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Interview with Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 15, 2017 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After the firing of James Comey, the FBI began to investigate the president for obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still think it is outrageous the FBI is continuing to leak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a huge deal. The president of the United States is under criminal investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your new day. It is Thursday, June 15th, 8:00 in the east. There are two big stories for you this morning. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise is still in critical condition. He is still fighting because of that gunshot wound during that ambush at the Virginia baseball field. Investigators are digging into the attacker's criminal record, his online anti-Trump rants. Were there any signs that he was headed in this direction?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So this attack is testing the resolve of unity from President Trump and lawmakers as their charity baseball game goes on tonight as planned. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice. The president slams this probe as, quote, "phony and the biggest witch hunt in American political history." So we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Alex Marquardt. He is live in Alexandria, Virginia. What's the latest, Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. That's right, we are learning more about the attacker James Hodgkinson as the FBI ramps up their investigation with the help of other agencies and local law enforcement. They're calling for the public to come forward with any information about Hodgkinson THAT they have as they try to dig into how and why he carried out this horrific attack. Here's how it unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARQUARDT: The chilling sound of a barrage of gunfire captured in this cell phone video. And 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, an ardent critic of President Trump, unleashing a hail of bullets on Republican lawmakers who were practicing on the eve of a charity baseball team. The Congressmen targeted on the field scrambling to take cover.

REP. RODNEY DAVIS, (R) ILLINOIS: Somebody on the field yelling "Run, he's got a gun!" I ran into dugout like most people on the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Units arrived to 400 East and Monroe. Shots being fired and there are people running, possibly victims involved.

MARQUARDT: The lone gunman was armed with a rifle and nine millimeter handgun, exchanging fire with Capitol police officers who were there to protect the House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Local police joining in the 10 minute firefight to take down the attacker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got one in custody, one shooter. There is also a victim down in the baseball field.

MARQUARDT: Scalise was on second base when he was shot in his left hip.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA: He dragged himself after he was shot from near second base about 10 or 15 yards into the field just to be, I think, a little farther away from the gunmen.

MARQUARDT: Four others also wounded in the attack. Witnesses now praising the heroic actions of law enforcement in preventing further casualties.

REP. JOE BARTON, (R) TEXAS: I saw at least two of them go towards the shooter. They were putting their lives directly in the line of fire.

MARTY LAVOR, PHOTOGRAPHER: It was the capitol police that saved us all.

MARQUARDT: Authorities say the gunmen drove from Illinois to Virginia in March and had been living out of a white cargo van, spending much of his time at this YMCA adjacent to the ball field where he was seen the morning of the ambush.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: He asked me if this team was the Republican or Democrat team practicing. I responded that it was the Republican team practicing, and he proceeded to shoot Republicans. Take that for what it's worth.

MARQUARDT: The attacker's online posts show a hatred of President Trump and Republicans. Hodgkinson writing on Facebook in March, "Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It is time to destroy Trump and company." A month earlier "Republicans are the Taliban of the USA." A family member of the attacker telling "The New York Times" that he came to Washington in recent weeks to protest Trump. The gunman also liked a political cartoon suggesting that Congressman Steve Scalise should be fired, although it is unclear if Scalise was specifically targeted in the attack. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And this morning Scalise is still in the hospital in critical condition after being hit in the hip by that round. The hospital putting out a statement saying the bullet traveled across his pelvis, fractured bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding. He has received multiple blood transfusions and will require more operations. So it is a very serious situation. Chris?

CUOMO: And those who know him well are asking everybody to keep Steve Scalise in your thoughts and prayers. He is not out of the woods yet. Alex, thank you very much.

Look, there is no question as bad as this attack was, it would have been so much worse if not for those police, the security detail that was there, and the congressman who took it even in a moment of crisis as a call to duty and to help their fellow man.

[08:05:06] Ohio Representative Brad Wenstrup is a doctor and a combat surgeon in Iraq. As soon as the Capitol police took down the shooter, he rushed to help Congressman Steve Scalise, providing immediate medical attention that could have made all the difference.

Joining us now is Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio. Congressman, thank you for joining us. It is amazing to me that you are back in a suit and tie, back on the job after what you lived through yesterday. How is your head? How is your heart?

