Return to Transcripts main page


Another Explosion Rocks Austin; Interview with Mayor Steve Adler; Trump Launches More Attacks on Mueller Probe and the FBI; Republicans Raise Concerns Over Trump's Mueller Attacks; Trump Lawyer Says Porn Star Violated Agreement, Owes $20 Million; Trump Slams Russia Probe: "Total Witch Hunt;" Interview with Rep. Mike Quigley (D), Illinois. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CUOMO: That's the big division between the gun control advocates and the gun rights --

BRIGGS: A single issue, gun voters have been on the other side traditionally. We'll see if that changes.

CUOMO: Dave Briggs is right. And that is a great story. Thanks for bringing it to us, my friend.

HILL: Thanks.

BRIGGS: Thank you. Appreciate it.

CUOMO: All right. Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here. The breaking news overnight, a new explosion hitting Austin, Texas. This one injured two men. Now, this is the fourth bombing in this city just this month.

At this moment, police are sweeping through the neighborhood where the blast happened. Officials tell us the bomb might have been set off by a trip wire. Now this would be significant. The trip wire is different. It was not used in the previous blasts. Nevertheless, police say they are acting as if this new bombing is connected.

The mayor of Austin will join me live in just a moment. But first CNN's Ed Lavandera with the breaking details from Austin.

Ed, what are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, authorities here still urging residents within a close proximity of where this latest explosion took place to remain indoors. We've seen here throughout the morning dozens and dozens of ATF agents and FBI agents descending on this neighborhood, beginning that process of combing through the crime scene here.

Authorities were waiting until the sun came up to begin that process. And we heard a little bit of the first responders' radio scanner traffic that we heard from those first responders and the medics that arrived here on the scene late last night, just after that explosion had taken place and it was really one of the first indications we got that there had been this trip wire involved.

Take a listen to some of that radio scanner traffic now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our patient that we're transporting a 22-year-old male patient. Can you give me my closest trauma center? Is that going to be South Austin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's affirmative. Closest trauma facility is South Austin in seven minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a second adult patient that they will be transporting shortly. As far as we can tell from conversing with the officers on the scene, this is a single incident. There is no second incident a block over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be aware, Josh, we've got trip wires there in the grass. They're going to count every tree, then pull them back. We do have some more stuff active right there.


LAVANDERA: So we're told those two victims in this latest explosion are being treated at a local hospital, that they will be OK, non-life threatening injuries. But despite all of this, you have a whole army of these ATF agents and FBI agents as well as Austin Police officers combing through this neighborhood trying to find some clues and because of that, because of this possibility of this trip wire, that's why they're very concerned about and urging people to stay indoors until they've had a chance to really go through as much of this neighborhood as possible.

So that has actually elevated much of the concern here and the mayor of Austin and the police chiefs urging residents across the city this morning, John, to be extra vigilant as authorities here try to track down who might be responsible for all of this.

And one interesting note, just hours before this latest explosion, the police chief here essentially speaking to the culprit or culprits through a press conference saying that they -- authorities believe that there is some sort of message that these culprits are trying to send through these explosions, and these attacks and that they're interested in speaking with them directly. So trying to open up a line of conversation with whoever is behind all of this -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera in Austin for us. Ed, thank you very much for that update.

Joining me now is the Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. We know you're very busy right now in the middle of this investigation. Can you give us a sense if there is any progress in the investigation this morning? MAYOR STEVE ADLER, AUSTIN, TEXAS: You know, there are literally an

army of investigators out on the scene, over 100. There are another couple hundred working on this back at the laboratories in Quantico and elsewhere. I know they're continuing now that the sun is up to gather forensic evidence so we're proceeding.

BERMAN: The fact that this device appears to have been set off by a trip wire, what is that telling you? What are you hearing from investigators about that?

