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Authorities Say U.K. Couple Poisoned with Same Agent as Russian Spy; Lobbyists Weighing in on Trump's Supreme Court Choices. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired July 5, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- our water, to protect our air. There are cities you couldn't breathe in -- Los Angeles, Pittsburgh -- that are now model cities. And it's -- and it's a scandal, a scandal that -- that that's all being rolled back now, you know, in 17 months.
[07:00:18] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jason Miller, Joe Lockhart, thank you. We appreciate your perspective on both of this -- on all of this, I should say.
Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, can NEW DAY continues right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: OK, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. John Avlon is here, and we do have some breaking news right now, because an international mystery is developing. It is surrounded by espionage, accusations and fear. There are these counterterror investigations that find a couple in England has been poisoned by the very same military-grade nerve agent that was used in March that nearly killed, you'll remember, that former Russian spy and his daughter. It's happening again.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.K. blames the Russians for carrying out that first attack. But what about this one? In this one, a man and a woman were reportedly found frothing at the mouth, hallucinating and incoherent.
Officials do not know if they were exposed to the same batch of nerve agent, if it was somehow left over or if this is a new, stand-alone, deliberate attack.
What we do know this morning, the rhetoric rising. The Russians are accusing the Brits of being, quote, "dumb" if they think the Kremlin was somehow responsible.
Let's get straight to the ground. CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, live at the scene in Amesbury, England -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, John, good morning.
The couple at the center of this, the two victims here, are both still in critical condition in hospital, fighting for their lives. Police say that there is a risk, a low risk to members of the public. They're currently searching five different locations. Three in this small town of Amesbury, and two locations in the town of Salisbury.
Salisbury, of course, eight miles away. That was the location where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by the nerve agent back in March.
Both the man and the woman involved in this latest poisoning are being treated in the same hospital in Salisbury. Police are not able to say at this stage whether or not they've been contaminated by the same batch of Novichok as that used against Sergei Skripal.
But it is raising concerns here by residents of this town that the clean-up operation following that attack in March wasn't sufficient. People are worried about the safety of their children. They're worried about what else might be lying around.
So at the moment the advice from the police has been, if you're in the areas where this couple were late Friday night, early Saturday, before they were taken to hospital, then you should wash your clothes, then you should wash your mobile phones, bags, glasses. That you should bag other clothing that cannot immediately be washed. So there is a level of concern.
And of course, thrown into all this now, we hear from -- we hear from Russian officials they deny any involvement in this. They deny any involvement in the -- in the attack on Sergei Skripal. The security minister in Britain is calling for Russia to offer up any information it can.
And right now, we understand now there's a cabinet-level security meeting going on, and the home secretary of Britain expected to brief Parliament in the next couple of hours -- Alisyn, John.
BERMAN: All right, Nic Robertson for us in Amesbury, England. We will wait to hear from the British home secretary on any reports about what he has seen.
Joining us now, CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell.
And Josh, I do think it's important to tell our viewers why this is so alarming. Why this nerve agent, Novichok, has people so concerned and why it really only points in one direction.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Good morning, John.
This is the Russian calling card. As we mentioned, you know, earlier when Nic was talking, this is a type of agent that was developed by the Soviets, beginning back in the 1970s.
And, you know, one of the scientists who was actually responsible for developing this very deadly agent scribed it as something that has the sole purpose of causing the mass slaughter of civilians. So this is something, again, that it was intended to kill. It's also so single source in nature that we know where it comes from. One doesn't accidentally, you know, get their hands on this Novichok, you know, very deadly agent. This is something that was used -- those of us who are in my business, international security analysis, see one -- one direction where this comes from, and that was, you know, by the Russians to originally try to take the life of Skripal and perhaps a relative, as well.
So it goes back to them. The question now comes to was this something, a new attack? Was it a new brazen attempt to go after these victims? Or was this a residual that was left over from the original implementation or deployment of this?
I tend to believe that it was probably less likely to be something that's new. It was probably left behind. I don't know how they came in contact with it. That will be the subject of a very thorough investigation.
But as you mentioned, very -- it would be very tough for the Russians to deny this because of the single source scope of it.
[07:05:10] BERMAN: Even if it is just left over, though, it means there are two additional British victims to an attack that the Russians have been accused of ordering, and that makes for a very dicey diplomatic situation.
