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The President Says That If A Foreign Country Offered Dirt On His 2020 Opponent He'd Be Open To It; Secretary Pompeo Holds Briefing on Tanker Attacks In Gulf Of Oman. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 14:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Pamela Brown in for Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being here with me on this Thursday.

You might think that with all the scrutiny over that Trump Tower meeting and then candidate-Trump's appeal to Russia if they were listening to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails and with the warnings from the U.S. Intelligence community that Russia is ready to meddle in our elections again that President Trump perhaps would make it clear that he would refuse any similar offers in the future and you would be wrong.

In a stunning new interview, the President says that if a foreign country offered dirt on his 2020 opponent he'd be open to it.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: ...your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponent -- should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country -- Norway, we have information on your opponent. Oh, I think I'd want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information, I think I'd take it.


BROWN: Well the President also publicly broke with Christopher Wray, the man Trump hand-picked to run the FBI over what his campaign should do if an offer is made.


TRUMP: This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break, life doesn't work that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.


BROWN: Well the reaction in Washington ranging from disbelief, to condemnation, to spin from some Republicans. We're going to have more on that in just a moment. But first, here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yesterday, the President gave us once again evidence that he does not know right from wrong. It's a very sad thing -- a very sad thing that he does not know right from wrong. He's supposed to -- he takes an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but I guess it doesn't include him in terms of being -- to be held accountable to obey the law.


BROWN: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the President's staunchest supporters called Trump's comments a mistake. But moments later, the South Carolina Republican pointed the finger at Democrats issuing a statement that reads in part quote, " ... during the 2016 Presidential campaign we had a major American political party hire a foreign national, Christopher Steele, to dig up dirt on an American Presidential candidate. As if that was not bad enough, the foreign national compiled an unverified dossier that was then used by the FBI to obtain a warrant against an American citizen and surveil an American Presidential campaign."

Now, just to remind everyone, Lindsey Graham is the person who told John McCain to hand over the dossier to the FBI. So, I want to bring in my colleague Evan Perez. Manu Raju also standing by there on Capitol Hill. I'll get to you in just a moment, Manu.

But let's just do a reality check, just to start off here with what we just heard from Senator Graham's statement, drawing this comparison to the dossier. Are there parallels?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, there are big differences, right? I mean, I think one of the important things that we should remind everybody and what the Intelligence community has told us, what everybody around the President has told us all, and what the Mueller report told us was that this was an attack by the Russian military on the U.S. political system. That this was something that was --

It wasn't just, you know, the offer of dirt which was what that meeting was supposed to be by the Trump Tower, right, that Don Junior, the President's son got an e-mail about. It was beyond that.

It was hacking e-mails, it was trying to damage one campaign to try to make sure that she did not become President and to help the other candidate, which was the President, who is now our current President. The Russians helped Donald Trump get elected. We don't know if it

made the difference but we do know that they absolutely tried to help him get elected. And that's where I think things turn, right?

The President doesn't want to ever acknowledge that because he believes that that goes to the heart of whether or not he is legitimately elected President.

I personally believe that the President is -- he's a legitimate President. But he seems to not really be able to cross that idea off the list.

So, if you look at back at 2017 though, Lindsey Graham was saying something else. He's one of the strongest voices on national security traditionally and he said that when he first learned about the Don Junior meeting in Trump Tower, he said that if you have an offer like this from a foreign government, a foreign adversary, that you should call the FBI.

He begged Chris Wray at the time during his 2017 confirmation to make that loud and clear, and Chris Wray has made that clear.

BROWN: And just to kind of simplify it, what is the difference? Because again, you see Lindsey Graham trying to say, this is apples and apples.

PEREZ: Right.

[14:05:08] BROWN: But there is a difference between a Russian operative offering dirt to a Presidential campaign and a spy for an ally of an Allied intelligence agency.

PEREZ: Right and Christopher Steele was a former spy for British Intelligence Services. The British government is one of the closest allied governments to the United States and what he was doing -- what he did is he compiled this dossier, this document which was provided to the FBI to investigate.

They used it as part of their evidence to provide to the to the FISA Court, the surveillance court, in order to get a warrant on Carter Page.

