Return to Transcripts main page


White House Answering Questions; Democrats Suffer Defeats; Teching Care of Your Health; Obstruction of Justice on Table. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Specifically about this.

You know, I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.

I -- I don't -- I have no asked him.

I -- I have not asked the president.

I haven't asked him.


SPICER: I can get back to you on that.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get "The Bottom Line" with our CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod.

David Axelrod, you know very well that that Brady Press Briefing Room is like a stone's throw from the West Wing. I mean, help us understand how -- and we have President Trump on record initially talking about Russian meddling and now, you know, totally backing off and unable to answer the question. What's up?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, that -- that -- it may be a stone's throw away, but I think in that White House it also could be the Grand Canyon for the relationship between the spokesman and the president. I don't mean their personal relationship. I have no reason to believe he's not talking to the president.

But, look, the hardest job in America is to be Donald Trump's spokesman because only Donald Trump speaks for Donald Trump. And we saw that -- we've seen that so many times. And we saw Sean Spicer and the vice president and others go out, for example, and explain why the president fired Jim Comey, only to be contradicted by the president on national TV. So I think that's what happened is that Sean Spicer's decided to pull in his horns and simply plead ignorance rather than making declarative statements and then being proved wrong later. We know the short time --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But is this an improvement, Axe? I mean this is just -- this is just jazzing the media. Everybody knows he talks to the president. Everybody knows he's aware of his position. You know, so why offer up an answer that just becomes an attack on your own credibility?

AXELROD: Because I think he would rather do that than offer up an answer that either becomes a huge controversy, no, the president doesn't believe that, or say, yes, he does believe that, and have the president offer a contradictory statement.

Look, Chris, we know he's a short-timer. They're looking for a replacement. It tells you something about how undesirable that job is that they apparently can't find someone who's willing to stand up there and play that role. I mean you'd -- you have to be in Cirque de Soleil to be a spokesman for Donald Trump for all the twisting and turning and unbelievable kind of maneuvers you have to make to try and survive there. And I think Sean's just running out the clock, waiting for someone else to come up -- up there and take a beating.

BALDWIN: Yes, he definitely didn't deny it when he was asked about, you know, what -- what he's up to next, these reports.

What about the Georgia six, David? I mean I stayed up way too late watching you on TV in the wake of the -- the big Karen Handel victory. But so -- you know, and you see the numbers on the screen. You have our -- Congressman Molten (ph), Democrat, "Ossoff race better be a wakeup call for Democrats. Business as usual isn't working. He says, time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future. Where is the future of Democrats? Who's going to win?

AXELROD: Yes. Look, I think Seth Molten is a great guy and a great young leader in the Democratic Party. I'm not sure that that's what this was about because, you know, Ossoff, I think, was talking about the future. I don't think he was a particularly good candidate for this district, a 30-year-old unknown who didn't live in the district. I think his best chance was to win back in the first round when the Republicans were fractionated and disorganized and you had a chance to take advantage of that. He got their attention in the runoff and they came with everything they had in a district that the Republicans have held for 40 years. So, look, this was a big night for the Republicans because they averted what would have been a disaster to lose that seat that Newt Gingrich won back in the late '70s and Republicans have held would have been an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party.

But let's also recognize that there have been four runoffs. Democrats have lost them all. Republicans have won them all. But they've all been solidly Republicans districts. This was a plus-nine Republican district. They won by three points in another district last night in South Carolina that is a plus-nine or ten Republican district and they won by about three -- a little more than three points.

So the question is, what happens when you get into districts that are more competitive than these districts were. And we don't know the answer to that yet. So, I mean, Democrats will do what Democrats do and there will be a lot of finger-pointing about messaging and so on. I think the Democratic Party has to go out and recruit good candidates and compete in districts that they can actually win, which are districts -- CUOMO: Well, the message --

AXELROD: For example, where Republicans are in office and Hillary Clinton won. Those are the districts that should be focusing on.

CUOMO: Message matters, obviously. You want to find the right messenger. And that's probably going to take a turn toward policy for the Democrats. Makes this health care situation that much more important. And what do you make of this state of play on this health care bill right now? Yes, it's been too secretive. Even the Republicans are clamoring about that. But at the end of the day, if they pass something, that will be delivering on that Republican promise, to undo the ACA. What's the Democrat play?

