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White House Adviser Stephen Miller Reportedly Being Considering for Communications Role; Special Counsel Robert Mueller Requesting Documents Related to Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; Trump Voters in Nebraska Continue to Support President. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 5, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- current senior adviser Stephen Miller?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. My colleague, Kaitlan Collins confirming just in the last hour or so a report in Axios that Stephen Miller is being considered for an elevated communications role. This role would be in addition to his current role as a senior policy adviser.
Now, this source adds that chief strategist Steve Bannon favors restructuring the director of communications role. And so it is not clear that Miller would necessarily have the communications director title. It is also not clear whether Steve Bannon has floated this idea with chief of staff John Kelly although the fact that we're talking about it right now would indicate that it is being floated, at least in a public way now.
And let's remind our viewers who Stephen Miller is. We saw him just this past week in talking about the White House's support of new limits on legal immigration. But you may remember back at the very beginning of the president's term, Stephen Miller was instrumental in the planning of and the communicating about, explaining and trying to sell what many considered to be the disastrous rollout of the White House's first travel ban. That was the travel ban that would have limited travel from seven countries. Miller often, he was tasked with not only explaining that, communicating it to the public, he went on the Sunday show, made the rounds. And he often used an argument that many people, raised people's eyebrows at the time. He pointed to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, in Boston, the Boston bombings, and in San Bernardino, California, for justifications for limiting entry for people from these seven countries.
We noted at the time of course that none of the terrorists in any of the attacks were from any of those countries. After that, we didn't see Stephen Miller. He took on a more behind the scenes role for several months until this last week. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Athena Jones, thank you so much. So Stephen Miller made headlines, particularly earlier this week when he clashed with CNN's Jim Acosta there in the White House press room. It happened during a briefing on the president's new legal immigration plan. Miller did not like Acosta bringing up the famous poem, in part, on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I don't want to get off into a thing about history here, but the statue of liberty is a symbol of liberty and light the world. It's a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring to was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty. But more fundamentally --
JOHN ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're saying that that does not represent where the country is --
MILLER: I'm saying the notion that the --
ACOSTA: I'm sorry, that sounds like --
MILLER: Jim, I'll ask you a question.
ACOSTA: That sounds like some national park revisionism.
MILLER: No. Jim, Jim, let me ask you a question.
ACOSTA: The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope to the world for people to say --
MILLER: Jim, do you believe --
ACOSTA: -- to this country. And they're not always going to speak English, Stephen. They're not always going to be highly skilled.
MILLER: Jim, Jim. I appreciate your speech. Jim, I appreciate your speech, so let's talk about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Let's bring in CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "Reliable Sources" Brian Stelter. So Brian, what would a choice in Stephen Miller mean?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": I think it would reflect the president's preference for combative, pugnacious, aggressive communications aides on television. The president is known to watch a lot of TV and he's known to appreciate people like Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka and Kellyanne Conway who do battle on his behalf on television.
And that's exactly what Miller v Acosta was the other day. Stephen Miller was there as an immigration hardliner to roll out the president's support for this proposal. Of course, that immigration proposal faces a very tough time in Congress. But it was a message to the president's base, to the people who voted for him that they're trying to follow through on their immigration commitments. So Miller is there to roll it out. And Acosta and other reporters
were challenging him on it. The president was said to be very appreciative of that performance even though Miller got a lot of flak from journalists and some other observers, for example, for using the word "cosmopolitan" and for going back and forth so much with Acosta.
My point is the president wants people like Miller who are on TV defending him. So it makes sense that there is talk inside the administration about elevating Miller into a role he'd be doing it more often. It doesn't mean he's going to persuade anybody that's not already supporting Trump, doesn't mean someone like Miller can actually help the president's approval ratings. But it could be about trying to appeal even more strongly to the base who is standing with him.
WHITFIELD: So perhaps this was the first time some took notice of Stephen Miller, but it really is not the first time that he's had an interaction that was interesting, you know, with the press. But what is it about this particular moment that particularly struck a chord?
[14:05:01] STELTER: I think there is a sense that the president is at one of those forks in the road. He's acknowledged that by replacing Reince Priebus with John Kelly. Kelly has had a week now as chief of staff. He's been trying to bring some order to the West Wing, in some cases a more traditional structure, some reporting structures where everyone reports to Kelly. And now they face this choice, this fork in the road about communications director, about who is going to run the comm shop? Right now nobody is. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the press secretary. The communications director is unfilled since Anthony Scaramucci was forced out on Monday.
Kelly may have his own preference for who the comms director is going to be. He might want to bring in his own homeland security spokesman. Maybe Steve Bannon wants to go another direction. So we're seeing another divide between some of Trump's lieutenants about what the communication strategy should be.
Ultimately, though, Fred, who is the best P.R. person? President Trump thinks he is his own best P.R. person. So he wants to see people like Miller and Gorka and others on TV defending him. But that doesn't mean necessarily they'd be the right picks for behind the scenes, strategic sort of job.
