Return to Transcripts main page


Former Hill Staffer Charged with Lying About Reporter Contacts; Justice Department Secretly Seized Reporter's Phone Email Records; Lotions, A Mattress, And Chick-Fil-A, Pruitt Problems Growing; Trump Considering 3,000 Names For Possible Pardons; U.S. Service Member Killed, 4 Wounded In Somalia Attack. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 8, 2018 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, PARTS UNKNOWN: Look at the crazy, fatty, yes, come to daddy.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Viewers looked to him for restaurant recommendations and travel ideas and embracing his unique style and his ability to connect others.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: All right. You're going to have to --

BOURDAIN: I will walk you through it.

OBAMA: You're going to have to walk me through this.

HILL: Former President Obama who joined Bourdain on "PARTS UNKNOWN" in Vietnam tweeting: He taught us about food, but more importantly, about his ability to bring us together, to make us a little less afraid of the unknown.

BOURDAIN: People tend to be proud of their food. They let their guard down when they talk to you. You see them at the most vulnerable and revealing in a lot of ways.

So, even people with whom you have really fundamental disagreements and maybe even complete different belief systems, if you are going to intersect anywhere, it's going to be over food.


HILL: Bourdain's passion resonated with so many who never met him but who were grateful for everything he did to open their eyes and their hearts. For those who were close to him, of course, the loss is especially deep.

His dear friend Eric Ripert tweeting, Anthony was my best friend, an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous, one of the great storytellers who connected with so many. I pray he's at peace from the bottom of my heart. My love and prayers are also with his family, friends and loved ones -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Erica Hill, thank you so much. One note, if you need help or if you know someone who needs help,

there are people ready to talk 24 hours a day. Reach out to the national suicide prevention life line. That number 1-800-273-8255. Again, 1-800-273-8255.

There is help for you. There is love for you.

Anthony Bourdain was a huge part of the CNN family. Tonight, CNN will share the life of the chef, storyteller and colleague and friend. "Remembering Anthony Bourdain" airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll be right back.


[16:36:13] TAPPER: In the last few hours, James Wolfe, a former senior staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared in court charged with lying repeatedly to the FBI about his contacts with three journalists.

Now as part of this investigation, the Trump Justice Department secretly obtained phone and e-mail records of at least one of those reporters, "New York Times" journalist Ali Watkins who covers national security issues. Watkins was notified about these intrusions into her records by the U.S. government after the fact, making it impossible for her to challenge this questionable search and seizure in court before it happened.

Free press advocates, including those of us who bring you this show consider this action by the Trump administration diving into a reporter's phone and e-mail records to see who her sources may be to be an egregious intrusion on the First Amendment. A spokeswoman for "The New York Times" sys, quote: Freedom of press is a cornerstone of democracy and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection.

The editor of "BuzzFeed" where Watkins used to work stated, quote, we're deeply trouble d by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with the reporter's constitutional right to gather information about her own government, unquote.

Now, the Obama administration also repeatedly attacked press freedoms and we called it out at the time. It was heinous then and it's just as contemptible now. Questions we have about this incident include the following, if the Senate Intelligence Committee staffer was charged with lying and not charged with leaking, how bad could these leaks have been? Is the Trump administration escalating the Obama administration's war on leaks by trampling on the First Amendment for the disclosure of information that isn't even particularly sensitive?

Another question, why seize Watkins' phone and e-mail records, all of them, if you're only looking into one of her possible sources? Because the Trump administration now may not just have information about one of the sources for this national security reporter, they're potentially getting information about a whole bunch of those sources. Are there any safeguards at all here? Or is the Trump administration just blithely combing through the records of a national security reporter?

Another question, how much does President Trump's disdain for the fourth estate play into any of this? How breezily was this done? There's no apparently pressing national security crisis involved. Did anyone even debate this at the Justice Department?

Lastly, how many other reporters is the Justice Department doing this to under the shroud of secrecy? Now, for those Trump supporters out there who don't care about this issue, I will remind you what I said when it was the Obama administration violating press freedoms, especially when the Obama administration was taking unusual steps in a leak investigation to go after a Fox News journalist.


TAPPER: I'm a journalist. Obviously, I have a bias as here. But even if you side with this president over those of us in the media who challenge him and his administration, it is important to remember the precedent these actions set going forward, perhaps when it's not your guy in the White House.


TAPPER: As the Freedom of the Press Foundation put it today, this case, quote, chills all investigative journalism and damages the public's right to know, unquote. Your right to know.

When we come back, just when you thought the used mattress scandal was as weird as it could get, there's even more involving President Trump's EPA chief and this one is now starting to offend some Republicans.

Stay with us.


[16:44:08] TAPPER: Believe it or not, yet another scandal today for beleaguered EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. President Trump, however, is standing by his man, saying that Pruitt is doing a great job. He did add that Pruitt is not, quote, blameless but we'll see what happens.

