Return to Transcripts main page


Iran Denies Involvement in Oil Tanker Attack; President Trump Criticizes Former White House Counsel Don McGahn in Interview; President Trump Criticized for Saying He would Accept Information on Political Opponents from Foreign Governments. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- President Trump for saying he would again accept dirt on political rivals from foreign adversaries. The president's own campaign now calls that a directive.

Meanwhile, in a new interview just out this morning, President Trump criticizes his former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, and we do expect to hear from the president on all of this momentarily. So let's go first to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He is live in Tehran, Iran, with more on the tanker attacks. What have you learned, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Certainly, very much a murky situation there in the Persian Gulf, but of course, also with those trying to investigate this incident, which is exactly what the authorities are now trying to do. Now, one of the things of course many are going to be looking at is that video that you just mentioned that we've obtained which essentially seems to show an Iranian crew going up to one of those tankers. Now, the U.S. says that that is evidence that the Iranians were trying to remove what they say was an unexploded mine from that ship. Of course, the U.S. has been saying that they believe that Iranian forces placed mines on those ships and that's what caused not just the explosion on that tanker, but on the other one as well.

Now, the interesting thing about that is that the company that runs that tanker claims that the crew told them that they don't believe that the ship was struck by a mine, but rather that it was struck by some sort of surface fire. So unclear what's going on there.

Meanwhile, here in Tehran you have the Iranians lashing out at the U.S., denying any sort of involvement in all of this. In fact, just a couple minutes ago the spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry came out and said, this is a quote, "Mr. Pompeo," of course referring to the secretary of state, "this is not a joke. This is not funny. It is worrisome and alarming." Essentially what the Iranians are saying is they believe that the U.S. is trying to frame them because they say the U.S. is trying to destroy any sort of negotiation or dialogue that Iran is having with other countries.

Of course, as this attack took place, we always have to remind our viewers, was exactly the time that Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, was meeting with Iran's supreme leader. So you can see the situation here in Iran and this region still very much heated after that new incident took place in the Persian Gulf, guys.

CAMEROTA: Fred, please bring us any developments that you get from the ground there. Thank you very much.

All right, now let's turn back to politics, because what a morning it is and what a 24 hours it's been. Let's bring in Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, Bianna Golodyrga, CNN contributor, and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst, to talk about everything that's coming at us rapid fire. Gloria, I will start with you. For your rare morning appearance.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was actually like a subtle dig, though. Let's just be clear.

BORGER: I was wondering how long it would take.

CAMEROTA: Two seconds.

BORGER: Half a minute.

CAMEROTA: So yesterday the political world was stunned when President Trump admitted that, yes, again, he would be open for business from political adversaries, and it got the attention of lots of people, but primarily his political opponents who he would be welcoming dirt on, including Joe Biden. And Joe Biden framed interesting imagery with which to respond to the president about this and call him out. So watch this video from Joe Biden out this morning.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump doesn't think it matters if candidates for presidency accept damaging information on other opponents from foreign governments. I believe he's dead wrong. In February we're going to close democratic allies in Europe. I helped develop a pledge that we encourage candidates running for office to take, promising they would use no disinformation in their campaigns or tolerate outside interference. I said then that were I candidate for office I would sign the pledge. Today I'm making good on that promise.


CAMEROTA: What do you see there, Gloria?

BORGER: I see a set, first of all, that looks oddly like the Oval Office, but it isn't the Oval Office. It's got the windows and the pictures. Why are you looking at each other like this?

BERMAN: Earlier today I called it the Boval Office, the Biden Oval Office.

(LAUGHTER) CAMEROTA: I thought that had bovine connotations that were unnecessary.

BORGER: The way he's signing something as if he's signing a piece of legislation. His point, though, is accurate. It's right. And the point I would make is, why do you need a pledge? Why do you need a piece of legislation? Shouldn't it be assumed in this country that one would not have to legislate against something that's so obvious, which is you should not take information from foreign adversaries.

CAMEROTA: There's already a law, actually.

BORGER: So what's the point?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The answer is not anymore. Not anymore, because it requires a sense of decency and honor and fidelity to our best traditions and the founding fathers' advice, and that no longer applies to the president of the United States. And so whatever loopholes might exist, we need to legislate. And there was Mark Warner on the Senate floor yesterday trying to do it, blocked by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And look at what it is. It's all reactionary to what the president has said and what his party for a large part seems to just shrug their shoulders about it.

[08:05:04] You have had Republicans speak out and say, no, I would not accept information from foreign countries, but they did it in a way that says, yes, I brush my teeth twice a day. This was not at the level where you would expect people's hair to be on fire.

CAMEROTA: And then Marsha Blackburn blocked it. They obstructed it. Not only was their hair not on fire --

BORGER: Because they say they don't need it.

