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Trump: I.G. Report "Totally Exonerates Me"; Trump Praises Kim Jong-Un in Comments; China to Retaliate Against Trump's Tariffs; Mark Short Leaving White House Amid Rampant Vacancies. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 15, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: In fact, the I.G. report had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, did not look at the investigation into collusion or obstruction of justice, but the president continued to make that claim.

In fact, the report was on the agency's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. It found that former FBI Director James Comey broke protocol, but that Comey and others in the FBI did not let any political bias influence the broader investigation of Clinton e-mails.

Let me bring in CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett. She is at the Justice Department today.

The president said he was exonerated, but, in fact, this report did not look at the questions that the president claims.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Jim. It's not the purpose of the review. As you mentioned it's all about the FBI and the Justice Department's actions leading up to the 2016 election. There's certainly not a single page in that entire 500-page report that we've all looked at that speaks to the president's exposure on either the issue of collusion or obstruction of justice.

What there is a detailed account of James Comey's actions all throughout the 2016 election season. And what it finds is that he was repeatedly insubordinate and that he essentially ignored DOJ protocols. What the president is appearing to do is leverage that to say, you see, all along I had a reason to fire him. The problem with that, of course, is that not two days after James Comey was fired, the president went on NBC, and he said the reason he was fired was because he had Russia on his mind.

Now, on the question of bias, there's a distinction in the report on two different periods of time, which appears to have been lost on many here. The issue is that all of the actions that prosecutors took leading up to James Comey coming out saying he was not recommending charges against Clinton, the inspector general looked at all those, and he said he could see how a reasonable prosecutor could get there. Based on all the facts and prior cases, that was reasonable, it was grounded in facts and law, and it was not politically motivated.

The problem is that there's a delay in the fall of 2016 when the FBI essentially doesn't do anything with the e-mails that were found on Anthony Weiner's laptop, the disgraced former congressman. Because of that delay, the inspector general can't find any credible reason for why it happened. What he does have are some problematic text messages from an FBI official and an FBI lawyer who essentially say they want to stop the president from getting elected. Because of that delay, and because Peter Strzok, the FBI official, said he prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton investigation, the inspector general said he cannot conclude those without bias -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett, at the Justice Department, thanks very much.

The president's comment on the inspector general's report was not the only inaccurate statement he made on the White House lawn. Listen to what he said about family separation at the border.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law. That's the Democrats' law. We can change it tonight. We can change it right now.


SCIUTTO: In fact, the separation of families taking place now is a direct result of the zero-tolerance immigration policy that Trump's own administration put into place just last month. Senator Lindsey Graham said on our air a short time ago that the president could end this, quote, "with a phone call."

But one of his more incredulous statements involved the leader of the North Korea's brutal regime, Kim Jong-Un.


TRUMP: He's the head of a country. And I mean he's the strong head. Don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.


SCIUTTO: The president later said he was being sarcastic about that comment, but it's not the first time this week he has praised Kim Jong-Un as a strong leader.

Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Utah Congressman Chris Stewart. He's the Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Stewart, thank you for taking the time.

REP. CHRIS STEWART, (R), UTAH: Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: You heard the president's comments this morning saying the report which actually looked at the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a primary e-mail server, that exonerated him, the president, specifically, on collusion and obstruction of justice. That's not, in fact, what this report looked into. What's your response to the president's broadly. STEWART: As you said, and your reporter said earlier, this had

nothing to do with the Mueller investigation and nothing to do with Russia and charges of obstruction. It was very narrow. It wasn't even about the Department of Justice. It was in a narrowly confined to the inspector general looking at FBI leadership and their activities.

Having said that, I've got to tell you, you read this report, it makes everyone look bad in this. Director Comey has become the great uniter in this instance. He's united Republicans and Democrats in their frustration and disappointment in him.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, the report does show senior members of the FBI expressing opinions about President Trump during the campaign. In your experience, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, do you believe that kind of bias is widespread within the FBI, which is what the president is claiming there, and that FBI agents and officials allow that bias to influence the work that they do with regularity? That's the charge the president is making.

[13:35:22] STEWART: A couple things to your comments. First, to say these are political opinions or even just to use the word "bias" is an understatement. I talk to people all over the country all the time, Democrats, Independents, people who disagree with me, and they don't speak with the same type of vitriol that their agents did. They don't call opponents retarded. They don't use POS and other defamatory descriptions of people. This is beyond bias, I believe.

