Return to Transcripts main page


Peter Strzok Under Fire; Ex-Trump Fixer Plans To Hire Experienced Criminal Lawyer; White House Deputy Chief Of Staff Joe Hagin To Depart White House Next Month; Trump Threatens Tariffs On $200 Billion In Chinese Goods. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have more breaking news for you now.

CNN has now learned that FBI agent Peter Strzok, known for those critical text messages about President Trump that surfaced, he was escorted from the FBI building on Friday.

CNN's Justice Department correspondent Laura Jarrett is breaking the story for us right now -- Laura.


So what we know is that Peter Strzok, that special agent who worked on both the Clinton e-mail probe and the Russia investigation, is still employed at the FBI as of Tuesday afternoon. But he was escorted out of the building on Friday as he is facing a professional responsibility investigation stemming from some of the findings detailed in last week's inspector general report.

We all remember that lengthy report detailing a series of text messages exchanged between Strzok and an FBI lawyer, then at the FBI, I should say, Lisa Page, including one that the inspector general found particularly problematic sent in August of 2016, where Strzok says "We will stop him" in reference to Trump getting elected.

Now, of course, the report overall suggested that the specific investigative decisions that were reviewed in terms of those prosecutors' decisions were not infected by bias, but the inspector general says, when it came to those specific text messages, he couldn't say with confidence that Strzok's decisions were free from bias.

Now, earlier today, Strzok's lawyer put out on op-ed in the "USA Today" newspaper suggesting that despite the president's tweets about Strzok being a -- quote -- "sick loser," that he's actually a patriot -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett with that breaking news, thank you so much.

Also breaking, just minutes ago, President Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, plans to hire a new powerhouse attorney. CNN's Gloria Borger joins us now with this news.

Gloria, who is this guy and does this mean that Cohen's legal strategy, he's under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, that it is changing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It might mean that it is changing. It might mean that he's more willing to cooperate.

The attorney is Guy Petrillo. And he's a former chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. He's also somebody who was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1990 until 1997.

And, of course, the Southern District of New York is the place where Michael Cohen is being investigated. We are told that perhaps not all of the paperwork is done yet, that Michael Cohen has been meeting with Mr. Petrillo, and that they -- he is likely to represent him.

And, clearly, I think, Jake, what this means is that Michael Cohen wants to talk to prosecutors. And we have heard -- we heard this last week, that he was confused about his relationship with Donald Trump, that he's feeling isolated by the president.

And by hiring somebody with real ties to the Southern District of New York, I think you have to read between the lines here a little bit and say that Michael Cohen wants to talk.

TAPPER: All right, Gloria Borger with that breaking news, thank you so much.


Our panel is here to react to all this.

First, let's start with Peter Strzok being removed from the FBI building. What do you make of this? What do you make of the timing of it?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm glad that he was, because I think the I.G. report sent a powerful message to half the country that supports Donald Trump that there is bias inside of some people.

I don't mean all people, but a few people in this report, including Strzok, clearly didn't just have bias against Trump, but they had bias against everyone who supports Trump. I mean, some of these messages said Trump voters, uneducated, lazy, I could smell the Trump voters.

That was heard loud and clear in Middle America. And they're wondering, can we can get equal justice out of this government, if that is how they view us?

So Strzok being removed today I think will be well received by people who are wondering, are the folks who hold these views that are reprehensible going to be held accountable? TAPPER: One of the interesting things about Strzok is that the I.G.

report say they couldn't find any evidence that his bias -- they clearly think he has bias -- affected the decisions to not prosecute Hillary Clinton.

But he withholds comment and says he -- he basically says, the inspector general, that he suspects Strzok, that there have been might be bias in the decision to not open the Anthony Weiner computer as immediately as possible. They say that he prioritized the Russia investigation over that.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, clearly, Peter Strzok has very strong feelings about Donald Trump and the campaign at the time.

I think what is most important to note here is that Donald Trump was under investigation the entire -- entirety of 2016, and we didn't know about it. But we knew about the Hillary Clinton investigation. We knew about the laptop. We knew then Director Comey trotted on out there noting that Hillary was nefarious and irresponsible and reckless.

But we didn't know about Donald Trump. So if there was such this deep state bias inside the FBI that was hell-bent on taking down Donald Trump, why didn't we know about his investigation?

I just think it is a reach to note that a couple text messages from two folks indicate a large -- a systemwide, agency-wide bias.

