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Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) is Interviewed about Trump's Comments; Criminal Charges Dropped in Flint Case; Warren Surges in Polls; Suspect Claims Ortiz Wasn't Target. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): Doing this. Hilary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee did it. They hired a foreign agent. An agent with close ties to Russian oligarch who has close ties to Putin --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: He was a British -- Christopher -- listen, I've heard the Christopher Steele talking point.

STEWART: That's right. That's right, he was -- he was British.

SCIUTTO: Let's -- let's talk about the differences, though, because -- because you've just said it depends on where it comes from.

STEWART: No, no, wait, wait, you've got to let -- you've got to let me -- you've got to let me finish my statement.

SCIUTTO: I'm familiar with the talking point.

STEWART: I'm glad to be on, but you've got to let me finish my --

SCIUTTO: So finish and then I have some questions about it.


They hired a foreign agent, close ties to oligarchs, who then used Russian agents and they used that information to influence a campaign. Don't you see the irony of -- of those who are criticizing the president for something he said and not criticizing Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for something they actually did.

SCIUTTO: OK. I get -- I get -- let's talk about a couple things because, one, I want to focus on whether a president should accept any foreign help. You seem to be saying here, no.

Is that correct?

STEWART: It depends. It depends.

SCIUTTO: It depends if it's coming from a friend, you're saying.

STEWART: There might be -- it might be -- yes, there might be valuable information that comes from one of our allies.


STEWART: If they look at it and it's credible, I think it would be foolish not to take that information.


So was -- was Donald Trump Junior wrong to take a meeting with a Russian lawyer and say, if this is true, I love it, when they were offering campaign dirt?


SCIUTTO: Was he wrong to do that?

STEWART: You know what, I have -- I have always criticized that decision.


STEWART: And Republican -- the Republican part (ph) was very critical of that decision.


STEWART: I think it was inappropriate and once again I don't think it was something that he should have done.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. And I -- and I appreciate the straight answers because it's, as you know, in today's Washington, it's often hard to get those.


SCIUTTO: On the Steele point, and I get the Steele point. I will note, by the way, he's British, so he comes from an ally. He had previously worked for U.S. law enforcement on the investigation into FIFA scandal. He had provided information that was useful to them. And, by the way, he did report it to the FBI.


SCIUTTO: But -- but let's set that aside just for a moment to say, would you support legislation that requires reporting to the FBI of any foreign information, whether it comes from a Steele or a Russian lawyer, for instance?

STEWART: Oh, I -- I would. And -- and I think we've got to do not just that. I think there's a number of things, a number of forms we have to really look at, that Congress is looking at now. And, for example, one of the real deficiencies that happened here was, this was taking place and Congress was never informed. There is a requirement when they open a counterintelligence investigation such as this into a political campaign, which the FBI and Department of Justice did, they're supposed to inform us of that and they didn't. There's a number of things that I think we need to reform and have a much tighter sense of scrutiny about that really fell through the cracks in 2016. SCIUTTO: Right. Fair point.

Listen, you've done your homework on this. You're on the Intel Committee that dug very deep into Russian interference here.

As you know, there have been a number of bills in the House. Mitch McConnell has so far not allowed a vote on this. And I'm just curious, are your Republican colleagues in the Senate failing you in the House, but also failing the American people by not being more aggressive about passing legislation to protect American elections going forward? Forget about 2016, let's talk about 2020.

STEWART: Yes. Yes, and that's a great point and thanks for saying that because, you're right, we can learn some lessons from 2016, but what good is it if we don't apply those lessons?

I think our committee had 47 recommendations. To my knowledge, none of them have been implemented yet. They were all designed towards protecting our elections. And some of our allies as well, we could help our allies, because it's not just the U.S. elections that are attacked. And it's very frustrating that here we are, more than a year later, after Republicans released our report, and, once again, we're waiting to have some -- these things implemented. Some of them could be done with the agencies, but some of them have to be done through Congress and it frustrates the life out of me that we can't get this implemented and begin to bring some assuredty (ph) to this.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Speaker Pelosi, and, of course, in your chamber of Congress, the Democrats have the majority, has presented a package of bills that, among other things, would require reporting to the FBI any offers of foreign assistance. Would you support that legislation?

