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Haley on Sanctions; Comey Slams Trump; Hannity Downplays Relationship; Interview With Rep. Chris Stewart. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:32:36] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new this morning, so where are those new Russia sanctions. "The Washington Post" reports the White House is still debating whether to roll them out. The president reportedly the one throwing cold water on the notion, even though the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: So you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already. And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons' use.


BERMAN: All right, Monday passed. Secretary Mnuchin didn't announce anything. And as we said, it may be because the president is throwing cold water on it.

Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski has the new details.



Right, this was weird. I mean Nikki Haley made it sound like there was no way this wasn't happen. And she's not usually one, while she's outspoken, to be out of line with the White House. But instead we just heard this weird silence yesterday from the State Department, from the Treasury Department, then the White House said no decisions had been made yet. So we've still seen no sign of these sanctions.

What we do know is that the night before we expected them to be announced, coming from Nikki Haley, that there had been a list drawn up of more than a dozen Russian companies and banks thought to be supplying the Syrian regime with the ability to make and use chemical weapons, but there was still some debate going on over who would even be on that list. We also know that there have been concerns among U.S. allies as to the evidence behind these targets, whether that would be enough for our European allies to jump on along with the U.S. and then make the sanctions tougher. But now we hear reporting coming from "The Washington Post" initially

that it was the president himself who felt like he was not ready to do this now, even though members of his administration would have been willing to go forward with at least some of these companies that had been identified, he was hesitating and didn't feel like now the time was right.

We know from our reporting that he was not happy with Nikki Haley announcing this before he was apparently ready. We know that he hasn't been happy with the European response, especially when the U.S. expelled all of those Russian diplomats, 60 of them. He looked at the other numbers coming from France and Germany, for example, and was not pleased with that. So could that have had something to do with his decision making? That's what everybody's trying to figure out right now. But it just raises so many more questions about an administration that's already been accused of multiple times hesitating when it comes to sanctioning Russia in particular.

[09:35:21] BERMAN: Yes, why the roll-out to begin with from Nikki Haley on Sunday?

Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

What do members of Congress think about this? Do they want the Nikki Haley version of sanctions coming or the apparent White House version of not coming, at least not now. More on that, next.


BERMAN: I want to talk more now about the president's apparent decision not to place new sanctions on Russia despite the fact these sanctions were announced by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on Sunday.

I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

[08:40:01] Do you support the Nikki Haley sanctions on Russia?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Oh, yes, you're talking to a guy who would sanction the shorts off these guys if I could. I've been saying that for a long time going back to Crimea and the Ukraine and Syria.

Look, I don't believe Vladimir Putin cares about anything other than power and money and the oligarchs around him. And it's the only pressure point that we have that we can really reach out and touch him. I would support stronger sanctions, no doubt about it.

BERMAN: So what do you make of the fact that, again, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announces these sanctions on Sunday and one would think she wasn't freelancing there when she announced that.


BERMAN: She announced that Sunday. And then yesterday the White House puts the brakes on at a minimum and there's all this reporting that the president really just doesn't want these sanctions at all.

STEWART: Yes, I don't think that's true, John. I mean in the sense that I think the president does support sanctions. Clearly he has in the past. He's been a little more, maybe, thoughtful about it. I get frustrated once in a while because they have taken a lot of time. But I don't think there's disagreement between him and Ambassador Haley. I think the president maybe is just maybe trying to coordinate with Congress and perhaps our allies, maybe even to strengthen sanctions.

BERMAN: Well --

STEWART: But, once again, I don't think there's a policy disagreement, I think it more than anything was maybe a communications breakdown.

BERMAN: Have you seen any evidence that he is communicating with Congress to strengthen these sanctions now?

STEWART: Yes, he has. They've reached out. We've talked with some of their legislative liaisons here and we have been having conversations with them. And that was not just since Monday, by the way. That's been going -- kind of an ongoing thing here.

BERMAN: So you think this story is not yet over?

STEWART: Oh, for sure, it's not. And, I mean, I've got to -- I got to say one thing, this president, against the common narrative, has been very strong on Russia when it really comes to the policy and when it really matters. And a good example of that is what he did with Syria last week -- or a few days ago. There are other examples.

Once again, I've been frustrated with the administration.

BERMAN: Right.

STEWART: I wanted the sanctions we passed in December I believe, that Congress passed, I wanted that to be implemented very, very quickly. It was a little slower. But I don't think it's a policy disagreement. I think it's just maybe one of pacing or measure.

BERMAN: All right, but he has been much slower on several fronts than you have called for. You do acknowledge that, correct?

STEWART: Yes, no doubt about that.

