Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Peter Strzok to Face Congressional Grilling Behind Closed Doors; Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Public Sector Unions; Republican and Democratic Candidates Battle in Several State Primaries; Judge Orders Families Reunited, Most Separation Ended at Border; Elaine Chao Tells Immigration Protesters to Leave Her Husband Alone; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 27, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:15] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: 10:00 a.m. Eastern, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us.

Right now the senior FBI agent who sent anti-Trump text messages during the campaign is about to get grilled on Capitol Hill. Peter Strzok, you see him walking in right there moments ago, facing lawmakers behind closed doors just days after losing his security clearance and being escorted out of the FBI building. Strzok once worked on the Russia investigation and the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. He sent anti-Trump text messages to a fellow agent, Lisa Page, who was also involved in those investigations, even a message suggesting that they would, quote, "stop Trump" from becoming president.

This was all just days before the election. And after an internal review, the Department of Justice's inspector general said he could not conclude that Strzok's decisions were, quote, "free from bias."

Manu Raju joins me on the Hill with more. This is significant. This is something the president has called to be held in public, though.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, and we just talked to a number of lawmakers going in about whether or not this should be a public session including the chairman of the committee, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. I asked specifically, should this be a public session? And he said it will happen soon. I said before August recess, and he sort of shook his head, it sounds like it's possible this will happen eventually in public.

You know, this is the first time that Peter Strzok has come before this -- before any committee in Congress in light of all the text messages that have been revealed both by the inspector general and through these various investigations, some that have revealed some anti-Trump sentiment between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the FBI attorney with whom he was send text messages.

Democrats note the finding in that inspector general report that the ultimate outcome of the Clinton investigation was not influenced by the political bias. There's no evidence to show that political bias led to the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton, but that same report sharply critical of Peter Strzok's conduct including questioning whether his decision to pursue the Russia investigation late in 2016 over re-opening the Clinton investigation was, quote, "free from bias."

So expect all those matters to be asked to Peter Strzok today during what is expected to be a very lengthy closed-door interview. Peter Strzok would not answer questions coming in. But interestingly, also, Poppy, he is just the fifth witness to come before these two committees in which the Republicans announced this broad investigation last fall into what happened in 2016 by the FBI. And that's frustrated a lot of conservatives on this committee who believe its chairmen are not pushing hard enough on this issue. So we'll see if that changes today and we'll see if and when Peter Strzok eventually comes to a public setting after this closed-door interview that's starting momentarily -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, look, I know you'll try to get answers from him. We have not heard an ounce from him since all of it. I mean, no one has gotten an interview, said nothing. So we'll see what you can get.

Manu, thanks for the reporting on the Hill.

Let's discuss all this with our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, good morning to you. Let's just talk -- good morning, you've had a busy few days. I'm glad you're here. The implications it was kind of bizarre. He was subpoenaed, but then his lawyer has said he would appear voluntarily. What are the implications for someone who admits to sending these text messages and whom the inspector general has said -- cannot definitively say was completely free from bias?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the risk when you're testifying in any circumstance is that in a criminal investigation the statements can be used against you. That's why people take the Fifth rather than testify. Strzok's statements seen highly inappropriate, it's hard for me to envision any context in which he could be criminally prosecuted for what he did. I don't see any reason, how he could be -- how, you know, his statements to Lisa Page could be seen as a crime.

They were embarrassing. They potentially could lead to some sort of disciplinary action against him by the FBI. So I can see why he's not taking the Fifth because this is not really a criminal matter. It's deeply embarrassing for him. It's been embarrassing for the FBI and we'll see what explanation he comes up with if we get to hear either indirectly from the closed-door session or in a public session what his defense and his behavior is.

HARLOW: Yes. Jeffrey, I'm glad you're here because we have breaking news out of the Supreme Court this morning. Final day they're handing down decisions.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider outside of the high court. What is this ruling on? JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is essentially,

Poppy, a major blow to the public unions. This law or this opinion specifically pertaining to an Illinois law.

[10:05:01] So the court saying today that this Illinois law that required all public sector employees to pay in with this fair share fee into unions, they're saying that that law essentially violates the free speech of these employees who did not want to pay in.

This was a case that resulted from a man, Mark Janis. He said I don't want to pay into these fair share payments because essentially unions use these fees that I pay and I'm not a member, but they're using these fees for political speech even though they say they're only using it for collective bargaining or wage disputes. I don't want to pay in.

