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Report: White House Briefing as DOJ Releases Clinton Probe Report; White House Justifies Separating Kids from Families; Sessions and Sanders Refer to Bible When Taking Children from Parents; IG Finds Comey Violated Norms but Was Not Politically Motivated. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired June 14, 2018 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time in 48 years a sitting president has opposed a member of Congress of his own party. Does the president intend to speak out for primary challenges to other critics of him within the Congress? And if so, who?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't have any announcements on any candidates that the president or may not endorse and wouldn't be able to address that from this venue either.
Sorry that's right, I'll come back to it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Appreciate it. First, on the two immigration bills that the house is considering, does the president have a preference for one over the other or are both just fine with him? And then I have another one.
SANDERS: The president already laid out a proposal that closes the legal loopholes and provides the resources to secure our border. If the process leads to a permanent solution as outlined by the president, then we would support it. We played out what we want to see and if this gets to a permanent solution, we would support it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another question about immigration. You blame the Democrats for not closing the loopholes. Republicans control both houses of Congress. Despite the president's repeated preference for Mitch McConnell to get rid of the legislative filibuster so they could pass something without Democratic votes, they have not done that. So, don't Republicans face some responsibility for the immigration --
SANDERS: If a handful of Democrats wanted to solve this problem we shall could quickly get it done but they don't. They've refused to come to the table and actually be part of a solution instead of playing political games and attacking the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has been asked numerous times to get rid of the legislative filibuster, and another words that's not a barrier?
SANDERS: Look, there are the majority of Republicans support fixing the loopholes, the president wants to work with them we want to get something done. We've laid out a proposal to do that and we are hopeful that Congress particularly Democrats in Congress will come together and actually fix the system.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republicans take no responsibility for immigration problems at the border?
SANDERS: Look, the president wants to fix it. We have laid out a number of different plans and proposals that would close the loopholes. We continue to be ready and willing to work with Congress to get it done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On immigration, what does the president want to see the House of Representatives do in the next week?
SANDERS: Again, we've laid that out, we'd like to see a permanent solution to fix the loopholes and secure the border.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On DACA, just on the upcoming votes, is there a particular bill that he favors or particular approach?
SANDERS: Again, he was wants to see all of the different components that we laid out several months ago addressed, if any of the legislation comes to the table that would create a permanent solution that does that, then we would support it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On NAFTA, the president threatened tariffs, does that mean that he will withdraw from NAFTA in the coming days?
SANDERS: I don't have any announcements on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On whether the president believes that the Inspector General's report was thorough. Several GOP lawmakers today have called for a second special counsel, would the president support a developed inquiry into the Inspector General's report and into the further conduct of the FBI? Or does this settle the matter for all time?
SANDERS: Certainly, this creates a great deal of concern. We're going to tune in to Director Wray's comments this afternoon. But certainly, there are a lot of things in this report that not only worry those of us in the administration but should worry a lot of Americans that people played this political bias and injected that into a department that shouldn't have any of that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a follow-up on that. Does the president believe Peter Strzok should still have a job at the FBI?
SANDERS: I haven't specifically answered him that question, but my guess would be no. I will take one last question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are officials here at the White House who are reportedly eyeing the exits, including Mark Short, Raj Shah and yourself. Can you give us a sense of what to expect, are any of those officials leaving? And what's the plan to replace all those high- level people?
SANDERS: I don't know if there's a need to replace them. As I stated last night in a tweet, I think CBS got a little ahead of their skis particularly since they put out a story about my thinking without ever actually talking to me. It seems that it would be a little bit problematic in terms of personnel announcements, I don't have any to make. I can tell you I show up here every day, I love my job, I'm glad to work for the president and each and every day I'll pray for clarity and discernment on what my future looks like. Right now, I think the country looks pretty good and I'm glad to get to be a part of that process and I'm going to continue to do my job.
Thanks so much, guys, have a great day.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So, a lot there but you know where I'd like to start? With the children. I want to start with the children at the border. You have seen these stories where these young babies, the kids, are being taken forcibly from their parents who are crossing the U.S./Mexico border. You saw our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta flat out asking Sarah Sanders how taking the children from their parents is moral. And he cited something that Jeff sessions had said today when he was speaking to his, and I am quoting the AG, to his church friends. So first if you have not seen what Sessions said here it was, and here's the exchange with Jim and Sarah.
[15:35:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought I'd take a little bit of my digression here to discuss some concerns raised by our church friends about separation of families. Many of the criticisms raised in recent days, are not fair, not logical. And some are contrary to plain law.
First, illegal entry into the United States is a crime. It should be and must be if you're going to have a legal system and have any limits whatsoever. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. If you violate the law, you subject yourself to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise companion "Romans 13" to obey the laws of the government because god has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing. And that protects the weak. It protects the lawful.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: On these children who are being separated from their families as they come across the border, the attorney general earlier today said that somehow there's a justification for this in the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that it moral to take children away from their mothers?
