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President Trump Tweets on James Comey Examined; Some Trump Surrogates Questioning Robert Mueller as Special Counsel; Possible Existence of Oval Office Tapes Assessed. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 12, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The chairman of the Intel Committee hasn't actually said yet whether this 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 a very simple question whether the president has confidence in his attorney general, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Laura Jarrett for us in Washington, thanks so much.

President Trump seemingly unable to be quiet about the Russia investigation. He's attacking James Comey again, retweeting about the prospect of getting impeached. So why is the president doing this? CNN's Jason Carroll is live in Washington. I'm not sure we have a definitive answer to that question, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly a number of GOP lawmakers want him to stop doing it. But it looks like it's going to continue. The he said/he said battle just keeps going on. The president has offered to testify under oath about what he said or did not say to Comey as he continues to attack the former FBI director in the wake of his testimony last week.


CARROLL: President Trump on the defensive, re-tweeting a TV news clip downplaying the chances of his impeachment just one days 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."

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 a special prosecutor.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: 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 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.


DONALD TRUMP JR.: 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 got to do your job. That's what he told Comey.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: When I've been reading the stories about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time, felt a little bit like deja vu.

CARROLL: Fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara alleging Sunday that he had uncomfortable interactions with the president before he was let go.

BHARARA: He called me in December, ostensibly just to shoot the breeze. It appeared to be 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) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't understand why the president just doesn't clear this matter up once and for all.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD, (R) RANKING MEMBER, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Then I hope there are recording for Jim Comey, if that's out there. But I doubt that they are really there.

CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: If there aren't tapes, he should let that be known. But no more game playing.

CARROLL: Members of Trump's team insisting that disclosure could happen soon.

JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: The president said he's going to address the tapes, whether the tapes exist or not, next week.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: You're your own worst enemy, 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 were just quiet would clear you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, 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 businesses, 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 plan to reveal details about that lawsuit at noon. Back to you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Jason, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts April Ryan and John Avlon, and CNN political commentator Matt Lewis. Matt, as our resident conservative I want to start with you because something has shifted this morning, and it seems as though Republicans and some conservatives like Newt Gingrich are now going after not just James Comey but Robert Mueller.

So at first it was, oh, Bob Mueller is the best person equipped for this job, he has a sterling reputation, and now something shifted. Here is Newt Gingrich's tweet this morning. He says "Republicans are delusional if they think this special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring," meaning Mueller. "Check FEC reports, time to rethink." What's going on here, Matt?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, this is not a mistake. This is a concerted effort. In fact my last column at "The Daily Beast" was about how they were going after James Comey.

[08:05:00] This is what you do when you don't have the facts. You go after, you try to impeach the other side. You try to discredit them. I think that's continued here. And you know, Mueller, just like Comey, has a sterling reputation, you would assume beyond reproach, but not really. The goal here is to go after the messenger, to discredit them. Donald Trump didn't invent this, Newt Gingrich didn't invent this. We saw James Carville with the bimbo eruption, saying you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park there's no telling what you'll come up with. This is what you do when you're in trouble, you go after the messenger, you attack the attacker, and that's exactly what they're doing.

BERMAN: If you want to see another example, over the weekend you had Jay Sekulow, someone who I know that Matt Lewis knows very well, he was on the Sunday shows and he was asked directly whether or not the president would consider firing the special counsel. This is what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the president promise not to interfere, not attempt at any time to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller? JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: The president of

the United States as we all know is a unitary executive. But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside as well as outside. And I'm not going to speculating what he will or will not do. I can't imagine that that issue is going to arise, but that, again, is an issue the president with his advisers would discuss if there was a basis.


BERMAN: April Ryan, refusing to knock it down, interesting.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The process has got to play out. This process has been impeded before. It has got to play out. And if Mueller is fired, there's a problem. Once again it looks like there's tampering or what have you.

The process has to play out, and when you talk about Mueller, I believe there are certain Republicans who are very much in support of this president who is trying to discredit Mueller, but there is a Republican who went on Twitter this weekend, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who said, and he's basically talking about Mueller, Mueller is the one that's going to vindicate him. Ari Fleischer said "Advice for POTUS, you have not been vindicated. You won't be unless Bob Mueller says so. Stop talking. You are headed into a giant perjury trap."