ADLER: Well, at this point it's one of the things that they're investigating. What it tells us is that the warning that we're giving to our community is broader now than it was 24 hours ago. We had told people to be -- to report suspicious packages that were being delivered to homes and at this point we're telling people to call into 911 if they see anything that's suspicious, not to go near it, not to touch it, just to call 911.

[09:05:01] If there's any doubt in their minds, should I call, should I not call, the answer to that is yes. Call 911 and let the public safety professionals make the decision about what's important.

BERMAN: It expands the scope of what could be a possible threat. Best to be careful in this case. One of the reports that came out late yesterday was that this explosive, whatever was in it, was put together with common materials, things you could buy at just about any store. Is that something you can verify for us?

ADLER: Well, we know that the initial three had that characteristic. I think this last one is still under investigation.

BERMAN: How difficult is it to get the message out? What kind of logistical challenge does this now pose to you? I know people have been told to stay in their homes in the community immediately surrounding this latest incident.

ADLER: We're trying to get the word out just as widely as we can. That's why I'm talking to you right now.


ADLER: And talking to other media. I know our police chief is doing that. We're using social media. We're using the neighborhood communication networks. We're doing everything we can to get this word out as widely as we can.

BERMAN: Well, Mayor Adler of Austin, Texas, you represent one of the great cities in America. You should know that we are all with you this morning and wish you the best of luck in this investigation. And we will help you get this word out however you need.

ADLER: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Mayor Steve Adler of Austin.

New this morning, the all of a sudden very public battle that the president is waging against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. For the first time the president is calling him out by name. This was prompted -- this prompted I should say the president's attorney to issue a new statement overnight that the president has no plans to fire the special counsel.

Our Kaitlan Collins live at the White House for us this morning.

And Kaitlan, you're a good reporter. You've been digging and you know some new information about the president's state of mind over the last day or so.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, John. We know that the president spent the weekend alternating between being delighted and boasting about the firing of that former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, while also fuming and complaining about the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And sources who are familiar with what the president was saying this weekend tell me that his delight over McCabe's firing was overshadowed by growing frustration with the special counsel's investigation.

And if you thought that this would change his relationship with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and somewhat patch things up, I'm actually told that though the president was pleased that Jeff Sessions made that decision to fire McCabe on a very late Friday night, they doubt that it will change his overall sentiment towards Jeff Sessions.

Now that's what he was saying privately to people but publicly we saw the president's tweets this weekend about the special counsel. As you just said, it was the first time the president has mentioned him directly by name this weekend. He was saying that he believes that the investigation is unfair, that it's biased against him. He actually made a number of misstatements saying that it's composed of all Democrats, even though the Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself is a Republican.

But all of those tweets from the president this weekend led to the speculation that he could be considering once again firing the special counsel and it of course led to the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, to put out this statement saying in response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the administration, the White House yet again confirms that the president is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

But, of course, John, we have to note that the only reason there was media speculation about the president firing the special counsel is because of the president himself and his direct attacks on Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: You know, Kaitlan Collins, I want to tell this to you because you've been talking for the last minute, you haven't been able to scan the official statements coming from the president of the United States. And he put out a new one, perhaps while he was watching you. This is what it says. "A total witch hunt with massive conflicts of interest."

More succinct, I should note, than the president's normal tweets but he is calling the special counsel's investigation a total witch hunt. Witch hunt is in all caps. This just posted. We'll put it up on the screen for you in a little bit so you can see the emotion that he is writing with this morning.

Kaitlan Collins, we'll let you jump back in to the White House and do some more reporting. We'll talk to you again in a little bit.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, and national political reporter for RealClearPolitics, Caitlin Huey-Burns.

You know, look, the president's lawyer Ty Cobb had to put out a statement overnight saying the president is not going to fire the special counsel. However could we get that idea? Well. maybe with tweets like this from the president. A total witch hunt, he says, with massive conflicts of interest. There was another one. This is just a smattering of the ones over the weekend.

