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Interview with Representative Chris Stewart; Family and Friends Remember the Victims of Shooting; Tillerson and McMaster Clashed Over Afghanistan Ban; Interview with Luis Fortuna; 10:30-11a ET
Aired October 4, 2017 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:31:33] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are awaiting an update on the Russia investigation. In just a few hours, the chair and the vice chair of the Senate Intel Committee will hold a press briefing. They say there will be news about the election meddling. We'll bring that to you as soon as it begins.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This comes as the newest CNN exclusive report that found a number of Facebook ads linked to Russia specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin. These were two key swing states that the president won by a very, very small margin, and were crucial to his victory.
Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. This CNN exclusive report about the Russian-linked Facebook ads targeting Michigan and Wisconsin. You know, Michigan, the president won by 10,000 votes.
From what you have seen, what do you think the Russians were trying to do here?
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Listen, good morning. Good to be with you. Before I answer that, can I just say? I was listening to your previous segment. At a time when many Americans are heartbroken, these stories you're talking about, these heroes, the courage they've displayed, God bless them. It kind of protects our hope and our future.
Now to your question, you know, it doesn't take a very sophisticated KGB officer to realize that Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, some of these key states would be places that they would likely target. It's important to note these weren't advertisements that were necessarily pro-Trump. They seemed to go in an audience on the left and the right. You had some that targeted those who would associate with Black Lives Matter. You had some that would associate with kind of the alt-right.
Across the board, we saw them trying to interfere or trying to, you know, mold people's opinions. And let's remember that the foundational thing that they were trying to achieve was breaking down the faith in the institutions, breaking down faith in our democratic process, and in the electoral process, and oh, my heavens, they've certainly done that, haven't they?
HARLOW: At this point, and we know the investigations by your respective committees are not complete. But at this point, on these ads, can you rule out, rule out completely any collusion with anyone on the Trump team?
STEWART: Well, I tell you what, I just -- and it's not just me, I would challenge anyone, show us direct evidence of that. And one of the interesting things, you know, the last few weeks as I've been on television, we've been able to talk about tax reform, we've been able to talk about some of these other steps trying to move our country forward.
And part of the reason we're doing that instead of talking about Russia is I think even many of my Democratic colleagues will recognize, you know, there isn't a case that I think has been made that would tie President Trump or his campaign officials to any evidence at all of direct collusion. There just simply isn't.
And I think a lot of people are after a real, real intense effort recognizing that. And we just don't seem to be talking about it quite as much as we did certainly a few months ago.
BERMAN: We'll see. You know, we'll see with the Robert Mueller investigation, as that continues and the work of these committees does continue.
Let's talk about Las Vegas. And again, our hearts are with yours, reaching out to the people who suffered so much in that massacre. We learned from the ATF that at least 12 of the rifles that this killer used were modified with these bump stocks, bump fire stocks, turning them into essentially automatic weapons. These bump stocks are legal right now.
Do you think that perhaps they should be banned?
STEWART: Well, I tell you, that by itself won't turn a weapon into an automatic weapon. It takes an actual illegal modification of the firing mechanism in order to do that. But you listen to the audio and it's very, very clear this was an automatic weapon. It wasn't semi- automatic. And there's a clear distinction. Semiautomatic, you have to pull the trigger every time. That wasn't happening here.
BERMAN: But --
[10:35:04] HARLOW: I mean, we have video. Let's show, Congressman, this is video, we're going to play it for you. It's about 10 seconds long from the manufacturer. Let's watch this.
OK, so there's no sound to it, but it shows how a semi-automatic, a legal weapon, can be turned into something that to the civilian eye looks no different than a machine gun. And that's the point John is getting to.
HARLOW: I mean, knowing that this was used to speed up the shots that were so indiscriminate, that wounded 500 people, that took 58 lives. Should those be legally sold in this country for 99 bucks?
STEWART: I just think it's an important distinction to recognize. It's illegal to have a semi or a fully automatic rifle. It's illegal to do that. And in order to convert a semi-automatic to a fully automatic, you have to do an illegal modification of the firing mechanism.
Now I'm not familiar with the product you're talking about there. But what I just said to you is true. It's illegal to do that. And it may speed up the process of being able -- but you still have to pull the trigger.
