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Trump Casts Doubts on Russia Meddling Ahead of Summit; Trump- Putin Summit Set Up for July 16 in Helsinki, Finland; FBI Director and Deputy AG Testify Before House Committee; Immigration Protests Underway Outside Trump Event; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Just minutes before details about his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin were announced, he took to Twitter to write, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."

Let's go to Abby Phillip who joins us at the White House.

The timing is interesting to say the least here, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Really it is. And it's also I think very consequential because this is a commentary that President Trump has repeated over and over again. But he often repeats it, it seems, around the time that he is meeting with Vladimir Putin and now we know they are meeting in the summit in Helsinki and the president is saying contrary to his own national security advisers that -- by repeating Russian talking points saying Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election.

He then goes on to talk about the Russia investigation, about the Mueller investigation, and asking why isn't Hillary and Russia being looked at. But this is all very puzzling to watchers in part because the U.S. intelligence community still maintains that Russia was responsible for election meddling in 2016 and in fact that they plan to do so again. So the president continues to repeat these talking points.

We last heard him say something very similar in Vietnam just shortly after he had met with Vladimir Putin in that country. He talked to reporters on Air Force One saying when I talk to Putin, Putin told me that he didn't do it and I believed that he -- that he believes what he's saying when he's saying it.

The president is not willing to repeat what his National Security adviser John Bolton told reporters just one day ago that this would be a major topic of conversation with Russia at this summit. There are other issues, Syria and Ukraine, but for the United States, for the president, this is also about the Russia investigation. He sent out two additional tweets this morning, attacking the Mueller probe, attacking James Comey, attacking Hillary Clinton.

It seems very much these ideas are related. If Russia meddling is -- Russian meddling happened, then that gives more credence to the Mueller probe that he has been trying very hard over the last year plus to discredit. But going into the summit, it's a red flag, not just for people in the United States who say we need to be tougher on Russia, but also our allies in Europe who are watching this summit very closely -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And we'll get to that in a moment. Thank you, Abby, at the White House for us this morning.

Let's get more on this Trump-Putin summit. Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is here with more details. So we know the location, we know the date, and now we know the president's frame of mind heading into this.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we've been hearing a couple of different things. First we heard from John Bolton who said well, there aren't really any, you know, big goals or consequences that we expect to come out of this. It's a meeting, there's lots to talk about. He said having the summit itself is a deliverable.

Then we heard the secretary of State who was grilled on Capitol Hill by lawmakers asking about whether Trump is going to bring up the election meddling and he said he was confident that the president would make it very clear to Putin that any meddling in the U.S. election would be absolutely unacceptable. Well, that's not exactly what we heard from the presidents' tweet this morning.

However, we are also hearing from our diplomatic sources that President Trump is back on his big idea of getting the U.S. out of Syria as quickly as possible. And that he sees this meeting as the first step to forging a deal with Russia in which the southwest zone of Syria that was under a semi-successful ceasefire, that was brokered between the U.S. and Russia, so there are some cooperation there. That that would be able to be taken over again by Russia in support of President Assad.

In return, Russia would be, according to the president's plan, according to these sources, Russia would keep Iran out of that area at the very least. Major concerns with this plan, though, among U.S. allies are, first of all, would Russia even be able to keep Iran out of there? Secondly, without a cease-fire in that area, that means an even bigger and worse and more devastating refugee situation and lastly, this seems to mean that in return for the U.S. at least trying to get out of Syria in the near term, President Assad stays in power in Syria for the indefinite future.

So that's something we know that the president wants to discuss with Putin, whether they come out with a deal on Syria, of course, like everything else, remains to be seen -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski, for us at the State Department, appreciate the reporting this morning.

Let' go now to Moscow, our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is there with reaction. I mean, hearing this from the president, weeks ahead of this summit with President Putin has to make everyone in the Kremlin smile. FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I

think you're absolutely right, Poppy. And I think one of the main reasons for that is that the tweet that you're seeing from President Trump seems to be the exact line that we have been hearing from the Kremlin, also from the Russian Foreign Ministry as well.

[10:05:08] What we've been hearing that they believe that President Trump is someone who they call a pragmatic politician, who wants better relations with Russia despite some of the things that happened obviously around the presidential election in 2016. And they believe that it is President Trump's political opponents who are trying to hold that up, who are making it difficult for him, who are expelling Russian diplomats, who are putting extra sanctions on Russia simply to poison the climate between Russia and the United States.

So I think you're absolutely right. I think that a lot of folks in Russia will be very, very happy with that tweet that they saw. And, of course, very much looking forward to that summit. And we have to keep in mind, also, Poppy, some of the optics that we saw yesterday when the National Security adviser John Bolton was here in Moscow. He came here and very, very quickly the two sides agreed on the summit taking place.

