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Donald Trump's Attorney Sent A 20-Page Letter To Special Counsel Robert Mueller Arguing Why A President Can't Obstruct Justice; Death Toll From Hurricane Maria May Be Much Higher Than Initially Thought; More Problems For EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Concerning How He Is Using Your Tax Dollars. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired June 2, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:44] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
You made it to the weekend and we begin this hour with breaking news in the obstruction investigation into President Trump. "The New York Times" reporting this hour that Donald Trump's attorney sent a 20-page letter to special counsel Robert Mueller arguing why a President can't obstruct justice. According to the paper, the letter was hand delivered back in January and was an attempt to head off a possible subpoena for President Trump to testify. We are covering all the angles of this.
CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown is in Washington, and White House correspondent Boris Sanchez is at the White House for us.
Pamela, first to you. You have had a chance now to read through this letter. Tell us more about what's in these 20 pages. Any revelations?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these 20 pages certainly offer a glimpse into the legal strategy and what has been conveyed to Robert Mueller's team by the President's attorneys. And they made the case in this 20-page memo that was hand delivered to Robert Mueller in January that the President cannot be compelled to testify and that he couldn't have obstructed justice under the constitution. And there is some striking lines in this 20-page memo as they make this argument that is a very broad interpretation of executive authority, Ana, some of which has not been tested.
And one part of the letter is they are making the case that the President couldn't have obstructed justice, at least in the Michael Flynn investigation when he allegedly reportedly asked James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn. This says, let's see, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, calling the President the chief law enforcement officer under the constitution, he could neither constitutionally nor legally constitutes obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired. So basically, they are making the case that whatever he said to James
Comey in the oval office about ending the investigation in the Flynn couldn't be obstruction because the President, in their view, has the authority under the constitution to end an investigation and can pardon whoever he wants. It also raises a possibility, whether they are talking about the President able to end the -- his own investigation into obstruction of justice and pardoning himself. That is something that is sort of unclear and no President has ever purported to do something like that.
What also struck out to me is they're making the case that they have handed over tens of thousands of documents, allowed witnesses to be interviewed, including those close to the president. So there's no need for Robert Mueller to interview the President to understand his state of mind, his intent, whether there was an intent to obstruct justice, because they have all the information necessary. So that was another point that they're trying to make here in this 20-page memo.
And there's also some new revelations in terms of what the lawyers are saying that we haven't heard before, particularly as they talk to the -- talk about the statement that was drafted aboard air force one, as you will recall, Ana, regarding that Trump tower meeting with Don Junior and the Russian lawyer and the purpose of it, it says in this letter, that the President dictated a short but accurate response to "The New York Times" article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr. His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.
So this is the first time that representatives of the President are admitting that the President did dictate that initial misleading statement that you will recall where they said this meeting was primarily about Russian adoption. Then we find out that actually it was primarily a way to potentially get damaging information on Hillary Clinton. So, that is also notable. Really, really interesting sort of glimpse into the arguments that the President's legal team is making here, Ana.
CABRERA: And Boris, there was this mysterious tweet that came out before we saw this "New York Times" reporting and the letter that was posted there from the President earlier. Now appears to be about this breaking news.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. We were all scratching our heads, wondering exactly what the President was talking about in that tweet. One of the authors of this piece in "The New York Times," Michael Schmidt, actually tweeted out that he believed that the President was trying to scoop the "Times."
Here's what the President tweeted. He writes quote "there was no collusion with Russia except by the Democrats. When will this very expensive witch hunt hoax ever end, so bad for our country. Is the special counsel/justice department leaking my lawyers' letters to the fake news media? Should be looking at Dems corruption instead."
I did reach out to the White House to try to get some insight on what the President was talking about. Of course that's before the "Times" piece was published. They referred all our questions about this tweet to the President's legal team, to the outside counsel. Perhaps not a surprise that the President is using this information to try to go after the department of justice and the special counsel. He is essentially suggesting that someone at his DOJ or on the special counsel is leaking this information.
