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CNN NEWSROOM

Russia Investigation; President Trump Defends McMaster as Conservatives Eye His Dismissal; Interview with Rep. Lee Zeldin. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 5, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:59:45] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello.

WHITFIELD: Good morning. A busy afternoon.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

PAUL: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: You all make the most of it -- yes. Thanks so much. Good to see you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. It is the 11:00 eastern hour. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. NEWSROOM starts right now.

And we begin with new major developments in the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential race. CNN has exclusive reporting that on Election Day, a team of FBI analysts gathered in a war room to track specific social media accounts.

These accounts were believed to be part of a Russia disinformation campaign to spread false and damaging news stories against Hillary Clinton.

And the "New York Times" is reporting that special counselor Bob Mueller is asking the White House to turn over documents. The "Times" reports Mueller is looking into fired national security advisor Michael Flynn and the secret payments he received from a foreign government during the Trump campaign.

As for Russia a former ambassador to the U.S. is now sharing new details about his conversations with Michael Flynn which ultimately led to Flynn's firing. Sergey Kislyak says he talked about terrorism, not sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. (through translator): There are a few topics that are important to U.S.-Russia cooperation. First of all, it's terrorism. This was one of the topics we discussed. This conversation was proper, calm and absolutely transparent. There were no secrets at least on our side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So we have a team of reporters covering all of these angles of these latest developments.

I want to start with Boris Sanchez there. So Boris -- what exactly was the FBI looking for? And what did it find?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there -- Fred.

Yes. From what we understand, federal investigators are now looking into the relationship between Michael Flynn and the government of Turkey. The "New York Times" is reporting that they have requested that Robert Mueller, the special counsel's, requested documents from the White House pertaining to Flynn's relationship with Turkey and payments that he may have received in exchange for lobbying against a political enemy of the Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

From what we understand, this coincides with CNN's reporting that the focus of the Mueller investigation when it comes to Michael Flynn is really zooming in on ties between Flynn and Turkey.

We have reached out to Michael Flynn's attorneys. They have declined comment. And we have also reached out to the White House for comment on this. An attorney for the White House, Ty Cobb, has essentially said that they will not be disclosing their communications with the special counsel, though they are fully complying with the investigation.

We should be clear, Fred, earlier this spring, the House Oversight Committee revealed that Michael Flynn may have broken the law by not disclosing payments from Turkey on his security clearance form and even payments from Russia as well and RTTV, the Russian news agency.

When it comes to what you mentioned before, the FBI monitoring fake news on election night, apparently there was a room of analysts and agents watching social media, looking at a series of fake news stories coming in, some of them suspected to have been sourced from Russia specifically about Hillary Clinton and her health and other issues that they felt may sway voters.

At the end of the night, though, there was apparently, according to sources, what they're telling CNN, a celebratory feeling across the agency because there were no major issues when it comes to voting but there were some officials in the Obama White House that felt as though the fake news press by Russia actually worked in their favor -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez -- thank you so much. We will check back with you.

Now let's go to Matthew Chance. Matthey -- coming to us from Moscow. So former Ambassador Kislyak says he never discussed sanctions in his meeting with Michael Flynn, the former NSA, and had even been told specifically by the Kremlin not to. So what exactly is Kislyak saying about what was discussed?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka -- first of all, this is the first time that Sergey Kislyak has spoken out about his series of meetings that he had with Michael Flynn and, you know, others as well in the Trump team since he left his post as Russian ambassador to Washington just a few weeks ago, really. He just arrived here very recently late last month.

He's gone on Russian state television where he was questioned about the nature of his contact with members of the Trump team, particularly Michael Flynn, who of course resigned after just 23 days as national security advisor after failing to fully disclose the full contents of his discussions with ambassador Kislyak to the Vice President Mike Pence.

This is what Kislyak had to say. He said look, we just discussed simple things. First of all, terrorism -- the conversation was in his words proper, calm and absolutely transparent. And he said there were no secrets, at least on our side.

