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Trump Transition Team Ordered to Save Russia Records; Pence Hires Outside Counsel in Russia Probe; Russia: ISIS Leader Possibly Killed in Strike; Hospital: Scalise Improving But Still Critical; Dems And Republicans Unite On Baseball Diamond; Trump: "I Am Being Investigated For Firing" Comey. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired June 16, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:01] SHADAY GOODSON BROWN, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I'm like really happy. I just want to thank everybody who supported me.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And isn't that --
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Those are some beautiful pictures.
CUOMO: First of all, she looked great. So did he. And the memories are beautiful. This is what "The Good Stuff" is all about.
CAMEROTA: All right. Time now for CNN NEWSROOM now with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. Have a great weekend, everyone.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, guys. You too. Lots of news. Let's get started.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Targeting the transition. This morning, new developments to signal the Russia investigation is widening. "The New York Times" reports the Trump transition lawyer has ordered members of the transition team to preserve documents and other materials related to Russia. And perhaps no coincidence, we have heard anew from the President this morning.
In a statement he wrote, "After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my collusion with the Russians," in quotation marks, "nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad," exclamation point.
HARLOW: And while the President rails against the Russia investigation, the Special Counsel team is expanding. Robert Mueller hiring more than a dozen new lawyers.
Athena Jones is at the White House with a lot of news this Friday morning. Good morning, Athena.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. You're right. There is a lot going on, a lot of developments.
We mentioned, right off the top, "The New York Times" is reporting that members of the President's transition team have been ordered to preserve documents and other related materials that could be related to this investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates and the Russians.
The paper is citing a memo from the transition team's general counsel's office that says that former transition team members have a duty to preserve any physical and electronic records that are related to this. This is a sign, of course, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into this, that he is casting a wide net when it comes to this.
Now, the order is meant to cover any transition team information involving Russia or Ukraine. And it also seeks any background investigation records involving several people who are associated with the campaign.
That includes Paul Manafort, who was a campaign manager for a period of months; Carter Page, who was a foreign policy adviser; the business partner of Manafort, Rick Gates; and also a former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
So that is an important development there. You also mentioned the President taking to Twitter, not just yesterday but also this morning, to complain about this investigations, saying just a short while ago that, "After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my 'collusion with the Russians,' nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!"
Twitter is really the main place we've been seeing any sort of commentary on this investigation. White House officials are referring all questions about the matter to the President's outside legal team. And the President himself didn't respond to my shouted questions about the matter yesterday, but he is using Twitter to express his anger and frustration.
This is happening, as you mentioned, as Special Counsel Mueller is expanding his team of lawyers. He's hired 13 lawyers to handle this investigation. He has plans to hire more.
We've spoken a lot about the caliber of the lawyers on that team. These are folks who covered Enron, the Watergate. These are people with a depth of experience. That is yet another sign of how seriously this probe is being taken by Special Counsel Mueller.
We're also learning last night that Vice President Mike Pence has hired his own outside attorney to help deal with this matter and any questions around the Russia investigation. That lawyer, Richard Cullen, is a former Virginia attorney general and the former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
Now, Pence's team say this was in the works for a while, for several weeks, and that it was not prompted by any particular bit of news. But it shows that the Vice President now feeling the need. About a month after the President brought on his own outside legal team, the Vice President doing the same. And then, finally, I want to mention what many are viewing as a very
odd memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put out last night. I'll read to you a part of it and then talk about it.
He said, "Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they do not identify the country, let alone the branch or agency of government, with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated."
So Rosenstein is saying that Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. That sounds a lot like what we've heard from the President himself. But the Justice Department says the White House had no role in putting out that memo. And it's not clear right now exactly what story or stories Rosenstein was referring to but something that's getting a lot of attention. Back to you.
[09:05:11] BERMAN: A lot to digest. It's not even 9:10 a.m. That's a lot of information.
HARLOW: And it's Friday morning. Don't go on vacation yet, folks. Don't go anywhere.
BERMAN: Don't go anywhere, Athena. There is more coming soon. Thanks.
