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President Trump Calls on Justice Department to Investigate Russia Probe; Houston Police Chief Criticizes Politicians for Failure to Enact Gun Control. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2018 - 8:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:01] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump demanding the Justice Department review the Russia probe surveillance tactics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This claim that there is a political spy embedded in the Trump campaign is nonsense.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I believe if there was an embedded person, that person cleared us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to protect sources and methods. People's lives depend upon it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Giuliani said Robert Mueller told him that the investigation could end by as soon as September 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really just wants to look as though he is fighting back, and that's what this is about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come here with hearts that are aching knowing that there are parents today without children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot sit back and say it is the gun. It is us as a nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been happening everywhere. I've always felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Another community scarred by violence. Good morning and welcome to you. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, May 21st, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joins me. Always good to have you.

President Trump had a busy weekend on Twitter, demanding that the Justice Department investigate whether it or the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign. The department responding by asking its internal watchdog to look into the president's concerns.

Meantime, Rudy Giuliani says the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump could wrap up by September if the president agrees to an interview with Mueller's team.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And in about three hours there will be a moment of silence held all across the state of Texas, of course remembering the eight students and two teachers gunned down, murdered on Friday morning at that Santa Fe high school. Texas' lieutenant governor, though, this morning is taking heat for saying a culture of violence is to blame for school shootings and tragedies, like video games, et cetera, not guns. We have more on that in just a moment.

CUOMO: All right, let's talk right now. CNN political analyst is joining us John Avlon, you see his pretty face, and we have CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero. All right, great. Carrie, you've been talking about this. You had your tweets up there this weekend about this. Lay out the concerns. He is the president of the United States. He's the chief of the executive. If he wants to find out if something happened he has the authority to do so. What's the caveat?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: OK, so the problem is that it was his campaign and potential cooperation or coordination with foreign government or foreign government surrogates that is the subject of the investigation. So we have an ongoing investigation that's been going on since before the special counsel was appointed. It is now under the special counsel. The president needs to back off that investigation.

He doesn't want to do that. He has made it clear throughout his entire presidency that he wants the investigation now into the Special Counsel to be shut down. He fired the chief investigator, Director Comey, because of it. He has done everything he can to try to, through his public tweeting and other messaging as well as other things that he has done throughout the course of his presidency, he has tried to derail, shutdown, and end this investigation.

And now because he hasn't been able to do that he and his team are trying to discredit whatever investigation is going on. So what we have is we have the president who has consistently tried to have -- expressed intent to influence Justice Department and FBI investigations, now with his tweet yesterday saying that he was going to demand that an additional inquiry be conducted. He is actually trying to step on the investigation and improperly influence Justice Department and FBI activity.

So John, to Carrie's point and what she tweeted about yesterday. She said, look, this is for political purposes. There are rules, and Carrie, you said I'm convinced there are people left in this government who will follow them. So ball now in the court of Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, we're referring this to the I.G.'s investigation. What does Christopher Wray do, for example, after his testimony last week that you have to keep these sources confidential or you make America less safe? So ball in their court now. Now what?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think fundamentally the president is actually making his argument that he did not obstruct more difficult with these kinds of actions. Demands from the presidency seem incompatible with general tenor of democracy as we've been used to it. And I think that what we have seen all throughout this is a civics stress test, is that the institutions have been trying to withstand a president who doesn't seem to have much fidelity to democratic institutions, little "d."

So this is going to come to a head. The problem is this demand by the president in his Sunday tweet storm does increase the pressure. He is not going to be satisfied with an I.G. This may be Rod Rosenstein trying to thread the needle, so to speak. But he wants direct action. Every time an independent arbiter is put in place to answer his concerns, anxieties, and demands, he basically says that is not answering my real concern. He doesn't want an independent arbiter. He wants people to salute, nod, and do what the president wants, which ultimately is going to increase his legal jeopardy potentially.

[08:05:00] CUOMO: Carrie, you waded into the political waters and now you have to deal with the impact of that. We know what the president is doing. He is playing on paranoia and suspicion of law enforcement, of the intelligence community. They are sneaky. We don't know what they do. There is the deep state. There are all these different narrative threads that he's been knitting together. His most recent tweet some 12 minutes ago, is a direct example of this.

