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Trump Won't Fire Kellyanne Conway For Hatch Act Violations; Sarah Sanders Stepping Down As White House Press Secretary; Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) Discusses Trump Saying He Would Accept Dirt From Foreign Entities, Impeachment, The Trump Admin. Blaming Iran On Oil Tanker Attacks; Investors Watching Oil Prices Following Attack on Oil Tankers. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CHRIS LU, FORMER CABINET SECRETARY & FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, this is a willful disregard of a law, as you said, that was passed 80 years ago and that's been followed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

Ultimately, the tone is set by the top. Kellyanne Conway won't be fired because her view of ethics is the same view as Donald Trump's view of ethics.

What's so interesting here is nobody can find a single example where this office has ever called for the removal of any official. That shows that she is a repeat flagrant violator.

If any other civil servant had done this, they would have been fired. So this sends a terrible message to other federal employees.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, a lot of people are looking for compare and contrast now.

LU: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Democratic presidential candidate, Julian Castro, was found in violation of the Hatch Act when he was HUD secretary during the Obama administration for answering a question about endorsing Hillary Clinton. He kept his job. No penalty was recommended by the same office we were talking about. How is this different?

LU: Kate, this is complicated because all of us who do interviews while we are in public service or who give speeches, you always have to straddle a line.

What makes this so different, it wasn't just one violation. It was a series of violations.

And then when she was asked about this in front of the White House, she openly mocked the Hatch Act and said, tell me when the jail time is happening.

That's what the special office pointed to. This erodes rule of law when you have someone in a senior position flouting the laws that would apply to every other federal employee. BOLDUAN: Take me inside the Obama cabinet, conversations you had.

Because I remember, I would have conversations with Obama administration officials, and they would say, no, Kate, that would be a violation of the Hatch Act.

LU: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And you know that would happen with the Bush administration as well before that, and before that.

What were conversations that you had over this law and how to avoid being in violation of it, or did you not?

LU: Right. No, the second day of the Obama White House, in 2009, we had an ethics briefing on the Hatch Act. We made sure cabinet members had those briefings. We did it every year.

I later served as his deputy secretary of labor. Particularly as we moved into 2016 election season --


LU: -- we continued to enforce that with political appointees.


LU: The safe answer is always to say, I can't answer that question.


BOLDUAN: That is exactly a valid -- that's a valid response.

Let me ask you really quick. The president said this is a free speech issue. Other folks said this law is outdated and not in line with the modern presidency because the president is the leader of his or her political party. Do you see that point?

LU: Well, look, the constitutionality of the Hatch Act has been upheld twice by the Supreme Court.

It does not apply to the president. He violates it or he violates at least the tenor of it every single day.

But this has not been a problem before this administration. I haven't heard a lot of complaints from either Democrat or Republican White Houses before this about restricting people's free speech.

BOLDUAN: Chris, thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

LU: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next, while Kellyanne Conway is sticking around, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is on her way out. Why? And after her tenure on the job, is the president even going to be filling this position going forward? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:37:51] BOLDUAN: President Trump this morning saying he has many a great candidate to be the next White House press secretary. It comes after Sarah Sanders announced she's leaving at the end of the month.

Her legacy includes a staunch defense of the president and his policies, what a press secretary is supposed to do. But it also includes an admission that she lied to reporters over the firing of James Comey as she admitted in testimony to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Her time was also marked by the disappearing daily press briefings. They went from few and far between and short, to now it's been 95 consecutive days without one.

It also comes after two presidential interviews that made news that no press secretary really wants. Telling ABC that he would still accept an offer of foreign interference in an election through dirt on an opponent, and last week, attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview of a backdrop of a graveyard in Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People like Nancy Pelosi that, honestly, they don't know what the hell they're talking about.

I think she's a disgrace. She's incapable of doing deals. She's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.


BOLDUAN: Quite a view.

Brian Stelter is CNN chief media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," and Doug Heye is former RNC communications director.

Great to see you guys

Doug, short list. Deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, who we have known in political circles for ever, as well as Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's press secretary. But do you think there's a chance the president doesn't even fill the post?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Essentially, the post hasn't been filled in the traditional sense for a long time. As you highlighted, 95 days without a traditional briefing. Clearly, he's going to appoint somebody, whatever that position might me.

The White House communications director role hasn't been filled in the way it traditionally is. This is a nontraditional White House, to put it mildly. But it looks like Stephanie Grisham is the front-runner. But in the meantime, we know President Trump loves drama and this will be played out for a while in kind of an "Apprentice" style --

BOLDUAN: Yes. He'll try to may a dramatic roll-out, if you will, if people are watching.

HEYE: We'll see who gets the rose.

BOLDUAN: That will be delightful.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: But it will only matter, it will only matter, if the person is honest and forth right with the public. That was the issue for the past two years with Sanders and with Sean Spicer before her, that there was so much misinformation, misleading information from the White House, that the press secretary job has been diminished as a result.