JENNINGS: It is in the report. There are numerous FBI employees who expressed these views.

If we were sitting here and we were reading messages from FBI employees that said the exact same words about Barack Obama's voters, you would be outraged and so would I. And we should all be, because these elected people should not be meddling in our election system this way, and they should not hold these views of their fellow Americans.


SANDERS: I agree that folks shouldn't hold these type of views, Scott.

And I think it's separate conversation we can have about getting to a place of understanding about various folks and us getting back to a place of civility where we can -- folks can have different views and we can still have a conversation.

But, one, Barack Obama wouldn't have been under FBI investigation. Now, had you told me these were text messages about Hillary Clinton, I would be like, this is very clear bias. They had a whole investigation. They tried to take this lady down.

But that is not what we have. We have text messages about Donald Trump. Frankly, a lot of people had things to stay about Donald Trump in 2016 that have -- and whose text messages have not been trotted out in front of the entirety of the American people.

All I'm saying if, where is -- if the deep state was out to get him, why we ain't know about the investigation?

JENNINGS: I'm really less worried about what they thought about the candidates, because we all have opinions on that, and more worried about what they think about the everyday Americans who support their candidates.

Their views on their fellow Americans are repugnant.

SANDERS: Absolutely.

JENNINGS: These people ought to -- how can you mete out justice fairly for all Americans if you hate half the country?

SANDERS: Well, now are we going to talk then about the FBI their and labeling of Black Lives Matter activists as black extremists?

DeRay McKesson is a friend of mine. And he's clearly noted how the FBI came in his house while he wasn't there, hoping to intimidate him, and then left him a message talking about, call me.

So the FBI clearly has some very nefarious feelings about many people in this country. But does that mean there is a deep state conspiracy to take down Donald Trump? No.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have go a lot more to talk about. Much more on this fast-paced hour of breaking news. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have more on the story breaking this hour.

It could mean trouble for President Trump. His former fixer and longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, planning to hire a new powerhouse attorney.

I want to bring in Phil Mudd to get his perspective on why this might be.

Gloria Borger, reading between the lines, Cohen expressing concern publicly through intermediaries that President Trump and he are no longer close, getting a new powerhouse attorney.

Gloria Borger suggesting this means probably that he is going to start cooperating with the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney.


If you are looking at the initial reports about the background of the attorneys he's hiring, he's not just hiring an attorney. He's hiring a counselor. That counselor has got to walk in with a background in dealing with federal prosecutors and saying, this is how we are going to negotiate a deal.

Why else would you hire an attorney who has so much experience dealing with federal prosecutors? I say counselor because there is a second piece beyond saying, how do we negotiate with the feds? And that is the personal piece.

You sit down with Michael Cohen, if you're his new personal attorney, and you're saying, look, homey, here is what is going to happen. Some of it is going to be not good. And I know you're not going to like a lot of it, but I have to counsel you in terms of what is appropriate, what is not appropriate, what the sort of boundaries are in the playing field.

It is going to be a tough time. And I'm reading this saying, you can bet as much as you want to in Vegas this is about saying he's going to plea something.

TAPPER: And you have said before -- just to reiterate for our viewers at home, the fact that there was a search warrant approved for an attorney, Michael Cohen in this case, but any attorney, his house, his hotel, his office, that is extraordinary for a search warrant like that to be approved.

They would have had to risen above a burden of evidence that this was necessarily needed in order for it to be granted.

MUDD: Sure. There is a couple of pieces to this.

The first is the simple piece saying a judge says attorney-client privilege is going to be broken. The feds want to go into a lawyer's house, not only his house, but also his office and his hotel room. This better be really good.

[16:45:00] The second thing is look, judges aren't idiots, especially federal judges. The judge is saying hold on a second, this is Donald Trump's attorney. This is going to be all over Jake Tapper. I better -- I'm on double-secret probation if I get this one wrong. So I think they're looking at this. When I looked at this, I said, the feds must have shown up for the search warrant with stuff that was really nasty. And now we're seeing the endgame where Michael Cohen clearly realizes that this is going to be bad with the feds.