And the President has gone after the department of justice before. Just this week, he tweeted about regretting having named Jeff Sessions as his attorney general. Prior to that, he was propagating this conspiracy theory that the deep state had implanted a spy within his campaign to try to boost Hillary Clinton's campaign, something the White House has provided no evidence for. Now we are seeing the President go after the special counsel in a bit of a different way.
I do want to point out last week on CNN, Rudy Giuliani openly admitted that he and the President were trying to discredit the special counsel as sort of a political move to try to sway public opinion in the President's direction to try to keep him from being impeached -- Ana.
[16:06:29] CABRERA: Of course Rudy Giuliani is a new lawyer. John Dowd, who is part of this letter, is no longer there. So, a lot more to uncover here.
Pamela Brown and Boris Sanchez, thank you.
Another major story we are covering right now, new information painting a dire picture of death and misery in Puerto Rico. People there are bracing for another hurricane season without having recovered from the last big storm, which devastated the island back in September. We are now learning that the death toll from hurricane Maria may be much higher than initially thought. This as a poignant makeshift memorial adorns the capital grounds in San Juan, hundreds of shoes from people killed, their families say, as a result of the storm.
CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining us now.
So Leyla, what is the mood of the people there as the suffering continues?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting just to hear what people have to say, to see their reactions, but also to see who is actually coming here as hundreds of shoes are placed to represent every single death on the island as a Result of Puerto Rico.
I have heard the words tragedy. I have heard the words, sadness. I have heard the word shame coming from people, coming from Puerto Ricans, family members, even tourists who are coming here to see what these shoes represent. And you know, this is, today, the organizer here said that this is a funeral. She considers this the cemetery. All week long, as I have been talking to people, the mood has been anxiety as we get into the 2018 hurricane season, because as you mentioned, this is an island that is still recovering.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANTIAGO (voice-over): It I actually a sign of desperation. (INAUDIBLE), one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANTIAGO: He says they are repairing the power at themselves because there almost at nine months without power and they feel abandoned.
Charlie Reyes has no experience doing this, climbing poles, working with live wires, restoring power, something he says he learned in one day from a retired power work.
Using any materials they can find, their risky mission has turned the lights back on for more than a dozen. The home of Samuel Vazquez is next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel bad because it's just -- I mean, you can't get no power. You can't get no light.
SANTIAGO: In Utuado, tarps are still being used. Roads, washed out. Emergency plans are still being worked out. Mayor Ernesto Irizany says his municipality cannot take another storm.
So, how frustrating is that as the leader of 30,000 people?
MAYOR ERNESTO IRIZANY, UTUADO, PUERTO RICO: It's difficult because you see in the eyes of the people, the frustration.
SANTIAGO: He says he doesn't have the basic resources or the money to respond to a natural disaster. Eight months after Maria, parts of the island are still dealing with what FEMA calls the longest power outage in modern U.S. history. More than 10,000 customers are still in the dark.
Can this power grid, can it sustain itself if another hurricane were to come?
WALT HIGGINS, CEO, PREPA: The most honest thing to say about our grid is that it's weak or fragile.
SANTIAGO: Walt Higgins is the new CEO for Puerto Rico's power authority, tasked with fixing a power grid never built to handle cat four or five hurricanes. Just weeks ago, an island-wide blackout was caused by a fallen tree. Higgins promises most of those still without power, though not all, will have it restored in a matter of weeks. What he cannot say is what will happen if another storm plunges the island into darkness.
[16:10:16] HIGGINS: My straight answer to that is, we are readier this year than we were last year.
SANTIAGO: And people on the island will be counting on it for their very lives. Will this be enough?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, yes. SANTIAGO: For FEMA's part, it's showing off this warehouse full of
disaster relief supplies. The plan for the next disaster compared to Maria preparations to have seven times more water and meals, six times more generators, eight times more tarps, all on the island before the next hurricane. The agency admits it's learned some lessons.
Will FEMA be ready for a faster response if a hurricane hits Puerto Rico?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Here is no doubt. No doubt.
SANTIAGO: But for those taking matters into their own hands, any sign of recovery is a victory.
You get a little emotional about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. You know how long I don't see the light in my house? Nine months. Nine months.
SANTIAGO: And now another hurricane could be around the corner for the next season.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I guess I got to do it again -- by hand again.