HARLOW: Thank you, Athena.
All right. Here to discuss all of that, David Drucker, our political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner"; David Swerdlick, CNN political commentator and "Washington Post" assistant editor; and Salena Zito, a CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter and "New York Post" columnist.
BERMAN: Apparently now in the cast of "The Sound of Music." Just saying.
HARLOW: Yes, Salena. You should see your background. It's pretty. It's pretty beautiful. The hills are alive, indeed.
SALENA ZITO, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It looks pretty amazing. Yes, I'm going to start singing.
HARLOW: David Swerdlick, to you, "The New York Times" reporting this morning that the Trump transition team, some specific members, have been ordered to preserve documents, preserve materials related to the Russia investigation.
We don't know why but, typically, something like that happens when you get a memo from the Justice Department that says hang on to this stuff, folks. What's the significance of this?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Poppy, I think the significance is that the team is starting to form in place and spread their investigation wide and into as many facets of the Trump transition and campaign as possible. It's not an indication, to my read, that they've found any criminality or that the investigation has, in any sense, advanced to an end point.
Simply, that a few weeks after Special Prosecutor Mueller has gotten his team in place, they're now putting members of the campaign and the transition and other folks in the Trump orbit on notice that documentation is out there that they want to look at and that they want to preserve and that the investigation is proceeding apace. But we are a long way from knowing what all that information that they're going to gather is actually going to mean.
BERMAN: Just consider what we've learned in the last two days. I mean, you have this. You have the document request. Jared Kushner allegedly looking into the financing there.
Salena Zito, Vice President Mike Pence lawyering up, hiring an outside counsel of his own this morning. You really see how far this thing spreads and spreads very, very quickly.
Let's focus on the Vice President right now. Is it possible, at some point, his interest diverge from the President?
ZITO: Yes. I mean, it's absolutely possible. Look, I think all of this is very smart. You know, it's important that everybody has documentation of everything they've done, everything they've said, every communication. That's something that probably have, should have archived all along.
And as David said, you know, I don't know if this is indication of something to be worried about. I think it's just the beginning of telling everyone, look, get everything in order.
And Pence, you know, I mean, we had that whole thing with Flynn lying to him. You know, I'm sure that that's something, you know, that concerns him, that makes him want to make sure that he has all his ducks in a row. And it's a sign of maturity from everyone to be really smart about whatever is going to happen to them.
HARLOW: And we should note, Pence ran the transition.
ZITO: Right, right.
HARLOW: So that's significant as well.
HARLOW: He is not named among the five people, though, that "The New York Times" points out for these documents, but we're gathering our own reporting on this, too.
David Drucker, "The Washington Post" report that broke last night, that Jared Kushner's financial dealings as a private sector businessman are being looked into. That's sort of a, yes, of course, you know, they're going to look at everything. DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON
HARLOW: But hours after that news, Rosenstein put out that statement that has confounded a lot of folks. I mean, you know, he comes out with a statement out of the blue. You know, the Justice Department says the White House did not order him to put out the statement.
And he not only talks about, you know, if you don't know the branch or agency of government the sources are from, you should be skeptical, but also which country they are affiliated with. What do you make of it and the timing?
DRUCKER: Well, look, I mean I think that statement might as well have read, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Everybody understands that we now have a Special Counsel who has hired a team, and they are investigating.
And it doesn't mean they're going to end up finding anything, but I think what's driving the skepticism and in fact what's driving coverage of this, as much as the reporting on the Special Counsel's investigation and everybody that's involved, is how the President talks about it.
And one of the large reasons we're spending so much time on this, this morning, and in fact every morning, is because the President, this week in particular, but most weeks, is busy tweeting and telling us how unfair the investigation is, how much of a witch hunt it is.
And I think if he would actually follow the plan, which is all questions referred to outside counsel and I'm going to focus on jobs and the economy and the agenda that people elected me to enact, I think, actually, the President would come out looking much better here.
[09:10:00] Now, if they end up finding something, if there's something to find, then that will come out eventually. But if the President actually is as innocent as he says and as he really sounds like he is, in terms of how he feels about it, that will also all come out also. And he'll come out looking better for it.
