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Sen. Angus King On Gina Haspel's Senate Confirmation Hearing; Former Russian Ambassador On Israeli-Iran Confrontation And Putin And Life Inside Russia; Jake Tapper Discusses The Release Of Korean Detainees and His Best-Selling Novel "The Hellfire Club" ; The Pentagon To Release Niger Ambush Report Today. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:47] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Independent senator from Maine, Angus King, is back with us. Senator, can you hear us?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), MEMBER, SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I can. Sorry about that, Chris. I think it was the Russians blew up the connection there.

CUOMO: Well, we'll leave it to your committee. I'm sure you'll get to the bottom of it in no time at all.

KING: Yes, we will.

CUOMO: Look, we have established that you faked -- fake news -- that the IFB was always working. You didn't like where I was going with the interview and you tried to duck it.

KING: Yes.

CUOMO: I had someone grab you by the ankles. You are now chained to the fence behind you and you will stay until I ask you about Gina Haspel.

KING: Go ahead.

CUOMO: You were at the confirmation hearing.

KING: Right.

CUOMO: John McCain put out a statement saying I'm sorry, but you took part of an immoral operation. You wouldn't say it was immoral and your role in it and your lack of calling it out for what it is is enough to disqualify you.

Do you agree?

KING: Well, the first thing to say is that no one has more credibility on this issue than John McCain, and I think his statement was very strong and very clear.

My focus in the hearing was really on two things. And by the way, I came into the hearing concerned and came out opposed, just to be clear about where I am. I was focusing on the destruction of the tapes which took place -- the argument about the waterboarding and the program, she can argue that this was legal, they had opinions of the attorney general, it was an order from the president. They felt they were doing something important to protect the country.

That argument doesn't apply when you get to 2005 and she was participating in the order to destroy the videotapes in the midst of congressional discussions of a possible investigation. That's what really bothered me.

But the final piece, Chris, was that I just felt throughout the hearing and then in the classified hearing later on that afternoon, she wasn't forthcoming.

And one of the odd things about this that came out yesterday, she's the decider in the CIA about what gets declassified in terms of her record. So that, it seems to me, is an inherent conflict of interest. And I believe there are materials that should be shared that cast more light --

CUOMO: Right.

KING: -- on some of the questions that we asked yesterday.

CUOMO: Good point.

Two quick questions.

First one, why do you think she destroyed the tapes or was part of the effort to do so?

KING: Well, her statement is pretty clear. They were concerned that the identities of the --

CUOMO: Right.

KING: -- agents who were performing the waterboarding would be identified --

CUOMO: So they could have clouded their faces.

KING: Exactly, and that's my response. They could have clouded their faces. You know, I'm not going to try to read her mind. I'm just telling you that was their statement.

But to me, what bothered -- what really bothered me was the timing, Chris.

It was right around the time that John McCain had an amendment on the floor about torture. Carl Levin had an amendment about setting up a kind of 9/11 commission to look into this. There were major stories in the newspapers that week.

And then all of a sudden -- this thing had been pending for three years. All of a sudden on the weekend -- on the first weekend in March of 2005 the decision was made --

CUOMO: Right.

KING: -- to destroy the tapes. That bothers me.

CUOMO: All right, let me ask you something else.

So, Gina Haspel tells you guys look, I know what we did. A little cloudy on how she felt about it morally. Says she was raised right. Says it was legal at the time -- true.

Says she would not go back there. She would not let the CIA go back there under any circumstances.

That's not what her boss says. Her boss says that he thinks -- Donald Trump thinks those tactics worked and that these are bad guys and you have to treat them in bad ways.

So what does that set up for her as the prospect of a short-timer?

KING: Well, I think it does create a difficult situation and that was -- that was sort of hovering over the hearing yesterday -- the fact that very openly in the -- in the campaign he said waterboarding and worse, he thinks it worked and we should do more.