SANTIAGO: The hope here is that power returns before the next storm.
SANTIAGO: And I spoke to eight different mayors from across the island, asked them the question, are you prepared for another storm? I couldn't get one mayor to just say yes.
The mayor of Baillamon (ph) told me he's as prepared as he can be but acknowledged the vulnerabilities of the island coming into the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, and then you have this. You have people wondering how prepared can Puerto Rico be if they still don't have an exact number or even an official number that reflects what many believe is the true number of how many people died at the hands of hurricane Maria -- Anna.
CABRERA: That speaks volumes, that even officials who want to be able to say they are prepared, who are trying to be accountable to the people they are leading, still admit they are not ready.
Leyla Santiago, thank you for your incredible reporting from Puerto Rico.
Now to a major difference in the number of people reported dead from this storm and its horrible aftermath. Let me break it down for you because remember, initially the Puerto Rican government reported 6 4 deaths from the hurricane, which is a lot, but that's an astonishingly low number compared to the Harvard University study of the hurricane casualties, which was revealed this week and showed, instead, more than 4,600 people lost their lives in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. CNN did its own survey, found an even different figure. We also have
new numbers just today, just released in the last 24 hours, from Puerto Rico's health department that shows that there were more than 1,400 additional deaths in the months after hurricane Maria compared to the previous calendar year. So the numbers are all over the map, and as we now bring in national security analyst Juliet Kayyem, just think about that for a moment.
Juliette, what do you make of the discrepancy between the official death count compared to these reports that have come out this week that have numbers hundreds of people higher?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So, I now ignore that 64 number. It doesn't mean anything. It came through the coroner's offices. We knew that the coroner's offices had been devastated as well. So no one know believes that 64 number. We have an official Puerto Rico number right now over 1,400 at this stage. And we can use that as a baseline.
So, in other words, this is an epic tragedy. And no one was admitting in Puerto Rico how many people died until actually, Ana, they were sued yesterday. That's why we know this number. It's not because they all of a sudden said, here's the number. They actually were facing a lawsuit.
This larger Harvard number is interesting and I have to remind people it is a range out of the study and it was done by a different methodology which is very common in third world countries and disaster management. It tries to measure what's called excess casualties or excess deaths, how many people died because the lack of their capability of getting, in this case, medical care, medicine, health facilities, contributed to their deaths.
And so those numbers are a broad range. It's not uncommon. It's very uncommon in the United States, because we're not a third world country, but to have a range like that. So, let's start with 1,400 and the tragedy that is and see if there's additional studies going on. See what the range is after that.
CABRERA: Even 1,400, I mean, that number is huge. We are talking about hundreds if not thousands of Americans whose lives were lost. And again, we don't have the exact number to directly correlate with the hurricane, but should the White House -- should DHS, should somebody from this administration be addressing this?
[16:15:20] KAYYEM: Yes, they should acknowledge it. I mean, look, this was a failure across the board. Obviously, Puerto Rico as we have been reporting was not the most resilient place in the world. Had a very, very weak infrastructure, local territorial and federal capacities seem to not be able to function. This recovery is ridiculously wrong, like sort of inexplicably long at this stage, and so there's a lot of blame to go around.
But you know, Donald Trump is the President of the United States. Puerto Rico is its territory. They cannot just keep shifting blame to Puerto Rico. It would be like saying that they had no responsibility for what happened in Texas or if there was a hurricane Katrina. So, they can't take credit for when responses go well, as they did clearly in Texas, and then say, well, it's all the locals' fault.
And then there's just a moral issue here. These are American citizens, 1,400 is huge number. If I just -- if I accept that number, which I'm not there yet, but even if I accept the Puerto Rico number, it is just a couple hundred fatalities less than hurricane Katrina so you are looking at hurricane Katrina-type numbers and the federal government has a responsibility to protect all Americans, in particular during a disaster, right? This is when the federal government is needed the most.
CABRERA: And I'm reminded of what the President said in October, shortly after hurricane Maria hit last year. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody's ever seen anything like this, and what is your death count as of this moment, 17?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen.
