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Airstrike Kills Children in Yemen; Mueller and Trump; Pence Pushes for Space Force. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for being with me.

Here's what I have got for you at the top of the hour. The president attorney is getting ready for a midterm showdown with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Rudy Giuliani, he is setting the stakes, as the Trump legal team decides if the president will give an interview with Mueller. Giuliani just called for the Russia probe to be wrapped up by September. But now, on the flip side, he's saying that dragging out the process could actually offer an upside for Republicans come November.

Let me quote him.

"When I first got involved, I would have told you not testifying would be the right legal strategy, but then hurt politically. Now I'm thinking the continuance of the investigation would actually help, because people are getting tired of it. And the president needs something to energize his voters because the Democrats look like they're energized. And nothing would energize Republicans more than let's save the president."

So Morgan Ortagus is with us, a former intelligence analyst at the Treasury Department. And with us -- former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman is with us as well.

So good to see you, and welcome back. And welcome to you.

Morgan, let me just turn and start with you, because Giuliani is now saying, all right, hang on a second, maybe this whole investigation will help Republicans come November.

MORGAN ORTAGUS, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT PRESS OFFICER: Well, yes, I think the president has actually said that himself at a lot of his rallies.

He is sort of using this cry of they're going to try to impeach me, they're going to continue these investigations in Congress to motivate his base. I think this is typical for the first term of any presidency. They're looking for something to galvanize the base, and the president tends to turn things on its head, and I think this is...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Do you think he's right? He wants to energize the base. Will it work?

ORTAGUS: We will have to see I think when it comes in November.

I think that one of the things that law enforcement in general tends to be bad at, for good reason, is politics. And I think that even the Hillary Clinton campaign would say that what James Comey did leading up to the election hurt her significantly, right? I think her campaign would definitely say that.

So, as we get into this, the most important thing, I think, is to protect the integrity of the FBI, of the DOJ. And so I think that Mueller does have to be careful here on the political side of things, because he wants -- he should want the American people to have faith in his investigation.

BALDWIN: Sure.

ORTAGUS: If it starts to get to near the election, the starts to look political.

BALDWIN: Sure.

ORTAGUS: Giuliani also said, Harry, that this notion of the September 1 deadline, right, we have heard this from him, for this Mueller investigation to end mistakenly. He said that's Justice Department rule.

This is precisely how Giuliani put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Well, I think if it isn't over by September, then we have a very, very serious violation of the Justice Department rules. You shouldn't be conducting one of these investigations in the 60-day period.

Look, he's got plenty of time to either decide. We offered him an opportunity to do a form of questioning. He can say yes or no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, Harry, I think, actually, to Morgan's point a second ago, it's sort of this unwritten rule. You don't want to drop some mega-investigation bombs smack-dab right around an election, but there is no law that mandates that, correct?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: There's no law. There's no unwritten rule. This is another step in the strange odyssey of Rudy Giuliani, from knowledgeable U.S. attorney to kind of pundit with no -- with no basis.

There is a general guideline that you shouldn't take a particular significant overt act in the shadow of an election. The idea is to try not to influence things either way.

The notion that you don't carry on an investigation is fanciful, and indeed, many times there have been indictments in the shadow of an election. But the actual guideline, not even rule, would say, well, be careful about an overt act just before an election.

Of course, Trump is not a candidate, and this normally applies to crimes against candidates. I do think subpoena would be an overt act. So Mueller does probably have to think about this, along with Rod Rosenstein. Will -- would this be an undue influence on election?

Ideally, it would be as if you were never there and you didn't influence at all. Of course, as the Comey example shows, sometimes, that's unavoidable. But certainly Giuliani's so called unwritten rule doesn't exist.

BALDWIN: OK. Thank you for straightening out.

Here's what -- let's talk about what Mueller's options are. Right? So it seems like that he essentially has these three options. He could continue this back and forth with the Trump team, continue these negotiations there. There could be just absolutely no Trump interview, or force a subpoena.

To both of you, Morgan and then Harry, what do you think is Mueller's option, best option of the three?