Today, House Democrats ask the FBI to open a criminal investigation into Pruitt. The accusation being that he is possibly using his office for personal benefit, including trying to get a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife and as Drew Griffin reports, more Republicans are starting to speak up as well.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest revelations about Scott Pruitt, border so much on the bizarre, you can't make this stuff up category that even the president had to acknowledge something is wrong. Sort of.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, we're setting records outside and he's being attacked very viciously by the press and I'm not saying that he's blameless, but we'll see what happens.

[16:45:00] According to reports what is happening inside the EPA amounts to an administrator using taxpayer-funded government workers to dance to his every whim. The Washington Post reporting Pruitt used members of his expensive and intense 19 person security detail to pick up dry cleaning and a special moisturizing lotion that he favors.

The Daily Beast says staffers are routinely sent out in search of his favorite cookies and Greek yogurt. He has used staff on government time to try and buy him a used mattress, find an apartment and Pruitt himself in e-mails written by his own staff has been caught trying to use his influence and office to secure his wife a Chick-Fil-A restaurant franchise. Pruitt who repeatedly avoids any reporter who might ask a tough question even had trouble answering a polite one from Nexstar Jessica Smith about that fast food deal.

SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, EPA: Look, my wife is as an entrepreneur herself. I love, she loves, we love, we -- Chick-Fil-A is a franchise of faith and it's one of the best in the country. And so that's something we were very excited about. So -- and we need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country. So anyway, it's an exciting time.

GRIFFIN: Quick fact check, he didn't get the franchise. His wife is not an entrepreneur. She lists no source of any income on a federal financial disclosure form. And by CNN's count, there are already eight Chick-Fil-A restaurants in Tulsa. On Capitol Hill, growing weariness about Pruitt from Republicans. There are now 13 investigations or probes underway about Pruitt and the EPA. Republican Senator John Kennedy one of those Republicans tired of the Pruitt headlines.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I know some of them are allegations, some of them are facts. He is acting like a moron and he needs to stop it.

GRIFFIN: And now there is this. House Democrats formally requesting the Justice Department open up a criminal investigation saying at the very least we know that federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain. Administrator Pruitt has certainly done just that.


GRIFFIN: Jake, it seems inconceivable this Justice Department would open a criminal probe against Scott Pruitt, but the Justice Department could send this letter to the EPA's Inspector General. That office is investigating Pruitt.

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much. Let's bring back the panel. Paul Begala, let me start with you. I can't recall just as a matter of historical fact any cabinet official that has brought these many embarrassing scandals on to the administration for which he works. I mean, just as whether or not you like Scott Pruitt or not, I just can't think of anybody.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't -- I mean you're way back you know, James Watt under Reagan didn't do a third of this. And he got run out at a town of the EPA. And he might even --

TAPPER: Tom Price didn't even do one of like the 30 things and the guy could fight.

BEGALA: Right. This is what puzzles me. Donald Trump is our president because he -- and people like David Urban have an unfailing pitch fork -- tuning fork sense rather for middle America particularly blue-collar working folks.

TAPPER: Drained swamp.

BEGALA: Yes, and that's a big part of the appeal is he's going to be too rich to buy, will drain the swamp. This is the kind of garden- variety corruption that every American can understand. He's sending expensive highly trained security guards out to buy a lotion for his precious hands, right? He's trying to strong-arm Chick-Fil-A which by the way, Chick-Fil-A is delicious, let's just be honest, ok? But you don't use your government perch to try to get your wife a franchise. It's that stuff, every blue-collar Joe Bag'o'Donuts is going to totally get that David.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I take -- so I take umbrage with truth peace. No town could have too many Chick-Fil-A.

TAPPER: Is that right?

BEGALA: I guess we agree on that.

URBAN: I don't care -- I don't care if Tulsa has eight or not. They can always have one more.

TAPPER: Still, but reaching out --

URBAN: Listen, it's -- it is as you see on the Hill right it's becoming increasingly hard to defend and a lot of Republicans aren't willing to defend it. You heard the President himself, that is damning by faint praise if I've ever heard it, right? He's doing a great job with inside the walls of the EPA and we'll see is not a ringing job --

TAPPER: We'll see -- we'll see what happens. Here's Pruitt today reacting to a protester at an event he spoke at this morning. Take a listen.


PRUITT: The left doesn't want to talk about results. they just want to shout and they just want to hit and try to intimidate as opposed to talk about what's being done in this administration. There's great change happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP) URBAN: And I was going to say look, I mean the Administrator is right on that. He is getting a lot of results. And he is -- he's doing a lot of things that does drive the left crazy but there are things that he's that he's doing that aren't related directly to his duties as the EPA Administrator. All this laundry list is quite frankly embarrassing and distracting from the good work that he is doing.

