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Sessions to Testify Before Senate Intel Committee; Trump Accuses Comey of 'Cowardly' Leaks; Maryland, D.C. Attorneys General Suing Trump. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired June 12, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When the attorney general's office has become a political office, that's bad for us all.
[05:57:16] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Jeff Sessions testify tomorrow?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Judiciary Committee has the oversight and it's very fitting for the attorney general to appear there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some on the committee are concerned that Sessions ay be trying to avoid testifying publicly.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks more like an inappropriate conversation than obstruction.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If there are tapes, he should make them public right away. No more game playing.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, June 12, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off today. John Berman joins me this morning.
Great to have you here.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to see you.
CAMEROTA: OK. So here's our starting line. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offering to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. The question is whether he will testify in open session in front of TV cameras.
Meanwhile, the White House trying to get back to the president's agenda, but President Trump continues to slam James Comey, calling him, quote, "cowardly" for leaking details of their conversations.
BERMAN: Republicans are urging the president to come clean on whether there are tapes of his conversations with James Comey. What's the game here? The president's private lawyer says he will address the issue within the next week.
And the first lady and the president's 11-year-old son are waking up in the White House this morning after moving in this weekend. Will Melania Trump have a calming influence on the president?
We have it all covered. Want to begin with CNN's Laura Jarrett, live in Washington. We have a lot to learn about the attorney general's testimony, Laura.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. The attorney general's agreement to appear before the Senate Intel Committee caught members by surprise over the weekend. And the big question is still unanswered. Will Sessions testify in public or behind closed doors or some combination of both?
Lawmakers had been clamoring for weeks to question Sessions on everything from the firing of FBI Director James Comey to any undisclosed contacts that Sessions might have had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Now, sources tell CNN that a number of senators are concerned that Sessions may be trying to avoid testifying in public by scrapping previously scheduled appearances in front of the Appropriations Committees on Tuesday. But members of the intel panel says, if Sessions does testify, they want to hear him respond directly to some of James Comey's revelations last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: The key things we've got to get, obviously, his side of the story related to Jim Comey. Some of the conversations that Jim Comey had with the president, where Jeff Sessions was a participant there, or at least was around to be able to get the rest of the story. Comey's statement to him, "I don't want to get time alone with the president again and that interaction, as well as these accusations that are flying out there about conversations that he might or might not have had with Russians prior to the election. So we want to be able to get his side of it and get all the facts out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: Now, the chairman of the Intel Committee hasn't actually said yet whether the hearing is going to go forward tomorrow. But Sessions is expected at the White House later this morning for a cabinet meeting, his first after days of deflection from the White House over the simple question of whether the president has confidence in his attorney general, John.
BERMAN: And not usually a hard question to answer. Laura Jarrett, thanks so much. President Trump can't seem to stay quiet about the Russia
investigation. The president slammed James Comey again, even retweeted about his chances of impeachment. So why is he doing this?
CNN's Jason Carroll live in Washington with more. No tweets yet this morning, as far as I can tell, Jason.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it's still early, isn't it, though, John? You know that "he said-he said" battle still very much under way. President Trump has offered to testify under oath about what -- about what he said or did not say to Comey.
All this as he continues to attack his former FBI director in the wake of last week's testimony.
CARROLL (voice-over): President Trump on the defensive, retweeting a TV news clip downplaying the chances of his impeachment just one day after lashing out at his former FBI director, James Comey. The president suggesting Comey acted illegally by leaking his notes about their conversations, calling the FBI veteran "cowardly."
TRUMP: No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker.
CARROLL: After Comey revealed, under oath, that he leaked the memos in hopes that it would lead to the appointment of the special prosecutor.
COMEY: I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.
CARROLL: Comey testifying that the president asked him to let the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn go, a charge President Trump flatly denies.
TRUMP: I didn't say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn't say that.
CARROLL: The president's son appearing to contradict his father's denial in a new TV interview.
DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: When he tells you to do something, guess what? There's no ambiguity in it. There's no, "Hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends. Hey, I hope this happens, but you've got to do your job." That's what he told Comey.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: When I've been reading the statements about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time, it felt a little bit like deja vu.
CARROLL: Fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara alleging Sunday that he also had uncomfortable interactions with the president before he was let go. BHARARA: He called me in December, essentially just to shoot the
breeze. It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship.