CAMPBELL: It does. And you have to recall that, you know, this is a cost-benefit analysis that the Russians engaged in.
So if, you know, your goal as a security service is to attempt to kill someone, you know, as the Russians appear to have tried to do with Skripal, I mean, there was a number of manners -- methods they could have done, could have used to do that.
They went and used this device and used this type of agent for a particular reason, and that's to send a message that, you know, for those who are out there who may have been former spies or those who have gone sideways with respect to Russian security services, this is basically an attempt to say, "Look, we know, you know, who you are, and this is the consequence or punishment, if you will, for what you did."
CAMPBELL: Now, the fact that this was a cost-benefit analysis is important, because the Russians knew that there would be some type of international blowback if they chose to do it anyway. There were a lot of different methods that they could have used. They chose this deadly nerve agent that directs back to them.
BERMAN: Is there any way to see if it is from the same batch of\ nerve agent that was used in this first attack?
CAMPBELL: There is, and Novichok is not a specific agent in and of himself. It's a series. And obviously, the CBRN, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear weapons of mass destruction teams that every country, you know, in the west has that are very good at going after these agents and really dissecting them and determining what they're dealing with, they'll be able to determine in short order whether this was a part of the original batch.
Again, also, will be the method. Was this something that, you know, was in a powder form? Was it a liquid? All that will be part of this investigation, and the last part will be geography. They will be trying to overlay -- trying to attempt to overlay the pattern of life of these two recent subjects with those of the original subjects to determine, you know, did their paths cross? Did they intersect? Was it possible that this latest, you know, group was somehow in contact in a restaurant or some type of public space? That will all be part, and that will be something they will be able to see in short order. The question is what is the consequence and what is the result? That will be coming later. It will be interesting to see.
BERMAN: And of course, President Trump meets with both British Prime Minister Theresa May and Vladimir Putin within the next few weeks. That fascinating, as well.
Josh Campbell, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
CAMPBELL: Thanks, John.
CAMEROTA: Hey, John. CNN has learned that President Trump is expected to finalize his Supreme Court pick today or tomorrow before his big announcement on Monday night. This comes as the president embarks on three major international trips.
CNN's Abby Phillip is live in the White House, where it is a very busy time -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Alisyn.
We are down to the wire on the president's Supreme Court pick, and as a result, there has been a furious spate of lobbying from the outside and the inside to give input to the president about what they think, conservatives think about some of these picks that he's considering.
Near the top of the list is Brett Kavanaugh, one of the candidates who has a lot of support within this building. But we are hearing now that a lot of conservatives are raising concerns that perhaps he might not be conservative enough. They believe that one of his recent opinions on the Affordable Care Act raised some red flags.
There's also Amy Coney Barrett, another one of the finalist candidates who we've been talking about for the last several days, especially since the president has expressed a desire to appoint a woman.
But there are some conservatives who said perhaps she's not experienced enough, she doesn't have nearly the long list of opinions to her name in her time as a judge.
All of this is being taken into consideration as the president deliberates over the next couple of days. He's going to be in Bedminster this weekend on his golf course, where this is going to be a big part of that process.
Meanwhile, this is all going to go down Monday night, before the president heads out on a big international trip with big stakes. He's going to Brussels for the NATO conference with European leaders who he has -- he has tussled with over the last few weeks over the issues of trade and over NATO spending, but also going to the U.K. to meet with Prime Minister May, and then finally to Helsinki, Finland, where that big meeting with Vladimir Putin is coming up.
So there's a lot going on here at the White House. They're definitely hoping to get the Supreme Court out and on the run toward a confirmation battle later this fall -- Alisyn and John.
CAMEROTA: What a whirlwind, Abby. Thank you very much for reporting all of that.
Here now to discuss it all, we have Perry Bacon here, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, and April Ryan, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks. Great to have both of you.
So Perry, what do you think about all of this back room -- what we hear are these back room deals and this back room lobbying between, it sounds like, the top candidates of Barrett and Kavanaugh? And people really feeling strongly about their candidate and trying to get the president to go along.
[07:10:04] PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So the undertone is that Kavanaugh is the more logical pick, in that he was a clerk for Kennedy. He's been a -- he's been a judge for a long time. He has more experience.
