Return to Transcripts main page


Search for Survivors in Guatemala; Sanders Refuses to Comment; Presidential Pardons; . James and Curry on Visiting White House; Rhodes on Trump's Victory. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A desperate search for survivors is now underway in Guatemala. Those who escaped still reeling after the Fuego volcano's sudden eruption Sunday afternoon. This pyroclastic cloud of ash, rock and volcanic gases poured through villages at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in its wake. Mandatory evacuation orders came only hours after the mountain roared to life, leaving little time to flee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My mother's house was buried with my entire family inside. My three sons, two daughters, and my grandson. My mother, my sisters, my nieces, nephews. I went to a bridge nearby to get help. I said the lava was coming back and they didn't listen to me.

OPPMANN: Entire communities, once nestled in the foothills of the mountain, are now buried beneath debris. Cars have been pushed and piled from the force of the volcanic flow. This vacation resort, once pristine, now unrecognizable.

IXMUCANE MONSANTO, VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER: It has been very hard to see kids, families, whole families, knowing that they're buried under the ashes. And knowing that they're there and we cannot do fast -- we cannot work fast in order to get them out.

OPPMANN: Consuelo Hernandez told first responders she believes she's the only one in her family that made it out in time.

CONSUELO HERNANDEZ, VOLCANO SURVIVOR (through translator): No, not everyone escaped. I think they were buried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did you get out?

HERNANDEZ (through translator): Because we saw the lava was pouring through the corn fields and we ran towards a hill.

OPPMANN: Teams of rescuers hoping to pull more, like this infant, alive from their homes.

Any and all survivors are being carried out with care, but this deadly eruption has left an apocalyptic scene.

DIEGO IBARGUEN, FIRST RESPONDER: Basically there's no homes left. And to my assumption, I don't think there's nobody left there with life.

OPPMANN: Guatemala is observing three days of mourning as funerals begin for the few victims that have been identified. White paper signs taped to their coffins list the names of parents, friends, and children.

All this as officials warn the Fuego volcano remains active and dangerous for days to come.

OPPMANN (on camera): There is some good news, though. There are three burn victims that have been transported to the United States. So help at long last is coming to the people of Guatemala.

Patrick Oppmann, near the volcano fire in Guatemala.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, meanwhile, back here at home, Sarah Sanders still has not explained why she issued a false statement from the podium about Don Jr.'s meeting with the Russians and the dictated statement that followed. Is there a legal reason why she will not answer these questions? Jeffrey Toobin here with his take, next.


[06:36:37] CAMEROTA: For the second straight day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to answer how she got the story so wrong about that meeting in Trump Tower between Don Jr. and Russians and then the misleading statement the president dictated about it.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Once again, I'm not going to go into detail and go into a back and forth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why can't you correct the record now?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to answer questions that deal specifically with conversations between the outside counsel and the special counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You (INAUDIBLE) to answer the question?

SANDERS: Again, I am not going to get into a back and forth with you on that, and I'd refer you to the outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was your statement accurate or inaccurate?

SANDERS: Again, I know you want to get me into a back and forth with you on this conversation --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) back and forth. You said something. We just want to know if it was accurate or not. Was your statement accurate?

SANDERS: Look, I know your goal is to engage me in a conversation about matters dealing with the outside counsel, and I'm not going to do that today.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, great to have you?


CAMEROTA: She's misunderstanding the questions. This isn't about what outside counsel is doing to handle this, it's about her false statements. Why did she give false statements? Only that. Why did she give false statements from the podium? Why won't she answer that?

TOOBIN: Well, I think she understands exactly what's going on here, she just doesn't want to engage anymore because she doesn't want to compound her problem because she gave an answer that it turns out was 100 percent false. The only explanation for why she gave that answer is because she was given bad information, false information. People lied to her. If she starts to explain where she got the information, it's a rabbit hole that leads to nothing but trouble for the president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There was a lie. She spread a lie.

TOOBIN: Correct.