He would look much better if he allowed this investigation to play out. It plays well with his base, but with so many other people, it does not. And it actually brings more attention to this in a way that he claims he doesn't want.
BERMAN: All right, guys. Stand by for a moment right now. And part of me hates to do this, but I'm reading off of the President's Twitter feed right now. He just made a statement which begs dissecting.
He wrote, "I am being investigating for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch hunt."
Again, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director." You know, David Swerdlick, I don't know exactly what that means
because if Bob Mueller, who is the Special Counsel, told him to fire James Comey, that's news to us. If he's talking about Rod Rosenstein, who is the Deputy Attorney General who wrote the memo suggesting, you know, the firing of James Comey should be tied to the Clinton campaign, that's news also.
This is exactly the kind of statement from the President that, I think, probably makes his own lawyers very, very nervous. What on earth could this mean, David Swerdlick?
SWERDLICK: I have the same reaction as you, John. We don't know what the President is thinking, but the first name that popped into my head was Mueller because he did meet with Mueller.
We don't know exactly what was said in that meeting, but he referred to someone investigating him now. Former FBI Director, now Special Prosecutor, Mueller is investigating him and was the FBI Director.
And then the other person, Rod Rosenstein, who wrote that memo that the White House and the Justice Department released in concert with firing James Comey before then, the President went and gave that interview with Lester Holt where he said, actually -- you know, I'm paraphrasing, but it wasn't exactly that reason. He had Russia in mind when he thought about getting rid of Director Comey.
But we don't know what he means. And to your point, John, yes, if you're President Trump's White House Counsel or his outside private attorney or his Justice Department, this has to make you cringe because we're not just talking about a general tweet like "crooked Hillary" or "little Marco" or "this is a witch hunt."
SWERDLICK: He's really getting to the heart of what we're talking about here.
BERMAN: And, by the way, I guess he just did confirm he is being investigated for firing the FBI Director. That's part of that statement right there.
HARLOW: Yes. Let's pull up the tweet again. "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI Director." That's it. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director," which is --
DRUCKER: Pretty specific. And
HARLOW: Which is from his mouth, from his tweets. Last beat on it, Salena, to you, what do you think?
ZITO: I really want a follow up tweet to explain that because I know --
SWERDLICK: Don't we all, Salena?
(LAUGHTER) ZITO: I mean, like David said, is this Mueller? What does this mean? I don't know. I don't understand that tweet. And I know that our profession gets, you know, a little crazy about all this tweeting, but I really want a follow up tweet to know what he's tweeting about.
BERMAN: Again --
DRUCKER: But he just --
BERMAN: Yes, go ahead.
DRUCKER: Well, let's keep in mind, he just said, "I am being investigated." And so I think the "I'm not under investigation" no longer applies. According to the President --
DRUCKER: And, John, I commend you for calling it a statement because it is a statement, not just a tweet.
HARLOW: Yes, it's an important point. This is where he communicates. He will not take questions from reporters very often, and this is how he is talking to us. And the White House said take it as official. It is official statement from the President.
So, officially, from the President --
BERMAN: I am being investigated.
HARLOW: We'll leave it there. David Drucker, David Swerdlick, Salena Zito, thank you.
DRUCKER: Thanks, guys.
HARLOW: This morning, we are also following some big breaking news overseas, one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. Russia is investigating whether ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may have been killed in an air strike. If true, it would mark a major milestone in the war on terror.
At this hour, U.S. military officials say they are unable to confirm whether or not Baghdadi is, in fact, dead. Russia says the strike took place last month in Syria, targeted a command post where ISIS leaders were reportedly meeting.
I want to bring in Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward for the new details. Clarissa, what are you learning?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think we should all approach this report with a healthy dose of skepticism. Essentially, what the Russians are saying is that they are still investigating the possibility that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in this strike in question.
The strike took place May 28th in the evening. As you said, targeting an ISIS command post where a military council meeting was reportedly taking place. They're saying that 300 ISIS soldiers were present at the meeting. That in addition to that, 30 mid-level field commanders were present at the meeting.
