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Why is President Trump Silent on Russian Aggression?; Lawsuit: Fox News Concocted Fake Story with White House Oversight. Aired 6:30- 7a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:30:17] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Now news from Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says a special assembly will be convened soon with the power to rewrite the country's constitution and potentially target opposition leaders. President Trump warns Maduro that he holds the Venezuelan leader responsible for the safety of these two leading opposition leader figures who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and thrown into a military prison. Venezuela's supreme court revoking the house arrest of those leaders, claiming they were, quote, planning to flee.

CUOMO: New questions about Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's decision to employ an I.T. staffer under criminal investigation now. The complaint from an ethics group centers on why Imran Awan stayed on the payroll even though his privileges to work on the House of Representatives computer system had been removed.

Awan is facing a federal bank fraud count, arrested last week on his way to Pakistan. A spokeswoman for Wasserman Schultz says he has been fired and called the complaint baseless.

CAMEROTA: All right. Now for a lighter moment. Comedian Mario Cantone signing off as the Mooch, the star of Comedy Central's "The President's Show" channeling his inner Anthony Scaramucci one last time in this video for "The New York Times." Watch.


MARIO CANTONE, ACTOR: I was a threat. The second I walked into the White House my days were numbered. Look at me, I'm trim, good looking, I dress sharp, I smell good. That kind of walk, you're going to want to lick me like a popsicle.

I smell better than anybody on Trump's team. Those guys smelled like canned corn and that's the first thing in the morning.


CAMEROTA: We're going to miss him. Cantone says he's not surprised Scaramucci only lasted ten days in the White House. That's a sad byproduct of Scaramucci being shown the door.

CUOMO: The hope is he shows up Thursday night, that's tomorrow night on the Comedy Central show. That will be good to see if Cantone is there. Again, look, it's the first time I guess in our lives where we've seen you don't have to exaggerate reality to create political comedy.


CUOMO: I don't know if that's funny or sad, but that's the reality right now.

CAMEROTA: Yes, why does Mario Cantone have to go away? Maybe Scaramucci can just have a cameo every week.

CUOMO: Like the ghost stuff.


CUOMO: He lives on spirit.

All right. The Kremlin is retaliating against the United States. You're not hearing about this out of the White House, but it's happening and it raises a question. Why hasn't the president signed that new Russia sanctions bill that we keep being told he will? Why isn't he speaking out about big moves by Russia? We discuss next.


[06:36:41] CUOMO: All right. We often look at the president's Twitter feed as a reflection of what he cares about most. And over the last week, he's weighed in on practically everyone and everything using that favorite platform.

He blasted -- let's take a look. Blasted China, very disappointed, foolish past leaders allowed them to make hundreds of billions a year in trade yet they do nothing for us with North Korea, just talk. Harsh position by the president.

Talked about the stock market, taking the positive. You can argue whether or not he deserves as much credit as he's giving himself. But he talked about it. He talks about it a lot.

And, of course, one of his favorite targets, at least in spirit if not in number is going after a free media. He takes the time to do that.

So, why are we pointing out what he talks about? To emphasize what he's not talking about. The Russians cut the American diplomatic staff by a crippling 755 people. Why? Retaliation, of course, what's going on with them.

What else is going on? Russia is back in Georgia. The last time they did this in 2008, hundreds of people died. Not a word about this or those Americans getting kicked out of Russia by the president of the United States on his favorite medium? Why?

What else are they doing? A hundred thousand troops on the border with NATO. Saber-rattling, obviously. Again, not a word by the president. And it raises these questions, why? Why hasn't he signed the

sanctions bill that we're told that he will against the advice of his own party, telling him to sign it now?


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a further sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States sanctions against Russia.

The president made it very clear that very soon, he will sign the sanctions.

In a sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States sanctions against Russia.


CUOMO: The vice president keeps saying that yes, this is going to happen. No word from the president on when it will and no signature. The bill is on his desk, awaiting signature. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says it's in some sort of legal review.

Given all these provocative actions from Russia, why the deafening silence?