STEWART: Yes, and there's, as you said, there's a number of pieces there's some differences between them. But I -- and so I can't say specifically that piece because I'm not sure what that piece -- what you mean by that piece.

But, no, I -- I would support these reforms. This is something we have to fix.

Look, if we lose this foundation of trust, if the American people actually believe that an election wasn't free and fair, that it was influenced to the point that the wrong person was elected, we lose the entire foundation for our democracy for freedom of trust in one another. And there are some things that we could do that would help that. We should do that.

SCIUTTO: Final question, and with that -- and I know you're sincere in wanting to protect these elections going forward as are colleagues -- many of your colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Is the president helping or hurting confidence in future elections by saying he would be open to foreign help?

[09:35:01] STEWART: Well, again, I've said, I wish he wouldn't have said it for the reasons that you just said, as well as others. But I don't think you can just look at the president and say he's the problem on this. There's a lot of other things. I mean behavior by senior people at Department of Justice, senior people at the FBI, there are a number of people that need to be held responsible and for us to understand really what they did and the impact it had on this -- this trust and this foundation in free and fair elections.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Chris Stewart, it's always good to have you on. We appreciate you taking the time and the hard questions.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that was a great interview, Jim.

All right, so ahead for us, this story. If you missed it, pay attention because a shocking move overnight in the Flint water scandal. Four years after this whole thing broke out, lead in the water there in Flint, criminal charges, et cetera, and again from the beginning.


[09:40:14] SCIUTTO: This morning, outrage in Flint, Michigan, after a stunning legal reset. City leaders now planning a, quote, community conversation after state prosecutors announced they were dropping all criminal charges in their water crisis probe and beginning all over again.

HARLOW: Why? I mean, three years of investigating, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent, blind-sided residents, some sickened by their own tap water, five years ago. I mean, sickened to the point of they can never fully recover from lead in the water. They are now left questioning if justice will ever be served.

Our colleague, Jean Casarez, is on this story.

And, Jean, you have been following this literally for years since we first learned about this four years ago.

Why drop all charges against government officials at this point?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what people are asking right now. And the newly elected last fall attorney general, Dana Nessel, has dismissed all of the charges without prejudice, which means that they can be brought again.

And the reason saying, investigative approach was flawed, the legal theories are not correct and they just can't continue on what they say was an incorrect foundation.

Now, let's look right here because here's, you will see, what the -- what the charges were. There were 15 states and local officials that were originally accused of crimes, seven officials already took plea deals, eight officials, high top officials in the state of Michigan, were awaiting trial, charges, false pretenses, conspiracy, involuntary manslaughter, serious felony charges.

We have spoken to some of the residents of Flint already and here are some of the comments we're getting. They're horrified. They feel blind-sided. They feel that they are -- have been re-traumatized in all of this.

The mayor of Flint takes the other position, saying that she hopes that justice can be had in all this.

Dana Nessel gave a statement to CNN. We do want to read that for everyone to see. She said, I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied. And a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable.

But, you know, Poppy and Jim, one interesting thing is the monetary aspect of all this because not only is the state of Michigan paying for the prosecution, they are paying for the defense also. And you start from square one and those defendants are going to have a right to start from square one, too. And so there will be more on this, I'm sure.


SCIUTTO: Well, let's hope.

HARLOW: And there's a limited -- sorry, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Go ahead.

HARLOW: I was saying, there's a limited amount of money. I mean I was there, too, when this stuff was going on and that money could also be used to replace the pipes to these homes, right, to take care of it. So the question is, what does this actually mean for the -- for the people who have suffered by (ph) it.