SANDERS: I'm not aware of the attorney general's comments or what he would be referencing. I can say that it is very Biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. However -- hold on, Jim, if you'll let me finish. Again, I'm not going to comment on the attorney's specific comments I haven't seen.
ACOSTA: You said it's in the Bible to follow the law.
SANDERS: That's not what I said, I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences I guess. But please don't take my words out of context. But the separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refused to close, and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade. And the president is simply enforcing them.
ACOSTA: Is it a moral policy to take children away from their parents. Can you imagine the horror that these children must be going through when they come across the border, they're with their parents and then suddenly they're pulled away from their parents? Why is the government doing this?
SANDERS: Because it's the law. And that's what the law states.
ACOSTA: It doesn't have to be law; you guys don't have to do that. It's your policy.
SANDERS: You're right. It doesn't have to be law. The president has actually called on Democrats in Congress to fix those loopholes. The Democrat has failed to come to the table. Failed to help this president close these loopholes and fix this problem. We don't want this to be a problem. The president has tried to address it a number of occasions, we've laid out a proposal. And Democrats simply refuse to do their job and fix the problem. Paula, go ahead. Sorry, Jim, I've given you enough time
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Jim Acosta is there for us, Jim, that was quite an exchange, you asked the right questions. She says the law has been on the books and then it is the Democrats who are to blame and could fix this. What's the truth?
ACOSTA: Brooke, I wish I could answer your questions. I don't understand simple sentences apparently. But, uh no --
BALDWIN: We know you do.
ACOSTA: I do my best even when I'm sleep deprived but you know, listen. This is a Trump administration policy to separate these children from their parents as they come across the border. They don't have to do that. That was not the practice during the Obama administration. Obviously there probably were situations during the Obama administration were apparently from time to time they may have had to do that sort of thing. They did detain families from time to time when they came across the border.
But this is a new implementation of a policy that is happening under the Trump administration. And we heard the president say this from time to time in recent weeks that we wish we didn't have to do this, but we're going to have to do this. And essentially what the White House is trying to do is trying to push the Democrats into a situation where they come to a compromise that involves giving the president much of what he wants on immigration.
And you're seeing right now a sort of standoff between both parties but make no mistake this is a Trump administration policy to separate these children from their parents. And you saw the AG earlier today trying to justify this in Biblical terms. And I was just simply trying to ask the question, where does it say in the Bible that you it is OK to separate children from their parents.
[15:40:00] The question was picked up by a CBS reporter as well right after me, but as far as I could tell, again Brooke, Sarah says I have trouble understanding simple sentences. I do not really hear an explanation of this policy or justification for this policy. And I think it's going to be something that the White House is going to have some difficult days ahead trying to contend with. Because obviously a lot of people on the face of this around the country are just going to look at this and say this is just morally wrong. You should not pull children away from their parents no matter what the situation is.
BALDWIN: It's a huge, huge story. I wanted to make sure we were talking about it like we have been. Jim, thank you so much. Jamie and Chris and Elie sitting here as well as a prosecutor under Obama and Bush, you were saying it's all about exercising discrimination. Before we get to your point, just to the two of you, on what Sarah Sanders was saying, this has been a law on the books but there has been a policy change recently.
JAMIE GANGEL CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a word and you said it, discretion. And there was discretion and guess what up until April when the AG change the policy, this wasn't happening. We're reporting on this now because it wasn't happening before and in April they decided there was going to be a zero-tolerance policy. They were going to criminally prosecute --
BALDWIN: Meaning everyone.
GANGEL: Everybody coming across, every adult. So, if you are criminally prosecuting every adult, they are going in this direction, and children are going in the other direction.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: A couple things. One, it is not as though this never happened before. It did. That's the policy. That while the adult is being adjudicated, the child is put in protection. It just didn't happen at nearly this rate because they're essentially saying prosecutors you do not have discretion.
We are prosecuting these people. Therefore, what you're seeing is an increase in the rate at which it happens. I would also point out, I'm reading a story from May 7th, "new DHS policies could separate families caught crossing the border illegally. It not as though. This is May 7th. It is not as though all of a sudden on June 14th this became an issue. This was quite clearly, because again, this was not something that was never done, it is the frequency by which it is being done. That is a change. There's just no debate over that.
GANGEL: Sarah Sanders saying that the president wants the Democrats to fix this.
BALDWIN: She kept saying.
GANGEL: When this was the attorney general was going for a zero- tolerance policy. It just doesn't make sense.
BALDWIN: I do think it's interesting having worked under Bush and Obama the difference.
ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can testify to this firsthand. First of all, I think a somebody who worked at the Department of Justice for eight years, it's got to be dispiriting to see the leader of the department, the Attorney General of the United States first of all argue this is the right thing to do straight off.
