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Trump Intensifies Attacks On Attorney General In New Tweets; Videos Suggest Russia May Be Arming Taliban; President Trump's Efforts To Bring Home Captive Americans; Family Of Missing Former FBI Agent Pleads With White House. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired July 25, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:33:35] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the first Republican senator to throw his support behind President Trump. It came with great political cost and people thought it would rewarded.
The president said he is all about loyalty and, sure enough, Jeff Sessions became the attorney general. But now, it seems as that loyalty is gone.
The president is bullying him in public, not talking to him face-to- face by all accounts. But what is going on here.
Let's get some Republican perspective. Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah serves on the House Intel Committee.
Yes, we're going to talk about Jared Kushner. Yes, we're going to talk about the health care vote today. But as a leader, you know, who has constituents you're supposed to be of moral standard for people.
What do you make of what the president is doing to the attorney general?
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT), PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, let me say first I quit reading the president's tweets quite a long time ago. I don't pay that much attention to them and I'd recommend other people not pay a whole lot of attention to it because I don't think it's policy.
But having said that, I like Jeff Sessions. I think that he's been sincere, I think that he's been loyal. I think he's proven himself very capable and I hope and I expect that he'll continue as attorney general.
CUOMO: Congressman, I understand that you want people to take situations at their best.
But first of all, as you know, the White House has acknowledged that the president's tweets are official statements. He is the President of the United States. The idea that you would want people to ignore what he says is hard to understand. [07:35:11] What do you mean don't read his tweets? He's telling us what he thinks about the people in power. What he thinks about the issues that matter most to the American people and one of those is that he's badmouthing and bullying his attorney general, and you're saying ignore it? Really?
STEWART: No, I'm not -- I'm not saying ignore it. I'm saying --
CUOMO: You just did.
STEWART: -- I wouldn't read -- I wouldn't read too much into it.
And look, there's a lot of different ways we communicate with our constituents and some of them are more serious and more official than others.
CUOMO: You think he's joking about Jeff Sessions or do you think that his bullying is actual and legitimate?
STEWART: Well first, I don't think he's bullying. For one thing, I don't think you can bully Jeff Sessions.
I think adults -- I don't feel bullied. I have people object to me, and chant to me, and do all sorts of things to me. I don't feel bullied by it. And if you were to go ask Jeff Sessions, I'm pretty sure he would say I don't feel bullied by this either.
I'm just saying you've got to kind of realize that this president communicates differently than other presidents and that every tweet isn't national policy and that every tweet doesn't mean necessarily something as dramatic as it may sound. That's really all I'm saying. Put in context a little bit.
CUOMO: What is the good context? If he's talking about Jeff Sessions and saying that he's weak, saying that he's beleaguered, which is accurate because the president has --
CUOMO: -- been the one beleaguering in this situation -- harsh criticism, constant, clearing sending indications that he does not have confidence in his attorney general. You saw the eye roll when he got asked about it with the interns.
CUOMO: How else could people take it?
STEWART: Well look, I --
CUOMO: Why would you avoid it?
STEWART: I really don't know what -- I don't what to say -- what more to say about this.
Once again, if you want to read more into this than I'm willing to read I guess that's OK. I can't really get into the president's mind. I'm not going to say whether this is --
CUOMO: So you don't think that there's any chance that he's thinking about replacing Jeff Sessions?
STEWART: I don't know. What I did say is that I hope not. As I said, I think Jeff Sessions has shown that he's loyal. I think he's shown he's very capable.
You know, look, when I see his testimony and my conversations with him I think this is a good man. I think this is a very capable attorney general so I hope that he continues to serve.
Now, we can go back and forth on how important or meritorious these tweets are and maybe we'll just agree to disagree, but we just don't know what the president may be intending to do.
All I can say is I hope that the attorney general continues to serve as the attorney general. I think he's done a great job.
CUOMO: You think he did the right thing recusing himself from the investigation as a former member of the campaign?
STEWART: I think under the -- under, really, the political context that we have at the moment it was really the only thing that he could do.
I do have to say this. When he's accused of being dishonest in his testimony I just think that's -- I just think that's nuts. I don't think it's an accurate reflection at all of what I believe was his intention at the time.
He was asked under the context did you have any political conversations with any Russian officials and he answered no. And then, later on reflecting I did have this meeting at -- you know, a chance encounter later on at a hotel and some other things.
