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Trump Unleashes On Twitter Ahead Of Major Diplomatic Week; Trump Defends Michael Cohen, Says He Won't Flip; Trump To Host French President At Mount Vernon. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning everyone. I'm John Berman.

Happening now a city on edge and an urgent manhunt for a mass shooter. He is believed to be armed and dangerous. This man you are looking at on your screen right now, Travis Reinking, 29 years old. He's accused of killing four people, wounding others in a Waffle House near Nashville.

Now it could have been worst if not for the heroic actions of a customer who wrestled the shooter's AR-15 away. The shooter got away on foot, running naked except for a jacket that he soon ditched. It is believed that he made it back to his apartment to pick up pants and more weapons.

This morning, nearby schools are on what's called lockout, meaning no visitors allowed in and police are also on alert in Illinois where Reinking lived before he moved to Tennessee.

Our Nick Valencia is in Antioch, Tennessee.

At this point, Nick, any credible sightings of this believed-to-be mass shooter?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. There have been no credible sightings of Travis Reinking since he was accused of walking into this Waffle House behind me and shooting and killing four people. He's been on the run ever since. And what makes this shooting that happened early Sunday all the more unnerving is the criminal history, the path police history that Reinking has.

In 2017 he was arrested after going into a restricted area near the White House. He claimed that he wanted to meet with President Trump and as a sovereign citizen he had a right to inspect the grounds. Now it was after that arrest that the FBI recommended that the authorization for his ability to hold guns or have guns in his home state of Illinois be revoked. And it was Reinking's father that was supposed to keep those weapons away from his son but it's one of those weapons that he is alleged to have used in this shooting, in this mass shooting that happened early Sunday.

It could have been a lot worse if not for the heroic actions of one man named James Shaw Jr. He spoke to the media yesterday.


JAMES SHAW JUNIOR, DISARMED WAFFLE HOUSE GUNMAN: I actually went behind like this a push door, a swivel door, and he shot through that door, I'm pretty sure. And I'm pretty sure he grazed my arm. And it was at that time that I kind of made up my mind because there's no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it he was going to have to work to kill me.


VALENCIA: Shaw actually said he went to a different Waffle House initially but that was too overcrowded so he made his way here. He wouldn't have been here otherwise. And if he hadn't done enough already he's also started a go fund me account for the victims of this shooting. It's already raised more than $6,000.

And speaking of the victims, John, really quick two of them remain in the hospital in stable condition -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Antioch in Tennessee, the site where four people in their 20s were murdered over the weekend. Again this manhunt continues.

Joining me now, CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano.

James, I want to start with where we are before we get to how we got here and both are at issue this morning. But where we are right now, there's a guy who killed four people on the run. I have to imagine that area, that city is very much concerned about that.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This is one of the most harrowing pursuits for law enforcement because you take a crisis site which the Waffle House was and you now put a committed killer, to your point, has already killed four people, wounded two others who is now on the move. Now police have, you know, put out a drag net. There is a number of different federal and state law enforcement agencies. They are working together to try to apprehend this person. They're going to be going to the apartment and combing it where he lived there.

They're going to go back to his place of residence in Illinois as well and try to find any link analysis that can make them predict where he might be going.

BERMAN: Last thing I want to do is make light of this, but he committed the shooting while wearing only a jacket and then naked. Besides the jacket, we think he put on pants. But how far can a half naked guy really get?

GAGLIANO: And the question, John, is, is he still on foot or did he access a vehicle? He could access a vehicle by carjacking somebody, he could have a vehicle someplace else that he could have been in. Police have to put everything on the table and look at everything. They can't rule anything out yet at this point.

BERMAN: How dangerous is he? GAGLIANO: Very dangerous. Somebody that is committed to shooting

people up close with an AR-15 style rifle I imagine right now the middle district of Tennessee which is the federal Department of Justice entity there is probably already issued a UFAP which is unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

BERMAN: We put out his picture right now which might be the best help. The fact that we haven't received more details, at least public details, often you do, does that tell us anything?

GAGLIANO: I think police just want people to -- especially in the area to hunker down. That is why the schools are closed. We don't want anybody being a hero like Mr. Shaw was, which probably prevented a number of other people from being killed. We want people to call 911. Remember, when you encounter somebody like this run, hide, fight in that order.

