. Also, some news happening just moments ago, President Trump signed a waiver that will keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, in Israel, for now.
HARLOW: Remember, as a candidate, Trump said over and over he was going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will you recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The answer is, yes, I would.
BLITZER: When? How quickly -
BLITZER: Fairly quickly. I mean, it's a process, but fairly quickly. I mean, the fact is, I would like to see it moved and I would like to see it in Jerusalem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: I would like to see it in Jerusalem, but now signing this waiver just minutes ago. It means that he's not going to do that, at least not right now.
Our correspondent Oren Liebermann has details. This is something Netanyahu wanted to see, but it's also something that would fly in the face of trying to get a peace deal done, right?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: And that's exactly how Trump views it. President Trump was very clear in his wording. He said he's not backing off the promise itself, only the timing of the promise, saying he'll reconsider it. But it seems Trump realizes that to move the embassy, to recognize Jerusalem's the capital of Israel right now would effectively ruin any chances he has of trying to pursue a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. And he's made it very clear that that's his goal. He was very optimistic about it even just a few months ago, but it seems in his visit to the region, Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank. He backed off some of that optimism, saying it's a very difficult deal, but still saying he'll get it done.
So far, the only statement right now -- and remember, Trump just signed the waiver a matter of minutes ago. So far, the only statement has come from the White House. We haven't seen reaction yet from Israelis and Palestinians, but I very much suspect that will be coming.
Here is part of what the White House had to say in making their announcement. They said "No one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the president's strong support for Israel and for the United States/Israel alliance. President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians." So, Trump making it very clear he is still very much determined to pursue some sort of renegotiation or restarting of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. John and Poppy?
BERMAN: All right, Oren Liebermann for us in Israel, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Joining us now is former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Edward Walker. Thank you so much for joining us, Ambassador. I don't think it's a surprise at all that the president signed this waiver today, despite the fact that he had promised to move the embassy, you know, when he became president.
The statement from the White House is the question is not if that move happens but only when. But the fact it's not happening now essentially means that the U.S. policy hasn't changed. This has been the U.S. policy, you know, for several administrations, certainly, the official congressional policy for decades.
EDWARD WALKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT AND ISRAEL: That's correct. We've had this policy ever since the founding of Israel. And the original reason for putting our primary diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv was security.
Now, we've got another problem or two problems relating to moving the embassy to Jerusalem. One is security, because we would suddenly become the target of every ISIS nut case in the world trying to reverse that effort. The other is that we really need to take time to study this because of the reasons said by your person in London and that is going to put to an end any opportunity for any kind of an agreement in the very short-term near future.
So, it's a great decision to put it off. We should applaud the president for making this decision. It's not an easy one, given his statements.
HARLOW: So, turning to the announcement the president's going to make this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. in the Rose Garden about what the U.S. will do with the Paris Climate accord. All our reporting is that the U.S. is going to pull out. And therefore, it is going to be practically alone, alone certainly among developed economies when it comes to not being a part of this agreement.
[10:25:00] You've said, I have no problem with "America First," but I have concerns about America alone. Why is this America alone and what are your concerns in terms of repercussions?
WALKER: 147 countries that have ratified the agreement.
WALKER: 197 have signed it. We're going to be, along with Nicaragua and Syria, the only countries in the world that are not engaged in this process. Remember, it does not commit anybody to actual efforts. It's up to each country to make their statements as to what the results will be and then to pursue those statements. This is -- you know, I'd like to be a neutral person in diplomacy, so I'm supporting Trump on the Jerusalem thing, but I am definitely against the president in trying to walk away from our international commitments and alienating 9 percent of the world against U.S. foreign policy. It doesn't make sense and for what?
BERMAN: Who benefits, do you think? Because there are some people out there saying this only makes the Chinese stronger.
WALKER: Of course it does. The Chinese have made it very clear that they're trying to take over leadership of, at a minimum, the Asian area and probably further than that. And our walking away from the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement and our walking away from the Climate Agreement, which China has committed to continue as a leader. It's handing the process over to China and it's destroying our Asian diplomacy.
HARLOW: To be fair, Hillary Clinton was also going to walk away from TPP as well. But you say that this will be particularly damaging for our diplomacy with Asia and China. It's interesting that China this morning sort of reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, something Angela Merkel called a joyous moment.
Why do you think that is, that China reaffirmed so quickly, even though others would argue that this might give the U.S. a competitive edge, at least on some energy fronts for some jobs against China.
WALKER: Yes, but China's looking at the larger global region and their role in it and they see this as another step for the United States to undercut its own ability to pursue diplomacy, to gain the strength of support among alliances and so on.
We're undercutting ourselves. And as I said, you know, you start it off with the fact that Trump wants us to be "America First." I agree 100 percent. That's what a president ought to do. But we should not do it alone. And we cannot walk alone in this international climate today, particularly when we're fighting enemies such as ISIS.
And so, we need support. We need support from the Europeans and we need support from the Asians. So, this doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
BERMAN: Ambassador Edward Walker, great to have your insight. Thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it, sir.
WALKER: You bet.
BERMAN: All right. Maybe as soon as next week, James Comey will testify before the Senate. What will he say? How candid will he be? A friend and former prosecutor joins us next.