So Mueller has a lot of weight on his shoulders, and people are trying to discredit him, people are trying to support him. Right now, the process has to play out, and if Mueller is moved away from this, it looks very bad for the president.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's more than looking bad. Let's call it what it would be. It would be a credible claim towards obstruction of justice. If this would be derailed by the administration, that's what the allies are increasingly saying. So let's assume there are some talking points floating around.

RYAN: Assume there are talking points.

AVLON: Yes. And you know, let's also call it what it is, which is yet another part of the epidemic of situational ethics we're seeing in Washington, and surrounding this administration. I doubt very much that Newt Gingrich would have questioned the impartiality of Ken Starr during the clash with that independent counsel, being the crucial difference it was an independent counsel.

And all these Republicans who had nothing to say about their parties and former party members, Bob Mueller and James Comey, now all of a sudden have the knives out because they're afraid this may lead to a conclusion that is inconvenient for partisan purposes. But that just shows how the situational ethics are rampant in Washington, and this say dangerous trend we're seeing in real time about a conspiracy in effect against the special counsel.

CAMEROTA: But Matt, where does this leave the Trump administration? They don't like what bob Mueller is investigating? They don't think there's anything to see here. President Trump has always said that. We know that he fired James Comey, and while some people talk about obstruction of justice, it's not as though there's something under way in the Republican-led Congress to make that happen. So now what?

LEWIS: Well, I mean, what they should do is try to compartmentalize this scandal. OK, so there is going to be this process going on with Mueller and also Senate and the House investigating, but they should focus on getting things done -- health care, tax reform. Is it still infrastructure week? I feel every year, every week is infrastructure week.


BERMAN: It buzzes by.

LEWIS: They should focus on that, but the problem is that you can't compartmentalize and focus on that when the president is tweeting things, is picking fights, and when his surrogates are engaging in attacks against Mueller and Comey. And so I don't see how they can rescue their agenda, and also keep this, you know, front and center.

BERMAN: April Ryan, are there tapes of the conversations between Donald Trump and James Comey? And if the answer to that is no, how are we supposed to assess the sort of song and dance carried out by the president and the White House staff, over the last month?

[08:10:02] RYAN: There's a credibility issue with this president. We don't know what's true and what's not. We do know that there is a history with this president, and for many that's what you have to go on. There is a history of tapes of when he was a businessman with those he had in his inner circle in Trump Tower, what have you. We know that that's happened in the past. And the question is, did it happen this time? It remains to be seen, but if he does go under oath he's got to tell the truth and he's got to produce those tapes. Those tapes are damning. Whether he has them or not, for him to go on Twitter and say I hope there are tapes, you know there's a lot of flurry about taping at this White House, and we have to see what's there, what the there is.

AVLON: You know, it's just, April, to add to your point, what's so crazy of course is that we have a history of taping in the Oval Office that brought down a presidency, one that Donald Trump happens to admire with regard to Nixon. So that fact should be preeminent. But the fact that the smart money in Washington is I think there are not tapes actually is even more troubling to your point, which is there is an assumption the president is lying. There's not an assumption he is telling the truth. It's an assumption the president's bluffing or lying. That's troubling in upon itself.

RYAN: Words matter in Washington. Words matter and taping matters.

AVLON: Words matter in America usually.

CAMEROTA: Right, and your word and credibility and et cetera, et cetera. So Matt, why aren't the people around the president, can they clear this up? Are the people in the White House, do they know if there's a listening device in the White House, or are they also afraid that they're being taped when they go into the Oval Office?

LEWIS: Well, I would assume that a lot of them don't know and wouldn't know. And they are in a really tough position. But frankly, you know, if you've ever had -- they're trying to manage up. And this is a guy who does not want to be managed. Donald Trump is not going to humble himself and submit himself to any sort of hierarchy or oversight or accountability. And so the people who work for him don't have really any way to go to him and say, say this, do this. Come on, Donald. They just don't have the ability, and they can't communicate. It's hard to go out -- I mean, you pity Sean Spicer, for example, who has to go out there half the time -- and I think Kellyanne Conway doesn't even know a lot of the things people ask her. And so you take a choice, do I want to be perceived as being out of the loop, do I want to be perceived as being a liar? It's not a good look, and Donald Trump puts people in this position.

BERMAN: I won't rule out the possibility of the White House just enjoys messing with us on this subject that many of them knew the answer.