Now, it wasn't the only evidence, but it was part of what the FBI provided. And that as you said, this is a big difference between, again, a former spy for the British government, for the U.K. Intelligence Services, one of our closest services, and the Russian government which is an avowed hostile power that wants to damage the U.S. political system.

They definitely had an interest in trying to make sure one person did not become President because they were upset at what she had done previously with regard to Vladimir Putin.

BROWN: I went to bring in Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. He's been speaking to Republicans, trying to get reaction. Manu, Senator Graham says the President's comments were a mistake but then he turned to the dossier. What are other Republicans saying? Are you seeing similar spin from other Republicans?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, most Republicans are either defending the President saying, well of course, he would go to the FBI if this was a damaging information, discounting what we all heard the President say in this interview or some saying they haven't seen his comments or some making the case that you two were just talking about, trying to say this is so similar to what happened in 2016 involving the Clinton campaign and the Steele dossier.

But the reactions are spanning around the gamut but for the most part, defending the President and saying that the President, if it came down to it, probably would go ahead and call the FBI. Take a listen.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I actually listened to the interview. When I heard the President say is that he would do both. He would listen and he, under certain circumstances, would call the FBI. Look, there are some exceptions to this, obviously, but unless they're like a rock, only dumber, usually spies don't come to you and say, I'm a spy, I'm from Russia, and I've got dirt on my opponent.

So you have to listen a while and see what they are up to and then make a decision. I can't speak for the President. I can only speak for me. If a foreign agent approached me with anything, including but not limited to dirt on my opponent, I would call the FBI and I think most people would not, but frankly I think the President would.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): That's already happened. Hillary Clinton played paid Fusion GPS to produce information that found its way into the FBI's counterintelligence investigation of President Trump.

And now, after the Mueller investigation, which has produced no charges, now obviously, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice is looking at how that got started.

RAJU: Any concerns about the President saying he'd be okay to accepting foreign dirt?

SEN.THOM TILLIS (R-NC): The President should first of, get information like Hillary Clinton did. She should have probably contacted the FBI, I think that the President would, too. But if the information is valid, it's a matter of corroborating it.


RAJU: But if the information is valid, it's a matter of corroborating it. That's what Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican Senator who is up in 2020 someone who is facing a potential primary threat. Someone who needs the President on his side in order to stave off any serious primary challenge.

And that's why the position that Donald Trump has put them in, is an awkward one because Republicans ultimately don't want to get crosswise with this President even if they see or hear what they're saying and want to react rather strongly. In a lot of ways they cannot because they're worried about backlash from this White House for being on the wrong side of a tweet storm.

So some Republicans like Tillis, essentially defending the President. Others like Joni Ernst who's also up in 2020, an Iowa Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee told me she has not seen the President's comments despite its coverage over the last 12 to 16 hours or so.

So, the Republicans are in a bit of an awkward spot and watch on the Senate floor, Pamela, in the next hour where Democrats have been trying to go to the floor, trying to push through legislation by a unanimous vote in order to try to prevent this foreign assistance from happening in an election and expect Republicans to object and call the Democrats actions all politics -- Pamela.

[14:09:58] BROWN: And what's interesting, I think is what you're seeing. Those Republicans are willing to go on camera and definitely, you know, pivot to Hillary Clinton, to the dossier but those who don't want their names out there are stronger, it appears on their condemnation of the President's interview.

Manu Raju, Evan Perez, thank you so much for bringing us the latest on that.

I want to now bring in Bob Baer, a former CIA operative and a CNN intelligence security analyst. Also Karoun Demirjian is a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political analyst. Thank you both for coming on.

Bob, first to you. So President Trump says, "Look, what's wrong with listening?" What would be the problem with that? What is the problem with that, Bob?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Pamela, the problem is that's an open invitation and it's very clear to North Korea and Russia, is go ahead get dirt on my opponents. I'll listen to it. I'll decide what to do with it and I'll remember you when I win the election.

I mean -- our whole democracy and Constitution is structured around keeping foreign interference out. And we're talking about the legitimacy of the President. I mean, the Presidency -- I mean, it's incredible.