Still somewhat unclear all of the issues that are going to be on the table. But they very quickly agreed they want the summit and they are going to make it happen and that, of course, after a meeting between John Bolton and Vladimir Putin. So it certainly seems as though the White House and the Kremlin very much on the same page as far as the summit is concerned, and also it seems politically as well.

HARLOW: And we -- you know, the pushback from John Bolton who is in that meeting also with the Russian ambassador, Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, is, look, I mean, to the critics who say the summit shouldn't happen or what is the president doing here, why not just try to get on the same page? Why not try to accomplish things? Namely, right, one of those things would be Syria.


HARLOW: But, Fred, you have reported on the ground there in Syria and you've reported in Iran and when it comes to Iran's influence on the ground in Syria and in the civil war, does President Trump, does the United States really have any leverage over Russia and what it wants to see happen in Syria?

PLEITGEN: I think that if the U.S. went out of Syria, they certainly would have very little leverage over the Russians. They would have to trust the word of the Russians. I mean, the other -- the interesting thing that was Syria, we always have to keep in mind, is that the Russians also have a very, very close relationship with the Israelis as well. And we did have Benjamin Netanyahu here in town a couple of weeks -- a couple of months ago actually. And then he might be coming back for the close of the soccer World Cup in July -- on July 15th, which is just a day before the summit that is going to take place there in Helsinki. So there are others who are trying to put some leverage on the

Russians as well. But certainly if the U.S. pulls out of Syria, then that leverage would be gone, essentially in the north of Syria and then also in the southwestern side of Syria as well, which is of course that border area with Israel. So it appears as though the White House might be trying to strike a deal with the Russians, but it certainly, you're absolutely right, would put a lot of trust in the Kremlin to see that actually through and it's about two things.

It's about trusting them, but then also the question is do the Russians actually have the power to keep the Iranians out of that area and that's obviously a very big question mark as well.

HARLOW: And, again, the message from the president on Twitter this morning isn't about trying to move Russia's hand on Syria, it's about election meddling in the United States. Fred Pleitgen from Moscow, thank you very much.

Right now two of the nation's top law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill, we're moments away from hearing testimony from FBI director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They will shortly face lawmakers questions about their agency's actions surrounding the 2016 election. But you might have noticed they got up and the hearing is not under way right now. Why is that?

Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on the Hill.

And Manu, I think for our viewers who are waiting and I sound like a broken record saying this is about to begin, it was about to begin. What happened?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're breaking for votes right now. And actually a significant vote that is happening right now is the beginning of the -- to advance a resolution on the House floor that essentially would call for the Justice Department, the FBI to provide all records to the House as part of their investigations into Russia and to the Clinton e-mail investigation and this deadline that the House is going to set, part of the resolution, which will be adopted in about an hour or so.

It's going to set about a July 6th deadline to turn over all these records. Now why this is significant is that Republicans are saying that if Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, does not meet this July 6th deadline, they may take steps to hold him in contempt or try to impeach him, which would be a dramatic escalation and this fight has been going on between Republicans in the House and the Justice Department over records.

The Justice Department believes it's provided a number of records, part of their investigation. Democrats believe they have given too many records as part of a Republican effort to undercut the Mueller investigation, to undercut the Russia investigation, but nevertheless, this fight is just intensifying. So that's what's happening on the floor today. At the same time, Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray meeting with the House Judiciary Committee, going to face some significant questions. [10:10:07] You heard in the opening statements of this hearing just

exactly how this is going to break down. Republican chairman Bob Goodlatte saying that the FBI acted inappropriately in the 2016 elections and needs to provide more documents. Democrats saying it's all a witch-hunt to go after the Clinton e-mail investigation after it has been investigated and investigated especially by the inspector general as of late.

So this is how this is going to break down. We'll hear Rod Rosenstein when he comes back and how he responds to those criticisms from Republicans about not turning over records because as you'll recall, Poppy, he said he will not be extorted, so we'll see if he uses such dramatic language in just a moment when we do hear his testimony just in a few moments -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, look, Manu, you can't see the pictures I'm looking at here. But I'm looking at Rod Rosenstein smiling, laughing, shaking hands with folks as the lawmakers go out to vote. This is a man who faces potential, you know, impeachment proceedings, at least an attempt to impeach him potentially from Republican members of the House and he seems just fine ahead of this hearing -- Manu.

RAJU: Yes. I think that he views maybe some of this as an empty threat. But actually moving forward with the issue of contempt is a long process. But potentially may not actually amount to much other than being more symbolic than anything else. But the symbolism is what concerns Democrats because they believe that the president can use this whole thing as a pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein. And as you know, he's in charge of the Mueller investigation.

