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Trump Didn't Fire Mueller Because That Didn't Work Out For Nixon; Saudi Crown Price Blames Iran For Tanker Attacks In Gulf; Hong Kong Protesters March Against Controversial Extradition Bill; Trump To Launch Re-election Campaign In Florida; Michigan Gun Owners Take On The Second Amendment; 2020 Hopefuls Prepare For First Presidential Debate; A Navy SEAL Faces Court Martial. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired June 16, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:14] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York.

President Trump spending this Father's Day at his golf club in Virginia, and while the President works on his swing, he's also once again taking a swipe at the Russia investigation. In a new interview with ABC News, the President is defending his actions and says he could have fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller if he had wanted to. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC NEWS: And has to go.

TRUMP: I never said -- I didn't say that. If I -- look, Article 2, I would be allowed to fire Robert Mueller. There was not -- assuming, assuming I did all of the things, I said I wanted to fire him. Number one, I didn't. He wasn't fired, OK. Number one, very importantly but more importantly, Article 2 allows me to do whatever I want. Article 2 would have allowed me to fire him.

I wasn't going to fire him. You know why? Because I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody and that didn't work out too well, so very simply Article 2 would allow me to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So this comes as new polling shows growing support for the launch of impeachment hearings. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found 27 percent of Americans now say there is enough evidence to move forward with hearings. That's up ten points from last month.

Let's check in now with. So, Boris, the President seems unmoved about that.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Fred. The President now with a bit of revisionist history too in that interview with ABC News, it's surely interesting to hear him reference the Saturday Night Massacre as his reasoning for not firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

Even though if you look closely at the report, you'll see that there are at least ten different instances in which the President tried to intervene or interfere in the Russia investigation. And, perhaps the most glaring one is when he actually told White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller.

McGahn threatened to quit and the President ultimately relented. But that comes directly from McGahn himself. That's something he said during an interview with the special counsel, so really surprising to see the President present kind of counter-narrative now.

The President was also asked about the speculation that's out there that he might be prosecuted once he leaves office. Listen to his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're not worried about being prosecuted once you leave office?

WHITFIELD: I did nothing wrong, George. I did nothing wrong. There was no collusion. You don't even hear Russia mentioned anymore. Russia is not mentioned. Now it's all about obstruction, obstruction of what?

They built up a phony crime. They hired a man that hated Trump. He hired 18 people that were Democrats that hated Trump. Some of them contributed to Clinton's campaign. A couple of them worked for Clinton. I mean, what kind of a rigged deal is this?

And then on top of it, after two years, and after being the most transparent in history, I gave them 1.5 million pages of documents, right? I gave them 400 or 500 witnesses. I let don McGahn testify. I let him -- he was the White House counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: As for the growing calls for impeachment, Fred, the President does not seem worried. He's reiterated that claim over and over again, especially on Twitter, that he did nothing wrong and that he can't be impeached for making the economy better.

The President is sounding really confident too. He actually tweeted today that if he's re-elected in 2020 he wouldn't be surprised if the public demanded that he run for a third term, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. I don't mean to laugh, but it made me laugh, OK. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much, all right.

With me now to discuss, former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl, as she was the counsel for Democrats on the impeachment of President Clinton.

Good to see you.

Lis Wiehl: Great to see you in person.

WHITFIELD: So what do you make of the President's comments about, you know, Article 2 allows him to have fired Robert Mueller if he wanted to, he could do anything he wants, but he refrained.

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it does allow him to. But it's interesting that McGahn himself recalled Saturday Night Massacre, which of course is a Nixonian term, because that's what Nixon tried to do, fire his prosecutor, which led to the Saturday Night Massacre. President Trump really is his own worst enemy, creating this whole idea of intent.

Remember, intent is part of obstruction. To prove obstruction -- which is --

WHITFIELD: Which show resurgence, right. There were many instances of intent.