So it does put her in a difficult position based upon what she said yesterday. So, you know, I don't know whether it will come to that but right now, it's against the law.

CUOMO: Right.

KING: And -- but the law can change and, of course, that's one of the realities of our system.

CUOMO: Senator Angus King, thank you very much for your candor, except for that little ploy you tried to pull off. Always appreciate you on the show.

KING: Always, Chris. Thank you.

CUOMO: Take care, Senator -- Alisyn.

KING: Yes.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, now to this breaking news.

Israeli defense officials say they have hit Iranian targets in Syria after a rocket from that area attacked the Golan Heights. It is the most direct confrontation between the two countries and it comes just a day after the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

[07:35:10] Here to discuss this and so much more we have former U.S. ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration, Michael McFaul. He is the author of the new book "From Cold War to Hot Peace," about Russia and his time spent as ambassador.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being here.


CAMEROTA: Let's start with that news about this increasing tension between Israel and Iran.

We just had Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, on. He said that he thinks that the White House should consider military action against Iran if this isn't tamped down.

What do you think is next?

MCFAUL: Well, it's very serious, let's be clear. It's very scary when you have these two countries firing rockets at each other.

I think it underscores the need to stay in Syria. I hate to say this. The president thinks otherwise.

But if we pull out of Syria, the fight that we have been doing there -- it's called Operation Inherent Resolve -- and we leave a vacuum to where we've been fighting ISIS, that is going to increase Iranian presence -- Iranian military presence in Syria. And I think this is another small indication of why that is imprudent.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's move on to your bailiwick and what your book is about and your expertise as ambassador, and that's what's going on with Russia.

So what do you make of these new revelations, OK, that this Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg --


CAMEROTA: -- paid through his company and then threw his cousin's company -- the U.S. affiliate of the Russian company -- half a million dollars? That's at least what reportedly Michael Cohen pocketed from this Russian oligarch.

What are we to make of this connection?

MCFAUL: I think it's very strange. We need to know a lot more.

You know, when I was ambassador, I knew Viktor Vekselberg. I used to work with him. I know his businesses well in Russia.

CAMEROTA: And tell us about him. I mean, what were your impressions?

MCFAUL: Well, a couple of things.

First of all, he's one of the old oligarchs -- and he would hate it if we were calling him oligarch, by the way. He would like us to refer to him as a businessman.

He made his money in the 1990s before Putin. Other oligarchs who are closer to Putin -- they made their money because of connections to Putin.

That's not Mr. Vekselberg. He actually has a pretty difficult relationship with the Kremlin and he just had a couple of people from his company arrested by the Kremlin a couple of months ago.

And number two, he fancies himself as being a western-oriented businessperson. He's a leader of something called Skolkovo, for instance, inside Russia -- their attempt to create a Silicon Valley in Russia.

So he's not one of those insiders with Putin. He's got difficult relations with Putin.

And so my only hypothesis, and we need to know more to understand, is that maybe he was trying to use his connections in New York City, a place he spends a lot of time -- his daughter lives in New York City -- to demonstrate to Putin that he could be useful to Putin to create this backchannel through -- with Michael Cohen.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of strained relations with Putin, you had some.


CAMEROTA: You write in your book about how complicated it got. You were on the receiving end of some of his attacks.

Here's what you write in the book.

"I also tried to distinguish between our government's disdain for authoritarian policies pursued by the Kremlin and my respect for the Russian people, culture, and history.

The Kremlin hated that. As one person close to the Kremlin revealed to me, my obvious love for Russia drove the Putin government nuts. I would have been a much easier target if they could have portrayed me as a Cold War Russophobe."

So what has it been like for you to watch this administration -- the Trump administration trying to, it appears, make nice with Putin and all of these meetings, and these secret meetings, and these attempts at backchanneling with Putin?

How do you interpret all of that?

