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Russia Reports Their Airstrike Killed ISIS Leader; President Trump Tweets about Russia Investigation. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of this report, and even Russia is going throw on this. Now, there have been multiple reports of al-Baghdadi's death in the past turned out to be not true. His whereabouts have been unknown for some time. If his death is confirmed, it would be a blow to the terror group, but just about every expert says it wouldn't end ISIS.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live in London. Of course Clarissa has reported extensively from warzones and in Syria. What do you make of this news?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, I think there is a lot of skepticism about this claim that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in what Russia's Defense Ministry is saying was an air strike on an ISIS military council meeting on May 28th in the evening. They are claiming that 330 ISIS personnel were at that meeting. Among them 30 midlevel field commanders and potentially the ISIS leader himself, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reportedly this meeting took place in a southern suburb of Raqqa and was dealing with the question of how to move people or evacuate senior personnel from Raqqa to a southern corridor as we've seen the coalition is really preparing for the assault on the city itself.

So there are a lot of questions here, I would say, because, firstly, ISIS is very adapted and learned a lot from the endless air strikes that they have experienced in the past few years. They do not tend to travel in large numbers. They do not tend to congregate in large numbers. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself has been extremely elusive for years now. He is believed to be moving location regularly. It is almost inconceivable that he would still be in, A, in Raqqa and, B, be meeting with a large group of personnel like this. So I would say that there are still certainly a lot of questions. If, if, if it turns out that this is the case, that this is true, of course it would be a huge propaganda victory for the Russians and it would also be a significant blow for ISIS, though the group has continued with its attacks throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Chris?

CUOMO: Clarissa, thank you very much. Let's get to the ground and those who are trying to verify whether or not al-Baghdadi is dead. Joining us now is the spokesman for the U.S. led coalition against ISIS Colonel Ryan Dillon live in Baghdad. We hope you and your men and women are safe there serving your country. What do you make of this news? COL. RYAN DILLON, SPOKESPERSON, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE: Well,

Chris, first off, we cannot confirm these reports. If these reports are true, then everybody wins. We know al-Baghdadi is a prestigious leader of ISIS. Does it affect the rattle in Raqqa and the fight that we are going to defeat ISIS in Mosul? Largely not. Perhaps the morale of the fighters that are there, but we don't think that Baghdadi is one of these guys who are making battlefield calls and making decisions on a day-to-day basis.

CUOMO: Part of the Russian disclosure is that the U.S. knew about the attacks. Is that true?

DILLON: We maintain an open de-confliction line with the Russians. We don't talk specifics about the strikes that happen. We just confirm whether or not our forces are in the area or their forces are in the area so that we can maintain a level of safety so that we are not inadvertently targeting one another as we continue our fight against ISIS.

CUOMO: The grounds for skepticism here, do you share them that there was a feeling the leadership moved out of that area as early as March, that they don't usually meet in these kinds of big numbers, that al- Baghdadi is not usually in these kind of big groups, and that the numbers targeted and hit sound artificially high. Does that sound like the proper scrutiny?

DILLON: We have also seen that Baghdadi or heard that people like this at this level do not expose themselves. And we have been looking for senior ISIS targets, and when we find them, we will strike them. We have not found al-Baghdadi. But we have found just about everybody else that falls underneath him, all of his lieutenants. And when we find these opportunities and we have these opportunity and we can strike them safely, we will and we have done so many times.

CUOMO: Do you think you will be able to verify this information any time soon?

DILLON: I don't know. And just like right now, we have seen this before, as you have already been reported. This has been a battle drill where many times these claims have been brought up. But before the United States, before the coalition comes forward with any kind of confirmation, we want to be 100 percent accurate and correct.

[08:05:00] CUOMO: So while I have you, there is word that as many as 4,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. As you know General Mattis has said we are not winning there right now, the United States. It put us at over 12,000 troops on the ground. What should the American people know about how it's going where you are?

DILLON: Well, I think that it's fair to say that ISIS losses are undeniable and they're irreversible. In the course of the last two and a half years since the coalition has been supporting our Iraqi security force partners and our partners in Syria, ISIS has lost more than 40,000 square miles of territory. We have been able to liberate more than 4 million people back in their homes. ISIS has never been able to reclaim any of the ground that either Iraqi security forces or Syrian democratic forces have taken from them. So the progress and the trends of what we are doing here in Iraq and Syria are definitely moving in the right direction. Raqqa, the de facto capital and their twin caliphate, and their twin capital in Mosul, the largest ISIS stronghold ever, are both being liberated right now as we speak.

CUOMO: Colonel, thank you for the update and the analysis of these headlines. We appreciate it. Thank you for your service. Please stay safe.

