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Trump on Russian Election Meddling; FBI Agent Grilled by Congress; Trump's Change on Heidi Heitkamp; Reshaping the High Court. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired June 28, 2018 - 08:30   ET



[08:30:36] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The White House and Kremlin announced just moments ago that President Trump and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, will meet on July 16th in Helsinki. The announcement came just minutes after the president wrote this, Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election.

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

What message does that send to Vladimir Putin, minutes before announcing a key summit between the two leaders, Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I have no idea, but I'm going to stop second guessing President Trump's Twitter foreign policy and Twitter diplomacy. It seems to have moved us in the right direction in North Korea and if it can improve our relations with Russia, that's good.

BERMAN: Well -- well, but you -- you sit -- you sit -- you sit on the -- I'm not asking you to second guess it. And you sit on the Armed Services Committee and, obviously, you have a key interest in U.S./Russian relations.


BERMAN: You know the assessment from the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. You know the indictments.

GAETZ: They did.

BERMAN: They -- what did you just say?

GAETZ: Russia did meddle in our elections. Russia meddles in elections all over the world. That is not something that is factually in dispute. I don't --

BERMAN: Then why -- then why -- then why am I reading this from the president of the United States, Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election. You just said very clearly they did.

GAETZ: That is a factual statement. That is a factual statement, Russia does continue to say that. I believe they continue to lie. And I think that that's part of the game that the president plays with foreign leaders.

BERMAN: Have you ever heard --

GAETZ: There's a little bit of ying and a little bit of yang, you know.

BERMAN: Have you -- have you --

GAETZ: He gives them -- brings them fire and ice.

BERMAN: Have you ever heard the president say that Vladimir Putin is lying when he suggests that Russia did not meddle in the election?

GAETZ: Well, I know that this president has been very tough on Russia. I'm not going to share with you my personal conversations about his assessment of Vladimir Putin's veracity. But Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent. Of course he lies. And of course Russia meddles. They do it in Latin America. They do it in the Balkans. They do it in eastern Europe. At times they buy off religious leaders. This is part a global maligned influence campaign that Russia engages in.

BERMAN: You were just roughly $6 billion times tougher on Vladimir Putin in Russian meddling than President Trump has ever been, right? And President Trump is the one who will be sitting down face-to-face with Vladimir Putin one month from now. Do you hope he says to Vladimir Putin, I don't believe you when you say Russia did not meddle in the U.S. election?

GAETZ: I think it's far less important the posture of who believes who and the puffing. It's far more significant if we're able to get better outcomes around the world, if we're able to establish more security in Syria, for example, so that there's not a refugee crisis that imperils Europe. I think that, you know, there are security agreements and arrangements we can make to box in North Korea to denuclearization. So I'm more interested in those outcomes than in whether or not the president wants to sit there and call Vladimir Putin a liar.

BERMAN: Those would be great --

GAETZ: We all know he's a liar. I think the president knows Vladimir Putin's a liar.

BERMAN: I wouldn't know how you would know that because I've never heard the president say that, unless it's come up in a private discussion that the two of you have had. There's no indication the president thinks that, would you agree?

GAETZ: I think that everybody knows it. The question is, what's the right avenue of diplomacy, right? I think what's --

BERMAN: I just want to know -- I just want to know, just on that one point, again, on that one point, because the president's never said it publicly, do you have reason to believe, because of your private conversations the president says that, specifically --

GAETZ: Well, I'm not -- I'm not going to get into my private conversations with the president. But I think all Americans know Vladimir Putin lies. He's a former KGB agents. That's what they do.

BERMAN: And I agree on you on what could be positive outcomes in Syria, in Ukraine, on trade with Russia. There are very serious issues there. Would you also agree that another positive outcome from the discussions with Russia would be to say to stop them from meddling in U.S. elections?

GAETZ: Of course. I think it's -- it would be great if we could get them to stop meddling in all elections. They're trying to attack democracy as an institution. And they're trying to demonstrate to fragile regimes all over the globe that their autocrat style is better than our democrat style. And, frankly, we need to -- we need to get on them about that and we need to have both offensive and defensive systems in place to be able to deal with this as a global strategy that Russia's deploying.

