Return to Transcripts main page


Bill to Protect Mueller's Job; Bleacher Report; War of Words Escalates with North Korea. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 7, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:31:47] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so we are hearing some information about what the special counsel is doing, using a grand jury. That's an ordinary tool in this situation. It sounds scarier than it is. But there's so much talk about what might happen if the special counsel does x, y, or z that you have a little bit of a political reaction to it.

You have two senators, one Republican, one Democrat, putting their efforts behind a bill to protect the special counsel from being fired by President Trump. The senator on this -- in this couple is Democrat Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, joining us right now.

I mean couple in the political sense, senator. You know, you're getting together to do this. We appreciate you coming on to make the case this morning.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Chris. Great to be on with you. And I'm honored to work with Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina on this important bill to protect the special counsel.

CUOMO: All right, so let's have you make the case. Let's test it. The starting position for the administration would be, this is executive authority. You guys just tried to undercut the president from their perspective on the sanctions bill. You cut into the executive's ability to unilaterally negotiate. Now you're trying to cut into the president's ability again, that he should be able to tell his attorney general that a special counsel is inappropriate in a situation. There is legal basis for that. Why abridge it?

COONS: Well, right now, the reasons why the president, through the attorney general, can't just randomly fire the special counsel if he has a bad day or gets in a bad mood, is embedded in some regulations in the Department of Justice. What we're doing is taking those standards and putting them into law so that it's clear that we as a co-equal branch in the Senate support checks and balances and the rule of law.

Look, frankly, the president has this situation. If he's concerned about this situation, the only person he has to blame is his himself. His repeated threats on Twitter against Attorney General Sessions, his repeated expressions that this Russia investigation is a fabrication have clearly run into opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

It is in everyone's best interests, the president's and the country's, that Bob Mueller be allowed to continue this investigation to its logical conclusion. If there's nothing there, then that conclusion will be broadly accepted by Republicans and Democrats. If there is something there, then it's in the best interests of the country for it to come to light.

And I think this modest step by Senator Tillis and myself, that's mirrored by another bill that Senators Graham and Booker also introduced, is one way of our asserting ourselves as the Senate, just as we did with the Russia sanctions bill.

CUOMO: All right, a legal question and a political question. The legal question is, is your bill only doing what is already existent in the regulations for the DOJ, or are you going further in terms of curtailing the president's ability to move on a special counsel?

COONS: We're going further in providing a specific remedy. If the special counsel is fired, he, within two weeks, can go to a three- judge panel. That panel looks at why he was fired. And if they decide it was an inappropriate firing, they can direct his reinstatement.

So there isn't currently a clearly remedy, and it's not a swift remedy, but this bill would introduce a clear and swift remedy, which is intended to be a deterrent against this president or future presidents from an inappropriate firing of a special counsel.

[08:35:12] CUOMO: Why would it be --

COONS: This is also just part of just strengthening the Department of Justice and its independence.

CUOMO: Why would it be constitutional to put that condition on a president's ability to move on a special counsel?

COONS: There are ways that the Congress can legislate that limits executive power. And I do think that in this particular case what we're doing is simply putting in statute a process that allows a judicial review of whether or not a firing was inappropriate. There's already standards in executive branch regulations for when a firing is or isn't appropriate. This is simply clarifying what the remedy would be.

CUOMO: And is that how it exists right now? You know, there's a lot of misinformation about this. This is why I'm digging down on it with you. As it stands right now, when can a president move on a special counsel? And I use the word "move" colloquially for a reason. Because it is a gray area about how it works. It's an indirect process. It is a nebulous process. What is your understanding about what the basis for it is supposed to be?

COONS: If the president respects the rule of law and the process, he would direct the deputy attorney general, since the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is recused from this matter, he would direct him to fire the special counsel. Now, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has already said publicly he would not fire Robert Mueller for anything short of cause. So there was concern among some of us in the Senate that he might fire either the attorney general, given the tweets that he was issuing a few weeks ago threatening of Jeff Sessions' job, or that he might move against Rod Rosenstein. What he can actually do is indirect, under the regulations of the Department of Justice.

But the president, because he is the president, has the power to fire people at the Department of Justice until he finds someone who is willing to override those regulations and willing to override the traditional independence of the Department of Justice. That's roughly what happened with the so-called Saturday Night Massacre back if 1973 when President Nixon fired a series of senior Department of Justice officials until he found someone willing to do his bidding.