BERMAN: So let's talk about how we got here because this is an issue and controversial, frankly. This is a man who was arrested at the White House for going over a barrier. At the time he was not armed.

[09:05:01] However, he had his weapons taken away. The FBI investigated him then state and local officials took his weapons away, gave them to his father. Hey, pop, take the weapons, we trust you to watch them.

I think there are a lot of people who look at this, and I think it's within the law in Illinois, but there are people who look at that and say, is that really a fail safe way, a fool-proof way of protecting us?

GAGLIANO: Number of issues here. Obviously the mental health piece of this is one of them. And people that are intransigently on both sides of the gun reform debate have to look at this.

John, loopholes are designed for people to work around. Remember the bump stock in Vegas was a workaround from owning an automatic rifle. And in this sense it is the same thing. It is illegal to make straw purchase in the country. You cannot buy a weapon for somebody else. However, in many states you can buy a weapon and gift it to a family member. And in this instance, you think there is a protection in place where a father, because this gunman owned these weapons, the father gets returned weapons ostensibly to keep them out of the hands of this young man. That didn't happen.

The father gave the weapons back to this young man. Whether or not he broke any laws you'd have to ask a legal analyst that. But that's obviously another work around the system we've got to take a look at.

BERMAN: Yes. And the laws aren't clear. Part of the problem is a lot of this is by state. Right? And in Illinois apparently the father it would have been illegal for him to give back the guns. It's not clear whether possession of the guns was legal in Tennessee once he got the guns back. The problem is there is no federal mandate to oversee this right now. I think there is no debate by any one on any side of this right now about whether or not this man should have had the guns to carry out this attack.

James Gagliano, thanks so much for being with us. Again, we'll check back in with you.

There is an off-camera briefing happening right now in Antioch. Maybe we will get new details on this manhunt. We'll bring it to you when they come in.

GAGLIANO: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: In the meantime, a big week in diplomacy for the president of the United States. The French leader, President Emmanuel Macron arrives in just a few hours and is expected to press President Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

Plus, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting the president is going to ask North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal before the U.S. agrees to lifting any sanctions.

And with all this in front of him, and by the with the funeral for first lady -- former First Lady Barbara Bush actually going on over the weekend, the president spent his time in a stream of consciousness only sometimes true tweet tantrum.

Our Kaitlan Collins in Washington with the very latest. Where are we this morning -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it might be easier to make a list of what the president didn't tweet about over the weekend. It was 24 tweets that we got from the president from Friday evening to Sunday night. Though he often tweets at the most when he is -- when it is the weekend and he is not holding any meetings or any of his day-to-day activities here at the White House. This certainly was a striking weekend at, to say the very least.

He was all over the place. Just take a look at what he was saying here talking about Michael Cohen saying his longtime attorney is not going to flip, as the "New York Times" reported that the president's legal team was worried. That he could begin cooperating with those federal officials. He said a former aide of his was a drunk and drugged up loser. He said that James Comey, the former FBI director who he fired, broke the law by releasing those memos he wrote to a friend of his who then gave them to the media.

He said, talking about North Korea, that he hasn't given anything up saying maybe things will work out and maybe they won't, and then of course referring to the Russia investigation overall as a witch hunt. It was a very active weekend for the president on Twitter, John, to say the least.

BERMAN: So, Kaitlan, I understand reporters caught up with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on the lawn, had the chance to ask her about the possibility of pardoning his personal attorney Michael Cohen if he faces charges. This is what she said this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the president hoping for a pardon for Michael Cohen?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think that we're going to talk about hypotheticals that don't exist right now.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is he sending Michael Cohen a message by talking about Jack Johnson and Scooter Libby pardons?

SANDERS: That is something that's been on the table for quite some time. But --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It has nothing to do with Michael Cohen?

SANDERS: That call took place -- I'm trying to remember, it was probably close to a month ago.



BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan, it --

COLLINS: So of course what's --

BERMAN: Yes, explain the pardon cocktails here.

COLLINS: What she's referring there -- yes. That tweet from the president, another one in those dozens of tweets that we got from the president saying that he had a phone call with Sylvester Stallone about pardoning Jack Johnson, of course that former champion boxer who is no longer with us. The question is, why would the president bring that up now and Sarah Sanders there even putting more of a question to that saying that that call happened at least a month ago to her knowledge. So the question is, John, of course, is the president sending a message by reminding people of his pardoning people specifically a message to people like Michael Cohen in light of those stories this weekend about him potentially flipping.