A lot of people, 50 percent of Americans think the Russians interfered and may have pushed Trump over the top. And now he's saying, "Look, in 2020, you know, I've got no problem with this. Go ahead and break the law. Hack my opponent's e-mail. Give me the information and I'll decide what to do with it."

That's the message foreign countries got yesterday. And trust me, they're going to act on it.

BROWN: What stood out to me was the tweet from the President as well, following the interview. Saying, "Look I speak to a lot of leaders of foreign governments. Just recently I met with the leader in Ireland, in the U.K. and Japan." So it seems like he's trying to equate that scenario with Presidential diplomacy.

And also, during the interview, he brought up Norway as though you can put Norway and Russia in the same bucket.

BAER: Well, it's patently silly. He's a sitting President and he's not supposed to take dirt on Americans, just like the CIA does it. You know, this is just crazy. I mean truly -- he has said that he's going to break American law and it's very clear in FEC laws that you can't do this. You can't take foreign support and he said he wants it.

And not only that, not telling the FBI as a the former CIA officer -- you always go to the FBI.

BROWN: Well, he did say, you know, he did say -- well yes, maybe I would tell. I would do both. I would listen and I would also tell the FBI.

BAER: He said he would think about it. It would depend on the information, that's what I heard. And, you know, the rule inside the Federal government, Federal employees you get an approach from a hostile Intelligence agency, always go to the FBI immediately --

BROWN: All right. I'm going to bring in -- I want to bring in Karoun, to just talk about the politics of all of this because you're seeing Republicans pivoting from Trump's comments to the Steele dossier. What do you think Karoun, should Republicans be more alarmed? Should more be coming out to talk? Well, what is your take?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In a way, the fact that they're pivoting to the Steele dossier shows you that they are alarmed, that they just don't want to talk about it. Those are the two things, right, when something is so serious that they don't quite know how to reconcile the fact that they are angry at the President or upset with him with the fact that we're in an election cycle, they seem to switch the topic.

And that the Steele dossier is right there because it's where they can talk -- choose to talk about other people and potential foreign influence because of the money that was used to pay for the work.

But, yes, you're not seeing very many Republicans step up and say this was inappropriate, this is not okay. It seems like in this area they are as nervous as Trump is to actually connect the question of foreign influence to his Presidency.

The President made that connection by himself with the comments that he made about what he would do in the future and people are not stepping up to say something.

I think if you asked Democrats they'll be infuriated by that. And if you ask Republicans, they potentially will find something else to talk about on that subject, too, because they just don't want to go into that area, but I don't see how they're going to avoid it in the days ahead.


DEMIRJIAN: Because this is just so -- this is what everybody has been looking at for the last two years. This is what you've heard bipartisan voices saying is serious.

You can't just pretend that you didn't hear it now for, you know, several days running when the President just kind of blew that all up with an interview.

BROWN: And just in light of that, I wouldn't remind everyone of what Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel said in his first and only public remarks about his two-year Special Counsel investigation. Let's listen.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments that there were multiple systemic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.


BROWN: So in light of that, of what Robert Mueller said, you didn't sort of sense the seriousness or sense of alarm coming from President Trump in that interview -- about this idea of Russians systematically interfering in the election.

PEREZ: Right and I think Mueller said that a couple of times in his press conference -- his outgoing press conference. And I think it is the most important things that we heard from him.

[14:15:07] PEREZ: And Volume 1 of this report is still a very important part of this -- of the work that was done because everybody focuses on Volume 2, with the obstruction part. The Volume 1 is still how we got here.

And I think, that even though Chris Wray is obviously in a place where he probably can't say much at this point, you can bet, Pamela, having you -- you obviously covered the FBI and the Justice Department alongside me.

And you know that this is going to be a thing that they're going to focus on -- whether the President wants to admit it or not, this is something that in 2020 is going to be a feature of our elections and the FBI is going to look to enforce the law.

And by the way, now, everyone knows that this is not okay. Whether the President wants to admit it --

BROWN: Yes, you can't say you don't know.

PEREZ: Yes. Now, previously they could say, "Well, you know, we didn't know what the law said," well now, they do and the President knows.