Let's discuss, we have CNN's military and diplomatic analyst, Admiral John Kirby.

John, what do you see in this?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, you know, it could be something nefarious. It could be that he's really reticent for whatever reason to come out publicly against Putin, or it could be that they are relying on the rest of the cabinet and the officials like Vice President Pence, like Secretary Tillerson, like Secretary Mattis, to sort of carry that language for him and to allow the president to be the good cop while they're the bad cops while they try to negotiate better bilateral relations with Russia.

It's hard to know exactly what their reasoning is behind this, Chris. But I agree that it's troubling. I think it's a -- it is concerning that our own president simply cannot and will not and has not, frankly, over the last six months, brought himself to directly criticize President Putin.

CUOMO: What is the material difference when you look at potential malefactors? Look how heavy handed he is with China.


CUOMO: He's much bolder.

[06:40:01] Look at North Korea, very confrontational, all options on the table. Look at Venezuela, there are big implications there to the economic actions that are being considered.

You know, you cripple Venezuela's economy, you are 10 percent of their trade ratio when it comes to us sending heavy crude versus light crude and getting the medium mix back. And he's very bold there, but not with Putin.

KIRBY: Yes. No, I think that's exactly right. I mean, McMaster came out just the other day, I think it was yesterday, called Maduro a dictator, very strong language. And with the exception of North Korea, which I do believe poses a very serious threat to us from a national security perspective, Russia's kind of the next big one.

I mean, in so many ways, so many places, whether it's cyber, whether it's Syria, whether it's Ukraine, they are destabilizing the global order and are working constructively to try to undermine the multilateral democratic institutions that we've put in place since World War II. So, it is really strange of all the world leaders he just can't bring himself to criticize Putin directly.

And I do think it's troubling. I think it's a concern. But what I'm more interested in, Chris, honestly, is what he does with this bill. I think if he signs this bill into law --

CUOMO: The sanctions bill.

KIRBY: Yes, the sanctions bill. Thank you.

I think if he signs that, that to me is more important than his rhetoric and that to me would send a strong message that he is actually willing to hold Russia to account, that he is willing to face down Putin with respect to their election meddling.

CUOMO: And to the point that you made that maybe, maybe the president is leaning on his seconds to do the work for him, here is what the secretary of state said recently.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We do not seek a regime change. We do not seek the collapse of the regime. We do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel. And we're trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy, we are not a threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future.


CUOMO: So different from what we had been hearing from the president in terms of suggestions. And, frankly, different than the previous administration, also. What do you make of this pivot?

KIRBY: I thought Secretary Tillerson was pretty sharp yesterday. You have to understand, Chris, when you listen to him say those words, he's not just talking to Pyongyang. He's talking to Beijing. He talked to something called peaceful pressure.

You can see and hear in his voice he's trying to take the rhetoric down. He's trying to take the militarism a little bit out of the language that we're talking about, North Korea. I think he's trying to take a little air out of the president's tires on this and rightfully so.

The only thing the Chinese want less than a nuclear armed North are millions of refugees streaming out of their territory because of a violently reunified Korean peninsula. And the other thing they really don't want is American troops camped on the other side of the Yalu.

So, that's why he said what he said about, you know, no -- not a violent reunification, not regime change. He was messaging Beijing because we are losing the diplomatic trade space with Beijing.

The constant badgering, tweeting, the threats of trade wars -- none of that is going to work with President Xi. You need to convince President Xi that you understand his perspective here and their national security interest, and you're willing to try to find some diplomatic trade space, and I think, I hope that that's what you were hearing out of Tillerson yesterday.

CUOMO: Well, it seems that's what it is. And it's such an interesting contrast to the tough talk about how soft power, you know, was getting us nowhere. We had to take a different tact with North Korea.


CUOMO: It seems Tillerson is squarely back in that space, hopefully for the better. We'll see how it plays out.

John Kirby, appreciate your perspective, my friend.

KIRBY: You bet. Thank you.

CUOMO: OK, Chris.