CARROLL: Bipartisan lawmakers now calling on the president to turn over tapes, if they exist, of his conversations with Comey almost one month after Trump tweeted they may exist.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't understand why the president just doesn't clear this matter up once and for all.
LANKFORD: That I hope there are recordings, for Jim Comey's sake, if that's out there. But I doubt that they're really there.
SCHUMER: If there aren't tapes, he should let that be known. No more game playing.
CARROLL: A number of Trump's team insisting that disclosure could happen soon.
JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: The president said he's going to address the issue of the tapes, the -- whether the tapes exist or not, next week.
GRAHAM: You're your own worst enemy here, Mr. President. Knock it off.
CARROLL: Senator Lindsey Graham encouraging the president to stop discussing the investigation.
GRAHAM: You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.
CARROLL: The president is now looking at another legal battle ahead. According to "The Washington Post," the attorney generals from Washington D.C. and Maryland will file a lawsuit today against President Trump, alleging he violated the Constitution by allowing his business, namely his hotel here in D.C., to accept payments and benefits from foreign governments. The lawsuit alleges Trump has broken his promise to separate himself from his business interests. The attorney generals plans to -- plan to reveal that lawsuit at a noontime presser today -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Jason. Thank you for setting all of that up for us.
Let's discuss it. We want to bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Drucker. And Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post." Great to see all of you.
David Drucker, why doesn't the Senate Intel Committee just do what they did with James Comey: Let Attorney General Sessions testify in open and closed session? DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they might. And I think
some of this might have to do with Jeff Sessions figuring out exactly what he wants to do or not. And it's so interesting, because Jeff Sessions fits the Trump pattern in this regard. It's not so much what we find out that he did and who he spoke to, who he didn't speak to, but the fact that things were not disclosed. And this is a pattern of things that probably were harmless; certainly, would have been characterized as the norm for a transition, or preparations for supporting a candidate that might end up president of the United States...
[06:05:12] CAMEROTA: So hold on a second. So it was the norm, you think, for members to meet with the Russian ambassador or other Russian officials, and the part that is eyebrow raising is that he then didn't disclose those?
DRUCKER: I think so. Now look, there's a disagreement about that. Russia is certainly a major adversary of the United States. I think the president, to his detriment politically, for all sorts of reasons, will not recognize that publicly. Even when he recognizes that he has trouble with a lot of our allies. But I think with a country as influential in the world as Russia and members on committees like armed services and intel, you often want to stay in touch with all sorts of people in Washington.
BERMAN: And Karoun, that just scratches the surface now of what I think these committees want to hear from Jeff Sessions, right? James Comey opened up a whole can of worms, several cans, in his testimony, No. 1. You know, what did Jeff Sessions, what did he think when the president asked him to leave that room that day?
No. 2, what was Jeff Sessions' reaction when the FBI director told him, "You know what? You need to keep me separate from the president."
You know, and No. 3, what's the extent, really, of his recusal? So many areas to go into here.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Certainly. He's another character now in this whole drama that's unfolding that many members of Congress want to hear from, one way or the other. Either because they feel like his account will, you know, corroborate things that Comey has said or because his account will help clear the president to some extent, because he does seem to have been in the room for, you know, up to the last minute, if not for these critical, fateful conversations. Certainly, he played a major role in the FBI director, former FBI director's dismissal ultimately, which is what made all of this -- cast all of this into the limelight and made this whole chapter his focus on the president's start.
But I just want to address one things that David was talking about a minute ago, which is just the connection and contact between members of the team and the Russian ambassador. While -- while as a top adviser to the president, I guess it makes some sense he would be in touch with foreign dignitaries. That's a role that makes a lot more sense for your future diplomat in chief, secretary of state. Not really so much for the attorney general.
Remember, when these first -- these meetings first came out that were, you know -- that he hadn't disclosed them, Sessions' opening excuse was, "Well, I did that in my contacts as a member of the Armed Services Committee." We went to every other member of the Armed Services Committee at that time, and nobody else had been doing it. This is a diplomatic function. Not really a military function or a legal function, which are his roles that he's filled.
CAMEROTA: John Avlon.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look. It's further -- the weirdness of this is further heightened by the fact that in October, Congress got an official intelligence report saying the Russians were meddling in the election.
So all this is against a back drop not only of Russia being a hostile power and not a typical kind of international outreach but the fact we knew they were playing a malevolent role in the election and still, contact continued. And so it raised the question, what were you talking about? This is someone -- you know, this is an international power you deserve to have your guard up against.
