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Anti-American Protests in Iran; Israel Strikes Syrian Targets; AT&T on Hiring Cohen; Trump's Drug Price Announcement; Device Explodes Outside Church. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 09:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new this morning, anti-American protests filling the streets of Tehran. This is in response to President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: With us now from Tehran is our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, you are there. You have covered this in depth for years. What are you seeing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly were pretty big protests, Poppy. I can tell you, we were out there and it was literally thousands of people who were out there after the Friday prayers, which is usually an event for the hardliners. You know, a lot of them spitting on American flags, burning American flags, stepping on American flags. And they had some pretty choice words for President Trump as well. Here's what some people told us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have come here to say to all of the people of the world and to Mr. Trump that we stand against Mr. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We -- I -- I want to say to American people that we are very sorry that they have -- that they have elected such a president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a message to Mr. Trump. You cannot destroy people of Iran.


PLEITGEN: You know, guys, of course there were two major events that happened this week that involved Iran. One of them was the U.S., of course, pulling out of the nuclear agreement. The other was that skirmish that happened there in the Golan Heights and in Syria apparently involving Iranian forces, even though the Iranians have not acknowledged that that happened yet. All of that, of course, for the Iranian people and especially for the hardliners bleeds into one. And you could certainly see that today at the Friday prayers, an angry speech by the Friday prayers leader, who's a hardline cleric himself.

I want to read you part of what he said. His name is Ahmed Khatami (ph). He says we are not interested in the atomic bomb, but we are increasing our missile capabilities in other fields so that Israel cannot sleep well. If she gets crazy, speaking again about Israel, we will turn Tel Aviv and Haifa to dust.

So they're saying they don't want an atomic bomb. But this comes on the same day that the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said Iran is making preparations for uranium enrichment on an industrial scale, Poppy.

HARLOW: Fred Pleitgen for us inside of Tehran.

Also this morning, as Fred just noted, Israel is claiming that it struck almost all of Iran's military assets in Syria during those air strikes on Wednesday.

BERMAN: Let's get to the Golan Heights. Our Oren Liebermann has been there for the last several days.

Oren, what's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, Israel put out a long list of targets it says it hit, as well as a picture of where those targets were. Dozens of targets throughout southern Syria that included intelligence posts, command and control posts, as well as rocket launchers. Israel said all of those were Iranian targets, Iranian military assets based in Syria that were struck in response to what Israel says were some 20 Iranian rockets fired just after midnight early Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Israel has urged its citizens to get back to normal here. In fact, the Israeli defense minister was here having coffee, putting out pictures of himself having coffee to try to urge people to resume normal lives.

From Israel's perspective, they want this to de-escalate. They even say, from what they can tell, they want Iran to see this de-escalate and not escalate into the war that so many had feared it could reach.

But that being said, the rhetoric here is still very strong. Iran's foreign ministry taking a shot right at Israel. And I'll read you a part of this statement. It says, the Zionist regime's constant attacks on Syrian soil, which came under self-made and baseless pretexts, amount to a breach of Syria's national sovereignty. The silence of countries and international circles in the face of such acts and aggressive behavior by the Zionist regime is tantamount to a green light to the regime in order to continue with acts of aggression.

It's worth pointing out that other countries weren't particularly silent here, they just didn't side with Iran here. The EU, France, Britain and others said Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Iran there. Absolutely the U.S. as well. The White House very much taking Israel's side, condemning Iran's actions and saying Israel has every right to defend itself. So, in this pretext, in this context, I should say, Iran not getting

much support in terms of what we haven't seen from Iran, that denial or acknowledgement of whether it was Iran that fired those rockets. And Iran has not acknowledged that it was their targets that were hit, as Israel says.

John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Oren Liebermann, stay safe in the Golan Heights. Oren, thanks very much.

We do have breaking news.

AT&T confirming it paid Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, $600,000 to get help with the merger on Time Warner. And new this morning, the head of AT&T says it was a big mistake.

Much more ahead.


[09:38:57] HARLOW: All right, breaking news. This just in to CNN.

The CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, says hiring the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was a big mistake. He just sent this memo to employees. It reads, in part, our company has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons these last few days as our reputation has been damaged. There's no way -- no other way to say it. AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake. To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate, but the fact is our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment. In this instance our Washington, D.C.'s team's vetting process clearly failed and I take responsibility for that.

BERMAN: Now a source now tells CNN, the company paid Cohen $600,000 for his help over the course of the year.

CNN's Hadas Gold and CNN legal analyst Asha Rangappa join us right now.

You know, Asha, the -- AT&T, I should say, says it did nothing illegal here. "The Washington Post" obtained documents which explained to its employees how Cohen was hired. It said Cohen was hired to focus on specific long-term playing initiatives, as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner. This was three days after the inauguration. AT&T hired this real estate lawyer who has taxi medallions to advise on telecommunications and corporate tax reform.