BERMAN: Either she lied or she was lied to and she spreads it. That, at this point, is irrefutable according to Jay Sekulow, the president's own attorney.

I guess the question here is, is -- is there a legal reason she can't answer? Do you think -- and Pam asked that, do you think she's being advised now legally that she can't answer this question because it could create more legal problems for the president?

TOOBIN: No, it's a political issue. It's not -- it's not a legal issue. She could answer these questions. But it would compound the political problem of why these lies were told from the better --

BERMAN: No, except -- except that she said, no, what I said then was wrong, then the follow-up is, well, why did you say it? If she says because I was told to say it by the president --

CAMEROTA: That's a problem.

TOOBIN: That does become a legal problem further for him. So, in that respect, yes, it would be -- it would compound the legal problem.

But I -- what I think is so important about this whole controversy is it's not just a game of gotcha that someone told a false statement from the podium. This issue of whether the president directed a cover- up of what actually went on in Trump Tower in June 2016 is extremely important because it deals with the question of obstruction of justice, but it also deals with the question of collusion, because the reason you would tell a false statement about what went on between the Russians and the Trump campaign is because you had consciousness of guilt. Because you knew that it was wrong for the Russians and the Trump campaign to be colluding. That's why this statement is not just this game of gotcha, but extremely important.

CAMEROTA: She also said another interesting statement yesterday from the podium in which she seems to believe that the American public will give her a pass for false statements.

[06:40:04] So, listen to this.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I work every single day to give you accurate and up-to-date information. And I'm going to continue to do that. Frankly, I think my credibility's probably higher than the media's. And I think that in large part that's because you guys spend more of your time focused on attacking the president instead of reporting the news.


CAMEROTA: That statement does not help her credibility because the facts do not support her -- she thinks that her credibility is higher than the media. Here are the numbers.

BERMAN: It's ironic in its own way.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it is, because, as we've learned all too often throughout the last two years, thinking something doesn't make it true. Feeling something doesn't make it true. Here are the numbers. The news media, who do you trust more? Fifty-three percent of respondents in this Quinnipiac poll in April say the news media, 37 percent say President Trump. So you could infer that means the White House or President Trump's spokespeople.

TOOBIN: But those numbers are basically the same percentages we see in every poll we take. They are, you know, roughly 60/40 against the president, approval rating, do you believe him, is he a good role model. I mean we have a deeply polarized country along those lines. I mean that there are about 40 percent of the public, you know, give and take a few percentage points, who are emphatic supporters of President Trump, who certainly agree with what Sarah Sanders said about the credibility of the news media, but there's a --

CAMEROTA: Larger percentage --

TOOBIN: A larger percentage at the moment that does not.

CAMEROTA: That does not think that she has higher credibility (INAUDIBLE).

TOOBIN: Correct.

BERMAN: And, again, just to put a button on it, this was a lie about a meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Junior was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. And those are the agreed upon facts, as of now.

TOOBIN: Correct.

BERMAN: Which is interesting in itself.

We also learned from Josh Dawsey, among other "Washington Post" reporters overnight, Jeffrey, that the president is pardon crazy right now. He's very into the idea that he can pardon people, which he can.

TOOBIN: He can.

BERMAN: And the article also goes into some concerns that the folks like John Kelly, the chief of staff has, that he's not going through the normal process on this.

TOOBIN: Well, he's certainly not going through the normal process.

You know, I think this is a characteristic Donald Trump moment because, you know, like a lot of presidents, but probably in a more extreme way, he's frustrated because it's hard to do -- accomplish things. It's hard to get things through Congress.

Pardons are very different. They are close to absolute powers on the part of the president. He can, with the stroke of the pen, accomplish something.

He also likes celebrities. He also likes to make celebrities happy and get publicity. Pardons get lots of publicity. He's got Kim Kardashian asking for a pardon for a seemingly deserving woman. Dinesh D'Souza, who plead guilty but was a hero to people in the extreme right movement, he got to get great credit among them. Rod Blagojevich is a way of sort of sticking it to his political rivals -- you know, his rivals, James Comey and Pat Fitzgerald. These are great things in his view.