DILLON: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's bring in CNN military and diplomatic analyst Rear Admiral John Kirby for more on this. John, do you share the colonel's skepticism and, frankly the skepticism of most guests that we've had on this morning about whether or not you can trust this Russian report?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I do. I think it's all been covered so well there is not much more I can add. I absolutely 100 percent share the skepticism on this. I share skepticism over the fact that there was even a strike to begin with. I don't think that we've confirmed that. As the colonel said, this de-confliction zone is not where they tell us what they're hitting and when. It is simply just saying we're going to be in this area. So there is no evidence right now that there was even a strike.

And I think it is important for viewers to remember the Russians do not have the same precision capabilities that we do. So even if there was a strike, that it was this precise, I find that very dubious.

CAMEROTA: So John, one of the things that President Trump, then candidate Trump, ran on was his strategy or ability to fight ISIS and that it was going to be quick. Do you have a sense of what his administration is doing right now to fight ISIS?

KIRBY: I think we're getting more and more information, but I don't think we have enough. I don't think it's been thoroughly vetted by them and certainly not well articulated to the American people. We talked about this the other day. Largely, when the president speaks about this particular threat, he does so in militaristic terms only. And yes, there is a military role. We've been saying that for a couple of years. There is a military element to killing these guys, to getting them off the battlefield, to shrinking their territory, to drying up their ability to fight.

But it has to be more comprehensive. It has to be whole of government. There has to be an economic, a political aspect to it. And there has to be an effort to get at the root causes of extremism to begin with, which this administration does not seem to want to pay much attention to, and I think that's a problem. And they haven't articulated a grander, deeper, broader strategy.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, if it were easy, the Obama administration would have done it. I mean, what should this administration be doing in terms of all of those other tenants that you are talking about?

KIRBY: Good point. Let's go back a little bit, two years. It has been a long fight against ISIS. And we said at the time when I was both at the Pentagon and State Department that this is going to be a long struggle, years and years. And it is turning out to be that way. Because the ideology that these guys purport, it's viral and it does have traction, and they are adapting and they're very agile. They're adapting to this strategy that's being put against them in Iraq and Syria, focusing more on spreading that ideology to western nations.

I think that this administration, as they continue to examine this strategy, need to make sure that they -- that they tell the American people, tell people around the world, that they aren't taking a deeper, longer approach. That this isn't just going to be about killing terrorists. As I said the other day, you cannot kill your way out of a problem like this. We can drop all the bombs we want, put all the warheads on all the foreheads of these bad guys, but it's never going to end this particular threat in the long term. This is a generational struggle.

CAMEROTA: Right. Obviously online and the Internet has to play a big role.

KIRBY: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: We know the attacks we have seen recently, that's where a lot of the inspiration comes. But are you seeing any progress on fighting it there on that front?

KIRBY: Again, I can speak for my time in the last administration. We were putting a lot of effort into that, particularly at the state department. There was a center set up to battle the ideology and the spread of this ideology online. And we were having some success. By the time President Obama left office, ISIS's social media footprint and influence was considerably reduced.

Now, I don't know what they're doing in this new administration, I don't know what ever they're putting on it, but you're absolutely right, Alisyn. It has to be more than just about killing them. You have goit to kill the ideology and the spread of it and the ability of people to be attracted to this extremist thought.

[08:10:05] CAMEROTA: John Kirby, thank you very much for all of the context here. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, now to our other top story. President Trump is lashing out about the Russia investigation again, even after what happened in Virginia, these promises that let's try to keep the talk less testy. Look at what he just tweeted. "After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my collusion with the Russians, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!" Remember, the investigations are so far from over, the only way that you'd know right now is if it leaked, and I thought the president didn't want leaking.

Let's bring in our political panel. CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard, and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin.

First Cillizza, what is the impact of this type of tweeting, not just saying I don't agree and I don't like it and I think it will reveal nothing, but the people who are doing it is bad. It is a witch hunt and a sham.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: It is his M.O. and has been his M.O. not just in political life, Chris, but his entire life. As a New Yorker, you are probably closer to this certainly than I am not growing up there, but this is what Donald Trump does. When a story comes out that he does not like, he attacks the messenger, he pivots and he tries to tell a story that's better for him. In the example the tweets yesterday, "Why isn't Hillary Clinton being investigated?"

The cumulative effect, it will continue to convince people who support him unquestioningly that this is a witch hunt, that he is the subject of an unfair and biased system from the media on down. For everybody else I think it will affirm Donald Trump is not terribly popular in polling. I think it is important to note he is in the 30s in approval. He is in the high 50s or low 60s in disapproval, historically poor for this period of time in a presidency. This will not help that, in addition to the fact that it is going to continue to complicate Republicans efforts to say we have walled off the Mueller investigation. Whatever Bob Mueller finds we are comfortable with, but we don't want to talk about it day in and day out. We want to talk about other things that we are getting done. But when the president of United States tweets about it day in and day out, it is kind of hard to get out of it.