REP. BRAD WENSTRUP, (R) OHIO: My heart is heavy. My head is fine. Thank you for keeping Steve in your prayers and asking the nation to do the same. Steve was very courageous, very brave. When I got to him, he responded to my questions. I asked him to count to five, immediately started assessing his wound. I figured we had a bigger problem when I only found an entry wound and no exit wound. We put pressure on that. When the medics got there, I put a clotting bandage on. I didn't want to move him. My concern was exactly what has happened, how much damage was done to bone. Did he hit any major vessels, and did he get to his internal organs? I could only assume the bullet traversed upward, and apparently it has. So it is normal for multiple surgeries. You're going to need vascular specialists, orthopedic specialists, and surgical specialists, a general surgical specialist to take care of Steve.

CUOMO: We will monitor his situation. We understand now from your perspective, and we have Dr. Sanjay Gupta who is saying a lot of the same types of things. We'll all keep an eye on it, and everybody says Steve Scalise is a fighter. And how is everybody at home? It's not just you who lives through this. It's everybody who loves you. Everybody was OK with you getting back to work today?

WENSTRUP: Absolutely. When I called my wife, I work her up. So I'm glad she didn't know about it. And when she came into the office, she burst into tears a little bit later, as you might imagine. But we're doing fine. We're just all glad to be together.

I'm concerned about a lot of members that have never been through something like this. I certainly didn't expect it in this environment where I'm without armor, without a weapon, and without the infantry. But you were right about the Capitol police. Even while being shot, they took this guy down.

CUOMO: David Bailey in particular, he got hit. He kept going, trying to get to Scalise, trying to do what he could. There were brave men and women there on the field, you included in that number. You've said I felt like I was back in Iraq. But you weren't. You were in Alexandria. You were unarmed, as you say. What was motivating you to get through those moments?

WENSTRUP: You know, most of it was just instinct for me. I got down. And what you have to understand, this guy was on the move. There is only one exit from that field. Everybody on that field is inside a fenced area, so they're running for the opposite dugout and they're running for the exit. And he used the dugout and another building to shield himself as he was trying to come towards more of us and trying to take out more of us. If those two police officers were not there, he could have just come in and just had a field day. And so thank God that they were. But instinct kicked in and I just was watching Steve and watching Steve out there on the field all by himself, seeing if he was still moving and once they had him down and they were yelling don't move, don't move, that's when I ran out, as did a few of the other members and I think we did the best we could for Steve in that situation, not moving him, stopping the bleeding and just making sure he's OK -- and hydrating him, too. I knew he was losing blood.

CUOMO: Thank God you were there and you helped him. It may have made all the difference. What do you tell yourself about, you know, you're not in Iraq. You're in Alexandria. You're practicing for a charity baseball game. What sense do you make of this? What do you take away from it?

WENSTRUP: It's interesting because about two weeks ago I wrote a piece called "United we Stand, Divided we Fall." How fortuitous, I guess, because we could see this type of thing coming. I take it that America has got to take a deep breath. We live in a country where we get to elect our officials. And if you don't like him, you got a chance to try and un-elect them, if you will. We should be thankful for that every day and not doing so much of what is taking place today. Sometimes it's the rhetoric of members here, maybe it's the media, and it's people themselves on social media. You know, Pope John Paul II one time said freedom consists not in doing what you will, but having the right to do what you ought, and I think we ought to keep that in mind.

CUOMO: Beautiful words. Poignant especially now. And of course this all leads us up to the big game. Sounds right you guys are going ahead and playing it. It is for charity. Hopefully you'll raise more money than ever. How will you feel out there tonight?

WENSTRUP: I feel very good. Actually, I can't wait to play. You know, it is one of those things that it is like we're not going to let this guy beat us, right? All of us, all of us members, Republican and Democrat are going to go out on this field and show people we are not backing down, and that we're here to do a job and that we care about our fellow citizens, and that's really what it's all about.

[08:10:13] CUOMO: Well, I hope that it all motivates into your hands on the bat and your hand in the glove and you play the best you ever have. There will be no losers on that field tonight and I hope you'll raise more money than ever. Congressman --

WENSTRUP: Well said, Chris.

CUOMO: Thank you for your service to the country. Thank you for your service to Congressman Scalise. You are welcome here on NEW DAY.