TAPPER: And we and we know Scott Jennings said that we don't know actually. We don't know what this has to do with this. There's no evidence this has anything to do with the rush investigation. In fact, the contrary, it was referred from Mueller to the Southern District of New York because it didn't -- it wasn't in the purview. But this might have serious ramifications anyway even if it's just about being a shady fixer in New York City in the real estate world.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I know lawyers who say there's no way Mueller would have let this go off to that other U.S. Attorney's Office if it was germane to the Russia investigation but we're just speculating. All I know is this. I'm a husband and a father I would do anything under God's green earth to save my family from the negative ramifications of being under the thumb of the Fed -- of the feds like this so you know, he's got the same -- he's got those things to worry about and I just -- I don't know too many people who wouldn't put their family first if they were facing long prison sentence, massive financial ramifications.

TAPPER: And look, as a general note I don't know anything that President Trump as a real estate dealer in New York City has done that's illegal but boy that's a shady business.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it is. And I mean, we know some of the things that the folks are looking at in terms of Michael Cohen. Some of his personal shady business dealings perhaps with taxi cabs and things like that, or we know about the Stormy Daniels thing. That's the thing that kind of tipped this whole thing off. And we just know that Michael Cohen has been by Donald Trump's side for decades as his fixer as a kind of confidant, sometimes playing an overlapping role in the campaign even though you hear Rudy Giuliani saying oh there's nothing of it that Michael Cohen would know. He's been side by side with Donald Trump for decades dealing in terms of real estate and all sorts of other things that at some point we'll all know that.

TAPPER: Cohen would know more than Rudy Giuliani to be quite frank.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think -- I think at this point the table knows a little bit more than Rudy Giuliani if we want to put it out there. Jake, look, Michael Cohen is clearly the guy that Donald Trump called to just get it done by any means necessary. I think that by any means is coming back to bite him in the butt.

TAPPER: All right, I want to -- we have some even more breaking news right now believe it or not. A White House official is telling CNN that the White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin who was in charge of planning President Trump's Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, Joe Hagin leaving the White House. I want to bring in CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny who's bringing us this breaking news. Jeff?

Jeff Zeleny, CNN Senior White House Correspondent: Jake, we are hearing that Joe Hagin who's really a fixture in this so West Wing largely because he was a veteran of previous administration. He is telling -- the Trump White House telling the President that he is leaving the West Wing. His last day will be after the fourth of July holiday on that Friday of July 6th. He will be leaving via West Wing and you know, one of his big accomplishments, one of his big challenges was indeed setting up that Singapore summit just last week. He is known as a logistics man, someone who's really can make things happen, events happen, meetings happen. So he was on the ground in Singapore working you know from all small details of the visuals to you know, getting both sides on tracking together. But Joe Hagin is telling the White House that he is leaving.

Now, Jake, this is what I believe and expect to be the beginning of you know, some churn here, some more churn here we should say in the West Wing as the summer months continuing and into the fall months. A variety of officials are looking outside this White House. Some are looking across the government but it's been actually fairly stable here in terms of the Trump administration which is at record numbers of turnover in cabinet secretaries and top aide positions. But I'm told that that is likely to change gradually into the summer months here. But Joe Hagin officially announcing his leave, this is all being done on very friendly terms. The President just wishing him well. I'm told by an official we'll have a statement very soon on tha but we certainly know that Joe Hagin is leaving. And he's one of the adults in the West Wing. He knows how this place operates and he'll be leaving in about two weeks, Jake.

TAPPER: All right Jeff Zeleny at the White House telling us, bringing us that breaking news about the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House leaving. You work with Jo Hagin when you both were at the Bush White House. I have to say, one of the struggles for this new administration made up of outsiders has been how to figure out how to make government work and function. Joe Hagin was a big part of that. This is a big hit for the President.

JENNINGS: Yes, Jo Hagin is one of the most experienced Republican government people. You know, he work for H.W., he worked for a George W Bush. He's been around a long time. He knows how the military part of the White House works. He knows how the advanced part of the White House works. He knows really how the levers, the logistical levers of it works. He's great American and he's done a great service now for three administrations so I'm glad this is happening on friendly terms but it's big shoes to fill when you have someone with Hagin's experience taking off.

[16:50:01] TAPPER: And I have to say, I mean, we're seeing other people from the White House, the Legislative Director announced he's going to be -- he's going to be leaving. There's been this quiet slow purge of White House communication staffers almost as if there is -- I don't know what kind of blue wave there's going to be or even if there is one but it certainly sounds as though a lot of people trying to get out before November.