[11:40:09] BOLDUAN: Brian, your hope is unfounded, and I love you, but it's naive.

The leadership comes from the top. If the president sees no need to be straightforward with reporters, it's not illegal to lie to reporters or the public, but it should be.

STELTER: It's a problem. It's just a problem because it's an assault on --


BOLDUAN: Someone is going to last one day in the job if they are to the standard you want. You know what I mean?

STELTER: Yes, and that is the fundamental issue at the heart of this.

Sanders said yesterday she doesn't have regrets about killing the daily briefing. The briefing got short and then it disappeared altogether. She doesn't have regrets about that.

This is the first time -- I hope she's lying because I think the public has lost something by not being able to see the daily questioning.

BOLDUAN: That's a key thing. Press secretaries come and go all the time.


BOLDUAN: You see turnover all the time.

Doug, do you think Sarah Sanders, though, left some permanent mark on the role of White House press secretary, because it has been, to be kind, nontraditional. HEYE: Yes, perhaps. But ultimately, this is Donald Trump's White

House, and the ultimate legacy on this is going to be Donald Trump. And whomever he selects is going to do what Donald Trump wants. Whomever he chooses, the best thing they can do for themselves is --


BOLDUAN: What? Please tell me.

HEYE: -- with the press corps, is to have a briefing on the first day and say, we're going to do things a little differently here. It may not be massively different.

But whatever that press conference, press briefing is, everybody in that room will be thrilled to finally get one after 95-plus days.

BOLDUAN: Brian, if you look at the president's Twitter feed, it might not be the last you see of Sarah Sanders. She may not be going back into private life. She may be running for governor of Arkansas, following in her father's footsteps.

Have you taken a look at what the post-Trump administration lives have been like for officials?

STELTER: Wouldn't it be remarkable if Sarah Sanders ends up being governor, the same job Bill Clinton once held? What an interesting turn of events that would be.

It's a mixed record, it's a mixed bag. Sarah Sanders probably isn't going to go and get a job on television the way past press secretaries have. There's not a lot of networks that would be willing to hire her. That's a result of this sense there was a lot of misinformation and falsehoods that were spread through this White House press office.

But you do see some White House aides leave, write books. They go very pro-Trump route or the very critical route. It's these two paths people choose. I think we'll keep seeing that in the next couple years.

HEYE: And Sarah Sanders is leaving on her own terms and with the president's very friendly blessing.


STELTER: Yes, usual, right, pretty rare.

HEYE: Exactly. Pretty rare.

BOLDUAN: So we know exactly what her book would look like.

STELTER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Thanks guys. Appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks. BOLDUAN: Coming up next, President Trump now says he would call the FBI if he got foreign intelligence on a 2020 opponent, but he would still take a look at it. Is that going to quiet the criticism?

But first, an update on an incredible "CNN Hero." Magnus MacFarlane- Barrow feeds children in 18 countries through his nonprofit, and it's called -- and now Mary's Meals is getting some celebrity attention.


MAGNUS MACFARLANE-BARROW, CNN HERO: The privilege of doing this work is meeting those children who are eating these meals. The numbers become just mind boggling after a while. But the real beauty is watching the children become the people they're meant to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember we went just before lunch and they were tired. Then they had lunch, and oh, my god, it was like different people.


MACFARLANE-BARROW: And then you realize the simple value of this program.


[11:43:33] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. To nominate someone you know, who should be a "CNN Hero," go to


BOLDUAN: President Trump today attempting to clean up his comments from yesterday, or earlier this week, on something that really isn't up for debate, accepting foreign interference in the U.S. election. That is still wrong, in case you were wondering.

When the president says today, of course, you have to look at it, but of course, you would give it to the FBI, does that clear it all up?

Joining me right now is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman from New York, Eliot Engel.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Thank you, Kate.


BOLDUAN: Much to discuss. I want to ask you first about what we heard from the president today. With the president's walk-back this morning, is it all good from your perspective, from what you heard?

ENGEL: No, it's part of another ridiculous act coming from the White House.

With all the commotion and criticism and back and forth these past few years, you would think that the president would have the sense to try to tone down the rhetoric rather than ramp it up.

So for him to say, oh, yes, maybe I would consider a foreign government, I mean, for crying out loud, the Russians interfered with our democracy. Everybody is up in arms about it. And the president is still making light of it, the president is still saying he would continue to play this the same way he's played it for the past couple years. It's just shocking. It's disrespect for our country, disrespect for our Constitution.

The minute a foreign country, an unfriendly foreign country, like Russia, would get involved in U.S. elections, the person running for president or the president should go right to the FBI, should go -- should go right away and report this and talk about what happened, not embrace it.

[11:50:15] I mean, the one thing you can say about the president, at least he was honest about what he would do. But it's shocking.