WIEHL: Many instances of obstruction. You have to show intent. And all of these comments post the Mueller report, you know. The comments recently about dirt, you know, the dirt comment that we've all heard this last week about he would take dirt --

WHITFIELD: From a foreign adversary.

WIEHL: From a foreign adversary, all of these things --

WHITFIELD: OK, yes.

[15:05:01] WIEHL: -- post in the Mueller report, I would say go to the intent that he had then during the Mueller report as Mueller is gathering this. You could use these now to say to "Hey, these bolster the argument that he had intent during the time that Mueller was actually writing the report. Even now he has intent to obstruct.

WHITFIELD: And rather, the special counsel did underscore that there were at least ten instances of attempts of obstruction.

WIEHL: Attempts of obstruction, but you want to show if you're trying to show obstruction that he had this intent in the mind of Donald Trump. And you see it again and again and again. So I think that the case for the Democrats is growing even stronger.

WHITFIELD: Well, and in fact, there are some recent polling. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll showing that support is growing for impeachment proceedings, an increase by 10 points since last month. So how significant is this? And how much will this be a barometer of what Congress does or doesn't do?

WIEHL: It's very significant because as we know we can make the legal argument all day. But at the end it's a political machine, right? And being on the Democratic side last time, I saw what happened with Bill Clinton, of course, that the numbers went, you know, his poll numbers went skyrocketing after he was impeached. And, of course, the Senate did not actually, you know, oust him from his job.

WHITFIELD: But now, you've got Democratic leadership saying, you know, let the ballot box make determinations.

WIEHL: Exactly, Exactly.

WHITFIELD: And let's assess this, but we don't need to be broadcasting the impeachment proceedings is top priority.

WIEHL: Exactly, because what you can do is you can have the hearings right now. And you can and again because it was very interesting what we heard here in that last clip. Trump said he let McGahn testify. He did not. McGahn has not actually testified. Let McGahn actually come forth and testify.

WHITFIELD: Do you see executive privilege standing in the way of testimony, whether be from don McGahn or Hope Hicks --

WIEHL: Hope Hicks.

WHITFIELD: -- who is now going to be coming and testify. She's the first person who's allowed now to testify.

WIEHL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Because she could show up but then you exert --

WIEHL: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: -- executive privilege.

WIEHL: So let's see if Hope Hicks -- if she will testify. She will exert -- I expect her to exert executive privilege. So nothing at all --

WHITFIELD: Why? Because when you have answered questions by the special counsel, haven't you already relinquished some of that executive privilege?

WHITFIELD: OK. Now, what she may say is that she can't waive executive privilege, only Trump himself can waive that executive privilege. That's kind of a legalistic way to get at it. She may say that.

So Nadler et al be prepared for her to say "Hey, I don't hold it. He does, only he can waive it." So she may use that legalistic jarring on coming up on Wednesday. They better prepare for that.

WHITFIELD: So freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talked about the need to hold the President accountable and she said this, this morning on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: I believe that there is a very real animus and desire to make sure that we are -- that we are holding this President to account. But I do believe that's -- that this is truly again, and I've said it publicly, I've said it privately, I've said it when we subpoenaed the attorney general and Secretary Ross this week on the census, I mean this week on the census that this is about the rule of law. And we have to make sure that we are holding this president account, is holding all of government to account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIEHL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: And the house speaker is saying hold the President to account as well but there are stylistic differences here and then, in different preferences on how to proceed. But in the end, how will all of this either undermine support, you know, the authority of Congress?

WIEHL: Well, I think Congress has to go forward at least with the hearings. Because if they don't, they're looking like especially with the President coming out going again, and say over and over and again, no collusion, no obstruction, when the Mueller report outlined obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. And when he's going out every day and saying, during the Mueller report, and saying there is no obstruction. And the Democrats are sitting there and not doing anything with the report that says there is.

The subpoenas are coming out again and again and again, and not being replied to. And they obstruct it again and again. If Democrats don't do anything, they're letting the rule of law be trampled upon.