All right.

CASAREZ: And at the end of the month, the attorney general is going to go to Flint to talk to the people. But as a prosecutor, you're bound by rules of professional responsibility. You can't get into the details of your case. You can't do it as a prosecutor.

HARLOW: Right. Right, right.

CASAREZ: So will there be more questions than answers at the end of that?


SCIUTTO: Let's hope it's justice delayed, not justice denied.


SCIUTTO: Jean Casarez, thanks so much.

New polls show Senator Elizabeth Warren is on the rise ahead of the first presidential debates. Coming up, the state of the 2020 race among Democrats. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:47:54] HARLOW: All right.

So, Senator Elizabeth Warren's policy streak continues. Today, she is putting forth a $7 billion plan that would be a fund to help minorities start businesses. So does having a plan for that, right, there have been bumper stickers made of that, does it resonate with voters? New polls show it looks like it is right now for her. Warren even passing fellow Senator Bernie Sanders in several of these recent polls.

Joining me now is Xochitl Hinojosa, communications director for the DNC.

You've got a big day. You're going to be here for the random drawing of the who's going where on the debate stage and against whom. Thank you for being here.


HARLOW: A Monmouth poll just last week, a national poll, shows that Biden's still the frontrunner, 36 percent, but Elizabeth Warned up at 19 percent, ahead of Bernie Sanders at 13 percent. Are the American people all of a sudden hungry for policies, policies, policies?

HINOJOSA: Well, I think that when you have an administration and a president over the last two and a half years that have -- they haven't put four (ph) policy proposals that will help them. Yes, I think the American people are hungry. And I think that what you're seeing with -- especially these CNN town halls and forums of that sort, candidates are really taking advantage of that right now. They're using those platforms to roll out their policy proposals. And so at the end of the day, the American voter will get to see, from all of the plans, who has their back.

HARLOW: What I do think is interesting is, remember in the early days of Mayor Pete Buttigieg's campaign, he said, I mean our Alex Burns did this great profile of him in "The New York Times" and Buttigieg openly talked about how he thinks less proposals and less of a clearer platform is better for candidates. And he pointed to Obama in the early days, for example.

What do Democratic voters want?

HINOJOSA: I think Democratic voters want how you're going to have their back, right? And I think Pete Buttigieg has laid that out. I also think Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, they're doing it in their own way. And it will be interesting to see, with these debates --


HINOJOSA: How they differ differentiate themselves, right?


HINOJOSA: So I think that we're excited about that. CNN has the second debate in Detroit and we --

HARLOW: Very excited.

HINOJOSA: We're very excited. And we know that these -- these debates will focus on the issues. They're not going to focus on things like hand size.

HARLOW: So -- oh, good, thank you.

[09:50:00] OK, so also, you are seeing a very clear turn from many, if not most, of the Democratic candidates against the frontrunner, Joe Biden, not surprising, but I'm surprised at how early it's happening. This week, Beto O'Rourke called him a return to the past. Pete Buttigieg said Democrats can no longer promise -- no more promise a return to the '90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the '50s. Senator Michael Bennet asked is, you know, is Biden the future? He said, no, I don't -- I don't think so.

I'm interested in what you think of that and if there's a risk for the party in sort of anointing a frontrunner, anointing, like Hillary Clinton was essentially anointed, many would argue, in 2016?

HINOJOSA: Well, I don't think anyone is anointed with a 23-person field. We don't know who is going to be the nominee. I think that's what the beauty is of this time around. And what you saw in 2016 is that Republicans put forth a lot of candidates, and they ended up winning. And so I think this is a good thing for the Democratic Party to have a variety of ideas and policy positions.

Now, I think the difference between the Democratic Party and Republican Party right now is that you aren't seeing personal attacks on these candidates. Yes, are they going to go after the candidate who is highest in the polls? Absolutely. But on that debate stage, do I think that there's going to be name calling, do I think that, you know, there's going to be little Marco, things like that? No, I don't think that's going to happen from our candidates and that's why I think that after this primary, we will all come together and support whoever the nominee is.

