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Republicans Struggle to Defend Trump; Trump Defends Foreign Help in Election; OSC Recommends Conway be Removed from Office; Officers Injured after U.S. Marshals Kill Suspect. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Maybe an issue that another president ties up the bow on at the end.


TALEV: How was that for a dodge.

KING: Pessimism.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Sees you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere. A lot of news today. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And underway right now, Republicans walking a political tight rope, some of them are criticizing President Trump over his jaw-dropping admission that he would accept dirt from an opponent from a foreign government, but they're also trying to deflect the focus on the president's outrageous comments by falsely claiming that Democrats essentially did the same thing in 2016. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it's a mistake. I think -- I think it's a mistake of law. I don't want to send a signal to encourage this. And I hope my Democratic colleagues will be equally offended by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016 where a foreign agent was paid for, by a political party, to gather opposition research. All those things are wrong.


KEILAR: It's real important to explain exactly what Lindsey Graham is saying here. He's talking about the so-called Steele dossier, which is a series of memos prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intel agent, who was, at the time, working for Fusion GPS, which is a Washington-based opposition research firm. And "The Washington Free Beacon," a conservative website, initially financed some of this research during the primaries. Then, as this moved into the general election, the Clinton campaign hired Fusion GPS and obtained and continued this opposition research against the president -- against President Trump, then candidate Trump.

It's worth noting that after Election Day the late Senator John McCain came into possession of this information, of the Steele dossier, and under the advice of his friend and colleague, Lindsey Graham, he turned it over to the FBI.

Let's bring in Sunlen Serfaty on The Hill.

And, Sunlen, Lindsey Graham thought this information was concerning enough to loop in law enforcement is making some of his criticism and this equivalency with the Steele dossier today pretty curious. Tell us about how Republicans are struggling to defend the president's comments.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are really struggling, Brianna. I think that's very clear in a very short amount of time today. And I think your description of Republicans walking a political tight rope, so to speak, is really the perfect way to describe how they've been handling their response to President Trump's comments, the fact that they have -- this is a party that, in the past, has been very hesitant to criticize vocally the president. And this is another example of them unwilling to do so.

Many of them are staying far, far away from questions on Capitol Hill from reporters, not wanting to comment or respond in any way. Others -- other Republicans are saying that they personally would not have accepted dirt from a foreign adversary, would have contacted the authorities, the FBI, but still saying very far away from criticizing specifically what President Trump said.

And, notably, we have seen many Republicans across the board, as you mentioned, make that very quick pivot to try to refocus and redirect attention to this false equivalency back to Democrats and the Christopher Steele dossier.

Just moments ago, we also heard from two top Republicans up here on Capitol Hill disputing even what President Trump said.


QUESTION: Doesn't the president have to set a tone about what is right and what is wrong?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think the president has been very clear. And the president does not want foreign governments to interfere in our elections.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): I know what he said. I know the words he used. And all I can answer is, that's the president. He has no intentions of putting himself in a position with a foreign entity over the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SERFATY: Now, perhaps some of the strongest pushback that we have heard from Republicans up here on Capitol Hill is from Senators Mitt Romney. He spoke just a few minutes ago.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): That would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president to accept that involvement, to encourage it, participate with it in any way, shape or form. It would strike at the very heart of our democracy.

QUESTION: The president said that candidates do it all the time. You ran for president.

ROMNEY: I ran for president twice. I ran for governor once. I ran for Senate twice. I've never had any attempt made by a foreign government to contact me or a member of my staff. And had that occurred, I would have contact the FBI immediately.

QUESTION: What kind of repercussions --


SERFATY: Now, notably, Romney was also asked, Brianna, if he believes that President Trump was inviting this sort of interference with those comments that he made in that interview last night, and he said no. He tried to side step that answer there. Certainly this struggle is on full display up here on Capitol Hill.


KEILAR: All right, Sunlen Serfaty covering this for us. Thank you so much.

And the president, so far, trying to make his comments that he would take dirt on an opponent from a foreign government sound not so bad. So far today he's tweeted a dozen times, and in all but one post he has railed against Democrats where he's defended accepting foreign election help and not alerting the FBI about it.

[13:05:05] He's also tried to make some pretty unconvincing arguments as to why that is OK.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, live for us there on the North Lawn of the White House.

We're hoping to hear from the president at some point today, Kaitlan. He's supposed to be on camera at least twice. Is there any sign that he is going to take on this issue or be asked about this issue?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, we haven't heard from him yet in person, but if we do, you can expect the president to defend what he said yesterday, because not only is he not backing down on it, the president, this morning on Twitter, was defending the move and equating it essentially with diplomacy, asking somewhat jokingly if every time he meets with another world leader, does he also need to contact the FBI about those meetings.

