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Comey to Testify about Trump Conversations Thursday; Third London Attacker Identified; Contractor Charged with Leaking Classified NSA Info; President Meets with Congressional Leaders Today. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired June 6, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- matter, despite contradictory messages from inside of his own White House. This morning, the president wrote, "The fake mainstream media is working so hard trying to get me not to use social media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out." But what he called honest and unfiltered his own staff told us at CNN is, quote, "not policy."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And look, we are just 48 hours away now from what could be some of the most consequential testimony in Congress really since Watergate, maybe since Anita Hill. Fired FBI director James Comey, he will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The chairman of that committee says that Comey will speak openly about his -- you can call them confrontations with the president, when the president allegedly asked him to back off the investigation to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn.

But when it comes to the actual Russia investigation, sources say that the former director will be somewhat limited as to what he can say. This morning, the president's son in defense of their father, calling the whole Russia investigation a witch hunt. Here's what they said.


ERIC TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: It's the greatest hoax of all time. I was there throughout the campaign. We have no dealings in Russia. We have no projects in Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia.

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I mean, to me, it's without a question, you know, reads and smells like a witch hunt.


BERMAN: Witch hunt. We've heard those words from the president, also from Russia, by the way. Let's begin with CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns at the White House this morning. Joe, 48 hours from now exactly, we might learn quite a bit.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: At least we hope to, John. And quite frankly, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, has said that in his view, Mr. Comey is not fenced in in any way on what he can talk about, but the question, of course, is what the special counsel wants. That would be Robert Mueller, who's investigating all things related to Russia. And it does appear that James Comey could have at least a few constraints, simply because he's an attorney and not allowed to discuss secret issues that might, for example, be before a grand jury.

On the other hand, the White House also making it clear as recently as yesterday that the president will not assert executive privilege. The deputy press secretary, Sarah Sanders, saying the president wants a quick airing of all the issues that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to hear about. Meanwhile, as you said, the mixed messaging continued here. On the one hand, the president saying his tweets matter, he's reaching out directly to the public, that the media is upset about that.

On the other hand, no less than Sebastian Gorka, one of his very top aides, standing right here where I am today, said yesterday that the president's social media statements are not necessarily policy. So, different views on that and we'll see where this goes over the next 48 hours. Back to you.

BERMAN: He didn't even say not necessarily. He flat out said they're not policy.


BERMAN: Joe Johns at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's discuss now. Joining us, Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, senior columnist at "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," - the "Beast" well represented this morning -- Perry Bacon, senior political writer for "FiveThirtyEight" and Chris Swecker, former FBI assistant director for the criminal investigative division.

Matt Lewis, to you, let me just read the tweet again from the president this morning -- or again, I'm going to call it a statement that he wrote down on Twitter this morning. He said, "The fake mainstream media is working so hard trying to get me not to use social media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out."

This honestly seems like a direct response to his own staffers, who said, no, no, the tweets don't matter. The president this morning said yes, yes, yes, they do matter.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND SENIOR COLUMNIST "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. Look, it's not the mainstream media who wants to discourage this. We love the tweets. This is actually great business. I mean, you know, forget investigative reporting. Just sit on Twitter and write about what Donald Trump says. It's fascinating and it is great content and I honestly think it's very revealing. I think that you could argue that it's more authentic in what Donald Trump really believes.

BERMAN: He says it's authentic. He says it's unfiltered. LEWIS: Yes, totally. And look, the people who -- it's not the fake media who is trying to discourage this, it is, people like Kellyanne Conway's husband who care deeply about the Trump agenda and believe that he's undermining it with his Twitter. They're the ones who want to stop it.

HARLOW: So, we have his tweets -- from yesterday, George Conway talking about the president's tweet storm on the travel ban. "These tweets may make some people feel better, but they certainly won't help the OSG," the Office of the Solicitor General, "get five votes at the Supreme Court, which is what actually matters. Sad."

He went on to say, "I fully support the president's agenda and I fully support my wife." But it is incredibly telling, is it not, when you have that coupled with big name Republican senators like John Cornyn, like Tom Cotton, Jackie, coming out and basically saying, your tweets are getting in the way, Mr. President, of our agenda.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "THE DAILY BEAST": Absolutely. When you go up on the Hill, it is not uncommon when you talk to a lawmaker and ask them about something he tweeted for them to say, I don't want to talk about the president's tweets anymore. And that's tough, because they're going to have to until he stops.

[10:05:05] But absolutely, it's derailing their agenda. It's derailing the president's agenda. And we've heard all these staffers now, instead of saying, they speak for themselves, they're saying, ignore it entirely. Well, we're not going to because it is a window into what the president thinks.