But the back story here is, though, is that he's a George W. Bush person. He was very senior in the Bush administration. He was on the White House Counsel's office. He was a staff secretary. And, you know, Bush and Trump have had a bad relationship.
And I think the idea here is that a Bush person maybe means they're less conservative, means they're more establishment. And there are certainly senators who don't feel like that's where they should pick right now. There's a view that it's a more Trumpy pick, a more conservative pick than Kavanaugh to be the nominee.
I think that's what's going on here, is that Kavanaugh, while being pretty conservative -- and I would say very conservative -- may not be conservative enough for this Republican Party right now. And that's what -- this is really going on here.
AVLON: Yes. I mean, I'm just laughing with what Perry is saying, because I agree with it, but it underscores the absurdity of so many of our political debates today. Everyone on this list was vetted and put forward by the Federalist Society. When George W. Bush was in office, people were pearl clutching about
how conservative that administration was, and it was a departure from mainstream American conservativism. But clearly, we ain't seen nothing yet at the time, given the Trump administration.
So these internecine fights in the conservative movement about whether Kavanaugh is conservative or not, he worked for Ken Starr, folks. He was staff secretary to George W. Bush. He has a record of opinions. He's a big believer in expansive executive power.
But whenever the circular firing squad starts going, it just illustrates how absurd our politics have become.
Amy Coney Barrett, central casting social conservative. Its own opportunities and potential hurdles at that nominee, and other folks who have got longer time on the bench, which should be an asset in selecting a Supreme Court judge.
CAMEROTA: April, here's another really interesting thing, which is that there are so many Democrats and liberals who see this as a very dire situation, because Roe v. Wade --
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CAMEROTA: -- you know, abortion could become illegal in this country. The stakes are extremely high.
CAMEROTA: And so they are lobbying Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two Republicans who are pro-choice, to vote "no," but there are still all sorts of Democrats in Congress who might vote "yes."
RYAN: Well, you know, it's really not up to the Democrats. This is up to the Republicans. And, you know, like Susan Collins says, you know, some of those on the Supreme Court says this is settled law.
But at issue, what would happen if this is presented to the court? And what would happen with this next pick? You know, how would this -- how would this look?
You have to remember Roe v. Wade, it's about the timing of when a woman can have an abortion, the last -- you know, the last -- to the last moment when she can have an abortion. That's what Roe v. Wade is about. But at issue, if this is overturned, it could totally just upset the dynamic of this nation.
And Democrats really -- I mean, they can think, they can scheme, they can plot, but this is up to Republicans welcome like those two female Republicans who are upset about this. And let's see if there are others who will pull away.
Because at this moment, it doesn't sound like many Republicans are going to publicly say they're going to pull away in the support of this next president, because it's so controversial. And this is one of the killers of the Republican Party. You know -- yes, go ahead.
AVLON: Clearly, Collins and Murkowski are the two people they're focusing on, but you know, other things to look at is whether Donald Trump will make -- try to make life more difficult for certain red- state senators who are Democrats and up for reelection. Particularly Amy Coney Barrett from South Bend, Indiana. Joe Donnelly facing a very tough reelection there. Could that impact his decision? Some of these folks voted for Gorsuch. They voted for Coney Barrett in her previous nomination.
So that's a game the White House could play to offset the chance of losing Collins and Murkowski.
BERMAN: Perry, I'm fascinated by Amy Coney Barrett and the right way, or if there is an appropriate way to talk about religion in the public forum right now. Dianne Feinstein, during the appeals court confirmation process, seemed to -- seemed to do it the wrong way when she said to Coney Barrett, you know, "The dogma lives loudly within you" and seemed to question whether or not her religious faith would dictate what she said.
However, in my mind, I think if there were ever a Muslim nominee, I could see that being -- being a source of questioning among some senators. So what's fair game and what's not fair game?
BACON: It's an interesting question, because the undertone of the discussion about Barrett is she's very conservative. She's also Catholic, and she's written a lot about how -- you know, she's written something about how Catholics should view policy and how being a strong Catholic should influence policy.
Some of her writings about the death penalty, for instance, where she seems to be very against the death penalty, which the church is very much against, as well.
So the question has become, like, if you're a strong Catholic who's anti-death penalty, are you also a Catholic who's very strong and, therefore, going to be committed, no matter what, to opposing Roe v. Wade?