All right, I want to read you a quote from James Comey this morning. It's an interview from NPR. And it has to do with the response to the president's tweet that James Comey essentially should be in jail. This is what Mr. Comey says. The president of the United States just tweeted that a private citizen should be jailed and I think the reaction of most of us was, meh, it's another one of those things. This is not normal. This is not OK. There is a danger that we will become numb to it and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms.

We'll talk about James Comey as a messenger in just a second here because I'm sure you have an opinion on that.


BERMAN: But that tweet from him doesn't sound that different from some of the things I've heard you say. You've been concerned with some of the tone in the president's messages, whether it be on Twitter or elsewhere. And is James Comey right, that there's a danger that we have become numb to this?

STEWART: Well, I don't know if Mr. Comey's right. I can tell you, and I'll just say it once again, I think sometimes the president hinders rather than helps his cause with some of his tweets. It makes it harder for me, it makes it harder for others to go out and talk about the policy and talk about the things that really matter.

Having said that, I used to defend Mr. Comey. I was one of his strongest defenders for five years, but I have extraordinary concerns with his behavior over the last year. I can tell you, for example, that what he said recently in the media, most notably in his interview the other evening, is in direct contradiction to what he's told us in some cases before the committee. And I think Mr. --

BERMAN: On what?

STEWART: Well, I can't say that right now. But I can tell you -- and I believe at some point you're going to know, that there's, again, not ambiguity, direct contradictions. And that's not the only case that I have concerns like that. There are many others.

I think Mr. Comey right now is trying to sell books. He's being very effective at publicizing that. But, to your original question, once again, I don't know that the president's tweets help the narrative or help the conversation sometimes.

BERMAN: Narrative and conversation is one thing. But, again, has it lowered the level of discussion? Has he set a new bar for the level of rhetoric in this country?

STEWART: Well, I think perhaps. But I've got to tell you, I think lots of institutions and people have. I -- and, look, I'm not deflecting and saying, well, it's OK then. I'm just saying, lots of that has taken place. I mean some of the media reporting has been very inaccurate. Some of the rhetoric --

BERMAN: But -- but -- but -- but the president -- but you agree -- but you agree the president's supposed to be better than that, correct?

STEWART: Well, I think we all should be better than that. I think --

BERMAN: A -- but a president should be better than that?

STEWART: Well, I think, again, he should be. All of us should be.


STEWART: The media should be. I think that there -- his opponents should be. I don't think it's fair really in the circumstances to say it all falls upon the president. It doesn't. Many people involved in the public discourse over the last, well, since he was elected, I think, have gone way over the line. And it doesn't -- it doesn't help. It doesn't help their cause. I think, frankly, the American people are exhausted by it.

[09:45:05] BERMAN: Yes. No, I think to an extent they are exhausted by it. Although, you know, he is clearly a part of that.

You mentioned that James Comey has said things which are in direct contradiction. Let me see if I can go down a little bit of a list here. Did James Comey contradict himself on the fact that the president asked him to back off the investigation into Michael Flynn?

STEWART: Yes, you know, I'd really rather not go point by point. It would get me in trouble if I -- if we're to do that. I just want to say that on meaningful things -- and not necessarily about the president's meeting or other things regarding that. I'm saying on meaningful things, Mr. Comey told us a very different story. I've got to tell you, Mr. Comey told us different stories in different testimony before us. And, once again, I was a defender of his and it's only been over the last --

BERMAN: But not in -- but I guess -- I guess what I'm trying to establish is, on the issues that seem directly related to the Mueller investigation and Russia, which has to do with the president asking for his loyalty, it has to do with the president asking him to back off the investigation, it has to do with, frankly, the circumstances surrounding James Comey's firing. If there are contradictions on those fronts, that's a completely different animal than on other issues.

STEWART: Yes. Yes, and the conflict -- the conflicts that I'm seeing are in a very different -- well, a slightly different area. There's maybe a little bit of overlap. But, again, John, I hope that we're able to discuss this more openly at some point. I think we will be able to. But I'd rather -- really -- really can't right now.

BERMAN: I appreciate that, although I think you did -- just did shed some light, at least a slightly different area there and we will get a chance to discuss that going forward --

STEWART: I hope so.

BERMAN: Because I really do enjoy talking to you.

Thanks so much, Congressman Chris Stewart, for coming on the show.

STEWART: All right. Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: All right, Fox News management staying silent when it comes to Sean Hannity, but Hannity himself is speaking out about his relationship. Call it a special relationship with Michael Cohen.


