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Six Dead, Dozens Hurt in Massive London High-Rise Fire; Sessions: Russia Collusion Claim a 'Detestable Lie'; CNN Source: Trump Calls Health Care Bill 'Mean'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CUOMO: This was the scene at 1 a.m. in the morning and shortly thereafter in London. This massive inferno. A 24-story building. The flames were shooting out. It was one of the most large-scale responses by first responders that they've ever had there. And right now, we still just don't know the details of what is going on inside that building. There's simply too much smoke and too much damage.

[07:00:29] CAMEROTA: You can just imagine what firefighters were up against when they got there and saw this scene. So we don't know how many people are missing and witnesses describe, though, a horrifying scene. People jumping from the building and children screaming for help.

CNN's Phil Black is live at the scene in West London with all of these details for us. Phil, what's the status there?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Alisyn, as we speak, there are firefighters in that building, still trying to tackle the blaze and the smoldering ruin that that very fast-moving fire has left.

But no one is talking about this as a rescue operation anymore. It is, at best, fire -- getting rid of the fire but also a recovery operation. So that's why the authorities are already warning they expect that death toll to rise. Probably today, certainly over the coming days.

Now it started in the middle of the night and moved so very quickly. People who realized something was going on fast enough, they were able to run through the panicked halls and stairwells and get out. Others waited for the firefighters to get to them. Others still, well, they ran out of time and options. And what that meant is that the people on the outside of the building watched as the fire moved and eventually swallowed these people or drove them to take drastic action. Take a listen now to what a few witnesses told me earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just horrific. It is so awful to see. And watching people at the windows, and waving and shouting for help and screaming. And then just seeing their flats sort of engulfed in smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are actual bodies there. Kids, women, men. There were bodies all there that have been a result of them jumping out and trying to save themselves.


BLACK: Other witnesses say they heard people screaming, "Save my children. Save my children first."

Now, the structure of the building is an ongoing concern. Civil engineers are monitoring it. They believe at the moment it is still safe; it's not in danger of falling. That's why there are firefighters still inside there.

And so, moving forward from here, it becomes a real question of how did this happen? There's a theory, and that's from the locals. This building was recently renovated. It had some exterior cladding added to it for aesthetic reasons. People tell us, and I think the video supports it from overnight, that the fire took hold of this material and simply raced up the external side of the building.

CUOMO: All right, Phil, thank you very much. There's obviously still a lot to be done there.

One of the main problems they're dealing with inside that building is that the fire has destroyed any means of ingress of getting into these different floors, these different units. So how do you search? How do you find people who may be in different pockets that were preserved? It's going to be very difficult. It's going to take a long time.

CAMEROTA: Just one of the most nightmarish scenarios you can ever imagine. Obviously, we'll follow all of the breaking details from London for you.

CUOMO: All right. Now to our other top story. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling the idea that he or anyone else from the Trump campaign -- and that's important. The A.G. really spoke as if he knew what any possibility was. And he said nobody colluded with the Russians. He called the suggestion a detestable lie.

The embattled attorney general did anger Democrats, because he didn't answer a lot of questions about his conversations with President Trump and events surrounding the Comey firing. CNN's Athena Jones at the White House with more. And it was interesting. He said he hadn't been briefed about the Russia investigation, but he was steadfast that he knows that no one from the Trump staff colluded with Russia.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. That's right.

The attorney general was firm on that, and as you mentioned, he avoided answering a ton of questions, a whole slew of questions about his conversations with the president.

Abd kook, for all the reporting about the deteriorating relationship between President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, Sessions' loyalty to the president was on vivid display during that hearing yesterday. Sources tell CNN the president watched the hearing during the flight from Washington to Milwaukee. And a White House spokeswoman says the president felt that Sessions did a very good job.


JONES (voice-over): At times emotional...

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The suggestion that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.

JONES: ... at times combative.

SESSIONS: Why don't you tell me? They are none, Senator Wyden. There are none, I can tell you that.

[07:05:06] JONES: Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out swinging at his Senate hearing Tuesday, forcefully denying any collusion with Russia to interfere in the election.

SESSIONS: I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign.