Now, of course, those meetings with world leaders in his capacity as president of the United States are not the same thing as meeting with foreign agents who want to help you win an election, but that is what the president is doing, equating the two in his -- in a series of tweets.

Now, we should note that we haven't heard a lot of Republicans be critical of the president, but behind the scenes several of the president's allies have privately been critically to me personally about the president's remarks, questioning not only why he sat down for this interview, but why he would make a comment like that, something that so few Republicans want to have to go on camera and try to explain the president's comments.

But one person close to Trump essentially summed it up as, this is a president who does not want to admit a mistake here. And he's saying publicly what he's been saying privately for some time now, which is that he does not believe that Trump Tower meeting in 2016, the one that has loomed over his presidency ever since he was inaugurated, was an error. He doesn't see it as a problem.

KEILAR: And you also, while I have you here, Kaitlan, you have some news about Kellyanne Conway. Tell us about this.

COLLINS: Yes, this is significant. This is a government watchdog that is now recommending that Kellyanne Conway be removed from her job, saying that she's repeatedly violated the Hatch Act. Now, this is the Office of the Special Counsel, not the same and completely unrelated from Robert Mueller's former office. But the Hatch Act is essentially saying that because Kellyanne Conway is a repeat -- or the Office of the Special Counsel is saying, because Kellyanne Conway is a repeat offender of the Hatch Act, because she's criticized some of those Democratic presidential hopefuls while in her official capacity as a White House counselor, they say that they need to take some action here and remove her from her job so it can send a sign to other government officials that her behavior is not OK.

Now, the White House is firing back on this pretty quickly saying in a statement that these are unprecedented actions that they are taking against Kellyanne Conway and calling them, quote, deeply flawed and saying they violate her constitutional right to free speech and due process. They say others of all political views have objected to the OSC's unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees.

Now, of course, Brianna, this is big that they are recommending she be removed from her job, but the person who is charged with carrying out the discipline for violating the Hatch Act is President Trump. So don't expect any movement on that front.

KEILAR: Very good point.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

And I want to have a big discussion now. Let's bring in former CIA officer Evan McMullin. He ran a third-party campaign for president in 2016 as well. We have our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly, our national security analyst Sam Vinograd and senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

We're watching, Evan, Republicans struggling to defend President Trump's comments about something that he would do, which is take dirt on an opponent from a foreign government. And one of the ways they're trying to defend him is to say essentially, Democrats already did this in 2016 with this opposition research through Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that financed the Steele dossier. Is this apples to apples?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, it isn't. I mean it's a completely different thing. Obviously when the Christopher Steele, who is the former British spy who compiled what we now call the dossier, when he had his information, it was turned over to the FBI. The FBI had it at a time when they had already begun investigating what was going on between the contacts with the Russians and people associated with the Trump campaign. So they already had a separate investigation already before they even received the first version of what we now call the Steele dossier.

It also bears pointing out that, you know, the thing that seems to most animate Republicans, and the president in particular, the idea that he was spied on, his campaign was spied on, is a FISA application or a surveillance warrant that was gotten on Carter Page, somebody who was associated with the campaign, who had left the campaign by the time this began, and that the FBI used other information, not just the Steele dossier, to support that -- that surveillance warrant, which was approved by a judge.

So, again, there's a lot of differences between accepting or having -- having a document, a political document, right, that was prepared by a former spy for an allied intelligence service and -- that was provided to the FBI and getting an e-mail that says you're going to -- there -- you're being offered help by a hostile foreign power and not calling the FBI, just saying, you know, if -- if you say what it is -- if it is what you say, then I love it, which is what the president's son respond when he got that offer. Again, he didn't -- no one said anything about this.

[13:10:25] As a matter of fact, we only learned about this in the middle of 2017, well after the Mueller investigate had begun, and it was only because the information was about to be turned over to members of Congress that we even learned about it.

KEILAR: Evan, I know you -- you hold a nuanced view on this because when you look specifically at the Steele dossier, it does not come up smelling of roses to you. Tell us about that and also the -- this equivalency and how you view that -- that's being -- this argument from Republicans.

EVAN MCMULLIN (I), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, well, look, to be clear, I -- I would just say that there are campaign finance laws that prohibit information of strategic value to be provided to campaigns at all. You just -- it's -- you just can't -- you can't do that.

KEILAR: From a foreign entity?

