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Fallout Continues over Trump's Firing Comey; Polls Shows Majority Support Independent Investigation into Trump/Russia; N. Korea: Could Hit U.S. with Nuclear Warhead; Trump's Travel Ban Heads Back to Court; Trump to Speak at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:15] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to show you, just moments ago, we have video just in of President Trump arriving at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service in a beautiful ceremony that's being held on Capitol Hill. This is when the president arrived just moments ago. And we are going to be bringing you his remarks live when they begin, and they will begin shortly. We'll bring you his remarks and what he has to say there. Of course, Vice President Mike Pence at that service also.

At the very same time, the Trump administration is in the midst of a hustle, hustling to pick the next FBI director. That is because they are still dealing with the fallout from firing the former director, James Comey, just last week.

So, let's talk much more about this right now. Joining me is Leslie Rutledge, the attorney general of the great state of Arkansas.

Attorney General, thanks so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Of course.

From what I have seen, you support the firing of Jim Comey. You support the president firing him. Why is that?

RUTLEDGE: Well, I do. It's the president's decision, and the American public, the bureau, the attorney general, so many Senators, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had lost confidence in Director Comey, in his ability to do his job. And quite frankly, when the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, sent that letter after he had been on the job for a few weeks, was able to put that down in writing for the president, for the president to ultimately make that decision, that Director Comey had stepped outside his role as the director of the FBI and, instead, had done so in July when he held that press conference making the announcement that, quite frankly, was not his announcement to make. That was an announcement for the attorney general at the time, or the deputy attorney general at the time. BOLDUAN: When you talk about the loss of confidence and the memo

coming from Rod Rosenstein, that is the line that the White House gave right after the firing was announced, and that reasoning, though, just hours later was contradicted by the president himself when he said that he had Russia on his mind when he fired Comey. Are you OK with that reasoning?

RUTLEDGE: Well, I am confident that the men and women of the FBI will continue the investigations that have been ongoing for the last several months and years. We have amazing agents at the bureau of investigation, and they are going to continue those investigations, that those --


BOLDUAN: I do, too, Attorney General --


BOLDUAN: But when it comes to the reason that Director Comey was fired, the president himself acknowledged, said that he had the Russia investigation on his mind. His campaign is the subject of that Russia investigation and Comey was in charge of that Russia investigation. That doesn't smell funny to you?

[11:35:06] RUTLEDGE: Well, what I am confident is that those investigations are going to go on. They're going to move forward, regardless of who is the director of the FBI. And I think right now, as Americans, we are focused on who's going to be the next director, who's going to lead the bureau of investigation. I am confident, as the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Arkansas, that those investigations will continue. I am confident, as an American citizen, that those investigations will continue and that we will see the facts laid out before us in these Senate committees, in these House committees, where they will be determined.

BOLDUAN: But are you OK with the president's -- do you support the president's reasoning, if it was all because of the Russia investigation, you're OK with that being the reason?

RUTLEDGE: I have not been convinced that that is his reasoning. He stated immediately thereafter receiving Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein's memorandum to him, after receiving the letter from Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, that those were the reasons for firing Comey --


RUTLEDGE: -- and he stated he had thought about it for months.

BOLDUAN: Right. He said he was going to do it regardless of --


BOLDUAN: -- what Rod Rosenstein said.

RUTLEDGE: Those are questions -- those are questions for the president and the White House. However, I know that the American public had lost confidence in Director Comey, that we have agents on the ground here in Arkansas and across the country doing incredible work every single day, and that the investigations that they have are going to continue, regardless, again, of who's at the top. That there are protocols in place for these investigations to move forward, and I believe that they will. And the American public should know that they will.

BOLDUAN: But the acting -- the now acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, he said, testifying before Congress, that Comey still enjoyed broad support amongst those at the FBI.