MCFAUL: Well, just to remember -- thanks for reading from the book -- the reason he was attacking me personally and the Obama administration and America, was that he thought we were trying to undermine his regime. He thought that I was sent to Russia to form that revolution against him and that's why he went after me in these very personal ways.

To speed forward now, President Trump doesn't talk about democracy and human rights hardly at all and most certainly not in relation to Russia. That's music to the Kremlin's ears. That's what Putin wants.

And I want to be clear. I support engagement, even with Vladimir Putin -- even with President Putin -- if you're going to do it to achieve some concrete American national security outcome.

What I don't think you should do is to have a chummy relationship and to talk about good relations as the goal in your relationship with Russia or for any other country for that matter. The goal should be something concrete. The means is to talk and to have engagement --

[07:40:07] CAMEROTA: Let's talk about --

MCFAUL: -- and I think the president gets that mixed up from time to time.

CAMEROTA: OK. And, I mean, since all of our Intel officials warn that there will be more election meddling -- that Russia is bent on that -- what is Putin's end goal?

MCFAUL: Well, with that -- his large goal -- let's just be clear. His large goal is to weaken the liberal democracies in Europe and the United States.

He sees us as the enemy, he sees us as a competitor, and he has a long-sustained goal to try to diminish our power in the world and weaken our institutions -- things like NATO -- and peel off some of the countries that are in NATO to weaken our alliance.

The short-term goal about disinformation, I would say was two things in 2016 and maybe just one today.

Two thousand sixteen, he very clearly wanted candidate Trump to win and he wanted Sec. Clinton to lose.

CAMEROTA: Because he didn't like Clinton. Just to be clear, he didn't like Clinton and he thought that Trump would be a friendly --

MCFAUL: Exactly -- very rational. I mean, just look at what candidate Trump said.

He said he might look into recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. He wanted to lift sanctions. He criticized NATO and he didn't say a word about democracy.

It was very rational for President Trump (sic) to prefer him but he didn't just sit on the sidelines and have preferences. He intervened to try to help him win the election.

Whether it had an impact on the election, that's a different matter. His intention, however, and his actions were clear.

There's a second reason, however, that he did that and I think the evidence for this now is overwhelming. He wants to foment a division and increase polarization in American society as a way to distract us from being a leader in the international world.

And I think he has accomplished that. I think he has helped to magnify some of our internal divisions. That means we're focused at home instead of abroad, and that's in Putin's interest.

CAMEROTA: That is a sad commentary but we appreciate you being here with all of your expertise.

The book, again, is "From Cold War to Hot Peace."

Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for being here.

MCFAUL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CUOMO: All right.

President Trump beaming with pride because three American prisoners stepped foot on U.S. soil. Is it the best moment of Trump's presidency?

Let's discuss with CNN's Jake Tapper, who has some kind of new novel for you.


[07:46:10] CUOMO: Three Americans held captive for more than a year in North Korea now free and back home. A made-for-T.V. moment that the most was made of by a man who knows the media, Donald Trump, now president.

Here to discuss the impact, CNN anchor Jake Tapper. Also, the author of a really good historical novel, "The Hellfire Club," already a New York Times bestseller and with good reason.

Brother, congratulations.


CUOMO: Well done.

TAPPER: Good to be here. Hi, sweetie.

CAMEROTA: How are you?


CUOMO: So look, Trump knows when something is going to resonate and matter, especially with the media. This does --


CUOMO: -- and for good reason.


CUOMO: He played it up. They put out a lightly-edited video mastering the moment inside the plane with him and the first lady.

Is this the high point of the presidency? TAPPER: Look, it's an achievement. I mean, previous presidents have been able to get hostages out of different countries, including North Korea, and I don't know that they played it up as much as President Trump has.

But without question, here are three individuals, one of whom was taken hostage when Obama was president. Two were taken hostage last year during the Trump presidency and they're now free.

