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Comey Won't' Be Constrained When Talking Trump; White House War Room; Flynn Turns over Documents; Paris Suspect and Syria; Trump Talks Qatar Move. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired June 6, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: About to get underway. In the meantime, the news continues right now.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for joining me as we begin this hour with not just one but three major storylines developing.
Any moment now, the White House press briefing is set to begin as the administration admits the Russia probe is impacting the president's agenda.
At the same time, the State Department is expected to brief reporters. And this, as President Trump seems to be taking sides in the worst diplomatic crisis in decades to hit several Arab states.
And finally, breaking details on the attack against police in Paris. Was it a terrorist at work?
We'll unpack all of this.
First, to the White House as it grapples with what is and is not happening on Capitol Hill. What is? Well, James Comey testifying in two days. There are new details on how forthcoming the fired FBI director may be about President Trump. What is not happening, the Senate GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Remember, the House passed its version of the American Health Care Act one month and two days ago. But the Senate version, well, Senator Lindsey Graham doesn't think there will be a major comprehensive health bill this year. Listen to what he just told CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In all honesty, I think it's a stalled Congress. We led off with health care, which I thought was a mistake. We'll probably have a vote on the health care bill. But the chance that the House and the Senate reconciling our positions on health care is pretty limited. So you can't blame the president for that. That's just the lack of coordination on health care within the party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now, as we wait for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to step to the podium there on the right-hand of your screen, let's bring in our panel to discuss.
CNN's Sara Murray at the White House, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who used to serve as special assistant to Robert Mueller, who, of course, is the special counsel now on the Russia investigation.
Mark, I'll start with you. Bring us up to speed. What's the latest reporting on what James Comey might say. We know Senator Burr talked to CNN yesterday about his conversations with the fired FBI director. What should we expect?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're not quite sure to the point that we don't know how far he will go in his conversations that he had with President Trump. But as you noted, Senator Burr said that he's going to be unencumbered by what he does speak about, meaning he's not going to come to the Senate and the United States Senate is going to put parameters around him about what he can speak about.
Now, we should note that he has been in discussions with Robert Mueller, who is the special counsel right now looking into the Russia investigation on behalf of the Trump administration. So you have to think that those two men have discussed and have choreographed what exactly he will say.
CABRERA: Sara, I know you have some new reporting on the White House and their response to all things Russia. What can you tell us about this reported war room they're preparing?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, everyone is looking ahead to James Comey's testimony on Thursday and this has been a White House that has struggled repeatedly to figure out how to navigate questions about the Russia investigation. They had hoped to try to set up a war room to field this, to have staffers who are dedicated to this and maybe some help from some staffers outside of the White House. But it doesn't look like that is coming to fruition. They've had difficulty finding people to do it. They've also had difficulty trying to set this up at the same time that President Trump is trying to set up his outside legal counsel. He does have one lawyer right now, but they're trying to sort of broaden that and bring on representation in D.C. as well.
So I think what you're seeing is a White House that's still coming up against James Comey on Thursday, potentially a little bit flat-footed. Now, we may still see some surrogates out there. My colleague Jim Acosta has pointed out that there are some former campaign staffers who are expecting to get some talking points and sort of be out there saying that there's no evidence of collusion, but not sort of the full, robust effort that even President Trump has been telling allies privately he wants to see more of.
CABRERA: We don't know if he will actually talk about the Russia investigation. A lot of the details there were from when he was an investigator with the FBI, obviously as director. So I think a lot of the anticipation we're expecting, as Mark Preston was also alluding to, is this question of, is there any obstruction of justice to be discussed.
Let's remind everybody here what Comey had said previously in his testimony just last month, in fact, days before he was fired when he was asked if anyone was influencing the investigation. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So if the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: In theory, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has it happened?
