Return to Transcripts main page


Senators Open to Sessions' Exit; Trump Blames China; Google Refutes Trump's Claim. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Obstruction of justice charges? Like could it lead us, rather, down that road, A.B.? That doesn't seem to be a concern anymore.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: No. What I found remarkable about some reporting by Politico yesterday was that people in the White House around the president figure if Special Counsel Mueller is building an obstruction of justice case, oh, well, he's already done it. It's been in the open. And he fired Comey and then said it was about Russia and all these other examples where he's seen as interfering in an investigation. So if he fired Sessions, oh, well, big whoop, which I think is quite an assessment.

But what's really striking is what you pointed out, that he's actually beginning to sway senators who just said months ago that they would never support the confirmation of another attorney general. That they didn't have time and it wasn't the place. We know there are still stalwart supporters telling Jeff Sessions to hang on, but increasingly they're making it clear, Senators Graham and Grassley and others that, oh, you know, on criminal justice reform and even on this immigration family separation issue, some sort of a whisper campaign, that that's Jeff Sessions' fault and that there was not the tacit approval of President Trump, which from reporting it seems like there definitely was. And so they're building a case to dump him.

What I think is remarkable is that they would let Democratic voters know that eight weeks before the midterms I think it looks like a very energizing campaign message for Democrats.

HILL: Which will be interesting to see if it is. But we have, and to your point too, Grassley saying, oh, yes, I can open up the calendar. We've got space to deal with confirmation hearings at some point.

There is also a question, Matt, about, you know, whether the distraction is perhaps part of what we're seeing from some of these Republicans, fatigue with the distraction that is the Jeff Sessions situation and trying to get things done. And all of the space that it seems to be occupying and oxygen it seems to be sucking out of the room for the president as well and it's kind of getting in their way, Matt.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think that it's sort of like, if you're -- give a kid and the kid keeps nagging you, wanting something, eventually you just give up, right, and give it to them. Like Donald Trump has been complaining about Jeff Sessions for so long that eventually, let's just shut him up. Give him what he wants. And maybe a president has a right, after a couple of years, to get a different attorney general if he wants one.

I think the problem that Jeff Sessions has is he's in such this weird space, OK. So, on one hand, he is this guy who clearly takes his job seriously. He clearly believes in the rule of law. He has done things appropriately, like recuse himself. So I think in a sense he's been very noble.

But if you look at his political positioning, he is really to the right of Donald Trump. He is a nativist. He is a populist. He is a far -- sort of far-right southern Republican. And that puts him in this weird space. I mean if you're Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and you want to do some conservative reforms, like, you know, immigration reform or you want to do something on prison reform, you know, this guy's in your way. Jeff Sessions is in your way. He's actually to the right of Donald Trump.

So, you know, it's hard -- in a way Jeff Sessions is fighting a two- front war and he doesn't have that many allies. If you like Donald Trump, then you don't like Jeff Sessions. And if you're a never-Trump conservative who wants to do some compassionate conservative reforms, you also don't like Jeff Sessions. He doesn't really have a constituency right now.

HILL: Doesn't have a constituency, although it is an interesting narrative, as you point out, A.B., when we are weeks away from the midterms that, you know, this is now a real possibility and the impact that that could have come November. Do you think anybody is having that conversation with the president? Whether or not he listens is a separate issue. But do you think that's actually come up as a conversation with the president, who is very focused on midterms?

STODDARD: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. He wanted to dump Sessions, you know, so many yesterdays ago we can't count them. It's been a year and a half. March of 2017.

But Lindsey Graham just admitted that he told the president it wouldn't be good to do before the midterm elections.

Just the -- what I mentioned before, telegraphing that it's going to happen. When Jeff Sessions is seen as this bulwark between the Donald Trump trying to thwart the Mueller campaign and an un-interfered probe going on, on its course under Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, because of Jeff Sessions' recusal, that is the political potent sort of bomb here that they are dropped before the midterm elections, telling independent voters and Democratic voters who -- whose support for the Bob Mueller investigation went up 11 points last month alone according to a Fox News poll, that Mueller's investigation might be in danger because Trump might be putting in a new attorney general that will thwart it, either its resources or its -- or its -- you know, the way that it's conducted and on and on. Maybe even shutting it down, giving it a deadline. That is, I think, a politically perilous message for Republicans trying to hold on to the House and build a majority in the Senate. HILL: Right.

[09:35:11] Matt, I'll give you the last word here. I mean we don't have crystal balls, but how long do you think Jeff Sessions makes it at this point? Does he make it to November?

LEWIS: I think he makes it to November, but I don't -- I don't like his -- I don't think he's long in this job after November.

HILL: Matt Lewis, A.B. Stoddard, always good to have you both with us. Thank you.

