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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
FBI Director to Testify About Trump Meetings; President Trump Attacks Mayor of London; Trump's Tweetstorms; British Authorities Publicly Identify Terrorists. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 5, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House saying today, pay no attention when the president tells the world how he really feels.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump embarking upon yet another tweetstorm, this one attacking his own administration for a travel ban that he himself signed, and some spinners from the White House saying we're supposed to ignore these most unfiltered thoughts. Spoiler alert: We're not going to do that.
The London terrorists identified today. After the brutal attacks in the heart of the city, neighbors are saying they warned police long ago about one of them.
Plus, some breaking news, the White House a short time ago saying President Trump will not try to stop James Comey from testifying in front of the Senate this week, but that does not mean, of course, the White House is not going to try to discredit him.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.
In our politics lead today, let's start with there. The president's Twitter feed, it's a teletype directly from his psyche, including from his id. It's a nonstop news wire of his moods, his grievances, his triumphs and his thoughts on policies and everything else under the sun.
The tweets often undermine the president's own goals, however. Though the White House has insisted, for example, that his proposed travel ban is not a travel ban, this morning, the president typed -- quote -- "People, the lawyers, the courts, they can call it whatever they want. I am calling it what we need and what it is, a travel ban. The Justice Department should have stayed with the original travel ban, not the watered-down, politically correct version they submitted to the Supreme Court."
Now, needless to say, these tweets do not help arguments the administration has been trying to make about how this executive order is not actually a travel ban.
But when my colleague Chris Cuomo attempted to ask one of the president's men about it earlier today, he was told that we in the media should not take the president's social media statements so seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Tweets are the policy. They are statements from the president of the United States about what he wants.
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's not policy.
CUOMO: Of course it is.
GORKA: It's social media, Chris. It's social media.
CUOMO: It's not social media. It's his words, his thoughts.
GORKA: It's not policy. It's not an executive order. It's social media. Please understand the difference.
CUOMO: I think that you need to have a little bit of an understanding here.
GORKA: I'm inside the White House. I know what policy is. You're a journalist.
CUOMO: What are you saying? We shouldn't listen to what the president says?
GORKA: You shouldn't obsess about it for now 12 minutes, Chris.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The notion that we're all obsessed, that was repeated by Kellyanne Conway on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.
QUESTION: That's his preferred method of communication with the American people.
CONWAY: That's not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: On its face, this is, of course, sheer nonsense. The media should cover what the president does as president, as Ms. Conway noted, and we do.
But to act as if the president should not pay attention to uncensored statements from directly the president's brain to his fingertips to the world via Twitter, that's laughable.
But you know what? Don't take it from me. Take it from a noted conservative attorney who recently took himself out of the running for a senior Justice Department job in the Trump administration, George Conway, who happens to be Kellyanne Conway's husband. He reacted to Mr. Trump's tweets by noting how difficult the tweets make the job for the administration's lawyer, the officer of solicitor general, or OSG, to defend the travel ban before the Supreme Court or SCOTUS.
Conway tweeted: "These tweets may make some people feel better, but they certainly won't help the solicitor general get five votes in the Supreme Court, which is what actually matters. Sad."
This George Conway tweet is significant. It's a direct criticism of the president from a close ally. George Conway is saying, tweeting might make you feel better, Mr. President, but it is hurting your agenda.
And it's frankly just the latest example we have witnessed of people who care about President Trump trying to get through to him to start acting more rational and restrained.
Now, why do the people around President Trump have such a difficult time getting through to him to cease what they themselves on background describe as self-destructive habits?
One thing is clear. Whatever his team has tried so hard to convince the president to stop these erratic and impulsive actions, it's not working. You have to try something else. And, yes, we all see what's going on.
CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House today.
And, Sara, of course this is not what the White House staff wanted to be talking about today.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, when you're debating whether or not we should pay attention to the president's tweets, it's pretty clear that things have veered off- message.