TRUMP: Sixteen people, certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So, in many ways, and we have this video where he was throwing toilet paper -- he was taking a victory lap at that time. He went on to pick a fight with the San Juan mayor who was pleading for more help. And now we have the new numbers, we have Leyla's reporting that the island is still not ready for another hurricane. They haven't fully recovered. There are place still without electricity and plumbing. Could this end up being Trump's hurricane Katrina moment?
KAYYEM: It is. I mean, I there is no question at this stage. And there is a variety of reasons and people have different explanations for why there's not the same outrage as there was in hurricane Katrina. A lot of it has to do with Puerto Rico's sort of lack of political status in Washington, D.C. They don't have senators fighting for them. But I don't know what to say about these numbers. This is a hurricane Katrina-type catastrophe and the sort of really horrible aspect of it, amongst many horrible aspects, is of course without accepting -- unless the government accepts these numbers, we will never be able to determine how we can do better when there's a large hurricane in either a territory or a more vulnerable area.
I mean, the -- you know, I often say, that people die is a given in a disaster. How they die is how we learn to protect them the next time. This seems to be a supply chain problem. People could not get their medications. They could not get to doctors. Doctors could not get to them. That's a solvable problem if we are willing to accept the catastrophe that this was.
CABRERA: And that's why it's so important that we come to grips with reality.
Thank you, Juliette. We appreciate your expertise and your perspective on this.
KAYYEM: Thank you.
CABRERA: Up next, ten days until arguably the most important meeting of the Trump presidency. What the White House is doing right now to prepare for the high stakes summit with North Korea.
You're live in the "CNN NEWSROOM."
[16:23:08] CABRERA: The highest level of the White House staff, including the President, in full diplomatic overdrive right now at Camp David. It's all about what's scheduled to happen ten days from now. If current plans don't change again, without a doubt, an earth- shaking moment, a face-to-face meeting between the President of the United States and the leader of North Korea. It was announced, it was cancelled, now it's back on.
Our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in the capital of Seoul, South Korea, right now.
Nic, what is the confidence level in the diplomatic community that this summit isn't going to happen or is going to happen, and that this is a real shot at a breakthrough with Kim Jong-un?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Let's break that down into two parts. I think the first part, you have to say nobody would be surprised if it was off again, then on again, even, in this short space of time. Then, I think when you look at it, what can it really achieve? I think there's real concern and consternation here.
South Korea obviously really wants this summit to go ahead. It's been pushing President Trump, saying don't judge Kim Jong-un by his past practices of essentially being a liar and reneging on previous deals. Don't let that stand in the way right now. But you have Japan at the same time saying, whoa, hold up a minute, President Trump saying that this is just going to be a getting to know you meeting, so what can really come out of it. Japan is saying, look, let's have something firm on the table from North Korea. Let's have that commitment to complete verifiable denuclearization and let's add in chemical and biological weapons as well.
So I think, you know, the idea that this can achieve something, I think the expectation here is that is a long shot down the road, that this could be on again, off again. Anyone's guess right now.
CABRERA: And again, just ten days and counting.
Nic Robertson in Seoul for us. Thanks so much. Back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[16:29:26] CABRERA: More problems for EPA chief Scott Pruitt concerning how he is using your tax dollars. Newly released records show his office recently spent more than $1,500 on 12 fountain pens from a D.C. jewelry store. Pruitt bought journals from that store as well, bringing the total bill to about $3,200.
Now this purchase is the latest of course in a string of questionable and controversial expenses by Pruitt and his office. EPA records show Pruitt's office has already spent $3.5 million on security costs alone. This includes paying a team of 19 agents to protect Pruitt around the clock according to "Politico," Pruitt has spent more than $105,000 on first class flights. That doesn't include what he spent on charter and military flights.
And in April, the government accountability office concluded the EPA violated federal suspending laws by installing a soundproof booth in Pruitt's office. Keep in mind that booth was soundproof but it wasn't designated to handle classified materials. All this spending happening on the taxpayers' dime.
Meanwhile, the President has defended Pruitt. He tweeted in April quote "while security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA, record clean air and water while saying USA billions of dollars." Rent was about market rate, referring to the D.C. apartment that he rented for $50 a month. Travel expenses, OK, Scott is doing a great job.