Ultimately, this is what the job is going to be in the future. It took a while to find someone who would take the job. Scaramucci accepted it and then only lasted 10 days. So let's see if it ends up being Miller. Maybe it's going to be a whole other job entirely. But it is interesting that Miller reportedly is in line for a bigger job.
WHITFIELD: And that was a fiery moment this week. Then the next day you didn't have a press briefing on camera particularly after perhaps some of the reaction that came with the exchanges that Stephen Miller had with reporters, i.e., our Jim Acosta.
STELTER: That's right. WHITFIELD: We'll see what happens from this point forward. Thanks so
much, Brian Stelter, appreciate that. And be sure to watch "Reliable Sources" tomorrow morning, 11:00 eastern, right here on CNN.
When we come back, the FBI tells CNN about a fake news campaign that launched across social media networks. And that happened right on U.S. Election Day.
And special counsel Robert Mueller wants all White House documents on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. We'll be right back with all of that.
[14:10:51] WHITFIELD: After issuing grand jury subpoenas in his independent investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, "The New York Times" is reporting that special counsel Bob Mueller is now asking the White House to turn over documents. "The Times" reports Mueller is looking into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and the secret payments he received from Turkey during the Trump campaign.
Let's talk more about this with David Andelman, a contributor for CNN opinions and a columnist for "USA Today," and CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, a criminal defense attorney. Good to see both of you.
All right, so Danny, you first. What does this signal to you about the scope and the progress of Mueller's investigation?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It means that it's expanded beyond its original scope and that they're looking at all things Flynn, and even beyond Flynn, obviously, to the White House. Now, in theory, grand jury investigations are usually limited, but that's not really true. The reality is, if they find a thread of something else to pull on, they go back and they start investigating whatever new criminality they find. As long as they lawfully get to each step, a grand jury can keep investigating with its unbelievable subpoena power and ability to get not only witnesses to come in and testify but to get documents. And it's much harder to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege when it comes to producing documents.
WHITFIELD: So, David, when the president's lawyer, Ty Cobb, says that this will accelerate the Russia investigation, is he right? Does that mean that benefits the White House or not?
DAVID ANDELMAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN.COM OPINION: I think it will certainly accelerate the investigation writ large, but when you look at the Flynn situation, what apparently, according to "The Times" story they're especially interested in is the payments that Flynn may have received from the Turkey, from the Turkish government, the Turkish government of Recep Erdogan, really the dictator who seized power after a coup last year in Turkey. Apparently Flynn received substantial payments from Turkey while Trump was still, before he was actually sworn in, before Flynn actually became national security adviser.
WHITFIELD: And didn't disclose it.
ANDELMAN: Flynn was supposed to discourage, or encourage the Trump administration to embrace Recep Erdogan, but especially also to discredit a fellow named Fethullah Gulen, actually one of my neighbors out here in Pennsylvania, who was supposedly one of the authors of the opposition campaign against Erdogan.
And you'll have to remember that one of the earliest world leaders to visit Trump in the White House was Erdogan. And he got just a tumultuous reception from Trump. He was embraced by Trump and so on. So one of the issues was in fact, was in fact the payments to Flynn, in part, designed to influence the Trump administration and President Trump himself, his views toward this dictatorship in Turkey. That could be a very interesting string to pull on.
And when you start to put all that together, suddenly Flynn and his absence for many months now from the White House, the interest in him begins to make some considerable sense from Mueller's investigation point of view.
WHITFIELD: So Danny, with grand jury subpoenas, does it mean that any potential indictments are days, weeks, months away, if at all?
CEVALLOS: It's possible. But remember, with grand juries, they can be convened for investigation and ultimately to indict. There is no such thing as a purely investigative grand jury. They all have the power to indict. But it's no surprise that there's one being used at this stage because federal prosecutors love the power, the investigative power, of a grand jury. And even the fact that this one was specially convened, all that tells us is that instead of using a presently sitting grand jury in Washington, D.C., which is hearing a bunch of other cases, this one is specially convened to handle, obviously, a very, very important case with grand jurors who don't have conflicts of interest and can be focused on one major case at a time.
[14:15:01] WHITFIELD: And, David, all of this is rooted in investigations as it pertains to Russia's involvement with the U.S. elections. But we're also learning through CNN's new reporting that the FBI set up this war room on election night, around the Election Day, trying to track these social media accounts and connecting them to Russia in any way. Do you believe that is fairly customary, that would have happened anyway, or is there more to it?
ANDELMAN: I think there's certainly more to it than that. It is very clear the FBI had a lot of suggestions and, in fact, the Russians were and begun in fact considerably earlier in the campaign to try to manipulate the U.S. elections. There's no doubt.
