Return to Transcripts main page


British PM Orders Investigation Into London Tower Fire While Struggling To Form A Government; President Under Investigation For Possible Obstruction Of Justice. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, the British prime minister ordered the public inquiry into the London tower

fire, the tragedy that struck even as she continues to struggle to form a government just days before Brexit negotiations are set to start. Senior

Blair government minister Lord Peter Hain joins us.

Also ahead, a U.S. inquiry into Russian meddling in the election has reportedly made a dramatic turn onto the president, Donald Trump, himself.

Jill Wine-Banks, part of the Watergate prosecution team, joins us.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London, where anguish is turning to outrage after a

huge fire gutted a 24-story tower block in the middle of the night on Wednesday, trapping people in their apartments as they slept.

Seventeen are known to have died, but the toll will rise with so many still unaccounted for. In a bitter twist, the first victim has been named as 23-

year-old Syrian refugee Mohammad Al-Haj, who escaped war for a better and safer life here.

The overriding question now is how a tragedy of this scale could happen in a modern city like London. Today, Prime Minister Theresa May visited the

site and ordered a full public inquiry, but she's yet to even form a government, after failing to win a majority in last week's general

election. Now she's trying to thrash out a power sharing deal with Northern Ireland's DUP, whilst also trying to steer the country down the

long and bumpy road to Brexit.

Peter Hain was Northern Ireland's secretary and minister for Europe in the Blair government, and he's been a member of Parliament for 24 years. So I

asked him, how the government could maneuver around these seemingly impossible minefields. Lord Hain, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: I first want to ask you, slightly out of your wheelhouse, but as a Brit, your reaction to what happened at the Grenfell Tower, and the anger

that the residents are showing that their warnings weren't taken seriously.

HAIN: Well like everybody else, I was absolutely horrified, I couldn't believe it when I woke up in the morning and saw this inferno engulfing

people in that horrific way. And what worried me most of all was not just the tragedy and this blaze that just consumed life and everything before

tearing through the building in an uncontrollable way, but the fact that the residents themselves had warned, had actually said in their blogs and

so on, we're not happy about the safety arrangements, and absolutely nobody took any notice of it.

AMANPOUR: So the prime minister has been doing other things, trying to cobble together a government, the fire has obviously put that off. But you

know, she wasn't there yesterday. The heads of the parties weren't there today. She's called for a major investigation. Is this also a political,

you know, another political knock for her?

HAIN: It's a political problem, not just for the prime minister, though it is for her particularly, but for the whole political class. There is a

sense amongst those residents that nobody listens to them anymore, that those in government, at whatever level, are not actually - don't care about

the average citizen anymore.

And that is why I think the mayor, London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been absolutely right on the button. He was there early yesterday morning, he's

been saying the right things, demanding that there's accountability. Nothing like that sadly from the prime minister.

AMANPOUR: Well let me ask you, because we have the, you know, the, the "The Economist" front cover for this week, and it shows a - I mean look at

this, Europe failure is a French president while the British prime minister is upside down in the water drowning. I mean did you ever think that you'd

see that kind of juxtaposition of power politics?

HAIN: No, and it is very apposite, actually.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but she hasn't formed a government, we've got Brexit talks that are meant to start without a government, we've got a queen's speech

that's meant to lay out legislation, we still don't have a government.

HAIN: Exactly, all of those things are true, and there's a sense of a prime minister described by the former chancellor, George Osborne, who, who

- Osborne whom she served with in Cabinet, as being a dead woman walking. And that's what most people think.

AMANPOUR: All right, he obviously was fired by her. But you know, we've got all the European ministers, and the people who are meant to be

negotiating saying we're ready, time is running out, and from what we hear from Downing Street, still it seems that she remains committed to this hard


We understood that Philip Hammond, the chancellor, was going to give a major speech tonight. That has been postponed. But people were waiting to

see whether he would call for a softer Brexit, something that, that preserved jobs, preserved the economy. What do you think is possible now,

or has to happen with these Brexit negotiations?

HAIN: She is no longer in charge of the Brexit negotiations, that uncomfortably is the truth. And I don't take any pleasure in saying that.

I want a British prime minister representing our country to be in charge of negotiations.

But she's being pulled in all directions, she will not get a hard Brexit through Parliament. There's a cross-party view now that we've got to try

and put jobs and prosperity first, and for me that means remaining within the single market, barrier free, tariff free, trading our goods and

services as we do now, which is massively important. It's half our trade, (inaudible) trade is with the European Union, the richest single market in

the world. And to turn our backs on that would be crazy if -

AMANPOUR: So how does she do that? Does - she still has hard liners, Euro skeptics, and they don't want immigration, they don't want to give on that.

