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Suing Alex Jones for Defamation; Comey Memos Released; Giuliani Joins Trump Legal Team; Comey Memos Help or Hurt Trump. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 08:30   ET



[08:30:48] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now, I don't know if you know this. I really hope you don't, that you haven't followed this. But after the Sandy Hook massacre, which was all too real, these conspiracy theories spread online that the tragedy had been staged. This is usually not the kind of thing that I would give any attention to. And the man who was behind this in part, Alex Jones, I think is also unworthy of attention.

However, the fringe, extreme, whatever pejorative word you want to use, the guy behind InfoWars is now facing a defamation suit. So now this does matter because the people bringing the suit are the families of two of the kids who lost their lives in that shooting back in 2012. Neil Heslin is one of the plaintiffs. He lost his six-year-old son, Jesse. Take a listen to this.


NEIL HESLIN: I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.


CUOMO: Now, in the weeks after that interview, Jones and another InfoWars reporter questioned if Neil had really held his son.


OWEN SHROYER, INFOWARS HOST: That is his claim. Now, according to a timeline of events and a coroner's testimony, that is not possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stuff I found was they never let them see their bodies.


CUOMO: It's just not true. The suit against Jones also claims his lies have led to death threats against grieving parents.

Joining us now is Neil Heslin.

I am always happy to see you.


CUOMO: I hate that it's under this situation. Ordinarily you know we wouldn't give the time of day to this guy unless we were fortunate enough to see him in person. But with the suit, you want attention for it, so we will give it to you because the families and their cause matters.


CUOMO: Why give this guy the attention of this kind of ugliness and put yourself in the position emotionally of having to justify whether you held your son in your hands?

HESLIN: Well, first of all, I don't owe an explanation to anybody or clarification on that. My son was brutally murdered that day. We had a funeral for him. We buried him. And, in fact, we had an open casket. His wound that Jesse suffered was a fatal wound to the head. He was shot in the forehead, exited the rear of his head. So I don't owe anybody any clarification further than that.

But over the period of five years, four and a half years, there's been ongoing harassment from hoaxters (ph), conspiracy theory, people, and Alex Jones. And he fueled -- he's the fuel of the fire. And it's led to death threats. Lucy Richards (ph) is in prison on that. And it's just got to stop.

CUOMO: Now he'll -- the defense will offer up, well, he has said he thinks it happened. That he says all the parents know, Alex Jones says, you know that he knows that it happened and that he feels for you. Do you believe that?

HESLIN: I don't really know what he believes. He says one thing but then he'll turn around and say the other thing. He tries to correct the lie with a lie or cover a lie up with a lie. I would think clearly he must believe to some point that Sandy Hook did happen. But, you know, he still peddles this propaganda. And he's out there with his dog and pony show every day with it.

And, you know, beyond me, it affects the community, it affects the other families that lost -- lost their children or their loved ones, and it's a disrespect to the first responders. It's a disrespect to the community. It's a disrespect to the state police. It's a disrespect to the FBI, who were all there that day and for weeks after and have been a support throughout the years. And to call it a hoax and say the kids were walking in circles with the -- led by the state police, it's uncalled for.

[08:35:21] CUOMO: Right. I mean, look, everybody knows what the (INAUDIBLE) is. I mean you guys had to live it.


CUOMO: Those of us who were there reporting it in the moment, we all know what the truth is. That's not what this is about. But when you talk about the disrespect involved, your son was everything to you.

HESLIN: He was.

CUOMO: And that never goes away.


CUOMO: And the time, you've told before, doesn't make a difference. It might as well have been yesterday.

HESLIN: Exactly.

CUOMO: What do you do with the memory of your son? What do you do for his memory for others?

HESLIN: Well, you do whatever you can to honor and remember your loved ones that are lost, which I do for Jesse. In the wake of Jesse's -- the loss of Jesse, I personally have established a scholarship fund in his honor, in his memory. It's awarded every year. Over 100 percent of it goes back out into the community, to the schools.

His mom has done an amazing job with her program, Jesse Lewis Choose Love. It's a social/emotional learning program that I'm so incredibly proud of the work she's done with it. It's in every state in the country. And I don't know how many different countries. Also it's -- the curriculum is for all ages, all grades and she's just so, so devoted to that.

CUOMO: He was a beautiful kid.

HESLIN: Thank you.

CUOMO: And I know that you're trying your hardest to be positive and to make positive things happen. And if this lawsuit helps, then we'll give it the attention that you say it deserves. But, Neil --

HESLIN: Greatly appreciate it.

CUOMO: I look forward to talking to you about -- about different things.

HESLIN: Thank you.

CUOMO: And, as always, we wish you strength in the community as well.

HESLIN: Greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

CUOMO: Thanks for being with us.

We'll be right back.