I want to discussion this with CNN contributor Walter Schaub. He is the former director of the office of government ethics.
Walter, do you think that kind of spending on pens is a big deal?
[16:31:02] WALTER SCHAUD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I do, because it's symptomatic of a pattern of behavior with Scott Pruitt is that this is the worst example I have seen ever of an individual who just simply doesn't care about the ethics rules or any other rules like appropriations laws or personnel policies in the executive branch, who has gotten away with it. In any other administration, in any other time period, Congress would be putting so much pressure on the White House to fire this individual that he would be gone by now.
CABRERA: And yet purchasing records do show the EPA under the Obama administration made a $2,952 purchase from that same shop in 2009, the jewelry shop when we are talking about the pens, and they put it under the category of nonmonetary awards for administrator. That is only $300 less than Pruitt's EPA spent. So do you think we are just being overly scrutinizing because of the history as we just discussed?
SCHAUB: Well, I think there's two things. First of all, I think it's terrible to hear that it happened in the last administration too. You know, I learned that as you did when the news reporting on it came out this week, and I definitely think if there's any option to continue looking into that, they should. That said, I still don't think that there's anything akin to the pattern of behavior that we have consistently seen with Scott Pruitt, and all his defenders ever point to is his policy positions, including defenders in Congress. And so the message is, the ethics program doesn't matter at all if we like your policies, and if we don't, then we'll go after you for any ethics violations.
So I have to tell you, as a person who spent most of his career dealing with government ethics, that's just unbelievably disheartening to see ethics explicitly being given a backseat to people's policy views.
CABRERA: This administration continues to do things differently than past administrations, no doubt about it.
The President made another controversial pardon this week. He may soon do the same with Martha Stewart and commute the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. President Trump not the first to make a controversial pardon, of course. Bill Clinton, you will recall, pardoned his own half-brother but usually Presidents do it at the end of their term so why now, do you think?
SCHAUB: Well, and I think it's the timing that's especially troubling because there have been bad pardons in the past, but I take the timing as a sign to people like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort that they should rest assured that the President has their back if they get in trouble, and the timing is important because it sends a message at a time when these individuals or others or even witnesses may be debating whether to cooperate with Mueller or other investigators, and it's -- there's just no other explanation for why you would do such strange pardons and talk about even stranger pardons down the line at this time.
CABRERA: Well, could it just be that the approximate President wants more allies, more famous people who are out there supporting him or maybe he is just wanting to prove yet again he is anti-establishment.
SCHAUB: I can't imagine that a Rob Blagojevich endorsement is going to help him in any way, shape, or form, so I doubt that.
CABRERA: All right, Walter Schaub, really appreciate it. Thank you for joining us.
CABRERA: Up next, does the GOP exist anymore? Two top Republicans say their party is gone.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:49:06] CABRERA: Does the Republican Party exist anymore? According to two top Republicans, maybe not. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is no Republican party. There's a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I think the Republican Party has gone dormant. I don't know where the Democrats are. I can't figure out what they are for, but what I can say to you is this rise of people who are now disrupters is heartening to me. It gives me hope for the future of the Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Here to weigh in on the state of their party, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush Scott Jennings and CNN political commentator and former congressman Charlie Dent.
So, congressman, I will start with you because you just left Capitol Hill. You were there as Trump became the leader of your party. What do you make or do you agree with the speaker -- former speaker Boehner and what governor Kasich said?
[16:40:04] CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I largely agree with both of what they just said, that the party really -- the litmus test for the Republican Party now is loyalty to the President. It's not about any set of principles or ideals. That has changed, and I think we should acknowledge that fact.
There was a time when people would judge you. They would say -- they would call you a RINO, a Republican in name only, if you deviated on some policy issue. Now you are called a RINO if you simply disagree with the President. And I think that's really troubling to me. And so I do think the party's in a bad place.
But this trade issue, I think, will be a seminal test for Republicans because many Republicans still believe in the notion of free markets, free trade, and I really abhor the idea of closing off American markets and support opening markets. So I think this is going to be a real test to see where the party is, this trade issue.