For what it's worth, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was briefing reporters today, said she does think reporters and America should pay attention to what the president tweets. That's how he speaks directly to the people. But what he was speaking directly to the people about today had nothing to do with his own policy agenda.
MURRAY (voice-over): Today, President Trump is trampling his own agenda.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we're proposing to take American air travel into the future, finally, finally.
MURRAY: After the administration teased a week of infrastructure- focused events, the president derailed that strategy with a fiery tweetstorm, Trump using the terror attack in London to defend his travel ban and slam his own Justice Department, tweeting: "The Justice Department should have stayed with the original travel ban, not the watered-down, politically correct version they submitted to Supreme Court."
This as the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to allow the travel ban, after lower courts have repeatedly rebuffed the national security explanations for such a ban, and, lest there be any confusion, the president is making clear the ban is a ban, tweeting: "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a travel ban," a comment the White House communications shop is standing by today.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think the president care what you call it, whether you call it a ban, whether you call it a restriction.
He cares that we call it national security and that we take steps to protect the people of this country.
MURRAY: That's after other administration officials insisted it wasn't a ban at all.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not a Muslim ban. It's not a travel ban. It's a -- it's a vetting system to keep America safe.
MURRAY: The travel ban isn't the only tweetstorm taking the president and the White House off-message. The president took to Twitter to criticize London's response and the city's mayor directly, saying: "Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had to think fast on his no reason to be alarmed statement."
That's after the mayor had urged citizens in London not to be alarmed by a visible increase in police activity on the streets in London.
Today, a White House spokeswoman defended those tweets, too.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't see that the president is picking a fight. I think that the point is, is there is a reason to be alarmed. We have constant attacks going on, not just there, but across the globe.
MURRAY: As Trump aired his outrage on Twitter, one of his top advisers insisted the media shouldn't be paying so much attention to the president's own statements.
CONWAY: But, you know, this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.
QUESTION: That's his preferred method of communication with the American people.
CONWAY: That's not true.
MURRAY: But his Twitter outbursts could have real world ramifications, like complicating the travel ban's fate in court, a concern aired by none other than Kellyanne Conway's own husband, George Conway.
He seized on one of Trump's tweets to say: "These tweets may make some people feel better. But they certainly won't help Office of the Solicitor General get five votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad."
MURRAY: Now, George Conway recently pulled his name out of consideration for a Department of Justice job before he started tweeting his concerns and his disapproval.
That's a disapproval that is shared by many Americans. At this point, the Gallup daily tracking poll puts President Trump's approval numbers in the mid-30s -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you.
London police named two of the three London terrorists, and we're getting new details about one of the men who belonged to a group of Islamic extremists that supported ISIS -- that story next.
TAPPER: We're back with the world lead.
London police today revealed the names and what they know about two of the three terrorists behind Saturday's horrific attack. The group took seven innocent lives and injured 48 others when they rammed a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then went on a brutal stabbing spree at a nearby, Borough Market.
Video from a bar shows some of the unspeakable panic, patrons ducking under tables, as officers are searching for the attackers. Today, police are continuing to look for anyone who might have helped pull off this gruesome terrorist attack.
CNN's Alex Marquardt is live in the London suburb of Barking for us.
And, Alex, at least one of these terrorists was already known for his Islamist extremist views.
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY: That's right, Jake.
Now 48 hours after this attack, we're finally getting details about the attackers from the authorities, specifically about one man named Khuram Shazad Butt, a British national who was born in Pakistan. In fact, he lived right here behind me.
He was known to the intelligence services because of his Islamist activities and in fact last year appeared in a documentary called "The Jihadis Next Door."
MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, British police revealing the identities of two of the three men who carried out the deadly terror attack on London bridge, 27-year-old Khuram Shazad Butt and 30-year- old Rachid Redouane were in that white van plowing into passersby on the bridge and into Borough Market, where they went on a stabbing rampage.