HAIN: Because I think you can get a much better deal on tougher controls on movement of labor. You just look at Belgium and Lichtenstein, they have

much tougher controls. We've never exercised the potential, that's what should now happen, staying in the single market, for which I think there's

a majority in Parliament.

AMANPOUR: And the customs union, I mean to an extent, you know, we have again, this attempt to forge some sort of working majority in Parliament by

aligning with what people call sort of fundamentalists in Northern Ireland, the Protestant group, the DUP. Well today, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

went to 10 Downing Street, and this is what he said to the prime minister about this alliance.


GERRY ADAMS, PRESIDENT, SINN FEIN: we told her very directly that she was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and we itemized those matters in

which she was dilatory or in default.


AMANPOUR: OK, so the British government is meant to be neutral, an honest broker. How does this work? How - how does this work?

HAIN: I don't know, and John Major, the former prime minister, said exactly that the other day in a broadcast interview, as I'd been saying.

I've done the job, I've been there, negotiating with Gerry Adams on the one hand, and his opposite number there, Ian Paisley, the fiery old unionist


And you've got to be trusted by both of them, because they were never talking to each other, and currently, the two sides are talking part - past

each other, rather than which each other. There's a level of incompetence I'm afraid, and lack of understanding by this government on Northern

Ireland, which is really deeply troubling.

AMANPOUR: And you think a threat to the peace process?

HAIN: I do think so. I think that the Good Friday Agreement is being breached, because you've got to have an inclusive approach. And I think

the peace process won't necessarily roll back to the terror and the bombing and the assassinations of all those troubled years, but I think you've got

to keep it going forward, and deepening. This is pulling it back and stalling it.

AMANPOUR: Well, given that, our correspondent Nic Robertson went to that very sensitive border, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, where

farmers there in both areas, they depend on the cross-border trade. The last thing they want to see is the bad old days back to the tariffs -

HAIN: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: - and the customs, and this and that.

HAIN: It's virtually invisible.

AMANPOUR: It's virtually invisible now, and they don't want to lose it. Listen - let's look at this together and talk about it afterwards.


JOHN SHERIDAN (PH), FARMER, NORTHERN IRELAND: Really take the ridgeline --


SHERIDAN: - at the border, all along, just follow it all along.

ROBERTSON: Where Britain meets the E.U. -

SHERIDAN: - its way through the countryside.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely.


ROBERTSON: Northern Irish farmer John Sheridan (ph) fears Brexit.

SHERIDAN: It's a fate for - for our farm, for the family, and for our communities, big time.

ROBERTSON: His farm is on the border with the Irish Republic, survives by doing business on both sides. Brexit could mean trade tariffs and controls

could kill profits.

SHERIDAN: We don't have a border at the moment actually. It's invisible. There - we are told by - we can have a digital border. That's a load of,

that's a load of crap because -

ROBERTSON: All along border, sentiment and worries run deep. The river there, that's the border, and running right across it, this road. Up

there, Northern Ireland, and just down the road there, the Republic of Ireland. Not a border control in sight. And that's just the way people

here want to keep it. In Belcoo in Northern Ireland, memories of the 30- year conflict and the border controls that came with it, still fresh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't like having to go into crossings posts and being searched, so we don't want it, we want it as it is now, with no


ROBERTSON: Just over the river, in the Republic of Ireland, the same fears, a botched Brexit leaving border controls could mean big bills.

Peter McVitty runs a haulage company.

PETER MCVITTY, CAVAN COUNTY COUNCILLOR, FINE GAEL: That's going to cost unbelievable money and time. And in the haulage business, time is of


ROBERTSON: McVitty is also a councillor for the Republic's ruling party, is frustrated with English politics.

MCVITTY: Yes, the people in the Republic didn't vote for this. This has been heaped on top of us. The people in Northern Ireland didn't vote for

it either. It's been heaped on top of them.

ROBERTSON: E.U. officials have vowed to minimize the impact of Brexit on Ireland, but have demanded Britain cut a deal that doesn't impact the

fragile peace process in Northern Ireland that balances pro-British and pro-Irish tensions. Back in the north, farmer Derrick Thornton (ph) voted

against Brexit, is appalled at political incompetence in London.

DERRICK THORNTON (PH), FARMER, NORTHERN IRELAND: I know we're in it, and the farm's going round, and the shit has hit the fan, and it's damn nearly


ROBERTSON: His family have farmed here for five generations, and sees changes coming that they would have feared.