[11:04:55] And he went on to say later on in that discussion on Russian state television that at no point did he discuss sanctions with anyone, not just Michael Flynn but anyone else, either because he said that he believed that the sanctions -- Russia believes the sanctions were nothing to do with them and were imposed illegally.

And so he's rejected this suggestion, this allegation and this suspicion, in fact, that sanctions were indeed one of the main things that were discussed between Michael Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak when they met during the Trump transition period -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And then -- now there is an announcement that came out of the Kremlin yesterday that Russia would be strengthening its ties to now Iran, so what exactly was said and why?

CHANCE: Well, I think it was just a reaffirmation of the growing alliance that we have been witnessing between Russia and Iran over the past couple of years really, particularly in the conflict zone of Syria, where of course, Russia is providing close air support to Syrian government troops of Bashar al Assad and also his Iranian allies on the ground. They have been making huge advances against Syrian rebels, ISIS included, but also other sort of non-ISIS anti- government rebels.

Russia has also been supplying weaponry to the Iranian state, surface- to-air missiles, S-400s infamously which are very capable surface-to- air missiles. And Russia has been, you know, over several years engaged in building up Russia's -- sorry, Iran's nuclear power electricity generation system.

So I think what we are expecting to see is despite concerns of many in the West, particularly the United States, this relationship is getting too close. Russia, because of these new sanctions imposed by the United States on it, is saying look we're going to get an even closer, tighter relationship between Moscow and Tehran moving forward.

So that will be something that I expect the United States will be -- and President Trump will be very concerned about.

WHITFIELD: All right. Matthew Chance -- thank you so much. Boris Sanchez also -- thank you from D.C.

All right. So much to talk about here. Let's bring in my panel: CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer is a historian and professor at Princeton University, CNN contributor Salena Zito is a columnist for the "New York Post", and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin is Robert Mueller's former assistant at the Justice Department. Good to see all of you.

All right. So Michael -- let me begin with you because, you know, now we know that Special Counsel Mueller, his office has issued grand jury subpoenas. There have been a lot of developments this week as it relates to the Trump orbit.

Also, we know that Trump, you know, President Trump, it was revealed earlier in the week that he dictated remarks for his son Donald Trump, Jr. -- so these subpoenas now for documents and for testimony from people in that June 2016 meeting.

Do you see that the scope has widened now as a result of these incremental pieces that we are now learning publicly about the investigation?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I think that this investigation has been this broad for some period of time and we are just learning about it now. We know, for example, that before Mueller started, the eastern district of Virginia U.S. Attorney's office had an open grand jury on General Flynn.

And I think that what we are seeing here, the documents request from the White House, the witness interviews for people associated with the Flynn group are the continuation of that grand jury.

Mueller has since taken it over so I think that work has been ongoing for awhile. We are just learning about it. It's serious for General Flynn but it's not unexpected, I don't think.

With respect to the grand jury by Mueller, that is the step up from the informal interview process that he's been undertaking for the past month or so. And this portends nothing with respect to whether or not people are going to be indicted but it means that Mueller has decided to formalize his requests for documents through grand jury subpoenas and through the taking of witness testimony under oath.

So it's a serious step in that if you lie to the grand jury or you fail to produce documents, you can be charged with obstruction or lying or perjury and that makes the consequences for not being truthful more significant. With respect to the June 9 meeting, that is the closest thing we have seen to any sort of cooperation or coordination between the Trump campaign and representatives of the Russian government. So that I think is the first and closest thing we are going to see yet to whether or not there are, to use the media's word, any elements of collusion between the parties.

So it's a big week.

WHITFIELD: And do you think that the President, that he may have dictated, that he played a part in this statement, has now injected a need for investigators to call for his testimony?

[11:10:00] ZELDIN: I think -- I thought for a while that he's going to have to testify in the Mueller investigation in some way or another.

And I said too that the President's greatest liability for himself legally is truth telling because he seems to have a loose relationship with the truth as it relates to many of the allegations in this investigation -- the participation in the writing of that initial Don Jr. statement being one such thing and so his lawyers have a lot to do to prepare him for an under oath testimony before Mueller to avoid any sort of false statements or perjury.