And he is, to George Conway's point, who is an accomplished lawyer and he just stepped aside -

HARLOW: Hired by the president -

KUCINICH: Well, yes, he just stepped aside as someone who was offered a job in the administration. To his point, he's also undermining the Supreme Court case, potentially, that the president very much wants this ban enacted.

HARLOW: And as John pointed out, calling them tweets and Maggie Haberman said the same thing, it sort of diminishes their importance when he hasn't given a press availability, since I believe - saying anything since May 20th. These are statements, his words, his facts on paper, if you will.

KUCINICH: Absolutely, especially when he's reacting in real-time to things that are said.


BERMAN: And Perry, you do note that we should pay attention to the content of what he's writing here, particularly when it comes to the travel ban, correct? PERRY BACON JR., SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": Right. I think often it is right, that his -- the tweets aren't necessarily always policy, because I think at times, the Defense Department, the State Department, his own staff does the policy and kind of ignores the tweets. But the tweets certainly tell us something about how he sees the world and they have impact.

For example, the tweets over the weekend about what happened in London, one, first of all, they caused a lot of news in London where the mayor was very critical and very angry about what President Trump said. Theresa May, the prime minister, was clearly asked about it yesterday and she also found herself trying to -- she's trying to basically not criticize President Trump, working on other issues, but also finds herself working on the tweets and dealing with the tweets and they're a big media story.

They're also, they're not policy, but they certainly matter. We've seen already judicial opinions about the travel ban have noted comments that Stephen Miller and President Trump have made. So, it's hard for me to imagine in this upcoming ruling on the travel ban, the White House's comments from the president's Twitter account matter because the administration has been saying this is not a travel ban, but now Donald Trump in public statements is saying, yes, it is a travel ban. That matters because it shapes how people see the president's thinking.

HARLOW: It also shapes counterargument against his attorneys, that if the Supreme Court hears this case, will have to make, because the ACLU came out yesterday and said, you bet we may include this in our argument against the administration.

Chris, to you, as the former FBI assistant director, switching gears to the highly anticipated -- which is underselling this -- testimony of Comey on Thursday, where the world I think is going to stop and watch. Our sources, Gloria Borger's reporting is that he is -- if he saw obstruction before or an attempt to obstruct, he would have said something before and he didn't even hint at it in his March 20th testimony. How do you see it playing out on Thursday?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: Yes, first, I don't think there's going to be any big surprises. I think based on the Code of Federal Regulations -- I spent a couple of years in the FBI's legal division and used to handle these types of requests for non-FBI, non-DOJ testimony.

Now, Director Comey, former Director Comey is not an employee, so he's subject to those regs. So, they can limit his testimony and they will. He won't be able to talk about classified information. He won't be able to talk about the ongoing investigation.

He probably will talk about his memo and his interactions with the president, but as you mention, this question of obstruction. The first question any investigator would ask is, is there enough here to open up a preliminary investigation? He apparently didn't do that and he showed the memo and shared the conversation with other executive staff around him and nobody thought it rose to the level of at least even a preliminary inquiry, which is a very low bar. So, he's going to have to answer those questions and I'm very interested myself in seeing what his answers will be.

BERMAN: And Jackie Kucinich, you know there's a fascination with this on Capitol Hill. People there were shocked, you say, when the stories came out that FBI director James Comey was asked by the president to back off the Flynn investigation, because apparently, it never came up in their private briefings. They have questions here.

KUCINICH: Richard Burr in particular, who is the chair of that committee, said, wait, I feel like Comey would have told me this. And so, he in particular I'm sure is going to have a lot of questions for Comey.

But here's the thing, this is Comey's element. He's going to have answers for these questions as well. I don't think any of those senators up there are going to catch him by surprise. He's very practiced at these very high-pressured hearings. And you know, from both sides. You might see some frustration on the Democratic side if he can't answer some of their questions because of classified information.

HARLOW: I think we've seen the line the White House is going to take in terms of attacking, Matt Lewis, Comey's credibility. They're going to point to mistakes that he made or things he did have to correct in past Congressional testimony, that March testimony, for example.

[10:10:01] But I found it interesting when Donald Trump's sons used the exact language their father uses, a hoax, the greatest witch hunt there is. And you heard Eric Trump say there essentially, we have nothing to do with Russia. But Don Jr., in 2008, in an interview talking about how do you in the real estate business get through this crisis in the United States, he said, quote, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." He said that on the record. That is something they can't escape.

LEWIS: That is right. And there are a lot of contradictions, including that and including the fact that at one point they said that nobody from the Trump administration or the transition team had met with any Russians and then, in fact, it turns out there were multiple occasions where they did.

So, look, who knows if there was any sort of collusion, anything inappropriate, but this needs to be investigated and they're going to call it a witch hunt. But maybe it will turn out that they're right that they're proven right. But I think the American public has a right to know.