CUOMO: A worthy discussion because we need to understand the balance of powers argument here. And then, just as important, we're going to have to see how this plays in the Senate. Let's see who gets onboard with it because it will really speak to the level of independence within that body right now.

Senator Coons, thank you for coming on the show to make the case. Appreciate you being tested on it.

COONS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the New York Jets scoring big with a special touchdown for a very special young boy. We'll have the wonderful details for you ahead in the "Bleacher Report."

CUOMO: This got me.


[08:42:01] CUOMO: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

Number one, President Trump lashing out at the media and polls on his 200th day in office. The president watching the show this morning and tweeting up a storm from his 17-day working, not a vacation, as the president keeps saying, at his New Jersey golf club.

KEILAR: Does include golf, though.

Vice President Mike Pence blasting a "New York Times" report that says he's positioning himself to run for president in 2020 if President Trump does not seek a second term. Pence calling the story, quote, offensive.

CUOMO: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying the U.S. is open to North Korea talks if they stop ballistic missile tests. North Korea vows to retaliate against the latest U.S.-led sanctions voted on by the U. N. and says its missiles and nuclear weapons are not on the negotiating table. KEILAR: The FBI is investigating the bombing of a Minneapolis mosque

as a possible hate crime. The explosive device detonated as people gathered for morning prayers this weekend. Fortunately, no one was injured. Minnesota's governor calling it an act of terrorism.

CUOMO: The city of Chicago is suing the Justice Department over plans to withhold funding from police departments that do not assist in federal immigration matters. The mayor there, Rahm Emanuel, says Chicago will not be blackmailed into changing its values.

A quick programming note. Mayor Emanuel is going to be on "CNN Newsroom" in the next hour.

KEILAR: And for more on the "Five Things to Know," go to for the latest.

CUOMO: All right, so we've got a good "Bleacher Report" today. Former Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler hitting pause on the broadcasting career before he even called his first game, demand to get the pigskin back in his hand. Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report."

This was a big surprise. And I've got to tell you, he looked good flinging those out patterns yesterday.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good to see you. You as well, Brianna.

A mike drop before he even spoke into it. Jay Cutler coming out of retirement to pick up a Dolphins' helmet, signing a reported one-year deal worth $10 million. He's going to reunite with his former offensive coordinate, Adam Gates, who's now the head coach in Miami, after their starter there, Ryan Tannehill partially tore his ACL.

So yet another team passed on Collin Kaepernick. The Dolphins reportedly were interested in signing him. The question remains, will any team give Kaepernick the opportunity to play this season>

Here's your feel-good for the day. Ten-year-old Jesse Pallas. He deals with brain swelling and bone loss because of the leukemia he has battled since he was four years old. Well, the cancer is in remission and this weekend he beat Cuomo's New York Jets into submission, taking the hand off 50 yards for a touchdown, leaving the defenders in the dust. His mom, his dad, his older brother there, all there to watch him score a touchdown and have the team raise him high above his heads. They found out about young Jesse through the Marty Lyons Foundation, which started 35 years ago by one of their former players. It grants wishes for kids with terminal and life-threatening illnesses. And the team, they're also going to give Jesse four tickets to the home opener next month.

[08:45:08] KEILAR: Awe.

CUOMO: He was wearing Matt Forte's jersey there, number 22. The good news is, they gave that kid a memory he deserves to have for the rest of his life. The bad news, it was the only successfully blocked long play for the New York Jets in like three and a half seasons. Coy Wire -- another long season, but they made the right statement at

the right time.

WIRE: Absolutely, Chris. Good to see you guys.

KEILAR: All right, see you later, Coy.

Well, President Trump's world view is continuing to evolve as relationships with allies and adversaries are changing. CNN's Fareed Zakaria gives us his take, next.


CUOMO: All right, so Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says a unanimous U.N. vote slapping North Korea with the strongest sanctions yet show the world is united against the reclusive regime's nuclear ambitions. North Korea is taking it a different way. They're vowing to retaliate. This is hardening their resolve of them against the world.

[08:50:12] Let's bring in CNN's Ivan Watson, live in Manilla. That's where Tillerson is attending a meeting of Asian nations.

