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Venezuelan Opposition Leaders Rounded Up After Election; Does Trump Need a Communications Director?; White House: Trump "Joking" in Call for Police to "Rough" Up Suspects. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:33:44] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We do have some breaking news right now, because the crisis in Venezuela is getting worse. The wives of two key opposition leaders say their husbands were taken from their homes overnight, this as the U.S. slaps Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with sanctions and slams Sunday's vote as illegitimate.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is lives in Caracas for us.

Give us the latest, Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, these are two big names, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

We'll start with Leopoldo Lopez. When you are out on protests you can see his face on T-shirts, on posters. He's really become one of the faces in the voices of the opposition speaking out against the government.

And we know through surveillance video and through tweets from the family that he was taken from his home overnight in the middle of the night. The time stamp on that surveillance video stands at 12:27, and you see he's taken away by a group, put into a car, marked as SEBIN. That is the acronym for the intelligence agency here.

Also more video, video from cell phone, from a cell phone that captures the moment that Antonio Ledezma was taken. This is dramatic. You hear a man asking for help, and then you hear a woman saying Ledezma is being taken, Ledezma is being taken, and calling for -- calling dictatorship, yelling in the middle of the night in the apartment building dictatorship, as these two -- as he was being taken away, and also being put into a car, belonging to or marked labeled as the intelligence agency.

[06:35:22] That is what people in Venezuela are waking up to, and this comes just a day after the U.S. announced sanctions against the president, President Nicolas Maduro. His assets will be frozen. Now, what the U.S. has not announced yet is any sort of sanction that could or are any sort of sanctions against the oil industry here, which could be big.

I talked to someone from the Trump administration yesterday that told me this is something that's being debated. This is something that's being discussed, but at this point, the U.S. is going after President Maduro, and they're saying it's a matter of principle and democracy.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Really interesting developments down there. How will the U.S. actions influence the president going forward, does it make it easier for harder to try to create change there? Thank you for the reporting, and be safe.

All right. So the help wanted sign is out at the White House. They're looking for a lot of different positions. But now at the top, with the absence of Anthony Scaramucci is a new communications director, but here is the question. Forget about whether or not anyone can survive that job, is it needed, given the president's penchant for doing his own PR?


[06:40:30] CUOMO: All right. Believe it or not, Anthony Scaramucci is out as the White House communications director, after an obviously brief tenure. President Trump arguably his best advocate, so is this an indication that he doesn't need a communications director?

Joining us now is CNN's senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Mr. Brian Stelter, new dad, and Frank Sesno, director of the school and media and public affairs at George Washington University, long time dad.

Frank, what do you make of the assertion that Trump does his own PR, nobody can last in that job?

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, let's keep talking about dads, adult supervision is a good thing. I mean, nobody may last in that job, but Trump needs a communications director. Every president needs a communications director.

A communications director brings the message together, coordinates the different wings of the White House, works across departments and agencies, so the Department of Defense is saying the same thing as the department of state. Heaven forbid the same thing as the president of the United States.

It's a critically important job especially now, and if Kelly is successful, and there's a new communications director, they'll take it from a chaos presidency is what the world sees to what I'm going to call a split screen presidency, because as we're speaking as you have tracked, Venezuela is in chaos, Russia is menacing at the borders. North Korea is launching ICBMs. I mean, the world is a dangerous place with a lot of things that need to be addressed, with some discipline and precision.

CUOMO: An important point. You know, you actually had Vice President Pence talking about Russia's presence in Georgia. Remember what that can lead to, during the Bush administration, what Russia did in Georgia, so a lot of big issues. But, Brian, what did we just see here with the president, and these

changes in the White House? Anthony Scaramucci goes there. He says what the president wants him to say. He says it the way the president wants him to say it.


CUOMO: He applauds him for saying it. He then gets stung in the Lizza piece and, all of a sudden, he's out. What does it tell us?

STELTER: Almost like a kamikaze, suicide mission. He was there to get Reince Priebus removed. And once he did that, he was less useful to the Trump family.

I think there's a baked in assumption that the president has a positive message he wants to relay as opposed to wanting to pick fights, wanting to get even with enemies, wanting to do battle. If you look at his Twitter account and his public statements, he seems to want to relitigate the election and get even with his enemies, as opposed to solve problems in the country.

CUOMO: Forty-two minutes in, Frank, no tweets from the president yet, may be an early sign the general, because there's been a lot for him to talk about this morning, the president, a lot of things I'm sure he's not happy with.

