Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Navy Says A Russian Destroyer Almost Collided With Missile Cruiser; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Breaks With Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) California Over Trump Impeachment Inquiry; Trump Faces Deadline Today To Impose Tariffs On Mexico; Joe Biden Reverse Abortion Funds Stance After Backlash From Democrats. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: -- accusing the other of deliberately, recklessly causing a near collision between a Russian destroyer and the U.S. Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser.

[10:00:08]

A video from the Chancellorsville, and seen first here on CNN, shows the Russian ship coming up to it very close, this while the U.S. ship was taking in a helicopter. It's a vulnerable time, and the ship maneuvers here. This appears to be a very aggressive act by Russia.

CNN's Barbara Starr has been covering this story from the beginning. Tell us how dangerous this is. I mean, you said earlier, U.S. sailors could almost reach out and touch this Russian ship as it came up close.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. I mean, let's keep playing the video for everyone to look at. You can see how close the two decks, the two hulls of these ships came to each other.

And the reason the U.S. Navy says that this was the responsibility of the Russians to act in a safe manner, which they did not, in the U.S. Navy view, when you look at that image, there is a wake, a very high speed wake.

The wake will show in another still image that the Russians made a sharp turn towards the U.S. Navy ship and came up alongside it. The U.S. Navy ship, clearly in front, came alongside at a high speed. That's how you get a wake like that.

And this is not safe practice, the Navy very strongly feels. In fact, the commander of this Navy ship had to then issue an order instantly for to put the ship into reverse at full speed to get away from the Russian ship, which came by Navy estimates 50 to 100 feet of the U.S. ship. That still image, you can see the sharp turn wake by the Russian ship on the left-hand side of your screen.

The Navy is very adamant that they had the right of way because they were trying to land a helicopter on the deck. And, of course, when you do this at sea, you have to maintain a steady course. They were not in a position to make sudden moves. The helicopter was waved off. It didn't land while the Navy was forced to make the moves to maneuver away from this Russian warship. The Navy very concerned about this incident, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And, Barbara, I liked how you noted earlier that as that ship pulls away, because you see I there, you have Russian sailors sun-bathing on the back of the Russian destroyer seemed to be a little bit of a message there as well. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's bring in retired Air Force Colonel and CNN Military Analyst Cedric Leighton. So when you watch this happen, and it seems the video is pretty clear cut. You have the U.S. ship sailing and the Russian ship kind of comes in like this. It doesn't leave much doubt as to what was the act of aggression here. That's not by accident.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Not at all, Jim. And, in fact, you know, when you know something about naval maneuvers, this is the kind of distance that a ship would have when it's undergoing replenishment operations, when they're resupplying a vessel at sea. And I have watched those, I have been onboard U.S. naval vessels when those have happened, and those are very intricate maneuvers.

This is something when you look at that video and see exactly how close the Russians came, it's an extremely dangerous maneuver. Because what the Russians are doing is they're, in essence, challenging the U.S. not only in the military sense but also in terms of seamanship. They're going after the capabilities of the U.S. Navy, they're testing the capabilities of the U.S. Navy and they're trying to figure out what our responses would be in a case like this.

SCIUTTO: This is the point, and it's a good point you make, because when this happens, beyond sending a message there right down to the sailors, the Russian sailors sun-bathing on the back of the ship, is they're testing response times, reactions in the moment, but also bigger picture. In other words, what does the U.S., what does President Trump do in response to this. What should

the President do?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. They are testing the entire chain of command from the tactical event of the ships coming so close together all the way up to what the National Command Authority meeting, President Trump ultimately are going to do in a case like this.

So they want to see what our response times are, what our diplomatic responses are, as well as our military responses. Are we going to send more ships into the Pacific? Are we going to send more planes? Are we going to do something like back off in certain areas? Those are all the kinds of things they're looking at. And they feel that they want to know exactly how we're making this happen.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's the President there. These are live pictures from Shannon, Ireland, as the President prepares to leave Europe, head back to the U.S., of course, there with the first lady, the President wearing a USA cap. Shannon is a typical stopping off point for U.S. planes, including Air Force One when they cross the Atlantic, this marking the end of the President's trip to the U.K. and to Normandy, of course, to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings there.

We will come back to this if the President chooses to speak to reporters. It doesn't look, at least at this point, that he's going to do that.