RUTLEDGE: Well, certainly, I can't speak on behalf of all agents at the FBI. However, the American public, after what we had seen from the director, again, when he was stepping outside his role as the director of the bureau of investigation. He was stepping outside of his role and stating that a prosecution would not come forward. That was not his decision to make. And that's where, as attorney general I would be surprised if I was working with a chief of police or a sheriff or someone in the law enforcement who announced on behalf of the attorney general's office or who announced on behalf of the local prosecutor that an investigation would not occur, because that, again, is not the role, that we are confident that these investigations will continue. But Director Comey was fired by the president because he overstepped his role as the FBI director. That is why the deputy attorney general said that he had lost confidence and he laid out in very clear memorandum to the president for the American public to see why he had lost confidence in Director Comey.

BOLDUAN: Well, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, he doesn't like how this all went down, regardless of what you think of Jim Comey. He doesn't like how this whole thing went down. Listen to this.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think in many ways, our institutions are under assault externally, and that's the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think, as well, our institutions are under assault internally.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.


BOLDUAN: Do you see that?

RUTLEDGE: I do not agree that our institutions are under assault. I believe that the president has a clear vision for America, creating jobs, getting people back to work, Americans' safety. That is why today he is at the peace officers' memorial, because he respects law enforcement. And he is doing what Americans care about, getting us back to work, getting regulations off our backs and protecting our citizens from those who wish to harm us. I applaud the president for being there today --


BOLDUAN: Attorney General, I absolutely hear you. I absolutely hear about that. But one final question. Do you think it does show -- it is a sign of respect that James Comey found out that he was fired from television before he heard it from the White House?

RUTLEDGE: Well, I don't know what James Comey thought about that, but I do know that the American public had lost trust in him and lost faith in him as the FBI director because he had overstepped his bound --


BOLDUAN: Right. But in terms of the president being respectful of law enforcement and he's showing that today going to this event. Does that show respect?

RUTLEDGE: Well, this event today is about our fallen men and women in blue, who have sacrificed their lives to protect us. As I leave the studio today, I'll be going to a funeral service of Lieutenant Mainhart (ph) here in Arkansas, who was gunned down last week by someone. So, we show the ultimate respect for our men and women in blue. And no doubt, the president of the United States respects those individuals as well.

BOLDUAN: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

RUTLEDGE: Thank you.

[11:40:54] BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up next for us, a new poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans support an independent investigation to look into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Will Republicans on Capitol Hill feel the pressure from the public? And is there a disconnect between where the public stands and how this investigation should be handled and where Republican leaders in Congress stand on that right now?

Plus, President Trump is set to take the stage at any moment on Capitol Hill for the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service honoring fallen law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty. We're going to bring you that. We'll bring you his remarks when they begin live when they begin.

We'll be right back.


[11:44:56] BOLDUAN: We are keeping an eye on Capitol Hill right now. President Trump set to speak at an event honoring fallen police officers. We're going to bring you his remarks as soon as they begin. This comes at the very same time as a big focus of the president at

this very moment is a search for his new FBI director, a search that is very much under way as we speak. The new FBI director will be overseeing the current investigation into the Trump campaign and any possible ties to Russia.

This comes as a new, very interesting poll numbers come out. A majority of Americans now say they support an independent investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election rather than Congress handling it. Take a look. According to a NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, 15 percent of those, that were asked, say they want Congress to continue the investigation. 78 percent say they would rather see an independent prosecutor or an independent commission conduct the investigation. So where does that put us right now?

Joining me right now to discuss is CNN Politics editor-at-large Chris Cillizza.

Great to see you, Chris.


BOLDUAN: So, it seems there is little appetite, as far as we know, and everyone's taken the temperature of Republican leaders, little appetite to hand the aggression that Congress is handling to a special prosecutor. You see the poll numbers and the American people seem to be in a different place on this. What is the disconnect?

