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Trump: "I am being Investigated for Firing" Comey; Pence Hires Outside Counsel in Russia Probe; Hospital: Scalise Improving but still Critical; Dems Win Game, Give Trophy to GOP. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 16, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- for firing former FBI director James Comey. Here are his exact words. The tweet speaks for itself. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director! Witch hunt." That statement raises more questions, including is he also attacking his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein?
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He very well may be. Also at the same time this morning, "The New York Times" reports members of the Trump transition team have now been ordered to preserve documents and other materials related to the Russia investigation. All of this shaking out as the special counsel's team expands in number and widens its reach.
We're covering all the angles. Let's begin at the White House this morning with Athena Jones. Athena, any clarification from the White House on whom it is the president is talking about in this tweet?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. No. We have asked here at the White House for any clarification on this. We have asked if the president has been explicitly informed that he's under investigation or if he's potentially referring to press reports. No answer from the White House. They are referring us to the president's outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, as they've been doing for the last several weeks when asked any questions about this sort of thing.
But what's so curious about that tweet is what you already mentioned. He's essentially confirming that he is under investigation. It's not entirely clear who he's referring to, but the most likely person would be the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, because he mentions that "It's the man who told me to fire the FBI director." What's curious about that is you'll remember the assorted explanations we got from the president's team here at the White House around the firing of the former FBI director James Comey.
We know that Rod Rosenstein wrote a lengthy memo, criticizing Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation and using that as justification for firing the former FBI director. White House aides frequently pointed to that memo over a 24-36-hour period, until the president himself speaking on NBC, says that he was going to fire Director Comey anyway. So, now you have the president kind of refuting his own latest explanation. So, it's a bit confusing, but certainly significant to see the president putting out a tweet like that. We're hoping to get some more information.
BERMAN: Look, if you're looking for a linear thought stream here, it doesn't seem to exist. We're trying to get to the bottom of it, which is why, Athena, you are pressing the White House for answers because we need to know. Maybe the president's private attorney will tell us at some point today. Athena Jones thanks so much.
Also this morning, this Russia probe, it does appear to be widening. "The New York Times" reports that members of the president's transition team have now been ordered to save Russia-related documents. This news comes as we learn that the vice president, Mike Pence, has hired outside counsel of his own.
CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now from Washington with that part of the story. Good morning, Jessica.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. Like you said, the transition team, it was put on alert by the team's General Counsel's Office, that everyone must preserve all documents and materials related to the Russia investigation. That's being reported by "The New York Times." Now, this preservation memo, it states that people, quote, "Have a duty to preserve any physical or electronic records that may be related in any way to pending investigations."
So, this is just the latest and another indication that special counsel Robert Mueller's probe is widening, casting a wide net. You know, this memo, also according to "The New York Times," also details specific people whose background records should be saved. Those people include former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Carter Page, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as informal campaign adviser Roger Stone.
Now, typically, this is the type of preservation memo that's put out just after the Justice Department issues a preservation order. So, on top of this, we've also learned that Vice President Mike Pence, he's obtained his own lawyer to represent him in the investigation. This lawyer is Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general, also a former U.S. attorney in Virginia. And Pence's spokesman does confirm the hiring.
Richard Cullen saying that Pence's attorney will assist him in responding to any and all inquiries in this Russia probe, so saying in addition, that the vice president is focused entirely on his duties and the president's agenda and looks forward to a swift conclusion of this matter. So, a lot happening in this Russia probe, Vice President Pence hiring the lawyer, as well as the transition team being alerted to save all of their memos in this probe. John and Poppy?
HARLOW: Jessica Schneider, thank you for the reporting in Washington.
So, President Trump is confirming, as you saw in that statement, that he is under investigation. That's big. Here to discuss, David Gergen, a presidential adviser to four presidents, presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. Margaret Hoover, a CNN political analyst, Republican consultant and strategist and Keith Boykin, a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. He also served as an aide in the Clinton White House.
David Gergen, to you, the president tweets that he is under investigation and that he is under investigation for firing the FBI director by the man who told him to fire the FBI director. What do you make of it?
[10:05:08] DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The president's lawyer must be going a little nuts this morning. You know, they clearly don't have control over what he's tweeting and it's been longstanding practice that if you're under investigation, you don't attack publicly the investigators. It only stirs them up and it can invite all sorts of retaliation underneath everything. I just think it's strange. And of course, the facts are off.