BERMAN: Chris Swecker, what about though the idea that James Comey is being attacked, for lack of a better word right now, by administration officials, Kellyanne Conway, knowing he's detested by many in Washington? How do you think - and you know him a little bit - how do you think that will color his attitude as he takes the witness stand on Thursday?

SWECKER: Well, I don't think he'll display any frustration. I mean, look, Congressional investigations -- look, I am a cynic about them. They trample witnesses when there's an ongoing FBI investigation and they're prejudged. I mean, everybody is talking about what their views are and where this investigation's going to go.

That's not happening with former Director Mueller behind the scenes. They're not prejudging anything and that's not a witch hunt. It's a fully predicated investigation. They're going about it quietly and methodically. I think my former colleagues and current FBI agents would say, the congressional investigation is just a way to satisfy curiosity and for Congressmen to get on the TV.

HARLOW: All right, get on the TV. We'll leave it there with those wise words. Thank you all very much, Matt Lewis, Perry Bacon Jr., Chris Swecker and Jackie Kucinich.

All right, ahead for us, a lot this hour. Identified, we now know the third London attacker's identity. Could more have been done to prevent this latest attack?

BERMAN: Plus, Republicans meeting with the president at the White House as all these signs of tumult surround the White House. Is there a concern it could stall the Republican agenda?

And from the front lines of the war against ISIS, a CNN exclusive, thousands fleeing, caught in the middle of the devastation. We hear from people there.


[10:16:40] BERMAN: All right, breaking news this morning. We're learning that a third attacker in the London terror rampage was on a watch list in Italy but was not known by police in the United Kingdom. 22-year-old Youssef Zaghba was killed by police along with two other terrorists after driving a rented van into a crowd on the London Bridge before stabbing people in a busy market.

HARLOW: Our senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen has been covering this story. He has more on the attackers. What else have you learned this morning, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are some serious questions here, Poppy, about the authorities in the run-up to what happened, especially over the past couple of years. One of the attackers, Khuram Shazad Butt, who by all accounts appeared to have been the ringleader of these attackers and as it appears as though, there was actually an investigation into him. He was known to be part of an extremist group here in the United Kingdom and he was on a terrorism watch list here in the UK. He was being investigated. But apparently, that investigation stopped in 2015 because the authorities here believed that there was no reason to think that he was plotting anything.

Now, the other interesting thing is that he was actually also featured in a documentary here in this country on the Channel 4 Network called "The Jihadist Next Door," where he was apparently also spreading some jihadist propaganda as well. So, many people here are asking, how could someone like that have flown under the radar and how could something like that have happened?

Again, the two others, at least here in the United Kingdom, it does not appear as though there was any sort of information that could have connected them to this or that could have predicted that they might be plotting anything in the run-up to this, guys.

BERMAN: And you know, while the investigation continues, it's a political back-and-forth between the Mayor of London and the President of the United States. The Mayor of London now suggesting that the invitation for the president to come visit should be canceled.

PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right, John. And you know one of the things that have happened is when President Trump originally came out with his tweets criticizing the mayor, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, came out and said, look, I really don't have time to deal with this. Now he's saying, he believes that President Trump shouldn't be invited to the United Kingdom. Let's listen in to exactly what he had to say.


MAYOR SADIQ KHAN, LONDON: I simply don't have the time to respond to tweets from Donald Trump. My position remains the same. I don't think we should roll out the red carpet to the President of the USA in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for.

I think one of the things, when you have a special relationship. It's no different to when you've got a close mate. You stand with them in times of adversity, but you call them out when they're wrong. And there are many things about which Donald Trump is wrong.


PLEITGEN: No difference than when you have a close mate there, the words of London's Mayor, Sadiq Khan. Well, President Trump's family has also responded to this, Donald Trump Jr. having this to say about the mayor.


TRUMP JR.: This is a recurring theme and we're attacked but maybe rather than the Mayor of London attacking, maybe he should do something about it. Maybe he should do something to fix the problem rather than just sit there and pretend there isn't one. -- And I think that's an important message.

TOM LLAMAS, ABC ANCHOR: So you think the Mayor of London is at fault for what happened?

TRUMP JR.: I'm not -- no, that's not what I said. I think it's time for the people there to probably act and do something a lot more proactive than what's been going on. And I do think that's something people have to do. We can't just sit there and pretend this is not a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLEITGEN: At heart of this, of course, is something where the mayor says that he believes that President Trump misinterpreted the words that the mayor said in one of his statements where he said, look, we're going to have a lot more police on the street for a while in the aftermath of all of this. Don't be alarmed by that. It's simply for security.