WENSTRUP: I thank you, Chris. Have a good day.

CUOMO: All right, God bless, be well. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Well, this morning President Trump is slamming the investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia. This after "the Washington Post" reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice. CNN's Athena Jones is live at the White House with all of the latest. What have you learned, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. We know that the president has been frustrated and continues to be frustrated about these investigations and is clearly not happy with this latest report out of the "Washington Post."

He took to Twitter early this morning just before 7:00 tweeting "They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice." That tweet, I should mention, is very much in line with Republican National Committee talking points.

And just a few minutes ago he tweeted again saying "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history led by some very bad and conflicted people, #makeAmericagreatagain." Of course notice that "WITCH HUNT" in all caps.

Bottom line here is this is not the best birthday for President Trump. This is exactly the sort of headline, the headline that Bob Mueller is now looking into possible obstruction of justice by the president, this is the kind of storyline he's been trying so much to avoid. You'll remember it was last week that President Trump and his legal team were saying he had been completely and totally vindicated, pointing to fired FBI director Jim Comey's testimony that he had told the president on three separate occasions that he himself was not personally under investigation. This latest report by "The Post" shows that has all changed. This is a very big deal.

And I should mention that special counsel Mueller is set to meet soon with top intelligence chiefs in addition to meeting with those chiefs he met yesterday with the chair and vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee to talk about these investigations. Alisyn, Chris?

CAMEROTA: OK, Athena, thank you very much for all of that reporting. Let's bring in our panel to discuss it. We have CNN political director David Chalian, CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Great to see all of you. David Chalian, so, again, the president's tweets this morning were not the unity that some perhaps on Capitol Hill were hoping for in terms of a message. But you get it. President Trump doesn't like this investigation. And he has pressed people time and again to say that he is not under investigation, that he is not the target of this investigation. He mentioned this as we all recall on NBC with Lester Holt. Let's play a moment of that.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that I'm not under investigation, me personally. I'm not talking about campaigns. I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation.


CAMEROTA: OK. Now, the irony of course, David, is that this morning something has shifted, and possibly by exerting as much pressure as he has to officials to ensure that he's not under investigation, now the "Washington Post" says Bob Mueller may be investigating him.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. I mean, the moment he fired Jim Comey, this development, which is huge, but it's as inevitable as it is huge that indeed this investigation would be opened.

So now we have the president of the United States under investigation. And it begs the question, Alisyn, to your point, he spends so much time over the course of the last several months both privately with players and publically as a PR strategy to constantly stress that he's not under investigation. Of course he is now under investigation. So what did that get him, that constant pushback on this notion that he wasn't under investigation for collusion? It drove him so mad about this that he now is indeed under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.

CUOMO: Paul, two questions for you. The first one is, are you surprised that Mueller would be looking at possible obstruction under the facts as we understand them?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I'm not at all surprised about that because, you know, if obstruction of justice is a cliff, the president walked over to the precipice of that cliff when he fired director Comey. It looked suspicious. It looked like why would you demand the guy's loyalty and then when he didn't, you know, publically say you were not under investigation, you fire him, even though previously you had no problem with him. It looks bad.

[08:15:04] It looks bad. So I'm not surprised that Mueller would be taking a look at this as part of his greater investigation.


CALLAN: So, nothing surprising to me here. CAMEROTA: Just to press on that on you, Ken Starr, obviously, former

independent counsel during the Lewinsky scandal, he just said that this does not meet the legal threshold -- nothing that he has seen -- there's been no evidence he has seen presented that would meet the legal threshold of obstruction of justice because even the president saying to James Comey, I hope that you can let the Michael Flynn thing go he says is open to interpretation. It is a suggestion. That is not obstruction of justice.

CALLAN: Well, I would agree with Ken Starr in that if there is an obstruction case here, it is an extremely weak case. It is not the kind of case that could be won in a criminal prosecution.

And, by the way, you can't prosecute the president criminally while he's a sitting president. You can only impeach.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But looking at it is different than this.


CUOMO: I mean, Ken Starr prefaced this statement by saying it is too early to tell.

CAMEROTA: Of what he's seen thus far.