CAMEROTA: So, there's a new lawsuit that accuses the White House of working in tandem with FOX News to concoct a fake news story about the murder of a DNC staffer. We hear from Seth Rich's family, next.


[06:48:05] CUOMO: Explosives claims in a lawsuit accusing the White House, FOX News, and a Republican donor, Ed Butowsky, of a concocting a fake news story about the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Butowsky stands by the false report.


CUOMO: FOX News retracted the story as we now know.


CUOMO: Do you still believe there's something to this suggestion?

BUTOWSKY: I don't believe there's anything in that story that is inaccurate.

CUOMO: You believe it's all accurate.

BUTOWSKY: Let me finish. I believe Rod Wheeler's saying he was misquoted is the reason they pulled it.


CAMEROTA: All right. So, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter, joins us now with more.

Brian, wow. What a complicated and tragic story this is.

Basically, Ed Butowsky, not a journalist, hooks up with Rod Wheeler, former D.C. homicide cop, not a journalist, and together begin peddling this story that there's some connection between the murder of Seth Rich, a young DNC staffer and WikiLeaks and release of documents.

And Ed Butowsky admits that he's trying to, in emails, to "Fox and Friends" and other Fox staffers, he's trying to distract from the idea that Russia was behind the leaks.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Trying to disprove all the Russia theories, trying to create a counter-narrative. This is almost like a media literacy lesson for people. When you hear folks on FOX or other right wing media outlets talking about something like the DNC and WikiLeaks, it's a counter-narrative. It's designed to distract from the main issue at hand, the issue that federal investigators are looking into.

This, as you said, is a very sad story. It's the ultimate example of fake news, no matter how involved the Trump White House was or wasn't. And it's so sad because of this real life family at the middle of what has become this fictionalize and sensationalized story.

[06:50:04] CUOMO: And that's the point. I mean, look, what connected Butowsky and Wheeler, they're both FOX News contributors. And in terms of lawsuit, we'll see how it plays out. Mr. Butowsky says he has all the supporting documentation for his side.

CAMEROTA: And just to be clear, Rod Wheeler has launched a lawsuit against FOX News --

CUOMO: Yes, he's plaintiff.

CAMEROTA: -- because he says that they fabricated quotes of his.


CAMEROTA: He no longer -- he disavows the story now. He longer --

STELTER: Right. He says that they defamed him. So, he's now suing his former employer. There's text messages, there's these voice mails, a lot of evidence to suggest unethical behavior at Fox.

The Trump connections I think demand more reporting and more investigation. I was talking to Doug Wigdor (ph), the lawyer in this case, last night. He said, look, we're going to try to get into discovery. We're going to try to get e-mails. We're going to try to depose people and find out more about what connections there were to the Trump White House.

CUOMO: Look, and that remains to be seen. But what we know already for sure is that this family, six months into the worst kind of loss imaginable, one of their children, had this man Butowsky come to them on a hunch from somebody to pull the scab off this situation and they've been dealing with it ever since.

STELTER: That's right.

CAMEROTA: Brian, thank you very much.

And we want to get right now to the spokesman for Seth Rich's family, Brad Bauman.

Brad, thanks so much for being here.


CAMEROTA: Brad, what did the family think when these revelations came to light about Rod Wheeler's lawsuit that he has now filed against FOX News in which he claims that this story was crafted and concocted with the help of the White House?

BAUMAN: Well, obviously, the family can't weigh in of the specifics of either the lawsuit nor the tit-a-tit that you guys had last night with Ed Butowsky. But what I can tell you is, is that they have been utterly devastated this past year. That since Seth's passing last July, they have done nothing but try to maintain a sense of loss and to grieve the way a family is meant to grieve, and that over and over again, because of conspiracy theories that have popped up, they have been deprived of the opportunity to move forward. They've been deprived the opportunity to seek some new normal and, frankly, they feel like the police have been deprived of the ability to actually prosecute this crime.

CAMEROTA: And, Brad, for people who did not follow this story closely, why does the family think this conspiracy theory came to settle on Seth?

BAUMAN: They don't know. And they didn't ask for this.