[08:35:18] AXELROD: And I think delivering on that promise, Chris, is what's motivating Mitch McConnell. He does not want to be blamed by the Republican base for allowing the repeal and replace effort on the Affordable Care Act to die in the United States Senate. So he's trying every which way to get his factions together and find 50 votes in that chamber to pass this bill. It's not clear as we sit here that that will happen.

I do think what happened in Georgia last night, in a strange way, made it a little bit easier because they would have been in full panic on Capitol Hill, Republicans would have, if Ossoff had won that race in Georgia. Nonetheless, there are big, big issues dividing moderate Republicans from conservative Republicans, the same divisions we saw in the House, only he has less running room because they have fewer Republicans in the Senate.

I think McConnell is trying to force the issue. He doesn't want Republicans to go home over the holiday break and hear from their constituents. He doesn't want to unfurl this bill until they have the details of it because he knows it's going to be highly controversial and it's a very -- you know, it's a -- it's a very narrow pass he's trying to navigate.

It's also a very cynical play. I mean the fact is the Affordable Care Act had ten months of hearings and a lot of public discussion. This is -- this is quite something. This is historic in its secretiveness.

CUOMO: All right, Axe, appreciate your take, as always.

BALDWIN: Thanks, David.


CUOMO: "The Bottom Line."

AXELROD: All right. Good to see you guys.

CUOMO: All right, so one of the hottest companies in the country, really in the world, is Uber. Its founder and CEO is now out. Why? What does it mean? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:40:54] CUOMO: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

President Trump and fellow Republicans celebrating a win in the most expensive House race in U.S. history. Karen Handel defeating Democrat Jon Ossoff in the special election in Georgia's sixth district.

BALDWIN: Senate Republican leaders plan to unveil a draft of their secret health care bill tomorrow. A vote, they say, could come as early as next Thursday.

CUOMO: Tropical Storm Cindy gaining strength over The Gulf. Seventeen million people along that coast are under a tropical storm warning. That storm could bring 15 inches of rain.

BALDWIN: Jared Kushner in Jerusalem trying to kick-start Middle East peace talks. He is meeting with the prime minister of Israel before traveling to Ramallah for talks with the Palestinian president.

CUOMO: Travis Kalanick, the man who co-founded Uber and helped build it into a transportation giant all over the world is resigning as CEO in the face of a revolt by the company's investors.

BALDWIN: For more on the "Five Things to Know," go to for the very latest.

CUOMO: So, Special Counsel Bob Mueller meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee today. He has been making the rounds to kind of draw the lines between what Congress and he should investigate. Obstruction of justice is a big one. Can he make the case?

BALDWIN: But first, the family dog may soon have a high-tech way to be man's best friend. Researchers are developing technology to help dogs fetch for assistance when their humans have medical emergencies. OK. It is the latest in "Teching Care of Your Health."

CUOMO: Tough to say but I like it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): This border collie is testing a device that could eventually let dogs alert 911 when his owner's in distress.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The dog taps a color pattern and signals for help.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This uses IR, or infrared technology. This allows the screen to get a little messy but still be functional and be able to be used.

Good boy! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): Researchers are finding ways to help

all dogs, big and small, to communicate when their owners needs help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): My owner needs you're attention. Please follow me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dogs naturally, as puppies, can pull things, they can touch things with their noses, they can hold things in their mouth. They can bite things. So we just taught them, OK, you're going to do that behavior you already know on the sensor that you're wearing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): For people with certain medical conditions, the technology could be a life saver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person with diabetes can have an episode where they become very disoriented and they might not be able to make a phone call or call 911. So it's extremely important that the dogs can do that. These creatures are man's best friend for a reason.



[08:47:24] CUOMO: The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet with Bob Mueller later today, looking into whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice when he fired James Comey.

Joining us now to discuss the case for and against obstruction of justice is Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general and president, Senate Conservatives Fund.

It is good to have you with us, Ken. Thank you for helping us out.


CUOMO: Thank you.