BOLDUAN: With it being shocking, in your view, his comments this week have moved, and the comments have moved a couple of -- more Democrats to wanting to launch impeachment proceedings, saying this was -- you know, something like this was the last straw.

Eric Swalwell moving towards impeachment. Amy Klobuchar is saying now is the time to begin impeachment proceedings. They are running for president and there are other considerations.

You have been very cautious in this process of impeachment. Has it moved you?

ENGEL: It's moved me in the fact that I just think it's one blunder after another after another after another.


BOLDUAN: But does this episode, call it, does this move you closer to supporting impeachment proceedings?

ENGEL: Well, I believe if I had to answer it yes or no, I would say yes, but I don't think that we're there yet. I do think that the Congress is going to have to grapple with it. And I think we'll have to give it a serious look.

BOLDUAN: That's how serious you say what the president has said but you've been very cautious on it. But this does move you closer to it, if what you're saying.

ENGEL: Well, it's shocking. I just think that, right now, we -- we don't want to do anything that would be looked at as a political move. We want to do something that's looked at as for the benefit of the country.

And I think that we have to weigh everything. It's not all black and white. There are all kinds of shades of gray. But I -- again, it's shocking.

Look, there may be votes to impeach. There are not votes to convict. I think that's also in people's minds. I understand that --


BOLDUAN: That's Pelosi's position.

ENGEL: Yes. Some people say, well, we should be doing our jobs, and that's a good position as well.

So we're in no rush. I don't think we can drag it out forever. But I think that we have to sit down and put our heads together and figure out what's good for the country.

I mean, that's the bottom part, the bottom line. Not what's good politically for this party or that party or the Democrats or the Republicans but what's good for the country.

And if I come to the conclusion that impeachment would be good for the country, I would not hesitate to vote for impeachment. But I just don't think that we're right there yet. I want to see a consensus.

I think Nancy Pelosi is doing the right thing --


ENGEL: -- leading us in the right direction at the right speed. And I don't think we're afraid of it. We're going to look at it and see what's best for the country.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the ship attacks in the Gulf of Oman, the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo, the president himself, they are confident, they say Iran is behind these attacks. Are you there? Do you believe that?

ENGEL: Yes. I have no doubt that Iran is behind the attacks. The question is, how do we handle it? What do we do?

BOLDUAN: What do you think?

ENGEL: I don't think we should jump with both feet forward into a war. We already did that with Iraq, and it turned out to be a disaster by and large.

But I do think we need to hold the Iranians, you know, accountable. I don't think we hold them accountable with saber rattling. I think we should try to --


BOLDUAN: What more can be done? Economic sanctions are already in place.

ENGEL: Economic sanctions and working with our allies.

You know, I was not a great fan of the deal, of the JCPOA --


ENGEL: -- but at least, with the JCPOA, we were working with our allies to try to keep the Iranians in check.

BOLDUAN: Do you put the blame here on Iran, or do you think the Trump administration pulling out of the Iran deal and subsequent actions has led to this?

ENGEL: Well, I think lots of things have led to it.


ENGEL: Including what you just said. But I would put this at the footstep of the Iranians. They are a regime that is belligerent, the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. And I just don't think we can gloss over it.

On the other hand, you don't want to fan the fires. You need to be responsible about it.

So I don't want us to plunge into a war, but, on the other hand, the Iranians have to understand that this is something that's serious.

BOLDUAN: And you have to figure out what that line is right now.


BOLDUAN: Because it is an --

ENGEL: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: -- escalating and very tense situation.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here with your perspective. Always appreciate it.

ENGEL: Always a pleasure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

ENGEL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Speaking of the attacks on the tankers, in the critical shipping lane off the coast of Iran and in the Gulf of Oman, we're watching oil prices this morning to see what impact the attacks are having.

CNN's Cristina Alesci is keeping an eye on the markets for us.

Cristina, what are you seeing?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, under normal circumstances, Kate, we would have seen the price of oil spike because investors would have been nervous about supply disruptions in that particular area of the world because it is such a critical passageway for a lot of the oil trade around the world. [11:54:59] But if you take a look at this chart, we saw an increase for a short amount of time yesterday, and prices have pretty much flattened out.

And the reason for that is really twofold. One, is that there's a lot of oil on reserve, in the U.S. especially, because the U.S. is producing oil. But, two, the two biggest consumers of oil, the U.S. and China, are locked in this trade war and that is going to impact both of their economies and perhaps the demand for oil.

So what we're seeing here as a result of this attack and how the oil prices have reacted is a pessimism about the global economic outlook, and that is not good -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's interesting.

Cristina, thank you so much. Thank you.

ALESCI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up still, President Trump says former White House counsel, Don McGahn, is lying, and lied under oath. Why he says what McGahn told the special counsel doesn't matter.