Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump-Putin Summit Set Up for July 16 in Helsinki, Finland; Trump Casts Doubts on Russia Meddling Ahead of Summit; FBI Director and Deputy A.G. Testify Before House Committee; Interview with Rep. Ted Deutch (D), Florida; FBI Agent Grilled by Congress for 11 Hours Over Anti-Trump Texts; Trump Gets Second Supreme Court Pick as Justice Kennedy Retires. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And we do begin with breaking news. We are getting details on President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's face-to-face meeting. The two world leaders will meet on July 16th in Helsinki. This as the president tweets this morning that Russia says it has, quote, "nothing to do with the meddling in the 2016 election." Plus moments from now the FBI chief and deputy attorney general face a grilling on Capitol Hill from lawmakers around their organizations' actions in the 2016 election.

Republicans furious that Rod Rosenstein has yet to hand over documents related to the Russia probe. One powerful Republican lawmaker even saying his impeachment may be in order at this point and the president now has the power to reshape the high court for decades. Who will he pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, so often the key swing vote who's importance in shaping American life from gay rights to abortion to affirmative action cannot be overstated.

This is a decision that will change the country, but let's begin with the breaking news this morning and that high stakes meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Michelle Kosinski is at the State Department with more. What can you tell us?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hey, you know, it's unclear what that tweet is trying to say. I mean, is he taking up Putin's side? It almost sounded like there was a but coming, as in but the U.S. believes that Russia did meddle in the U.S. election in 2016. That tweet, however, has not come yet.

We did, I should say, though, hear from the secretary of state yesterday when he was grilled by lawmakers on the Hill about this meeting coming up. Was he going to bring up election meddling with Putin? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he was confident that President Trump would make it very clear that meddling in the U.S. election was absolutely unacceptable.

But we heard from the National Security adviser John Bolton that the expectations are not super high for this meeting. He said that there weren't specific goals and just having this summit would be a deliverable. However, we are now hearing from sources that President Trump thinks he can make significant headway with Russia on the issue of Syria. Even though all of our eyes tend to be focused on what about election meddling. After all, this is the man that the U.S. intelligence community believes ordered hacking and meddling in the U.S. election and now President Trump wants to sit down with him.

Some feel that's too soon. You know, election meddling is important, but the priority here, what we're being told on the part of the White House is Syria. And President Trump thinks that he can work out a deal with Putin in which Russia keeps Iran out of a part of Syria. The southwest portion along the Jordanian border where there had been a somewhat successful cease fire.

The cease fire was worked out between the U.S. and Russia so that was seen as some example of cooperation that the U.S. and Russia could have, so the deal would be Russia keeps Iran out of that area and in return, Russia is allowed to help President Assad in Syria take over that area. That of course means that Assad remains in power for the foreseeable future and the priority on the part of the U.S. is still getting out of Syria as soon as possible.

We've heard that before. The U.S. seemed to walk that back a little bit after there was pushback recently. But we are told that that is still the priority that President Trump will try to work on with Putin, how to get the U.S. out of Syria as soon as possible and keep Iran out of that section.

HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski, thank you for the reporting.

Just minutes before official summit announcement, President Trump once again broke with his own U.S. intelligence agencies and seemingly gave Russia the benefit of the doubt as Michelle just said over election meddling.

Abby Phillip is at the White House with that. He's writing a lot this morning on this and other issues.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. I mean, the timing here is really the thing that is raising some eyebrows. Just 30 minutes before this official announcement and hours after his National Security adviser said, basically, the opposite, the president tweeted this morning, opening a tweet that was eventually going to be about the special counsel investigation with this comment about Russia.

"Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election." Then he goes on to attack Hillary Clinton and the Russia investigation. But that's really -- that first line is really critical for a number of reasons. Going into a lot of these meetings or coming out of them, with Putin, the president has repeatedly not seemed to want to reiterate the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence committee on the issue of Russian meddling in Vietnam a few months ago when he met with Putin.

