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Undermine the Mueller Probe; Obstruction a Matter of Interpretation; Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day; No Government Information on Unaccounted for Children. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 28, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: His lawyer or his political strategist? It seems like he's both. Giuliani sat down for a long interview this weekend with our Dana Bash and he made it clear that the president's team has a PR strategy when it comes to trying to craft public opinion of Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: We're defending -- to a large extent, remember, Dana, we're defending here it is the public opinion because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury is the -- as it should be, is the American people.


HARLOW: With me now, CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, our legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, and our contributor Salena Zito.

Nice to have you all here. Thank you for waking up early on the holiday.

And, Ron, let me begin with you.

What's your read on what Giuliani said? I mean is he making clear this is just as much a PR battle as it is a legal fight?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as is often the case, he makes explicit what is sometimes implicit.

Look, I -- you know, I don't think it is a surprise that Donald Trump is shattering the traditional boundaries and all of the norms on the -- accepted constraints on the limits of presidential power that we have seen presidents of both parties before him. And then he is acting in ways that are unprecedented on a variety of fronts to try to weaken this investigation. I don't think that's the surprise. No one who watched "lock her up" in 2016 thought -- you know, could have possibly thought that he was going to be personally restrained.

I think the surprise is that there is so little pushback from his fellow Republicans in Congress. And that -- you know, the idea that there would be some kind of transcendent support for the rule of law that extended beyond kind of partisan affiliation and almost tribal loyalty I think has really been shredded over the 18 months of his presidency. And you see this kind of radiating circle in which first the White House and the president, then more members of Congress, particularly in the House. And now I think increasingly in polls a larger share of the Republican electorate are all saying, in essence, I think, as, you know, a -- challenging the legitimacy of this and basically saying that we are willing to accept these violations of traditional norms as long as we get the policy agenda that we were promised.

HARLOW: Here, to that point, here is what Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House Intel Committee who's been a vociferous opponent, very vocal against his president, here's how he put it on ABC News over the weekend.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R), CALIFORNIA: The broad question is, how do you counter a president who repeats falsehood after falsehood after falsehood, that has the bully pulpit of the presidency to do it and has allies in Congress who are willing to support that? And, Martha, at the end of the day, there's only one remedy for that, and that is, you needs to throw the bums out.


HARLOW: Salena, he went on to say that in his words Congress is, quote, complicit in all of this, but do you think that Democrats can and should effectively use this to push voters to the polls in the midterms, or is it just more and more of the same and isn't going to energize that -- that group at all?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, my concern is -- is the Democrats, you know, want to take the majority and -- and history points to that -- that they have that, you know, they have that chance.


ZITO: I think there's a lesson to be learned from -- I believe it was 1998 in those midterms. And in that if you push too far on issues that are about tribal politics, you tend to lose the voter. Whether you're right or wrong, it doesn't matter.

I think the -- and so what happened to the Republicans in 1998, because they were pushing about -- about the, you know, about the impeachment, about -- about Clinton, about, you know, all the things that went along with Monica Lewinsky, the Republicans went overboard and they lost -- they lost seats in that midterm.

I think the better thing to do is to just run on the things that are most -- you know, as the showcase of your message, right? Run on the things that are most important to people in their lives, in their communities and in their families. And that tends to be on pocketbook issues, on the economy, on Medicare, on Social Security -- HARLOW: Which -- yes, well, on the economy, which the president has -- you know, is going to be very helpful to this president if things continue as they have been.

Asha, let me ask you a legal question about something that struck me. I was running yesterday listening to Dana's live interview of Rudy Giuliani as it was happening and I sort of stopped in my tracks when he said, he narrowed the scope -- he said, look, this is what Mueller's team has agreed to an interview on with the president, two things, collusion and obstruction. OK, we knew those were the two big things. But then he said this about obstruction. Listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The obstruction part I'm not as comfortable with, I'm not, the president's fine with it. He's innocent. I'm not comfortable because it's a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast, true, not true.


[09:35:12] HARLOW: Is he helping, Asha, the president legally with statements like that?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's not clear to me exactly what he's trying to do with statements like that. You know, it does make sense to me that he is trying to do some swaying in the court of public opinion. But what he also needs to do is actually realize that he's going to have to make some arguments in a court of law. And they're going to have to be coherent. And they're going to have to be well researched.

A lot of the issues that he is staking his claim on are constitutional issues. Things like, he's counting on, for example, that a sitting president can't be indicted. That is not a settled issue. Even former independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr wrote a memo back in 1998 stating that he believed that a sitting president could.