What's interesting to note here is that there are 22 states throughout the country that have similar laws that require public sector employees to pay into unions even if they're not a union member. So this decision today really a blow to these public sector unions and this opinion has overturned a previous Supreme Court opinion, Abboud, in 1977 that said that these fair share fees were, in fact, appropriate.

So the Supreme Court here overturning previous precedent from the 1970s and also saying to public unions, you cannot continue if these employees don't consent. You can't continue collecting fees from these non-member employees to your union and it could create real problems for these public unions, public sector unions who might not get these fees in the future and of course, that could dilute their power here -- Poppy.

HARLOW: They won't get as many fees, I can tell you that, talking to union members across the Midwest about this issue. Thank you very much.

Jeffrey Toobin, back to you. I mean, my reporting across the rust belt, so many union workers and folks that work in these factories have told me that they don't think it's fair that they have to pay in to these fees if they are not, you know, supportive of it or part of the union, et cetera, but they were mandated up until today. This is a First Amendment case.

How significant is it at a time when we're already seeing the decline of unions in this country?

TOOBIN: Well, it's a real blow. This has been a long, long-running fight at the Supreme Court. The union's argument has always been, look, you as an employee of this company are the beneficiary of the contracts we negotiate. We are doing your bidding. You are obligated to pay in.

That argument was rejected, but remember, Poppy, this is another 5-4 conservatives winning decision like --

HARLOW: Right. TOOBIN: -- the travel ban case yesterday, like the abortion free

speech case yesterday. Three opinions in two days, all of which illustrate how successful it was that Mitch McConnell would stop Barack Obama from appointing Merrick Garland and saved that seat from Donald Trump.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: Many believe stole that seat from Donald Trump. Barack Obama had more than -- almost a year left in his presidency when Antonin Scalia died. That seat was held open. This seat -- it went to Neil Gorsuch and just in the past three days we have had three 5 to 4 decisions where the conservatives won which they almost certainly would not have won if Merrick Garland had been on the court.

HARLOW: Well --

TOOBIN: Just an enormously consequential difference in the Supreme Court because of Mitch McConnell's decision to keep that seat open during 2016.

HARLOW: Again, no one can know how Merrick Garland would have ruled, but I can tell you this is why Mitch McConnell tweeted out that photo yesterday, right? Mitch McConnell shaking Gorsuch's hand and how consequential that all was.

Jeffrey Toobin, thank you. I'm glad -- see, I'm glad you were here because we knew something important was going to come out.

TOOBIN: But wait a second.

HARLOW: Yes?

TOOBIN: I mean, we still have to wait until the end of today's session at the Supreme Court --

HARLOW: Kennedy?

TOOBIN: Because Anthony Kennedy may retire.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: Clarence Thomas could retire. I think those are the only two.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: It's remotely likely, but it's not required, but there is a somewhat of a tradition at the Supreme Court when people retire they announced it on the last day of the term.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: So as they say on television, stay tuned.

HARLOW: Although I think Sandra Day O'Connor waited like five days. So you don't get to go anywhere for five days, OK, Jeffrey Toobin.

TOOBIN: OK.

HARLOW: Thank you. Thank you very much.

All right. Switching gears to a stunner, a political stunner overnight. Democratic newcomer, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousting powerful 10-term congressman, Joe Crowley, in the New York primary, in the 14th. This as Republicans and President Trump back in their own winning streak.

David Chalian, our political director, here with me to break it all down. What a night.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It was stunning indeed. Let's take a look at some of these results. You said Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, she is the big winner in that race against Joe Crowley.

[10:10:01] This is an earthquake inside the Democratic Party, no doubt about that, Poppy. This isn't just generational, which it is.

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: It has a racial component but it is also ideological, and Joe Crowley representing sort of the old establishment guard inside the Democratic Party with a new grassroots insurgency happening. Look at that, it wasn't just a squeaker of a win.

HARLOW: No, it isn't.

CHALIAN: It was 57 percent to 42 percent. 15 points there.

HARLOW: Wow.

CHALIAN: We should also note that Donald Trump had a pretty good night last night, too, in these results on Staten Island, in the 11th congressional district in New York. Dan Donovan, the incumbent, won big there against Michael Grimm. Trump came in and endorsed Donovan even though he voted against his tax cut plan because he thought Grimm, who just got out of prison, would be a not so great candidate for the fall.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: And if you also look in South Carolina, Henry McMaster, the governor of South Carolina, emerges -- he got 54 percent of the vote there nearly in South Carolina from the runoff. President Trump was just down there the other day campaigning for him. Vice President Pence over the weekend. McMaster was one of Trump's earliest supporters in 2016.

