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U.S. Hits Allies with Tariffs; Trump's Controversial Pardons; Puerto Rico Struggles to Recover; Death Toll Discrepancies. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: On the EU, Mexico, Canada. The three had temporary exemptions but the White House let those waivers expire after it didn't get what it wanted from these negotiations. The president calls this fair trade. The goal, to help U.S. steel workers. But metal tariffs could raise prices for consumers. It also puts the U.S. in another trade dispute just at the very moment it targets $50 billion in Chinese goods for tariffs.

The three U.S. allies quickly struck back. Mexico threatens tariffs now on farm produce, think apples, pork, cheese. The EU targeting classic American goods, blue jeans, motorcycles, bourbon. Canadian plans to tax U.S. steel and aluminum an equal amount. The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, calls the U.S. tariffs an affront and says they won't hurt just Canada, but U.S. workers as well. The Chamber of Commerce says Trump trade move risks 2.6 million American jobs, especially if NAFTA falls apart. That's the worst case scenario. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board slamming Trump's needless trade war for hurting the economy, his foreign policy and perhaps Republicans in November. And Republicans are fuming. Senator Ben Sasse says it's dumb to treat allies the way you treat opponents. Speaker Paul Ryan says the U.S. should be working with allies on fair trade practices, not targeting them.

But, John, this is the president putting America first.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's a real split in the Republican Party. It will be interesting to see how much Congress pushes back and what they're willing to do. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

The power to pardon. President Trump using it and raising big questions about why. Is he sending a signal to witnesses in the Mueller probe and those being investigated?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:35:18] BERMAN: President Trump says he is considering pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, two former stars of, yes, "Celebrity Apprentice." This comes after another controversial pardon, this time to conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws.

Joining us now is Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School.

Professor, you take issue with what the president did. We have a lot of ground to cover. But I want to start with something you just wrote moments ago about these pardons. You say it echoes the president's outrageous embrace of the good KKK/Nazi marchers and murders of Charlottesville. How so?

LAURENCE TRIBE, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, it's really a sad phenomenon, but when the president tried to say both sides have good people, including the Nazis, he was basically sending a white racist dog whistle. And these pardons, in many ways, do very much the same thing.

Dinesh D'Souza is one of the birther conspiracy guys who's tweeted terribly racist things. And Joe Arpaio, the first pardoned guy, was obviously involved in racially targeting certain immigrants and violated the court order that told him to stop. Even Jack Johnson, the one guy who probably deserved the pardon, the posthumous pardon of the famous boxer, was convicted of violating a sex trafficking law.

So there are three levels on which these pardons are sending scary signals. One, as your earlier people on the show indicated, they are sending signals to potential witnesses. They're part of an obstruction of justice cover up. Two, they are sending signals against equal justice under law. Basic norms of equality. He's pardoning the rich, the famous. And, three, probably the most serious problem, is that he is sending signals that you don't even have to obey the courts. You can be held in contempt, to violate a court order, the way Joe Arpaio did, and you're home free if you are a fan of Donald Trump.

BERMAN: All right, so let's try to understand each of those three things and let's start with what the Constitution actually says about the power to pardon.

TRIBE: Sure.

BERMAN: Article II, Section II says the president shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

TRIBE: Right.

BERMAN: Are there any limits, aside from impeachment, are there any limits to this power, professor?

TRIBE: Every power of the president is limited by the impeachment clause. It says that if you commit treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, you are to be removed from office after you're convicted by the Senate. That is a clear signal that no presidential power is totally absolute. Because if, for example, the president accepts bribes in order to pardon his buddies, his friends, clearly that is a high crime and misdemeanor. If the president uses pardons to cover up his own crimes by dangling a get out of jail free card to people who might otherwise be witnesses against him, that's part of obstruction of justice, which was the key article of impeachment against Nixon. BERMAN: So -- so in this case, how does that work? This is some kind

of prophylactic obstruction of justice signaling that I might pardon you somewhere down the line if you don't testify?