Of course, I should note that Sarah Sanders said she is not aware of the last time that the president and Michael Cohen spoke except for when they spoke after the FBI agents had raided his home, his office, his hotel room. The president called him of course that Friday to check in but then the "New York Times" later reported that Michael Cohen said he hadn't spoken to the president since then and was feeling isolated here -- John.

[09:10:02] BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins, chasing things for us at the White House. Kaitlan, thank you very much.

A lot to discuss this morning so let's bring in CNN legal analyst Laura Coates. Laura, one of the things that the president wrote about Michael Cohen,

let me read you part of his statement on Twitter about Michael Cohen, his personal attorney.

"Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account, lawyer who I have always liked and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible witch hunt and the dishonest media."

How unusual is it for anybody to be talking about a potential witness who may or may not flip on them in public like this? Does this raise legal problems for anyone connected to an investigation?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course. I mean, it's astonishing that he would be so forthcoming and forthright in trying to speak about this issue. What's also astonishing there's a lot of double speak, John. He is saying at once, he would not flip on me but even if he did it would likely be a lie. And everybody does that with the government.

Well, the thing is, the government actually has to corroborate when they're trying to give somebody any flipping credit. The idea being that if you were to be a cooperator and give us information on somebody who may be a potentially higher target we will kind of grease that wheel for you and make it worth your while. But that assumes a lot of things. Number one, it assumes that the person has information the government does not already have and it might be useful to a government's case. It also presumed there is higher target at issue.

As we learned last week that Rod Rosenstein allegedly said to the president of the United States you're not a target in this investigation. The idea of flipping may be odd in that itself. But the bigger issue here, John, is that, you know, the president does have that federal pardoning power. He does not have state pardoning power.

But in New York it's very unique. They're trying right now to change the law that currently has a loophole that says if the -- if the president of the United States pardons somebody after they pled guilty or they have been convicted you then cannot bring a state crime action against that person. That may change in the future. So the president is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He is being very, very presumptuous in a lot of ways but also it's just odd that he would have such concerns about this particular case so early in the investigation where somebody he tweets about being a businessman/lawyer.

BERMAN: And look, we have no idea what Michael Cohen might ultimately be charged with.

COATES: Right.

BERMAN: And the president did actually directly say, by the way, Michael Cohen got nothing on me. COATES: Right.

BERMAN: There is nothing he could say that he -- sort of dancing around it.

Let me ask you about Jack Johnson, which is a fascinating case, the boxer at the turn of the last century, first African-American champion, world champion boxer. It's a great story. Why do you think the president is all of a sudden publicly talking about the possibility of posthumously pardoning Jack Johnson?

COATES: Well, first of all the pardoning power for the president is one that he likes to covet and show. Any time he believes that somebody is the victim of a witch hunt. Now he has said that about the Russia investigation. He said that about essentially in a way Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Jack Johnson is a very different scenario, however, because he in fact was the victim of a law that tried to make it a crime for somebody to be in an interracial relationship.

It was falling from the Mann Act, where he was dating a white woman at the time. That law was designed to try to ensure that he would not have human trafficking, to take people across state lines for prostitution purposes. But of course it was racially motivated and often used against black men back in the 1910s and 1920s to do just that and prevent interracial affairs and relationships. So he himself was the victim of some kind of racially targeted motivated witch hunt to which he had suffered very greatly.

He later died in a car accident. And of course that was not -- he did go to prison for some time and then fought in Cuba for part of his life but people like McCain and others, Peter King, have periodically fought to have this person pardoned over time. They even appealed to Barack Obama at one time to have that happen. But presidents are usually reluctant to try to pursue the pardon power because they usually have a great deal of respect for the law.

This law in particular under which he was convicted is not one that should have been respected in the same way. But the president would like to use it to show his respect level for pardoning power.

BERMAN: No. The conviction was appalling.


BERMAN: The law was appalling or the use of the law was appalling back then. Some presidents including Obama tried to give the sense that he would rather talk about cases pending now rather than fix things posthumously.

COATES: Right.