BERMAN: That's a great point, get on the Russians. You may want to in part, be it for me to give you advice, get on the president to get on them as well.

I do want to ask you about something you were uniquely positioned to tell us about, which is this 11 hour testimony from Peter Strzok yesterday before the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.

First of all, I wish it were open. I wish the public had a chance to see it.


BERMAN: Do you agree?

GAETZ: Totally. Yes, I've been very critical of the decision to have any closed door interviews or depositions. This is so important to the American people and to the country that we have and I think we should do it in the open.

[08:35:09] I will say that my impression, after hearing Peter Strzok's side of the story, is that Bob Mueller was just like categorically uncurious about the text message that's Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were send to go each other. You would think that when Bob Mueller found those text messages, he would be asking all kinds of questions about whether or not bias impacted the collection of evidence or investigative decisions. And I was shocked at the lack of curiosity from Bob Mueller. It was almost as if he did not want to know the answers to those questions.

BERMAN: Because it was not public, you know, we could not see for ourselves how Peter Strzok answer that, so we only have your word on that. Manu Raju talked to other sources, and I believe there were Republican

sources, who also said that Strzok told you all that Mueller did not ask a lot of questions about the texts after learning about them.

What he did do was fire Peter Strzok right away. Wasn't that the appropriate action?

GAETZ: Well, it wasn't the only appropriate action because we have to find out whether or not Peter Strzok tainted the investigation with the manipulation of evidence or reports.

BERMAN: Isn't that -- isn't that the inspector general's job? And isn't the inspector general doing that?

GAETZ: Oh, no. No, no, no. That is not exclusively the purview of the inspector general.

Of course, we will be receiving an inspector general report on that.

When I asked the inspector general how all the very same people who worked on the Hillary Clinton investigation who then opened up on Trump/Russia ended up on

the special counsel's investigation, the inspector general admitted that that was incredibly curious and that he had no reasonable explanation for why you would have that type of a staffing decision. And so I think we'll see that report.

But, of course, Bob Mueller, independent of the inspector general, has an obligation to make sure that the evidence he's developing is not tainted by bias and that his lead investigator wasn't making administrative decisions based on bias and he didn't want to know the answer to those questions.

BERMAN: He fired him. I think you could interpret that --

GAETZ: Yes, but (INAUDIBLE) destructive work before he was fired, John.

BERMAN: But you could interpret that (INAUDIBLE) and I'm saying -- and I'm saying, he absolutely did, congressman. And, again, I'll wait to see the inspector general report and I would hope that we get a public hearing so we can hear how Peter Strzok answers this as well.

But another way to look at it is, that Robert Mueller didn't care what the explanation was because he just didn't want the guy working there anymore, because the explanation wouldn't matter in his determination to fire him, just the knowledge that he was sending those texts was enough for Mueller to want him out.

But you and I --

GAETZ: Well, let's -- so, hold on, John. If a mechanic was working on your car and then you found out he was not a mechanic, he was just a homeless person, before you would fire him, you would probably say, yo, homeless guy, what did you do under the hood to my car before you would move on. BERMAN: So, Peter Strzok -- So, Peter Strzok is neither a mechanic nor a homeless person. He's someone who had a long --

GAETZ: No, but he was a guy that was infected by bias.

BERMAN: He is someone who had a long career in the FBI.

GAETZ: He thought Hillary Clinton should win 100 million to nothing while he's investigating her.

BERMAN: He has had a long career in the FBI as an investigator and all we know so far -- and, again, I, along with you, want to wait for this inspector general report because there were many revelations there. He says that there was no evidence that bias played a role in the determinations in the Clinton investigation. We are waiting to see if he makes that determination in the Russia investigation as well.

We're out of time. I do want to invite you back to talk more about that after the public hearing.

GAETZ: Absolutely.

BERMAN: You and I both agree, we want to see the public hearing. Let's talk when you and I both have the same perspective on what's being said.

Thanks, congressman.

GAETZ: I'm game. Let's do it.

BERMAN: Appreciate it, congressman.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: All right, still to come, President Trump turning on Senator Heidi Heitkamp, just as we're moving into a critical moment as well when it comes to elections and the Supreme Court.