TRIBE: You got it. Exactly. I mean when he pardons these people, Roger Stone said that he read the pardons this way. He basically said he felt comfortable by these pardons. People like Stone and Manafort and others have made it very clear that from their perspective, when the president chose by flexing the pardon muscle that he can have your back if you have his, they get it.

BERMAN: But -- but until --

TRIBE: These people are not stupid.

BERMAN: Until -- until he actually pardons them, I don't know how you'd ever prove that, though, legally speaking.

TRIBE: Well, it's all part of a --

BERMAN: How do you ever prove (INAUDIBLE)?

TRIBE: Well, it's part of a pattern. I'm not saying the evidence is all there yet. That's why I'm not on the Steyer team that says impeach now. In fact, a major point of the book that Joshua Matz and I just wrote --

BERMAN: Right.

TRIBE: That was published last week, a book called "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment," is, we shouldn't jump to impeach prematurely. What we need is a thorough investigation of the Russian involvement in the election of Trump and of the way he's trying to cover up evidence of that involvement.

[06:40:13] BERMAN: I want to --

TRIBE: So I'm not saying any one of these things is a reason to get rid of the guy. I'm saying that they are part of a very disturbing pattern.

BERMAN: It's a source of concern.

TRIBE: Right.

BERMAN: Let me read you a little bit of the back and forth, really just the forth, as the case may be, between Dinesh D'Souza and Preet Bharara.

TRIBE: Sure.

BERMAN: Dinesh actually tweeted at Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney who prosecuted him, and this is what D'Souza wrote. He goes, Karma is a bitch. Preet Bharara wanted to destroy a fellow Indian- American to advanced his career. Then he got fired and I got pardoned.

What do you make of that?

TRIBE: That -- yes.

BERMAN: Does that play into your concerns about the rule of law?

TRIBE: Very much does, especially since he made that argument that he was being targeted as an Indian-American in court. And the judge said there's nothing to it. There's more hap (ph) than cattle there.

He was fairly tried. He pled guilty. He was given a very light sentence, a day a week of community service for five years of probation. So it's a great example of someone who had no reason to be pardoned, other than that he was on team Trump, and that he's part of a broad conspiracy theory.

So Trump is signaling his base. He is signaling potential witnesses against him. And he's telling all of us, if we just listen, that he doesn't think the rule of law is all it's cracked up to be.

BERMAN: Professor Laurence Tribe --

TRIBE: This is a tyrant wannabe.

BERMAN: Professor Tribe, thank you for your opinion on this matter. Appreciate you being with us.

TRIBE: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, now to this story.

As a new hurricane season begins today, Puerto Rico is still reeling from Maria. That was nearly nine months ago. And there are new reports that find that the actual death toll is much bigger than what the government has told us. So Puerto Rico's governor is going to join us live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:46:05] BERMAN: Hurricane season begins today. This as Puerto Rico still struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island last September. Earlier this week a study from Harvard revealed that nearly 5,000 people died after Maria hit Puerto Rico. That's almost 70 times higher than the government's official tally. Puerto Rico's governor vows there will be, quote, "hell to pay" if officials withheld mortality data. We'll talk to him live about that in just a moment.

CNN's Leyla Santiago live in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Hurricane season on an island, you know, that's just not ready for it, Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, John. This is a day that makes a lot of people anxious. When I would talk to them and say, are you ready, one woman was actually physically shaking because of that anxiety when I talked to her. I called and talked to seven different mayors from across this island. One of them told me he was as prepared as he could be. The rest said they were not prepared at all. All agreed this is an island that's still recovering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO (voice over): This looks like progress. It's actually a sign of desperation in Utuado, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

SANTIAGO (on camera): He says they're repairing the power themselves because they're almost at nine months without power and they feel abandoned.

SANTIAGO (voice over): Tur Reyas (ph) has no experience doing this, climbing poles, working with live wires, restoring power. Something he says he learned in one day from a retired power worker. Using any materials they can find, their risky mission has turned the lights back on for more than a dozen. The home of Samuel Vazquez is next.

SAMUEL VAZQUEZ, HAD POWER RESTORED: I feel bad because there's just -- I mean you can't get no power. You can't get no light.

