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NEW DAY

Sessions Fires Back At Trump, Defends His Russia Recusal; Trump Calls On Jeff Sessions To Drop Out Of AL Senate Race; Judge In Flynn Case Hires Prominent D.C. Law Firm To Help With Appeal; Police Use Tear Gas On Protesters In Hong Kong; Michigan's Unemployment Rate Is Second Highest In America. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:31:43]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Among the personal feuds playing out on twitter with the President involved, the President escalating one with his former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions who he appointed. The dispute over his recusal from the Russia investigation, the President is now calling on Sessions to drop out of the Alabama Senate race. Sessions firing back at his boss.

Joining me now -- former boss, I should say -- CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, always good to have you on. Sessions, one of the early endorsers of the President, and not quite lone, but one of the few sitting lawmakers to endorse President early on at 2016. No love lost at this point. Let's listen to how the President attacked in very personal terms Jeff Sessions over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeff Sessions was a disaster as attorney general. Should have never been attorney general. He's not qualified, he's not mentally qualified to be attorney general. He was the biggest problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Jeff, perhaps, first, you could remind me who appointed Jeff Sessions before you react to the attack there and what's behind it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I -- of course, it was President Trump who named his first attorney general. Just to remind people of the roots of this feud, Jeff Sessions was a major campaign surrogate for President Trump during 2016. When he became attorney general, the investigation of the campaign began and he, of course, properly recused himself.

I can't investigate, lead an investigation of a campaign in which I was a principal part. So he turned the investigation over to his deputy, Rod Rosenstein who, in turn, named Robert Mueller the special counsel. Because of that, Donald Trump has been deeply angry at Jeff Sessions ever since for recusing himself and leading to the Mueller investigation. Now that Sessions is running for his old seat in the Senate from Alabama, Trump is trying to take his revenge. And, you know, punish him in a state where the President is very popular.

SCIUTTO: And now in Bill Barr, the President has a much more aggressive attorney general, does he not, I mean even on issues of recusal?

TOOBIN: And one who is much more doing the President's personal bidding, whether it's trying to end the Michael Flynn case or doing all these investigations of the roots of the Mueller and Russia investigations which is something the President has been complaining about ever since he took office. It is a very different justice department.

You know, I think a lot of people would have been surprised to think that Jeff Sessions, who is known as an extremely conservative senator, that is like the good old days compared to what's going on now in the Justice Department.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So you bring up the Flynn case because it is truly remarkable. And for folks at home who might not have been following, I mean, let's just remind people. So Michael Flynn, he pleaded guilty, we should remind people to lying to FBI investigators. The Justice Department under Republican appointee at the time investigated him, but explain how unusual the Justice Department now dismissing its own case against Michael Flynn is. How unusual in your perspective?

[07:35:17]

TOOBIN: Well, this has become quite tangled and bizarre. But, you know -- look, I've been around the criminal justice system my whole career, I have never heard ever of the Justice Department saying to a judge, well, this defendant he pleaded guilty, he was advised by very competent lawyers, he's a very intelligent man. He pleaded guilty but we think the case has no basis. And we think you, Judge Sullivan, should dismiss the case even though he's pleaded guilty.

Judge Sullivan, in Washington federal district court said, wait a second, I've never heard anything like this. I'm not sure I'm going to dismiss this case. In fact, I'm going to name a former judge, John Gleeson from New York, to advocate on behalf of keeping the guilty plea.

And just letting this case proceed to sentencing. Michael Flynn's lawyers, his new lawyers have appealed this ruling. They have said, look, you need to dismiss this case right away. You can't appoint this former judge. Just get rid of the case.

That case is now on appeal. Jim, stick with me. I'm not -- it's not quite over. What happened now --

SCIUTTO: Well, just as you're telling it, what's remarkable, the Justice Department's own case they're saying they want the judge to dismiss. But just -- but go on, because the details are amazing.

TOOBIN: Well, that's what so bizarre. So that now in the appeals court, you have the prosecution and defense on the same side against the judge. So what happens just yesterday or I guess the day before now is that Judge Sullivan appointed a distinguished Washington lawyer named Beth Wilkinson to represent him in the court of appeals. So Beth Wilkinson will be arguing against the Justice Department and Michael Flynn in the court of appeals saying that this case needs more investigation, it shouldn't just be dismissed.

SCIUTTO: And we should note she's happens to be married to one of our colleagues, David Gregory. Listen, it's a remarkable case, worth watching. It has precedent for how law is run in this country. Jeffrey Toobin, always good to have you on.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Alrighty, man. Happy Memorial Day.

SCIUTTO: Yes, to you too. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Now to this developing story, police in Hong Kong firing tear gas at protesters on the streets Sunday. Protester fear that China's proposed national security law will crush civil liberties and end the city's autonomy. CNN's Anna Coren is there.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of protesters took to the streets here in Hong Kong to demonstrate against that controversial national security bill that Beijing is going to enforce here in Hong Kong. It is unprecedented that China is taking this move but they say that its sovereignty and the security of Hong Kong is at risk.