The third attacker's name has still not been released, but was featured in a documentary last year about British jihadis. He's believed to have lived in this building in East London quickly raided by police, along with at least three other properties in this Barking neighborhood and nearby, where police investigators carried out searches and arrests.
The police are now looking for possible accomplices; 10 people have been detained, among them, six women, their connection to the attackers so far unclear.
Today, we met Michael Mimbo, who lives steps away from a building that was raided. He says Butt was his friend and had recently started talking to neighborhood kids about Islam.
MICHAEL MIMBO, NEIGHBOR: His views changed a lot, changing, but he became a bit more erratic about how he communicated with the kids and start telling them what to believe and stuff like that.
MARQUARDT (on camera): And then the kids would go home and tell their parents?
MIMBO: Yes, yes.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): And just hours before the attack, Mimbo saw Butt with a white van, like the one used that night, flying down their small street.
MIMBO: It's a 10-miles-per-hour zone. And then you're driving on that 30. And there's kids playing there with bicycles. And you're just -- the bends, you're quickly speeding on the bends. It was -- it was unusual.
[16:15:06] MARQUARDT: Another neighbor told Britain's ITN that, when he rented a moving van, one of the suspects took an odd interest.
IKENNA CHIGBO, NEIGHBOR: He's getting inquisitive about the van. He's saying to me, where can I get a van from, just asking real details. How much was it and just asking where he could get a van basically, and then he said to, oh, I might be moving shortly with my family as well. MARQUARDT: The police have now revealed more about how they stopped the attack at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night, responding just eight minutes after it started. Eight officers firing 50 rounds to take them down in a hail of bullets described as unprecedented in the U.K.
MARK ROWLEY, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, METROPOLITAN: The situation leaves officers were confronted with were critical, a matter of life and death. Three armed men wearing what appeared to be suicide belts. They had already attacked and killed members of the public and had to be stopped immediately.
MARQUARDT: Despite the fact that Butt was known to the authorities, there was no evidence that he was planning an attack. The other man, Redouane, was not known to the authorities.
Earlier today, the commissioner for the Metropolitan Police here in London warned on the BBC that the majority of face that we're facing is not overseas, meaning it's homegrown terror -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.
Is there any way to prevent something like the London attack from happening here in the United States? We'll talk to the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security next.
And then, the White House says the president will not try and stop former FBI Director James Comey from testifying. So, how much will Comey share about his meetings with the president?
Stay with us.
[16:20:35] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Sticking with our world lead, British authorities publicly identifying two of the three terrorists behind the carnage that unfolded in London Saturday night. One of them even appeared in a documentary about jihadists in which a banner similar to the ISIS flag was unfurled.
Joining me now to talk about this all is Michael Chertoff, former homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush.
So, this man Khuram Shazad Butt, he was known to British counterterrorism authorities. One woman told "The Guardian" she reported him to the police because he was trying to convert children in the park. She confronted him and he said, quote: I'm ready to do whatever I need to do in the name of Allah. I'm ready in the name of Allah to do what needs to be done, including killing my own mother.
She told that to the police, and then -- nothing.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know, I think we've seen this occasionally where somebody brings something to the attention of the authorities and then they seem to drop the matter, and I think that's a combination of things. Sometimes, it's human error. Sometimes, it's because the legal tools available to the authorities don't really give them an option.
So, for example, in the U.S. in this kind of a case, the FBI might put in an undercover or an informant in to meet with him and see if he wants to pursue the idea of an attack and then they would arrest him. Also in the U.S., we have a fairly broad material support of terrorism law which allows us to arrest people and convict them for preparatory steps that they might take in terrorism. So, we have some additional tools which I think the British may not have.
TAPPER: How could the British not have them? I would think that we would have more constraints because of the Constitution. It always seems like Europe --
TAPPER: -- can do a lot more things like in terms of intense police presence that the United States is constrained from doing.