BERMAN: But the president may be making a statement here or he may be trying to send a message -- the current president -- that he is willing to use the pardon power.

Last question, and this is an example I think of the president trying to set the agenda or frame how things are discussed. The president did put out a statement about James Comey. We learned that the inspector general is investigating whether Comey leaked a couple of his memos. A couple of them had classified information.

This is what the president said. "James Comey illegally released classified documents to the press in order to generate a special counsel therefore the special counsel was established based on an illegal act. Really? Does everybody know what that means?"

Now what he is trying to argue is that the entire special counsel investigation is fruit of the poison tree, in other words, that if Comey broke the law then anything that happened after that is irrelevant. Is there any possible case for that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. It's unlikely for it to be found (inaudible) because remember at the time the information was handed over to the Columbia law professor, the fact is it was actually classified less than what it is classified now. It is back to having a new classification imposed on it.

So, the term leaking is different when talking about nuances of hether it was classified at the time or retroactively applied with the classification of classified. So, the idea here that he would build a case and say this should be totally discredited based on a new classification is erroneous.

Also, we have whistle blowers often times, right. I'm not saying James Comey is one, but whistle-blowers often who get the protection of being able to say, well, look, I gave you valid information and there may have been a reason it was wrong to give, but we protect them nonetheless, and we certainly pursue investigations based on it. This is probably like that.

BERMAN: Laura Coates, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

An unprecedented speed bump looms for the president's pick to be secretary of state. Is Mike Pompeo in trouble?

Plus, their dramatic handshake shook up the world. These men have held hands more than he and my wife at times. Right now, due for another high stake diplomatic meeting at the White House. What will come of this? Will Emmanuel Macron of France push the president on policy towards Iran?

And it is astounding that anyone can focus on anything else right now. With word that the duchess of Cambridge has just given birth to a third child. Stay with us.



BERMAN: All right. This just in from the president of the United States. He writes, "Hard to believe obstructionists may vote against Mike Pompeo for secretary of state. The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people including the ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all. Never happened before. Need more Republicans," he says.

What is in the president's head this morning as he writes this is a vote later today that could make history. As it stands right now, CIA Director Mike Pompeo is likely to become first ever secretary of state nominee to be rejected by Foreign Relations Committee.

Now it may not matter ultimately, nevertheless, it is a speed bump and perhaps an embarrassing speed bump on the way to confirmation.

Our Ryan Nobles live on Capitol Hill with the very latest -- Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. It is interesting where the president's mind is on this particular topic this morning. The president framing this argument in light of the 2018 midterms.

What you can tell there is that he has specifically calling out some of these red state Democrats that are up for reelection in the fall and essentially putting their vote on Mike Pompeo on the line in terms of their electoral hopes in the fall.

Let's take a look at some of these key votes that will decide whether or not Mike Pompeo becomes next secretary of state. The problem for Republicans right now is Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky. He said he cannot support Pompeo's nomination.

That's one of the reasons he's not going to receive a favorable You also have Jeff Flake, another Republican who said he is not sure whether or not he is going to vote for or against Pompeo's nomination.

So, that means it is up to Democrats to get Pompeo over the finish line when the full Senate votes. That's why we are looking at Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He is up for reelection in 2018. Will he vote yes?

Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota has already said that she will vote in favor of the Pompeo nomination. All that Pompeo will need is one perhaps two Democrats depending on what Republicans do so that may be enough to put him over the finish line.

But you know, John, you mentioned the historic nature of this vote later today. This has never happened before where secretary of state nominee has been given an unfavorable recommendation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

If you take it out even further, it is even very unlikely for this to happen for any committee appointee or a cabinet level appointee. In fact, the last cabinet level appointee to lose or have an unfavorable recommendation was John Tower back in 1989 when he was up for secretary of defense.

He ultimately lost in the full Senate and did not receive confirmation. It only happened one other time where a cabinet secretary was given unfavorable recommendation and was confirmed back in 1945, a commerce secretary.

History poised to be made here in Washington. But, John, at the end of the day, after all of this back and forth, there are very few people here on Capitol Hill who believe that Mike Pompeo won't be the next secretary of state.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Nobles for us up on Capitol Hill. Ryan, thank you very much. Just one of the things on the president's plate. He has a lot on his mind if his tweet storm over the weekend is any evidence.