In Utah, Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, emerges big with his win here and he's most likely in a very red state like Utah headed to the United States Senate.

HARLOW: Yes. CHALIAN: Everyone wonders, will he be sort of a conscience inside the

Republican Party to take on Trump on certain --

HARLOW: He will.

CHALIAN: And he may be, but he also may, as he told Dana Bash, where he agrees with Trump's policies he's going to support it. And the progressive wing also in the Democratic Party got a win in Maryland last night. Ben Jealous.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: Former head of the NAACP. He won there by 10 points in a crowded Democratic primary field. He supported Bernie Sanders and worked for him in 2016. Sanders came in and was campaigning for him. This is another big win for a big job potentially if he wins in November from the Sanders' progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

HARLOW: Such a fascinating night and let's hone in on that, what this means for Democrats and for progressives, and just looking at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who was just on with me last hour. Made a lot of news she did in that interview.

CHALIAN: A lot.

HARLOW: So let's pick through some of it because I just asked her, David, why did you win? Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE: We won because we organized. We won because I think we had a very clear winning message, and we took that message to doors that had never been knocked on before. We spoke to communities that had typically been, I think, dismissed and they responded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I mean, she is sending such a message there, David, to the Democratic Party. You are not doing enough.

CHALIAN: Yes. She's sending a message that there is a new generation here and she's also part of this year of the woman that we are seeing inside Democratic Party politics.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: Specifically so many women emerging through these nomination battles, these primaries, really fueling what may potentially be a big Democratic year come November. But you're right. She's also pushing the party to the left. It's not -- yes, organizing and knocking on doors that haven't been knocked on and trying to argue against complacency in Democrats.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: But also trying to bring it further to the left ideologically.

HARLOW: There are some, though, and you've read this analysis this morning that argue that this is an anomaly, this is district-specific, this is because it's a safe blue district, she's a Latino, a 20 -- I can just tell, look at your face, you're skeptical, and I'm skeptical as well, because there is something happening here. There is something happening.

When it comes to 2020 and the race for the White House, I asked her two or three times, give me the name of the Democrat that you think could beat Trump in the White House. I named, you know, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, she refused to put a name on it, meaning I read it as she's not confident in the prospects right now.

Listen to her answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. And the names that is top of mine for you when it comes to the Democrat you think should run against President Trump in 2020? I want one name. What is it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Man, I do not have one right now. There are a lot of great ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Problematic for the party?

CHALIAN: I'm not sure it's problematic. You know, competitive primaries are not necessarily a bad thing for any party, right? And it battle tests a lot of candidates and makes them battle ready for the general election. Clearly the Democratic Party is going through a process by which the establishment, the grassroots, the more moderate versus the liberal wing are going to duke this out and battle it out.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: And we know that the energy right now is on the sort of insurgent progressive side. And they're going to -- so I think the primary, it's not so problematic that she doesn't want to delve in and she just won her primary last night.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: But I do think it speaks to there is no clear frontrunner.

HARLOW: Right. A few notable things I will just say, she did say she would push for Articles of Impeachment against the president if she was to make it to the House. A lot of Democrats warned against running on that. She is -- she said she would abolish ICE. And she --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: Which Bernie Sanders doesn't even -- yes.

HARLOW: Right. Which Bernie Sanders, a lot of Democrats don't take that stand. They want reform. And she also endorsed on the program Cynthia Nixon for governor of New York against current sitting governor Andrew Cuomo.

CHALIAN: Well, there's a similar kind of dynamic playing out.

HARLOW: Yes.

[10:15:03] CHALIAN: Cynthia Nixon clearly harnessing that energy, the resistance energy, the anti-Trump energy, the liberal progressive grassroots energy into this battle against an incumbent governor running yet again here in New York. So I don't know if Cynthia Nixon will have the same fate here come the September primary for that position in New York, but clearly, you could just see, Andrew Cuomo has moved a little to the left about this nomination even because he understands that challenge.

HARLOW: Yes.

CHALIAN: The other thing she told you was she's not ready to vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.

HARLOW: How could I forget that. I mean, that's huge because Crowley was the heir apparent to Nancy Pelosi's, you know, seat should they retake it.