STELTER: But, Chris, if he tweets, he's going to tweet something dishonest, doesn't he? Yesterday, no chaos here, great day at the White House. It's going to be more dishonesty.

CUOMO: We don't know. We have to take --

STELTER: The stunning "Washington Post" story about his dishonesty, it's August now. The story of the Trump presidency every month has been his dishonesty. And to me, that might be the message overall that's been received.

CUOMO: We take each tweet on its face but it would be interesting to see how he wants to spin this. Another thing that goes to your point about coordinated message, Ivanka Trump seen by many as someone who should be a force for good in the White House in helping to control her father's appetites and instincts yet, she put in her statement about Kelly that we saw in "The Washington Post", "I look forward to working with Kelly."

We're told Kelly is her boss. Is that an intentional miscommunication?

SESNO: Whether it's an intentional miscommunication or not, it creates the intentional confusion I think. I mean, talk about a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is if you're working for the president, and the president's children are working for you, but the president's children think they're talking directly to the president, which they do over any meal that they want.

I mean, look, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when General Kelly was talking to the president of the United States, because if as a military man he was communicating what he needed to communicate, he would have had said, sir, this is a privilege to have this job but I have to tell you, our mission is in jeopardy. You know, my assessment of the situation is that we are losing on all fronts and if I'm going to be able to serve you, I've got to do a variety of things, and if I can't do that, I cannot succeed and neither can you.

And that includes controlling the message, controlling the children and frankly, sir, controlling you. I wonder what that conversation was like, and where it's going to go.

CUOMO: Well, they say --

SESNO: By all indications, Donald Trump does not want to be controlled.

STELTER: Yes, he has this alternative reality that he continues to be able to tune into every night, and be reassured that all is well.

[06:45:01] Last night on Fox, Eric Trump saying the people of this country love my father. The polls don't indicate that that's accurate at all. But those kinds of comments, that kind of rhetoric, that kind of support from the conservative media universe and from his own family members indicates to me that the president doesn't necessarily think he needs to make big changes.

SESNO: Yes, but, Brian -- but, Brian, it goes beyond the conservative media. I mean, I've been out, I was just traveling and I was talking to real people in real places who do love the president and who do want him to succeed, and who do think the media, including CNN, is out to get him.

And so, the question is whether General Kelly can -- although the people I talked to also are getting very uneasy about the behavior of the president. So, can General Kelly tame the president enough so that the people who really do love him can see some response there?


SESNO: And the people who are skeptical can see some improvement? I mean, I commend --

STELTER: Sometimes, when you love someone you got to have an intervention.

SESNO: Correct.

CUOMO: You've got two things going in the positive direction with General Kelly that we know already. Already made manifest.

One he's got a uniform on, even though he's retired general, and that supposedly is impressive to the president. We keep hearing reports he respects Kelly, he respects the generals. All right. There's one thing. The second thing is, if the reports about his response to Comey is

true, you also have somebody of great import, great respect who may be willing to resign if things go sideways. That could be a motivation for the president. He probably doesn't want that on his tab.

Frank, Brian, value added as always. Thank you.

SESNO: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: All right. Tropical Storm Emily has been downgraded to a depression, but the flooding threat remains. So, Chad Myers has all of our latest forecast, next.


CAMEROTA: Emily downgraded from a tropical storm to a depression after making landfall on Florida's West Coast, but the threat of flooding and rip currents continues.

So, let's bring in CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He has our forecast.

What do you see, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I see the storm moving away, and now anywhere from the Space Coast, Cape Canaveral, all the up to about Jacksonville, we could have nine to ten-foot seas.

This weather is brought to you by Purina, your pet, our passion.

Here is where the rain came in yesterday, heavy rainfall from Naples, all the way down to Ft. Myers, as far north as about Fort Pierce. Did see four to six inches of rain. But now, the storm is in the Atlantic, moving away, completely going to move away from land, no more threat to the U.S. whatsoever. That's the good news. No more rainfall.

Now for the Northeast, a nice day today, a couple showers across parts of the Midwest. The story for the temperatures was the tale of two coasts. Nice today in Washington, D.C., nice for the rest of the week, but look at the West. Record high temperatures, can you believe Portland, Oregon, will have 108? That will be a new all-time record high -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Chad, as you always try to instruct us, when you have a big swing in one direction, you got to be worried about what comes next.

Thank you very much, my friend.

All right. So, there is continued fallout after President Trump said officers should be rough on suspects. Could his words erode public trust in the police or is it all dismissed as a joke?


[06:54:11] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And when you see these towns and you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you see them thrown in rough, I said please don't be too nice.