And I don't think that's a dishonest, you know, recollection at all. I think that he was just answering in the context of the political -- or the collusion.
And so, for those who say that, you know, he wasn't honest in that and for those who say that that maybe was a necessity for him to be -- you know, to be -- you know, pushed out as attorney general, again I just think that's nuts.
CUOMO: All right. Do you feel similarly about Jared Kushner and what you heard from his statement -- his 11-page statement yesterday? The president obviously believes that he did a great job showing he did nothing wrong.
Do you believe that his statement removes any further questions from Jared Kushner?
STEWART: No. I mean, look, we're going to continue to ask questions on this and I haven't had a chance to question him. All I've been able to do is to hear press reports of what he said and a little bit of his own comments.
I think that those of us on the House side want to have a chance to question him and really understand this.
I would like to start with this presumption, and that is that you are innocent until proven guilty. I don't think we want to throw that idea out the window and I don't think it's true of everyone except for those people who are named Trump. So we'll give him the presumption of innocence until we talk to him and until we understand really more of the information that he has to give us.
But I've said to you guys and to other people a thousand times, the American people deserve to have answers to these questions.
STEWART: I'd love to do it as quickly as we can and then, frankly, move on. There are other very, very important issues that, you know, we could be discussing as well.
CUOMO: Understood and certainly he should have the presumption of innocence if for no other reason there are no charges against him.
STEWART: Yes, yes.
CUOMO: Now, quickly, today's vote. Are you going to -- what do you think of the vote that's happening today on health care?
STEWART: Well, you're talking in the Senate, of course --
STEWART: -- and --
CUOMO: What do you think of it, though?
STEWART: Well --
CUOMO: Do you know what it's about?
STEWART: Well --
CUOMO: Do you think it's the right move?
STEWART: Well, I absolutely think it's the right move in the sense they have a vote.
You know, when we were struggling with this in the House I went to Paul Ryan and said dude, you've got to force the vote. You've got to make people put themselves on the record whether they're for it or against this.
[07:40:05] And I would say the same thing in the Senate to Mitch McConnell. Thank you for having a vote. Don't let people protect or hide behind this. The Republicans should be -- and I know you're going to disagree with
this -- but we should be proud, and I am proud of what we're trying to do with this health care legislation. We're trying to help American people. We're trying to make things better.
And sometimes, you know, the narrative is well, we're -- we want to -- you know, we want to expel millions from health care. We don't care about these Americans. It's just not true.
So let's have the vote and let's go defend that vote, and I think we can do that.
CUOMO: Understood and I agree with that position.
Thank you, Congressman.
And besides, you know for me it's not agree or disagree, it's just I test the ideas and I appreciate you coming on to do just that. Thank you, sir.
STEWART: It's good to be with you. Thank you, sir.
CUOMO: All right, be well -- Alisyn.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Chris, up next we have this CNN exclusive.
Are the Russians arming the Taliban? Wait until you see what our Nick Paton Walsh discovered on the front lines.
CUOMO: All right, we have a CNN exclusive for you.
Two newly-obtained videos suggesting the Russian government may be arming the Taliban in Afghanistan. The weapons in question are believed to be used in the Taliban's fight against ISIS and that means against Afghan troops.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in Kabul with the exclusive report. Nick, what do we know?
[07:45:00] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it is remarkable after 15 years of American presence here, the longest American engagement, that there may be new threats potentially against them -- that is Taliban -- better equipped because of what information we've received here and videos we've received here suggest that weapons were actually supplied by the Russian government.
Take a look at what we found.
WALSH (voice-over): Decades of war in Afghanistan mean enemies have turned friends and back again, but one new devastating alliance risks redrawing the map here. The Russians once fought the Taliban here, then called Mujahideen. The loss brought down the Soviet Empire but now Moscow may actually be arming their old enemies, the Taliban, according to American and Afghan officials, bolstered by exclusive images obtained by CNN.
This is a breakaway Taliban group in the west with what they say are Russian government-supplied weapons they've seized from a mainstream Taliban group they defeated.
MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI, DEPUTY LEADER: (Foreign language spoken).
WALSH: These are given to the fighters of Mullah Haibatullah by the Russians, by Iran, he says. The Russians are giving them these weapons to fight ISIS in Afghanistan but they're using them against us, too. We captured six of them with these guns when they attacked.
And these weapons, too, the Taliban fighter in the mosque claims were supplied free by a neighboring Tajikistan by the Russians. These pistols have been brought to us recently, he says. They're made in Russia and they're very good stuff.