He talked to reporters afterwards on Air Force One and said that Putin said he didn't do it and I believe that he believes that that's true, and that came as a surprise to a lot of people here in the United States, but it's a pattern with this president of not reiterating the conclusions of his own national security advisers on this issue and it's got to be one that is raising some concern among European allies, too, as the president goes into this meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

[09:05:10] But the president is also talking about the Mueller investigation and accusing Robert Mueller of having conflicts in that investigation in a series of tweets this morning. He continued to lay into that, all of this is related to each other here. The president wants to put the Russia investigation behind him. He wants to have a rapprochement with Putin. And we are just weeks away from where -- we will see what he eventually does with that -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this with our Global Affairs Analyst, David Rohde.

Good morning, David. Michelle Kosinski's reporting is that look, this meeting between President Trump and Putin is about Syria and if anything can be done to help the people caught in the midst of a civil war in Syria. That is a great thing. But it's not the message the president is sending this morning from the White House. The message he's sending this morning from the White House is about U.S. election meddling that Russia led and our intelligence agencies have laid that out as clearly as possible and the president now in this tweet bringing that to question. He's not writing about Syria.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: If the president's goal is to sort of put the Russia investigation behind him, the worst thing he can possibly do is have a face-to-face summit with Vladimir Putin. This -- you know, I think this is politically reckless, it's politically arrogant. Why not have this meeting, you know, after the elections. I don't understand the timing. Russia and Assad have won in Syria.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROHDE: You know --

HARLOW: Does the U.S. have any leverage over Russia in Syria? Can the U.S. exert its power in some way to get Vladimir Putin to push his hand on the Iranian forces at work in Syria as Michelle reported or is that not even feasible?

ROHDE: It's not feasible. I don't see what leverage he has with Putin. You know, Russia is a -- you know, a weak country, you know, smaller -- its economy is half the size of California's economy.

HARLOW: Right.

ROHDE: The Iranians are not going to pull out of Syria voluntarily. This is the contradiction. He's trying to topple the Iranian government, yet he expects Iran to just, you know, voluntarily pull out of Syria and you can't sort of have it all.

HARLOW: So what do you believe the goal of this summit is then?

ROHDE: I think it's -- I think he's taking a huge political risk. I -- his base supports him but he's going to inject Putin into the narrative, you know, as these midterms -- I think he thinks it's the right thing to do but he's taking a huge risk. I think this is a very arrogant decision by him and again it is very reckless.

HARLOW: Bolton, obviously, national security adviser, takes issue with that. He says it's nonsense to say that the president's on the side of Russia as he points to actions that the White House has taken, sanctioning of Russia, kicking out Russian diplomats agreeing to army of Ukraine against Russia. But when you look at the rhetoric of the president, it is completely opposed to the actions. At least of the White House. Some say, look, the risk here is that he gives too much, right? That he wants the optics of this, like the optics of the Kim Jong-un meeting, but that he gives too much and that is a big risk. Do you fear that?

ROHDE: Yes, it's a photo opportunity and, you know, the Mueller investigation is not over. Ten members of his campaign and family have contacts with Russians during the campaign. His son, his son-in- law, his national security adviser, his campaign manager, his attorney general, two of his foreign policy advisers, so again, this narrative is going to return. They'll be all these debates. You know, his base won't believe it. But he's energizing his opponents. He's raising all these questions. Why is he being so nice to Vladimir Putin?

HARLOW: It's a good question. Let me get your take on some Axios reporting this morning that is fascinating. So Axios is reporting that at the G summit President Trump told some of our allies, our allies' leaders, quote, "NATO is as bad as NAFTA," and they also went on to report that he talked about Crimea. That Crimea should be part of Russia because most of the people there speak Russian.

If that reporting is accurate, and this reporter said they took this off of contemporaneous notes at the time from being there, should allies be on edge?

ROHDE: Absolutely. And he is holding the summit now is an insult to our NATO allies. They are petrified of Russia. Russia's meddled in elections in Europe, they'd meddled in elections in the U.S. so he's sort of adopting the entire Putin playbook. That's a Kremlin talking point about Crimea. Russia invaded another country. Seized its territory and, you know, Donald Trump is supporting that. Again, his supporters, it won't upset them but he's energizing his opponents with this kind of rhetoric and these decisions.

HARLOW: Yes. David Rohde, thank you for the analysis this morning. We appreciate it.

In just moments, two of the nation's top law enforcement officials will be grilled on Capitol Hill, FBI director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein are facing lawmakers in just moments about their agency's actions surrounding the 2016 election.

Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with more. And this comes at a very important point, Manu, because this comes at

the same time that House Republicans are furious over documents they have subpoenaed that they don't have yet and they're even threatening this -- you know, threatening potential impeachment, Articles of Impeachment against Rod Rosenstein.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. Poppy, this is going to be an exceptionally contentious hearing, very partisan hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, a number of members on this committee have been engaged in a month's long battle with the Justice Department saying that they have not gotten enough records per their request about the Clinton e-mail investigation, about the Russia investigation.

Of course the Justice Department believes they have provided information, they provided enough and Democrats believe they provided too much and this is all an attempt, according to the Democrats, to undercut the FBI, to undercut Bob Mueller's credibility and ultimately help Donald Trump. So expect those lines of questioning really to play out and of course this comes at a day in which Rod Rosenstein could face even more pressure by the full House which is expected to vote on a resolution calling for documents to be turned over to the House by July 6th and a number of conservatives who are pushing that measure including Mark Meadows, who's the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told me yesterday that Rosenstein should be held in contempt if not impeached if that deadline is not abided to.

So we'll hear Rod Rosenstein respond but undoubtedly we're going to get a lot of questions and criticism, and you'll remember, Poppy, him saying just weeks ago that he's not going to be extorted, so we'll see if he pushes back, how contentious he digs in and how he deals with these sharp line of questions that we're expecting momentarily, Poppy.

HARLOW: And will hear his opening statement as well which should be interesting.

Before you go, Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, a marathon 11 hours behind closed doors about these anti- Trump text messages he sent, his involvement with the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe, the special counsel's probe on Russia. You've talked to lawmakers, Manu, who were in the room from both parties. What have you learned?

RAJU: Yes. The texts were a huge focus. Of course a lot of those anti-Trump --

HARLOW: Looks like we lost Manu Raju.

But with me now, we do have Democratic Congressman Ted Deutsch of Florida. He serves on the Judiciary Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with me this morning.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: My pleasure, Poppy. Thanks. HARLOW: Let me just get your reaction ahead of this hearing with

Christopher Wray and Rod Rosenstein. As you know, your Republican counterpart on the Judiciary Committee Mark Meadows has said, look, if we do not get these documents surrounding the FISA warrants, Carter Page, the, you know, confidential source in the 2016 Russia probe around the 2016 election, he said if they're not here by July 6th, meaning the documents, certainly contempt and impeachment would be in order.

How would you respond if your Republican counterparts in the House move to impeach Rod Rosenstein?

DEUTCH: Well, that's an absurd assertion, Poppy, that we have to take a step back and look at what's really happening here. There is a concerted effort led first and foremost by the president of the United States. You saw just this morning he sent out a number of tweets attacking Comey, Mueller, the FBI, seemingly everyone who has had anything to do with the investigation into his campaign's connections to Russia and by some of my colleagues in the House who are pretending that the FBI is not cooperating, that the Department of Justice is not cooperating with them.

They've sent over a steady stream of documents to comply. They're going to turn them over -- they're only going to comply as their obligated to.

HARLOW: Well, that --

DEUTCH: They don't turn over documents having to do with ongoing criminal investigation.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point because you even have conservative 2Republicans like Representative Goodlatte and Chris Stewart of Utah saying, look, let's sort pause, and see what we have in these current documents. They're not necessarily supportive of what we're hearing from Meadows, at least outright.

Let me get you on the president's tweet this morning saying, quote, Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election. Yes, Russia continues to say that. No, that is not the finding of U.S. intelligence agencies. So what should President Trump say to President Putin when they meet in Helsinki on July 16th?

DEUTCH: Well, Poppy, first, that makes clear how this is all related. For some of my colleagues to talk about impeaching Rod Rosenstein to effectively shut down the investigation into the connections with Russia is to play right into the president's desires --

HARLOW: But -- so what should the president say, though?

DEUTCH: Yes.

HARLOW: I mean, he is the one in the meeting. None of you guys are going to be in this meeting.

DEUTCH: Well, that's right. And we know -- and I have real concerns. Look, the president met with Kim Jong-un and started using his own talking points and praised the guy who's been responsible for deaths of hundreds of thousands. He's going to talk with Putin right at the time of the NATO summit, after he has gone out of his way to question our relationship with NATO.

