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Paris Attack; U.S. Strikes Pro-Syrian Regime Forces; Comey Set to Testify. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 6, 2017 - 15:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Are they official statements?

Here is how Sean Spicer answered that question.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.

QUESTION: That's his preferred method of communication with the American people.

CONWAY: That's not true.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Of course it is.

GORKA: It's social media, Chris. It's social media.

CUOMO: It's not social media. It's his words, his thoughts.

GORKA: It's not policy. It's not an executive order. It's social media. Please understand the difference.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is the most effective messenger on his agenda. And I think his use of social media, he now has a collective total of close to 110 million people across different platforms, gives him an opportunity to speak straight to the American people, which has proved to be a very, very effective tool.

QUESTION: Using it and using it wisely can be two different things.

SPICER: Right. And I think the same people who are critiquing his use of it now critiqued it during the election, and it turned out pretty well for him now.


CABRERA: And then he was asked straight up, are those official White House statements?

And let me just read you the quote. He said: "The president is the president of the United States. So they're considered official statements of the president of the United States."

Mark Preston, this is a complete reversal from what we heard yesterday from his other aides.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I don't even understand why this is a discussion, the fact that President Trump can put out a tweet and it's not considered official.

It's directly from the president. If anything, it's unfiltered, and it really does provide us a greater insight into his thinking and why he actually makes decisions.

When you see Sebastian Gorka on our air -- you saw Kellyanne Conway there another network -- trying to explain it away, it just shows that they were backed into a corner. And, again, President Trump has put his aides in an untenable position, to go out and to defend the indefensible.

And when I say that, it's because President Trump has shown that he has no filter. And as we just saw from his spokesperson right there from the lectern, acknowledging it, we should just freeze-frame that quote and play it over and over and over again, because the fact of the matter is, he's the president of the United States. Whenever he says something, it matters.

CABRERA: Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post," here with us.

I'm looking at a page full of Trump tweets just in the last 24 hours. You guys can't see it, but there are literally more than a dozen tweets.

Here are some of those tweets, going after his own Justice Department, Philip. And now we hear at this press briefing, when asked, does he have confidence in his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer can't answer that question, saying he hasn't had a conversation with the president about it.

PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it's one of many things that Trump's aides are not able to answer.

We went through last week several days where aides were asked, does the president still believe climate change is a hoax? And we were told that they haven't a chance to have that conversation with the president.

But the tweeting issue that you're raising here is important. It's way that the president vents. He lets out frustrations. He speaks his truth, whatever that may be. And we can expect I think he's going to try to do some of that on Thursday even to counterpunch the Comey testimony. Sabrina Siddiqui, do you read into that answer, that nonanswer, on whether he has confidence in Jeff Sessions as meaning something more than just what he said?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it's remarkable that the White House press secretary is incapable of simply stating whether or not the president is confident in his own attorney general.

And I think this speaks to the broader issue that this White House has faced, which is a lack of communication often between top aides and the president, as well as their inability to keep up with the many distractions that he brings upon himself.

And just a note on the discussion around the tweets, one could argue that the tweets are more official statements than those statements that are put out by the White House press shop, because the tweets are Trump's own unfiltered thoughts. And the tweets are the ones that have drawn him into these self-inflicted wounds certainly with respect to the escalation of the probe into Russian interference.

So, I don't think the White House has many good answers when they -- when Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders get behind that podium, because it's proven to be fundamentally challenging to speak on behalf of this president. Only he speaks on behalf of himself.

CABRERA: And, remember, the last time James Comey took the stand to testify, that huge bombshell testimony that happened in March, Trump was tweeting throughout that testimony.

Mark Preston, when today Sean Spicer was asked what is President Trump going to be doing on Thursday when James Comey is testifying once again, he said he had a very full day packed with speeches and every day is a busy day and he will be working on getting his agenda passed. Do you buy it?

PRESTON: No, because he couldn't given an answer.

And I don't fault Sean Spicer for that. I fault the president for that, because it's obviously been floated. It's been floated out through "The Washington Post" through one of Phil's colleagues that, in fact, he may be tweeting during the hearing.

Now, if you're his lawyer, if you're President Trump's lawyer, you ought to be saying to yourself, will you please stop? Like, you have got to stop doing this, because you're making our job harder.


But when you put your spokesperson out there to answer that question and he can't answer the question because he quite frankly -- nobody can answer that question, except President Trump.

And, quite frankly, he might not be able to answer that until he's actually in the moment. But I do think he did answer a question by not answering a question. And that was about Jeff Sessions. When he said, I have not had a discussion with the president about that, that says something, because they know that this was going to be a major issue today.

And, sometimes, when you don't want to give an answer, you don't actually go to the president and ask him for an answer, or he knows what that answer is going to be, and he's just trying to get past this latest dark cloud right now that Donald Trump has put over one of his top aides.