[10:20:06] But the president is saying that it seems as though he believes the mayor is taking terrorism lightly. So, certainly a big misunderstanding there and that's led to this really snowballing almost out of control over the past couple of days, as, of course, this city and this country are dealing with this massive terrorism investigation that's still going on.

HARLOW: You do not usually see spats like this between lawmakers from allies after a terror attack before a big presidential visit, to say the least. Frederik Pleitgen, thank you.

Now to the federal contractor charged this morning with leaking classified information. The Justice Department says that she allegedly sent this classified Intel on Russia hacking to an online news outlet. The 25-year-old now faces ten years behind bars.

BERMAN: CNN's justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, live in Washington with more on this woman. And what was in the documents, Laura?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, the document at the center of this case is a classified report from the National Security Agency detailing how a Russian military intelligence unit tried to hack into voting systems here in the U.S. just days before last year's presidential election.

Sources tell us that this classified report that, Winner, the federal contractor in the crosshairs here, allegedly leaked is the same one that's described in an article published by "The Intercept" yesterday. And while there is no evidence that any votes were affected by this hack, the document does provide some new details into the mechanics of how the Russians specifically tried to target voting software suppliers and trick local election officials in the U.S. to clicking on phony e-mails and attachments.

Now, prosecutors say they were actually able to catch Winner relatively quickly in this case because the news outlet sent a copy of the document over to the government for authentication before publishing the story. And so, investigators were able to forensically trace it back to Winner pretty easily. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein praised this arrest, saying people who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation. John, Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to push their agenda, but now, some are saying that the White House is getting in the way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:26:30] HARLOW: All right, hours from now, President Trump meets with Republican leaders in the Senate and in the House. This comes at a critical time for the party as a whole, the party that controls the White House and controls Congress, more than one Republican lawmaker expressing concerns that their agenda is at risk with the White House off message and the president tweeting, contradicting his own aides.

BERMAN: Joining us to discuss, CNN political commentators Paris Dennard and Symone Sanders.

Paris, you know, first to you. You worked in a Republican White House before. Marc Short, who runs legislative outreach for this White House, said last night, he said "There's no doubt that keeping members focused on investigations detracts from our legislative agenda."

In other words, the tumult around here may be keeping us from making the progress that we want. How big of a problem do you see this being?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I don't see it as a major problem. The president has always communicated with the American people throughout the campaign and now as the President of the United States using Twitter and other means to connect directly with them. But what is at stake? It is important to keep things in perspective.

Number one, this president is continuing on his -- with his outreach to members of Congress, especially Republicans on the Hill. The Republicans very well know that in 2018, they have got to show that they have done things, accomplished things and passed a legislative agenda. So, they have to remain focused. They have to keep pressing forward.

And the last point is this, the president's going to remind them in his continued engagement tonight that they have to path an agenda and there are some things on the table that he wants to do -- infrastructure reform, Obamacare repeal, which is now in the Senate, as well as the tax reform. So, there are things on the table that this president is doing and that he wants to have action put around, but the Congress has to remain focused and say, no matter what goes on outside of the beltway or as it relates to the president, we have an agenda and we're going to stay focused on that and we have got to be about action, just like this president is about action.

HARLOW: They also need the White House to focus on those legislative goals. And you've got, you know, big-name Republicans coming out like Senator Tom Cotton and Senator John Cornyn saying largely what Marc Short said, this is distracting from our agenda, Mr. President.

But Symone, at least he's having them over, right? I mean, the president is having these Republicans over. They're going to have dinner tonight and outline what we want to achieve. As you know, President Obama was criticized by a number of people saying reach out more. Does the president deserve some credit, at least, for the outreach?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY BERNIE 2016: I mean, look, of course. I think it's great that, you know, Trump is reaching out to members on the Hill to bring them in on the agenda. What the president should remember, though, is going into this dinner meeting tonight, he has to know who is in the room. Talking about infrastructure, talking about privatizing air traffic control are not going to be popular things. Both of those things are going nowhere fast in this Congress. And I think it's a very tall order to put these things and put these things on the table for the Republican legislators.

Look, we know from yesterday there was a report in "Roll Call" from this same president, from the White House noting that Trump is going to ask legislators to move on health care before August, raising the debt ceiling before August. These are very, very tall orders, especially for a health care bill that is widely unpopular. So, yes, great that the president is bringing legislators in, but he has to remember who is in the room and what is and is not going to fly in Congress. And I don't think he's totally understood just how the Hill works just yet.

BERMAN: So, Paris, one of the things that's not flying well in Congress, to use the term that Symone just used, is the president's use of Twitter. It's not hard to find members of Congress, whether it be the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the number two, John Cornyn, you know, Tom Cotton, really, anyone you ask will say that they would prefer that the president not write as much as he is on Twitter right now.