CAMEROTA: OK. Those comments and others from President Trump drew strong condemnation from police departments across the country. But the White House says the president was just kidding.


REPORTER: Was the president joking when he said this, or did he check his remarks out with the International Association of Police Chiefs or maybe the attorney general?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I believe he was making a joke at the time.


CAMEROTA: All right. Let's discuss this with CNN contributor and "Washington Post" political reporter, Wesley Lowery, and former wide receiver for the New England Patriots Donte Stallworth. Wes won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of law enforcement issues. And Donte is working with lawmakers on criminal justice issues.

[06:55:01] Great to have both of you here.

Wesley, when you heard Huckabee Sanders there say that the president was just kidding about, you know, don't protect suspects heads when you put them into the police car, let them bang their heads, what did you think?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that in some ways, the White House believes saying, hey, this was just a joke is a means of dismissing this. But I actually think him joking about this may be just as bad, if not worst, if this had been some earnest statement.

You know, the reality is large swathes of the population, tons of Americans, and police will say this, who have distrust of police officers who have experiences which they believe they've been abused and assaulted, mistreated. And so, that the commander in chief of the United States of America would I think that's something appropriate to joke about, you know, I think really raises eyebrows for a lot of folks.

Beyond that, though, you've got an attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has insisted that he is going to be serious about police officers who do the wrong thing, right? He has this reputation that he's going to be a little too soft on police. He's gotten some criticism about some of the things he said, about the DOJ may no longer be investigating police departments and his department has sworn up and down no, no, no, we're going to be tough on bad cops, and to have his boss come out joking in front of a room full of police officers about assaulting suspects, I mean, undermines everything that the Trump administration's tried to insist to reporters like myself, when we've asked them, hey, are you still going to hold police accountable?

CAMEROTA: Donte, you're so interesting to talk to because, of course, you've had experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. You served time for a fatal drunk driving accident and then you recently went to Capitol Hill and are trying to work with lawmakers on community policing issues in minority communities.

How did you hear the president's comments?

DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL PLAYER, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Well, I mean I heard them as not as a joke, and in the highly unlikely event that he was joking, I think it just exhibits the trivial nature in how he views police brutality and how he wants to handle police brutality.

Now, when we're talking about joking about this situation, I personally don't believe that he was joking. We've heard this type of tough talk and rhetoric and disregard for the rule of law from real estate mogul, Donald Trump, when he demanded that the Central Park Five be executed for a crime that they did not commit. We heard this from then candidate, President Trump, on the campaign stump, where he told his people that were there at his rallies, he told them that he would pay for their, he would pay for their legal fees if they would knock the hell out of protesters, and we also heard this from now President Donald Trump.

So, to say that he was joking, to me that insults the intelligence of the American people. But I think another important part of this story is what President Trump has talked about on the campaign, not just the disregard for the rule of law here in America, you know, for domestic policies, but also internationally, too. He's talked about war crimes, talked about bringing back torture, talked about a lot of these things that were banned by the international community.

CAMEROTA: So, you see this as a window into his true feelings. You don't think this was a flippant comment about how he thinks that suspects should be treated.

I just want to get to the police departments that feel the same way that you do. Wes, all sorts of police departments and associations have come out and condemned what the president said, and I think that the Gainesville Police Department captures the feeling of many across the country. Listen to this.


OFFICER BEN TOBIAS, GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA POLICE SPOKESMAN: The officers that were behind him applauding and cheering about a comment that he made about police brutality should be ashamed of themselves. American modern law enforcement is not any more about roughing people up. It's not about slamming people into cars. It's about community- oriented policing. It's about knowing your community and treating everyone with respect. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I mean, Wes, look, as I've said, you won a Pulitzer for a coverage of this. This is not -- what the president said is not the message that police departments are trying to push out right now. This isn't what they need.

LOWERY: Of course not. But it also I think really highlights a division between many of the police chiefs and police commissioners, with some of their rank and file, right? So, we've seen a lot of departments come out and say this is disgusting. This is not what we believe. Former chiefs, former commissioners, people with some status, folks who might be able to find a microphone and camera and talk about it.

But I think we make a mistake if we write off the applause and the response that Donald Trump received from many of the rank and file officers sitting behind him, the cheering, right? This is something that he exploited I think throughout the campaign and I think sometimes was an under discussed dynamic of this, right?

His tough talk about law enforcement, supporting law enforcement, his kind of flippant and glib nature about, you know, just beat them up and throw them out. We support our men in blue, we've got your back. That was attractive to many rank and file officers.