Meanwhile, I'm still here with Cedric Leighton. Final question, if this is a test, and it is a test, Russia of the U.S., what would you like to see the President do in response?

[10:05:05]

LEIGHTON: I'd want him to be very resolute. I would want him to make it clear to the Russians, first, diplomatically, but also sending military signals by deploying perhaps more ships and some airplanes, perhaps more reconnaissance flights against Russian targets. And they could not -- they could be anywhere. They don't necessarily have to be in the Pacific, but they need to send a message to the Russians that this behavior is unacceptable.

SCIUTTO: Cedric Leighton, thanks very much.

Folks, I've written a book about this. It's called The Shadow War. This is part of a larger strategy by Russia and China to undermine the U.S., test limits militarily, in cyberspace, in space. It's happening right now. If you're interested, it's worth a read.

To Capitol Hill, where Nancy Pelosi is still holding firm against beginning an impeachment inquiry of the President, that is despite a strong and detailed argument behind closed doors from one of her most powerful members. That is the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler. CNN's Manu Raju uncovered some previously unknown details of a private meeting earlier this week, and a private, I guess, you could call it clash, really, between the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Speaker of the House.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Behind the scenes, Jerry Nadler has been trying to make the case to Nancy Pelosi to back off her resistance to opening up an impeachment probe. Publicly, Jerry Nadler has been cautious and he has not gone that far. But, privately, it's a different story, including in this meeting this week with Nancy Pelosi, other chairmen of key committees.

He made the case that this would help -- opening up an impeachment inquiry would help their legal arguments in court, fighting with the Trump administration over a range of matters, saying that they could argue to the federal courts that this information must be turned over to Congress because they're in the middle of an impeachment inquiry. They fear losing one of those court cases could dramatically set back their efforts to investigate President Trump.

But also, Jerry Nadler arguing that an investigation, an impeachment inquiry could centralize all the sprawling investigations in the House into one committee, his committee, to investigate potential criminal conduct of this president, freeing up those other committees to do legislation. That also got pushed back, not just from Pelosi but also Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, who is doing his own investigation. So at the moment, Jerry Nadler is making this quiet case to Pelosi but not getting very far, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu, what Nadler is trying to do here is fight what seems to be the White House strategy, which is to send everything to court, drag it out, maybe even beyond 2020. He wants to streamline that process to get courts to enforce subpoenas more quickly. Explain that.

RAJU: Yes, very quickly. This is a significant change in the efforts to ratchet up this fight with the administration. What they're going to do next week on the house floor is approve a resolution that would allow all congressional committees in the House to essentially take their fights to court, enforce their subpoenas. What that essentially would do is that would avoid a vote on the full House floor to compel a court proceeding.

Now, these chairmen could initiate the court proceedings themselves. That could dramatically escalate the fight between the Trump administration and the House Democrats, as democrats have been concerned, they have been going too slow in pushing these matters in court, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the hill, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with CNN Political Analyst Sabrina Siddiqui and CNN Political Director David Chalian. David, where does this all go? I mean, it's coming up in public. I mean, it's still, what, it's about, 60, I think, democrats who have come out publicly in support of impeachment.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Which we should not is about a quarter of the entire democratic caucus.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. But they're very public. They're gaining in number. Is this sort of an irreversible momentum in that direction?

CHALIAN: Well, I don't know that. Nancy Pelosi seems to, I think, have her finger on the pulse of where the country is on this right now and certainly where her caucus is as well.

I really do think that as we continue to watch who joins the pro- impeachment movement, that becomes critical. If it is people coming from these republican districts that just delivered the majority to the democrats, if some of these folks who just ousted republicans, they are freshmen democrats, if they were to start getting more and more calls for impeachment, I think Speaker Pelosi would pay a different kind of attention to that.

SCIUTTO: Have you seen any in that category yet?

CHALIAN: Well, you've seen some that are may be in favor, but not most of the real most endangered democrats. Not many of them are taking this position. And that's what Nancy Pelosi worries about.

