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President Trump Tweets He Wished He Picked Another Attorney General; GOP's Trey Gowdy Upends Trump's Spy Conspiracy Theory; ABC Cancels "Roseanne" After Star's Racist Tweet about Valerie Jarrett. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:01] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us this hour.

New this morning the president wants a new attorney general. He made that explicit on Twitter just a short time ago, writing he wishes he did pick someone other than Jeff Sessions.

KEILAR: And all of this comes amid new reports that Robert Mueller, the special counsel is looking hard at the president's attempts to pressure Sessions to rescind his recusal.

Our coverage beginning with CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's any surprise, Brianna and Poppy, that this tweet from the president repeating once again that he wished he'd picked someone else as his attorney general is coming at the same time that this "New York Times" report came out, discussing this meeting that the president had with Jeff Sessions back last March, so to take you back to March 2017, Jeff Session had just recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, something he had been in charge of because it was reported he had failed to disclose some contacts with Russian officials.

So in this reporting it's very detailed. It shows that the president had not been taking Jeff Sessions' calls for several days so Jeff Sessions flew down to Palm Beach, Florida, where the president was staying under the impression he was going there to discuss immigration with the president, but at dinner that night the president wanted to talk about something else and that was Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from overseeing this Russia investigation, and the president was attempting to convince Jeff Sessions to reverse that recusal and go back to being in charge of the Russia investigation.

Now that is something that Jeff Sessions clearly refused to do, said he couldn't do, and that was the beginning of the end for Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. A relationship that once was really friendly. Of course Jeff Sessions was the first sitting senator to endorse Donald Trump to be president, something that has completely changed that dynamic. The two men hardly speak, they barely interact when they're in the same room together for an event on immigration or something related to the Justice Department, and things have really changed.

But what is new here is that we know that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into that meeting that the president had with Jeff Sessions and into the president's attacks on Jeff Sessions and his efforts to get him to step down from being an -- from being the attorney general, something that clearly Jeff Sessions has not responded to because he's still in charge at the DOJ, but it does show that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into this, into potential obstruction, and that Jeff Sessions could end up being a key witness in that.

And Brianna and Poppy, it does speak to a larger effort, much wider that we believed that the special counsel is looking into obstruction much more than we previously thought.

KEILAR: It's a really good point.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And joining us now CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Rangappa, CNN political director, David Chalian, and our senior political analyst Mark Preston.

So, David Chalian, to you, the true line here is that the president hates the Mueller probe and now this "New York Times" reporting shows us that the Mueller probe's look into potential obstruction of justice, is much broader than the firing of James Comey. It also now has to do with the interactions between the president and his attorney general Jeff Sessions. How significant?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think it's pretty significant, Poppy. And by the way, when the president says I wish I'd chosen someone else, remember, it's nothing except the recusal. So he hasn't lost -- the attorney general has not lost the confidence of the president in all the other issues that he works on.

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: Otherwise I guess he wouldn't be in the job. It is this issue and according to that "New York Times" report, Poppy, I thought this was really significant. In their conversation at Mar-a-Lago Donald Trump was expressing to attorney general or to aides before his conversation with Sessions that he needs a loyalist to oversee this investigation.

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: Why? That's my question. Why do you need a loyalist to oversee an independent investigation? What is the president afraid of, of an independent investigation into this?

KEILAR: And Asha, you know, it's so interesting, too, the story points out that when you have the questions that the Mueller probe would like to ask of President Trump, almost one-fifth of them have to do with Jeff Sessions. I mean, that's a lot, that tells you a lot about how significant this all plays into the investigation.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely. David mentioned those questions get to, why did the president expect so much loyalty from this attorney general and why did he feel so betrayed when Sessions recused himself? This latest story is really pounding the nail into the obstruction case, Brianna, because once again, the hardest thing to prove in obstruction of justice is corrupt intent. It's what was the president's thinking when he fired James Comey and this isn't just anymore about Comey's word versus the president.

This is a pattern of behavior of asking the White House counsel to get Sessions to reverse the recusal, not speaking to the attorney general after he recused himself. All of these things start to build this case and the president's own inability to keep a poker face is going to come back to haunt him.

[10:05:02] HARLOW: Well, Mark Preston, I think about the interview that Giuliani gave Dana Bash this weekend when he said the obstruction part is the part of the Mueller probe that I'm really not so comfortable with because it's depending on how you interpret it and this is a perjury trap and then Giuliani's defense on this to the "New York Times" overnight is, quote, "unrecuse doesn't say bury the investigation." \

It says on the face of it take responsibility for it and handle it correctly. OK? That's what Giuliani is saying to defend the president in all of this. Will that fly with Mueller's team?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, if I'm Rudy Giuliani that's exactly how I would answer that, as well. But, I mean, the facts speak for themselves or at least this report seems to indicate where we're going with this, but with the focus now on Jeff Sessions you have to wonder -- the focus at least for us knowing now is being on Jeff Sessions is who else is now being drawn into the circle?