JONES: But for all the fireworks, Sessions refused to answer several key questions, despite the fact that President Trump did not invoke executive privilege. Sessions wouldn't say what he spoke with the president about before recommending the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

SESSIONS: I'm not able to discuss with you, or confirm or deny the nature of the private conversations that I may have had with the president.

JONES: Or whether the Russia probe was a factor in this decision.

SESSIONS: I'll just have to let his words speak for himself.

JONES: Sessions also silent on whether the president was upset over his recusal, a decision Sessions said he felt compelled to make, because he was an adviser to the Trump campaign. Not because of any wrongdoing.

SESSIONS: I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

JONES: The attorney general blames Comey's handling of the Clinton e- mail investigation for his firing. A far cry from his sentiments a year ago.

SESSIONS: Director Comey is a skilled former prosecutor, and it's not him that has the problem. It's Hillary Clinton.

JONES: Democratic senators lashing out over the attorney general's refusal to answer questions.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: I believe the American people have had it with stonewalling. You're not answering questions. You're impeding this investigation.

SESSIONS: The president has a constitutional...

WYDEN: I understand that, but the president hasn't asserted it.

SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to exert it -- assert it, if he chooses.

JONES: Republicans coming to Sessions' defense.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Have you ever, in any of these fantastical situations, heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded, at an open setting, with hundreds of other people?

JONES: Sessions confirmed Comey's account of the now-famous Oval Office meeting in February, where the president cleared the room so that he could talk to Comey alone. But Sessions downplayed its significance.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving.

SESSIONS: I left. It didn't seem to me to be a major problem.


JONES: Now on the question of Special Counsel Bob Mueller, the White House said yesterday the president has no intention of firing Mueller. But deputy spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to say whether the president had confidence in Mueller. Sanders also confirmed that the president interviewed Bob Mueller about the FBI director position one day before he was named as special counsel -- Chris, Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Athena. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in the panel: CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin; reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza.

Jeffrey Toobin, let's give our audience some credit for being informed. We don't have to -- they know what happened with Sessions yesterday. And the sensitive issue becomes he was strong about defending his honor, as he said. But he was not strong about defending the Constitution. He seemed to preference protecting the president. And he said, "I don't want to talk about these conversations. I am going to preserve the president's executive immunity privilege." But that's not how that works. And what did you make of his refusal to answer?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it shows how much witnesses are in control of congressional hearings. Because there's no judge forcing you to answer. I mean, I thought his legal position was just clearly wrong. The executive privilege belongs to the president. Congress has a right to investigate executive branch matters. The only way you are supposed to be able to decline to answer questions is if the president instructs you, "I believe these conversations are covered by executive privilege, and you must not answer."

CAMEROTA: There's no preemptive executive privilege, which is what he was saying.

TOOBIN: Exactly. And there's no preserving executive privilege for later. You either exercise it or you don't. And what his failure to answer did, it gave the president a double benefit. It kept the information from the Congress that they wanted.

But it also saved the president the political heat of exercising executive privilege. Because that is something that Trump might have been criticized for or certainly would have been criticized for. But he didn't do it.

[07:10:01] CUOMO: So what can we do about it? We just had Senator Blumenthal say, "We're going to subpoena him before the Judiciary Committee." Others have suggested, well, he can't do that same thing with the special counsel. Sure, he can.

TOOBIN: Well, the -- what you have to do is get the courts involved. And...

CUOMO: So the congressional hearing no matter which committee it is, even a special counsel, not enough to compel him to answer otherwise?

TOOBIN: Yes, well, they can find him in contempt for failing to answer, and then the courts can solve whether that exertion -- whether he's correct in declining to answer. That is a very cumbersome process. It takes months. And -- and it would require the Republicans in Congress on the committee to agree to the contempt citation, which is extremely unlikely.

The grand jury, Mueller might actually go to court a little -- a little more efficiently if he -- if he thinks it's important.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, what did you hear yesterday?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, there's a couple of things. I don't know that the -- going in there was this cloud of suspicion around Sessions that somehow he was involved in colluding with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 campaign. Yes, there were disclosures about meetings that he was, at least lax on, if not worse.

But now we're in the zone of trying to figure out, OK, you're the attorney general. What conversation did you have with the president before he fires the FBI director and claims it's over the Russia investigation, while you and your deputies say, "Oh, no, no, no. It was about poor management of the FBI," about which you never had a conversation with the FBI director, which doesn't make sense.