Look, I think all of us can agree on this. This is a tragedy we haven't experienced before. It's one of too many. Let's honor the victims. Let's try to comfort their families, let's embrace one another. And I think it will be an opportunity to have these conversations, but let's also distinguish between those things that are legal and those things that are illegal. And it seems to me that this person participated in illegal modifications.
BERMAN: Congressman, we are going to have to address this again, because there's a lot more to discuss than just this subject.
BERMAN: But again, we do appreciate your time. We've got to run.
HARLOW: We'll have you back.
STEWART: Thank you. Thank you.
HARLOW: To keep talking about this, of course.
We're going to take a quick break because we are expecting to hear from the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in just a few minutes. Stay with us for that, live.
[10:36:02] HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures on the side of your screen there of the State Department. Why? Because the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to speak any moment. He was due at 10:40 Eastern Time. He just met with the Pakistani Foreign minister. We're going to bring you those remarks live as soon as they begin.
BERMAN: Stick around for this. Let's just say, if you've been following the news about the Secretary of State over the last days and weeks, this comes at a very, very interesting moment. In the meantime, they were people from all different walks of life who gathered Sunday night to enjoy a music festival, and 58 of them, they were killed in Las Vegas. This morning, we are learning more of their stories.
CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us with some of these details -- Stephanie.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John and Poppy. Adrian Murfitt was 35 years old. He was a commercial fisherman. He surprised his buddy with a boy's trip to Vegas and that friend, Brian McKinnon, actually held him in his lap as he passed away. His mom remembering Adrian as being a caring and happy individual.
All seeming light to -- there was also John Phippen, who was 56 years old. His son, Travis, a medic, stopped to help someone while the shooting was happening. John stayed with his son and then when a woman was in the way, he jumped in to stop a bullet from hitting her. He ultimately lost his life from that shooting. We've learned that he lost his wife three years ago and he's the father of six.
And Candice Bowers, her family says she was a, quote, "super hero." She was a single mom of three, including a recently adopted 2-year- old. She loved country music, her family is saying that she passed away listening to what she loved and doing what she loved.
And Michelle Vo, 32-year-old. She from the Los Angeles area, an insurance agent. She was there at the concert and her sister said she had an infectious smile. While she was there, she happened to meet a stranger, another 32-year-old named Kody Robertson.
Take a listen to what her sister and also this stranger Kody had to say about her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CATHY VO, SISTER KILLED IN LAS VEGAS MASSACRE: She was really, truly beautiful inside and out. And she had this bubbly, infectious personality and it's so magnetic. Anyone who has been lucky enough to meet her would know that she made it so easy and fun to be around her.
KODY ROBERTSON, LAS VEGAS MASSACRE SURVIVOR: We were actually at the side stage, originally, when we met. It was about 7:30. And we just kind of just instantly clicked. You know, she was a great personality, felt like we were friends for 10 years, even though I just met her. The second round of shots came and she got hit right here, just left upper side of her chest. And she immediately collapsed.
The music stopped. Everyone started panicking and that's when I immediately turned, tried to cover her up from the shots. I knew, you know, in the chaos of everything, that, you know, with her being there by herself, and her not having any information, her not being ID'd in any type of way, I had to find a way to, you know, to get to her, to find her. To let somebody know to be there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: And Kody did stay with her and find her phone and was able to communicate with her family so she was not one of the people that could not find her family members. So just such courage that people showed over the last few days here to help out family members and people that were lost during the concert, Poppy and John.
HARLOW: All right.
BERMAN: All right, Stephanie Elam for us in Las Vegas. Stephanie, thanks so much.
HARLOW: We are awaiting live remarks from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And as John said earlier, if you've been watching the news, you're going to want to see these. He did meet with the Pakistani Foreign minister. Will he talk about more? Stay with us, live from the State Department, ahead.
[10:47:55] BERMAN: All right. Live pictures you're looking at right now from the State Department. We are expecting to hear from the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, any minute. You will want to stick around for this. We don't know what he's going to say, but we do know there have been a whole lot of reports swirling today and the last few days about the secretary and his relationship with the president.