So with Barrett's identity issue very important here because on the one hand, her Catholicism may make it hard -- make make it, you know, harder for Susan Collins and Murkowski to support her, because though Collins and Murkowski are a little bit more pro-choice than most Republicans are.
[07:15:06] On the other hand, a female nominee, I suspect, will be harder for either party to oppose. Because the court currently is full of male Republicans and has females who are Democrats.
I think that overall, my guess is a female nominee would be harder to oppose from anybody in the Congress.
CAMEROTA: And it's not just her Catholicism, right? Isn't she a member of a particular strain of Catholicism?
BERMAN: So reportedly, she was a member of this group People of Praise.
BERMAN: People of Praise, which among other things, teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives -- this is according to "The New York Times." Husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family. She -- she does -- was a member of that group reportedly. I don't know if she agrees with all the tenements [SIC] of that group or not. And I don't know whether that's open game for questioning.
CAMEROTA: Right. That's what's so interesting. That isn't that important for people to know? Isn't this interesting and possibly relevant facts?
AVLON: I'm sure that would be a robust part of the questioning and the national debate. But I think what's really key is for folks, A, to not be seem to providing a religious litmus test, a religious requirement on this position, pro or con. Because that itself is unconstitutional.
The question is, and the current court has a very healthy Catholic representation.
BERMAN: The majority Catholic.
AVLON: I believe that's right. But how much does somebody's faith impact their jurisprudence? That's the key question.
CAMEROTA: That is the key question. Thank you all very much for all the insights.
BERMAN: We have Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator, who has, I think, some pretty strong views on this --
CAMEROTA: I bet he does.
BERMAN: -- coming up. But I also think he has a surprising view -- you might be surprised, at least -- on what he thinks the future of Scott Pruitt should be. So stick around for that.
[07:20:33] BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN senior political commentator, former Republican senator from the state of Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.
Senator, thanks so much for being with us. I want a new kind of a lightning round here, because we have a lot of issues I want to cover with you. First of all, Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator. Thirteen, 14 investigations now, ethical investigations going on into him. Laura Ingraham, conservative thinker, tweeted, "Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it." What do you think?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, look, a couple of things. First off, the drip, drip, drip of ethical scandals is getting a little bit louder. It's Chinese water torture that's being dropped on the Trump administration. So that -- I think Laura's right in that respect.
The other thing is, you know, what Scott Pruitt is supposed to do is really the president's bidding. And in one area he's really departed from that, and he's caused the ire of a lot of Trump base voters, particularly in the Midwest, and that's on the ethanol issue. I know that well, because along with Jim Dowd (ph), I had a group up that really goes out and helps promote ethanol. But I can tell you, I'm hearing it loudly and clearly, that the base, who is really getting hurt right now, rural America, by some of these trade decisions, is really upset about these ethanol decisions that's coming out of EPA.
BERMAN: It's the drip, drip, drip that's the kind of drip, drip, drip that comes out of a fire hose or a tidal wave. Let me just say that, in terms of the scandals right now.
And as the Clash would say, my real question to you is, should he stay or should he go? The president has a decision to make. Should he stay or should he go?
SANTORUM: Yes, look, I think, at this point, the president needs to take another look. I think he's -- he's -- he's sort of blown off a lot of these things. But I think if you put the policy and the scandal together and how it's affecting him and the electoral chances for Republicans in 2018 and him in 2020, I this he has to do a second look.
BERMAN: Pruitt is hurting the president is what you're saying?
SANTORUM: He is.
BERMAN: OK. I want to ask you about the Supreme Court, and I want you to help me figure out the right way to think about this.
Amy Coney Barrett, 46 years old, a rock star in some conservative circles --
BERMAN: -- here. Someone who was at Notre Dame for a long time, just confirmed to the appeals court, hasn't been there very long. But one of the issues that came up in her confirmation process was her faith. She is a devout Catholic.
Dianne Feinstein was seen, I think, as being somewhat inappropriate when she said to Coney Barrett that "dogma lives loudly within you." Is there any appropriate way to talk about religion and faith in a confirmation hearing or with a perspective justice?
SANTORUM: No, I don't think there is, only because everybody has a set of values and principles. Some are based in biblical principles. Some are based in Koranic principles. Some are based in -- in the Talmud, and those are all legitimate. And by the way, some people have principles that are not based in faith at all. We don't ask people about that. If you're an atheist, you don't say, "Well, you know, what -- what is your dogma?" People -- people are allowed to have their faith interests.