But I think the most important thing that's going on here, Poppy, is that the president has clearly have launched a campaign to discredit the special counsel, to discredit the investigations, no matter what happens and it could be a prelude to firing Rosenstein, it could be a prelude to firing the special counsel, but it is certainly intended to, whatever the results are, to say they're so tainted, they're unbelievable, forget it, we're moving on. That's what the president's clearly trying do.
BERMAN: So, we're just getting some color right now from Jeff Zeleny, our White House reporter. I'll read it to you. I've seen it for the first time. "We are told," Jeff is, that this statement from the president is "a sign he is taking matters into his own hands." White House aides have been instructed not to talk about the Russia investigation, but that clearly does not apply to the president, as we've seen this morning.
HARLOW: And also this, another important beat from this, as we go through it, as you're getting it, this official at the White House saying that the president has decided over the last few days that quote, "This is a political fight and he's going to fight it."
BERMAN: What we don't have is clarification on exactly -
HARLOW: On who --
BERMAN: -- if he's talking about Rod Rosenstein and if he is, why? But Margaret Hoover, you know, David Gergen just pointed out there, we do know from earlier this week that the president has had discussions about firing Bob Mueller or was considering about it or the thought was in the air there at the White House. You know, Rod Rosenstein is the person who would fire Bob Mueller directly right there. It seems strange, but it really is reasonable to wonder right now if the president is not just attacking the special counsel, but also his deputy attorney general.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly, if you listened to any of the testimony of Rod Rosenstein this week, many of the senators were actually most curious about not whether he would fire the special counsel, but what would happen in the event that the president fired him, right? So, it is reasonable to wonder and is perfectly within the president's constitutional authority to fire Rod Rosenstein and to fire Robert Mueller.
I mean, we don't have a J. Edgar Hoover FBI anymore. But beyond this, what you just said and what the president said is that this is a political fight and he's going to fight it on his own terms. This is much more than a political fight. This is now a legal fight, this is a special investigation.
Because of the widening scope of this investigation and its broadened terms, the vice president now has a white-collar criminal attorney. Everybody is having to lawyer up. This is far broader than politics and the president risks by his continued lack of discipline the complete unraveling of any progress, political progress, in his administration, if this continues and there's truly -- and by this, I mean his lack of self-discipline. Character is destiny. I think many people voted for this man hoping he would be able to bulldoze, like a wrecking ball, through the bureaucracy in Washington. The only thing he may end up wrecking is himself.
HARLOW: Keith Boykin, you worked in the Clinton White House, so you know what it's like to have special counsel involved in something and to have an investigation metastasize from one thing into something completely different. What is your view of what is happening? Because this president is taking a different tact. Twitter wasn't around, I should know, but still.
KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is unprecedented. This is different from anything that happened in '90s or before. We're not even 150 days into the new administration and we have a full- fledged criminal investigation, apparently, not only of the campaign, but now of the transition and even of the White House itself, the current administration, the president of the United States. At the same time, the president is doing everything wrong. You're not supposed to, as David Gergen said, you're not supposed to discredit the special counsel, you're not supposed to as a president of the United States go out and tweet every day about it. You're not supposed to tell your attorney general and your advisers not to continue the probe.
HARLOW: But you're also not supposed to win an election the way that he won.
HARLOW: And he proved everyone wrong. So aside from not supposed to, what are the ramifications?
BOYKIN: Well, I think what we're possibly about to learn is there is a political law of gravity and it does apply to everyone, including Donald Trump. And eventually, we are starting to see the ramifications of that with the potential that this could actually take down his presidency. BERMAN: Just one historical point, your former boss, you know Bill Clinton, the Clinton administration did go after the independent counsel quite a bit during that. There is precedent for that, political reasons, as Margaret points out there, for doing that. You know, that may be a separate strategy. Still don't understand why he's going after his own deputy attorney general.
But let me read you a statement from the deputy attorney general last night that had us all scratching our heads before we were scratching our heads this morning by the statement from the president.
[10:10:00] Rod Rosenstein wrote last night, apparently without provocation, he said, "Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they do not identify the country, let alone the branch or agency of government, with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated."
This morning, David Gergen, I'm wondering if he was talking about Americans, maybe Rod Rosenstein knew some story was coming out and sending a message to the president, saying don't believe it. Maybe that's who he was talking about right there. There's always back and forth now by key players and we just don't know what's happening.
GERGEN: Very interesting point, John. Listen, my imagination runs along the idea that someone from the White House, perhaps the General Counsel's Office, wanted a stronger statement from Rod Rosenstein, going as far as he could to exonerate the president, to say all these leaks are wrong and so forth and so on. And Rosenstein wrote something which didn't satisfy the White House but tried to get them off his back.