RYAN: I don't think the White House, it might be the president that enjoys messing with us.

BERMAN: April, Jeff Sessions, we don't know whether or not Jeff Sessions will testify in public tomorrow. The significance of this new moment, maybe you know, 24, 26 hours away on Capitol Hill.

RYAN: What I do know from my Republican sources that he does not want a spectacle. He wants closed doors, if he talks. And it looks like he will. But he does not want the spectacle. And at issue, you have an attorney general who does not get along with his own president, and he's going to testify. And then the issue of possible collusion -- I mean, the story keeps going. And to find out possibly that he had this third meeting at the Mayflower, you know, with the Russian ambassador, that's at issue, and it's at issue what were these meetings really about. So again, Jeff Sessions does not want the spectacle of it all, but he is involved. He's in the midst, and they want to talk to him.

BERMAN: April, Matt, John, thanks so much.

Puerto Rico has voted overwhelmingly backing statehood in a nonbinding referendum. Turnout on Sunday was only 23 percent. But 97 percent of those who did vote want to become a state in the United States of America. Puerto Rico's governor plans to choose two senators and five representatives to travel to Washington to request statehood. President Trump has signaled he's open to the idea. Congress would have the final say.

CAMEROTA: The Supreme Court could decide today if it can take up a key case on partisan gerrymandering last year. A federal court ruled that Wisconsin's legislative districts were unconstitutionally redrawn in 2011 to favor Republicans. Now the justices will affirm or reverse that ruling or order full briefings so it can hear the case in the fall.

BERMAN: Broadway honoring its best and brightest in the Tony Awards. Legendary singer and actress Bette Midler, she stole the show. She delivered an epic four-minute acceptance speech after winning best actress in the musical for the revival of "Hello Dolly." At one point she shushed the orchestra when they tried to cut her off mid-speech.


BETTE MIDLER, ACTRESS: I just want to say, I just want to say -- shut that crap off. I just want to say --



BERMAN: No one wraps Bette Midler. Thank you back stage. She finally dropped the mic by announcing Bette Midler for president, the night's biggest winner, Evan Hanson snagged six Tony's, including best musical and for the show's breakout star, Ben Platt, Kevin Klein and Lori Metcalf won best actor and actress for their plays with "Oslo" winning best new play.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's great. All of those actors we love.

BERMAN: It's great. You know, going to theater requires having a life so I haven't seen theater in about ten years or so, but I love the fact that it's there.

CAMEROTA: Yes, me too. I hear Evan Hansen is great. We'll go to a matinee.

All right, President Trump slamming James Comey after his testimony, so we have Trump supporter and former governor John Sununu back by popular demand.

BERMAN: Also, celebrating champions for change, CNN anchors talking about causes near and dear to their hearts. Alisyn Camerota reveals her favorite coming up.


CAMEROTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions offering to testify before the Senate Intel Committee tomorrow. Will that happen in public in front of cameras and what does all this mean for the ongoing investigation?

Joining us now is former governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, a former chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. He supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Good morning, Governor.

JOHN SUNUNU (R), FORMER GOVENOR OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Good morning. I hope you had a mellow weekend.

CAMEROTA: I did. Thank you. It was very relaxing, and you as well. SUNUNU: Thank you.

[08:20:02]CAMEROTA: Governor, are you comfortable with the investigation in the hands of Robert Mueller?

SUNUNU: Yes, I think Robert Mueller is not a bad choice. You know, you can always find things that you would criticize one individual or another. If this is leading up to what would I recommend to the president and his folks, I think Lindsey Graham is right. I think Ari Fleischer is right, leave him alone and let him do his investigation and then deal with whatever comes out at the end.

CAMEROTA: Ari Fleischer tweeted this over the weekend. He of course is a former press secretary for George W. Bush, said, "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." Do you agree with that?

SUNUNU: Well, I pointed out that I think it's wiser for the president to not have his folks attacking Mueller, and I think Lindsey Graham was right. This is probably a situation where if you leave it alone the president is certainly going to be vindicated by Mueller so leave him alone. Don't put pressure on him to have to justify his existence by stretching things to find something wrong.

CAMEROTA: So then in that case is Newt Gingrich wrong when he this morning tweeted "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring. Check FEC reports. Time to rethink."

SUNUNU: Well, there is nothing -- unfortunately, in the political world, there's no way to undo what has been done, and so I do think Newt is wrong if he's suggesting dramatic action right now to remove Mueller or to do something else.