The bigger question I have is about President Trump's negotiating skills and what he's doing here to set the stage for the summit when it comes to North Korea, Kim Jong Un, and the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Are the steps he's taking working towards that end of getting rid of North Korea's nukes or is he overplaying his hand? I don't know but I'm just watching carefully to see is he giving away his leverage.

I understand that he's praising Kim Jong Un because he wants to have a deal but obviously, we can't lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong Un didn't do some great thing by freeing this, guys. He took them prisoner under false pretenses, to begin with.

One of them saw hard labor. One of them, according to Vice President Pence, hadn't seen daylight in a long time. There's nothing honorable or wonderful about what Kim Jong Un just did.

CAMEROTA: But calling him wonderful if it leads to denuclearization --

TAPPER: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- I think we'd both say was worth it.


CAMEROTA: Let's talk about your book.


CAMEROTA: OK, so congratulations. It's such a great book. You're a wonderful writer.

TAPPER: Thank you. You are a wonderful writer.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. We -- go on.

And so, what is "The Hellfire Club?"

TAPPER: "The Hellfire Club" was an actual secret society in England in the 1700s where people in the royal family, and politicians, and businessmen would come together and commit the most debaucherous acts, so seedy and disgusting I can't -- I can't mention it here for your beautiful audience and their refined ears as they're waking up.

But it was also -- it was a real thing. Ben Franklin went one time. And it got me thinking what if a secret society like this where not

only they indulged but they also forged these alliances to control the country -- what if that actually was in the United States? And so that got me thinking.

And I set the novel in 1954 at the height of the Cold War during McCarthyism. A young congressman and his very strong wife come down to Washington. They're thrust into this world. They interact with a bunch of real-life people at the time -- Joe McCarthy, John F. Kennedy, etcetera -- while there's a secret society swirling around them.

CUOMO: Now, I'm only about a third of the way in and I blame you for that. I'm not going to compare it to other bigshot writers. People can make that determination for themselves.

But they should look at the quote on the top of the cover from James Patterson --


CUOMO: -- because when I start reading the book I wind up going on these Google searches because the book wreaks of hard work. You get inside this period in our history --


CUOMO: -- the cultural morays, the historical abstracts, the character plays, how people talk and think that made me then start looking things up. I was like, oh yes, I'm unfamiliar with this. Oh, really? Was it like that?

You put a lot of work into this book.

TAPPER: I put a lot of work. You should also check out the back of the book. There's about 10 or 15 pages --


TAPPER: Ten or 15 pages of source material.

CUOMO: Oh, absolutely. There's a bibliography.

TAPPER: So -- no, because -- well, there's so much in the book that is real --


TAPPER: -- and I thought people would think oh, he just made that up. And -- but no, it really happened.

For instance, Puerto Rican terrorists bursting in on Congress and shooting it up on March first, 1954 -- shooting five members of Congress.

[07:50:05] Joe McCarthy, when he drank he would -- and he drank a lot -- he would drink scotch and soda and then he would have a stick of butter. He would eat a stick of butter.

I got that from a Jack Anderson biography of McCarthy and I'm like people need to know I didn't make that up.

CAMEROTA: To ward off a hangover.

TAPPER: Yes, to ward off a hangover and to make it go down easier.


TAPPER: But that doesn't make any sense to me to eat a stick of butter. It was even a stick of butter, it wasn't two Tylenol.

CUOMO: It's too bad that doesn't work. Let's be honest.

CAMEROTA: He would not.

CUOMO: But I mean, look, just taking that kind of time, it's just so rare and it really makes a difference in what comes through in the writing. That's all I'll say. I couldn't be less objective but that's true.

CAMEROTA: Well then, let me ask you the question that --


CAMEROTA: -- everybody would ask me.

You have a day job.


CAMEROTA: How did you do this? How -- it's such an ambitious undertaking.

TAPPER: I -- you know, I've been working on it for years. You guys just found out about it a few weeks ago but I've been working on it for years.

