Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Amid Grief & Crisis, Trump Again Targets London Mayor; Will Trump Assert Executive Privilege to Keep Comey from Testifying; Trump to Roll Out Infrastructure Agenda. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired June 5, 2017 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I mean, Barry, what do you say to that? What do you think Donald Trump would be saying right now if Tony Blair or, you know, the British prime minister decided to take on Rudy Giuliani in the days after 9/11?

BARRY BENNETT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I mean, I think what he was going at was that the mayor of London doesn't believe that, you know, radical Islam is a threat. That's what he was going at, you know. Was it an appropriate format? You know, I don't know, nor do I want to spend a lot of time thinking about it, to tell you the truth. We've got a lot of things in our country that are problems and that's what he should be focusing on. I am a little alarmed that the staff seems to be one place and the president seems to be another place, and that's got to get fixed, and it's got to get fixed right away. Otherwise, who do we know, which side should we believe?

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Well, agreed. You've been -- you advised the Trump campaign. Where does the fault lie when the president and his staff, they seem to be in two completely different places?

BENNETT: Well, he's the president, right? He's the one who sits in the round room. And if he's got a staff around him that he doesn't trust or doesn't believe is doing their job, then he needs to get rid of them or get a new staff. If he's got a good staff that he trusts and believes in, then he needs to do what they tell him, or at least listen to them. He can always disagree with them, but something is not happening. I don't know what it is, but something is not happening.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The problem clearly is not the staff, it's the president.

BENNETT: I don't know that. To tell you the truth, I don't know that.

BOYKIN: The reason why I can say that, why I believe it's the case is because the president is contradicting the people on his own staff. He's contradicting the spokesman who goes out and represents him and goes off the next year and contradicts what his spokesman is saying -- (CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: But I could say the same thing --

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: He contradicts the spokesman, which tells you the president has no leadership skills or is the one causing the problem.

BOLDUAN: I find it hard to believe, Barry, that the staff would knowingly and willingly contradict the president. I feel like they would quickly no longer be on staff if that's the case, right?

BENNETT: Well, that's the question he needs to answer. There's no way he approved, you know, the DCM's statement in London. I mean, that was crazy. That never would rise to a White House level. But I mean, his staff, either they're trying to clean up something or they're out on their own, and it needs to be fixed. They need to speak with one voice.

BOLDUAN: I want to get you guys to weigh in on kind of where we ended the last panel, because it seems to be the center of all of this comes to this key question, when are tweets policy?

Barry, do you think tweets are policy coming from this president?

BENNETT: I think everything that the president says is something we should take serious, unless he's joking. And so, I don't know that it's official policy, but it's something that we all take serious. And when he says something, you know, I believe that's what he means. And if it isn't, then they need to put some kind of crazy disclaimer on it. But of course, I think whatever he says is what's coming out of his mind, so sure.

BOYKIN: And if that's the case, then, Barry, then I think we're in trouble, because there's no coherence with the policy that the president's issuing Twitter and the policy we're getting from the administration elsewhere. Even look at the case of Russia, where the president's never criticized Putin, but everybody else in the administration's willing to do that when they need to. When you talk about the travel ban, here we are 136 days into the Trump administration. He wanted a 90-day temporary ban on the issue of vetting. It's past 90 days! They've had time to vet this. They don't need a 90-day ban 136 days into the administration and Trump continues to pursue those actions contradicted by his administration.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, Barry, you've been candid on what is working and what clearly is not around the president right now. Do you think those like Kellyanne Conway out today and Sebastian Gorka out today, who say it's the media that's obsessed with tweets, tweets are not policy, you guys just don't understand that? Do you think they're doing a service for the president?

BENNETT: You know, obviously, they believe they are and they have a lot more information than I have, but I mean, I don't understand why they can't all be singing out of the same songbook. And if it's a staff problem, then it should be fixed, and if it's a president problem that the staff can't fix, then you need to find maybe a staffer that can. But I mean, something needs to be fixed because this is not sustainable.

BOLDUAN: All right. If nothing that he says matters, what does matter? That's what I'm kind of constantly left with when discussing Twitter.

BENNETT: The man has more Twitter followers than people who subscribe to newspapers. He's got the largest megaphone we've ever seen.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, and when --

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: So, let's make sure the words on that megaphone mean something.

[11:34:39] BOLDUAN: And he has said many, many a time that he likes to use that Twitter feed to bypass his staff and bypass the media to tell people exactly what he thinks, so the White House saying that it's anything but that is disingenuous.

Keith, Barry, thanks, guys. I appreciate it.

Up next, will he or won't he? The White House staying mum on whether the president will try to assert executive privilege on James Comey before he testifies before Congress on Thursday. The political, and perhaps, legal consequences for the president.