CUOMO: That's where -- I mean, that's the point. He doesn't know. He doesn't have any sense of it, and that's good guidance for everybody. And it takes me to my second question was, which is the president isn't saying I didn't obstruct justice. He isn't saying I don't like this investigation.

He goes much farther. He says it's all phony. It's made up. He talks about they.

He denigrates the investigation. He denigrates the people involved by calling it a witch hunt and saying led by some bad people, bad and conflicted.

Is that the right way to respond? In terms of respecting the process, even if you don't agree with it?

CALLAN: No, it's a ridiculous way to respond and it's going to get him into trouble because -- and he's done this before with his personal attacks on the judiciary who were deciding his travel ban case. And guess what? The courts threw the travel ban out. Now, he's going after the investigators and accusing them of being somehow corrupt or improper in the way they're handling the investigation.

You are going to make these people angry, and it's just not a good tactic. I think in the end, if he just backs off and lets Mueller complete his investigation, it probably won't go anywhere. He's got a good chance. I mean, what are the chances that a Democratic -- that a Republican Congress is going to vote to impeach the president of the United States, a Republican president?

CAMEROTA: Nil. CALLAN: It's like zero, OK? So that's where this obstruction case is

ultimately going.

So, the president should go back to doing his work and forget about Mueller.


So, Jackie, all of this is set against the backdrop of the tragedy that happened yesterday and the calls on Capitol Hill for unity, from Republicans and from Democrats. Everybody redoubling their efforts to see each other as human beings and to all sort of be for one.

So, what will they do? What will lawmakers do? What will Congress do?

I mean, other than these nice words that are heartening, what action are they talking about? What happens next?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they have been talking about reducing the rhetoric and how they treat each other and I imagine they just start ignoring the president because his tweets this morning show that he's not going to do that. He is referring to bad and conflicted people. And, so, I think, you know, as much -- this sort of thing is going to pull his party further away from him because they're not in this head space right now. They are thinking about their college who was shot yesterday.

And, you know, the more that the president starts to stew in his own anger over something like this, the White House says they want to move on. They say they want to move on with their agenda and they want to deal with tax reform, health care. The president himself isn't allowing them to move on because he is so fixated on this Russia investigation. And that's going to isolate him and the White House down the line.

CUOMO: I mean, look, we got two important time markers here. We're right at about 24 hours since we learned and started covering the shooting here, David Chalian. And I think we're at the two-year mark of when Donald Trump got into the game to be president.

CAMEROTA: Tomorrow, right? He road down the escalator --

CUOMO: Yes, I mean, we're right there, right? So, we have -- you know, this confluence of momentous events. And there is no question that this is a time that you take stock, and you think about how you do things? And there's no question that people on the right were trying to play what happened yesterday to political advantage and blaming the left.

But the president to come out of the box with these two tweets this morning after calling for unity last night, how is that a consistent message?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it's not a consistent message, although, in the president's mind, you know, he's being consistent on his push back of the Russia investigation. And I thought the president struck precisely the right notes yesterday when he addressed the country in the aftermath of this. It really was an important reminder that everyone in this town comes to this call of service through a love of country.

[08:20:02] And so, I thought that was an important reminder. But I also think we shouldn't fool ourselves to thinking that this one terrible incident is going to undo what has been, you know, a couple decades worth now of a real coarsening of American political discourse. I don't think that's realistic.

I agree with you, Chris, that it is a moment to take stock, but I think that we are fooling ourselves if we think that, all of a sudden, there is going to be a kumbaya sensibility that's long-lasting here in Washington.

CUOMO: Proof is in the tweets, you know? He called it a witch hunt again. He called the people doing it bad. He denigrated an institution again.

CAMEROTA: But lawmakers are trying to have a different tone this morning. I mean, it is a real divide.

CUOMO: This is the top lawmaker. This is the top of the food chain, president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: I get it. And you can argue that the tone is set at the top. But we'll see today. You know, we'll see today what the lawmakers say as they head into this unified baseball game that they are playing.

Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Tonight should be special. We do hope they raise more money than ever. You can Google congressional baseball game. You figure out how you can donate. The money goes to needy kids.

So, some Republicans are blaming anti-Trump rhetoric for yesterday's attack on Republicans at a Virginia ball field. We will speak to one of those Republicans. Why he casts blame the way he does and what he thinks the solution is, next.