CAMEROTA: All right, Jeffrey, thank you very much.

TOOBIN: All right.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you.

TOOBIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: The Cavaliers and Warriors preparing for game three of the NBA finals. And the two biggest superstars on the court sending a message to the president. The "Bleacher Report" is next.


[06:47:25] BERMAN: LeBron James and Steph Curry both say no matter who wins the NBA finals, neither team will go to the White House.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy.


This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by Ford, going further so you can.

And both LeBron and Steph Curry were asked yesterday about a potential trip to the White House if they win the NBA finals. And LeBron saying he was not surprised when he heard the Eagles had been disinvited by President Trump.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS PLAYER: It's typical of him. And I'm not surprised. No matter who wins this series, no one's -- no one wants the invite anyway. So it won't be Golden State or Cleveland going.

STEPH CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS PLAYER: I agree with Bron. I'm pretty sure the way we handled things last year, kind of stayed consistent with that.


SCHOLES: Now, President Trump disinvited the Warriors last year after they won after players said that they would not be attending. The team instead took a group of local kids in D.C. to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Game three of the finals is tonight. Tip-off is at 9:00 Eastern. A must win for LeBron and the Cavs because, Alisyn, as I'm sure you know, no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I know that. That is very hard to do.

BERMAN: Just talking about that.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean how many times have I said that at a cocktail party.

So, Andy, thank you very much.

All right, so he spent eight years inside the Obama White House. Now he's watching President Trump reverse many of Obama's policies. How does Ben Rhodes feel today? He's here to tell us, next.


[06:53:11] BERMAN: He spent years as a key member of President Obama's administration. Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser, met candidate Obama for debate prep in 2007, stayed with him until 2016. When the results of the 2016 election were announced, cameras were following him and saw his stunned reaction.


BEN RHODES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I -- I can't even -- I can't -- I -- I mean, I -- I -- I can't -- I -- I can't -- I can't put it into words. I -- I don't know what the words are.


BERMAN: And Ben Rhodes joins us now.

Probably not easy for you to watch. Rhodes is --


BERMAN: Yes. Ben is the author of the new book, "The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House."

And looking at that video, which was election night, you actually write about the morning after the election. You had a hard time, obviously, putting it into words there. But once you thought about it --


BERMAN: You actually had more of an explanation.

RHODES: Yes. I mean, like a lot of people, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. And, you know, in writing the book actually I relived the campaign. And the morning after -- the 2008 campaign. And the morning after the election in 2016, I thought to myself, the message that Trump used to win that election, if you took out what I would think is some of the racist and misogyny that was in his campaign, it was essentially change. It was, she's a part of a corrupt establishment and she won't bring change and I will. And it was kind of horrifying to realize that the same type of message that we'd used in 2008 had been repurposed to essentially succeed in 2016, albeit in a very different way.

[06:55:02] BERMAN: Now, Maureen Dowd is someone who has clearly read your book, given it a lot of press. I can't tell honestly if she likes it or not, but she chose to write a scathing column about it.


BERMAN: Scathing not so much about you --


BERMAN: But about the president. And she essentially says that President Obama should have known what you realized the morning after the election. She says Obama threw his weight behind the most status quo elitist candidate. Where were the next Barack Obamas? Obama never had been about party building. He was a man alone in the arena.

RHODES: Well, you know, in hindsight, it's always easy to, you know, say, first of all, that we could have orchestrated out of the White House somebody else. She mentions Vice President Biden. There was that tragedy with his son the summer before the Democratic primaries, which really, I think, did inform his decision. But one of the interesting things, and I've actually talked to

President Obama about this, is he ran at a pretty young age and in a way generationally his time would have been more likely to be now. And there was a bit of a generation gap in the Democratic Party there. And we'll see what happens in the next campaign. I think there will be a lot of people running because there are a lot of younger people and people who span different generations.