HARLOW: Right.

RAJU: And an effort to undercut the Mueller investigation. So those are the politics behind this. But Rod Rosenstein, at least the moment, I think he's prepared to do battle with House Republicans if he's fighting with privately.


RAJU: We'll see if any of that emerges publicly in a few moments -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Look, if anyone has a poker face, it is Rod Rosenstein. He's shown that over the past year.

Manu, thanks for the reporting. We'll get back to you when this gets under way.

Meantime, we're going to take you to Wisconsin because protests are under way outside of an event for President Trump there. We'll take you there live.

Also what does Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement mean for key issues like abortion, the death penalty, gay rights and affirmative action? A lot. We'll take a closer look ahead.


[10:16:18] HARLOW: Welcome back. We are waiting for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, you see his back there, and Christopher Wray, the FBI director, to begin their testimony on Capitol Hill in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

This is a hearing that got under way, focused on the oversight of the FBI and DOJ's actions surrounding the 2016 election. You heard from the chairman and the ranking member of the committee, and then they had to take a break for a vote. Then they will be back and we will hear the opening statements from the deputy AG and the FBI director.

As we wait, let's talk about what is ahead because this is a very consequential hearing and an important day on the Hill. Joining me now, Josh Campbell, CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent, Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter is also here, and Amber Phillips, reporter -- political reporter for "The Washington Post" is here.

Shimon, just walk us through how consequential today is. I mean, we heard certainly some of it laid out by Goodlatte and by Nadler. But what is today trying to get at?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So certainly you're going to hear a lot about the 2016, probably the IG report, but I think what I'm going to be looking forward to and sort of hearing is how the two -- Rod Rosenstein and obviously Christopher Wray -- defend their agencies respectively. You know, as you know, Rod Rosenstein has come under fire, Chris Wray, though not directly under fire, his agency certainly has been under fire, so I think we're going to see a lot of that.

This is an opportunity for these two men to defend their work, to defend what they have been doing. They don't often speak publicly. But anytime they do, and they get an opportunity to defend themselves, certainly they do it. I think it's going to be interesting to see if questions about the Mueller investigation come up, confidential informants, so-called spies in the campaign, if all of that comes up and how they handle those situations because, you know that is going to come up. So I'm going to be interested to see how they respond to that.

Certainly we know a lot already about the IG report, Christopher Wray already testified about some of that. It was during that testimony where he defended the FBI. He also defended the Mueller investigation, saying that it is not a witch-hunt, I'm sure that question will come up again. So those are the things, as much as --


PROKUPECZ: You know, we're going to be focused on the past, but it's also the president and what's going on currently that is going to be an issue.

HARLOW: And Laura Jarrett is also with us, our Justice Department reporter. I think we have -- there she is. Laura, good morning to you.


HARLOW: Laura, let's talk about how Peter Strzok's testimony, 11-hour marathon testimony behind closed doors yesterday plays into today because one of the headlines out of that closed door session from both Republicans and Democratic lawmakers who were in there is that Strzok told them -- this is the FBI agent that sent those anti-Trump text messages, he told them that the special counsel Bob Mueller did not grill him, really, about the text messages when he found out about them.

Now Mueller did let him go and released him from the Russia probe he was working on. But Democrats play that one way and Republicans play it another way. And then you look at the two gentlemen, you know, the deputy attorney general who is going to be on the Hill and also Christopher Wray, what do you expect them to be pressed on when it comes to that agent, Peter Strzok?

JARRETT: It will be interesting to see how exactly Rosenstein and Wray thread the needle on Peter Strzok. Obviously consequential because of his text messages, but he is still technically employed by the FBI. He was escorted out earlier this month after that lengthy inspector general report. But he is technically still on the job and so they have to be careful about what exactly they can say while he's undergoing these disciplinary proceedings.

Obviously lawmakers want to hear that there will be consequences for Peter Strzok, especially House Republicans have been pressing that over and over again.

[10:20:05] And, of course, the backdrop to all of this is the fact that Strzok was on Mueller's team briefly.

HARLOW: Right.

JARRETT: And so the Republicans, at least some of them, they say this is fruit of the poisonous tree. Because he was on Mueller's team from the very beginning, the entire investigation is then somehow tainted. But Democrats say that's preposterous. He was only one of many members on the team and he certainly wasn't able to affect any of the key decisions. At least from what they have seen thus far.