ORTAGUS: At the moment, I think he wants to sit down with the president, but it's clear that the president's team does not want to do that, especially before November.

So, the president said repeatedly that he would like this wrapped up, and I think that he genuinely feels that he didn't do anything wrong, and that's why he wants to go talk to Mueller.

But the president's lawyers, their jobs are to protect him. And I think that's why he doesn't want him to go. One thing about Rudy Giuliani, though, remember, Rudy Giuliani is not a trial attorney, so it's not that -- he's not representing the president in sort of a court of law, right?

[15:05:05]

He is there as the P.R. attorney, and I think he's doing a decent job as the P.R. attorney.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITMAN: This is all for public show. This is P.R. This is not -- he's not litigating in front of a jury.

BALDWIN: Right.

Harry, what do you think? What's Mueller's best option?

LITMAN: So, Brooke, I have changed my thinking on this recently. In general, to date, I thought never second-guess Mueller, he knows what he's doing. And, of course, he does. But I think it's fruitless to carry on these negotiations. If indeed he even is. We only have this from Giuliani side, as Morgan says.

BALDWIN: Right.

LITMAN: It's a P.R. effort on his part.

Trying to sit down with him, I think asking Trump questions that aren't under oath really isn't enough, and because we have not simply a criminal investigation. His mandate here is really -- and he's the only one who's going to do it -- is to find out what happened.

And I think we know now from the from the 18 months of the Trump presidency, that Trump is never going to give a full and candid version, at least if he's not under oath, maybe even if he is.

So I think, notwithstanding the delay and the legal risk, the right thing to do for his probe and for the country, after having been yanked around for over a year now, would be to drop a subpoena.

BALDWIN: OK, stand by.

I want to move on to this, switching from Trump's attorney, and what he says, to the words of another ardent Trump supporter.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, he has arguably done the most of any member of Congress to try to get in the way this whole Russia investigation. So now it has been revealed this secret recording showing the important role he believes the House, the House of Representatives, plays in protecting the president.

So for that, let's go to Manu Raju, our senior congressional correspondent.

And so on this recording, what is Nunes heard saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is saying in private in a fund-raiser for a Republican leader, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, he's telling these donors why it's so important to keep the House Republican majority, in his words.

Now, he says it's because they need to protect the President Trump from the Mueller investigation, a pretty stark assessment from a man who ran the House Intelligence Committee and who also ran the Russia probe for some time and had been accused by Democrats of using his power to scuttle that investigation and to help shield the present from any questions of collusion with the Russians.

This is what Nunes said:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: So, therein lies, so it's like your classic catch-22 situation, where we were at a -- this puts us in such a tough spot.

If Sessions won't un-recuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger. That's why I keep -- and thank you for saying it, by the way -- I mean, we have to keep all these seats.

We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, no common yet from Cathy McMorris Rodgers' office or Speaker Ryan about whether or not they agree with Devin Nunes.

But this comes after a number of steps that he has taken to go after the investigators, rather than what happened in Russia interference in the election. He's sown a lot of doubt, in his eyes, about how the investigation was carried out. He's briefed the president, as he did last year, about what he viewed was wrongdoing in the investigation.

He came out with that memo in February contending that the warrant was improperly obtained by the FBI to monitor that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and he has even threatened to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. And he's heard on this same tape that they should wait until after the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate until they move forward on any impeachment proceedings, even though that has very little chance of passing even this Republican-controlled House, and certainly not the Republican-controlled Senate to convict Rosenstein.

But, nevertheless, these comments fueling those suspicions among Democrats that Nunes has just used his power to undercut the FBI and the Mueller investigation as much as he can -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.

And back to Morgan and Harry.

And Manu just said it, using his power to undercut the Mueller investigation, right, Morgan? I mean, the notion that you have a member of the House of Representatives who believes it is his job to save the president, is that his job?

ORTAGUS: All right, I'm going to push back a little bit, Brooke, and here's why, because I think that there's a lot of politics going on here on both sides.

BALDWIN: You think?