SCIUTTO: President Trump, this is not unusual, has made this personal between himself and Nancy Pelosi. And he brought that even to the D- Day commemoration ceremonies in France during an interview, Fox News in an American war dead cemetery. I want to play the clip and get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think she's a disgrace. I actually don't think she's a talented person. I have tried to be nice to her because I would have liked to have gotten some deals done. She's incapable of doing deals. She's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:10:00]

SCIUTTO: I mean, you see the crosses behind his head as he makes that very personal attack there. Important? Troubling?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's what we have come to expect from this President, the old rule that politics stops at the water's edge is simply not a rule that he has followed. He's not the only president who has engaged in some variation of domestic politics while overseas but especially on the commemoration of D-Day. It was particularly striking that he would engage once again in these personal attacks, not just against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but also Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

And I think that re-enforces the ways in which Nancy Pelosi in particular has really gotten under his skin. And so he can't help himself. This is, of course, it's worth remembering, a president who will take really any opportunity that's given to him to attack his political opponents. It doesn't matter what the forum or the setting is. We have seen that trend time and again over the couple of years.

But it does show that he's increasingly bothered by the specter of democrats really amplifying their investigations and sort of coming to this potentially tipping point on impeachment. And I think that's why you see the White House really trying to stonewall those investigative efforts. And that, in turn, is really what's leading a lot of these democrats to just run out of the patience and tell Pelosi that, look, there has to be another way.

SCIUTTO: It's a classically petty Trump insult, right, to go after the person's talent, you know, vindictive, horrible, this kind of thing. I mean, let's just set that aside because we've heard it before. But on the politics of this, who is getting the better of the Trump versus Pelosi battle here?

CHALIAN: Well, remember, here, Nancy Pelosi, when asked, did not, well, on foreign soil, want to deal with impeachment. But right before she arrived on foreign soil, she had said she'd rather see the President in prison than impeached.

So there is an amping up of the rhetoric from Speaker Pelosi as well. And I think that's a deliberate, strategic move. Because she doesn't want to move to impeachment, if she amps up her rhetoric, she shows her folks that are in favor of impeachment, listen, I am with you in this fight to take down Donald Trump. I just don't think it should be impeachment. So I think she wants to keep her caucus of the mind, that, no, no, she's the right fighter for us even if we're not totally aligned on how that fight should be fight.

SCIUTTO: Like she used the word cover-up last week in the midst of another dispute within the caucus.

I wonder, you know, the conventional wisdom is that because impeachment helped Bill Clinton's popularity in the '90s, that impeachment would be a political mistake for the democrats and would help Donald Trump. And it's interesting. I heard Jeffrey Toobin on the air yesterday. He's like, is it really good to be impeached as president, become the third American president impeached? I guess Nixon resigned before he was actually impeached. What are the politics of impeachment going forward, at least for impeachment proceedings?

SIDDIQUI: Well, look, I think that, so far, polling has shown that a majority of Americans are not yet there on impeachment. It's still is somewhat of a divisive issue, and that's what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling her caucus that, look, pursuing impeachment plays directly into the President's hands, allows himself to cast himself as a victim, especially as he gears up for re-election. But then the argument, of course, many others are making is Congress should not be making these decisions based on political calculations.

SCIUTTO: Congress making decisions based on political calculations, my goodness.

SIDDIQUI: They have a responsibility to conduct and carry out oversight. The more Nancy Pelosi does amp up this rhetoric and say, look, I think he belongs in prison, I don't think he's fit to serve, the more it also at the same time sort of undermines the argument she's making because then a lot of people then move to say, well, why aren't you at least formally launching an impeachment inquiry.

CHALIAN: And, really, it's just purely political calculation that she's making.

SCIUTTO: Well, impeachment is a political process, right? I mean, it's interesting to hear the rhetoric. It's almost identical from democrats here versus republicans against Bill Clinton. I mean, you can almost like lift the speeches out and drop them into the sound bites. But, anyway, this is Washington.

David Chalian, Sabrina Siddiqui, thanks very much.

There is new hope that those tariffs on Mexico may not go into effect on Monday. The Trump administration saying just moments ago that the President could choose to cancel them in the final hours, that is if he sees progress, but what has to happen first?

Plus, 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden reversing course about federal funding for abortion, this after facing backlash from several other presidential hopefuls. We're going to speak to a senior adviser for the Biden campaign. And a couple says they became violently sick at the same resort in the Dominican Republic, where three Americans mysteriously died. Hear their story just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: The pressure is on. Tariffs will go into effect against Mexico on Monday if day three of negotiations, still ongoing, fail. But just moments ago, the Vice President's Chief of Staff said that President Trump will have the final say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: As negotiations continued yesterday, we were more encouraged that they came forward with some of the things we put on the table on Wednesday to say we were open to that, but there's a long way to go still. That's the bottom line.

