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U.S.-Backed Syrian Forces Advance In Raqqa; Three U.S. Soldiers Killed In Joint U.S.-Afghan Military Operation; Comey: I Leaked Memos In Hopes Of A Special Counsel; Fired U.S. Attorney Opens Up About Interactions With Trump; Trump: "100 Percent" Willing To Answer Questions Under Oath; Jeff Sessions To Testify Before Senate Intel Panel. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 12, 2017 - 06:30   ET



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: -- Syria, not just the battle for Raqqa which U.S. troops will be involved in as military advisers at risk there. But in Southern Syria, there have been a number of air strikes against Iranian-backed militias and regime- backed militias by the U.S. because they moved in in a threatening position. That is a significant threat to the U.S. troops down in Southern Syria. The U.S. moved to take them out.

In the Philippines, not very well known and not much information about it. U.S. Special Forces also stepping in the Southern Philippines at the request of President Duterte there to move against ISIS forces there and providing intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.

In Afghanistan, three U.S. troops killed over the weekend in a so- called insider attack by an Afghan soldier. But they are in an area where they, too, U.S. forces battling ISIS in Eastern Afghanistan. Will any of this be enough to push ISIS over the brink to end that group? Probably not -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. A lot of activity around the world.

All right, intense oppressive words to describe not just Alisyn Camerota, but the record-breaking heat in the Midwest and Northern U.S.? How long will it stick around? CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers with the forecast. Hey, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, at least 15 new record highs today, forecast by weather service offices across the country. Now it doesn't typically happen, forecast record highs across the country because it doesn't happen all that much.

But this forecast is brought to you by Xyzal. The allergy medicine for continuous 24-hour allergy relief and the pollen is flying and so is the humidity.

The highs today will be in the middle 90s after starting out in the 70s and 80s in some spots. We will reach a record high in New York of 95. The old record of 93. We will break that easily later on this afternoon.

But how long does it last? We do get a little break on Wednesday and Thursday for the extreme northeast in New England, but the rest of the country stays oppressively hot. Look at that, 96 in St. Louis on Tuesday. That is 13 degrees warmer than it will be in Orlando -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Wow! That's intense. I've worn a dress to match.

BERMAN: And oppressive.

CAMEROTA: You could have gone with hot.

BERMAN: I think we are trying to move away from that in cable news.

CAMEROTA: President Trump tangling with James Comey, accusing the former FBI director of doing something illegal by leaking details of their conversations. We discuss this with former FBI officials. What do they think next?



BERMAN: All right. The world's biggest case of he said-he said. The question is who is more credible? President Trump or fired FBI Director James Comey? The president strongly denies Comey's claims that he asked him to drop the Flynn investigation.

The president tweeted this yesterday about Comey's memos. He said, "I believe that James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very cowardly!"

Let's bring in former special FBI agent and associate dean at Yale Law School, Professor Asha Rangappa, and CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent, James Gagliagno.

Asha, I want to start with you here on the issue of at least clearly the White House and his private attorney they think that they have an argument here that James Comey is somehow tainted by the fact that he orchestrated the leak of this information about their meetings through his friend at Columbia Law School. Do you think James Comey ceded any kind of moral high ground here?

ASHA RANGAPPA, ASSOCIATE DEAN AT YALE LAW SCHOOL: I don't think so. He didn't follow normal Department of Justice protocols, but we can't expect him to follow those protocols in the situation that was created by the fact that no one was following the right protocols.

So he is in a situation where he can't give these memos to the leadership at the Department of Justice because he believes that he was fired under a pre-text by them and that they are compromised.

He could have turned around and given these memos to the committees in Congress, but these committees have so much in-fighting that they look like an episode of the "Real Housewives of D.C." instead of bipartisan committee.

So if he really wants this to get out into the public, I think that he was left in his mind with having to do it through a third party. As a private citizen, he could do that. It is not illegal what he did. There was nothing privileged or classified. So I don't think that the White House really has a claim here.

BERMAN: It won't stop them necessarily from using it, though, to try to maybe fire up his base, but that may be a separate subject. James Gagliano, I want to bring up Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney of the southern district here in New York, who was fired by the president along with every other U.S. attorney, who was in the hearing room when James Comey was testifying.

He did his first interview since he was fired over the weekend and he had some interesting things to say about his own conversations with the president. Listen to what he said.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: They are very unusual phone calls. What I have been reading the stories about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time. It felt like deja vu. It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship. It is a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation without the attorney general and without warning between the president and me or any United States attorney who has been asked to investigate various things.


BERMAN: James, you have unique perspective of this. Preet Bharara is someone you know. You worked with, have a huge amount of respect for, analyze this case on the merits and then the fact that he made it.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure, John. And as you pointed out, I'm conflicted here because it is impossible for me to be unbiased and partial. I have great respect for Mr. Bharara. Of all the United States attorneys in the eastern district and southern district that I worked under during a 25-year FBI career, he was by far the best attorney and the best leader.