And the use of social media and so on to try to manipulate elections has not been confined to the United States. We've been finding this as well in France, where I spent a lot of time examining this, in Germany, as well, where there are big election coming up this fall. The Russians have used social media most adroitly in trying to manipulate elections according to their own benefit, if you will. So the fact that the FBI had found this kind of interest by Russia in
the manipulations going into the campaign and through the campaign on to Election Day, that is really very, very central, I think, to this case. It could very well mean, again, another important string for Mueller's investigators to pull on.
WHITFIELD: And then Danny, back to the investigation and I guess the powers of special counsel, as in Robert Mueller. While the president set that red line about any kind of financial disclosures or probing into here family affairs, finances, is there -- can the president have a red line as it pertains to Mueller?
CEVALLOS: Not exactly. When it comes to the grand jury, first of all, they have the incredible subpoena power of documents that we talked about. But in fact, beyond that, under an IRS rule, the prosecutor in this case doesn't even need to use a subpoena if he can show some nexus to criminal activity, which is obviously there is no discussion or direct evidence of that right now. But theoretically in a case where there is evidence or a connection between the tax returns and criminal activity, he could get the records from the IRS, and the target doesn't even have to know about it. So just to give you an idea, the investigatory power of not only U.S. attorneys but a federal grand jury is formidable indeed.
WHITFIELD: Danny Cevallos, David Andelman, we'll leave it right there. Thanks so much, gentlemen, appreciate it.
The widening investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign will be a major topic of discussion in tomorrow's "State of the Union." The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and New Jersey governor and former Trump campaign adviser Chris Christie join Jake Tapper live tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. eastern time.
Also coming up for us, strong support in the heartland helped President Trump get to the White House, but with no major legislative wins after six months, is that support still strong? What voters have to say about the president's stalled agenda next.
[14:22:06] WHITFIELD: U.S. Senate is now officially on its summer break after failing to pass the GOP health care reform bill. President Trump isn't taking any blame for that failure, and many of his supporters aren't blaming him either. Here's CNN's Alex Marquardt.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a stiflingly hot and humid field of alfalfa that Bob Hilger is driving his tractor across. The 72-year-old farmer is the head of what has become a family affair, growing and bailing hay that will feed nearby cattle.
BOB HILGER, BUTLER COUNTY RESIDENT: This was the first pipeline.
MARQUARDT: Hilger also rents out some of his land for a pump station for the controversial Keystone pipeline, which was revived by President Trump. HILGER: I'm really impressed with all the things that he's
accomplished. Energy security is one of his big things and that's what this is all about.
MARQUARDT: Eastern Nebraska is deep in the heart of Trump country. Here in Butler County, the president beat Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly with almost 80 percent of the vote.
David City, population, 2,900. Locals here tell us that support for Trump has hardly waivered.
HILGER: I didn't think that he would meet with as much resistance from people who refuse to acknowledge that he is the president of the United States.
MARQUARDT: When you see the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare collapse as they have the past few days, you don't blame President Trump for part of that?
HILGER: Oh, heavens no. He's been obstructed in every way they possibly can.
MARQUARDT: But you feel that he has accomplished quite a bit?
HILGER: Tremendous, yes. He's laying the groundwork for the future for us. For the military, for our national security and for employing people, and that's awfully important. People have got to have jobs so they feel comfortable. And then when they know the military is strong, they feel safe. They want to make sure they have a paycheck and that nobody is threatening their life. That's what most people are concerned about.
MARQUARDT: No cracks in Hilger's support even when asked about the president's tweeting of personal attacks and his controversial comments, like those about the French first lady's physical appearance.
HILGER: He's one of us. He talks to people like he wants them to talk to him. He talks to people like I like to talk to people.
MARQUARDT: The people of David City get together at this time of year at the county fair for rides, dancing, and judging livestock. The fair's events were opened by local veterans, led by a Vietnam vet, Larry Sabata. He and wife Ann also have a son who served in Iraq. They blame distractions, including the Russia investigation, for lack of progress.
ANN SABATA, BUTLER COUNTY RESIDENT: If they just let him be our president, if the media would leave him alone, if they come together, it would be OK. But he always has to sidestep something.
LARRY SABATA, BUTLER COUNTY RESIDENT: It is rough for him. He's got to get everything together. He's got to get the Republicans back on board, as well as the Democrats. And all of his other small, diddly stuff I'll call it, Russia. The American people want to see results already. [14:25:13] MARQUARDT: The result that matters most to Larry and Ann
Sabata, to Bob Hilger and so many more here is that Trump is in office and their voice was heard.
LARRY SABATA: They just laughed. They said, running for president, are you kidding? Nobody took that guy serious. Well, they forgot about us deplorables here in the Midwest. They totally forgot about us.
MARQUARDT: Alex Marquardt, CNN, David City, Nebraska.
WHITFIELD: And thanks so much for being with me today. I'll be back tomorrow, 2:00 eastern time. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More Newsroom continues at the top of the hour.