Let's start with something that doesn't really deserve much debate. Would you be surprised if Bob Mueller is looking at this issue of the context of the dismissal of James Comey?

CUCCINELLI: Well, at least to check the box. The starting problem with that is, the president has the authority to fire the people who work for him. So -- but when the president says after he fires James Comey, you know, I really wanted -- I was really mad about this Russia investigation, that obviously raises the question. But Comey's testimony, I think, actually made it harder to make an obstruction case against the president. The intent element is required and it's got to be substantial. And, remember, within less than 48 hours, Andrew McCabe, the acting director of the FBI, testified before the Senate that Comey's firing stopped and slowed down nothing with respect to the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Right, but -- CUCCINELLI: And surely the president had to know that was the case.

CUOMO: Well, we don't know what he knew, first of all. And we don't know what his intent was, as you say. But you basically have a -- a list of a pattern here. I mean my initial question to you is, because the idea that the president's not under investigation. You know, Jay Sekulow, his attorney comes on, that's what he wants to argue about. And, to me, it just seemed like a -- a silly thing to pursue. Of course Mueller's going to look at this. I think he'd get a lot of criticism, and rightly so, if he didn't look at it.


CUOMO: That doesn't mean he can make a case.


CUOMO: But the fact that he's not looking at it -- Because he hasn't informed Jay Sekulow that he is looking at it, that's absurd, isn't it?

CUCCINELLI: Yes. No. Look, investigators do not typically tell the people being investigated --

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: That they are, in fact, under investigation. No, ultimately, there's a point with grand juries --

CUOMO: And there's certainly no duty to.

CUCCINELLI: No, there's no duty to.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: There's a point where grand juries might be used when people are identified as targets.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: That's DOJ practice, but that's -- we're nowhere -- we're nowhere --

CUOMO: Right, but that's way down the road. Way down the road.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, we're nowhere -- we're nowhere near that.

CUOMO: Right, nowhere near it and I would never suggest anything otherwise.

CUCCINELLI: And -- and it is correct -- it is correct to say that Mueller has got to list all the possibilities --

CUOMO: Right.

[08:50:08] CUCCINELLI: And at least look at them closely enough to check them off as to whether they did or didn't happen, whether it's possible to make a case.

CUOMO: Right. So -- so we agree, of course he is investigating it. What he does with it is a very separate issue. So let's talk about that real quickly here.


CUOMO: The idea of making a case. Not easy. I don't think anything would -- anybody would argue otherwise if they were doing it for non- partisan reasons. But the "I hope" statements. You've talked about this before. So I did a little research.


CUOMO: I mean there are federal courts of appeals that have found similar "I hope" statements to be enough to trigger obstruction. It depends on the context and what kind of pattern behavior may have been at play. And wouldn't that be the concern here that it wasn't just --

CUCCINELLI: Well, I was just -- yes, I was just going to say, it depends what it's combined with.

CUOMO: Yes, it wasn't just firing. And, of course, he can fire the head of the executive, but he can't fire anybody for any reason.


CUOMO: And when you look at what happened with Comey, in the context of what he asked about letting the Flynn thing go, going to Dan Coats, going to the DNI, and then firing Comey. When you look at it all together, it does seem suggestive at least to go down the road of what was the intent, was it corrupt intent, because, obviously, that would be the check on the power to fire, would it be not?

CUCCINELLI: Right. And it would be at some level. I mean you do trigger a constitutional question about whether there can be any restrictions on the president's ability to fire people in the executive branch.

CUOMO: You really think that's a big question about whether or not he can fire?

CUCCINELLI: And, you know, that happened -- that happened after the Civil War. That happened --

CUOMO: Really?

CUCCINELLI: Well, it will be -- it will be for constitutional lawyers. I mean you -- well, look, if this were to proceed -- let's take a worst case scenario and say that enough other information comes up to suggest -- because, as you said, we can't know what he's thinking -- we're going to -- we're going to see the use of circumstantial evidence to decide that he had that intent. If -- worst case scenario.

And then you trigger the question, the constitutional question of, can we proceed down this road at all? The obstruction cases you're talking about in federal courts are correct, but they aren't against a president, who had the authority to direct the executive branch to fire -- fire folks.