And second of all to use the Bible as justification. So, start with that.
BALDWIN: A lot of people are calling out the faith-based community especially those in conservative circles, why are they not up in arms?
HONIG: Sure, absolutely, I was there about four years under George Bush, and four years under Barack Obama we did not do these kind of cases. The immigration cases we did was where somebody had been convicted in the United States of an aggravated felony. Usually a crime of violence and then deported, then tried to come back in. Those are obviously a completely different and much, much narrower subset of cases, and now, Jeff Sessions, what he seems to be saying is we need to criminally prosecute every person that tries to cross the border. That was absolutely not the policy under George Bush, under his Attorney Generals Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft. Or under the Obama administration.
CILLIZZA: Here's the thing, it's not as though we didn't know what we were getting when Donald Trump ran for president. He talked about building a wall, he talked about toughening the borders, he talked about all of these things, and we certainly knew what we were getting when Jeff Sessions was chosen as his AG. People always ask me, how does Jeff Sessions stay on the job, Donald Trump has called him weak and he calls him Mr. Magoo. And the reason candidly is this, Jeff Sessions has believed for a very long time we need much stronger immigration laws and we need to absolutely 100 percent enforce the ones that we do have.
He stays in the job, he is willing to be humiliated and bullied by this president because he knows that he has so much power over things like this. And that's why you see it. This is not something we should not have seen coming. This is just the real world how it happens when you say discretion is out the window.
[15:45:00] BALDWIN: I appreciate this conversation, let me pivot though to what we were all talking about of course before this briefing, that being this 500-page IG report from the Department of Justice. And so, Carl Bernstein let me bring you in on this part of the conversation because when Sarah Sanders was asked about what the IG found she said it reaffirms our suspicions on Comey, political suspicions on Comey, and reaffirms concerns of bias at the FBI. But the IG report made it clear that some of those text messages may have been biased but Comey was not.
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: This a very -- I haven't finished reading all 500 pages. This is a very careful report; a very contextual report and I think it shows that the Inspector General system really works in ways perhaps that the
rest of many governmental agencies do not work.
The question is will the president of the United States, will members of Congress of both parties look at this report in a very careful and conscientious way and parse its context because it does not reinforce a vision of a deep state. It does not show an out-of-control Mueller investigation, it doesn't even go to the Mueller investigation.
It shows a director of the FBI who controverted policy, who was indeed headstrong, who took matters onto himself that he probably should not and acted improperly. It shows that Hillary Clinton was reckless in her handling of her email and at the same time it does not show that she was criminal. It reaffirms that the investigation and the prosecutors reached the proper decision in terms of whether or not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. And it also shows that two members of the FBI in sensitive positions. Mr. Strzok. Ms. Page were absolutely outrageous in their carrying on this correspondence in the first place in the contents of that correspondence certainly shows bias.
What it means exactly Strzok has said that it means that, yes, he didn't want to see Trump become president, but this has nothing to do with the conduct of the investigation. The fact is the FBI investigation from what the Inspector General says carried out faithfully and at the same time there were really some mistakes from the top down as well as these extraordinary prejudicial statements by two members of the leadership of that task force.
I want to go back to this point about the IG, about the Inspector General and where the president, members of Congress can parse this information and handle it responsibly because it does not do what the president and his allies are asserting already which is, oh yes, this is part of the deep state conspiracy.
BALDWIN: Gregg Brower, former FBI official under James Comey. What do you make of the report, though, faulting your boss, and saying he did violate DOJ norms in doing what he did?
GREGG BROWER, FORMER IG OFFICIAL: Thanks, I agree much of what Carl just said. As a former federal IG, I can tell you know IG wants to have to issue a report like this so critical of an agency head. But it appears that the DOJ OIG did a very thorough professional job. As findings are not all that surprising in terms of the big picture.
Number one, the OIG that Jim Comey as director of the FBI did deviate from DOJ policies. I think everybody in the DOJ universe and the DOJ alumni universe who watched him deliver that statement back in July 2016 knew that he was deviating from DOJ policy. He has acknowledged that, of course, he would say that he had reasons for doing so I matter of debate now.
Secondly, the report found that despite his deviation from DOJ policy, Jim Comey and the FBI was not motivated by any political considerations. I don't think that surprises most of us who know Jim Comey and know the FBI. And so, while this was important work I'm hopeful that the work is finished on this issue, that the American people, the president and the Congress except the OIG's report, and we can move on.
And I know that Director Wray at the FBI is going to do a press conference later today in which I suspect he will fully embrace the recommendations made by the OIG and that should be the end of this matter.
BALDWIN: Well, we're still waiting for a tweet from the president on this specifically and how maybe he takes this and relates it to concerns he has over a Mueller investigation, which is entirely separate in its legitimacy. Can you understand to Carl's point about those text messages between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok, can you understand one's concerns about our law enforcement agencies in this country after seeing that kind of text exchange?