[08:42:32] HILL: President Trump launching a blistering attack against his one-time favorite Democrat in a rally in Fargo, North Dakota, last night. He took aim squarely at Senator Heidi Heitkamp. A person that, remember, he had once called a good woman.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): She had always been President Trump's favorite Democrat.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Heitkamp. Senator, come on up.

ZELENY: From the presidential stage --

TRUMP: Everyone's saying, what's she doing up here. But, I'll tell you what, a good woman.

ZELENY: To the White House.

TRUMP: Heidi Heitkamp.

Heidi, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

ZELENY: Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota had done what few in either party had managed to pull off in the age of Trump, escape his wrath. All that came to an abrupt halt last night in Fargo as Trump paid a visit.

TRUMP: Heidi will vote no to any pick we make for the Supreme Court. She will be told to do so.

ZELENY: He didn't mention Heitkamp was one of three Democrats to support the president's first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, or now that she's breaking ranks with Democrats saying Justice Kennedy's seat should be filled before the midterm elections.

TRUMP: She may give us a couple of quickie votes, you know, before the election. She might. Because she has no choice. But the day after that election, she's voting party line, 100 percent.

ZELENY: The president didn't tell the roaring crowd that he's twice asked her to become a Republican, invited her to dinner at the White House, and met with her at Trump Tower.

ZELENY (on camera): Did you ever consider taking him up on his offer to switch parties?

SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: No. I think it was a joke.

ZELENY: Why not?

HEITKAMP: I mean, you know --

ZELENY: He probably didn't think it was.

HEITKAMP: Well, I think he did. I think he's -- he's like, well, you know, we agree on so much, why don't you switch parties?

You know, the one thing that -- I mean I just think that you have to be who you are. And, at the end of the day, I'm an FDR Republican or a Democrat. I'm an FDR Democrat.

ZELENY (voice over): Across the country, Heitkamp is one of five Democratic senators facing re-election in deep red states that Trump carried in double digits. Because she is going where nearly all other Democrats are not, embracing Trump.

HEITKAMP: And I don't think either party has all the right answers. That's why I voted over half the time with President Trump. ZELENY: She downplayed the president's visit to Fargo, saying the

people of North Dakota know her after decades in the public eye.

HEITKAMP: Well, at the end of the day, he's going to maybe say some mean things about me. That's OK.

ZELENY: For Senate Republicans, it couldn't come soon enough. For months they've been complaining to the White House about the president's public praise for Heitkamp.

TRUMP: There's something so nice about bipartisan.

[08:45:02] ZELENY: She's running against the state's lone Republican congressman, Kevin Cramer, who was relegated to the background at this bill signing on banking reform, when Heitkamp got this presidential handshake. That's likely to be her last before November.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Fargo, North Dakota.


BERMAN: All right, our thanks to Jeff Zeleny for that.

Coming up, we have a very special treat here. The man behind some of my favorite movies. Rob Reiner joins us next to talk about a very interesting new project and the very interesting news of the day.


HILL: President Trump has a historic opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court with another conservative nominee. And the late night comics last night didn't miss an opportunity to weigh in. Take a look.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": If you're on a low carb diet, you're in luck because ain't no way to sugar coat this. Today, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he's retiring from the Supreme Court. I never thought I'd say this, but you're only 81!

[08:50:01] SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Justice Kennedy, what are you doing retiring, man? You have a great job where you barely work, you get to wear a robe all day and give your opinions on stuff. That basically is retirement. Stick around, at least until we get a new president. Six months tops.

COLBERT: Think about it, the court that just this week crippled unions, upheld Trump's Muslim ban and race based gerrymandering might turn conservative. Enjoy your gay marriages now because if -- as of August 1st, you're back to being roommates.


HILL: Want to get to "The Bottom Line" now with actor, producer and director of the new film "Shock and Awe," Rob Reiner. Rob, we're going to talk about your film in a moment. But you did -- I

mean you did play a pivotal role, in fact, in the decision on same-sex marriage based on what you did in California.