Other top aides to Jeff Sessions perhaps that may be called in to ask about what they've learned or what they've known? So it just becomes -- this really comes down to why, you know, President Trump didn't want to see this independent counsel because once you start investigating you go down a hallway and there are a lot of doors that you can open up.

KEILAR: David --

CHALIAN: Hey, Poppy, can I just make one other point on that Giuliani quote that I think is interesting, too, which is it sort of ignores the reason that Sessions recused himself in the first place which was that he had undisclosed contact with Russians.

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: That he didn't express in his confirmation hearing and he sat down with DOJ professionals who look at the entire issue and came up with the recommendation that recusal was the right course of action here. Giuliani seems to ignore all those facts when he just says no, no, no. He could have just taken responsibility for it and done it correctly. No. He was in a position that made him, because of his own conduct, ineligible according to these DOJ professionals to oversee the investigation.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Trey Gowdy now. This has gone pretty interesting today.


KEILAR: Trey Gowdy, the Oversight chairman. And we have to note because it's so significant, he was briefed on this FBI informant that did make contact with some Trump campaign officials as there was this investigation into Russian meddling or concerns about Russian interference in the election, and so he knows what he's talking about as the president is alleging that the Obama administration tried to infiltrate his campaign with a spy. Trey Goudy is running cold water all over that. Let's listen to what he said.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do, when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.


KEILAR: Mark Preston, how significant is that?

PRESTON: It's very significant because Trey Gowdy has been one of the driving forces behind the investigations, certainly an investigation behind Hillary Clinton. I think Trey Gowdy, you know, based upon his background, he fully understands what's at stake right now, you know, and to David's point, as does Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions was a U.S. attorney for 12 years. He served many years on the Judiciary Committee, same thing with Trey Gowdy.

They understand that when Donald Trump goes out and says these lies, you know, these misleading things, that it doesn't help their cause.

HARLOW: David Chalian, he then went on CBS this morning and said something that really struck me. Let's play it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said what the FBI was doing was kosher. Why does the president keep saying what he's saying when he knows better?

GOWDY : I don't know. I've never met or talked to the president.


HARLOW: First of all that's stunning that he's never met or talked to the president, David. But let's put that aside for a moment. There's like no attempt there to try to explain the actions of the president at all.

CHALIAN: Yes, first of all Trey Gowdy, as we all know, is retiring and leaving Congress so --

HARLOW: So he feels free. Yes.

CHALIAN: Since making that announcement he clearly feels quite free but to Mark -- what Mark was just saying, Trey Gowdy is also harkening back to his prosecutor days. I mean, that's why he's never met or spent time with the president probably because he actually does respect some independence and distance from the executives that he has oversight responsibility for. So there is a sort of prosecutorial tradition there I think that Gowdy is following but his remarks are astounding.

I mean, it really is difficult for the White House or the FOX News echo chamber to push back or Devin Nunes or you name it who have been pushing this total theory that was not based in actual fact that there was a spy embedded in the Trump campaign Trey Gowdy just blew that to pieces.

KEILAR: And he also -- he also said, Asha, that -- you know, the president is going to be happy. He said I don't know how correct he is in alleging that. But he said --


KEILAR: Russia is the target, President Trump is not the target. So he clearly thinks that that's something that should give the president comfort and yet it doesn't. It seems that the president just over and over cannot separate these things from himself, from challenging as he sees the legitimacy of his presidency.

[10:10:05] RANGAPPA: That's right, Brianna. It's actually quite unusual because simply acknowledging that this was a counterintelligence investigation would allow the president to just say, look, I wasn't being investigated which is what he kind of wants.

The threshold to use a source in a counterintelligence investigation that involves any kind of First Amendment activity, political activity, journalist, clergy is so high, and I think what we're seeing from Gowdy and others is that they have seen a very high threshold of evidence that the FBI had in its possession to believe that Russia posed a national security threat against the campaign and they were working against it.

It doesn't mean that since then that there has been more evidence that maybe the president wouldn't be happy about, but if he would be wise to focus on the fact that he was not the target in the summer of 2016.

HARLOW: You know, just to button it up politically here, Mark Preston, to you, Tom Friedman in the opinion piece in the "Times" today talking about code red and lawmakers have to hold -- I think we can pull it up. "American democracy is truly threatened today by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass." Just to be clear here, this is not a lawmaker giving him a free pass.

I mean, this is really remarkable that Trey Gowdy, a conservative Republican, head of Oversight, as David points out, on his way out, not giving the president a free pass on this one.