WHITFIELD: So Julian -- I want to ask you about CNN's new reporting that the FBI set up that war room to track social media accounts where there may have been some participation in, you know, fake media accounts to influence the election. We don't know if the Trump campaign had any knowledge of this, but if they didn't, take a step back, you know-- kind of remind us why the Russians would want Trump to win if indeed, they were helping to facilitate this fake information on these sites that may have been, you know, looked over by the FBI.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the story combined with earlier stories about the summer of 2016 and the concerns that existed about Russian intervention remind us just how severe of an attack this was seen as -- an attack on our election not through manipulating the ballot box but by manipulating the news right through Election Day.

It obviously raises concerns and will raise questions about what the FBI was doing and the legitimacy of the social media sites they were looking at. But to the story that we're talking about today, this is a pretty stark reminder of how concerned Obama officials were about not just that this was happening, but that it would sway key voters in the election and in a direction toward Donald Trump.

WHITFIELD: So Salena -- how distracting is all of this, you know, for the White House? The President right now on this 17-day vacation -- it's a working vacation, says the White House, as is the case usually for any president even when they leave the White House proper.

But does this become impetus for a redirection or a new turning point for this White House as it tries to stay on track with so much swirling around in these various investigations?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I saw the beginnings of this White House starting to understand the scope and how distracting sort of all this news information has been about the impact that it had on the election, what Russians tried to do, even though they did not succeed -- or, you know, allegedly did not succeed.

I think the President has made some turns that are important. Ok, he put Kelly in the office as chief of staff. I think that's important because it brings order to the staff. I'm not saying it brings order to Trump but I think it brings order to the staff and the people around him, and the people that have been influencing him and having an impact on him have less access.

The other thing that I think is really important is his visits to Youngstown and to Huntington, West Virginia, which you saw in the last week. Now, these cities serve as symbolic areas for all types of cities and towns across the country that voted for him. So he's able to use them as a backdrop to communicate. And I think --

WHITFIELD: But he did directly, did he not, you know, from West Virginia -- it's kind of us against them --

ZITO: Yes. Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: Which helped propel him, you know, to this position of being the President so he is reaching into that or holding on, not letting go of that fuel. Right.

ZITO: Yes. I think that's, you know, for him, I have been saying this for awhile, you know, (inaudible) he's going to, if you are looking at it from his point of view, to hold on to his base and to possibly grow support. You have to talk directly to the people.

I think all presidents should get out of town. I think all presidents, whoever they are, should get out into areas not that just voted for him but all over the country and connect with people in that way.

WHITFIELD: At the same time, you know, Michael, while the President does that, and feels invigorated by that kind of support, he has used the word, you know, witch hunt. He's kind of departed from that right now. It's the us against them.

[11:15:00] But then there are supporters who are saying this is a fishing expedition. You know, this probe has gone too far. But Michael -- help people understand that, you know, if the investigation is going in one direction and there are new threads, doesn't it compel investigators to continue to look at those other things? Is that, you know, does that constitute a fishing expedition or is that a legitimate investigation that simply moves in new directions?

ZELDIN: So two things are being asked here. One is, the President's political strategy vis a vis his legal position. He is arguing to his base that this is a witch hunt and if it turns out in the end that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, then he will be sort of a hero to his base to say see, I told you all along.

If it turns out there is something wrong, then it makes him look like he was lying to his base. This wasn't a witch hunt, there was something legally there. That's what happened to Nixon. And so there's a danger in that.

I think if I were his lawyers, I would tell him to please not talk about the witch hunt language on the campaign trail but focus on the economy and whatever it is that is his priorities.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELDIN: With respect to the scope -- sorry, I was going to say one thing -- Fredricka. With respect to the scope of the mandate of Mueller, excuse me, Mueller has a mandate which says look at ties and coordination between Trump and Russians and look at any matters that arose out of and might arise out of those ties.

So the financial investigation that might explain motive or behavior of the Trump people or may prove independently to have criminality behind it is a perfectly appropriate participation of Mueller in this investigation and is not a fishing expedition.