The president has suggested that Russia, who we've imposed sanctions on for marching into and taking control of Crimea, for welcoming them into the G7. He's suggesting that we should have a closer relationship with Russia even as he denies any involvement of Russia in the elections, which the entire intelligence community disputes. Everyone in America understands -

HARLOW: All right. Let me just - the reporting we have from our State Department reporter is that the hope is that they can make some headway in Syria and push Russia's hand a little bit in Syria and the devastating civil war there.

Now, the US doesn't really have leverage over Russia on that, but that's the messaging coming down on this.

You were in the meeting yesterday, the 11-hour marathon meeting with FBI agent Peter Strzok who sent all of those anti-Trump text messages. He was on the Hillary Clinton email probe. He was on the Mueller/Russia probe before he was removed from it.

Lightning round here, OK? Quick yes or no because we have to get to some other things. Yes or no, did Peter Strzok want President Trump to win the election?

DEUTCH: There is nothing that we saw that came out in that deposition yesterday that suggested that there was bias from Peter Strzok that impacted the investigation.

HARLOW: Trying to do yes or no here. So, let me try again on another one. Was Peter Strzok's conduct at least, at the least, deeply unprofessional, yes or no?

DEUTCH: And he was - yes, and he was removed from the investigation. Of course.

HARLOW: OK. Is it possible, yes or no, that Strzok may have intentionally, intentionally slow rolled the review of emails connected to the Clinton probe? Remember, this was in the days before the election, yes or no? Is that possible?

DEUTCH: Right. No. Poppy, I have to just back up for a second because I appreciate the questions, but we're ignoring this massive IG report, we're ignoring the ongoing analysis that's been done that shows that there was no connection, there was no political bias involved in the decision not to go forward against -

DEUTCH: I'm glad you bring up the IG's report because, on that specific point of was there any potential for slow rolling the Clinton email probe when they found those additional emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop, he said he could not guarantee that Strzok was completely free of political bias. So, I wonder if you share some of the concerns. Like, here's a concern from Rep. Jim Jordan, your Republican counterpart on the committee.

He said, look, it is one thing to say that Trump is awful. It's another thing to say we're going to stop him, especially when those statements were made within 15 days just after you've launched an investigation into that individual. Do you think he has a point?

DEUTCH: Well, there was extensive conversation yesterday about the timing and what he said and what he intended by it. But, again, I appreciate the efforts of some of my colleagues to continue to try to spin this narrative that calls into question everything that the Department of Justice has done, ultimately, with the goal of disrupting this investigation into Russia's interference with our election.

But they're not going to succeed at it because it's so clear at this point that the Mueller probe has to continue, so that we can get to the bottom of what happened, so that we can examine things like what we saw yesterday, this $10 million loan to the president's campaign manager from a Russian oligarch.

There's just so much that they're trying to shift the focus from and I'm not going to let them do it.

HARLOW: I don't have the reporting on that $10 million loan. But before you go, I just want to get you on the Supreme Court and the monumental decision that is ahead of this president on what justice will replace Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says they will vote. The Senate will take up a vote on the president's nominee, look like, around Labor Day, certainly before the midterms.

You write in response to that, "McConnell stole Obama's SCOTUS seat and gave it to Trump." The nuclear option, of course, began in 2013. Harry Reid can be thanked for that.

But I wonder if you and fellow Democrats would be crying foul if Hillary Clinton were president today and in this same exact position and wanted to nominate a justice to replace Kennedy and to do it around Labor Day before the midterms? Would you be crying foul in the same way and say, wait, we should wait?

DEUTCH: Well, first of all, there's no disputing the fact that McConnell clearly stole the Supreme Court seat, delaying and delaying and delaying and refusing to take up the nomination of Judge Garland. So, that can't be disputed.

The big issue here, Poppy, is not just the way that this plays out in the Senate. It has to do with the direction of the court and whether the president --

HARLOW: I understand --

DEUTCH: -- of the United States is going to appoint someone who is going to rollback reproductive rights and LGBT equality --

HARLOW: Congressman, trust me, I understand how consequential it is. But my question to you is, would you be saying the same thing if Hillary Clinton were president?

[09:20:07] DEUTCH: Well, would I be saying that Mitch McConnell stole --

HARLOW: Would you be saying that we should wait until after the midterms? That's what I'm wondering. If Hillary Clinton were president, if a Democrat were president, should we be waiting until after the midterms for the Senate to hold a vote?