[09:15:08] I mention those points only because they raise real red flags because ISIS is very adept and has learned a lot from the changes on the battlefield in the past few years from the threat of drones, threat of airstrikes.
They tend not to travel in large numbers. They certainly tend not to congregate in large numbers. So it will be very much inconceivable frankly to think that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, would be sitting down with 330 ISIS members in the southern suburb of Raqqa.
Raqqa, of course, is their self-declared capital, but it is also now the target of a major assault and we have been led to believe in previous weeks that most of ISIS' senior leadership had left Raqqa. That they were pushing down south towards the Iraqi border.
The Americans as you said are saying we can't comment on this yet. But we do know that they're trying to explore whether or not the Russians reached out to them through the deconfliction channel on May 28th to announce some kind of a strike in the evening.
As you know, the Russians and the Americans have this deconfliction channel to avoid a possible crash in the skies, if you will. If it turns out that indeed there was a Russian strike that the U.S. was made aware of through the deconfliction channel on May 28th then the U.S. can try to drill down on the details, see more information about what kind of a strike it was.
But honestly, weeks after such a huge strike taking place, it is hard to belief that that many ISIS shoulders and field commanders and the leader of ISIS were killed as well, that we would not have already heard about it is frankly inconceivable -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: All right. Clarissa Ward for us following this. Let us know if there are any new developments. Appreciate it.
The breaking news moments ago, the president seeming to confirm he is in fact under investigation, a pretty stunning statement. We will have much more on that.
Plus, uniting after the shooting, Democrats and Republicans show they can come together. The question this morning, can it last?
Again, the president moments ago put out a statement that said I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director. What on earth does that mean? How will his staff respond? We are asking the White House as we speak.
HARLOW: Plus, day five of deliberations after a judge tells a deadlocked Cosby jury try again. Go back to work. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BERMAN: Promising news this morning for Congressman Steve Scalise, he is in critical condition still with internal injuries and a broken leg, but hospital officials say he has improved over the last 24 hours, which is wonderful news.
When the Louisiana Republican is healthy enough to go back to work, he will get to see the trophy from last night's congressional baseball game in his office. The Democrats won the game, but they gave the trophy back to the Republicans to give to Steve Scalise, a gesture of unity after Wednesday's shooting.
HARLOW: Another emotional moment at the game last night when Capitol Police Special Agent David Bailey, who was wounded helping takedown the shooter, came out on crutches and threw out the first pitch. Bailey's heroism saved many, many lives.
So Ryan Nobles is with us. A beautiful night and a beautiful moment to see. As we learn more about the improving condition of Congressman Scalise, what can you tell us?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John and Poppy. Certainly an emotional night, and that's part of capping an emotional week here on Capitol Hill, and the condition of Congressman Scalise certainly on the night of everyone up here.
You guys mentioned that his condition is improving but the hospital where he is being treated, Bedstar Washington Hospital cautioned that he has a long road ahead.
He went through a second surgery yesterday to repair organs and a broken leg that he sustained during that shooting and they are cautioning that he could be in the hospital for some time.
But as you mention, he remains in critical condition, but that condition is improving. As you guys pointed out, Steve Scalise, his condition, his prognosis certainly on the minds of everyone at that baseball game last night.
They were wearing shirts that said Team Scalise at one point and it was such a dramatic show of unity, something that we haven't seen here in Washington for some time.
I think the question that a lot of people have is does this now transfer into the day-to-day operations of Congress? Both Republicans and Democrats over the past few days have said they want to point out to the American people that they don't hate each other.
That they were able to go out to lunch and dinner and spend time with each other despite the fact that they have all these political differences. We don't often see that in the political rhetoric that comes out of this building. But there is some hope that changes the dialogue a little bit. Of course, John and Poppy, they have a number of big issues that are confronting them here on Capitol Hill and they will be confronted with them when they all come back to work on Monday -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: All right, Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us. Joining us now is Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. Congressman, thanks so much for being with. You know, I don't care who won the game last night.