[16:50:00] TAPPER: So let's talk about the laundry list. We only have 11 minutes left on the show so let me just let me just stick with what has happened this week, just this week. We've had reports by Pruitt asking aides paid for by your tax dollars to pick up his dry cleaning, drive him around so we could look for a particular location at Ritz-Carlton hotels, have an aide set up meetings so he could try to get his wife a Chick-Fil-A franchise, and he had an aide search for a used mattress from a Trump Hotel. Again, that's just this week. When you used to work for Bill Clinton, there were people in the administration that were embarrassing, there were scandals, they would be fired.

BEGALA: Absolutely, and in any Republican or Democrat. It's actually on the Standard Form 86, the security form, it's the last question, is there anything in your background that could cause embarrassment to the President States or the United States of America. And everything apparently in Scout Pruitt's current conduct and background. He's an enormous liability for President Trump. By the way, Democrats around the country are starting to talk about what they're calling the culture of corruption, not running against Trump and Mueller but running against the kind of Scott Pruitt garden-variety corruption that you see in Washington.

TAPPER: Let me let me turn this -- let me turn to a subject that I think you'd rather talk about if you don't mind.


TAPPER: The President today said he was looking at a list of 3,000 people for potential pardons. He said he was going to ask some of the NFL players who kneel during the anthem, the people who protest to police brutality and inequity to recommend people they think should be pardoned for being treated unfairly. Take a listen.


TRUMP: People, if the players, if the athletes have friends of theirs or people that they know about that have been unfairly treated by the system, let me know.


TAPPER: Now, of course here is how the President has previously referred to those very same players last September in Alabama.


TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a (BLEEP) off the field right now. Out, he's fired. He's fired.


TAPPER: Still, it does seem a -- maybe he meant it. Maybe he was --

URBAN: I think -- I think the President didn't mean it. I had a kind of joked with Paul and I'd spoken to Van about this Van Jones, our friend, and colleague, you know I'd like to see the eagle show up at the White House with an envelope bigger than Kim Jong-un had given the President, right, with a list of grievances and said as the President we're here. We want -- we want you to hear us.

We're going to sit down with you and engage in a dialogue. I think the President would appreciate it. I think he's hearing folks. You heard him for the first time here say, I understand that these guys, this is what they're kneeling about. They're talking about racial injustice and tolerance. Send me some names. I think it's a great common ground, something the NFL should pick up on and run with to pardon the pun but they should pick it up and get in there and sit down with the President and start building on that -- on that colonel.

TAPPER: Possible growth we're seeing here?

BEGALA: Yes. Yes, and I'm not a big fan of President Trump but I want to build on this. No, but I want to give him his due when he says things. I thought it was really awful when he did -- look, it's not that I could ever do. I wear this flag with pride. My father was buried under that flag. It means something. David went to West Point. He served our country in uniform. I get that. But what these guys are doing is actually reverential. They're taking a knee. They're advised to do that by Nate Boyer, a Texas Longhorn football player who said don't stick your fist in the air and -- so they're trying to be reverential and they're trying to call attention to injustice and now the President sounds like he's listening so I do think that's progress.

URBAN: Listen, I think it's -- I think it's progress. Progress versus protest, the protest doesn't get you anywhere. Sitting down and talking I think is a smart thing for all party.

TAPPER: All right, well hopefully maybe something nice to report on, I mean, if the football players actually go there. We'll see what happens. Any moment now President Trump is going to be face to face with a man he's been -- I think it's fair to say trolling on Twitter, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That's coming up live ahead. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: It's been a very busy news day but we didn't want to end the show and go into the weekend without sharing with you some sad news about a U.S. service member serving overseas. CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live from the Pentagon. Barbara, what can what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What we know, Jake, is that a U.S. service member has been killed in action in combat in Somalia in the southern portion of that country. One U.S. service member killed, four U.S. service members wounded and medevacked out. They were working with Somali forces on an operation that was not supposed to be combat but they came under attack from small arms and mortars. One U.S. killed, four wounded, also an African soldier wounded in this action.

This is going to raise questions again of course about U.S. troops in remote areas of Africa, how prepared they are for what they may face there for the prospect of coming under attack by insurgents in these areas. We saw it last year of course in Niger when four U.S. troops were killed when they came under attack and they did not believe that they faced a threat. So there's going to be sadly lots of questions about all of this.

This is the second U.S. service member to be killed in Somalia since that 1993 Black Hawk Down incident when 18 service members were killed, a Navy SEAL was killed last year in another operation here. There are actually about 500 U.S. troops in Somalia at any one time working with local African forces and trying to help them fight back against this al-Qaeda insurgent group known as the al-Shabaab. And of course tonight our condolences to the family and family notification we are told is going out of course to the service member who died and the four additional service members who have been wounded and medevacked out of the area. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you. Be sure to tune in Sunday to CNN for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be Senator Dianne Feinstein. It will start at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern. That's it for THE LEAD, I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. See you Sunday morning.