CABRERA: Margaret Talev, White House correspondent for Bloomberg, I want to bring you in here.

You were in that Briefing Room just a few minutes ago. What stood out to you?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: The White House is really preserving its space and ability to explain why the president does what the president decides he's going to do when it comes to Thursday.

One of the big unanswered questions is, will he or won't he tweet and what will he tweet about? And we heard Sean Spicer, as well as other administration officials sort of throughout the day, saying, look, ultimately, the president speaks for himself.

They have attempted to pack Thursday, the big day, full of these major events that deal with infrastructure, that deal with religious voters to sort of try to keep the narrative at the White House's direction. But the bottom line is that the White House doesn't exactly know how the president is going to handle himself on Thursday and they are trying to preserve his lane to do that.

CABRERA: And now we're learning -- speaking of Thursday, this came in also during the press briefing.

Senator John McCain, he's not a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he has been invited to be one of the senators to question James Comey during this committee hearing, again, in front of the Senate Intel Committee. We know Senator McCain is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Phil, what do you make of this?

RUCKER: Well, that's very interesting. I have not seen that news.

But assuming that that is true, it would be an interesting development for the hearing. I think John McCain is a real independent in the Senate. He's not somebody who is going to likely get up there and parrot a bunch of talking points that the White House has given him for questions to ask Comey.

I think he's going to want to ask independent questions and get to the heart of the question here and really find out what the president told Comey, when, and what all of those details and ramifications are.

CABRERA: Sabrina, what is your take on John McCain now becoming part of the testimony hearing?

SIDDIQUI: Well, it's certainly an interesting development, as Philip points out. I do think that Senator McCain has been one of the more vocal critics of Russia, and also really escalated concerns over the extent to which Russia was able to interfere in the U.S. election.

I think, talking to some lawmakers today on Capitol Hill, I got the sense that they really view Thursday's hearing as a clarifying moment, given the events of the last few weeks following Comey's dismissal.

They really want a clear understanding of what exactly transpired in these conversations between the president and Jim Comey. Did he get the sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice? I think Comey will of course focus more on facts, rather than offer his opinion.

I expect him to be very cautious and simply give an accounting of whether or not Trump asked him to drop the investigation. Where Capitol Hill, where members of Congress go from there is an open-ended question.

Certainly, if Comey says he did walk away with the understanding that Trump was trying to interfere with the investigation, then that will of course call for subsequent hearings and you could fully well expect that Democrats will raise at least the impeachment word.

CABRERA: And we know the memos from James Comey are likely to come up during this testimony, and yet, Mark Preston, we are not going to have the memos before Congress, it sounds like, before the hearing.


But we will certainly know what he wrote in the memos. And whatever he says during this public testimony has got to match what he has written in the memos, because, of course, that will come back to bite him.

But this is somebody who understands -- and when I say that, I mean James Comey -- that when you take a meeting like this, it's extremely important that you keep they diligent notes just in case it were to come to this situation.

Well, guess what? It appears that it has come to this situation. So, it really will be a he said vs. he said moment on Thursday, in the sense that you will hear James Comey very likely give his account of what happened. And then we could see President Trump come out on Twitter and rebut that.

Now, if that's the case, to the point what was said earlier, this is not a one-hearing day. This is going to lead into multiple hearings. And there will also be questions to James Comey, why didn't you say this earlier? Why did you wait until now?

CABRERA: Right, and you know especially Republicans.


PRESTON: Correct. Correct, and even some Democrats, for that matter. Why didn't you bring this up? CABRERA: All right.

Mark Preston, Philip Rucker, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Margaret Talev, thank you all.


We have some breaking news I want to get right now out of Syria. We're learning the U.S.-led coalition has struck pro-Syrian regime forces.

Let's bring in Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara, what are you learning?


This is an airstrike very much worth watching. It was done in specifics to protect U.S. troops on the ground in Southern Syria. This is an area where the Pentagon is calling them pro-regime forces, but behind the scenes, these are Iranian-backed militias in Southern Syria that had been on the move towards an area where U.S. forces had been operating.

They had been warned several times to keep their distance, to steer clear. The warnings were specific and multiple. But, apparently, earlier today, they began to move closer in and the U.S. moved against them conducting airstrikes.

There were about 60 of these militia forces, the U.S. striking some anti-artillery pieces, a tank and some other anti-aircraft weapons that these troops had on the ground in this area of Southern Syria. It is also believed that there are potentially Russian-backed forces nearby.

So, what this is telling us, this area of Eastern Syria is becoming a very complex battle space. You have a lot of different troops on the ground with different loyalties, some to the regime, some to Iran, some potentially to Russia.

And U.S. troops operating there are trying to train and advise some of the opposition forces that they are backing. That is why the U.S. moved against these forces today. They got too close to the U.S. forces. They had been warned to back off.