WHITFIELD: So real quick, Julian and this thereby is the test of discipline, the task that either chief of staff John Kelly has to make sure that this entire White House is particularly disciplined.

ZELIZER: Absolutely. And you could almost imagine Kelly trying to hold the door as President Trump wants to get out and tweet and say what's on his mind. You saw in that speech, though, the us against them that he's very much thinking the same way. And maybe for a week he's been a little more quiet than usual. But I think this is going to be very hard for Kelly to contain him.

Again, the source of dysfunction is not the staff. The source of dysfunction has been the President. So that's his number one challenge. And I'm not sure he will really be able to contain him over time.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it right there for now. Julian Zelizer, Salena Zito, Michael Zeldin -- We will have you back very soon. Thanks so much.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, General H.R. McMaster says the President has been given military options for dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat. This comes as the national security advisor is facing his own round of backlash from the far right.

[11:18:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

A developing story we are following right now. President Trump being briefed as U.S. military boats and aircraft search the waters off Australia's eastern coast for three missing U.S. marines following a training mishap. The Marine Corps says the MV 22 Osprey aircraft, like the one seen here, went into the water during a training exercise conducted with the Australian military. Twenty-three of the 26 people on the aircraft have been rescued.

President Trump's national security advisor is facing backlash from the far right over a number of issues including firing some on the national security staff and urging the President to keep up the Iran nuclear deal for now. He explained his marching orders this morning on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: What we're doing is we're delivering what we are calling integrated strategies based on the President's guidance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaitlan Collins is joining me right now from Bridgewater, New Jersey where the President is on his working vacation. So Kaitlan -- despite attacks the from the far right, the President is standing by his national security advisor.

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, he is. He issued a statement overnight, Fred, saying essentially that he had confidence in McMaster to continue on as the national security advisor. He said "General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I'm grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country."

As you know, Fred -- McMaster is accused this week of attempting to undermine the President's agenda by those on the far right after he did two things. One was the dismissal of Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the National Security Council. He was this intelligence aide who was brought on by the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

And secondly was, when everyone found out that McMaster had written a letter to Susan Rice, Barack Obama's national security advisor essentially extending her security clearance. Now, the White House says that McMaster did this for all of former national security advisors so they can weigh in on national security matters that arose when they were in office.

But this caused some concern among conservatives because as you know, Susan Rice has been accused of mishandling classified information that pertained to Trump associates. But for right now, it looks like McMaster's job is safe -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaitlan Collins -- thank you so much. We will check back with you.

All right. Let's get some perspective on all of this. We are joined now by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thanks so much. Good to see you.

All right. So Congressman -- what's your reaction today on this general criticism of General McMaster?

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY), HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, General McMaster is certainly highly capable to be serving in the capacity that he's in right now. And he inherited a staff at NSC that was brought in, in many respects from his predecessor. And it's important that over the course of time, as you have opportunities to upgrade certain positions to get the right chemistry, that changes will be made inside of the NSC.

[11:25:07] So from a personnel standpoint I wouldn't be surprised to see a new NSA -- national security advisor -- come in and over the course of several months, that there would be some changes made.

From a policy standpoint -- and I have seen, I have had the opportunity to spend time with both the President and General McMaster together, and there is great chemistry between both of them. Clearly he respects General McMaster and the feeling is mutual. On a policy standpoint, there are so many issues going on all across the entire globe, he will provide recommendations. Sometimes we will call them in the military strong recommendations and try to gear our foreign policy in a particular direction based off of his military experience as well as the advice that he gets from other members in the NSC that he's brought on.

I think that he's in great -- a great place as it relates to the President and the President respects him and trusts his advice.

WHITFIELD: The White House and the President, you know, really does need to show that there's a united front, you know, in the West Wing, particularly after such a tumultuous week. But the President also seems to be trying to convey to his supporters that, you know, nothing is really changing in terms of what his promises to the American people.

This was him in West Virginia. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress must do its job, keep its promise, live up to its word and repeal and replace Obamacare. You have to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, you know, the President there really kind of holding on to that campaign promise and then at the same time, placing blame on Congress and that would include you. So, you know, is there any concern that you might have as a member of Congress particularly that the President is saying if things don't go well, it's congress' fault?