The truth is that all these folks want is to find the murderer or murderers that did this. They didn't ask to be in the middle of the media spotlight, and they are perplexed by the fact that anybody would use the murder of their son, a wonderful mid 20-something-year-old kid who moved to Washington, D.C., in order to make a difference in this world, and who was gunned down senselessly in the streets of Washington. It's just ridiculous. CAMEROTA: I have the affidavit here from the lawsuit that Rod Wheeler

has filed. In it he says -- he basically talks about what their motivation was, and Ed Butowsky, who was a FOX News contributor, hooked up with Rod Wheeler, sent an e-mail to FOX producers and anchors telling him the narrative that he wanted to get out.

I'll read a portion. One of the big conclusions we need to draw is the Russians did not hack our computer systems and steal e-mails and there was no collusion like Trump with the Russians.

That was their bottom line, if you believe Rod Wheeler's lawsuit. What's your response?

BAUMAN: Well, you know what strikes me? You had Ed Butowsky on TV for about 20 minutes last night, and over the course of those 20 minute, Ed Butowsky had an opportunity to look the American people in the eye and the Seth Rich family in the eye and say, you know what, six months after I reached out to you, knowing what I know now, I cannot believe I put you in this position, and I am so, so sorry.

And he didn't even take that opportunity. He didn't even look the American people or the family in the eye to apologize to them and say, I had no idea that I was going to heap so much more pain and anguish on you.

CAMEROTA: In fact, you heard what he told Chris last night in that exclusive interview, that he does stand by the story despite the fact that has retracted it, that Ed still believes it. He also interestingly took -- seemed to want to plant the seed of suspicion against you.

Let me play that moment and get your response. Listen to this.


BUTOWSKY: They also said that this guy Brad Bauman just showed up one day and said he was assigned to them from the DNC, and they asked me why.


CAMEROTA: You want to respond to that?

BAUMAN: Yes, not only was I not assigned to the family and not only have I never in my life, in my career, ever taken a paycheck from the DNC, but I am a committed Democrat.

[06:55:12] And let's be clear, this is about something that is larger than partisanship. I think that anyone with a moral compass, Democrat or Republican, knows that one thing you just don't do is you don't approach a grieving family at the deepest time of their need and you don't look them in the eye and you don't feed their minds with suspicion, and you don't use that suspicion on a national stage to cast doubt on what happened to their son. That is just a moral failure. CAMEROTA: The lawsuit says that, in fact, Ed Butowsky and Rod Wheeler

had a meeting at the White House with Sean Spicer about all of this and there's news this morning, according to Yahoo News, at least, that lawyers were looking to depose Sean Spicer and even President Trump about all of this. What do you think the outcome here will be?

BAUMAN: Well, specifically to the Sean Spicer meeting, I think that anybody who -- I know a large portion of your audience has never actually had a meeting with the White House -- there is a large amount of security that goes into meeting with the White House. The idea that you can just show up to the White House one day with somebody else in tow and just kind of waltz in and have an unofficial meeting and be like, hey, what's up, you have to go through Secret Service.

Everybody knows who is coming in. Everybody knows who's going out. This is not something free wheeling that you just do. So, they had at least a couple days to know that Rod Wheeler was coming in. They had to at least know if Rod Wheeler was coming in, this must have had something to do with this case.

So, it just doesn't make any sense. But I will tell you from the perspective of the family, regardless of the merits of the lawsuit, regardless of the merits of what's being said, and regardless of the merits of whether or not the White House had any influence in this whatsoever, that all they really want at this point is for this to go away. They just want to be left alone and they just want to give the Metropolitan Police Department the time and space they need in order to accomplish the goal of finding the murderers.

CAMEROTA: Brad Bauman, thank you very much for coming in and representing the family. Please give them our condolences. We pray they do get justice in this case.

BAUMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Chris?

CUOMO: All right. So, big turn of events in Washington, D.C. Republican senators are openly defying President Trump. What are they doing? And more importantly, why are they doing it? We're going to talk with a member of the Trump administration, ahead.