ROB REINER, ACTOR, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER: Yes, we were the first group to file a federal lawsuit, which led the way to marriage equality. And I think with the makeup of the court that we're looking at, I don't know that we would have ever gotten that. So -- and I know we're -- you know, you had a great discussion earlier today. They're going to be -- if we have a Gorsuch like or a Thomas or Alito like, we're going to have rights stripped away. There's no question about that.

BERMAN: It strikes me, as I was watching the late night comics give their monologs, and as you're sitting here, you represent what some Trump supporters look at as the coastal elite. These are the entertainer elite who tell us what to think and make jokes about us. And as we're watching those jokes in that assessment of this pick in this moment, I wonder how you respond to that?

REINER: Well, I mean, everything's fair game now. I mean social media has made it that there is no elites, you know? It's all information, all the time, being thrown out at us. And for us to determine what's true, what's not true, what's real, what's not real is very difficult. And, unfortunately, we're living in that time, which is, you know, why I made this film "Shock and Awe." t's about trying to get the truth out with tremendous headwinds making it virtually impossible for the American public to understand the truth.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's get to that movie in a second. But I want to ask you, because just less than an hour ago, it was announce that President Trump will be meeting with Putin at a summit. And he began the -- by tweeting that Russia says they didn't meddle in our elections. A year ago or so, last fall, you announce a group called the Committee to Investigate Russia, with a number of celebrities, but also Republicans and James Clapper.

What work have you been doing? Any updates for us?

REINER: Well, I mean, we're doing what can be done. Unfortunately, we don't have any checks and balances coming out of the -- of Congress. The two investigations, both the House -- the House is completely broken. But the Senate Intelligence Committee is also not doing any kind of hearings in public. So the American public has no idea what is going on. The only investigation that's ongoing is the Mueller investigation, and we're not privy to that.

So we can do the best we can and give the American people as much information as we can, but the truth is, unless we have a Democratic Congress, the American public is not going to understand the truth of what actually happened. There's no question that the Russians meddled and had an effect on what happened in the last election, and they continue to meddle. That is going on right now as we speak. So make no mistake about that.

But hopefully we'll have a Democratic Congress. And when we do, we'll have some real hearings and have some real sunshine put on all this. BERMAN: Let's talk about your film, because I do think it is very

interesting. And to an extent it's about us. It's about journalism and the search for truth.


BERMAN: This has to do with the run-up to the Iraq War when you profiled some journalists who I think really did question whether or not there were the weapons of mass destruction.

Let's listen.


REINER: If every other news organization wants to be stenographers for the Bush administration, let them. We don't write for people who send other people's kids to war. We write for people whose kids get sent to war. So when the government says something, you only have one question to ask, is it true?


HILL: Talk about timely.


HILL: I mean on a number of fronts. And part of it, too, is what you brought up just a moment ago with John, just this, you know, this flood of information that we all have, much of it not accurate and much of it cherry picked for people as well. That was a different time and it was a challenge then.

REINER: Yes, it was a challenge then because they were facing the headwinds of patriotism. It was right after 9/11. There was a group think amongst the media where they didn't want to go against the administration. They didn't want to seem unpatriotic.

Now the headwind is alternative media and you have basically two sets of mainstream media, one is CNN in part of that, NBC, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and that is -- goes to maybe 60 percent of the country. Then you have other mainstream media, the Fox, the Breitbart, the Sinclair, Alex Jones that goes to 40 percent of the American public. And you -- and the one -- 60 percent can never penetrate that 40 percent because they keep getting it. That's the -- that's the headwinds that the truth is facing right now.

[08:55:36] And so, you know, right now, democracy -- there was a war hanging in the balance and peoples' lives and death. Democracy is now hanging in the balance. And whether or not we survive as a democratic country is a lot going to be dependent on the media. That's the opening quote in the film. Bill Moyers says, democracy depends on a free and independent press.

BERMAN: Because truth matters.

REINER: Yes, it does. BERMAN: Rob Reiner, great to have you here. "Shock and Awe" now available exclusively on DirecTV and in theaters on July 13th.

HILL: CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow picks up right after this quick break.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

[08:59:58] And we do begin with breaking news. We are getting new details on President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's face-to-face meeting. The two world leaders will meet on July 16th in Helsinki. This as the president tweets this morning that Russia says it has, quote, nothing to do with the meddling and