WHITFIELD: And what do you believe really is at the root of, if you want to call it reticence in terms of -- from Democratic leadership and particularly House Speaker Pelosi. What really is at the bottom or the root of it?

WIEHL: You have Nadler. You have Sheila Jackson Lee who has

WHITFIELD: She said she, you know, would like it to proceed has already started.

WIEHL: Both of them --

WHITFIELD: Nadler is an advocate of it.

WIEHL: Right.

WHITFIELD: And there's and there's an consternation (inaudible).

WIEHL: Both of them -- well, they're with me --

WHITFIELD: Yes.

WIEHL: With Clinton. So they've seen this playbook before. And they're worried about the same thing happening again, you know, differently, of course, with Clinton.

[15:10:01] It worked, you know, for the Democrats and they're worried about it working against the Democrats this time, especially when you've got the president saying, you know, come at it. It's going to work for me this time.

WHITFIELD: Right. And now you've got the President even making acknowledgment that, you know, if there was dirt coming from a political adversary, and remember, that's what is at the root of this entire --

WIEHL: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- Robert Mueller investigation. Now he revisits the topic that says maybe I'd go to the FBI. I mean, just a reminder, this is what he said and we'll talk about it some more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think you might want to listen. There's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent. Oh, I think I'd want to hear it.

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. But of course you'd do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So people in the White House, some are reportedly very frustrated. How do you interpret? What --

WIEHL: This is incredible. Don't forget, listen, in 2016 he said, Russia, I hope you're listening, find those 30,000 e-mails. He said that, you know -- and that was the same day that Russia started hacking and looking for the Clinton e-mails. I mean, this is again he's saying this.

WHITFIELD: And now -- and there was no emphatic, no, of course not, I would go to the FBI. No lesson learned.

WIEHL: Right. This is an invitation to Russia, China, fill in the blank super power, come in and obstruct again, hack into our election again, when now fast forward all these years, 40 years later, we know this has happened.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So what is his counsel -- what do his advisers say and do when they hear this from the President, and their hope is he would have a different instinct, particularly because of what transpired?

WIEHL: Well, These are counsel that can't control their client. This is an uncontrollable client. And I'm not sure, you know, I don't know what to say to this counsel. I'm not sure that they've tried to control their client, or have they?

WHITFIELD: Lis Wiehl, we'll leave it there for now, always good to see you. WIEHL: Great to see you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. All right.

Still ahead, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there's no doubt that Iran attacked several tankers in the Gulf of Oman, but Iran is refuting those claims, the latest on the situation.

And later, protest organizers estimate 2 million people stormed the streets of Hong Kong today, raising their voices over a controversial new law. And now there are new calls for Hong Kong's leader to step down. More from there coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:12] WHITFIELD: Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman is blaming Iran for the attacks of two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The crown prince, one of the United States' closest allies in the region, added he doesn't want war in the region, but he is prepared to deal with any threats.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also doubling down on the U.S. claim that Iran is responsible for the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. STATE SECRETARY: It's unmistakable what happened here. These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait. This was on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz. There's no doubt, intelligence committee has lots of data, lots of evidence.

The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks, as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days.

WHITFIELD: Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran. So, Fred, is the regime reacting to what Mike Pompeo just said?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they actually are, Fredricka. One of the things the Iranians have said is that unequivocally, they are sticking behind their story they were not behind these attacks. Then, you have the speaker of Iran's parliament who came out and fired right back at the U.S. and says he believes America was behind the attacks on these tankers.

He says, he believes the reason why America would have done it is because that maximum pressure policy of the U.S., those tough sanctions that are hitting Iran, are not bringing Iran to its knees. Now, we have to always point out, the Iranians have not provided any sort of evidence to suggest that the U.S. would have been behind it.

But there was actually another thing that Secretary of State Pompeo said that the Iranians also reacted to as well. The Secretary of State Pompeo also said in one of the interviews today that the President is doing everything he can to maintain all of this in the sphere of diplomacy rather than to have it escalate into something like a shooting war.