The Mueller probe should never have been started, in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a fake dossier paid for by crooked Hillary, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Caitlin, what's changed here? Something snapped. He didn't mention the special counsel by name until this weekend. Now it's sort of, you know, all in.

[09:10:00] CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. And you have the statement from Ty Cobb who was the White House lawyer, saying, look, we're not thinking about firing the special counsel but his own personal lawyer said earlier that, you know, this is -- kind of echoing Trump's statement. So you have this kind of pull within Trump himself and people in the White House seemingly trying to keep this from going forward.

I mean, the thing is that, you know, he was celebrating the firing of McCabe but also Mueller's probe is actually now wide ranging. There have been many, many indictments, some of which the White House has acted upon in the form of sanctions against Russia and at the same time there is reporting that Mueller is looking into Trump -- has subpoenaed Trump Organization and the president has identified that as a red line in the past.

What I'm looking for, too, is this reaction among lawmakers to see how seriously they're taking this. And we've heard from some Republicans who are retiring this year, who are more free to kind of speak out about this. Lindsey Graham is not retiring but he has been a critic of the president.

BERMAN: As far as we know.

HUEY-BURNS: As far as we know. So that's kind of what I'm looking for today, whether they're taking this seriously. I think that's a good --

BERMAN: We'll talk more about that specifically, the Republican reaction, a little bit. Trey Gowdy did comment on this as Kaitlan was saying. I want to play what he says because it gets to a little bit of the argument here, the PR argument. Let's play what Trey Gowdy said.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: To suggest that Mueller should shut down and that all he is looking at is collusion, if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it. Russia attacked our country. Let Special Counsel Mueller figure that out. And if you believe as we found there's no evidence of collusion you should want Special Counsel Mueller to take all the time and have all the independence he needs to do his job.


BERMAN: You know, this message, Matt Lewis, was not just to the president's attorneys, it really was to the president as well. If you're innocent, act like it. A statement like this just came out seconds ago, "A total witch hunt, with massive conflicts of interest." Is that acting like he's innocent?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, Donald Trump has acted guilty this whole time and I think the problem is we don't know if he is because if a normal politician did the things that Donald Trump has done, we would assume that they were guilty. But Donald Trump is weird. He's not a normal politician and he's thin skinned and defensive. And so it may just be that he's reacting this way that looks guilty but isn't.

But, look, you know, you're just talking about people retiring, Trey Gowdy I think is on his way out. Right?


LEWIS: So there's a guy who's actually speaking truth to power and he's leaving. And I think that's really unfortunate. You know, there's this book out called "Why Democracies Fail" and one of the keys to prevent and god forbid this should ever happen here but to prevent authoritarianism is for elite and elected officials to stand up and say no. And you see Lindsey Graham is sending out a warning, you know, you can't get rid of Mueller.

Sadly so many of these guys who are standing up to Donald Trump on his side of the aisle, Republicans, happen to be leaving office.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Laura Coates because let's assume for a moment or play a game where the president is not trying to get rid of Robert Mueller. This isn't necessarily about firing Robert Mueller. What else could it then be about? Well, you know, in a traditional legal case it would be trying to taint the jury pool. Basically trying to play the jury. In this case the jury is Congress and the American people.

Could the president be trying to set the stage for when Robert Mueller comes out with whatever it is that he does come out with, then the president can say I've been saying all along this whole thing is a sham?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. This is an attempt to try to discredit the investigation in the event that the investigation results are unfavorable to Donald Trump. Now of course there's always the thought that the investigation could result in terms that are favorable to Donald Trump and then what will he do now that he's discredit it and said you should not look at anything they say, don't believe anything they have to say, the investigations tainted, unless it's favorable to him, but I'm sure he'll have a different change of tune.

But the idea here is to discredit the investigation. And when he continues to attack the investigation, that's what happens. The magnifying glass goes directly overhead if you're Mueller and his team. It points an arrow directly at the person who continues to say do not look here and every time they say that they look there, case in point, don't look at my finances, the Trump Organization, it's a red line in the sand.