Ivan, thanks for being on the spot for us.

There's a very interesting dynamic at play here. It really is a matter of perspective. From the U.S. perspective, the international community galvanized to stand against what North Korea is doing. It seems that North Korea is seeing it as an opportunity to double down and say that its nukes are not on the table, no matter how hard you pinch them with sanctions.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, the U.S. plan here was to try to internationally, diplomatically isolate North Korea. And Secretary Tillerson did have some success, not only with the United Nations Security Council resolution that bars North Korea from exporting iron and coal and seafood, but also with getting southeast Asian nations to issue their own statement, expressing grave concern about North Korea's two ballistic missile launch last month. Also getting the Chinese foreign minister to face to face tell North Korea's top diplomat, please stop firing missiles.

So there is some kind of international opposition to what North Korea is doing. The U.S. secretary of state went on to say that now one of the key questions is going to be implementation of these new sanctions against Pyongyang. Take a listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The next step's obviously to see that the Security Council resolution sanctions are enforced by everyone. We will be monitoring that carefully. We hope, again, that this ultimately will result in North Korea coming to the conclusion to choose a different pathway, and when the conditions are right, that we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and prosper economically.


WATSON: Now, Chris, the response from North Korea has been somewhat surreal. We got a hold of the document, what the North Korean diplomat read to the assembled Southeast Asian nations here. And here he basically discounted all the of the criticism that they've gotten from other countries, from China, from Russia, from the United Nations Security Council, and framed it all as a confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea and argued that North Korea will never give up, will never give up its nuclear weapons. It needs it as a deterrent against the U.S. And issued direct threats against the U.S., saying that it's a grave mistake if Washington thinks that the U.S. is safe being an ocean away from North Korea. So -- so we're just hearing defiance coming from Pyongyang at this point.

Chris and Brianna.

KEILAR: And maybe not that surprising, Ivan, because it, by all accounts, it appears that the ship has sailed now on North Korea getting a long-range nuclear missile. It just seems like a reality that this administration is confronting.

Listen to this sobering comment from General H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned should the American people be that we are actually on the brink of a war with North Korea?

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think we -- I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with this, right. I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with a rogue, brutal regime.


KEILAR: (INAUDIBLE), Ivan, it seems like the U.S. figuring out a way to live with a nuclear North Korea. This as we've heard some of our guests saying, an equilibrium. But there's also a worst-case scenario here, and that's what McMaster is talking about.

WATSON: Yes, I mean the possibility of a conflict, everybody knows, would be horrific because it would involve South Korea, Seoul being within artillery range of North Korean conventional artillery. And basically the Korean War 2.0. Just hard to even possibly imagine. So that's something that nobody even wants to contemplate.

What is a fact here is that with its actions in the last couple of weeks, North Korea has actually managed to get the U.S., Russia, and China on the same page when it comes to its ballistic missile technology, its nuclear tests. I mean for Moscow and Beijing to unite with Washington on this United Nations Security Council resolution, that's quite a big thing considering the huge differences there.

[08:55:02] And it also seems to have attracted criticism from other kind of countries that don't necessarily flock to the U.S. The Philippines president, the host of this gathering here, just last week he called North Korea's leader a maniac, somebody who's crazy, and called him chubby as well. So that's the kind of criticism that North Korea is coming under from unexpected circles right now.

Brianna and Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Ivan Watson, thank you very much. We look forward to the rest of your reporting with the secretary of state there in the Philippines. Appreciate it.

All right, it's Monday, but it's always good to start off the week with a little "Good Stuff."


CUOMO: What do you say? Next.


CUOMO: "The Good Stuff."

A Vietnam veteran, Joe Conningham (ph), wanted to do something for soldiers who suffers from PTSD. This is a huge and underreported problem. So he used his retirement money to start up a non-profit in Tennessee. He's using horses to help veterans get acclimated to life after returning home from war. Many of them find comfort in the program.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) helped me connect again with who I am. And I think all veterans, if they have the ability to take this opportunity, it's a wonderful thing.


[09:00:05] CUOMO: He took his own money to do right by the fighting men and women with a need, again, that's greatly ignored, PTSD.

KEILAR: That's right, giving back. Such a great story.