PRESTON: No, but I mean -- but, really, the fact that he is on his way out, you know, gives him the ability to say what he wants to say.

HARLOW: Right.

PRESTON: You know, we've seen this from Jeff Flake, as well, an Arizona senator. You know, Thomas Friedman is speaking for a lot of people there, there's no question about that, but let's not forget that President Trump for all of the actions that he has done, all the lies that he has said still has incredible support amongst Republicans right now heading into this midterm election.

Now I mean, the fact is politics really do play a part in every decision that is happening on Capitol Hill and at this point, you know, I think Donald Trump is not going to change because he continues to see his polling so high.


KEILAR: All right. Thank you, guys, so much. Really appreciate you. Asha Rangappa, David Chalian and Mark Preston with us.

And still to come, blame it on the Ambien? Roseanne says she's sorry for her racist tweet. We have more on the swift downfall of the comedian and the fierce fallout.

HARLOW: Plus the president's personal lawyer will appear in court in just a few minutes with Michael Cohen. We're live outside the courthouse with the latest.


[10:16:44] HARLOW: This morning Roseanne Barr is blaming her racist tweets on a sleeping pill.

KEILAR: And overnight the actress apologized for those comments, Poppy, that she made about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett because she claimed that she was on Ambien. Roseanne, though, also suggested her support for President Trump did lead to her firing.

We have CNN's Brian Stelter who's been following every development of this story -- Brian.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She's been posting in a manic way on Twitter for the better part of 12 hours. Re-tweeting fans of hers who were saying this is all a plot against her, saying she's the victim of a conspiracy but she's also been expressing some apologies and that Ambien thing, as well.

Here's one of the tweets, one of many that Roseanne Barr has been sharing with her fans. She said, "Hey, guys. Don't defend me. It's sweet of you to try but losing my show is nothing compared to being labeled a racist over one tweet that I regret even more." She also went on to say this happened at 2:00 in the morning when she Valerie Jarrett. "I was Ambien tweeting." Never heard of that before, but she says that's a thing. She then later deleted this tweet about Ambien, took it back, said she wasn't blaming Ambien at all, but clearly in this tweet she was.

Now Barr went on overnight saying, please don't, talking about ABC, boycott -- don't boycott ABC. I'm not a censor and they have the right to do whatever they want. It's all OK. She went on and on replying to individual users saying, I'm not a racist, just an idiot who made a bad joke. Thank you for defending me, she said to her fans. Then one more here, she says, I gave them the weapon to kill me, meaning the tweet, she posted. I gave them the weapon to kill me. I was not equipped to take all the heat. I cracked and made a stupid and sensitive joke. It's my fault.

You know, in the past Barr has posted controversial, incendiary and racist things on Twitter, then she's walked it back, apologized, deleted it, et cetera. This has been going on for years. The difference now is that thanks to the revival of ABC's sitcom she's one of the biggest stars in the country. So ABC moved quickly yesterday to pull the plug after her racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett.

Now Barr is going back and forth between apologizing and portraying herself as a victim. All too often in politics things come down to a sense of victimhood and grievance and resentment and that's exactly what she's played into by re-tweeting her fans who are saying there is a liberal media double standard at work.

KEILAR: And how is Valerie Jarrett responding to all of this?

STELTER: Well, definitely taking the high road here. She spoke at a previously scheduled town hall last night and acknowledged that she's been able to handle this just fine. She has the support of friends and family, and she wants people to know this would happen when there is racism at work targeting people that are more vulnerable.

Here's a part of what she said.


VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense, the person who's walking down the street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or walk across the street. Those ordinary examples of racism that happened every single day.


STELTER: Meantime, at Disney and at ABC there is a sense of pride that the network was able to contain this so quickly, was able to move so quickly to pull the plug. And now with a giant hole in their primetime schedule, they've got to figure out how to replace the number one new show of the season, but keep in mind, what would have happened if the show had remained on the air, if that racist tweet had been out there, if this outcry had erupted, and that ABC didn't cancel her? I think advertisers would have fled the show.

[10:20:11] KEILAR: I have to read this to you, Brian, because Sanofi, the maker of Ambien, has just responded since she was blaming Ambien.

STELTER: I was wondering about this. What did they say?

KEILAR: It is -- it's stunning. It says, "People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."

STELTER: That is incredible. You know, Ambien is the number one trending topic on Twitter right now. That's why the company felt like it had to respond. Roseanne went ahead and deleted all the tweets about Ambien but clearly people noticed what she said and even the drug maker is not buying it.



KEILAR: It's a lot of shade, isn't it, Poppy, when you read that?

HARLOW: I am so glad you read that. I was e-mailing the team while you're talking to Brian.