SANTIAGO: In Utuado, tarps are still being used, roads washed out, emergency plans are still being worked out. Mayor Ernesto Irizarry says his municipality cannot take another storm.

SANTIAGO (on camera): So how frustrating is that as the leader of 30,000 people in Utuado?

ERNESTO IRIZARRY, UTUADO MAYOR: It's difficult and hard because you see in the eye of the people the frustration.

SANTIAGO (voice over): He says he doesn't have the basic resources or the money to respond to a natural disaster. Eight months after Maria, parts of the island are still dealing with what FEMA calls the longest power outage in modern and U.S. history. More than 10,000 customers are still in the dark.

SANTIAGO (on camera): Can this power grid, can it sustain itself if another hurricane were to come?

WALT HIGGINS, PREPA CEO: The most honest thing to say about our grid is that it's weak or fragile.

SANTIAGO (voice over): Walt Higgins is the new CEO for Puerto Rico's Power Authority, tasked with fixing a power grid never built to handle Cat 4 or 5 hurricanes. Just weeks ago, an island-wide blackout was caused by a fallen tree. Higgins promises most of those still without power, though not all, will have it restored in a matter of weeks. What he cannot say is what will happen if another storm plunges the island into darkness.

HIGGINS: My straight answer to that is, we were readier this year than we were last year. SANTIAGO: And people on the island will be counting on it for their

very lives. A Harvard study now indicates a lack of power after Maria is partly to blame for more than 4,600 deaths, far more than Puerto Rico's official death toll of 64.

SANTIAGO (on camera): Will this be enough?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, yes.

SANTIAGO (voice over): For FEMA's part, it's showing off this warehouse full of disaster relief supplies planned for the next disaster, compared to Maria preparations, to have seven times more water and meals, six times more generators, eight times more tarps, all on the island before the next hurricane. The agency admits it's learned some lessons.

[06:50:00] SANTIAGO (on camera): But will FEMA be ready for a faster response if a hurricane hits Puerto Rico?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. There's no doubt. No doubt.

SANTIAGO (voice over): But for those in Utuado, taking matters into their own hands, any sign of recovery is a victory.

SANTIAGO (on camera): You get a little emotional about it?

VAZQUEZ: Oh, yes. Whoo, do you know how long that I don't see the light in my house? Nine months. I mean nine months.

SANTIAGO: And now another hurricane could be around the corner for the next season?

VAZQUEZ: Yes. I guess I've got to do -- do it again -- by hand again for the people.

SANTIAGO (voice over): The hope here is that power returns before the next storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now is Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello.

Governor, thank you so much for being here.

I mean Leyla just lays it out in such stark terms in her piece there. These numbers are staggering. Let's start with the discrepancy about the death toll, OK?

So, as you know, the Harvard study that's come out this week, it's staggering. Four thousand, six hundred and forty-five people they say were killed. The official number is 64. How can the official tally be so different?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: Well, good morning, and thank you again for the opportunity. The reason is that we used a very limited protocol once the storm came

about. It was a protocol designed by the CDC. And that's why ever since last year I've been saying the numbers are going to be higher and that we needed to revisit and to study this scientifically to arrive, not only at the numbers, but also at how we can prevent another catastrophe like this happening in the future if another storm or earthquake hit.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

ROSSELLO: So that is the reason why there's such a big discrepancy.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: And, of course, there's a study I'm going with, George Washington as well, to zone in on those numbers as well.

CAMEROTA: But, as of this morning, we just checked, the number -- the official number on your website is still 64. If you know that to be wrong, why is that still the government number?

ROSSELLO: Because the way it's taken care of when it got to 64, it was those related to the storm immediately after the storm. Once we realized that that was a faulty protocol, we called upon the Milken Institute of George Washington so that they could revise it and do it properly and do it scientifically. So it's taken time, no doubt about it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But the number's still on your website.

ROSSELLO: And we need to be sure that all of the data's --

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry to interrupt, but just to be clear, you're saying that that number on your website, the official death toll, is not accurate?