L. ZELDIN: Well, the President is upset with three Republican senators from the vote that took place on the skinny repeal bill. After the vote I had the opportunity to spend time with the President talking to him about health care and he tweeted out that there were 48 Democratic senators and three Republican senators that he was disappointed in. There are almost 300 Republicans in congress on health care, he looks to the Republicans in the House and the Senate as natural allies as well as the Vice President looks to those congressional Republicans as natural allies in the effort to make changes that they believe in as relates to health care.

But I don't think on the health care standpoint, he's not referring to all the congressional Republicans. There are just a few -- there are a few in the Senate that blocked progress that he's upset with.

WHITFIELD: Except he didn't really piecemeal it that way. In West Virginia, he's tweeted such, you know, if folks on the Hill don't get it together, you know, are not able to push through his agenda, it's the failure of those on Capitol Hill.

Do you feel like at this juncture the President has kind of, you know, lost, you know, the power of the bully pulpit because he has not been tangibly involved in moving legislation, in trying to get legislation without a big legislative victory under his belt thus far?

L. ZELDIN: You know, I can certainly speak very well on the House side and while the irony of the Senate Republicans not being able to pass at least the skinny repeal bill before leaving -- on the House side, there's a confidence and optimism more so than any other moment I have been in Congress that we can pass everything that we want to and need to get done.

We have passed on the House side hundreds of bills, by the way, many of which strong overwhelming bipartisan support -- hundreds of bills that are over in the Senate. A few dozen of those bills have gotten through the Senate and to the President. And as far as those particular issues --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: But none of these are representative -- but none of those things are representative of the big campaign promises -- health care and next time, you know, tax reform potentially. And you do have certain members of the GOP that are distancing themselves from Trump.

I mean you mentioned, you know, John McCain and Murkowski as well as, you know, Collins but then you also now have Jeff Flake who has been very critical with his new book particularly, criticizing Republicans even for not standing up to the President. This was Jeff Flake recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We've got to get away from this attitude that you have to agree with the President and that a Senator should be a rubber stamp for everything the President wants at all times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Is that kind of representative of, you know, it's going to be different between the White House and members of Congress in terms of trying to get things done. No longer, you know, I guess an allegiance to the party and the President, but an allegiance to the constituents.

[11:30:03] L. ZELDIN: Well, absolutely. Regardless of whether there's a president of your own party or the president of the opposite party you should be making decisions on policy based on what is in the best interest of your district, of your state, of your country.

With regard to some of those bills that did get done, as far as the House-passed bills, you have the bill that helps fund the need to secure our southern border. There are veterans' bills, one with regard to the GI bill.

Others with regard to holding the VA accountable and whistleblower protection that the president signed as well as over a dozen congressional review act bills that passed Congress signed by the president.

On the legislative front, there's been some of these big victories. To your point, to your last question, I would strongly encourage any of my colleagues and if it was President Obama previously, regardless of whoever the next president is, the decisions that should be made should be made on what's in the best interest of your district, state and country.

That's the oath that you are sworn to. Now as far as Senator Flake goes, it would be great if you see those types of positions by someone who is not trying to sell a book as he's saying it, but the point is certainly well taken that your allegiance needs to be first and foremost to your country and your district.

WHITFIELD: Yes. We did hear that (inaudible) actually said that to the president too that, you know, she serves the people in her constituency in her district and we heard it again and that extraordinary conversation with Senator Collins as well.

All right, thank you so much, Congressman Lee Zeldin. Appreciate that. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:51]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. The Trump administration is cracking down on leaks. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Department of Justice has tripled the number of leak investigations since President Trump took office. Sessions also says the department is reviewing its policies for issuing subpoenas to members of the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press' role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law-abiding Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about this now. I'm joined again by Michael Zeldin, and CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCEs" Brian Stelter. Good to see you.

