Return to Transcripts main page


Trump On Foreign Dirt: "Of Course You Have To Look At It" But He'd Report To FBI If Info Was "Incorrect, Badly Stated"; Trump: McGahn "May Have Been Confused" In Mueller Testimony; Trump: Tanker Attacks Have "Iran Written All Over It"; U.S. Officials: Video Shows Iran Removing Mine From Tanker; Trump Says Kellyanne Conway Staying Put. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:20] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Alex Marquardt in this afternoon for Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Up first, President Trump sounding off on a whole range of topics, including his stunning comments about accepting political dirt from a foreign source. Today, he tried to clarify his earlier comments that he would listen to the information about a political rival and that he might not notify the FBI. This is what he said today during an interview with Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it was accurately stated and I've had a lot of support about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, then, clarify it.

TRUMP: Yes. I mean, I've had a lot of support. First of all, I don't think anybody would present me with anything then because they know how much I love this country. Number two, if I was, and of course you have to look at it, because if you don't look at it, you're not going to know if it's bad. How are you going to know if it's bad, but of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.


MARQUARDT: Of course you give it to the FBI. So for more, let's go right to our White House Correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, today is actually the President's 73rd birthday and as we saw there, he decided to kick it off by phoning up his favorite T.V. network. And in that interview, in that clip that we just heard, he tried to walk back, try to clarify his earlier comments. How do you think he did?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, it seemed that he was trying to have it both ways there. He both walked it back and then also doubled down on it claiming that he has gotten so much support for his comments in that ABC interview when in fact it seems that the opposite has been true, that their condemnation has come fast and swift from both Democrats and from Republicans who say that the right answer is, no, you do not accept information from a foreign government.

But the President seemed to be saying something a little bit different today where he's saying you just listen to it first and then if it's bad then you take it to the FBI or to the attorney general. That's a little bit different from what he had to say to George Stephanopoulos in that interview with ABC when he made it clear that he thought going to the FBI was not something that normal people did.

He claimed that he probably had never in his entire life had gone to the FBI with information and that's now how the real world works is basically how he described it. So the President is trying to do both things at the same time. It seems to be an acknowledgement that there has been some political blowback to his original comment.

He wants to make it clear in this interview that he is a patriot, that nobody would even come to him with this kind of information because they understand that he loves this country, those were his own words.

But clearly I think this attempt at a cleanup didn't quite do the trick, because I think in some ways the President created more problems for himself by making it clear that he would actually sit down, listen to the information and then determine whether it was bad enough to warrant calling the FBI, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Right, further muddying the waters. Abby Phillip on the north lawn of White House, thank you.

Now, President Trump also took the opportunity to blast House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for remarks that she made about his moral compass. The speaker saying that the President doesn't know right from wrong and took part in a "criminal cover-up" citing examples in the Mueller report.

CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is here.

Manu, more salvos in this deepening and ongoing feud and this time the President really not holding back in his response.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, he's not. He's going after him. We saw this intensify last week when he was sitting at the American cemetery in Normandy and he made some remarks calling her a horrible --

MARQUARDT: All right. I'm sorry, we're going to have to cut you off, Manu. We cannot hear you. There are some difficult -- technical difficulties and we will try to get back to him in a little bit.

But, let's dig deeper on more of what the President said today with our panel, Phil Mudd, a CIA counterterrorism official, former official, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, congressional correspondent for "The New York Times," and Joe Moreno, a former Department of Justice prosecutor. Phil, first to you, the President, as we just heard from Abby there trying to walk back what he said this week that he had no problem taking dirt on opponents from a foreign source. And in this interview with Fox today he said, "Of course you have to report it to the FBI." So same question to you, how do you think he's cleaning this up?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Not that well. This is not very complicated. It's not about opposition research. I used to be in the spy business. If you go into a campaign in 2020 and you have -- we saw this in Helsinki, a foreign government that favors a candidate. In Helsinki Putin says, "I favor the President."

And have you a foreign government, let's say Russia or China who favors a candidate, they might have an interest based on what the President said in the past couple of days to steal your financial data. Maybe your credit cards aren't paid. To steal your e-mails, maybe there's embarrassing information in there about an inappropriate relationship you have.

[13:05:00] That's what we call espionage. It's not on the candidates to vet that information. They need to place a phone call. There's no question, that's espionage.