THORNTON: We're in a very nice part of the world, and to me, a united Ireland, well I find it decent and so I'd be in and out four times a day,

it wouldn't make any damn difference.

ROBERTSON: To John Sheridan too, Brexit could bring the logic of a united Ireland closer.

SHERIDAN: Would I be better off in a united Ireland? Well in a hard Brexit situation, absolutely.

ROBERTSON: All along this beautiful border, much at stake. Nic Robertson, CNN, on Europe's land border with Britain, Northern Ireland.


AMANPOUR: I mean there's a dramatic take now, Europe's land border with Britain. How is this going to work?

HAIN: I don't think it can. I don't think we can stay outside the customs union, or go outside the customs union or the single markets, and actually

have a soft border. And as you saw, a soft border, that's to say one with no security controls or barriers or charges or tariffs, is absolutely

essential to keep the economies of both the Republic and Northern Ireland, which are increasingly integrated, successful, and to keep the Good Friday

Agreement and the peace process going forward.

AMANPOUR: A lot on the prime minister's plate, let's hope she convince the rest of her party to negotiate and listen to what the people have voted


HAIN: I hope so, but I'm not optimistic about it frankly. This whole thing is a mess, and it's been badly handled by a government that doesn't

really understand Europe, and certainly doesn't understand the island of Ireland.

AMANPOUR: Lord Hain, thank you very much indeed. And a growing mess for Donald Trump. He's been plagued by allegations involving Russia since he

walked into the White House, and now, the president himself is reportedly implicated in the current investigation, which I will discuss with the

assistant Watergate special prosecutor next.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. The toxic political atmosphere in Washington may have been a factor in the tragic shooting of a senior

Republican congressman and others at baseball practice yesterday, the head of a bipartisan charity game for tonight.

Now comes a report in the "Washington Post" that President Trump is under investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, for possible

obstruction of justice. It is the most significant sign yet that Mueller's investigation is expanding beyond the original question of whether Russia

interfered in the 2016 election, to a potential criminal probe of the president himself.

Trump is lashing out at the reports, tweeting "They've made up a phony collusion with the Russian story, found zero proof, so now they go for

obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice. You're witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very

bad and conflicted people."

So, is this a witch hunt, or could there be fire beneath the smoke? Jill Wine-Banks was a Watergate prosecutor. In fact, she was the only woman on

the special prosecutor's team, and I spoke to her earlier from Chicago. Jill Wine-Banks, welcome from Chicago.


AMANPOUR: Given your experience and your knowledge of these matters, what do you think this report about this new possible direction of the inquiry?

What does it mean to you?

WINE-BANKS: It's not a surprise at all. From the moment that I read about the Comey memo, I believed that there was a prima facie case of obstruction

of justice, and there's been corroboration for him since then. He was fired, for one thing, that is an act of corroboration of obstruction of


And we now have possibly Coats and Rogers who will also say that they were asked to intervene in the investigation by going to the FBI director, so

that corroborates him. And attorney general Sessions corroborated two key elements of his testimony, which was that he was asked to stay behind and

be alone with the president, and that he complained to the attorney general the next morning that he never wanted to be alone with the president again,

so that's corroboration.

AMANPOUR: Yes, you're mentioning corroborating Comey's testimony, right?

WINE-BANKS: Correct, correct.

AMANPOUR: OK, so then let me ask you this. Has Donald Trump been the key witness against Donald Trump himself? Let me play you what he himself has

said about this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with

Trump and Russia, is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election, that they should have won.


AMANPOUR: So you know, in all the corroboration you just laid out, is this just one more piece of it?

WINE-BANKS: That is a significant piece of it. His own words are that he fired Comey because he wanted to take the pressure off. He said that to

the Russians. So in addition to what he told to Lester Holt, which you just played, you have that additional corroboration. So there is plenty of

corroboration of both intent and action.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you what a former special prosecutor has said, you know, Ken Starr, obviously famously of the - of the investigation and the

impeachment of President Clinton. He has said today to CNN that he still doesn't believe that there's the evidence to show that this should go in

the direction of obstruction of justice. And he furthermore says that is a very, very difficult case to prove. Your views on that.

WINE-BANKS: I don't agree. I read his statement, and I do not agree with it. It is difficult to prove, but I think that the special counsel is

moving in the direction of gathering enough evidence to corroborate the fact that there was obstruction.