The speaker of the parliament also saying that the Iranians do not consider the maximum pressure policy, those sanctions by the Trump administration, to be any sort of diplomatic tool. They call it economic warfare, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Fred, in what way do the Iranians have leverage here?

PLEITGEN: Yes, exactly. If it came to some sort of escalation, look, the Iranians are saying that they do have a good deal of leverage. Iran is not what Iraq was, for instance, before the war in 2003. Iran has a lot of influence in a lot of neighboring countries as well.

It's quite interesting because a former senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard told me when we had the last tanker attacks in early May. He said, "Look, the U.S. needs to understand one thing. If this descends into a shooting war between these two countries, that next to every American base in the Middle East, there is also a militia that is controlled by the Iranians." Be it in Iraq, be it in Lebanon, be at anywhere else, they say that the Iranians would be ready.

One of the other things they also point to is for instance, their ballistic missile program which of course they've been expanding a great deal over the past couple of years, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, the streets of Hong Kong shut down as massive protests continue, this coming despite the city suspending a vote for a controversial extradition bill.

[15:19:24] More from Hong Kong, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The demonstrations continue in Hong Kong despite the temporary suspension of a controversial bill that would allow for criminals to be extradited to China. Organizers have a list of demands including the resignation of the city's embattled leader, Carrie Lam. Hong Kong police say more than 338,000 took part in the protests today, but organizers say the number was 2 million.

Ivan Watson has more from Hong Kong.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They came on foot, by subway and on ferry boat by sea. People of Hong Kong, organizers claim close to 2 million, marching to make their voices heard. A massive protest against the city government, a day after it made a major concession, temporarily suspending passage of a controversial law that would allow extradition of suspects from this former British Colony to Mainland China.

The government has backed down so why are you still out in the streets?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think majority of the people are still very angry about the police shooting, police shooting, and the excess violence that they have been using.

WATSON: She's talking about the violent clashes that erupted Wednesday. Riot police using force to break up demonstrators who formed a human barricade around the city's legislative council. Clashes left dozens wounded.

What a difference a few days makes. Just a few days ago, the riot police were tear gassing protesters on this very street, and now they're helping control traffic as the demonstrators march through.

[15:25:00] In this test of wills between the leader of Hong Kong and the opposition in the streets, people power won for the moment. On Saturday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pressed the pause button on the extradition law. But as this sea of humanity surged through the streets on Sunday, Beijing's hand-picked appointee finally said she was sorry.

Acknowledging in a written statement deficiencies that caused disappointment and grief. The chief executive apologized to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adapt a sincere and humble attitude.

Through a twist of colonial history, Hong Kong is the freest city in modern day China. Many here like Raymond, Wendy and Ryan Ho fear for the future, the year 2047, when the city will lose its autonomy and fall fully under China's control.

Do you trust the Chinese central government?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no.

WATSON: No? Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's not a democracy. It's not a democracy for the people or for the citizens.

WATSON: And after the most dramatic week in years, look where Hong Kong is now, protesters angry and emboldened, in the streets denouncing the city's leadership.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

WHITFIELD: And electricity in parts of South America slowly being restored now after a massive power outage left millions in the dark across much of that continent. The outage knocked out all of Argentina and Uruguay and affected other countries in the region like Paraguay, Chile and Brazil.

In Argentina, power has been restored to more than 1 million customers. And power in Chile has been fully restored. A utility distributor says a massive failure in an electrical interconnection system caused the blackout. But an investigation is under way to determine the exact cause of the failure. All right.

Still to come, President Trump is ready to officially roll out his re- election bid this week, but a new poll shows he could face some serious competition from nearly all of the top Democrats in the running. More on that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:30:59] WHITFIELD: OK, welcome back. Hard to believe, but it was on this day, four years ago, Donald Trump announced that he was running for president with Melania by his side at the New York business mogul riding down that golden escalator at Trump Tower and making it official that he was running in the 2016 presidential election as a Republican.

On Tuesday, the President will, talking about this week now, he'll officially launch his 2020 reelection bid in Orlando, Florida.