Can a president obstruct justice? Most scholars say yes. So at some point, if he wants to actually make the kinds of claims that are going to protect his client, he's going to have to put together a real legal argument. And I have not seen one yet.

HARLOW: Ron, what did you make of what we heard from Marco Rubio, a fellow Republican, a sitting Republican senator, talking about the legitimacy of the FBI using this confidential source in the early days of the Russia probe? Here's how Rubio put it on CBS.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If there are people operating in this country trying to influence American politics on behalf of a foreign power, it is the FBI's job to investigate those people. What I have seen so far is an FBI effort to learn more about individuals with a history of bragging about links to Russia that pre-exist the campaign. If those people were operating near my office or my campaign, I'd want them investigated and I'd want to know about them. That's what I've seen so far. If it turns out to be something different, we want to know about it.


HARLOW: Do you think, Ron, that hearing statements like that from Marco Rubio essentially saying I think what I've heard so far is that all of this was done legitimately, does that matter, does that move the needle in terms of the president spouting off these spygate unfounded theories?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't think it -- I don't think it does because it isn't strong or concerted enough or consistent enough across the party. It's, unfortunately you could call it Jeff Flakism. You know, kind of --


BROWNSTEIN: Kind of intermittent demurral from the kind of the general thrust of the argument. But I think the bigger message that Republican voters are taking is that most of the party leadership, particularly in the House, where Paul Ryan has repeatedly defended the efforts of members of the Republican caucus to -- in a variety of ways try to undermine this investigation and to, in effect, open a second front behind the lines against Robert Mueller, I think that is the dominant message.

You know, as I said, there's kind of been kind of radiating circles here. You've had the White -- started with the White House and the president trying to undermine this. They've enlisted most members I think of the Republican caucus, particularly in the House, in kind of amplifying that message. Obviously it's being amplified constantly on conservative media, talk radio, Fox, et cetera. And then you see it moving among Republican voters.

And, you know, the great risk that we're kind of barreling towards is that if, in fact, Bob Mueller does decide that it's not worth challenging these 1970s and 1990s determinations by the Justice Department that you cannot indict a sitting president, and that ultimately Rudy Giuliani is right and this goes to the political arena, that he finds something significant and the Congress refuses to act, the social divisions I think that we see now would be tremendously magnified.

HARLOW: Wow. Ron, appreciate it. Important point.

Asha, thank you.

Salena, nice to have you all.

All right, next we're going to take you back to Arlington National Cemetery. Of course, such an important day for this country, Memorial Day. We honor the fallen. And this is where it really hits home, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:43:06] HARLOW: If you need a reminder about what today, Memorial Day, really means, it is here, Arlington National Cemetery, where the fallen are honored. Those men and women who have served this country. Few understand better than Senator and war hero John McCain, who writes this morning, quote, today we honor the Americans who sacrificed everything to secure the blessings of liberty, family and friends to some, heroes to all, who lived, fought and died for the safety and future of a great and good nation. God bless them and grant them perpetual peace.

Our Barbara Starr is in the very section 60, which has a very, very significant meaning, obviously honoring the fallen who have lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Good morning, Barbara.



We've been here a couple of hours now and family members, battle buddies, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren continue arriving every minute here. So many families every year, of course, coming to pay their respects.

And I want to introduce you to the Bunting family. This is Nicki.

And, Nicki, I want you to tell us, you and I know each other. We've -- we've come here -- we've come here many years together.

NICKI BUNTING, WIFE OF BRIAN BUNTING: Yes. We've -- we've been seeing each other every year, yes, since about 2009. Yes.

STARR: And tell -- your husband, Brian, had a nickname.


STARR: And --

BUNTING: We called him Bubba, yes.

STARR: Tell me about Bubba.

BUNTING: Oh, he was just such an extraordinary man. He had the biggest smile. Just, you know, never met a stranger. Just made best friends with everyone. He just had a heart of gold. Just such a boisterous personality.

STARR: And you and Bubba went way back, before you even --

BUNTING: Yes, we met in sixth grade. Stayed close friends for quite a while. Our families were very close. Always kept in contact throughout college. And then we met back up after college and then we started dating and we -- and got married, yes.

[09:45:02] STARR: And Bubba went on to serve in Afghanistan. BUNTING: Correct. Yes. And -- in 2007. And then he came home for R&R.

And then after that, in 2009 is when he was killed.

STARR: And the Bunting family, we're just going to have a little look at everybody in the Bunting family. The Bunting family is quite the group. It has a range of ages here today from up here the newest is seven months old. And then he say -- he's at his first time at Arlington. And great grandma -- great grandmother. And your name, ma'am?