GOLODRYGA: And if there was one thing that we thought we all agreed on as a country that wasn't political, it was that Russia interfered with our elections in 2016 and we were doing everything humanly possible to make sure it didn't happen again.

BERMAN: Gloria, can I just ask, why aren't there 435 co-sponsors to the House bill that creates a duty to require if you're offered foreign help? Why aren't there 100 co-sponsors in the Senate to this bill? What does it tell you that there aren't?

BORGER: It tells you, number one, that Republicans don't want to criticize this president in any way, shape, or form. They are not there. And they will say, like I just said before, this isn't necessary, except now we know it is necessary. It's something we never thought would be necessary. And so they are still saying it's not necessary or it's too broad or -- making up all kinds of excuses.

AVLON: All these alleged constitutional conservatives who are acting out of fear and fealty to a powerful president when they allegedly said it was so important to have the integrity of the independent branch asserted. This should continue to be pressed. Make this the issue. If Marsha Blackburn says we all agree, I just need more time, we shouldn't rush this through. Great, Marsha we're going to sign you up as a co-sponsor in one month, right? We're good on that, right? Press it. Make this the issue. It is unacceptable for anyone to be able to hope this fades away.

GOLODRYGA: But then again, it makes people question what just happened over the past two years? What was the Mueller report all about? What were those Russians indicted for, right? If they went out into such degrees to influence our elections where you have foreign leaders now say we don't even have to go to those degrees, we can just pick up the phone and make one call.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan, one of the things on the right, the talking point you hear over and over again on FOX and you hear from the president's surrogates, Hillary Clinton did it.

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: They hired Christopher Steele. I find this one to be mind- scrambling. One went this way where a campaign or the DNC has a vetted source that they reach out to. Another came in this way from a foreign adversary into the Trump Tower with who knows what agenda, unvetted, don't know the players, and bringing in all sorts of bogus information about it.

AVLON: This isn't about the Russian-Trump Tower meeting. This is about the top line conclusions of the Mueller report that the Russians wanted to influence the election on Donald Trump's behalf and the campaign expected to benefit from that. And it was disseminated, stolen information disseminated through WikiLeaks. There is no comparison between what Christopher Steele did for Fusion GPS and what the hostile foreign government --

CAMEROTA: And yet they compare it every day.

AVLON: And why? Because it's actually, ironically an old Soviet technique called what-aboutism. It's about distracting, deflecting, and making it about something irrelevant.

GOLODRYGA: And by the way, Christopher Steele did call the FBI.


Marsha Blackburn And John McCain --

AVLON: And Lindsey Graham was aware of it as well.

BERMAN: I literally have no time for that argument, which is why I'm going to move on.

CAMEROTA: I think --

BERMAN: It's absurd. It's an absurd argument.

CAMEROTA: I understand you have no time for it, but I think it's our job also to give people, the viewers, ways to shut it down if they are intrigued by that argument, because they make it so often.

BERMAN: Christopher Steele is not a country. Check the map.


BERMAN: He is not a freaking country and Russia is.

GOLODRYGA: One more thing is, just remember the context of all of this, which is that Donald Trump was defending Don Jr., because the day he said this Don Jr. was on Capitol Hill talking about what? Talking about his meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower.

GOLODRYGA: And that's why never apologizes.

BERMAN: I think that's a great point, because the president I think was framing his remarks to George around the Don Jr. interview on the subject -- on the subject of the president's remarks to George Stephanopoulos. We have got some brand-new video that was released a little while ago this morning where the president goes further than he has ever gone before attacking former White House Counsel Don McGahn. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was never going to fire Mueller, I never suggested firing Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what he says.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would Don McGahn lie? 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.


BERMAN: Gloria, Don McGahn was under oath, Donald Trump, the president, was not under oath to George Stephanopoulos there.

BORGER: Obviously. I think, first of all, the background is that Don McGahn and the president have never gotten along. Since day one in the White House, not so much. Very different kinds of people. Don McGahn stayed for one reason -- judges. And he and the president didn't get along.

[08:10:00] McGahn was reluctant to testify, ironically, before the Special Counsel, he didn't want to, but nobody in the White House was willing to say this is privileged, and so he went, and he testified for 30 hours. Remember the president said he made fun of him because he took notes, because you are a lawyer and you take notes. So Don McGahn did take notes and referred to his notes when he was before the Special Counsel. He was not lying. He was threatening to leave this White House, and he was not about to fire Mueller. And the president, as you know, was never required to testify before the special counsel under oath, only answered questions in writing about the transition. So we don't know what Mueller would have gotten out of him.

AVLON: And 36 times in that written testimony he said I don't remember or I don't recall.