CHERTOFF: I think it's historical. In the U.S., we've used sting operations and undercover operations for a long time. I think the British do it, but they don't do it quite as much as we do, and the material support law in the U.S. is one of the broadest laws in the world that allows you to go after people who are merely in the preparatory stages of assisting terrorist organizations.
TAPPER: Why is it, do you think, that we have seen this outburst of Islamist terrorism in Europe in the last couple of years, and we have not seen it to the same extent, thank God, in this country?
CHERTOFF: I think part of it is in some countries in Europe, you have a pool of potential recruits that's larger than in the U.S. You have people who are second generation immigrants. They may be disaffected. They may not be well integrated.
In another environment, they might join gangs and in fact some of the people we've seen who became terrorists started out as gang members and they simply move to a bigger gang. So, I think the sociology of it is a part of this. I've also think we've had very good relations with our communities in the U.S. for the most part. There was an occasion sometime back when I was in office when a number of Somalis went to fight with al Shabaab --
CHERTOFF: -- and the community came forward and worked with authorities to try to prevent that. So, we've done some things right in this area.
TAPPER: Theresa May said there's far too much tolerance of extremism in the U.K. and that they need to review the country's counterterrorism strategy. How do you interpret that, there's too much tolerance of extremism here? CHERTOFF: You know, I think there's certain areas in the U.K. where
for all intents and purposes the authorities deferred to some radical elements in the community and don't really want to push back on that. The challenge is how do you enlist the more moderate members of the community so that it's not just the government coming in and big- footing, but it's actually the community itself which identifies people who are bad actors, counteracts the message and works on educating young people to understand that these radicals are not really acting in the name of Islam? So, it's got to be a joint public/private partnership.
TAPPER: Lastly, the current secretary of homeland security, General John Kelly, said last month if people knew what he knew about the terror threat in the U.S., they would not leave the house. Did you feel that way when you had the job?
CHERTOFF: Well, I mean, I, of course, was on duty on September 11th --
CHERTOFF: -- and lived through all that.
I actually felt we were making really positive steps to getting security. I knew we had terrific people working on this. I know that General Kelly knows there are terrific people. I think he was making a rhetorical point, but I know from speaking to him, he has a lot of confidence, both in the folks in the Department of Homeland Security and in the folks in the FBI and the other -- and the intelligence agencies.
So, I -- I think that he wants to remind people we can't be complacent, but I don't think there's any doubt that we have a terrific group of people working on this 24/7.
TAPPER: It does seem to be that when people take office, whether Democrats, Republicans, whatever, all of a sudden, they get the declassified briefing, the real stuff, and there's a holy cow moment.
[16:28:08] You see it with presidents. You see it with DHS secretaries. It's probably what he went through.
CHERTOFF: Yes, I think that's right. And I remember we sat with the president every week when I was secretary, going over the threat matrix and drilling down into, what are you doing about this? What are you doing about that? And, you know, that's -- it is sobering. There's no question about it.
TAPPER: All right. Former Secretary of Department Homeland Security Michael Chertoff -- thanks so much for being here. I appreciate it.
The White House now says it will not try to silence fired FBI Director James Comey when he testifies on the Hill later this week. But will the president be doing a play-by-play of the testimony on Twitter? Stick around.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.
The White House announced this afternoon that President Trump will not attempt to prevent the FBI director he fired, Jim Comey, from testifying on Thursday. Comey's appearance will cap off a very busy week on Hill, a handful of other officials are set to testify Wednesday about the Russia probe.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins me now.
Dianne, what do we know about what James Comey might have to say on Thursday?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you know as well as anybody that James Comey kind of has a bit of a reputation when it comes to spell-binding testimony. Well, sources have indicated that he's keen to tell his side of the story, recount those tense moments with President Trump, but because much of this could be important to the special counsel investigation, it's hard to predict just how far he'll go.