MARGUERITE NORRIS (ph): Marguerite Norris.

STARR: Marguerite. And, Marguerite, you're here also to remember Bubba.

NORRIS: My great -- my grandson, yes.

STARR: And how many grandchildren and great grandchildren?

NORRIS: Thirteen grandchildren and 24 greats.

STARR: Busy family.

And so, I mean, that's a lot of what we see every year.

I discovered this morning that we've been coming to Arlington here -- CNN has been here for 13 years because another family came up to me, a gold star mom, and I said to her, remind me what year did we first met? And she said to me, 13 years ago my son died. And she and I met for the first time just a few months after her son was killed.

So here today at Arlington, as we said earlier, it's Memorial Day. Go to the mall, go to the cookout, go to the beach, but take a minute and remember the military families who have sacrificed so much.



HARLOW: Sacrificed everything.

And, Barbara, before you go, thank you for every year being there, for bringing us these stories, for the reporting you do on these men and women every day.

But I think it's important to note, you know, so many Americans feel so disconnected, right, because we may not have any family members who serve or any friends who serve and this is a day to learn from these families, right, about the sacrifice they all make, even if we don't know them personally.

STARR: Well, that's right. And, look, section 60 Arlington has become a national pilgrimage. But in every town across America, I guarantee, there is somebody they may have served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, they may have served on ships at sea, they may --- hopefully they are veterans who died peacefully in their old age in their bed surrounded by families. But at every cemetery, in every town across America, everybody take a moment and remember all of them.

HARLOW: It's what makes today so important.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Also, the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, temporarily closed. Engineers are working to try to find a long term fix for the cracks that have been found in the structure. Earlier cracks had been repaired, then reemerged. The memorial is built, of course, over the remains of the battleship destroyed during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

We'll be right back.


[09:52:42] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And this is a story we are keeping a close eye on. The U.S. government says it's not responsible for nearly 1,500 missing migrant children in this country. These are children that were picked up at the border as unaccompanied minors, and placed in homes of what were said to be vetted sponsors. But now the whereabouts of 1,500 of them is unknown.

Our Rosa Flores is on this story. She joins me this morning from San Antonio, Texas.

What can you tell us?

ROSA FLOES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, one of the basic questions here is, how does the U.S. government lose track of these 1,500 children? So let's talk about the process a little bit because they end up in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. Then Homeland Security transfers them over to HHS, Health and Human Services. And it's Human Services that then places them with a sponsor, whether it's a parent or a relative or a non-relative. And now those individuals are vetted to make sure that these children don't end up in dangerous situations. Well, in December, HHS checked with about 7,600 of these children and that's where we get that 1,500 number of children that are unaccounted for.

Now, it's important to note, too, Poppy, it's unclear if these children are in danger. But we do know that the undocument population does live in a shadow community. So it's unclear exactly where these children are, and if they are in danger or not.


HARLOW: And this all -- this all came from congressional testimony that was given about a month ago that has gained attention, given the statements and comments from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about, you know, separating parents from children that are coming into this country illegally. What can you tell us about that? And also what -- so what's being done now, Rosa, by the government to try to locate these children? FLORES: You know, that question was specifically asked during that

testimony, Poppy, and the answer is that nothing is being done. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a pursuit to try to figure out where they are or what happens next?

STEVEN WAGNER, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY AT HHS: There is not a pursuit. We give DHS visibility on where the child has been placed. But once we provide that information, then we don't have a mechanism for tracking down the kids.


[09:55:09] FLORES: So we check with HHS and they said that once that child is placed with a sponsor, then, quote, he or she seizes to be in the custody of the United States government and all HHS provided substance then ends at that point and the child becomes the responsibility of his or her parent, guardian or sponsor, which, of course, raises the question, Poppy, and senators asked this question, so if the U.S. doesn't have a legal responsibility, is there a moral responsibility for the United States to make sure that these children are not in danger?

HARLOW: Right. And coming into this country at the behest or will of their parents, not of their own volition, and then, you know, who's keeping an eye on them.

Rosa, thank you. Keep asking those important questions. We appreciate the reporting.

All right, President George H.W. Bush is in a Maine hospital this morning. The 93-year-old was admitted yesterday for low blood pressure and fatigue. He's expected to remain in the hospital for a few days at least for observation. He's described as being awake and alert and not in any discomfort. Of course, worth remembering and noting on this Memorial Day his distinguished military career. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three air medals, flew 58 missions for the Navy.

All right, minutes from now, President Trump leaves the White House. He is headed to Arlington National Cemetery today to mark a day that we all remember those who have fallen defending this country. You'll see the president's remarks here live.