COMEY: Not in my experience, because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that - without an appropriate purpose. I mean we're oftentimes they give us opinions that we don't see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it, but I'm talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It's not happened, in my experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:05:18] CABRERA: So, Gloria, given he said that in May, could he change the narrative now?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't think he's likely to change the narrative. I mean he was referring there to whether anybody at his own department, at the Department of Justice, had asked him to curtail or stop his investigation. He clearly wasn't talking about the president of the United States in that - in that answer. And I think what we're going to see from Comey is that you're going to see people asking him this obvious question about obstruction of justice. Did you consider this obstruction of justice? And I don't think you're going to get an answer from him. I think he's just going to speak to
the facts as he knew them and he may say that he believed the president was inappropriate, that it disturbed him. I've been told by a source close to Comey that perhaps he thought he could train or educate the president about the right way to behave when speaking to the FBI director about an ongoing investigation.
Now, he may look at this very differently in hindsight, given the fact that he was fired and given the fact that the president told Lester Holt that he was thinking about Russia when he fired him, but I don't think you're going to have him really change his story because if he had considered it obstruction at the time, one source close to Comey told me he would have done something completely different and he would have perhaps taken it to a different level. But he did not. So I think he's just going to testify as to what he heard from the president and what he memorialized in those memos.
CABRERA: And yet he is eager to testify, we're learning. We know based on what Senator Burr said, Comey is expected to be candid. Michael, will there be any limitations to what he can say regarding his conversations with the president? As we know, he doesn't want to step on Mueller's investigation.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Gloria's right, that he is going to testify to facts. He's not going to offer a conclusion, yes, this was obstruction, in my view, would be my guess. And we're just guessing here. I don't think that Mueller would want him to do that and I don't think he would want to do that.
I think he's going to go through the seven or eight events that took place between him and the White House, all of which, if taken together, could or could not equal obstruction of justice. And I think he'll specifically be asked to focus on whether or not he was asked to stand down in the Flynn investigation and what were the details of that conversation, and then, two, also, was the president being truthful when he said that Comey called him to tell him that he was not under investigation. A fact that many people doubt and I think they're going to ask a lot about those two events, the Flynn and the - he told me three times I was not under investigation aspect of the testimony.
I don't think he'll talk about Russia and the intelligence and things like that because that's all classified and not really what this hearing is about. This is really an obstruction of justice hearing more than anything else.
CABRERA: Could he bring up the Russia investigation in the closed session? We know he's going to talk before the public in the open session at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Thursday but then it's going to move into a closed session with Congress with that Senate Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.
ZELDIN: I would think that's right. That during the closed session, he could testify to whatever they want to know about the state of the investigation to the day he was fired. Except that they know most of that already. So I'm not sure that there's much to be learned from that testimony for the senators. But, yes, that would be the forum in which that type of inquiry would be made.
CABRERA: Guys, we just got some new information that just crossed. In fact, we're now learning Flynn has provided more than 600 pages of documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is significant. Remember, Michael Flynn was fired as part of the Trump administration. He was the former national security adviser for the president. He's now turned over 600 pages of documents, including business records, may include some personal documents based on the narrow requests from that committee.
Gloria, how significant is this?
BORGER: Well, I - we don't know until we get a look at those documents. But, obviously, the committee is interested in his financial dealings. You'll recall that while he was advising Donald Trump, he was also advising the government of Turkey. He did not register as a lobbyist. They are going to want to figure out exactly what had Sally Yates' hair on fire when she went to the White House Counsel and said that Flynn could potentially have been blackmailed and compromised because of his conversations with the Russians. So they're going to try and get documentation perhaps about phone conversations. You know, we don't - we don't know what's in this stuff and we don't know whether it gets to the heart of the matter or not.
[14:10:16] We do know that, don't forget, that General Flynn was seeking immunity. And he hasn't gotten that. So it would be interesting to see exactly what they handed over to the Congress.
CABRERA: Again, we are awaiting this press conference, a press briefing from the White House. Press Secretary Sean Spicer. It's expected to begin any moment now. We'll bring that to you live.
We're going to take a quick break.
And we're also monitoring some breaking news out of Paris. We want to remind everybody, we're learning now more about an attack that happened at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. A man allegedly yelling something out before attacking a police officer with a hammer. We'll get the latest when we come back.
CABRERA: We are following breaking news from Paris where police shot a man who was yelling "this is for Syria" as he attacked an officer with a hammer. This is all unfolding in the tourist congested area outside Notre-Dame Cathedral.