But the second point is, I've had FBI agents reach out to me for months now, being a member of the Intelligence Committee, and having been involved with this, who make this point. They say, look, these leaders, these few individuals, they don't reflect the rest of us. We don't feel the same way. And I think the FBI is probably a center to maybe a slightly center-right organization. And the reality is these senior leaders simply didn't reflect the thinking and the emotion and the body of the FBI at all, which is ironically one of the concerns I have with Director Comey as to why he surrounded himself with people who had such visceral opinions and were so willing to express those opinions when they were involved in the investigations that were, at their heart, political.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Comey is gone. He's been out as FBI director for more than a year now. The president is president. He's still president. Is he damaging the FBI and the Justice Department by making these broad claims about bias there, deep state, et cetera?

STEWART: Well, again, I think the reason the president is doing this is because the I.G. report came out. I know he's spoken about it more often than that, but that's been focused over the last --


SCIUTTO: That's the reason he's doing it. I'm asking if you think he's doing damage.

STEWART: It depends on his comments. He's made a lot of comments and I would want to take them individually. It you, with a sweeping brush -- and by the way, I haven't heard him say this. The time I've heard him discuss it he's talking about specific individuals. But if you --


SCIUTTO: You haven't read his Twitter feed. He's made very broad comments about bias in the FBI and Justice Department. He's gone after folks that he's appointed himself, Sessions included.

STEWART: You're right about one thing, I haven't read his Twitter because I actually don't Twitter, so I don't read it. But the ones I'm familiar with, he's talking about specific individuals. But I will say that for any one of us inside the entire agency, like the FBI - here's an analogy. Abu Gharib, when I was in the Air Force, there was very specific allegations made against the leadership of Abu Gharib. That didn't cast a showdown over the entire military. Two things on that. One, we had the responsibility to call out those leaders and hold them to that, just like we do with the Department of Justice and the FBI. And we have the responsibility, secondly, to protect the body generally, military or the Department of Justice, and realize not all these organizations are maybe behaving like that.

SCIUTTO: I was in Iraq when Abu Gharib was as well. That's a good example.


SCIUTTO: I have to ask you about the president's comments this morning and this week. I just got back from Singapore covering the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un. The president, a number of times, has praised Kim as a strong leader, expressing admiration for him in taking over what is a hereditary dictatorship as some expression of success. What's your reaction to those comments?

STEWART: I don't know. Look, Kim Jong-Un is a tyrant. He's one of the most-evil men in the world right now. You can be a tyrant and evil and despicable, and I suppose you can be, at the same time, a strong leader among your people. I mean, Vladimir Putin is a good example of that. He's someone that I think is a KBG thug, but he's a very, very powerful leader. But I would --


SCIUTTO: He's powerful because -- they're powerful because they use the organs of state to attack dissidents, they put people in jail, they kill people. Kim Jong-Un has killed his own relatives when he's been politically threatened by them.

STEWART: He's killed hundreds if not thousands of people. And like you said, his own brother-in-law. Look, I hope you understand, I'm not justifying that. I'm just saying, you can be an evil tyrant put into power by your position of the state and using that state to oppress your people. Again, Vladimir Putin is a good example. He's an astute political figure. he understands his people. He understands the world of politics. I think to call him not a strong leader would be to underestimate him. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: He's calling -- of course, he's strong. Stalin was strong. Hitler was strong. But the president is calling him strong with a positive spin on it when they're strong in the worst way, are they not? Especially for an American president.

[13:40:06] STEWART: That's my point, they're strong in the worst way. I'll let the president address his own comments. But I think you and I agree they're strong in a very evil, despicable manner that makes the world a dark and dangerous place rather than supporting any freedom or any positive aspect of life.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Chris Stewart, I appreciate you taking the time today and taking the tough questions.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

SCIUTTO: Enjoy the weekend.

STEWART: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the White House slaps $50 billion in tariffs on China, and China now promising to retaliate. The White House is disputing China's claim of starting a trade war. War or not, we're going to talk about how it could affect you and me.


[13:45:09] SCIUTTO: President Trump is sharply escalating his stand- off with China over trade. China will have to pay a 25 percent tariff on about $50 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S., mostly technology. China responded very quickly by saying it would retaliate. It also accused the president of launching a trade war.

With me here now is Jim Tankersley. He's tax and economics reporter for the "New York Times."

There's been a lot of talk of a trade war for a while here. Now you have hard measures being imposed by the president, and China, presumably, is going to retaliate. Are we in a trade war?