John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself, he's disgraced the country, he's disgraced the entire intelligence community. He is one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of America's faith in the intelligence community, and in some people, and there will be more. But wait, at the top of the FBI, and it just continues. This is his play. Forget about the Russia probe. It's all about the people doing the investigating. What is the concern?

CORDERO: So the concern is that these investigations have to run their course. And my take is that I think the president and the White House are running a counter impeachment strategy. And so all of this is distraction to try to garner support amongst their political supporters in Congress if this ends up being a referral for impeachment, and trying to garner support in their public support. And so the way that they do that is by discrediting the investigation.

If in fact there is some type of referral or there is a report that is sent to Congress that would have information that would generate some type of impeachment inquiry, what they are trying to lay the groundwork to discredit it so that it's not credible so that people don't believe it and that they don't have to act on it as a political matter.

AVLON: This is important but it ain't rocket science. They have been playing to the court of public opinion and largely their base for a long time. The hallmarks of the communications strategist have always been distract and deflect. Now they are offering up an alternative cast of characters to say you may be worried about Carter Page and Papadopoulos and Manafort, but what about Brennan? What about Strzok, what about Mueller? And that is a large part of what they are trying to do, to sow the seeds of doubt and create a moral equivalence between the investigated and the investigator.

HARLOW: But John, to that point, and it's a good one, let me ask you this, as Chris brought up to James Clapper just a moment ago, what if the I.G.'s report on deputy FBI director Andy McCabe is damning? What if the I.G.'s report into the Hillary Clinton email probe is damning? We have already seen damning text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. There is already some evidence that there issues here. Those people were removed from the teams. How much does that help the president, and as you guys put it, this anti-impeachment strategy, if you will, if these I.G. reports are damning?

AVLON: No group has a monopoly on virtue or vice. So if you have genuinely independent reports it could be that folks have unflattering aspects all around the ball. But it doesn't actually end up nullifying concerns about the campaign or the administration or obstruction of justice. No person, no party, no party in any sense has monopoly on virtue or vice. So a really independent report will find problems with all players. The problem is, are they equivalent. They will not be if what we know to date is true. And the president keeps making this problem more difficult by lashing out.

CUOMO: Go ahead, Carrie.

CORDERO: What happened this week, though, this is moving into a different step. This isn't just politics as usual. What we had this week is we had the president apparently working in some way with some leadership in the House of Representatives to actually unearth a confidential source of the intelligence community.

And this is partly why it is really unusual to have intelligence community leaders. I'm a former intelligence community lawyer. It is unusual to have people who worked in this space participate in the political process. So why do we see the Jim Clappers and the John Brennans and the Mike Haydens of the world, why are they participating so much in the political space in this current environment? It is because what they are seeing is national security being undermined from the White House.

So the small example this week was that the president worked to unearth the identity of someone who had been a confidential source in a counterintelligence investigation. That's just one example. The bigger picture is did the campaign in some way coordinate with foreign government entities and surrogates to implement democratic processes? That is why you see people who have been affiliated with the intelligence community who have spent their lives working to protect our national security so offended and so concerned by the activities that they are seeing at the level of the president.

AVLON: And it needs to be said this is not pleading along partisan lines. Folks in the intelligence agencies, many of them are Republicans. They've served Democrats and Republicans in office. This is about people trying to protect the integrity of our institutions, the stability of our civil society.

And what Brennan's most recent tweet that the president may have been reacting to was about is calling on McConnell and Ryan in Congress and saying stand up to the president or you enable them and history's judgment may be harsh. That was the most recent Brennan tweet that may have set off the president's most recent attack.

[08:10:02] CUOMO: All right, John, thank you very much. Carrie, appreciate it.

Another big story we have to stay on is what is going on down in Houston, Santa Fe high school. Houston's police chief says he is frustrated by politicians who offer prayers but not much else after the Santa Fe school shooting. He is going to join us live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Houston's police chief is not happy. He slammed elected officials on Facebook after the shooting that killed 10 people at Santa Fe high school, hurt a dozen more, and all of this not far from his city about 30 miles southeast.

The chief Art Acevedo, and he wrote in part "This isn't a time for prayers and study and inaction. It's a time for prayers, action, and asking of God's forgiveness for our inaction, especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing."

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo joins us now. Chief, thank you for coming on NEW DAY. I'm very sorry for what happened outside your community there. I know you are friends with retired Houston police officer Jim Barnes who was one of the school resource officer who by all accounts acted heroically, engaged with this shooter, got injured in the process. What do you think should be done here, chief?