CABRERA: Well, we are seeing some current Republicans speak out who are in Congress on that issue of trade, Scott. We heard from Mitch McConnell who of course is like the Republican leader in Congress right now as the Senate majority leader. We had heard from Ben Sasse. We have heard from a number of other Republicans saying this trade idea is a bad idea. But is the President listening?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think the President is doing what he said he was going to do during the campaign. So I'm not surprised he's plowing forward with it. I think a lot of the people you are hearing upset about this in Congress come from states that frankly are heavily affected by this issue. Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky where I said today, heavily affected by agriculture exports also automotive exports. And I think Canada is Kentucky's number one trading partner. If you look at these various people that represent these
constituencies, they had to speak up because it is possible that the tariff issue could be a wet blanket on the economy of these states that heavily depend on dealing with Canada, Mexico, and other countries. So, I think on any individual issue, you are going to see members of Congress defend their constituencies, but I don't necessarily think that that means the entire Republican Party is falling apart, because there's a difference of opinion about how a policy matter might affect one state versus another.
CABRERA: One could argue a lot is going well right now in the country. Our Stephen Collinson writes it should be morning again in America. The unemployment rate matched its lowest level in half a century. North Korea is talking peace. Yet, the United States is a long way from the fabled sense of security encapsulated by Ronald Reagan's morning in America reelection ad. America is not at ease with itself, and it's putting the rest of the world on edge.
Congressman, does he make a point there?
DENT: Well, I'll tell you what, I think the President is able to take credit for some things right now. The economy, jobs, the fact that there is some dialogue with North Korea. I'll tell you, I do think that this summit is a bit forced and a bit rushed. I see no harm in postponing this, no point in going to a summit if nothing's going to be announced. So I think the President has some opportunity, you know, on tax reform, deregulation. He has some things that he can sell, but at the same time, there are a lot of danger signs. And I think this tariff issue, this trade issue, is one that could really cause some very unnecessary turbulence and could be very disruptive to him and his agenda politically.
CABRERA: So that's the policy side. But one of the other big challenges in America right now is just how polarized and mean our political discourse has become. I mean, take the Roseanne Barr situation this week. Valerie Jarrett, who Barr had compared to an ape in a tweet, ultimately resulting in the cancellation of that show, said just this morning this.
Quote "who we lift up to represent us speaks volumes about whether we treat each other with compassion and civility, and it's time to demand better."
Scott, I'm sure you can agree with that, but does that fall on deaf ears when the President of the United States has a hard time outright condemning racist remarks?
JENNINGS: Well, I think we have seen a lot of angry and frankly terrible remarks from all sides of the political spectrum this week. What Roseanne did was wrong. I wish the President had condemned it because he could have definitely changed the conversation around what she did. Also what Samantha Bee did this week was wrong. We have also seen revelations about other media figures so -- and they are largely identified as left wing media figures.
CABRERA: Hold on just a second because I just want to ask it in a different way, I guess. I mean, does it taint the political party, the GOP party, when the head of that party isn't setting the tone from the top down that most people would say is the right tone. There is a right and a wrong there, isn't there?
JENNINGS: Well, I think the President could do better. I also think the Democrats could do better. And I think each of us individually could do better to improve the political discourse in this country. I don't think the President invented the coarsening of political discourse in America. I think we have been heading this direction, unfortunately, for a very long time. And I do agree that we are not quite at ease with ourselves over certain issues.
But I'm not sure they all have to do with politics. I think we have some cultural issues that have this country off balance. I think the drug issue in America and the opioid crisis has this nation off balance. I'm not sure any of these things have to do with politics although I do think our political actors respond to that in various ways. We have an intermingling right now of a coarsening culture and a coarsening politics unlike anything we have ever seen in this country and we are still trying to figure out how to respond to it.
So yes, I think the President could do more. I think the Democrats could do more. And I think we could all do better to take a deep breath and realize we are all Americans, even though we disagree on some issues, we are all in this together.
[16:45:39] CABRERA: All right. We will end on that happy note. There is so much more to discuss, obviously. These are complicated times.
Congressman Charlie Dent, Scott Jennings, thank you both. I appreciate it.
It was an introduction like no other.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Christian Harris getting to meet the soldiers who served alongside her late father. I will talk to the photographers behind these touching images.