Basil Smikle is a Democratic Strategist and a former Executive Director of the New York Democratic Party. Mia Love is a former Republican Congresswoman from Utah and a CNN political commentator. Good to see you both.

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hello (ph).

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: All right, so Mia, you first. So the President officially re-launching his, you know, reelection bid on Tuesday. How do you expect that he will help justify to voters that he is deserving of another term?

LOVE: Well, I think he's going to talk about the economy, the economy, the economy. I think he's going to talk about jobs. I believe he's going to talk about what he's been able to do in North Korea and especially with what's happened in kind of solidifying the alliance with Israel. That's incredibly important for a lot of voters that may not have been on his side.

So I think that job is going to be really important. Those are the voters that turned out for him. And I think that that's what he's going to concentrate on.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Basil, since we're kind of, you know, making comparisons, looking back in time and also comparing to the current, remember, you know, when he did make his announcement four years ago at Trump Tower, this is what he said about Mexico and immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some I assume are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we're getting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And so now my -- Basil, you've got, you know, a heightened humanitarian crisis --

SMIKLE: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- on the border. The President may have tax reform under his belt in terms of legislation, but there's no immigration legislation. So is he fueled by how things and what has transpired over the last two years?

SMIKLE: It fuels him and it fuels his base of support. But I actually don't think that he's able to grow that base. Presidents tend to want to do that. Every elected official wants to find a way to grow your base.

WHITFIELD: And one would think you need that in order to be reelected.

SMIKLE: Absolutely --

WHITFIELD: However?

SMIKLE: Especially at a time when his numbers are so low. But he hasn't really been able to do that, but the base that he does have is feels very strong. They're emboldened on a daily basis by this kind of language. But what it's also done is fuel a lot of momentum on the left to try to not just get him out of office, but also to try to solve these crises that he creates and then himself tries to solve to no effect.

WHITFIELD: But then from the President's perspective, has there been an attempt for him to grow his base?

SMIKLE: I don't -- actually, I don't think that there has been a real attempt in a ways that --

WHITFIELD: Or grow support, I should say.

SMIKLE: Yes, not in the ways that traditional politicians would do that. You'd see them doing message events to try to work across the aisle. You don't see any of that really coming from this President. He treats his message events like consistent campaign rallies. He sort to stayed in that mode of campaigning, but not necessarily governing. And it's -- that's how I would look at it.

So I -- so that why I don't think he's done it in the traditional ways and that's why I think come 2020, he's going to have a problem trying to take that message and bring it to more and more voters, particularly those Democrats or those voters that voted for Trump -- Obama twice and then Trump once. WHITFIELD: So, Mia, that would seem problematic that he hasn't, you know, grown support. You know, at the same time, it seems as though the President is fairly entrenched. He digs in his heels about his approach and his ways. Why is he believe (inaudible).

[15:35:02] LOVE: And some ways -- yes, in some ways I agree with that, because I think that one of the things that the President really should try not to do is throw his own people under the bus. I mean, it's one of the things that's been really, I think, disheartening for members of Congress.

But the other thing we want to look at is remember four years ago, a lot of people believe that this President was going to go nowhere near where he is now. They don't -- they didn't believe that he was going to be the president on Election Day. They had so many -- we had so many different candidates that were great, I believe, options and he ended uprising to the top. Somehow he found a way.

So, I just want everyone to be careful to not count this out, to think that you have it in the bag, because he does have a base. And I believe that a silent majority that do not show up in the polling results.

WHITFIELD: And even though, you know, you've got 2020 election just 500 days away now, but you've got current polling showing the President is trailing all of the top Democratic candidates. He's currently 10 points behind Joe Biden in the latest Fox News poll and he has been attacking Biden every chance that he gets. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He wanted to be the tough guy. He's not a tough guy, he's a weak guy. But he wanted to be the tough guy.

He has recalibrated on everything. He's -- everything he says he's taking back two weeks later, because he's getting slammed by the left and he's stuck with this stuff. I mean he's really stuck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Mia, by focusing on the former vice president, is the President, you know, helping to elevate Biden to frontrunner status?