CILLIZZA: Well, I think there are concerns, frankly, if you're a Republican, that if you start an independent investigation, where does it lead? I think the words "independent investigator" or "special counsel" all bring to mind to everyone in politics, certainly, Ken Starr and where that led, just sort of all over. You know, it didn't start where it ended. And there's concerns, legitimate concerns in many places of, you know, giving someone that level of freedom and authority.

That said, I think you had Congress, at least the House, out on recess last week. They'll be back this week. I think you're going to see a lot more ramped-up pressure in the wake of the firing of Jim Comey and the many explanations the White House has giving for it in the wake of the oddly threatening tapes tweet from Donald Trump on Friday morning that maybe he might be taping things in the White House or his conversations with Comey. All of those things are making a situation that was already bad worse. You add that to the fact that, you know, 80 percent of the American public would prefer a special prosecutor, rather than Congress look into it. 80 percent of the American --


BOLDUAN: We're not talking 51 percent.

CILLIZA: I was going to say --

BOLDUAN: 80 percent of Americans barely agree on, you know, the sun's going to come up tomorrow.

CILLIZZA: Right, ice cream tastes good. You would probably get 53 percent say yes. Right, exactly. And almost everything is along partisan lines, too. If you're a Republican, you feel this way. If you're a Democrat, you feel this way. This is an odd issue that cuts across those.

Look, Mitch McConnell came out last week, the Senate majority leader, said he was worried it would disrupt the current investigation to appoint an independent prosecutor. The only way Republicans will do this and the White House will give into it, is if they view it as a situation, a fire burning out of control, and that this is the only way to contain it.

BOLDUAN: And that's kind of what -- if you don't view it as a fire burning out of control now, like, is there anything -- after the firing of James Comey, which was, you know, for some, for a lot of, Democrats especially, a lot of folks saying, wow, OK, well, real or perceived, this is the step that -- this is the last straw that would lead to an independent something taking this on. If after James Comey, they're not willing to hand over the investigation to someone independent, I mean, if we're being really honest, is Mitch McConnell ever going to get there?

CILLIZZA: OK, so, I'll give you one thing that I think could change it. Circle June 20th on your calendar. That is the Georgia sixth special election. This is Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, against Karen Handel, the Republican. You say, why does it matter. It matters because, if Ossoff wins in the northern Atlanta suburban district, it will panic members, Republican members of Congress, because that is a seat Republicans should win. Donald Trump won it narrowly, but Republicans should win there. If the Republican loses, I think you will see a lot of concern that Donald Trump is going to drag us all down. And that's when I think you will start to see maybe some independents asserted.

Remember, politicians are a reactive species and the thing they react most to is self-preservation. If it looks like they might be in trouble, electorally, you say see this move. I don't think anything short of that will move it though.

BOLDUAN: Chris, you make politicians sound so calculating. Oh, wait, I think they are.


Thanks so much.


Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We're all interested in self-preservation. It just all looks different when you're an elected official.

Great to see you. I appreciate it. CILLIZZA: Thank you. Thank you.

[11:49:33] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, this missile launch was different. North Korea firing a new weapon. It did not fail. Now the hermit kingdom is warning it could reach the United States and next time maybe they put a nuclear warhead on it. Is that just more bluster? Is that more saber rattling? Or is this the real deal and something to really fear now? Details on that ahead.

And President Trump is taking the stage at the peace officers' memorial service. You're looking right now live at Vice President Mike Pence. He will be introducing President Trump and he will be making remark at this memorial service for fallen law enforcement officers. This event is on Capitol Hill right now. We'll bring you the president's remarks live when they begin.


BOLDUAN: All right. North Korea, sending a not-so-subtle message to the United States overnight, claiming the U.S. mainland and Pacific operations are now within reach of North Korean missiles. This comes after a ballistic missile tests that, unlike others, did not fail.

International correspondent, Will Ripley, has the details.


[11:54:26] WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERANTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the consensus from most military analysts is that this was North Korea's most successful missile test ever. Here in Japan, they say it flew for a full 30 minutes. The U.S. said the missile reached an altitude of more than 1300 miles and traveled a distance of nearly 500 miles. That would be the highest and furthest that a North Korean missile of this kind has gone. And the U.S. says it crashed just 60 miles from Russia, home to the Russian Pacific Fleet.