MARQUARDT: And, Joe, the President is saying that before he places that phone call that Phil was just talking about, that he'd have to look at that information to determine whether it's bad or not. Is that the way the law works?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE PROSECUTOR: No, obviously not. That's absolute nonsense. I think President like -- President Trump likes to exude this idea that he is the man, right, that he gets to decide what laws he does and does not adhere to. And so for him to say I'm going to filter information and I'll decide if I notify the attorney general or the FBI is absolutely absurd.

MARQUARDT: That's not up to him.

MORENO: It is not.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, the President has also repeatedly tried to insinuate that the rules are different for him because he's the president. Let's take a listen.


TRUMP: One thing that's different with the president, I had dinner with the queen. I had -- I met with the prime minister of the U.K. I was with the head of France. I was with the head of all of these nations and I constantly am, constantly talking to them. And, you know, that puts us in a -- we have many, many conversations. And I'm just thinking, gee, if they say, we don't like your opponent, am I supposed to put, you know, the president of France, am I supposed to report him to the FBI?

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUARDT: Phil, imagine that Queen Elizabeth II at that state dinner slipping opposition research dirt across the table. But more realistically, one of the other examples that he gave was President Macron of France. Can you imagine any governments that we are close to engaging this kind of behavior?

MUDD: I can -- I mean, I used to meet foreign government officials every day. The President has -- doesn't have to do this. I used to have to fill out a form which half the time I didn't do, fine, I violated a rule. But there's a fundamental difference obviously and let's make sure -- I mean, this is funny but not. Let's make sure we understand it.

You have dinner with a foreign official and say what should our policy be in Iran? That's what the President is talking about, dinner with the queen, for example, or lunch with the queen. You have a meeting with a foreign official, in Don Jr.'s case, a Russian lawyer who's offering dirt, presumably stolen information about American candidate.

This is apples and orange and the President is the trying to suggest to us that an apple is like an orange. It's not, they are different.

MARQUARDT: Julie, the President also turning his sights as he so often does on speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He called her comments fascist and disgraceful, which seems farther than he really has gone in the past. Pelosi, of course, saying that Trump doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. So, who is goading who here, and who is coming out on top?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're both goading each other, but I would say that it seems like Nancy Pelosi really has gotten under President Trump's skin, and we've seen this happen time and again. She made a comment last night during an interview that, you know, he does a lot of projecting. So it's interesting he used the word fascist.

He said, you know, when he says Nancy is nervous, that means he's nervous. When he says Nancy is a mess, that means he's a mess. That's her way of trying to sort of throw it back on him.

But I think what you're seeing here is a President who feels very threatened by the speaker. And a speaker who is trying to sort of hold off a group of Democrats in the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill who are really calling for much more aggressive action against President Trump potentially opening an impeachment inquiry.

But one of the ways she's doing that is by trying to show solidarity by making these increasingly critical comments about him that he, you know, she made a private comment that he belongs in prison last week. She made these other comments about him not knowing right from wrong. It's pretty clear she and the President are going to continue to be engaging in this kind of war of words against each other.

MARQUARDT: And someone who is certainly not leveling any sort of criticism at the President is the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He was asked about this question on dirt from foreign sources. He responded that Democrats just can't let it go, repeating this line that after the Mueller probe that the case is closed. Do you think we should be surprised that he wasn't willing to engage more on that?

DAVIS: Not at all. I mean, Mitch McConnell has been, you know, in the exact same position I think throughout all of this saying that, you know, the Mueller report, it's case closed now that we know what -- now that it's out and that we need to move on. And we really didn't hear a whole lot of criticisms from Republicans of the President's conduct.

It was interesting yesterday after his comments about accepting, you know, foreign campaign dirt that many of them said, OK, we part ways with him on that. We would call the FBI, but they didn't criticize the President for having said it. None of them really voiced any concern about whether that might have opened the door or been a dangerous thing in terms of inviting that kind of foreign interference in the coming or the current election cycle.

So, Republicans are willing to go up to a line in terms of breaking with the President, but they don't want to be critical of him and certainly Mitch McConnell is not going to be in that situation.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, this was all sparked because of this interview that the President gave to ABC News. And in a new clip that was rolled out today, we also heard President Trump talking about his former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and he responded to the lines in the Mueller report that McGahn stopped Trump multiple times from firing Robert Mueller. Take a listen.


[13:10:03] TRUMP: I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.


TRUMP: Excuse -- I don't care what he says. It doesn't matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But why would Don McGahn lie --

TRUMP: But we had a business --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would he lie under oath -- why would he lie under oath to Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted.