Case in point, here's a subpoena for you. Case in point, don't look at people who are in my inner circle. Well, here are indictments about people who were your campaign manager and your deputy campaign manager. Every time Donald Trump has endeavored to call it a witch hunt, Mueller follows the facts, not just the money, and it results in indictments. And what could actually happen ultimately, we don't know. But that's exactly why we have to let it continue.

BERMAN: All right. Lightning round, guys.

Caitlin, we were talking about the Republican reaction here. There has been some, we heard from Lindsey Graham, we heard from Marco Rubio, we heard from Trey Gowdy. You know, Paul Ryan's office put out a statement said that he always says the special counsel should be allowed to do his job. But nothing from Mitch McConnell here. Are Republicans going to let this sort of happen?

HUEY-BURNS: Well, the difference is that this week Trump is going after naming Mueller directly and Republicans have said in the past he's not really going to do it. And Trump himself has said I have never really talked about firing him.

We're seeing more explicit language here so I'm wondering if that perhaps changes the game, but the silence is very interesting especially as we know Republicans don't want to be talking about them.

BERMAN: Matt Lewis, is (inaudible) shocks response that we get from Paul Ryan typically in this type of situation and the non-response from Mitch McConnell, is that enough here?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. And look, I don't think that changes until the midterms. That's the thing as once Republicans -- if Republicans lose in the midterms, then I think you'll start to see a little more distancing from Donald Trump. But for right now they're not doing enough.

Look, I think you could support him on the tack cuts and support him on the judges, but if we're talking about red lines, this should be a red line. I love to see more leadership from Republicans saying do not do this because bad things will happen if you do.

BERMAN: Laura Coates, Counselor, I want to ask you about the development in the Stormy Daniels case that took place over the weekend, which is that the president hired a lawyer, Charles Harder, you know, who is a pretty big time attorney and now the president has signed on to this lawsuit moving into federal court that could be as much for $20 million to keep Stephanie Clifford silent.

I keep thinking that maybe we're missing the big picture here, which is the president just seemed to sign on to this lawsuit, make the official statement that he's party to this nondisclosure agreement to keep a porn star quiet.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's shocking given the fact that the reaction was of Sarah Huckabee Sanders revealing that there was in fact an arbitration and that David Dennison may in fact be one and the same with Donald Trump.

Now you have him being far more pro-active in saying I'm going to join the lawsuit. It's for a federal court, which is usually going to be a little bit more streamlined and being able to rule on the papers and avoid many hearings.

And I'm going to publicly say that I have an interest and a stake in this litigation. It begs the question why, why this particular person, why extreme effort to silence this particular person?

But John, it's within his rights to do if the contract is valid to pursue every remedy available. It's a surprise given the optics as he would try so ardently here.

BERMAN: All right. Laura Coates, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Matt Lewis, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it. Great discussion this morning and there's a lot more news as well.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe, fired two days before his retirement. Lawmakers now offering him a potential part time job so he can get his full retirement benefits. Will he take one of these?

Plus, it is a data grab that may have affected the 2016 race. Private information from some 50 million Facebook users used by a data firm with ties to the Trump campaign. How did this happen?

And the government versus a telecom giant, the high-stakes trial over the merger between AT&T and Time Warner getting under way. Will politics play a role in this?



BERMAN: A new statement moments ago from the president of the United States attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The president calls it a total witch hunt, all caps, with massive conflicts of interest.

Joining me now to discuss is Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, you know what the president is talking about in terms of conflict of interest.

He's talking about former FBI Director Andy McCabe, who was fired over the weekend, 26 hours before his retirement. The Attorney General Jeff Sessions put out a statement that said this, "Both the Office of the Inspector General and the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor including under oath on multiple occasions.