CAMEROTA: OK, so that's the political complication. But Michael, is there a legal complication? Obvious President Trump is venting, he's venting his frustration that this investigation that he says, you know, has produced no evidence continues. But is there a legal complication to him continuing to tweet since those are part of the public record?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It depends on the tweet. These last tweets which are really just sort of rants I don't think put him in any greater legal jeopardy. If he makes factual assertions, "I did not say this" as was reported in his press conference, or other things that are factual statements of his action or his intention, then that could put him in legal jeopardy. But rants just are rants and they don't really implicate him terribly from a legal standpoint.

CUOMO: A.B., the instinct is to suggest that this can't be help him except with his base. But maybe it is help.

ZELDIN: In political terms.

CUOMO: In political terms, absolutely. Thank you, Mike. But in terms of the political terms, maybe it is helping him. It is cementing resistance. It is setting up a long-term explanation for whatever the investigation does uncover. And it is a pretty shiny distraction from this, you know, kooky secretive of process that's going on with the health care bill, the fact he just fired his son's wedding planner. It's all over the cover of "The Daily News" this morning.

CAMEROTA: Right, but that's our fault, right? We allowed ourselves to be distracted by that.

CUOMO: It's working. We've been talking about it this morning, but fair criticism. But I'm saying it's working for him. So every time we say, I don't know why he's saying this, how does it help him, maybe it does help him.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, as Cillizza points out, it is what he has always done is if he thinks he could get something on page six of "The New York Post" and then he can take it off by producing other shiny object and burying the story with a new outrage. It's kind of worked for him in the past, and I do agree that this is how he sort of not only stoking his support among his base but also doing this kind of pre-mortem on whatever the special council concludes at the end of the investigation.

Bob Mueller has been de-legitimzed and discredited by the allies. Just imagine the day of the Congressional baseball yesterday with so much emotion and so much sort of unified, you know, expression about the need to deescalate the rhetoric. Newt Gingrich, the top ally of, you know, out with a book about Trump, is maligning Bob Mueller in tweets all day, saying he is the tip of the spear of the deep state out to destroy the presidency.

[08:15:11] So, there is a definitely a campaign out not through officials at the briefing room podium but others to make sure that Bob Mueller is a bad guy no matter what. And that's fine. I understand that they're doing it. It's what Bill Clinton and his allies did to Ken Starr in the '90s.

But the problem is, he lengthens the discussion on Russia by tweeting about Russia all the time. And we're in a new phase that we need to talk about on Capitol Hill where not only do they really take issue with him, you know, having a celebration in the Rose Garden about the House passed health care bill and saying this week that's a son of a B and it is brutal and it's mean, essentially throwing them under the bus.

But his level of tweeting, his level of potential obstruction, reaching out to people on the phone and saying, you know, I'm not under investigation, so could you please make a public statement and make sure that everyone knows there was no collusion or all this stuff, they're really beginning to think and his own aides inside the White House are beginning to think that he is going to land himself in more legal and political trouble because of his sort of obsessive reactions to things.



CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was going to say that the real trap that he is in is if he sets himself up to having to testify under oath about something which isn't true. So if these -- his own tweets sort of box him into a position as his press conference with the Romanian leader said when he said I did not say that, if he's now -- if that's true, fine. If it's not true but he now has to say that again under oath, that's where he puts himself in legal jeopardy and that's the danger of speaking by him at this time.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, let me ask you about what has been described as a peculiar statement that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy A.G., just put out about articles, you know, about press and what can be trusted here.

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 source is supposedly affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.

Earlier, some of our pundits had speculated that perhaps he felt pressured by the White House to put out a statement like that because we know the president also has been railing against anonymous sources and now a justice official has just told our Evan Perez that the White House did not order this Rosenstein statement.

So, what are we to make of it, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS, REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, that's a lot of words by Rod Rosenstein to essentially say two words: fake news. This is the argument that Donald Trump has promulgated throughout his campaign and throughout his presidency, which is essentially if anyone is speaking anonymously, it is by nature not true.

As a reporter, of course, we always try to get people on the record. Meaning, we try to get them to say things with their name attached to it. Some people fear for their jobs. Some people fear for other things and they ask for anonymity. We carefully in almost every situation try to figure out is it the right thing to do or not the right thing to do.