I want to go to CNN senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann. He's live in Paris for us.
[14:15:02] Jim, what more are you learning about this attacker and the condition of the police officer?
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the condition of the police officer. He is in fairly good shape, apparently. He was hit in the back of the neck with a hammer by the assailant who came up from behind. He was part of a three-man patrol around Notre-Dame, there to assure the tourists who crowd around Notre-Dame every day and were there in great numbers this afternoon, it was - they were there to assure the tourists that they were - had safety and security around them. And, in fact, as soon as this guy started attacking one of the police officers, one of the other colleagues of the police officer that was hit in fact pulled out his service gun and shot the attacker twice. At least two shots were fired. And he went down. He apparently was struck in the thorax, in the neck region, and chest area. And he's in the hospital now. So I'm sure they're going to be talking to him over the next 24 to 48 hours here if they can.
And the tourists themselves, many of them were inside the cathedral of Notre-Dame at the time. There were hundreds, perhaps 800 or 1,000 tourists inside the cathedral who were there in lockdown for the next few hours while police talked to each one of them separately just to make sure that there were no colleagues of this attacker among the crowd - in the crowd there. So it's - the incident is over now, but it's just beginning in terms of what the authorities are going to be doing in terms of the reaction.
Tomorrow morning there's a defense council meeting here. They're talking about what kinds of steps they can take. This council meeting was actually programmed before this attack. It was programmed after the London attacks to see what kinds of things the French could do to stop the kind of thing that happened in London.
CABRERA: And, Jim, are they - they're investigating this as a potential act of terror, right?
BITTERMANN: Yes, indeed. Yes, in fact, because of that cry that you mentioned, "this is for Syria," the attacker cried when he went after the policeman, because of that, the terrorism prosecutor here immediately opened up a terrorism investigation. So they're considering it an act - considering it an act of terrorism.
CABRERA: All right, Jim Bittermann reporting. We know that there's a lot more to learn about this attacker involved in this situation. Thanks very much.
I want to bring back our panel and I want to begin with you, Rear Admiral John Kirby. We, of course, were just reporting not long ago, yesterday, over the weekend on this horrific situation that unfolded in London over the weekend, now this. There were also two other situation - terrorist attacks that happened in England in the last three months. What's going on do you think?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I mean, assuming this one is an act of terrorism, and that's certainly what it looks like, I think you're continuing to see self-radicalized individuals now fanning across the west, in particular Europe. It's difficult to know what exact ties this one will have with ISIS, but certainly from him shouting out, "this is for Syria," it would lead one to believe that he was at the very least self-radicalized.
And this is one of the things that ISIS wants. As they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, as they become pressed and squeezed geographically, they begin to expand ideologically. Now, we knew this was going to happen as they got squeezed in Iraq and Syria, but we're starting to now see it really manifest itself more and more and more as the summer months go on and they encourage these self-radicalized individuals to simply attack with whatever they've got, a car, a hammer, a knife, a gun, whatever they have. These sorts of low investment and high surprise attacks can do much to spread fear and terror and also to help them try to spread their ideology.
CABRERA: And how do you prevent those when it's something as simple as a knife or as a hammer or as a vehicle that they're using? It doesn't exactly throw out a red flag when somebody's purchasing those items.
KIRBY: No. The short answer is, you can't really prevent them all. I mean they only have to - these individuals only have to be right once for just a few moments of a given day. Law enforcement, intelligence, security personnel, they've got to be right 365 days a year, 24 hours every day, and they're not always going to see this coming. There's - it's impossible to get inside somebody's brain.
CABRERA: Again, it's now 2:20 here and we are waiting for the White House Press Briefing to start any minute. There's also supposed to be a State Department briefing that will happen also around this same time. So we're monitoring both of those. Just want to let our viewers know we may be cutting to that as we continue our conversation.
One of the things that is bound to come up at this White House press briefing is the situation that's unfolding in Qatar. We know that there are all these Gulf Arab nations that are now cutting ties with Qatar saying that they are sponsors of terrorism and the president was tweeting about this situation this morning, in many ways taking credit for what is taking place.