Small arms experts told us there's nothing here tying the guns to the Russian state. They aren't new or rare, various markings missing or scratched off. Even this Chinese-made scope is readily available online.
But the American commander here was outspoken on the Russian threat.
GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, RESOLUTE SUPPORT MISSION, AFGHANISTAN: But arming belligerents or legitimizing belligerents who perpetuate attacks like we saw two days ago in Mazar-e-Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So to be clear, you're not refuting that they're sending weapons to the Taliban?
NICHOLSON: Oh, no, I'm not refuting that.
WALSH: Afghan officials suspect Russian deliveries for at least two months.
SEDIQ SEDIQI, DIRECTOR, AFGHAN GOVERNMENT MEDIA AND INFORMATION CENTER: The Russians have said that they are -- you know, they maintain contact with the Taliban. But we have lots of other reports from people that they are arming the Taliban.
WALSH (on camera): There's no smoke with fire, is there?
SEDIQI: Absolutely. We believe that there's no smoke without fire.
WALSH: These pictures aren't incontrovertible proof the Russians, if they did this, would have tried to hide their tracks in Afghanistan. War-torn as it is, the truth is often masked behind countless agendas. But these pictures will spark questions as to the true extent of Moscow's involvement here in a country where the Soviets -- they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of American-backed fighters. WALSH (voice-over): Russia has said claims they're arming the Taliban are quote "utterly false and made to cover up for American failure." They talk to the Taliban, they say, clearly to promote peace talks.
WALSH (on camera): And they've denied to you that they are arming the Taliban?
SEDIQI: Absolutely, they have denied that. The issue of contact with the Taliban by the Russians, that was something that really concerned us as well. So no contacts would be made with non-state groups.
WALSH (voice-over): Another new agenda, another new fuel to Afghanistan's endless fire.
CAMEROTA: So Nick, help us understand this. If, in fact, it's true that they are arming the Taliban and you say there are all these different agenda, is it just to fight ISIS or what else were they doing?
WALSH: Well, those advocates who say this is happening say that possibly Russia's doing this because yes, they think the best people on the battlefield to take on ISIS are the Taliban themselves.
Now, the coalition say that's nonsense because more often than not the Taliban actually giving shelter or supporting ISIS, although occasionally they do fight over territory. That's all slightly more complicated.
The broader picture some people look at and think is well, this is perhaps Moscow, particularly Vladimir Putin with a chip he has on his shoulder for the fall of the Soviet Empire in which he was KGB agent, perhaps looking to find yet another way to dig away at Washington.
And in their longest war supplying their enemy, if that's actually happening, could well be one way of doing that.
Alisyn, Chris --
CUOMO: Nick, appreciate the reporting. Thank you very much for putting yourself out there.
CAMEROTA: Well, here's another story that we want to tell you about.
It's been 10 years since the Levinson family saw their father Robert, who is being held hostage in Iran. Up next, what they say about how the White House is trying to get him home.
[07:53:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE CURRY, DAUGHTER OF ROBERT LEVINSON, AMERICAN HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAN: It has been 10 years since our father has been missing and two previous administrations have failed to get him home. And we are very confident that President Trump has the dealmaking skills that are necessary in order to bring him home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Well, that was the Levinson family expressing their confidence on NEW DAY a few months ago -- their confidence in President Trump.
Well, today, they're taking their fight to Capitol Hill to again try to bring their father home.
Iran has held former FBI agent Robert Levinson for more than 10 years. Last week, the White House released a statement urging Iran to release him, saying the U.S. is prepared to impose sanctions if Iran does not comply.
Joining us now is Dan Levinson. He's the eldest son of Robert Levinson.
Dan's brother Doug will speak before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing today.
Dan, thanks so much for being here.
DAN LEVINSON, SON OF ROBERT LEVINSON, AMERICAN HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAN: Thank you for having me.
CAMEROTA: Do you still share your sister's confidence? That was back in March where she said that she was certain that President Trump's dealmaking skills would allow him to get your father out of Iran. How are you feeling today?
LEVINSON: I do. I think the statement that the White House released on Friday was a great first step. They're holding Iranians' feet to the fire.
We need them to follow through and make sure that they keep the pressure on the Iranians, and that they're going to keep up bringing up my dad in any kind of engagement with the Iranians, and they need to be engaging with them as well.