All right. So, Brian, Paul Ryan, the House speaker, was actually asked about the leaks yesterday and this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Leaks are a bad thing. Leaks are concerning because leaks can often compromise national security. But that's the problem of the leaker, not the journalist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, there is a difference of opinion, at least, it appears to be. The White House is saying one thing by way of the message that the attorney general gave, and the House speaker says it's the leaker you should be focusing on.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Indeed. There is certainly concern among press freedom groups about the Justice Department even considering becoming more aggressive about pursuing not the leakers necessarily, but also the reporters who are benefiting from the leaks.

That is something that the Obama administration for a time early on in the Obama years did, at one point, naming one reporter a co- conspirator in a leak case. The Obama administration was widely condemned and criticized for its aggressive prosecutions.

By the end of the Obama administration, they had pulled back and admitted some regret and changed the rules. It sounds like now, once again, the Trump administration wants to loosen up the rules, get more aggressive.

I think what's really going on here, Fred, is that Jeff Sessions was sending a message to his boss, President Trump. Trump has criticized Sessions as we all know for several reasons.

One of the reasons he's been critical is because he says the Justice Department needs to be more aggressive pursuing leaks. We've heard President Trump decry leaks many, many times.

So, I think Sessions was doing that yesterday. Sessions was also using empty rhetoric. You played a sound bite where he said journalists are putting lives at risk through these leaks.

There is not evidence of that. He didn't cite any evidence of that, at least, at his press conference. He didn't take any questions at all. If he is going to say that journalists are putting lives at risk, he should back that up with evidence.

WHITFIELD: In fact, you know, Michael, the U.S. attorney general said the DOJ, you know, cannot allow leakers to put lives at risk, expose national security, but is this an issue of leaked information causes embarrassment versus whether there was leaked information that might jeopardize national security, because it seems as though the latest examples are mostly about embarrassment, are they not?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, yes. In fact, I think what's important in this discussion is to define what is a leak because in legal terms, a leak is the unauthorized disclosure of information, which has a classification on it primarily.

So, if you are leaking classified information then you are committing a crime. If you are engaging in a conversation about policy issues that you find to be problematic, that's not really a leak.

It's an embarrassment to the government and maybe it's cause for you to be fired by the administration for breaching that confidence but it's not a leak. So, if we are talking about the leak of classified information, there is a code of federal regulations provision 50.10 that governs this.

And it's a pretty smart provision that says when you are going after information, the access to reporters, confidential sources and others, should be only perceived as a last resort by prosecutors.

And I think that that strikes a fair balance between freedom of the press desires and need for prosecutorial imperatives.

[11:40:05] And I would caution the attorney general about this because in my career at the Justice Department and since, I have seen a lot of people complain about leaks, and leak investigations really don't go very far, very frequently. They are not easily concluded.

And so, he's creating a lot of sort of dust around something that I don't think is going to end up in a legal position that benefits them. So, I just would caution concern about using this word so loosely as he has been so far.

WHITFIELD: Yes. It all sounds like it really is a threat or that kind of substantiates what was being said. Brian, really quickly, leaks are symptomatic of a few different things, right.

It may be a disgruntled employee or someone who feels they are playing the role of whistleblower where they have to expose something, but it's not necessarily something more nefarious like wanting to compromise security.

STELTER: You said it absolutely right. Some people leak because they are ticked off at their boss and want revenge, but many of these leakers, many of the stories we have seen about in-fighting at the White House or to Michael's point, stories about sensitive, secret information inside the government.

These people are coming forward because they are disturbed by President Trump's conduct and by the conduct of his aides and they are trying to alert the public. What they may do is illegal, and yet still, somehow, a public service for the country.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much to both of you, Michael and Brian. Appreciate it.

We'll have much more from the NEWSROOM after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:45:45]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Just this week, President Trump held a rally in West Virginia touting his base's unwavering support. But with no major legislative victories and in-fighting among the administration, will this loyalty to the president last?

CNN national correspondent, Miguel Marquez, went to a major Trump stronghold in the election and that is Macomb County in Michigan. This is what he found out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John and Brenda Skantze, skipper and first mate of the "Misbhaven," now retired, a self-described moderate Republicans voted for and still support the president but --

JOHN SKANTZE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think he's put up a wall around him and he's only letting a select few enter that wall.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Is that a mistake?