LOVE: I think Biden is already where he is. I think that the President knows that Biden is going to be a worthy opponent, and so I believe that that's why he is continuing to go after Biden. But also, Biden, when you look at what's happening there, I think he's pushing a little bit further to the left, which I think may be a little bit detrimental, and the fact that other Democrat opponents are going after Biden also clearly states that Biden is the person on the Democrat side to beat. So I think that -- both sides are chipping away at Biden.

WHITFIELD: All right. Basil, the first pairing of Democratic Presidential contender debates just about 10 days away. Is this an opportunity for some candidates in particular to really re-establish themselves, reset the stage about why they are serious, viable contenders?

SMIKLE: Sure. And it will also hopefully help them with fund-raising as well. But, you know, it's going to be so difficult. You have 10 people on stage in two different debates. You know, somebody said the other day, if you blink you may miss your candidate.

WHITFIELD: Right. There have been some who've joked that maybe they have three minutes to really state their case.

SMIKLE: That's exactly right. The differentiation --

WHITFIELD: Collectively.

SMIKLE: -- right, it's a differentiation is going to be really tough. That's why Joe Biden in some ways has played the rose garden strategy that he has. They'll go after his opponents, preview the general election by going after Trump and sort of maintaining that conflict. But if you're polling at 1 percent, just made that threshold like my Mayor Bill de Blasio --

WHITFIELD: (INAUDIBLE), who I just talked to earlier today.

SMIKLE: -- and others. You want to try to give in a little bit of substance, but sort of provide that snappy line that people are going to remember and be able to talk about. I don't want to compare it to what Donald Trump did in 2016. So that I think that the language of it is a bad example.

WHITFIELD: Right.

SMIKLE: But if you think about it from just a basic point of trying to make a point, what Donald Trump did to his Republican opponents in 2016 is sort of what you want to do without the language, but you want to make these memorable comments that help frame your opponent.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

SMIKLE: I mean Little Marco, we still remember that.

WHITFIELD: Yes, well Trump was considered an underdog and see what happened.

SMIKLE: That's exactly right.

WHITFIELD: And Bill de Blasio, you'll hear more of my interview with him later. He considers himself an underdog and he is really not at all discouraged that he is at the bottom of the charts in terms of the polling.

SMIKLE: That's right.

WHITFIELD: Based on what we're seeing. All right, Basil Smikle, Mia Love, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

SMIKLE: Thank you.

LOVE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meanwhile, gun rights have become a contentious topic among Americans. Now two Michigan men on different sides of the political aisle are trying to find common ground. CNN's Erica Hill has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since opening freedom firearms in 2002, Joe Fulton has a front-row seat to the intersection of politics and guns. While business soared under President Obama, it's the opposite with President Trump.

JOE FULTON, PRESIDENT, FREEDOM FIREARMS: This is ridiculous how they fear monger to the American people and how they take positions.

HILL (on-camera): Who's they?

FULTON: And they pit us against each other -- the political elites.

RANDE JOHNSON, SUPPORTER, DEMOCRAT & SECOND AMENDMENT: But here's the whole thing about.

HILL (voice-over): Fulton a small L libertarian and his friend, Rande Johnson, a Democrat, are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, though they're not in lock step.

FULTON: You and I, well we have civil discussions. Why is it that doesn't translate upward?

HILL (voice-over): For a conversation that feels increasingly polarized, part of the problem may be the starting point.

[15:40:02] JOHNSON: We need to just start from a perspective of respecting that I have a difference of opinion, but first of all, we're Americans. And the right to bear arms is for everybody.

FULTON: The side that comes out first is usually the anti-gun side, why, because the Second Amendment is already in place. So, this position is firm and solid. It's not going anywhere. This side is what's trying to change that. Getting rid of firearms is not the solution to the violence that we're facing.

As a matter of fact, it makes us more ready victims. What we need to make sure we do is harden our targets, just like we would for a military base or anything else.