[09:40:15] Does that seem at all fishy to you?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that we can question the wisdom for sure of hiring Michael Cohen based on his expertise when it had nothing to do with telecommunications. But on its face, that is not yet legally problematic. He can legally provide strategy based on his own insights, you know, about how AT&T should move forward. And if he wasn't actually lobbying, it may not cross that line either.

I think that the question, John, is, what was the nature of the agreement, what was promised, and did he actually deliver on certain things or promise certain outcomes. And here's where that search on his residence and his office come into play. It's worth noting that that search was conducted by the public corruption squad in the New York field office. And that is the squad that looks into violations involving improper influence on public officials.

So there may be something there. We know that Mueller has questioned AT&T and Novartis before. So I believe that there is something about one or more of his agreements that may be potentially very problematic for him.

HARLOW: What about the issue of bribery? Because to people looking at this, they may look at this and say, OK, maybe not officially lobbying, but was there an intent here to try to have a form of bribery, to curry favor with the president?

RANGAPPA: Right. So the elements for bribery are that an official act has to be done in exchange for something of value. I don't think we can rule it out. We still don't know exactly what was promised, what was done. And, remember, there are two threads here. There are these American companies and then there's also this connection to Russia. And that Michael Cohen was someone who delivered a Ukraine peace plan to people -- to Michael Flynn and that there were these communications regarding sanctions. How these all play together, did the president know about it, was he involved in any way in these agreements or even privy to them will all make a difference in terms of whether this crosses that line.

BERMAN: Right. You know, you could look at this and say he's trying to buy favor with someone close to the president.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: $600,000 can buy you a lot of favor with someone close to the president on this issue, Hadas. And it's interesting because the Department of Justice, the anti-trust team, which has been fighting with AT&T and Time Warner over this merger, has said it's ironic, right, that AT&T claimed politics, that one of the reasons that the government wanted to stop the merger was politics, yet it's engaged in pure politics here it seems, hiring the president's personal lawyer.

HADAS GOLD: Right. I have sources familiar with the Justice Department and the anti-trust team's thinking on this and that's exactly what they said, that they found it completely ironic that after railing against the Justice Department and their attempts to stop this loss -- to stop this merger, that they are now actually behind the scenes they were dealing with Michael Cohen.

Now, AT&T has also released some more details this morning, along with Randall Stephenson's note to all of their employees, saying that this consulting job was a mistake. HARLOW: Right.

GOLD: They say that Cohen actually approached them and offered his services for his opinion on the president and, key point here, and the key players and their priorities. They claim that there was no lobbying done and I've checked in with sources at Justice Department and at the FCC where AT&T obviously has a lot going there with net neutrality. And both of those places say that they never heard from Michael Cohen directly.

But it's clear that AT&T wanted help on how to understand the president, not necessarily on telecommunications law or, you know, the intricacies of how that all works, because Michael Cohen doesn't really have experience in that.

HARLOW: Right.

GOLD: It was all about the president, his personality, the people around them, what they were thinking and what they were doing.

HARLOW: Well, and the fact, Hadas, that the then candidate Trump, in October of 2016, said in that, you know, big speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that he -- that this merger between Time Warner and AT&T would not happen on his watch. Of course, Time Warner, the parent company of us, CNN. The president had said that. That shakes and ruffles a lot of feathers when you're trying to get this deal done.

GOLD: Obviously. And this is a huge deal for AT&T and Time Warner and they were clearly trying to get any sort of intel or any sort of help that they could get. But the problem here for AT&T, as Randall Stephenson says in his note, is that it hurts their reputation, it hurts their case --


GOLD: Because if they were talking about political bias, potentially, the reason behind this lawsuit to stop the merger and here they are dealing with Michael Cohen behind the scenes. It -- as we have been saying, it stinks of the swamp that Donald Trump has so often said he wants to drain.

[09:45:12] BERMAN: This is a lot of crow. This is two pages of crow being eaten here this morning by the AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes, it really, really is.

BERMAN: We're going to continue to read through this because it's very, very interesting.

Hadas Gold, Asha Rangappa, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLD: Thank you.

HARLOW: So today the White House would like to focus on how to lower the price of prescription drugs. It affects so many Americans. And it's what the president will talk about a little bit later today. We'll have much more on that ahead.


HARLOW: Americans spend more money on prescription drugs than the rest of the world. The president says he's going to do something about that.

[09:50:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You folks have done a terrific job over the years, but we have to get prices down for a lot of reasons. We have no choice. For Medicare, for Medicaid, we have to get the prices way down.