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF: First and foremost we need to start holding public officials accountable for their failure to enact commonsense gun reform that deals with keeping firearms in the hands of law abiding Americas with sound mind.

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CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: -- we need to start holding public officials accountable for their failure to enact common sense gun reform that deals with keeping firearms in the hands of law- abiding Americans or sound mind. I'm fortunate I'm in the city of Houston working for (inaudible) that gets that. We are starting to do something at the local level.

But, at the end of the day it is clear to me and I think most Americans despite the fact that Americans want action because of the times we are living it is all about primary politics and the base of both sides of political spectrum hold us hostage.

It is time to take matters in our own hands and maybe start using ballot initiative throughout the entire country to say enough is enough and enact measures to keep firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans or sound mind.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, listen, I get the arguments in general specifically with the Santa Fe shooting, the kid used a shotgun and a 38-revolver legally bought by his father. We don't know how they were stored. But even if they were improperly stored and that's how the murderer go them. It is only a misdemeanor on the books in Texas, which is barely a slap on the wrist. This case doesn't really set up that well in terms of we were one law away, one gun control law away from stopping this shooting.

ACEVEDO: Well, it's not about one law. It's not about guns. It's about everything that we need to do that impacts the situation. It is about education and teaching kids how to manage with anger, mental health. It's about domestic violence and getting guns away.

There is so much that can be done. It's about consequences. You will have firearms you need to secure them. It is about holding the gun manufacturers accountable and requiring to have safety measures such as biometrics on triggers.

If we can put a man on the moon and spacecraft on Mars, we are the American people, a pragmatic nation. There is a lot that can be done. It is not a zero-sum proposition. We need a comprehensive national discussion and national action on this issue for gun violence.

CUOMO: Chief, what is your take on hardening of schools? One of the ongoing debates which is get more trained people in there who know how to use a weapon. You had two school resource officers in there who were armed, and again by all accounts engaged heroically. The cops were on scene fast. What do you believe about hardening up schools and what should be done?

ACEVEDO: Well, I think that any facility whether it's a school or theater or business, an institution, you always want to look at your security measures, safety measures, fire safety measure, but it is not a one item solution.

We need to have a comprehensive approach to dealing with a public health epidemic we call gun violence in this country. It has to be comprehensive or we will be having this conversation long after you and I are gone from public service and long after we are gone from this planet and this earth.

We have to move forward. We have to move in all directions and we have to come together now and we need to stop with this ugly political rhetoric in this country that I believe what we consider is the new norms is completely contrary to the history of this country.

We need to get back to being pragmatic people that speak about issues without demonizing people based on the color of your skin or religion or nation of origin. There is a lot that can be done and a lot that needs to be done and I'm hopeful that we are going to move ahead on this.

CUOMO: If they came to you in Texas because a lot of these laws are getting done on the state level now because of the constipation on the federal level. If they came in and said, Chief, give us three things we can do that would make a difference, what would you offer?

ACEVEDO: Well, comprehensive universal background checks with real teeth and real consequences from those that actually try to circumvent that process, real absolute consequences when people that aren't supposed to have firearms have them.

If you use firearm real consequences that people -- and lastly, we need to deal really with mental health issues and how we can deal with being able to get guns out of the hands of people when there is proof that someone has emotional issues that they really aren't safe to be with firearms.

That is just three, but there is a lot more that can be done. It's not that simple, but I guarantee there are a lot of steps that can be taken. Prayers is not enough. Prayers don't do what we need to be done which is enact good policies.

CUOMO: One of the moms that I met down in Santa Fe on Friday night said to me we want the prayers. We need the good energy right now, but it's what you are praying for. I hope people are praying for us and for our strength to get through this and cope, but also for people to make it so this doesn't happen again. Does that sound like the right description?

ACEVEDO: Absolutely. The only ones that are going to make that happen are the policy makers and if they are not going to do what they need to do it is time for us to find new policy makers.

[08:20:10] And again, I'm thankful that my boss, my mayor, who before he hired me, I made sure that on these issues we saw eye to eye, so I can be true to my own professional convictions. He is taking the lead here and I think that will start happening around the country.

CUOMO: How is your friend, Jim Barns, doing?