[08:40:54] CUOMO: All right, so we now have 15 pages of redacted notes released with the help really of Republican lawmakers written by the fired FBI director after seven different interactions that he had with President Trump.

Let's discuss their impact with Judge Ken Starr. He led, of course, the independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton.

Always good to see you, sir.


CUOMO: Significance of the memos?

STARR: Oh, it's a real treasure trove, my word. I mean we have real insights, I think, into the president's thinking. A lot of this we knew. But one of the things that I took away, Chris, is the president, who was a new president at the time, hates leaks. And he asked Jim Comey, does the FBI leak? And Jim Comey said, of course. A, you know, a president's not going to like that. That's not going to sit well with any president. It doesn't matter what party, what the person's background is at all.

General Flynn's judgment, that was a very revealing episode and so -- and it --

CUOMO: What the president said about his concerns about his judgment, you mean?

STARR: Yes, exactly. The, you know, pointing to --

CUOMO: Right. But the reason I contextualize it -- the reason that he just -- I know where you're going with this.

STARR: Right.

CUOMO: So to get there quickly, the president went like this to Jim Comey and said, there's something wrong with his head basically because of something that happened in front of Theresa May.

The reason I ask is, this morning --


CUOMO: The president tweets, Jim Comey, ruing Flynn's life over nothing. The president is the one who told James Comey to be concerned about Flynn. The president is the one who fired Flynn. A little disingenuous tweet to put Flynn's fate on Comey, no?

STARR: Well, look, there's going to be lots of -- it's going to be back and forth. This is now politics. I really do wish the president -- I think the country sort of wishes the president would say, let's do that which he said in the Comey memos he was concerned about. These things are distractions. Well, let's don't let it distract you, Mr. President. You're doing some very important things. It's an important time. North Korea, Syria, and the like. So let's -- let's get on with the show.

But this is the unfolding reality show. CUOMO: Right.

STARR: And to -- the memos really, I think, are quite disturbing in a way in that I want to come back to the leaks.

I served in the Justice Department twice. I was the subject of a leak investigation when I was independent counsel. There -- this is really insidious. It's dangerous to the orderly operations of the executive branch. People can smirk and be cynical all they want. Believe me, when you're inside at a high-level position, if you're accused of leaking, that is really bad. It's very disruptive. And so I found it very revealing that Jim Comey just says, well, of course the FBI leaks. And I think that's a terrible attitude.

CUOMO: Well, but, look, I mean he was also telling the truth, right? And the truth is also that this White House really leaks and the president loves leaks when they play in his favor. And, in fact, he just pardoned a man who was a leaker of the worst kind. Scooter Libby outed an undercover CIA agent and did it for political advantage and the president just pardoned him. So how much can he really care about leaks?

STARR: Well, the ship of state leaks at the top. We understand that.

What is insidious from the standpoint of a senior executive who's trying to do his or her best thing is, it ends up -- you end up losing the ability to control the narrative from your perspective, which is very important.

CUOMO: Right.

STARR: Go out and hold a press conference and then take the questions that the press has as opposed to someone who may be trying to, frankly, curry favor with the press or whatever. So, you're right, it's better to change the culture. So he said, look, let's do things in good order. If we -- you want to have a press interview, have a press interview, but the leaking culture is very distressing to presidents. There's just no question about that.

[08:45:03] CUOMO: I'm just saying what we learn in this memo is that the president would be comfortable putting journalists in jail to find out the source of the leaks. And this is the same man who pardoned a guy who outed a CIA agent. I'm just saying, it seems to not be about the integrity of the executive, it's about his own personal politics, Ken, that's why I bring it up.

STARR: Well, there are different -- yes, Chris, we can litigate this. There are different ways to look at the Scooter Libby situation.

CUOMO: I feel strong on this case, by the way. I feel strong on this case.

STARR: I -- I can -- I can -- I can -- I can tell.

But the fact and we're focusing on leaks, I want to talk a little bit, if you let me, about Rudy Giuliani. May I say 30 seconds on Rudy? CUOMO: Please. Please. I need that perspective. An important addition.


I served alongside Rudy in the Reagan administration. And he was a young guy. He was unknown. I mean he had a great record as a prosecutor in the southern district of New York, which obviously does very important work.

And I'll tell you, when he came in for his interview with the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and I was there for that, I'll tell you, he just was so impressive at the age of 34 or 35 years old. So the attorney general, who was in his 60s, said, I want this guy. And he was a stand-up person of total integrity.

So here's my point. Rudy Giuliani is viewed as the mayor and all that. And he is all of that. But he is a great lawyer. So the president chose very wisely in getting Rudy Giuliani. He's gutsy. He's courageous. But he's also just very smart. Let's get to the point. And I think he's going to serve the president well.