I think he must be under a lot of pressure from various parts of the White House. But let me go back to one other point. You know, the president in using these tweets to go after the special counsel to go after the whole investigatory process, is only adding to a growing body of evidence that he is trying to tamper with the investigation. He is trying to influence the investigation.
And just as he saw in the issue of the travel ban, his tweets were used by the courts to say he has an intent that makes this unconstitutional, which happened in a couple of circuits now. And the more he plays this game of attacking, attacking, attacking, the more it will add to the weight of this amounts to obstruction of what he's trying to do. He ought to be staying away from this.
HARLOW: Margaret -
HOOVER: Can I say one thing, though?
HARLOW: Yes. I was just going to point out, say it's not just -- you know, the president is doing this, which is completely confusing and needs explanation, but his closest allies are also going in attack against Mueller. Newt Gingrich keeps doing it day after day after day after day, calling it this sphere aimed at destroying the administration, the tip of the deep-state sphere, Gingrich calls it. HOOVER: Yes -- look, back to Rosenstein. I mean, Rosenstein, I'd like to say, David Gergen and Keith and I have all worked in White Houses where we'd read things in the newspaper that absolutely have no resemblance to what's actually going on behind the scenes. So you can emphasize and appreciate that Rosenstein's frustration, especially in the wake of Comey's testimony last week where even Comey said, reports about Russia were entirely false that appeared in "The New York Times." But welcome, folks, to the tension between the first amendment and a self-governing Republic.
I mean, you have to be able to have a free press. You have to be able to have sourcing for that press. And what we want is actually, you know, a wide disclaimer for Americans to read as much as possible and discern as much as possible from as many sources as possible what's real and what's not. When you look back at the Watergate investigation, details unfolded over a very long period of time and it's only with hindsight that you're able to put it all together. We need good reporting and sometimes those reports -- at the same time, consumers of news have to also have a certain caution about what they read in the paper.
BOYKIN: But I think that the problem is that the president here though, doesn't seem to have any understanding of this sort of historical context, so.
BERMAN: We will see.
BOYKIN: The president doesn't understand the precedents for Watergate or he wouldn't be behaving this way.
BERMAN: We'll see what he understands. And maybe the minutes ahead, we will hear from him very shortly. Keith, Margaret, David thank you very, very much.
HARLOW: Thank you guys.
BERMAN: I think we have some pictures right now of the president. He's arriving right now at Joint Base Andrews and getting ready to go to Florida right now, for what was supposed to be a major announcement on Cuba policy. Who knows what else he will speak about at this point? Again, we're following the breaking news, the president admitting he is under investigation for firing the FBI director. Stay with us.
[10:18:15] HARLOW: All right, you're looking at Marine One that has just landed at Joint Base Andrews, the president about to disembark from Marine One and walk on to Air Force One. He is headed to Miami to announce his Cuba policy. We will get to that in a moment, but this comes less than an hour after the president has tweeted that he is under investigation. We'll get to more of that in a moment.
Meantime, as we look at these live pictures, there is positive news this morning about Congressman Steve Scalise. Hospital officials say he has improved his condition over the last 24 hours. He does remain, though, still in critical condition. He underwent a second surgery yesterday. He will need more surgeries before he's able to go home.
BERMAN: Lawmakers still carried out the charity baseball game last night. There's the president right now walking off Marine One, as Poppy said, getting ready to go to Florida moments after he sets off a firestorm, admitting that he is under investigation for firing the FBI director.
President sent the video message last night as part of the charity baseball game at the Nationals Ballpark, a game the Democrats won, but the Democrats immediately gave the trophy to Republicans to put in the office of Steve Scalise, who cared so much, cares so much about the game. Really, it will be a memento, I think forever, of his heroism.
CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us right now to give us an update on the Congressman's condition.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, Steve Scalise is doing better, but his situation is still pretty rough right now and it's going to take a long time for him to completely recover. The hospital where he is being treated, MedStar Washington Hospital, put out a statement, actually during the baseball game last night, where they did announce that he did undergo a second surgery to repair some of the organs that have been damaged and a broken leg that was all result of that shooting from Thursday.
[10:20:07] Now, Scalise has a lot of effort and a lot of work to go before he is able to leave the hospital. They, in fact, said in that statement last night that they expect him to be in the hospital for some time, but Scalise obviously on the minds of everyone at the baseball game last night. The team Scalise shirts were worn by many in the stadium and we saw a tremendous amount of unity among Republicans and Democrats last night.