There's a legal notification that goes forward today with the plan to implement tariffs on Monday. But I think that there is the ability if negotiations continue to go well that the President can turn that off at some point over the weekend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss this standoff is Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow. He's a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, as well as to Venezuela and Zambia. Good morning, Ambassador. Thank you for taking the time this morning.

AMB. JEFFREY DAVIDOW, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR MEXICO, VENEZUELA AND ZAMBIA: Good morning, Jim. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So, first big picture, if I could get at what is the Trump strategy here, and it's not the first time they have done it, is to use tariffs because of a non-economic issue, the immigration issue here.

[10:20:00]

I mean, like you saw them use national security justification for tariffs, for instance, on U.S. ally Canada regarding steel. Is that problematic for a U.S. President to be connecting tariffs as a tool with national security priorities here, particularly with a close ally?

DAVIDOW: Yes, I think it's a mistake. And I think it has real opportunity to wind up having us shoot ourselves on the foot, especially when we talk about Mexico, Jim. You know, if you look at the immigration from Mexico, that is the number of Mexicans who have left Mexico in recent years, that number is way down from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, right now, it's net zero when we talk about Mexicans. And that's because the Mexican economy has improved. The Mexican economy has improved because we have this free trade agreement. And to start fooling around with that really runs the risk that that economy could suffer and the number of immigrants, Mexican immigrants, could increase.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, so you are making a good point here because the increased number of asylum seekers aren't coming from Mexico, who is being threatened with punishment here. They're coming from Central American countries. So the U.S. is basically forcing -- making Mexico be the buffer, I suppose you could say, between the U.S. and Central America.

DAVIDOW: Well, that's correct. Of course, it's a natural geographic buffer. And Mexico has to take some responsibility as well. But certainly, I think the aim of the administration is to put more weight and more responsibility on Mexico.

SCIUTTO: But isn't this just pushing the problem further south? Because the reason -- you have got a reason these folks are fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere. You've got enormous violence there. Plus, of course, there's an economic incentive to go north. But this is an administration, of course, that has cut aid to those countries that might address some of those issues. I mean, does it solve the problem to move it further south from the U.S. border rather than address the root causes?

DAVIDOW: Well, I think it might solve the immediate political problem in the United States. But the root causes are not being addressed.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DAVIDOW: I think there's also the possibility that if a new system is put in place, as the press seems to be indicating, in which people from these countries would have to apply for asylum in Mexico, it does appear that perhaps there would be fewer who would want to come.

I think what we have seen in the last few months is that the word has spread in Central America that if you can make it to the U.S. border, there's a good chance you're going to be let in.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DAVIDOW: So a change in asylum policy may change the flow.

SCIUTTO: Right. And that's something that Congress, and they share responsibility, they haven't been willing or able to do yet to change those essential laws here. But I wonder because -- and this may be getting -- I don't want to get too much into the weeds, but it strikes me as interesting that the U.S., I think to make this work, does it not have to declare Mexico and even Guatemala as safe countries, in other words, for these asylum seekers to be held in while they pursue their case, is that not a tough argument to make in light of the violence and so on in both of those countries? DAVIDOW: I don't think it's that tough, Jim. Yes, of course, there is violence in both of those countries. But Mexico, which is a country of, what, 120 million, 130 million people, has 99 percent of the population goes to work every day, goes to school every day, sure, they're aware of the violence. I don't think it would be that much of a stretch to say it's a safe country.

SCIUTTO: All right. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, it's good to have you on the program.

DAVIDOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Former Vice President and, of course, 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden reversing course on a long-held position on federal funding for abortion. So why the change? We're going to ask a senior member of his campaign. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00]

SCIUTTO: 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden with a major policy reversal on abortion, this in the wake of widespread criticism from his own party. After defending the Hyde Amendment for years, Biden reversed course saying he could no longer support the law, which blocks federal funds from being used for most abortions. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I make no apology for my last position and I make no apology for what I'm about to say. I can't justify leaving millions of women without the access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right. If I believe healthcare is a right as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: I'm pleased to be joined by Symone Sanders. She is a senior adviser to the Biden campaign. Symone, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Hi, Jim. Thanks for having me on today.

SCIUTTO: So, Symone, I want to play what the co-chair of the Biden campaign, Congressman Cedric Richmond said on CNN just --