[16:50:34] CABRERA: Welcome back. His widow says his greatest goal in life was to become a dad, but sadly, army specialist Christopher Harris didn't live to meet his newborn daughter.
Harris was killed in action last August during a vehicle explosion while serving in Afghanistan. The now-fallen hero found out he was going to be a dad just days before he paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Harris' brothers in arms stepped in for him when his baby -- beautiful baby girl, Christian, was born on March 17th. His widow, Britt Harris, says their child has her father's piercing blue eyes, something she finds comfort in.
Kendra Philips and Erin Brady are the two photographers who took those beautiful pictures. Emotional pictures too I might add.
Joining us live now from Pines, North Carolina, thank you, ladies, for being with us. I know you became close with Britt, the mom, when you spread that her husband was killed, you were with her through the worst of it, but also this beautiful baby girl.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We told her we would be there for the dark times and the light times. And we also told her we would help her tell their story and I think we are doing a good job.
CABRERA: Walk me through how this photo shoot came together.
ERIN BRADY, CAPTURED TOUCHING PHOTO OF FALLEN SOLDIER'S BABY DAUGHTER: Well, we had ideas for how to include her -- include Christian's unit in sharing pictures of baby Christian. And Kendra had the idea of getting all of the soldiers in a circle and putting the baby in the middle of the circle to kind of symbolize the fact that these soldiers were going to help carry Christian throughout her life, and that's ultimately where the idea came from.
CABRERA: And then how did the guys all get involved? I mean, was this something they were clamoring to do? Who coordinated it? Erin, if you could help us fill in those pieces.
KENDRA PHILIPS, CAPTURED TOUCHING PHOTO OF FALLEN SOLDIER'S BABY DAUGHTER: They couldn't wait to get their hands on the baby, so Britt and a few of the other wives said they wanted to do this shoot and I called keep fear botanical gardens and they were more than willing to host it for us and it all just came together.
CABRERA: I mean, the pictures are incredible. The piercing blue eyes. Some of the symbolism that we are seeing that little onesie with the shout out to daddy, my daddy is my hero. What was this like for you, Kendra or Erin? I imagine it was somewhat emotional, no?
PHILIPS: Absolutely. It's -- we promised her that we'd tell the story, and we took it serious, and so while there's emotions, we had a job to do, so we just dove in and we told the story the best way we know how, with our cameras.
CABRERA: And how are mom and baby doing?
PHILIPS: They're perfect. Fantastic.
BRADY: Yes. They're loved and they know it.
CABRERA: Beautiful pictures. Beautiful story.
Thank you, ladies. Kendra Phillips, Erin Brady, I appreciate you sharing the story with us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for having us. CABRERA: If you would like to learn how to help or learn more about
this gold star family, search her name, CHRISTIAN M. Harris, at gofundme.com.
[16:58:33] CABRERA: We have a sneak peek at this week's new episode of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA." Watch.
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The mainstream talk whenever HBCUs come up, there's that talking point of, why do we still have HBCUs? How come we don't have white colleges? If I had a white college, that would be racist. Can you speak to that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the anxiety that white people have is there's a place that black people can access that they can't. But the truth is, white people can go to HBCUs. My first day (INAUDIBLE). It is not like you would be walking around. There's white people at Howard and Clark. They choose not to go because they don't want to go to places that are marked as black, and that's OK. But it's also OK for us to want those places.
BELL: Now you wrote an article a little while ago about the popularity of HBCUs was on the decline.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a conversation to be had about what it means for people to choose HBCUs now versus 50 years ago. You know, post-civil rights, you now have a choice to go somewhere else so the decline of HBCUs for me is some ways is connected not to people believing less in HBCUs, but for simply (INAUDIBLE) to have change. There's more choices. I believe in black people. So I believe that there will be HBCUs as long as there are black people in America.
CABRERA: "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" tomorrow night at 10:00 eastern and pacific.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CABRERA: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with me. We have breaking news in the obstruction investigation into Trump. "The New York Times" reporting this hour that his attorneys sent a 20-page letter to special counsel Robert Mueller arguing why a president cannot obstruct --