HARLOW: Josh, to you, as a former FBI supervisory special agent, what are you looking for, especially from Christopher Wray, the president's pick, to head the FBI, but now the intelligence agency's once again under attack by the president this morning.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. I mean, oftentimes these hearings can be anodyne, sometimes, you know, downright boring, some of the subject matter expertise -- the subjects that are talked about. This is not going to be one of those hearings. I think we can prepare ourselves for fireworks and the reason is because the House GOP is not going to be satisfied with what they're going to hear as we break down official by official. So with Rod Rosenstein, obviously the House GOP they've been asking

for these very sensitive details of sources and methods and up until now, you know, the deputy attorney general has been holding the line and saying no, we're not going to throw open our files for you to, you know, come rifle through. We'll provide you with information, you know, as part of your oversight duties but we're not going to go on sources and methods.

We are going to see fireworks. With respect to Christopher Wray, and Laura just alluded to, they want to know who is being held accountable inside the FBI. They want insight into those ongoing disciplinary proceedings. Chris Wray isn't going to go there. It will be interesting to see kind of what his posture is.

I just actually talked with Director Wray on Monday when he was out here in Los Angeles. And his posture appears to be, is he's going to move forward and we have to remember that he wasn't there in 2016, so he wasn't --

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: You know, responsible for what was going on. But I think his goal was to let the FBI's work speak for itself and they continue to reiterate that, although there may be a subset of people, a very small group, that, you know, made bad decisions, we're talking about Strzok and, you know, Page and McCabe, the FBI is a larger organization than that.

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: So I think we're going to constantly hear that reaffirming that, look, this is an organization of 37,000 people, those who made mistakes will be held to account but they shouldn't, you know, represent the rest of the agency.

HARLOW: Well, in fact Wray has been a staunch defender of the agency and the agents as a whole in the wake of the president continuing to attack them.

Amber, what do you make of the divide that we actually see, even a divide among some of the most conservative members of the Republican Party on what to do about Rod Rosenstein? I think it's telling that you have Meadows saying if Rosenstein and the DOJ don't turn over these documents having to do with the early days of the Russia probe in 2016, by July 6th, we would be open to pushing for, you know, towards impeachment proceedings.

But then you have other pretty conservative members like Chris Stewart of Utah, like Bob Goodlatte, the chair of this committee, saying, hold on a minute, hold on a minute, not sure that's necessary. Let's see if we can get the answers we need from the documents the DOJ has already turned over. What do you make of that?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think Republicans need to figure out where they land on Rod Rosenstein's future. And you're right to zero in on his future, Poppy. That's because President Trump in the past, with any number of investigations or findings or classified memos that the House Republican committees have declassified, has used this to try to discredit in some way, not just Bob Mueller, not just the Justice Department at large, but Rod Rosenstein.

And if you look at it, firing Rod Rosenstein from Trump's perspective makes a lot of sense. Constitutionally he can do it, where as it gets really iffy on firing Bob Mueller. And Rod Rosenstein is the person who oversees and approves all of the special counsel's work. And so I have heard from Capitol Hill a lot of red line from Republicans on whether the president fires Mueller, or even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein's boss.

HARLOW: Right.

PHILLIPS: I have not heard a clear red line on Rosenstein. That's what I'm going to be watching for today.


PHILLIPS: And I think you're absolutely right, Poppy, to zero in on that.

HARLOW: Thank you, all. Amber Phillips, Shimon Prokupecz, Laura Jarrett, Josh Campbell, stick with me as we wait for this hearing to get under way of Christopher Wray and Rod Rosenstein.

But, look, Rosenstein smiling there, glad handing people, just waiting patiently for this to begin. Don't let that deceive you. It's going to be fireworks, folks.

Also, Anthony Kennedy on his way out of the high court after 30 years on the bench. Straight ahead, the battle over who will succeed him and his hugely influential key swing vote.


[10:29:08] HARLOW: All right. Breaking news in Wisconsin. Immigration protests under way outside an event for President Trump in Milwaukee. Let's go to our Ryan Young. He is there.

You're with protesters. What are they saying this morning?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, look, they have been marching for probably the past half hour. What we've noticed is they've been closing streets, the police department has, around this event. So it's been kind of interesting to keep up with them. At one point they were down the street here.

I want to show you what they've done because you see the officers here, and then you can see how they've used the garbage trucks to block off any access to that area. We've, of course, seen Secret Service, but let's take you back in this direction, you hear the passion from the protesters who have been marching, like I said, for about the last 45 minutes or so to make sure that Trump hears their voice. They want to stop the policy that the Trump administration -- I know you're chanting, but what brought you out here, and what made you feel so strongly about this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Milwaukee public schoolteacher. I'm the vice president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. What is being -- what's happening to families and children at the border of this country is indefensible.