BROWN: Because that's the key part of all. You have to prove.

PEREZ: You have to prove, right, that you knew.

BROWN: Okay, I want to break into Secretary Pompeo.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.

This assessment is based on Intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.

This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and it's surrogates against American and allied interest. And they should be understood in the context of 40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.

On April 22nd, Iran promised the world that it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise. In early May, the Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted the covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching missiles.

On May 12th, Iran attacked four commercial ships near the Strait of Hormuz. On May 14th, Iran-backed surrogates attacked by armed drones struck two strategically important oil pipelines into Saudi Arabia.

On May 19th, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. On May 31st, a car bomb in Afghanistan wounded four U.S. service members, killed four Afghan civilians and wounded bystanders.

Yesterday, Iranian surrogates fired a missile into Saudi Arabia striking the arrivals terminal of an international airport injuring 26 people.

Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.

Prime Minister Abe made a trip -- a historic trip to Iran to ask the regime to deescalate and enter into talks. Iran's Supreme Leader rejected Prime Minister Abe's diplomacy today by saying he has no response to President Trump and will not answer.

The Supreme Leader's government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese oil tanker just outside of Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency.

Iran's Foreign Minister today responded to these attacks. He said sardonically, quote, "suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning," end of quote. Foreign Minister Zarif may think this is funny, but no one else in the world does.

Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted.

No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets, and engage in nuclear blackmail.

The international community condemns Iran's assault on the freedom of navigation and the targeting of innocent civilians.

Today, I've instructed our U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen to raise Iran's attacks in the U.N. Security Council meeting, later this afternoon.

Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table at the right time, to encourage a comprehensive deal that addresses the broad range of threats. Threats today apparent for all the world to see, to peace, and security.

Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion. The United States will defend its forces, interests, and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability.

We call upon all nations threatened by Iran's provocative acts to join us in that endeavor. Thank you.

[14:20:00] BROWN: All right, we just heard from Secretary Pompeo about two tankers that were attacked on the Gulf of Oman and the Secretary did not mince words. He says that Iran is responsible. I want to bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for more on this -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a surprise really what he said because what we now know, is when a U.S. Navy warship, Pamela, responded to the incident the crew of the U.S. warship saw an unexploded mine in the side of one of the burning tankers.

And it was the type of mine that was used in a previous attack last month against four other tankers in the same region that the U.S. believes very strongly Iran was responsible for that as well.

One of the things to note here is, in some of the attacks the Secretary was talking about, you are seeing increased capability -- military capability by Iran. Their weapons are getting better, their guidance, their precision, their targeting.

They were very specifically able to get out to these two tankers moving through international waters, moving through very busy international shipping lanes and presumably be able to conduct this strike, it looks like at least part of it was mines attached to the haul. That's no small matter to be able to do that to large tankers moving through the water. So we have several things here. We have a security threat that Iran

is conducting these attacks. But there is also, as the Secretary took pains to say, an economic situation here.

These waterways, these tankers with their commercial civilian crews on board, the world economy is dependent on this commerce -- oil, petrochemicals, foodstuffs -- billions of dollars of cargo goods move in and out of these waterways every year through the Middle East, on to Asia, on to the Pacific, on to the United States, and Europe.

This is a waterway, this is an area that must be maintained for safe shipping. We saw oil markets early today skyrocket responding to these attacks. If insurance rates for these tankers begin to skyrocket, you are going to see these companies not be so willing to move through these waters.

And remember, what Iran did today is they attacked civilians. These are civilian crews, these are mariners, people who crew these ships, people who are just out there, trying to earn a living on these ships, for months on end.

Iran has threatened the U.S. not attacked U.S. military assets, but right now they're going for civilian ships that simply can't defend themselves.

The U.S. Navy says, it will be sending additional ships to the area for security patrols and to keep a watch on what's happening -- Pam.

BROWN: So all of this happening, of course, as there are escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. I want to bring in CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, you were in the in the room. What did the Secretary point to as to why he so firmly believes that Iran is responsible for this?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this was a quick designation this time. Remember when this happened, with oil tankers attack on May 12th, nine days later the Secretary of State was still saying well it's quite likely that Iran could be behind it. But now we see on the same day, he comes here to the briefing room to tell the world Iran is behind that.