JIM TANKERSLEY, TAX & ECONOMIC REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We're certainly in the early days of what could become a trade war. Certainly, the president says we have $30 billion that will go into effect on July 6, I believe, and sometime after that we'll have another $16 billion that will happen. That's real money, and the Chinese will retaliate in turn, and then the White House is now considering more tariffs that they could do if China follows through with its retaliation. And that's what a trade war looks like, when you just escalate over and over.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. and China, in 2016, they traded about $16 billion, so $15 billion, less than 10 percent. But is that a dollar figure, that if you're imposing tariffs, presumably China does the same thing, that folks at home are going to notice in their pocketbook? They're going to buy an air conditioner or something and, all of a sudden, it's $100 more? Will they notice it that quickly?

TANKERSLEY: Right now, you probably won't right away, because you're not buying aerospace products that will be on it. Over time, if the tariffs end up escalating to a point, yes, you have to include televisions which were left off the list this time. Those go up 25 percent. We're seeing this with washing machines right now, which the president did put tariffs on earlier this year. The price has gone up. We will see, in our own pocketbooks, the effects of these tariffs if they escalate large enough and if they get to a wide range of products.

SCIUTTO: I don't think folks at home don't realize how much stuff they buy, right, even if it doesn't have a made in China thing that's effected by that.

At the same time this is happening, lo and behold, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, was granted seven new trademarks in China recently. I was going to say, is it credible to draw a line between those two things, or is it incredible not to imagine that China is granting these trademarks as a gift to the president?

TANKERSLEY: This is the difficulty of presidency where the president and his family, who are so wrapped into the White House, are also still so wrapped into a business that has its own interests in these national security economic decisions going on. We don't know. That's the real answer, is we don't know what the lines are between those decisions and what the administration is deciding right now. But we have these questions, in part, because of the nature of the president's business and his family's ties.

SCIUTTO: That's why you have conflict of interest rules because you don't really know. You just try to remove the whiff of that, right?

TANKERSLEY: Right. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Jim Tankersley, thank you so much for breaking it down for us.

Coming up, help wanted at the White House. Another high-profile departure announced just today. Why this administration is having trouble filling the vacancies. That's next.


[13:52:50] SCIUTTO: There's new CNN reporting today, painting a picture of rampant staffing shortages in the White House, only made worse with seemingly endless flow of aides leaving. Just this morning, CNN confirmed that House legislative director, Mark Short, intends to leave the White House in the weeks ahead. And with the midterms just a few months away, the White House struggling to fill vacancies in the West Wing.

Pamela Brown, one of the reporters who broke this story, joins us now.

Pamela, how big is this outflux?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, my colleague, Sarah Westwood, and I have learned that the White House is quietly reaching out to prospective hires, advertising vacant positions on job Web sites, teaming up with a conservative group to hold a job fair this afternoon, and considering ways to consolidate different jobs. This is also a picture of a White House struggling to attract and retain talent as staffers leave and others plot their exit soon. As you pointed out, Mark Short, the White House legislative director, told his staff just this morning, Jim, he plans to leave the White House this summer. Other senior officials are said to be eyeing the door later this year around the midterms, a fact that could compound the difficulty the White House has already had in recruiting talent from Republican circles.

Seasoned GOP staffers cited a number of reasons why so many people have turned down the job offers or expressed disinterest when contacted by this administration. They're saying that, basically, there's anxiety over the Russia probe, fear of having their careers tainted by associating themselves with President Trump. This is coming from people who have been contacted and turned down jobs in the White House.

And just this afternoon, the White House is teaming up with a conservative group to recruit Republican congressional aides for administration jobs. According to an advertisement for the event provided to CNN, a White House official says the high number of RSVPs for this fair, more than 900, Jim, shows there's a high level of interest in working for the administration. But you have that coupled with these other efforts, putting job positions on job Web sites for White House roles, positions, like policy analysts, international economists, positions in human resources, and the tradeoffs. So it's painting this picture of a White House going through every avenue they can to attract people and having a tough time in some cases.

[13:55:02] SCIUTTO: Job fairs and job Web sites.


SCIUTTO: How out of character is this with past administrations?

BROWN: So I actually spoke with someone who worked in the presidential personnel office, was a director several years back, Mark Friedman. He worked under the Obama administration. He says it is unusual to have a job fair to post jobs on job Web sites. He says that under the Obama administration, that did not happen. He said at any given day there would be 20 or 30 people applying for a job. So -- and there was already a network of talent they could tap into. So he did say, you know, there were times where perhaps there would be an open door where they would go -- people from the presidential personnel office would meet with GOP staffers about roles. But he did say that this is unusual, the steps being taken under this White House.

SCIUTTO: We'll say the president is going to be reaching out on LinkedIn, right? (CROSSTALK)

BROWN: That may be the next step.


We'll see.

SCIUTTO: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

That is it for me today.

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