HARLOW: OK, so let's listen to Anita Hill. Andrea Mitchell over at NBC did a great interview, an important interview with her and asked her this smart question. Listen.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC: Could you conceive of voting for Joe Biden if he turns out to be the Democratic nominee against Donald Trump?

ANITA HILL: Of course I could.


HARLOW: Interesting. Anita Hill went on to say that she doesn't even think that her speaking out about Biden and not apologizing early on has affected him at all because he's the frontrunner. What do you -- what are you hearing in terms of the impact it's had?

HINOJOSA: Well, I think that voters right now are trying to make of this field. They -- they don't -- they are trying to hear what exactly -- what proposals they're putting forward to help them.

HARLOW: But about Anita Hill specifically for Biden.

HINOJOSA: And specifically about Anita Hill, I mean I think that that is a decision that is up to her. And I think that Joe Biden has addressed that. And he has spoken out against -- or about it. And I think that voters, if they have more questions, they will ask these questions. And so I think that we'll see how the next year plays out, but this is something that I think voters will continue to consider.

HARLOW: Can you believe how early it still is? I mean I think it was Seth Moulton, who didn't make the debate cut, in his statement yesterday said, at this point in 2016, in that campaign, Donald Trump wasn't even in the race.

HINOJOSA: Donald Trump wasn't even in the race and it was just the anniversary of Hillary Clinton and her launch.

HARLOW: And then came the golden escalator.

All right, thank you. We appreciate it very much.

HINOJOSA: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Nice to have you. Enjoy today. We'll be watching.

HINOJOSA: Thank you. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Well, the prime suspect in the shooting of David Ortiz now claims that the Red Sox star was not his intended target. We're going to be live in the Dominican Republic where the shooting took place, next.

Plus, join CNN's Kate Bennett for a rare visit to the White House to meet those who know First Lady Melania Trump. The CNN special report, "Woman of Mystery: Melania Trump," airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time only on CNN.


[09:57:53] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN.

The suspect in the shooting of David "Big Papi" Ortiz now claims that the baseball legend was not actually his intended target.

HARLOW: Wow. Dominican media outlets captured one of the suspects speaking through his jail cell window. That man reportedly said he got confused by Ortiz's clothing. Wow. Patrick Oppmann is live for us again this morning in Santo Domingo.

What can you tell us?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is Rolfy Ferreyra Cruz, who, according to police, has confessed to shooting David Ortiz. And in this interview he did with media from his jail cell window, a very brief interview, he says that David Ortiz, of course, is one of the Dominican Republic's most beloved baseball stars, was not his intended target. That he was sent there as a hitman, but he got confused that -- all they told him was that his target was wearing a certain kind of clothing and that he mistook Ortiz.

I have talked to the Dominican prosecutor's office, a spokesman, the office that, of course, is carrying forward this investigation and they are flat out denying this. They say it doesn't matter what he said in a jail cell interview. What matters to them and to the investigation is what he told investigators during his interrogation, and they say he told them something very differently. And we see that in court documents, in the charging documents, and, of course, in the press conferences that authorities have given here where they say very, very clearly, and very deliberately, that David Ortiz was, in fact, the target.

And the spokesman for the prosecutor's office that I spoke to said that he feels that this is a story this suspect is making up because he is facing very terrible, very frightening reprisals in prison. Dominican prisons are full of people who are big David Ortiz fans. And that he says, the spokesman, that it would be impossible for any Dominican to mistake David Ortiz for anyone else. They all know exactly who he is. He's one of the most recognizable figures in this country.

SCIUTTO: Around the world.


SCIUTTO: Patrick Oppmann, thanks very much.

[10:00:01] HARLOW: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington this Friday.

A brand-new defense this morning from President Trump to one of the