BORGER: Exactly.

AVLON: Don McGahn was under oath. The president is lying. It's an extension of what he said at the VFW speech. Don't believe what you see, don't believe what you hear. Only believe what I say. And as Kellyanne Conway once infamously said, not one makes you take an oath when you go on television.

BERMAN: Now that, though. Now the president has attacked Don McGahn, now the president has set up this dichotomy there, does Congress have more of a right to force McGahn to sit down there?

GOLODRYGA: We will see what McGahn ultimately decides in reaction to this interview. Remember McGahn, also didn't think that the president should participate and go along with Mueller, either. So he ultimately decided to sit down with Mueller when he felt like he was being thrown under the bus. So he had spent all of those hours with Mueller.

I think McGahn has a choice to make. Does he go and testify before Congress? Is he forced to do so? Remember, he is now an independent outside lawyer, a private citizen, that depends, a lot of his clients continue to be within the Republican Party. So he's got his own personal life to focus on. But clearly these attacks from the president every single day don't help.

CAMEROTA: All right, Gloria, Bianna, John, thank you all.

BERMAN: Gloria especially.


BORGER: What time is it? Is it night?


AVLON: Make you an omelette.

GOLODRYGA: The president's birthday.

CAMEROTA: It is the president's birthday.

AVLON: That's right.

CAMEROTA: Happy birthday, Mr. President. We've not even acknowledged that, 73 years old. Thank you all. We have doughnuts to celebrate. President Trump just responded to the backlash over his remarks about

accepting foreign help from adversaries. We will bring you the brand- new sound next.


[08:16:24] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The breaking news, cleanup on aisle collusion. Moments ago, the president gave a brand- new explanation about why he would listen to foreign adversaries offering dirt on political opponents. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): 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 the boat that was them.

First of all, I don't think anybody would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country. Nobody is going to present me with anything bad. Number two, if I was and, of course, you have to look at it because if you don't look at it you are 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. But, of course, you do that.


BERMAN: How are you going to know without listening and, of course, I would report it to the FBI. Sort of a new version of being open for business to foreign adversaries offering political dirt on opponents.

Joining us now, Mike Rogers, CNN national security commentator, former House intelligence chair, and Charlie Dent, CNN political commentator and former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.

Mr. Chairman, Mike, to you, does that clean it all up? Of course I would have to listen because how do I know if they're giving me intelligence unless I hear it?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, if they identify themselves up front as a foreign national, if someone just says, hey, I'm a citizen and I have information, then he would probably be fine, according to the law. But if someone identifies themselves as a foreign national, it is clearly against the law, certainly in the FEC, and it states very clearly you cannot solicit, you cannot direct, nor can you accept anything of value from a foreign government related to campaigns, by the way, federal, state or local.

So, I'm glad he decided that he would at least frame it in following the law, that to me was important.

BERMAN: It's a small move there.

Congressman Dent, Charlie, to you, isn't the answer -- does the answer just have to be no, I won't listen to foreign governments offering dirt, and yes, I would report it to the FBI? Those are two words as opposed to the 250-word salad that we just got from the president.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, John, this is -- this is a very simple one. Yes, if an agent of a hostile foreign power, the Russians, they approach your campaign, that should set off all sorts of, you know, sirens and red flags and the answer of course is no. I mean, this is simple, full stop.

As my friend Mike Rogers just said, you cannot receive anything of value from someone who is not an American citizen, or should I say not a U.S. person. Green cardholders may make contributions to your campaign, by the way, but you cannot receive anything of value from somebody who is not an American citizen in these cases.

So, I -- and, again, a hostile foreign power, I mean, how hard is it to realize that the Russians may have nefarious intentions? Maybe the president doesn't think Russia is a hostile foreign actor, that might be part of the problem here.

BERMAN: Look, in all of this, it isn't even hypothetical, because in the email to Don Jr., it was explicitly said part of the Russian government effort. This isn't a foreign individual. This is a Russian government effort. Again, that's the past hypothetical and the question about him in the future, again, about foreign governments not necessarily individuals.

Mike, to you, I don't understand why Marsha Blackburn blocked an effort in the Senate yesterday to make it explicitly illegal if you don't report to the FBI when a foreign government comes to you with outreach.

[08:20:08] She says, oh, we don't want to rush this. Why can't this be something decided immediately? Is there any justification for not passing this now?

ROGERS: Well, the only justification I can think of is, again, the law is very clear. I mean, very clear on what you are not allowed to do in a campaign, and it is illegal to accept it.

So, you know, it might be -- some might argue it's the department of redundancy department by restating what the law already says. The only provision that they could add I would think is that the must report or shall report.


ROGERS: I think that would probably be completely appropriate.