HARLOW: Saying we have to get this on air. It's a brilliant response.

Brian, stay with us.

Let's bring in Jamilah Lemieux into the conversation. She's the vice president of news at INTERACTIVE ONE and the former senior editor of "Ebony."

So thank you for being here as well with us. You know, this is just not a first, Jamilah, that's the thing, right? You know, also this week, Roseanne tweeted George Soros is a Nazi, which the president's son re-tweeted by the way. She in 2013, Susan Rice, former National Security adviser re-tweeted a Roseanne tweet calling her an ape. ABC knew all this and put her on the air anyway. Why?

JAMILAH LEMIEUX, VICE PRESIDENT OF NEWS AND MEN'S PROGRAMMING, INTERACTIVE ONE: You know, I think that's an excellent question, and there are people that were very quick to give ABC a lot of credit for this decision to shelf this show, but, you know, as Brian just said I don't think they had really any choice and advertisers certainly were not going to enjoy the sort of phone calls that they would be getting in the next few days if the network hadn't taken very quick, very decisive action about this particular tweet, but the question remains who exactly are you going after when you decided to give this person a platform now and despite Roseanne's history with the network, and you know, the success of her original incarnation of her show, we've seen who she is at this point in her life for quite some time, you know, sharing pizzagate stories and her support of the president after we've seen who he is and the way that he speaks about people of color and about Muslims.

You know, it's just -- it's mind blowing that someone who had a television show to sell would think that it was OK to speak in this way. But then again -- yes.

KEILAR: Well, I was just going to say, Jamilah, what do you see in her apologies? Right? I mean, on one hand she's saying to people, like, don't defend me. Don't boycott ABC, then on the other hand she's blaming Ambien and she is re-tweeting things about how, you know, she's been targeted because she's a Trump supporter.

Do you put any stock in her apology? Do you think she's earnest? Do you think this is just about money? What do you think.

LEMIEUX: No. I don't think there's anything earnest about it. I would imagine, I would hope that she has the character to feel bad for her colleagues, you know, that the show -- that the folks who are working on that show with her, in particular the people who came back after, you know, moving on with their lives after the show first went off some years ago, and the cast and the crew and all of the people whose livelihoods have now been impacted by her decision. I'm sure there's some guilt around that.

But you can't attribute something like this to Ambien. Have you been on Ambien for the past 15, 20 years? This isn't new behavior for her. You know, I mean, even the pictures of her in the Jewish satire magazine from 2009.

HARLOW: Right.

LEMIEUX: I mean, we -- the rapper Drake who is himself black is in a little hot water right now because someone found some old pictures of him in black face. You know, her being a Jewish woman does not mean that that was an appropriate thing to do or that it wouldn't have been met with controversy.

HARLOW: Right.


HARLOW: I would just explain to our viewers where she asked the magazine to put her in basically a Nazi uniform to photograph her.

You guys --

LEMIEUX: And baking cookies.

HARLOW: Right.

LEMIEUX: And you know, baking human-shaped cookies. I mean, it was disgusting. That in my mind went straight to that image when the reboot was picked up.

HARLOW: Let's listen to what Roseanne said earlier this year about her hope, about what this would bring to the discourse in America having this show back on the air.


ROSEANNE BARR, SITCOM STARR/COMEDIAN: I really hope that it opens up, you know, civil conversation between people instead of just mudslinging. I really do because I think we need to be more civilized than that.


HARLOW: Brian, mudslinging? We need to be civil? I mean, these are two different people.

STELTER: Yes, this reminds me about the old debate about whether you can ever separate the artist from the art. The art was really wonderful. "Roseanne" was a beloved sitcom 20 years ago, it was beloved when it came back earlier this year. There were some really interesting storylines. It wasn't all about being pro-Trump or anti- Trump. There were some really interesting storylines about drug overdoses and about homelessness and health care and other issues.

[10:20:05] It was a really interesting sitcom. But Barr's off-air behavior doomed the sitcom. Her off-air tweets, her inability to put the smartphone down got her into trouble again and again and again. And we have to ask, why are so many people so susceptible to the kind of conspiracy theories and hate that she was promoting on Twitter? Where does this come from? Why is it that the fever swamps of the Internet are enabling more and more people to get caught up in these sorts of nonsense where they feel they're the victims or they have all these resentments and where they are attacking other groups.

It is -- it's really an ugly part of our Internet life, our Internet age, and it's not going to be solved just because Roseanne's been fired.

KEILAR: All right. Brian Stelter, Jamilah Lemieux, thank you so much to both of you for this.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

KEILAR: Appreciate it.

Weeks ago, he, being the president, praised her, right? Now it's silence. So what's the deal with the president's non-response to Roseanne's cancellation? We're going to talk about that next.