DEUTCH: Well, Poppy, I understand the way things work and Mitch McConnell's going to get a vote. I understand the way the Senate works, even though I'm not a member of it.

But I also understand that, as this plays out - it doesn't matter what might have been. At this moment in history, the president of the United States is going to nominate someone to the Supreme Court.

And I do believe that Democrats and Republicans who value civil rights and reproductive rights, who understand that everyone deserves the right to vote, we shouldn't roll back voting rights, I absolutely believe that we should make those issues, put those issues front and center.

And if the president nominates someone who wants to roll back the clock and wants the court to operate in a way that doesn't acknowledge all of these hard-earned rights, then, yes, we should oppose. That's absolutely what I'm saying. And that's the case regardless of who's in the White House.

We need to look at the decision and the qualifications and the views of this appointee.

HARLOW: Congressman, take a look at these live pictures. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, walking down the hall on Capitol Hill heading into this hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, as Manu reported, expected to be explosive in the line of questioning.

Some members of that committee even going as far, like Rep. Mark Meadows, as to say if they don't get documents from the Department of Justice, then Rosenstein should potentially be impeached. Much more of this breaking news after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:] HARLOW: President Trump says he is very honored to get to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court. No doubt his decision will shape the court and the country for decades.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to pick a great one. We have to pick one that's going to be there for 40 years, 45 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: In his 30 years on the bench, Anthony Kennedy was a critical swing vote, a key and pivotal voice in many of the biggest social issues decisions from the high court.

Let's go to Jessica Schneider. She's in Washington with more. His importance on this court - sometimes called the Kennedy court - cannot be overstated, right, from abortion to gay rights to affirmative action. On those social issues, he was a hero for liberals. On some of the other issues, like Citizens United, he was a hero for conservatives.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Poppy. And that means, really, the balance of this court will change dramatically with a second President Trump appointment.

And that's because Justice Kennedy, he really did control the outcome of hot button issue cases like no other justice in recent history. You said it.

He sided with conservatives on issues like campaign finance and gun control and voting rights, while on the flip side, voting with the liberal wing to uphold abortion rights and affirmative action and, of course, he wrote that majority opinion making same-sex marriage the law of the land in 2015.

So, many liberal groups around the country, they worry that, while Justice Kennedy essentially saw both sides, they believe that the justice President Trump nominates will be a staunch conservative and will side exclusively with conservative causes brought to the court.

Now, it's important to note, this doesn't necessarily mean that Roe v Wade would be overturned immediately, but really this new Supreme Court with a new conservative member, it would be likely to uphold restrictive state laws on abortion and that could lead to an eventual overturn of Roe v. Wade once lawsuits at the state level make their way to the Supreme Court.

So, really, Poppy, with this change in the balance of power, this, of course - there is a lot of at stake with this retirement. Poppy?

HARLOW: And the list. The president said yesterday I'm going to choose my next nominee from the shortlist that his team put out before Gorsuch was nominated. Who stands out, Jessica, on that list?

SCHNEIDER: Right. So, the president, he talks about this list. He said 25 people, but we have at the top of that list two former Justice Kennedy clerks. You see the first one there, D.C. Circuit court judge Brett Kavanaugh, and then also in the middle there, Raymond Kethledge. He's on the Sixth Circuit.

Then, of course, at the end, there's Thomas Hardiman. He's current on the Third Circuit. Interestingly, he was interviewed by the president as a runner up to the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. The second woman there, Amy Coney Barrett, as well as Amul Thapar, they've already been named to lower court seats by the president.

And then, there's the wildcard there. Republican Mike Lee, he's the senator from Utah.

All of these possible picks, staunchly conservative. And notably, Poppy, very young, meaning they would remain on this court for a generation. Amy Coney Barrett right there, just 46 years old.

HARLOW: Wow!

SCHNEIDER: So, they'd be in the court for a long time. Of course, Justice Kennedy was 81, now that he's retiring. Poppy?

HARLOW: Jessica Schneider, thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it.

Moments from now, deputy attorney general and the FBI director set to face a grilling from lawmakers about their handling of the 2016 election. We'll bring it to you live.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures now down about 100 points. Of course, these trade concerns continue. We're watching it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)