SKANTZE: It's a mistake because a manager appoints people that he should be listening to.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Skantze, a manager in the automotive industry for 46 years says the president must listen more, tweet less, and adapt his business skills to politics.

(on camera): Does he have a credibility issue and are some of those self-made?

SKANTZE: Some are self-made. Yes. Maybe his ego is getting into the way of how he used to run a company in New York.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Brenda, a life-long Republican, says the president should get out of campaign mode.

BRENDA SKANTZE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He needs to listen to his cabinet members who he hired. He can't run the show by himself and I think he needs to lose a little of his ego and get a little tough skin. The election is over.

MARQUEZ: Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes. Macomb County just north of Detroit helped hand him the victory. Trump won it big- time by more than 48,000 votes. Brian Pannebecker, an auto worker for 32 years, met Candidate Trump then helped bring him to Macomb County.

BRIAN PANNEBECKER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I probably am one of the biggest Trump supporters in Macomb County.

MARQUEZ: He says the president needs a big legislative win by year's end to prove he has the right stuff.

(on camera): If you had one thing to tell him to do right now to turn it around, what would it be?

focus like a laser beam on your legislative agenda. Get with the leaders in Congress and the Senate to move your legislation forward.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Gun rights brought voters like Christine Walsh, a paralegal and avid shooter, out for Candidate Trump.

(on camera): He made very big promises here in Macomb County. Is he keeping them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's work in progress.

MARQUEZ: How long do you give him before he gets up and goes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least half of his first term.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): As summer begins to fade, the president's supporters sticking by him but looking, hoping for a win. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Macomb County, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. And just days after the U.S. slapped Iran with new sanctions, the country swears in its president for a second term. This as Iran agrees to strengthen its military cooperation with Russia. We'll go live to Tehran next.

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[11:53:17]

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. So, today, Hassan Rouhani is starting his second term as president of Iran after being sworn in just hours ago in Tehran. Dozens of world leaders gathered for the inauguration, which comes just days after President Trump signed into law new U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in Tehran joining us now. So, Nick, as all of this unfolds Russian state media now reporting today that Moscow and Tehran have agreed to stronger cooperation in the wake of those new U.S. sanctions against both countries. So, what does this mean for the U.S.?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does potentially mean that those nations they've tried to penalize through new sanctions just passed in the last few days in Washington, that those countries are, perhaps, trying to bring themselves closer together.

This agreement between Moscow and Tehran, we don't know the details of it yet but seems to involve the increased supply of weaponry, perhaps transfer of technology too.

It was clear in the audience that the inauguration today, Moscow sending Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and meeting with his Iranian counterpart. They were clearly trying to send a message that you can try and isolate us in terms of the world stage, but we are able to forge our own alliances.

The audience at the inauguration too very much a who's who. People of Iran would like to see themselves closer to -- namely also the E.U. foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, was there to express through a statement what they referred to the E.U.'s unwavering commitment to the nuclear deal under which Iran is supposed to stop a lot of its nuclear enrichment in exchange for relief of certain sanctions.

Now Donald Trump has always been very skeptical about a deal said while he was campaigning and after he thinks it's a bad deal, even suggested tension in the weeks and months ahead. He may certify Iran as not being in compliance with it.

[11:55:05] But he's not the only signatory. The U.S. is not the only signatory to it. There are European powers there as well. They feel quite differently about the approach towards Iran as the new White House does and what we saw today with North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, France, the U.K.

The E.U. in the audience there, it was a bit from Iran to show we're not actually on our own here and a comment, too, from Hassan Rouhani himself perhaps trying to phrase or characterize Donald Trump as a neophyte on the world stage.

He said, "We do not wish to engage with those who are newcomers in the political arenas, but tell the veteran politicians and diplomats we can continue and maintain working on the framework of the joint plan.

That's a pretty direct dig at the new commander-in-chief. We have to see how he responds to that in the months ahead -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Tehran, thank you so much for that.

Still so much straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.

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