And then the failure to disclose. Not once, not twice, but apparently, three times. So this is -- this is serious, and it's not, of course, limited to Sessions.
DRUCKER: Talk about weirdness? How about the weirdness of the facts we still don't know if there are tapes in the White House?
AVLON: Thank you. That is incredibly weird. Historical -- look, if you don't have the president showing an adverse interest in studying American history, it would be blindingly obvious that history shows that having tapes in the Oval Office is a bad idea. Watergate was a problem for the executive branch.
And the fact they're playing footsie with this idea that there may be taping conversations in the White House, and nobody seems to be able to say definitively whether they are not, to the extent that now Dianne Feinstein is calling out for a subpoena to determine that to be the case, is incredibly weird. It's reckless. It's historically ignorant, and it's just -- it shows why there's such a credibility gap around this president. Ignorance or incompetence.
DRUCKER: And the tapes don't belong to the president of the United States.
AVLON: That's right.
DRUCKER: Since Watergate, the tapes are public property. And so I thought one of the most interesting moments of the hearing was when James Comey said, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes." Because if there are tapes, they will come out eventually, because they do not belong to the president. Even if he's the one that was responsible for installing and dealing with the apparatus to tape people. And whatever is on the tapes would become public, which is why I'm skeptical that it was anything more than a bluff.
BERMAN: I think the tapes belong to Snuffalupagus. I mean, I think the tapes live in fantasy land.
CAMEROTA: Can Congress subpoena something that they don't know exists.
DEMIRJIAN: That runs into interesting legal territory.
DEMIRJIAN: This has been the problem before when they've tried to issue these subpoenas that the lawyers are, "You are overbroad." And they won't fulfill it, and you have to specifically say, "I know something is there." Otherwise, you can plead the Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination. Again, self-incrimination.
I don't really know specifically what the legal fight will be down the line, although Congress certainly has tried to request these tapes. We haven't gotten to the point of subpoena yet. But there's been demands made. But again, if these tapes do not exist, it will not be the first time that the president has said that something has been going on that something -- something has been going on.
[06:10:04] It reminds me of the wiretapping, to a certain extent, you know? That there was -- that was many weeks we talked about, had the president been wiretapped? Turns out, no, he hadn't. It was Jim Comey that said, no, he hadn't, finally in open forum. Comey is not in his job anymore. So if they don't exist, who's going to be the person to call that out is an open question. Will it be the president himself when he eventually talks about it? If they do exist, yes, then we're heading, potentially, into interesting legal territory if the president will not actually, you know, say they exist.
BERMAN: There's a yes or no answer to the question. We should be able to hear it. It's either yes or no. I wish I had it right here.
CAMEROTA: You had it on your...
BERMAN: The other interesting thing that's happening is this sort of clearly, now, hostile posture that we're getting from the White House and also from acolytes from the White House right now towards this investigation and towards, even, the independent counsel here.
But let me first read you, you know, what Ari Fleischer says about this, former press secretary to George W. Bush. He says advice for POTUS. You have not been vindicated. You won't be unless Bob Mueller says so. Stop talking. You're heading into a giant perjury trap.
You know, John Avlon, it seems like, you know, sage advice from someone who's been in the middle of all this.
BERMAN: Be careful what you say and they keep on saying an awful lot. AVLON: Look, this president has impulse control problems. The chance
that he's not going to say something is virtually nil. He offered on Friday to go speak to Bob Mueller. Now, the fact that Ari Fleischer is pulling an Admiral Akbar and saying, "It's a trap," doesn't actually impact the White House's ability to contain the president. If they could, they would have done it a long time ago. But it's not wrong.
It raises the other specter, as well, which is the president's lawyer saying, "We'll see about the sanctity of the special counsel." There's larger constitutional problems here ahead. The president has already said in public, not that that it's ever stopped him from reversing before, he'd be delighted to testify.
BERMAN: Then there was a weird bread crumb where Jay Sekulow, who is allied with this White House wouldn't rule out firing Bob Mueller here here.
DRUCKER: Yes. And that's an outside counsel. That's not even coming from inside the Justice Department or the White House.
CAMEROTA: OK, panel...
DEMIRJIAN: Sorry. It's not just outside counsel. Rosenstein was asked about that last week at the Intelligence Committee, too, and he wouldn't commit to writing anything down saying Mueller could keep his job without interference.
CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.
BERMAN: All right. A new legal headache on top of all of this for the president. He's about to be sued for allegedly violating the Constitution. Will Special Counsel Robert Mueller look into that, as well? We'll discuss, next.
[06:16:05] BERMAN: Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara opening up about his interactions with President Trump, saying his own experiences mirrored those of James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BHARARA: So they're very unusual phone calls. And it's sort of -- what I've been reading, the stories about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time. Felt a little bit like deja vu.
It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship. It was a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation without the attorney general, without warning, between the president and me or any United States attorney, who has been asked to investigate various things.
BERMAN: Bharara was fired in March after refusing to resign with other Obama-era attorneys.
Want to bring in our panel, David Drucker, Jon Avlon, Karoun Demirjian.
You know, David Drucker, like everything else in this saga the last week, it probably cuts both ways. You have a very respected former U.S. attorney, maybe adding more legal weight to the argument that President Trump intervenes or meddles or makes contacts that perhaps are inappropriate. The people involved in investigations. You have that side of it. But on the other side, you have a guy, Preet Bharara, who's not completely apolitical.
DRUCKER: No. And Preet Bharara has been active here and there on Twitter. He's opined in a partisan-like fashion since his firing. Now, that doesn't make what he said in the interview on "This Week" any less true or less credible. But it can color a little bit how people interpret the things that he has to say.
Look, what's interesting and what he did speak to that I thought was very interesting about this president, is that it's not so much all of the time. Sometimes yes, but it's not so much what he does, but how he does it. Did he have the right to fire James Comey? Yes. We need an elected official accountable to the people that oversees law enforcement or they're just independent rogue, if you will, police operations.
But it's how he did it. It's the way he did it that did not inspire confidence in the American people for the reasoning and his management skills.
And if you understand how people are and high levels, levels of government, the way he humiliated James Comey, I think, is one of the reasons we are where we are today with what we know and the memos and the hearing that was just concluded.
And what Preet Bharara talked about was -- was unusual behavior on part of a president in dealing with certain parts of the government that has caused Trump more trouble than he seems to say that he wanted. And he would be better off if he operated in a more conventional fashion when it comes to this.
CAMEROTA: Well, good luck. Because I mean -- I mean, that's not what he...
DRUCKER: I try, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: I know. And I appreciate that, David. That's not what he ran on, and that's not what his voters like about him. And this is vintage Donald Trump.
Yes, Preet Bharara, Karoun, is right. He did want to cultivate a personal relationship with him. He does operate mano-a-mano. That's how he does things. And so those boundaries that are supposed to exist for presidents, those either -- either Donald Trump didn't know about or doesn't think are important for how he wants to operate. DEMIRJIAN: Or he just can't, you know, bring himself to take what is
a professional rebuff approach to -- it is what it is, which is that they can't actually have that sort of relationship with the president.
I mean, you've seen that the president seems to be -- when he fixates on something, he really fixates on it. And the frequency and the number of times that he was trying to ask the former FBI director about the Russia investigation, the extent to which he talks about it, whenever given an opportunity, sometimes contradicting the line that's been coming out from his own staff, even you know, in the days or weeks prior, is really remarkable.
And so, you know, that's total speculation to say that, you know, had something to do with why he would, you know, be react as strongly to maybe Comey and Bharara's rebuff of a sort of personal relationship conference, attempt to establish a personal relationship that they couldn't accept because of their jobs.
[06:20:06] But you're dealing with people in two totally different worlds that have to interact with each other, given what they're dealing with, given the fact that Donald Trump is our president.
AVLON: But if you're going to fixate over something here as president of the United States, fixate over North Korea; fixate over passing a legislative agenda. Don't fixate over these personal relationships that are themselves, when you try to make, you know, them personal rather than professional, raising real problems of conflict of interest for the individuals.
And in most cases, Preet Bharara and James Comey, you had two unusual things. First of all, president proactively telling them you're going to keep your job. Right? Both men having great reputations for independence, for competence in their positions. Preet, because of the southern district, very high-profile. Usual among USAs.
Then very suddenly, reversing that previous assurance for reasons that seem to be related to ongoing investigations. At least not proven to be so. Everything about that is odd and inappropriate. And here's where you really hope that somebody would subsume their personal instincts to the responsibility of the office. The inability to do that is a problem for the United States.