I think America wins when we see moments where Democrats and Republicans actually come together and it is rare to see. So Congressman, our question to you this morning and I'm sure that your heart was warmed by that side also, what are you going to do personally in the days and weeks ahead to try to keep this spirit going?
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: I think for many people, including myself, we were permanently impacted by the events of this week. There are important lessons for all of us to learn, whether you are in Congress or you are watching this at home in any corner of America.
It is OK to disagree. We are the greatest nation in the world because we allow disagreements. We can end up with better final solutions when we talk about our differences and hear each other's ideas.
I belong to the bipartisan working group. I wish we had 535 members of the bipartisan working group. What the American public doesn't get to see enough is that Republicans and Democrats, when we're on the floor or we're out around Washington, D.C., we get along well.
We know each other's families. We know each other's passions on issues, even though we disagree on issues.
[09:25:03]So I think that the permanent -- the lessons that we learned this week that we feel will permanently impact our lives because this hits so close to him should be stories and lessons that we're sharing with not just other colleagues but with the American public.
HARLOW: OK, Congressman, I'm glad to hear that and I hope we all see we hear more of it and that this is lasting. The president just tweeted moments ago, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt."
Two things here. That is the president confirming he is being investigated and he is also saying we don't know if he's talking about Special Counsel Mueller or Rod Rosenstein. But what is your take on that from the president?
ZELDIN: Well, I'm being investigated as you just pointed out on your last segment can be taken quite literally as I am being investigated. And if he means anything other than the literal meaning of those words, it is going to require a follow up statement from the White House or maybe a follow up tweet. I don't know if he's referring to Mr. Rosenstein. I don't know if he's referring to Mr. Mueller. Again, when you try to make a statement in 140 characters or less, people will take it for what they interpret it for. And if you mean something different than the way it is interpreted, it would require further clarification.
BERMAN: So it does require further clarification and where we're pressing the White House for that now. Congressman, you have been a supporter of Donald Trump for a long type, for back in the early days of the campaign. You have also given some free straight advice to the campaign and now to the White House. What is your advice this morning after a tweet like that? It seems to me that it puts supporters like you in a bit of a bind trying to explain somehow the inexplicable.
ZELDIN: Well, it is a -- it certainly has great potential and in some cases has shown high effectiveness of being a powerful tool to get your message out as that account he tweeted from has 32 million followers and he updated it with a tweet in the middle of my sentence. It is possible you might cut me off to address the follow up tweet, maybe it would be making news for a completely different reason.
BERMAN: No such luck.
ZELDIN: It's a powerful tool, but I do believe that it can be used more effectively to achieve his purpose. You know, I don't know the strategy behind, you know, this morning -- this latest tweet you are asking me about. But if there is a bigger strategy that makes sense, I'm all ears. I will go home and listen to it.
HARLOW: All right, Congressman, as far as we know, the only person leading an investigation of the president for possible obstruction of justice, according to the "Washington Post," is Bob Mueller. So let's -- all we have to work with is his tweet and assuming he's talking about Bob Mueller, he is then saying I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. If he's talking about Bob Mueller, what do you make of that?
ZELDIN: That would be a pretty valid concern if you had Bob Mueller asking questions into why the president fired the FBI director and in any way, shape or form was trying to imply that he did the wrong thing by doing that and Mr. Mueller did in fact provide counsel.
There is a lot of speculation in me saying that because we're acting under a few assumptions on that tweet. But I think you would have a pretty valid point in that case if he did in fact -- if he is referring to Mr. Mueller and he did give advice from Mr. Mueller. But I'm not one who would be able to confirm on either of that.
BERMAN: Look, it is very possible he is talking about the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, which is equally problematic. But Congressman, you know, you don't have to answer for that this morning as you sit her here, but we can see the pressure it does put on you as a loyal Republican. Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York, thanks so much for being with us.
ZELDIN: Thank you, John. Thank you, Poppy.
HARLOW: Have a good weekend. With us next our legal experts are going to weigh in on this. The president again this morning confirming that he is being investigated. We'll talk about that next.