And this is the second time they have actually been struck by the U.S. Last month, there was an initial airstrike and that really led to this effort to warn them to stay away, but, apparently today, they move forward and the U.S. moved against them -- Ana.

CABRERA: But, again, also close to some of those Russian forces in the area. This could become a greater situation, a developing story at this hour.

Barbara Starr, thanks for that reporting.

STARR: Sure.

CABRERA: Up next here in the NEWSROOM, some more breaking news, this time out of Paris, what we're learning about an attack that happened at the not Notre Dame Cathedral, what a man allegedly yelled before attacking a police officer with a hammer.

And we're back with that in a moment.



CABRERA: In Paris, police are investigating an attack outside one of the city's most popular tourist sites.

Police shot a man who was apparently yelling, "This is for Syria" as he attacked an officer with a hammer.

American Kyle Riches was outside Notre Dame Cathedral when this all unfolded when he heard gunfire. He tells us what he saw.


KYLE RICHES, WITNESS: We were walking in the Notre Dame Plaza.

My wife and were trying to get back on our tour bus. And then we just heard two gunshots. And so we grabbed each other and ran.

And then I shot some video probably about 30 feet from where I actually was, where we just saw probably five police -- French police officers surrounding a guy on the ground. All we saw was blood on his leg, so they shot him. I don't know exactly if anything (INAUDIBLE) before that. All we've read now is that I guess he was attacking someone with a hammer and they shot him.


CABRERA: I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann live for us in Paris.

Jim, this happened just a few hours ago. What are you learning about the attacker?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some pretty strange things, actually, Ana.

He was carrying an I.D. card that indicated he was an Algerian student, but, according to police, at least police sources, he was 40 years old. So that doesn't quite square.

He was apparently on a mission, some kind of a fundamentalist Islamic mission, with this cry of "This is for Syria," which immediately led the prosecutors here to open a terrorism investigation, branding this as a terrorist incident.

The police officer who was hit was a 22-year-old young police officer, only just starting with the police department. He was with two other police officers on patrol around Notre Dame. And the idea was that they were supposed to provide the assurances that were needed for all the tourists that are there on a day like today.

And, in fact, they became the target themselves. Another police officer pulled out his handgun and shot the attacker twice and hitting him once in the thorax. And he's in a hospital tonight, but police think he will survive and they will be able to interrogate him a little further onto what exactly was behind his actions and if he had any accomplices -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Jim Bittermann, thank you.

Meantime, in London, police are searching for a French national who they believe was a victim of Saturday's terror attack at London Bridge; 45-year-old Xavier Thomas' girlfriend is fighting for her life after being struck by the van that plowed through the crowd.

And now their family fears Xavier may have been thrown into the river. Three other people are still missing. The sister of one of the confirmed killed, James McMullan, just spoke to reporters. Listen.


MELISSA MCMULLAN, SISTER OF VICTIM: While our pain will never diminish, it's important for us to all carry on with our lives, in direct opposition to those who would try to destroy us, and remember their hatred is the refuge of small-minded individuals and will only breed more.

This is not a course we will follow, despite our loss.


CABRERA: So heartbreaking.

As for the investigation, sources are telling us now that British authorities believe the alleged ringleader was one of the most dangerous extremists in the U.K. But they did not find any evidence he was actually plotting an attack before this all unfolded.

Now, a British police spokesperson has identified the third attacker. They say he was placed on the Italian police watch list after being suspected of attempting to travel to Syria and having extremist material on his phone.


Joining us now, Alexander Marquardt, CNN senior national correspondent.

Alex, what can you tell us Now, about this third person they have identified?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. Well, his name is Youssef Zaghba. He's a 22-year-old Italian of Moroccan origin. You're absolutely right. He was on an Italian terror watch list after last year. He tried to fly from Bologna, where he was living, to Istanbul, Turkey.

That's been a major gateway for people going to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, he was intercepted at the airport by the authorities. They found what they called extremist materials on his phone.

He was not arrested. That is not a cause for arrest in Italy. But he was placed on that terror watch list. He then made his way to England. And it's unclear what, if anything, the Italian authorities told the British authorities.

We do know from the British side that he was not a person of interest. The only person who was really on the radar of the British authorities among these three attackers was Khuram Butt, the 27-year-old British national of Pakistani origin.

He had been investigated in 2015 because of his affiliation with a pro-ISIS group. He had even been featured in a documentary called "The Jihadis Next Door." But there was no evidence that he was going to carry out an attack, so, that investigation was lowered. It was diminished. He no longer became a person of priority.

Of course, the question now is what could have been done to prevent this attack. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that, like after the Manchester attack, she expects a review from the domestic intelligence services, MI5, to see what could have happened, what happened, what could have done better, and what be done going forward -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Alex Marquardt from London, thank you.