So it is true that there wasn't a lot of people on stage for the Democrats in the primary in 2016. And part of that may have been that, you know, President Obama kind of dominated a certain generation of Democrats and, frankly, cut the line in 2008 when he was able to defeat Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: But party building wasn't his thing. I mean --

RHODES: Yes -- no. And part of this -- you know, look, I --

BERMAN: But it's a missed opportunity --

RHODES: It is.

BERMAN: Particularly in the first two years in the administration.

RHODES: Yes. And I think what -- what, you know, some of us, when we internalize that criticism and also think, though, is when you're in the White House, you come in the first few years, you've got the financial crisis. You know, you're drinking from a fire hose. And, yes, being disciplined about party building was not at the top of our list. And that ended up being very important to protecting our legacy. So, you know, you do look back on that and think, what could we have done?

BERMAN: And, again, another clip from the book, or an excerpt that's getting a lot of press is, is when you say, you know, the president asked, what if we were wrong --


BERMAN: Basically about that. To me there were three candidates in this election. There was Donald Trump, there was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to an extent. And it's hard to look --

RHODES: Maybe a Vladimir Putin.

BERMAN: But it's hard to look at the results of the election as anything other than a reaction to President Obama. And you write about this a lot. It's got to be hard -- has it been hard for him to come to terms with that?

RHODES: Well, what I write about essentially is that he went through the same process as a lot of us. You know, election night he called me kind of shell shocked. Oh, that happened. You know, what -- what do we do now? Let's pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. He tried out, you know, how much of it was it the Russians, the Comey letter? He was working through these different theories of what might have taken place. Could the Democratic campaign have been run better?

I think what he was referring to in the, what if we were wrong comment was more in a general sense the pace of change in the United States and, frankly, large parts of the world around trade and immigration, that that change may have gotten ahead of people's desire to feel rooted in their identity. And, frankly, sometimes that can be manipulated I think to fall back into your tribe and have an us versus them politics.

I think that you could over read it as a rebuke of him. As I say, I think he would probably would have won a third term if he could have run. But you can't ignore and you have to wrestle with this, progressive and Democrats, when something like this happens.

I do hope that in the long run, 10, 20 years from now, America's going to look more like Barack Obama's America than Donald Trump's. And that's what people like me are obviously going to try to work for and pursue.

BERMAN: I'm old enough to have covered the 2008 presidential campaign. And I vividly remember President Obama was criticized for saying exactly who he would sit down with and have talks with. Remember this.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I will meet not just with our friends but with our enemies. I will meet without preconditions. That does not mean I will meet without preparation.


BERMAN: I will meet without preconditions. People forget the I will -- that doesn't mean I will not be without preparation. And maybe these two things are relevant because, of course, President --


BERMAN: President Trump is about to sit down with Kim Jong-un.


BERMAN: You know, meeting without preconditions is something President Obama suggested he would do.


BERMAN: He didn't do it with Kim Jong-un or Kim Jong-il, his father, at that point.


BERMAN: Are you supportive now with President Trump doing it without preconditions really?

RHODES: Yes, well, first of all, that was a -- I went to work on the campaign that week. And he said he'd meet with the leaders of Iran, Cuba and North Korea without preconditions. The entire Republican Party pounced on that as naive and irresponsible. So it's kind of bizarre to see a position that was horrible if Barack Obama took it, suddenly embraced by the other side.

I favor diplomacy and I'm glad that they're pursuing diplomacy. I think the preparation point is critical, though. You know, Cuba's a country that we had an opening to. I must have had 20 meetings with the Cubans before Barack Obama met with them. I do worry that they're moving a little quickly into the presidential level summit without doing that preparation and without being clear about, what are we trying to achieve here, what is success, how can we measure for ourselves what constitutes a good summit, what is the follow through to it?

[07:00:01] BERMAN: Ben Rhodes, great to have you with us. The book is "The World as It Is."

Appreciate you being here.

RHODES: Great. Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, we thank our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN "TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.