CHALIAN: Right. So this Crowley defeat really does shake up what is the next leadership battle like for Democrats in the House. I will just say, we were talking about the year of the woman, it is hard to imagine if the Democrats win in November that the first female speaker is somehow going to be ousted by her own party to serve in that role again. But we'll see.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, good point. David Chalian, glad you're here.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you very, very much.

Still to come, a major legal setback for the Trump administration. A federal judge orders the U.S. to stop separating most families at the border and reunite all families that have been separated. Ahead, how the administration may fight back and minutes from now, we will hear from the district attorney who just charged an East Pittsburgh police officer in the shooting death of Antwon Rose. We're on it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:19] HARLOW: Welcome back. A major legal blow for the Trump administration this morning. A federal judge in California has ordered the government to end those family separations at the border and reunite those families already separated. We're talking about 2,000 children within 30 days, some even sooner according to the strict time line handed down. The ruling comes after President Trump responded to growing public

pressure, issued that executive order to keep families together, undoing a practice that his own administration had begun in the first place.

This is as we learn this morning that HHS which is currently in charge of caring for these kids, 2,047 children separated from his parents are still under HHS care. That is only six fewer children than when the executive order was signed a week ago.

Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department with more.

And Laura, I think that number is telling because it tells us how complex and rather slow the process of reunification is and now this judge is saying, Trump administration, you have 30 days or less to get this down from more than 2,000 kids.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Poppy, and the judge was clearly concerned with not only the pace of the reunifications, but how this entire rollout has gone for the last week or so. The judge -- the language is really quite blunt, but I want to start with just sort of the details for what he's saying the Trump administration is now required to do under this order from last night.

The big headlines are that families who are detained have to stay together. Even if the parents are prosecuted, they have to stay together. He also says for children that are under the age of 5, they have to be reunified with their parents within 14 days from yesterday. Children that are older than 5, they have to be reunified within 30 days and all children get a phone call with their parents within 10 days from last night's order.

Now the language, as I mentioned, is really quite stunning, Poppy. He outlines what the judge sees as a crisis. A chaotic rollout. He basically says this is a power of the government's own making. I want to read one line in particular from the decision last night. The judge said, "The facts set forth below before the court portray reactive governance. Responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government's own making. They belie measured and ordered governance which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution."

So of course, the Trump administration now required to act swiftly based on this order, but two big questions coming out of this, Poppy, are one, what is the Justice Department going to do with this order? They had tried to tell the judge let's take our, you know, time here, let's slow down. Let's just pause and try to figure out what this executive order means. So do they appeal this ruling?

And then of course, also, how is this going to work with the Flores settlement, that decades-old settlement that says children cannot be held in federal custody in detention beyond 20 days. So what will happen with this and whether there might be potentially two competing orders on the books, Poppy.

HARLOW: Laura Jarrett, thank you very much for the reporting from the Justice department. A significant development indeed.

A top Cabinet member for the Trump administration tells immigration protesters to back off when they try to confront her husband, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Much more just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:28:10] HARLOW: All right. Leave my husband alone, that's the message from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as she engaged in a fiery exchange at the group protesting her husband, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

This is just an example of how deep the division is growing in Washington and beyond.

With me now is Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, and Caitlin Huey Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.

Let's just look at that moment, OK?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Why don't you leave my husband alone?

(CROSSTALK)

CHAO: Leave him alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That's Elaine Chao who is, of course, a Cabinet member for the president and her husband Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and a group approaching her there.

Errol Louis, to you, I mean, this of course follows Sarah Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant because she works for President Trump and it follows Maxine Waters calling on Democrats to sort of rise up and push back. She said she wasn't going for violence, but to push back as people did against Sarah Sanders in public locations. Another dig at Maxine Waters from the president just this morning. Where does this leave us?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It leaves us where I think we've always been. There is a long and honorable tradition of civil disobedience in which protesters will do something that offends the senses. Not accidentally, not because they don't have manners. They're specifically trying to get people's attention whether it's taking a knee in professional sports, or playing these recordings, accosting public officials, letting them know that you're going have to engage.

And when it's done properly from an ethical and political standpoint, the burden is on the person who chooses to do the disruption to accept the consequences of that. You're going to get called names. You may not get drafted in the NFL. You might have to spend a night or two in jail if you're doing other kinds of civil disobedience. But, you know, the burden then shifts to the other side to say, well, how else do we get change? Those who were upset about civility --