MARQUARDT: Joe, what do you think of that? Was McGahn lying to make himself look good? MORENO: That doesn't make sense at all, no. And this is so interesting because normally when you have a client who is, you know, under investigation or in this case possible impeachment, you want to move things past. You want to do what the Republicans in the Senate are doing and saying case closed, let's move behind this.

The President seems to just relish in keeping to -- in bringing this up. And not only that, Don McGahn holds a really vital position in terms of what he knows. So for the President, of all people, to be calling him out and effectively calling him a liar, terrible strategy. I mean, any defense counsel would go crazy if their client was doing this sort of thing.

MARQUARDT: So, Phil, if he thinks that Don McGahn lied, why doesn't he let him testify? Why are they putting pressure on him to not respond to the subpoenas to testify in front of Congress?

MUDD: I can't figure this out, because if I'm seeing you're Don McGahn, you keep hearing this phrase, executive privilege, I want to prevent people from testifying. You know, I'm a private citizen. I left government years ago. Don McGahn is a private citizen.

If the CIA told me I couldn't testify, if the White House tells Don McGahn he can't testify, if I were him, I'd say you just impugned my integrity. That's really important for my legal practice. I have to sit face-to-face with the client and say, I will represent you honorably.

The President is almost putting the ball in the tee (ph) for McGahn to say I have no option but to defend my honor. I think McGahn is going to appear publicly at some point and it won't go well for the President.

MARQUARDT: We have yet to hear from McGahn. Phil Mudd, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Joe Moreno, thanks very much.

All right, well, still ahead, a federal agency says that Kellyanne Conway broke the law and should be fired. Why President Trump says he's not going to do that.

And U.S. central command releasing this video saying that it is proved that Iran is responsible for those recent tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman. We will go live to Tehran for the latest, that's next.


[13:17:06] MARQUARDT: We are following the growing tension with Iran after two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. President Trump now pointing the finger squarely at Tehran.


TRUMP: Well, Iran did do it, and you know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn't explode and it's probably got essentially Iran written all over it. And you saw the boat at night trying to take the mine off and successfully took the mine off the boat.


TRUMP: And that was exposed, and that was their boat. That was them. And they didn't want the evidence left behind. I guess they don't know that we have things that we can detect in the dark that work very well.


MARQUARDT: The video that President was referencing there was released by U.S. central command last night. They say that it shows, as you can see right there, an Iranian boat retrieving an unexploded mine from the hull of the Japanese-owned ship, the Kokuka Courageous.

The President of the company who owns that tanker denied that a mine was used in the attack because it happened above the water line. Meanwhile, Iran is rejecting allegations that it was behind the attacks.

And our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in the capital of Tehran. CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby is here with me in Washington.

First to you, Fred, we now have this video that the U.S. say is evidence of Iran's attacks on those tankers. I understand that Iran hasn't addressed that video directly, but how have they responded?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they continue to say, Alex, that they didn't do it. And they say that there's not even, and this is the words of the Iran's foreign minister, they said there's not even circumstantial evidence to suggest that they did, despite the fact that this video is out there.

And you're absolutely right, I've been watching Iranian T.V. and so far I haven't seen that video on Iranian news media so far, so clearly they're not taking very much about that. However, you were already saying that the company that owns the ship had said that its sailors don't believe that the ship hit a mine, not only because the hits were above the water line, but also apparently some of those sailors were saying they believe that projectiles were fired at that ship.

So what exactly happened there, we obviously still don't know. What the Iranians are saying from their point of view, they obviously had nothing to do with this and, in fact, now, are verbally attacking the United States, specifically Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he came out yesterday and also pointed the finger at the Iranians.

The Iranians is now coming back and saying that Secretary of State Pompeo is essentially trying to prevent deescalation here in this area because, Alex, as you'll recall, this attack took place while Iran's supreme leader was meeting the Japanese prime minister. So the Iranians are saying the U.S. is essentially trying to prevent any sort effort to deescalate things here generally in the greater Middle East.

As far as President Trump is concerned, you know, I saw some of what he said earlier in that interview. And apparently he said that Iran is now in big trouble, but it certainly doesn't seem as though the Iranians really feel that way.

[13:20:03] Certainly when you listen today to Friday prayers here in Tehran, the main speaker there saying he believes that Iran's supreme leader "humiliated" President Trump when he rebuffed President Trump's offer and suggestion to start entering into some sort of dialogue or talks with the United States. That, of course, was brought by the Japanese prime minister to the supreme leader, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And, Admiral, CENTCOM was very quick to put out this video last night after the incident, and it's very clear it was taken from an aircraft. So how can, as Fred just explained, the Iranians continue to deny any involvement?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, they'll continue to lie and obfuscate, that's just sort of their modus operandi. I'm not surprise by that, but clearly it's an authentic video and I applaud the administration for getting that out there.