HILL (voice-over): Positions that Johnson shares.

JOHNSON: But you would they think twice if you thought when I went in there maybe the school lady or the parent dropping somebody off or a teacher may have a firearm.

HILL (voice-over): Less than a third of American adults own a firearm, yet it is consistently a focus, especially with a looming election. More than half say gun laws should be stricter. When broken down by party and the gun ownership, the numbers shift dramatically. So how could that translate at the polls?

FULTON: When I go in to cast my vote, I believe in the fundamental principles of my constitution. Wherever they stand on the Second Amendment generally tells me where they stand on liberty.

JOHNSON: We don't go down a checklist to see who supports its gun, but the other side makes that a badge, it's a -- you know, like I support guns. Well, I support guns too, but that's not why I'm going to elect somebody.

HILL (voice-over): As for politicians, neither sees a lot of help from that despite the continued violence. All the more reason to make their voices heard.

FULTON: You need to exercise your power and you need to get to the polls. Hold people accountable. Pay attention to politics. Whether you like it or don't like it, it affects your life.

HILL (voice-over): Erica Hill, CNN, Battle Creek, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Up next, candidates hoping to climb in the polls. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio looking to connect with voters. Why he says he's continuing his campaign despite poll numbers showing that he's struggling.

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WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The 2020 Democratic candidates are set to take their messages directly to the voters in about a week in the first round of debates, each hoping to stand out in a crowded field of 23. Beto O'Rourke is out campaigning in South Carolina today on Father's Day. He made a quick stop at the Krispy Kreme before he flies back to Texas to be with his kids.

With more than 500 days until Election Day, our latest CNN poll shows where all of the candidates stack up. And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is at the end of that list. So one may wonder, what's the point? Does he have a chance of winning? But the Mayor says don't count him out just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DEMOCRATS BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every race I've gotten in, I've gotten in to win and I've been an underdog every single time. When I started running for mayor, people said --

WHITFIELD: You were the underdog.

DE BLASIO: You're a nice guy, you're never going to make it, but here I am. I think a lot of times what people misunderstand it's about what's in your heart, who are you really. Can you prove to people that you're actually about everyday people and working people? And look, my colleagues in this race, good people. But when the moderator or the reporter says can you prove it, a lot of them are going to struggle to show that they actually have gotten things done for working people.

I can show chapter and verse we've changed the lives of working people. And then, you know, of course what Donald Trump is going to do is he's going to call every Democrat a socialist. He's going to say every Democrat will ruin the country. Well, it's hard to say when the mayor of the biggest city in the nation has brought us to a point where we're the safest we've ever been and we have the most jobs we've ever had.

WHITFIELD: Is that a handicap for the Democratic Party that there is and there are representatives who are leaning socialist? Bernie Sanders just recently.

DE BLASIO: Oh I don't think it's a handicap if we be very clear. The vast majority of Democrats, vast majority of Americans want a fair and equal society. And what they see right now is a massive inequity.

Again, the federal government is on the side of the 1 percent. It's not even close anymore. So I think what we're going to do is just say let's stop playing around with those fake labels that Donald Trump is going to try and put on us. Let's talk about Donald Trump saying he was going to be on the side of working people, bamboozling working people and now instead handing over the keys to the 1 percent like never before. That tax cut for the wealthy is a great example.

It's been seen through by American people, including people who voted for Donald Trump. So I think what we have to do is not let him drag us down to his tricks, his game. This is my point. I've watched him for a long time. You don't play on his playing field. You go right to the issues. And on the issues, he's in trouble. He has not produced for working people.

WHITFIELD: And you believe that's how you defeat him, on the issues as opposed to getting into fighting words?

DE BLASIO: Yes. And I think what happens is he loves to draw people into the pigpen, if you will. He loves to draw people down into the mire and distract, where his Achilles heel is. He's not used to an opponent going right back at him and pointing out his lies, his contradictions, the fact that he actually did the exact opposite.