ROSSELLO: Well, we never expected that it was accurate. That's why we always said that it was going to be higher and that we gave the task to George Washington University so that they could study it and that they could arrive at a number.

But not only at a number. Listen, right now we're rebuilding Puerto Rico and we're making sure that we learn from our mistakes. That's part of my job as governor and as a scientist. And make sure that if another storm comes over here, we're prepared for it and we can respond much better on the health care front and that it could be a model for the United States as well. I mean there is no doubt that this has been the biggest catastrophe in the modern history of the United States and we want to learn from it and we want to respond adequately from it. If we failed in certain areas, we want to make sure we understand what they were so that it's not a repeat moment again.

CAMEROTA: Look, I'm not trying to pour salt into the wound, but hurricane season starts today. And it does sound like you've failed.

ROSSELLO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: You don't know how to calculate the accurate number of the death toll. And the death toll, if it is what Harvard says -- so I know you're waiting for the George Washington University study, but that's not ready yet, OK, and hurricane season starts now. That number, 4,645, that is roughly the same as the number of fatalities on 9/11 and Katrina combined. So how can you say you're ready today for what's about to befall you this season?

ROSSELLO: Ma'am, we don't control the weather patterns. We don't control the hurricane season. We've been working as hard as humanly possible. We've been looking for the scientific mechanism so that it's not just accountability and counting, but also responding appropriately.

So, unfortunately, I saw you were talking about, in the last piece about the energy grid. Unfortunately, it is a true fact that if another hurricane comes to Puerto Rico, even though we've lifted the energy grid, it takes time to actually modernize the energy grid. I am passing a bill so that we can transform the energy grid in Puerto Rico, make it more modern, make it more resilient.

But, really, what we're doing right now come this hurricane season is trying to mitigate the impact of another storm. Our path forward, looking towards the future, is that we can build stronger and better than before. But there is a reality.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

[06:55:02] ROSSELLO: And I can stand here and say that everything's ready, that everything's looking peachy or I can talk to you about the reality, that we've been working hard for the past couple of months to evaluate all of the protocols, to make sure that we're more resilient this time around, but recognizing that there are still limitations.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: This, again, make no mistake about it, this is the biggest devastation in the modern history of the United States.

CAMEROTA: I get it.

ROSSELLO: It has been mired with bureaucracy all over.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: And that has taken -- has taken time.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and just one -- one --

ROSSELLO: So -- but one thing is for sure --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: We are committed to rebuilding Puerto Rico stronger than before. CAMEROTA: One last question about the bureaucracy. One -- one of the

things that the Harvard study found was that the government of Puerto Rico stopped sharing mortality data with the public in December of 2017. Our request for this data was also denied.

Do you feel as though there are people in your cabinet, or your government, who have been stonewalling in terms of getting the accurate numbers out?

ROSSELLO: So yesterday I said, and I reiterate, if that was the case, there would be hell to pay, because I signed an executive order to open up the -- the data for everybody. But it is very important that you realize that we also are accountable to an order of law, a law and order system. And there is a law that prevents us for giving out certain confidential information about folks. So within that limitation, we have been giving information, we have been making sense of it.

But we cannot give all of the confidential information. There is a Vital Statistics Bureau law. It's very clear on what we can and cannot give. And what we're doing is working with all of the stakeholders to make sure we make sense of all of the data so that the truth is known.

Listen, whether it's one life, whether it's 500, whether it's 1,000 or 10,000, it is important for me. They're all important lives. What I want to make sure is that from this one we get some clarity, we get some closure. And then, going towards the future, going towards the future --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: We're much more resilient and that everybody, not only in Puerto Rico, but everywhere in the United States, we can be more prepared, better prepared for devastations of these magnitudes that are not going to stop.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROSSELLO: In fact, they're but probably going to be increasing.

CAMEROTA: On that note, Governor Rossello, thank you very much for being with us. We're thinking of you and the people on Puerto Rico. And please come back to us when you have your official updated number.

Thank you so much for being on NEW DAY.

John.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, Alisyn.

President Trump flexing his powers, granting a pardon to a conservative pundit and hinting that four -- two former "Celebrity Apprentice" stars could be next.