Plus, we are moments away from hearing from the president himself, speaking live amid all of these firestorms that he is facing today and beyond. We're going to take you there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: All eyes will be on former FBI Director James Comey this Thursday for what is sure to be blockbuster testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey's expected to finally answer some questions about the private conversations that he had with President Trump during his time as FBI director. That is, of course, if the White House does not try to stop him.

I want to bring in right now Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller, the special counsel now overseeing the Russian investigation. And Zeldin also served as independent counsel himself.

Thank you so much for being here.

[11:40:10] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So, James Comey is testifying on Thursday. The last we heard from the White House on the record was they were still reviewing their options in terms of executive privilege. At this point, what do you think the chances are that the president will try to invoke executive privilege?

ZELDIN: Well, obviously, it's his prerogative to pursue it. I think it's ultimately a losing proposition for him. I think the Supreme Court in the United States versus Nixon made pretty clear that the types of conversations that they had in mind were advising about policy considerations, and I don't think the conversations with Comey fit into that category. So, I think he has a hard time making the claim, as have presidents before him. Remember President Obama tried to claim that in the Fast and Furious gun-running case and lost. President Bush tried to do the same thing in the U.S. attorney firing case and lost. Richard Nixon, of course, lost. So, it's really not a winning legal proposition.

BOLDUAN: Why is it, Michael, why is it a losing legal proposition? Why is it difficult for presidents to assert executive privilege?

ZELDIN: Well, because there's an overarching desire in sort of our constitutional structure for us citizens to have a right to know what's going on in our government. And so, save for the most intimate national security policy-style conversations between the president and his closest cabinet-level executives, the pressure really is to allow for sunlight and disclosure rather than secrecy, so there's a philosophical approach to executive privilege that the courts take.

BOLDUAN: Today is Monday. We will see what happens come Thursday, and if the White House tries to have a say in the days in between.

Thank you for being here, Michael. I really appreciate it.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, the countdown is on. President Trump fired him, as we well know, and now the Senate intelligence committee gets to hear from the former FBI director and his side of the story. What will he say? Our special live coverage will begin of James Comey's testimony before Congress. That will begin Thursday morning, 9:00 eastern.

Plus, the president set to make an announcement on infrastructure any moment now, and air traffic control, in just a moment.

But another tweet storm this morning. Is he the only person who doesn't know that it's supposed to be infrastructure week if you look at his Twitter feed? We'll bring you his remarks live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:46:2-] BOLDUAN: All right, any minute now, President Trump is expected to try and turn the focus back to his agenda. You're taking a look right now in the East Room of the White House. Laying out a new initiative to privatize air traffic control systems. This is the first stop in the president's promised push for a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan for the country.

Joining me is CNN political analyst, Ron Brownstein, who is also senior editor at "The Atlantic"; and CNN aviation and regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, can you lay it out for us? This is something that a lot of folks, they'll understand the infrastructure plan that the president's been talking about, but what will we be hearing today?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Today, Kate, the focus is on the air traffic control system. And to boil it down simply, if you've ever flown on a plane, this is exactly why this conversation matters. The air traffic control system in the United States is old. The FAA is still using 40-year-old radar equipment instead of new GPS equipment. That means more flight delays, nor wasted time, more wasted money, not only for the airlines, but also for passengers, because we just don't have a very efficient system. Now, everyone agrees that this system needs an overhaul, but the question is, how? The president, what he wants to do is give the job of modernizing the system to a private, non-government entity. In other words, he wants to take it away from the FAA. Now, the FAA, we should point out, has missed many deadlines in modernizing the system. And what the president is arguing is, if we privatize it, this would cut out that government red tape and speed up the process. The idea is creating this board consisting of airlines, unions, government representatives, even general aviation, to oversee air traffic control. Now, the FAA would still be in charge of safety regulations, but the big question is will the president be able to pull this off?

BOLDUAN: Right.

MARSH: This isn't a new idea. It was talked about during the Clinton administration. It hasn't happened yet. It's not an easy task. It's a huge undertaking. You have to remember, yes, it's been successfully done in places like Canada and Britain and France, but the U.S. has the largest and busiest air space in the world, so this is something that Congress would have to pass. And I can tell you that there's already bipartisan opposition in the Senate when it comes to this issue -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We're keeping an eye on everyone, kind of the comings and goings here.

Ron, I want to go to you.

We saw Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump entering the room, waiting for the president to make his entrance as well.