MCMULLIN: From -- yes, from -- yes, very clearly from a foreign entity, whether it's a foreign government or, you know, but -- but I do think that the -- you know, there are -- there's a legal debate about how that information got to the Clinton campaign and all of that, and we can have that debate.

But what's most important here is that what happened with the Steele dossier and the Clinton campaign and all of that, that was opposition research. Opposition research, in certain forms, is a valuable part of our process. It ensures that information about illegal or unethical or even just embarrassing activities of some of our would-be leaders is -- comes before the American people.

What the Russian did to our political process in 2016 and since is an information warfare attack against the country that is not opposition research. The president would like to say that it's opposition research because he wants to put a legitimate framing around what the Russian did to help him in 2016. And I believe he's also trying to welcome that -- that help again in 2020. He needed it then. He needs it now even more. But that is as false equivalency. What the Russians did in 2016 to help him was not opposition research.

KEILAR: I want to -- and I want to talk -- this idea of sort of floating this idea, I wonder if foreign -- how do foreign governments, Sam, respond to the -- foreign hostile governments maybe who are trying to curry some favor with President Trump, do they look at this as an invitation or not?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Trump asked during his campaign, Russia, are you listening? Russia was definitely listening to these comments last night. And you have to imagine that as soon as he made them, not just Russia, but all of our other rivals immediately called up their own assets and looked at the tools that they had to advance their attack on our country.

Evan mentioned the information warfare. Let us not forget the cyber warfare attacks against President Trump's political rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton. We have an incredibly wide political field right now. And our adversaries have had three years to up their game and to get more sophisticated.

But, Bri, honestly, when President Trump makes these kind of comments, I think to myself, Russia doesn't have to try as hard anymore. They don't have to go behind the scenes and go through as many loopholes to try to disguise what they're doing. The president is actively encouraging attacks on his opponents and then the Republican Party is going out and trying to make us forgot what President Trump did last night. We can't forgot that. This dossier distraction does not preclude the fact that the president is actively encouraging attacks on our country.

KEILAR: Republicans are-- they're struggling, Phil, to defend this. You can tell because they're completely mischaracterizing what he said.


KEILAR: That's right.

MATTINGLY: I think this kind of encapsulation of it was shortly after the interview broke last night around 6:30 on ABC. I got a text message from a Republican House member, which just said three words, why, just why? As in why -- why do -- why even invite this? When bring this on? And then why say that everybody does it because everybody does not do it. Everybody operates in opposition research, as Evan was talking about, during campaigns, but not from a foreign entity or a foreign adversary.

And I think part of this is Republicans trying to figure out, as they have been now for two years, how to kind of furrow brows and raise concern about the issue itself while also not upsetting the audience of one. And I think that's why you see lawmakers, some lawmakers, come out very forcefully in defense of the president because they want the president to see that, but behind the scene, make no mistakes about it, Republicans and Democrats alike don't agree with that position. The Republicans would just like him not to bring it up ever again if he would be so willing.

KEILAR: And let's listen to what the FBI director has said in all of this, because the president has very publicly undermined him. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.


[13:15:00] KEILAR: What do you think about this, Evan?

PEREZ: Well, look, I think the FBI director, Chris Wray, is in a tough spot here. He can't really engage in an argument with the president. As Evan pointed out, you know, there are campaign finance laws that restrict what you can do with this type of thing. And the FBI is going to enforce the law.

So the -- here's the difference though. In 2016, and in the investigation, the Mueller investigation, Don Junior and people associated with the campaign reasonably could say, look, we -- we had no idea. We didn't know that this was a violation. We didn't know that the -- what the law is. They know now, right?

KEILAR: They sure do.

PEREZ: And Lindsey Graham, by the way, who has been one of the ones who's been on both sides of this issue, as often happens with him, in 2017 clearly said, this is something that you should call the FBI on. He said -- he asked Chris Wray at his confirmation hearing in 2017 to please say clearly that this is what you should do. And I think everyone knows now, even the president knows, that this is what you should do.

KEILAR: That's what struck me about his comments was, on the heels of what was a process the president loathed, the takeaway from the special counsel's investigation was not what we heard him say on television, right? This is -- this is the exact opposite.


KEILAR: Why would he have done that?

VINOGRAD: Well, we actually don't know if the counterintelligence investigation into President Trump ever ended from a security perspective. His comments last night make you kind of wonder why one isn't in place. Everything we learned from the Mueller report is that the president and his team were open to manipulation by foreign assets. It was a playbook for how Russia played the Trump campaign in 2016.