[15:50:00] BROWER: Yes, absolutely. I can remember like it was yesterday where I was and what I was doing when I learned of these text messages. I tell you it was like a punch in the gut to the entire FBI DOJ team.
As Carl mentioned, it's just to this day outrageous to say the least. But I would say that the OIG report, I haven't read the whole thing, it appears to have concluded that this sort of outrageous unprofessional conduct was limited to those two individuals. It was not --
BALDWIN: Emblematic of the entire agency.
BROWER: Exactly. I know that the FBI ranks, agent ranks, staff ranks, the institution generally and DOJ never really saw the sort of improper political bias by exhibited by those two in those texts as something that was -- had infected the bureau generally or DOJ generally. That doesn't seem to have been the case and it's not something the OIG found.
BALDWIN: Carl, back over to you. I want you to make your points but first finish my sentence right now. James Comey's legacy is -- what?
BERNSTEIN: James Comey's legacy is what it has been. He was perhaps impulsive, that he took too much power to himself, that he was in a very, very difficult predicament and he chose the wrong way to extricate himself from that predicament, but I'd like to ask the question because we were told that you, remember where you were when you learned of this and what the other Justice Department officials and FBI officials said to each other when I know they learned of it.
And as a reporter I'm interested in where you were and what that response was internally? Can you tell us a little more about that?
BROWER: Sure, Carl, I can tell you where I was. I was at the Scottish Christmas parade in old town Alexandria with my family and friends watching the parade. And so, I learned of it when "The New York Times" reported it. Others in the bureau, the acting director at the time, I believe it was a deputy director had learned of it earlier, but I frankly was not privy to that until it was reported "The Times." And so that's how I learned of it.
BERNSTEIN: But how was it discussed internally? I'm interested as a reporter to what you said to each other.
BROWER: It was unbelievable first of all that to relatively senior -- depending on how you describe senior but two very smart otherwise apparently dedicated FBI employees could be engaging in such conduct so it was shocking and beyond that it was -- it created a situation as in obvious now that made it very, very difficult for us in dealing with Capitol Hill and trying to explain that the investigation, whether you agree with the conclusions that the investigative team made or not that the investigation was not done in a way that it was infected by political bias. Those text messages for obvious reasons made it very, very difficult for us to convince members of Congress of that fact. And so is difficult, very difficult.
BALDWIN: Let's remind everyone too, we're going to hear from Chris Wray in the next two hours so stay tuned for that. But appreciate you and Carl, thank you guys so much. The other headline out of that White House press briefing, the White House defending the president standing there when he was in Singapore and saluting a North Korean general calling it a common courtesy.
[15:25:00] RICK FRANCONA, RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL: It is a common courtesy. I think the president was in a real awkward position there when he stuck out his hand and the Korean general saluted him so technically the president was returning a salute. Not to return a salute would have been insulting and I think the president was trying to not cause any friction. We're trying to convince a rogue dictator to give up the one thing he believes would keep him in power, so I think the president was erring on the side of trying to not cause a diplomatic incident.
BALDWIN: OK, that's more or less in line with what I heard from a soldier friend of mine this morning when I put it to him. So, I'm clear, as the U.S. commander in chief with the general from a nation who's done all kinds of thing you're saying he didn't break protocol?
FRANCONA: I don't think it was breaking it or adhering to it. It just happened. I'm not willing to -- I don't think the president was willing to cause a diplomatic incident over this. Remember we're still at war with North Korea so the whole Singapore summit was bizarre, so this was another incident in a bizarre string of incidents.
BALDWIN: Colonel, thank you very much. Colonel Francona on that.
Coming up next here, New York's attorney general suing the president and his children alleging their charity illegally used money for campaign purposes. That came up in the briefing. Let's explain that next.
[16:00:00] BALDWIN: It's the biggest sporting event in the world, the 2018 world cup kicked off today in Russia. CNN's Amanda Davies is in Moscow with more. Hey, Amanda.
AMANDA DAVIES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, the U.S. men's national team might not be here, but that doesn't mean Americans aren't interested in the biggest sporting event in the world. Fans from the states have bought more tickets than any other country outside of Russia to the world cup to get a taste of what's to come in 2026 after that historic vote on Wednesday to award the tournament to the USA, Mexico, and Canada for eight years time. There are 32 teams from across the globe who will be battling it out over the next four and a half weeks. I was lucky enough to be there as it kicked off today with the host Russia surprising a lot of people including myself to put in a massive 5-0 winning opening game against Saudi Arabia. Expectations had been lower than low for the home fans. Nothing like pulling it out of the bag when it matters. That got the 2018 up and running, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Amanda, thank you so much. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me here. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.