That's what people are interested in zeroing in on. And that is where Sessions, frustrated the public frustrated by Democrats and also exposed a more partisan division on the Intelligence community -- Committee with Republicans coming to his aid.

But there's another piece of this that didn't get a lot of light yesterday, which is his role in the national security team of the campaign. He was exposed to General Flynn and others. And I think what people wanted to know is, Did you know, Attorney General Sessions, about what Michael Flynn was up to? Did you know the president's thinking about Russia with regard to sanctions? Whether there was messages sent? Saying, "Look, we're going to let this thing go. We'll let these sanctions go." That's what I think they wanted to get to, and they were frustrated on that point, as well.

So we have this underlying offense that sometimes doesn't get as much attention, which is the actual Russian interference. And now it seems to me you have an investigation by Bob Mueller that's focused, in large part, on how the president's conducted himself, vis-a-vis this investigation, whether he's gotten in the way.

CUOMO: And Chris, look, this testimony yesterday -- please, tell me if you disagree -- would have made perfect sense if this were a staffer. If this was one of the guys who's involved in the team. He's like, "I don't want to compromise the president. I'm not going to do that unless I absolutely have to. But I am going to defend my own honor.

But this is the attorney general of the United States. And this is a man who sat there and said, "Yes, you know, I was never really briefed on the Russia investigation," which I guess he thought bolstered his recusal claim. But...


CUOMO: He did have full confidence, saying, "I know that nobody, anyone connected to the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russia." How? How do you know? If you haven't even been briefed about the investigation, how could he possibly know that? Wasn't this just obviously self-serving?

CILLIZZA: Yes. Though I would say I don't think that self-serving congressional testimony or even questions asked of people who were giving testimony in Congress is self-serving. I would say Kamala Harris, Martin Heinrich and Tom Cotton, all of whom got a lot of headlines out of that hearing yesterday, did a little bit of self- serving, too.

CUOMO: This is the top law-enforcement official for the United States of America.

CILLIZZA: That's why I was about to go with the "but." Because...

CUOMO: Chris.

CILLIZZA: You beat me. You beat me to it.

CUOMO: I had a 5-hour energy this morning.

CILLIZZA: That's so true.

CUOMO: I had seven of them.

CILLIZZA: The reason that I think it does matter is to your point, Chris, No. 1, this is the top cop in the United States. Right?

And No. 2, I just think Sessions repeatedly -- and David touched on this. Sessions repeatedly asked us to hold two contradictory notions. One is the one you pointed out: "I wasn't involved with the Russia investigation. I don't know anything about it. But I can assure you, we did nothing wrong." That's No. 1.

No. 2 is, well, you know, Jim Comey, I left him alone with the president, you know, because he knows what he's doing. He's a pro. I trust him. On the other hand, Jim Comey is a bumbling fool who is running the FBI into the ground. Those things -- you can't use the -- the absolutely contradictory images of James Comey to your own purposes.

He can be somewhere on that spectrum, but he cannot be the pro's pro and an idiot who no one trusts.

[07:15:07] GREGORY: Can I just say that you can't be -- you know, these guys, the attorney general. Jim Comey did this, too, talking about, "Hey, we're big capital 'J' justice. We are fighting for the independence of the Justice Department in, you know, disciplined ways. And you want us to believe that, as the attorney general, you never said to the president, "You know, Mr. President, firing the guy who's investigating you is not the wisest course of action. I would love to find out whether that conversation occurred or whether Sessions said, "Oh, no, no I'll leave it to him."

CAMEROTA: All right. Jeffrey, let's talk about Kamala Harris, since she's come up, her name has come up. And this was one of the feistier...

TOOBIN: Should I interrupt you the way all the men interrupted her?

CAMEROTA: No. I appreciate you saying that, because there is...

CILLIZZA: Cuomo already interrupted me.

CAMEROTA: That's true. He's an equal opportunity interrupter.

But I mean, there is this now overlay of sexism at work, some saw. So let's listen to this and see what everybody thinks.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Sir, I'm not asking about the principle. I'm asking...

SESSIONS: Well, I'm unable to answer the question.