And you know how it is when you can steal like 15 minutes at work or an hour after you put the kids to bed. The time adds up. But it was a lot of hard work and it was just over a long period of time.

CUOMO: Awesome, awesome. It is going to be well-read. It is already well-received. Good for you, brother.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you, Jake. Congratulations.

TAPPER: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. All right.

Meanwhile, what happened to four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger months ago? We have some more answers now. The Pentagon is about to release a report.

So we have a live report for you, next.


[07:55:36] CAMEROTA: It's time for "CNN Money Now."

President Trump's vow to pull the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal is driving up oil prices to their highest level in years.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center with more.

What level is that?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Yes, the so-called Iran exit. That's what they're calling it. It has oil prices about 71 bucks a barrel, Alisyn. That's the highest since 2014.

New U.S. sanctions could cut off Iran's oil exports, trimming already tight oil supplies around the world. You know, major oil-producing countries already had been nudging prices higher by slowing down on production.

Higher prices are good for energy stocks like Exxon and Chevron, boosting global stocks overnight.

It's good for investors and not so much for consumers. Gas prices up, guys, 21 percent over the past year and they're still rising. A typical family can expect to spend 200 bucks more on gas this summer than last year.

And that higher gas bill will cut into the extra cash in your pocket, thanks to the new tax bill. Morgan Stanley says Americans will pay $38 billion more to fill up their tanks this year. That wipes out about a third of the direct savings from those tax cuts, Chris.

CUOMO: Of course, the gas is going to affect everybody equally and the tax cuts don't do that. It depends who you are, what your life situation is, your income level.

So interestingly analysis, Christine. Thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, ahead, we have a report on the deadly ambush in Niger. It never made sense. All we knew for sure was that four American soldiers were killed last October.

But this report is going to be released today by the Pentagon. The Defense Department's findings are expected to focus on the mission of the fallen troops.

What were they doing? Was it authorized? Were they the right people to be doing it? CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more and Barbara, people should know you have never forgotten. You've been sending notes and asking questions about this ever since it happened and they've never come clean yet.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This investigation has been seven months in the making -- good morning, Chris -- and today now, just about four hours from now, the Pentagon says it is finally ready to tell what it believes happened when these four American soldiers were killed in what was a very unexpected ISIS ambush in Niger last October fourth.

Now, there is going to be a tale that we will hear of a great deal of confusion about how these soldiers died and what mission they were on.

At one point, they are told to go look for a high-value ISIS operative. They are not trained, authorized, equipped. They don't have the weapons to do it. How did that happen?

Then they go back and they are doing another mission which is to help advise and assist local forces. They then go to a camp to look and see what's going on with ISIS operatives that had been in the area, so you have confusion.

You have them then confronted by more than 100 ISIS operatives. They are overwhelmed by the gunfire of the ISIS ambush team.

There will be things that will be very distressing to hear. They are separated during the ambush -- four Americans losing their lives.

This is not what is supposed to happen. The Pentagon is still going to owe the American public a great many answers -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Barbara. Thank you very much for all of your reporting on this topic.

We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it for you.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a very important thing to all of us to be able to get these three great people out.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: We ought to be overjoyed in welcoming home these Americans.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, the maximum pressure campaign has worked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that they are ecstatic. I think that they're relieved.

TRUMP: It's called pay for play. You're paying and you're getting things. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Michael Cohen would go and say whoever's representing you, you should fire them. You should hire me.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, PRESIDENT, TRUMP HISPANIC ADVISORY COUNCIL: And we have a citizen president who can't be bought even though perhaps his personal attorney tried to sell him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House doesn't want to touch this one either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot that we should be concerned about. Transparency would serve the country very well right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, May 10th, 8:00 in the east and we do begin with breaking news.

President Trump welcoming home three Americans. They are now free after North Korea held them for more than a year in captivity.

There's the president with the first lady. Here is video released by the president, himself -- tweeted out -- of him making that moment with these men back on American soil.