LEWIS: Thank you.

HILL: A Florida sheriff says an Uber driver stood his ground, killing a man who threatened to shoot him. All of it caught on camera.


HILL: Florida police calling this a classic case of stand your ground. According to authorities, an Uber driver was justified to shoot and kill a man who stormed his car and threatened him. In the dash cam video, you can see the man, Jason Boek, cutting off the Uber with his truck. Well, Boek apparently thought his girlfriend was a passenger in that Uber. The two had just gotten into a heating text exchange.

[09:40:06] Dianne Gallagher joins us now with more of the details here.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, Erica, the sheriff calling this, quote, justifiable homicide all day long.

Now, of course, stand your ground laws are pretty controversial when it comes to killings across this nation, particularly when we're talking about Florida's version. But this is what we know about this case.

So, after a fight with his on again/off again girlfriend, Jason Boek followed an Uber that he thought was driving her home. Now, texts show that he did threaten the girlfriend and the Uber driver and that dash cam video from the Uber shows that he served in front of the car, appeared to try and run it off a dark stretch of road. Now, we're going to show you the video and let you hear it, but I do want to warn, you're going to hear a gunshot.


ROBERT WESTLAKE: I say something?

JASON BOEK: You know I got a pistol? You want me to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) shot you?

PASSENGER: Oh, my God.



GALLAGHER: Now, the Uber driver, Robert Westlake, he is a licensed armed security guard who does hold a concealed carry permit. He completed the police academy but was not a sworn officer.

Now, he immediately called 911 and rendered aid to Boek, who, of course, sadly, died. Now, we do need to point out here, his girlfriend was not even in that Uber. This was a case of him following the wrong vehicle in the first place.

Westlake told police that he, quote, came towards me, shouted he's got a pistol, reached for his waistband. And that's why the sheriff says this makes it that classic stand your ground case and doesn't plan to charge him.

HILL: Wow.


SHERIFF GRADY JUDD, POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA: Don't mess with an Uber driver. Don't mess with people. Respect other people and leave them alone. You may roll out of a car thinking you're a bad dude and threating people with a gun with a cell phone in your hand and end up pushing up daisies.


GALLAGHER: Now, Uber says that it's cooperating with the investigation. And, Erica, Boek, they didn't find a gun from him. The only gun that they found there on the scene was from the Uber driver there. So they believe it was a cell phone he was reaching for.

HILL: All right, Dianne Gallagher with the latest for us there.

Dianne, thank you.

A Texas jury is sending a former police officer to prison. Roy Oliver, sentenced to 15 years. He also has to pay a $10,000 fine in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. Edwards died when Oliver fired into a car full of teenagers last April. He claimed the car was driving recklessly and was a danger to his partner. Body camera footage later revealed the car was driving away from the officers. Oliver is appealing the verdict and the sentencing.

President Trump blaming China for the challenges in the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. Well, now, China firing back. We've got a live report from the Pentagon, next.


[09:47:23] HILL: China firing back this morning after President Trump blamed the country for challenges with North Korea. The president claiming North Korea is under tremendous pressure because of the ongoing U.S.-China trade disputes. Also he said China was providing North Korea with aid, which, in his words, isn't helpful, but insisted his relationship with Kim Jong-un is still, quote, very good and warm.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon with more.

Barbara, good morning.


The president saying that relationship is good and following that up with a series of tweeting in which he appears to say he believes there's no reason for the U.S. to continue to spend money on large- scale military exercises with the South Koreans. Military exercises that were once aimed very much at North Korea. No reason to spend money on that right now. That sounds at first glance different than the defense secretary, who a day earlier said that he was not ready to suspend further exercises. Have a little bit more of a listen to what Defense Secretary James Mattis had to say about this.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit. We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.


STARR: So, are the two really at odds because the president then did go on to tweet further saying he was prepared to restart those exercises. What appears to be going on here is not unexpected. The U.S. is looking to really prod North Korea to get to the negotiating table on denuclearization. So you're seeing sort of a two-handed approach. On the one hand, talking about those sweeteners, will stop exercises. But on the other hand, still holding out the big stick saying, if you don't get it together, we will restart those exercises.

But here's the real problem, South Korea. South Korea perhaps not inclined to go back to the way it was with large-scale exercises. And they really would have the final vote on whether the U.S. military can do those exercises in the future.


HILL: All right. Barbara, also just want to ask you about this on a separate note. We're learning the U.S. seized a boat full of weapons in the Gulf of Aiden. What more do we know about that?