And of course, that's based on what has happened prior. He said this is based on intelligence, on the weapons used, on the expertise level that it would had to have taken to do this again, and the fact that this happened just weeks ago.

So what we're seeing is, the U.S. did respond in the first place to various behavior by Iran, by significantly increasing its posture, by very visibly beefing up the U.S. presence in the region and making a big statement by sending additional weapons there, additional people there.

And now, we see that Iran is not deterred by that. Iran wants to make a statement of its own this way and we've seen that repeatedly and we heard the Secretary of State list a long number of incidents that have happened just over the past few weeks.

So, even after the U.S. boosted its presence, we're still seeing these attacks and some of them are on a smaller level, but they are all directly pointing to Iran. It's their MO, it's related to actions that the U.S. has taken and U.S. allies believed -- you know, sources that we had talked to of U.S. allies believe that the first attacks in May on tankers were related to the U.S. declaring the IRGC -- the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization that hit Iran hard, that was a big impact to them, as well as the U.S. continuing to convince other countries not to buy Iranian oil anymore.

[14:25:09] KOSINSKI: And this is a way for Iran to show, first of all, that they're not stopped in their stance by the U.S. actions but that they also can -- they can affect the price of oil in their own ways as we saw very dramatically again today.

BROWN: So the question is, will the U.S. do anything else, as you mentioned, it plans on sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East. Barbara said, the Navy will be sending more ships to that area.

I want to bring in CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. So here's the question, you have two tankers that are attacked around the same time that Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan is meeting with Iranians.

What is the endgame here do you think? If in fact, the Secretary is correct that Iran is responsible. What is the endgame in these attacks on tankers do you think?

Looks like, we lost him. Okay, I want to bring in actually Barbara Starr. Michelle, I don't know if they're both still available.

Barbara Starr, I want to actually go to you with that question on what the view is in terms of the endgame with the attacks on the tankers in May, now you have two attacks on tankers around the same time as I mentioned Shinzo Abe is meeting with Iranian officials. What is the view in terms of what Iran is trying to accomplish here?

STARR: Well, they are trying to show that they're still, you know, relevant and they can still literally pack a punch even in the face of the pressure of international sanctions.

They don't believe at this point apparently that the U.S. is going to respond in a military fashion. That's what you kind of have to conclude from all of this.

The U.S. has sent these forces and if the additional ships in the region move in, in the coming hours, this is a message of deterrence the Pentagon has long said. It's not looking for war with Iran -- that would be really a catastrophic proposition. It would be very, very difficult.

So they're looking to deter Iran. But Iran clearly is looking to push back against this maximum pressure campaign of sanctions.

You know, right now, Iran has not attacked a U.S. military target, it has not attacked a direct U.S. target. But I think, Secretary Pompeo made a really significant point just a little while ago.

He said the U.S. will defend itself and it will defend its interests. So the U.S. has this obligation to defend its allies in this region and to defend commercial shipping.

This is a long-standing proposition that the U.S. military would do what is necessary to keep those shipping lanes open. They're not going to let Iran take control of them. But, you know, they're going to need allied support in the region, the other Gulf nations to weigh in and participate in this.

That probably is the real bottom line at the moment -- making sure these shipping lanes are open. What is so different today -- these are not tankers sitting in a port, as tough as that the attack was back in May. These are tankers underway in international shipping lanes. The economic implications, the security implications are very significant when you go after commercial ships and attack them like this.

BROWN: Right, you're seeing it with the rising oil prices. All right, Barbara Starr, thank you very much for bringing us the latest there.

And right now, Memphis is a city on edge after U.S. Marshals shoot and kill a man. Violent protests injured dozens of officers and two journalists. So what's being done to keep the peace tonight?

Plus, President Trump speaks out in a new interview saying he actually is a very honest guy. Really? And Breaking News, on the actor Cuba Gooding Jr., he's just turned himself into police in New York over accusations involving a woman. We'll be back.