Now lacking candor is grounds to be fired. Any FBI agent will tell you that. So, was any, regardless of the president maybe politicizing this, if Andy McCabe lacked candor, should he have been fired?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Look, I think what really happened here is they realized he's a witness against them and he fired them, the short time before his retirement they lacked candor. They sped up part of the I.G.'s investigation, carved out an exception for him.

I think it was cowardice. I think it will set in an example. It was telling the rest of the world you mess with us and this is what you get. It's not how you handle an investigation and it's more importantly it's not how you handle people who have dedicated their life to keeping us safe.

BERMAN: But the inspector general is more or less non-partisan, apolitical, the Office of Professional Responsibility is basically as apolitical as you can get. Both the IG and the Office of Professional Responsibility found that he lacked candor, which is a firing offense. Again, aside from the president's Pressure and again, the president has been pressuring for firing McCabe for months, aside from that, those groups did find a problem, correct?

QUIGLEY: It's hard to imagine they didn't feel the pressure from the White House. He testified before us and I thought he was telling us the exact truth. By the way, Mr. Sessions promised under oath, if we're talking about candor, that he was going to recuse himself and it was going to go beyond the Clinton campaigns to involve the Clinton Foundation.

So, whatever reasons they're now finding, those are all within the reasons that Mr. Sessions promised under oath that he would not get involved and here he is firing Mr. McCabe for those very reasons. Notwithstanding the fact that he wasn't candor -- full of candor as he testified under oath. I think he's lied at least now four times.

[09:25:04] BERMAN: OK. That's Jeff Sessions, again. But again, as it pertains to Andrew McCabe, once you get a chance to see the inspector general report and why the inspector general has decided that Andy McCabe lacked candor, do you believe it is a firing offense?

QUIGLEY: I think it is a firing offense. Do I believe that he violated this? Absolutely not. I think it's beyond coincidence if they happened to do it just before he was due to retire.

BERMAN: The timing is a whole separate issue. Do you need to do it 26 hours before full retirement, you know, I certainly know that there is a big dispute there. Let's talk about the president attacking Robert Mueller by name over the weekend, this morning, moments ago, calling it a witch hunt. His attorney says the president is not about to fire the special counsel. How do you see it?

QUIGLEY: Yes, I'd like to think so. Let's remember how this all began, what is it, a year ago the president reads something on Breitbart and tweets out that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? I mean, this inane set of tweeting makes absolutely no sense.

I believe the president has attempted to fire Mr. Mueller several times. I think that there are a lot of elements of obstruction. Frankly, I think the firing of Mr. McCabe is part of that given the fact that he is a witness in the firing of Mr. Comey and that, I believe, was obstruction.

So, this is just another element. It is of great concern. Again, how do my colleagues react to this. Why aren't we passing legislation to protect this probe, make sure it's allowed to go forward. The majority of the Republicans I've heard talk about this are all those who are walking out the door.

I point to the speaker of the House being extraordinarily silent on this and actually complicit in the obstruction by the House Intelligence Committee.

BERMAN: The speaker of the House put out a statement over the weekend through his spokesperson saying that the speaker believes that the special counsel's investigation should continue. So, that's the speaker's position. You don't believe that's going far enough?

QUIGLEY: No, I don't because he should have passed legislation toward that end. He has been silent up to this point. And when the Senate has talked about passing legislation, the majority leader on the House side is not necessary. Where is it? If you want to protect this probe put your vote where your now supposedly your mouth is.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, thanks so much for being with us. We do appreciate your time, sir.

QUIGLEY: Go Ramblers.

BERMAN: The story of the tournament so far. I think we're all with you on that.

All right. The private information of some 50 million Facebook users compromised and a whistleblower explains how that data was used.


CHRIS WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: This is a company that really took fake news to the next level by powering it with algorithms. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow expected to fall at the open. Investors waiting for the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting. That begins tomorrow. Concern is growing that the fed could raise interest rates faster than expected this year.