Give me your take, Ron. The White House, they've kind of dubbed this infrastructure week. I can't say it, but it seems to be what they're trying to do, rolling something out each day to focus on their infrastructure agenda. I do wonder, is Donald Trump the only person at the White House that doesn't seem to have been told that after you look at what he's been focused on this morning?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANAYST: Right. Staying on script has never been the strength of the president, right? Look, first of all, the entire infrastructure debate has evolved in a way that is much more confrontational and partisan and ridden with conflict than originally. Originally, this seemed like one of the areas, if not the principal area, that we might see agreement across party lines in what had been a very divisive Trump agenda, but the actual specifics of it, as you see in the air traffic controllers, involves much less new money than Democrats prefer, much more emphasis on the private sector, on trying to leverage private funds and even privatizing public assets, not only the air traffic control small towns that were at the cornerstone of his electoral coalition.

But it kind of goes to the larger question here. This was something that was an important part of his appeal to blue collar and nonurban America, but again, it seemed like something where he could literally bridge his differences with Democrats. But the actual specifics of the way it is playing out, the details matter. The basic idea of using public money for private investment is something both parties have talked about. Republicans resisted it when President Obama talked about it. Now you may see Democrats resisting because they don't believe there's enough public money and too much emphasis on privatization and tolls and shifting authority to the private sector and to states and local governments.

[11:50:45] BOLDUAN: Guys, stand by. We're going to try to fit in a real-quick break.

Donald Trump will be coming out any moment to roll out the infrastructure plan, but, again, who knows what he'll decide to touch on in these remarks.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:54:50] BOLDUAN: You're looking live at the East Room. Waiting for President Trump to come to the East Room to make remarks to roll out the beginning of his infrastructure agenda. This week dubbed the infrastructure week.

Let me bring back in Ron Brownstein and Rene Marsh joining me now.

Looks like they're milling about. They're about 15-plus minutes late or even more so.

Let me begin where kind of we ended that last bit, Ron. I was just kind of looking over and reminding myself, this was an area where Democrats said they could work with Donald Trump. Democrats said infrastructure, a trillion dollars towards infrastructure, you've got it, we're on board. Let's discuss it. Why does it seem unlikely that when it comes to, shocker, the details it's going to be kumbaya?

BROWNSTEIN: The first reason is it's not a trillion dollars. The president is talking about a much smaller infusion of federal money and reliance on the private sector, states and local governments to fund the actual projects. In fact, Chuck Schumer has tweeted that in essence what the president is talking about in detail is more privatization. Obviously, the movement of the air traffic control system into a semi-public corporation is kind of an example of that. But the idea that rather than a big public works program, ala Franklin Roosevelt and the Depression, what we're talking about is a small infusion of federal money to catalyze private investment and not surprisingly, the administration has structured the specifics to make it least amenable to Democrats signing on.

BOLDUAN: Rene, jump in. It might not be Trump versus Democrats problem here, right?

MARSH: Right. I was just going to add on to what Ron was saying. When you consider all things that we're talking about here really does bring us back to where we have always been and this has been the constant issue with infrastructure in that both parties do agree that something needs to be done but we're right back where we always have been historically which is they cannot agree on how to do it and how to solve the problem. You know, the president wanting a lot of the funding to come from these public/private partnerships in hopes that the private sector will want to invest in infrastructure, but the flip side to this and critics of that sort of approach say that, you know, there's not a lot of revenue coming from infrastructure unless you have a whole lot of toll roads t. May not be as attractive as they think it will be for the private sector. They just don't think it's going to add up where you'll have the un-fusion from the private sector to handle all the roads and crumbling bridges.

BOLDUAN: Ron, political reality here, how long do you think the White House is going to be able to keep the president on focus on infrastructure past this speech?

BROWNSTEIN: Very short. Look, you have momentous events coming and you have the president to tweet in self-destructive ways on the travel executive order. I mean, no. I think there's no indication that they can stay on focus on this. There's kind of underlying problem. Again, go to Rene's point, the president's core geographic base is rural America. If you are in small town America and you are basically saying we're going to fund this with tolls, you don't make a lot of money on tolls and privatization in small towns. Urban base makes more sense in dense population centers. You have a structural problem and that's a reason you have divisions in the Republican Party that is small town and rural America.

BOLDUAN: Guys, stand by.

We're going to listen in. Vice President Mike Pence standing next to Elaine Chow, the secretary of transportation. Likely they'll be introducing the president. Let's listen and see what they have to say.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- tirelessly to keep the promises that he made to the American people. Our president's been putting jobs in this economy first. Rolling back excessive regulations, unleashing American energy, ending unfair trade practices, and he's been working with Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. Thanks to President Donald Trump, America is back.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: American businesses are growing and investing in America again. More than $600,000 private-sector jobs have been created. And unemployment hasn't been this low for 16 years. If you haven't already noticed, the American people elected a builder to be the 45th president of the United States and, this week, starting today, this president will take historic steps to keep his promise to rebuild America.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: Promising to replace our crumbling infrastructure with new roads, bridges and tunnels and airports, the actions the president announces today will encourage investment, commerce and, most importantly, President Trump's action today will enhance the safety and --