I'm sure that that's not the only piece of evidence they have that Iran was behind these attacks. And it's most likely, just looking at it, a small boat of the IRGC Navy, not the Iranian state navy, and there's a difference there, there's a whole different chain of command, a whole different mission set.

But clearly it was a good thing to put that out there and, again, I'm convinced that there's more intelligence that they have beyond that video that are leading them to the conclusion that Iran was behind this.

MARQUARDT: And, Fred, can you speak a little bit more to that, that there is -- there are essentially parallel tracks in terms of the authority in Iran. You know, you have Foreign Minister Zarif coming out and saying that, of course, Iran wasn't behind this. But it's possible that the head of the IRGC, Qasem Soleimani, carried this out on his own with direct orders from the supreme leader, is it not?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's certainly is the case, Alex, that there are different strengths here in Iran, there are certainly different power centers here in this country that may do things independent of one another.

Certainly, if you look at for instance President Hassan Rouhani, he doesn't necessarily have very much in the way of authority, especially over entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. However, if you look at when this attack took place, it's obviously an interesting thing and it seems that the Iranians keep pointing too as well.

It seems as though it was almost the same time that that meeting took place between Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, and the supreme leader. And if there's one entity obviously that's very much respected here in Iran by the authority, it is the supreme leader.

So it would be very difficult to see how a rogue operation would take place specifically at that time, whether they completely overlap in unclear. And it's interesting, Alex, because that's exactly also what the Iranian foreign ministry said today. They said, look, what would we have to gain from conducting an operation like that exactly at the time that these two are meeting each other?

Again, unclear whether or not the -- in fact, they did do it or didn't do it, but certainly that's the reasoning of the Iranians. They said they had no reason to do this and they certainly said the timing would not have been one that would have favored them, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Right, right. Admiral, you know this water as well. You were out there as a young naval officer. We now obviously have significant potential for military escalation. We're seeing oil prices being affected. What is the U.S. next move here?

KIRBY: I think they're going to look at a range of options, diplomatic and economic and military. And I think one option that I'm guessing that they're probably considering is do they need to do some sort of protection mission now for tankers moving in and out of the gulf, something a kin maybe not as big as what we did back in the '80s during the tanker war.

So there are naval assets that you can apply to sort of increase the safety and the flow of oil. You would need international partners for that clearly and you need the cooperation of the private industry as well. But I suspect they're looking at a range of options.

MARQUARDT: All right. It still have to come out with those range of options. Keeping their cards very close is the best right now.

KIRBY: Absolutely.

MARQUARDT: John Kirby, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thank you very much.

All right, now, it looks like White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway's job is safe for now, this after a federal watchdog agency said that President Trump should fire her for violating the Hatch Act. Trump says no dice.

Plus, Melania Trump in the spotlight in a new CNN special, "Melania, Woman of Mystery."


[13:28:33] MARQUARDT: President Donald Trump is standing by one of his most stalwart aides, Kellyanne Conway, a day after the White House was told by a government watchdog no less that she should be fired for repeatedly breaking a law which prohibits members of the administration from making certain political statements. The President said Conway isn't going anywhere.


TRUMP: You ask him a question or you ask a person a question and every time you're supposed to say I can't answer, I can't answer. I mean, she's got to have a right of the responding to questions. She -- it really sounds to me like a free speech thing. It doesn't sound fair. So I'm going to look at it very carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not going to fire -- Mr. President, you're not going to fire her?

TRUMP: No, I'm not going to fire her. I think she's a terrific person.


MARQUARDT: Here with me again is Joe Moreno, a former Department of Justice prosecutor. The Office of the Special Counsel, Joe, which we should be clear, is not Mueller's office. This is different. This is a watchdog group. They are saying that she made political statements. We know that she repeatedly bashed Democratic presidential candidates. Violating the Hatch Act, how serious is that?

MORENO: Well, it's serious if we as American public want to take it seriously, right? I mean, and we have a President who obviously won't. So, the Hatch Act has been around for a decade and the point is you should not be able to use your platform as a federal employee, much less a high ranking federal employee sitting in the White House to either support candidates that you like or to attack a candidate that you don't, and that's exactly what's happened here. And it doesn't sound like it's an isolated incident or a close call. These are numerous and gross violations.