Ignorance is not bliss. Especially now when we have all the information from the Mueller report and the president is actively and wittingly continuing to make these kind of statements. He didn't just undermine Chris Wray, he made his job a lot harder. The FBI is the lead agency on counterintelligence when it comes to our domestic affairs, and the president's comments mean that the counterintelligence risks are now elevated. While he's undermining Wray, he's adding to his workload.

KEILAR: What do you think, Phil, especially as, you know, many in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, want to see something done to make sure this doesn't happen again.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and they've been working on election security legislation. I think they've been trying to find bipartisan support and agreement on both the House and the Senate. It hasn't always been super effective for a couple of different political reasons.

I think one of the interesting things, in talking to Republicans on The Hill trying to figure out why he would do this is, several that talk to him on a regular basis have made this point to me several times, which is, anything the president -- and Kaitlan made this point -- if there's anything that the president feels calls into legitimacy his victory in 2016, which is how he views -- the prism through which he views all of this through, he will take the opposite side of it no matter what, even if it seems like of insane on its face just to like, why would you actually be acknowledging this post-Mueller, post the two years investigation now that you're finally free of it.

And that was -- has been the best description I've gotten as to why the president would say this is he views that question as an attack on what happened to him in 2016, an attack on his victory, an attack on his legitimacy and therefore he's going to take the other side of it and say, you know, what, I'm president, not only did I win in 2016, I'm currently sitting in the Oval Office and I'm going to do whatever I think I can do, and that's that, period, bottom line.

KEILAR: Thank you all so much. Evan, Phil, Sam, Evan, two Evans.

PEREZ: Evan squared.


KEILAR: That's lovely. One Sam. One Phil. Thank you.

Ahead, more on the president's stunning comments. Will this put increased pressure on Democratic leadership to push for impeachment? I'm going to speak to a key Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and get her take on the president slamming the intel community.

Plus, protests erupt in Memphis after a suspect is shot and killed by police. Two dozen officers are hurt as the community erupts. And we're going to take you there live.

And two commercial tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Governments are pleading for calm as investigators try to piece together who's responsible here.


[13:23:37] KEILAR: The city of Memphis on edge today after violence erupted last night following news of a deadly police shooting. Authorities say a crowd of people gathered in protest but it all descended into chaos when rocks started flying. Police cars were vandalized and two dozen officers were injured.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says the fatal shooting happened after officers tried to stop Brandon Weber, a man the marshals say was wanted on multiple felony warrants. They say Weber rammed police cruisers and exited his vehicle with a weapon before he was shot. No officers were injured in the initial shooting incident.

I want to bring in CNN national correspondent Ryan Young. He is covering this story in Memphis.

And, Ryan, what more can you tell us about the man who was shot?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, look, there's so many questions at this hour. In fact, I want to show you something real quick. You can see the police car that still remains here out in front of the fire station. In fact, they have two units here, one on the back side as well because this fire station was one where people sort of turned their anger towards and started throwing rooks through the window.

Right now it seems like there's a lot of calm in the neighborhood. We've talked to some people who live here and they were telling us they believe last night was last night, but they still want answers about this.

And as we show you this video from last night, as the protester starting hitting the street, they say something really angered them when there was sort of a confrontation between police and all the hundreds of people who gathered here. At some point, people started grabbing brick and rocks and started throwing them toward the officer. The officers advanced, and even used tear gas at some point to disperse the crowd. That really made some people here in the neighborhood very upset because there was children out here as well. Luckily there was rain and people started to disperse.

[13:25:13] But how did we get to this point? From what we're told, the U.S. Marshal's Service tried to arrest Brandon Weber. When they arrived at a location, he tried to use his car as a ram according to the Marshal Service. Once they pinned him in, they claim that he got out of his car with a gun in his hand and at some point they opened fire on him.

But all that led to a confrontation with the neighborhood because they had felt several different rumors were spreading through the neighborhood. They were upset. And they arrived to find out exactly what was going on. They turned their anger towards the police department, who had nothing to do with this initial setup.

Something else that we've learned is, apparently the Marshal Service does not wear body cam, so we won't have any body camera footage to talk about the investigation moving forward.

It will be interesting to see what happens tonight. A lot of the leaders that we've sort of had a little contact with since we arrived here have said they believe tonight will be a lot calmer because more information has been available in the last five hours or so.


KEILAR: That is so surprising they don't wear body cameras, Ryan. Ryan Young in Memphis, thank you for that report. We really appreciate it.

YOUNG: Thanks.

KEILAR: And just in, we have new information on the two tankers that were hit with explosions in the Gulf of Oman. What one crew says attacked them and why.