But, again, I'm not sure why they are holding that up. They probably ought to find a place to move that this year, just to make sure. And, by the way, it's not just for the president, it's for every other candidate who is swimming out there thinking, hey, if the Russians show up I guess I can take this. No, you cannot, it's against the law to take this information and you need to report it.

I would argue for that purpose alone, sending that clear message to every candidate, we need to -- we maybe need to get this thing moving.

BERMAN: And, Charlie, this is not a facetious question, I want you to put on your Republican member decoder ring here.

I don't understand why there aren't 434 cost sponsors to the measure that makes it a must report. If a foreign government comes to you with dirt on a political opponent you must report that. Why isn't every Republican member jumping up and down to co-sponsor this? It's a real question. What could the reason be not to sign on to this?

DENT: I don't have an answer to that, John. I mean, this is a simple no-brainer. You should be supporting legislation that says you must report if a foreign government approaches you with information, that you should report. I mean, this is very simple. I think they should co-sponsor it and certainly vote for it if it were to come up.

It will probably come up in the house. I suspect you will get close to a unanimous vote.

BERMAN: Is it as simple as not wanting to make the president look bad? Is that why they're reluctant right now?

DENT: Yes, a lot of my former Republican colleagues give in mortal fear of primaries right now. Anything that's done to put a stick in the eye of the president so to speak, might irritate him and cause a Twitter rant that could then inspire an opponent. I think that's not a small part of this.

BERMAN: All right. Gentlemen, I really do appreciate you helping me analyze this breaking news. Charlie Dent, Mike Rogers, both former members of Congress -- thanks very much.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. A federal watchdog says Kellyanne Conway should be fired. What will the White House do?

We will ask Anthony Scaramucci who is there next. There he is, in fact.

How did you get in here?


[08:26:42] CAMEROTA: A federal watchdog says White House counselor Kellyanne Conway should be removed from her office for violating the Hatch Act repeatedly.

President Trump just said she's not going anywhere.


TRUMP: Well, I got briefed on it yesterday and it looks to me like they're trying to take away her right of free speech and that's just not fair. They ask a question, I think one of them was involved with your show, but you ask them 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 responding to questions. It really sounds to me like a free speech thing, it doesn't sound fair. I'm going to look at it very carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you are not going to fire her?

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


CAMEROTA: OK. Joining us now is Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director and author of "Trump: The Blue Collar President".

Anthony, great to have you in studio.


CAMEROTA: Should Kellyanne Conway lose her job?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I personally don't think so. I think you have to remember she's probably got 50,000 hours of live television, it's impossible not to make some gaffes once in awhile, it's impossible not to answer a question that maybe you're not supposed to answer the question but you end up answering it any way.

CAMEROTA: This is different. What she's accused of -- I have a lot of empathy for being on live TV, too, we are all within an inch of our careers, OK?


CAMEROTA: However, this is a law. This is a law, it's the Hatch Act. If you are a public servant you need to be familiar with that.

And what it is, is if you are a public servant and serving in that role, you avoid partisan snipes. She has repeatedly violated this.


CAMEROTA: So shouldn't there be some consequence?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I think there is. I mean, there has been a consequence, they wrote up a report and recommended a firing. The president has the ultimate decision on that and a he said absolutely not. But, you know, I have sympathy for Kellyanne Conway because I have

been in the position where I have made gaffes, I've said things that are regrettable, I've come off a sound stage said, geez, I probably shouldn't have said that. Even though I was only in the White House for 11 days, you get briefed on things that you're supposed to say and not say, but then you're sitting there and trying to have a conversation with somebody and so it makes it very difficult, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I think we all have sympathy for her.

SCARAMUCCI: I think to me the report in itself is enough in a situation --

CAMEROTA: I guess what I'm asking is do you appreciate the feeling that some people have out in the country that there is a sense of lawlessness in the White House because things like this are allowed to happen, you break the law and there is no consequence?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, listen, the country is very divided. Does half the country probably think that? I think the other half of the country probably doesn't think that. So, I think the thing that I don't like about what's going on right now is that, you know, the coin never lands on the edge, Alisyn, it's either one side or the other.

So, in the case of Kellyanne Conway she's a personal friend of mine, I'm not going to sit here on this live sound stage and go after Kellyanne Conway. I think that she knows that she's got to be more careful on the interviews on a going forward basis.


SCARAMUCCI: Sure, I think she knows that. The flip side is I have an enormous amount of respect for her. The president has been right about her, she was a central element to his electoral success.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. No, I understand why he wouldn't want to lose her.

SCARAMUCCI: She has been unbelievably loyal.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about what the president said. And that is when you heard the president say that, yes, he would do it all over again, he would again be.