STARR: This is in the waters between Yemen and Somalia. Two very troubled countries. And there's a lot of illicit arms trade through there. And what we know now is that a U.S. Navy warship saw a small fishing vessel, saw it looking like it was overloaded. They boarded it. And, in fact, they found hundreds, if not up to 1,000 or so AK-47- type weapons. Clearly, the implication that this was an illegal shipment. The vessel was not flagged. The Navy boarded it and seized the weapons, is looking to return the crew to wherever its legal place of residence is. [09:50:18] So still sorting its way through all of that. But it is a

reminder of this very heavy illicit arms trade through this troubled area, and an area where the U.S. Navy and other countries regularly patrol looking for some of those illicit arms.


HILL: Barbara Starr, always appreciate it. Thank you.

STARR: Sure.

HILL: Trump versus Google, round two. The president doubling down on his attacks, this time claiming the search engine ignored his speeches to Congress. Here's the thing, Google says, not true.

But first --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the past, society's conception of what a woman could and couldn't do revolved around traditional ideas of homemaking. In 1954, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was working for the Social Security Administration when she discovered she was pregnant. She got demoted. She was lucky she didn't get fired. In 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was decided, banks could still decline a woman's application for credit unless a man, preferably her husband, co-signed. RBG led efforts to give women power over their body and their income. Her work towards 1978's Pregnancy Discrimination Act secured women's ability to work and receive benefits through pregnancy and childbirth. RBG has used her time on the Supreme Court to continue protecting equal rights for all genders. In her own home, she proved that equality contributes to a successful partnership.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT: When there is a sharing of responsibility, that's the day that women will be truly liberated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Watch "RBG" on Monday, September 3rd, at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.



[09:56:33] HILL: President Trump versus big tech. This morning, Google is defending itself against the president's latest attack that it ignored his speech to Congress. The president posting a video on Twitter Wednesday accusing the search engine of promoting President Obama's State of the Union addresses but not his own address in January. He added the hash tag, stop the bias. Google says the president's claim is inaccurate.

Oliver Darcy is here now with more on Google's response.

So they say what you're saying didn't even happen, Mr. President.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right, they're saying it's basically not grounded in any reality here. Google basically -- they promote the State of the Union address for each president. The first year the president gives a State of the Union address, it's not really a State of the Union, it's just an address to Congress. So that's not promoted on the Google homepage.

We actually have a statement from Google that explains this. It says that we have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new president, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn't include a promotion on for this address in either 2009 or 2017.

Now, the president -- the video he tweeted showed no promotion for the 2018 State of the Union address, which is not accurate. Google says they did promote it. And there are some screenshots in the Internet archive that show that Google had, in fact, promoted that address.

HILL: It's fascinating, too, that this continues and the president is really continuing to go after Google. We know -- we even see comments from Don Junior in all of this.

And you had some blistering comments yesterday. You spoke with Steve Bannon --


HILL: Who was also talking about big tech, which sort of gives us an eye into perhaps where a lot of this is coming from and to the president.

DARCY: Right. Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, he's been talking about big tech for a while. So I reached out to him just to see what he thought about the president finally tweeting this and making it a big deal and he had a lot of strong words for tech companies. He called the executives of FaceBook, Google and Twitter, he said that they're evil. Said there's no doubt about that. And then he made some really striking comments for someone on the right. He said that he wants to have the government seize the data from these big tech companies and put it into a public trust, which, you know, doesn't sound like a very pro-free market, pro-private business position.


DARCY: It sounds like something you hear someone on the left, like maybe Bernie Sanders make. So very striking comments from Bannon there.

HILL: Striking from him, but also then when we think about what the president said even just earlier this week, saying that some of the things that he believes he has seen, what he perceives to be a bias, even in the Google search engine, calling things illegal.

DARCY: Yes. And let's make no mistake, this is a campaign issue. This is something that Republicans are using to campaign in the 2018 election. It's probably going to be a 2020 campaign issue as well. So this is politic at its best. And we're going to see this advance where Republicans come forward.

HILL: We're going to see this keeping you very busy as well, my friend.

Oliver, appreciate it. Thank you.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing changes to sexual misconduct rules on college campuses that would reportedly boost the rights of the accused. So, according to "The New York Times," the policy would protect colleges as well, giving them less liability in many cases, so schools would only be held accountable for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and only for incidents said to have happened on their campuses. The Education Department has refused to comment, saying that the report is premature and speculative.

Good morning. I'm Erica Hill, in for Poppy Harlow.

President Trump insisting this morning Robert Mueller's Russia investigation has nothing to do with White House Counsel Don McGahn's upcoming departure. A reminder here, McGahn spoke for more than 30 hours with Mueller's team.

[09:59:57] McGahn's exit coming as a Trump ally warned in "The Washington Post" that the White House is unprepared for a possible Democratic takeover of the House in November and has no strategy to handle a possible impeachment, nor enough staff to deal with everything else that could come their way.