CAMEROTA: This is the statement that you're referring to. Let me read it for everyone.
"The United States condemns hostage takers and nations that continue to take hostages and detain our citizens without just cause or due process. President Trump urges Iran to return Robert Levinson home, who has been held for over 10 years, and is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned."
That is strong language, Dan, but what makes you think that the White House is able to do something beyond issue strongly-worded statements?
LEVINSON: Well, we're hoping that they do. It's going to take negotiations, it's going to take a deal. President Trump, he's known as a dealmaker so I think it's going to take these negotiations. [07:55:04] But it's going to take more than just asking for cooperation and help in locating him, which is what we've been hearing for 10 years. And this more strongly-worded statement comes with the sticks that need to accompany the carrots when it comes to dealing with Iran.
And they only respond to pressure -- we've learned this over 10 years and we're going to keep pressuring them ourselves. We're going to pressure out government to, in turn, pressure them as well.
CAMEROTA: President Trump made a promise on the campaign trail before he was elected, when he was just a candidate in 2015, about your dad and I want to play this for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT: If I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office. I guarantee that.
They will be back before I ever take office because they know that's what has to happen, OK? They know it. And if they don't know it, I'm telling them right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So Dan, obviously that didn't happen.
CAMEROTA: Was President Trump overly confident there?
LEVINSON: I guess so. He said a lot of things on the campaign trail, including that he knows -- that Iran knows exactly where my dad is, so we're hoping that he's going to talk about that and keep that pressure.
And all we can do is look forward now and hope that President Trump follows through on these things. And that kind of talk -- we're hoping he continues that as the president -- as the President of the United States to saying Iran, you're holding him. Send him home or they'll be consequences.
CAMEROTA: I mean, I guess my question is was he overly confident and is that helpful? In other words, is he stoking your optimism and making promises that he's not going to be able to fulfill?
LEVINSON: Of course, we're always optimistic that things are -- that he's going to be home soon. And I can't speak for -- all we can do is keep pressuring them.
And we were at the White House last week. State -- we met with State Department officials, FBI officials, and we're reminding them that Trump -- President Trump did say these things and that he's still not home. CAMEROTA: Of course, it's Congress that will impose sanctions and, in fact, there's a bill with Iran, North Korea, and Russia that they are considering.
What is your brother Doug going to tell Congress today?
LEVINSON: Well, my brother was 13 years old. He's the youngest of -- we're seven kids, my dad and mom have and he was the youngest one -- 13 years old.
He's grown over a foot since my dad was arrested. He's event taller than my dad now and he wears his shoes to work these days. He's working on Capitol Hill.
He's grown into an adult and he wants to tell our story about how much my dad's missed so many weddings and new grandchildren. I just held his newest grandson in my arms on Saturday. He misses these things.
He had seven kids for a reason. He loves babies and he loves small children. He's never going to get these years back and all we can do is hope that he gets home to be able to spend time -- more time with his family and see the new grandchildren. He hasn't met five out of the six grandchildren he has yet.
CAMEROTA: Dan Levinson, we're keeping your family in our prayers and, of course, we're continuing to follow your story on NEW DAY. Thanks so much for the update.
LEVINSON: Thank you. Thank you for keeping us in the press.
We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A showdown vote scheduled today on whether to begin debate on repealing Obamacare.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We are spending most of our time fighting this awful health care bill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having John McCain come back for this vote is a huge, huge break for Mitch McConnell.
CAMEROTA: The president is slamming his attorney general Jeff Sessions, calling him weak.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what's really disturbing here is that he's really torturing him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump and his aides have been discussing possibly removing Jeff Sessions. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump's trying to interfere with the independence of the attorney general. That's absolutely wrong and should not be tolerated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. It is Tuesday, July 25th, 8:00 in the East.
Up first, President Trump making it clear what's on his mind this morning in an early morning tweetstorm. The president calling on Senate Republicans to step up to the plate as they vote today to begin debating a repeal of Obamacare.
This comes as Sen. John McCain makes a dramatic return to Washington to cast what could be a deciding vote on health care.
CUOMO: The president also continues to publicly bully his attorney general Jeff Sessions. He called him out for having a very weak position on Hillary Clinton and saying he should be investigating his rival.
Why is the president attacking the first senator to his presidential campaign as a supporter? Is Mr. Trump just trying to push him out in public?
Joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory; "CNN POLITICS" reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza; and congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," Karoun Demirjian.