Under this new law tradition, sedition, secession, subversion and treason would be bad, which means that demonstrations like this would then be a criminal offense. Now it's been a game of cat and mouse between police and protesters. It hasn't been the numbers perhaps that organizers were hoping for, compared to what we saw last year where tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands at a time, 2 million people marched against that extradition bill which the government eventually shelled.

But still, the people turning out today are defying the police. They are defying the government and they want it known that the one country, two systems' policy must stay in place. They don't want to see Hong Kong lose its freedom and be controlled by Beijing. The fear by pro-democracy activists, by pro-democracy lawmakers is that Hong Kong is at risk of becoming part of China, one country, one system.

Anna Coren, Hong Kong.

CAMEROTA: All right, thanks to Anna Coren there. Meanwhile, the pandemic has changed so much about our daily lives, especially how we say goodbye to those that we've lost. So see how the military is honoring our fallen heroes on this Memorial Day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:43:56]

CAMEROTA: You are looking at live pictures of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. President Trump, the First Lady and the Vice President will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony there about two hours from now. But honoring our nation's fallen heroes is different now because of the pandemic. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr tells us how.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The flag that covers the casket is no longer handed to the next of kin. Instead, it's gently laid on a table next to the grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Solemn funeral owners adjusted in the age of coronavirus to pay tribute to decorated World War II Veteran Robert Belch. Here, everyone wear masks, even the rifle platoon.

Captain Doug Rohde has been back from Iraq for just eight months. He now performs ceremonial duties for the army's old guard unit here.

CAPT. DOUG ROHDE, U.S. ARMY: It means a lot to me that we can still be there for the families even though, you know, we're dealing with a lot as a country right now.

[07:45:06]

STARR (voice-over): The new reality, only 10 family or friends are allowed graveside, as few troops as possible perform funeral honors. Distance is kept, masks are worn. But still, the same dignity and respect at every funeral, even with the changes. Even if on this Memorial Day, Arlington is open only to families of those buried here.

Specialist Joseph Gorgas is part of the Army's elite Caisson Platoon, the unit that carries those killed on the battlefield, elderly veterans and presidents of the United States.

SPECIALIST JOSEPH GORGAS, U.S. ARMY: Since COVID-19 has started, we have gone from conducting 40 missions as a platoon a week to zero.

STARR (voice-over): The horses that pull the caissons still are on duty. But with extra troops required to do it right, the caissons are not being used to limit the number of people interacting. Up the hill at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, troops wear masks as they get ready for their razor sharp walk. Visitors are no longer allowed, but there is no easy enough tradition.

SGT. JACOB HAMMOND, U.S. ARMY: Since 1937, on July 2nd of midnight, there's always been somebody guarding the tomb 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

SGT. FIRST CLASS CHELSEA PORTERFIELD, U.S. ARMY: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, they had lives, right? So the very least we could do is continue our mission to the best of our abilities.

STARR (voice-over): Across Arlington on this Memorial Day, troops determined to carry on.

ROHDE: There have been a few funerals that we've done in the last couple months where no family has been able to attend due to the virus. You know, our heart goes out to them. And we're very happy that at least we could be there for them as they're laid to rest.

STARR (voice-over): Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: Wow, Jim. I mean, how kind and valuable that they have been able to make these adjustments so that they can have ceremony with safety.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And to hear that some folks can't make it to those moments, just sad. But the extra effort, and as we see there, they're all wearing masks, right, doing their part, those soldiers there to keep this at bay. Great to have that story.

Well, in honor of Memorial Day, we want to remember some of the veterans who have lost their lives in this pandemic which has claimed now nearly 100,000 Americans. Martin Travelstead was a veteran of the U.S. Army, a devoted husband and grandfather. As a long-time deacon at his church in Indiana, he always kept his pockets full of candy for the children. His family says he was what everybody needed to strive to be.

Zadie Steve (ph) Jr. was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Because of the coronavirus, he had to be hospitalized and was unable to have visitors in his final days. Just so lonely, is it? That his daughter remembers her father as someone who loved his family and his country.

Alfred Liseo (ph), was 99 years old. He served during World War II as an air mechanic. His secret for long life? A daily handful of raisins or a banana or a glass of red wine. But his grandson, Alfred's positive attitude was his real secret. Just a few of the Americans who lost their lives. We'll be right back.

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[07:52:35]

CAMEROTA: Nearly 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment during this pandemic, and a top White House economic adviser tells CNN, the bleak jobs outlook will likely get worse before it gets better.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HASSETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: My expectation is that since there's still initial claims for unemployment insurance in May that the unemployment rate will be higher in June than in May but after that, it should start to trend down. So I think we're very, very close to an inflection point in terms of business activity and probably about a month away in terms of employment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think unemployment is going to be even higher this month?