HARRIS: ... when you would be asking questions, and you would rely on that policy. Did you not ask your staff to show the policy that would be the basis for your refusing to answer the questions that have been asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The witness should be allowed to answer the question.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Senators will law the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.


CAMEROTA: OK. So they were arguing that he should be able to answer the question there. She should ask the question.

TOOBIN: Well, and also, remember, they are dealing with very tight time deadlines. They only had five minutes to ask questions.

The witnesses, especially an experienced congressional veteran like Sessions, knows you can run out the clock if you give long answers and pause -- and he's kind of a slow-talking guy.

So Kamala Harris, former prosecutor, district attorney in San Francisco, attorney general of California, she was pressing him. But John McCain, you notice he wasn't even the chairman there. But he jumped in to come to Sessions' aid. And it was the second time. It also happened happened during the Comey testimony when Kamala Harris was told, "Be a good girl. Don't ask such hard questions."

CAMEROTA: What is that?

TOOBIN: I think it's sexism. I think it's like they're uncomfortable with women asking hard questions.

GREGORY: And can I just -- can I just say I know a little something about this from my wife who is a, as you all know, a top trial lawyer and who faces this in court all the time. When a woman is asking strong questions and wants an answer, there is a different treatment on the part of witnesses. It can be the judge. It's sexism.

This, you know, old-fashioned, sexist thinking and action when nobody interrupts Ron Wyden to say, "Hey, take it easy there, Senator, and just let him answer."

CAMEROTA: And they had a feisty exchange.

GREGORY: Right. And by the way, on the same day that we learned that Uber, with all of its sexual harassment and misconduct, detailed by the former attorney general, by their own board of directors, and some board member, some old white guy on the board, cracks a joke about, "Oh, well, we know it would be better to add more women to the board, but the problem with that is that there'd be more talking as a result."

You know, and it's like so there's a lot of women who, you know, have these moments and say this is not a revelation. You guys think we make this crap up, and it happens all the time.

CUOMO: He also lost his seat for that joke. So it was a pretty stiff price for it.

All right. So we're going to have Senator Harris on the show. What does she think being interrupted was about? Does she think it's about being a woman or something else? We're going to hear that.

CAMEROTA: That will be very interesting.

CUOMO: CNN has learned President Trump told Republican senators the health care bill passed by the House is, quote, "mean."

Now, remember, the president celebrated the bill, said it was great. Now he says it's mean. And the president is calling on Republicans to make it more generous, kind and to have heart.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more. The hypocrisy aside, the president has a good gut for where the people's minds are on policy. Should his brothers and sisters in the party start listening?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is all about negotiations, Chris. So you and I and everybody remember that moment in the Rose Garden, a ceremony where you had those House Republicans bussed to the White House to celebrate their own version of health care.

There are some lawmakers this morning, quite frankly, who are feeling they're now under that bus. This after that lunch from the president and vice president, meeting with Senate Republicans, moderates and conservatives, to do what he calls is really put forward something that was more generous and kind. That was on camera, Chris. He underscored that point off-camera. Several sources telling us that, yes, he called the House version mean. He called it a son of a "B," the expletive. And that he said it really didn't provide the kind of money for people to survive in health care.

House Republicans are feeling that they cannot trust this president. They understand there's negotiations that are going on, but clearly, they don't have the kind of political cover that they were hoping for. Listen.


[07:20:09] REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: It's one of those times where I look at our president and say, "Mr. President, we're on the same side. Help us out here. Throw us a bone." We're clearly not trying to be mean to people. Quite the opposite. We're trying to help people.


MALVEAUX: So where are we with all of this? Well, there is a deadline, at least an artificial deadline, that they are setting for themselves to get something passed by the July Fourth recess. But when you look at it, there are no debates. There are no hearings that are scheduled. If you take -- if you actually talk to aides to lawmakers, they don't even have the language for the bill at this time.

So the big question, of course, is whether or not the president helped or hurt his cause in trying to push forward what he hopes is his signature legislation, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Suzanne. It will be very interesting to see what the next steps are. Thank you very much.

So Attorney General Jeff Sessions frustrated senators by refusing to answer many of their questions on his conversations with the president.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Has the president invoked executive privilege in the case of your testimony here today?

SESSIONS: He has not.

KING: Then what is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions?