DRUCKER: And that's why this is so important, because during the election, we talked about during the campaign, this is Donald Trump being unconventional. It's part of the secret sauce. This activity and this behavior is actually hurting the agenda that he says he wants to pass.
But by the way, there's -- there's support out there in the country for the agenda, in and of itself. He is hurting it.
BERMAN: And now there's a special counsel. Everything is different when there's a special counsel.
I want to bring up the word "emoluments," because it is Monday, and I know you're all (UNINTELLIGIBLE). AVLON: Finally.
BERMAN: "The Washington Post" is reporting the attorneys general of Washington, D.C. and Maryland, are going to file a lawsuit against the White House, saying that the president hasn't sufficiently separated himself from his businesses, specifically the hotels that appear in these territories right now.
I am not a lawyer. Alisyn Camerota got further in law school than I did.
CAMEROTA: I took the LSATs.
BERMAN: But what's relevant, Karoun, here, is that, if these lawsuits go anywhere, it could mean that the president has got to open up some of his financial books, so of the books there, which could ultimately mean some taxes.
DEMIRJIAN: I'm sure that will be part of the discovery if this actually continues. D.C. and Maryland have said they have standing to bring the case. The fact that so much business is being directed in the direction of Trump's enterprises means that it's taking away from things in D.C. and their limited taxpayer-funded, like the convention center in D.C., for example. And so they're basically saying, "Look, this is a problem."
It's not just a problem because we've been talking about the fact that it might be a problem and constitutional violation, but it's a problem because it's actually resulting in things to the detriment of tax- paying citizens in our area, in D.C. and Maryland. So certainly, they are bringing this suit on the basis of the constitutional provision that is about the Emoluments Clause. And we will see, at this point, if they're filing it today. So the question is does it go anywhere? And if it does, yes, you cannot have a case like this proceed without actually getting into the meat of what is the profit and loss.
AVLON: Yes. And that is a big deal because of the discovery, because this is sort of -- this is basic. This is in the Constitution in terms of something that the founders laid out as being a fundamental problem.
Look, politics is perception. The Trump Organization, the president can say it's all completely innocent. But when foreign governments start directing a great deal of business to these private properties, it's because they're speaking the language that is generally spoken all over the world. Curry favor with the party or family in power. And so there's no way to recuse yourself from that kind of conflict, even if you want to.
CAMEROTA: OK. Last topic, so many of the president's critics were wrong. It now shows, and they predicted that first lady Melania would never move to the White House, that she didn't want to move to the White House. Here she is, moving with their youngest son, Barron, to the White House. What difference do we think this will make? What effect do we think this will have on President Trump? DRUCKER: Well, I wonder, because during the campaign, President
Trump, then-candidate Trump, flew home to Trump Tower every single day, and he was still as unconventional and as ornery as ever.
But if you were to believe the story about the foreign trip, that he tweeted less because Melania was with him, then I suppose you can believe that somehow this is going to make a difference in how the president behaves, but I wouldn't bet much money.
BERMAN: Yes, one of the words in Axios writes this morning is that he's in political isolation. If you believe that somehow the president is isolated, maybe this makes him less isolated.
CAMEROTA: Definitely. Definitely. If you believe the stories that he's, you know, by himself often, in the -- you know, watching TV at night in the White House, then this will absolutely change the situation.
AVLON: Yes. And history does show if presidents are less personally isolated, you know, and their wives are with them, it has a steadying influence. So I think that's the hope here. And shout-out to Barron's T-shirt.
BERMAN: Only admitting what we all know is true, that the kids in the houses are the experts.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.
All right. We need to tell you about story. U.S. troops are in harm's way in Somalia and the Philippines and Afghanistan.
[06:25:06] The war on terror seems to be escalating under President Trump. So what is his strategy? We take a closer look at that next.
CAMEROTA: U.S.-backed Syrian forces launching a fresh round of air strikes seizing parts of Raqqah. And the U.S. military is conducting its first offensive strike against Somalia, targeting terrorists under new powers granted by President Trump.
CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more. What's the latest, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
The battlefield expanding in several areas. U.S. troops at risk. In Somalia this weekend, we saw that first round of airstrikes against the al Qaeda affiliate there under new rules by President Trump. The al Qaeda affiliate now has heavy weapons and armored vehicles. So the U.S. moving against it.
In Syria, not just the battle for Raqqah which U.S. troops will be involved in as military advisers, at risk there.