ACEVEDO: I was there late last night. He's still in the fight for his life, but he is tough. His wife, Ashley, and their children are beautiful people. They are so grateful for the all prayers, but they still need prayers for recovery.

I hope he can fully recover to get back in for what he loved to do best, which is to protect children, which I think was on display with his courage as he ran towards that gun fire with his colleagues at Santa Fe, but for them who knows how many more fatalities there would have been.

CUOMO: You know what, it's a morbid thought, but it is true there were 1,400 kids in that school on that day. Chief Acevedo, thank you very much. Send our best to your friend and his family and to the whole community down there. Appreciate you having a constructive conversation about this.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Have a great week.

CUOMO: You too -- Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So, ahead for us, what is the president's mindset right now heading into that summit with North Korea in just a few weeks? What is he asking his key aides? David Sanger of the "New York Times" has it all. He breaks down his new reporting next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:25:23]

HARLOW: Welcome back. President Trump is now asking aides about the risks of moving ahead with what would be an historic summit with the leader of North Korea next month. The "New York Times" reports the Pyongyang's assertion last week that it won't trade away its nuclear capabilities for economic aid, both surprised and angered the president.

Joining me now to talk about his reporting is CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger. It's a fascinating and very important report. So, thank you for being here to break it all down. You got a lot of information about the president's mindset moving ahead to June 12th. What is it?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the president is a little bit nervous about this because this is clearly the highest state's negotiation, diplomatic negotiation he has ever headed into. He talked as early as the campaign about meeting Kim Jong-un and at one point said he would have a hamburger with him.

Well, now he's going to discover that he's getting a full course meal, and the full course meal has as the central entree de-nuclearization. He discovered last week from what the North Koreans said in their statement that the North Koreans view denuclearization a little bit differently than he does.

That their view is that everyone denuclearizes. The phrase they use is denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and that means if they are going to give up their weapons we are going to give up our nuclear umbrella over South Korea.

Now, exactly how that would come together hard to know, but I think the president's early idea that in the first six months the North Koreans start throwing their nuclear infrastructure into a box and FedExing it off to Tennessee looking a little enthusiastic.

HARLOW: It is also perhaps the most striking part of your reporting when you start to detail the resistance that you've learned President Trump has had to these depth briefings on North Korea's enrichment capabilities, a resistance to sort of lengthy detailed meetings about this.

SANGER: Well, you know, he is not somebody who likes to spend a lot of time in detailed intelligence briefings. They have had to boil this stuff down. That's fine if you are just going to go in for the essence of it.

But the nature of nuclear negotiations is that it's not just about the weapons. It's about the infrastructure. It's about making the fuel. It's about the missiles. Kim Jong-un seems to know this at some detail. HARLOW: He does, and the president goes into this meeting if it does still happen not armed with Secretary Pompeo right next to him or anyone else, as far as we know, correct, David?

SANGER: Well, we don't know what the configuration will be in that meeting. We don't know if it is one-on-one or whether they bring somebody. Usually you have somebody along, and if it was Secretary Pompeo given his history at the CIA for the past year, he does know the program at great detail and he's obviously had these previous conversations with Kim. So, probably everybody would feel a little bit better about this if the secretary was there.

HARLOW: The president found it necessary over the weekend Saturday night to call Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea ahead of him coming to the White House on Tuesday. You see that as significant because it was clearly something he could not wait until the two in the same room together to discuss. What's your read?

SANGER: Well, yes, Moon Jae-in lands in Washington tonight, sees the president tomorrow, but the president clearly concerned enough about this North Korean statement, which was quite detailed, and which went right after John Bolton, the president's new national security adviser and his concept that North Korea would give up the weapons the way Libya gave up its nuclear program in 2003.

And so, I think that the president was trying to get a read from President Moon. He will get more of that. President moon has got an interesting game here to play because he sees himself as the go between, between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and the president. So, he has to keep the Singapore thing on track, but he also has to diminish expectations about what they will get out of it.

HARLOW: Look, you quote some experts saying that the president is playing a game of checkers and that Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in to an extent are playing a game of chess.

SANGER: That's right. So, for both North Korean and South Korean leaders, this is about the shape of power in Northeast Asia for the next generation. For President Trump he went into it thinking mostly just about the nuclear program understandably because that is the part that threatens the United States the most. But if they are not quite on the same wave length about what they are discussing that can be problematic.

HARLOW: What about being too eager to get a deal (inaudible).