Vladimir Putin was speaking in Beijing about this. He condemned the missile launch. He called it dangerous. But also in a comment believed to be aimed at the U.S., he warned against intimidating Pyongyang. Russia, along with China, believe that the United States is partially responsible for escalating tensions because of its ongoing military activities in cooperation with South Korea.

Now China is trying to downplay the significance of this. Clearly, the timing, just hours ahead of a major global economic forum, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has to be deeply humiliating for Beijing, which continues to trade extensively with North Korea, Pyongyang's only meaningful trading partner. That's why the White House and, over the weekend, the Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterating the need for harsh sanction sanctions on North Korea. That message aimed at China, hoping China will use its leverage to impose crippling damage on the North Korean economy, something that China has consistently resisted doing over the last decade or so, despite five nuclear tests and dozens of missile launches by the regime. And all indications that that behavior will continue unabated unless something is done -- Kate? (END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Will Ripley, thank you so much for that.

Also going today, today is a very big day for President Trump's travel ban. The Trump administration is heading back to court to defend the second version of the travel ban, this time, before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court that the president has been very critical of, to say the least, in the past.

So where do things stand right now? What could happen today?

Let me bring in right now CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett.

Laura, lay it out for us. What are we looking for?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The fate of the president's travel ban is back in the hands of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Kate. As you well know, a court that Trump has repeatedly blasted on Twitter and elsewhere, saying he wants to break up the court because he thinks it's bias and people use it for judge shopping. And certainly, heightening the intrigue here is the fact that you have a panel of three judges, all appointed by former President Bill Clinton.

Now I have to point out that they do have a range of viewpoints, these judges. Judge Richard Pias (ph) seen as a liable liberal vote on the court. Whereas, Judge Ronald Gould and Judge Michael Hawkins are considered more moderate.

But the political leanings aside, the biggest challenge for the Justice Department will be convincing at least two out of those three judges that Trump's past statements about Muslims during the campaign do not matter for the purposes of assessing this executive order that he signed while president, Kate.

The other thing that we're doing is getting a peek at the mindset behind one of the lawyers on the case, Neil Katyal, the former acting solicitor general, A very prominent Supreme Court litigator. He's representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. He put out a series of interesting tweets last night, explaining why he took this case on, saying, "The answer is simple. My parents came to this country from another land, where they saw firsthand the evils of religious strife and persecution. And this country gave my parents and I so much and never worried about what god I prayed to," Kate.

So a lot of strong sound there from Neil Katyal.

BOLDUAN: A lot riding on today. This is a very major step. We'll watch it closely.

Good to see you, Laura. Thank you so much for laying that out.

A big moment there for President Trump in the courtroom.

But also, let's go back to Capitol Hill. This is a big moment for the president today, as well, speaking at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service any moment now. Right now, we're listening to the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, introducing President Trump. Let's listen in.

CHUCK CANTERBURY, PRESIDENT, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: For answering the call to do a heroic act, without regard for their safety, the men and women that we honor would be the last to use the word hero. They would just use the word cop.

Law enforcement officers recognize that the safety and preservation of peace are necessary for the people to have pursuit of happiness, life and liberty. These heroes would all say that their most proud moment was when they swore an oath to serve and protect, and that they took that as their most important task.

President Abraham Lincoln once said, "I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end." These officers did just that. They did their best until the end.

The memories that we, as loved ones, have for them will last forever. And the contribution they made to our great country will never be forgotten. Their names are not only engraved on the National Peace Officers' Memorial Wall, they are engraved on the fabric of America and in our hearts.

To you, the survivors, I say that our thoughts and prayers are always with you. Our resolve to go on is made stronger by knowing that while we have your backs, you have ours.

You will always be advocates --