He told people he was going to drain the swamp, he put millionaires and billionaires in his cabinets. He told people he's going to be working for working people. He gave them a raw deal on the tax deal but his best friends, his millionaire friends did great.

A Democrat with a clear progressive economic message, that's Trump's worst nightmare. That's how we win back those mid-western states that went the other way. That's how we get Democrats and working people come out and vote when they're inspired by a message of change.

WHITFIELD: All right, all the best, Mayor de Blasio, and of course, Happy Father's Day.

DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, Fred. Appreciate it.

WHITFIELD: All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Up next, the court martial for Navy SEAL, Eddie Gallagher begins tomorrow. And now some of the men that he followed into combat are preparing to testify against him.

[15:49:58] The latest on Gallagher's trial for war crimes, next.

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WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. A Navy SEAL, Eddie Gallagher, is preparing for the fight of his life. Tomorrow he faces a court martial charged with war crimes for premeditated murder while serving in Iraq. Last month he was unexpectedly released from custody to await trial, his case reaching all the way to the commander in chief.

President Trump has reportedly been urged to pardon Gallagher. CNN's Nick Watt shows us the twists and turns of this much-talked about case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EDDIE GALLAGHER, FORMER SPECIAL OPERATIONS CHIEF, UNITED STATES NAVY SEAL: I'm innocent. I love you.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): War hero or premeditated murderer? Monday morning, Special Operations SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher faces court martial.

TIM PARIATORE, GALLAGHER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This case should terrify every sailor out there on the waterfront right now as to whether they're going to get a fair trial.

WATT: Prosecutors say that in 2017, while stationed in Mosul, Gallagher shot civilians. A young girl and an old man and stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter to death, took a photo with the corpse, sent it to friends.

So how do you explain the text that he sent, the message he sent to people, I got this one with my hunting knife. I got my knife skills on. How do you explain that?

PARIATORE: That's a joke.

WATT: What do you mean?

PARIATORE: It's a joke.

WATT: Like a funny joke?

PARIATORE: Well, to guys in the SEAL teams, yes, it's dark humor. WATT (voice-over): Gallagher denies all charges on May 30th in a move that reportedly drew gasps in court, was released from pretrial confinement.

PARIATORE: In the case of U.S. v. Gallagher, the only thing you can expect is the unexpected.

WATT: He's right. First in an almost unheard of move, Gallagher's comrades turned him in.

[15:55:03] ANDREA GALLAGHER, WIFE: What is happening here isn't right. And we need help.

WATT: Gallagher's wife and brother launched a loud media campaign.

SEAN GALLAGHER, BROTHER: For something like this to have been perpetrated against him and his family is nothing less than disgusting.

WATT: Fox News host Pete Hegseth is vocal on the air.

PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS: ISIS dirt bag.

WATT: And according to one source also privately in the President's ear. Trump has even hinted at a pardon.

TRUMP: We teach them how to be great fighters and then when they fight, sometimes they get really treated very unfairly.

WATT: There's a one-minute cellphone video still under seal that the defense claims will prove crucial.

PARIATORE: It's the Iraqis dragging the half dead kid around and Chief Gallagher stepping in, clearing everybody out and beginning to assess his injuries to provide treatment. And then it shuts off.

WATT: What happened next, in Mosul, is the crux of this increasingly controversial case. The defense has petitioned for prosecutors and even the judge to be dismissed and the case thrown out after prosecutors were involved in e-mailing tracking software to defense attorneys as part of a leak investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't put this thing back together and have a fair trial.

WATT: The lead prosecutor was removed but for now, Eddie Gallagher's court martial starts Monday.

GALLAGHER: See you guys.

WATT: Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And tune in tonight for an all new episode of two CNN Original Series. First "The Redemption Project" with Van Jones, takes a look at what happens when victims and offenders of violent crimes meet face-to-face. That's at 9:00. Then W. Kamau Bell is back with a brand-new episode of "United Shades of America" at 10:00. And it's all new tonight only on CNN.

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