Up next here in the NEWSROOM: The woman accused of leaking classified NSA documents once called President Trump an orange fascist on Twitter -- what we're learning about reality winner and the information she allegedly made public.


CABRERA: Some breaking news.

The president is meeting right now with congress members, of course, those in the House, as well as the Senate, the GOP. Let's listen in.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... this afternoon with the Republican leadership, House and Senate, including Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell, leader McCarthy, Senator Cornyn, Representative Scalise.

Thank you all for being here. I greatly appreciate it.

In just a short time, the election, since the election, we have achieved incredible gains for the American people. We have already added more than one million new jobs, and it's going up very fast. You see the new reports coming out. Going up very, very fast.

And approved a historic increase in military spending. We have increased the stock market values and values of corporations on the public markets by $3.4 trillion since November 8. I have signed 36 bills into law and repealed one job-crushing regulation after another.

In fact, the House and Senate have sent a record number of resolutions that eliminate regulations to my desk for signature, saving our economy many billions of dollars annually, and, in fact, based on the numbers we just got, the actual number is approximately $18 billion we saved annually with all of the bills that I have signed.


So, that's a great job, great job, Mitch and everybody, Paul.

Together, we will fight for promised measures on the border and we have fought very successfully. We have tough policies to keep deadly drugs and the vicious gangs out of the country. MS-13 is being taken care of at a very, very rapid clip by General, now Secretary Kelly, has done an incredible job, really incredible job.

And we are down reduction on, people pouring through our border down 78 percent as of now, 78 percent. It to be, if you got down 1 percent, it was a good job. We are down 78 percent. That's before we have the wall. The wall will be a great help and that will happen, believe me.

My administration is also working with Congress to rebuild our infrastructure. We will be discussing that at great -- in great depth next week with Gary Cohn and with Steve Mnuchin and with Mike Pence and everybody else working on it, and to pass a massive tax cut, which will be the biggest in our country's history if it's passed the way we would like to have it passed.

It will be the biggest tax cut in our country's history and it will spur business like never before. At the core of this agenda is repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare. Average Obamacare premiums have more than doubled from 2013 to 2017, including an increase of 203 percent in Alaska. Wow. That's a new one. I always use Arizona at 116. I got stuck at 116.

Now we are at 203. That's pretty big, 123 in Louisiana. These are the new numbers, folks. I think, after a year of talking about 116 percent in Arizona, you will be happy to hear we have some new numbers. And 176 percent in North Carolina, a great state.

Insurance carriers are fleeing and leaving many Americans with only one insurer or even no insurers to choose from, and that's been happening now in numerous states. And just this afternoon, we learned the last statewide insurer in the great state of Ohio is leaving. So they don't have any insurers.

That means another 20 counties in the state of Ohio will have no health care plan. If Congress doesn't act to save Americans from this Democrat-inflicted catastrophe, next year is only get to get worse, going to get a lot worse, although I don't know how it can get worse than 203 percent, but I'm sure the Democrats will find a way.

Almost every major insurer has already pulled out for 2018. The House took an important first step to rescue Americans from this calamity when, Paul, you and your group and Steve and everybody passed the American Health Care Act. And that was a very, very long and difficult negotiation.

And it really gives a great print and a great concept to Mitch. And now the Senate, I'm sure, will follow suit and get a bill across the finish line this summer that will be great health care for Americans. And I'm looking forward to seeing it, so looking forward to seeing it.

So, we are working very hard on massive tax cuts and we're working very, very hard on the health care. And I think we're going to have some very pleasant surprises for a lot of people.

So, I would like to thank the leadership for being with us. Mike Pence, you have been great. And I appreciate you being here. Steve, great. I appreciate everybody.

Jared. Jared has actually become much more famous than me.


TRUMP: I'm a little bit upset about that.

So, I want to thank everybody very much for being here. And let's get to work. We're going to get to work and get it done. Thank you all very much.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what message do you have for Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?

TRUMP: I wish him luck.

Thank you, everybody. Thank you all very much.

CABRERA: All right.

Let's bring in Jim Acosta. He is standing by at the White House.

Jim, we just heard there at the end, a reporter fired off a quick question unrelated to the agenda and the things he wanted to talk about, asking, what does he have to say ahead of the Comey testimony tomorrow or on Thursday? And he says, "I wish him luck."


And if you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you. No, that's what you heard the president there say in that meeting with congressional leaders, Republican congressional leaders. They're talking about health care.

Another interesting moment happened there towards the end, Ana. I don't know if you noticed that, but at one point, he refers to -- the president refers to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been in the headlines lately, and says that, "He's become more famous than me, and I'm a little upset at that," the president ribbing his son-in-law a little bit there in the Roosevelt Room