CAMEROTA: So when you say that it appears to you that the president will be, you know, cleared of this cloud and fully vindicated, how do you make sense of what came out in the James Comey testimony that the president asked his AG to leave the room, son-in-law and chief of staff to leave the room so that he could say to the head of the FBI, I sure wish that you could back off this investigation of --

SUNUNU: No, he didn't say wish, he said hope.

CAMEROTA: OK, I hope that you could you back off this investigation of Michael Flynn?

SUNUNU: No, he didn't say that. He said I hope this Flynn thing will go away. Let me give you two --

CAMEROTA: What is the difference?

SUNUNU: Two points on that. The difference is that you have put a different spin on it. First of all, in asking folks to leave the room. Presidents often grant cabinet members and folks who lead major departments the courtesy of having a one on one with the president. Comey's problem is, what he himself described. He didn't have

the backbone to take advantage of that one on one to tell the president what he should have told him, that the president should not be leaning in any direction on these issues, and if Comey felt uncomfortable, he had an obligation to tell the president in that one on one.


SUNUNU: He failed. Wait a minute, let me get to the other part of the question and I'll give you a chance in a moment. Secondly, Comey going into that certainly had to know that the president hoped that the Flynn situation would go away, and therefore, why is there any pressure or obstruction if the president merely repeats in an aspirational way what Comey already knew going in?

This idea that somehow that sentence implies pressure is ridiculous. The only pressure that could have been implied there is because Comey didn't have the backbone if he felt there was pressure to tell the president that that's not right.

CAMEROTA: So the way you see it is incumbent on the FBI director to tell the president of the United States that is out of bounds, you are being inappropriate, not on the president of the United States to stop himself from asking something inappropriate of the FBI director.

SUNUNU: He didn't ask. You see, that's the problem. You keep spinning it to an "ask" instead of an expression of an aspirational expression. Trump's lawyer was absolutely correct. Senator Risch from Idaho was absolutely correct in questioning Comey.

The point is every time you try to talk about it, you try to make "I hope that this Flynn thing will go away" pressure point. It is not a pressure point, but if Comey took it as a pressure point, even incorrectly took it as a pressure point, he should have said something in the private conversation that the president had the courtesy to give him.

CAMEROTA: Here are the exact, here is the exact language. We can both be clear, this is from the James Comey prepared statement, he then said "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." James Comey saw that as a directive.

SUNUNU: And the president saw that as an expression of a hope, and that's the difference here.

[08:25:06]And that's the problem when people try to overparse a just semantics to reflect their bias, and try and create a case where there isn't one. If that sentence is supposedly all that James Comey has to stand on to accuse the president of obstruction, this thing will go away quickly.

CAMEROTA: So you're comfortable with the president saying George H.W. Bush saying to an FBI director, if you were the chief of staff saying, I sure hope that you can back off an investigation, that's OK, that's within bound to you?

SUNUNU: Yes. No, he didn't say I hope you can let this thing go.

CAMEROTA: What is the difference between back off an investigation and let this thing go?

SUNUNU: The difference is that one is implying that when you say investigation that there's going to be a result that's negative. When you say let this thing go, the president is not acknowledging at that point that there's anything negative involved.

CAMEROTA: But he knows that there's an investigation?

SUNUNU: Let's not spend the whole morning parsing a sentence, Alisyn. I told you what I think. You've told me what you think.

CAMEROTA: Well, actually I've just asked you questions. I'm not sharing what I think. I'm asking you questions. But I am interested in what you think, do you think it's appropriate for a president to demand loyalty from the head of the FBI?

SUNUNU: When presidents interview people for a cabinet position, they always -- one way or the other there's an expression that the president certainly wants the cabinet official to follow the agenda that the president has in mind.

When a president says "I want loyalty" that's what I understand, he wants me to follow a presidential agenda on policy and issues, enforcement of laws and moving things forward. I don't see anything wrong with that sentence.

CAMEROTA: OK, Governor John Sununu, always interesting to get your perspective on these things. Thank you for being here.

SUNUNU: Have a good day, Alisyn. Take care.

BERMAN: Why are President Trump's allies going after Special Counsel Bob Mueller? You heard John Sununu say he thought it was a mistake. What is behind this strategy? We'll get the bottom line next.