HARLOW: All right. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it begins. Meantime, it has been two weeks since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Still more than half of the people, that is millions of Americans on Puerto Rico without drinking water, without power.
BERMAN: President Trump this morning once again praised the recovery efforts there, but there are still people on that island waiting to receive aid. And the death toll is now 34. That has gone up in just the last day.
HARLOW: Yes, joining us now is Luis Fortuna, former governor of Puerto Rico.
Sir, thank you for being here. And I know that you have been on the phone in recent days with the president. Let me just get your assessment of his visit yesterday, he and the first lady on the ground distributing aid yesterday, making remarks. How would you grade his response on the ground yesterday?
LUIS FORTUNA, FORMER PUERTO RICO GOVERNOR: I believe all Americans residing in Puerto Rico, we're 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico, will grade anyone, including the president, by results. And actually, I read the local newspapers, all three of them, this morning, and what everyone is saying, gracious of him to come down, results is what will count.
We're starting to see some results after General Buchanan came down to take over control of the situation last week. Actually the rate of containers coming out of the port has doubled. But I'm still very concerned, as many of us are, with especially those that are seriously ill, that need medical attention. That are up in the mountains. Those, I would say, are the priority right now.
BERMAN: What do you make of some of the statements that the president keeps on making? What appears to be a need for some sort of validation about his own personal effort and the administration's effort there. He's said in Puerto Rico, we've only heard thank you's from the people of Puerto Rico.
I'm curious if you think that's actually helping with the recovery effort there.
FORTUNA: You know, I understand that there's a discussion in Washington about, you know, the president and his statements and whether, you know, it's inelegant at times, the way he expresses himself and all that.
[10:50:07] But with 3.5 million Americans needing help right away, only 8 percent of Americans down there have power today. And the concern that I have, you just said that the death toll has come up to 34. That has doubled in the last few days.
FORTUNA: And the reason for it is the need for medical attention. So I would rather stick to that and seem to demanding results. And I can say one thing, General Buchanan has started to turn things around. I'm thankful for what is starting to see happen. But a lot more, you know, lies ahead, of course.
HARLOW: Here's the issue, as you well know, adding insult to injury, the fact that Puerto Rico is $74 billion in debt, has billions more in unfunded pension liabilities. And the president said something, seeming off the cuff last night, that he can't do. I mean, he said, you know, we're talking about waiving all that debt that is owed by Puerto Rico, which would help it to be able to borrow money.
The issue is any expert you ask says the president doesn't have that power. And his own budget director, Mick Mulvaney, says this morning to Chris Cuomo, you know, I wouldn't take the president's words literally on that one. What do you think?
FORTUNA: Well, I tend to agree with the OMB director. Of course, the president has been very successful in business, dealing with debt, and, you know, my hat, you know, to him and the success he has had in that area. But in terms of the municipal market, that's a different story. And indeed, Congress approved about 15 months ago, legislation that deals with that process, it's ongoing as we speak. And I assume that process will continue.
BERMAN: All right. Luis Fortuna, former governor of Puerto Rico, thank you so much for being with us right now.
HARLOW: We appreciate it and good luck.
FORTUNA: Thank you.
BERMAN: We do have to run because we are getting some news just into CNN. This as we're waiting for Secretary Tillerson to speak. We have new reporting at CNN and a much closer look at how the administration's generals have been working with the Secretary of State. I want to go to CNN's Barbara Starr with much more on that -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Well, let me clarify a little bit. We've been poking around into this and what we're finding is a little bit unexpectedly, we are seeing a growing number of generals and admirals, three and four stars, starting to speak up very candidly about their views on certain matters without the White House spin meisters at their side.
One of the latest examples, General Jeffrey Buchanan, the three-star in charge now of relief efforts down in Puerto Rico. Within hours of getting on the ground, saying that more was needed, more troops, more helicopters, more aid, that it was the worst he had ever seen.
General Buchanan being a combat veteran has a lot of street credibility on all of this. No White House spin, no message-meisters from the oval office. This is a U.S. general simply saying in public what he believes.
We've seen the head of the air force academy. We've seen the joint chiefs all come out post-Charlottesville and condemn racism, unequivocally. No language of equivocation coming out very bluntly on all of this. So you know, you would think, isn't this what we pay our generals to do? Speak truth?