In fact, normally at that baseball game, Republicans sit on one side of the stadium. Democrats sit on the other side. This time around, members made a pointed effort to sit with each other. You saw Republicans and Democrats in the stands together. They were certainly competitive on the baseball field. There were some boos when Republicans got up to bat by Democrats, but ultimately, this was a night about being together.
And the question that many have now is does that transfers to the legislative process. Many are hopeful, but there are obviously been situations like this before and the acrimony returns pretty quickly. No votes scheduled today on either side of Congress, but they'll be back to work on Monday. John and Poppy?
HARLOW: All right. Ryan Nobles, beautiful thing to see last night, for sure. Please keep us posted on Congressman Scalise's condition. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Thomas Suozzi. He joins us, he sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee. It's nice to have you here, Congressman and it's been really nice to see the unity in Washington. We were just there yesterday and we could feel it, being right outside of the Capitol. You played last night. What was it like?
REP. THOMAS SUOZZI (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It was a very humbling experience. I was so happy to be a part of it. We're all praying for Steve Scalise. He's got a rough road ahead of him, but we're hoping he's going to be fine. It's going to be a tough, tough road, though.
BERMAN: And of course, the news we're just getting in, positive, more positive for the Congressman, went through surgery. Still in critical condition, but they do expect that condition to improve now, Congressman. So, thank you for playing last night. Thank you for your time.
We want to get to the news that really just broke this morning. The president of the United States confirming he is under investigation for firing the FBI director, James Comey. He wrote "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director! Witch hunt." If I can, sir, just your reaction to that statement, which just came in from the president?
SUOZZI: You know the president, I think, is doing himself a disservice by constantly tweeting about this stuff. While the investigation's going on, he brings more attention to it than anybody else does. Let Mueller do his job, let the people do their investigation and let's find out what the answer is.
The president really should focus, as well as the Congress, let's all try and work together to try and accomplish things. People are sick of politicians, they're sick of politics. They want us to get something done, so let's take this really special time in history related to what happened to Steve Scalise and even the baseball game last night, of people coming together and let's work together to actually accomplish something.
HARLOW: Do you think -- who do you think the president is talking about with this tweet, Mueller or Rosenstein? And do you think either man's job is in jeopardy as a result of this?
SUOZZI: You know, I'm not even going to get into the speculation. We've got to move away from all the speculating and us versus the president, the Democrats versus the Republicans. Let this play out the way it's got to go and let's do our jobs.
BERMAN: Along those lines, sir, there seems to be some kind of a debate within the Democratic caucus about how to treat this. There are some Democrats who think that any talk of the "I" word, impeachment, is out of bounds. Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said "No one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office." Are you in that camp that any talk of impeachment is premature?
SUOZZI: I think it's a distraction from the important work we have ahead of us. The day of the shooting, you know, we left practice. We had to come back and do our work. We questioned Secretary Tillerson about the Secretary of State's budget, had a briefing with General Dunford from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is serious life-and-death business that we need to work on and these are distractions. We need to be focusing on the work that we need to do. Let the investigations go on.
You know, I have questions about Russia and the president and about this and about that and the investigations. Let the process that has been set up, let that be the focus of what's going to happen with the president. Let's get back to the people's business on the other hand. This is life and -- health care -
HARLOW: So, on that point, Congressman, is all of this, the president's tweets, comments about impeachment from your fellow Democrats, is that getting in the way? You say it's a distraction, but is it actually holding you up, Congress up from getting things accomplished? It seems like it to us on the outside. Is it from the inside?
[10:25:01] SUOZZI: I think so. I think that everybody's talking about how they'd like to see the Congress be more civil and more civil-toned and people treat each other better. You know, I'm a freshman. I get along great with my colleagues on the Republican and Democratic side. I see everybody treating each other civilly. I think what happens is, is when we go on television, when we see social media, this is where we get pulled away from being civil.
People want to do the people's business and I think that can happen and I think the president is distracting us with his tweets, always bringing these topics up and I think that some of this reckless talk on both the right and the left sometimes distracts us. People want us to get something done.
BERMAN: Congressman, what was your batting line last night? I missed it.
SUOZZI: How did I do batting?
SUOZZI: Listen, it was -- that was -- I had a great, hard-hit line drive that the shortstop caught, so that took it away.
BERMAN: Spoken like a man who was, oh for something? Congressman Tom Suozzi of Long Island, great to have you with us, thanks so much. We really appreciate your words this morning, sir.
SUOZZI: Thanks so much.
HARLOW: All right. We have more breaking news this morning overseas. The question over whether or not the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, is dead or not. We'll have a live report on that, ahead.