[09:51:24] BERMAN: All right, new this morning, Fox News host Sean Hannity struggling to explain why he never mentioned he and Donald Trump were both clients of lawyer Michael Cohen. Even after saying things like this on his show the day that Cohen's office was searched.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: You think Hillary Clinton's attorneys had their offices raided during this e-mail investigation? Not a chance. Cohen was never part of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. This is now officially an all hands on deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States.


BERMAN: So the news of his Cohen connection came out in court while Hannity was doing his radio show. He continued to downplay the relationship on his TV show last night.


HANNITY: You know, I might have handed him ten bucks, I definitely want attorney/client privilege on this, something like that.

Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen, he's a great attorney, about legal questions I had or I was looking for input and perspective.


BERMAN: Well, that settles it.

Joining me now, CNN's senior media correspondent, host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter.

It doesn't really settle it, does it?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: No, something doesn't add up here. Cohen's lawyer is saying one thing, Hannity is really trying to downplay it. So it's going to take more time to get to the bottom of this.

Hannity says he has a lot of lawyers, John, not just Cohen. He says he has eight lawyers. What Hannity really needs is a media ethicist, because this is a very strange situation. He's on the air talking about Cohen, defending Cohen and Trump and all the rest, attacking Robert Mueller and various investigations every day without disclosing this matter.

BERMAN: You know, whether or not he has attorney/client privilege, he does seem to have violated news privilege or standards there.

STELTER: Yes. He says -- although he says he's not a journalist. He also says he produces real news and has anonymous sources. Hannity tries to have it both ways and that's the issue.

BERMAN: Well, let me actually read you some quotes there because he does try to have it both ways.


BERMAN: He has literally said both things. Let me read this. Hannity has said, I never claimed to be a journalist. I'm not a journalist jackass.


BERMAN: I'm a talk host. And then he said, I am a journalist.

STELTER: There you go.

BERMAN: But I'm an advocacy journalist or an opinion journalist. He also calls his show real news. He really does try to have it both ways.

STELTER: And even if he takes the position as an entertainer, which I think is probably the best term for what he does, he's very good at it, even then you should probably share with your viewing audience what your relationship is with these guests and with these subjects.

BERMAN: And that is what his frequent guests and several of attorney -- and attorney Alan Dershowitz said when he went on Hannity's show last night. Listen to this.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show. You could have said just that you had asked him for advice or whatever. But I think it would have been much, much better had you disclosed that relationship. You were in a difficult situation, obviously.

HANNITY: If you -- if you understand the nature of it, professor, I'll deal with this later in the show.

DERSHOWITZ: Yes. Yes, I understand.

HANNITY: It was minimal. I put out a statement about it.

DERSHOWITZ: I know. And you should have said that.


BERMAN: Dersh -- Dersh says he should have said it. It's not hard, by the way.

STELTER: Credit to for him saying that.

And, by the way, Fox News isn't commenting on this. The silence from Fox is kind of odd. I think maybe there will be a statement later today. But I've been asking, and others have been asking, did he disclose -- did Hannity disclose this to his bosses? Is this an issue inside Fox? Would there even be disciplinary action? I think at another network that would be a real conversation. I don't

know if it is in this case. But those are some of the questions for Fox.

Questions for Hannity, of course, are about whether this relationship was inappropriate and what really happened. We don't know.

[09:55:03] BERMAN: Percentage chance that Sean Hannity will recuse himself from discussions about the investigation surrounding Michael Cohen, which isn't going away and could only get bigger going forward?

STELTER: Is it possible to have a negative answer, less than zero percent? Is that possible?

BERMAN: Yes, it is possible. Minus 50 percent is what you're saying?

STELTER: Yes, I think that's what I would go for.

I know I'm out of time, but can I ask you, you're the marathon man. You were in Boston running the marathon yesterday and you're back here. How does this work? What's your secret, John?

BERMAN: It turns out I'm seated for this entire broadcast, which -- yes, there's me.

STELTER: I really want to know the secret to the Berman marathon.

BERMAN: It's too -- it's pain. Look -- you know, look at how pained do I look right there? Have you ever seen someone look less elegant and dignified than that right there?

STELTER: It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Can you teach me? Can you train me?

BERMAN: Yes. Yes. We'll do it together.

STELTER: All right.

BERMAN: We'll run one together.

Brian Stelter, thank you very much.

STELTER: Congratulations.

BERMAN: I appreciate it.

And you can catch all of Brian's terrific reporting on this matter and so many more matters on

Moments from now, House Speaker Paul Ryan takes questions from reporters. Will he talk about James Comey? Will he talk about Michael Cohen? Will he talk about the pending leadership fight to replace him?

Stay with us.