But in this administration, as we see with so many Cabinet members now, there's a lot of sensitivity about upsetting the president, a lot of pressure not to come out in public in opposition to the White House or say anything that diverges from the White House. And I think that's what people are going to be watching to see what Secretary Tillerson has to say.
Will this be a Cabinet officer that has a public difference of opinion with the White House? We know from the president's tweets over the last few days that there are people on Capitol Hill, it's already been talked about publicly, that believe the president has thrown Secretary Tillerson under the bus on the question of negotiating on the North Korea problem, that he has said publicly now the president, that Tillerson's wasting his time, talking to the Chinese.
Where does this leave Tillerson? We're seeing Secretary Mattis step in yesterday on Capitol Hill, trying finesse the point. Try and give the secretary of state a little more maneuver room with the Chinese on the North Korea question with White House, on the Iran deal. Secretary Mattis yesterday saying that he thinks that the Iran nuclear deal is worth staying in, because it contributes to national security if the Iranians are not in violation of the deal.
The president often talking about trying to get out of the deal. So I think what you're seeing in Washington on a lot of fronts, from the State Department to the Pentagon, people after several months speaking their mind, when they're asked about it, everything from four-star generals to secretaries of defense and secretaries of state.
[10:55:05] BERMAN: Barbara Starr, you asked a key question there. It's the reason we're focused on those two doors in front of you right now. Where does that leave, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State? This was not a news conference or a statement that we were expecting tomorrow, but for some reason, at the State Department, they put that podium out and they told us we would be hearing from the secretary of State today.
Elise Labott joins us right now, perhaps with some insight here. And again, this comes as there's been reporting about the secretary of State, very public reporting, about seemingly key policy disagreements he has with the administration. But also some personal issues, as well, Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I mean, John and Poppy, look, this is the Secretary of State who came in with no government experience. He came from the business world, and he was the top CEO of ExxonMobil. So I think maybe when he came in, he wasn't expecting -- he, in effect, is a staffer to the president. And often times, I think this is a president who, you know, says what he thinks, speaks his mind. And I think sometimes that chaps Secretary of State Tillerson.
You heard just last week secretary Tillerson working diligently on the North Korea problem, trying to get some diplomatic initiatives going. He's trying to get some back-channel talks with the North Koreans. And you have the president come out and say, I just told my secretary of state, that's a waste of time, I'm going to take care of it.
LABOTT: And you have this succession of these type of things. But I will say, Secretary Tillerson has kind of been working behind the scenes, as Barbara said, to try to salvage the Iran deal. Try and give the president what he wants, which is dealing with Iran's other activities. But at the same time, trying to avoid that political headache every 90 days, trying to certify. So on some ways, he is working with the president. But certainly isn't falling into line. And I think in a way that the president expects.
HARLOW: Elise, very quickly, look, Rex Tillerson doesn't love talking to the president. He didn't talk to them a lot as CEO. He hasn't done it a lot as secretary of state. You've had some conversations. Is he -- quickly, is he going to take questions?
NICE: I don't think he's going to take questions. I think he's going to come out. We've seen from statements from the White House.
LABOTT: A real denial of some of the aspects of some of the stories we've seen in the last few days.
HARLOW: Thank you, Elise. Thank you, Barbara. We're waiting for him to walk through the doors and make a statement.
BERMAN: All right. Stay with CNN. Much more on this, just ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:30:00] REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning. There are some news reports this morning that I want to address.
First, my commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of State. President Trump's America-first agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries.
President Trump's Foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We're finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories. Our job is now to achieve results on behalf of America, and we are doing that.
We've created international unity around our peaceful pressure campaign against North Korea, including influencing China to exert unprecedented economic influence on North Korea. At the Riyadh summit, the president rallied Muslim majority nations to assume new responsibilities for stopping terrorism.
NATO members are now contributing more to shared security. And our approach to South Asia and specifically Afghanistan means building upon our relationships with India and Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and support the Afghan government in providing security for their own people. And ISIS's fraudulent caliphate in Iraq and Syria is on the brink --