You need to look at their record. You need to look at what -- what they -- how they act in jurisprudence.
BERMAN: Would you vote to confirm an atheist to the court? I think I've talked about atheism with you before. You've told me you're skeptical of people who are atheists. I think you would want to know if a nominee was an atheist.
SANTORUM: I would -- I would -- yes, I would want to know, obviously, all of their background. But I want -- when it comes to a vote on someone, you look at their jurisprudence and you look at their record. And you look at how they've applied principles of constitutional --
BERMAN: Y es.
SANTORUM: -- of constitutional law. That's the focus.
BERMAN: And you would want to know, I think, if there was a devout Muslim who was a nominee if their faith in Islam would supersede their legal thinking. Correct?
SANTORUM: Again, I think that would be reflected in -- in their body of work. And so, yes, I mean, you certainly would look at that in context. OK, how is -- how is their faith potentially coming through?
But, you know, I think it's important to understand that people of little faith, or you know, who are atheists or people who are not particularly religious, don't get asked these questions. They really just sort of assume that, you know, that's not an important part of their life. Well, what is? And that's really not -- never been asked, is you know, everybody has a set of guiding principles. Hers happens to be her Catholic faith. That's, by the way, very well-known and very public about what she -- what the church teaches. Whereas a lot of people who come before these -- these committees, you have no idea what their faith or system of belief that they're infusing.
SANTORUM: So I think actually having someone with a fairly clear and public record of faith is actually a little cleaner than what -- than the rest of the nominees are that don't have that.
[07:25:19] I want to ask you about the poisoning right now that took place in the United Kingdom. There are a couple. This British couple right now, poisoned by the same nerve agent that affected that former Russian agent and his daughter back in April. It does appear to be Novichok, which is a nerve agent only manufactured by Russia, also the former Soviet Union right now. How concerned are you about this? Even if this is only a residual
from the last attack, this would be four people on British soil poisoned by an action that intelligence agencies around the world believe was ordered by the Russian government.
SANTORUM: Look, I appreciate what the president is doing in meeting with Putin and I respect, you know, reaching out and talking to folks who are important geopolitically, but we can make no mistake that Vladimir Putin is a thug. Vladimir Putin is an enemy of the United States. He is an enemy of democracy. He's the enemy of the west. And we have to -- we have to go into these -- these conversations with that understanding.
BERMAN: Senator --
SANTORUM: -- that this is a bad actor on the world.
BERMAN: -- do you have -- have you ever heard the president say that Vladimir Putin is an enemy of the United States? That he's a bad actor around the world? I haven't.
SANTORUM: I haven't heard the president say that, but you know, we're sort of -- I would look at it that the president is early in his administration, still working through how he's going to deal with different countries. You saw something quite unusual with respect to North Korea and the way the president has approached it. He has been unorthodox. He has been orthodox with respect to the Russians. I think we've seen a lot of benefits of that.
But the point is, we're still early in this process. We want to see the fruit of some of these decisions. And let's wait and see how the president does in Helsinki. Let's wait to see what comes out of this.
But you know, what's said publicly and what's said privately may be two very different things, and at least I hope, in the case of this president, that he makes it very clear to Vladimir Putin that the United States is not going to -- not going to tolerate this type of behavior.
BERMAN: You say you hope. Do you have confidence -- and I only have time for a yes or no question -- do you hear confidence, in fact, that he will?
SANTORUM: Yes. Yes, I do. Look, I don't think the president is shy at all about confronting people when -- when people are doing things against the interests of our country and the west.
BERMAN: I will say, as far as election meddling, all he has said is that Russia believes -- Putin has said that he doesn't believe that Russia meddled in the election. That doesn't seem to me being firm, but we will see what happens in Helsinki.
SANTORUM: Yes, I think that's -- that's a little different, because it gets into the whole personal aspect of whether he's a legitimate president. I just think -- BERMAN: It gets into whether or not he thinks that Russia is a bad actor. It gets into whether he thinks Russia is a bad actor or not. Again, we will see what happens in Helsinki.
Senator Santorum, great to have you with us. Thanks.
SANTORUM: You bet.
SANTORUM: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: So who are the contenders for the Supreme Court and what do each of them bring to the bench? We break down the candidates for you next.