Here is where I take issue with this. I know that Mr. Bharara makes the argument that there is, you know, (inaudible) that, you know, this is an obstruction of justice case. People like Alan Dershowitz argue the exact opposite of this.

I think in this instance it just comes across as being partisan.

[06:40:03]And I'll say it in this regard because when you have private conversations with either a president-elect or the president himself, Preet Bharara is one of 93 U.S. attorneys that serve at the pleasure of the president.

Every incoming administration, the president has the right to fire or let go of those U.S. attorneys. In this instance, you are supposed to. It is protocol to submit or tender a letter of resignation.

Whatever happened in that first meeting at Trump Tower, Mr. Bharara felt that he had been given a promise that he was going to stay on. That obviously changed and then to discuss those private conversations, I just feel like it is unseemly.

BERMAN: Bharara thought it was unseemly too. The fact that they happened, he thought it was unseemly. His point was that he didn't have those type of (inaudible) conversations with President Obama. It will be interesting to know whether any other U.S. attorneys have had those types of conversations.

Asha, I want to get you on another aspect of the investigation right now, which is that President Trump said 100 percent he would testify.

Now you've worked as investigator before. I have to believe that would be music to your ears. Hearing someone who may be involved in the case one way or the other say a 100 percent I will come testify under oath.

Good for an investigation, maybe not good for the person who makes that claim. I was talking to Alan Dershowitz Friday night who told me that President Trump would be crazy to testify under oath.

RANGAPPA: Right. If he testifies under oath, then he is really potentially exposing himself to other crimes. I mean, he could, if he testifies completely truthfully then he will be fine. But we obviously have a situation where there are two diametrically opposed versions of events.

So someone isn't telling the truth, and if it ends up not -- if it ends up being the president, that opens him up to charges of perjury, and as you know, that was the basis upon which President Clinton was impeached in the House.

So I think it is a very, very dangerous strategy if he is not absolutely sure and his lawyers in particular are not absolutely sure that everything that he will say will be completely truthful.

BERMAN: We don't know if his lawyers were apprised of that strategy beforehand. James Gagliano, you know, what we won't be talking about had James Comey not been fired, any of this practically right now. One of the ironies here is had he been allowed to stay on as FBI director, all the conversations I imagine would be privileged and covered by executive privilege. And we don't know that we would have ever found out any of the contents of the conversations at all anyway.

GAGLIANO: Sure, John. I've been pretty vocal in this. I'm a huge fan of Director Comey. He is an honorable and decent man. I'll push back on Asha, I do believe he seeded the moral high ground to the White House. As impossible as that may seem, I think part of that was the admission of the leak.

And then John, if you go back, there were two more instances where there was a push back and stories were leaked to the "New York Times" and they were attributed to, quote/unquote, "Comey associates or senior officials."

The first was the loyalty pledge and the Flynn conversation in the oval office, and the third one was back in March when Director Comey was apparently very much inflamed and infuriated over the fact that President Trump was tweeting about illegal wiretapping of Trump Tower.

BERMAN: Saying that he wanted to go to the Justice Department. All right, James and Asha, a lot to discuss. More coming. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: All right, listen up, John. The Stanley Cup is staying in Pittsburgh. This will be relevant to you. The Penguins winning their second straight title. Details on how they did it and why this is so vitally important to John Berman in the "Bleacher Report."



BERMAN: Listen up, Alisyn. The Stanley Cup going back to Pittsburgh. The Penguins back-to-back champs after a thriller in Nashville. Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Millions of people tuning in to watch last night's game. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins just too much for the National Predators. But you got to give credit to the city of Nashville.

Check this out, a sea of humanity in the streets of Nashville. An estimated 50,000 people just to watch it on the big screen outside the arena. Packing the Broadway and country star Luke Bryan, even played a rooftop concert.

Inside, atmosphere just as electric, Faith Hill singing the national anthem. Her husband, Tim McGraw waving the towels to get the crowds hyped. That is almost as cool as Brad Paisley waving the catfish.

The former Nashville Predator and fan favorite, Patrick Borne Quist, who was traded to Pittsburgh three years ago would score the tie breaking goal with just about 95 seconds to go. The Penguins win 2-0. Sidney Crosby hoisting Lord Stanley Cup trophy for Pittsburgh.

The NHL's first back-to-back champs in 19 years and Crosby named Stanley Cup playoffs MVP for the second straight year. No word yet on parade, Alisyn. Likely to be later this week. Last year, they had nearly 400,000 people in the streets to celebrate their win.

CAMEROTA: Coy, you did the impossible. You actually made me care about that story.

WIRE: It was the catfish, right?

CAMEROTA: Well, I like the catfish. Anytime you can inject food into sports. All of the excitement. I get it.

BERMAN: You are privy with excitement. CAMEROTA: This is your favorite sport like why are we still focused on this?

BERMAN: It was the finals. I love sport and competition.

CAMEROTA: Got it. Winter sports.

BERMAN: In June.

CAMEROTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions offers to testify before the Senate Intel Committee instead of congressional budget hearings. What's behind that strategy? Why does it seemed to be confusing the senators? One Democratic senator joins us with a game plan next.




SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I believe that the Judiciary Committee has the oversight responsibility for the Justice Department. Therefore, it is very fitting for the attorney general to appear there.


CAMEROTA: OK, that was Senator Dianne Feinstein saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should go before the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, he is offering to go in front of a Senate Intel Committee tomorrow. What is going on here?

Joining us is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Maryland. He serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. That was where Attorney General Sessions was supposed to be testifying tomorrow. Good morning, Senator.


CAMEROTA: So what is the issue here? That there's a debate with where Sessions should be testifying? Judiciary, Senate Intel or your Appropriations Committee?

COONS: Well, the attorney general comes in front of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that is responsible for judiciary every single year. That is part of our regular oversight responsibilities and I think the attorney general should make his appearance this year and shouldn't dodge this opportunity --

CAMEROTA: Is there a question? Sorry to interrupt. But is there a question as to whether or not he will appear before your subcommittee?

[06:55:04]COONS: Yes. He has declined for months to appear in front of the Judiciary Committee. As of this weekend, he is now seeking to testify in front of Intel as you suggested in the opening. That may well be because he is trying to have his testimony be shielded from the American people.

I don't think that's appropriate, Alisyn. I don't think on an issue as important as whether or not the attorney general is acting outside the scope of his recusal, whether he misled our committee, the Judiciary Committee, about a third meeting with the Russian ambassador.

That shouldn't be held in secret. Alisyn, the other thing that shouldn't be going on in secret is the process by which the Republicans are crafting a repeal of Obamacare. There have been no hearings. There's been no public discussion about it.

And by some news reports over the weekend, we may be days or weeks away from the Republicans moving directly to the floor. A significant bill that would affect tens of millions of Americans, give big tax cuts and cut back on health care and defund Planned Parenthood without a single public hearing. That is also wrong.

CAMEROTA: OK, and I do want to get to that particularly since that is something that concerns so many Americans and that some people think all of this Russia cloud is eclipsing. But give me one more second on Jeff Sessions. Why not just follow the James Comey model? Why not just have Jeff Sessions go in front of Senate Intel in both an open and closed hearing? Is that the answer?

COONS: Well, that's a good first step and that is a good way for the same senators who ask questions of former FBI Director Comey to be able to ask follow-up questions of Attorney General Sessions. I agree with Senator Feinstein. The Judiciary Committee has the oversight responsibility for the Department of Justice. It is the Judiciary Committee that has more former prosecutors and lawyers on it. More folks familiar with what happens in the Justice Department than any other committee in the Senate.

CAMEROTA: OK, very quickly, did you hear something from James Comey that for you rose to the level of obstruction of justice?

COONS: I think he has laid out the core elements of an obstruction of justice charge. It is a difficult case to make. I think a lot more investigation would have to be done. But if you just took FBI Director Jim Comey's testimony on its face, he certainly spoke to intent and motivation and to substantive action by the president to try an impede an ongoing federal investigation when he directed FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Flynn.

CUOMO: OK, on to health care, what do you mean your Republican colleagues are doing this in secret? I mean, there is no bipartisan effort to try to fix Obamacare?

COONS: None. Alisyn, all the Democrats in the Senate sent a letter to the Republican caucus saying we recognize that there are flaws and challenges with the Affordable Care Act. Stop your efforts to repeal all of the Affordable Care Act on a partisan basis and please work across the aisle with us.

We can find a way to move forward and to get a better health care system for all Americans. The response has been a whole series of closed-door meetings with virtually no outreach to Democrats by the Republican leadership.

CAMEROTA: So is it your understanding that your Republican colleagues will be presenting their version of the Obamacare replacement soon in the next couple of weeks?

COONS: They are certainly trying. They have a shrinking window. They will use a vehicle to do this called reconciliation that allows them to do it by 51 votes, 50 votes plus the vice president. In order to do that, they are pursuing a path that would be Republican only.

They are finding it very hard to get to 50 votes in the Republican caucus in the Senate because some of the far right wants to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act. The things that fund it and consumer protection provisions and ways it helped 24 million Americans get access to health care and improved the quality of the health care that more than 150 million Americans have.

There are folks who are moderate Republicans who want to save or extend the Medicaid expansion that their states have benefited so much from. So they have big internal divisions. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader is pushing hard to get this done before the August recess.

We're hearing rumors that they are making real progress, but we have very little insight into exactly what the provisions are of this bill. When the Democrats pass the Affordable Care Act back in 2009, I wasn't in the Senate, but there were hearings after hearings after hearings over a year before they came to the conclusion that they would have to pass the bill without Republicans.

The bill had Republican amendments taken up and voted on in committee hearings before it ultimately became law. That's a very different process than the closed door process Republicans are following now.

CAMEROTA: OK, we obviously will be watching both of these things very closely. Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much for being on.

COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international --