CUOMO: So, why did it happen?

[08:25:00] Crazed gunman, somebody with irrational political fervor or just a dark heart?

Well, there are other reasons being offered as well. Some lawmakers are saying, you know, why it happened, because politics is too nasty, specifically the Democrats are too nasty, and that's why the Republicans were targeted.

Joining us now is Republican congressman who is making exactly that case, Chris Collins of New York, friend of show. Good to have you on, Congressman. An important discussion to have


REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: It is good, Chris. And I will admit that early yesterday right after I got the news about five minutes after 8:00, my good friend Steve Scalise was gravely wounded and our thoughts and prayers remain with he and his family as we go through today.

I think in that emotion, your -- I did lash out and, you know, it would certainly appear this individual, the anger was certainly tied into the rhetoric going on, and so, I did say what I said, that I was putting the blame on the Democrats' doorstep. And then after, you know, the emotion of that instance wore off, you know, an hour or two later, I looked in the mirror and I said that's not the right tone. I am going to do what I can to help reverse this, the anger to end the discourse.

So, I certainly released a statement and subsequently said, I'm willing to admit that was wrong for me to say. That would actually be going in the wrong direction and I myself am going to try to tone down some of my rhetoric and I would invite my Democrat friends, and they are friends, to do likewise. And we certainly talked about that yesterday at 11:00 in our joint conference with the Republicans and Democrats.

And I think all of us have now had a chance to reflect, look in the mirror and say, you know, it's on all of us and it is a 24/7 news cycle and elections are coming up next year, and it's been an especially ugly six months.

And I think also, some of us reacted to the threats that continue to come into our office. You know, the organized die-ins in our office and I hope some of that, especially the die-ins, that they just go away. That's just not appropriate.

CUOMO: Well, first of all, I applaud you for thinking better of what you said. I am not here to hang you with your own words. But it does raise the issue of plenty of blame being there to go around. In terms of hot talk, I think it would be wrong, as it was after Gabby Giffords, or any time, there seems to be a political motivation, to put it on partisan rhetoric.

You have to be of diseased mind or black heart to do what this man did yesterday.


CUOMO: And I don't think it is right to put it anybody who is making a political argument. We all make choices about how we conduct ourselves. He made his choice. It was the wrong choice and it cost him his life and nobody is going to argue with that.

COLLINS: Yes, and we don't know what the trigger was.

CUOMO: That's right. COLLIN: Clearly, this was a troubled individual, angered. We don't know what ultimately the trigger was.

CUOMO: But it goes to something else, which is it is nasty. People just don't disagree now. They try to dismantle their opponents and frankly it goes all the way to the top.

I don't think it is a coincidence and I think it needs to be called out that literally 24 hours after this shooting and all these beautiful messages of unity from both sides, the president is back at it this morning, not just saying, I did nothing wrong, not just saying I don't like this investigation, which he's fully within his rights to say. He's denigrating the institution. He's denigrating the people who are doing the investigating, congressmen, and I don't understand how that breeds unity.

COLLINS: Well, I actually agree with you here, Chris. I think timing could have been better on that.

And I can't speak for the president. Obviously, he does what he does. Clearly, he's frustrated by the investigation and the investigation is going to run its course probably for many, many months.

I would say it is time to move on. You know, you can be frustrated, but that's not -- you can't let that consume you either. You know, again, I'm not counseling the president. But I would have certainly not advised that that tweet go out today because we're still, you know, very much reacting to yesterday's shooting and -- but it is what it is and again I don't speak for the president on that.

CUOMO: Well, and again and I applaud that as well. You know, he watches the show and hopefully he'll hear your words and they will mean something to him.

You also said yesterday, you know what, I'm worried about this. I'm worried about these threats. I am going to have my gun on me. You are a registered gun owner. You have your permit.

Is that still the answer for you?

COLLINS: Yes, it is. I've had a carry permit for 30 years and I would say off and on, Chris, in different instances where I have, you know, felt it was appropriate, I would carry the weapon on myself. I certainly have it in the car. But I think today, you know, there is copy cats out there. There is people who will react.

CUOMO: Sure.

COLLINS: And, so, certainly in the short term, I'm going to go a step beyond just having in the glove box in my car, and I will be carrying.