ORTAGUS: And I think that -- the Democrats' narrative right, is that they're going to hold the president accountable, that they have to take back the House so they can properly, in their minds, do these investigations.

And I think on the Republican side of the House, they feel the same way. I think it's unfortunate that both sides have politicized our Intel Committees. And that's why I think that the American people, we need to somehow get our faith restored in the FBI and the DOJ.

[15:10:02]

I think that there's a lot of average Americans that, whether it's what happened to Hillary Clinton or it's what happened to Donald Trump, you can give both examples and people are really frustrated and not sure what and whom to believe.

And I think that there's legitimate criticisms on both sides here.

BALDWIN: But isn't the duty of folks that we vote to represent us, it's about oversight of an administration, and not protecting a president at the end of the day, whichever political party you side with?

And then, Harry, on the point specifically where Nunes says, if Sessions won't un-recuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger. I mean, I hear you chuckle, and I'm going to guess it's because of this word un-recuse, because you're the lawyer, but I'm hearing un-recusal, and I'm wondering if that's even an option.

LITMAN: Right. I don't know how it works. It's new, but two points to what Morgan said.

First, it's true both sides of the aisle -- this is sort of gambling in the casino. But I think, with Nunes, it's been gambling in the casino with loaded dice. This has been, I think, by all accounts, really a giant step forward in the politicization of what had been a roughly bipartisan Intelligence Committee effort.

But the bigger point is this. If this what you believe, there's mischief on both sides of the aisle, all the more important that the one side that is doing it straight, Mueller and the DOJ and the FBI, be left alone to do its job.

And Nunes isn't simply doing phony investigation. He, along with Trump, is trying to demonize the one entity that we really have to look to give it to us straight, and that's a shame.

BALDWIN: Morgan and Harry, thank you very much.

ORTAGUS: Thanks.

LITMAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming on next year, Vice President Mike Pence tries to deliver on the Space Force that the president has proposed. We have details and what this sixth branch of military would do. And we get reaction from former Commander Scott Kelly.

And the first lady's parents just received their official U.S. citizenship, so we will explain their immigration background.

And later new information about what was happening at that New Mexico compound were prosecutors say five adults were training their children to be school shooters. New details coming out. The father of these suspects, this well-known New York imam, spoke out moments ago.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:49]

BALDWIN: Well, today, the president's desire to create a U.S. Space Force just got a bit more real.

Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the Pentagon pushed for gearing up for the next battlefield in space.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield, where America's best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation.

The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Now, hang on a second, because establishing a Space Force requires Congress to act.

But the White House and now the vice president's strong pitch could be signaling new momentum.

So let's talk to a man who's lived in space longer than any other human, Scott Kelly.

Commander Scott Kelly, it is a honor and a privilege to have you on. And thank you so much for everything you have done for this country.

But on this Space Force idea, I know you're a critic. How big of a credit are you?

SCOTT KELLY, NASA ASTRONAUT: I don't know a lot about the president's motivations on this. There don't -- doesn't seem to be a lot of support out there.

And being a person that spent 25 years in the military, 20 of it at NASA, I never heard people really talking about a need for a sixth branch of the armed forces. So...

BALDWIN: Do you think that there is a need for a sixth branch?

KELLY: We used to have a Space Command. And in 2002, it was disestablished and everything was put back in the Air Force because it made more sense.

BALDWIN: Yes.

KELLY: So I don't think it's necessary.

Space is an environment that we're supposed to work together peacefully. And I think we have demonstrated that, so...

BALDWIN: But when you hear the vice president, yes, peaceful on the one hand, but he refers to it as emerging threats on this new battlefield.

And, of course, it's a key place in the way U.S. wages war, the Pentagon's satellites. Do you think -- I mean, do you recognize the threats? Do you think it needs more resources in that regard?

KELLY: There is a threat I think in the future. And whether we need more of a defensive capability, someday an offensive capability, I think is an argument and a discussion to have.

But this idea seems to have come from one person, who is not a space or military expert.

BALDWIN: That person being?