HASSETT: Yes, it's going to be quite a bit higher. And, you know, there were some technical they kind of messed up and on an economics lecture, we go into them, but it could be if they fix the numbers and fix the thing that they mischaracterized last time that you'll end up with a number more than 20 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Well, the economic crisis is hitting particularly hard in Michigan, which has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Businesses are closing even as the state reopens. CNN's Miguel Marquez is live for us in Michigan with more. What are you seeing, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn. And some of those counties are being hit harder than others. In the south, there is Lapeer and St. Clair, up north here, they're Sheboygan, all with unemployment rates up over 30 percent. That is 30 percent of the workforce in these areas have applied for unemployment insurance, just devastating them.

In Sheboygan, in the northern part of the state here that just started reopening this weekend, things are a little different. They've just come out of a long, hard winter and the summer right now. It's not looking much better.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURA HART, OWNER, BLUE ROSES BOOKS & MORE: We had a lot of dreams here. We --

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The dream, a bookstore, Laura Hart and her daughters could run that everyone in this lake here on tourist haven could enjoy.

HART: COVID came in and it changed the landscape. We wanted very much to be a community place where people could come, bring their kids, play games, you know, open mic nights, game nights.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Blue Roses, Books & More, Sheboygan's only bookstore will close, another casualty of the pandemic.

HART: I think I've spent the past week crying. I know my daughter and I have both had some hard minutes.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Hart faced a hard calculation with the high season short here and the pandemic keeping tourists away, she'd never be able to pay the bills into the winter, when it's locals only.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): How tough is going to be a lock that door and --

HART: It's going to be really tough. I'm going to miss it.

[07:55:01] MARQUEZ (voice-over): Sheboygan County in northern Michigan among the hardest hit in the state with more than 30 percent of workers applying for unemployment. The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has more than doubled its distribution here. And even with businesses reopening, hiring isn't exactly bouncing back.

PAUL LEONARDI, KITCHEN MANAGER, MULLIGAN'S RESTAURANT: Normally, you know, we would be hiring and I'd be bringing on new faces. But now I'm just working with the people that I have. You know, this is the kickoff to the season and it really feels like just another normal weekend except for the stress of reopening

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Another stress, food prices with the price of beef through the roof steaks off the menu.

LEONARDI: I've changed my menu. I'm very thankful that I bought a smoker two weeks before the pandemic, because now I could take cheaper cuts of meat and turn them into something fabulous.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): For this seasonal town, the pandemic couldn't have hit at a worse time.

KEVIN KEMPER, OWNER, MELODY'S LANE MICHIGAN MADE GIFTS & MORE: We've lost our summer basically, and we'll see more things fall by the wayside for the fall.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Kevin Kemper expects to make only half of what he make in a normal year. Another consideration, outsiders coming in raises the risk of COVID-19 coming to a place that has seen few cases.

KEMPER: It's a concern, because people are handling it different at every level.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A high season of low expectations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, one thing that is clear up here is that the unemployment insurance and that extension has certainly helped people out. But as that comes to an end, and if they cannot make money over the next three months, not just individuals, but businesses as well, it will be very difficult for places like this to survive into next winter and then beyond. It's sort of those secondary effects of this pandemic that are -- that the country is going to be wrestling with for a very long time, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No, it's smart to cite that because it's not going to go away in a day. Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Well, gun rights protesters in Kentucky hung and effigy -- hung an effigy of the Democratic Governor Andy Beshear from a tree, you see out there, just outside the Governor's Mansion. Witnesses say that another protester cut that effigy down a short time later. The mock hanging was condemned by both Democrats and Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from Kentucky. CAMEROTA: Well, the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups are suing the state of California for ordering absentee ballots to be mailed to all voters. Voting by mail is expected to be used widely in the fall to ensure safety during this pandemic.

Last week, President Trump targeted leaders in two swing states, Michigan and Nevada over this issue. And despite the President's protests, there is no evidence of widespread fraud in mail-in voting.

SCIUTTO: Yes, or even an advantage to one or another party. Overseas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is denouncing the charges against him as his corruption trial, that of a sitting Prime Minister gets underway in Jerusalem. Netanyahu faces bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. It's the first time in Israel's history that a sitting Prime Minister appears in court as a criminal defendant.

Well, the pandemic is changing. Memorial Day plans for many of us coast to coast. "New Day" continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The first summer holiday since the start of the COVID outbreak and Americans are flocking to beaches from coast to coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wouldn't know a pandemic was going on by looking at the beach today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people are being real respectful. They really are, even on the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't know who's infected and you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is impossible to enforce them. As a matter of public choice, we don't have enough arrest powers or facilities to harbor that many people who are not following the guidelines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not about politics. This is one time when we truly are all in this together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "New Day" with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is a special holiday edition of "New Day". John Berman is off, Jim Sciutto joins me. Great to have you. Thanks so much for being here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Good to be here.

CAMEROTA: OK. So on this Memorial Day, we remember the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. And this year, we also pay tribute to the nearly 100,000 Americans we've lost to coronavirus.

Millions of people marked the holiday by heading to beaches, pools and parks. Not all of them followed social distancing guidelines as you can see on your screen, or wore masks. Take a look at the huge crowds in Daytona Beach. You see an aerial view right there. And then you can check out this scene in Missouri, where hundreds of people were elbow to elbow at a pool party.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no social distancing there.