BERMAN: What he's going to do about it, though, is different than what he promised in the campaign. Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans here with the details.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Here's what we know, the contours. We'll know for sure later. But he has said, you know, drug companies are getting away with murder. Remember there. He has said that again and again. This was the big campaign promise to cut your drug prices.

We will see his blueprint at 2:00 p.m. But here's what we know so far.

The big question, does it -- does it lower the sticker price of drugs or just shift around who pays? The plan is designed to improve drug price negotiations and create some incentives for lower prices by making it easier for generic drugs to hit the market and also targeting this shadowy world of drug rebates. The president wants insurers to share their big discounts for buying, you know, pricey brand name drugs, share those discounts with consumers. That's an idea that the Obama administration also championed.

But the president is dropping one campaign promise, having Medicare directly negotiate with drug makers. Instead, officials say, they're going to remove some government rules preventing Medicare from getting better deals. Not exactly the same thing.

This is the first big move on that campaign promise to cut drug prices. And, you know, the health policy experts tell us, today's proposals are pretty modest compared with what we heard -- he said he would do on the campaign trail.

He's also expected to slam foreign governments for paying so much less for drugs than Americans do. But many countries use their national health care systems to set those lower prices. Trump wants them to pay more for American innovation.

You are so right, you guys, Americans spend more on drugs than anyone else in the world. Over $1,100 per person each year. In part because drugs are more expensive here and also because we take more prescriptions here than anybody else does. BERMAN: But having Medicare not being involved in the negotiations, it's a big change.

ROMANS: And there's -- you know, what can you do without Congress? That's another big thing here too. This is all -- these are things that he can do without Congress.

HARLOW: This was a huge promise. Let's see what the numbers are a year from now if it makes any difference to those people at home.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes. We'll know for sure at 2:00 what exactly is in this plan.

HARLOW: Thank you.

A Philadelphia nurse has been charged in the death of H.R. McMaster's father. McMaster is the president's former national security adviser until recently. Nurse Christiann Grainey allegedly left McMaster's father in the lobby of a hospital after he fell and had a cut on his head. She's accused of failing to check in on him and falsifying records. Police say McMaster's father would be alive if this nurse had done her job.

BERMAN: The suspected golden state killer has been charged with four additional counts of murder. Authorities believe that Joseph James DeAngelo was responsible for a dozen killings and at least 50 rapes. DeAngelo was arrested last month. He has not yet entered a plea.

A Texas city on edge this morning after a package exploded outside a church. This is the second unexplained explosive device found in Beaumont in the past two weeks.

HARLOW: Remember just two months ago Austin was hit with a series of bombings where five packages exploded killing two people, injuring five others.

Let's go to our Nick Valencia, who has more details.

What do we know?


Scary times right now for residents of Beaumont. This package was found exploded sometime after the Wednesday evening church service. This church also has a school, so it happened sometime after Wednesday evening church service, before school started on Thursday. Thankfully, there were no injuries, just some minor damage to the church.

But this is uncomfortably similar to another package that was found, a package bomb on April 27th outside of a Starbucks. That was unexploded. No injuries there. But it is uncomfortably similar. Investigators not making the direct link between those two bombs just yet, but the police chief there in Beaumont talked about a possible suspect or suspects.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM SINGLETARY, BEAUMONT POLICE CHIEF: We will not answer questions concerning the suspect, any suspects, any components, any intended victims, or any motive, or any relationship to any other devices or previous devices. Obviously something like this causes a lot of alarm in our community. And we're very much aware of that. What we want to do is encourage our citizens to call us if you see anything suspicious.


VALENCIA: They're asking the public to remain vigilant.

Here's what the church is saying. They released a statement as well.

All Saints Episcopal School has been evacuated and the church and school will remain closed until further notice. Our main concern right now is the pastoral care needs of the congregation and school are met.


BERMAN: Nick, are they looking into any possible connections to what happened in Austin?

VALENCIA: You know, that's a great question. And our team was there covering the Austin explosions. You remember how eerie that was for the residents there in Austin. Three weeks of terror with those package bombs. But right now so far investigators have not brought up Mark Condit's name, they've not made a connection to possible -- this possibly being a copycat. Of course, they're not ruling anything out right now. It's just too early to tell. FBI, ATF and local agencies all investigating.

John. Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Nick Valencia for us.

Nick, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

[09:55:01] BERMAN: So no White House apology after an aide makes a joke about John McCain dying. A new White House cabinet secretary threatens to quit. Yes, it's Friday morning. New details ahead.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

This morning, a series of controversies overshadowing foreign policy wins for the Trump administration this week. Wins they were hoping would remain front and center. So this morning a White House staffer forced to apologize after joking, the White House says joking, about Senator John McCain dying while the veteran and former POW is fighting brain cancer at home in Arizona.