KELLY: Well, the president, of course. And I think everyone sees that.

So I think it should be something that -- where we have a longer discussion, we get experts involved, maybe decide whether this is something we need. In the past, it didn't seem like it made sense. It doesn't seem to me to make sense now.

I kind of wish we were fighting the wars we currently have, maybe the cyber-warfare we're currently in, focus on that, because I think that is much more a threat to our democracy and our way of life right now, is the threat to our elections, than a future scientific -- or science fiction warfare of the future.

BALDWIN: This is what -- let me play -- speaking of the person where this idea came from, here was the president.

[15:20:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration is reclaiming America's heritage as the world's greatest spacefaring nation.

We very well may soon have the Space Force. You have been hearing about that. And we're actually thinking of a sixth. And that would be the Space Force. Does that make sense? The Space Force. You probably haven't even heard that. I'm just telling you now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Obviously, we know where the idea came from.

Do you think the likes of Secretary Mattis, Vice President Pence, when they heard this idea, folks in the military, folks you talk to, are they just gritting their teeth, holding their breaths, and saying, yes, Mr. President?

KELLY: It's hard for me to speculate on what other people have said. I know the people that I have talked to, there's been a little bit of eye-rolling going on with this.

And the only person you here promoting this is the president. So it would be nice to get a little bit more buy-in from the experts. And it doesn't seem like we have that.

BALDWIN: While I have you, as a retired Navy captain, and I know this would be costly. Something else that would cost in the ballpark of I think $12 million to $14 million is this parade in November, right, that the president also has this idea to honor folks like you, folks active and veterans in our nation's military.

I'm just curious before I let you go, the military parade, do you see it as a beautiful way to honor our U.S. military, or is it a big old waste of money?

KELLY: I think, historically, those type of military parades are for countries that are not like the United States that don't need to demonstrate our power, the power that we have, which is the most significant on Earth, and is more for countries that are not as respected as us.

And, on one hand, I appreciate the president and the administration wanting to take care of and honor veterans, but it's generally not something that people in the military think we should be spending our time and money doing. That's my opinion.

BALDWIN: OK. Scott Kelly, thank you very much.

KELLY: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here, a story that is incredibly difficult to look at, but extraordinarily important to tell. Fifty people have been killed, most of them children, when an airstrike hit a school bus in Yemen.

We will explain what's behind the horrific attack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:11]

BALDWIN: This next story is incredibly disturbing and tragic, but is so important for us to tell it, because it shows how innocent children are caught in the horrors of war.

A warning, this video is graphic.

Today in Yemen, little children, many younger than 10 years of age, were on a summer field trip returning from a picnic. This is what we're told. They were inside a school bus riding through a market dressed in their school clothes when an airstrike hit them.

The blast so powerful, it could be heard from miles away. The ones who survived, covered in blood, some lost limbs not able to stand, others packed into the hospital sharing one bed.

Doctors totally overwhelmed as more and more kept coming. Nonstop is the word, actually, how they have described it.

In the video you're about to see, it shows the immediate aftermath on the street, the unspeakable reality of war.

Once again, just a warning. Please make sure children are turned away.

And we should note, these videos came in from Houthi media. Eyewitnesses have verified to CNN what is depicted within them. At least 50 people lost their lives in this, most of them children.

The bus was hit while passing through a rebel-held area of Northern Yemen. The strike came from a Saudi-led coalition, which called the airstrike a -- quote -- "legitimate military operation."

So let's go straight to our CNN senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, who's reported extensively from Yemen, and she's with me now in London.

And so can you just give me context? Explain why this happened.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're now in the third year of the U.S.-led -- the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition offensive in Yemen.

And although this is horrifying, this is actually only a continuum of what people in Yemen have been going through. This is part of ongoing and intensifying airstrikes.

And, Brooke, I have to tell you that the footage you were able to show, that isn't actually the worst of the footage. There is so much that is just too graphic for us to air.

I spent most of the day sifting through the images that have been coming out of Yemen. And they are horrifying. There was one video that had