Joining us now to discuss, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, CNN political analyst, White House reporter for "The New York Times," and Sabrina Siddiqui, politics reporter for "The Guardian."

You know, Julie, I want to read you a little bit more of what the president sort of vomited out verbally over the weekend. He says, "The New York Times" had a third-rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as "Crooked H Flunky," who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with.

They are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hopes that he will flip. Now, I believe, Julie, he is talking about Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Maggie Haberman. Your impression here?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As you point out she is widely recognized as an excellent journalist. She does talk to President Trump. I have seen her do it. More importantly perhaps she talked to a lot of people in Mr. Trump's inner circle.

People who know the situation very well who said things that he is right in that they couldn't potentially be fairly destructive to the relationship between the president and Michael Cohen, who's worked for him for a dozen years and has always publicly professed his loyalty to the president.

[09:25:11] But the fact is, it has not always been that positive of a relationship. There have been some slides in the past and as the president also pointed out this is a man who has a family and children.

And if he is facing major legal liability here, there is a very large likelihood that he is considering his options in terms of how to relieve that pressure. Certainly, people around him believe that he is potentially likely to flip.

BERMAN: Look, the reporting from Maggie is that people who have been around the president and Michael Cohen say that the president has treated Michael Cohen badly at times over the years. That is what people around them say and really the president doesn't have any evidence to dispute that fact.

One other thing, Sabrina, that was in that tweet sort of rampage. He talked about one of these people who we believe to be Sam Nunberg, who was an adviser at one point to the Trump campaign and questions about him. They say they used a nonexistent source in a drunk drugged up loser who hates Michael. Again, we believe they are talking about Sam Nunberg. We don't know the evidence has of that. But this whole idea of shaming people who might have issues with addiction, the president of the United States sort of using that kind of language is pretty astounding.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": It is certainly astounding, and I think in many ways everyone has become immune to his tone. I think the tweets underscore the way in which the investigation into Michael Cohen as well as the separate special counsel investigation really struck a nerve with the president.

He has been fundamentally unable to ignore the way in which they have loomed over his presidency. I think people looking at the tweets about Michael Cohen might be interpreting that as perhaps a message to hang in there.

We saw the president tweet about pardoning powers separately so perhaps a suggestion that if he is considering his options that the president may have his back. I think that you have seen this with James Comey. He had tweets that really underscore the way in which the president is distracted by the investigation.

He says that his legal team is cooperating, these are the kind of tweets that undermine their message as they deal with the special counsel as well as others as they are examining contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

BERMAN: You are not on team coincidence that the president happened to be tweeting about Jack Johnson and the possibility of pardons within the same 48 hours that he's tweeting a lot about Michael Cohen, not a coincidence do you think?

SIDDIQUI: I think it is hard to imagine it is a coincidence. You saw the recent pardoning of the former chief of staff to Dick Cheney. A lot of people thought the timing was suspect and a number of indictments headed down by the special counsel. It is important to note that Michael Cohen has not been charged with any crime at this point in time. He is someone who is a father of two and face ag great amount of legal fees. I think Trump wants to send a signal there.

BERMAN: French President Macron has probably been doing finger pushups getting ready for the trip to the United States. It will no doubt be an historic handshake. The French leader has real business he wants to take care of here.

He wants to try to push President Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. It isn't clear that any handshake or any dinner at Mt. Vernon will change the president's mind.

DAVIS: Well, I think that is right. I think we are going to see probably a lot of very friendly, very warm sorts of gestures from both president of France and President Trump. This dinner at Mt. Vernon is meant to reciprocate for President Macron hosting the Trumps at the Eiffel Tower at a very fancy restaurant.

The state dinner tomorrow and a big set of high profile meetings. I think we will see a lot of very friendly gestures. It is not clear to me and to the French either whether President Macron can get out of President Trump what he is seeking here, which is a reconsideration of his decision to reevaluate and potentially withdraw from Iran nuclear deal.

And you know, more sort of certainty on the way forward in Syria which is a military operation at which France and the United States as well as the U.K. teamed up. I think they will be left wanting there, as well. There are trade issues that President Macron will want certainty on.

It is also not clear that the president is willing to back down from the tariffs that he has threatened to impose and that would be a big issue for France and many of its neighboring countries.

BERMAN: All right. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sabrina Siddiqui, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.