CUOMO: True, but the president -- but the authority's not unchecked. I -- the authority's not unchecked. I mean we both know that. And I'm not talking about Nixon. You know, remember the trouble that Nixon got into by saying if the --

CUCCINELLI: Well, but -- but that's true, by saying it's an untested -- it's an untested legal question.

CUOMO: It is, but I'm just saying, conceptually, the idea that he can fire anybody for any reason just doesn't make any sense. If he said to a prosecutor, if he said to the FBI, you know, no more drug cases, but only against my friends, and you didn't do that so I'm going to fire you, nobody would question whether or not that was wrong, right?


CUOMO: I mean even with pardons, where you have almost plenary authority as the president --

CUCCINELLI: Well, and -- and to be clear --

CUOMO: If he was exchanging them for money, we'd say that's wrong. So you have to look at why he did it, right?

CUCCINELLI: Sure. Right. But -- but as you noted earlier, I think we can reasonably expect that the only kind of evidence we're going to have here is circumstantial, other than statements like, you know, can you lay off Mike Flynn, the day after he was already fired. And that was -- that was actually, I thought, the most serious thing on this obstruction front to come out of the Comey testimony was the personal testimony about that request. But, of course, it was made the day after Mike Flynn was already gone. So this is going to be a very speculative area, especially for those of us on the outside who don't have access to the investigative information until we hear some kind of conclusion from Bob Mueller and that's a difficult position for those of us who are curious on the outside.

CUOMO: But -- but let me ask you something. You were an A.G. --


CUOMO: You were an A.G. and you were a damn good one and you were an aggressive one. If this fact pattern came to you about the governor at the time, let's say, it's something you would look at, wouldn't you?


CUOMO: You wouldn't dismiss it out of hand just because he was your state's chief executive?

CUCCINELLI: Look, we had a fact pattern about my governor and we did look at it --

CUOMO: That's why I asked you.

CUCCINELLI: And we proceed down the state law avenue. And so, of course, I expect Mueller to check all of the boxes within his jurisdiction. I assume the meeting today with the Senate is to define the boundaries of who's investigating what. I mean one of the big complaints by both Republicans and Democrats over the last 20 years has been when these special counsel or independent counsel back in the 90s take on a case that they, on their own authority, expand their jurisdiction massively.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: That's where Mueller could get in a lot of trouble.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: Things that might get outside the Russia collusion box, he should hand over to other DOJ investigators --

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: So they can carry them and stay focused on the main question before him --

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: And that's Russian collusion and whether it happened or not.

CUOMO: Well, this question would obviously --

CUCCINELLI: Because America -- America is going to benefit from knowing the answer to that.

CUOMO: Right. And no question about that, we need more fact and truth in this situation. This question certainly would fit in the box. And despite what the president tweeted, Bob Mueller is neither bad nor in conflict on this issue. So let's hope he does the job the right way.

[08:55:11] Ken Cuccinelli, appreciate you're here making the case, helping us out.

CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you.

CUOMO: Always a pleasure.


BALDWIN: All right, "The Good Stuff," coming up next.


CUOMO: It's time for "The Good Stuff." A community in California helps a teenager get the surgery she needs. Paige Leon (ph) was active her whole life, but that all stopped when she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Her spine quickly progressing to a 70-degree curve. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you lose your mobility, your whole lifestyle changes.


CUOMO: Her doctor said she needs surgery, and fast. But, it wasn't that easy. The problem, didn't have the cash.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $150,000 is something that you can't, you know, pull out of your wallet and say, let's go for it.


CUOMO: But guess what?

BALDWIN: They did!

CUOMO: You know who decided to go for it?

BALDWIN: They did!

CUOMO: The community. Word spread. They pitched in. And now Paige has something she'll never forget.

[09:00:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAIGE LEON (ph): I'm hoping to get this procedure and live a long and happy life.


CUOMO: Isn't that what it's all about?

BALDWIN: Love it.

CUOMO: You find out somebody is in need. Maybe you can't help all by yourself, but together, what a power.

BALDWIN: Love it. Thank you.