CUOMO: It will be so interesting to see what his counsel is. And he's putting a lot of pressure on himself saying, you know, I'm here to give the investigation a push and get it wrapped up quickly. I don't know if that's going to be possible. But there's so many big questions. Does the president sit down with Mueller? Does he wait for there to be a subpoena? There are big questions. His counsel will be really interesting to see how it's reflected in what happens.

Thank you, Ken Starr. Appreciate the perspective.

STARR: Oh, you bet.

CUOMO: Be well.

STARR: OK, Chris.

CUOMO: Erica.

HILL: Brisa de Angulo was sexually abused as a teenager in her hometown in Bolivia. Bravely, she turned her pain into passion, creating a non-profit to help other children in danger. Meet this week's CNN Hero.


BRISA DE ANGULO, CNN HERO: I found out that I wasn't alone. That there was tons of girls that were also being sexually abused. And I had to do something. I had to use the rest of my life to prevent other girls from going through what I went through.

I think the biggest thing is giving the voice back to girls and allowing them to speak up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: To find out more about Brisa's incredible mission, log on to And while you're there, you can nominate someone you think should be a CNN Hero.

CUOMO: All right, we're going to talk more about the Comey memos. Do they hurt the president or do they help him? That's going to be "The Bottom Line," next.


[08:51:52] HILL: Republican lawmakers called for the release of the Comey memos. So here they are. Do they ultimately help or hurt President Trump?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political director David Chalian.

All right, who gets the advantage here, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't think it's going to move many people on this. I mean what they largely do is corroborate what we had already learned, right? And they corroborate Jim Comey's story in his book and what he's been saying in his interviews. He's been remarkably consistent on his version of events and his perception of the new president.

Now, the president, as you saw from the tweets last night, he wants to say, well, this is a game-changer, there's no evidence of collusion or obstruction here in these memos. These memos were not about trying to come to results of an investigation that was still somewhat young before Jim Comey got fired. The obstruction investigation was launched with the firing of Jim Comey basically and this information about the Flynn comment in that February 14th meeting. So that is kind of absurd that it somehow exonerates Donald Trump. I don't think that's going to happen.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill, Erica, did want to use -- pressure DOJ, get this information out. And I think what they've seen now is that Jim Comey is a remarkably consistent storyteller.

CUOMO: What else do you see in there in terms of what it tells us about Trump? We know this morning he had the tweet where he called Comey shady James Comey, spelled shady wrong, and he says that Comey really was the reason behind Flynn's demise.

But isn't that completely false? Even in the memos we see that he told Comey, I have real questions about Flynn's judgment. He fired Flynn, you know.

CHALIAN: Which is -- yes, which I think is the real headline out of the memos, right, to get in Trump's thinking, from Comey's perspective granted, on Flynn's judgment. That was really revealing. And you are absolutely right, Chris, to then come out and come out with a tweet that's defending Mike Flynn, who's already flipped, by the way, and is working in cooperation with Mueller, I'm not entirely clear what Donald Trump is trying to accomplish there, if he's trying to talk to Flynn in some way. It may be a little late for that in terms of the information that Flynn may be providing Mueller and his team, but it is odd that Donald Trump, according to Jim Comey, is questioning his judgment. And this morning there he is again defending Michael Flynn.

HILL: It's been quite a week, which I think we can say almost every week, and nearly every day -- every day.

CUOMO: Every day we can say it's been quite a week.

HILL: But it began with leaked excerpts, right, of Comey's book. Now it -- now we're sort of book-ending it with these memos, although, you know, the day is young, let's be honest, it's only 8:54. But what really stands out to you, David? I mean is there a moment in this week as we look back through everything --

CHALIAN: That's a good question.

HILL: That's going to continue to resonate, you know, at 4:00 today?

CHALIAN: You know, so this is the thing I keep asking myself as I look ahead to the November midterm elections or Donald Trump standing with the American public, the real sort of political landscape and whether or not the sort of slew of headlines, from the Comey interview, to Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen in court together, all the swirl that happens every day and every hour, that clearly is keeping Donald Trump from being able to grow his support. There's no doubt that's sort of a wet blanket on Donald Trump.

[08:55:14] Yet, if you look over these weeks that have just been so news filled, he remains remarkably consistent. His support in the country doesn't move around that much. So the -- even though there's a swirl of headlines, we don't see a toll being taken out of Donald Trump losing support from where he's been, which I find really quite remarkable.

HILL: And maybe that's because it is nonstop headlines and the story keeps changing.

CUOMO: Well, it is. But, you know, there's a consistent theme that's looming large in this "Washington Post" story now about trump posing as his own VP or whatever. The truth is a precious commodity in these stories right now. It keeps coming up. And we're going to have to keep staying on it.

David Chalian, have a good weekend, brother.

CHALIAN: Happy weekend, guys.

HILL: There will be truth ahead on CNN "NEWSROOM" with one John Berman. He picks up after the break.

CUOMO: He is the truth. That was his nickname when he fought. MMA.


[09:00:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.