I want to just show you one of those tweets this morning. He - well, there were two. And we have both of them there. He writes, "so good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line in fighting extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism."
[14:20:20] Is the president right to take credit for these Middle East countries taking action, admiral?
KIRBY: I don't - I don't know that - first of all, no, I don't think he is. And, secondly, I don't - I don't know this is something you want to take credit for.
Look, to be clear, Qatar does fund and support various terrorist groups of both Shia and Sunni varieties. They're almost an equal opportunity supporter in that regard. And it is fair and legitimate for their Sunni Arab neighbors to want to keep putting pressure on them to stop from doing that.
That said, the president's message in Riyadh was one of unifying, right? It was, we all need to come together. You - all you Gulf allies, you've got to solve this problem. The way to do that is to stay together, not to break diplomatic relations. So it's an odd thing to want to take credit for because it actually runs counter to his whole message when he was in Riyadh.
CABRERA: And not to mention, we have a military base in Qatar. So that's a linchpin for the ISIS fight.
CABRERA: And that's exactly where it is.
But, Gloria, I want to play what the president said just last month about Qatar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, is a crucial strategic partner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So Qatar, Qatar, a lot of people pronounce these differently, but you heard him say that Qatar is crucial in the fight against terror and he also said they had an extremely good relationship. Gloria, this sounds like he's now, today, having a complete 180, a reversal. Is this Trump being Trump or what do you make of this?
BORGER: Well, I think it is Trump being Trump. And I think this goes to the heart of the question about credibility. And as we await Sean Spicer, we have to ask the question about whether there's credibility from that podium. And when you listen to the president, and you have to ask the same question. And when you're president of the United States and you flip on a dime or you tweet something that is in direct contradiction to what your spokes people are saying or you lash out at your own Justice Department, the credibility becomes an issue because, God forbid at some point there's going to be some kind of issue here in which Americans are going to have to turn to the president and believe him because it's in our own national security interests. And I think when you start whittling away at that, you start whittling away at the office of the presidency itself.
And so, you know, this is death by a thousand cuts. You really need to consider when you are president that every word matters, every tweet matters and that what you said yesterday ought to at least be in line with what you're saying today and ought to at least be in line with what the people who represent you are saying and you ought to try not to undermine them at every turn. And I think so this is sort of part and parcel of a larger problem that this White House has right now, quite frankly.
CABRERA: All right, everyone.
KIRBY: Can I just also add that - that I think this is the other potentially self-defeating aspect here of what he tweeted out this morning. Qatar is a major ally and partner in the region. We continue to fly flights out of there to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Flights out of there have supported operations in Afghanistan. The forward headquarters of Central Command is there, as well as a huge international air operations center. So to alienate them the way he has done here, I think, you know, potentially could be really damaging to what is and has been a very long-term, very strategic, very close military partnership.
CABRERA: It sounds like he's undermining his Pentagon in some ways.
KIRBY: Well, you might - and you've seen the Pentagon today, as well as Secretary of State Tillerson yesterday, kind of walk back this anti-Qatar rhetoric and sort of trying to get them to work these diplomatic relations out amongst themselves. Look, again, there's legitimate concern about what Qatar is doing. I'm not trying to dismiss that. And Saudi Arabia and their neighbors have legitimate concerns. But they aren't - you know, Qatar's not the only one in the region that is support terrorist groups. There's more work that all of them can do. And to single out Qatar, which is a crucial logistics base for us right now in this fight against ISIS, it just seems to be a little bit self-defeating.
CABRERA: We got a two-minute warning just a short time ago on this White House press briefing, so it should get underway any moment.
But on the issue of credibility, Michael Zeldin, obviously this Russian probe will come down to what Comey says versus to what President Trump says. How important is credibility when these senators - and we're - you know, we are hearing from Comey come Thursday?
ZELDIN: Well, if this ever were to arise to the level of an impeachable offense trial in the Senate, or whether there was an indictment against Trump's outer circle or inner circle because you can't really indict him, then credibility of witnesses is always a crucial component. In a he said/he said situation of Comey versus Trump, I'm afraid that Comey will get the better of the president in this circumstance because of all of this tweeting and undermining of his own spokespeople.