CAMEROTA: Did Senator Angus King ever get an answer to that? He's here next to talk about it.


[07:25:12] CAMEROTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions' public testimony before the Senate Intel Committee involved some testy exchanges, like one with Senator Angus King. He's an independent from Maine. He joins us now.

Senator, great to see you.

KING: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Senator, let's start by playing back your exchange yesterday with Attorney General Sessions.


KING: Has the president invoked executive privilege in the case of your testimony here today?

SESSIONS: He has not.

KING: Then what is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions?

SESSIONS: Senator King, the president has a constitutional...

KING: I understand that. But the president hasn't asserted it.

SESSIONS: Well... KING: You said you don't have the power to exert the power of

executive privilege. So what is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?

SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to exert it -- assert it if he chooses. And there may be any privileges that could apply in this circumstance.


CAMEROTA: What did you think of that answer, Senator?

KING: Well, it's hard to know what to make of it. He's asserting, I call it, son of executive privilege or second cousin of executive privilege. I mean, the law is very clear. The president has to assert it. Jeff Sessions took an oath to tell us the truth. And if he wasn't going to tell us what he knew, then there had to be some privilege or some basis to do so. And it doesn't exist. He's -- he's inventing a new kind of prospective executive privilege that basically can get any administration off of any question, any administration witness off of any question. It was very unsatisfactory.

I mean, our job is to try to get the facts. And you can't get the facts from witnesses if they won't answer the questions. And if they don't answer the questions, they've got to have a legal reason to do so.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, it sounded like he was saying he was using possible future executive privilege that he wanted to protect his answers for, but what was the burning question or questions that you had that he did not answer?

KING: Well, of course, the real question is he talked about, he said, "The president asked me to write a memo about Comey."

And then I said, "OK, you testified as to that you had interaction with the president. What else did he say? Did he say anything about the Russia investigation?" And that's the -- that's one of the real questions here is, was Comey fired because he was pushing the Russia investigation? Or was he fired, as Jeff Sessions said, because of something he did last October? And those are the questions that Jeff Sessions didn't answer.

The other question he didn't answer, I've got to say, really, really disturbed me. And that is have you looked into what the Russians did? Have you asked for any briefings? Do you understand the magnitude of what was done to us? And the answer was no.

And Jim Comey essentially said the same thing last week about the president. He had nine interactions with the president. The president never asked, "What did the Russians do? How did they do it? How do you know they did it?"

And Alisyn, this is the most serious attack on our country since September 11. An adversary has -- is aiming an arrow at the heart of our democracy. And these folks are just shrugging it off and saying, you know, "Let's move on and talk about other issues." I understand their defensiveness on whether they were involved in it or not, but the fundamental story of what the Russians did and that they're still at it and will continue to be at it is just being ignored, and it really bothers me when the commander in chief takes that position.

CAMEROTA: Senator, how are you going to get answers? Your -- one of your colleagues in the House, Adam Schiff, says that he is -- he would consider going to court to, quote, "pierce that privilege." Are you considering the same?

KING: Well, I haven't gotten that far. We may have another session with Jeff Sessions behind closed doors. Maybe he'll be more forthcoming in that situation. I can tell you, some of my colleagues yesterday cited the case of Eric Holder asserting this type of executive privilege. But Eric Holder, they did take Eric Holder to court, and he lost. The executive privilege was largely stricken.

So that is an option. I don't -- I don't see it, necessarily, at this point. But it maybe be there's a point in this investigation where we absolutely have to have this kind of information.

CAMEROTA: But all of that said, Senator, was there anything that Attorney General Sessions said yesterday that made you think that there was some sort of smoking gun? Because a lot of what he said sounded fairly innocuous about his meetings.

KING: Now, and I don't think -- again, I think the only question involving Jeff Sessions is what was the motivation for the president's firing of James Comey? And of course, the president himself, on two occasions, mentioned Russia. He mentioned it in his Lester Holt interview, where he said, "You know, in the back of my mind was this Russia thing."

And then, the White House notes of the meeting with the Soviet ambassador -- with the Soviet -- the Russian ambassador, he said, you know, "I was under a lot of pressure. That Comey is a nut job. I fired him, and now the pressure is off."

That certainly raises serious questions about was the firing an effort to impede or...