I can only point to what we found in the obstruction of justice case during Watergate, and once you start investigating that, you often find that there

is much, much more. So not only did we have a smoking gun tape in which you hear the president saying yes, we can use the CIA to stop the FBI from

investigating this, which is very dramatic, but here you have a memo that was written contemporaneously and shared contemporaneously with other

people to show how concerned the FBI director was.

So instead of asking the CIA to intervene, the president directly asked the FBI to stop the investigation. I think that is enough. Now there were

other elements of obstruction in Watergate. There was hush money paid to keep witnesses quiet, there was perjury committed by having people for

example told well, you can always say I don't remember, I don't recall, even when you do.

Well you can't, that's perjury. We certainly heard a lot of I don't remember, I don't recall in Sessions' testimony, but despite that, he

confirmed key elements of Comey's testimony. So I think the special counsel is moving in a very good direction for establishing a clear

criminal case against the president.

AMANPOUR: You know, we've been talking about Comey's memo and his testimony before Congress, where he testified as to what he felt he was

hearing from the president regarding dropping the Flynn case. Here's what he said.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I

took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work towards to try and

understand what the intention was there, and whether that's an offense.


AMANPOUR: So he obviously was measuring his words there. As a prosecutor, was he being all legal-ese? Was he trying to sort of set up a further

inquiry by Special Counsel Mueller?

WINE-BANKS: Well he is a lawyer, and he will measure his words, but at the end of the day, he also said I heard this as a directive to stop the

investigation. That's the important, key part of his testimony, is what was clear.

I mean picture yourself in the Oval Office, it's an intimidating place. The president has you alone, and says those words, yes, the words were I

hope you will find it - a way to drop the Comey - the Flynn case.

That's not the exact words of I order you to do this, but in the context of everybody else being asked to leave the room, including Comey's boss, the

attorney general, and everything else that we know, if you also have corroboration from other witnesses that they too were asked to ask that the

FBI investigation be dropped, that would be another piece of dramatic evidence.

I will say one thing that Starr said that is true, is that the level of evidence you need to bring a case against the president of the United

States exceeds what it would take against the average citizen. That may be unfair in terms of justice, but it is a reality.

The president will get the benefit of the doubt from a jury. Now this will probably not go to a jury trial. If anything, it will go to an impeachment

hearing, and it would be up to political judges, the Congress, to make that decision. And so there will be factors other than strict violation of the

law. But in terms of the elements of the offense, they are there.

AMANPOUR: Well you know, you answered the question I was about to ask, which was despite as you've seen, the tweets, the president denying it, the

president calling this a witch hunt, the worst in American history, what kind of trouble is he in, and you're saying that it looks like he could go

towards impeachment proceedings.

WINE-BANKS: Yes, I think so, and the other issue to be concerned about is all of his staff who are saying the things that he wants them to say. In

Watergate, the top aides to President Nixon all went to jail. They all violated the law just as he did.

And he suffered the fate of having articles of impeachment, and then being forced to resign rather than face a sure verdict of guilty by the Senate.

But a resignation is a horrible punishment for a president, just as being impeached and convicted would be. So I think that his staff need to start

protecting themselves too.

AMANPOUR: This is so dramatic. Jill Wine-Banks, assistant Watergate special prosecutor, thank you so much for joining us.

WINE-BANKS: Thank you for having me, it's an honor.

AMANPOUR: Tonight, the political theater is unfolding just south of Capital Hill, on the brilliant green turf of the Nationals Park Baseball

Stadium. After the break, we imagine a world where the sound of gunfire is replaced by the roar of a supporting crowd.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a baseball field comes to represent the strength of a nation's democracy. For one night at

least, in a deeply divided Washington, members of Congress stand united, united in their commitment to their country, and united in their love of a

quintessentially American pastime.

The annual baseball game between Republicans and Democrats is defiantly going ahead. Yet the team rosters are of course a little different from

what they originally were planned. Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, remains in critical condition after Wednesday's shocking gun attack

at the field, as a hail of bullets put a bloody end to his team's preparations for the charity game tonight.

Rather than cower, the nation's top lawmakers are donning their leather globes, and picking up their sporting bats, ready to swing free in the face

of this adversity. The tradition dates back more than a century, back to 1909. It's taken exceptional circumstances to cancel the game, namely the

Great Depression, and the Second World War.

2017 now holds a special significance, but in many regards, the game is unchanged. It is just political elephants and donkeys after all, who

refuse to forget why we play games, to have fun. That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can listen to our podcast any time, and see us

online at, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching, and good bye from London.