[14:25:24] We talked about the undermining of the Pentagon just a moment ago. The same thing occurred yesterday with respect to undermining of the Justice Department and the travel ban. Calling it a travel ban is what he said it is. He said we're doing extreme vetting anyway. That's the heart of his case that's pending before the Ninth Circuit and he seems to have just given it away a bit. It's unbelievable to understand what the thought process is behind that type of behavior.
CABRERA: In all these tweets -
KIRBY: So I think that in that credibility is that credibility contest, Ana, to answer you finally, to answer that question, I think Comey wins.
CABRERA: And all these tweets also have had an impact on the president being able to move his domestic agenda forward, Gloria.
BORGER: Yes. Look, I - people don't know what he's going to say from one day to the next. And when you have somebody who's unpredictable, who's so full of grievance as this president is, it's very difficult for members of Congress to make moves because the president could tweet against them the next - you know, the next day. And Russia, the Russia investigation and the president's preoccupation with it is sucking all the oxygen out of the room. In fact, if I were a Republican in Congress, quite frankly, I'd want the president to start tweeting some more about tax reform or about what we're really going to do on health care and what - what efforts we will make on infrastructure to repair your roads and your bridges. That if he would - that if he would put more energy into his agenda in his tweets rather than his grievances against his own Justice Department, you know, it might work for members of Congress because at least he would be on message.
When he tweets late at night or early in the morning, he is not on any message other than fighting back. And, you know, that doesn't put members in a good place. It doesn't put people who work for him in a good place. And, quite frankly, it makes it more difficult for him to hire attorneys. And that's why you have Marc Kasowitz at the top of his legal defense team. But so far, nobody has stepped forward to join that team because they understand that their client would be quite difficult to deal with if he's tweeting all the time about his own case.
CABRERA: But, Mark Preston, doesn't his base just love these fighting words and love these tweets?
PRESTON: The do. Absolutely. And that's what, you know, he gets this fuel, this energy that propels him to do this, whether it's late at night or whether it's early in the morning.
But to Gloria's point, we're going to see Sean Spicer walk out there to the podium. He is going to, you know, say his piece. The problem with that is, is that no matter what he says, there's a chance that the president tomorrow, or this afternoon, or this evening, is going to contradict what his own staff is saying. And that's where there's an incredible amount of frustration on Capitol Hill, specifically among Republicans.
You know, Ana, if we go way back to November when he won - when he defeated Hillary Clinton, people said it's going to be a new Washington. He was going to be able to come here. He wasn't going to be partisan. He was going to be somebody who could work across the aisles. He was going to get things done.
Look where we are right now. He can't seem to get anything done because he can't seem to get out of his own way. He allows his own anger, his own animosity, really to become a road block towards trying to get some of the major things done, such as health care or infrastructure or tax reform.
CABRERA: And, in fact, we heard from Lindsey Graham that this health care thing may not even happen this year, according to Senator Graham, and we know that that needs to happen in order for some of the tax reform that's been proposed to happen. So there is a trickledown effect when we have this one piece that's holding up the rest of the - the puzzle from being completed.
Again, we are monitoring the White House press briefing expected to start at 2:00. They're now about a half an hour late. So we don't know what that's about. Sean Spicer expected to take the podium again, which is also interesting, right, Gloria, because he had been absent yesterday and is coming off a rather tough week last week where people are - were scrutinizing whether he should keep his job.
BORGER: Right. And, you know, that's - that's the parlor game that's sort of played every single day in Washington, which is, when is the president going to change his staff? Honestly, I've stopped, you know, trying to figure this out because at some point he will or he won't. And we know that he has complained to his friends privately about almost everyone who works for him at one time or another and Sean is among those and so is the chief of staff and so are other people. We know that the communications director just left and as Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the other day, Sean is now taking on some of - some of those responsibilities. [14:29:56] But it's - you know, we know that we have an unsettled and
despondent president, to a great degree, who is complaining about this Russia investigation and it seems to kind of - this kind of grievance informs everything - everything that he does.