The idea that anonymous officials should be all dismissed, it just -- it doesn't bear out from the years and decades of good journalism produced by people who can't or won't leave their names.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And we have never seen a statement like this coming out of any A.G. office before. Evan Perez is a great reporter, a Justice Department official says this. I give him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't smell right.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much for all of that.

Now, we have to tell you about this next story. You probably know Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's been on our air as well as many other networks. She herself survived a shooting that left her congressman dead and severely injured her. So, we will get her take on this week's horrible attack on

Republicans. That's next.


[08:22:50] CAMEROTA: House GOP Whip Steve Scalise remains in critical condition after a gunman ambushed him and his fellow Republicans during a baseball practice. Congresswoman Jackie Speier was injured 38 years ago when she accompanied her congressman, Leo Ryan, her boss, to Guyana to investigate the Jonestown situation there and Congresswoman Speier was shot five times on that trip. But she survived.

She is now here with us, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.

Congresswoman, I think very few people know that you endured violence like this in your past. Can you tell us what happened on that day, November 18th, 1978?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Congressman Ryan had made that trip because many of his constituents had loved ones, younger children, young adult children, who that had gotten involved in this church in San Francisco called the People's Temple, the Reverend Jim Jones, as he was called, and took about 900 of his congregation to Jonestown, created a commune there. And Congressman Ryan decided to go down there and find out if they were being held against their will.

Over the course of 24 hours, that became very obvious. Many people wanted to leave. We were with many of these people at the airstrip. Unbeknownst to us, a tractor trailer with seven gunmen came and started shooting.

Congressman Ryan was shot 45 times, the first congressman assassinated in the line of duty. I was shot five times on that airstrip and left there for 22 hours without medical attention. So, I ensured ten surgeries, two months in the hospital and many years of rehabilitation.

So, I have just the greatest empathy for Steve Scalise and his wife and children, and I think this Congress needs to recognize that we have an obligation to all those who have gone before us and done things that have been heroic and who oftentimes are forgotten. So, Congressman Ryan was a remarkable human being and should always be remembered for what he did for his constituents.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, Congresswoman, and so are you.

[08:25:01] SPEIER: Well --

CAMEROTA: I mean, this story is so dramatic. You know, when we spoke on Wednesday to the Republican congressmen who were part of this baseball game and they talked about the ambush, you know, the police down there say that it took them three minutes to get to the ball field.

But the congressmen or senators like Rand Paul described it as feeling like an eternity, you know, to hear the gunshots and not to hear the sirens yet, they described a feeling like an eternity. The idea that you endured 22 hours being left for dead, it's impossible to get our minds around what that experience was like for you.

SPEIER: Well, it was a harrowing experience that shaped my life in many ways. I remember very vividly being lifted from the Guyana aircraft on to the U.S. medevac plane. And I've told this story many times. It was like someone wrapped me in the American flag and there is never a time when I sing the national anthem or made pledge of allegiance that I don't take myself back to that moment and recognize how lucky we are to live in this country.

CAMEROTA: So, what was last night's ball game for you? What have these past 48 hours been like for you with your personal history?

SPEIER: Well, I just ache for Steve and his family and his children. I mean, Father's Day is Sunday and his two kids are going to be with him in the hospital, hopefully able to give him the kind of support that he needs to rally. And it sounds like he is.

But he is in for a long recovery. And it is -- it's something that we should recognize and be very supportive of him. It is -- it is a horrific experience to go through.

I was in the line of fire for, you know, nanoseconds. When you think of our men and women who go in to defend us abroad and realize they are under fire every day, the entire length of their service, it is very compelling. And that's why I feel so passionately about making sure our veterans have all the resources they need.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

And so, everyone for the past 48 hours on Capitol Hill has been talking about how urgently we need unity, how to stop this toxic partisanship that we've all been experiencing and this toxic climate. But, you know, it is hard. I mean, I think that people revert to the mean. No pun intended.

What do you think the answer is for how to preserve this current feeling of unity?

SPEIER: Well, I hope it is not just words. I do feel very strongly that the effort underway right now to sabotage Bob Mueller, to somehow throw mud at him is reprehensible.

This is a man who has served his country in war, who received a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. This is a man who spent years as the FBI director, has been called by both sides of the aisle as a straight shooter and now, there are efforts underway to somehow suggest that he isn't up to the task?

I mean, come on. If we're really going to talk about unity, let this investigation run its course and I would say to the president of the United States, stop tweeting and stop using the vitriolic language and stop attacking Americans. This is not what this country is about.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you very much for sharing your personal harrowing story with us. Nice to see you.

SPEIER: Thank you, Alisyn.


SPEIER: It is good advice, many would suggest, and the president is not following it. He just tweeted again. He is talking about his love of social media, bashing the free press. What is his strategy? Why does he believe this works for him? The bottom line next.