HENDERSON: That's right and the question is who do they get in those shoes. Your talk about Joe Hagin now being the adult in the room, somebody with institutional knowledge of Washington. Can they get folks in there who are of the same caliber of Joe Hagin? Over these next couple of months as you see folks leave, you mentioned Mark Short, perhaps Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a couple more months maybe, that's been a story that's out there as well as her deputy. So what happens with this White House in terms of being unable to refill all those positions.

TAPPER: And there's different stories about how they're having trouble filling slots at the White House. And Kellyanne Conway went on TV one time and suggested people start sending in their resumes.

SANDERS: Right. Unorthodox way.

TAPPER: Normally that doesn't -- normally that doesn't happen. There's always people that want to work for a White House.

SANDERS: Yes, you have to get it how you live it, Jake. And in this in this -- look, in this climate, it's a tough climate. As you know, I'm somebody that works in communications capacity. I'm clearly not trying to sign up for the Trump White House but if this was a Democratic administration with the Democratic President, that was similar to her acting like Donald Trump, I would not want to go into this White Houses. It's a tough environment. You are literally putting your credibility on the line, your families are getting involved and you put in a lot of long hours for a little bit of show. So I'm not surprised people don't want to go in. I'm concerned about what happens next.

JENNINGS: Other argument though is it's public service to the country. Serving in the White House is one of the most honored things you can do in our government. I think they're going to be able to attract people. And it has -- having worked there, I would just say --

TAPPER: Well, let me ask Phil --

JENNINGS: Folk may consider it because it matters.

TAPPER: Phil, let me ask you because you have a lot of ties with people in the national security community. 2017 there was somebody that I knew who was being asked to be the national security adviser and he told somebody he wouldn't go into the Trump administration because it was a -- and I'll use a paraphrase -- a poop sandwich is what how he -- how he described being at the Trump White House. Do you think it's tough for people in your field of national security to go into the Trump administration they don't want to?

MUDD: They don't want to. There's a couple of reasons why. Number one, we have this phrase when I was at the agency, it's called CLM. That's a Career Limiting Move. You go into this administration, your tainted for life. The second thing is people outside the beltway I don't think understand. I did 25 years. One of those years was at the White House on the National Security Council. This isn't just about service to the country. I worked for a lot of bosses I realized after five years, ten years, 15 years, I would never work for again. You can make the personal sacrifice whether you're Republican or Democratic for the greater game but I'm not working for these guys. It's too much trouble.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. How President Trump's recent comments on trade and on China could impact American jobs here at home. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" today. Threats of a Trump trade war causing stocks to sink today. The Dow dropped 287 points. And as the two largest economies in the world face off against each other you are caught in the middle. The President's top advisor on trade told reporters that President Trump's actions are visionary and his plans are demonstrating a special kind of courage but CNN's Tom Foreman explains that this looming trade war could affect Americans job and future security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the front line of the rapidly escalating trade war, American companies are bracing for battle as the Chinese accused the White House of extreme pressure and blackmailing over the latest talk of more tariffs. And President Trump sounds the charge.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to take care of our manufacturers and our manufacturing jobs.

FOREMAN: The President says the Chinese are stealing American intellectual property using it to create cheap knockoffs of industrial components then selling them back to U.S. manufacturers. A list of 800 items covered by the new tariffs which officially goes into effect on July 6th is heavy with transistors, circuits, touchscreens and more. So analysts say that may help American companies that make such components but it could hurt others that rely on importing them. And while few consumer goods are on the list, American shoppers could suffer too as manufacturers pass on cost and jobs come under fire. In 2002, President George W. Bush tried to help the steel industry with steep tariffs on imports only to see by one estimate 200,000 jobs lost when other companies that needed that material cut back. Some in President Trump's Corner are betting against that even as the Chinese say they're ready for an all-out trade war if it comes.

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER TRUMP ECONOMIC ADVISER: I think China will back down, they will lower their tariffs. That's going to be more jobs for Americans and that's the endgame here.

FOREMAN: And hanging over it all is the effort to dial down North Korea's nuclear program. China is critical to that effort. But now North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has once again met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and questions are rising about how much China even wants to help America now amid such tough talk from Trump.

TRUMP: We need protection. Everybody is taking advantage of us.


FOREMAN: So this move towards that strongly protectionist measures is undeniably a very big bet by the President with American businesses, jobs, and security all on the table. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. That's it for the lead today. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Republican mutiny. President Trump is about to huddle the House Republicans as a growing number of GOP lawmakers voiced oppositions to his policy of separating --